Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Oldhammer Player: What's YOUR Philosophy?




When anyone mentions philosophy, I immediately imagine a polo-neck wearing intellectual, pipe very much clenched in teeth, brooding over some intangible facet of human existence. The mental image is always strangely '50s or '60s in nature and black and white. The philosopher figure stands straight in monochrome, bearded and balding, with those thick framed glasses so favoured by thinkers fifty-odd years ago. 

This is not the image that springs to mind when I consider the philosophy of the retro-enthusiast of course. The image I have chosen to begin this post does that better than words. Glance up, and you can see fans of all ages poring over the astonishing work of Tony Hough. Each will very likely have a different outlook on what 'Oldhammer is' and each will ultimately seek to pursue their passion in relatively different directions. 

Yet they are all part of this community. 

Some are beginning to say, and I agree with them, that if you need to inquire after what 'Oldhammer' means or seek to debate your understanding as being the correct interpretation, you have totally missed the point.

It is a personal thing. And its only natural that those whose sympathies and interests are going to band together into collectives and get on to the business of gaming, collecting or painting. All are very evident in our disperse communities. The forum has over a thousand members, the Facebook discussion group over three thousand and the Google + group hundreds of likewise interested individuals. 

That is a lot of Oldhammerers, especially if you were there at the beginning when there were about five of us! 


But what is YOUR philosophy concerning HOW you play? How do you like to organise your self or your group, what miniatures do you use and more importantly, how do you interpret the rules? Later on, I would be very much interested in your views towards gaming philosophy and I will make an attempt to explain my own. I think things can be broken down into four categories for the purpose of this discussion. And here they are:

1. Gaming Group Dynamics
2. Miniature Choice
3. Scenery Usage 
4. Rules Selection and Interpretation 

GAMING GROUP DYNAMICS

Players with a similar point of view will always gravitate towards each other. That fact is true in wargaming as it is in any other communal activity. The photograph I have posted above shows my regular group in action, though we tend to only meet three of four times a year. Paul Mitchell (centre) and looking rather blurry is our main GM. He creates the scenarios we get involved in and books the venue. From right to left we have Steve Casey, the Citadel Collector, Richard Irvine, Nik Dixon and Ashley Rogers. Steve Beales, Thantsants, is also a regular group player, Stuart Klatcheff has got involved recently and there are a couple of other guys who drop in from time to time. 

So we have a core a players, and those who are more fluid in their contributions. All are welcomed. We suffer no elitism and generally enjoy the spirit of the game without worrying about true winners and losers. 

Our style of game tends to lurch towards the parody or satire. With recent political events making their mark or humourous and affectionate nods to friends and Old School fantasy personalities. Humour runs rife and often riffs off our personalities. The 'Milking Stool of Chaos' is one such example, or Bryon Anvil or the 'Spirit of Northern Independence'. 

Paul is very much in charge of the game and works hard to control our exuberance. He is always open to our warped suggestions though, and uses the dice, and chance, as a quick and simple way of resolving these ideas. Sometimes these suggestions can be game defining, as in the case of the game that became known as the 'Battle of the Burning Tower'. Paul had set up a game involving my Khorne army, lead by The Deathfist, invading an undead empire lead by Steve Beales' undead. Early on in the game, our characters entered a tower and were given the option of searching for clues. This roused the guards and in the resulting skirmish, a wizard launched a fireball spell. I inquired after the likelihood of flammable oils or gunpowder being present in the tower. Paul used his chance based method to answer the question, with such material being present on a 6 (or 1), I cannot recall. The Dice Gods played true and the required number was rolled. 

BOOM! Went the tower and the flaming remains lit the battlefield for the rest of the game. 

Little details like these are really appreciated by our group. For it is the narrative that counts, not the outcome of the game. Personally, I really appreciate not really knowing what is going to happen and the possibilities this places in the mind. The options of what risks to take or what to do with my miniatures are many, rather than the tried and tested 'line them up and advance' approach of my tender years. 


MINIATURE CHOICE

Anyone who follows this blog will know that I am a hardcore Citadel collector and that my primary focus is '85 to about '90. I am also a retro-painter, and attempt to capture the look and feel of the 'Eavy Metal output at that time. My enormous collection of support materials make a handy reference point for inspiration and regular access to Bryan's collection at Stoke Hall also helps a great deal. 

But I don't expect every other player I make contact with to follow my philosophy. I don't feel its necessary to judge another player on their painting skills. Effort is important to me, and I wouldn't want to game with someone who hasn't attempted to get their models painted up for the game. As we play quite frequently at Slayer in Mansfield, we often get to observe the more 'up-to-date' gamer in his natural environment and the number of grey plastic kits pushed across tables was disheartening. 

As for the models themselves, we use a varied collection of stuff. Paul has an enormous array of painted monstrosities, so he has plenty to keep us occupied, but these models are drawn from a range of manufacturers and periods. 

The image above illustrates how varied everything can be during one of our games. The barbarian models are from my collection, the elves (again taken from a period later than 'original Oldhammer ethos' would have liked) belong to Nik Dixon, the clansmen (again from a range of manufacturers) belong to Richard Irvine will the crossbow dark elf and the troll are from Paul's GM menagerie. 

I suspect like many other groups who drawn their materials from many places, the beginning of any game involves a long session of peering at each other's figures (the lead kind) and discussing the merits of certain models. Painting tips are discussed and exchanged. Even a little lead is traded. 


SCENERY USAGE 

Some say that the battlefield upon which our figures must tread should be treated as the 'third army' and be lavished with all the attention our miniature collectors receive. Now that is a lovely dream to have and a paradigm to cling too, but in reality it can be very hard to achieve. Especially, if like us, you are using private facilities and making good use of their resources. 

With my gaming group, we are happy to use what ever we can lay our hands on. Over at Slayer Gaming in Mansfield, there are lots of tables on offer with a number of different themes. Modern 40k, WW2 and generic 'fantasy' style tables. Some of these can be seen in the photograph above. Taken at Slayer, you can see several tables of differing styles. Scenery is provided on shelves and Paul dips into this, or indeed creates his own, as necessary. 

You can also see that we make use of card sections from classic games. Our dungeon was created from Warhammer Quest parts and served us very nicely as we ended our game. Like the miniatures we use, the scenery pieces come from a range of different sources and are often part of our collection. 



The Wargames Foundry, another regular haunt of ours, have even better tables and a decent range of scenery suitable for the fantasy style games we play. Its here that the use of scenery is put to the test. I remember Marcus Ansell once commenting to me that 'hardcore' wargamers tend to prefer less scenery on the table so they are able to move their considerable forces around with ease. And that he had observed times where the initial scenery ended up on the floor to better facilitate the movement of troops. 

Game size is obviously going to affect the way you approach using scenery. The battle game you can see above (note the suave Gaj from Warhammer for Adults in the blue t-shirt) from the 1st Oldhammer Weekend has a much more of a minimal look. A few hills and trees give a little tactical depth to the field - and it certainly isn't as packed with items as the game I showed from Slayer. 


Of course, big games can easily incorporate custom made scenery. Here is Padre's famous 'Rumble in the Jungle' game from the 1st Oldhammer Weekend. This gigantic table can easily accommodate hundreds of figures but can also provide plenty of scope for utilising scenery projects - in this case, those fantastic meso-American style temples. 



Perhaps the most ambitious use of scenery I have seen to date is shown here. The spectacular siege game put together by many of the members of the Oldhammer Forum. This game really had it all when it came to laying out a table. Multiple sets of the Mighty Fortress (including at one point, the original metal master, sculpted by Trish Morrison), stacks of model houses, fields, fences, woods and so on. The scale is awe-inspiring and just goes to show what collectives can create with a little help from a venue. 

And inspirational it was too, with a similar game (shown below) being put on at the first American Oldhammer Weekend last October. 


The same team behind the massive Siege game from last year are planning a similar feat this year. The theme will be 'Warhammer Ahoy!' so expect wacky fantasy style battleships, sea monsters and so on. This game will most likely be my first port of call (if you pardon the pun) come BOYL3 and I will take plenty of photographs to share here. 


When you get scenery 'right' as the lads who put on the Siege game last summer, you really do get the spectacle that miniature gaming is all about. Just look at this shot from the battlements!


RULES INTERPRETATION

In my opinion, this is the biggest single factor in any philosophy. For it is the way in which the ruleset is used that most affects the games as it is played. As far as I am aware, there are three distinct groups of players that I notice at Oldhammer events. 

The first we shall call the 'rules as written group'. For these players, if its not in the rulebook it just ins't going to happen. A very good working knowledge of the key rulebooks are essential to play this way and the guidance of a GM can help cease the friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) arguments that will inevitably flair up. I am well aware that some gamers to adhere to this philosophy really enjoy moments like these, as multiple players prise open their creaking '80s tomes in search of a particular reference. A hearty discussion then commences, and once resolved play can continue onwards. 

A second group could be labelled 'the house-rulers' who play a much looser version of the rulebook. Discarding the parts that don't work for them (and at times, completely forgetting them too) and adapting things to ensure the required results the game demands. Its much looser, and the GM here is expected to make rapid decisions to keep the game moving along. Players of this philosophy seem happy to invent rules on the spot to overcome problems to create situations that the rulebooks don't provide for. 

I think I have noticed a final group. These players seem to dispense with most of the rules at all and move towards a nearly pure narrative game. Often, only the movement and combat system is retained and the remaining rules are invented on the fly. 

"I want my two dwarves here to jump on the back of that cart and push off the barrels of pitch. The remaining troops will then roll them towards the enemy." Says the player.

"Okay," the GM responds, "a successful I test for climbing up onto the cat and a S test to push the barrels over. 

They roll and discover what happens. 

CONCLUSION

So what is my personal philosophy? How do I really want to game? In the perfect world I would like to be the GM and put on the whole show for players actually. For me, all of the categories I have discussed today need to come together to create a unified whole. 

I like the idea of creating and painting all of the forces required. This results in a rather unified look for all of the models on the table that I find quite visually pleasing. If I am being honest, I am am also a bit OCD when it comes to bases, as I like them to be nice and uniform too. If possible, I would like the scenery to follow the basing material as closely as possible. The photograph shows a game I put on a couple of years ago using purely my collection and my old 'mini-table', which is now sadly very much on it's last legs. 



The narrative of the game is also of high importance to me. I want the players to be able to immerse themselves in a complicated story with multiple characters. If I have enough players on side, I enjoy creating conflict and secret objectives within each 'side' so allies are not always working on the same objectives. Inspiration for scenarios like these come from many places; other gamers, discussions with other players and many of the packs that GW put out inthe '80s, like McDeath. 

I don't want to become bogged down with the minutae of the rule system, rather create an open world where anything can happen. 

And it frequently does! 



But what about you dear reader? 

Where do you stand in regards to a philosophy of gaming. What makes a satisfying and engaging game for you? I am sure that many of your opinions will be different from my own, and that is all part of the fun I think. 

So let me know.

What is YOUR philosophy?

25 comments:

  1. the only requirement I would put on any game is painted minis (or mostly painted). It amazes me seeing people play miniature based games with 100% unpainted minis. Why bother? One may as well play a board-game or use cardboard cut-outs. As for the style of the game I'm happy playing to the rules with heaps of figures or playing more free form like a form of role playing game.

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    1. I too cannot really comprehend the unpainted forces situation. You might as well save your time and just whack the unopened box down and the table and move that around. But, each to their own. Its a little under a month until BOYL3 and there won't be an unpainted mini in sight - on the tables anyway!

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    2. I don't think that's an old/new thing, as when it came up on the Oldhammer FB group I was quite surprised how many people said that they found the idea of being expected to turn up with a fully painted army as their opponent imposing unreasonable standards! Personally, I have yet to field my 3000 point third ed Norse as its not fully painted yet, but that's just me and as in most gaming situations it's important both players are actually playing the same game (beyond the rules).

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    3. I wonder where this belief - if indeed it is a belief - originated? And by this I mean the understanding that you need a fully painted 3000 point (or greater) painted force to play the game. After all, some of the best games most of us tend to play are small scale skirmishes with only a few figures a side. Perhaps it was another symptom of that 'tournament mentality' that crept in in the late '90s? That the only way to play the game was competitively. I can recall a time when it was impossible to find a fellow player for 40k or Warhammer who was not entirely focused on competitive play. But perhaps that was just a reflection of my location at the time.

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    4. I was always inspired by the pictures of big armies fighting across set piece tables at the front of 3rd ed - I tried to make a large Norse army when I was 13 but never saw it through, so in doing that now I'm completing a project I started almost 30 years ago! I think also a lot of players enjoy the spectacle of a coherent collection as much on the display shelf as on the gaming table. Army lists have been with us a very long time and to be honest are handy collecting guides, but as you say, they're just one way of doing things.

      They also provide a handy short hand when talking about our collections - when I said I had 3k of Norse that summons an image of a collection to mind, that other players and collectors will understand.

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    5. Greetinsg once more Mr Hoare. You speak wise words as always. I like your comment about the 'language' of wargaming. 3000 points of... communicates something to another player in a way that simple descriptions of your units may not. For me, such a term is an emotive one, largely due to experience. The dreaded 3000pt game was always a slugfest in my experience, with huge units of 'tarpits' doing very little beyond contribute attrition to the game. In truth, I would love to play a massive game on such a size set up properly by a GM. I woul dhope to enjoy the ebb and flow of a well pitched game as well as get involved in the narrative size of things. Its certainly an ambition - though one yet unfulfilled.

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  2. Ensuring the other player/s have even more fun than I do in a game.

    This comes from time and thoughtfulness.

    Time spent creating models/scenery that have been thoughtfully collected and caringly painted. This makes the game look great. Understanding that rules are there to help a game be played and are not the be all and end all. This is sportsmanship. And making sure your opponent enjoys the game even more than you do.

    This is all why I love scenarios and why I am liking what GW have done to WFB with AoS.

    Ps. There may have been 5 original "Oldhammerers", but the number of members you quote fron the various forums, indicate that there were thousands who were playing in this spirit before any collective was formed.

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    1. Absolutely - my group started the Tales From the Maelstrom old school 40k blog some time in 2007/8 ish, and I was actually working in the GW studio at the time, so have seen poeple using old editions for many years.

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    2. By the 5, I meant the original bunch of 'Oldhammer' bloggers rather than old school enthusiasts generally. You are quite correct, there have always been many players out there who enjoy older editions etc.

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    3. I have always been pretty forgiving about the painted issue, but generally only field completed figures myself. I find it odd that people go through the expense of buying miniatures, and even (hopefully) put them together & base them, but never bother to paint them. It seems that using cardboard chits would be an easier and cheaper alternative to that!

      As far as old vs. new, over the years I've played with various groups, and in years past it was always assumed that everyone would at least try to field a painted army. Most of the other old timers would never put unpainted lead on the table, even though there was no "official" rule about that. It was just part of the hobby. I think that as the wargaming has grown and attracted a larger diversity of players, some of them aren't "whole hobby" players, and simply don't care.

      For me it is as much about the "theatrics" as anything else! So I prefer painted armies, and nice scenery. It's hard to find opponents (or time to play at all!) anymore, but I also prefer scenarios or campaigns. I'm not stuck on "fair" sides, either. I've run into a lot of players who reallky get caught up on whether a scenario is "fair" or symmetric. I also like big games, and don't mind spending more time on that, or even playing it over the course of more than one day if that's what it takes (and is possible!)

      As far as miniatures choice, my own collection spans the years and manufacturers. My tastes change as well. Generally speaking, though, I'm not a fan of many of the newer over-the-top or anime style figures, nor some of the really odd proportions and stiff poses of some of the 90's Citadel figures. Not into the big shoulder-pads that many manufacturers seemed to be into at that time, either. ;)

      I think I could keep rambling on, but maybe I should cut this off now and write something more coherent on my own blog in the near future, as someone else has already mentioned in the comments here.

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    4. As you state, the topic is worthy of a blog post to be able to fully communicate your views on this topic. It is interesting that you mention 'theatrics' as being important to you and I must say that I think you are bang on the money here. How many of us love during a game to crouch right down to figure level and admire the spectacle of all those miniatures painted and on the table? What about photographs? Positioning the iPhone (or whatever) in just the right place to capture the action!

      This is where new technology has affected the way be play and record our games. The need for theatrics is greater than ever the age of the internet because an extra-ordinary looking set up, with lots of nicely painted miniatures, will be of interest to a great deal of people. For me, huge blocks of identikit models doing pretty much identikit things on identikit gaming tables is as dry as old bones. And looking a pictures of them in any depth is as about exciting as watching paint dry.

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    5. "Ensuring the other player/s have even more fun than I do in a game."

      Stu - That is a wonderful philosophy to adopt. I wonder if that is why I am drawn towards the Umpire/GM role more than playing?

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  3. You mention terrain amount on a table, and I have found that we tend to use more in private settings. But for games at stores or at conventions (especially) we tend to use a little less (or a lot less!). For me it is about the game (fun, narrative, challenging), and the spectacle - so yes PAINTED! Privately have tons of Citadel and non-Citadel figures alike, and my friend Joe has tons of the old Ral Partha and Grenadier that he collected for DnD years ago. But if they are painted nicely it does not tend to matter who made them originally. (Even if the old Citadel has my heart!). Like your burning tower, some of my favorite memories and stories that we talk about when getting together or chatting online tend to be those moments when something happened that was a little unplanned, or went so far one way or the other on the dice rolls that something amazing happened (3 goblins kill a bloodthirster or something like that). Those moments are the ones you talk about years later with friends, not the line em up and roll 40 dice to decimate a unit type of game. Can't wait to see all of those pictures! Hope you guys take TONS! We're going the weekend after yours this year, so hopefully we'll return the favor right back! Orclord is back with a larger game (ran the Siege last year), with river crossings and HUGE cavalry flank maneuvers! Keep the pics rolling in! And Thanks again!

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    1. Thank you for your comment Kaleb. You are totally correct when you point out that it is the uncommon things that occur in games that are the most memorable and these are essential for the 'spice' of fantasy gaming. Because the never nature of the world that you create is fantastical, its only natural that fantastic things should occur in these worlds. You mention the three goblins killing a bloodthirster as an example of these exceptional circumstances and if my experience is anything to go by, if you are playing with the right people all the players (even the commander of the unfortunate bloodthirster) would delight in such an event.

      Thinking back I have several similar memories that spring to mind. The first was a big game involving an alliance of men, dwarfs and elves verses a marauding group of orcs, goblins and skaven. After holding the evil side at bay for long periods, a charging giant broke the moral of most of the human left flank and sent them fleeing in terror. A single comedy halfling character remained having passed his cool test. Despite having all the advantages, the giant failed to hit the halfling, who by some miracle managed to inflict a single wound on the creature. After the resulting push back, the giant failed his cool and ran. This set of a chain reaction with the green skins fleeing in all directions, leaving the hobbit alone on the flank and the course of the battle changed forever.

      You have no need to worry about photographs of the event for I intend to repeat the coverage I shared last year. I look forwards to seeing what occurs on the American side too!

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    2. Yes. I also remember an old 4th edition game where my friend's High Elf General was shot and killed first turn of a game. The entire army except one bolt thrower then failed their Leadership rolls (passed on 9 and down bu he just KEPT rolling those 10s, 11s and 12s....). So after the first shot of turn one at our store event, he was down to one bolt thrower....Luckily, except for some crazy chanting, they just went and replayed it after the bolt thrower was killed...the second game was a lot of fun too.

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    3. And they provide the fantastic opportunity to recount them, with obvious embellishments, during the after game drink! This social side of wargaming is often overlooked but vitally important for gluing as all together.

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  4. I do not have a quick answer - in fact, thinking about the answer may result in a full blog post of my own in time...

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    1. I look forwards to reading about your thoughts in the near future.

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  5. 1. Gaming Group Dynamics: My group basically consists of me and my kids. I'm hoping to branch out soon, but right now it's me in the basement with the boys. Good times, but I'm hoping they'll learn the rules better, so I don't need to spend so much time dealing with rules for both sides. I'd wager many US "Oldhammer" types spend a small percentage of time gaming outside of the house as well, but hey, maybe I'm just a shut-in.

    2. Miniature Choice. I think there needs to be a sold set of well painted, WYSIWYG minis at the core, but I'm willing to throw some unpainted minis or Reaper Bones minis in, to fill out the ranks. The unpainted minis don't look as bad so long as they're surrounded by painted ones. For me, the key is to get an epic battlefield, and that sometimes means cutting corners.

    3. Scenery Usage. Fo me, this is a must, both for gaming purposes and aesthetics. What's the point in playing with army men if they don't have a decent fort to defend? I'd rather play on a smaller, densely populated table than a big 8'x4' sheet of flat green plywood. I probably value good scenery over perfectly painted minis, and spend much of my hobby time accordingly.


    4. Rules Selection and Interpretation. Again, its me and the kids, so I get to do most of the interpreting. That said, I think the less the better. If a rule is fun, I use it. If not, I ignore it. For 40k, I usually start off playing "by the book" but after an hour or so, I'm just using the 4 page summary. For me, especially with the kids, too many "special rules" slows down the game. In fact, the new Age of Sigmar ruleset is very intriguing, as I finally have an ORGANIZED set of rules for fantasy units that doesn't require too much page-flipping. I've just started a game and finding it very streamlined, which is my primary desire at this point.

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    1. Hello there Mr Basement. Thanks for adding your thoughts to this discussion. I like your point about rule selection about being about fun. If the rule adds a positive element to the game, you inlcude it, otherwise you disgard it. This is a very sensible attitude to have. I do something similar with my Realm of Chaos games. Here I choose models to incorporate as much of the wacky and varied rules as possible. So I try and include as many disperate unit types as possible. Centaurs, giants, goblins, wolves, wizards etc, often in very small units, to create a 'spicy' and interesting game. The fact that I often forget half of these rules once the game is in action is irrelevant to the fun I have. I am pleased that it is similar for you too.

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  6. "The image I have chosen to begin this post does that better than words"

    My picture, in fact.

    Regards

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  7. Lots to think about and may have to put my thoughts in a blog post of my own... But the topic of painted VS unpainted is interesting. I paint all of the figures that end up in the armies that I play. But.... I play many different games on a very regular basis. So it can take a while to get there. My undead force from the 80's will never be 'finished', but if I was fielding an army I would only select painted models. I'd be a bit disappointed if my opponant didn't bring painted for an Oldhammer game. For other games I'm much more relaxed. My Ancient Britain Celtic army for Hail Caesar is still unassembled in several boxes and the final 300/400 models will take some time to paint. But if I only played with painted models I'd probably never get a game in! Same goes with Bolt Action and SAGA. Trying out new armies or new units may mean playing with unpainted models at the local club, but the same games played at conventions or other events would always use fully painted figures. I find that when I'm playing a game I get so wrapped up I no longer care whether figures are painted. However, when watching a game (or acting as GM) painted figures become much more important.

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    1. Painted vs unpainted is often a heated topic of discussion. I will only field painted miniatures, and those miniatures need to be finished to an accetable standard too. But that is a restriction I only put upon myself. I wouldn't force it upon another player. I am lucky that the fellow gamers I roll dice with tend to be of the same view.In a way, we all inspire each other with our output, however varied.

      My ultimate goal is to be able to put on McDeath for players were I have painted every model and constructed the whole scenery. I do this because I want to create a good looking exciting game for others. In turn, I hope that other players would be inspired by the experience and do the same.

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  8. 1. Gaming Group Dynamics - Small gaming Group who cares more about having fun than winning, I think most of us plays due to Nostalgia

    2. Miniature Choice - This varies for every one in our Group, personally I use miniatures I like, whether these are oldschool or new doesn´t matter, as long as the models look great (having said that I prefer Realm of Chaos style minis), I do however never use unpainted models.

    3. Scenery Usage - Depends on the game, most of the time we play Kings of War or Warhammer 6:th edition (Ravening Hordes lists) & then keep the scenery to a minimal amount, somewhere between 4-6 peices. However when we play Song of Blades and Heroes (skirmish game) or Hordes of the Things, we do use a lot more scenery since we aren´t moving big blocks of troops we see the scenery as something useful.

    4. Rules Selection and Interpretation - To keep things simple I guess we´re a 'rules as written group', we´ve houseruled a few things in our warhammer games, which in the end just made us play 6:th edition instead using Ravening Hordes lists & just adding a single rule, the front rank of models can always fight unless the entire unit has been killed off. We also play Kings of War which is a very nice ruleset without much OP stuff, lastly we play Song of Blades and Heroes, but we never invent our own profiles unless its a GM in the game who have done so. We keep things simple, we want balanced, fun games without having to do overly much rule changes, this makes it easier for a new player to join us.So I guess instead of houserules, we adapt to use the rule-set that works best for us.

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