Monday, May 4, 2015

Tournament Blues (and Reds and Greens)

This is just filling space to remind me of what I want to write when I have time. Will complete the post in a couple of days. Despite the title, it has nothing to do with painting, or even any general complaint on tournaments. Just a personal thought on what these are/mean/do to me. Probably not what anyone would expect, and near zero relation to any internet trips on the subject.

. . . . .

So, finally have a minute to get some thoughts down on this. And some mental space.

The following thoughts have nothing to do with whether tournaments are good or bad, the validity of WAAC vs. Have Fun, Be Merry mindsets, or any of that. So why bother? Eh, same as the answer for the rest of the stuff here: this blog offers me a space to get stuff out of my head, to talk about crap that doesn't come up in general polite conversation, an intellectual exercise and writing practice, a reason to be honest and unfiltered, since I presume no particular audience I don't have to worry about being considerate of anyone's feelings or opinions.

Tournaments have generally been things I prefer to avoid. However, there seems to be a general sentiment that if you aren't participating in them, then you don't get to have an opinion on how such things are run; and I have opinions (that run toward the pedantic) but I agree they should be informed. Also, avoidance without cause can be a sort of weakness. So every so often I need to test the waters. However, I am finding that each experience only tends to add further weight in favor of these things just not being any fun for me.

1 - The Physical Environment.

A - Lots of people, many of whom I don't know very well. For anyone with any degree of social/general anxiety, this is uncomfortable at best. What others maybe don't realize is that it is also exhausting. Basically, my brain is set on high alert, monitoring every word and gesture and measuring it against a self-imposed scale balanced on perfection. So, brain is recording and replaying every aspect of every interaction, ceaselessly. Brains need rest, but in that environment, there is none. But aren't all brains doing this all the time? Sort of. It is a matter of intensity. As an experiment, sit down with a timer and a list of two or three digit numbers, then test yourself at adding as many as you can in say a two-minute period. Then take note of how you feel once the timer goes off. For normal people, this is the mental exercise equivalent of running a quarter mile at top speed. And this is the pace my brain is running at nonstop in this sort of environment until such time as I can finally find a nice quiet corner to crawl into.

B - Noise. There is the added problem of not being able to filter out extraneous stimuli. So in addition to monitoring what is going on with the person across the table, brain is also picking up on every conversation in earshot, all movement happening anywhere inside of the periphery of vision, on top of the general din of dozens of voices outside the immediate vicinity. And brain doesn't just dismiss all this nonsense; brain tries to process all this information as well.

Add A & B together, along with the general problem of trying to access long-term memory to recall rules, and executive function to make decisions, and it feels like every area of my brain is having to run at a sprint for hours on end. It literally takes days for me to recover from being in such an environment. Plus, there is the added fun of all this overstimulation triggering panic attacks. Double yeah.

2 - Lack of Reward Response
Normal brains like to give you bonuses for doing things well, so for most people, winning is accompanied by a nice shot happy feelgood. Dopamine plays a role in this reward processing, but people who study this don't claim to have it figured out, partly because dopamine also plays a role in negative side effects related to PTSD and other not fun brain stuff. So I am not trying to explain why my brain doesn't give me a high five when something goes well - all I know is it doesn't a lot of the time. Whether winning a game or getting an A on a test, my brain usually just shrugs. Actually, my brain tends to look for reasons why I shouldn't start feeling too proud of myself.

Coupling 1 & 2, the tournament environment for me essentially presents me a no-win scenario: stress on steroids with next to nothing in the way of happy fun brain rewards.

So how is this different than relaxed, casual games? Well, the environment is different. I can relax when I am around people I know and like. People who play games with me may notice I prefer to find tables away from the crowd and during times when there are fewer people around. And the fact that I still don't receive much pleasant stimulation from winning doesn't matter, because I do get happy brain stuff from laughter, which is why the people I like playing with are those who I can laugh with, regardless of what is happening on the table.

Point being, I think I have about reached the end of experiments in tournament environments part 3. Moving one step closer to deciding that it just isn't fun for me and not the sort of thing I should expend energy on. Which is by no means a conclusive decision - I have always been the kid who had to experience the fact that fire burns to actually believe it. Plus a few extra trials just to verify results, then a refresher down the road. For the moment, I am feeling pretty confident that it isn't just an off the cuff avoidance reaction.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rolling Large

Post-game night dinner. The question comes up, “How many dice do you have to roll to see results that are similar to what is expected theoretically?” A fair question.

**Note, for the TL;DR types, you can skip to the very bottom for some graphs that demonstrate the answer to this question. This will be a very long post. But the short answer is pretty worthless. And even as long as this post is, it really should be longer. This still is just scratching the surface.**
A few years back, I wrote a couple posts about some of the basics of probability theory as it pertains to dice. In that, I reference the “Law of Large Numbers” (LLN). Basically, as the number of experiments increases, the average of the outcomes will approach the expected values.

So, how many dice does it take to make a large enough sample? The simple answer – a lot.
I have heard some people state that they don’t ‘believe’ in statistics as an application in games. I doubt such statements are meant literally, but the explanation that follows often refers to the observation that when a quantity of dice is rolled, the outcome usually does not ‘match’ the theoretical probability. Actually, this is completely as expected if you understand statistics and combinatorics.

For example, since I know that each number on a D6 is equally likely, if I roll 6 dice, I might expect to see one each of 1,2,3,4,5,6. In fact, this outcome is far less likely than having 5 numbers with one repeated. I think I should save the mathematical explanation of that for another time, as this is already going to be a very long post. But I do plan to get to it soon-ish.
For this post, I will present the results of a few simulations to try and illustrate this point. However, the fact is that most game events will not require an amount of dice that comes anywhere near “large”. So does this mean that theoretical probability is useless for game strategy? Not exactly. But that explanation will need a lot of expansion, far more than I can cover in one post. So, the examples that will be presented now are just an introduction. We’ll see how this topic progresses, as I plan to return to it often.

Some basic concepts used here:
“Error” refers to the degree by which an observed outcome (empirical data) differs from the expected/theoretical value. In examples below, I may use the term ‘difference’ instead of error as it seems more natural in this context.

“Distribution” describes the ‘shape’ of data or expected values. This is not necessarily confined to graphical representations, but it makes concepts a bit more concrete if there is some picture to refer to. I am actually using a very loose definition of distribution here, as it can include many different specifications, but the full explanation on this could fill a book. In this post, I will specifically be looking at a uniform distribution based on a D6. Later posts will expand on this to consider other distributions based on how we view certain outcomes.
“Sample Space” refers to the set of all possible outcomes/results/events for an experiment/trial. In this case, each D6 die roll is an experiment/trial, the sample space includes {1,2,3,4,5,6}. The “sample” is the set of data obtained from a number of trials. The “theoretical probability” of an event (particular outcome) is a number between 0 and 1 that indicates how likely an event is to occur, generally denoted P[E], where E is one element in the sample space. In the case of a uniform probability distribution, all outcomes are equally likely. In this case, each event in the sample space has a probability of 1/6 = 16.667%. The “Expected Value” technically refers to the average of repeated measures of an event. So for a D6, the expected value is 3.5; practically, this is pretty nonsensical. I only point this one out as it can easily be confused with the expected number of observations, which is arrived at by multiplying the probability of an event by the number of trials.

Now, the fun stuff: Data!
For this first piece, I wanted to take a focused look at a relatively small data set to talk about how small samples can differ greatly from what is expected theoretically, and how this applies to gaming. I used a function in Excel to generate 2 sets (A&B) of 144 numbers between 1 and 6 (note: I will add technical details at the bottom in case you want to do your own simulations).  However, I arranged the data in a certain way so that it can mimic gaming scenarios. I have 6 rows and broke up each full data set into 6, 12, and then the full 24 columns. So, if you read one column, it is like seeing the results of rolling 6 dice. So the sets show 36, 72, and 144 dice rolls. The frequency of each event is counted, and then summed in the last column, compared this total to the expected number and calculated the difference. I have the full data sets available here: DataSetA  DataSetB

Here are the summaries for the first 36 dice:

A = 36 Actual Expected "#" Diff "%" Diff B = 36 Actual Expected "#" Diff "%" Diff
1 4 6 -2 -33.333 1 5 6 -1 -16.667
2 4 6 -2 -33.333 2 5 6 -1 -16.667
3 3 6 -3 -50 3 8 6 2 33.3333
4 13 6 7 116.667 4 6 6 0 0
5 6 6 0 0 5 3 6 -3 -50
6 6 6 0 0 6 9 6 3 50
I swear I didn’t manipulate the data sets at all. But Wow! It really does look like we broke statistics in set A. ‘4’ appears in 13/36 trials, more than twice what would be expected. However, ‘5’ & ‘6’ are right on target with 6 occurrences each. The B set is a bit closer to expectations with ‘5’ being 50% less than expected and ‘6’ 50% more.See how this changes if we double the number of dice to 72:
A = 72 Actual Expected "#" Diff "%" Diff B = 72 Actual Expected "#" Diff "%" Diff
1 7 12 -5 -41.667 1 12 12 0 0
2 14 12 2 16.6667 2 9 12 -3 -25
3 10 12 -2 -16.667 3 14 12 2 16.6667
4 17 12 5 41.6667 4 12 12 0 0
5 11 12 -1 -8.3333 5 11 12 -1 -8.3333
6 13 12 1 8.33333 6 14 12 2 16.6667

In A, ‘4’ is still the most frequent, but it had a pretty huge lead from before. Actually, in the second 36 trials, only 4 ‘4s’ occurred, which is less than the expected 6. Where ‘4’ is over, ‘1’ is under. So, this would be the sort of break from average that we love to see usually! Set B is starting to show less variation, which is exactly what LLN says should occur.

The last set includes the full 144 dice sample:
A = 144 Actual Expected "#" Diff "%" Diff B = 144 Actual Expected "#" Diff "%" Diff
1 23 24 -1 -4.1667 1 26 24 2 8.33333
2 22 24 -2 -8.3333 2 21 24 -3 -12.5
3 21 24 -3 -12.5 3 23 24 -1 -4.1667
4 32 24 8 33.3333 4 20 24 -4 -16.667
5 25 24 1 4.16667 5 26 24 2 8.33333
6 21 24 -3 -12.5 6 28 24 4 16.6667

In A, ‘4’ is still more than expected, but by a much smaller margin, despite gaining more than the expected 12 additional observations from the previous group. All of the others are getting close to the expected frequencies. Set B seems to be showing more difference from the expectation if you look at the percentages, but if you look more closely, the highest and lowest % difference are actually less far apart compared to the 72 sample (72: 16.667 - -25 = 41.667; 144: 16.667 - -16.667 = 33.3).

I could have run a lot more data samples, but I think these are sufficient to show that as the number of trials increases, the observed frequency is overall beginning to get closer to the expected frequency.
Before I move on to the second simulation, I want to take a closer look at the individual columns, representing a roll of 6 dice. You can look at these in the pdfs, I just copied a few here to illustrate the extremes.

Out of the total of 48 columns between the two sets, there were 0 instances where each number occurs exactly once. I know some might use this to justify the belief that the probability has nothing to do with what we observe. Actually, anticipating such arguments may motivate me to write up the mathematical justification for why we aren’t likely to see such a result in such a small sample. Oh, yeah, back to the title – is 144 dice large? Not really. Getting closer, but this is still a small sample set. 
However, I pulled out the columns where there were instances of the next best scenario. A total of 9/48, 18.75%.  Mathematically, each of these occurrences has the exact same likelihood, as they are each a different assignment of the frequency set 0,1,1,1,1,2. However, from a gaming perspective, they are NOT equal at all. For these, I rated them Good – Yeah!, Bad – Boo!, or E – even; these are based on the scenario of wanting to roll a 4+. From this particular sample, most of these sets of 6 are not what we would prefer generally. Only one beats the odds (odds vs. probability is another topic, I am using the term loosely here) in our favor. Again though, this is just the nuance of this sample. Variation is expected if we are truly using random generation. Sometimes it works in our favor, sometimes it doesn’t. As exemplified by the next selection, from the other extreme.

1 2 3 4 5 6
A14 1 1 1 1 2 0 E
A17 2 0 1 1 1 1 E
A18 1 1 2 1 0 1 Boo!
A19 1 1 2 1 1 0 Boo!
A22 2 1 1 1 1 0 Boo!
B7 1 0 1 2 1 1 Yeah!
B21 1 1 1 1 0 2 E
B23 1 2 0 1 1 1 E
B24 2 1 1 0 1 1 Boo!
For these, I pulled all the columns which represent the least likely distributions. In this sample, I took any column that included a frequency of 4 or more for one number. Notice, there were no instances in the sample that had 5 or 6 of the same number. We all have probably experienced a really lucky roll of 5 ‘5s’ and a ‘6’ or something like it. But these are extremely unlikely. On the bright side, 5 ‘2s’ and one ‘1’ have an identically low probability. Of these 3 sets, 2 would probably make us pretty happy.


Now to answer that question – how large?
Excel is pretty useful, and it is kinda neato to generate lots of random samples and look at the variation. Okay, maybe it is only really cool if you are a total math nerd like me. Anyway, if you want to do some real statistical computing, you need a proper statistics package. For these simulations I used “R”, which is not really the most user friendly program, but it has the supreme advantage of being free. I will include links and the coding I used at the end. I also just found out that there is a package someone has written specifically for running all kinds of dice scenarios, so may use that for future posts once I have played around with it.

Onto the graphs – I know you’re tired of reading by now. I ran two simulations at each of the following samples sizes: 36, 72, 144, 360, 1200, 6000, 12000. (Actually I ran many more sims of each just to verify that the graphs shown below seemed a reasonable examples. Of course, I didn't realize until I posted these that the 2nd 36 sim had exactly 0 '1s' in it, which is unusual. I did not however cherry pick these examples, I just grabbed the last two after running enough to be satisfied.)

So, the empirical distribution doesn’t really start to settle around the theoretical distribution until I input 12,000 trials. Probably not the answer that most people would hope for. Granted, I bet a standard game probably includes 500 – 1000 dice rolls, so really that is only one or two dozen games.
Okay, that’s way more than enough for one day. Will start working on a post discussing the mathematical side of probabilities as mentioned above. Until then, keep praying to the dice gods if that’s your thing!

Notes on Excel functions and R code:
Excel: Random D6 generation:   =RANDBETWEEN(1,6) 
           Counting “=#”:    =COUNTIF(A1:A6,"=1")
"R" basic program
Rstudio (makes R have a much nicer interface):
"dice" package

Simulation Code, only need to input first two lines once. To alter number or trials, see red text. Also need to adjust the y axis increments accordingly, approximately 1/4 of number of experiments.

p.die <- rep(1/6,6)
die <- 1:6

s <- table(sample(die, size=6000, prob=p.die, replace=T))
lbls = sprintf("%0.1f%%", s/sum(s)*100)
barX <- barplot(s, ylim=c(0,1500))
text(x=barX, y=s+10, label=lbls)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What is dead may never die

Kind of apropos to reboot this blog during season 5 premiere week.

So, yeah.... so much for using this as an outlet to document my progression from "too scared to go up and talk to people I don't already know" to "god, why won't she shut up already". Basically, doctoral coursework in mathematics is hard. Being bipolar makes things even more interesting. So, things fell apart. Not just in terms of this blog. When I decide it is time for a change in my life, I don't tend to just walk away. I burn what's behind me to the ground. Not at all a productive adaptation, but it is what it is.

Changed the name, as I really have been thinking a lot lately on probability and game theory, tournament design, and the psychology of gamers (and myself, but I can never escape that). And this just flows better. The dice and decks part should be obvious. As well as the play on TicTacToe. Death, well wargaming involves a lot of pseudo-death. And being crazy means always walking under the shadow to some extent.

So since this was just sitting in a corner getting moldy, it seemed easier to do some spring cleaning rather than start a whole new thing. Plus, I read back over the old posts and I am feeling right proud of some of the prose I had written, though also a bit bemused at what I seemed to care about at that time.

Most importantly, however, right now I need a space where I can talk about my moods on occasion, not necessarily to the world at large, but to the people whom I interact with regularly in the hobby. Several times in the last few days I have sent personal apologies because I was a little manic the last few weeks. And it is always embarrassing to realize your behavior was somewhat out of whack. Or maybe I am the only one who notices. It gnaws at me regardless.

But I recognize that it seems odd that a person would disclose personal information, unsolicited. Addressing that is kind of the main point of this entire post. Because if a person had a back problem and said "I need to just lay on the couch for a few days until I heal" few people would give such disclosure a second thought. But the invisible, psychological, medical problems are still considered, by many, topics that should be hidden. TMI.

Back when I started this blog, I decided I was done trying to put on the impenetrable fa├žade all the time. It was too exhausting, too isolating, and most of all, it was a habit born of fear. And for myself, I needed to be brutally honest and realize that massive walls don't make you strong. So I have made an effort to be as honest as possible about my illness. Because somebody has to, if the stigma is ever going to be reduced. Because it is better to have an explanation for odd behavior than just being labeled a weirdo. Because crazy is just one small, inseverable piece of me and if people have an issue with it, or with me being so candid about it, then obviously there is no friendship there in the first place. At least I am certain I am not boring.

And none of that previous paragraph is directed at anyone I know. It is more a statement of choosing to advocate for myself, and maybe some others in the mix. Really though, it is just the result of a long (lifelong), tortuous exercise in learning not to be afraid. Of learning to let the mask fall. Trying to hide would be a huge fall backwards. Because I wasted too much time there already, and I know that only leads to more pain and decay.

So, this is just me reiterating some truth. And leaving it out here so I can quit feeling anxious about how people react to it. So I can put this link back in my signature, and just own it.

And really, truly - this should be the last deeply personal post for a long while. Because I have been researching some awesome tournament/ranking design theory that I can't wait to write about. And so many probability topics that I think are fascinating in their complexity. And I have actually gotten to a point where I am often quite happy with my painting, enough that I want to share. So there are lots more interesting things to write about. Will try to make it at least once a week.

And thank you to my friends for putting up with me the last few years, and making me feel welcome. It has been a novel and happy experience.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gwaelna, Guest Artist Extraordinaire

Welcome y'all, Gwaelna here. I'm going to be guest posting some stuff on Morella's blog here, both to kind of fill it up a bit while she deals with a hectic school life, as well as to post some of my own stuff that my corporate overlords wouldn't want in my Bell of Lost Souls posts (painting for rival companies and the like, nothing actually all that exciting).

Background on me is I'm an ex hardcore ccg-er who dropped out of the booster pack race after they killed off her favorite game (The eternal struggle turned out to be not so eternal...). After floating around for a year I ended up getting the itch to play games with people at the local game store again, so having sworn off anything in a randomized package I joined up into the minis game. Started with Warmachine (Khador), but I tend to hop around both factions (Trollbloods, Retribution, Minions, Menoth, now Cyriss) and games (Malifaux is my current big one as I write articles for Wyrd on BoLS, but I also dabble in anything that looks fun to paint.

Like I said, I write reviews and tactica for BoLS, but sometimes I want to showcase a different company's miniatures, or perhaps write a Malifaux article that delves a little deeper into other company's stuff than feels appropriate for a games spokeswoman (such as using Privateer Press' parts store to kitbash up some proxies for the beta. Got a great steamtrunk article out of that).

On rare occasion I do some commission work, but I generally don't feel my stuff is quite up to "pay me so I can impress your friends" levels, so I don't generally go out looking for commissions. Also, the pay for that sort of thing generally isn't very good, so I just go and work on my massive backlog (got almost everything released for Cyriss so far. Got two models painted...).

Non gamer background is I'm an overnight baker. Long, weird hours, however on my days off it leaves me with quite a few hours of solitude when no one else is awake, so I get to put in a lot of time practicing my craft.

And yes. Most everything I do is for my own personal enjoyment and gaming, I'm never trying to win any awards. So sometimes I just let a stray mold line or gap go without fixing it. Best to just go with the flow and enjoy yourself, rather than stress out over a hobby.

Tactical tip: avoid Games Workshop's "textured" paints. Not worth the trouble.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Washing Away

As a not awesome painter, I will admit that the introduction of washes was a boon. However, I learned through trial and error that it is not so simple as slapping Devlan Mud all over a model and expecting grand results. So I decided to make this post to help people who are just starting out in painting or who haven't yet learned how to use washes to their best effect.

A small anecdote: when I was an undergrad many years ago, I took Art 101 because I thought it would be fun. I got a C - which is annoying because it dragged down my GPA for a class I didn't need. So, I am not a great artist. But I did pay attention on the more science-based aspects of the course (I just did not implement them well), such as color theory, tone, etc. Also, I have learned how to paint within my limitations. Even if I learned how to blend paints well (I don't see that happening, too impatient) I just cant "see" how to highlight a model. This is where washes have helped me greatly - it gives me information about what areas of the model should be highlighted. There is still some judgement needed, especially on large flat areas (for this I suggest looking at really well painted models and studying the placement of shades) - this is something I struggle with.

Any painter should learn a few things about color theory. I am no expert, so don't take anything I say here as gospel. Basics: there are cool and warm tones of most colors. For instance, and orangey red is warm, while a blue red is cool. Yellow with a grey base is cool, while a brown base is warm. The important thing about tone: using a cool toned wash on a warm toned color (and vice versa) may make your model look dirty, and not necessarily in a good way. Another thing about color theory, colors have opposites, which when you are talking in strict terms, means that if you mix green with red, blue with orange, purple with yellow, you get black. With paint, you more often get an off shade of black brown. But color opposites can be useful when looking at washes, as you can use an opposite color to get a different shading effect than if you just chose a brown or black wash. Thanks to Ratty on the Wyrd forum by the way for pointing this out - I had learned it in that art class, but hadn't thought to apply it in this way to mini painting.

I am currently using the no longer current GW washes. When these run out, I will likely move to Secret Weapon or Vallejo washes, but I haven't used these brands yet. So the rundown on washes I currently use, and what colors I tend to use them on:

Badab Black: pretty much anything, except yellow or orange! Depends on the effect I want. Vallejo has a soft grey wash that I want to get next time I order from an online retailer, as it is not carried locally - I think this will be neat on white, but we'll see.

Devlan Mud (dark brown): I tend to use this on brown, green, red (when I want to keep a warmer tone).

Ogryn Flesh (medium reddish brown): Use this as a first wash on flesh, pinks, reds, browns, dirty grays, purple, pink. I also use this to warm up something that I used Devlan Mud on already.

Gryphonne Sepia (tan): This is a pretty light wash color, but can be useful if you are painting a warmer white/beige tones, and is also useful for paler flesh. Can also be used on yellows and oranges. Possibly even pastel greens and blues, but I have not tried it on these colors, so it may not work as expected.

The following are more situational, and I tend to use these as glazes as much as washes (I use them as a second wash over items that had a first wash of brown or black, to bring the main (related) color back out.

Baal Red: Good for oranges, pinks, and even greens.Mostly used as a glaze though.

Leviathan Purple: Doesn't do a whole lot for shading, unless the base is lighter. It is useful on yellow though! (Again, thanks to Ratty for this tip) I also use this over greys, you can see this in my Tina crew, where I used it for the fur trims, or over a light blue. Also I use this on reds occasionally.

Asurmen Blue: This particular shade of blue I have found to be quite potent - be careful if you are using it over a first highlight as it can really obliterate the work you put in. This does deepen existing blues, which is nice if you start with a blue gray, as it makes it more blue. I have not tried this over orange yet, but should work similarly to the way purple on yellow works. Can also be used on greens or purples to shade a bit and alter the base tone.

Thraka Green: This works well over lighter, olive greens, which is what I did with the Ophelia crew. It doesn't do much for anything deeper than a mid tone though. Again, try using it over red instead of black and see what you think. Also can be used over grey and brown to give a mossy look, nice for woods and stones.

Now to the important stuff. Washes should NOT be viewed as a quick and easy way to finish a model. They are tools and are best used with precision, as you would any paint. Using the guide above, and your own experimentation, determine what wash will best serve your needs for various areas of the model. Washes are not generally one shade fits all, and if you try to use them this way, your model will often end up looking dirty and sloppy.

What washes do: I mentioned above that the first wash gives me insight into what areas of the model need more attention, which is why I wash after completing the base colorings. I need help in order to see what the model wants. Washes can provide an uneven shading, as they tend to sit in the crevices. This does not mean that if you just use the biggest brush you have to dab it all over that it will seek the recesses out. I will discuss this further in a moment. Washes can bring back a color and deepen/enhance/alter tone, as described above, this is often called a glaze. Washes can be used to fix minor mistakes, such as excessive highlighting. It won't completely cover them, but a few washes can deepen the base enough to where they are less noticeable. Washes can provide some "faux blending" by softening the distinction between highlights/base colors, but they will not provide the same effect as if you did a proper blend in the first place.

What Washes Don't Do: They won't save a sloppy paint job. They won't provide the sort of natural effect that an expertly blended paint job will convey. They won't turn your model into a prize-winning masterpiece without a high level of skill.

Viscosity. Think about how water forms droplets on a window - it doesn't move as a sheet, it forms droplets that run along the path of least resistance, or where pushed by force. All fluids are viscous to some extent. What this means is, you need to tell your wash where to go. If you just slop a wash all over a painted mini, you will inevitably get staining where you don't want it, where it chose to pool rather than where you wanted it to pool. In general, you want it to gather in the recesses (if being used for shading, I'll talk a bit about other uses next).

What this means - you need to use a properly sized brush to guide the wash into the recesses and thin it out over the flat areas. It is just like painting, except you want it to gather in certain places. Good painters will tell you to only use the tip of the brushes when applying paints, a rule that I often break when highlighting btw, but this is how you ought to use the brush. Washes are different. When working with textured areas, it is often easier to use the flat side of the brush (the bristles still, not the handle) to push the wash into recesses. Using just the tip, it will often suck up some of the wash, which is counterproductive if you want it to stay on the model. If any pools occur on an area where you don't want them, you need to spread them out immediately, as it only takes a few seconds for the wash to start drying and leave a stain. For this reason, it is best to work small areas at a time and move around the model in an organized manner.

If you are using a wash as a glaze, you want to instead make sure that it is spread evenly across the model in a thin layer. Because washes leave a much thinner layer of pigment than paint, you can wash an area multiple times without obscuring details, so as with paint, it is best to use thin layers and build up to the desired tone (wait, I don't do this with paint - but I do with washes!). You want to make sure each wash coat is dry before starting another.

One last thing - it is important to use the proper size brush for the area you are covering and apply washes precisely where you want them, especially when using multiple colors of wash - where two washes meet you want to avoid overlap generally.

So that is my experience with washes. I use them quite a lot - they have helped me have much nicer looking minis I think. But you must use them wisely, not sloppily. I guess, a sloppily washed mini is better than one with no shading or highlighting, but not by much. They are so quick and easy to use, though, that expending a small amount of extra effort is really not asking too much. The most important thing about using washes, or any other painting technique, is to be ready to experiment. Because washes are so thin, it is not too awful when you make a mistake or something doesn't turn out as expected. Just apply a thin layer of paint over it and try again. Note, it is best to try new things on areas that can take a little extra paint, not the finest of details.

As always, questions and comments are appreciated.

How to Become a Mediocre Painter

One of the earlier posts offered up an example of some of the truly horrible paintjobs I am guilty of. I have gotten better. However, the other day while I was set up to do demos at the LGS, someone looked at my models an commented "Wow, these are beautiful" to which I thought "Are you drunk?" On second thought, they were probably talking about the models themselves, not my painting.

Before I forget, I have finished several crews recently, so the page for my finished crews has just been updated.

I have absolutely no business offering painting tips, by the way. I am not great at painting, rather I have developed a systems that works for me with the end result being models I am not ashamed to put on the table. I wouldn't dream of entering them in any competitions though.

So, if you are struggling to get past the stage of painting where you manage to "paint between the lines" as it were, then maybe this will help. Just don't expect anything spectacular - if that is the level you aspire to, then practice, and read tips from people who are actually good painters. If you happen to be one of these good painters, you may want to just stop reading this post now, so you don't get annoyed at all my lazy shortcuts.

I will detail the basic steps I go through. I have a few pictures to help illustrate, but my photography skills aren't great either, so....

Step 0: First thing - clean any mold lines or flash of the model please. I am crazed about mold lines. The best paint job ever will be ruined if the model has mold lines showing all over. Next, you want to spray on a base coat. I used to always use black, but I really hate painting certain colors over black (particularly red and yellow), so now I usually use white or gray, but it depends what I want the end product to look like. If you want lots of bright colors, I would go white, which is what I have done for this marionette. Army Painter has a nice line of spray colors that I have just recently used for Warhammer - where you have dozens of minis with a predominant color. This may be worthwhile depending on what models you are doing, how many, and if there is one color that will make up the bulk of the model's coverage.

Step 1: Put down your base colors. Keep it neat, but don't go nuts fixing every little mistake if it is something that will likely get painted over later. I was particularly fond of the GW Foundation paint range as it suits this method of painting - I have not tried any of their new paints and doubt that I will once I need to refill, as I also picked up an Army Painter paint set last Christmas that I like very much; however, they have adjusted the range somewhat, so not sure how the colors I have (which are cleverly named things like Yellow and Blue) correlate to the newer ones. But if you were asking me where to start, I would suggest picking up an Army Painter starter set. About five years ago I splurged and got a Vallejo set with like 70+ paints, but they have not aged well, which could be my fault for not using them often enough and not storing them properly, but still, I can't recommend them as they have caused me a great deal of frustration, though many other people swear by this line. Please don't use the kind of cheap paints you buy at large chain retailers - I did this for many years, and my results were pretty much not good. Some people have better results with cheap paint, but I would strongly advise against using these if you can afford a nice starter paint set at your LGS (which you should be able to find for about $40). Brushes, however, I almost always buy these on sale at the craft store. Go for Red Sable, not synthetic, and try to get a nicer brand, but don't go crazy. Get a variety of sizes, and make sure they are for acrylic paints. A proper brush cleaning solution is a wise idea also.

So, this is the easy step. Here is the marionette with the basic colors:

Step 2:  Washes. I am actually going to write my next post specifically about washes, so won't go into super detail here. I will caution you: don't think that you can just slap a brown or black wash all over the model willy nilly and expect good things. They don't work that way. I will go into much greater detail on this tomorrow. I am using GW's old wash line - as these run out I will likely replace them with Secret Weapon washes. On this model, I used Badab Black wash on the blue, purple and red areas, Devlan Mud (dark brown) on the green, Ogryn Flesh (medium reddish brown) on the flesh toned face and the brown wood, and Leviathan Purple on the yellow (thanks to Ratty for a suggestion on the forums a while ago for this one).
Then, I did a second wash to bring the colors back up a bit - green wash on the green, blue wash on the blue, purple on purple, red on red.  I left the yellow alone, though GW's new paint line does have a yellow glaze that I might pick up for this sort of use. Be careful to avoid any pooling where you do not want it, as it will leave a stain. Washes don't naturally run exactly where you may want them, you need to guide them there. Be careful if you are using multiple wash colors to keep them where they should be - it's just like painting, be neat.

Really, with a little tidying up in spots, you could probably just say done after this step if all you want is a painted mini. The photo makes it look like there is a little more contrast than what you see in person, btw.

Step 3: Highlight. The good thing about using this method is you can often get away with using the base color as the highlight color, as the wash will deepen the tone on all areas of the model. Since this model is small and lots of texture, I am only using a single highlight. For larger models with larger flattish areas, you will probably want to do two or more highlights. I may do another post next time I paint a model like that.

For now, go back and pick out any areas that need a little pick me up. Raised areas are usually where you want to hit, but also try and think about how the fabric or whatever would react in real life, where it would be shaded and where it would be reflective. If you make a mistake, like I often do, and go a little overboard on the highlights, you can use another wash coat to dull it a little bit, then try again (I call this the magic eraser way of using washes). Be very careful in this step - since you are almost done you don't want to make mistakes. This is especially true if you have mixed colors, as it can be really difficult to match a color that has been covered in layers of washes.

My models have what some would call a high contrast, cartoony style. I personally like this, which is good because I can paint this way. I don't blend colors well, which you need to do if you want a more natural looking effect. So it is a matter of taste - if you don't like this look, then try to find a method that gets you the result you enjoy.

The finished marionette:

Adding Step 3.5: Details. If you struggle with having sufficient brush control to pick out really small details (for example, the stitching on the wicked dolls, or eyes - I suck at painting eyes!), you need to make a decision weighing the added impact of a well executed detail vs. the likelihood you will screw things up trying to achieve that detail. In the case of eyes, I have just stopped trying. It has never turned out well for me, so usually I just wash and highlight the faces, and maybe use a colored wash on lips or eyes to give them some definition. With the wicked dolls, I decided to not pick out the stitching at this time - I have in the past used a pin to apply paint to really small details, but in this case I just wanted to get them finished so I could work on other things. I figure, I can always go back later and try to finish these little things, but if I am not feeling confident about something, I generally think it is better left alone for the time being. It's your choice though.

Step 4 & 5: Varnish & Base. I have been using a brush on varnish lately, but spray varnish is fine, just be careful and make sure to test it on something before you spray your model, every time.You can varnish before you base, or after. It depends. I like to do one coat before the base, as it makes it a little bit easier to fix any mishaps (though not always) that may occur when basing. For these models, I tried an experiment. I filled in the base with modelling putty (before painting began) and then painted it brown, the lips of my models' bases are color matched to their faction. Then, I used a trendy nail polish designed to give a "crackle" effect. The idea I had in mind was peeling paint laquer on a wood floor. The results were mixed, but oh well. I often use resin bases, but these I usually need to order and I didn't have any on hand for these models.

That is pretty much it. I have pictures of my recent models on the Finished Crew Pictures page. And I will try to do the in depth discussion on washes tomorrow.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Addendum to the Angry Nerd Post

I wanted to add a few things, but decided to make a new post so anyone checking this semi-regularly would not miss it. First, I want to clarify that none of the types I spoke of were reflective of any one individual or event. I have been lurking on gaming forums and blogs for quite some time and these are an amalgam of instances I have noted recurring often. If someone thinks I was directing a comment at them particularly, please make yourself a nice cup of chamomile tea and listen to Carly Simon before getting all offended. Second, I wanted to be clear - I am not saying that people should not be upset when things don't turn out the way they would like. It is okay to feel disappointed and hurt when your expectations are unmet. However, there is something to be said for behaving in a dignified manner. And I must admit, much of what was written is in fact directed at a specific person - my teenage self. I was a tremendous asshole when I was younger. For all you who rage and ramble, bite and bait -  I have been there, done that, and probably was far more horrible and grotesque in the act. This sort of thing is unsustainable - if you do not learn to quell the fires raging inside, you will be consumed by them. But doing so requires sacrifice, and worse. It is easy to forget that youth should be both pitied and exalted for dancing upon the edge of the knife.

I will offer a quote here, from a critical essay written by T. S. Eliot on the subject of Shakespeare's Hamlet. "The intense feeling, ecstatic or terrible, without an object or exceeding its object, is something which every person of sensibility has known; it is doubtless a subject of study for pathologists. It often occurs in adolescence: the ordinary person puts these feelings to sleep, or trims down his feelings to fit the business world; the artist keeps them alive by is ability to intensify the world to his emotions. The Hamlet of Laforgue is an adolescent; the Hamlet of Shakespeare is not, he has not that explanation or excuse."

 I will offer my thoughts on one more type, which was omitted from the first post - the opinionated, know-it-all blogging gamer lady. Lived experience, age, should provide an ever-growing repository of understanding, of compassion and acceptance of the foibles of men (and women). Yet you use this gain as a means of forgetting, a way to abolish the memories of a youth spent raging and railing. You divorce yourself from truth, deny the legitimacy of young emotion, forgetting a time when passion trumped reason, and depth of care was measured by magnitude of response. Wisdom should mean appreciating such fervor, not dispensing stupid platitudes about the superiority of learned apathy. You grow old and forget the horror of becoming Prufrock, as you too measure out your life in coffee spoons.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Entering the Hobby, and Why I Don't Hate GW

While I eagerly await any news from what delights this GenCon brings, I will while away the time with another post. This is about my 20-year relationship with the miniature gaming hobby - which, by the way, is the longest relationship I have had. Really, aside from reading, this is the one constant thread in my interests over the years. I wrote a different version of this elsewhere a while ago, and will no doubt revisit this topic in the future.

Two things prompted me to think about this: (1) recently, I was told that because I have never played, nor have any particular knowledge of, RPG's that I have somehow messed with the order of the universe. I know pretty much nothing about how RPGs are run, what people do there. I don't see myself getting into it either, mainly because I am a tactile person, I like holding my minis, I like painting and collecting my minis. And the RPG thing just seems very social, which freaks me out a bit. I'll get to (2) in a bit.

My younger brother received the Heroquest  game and a few expansions for Christmas one year, probably 1990 or 91. My brother got much more cool toys than me - so even though I am a few years older, I stole his toys a lot over the years (and dismantled several of his Lego creations to make my own, sorry about that). This game was somehow affiliated with GW, and inside the box was a tiny advert for Warhammer and 40K. My boyfriend at that time was British, and had played Warhammer in its earlier incarnation with friends there before moving to the States. So I came to understand that models were put on a table and stuff got blown up with magic and such. This was not too exciting. But those space marines, and the promise of a future ruled by "grim darkness" and war, that sounded awesome. Trying to find the minis became a challenge, which is it's own tale. I think I managed to order/buy Rogue Trader from the Waldenbooks in the mall eventually.

Point is, I didn't learn about the hobby from friends or enter into it as a natural progression from RPGs. It was luck and advertising that got me into it.

(2) The second point which prompted me to write this, I am meeting a number of people who are starting their adventures in miniature gaming with a game system that is produced by someone other than Games Workshop. This is just crazy to me - it's like skipping beer and pot and jumping straight into smack.

I think it is great, and really shows that the hobby is diversifying rapidly, but at the same time, it creates differences in the understanding of how things work. Particularly in regards to how customers are treated by various gaming companies. For any of you that have played GW games for more than a few years, I am sure you can agree that the way the company functions has, um, evolved over the years. Back when I got into this in like 1992, I was on a road trip and decided to make a detour of several hours to hit the GW store in Arlington, VA (there were only a few in the States at that time, mostly centered around their HQ in Baltimore/Glen Burnie). I was thoroughly let down as the store had a really pathetic selection in stock (in retrospect, they were probably just about to shift to 2nd edition). So I wrote GW a letter, letting them know what a disappointed teenager I was. And their response? They sent me a $20 gift certificate to use through their mail order. Seriously - can you imagine that these days? I loved GW, up until several events signaled a change in their operating practice - particularly the closing of their forum and the descent into suckiness of White Dwarf.

Luckily, I had a serious stash of minis to work through. I moved to Orlando, FL for a while and met some of the nicest gamers ever at Rhubarb Games (sadly they have closed) and at about the same time, new Eldar and Dark Angels codexes were released, so I started purchasing stuff for a while. Then I moved away and again put new GW purchases on hold. About a year and a half after I moved, I received a random email from Rhubarb announcing Malifaux and its exceeding awesomeness. I was hooked immediately, and so put the pointy ears and the power armor away for many years.

Two different themes here at this point, I will resolve them individually. First, it is hard to understand the frustrations of non-GW veterans when reacting to the customer interactions and general information relay of other companies. Because everything they do is so much more involved, faster and generally more gracious. Waiting less than a year for an update or a model fix or an FAQ? That's nothing, as I am sure any of you who played Dark Eldar since 3rd edition can agree. And at least Wyrd, and maybe PP too (I have no idea about them), has the guts to maintain a forum where people can discuss, and criticize, their game and business practices. GW hasn't done that for what, 10 years now? So, when I see people getting upset at Wyrd for not doing this or that at the beck and call of some of its customers, I get annoyed. So do others obviously, because I guess we have learned patience from having seen much worse.

Second thing, though, I have decided I am not really mad at GW anymore. I am willing to give them some of my money, luckily not so much as the bulk of my main armies have already been purchased. (***oh how this statement was proven false***). They lost a lot of business from me, because I am a collector, not the type to finish one army and then stop. If they hadn't made me mad, I would probably have about 6 40K and at least 3 WFB armies at this point, instead of 2 and the beginnings of 2. (**now that is more like 5 and 3**)

I never quit GW, I just needed a break. I didn't hate them, they just disappointed me. And they do make some really nice models. And Eldar were my first love, which just doesn't leave you.  And because I have met some nice people in the area who play GW games exclusively.

That said, I will be picking up the new 6th edition box next month (I hope). I will finish painting my Ravenwing, probably strip my plastic troops just to get them uniform (and because I am a much better painter now). I will get the last few Eldar boxes I need to feel complete there and finish painting up the machines and possibly strip and repaint the troops. I really like some of the High Elf models, so will probably get that going. And I have always wanted a Lizardmen army, but that would be well down the road.

So for any locals, you may see me showing up at DL without my Malifaux stuff on occasion. Please be nice.