Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow blows in

Snow has fallen here too. Forget wintry mix - it's almost a blizzard. The freeze begins.

The dramatic and changeable climate was one of the features of Port Blacksand I loved most. (For more on the city and my feelings about it see yesterday's post.) Being a seaport, it was explained in Blacksand!, meant blazing sunshine could easily give way to a pea soup fog or heavy snow with little in the way of warning. Its weather anchored the city geographically, gifted it character and made Blacksand more of a living space.

The same was true for the setting of Games Workshop's Necromunda, the polluted, half-abandoned domes sunk deep in the base of the towering megacity Hive Primus.

The Outlanders supplement to the original boxed game contained rules for weather conditions and related events. Hazy memory tells me it had gales to topple gangers from walkways, true acid rain, electrical discharges, toxic sludge and the hivequake. The same book also featured a superb bestiary section, describing the Underhive's bizarre flora and fauna. My favourites were the ash clams waiting to snare the careless. As much as the evocative texts, all of this potential served to make the landscapes real.

If the game sounds interesting - it is - the latest version of the rulebook is available online or printed and bound, the current miniatures are here and the Eastern Fringe is a good place to find out more. Some older material may have gone, but it's not forgotten.

With winter setting in and our landscapes changing around us, the senses are caught unawares, memories grow vivid and imagination wakes. It seems the right time to ask: how do the games you play have you breathing the air of the setting?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Mapmaking merry (1)

Wandering the labyrinthine byways of the internet of late, I seem to have taken a lot of very right turns. Even without a map to guide myself by I've come across reams of maps. The one that set off this post was one that inspired me long ago. It was a city map...


That's right, Port Blacksand of Allansia, star of the Fighting Fantasy solo gamebooks and Advanced Fighting Fantasy system. Do you shudder with pleasure, or fear?

I relived the memories at Brighton Roleplayers, specifically at their post on urban settings in fantasy. While you're there, check out Sigil too. Right up my alley. They have the map from Blacksand!, and if you want a list of streets, there's one here. (I've added this useful wiki to memory banks in the right-hand column.) We met the city first in City of Thieves, the solo gamebook, helpfully reviewed here at Fighting Dantasy.

But this only set me off. I think we all love urban maps, whether campaign maps, adventure maps or criss-crossed tabletops, for roleplaying or wargaming. So Porky went snuffling for new or lesser-known options, and presents a subjective selection below.

Mainly fantasy 2D

Mainly sci-fi 2D / 3D

Many genre / fantasy 3D

No dead ends there - a host of atmospheric destinations - but stay in the lamplight!

So what have I missed? What grand thoroughfares, cramped streets and dank alleyways do you frequent? More to the point, which would you like to?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Gotta love the Orks!

Cool pic, but not mine - the work of Blue Table Painting; used with permission

Over at Blue Table Painting there's a post up with an introduction to the Orks. Second guest article in one day - let's hope it doesn't go to my head... Forget the text for a bit though and check out those sweet models! More here too.

Porky ponders...

Something unusual up at Bell of Lost Souls today. Something long. If you struggle to get through it, I'd say make yourself a drink, find a quiet place and give it one more shot.

Still no luck? Here's a summary then. Key points in bold. Let me know how it goes.

'Comp' - or army composition - is a corrective system which aims to bring a tournament back from an extreme and closer to the equilibrium of the hobby. Painting and sportsmanship scoring are others. There are arguments for and against such systems. Brent from Strictly Average recently wrote two good articles, one there and one at BoLS, and stimulated a lot of discussion.

Not everyone plays at tournaments. Not everyone plays competitively. Not everyone even plays to win. Basically, not everyone is in the hobby for the same reasons. This is great and variety is fun. The interests of all are spread by the internet and everyone is happy. Right? Not necessarily.

Most players are probably male and young. Many are adolescent. It seems to me natural that this group will be more competitive than the average for the population, more vulnerable to peer pressure. Hardly anyone likes to lose a game. Makes sense we'd do what we can to avoid it. This instinct is one of the big things that skews the game towards an extreme.

Here's where the 'net list' comes in, an army list designed really only to win, with little or no unpredictability, individuality or reference to the rich game background. If we copy a list like this, less hard work and imagination is needed, which means less personal development and self-expression. And it starts an arms race.

In the sense that net lists are used at tournaments, comp has a balancing role to play in the whole of the hobby. If the net lists need to be less extreme to get a good comp score, the net lists will change. If there is a recognised trend in list building, you can get a good comp score by moving away from this trend. Doesn't matter much which direction you move in. Many army builds can get good comp scores. More imagination, more hard work - with the benefits these bring. The heat gets taken out of the arms race.

Yes, I know that comp is subjective. I cover that at the beginning of the article. It's not good. I don't like it. But a lot of people complain that the rules themselves are too loose and they still get used for tournaments. We need to ponder more and beware of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

That was the lead in to the article. Here's the main point.

Don't get me wrong. Play the game you love. If you and your buddies want to bash each other up, you must be enjoying it and none of us can complain about that. The game can be all things to all people. I'd say only look at who you are playing with. If they don't want you to bash them with your hardcore list, something is wrong. If they see you as stiff and obsessed with narrative or background, something is wrong.

Who wants to make the other guy unhappy? Perhaps you both need to compromise, or alternate play styles, or introduce handicaps or merge gaming groups. The hobby is big and can accommodate us all. We just have to be accommodating and recognise what we each want from a game. We need to listen to each other.

We're all friends, no matter what our views. We all love the hobby. We understand each other.

I love being part of the community even when I don't see eye to eye on how to do things. We can all speak, listen, think and go forward. I've changed my views a lot recently. More than I thought I could. I'm glad I have - that's progress - and not afraid to admit I was wrong. I'd say I was wrong on 'spamming' units for example. That change happened through talking. I can persuade you and you can persuade me. We just have to have a conversation.

There's a lot of love in that article. Love for the community. I wanted to say why I'm here and get people asking the same question. If one day you stop believing and need a dose of goodwill, go read it again, especially the second half, and answer the questions.

Better still, say what's on your mind and let's discuss it. I'll listen and others will too.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

They live among us (2) - The sandworm of Dune

Had a good ponder? Me too.

In case you missed it, the starting point was the realism of aliens in fiction, whether wargames, cinema or literature. The whole thing was set off by our new friend, the squid worm. The question was how the preoccupation of the moment might mean we make the alien less realistic.

Let's start with a biggie, Dune by Frank Herbert, and the sandworms. Look away now if you're squeamish - the film version is definitely not for you.

I was grinning by the final shot. Remember, it is a David Lynch film...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

They live among us (1)

Science news has the discovery of a new genus and species - Teuthidodrilus samae. That's the 'squid worm' to most of us.

In the article at Biology Letters they wonder how it went undiscovered for so long. Video at The Guardian and a pair of close-up pics at OurAmazingPlanet. A terrestrial alien. A neighbour. It's basically one of us.

It set me thinking. Doesn't usually take this much, but I'll try to rise to the occasion.

What does this mean for aliens or, to be more polite, astrobiological organisms? Look at that little guy. He doesn't look much like me and you. We (meaning rather the experts) had no idea he was there. And this is Earth.

Makes the aliens we see in wargames, cinema and literature seem even more unlikely.

Why? They're so familiar-looking. That's not to say life out there wouldn't look like us, whether we mean a dog, a chicken, a mole or a squid worm. It's just you get the creeping suspicion it could really surprise us. After all, aliens in fiction are shaped by the human mind. Even if we gloss over lack of knowledge and lack of imagination, there's still the preoccupation of the moment waiting to make its way into creation, whether by accident or design.

It's these preoccupations that interest me. How does the zeitgeist sneak in?

I can think of a few concrete cases. I'll set them down and get back to you. Any and all suggestions welcome in the meantime. Have a ponder on what might be distracting us.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010