Friday 27 May 2011

It's a Long Road...

It was my intention after last Saturday's game to sit down and write up what happened. My intention remains, but time is fleeting and I've lost control...

What I will say at this point is that the campaign is surprising me, especially as I'm the GM who kind of knows what is really going on, or at least is seen as the master manipulator of all that goes on. Slipping into corporate speak, this emergent property is down to the synergy from the interplay between the player and myself as the narrative of the story develops.

For instance, we have discovered during the previous sessions that the so called offworld pirates were in fact onworld forces, who then became a bunch of people who oppose the government of Mummerset, and from this place we changed the label from "pirates" to calling them the "Freedom Army of Mummerset, " the military wing of the Mummerset Freedom Party.

The name having also evolved from what had happened during the game, as all I knew as the GM was that I wanted a bunch of people causing trouble and lowering property values on Mummerset.

So, I made all that up as I went along, but it fits the plot of my story.

So what is the story? Well, I hide everything in plain sight, so the story remains the one I set out for the players. They, as representatives of their government, are going somewhere to fly the flag and support a diplomatic trade mission, which is the main McGuffin of the plot; it's all about the getting the Boron deposits.

However, as the story unfolds details get added. 

Some are mere trifles that I add to amuse myself, like the names of the characters, or places. Others are big picture stuff to do with acquiring the Boron and the lack of potable water on Mummerset. 

Everything else revolves around this, and things evolve from the different goals each faction has. 

All the Mummerset factions want technology to improve the quality of life onworld, while the House Steiner faction want the Boron (actually my players want battles, but they also want reasons for having the battles, and they want games that are fun), and it has amazed me how other stuff just falls into place from this when you add one or more other factions who have a different idea on how to achieve the goal of improving the technology base of Mummerset.

Hence the Mummerset Freedom Party, the political wing of the Freedom Army of Mummerset and their goal of removing the current government for the greater good of Mummerset. 

One of the things that came out of the previous sessions where the "pirate" attacks were described as "Strike and Fade" was the that the "pirates" had the whole sleight-of-hand, pea under the cup routine going when it came to deploying their forces. This hoisted me on my own petard, because during the last session I thought that the next battle the player team would fight would be the "pirates," but I could think of no way to arrange said fight, and my players were in that zone too.

However, I had more than one faction in opposition and this is what saved my bacon on the day, and from this the dominoes tumbled along until we reached the inevitable conclusion that a battle between President Marx's faction and the Royalist diehard Colonel Whales was on the cards. 

And thus I find myself now having to fast track the painting of the Democratic Republic of Mummerset's forces, as the Mummerset Freedom Party I was working on will not be needed next time.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Reviews Versus Testimonials


I asked myself what is the difference between both, as could think of quite a few?  First off, a testimonial is, practically by definition, a positive endorsement of something, or someone. There's nothing wrong with that, but everyone understands that it is all about singing the praises, so it has limited value, because it only tells you one side of the story. 

A review has a different function as it looks at both what is good and bad about what is being reviewed. In academic terms a review will search for other work that covers the same topic and summarise those reviews, which turn was a review that had searched for previous works that had discussed the same topic. As can be imagined this is quite a recursive process, but what saves it from becoming stodgy is the critical element that removes weaker work in favour of stronger work. So through trial and error a researcher can weight the evidence, and look at the balance of probability to hone theories to see if they fit the facts, which is the academic equivalent of the Darwinian process in action.

So what purpose would a game review serve? Does it comment on the production values, the game mechanisms, the playability, or the experiential process? I would argue that it would need to address all of these things, and probably a few more like value for money, support for the game and accessibility for the new player too. 

However, such a review would be a monumental piece of work, so what you tend to get is an edited highlights of the reviewers concerns about the game, rather than a more objective review that places the game in its historical context. 

Then there is the thorny issue of offending the games company, and a writer will offend if they are perceived as being critical and damaging sales of the game. This is mirrored in academia where the issue of who is funding the research colours how much you can trust the results of the research. It's called bias, and research reviews have to declare their biases. When was the last time you read a review in the commercial press where the reviewer declared there bias?

Ah I hear you say, what about the non-funded reviews posted on the internet for example? A good point, but more often than not they fall into testimonials that say they like the product, or a hate-fest where they say this product sucks, because it does not meet the reviewers needs. Neither are particularly useful to either the buyer, or the manufacturer of the game.

Hence my reluctance to really review games that I like, but as and when I have the time to analyse my biases, do a search of previous games in a genre, and summarise the game mechanisms, playability and experiential quality of said game, I will.

Monday 16 May 2011

BattleTech Troper

BattleTech is a wargame that has not one, but two main pages on the TV Tropes site. Who'd have thought huh?

The link above deals with the general tropes of BattleTech, like duh! BTW: that is of course me using a trope.  However, more importantly, as an introduction to the world of BattleTech I really can't recommend this page enough for the casual person who wants to know what's it all about Alfie? Sorry for that shout out.

This next link is to a page on how FASA allowed the BattleTech universe to be expanded and the various tropes that have become signature items of the franchise. Be warned that clicking on either of these links will take you to pages with lots of other links on them that form a hypertext database, or Wiki as they are now called.

So what is a trope, apart from the content of a site called TV Tropes that is?

It is a figure of speech, or a metaphor if you prefer, that describes something using words whose literal meanings are different from what they say, for example "road works", which means a road that is being dug up, or repaired, but not one that is literally working. Using a metaphor allows people to explain concepts that are not easily understood using language that describes something else. Often these end up as common clichés, for instance "blue sky thinking".

Metaphors can then become metonyms, which are figures of speech that become the thing. For instance I have my wheels meaning I have a motor car. Funnily enough a trope can become ironic through meaning the opposite of what was originally intended and this trope has many flavours too. My favourite being Socratic irony, or the "Colombo gambit", where you start off by stating how one doesn't understand something and ask the other person to explain it. This then leads the inherent contradictions being spotted in what has been said.

When you have a trope that contains two words that have opposite meanings you then move into the realm of the oxymoronic, an obvious example is "living dead", and another is "military intelligence", the latter having been described as "a highly refined organisation of overwhelming generalities, based on vague assumptions, and debatable figures drawn from undisclosed activities, pursued by persons of diverse motivation, and questionable mentality, in the midst of unimaginable confusion".

Of course that is a gross exaggeration of the process behind "military intelligence" for comic effect, which therefore make it hyperbole, which funnily enough is another example of a trope. Ironic huh? Probably a bit of an understatement to describe military intelligence in this manner too, something that we Brits do with a certain amount of aplomb. I always remember an RAF chap being interviewed after a raid over Berlin who described that whole death defying ordeal as a bit of a "whizz bang". In trope terms such understatement is called a litote. A more modern example of a litote is of course the use of double negatives.

Any metaphor/trope that starts off as a counter proposition is counted as an antithesis, and you thought that it was just a part of dialectics. Well it is, but dialectics is a part of rhetoric, which uses metaphor as the basis for constructing arguments. So finally we get to the end of the different categories of tropes with the synecdoche. This is the mirror of the metonym in that the description has replaced the thing to the extent that it starts to become a cliché, though not all synecdoches are clichés.

So BattleTech is all of the above and more, which is probably why I like it in spite of the ludicrousness of the central conceit.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Tree Shades of Green


This weekend started out with a rare burger from Byron's, and afterwards treating myself to a new handbag for work from the House of Fraser, both establishments being local to me at the Westfield's shopping center, just round the corner from where I live.

Wow, living life to the limits is my motto, and this morning I even went and had my hair done at my local hairdresser.

Compared to the excitement of painting trees three shades of green the above is probably all rather dull. I've been struggling through yet another steep learning curve with my new tree project, and down to the simple fact that I can't bear to do anything "just good enough", I've been trying to produce the best trees that I can using Woodland Scenics products as a starting point.

Anyway, as I'm writing this now I've just watched Dr Who: The Doctor's Wife and afterwards I was dry brushing green on the trees. Second shade in this case. As I want the trees to have variety I've split the 32 deciduous trees I'm painting into three groups, as can be seen above. All have sea green as the base colour, but then have two other shades of green painted over the top.

The plan being to have three shades of green on every tree, but not the same three shades of green on all of them

I originally started by priming the trees by spraying them black and then  I sprayed the trunks in red primer. On top of this I then drybrushed sea green to delineate the foliage from the trunk and worked from there.Unfortunately, I made a bit of a mess of the drybrushing and overdid the amount of paint I put on, which was so not good.

So I resprayed them black and started again without painting the trunks in red primer, which was okay, but I failed to get the tonal variation I wanted and though that all the trees looked rather dull and uninteresting. So I re-drybrushed them and changed the combination of greens that I was using to add more variation to the three basic shades of green I was painting my forest.

I would like to say that this plan I had worked. It sort of did, but it doesn't account for the fact that I ended up painting each batch of trees three times, improving on the application, order and combination of shade of green. In addition, The reason for the revision was down to the order that I chose to paint the colours, and a big confounding variable was painting the tree trunks, which cause one of the repaints.


Hopefully you can all now see that there are three distinct shades of green in this forest down by the river side?

After taking the above pictures I spent some time drybrushing the tree trunks with pale flesh to give them a grey looking texture, which has improved upon what you can see above. Finally, I whisked some canary yellow over the upper surfaces of all the trees to make them pop a bit more.

From my observation of trees I kind of know that they are complex fractal structures that reflect light in many different directions due to the structure of the leaves, which are themselves fractal in nature.

Capturing the lacy structure of trees is extremely difficult, especially when one has to make them robust enough to be handled in a game.

So there you have it. One weekend spent slaving over a hot forest...

Monday 9 May 2011

Being Human

Last night I was watching the series Being Human, the story of a vampire, werewolf and ghost sharing a house in Bristol. It is a charming and often hard hitting metaphor for life and the choices one makes when growing up. As often the case when such topics are written quotes from the Bible spring forth to hit the point home. In this case this one:
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." (1st Corinthians verse 12).
I mention it because to some extent one can consider hobbies like wargaming to be the anti-thesis of Corinthians. I rather like that it is.

I can't remember if I've ever discussed why this blog is called "Paint-it-Pink". No doubt if this were a graphic novel it would have been part of my origin issue, or in a more Po-Mo presentation an inserted back story to illuminate something like the Corinthians passage above. Me being me, I will use the telling to illuminate my thought processes around gaming, and in particular running campaigns; whether that is a traditional RPG, or more tabletop figure game.

I like to make my campaigns like onions. So that cutting them open provokes a strong reaction and reveals that there are many layers to the story. Once cooked onions become sweat and delicious, and my intent to always run games that delight the the desire to play games in much the same way as a good meal not only assuages one's hunger, but satisfies one's taste buds.

So why Paint-it-Pink? Why not. Pink is a girly colour. A Pink team is description of a Red and White scout and hog team in Vietnam. I could go on. What I will say is that the periods of conflict that interest me largely feeds into the games that I play, of which BattleTech remains a favourite, despite of, or because of its ludicrous elements.

So do I take elements of World War One and use them for games of BattleTech. Yes I do. Also I take elements from the Inter-War period, for example the Russian Civil War, Spanish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and of course World War Two. Though in the latter case, even though I play a large number of games over the years, it no longer holds me in its thrall, especially late war actions. This is odd, because to some extent BattleTech could be seen to be a paragon for disguising WWII scenarios, which is what appeals to me so much about the BattleTech rule setting.

However, Vietnam, remember John Wayne in Green Beret, is still the war of my childhood. Hence Paint-it-Pink, and funnily enough BattleTech and Vietnam play together well. Units that have an overwhelming advantage, US armed forces, choppers etc. versus battlemechs that stomp around owning the battlefield, but just like Vietnam no guarantee of a meaningful victory.

OTOH I still like to dabble in those areas that I steal from wholesale, because at the end of the day it is always good to go back to the source material that inspires one. As I said the very anti-thesis of growing up and giving up childish things, rather the acceptance of one's inner child and the value from having an open mind that is still able to learn new things.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Mummerset Command Bunker

Above is the picture showing a terrain board with some Kappa board siding that I cut to make a room/basement for the building on the right. It's just a little project that has developed out of the town boards I've been making, which I thought I'd do a brief photo run through of how I did it.

The building was from the Fieldworks 10mm range, being described as a Sci-Fi spaceport. Whatever, because quite frankly if it's Sci-Fi it's whatever I say it is. Anyway, Fieldworks are remastering this building, because it was too small to put 10mm figures inside it. I therefore got it cheap and plan to modify it to rectify the problem.

The walls you see here are 40mm high and are simply cut and stuck down with double sided sticky tape. This really was a slap it together job. As you can see from the above shot the building covers the room/basement, acting like a lid, or roof. The reason I chose 40mm for the height of the walls was to allow vehicles to enter, but not larger mechs. Though in fact a Commando battlemech can get through the entrance.

Hopefully,  you can also see where I drew an outline around the building on the Kappa board so that when I built up the walls they would would support the building, making it effectively into a roof. Then using my now trusty Hot Foam Factory polystyrene cutting tools I took some scrap polystyrene and carve the various bits into a shape that pleased me. Finally the foam was glued to the Kappa board with PVA glue.

And et voila, the Fieldworks spaceport becomes the basis for one command bunker just like that. Obviously, lots of finishing work to to here, but the above was all done in about an hour's worth of fiddling around. I'll post further pictures of this project after I have textured the base to show the final effect.

And above is an aerial view of the entrance to what could be another underground secret bunker, or just a natural cave with a worn path up to the entrance.

Monday 2 May 2011

Red River Delta

I have been off from work all of this week, since the funeral in fact, so I have had a lot of spare time and I've been fairly busy making and painting stuff. Probably not done as much as I could have done, but there again it has been a difficult period for me having to deal with a surprising amount of grief from the loss of my mother-in-law.

To keep myself focused on things, other than loss,  I've been building terrain boards. This includes some new river boards, which I've decided to call the Red River Delta project, which is the first step towards my goal of being able to play Vietnam riverine delta games using Charlie Don't Surf from TooFat Lardies.

Anyways here are some work-in-progress shots of the eight boards I'm making.

The picture above shows all the polystyrene contours after been covered with filler, then textured using ground foam, and finally painted. I use a sort of wet-drybrush technique for terrain where I layer alternate contrasting earth colour tones over one another to get a multicoloured soil base.

After painting the land areas I then used an extended wet paint technique, blending three different colours while the paint was still wet, to define the river. After allowing the river to dry overnight,  I applied two washes over the top, and then sealed the whole thing with ultra gloss gel. I then plan to layer another two washed over the top of the gloss gel before applying  a coat of Woodland Scenic's realistic water over the top to finish.

In the mean time I've been busy applying static grass over the painted terrain, but I haven't yet taken a picture of this, but I will do so in due course. Also you probably can't really see from the pictures, but there are loads of embedded tree trunks in the terrain, which is all part and parcel of my mark two terrain boards.

However, while this terrain is is for Vietnam games, it would be fair to say that the terrain will also be used for my Operation Sandbox Campaign set on the mythical world of Mummerset, where it will represent the Fork River Delta. I imagine that at least one battle will take place around the delta during the course of the campaign. I could be wrong of course, but OTOH I am the GM, so if any of my players are reading this they now have the conundrum of deciding whether this is info that will help them or not?

Sunday 1 May 2011

BattleTech 3.0: Epiphany


This is not a review of the 25th Anniversary box set, as quite frankly it doesn't need a review from me to add to what has already been said by others. 

However, if you are thinking of getting into BattleTech then this is the current entry level product. In short it has everything you need to play BattleTech in one big box, which is full of goodies to get you going. I can't recommend it more highly than that. Everything else the CGL do is just icing on the cake, and can be dipped into if you are so inclined.

After that plug I'm bringing this blog back down to playing BattleTech. So going back, or round-and-round like a gerbil in a hamster wheel (depending on how you look at what I write here in my blog?), are some of the ideas on how to play quicker games of BattleTech, as I've talked about in previous blog posts that have evolved out of playing the game for more years than I care to remember. 

The manifesto for any House rules for speeding up the playing speed of BattleTech were:

1. Must not conflict with BattleTech's construction rules.

2. Must use BattleTech record sheets.

3. Must feel like a simpler version of BattleTech.

4. Must be compatible with all pre-generated unit designs that exist now.

5. Must allow two or more players control six units each, and play four turns an hour.

6. Must cater for combined armed games that play quickly.


1. For board games keep movement as cost per hex, but double the firing range. For miniature gaming make each hex equal to four inches, but movement points only equal to two inches.   

Reason: to balance the emphasis on manoeuvre from simplified facing changes with firing range while speeding up play.

2. For movement now all units just count the number of hexes (board-game), or inches moved (tabletop), and add a free facing change at the end of the turn only. Quad mechs can move sideways down the line of the hex, or just step side-ways in tabletop miniature games, effectively retaining their side-slip advantage.  

Reason: taking a leaf out of MechWarrior: Age of Darkness quick play.

Addendum: this effectively adds three movement points to all mechs and vehicle, which compensates for doubling the range of the weapons.

3. Roll one pair of 2D6 (change to 4D6 and discard two results) for combat to calculate whether or not all the weapons that the unit has hit or miss.  

Reason: reduce number of die rolls, which means quicker fire resolution. 

Addendum: modified in light of discussion below.

4. Roll one pair of 2D6 (change to 4D6 and discard two results) for all the missile weapons fired to get an average of number of missiles hit e.g: you fire five LRM launchers of say three fives, and two 10s, you would then roll on the 35 missile to hit table, rather than for each launcher in turn.  

Reason: replaces boxes of dice with one table and remove design artifacts that can affect game balance from game play and resolve damage quicker.

Addendum: modified in light of discussion below. 

5. Ammo explosions are calculated as the value of one round of the ammo cooking off when they explode. However,  after applying the internal damage, roll again on 2D6 (the usual roll of plus eight) to see if more critical damage is done to the mech (if the ammo bay is hit again, this too will explode one round and so on).   

Reason: reduce number of times dice need to be rolled and therefore speed up the game, but still allows for catastrophic explosions.

6. Ferro-fibrous armour, endo-steel count and empty slots count as valid locations for an internal hit and need not be re-rolled.

Reason: to again reduce number of times dice need to be rolled and therefore speed up the game.

7. Head hits do not automatically kill the pilot, instead the auto-pilot is assumed to eject the pilot, unless of course there is no ejection system or auto-eject is turned off for some reason. Pilots only die from wounds received.  

Reason: emphasis on heroic RPG, rather than pure wargame play.

8. Initiative to be governed by using cards, which will randomise what moves when during a turn.

Reason: stop gamesmanship and calculating the best unit to move last, which slows down the game.

Addendum: further discussion on principles to be dealt with in a future blog entry.

9. Introductory Rules to be used as the jump off point with the minimum amount or rules from other books as necessary.

Reason: when in doubt, less is more.

Let the discussion begin...