29 Jul

Long Live Mordor

Let’s take the viewpoint that LoTR is a rose tinted piece of propaganda for a romatic view of pre industrial Britain that ignores the inequities and squalor of real life. That’s what Kiril Yeskov did with his book, The Last Ringbearer, reviewed by Laura Miller on salon.com:

In Yeskov’s retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” He’s in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become “masters of the world,” and turn Middle-earth into a “bad copy” of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron’s citadel, is, by contrast, described as “that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic.”

The protagonist of “The Last Ringbearer” is a field medic from Umbar (a southern land), who is ably assisted by an Orocuen — that is, orc — scout, who is not a demonic creature like the orcs in “The Lord of the Rings,” but an ordinary man. They’re given the task of destroying a mirror in the elf stronghold of Lorien before the elves can further use it to infect Middle-earth with their alien magic. Meanwhile, the remnants of Mordor’s civilization fight a rear-guard guerrilla campaign to sustain the “green shoots of reason and progress,” in opposition to the “static” and “tidy” pseudo-paradise of Middle-earth under the elven regime.

The translator Markov has a less literary and more interesting explanation, just as likely to appeal to gamers, methinks:

More than 15 years ago Russian scientist Kirill Yeskov tried to settle certain geographical problems in Tolkien’s fantasy world. One thing led to another, and he tackled a bigger project – what if we assumed that it’s no less real than our world? His conclusion was that in such a case, the story of the Ring of Power is most likely a much-altered heroic retelling of a major war – but what was that war really about?

It’s free online and I am downloading it to the Kindle now..
Russian version here.

20 Jul

Song of Blades and Heroes

song of blades and heroes cover
It seems I have found my favourite skirmish wargame! I have always enjoyed wargaming, and have played and enjoyed a lot of Hordes of the Things [HOTT], a fantasy wargame at the unit level, playable in 45-60 minutes on a small table. Enjoyed, but never loved, it always has the touch of a boardgame to me, and the rules never seem to stick in my mind, even after twenty years I struggle to remember just how they work.
So I am delighted to say I have found my game, Song of Blades and Heroes, a skirmish game with the speed and ease of HOTT, but at a skirmish level and with rules that I was able to master and memorise in about an hour, including a battle. As the publisher says:

Song of Blades and Heroes is an exciting set of fast play fantasy rules that can be played with your existing miniatures.
EASY: simple rules that you learn in one game;
EASY MEASURING: no counting inches or centimeters: SBH uses three measuring sticks to measure all distances;
FAST: A game lasts 30-45 minutes. Play a mini campaign in a single evening;
INEXPENSIVE:5-10 models per player are needed;
CONVENIENT: a 2’x 2’ play area is enough. Bring all your armies in a shoebox!
MULTI-SCALE: any single based miniature, in any scale;
HEX-FRIENDLY: play on hex grids if you prefer;
NO WEIRD DICE: standard six-sided dice only;
READY TO PLAY: 180+ monsters and heroes included, and you can create your own!
CAMPAIGN RULES: your warband grows more powerful after every battle;
Six scenarios included.

Matthew and I sat down, read the rules in about 20 minutes each and played battle after battle for two days more or less solid. Best five pounds I’ve spent in a while and we’ve made more use of my disparate collection of 28 mm minis that I have in decades.

The rules are simple at the core, with a great activation system that balances troop Quality with risk when activating, and then a series of attributes that troops have which amend or adjust the core rules. As Wikpedia says: “Song of Blades and Heroes uses three six-sided dice per player to determine the outcome of a characters actions. Each character utilizes basic statistic points, Quality, Combat and Special Abilities. Points refer to how many points it costs to use the character within the game. Quality statistic is used to roll against for actions. Combat is the statistic you add to a six-sided dice roll when performing a Melee or Ranged Combat. Special Abilities cover any Special Abilities that the character may have. Players take alternate turns in activating models from their warbands. The miniature’s are activated one at a time. The player can choose to roll one, two or three dice versus the mminiature’s Quality. A successful roll entitles the player to make an action, such as an attack or a move. If two or more failures are rolled, play will then pass to the opponent.” The publisher is quite honest when they say there is no book keeping in play, and you can either use the army lists in the rulebook or there is an online troop builder to point build your own troop types. The aithor is Italian and there are several language versions of the rules available.

The feel is very ‘fantasy’ and one can easily imagine the battles as congruent with Tolkien or Moorcock, or D&D or Runequest. The granularity is low, so you have to accept that a dragon is a shooter just as a goblin archer, and that all mages behave the same, but the ‘chrome’ comes either in your mind or from the minis you use. There are also several expansion books, and variant games, of which Song of Gold and Darkness which includes new magic using types, and dungeon rules or Song of Wind and Water which brings the forces of Nature to the game. I have SGD so expect a new review soon.

Great fun, now for an expansion or two and then stat up some of my Gwenthia armies and start doing some wargaming in my own world. Oh, and I could do with some more scenery.. better ask Rich how to make some rivers and woods.

From Songs of Blades and Heroes
From Songs of Blades and Heroes

Gallery of our numerous battles.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

17 Jul

RuneQuest 6 is announced, new life breathed into Gwenthia

Peter Nash and Loz Whitaker, the people I’d trust most with RQ, are to publish RQ6!

Its with great pleasure and excitement that I’m able to announce that The Design Mechanism, the new company formed by myself and Pete Nash, has successfully reached an agreement with Issaries Inc to become the new licensee for RuneQuest.

The full Press Release can be found on the RuneQuest page at www.thedesignmechanism.com along with a detailed Q&A sheet for those who want to know more about what we have in store for RQ.

Greg Stafford, Issaries President, had this to say on the agreement: “RuneQuest is an old, highly respected brand that requires creativity, dedication and knowledge of the product. I know that Loz and Pete have that, plus enthusiasm and professionalism that will keep up the reputation and good name. I am pleased.”

Clearly its early days for both Design Mechanism and RuneQuest’s 6th edition but we have exciting plans for the game building on the work Pete and I have already done with Mongoose’s RuneQuest II and we look forward to sharing them with the roleplaying community as we develop the new rules.


Pete and Loz essentially rewrote Mongoose RQ I (the 4th edition of RQ) and fixed and mended and made it whole again in MRQ II (the 5th edition). Then Mongoose decided it wasn’t working for them commercially and have let the licence go and so Loz and Pete have formed a company (yes using the name we used for the Gwenthia development, they did ask and we all said “yes”. Combined with a deal with Moon Design, who now do all Glorantha publishing and the rights to publish a wide range of Glorantha material, for example 2nd Age Glorantha (the period Mongoose did) and 3rd Age Glorantha (the original period published by Chaosium in the olden days), plus I suspect that since Moon Design publish HeroQuest materials for Glorantha, we’ll see dual statted products in the future so you can choose a strong semi-simulationist rules based rpg if you want or a very loose narrativist one, or switch between them and use the same source materials with no work.

Pete and Loz were part of the team that developed and wrote Gwenthia, and indeed had started to do d100 rulesystem work before the project stopped in a mix of my illness at the time, disagreement about rule systems, the lack of will to manage the conversion to a commercial project from me, and the simple fact that we’d had a lot of fun and we all had lives. Loz has said clearly that Gwenthia will probably have a role in RQ6 and I for one would be delighted if that could be the case, with Loz and Pete clearly in the driving seat commercially and management wise.

So.. a portentous day.. I can’t wait to buy the new edition and start statting up my AurUrbis religions and running some Gwenthia with the new ruleset. Now.. given that the new ruleset will probably be very close to the previous edition, I may set myself the task of some cult write-ups this summer as a bit of solo mind relief from work.

Having also fallen in love with Songs of Blades and Heroes as a skirmish wargame ruleset I am starting to look for minis that I can do Gwenthian skirmish games with, first step has to be to find masked minis for the Zhari of Mull..