Getting Started with D&D

Some asked on Twitter what’s a good way to get started with D&D, and who you should follow to learn how to do it right.  I pointed them in the direction of some of my very favourite people, but their feed quickly exploded with loads of RPG advice, which if I was starting off, would have frankly been horrific.

When you don’t know what you’re doing and want somewhere to start, being told “There’s no wrong way to DM” over and over doesn’t help you get a handle on it.  Follow that up with loads of people saying “There’s no one right way to DM, but there are loads of faux pas you could make” to make it intimidating, and chucking people at the streams of highly popular DMs who honestly can’t have time for all the queries they get doesn’t help much either.

Part of the problem, of course, is for a lot of us, this is a long term hobby.  Its been over 30 years since I first sat behind the screen!  Remembering how it feels to kick off for the first time is quite tricky – and many of the problems I had then aren’t the same as the problems now.  Finding and affording hobby material without the web and with limited funds is a different to these days of the internet and being in a job with some disposable income to buy supplements.

So what advice would I actually give to some new starting off in D&D today, with a copy of the Starter Set?   Especially here, where I’m not suffering from a character limit.

There are some basics!  As a DM, you’ll not only set the scene and narrate the tale in the background, you’ll also be the arbitrator of the rules.  Now we’ll discuss this some more in a second, but it does help to have a reasonable grasp of the rules and the adventure you want to run.  Read through them, make sure you’re reasonably happy.  For D&D, if you just have the starter set, download and read through the free basic rules.  They don’t cover every race, or class, but you can quite happily play a full campaign with them.  Heck, they probably cover all the options I had when I picked up the main AD&D core books for the first time.

If funds are less of an issue, get the core books, though obviously thats more of an investment and you might want to see if the game is for you first, of course.  A few more sets of dice can help the session run smoother, but again, its not really essential.

What I’d recommend more than absolutely anything else is the mystical Session Zero!!!

Its actually not a mystery at all, but hey, its probably the biggest piece of advice I can give, so I felt it deserved a big reveal.  Schedule in a first session with your mates before you start the game properly.  Sit down together and have a chat about it.

It sounds so simple, but one of the biggest problems you’ll ever face in D&D, especially when starting out, is that a group of people all have different expectations of the game.  There’s a social contract between all the players and the DM that you should all be there to have fun, and not spoil each others fun.   That’s great … but if no one knows what anyone else is expecting, that’s almost impossible to manage.

Talk about what bits of the game excite them.  Are they looking forward to battles?  Roleplaying social encounters?  Not everyone will be the same.  What characters do they want to play?  Create or allocate pregenerated characters in this session, so they can read up in the free basic rules about them if they want too before the actual game.  Make sure no ones stuck with a character they don’t want to play, or that no one person’s expectation is totally out of whack with everyone else.

Another useful use of Session Zero can be to tone down their expectations too.  If they’ve watched things like Critical Role, you’re watching professionals using acting skills honed in a range of environments to not just play a cracking game, but entertain an audience.  Not every game can, or should, be that.  The game is normally aimed at engaging all the players, and is fantastic fun as long as everyone joins in. 

If you have a decent session one, everyone will be on the same page, expecting to have fun and knowing roughly what they are doing when you go to play.  And that is absolutely priceless when you sit behind the screen for the first time.

When it comes to actually running the first game … then wow.  The gloves are off!  Its for real!  You’ll have to find your own, to some degree.  If you stick rigidly to the rules, some of the players are likely to die.  That’s cool as long as they’re cool with that, so you might want to discuss that possibility in session zero.  If you fudge it too obviously, you’ll lose any sense of tension.  Finding a balance can be tricky.  Personally, I’d advise starting off playing straight by the rules, and let the dice fall where they may to start with, until you feel confident bending things at all.  And if you’ve explained that at session zero, people won’t feel aggrieved about things, or shouldn’t.  Though you might want to create a few spare characters with people in that a session zero just in case, so they don’t waste “real” game time.

There are some good rules of thumb for running a game.  Don’t keep looking up rules unless it seems something pretty fundamental.  If someone wants to try something cool, let them.  A fairly good rule of thumb to keep things running is if something unusual comes up, just set things to a difficulty (or DC) of 10, so they need to roll 10 or more on a d20 to pass.  That may seem too easy, but its quick, and you want the players to feel like heroes with their ideas!   If its something ludicrously difficult, you might want to make the DC 19 or 20, so they still have a shot, however improbable.  Let them feel they actually can do things!  That coming up with ideas makes a difference, and that cool things rock!

Keeping the flow going is almost always better than disrupting the game.  When you’re all learning, I’d suggest holding your hands up and admit that’s what you’re doing, so if you look it up after the game, you aren’t stuck by your own precedent, but say you won’t be rolling back the events of the game.  Keep things moving forward, keep it exciting, and avoid big rules breaks where possible. 

Another big thing I’d say, despite pushing to keep things moving in terms of rules, is just take time to enjoy it.  Try not to keep throwing stuff at the players if they are laughing and joking about something.  Join in.  Relax, and enjoy the game.  If it gets silly, you can give them a nudge, but let them take the time to actually enjoy the game.  Celebrate the first monster slain with them! 

After the first adventure, which might be over several sessions, you might run a new session zero.  make sure everyone is on the same page still.  Stress the positives and ask what they feel is working well and what they’d like to see more of.  Decide if you liked D&D enough to go onto a full campaign, and would they like to keep their current characters, or start fresh.  Think about buying or finding some new adventures, and investing in books and supplements.  But if enough people want to continue … you know, you’ve done it!  And done far better than most, too, as a lot fall apart early on.

What resources do I recommend to give you a feel for running a game?  Well the core books are full of valuable insights and information, of course, but they can be expensive to try before you are 100% convinced.  

I can spend hours reading Mike Bourke’s work on Campaign Mastery – he’s got a knack of making complex concepts really accessible.  If there’s any problem with his site, its that there’s so much on there you can easily get distracted fro the topic you were after!  There’s a fantastic beginners section I can’t recommend enough.

Sly Flourish has written a couple of cracking, insightful books, but again, I’d wait until after you’ve given it a bit of a go before getting too into books.  His blog on Building the Better Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master game is fantastic, with loads of great insights.

I’ve mentioned the basic rules already, but the main D&D website is packed with useful info and links to the community.  Its more focussed on getting newcomers into the game too, so it can be more accessible than some of the longer running hobby websites.  I’d particularly highlight the regular Dragon magazine free web/app for fun ways of getting slices of content without it feeling overwhelming.

Hopefully that helps a few people get started behind the screen.  Its certainly stuff that I’d have liked to hear, and I love to add to it with any other suggestions.

 

 

 

 

Assembly and Painting – Composition in Practice

Well, my chosen model for my year long entry is going to be the Genestealer Magus.  Why?  Several reasons!

First, I just love the mini, so hopefully that’ll give me the enthusiasm to power through doing it just as well as I possibly can through the year.

Second, a brilliant painter, Vidpui, has painted an altered version of the Magus for me, exhibiting lots of the points about the composition of an individual model and narrative for the theme.  Its a good thinking point for my own entry. Take a look at some photos of the Wakandan Magus.

Third, I can pick up the Magus for £12.  That’s not too expensive to do several versions over the year to improve step by step.  With a larger model, I’d have to do a single model, at best stripping it between versions.  

Fourth, its a really strongly posed model.  Assembled without any conversions, the Magus oozes character, from the pose marching forward, the balance between the staff and the off hand skeleton or skull.  There are large areas of cloth allowing both texture and freehand.  There are large areas of skin for smooth flesh tones, which with genestealer influence could be a range of interesting shades off normal.  There are solid ridged areas that could be painted as artificial or matching a tyranid hive fleet.  Flowing streamers convey movement, and gene stealer logos form the base of a triangle defining the model with the potent determination in the face as the third.  Lovely!

In terms of the composition, lets look at the standard GW image from the front.  First off, look how the curved tip of the dagger points back to the staff.  Its a brilliant touch in terms of the composition.  The staff runs down, so your eye is naturally drawn back to the centre of the model.

The staff points down at the base, as does the streamer, bringing the attention down to the ground and back into the striding feet.

The overall pose has a clean line of motion straight forward, and is centered by a triangle of  gene stealer logos and the face.

The composition is balanced, strong, and clear.  The base allows reasonable space to customise it without needing to go bigger, and will look good on a plinth.  We could set the base up to look like a tyranid infestation, the red dust of a mining colony, or the inside of a hive world corridor.  There are lots of options, and we can select something to contrast or enhance our overall colour choices.

With the cheaper model, we could possibly do colour trials before settling on a final choice, and we can certainly do a zenithal prime on a model to indentify where the highlights fall.

Given the need to tell a narrative straight from the core canon of 40K, We want to look at colours that highlight the links to classic gene stealer blue and purple.  GW seem to use red as a unifying spot colour and for gene stealer iconography, with a blue colour for hybrid clothes.  Green, as we can see from Vidpui’s terrific model, is a fantastic contrast to reds and oranges, and orange would be a fantastic link to traditional mining colours.  Lots of food for thought, and we need to look into colour theory and light in more detail to make some informed choices.

Assembly and Painting – Composition

Lets start off with the really hard one – Composition.  Composition is basically EVERYTHING that makes up your finished mini, and as such, I suspect I’m going to revisit this post lots of times as I go through the individual stages.  Given that, why am I tackling it first?  Because we need to have an overall eye on the goal when we go through each of the individual stages.

Every choice you make as you assemble and paint your model is going to make a difference.  If I pose and sculpt a miniature to look brooding and evil, and then paint it in cheery bright colours, it won’t be as potent as matching at overall theme.

A word used a lot in Golden Demon (and I’m going to refer to Golden Demon a lot in this process, as I’m going to try to use this to build a Golden Demon entry for 2020) is Narrative.  Your finished model is going to tell a story, and thats what the whole composition should be about.   In the same way that the best writers say “kill your darlings” to remove passages you love but don’t add to the story, you aren’t looking for excuses to use your favourite painting techniques or colours.  You want the model to tell the best overall story possible.  That isn’t to say you can’t use your best techniques – just don’t use them where they don’t work with the theme for the model.  Obviously a smart move for a painting competition is to work out your very best techniques and build a theme that really uses and highlights those!

Now, for Golden Demon, we’ve also got to make the narrative for our miniature tie to the world of Warhammer.  We can enter the best miniature in the world, but if it’s a Khorne Beserker in pink armour sipping a cup of tea, it doesn’t match the underlying official narrative of Warhammer.  (Incidentally, I love pink Beserkers – I just might not choose it for a competition judged on official themes!)

So, how do we tell a story, and what makes up the composition of our finished model?  We have an assembled model which is posed to reflect some underlying intent.  The pose should also be designed to draw attention to key elements of the miniature – if you plan to spend 90% of your painting time on one of the best faces the world has ever seen, you don’t really want the pose to emphasis a plain sword – you want the pose and lines of the model to draw the eye to that face!  You also don’t want the lines of the model (or overall diorama) to draw attention away from the model unless its to something specific elsewhere on the model or base.  We’ll talk about posing in detail, but its really a key part of the composition, and you need to take your final goal very much into account when posing a model.

We might have used some custom parts from other minis to customise the model, or gone as far to sculpt or alter the miniature.  We shouldn’t make these changes in isolation without thinking of the overall composition.  Putting a massive siege weapon on one army of the model may look cool in theory, but might make the whole model look unbalanced and clumsy.  Generally, most of these decisions are made for us when assembling a mini out of the box – when we start customising, we need to think much harder about the overall balance of the piece.  Is the miniature too busy?  Is it too plain?  If its plain, do we want to add details to the sculpt, or use the space to add details with the brush? If we haven’t thought about the overall goal, the end result will fall short of other pieces, regardless of how well each individual change is executed and how solid the paint job is.

Colour theory is a fantastic basis for picking the colours we want to paint with, allowing great choices for contrast and complementary colours to really build a fantastic, unified model.  But we still need to pick those colours in relation to what we intend to achieve.  A dark knight painted in bright blues won’t be a dark knight!  A battered, weary warrior painted in really crisp bright white won’t look like they’re straight from the battlefield.

A really important aspect of painting a display piece is understanding light sources – where the light should fall.  Where the shadows lurk.  Its very easy to mechanistically simply darken recesses and lighten raised points, and that works well for a tabletop mini, but when painting a display piece you need to go a step further and really work with light.  The process is still fundamentally the same, but the lightness of colours will be affected by where the light originates, not just the folds of the miniature.  And those choices of light sources again need to tie into the narrative.  Is there an unworldly glow from the minis eyes and hands?  Are they standing in the dark, illuminated by a nearby fire?  if they are simply on the field in the sun – where is that sun beaming down?  Where should the metals be reflecting that light?  These choices all tie into the story your piece is telling.

That ties into the next piece of theory – understanding the materials you want the miniature to exhibit.  Is that armour metal?  Bone?  Leather?  Is it hard or soft to the touch?  Is it woven, and need to exhibit more texture when painted?  What animal is that fur from?  Do you need to think about patterns like leopard spots?  Is that leather old and cracked, or new and shiny?  There are lots of painting techniques to reflect the possibilities.  If you don’t think of the overall composition, though, you’ll have jarring elements.  A weary battle scarred veteran with shiny new leather boots and battered armour?  That doesn’t quite gel.  Black and white zebra stripes on that leather cloak may look amazing, but animal hide patterns on a civilised knight will again tend to jar against the overall picture.   If we’re painting a glass bottle, do we need to paint the contents as well as the reflective surface?  And if that’s a liquid, it’ll look very wrong if you paint it so its an angle on the finished mini.  Liquid tends to stay level – what is level for this piece?  That may not be down for unusual magical or sci-fi environments – if you paint a zero-g piece, the liquid in the bottle actually runs around the internal surface, rather than being level!

Basing your miniature falls into painting for some, and assembly for others.  You may want a simple base to avoid detracting from the mini.  The base may be fully part of the story.  In some complex dioramas, the terrain on the base may be the key element of the story, and the minis only there to highlight a reaction to it!  No matter how simple or complex the base, though, it needs to tie into the story of the whole piece.  Having pristine grass underneath a being of molten lava doesn’t really work.  Having a delicate water elemental on a lava base will look wrong too, no matter how well done the elements are.  Basing is often forgotten or done as an afterthought, but it should be tied to the overall narrative.

In short, while we need to understand a lot of different concepts that we need to execute well to put together a fantastic model, we also need to keep our eye on the overall theme.  We need all of the elements to work together to tell our story.  We are composing a narrative, not slapping some parts together and executing separate painting techniques.  We all do this, but its often quite rare to step back and do this consciously … and for a top level piece we need to make decisions for the best results, not expediency.  If I just have standard flock, that’s probably what I’ll use for the base of a tabletop piece for a game next week.  If I’m painting for a competition, I need to use the best basing material for the piece, even if I have to order some or sculpt something from scratch.

Further reading suggestions on Composition

Creative Twilight has an excellent article here on composition in miniatures, touching on many of these points.  Well worth a look.

Warlord Games has a fascinating piece on How to Diorama, which covers lots of aspects of the overall composition, and I find a truly valuable reference.

Arcane Paintworks has a fantastic article focusing on integrating basing into the overall composition of display pieces here.

 

Assembly and Painting – The Craft

One of things we generally aren’t good at in the hobby is actually looking at the wider craft, skills and knowledge that underpin our fascinating pastime of assembling and painting little models.

That isn’t to say we don’t share skills and knowledge.  We do, all the time.  So many terrific painters will demonstrate individual techniques, or answer questions about specific paint recipes, or explain why they did something specific.  There are cracking tutorials out there for painting all sorts of different materials, colours, faces, animals.

So what do I actually mean?  Well, we aren’t often great at stepping back and looking at the overall process, and providing a wider context for those individual techniques, so I thought it might be interesting to try to do just that.  I’m not a naturally artistic person in many ways.  I can replicate techniques, and understand theory.  I’m good at the craft of hobby, rather than art, and so putting together a wider understanding of the field helps me attack top end work in a solid, methodical way.

I’m not looking at the gaming side here, purely assembly and painting, with the goal of producing the very best miniature I can at the end of the process.  And looking at it very much as a process, trying to understand what choices we should make as we go through.

Here’s a preliminary list of areas where I think I can put things in context and maybe put together useful links and examples to actual techniques.  I’m going to try and go through these all step by step over the coming year as part of putting together a Golden Demon entry  for 2020.  Lets see if we can make things as methodical and common sense as we can.

Theory – Composition and the iterative process

Assembly

Theory – Posing 

Theory – Basing (as part of the structure)

Practice – Understanding Sub Assemblies and Dryfitting

Practice – Fixing the build

Optional Practice – Conversions

Painting

Theory – Colour Theory

Theory – Light and Reflection

Theory – Understanding Materials

Theory – The use of reference

Theory – Basing (as part of the overall paint theory)

 

 

 

 

Lessons learned from the Salamanders Charity Army

Well, with the launch of a new charity army being mooted by @vidpui and @nerodine , I thought this might be a really good time to go through everything I learned by doing the Salamanders Charity Raffle back in 2015.  I’ve mentioned some of this on Twitter recently, but going through it step by step might help others looking at doing a big hobby charity event.

First, be aware it is a pretty major commitment in terms of space, time and money, and once you get other hobbyists involved, backing out isn’t really an option.  You have to be damn sure and have the enthusiasm, time, and financial ability to see the project through to completion.

Space, time and money?  Isn’t it for charity?  Won’t people be doing things for free?  Well, if you are putting together a charity army, you’ll need to store the finished minis somewhere as you gather the completed minis from the community.  You’ll need acres of time chasing hobbyists, co-ordinating who is doing what mini, reaching out to stores for support, setting up and ensuring the legality of the raffle or auction, reaching out to hobby media to ensure the project is spread as widely as possible.  And in terms of money, you’ll need to travel to meet hobbyists, post minis around the world, and probably donate a fair few models for painters to kickstart the process.  Its not a trivial task.

Second, you need a cohesive theme for the project.  We were lucky in many ways, as the  concept tied really neatly together from a random twitter discussion.  Salamanders are the most humane and kind of the various marine armies, and the green themed with the WAAC colours (our chosen charity – Wargamers All Against Cancer) raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK.  It also allowed standard marines to be donated, and lots of people had extras they weren’t using, or could impulse buy donations in stores easily.  In addition, Salamanders are pretty well liked by people in general, but aren’t a common army to see on the tabletop – that made them really desirable as an army for people to want to buy raffle tickets.  If you pick a more niche army, or one that some people more actively dislike, you’ll sell less raffle tickets.  Eldar, for example.  I love them, but some hate them.  Fewer people will have extras lying around to donate, and people who don’t like pointy ears won’t buy raffle tickets for them.  

Its surprisingly hard to get a good theme, because the enthusiasm in the early days will be painters who want to donate and paint what they think will be fun.  People with different skill levels will want harder or easier colours.  People have preferences for different paint ranges.  They certainly won’t be thinking of what people, especially gamers not painters, will want to buy raffle tickets for.  You need to get a theme that captures that enthusiasm and has sales appeal, with ideally a tinge of nostalgia.

Next, be aware that there will be problems!  It seems obvious, but you’ll be dealing with volunteers, who will forget things like posting minis.  Some people will get very excited and promise more than it turns out they can afford – and if you’ve promised a big ticket item as part of the army, you’ll either have to hope the winner is understanding or make up that shortfall.  In the case of the Salamanders army, we had two big vehicles promised that never materialised in the end, the charity raffle side of things got kicked off early by a mistake in co-ordination with the WAAC side, and at least one unit of troops got lost in the post.  Its going to happen.  Make sure your timescales have plenty of overruns, and that you are communicating clearly with everyone in the projects and on the charity end.  If discussing the contents of the army publicly, make damn clear that its subject to the donations and can change at any point.  You’ll also probably experience a few interpersonal issues.  Some hobbyists simply don’t get on with some others – there are certainly some on twitter I find difficult.  Who will be most valuable to the project?  Who do you prioritise?  I’d always recommend prioritising reliability, enthusiasm and interpersonal skills over big donation promises or pushy people trying to dictate the project.

In terms of a charity raffle, its pretty safe in the UK to run one as long as, oddly enough, every ticket is the same value.  If you sell them at £2 each or 3 for £5, you can fall afoul of the law pretty quickly.  We made that mistake on the Salamanders raffle initially, and I ending up donating extra personally to cover each of the early mistaken amounts to keep it consistent.  You have to try and ensure you don’t fall foul of international participants violating their local laws, so you need the blurb to at least say this is down to the individual.

How will the prize get to people?  If international chaps are involved, a full army can cost a lot to ship?  Will you absorb that personally?  Suggest shipping costs for international winners?  Suggest handing the models over at a meet up (which is how we delivered the Salamanders in the end).  If you haven’t worked that out early on, once people are buying tickets you can’t easily spring costs onto them.

One tip that made a massive difference to the Salamanders charity raffle was down entirely to @paintysim‘s knowledge and picking up the slack when I was struggling to keep the project going – she, without any exaggeration, saved that project and probably doubled the final charity total.  She reached out to stores, and arranged for them to sell tickets and display some the fantastic army in store, as well as significantly increasing the scope of the project with their donations.  Of course, it helps them in terms of publicity, and you’ll have to absorb costs travelling to stores and sorting stuff out – and if you reach out to multiple stores, how will that be handled?  Where will you draw the result?  Will it promote all the stores fairly?

Ensuring an overall look and feel by basing the models consistently really helps …. but you’ll need to base up a heck of a load of models coming in from all over.  Again, time, costs arranging meet-ups to do it, that wasn’t insignificant (and for the Salamanders army, again down to @PaintySim organising it all).

You need to keep the wider community involved and enthused at every stage, or they’ll just forget about it.  So you’ll need to maintain something like a form of blog, co-ordinating project reports and pictures from everyone involved in the process to build excitement for the amazing army being put together.  You’ll need to target bigger names among the painters if you really want to get a few top end pieces to really excite hobbyists to buy tickets as well as gamers after a painted army to play with, and a lot of painters don’t have spare resources.  You’ll need to provide the minis in many of those cases, and you’ll have to track offers of donations of minis to match against offers of minis to paint.

Timing wise, you want to allow plenty of time for donations and minis, and also allow time for raffle sales.  Ideally you want to time the draw away from major national or hobby events, otherwise interest will be significantly lower.  Overlapping sales with the army production period can be risky if parts of the army fall through, but may be necessary if timescales slip.

It is a major effort and a lot of work.  But seeing the community all pull together for you as you do something like this is tremendously rewarding too.

 

 

 

 

Hobby Positivity on Twitter

Someone mentioned that they were trying to be more positive on twitter, and someone else asked me how I seem so unrelentingly positive on Twitter, so I thought I’d pop together my unspoken rules of Twitter Hobby Etiquette for fun positive interactions.  I certainly make mistakes from time to time, but generally my upbeat tone seems to resonate with the hobby field.  So what’s my secret?

Well, one obvious one is to make sure your twitter client is set to “Latest Tweets” or equivalent.  If you rely on Twitter’s default, you’ll see hundreds of tweets from people liking posts or from people you don’t follow, and that can really move you away from seeing little models and seeing, well, practically anything.  That can sour your mood before you even begin!

Another technically related tip is to use the “Retweet with Comment” option sparingly, if at all.  Any time you do this, it looks like a focussed deliberate, thought out response, and any hint of negativity looks like a deliberate attack, not a discussion.  I’ve done it a few times accidentally, or trying to be funny, and if you misjudge, it’ll look vicious.  Try to think twice, or use it to highlight very positive things, rather than using this often.

Most of the tips aren’t really related to features, though, but a general approach, and it all goes back to a piece of advice I learnt when I started work for interacting with people – praise in public, criticise in private.  

Essentially, for social media, tweet whatever the heck you like on your own timeline as standalone tweets.  If you didn’t like a new model, feel free to post up you didn’t like it if you want.  Don’t feel constrained in what you want to express in your own tweets.  However, don’t crap over other people’s fun.  Don’t reply to someone who loves something  to say “I hated that”.  Let’s think for a minute on what the possible outcome can be.

  • They are convinced by you, and lose something fun from their lives.
  • They ignore you, and will respect your tweets less in future.
  • You have a blazing public row, and end up never interacting again with another fun hobbyist

The only possible beneficial outcome is basically if they argue with you and convince you to like it, as then you both have something fun in your life.  But I’ve never in ten years on twitter seen this outcome.  Oddly, saying why you liked something to someone who doesn’t is a far more positive experience, generally.  You aren’t trying to take fun away.

On the flip side, genuinely praising people by saying why you like something instead of just mashing the like button has much more of an impact too.

Now, there is obviously a middle ground.  When people ask for advice or genuine criticism, that’s different than just crapping on something they adore. Offer genuine advice, but try to mention positives rather than just negatives.  If they want to know how they can improve in terms of painting, try to mention the bits you think are strong already as well as possible improvements.  

Finally, one thing that often happens in tweets is that we have a limited space to express our concepts.  Sadly, one of the areas we tend to remove in order to focus on the main concept are often the key words we’d use when talking to people, which take the edge off what we say.  We can lose the oil that lubricates the wheel of social interaction.  Saying “I absolutely love the models, and I wish I’d have better luck with them on the field, but they’ve always been crap for me” is far less confrontational and negative than just “They’ve always been crap”.  Sometimes it’s worth spreading out over a few tweets and keeping those  perspectives there.

Oh, and some of us will be friends either in real life or have interacted regularly online for years.  In those cases, the general guidelines go out of the window, just like you can talk with mates in a different way than a stranger in a GW store.  Don’t assume that because you see a teasing interaction that your tweets will be seen in the same light!  That’s probably the most solid advice I’d generally give – think of talking to strangers in your local GW as a guideline.  If you wouldn‘t say it to them if you overheard them talking, don’t tweet it to someone.

#ParentPlayers5

What is Parent Players? Parent Players is a semi-regular meet-up with a group of wargamers who all have children and don’t often get to game. We plan the events months in advance so we can arrange childcare and make sure it’s in family diaries, and hope no emergencies, illness or accidents intervene! As we’re all parents, we all are in the same boat, and it’s nice to play some really relaxed games and have a few beers with people who enjoy your hobby, understand the pressures you’re under, and are pretty relaxed about the fact you haven’t played a game in months and keep remembering the rules from 2 editions ago. Most of the focus is on GW games, predominantly 40K. We meet up in Warhammer World in Nottingham on a Friday, play big games all day, retire to a nearby hotel where we get a few more beers in and play games like Fluxx in the bar. The Saturday tends to be smaller games in Bugmans as it can be hard to get tables if an event is on, and some of us may be a little worse for wear…. (Just to be clear, beers are optional and several of the regulars are teetotal. Playing silly games is the important bit!) Tables are harder to arrange, but can be booked in advance if we know how many people are definitely coming.  The Fridays are normally pretty easy to grab tables, but Saturday has an AoS event on, so if we don’t have a table we’ll be playing small games in the bar. When is the next Parent Players? The fifth Parent Players is on Friday 21 and Saturday 22 June 2019 What do you need? Well, to play, you’ll need the latest rules and a force for the game. We’re definitely expecting Warhammer 40K, and Bloodbowl to be on the agenda – if you don’t have a force for any game you’d like to play, it’s not too hard to arrange to borrow one from one of the other people attending, but you need to arrange it in advance to ensure it’s there on the day. For 40K, we tend to play fairly fluffy 1750pts lists (though we’re going to use the Chapter Approved rules and turn our warlords into Legendary Heroes). Bloodbowl tends to be standard starter teams of 1,000,000 crowns, and Shadespire is generally standard gang starter decks. You’ll also need transport to Warhammer World, and somewhere to stay. We generally stay in the Holiday Inn near Warhammer World and several people have already booked rooms. Its certainly not compulsory to stay in the hotel if you want to arrange somewhere else, but we do have some cracking games – this meet up I’m expecting some Munchkin 40K and various editions of Fluxx to be pulled out. It’s a pretty laid back event – some of us make up our own t-shirts to match our armies with our names and twitter handles, but again, that’s really not necessary. How do I stay in touch? We all can be found on twitter. I’m evilkipper and seem to be co-ordinating it at the moment, but the whole thing was the devious concept of thefirstautarch. Other regular attendees include oneoflots, avarrisxbox, grimdarkness40, bigbadbirch and alphadevilinak as well as horde of possible attendees who haven’t been able to escape the kids! Say hi to any of us, and we’ll keep you in the loop on twitter with all the updates.

Play it Painted?

I was having a discussion on twitter (that immediately got derailed) about what sort of painting projects can be fun, and I suggested painting up board games like Hellboy or Dungeon Saga, as board games stand in isolation.  No one expects the game pieces to be painted so its a nice stress free distraction, but armies for Warhammer 40K?  There’s a definite expectation that armies should be painted or at least will be painted over time, and that can sometime make it feel like work – I have to get this painted or I can’t field it.

Someone bounced into the conversation to say that thats not true.  GW don’t have any such barriers up, if you want to play with unpainted pieces you can, and any pressure is just from a few individuals in the community.  I’m afraid I can’t agree.

Now, I’m not saying that shouldn’t be the case!  I’ll happily play anyone if I think I’ll have a fun game.  But the hobby is definitely based around the concept of playing with painted armies.  Many people will flat out refuse to play unpainted armies.  Some stores won’t allow less than a three colour minimum.  Warhammer World events have a fairly stringent set of requirements that involve no bits from other manufacturers, fully painted, and these events are described as the “pinnacle of the hobby” by Warhammer World – which clearly indicates the aspirational goal for people in the GW community.  On twitter, you’ll regularly see campaigns to “#PlayItPainted”.  There’s a meme stratagem aimed at unpainted models that floats around featuring the face of GW painting, Duncan Rhodes.  Whether or not its right, playing with painted armies is expected in tournaments, in many stores, and by many players and the wider community.  Saying “you can play how you like” doesn’t help if opponents walk away and you can’t take part in events.

If you just want to play at home against a mate, you can do what you like.  If you want to buy into the wider community, you do have to go along with the general community rules, and at the moment, that would seem to be painted armies, or at least working towards that goal.

I rarely play, and paint far more.  I love painting.  But at the moment, things are stacked against those who don’t like painting but love the game, short of throwing money at commission painters.

And is the pressure to be at least moving towards painted minis bad?  Its a far more absorbing experience for me, and anecdotally many others when all the models are clearly identified in glorious colours instead of sprue grey where you can’t identify the weapons or gear easily.

Is there a good answer?  Introduce gaming tournaments where all that matters are results?  Deprecate the painting part of the hobby to make it more about the game?  There isn’t a perfect solution.

All I can do is enjoy painting my minis, and be willing to have a fun game whenever I can, regardless of how painted the opposition is.

Should GW add women to Space Marines?

There has been a lot of argument on Twitter on this topic for a while, so I thought I’d go through what I see as the pros and cons of both sides of the argument.

I say both sides, but this is actually a three sided argument!  There is one argument for introducing female space marines as if they’ve always been there, an argument to keep everything exactly as it is, and a third stance saying “why not kept the history as is, but introduce female space marines as a new option like the Primaris Marines were recently introduced?”

Now, if you look at the models purely as game pieces, it’s just ludicrous to have the primary faction in a game designed in 2019, often included as both sides (with Chaos Marines having the same issue) of the main starter sets being gender exclusive.  Of course, the game was designed in the 1980s, not 2019, and culturally there was a much bigger divide in hobbies than here is today.  2000AD simply introduced lady judges as if they had always been a part of Judge Dredd, and that was successful in a similar cultural icon.  Why couldn’t that work here?  They’ve thrown the history out repeatedly for other changes like dropping Squats and rebuilding the entire Necron history.  Why not here?

Well, one reason is that the background back then specifically excluded the possibility of female space marines, and that takes us into the opposing position – that 30 years of shared fictional history including hundreds of published stories as well as 30 years of rule books and army codexes have given us a shared universe we all enjoy, so why change it?  Why throw out all those books and novels and shared enjoyment when we could simply release more models in other lines and make that there are options for women to play and feel accessible – the new launch of the Sisters of Battle line is often a key part of this counterpoint, as it involves a line of models that are just women.

The intermediate stance is simply that we could look at a compromise position – keep the history as is, but evolve the ongoing storyline.  Introduce women into the ranks of marines as the new discoveries that allowed the creation of the next generation of marines also allow the genetic enhancements to work with both sexes.  It’s an easy, simple fix, and would allow reasonable people on all sides to come together.  If you don’t like them, you could still build male marine chapters, or others could build all women chapters.  

Some point to the satirical background of Warhammer 40K, and highlight the fact that Space Marines aren’t supposed to be aspirational or inclusive.  They are, in fact, pretty much the extreme example of what is often referred to as toxic masculinity- exemplifying intolerance, and violence as a preferred solution.  There’s certainly some truth to this viewpoint, I think, but the parodic  and satirical nature of 40K has been somewhat lost under a more traditional sci-fi overlay over the years – I’m not sure it’s as obvious to people joining the hobby now as it was in the Rogue Trader days.

i think it’s easy as people argue abstract positions to ignore the fact that honestly there are a lot of people in the hobby that are bigoted and would keep women out if they could.  Latching onto excuses like the shared history allow them to avoid appearing prejudiced, but honestly?  Sometimes people are.  It’s very important not to tar everyone with that brush, but it’s also important that the industry leader in the wargaming field do what it can to be available to everyone.

The biggest problem, really, is that the lore and in game history about Space Marines is, in this instance, bloody terrible.  The entire argument basically goes “We can re-engineer men from the basic genetic code up to be immortal Demi-gods of War, but we can’t do the same for women, because they are girls.”

There are so many strong stories one way or another.  Buy fully into the despotic, terrible universe, and cast the Emperor as a utter sexist bastard who wouldn’t sort it out because he felt girls shouldn’t go to war.  Go Jurassic Park, and have life find a way in the early tests on women – and a fully viable immortal replacement species for humanity was exactly what the Emperor wanted to avoid as he wants humanity to thrive, not perish.  Have the move as part of the Emperor’s prescient design as systematically culling the genes for successful  Astartes  leads to the psychically immune blanks rising in replacement and saving all humanity.  Maybe his second wave of design was a set of female primarchs and their Astartes children, and that fell apart because of the Heresy.

But saying “no, we can’t get it working for girls” is shockingly weak story telling at best.  It sounds more impressive if you say “The lore doesn’t allow for them”, but really?

I’ve been playing 40k since it launched.  I enjoy the shared history and background, and would prefer major changes to be in the way the story moves forward than throwing all the history out.  I could cope with the monastic male warrior tradition if the story is fleshed out with something convincing (and better representation continues elsewhere), or women joining the ranks as new Primaris marines too.  But there are three main things I’d really like to see – people on one side of the argument not accusing everyone else of being misogynistic bastards, people on the other side not shouting about SJWs and virtue signalling, and some damn decent story underlying the move forward, whatever route that takes.

EDIT – Just some additional notes.  I mentioned a few reasons that would be much stronger to explain the lack of female space marines from a story telling perspective, but they don’t really work if introduced now (unless you introduce a new faction of some kind to explore it as well as a Black Library series).  Adding a better excuse 30 years later is definitely a cop out – if there was a solid story reason already in place I’d be more inclined to accept the cries of “but the lore”.

I’d also like to quickly address the other argument – that there already exists an all women army in the game with Sisters of Battle, so its all fair.  I have some sympathy with this view point, mostly because I love Sisters of Battle and am very excited for the new release, and I’d love for the sheer scope of the Sisters to be raised to the same profile as Space Marines.  However, arguing its all fair because there are some female factions is a bit specious.  Why?  Because first, the Sisters of Battle aren’t an all woman faction at all.  You can field male priests (that outrank the sisters), male crusaders, male arco-flagellants, male penitent engines in the same list.  It’d be like having the option in the marine list to field women representatives of the High Council that all marines have to answer to, having dreadnaughts not containing marine heroes but male or female guard heroes, and turning the victrix guard into cool lady knights guarding the top bods.  Now, that actually sounds pretty awesome, to be fair, but it isn’t the case.

In addition, while Space Marines are the flagship force, with Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, General Marines, Chaos Marines, Thousand Sons and Death Guard all representing with their own lists, there have been long periods of time with no Sisters of Battle Codex at all, no minis in the shops, only 20 year old + sculpts available online at incredibly high prices (£50 a basic squad as compared to £20.50 for a metal guard squad, for example).  Its not exactly two high profile, easily available forces with Sisters and Marines jostling for place in the starter sets.

What of Sisters of Silence, introduced at the same time as Custodes?  We still have almost no Sisters of Silence available, and a pretty big old range of Custodes introduced already.  Again, its not really a great argument to point to a token box and say, look, it must be OK, there are a few ladies in a different list.

While Space Marines are the primary force sold in the game, with no solid reason not to add women to their ranks given the recent introduction of changes with Primaris Marines, we’ll hear continuing calls to make the entry armies more accessible to everyone, and I think rightly so.

Golden Demon Entries

Well, this year I’m certainly not entering Golden Demon, as time is a bit too stretched, the 11/12 May isn’t available to get to Warhammer Fest, and honestly I’m not a good enough painter right now!

I did think it’d be fun to pretend to enter though, and do a practice run for an entry next year, which might help out others thinking of entering too.  Golden Demon, unless you are just amazingly talented, isn’t really a spur of the moment decision to enter.  You need to read the guidelines, plan your entry thoroughly, and then put the pieces together to the very best of your ability.  There are a lot of concepts and information that can help with that planning process.

You can get the guidelines for the 2019 Golden Demon here.  Its well worth investigating the whole golden-demon.com site to get a feel for previous entries, the standard of painting and the popular styles.

I’ve gone through the last few years entries, read through the guidelines, and checked what some of the big name painters and the judges have said, and these are my loose thoughts on how to prepare:

  • Golden Demon isn’t purely a painting contest.  It’s a chance to express a core theme of the world you’ve chosen to paint in, be that 40K, Age of Sigmar, Horus Heresy, Bloodbowl or the like.  You can choose that theme, and show your own take on it, but it’s important to remember that in general you should exhibit a theme from the lore, not something 100% original of your own.  Its a public reflection of their world.  If you want to be creative, you have more scope with Age of Sigmar pieces where the lore isn’t as defined.  Looking at 40K entries, for example, in 2018, you’ll see top 3 pieces for Cadians in standard colours, Imperial Fists, Space Wolves, codex librarians, Salamanders, White Scars.  Implementing a central familiar scheme really well definitely seems favoured over uniqueness.

There’s a section in the guidelines that covers this, buried away in the FAQ.

“The background and setting are important as well. The judges will be looking at how well the entry fits in to Games Workshop’s different worlds and universes – a strong narrative can go a long way towards grabbing the judges attention.”

  • Should you convert your models?  Well, the guidelines give an enthusiastic yes, it’s fine, but it is critical to only use GW parts or completely scratch build.  However, looking at the entries over the last few years?  I’d actually say large scale conversions are discouraged.  Kit bashing, reposing, and the conversion or sculpting of one or two unique components would seem to be key.  Remember, Golden Demon does have other criteria, but is at heart a painting contest, not a modelling contest.  A really well done off the shelf model can compete with a a tweaked one, as long as the overall composition of the entire piece works.
  • Basing your models is tricky.  Looking through the history, you probably want some sort of display plinth, and your model should be solidly attached to the plinth to allow the judges to pick it up and examine the model.  In terms of the base around the models feet, the key here (short of dioramas) is to ensure that the base meets the theme of the piece, but doesn’t draw attention away from the core model.  Indeed, if the base composition draws the viewer’s eye back to key parts of the model, that’s ideal.  Some people can go nuts, especially for duel and squad pieces, but the real key is not taking attention off the model and matching the overall theme. 
  • Painting techniques – certain techniques come and go in popularity over time, and no particular technique seems favoured by the judging panel.  NMM and TMM techniques were very popular in 2018, but there were certainly entries that didn’t use them.  Edge highlighting was comparatively muted, and used generally as part of an overall lighting and layering strategy rather than a technique in its own right.  The important thing to note about techniques, though, is that it isn’t about a particular technique, but how well the piece as a whole is implemented.  Brushwork needs to be crisp and precise.  Blending needs to be consistently smooth.  Coverage needs to be absolutely consistent.  Lighting is also very important.  Every model I looked at on the golden demon website, you could clearly see was “lit” by a virtual light point, and every shade, blend and highlight worked coherently from that point.  The techniques to reflect that varied, but the core concept was clear.
  • Consistency – really high quality work across the whole entry is one of the big keys to doing well.  If any one style or technique lets you down, either make sure you practice a heck of a lot before your entry, or use different methods.  Any obvious change in standard will be obvious to the judges.  
  • Unique or Freehand work – this is an interesting one, looking at the entries.  On the whole, freehand customisations were limited.  Flames on a blood bowl players armour looked excellent, and were paired with a really solid paint job on the normal clothes rather than further freehand.  On space marines, iconography was a chance to show off, rather than free handing on lots of panels that would normally be chapter colours.  Basically, the entries that seemed to do well took little tweaks and pushed their complexity up a notch, rather than going overboard across the whole model.
  • Composition seems to really be key.  The entry needs to be balanced, draw the eye to key features, and reflect the dynamism (or lack off) of the central model.  Composing and assembling the piece to a very high standard (of course, with the highest standard on mould line removal, join marks and so on) is a large part of the battle.  It’s particularly tricky to implement this, and paint in subassemblies to allow easy brush access, while painting to exhibit a consistent light source too.  
  • In addition, you should be using colour theory to the best of your ability to balance the theme of the piece, and to break it deliberately for contrast spot colours to draw the eye to particular elements.  It’s tricky, and if thats a step too far, you can get a large chunk of the way simply by implementing an existing army colour scheme to the best of your ability.

I’m not a winning Golden Demon painter at all, but that’s my takeaway on the areas I’d look into if preparing to enter for the first time – in one line, you are looking to do:

consistent, high quality painting over a well posed model using strong colour theory and lighting concepts, reflecting a core narrative from a codex or novel.

The real highlight to win would be the Heavy Metal contest, where you all paint the same model with no customisation.  That’s truly down to individual painting skill, and the Idoneth Tidecaster in 2019 is really challenging, with a huge range of different textures to bring out, and the looser AoS lore opens up more colour options.  Fascinating!