Monday, March 30, 2020

The Hidden Treasure

Herself, in 1987. She's been around here since.

She's been a Dr. Who fan since the black-and-white episodes

One of our outings, a while back.

With a little bit of self-indulgence, I would like to reveal one - if not the - greatest hidden treasure of The House of Wonders. The Lady of the House turns 59 today; we first met back in 1987, and she's now been here in my life and that of Tekumel's history since then.

She first came on board as one of the people who were part of Tekumel games in the last years of it's existence, being the officer person who did all the computer work; our first copy of Phil's "Who's Who for Tekumel" was her first project for us, and I still use her 1988 edition today. I also use her 1992 edition, based on the digital back-ups of Phil's work that she did the year after he passed away, as well as the digital version of his Jakalla Underworld 'mega-dungeon'. She's the one's who did all the work to preserve The Professor's files, scanning literally everything and keeping the digital back-ups.

Before I met her, she was a confirmed 'Dr. Who' fan, going around to the conventions and taking photos of the people and events; she still has all those prints and negatives, which are an incredible archive of the early American 'Dr. Who' fan scene. She was also a first-generation fan of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'; one of our daughters, who worked for one of the local movie theaters, was astounded that the Lady of the House was one of the people she'd have to search and divest of all the toast and rice being carried into the theater. Yes, my lovely Janet is one of those people.

Daughters. Yes, she has seven of them, who all picked her to be their parent when they needed one to listen to them, help them, and be a steady influence in their lives. They call her when they need her, and she's always there for them with a steady voice and a helping hand. In a lager family sense, she also has her friends the Shieldmaidens; she can't get to many of their games, but she provides them with a lot of help and makes her home available to them as an alternate meeting place and a workshop.

She does all of this despite her serious health issues; she's effectively house-bound, with the Internet there to be able to reach out to people, and we don't do trips or excursions like we used to be able to. we deal with it; we've now been together for thirty-two years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we've been separated by more then 100 miles or more then a day. We have always been an institution, our friends say, and we have every intention of continuing that state of affairs.

We have been here at the House of Wonders since 1988, and we will continue to be here. If you like, join us either here at home or on the Internet; guests are always welcome.

Happy Birthday, my love!

yours, as always, chirine

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Coping - Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons

I choose the DVD to match the project on the table...

It's now official; the Governor of Minnesota has issued a 'stay at home' order that starts at midnight tomorrow night. I got some shopping done today to fill in the nooks and crannies of our cabinets; I do not expect any interruptions in the supply chain, but I'm making sure that if anything happened to me, The Missus has some margin for problems.

We are both in good shape; Herself, because of her medical issues, usually leads a solitary life anyway; I have, to be blunt, desperately needed a long vacation for several years. Over the past week, I've restarted a number of stalled projects as well as starting to repair the damage done to the house and the yard by last year's contractors.

It's quiet, and I like quiet. Last week's uncertainty has now given way to The Plan, for us anyway, and we're doing well. Herself has the Internet - she's currently looking for cheap Panzer IVH models, to give our friends a thrill on the game table - and I've been doing the household routines, some writing, and popping a DVD in the machine and firing up the plasma screen for evenings of building and painting. I'm finally getting a lot done, at my usual levels of productivity, and I have to say that after several years of 'dry spell' it's nice to be back in the saddle.

The figures for the Sturmgeschutz and Sorcery game are now all built, and in the final throes of the painting process. Currently up on the table are the main opponents for the Shieldmaidens in the forthcoming Dark Ages campaign; I also sourced a very nice Revell 1/50 Viking longship for them to sail to Britannia with, in company with the old resin longship we had gotten years ago. The Revell ship is an example of 'thinking sideways'; it's sold as some sort of 'cursed ghost ship', with a jar of glow-in-the-dark paint to be slathered all over it. I shall do nothing of the kind, and just get on with it as your stock-and-standard Viking raider.

I'm also glad that we're past last week's excitements for a slightly different reason. It's now been eight years since we lost Phil, and I keep thinking of him as I sit at the painting table; he used to cackle with unholy glee when he was painting his own figures, and I now really have a good understanding why he did - building for games, like I'm doing now and imagining the looks  on people's faces when they discover The Dire Peril is doing a lot to keep me going these days.

My players may not be thrilled, like we weren't when Phil unleashed whatever new figures he'd painted on the table, but hey - we had one heck of a lot of fun. And we'll have fun, again; after we come out the other side of these times, the screams of glee and terror will once again be heard around the game table.

To quote an old friend, who will be saying this in the future:

"Hey! What's that under the camo net?" (screams of terror)
"Oh My God!!!" (cries of glee)
"Chirine, you bastard!!!" (cackle from Yours Truly)

So, Phil, here's to you; you're helping us get through some bad times, with the promise ot better times to come...

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Word From The Both Of Us, If We May...

We've had worse happen to us.

Out with a painter for future games.

He saw worse, and survived it. We'll survive, too.

If I may, I'd like to offer some words from what may be a historical perspective.

I am now starting the first full week of my furlough from my work, and I thought I should take a moment to see where were are and where we may be going. A lot of what follows has been percolating around in my head for the past year, and the current emergency has, paradoxically, given me the time to articulate what we've been thinking hereabouts.

First off, Janet and I continue to be in what amounts to self-isolation; neither of us has what we'd call an active social life, as normally we're both too tired to want to do much besides collapse in heaps. My being home has given us the opportunity to literally get our house in order, and catch up and restart a number of projects and initiatives that we've been wanting to move forward in over the past couple of years. She's not able to do much of anything that requires physical effort anymore, and I've been too tied up with my work and dealing with what are effectively external problems to take up the slack. We will get through this health crisis, all of us, if we behave like responsible adults and take reasonable precautions. We're already doing that, and in our particular case it seems to be working.

We do not know what the future will bring. We do believe that we will get through this. I look at  the present crisis from a historical perspective; Janet and I have dealt with worse in our thirty years together, and we're still here. My father and stepfather did as well, between surviving the Great Depression and then the Second World War.

We are building for the future, because we believe that there will be one. A friend of mine picked up Janet's vintage 'Dr. Who' figures yesterday, so I can give them to her for our thirtieth anniversary; I go these for her the first summer we were together, and they never did get painted. Now, they will, so I can run 'Dr. Who' gamers for her and her friends the Shieldmaidens. There will be games again, and friends laughing around a game table.

There will be changes, as our personal world has had a lot of changes over the past couple of years:

Over the past few years, we've been looking very hard at who we are, what we do, and what we enjoy. Gaming is, for the both of us, an entertaining hobby and a great way to share our fun with our friends. I am very happy to be able to say that I have finally shed all of my commercial ties with the game industry; I enjoy my friendships with the people who make our hobby great, and through their hard work provide us with so much fun and laughter via their products. Janet and I will be continuing to support those people, both by our purchases and our efforts to tell everyone about these products. To that end, we will continue to support my forum and my blog. You will see more mentions of what we consider useful products, and more reviews of them.

We have been looking at where we put our resources and energies, and how best to make this more cost-effective for us as we move ahead with our plans. Both Janet and I have health issues, hers much more serious then mine. We have found, the very hard way, that we have very limited energy and stamina and that we have to be very careful how we dole both out. I have said in a number of previous blog and forum posts that I am simply not able to both organize and deal with the logistics of many of the activities that people have told me that they want to see me do, and then be able to run those same events on the ground. To deal with this, we are encouraging people to take up the reins of being event organizers; we will be happy to support events, through our projects and collections, but we are not going to be able to be the 'go-to' people that we've been since 1978. We have had several very successful events using this model, such as our friend's game at Con of the North, and we're going to continue to work inside that very successful style of operations.

If I may put it crudely: it is simply more cost-effective for us, in our present circumstances, not to send me out to conventions due to the high costs of doing so - between travel, meals, lodging, and the need for me to have what amounts to a 'production assistant', it can cost upwards of $2,000 for a four-day weekend to have me physically present at an event. To mitigate that, we're putting more resources into the hardware and software of doing remote gaming and interviews. I may not be there in person, but I can be there via link.

In the same way, it is actually more cost-effective for us to commit our resources to events within our local area, and to help our friends come to them or simply visit us here at the house. It's all about logistics - it's much more labor- and resource-intensive to being me and the collections out to people then it is to bring the people to us. Think of it as a sort of 'reverse convention', if you like; instead of people paying to attend, it's simply more cost-effective for us to subsidize visitors. Once we get out of the current crisis, we'll have more to say about this.

We will continue to support the collections. The data is safe, as I like to say, and we are using this time I have off as a way to rebuild our house - and in some ways our lives - to look ahead into the future of not only ourselves but that of our gaming and our friends. I will be e-mailing a lot of you during this week, and i'll look forward to hearing your idea and getting your thoughts on all of this.

Thanks again for your time and patience. We will get through this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Oh, The Things I Do For My Players

I like diecast toys. And they look good on the table, too.
You never have enough supplies for your campaign.
The Palace - overview sheet
Map tile 'A', 2' x 2' for miniatures

 First, the important news; The Missus and I are well, and dealing with the current situation. She, because of her own medical issues and disabilities, is normally a stay-at-home shut-in, so she's already pretty much isolated from the outside world except through the Internet. I have been doing an one-day-on-one-day-off schedule to run down some of my 350+ hours of vacation time, and this has now been changed to paid-leave-until-further-notice. I also have 400+ hours of actual sick leave built up, so we are in good shape in that direction. We are being very careful, and we've post-poned all our activities for the next two weeks. We'll keep watching the situation, and deal with is as things come up.

One of the fruits of The Missus being The Queen Of The Internet is that she's very, very good at sourcing materials for my gaming. A long time ago, some friends gave me a 1:43 diecast T-34/85 and an Su-100, and I've treasured them for two decades. Herself bought me the Bad Squiddo 'Red Army Women' to give them a little infantry support. The two armored vehicles were made by Arsenal in Russia, and were part of a line of six; Herself found the entire set for a very good price - these actually cost less then the Warlord plastic kits. So, the Shieldmaidens now have a battlegroup of two tanks, two self-propelled guns, a platoon of infantry with some heavy weapons, and a bunch of trucks and jeeps to move the whole circus around the battlefield for both the upcoming teaching game and the Sturmgeschutz and Sorcery game. Mayhem should ensue.

The teaching game involves the Russians trying to capture a supply dump, and...

"I hear you're sending us to raid a supply dump," says the frowning Zuzu The Klingon Teenager, "That doesn't sound very honorable."

"It's an enemy supply dump, guarded by elite troops armed with heavy weapons. It'll be a tough fight."

"Ah! That's all right then," she said with a big smile breaking out on her face, "That will be fine! You're a very nice person, despite being a Federation Star Fleet officer." (1)

Sheesh. Oh, the things I have to put up with for good gaming. I'll bet Gary, Dave, and Phil didn't have to worry about getting knifed by Klingon teenaged gamers with high standards.

Supply dumps are usually full of things like crates, barrels, and sacks and my collection of supplies for my campaigns are no exception. Various people have added to it over the years, the most recent additions being cast-resin items brought back from Gary Con last year by two old friends - "We figured you could find a use for it." - and some nifty 3-D printed items from my friends in Alabama.

All this stuff comes in handy when the fighting erupts, and there's nothing funnier then the look on a player's face when you're telling them that the sack of 'taters they're hiding behind just got vaporized.

And we do use maps, to. I've depicted a floor plan map of Lord Chirine's current lodgings in the Nyemesel Isles. I did this as a set of 2' x 2' 'tiles' for 25 / 28mm figures, and we've play-tested it enough - there has been a lot of broken furniture and shattered crockery from my players - and I'm now at the point where I think I can safely start building the place as a model for gaming in. I have lots of detail items, so I can furnish the place properly; and I have alternate fittings for when Dejah Thoris or Seti I comes by for adventures. I expect I'll manage to stay busy, during my leave, getting this and another major project done.

And the games will resume; we'll get through this.

(Note 1: I got my commission from Gene Roddenberry's Lincoln Enterprises back in 1968. You sent in your money, and you got back your certificate.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Plastic Mayhem

Frostgrave "Wizards II"

Frostgrave "Wizards I"

The last part of the 'Sturmgeschutz and Sorcery" game has now dropped into place with the arrival of the Frostgrave "Wizards II" set; my idea is to have the 'D&D players' each run teams of two magic-users and five fighters, with whatever additional creatures or such they can come up with. I don't stock a lot of the 'usual D&D monsters', because I have no need of them, but if it's one thing that the Shieldmaidens have in large quantities it's just that very thing. So, I think that Anne Norton's "Red Army Women" will have a good run for their money. And then some...

All of my Christmas money has now been spent on the build for this game and it's prequel. I have a little savings account that we add to throughout the year for my big splurge on miniatures over the holidays - my birthday is in December as well, which helps - and I normally set a budget for all the games that I build. At this point, with the help of The Missus' ability to find bargains on-line, we're on target and now in the build phase of the games. A lot of my 'stock sets' will be reused, like in any well-run theater, with the new items being added to the inventory to help with future games.

I really enjoyed building these sets, s I have the other multi-part plastic sets I've gotten. The number of options are mind-boggling; I would strongly advise getting some of those 'parts boxes' - like the ones by Plano - to hold all of the stuff you get in these sets. These two sets in particular have a huge variety of parts that will get used in other projects, so keeping them all organized is a real need.

The two sets also have very different 'design aesthetics', from my point of view. The "Wizards I" set has more arms-with-hands-with-stuff-in-them, and "II" has more open hands. The former has more of that 'wizard' look while the latter has more of a 'magic-user' / 'spell caster' look to them. Both sets look the part, and I'm very happy with them both from a game standpoint and a budgetary one; these are, in my opinion, good value for money.

"But what about Tekumel?" I can hear you say. I used the more 'exotic' heads, and (more to the point) we used to use anything that worked for that particular character back in the day; people noticed that there are a lot of Grenadier adventurers in the box of original Tekumel players that went to Con of the North. We used what we had, and what looked good; with some careful painting and detailing, like Phil used to do on his own figures, these will do just fine for our adventures...

Mayhem will ensue... :)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

More Surprises For The Shieldmaidens, Courtesy of M. A. R. Barker

The happy couple;
he drove, she commanded.
Kinda like me and The Missus...

Regular Readers have noted that we've been talking a lot about (gasp!) historical miniatures a lot here at The Workbench of late; we have, and if you wanted my opinion, it's all Prof. Barker's fault.

Phil was, besides being a very gifted linguist, a superbly well-read student of history. He used a lot of that knowledge and expertise in his creation of Tekumel - which is his best-known work - but also in his historical miniatures gaming. His miniatures were accurate to their era, to the best of the information Phil had at the time, and his games were always fun to play in. Why? Aren't linear tactics boring?

The way Phil did it, no, because one had to think one's way in and out of trouble. Phil preferred to set his games in their historical contexts, so that one wasn't playing a 'one-off' battle; a commander always had to remember that there was history before the battle and after, and while one could win battles one had to have something left over to win the rest of the war with, So, we raided a lot of other people's baggage trains, besieged their forts and castles, and always kept in mind that we were out to win the war as well as the battle on the table.

I should also say that this approach of his carried well over into his Tekumel game sessions; we had a lot of adventures where we did this same sort of campaigning, where we had to mind our logistics as well as our melees. And, because Phil had done his research, his scenarios were always grounded in reality. "You can't make this stuff up," he said pretty frequently (as did Dave Arneson, I might add) when he'd cite some obscure fact or engagement that had lead to his staging a pretty interesting game. It makes for some really good games, of any sort.

As my friends the Shieldmaidens are finding out. It's been a very real joy to me to be telling them about folks like the Night Witches, and then seeing them look up 'that historical stuff' and discover for themselves that history can provide some really fun material for games.

The proposed "Sturmgeschutz and Sorcery" game has been a good example of this; after hearin about this game, another was requested so that the historical players can get a feel for the tactics of the Red Army and tank/infantry cooperation in general. So, we'll have a 'teaching game' before the S&S event, which has lead to all sorts of research on my part to put a good scenario on the table.

The Lady of the House also being one of the Shieldmaidens - they say so, anyway, and who's going to argue the point - has weighed in with her own opinions as to what would be fun on the table, and her research has added some really entertaining surprises for her colleagues. She's got a knack for sniffing out bargains, and turning her loose on the Internet to ferret out good deals on World War II Soviet military equipment has resulted in things that have surprised and delighted this old miniatures player.

If the Shieldmaidens follow in Phil's footsteps, they'll be fine. If they don't some of Herself's surprises will bite, and bit hard...

Mayhem will ensue. :)