Three Travellers ‘Round the Fire Convers’d

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I’ve gone and finished another short story with a pretentious name!

three travellers cover

This a Grimm Tales-esque, old-timey fairy tale, which was very fun to write! It’s part of my nascent “Away with the Faeries”  series (the only other story so far being Fair Folk) and as such features psychotic vampire-faeries doing morally reprehensible things to we poor dumb mortals.

Three Travellers can be found HERE! and HERE!

If you like dark weird fairy tales that cost less that a can of Coke, why not give it a look? Or any of my other stories?

- Gareth

Ready, Set, Starter

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Let us talk, my friends, on the subject of Starter Sets.

Imagine you or your friend has stumbled across a new tabletop game, say a mini wargame or CCG. It’s a hobby designed to be customisable and collectible, one that you’ll feed a lot of money into if you like it, like 40k or Warmachine or M:tG. Of course, jumping right into the deep end is intimidating, so you pick up the Starter Set, which will usually contain decks/armies for two players so that you and your friend can play the game and learn the basics, and hopefully get hooked and therefore spend more money on the game. It should be noted that I classify a “Starter Set” as a thing for a hobby with a collectible element to it; chess, for example, doesn’t have a Starter Set; it’s just the game in its entirety. Some games like Fluxx or High Command or Settlers of Catan have expansion packs, but again the “base” game isn’t a Starter Set, it’s the game in it’s entirety.

I guess the best way of clarifying if something is a Starter Set is the question; “Can I play the game without buying the Starter Set?” For 40k or Warmachine, I could go out and buy the rulebook and some minis. For MtG, I can build a deck out the cards in my collection; I don’t need to pick up one the intro decks.

Right, that’s the vegetables out of the way. Now let’s get to carving the meat of this hot word-roast.

I bloody love Starter Sets, because I’m at the point in life where I prefer to have a variety of games to introduce to friends rather than one game which I’ve sunk a lot of money into.  In my opinion, a good Starter Set should tick the following boxes at minimum;

1) Effectively teach players the basic rules of the game

2) Introduce important variants to those basic rules

3) Provide armies/decks for the players that are balanced against each other, and that utilise different tactics

4) Be affordable, or otherwise a good value for money

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Let’s apply these to one of the Warhammer 40,000 starter sets, Assault on Black Reach, which is generally regarded as the best 40k Starter Set. Now, if you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t see eye-to-eye to GW these days, but I still love the lore and the models, so it’s a weird love-hate relationship I guess. Anyway, let’s look at the set


It was all about that Warboss and those Deff Koptas.

AoBR nearly ticks all the boxes mentioned above.

The mini-campaign book (which was fucking awesome btw) gradually introduced new players to the basics of moving, shooting, and fighting. You’ve got the important variants on those basic rules; different weapon types such as the flamer and missile launcher which use the various templates or the Warboss’s power klaw which effects close combat differently, vehicle rules, Invulnerable saves, characters, and units with different movement rules. The forces are slightly unbalanced, and this is something GW can’t ever seem to get right in their Starter Sets (or keep intentionally weighing in favour of their cash cow $pace Marine$); the Orks have a disadvantage of about 100-150 points. Hrm. The upside though is that this set was astounding value for its cost at the time, and even now it’s good if you can pick up a copy on eBay; if you bought all those models individually as box sets, you’d be looking at spending at least twice as much, and you still wouldn’t have gotten the rulebook and other gubbins like the templates and those measuring sticks that NO ONE EVER BLOODY USES.

AoBR isn’t perfect though. The most pressing one is the issue of points imbalance; I get that Marines are awesome and amazing and need to win every time so more people will buy them, but Jesus. It’s no fun for a new player who takes the Orks and slowly realises that his force is disadvantaged. The Orks really could’ve used a third Slugga Boyz mob, or another 5-guy “special” unit like Kommandos or Stormboyz. Or a Weirdboy, because my other quibble is that there’s no psyker, so new players aren’t made aware of psychic powers and psychic tests and stuff. Also, some terrain would’ve been nice; not to the extent of the excellent crashed Aquila lander in Battle of Macragge, but just some basic walls and ruins, but that’s a minor quibble.

Dark Vengeance had similar problems; good value for money, excellent teaching tools, but again the balance hurt it. So let me get this straight; the Dark Angels got two HQs (one of which was a psyker in the new “psykers-matter” edition), a Terminator squad, a plasma-heavy Tactical squad, and a Bike squad, and the Chaos Marines got… six Chosen and some Cultists?



You know what would’ve been awesome to balance out the Chaos side? A small unit of Raptors (so new players learn about jump pack infantry), a bump in numbers to that Chosen squad and changing the (admittedly badass) power axe guy to a melta-gunner (the melta-gun being a good counter to the DA Terminators), and… I don’t know, a single Chaos Spawn, because why the hell not? It’s a cheap, individual model with some fun rules, and it’s a Beast, so that would’ve been another different movement variant for players to learn about. Those changes would’ve balanced things out a bit and given the CSM force a bit more bite.

And then there’s this nonsense…


“But Gareth!” you may say, “Stormclaw is a campaign pack, not a Starter Set!”. To which I say “it has a rulebook and two armies intended to be played against each other, therefore until Dark Vengeance is available again, it’s a Starter Set.”  Just one that comes with no dice. Hrm. Anyway, this thing looks like a mess. The first clue that something is wrong is that the Orks aren’t outnumbering the Marines 2-1. The second clue that something is wrong is that the Orks have Gretchin while the Marines have FUCKING WOLF GUARD TERMINATORS.  But I hear DV is being retweaked for 7th, so this is is serving as some weird hybrid get-you-by until then. I don’t know. People are saying it’s good value (Wolf Guard and Killer Kans, plus the exclusive hero sculpts), but this is £75, nearly twice the cost of the old AoBR, and seems to have only half the content.

It’s not just GW that get it wrong, Privateer Press make mistakes too. Now, the Warmachine Starter Set which I picked up aaaaages ago is excellent (though I would’ve preferred having the Butcher instead of Sorcha as the Khador caster, because I bloody love the Butcher), but back in the day at my old FLGS, we only had the Battleboxes to make do with, which was fine, because they were good for Full-Metal/Tooth and Claw games, i.e. casters/locks and jacks/beasts only.

Apart from the Trollbloods. Oh my god, the fucking Trollbloods.


You broke my heart, Madrak.

Let me set the scene. Ian has got Everblight (because Ian is a bad man and enjoys the taste of my tears) and I’ve got my Trolls, ready for our first game of Hordes. Right off the bat I realise something is weird because I don’t have a heavy beast, just two Impalers and the Axer. This is bad news when Ian’s rocking a Carnivean, one of the best non-character heavy beasts in the game. “Maybe my lights are just really good!” I think. AHAHAHAHAHA. While the Impalers are admittedly fucking ace, the Axer is a waste of time. You see, the Axer has an ability called Thresher which hits all enemies in his reach; it’s a great crowd-control ability, useful against massed infantry; you know, the thing I’m not fighting against. “Maybe my warlock has an awesome feat!” I think. And while Madrak hits like a truck in combat, and has a decent range of abilities and spells, his feat is not great in a straight-out-of-the-box Battlebox game of Hordes. You see, his feat “Crusher” lets him or an ally advance and make an attack if they kill a dude in combat, until they stop killing dudes. Again, against infantry, it turns your trolls into fucking combine harvesters, but when you’re up against warbeasts…

Basically what I’m saying is that the contents on the Trollblood Battlebox were poorly chosen. What they needed was a Dire Troll instead of the Axer, and a warlock like Hoarluk to turn him into a big blue murdermachine (the Dire Troll’s Rage animus would’ve had good synergy with the Impaler’s thrown spears too). But I didn’t have those, so I had a game where I got munched by Shredders.


Thank god for 2nd edition, it’s all I’m saying. If anything needed a firm smack with the nerfbat…

In my opinion, Wizards of the Coast are the ones who usually get it right with their Intro packs for MtG. They’ve come a long way since I used to get them; now you get booster packs in with the deck so you can start customising it right off the bat. Okay, there’s some precons that are generally better or worse than others – trust me, I could do a whole post on the whole “Rat’s Nest” fiasco of the Kamigawa days – but they’re generally balanced amongst one another. Back in the day, my group and I would all of the latest set’s precons and have a big throwdown; good times. These days, with my interest in Magic waning, I’m looking at getting a stash of precons (or building decks to precon standards) as a way to introduce friends to the game so we can just have casual pickup games.

While on the subject of Starter Sets, I’ve ordered the kit for D&D 5th edition, which I am ridiculously excited about. The Basic rules are available as a free PDF on the D&D main website, and I’m suitably psyched and ready to take a group of RPG newbies through the Lost Mine of Phandelver. RPG Starter Sets are always a bit different from wargaming or CCG, but as long as the basics of combat, magic, exploration, and NPC interaction are covered, you can’t really go wrong.

So here’s to Starter Sets; after all, without them, many of we gamers probably wouldn’t be where we are today.

- Gareth

Art of Magic – Rated XXX


Art for Magic: the Gathering is always very good; you’ve got cool monsters, awesome spells, mysterious artefacts, breathtaking lands, the super-powered Planeswalkers… basically a lot can be contained in that little 1.5 x 2.5 inch window.

Like… um…  how shall I put it? Mature situations?

Yep, these are the cards where you just can’t help but wonder how the art passed checking and got approved for a card game aimed for kids as young as 12… call it an overactive imagination or general immaturity, but I can’t help but giggle at some of these…

As a disclaimer, these are cards with art that can be interpreted as naughty… I’m not talking about cards with actual intentionally sexy art like Reversal of Fortune, Vampire’s Bite, or Goblin Matron.


Have you been a *naughty* goblin?

Let’s press on… there’s a lot, worryingly…


I think all M:tG players know this one; it’s the card with the goddamn monkeys doing the nasty in the background. I can’t tell if the Orangtuan making a face of disgust, or a face of voyeuristic excitement.



“Lower… lower… lower, you unbeliever! This faith’s shield in my pants isn’t going to hammer itself out!”


Gargoyles are fairly considerate; at least they’ll give you a reach around in the middle of SURPRISE BUTTSEX.


Return to Zendikar – Eldrazi Bukkake.

“Oh god, it’s everywhere! Get the Kleenex! Oh god, it’s in my hair!”


I’ve seen enough anime to know where this is going.



Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Except for his giant swinging metal dick! Glory Seeker? More like Gloryhole Seeker.



What is this, 50 Shades of Fae? 


“Okay, what’s wrong with this one?” you may ask. “It seems absolutely fine! Just a faerie plucking dreams out of a woman’s ear!”

But who says that’s her ear?


Sorry, but that is a dick. Just flat, outright, a dick. A big floppy sweaty hairy toothy nightmare-fuel cock-monster which would make Giger himself proud.


And that’s a giant green cock monster!


Aaargh cock monsters everywhere!


Aaargh! Dick tree!


Oh god no, not a tentacle-rape tree!


Technically this one doesn’t count, but I had to include it for that flavour text; “Fervid shamans willingly submit to shockers in hopes of glimpsing the fortunes of the future.”  Ooo, those naughty shamans!

I’m sure that there are more cards like this, but those were the best that I could think of! There’s probably not too many more though, I mean it’s not as if Magic artists go out of their way to deliberately…


God damn it.

I’ll be in my bunk.

- Gareth

The Incident at Saint Pelagia’s

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I’ve gone and published another short story today!

iasp cover 1


My blurb;

A terrible thing has happened at Saint Pelagia’s boarding school; dozens are dead or missing, and no one knows why or how. Enclosed are the transcripts of the interviews with the survivors; perhaps these will help to shed some light on the mystery.

So yes, it’s a horror/ghost story told by way of interview transcripts, and to be honest I’m pretty damn proud of it. If you’re interested in cosmic eldritch horror and general creepiness, and you’re a Kindle owner, why not give it a read?

You can find The Incident here (for UK readers) and here (for those across the Pond). And why not check my other books while you’re there, or look at my eBook list at the top of the page?

Until next time, remember; Sixteen summons Him.

- Gareth

Like Father, Like Son

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I was never sporty like my dad was; in his youth he played a lot of cricket and football, and these days he’s usually glued to a sports channel (he’s also a big Toronto Jays fan). He was also quite an arty type back in the day, and was in some local theatre groups, usually appearing in musicals (that’s actually how he and my mum met). These days he spends a lot of time painting, mostly landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, where he and my mum like to spend their summers. Basically, he’s a super fucking cool old dude.

I admit, I haven’t exactly inherited his dancing skills, singing voice, or prowess with a paintbrush. However he was, and still is, a bit of a comic nerd, and that’s our shared ground. He was a fan of the usual heroes of that age; Dan Dare, Green Arrow, Flash Gordon, Phantom… however his favourite hero to this day is Shazam, or Captain Marvel as he was called back then (and like a true old grognard, he staunchly maintains that the Captain Marvel of his era is “the proper one”).

Which just goes to show that you're never to old to cry "betrayal!" over comic book retcons and reboots.

Which just goes to show that you’re never too old to cry “betrayal!” over comic book retcons and reboots.

So as it was Father’s Day in the UK this weekend, I decided to get him something a little bit special. It’s starting to become a bit of a tradition that I get my dad a geeky T-shirt for Father’s Day, though to be fair it was a tradition he sort of started by getting a TIE Fighter Owner’s Manual shirt.

My rebuttal.

My rebuttal.


Last year I got him a Darth Vader “Father of the Year” shirt. This year, I got him a selection of ales (I admit, I was intrigued by the one called fucking DOOM BAR), and a shirt sporting the logo of a certain superhero…


On behalf of all nerdy sons to all nerdy dads, happy Father’s Day!

- Gareth

Slice & Dice – The Adventure of Sieg Silberheit!

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D&D 5th edition is out next month, and I’m so psyched I decided to start telling some RPG stories to camera, just like Noah Antwiler, aka the Spoony Experiment NO ONE ELSE, THIS IS A TOTALLY ORIGINAL IDEA.



Enjoy my ramblings. I have noticed to my embarrassment that I say “like” and “so” a lot.


- Gareth



Street Fighter DBG: Top 10

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As I mentioned last time, my group and I have gone officially chuffing mental for Cryptozoic’s latest Cerberus Engine deckbuilding game based on the ever-popular Street Fighter franchise; it’s been a massive hit as we’re all fans of the franchise, and we’ve probably had about twenty games so far, definitely enough for us to have strong opinions of the various cards.

It’s a strength of the Street Fighter DBG that there’s no “bad” cards as such (apart from Agents of Shadaloo, they suck so hard). Sagat and Fei Long’s Ultra, Rekkashingeki (bless you!) are probably the weakest cards that I can think of; they have some uses, but they just pale in comparison next to stuff like Flying Barcelona, Gill, Sakura, and Hyakuretsukyaku (bless you!).

I’ve gone through and picked out my ten favourite cards in the set; these are the ones I always try and snap up when they appear in the Line Up.




Juri doesn’t look like much at first, but I honestly think she might be my favourite Villain. Firstly, she’s 2 cost for 2 Power, which instantly makes her better than a Kick. Secondly, her Attack isn’t flashy, but it certainly helps whittle down an opponent’s hand. There are few things more infuriating than being on the receiving end of multiple early-game Juris. Even late game, she’s good for probing an opponent’s defences and determining if they’re a sitting duck.


Like Juri, Urien is quite a humble card. 3 cost for 2 Power puts him on par with a Kick, but it’s the fact that he can be pitched as a Defence that sells it. There’s four in the deck, and if I didn’t end up with at least one, things probably went badly. There’s far more attacking in Street Fighter than other Cryptozoic DBGs, and it makes cheap Defences like Urien an important purchase at any point of the game.



And of the subject of Defences… Rolling Thunder is one of those cards that much stronger when played in reaction to an Attack; drawing two cards or getting back an Ultra is excellent. I picked up both of these in a game the other evening, and I was virtually untouchable while managing to keep my hand fully stocked. Great card, and in my opinion the best Defence in the game, not taking Ultra/Counter Attacks into consideration.



Of course, Hugo doesn’t give a crap about Defences! Hugo followed by an Ultra is a common combo that shows up at my table, though he’s still great even if you don’t follow him with an Ultra. Oh, and he gives 2 Power as well, just to rub it in. Great card, allows for some truly disgusting plays.



Although apparently unable to wear trousers, Cammy is a solid card at any stage of the game. Early on, she’s 2-for-2, like Juri. Mid- to late-game, she lets you grab those ever-important Locations and put them straight into play. I can’t help but feel disappointed when I play Cammy and don’t buy a Location the same turn…


Every card with Honda is really good; Honda as a Character has an amazing Counter Attack and a fun Ultra that doesn’t need to be built around, Hundred-Hand Slap is a cheap card-draw card, and Hot Blooded Sumo can go from a so-so 2 Power to a “oh crap, I’m suddenly about to have a good turn” 4 Power without much difficulty. Pair him up with Hundred-Hand Slap, Sakura, and Dash Straight for best results.



This is very close to being my favourite card in the whole set. I love the fact that it’s a pseudo-Defence, and you can play on top of a normal Defence. The thing is, you can reveal it when you get attacked once, and that can end up completely changing things until your turn comes round again; will opponents continue to attack you, knowing that their next turn is going to get worse and worse the more they hit you? This is a priority card when I play; even if I get something that’s clearly a better choice, I’ll be sad that I had to pass this up.



Aside from sounding like a horrific venereal disease, Red Cyclone is superb, and the cause of much rage. I love the mechanic in Street Fighter of putting cards under your character as a kind of private Line Up, and RC helps you build that up. The best way we’ve found of using him is to lock away the multipliers like Rolento’s Baton and Jungle Warrior, cards which are important at the end of the game, but are not great during it. That said, locking away big flashy cards like Hadoken or Tireless Wanderer for the purpose of griefing opponents is absolutely encouraged. Needless to say, if you get RC you’ll want to try and get Rose. If you get multiples of these and USA, you can basically ignore the Line Up and play a solitaire game.



Smarter than the average Dhalsim. Beautifully simple rules text, ridiculous possibilities. Maybe it’s the MtG player in me, but I love copying effects, and this is no different. Unfortunately we haven’t had any groundbreaking plays with this yet (I’m personally waiting for the Mystic Yogi into Mystic Yogi chain reaction), but it’s only a matter of time until someone Mystic Yogi’s into Seth, or Tanden Engine, or…


This guy. This FUCKING guy. ARRRRRGH. HE’S JUST SO GOOD. Yes, the cards have to be the same type. Yes, we’ve had turns where SoJ has come down and the best thing the player’s been able to do is get back some Punches. But for every time that’s happened, there’s been ten other times where this card has created some disgusting plays. The cost 7 limit is a joke, it may as well say “any card”; the only things he can’t get back are Seth, Psycho Crusher, and Tireless Wanderer… three cards in the entire deck! I can’t help but feel that he’s basically very overpowered for what he does; if it was cost 6 or 5 instead, he’d still be amazing, but as is… sheesh. Pro tip; if this card shows up in the Line Up, buy it, or at the very least try and lock it away with Red Cyclone! My favourite card in the set, but for probably all the wrong reasons.

I’m hoping that Cryptozoic do some add-ons for Street Fighter; I’d love to see cards for characters like Dee Jay and C Viper, and obviously lots more special moves! We need a Yoga Fire, a Spinning Bird Kick, a goddamn Shoryuken! Some more stages would be great as well; I’d like to see some alternatives to Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Brazil. Not that I’m complaining, I love the game, and can’t wait until I play it again!

- Gareth   



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