Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Heroes, Villains and Fiends" arrives

I now have my grubby little mitts on the second volume published for the game "In Her Majesty's Name," the aptly titled "Heroes, Villains and Fiends."

The noise Jon Richardson makes for his "tennis gremlins" in the clip below is the same noise I keep making as I hold the volume in my hands.

Just substitute "book" for "ball" and you've pretty much got it.

While I haven't finished it yet, what I have read has been delightful. In addition to increasing the arsenal available to the companies, the book also introduces rules and stats for vehicles and beasts. There's also a campaign system with examples using companies from the original book. And for my overall impression, I don't think I can say it any better than I did earlier today in a post on the Lead Adventure Forum:

"Can't wait to dive into it more thoroughly, but I have to say that, even with the vast increase in availability of weapons, vehicles, mounts and equipment, Craig and Charles have shown the strength of sticking to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) design principles. They've taken Occam's Razor to rules and mechanics and presented a system that is flexible but not overly complicated, inclusive but not cluttered, and rich with choices without dampening the creativity of the player. Kudos, gentlemen! Another successful foray that makes me even more eager for the third volume."

Speaking of vehicles, Bob Olley has done a bit of redesigning on the steampunk vehicle stretch goals for his Victorian Scrunts kickstarter. I look forward to the flood of company concepts that are going to appear once these gorgeous figures are released. But take a look at this tank/tankette!

OK, back to the boards, everyone, and I'll see you across the table soon.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Women of the Ladies Auxiliary

Here's the second piece of fiction I promised you, an introduction to the women of the Ladies Auxiliary and their manifold mission.

Thanks to everyone who's stopped by and read the earlier Miss Rossum piece. If you enjoyed it and would like to keep up with developments, please consider joining the page as a public follower.

I'd also love to hear your feedback. Constructive criticism would be wonderful, but whatever you're comfortable saying is welcome.

So, without further ado, I present, "At Cross Purposes."

At Cross Purposes

Seated at the large oak desk of her study, Letitia Kensington accepted the sheaf of correspondence from her secretary-cum-librarian. Like many of the women in the Ladies Auxiliary, her secretary availed herself of a sobriquet, having left her old name, and her old life, behind. And since she now lived in the world of books and letters, her secretary had chosen the nom-de-plume Lora Ipsum.

Letitia, as the public face of the organisation, did not enjoy that freedom. She was well known as the head of a public service organisation of ladies who used their husbands’ or fathers’ money to improve the lot of the less fortunate.

And while public improvement was indeed part of the organization’s mission, it was not the subject of the reports she received today.

These were field reports from her many agents and operatives, and they covered issues and concerns as varied as the flowers outside Letitia’s study window.

“Anarchist activity in the communes,” one read. “Theft of Egyptian artifacts at British Museum,” read another.

We seem to get that one every other week, she thought.

“Tongs extending reach beyond Cheapside and East End.” “Miss Violet Rossum again rejects overtures to join Ladies Alliance.” “Metropolitan Police seeking to add agents versed in demonology.”

Sweet merciful Lord, she thought. What sort of trouble are those well-meaning idiots about to unleash upon us?

“Submersible vessel sighted in Thames estuary. Contact lost.” “Fell walkers missing. Suspected human remains show evidence of canine bites.” “Lady Tolmache requests quiet assistance.”

That bastard’s beating her again, Letitia thought. It may be time to bring her into the fold.

The secondary mission of the Ladies Auxiliary was surreptitious aid to women, and sometimes their children, who were being abused or exploited. It was a mission some suspected and whispered about.

“Large walking alligators rumored to be in sewers. Laughable, but may bear further investigation to determine what is actually transpiring there.” “Corpses seen walking through graveyard; some seem to have machinery added postmortem.”

There are things man was not meant to know, she considered. Women do not have that luxury.

For the true mission of the Ladies Auxiliary, the original surreptitious reason for their founding, was to hunt and destroy monsters. The creatures of ancient myth and fable and the abominations of modern scientific inquiry walked abroad in the land, and it was the ladies’ duty to stop them, to protect hearth and home when no other could.

Letitia hefted the last bundle of documents, which included a hand-written report, witness interviews, even diagrams of the lay of the land.

“Armed priests observed battling nocturnal humanoid creatures near Carfax Abbey. Suspect vampire involvement. Presence of civilians noted. Hunters outside provenance of church involved?”

“No,” burst from Letitia’s lips. “No, no, no, no.” Not vampires. Not again.

The first thought through her mind was “threepenny opera.” It was her own private name for an operation that required the attention of her three best covert agents -- the elite fighter going by the name Penny Wise, the driver/pilot Penny Lane, and the occultist known only as Penny Dreadful. Together, there had been no challenge yet they could not overcome.

But she alone among her agents had faced the lords of the night before. She looked at the nearby hatrack where hung her long red scarf. It was what marked her among her colleagues in the Ladies Auxiliary as a vampire slayer. It was her badge of office as leader of the London chapter. And it was worn in imitation of the woman who had presented it to her, the very founder of the Auxiliary.

Letitia opened a drawer and removed her freshly oiled sidearm.

“Lora,” she called. “Have the carriage readied. I’m going out.”

Miss Ipsum leaned into the room, her eyebrows raised. “Ma’am?”

“And send word to the central office. Tell Mina Murray I believe her old acquaintance is back in town.”

Here's one of the minis I have in mind for Letitia Kensington, the Dark Sword Miniatures Jen Haley figure.

Of course, given that I've adopted the red scarf that features so prominently in Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," I'm also considering the Ironclad Miniatures Mina Harker.

One thing I'm certain of is the figure for Lora Ipsum, the Anima Tactics Sophia Ilmora miniature.

Of course, that's just until the Wyrd Malifaux "Through the Breach" kickstarter arrives. The concept art for its archivist miniature is fantastic.

And here's the render:

Monday, November 18, 2013

More with Miss Rossum, Our Lady of the Machines

Hello, everyone. I promised you some fiction, and I have been gratified by the news that many of you have been eagerly awaiting a further foray into my Victorian steampunk London. It is in the setting I intend to use for my games of "In Her Majesty's Name" and "Empire of the Dead."

Today we have the first of two recent pieces I've been working on. You've already met Helena Domin, known to all who pass her manufactory as Miss Rossum. After all, that's Rossum's Anthropomorphic Automatons emblazoned on the side in glowing letters.

Last time we got a tiny taste of the potential Miss Rossum sees in the world beyond her financial, mechanical empire -- her ubiquitous creations stand in every affluent home, relied up but not worthy of further regard, essential but ignored. Should the need arise, Miss Rossum has an artificial army ready to move at her whim.

Today, though, we look further inside, and see what plans Helena Domin may have with regards to herself.

I give you "Our Lady of the Machines"

Our Lady of the Machines 
Helena Domin could feel the distant thrum of her manufactory’s production line as she descended the stone stairs. This staircase, indeed even the doorway to it, would never be discovered by the thousands of automatons working above. She had created them with exactly this blind spot -- for them, the doorway simply did not exist. They could not perceive it even if they stood in front of it. 
The lighting spaced along the walls gave a warm amber glow to the spiraling stairs as she descended. Tthe vibration of the machinery aboveground retreated and soom was barely a tickle under the soles of her shoes. Finally she came to the lowest level of Rossum’s Anthropomorphic Automatons, a space only she knew existed. The dressed stone chamber was cluttered with equipment, all brass and glass, but was dominated by a giant vessel in its center. An elongated bronze canister twice the height of a man canted back between ornate, fluted brass legs. An assemblage of tubes and wires ran into the top of the vessel, and an equally complex set of pipes, handles and drains were attached to its lower surfaces. An oblong glass hatch stretched along the upper-facing side of the tank. A set of controls for operating the device stood nearby on a wooden church lectern pressed into service.
This was the one thing for which Helena Domin returned to her wartorn homeland. After establishing herself in London, she had retraced the route she first traveled as a refugee. She picked her way across the burned fields of the island, skirting the destroyed plantation houses, and any lurking dangers, until she came to her former home. Down in the subterranean levels of that building, she spent days dismantling this entire contraption, loading it onto a succession of tracked, self-propelled motorized carts; they followed behind her like obedient pack mules as she worked her way back to the coast. She loaded them aboard the craft of the smuggler she’d enlisted and returned to Britain. 
And now the machine was again secure in her domain. Reassembled, polished, ready -- dormant. Helena ran her hands over the rounded, gleaming surfaces of the central tank.
The birthing vessel.
Its codes and controls contained all the information her creators had used to bring her into being. The right conflux of crystals and chemicals, of proteins and potions, and she had emerged, fully formed, from the tank’s confines, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. With its current configuration, if fueled and filled with the right components, it would grow an exact duplicate of herself in a matter of days.  
So far, she had resisted the temptation. 
Picking her way to a place behind the system’s controls, Helena looked at her latest makeshift additions to the tank’s operations. She had crafted a failsafe, one for which her makers had not foreseen a need. Of course, they could never had imagined she would be the sole survivor, the last remnant of the Universal Robots, the biological handcrafted creations of Old Man Rossum. 
Those arrogant academics had not foreseen any way in which their weaponsmithing would not leave them as rulers of the world, instead of smoking corpses in a grey, ruined landscape, bodies of meat and metal strewn everywhere, left as meals for the crows and the rust. 
Her failsafe utilized the same internal systems that continuously monitored her physical integrity, and it capitalized on the communication potential inherent in her structure. Layered within her biology was the ability to generate high-energy signals, either directed or omnidirectional, and she had fitted the birthing vessel with an appropriate receiver. Now, were she ever to completely shut down, to be killed as it were, as her higher functions shut down, all that energy would shift to communications, to generate a signal directed here, at the birthing vessel. The signal would do what she could not yet will herself to do: It would begin the germination process. Upon her body dying, and the high energy signal reaching the receiver here, the birthing vessel would give rise to another Helena Domin in a matter of days. 
Her ritual had now become weekly descents into the room that held the machine, where she would then touch the foot-wide metal hemisphere alongside the control panel. A bright, loud spark would jump from her hand into the ball. “The spark of life,” she thought, chuckling. But that electromagnetic charge in some way carried with it her memories, her emotions, her attitudes and preferences, her predilections and prejudices. That tiny lightning bolt meant that, should the machine fire, the body that emerged from the tank would indeed be her, with memories intact up to now, the point of transference, losing only whatever event out in the world would cost her her current existence. 
She had found a way to, in effect, make herself immortal. 
She had conquered so much in her brief existence, and now she had conquered death, or the fear of death at least. 
As she mounted the stairs to ascend the spiraling staircase back to the churning, clunking assembly lines on the manufactory’s main floor, she let out a long sigh. 
“That gives me more time,” she thought, “to conquer the crushing loneliness.”  
She emerged onto the production floor and walked head-down toward her office, past the rows of gleaming mechanical workers assembling reproductions of themselves. In row upon row of identical burnished faces, none looked up from their tasks to take notice of her passing.

OK, folks, that's it for today. Hope you enjoyed it or are, at least, intrigued. I'll have the second promised piece of prose up for you tomorrow. (I know I said the weekend, and Monday's not the weekend, but I ain't making cheese sandwiches here. Creativity takes time, you know.) Tomorrow I'll introduce you to some members of the Ladies Auxiliary and reveal what they really do.

Back to the boards, everyone, and I'll see you across the table.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Second wave of Zombie Plague Kickstarter minis

This post may in some ways alleviate or abrogate or some other appropriate verb beginning in "a" the debt I owe our undead brethren and, to some extent, my fellow bloggers.

I utterly failed to fulfill the goals of Zomtober this year, despite my stated intent to participate and its amazingly low bar to be dubbed a participant -- paint four zombies or survivors during the month, debuting them on each Sunday of the month. Despite the great organizational and promotional efforts of the Eclectic Gentleman Tabletop Gamer, I blew it. I painted zilch. Zero. The only zombie-related activity I had during the month was posting my (still popular) unboxing of Wave 2 of the Zombicide Kickstarter. See that post here.

So now I've got Wave 2 of Brian Roe's Zombie Plague Kickstarter minis. (See the post about Wave 1, the survivors, here.) With Wave 1 I also picked up the new comic release that includes the latest version of the Zombie Plague rules.

Wave 2 comprises solely zombies and some themed resin bases. Unlike the earlier survivor minis, these zombies don't depict particular characters or creatures from the comic storyline.

As big a fan as I am of the pop-culture representations that have become commonplace in current zombie products (Zombicide, I'm looking at you!), I have to say that I find these original creations even more inspiring. And as I am a fan of so many retro things (7TV's '70s vibe, Atomic Cafe's skewed 1950s post-nuclear landscape), I find this '50s-looking bombshell called "Dead Sexy" to cause my chilled heart to beat just a little faster. She's a perfect realization of the concept art, and the casting is nice and clean. She has such personality (and sex appeal) that I may have to find a role for her as a "smart zombie," or some kind of unit leader for the undead. I can't decide whether she died in the Fifties and was just revived or if she dresses like she's into '50s car and Tiki culture and was caught up in the zombie apocalypse. Either way, she sports minimal injuries to her curvy form -- dead sexy indeed.

On all these minis there was some minor flash, most of which I was able to clear away with just my fingers. Some mold lines are visible but are so mild that I can't really differentiate them by touch. This should bode well for cleanup -- a quick swipe with a file and we're ready to rock.

Below we have Dirt Nap, captured in the act of emerging from the loose loam of his own freshly dug grave. I believe it to be a makeshift grave, too, as he's accompanied by a garden gnome. I wonder if this man's wife did away with him and planted him in the yard under her begonias, only to have her dispatched husband return, now perhaps to wreak his revenge? (Why am I hearing the sentence in Jonathan Ross' voice? "... weturn, now perhaps to week his wevenge?")

Forgive the intrusion of my Blu-Tack in the photo below, but it was the only way to get him to stand up long enough for this photo. The recesses on the custom base are well done and will work perfectly once the mini is actually glued in. Gotta wait until I clean him up, though. The little gnome is a hoot, too (and there's a spot for him over the zombie's right shoulder, but I couldn't get him to stand there. Uncooperative little gremlin. Uncooperative Blu-Tack too.)

Sorry for the blurry photo below, but it was the only one I captured of the multipart Joe Zombie. You can check the Updates in the Kickstarter project to see a couple of different ways he can be assembled. I think he's a stroke of genius. There are popular plastic zombie sets out there, but having that kind of choice for a metal model fills my with delicious dread. And I can always find good use for some extra arms and heads. My only regret is that I didn't order more of him. He is a great example of the miniature-maker's art and will make a great addition to any wargames table that needs a modern zombie. All hail the Roebeast, harbinger of the Zombocalypse!

And below we have the multipart female zombie, Rose Frum. (Took me a few minutes to get the pun. I know, sometimes I overthink things. Love it!) Rose is a little more hunched than Joe but has the same great choices for arms and heads. Her body's showing more damage than Dead Sexy, and her choices of heads span the gamut from vacant-eyed undead girl to meatbag corpse. We've also got a sprue (Is it still a sprue if it's metal?) of extra weapons -- the weapons wielded by the survivors, to boot. They are, as with all these, precise, clean, clear, direct and delicious.

And here's the zombie Brian calls Tubby. Her corpse is what cops would call a "floater," someone whose corpse was immersed in water after death and now features bloated flesh and sloughing skin. The presence of a bikini bottom makes me think she was in a lake or river rather than in an actual tub, but maybe she bathes in her underwear, who knows? Her sculpt again does a great job of capturing the putrescence present in the concept art.

And may I say I really appreciate the effort that Brian went to here with women that look like real women, not the siliconed-out supermodels we often see depicted in fantasy minis. Admittedly, these women are dead -- or rather, undead -- but they're amazingly realistically proportioned, which is, sadly, not the norm in the gaming industry. Kudos, Rsquared!

Here we have 10 themed Mud and Gutz resin bases that add horror to zombies, survivors, or just about anything. There's two each of five designs below, but you'll probably have a better result if you go the the Kickstarter pages and check Update 32 to see already painted versions. There's mud, blood, guts and skulls tromped into the dirt of these bases, and they look suitably horrifying.

So there you have it, compadres, a Kickstarter fulfillment that exceeded expectations and added unique, intriguing and useful components to my modern zombie collection. Every design choice in these figures tells a story, and it will help you tell stories through your own games. Whether you're playing ATZ, 7ombieTV, No More Room In Hell, AR:SE or Zombicide or even Last Night on Earth, any other zombie skirmish rules, these minis are a worthy addition to your own zombie horde.

So back to the boards, everybody, and I'll see you across the tables.

Remember, check back later this weekend for some more fiction from my IHMN setting featuring Miss Rossum and her Anthropomorphic Automatons and another piece revealing the women of the Ladies' Auxiliary. Cheers!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The prodigal returns

Kill the fatted calf, let bells ring in the marketplace, for the prodigal has returned. While you're killing the fatted calf, do something about his fatted thighs and flabby buttocks as well. Someone sic Jillian Michaels on him quick.

Can one be a prodigal blogger? Is that allowed? Or grammatically correct? Or painful in some way?

Although I have continued to be my usual active self over on Facebook, I had not realized for how long I have allowed these fields to lie fallow, and for that I am truly sorry, my dedicated followers. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima, maxima culpa.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that I tend to think of Facebook as suitable for more off-the-cuff observations, for passing on posts of others I enjoy, for the daily detritus that distracts us from the drudgeries of work. I tend to think of this blog as for more "official" posts of original content or of my reviews/unboxings/observations about the hobby items I have recently purchased.

I need to seek a happy medium between the two, because I know there are plenty of hobby items floating around out there on which I opine that would be perfectly suitable for inclusion here at "Dispatches," were I to post them up. I don't think anyone would complain were I to reach a more regular frequency of posts.

That being said, I will reveal that I do have two more short pieces of fiction in the hopper, as 'twere, one about our beloved Miss Rossum of Anthropomorphic Automatons fame, and one debuting the women of the Ladies Auxiliary and revealing their secret agenda.

Also I promised Brian Roe I'd post about the second wave of his excellent Zombie Plague Kickstarter minis, which I LOVE but have not yet taken adequate time with, nor have I secured good enough photos to share with you, my loyal readers. So look for those on Wednesday, shall we say, and then fiction by week's end? Deal? Deal.

And on this Veterans Day (or Remembrance Day if you're across the Atlantic from my current location), all thanks and honor to those who have served in the armed forces of their countries, those who fight the good fight for their homeland, for their kith and kin. May we most of all remember that, while courageous men and women go off to war and sacrifice so much during their service, may there come a day when war is no longer necessary and the only battles we fight are those we fight for enjoyment across the tabletop. I am proud to be an American and, though I did not get to serve in the military, I am proud of the service of both my grandfathers during wartime.

America is the land of the free, because of the brave.

Goodnight, cats and kittens. Sleep well.