Category Archives: Games

Best Moment from Lost Mine of Phandelver

After being a bit critical previously about The Lost Mine of Phandelver as an adventure (and being criticized for that!), I thought I would redress the balance by sharing one of the best moments that I had running the adventure for my players.

So before you read any further – SPOILER ALERT – don’t read if you’re about to take part in this adventure.

The best moment we had running the adventure was after the party had rescued Gundrun from Cragmaw Castle. Our Folk Hero Fighter – named Kosef Raban – asked that the party make a detour to Thundertree so that he could fulfill his goal of restoring the village to its former glory. The party a bit reluctantly agreed – especially as Gundrun was keen to look for his brothers. On reaching Thundertree they met the hermit and started clearing the buildings of Giant Spiders and Twig Blights, and then they reached the lair of the dragon!

I think it’s awesome that Wizards included a dragon in their starter set – although a young one – as it gives a great sense of the potential epic scale of the game and also is an iconic monster – you got to have dungeons and dragons in Dungeons & Dragons after all don’t you!

The PCs managed to get into the building where the dragon dwelt without waking it and attack it while it slept. The combat was dangerous and the PCs were losing hit points, but then Kosef came into attack – he rolled a critical and did maximum damage to the already wounded dragon. Enough damage to kill it with one blow! As Kosef had dreamed of returning Thundertree to its former glory this was a great moment as he was the one to actually destroy the biggest threat to the village – the Young Green Dragon. As DM I decided that the killing blow decapitated the dragon and that its head was chopped off with a great sweep from Kosef’s longsword.

We all enjoyed that session immensely. Killing a dragon is such an iconic moment for D&D. Even though this was a side quest it actually felt like the most climactic part of the adventure as a whole.

If you’ve played the adventure – what was your favourite moment and why?

Enemy Within Miniatures and a Heroic Fighter of the Known World

Got a new lightbox yesterday, so here’s some early attempts at photos with some basic scenery thrown in.

The photos are just via an iPhone 6 so nothing special, but I think they have come out fairly well.

The first one includes two figures from the Death on the Reik scenario pack for the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play Enemy Within campaign. Joining them is Ulrik Ulrikson, one of the Heroic Fighters of the Known World. It looks like I gave him a new shield design related to his worship of Ulric. Werner from Death on the Reik on the left sports heraldry of Karl Franz, the Emperor, while the sergeant of the Castle Wittgenstein guard has heraldry that I think must have been inspired by the scenario or appeared in a White Dwarf – I can’t find a source though! All of these figures were painted about 25 years ago, but with bases redone this year.

Oldhammer Photo - Death on the Reik and Ulrik Ulrikson

Anyone interested in the wonderful Death on the Reik adventure – you can see a copy on Scribd.

Lost Mine of Phandelver – a Critique 

First a disclaimer –this isn’t a detailed review of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure module that comes with the new D&D 5th Edition Starter Box set, but rather a bit of a critique of it based on my own expectations for new Dungeons & Dragons 

What I’m saying is that I won’t offer a detailed analysis of the adventure or go into a lot of the details of what it’s about – so you if you want that have a look elsewhere – but rather I’m going to offer some views on why the adventure, although well produced, doesn’t work as I wanted it to – and how I think it could do more.  

So a bit of a moan really! Here’s the problems I had with it: 

  • It’s still pretty much a Dungeon bash. Although there’s some links between the different locations – finding Gundrun and looking for his brothers, once there the PCs just move from room to room and fight whatever they come across. There’s no sense of something actually happening.
  • The plot is a bit weak – sure help out Gundrun and there’s someone who wants to do bad things. But actually what has the Black Spider got planned? What will he do if the PCs can’t defeat him? We don’t really know. If they knew he was going to destroy Phandalin or Neverwinter, then I think that would add to the sense of drama – and the motivation to do something about him. As it is, the plot revolves around helping some dwarves get stuff – just facilitating greed at the end of the day! The lack of plot driving and adventure has always been a problem with D&D from what I can see, and this adventure really enforces that feeling for me – Warhammer Fantasy Role Play has always done a much better job of making players feel like they’re part of an actual story – and encourage roleplaying. 

 

Lost mine of phandelver

Here’s what I Iiked about it: 

  • Great production values and art – lovely maps 
  • Good tips for new DMs and how to help players get started 
  • The pre-generated Player Characters are well balanced and have some good motivations that link to the locations in the adventure – but I think more could have been made of that in the actual adventure itself – as the DM might forget about the links and could be reminded by some help text in the adventure.  
  • The encounters, monsters and fights are fun for starting adventures – some classic monsters are included, which allows new players to enjoy D&D as it should be.

I hope this critique doesn’t put people off actually getting the D&D Starter set though – it’s a great set, has a wonderful summary of the rules. I just wish I’d taken the time to add a bit more to the adventure to make it more plot driven and exciting!

Creating Virtual Miniature Wargames

First off I am no great expert on this subject, but have played around with a few different ways of doing things, so wanted to give my opinions of what works for me at least. If you’re looking for a how to do this, I’m not planning to go into detail of that now—although I might another time. However, I would say that Vassal seems to be best option as it gives a lot of flexibility, is free to use and has some miniature wargames modules already loaded that you can learn from.

Why Create Virtual Miniature Wargames?

Software like Tabletop Simulator and Vassal are designed to simulate the experience of a board, card or miniatures game on the computer. They don’t recreate a computer game where all the calculations are automated and the player doesn’t have to know the game mechanics. The idea is that you don’t have to have the pieces of card, plastic or metal in front of you to play the game—these are all represented using digital images on the screen—including the board or table.

But if that’s the case, what’s the point? There’s a few reasons.

Multiplayer

The ability to play with people at a distance rather than face to face. Not something that was an immediate need for me.

Cost

Guilty secret—it’s a way for people to play these games at low or no cost. One reason GW bans publication of Vassal modules on the Vassal site. However, other publishers are more chilled about that – the probably realise that having this version doesn’t replace the real experience, and in fact probably helps nurture it. Also I don’t think usage is that high.

Space

I don’t have space for a miniatures games table more than 2 x 3 foot, so playing larger games would be impossible any other way. At the moment for physical games I am restricted to smaller, skirmish style games – Hobbit Strategy Battle Game for instance.

Time

To play a physical tabletop game, you either need a good block of time – half a day at least perhaps, or can leave a table set-up until the next gaming session. I have been able to do that sometimes with our 2 x 3 table, but that’s not always possible. So having a virtual table that I can save and come back to is a great asset for playing a longer game.

What I wanted to do

My ideal situation was to be able to try out some wargames periods and rules sets that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to on a real tabletop – again for the reasons above. My aim was to get more familiar with some of the most popular rules on the market – for instance De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) for Ancients and Medieval, Field of Glory for several periods, Bolt Action for WW2.

The need was for something that was quite customizable and easy to use. Visual appeal would be nice to have, but not essential.

My Experiences so far

I had come across two examples of Virtual Tabletops previously – Vassal and Tabletop Simulator. Vassal is free, very customisable, but doesn’t have the 3D engine that Tabletop Simulator. That 3D engine comes at a moderate cost – I think I paid £14.99 on Steam for it, but given that amount of games you could play with it that seemed reasonable.

Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop SimulatorI’ll start with this one first. I had learnt enough about it to be able to play the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, so I decided it was time to try some of the wargames. That’s where I came a bit unstuck. When I downloaded some of the wargames modules – e.g. for Warhammer or Bolt Action, I was presented with a load of models, some of which wouldn’t load properly. That meant going and actually watching some tutorial videos and looking up why the image files wouldn’t load.

Having successfully done that I started off with a simple Horse and Musket game – really just a battle that someone had created rather than a whole game set.

The main issue with Tabletop Simulator for simulating wargames became quite clear at this stage – it doesn’t seem to have any way to actually move several individual models and keep them together. You can select several items and move them, but when you put them down again (unless you’re very careful) they tend to fall over or move around. The way round this is to create units with several figures on a base, but that requires digital modelling – something I could probably learn to do, but not at the moment!

I think for skirmish games such as W40k, Bolt Action this would be OK, but since I am not planning to learn the rules for those games just yet, at this point I decided to leave the flashy 3D graphics of Tabletop Simulator behind and try Vassal.

Vassal

VassalTo my surprise and delight I found that there was actually a Vassal Module for De Bellis Antiquitatis. I hadn’t read the rules yet, but I knew that the unit bases for it would work well with One Hour Wargames rules that I had used with some card cut outs. So I plunged into this. As setting up a game was a simple process of dragging bits of scenery and units onto a board and then moving them around using the ruler provided, that was pretty simple. However, I then realised that I had no easy way of recording One Hour Wargamingcasualties. The One Hour Wargames system gives each unit 15 hits before it is destroyed. The module for De Bellis Antiquitatis naturally didn’t allow me to record that, so I had to think about being able to customise the module somewhat to ease the bookkeeping – I didn’t want to try to keep track of hits outside the actual Vassal software – after all it felt that the point of having a simulator was to help with the paperwork too! I read the whole Vassal module creation manual – about 150 pages, but actually quite a quick read and easy to follow, and fairly soon I had the skills to add a text box to each unit that I could edit when they took casualties. See below for a picture!

Vassal Screenshot

I was quite proud of that achievement and decided that Vassal would probably be the system I would work with for the moment – I was competent enough to either edit current modules, or maybe even create my own to make the wargames I wanted to.

What next?

Having tested editing a module in Vassal. I think the next step for me is to use it to play a few games of DBA and learn that system. Then I would like to take a look at Bolt Action as there’s a module for that too – and then probably work through creating some modules for a few Ancients and Medieval rules such as Field of Glory, Warmaster and Warhammer Ancient Battles. These would be for personal use – I wouldn’t post on Vassal given the copyright issues!

Picker Pete Lightfinger – C04 Thief Painted

Picker Pete Lightfinger - FrontOne of my ambitions is to collect again some of the miniatures I owned as a kid when I played Warhammer – nearly 30 years ago in the mid to late 80s. I’m not sure if this is one of them or not – but I certainly had a number of the Townspeople and other general human types. Picker Pete Lightfinger - Side

This is from the C04 Thieves range and according to Stuff of Legends his name is Picker Pete Lightfinger – see below for the original catalogue image from the 1986 Citadel journal – and he was designed by the Perry twins.

C04 Thieves - 1986

For paints I used the new Citadel range as follows:

Hat

Base: Mephiston Red
Shade: Carroburg Crimson
Layer 1: Evil Sunz Scarlet
Layer 2: Wilder Rider Red

Coat

Base: Macragge Blue
Shade: Drakenhoff Nightshade
Layer 1: Altdorf Guard Blue
Layer 2: Calgar Blue

Trousers

Base: Waargh! Flesh
Shade: Athonian Camoshade
Layer 1: Loren Forest
Layer 2: Straken Green

Skin

Base: Bugman’s Glow
Shade: Reikland Fleshade
Layer: Kislev Flesh
Eyes: White and black

Hair

Base: Balor Brown
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Flash Gitz Yellow

Shoes and Gloves

Base: Rhinox Hide
Layer: Mournfang Brown

Shirt

Base: Rakarth Flesh
Shade: Reikland Fleshade
Layer: Pallid Wych Flesh

Fur Sleeves

Base: Stormvermin Fur
Shade: Nuln Oil
Layer 1: Codex Grey (aka Dawnstone)
Layer 2: Administratum Grey

Gold Cup

Base: Balthasar Gold
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Gethenna’s Gold

Bag

Base: Rhinox
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Gorthor Brown

Sword

Base: Leadbelcher
Shade: Nuln Oil
Layer: Chainmail (aka Ironbreaker)

Belt & Scabbard

Base: XV-88
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Tau Light Ochre

Base

Stirland Mud with a drybrush of Terminatus Stone
Grass tuft Gamer’s Grass – Light Green

Finished with varnish of Ardcoat and then matt of Lahmium Medium

Eowyn Miniature Painted

So another miniature from Hobbit Strategy Battle Game that I painted fairly recently – this time Eowyn. She is also doubling as an Elven magic user from the D&D game I play with my son and at his request her dress is white to tie in with the D&D character – otherwise I tend to be a bit boring and try to copy whatever I see in the official Hobbit or LOTR rule books!

Eowyn - white dress front
Eowyn – white dress front

I tried proper layering for this one – so the white dress starts off with a brown base and then gets built up – up close in the photos you can see the nuts and bolts of this quite clearly but from more of a distance this looks better I think.

Eowyn white dress back
Eowyn white dress back

Boromir Miniature Painted

I have started getting back into miniature games over the last couple of years – inparticular old Warhammer stuff (now known as Oldhammer for Grognards like me!) and Hobbit or Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, which is a skirmish level miniatures game also by Games Workshop. I’ve had some great fun playing that game with my son and also doing a bit of painting. Here’s a recent figure that I’m quite proud of: Boromir! 

Boromir miniature painted by Mark Lord
Boromir miniature painted by Mark Lord

I think I probably need to work on the photography a bit – this is just using some card a smartphone and some lamps – but hopefully you can see it ok!

Field of Glory Digital Army Generator Tutorial

I have created a new tutorial for the Field of Glory game – this time looking at how to choose an army using the Digital Army Generator.

Also experimented using a narration for the first time with a microphone – a bit easier than I thought it would be – although I realised that sometimes a bit of a script or practice run would have helped!

Total War Warhammer First Impressions and My Greenskins Campaign Video

So I started playing Total War Warhammer last night and also a bit this morning before work – just a couple of hours so far, but here are my first impressions:

  • It’s a bit simpler than other Total War games – which is no bad thing – the interface has less clutter and units for example have fewer special powers, which makes battle management easier.
  • There’s no prologue campaign to wade through – which again is good – you just go and decide which faction you want and get going – although the advisor tips are quite heavy to start with.
  • It’s genuinely fun and I wanted to keep playing. I think partly because there’s no concerns over historical accuracy, the silly stuff like battlefield artillery feels right, whereas in other games like Rome it seems out of place and contrived.
  • The Warhammer world isn’t quite the one I knew and loved from Warhammer Fantasy Battles 3rd edition – some of the humour has gone and been dumbed down into things like shouting Waarggh! a lot. The orc animations look a bit daft to me, but that’s down to the direction Games Workshop went with figure design. But I think Creative Assembly seem to have faithfully recreated Warhammer as it was before Age of Sigmar.
  • The factions are quite few – again this is good – with a game like Rome II I just feel overwhelmed – I’d like to play all the factions, but I feel I never will and anyway how different are they. But with this playing a campaign with each faction seems manageable and they also feel quite different too.
  • Battles work quite well and basic tactics work better than other Total War games did before getting lots of patches. They seem to have got things right from the start this time round.
  • I found some of the graphics disappointing – I think it’s the underground battles actually that look  a bit rubbish. Overground it all looks a lot better.

Here’s a screen capture video of me opening the game – it shows the opening video and the start of the Greenskins campaign.

Top 5 Reasons Why I’m Excited about Total War: Warhammer

As you might know if you interested in strategy PC games, Total War: Warhammer is just around the corner – due for release next Tuesday! I’ve already pre-ordered and can’t why to play.  Here’s my top 5 reasons to be excited about the new game.

  1. Bloodbath at Orc's DriftFirstly it’s because I’m an old git (relatively speaking) and remember playing Warhammer Fantasy Battles when it first came back in the early eighties. Spent many a happy hour with school friends playing McDeath and The Ziggurat of Doom, not to mention the epic Bloodbath at Orc’s Drift – which I’m sure included a badge saying “I bathed in blood at Orc’s Drift.”
  2. I stopped playing though when I left school at started University – a couple of games while at Uni, but that was it – I finished with Warhammer on it’s 3rd edition. So it’s fascinating to go back to the game and see how it’s developed.
  3. I also love Total War games – again getting into them right at the start with the first Shogun game. Somehow I still think that was the best – battlefield tactics somehow just worked better – a bit less real time rushing around perhaps? I’ve been looking for a Total War Warhammer game for ages. There’s some mods but an official game is where it’s at.
  4. Totalwar dogfightThere’s some great new features for the game that will make it unique for Total War games – flying stuff and magic. I can’t wait to play with those things. Also the idea of Orc and Dwarf nations that don’t follow the standard nation building rout of these games will also be fascinating to play. I think I might start with the Orcs!
  5. Perhaps if Creative Assembly pull off this game, they’ll get the change to do Lord of the Rings Total War – or Game of Thrones. A strategy game for either of those licenses would be awesome!

Here’s a trailer that hope will get you excited as well!