Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Song of Blades and Heroes - tabletop fantasy miniature skirmish game review

My husband is a self-proclaimed game collector, and a few nights ago he came across this gem of a fantasy tabletop game while surfing around Drive-Thru RPG looking for some new and exciting way to spend our tiny gaming budget. Being married to a self-proclaimed game collector, I am usually the one who gets to be his crash-test-dummy as he tries out the various games he has picked up through the years.... and having suffered not-very-quietly through some fairly boring evenings of pushing little metal men around on a grass mat while trying to figure out if it was still my turn or looking over a page full of stats trying to see if my leader failed his morale check... *yawn*.... you can trust me when I say this game is the best five bucks we've spent in a long long time.

After one session of play last night, here is what I find so exciting about SBH.

The only rules governing how you build your army are 1) the amount of points-cost-total that you and your opponent agree upon and 2) no more than 1/3 of your total army point cost can be spent on "personality" models such as leaders, special monsters or heroes. Also there is a huge list of characters to pick from and even more in other system suppliments.

The turns are not I-go-you-go, nor is initiative decided by drawing random markers from a bag. Each model has a "quality" number between 1 and 6. High numbers are better. Both players roll a d6 to see who goes first..then the one with initiative can choose to roll between one and three d6s to activate the model of his/her choice. Matching or beating the model's quality number allows the model a single action for each successful die rolled. Rolling two failing dice means the initiative goes to the other player on the next turn. Therefore there is a degree of risk in trying to take multiple actions with a single model. Making and predicting strategy is much more difficult, but then again, this IS a skirmish game, not Waterloo.

After several failed attempts to win in combat against a stubborn door, the goblin sneak succeeds in smashing down the recalcitrant barrier and finding the rope bridge.

Hit Points
There ARE NO hit points. You either get killed, pushed back, or knocked down, but you CAN get back up again (like the Chumbawumba song says) if you get the initiative and can roll a successful activation. Having no fiddly wound markers to keep up with lets you focus more on playing and less on tracking all your models' hit points.

You don't have to play on grid or hex paper or worry needlessly with how to measure movement around a corner. There is a simple movement measuring tool that works for all models in the game, and only one straight-line movement may be taker per model action. While this may seem to slow down play in a dungeon setting, the simplification is worth the slowdown.

The skeletons begin crossing the bridge after their archers fail to remove the green menace from the cavern on the other side of the chasm.

Other Stuff
I've not personally read through the rulebook yet. But my husband tells me there are charts for filling in all sorts of dungeon essentials such as treaures and traps; and that there are campaign rules that let my models become MORE heroic as they survive more battles.

Fast, Fun, Dummyproof
Our game took a little more than an hour to play, much more due to the mazelike nature of our cavern labyrinth than anything game-mechanics related. I had ten goblinoid models. He had ten (IIRC) assorted undead types. All the model data I needed was on one easy-to-comprehend player sheet, and I only needed my three d6s and my movement-measurer to play. After just a few turns I had the hang of how initiative works and how combat resolves, and after that, it was almost like roleplaying...complete with teasing, taunting, and obnoxious warcries from the ubiquitous orcs.

This orc bravely attempts to slay the recumbent wraith hero, only to later end up himself in orc-heaven while his surviving victorious compatriots drink to his memory and squabble over his gear.

The Song of Blades and Heroes game, as well as the game system, makes its web-home right here on Blogspot. There you can find links to buy all their PDF downloads as well as links to their Lulu print-on-demand store. If nothing else, you should go there just to check out the fantastic cover artwork.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing if I can somehow find a way to work my orcish horde into the Arthurian or Robin Hood legends. If I do, you'll definitely hear about it here first.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blogspot REPLY issue..and a temporary fix

Many of you have likely experienced difficulties posting replies to other peoples' blogs today. The "Captcha" word verification image never finishes loading.

For those of you who have had an unusual lack of comments on your blogs, but who don't care to dig through the piles of postings on the Blogger Help forum, here's a work-around until the problem is fixed.

The problem only occurs on blogs that have their comments-form embedded below the post, so go to your Dashboard, click the Settings link next to the title of your blog, and then click the "Comments" tab at the top of the Settings page.

Where it says "Comments Form Placement", select either Full Page or Popup Window. I'm personally in favour of full page as some browsers dislike the popups and try to block them.

This is a much safer fix than disabling the Captcha altogether and letting in spammers.

Anyway...I hope to have been of service to somebody....and my sincerest apologies for straying off the usual role-playing and gaming topic.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Announcing my new blog

As those of you who have been following the Ubiquitous Orcs know, my husband Garish (aka Steve) and I have been running a regular Sunday event I call "Paint & Play" down at our local hobby store.

The success of our little venture has gone far past what I was expecting, and I decided it was time we made an official online group bulletin board with an events calendar, announcements and such. A brief flirtatious trial-run on a popular social networking site proved to be rather lacking in versatility and more than a bit of a hassle to update, and then it dawned on me... USE BLOGGER! DUH! Sunday Paint & Play club now has a home here.... or HERE, actually. It's got a calendar, a list of good gamer resources including some of our favourite retro-clone folks, and eventually I'll be putting up photos and highlights of the events there.

As for what's in the future for the P&P club (not to be confused with a pimento and pickle loaf sandwich), we have a painting contest underway and more planned. We are looking ahead to introducing our players to outdoor adventuring and the fundamentals of character roleplaying, and hopefully someday to see Swords & Wizardry and/or some of the other Oe retro-clone products in distributorship at our local game store.

If any of you out there in the bloggersphere decide you'd like to contribute a new original article or post from your own archives that is appropriate for beginner gamers or painters, I'm more than happy to make it possible. Just send me an email spikepage (at) gmail (dot) com

Friday, February 13, 2009

It starts on the playground

I was just reading this article about character origin and the sexes over at Trollsmyth's blog, and was happy to see an entirely new line of thinking on this old and sometimes overdone subject.

The gist of the article is that female roleplayers tend to craft their characters with much more details concerning their relations, home, how they miss home and are seeking a new one, etc. Whereas male players tend to stick with the here-and-now and leave the family tree either minimally filled in, or completely up to the imagination (however sinister) of the gamemaster.

Trollsmyth's theory is that what we all read has much to do with the sorts of characters we play, and his point is quite valid. Ever seen a guy reading a book with a picture of Fabio on the cover? And have you ever met a girl who read Lord Of The Rings who did not want more Aragorn and Arwen and much less Boromir or Gimli?

But I'm going to pile another two cents onto Trollsmyth's thesis and say it starts much earlier. In fact, it begins at playtime.

Boys like to play action games. They play cops-and-robbers, cowboys-and-indians and an entire host of games that involve seeking and destroying monsters. Boys' games usually start out with the choosing of teams. "You be the Sherrif's guys and we'll be the Merry Men" or "Pretend the wood-shed is the O-K Corral and these sticks can be guns." There may be some bickering over who gets to be Robin Hood or Wyatt Earp, but beyond that, nobody cares about why anybody's character feels a certain way toward anybody else or which one had the worst childhood.

Girls do it differently..belive me. "Let's play house." sounds innocent enough, but in the spirit of post-2nd-edition D&D, character generation can take hours and cause much pain and suffering. "Ooooh I wanna be the big sister so we can pretend she has a car and is bossy and has a boyfriend and never does what mommy tells her to do...and you can be the rich Auntie who takes us all to Disneyland.... and somebody else can be the grandmother that's really a bad witch." But of course everybody argues over who gets to be the baby so they can be Mommy's favourite. And naturally, nobody ever says "Let's pretend we're doing our chores after school.". It's much more fun when the plot involves a huge wedding, twins being born, or the discovery that the middle-sister is really adopted and that her real parents are the King and Queen of Spain.

Yeah, it's not a perfect universal truth, and in spite of thinking of myself as the tomboy who liked to upset the applecart by enticing the boys into plotting a pirate raid or vampire invasion of the girl's playhouse because I was bored with being the spinster housekeeper.... I have been guilty of creating a few "shippy" characters in my roleplaying career. ('Shippy' - (adj) - abbreviated form of 'overloaded with sissy-girly relationship-centered rubbish)

Yes, even a half-orc with no recollection of her mother or father at all can fall into this category. She may be motivated to the adventuring life because she is out to prove something to the people who picked on her as a child..or she has become obsessed with finding her birth-mother..or she is embarking on an ambitious quest to outshine the fair-haired human sorceress in the party who she is convinced has caught the eye of the male half-orc NPC.'s true.. all of it..and I suppose I should be ashamed. But the truth is that the game never suffered for it, and it gave the GM something to do..and like our GM says, "One sure way to keep a character alive is to keep the dungeonmaster entertained."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Next Generation

As I mentioned in earlier posts, Garish and I have been doing what I call "Paint-&-Play Sunday" down at Hobbytown to introduce new people to the joy of painting miniatures and then using them in roleplaying games. So far we've had amazing success, attracting a regular audience of young people and their parents, who tell us they're glad to see their kids playing the same kind of game they started out playing back years ago when they were still in school.

These kids' intro to RPG started with a simple Oe-style character data card for one single model. We then let two kids take their models and a few dice and let the models have a fight. The simplicity of Swords & Wizardry Whitebox rules makes keeping up with model stats a bit easier so the kids catch on really fast.

So you can imagine how psyched those kids were the next week when we unpacked our fieldstone dungeon maze...wihch was awarded the official seal of "wicked-awesomeness" by one youngster. Their characters who had been pit-fighting at home all week now got to partner up and clean out a dungeon.

Honestly, it does a soul good to see kids getting so excited over anything that did not involve extreme speed, high sugar, or joining an online guild.

So they came back next week, this time with friends. Of course their characters had experience points now and a few weapon upgrades, and they "totally owned" the dungeon full of kobolds and rat swarms. By now they were coming to understand the concept of levelling up and getting more hit points, and a few of the parents were asking about how to make some of the terrain pieces we had been using.

This past Sunday, some of our kids showed up all ready to go, telling us that they had downloaded and printed both S&W rule sets and two even had found the character sheet download. They had also brought along another new friend who says he "never plays games,but it looks cool" and we put them through a new water-caverns maze (seen below).

A closeup of the water-caverns HirstArts environment with our local club's party defending a passage.

All we need now is cake and ice cream!

These guys did not want to go home they were having so much fun. One kid went so far as to say we "should do birthday parties too".

And that's how to ensure roleplaying has a future. Now we have two families..two generations of roleplayers, enjoying the hobby together. With the economy being what it is, families are glad to discover inexpensive entertainment, and thanks to the vast wealth of older-edition materials out there at places like Dragonsfoot and Judges Guild, they can expand their hobby as far and wide as they wish. And ultimately, imagination can take them everywhere beyond that.

Not so long ago, I posted a "challenge" on the TARGAtalk Yahoo group and TARGA Facebook group for people to introduce our hobby to somebody they've known for a long time but have never gamed with before. This can be a spouse or sweetheart, a co-worker, or even a family member...and that especially includes kids. ...because I believe that children are our future...

Oh good I've got Whittney Houston stuck in my mind.

... teach them well and let them lead the way....

Yeah..let them lead, especially if they've got lots of hit-points or are good at finding traps... and show them all the beauty they possess inside .... and don't forget the ten-foot pole!

Monday, February 09, 2009


This is a little service I provide from time to time just for the ladies. Think of it as twitterpation therapy.

(from the "Previews" page of upcoming models from Reaper Miniatures)

#03405 Black Orc Hero, by Tre Manor

Girls, I can about promise you this fine eligible bachelor won't ever be seen at any emo club wearing your jeans, nor will you ever have to worry about him reading Elf Eye For The Orc Guy.

Yeah..I like my orcs like I like my coffee... hot, black, strong, and three times a day!

Mmmm.... beeeeefcake..... *sigh*

Friday, February 06, 2009

GameBlog - Tomb Of The Iron God

When we last left off, the group had discovered the location of the kobolds' lair and were still deciding what to do next.

It seemed that Drake and Amaryxes both agreed it was a good idea to wait a bit, watch to see if the kobolds sent patrols out, and make plans based on what they could learn. Dukkor, it seems, would prefer to go right in and get down to business. Gwynned (Yes, the Mage is back) decides that his best personal plan is to have a glass of wine because...

"There are things I shouldn't do without the excuse of being drunk."

Turleus and the others begin moving supplies to a more discreet vantage point, and are scarcely settled in when the kobolds appear. There's thirteen, and two dogs. The kobolds are equipped (so it would appear) for hunting, and somehow totally missed the party's encampment just to the south of the cave mouth. sooner do the kobolds leave the vicinity of the cave than Drake heads right on in, motioning for the others to follow. Turleus and Big Bart go right in after him. Amaryxes is left to wonder just what happened to the watch-and-wait plan and is adamant that he's staying put. Dukkor appears to feel the same way, but with the group's best interest in mind, he trots ahead to let those who went ahead that there were others who did not share their reckless enthusiasm.

So, who's plan will prevail? Will Drake and company turn back, or will Amaryxes and Dukkor join them?

Will the cave be easier to take with less defending it, or is there a surprise waiting for our party of adventurers?

And how is it that a party of kobold hunters with dogs cannot find a large pack of hygenically-disadvantaged dungeoneers?

Updates weekly (at the very least)... same orc-time, same orc-channel.

...hmm.... has a nice familiar ring to it, don't it.

I wonder if I need an orc-phone, an orc-pole, and an orcmobile?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

GeekEnd: Day 2 and 3 -- change of plans

Well, things didn't go quite as planned. My GeekEnd was interrupted by a rather sudden and vicious 24-hour flu of some sort, and so much of last night and this morning was spent with fever and some serious head and muscle aches. Suffice to say, we had to cancel game-nite until tomorrow.

But I still found a way to get my geek-on.

Yeserday was spent doing HirstArts projects..mainly this cavern.

The green stuff is just posterboard, and will eventually be replaced with a cavernous-looking stone floor. There are also lots more pieces still on the drying-table or awaiting paint. The finished product will be something like this

{Gorn the Crusher and one of the ubiquitous orcs discussing quantum physics}

Then I spent the later part of today (having waked up at 1pm) noodling around with DungeonCrafter 1.4.1 and, while not accomplishing much, having a lot of fun. Basically, the program lets you assemble tiles over a squared off matrix to form a rather nice-looking topdown view of a dungeon. The tiles include floors, walls, dungeon furnishings and even traps, and there are other sets of tiles available online with different "looks" so you can even make a cheesy blue dungeon like the kind that came in your Moldvay D&D box. Oh..and the download is gettable here.

Tomorrow, provided I do not collapse into a puddle of perspiration and medication at work, our game group will pick up where we left off in the Endless Tunnels of Enlandin. Until then, I think I will go have a hot cuppa Cure Disease...or maybe some tea instead.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

GeekEnd: Day 1 - Paint-&-Play Sunday and Game-Nite

Around the end of last year, Garish and I decided to start doing regular painting and gaming programs down at our sort-of-local Hobbytown USA store in Kennesaw.

You might say it's a double-feature matinee. First, our participants get to choose from a selection of free Reaper minis to paint and keep for themselves. We supply the paints, brushes, and whatever meager collective expertise we can offer. Then, once the minis are dry, anybody who wishes to can come over to the dungeon table and do a bit of old-style RPG looting and slaying in our HirstArts plaster dungeon maze. Those that play the dungeon also get a free Chessex d20 and d6 and a handy list of places to get various free rules sets to help them get the most fun out of their painted minis.

Ordinarily, we might have around half-a-dozen folks joining in, but today was a bumper crop...including two entire families and we even coaxed a few of the guys from the Flames Of War tables to give fantasy minis and gaming a try.

Below are some photos and highlights.

The "Paint" part of the event, sponsored by Reaper Miniatures through their Black Lightning demo team program

The dungeon table, featuring our customizable HirstArts maze. The rules we used today were Swords & Wizardry White Box

These two minis with their magical swords are looking for some trouble.

The party, an unlikely collection of elves, dwarves and orcs, find the kobolds' lair. All the players are looking forward to next Sunday's game and the continuation of their long and perilous journey to fame, fortune, and 2nd level.


Then, after we got back home, we were joined by Shane "The Crusher" and Unglef "The Dwarf" for a bit of AD&D 1st Edition action. We had been talking about getting an all-thieves adventure together and running through the City State of the Invincible Overlord module. (Or as Janara the hafforc would say "City Stake of the Unvisible Ogre-Lord).

So I'm playing a half-orc thug (bit of a surprise, I know), Unglef is a somewhat chaotic dwarf second-story man, and Shane is our human magic user.

Our first night in Ogre-Lord City consisted of Leif (the mage) nearly getting arrested over a botched attempt to gather information, Burzug (the hafforc) passing out drunk, Gund (the dwarf) having to use his bulls:)t-skills on a local guardsman to keep Leif from being hauled to jail, Burzug waking up after all the "good stuff" had already happened, Leif getting seduced by a random-night-encounter which turned out to be a succubus, Gund and Burzug running away as soon as the second demon appeared (but returning to his aid once the town watch and some high-level priests showed up to help with the problem), and at long long last we all found a place to spend the night... and the game session ended with the GM dangling a nice juicy plot-hook in front of us concerning a nobleman's stolen horse and sword.


In other GeekEnd-related news, it looks like Groundhog Day will be reserved for casting up HirstArts parts for the new cavern system. Garish has proclaimed himself the Master Caster of Plaster Disaster.... as the condition of my kitchen counter and floor can verify.