Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Williamsburg Muster - accidental convention trip

So, recently, I had to tell folks that asked that I was not going to be able to attend Marscon and the Williamsburg Muster.  Both in Williamsburg, Virginia (one of my favorite places on Earth, even though Scribner's is closed since 1984, Rizzoli's is closed since 2001, and the Williamsburg Toymaker has recently closed - sniff), they would prove just too far, since we are living in Harris County Georgia currently, at Toad Hollow.

And then, and then, it happened.  A work trip, a family visit, all coincided.  So I would be in the area over the weekend of the Williamsburg Muster (Feb 7-9).  I decided to attend.  I took a flight to arrive on Friday, so I wouldn't have much luggage room for buying, and I did not bring any games or miniatures with me, but I was looking forward to a good time.

Lots of miniature games (a very solid collection of games, although I did not notice anything appreciably exciting or new...maybe I was not in the right place at the right time).  There was a board gaming room, ran very capably by Tidewater Area Gaming Society, although some of their peeps were also supporting Whose Turn is it Anyway? (the winter version of That Board Gaming Thing) in Raleigh NC.  There was a Flames of War tournament room (which also doubled as part of the Flea Market room on Sunday).  There was a room given over to Slot Car racing (??what??).  (ed. note: Slot car racing is a great hobby, and I used to love going to races with my dad and my uncle when I was a wee little sprog, but I don't know what it adds to a gaming convention)

Watched lots of miniatures games.  The rules that I WANTED to play, but didn't make/find time for:
  • War and Conquest
  • Pike and Shotte
  • Bolt Action
  • General Quarters 3
Watched and played a bunch of board games.  The games that I WANTED to play, but did not see, or did not engage in, were:
  • Trains
  • Russian Railroads
  • A Study in Emerald
  • Ora et Labora
  • Glass Road
  • Troyes
What I did get to do was spend some time with some fantastic friends, and play a few board games and card games, and watch a lot of miniature games.  I got to do a lot of "window" shopping for miniatures and miniature rules.  And I got to buy a couple of books.

First, I bought a copy of the main rulebook for War and Conquest.  This is a set of 28mm wargaming rules for Ancient and Medieval warfare, written by Rob Broom.  Rob was the director of the North America effort for Warhammer Historical games, so it has a certain feel to Warhammer Ancient Battles.

One of the cool things about War & Conquest (WAC) is that the army lists for it are available in a very polished professional way, but online as electronic documents for free.  This is being published and supported by Scarab Miniatures.  I wish them well, with WAB gone (well, out of commercial production), a set of rules that is still "in print" is a nice thing, even if WAB itself still is available non-commercially and played quite a bit.

One of the other acquisitions I made was a copy of Renaissance Warfare, edited by Bob Carruthers.  This is a nice collection of pieces about battles in the British Isles from 1513 through 1640.  It is extracted from a larger work, originally written by James Grant, and published in 1894, called British Battles on Land and Sea.

This work, for me, is chiefly interesting because of the focus on the battles between the end of the Wars of the Roses (ended 1487) and the beginning of the English Civil Wars (beginning approx 1642).  The battles covered in this title are:
  • Flodden, 1513
  • Haddenrig, 1542
  • Ancrum Moor, 1545
  • Isle of Wight, 1545
  • Pinkie, 1547
  • Siege of Leith, 1560
  • Zutphen, 1586
  • The Groyne, 1589
  • Flores and Cape Corrientes, 1591
  • Cadiz, 1596
  • Porto Rico, 1598
  • Bay of Cezimbra, 1602
  • Cagliari, 1617
  • Isle of Rhe, 1627
  • Newburn Ford, 1640
In addition there are treatments of Sir Francis Drake, Admiral Hawkins, and the Spanish Armada.  All of these are covered very sketchily, but as I did not have something concise on this period in my library, it serves as a nice introduction.  One complaint - it is in a series from Pen and Sword, called the "Military History from Primary Sources" series, and this is definitely not primary sources, although it is republishing a historical piece of military history writing (Grant's work from 1894).

Two other pieces I picked up are two titles from Histoire & Collections.  These are fantastic little military history monographs, accompanied by a packed house full of illustrations.  Perfect for the armchair historian, or the wargamer, who is looking for inspirational images, and a thumbnail sketch of a campaign, or a particular army.  In this case, I got two titles from their "Men and Battles" series, very similar to the Osprey Campaigns series.  The two I got are Alesia, 52 BC, by Frederic Bey, and Rocroi, 1643, by Stephane Thion.


The only other one I already own in the series is on Bull Run (purchased to help my Daughter with a school project on the battle... as I am not a huge fan of the American Civil War, for wargaming).  If you are not familiar with the Histoire & Collections publisher, they are from Paris, originally published in French, and their series' are now being translated into other languages (including English).  Very nicely done, and a nice complement to the many Osprey titles on popular topics, as a layman's introduction to military topics (again, great for Wargamers and Figure Painters... like those slaving away in the dungeons below Gaming with Chuck headquarters).

Not to let Osprey be outdone completely by their French rivals, I did purchase an excellent new volume from them.  I got Campaign Series number 260, Fort William Henry 1755-57 which was just published in November of 2013.  This is an excellent treatment of the famous French & Indian War fort, built in 1755, and subjected to two sieges.  The second one finally saw British Lt. Col. Monro surrender to the French/Native American force that was besieging the fort, and the elements of the 35th Regiment, the Massachusetts Regiment and the New Hampshire Regiment (along with some carpenters, sailors, and elements of the Royal Artillery) prepared to march out.

The ensuing "Massacre of Fort William Henry" occurred when the Native American troops in French command fell upon the column leaving the fort, and began to hack and kill the British and Colonial troops.  The battle is well recorded in the fantastic movie "The Last of the Mohicans", but as this title by Ian Castle points out, modern scholarship, and archaeology of the past 20 years, have brought to light some different details.  The scene, from the Daniel Day Lewis movie, however, is still a stirring piece of Hollywood militaria (regardless of what it gets wrong).

The movie is a really nice piece of what Hollywood can accomplish as an action/history movie, although much of that is based on the inspiration of the fantastic Cooper novel.  One of the best things of the movie, commented on several times in the past here at Gaming with Chuck, is the great soundtrack by Trevor Jones.

Several Violin soloists have done nice versions, to be found on youtube.  Here is one played by a talented young lady dressed as a Gypsy dancer at a renaisance faire (in the background of the video is another young lady dressed as the Genie from I Dream of Jeannie??).  Here, however, is one of my favorites by very talented Taylor Davis.

All this talk of the Lewis film is all well and good, but the original book by Cooper is not to be missed. By all means, read it.  The movie referred to here (while good) is based much more on the 1936 (Randolph Scott) version of the story, than the Cooper novel.

From a gaming perspective, doing French & Indian war miniatures has long been on my Miniatures Painting project list.  Perhaps soon. However, the boardgame Hold the Line from Worthington Publishing (formerly Worthington Games) has the French & Indian War supplement available.

While the Fort William Henry Massacre isn't one of the scenarios in that expansion, there are a number of great battles included.  Very good game, and satisfyingly reminiscent of the period (and they get the history right, much better than Hollywood).

Finally, the last treasure that I walked away from The Williamsburg Muster with was a copy of the fantastic treasure trove of information concerning the military activities of Prussia (and then Germany) in the period from 1860-1867.  The book, Armies of Bismarck's Wars: Prussia 1860-67, is by Bruce Bassett-Powell (2013 Casemate).  It is fantastic, with information on the German Bund, leading up to the Schleswig-Holstein war, the Second Schleswig War and the Seven Weeks war.  Information about the armies, politics, diplomacy, key personnel, and battles abounds, with lots of reproduced primary illustrations, and other information.  This is the first half of the book, the second is dedicated to describing the Prussian arms - organization, operational methods, and uniforms.  It is all finished with a large number of color uniform plates, and appendices on the OB information for Prussia, Denmark and so forth - for the 1864 and 1866 campaigns.  A great book, and  nice find.  Glad I was able to pick it up.

Here is an example of one of the uniform plates from the book.  As you can see, a lot of great information, again, a perfect source for an armchair historian (although this book has a lot of very good, apparently sound from an academic perspective, information), and for a wargamer and figure painter.

So, the final shot of this article is to say thanks to Larry Weindorf, now owner of "For the Historian" a military history (and military models) shop in Gettysburg Pennsylvania.  He is located at 42 York Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325.  He is a fantastic guy to deal with, and most of the books listed here were purchased from him.  He has supported the Williamsburg conventions (especially back when they were sponsored by ODMS, and I was partially responsible for running them) for years now, and is a dealer at other wargaming shows (notably the big HMGS shows in Fredericksburg and Lancaster).  Great guy, buy some books from him at http://www.forthehistorian.com/

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Original Dungeons & Dragons reprint, brings back great memories

So, Wizards finally released the (announced over a year ago) Premium Edition of the Original Dungeons & Dragons set.

New reprint of Original D&D - recently arrived at Gaming with Chuck headquarters (picture from WOTC website)

This is the reprint, in the spirit of the other earlier edition reprints they have been doing, of the original white box version of Dungeons & Dragons, published once upon a time by TSR, thanks to the heroic writing and publishing efforts of the early greats of the industry - Gygax, Arneson, Blume, etc.

The original game came with three booklets:
Volume 1: Men & Magic
Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure
Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

Book one deals with building characters, and man-to-man combat, heavily dependent on Chainmail

Book two, with (you guessed it) Monsters and Treasures
Book three with campaign and adventure rules and guidelines

Following its release in 1973, there was a flurry of excitement and reprints as the popularity of the game took the fledgling wargaming company by storm, but by 1975, the Supplement train was going strong, and the original release was supported by:
Supplement I: Greyhawk
Supplement II: Blackmoor
Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry
Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes

The new set was received at Gaming With Chuck headquarters during the recent Snowpocalypse, and that gave me some time off from teaching at the university to spend a few hours perusing these little gems of nostalgia.  All the rules, text, descriptions, charts, tables, examples, and interior art is just as it always was (or, at least, as I remember it).  The biggest changes came in - (1) extremely clear typesetting (although that wasn't too much of a problem with the TSR originals), and (2) new cover art for each book. Sigh.  I miss the cover art, but still, as a chance to get this reprint, it is okay that they changed it (I suppose).  Still, they didn't ask me. I would have voted for the original.

The whole thing comes in a really nice dark wood box (with the stylized ampersand from the modernized game logo), with a felt lined well in the middle for the books, and smaller wells on both sides, to hold a large set of polyhedral dice.  I say large, because it also accommodates 4 d6, in addition to the rest.  This is very nice, and I dare say much, much nicer than the dice that I got with the redeemable coupon in my 1979 boxed set of Dungeons and Dragons.
The dice I got from the hobby store in Huntington WV, with the coupon from my set of Basic D&D

Rereading it is exciting, and the descriptions of the monsters, spells, abilities, and adventure ideas are all grand.  But, I am struck by how spread out everything is.  Basic monster abilities (descriptions and hit dice) in one place.  Details about how many attacks (monsters can get multiple attacks?  Cool new rule...), and how much damage each does (not everything does the same damage? Cool new rule...), are all in different places.  The release of the canonical spells for Magic Users and Clerics are in different places.  The introduction of the Thief (a player can play a thief?  Cool new rule...) - all this and other stuff, spread out over the different books.

Gathering all this, as well as "official" stuff that came out in The Dragon, and else where, was the reason for releasing the hardcover AD&D books.  It wasn't supposed to change the game (although it did) as much as it was supposed to make it easier for DMs and players to find all the stuff that came out in dribs and drabs over 7 books, and in magazine articles, etc.

In between the release of the White Box set, and the full set of the first three Hardcover books (released, in order, as Monster Manual, Players Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide), there was the release of the first box set since the white box edition - the first Basic Dungeons and Dragons set.  This was edited by J. Eric Holmes, and was the set that I first purchased (and played, and played...).  It wasn't fantastic, or extremely thick, but it captured all the rules (mostly) needed to play initial adventures, from the three volume set of 1974, along with some of the additional materials (spells, monsters, rule changes) from the supplements.

I had the 5th printing, identifiable because it came with adventure B1 and a coupon for dice
The edition I bought came with cut out chits for polyhedral dice randomization, and a coupon redeemable for dice (see picture above) from TSR at a local hobby store.  My set came from a small book story in Huntington WV, in the winter of 1979-80, called Nick's News.  There was a hobby store in town, where I had been buying some wargames (I bought both GEV and also the Hinchliffe Guide to Wargaming there, on my first trip), and had gotten interested in medieval miniatures (including some fantasy figures, in the Heritage "Fantastiques" line).  Then I saw the white box set, with the subtitle "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures". That was what I needed for my small, but growing, collection of medieval toy soldiers (including my first fantasy figures - a pack of beornings, that came with three Beorn-like figures and three bears).  But I also saw the first of the hard cover books, and a TSR rack of products - including some of the first packaged modules, the monster & treasure assortments, the geomorphs - all of it.
The book cover of the rule book in the Holmes box set. I still have a copy, and it is great reading.

It seemed to me that the 8x11 Holmes set would be a good bridge to the  hard cover books, and after all, it came with an adventure.  And - Oh! - what an adventure!  I got the fifth printing which came with B1 - In Search of the Unknown.  I STILL love that adventure.  And I can't think of anything better to teach a DM how to build their own dungeons.  It was a map, with room descriptions, and fill in the blank places for the newby DM to fill in monsters and treasures (complete with space for traps and containers), but the basic dungeon structure was done.  It was fantastic.  I was hooked - along with my two brothers, and anyone else we could get to play.
Best intro module ever made, in my humble opinion.

So, while WOTC has not reprinted the Holmes version of Basic D&D, they have done a good job of reprinting the White Box set, which is even more wonky, and more fun to read.  If they do a version of Basic D&D, honestly, I think I would rather have the Moldvay Version (Basic and Expert rulebooks), or the later B1-B5 version as it eventually ended up in the Rules Cyclopedia.  That was a fantastically complete ruleset, and loads of fun to play.  In the meantime, I think that the Labyrinth Lord game is a great modern replacement, and if you include the supplement Advanced Labyrinth Lord book, it is a pretty good replacement for both Basic D&D and also 1st Edition Advanced (this was the version we played over Labor Day Weekend at friends in 2013 - and my Daughter and Wife played in the same game, along with a pack of some of the best friends of the family who are all gamers).  Good times can still be had with this older version of the classic.