Monday, 30 December 2013

2013: A Year in Review

Although it is surprising to remember, I actually kicked off this year in my hometown of Greensboro, NC, at an Avett Brother’s concert with my wife, sisters and their spouses. It proved a fantastic beginning to a fantastic year.

I opened the year with one main goal – get out of debt. I have basically been in debt for the last eight years, dating back to my marriage, immigration, and various periods of unemployment by me and my wife. This year I decided I had had enough. Using a combination of ruthless saving and selling off anything in the house that wasn’t nailed down, I did it. I got back to zero, and I have felt a little better about life ever since.

It was also another big year for travel. In the spring, we flew to Athens and spent ten days exploring our way up mainland Greece, a country neither of us had ever previously visited. In July, I flew to Washington, D.C. for work, got to spend a few days with my parents, and attend a couple of Washington Nationals baseball games. Soon after my return, my wife and I spent two great weeks in the Lake District, going for long walks, climbing a few fells, and generally having a relaxing time. Just recently, I made my first trip to Germany, again for work, spending a long weekend in the city of Essen. That’s enough for one year.

In my moonlight life as an author, I had a few successes worth mentioning. March saw the publication of my fifth book, Dragonslayers: From Beowulf to St. George. In September, my book Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide was re-released in a deluxe hardback edition. Finally, I wrote the first draft of my first wargame, Frostgrave, which is currently being playtested.

Hobby-wise, I read 58 books to completion, painted 196 miniatures, picked up my 100th softball hit,  and cycled well over a thousand miles. I also managed a pretty heft amount of blogging!

Okay, not everything this year went to plan. I’m currently typing with a cast on my left arm due to breaking my arm and wrist in a cycle crash. (It is scheduled to come off later today!). I also managed to tear the tendon in my right foot, which made several months of walking a lot more painful than normal (this is mostly healed). Really though, those were the only major negatives in the year, and if that is the case, it must have been a pretty good year. 

Finally, this year saw the birth of my nephew (hey, Cassian!), the marriage of my older sister (Congratulations, Liz!). Also, this year brought news that will likely change my life forever and make 2014 an even more memorable year...

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Little Treasures

Even as Games Workshop releases new miniatures for The Hobbit movies, they are slowly letting their remaining The Lord of the Rings miniatures go out of stock. Partly this is caused by their movement away from metal miniatures, but seems to have more to do with their dwindling interest in the product line. As usual, GW has been very tight-lipped about their plans for the license, but it is looking more and more likely that they will let it go pretty soon after the movies are finished.

This is a real shame for me, because they are my favourite fantasy miniatures, partly for their subject matter, partly for the size, scale, and style adopted for the line.

On the plus side, it did mean I got some little treasures for Christmas. The first was a Gondorian Command pack, with a captain and standard bearer which I received from my sister and brother-in-law. Although you can still get these figures in yucky resin, this pack must have come from a second-hand dealer, and I am thrilled to have them in metal. They will serve in both my someday-to-be Gondorian army as well as part of the crew of the Glaurung. Since I don’t really like the plastic Gondorians, due to their small size, any metal additions are fantastic.

The second pack, containing three Dunlendings with two-handed weapons, came from my mother. This is another exciting little treasure. These figures went out-of-stock in the UK months ago. Mom managed to snag me this pack from GW US. It must have been one of the last packs they had, as they have now disappeared from their website. These are great little figures, perfect fantasy Vikings.

There will soon come a day when it is no longer easily possible to obtain a blister pack of GW The Lord of the Rings miniatures. I’m glad to have these on hand to crack open at some (probably not too distant) time.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

An Embarrassment of Riches

I’m currently in the town of Hythe on the Kentish coast to celebrate the season with my in-laws. Christmas itself flew by yesterday in a flurry of presents, food, comings and goings, laughter, and games.  I had planned to report on all the great gifts I received, but, in truth, I received such an embarrassment of riches, that I am reluctant to list them all. People were exceptionally generous towards me this year. Most of the presents I received will likely get mentioned in future blog posts anyway.

It’s Boxing Day today; half the population of the area will currently be descending on Canterbury for ‘the sales’. I went along one year and it was awful, worse than any day on the build up to Christmas. I’ve never really understood ‘the sales’. Why, on the day after I was given a huge pile of stuff, would I want to go out and buy more? I don’t care how deep the discounts go.

There are alternatives, of course. Some will have gone down to the beach for the ‘Boxing Day Dip’. I think this rather chilly tradition is probably better left to the young with stronger constitutions, or perhaps those still drunk from the night before. There is also the 5K run around Saltwood (the village bordering Hythe). I’ve never been much for running, and the constant rain that has turned large chunks of the track to mud, did not increase the appeal.

So instead, I began my Boxing Day by sleeping in and then watching the Doctor Who Christmas special which I recorded the night before. After that, I went for a quick constitutional with the family. Things are quiet now, but only for a bit. This evening we are all over to the Grandparents for a gathering of the full clan.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Rejection – Number 192

A few days ago, I received a polite email from the editor of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, rejecting my story ‘Golden Idol, Iron God’. He said the story was a ‘near miss’ and called me a ‘good writer’, but in the end, it just didn’t quite make the cut. He also sent back a copy of the manuscript, complete with some notes and questions. This is going above and beyond for an editor, and I must say that most of his points seem fair.

I haven’t written much fiction lately; I’ve been too busy with non-fiction and wargaming. I wrote ‘Golden Idol, Iron God’ almost ten years ago, and it remains the only story I have written about Stevan the Targeteer that has not seen print.

So why 192? That is the number of times I have had one of my fiction stories rejected. If it sounds like a lot, I assure you it is not. I’m sure some people have been rejected thousands of times. It is part of being a writer. If you can’t learn to live with rejection, you’ll never make it in the business, so it is important to find a coping mechanism. Stephen King says he would impale his rejection letters on a railroad spike. Personally, I just keep count, and celebrate whenever I reach a milestone.

Being only 8 rejections away from the big 200 makes me want to write a few more stories and get them sent out. Only by sending them out can I get them rejected. And only by risking rejection can I ever hope to get anything accepted.

My first ‘professional’ fiction sale was a Stevan story entitled ‘Stand at Llieva’ which appeared in Black Gate Magazine 5, pictured above.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Frostgrave Playtests

Playtesting for Frostgrave is now well and truly underway. The good news is that the testers have so far found the basic rules easy to learn and fun to play. There is still a lot of work to be done on balancing the different spells, the way experience is handled, and rules for games with warbands of widely different levels of experience. Also, it appears that at least one of the scenarios has some serious problems that need to be sorted out.

Thankfully, these are all minor issues and exactly the kind of problems that playtesting is suppose to reveal. So, a big thank you to all those who have played a playtest game or two already.

This has also led to the first game of Frostgrave appearing upon a blog. The photo above comes from Arjun Choong, who posted it and several others on Cor Blog Me!. Check out that Dwarven Forge terrain! I’ve only had a chance to read through the first few pages of this blog, but it looks like it has loads of fun stuff for the fantasy gamer.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Word of the Day: Widdershins

Essentially, ‘Widdershins’ is old British world meaning to move in a counter-clockwise direction, although ‘to move contrary to the movement of the sun’ might be a more appropriate definition.

I’ve encountered the word twice in the last few weeks. The first was in an old English story about the young Charlemagne, in which his sister runs widdershins around a church and is whisked off to fairyland.  The second time was in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, which I’m currently reading, where an elf dances widdershins around a troll as part of the process for creating a changeling.

It is notable that both uses involve the fey or fairyland. There seems to be a connection between the unnatural movement of widdershins and the other world. In fact, the movement seems to have been considered so unnatural, that there isn’t a clear opposite to the word. That is, there seems to be no equivalent word for moving clockwise. Apparently moving around something was only worthy of mention if it was done ‘otherworldly’.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug

Sunday morning, my wife and I caught the early (non-3D) showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Even with the 11 AM start time, the theatre was mostly full. Three hours later, we emerged, slightly bleary-eyed and packed with popcorn*, but with big smiles on our faces. Put simply, we both really enjoyed it and thought it significantly better than the first instalment of the trilogy.

It was beautiful, action-packed, and filled with more fantastical elements than any of the previous Peter Jackson, Middle-Earth films. True, in some places it wandered rather far from the source material, but I actually believe it was a better movie for it. The ending was a little sudden and seemingly arbitrary, but we all know it is a trilogy, so that’s not a major issue for me.

If you are a fan of high-fantasy and can accepted that the movie is not the book, then I think you would be hard-pressed not to enjoy the movie.

* British cinemas generally offer two types of popcorn, salted and sweet. Neither tastes as good as American buttered popcorn, but then neither leave you feeling quite so queasy either. Salted is a bit too bland for my taste, so I go with sweet. I'm not sure what the 'sweet' flavour is, but it is pretty light.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Frostgrave – A Call for Playtesters

Several months ago, I announced that Frostgrave, my wizard-focused, fantasy skirmish wargame rule set was going to be published in the Osprey Wargames series in early 2015.  Sometime later, I posted up a little piece of completed artwork for the game and talked about why I had decided to base the system around the d20.

Today I’m taking another step forward and opening the game up for playtesting. I actually finished writing the first draft of the manuscript a couple of months ago. Since then I have been playing around with it and tweaking little things here and there. But you can only do so much by yourself. Wargames such as this are too complicated for one person, even the author, to explore all corners. So, I’m asking my fellow wargamers for help.

If you would be interested in helping out, getting an early look at the game, and even getting your name in the book, please send me an email.

It is slightly nerve-wracking sending the game out in draft form, unsupported by beautiful artwork and nice design. Even worse asking people to critique it and mean it. (Usually authors ask for critique, but secretly just want praise.) But, it must be done. This time I really need the criticisms.

In the meantime, enjoy some cool little Necromancer sketches. These were quick concepts made by the artist to get a feel for the game before he started on the full colour artwork.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Quick Shot Movie Reviews

Gravity (Seen in the theatre in 3D)
A very enjoyable space disaster/survival movie. It packs it’s (refreshingly short) 90-odd minutes with breath-taking, 0-gravity, 3D destruction. There isn’t really a huge amount of story, but the solid performances, by the very small cast, pulls the viewer along; although sometimes Clooney sounds a lot like Buzz Lightyear.

Pacific Rim (Seen on DVD)
Several of my friends went to see this in the theatre and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to it. Now, I don’t expect too much from a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters, but I expect better than this. The story was like a cliché convention. The main character is a hot shot robot pilot whose brother/wingman is killed in battle. He quits, but is called back into duty by his old commander, who is contaminated with robot radiation and will die if he ever pilots a robot again. He is also the surrogate father of the...oh, never mind. That’s actually the better part of the movie. The subplot involving the two semi-comedic scientists is agony. Combine that with mediocre battle scenes and you have a movie not worth watching.

Babylon AD  (Seen on TV)
I don’t know if this movie was ever released in theatres. If so I missed it. Basically, Vin Diesel is a fugitive/mercenary living in post-apocalyptic Russia who is hired to smuggle a young woman and her minder into America. I really enjoyed the first half of the movie, but after that it seemed to lose its way a bit. I’m still not sure I completely understand the ending, and I kind of feel there was a piece missing. I believe it claimed to be based on a book which might be worth checking out. Not a bad film, but could have been better.  

Dew Update

Not only did USA Food Store provide me with real American Mountain Dew, they delivered it about 20 hours after I ordered it. It looks like it will be a sweet and syrupy Christmas after all!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Great Mountain Dew Betrayal

For the last couple of years, I have ordered myself a Christmas treat of a case of Mountain Dew from and used it as my own super-caffeinated advent calendar. This year’s order arrived today, but my excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I discovered that the Dew was actually from Poland! I gave it a try, but at best it can be described as vaguely similar. Not the taste of home I was after!

I wrote to American Soda asking for an explanation. I received a quick, if curt, reply saying that that the website made this clear. I checked the website again. Here is the page for Mountain Dew. Now if you click on ‘More Information’, it is true that they do say that it is a European product, ‘based on’ the American recipe.

Now I ask you, gentlemen of the jury. If I am shopping on a site called ‘American Soda’, that has, in the past, supplied American Mountain Dew, is it really fair to expect customers to go looking for a change that they have no reason to suspect?

After another email, I got American Soda to offer to refund my money if I ship the soda back to them. Of course, they know full well that the cost to an individual to ship 24 cans of soda would cost as much, or more, than the soda itself.

Live and learn. I will not shop with American Soda again. I have already ordered a replacement case from USA Food Store. Note how theyproclaim that they have the genuine article! I’ll let everyone know if they deliver on the promise.     


On the third email, American Soda has informed me that American Mountain Dew is now banned in the EU.  A quick search reveals this to be true. One wonders why they didn’t mention this in the first email (it also makes me wonder about the case I have on order?). The plot thickens, and I am given one more reason to dislike the European Union.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Sirens of Kickstarter

If I can make it another twelve hours, I will have successful resisted my forth kickstarter! Hurry up and end Battle Systems!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Kickstarter. I think it is the most interesting development in the use of the internet in years and probably within the whole of capitalism. The idea of using crowd funding to create products that would otherwise be impossible or ignored by traditional funding methods is very appealing.

However there I think there is a dark side, a psychological danger in kickstarter that has been successfully exploited by a lot of miniatures companies. (That makes it sound a bit more sinister than I intended, but depending on the individual in question it is very true).

Take two examples. A year ago, both Reaper Miniatures and Mantic Games ran extremely successful kickstarters. Both companies were blown away by the success, and all of the participants received loads of freebie extras. This year both companies ran second kickstarters, but this time, if the various forums were any indication, people were backing the project, not for what it was, but for what it might become if the amount of funding went way above what was actually required. There is a thrill in watching the numbers roll up, seeing what new prizes you win. It is, dare I say it, addictive.

I was able to resist both of those kickstarters, although especially with Mantic’s Deadzone, it was by the skin of my teeth. Two questions have saved me. First, would I buy that if I walked into a store and saw it right now. Since most of these companies have determined that the ‘sweet spot’ for getting people’s money is £75, the answer is almost always no. I very rarely spend that much in one go on my miniatures hobby. I’d rather space the spending out with more little purchases. The other, related, question is, do I want that much stuff all at one time. Again, with minis, I don’t want to buy too many at once, because I know I will likely lose interest before I finish painting them all. I resisted both kickstarters and in retrospect, I am happy about.

The Battle System kickstater has been especially tough. It looks like a great product. I love good card stock terrain. It doesn’t need painting. It’s good to have a lot of it, and I always return to sci-fi at some point. But why buy in now? The project is well over its funding, so it doesn’t need my help to become a reality. Yes, if I invest now, I’ll get more stuff for less money than if I buy in later. Of course that’s just an ‘if’. It’s not due out for six months, a lot can change in that time.

Would I walk into a store and plunk down £75? Maybe, probably not. I’d probably get the £30 set to see if I really like it and then go back for more if I did. This strikes me as a wiser and more fun way to do it anyway.

This isn’t a criticism of people who back these kickstarters; far be it for me to tell people how they should spend their hobby money. But there is a type of person, myself included, who are prone to obsessive thinking, and I think they need to be careful with kickstarter.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Medical Update

I went back to the hospital on Thursday for some follow-up x-rays on my wrist and arm. The doctor said everything was healing nicely and no pin is necessary for the moment. However, I’ve got another check-up scheduled for Tuesday after next. If that goes well, I could be out of the cast right around the new year.

In other news, I managed my first bit of miniature painting. I painted a little goblin from The Hobbit. My left hand could basically only function as a vice. I had to position the figure with my right hand, which meant putting down the brush every time I wanted to move the figure.  So it was slow, and my accuracy was not at 100%, but that is why I went with a goblin. I only managed about 30 minutes before my arms began to ache, but it was nice to even do a bit.

I have also learned that it is possible to use a can opener one-handed. Really hard, but possible.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Two More Join The Glaurung

It has been several weeks since the news went out about the Glaurung and the quest for the Nauglamír. Breged and Mandracoth have spent most of their days down in the great archives of Minas Tirith, pouring over maps and the ancient accounts of journeys to the distant lands of Far Harad. There is little enough information, but who knows what scrap might prove valuable.

Then, in the space of two days, two new heroes arrived at the White City, offering their services on the journey. The first was Lady Valetha of Pinnath Gelin. The daughter of minor nobility, Valetha grew up in a world of culture and privilege, but after her betrothed was killed by bandits less than a week before their marriage, she devoted her life to the martial arts. Seven years later, she is undoubtedly the best swordswoman in the kingdom. Although she would never say it, most assume she is still running away from her pain.

Breged initially had reservations about taking a woman on the voyage, because of the potential effect on a ship full of men, but Mandracoth convinced him that Valetha was too great an asset to leave behind.

Breged had no concerns about the next volunteer, Darcaven of Lossarnach. A warrior known for his great courage and his great appetites, Darcaven has fought in many battles against the growing forces of Mordor. Unfortunately, his acceptance into the crew has caused friction between Breged and his cousin Boromir, who was not pleased to lose such a warrior from the defense of the city. In the end, the choice belonged to Darcaven, and he chose to cast his lot with the crew of the Glaurung.


The GW Lord of the Rings line contains many great figures, but very few women. Thankfully, they have done several versions of Eowyn, and I chose one of these for Lady Valetha. Wanting to get her as far away from Eowyn as possible, I gave her jet black hair and purple skirts. Also, following the advice of my first figure painting teacher (whose name is sadly long forgotten), I painted her lips. I never do this with male figures, and it does help make the figure a bit more feminine, which is especially important for fully armoured figures. I’m very happy with the figure.

The figure for Darcaven comes from the Axemen of Lossarnach pack and is thus less detailed. Although I like the figure and the simple paint job I gave it, I think the less detail meant he didn’t come with as much back story. We’ll see if we learn more about him during the campaign.

Both of these figures were painted before I broke my arm and wrist. Unfortunately, I haven’t touched a paint brush since. I am starting to get movement back to my fingers however and I’m hopeful it won’t be too long.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Genetic General by Gordon R. Dickson

I admit it. Every so often I buy a book because of its cover. Such is the case with The Genetic General, which I picked up at a charity shop and tossed on my to-be-read pile. And there it might have lingered indefinitely had I not broken my arm. All of a sudden, I found myself in need of a soft, beat up, and very light book to entertain me in hospital waiting rooms and on bus trips. For that, it was a great success.

I’m not saying it is a great book. It belongs to an earlier age of science-fiction that in places seems a tad naive today. Still, it told a fast paced, galaxy wide, genetic superman story, and wrapped it all up in 160 pages.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Day After the Doctor!

It was a packed house in the cinema last night, in fact there were people sitting in the aisles. We had all paid a premium so that we could watch a television show (airing at the same time) in the theatre. Sure it was cool to see Doctor Who on the big screen and in 3D, but I think most people had come because they wanted to be part of the event, and to be surrounded by others who loved the Doctor as much as they did. There were a few long scarves and lots of fezzes in the audience.

As for the episode, I’m sure there will be those that complain. People will point out the plot holes and the numerous paradoxical illogicalities. Some, I’m sure will be disappointed that the show rewrote the darkest moment of the Doctor’s past. (Although wrote it, might be more accurate) Others will argue that Tom Baker's appearance at the end made no sense at all. To all of them, I would say, ‘You’ve missed the point.’

The Day of the Doctor was a celebration and a reaffirmation of 50 years of adventures in time and space. It stated clearly, that even in the Doctor’s weakest moment, at his lowest ebb in his 11 (12? 13?) regenerations, he will never completely lose hope. He will never sacrifice the innocent for the greater good. In an entertainment industry filled with dark and violent anti-heroes, the Doctor still shines bright, the rasping wheeze of his Tardis bringing hope to the desperate.

For that reason, above all else, I loved The Day of the Doctor!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Catalog of Injuries

Or so my poor blog threatens to become. I had planned to write a blog today about having my first driving lesson this weekend. Instead, while cycling to work this morning, I hit a bump and came off my bike. I knew pretty much immediately that I had hurt my left arm badly. Luckily, I had only made it about 100 yards, so I pushed the bike back home. My wife hadn't left for work yet, so instead she took me to the hospital. (Well, actually there was a 20 minute delay until the painkillers kicked in as I was in too much pain, shock, sickness to move immediately).

To make a long story short, I have broken both my left wrist and arm. The injury was also compacted, so there was a rather unpleasant bit where they had to pull my arm back into place. I've now got a half cast on, and have to go back to the hospital tomorrow to get a full cast.

So that's done in the driving lessons for awhile and the cycling for that matter. Typing with one hand is no joy, but I might get my fingers back sooner. Hopefully that will also mean I will be able to paint miniatures again before too long.

It's all rather annoying, but I have to say a big thanks to the NHS and the staff at the John Radcliffe Hospital for getting me patched up.

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Night of the Doctor

If you are a hard core Doctor Who fan (like me), then the BBC has just released the coolest six minutes of Doctor Who video in the last decade.

The following clip contains a bit of spoiler if you haven't seen the end of the last season of Doctor Who, although I wonder if anyone who hasn't seen that episode, will fully understand what they are witnessing.

If you haven't watched it, stop reading and watch it, because here come some spoilers for it.

Paul McGann is back, with a tremendous opening line. Although Paul McGann has made only one previous appearance as the Doctor, he has become a fan favourite in the Doctor Who audio adventures. It is really wonderful to see him again, if only briefly, at the end.

This little mini-episodes is really a prologue for the upcoming 50th anniversary special, Day of the Doctor, but it contains many talking points.

For example, we now know that Paul McGann did not regenerate into Christopher Eccleston.

More interesting for me, this is the first time that a BBC produced Doctor Who story has referenced the audio adventures. Some of the companions that the Doctor names only appeared in the audio adventures. Previously, there has been a very strict disconnect between the audio adventures and the television show.

Now, in truth, I don't think this mini-episode fully succeeded in accomplishing what is one of the biggest and most important transitions in Doctor Who history, but considering they only had six minutes, they did pretty well. Chances are, it was this or nothing.

Anyway, it's extremely exciting for a Whovian like me and has once again gotten me anxiously waiting for November 23 - The Day of the Doctor

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Voyage of the Glaurung

The years is 3013 of the Third Age of Middle Earth. Denethor sits alone in his tower, gazing into the Palantír, when he sees a vision of a lost treasure. The Nauglamír, the necklace of Dwarves, hung on the branch of a dying tree, across an ocean in Far Harad. More than two thousand years ago, the Nauglamír had been one the great treasures of Gondor, until it vanished during the war of the Third Kin-strife. If Gondor could recover this treasure, it would prove a potent talisman in the coming war.

But who to send? A voyage that long had never been attempted by any in Gondor. It would take years and more than likely prove a suicide mission...

Then a name came unbidden to his mind - Breged, his nephew by marriage, the son Ivriniel of Dol Amroth. As a boy, Breged had been sent to Minas Tirith, after the death of his father. He had trained side-by-side with Boromir and Faramir, and Denethor had eventually made him a Knight of the Tower to satisfy politics. But Breged was a grim, unhappy man; the dark shadow of Boromir. The city, nay the country, would be better off without him.

Denethor would give him this mission, to travel to the far corner of Middle-Earth to recover the Nauglamír. He would give him a ship and let him hand-pick a crew. In the unlikely event that Breged succeeded, Gondor would have gained a valuable treasure. If he failed, Gondor would have lost little of value...

A Gathering of Heroes

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking about running a solo Lord of the Rings campaign, but was unsure how to construct it. Then a month or so ago, it occurred to me that I could combine it with one of my other great loves, the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Eventually, the above story was born.

I’ve got my main hero, Breged. I actually based his name on Rheged, the ancient British kingdom. By fortuitous coincidence ‘breged’ is also the word for ‘violence’ in one of Tolkien’s elf languages. At the same time I was working on this story, I bought a figure of Boromir in his full Gondorian armour. I thought I would paint him with dark hair, as this is more appropriate for a son of Gondor. As it turned out, when I had finished the figure, I no longer saw Boromir; instead, I saw another man, a grim hero. I found Breged.

The first hero to join Breged on his quest is the old sage, Mandracoth. Both Breged and Denethor were surprised when Mandracoth volunteered for the expedition. For years, Mandracoth has served the Stewards as an adviser, but recently he has grown distant from Denethor. Is he seeking escape from the confining walls of Minas Tirith, or does he have some other, deeper purpose?

As Breged begins his search for other heroes to join his quest, the great shipwrights of Dol Amroth have laid the keel for his ship. When it is near completion, it will be fitted with a dragon’s head, carved by mystic craftsman hired by Breged’s mother. For this reason, Breged will name the ship Glaurung, after the most terrifying dragon of myth.

While Jason’s crew was made up completely of heroes, I thought this would probably prove too much paperwork for my campaign. Instead, the Glaurung will have a crew of thirty. Ten of these will be heroes, the other twenty will be volunteers from the soldiery of Minas Tirith. I’ve just finished painting the first six of these. The first three are tower guardsmen, which I really enjoyed painting. They are in every way superior to the plastic Gondorian soldiers. First, they are actually in scale with most of the rest of the range and the cloaks just give them that extra bit of coolness! I’ve also painted up three Veterans of Osgiliath. Again these metal figures are far superior to their plastic counterparts.

So, the story begins. I still need eight heroes, fourteen soldiers, and a ship, but I’m on my way. 

Monday, 11 November 2013


I’ve been painting a lot of Lord of the Rings miniatures lately, but I think the ones I have enjoyed the most are these Half-Trolls. Both of these miniatures have loads of finely sculpted detail that was easy to pick out or dry brush. In fact, I enjoyed them so much, I’m considering getting another pair before the supply of metals dries up (all GW Lord of the Rings miniatures are a bit endangered at the moment, especially in metal).

My only disappointment with the figures is that they seem a little small. In stature, they are only just a bit taller than a man. True, they are much broader and dangerously muscular, but still a tad small. Trolls, especially as depicted in the movies, are massive creatures. At best, these two guys seem like Quarter-Trolls.

Games Workshop included these guys as part of their Far Harad range of figures. This range is only semi-based on Tolkien, as I don’t believe Tolkien said much at all about Far Harad beyond the name. He did, however, mention Half-Trolls. I believe they come up during the battle of Helm’s Deep. Also, for some reason I always thought that Gothmog, leader of the forces of Mordor after the fall of the Witch King, was a Half-Troll, although I might be remembering that from The Middle-Earth Role-Playing Game.

At any rate, they are certainly part of Middle-Earth and great figures to boot.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Big Brother???

Today I went to the library to return a couple of books, which I’d checked out two weeks ago. Recently, our library installed self-checkout machines, where you can checkout, return, or renew books yourself. So, I walked straight up to one machine and hit the ‘return’ button. A second later, my two books appeared on the screen.

It took me a second before I realized something was wrong. I hadn’t scanned my library card. I hadn’t even taken my wallet out of my pocket. Moreover, I had not taken the two books out of my bag...

I looked around in the way you do when something isn’t right, as though you expect to see your friends hiding by the corner of a bookshelf laughing and pointing. There was nothing.

I can only assume that, somehow, the scanner managed to pick up my two books through the bag. It’s a weak answer, but it’s the only one I’ve got...unless the machine is reading fingerprints...

Sunday, 3 November 2013


About to throw out the Halloween pumpkin? Well, hold on a minute. Before you do, take a look at the stem. Does it, perhaps, look like a stump? A 28mm stump? 

Last year, I saved all of the stems from my Halloween pumpkins (and was given  a couple more). I dried them out by leaving them on top of the radiator for a couple of weeks, and then I promptly forgot about them for most of a year. Then, a few weeks ago, when large numbers of pumpkins started to appear in the stores again, I remembered them. So, I pulled out those old stems, mounted them on bases, used plaster to fill in any gaps between stem and base, then painted them up.

Here are the results. A quartet of pretty convincing looking stumps. At least in my opinion.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor is Coming!

And I’ve got tickets!
On November 23, Doctor Who is returning to television with tth anniversary special, Day of the Doctor. This will also mark the first multi-Doctor episode of the new era, as both Matt Smith, David Tennant, and ???? will be appearing.
he big, 50

What I only recently discovered is that at the same time the show is airing on television, it will also be playing in selected 3-D movie theatres around the country. I actually found out about this the day after the tickets went on sale. Well, I really lucked out. I checked my local theatre and they actually still had a few tickets left. I got two seats near the middle of the back row.

Maybe it is silly, paying money for something that is going to be free on television, but I’ve been a Doctor Who fan my whole life, and I’ve never gotten the chance to see the Doctor on the big screen. I’m glad I’ve got the chance now. I will also be recording the episode, as I have a feeling it could be a huge, complicated, time-travel, super-self-referential muddle that might need multiple viewings to actually understand.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Halloween Report

It was a great night for business last night. The combination of a great location, good weather, and our dual jack o' lantern advertising campaign netted us a total of 71 trick-or-treaters! We nearly emptied the candy bowl. Our first visitors came by about 5:15 and we stayed busy from then until about 7:00. From there the goblins and witches came in drips and drabs with our final little visitor knocking on the door at 8:30.

The kids in our area seem to favour the classical, ghoulish costumes with various zombies and witches appearing the most popular. There were also a sprinkling of superheroes and fairies.

While trick-or-treating is certainly less popular in Britain than the USA, it is definitely strong in our neighbourhood.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Great Pumpkin!

My wife and I had a pumpkin carving contest last night. I will leave you to judge the winner. I will just say that I went for the more 'classic' design.

Last year, the presence of a couple of lighted jack o' lanterns in the window seem to make all of the difference in our trick-or-treater numbers. (You've got to advertise!). So, we are hoping for another big turnout this year. I'll report back with numbers tomorrow.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Frostgrave: The d20 Decision

Not too long ago, I announced that I had been commissioned to write a fantasy wargame called Frostgrave for Osprey’s wargames series. The game is set in the frozen ruins of a magical city overrun by undead and other dangerous creatures. The players each control a wizard from one of ten different schools of magic, each with their preferred list of spells. These wizards are then allowed to hire an apprentice as well as a group of soldiers to accompany them into the ruined city in search of lost treasure and magical secrets. Once in the ruins, far outside the laws of society, it is every warband for itself...

I knew from the beginning that I wanted Frostgrave to have a little bit of classic Dungeons and Dragons flavour. Some of that would come from the setting and the large part played by wizards, but I wanted something a little more, some connection to actually playing the venerable role-playing game. While I was thinking about this, I also began to think about the mechanics of the game, and, as so often happens, one question ended up answering another.

Most wargames these days still use six-sided dice as their main means of randomization. It is easy to understand why. Everyone has a few d6s lying around, even if they have to raid the Monopoly set. Also, since people are used to seeing these dice, they are less intimidated by games that use other, stranger dice. That’s the theory anyway. The problem with the d6 is that it only has very limited outcomes (six to be exact) and thus it is difficult to use a d6 to  ifferentiate probabilities. That is to say, the chance of rolling above a 3 is a lot more likely than the chance of rolling above a 4. How then do you represent a chance that is only a little bit more likely? You can roll multiple d6s and add them together, but this introduces a bell-curve into the probability of results. This is undesirable as it means that modifiers such as a -1 to a roll will affect the probability of a roll differently depending upon the base target.*

Recently more and more wargames seem to be moving to d10 as their main dice of choice. I think this is a definite improvement and probably works fine in mass battle games, where the distinction between troop types doesn’t need to be as refined. However, in a game like Frostgrave where every miniatures represents an unique individual, I wanted to take it one step further. Thus, I decided the game would use a d20 for all rolls.

As far as I know, the twenty-sided die didn’t exist before Dungeons and Dragons, and even though it was just one of six different dice used in the game, it became the die that symbolized the game. This is mainly because it was the die used to make attack rolls, the most common roll in the game. So, by selecting the d20 as the randomizer for Frostgrave, it draws an immediate link with D&D. Now, the actual attack roll in Frostgrave doesn’t work anything like the one in D&D, but I’ll go into that in a future post.

So, not only does the d20 give me the connection I was seeking, but I also believe it gives me the best use of probability. With twenty different outcomes, it is much easier to establish comparative probabilities, with each number difference being a straight 5% probability difference, and by only using the one die it means that modifiers remain consistent.

And of course, twenty-sided dice are the most fun to roll, but that’s just a bonus.

*It is also possible to roll a number of d6 independent of one another, needing a certain target, with the number of dice hitting the target determining success. However, the math needed to understand the probability of results is extremely difficult and certainly beyond what I wanted to put myself through in designing Frostgrave!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Spiel – Here I Come!

Tomorrow morning I’m heading over to Heathrow to catch a flight to Dusseldorf. From there it is just a short train ride to Essen, host city of Spiel, the world’s largest board game convention. (Actually, it’s not just about board games any more, they’ve also got wargames, card games and even comics books).

Technically, I’ll be working all weekend, but I wonder how much it will feel like work. I’m pretty excited. Not only does the convention sound amazing, but it will be the first time I’ve been to Germany (well, the first time I’ve left the airport in Germany anyway).

I’ll be taking the camera, so hopefully I’ll come back with some good photos for the Troll readers.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Lord of the Rings Miniatures

I first discovered miniatures when I was around ten years old. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I think I remember the order of events. I bought a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons box set from a yard sale, but I couldn’t understand it. My father saw this and, for reasons known only to him, went out and bought the original Middle-Earth Role-Playing box set. (I was already a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by this point).

Dad became my first Games Master, and in one of those early games, he brought a couple of painted miniatures! These were some of the old Ral Partha D&D minis. My character was represented by a fully armoured knight (a bad representation of a Beorning, but seriously cool to ten-year-old me). I also remember a neat troll.

Soon after that, I began buying my own figures. In the US in those days, there weren’t many choices available. You could get Ral Partha and some imported Citadel miniatures, but by far the best were the Mithril Miniatures from Prince August. While, I was certainly attracted to these minis because they were Lord of the Rings, I also believe they were the best miniatures available at the time.

As the years passed, I dabbled in all kind of different role-playing games and wargames. I had several different miniature painting teachers, both official and unofficial, and I worked in two different gaming stores.

Then I moved to the United Kingdom, and a whole new world of miniatures opened up. UK miniature companies outnumber those in the US by about ten (or more) to one. I was like a kid in a country-sized candy store, and I sampled a bit of everything. But, taking the metaphor one step further, I ate too much and got a bit sick.

I still love painting and playing with miniatures and spend a large amount of my free time engaged in the hobby, but I long for a simpler time. I long to go back to when my hobby was focused. I long to go back to Middle-Earth.

Mithril Miniatures still exists, albeit in a very changed form. It is now more of an expensive collectors club. Some of their figures are fantastic, and I would like to pick them up at some point, but in general the style no longer suits how I find enjoyment in painting. Lucky for me, Games Workshop picked up The Lord of the Rings license when the movies came out and has produced some seriously good miniatures.

So, for me, The Lord of the Rings is a homecoming in miniatures. It is also my all-time favourite fantasy world.

There are a few drawbacks to the miniatures as pertains to Games Workshop. They are expensive. Some of them are now produced in ‘Finecast’ resin, of which I’m not a huge fan, and it isn’t really clear what GW is planning to do with the license for the next two movies or if the will keep it afterwards. Still, these are all minor concerns from my hobby perspective. I’ve already proved that I can buy more figures than I can paint. I can deal with a finecast model or two, but there is still plenty of metal and plastic ones out there as well, and GW has already produced enough different models to keep me painting for the next twenty years or more

Well, that’s the current state of affairs anyway.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

More Miniature Musings

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about my recent struggles with my miniatures hobby, and how it was causing me as much stress as enjoyment. I determined that my main problem was that I had far too many unpainted miniatures, so I resolved to get rid of most of them. Well, I did, and I can honestly say, I’ve felt much better about my hobby since.

That said, I have continued to investigate the question, wondering if there are ways I can increase my enjoyment even more. For the last few years, I have found myself slightly envious of those miniature gamers who are able to focus on one period/setting/model range. Because of their greater focus, these gamers are able to assemble very impressive collections where every piece fits into the whole. They can also take their collections into much greater depth. If only I wasn’t such a ‘miniatures butterfly’ flitting from period to period...

Then it occurred to me, maybe the reason I can’t stick to one period is because I’ve never actually tried.  I’ve been perfectly willing to paint giant robots one day and Napoleonic soldiers the next. Would I be happier if I just picked one period and stuck with it, even if it proved to be an occasional test of willpower?

Well, I’ve decided to give it a try. After a lot of thinking, I have decided, at least for the next few months, I’m going to paint and collect nothing but The Lord of the Rings figures. (I’ll explain why I settled on this period in a future post). I want to see if this focus actually brings more enjoyment to my hobby. I have a suspicion that the underlying problem of having too many unpainted miniatures, was that they were distracting me from the miniatures I really did want to paint.

Also, I have reason to believe that over the coming year, I will probably have less time to paint miniatures than ever before, and I think focus could be key in my continued enjoyment.

I’ll keep you updated.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Royalties: The Glamorous Life of a Writer

I admit it, one of my favourite aspects of being a writer is the concept of royalties, that little bit of the contract that says I will continued to be paid for the sales of my books for the rest of my life. Eventually, I’ll be able to just kick-back and let the money roll in. Right?

Well, this week, I got my royalty statements from Osprey publishing, who hold the rights to all of my royalty-earning books. Here’s how they look:

The American Civil War Quiz Book

As it turned out, this book did not sell well. It certainly didn’t sell anywhere near as well as The Military History Quiz Book, which unfortunately I do not earn royalties on. So, according to my statement, my royalties for The American Civil War Quiz Book are -£655.08. That is to say my royalty earnings for that book are still that far below the amount I was given as an advance. That’s actually a £41 improvement over the previous statement, but considering the book has now been out for several years and probably sold the vast majority of copies that it will ever sell, I don’t think I’ll be including future payments from this book in my long-term financial strategy...

Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide

This is the original version of the book and not the newly released hardback edition. I won’t see any royalties on the new addition until the next royalty payment six-months from now. Anyway, on this book my total earns were 
-£6.26. Actually, this book has sold really well. At one point, this book had earned out its advance, and I actually earned about £15 for it on my last statement; however, since then, there have been some returns. So, despite selling a few copies and sales of the ebook, I’m in the red on this one as well. With the new edition out, this older one isn’t likely to sell too much, but some day, it might creep back over £0.

Dragonslayers: From Beowulf to St. George

My latest book netted me -£406.58. Sigh. Now, on the plus side, this book only had about three months of sales in the royalty period, so there is still hope for the future, but not a huge amount really. 

And there you have it, a big lot of negative. Now, just to make clear, I don’t actually owe anyone any money. The advances I was given for writing the books are not refundable. However, those advances do have to earn-out before I see another penny.

There is still hope. I was not paid an advance for the new addition of Zombies, so royalty earnings for that volume will start at £0. 

Something to look forward to anyway.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Prequel: A Flawed Concept?

According to Wikipedia, the term ‘prequel’ has existed since the 1950s, when it was occasionally used by science-fiction writers. These days, most people recognize the term from cinema, and most closely associate it with the second trilogy of Star Wars movies.

Recently, I was having a drink in the Eagle and Child with a friend, and we got to discussing prequels. We’d been talking about The Hobbit and how Peter Jackson is reworking it to serve as a prequel for The Lord of the Rings. As our conversation spiralled around, it became clear that both of us saw the whole concept of a ‘prequel’ to be inherently flawed. Our argument goes something like this...

At the most basic level, most people listen to/read/watch stories for one reason - to see what happens. Yes, characterization, beauty of language, and a great soundtrack are all important, but they are all secondary to the plot. As much as I love the grand shots of the Fellowship of the Ring walking across the beautiful New Zealand landscape, it is the quest to destroy the ring that keeps pushing me forward. Sure, I know the good guys are going to win (because I’ve read the book), but I want to see it happen. I want the climax, the payoff. I want the reward for my emotional investment.

Prequels, by their very nature, lack the payoff. The climax has already happened. In the prequels, Darth Vader is not redeemed. The Emperor is not defeated. The Death Star is not destroyed. Perhaps these movies could have succeeded as tragedy, but tragedy is not a popular genre these days.

Okay, the biggest problem with the Star Wars prequels isn’t that they are prequels (they’re just bad, especially numbers II and III), but even if they were well-made movies, I don’t believe they could have succeeded in a way that approached their predecessors. Okay, Obi-wan managed to hide Anakin’s kids, but that’s really just a conciliation prize.

It seemed to us, sitting in that pub, that the word ‘prequel’ is almost an admission. It says, ‘I’ve already told you the best part of the story, but let me go back and fill-in a few other bits you might find interesting...’. I’m tempted to go a step further. Is a prequel just laziness? Is it just easier to go back and write back story than it is to be fully creative and move a story forward?

To bring this discussion full circle, it should perhaps be mentioned that The Hobbit is a bit of a special case. If Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema wanted to do more movies set in Middle-Earth, then this was the only story they could tell. (The Tolkien estate isn’t allowing anything else). The Hobbit (book) isn’t a prequel. It was written first. If The Hobbit (movie) had stuck closer to the book it wouldn’t be a prequel. It would be a separate, but related story, with its own plot and its own big, dead dragon, Battle of the Five Armies pay-off. Unfortunately, by tying it closer to The Lord of the Rings, P. Jackson and crew have made it into a prequel. We will learn all about the rise of Sauron and his ring, but we will not see it destroyed.

Oh, I enjoyed the first Hobbit movie. I have little doubt I will enjoy the next two, at least on some level, but I already feel certain that I will not get the same return on my emotional investment that I did with The Lord of the Rings.

Rant over.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Zombie Book Signing

Last Thursday I had my ‘big’ book signing at Forbidden Planet, London. I didn’t expect too much from it. Unless you are a famous author or a television personality, people don’t usually come to your book signing.

As it turned out, I had nine people come up and ask me to sign their book. I suspect all nine just happened to be in the store when the announcement was made, but no matter, it was fun and exciting. For ten minutes, I had a little line of people waiting for my signature. A tiny taste of fame was enough.

I also had to sign twenty copies for people who had pre-ordered the book online so it could be shipped to them. (Big thanks to any Troll readers who might have ordered!).

After the ‘crowd’ died down, the guy in charge asked me to sign the other 71 copies they had. Looking back, signing my name 100 times within an hour is probably a personal record.

I had a nice chat with the organizer while I was signing, talking about all the different people they’ve had in lately. The last person before me it was Bruce Boxleitner!

Anyway, I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad it is done.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Witches by Tracy Borman

I bought this book, in hardback, a week ago in Waterstones, on a bit of whim. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a real interest in the history of Britain under the Stuart Kings, and I’ve always had a bit of interest in magic, mystery, and the macabre. This book promised to hit both with its tale of ‘Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction’ in the case of the Belvoir witches.

Unfortunately, instead of telling an interesting story, the book is mostly just an information dump of facts about witch trials in England over a two-hundred year period. Every time the author makes any point, she feels the need to back up the point with two or three quotes from period sources. These quotes, some of which are quite lengthy, are interesting at first, but grow increasingly annoying, especially as they are presented in their original seventeenth century spelling. The reading soon becomes tedious.

In many places the author manages to go pages without any reference to the story she is supposedly telling, and when she does return to it, it is often presented with a non-historic word such as ‘probably, maybe, possibly’.

This book is a glaring example of something that is seen all too often in historical publishing. Although the story of the Belvoir witches certainly contains a few interesting details, it is painfully obvious that there is far too little historical fact about the case to form the basis for a book length discussion. The author really should have accepted that and moved on.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Miniature Friday: Dwar of Waw

It is a rule. Give anyone the license to The Lord of the Rings and eventually, they will name the Nazgul. Well, the other seven anyway. Tolkien gave names or titles to two of them: The Witch King of Angmar and Khamul the Easterling. The others, he left unnamed; I suspect on purpose.

But people just can’t resist, especially if they are trying to make new product and sell it, and so they give them all names. I believe the first company to do this was Iron Crown Enterprises, when they were working on the Middle-Earth Role-Playing game. These names were later used in the LOTR collectable card game and by Mithril Miniatures.

It is one of those Mithril Miniatures that is featured this week. Here I present the pronunciation train-wreck that is Dwar of Waw. In my opinion, whoever came up with that name should probably have been taken off the project. I believe the back story is that Dwar was some kind of genetic manipulator who bred strange creatures for Sauron, which (sort of) explains why he wears a helmet with a monkey face...

Well, as stupid as the name and concept are to me, I quite like the figure. When I was young, Mithril Miniatures were my favourite minis to paint, partly because they were based on the LOTR and partly because they had minimal detail that made them easy to paint. However, as I got better at painting, I started to find that lack of detail a bit frustrating. I enjoy picking out details much more than I do the subtle blending that is required to get large areas of cloth to look good.

I’m actually not sure what happened to most of my Mithril miniatures, perhaps they are buried away at home, perhaps I got rid of them. Yet last time I was home, I found old Dwar, still in his box, and decided to bring him back to England and paint him up. I decided early on that I didn’t want to use him as a Nazgul. I really do like the figure, and the pose is cool, but he just doesn’t seem like a Nazgul to me. Instead, I figured he could make an evil sorcerer.

I went with purple robes, that seem to have shifted a bit blue in the picture. As usual, I found a figure who is mostly robes very difficult to paint. Although the photo makes the colour blending harsher than it looks in real life, it still troubled me. I'm not that happy with the outcome, to be honest, but I'm also not willing to spend any more time on the figure. It is 'good enough'.

The best part about the figure is that he fits in perfectly with the rest of my Lord of the Rings miniatures from Games Workshop. This is a little strange since the two lines are supposedly different scales, but I’m not complaining. I’ve included a comparison shot of Dwar standing next to (my much better painted) The Betrayer, one of the Nazgul from GW.

Yes, GW also named the Nazgul, although I think they took a much better approach and gave them all titles instead of names. It helps preserve the mystery that makes them so cool.

As a final note, I am aware that both ‘Nazgul’ and ‘Khamul’ should have little chevrons over the ‘u’, but try as I might, I could not find this symbol in my version of word.

Dwar of Waw...what were they thinking.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Nick Bury - By That Much

(A bit of flash fiction)

Nick Bury tossed his rusty shovel out of the freshly dug grave and crawled up after it. He chuckled softly as he dusted off his pants and looked around the field with his one green eye. He then glanced skyward, where the sun was well into its slow descent towards the horizon. Pulling out his old black pipe, Nick sat down on the mound of dirt next to the six-foot hole.

Nearly an hour passed while Nick sat smoking. The first stars became visible in the evening sky.  Then lightning flashed, and a thunderclap rolled across the field. A scream came from above. Nick looked up and saw a man plummeting through the air. The man’s scream was suddenly cut short as his body crashed into the ground a foot to one side of the open grave and mere inches from where Nick Bury sat. A second later, a black wand covered in silver runes rolled out of the man’s hand and into the grave.

A frown formed on the gravedigger’s face, but a moment later the corners of his lips curled up into a grin.  A wheezing chuckle escaped his throat. Nick slipped a foot under the body and rolled it into the grave.

“That’s the problem with magic,” Nick said to himself, “so hard to predict.”

* * * 

Back when I was writing a lot of fiction, I would sometimes challenge myself to write a complete story in an hour or less. For whatever reason, a lot of those stories featured a creepy little grave digger named Nick Bury. Most of my 'composed in an hour' stories weren't very good and and are now decomposing in a landfill somewhere, but a few were worth keeping. 

By That Much is probably my favourite of the Nick Bury tales, and it was arguably the most successful. In 2000, it was accepted and printed by Calliope, the journal of the MENSA Writer's Special Interest Group. In 2004, it was reprinted in the online fiction magazine, Flashshots. I don't know if either publication still exists.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Miniature Friday: Mechs!

It’s been over a month since my last Miniature Friday, and that one just showed off some of the bare metal I had bought at Historicon. Well, it’s back to painting this week, and showing off some of those Historicon purchases with paint.

Here we have a couple of mechs and a couple of heavy tank escorts. Normally, I talk about how much I enjoyed painting a figure, but in this case, I can’t. It’s not because there is anything wrong with the miniatures. I actually think they are all top notch. Instead, the problem is with me as a painter.

Although I’ve been painting miniatures for about twenty-five years, the vast majority of that painting has been of living creatures. As I once again discovered, painting something to look like real flesh or cloth is very different to painting something so that it is looks like it is painted. Do you follow?

Whereas something like a cloak has lots of subtle colour variation because of its numerous folds, big flat expanses of metal do not. I know there are lots of tricks and techniques for painting machines of war, but  I don’t really know most of them. Sure, I can do a bit of shading in the cracks and dry brushing, and I’m learning how to use metallic paint to (ironically) show edges where the paint has rubbed off, but my expertise when it comes to painting these machines is much less than when painting creatures, and that is frustrating.

All of that said, I’m not unhappy with the results that I have achieved on these figures. They are bright and colourful. While this doesn’t really make much sense on a battlefield, I think it is necessary to make these figures an enjoyable spectacle. I even managed to get a couple of BattleTech House Davion decals on them (decals being another technique in which I have little skill).

So I didn’t enjoy the process, but I like the results. Now, I just need to see if I can’t convince myself to paint a few more so that I can actually play a game.

For those interested, the larger mech is a Reaper Cav figure. The smaller mech and the two tanks are from Iron Wind Metals.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Great-Grandad and John Dillinger’s Cuff Links

L-R: Col. Dave Dodenhoff, Col. Melvin Purvis, Lt. Col. James D. McCullough, and Maj. Plat Wimbaly
Recently, my aunt sent me a copy of a photograph of my great-grandfather, James McCullough. The photo was taken in Oran, Algeria, when Jim was serving as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the US Army Supply Corp.

Jim is the second from the right. The smaller man, on his right (second from the left) is Col. Melvin Purvis. Jim and Melvin had been friends since long before the war, when they both had attended Law School at the University of South Carolina (hence the newspaper in the photo).

After Law School, Melvin Purvis joined the FBI and was eventually placed in charge of the Chicago branch, at a time when Chicago seemed overrun with gangsters. It was Purvis who led the manhunts that eventually killed Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger.

According to a note attached to the back of the original photograph, Melvin Purvis game Jim the cuff-links that John Dillinger was wearing on the night he was gunned down. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

The King of Rome

Last week, I was listening to a folk show on BBC Radio 2, when they played The King of Rome by Dave Sudbury. The presenter called it ‘a near perfect folk song’. Well, I’ve got to agree.

Apparently the song has achieved some fame from being covered by other artists, most notably June Tabor. I’ve listed to a few of them, but none seem to have quite the depth of emotion of Dave Sudbury’s original. It appears the only way to get this original version is to ordered it directly from Dave Sudbury himself. You can order it here. I have.


Throughout the softball season, I had problems with my feet. They would be fine during the game, but afterwards would get stiff and painful. This usually happened when I woke up the next morning, would last for an hour or two, and then go away. In truth, I thought it was just part of being a bit older and bit out of shape.

Well, after my last softball game of the season, the same thing happened, but the pain did not go away. Instead, I spent the next month and a half, limping around. Eventually, I went to the doctor. After a quick examination, including some painful poking, he announced with confidence that I had Plantar Pasciitis.

This not-uncommon injury is caused by a collection of small tears in the plantar facia, the ligament-like collection of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. It is most common amongst athletes (or softball wannabes) and people with flat feet (which I have). If I was a professional athlete, the doctors would likely give me a cortisone injection; however, as this is painful and the results are uncertain, it is rarely given for every day suffers. Instead, there is little I can do except rest it, do some stretching exercises, and try to deal with the pain.

The good news is that I’m unlikely to damage my foot any further as long as I don’t sprint much, although I must be careful if walking long distances not to hurt other parts of my body by overcompensating. The bad news is that the injury can take up to a year to heal. Ironically, this means I should be just about ready to go by next softball season.

Thankfully, the injury doesn’t bother me cycling, so I can still get my exercise and get to work. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Miniature Friday – Historicon Special

As was my plan, I opened up my Historicon buying with a bit of Battletech. I don’t actually play the game at the moment, and may never use those rules, but I have been thinking about playing some 6mm science-fiction with big stompy robots for awhile. Since this is one of the few miniature wargaming genres that is much more popular in the USA than the UK, Historicon is a perfect chance to pick up some stuff.

Now, my one problem with Battletech is that the aesthetic of a lot of their mechs just doesn’t appeal to me. There are a few I like and might pick up, but many of their giant robots look gangly to me. So, I started off my Mech forces by picking up a couple of Mechs from the Reaper Cav series.

Next, I got a little pack of decals of the sword and sun symbol of House Davion, one of the major empires in the Battletech universe. I just think they have one of the coolest emblems. In the past, I haven’t had a lot of luck with decals, but I’m looking forward to giving them another shot.

Finally, I picked up a trio of used Battletech novels. These are not high literature, but if you want to read books about big robots shooting each other up, then your options are limited. They were cheap enough that I don’t mind pitching them if they aren’t any good, but I know that I’m much more likely to get my mechs painted if I’m reading related books at the same time.

Well, that was Thursday. Successfully reserved, I thought, only buying two actual miniatures. If I can keep my miniature acquisitions down to that level, I should be fine.