Thursday 20 August 2015

Wargame Bloggers Quarterly - Volume 2, Number 1

The new WBQ (Wargame Bloggers Quarterly), being issue 1 of volume 2, arrived online while I was away for a few days again in Northumberland.  It's a fantastic issue, and I think one of the best yet.

There's the second part of Eric the Shed's excellent guide to making Egyptian desert terrain, a very fine piece on "SAGA Do's and Don'ts" by Monty Luhmann (I wish I'd read that a long while back, Monty!) and a terrific article entitled "How to Design a Rulebook" by Mike Reynolds (The Dark Templar).

Mike's article really repays a second reading - it's full of helpful information, practical good sense and valuable design suggestions.  Mike's advice that a rulebook is a "piece of communication" carries a lot of thought behind it, which Mike's article goes on to demonstrate in exemplary fashion.    As with so much in previous issues of WBQ, Mike's article has had me looking and thinking afresh about how I can make written information for gaming look better.  If you do get the chance to have a look at WBQ Volume 2, Issue 1 (see the sidebar on the right hand of this blog for the free download), have a read through Mike's article.  There's something in there for every aspiring rules or scenario writer.

Huge congratulations to all of the editorial team of WBQ for a great edition, and in particular to the tireless Evan (as editor) and Millsy (as designer) for pulling this one together so well.

Congratulations, guys!

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Holiday Interlude: National War Museum, Scotland

One of the places I visited on my recent holiday in Northumbria was the Scottish National War Museum, located within Edinburgh Castle. This has been by first visit to Edinburgh in about ten years, and I’m at a loss to explain why I’ve stayed away as long.

The museum is absolutely excellent. The displays are well lit, carefully labelled and take the visitor through the proud and long tradition of Scottish soldering from the 17th Century to the present day. There are several very well-known items, including the iconic painting of the Thin Red Line at Balaclava, accompanied by a host of military weaponry, uniforms and paraphernalia.

I loved the 17th century material, much of which I’d not seen at first hand, including a copy of Sir James Turner’s Pallas Armata

The collection of swords and pistols, including several Highland “dags”, was wonderful  ... 

... as were the displays of Scottish 19th century uniforms, which became steadily more eccentric in Queen Victoria’s “Balmoral” phase.

Of direct relevance to painting Highlanders from the Great War was a set of uniforms and kit from a Highland regiment (in which the webbing looked a lot more green than I had expected).  Does that mean I should start repainting ?  Oh, Lordy....

The selection of field surgical cases from South Africa in the Second Boer War was remarkable, as was coming face to face with the portrait of Piper George Findlater, awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan for piping his battalion forward despite being wounded several times.

Here’s some more photos, which say much more than I ever could.

I visited with my wife and two children (12 and 8). There’s more than enough for a wargaming or historically minded visitor to spend three or four hours, but also enough to keep my kids and Mrs Roundwood happy for a good couple of hours. The remainder of Edinburgh Castle (including the Scottish Hall of Remembrance) is an excellent day out. I certainly recommend that the National War Museum is firmly on the list for any visit to Edinburgh.

Monday 10 August 2015

Roundwood Recommends: Number 1 – Holiday Alcohol: Belhaven Black

As long time readers and followers of this blog might know, this Blog is most definitely not a commercial venture. If it was, I’d be poorer than a No Man’s Land rat!  That being said, there are many resources which I like and have used a lot and which are helpful or fun in a hobby context – certain wargames, paints, miniatures figures and rules come to mind.  From time to time I've thought about mentioning these on this Blog, to publicising these more widely or just to celebrate something which is just fun about the hobby.

Kind of like a cheerleader, but without pom-poms or pennants.

And with that in mind, let me introduce you to a new irregular feature on the Blog: 

My idea is, from time to time, to recommend things which make our hobby much better.

It might be places to go, books to read, films or TV programmes to see, shops to visit, products to try, or just things which help wargaming, modelling and painting in one way or another. I do make one promise – each of the things I'm recommending I will have tried, used, visited or enjoyed several times, and come back for more.

My recommendations will be personal, occasionally well-thought out, often totally subjective, quite possibly geographically limited and will always be offered without financial inducement or reward. If that list sounds like nonsense (possibly like the rest of the Blog), please bear with me as there is some logic to what I have in mind.

I thought I’d start with an easy one. Belhaven Black Scottish Stout.

I’m not sure if you do the same, but when I’m painting figures or preparing for a wargame, I like to try and get into the context of what I’m doing. As you know, I’m on a Highland regiment kick at present. Holidaying in Northumbria this summer (again) has given me the chance to head to the Scottish Borders a few times, visiting Jedburgh, Hawick and Kelso. Not the Highlands of Scotland, admittedly, but wonderful countryside in a totally unspoilt and quiet part of the world.

Jedburgh, Hawick and Kelso are all charming, almost sleepy market towns, but the discovery of Belhaven Black Scottish Stout in the Sainsburys supermarket in Kelso was a true revelation. 

I’m not much of a stout drinker, but Belhaven Black has made me think again. It’s not as thick as Guinness, but has a lot more taste and bite than lager.  There’s a rich liquorice, slightly chocolate, almost-coffee type flavour in the stout, and it went marvellously well with a couple of evening meals of steak and curry. 

I tried replenishing at Sainsburys in Alnwick (on the English side of the border), but sadly they didn’t stock it. Which (long story) required a further trip to Kelso to resupply.

I have no idea if I can get some in London or St. Albans, but I intend to try.  Heartily recommended. It also helped me finish painting some of the figures featured on the blog during last week, and this week coming, so it can't be bad.

Friday 7 August 2015

Great War Miniatures and 1st Corps: Some British supporting units

After making some headway with the Highlanders in June and early July, I managed to finish off some Great War Miniatures British late war infantry, a Stokes mortar team, and a set of signallers towards the end of last month. These have been languishing in the painting queue for some time and I had been very keen to get them completed.

You know how it is. The same half-finished figures stare at you for weeks, for months, sometimes for years. You almost stop seeing them, and they become part of the general "stuff" on the painting table or in the "next project" box. They blend in.  They finally become become invisible.   The fresh green hope of how that unit would fit into your army starts to wither, and the figures end up being something you brush past quickly to get to something newer, more promising.  I am sure someone reading this will know the feeling!  Come on, own up!

Don't worry, I'm exactly the same.  One of my New Year’s Hobby Resolutions (gosh, remember those?) was to try and finish these half-done units off. And yes, there are a few of them coming over the next month or so ...

The odd thing was that as soon as I started painting these figures again, I remembered the plans I’d had to use the figures in the first place.  By the end, I definitely was of the thought “why on earth has this taken me so long to do this?”, and "I'm such a mug for not completing these!".  

I can’t remember what made me stop halfway through the Stokes mortar section, or the lovely little group of signallers.   But I’m really glad I started again, and got these chaps finished.

They were fun to do. The gas masked junior officer with walking stick and .455 Webley & Scott revolver is one of my favourites from the Great War Miniatures range.  It combines a few of the iconic images of a British junior officer on the Western Front from about 1916 onwards - the junior subaltern advancing on the German lines, the late war gas mask, the walking stick and the top-break Webley revolver.  This is the third such figure I’ve painted, and I’ve really enjoyed painting every one.

Also, I finished painting up a small group of 1st. Corps British sentries and some baggage (from Hovels) for them to guard against German trench raiders. The sentries are a very nice set, and match the scale of Great War Miniatures well, although they are slightly more slender. Both of the rifle-armed sentries look great when painted up. The sentry sitting disinterestedly in the storage area is adopting a pose that I think we can all associate with from time to time!


Thanks to everyone for commenting over the past few days and for coming back to this Blog.  I realise that the Blog has had a bit of a stop-start existence this year, but I am grateful for everyone continue to follow, visit and generally hang in there.  I'm hoping to post more regularly during the rest of the Summer and through the Autumn, if at all possible.

I've some more Highland and Scottish focused posts to come in August, which will bring you up to speed on the rest of the Highlanders which were painted in July and earlier this week.  There's a "mechanical" post, featuring "Auld Reekie" (Scotland, again).  And hopefully there'll be a couple of game reports.

I'll also be starting a new series of posts entitled "Roundwood Recommends" which are a bit more light-hearted but hopefully of use to someone out there (with the bonus being that they don't involve painting lots of figures, and therefore are a bit easier to blog about).

Hope you can join me for some, or all, of those!

Thursday 6 August 2015

Mini-Project : Highland Regiments in "Through the Mud and the Blood"

Welcome to the next blog post in my short series featuring Highland regiments wargames from the Great War. In this post, I want to cover a couple of modifications to wargames rules which might be used to reflect the characteristics of Highland regiments in battle, and in particular “Through the Mud and the Blood”, our chosen set of wargames rules from TooFatLardies for recreating large scale skirmishes from the First World War.

I’ll put my cards on the table straight away. I quite like tinkering with wargames rules. I think that once you’ve purchased your figures, rules and reference material, read up on the battle that you’re recreating, and painted the figures, you’re entitled to tinker with the rules a bit to fit what kind of wargame you want to stage.

Fielding a formation from a Highland regiment on a wargames table brings the attraction of trying to capture the essence of what made these troops respected and iconic. Tinkering with a set of rules to try and achieve this is a good place to start.

I’ve set out some possible areas for modification below, being pipers, close combat and leadership. We’ll hopefully be play-testing through these in a couple of games later this summer.

Pipers in Highland Regiments

A good place to start, of course, is with the pipers from Highland regiments.

Numbers: According to the 1914 War Establishment, battalions of Highland regiments and of the Scots Guards, were allowed one sergeant and five privates as pipers. This was in addition to their normal establishment strength. Lowland Scots and Irish regiments paid for pipers from their regimental funds, as did any Highland regiments who wanted additional pipers to add to their War Establishment complement.

The numbers of pipers fielded by the Highland regiments was often considerably in excess of the War Establishment figure. For example, in 1914 the composition of the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll & Sutherlands had 21 Pipers (although this seems to have been exceptional). The Gordons suffered 16 out of 18 pipers as casualties in France and Flanders in 1914, again showing that certain regiments had added significant numbers of additional pipers at their own cost.

Regardless of funding through the War Establishment or private contributions, pipers were a battalion rather than a company asset. Essentially, the pipers were part of the establishment for the battalion band. Pipers could be allocated to companies on the battlefield but there was no set formula for this, and the deployment and use of pipers remained very much at the discretion of the regimental and battalion commanders concerned.

Battlefield role: The image of the Highland piper going over the top and leading men forward is justifiably an iconic one. My understanding is, however, that pipers did not issue orders and were not primarily responsible for leading troops in action. The primary role of the pipers during an attack was to provide a boost to morale and, in situations like heavy fog or smoke, to provide direction. The specifics of their use depended on the individuals and units involved. Deployment of pipers would have been something which a commanding officer thought carefully about in advance of any attack. Should the piper be in the forward ranks, inspiring troops but at the risk of being a casualty? Or should the piper remain to the rear, able to move and encourage troops where the fighting was most challenging? To my mind, these are decisions that you should be free to make on the wargames table.

Above all, pipers encouraged men to stick to their mission – whether rallying shaken troops, re-orientating formations on an obscured battlefield, or accompanying an advance. As one source puts it “From a military point of view, the bagpipe has the merit of accentuating national sentiment at just those moments when the stimulus is most necessary”. One colonel of a Highland regiment stated that “The heroic and dramatic effect of a piper stoically playing his way across the ghastly modern battlefield, altogether oblivious to danger, has an extraordinary effect on the spirit and enterprise of his comrades. His example inspires all those among him”.

My own view is that piper should not be used as some kind of surrogate, replacement or de-facto leader in “Through the Mud and the Blood”. While pipers did “pipe troops forward” into action, I think that this helped rallying and enhanced morale rather than primarily being a leadership role.

Casualties: The first occasion I’ve found where pipers attempted to play a regiment forward into combat was on 25th January 1915, during an attack by the 1st Black Watch on Cuinchy. Thereafter pipers featured in the 1915 attacks around Hooge, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, Aubers and Loos, and in the defence of the Ypres salient in 1915. During the 5th Camerons attack on Hohenzollern Redoubt at Loos, no fewer than 3 pipers were killed and 8 wounded. It was also at Loos that Piper Daniel Laidlaw of the 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers was awarded the Victoria Cross and Croix de Guerre for playing “The Blue Bonnets over the Border” to pipe his battalion forward during a gas attack. 

There are many examples through the Somme offensives of 1916, and Arras and Vimy Ridge in 1917 of pipers undertaking similarly notable and heroic actions, often at a high cost.  By 1917, the losses in pipers in Highland, Scottish, Canadian and other overseas regiments had become a major problem. Owing to high casualties, trained pipers were increasingly rare, with many regiments attempting to preserve pipers for ceremonial occasions. There were, however, still numerous examples where pipers would be involved in battlefield combat during late 1917 and 1918. One Canadian piper from the 16th Highlanders of Canada even played his troops into action from the top of a tank. 

I found quite a lot of useful material (including the above information) in a book called “The Pipes of War”, authored by Sir Bruce Seton and Pipe-Major John Grant and published in 1920, which is available from Project Gutenberg for free. Subtitled “A record of the Achievements of Pipers of Scottish and Overseas Regiments during the War 1914-1918”, it’s a mine of useful details ranging from the role of pipers on the battlefield, through regimental records of service, a Roll of Honour for all pipers who served in the War, and essays on (remarkably) specific tunes and the tuition of younger regimental pipers. There’s even a slightly flowery poem (“To the Lion Rampant”) extoling the virtues of the Highland regimental piper. It’s highly recommended for anyone interested and can be found HERE on Project Gutenberg.

Rule Modifications for Pipers in Through the Mud and the Blood”
  • I would only use one Piper in any game. 
  • The starting point for modifications would be add a single “Skirl of the Pipes” card into the Mud and Blood card deck and, on the card being drawn, allow the Piper’s tune to remove 1D4 points of shock from any Group he is attached to, and to remove 1 point of shock from any other Group within audible distance (which, in “Through the Mud and the Blood” is, very reasonably, the entirety of the table: Rule 4.3.1 of “Through the Mud and the Blood”). 
  • I am also keen to try the modification that any Group of Highland soldiers with a Piper attached which moves into close combat (Rule 12) with a piper attached to that Group gets a bonus in that combat. One way of doing this would be to negate the defending opponent adding 2 dice for each dice of the Highlanders’ movement in the close combat turn (Rule 12.1). This ensures that there is a strong incentive to use a piper in an attacking group of bombers or trench cleaners. I am not convinced that this was their role in most actions, but the modification might suit certain scenarios on the wargames table quite well.
  • If you like the image of a piper leading troops forward, and want to rely on the examples when contemporary accounts reported this, you might try using a Piper as a “Level Zero” Big Man whose Big Man card is placed into the pack if all other Highland NCOs and Officers on the table are killed or wounded. The Piper can use any available Level 1 Command Initiative cards to lead troops forward on the draw of the Piper’s card (in addition to any other benefits a piper brings).

Highlanders in Combat

I also like the idea of trying to add a small bonus for Highland regiments in close combat. There’s sufficient testimony from both British and German sources to be able to justify this. One way would be to ensure that the Highland troops are treated as “aggressive” in Close Combat (or that the bombers and trench cleaner sections in each platoon, at least, are treated as “aggressive”).

As a less consistent alternative, allow a re-roll of any failed Close Combat die rolls of “1” in the first round of Close Combat.

Both modifications would give a bonus to the Highlanders, and I would suggest that some form of compensation is made for this in the scenario.

Highland Regiment Leadership (the “Robert Graves Variant”)

There’s a damning quote by Robert Graves in “Goodbye to All That” regarding Highland regiments in 1915 being fast in the charge and fast in the retreat, and prone to brittleness when no officers were present. I’d personally not use Graves' comment as the basis for any characterisation of Highland regiments. It simply comes across as spiteful, and not indicative of the performance of Highland regiments in the Great War. As with all units, there would be variations in approach, characteristics and battlefield performance. In general, however, the German Army regarded the Highlanders with justifiable fear and respect.

However, if you’re a huge Robert Graves fan, or you’d like want to temper the other bonuses mentioned above in close combat or from the presence of pipers on the battlefield, you could include a modification to add a “Friction” card into the card deck at any time that no Highland officers (not just NCOs) are present on the table.  I doubt it would be valid historical modification, however - unless you're playing with Robert Graves.

As I mentioned above, some of these modifications we’ve used in our games, and others are untested. Feel free to try using some, all or none of the above – and feel free to post any additional thoughts in the comments thread below. I should also add that while I’ve written the word “highland regiment” in this post, the same rule modifications might well be applicable to Canadian Highland Regiments and other comparable formations.

Finally, I would also like to thank Robert Dunlop for his great help and knowledge in talking through some of these modifications a couple of years back. Thanks Robert!

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