Sunday, 31 March 2013

Probability for Wargamers 10 - roll 3, keep worst

Another popular game mechanic - roll M dice, keep the best or worst N. D&D players should be familiar with it, as roll 4 dice, keep 3 was one of the more popular ways of rolling stats. In this case, though, the discussion cropped up on the TFL list, in respect of artillery fire in They Couldn't Hit An Elephant, their set of divisional/corps level ACW rules.

The discussion (and someone from the list will no doubt correct me if I missed the main thrust of it) revolves around breaking up groups of guns into sections, and how unrealistically bad the resulting likely effects are. A four gun battery gets 2d6: the game mechanics for a two gun section (only getting 1d6) result in it being fundamentally ineffective against infantry in line.

[Aside: one preferred notation for 3d6 keep lowest 2 is 3d6l2, which I'll use from here on in.]

Let's look at the basic odds for the 'roll 3 hits, keep the worst two'. I don't think this is what TCHAE uses, but Napoleon at War is fond of similar mechanisms.

2d6: success on a 4: each dice has a 1/2 chance of a success, so:
  • 1/4 chance of no successes
  • 1/2 chance of one
  • 1/4 chance of two
Expected number of successes = (1/4 x 0 + 1/2 x 1 + 1/4 x 2) = 1, probability of two successes 1/4,

1d6: successes on a 4: you have a 1/2 chance of one success, expected number of successes = 1/2, probability of two hits 0.

Fair enough. Now let's try 3d6 (you should have paid enough attention in the previous posts to work this one out!)
  • 1/8 chance of 0
  • 3/8 chance of 1
  • 3/8 chance of 2
  • 1/8 chance of 3
But what we actually want is to take the worst two, which becomes
  • 1/2 chance of 0 (1/8 chance of 0 + 3/8 chance of 1 successs reducing to 0)
  • 3/8 chance of 1 (2 successes reducing to 1)
  • 1/8 chance of 2 (3 successes reducing to 2)
And our expected number of successes is 5/8 with an 1/8 chance of two. Interesting!

I'll leave the detail for success numbers of 5 and 6 to you.

More interestingly, perhaps - I suspect (not having seen the rules) that TCHAE actually uses a IABSM-style fire table, so in fact what we're interested in is a proper 3d6l2. I'll leave the detailed maths to you, but here's the table and graph of chance of rolling >= a given target on both 2d6 and 3d6l2.

>= on 2d6
>= on 3d6l2

(note, the probability of rolling 12 on 3d6l2 is actually just under 0.5%, hence rounding to 0%)

The interesting points - the 50% value moves from just over 7 to just under 6, but the odds on getting a 7 drop from 58% to almost half that - 32% - as the curve drops off quite steeply compared to the straight 2d6 roll.
blue = 2d6, green = 3d6l2

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Battle Report - 21-March-2013 - Dux Britanniarum

Finally, the first battle (rather than raid) of Andy and my Dux Britanniarum campaign. Aelfric's been acclaimed Warlord, so he can now bring the Britons to battle. The evening didn't start well, as while fetching stuff from my workshop I managed to drop the entire box of my Saxons, which resulted in my first half hour at the club being spent reattaching spears and shields, and in a couple of cases heads. Ouch.

Anyway, so... We roll for choice of terrain, almost getting a river (it requires a tied roll, which we haven't managed since the demo game Rich Clarke ran for us!), but Andy gets first choice, picks a big hill (wisely) and a couple of big woods (perhaps less so). I add another smaller wood, the infamous stone circle and an inconsequential smaller hill. The main bit of terrain moving that happens (after its been placed) is that Andy moves the hill (I guess so I can't), and then I move two bits of wood as close to it as I can.

Andy's rather cramped deployment.
We roll for deployment: I get the centre, Andy his right flank, which puts a lot of trees in his face, and means his basic choices are to come round the woods or sidestep across and take the hill.

Before that, though, comes the pre-game phase. I win initiative, and roll for Aelfric's pre-battle speech - given I have a Scop (Oswulf the bard) I get a +1, which results in me getting +1 on Aelfric's leadership rating for the day: added to his +1 for being a Master of Arms (I've lost count of how many times I forget that in the heat of battle) means he's contributing five dice to combat. Andy goes for petitioning the gods, and gets a good result - +2 on his Force Morale, which he needs, given he rolled badly and he's one down for losing the previous raid.

My turn again: I decide its time for a challenge. Andy can refuse at cost of 3 Force Morale, which he can ill afford, so Godric goes up against Bedwyr. It's a bit of a lottery, is the champions' challenge, a dice game with some skill and bluff involved. I roll dreadfully in my first round, and no better in the next few, and Godric ducks out of the fight: -2 Force Morale to me. Andy very wisely decides not to tempt fate any further and start the battle.

This is what us Saxons call 'a target'.
The opening few runs through the deck basically see Andy take the hill and then lose two of his hearthguard to long range shots from Lavinia's archers (rolling boxcars for the two casualty rolls didn't help!). Meanwhile, I start my hearthguard working round the left flank behind the trees. I get excellent dice for this, getting to the far side of the wood in about four turns, while my three groups of warriors basically line up at the bottom of the hill and wait.

"Odin! Odin!...."
I have to admit, I'm not looking forward to the likely fight at this point - as long as Andy stays on the hill and doesn't break his formation up, I'm attacking upslope against a shieldwall, which means he's ignoring my first kill and he gets to allocate my hits as he wants. To give him something to think about, I peel off Ecgwine and a group of 8 warriors, and send them round the right flank, so now he has two flanks to worry about.

The Britons defend the hill.
Don't fancy charging up that hill.
It takes my hearthguard two turns to make it through the wood onto the left-hand slope of the hill. Andy elects to come off the hill to take them on. I'll refrain from comment, but draw your attention to the picture caption on the second-last picture on his report of this battle, and the following two pictures, the latter particularly not being one for those of a sensitive disposition. Let's just say it was a +6 win to the Saxons and leave it at that.

Not a pretty sight.
We reconvene after Salute, when the Britons will attempt to break the siege of Caer Lind Colun, and the Saxons will have another group of warriors at their disposal. I haven't yet decided whether to spend more money on more mercenaries.

Friday, 29 March 2013

"To Britain's Shores" - Chapter 7 part 2 - the Battle of Heatham Wold

Part 2: Battle

I grab a spear off Theobald, who usually carries several. At least I can wield it two-handed if my wrist isn't up to swinging a sword. Aelfric leads the way at an easy lope round the far side of the woods. "If they come our way, we're in trouble...", I point out.

He nods. "Aye. But they won't." A grin, and he taps the side of his nose. "Like I told you. They're over fond of that shieldwall of theirs, and they'll want to make us fight them uphill with numbers on their side. And they think we're a bunch of crazy heathens who'll just charge their front."

His confidence is infectious. I flex my wrist against its tight strapping, wince a bit. "But we'll still have to fight them on the hill."

Aelfric just grins. "Sure. But fighting on three sides at once, their shieldwall's not worth much."

"Be careful." 
I smile at Ecgwine. He always says that now: it's something of a ritual between us. "You too. May the Christ watch over you." I touch my fingers to my lips, to the cross I'd given him, now hanging from a thong round his neck, then bend to pick up my bow and quiver, and start walking. No goodbyes. It would be an admission that we might not be coming back. "Sithric, Marcus, Wulfstan, to me." We set off at a quick run to the stone circle, Beornwulf's band and Cormac's group of shirtless, blue-painted spearmen to our left, Ecgwine's larger group to our right. It's a measure of how much he's gone up in Aelfric's sight that he has a dozen or more under him now, and old Theobald isn't needed to mind him any more.  
Wulfstan, the youngest of the three, pauses as we step inside the circle of upright, mossy grey stones, turns back to look at me, eyes wide. "Is this safe, Lavinia?"
I've been wondering the same, but I'm not about to let on, make my voice firm and sure. "The Christ is stronger than the old gods." Not that it stops me making the sign of the cross when Wulfstan turns away. After all, if He's stronger, how come the Saex and their thunder God are beating the Christian Britons? 
We take up positions using the overgrown stones as cover, wait. Up onto the hill come the Britons' hearthguard, strong, tall, with spears, shields with Christ's symbols on. I choose a shaft, touch fingers to my cross and then its point, nock it, take in a breath and draw, slow and even as old Sextus taught me. Sithric and I loose at about the same time, the others a heartbeat or two later, and two of the Britons stumble and fall, one clutching at an arrow in his throat.  
"Fine shootin', for sure, lass..." Cormac, skirting the edge of the woods to our left with his little knot of javelinmen, blue and white striped trews clearly visible amid the undergrowth.  
I just grin at him, wait for another target, but the Britons look alarmed, one pointing at us, and begin to edge back.  Beornwulf's men move across our line of sight, joining up with Ecgwine's, and when next I have chance to look across one of the wild Irishmen is down, the rest hurling their light spears at the Britons' archers before skirting further along the edge of the wood. I beckon to my little group. "To me: across to the woods..." It'll give us a better line of sight on the hill, and besides, I might be able to do something for the downed Irishman. 

We skirt the woods at an easy, ground-eating pace, till Aelfric holds up a hand. "Hold. Listen."

Theobald snorts. "Don't hear anything much. Do you, Godric?"

I grin, as it dawns on me. "No. And you won't. The plan's working." No Britons crashing through the woods towards us, and more importantly, no sounds of battle. "They won't come off the hill now..."

I reach the spot where the Irishman fell: too late. An arrow has taken him just to the left of the breastbone, a clean shot that dins those blue eyes for ever. I kneel and close them, and settle in a crouch. The British archers, none much older than Sithric, are up on the hill across an open slope, and I duck as an a arrow feathers the tree about an armspan above my head. I have never liked this - the big warriors rarely carry bows, and consider us a nuisance as much as anything. Their lads, on the other hand, seem to consider being shot at by a girl some kind of personal insult. If they but knew. But then, even Wulfhere doesn't, nor Ecgwine...
To our right, Beornwulf's group stand their ground at the bottom of the slope. He brandishes his spear, raps it against his shield. "Odin. Odin." The warriors take up the chant and the rhythm, almost a low taunting rumble like thunder, a rhythmic beating of metal on wood. Above them, the banner old Martha fashioned, the grey wolf Fenris, flaps in the breeze. On the hill, the Briton's little Lord, Maximus, fingers his sword and glares, shifting from foot to foot.

Now I can hear it, a steady chanting. Aelfric grins, sidesteps round one of the trees. "Ready?"

Last time he asked me that I got my wrist sprained. "Always." I heft the spear I've borrowed from Theobald experimentally. "Let's go."

We fetch up at the edge of the wood, to find their Tribune[1], his hearthguard ... rather fewer of them than I expected, to tell the truth... and some warriors, formed upslope of us on the hill. Aelfric grabs my shoulder. "Wait..." Out of the corner of my eye I see Cormac's Irish, and Lavinia and her little band of bowmen, further along the treeline, arrows and javelins finding the Briton's archers, the last of whom drops as I watch.  The Young Wolf raps his sword on his shield, takes up Beornwulf's chant. "Odin... Odin..."

The Britons' resolve breaks first, whether because their Tribune waves them forward or because they don't want to stand up on the hill and get shot at I don't know, but they charge downslope to where we're waiting on the edge of the wood, yelling and screaming as they come. Just fine by me - I'd rather brace a spear with two hands than swing a sword with one right now. It's touch and go for a moment, but we hold fast, and they start to falter. "NOW!" roars Aelfric, and we countercharge: I don't care if my wrist hurts, as the hearthguard break and flee before us as we run up the hill. 


"What now?" I ask. as we survey the hill top. 

There's a goodly number of dead Britons, but the rest have fled, our taunts in their ears as they run for the safety of their town. Cormac, and some of our lads, are going over the bodies for their weapons and armour. The former seems to be engaged in a discussion with Ecgwine and Lavinia over whether the latter is going to take a rather fine red cloak one of the Britons was wearing. Aelfric picks up a sword, weighs it in his hand with a thoughtful frown, tosses it to me hilt-first. I almost miss the catch, left-handed. "Try that. Nice workmanship, and better balanced than your old cleaver."

I make a face. "I happen to like my old cleaver, thank you." He's right though. Much easier on the wrist. "That wasn't what I meant."

The Young Wolf looks over to where the walls of the Britons' city are visible in the distance. "We wait it out. Keep them from getting aid, and they'll surrender to us in time."

[1] Yes, I know Andrucius is now a Praefect. Godric doesn't. :D

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Backups: a public service announcement

*dons 'trust me, I'm an IT professional and security certifier' hat*

A while ago, I was doing some research for the longboat model I got as a blogger Secret Santa, and found a link to a build on Model Ship World which included some very useful photos of a part I want to built using work's new 3D printer. So I bookmarked it.

Go on, click the link.



It turns out Model Ship World had a catastrophic hard drive failure shortly after migrating all the posts to their new forum system. Every single post from the old forum is gone: most of them might be on, but they're a complete sod to find because of the way phpBB handles its URLs, and I'm pretty sure the entry I want isn't.

The moral of this story, because, damnit, there are several, and I'm actually both quite cross and dead serious:

The Internet is not your memory.

There is absolutely no guarantee that todays useful link won't be tomorrow's "404: The requested URL /phpBB2/viewtopic.php was not found on this server." If you want to save a link for later for research purposes, use something like Evernote that will store you a copy of the content locally on your hard drive.

Back the heck up.

The above applies just as much to your blog, my blog, anything that's stored online/on the Cloud. Blogger has a backup facility - go to Settings/Other/Export Blog and grab a copy of the export of your blog contents every so often and save it someplace you can find it again. This won't save your images, but if you go to, it should redirect you to a page where you can download the Picasa album that corresponds to your blog photos, if you haven't kept your own local copies.

Do it now. I'll wait while you do.

Why? Because Google have already proved that the thing they're really betting the farm on is Google+, and one day I will NOT be surprised to discover that my choices have become 'use Google+' or 'export your blog someplace else'. If you're not paying for a product (Blogger), remember, you are the product, and if we as users of a service stop being worth their while, they'll drop us. Same goes for Flickr (which Yahoo! seem bound and determined to screw up), Google Wave and heaven knows what else.

You're welcome to assume competence, good faith and lack of self-interest on the part of people providing an online service, but take backups anyway: an errant 747 hitting their data centre, or Amazon S2 having a major outage, is going to ruin their day however nice they are. And you don't know that they take proper backups, that they won't someday forget or fail to pay their hosting bill, or that they aren't one guy with one small Linux box in a cupboard at the end of an ADSL line (I should know. I am that guy, and I do take multiple backups and carry spares of most bits of hardware!).

Back the heck up 2.

Your hard drive. We live in a world where a scary amount of the information we create, be it text, photos, whatever, only exists in digital form. Look back at Model Ship World. The admin's defence was, to paraphrase: "we're not IT professionals, we didn't take backups, move on". I made a point of closing that window before I was tempted to register and comment (which would probably have resulted in my time as a registered user being one of the shortest on record).

This is 2013. There is absolutely NO excuse for not having a backup of the data you care about, doubly or triply so if it's not your bloomin' data. Hard drives fail. You do stupid things (I lost a massive pile of cherished RPG logs by accidentally having the wrong folder selected when I did my two sets of keystrokes for 'move to trash, empty trash' in too-quick succession).

Go to your favourite tech retailer and buy a USB hard drive - here, look, I'll even provide a link to a nice 500GB drive for under 40 quid! Label it prominently 'BACKUPS', don't use it for anything else, and use any of the scads of free backup solutions (some of which even come with your OS) to keep a safe copy of your data. If you want to use an online backup solution as well, that's fine - but don't make it your only one, for reasons stated above.

Oh, and every now and then, make sure you can recover something from the drive. If there's the merest hint of a problem due to the drive itself, buy a new one. There's a saying in IT: "No-one cares if you can back up. Only if you can recover."

Is your data worth more than £40 to you?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

"To Britain's Shores" - Chapter 7 part 1 - The Battle of Heatham Wold

[I figure this morning's post doesn't really count. So here's part one of the in-character side of Monday night's first actual battle (rather than raid) in Andy and my Dux Britanniarum campaign. Enjoy. Especially the second narrator.]

Part 1: Pre-Battle


I swear, you could hear Aelfric's voice the other side of the Humbre back in Petvaria. It's not that he's shouting as much as he knows how to make it carry.

"Today, we bring the British to BATTLE!"

The roar from our assembled warband damn near blows me off my feet. We're on the down side of one of the wooded hills that dot the region of Linnius, and Aelfric (with a little help from the scop Oswulf) has them more than ready to go up against the British. He's let it be known he's looking for allies, and a small group of men from one of the lands to the West, who have been moving from steading to steading looking for chances to take on the Britons, have joined us, led by a wild-eyed, huge bull of a man called Cormac. I hope to Odin they scare the British, because, by Thor, they worry me!

"What do you want, Saex?" It's one of their leaders, from near the top of the hill. I'm not quite sure at this distance, but it could be that Geraint. "Caer Lind Colon is well defended. It's not yours for the taking."

Adric laughs. "Send us your champion, and we'll see..."


He claps me on the shoulder. "Ready?"

What in Hel's name am I supposed to say when my Lord asks that question? No?

Me and their champion step into the stone circle. He's about my height, a red cloak, shield with a symbol of their Christ-God and a sword over mail. I salute him with my own blade. "I am Godric, champion of the Drohtin Aelfric, the right hand of the Young Wolf." My mouth is oddly dry. "We fight to the death, or till either calls quarter or sets a foot outside the circle." 

He returns the salute. "Bedwyr of the swift sword, son of Emrys of the Saxon Shore, slayer of Franks, Goths and Burgundians, protector of the legacy of Rome..."

I can't resist goading him, just to set him aback and not thinking straight. "Not doing a very good job of that last, are you?"

It's an ugly fight. I go in fast and hard to try and catch him off balance, but he's a wily fox. In other times, other places, he'd not be bad to have at my back, truth be told. He gets the edge and keeps it, nicking me as often or more so as I do him, backing me up against one of the stones and using his shield as a weapon as much as he does his sword. 

In the end he catches me with the rim of his shield with an outward sweep that jars my wrist and knocks my sword arm aside, and brings his own up to swing down. And that's the point at which I start to realise I'm getting too old for this game. I sidestep, forcing him to change his hacking downswing into a long cross cut or risk smacking his blade into the stone as he steps forward. Without a pause, I risk a very quick glance behind me and take a half pace back. 

The blade passes about a handsbreadth from my chest, and there's an audible groan from our lads as they see where my back foot is. I smile at him. "Yours. Well fought." He's at best sprained my wrist, and at worst broken it, and it hurts like the Christian Devil himself, but I'm not going to let on.

"Let me see." I'm probably the only person apart from Lord Aelfric who can get away with bullying Godric, but it's clear that wrist is hurting him as he walks back to our lines, so I set my bow and quiver down and hold out a hand to him. 
"Stop fussing," he growls, but offers me the wrist anyway, gingerly. "No time for that."
Ecgwine claps him on the shoulder, laughing. "Let her. She will, come what may, and you know it."
Godric hrmphs. "And which of us is the man Lavinia has under her thumb, mm? Not me." 
"It won't take long." I prod and push at it a little, watch his reactions, note when he winces, and as importantly when he doesn't. I've done this for ages with everything from Wulfhere's prized hound to old Martha's nephew after he came off a horse, and I can tell... "Not broken. Sithric? One of those strips of cloth."  
Sithric has a bag with a few things to tend wounds that I gave him to carry, him and the other two lads, and hurries to hand me one. "This do?" 
"That's fine." I smile, which I know will be reward enough for his teenage blood, and set to quickly strapping Godric's wrist good and tight. 

Aelfric eyes me up and down after the lass has tended to my wrist, quirks a questioning eyebrow, which I take as the unspoken question of whether I'm fit to fight. So I just nod, and he nods back. "Good."

Beyond him, I can see the glitter of spear points through the trees as the main body of the Britons hurry towards us. "Here they come."

Aelfric nods. "Good." Raising his voice. "Ecgwine, Beornwulf - to the foot of the slope. Hold them there, don't attack till we do. Hearthguard, with me." He grins at me. "British. They're too fond of that wall of shields of theirs. They'll try and defend the hill, even if it isn't their best option."

The 300

Milestones coming thick and fast this week! (I should also note that for some odd reason Sunday was a record day for me, too!).

This is post number 300 (of course, they come a lot faster when you post one a day: I'll pass 500 by the end of the year!)

Thanks to everyone for the comments on the previous milestone - the prevailing sense seems to be 'keep going as you are'... so I shall!

And, to comply with one of those requests: it's a milestone, so the new rule is, MORE KATE!

This one's from Underworld, obviously enough.

While I'm at it, and so no-one accuses me of padding my post count with a separate post for something I've already posted about, can I remind those interested in the period in TAG's Kickstarter for Tudor 28mms, which finishes at the end of the week. They've just announced an update with some rather lovely militia figures.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Buying painted figures - an odd thought

I bought a bunch of painted Norman cavalry on eBay last week, which arrived over the weekend. They're actually really quite well painted, though they do need rebasing and a few of the spears reattaching or replacing with wire.

But the weird thing?

I found they did nothing for me at all. They're sitting on my cutting board, and I can't get at all excited about them, or I suspect invested in them on a wargame table. Despite the fact that I know for a fact the paint job is better than I can do without a lot more practice. And I think it's precisely because they're not actually mine in any sense.... of course I could repaint them, but then what's the point of buying them painted!

Is this just me?

I'm wondering if I'll feel differently after I've rebased them and fixed their spears. I might repaint the shields, too.

Monday, 25 March 2013

A milestone, and a question

Today marks the 100th post since I decided (in mid-December) to make a serious effort to post once a day.

It's been interesting, and fun. Some days I've been scrambling to find anything to write about, or desperately finishing a Monday night battle report before midnight. Some days I've been four or five posts ahead (which is nice), but I do have a tendency to rest on my laurels at that point!

So, the question... (apart from "when will Mike STOP starting paragraphs with 'So'?" :D)

It's a multipart question (because, like a lot of my how-to posts, I can't seem to restrict myself to do just one!):

  • What would you like to see more of on the blog, if anything? [N.B. While 'Kate Beckinsale' is a valid and laudable reply, try and keep it to wargaming-related matters!]
  • What would you like to see less of on the blog, if anything?
  • Anything I'm not blogging about you'd like to challenge me to?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Kickstarter Watch - Commission Figurines

Modular Buildings and Ruins for Wargamers - basically they're looking for funding to allow them to extend the already very tasty 15mm and 20mm range to 28mm. They do a whole range of modular city buildings designed for WW2 mostly (except the walled farm, which is just TOO nice - see right).

I am awfully awfully tempted by this,. but I can't decide which pledge level I would want - do I want stuff for 15mm (IABSM and the farm for Napoleon at War) or 28mm (Chain of Command)?

Decisions, decisions.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Photographing miniatures 3 - exposure

As we said in part 2, part of the game of photography is controlling the amount of light that reaches your camera, the exposure. I promised in part 3 to put some numbers on this, so here goes.

The basic unit of 'letting in light' in photograph is colloquially referred to as a 'stop'. Actually, it refers specifically to the aperture of the lens - if you recall, the wider the aperture, the more light - and we refer to 'stopping down' a lens to narrow the aperture. So let's start there.

Aperture is measured in what are called 'f-stops', so you'll often see something written as f/8. It's actually the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter, so for example, a 200mm lens with an aperture of 50mm is f/4. Note (as an aside) that making long lenses with low f-numbers is therefore hard and expensive, as you require a lot of high-quality glass - a 400mm f/2.8 lens requires you to produce an optically perfect bit of glass 14cm across! It's why, for example, you pay a LOT more for a Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens than a 400mm f/5.6 (ten times more!)

The other thing to note is f-stop is a function of diameter, and (obviously enough) light transmission is a function of area. A f/4 lens actually lets in four times as much light as an f/8.

If you look at a lens marked with f-stops, the conventional scale goes like this (it's slightly rounded, but effectively you're multiplying by the square root of 2 each time):
f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32
Each step to the right halves the amount of light let in (go do the maths if you want!), and obviously each step to the left doubles it. This doubling/halving of light is what's referred to as a stop.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second (obviously enough). Halving or doubling the shutter speed, obviously enough, halves or doubles the amount of light let in. Again, there's a conventional scale with some slight rounding:
1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000, etc
and as before, one step either way is a stop.

'Film' sensitivity is measured in a number of ways, but the one that (after a while) the camera folks seem to have standardised on is know as the ISO rating. As I said before, in a film camera (except for some special films) its a property of the film itself, but in a digital camera you can control it from shot to shot. In a nutshell, the higher the ISO rating, the 'faster' a film, i.e. the more sensitive to light. A doubling of ISO rating counts as one stop, and 'normal' film (the stuff you used to buy for your Instamatic) is ISO 100. [There is also a version of the ISO scale where ISO 100 = ISO 21°, and a doubling increases the ISO degree by 3, but most cameras don't seem to use that these days.]

So, then. It turns out that, for example, on a fairly bright day, you can set your SLR camera up for ISO 100, 1/250th of a second and f/8 and you'll get a decent shot. But you can do exactly the same thing at (say) ISO 400, 1/250th, f/16 or ISO 100, 1/500, f/5.6... all three parameters interact, and you can fiddle with them to get the same exposure.

How do the point-and-shoot Instamatics do it? They're basically set to about the equivalent of that - ISO 100, 1/250th, f/8 - and they rely on most photos being taken outside in reasonable conditions, and the fact that film is actually fairly forgiving and they can fix it a bit when they develop the film!

Equally, in an artificially lit wargames room I find myself generally shooting at about ISO 1600, 1/30th, f/2.8 and making compromises, without a tripod.

Next time up, I'll produce some practical examples of those compromises, to do with depth of field, camera shake, graininess etc, and what you can do to overcome them.

For now, have fun, and I hope this was educational!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Pondering pending projects - a priority problem

See, it's like this...
...and then I need to tidy this. Again.

No matter how hard I try and produce a list of things to do at the start of the year, it doesn't take me (any more than I suspect it does anyone else) long to get an attack of the 'oooh, shiny' and add things to it. Not helped by not always knowing at the start of the year what the theme might be for upcoming WAB tourneys etc.

So. With that in mind, how'm I doing?

From the list of things to paint:
  • lots of 15mm WW2 US, German and British (in that order)
  • lots of 18mm Napoleonics
  • lots of terrain!
  • A longboat
Hrn. Ok. So.
  • Lots of US infantry done, lots of Shermans waiting on a can of US Olive Drab. Lots of Germans bought, so I'll probably make a start on those soon.
  • 18mm Napoleonics... *whistles*. Be right back to you on that.
  • Terrain. Well, I made two more woods last week, and Tim is really honestly going to get me the hardboard I asked for Real Soon Now.... I also have the bits for some 15mm bocage.
  • The longboat is waiting on a piece for the masthead, which I'm going to knock up in work's new 3D printer :D
On top of that:
  • Built an entire Parthian army for the WAB GT. This will also double as Palmyran for Rushden's Axes 2013 tournament, though I may add some Middle Imperial Roman allies - I've already picked up a very nice figure for Queen Zenobia.
  • Added to my Christian Spanish/Norman/Crusades army for WABGT 2013 (and also possibly at least one other event this year). I have half a box of Conquest Norman foot to paint to add to that, as it's somewhat infantry-light for the Crusades, and I would like to add a box of the lovely Fireforge Templars. Also Foundry's current eBay sale is tempting me greatly to add some more foot, both spearmen and archers.
  • Painted a bunch of Judges for the club campaign
  • I need another section of Germans to play Chain of Command. (Sorry, Op: Squad. It's not you, it's ... actually, it's you :D)
  • I need to make some time to go through everything I have, fix broken spears etc, clean up bases, figure out better storage (our butcher just delivered me a huge pile of stout cardboard boxes that are roughly 10" x 18" by 2" deep....)

...I won't be bored. I want to try and get into a regular habit of painting, even if it's only an hour a day while James is doing his homework. I can manage it for blogging, so...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Army Painter - Fireforge Mounted Sergeants

So as my last entry for Curt's contest on Tuesday, I thought I'd see just how good a job i could do going all out on the Army Painter way. You may have already seen this on Curt's blog - if not, enjoy!

Takeways from this:

  • the fact that AP now do paints that are 100% matches for their sprays makes the 'spray on the sprue' trick a major win
  • being able to use two different shades of ink (rather than dip) made this look much better
  • I still can't paint for toffee, but Army Painter lets me bluff well :D

4:30pm: start assembling the horses from a box of Fireforge mounted Sergeants (I already used three as command in my El Cid army, so there were 9 left)
5.05pm: Horse done. Blutak to painting stick, spray undercoat in AP Matt Black, leave to dry.
5.10pm: assemble first four riders
5.30 pm: pause to consider cloaks, realise I've put the heads on too soon. Swear, remove heads before glue sets. Stop assembling riders. Remove rest of bits of riders *except* cloaks from sprue. Spray cloaks AP Dragon Red *on the sprue*.
5.40 pm: Dad's Taxi Service to take son to tennis
6.10 pm: return from dropping James at tennis, assemble rest of riders sans heads
6.30 pm: blutac to painting stick, spray undercoat AP Daemonic Yellow - two coats about 2 mins apart.
6.40 pm: find spare kite shields without arms from left over Conquest Games Normans, satisfy myself I have nine between these and the non-heater shields in the Fireforge box. Spray backs AP Leather Brown, leave to dry while finding wife's pin box, spray fronts of shield AP Daemonic Yellow, again on the sprue.
6.50 pm: Paint shield designs with AP Dragon Red
7.05 pm: try sticking pins in heads. Discover they won't go in. Heat pin on gas ring, NOW they do. Arrange line of heads on pins on painting stick. Feel like a very angry Sheriff of Nottingham making an example of some miscreants. Wish I'd photographed it.
7.15 pm: Discover I'm out of AP Plate Mail spray. Swear. Spray heads with AP Human Flesh instead (and the can ONLY just lasts).
7.20 pm: brief moment of panic as I can't find glasses to drive to fetch James. Find them upstairs by dressmaking box. Pass wife (on way back from work) on garden path on way out to be Dad's Taxi again, whistle innocently (what me? steal pins?)
7.50pm: Return with son. Greet wife properly. Hide evidence. Supper.
8.20pm: Start painting horses. Three black, four bays of various shades (mixes of AP Oak Brown and GW Dark Flesh), one chestnut (GW Dark Flesh/AP Monster Brown mix, Vallejo Khaki mane and tail), one grey (AP Ash Grey using an AP stippling brush). A couple get white markings with AP Matt White and a touch of Vallejo Khaki on white-socked hooves)
8.50 pm: Start on horse blankets (AP Dragon Red, saddles/tack (Vallejo Red Leather - I pick this because I *never* use it as a horse colour, so my tack always stands out).
9.10 pm: brief pause to say goodnight to son.
9.30 pm: finish horse tack. Glue riders in saddles, start painting mail, axe head, swords, spearpoints on riders, mail coifs/helmets (AP Plate Mail). Re-glue the riders that don't stick first time.
9:55pm: start on spear hafts, axe handle, standard (Vallejo US Field Drab)
10.15pm: Start assembling cloaks/heads/shields. Retouch cloaks where needed with AP Dragon Red
10.30pm: Start basing: Tamiya Desert Sand textured paint and straight into a tub of Javis Desert Sand mix, knock excess off on sides of tub.
10.45pm: realise I forgot to do stirrup leathers and sword scabbards: Out with the Vallejo Red Leather again, being careful how I handle the bases!
10.55pm: Deep breath. Ink washes. AP Strong Tone first, on the mail, claks, standards and shields (just to back off the brightness of the yellow a bit). Then AP Soft Tone on the yellow surcoat.
11.15pm: mix 50/50 AP Matt White/AP Barbarian Flesh, try and retouch highlights on faces a bit.
11:20pm: AP Dark Tone ink wash on horses (except for the grey which gets AP Strong Tone.
11:27pm: poke head outside back door, realise it's close to zero outside. Decide varnishing is probably a bad idea :D
11:30pm: photograph, upload, start typing ... :D

So, that's nine figures to passable wargaming standard in 5 1/2 hours (ignoring two trips to the tennis club and a break for food). Setting aside the time for assembling (about 90 mins) that's four hours of painting, actually made easier by the fact they were plastic figures.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

"We're GW. We don't have to care."

I was going to title this "GW shoot themselves in the foot again", 'till some more detailed research and thought reveals that, in fact, the above is more accurate.

And I quote:

"By way of illustration, but not limitation, North American Retailers are not permitted to sell GAMES WORKSHOP products on any website, web-portal, third-party web-portal or other Internet-based platform of any kind. This prohibition includes any form of online shopping cart that would enable a Consumer  to order or purchase GAMES WORKSHOP products on-line."

The referenced document goes on to give reasons, which boil down to 'we make more money this way'. If you go on and find GW's investor pages, you will find their one line business plan:
We make the best fantasy miniatures in the world and sell  them globally at a profit and we intend to do this forever.
If you're GW, it's kind of hard to argue against that, but you do start to wonder how many times they can piss off the people who aren't part of the Games Workshop Hobby before it'll all come crashing down. Sure, the Space Marine farce doesn't affect 40K and Fantasy players, nor does the whole 'we're just going to hang on to the Warhammer Historical properties and not countenance any offers to buy them' idiocy, because, after all, wargames is not the Games Workshop Hobby, so up yours.

This current one doesn't affect their core market - the people who buy stuff in GW stores - and I would assume that their belief is that the loss of those folks for whom the above is the last straw will be outweighed by those who just move to buying off a bricks and mortar store.

The key reason for this post, however: Wayland Games have asked that folks publicise their recent offer/statement on the subject, which I'm very happy to do.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Battle Report - 18-Mar-2013 - Chain of Command

Nearing the end of the pre-game - British and German
patrols on table 2 feeling each other out.
Last night the club had another visit from the Mighty Dux, Rich Clarke of Too Fat Lardies, this time to run us through a playtest/demo of their new WW2 "platoon plus" ruleset, Chain of Command.

If you want to know more about the core concepts in the rules, there are a couple of YouTube videos up here and here, with another one coming.

There's a couple of really innovative rules mechanics in the game that have the potential to really make the whole thing. First off, the patrol/jump-off point pre-game, which essentially eliminates the first bunch of moves in something like Bolt Action while the forces actually find each other.

The Germans on table one deploy to their jump-off
In essence, both sides alternate moving patrol markers (usually four), within certain restrictions - they must be able to trace an unbroken chain within 12" through all their markers, and as soon as a marker gets within 12" of an enemy marker it becomes locked in place.

Once all of one side's markers are locked, the second phase of the pre-game is that the players have three jump-off point markers, which they take turns to place: they must be at least 6" further from the enemy than a patrol marker and they must be in cover.

The end result of this is both sides now have three points in cover to which they can deploy units (be they fire-teams or sections), and have both undergone some preliminary scouting out of the opposition. There's no end of potential for tactics and thought in the pre-game - I spotted several subtleties just in the one game I was helping referee.

The Germans on table 2 advance through
(one of my new) woods.
In the game proper, this is a TFL game that doesn't use cards. Instead it uses command dice - basically the player whose phase it is rolls 5d6: on any 1 he can activate a fire team, a 2 a section, a 3 a junior NCO, a 4 a senior NCO or officer. 5s add a pip to a 'Chain of Command dice' (when it reaches 6, there are potentials for special moves, including moving a jump-off point). 6s - if you roll zero or 1, the next phase is the other player's; two, it's yours again, three it's yours again and the turn ends (various effects like smoke, overwatch wear off), four its yours again, the turn ends and something random happens (air strike, mortar stonk...), and five (and I quote) you win a car :D

Activation works like you'd expect in any Lardies game: NCOs and officers get multiple command initiatives to activate sections or fire teams, rally off shock, etc.

Combat is very like Dux Britanniarum, believe it or not - you roll N dice to hit dependent on range, the target rolls to save hits, taking shock or kills depending on cover.

And that's pretty much it. The rules are still being fine-tuned, but all in all it's a great game, and I think it has potential to be a winner. I loved it (even if all I was doing was refereeing one of the two games): it really does require you to use period tactics and really think about your initial patrol and subsequent deployment, as if you don't then things can all too easily just bog down into a firefight.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Kickstarter Watch - Break Through

While browsing Kickstarter, I found Break Through - A card game of the Western Front 1914-18. It looks rather interesting:
This game is a challenging representation of the deadlock that existed on the Western Front from the end of 1914 to the spring of 1918.  By using a set of scenarios that limit which cards can be used, players are able to represent the difficulties facing commanders at specific times during the conflict.
[...]the designer, who is currently a visiting lecturer in games design at CRC in Cambridge and has taught previously in the secondary sector, believes there is an opportunity for a game of this nature as an effective (and simple to use) teaching tool.  The addition of the historical 'snippets' will hopefully encourage students to read and absorb the information and the 'gamification' has the potential to engage students[...]
It needs some more publicity, and more backers - only 4 after 5 days. As I said, though, it does look rather fun, and I'm considering a punt. Obviously, that's a pretty low-risk punt as it stands [!], but I'd kind of like to see it succeed, being a fan of nicely put together card games, so... if it interests you, especially if you're in education, I think it deserves to have the word spread. Maybe it's too late this time out, but...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Book Review - The Crusades: The War For the Holy Land

Memory is escaping me where exactly I picked this up - I'm pretty sure it was given me by a friend - but The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land was my main read for my flight to and from Seattle last week.

The book is a very detailed, 800-page history of the Crusades: it's a tie in to a BBC series (not the Terry Jones one) which isn't, sadly, yet available on DVD. Thomas Asbridge knows his stuff, though, and more importantly he manages to tell it over the 800 pages and several centuries in a way that isn't in the least dry or dull. As I generally can't sleep on planes, books that keep me awake are a good thing, and I have to say I really enjoyed this and learned a lot from it. He does an excellent job of covering both the Crusader and Muslim sides of the conflict, presenting both sides' views on events wherever the historical sources let him, as well as providing insights into the character and motiviations of the principals on both sides.

In short? If you're at all interested in the period, it's a very good retelling of events in the Holy Land. It's also (for an 800-pager) remarkably cheap, and well worth a read.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Google Reader to close

Well. phooey.
Like several other people who've commented on this, I am not a happy camper. At the last check, my list of feeds subscribed to in Reader was over 400: not just wargames blogs either.

I'm not impressed - any more than I was when Google took down Wave (and thus basically killed a RPG I'd being playing in for almost as long as Wave had been around. Hopefully the next thing on their list isn't Blogger.

I'll be exploring alternatives, and blogging my results here.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A horse of a different colour - blood bay

Sadly, the camera is more than a bit unforgiving with the flash and light tent, but here's a quick stage-by-stage.

First up, undercoat in black, and then undercoat those bits of the horse which are going to be white in AP Barbarian Flesh, the colour of the underlying skin. There's an argument that this isn't strictly necessary, since the AP White covers so well, but I find it focuses my thinking on what the horse is going to look at good and early, and you do need some flesh colouring.

Next, paint the areas of the horse that should be brown with a suitable shade - as I was going for a reddish bay, I used up some of my Citadel Dark Flesh, but in general, use a reference photo and mix a suitable shade. As its a bay, it should have a black mane, tail, muzzle and legs, so leave the mane and tail black and fade the brown where it meets the legs and muzzle.

Yeah. I missed a bit or two. But you
get the idea.
Next up, paint the white areas - I used AP Matt White, which covers brilliantly. The muzzle, if the white extends all the way to the mouth, will once again be skin coloured, but under white, that's flesh shade, so feather the white into the flesh tone.

The hooves of white-socked horses tend to be a shade of khaki, so I used Vallejo Khaki - if you're sticking to AP, a darkened Necrotic Flesh or Skeleton Bone should do the job.  

The saddle blanket is AP Crystal Blue (I think - it was a week ago!), and the saddle pad is Skeleton Bone (most of it is going to be hidden by the saddle moulded onto the rider, so I'm only suggesting it. Harness is Vallejo Red Leather, which I use largely because I never paint a horse that colour, so it'll always show up against the horse. 

If you can be bothered, drybrush the mane and tail with a very dark grey or brown.

Finally, the neat bit. AP Soft Tone ink wash on the white bits and khaki hooves, which will stop the colours being quite so stark as well as picking out the shadow detail, and AP Dark or Strong Tone (depending on the shade of brown you chose for the horse's coat) on the rest. And Bob's your uncle. In an ideal world, you probably want to see if you can find a slightly satin, rather than completely matt, varnish to finish the job.

And yes, I'm sure you can do better than me, but I hope you get the idea. If you're batch painting 72 of the little sods, the process, or something based on it, will get you a convincing looking (from any distance that matters for wargaming) bay horse in not that long. One tip - if you're batch painting, the maths works out roughly that you should pick out your hero horses that are going to be fancy colours, then split about a quarter of the rest off and earmark them for chestnuts, split a quarter of the leftovers from those off and earmark them as blacks, and paint the rest (which should be a bit over half) bay. The further back in history you go, the fewer chestnuts you'll probably have. I tend to work with a palette with a range of browns on it, everything from a reddish brown (GW Dark Flesh) through to an almost black brown, and will quite often do a bit of subtle mixing every few horses. But above all? Use a reference photo or two for colours, and vary them.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

One Year Ago

Via the ever-inspirational PhilB, a meme:
Simply look at the date (so 13th March for me).  Go back 1 year and link to the post you put on your blog this day last year (or the closest one you can find to that date).
So, I did. Somewhat embarassing, since I just narrowly missed it being A Horse of a Different Colour part NINE (part ten came out last week!). It is in fact a slightly belated battle report from a Principles of War game that was part of Gavin's first Penninsular campaign (the second seems to have stalled rather). Interesting fun, as I recall!

Thanks, Phil, for a neat idea. It is still the 13th in Seattle when this gets posted, too!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Bus stations in Helsinki

I've been thinking, there being not a lot else to do when you're awake at 3am because your body clock thinks it's 10am...

Mostly, I've been thinking about why I do this blog, which was in part inspired by something I read yesterday on the Helsinki Bus Station theory. What, you might ask, is that?

Well - it's a metaphor for creativity and art. The article summarises it better than I do, but in a nutshell: Helsinki bus station has a number of platforms, and all buses from a given platform pretty much share the same route as each other for the first bit of their route. This is kind of like the first steps in blogging, painting, whatever: you find inspiration in 'I wanna do something like so-and-so', but for the first few stops you think 'but everyone's doing this / I'm so unoriginal / I suck...'. And if you're foolish, you go back to the bus station, and you pick a different platform, and the same thing happens...

The secret is, to stay on the bus. To keep on doing whatever it is you're doing.

Because eventually the routes diverge. And you find you're on your own bus, going your own way, for all it may have started out like several others.

There are some stupendously brilliant figure painters out there. I'm not one of them, and (given I have next to no depth perception, eyes that make in-store opticians go 'what????', and am generally not the tidiest or neatest of painters) I never will be. I'm not by any means the best tactician or strategist: a look at the results of the last two WAB GT's should demonstrate that pretty quickly. And so on. And there's a part of me thinks 'who the hell do I think I am, trying to teach my readers that include people like RayR or AndyH how to paint horses?'

I think I figured it out from a comment on one of my Analogue Hobbies painting contest entries (which I still submit with a degree of trepidation! - 'here, have an entry. it's not very good'):
I really like how you have described the process. For wargaming standard (my standard) the AP products are really impressive. I am still developing my technique with them, but I have learned a lot from your post as well. 
Well, duh, Mike. (And thank you, John.)

See, not everyone's Kevin Dallimore. Not everyone's Martin Gibbins, or Sidney Roundwood. Sure, we all would love to be. But it's a surprising truth of the universe that you don't have to be that good at something before you acquire your own style, your own way, and you actually have things you can do that not everyone can do as well as you can.

So, no, if you've read this far, I'm not fishing for compliments and affirmation. I'm Joe Average gamer, looking at the figures and terrain my friends and opponents produce and wishing I was that good, but taking pride in the fact that I can put a painted army on the table that I'm not ashamed of. And maybe the thing I can do, because I do seem to have a knack for writing proper, helpful, joined-up English, is to help other folks, the ones who like me just wish they were Andy Hawes (stop blushing, mate!), figure out how to do that, and things like that, too.

Welcome to Trouble At T'Mill. Hopefully, there's something here you can learn from.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Those Parthians

I should, I think, share the end results of my painting marathon with those of you who don't subscribe to Curt's blog. Once I'd got these assembled, they basically took me a Sunday plus a week of evenings, and I was quite pleased not to be varnishing at 6 am on the day of the tournament.

As I'm sure I've said before, I am not the world's best painter: if it wasn't for Army Painter, I'd be too embarrassed to show my handiwork. :D

First up, we have 23 cataphracts, being a mix of Old Glory Parthians and Palmyrans, with some A&A Miniatures Palmyran command figures. (Old Glory UK didn't have enough of the Parthians, and they basically said 'will the Palmyrans do, they're very similar'. Since they're going to double as Palmyrans before I'm done, I didn't have a problem!). Horses were undercoated in Army Painter Matt Black, and dry-brushed with Army Painter Plate Mail (or, for the unit leaders, Weapon Bronze). Riders, to provide a slight contrast, were undercoated in Plate Mail spray, faces, hands (AP Tanned Flesh), metal kontos (Vallejo US Field Drab), leather work (Vallejo Red Leather) etc painted, and then washed with AP Strong Tone ink and the faces retouched with AP Human Flesh (a lighter shade).

For an encore, 72 (yes, really) horse archers, being 6 complete boxes of Wargames Factory Persian cavalry, which turn out to fit almost perfectly in a Really Useful 7L box.

Horses were undercoated in AP Matt Black, then given assorted shades of brown (AP Oak, Monster, Fur Browns, Vallejo Flat Earth). I went with the 'mostly bay or black' approach for what's probably a set of fairly inbred mounts, though there are half a dozen pale enough to be duns or roans. Saddle blankets in Vallejo Khaki, and one of AP Red, Ultramarine Blue or Angel Green detailing, and then harness in Vallejo Red Leather. To be honest, I rushed these, and there'd have been more coat variation if I'd had more time.

The riders were undercoated in batches of twelve in AP Daemonic Yellow, Desert Yellow, Bleached Bone, Uniform Green, Ultramarine Blue and Necrotic Flesh. After that, I snapped them on the mounts (they're a tight enough fit not to need glue, actually!), did faces/hands (AP Tanned Flesh), headgear (AP White, which covers *superbly* well), leggings (AP Leather Brown) and leatherwork (Vallejo Red Leather), and bows (Vallejo US Field Drab). Final stage was a wash of AP Soft Tone ink which dragged back and evened out the overall 'look' of the different colours, which was remarkably effective, if you contrast these pictures with the shot of the un-inked and basically just undercoated ones from the previous Monday.

Basing was Tamiya textured 'Desert Sand' and then dipped straight into Javis Desert Sand mix: left to dry, a few dabs of PVA and a sprinkle of AP Winter static grass. Varnished with AP Anti-Shine.

And there you go.

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