Monday, 25 February 2019

A Seriously Geeky Whim And Remembering Peter Armstrong - AKA Greblord

Well, this Wednesday sees the second anniversary of the passing of Peter Armstrong, AKA 'Greblord' who for those of you who don't know the name was one of the 'originals' when it came to the detailed painting of miniatures, and who was the author of the original Citadel painting guide (also reused by RAFM), predating all the studio-based guff.

He was funny, thoughtful and acerbic in equal measures.  To me over the years he was mentor and tormentor, being capable of quite horrendous bullying one day and then on my next visit to GW, helpful and almost brotherly.

I would not change any of that for the world, because with his sidekick and co-conspirator, Chris Gilbride, many an obnoxious youth learned wit and sarcasm from the best. Better to fight with the wits than the blade.

Amongst the many memories I have of Pete, was the Christmas Eve fancy dress sessions in the Sheffield store, and in particular the year that he and Chris dressed as Ghostbusters, complete with home made proton packs which could fire the 'streamers in a can' which were all the rage in the mid 80s.

And so, it is fitting that I dedicate my latest purchase to Pete and his enduring legacy.

Yesterday, I dug deep, fought my better financial sense and commissioned a replica proton pack.

The following pics are the prototype, and so you may imagine how simply geeked out I am, to know that mine will be better than this. Pete I think would have torn a strip off me, critically appraised and then pointed out this or that fault, and then admitted out of earshot that it was brilliant.

I would accept and expect nothing less from the big man.

Pete, if you can see this, I miss you, but this time I win the dressing up competition ;)

No photo description available.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Cthulhu, Klingons And Existentialist Pseudo-Occultism

Synchronicity and gut feelings have been things which I've paid close attention to over the years since I started gaming proper in 1981.

If you have read my book, you will have noted perhaps that a chapter is titled 'Well I hit the streets back in '81', itself a lyric from the 1985 'Misplaced Childhood' album by Marillion. I took note as this track is probably my favourite on that album following the seminal 'Childhood's End' probably my other most listened to track on the album to this very day and how odd that the album coincided with my first steps into the adult world and 4 years which, had I not met my partner of  31 years and wife of 26, would have probably and quite reasonably seen me erase myself from the face of the planet. This would have been, of course, a great loss for humanity.

As I write I am listening to both of those tracks and my skin is crawling somewhat beneath the warm flannel pyjamas which age and a taste for simple quality comforts dictate I wear until the bluebells poke through the woodland floor hereabouts.

As far back as I can remember, I've had more than a passing - some would say unhealthy - interest in matters of an occult nature. It started with the usual part works and books on general interest and grew from there. However, over the intervening years, I have become a little more refined in my tastes and whilst I will admittedly listen to any proposition or supposition, I disregard about 95% of the 'evidence' and pay closer attention to about 3%, and consider 2% as a possibility of future exploration.

I rarely however, go to the trouble of actually buying more books on the subject. When you have read Liber Null and Psychonaut and got over the resulting headaches after a few months in a dark room, you tend to lose will to add any further volumes to the bookshelves.

However, by chance this week I was searching for something to listen to as I worked, and, having had my fill of dry topics and BBC radio serials, I dipped into Mysterious Universe, an irreverent and light hearted Australian podcast, which does sometimes deliver a more serious show. This week was one of the weeks, and I was enthralled by the hour long interview with an academic specialising in Catholic history, that I pre-ordered the book she was discussing, published by Oxford University Press.

"American Cosmic

UFOs, Religion, Technology

D. W. Pasulka

Examines the mechanisms that foster belief in intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Based on a six-year, immersive study of communities of UFO believers, including Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and scientists.

Argues that TV shows and movies have become a means of answering questions formerly answered by traditional religions."

Now, if you enter thecae AAFLYG6 at the checkout stage, you'll also get 30% off the cover price of £16.99 which for a hardback academic test is pretty reasonable.

But, I digress...

The thing is, until maybe 9 years ago when I returned to club based pursuits, I'd always gamed instinctively. By that, I mean that I'd let my gut tell me if a game or historical period felt right for me, and I'd just gone ahead and bought what I needed to be self sufficient in presenting a gaming session or tabletop encounter. 

Sometimes my friends got hooked too, such as Roger sharing my taste for Twilight 2000 which he did independently of me , but which it transpired, one grey and miserable Autumn morning as we sat in his bedroom, listening to Jethro Tull (if I recall correctly) we were both drawn to. I assume this was because it was an RPG more grounded in the world we knew, and thus was one of those games which historical gamers 'got' more than role-players. I had a foot planted very firmly in both camps but Roger was at heart a 'serious' gamer so an RPG had to be something a bit special for him.

I wandered around the conventions and looked at the plethora of products which were on offer fro the manufacturers. This was back before Games Workshop, frankly, metaphorically fucked the hell out of our hobby and then not yet sated decided to exsanguinate the what was left to the point that it was barely alive but would remain creatively anaemic for the rest of it's days.

Think I am being a bit harsh? I think not, if you'll take your fragile sensibilities in hand, locate a few trader and display game lists form old show programmes and READ them. You'll see that this is not just the rantings of a bitter old man.

If you are at a show in the near future, take a walk around the hal and list how many companies are simply stocking the same soulless rubbish. How much do you spend to travel to, and enter a show, then walk around looking at probably a dozen product lines being touted by multiple vendors, offering nothing unique other than a a few pence discount on their competitors? Then, you buy an overpriced sandwich or greasy baked product (and please organisers - I am looking at you HAMMERHEAD & PARTIZAN) make your caterers offer the option of butter or some other spread on those breakfast sandwiches because they are as dry as a spinster's chuff!

You then go home with your 'bargains' forgetting that you paid out to get there and back, eat that piss poor food, and sniff the armpit excretions of a 35 year old virgin or two along the way, thereby actually paying more than if you'd just bought them online.

The games these days are in many cases just as much exercises in cookie cutter gaming. Oh how I yearn for the days when RAFWA put on their seminal 'Tumbledown' game, or the Player's Guild brought another of their wonderful fantasy displays. How I would love to once again see that 15mm fantasy game, with it's model railway quality scenics that a group of students (I think) brought to Triples in the mid 80s and which to this day is a benchmark for what you can do with a little love and skill 

This is one of those times when the claim that things used to be better is actually true. But I digress, my little poppets...

Anyway, I would, as I indicated earlier, wander around sometimes on my own, sometimes with friends, and I'd buy this and that because I liked it. Note I say 'because I liked it', rather than because I was trying token up with a fad or fashion or because a salesman moonlighting as a magazine editor was telling me I simply had to have the latest tat from whatever company he was a whore for.

And you know what? My friends did the same, and between us we had some of the most varied games and unrestricted fun that I think you could get from playing with little lead dollies and funny shaped dice. Truly it was a time when you would literally go to the game store, rummage around, find something that gave you the same feeling in the crotch area as watching the school netball team practice at lunchtime (or so I am told) and then you'd buy it and get your friends playing whether or not they were financially invested in it. It was simply splendid.

Over the years this has been my way and it's served me very very well indeed, because I've not been tied to anyone else, save myself. It has meant that at times my hobby has been very expensive indeed, but at other times, it's meant that for a nominal layout of cash, I've been able to indulge my love of the hobby.

Case in point: 

In the mid 80s the Sheffield Runelords would take a couple of weeks off from smiting Broo and sticking it to the Crimson Bat and would play something different. A few times this was RVDIS, by far in my opinion the best set of gladiatorial rules ever written. You had maybe a half dozen figures (which, according to all that is right and proper were Q.T models multipart figures in 28mm). 

You had some great scraps for very little financial layout, but the payback in the theatre of the mind was 100-fold as you dodged, parried and drove home for the entertainment of the citizens of Rome.


Last Autumn at Fiasco, I was flipping through a plastic tub filled with old rule sets, looking for a copy of 'Forlorn Hope'. Having found it, I turned away from the tub only to have my gut tell me to go back and have a further rave. So, as the memsahib was deep in conversation with an old mutual friend from the Manchester area, I followed my instinct and there was a mint copy of RVDIS at a fraction of the online auction prices with which we all seem so obsessed.

So, once again my gut instinct had paid off, and last week I made a rare and as is always the way random call to a local model shop (I have no time for this place normally as one of the staff there invariably just rubs my sensibilities the wrong way and a scene has been known to ensue which almost could rival the legendary GW Meadowhall branch, encounter of about 10 years ago) and, foraging around (in a part of the shop which feels like the back of one of those coastal village shops of the 70s where you'd find find that forbidden mix of 60s porn and American comics cohabiting in shared guilt) I found a box of Pegasus 1/72nd Gladiators which upon being opened (against the rules of the shop, but fuck 'em!) were found to cause that same netball associated tingle of yore. 

And so I have another solo project which has cost me under £20 and has a lot of potential. Indeed my kid brother (he's 40, but as I am nearing 51 he's a kid!) has also grabbed a box and kindly presented me with two wild cats from Irregular Miniatures the other day, so that we can really push the boat out and let the blood flow onto the sand and sawdust of the arena.

About ten days ago, my blood pressure went a bit high and so the memsahib insisted I went to the G.P, which I did on Monday as frankly, I was not feeling at all well. It was just as well as it appears that my arthritis increases my blood pressure and ischemic heart disease is apparently something of an old and hated friend to my family, it having last visited on the day of Partizan last May, dropping my Mother without warning, where she stood and leaving me with a lack of interest in going to shows less I or someone else I knew died as a result (really, it get's you like that).

Anyway the G.P has me at the start of a long road of treatment and investigation, but every twinge and ache in the region of that hard little kernel which purports to be my heart, fills me with dread and sense of impending doom because frankly I have a lot more bolts in my quiver which need to be fired before I can take time off to die.

Now, my sleep has been a little odd as you may imagine, but my dreams have on the whole, been 'interesting' in that as I have done now for decades, I visit analog landscapes that bear no resemblance to the waking world, but which are both familiar and astoundingly constant. It's often nigh time when I visit these places, and the curious thing is that if I fall asleep there, I generally wake up, turn over and when I fall asleep again, I snap awake where I was before in this other plane. For example, I was on a bus in an analog of London, standing up and holding onto the grab rails, when I dropped off to sleep. I woke up in bed, had a sip of water, lay down again and what do you know, I snap awake in London as the bus doors open.

I can take you from a railway station in this dream London, go left, left again into a pedestrianised shopping area, right into a shopping arcade and on exiting, dog-leg left down a long street, take a sharp right and there you have a wargames and model shop (C W Models I think, but as is the way on the other side place names and telephone numbers see to be a problem). Similarly I can take you to a bloody massive store in the analog of Liverpool where there's a serious collection of bagged minis, and to a little arty Hipster square in Sheffield where there's a corner bookshop which is on three floors and has a lovely collection of O.S maps (which are of zero interest to me) on the top floor (watch the low ceiling up there, eh?).

And upon reading this you probably say 'Bollocks!' and you have that right, but several decades of continuity tells me that in some way this is just as real as the world I am sat in as I type this post. 

I've not worked it out, but I genuinely think there's more to it than sleep induced illusion.

what's more, I keep reading or hearing snippets from people who are insinuating that it's possible upon popping this mortal coil for the essence/spirit/soul or whatever you want to call it, to manifest in a place and time to suit the experiencer.

OK, I accept that it may be a stretch, and agree that it is, but in same way as we would suspend our disbelief when we play a game, let's go with the flow and consider what this could mean. Disregard what you might call an over active imagination, and think of a time when you perhaps visited a place for the first time, maybe entering that place from a rail or bus station. You may have a rough idea from a map printed in a magazine advert; you may know such stores as W H Smith, Marks & Spencer etc, but you are undeniably in an environment that you had not visited until now, and which will only become less alien as you explore it now and on future visits. You will build up a map, confidence in commuting across it's landscape and so that place becomes part of your reality. You know it exists, but to someone who has never visited that town, you may be just as easily 'talking bollocks' based on their own frame of reference until you can get them to go there and confirm the things you've said.

So, all things being equal, I view repetitive 'dreams' (visits on my parlance because they are real to me when I am experiencing them) in the same way. I am doing no harm to you or anyone else, and I have a nagging gut feeling that as you get older this kind of thing is in some way preparing you for a moment in your future when you may just find that there is indeed 'something out there'.

Therefore, I'll trust instinct and try to learn and map as much of the other places as I can. Worst case,  I am wrong and once I die it won't matter. Best case, I am right and can have some fun in another place on the other side of the proverbial veil. But if I ignore it, I'll never know.

That said, after the last week or so, I'm understandably cautious.

Note; sleeping with soft earplugs appears to make the experience of dreaming a lot richer.

A little anecdote for you:

 The other week, the memsahib and I were visiting a little antique centre which we have always liked, but since our last visit around 12 months ago, it's closed. So we climbed back in the car and I asked my dear wife to indulge me and go down some back streets in an area that I have never visited in my 51 years in this city because they were a mix of red light district and red brick warehouses and of no interest as a result.

We turned a corner and I loudly exclaimed that this was about as close to the little square with the bookshop of my dreams as you could get, the locale having been gentrified apparently.

Kayte, who has kept an open but justly sceptical mind with regards to my dreaming, admitted that the place unsettled her, but was now convinced by my gut reaction and shock.

So, we go somewhere we know on a whim, find it closed, wander off the beaten track and my dream city and waking city merge. 

OK, I'll take that at face value, file that merged map in my mind and try to remember it for the future.

Which takes me neatly to this week's purchases...

I was listening to a new audiobook as I worked this week, it being a collection of the works of H.P Lovecraft 1926-36 with accompanying notes and essays, putting the works into perspective. I was very pleased when the narrator announced that the next story was 'dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath' which until now for some reason, I never read or listened to.

You can imagine my surprise and unease when I listened to it, given my previous comments above.

But, that then got me thinking about Cal Of Cthulhu and the 'Dreamlands' supplement which has one of those classic Chaosium box illustrations which immediately transfer the viewer to another place and make you want to buy the supplement.

Remember what I said about things being once, so much better? There's proof right there... Look at this box ox the Ringworld box and I challenge you not to want to learn more. Oh, the content, the quality and the imagination. Such a heady mix.

And if you have no reaction to such things you are in my eyes a flint-hearted bastard who'd be better off playing golf or better still, sitting in a bar watching SKY Sports IE: somewhere I'd be unlikely to meet your miserable carcass!

But of course, you are not like that are you? No sir or madam, you understand the aesthetics of a fine game or figure and so, the above description bears no resemblance to you, does it? All is therefore right and proper...

So, I listened to the voices in my head and the rumble of my gut (I'd breakfasted so it was not hunger) and perused a certain online auction site as I waited for some models to dry.

And what would you know... A freshly listed copy of the original Dreamlands box set for £25 on buy it now with the invite to make an offer. So I did and the ofer was accepted, saving me enough to make the temptation that was the 'Fragments Of Fear' supplemental compendium priced at a startling £10.50 just too good to miss.

Synchronicity at work again? 

The subtle mechanics of the real and dreamed, reaching a point of singularity?

Who can tell? But I have my suspicions and so I am understandably very pleased with my purchases.

Following last week's purchase of a bargain-priced fleet of starships, I was again searching the web for similar models when I came across a fleet of FASA and ADB Klingon ships, nicely painted and tagged at £150 or 'make an offer. And so, as sure as food poisoning follows a reheated oyster kebab, I offered £120 or £10 each if you prefer.

And won!

I think you'll agree that they are rather pretty...

Within 24 hours I'd sold the (much improved) fleet I bought last week, for what I paid, (because greed is not always good) and thereby pretty much covered my expenditure on the Klingons.

I'd dallied before with the old Star Trek SCS system from FASA and had a fair bit of fun, but I'd never gone with the miniatures, rather using the beautifully illustrated counters from the game.

This is also one of those synchronicity moments because a couple of weeks ago, I'd started priming the memsahib (not like that sir!) to consider watching the Star Trek movies on our Sunday night 80s flick binges.

It's all connected, I tell you...

And that is about it for this week, I think, as I have to make a shopping list for Hammerhead next Saturday and then cook a Thai curry for tea instead of the traditional Sunday night takeaway, as I try to be a little more careful with the old bod'.

I will close by saying that in my opinion, you should follow your instincts and whims and not allow others to dictate what you play and buy.


PS: As I was signing off, I just received notification that I won a nice big lot of FASA and ADB ships for a trifling £45...

Saturday, 16 February 2019

A Respite From The Big Boys

One thing that I always do when I find something new which interests me and tweaks the geek, is throw myself at it with abandon and all resources, firing the proverbial shotgun out of the back door, hitting lots of things and then sorting what's good for the pot when the smoke clears.

I've reached that point with my 54mm project at present, having amassed a large collection already, and having decided that much of the Indian stuff will be moved on whilst some is added to my British army. I'll probably paint an Indian army myself using plastics, as my next 54mm foray, but in field dress rather than ceremonial.

This coincides with a terrible urge (not involving a Dachshund, a Ferrero Rocher and lubricant, no) to revisit a few old themes, such as starships and 15mm fantasy armies.

I am not sure where this may lead, but 3mm sci-fi is also appealing, so it'll probably end in tears.

What started it was the other day when at a loose end and waiting for some weathering to dry, I  chanced on a nice fleet of adequately painted starships on eBay for the rather tasty sum of £99. I obviously bought them because I've a sweet tooth for these particular dainties. That then got me thinking about other things... And so on and so forth, as is the way.

here are the starships in question. A nice mix of manufacturers, which for me is always nicer for sci-fi fleets... Far more 'proper'.

I'll make a few little adjustments here and there, but as you can see, they're quite fit for purpose.

Now, it may be that I write a little less often for a while, as my blood pressure has been a tad on the high side this week, and yesterday I finished work early (having of course completed my day's work - no fear there) and crawled to bed for a very troubled two hours wherein, I genuinely think I was on the brink of popping this mortal coil. Anyway, my wife was suitably freaked out that she has insisted (believe me, when she does that, she damned well means it!) that I attend the G.P Monday morning at latest. My father also pointed out that it was an undiagnosed heart issue that dropped my mum where she stood last year and that 4 of my recent ancestors have also been on the heart hit list. So, I will be there on Monday, and also trying to slow down a little.

Admittedly, I felt somewhat refreshed by a 1K swim last night, but that's no excuse for not getting checked out.

Ah, for the days when I believed myself immortal.

Anyway, I must sign off as I have to get a few chores done, and also look at the cost of funeral plans.


Thursday, 14 February 2019

And The First of The Great Gnolls Are Finished!

OK Folks... This is the completed initial release of bodies, heads and weapons. Anyone care to work out the number of possible variations, when you take into account the weapon and shield combos?

The drawings are under way for the cavalry , then it's Hobbgoblins, then something insane, then back to Gnolls again for even more variety - All in the approved old school style.

PLEASE : Feel free to share the pics and help me roll out the 'Satanic Panic' ranges from Screaming Mob Miniatures.


Saturday, 2 February 2019

Half An Hour Well Spent

The Cavalry for my British army... Tomorrow I will base the Indian Army cavalry, then onto all of the infantry. This lot represents about 18% of the Britain’s sets I’ve purchased since Christmas.

Friday, 1 February 2019

A Gamer's Prayer...

Walking the Fackham Hall pack on a cold dark morning, often gets me to thinking about matters of the spirit. Quite often I get maudlin, but today, I got a rather heretical but humorous notion as I watched dawn break over the city, the cold numbing my fingers as the dogs wrote a chemical version of War & Peace. I have this very day, composed a gamer's prayer...

E.Gary thou art a legend
Blessed be thy name
Now life is done
Thy rest has come
You roll those dice in heaven
Give us this day our daily quest
Forgive us our chattering
And we’ll forgive those we catch spoiling adventures
Lead us not into Menzoberranzan
And deliver us from the Temple Of Elemental Evil
For thine is the final word
The power of the DM
Forever & ever