That is not dead which can eternal lie…

No one would have believed in the last years of the twentieth century
That internet arguments fuelled by alcohol could lead one to do silly things….

Actually, all too believable

The year 2000 was, actually, the last year of the C20th and I was one of a group of people writing a 4th edition of the venerable role-playing game “Chivalry and Sorcery”, a tidied up version of 3rd trying to recapture the feel of the 2nd.

In the world of the biggest gorilla in the room, Wizards of the Coast had just released 3rd edition D&D, with the innovation that its system could be used as the basis for games by other companies as part of its “Open Game Licence”.

Somewhere, probably on Usenet, this was being discussed, and a comment by Matt Johnston, an RPG author for, at that point, Crucible Designs, asked why not, rather than write a niche game with its own system, instead get on the d20 OGL system bandwagon, and produce a worldbook to give D&D players a proper medieval game world.

It is a question that deserves a better answer than it got, the short version being one that it would mean starting again from scratch, the original authors would not have supported that and it would have meant perhaps losing the game’s unique identity. However, I had been drinking, so my actual answer was to try and produce a version of Chivalry and Sorcery that used a d20. Now it didn’t use the WoTC d20 system, in part because I didn’t know that system until years later, it used my own d20 system.

I knew I couldn’t recreate all of C&S, I was aiming for one page, and so went for “general feel”. As it turned out, that was too ambitions. I got it down to four sides of paper and that was with using a tiny font, which is fair enough, C&S 1st edition also had a tiny font.

So that was finished the next week, as C&S Essence, and went onto the Brittannia Game Designs website as a free download. I could do that as I was webmaster at the time and actually wrote or, at least, transcribed, a lot of the content. You can see the final version of the website here http://www.its-them.me.uk/marak/ with C&S Essence under “Freebies”.

That was well received. The fan club, the “Loyal Order of Chivalry and Sorcery” was still active, and two members did translations, Stefano Bartoletti translated it into Italian, Guy-Franck Richard into French. More than that, we found out that an anonymous Italian person had produced a version sent in a Fantasy Imperial Rome. This was without asking us and only years later did I find out that the setting, Lex Arcanum, was actually an existing RPG by Francesco Nepitello (renowned, rightly so, for “The One Ring” RPG).

For some reason, I don’t know why, but I suspect because I had been reading far too much “Flashman” at the time, I used the same system for a game of Victorian adventure, “Vis Imperium Victoriana” (ViV). Given the character background based on the Flashman version of Lady Sale in the First Afghan War, that has to be it. This was also available on the BGD website.

One weird thing to come from that was that someone started, but did not finish, a version of ViV for “The Fantasy Trip“, itself kickstartered back to life in 2018. Being a game of Imperial Adventure Literature, I put into the game that the attitudes of the time were racist and sexist, and the opportunities for characters reflected this. A review spoke of this as how unfun it was, and discussions later on convinced me that I had handled this badly.

I ran C&S Essence for the group I was with. I did that in the “Darken” setting I was writing for as a Dragon ruled kingdom of Men, Orcs and other usually enemy folk for BGD’s “Marakush” Game world, so the additions I made for the system were low fantasy and gritty.

Having written a more modern game with the system, Steve Turner of BGD asked if I would write a Science-Fiction version, well, Ed Simbalist, one of the authors of C&S had written the classic “Space Opera” SF RPG. I thought it would be 32 pages and quickly done, but I ended up trying to do my game as Pulp SF covering a similar scope to “Space Opera” and it took two years, play-testing it with the group I was playing with then.

Some of us even play-tested the spaceship combat system at our local wargames club.

Part of the problem with the system I wrote is that I am, or was, I am getting old, fairly handy with mental arithmetic, and the system had mechanics like “how much did you succeed by mechanic” and derived range and magic effect statistics that were a necessity of lack of space in the original C&S Essence. This new game, “Rocket Jocks”, simplified the skill success mechanic, and that made it more playable for everyone.

That did not see the light of day. The reasons why are valid, and not in the main, mine to tell, but years were to pass, and we come from 2003 to 2011. Over the years I had suggested to Steve Turner than sites like DrivethruRPG and RPGNow, might be good sales venues for his products. Print on Demand had matured to be worth considering too. Nothing happened though.

Suddenly he had this bright idea “Maybe sites like DrivethruRPG and delivery methods like Print on Demand are worth doing! Colin, why didn’t you suggest that”. He is lucky he doesn’t live in slapping distance ;). He started putting BGD products on DriveThruRpg and in 2011 asked about putting up C&S Essence.

I agreed, and started to increase the font size, add in some clip art and update the system to that found in, the still unpublished, “Rocket Jocks”. Steve then told me he planned to put it up for sale. For actual money. For that I thought it needed some more stuff in it before asking people to part with their hard earned cash. So I added in the Darken “enemy character” information and an adventure I had written years ago.

That got published, nominated for an award but some of the reaction was that the system/setting was too low key and the adventure had no obvious lead in. I did a free download to address the adventure lead in and add some extras to the system. I then thought about the lack of a “High Fantasy” fee to it and decided to create one or rather to use the Arthurian Mythos, as “everyone knows that”!

Famous last words. Turns out I don’t generally know as much as I thought I did about the Arthurian mythos and, in any case, it morphs, changes, twists with less concern for continuity than Brannon Braga. However, I got on with it, first as a setting for C&S Essence and later as a complete game with system in its own right. However work got more involved and I had less time to devote to this and, by late 2013 I got burned out, with most of the game written and I just couldn’t continue.

2013 seeing me with an insane early commute, knowing I couldn’t devote time to this, I asked Andy Staples if he would finish it for me. He told me, straight out, that he did not have much time himself, but if I could accept that then he would try his best.

A few years wind on. Andy’s situation doesn’t let him do much, which is as he warned me, and I took the Arthurian project back in 2016. Around that time Steve told me that he was finally able to get “Rocket Jocks” into getting edited and later on, actually have art commissioned. A bit of a change from my art-free or clipart games of the past.

I was a bit apprehensive about this. Since I had delivered the manuscript Pulp SF had become a bit of a thing again. There was even a game in the interim called “Rocket Jocks”, so the “Unique selling point” of my game was no longer there. Moreover, I was aware that my system written in 2000, would be a bit crunchy and old fashioned by today’s standards. However by late 2018, when I started to see the art, I reread my manuscript for the first time in years, and I was heartened that the system, apart from Psionics, wasn’t that bad, and the level of my corny sense of humour, I hope, makes it a lot more fun.

I also wrote a spaceship combat game, but I do not know if it will ever see the light of day. It is a complex, Star Fleet Battles/B5 Wars kind of box marking system for damage. If I can ever figure out a lighter system for this, and a way to get counter art, I may get this published as a free download later.

So, at the turn of 2019, Rocket Jocks – Blast into the Future is now available as a PDF and it, and C&S Essence v1.1 are to be made available as Print on Demand books and then Steve Turner asks me, “You remember that ‘Vis Imperium Victoriana’? Could we publish that again?”.

Obviously the basic answer is “Yes”. I had thought about doing it again back in 2011. Believe it or not I had even spoken to a musician to see if I could write his character into the new version. However I needed to correct the flaws identified all those years ago, to make opportunities more even for characters, without denying the inequality of the colonial age.

Changes to the system were fairly simple, to update it and to reduce some of the maths. The biggest time spent has been in research, to try and give enough of a feel of the time, without turning it into a sixty volume setting series covering seven continents and eighty years of history.

This is intended not to be free, but “Pay what you want” which puts me into “adding more of value” mode. Clipart has been added, free to use fonts for flavour used and I even put some photos of my own through filters to try and make them of the time and made a few pieces of art to illustrate it, Amazing given my own lack of talent in drawing.

It’s been a weird road. Basically three pieces of work written between 2000 and 2003 coming back to life nearly two decades later. It has involved machines using MacOS, Linux of various flavours, iOS, Android and several generations of Windows, storage systems including Floppy Disks, Zip Disks, USB Flash drives and cloud, and all sorts of text editors. Changed world.

I was planning to finish the Arthurian book this year, still do, but first ViV needs to be completed, and then I have promised myself that I will write a short story, just to get back into fiction.

Thanks then to Ed Simbalist, Wilf Backhaus, Wes Ives, Matt Gilbert, Phil McGregor, Mark Ratner and, accidentally, Matt Johnston for getting me down that strange road. And doubly thanks for all the contributors, translators, readers and play-testers for their help.

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Being Merry is not logical!

West End Games, best known for its Star Wars licence, also produced some Star Trek games, including three solitaire games in a box as a tie-in licence to Star Trek III – Search for Spock. It has to be said that the games aren’t anything to do with that film, or with Star Trek: The Next Generation, these are firmly set in the universe of the original series.

Designed by Greg Costikyan, John M. Ford and Doug Kaufman. The three games are “Free Enterpri$e”, “Kobiyashi Maru” and, the subject of this post “The Sherwood Syndrome”.

I guess that “Free Enterpri$e” is, in part, inspired by John M. Ford’s book “How much for just the Planet”, as both feature the Federation and Klingon Empire competing for planetary loyalty through commerce. I’ve not read the book, but I have read John M. Ford’s “The Final Reflection”, which I can heartily recommend “The Final Reflection” is a term from a Klingon game.

“Kobiyashi Maru” is the closest to a movie tie in, but that, is, of course, the second film, “Wrath of Khan”. Apropos of nothing, Julia Eckhar’s book “Kobiyashi Maru”, which will give you Kirk’s, Chekhov’s, Sulu’s and Scotty’s solution to that Kobiyashi Maru problem, as well as episodes from each’s life, is also worth a read.

So, onto “The Sherwood Syndrome”. It is a sad fact of life in the Federation that unsupervised Federation sociologists and nostalgia buffs will have adverse effects on planets. If it isn’t turning them into Nazi Germany then it’s Chicago in the Roaring 20s. In this case a rogue sociologist from the USS Archon is trying to boost the planet Syngreal version of King John into power over the barons and set himself up as the power behind the throne. Maybe given the name of the planet it is Mordred that is the model.

He has imprisoned all of the Archon’s crew, he thinks, and it is up to the Enterprise Bridge Crew, plus McCoy and Scotty, to free the prisoners and stop the takeover. The trouble is that the population is already wary of witchcraft, and, in a first for Kirk, he has decided to observe the Prime Directive, therefore use of Federation technology is discouraged. This makes the only logical decision is to don Lincoln Green and take to the Greenwood! The background for all this is contained in a short story by John M. Ford.

The board above shows the starting positions. The road with arrows is the path taken by the Royal Party. They will travel from city to city demanding fealty from towns, following the arrows. If they manage to gain fealty from all the towns then the Federation loses.

The Archon crew and 8 random neutral people drawn blind from a cup are placed in towns with an imprisoned marker. You are allowed to know, the colour, so crew or Syngrealian, but not the identity. Eight others are drawn at random from the cup, placed on the areas as you wish. That leaves others unused, so the game should be different each time.

There are office holders in each town and castle, and garrison troops in towns. All the people counters, except the Royal Party and the garrison troops, represent people, on the flip side there are numbers for how persuasive, useful in a fight or able to raise funds. If the character has a number on the picture side, then there is a paragraph in the rules giving information for that character and any special rules. E.g. Spock can add his persuasion score to another characters, the Mayor of a Town, if recruited, might be able to release any prisoner held in their town.

Uhura, accompanied by Sulu has beamed down and persuaded a castle’s lord to join the rebellion, Kirk ,Spock and McCoy has done the same with a town’s mayor

You need to keep track of the morale of the Royalist Party, the funds available to the Rebels and the how much of a Witchcraft scare there is. If Witchcraft ever reaches 10, then you automatically lose (this is noted under “Aiding the Poor”), so you need to keep that down. Using Federation technology, phasers, healing or the transporter will increase Witchcraft.

Royalist morale is uses as a modifier to the Royal Party gaining fealty of a town. As it starts at 10, then unless you can reduce it, all towns will swear fealt automatically and the Royalist will win in turn six.

You start with just the Enterprise crew and your aim is to recruit allies, and rescue prisoners. Other actions include move, rob from the rich (increases Warchest), give to the poor (reduce Witchcraft), heal injured characters, request Sanctuary and get horses.

The Warchest funds your groups on the planet, one per group per turn. If you have zero funds then recruited Syngrealians will start deserting you, and Enterprise crew will start getting injured. The Enterprise can supply you, but it will increase Witchcraft.

To and win you need to free the crew and any captured Enterprise crew, get a town in open rebellion and ensure Witchcraft is less than ten. To get a town in open rebellion means reducing Royalist morale by a lot. One of the problems is that you cannot directly reduce Royalist Morale, you can only get it as a side effect of recruiting certain characters or as a result of demanding money in castles, towns and the palace. If you reduce the morale enough that a town defies the King, that will accelerate the loss of morale.

All actions are resolved using a F10, with the “0” being a zero. For Federation/Rebel actions, high is good. When rolling for Royalist actions then low benefits the player. Most can be modified by spending gold or by the relevant ability of the character carrying out the action and any support from allies.

Meanwhile the King’s guards may home in on the rebels, seeking to capture them. Their initial orders are for a more lackadaisical “Patrol”, but can shift to a more aggressive “Search” then “Seize” as the game continues.

The game is more difficult than it might appear at first. You need to reduce Royalist morale enough that the Royal Party gets delayed, thus giving you more time to achieve your goals and get that town into rebellion, and that means recruiting Royalists and guards. The rules don’t say what happens when a Royal Guard is recruited, but, as one result for something else, can have the Guard removed, so I did that, as they don’t have any game stats so have no game effect on the rebel behalf.

While it can be a game with some fun stories with some of the characters you can recruit, and the actions you take, and the random draw of neutrals does make each game different, if the dice hate you then it can be frustrating. The Star Trek theme seems light, until you remember how often the original series did odd stuff like the “Roman Empire in the 20th Century”, “Vietnam allegory done hamfistedly”, “Gunfight at the OK Corral” then I think this “Robin Kirk and Little Spock” is just fine. This is well worth pulling out now and again for a bit of fun and frolics.

Thanks to Daniel King for pointing out this picture
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Travel Battle – The figures, the first battle and overall impressions

The figures (updated 02/01/2019)

My eyesight is so bad these days, that looking at the 8mm figures is better through the camera than with the naked eye. They have enough detail that, if painted, they should be enough for table effect. You will see here that the infantry only has one rank in place. This is because I haven’t decided yet if I am painting these. The units being on the diagonal signifies being formed in square.

The artillery is just two pieces, the wheels and axle flanked by two soldiers being the first, and the gun, trail and third soldier being the second piece.

Overall I wish they did more. I can buy extra sprues, though it might be better value to buy an extra set. As you can see above, the figures occupy enough space on the table on this initial set up.

It is obvious that the figure scale bears no relationship to the ground scale, otherwise the figs would be 2 mm. Only artillery have a range greater than the next square (6 squares), but if you look at the size of the farm, accepting the distance of one square to the next as being within musket range seems reasonable.

Infantry, by the way, over-spill the stand, so no lining up these infantry nicely. If you see the blue infantry in the middle, you notice squares with two ranks of infantry. Those are two stands (because only half the ranks are on each infantry stand) and in open squares you can have two units of infantry, as long as neither is in square.

Here are a Red Guard infantry (with colours) in front of 10mm GW “Battle of Five Armies” Goblins and beside Baccus 6mm Macedonian pike. The Baccus figures are not on a unit base, just the sort of tab base they are moulded onto. From this it looks like, if you wanted to add additional figures from other manufacturers, 6mm might be the better compromise. At time of writing, you could get 22 line infantry and 2 Guard infantry from Baccus for £7.50. That gets you 48 strips of infantry, two with colours and two strips per base would be like the supplied figures. I also photographed the Red light cavalry by some 6mm Baccus Cavalry. Sorry, didn’t dig out 10mm cavalry.

The Battle

Travel Battle is a IGOUGO game. The boards are oriented randomly, you each have three brigades, led by a brigadier on the round base, who need to trace a line for a unit to be able to move. Players place brigades down in turn until each has placed their three.

In the turn photos, Red will have moved and fired, Blue will have moved but not yet fired.

Turn one

Red starts. They moved forward. Initially the Blues were mostly hidden behind hills and buildings, limiting the targets for the Red artillery. What Red fire there was was ineffective.

The Blues move forward and start spreading out, you don’t see it yet, but the Blue artillery strike lucky, causing one unit of Red artillery to retreat, fail to rally, and disappear, and the other is just plain destroyed. This put a gap in the brigade on the hill, leaving one unit of infantry isolated and out of the brigadier’s command.

Turn two

Red Heavy Cavalry attacked the Blue infantry and initially did badly, losing one unit and causing one to retreat, but Heavy Cavalry (and Guard Infantry) get a re-roll, if they want, and on re-roll the Red Heavy Cavalry pushed the Blue infantry back.

The Blue’s advance on the right and centre, on the left the infantry on the road form square. The Blue artillery fire is ineffective.

Turn three

Red cavalry attacks the Blue infantry in square and comes off the worst. The Blue are closing down their right with thir other infantry and cavalry brigades.

The Blue artillery causes another unit to be destroyed. The problem with going into square, you make a much more inviting target, in this case artillery gets a second dice to roll to affect you.

The blue infantry flanking the artillery attack but are pushed back, also pushing back the brigadier.

Turn four (last turn)

The Red Heavy cavalry tries to force the infantry out of the woods, but are driven back in retreat, but rally on the board edge. The Reds have more success with their infantry in the middle, managing to destroy unit of Blue infantry.

The blues advance and close in across the front. The Blue artillery destroys a Red Guard infantry unit and causes another to retreat to the board edge where it rallies, the blue infantry repeat the feat.

At this point I call the game, as I have to do something else. However it does not look good for the Reds so that seems fair enough.

Conclusions and comments on the rules (update on 01/01/2019)

This was a nice fast game that, if you are going to be brutal, are more boardgame than wargame. However the rules, while simple, have adjustments for troop types and situations. Eg Cavalry that charging infantry which have not formed in square get two dice to roll, and choose the best.

You can put two infantry units in one square, giving them two dice for attack/defence.

Pushbacks can cascade, pushing other units out of position. In the FAQ it suggests units unable to retreat should lead to auto-destruction

Any unit that isn’t a brigadier itself, can push a brigadier aside, possibly leading to loss of control of a brigade.A nice wargaming point that, that there is a command and control feature.

Infantry in square get two dice Vs cavalry (attacking or defending), but artillery gets two dice when attacking them.

Corner to corner attacks are a thing, so units can support others. (Or just attack corner to corner, but it looks better as part of a line)

Roads increase travel along them, infantry can defend buildings, etc, etc.

All this in a few sides of A5. The system means that both sides can affect the other in their turn and their enemy’s, giving agency and helping lead to the speed of the game, even looking over the rules for my first battle and taking off the time photographing, these four turns only took just over half an hour.

Simple or not, I got a couple of things wrong, you need a whole turn to go into or out of square, but they did not affect the game much. Having diagonal movement/range may offend some folk, but it simplifies things.

There is a faq and some additional rules. I would like to try and find some figures I could use for skirmishers and horse artillery for the additional rules.

I am very much glad I bought this. I think I will end up painting this, perhaps as Russians versus French. This is my first Napoloenonic large scale battle rules, but the results seemed reasonable this first time.

I can see that the retreat and rally rules might cause a lot of back and forwarding, as brigades may have to retreat to be able to recover rallied units, as they cannot move without contact to a brigaadier. If that occurs then that is going to be unrealistic.

I do not think the Perrys have totally closed the door on doing more with it, but it is what it is, a wargame, with all you need, in a very portable box, a bit of fun to be had in a small space.

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Travel Battle – First impressions

My first impressions on unboxing “Travel Battle” from Perry Miniatures 
£50 though you might find it cheaper.

Front of the Travel Battle Box
The Travel Battle box is
38.2 cm x 29.5 cm x 6.4 cm

In the summer I had an idea of playing (and kind of reviewing) three Napoleonic board wargames. Well, I got one done. A few months later I saw this in the local shop. It is as it says, a complete wargame in a box. Figures, terrain, dice and rules for a Napoleonic wargame. It is based on a game that the designers came up with when one was recovering from a serious injury, that used a gridded board and 6mm figures. The rules are very simple, the rule-book thin and even has advice for painting the figures and terrain.

Back of the box

I had been tempted to get it for a while, it was reduced a bit so I got it for myself as a Christmas present. Inside are two board, which together give you a battlefield of 51 cm x 25.4 cm. They are isomorphic so can be arranged in any manner and they will match up.

It looks like something you could put in a day pack alone with a laptop and a few things and the board, if you were travelling on a UK intercity train, would fit on a table if four of you could grab one of the seats with the big tables. Obviously trains shudder about a bit, not tested it but the rough terrain board tilted about 40 degrees before a base slid off, so hopefully it will be OK.

Each side gets two sprues, enough to make four brigadiers (you only use three), two units of Heavy Cavalry, two units of light Cavalry, two artillery pieces and eight units of infantry (2 guard, six line). Cavalry and infantry are three figure sets to a base, one brigadier or artillery group to theirs.

My first thought was “can I get more? These are 8mm in size, not a scale anyone else produces. They seem to be pretty much in proportion and to have a decent level of details for the size, as far as I can tell without putting them under a magnifier, which would be a silly thing to do, until you want to paint numbers on buttons. I may compare them to some 6mm Ancients I have to see how noticeable the difference might be. You can buy extra sprues from Perry Miniatures but, although they had planned to produce other units, they haven’t. I get the feeling they still might, in theory, but it is way down the priority list.

A Farm using three of the six supplied buildings. Each building comes in two halves and need to be glued together

Which brings me to a quandry. The idea of this is that this is a complete game. And it is. I will get into rules and gameplay in the next post, but you can play each side with slightly differing arrangements of the divisions, and the boards can be placed differently to give variety. But the instinct to expand with larger armies and boards is a fairly natural one. By the way, it is cheaper to buy an extra boxed set than buy the component boards and sprue equivalent.

The other issue for me is to paint or not to paint. This is a travel set, complete and playable out of the box, at least if you blutak or glue the buildings together (not the treetops, back to that) and the figures to the bases. Once glued the figures are going to be hard to paint the insides of ranks/columns of, so if you are going to paint then better to do that first and then glue in place. I think, for trying out the game-play, I’ll glue just one figure set to a base, and, if I decide to paint them, then I can do that then finish the job.

I mentioned not gluing down the treetops, the pictures above and below shows why, if troops move into the woods then you take the treetops off and stick the troops in.

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Waterloo Three – 1 – SPI’s “Napoleon at Waterloo”

Introduction
For some reason I have been inspired  to re fight the battle of Waterloo\La Belle Alliance three years after all the cool kids were doing it.

I will be using board wargames to do this and will follow the same basic plan for each side for the battles to see how the three games compare.

The three games are SPI’s “Napoleon at Waterloo”, SPI’s “La Belle Alliance” from their “Napoleon’s Last Battles” quad and River Horse Games’s “Waterloo: Quelle Affaire”. Why these? Because they are what I had.

Firstly, “Napoleon at Waterloo”. This was marketed by SPI as an “introductory wargame”, often given away with magazines, and my copy is a “print and play” version from Matthijs van der Zanden. It certainly simplifies things even from the early 1970’s state of the art, for a battle famously fought on a ridge, there are no slope/height rules. The only terrain effects are for woods, which block bombardments by artillery, and buildings, which double the combat strength of the unit inside.

The game map - Napoleon at Waterloo

The battlefield, The French seek to exit top left,Allied starting positions in red, French in blue. The Prussians will come in from the east.

The Napoleonic Wars is not my period. So there are nuances of tactics that I will miss, things I should be looking for that I could say this has or does not. The only thing that immediately stood out were those combat strengths. I tend to think of artillery as having a strong punch but vulnerable to assault. Cavalry as exploits of gaps and able to break unprepared infantry. Infantry can hold of cavalry, but to do that then they sacrifice mobility and become vulnerable to artillery. You do not get this sense in NaW. Artillery being able to bombard or support attacks is as close as you get to that combined arms idea.

The French Plan
Knowing that the Prussians are on our right, the last thing we want is to get tied up on the right. Our objective is the Brussels road, which is on our left, from our initial deployment we will shift our force to the left, save for a number of units of cavalry which will advance up the right, to stop the Allies from being able to match our moves and continue to block our advance.

The Allied Plan
Hold the French here, maintain our lines and if we required to give ground then do so  in good order, while keeping the between the French here and Brussels. The Prussians will come.

The French start their grand manoeuvre, the Allies act to preserve their defence

The battle opens
The French send cavalry up both flanks, the Eastern move to keep the Allies from shifting to block the Brussels Road, the Western to drive the Allies in. Clearing out a detachment in the woods near Hougoumont, the main part of the Guards start the Westward march. The centre is not to get heavily engaged just yet, just enough to again, keep the centre pinned.

The Allies, refuse their flanks, and hold their centre.

The Allies are being pushed in

The second turn
The French plan continues to have its planned effect, the Allies are being pushed back, and towards their centre. In a purely gaming sense the Allies are using the Zone of Control rules to slow the French advance, as enemies must halt upon entering a Zone of Control. As the CRT favours a defender retreating at near even odds, this works for them.

The third turn

The Prussians arrive

Not the best picture, but the Prussians have arrived, cavalry to the North, and sufficient strength to hit the French line from the rear, but the French are starting to open up the road to Brussels.

Have the French left it too late to execute their plan?

The fourth turn
The French and Allied lines are starting to rotate a bit, with the Western line going back further than the eastern. The French are trying to disengage from the East, heading West without getting entangled with the Prussians. Where the Allies are making contact, the French are retreating if they are able, though the French cavalry on the Eastern flank is getting slaughtered.

The fifth turn
The French are starting to escape up the Brussels Road. The French are continuing their disengagement and heading to the Road, some of the units are forming a line to maintain a corridor behind which other units can retreat.

I think the last vestiges of similarity to the Battle of Waterloo and this game break down here. The conditions have allowed it to become more of a race game where the French are just trying to avoid being touched and made “it”.

The sixth turn
Continuing their orderly withdrawal, enough French units escape to achieve their victory conditions.

Of the Prussians, only the cavalry managed to hold any French to battle.

The verdict
I can see why this simple wee game got used as an introductory game. There are some subtle concepts in it for such a simple and short set of rules.

For example, If you have units in your Zone of Control then you have to attack them, and you cannot ignore any units if it is possible to attack them. In the photo to the right, the French cannot ignore the 6-4 infantry unit so as to concentrate on the 3-3 artillery. This at least stops units attacking others and ignoring the other two next to it.

It lacks any sense of the topography of the ground, strange in a battle where the ridge, however slight, played such a large part in the story of the battle. The only terrain are woods, roads and buildings.

It did not come up in this game, though it came close, but if the French destroy enough Allied units, the Allies are demoralised and fight less effectively.

However, at the end, it was a game rather than a battle. You could have had the same sort of game in a Eurogame with some twee theme. The French actions were not insurmountable as far as playing goes. The Allies could have retreated to just defend the line of the road, spacing so as to allow them to retreat and hopefully force the French back on their turn. That would have been just as artificial as the way this game played out, and somewhat less fun.

It was still a quick game, and I’d play it again, but the next one is SPI’s “La Belle Alliance”.

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Thoughts on finally playing Kings of War

Saturday 10th Feb I finally got to play the Kings of War wargame against other human beings in a tournament in Stirling. I took my Lord of the Rings Uruk Hai but used the, as the “Kingdoms of Men” faction, a useful catch all that lets lots of historical figure ranges be used in the game.

Sharkey as wizard, Army Standard Bearer and General

Sharkey as wizard, Army Standard Bearer and General

Because I am a Tolkien Purist, my deliberations over my force resulted in no monsters, no flying things, but a force that, wizard and orcish nature aside, would have excited no comment in medieval times, pikes, cavalry, sword and shield armed troops, archers and a couple of ballistae.

I’ll sum up my performance in that I think my army served me better than I served it. My foot guard of heavily armoured Uruks were strong in the attack and defence, the heavy pikemen, when used correctly, defended well and were relentless in the attack, they held their ground, even Sharkey survived an attack by giant eagles!

That’s a lot of zombies

My deployment suffered from lack of an effective strategy to deal with flying units. I had ideas about units behind my main line, but it didn’t execute well. In my final game I decided to go on an all out offensive, which worked where I had the strength, but I left my flanks weak, and once the troops there were cleared I didn’t have reserves to keep them covered. The Uruk Hai archers may look tough, but in reality they are Kingdoms of Men peasant archers. There was one battle where they got a useful flank attack, but in general, though they have a higher melee chance than ranged, don’t rely on them on a fight.

This isn’t a battle report,but my thoughts on the rules. The basic troops across the factions work similarly to each other, which is what you need. Infantry is infantry, archers are archers, cavalry in different roles can be shock cavalry or harassers. What keeps them from being too samey though, slightly different statistics, are have the tweaks of abilities and magic items, even in the same faction, your Shieldwall may be harder hitting but your opponents may be more skilled. Then you get monsters, flying things, wizards and weird constructs to bring in the strange and fantastical.

Combat may vary on skill in hitting, or effectiveness in defence, but the deciding factor in does a unit stick around is its nerve, bigger units have a higher nerve, they have more people in them and so survive longer. The disadvantage of the bigger units of course being that they are less maneuverable, smaller units might be able to turn to face a foe where a larger unit cannot. This is one of the places where the abstractions in Kings of War breaks down, there is no way for a unit to reform to, say, column or the like. To be honest I rarely if ever saw that in other fantasy mass battle games I’ve played.

The “similarity of function” can fool you though. You see a unit of Ogres with roughly the same footprint as one of your regiments, so you hit it hard, but that’s a horde, it has more survivability than one of your regiments, maybe not as much as one of your hordes, but enough to keep it surviving your ‘knockout blow’.

Army list for my Kingdoms of Men army

Army list for my Kingdoms of Men army

The turn is fast with no charts to consult for combat, all the numbers are on the army sheet. I can seriously recommend doing that, the only time any of the battles I was in hit a snag was when one of the opponents didn’t have his printed army list (against the rules of the tournament, but ach, skip it) so had to keep flipping back and forward to check the stats of his units, I had all I needed for fourteen units one one clearly printed sheet of A4. As the only other numbers involved are modifications to hit, of which there aren’t many and are easily remembered, it wasn’t confusing for a n00b like me. I may not have a grasp of the tactics, but at least I had a fair command of the rules.

I didn’t find not having dice rolls in my opponent’s turn was a big deal, I am supplying info on my units, and chatting and responding to what is happening, so I actually am involved in my opponent’s turn, and once the movement has gone, the shooting and melee go quickly enough, unless huge quantities of dice are involved.

Loads a dice

That’s a lot of dice. You need pretty much all of them or, at times, even more

I still think that there is, viscerally, a lot more fun and involvement in picking up and rolling handfuls of dice than checking charts of modifiers for a single die roll. It just seems more involving and fun. The doubling/tripling for flank/rear attacks is nice, and gives me a sense of achievement when I did it to someone else and a big groan when it happened to me. A big groan! I heard that more often than I felt the sense of achievement.

The games were run on scenarios. That I liked. You could get points for destroying your opponent’s army but the win for the scenario was worth more than those for enemy units removed. I know that that scoring structure was for the tournament, and is not the same for pick up/friendly battles just using the main rule book, but it did change the nature of what we were about, mind you, on another table it cost someone a victory for misunderstanding the conditions. At least that is one mistake I didn’t make!

Real life is a bit hectic, and club attending isn’t much of an option when you have carer responsibilities and ridiculously early starts for work, but I want to play this again, both with the army I used here, and with the dwarf army I intend to make for it. You can do a couple of battles in the same time as some older mass battle games, and try stuff out, I do not get the feeling that there are killer lists out there and the support for the game seems committed to keeping a level playing field, not to selling new armies/books for the latest killer army in a arms race calculated to drive sales.

A last word on the environment. Stirling’s Common Ground Games is a decent venue and relatively easy for me to get to. There are plenty of tables there for the players, a cafe that sells a drinkable black coffee, the burgers were so-so but edible, and the atmosphere was not polluted with gamer fug. Wish Glasgow had an equivalent, the only ones I know of are only for card gamers, no harm to them, but not set up for tabletop battles.

On the whole, 13/10, they’re good games Brent!

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The Emerald Tablet – early fantasy wargames rules

I have written before about an early set of fantasy wargames rules (Royal Armies of the Hyborian Age) before but they are not the earliest set of specifically fantasy wargames rules I ever saw.

I know I have been wargaming since at least 1978, but I was interested earlier than that. It may have been seeing the book “Know the Game:- Wargaming) or not, but I got that earlier, I know that because my Dad bought it for me. You can find pictures of the cover and some of the internal passages in this blog post about Phil Barker here. In later life finding out about Phil Barker’s reputation explains why I found that booklet a bit hard going.

Card for the Olympian Spirit Bethor

A couple of years after I was at a wargames show, probably at the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow, and I saw this game being played. Most of the figures were historical, but there were monsters, demons and angels scattered about, and coloured cards covered in intricate symbols. this was my first introduction to “The Emerald Tablet” (TET)

The Emerald Tablet rules – 1977 from Creative Wargames Workshop Designers – Joseph Miceli, Tom Loback & Jay Facciolo

The kind of game I saw, where normal troops were supplemented by summoned units, creatures and angelic/demonic spirits is not a style I can remember seeing in the last 30 years. Firstly Tolkien derived troops became the norm, or at least faction based (like Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Fantasy Warrior, Wargods of Aegyptus or Kings of War) and the demons and monsters started on the field as part of the army troop selection.

In TET, almost you could wish for is in there. Normal troops, heroes, leaders, gigantic mounts, monsters, trolls, giants, shape-changers (It’s the only ruleset off the top of my head that lets you model the forms of Beorn consistently in itself) , flyers, war machines, different sorts of magicians, powerful magic that could backfire on the caster and which is affected by the hour of casting the spell. You don’t get rules on deployment, so deployment advantage powers aren’t part of the game.

For the era it was a well produced book. The text is across the page rather than being put into columns, there are illustrated examples, though some of the “uninvolved figures” represented by hollow circles, are a bit hard to make out, and there are the intricate borders all around the pages. There are four designs, used in the same sets of two, sometimes flipped around.

One strange thing is that the magic cards, essential for using the range of ceremonial magic and summoned entities, was not always sold with the book, they cost extra, which seems strange. There were also some blank or indistinct pages in my copy, which seems to have been a common enough problem for pdfs replacements to have spread around gamers.

Some of the formations units can adopt

The set-up and mechanics are a lot different to most current fantasy wargames. The basic formations and maneuvres are ones that will be familiar to people who play historical wargames, particularly black power era ones, as your units can form line, column, wedge, skirmish line or square. The illustrations show four figures to a stand or multibase which is a suggestion for making moving figures easier as four is just the basic width for column, or in the wedge example above, each line has to have at least 4 figures more than the one before. That stand is not the unit, the unit can have multiple stands and they rules suggest leaving a few figures unmounted to make removing casualties easier.

Moreover, the base size for a figure is not the same for each figure of the same species. The formation that the figure will be used in determines the width, as does the height and weight of the thing that the figure represents, this will mean that two lines of the same width, one of close order infantry and the other open order infantry of creatures of the same size, then the close order infantry will have twice the number of figures in the fight. The close order human has a suggested width of 15mm, which is another sign of the age of these rules, when 25mm was 25mm, and wargames figures were often in profile. Trying to fit heroic 28mm to the same size would be hard.

Flyers have three height levels, the higher the unit the further it has to travel laterally to make an attack

There are rules for changing formation, with less well trained or motivated units taking longer to shift formations , and only the best trained units able to do the more complex maneuvres.

The advantages of a formation are missing or abstracted in a current fantasy wargame like Kings of War, eg a pike or spear unit cannot form a defensive formation with all the spears outward with a movement penalty the usual price. However any ruleset has to try and strike a balance between “realism” and “playability”, between “simulation” and “game” and most fantasy sets try to be quicker, fun games rather than all day Kriegspiels.

Another difference that stands out from something like WHFP or KoW is the issuing of orders. Many games have restrictions using mechanisms like limited command points, random card draws or push your luck dice rolls, but in TET they use the old idea that all units have one written order that they must follow, and it requires intervention from a Commander or Sub-commander, directly or via message (carried telepathically or by an actual messenger).

The idea of point designing units from scratch is old-fashioned these days. It is much more common to only give a limited set of types for each faction, with minimal customisation. Sometimes this is argued from a point of balance, but mostly it seems to be to give the company a great deal of control over their game after the purchase of the rules, and to give scope for selling new troop types and the figures to use for them later on. This is not just true of fantasy and science-fiction games, it seems to be quite common in big company historical games too these days.

The closest I can think of, from the top of my head, for the idea of designing your troops from a base set of stats to which you add characteristics, and then assembling your army is Crusader Miniature’s “Legions of Battle” (derived from their Crusader Miniature rules and illustrated with Mantic figures). Unlike “Legions of Battle” though, whose troops design is simple and lot of fun, designing units for TET is complex and it’s useful if you have a calculator handy.

TET  talks about castings, by which it means a figure, but as I will use the term casting for magic, then I will use the word figure. Units up to about cavalry size are made up of between 5 and 50 figures. Large figure such as chariots or warmachines are in units of 1 to 8. To figure out the base cost you cross-reference the height of the thing represented with the weight, so a halfling or dwarf, both under 5 feet, the halfling would cost 1 point, the dwarf 2 points. Then you add the equipment and abilities. However, not being sane, instead of just using a set number of points, TET uses percentages. So your halfling and dwarf

    • in chainmail with shield add +35%
    • add a spear that’s an additional +20%
    • some experience in battle, +20%
    • Regular troops +30%
    • led by someone with some experience, +20%
    • Strength and endurance,
      • a halfling is weaker than a man, -20%
      • a dwarf is roughly human strength, +0%
      • a halfling has human endurance, +0%
      • a dwarf has the endurance of two men, +20%

So a unit of 10 halfling soldiers costs 20 points, the dwarves 50 points. As you design this then you are going to have to note various levels of ability, like level II leadership, on your notes as this is going to have an effect in battle, as you total up all the advantages in height, weight, reach, leadership etc that your units involved in the melee have. There are 25 categories of advantage including how fatigued your unit might be, and some advantages are cancelled out by circumstances, e.g you get no advantage for the longer weapon if you were just forced back in melee.

Who can attack

Like a lot of wargames of that era, combat is a matter of finding out how many casualties are caused and the first stage of that is how many figures you have involved in the fight, basically it is number of figures touching base, plus some overlap, some from the next ranks if they have a long reach weapon like a spear or pike, the longer the reach, the more you count. There are other circumstances that can affect the combat, the strength of heroes or if a unit has a significant height/weight advantage over the enemy, then each figure in the bigger side counts as four for the purposes of the combat.

Chart used to help figure out how many casualties you cause in a fight

You then use your advantage number plus number of figures involved to obtain a number to which you had a d20 roll divided by 100. With me so far? Any whole number is that number of automatic casualties, any number after the decimal point is the percentage chance of another casualty, so 3.34 would be 3 automatic casualties with a 34% chance of a fourth.

It works, but battles with this would less need a chess clock than a chess calendar, and it does not have the visceral appeal of buckets of dice.

Complex as they are, the combat rules work, even if they do drill down to the detail of what happens to draft animals when enemy units touch them (spoilers, they die), when do gigantic war mounts stampede, what areas does a breath weapon cover and what angles war machines can fire at to hit flying targets They are at core standard style wargames rules of the era, and could be used for battles from Ancients to Renaissance, perhaps even Napoleonic with some house rules, but the authors have given thought to the effects of the fatntastic on the mundane, e.g what happens when a fire elemental causes casualties to a bombard, you check for it exploding of course.

Cards for Evocation circles for High Magicians and Thaumaturges

It is the magic that make this set of rules different from anything else I can remember reading or seeing played.

The authors claim that the magic is based on medieval grimoires and understanding of magic, and from my limited knowledge, that seems a fair claim, if you take it as late medieval Kabbalism and later

If the unit creation, movement and combat rules seem fiddly, well at least they cover familiar territory for the wargamer. Magic is split into “Innate”, basically spells cast from the powers of the mage, and “Ceremonial”, rituals to summon powers of the Astral plane. The innate powers are somewhat limited in scope to the mage, such as levitation or invisibility for the big powers you need to summon and command astral beings. Magic costs power, called Magic Endurance Points, successfully cast or not, and the more powerful (and expensive) the mage then the more of these they will have. Probationers, the lowest grade of mage, have only one innate power, Combat, but can assist more powerful mages in Ceremonies.

High Magicians can summon Angels or Olympic Spirits, Theurgist can summon Demons, Thaumaturges can summon all types. So why would you want to summon astral beings, purely as bigger monsters for combat? No, particularly as you risk madness or the loss of your powers. The summoned beings have powers that can be directly used in combat, yes, but they have powers that can affect the environment of the battle and outcomes of fights. The cards for the astral beings list the powers that each has, e.g . The Demonic King Beleth can create troops or cast the spell of Friendship (congrats, that enemy unit works for you now).

Summoning astral beings requires the mage and up to two assistants to create a circle of evocation. The hour of summoning can be significant, adding to the chance to summon, so if using evocation in a battle then you will have to roll to find out when the battle started, and there are four game turns to the game hour. Moreover, Angels and Olympic Spirits have associated colours, and if your mage figure is painted in colours corresponding to that colour, then congratulations, you get another summoning bonus.

For demon summoning then sacrificing intelligent beings increases your summoning chances. Sacrifices are a resource that need to be escorted by your apprentice mages, so your enemy could lower your chances by targeting your apprentices.

Astral powers are beneficent (aid a unit) or klipothic (harm a unit or create enemies) and include summoning elementals (eg an Air Elemental can disrupt or damage a unit), sewing discord (causing units to disobey orders), improve morale, directly affecting success in combat and more. When casting your powers you roll d100, the higher the number then the greater the effect, so if casting Creating Troops then the higher the roll the more points to spend and the types you can choose go from Open Order Infantry, through Close Order then any.

Heroes and figures in casting circles have innate magical protection against harmful powers but if you want to protect your troops then you might want to invest in magic amulets for the figures in your units.

So. Is it playable. Yes. It’s been a long time since I used these rules but they are certainly playable? Would I play them? No. The state of the art has advanced in 40 years and rebasing figures to the irregular sizes demanded by this system would be a pain. One of the considerations in a set of wargames rules has to be “do they feel right”. Do the results seem believable. It used to be thought that this demanded exacting complexity to model every facet of a battle, but various designers have found that you can abstract elements of a battle out without losing believable results. Cavalry charging pike get roughly handled, artillery can decimate blocks of formed infantry, cavalry and infantry can overrun artillery. The streamlined rules work and you can still have flying troops and fear causing horrors.

These days I would rather play Kings of War for mass battles, or Lord of the Rings for skirmish, though I have thought about adapting the magic concepts to Legions of Battle. In fact, before Legions of Battle was published, I had written almost all of a Dark Ages fantasy adaptation of the Crusader rules, I like them that much, but it’s nice to remember sometimes where you came from.

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The once and future manuscript

As I have written about before, when my taster rules for the classic Chivalry & Sorcery, Chivalry & Sorcery Essence was printed, I thought of it as a toolkit and not as a whole game world. I did put in a bit of the more gritty Darken kingdom of the Marakush game world in as an example, but that was just that, an example.

Chivalry and Sorcery Essence has the ideas of C&S, but uses a d20 system. No. Not that one.

  • Your starting skills are based on your Social Class, starting Vocation with some choices for the player on what to spend points on
  • Magic is a skill and is tricky.
  • The faith someone has in their religion affects what they get out it.
  • Your chance to succeed is STAT + SKILL LEVEL – MODIFIERS.
    • If in a contested skill then Highest Successful roll wins.
  • Success affects how much damage you do
  • armour reduces damage not your chance to be hit
  • you have a few combat tactics options.

I got criticised for not doing a High Fantasy setting, I thought “Arthur was easy”, that it could be included as a free article. It wasn’t. It is time for an update on the project.

After storming through the project in 2013 and 14, I kind of burned out, mostly because of work rather than this. I handed it to a friend, knowing that they would not be able to take it on as a priority.

Earlier this year (2017) I took it back. I have made some progress, not as much as I would like, time is still a factor. The game was 80% done. It is now 90% done but I would like to offer this precis of what is in it

It is technologically and socially the Dark Ages. There are some more medieval romantic ideas in there, but I have tried to create a relatively plausible Romano-British era setting. OK you don’t have Gothic or Italian plate armour, but you have the Sutton Hoo Helmeted Saxons and Late Roman style Romano British Cavalrymen doing their thing

A cut down version of the manuscript contents

    • Social Background
    • Training and Vocations
      • Including two kinds of Christian priests, Pagan priests  (inc Druids) and different sorts of mages
    • Blessings and Flaws (optional)
      • Perhaps your character has a gift from the Fae, allies, enemies, a curse …
    • Character Advancement
    • Optional Combat rules inc The Great Blow,  Shield bash and Hit Location
    • Magic and Magicians inc the Saxon Necromancer and former Druidic Initiates
    • Spell types including Glamour and Shaping spells
    • Enchanting rules including auguries and purification
    • Magic heirlooms
    • Religions of Roman and Celtic Christians, Druids and Saxons
    • Holy Artefacts
    • The societies of the British, Saxons, Irish, Scots and Picts
      • The kingdoms of the British Isles
      • Major Personalities of the British Isles
      • What Chivalry means to British, Saxon, irish, Scots and Pictish knights
        • Tourneys and jousting
      • Warfare at this time
    • The Otherworld and creatures of it
    • Monsters, Beasts and instant NPCS
    • Running a campaign
      • An alternate view of Arthur
    • A starting adventure

When Vortigern ruled he was suspicious and saw every man as his enemy and so he sought to build himself a strong keep to retreat to should he ever find himself in danger. However every attempt to build the tower was doomed. During the day the builders would build it up, and each night the stones would be found strewn across the site.

The wise men whose advice he sought, told him that only the blood of a boy born without a mortal father would quieten the restless spirits of this place, and Vortigern sought such a boy until the young Merlin was found.

Merlin was not afraid, and spoke back, saying that the wise men did not know what was causing the problem and had sought to delay matters by setting what they though was an impossible task. Merlin said to Vortigern ‘Have the ground dug up to show what is there’

They did so and revealed a lake. Merlin then said to Vortigern that the lake should be drained. It was and underneath were two sleeping dragons one red and one white.

‘There, ‘ Merlin said, ‘ is your answer. By day they sleep, but at night they fight, and in so doing the stones of your tower are overthrown. Now, wait for nightfall, and watch and learn, for the White Dragon represents the Saxons, and the Red ourselves.’

That night the White fought the Red. The Red held its ground for a while, then started to be forced back. It rallied and pushed the white back for a short space of time, with some to and froing as both white and red contested the White’s part of the lake bottom, but eventually the Red was thrown to the far end of the bottom of the drained lake where it remained. When dawn came, the white Dragon vanished, though the Red faded more slowly.

Merlin turned to Vortigern and said

‘This is my prophecy, the Saxons are driving west, in our time. There shall be some respite before the Saxons gain the upper hand and force us to hold only a corner of what we now possess. Later though, after a long time, it may be that we shall remain, long after the Saxons are forgotten, but that will be a short twilight before the fading.’

Merlin left, not to be seen for some years, but his hateful prophecy remained.

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“but what is original is not good…..”

“and what is good is not original” goes the quote from Samuel Johnson, in response to someone who sent him a manuscript to read. To quote someone else, the TL:DR version of this post would be “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you, their tastes might not be the same

Fantasy Flight Games recently announced they wet reprinting the D6 West End Games Star Wars RPG, I assume the 2nd Edition revised. A brief twitter conversation with Matt @chimpy20 Hayward about this and reading Grant Morrison’s “super Gods” get me thinking about old game nostalgia and the proliferation of new RPGs.

Grant Morrison’s book talks about the waves of new comic book artists and writers and the need of some, including himself, to denigrate the work of established artists/writers as fuddy-duddy,  churning out safe standard work, as part self-publicity, of making their own name.

Fashions change, new work builds on the old and very often what was old is resurrected, either as part of nostalgia by those who was then or rediscovered by a new generation. This is as true of RPGS as it is comics, but, speaking from my own experience, nostalgia is probably the stronger pull in RPGs, just witness the eBay prices for old RPGs. Reprints for collectors are nothing new, neither are games that try to recapture the feel of an older game, usually Original D&D or AD&D.

I was not in the first wave of RPG players, but I was playing in the late 70s, starting with D&D, and following the same path of discovery that the writers of the second generation of RPG writers carved out. D&D has problems with logic and reality, never mind an obsession with weird pole-arms. The Vancian cast and forget magic system, the abstraction of combat, the limitation on non-human advancement, even the whole notion of class and level, went through house-ruling and fanzine variants, them new RPGs arodse to address these perceived shortcomings.

Complex systems meant to model reality in combat, task resolution, skill learning and magic were tried. I loved these. Different character paths were possible, different tactics in combat, without needing huge books of extra feats and options some laters RPGs tried, a complex but concise system as opposes to a simple but encyclopaedic one.

There are some systems that seem perfect for their world, like RuneQuest 2’s implementation of Basic Role-Playing others might have a elegant system, but no compelling world, still more have a terrible system but a world people love to play in, Palladium’s Rifts falls into that category for me, neither part of that appealed but I know people who love it, clunky as the system is.

The attractive thing about a fair few modern RPGs, like Symbaroum, is that they come wrapped in their world. That is not a new idea, but we build on the ideas that came before and try to prove we can do better. This is as true of long lived games like Chivalry & Sorcery as it is of the retroclones like the Old School Renaissance D&D a likes. In the latters’ case they aren’t just trying to recapture Dungeon style gaming, they aim to do something better, for example more consistent rules and/or a better entanglement in the gameworld, both true of Astonishing Swords and Swordsmen of Hyperborea. Doesn’t always work of course, Johnson’s quote is as true of RPGs as it is of music.

At long last we are at the reprint of WEG Star Wars. FFG has it’s own in-house system. They are not proposing to bring the D6 game back to life however it is the one I would play given a chance, not the “living” FFG game. I have not played the FFG game but I read some of the material, which seemed wooly in style and limiting in scope, and it did not enthuse me as did the WEG game. The Ghostbusters descended system and game material of the original strike me as suiting my tastes better.

This isn’t just a grognard disdain for the new though. Venerability does not mean playability, I point you at the original SuperHero 2044 just as neither is novelty. Neither is this about “having fun wrong”. Policing another’s fun, unless it is illegal and/or scares the horses is not only wrong, it’s pointless. Tastes differ and it can be worth playing a game not to your taste if part of a group because that’s what friends do for each other (Doesn’t mean that you can *always* find fun it it, sometimes despite everything it can be a chore).

However whether you might prefer one game over another is not just down to absolute taste. Context also important. These days for me the most important type of context is the amount of time real life gives you and your group to play. I still prefer “crunchy” systems in an absolute sense, but I will prefer to play simpler, more abstracted systems because they resolve system calls more quickly and the story can progress. I used to play 10 hours on a Saturday so I had time to be involved in epic tactical combats, now a couple of hours play a week is a rare luxury.

The point I am building up to is this. While policing someone else’s fun is wrong, if someone says that your way of having isn’t, then getting outraged is probably not worth it, particularly if it is an off-hand remark or a remark in a space limited forum like Twitter. If you get a chance to find out why, maybe a bad experience of other preferences then you may find that useful, but unless you are in a face to face over a beverage, a protracted discussion will probably do neither of you any favours nor will it be fun.

From my own PoV, I will try to stop making easily misinterpreted blanket statements of preference and qualify them where possible. It’ll save time and heartache

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Way too long a post on how to lose weight

TL:DR version of this. No secrets. Boring routine comprising eating less and exercising more and recording food day to day to keep an eye on things. Not giving up because you enjoyed yourself one day.

Introduction

I have been overweight most of my adult life, I have managed to lose major amounts of weight three times. How major? In two cases basically the mass of an adult human.

Keeping it off? Not so good at. I plan to learn how to do that this time, but I have lost it in the first place and occasionally people ask me “what is your secret?”.

 

The basics

Firstly, I don’t have a secret. I have no “5/2” or “Atkins/Dukan” style thing going on, what I said in the summary at the top about boring routine, that is it, but I will put down what I do and what advice occurs to me.

Firstly I think that it has to be right for you. Having someone hassle you won’t help, doing it for yourself, for reasons you feel are right, at the time that is right for you, that helps you hit the right mindset.

Secondly. As the summary above implies, the way to lose weight is to expend more energy than you take in. As a rule of thumb, 500 calories less food per day that what you need to maintain your weight will give you a 1 pound loss each week. There is a calculator here. I record each thing I eat and the exercise I take. You can use a notebook for this, but I use an app, I use an app/website recording this, My Fitness Pal – http://www.myfitnesspal.com/. With that you can also put in your height/weight/lifestyle and your weight loss goals and it will calculate your calorie needs.

Thirdly. Recording everything is key. Boring, but key. It is too easy to graze and forget little things eaten when cooking or at the desk and forgotten biscuits at the work desk. If you want to keep control then record the lot. If you eat more one day, have a drink or whatever? No problems, just go a bit lighter the next few days to counteract that.

But you may ask, I’m going to get hungry. How do I handle that?

Fourthly. Regular meals and spaced out snacks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner but also a morning and afternoon snack AND a supper before going to bed. My snacks are usually fruit (banana in the morning, orange in the evening) and supper is warm milk (living on the edge, huh!). By having these things spaced out regularly, hopefully you are never too long before you get something and that will help you hang on till then.

Fifthly. As you will know portion control is important and empty plates make people feel hungry. It does not help that dinner plates these days are much bigger than they were back in the 70s, almost twice the surface area. We bought replacement plates online to add to those remaining from our 70’s set. This wee psychological trick does help. Don’t be silly, don’t use side plates as as substitute. You are not punishing yourself, just trying to undo the effects of ridiculous dinner plates the size of an olympic swimming pool

Sixthly. If you are exercising, remember you will need to eat a little more to fuel it. I usually have an extra snack half an hour before I start, so that I don’t feel faint towards the end (it happened, the physio [metaphorically] slapped me and told me why that occurred). I also have a slightly more calorific lunch on those days. If you get a chance, a sports physio can help you plan a routine that suits you.

Seventhly. Measure progress, but not too often. Weekly is a short enough timespan to help prevent feelings of “ach well, I’ll make it up later” getting out of hand, but more often than that will send you mad. Weight differs from day to day. Ensure that, as far as possible, you are wearing similar clothes, at the same time and under the same circumstances, e.g. before breakfast, each time. If you are exercising you may add muscle mass as you lose fat, so also keep an eye on what is happening to your clothes sizes, just in case the raw numbers aren’t encouraging.

Eigthly. Don’t get het up about “setbacks”. If you have a day when you ate a bit more than you think you should have or you have a celebration that includes food and drink, then that is that. Don’t give up. That was that day, this is this day, get back into it.

Ninethly. If you have a lot to lose, then hold off on buying new clothes as long as possible. If you bought clothes every size change then you will spend a fortune. You will end up with baggy clothes and it’ll be a bit silly, but when you do get replacement clothing it will feel so good.

 

Thoughts about food

A few thoughts about food. I think commercial Slimmer meals are a waste of time. It is better to prepare things yourself if possible. Make them to your own taste and more appetising than your usual cook chill meal.

Avoid diet drinks, things with sweeteners. Not only do some have potentially bad effects, including affecting your gut bacteria, but the brain reacts to them as if they were sugar, your blood sugar will spike and crash and you will feel hungrier. WebMD on this. Better to stick to tea, coffee, herb teas if you like that sort of thing, water. I put lime or lemon juice in water sometimes to give it some taste. In Scotland we have “soft” water, no chalk in it. Nicer to drink.

Avoid low fat products Fat isn’t the problem in any case, but low fat profucts often use sugar to make up the flavour. Just use normal products and keep an eye on what you use.

Be wary of diabetic products some sweeteners used in diabetic products will basically give you the runs.

Try to increase the proportion of the meals that are protein and reduce the carbohydrates. Usually for meals uncooked weight of carbohydrates like rice or pasta should be no more than 75g, a little over 2 ounces per person. Believe me, it’s enough.

So obviously a big thing is to keep meals interesting. Flavours you like. Meals should not be a drudge, but a nice taste. Lunches for me these last two summers have been salads with about 40g of cooked grain, like pearl barley, lentil or cous cous (seasoned) some cooked meat like chicken breast, chunky peppered beef or tuna. The idea is to put this into a container so at lunchtime they can be heated. The other container has salad leaves, sundried tomatoes and or baby tomatoes, some olives and some flavoured hummus or cottage cheese depending. Follow that up with an apple. The seasoning and the hummus/cottage cheese actually give it some flavour. The heat in the meat/grains is nice.

If you have a sandwich, most of the calories are often bread, so as I say, you want to have more protein as a proportion. If you are in Scotland, a morning roll, being airy, is not that bad as a container of a good meaty sandwich.

The main meals are usually normal meals, though if we had a big lunch then we will take a smaller dinner, closer to being a lunch.

Abstinence is easier than reduction. With things like chocolate, crisps and chocolate I fnd that not having any is a lot easier than trying to have a small amount only.

Fat isn’t the issue. Well, fat has calories and too many are what you are trying to avoid,  but in general fats are useful for the body to help it absorb nutrients. Fat as fingered in the 50s, using some very skewed and cherry picked evidence. Sugar is much more of a problem. Have a read here or here.

 

A typical day for exercise and food

I don’t drive. So I walk more than you might if you are a driver, but I still use public transport. I used to walk to work and back in Glasgow (helping me do 10,000 steps) but damage to my knee means I can’t now. However walking between home, bus, train and shops mean I usually walk an hour or more each day.

Breakfast

usually porridge, or toast with cream cheese or cottage cheese or a boiled egg with buttered oatcakes

Morning snack

Usually a banana. On gym days I also take a seed, nut and or fruit shot of around 100 calories

Lunch

As described before, a meat salad or roll with grain mustard, chock full of meat and salad, or a decent, hearty soup. An apple or yoghurt to follow.

Afternoon Snack

Orange, or a couple of buttered oatcakes

Dinner

Normal enough, but exercising portion control and trying to keep the carbohydrates down and the protein and vegetables up.

Supper

Warmed milk. Friday I treat myself with stirring cocoa (not hot chocolate) powder into it.

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