State of The Raft

Now that the Star of Bravery campaign is over, I feel like it is time to take a breath and reflect not only on what was going on, but also on what I want to do next. The campaign was a huge motivator and drove my painting for the last three months or so. Taking stock, it has resulted in a quite nice collection of 15mm (or rather 18mm) napoleonic figures for the War of the Fifth Coalition.

However, the campaign wasn’t my only gaming-related activity. During the summer, we also had a semi-regular board gaming meet-up, mainly playing The King’s Dilemma.

We have also continued with the remote role-playing and have just now started playing Shadowrun. Although I’ve played a lot of Cyberpunk RPGs back in the day (mainly using GURPS and Cyberpunk 2020), I’ve never played Shadowrun, so I’m really happy to have a chance to try this very influential RPG. And finally, we have re-started with another RPG, namely Les Milles Marches. A friend of mine had offered to DM a while ago, but we stopped because of the pandemic. I’m very glad we continue now, as Les Milles Marches is a very interesting RPG.

It’s a French product, set in Brussels in the near future and we have just discovered that there is some kind of parallel world, or probably a multitude of worlds. I really enjoy the background, it’s something different from the usual fare and I like the idea that the characters are activists participating in a project to create a new European community based on cooperation. It’s multicultural and pretty leftist, so if you enjoy such things, give it a try! Unfortunately, it’s only available in French.

So while I’m pretty well supplied on the boardgaming and RPG front, I’m starting to think on how I shall re-focus my miniature gaming. At the moment, I’m pondering several options: First, designing and researching historical scenarios from the 1809 campaign. I did this for the ACW and had a lot of fun, although I tend to become a bit obsessed by finding even more details and can find it hard to stop the research process. However, I always find it very rewarding and the 1809 project has the big advantage that I can visit at least some of the battlefields, which is very tempting. It would mean building a couple of special buildings and terrain features and painting some missing units (although I’d have to think about using proxies, at least in a modest way, because the variety of napoleonic uniforms would mean that I would have to paint a complete new force for almost every scenario).

Image from the Wien Museum.

Second, I have the idea of playing cavalry-only scenarios with Sharp Practice. Again, this is something I did for the ACW and it worked very well, so I’d really be interested in trying it for the napoleonic period. It would also be fascinating to compare tactics, as a lot of ACW cavalry fighting actually ends up as a fight between dismounted troopers, while napoleonic cavalry combat is much more a succession of charges and counter-charges. Hobby-wise, this would mean reading a bit on napoleonic cavalry, but most of all painting two cavalry forces, at least five groups per side. The upside is I don’t have to make additional dismounted figures for each unit, as I did for the ACW. And funnily enough, I kind of fancy painting horses at the moment, though that may be a temporary mental aberration caused by the excitement of the campaign ending…

Both of these project could, of course, result in a campaign. For the first one, something like the pint-sized campaigns produced by TooFatLardies for Chain of Command would probably be the most appropriate. For the second, a Dawns & Departures campaign could be an interesting option.

Talking to K. about it, she suggested starting with the historical scenarios, as it will take me a while to paint enough figures for cavalry games. But then I had an additional idea: What about a quick Dawns & Departures campaign using the stuff I already have? I asked Julian and Sigur and they both agreed to participate. I will be the umpire, and as Julian lives in Germany, we will play the games remotely. I don’t think there will be that many actual battles, so it should be a quick and fun affair.

I already drew up a map!

Of course I will keep you posted on all those activities. Oh, and I want to continue the terrain series with at least one more article, this time on religious architecture. So, stay tuned!

The Raft Lookout

What’s recently caught my eye in the wonderful world of tabletop gaming?

critI’ve started watching the second season of Critical Role, the fabulous RPG video series where a bunch of voice actors play D&D. So far, I find it even better than the first season. Critical Role has now started a Kickstarter to finance an animated series based on the first episode. They are known for their loyal fan base, but this exceeded all expectations: so far, they managed to get over $ 7.5 Million! That is a lot of money, especially for a Kickstarter where people don’t get a ton of stuff. In fact, the animated series will be free to watch, regardless if you back the Kickstarter or not. If you want to back it, it’s still running:

mwAs you know, I like magazines. I’ve recently decided to take out a subscription to Miniature Wargames. I’ve had it for a while before but canceled when Henry Hyde was ousted. I was pleasantly surprised by the last issue. What I especially like is the regular feature by Jon Sutherland called Command Decision. It’s a series of scenarios in a similar format to the venerable Table Top Teasers. What’s original about Jon’s scenario design is that he includes a pre-game decision which will shape the scenario to be played. This gives the scenario a bit more context and involves the player into the wider narrative without having to unfurl all the paraphernalia of a campaign. A really clever idea! I already regret having missed the previous scenarios and hope that Jon might be convinced to collect his Command Decisions in a book…

OLTcolor (Small)The ever inventive Joe McCullough has recently started an interesting new wargaming format. Under the title Operation Last Train, he has published sci-fi rules intended to game the evacuation of civilians from alien-held worlds. The interesting thing is that this is a charity project: not only are gamers asked to donate £3/$5 to Save the Children when downloading the rules, but Joe will also play a campaign. For each civilian he will rescue in-game, he will donate 10 cents. This is a fascinating and – as far as I know – novel way of linking gaming and real-world issues. People are invited to join in and there has already sprung up a lively community on Facebook.

D1dAHuJXQAII1zsThere is also news from Bad Squiddo Games! Annie has been very busy: She has acquired the magnificent terrain range from Ristul’s Extraordinary Market, which is now sold under the name of Bad Squiddo Terrain. New models have already been announced – I especially like the angry tree stumps and the scarecrows. She is also continuously expanding her believable female miniatures. Next up are more WW2 models, this time women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Annie has posted a preview with interesting insights into the design process on the Lead Adventure Forum. I’m looking forward to seeing more of those figures.

The Wasted Time – An Unusual RPG

Imagine you’re a kid in a city on the brink of war. It’s night and you’ve got a gun. You don’t know how to use it, but a couple of meters away, you glance a figure standing in the rain. He’s a criminal, he’s drunk and he has something you need to save the world. What do you do? Do you try to mug him? Will you shoot him? But watch out – he is armed and if you don’t succeed, he will get very angry…

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For a couple of months, me and K. had the pleasure of participating in what was perhaps the most unusual RPG I’ve played. A friend of ours and one of the members of our D&D group, Barbi Markovic, is an accomplished author. She also grew up in Belgrade in the 1990s during what became to be known as the Yugoslav Wars. Recently, Barbi had the idea to write a book about the world of her childhood and youth. The unusual thing is that in order to explore that world, she decided to make an RPG out of it.

We were part of one of the two groups playtesting that RPG. Rules-wise, Barbi used the mechanics of Tales from the Loop as a base. I’ve never played it before, but it worked quite well.

However, at the heart of this enterprise was the story. Barbi gave us a comprehensive introductory text, which delineated the social world we would inhabit as children and youths: the different subcultures and tribes, the ethics, codes and manners, as well as the hopes and fears that shaped the people living in the city during a violent and unstable time. Growing up in Austria in very sheltered circumstances, it kind of shocked me how alien this world felt, with its strange codes and casual violence.

Fortunately, not everything was bleak, as the story soon took a turn into the fantastic – we had to help repair a time machine whose malfunction caused us to be stuck in an unsteady loop, unable to escape the 90s. Barbi is an excellent game-master who managed to give us the impression that we could do whatever we liked without losing the story’s threads. The other players were also enthusiastic, full of ideas and a pleasure to play with. We experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from tense and dramatic moments to banter and laughter.

In fact, the scene described above was one of the best RPG moments I’ve had in all my life. When we stumbled upon the main antagonist in the night, armed with a gun, suddenly everything was possible: We felt like we could end our quest there and then, but we also were afraid that if we failed, the consequences would be severe.

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In my experience, such moments of pure possibility are actually quite rare in RPGs. Sure, there are situations when things can go very well for the characters or they can go pear-shaped, meaning that characters die, but normally, the story is not fundamentally affected by that and everything is soon back on tracks. After all, the GM has spent lots of time preparing and is invested in the story. It takes a very good GM to really go with the dynamics of the situation and to make space for moments when everything is possible.

I’m glad that I had the opportunity to take part in Barbi’s collective memorial work. At the end of her project, she will publish a novel and an RPG book. I’ll let you know as soon as they are out!

Booknotes – Science Fiction & Fantasy

I’ve recently finished reading one of the best fantasy series I’ve come across lately: Jon Skovron’s Empire of the Storms trilogy.

skovronStarting with Hope and Red, it tells the story of two people, a girl who grows up to be a fearsome warrior and a boy who becomes a thief. However, what could easily have become a cliché-ridden ‘team becoming couple’-story develops into a much more exciting thing. The books are set in an interesting world, namely an Empire made up of islands in a vast ocean. This alone is great, as I love nautical fantasy (and I have to admit that this was the reason I got the book in the first place). But if I came for the ships, I stayed for the characters: Skovron introduces a plethora of compelling and complex characters. Each of them has his or her own motivation and, most importantly of all, they all change and develop as things happen to them. Best of all, the changes within the characters actually drive the story and define the stakes – which, in a way, become higher than in most other fantasy novels. Highly recommended!

220px-the_lost_fleet_dauntlessI also finished another series, the reading of which was a sort of guilty pleasure. I’m talking about Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet. Clocking in at eleven volumes, this military sci-fi soap opera had a strange pull – as soon as I finished a volume, I wanted to read the next one. It’s not that the books are especially gripping per se, and several times when I was halfway through one I decided that this would be the last. However, Campbell has what could be called an economical way of storytelling: there is lots of repetition, but in the end there are just enough new developments that I became curious how the overall plot would work out. And, for being military sci-fi, it is refreshingly free from the trashy right-wing ideology often found in this genre. Recommended if you like space battles mixed with a dose of exploration and romance.

artarcanaFor Christmas, I got myself the new history of Dungeons & Dragons, Art and Arcana: A Visual History. This is a huge coffee-table book full of spectacular artwork from all editions of D&D. The accompanying text was co-authored by Jon Peterson, who is the authority on the history of role-playing games. What I like about Art and Arcanais that it not only covers Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and the coming-into-being of D&D – something that has already been the subject of several books – but that it delves deeply into the evolution of the game through different editions and settings. If you are a fan of D&D, give yourself a treat and get this book!

blAs I write this, I’m halfway through Nicholas Eames’ Bloody Rose, the sequel to his fabulous Kings of the Wyld. I started with some trepidation, as I really loved the first book, but was unsure how sustainable the analogy between fantasy adventurers and rock bands would be. However, Eames manages to weave an engaging story around Fable, the band led by Rose, the daughter of one of the lead characters of the first book. Again, there are great characters and as the story develops, we get a much more nuanced perspective on the world, especially on the monsters that hitherto served only as the backdrop and cannon fodder for the exploits of the bands. And now some really wild things happened and how will they get out of this and sorry I have to get back to the book…