Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Aliens & Asteroids: DSF Chaplain Corps

I've been out of the abbey two days, I've beaten a lawman senseless, I've fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect. And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong...
– Shepherd Book
I've been intrigued by alien-light SF recently – Aliens, The Expanse, Outland and so on – the kind of grimy, industrial SF that looks like humanity is well out of its league. It's got a rough-edged appeal that I find lacking in most incarnations of Star Wars or Trek (there are some exceptions, typically when the focus is on the grimy underbelly of the settings).

It's had me looking at a number of cool RPGs, and one to which I've really taken a fancy is Brian Fitzpatrick's Aliens & Asteroids. A PWYW quick-start is available from DriveThruRPG here, and the full rulebook here. To sum it up briefly (doing it something of a disservice), it's a military-focused game with PCs all coming from Humanity's Dominion Space Forces (DSF) – though that's really easy to change if you prefer, say, a more exploration- or crime-driven game. It's got me thinking, so this might be the first of a few pieces outlining some ideas for tweaking the game to suit my own vision.

The DSF offers several career paths – grunt, commander, medic, scientist, etc. – already, but a post on the official Facebook group got me thinking about a military unit that could really bring something a bit different to the table: chaplains. There's a strong thread of counselors and preachers in SF series – TNG's Deanna Troi, Firefly's Shepherd Book, Captain Martens from The Expanse – and in a setting where alien horrors are in addition to the isolation and fingertip survival of life at the fringes of space, they'd be a much-valued addition to a crew.
DSF Chaplain Corps
A member of the DSF's Chaplain Corps is a commissioned military officer as well as an officiant or minister representing a religion, faith group, or philosophy. Their primary focus is on troop welfare and the provision of counseling and moral support to DSF personnel, but they may also find themselves tasked to act as advisors and negotiators when the DSF (or other Dominion agencies) encounters religious groups or similar organizations.

Profession: Chaplain
Prime Attribute: Education
Traits: Counseling, Leadership, Meditation, Psychology, Religion
The chaplain can fit into most stories with this kind of varied role. Accompanying DSF teams on particularly long or taxing operations is a natural fit, where they can use their counseling and morale role to maintain operational effectiveness. They can adopt an investigatory role, especially where fringe religions, alien fetishists, or apocalyptic cults may be involved.

Their trait options border both those of the existing Commander and Medic, without rendering either one of the other redundant. It also lends itself to a varied character – while Education is the default Prime Attribute (i.e. the one that will see most use) due to Counseling and Religion being the 'default' traits, Presence could be subbed in if the chaplain wants to focus on a negotiation or liaison role (or just be a bit more 'fire and brimstone').

There's just one more thing... something that I'd offer as an option because it won't be for every player or Referee:
Non-Combatant: The chaplain does not bear arms and has dedicated more time to non-military pursuits – select a second Trait from those available to the profession. Combat experience has been neglected, however – attack actions are made at a Disadvantage (unless other traits or situational factors apply) and hitting an opponent with an attack action (whether or not it causes damage) counts as a triggering situation for the chaplain, who must make a Save vs. Morale.
This is a pretty hefty disadvantage in a military-themed game, but I do think it's an important element to attempt to reflect – military chaplains tend to be unarmed non-combatants (there are some historical cases to the contrary), but then they never had to face the possibility of encountering alien monstrosities. Some Referees might deem the Disadvantage to attack actions sufficient and drop the Save vs. Morale element (though it seems like that's the perfect use for that mechanic!) or might rule that it only applies when facing humans (aliens being fair game). Another option might be to waive it for non-lethal options such as fist-fighting (as I almost certainly would), batons, and/or stun guns.


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Disclaimer: All links to third-party sites are solely for the purposes of sourcing the products I have discussed, if anyone is so inclined. I have simply linked to the original manufacturer or the source I used (but feel free to shop around!) and make no money from people clicking through.


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Into the Deep!

So, there's a new fantasy skirmish game on the block - Rangers of Shadow Deep, by Frostgrave designer, Joseph A. McCullough.

The PDF came out a week or so back, and Joe sent me a preview copy (in the interests of full disclosure, I've worked with Joe on a load of projects, most recently The Wizards' Conclave, and I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements for Rangers...). With it came my wargaming mojo which, like the mistral wind, blows irregularly throughout the year. It's based on the Frostgrave system, so I know it inside and out, but it's much more RPG than the previous games that used that system - a ranger (your character) has skills, stats, special abilities, etc., and is wonderfully variable from the get-go. It's also solo/co-op, so I'll be running this alongside a couple of friends, and with three players we each need just three models (at most). More than anything, it means I can finally bring to the table some of the figures that I haven't really ever had a chance to play with (and there are LOTS that match that description).


So, for the first time in... a distressingly long time, my knight and a couple of soldiers that I originally built for the Sewer Watch are going to take the field!


It's a pretty balanced starting ranger (I hope) - I've split my character customization options pretty evenly between skills, special abilities (one use per scenario), stat upgrades, and extra recruitment points with which to hire companions. Essentially, the more players there are, the fewer companions you can field alongside your ranger - and the fewer points you can spend to recruit them. This does mean that I have an arcanist carrying a shield, even though that's not an option for the troop type. Oh well, it's a co-op game, so no-one is going to complain, and these figures only have to last until I can get a bespoke gang built for the game.

So, for however long he survives, I give you Steiner, the Carrion Knight, and his motley associates. Much like the Sewer Watch, I see these guys as castoffs and outsiders, carrying out a miserable task for little reward and even less thanks. In this case, they patrol the realm's cemeteries, mausoleums, and catacombs, keeping them safe from the menace of the undead. With the rise of the Shadow Deep, they take on a more offensive role, venturing beyond the borders of the realm to take the fight to the enemy... Steiner is a pretty standard knightly character, but I gave him special abilities that played to dealing with the undead, while Magister Bohr and Sauer received a little 'thiefy' touch to hint at a shady history (each companion receives a free +3 skill of the player's choice - I put that into Pick Lock and Traps). What I do not have is a ranged weapon. Oh well.

(L-R) Magister Bohr (who definitely isn't carrying a shield), Steiner, and Sauer

They should be taking the field very soon. Most likely against the re-purposed forces of the Choleric Order of the Yellow Bile.


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Disclaimer: All links to third-party sites are solely for the purposes of sourcing the models/components I have used or discussed, if anyone is so inclined. I have simply linked to the original manufacturer (but feel free to shop around!) and make no money from people clicking through.


A Very Special Card

The other day, Frostgrave author, Joe McCullough (check out his blog here), surprised me with an email containing a cryptic message - "What's so special about these Magic cards, other than the fact that they are signed by Dmitry?" - and a photo of two Magic: The Gathering cards:


I knew that Dmitry Burmak (who, with his wife, Kate, is the artistic driving force behind Frostgrave) had done some work for Magic in the recent 'Unstable' expansion, and thought he'd sent Joe a couple of signed cards - a really nice little gift.

Then Joe sent me a second email. This one showed the reverse of the cards:


As fans of Frostgrave will recognize, that's a sketch of the scene from the cover of the rulebook.

It turns out that Magic artists receive a few blank-backed cards for the purposes of autographs, convention sketches, and the like - including surprising people with completely out-of-the-blue illustrations! I know it's not Christmas yet, but this might very well be the best Christmas card I'll ever receive.

Joe and I have already noted that, as the two cards form a single image, they will need to passed down to our descendants to allow them to identify themselves to each other by reforming the image. Given that I'm investing in a baseball card-style acrylic display block for it, that might prove trickier than originally anticipated...

Oh, and for anyone wondering - I'm the Chipper Chopper, while Joe is the Chivalrous Chevalier. That seems about right to me...


Friday, 12 October 2018

On Warbands

These days, I'm almost entirely a Fantasy wargamer, and that's largely down to the fact that I can build a warband exactly the way I want it. Well, that and I have far too many Fantasy figures to get through before I can justify buying anything else (War of Spanish Succession, you will be mine... one day).

When I say 'build a warband', I really just mean figure selection rather than creating a list in accordance with the rules I'm planning on using. That said, the freedom offered by many Fantasy games (e.g. Song of Blades and Heroes or Frostgrave) means that I can almost entirely ignore the rules and focus on the toys I want to use. There are so many Fantasy figures and ranges out there that you can find almost anything you're after, cherry-picking your purchases to create the exact warband or force you're after. This is especially (and increasingly) true of multi-part plastics, which I love combining to product just what I'm imagining (hands down my favourite part of the hobby...).

Anyway, I was reading an RPG book the other day, and spotted a piece of artwork that really struck me - it was a reflection of exactly what I want in a warband.

Art from RiotMinds' LexOccultum

We have a leader (seated on throne), a magic-user (crouched in the bottom-left of the image), three soldiers with a mix of ranged and melee weapons (the two musketeers and the swordsman crouched in the bottom-right), a specialist or bodyguard type (the warrior in top-left), and a large creature and handler (right). For me, this is the perfect warband line-up, and what I attempt to represent when I'm mucking around with figures. Pulling together seven or eight figures (my big guys don't usually have handlers, but that said...) is achievable. It's (usually) affordable, but still offers plenty of kitbashing opportunities if I desire. I'm also unlikely to get bored working on several very similar figures, which increases my chances of finishing the project!

It's strange that a piece of art from an RPG should so perfectly encapsulate my preferences for wargaming - and that it should light a fire under me in terms of wanting to get some warbands built!

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Disclaimer: All links to third-party sites are solely for the purposes of sourcing the models/components I have used or discussed, if anyone is so inclined. I have simply linked to the original manufacturer (but feel free to shop around!) and make no money from people clicking through.

Friday, 14 September 2018

I Wrote a Thing

It's been a while since I wrote anything (two years since Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier, and nearly four since the original volume!), but February sees the release of my latest, and much more modest, venture into putting pen to paper.

Frostgrave: The Wizards' Conclave is a collection of scenarios and adventures for Joseph A. McCullough's Frostgrave skirmish game, written by some of the biggest names in wargaming... and me! Joe has rounded up an all-star team of contributors for this one, and the scenarios they've written are incredible.

I am honoured that Joe asked me to write a scenario for him, and I am beyond proud to share an author's credit with designers of such pedigree. I just hope that my contribution doesn't let the side down!

Joe has commented on the book a little more here, and his blog is the best place to check for more information as the release date creeps closer...


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Bucket List: Dr Shotgun

A few weeks ago, I decided to finally check off something that's been on my bucket list for some time – to get my very own model sculpted.

References!
I dropped Giorgio Bassani a line to pick his brains about it. I've worked with Giorgio a fair bit on figures for the various Frostgrave lines, and the stuff he's been doing recently has just been phenomenal. Amazingly, he had enough time in his schedule to squeeze in a 28mm figure, and I jumped at the chance!

First thing was a concept – that was easy. A generic gunman with relatively low-key equipment, for use as a zombie survivor, a Delta Green agent, STALKER, or whatever merc-of-the-week was called for. Next, I put together a brief document outlining what I was looking for – costume, equipment etc. – and included some reference images to give Giorgio a starting point. Again, this was simple – I knew a flat cap was a must, ditto a shotgun, and the rest just fell together as I started pulling images.

That done, I left it with Giorgio until, a week or two later, I received a work in progress sculpt with the pose and everything blocked out.

The work-in-progress sculpt

I approved that, and Giorgio started putting in the details, and turning my concept into a full-blown little masterpiece (well, I'm biased, but I think it's great!).

The finished thing!

I chatted to Nick at North Star a line about getting him cast up, and over the conversation, we came up with the idea of offering him as a promo figure for Ash Barker's forthcoming Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse ruleset. And, lo and behold...


Not only has my little guy come a long way from a spur-of-the-moment whim, but he's also been christened Dr Shotgun! I could not be happier with how he's come out, and I hope he finds his way onto tables all over the world.

If anyone would like to get their own Dr Shotgun figure, pre-order Last Days through North Star (link). The figure's a freebie, so I'm not making any money off that shameless plug, but it's a great game, and worth checking out! If you'd like to learn more about Last Days, the Facebook group (link) is a great place to start.

Will I commission any more figures now I've got this out my system? Probably not. Am I tempted? Oh, definitely...


Monday, 23 April 2018

Board!

Now, I'm nothing if not awkward. The moment my colleague, Chris (check out his blog here), finished building a Ghost Archipelago board for shows and conventions, I was struck with a bug to do some terrain building too...

I'd got hold of a load of GF9's Battlefield in a Box badlands terrain a while back (a couple of years, judging by the dust on the boxes), and had never done anything with them. The main reason for this was the colour - a dark brownish-red. It just didn't go with the boards we had at the time, or with the games we were playing. Having been inspired by some of the forthcoming Ghost Archipelago material, I revisited the terrain I had, and looked to finally do something with it.


First stop was my local homewares store, where I found a doormat in what turned out to be almost perfect colours. It's not too fluffy, so figures sit on it perfectly, and has a rubber back, so it lies nice and flat. Sure, it lacks the texture of printed wargaming mats, but it's going to be covered in terrain anyway. Total size is about 2.8ft x 3ft, so not quite square, but bang in the ballpark for the scale of games I like playing.

The various rocks and bluffs from the badlands range had a bit of static grass added, and were then varnished. That's it. There are a few chips in the resin that I should probably have spotted and touched up beforehand, but... meh. They're barely visible from any kind of distance.

All told, it's not bad, even if it needs a lot more jungle terrain to give it some pop before it's finished. The huts are also from GF9, though I'm less keen on them - they're just so big (the largest is about the same height as the tallest of the bluffs!). It'll also work nicely for Wild West, SF or Post-Apoc games with the addition of some appropriate structures.