Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Captain Tom's Army


From time to time, the management of this confection of a blog would like to get serious and talk about something that matters a lot to us here at The Workbench.

Captain Thomas Moore is a retired British Army officer, formerly of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment and a tanker who served in what's been called 'The Forgotten Army', the British XIVth Army in Southeast Asia. They tended to get the stuff that none of the other Allied armies wanted or used, and they went and did the job anyway.

This was a theater with lots of jungle, and not what one would call 'good tank country'. There, the opposition had a habit of dropping out of the trees into your open hatch, or jumping out of the shrubbery with high explosives tied to sticks. So, when the captain said this, people sat up and listened:

"When we started off with this exercise we didn't anticipate we'd get anything near that sort of money. It's really amazing. All of them, from top to bottom, in the National Health Service, they deserve everything that we can possibly put in their place. They're all so brave. Because every morning or every night they're putting themselves into harm's way, and I think you've got to give them full marks for that effort. We're a little bit like having a war at the moment. But the doctors and the nurses, they're all on the front line, and all of us behind, we've got to supply them and keep them going with everything that they need, so that they can do their jobs even better than they're doing now." - Captain Tom Moore

He started a fundraiser, looking to raise a little money for the front-line folks in the National Health Service:

1.3 million people answered his call. They have, as of this morning, donated more then 29.5 million pounds. I have no idea how much that is in US dollars, but I think it's a whole lot. A whole lot.

And CaptainTom has an army:

And like any good player-character who does something great, he's gone up in level:

Thank you, Colonel Tom!!!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Dave Arneson and Surprise In Games

Surprise, in small games...

or in large ones...

First off, the important news; we are still here, and still as healthy as usual; Janet broke a tooth, and will need surgery at some point, but we're still here at the house. She's been making masks, tasteful for hear and others, and loud and gaudy for me. (What a surprise.) Things have been getting done as I'm just past my month of furlough; I've hit a major milestone in my gaming by emptying the shed out back of the house of all the gaming stuff I've been storing in there for years, and brought it all into the game room to be sorted and used in games. I also moved all of the trade show stuff out into the now-empty shed, so we can use it for our game events and my starving artist friends can use it for their shows. We are moving ahead, slowly but surely.


I'm in the throes of building the S&S games, and it's occurred to me that I'm not only looking back at Gary Gygax for inspiration, but to Dave Arneson. Dave was, as has been mentioned in books and films, a passionate miniatures player and referee. I find that lessons I learned in his games are standing me in good stead in my games, especially this pair.

In Gary's original game, he was able to achieve 'strategic surprise' because the players didn't know what they were in for until they got to the game and stared playing. I don't have that; in my situation, what with smart phones and social media, all the prospective players had a pretty good idea what I am cooking up for them. So, as Dave would say, I have to fall back on 'operational surprise'. The players, in the S&S game, will not know which side they are playing on until they get to the actual game. (I expect some screams of glee and terror, I do.) The 'operational surprise' in the prequel game will be that all of the players will be on the Russian side, and will have no idea what's going on over the other side of the hill. (and yes, I do have A Fiendish Plan.) Mayhem will ensue, as I like to say.

'Tactical surprise', which is the heart of any 'Arnesonian' game, is the easy part; the players have some idea about what the other side has on the table - or in the dungeon, for that matter - but not very exact or even accurate information. They will, as Dave and Phil often said, have to get out there and look for themselves. Therein lies the heart of gaming, at least the way is was practiced here in the Twin Cities back in the day.

Dave also once said, in a historical game, that the best and easiest way to introduce 'The Fog Of War" into games was not to try to write rules for this kind of thing, but to simply make players who were out of speaking  distance to each other send written orders instead. It was always hilarious - for those  of us on the other side of the table, anyway - to watch somebody's beautifully-crafted battle plan fall right apart as the players tried to make some sort of sense out of the scribbled notes that were being handed by a messenger. Mayhem always ensued. (See also the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, which was Dave's favorite example of orders gone very badly wrong.)

When I do this in my games, the rule is that if one is not in speaking or yelling distance of another player on the table - I usually say six inches - then a messenger or something has to be used. This often makes new adventures happen, as the hapless messenger can get into their own troubles. In this pair of games, the Russians might seem to have an advantage because they have radios; "Ah," but Dave would point out with that happy smile he'd get, "only the tanks and self-propelled guns do; the infantry has a jeep with a radio and two signalers with portable ones." WWII armored vehicles also did not mount telephones on them for the infantry on the ground to communicate with them, as they were to do after the war; one often had to get up on the tank, bang on the hatch to get the crew's attention, and then pass the message along. One often collected a shot from the crew in the process, as the people on the other side also liked to climb up on tanks but with more hostile intentions.

"What could possibly go wrong?" Dave would say, as the troops get lost, confused, or just stand there.

We saw the same thing happen in our adventures in Blackmoor and Tekumel; communication around the table was vital, if we wanted to survive. Mis-communication usually meant that the GM got to surprise us, often with lethal results. It made for more exciting adventures, I can tell you.

As I build these two games and get them set up, I feel those three guys hovering just off my shoulder saying "What about...?" I think that this will make for a much better pair of games, and get us all a lot more laughter and fun.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Historical Interlude - And Some Musings About 'Gaming'

April 1o-15, 1912

As has been my custom for quite some time, the house flag of the White Star Line has been flying here at the Workbench. I am, by habit and inclination, a historian and I like to remember dates and events. This year is no different, but with added emphasis and urgency during this health crisis.

I am hoping that this current event, like this past one, will lead to a lot of thinking and reflection as well as reform and planning for the future. "Lifeboats for all" is as true now as it was then.


Besides my musings about specific historical events, I was also thinking about the issues that have come up with my running my forthcoming 'Sturmgeschutz and Sorcery' game. I had, originally, thought that this probably unknown and obscure 1975 offering by Gary Gygax would be of interest to my local gamer friends, as an artifact of gaming 'back in the day' - and to show what can happen when very smart, well-read, and dreadfully bored people think up something to do. I thought it might be fun for people to get a chance to play some Free Kriegspiel, which is a rare and unusual thing in these days of D&D 5e and Pathfinder.

What I had not been expecting was to be exposed to the Facebook debate on a local 'geeks' page about how 'wargames glorify Nazis' and the basic morality of wargaming in general. The latter debate has been going on for the past fifty years of my life, and I am pretty sure that it will go on for at least fifty years after I'm gone. The former, which has even been the subject of a article, is connected with my S&S game because of the opposition in the prequel game - a short platoon of Panzergrenadiers is the defending force that the Red Army attackers are trying to get out of the objective.

Since the object of the prequel is to teach the new players the basics of Soviet tactics of the period, I thought that a historical scenario would provide the best teaching situation for the players. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I am quite fully aware of what went on in WWII, both from my own researches and from the stories told by my father and step-father, both veterans. I am also fully aware that the Soviet workers' paradise was anything but, again from my own researches and the experiences of some of my extended family. Both sides on the Eastern Front were brutal totalitarian regimes, and speaking as  a historian I posit that one way to prevent anything like them happening again is to remember both their atrocities and the people who fought to prevent them. Both my dads were in the Pacific war, and both had very strong opinions about why they fought.

There are periods of history and battles that I do not game; I prefer the Ancients and Early Medievals periods, and I've stayed away from modern games over the years; I play and run F/SF games, as I think all my patient readers know. This pair of games will be the first WWII Eastern Front games I've ever run, and I'll be happy to discuss the historical situation after the game if people like - dinner will be on me.

I think my last comment on this debate returns to that bitterly cold April night, and how it changed maritime regulations; the echos of that night reverberate today, and provide a lesson on how reasoned consideration can bring about positive change.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Update - On Comment Moderation

I've cleaned out the 'comment moderation' box, and I found several old comments that got sent there for reasons unknown, as I hadn't activated this feature until last night. I will get back to the two posters, and get their comments out into the light of day.

Thank you for your patience; a lot of these issues will be resolved when we resume the interrupted computer upgrade...

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Housekeeping and Stay-at-Home

Please to be ignoring HMMVEE posing as a CMP,  comrades.
We are now approaching one month in home quarantine; we've been out a couple of times to get supplies, but that's it. The Lady of the House is displaying her sewing skills by making the masks we're now being advised to wear, and I'm continuing to work on projects both household and hobby. The state has extended the quarantine until May 10th, so I expect I'll have another month of stuff getting done.

We are both well, if a little stiff in the joints, but life continues. We're having s snowstorm, at the moment, but this is kinda normal around here this time of the season. We aren't going anywhere anyway, so I'll shovel when it stops.

The photo is of the soft-skin fleet we've put together for the S&S game, and the 'teaching game' prequel. I have no idea when we'll be able to run this, but we're going to run it - there is life on the other side.

In the process of getting the Bad Squiddo 'Red Army Women' motorized, I have managed to clean out all of the 1/48 and 1/50 diecast military vehicles in the hobby shops of the Twin Cities. There is one Kubelwagen and a mock-Panzer IV left, at hobby stores what are now closed, but even I can't justify using them under Lend-Lease. (Captured. maybe, but I have better photos of the Lend-Lease stuff.)

Dimly visible in the rear are the 1/43 platoons - short platoons, being understrength ones - of a pair of Soviet-made 1/43rd scale T-34/85s and a pair of matching SU-100s. This brings the 'Red Army Women' up to sort-of company strength; such 'independent companies' did exist in the Red Army; my research into the period has turned up a lot of things I didn't know, and am astonished by.

It's why I like historical gaming; both Dave Arneson and Prof. Barker told me that "you can't make this stuff up", and they were right. I'm finding real-world incidents and information - and lots of photos! - that no self-respecting 'serious wargame' would allow anywhere near the game table. Which, of course, in the very best Blackmoor and Tekumel traditions I'm making sure to have on-hand for our adventures.

These two games are pretty much the sort of thing we got up to, back in the day, and I'm enjoying building them. They will get played - somehow, sometime, somewhere.


If I may add a housekeeping note, I have reset the 'comments' on this blog to 'always moderate' due to the number of spammers I keep having to delete. I can spend my time doing better things, I think. So, please feel free to comment, and I'll have yours up as quick as I can. Thanks for your patience!


EDIT: Whoops! I forgot to mention that in the photo is the Pete Gaylord Memorial War Elephant. As people probably know, a very long time ago Dave Arneson ran an Ancients game - possibly the only time on record, as it wasn't his period - using Pete's Romans and Britons. Dave Megarry, Ken Fletcher, and - I think - Dan Ollila played the Britons to Pete's Romans. Pete had gotten, all the way from the UK, his War Elephant and was touting how this super-weapon was going to crush the locals. Dave A., before the game, took Dave M. aside and slipped the Druid that Dave M. was playing a Star Trek-style Phaser.

Mayhem ensued, and Pete cried out in the depths of his despair the classic miniatures player lament: "I just painted that elephant, and you vaporized it!!!"

So, when Dr. Hannah at The Source drew my attention to this very provacatively-priced pre-painted panzer-pachyderm, I bought it - supposedly for my Macedonians, in the "Cleopatra's Family Feud" game, but we know better - as a way to remember how some old friends used to play and how they got me into gaming here in the Twin Cities.

Thanks, you guys. :)