Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 2:18 PM
Alas, a change of plans.
Today, Wizards of the Coast eliminated my position. I have unfortunately been let go, after more than 20 years of employment with TSR/WotC.
I still hope to write for the Forgotten Realms novel line as time and opportunity permit. In fact, I'm going to go home tonight and finish my second draft of Prince of Ravens. There may be some more opportunities down the road.
D&D fans... thanks for a great run. I hope I've given you some good gaming over the years. Your game is in good hands with Mike and Monte.
For fans of the A&A minis games, I would like to say that this does not signal the cancellation of any miniatures lines. I hope I can take on some of the design work on a freelance basis, but we'll have to see.
Time to splice the main brace, as they say. Good gaming, all!
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011, 4:57 PM
Merry Christmas, folks! It’s been a few weeks since I posted, so I thought I would drop by and provide an update for what’s going on with me these days.
Prince of Ravens (fiction): I am currently wrapping up my second draft of Prince of Ravens, which will be available in the summer of 2012 as an ebook. Prince of Ravens marks the return of a character of mine that I haven’t written about in ten years: the rogue, sorcerer, and general troublemaker Jack Ravenwild, native son of the city of Raven’s Bluff. Jack was the protagonist of my novel City of Ravens, which I regard as some of the best writing I’ve ever done. As City of Ravens readers might expect, he soon becomes entangled in all sorts of fraud, scheming, skullduggery, and misadventure. I’ll probably make one more light pass on the manuscript in another month or two. Should be fun!
Heroes of Elemental Chaos (D&D design): We’re just finishing up with our typesetting and production on Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, by Rob Schwalb and myself. Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is slated for a February 2012 release—keep your eyes peeled for a couple of upcoming Design and Development articles on DDi, as well as some selected previews. We have some fun stuff in the works for this one: The elementalist sorcerer, the sha’ir wizard build, elemental monk traditions, themes for elemental characters, and more. I’m particularly proud of the elementalist, which is an Essentials-style spellcaster sort of analogous to the slayer. More on the elementalist when we start to preview the book.
Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures: We’re still on target for a February release of the Battle of Britain starter and the Angels 20 booster set. I am planning to begin weekly previews of a selection of units from the set around January 20th (just like the Opening Salvo previews for A&A Naval Miniatures). We’re well along with the design and model creation for a second set, and we’re beginning to take a serious look at what we might put in an as-yet hypothetical third set. If you’re interested in AAAFM, take a look over at Forumini and download this month’s newsletter—I wrote a long preview of the game that examines a number of the mechanics and shows off sample units. You can find it at: www.box.com/s/ztkifraremr83dqp1l0a
Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures Set 7: As many of you know, we just released set 6, Surface Action, about a month and a half ago. We are beginning some work on a potential set 7, but we don’t have anything more than that we can announce right now—it’s just a little too early to talk about release dates and set sizes. However, I am very excited by how the set list is shaping up. Many of the “sore teeth” I’ve wanted to fix for a while now ought to be addressed.
Anyway, that’s it for now. I expect I’ll probably pick things up again after the new year, with some previews on Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures. See you all on the flight line!
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Monday, November 7, 2011, 5:06 PM
Hi, everybody! This may be my shortest blog entry ever, but that's because I just want to get the word out: We're going to be demonstrating the new Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures game at the Museum of Flight in Tukwila, Washington this Saturday, November 12th, at 1:30 pm. The event is put on by the Northwest Historical Miniatures Gaming Society, and there will be a number of other games around. And the Museum itself is a very fine air museum, well worth seeing.
Anyway, we'll show off a dozen or so of the models from the set, and provide some fun dogfighting action for anybody who cares to stop by. We'll run the game straight out of the starter set so you can see what the mechanics for initiative, movement, and attack are like. I expect to be there, and I believe that some or all of my fellow WotCers Steve Winter, Mons Johnson, and Brian Hart may be on hand too. If you can't play, feel free to stop by, say hi, and ask us questions about the game!
For those of you who can't make it to the Seattle area, I'll be posting here soon about the game and beginning a preview of Angels 20, the first set. Also, I'm working on a preview article for the upcoming Forumini newsletter.
Never fear, I haven't forgotten about War at Sea. Hope you all are enjoying set 6, and when I have something I can say about what comes next, I will.
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Monday, October 10, 2011, 1:22 PM
Surface Action Opening Salvo, Part 4
Welcome back! This is our final Opening Salvo preview for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures set 6, Surface Action. This week we'll take a look at two of the heavyweights, the USS Montana and the Sho-Go Yamato. Surface Action releases on 25 October 2011, so it's not long now!
The largest and most heavily armored battleship ever to see service in any navy, Yamato mounted a potent armament of nine 18-inch guns, twelve 6-inch guns, and twelve 5-inch guns on a hull of nearly 70,000 tons. Yamato was commissioned in December of 1941, and soon after became flagship of the Combined Fleet. During the course of the war she underwent several major refits; most significantly, she lost the two wing turrets of her secondary battery, but received additional dual-purpose 5-inch guns, search radar, and antiaircraft batteries.
Yamato was involved in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, but played little part in either engagement; major battleship actions were few and far between in the Pacific war. Finally, in October of 1944, the remnants of the Japanese fleet staked all they had left on a complicated plan to defend the Philippine Islands from the impending US assault. This was the Sho-Go 1 plan, which led to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In preparation, Yamato received a distinctive new coat of black paint for the anticipated nighttime engagements, and was assigned to the powerful “Center Force” of the Japanese fleet. The Center Force came under early submarine and air attack; Admiral Kurita’s flagship, the cruiser Atago, was sunk by a US submarine, and Kurita was forced to transfer his flag to Yamato. But the Japanese pressed on, exploiting an American oversight that left San Bernadino Strait unguarded. The Center Force arrived off the coast of Samar in the morning of 25 October 1944 and caught a group of American escort carriers, Taffy 3, completely off guard. In the ensuing action Taffy 3’s escorts bravely held off the powerful Japanese surface fleet. Although Taffy 3 suffered serious losses, the Japanese finally withdrew in confusion. Yamato never got another chance to bring her mighty guns to bear on enemy ships.
Game Play: Much like the Set 1 Yamato, Sho-Go Yamato is a great big beater of a battleship. Her secondary battery is weaker than the earlier version, representing the 1943 removal of half of her 6-inch guns, but her AA is improved. Most importantly, she gains an interesting new special ability, General Pursuit. This represents the controversial command given by Admiral Kurita during the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. It allows you to drive the best part of your fleet forward to engage the enemy more closely in one sudden surge, although you can’t use this ability to claim objectives. On the downside, you automatically lose initiative on the next turn—much as Kurita lost control of the attack on Taffy 3 when he released his ships to operate independently. General Pursuit is best used to press home a united torpedo attack with the help of some Long Lance armed destroyers and cruisers; try using it to overwhelm a tough enemy ship in range of several of your own.
Successor to the Iowa-class battleships, the Montana class provided the US Navy’s architects with their first chance in over twenty years to design a new battleship without any treaty constraints whatsoever. When the Iowas were designed, Japan’s abrogation of the London Naval Treaty triggered an escalator clause that allowed the United States to build a 45,000-ton ship with 16-inch guns. With Montana, the following class, all limitations were lifted. The Navy decided to retain the excellent Mark VII 16-inch guns of the Iowa class while adding a fourth turret, a heavier armor scheme, and a new secondary battery. The US 16-inch guns fired an exceptionally heavy 2,700-lb shell; with more barrels and superior fire control Montana’s broadside would have matched or bettered that of the Japanese Yamato if they had ever met in battle.
However, Montana and her sisters never entered service. Design work on the class was suspended in April 1942; given the building time of roughly 2-1/2 to 3 years for earlier battleship classes, they would have been unlikely to be finished before 1945. In the meantime, the yards needed for the Montana’s construction were busy building the Iowa-class battleships and Essex-class aircraft carriers. In the spring of 1943, the program was canceled outright: The war would be over before the giant battleships could be useful, and the days of the battleship were numbered anyway. Aircraft carriers were now the measure of power, and the Montana remained only an interesting might-have-been.
Game Play: The Montana is simply the biggest, toughest battleship available to the Allies in non-historical scenarios. The only question in employing her is whether to stand off and make full use of your Extended Range 5, or to pile in to point-blank range and count on your 10 armor to keep you afloat while you rake everything in sight with your good secondary batteries and awesome main guns. Don’t let your Heavy Antiair make you overconfident about enemy air builds; you can still only fire at one attacking squadron a turn, so you can be overwhelmed by multiple enemy squadrons grouping up on you.
Thanks for tuning in to the War at Sea previews! Keep your eyes peeled for a set list, which we'll publish soon. In the meantime, I'll be quiet for a few weeks here, but when I resume I'll take a longer look at the new A&A Air Force Miniatures game.
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Monday, October 3, 2011, 9:52 AM
Surface Action Opening Salvo, Part 3
Welcome back! Our Opening Salvo previews for Surface Action, the sixth set for the Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures game, continue this week with a look at two light cruisers: HMS Sheffield and Giovanni Delle Banda Nere. Surface Action releases on 25 October 2011.
A member of the famous Southampton (or “Town&rdquo class of light cruisers, HMS Sheffield was a well-armed, well-protected warship with good speed and excellent endurance. She and her sisters represented an important change in British cruiser design, moving away from the undergunned Leander and Arethusa class designs toward a heavier, more capable ship equivalent to the latest American and Japanese cruisers. With twelve 6-inch guns and a 4.5” armor belt, the Town class ships were more than a match for any light cruisers in the Kriegsmarine or Regia Marina at the outbreak of the war—and some of their heavy cruisers as well.
HMS Sheffield had an active and successful war. She participated in the hunt for the Bismarck in May of 1941, during which she was attacked by Ark Royal’s Swordfish. Fortunately, she dodged all 11 torpedoes dropped against her. In December of 1942, HMS Sheffield fought in the Battle of the Barents Sea, dueling the German heavy cruiser Hipper and sinking the destroyer Eckholdt. A year later, she participated in the Battle of the North Cape, pursuing the battlecruiser Scharnhorst in the opening stages of the engagement and trading salvoes with her. The Sheffield’s last action of the war was Operation Tungsten in April of 1944. She escorted a powerful group of carriers as they launched an airstrike against the battleship Tirpitz in her lair among the fjords of northern Norway. HMS Sheffield remained in service in the postwar period until she was decommissioned in 1964.
Game Play: Few fleets are designed around your choice of light cruiser, but Sheffield possesses a great deal of overall utility and would look good in almost any Allied fleet. She can easily fulfill the light cruiser’s primary jobs of killing destroyers and providing antiaircraft protection for more important units, and her Evade Torpedoes ability (courtesy of Ark Royal’s Swordfish) gives Sheffield an important defense against the dreaded banes of light cruisers—submarines and Long Lance-armed destroyers. The decision on when to use Evade Torpedoes really depends on your opponent’s fleet; obviously you want to entice your opponent to waste as many torpedoes as possible on Sheffield when you use the ability, but if you wait until you see an attack worth evading, you might not ever make use of the special ability. Try to save it for a torpedo attack of 3 dice or more; at that point you’re approaching a 50% chance of taking a torpedo hit that will cripple or kill the ship.
Giovanni Delle Banda Nere
Laid down in 1928, Banda Nere belonged to the di Giussano-class of light cruisers. This was the first group of the Condottiere-class cruisers, which eventually numbered twelve ships in five distinct groups. Italy’s naval architects at the time were obsessed with maximizing the speed of their cruiser designs in order to match (or beat) similar designs under construction in France, Italy’s principal naval rival. Banda Nere and her sisters were indeed very fast, approaching 37 knots, but they sacrificed sturdiness and all but the most minimal armor protection for their excellent turn of speed.
Banda Nere was involved in the Mediterranean war from its very beginning, participating in the convoy action that led to the Battle of Calabria (9 July 1940). Ten days later, her light armor very nearly proved her undoing at the Battle of Cape Spada (19 July 1940), where she barely escaped HMAS Sydney and five British destroyers. In March 1942, Banda Nere fought in the Second Battle of Sirte, where she landed a serious blow on the new British cruiser HMS Cleopatra, knocking out her radar and after turrets. However, on the day following the battle, heavy seas damaged the Banda Nere. She was sent to La Spezia for repairs on 1 April 1942, but a few miles off the volcanic island of Stromboli Banda Nere was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine HMS Urge.
Game Play: Banda Nere is an inexpensive light cruiser that can certainly handle enemy destroyers, but the most interesting elements of her design are the two new special abilities she brings to the table. The Fast ability gives you a chance to run down (or run away from) virtually any other ship in the game. Unlike many other movement-increasing specials, Fast does not have any limitations about claiming objectives… because it’s unreliable enough that you just can’t count on getting that third sector of movement exactly when you want it. The Straddle ability provides Banda Nere with a consolation prize for missing on your opening salvo. You’ll never work up to punching holes in Iowa with Straddle, but it does provide a handy bonus for dueling other medium-armored ships. Try using Straddle with a long-range opening shot just to establish the pattern, then close in on the following turn and add the bonus die to a close-range attack against the target you’re engaging.
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Monday, September 26, 2011, 10:59 AM
Surface Action Opening Salvo, Part 2
Welcome back! This week we’ll continue our Opening Salvo previews for Surface Action, the sixth set for the Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures game. Surface Action releases on 25 October 2011, and consists of 40 models. Last week we took a look at the carriers HMS Eagle and Taiho; this time around, we’ll debut two unit types never before seen in War at Sea, a minesweeper and a landing ship tank (or LST).
The LST, or Landing Ship Tank, is one representative of a class of amphibious assault ships deployed in great numbers by the United States and Britain during the war. Based on a shallow-water tanker originally designed for service in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, the LST was designed to beach itself and discharge its cargo of heavy vehicles such as tanks and trucks directly onto the beach. Unlike other craft designed to land material at the water’s edge, the LST was an oceangoing ship with enough range to cross thousands of miles of open water in order to bring its cargo to the battle. It revolutionized amphibious warfare.
LSTs made their combat debut in the Solomons campaign in the summer of 1943. From that point forward, they played a major role in virtually every amphibious operation that followed, in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters: Sicily, Italy, Normandy, the Marianas, the Phillipines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa. Over a thousand LSTs were built during World War II.
Game Play: Back in the day, sailors grimly joked that LST stood for Large Slow Target, and that’s unfortunately true. The LST isn’t going to help you defeat an enemy fleet; its only contribution is its Landing ability, and even then it requires unusual patience to score those VPs because the LST is ridiculously slow. The real reason the LST is in the set is to provide War at Sea players who like to create their own scenarios with an interesting (and historically important) tool in their toolboxes.
By the 1930s, the World War I-vintage minesweepers of Germany’s Kriegsmarine were old and worn out. Accordingly, a new class of large, fast, versatile modern minesweepers was ordered in the years just before the war. Completed in 1938, M1 was lead ship of her class. Well-armed with a pair of 105mm guns and a suite of lighter AA guns, M1 was very active during the invasion of Norway (April 1940) and the campaign that followed; her commander, Hans Bartels, won a Knight’s Cross for her actions. M1 was finally sunk by a British bomber raid in the harbor of Bergen, Norway on 12 January 1945.
While you might think a minesweeper is good only for mine warfare operations, both Axis and Allied fleets found countless uses for these capable little ships. They made for excellent small escorts, and the M1 class in particular was well regarded for its versatility—in fact, the Soviets described M1 and her sisters as small escort destroyers, not minesweepers.
Game Play: Minesweeping was dangerous duty, and you’ll note that the M1 has no special ability to safely enter minefields—she has to take her chances just like any other ship. However, once there, she can quickly clear a safe path for other ships to follow. (Real minesweeping took hours or days, of course, but it’s a game, after all.) Anyway, while the M1’s primary mission may be minesweeping, she also provides Germany with a cheap, capable escort. A modest ASW value won’t kill many submarines but can certainly contribute to ASW harassment, and Guard the Convoy lets M1 “take the bullet” for a higher-value transport or landing ship if necessary.
So what happens if two M1’s in the same sector Guard each other? We’ll address that in the set 6 FAQ, but here is the upshot: Just as a unit can’t benefit twice from a special ability of the same name, it shouldn’t be penalized twice by a special ability of the same name. Both M1’s can’t affect the same enemy unit at the same time with Guard the Convoy; you have to pick one to guard the other.
Check back next week when we take a look at a couple of Set 6 cruisers: HMS Sheffield and Giovanni Delle Banda Nere. Oh, and one more thing: Obviously the photos I placed in my gallery to support this blog series have all become public knowledge, which sort of renders the previews a little moot. My bad; next time I’ll remember to keep the later-preview photos out of my gallery until I want them to be seen. The last time I prepared Opening Salvos I don’t remember this being a problem, but I don’t recall if I posted them one week at a time, or if people simply didn’t notice them beforehand. I’m going to leave the images in my gallery for now; the pictures have all been seen, so there’s no point in trying to remove them.
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Monday, September 19, 2011, 11:53 AM
Hi folks! For the next couple of weeks, it's all A&A miniatures, all the time. I will preview some of the units in the upcoming War at Sea set 6. Once I finish the Opening Salvos, I'll get back to a more normal mix of D&D and A&A musings. Without further ado...
Surface Action Opening Salvo, Part 1
Welcome to our first Opening Salvo for Surface Action, the sixth set for the Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures game. Surface Action releases on 25 October 2011, and consists of 40 models. We’ll begin with a look at two new rare models: The British carrier HMS Eagle, and the Japanese carrier Taiho.
Like HMS Furious and HMS Glorious, HMS Eagle began her career as a World War I conversion. She was originally laid down in 1913 as the Chilean battleship Almirante Cochrane and purchased for conversion into an aircraft carrier in 1918, although the work was not completed into 1924. She was well protected with a 4.5” armor belt and a battery of 6-inch guns for self defense.
HMS Eagle spent most of her war in the Mediterranean. In July 1940 she took part in the Battle of Calabria (or Battle of Punta Stilo) against the Italian battlefleet, one of the very rare combined carrier and battleship actions of the war. She played a key role in the Malta convoys of 1942, participating in no less than nine separate missions to fly off Spitfires intended to reinforce the island’s air defenses and protecting the vital convoys of Operations Harpoon and Pedestal. On the afternoon of 11 August 1942, she was hit by a devastating spread of four torpedoes fired by the German submarine U-73. HMS Eagle sank in only four minutes with the loss of 131 crewmen.
Game Play: HMS Eagle is tough and durable, but she is not a terribly good carrier, only basing a single squadron. However, she offers some flexibility in role, since she has both Expert Dogfighter and Expert Torpedo—you can use her to base torpedo bombers or fighters depending on whether you want a little air cover for your fleet, or more attack power against enemy shipping. Her chief advantage is that she’s cheap; HMS Eagle is almost worth her 14 points just for her durability and gun battery. Embarking aircraft is a bonus.
A large, new fleet carrier, Taiho joined the Nihon Kaigun in March of 1944. Unlike preceding classes of Japanese (or American) aircraft carriers, she incorporated an armored flight deck that was designed to withstand bomb hits of up to 1,100 pounds. Her air complement varied significantly throughout her design, but finally settled at 53. However, Taiho carried 65 aircraft easily in the months after her commissioning.
Taiho’s career was not a long one. Vice Admiral Ozawa selected her as his flagship shortly after she arrived at Singapore and began exercising with the First Air Fleet. More than 18 months had passed since the big carrier battles of the summer of 1942, and the Combined Fleet was ready to seek out a decisive battle against the American fleet. The US invasion of Saipan put the Japanese plans in motion, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea resulted on 19 June 1944. Just as Taiho launched her second wave of aircraft of the morning, the submarine USS Albacore struck her with one torpedo. The torpedo damage did not initially seem too severe, but explosive fumes built up in the ship’s armored hangar, until 6 hours later a massive explosion blew out her sides. Taiho began settling, and Ozawa reluctantly abandoned her, shifting his flag to the cruiser Haguro. Over 1600 crewmen and officers went down with Taiho.
Game Play: A good all-around fleet carrier, Taiho combines the ability to embark three squadrons with good durability for a Japanese carrier not named Akagi or Kaga. By the time Taiho made her debut, the irreplaceable cadre of highly trained Japanese naval aviators was long gone; accordingly, she offers significantly less in the way of Expert special abilities than most carriers of her size. However, that means she’s cheaper than other large Japanese carriers. Armored Deck and an excellent AA rating make Taiho a tough target for enemy airstrikes; she’s best used in a carrier duel.
Thanks for stopping by! Next week, in Opening Salvo 2, we'll take a look at a long-awaited minesweeper, and a brand new type of amphibious assault ship!
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Thursday, September 1, 2011, 10:49 AM
It’s been a busy summer! I skipped GenCon this year in order to take my family out East for a nice long visit with our relatives. While we were out there, I made a point of taking my kids to Washington DC in order to see the memorials. Since I’ve been living in Washington state for fourteen years now, my kids haven’t ever seen DC before. It’s one of those things that every kid should have a chance to see, I think. We also visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Capitol, and the National Archives (which was very cool, by the way). We also had the chance to visit some of the historical sites around Richmond, Virginia, including the Confederate White House and the Richmond National Battlefield—specifically, Cold Harbor and the Tredegar Iron Works. Fascinating stuff for me, but I’m a history buff. My teenage daughters weren’t quite so thrilled.
Things are fairly quiet in D&D land for me. I’ve been keeping my hands in DDi with a series of articles called “Nerathi Legends,” each describing one of the territories on the Conquest of Nerath map. My idea is to capture some of the magic of the old Minarian Legends articles that appeared in Dragon magazine way back in the day, and stretch some creative muscles we don’t get to use very often. My next publication will be Player’s Option: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, which will be out early next year. (This book went through a few title options, so if you saw it as something else, our apologies.) I worked on it with Rob Schwalb, and it’s currently wrapping up development. I’m eagerly awaiting its release!
WINDOWSILL NAVY SAILS AGAIN
Speaking of eagerly awaiting… Last week I received my “one of everything” set for War at Sea 6 (Surface Action), and deployed them on my windowsill to share them with my co-workers. I like the looks of the set; we have some ships that have very nice paint jobs, and I think there’s a good mix of much-needed units. I plan to run a short set of Opening Salvoes starting in a couple of weeks to preview some of the units and whip up a little excitement out there.
Set 6: Surface Action marks the debut of minesweepers, which the game has needed for several sets now. In researching a couple of likely candidates, I discovered that minesweepers weren’t just for getting rid of minefields—they were also very useful as escorts, and were well equipped for anti-submarine warfare. This set also revisits some Set 1 pieces that are in high demand. For example, we’re short on dive bombers and torpedo bombers to fly off all those carriers, so we printed a new version of the Kate, painted in its very distinctive Pearl Harbor strike scheme with a big red tail. Oh, and that Elite Zero I mentioned a couple of months back? Yes, it has Escort.
AIR FORCE MINIS
Speaking of minis, we’ve got a set of paint masters for our upcoming Angels 20 set of Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures in the office. They’re very impressive! Even if you don’t care to play the game, you’ll want them just for their collectability. We hit one unfortunate snag: The A6M2 Zero came back at the wrong size (it was noticeably smaller than it was supposed to be). After some soul-searching over whether to drop the Zero from the set, correct it, or let it go, we decided that we needed to fix it. That’s caused a bit of a delay, but we felt it was the right thing to do. After all, what would Flying Tigers and Wildcats tangle with if we didn’t have a Zero in the set? However, by way of an apology for the wait, we’ll present a demonstration of the game on Saturday, November 12th, at the Museum of Flight here in Seattle. The Northwest Historical Miniatures Gaming Society puts on a nice exhibition every year there; we’re going to bring some planes to show off and maybe have a dogfight or two.
That’s all for this time, everybody. In a couple-three weeks I’ll be back with our first Set 6 Opening Salvo!
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011, 10:37 AM
Greetings, all! Thanks for stopping by.
I know it’s been a few weeks since my last post, but we’ve had a bit of reorganization here at Wizards, and my job’s changed a little bit. I am now the RPG Group Manager, which means that I’m leading the team of RPG designers and editors. In essence I have the job that Mike Mearls had, and Mike is now the Senior Manager for RPG R&D (which includes novels, boardgames, DDi, and D&D-based licensing). I’ll be doing a little less design and a little more management and planning, which is something of a mixed blessing—I enjoy design work, but I now have a chance to influence strategy across the whole D&D RPG line. I expect I’ll be able to find time to keep up with some A&A minis design here and there and contribute some more Nerathi Legends articles, since those are fairly small commitments, but I probably won’t be leading design on many large projects for now. It’s my job to look at everything we’re doing for D&D and help to make it better, not just the products with my name on them.
Speaking of which, the next big D&D release with my name on it is our Elemental sourcebook (title still TBD), which will be out early in 2012. I collaborated with Rob Schwalb (actually, Rob did about 75% of the book), and worked on an interesting new take for a sorcerer as well as some fun elemental-themed themes, paths, feats, and more. The book is currently in development; I’ll say a little more about it when we get a little closer. Other than that, several of the titles I’ve worked on recently are actually out right now, including Conquest of Nerath, the Dark Legacy of Evard encounter season, and the recent set of theme articles in Dragon. Sometimes our schedule fluctuations “bunch up” things us designers work on so that a number of them come out at once, and then you go months and months before anything else appears under your name, which is always a little depressing.
Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures
We’re rolling along with the new AAAFM game, which is now largely in the hands of our overseas manufacturers. Just yesterday I spent a few minutes with Ryan Sansaver (the art director) looking at the stat card layout. The stat cards are going to look pretty slick; we’re actually putting a picture of each painted model on its appropriate card, so you won’t even need to compare collector numbers or base text to figure out which piece is which. In the “class” information line we’re noting the exact model and version of the planes we’re representing – for example, Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4 or Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. Right now the plan is to put a full set of the stat cards in the starter set (and hopefully online), but we probably won’t include them in the boosters. I know that’s a bit of a change, but we don’t think that will impede playability, and it helps to manage collation costs.
Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures Set 6: Surface Action
It’s been a while since I talked about the upcoming War at Sea set, so I figured it’s past time to say a word or two. First things first: We’re planning to release Set 6 late in October. I know that’s a delay of a couple of months from the original launch date, but we had some unavoidable bottlenecks to fight through. Anyway, the paint masters for the set look very good, and I think this might be one of the better-painted sets we’ve done. By way of apology for the long delay between posts, let me spoil a couple of units in the upcoming set… USS Edsall, and the Elite A6M2 Zero.
USS Edsall (DD 219) is one of the old “four-piper” destroyers of the Clemson class. She was in the Dutch East Indies early in the war, and had the singular misfortune of blundering into the Japanese First Air Fleet with their battleship escorts on 1 March 1942. Edsall managed to embarrass the pride of the Imperial Navy for hours, dodging and weaving to avoid heavy gunfire, before she was finally sunk. It’s an amazing story—go look it up. Anyway, not only does Edsall provide an old, cheap US destroyer with smokescreen and Chase the Salvoes, she also stands in for the fifty Lend-Lease destroyers sent to Great Britain and thrown into the Battle of the Atlantic.
The Elite A6M2 Zero is a reprint of our set 1 Zero model. We’ve been hearing from the audience that early-set planes are hard to come by, so we’re including a couple in War at Sea 6 to help out fill out your carrier decks. This particular unit is modeled on the famous Tainan Kokutai (the squadron of Saburo Sakai). It’s not land-based only, but we included the Excellent Endurance special ability so that if you use it as a land-based fighter you get to use it two turns in a row. We also included a new special ability, “Ace,” which lets you reroll an AA attack once per game, and High Agility to survive an 8-point hit. All in all it’s a good representation of a Zero squadron with highly skilled pilots, and provides the IJN with a more robust early-war fighter unit to take on those tough US planes.
Anyway, that’s all for this time. I’ll be heading out on my summer vacation later this month, so it’ll be a few weeks before I’m back with a new post. Enjoy the summer, everybody!
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Friday, May 27, 2011, 9:49 AM
Hi there, folks! Thanks for stopping by.
It’s been a very busy few weeks for me, since I was working hard on our new Elemental book (due out in 2012) and pushing toward a deadline on a new Forgotten Realms novel on my weekends and evenings. Whew! I will be glad when this month is over. Anyway, here’s what is on my mind this time around.
Conquest of Nerath On My Desk
I received my copy of Conquest of Nerath yesterday, and I am delighted with how it’s turned out. This is a high-quality production with excellent playing pieces, good cardstock markers and tokens, a bunch of cards, and hopefully many, many entertaining hours of play for all you D&D fans who ever wanted to conquer the world. I have a Design & Development article coming up in the next couple of weeks on the game, so I won’t say too much more right now (don’t want to scoop myself). But anybody who’s interested in games like Axis & Allies or Risk and likes D&D too, this is right up your alley. Check it out at your local store!
A Word on Character Themes
Those of you following D&D Insider have no doubt noticed that I am the author of no less than four articles on character themes, all debuting this month. These were originally intended for a 2011 player sourcebook that we decided not to publish, but since they were on hand and represented a pretty complete and coherent theme expansion for the core game, we decided to get ‘em out via D&D Insider. Anyway, the barrage of themes provoked a lot of comments, so I thought I’d say a word or two about them.
First… it’s intentional that theme diminishes in importance as your career progresses. When you hit paragon level, you add a whole new component to your character identity; it’s reasonable for your character’s origin story to begin to take a back seat. That’s why themes pretty much “finished” by 10th level. You’re moving on to bigger and better things. If you were to play your character through to the epic tier, the fact that you began as a mercenary or a guttersnipe or a scholar isn’t as relevant as it was in your heroic tier days. That’s a little less true in Dark Sun, where identities such as gladiator or templar remain a vital part of your character identity no matter how far your career progresses. When themes deserve higher-level powers (or more attack powers) we’ll include them; when they don’t need them as much, we’ll let them ride with a modest selection of heroic tier benefits and power swaps.
Second, one of the things I’m especially proud of with this material is that it makes a strong set when you take all four articles together. A character of any class can look across the 15 themes and find at least three that are right up his or her alley—there are themes good for fighters, themes good for clerics, themes good for rogues, and so on. And, of course, if you want to play a little off-type, the whole array is usable for you. There are great character stories waiting to be told with each one. (And yes, I do see these as occupying space formerly held down by backgrounds; that’s not official, of course, but I think the theme tech is just a better way to build up your character identity and story.)
Regarding theme balance, my own personal philosophy is that sometimes it’s desirable to provide benefits that aren’t immediately useful in combat, because many D&D adventures are progressed through characters meeting challenges with creative use of their abilities. For example, disguise self is a crummy combat spell, but it is potentially an adventure-solver because a player could take on the appearance of a bad guy and walk through any number of potential fights or spy out a crucial piece of information. The Animal Master theme is (so far) considered the weakest of the themes presented in the article series, but I am of the opinion that, in the hands of a clever player, a trained animal that does what you want it to is potentially way more useful than a spell that just buffs your AC for a round. It begs for a creative player to think of a way to use it. Obviously, we don’t want to routinely balance combat benefits against noncombat benefits—that was the demise of the 1e/2e thief. But we’re coming around to the idea that it’s OK to provide utility powers that provide *utility* and let players decide if they want them or not. Every character has many, many alternatives for strictly combat-oriented powers, after all; you don’t have to take these if you don’t want them.
Oh, and one last thing: It’s CHEV-ah-LEER. Turns out that you don’t have to say it in French, since it’s a word stolen by English and Anglicized in pronunciation. But if you like sheh-VAH-lee-EH, knock yourself out.
Blast from the Past: 2nd Fleet, Best Naval Wargame Ever
The other day I got to talking with Pete Lee and Rodney Thompson about old Avalon Hill titles that were potentially worth another look. The conversation reminded me of some of my favorite wargames of all time: the “Fleet” series by Victory Games. They included 6th Fleet (the Med), 2nd Fleet (the GIUK gap), 5th Fleet (the IO), 7th Fleet (the Pacific), and 3rd Fleet (the Caribbean and North Pacific). First of all, I loved these games because as a serving/reserve naval officer I found them highly relevant. This was a game about Backfire bombers launching cruise missiles at your carrier group, hunting Russian Victors and Oscars with your LA-class attack subs, smoking Osa-class missile boats with Harpoons, cratering enemy airfields with Tomahawk strikes, and everything a big-time naval war might have involved in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. The sim value was very high—you wanted to use the units the way they should be used, and something like a guided missile cruiser carried as many as eight or nine different ratings on a single counter. But the game mechanics were actually pretty sleek and elegant for a game with such a crunchy premise. In particular, the turn sequence was a brilliant compromise of sim and gameplay: Each turn was broken into three phases, and in each phase you activated your subs, air, or surface units. Deciding which of your assets to use when was one of those wonderful “hard decisions” that every game needs, but it also felt absolutely appropriate in the context of the game.
I haven’t actually had a chance to play much of these games in recent years. Most of my coworkers learned long ago to avoid playing me in any kind of naval wargame. But if you’re looking for a good naval game and you can live with world events twenty years out of date, pick up a copy. Surprisingly, naval combat hasn’t changed all that much since the later games in the series came out, and the game engine would serve as a fine model for 21st century naval operations and combat too. Anyway, 3rd Fleet is the last in the series, and incorporates the most recent mix of the units. You can probably pick ‘em up on Ebay if you look around.
Axis & Allies Miniatures
Not much new to report here this time. I just saw the last of the War at Sea 6 paint masters, and they’re looking quite sharp; in fact, the Fw 190 might be the best-looking plane we’ve done so far. The Daihatsu landing boats were looking pretty bland on their first pass, and I was feeling kinda bad about ‘em, but I suggested adding a bit of wood-deck color to the cargo areas, and that seemed to help them out a lot. I know they’re going to be pretty situational for a lot of people, but at this point in the game’s cycle I want to provide a wide array of unit types and roles for people to play with. Arming folks with the biggest toolbox of scenario-building pieces is a great way to make these miniatures useful a long ways down the road, or so I think.
We’ve finalized our paint schemes for Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures, and so far they’re shaping up very nicely. We can’t get every last detail of squadron insignia and tail number (every time the paint brush touches a model we get charged for it!) but we’ve got the important things covered pretty well, and we’re keeping a close eye on similar planes to make sure they receive different paint jobs. To the greatest extent possible we’re basing the schemes on historical reference. Between the detail of the sculpts and the attention on the paint details, I think we’re going to produce something pretty special here. I hope to show off some pieces soon!
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