Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Full-Spectrum Gaming: 10mm WWII

In addition to roleplaying games, I'm also a big wargaming enthusiast. And while I've mainly enjoyed fantasy titles like Warmachine and Warhammer 40k, I also hold a special place in my heart for WWII wargaming.

For a long time, I was quite intimidated by all the different options available in WWII tabletop gaming. There are a ton of different scales, each providing subtly different gaming experiences. Do I want to play at the squad level or at the company level? Am I more interested with painting and modeling, or actually playing?

Ultimately I chose 10mm as my scale of choice, although there's no guarantee that I'll ever actually find a game group in Chicago that uses this scale. I prepared a brief treatise of sorts listing the key reasons why I chose this particular scale for my WWII gaming.

  • 10mm is quick and easy to paint. I'm handy with a paintbrush, but I'm also not interested in slaving away for hours to ensure that my German infantry backpacks are painted an appropriately historic color. Playing the game is more important. At the 10mm scale, each figure is about as big as my fingernail—so I can slap 4 or 5 colors onto each group of soldiers, hit 'em with some highlights and a drybrush, and be done in short order.

  • I got a great deal on my initial load of 10mm figures. For $50, I have a full company of German and Soviet infantry, along with support weapons like machine guns, mortars and even of couple larger artillery pieces. That means I'll be able to field both sides of an engagement—perfect for helping new players who might be interested in WWII gaming. It should all be painted in just a couple weeks.

  • I already have a ton of 1/144-scale plastic tanks that will work perfectly with 10mm infantry. This is going to save me a lot of money in the long run, as pewter tanks from game companies are both costly and take a while to paint. As it is, my 1/144-scale tank collection (comprising pieces from the World Tank Museum line and New Millenium Toys) will likely be all I'll ever need in terms of armor—and it's all pre-painted, some to a very decent degree.

  • There are several "scale-neutral" rulesets out there that can easily be adapted to the 10mm scale. I'm thinking specifically of Blitzkrieg Commander, which feels like a "classic" command-and-control wargame, as well as Crossfire, which presents an entirely new way of playing tabletop wargaming. I hope to play both using my 10mm armies.
I'll try to take some decent photos of the infantry stands I have completed and post them tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Post-CODCON Report: Old School Dungeoneering

I brought a carload of players out to CODCON in suburban Chicago last weekend. We were fortunate enough to play in Chgowiz's "Dungeon Robbers Inc." game, using Swords & Wizardry. I'm a player in Chgowiz's ongoing Dark Ages campaign, but for my friends, this was likely their first time playing old-school in many years.

Chgowiz offered an excellent game wrap-up on his blog, and I won't repeat that. But we did spend the entire car ride home analyzing the game and how we could have "won" by escaping with the treasure.

The conclusion that we arrived at is that "Dungeon Robbers Inc." was a perfect example of a dungeon that has a singular design element that must be understood by the players at the very beginning—or else their delve will be fatally flawed. In this case, the dungeon featured a locking mechanism on each door that required us to carry around sand from a big pile near the entrance to open doors throughout the level. We operated the door properly at the beginning, but we didn't think to fill our backpacks with sand—and we also didn't think to spike the door to keep it open.

It shut moments later, and from that point on we were effectively shut out of the main room full of sand. We had "failed" the dungeon's initial puzzle test, and we were relegated to slinking through the shadows, avoiding doors we couldn't open and exploring only those parts of the dungeon that weren't behind closed doors. All the same, that resulted in a very satisfying session, with combat and problem-solving and giant armadilloes and torches going out and all that. I'm sure with enough bumbling, we could have fought our way through to the second level, or found a way to get the doors open again.

On an a related note, I could tell that Chgowiz had created a dungeon that wasn't comprised only of right-angle corridors and tunnels. We meandered up and down flights of steps without actually leaving the first "level," which added a really cool imaginative dimension to the expedition.

The session was really evocative of those old-school "tournament modules" that were designed by devious DMs for groups who were absolutely competing for top honors at game conventions. It's a style of play that's definitely fallen by the wayside, even in the old-school renaissance, but it's definitely fun to try out from time to time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Games Stores Are Marching Closer and Closer to Me

It's been about a year since I started this blog, and since then 3 game stores have opened up in my area, each one closer to me in proximity than the one before.
The most recent addition is Chicagoland Games, which sits a mere 6 blocks from my apartment on the north side of Chicago. That's walking distance, folks—I'm almost giddy with excitement at the idea of strolling to my FLGS each week. I braved the rain last weekend and checked it out.

Inside I found Alex and J.P., two amiable shop dudes who spoke hopefully about the shop's future. The storefront was smallish, but Alex told me he plans to expand into the adjacent (vacant) storefront next month, which will triple the available space and provide room for
more game tables.

There was a ton of merchandise in Chicagoland Games despite its small retail area. Most of the goods were board games, but I saw a nice shelf of RPGs and some miniature stuff toward the rear. The store also has a shelf full of opened board games that anyone can come in and play around with; this is a great idea, and one that I'll be taking advantage of very soon.

Perhaps best of all, Chicagoland Games is affiliated with the Chicago Multi-Genre Game Meetup group, which means it can draw upon an existing base of players (and customers!).

I'm pretty excited to have a game store in my backyard. Doubtless I'll find an excuse to be there often, and I'll report back as they move forward with their expansion plans.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Do You End a Game Line?

It appears that Fantasy Flight Games is no longer going to be supporting the Midnight d20 setting, and that a possible sale of the setting's rights is in the works. Several blogs have used deprecating terms to describe this move—"ditching" the game, the "shame" of FFG turning its back on Midnight—but I hold a different opinion. I believe it's entirely possible to end a successful game line, and I don't think it's fair for Midnight fans to hammer FFG over this latest move.

I had the privilege of gaming with Jeffrey Barber, who did most of the original writing on the first Midnight book (and got a spine credit on said book, which is fairly unheard of in the RPG industry). He put a ton of creativity into that initial setting, and since 2003 FFG has supported the hell out of the Midnight line with an enthusiasm rarely seen by publishers today. To date, the company has published more than a dozen supplements, adventures and sourcebooks, and the core book is in its second edition. I've playtested Midnight's adventures and played the game with Jeff and other folks who worked closely on the game.

No one ever wants their favorite game line to end—not the gamers, not the writers and editors who worked on the books, not the retailers who want to keep regular players coming back for the latest release.

Simply put, Midnight fans were not left out to dry. They got a very well-supported game and a host of official products from a stable company known for producing quality stuff. And it appears PDF-only readers won't get the shaft, nor will the hardworking folks at Midnight Chronicles, a television series that seems closer than ever to seeing the light of day.

Not everyone wants or needs a dozen supplements to have a good game. But Midnight's fans never wanted for shiny new books to buy, if the mood ever struck them. We should all be so lucky.

Bound for CODCON, It Would Appear

In the last 48 hours, a weekend of gaming fun coalesced from the aether of nothingness. It looks like I'll be hauling most of my regular Chicago gaming group out to Glen Ellyn for CODCON—the College of DuPage's annual gaming convention.

With any luck, my merry band of adventurers will descend upon Chgowiz's Dungeon Robbers, Inc. event and venture forth to plumb the depths of his old-school dungeon. If his game is full, well, we'll no doubt find ample entertainment at CODCON.

I'm also intrigued by one of the vendors who who will be offering up a sampling of Pendraken's 10mm-scale WWII miniatures for mega-cheap. Just the thing to go with my 1/144 micro-armor collection...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Revisiting the First Adventure I Ever Wrote

I've made no attempt to hide my utter fascination with sandbox-style gaming. Last summer's old-school renaissance, with its focus on non-linear, location-based campaigning, struck me like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. Here, I thought, was the sort of gaming that I had been striving toward for most of my adult life. I've seen the light!

Well, almost.

See, I had an opportunity last weekend to dig through my old RPG notebooks. The earliest was from 1997, when I had become enamored with West End Games' Star Wars RPG. At this point, I'd owned the game for several years—indeed, it was the first RPG I ever owned—but hadn't yet had an opportunity to play it with anyone. I was 15 at the time, and I cobbled together a campaign to run for my high school friends. The game quickly degenerated into a fairly traditional "adventure path" type of campaign, with the PCs shuttling across the galaxy following clues I had painstakingly arranged for them to follow and interacting with PCs that served only to further the game's plot. It was my own original work, but I was definitely railroading them.

But that first adventure, when I was still trying to lure my friends into regular gaming, was different. I had no clue how to write an adventure. All I knew was that my friends—occasional D&D dabblers—had a tendency to run all over the place and get into trouble. Knowing that, I made a location-based introductory adventure set on a wacky space station full of cantinas, bazaars and brothels. I had a few scripted encounters, sure, but my primary motivation was making sure I could react appropriately when they tried to do crazy stuff.

And it worked! We had a great time playing, and the one and only goal of this adventure (get the players a starship!) worked out well.

Fast forward 12 years, and here I am, re-discovering those very fundamental elements of making games hum. Doubtless my 15-year-old self has a few more lessons in store for my 27-year-old self to discover.