Category Archives: WTF???

A’hunting I will go…to find the Carrion Crow…

It’s been pretty desolate lately over at Carrion Crow’s Buffet, with nary a word from our thick-thewed, swarthy hero for nigh on two months. Of course, the Crow has been known to take extended absences before (he has a house on Barsoom, I hear); but we are living in “challenging and uncertain times” (I swear if I hear that one more time I’m going to kill someone), so I grew concerned. I reached out to my friend to see if all was well.

Contacting the Crow is never easy. Through a series of dead-drops, codes left on dead Cold War-era radio broadcasts, packages carried by unwitting agents and clues left in Internet Alternate Reality Games, I finally succeeded. In short, I wanted to know if he was ok.

He responded, but I got the feeling he was pressed for time, as he only sent this one folded photo of himself showing what he’s been up to over the last two months.

I breathed a sigh of relief. As you can see, he has remarkably smooth legs. He also seems to have everything well-sorted and under control. Business as usual.

What the actual fuck.

This was supposed to be a post about miniatures. Really. But, well…that was some fucked-up shit yesterday, wasn’t it?

Several years ago, I watched a movie starring Gerard Butler called “Olympus Has Fallen.” The plot is simple: North Korean terrorists take control of the White House, hold the President and his Cabinet hostage, and threaten the world with America’s nuclear weapons. Gerard Butler is a secret service agent who single-handedly saves the President and restores order to the world. The first ten minutes of the movie show how the terrorists get control of the White House: they basically crash a plane into it, and drive vans up onto the lawn and storm the front door. All the secret service agents who are not Gerard Butler try to stop them; but they’re only armed with 9mm pistols, so it doesn’t go their way, and the North Koreans soon have complete control of the United States government and its nuclear arsenal.

I remember laughing so hard I started tearing up at the sheer absurdity of this premise; but believe it or not, it wasn’t the stupidest part of the movie. That would come later, when President Aaron Eckhardt freely surrenders the nuclear launch codes because he doesn’t want to see the VP or Secretary of State get shot. (I forget which one, but she was female, of course, and therefore needed to be saved.)

Then yesterday happened, and I wasn’t laughing, because I realized that things get a lot easier for terrorists (in this case: white supremacist fascists, not North Koreans) when “security” opens the fucking door for them and waves them in. then lets them just fucking leave after they’ve trashed the place.

As an American, I am humiliated and more than a little concerned. I’d say this isn’t who we are, but it sure seems like it IS who we are now, at least a disturbing percentage of us.

Yesterday was the first time in our country’s history that the Confederate flag flew in the Capitol building. (The Confederate flag is recognized by everyone who isn’t an unrepentant or ignorant racist as a symbol of unrepentant and ignorant racism.) The people responsible for yesterday’s attack on their own country are either easily-led, racist homophobic morons who are too fucking stupid to understand they’re attempting to destroy Democracy and install an idiot king in its place, which is frightening; or they’re not stupid at all, this is exactly what they want, which is much more frightening. What is crystal clear is that they were incited by an unhinged egomaniac who has been enabled by his own party for the last four years; a party all too willing to either ignore or tacitly endorse his racist, misogynistic, nationalistic, deplorable and often blatantly criminal conduct in order to remain in power at all costs, and who now is desperately trying to backpedal and deflect blame.

But make no mistake: we are here because of you fucking assholes. What happened yesterday is humiliating, but sadly, it’s not surprising. This has been coming for a long time. And isn’t it always convenient that it’s “time to move on; no need to assign blame” when you’re clearly the fucking one to blame? Fuck you.

Anyone, Democrat or Republican (but let’s be honest, it won’t be a Democrat) who does not think this is a reason to invoke the 25th Amendment should be publicly condemned. The president should be removed from office immediately. Although there have been many (literally thousands) of instances over the last four years (and over the course of his life prior to that) that demonstrate his unfitness for office, none is more glaring than this. This was an insurrection attempt by a sitting president. There need to be consequences.

Every security officer and official who stood by, who took selfies, who opened barricades, who willfully understaffed Capitol security knowing this could happen; every asshole who is on video breaking a window and was too stupid to wear a mask to hide his/her face; every shithead who broke into the offices of elected officials and subverted the Democratic process; every prick who vandalized public property and who is now bragging about it on social media…should be charged with domestic terrorism. Their actions disrupted the Democratic process and were undertaken with that specific goal. They are not patriots, and not (merely) vandals. They are terrorists and should be charged as such.

They won’t be, of course. And he’ll stay in office for another two weeks.

Because that’s who we are now. Or a disturbing percentage of us, anyway.

Grognard? Me? Guess so.

What is a grognard?

The term “grognard” has traditionally been used to denote an “old soldier”; but has become a pejorative term that, until recently, was used (usually in a good-natured manner) almost solely in the wargaming hobby. It means a “crusty old wargamer-type”; someone who is likely to grumble and complain about new versions of rules and/or miniatures; or about historical accuracy (or more likely, lack thereof); how much better things used to be, like when H. G. Wells’s Little Wars was the only wargame rules in town.

A grognard is a stereotype. This is important to know, because like any stereotype, it is never universally accurate. Most grognards likely arrived at miniature wargaming via the old cardboard counter-filled, massive bookshelf wargames like those put out by Avalon Hill or Victory Games; games that could (and did) often take days or weeks to play. They will happily argue ad infinitum about the brilliance or stupidity of the tactics and strategies of historical generals; or about the differing outcome of historical battles had the terrain or force composition been different, or if something like dysentery hadn’t played a part; or about the correct color of the straps on the uniforms of Hessian mercenaries employed during the American War of Independence (I said the correct color, not the one you painted on your miniatures). They’re also stereotypically frugal (i.e. cheap), especially where miniatures are concerned; most favor the smaller scales (10mm-6mm) because of the relatively low-cost of the miniatures, and also because to a grognard, the actual miniatures are far less important than the game itself. Grognards will play the same historical battle over and over and over again, with little to no variation. They consider this fun. They are notorious gatekeepers to the wargaming hobby, so as you would expect, grognards really only get along with other grognards.

So: am I a grognard? No. Not in the wargaming sense, anyway. (Although I will admit to some frustration at the “new rules every two years” trend in wargaming. But I don’t bitch about it much. I just don’t buy the new rules. I don’t get to play wargames very often nowadays anyway.) However; lately, the term “grognard” has been broadened to include roleplaying gamers. It has been applied in this manner by younger, newer gamers; and it is most certainly meant to be insulting.

This week I’m turning 48. You think I’d have a thicker skin by now, but no. I recently listened to a Technical Difficulties podcast (or perhaps it was The Roleplaying Exchange; they are pretty closely enmeshed with regard to rotating players), and one of the regulars used the term to generalize gamers older than he, implying we were all cut from the same cloth. I felt a knee-jerk resentment to being categorized as a roleplaying grognard because of my age. That’s because I still associate the term with hobby gatekeeping, and I’m not a gatekeeping kind of guy. I like to think I encourage everyone I can. The fact that I find this particular guy smarmy, annoying and a colossal douchebag at the best of times is only part of the reason I immediately wanted to punch him in the fucking face (a sure sign of grognardism if ever there was one).

As near as I can guess, to assholes like this genius, a RPG grognard is defined as a combination of any and/or all of the following:

  • a gamer that was born at any point in the prior millennium; and/or
  • a person who has run or played in a roleplaying game that was published prior to 2010; and/or
  • a person who is old enough and/or educated enough to know the actual definition of the term “grognard”; and/or
  • a person who is aware of who E. Gary Gygax was, who understands that roleplaying games were a thing that existed prior to Critical Role, and that (despite his admitted awesomeness) Matt Mercer didn’t create them; and/or
  • a gamer who remembers a time when roleplaying games, comic books, science fiction, action figures and miniature wargames were all considered nerdy, and it was far from cool to be a nerd; and/or
  • a gamer who remembers there was a time where there was no such thing as the Internet, and rulebooks existed in a form other than pdf, and who perhaps still prefers physical media to electronic; and/or
  • a gamer who doesn’t want anyone new in “their” hobby, because anyone new isn’t doing it right.

I meet all the above criteria except for the last one, plus I want to punch that guy in the face so fucking bad; so I guess, by his standards, anyway, I’m a roleplaying grognard.

But…with a little word-switching Hocus-Pocus, I’m gonna blow your mind and show that gatekeeping isn’t solely a grognard thing to do. (Fun facts: Hocus-Pocus is an olde-tyme word magicians used to use when pulling off tricks, and also the title of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Also, Kurt Vonnegut was a brilliant and transformative writer, in case that wasn’t apparent for all the young’uns out there. See? I can be a dick, too.)

Let’s look at that last criterion there, and let’s switch the word “new” with “old”. Anyone “old” in the hobby isn’t doing it right; so say those new gamers in the hobbies we enjoy who complain most vociferously of grognardism. Hypocritical? Yes. Ironic? Indeed; certainly by Alanis Morrissette’s dubious definition, anyway (Alanis Morrissette is a musician who actually plays musical instruments in addition to singing her own songs, for all you young’uns out there). Gatekeeping? You bet.

So, I’m not doing it right because:

  • As a GM, I prefer roleplaying to roll-playing; but I most often run games in which players roll actual dice to determine the success or failure of their characters’ actions; in other words, there’s a definite game mechanic;
  • As a GM, I will apply appropriate consequences to stupid or ill-considered character actions (e.g. “I kill the wizard’s cat to show him I mean business”);
  • As a GM or a player, I don’t want your ambiguously-aged (but probably too fucking young) anime-inspired “cat-girl”; your sparkly vampire; your over-the-top evil psychopath; your personal kink proxy or your stupid homebrewed were-scorpion character (yes, that actually happened) in my group, regardless of whether you believe it limits your personal expression;
  • As a GM or a player, I will never, regardless of your gender or the gender of your character, roleplay a sex scene with you, whether you think that makes me inhibited and/or intolerant or not (again, yes, that actually happened);
  • As a GM, I prefer you put your fucking phone or tablet away for the duration of the game session; checking it only during breaks or in emergencies, because I consider it rude and disrespectful to your fellow gamers (I know, crazy, right?);
  • As a GM, unless it’s a one-shot or the first time in a new system; I expect you to be somewhat familiar with the setting, the basic rules and your character’s capabilities (e.g. you don’t need to know every episode of Star Trek, but you should at least know what a Klingon is).

The above list is by no means exhaustive. It’s just what I could think about before my Zoom meeting. To the “new” gamers who subscribe to this viewpoint, i.e. that all the above means I’m doing it wrong and therefore am a grognard (especially that asshole on the podcast), I say, loudly and proudly:

Get off my fucking lawn.

My Latest Dumb Idea

Few of us get to be what we wanted to be when we grow up. When I was 5 years old in 1977, I saw Star Wars. I wanted to be a spaceship driver. (My father still has my 5-year-old voice on tape saying so.) Then a few years later, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark; and I wanted to be an archaeologist. Not because I had any interest in the ancient world or the people that lived in it, but because archaeologists used bullwhips to swing on things, and that was what I knew I was meant to do.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll turn 48 years old. There’s still time.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve re-watched all the Indiana Jones movies before they’re due to leave Netflix at the end of the year. I haven’t seen some of them in a long time. Raiders is still the best, followed closely by Last Crusade. Temple of Doom wasn’t bad; and it was better than Crystal Skull for sure. As far as that one…it wasn’t as terrible as I remember it; but it sure wasn’t great, either.

Throughout this re-watch, I began to wonder…how much does a bullwhip cost? Well, settle down, amigos, because this is one rabbit-hole I went down so you don’t have to. Here’s what I discovered about bullwhips.

Bullwhips come in lengths from 6 feet to as long as 16 feet or more. The shorter the whip the easier it is to crack; the longer the whip the tougher it is to handle. Nowadays, the best whips are made from kangaroo hide (whip-cracking is pretty big Down Under); but they still use cowhide, too. Many modern whips are made from paracord. My eyes glazed over while reading about plaits and the “belly” of the whip; I gather it’s important stuff but I didn’t really care. The more plaits a whip has, the more pliable and responsive it is. In other words, the better the quality; kind of like a thread count in sheets. 16 plaits is better than 12, is better than 10, etc.

The general consensus is you get what you pay for, and a decently-made beginner bullwhip will likely cost you around $150 USD for a 6′-8′ whip, $250 for anything over 10 feet. (One thing is certain, the cheap whip I use when I dress in my Catwoman costume won’t work. Enjoy that image.)

So, I got to thinking about the practicalities of buying a whip.

I’m 6’1″ tall and I have plenty of backyard space, so I would likely try my hand at an 8′-10′ whip. Anything smaller and I would probably whip myself (which is apparently something you better get used to doing, especially in the beginning); anything larger would require Herculean strength that, at my advanced age, I sadly no longer possess. As a general rule, I don’t believe in buying cheap shit; for example, when I needed a reciprocating saw a couple of years ago, I bought the good one. A worker is only as good as his tools, after all. (In my case, my tools are usually much better than my level of skill would require.) In other words, I’m looking at spending about $250.00 USD to start this new hobby of mine; i.e. the hobby of whipping stuff.

I began to look at whips, and research whip manufacturers. Based on my recently acquired expertise and on the opinions of anonymous (but no doubt wise) Internet whippers all around the world, I dismissed inferior (or what I considered inferior) whips outright and homed in on the good quality bullwhips; the ones that must be better because they cost more. If I was gonna do this, I was gonna do it right, damn it.

As my collection of unpainted miniatures proves, resisting impulse buys has never been a strength of mine. But I generally pause when I’m about to spend over 200 bucks on anything. I decided I’d sleep on it. I did, and by the next morning I had pretty much forgotten about my whip obsession completely.

At least until about a week later, when I was shopping on Amazon, and this blue paracord bullwhip popped up in my “suggestions for you based on your browsing activity” window. I thought nothing of it, believing I was alone. Until…

“What’s that?” I heard from behind me.

“Nothing,” I said. I suddenly felt like I got caught watching porn.

“Why are you looking at whips?”

I shrugged. I resisted the urge to turn around. The silence was deafening. It seems an answer was expected. I began to wish I had been caught watching porn instead.

I sighed, and it all came out of me. I confessed the whole thing. I blabbed about how my re-watch of the Indiana Jones movies led to my new bullwhip obsession, which led me to research buying a bullwhip, because I know could get really good with one and that would be cool, and I’ve always wanted to be an archaeologist and…”

“Oh, please.”

Two words. That’s all it took.

That was when I began to reconsider the whole bullwhip purchase; to think about a better way to spend $250.00.

I thought about the utility and practicality of becoming a bullwhip adept. What do you use a bullwhip for, really? I mean, Indiana Jones is quite skilled with his; but I suppose that there may be a bit of creative license there. Am I going to whip someone? No. It’s not exactly a weapon ideal for home defense. You can’t swing a bullwhip in the house (I certainly wouldn’t be allowed to, even if I could); and unless I’m attacked in my backyard by someone who is taking their sweet time approaching me, it’s not a good option there, either. Can you really swing on a whip? Probably. The initial swing would be fun, but getting your whip untangled from the ground is probably going to be more of a pain in the ass than the trip was worth in the first place.

Whips make a loud noise. That’s about it. I have to assume the novelty of making a loud noise will wear off quickly, probably the first time I injure myself. And self-injury is pretty much assured. Whips hurt; that’s why being flogged is generally considered an unpleasant experience.

So, knowing what I know about me, here’s what would have likely happened had I gone ahead with this:

I would have gleefully uncoiled my new whip and tried to crack it. I would do this until I cracked it successfully, or more likely until my arm got tired or I cut my own flesh. Then I would either get bored or get upset, depending on whether I cracked it or cut myself. I would put the whip down and not pick it up again. Occasionally, I would glare at it, remembering that I spent two hundred fifty dollars on it.

That would be a really fucking stupid thing to do, so I’m not doing it.

In a hole in the ground there lived a piper…

It’s not exactly a hobbit-hole, but it’s comfy enough. That’s where I’ve been spending my time lately. Every time I come out I can’t seem to get back down there fast enough.

Obviously I haven’t been here at the Tavern in a while. I’m just not motivated. Not for hobby stuff; I’ve been doing plenty of that. In fact it’s about the only thing that’s keeping me sane. I’m just not motivated to write about anything lately. I think the state of the world and of my country in particular is finally getting to me.

My country, in case anyone doesn’t know, is Bizarro World. Everything is fucking upside-down and backwards, and has been for four years and counting. But don’t worry. I’m pretty sure it’ll be over in a month if not sooner, when my country completely fucking explodes. I’ve never been happier about not having any children.

Dead Dick’s Tavern is generally a politics-free zone. No one comes here for my opinions on why science is a good thing; why putting children in cages is a bad thing; why deploying secret police on peaceful protesters is a bad thing; why endorsing overtly racist supremacist groups are a bad thing, why health care for everyone is a good thing; why shooting unarmed people in their own homes is a bad thing; and why arguing about wearing a mask when over 200,000 people and counting in my country alone are dead from a virulent, airborne plague is the supreme height of fucking stupidity.

That debate…what a fucking fiasco. Jesus.

So, I will stay in my basement, I guess. It has my miniatures, my video games, my gaming table. (I’ve had a solo game set up and ready to go for a month, but thus far haven’t felt the urge.) Unlike an actual hobbit-hole, it doesn’t have a bedroom, a kitchen or a bathroom. So I will have to ascend from time to time.

As I said, I am still painting miniatures. I post them on my Instagram page, because not every one is worthy of a blog post. Check it out if you like; there’s a link in the sidebar.

I’ll probably play that game at some point. Then I will post an After Action Report. I’m also planning on running a game of Slasher Flick before Halloween. Perhaps I’ll write about that, too.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy, everyone.

My Dinner with Mugato

The following excerpt is from my forthcoming book, Domo Arigato, Mr. Mugato, soon to be available at fine booksellers everywhere.

From a small part in a popular 60’s science fiction show to the entertainment tour-de-force he is today, Mugato has been a giant on stage and screen over the last five decades. I caught up to him in London, where he was in the midst of a two-month engagement at the Southwark Playhouse. His portrayal of Torvald in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House has been called a masterclass in the Stanislavsky method.

AP: Mr. Mugato. It’s truly an honor. Thank you for meeting with me.

M: Please. Call me Mugato.

AP: Thanks. Sorry, I’m just a little nervous.

M: Don’t worry. I don’t bite. Not anymore, anyway (laughs).

AP: Do you mind if we talk about Star Trek?

M: Why would I mind?

AP: Well, it’s just that some people have said…

M: That I don’t like talking about it? Nah. I’d like to think I’ve done better work, that’s all.

AP: Of course. But…

M: Ask your questions, kid.

The role that started it all…

AP: Do you remember how you got the part?

M: Right place, right time, I guess. In ’67 I was working as a caterer in the Hollywood hills. Serving drinks, wiping tables…you know. One night I was working a party at Roddenberry’s house. He must have liked my look, because he told me to come to Desilu the next day. Couple of hours after that, I was tackling Bill Shatner on planet Mongo, or wherever the hell they were that week (laughs).

AP: And from there a star was born.

Mugato and Lucille Ball.

M: Not quite…I got offered a lot of parts after that, became the toast of the town. Everyone wanted me around. I was Hollywood royalty. But then came the seventies…

AP: Right. The blacklisting, because of the war.

M: Well, they didn’t call it that, not officially. Everyone was still raw from the fifties. But, Jane (that’s Jane Fonda; I call her Jane) Jane and I sure as hell couldn’t get any good work once everyone found out how we felt about the war. If that’s not a blacklist, I don’t know what it is.

AP: Still, you managed to find work…

M: Sure. My unique look gave me an advantage. I’m lucky. I’m a humanoid, apelike creature with a lethally venomous bite, so obviously I can play just about anything. It’s tough to typecast me, so no one ever tried. Melvin hired me, then Russ…it was an interesting time.

AP: You mean Melvin Van Peebles? And Russ Meyer, right?

M: You got it. Mel gave me that part in Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Russ gave me the lead in Watch It Jiggle.

AP: Do you regret any of those movies?

M: Nope. Both gave me the chance to show my range as an actor, and Russ helped me understand that I like boobs. (Chuckles).

AP: About that…over the years you’ve been linked romantically to Raquel Welch, Uschi Digard and Serena Grandi, to name a few. But the most persistent rumor is that Carly Simon’s famous song, You’re So Vain, is about you. Is it?

M: I dunno. We dated for a while. You’d have to ask Carly. Anyway, I don’t kiss and tell.

AP: In an April, 1987 interview with Cinema Verite, Stanley Kubrick claimed that the five greatest actors of the last 100 years were Olivier, Welles, Streep, Day-Lewis…and Mugato.

M: I saw it. That was kind of Stan to say.

AP: What do you think?

M: I mean, I’m flattered, but I think Bobby D and Marlon got screwed (laughs).

AP: Yet you never worked with Kubrick, even though it’s rumored he had you in mind for Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.

M: Yeah…Stan thought I’d be all over that because of my not-so-private stance on Vietnam. But I was ready to move on from that. I was doing a lot of coke at the time, too. That’s probably what cost me the lead in Children of a Lesser God earlier that year. Still, Bill Hurt did ok, I guess. So did D’onofrio.

AP: That brings us to the nineties…

M: Yeah, look…not to be rude, but I have a curtain call in 10 minutes. I do mostly theatre now. Back to basics. But remember, I didn’t get my start in the theatre. I’m doing things in reverse. Make sure you write that in your book.

AP: OK, one last question?

M: Sure.

AP: Why don’t you go to Star Trek conventions?

M: You’re kidding, right? (sighs). Look, I was practically a kid when Star Trek aired. Bill, De, Leonard…they were ok to me, but I wouldn’t call them my friends. Jimmy Doohan and I once ran into each other over at Pink’s, getting hot dogs. That was years later. By then I was a bigger name than him. But hey, Jimmy was all right.

The short version is that those guys and me…we only worked together long enough for me to attack Kirk and then get disintegrated. There wasn’t much chance of a recurring role after that happens to your character, and I was in demand elsewhere. I guess I’ll always be grateful to Roddenberry for giving me my shot. But I took it and managed to do pretty well. I managed to make some decent coin in this business, and I’m not looking back. Those conventions are just…sad. Anyway, thanks for dropping by, kid.

Thus, for a brief time, I had been in the presence of a master of his craft. I still had a million other questions for Mugato, but that was undeniably a dismissal. Regretfully, I shook his three-clawed paw and took my leave.

Monster May(hem) is winding down, and I’m happy to say I still have one more contribution to make, most likely on the last day. But…it’s my big ‘un this year, so if all goes well I will be happy indeed.

Be sure to check out all the other participants. Harry posted some pictures of his completed High Elf Dragon, Matt made the most terrifying (and clever) monster of all, and Ken completed a couple of Displacer Beasts that look great! That just leaves His Crow-ness, and I have faith he’ll deliver by the end of the month. (But even if he doesn’t, he’s been up to some pretty impressive Dr. Who gaming and diorama-making over on his site. You should go there and see.)

Blogroll

Roger, aka Dick Garrison, from Rantings From Under the Wargames Table

Dave Stone from Wargames Terrain Workshop

Matt from PMPainting

Coyotepunc from Coyotepunc’s Creativity

Ken from Blue Moose Arts

Jeremy, aka Carrion Crow, from Carrion Crow’s Buffet

Harry from War Across the Ages

You can find links to all these blogs (and others) in the sidebar as well!

Scary Times.

I, like many others, am working from home for the foreseeable future. Everything is so uncertain, it’s quite stressful. I worry about friends, loved ones, and, to be honest, myself. All any of us can do is what the doctors and scientists (note I did not say politicians) tell us: stay at home, flatten the curve, and wash your damn hands.

The general consensus among gamers is that this is a prime opportunity to work on all those projects you’ve been saying you would, if only you had the time. Well, now many of us have more time than we know what to do with, although there won’t be much gaming going on (at least none that involves other people).

Atom Smasher from Tabletop Minions put up a pretty good video about this. He also suggests it’s a prime time to play with new techniques and to develop some skills you may otherwise not want to spend valuable hobby time doing; such as learning to sculpt (I hate green stuff). It’s worth a watch.

My problem is loss of focus. It’s just too hard to think about anything other than what’s on the news lately. I haven’t painted a miniature in months; all my time is either spent watching TV or playing The Witcher 3; which is a huge time-sink that greatly helps me to tune out. The problem is that although it’s fun, when I’m done playing it I won’t have anything to show for my efforts other than fond memories. On the other hand, if I actually get off my ass and do some hobbying, I may have a completed project or two when this is all over.

In the meantime, we are left with some sobering decisions. Most miniatures companies are small operations, and many are not full-time enterprises. They’re being hurt especially hard by the situation worldwide. As many of us are living on reduced income, how feasible is it to support the hobby industry, much of which is struggling right now? One position is that we should save what we can to weather our own tough times, another is to throw a few bucks at your friendly game company to support them.

True, it’s not like most of us don’t have a ton of unpainted lead already; and that may be justification enough not to buy anything new. But I say, if you can afford it, spend a little. It might make the difference between a company being able to survive and one that’s not around in a few months. If your FLGS is still open (mine isn’t), this goes double for them; brick and mortar places are going to be among the worst casualties of forced closures.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do. I have a few options. I’m waffling between what I think would be the most fun and what I think would be the most practical. With that in mind, I’ve constructed a strategic plan to weather the storm:

  1. Make a list of all the projects you’re considering.
  2. Rate them from 1-5 (5 being best) in the following areas: Fun, Gaming Potential. (If you don’t like my categories, then choose your own). This will give you a total score between 2-10.
  3. Total your scores. The highest scores are the projects that will most likely be the ones you want to do.

My projects are:

  1. Gaslands Cars/Terrain : Fun: 3 Potential: 5 Total: 8
  2. Old West Miniatures/Terrain: Fun: 4 Potential: 3 Total: 7
  3. Wargames Factory Shock Trooper Army: Fun:3 Potential: 2 Total: 5
  4. Clan War Miniatures: Fun: 4 Potential: 0 Total: 4
  5. Old School Miniatures: Fun: 5 Potential: 0 Total: 5
  6. Spaceship/Dungeon Tiles for Gaming: Fun: 1 Potential: 5 Total: 6
  7. Star Trek Miniatures: Fun:3 Potential: 5 Total: 8
  8. Warhammer 40K Orks: Fun: 3 Potential: 0 Total: 3
  9. Warhammer Fantasy Empire: Fun: 3 Potential: 0 Total: 3
  10. Space Hulk: Fun: 3 Potential: 2 Total: 5

A quick look at the totals, and the things with the highest scores are Star Trek and Gaslands, both of which are already on my desk, followed by Old West miniatures and scenery which has been a project I’ve put off for a long time. Since it also has a decent potential for gaming, this looks like it’s going to be my main project. Because I’m kind of Trekked out at the moment, I’m going to finish up what I’m doing and devote most of my attention to Old West stuff.

BUT: the project that would be the most fun for me would be a return to some Old School Miniatures. Although I never paint these with the intent to game with them, I do enjoy the nostalgic aspect of painting stuff I painted as a kid. So I think I’ll do some of these, too. The project that would be most practical (but not much fun), is the construction of gaming tiles. This may have to wait, as I don’t have an inkjet printer that I want to drain dry, and I don’t have any 2-ply cardboard. It would be a good project to do while doing other things, if I only had the materials. Bummer.

I have some other projects in mind. This shit happened right as I was trying to get my Star Trek RPG off the ground, and I’m not ready to abandon that just because I can’t be in the same place as my players. I’m going to attempt to keep the game going through Roll20.net. Perhaps I’ll be able to find some new players that way, too!

The Search for Carrion Crow…

Shortly after his most recent blogpost, dated August 19th, my friend and co-miniatures enthusiast Carrion Crow mysteriously vanished from the blogosphere. He left behind no trace.

After several weeks with no sign, I grew concerned. After a month, I was in a full panic. I dispatched search parties to find him. Only one man returned; bloody, disheveled, incoherent and clearly mad. I barely had time to press some cold water to his lips before he gave a final shudder and died. I marveled he was able to make it back to me in such a state.

Upon looting his corpse, I found a dog-eared and ratty notebook in his pocket. Amid the scribblings and diagrams of an unhinged mind I was able to piece together the following theories as to my friend’s whereabouts:

  1. He is currently leaping about on the planet Barsoom, sword in one hand and the willowy, slender waist of a beautiful Martian princess held tightly in the other,  a wild smile on his lips and the love of battle in his heart.
  2. He is currently trapped in a neon, digital reality, where he is forced daily to duel Bruce Boxlitener with illuminated discuses.
  3. He is in an extra-dimensional, mythical city preparing himself to battle an ancient dragon so that he may absorb and channel its power, making his fist “like unto a thing of iron”.
  4. He is travelling through time portals in the company of a band of robber dwarfs, who are fleeing a superior being from whom they have stolen the map of Time itself.
  5. He is being held against his will in a remote coastal village, where he is under constant threat of being pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.

One of these is almost certainly true. Personally, having come to know the Crow’s ways over the last couple of years, I feel strongly that it is #1. Thus, when I look skyward at the red planet, it is with no small amount of envy.

May you return safely and in your own time, my friend.

What the F–k?????

I am a fortunate man, in that I have a man-cave wherein I keep all manner of things that make me happy. Naturally, I spend an unhealthy amount of time there. It’s called my basement, and pretty much every day after work until about 7:30-8:00 pm, that is where I am most likely to be found. I can also be encountered there between 5:00-7:30 am most weekdays, almost all day (and often night) on the weekends, and at sporadic times in between. Because my basement does not have a bathroom, I am required to visit my house above sometimes.

Here is an example of one of the aforementioned things that make me happy. It is a glass curio case, made by Ikea. I have 6 of these in my basement. They are full of my painted miniatures. From time to time I regard them critically. From time to time I remove them from the cases and play games with them. Often I take note that I have a shitload of miniatures and should probably stop buying more. But that’s another story…

Last night was a pretty typical evening. I painted for a while and went upstairs at the usual time, returning to the basement around 11 to put my cell phone in its charger.  All was well. Then I went to bed.

This morning, at around 5:30, I descended into my basement. My bare foot encountered something on the floor. I bent down to retrieve it and discovered it was a small piece of glass, roughly cube shaped. Channeling my brother, I scratched my head and muttered the title of this post aloud.

Then I turned and scanned the room.

This is what I found.  Upon this discovery, I exclaimed the title of this post aloud.

It seems that between the hours of 11 pm and 5:30 am, the door to one of these cases shattered. My question is: how?

The door is completely demolished, as you can see. It seems to have spontaneously exploded. For the life of me I cannot figure out how or why.

I do not have any offspring, so the rambunctious antics of children are not to blame. I do not have any pets. Neither did anyone break into my house overnight to smash the door of a miniatures display case and then leave my house without stealing or disturbing anything else. There was no reported seismic activity that I am aware of. Neither was there a temperature or barometric pressure change in my basement severe enough to cause glass to shatter so completely. I have not had reason to open this case in at least 2 weeks, more like a month.

It just broke. Overnight. Spontaneously. And it left a pretty huge mess.

No, I did not hear it shatter, but that’s hardly surprising as I sleep a full two stories above my basement, and the basement door is always closed. I have yet to assess the damage, if any, to the miniatures in the case.

Do I have a poltergeist?

 

Games Workshop: WTF?

Like many FLGS’s, one of the local stores I patronize regularly has had to come up with inventive ways of competing with online discounters. This place has loads of old lead, including lots of GW stuff from the past 10 years or so, still new in the box. His compete strategy is simple: if you buy anything other than GW, he gives you a gift certificate for 30% of the purchase value towards anything in the store aside from GW stuff. For GW stuff, he gives you a $20 gift certificate for every $100 you spend.

That’s a pretty good deal, I would say. Or is it? It sure is as far as the non-GW stuff goes. But for the GW stuff, I’m not so sure.

Let me explain.

I recently accrued $100 worth of GW purchases at the store, so I had a $20 credit burning a hole in my pocket. I don’t buy any of the new stuff, since I never play the games anymore. What did I buy? Lots of individual regiment boxes for armies I don’t play, mainly for use in skirmish games and as cannon fodder for my AD&D game. For example, I bought a unit box of Empire Swordsmen for $30 there (I told you he has a lot of stuff still new in box, priced according to when he ordered them…in this case I’d say about 8 years ago or so.) I also bought a bunch of metal miniatures considering he sells all his old metal GW stuff for half price.

Well, I now have a gaming table that I’m hoping gets a lot of use. I have a couple of armies  for both their games, but like many gamers I always consider more. So yesterday I went to the store, thinking I might plop down a decent chunk of change on a battalion box, either for 40K or WFB. Why not? He has some battalion boxes from 8-9 years ago still on the shelf, and they’re priced accordingly as low as $90. Take $20 off that, and it’s starting to look like a deal, depending on the army you pick.

I looked at all the battalion boxes he had for sale for both games, and let me tell you, there’s a huge difference in what you get for what you spend, both across armies and across time.

He had two versions of the Empire Battalion box. (Since I already bought a box of swordsmen, I considered getting a battalion and having an Empire army ready to go.) Both versions contained 20 State Troops, 10 Handgunners, and 8 Reiksguard Knights. One also came with a Cannon and crew, the other came with 10 Greatswords instead. The Cannon was the cheaper choice: it was $90. The Greatswords cost $105. (This is the current version available on the GW website.) Maybe a little expensive, but not a terrible deal, considering you get over 40 miniatures per box.

The best deal I found was a Skaven Battalion, which contained 40 Clanrats, 20 Plague Monks, 2 Rat Ogres with Handler, and 2 Rat Swarms with Handlers for $115. These are the old syle Skaven, not the new ones. But with over 60 miniatures, it’s not a bad deal.

But these are either old WFB Battalions, or they’re the exception. The newer ones have fewer figures. and they cost more. And they changed the game itself to favor more miniatures and bigger units.

As far as old 40K Battalions went, the ones with the most miniatures for the money were the Tyranids and the Tau. I don’t want or need more Tyranids, and I don’t know anything about the Tau. Maybe if he had one of the older Tau codices there I would have considered buying it since it was priced at $90 and included 10 Fire Warriors, 3 Stealth Suits, 1 Battlesuit, 1 Devilfish Tank, and 12 Kroots. But I’m not buying a new codex for $45, and I don’t even own the latest version of the game.

This month GW released the new Eldar models, and everyone is outraged at the price hike. The Eldar Battalion is especially egregious. You get a total of 17 miniatures: 10 Guardians, 5 Dire Avengers, a Viper Jetbike, and a Wave Serpent tank. For $115. Now, GW will have its fanboys who think this is “really a good deal for what you’re getting, especially given the quality of the models”, but that’s just bullshit. And yeah, you get a tank. Big fucking deal. See the Tau above. 15 troops does not a Battalion make. They used to sell WFB regiments of 20 miniatures for 30 bucks! I know: I just bought some!

So, back to my original question: is $20 off already inflated prices actually a good deal? Or has GW’s pricing plan pretty much invalidated what this poor store owner is trying to do? By anyone’s estimation, 20 bucks off is a pretty good deal. Unless you’re paying way too much for what you’re getting to begin with. Not the owner’s fault, but he’s the one who stocks the items and has to deal with the crap from people who hate GW’s prices, who then buy from someone online. As he put it to me yesterday, “People only come to me if I’m their last resort. They need it tomorrow or something like that.”

Despite what you may think, this isn’t really a rant on GW’s prices, although any discussion about GW is bound to get around to pricing eventually (and it’s not hard to see why). It’s a speculation about what the fuck GW is really doing. Let me repeat that: this is pure speculation. I have no real knowledge of GW’s business plan or goals.

For retailers, there are already a ton of restrictions when it comes to selling GW stuff, even online. Recently, I have heard that the War Store has had to stop selling GW bits or risk losing the ability to sell GW at all, which they do for 20% off already, although they are forbidden to show any prices and/or merchandise on the site. How long do you think that will continue? And if the War Store and online sellers are having problems with the restrictions, how much trouble do you think the FLGS owner in his brick and mortar place can ever begin to compete? He can’t, really. Unless he’s a GW store.

Which makes me wonder if GW is actually trying to price the retailer out of the market, so that anyone who wants to buy GW stuff will have to buy directly from GW. it seems like a dumb idea, but is it really? No more wholesale sales to retailers, and they can charge what they want. While they can’t control the secondary market, they can make all the new stuff impossible to get for less than whatever they want to charge. While it cuts their third-party distribution network and limits exposure to their games, they have enough money to open new stores. Seems like a shitty business practice to me, but what do I know? All I know is FLGS owners everywhere aren’t moving GW stuff as much as they should, because most people consider retail too expensive and get it online for cheaper. What if that suddenly went away? Who would benefit?

I’m really trying to figure out GW’s game plan here. It reminds me of something that happened in the mid-90’s, when I was working in a comic book store. Anyone familiar with the crash of the comics market in the 90’s knows there were plenty of bad marketing ideas that capitalized on collectors’-especially new collectors’-unrealistic expectations of the “guaranteed” value of comics increasing over time. Thus there were gimmicky covers, multiple covers of the same issue (buy them all to have a complete collection!), price hikes, gratuitous cameos of “hot” characters and crossover storylines intended to dive sales of shitty books. That, coupled with the decision of Marvel Comics to distribute their own stuff exclusively, meant that Joe Retailer no longer enjoyed the big wholesale discount he got from buying all his Marvel and everything else from a third-party distributor. DC soon followed suit and became exclusive to one distributor, so now Joe Retailer had to order from more places, which means he ordered less from each, which means he paid more overall. To make matters worse, eventually the collectors stopped buying into the crap, and a lot of comic shops went out of business when they couldn’t move the merchandise they ordered two months previously in anticipation of collector demand that was suddenly no longer there.

Shortly before the big crash, though, Marvel started advertising something called “Marvel Mart” in their comics, which was a way for the individual collector to order from Marvel directly. As I recall, it was packaged in a way that implied the comic shop was an unreliable way to get your comics on time and in good condition. Plus, if you ordered directly, you saved money, since it was cheaper than Joe Retailer. Well, comic store owners went ballistic, since it seemed that Marvel was trying to drive them out of business. If I remember correctly, Marvel relented and Marvel Mart went away, mainly because Marvel didn’t expect the backlash from retailers. After all, Marvel comics accounted for something like 70% of comic sales at the time. Take that away, and how can an owner survive? Most didn’t. The store I worked at survived for a time on Magic: the Gathering card sales. Then it went out of business, too.

Much as I love playing other games, for most people GW is synonymous with miniatures gaming, for better or worse.  I have to think that this will hit the wall at some point, but that wall just keeps getting pushed back.

I didn’t buy anything yesterday after all, although I am considering the older Empire Battalion and/or maybe the Tau, if I can find the older codex. I still have two WFB armies I’m working on (which means I haven’t made much progress). I just feel bad for this store owner and others like him, who are really struggling and fighting an uphill battle. To be fair, it’s not just GW’s fault; they just have the worst prices. Amazon sells X-Wing stuff for a lot less than retail, for example. It wasn’t too long ago I considered opening a store of my own. With the current state of the market, I’d be rolling some heavily-loaded dice if I did. I just think it’s sad that the little guy might not be around too much longer.