Tuesday 31 December 2019

Old School Gaming: 2019 Review

Hi folks,

We are ushering in a new year and it is time to take stock and take a look ahead at what lies beyond. The previous year has not been an easy one for blogging in general, but I have also been finding it challenging to keep my hobby mojo going in the face of increasing work stresses. I have often found myself with plenty of ideas for posts, but little time to bring them to fruition.

As other bloggers have mentioned, one of the reasons for the decline in blogging seems to be the lamentable move from the traditional blog to even shorter forms of interaction (Instagram, Twitter, etc), or videos on YouTube. In the case of the former, I have had some fairly limited experience posting and commenting during 2019, you can find me @m4cr0dutch on both if you like. Of the two, I prefer Instagram, though I'm hoping to be a little more organic in how I use both of these platforms. I know my interaction style and want it to shine through in everything I do. For my own sanity, I would also like to do a little more microblogging of progress on Instagram and Facebook, with more substantial pieces being reserved for this blog (Blogger).

As you can see, not a huge presence yet, but I'm warming to it.

Another big change for me was the death of Google+. I really enjoyed the community we had going on there and the connectivity it had with my blog. When all of the Google+ comments were deleted from the blogs it was a bit gut-wrenching (even though I archived that stuff earlier). I have said previously that the comments on a blog are bit a like seams of gold in a rock-face. The fact that fewer people are interacting in this way, and that it got suddenly harder for a while, had a significant destabilising effect on the blogosphere (at least the ones I was paying attention to).

I immediately transitioned to MeWe, and having been trying my best to support and grow that community as an Admin. There are some really wonderful people on there, so if you are looking for a place to hang out and share your work, drop in some time: here's the group link.

I have also started a Facebook group to support this blog, which I am hoping to microblog on more in the future, with shorter progress reports and pictures of games, etc. These are the kinds of things that aren't making it onto my blog at the moment, because blogger is a more time-consuming way of sharing for me. I just can't afford to invest that amount of time on every little thing that I do, but I think about doing it all the time which ties me up in knots. Again, if you are interested, come and find me on Facebook!

Whilst blogging has never been about the stats for me, I noticed a while back that the growth of my views had plateaued at about 4000 per month. After Google+ this has stayed the same, but the variance has been massive. The two peaks this year were due to some dodgy website in the Ukraine; I somehow doubt that they have any interest in my Iron Snakes. My goals for 2020 aren't really related to views, but more related to posts. I am hoping to post more regularly, at least 5 times a month, next year, with plenty of little updates along the way to catch the neat stuff I work on during the week. I still much prefer to post my thoughts here and record in more detail the processes and decision making that go into a project.

Well, that's it for 2019! I'm looking forward to getting home and finishing off the stuff on my table, which includes some really cool Iron Snake Primaris marines. My brother-in-law Andrew gave me Agricola for Christmas, so hopefully I'll have a review of that popping up somewhere in the next couple of days. 

Finally, I would like give a big shout out to two distinct, but not unrelated, groups of people. To my blogging brothers and sisters, I want to thank you for all of the posts you made this year. It has been a tough slog for some of us, but we made it through and we are still raising the Standard of Fortitude high! You do great work and I love reading about your projects and gaming exploits. I am in the process of refreshing my Honour Roll (Blog Roll), so if you have a blog that you think I would enjoy, let me know.   

"He who stands beside me is my brother."

I would also like to say a huge thank you to my gaming mates here in Australia. Whether it be BattleTech Tuesday, Pathfinder Monday, D&D every-second-Wednesday, Random Game Friday, Gaming Roast Sunday, MtG Arena/Facebook smack talk (every night), the team painting sessions, Mashfest 2019 or epic full-day boardgame blow-outs (looking at you Rising Sun...); you are keeping the dream alive. Even when I can't make it, reading/hearing about your exploits warms the double heat sinks of my heart. I'm hoping to get a few of the guys to do some guest articles in the following year, for no other reason than I admire them and want to share that with whoever will listen.



See you in 2020!



Friday 27 December 2019

Humblewood: 7 Tips for Adventure Roleplaying with Kids

Children roleplay every day of the week; it comes naturally to them. In fact, it is a very powerful way for kids to learn and understand their place in society. As a teacher, I often use it as a strategy to help students apply their knowledge to real-world contexts.

I, on the other hand, tend to roleplay every Wednesday night from 8.30 pm to about 11.00 pm (depending on the intensity of the encounter we are trying to escape). Due to the difficulties of getting a party of like-minded adults around a physical table, we play Dungeons & Dragons digitally, using the Fantasy Grounds platform to play and Discord to communicate.

With these two facts in mind, it was perhaps inevitable that at some stage I would end up running a campaign for the kids (I was assuming in their teenage years). Humblewood has brought that timeline forward considerably, due to its thematic accessibility. Having said that, I thought I would share 7 things that I have done to make this an enjoyable and accessible activity for my kids (aged 6 and 8).

1) Character Creation

For younger players, the responsibility of making choices is a powerful hook and necessary in most cases to keep them engaged. I let the kids have a look at the races in the Humblewood book and choose one, with Oscar choosing a Strig (owlfolk) and Penny picking a Cervan (deerfolk). I then gave them a very brief description of each class, with Oscar gravitating towards the Paladin (a warrior who fights for his God and protects the temple), and Penny choosing a Druid (a person who cares for the forest; looking after the trees and animals). Thus, Lloyd the Strig paladin and Bambi the Cervan Druid were born:

Lloyd, the Strig paladin

Bambi, the Cervan druid

I recommend letting younger players make these simple choices themselves, though having a more limited range of choices could be appropriate. Claiming ownership of the character in this way helps them to invest in the game and ultimately remain engaged. Our first session went for 2 hours and they have been bugging me every day since for the next one!

2) Character Statistics

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that younger players care very little about stats. I got them to roll for their stats and assign them, but that was only because they have seen me do it myself before. I would suggest having some numbers ready to go and helping a younger player assign them to the most important characteristics (based on their race and class), or even just writing down the modifier they will be applying to rolls, as that is what they will use the most for a long time. I also gave them their AC and hit points, describing what both meant.

3) Choosing Skills

Using skills is a huge part of roleplaying. I suggested some skills to the kids and we discussed when they could be used. This is something that you will need to help a younger player with during the session, with verbal prompts. I often found myself saying “do any of you have a skill that would help in this situation”. They would then read their couple of skills carefully to see if anything would work and ask me to repeat what some of them did. Having a brief description written on some cards for younger players could be helpful (you wouldn’t need to do many).

That one time when Aragorn the human ranger passed his Nature check but rolled really poorly for Perception...

4) Choosing Weapons

Before we started, I had a discussion with them both about the nature of the game. Fighting is a way to overcome challenges in D&D, but it is not the ONLY way. In a campaign designed for younger players, combat is mostly avoidable; I certainly didn’t want to focus on violence in what I presented to them. They can have a heap of fun without it, or you can use the combat mechanics in novel ways. For example, at the start of our campaign, all characters were invited to compete in an archery contest… joy ensued.

Having said that, I asked them what they would carry if they wanted to defend themselves in the wild. Oscar said, without a moments consideration, a double-bladed scythe. Holy moly! He settled for a sword and shield, as I said the weapon shop owner didn’t carry exotic tools of that type! Penny considered very carefully, suggesting a spear and a short bow. A spear so that she could keep her distance when being attacked and a short bow for hunting. Clever girl. I didn't talk to them at all about the stats of each weapon, so that they weren't at all picking a weapon based on numbers. I wanted them to think of them as tools that fit their character.

5) Choosing a Campaign Theme

Due to their young age, I wanted to choose a theme for the campaign that they could relate to. Something involving political intrigue or revenge would be inappropriate. Even the idea of slaying some marauding monster didn't sit right with me, from a parenting perspective. I narrowed the options down to two main themes: a search for a missing person (which would really push them to talk to NPC’s and be observant) or something to do with ecology (which would push them to use their nature/survival skills and explore the environment). I settled on a combination of the two; the campaign would be about them investigating the disappearance of a certain species of firefly, which should have appeared at the end of a festival their characters attend annually. That way, they could start the campaign somewhere familiar, with some activities designed to ease them into the game mechanics, then nudge them out into the wild. This was my child friendly take on the “meeting in a tavern” cliche. I suggest that if you want to give this a go, carefully selecting a theme that kids can connect with is going to be an important factor.

6) Using NPCs as Guides

NPC’s are important in any campaign, but especially when you have young players who are not familiar with the boundaries of the game (or lack thereof). NPC’s can lead the way in many situations, nudging them in the right direction or modelling how the game can be played to achieve certain goals. If you are thinking of having a go at this with your own younglings, consider carefully the use of NPCs in your campaign. I created a Raptor (well... kingfisher) ranger who would be travelling with Lloyd and Bambi, called Fisk. I would use him to make suggestions when the kids are really stumped for what to do and model how skills can be used, as well as model helpful interactions with other NPCs. I would also use him to guide the kids when some parenting is required, but keep it in-game!

"My father named me Fisk. It is the sound a bird makes when it says the word 'fish', whilst eating a fish."

7) Designing the Home Village

Maps are also an important part of any D&D campaign. To introduce this concept, I encouraged the kids to draw half of their home village each, which I could then put together to form a picture of the whole place. Having played a few RPG games on the Switch (Link’s Awakening and Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee) the concept wasn’t completely foreign to them, and they did a great job, including a whole heap of places you would hope to find in a functioning village. In Humblewood, these little pockets of civilisation are called “Perches”. Again, this is a rich learning experience for them, particularly in terms of future roleplaying sessions. Having created their own village, they will have some idea of useful places to look out for in other places. They have also made a place in the game for themselves, the first step in feeling like you belong.

With all of this established, we were ready for the first session. The kids were really chomping at the bit to get going, but they also enjoyed the build up. I’ll be writing up their experiences as we progress; it will be interesting to see how we go with all this. The first session was a huge success and everyone is looking forward to the next stage of the journey.

See you across the table,


Tuesday 17 December 2019

The Hobby Table: December 2019

Hi folks,

Not much has improved on my Hobby Table since October; there are still way too many unfinished projects on there. At least now I have some time to work on them, having started the Christmas holidays from work. I have spent the previous week feeling shell-shocked, as work has been exhausting. That has left me with very little energy to get things done, but a mind full of ideas. First on the list at the moment is to finish the Sisters of the Thorn/Wild Riders for my daughter. They were meant to be done for her birthday in late November, but the construction process really blew out. The lead Sister is 11 pieces! As I have been putting the multipart figures together I have been painting the Wid Riders, which are now ~ 50% complete.

I also spent some time outside priming figures with my airbrush, and adding a layer of white on some 'Mechs. The 'Mechs are for a Mercenary unit I have name Foxfire Company (more about them later). They are all classic 3025, Level tech, workhorses, except for a sneaky Centurion Omni; my personal ride! My aim is to get them all done before the Kickstarter 'Mechs start rolling in.

The eagle-eyed among you will recognise the odd one out; I have also primed the Blood Angels Librarian from Space Hulk. Interestingly, this guy is the only miniature on my table at the moment that is actually on my To-Do list for this year! I'll have to do something about that after Christmas, I think. I am really loving airbrushing primer instead of using the Citadel rattlecans, at least for white. If I don't stuff up my technique (i.e. air-push drying paint!) the Vallejo Surface Primer goes on beautifully.

That's it for now, hopefully the next update will include some finished Aelfs!

See you across the table,


Thursday 12 December 2019

Dungeons and Dragons: Humblewood Unboxing

Hi folks,

Today the Humblewood Kickstarter I pledged money to delivered my campaign box set. The best way I can explain the Humblewood setting is to say that it reminds me a lot of Wind in the Willows; the characters are all based on woodland creatures and the themes are all quite wholesome. Apart from its utility to tell stories that current D&D isn't really geared towards, I felt this would be a great game for my kids if they ever got into roleplaying. They helped me unbox it tonight and my daughter said "You have to let me play two characters, if you make me choose just one I will explode." I take that as a good sign!

From the beginning, this campaign has felt like something really special. The creators were obviously passionate and engaged some wonderful artists to bring the setting to life. The box set was chockers full of great stuff, and just watching the kids' faces light up was worth the $50 I paid for it. To start with, we had a quick flick through the book, which covers the different races, deities, spells and equipment, as well as a full campaign.

There was a bunch of quick reference cards, which is so handy when you are playing. Again, the artwork is just amazing. These cover encounters, spells and NPC's really well.

There was also a small deck on "animated" spell cards, which are holographic. When you move the card a representation of the spell appears. As an adult, I think they are cute, but the kids were blown away "What is this new devilry?".

There were two sets of card standees with plastic bases included, which I am disproportionately excited about; they are just my thing. I had the option of getting miniatures of the main characters and monsters, but simply could not imagine painting another big gaming project. Besides, have I mentioned the artwork...

Lastly, there was a pack of location maps (with grids) and a world map. These were printed on a weird material; some kind of heavy duty paper that doesn't fold very well. This is the type of playing aid that is hard to get right. BattleTech use paper for maps, mostly, which fold well and can be beautiful but wear easily. Neoprene is another, very expensive option, or hard boards, which are heavy. This in-between material isn't great, but definitely workable. I have the digital files of all the maps, so I can print them and laminate them how I want anyway!

That's it for now, when we get playing I'll have some more pictures of the different locations, characters and monsters. If you have some little ones coming through the ranks and ready to have their first foray into roleplaying, I highly recommend Humblewood. It is also very versatile for bringing to life the kinds of "picture book" stories we all grew up with. I am, in fact, excited about the prospect of using the ideas from the setting to craft a Dreamtime themed campaign, with Australian native characters, focusing on Aboriginal stories I read as a kid: The Rainbow Serpent, Tiddalick (The Frog Who Caused a Flood) and The Giant Devil-Dingo (which scared the crap out of me).

See you across the table,


Thursday 5 December 2019

The "Bug-Out" Bag

Hi folks,

Australia has learned the hard way just how murderous a bushfire can be. In my 38 years on the planet, I have lived through some pretty nasty fire seasons. We have all watched the nightly news report the loss of hundreds of homes, livestock and human lives. About 12 years ago, our fire danger rating signs were modified to reflect this more accurately, by including a new risk category: catastrophic.

A few weeks ago, for the first time since it was introduced, my local sign was dialed up to the new rating. The advice from our local Rural Fire Service, which is only 200 m down the road, was pretty sobering: if a fire starts today we probably won't be able to save you. Being in a fairly exposed location (below), we followed our plan for these conditions by preparing the house as best as we could, and then evacuating early.

Not all heroes wear capes; wifey clears dry leaves out of the guttering

Among many other things we would prefer not to have reduced to ashes, that meant leaving behind 25 years worth of gaming material. As part of our plan we each packed a single "bug-out" bag of things we wanted to save, the night before things got really sketchy. It was an interesting learning experience for the kids, having to think carefully about what is really important in life. It was also interesting to consider which pieces of my collection actually had sentimental value to me. Perhaps unsurprisingly, anything that linked back to my gaming past and good times with friends took precedent.

Let's take a look at my bug-out bag:

I haven't actually; I am rubbish with heights. Wifey used to work there, hence the reason she was on the roof instead of me!


I packed the new box with a couple of maps, record sheets and the cardboard cutouts. It would be more than enough to keep the game alive; you don't need miniatures to play BattleTech. I also packed my old school source books, campaigns and rules. You can get these digitally, but each one of these physical copies has a story. For example, I first saw the book on the far left at a second hand bookstore in Sydney. My mum wouldn't get it for me, even though it was only $10 and I was so upset (though I didn't let it show [much] at the time). A few weeks later we went back and I looked for it again, picking it up with my pocket money. That rulebook kickstarted Joel and I playing BattleTech at school, which, in the grand scheme of things, ended up being a very big deal.

Warhammer 40K

Too many miniatures to save if I was in a rush, I decided to again go for rules instead. Like my BattleTech collection, these all have a story to tell. They would allow me to play 2nd Edition, no problems. Insurance would hopefully buy me something completely new; I don't think I could paint the same stuff again if it was destroyed.


I have included the family favourites, including Kodama, which I played in Beppu with Joel and his Dad a few days after his wedding, and his travel copy of Cathedral, which Penny absolutely loves. Both are treasures.

Magic the Gathering 

I grabbed 5 Revised Edition decks that I have been using to teach Oscar how to play. These cards are the oldest and the crustiest, but also the ones we all used to love laying with at school on the concrete, outside the library, on hot summer mornings. They may be in new boxes, but the dirt on the card edges is 1995 vintage.

I added to this my own personal Revised Edition collection decks, with some Fallen Empires mixed in. The first I call Lonely Mountain, which includes a Shivan Dragon, Dragon Whelps, Goblins and Goblin Grenades. I constructed this deck on the excursion bus one year at school, swapping heaps of my other cards away cheaply to get the red cards I wanted. I slipped in an original rulebook, with my mate Shivan on the front.

To round out the MtG collection, I included my Minotaur deck, which I built after swapping away everything in Year 10 and starting from scratch. Instead of being a power-deck, it focused on a goofy theme, which has shaped my gaming attitude ever since. I also chucked in there my "Justice" deck. It is a green and white (mainly) Shadowmoor deck; think twisted old school fairytale with elves and cute little Kithkin things. It also includes a Hand of Justice card, which used to be one of Joel's favourites. It was stolen by some jerk at school, but I won another copy playing ante and gave it back to him. When he passed away, I took his MtG collection and split it into decks to share with many of his mates. I kept this card for myself, though.

Hand of Justice, top left.


I never thought I would own a single Pokemon card, but I play it with the kids all the time now and we have a really enjoyable collection. With custom sleeves from Kyoto, I was not going to leave these behind,

Lone Wolf

And finally, the one piece of gaming material that I can say started it all, Book 15 of the Lone Wolf saga: The Darke Crusade. The story of this book has already been told here, It was life shaping.

Since putting together the bag, the bushfire crisis has worsened considerably. We have had a few scares, but nothing has come close yet. Some good friends of ours in Braidwood were on the news during a particularly close call; their house and horses were saved by the tremendous efforts of our rural firefighters (and luck). I have a phone app which monitors fires within a certain radius, which looks a bit like this today:

The smoke in the air is also a daily reminder of the unfolding disaster, which to be honest, is of such a scale that it makes my bug-out bag feel like a self-entitled daydream. If a fire comes up the gully it will be the last thing on my mind, the last thing I tuck under my arm as I make a hasty exit (the first thing being either a child or a dog!). Most of us here also have the dark feeling that this will be the new normal. It is hard to think about nice things like gaming possessions when the fireys are out there again, tonight, risking their lives.

The view outside my lab at work.

Charred leaves from a major fire ~ 50 km away, falling in our driveway.

See you across the table,