Musings on Class

Druids? Or just grubby old men in blankets?
I have a fondness for AD&D, but one of the things that drove me away from it back in the distant past was the emphasis on restrictive and overly pernickety class definitions.

It seemed (and still seems) to me that it was just stupid that only a character with the Thief class could hide in shadows, and that only a Ranger could track things in the piney woods.

There are ways to play around this, of course, but as far as I can recall, the rules as written offer no really useful advice on the matter. It's just assumed that if you want to be able to find and/or disable traps, then you'll be a Thief. That's a Thief with a capital T.

It's a situation that came up for me not all that long ago, when somebody wanted to play a druid in my game. The difficulty was that the game, at that time, was taking place in a geographical region other than that were the Pseudo-Celts hold sway, so the player's character would be entirely divorced from their hierarchy and authority. It wouldn't matter much, day to day, but it would have been an issue when it came time to level up and what-not. That person ended up not playing in the campaign; I don't know if the social restrictions being placed on their character conception played a role or not, but I wouldn't be surprised.

The thing is, as I realised later (too late), they didn't really want to play a Celtic priest and law-giver. What they wanted to play was a crazy old nature-wizard who hung out in the forest and made friends with the little fluffy animals of the earth. I'd trapped myself, and them, into arbitrary restrictions based on preconceptions about a class title in the PHB, and there was really no need for a Druid (capital D) to be a druid at all. Or for a crazy old nature-wizard to be a capital-D Druid.

Names Are Important

When you name something, you immediately begin to define its parameters. That's a useful thing; it makes a thing immediately identifiable, and reduces ambiguity and confusion. If someone names an animal as a bird, then immediately the qualities of "bird-ness" jumps into our minds. It's probably going to have feathers and lay eggs. There's a good chance that it will be able to fly, but maybe it won't.

A name like "bird" is pretty general though; a kiwi and a condor, though both birds, have little in common. They both have feathers, but their feathers are, though fundamentally similar in structure, in actual use and appearance quite different. They both have a beak, but the condor's beak could never be mistaken for that of a kiwi, and they're used in fundamentally different fashion. Still, they are both birds.

I don't have a basic objection to the concept of character classes in roleplaying games; they provide useful archetypal starting points. However, where I do have a problem is when they become prescriptive and proscriptive. I don't want a player who wants to play a condor being forced to play a kiwi, just because a kiwi is what the author was thinking of when they wrote up the "Bird" class.

Class Names in Roleplaying Games

I believe, that for a class system to be useful in a RPG system, it needs to build from the very general to the particular, and the class names should reflect that progression. I also think that the level of particularity should be left entirely up to the individual player to decide.

A class separation I've seen somewhere (I don't recall where) that I rather like splits characters into one of just three fundamental types:

  • Magic Users — anyone whose focus is primarily on spell use, regardless of how that magic is defined. It would include both structured and free-form magicians (e.g. in AD&D, Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics, Druids). The specific abilities and restrictions on the final character design are largely irrelevant except as special effects.
  • Fighters — anyone whose primary focus is physical combat. In AD&D, these would be the Fighters, Rangers, Paladins, and Monks, but those names might not be appropriate to the specific character conception, so let's not get hung up on them. It doesn't mean that the character can do nothing but fight, but fighting is definitely the most important part of the character conception.
  • Adventurers — pretty much everyone else. Jack-of-All-Trades characters like AD&D Thieves and Bards would be slotted in here, but again those names are less important than what the character can actually do. These would be your "Indiana Jones" characters.

So... What Then?

Re-jigging D&D to a more generic class system isn't entirely straightforward, but it's not impossible. The main difficulty is that we're dealing with a system that has been in print for a long time now, so its class system carries a lot of baggage.

Probably more useful than devoting vast effort to rewriting everything would be just to make a change of mind about how to manipulate the existing system. Think about what we want to do with a character first, and then see how the available classes can be used to achieve that end, rather than going about things the other way around. And, if the existing classes won't work for what we want to do, then CHANGE THEM. I promise you, nobody is going to lock you in prison for this.

Zvezda KV1 (1941)

 Here'a another 1:100 scale (15mm) KV1 from Zvezda, a slightly later model than the previous one with a slightly better 76.2mm gun.

I tried for a dusty look with this one rather than the mud and rust I've gone for before. I can't say I'm completely happy with the outcome though.

Zvezda KV1 (1940)

Here's my 1940 KV1 in 1:100 scale, from Zvezda.

You can tell it's the early model KV1 because of the gun — it has the recuperator above the barrel, which gives it that snouted appearance.



Zvezda T35 (15mm)

I built and painted this mainly to test a new Vallejo colour to represent 4BO Protective Green, and I'm pretty pleased with the result.

I already have more T35s finished than I really need — I bought five of them from PSC as a "squadron" deal, and there are still two left in their boxes. In fact, T35s worked in units of two.




Soviet 4BO — Vallejo equivalent

I've found a good match for the WWII Soviet "Protective Green" 4BO paint in Vallejo ModelAir 71.010 Interior Green.

This was, apparently, the standard colour the tanks rolled out of the factory in (assuming they had time to be painted at all), though the recipe for the paint in the official records is fairly imprecise, so there was likely to be a fair bit of variation even among brand new vehicles.

A complicating factor, when attempting accurate colour matching, is that apparently 4BO darkened by chemical action as it aged. Or maybe it faded. Or maybe it was just dust in the photos that made it look like it had faded. There seems to be a bit of squabbling amongst the experts on this point.

From my point of view, all I'm interested in is that there were light green tanks and dark green tanks, and since this is the colour recorded by the Americans at the Aberdeen Proving Ground when they examined some Soviet armour during and after the war, this is the one I'm going to use for the lighter shade.

Flexibility Through Modular Design

I've discovered that, thanks to Soviet tank development pragmatism, I can expand the variety of tanks available to my force by simply swapping some turrets around.

The BT5 turret is almost identical to that used on the early-model T26, while the turret supplied with Zvezda's T26 is very similar in size and profile to that used on the BT7-2.

There are, of course, differences in detail, especially in the BT5 and BT7, but they look close enough to pass on the wargames table. So, that's handy.

It does mean that I'll have to be a bit more careful about keeping the polarity of my turret-mounting magnets identical though — of the five T26 I have at present, this is the only one I can swap with my only BT5.

Zvezda T-26

 Here's the 1:100 scale (15mm) T-26 WWII Soviet light tank,a snap-together kit by Zvezda.

Russian tanks in disruptive camouflage patterns were rare until the latter years of the war, but this colour scheme was actually formally adopted in 1939, two years before Operation Barbarossa began. It's very similar to that adopted by the Germans from 1943, and it's possibly not entirely coincidental that they adopted it after encountering it in Russia.

This is a very simple kit of only five parts, and it literally takes just a few minutes to put together. Then it takes me considerably longer to replace the post-&-hole turret mounting with a pair of magnets so that I can rotate the turret easily — the original mounting is very stiff.








Red Horde


This is all the Zvezda 1:100 scale WWII Soviet tanks I've got left to paint now, though no doubt I'll get more at some point in the future. I need a couple more T-34s at least. I'm not a fan of production-line painting, as I've mentioned before on more than one occasion, but at least if they're assembled I can use them on the table, in extremis.

They're all very easy to assemble, but I'm not a big fan of the hole-&-post method of mounting the turrets. It's simple, but it makes the turrets very stiff. Therefore, I've got rid of that and magnetized the turrets of the KV-1s, T-34s, and just one T-26. The remaining four T-26 are built straight from the box; I may revisit them if I find I really need their turrets freed up, but modifying them in this way is a lot less straightforward than it is for the other vehicles.

Zvezda BA-10

BA-10 from Zvezda, Soviet infantry from PSC.
This is Zvezda's 1:100 scale (15mm) WWII Soviet BA-10 armoured car.

It's the trickiest of these Zvezda kits I've encountered so far. Not a difficult build, but there are a few things to watch out for.

  • The hull pieces interlock, and it took a bit of judicious bending and stretching to get them all seated properly against each other. Once in place, the fit is good and snug. 
  • The headlamps are very small and delicate, and there was no hope of getting their struts into the holes provided for them. I chose to trim them down and just glue them in place, though I could have enlarged the holes (but I couldn't immediately lay my hands on my pin vice to drill them). Both of them shot out of the tweezers, one of them never to be found again.
  • The wheels are not interchangeable, and you do have to take care to get the right group off the sprue at the right time. And now, looking at the picture, I see I put the front wheels on inside-out. Too late to fix that now.
  • The turret is very stiff on the pin provided. I got rid of the pin and magnetized it, so now it turns quite freely.

It builds up into a nice little kit, and now my Soviets have some scouting capability.

As an aside: Vallejo have changed their Yellow Green recipe since the last time I bought a bottle. It's now very much brighter than it used to be. The washes and weathering toned it down a bit, but it gave me a bit of a shock when it first went on.





I've painted on some basic markings, mainly so I can tell the two apart on the wargames table,
but also because I prefer them a little less plain.

Zvezda KV-2

 Next up on the painting table for my stash of Zvezda 1:100 scale (15mm) Soviets is this brute, the KV-2 heavy artillery tank.

I learned that there's no evidence that any KV-2 actually had slogans painted on its turret, but I don't care about that because I like the flavour it adds to WWII Soviet armour, so mine does.
(Note that I provide no guarantee for the accuracy of the translation for the slogans. I don't read or speak Russian myself, so I got them via Google Translate.)



Slogan reads: Patriotic Slogan!

Slogan reads: Hooray for Our Team!



Zvezda T-26 Flamethrower

Here's another of Zvezda's 1:100 scale snap-together WWII Soviets — the T-26 Chemical Projector (or flamethrower, as other armies would have described it).

Considering the mortality rate amongst Soviet armour of the period, I really doubt that a tank would be likely to have survived long enough to get this tatty and battered, but I like to filth them up from time to time.




PSC 15mm Russian Infantry Heavy Weapons

I've made a start on the PSC support weapons for my 15mm WWII Soviets, beginning with the venerable 1910 Maxim.

Each rifle company had a platoon of three of these guns as part of its strength, and the official complement for each gun was six men, plus a platoon command team. However, it seems from accounts I've read and photographs I've seen that pretty often the gun was operated by a single man, or maybe a gunner and one other. Unlike the British Vickers, it was often operated without a condenser tank.

The box
Note that this specific model is NOT that shown on the box front. I assume that the figures shown on the box are those in the 20mm set, and the box art has just been re-used for these smaller, re-scaled versions. The 15mm maxim model is rather cruder; the gun shield is much thicker in relation to the rest of the gun, the wheel spokes are embossed on a disc rather than being pierced through, and it's lacking the sight-hole, which I've had to paint in.

It's also lacking any ammunition for the gun, which I had to scratch-build out of a little piece of plastic card and a strip of paper. Also absent is a loader figure, though an overly enthusiastic-looking spotter/commander is supplied. I used the loader from one of the anti-tank rifle teams instead. This is a rather disappointing absence; I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of at least one loader figure for each gun, and preferably a whole six-man team in case one wanted to model a full-strength Maxim platoon.

The sprue

As well as the Maxim, supplied on each of the four sprues in the box are 50mm, 82mm and 120mm mortars, and two PTRS anti-tank rifle teams, one prone (in action) and one being carried.

The quality of the sculpting is generally good, though several of the poses are quite flat, as tends to be the case with injection-moulded figures. The cost of the set is about seventeen pounds for 56 figures and 16 weapon models; not as good value as the infantry set, but then I imagine PSC will be selling fewer of them.

PSC 15mm Soviets — review

Clickupon to embiggenate
OK, so let's have a closer look at all of the figures off one sprue of the PSC 15mm WWII Russians. I'm not an expert on the Red Army of WWII by any means, but they look pretty good to me. They're in summer uniform, so no ushanka, and any greatcoats are rolled, not worn.

About a third of the troops are armed with a sub-machine gun, the remainder with rifles which look to me like they're meant to be Mosin-Nagants rather than the later SLRs. There are two DP LMG groups included on the sprue, three officers (one of whom looks a bit NKVD-ish), and the unarmed female I've mentioned above, for a total of 26 figures.

The sprue
Quite a few of them require some assembly, and being such small figures, the parts can be a bit fiddly to handle, but they go together pretty well. I'd recommend a reasonably quick-setting liquid cement, but probably not superglue unless you want to spend a lot of time peeling your fingertips apart.

There are five sprues in the box, so a total of 130 figures for your twenty quid, which isn't too bad. I've read various opinions on what a Soviet rifle company consisted of in 1941-42, but there aren't quite enough figures here for a full-strength company. The lack is mostly in support troops like horse-cart drivers, ancillary command group soldiers and the like, so that's not much of an issue for most tabletop wargaming, but there are two too few DP teams for a full company under the stats given in the Battlegroup rules, and if you want the Maxim machine gun platoon you'll have to buy the Support Weapons set (which also includes mortars of various sizes). I have a set of those, and no doubt will be presenting them on my blog at a later date.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with them. Now, on with painting the rest of the box.

PSC 15mm WWII Soviets

I've finished painting the first of six sprues of PSC 15mm WWII Soviets, and they're just awaiting some flock for their bases. It's going to take quite a bit of painting to finish the lot, especially for someone like me who frankly loathes production-line painting.

The contents of the box is only five sprues, on each of which are 26 figures (130 in total). Regrettably, there are only two DP LMG figures on each sprue, and a full strength infantry company requires twelve — three platoons of four sections each, each section with one DP.

Fortunately, my friend Steve had a spare sprue which he gave me, so I now have enough machine-guns for a full-strength company.

About eight of the figures on each sprue are armed with SMG. I don't really know what the ratio was of SMG to rifle at the beginning of the war (Operation Barbarossa), but it seems a little high to me for my period. Still, it doesn't matter that much since I can just treat them as if they're rifle troops if need be.

Among the figures on the sprue is this female soldier.

She's unarmed, so I've painted her as a medic — I've taken some artistic licence to include the Red Cross armbands, since she wouldn't have worn them; there'd just be a small red cross on her medic's satchel. However, I wanted to make it quite obvious what she is.

The blue dress was, I think, part of the walking-out uniform. Out in the field, she'd be more likely to be wearing trousers like everyone else.

Zvezda BT-5 (15mm)

 This is another one of Zvezda's cheap snap-together kits, this time of the Soviet BT-5 Fast Tank. They produced a lot of these, alongside the BT-2 and BT-7, until about the end of 1941, when production was ceased in favour of the T-34.

At present I only have this one, but I'll no doubt be getting more as and when I can.

I really do like these little Zvezda kits, but this one suffers from having a very prominent mould seam around the turret. I've cleaned it up as much as I could, but it's bad enough that it really needs more significant putty attention.




Medium C "Hornet"

This is my 3d-printed 15mm (1:100 scale) model of the Medium C Hornet of 1919.

It was a WW1 design, but didn't make it into service before the Armistice on November 11, 1918. It was intended as the replacement for the Medium A Whippet, a difficult and extremely uncomfortable vehicle to drive, with many flaws.

This model has been printed in WSF nylon, and is available for sale at http://shpws.me/OHlc

WWII Soviet Infantry

 I recently bought a couple of packs of 15mm WWII Soviet Infantry from PSC. These are the first Soviets I've painted since some Airfix figures I had when I was a kid.

They're a couple of LMG teams, and I'm using them as testers to determine which paints and basing materials to use for all the rest, of which there are a couple of hundred. I'm happy enough with the way these look to be confident in painting more.


To be honest, I've never been all that keen on wargaming the Soviets, but my interest has been piqued lately by reading Antony Beevor's Stalingrad, and by the range of 1:100 WWII Soviet vehicles available quite cheaply from Zvezda.

The red bead, incidentally, is there to tell my decrepit old eyes, at tabletop distances, that these are LMG bases.

Yet Another Hill

 I got a cheap 30-watt foam-cutting hot wand from China a few days ago, and tried it out by carving up a foam off-cut into another hill.

The metal wand — the bit that heats up — is about 200mm long, and is somewhat flexible. It works OK, though it doesn't really get quite hot enough to cut easily through the insulation foam I use. I haven't tried it out on expanded polystyrene foam, which it's probably intended for — that stuff is even more temperature-sensitive.

It was a lot easier and less messy to sculpt the 50mm foam sheet into a layered hill suitable for little army men to stand about on than it was to do the same thing with a knife. The stuff I use is designed not to poison everybody in the vicinity in the event of a fire, so the fumes aren't much of a problem.

It's not a precision tool though. I wouldn't want to try using it to cut up foam into regular geometric shapes, but for semi-random hack-and-slash work it's fine.
I tried out using 5-minute epoxy mixed with acetone as water-effects resin to create a boggy area at the base of the hill, in behind some boulders and bushes. It wasn't particularly successful, but I think I know how to improve the end result another time, and I'll give it another go.

The boulders are pieces of pine bark that I nicked from a local playground some years ago. The bark is quite a dark brown in its natural state; I've just given them a couple of layers of dry-brushing to finish them off. I like using it for rocks; the texture is reasonably convincing, and it's much lighter than actual rocks.


A couple of days later...



I've re-done the water in the boggy patch, and it's a considerable improvement over my first attempt. This time, in addition to the 5-minute epoxy, I used a tiny drop of sepia ink to colour the "water" and a lot less acetone that before. Being more viscous than the first lot, I had to tease each blob out around its perimeter to blend it into the surrounding groundwork. It does create something more of a meniscus than with the very liquid first mix, but it's more controllable overall and creates deeper pools, which gives me some nice tonal variations.

Musings on Class

Druids? Or just grubby old men in blankets? I have a fondness for AD&D, but one of the things that drove me away from it back in the...