Saturday, January 31, 2015

Colleen McCullough, Requiescat in Pacem

I was rooting around Harry Sidebottom's web page earlier this week and was intrigued by his comment that he may have made an enemy for life in Colleen McCullough. In addition to his own literary and scholastic output, Sidebottom has written several book reviews. Apparently, he panned McCullogh's book The October Horse back in 2003. Sadly, you can only access the review if you subscribe online to The Times Literary Review, which I am disinclined to do, so I have no idea what he thought of McCullogh's historical fiction.

I thought it ironic that I should be thinking about Colleen McCullough just a day or two before I heard the news that she died on her little island off Australia, January 29, 2015. She wrote some of the best historical fiction about ancient Rome that I've ever read—no matter what Harry Sidebottom thinks.

I first encountered McCullough's Masters of Rome series at the Elliot Bay Bookstore in Pioneer Square in Seattle around 1992. By that time, the second book in the series, The Grass Crown, was out. Before then, I only knew of her as a writer of The Thorn Birds, which I never had any interest in reading. The mini-series had come out in the early 80s and I had an instinctual dislike for it. For all I know, it could be the best read of my life (though I doubt it), but it seems like a bodice-ripper to me, which is enough reason to avoid it forever.

Because of my aversion to The Thorn Birds, I didn't get into the Masters of Rome series until about 2005, by which time the whole series (except for Antony and Cleopatra) had been completed and the books were available cheap at used books stores (I have the lot). I imagined that the books would be bodice-rippers set in a time before bodices, which didn't turn out to be true.

I'm not sure what finally prompted me to read The First Man in Rome, the initial book in the series, but it took a while to get into it. I read a good chunk, then put it aside for a long while. When I came back to it, I started over from the beginning and read through like I was on rocket fuel. I quickly ran through the whole series as fast as I could find used copies.

The series centers on Julius Caesar, even though he doesn't show up until the end of the first book (and then as a baby). The First Man in Rome develops Caesar's back-story with the rise of Gaius Marius, Caesar's uncle by marriage to his aunt Julia. We're also introduced to Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who is portrayed as another uncle through a likely fictitious marriage to Julilla, the younger of Caesar's aunts. Much of the story deals with the Jugurthine War where Marius finally commands as a consul and is victorious, though Sulla gets the glory for capturing Jugurtha. Marius goes on to to more consulships and defeats the Cimbri at Arausio.

By the second book, The Grass Crown, the friendly relationship between Marius and Sulla is wearing thin. Marius' ambition collides with Sulla's and each, unscrupulous in their own ways, see the clash coming. At Nola in the Social War, Sulla is awarded the rare honor of the corona graminea, the grass crown, which is given to a commander who saves a legion from annihilation. In the war against Mithridates, Sulla is awarded command of the legions, which Marius tries to take from him. Sulla marches on Rome to assert his right to command and then marches east with the legions to defeat Mithradates.

In the third book, Fortunes Favorites, Sulla returns victorious from the East and sets himself up as dictator of Rome. We see the rise of Gnaeus Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus and the adventures of a young Julius Caesar.

The fourth book, Caesar's Women, focuses on the political rise of Julius Caesar and ends with the formation of the first triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.

The fifth book, Caesar, shows Caesar victorious in his Gallic campaigns and goes through the civil war that develops between Caesar and Pompey after Crassus gets himself killed in Parthia. The book ends with Pompey's death in Egypt.

The sixth (and what was intended to be the final) book, The October Horse, starts with Caesar's campaign in Egypt and his dalliance with Cleopatra. It goes through Caesar's murder at the hands of Brutus, Cassius, and the other senate conspirators, and ends with the establishment of Octavian as Caesar's heir and the death of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi.

The characters in the novels are certainly fictionalized, but not to the extent of HBO's Rome or nearly any other fiction work, TV series, or movie on the subject. What I found striking about McCullough's work is that despite the occasional ripped bodice (so to speak) and the often sensual physical descriptions of her characters, the historical depth of the novels is amazing. The first century BC is one of the most well-documented periods of Roman history, so McCullough had a lot to work with when adding texture and verisimilitude to the story. Her research work was so well regarded that Macquarie University awarded her an honorary D.Litt. in 1993.

After The October Horse (the one Sidebottom panned), McCullough called it good. However, she was persuaded after a few years to add a seventh book to the series, Antony and Cleopatra, because fans wanted that story told, even though it is not really part of the story of Julius Caesar (it's more of a bodice-ripping postscript, without an actual bodice).

I confess that I've read nothing else by Colleen McCullough and likely won't—I'm certainly not up for reading The Thorn Birds—although Song of Troy is a maybe. Generally, I don't like retellings of fictional tales; nothing beats The Iliad for telling the story of Troy.

I am curious, though, why Harry Sidebottom panned her. Sidebottom has related how he chose the 3rd century AD as the background to his Warrior of Rome novels because it was so obscure. I get the impression that he didn't want to fictionalize characters that could easily be researched by readers who would see the discrepancies between his fictionalization and the historical record. (Take for example, the HUGE discrepancies between the characters in HBO's Rome and the real ones—or even those characters as portrayed by McCullough in her novels.)

In addition to her work as an author, McCullough was a neuroscientist earlier in her life, but gave that up after her writing career proved successful.

So long, Colleen, and thanks for all the books. Thanks, too, for softening my heart towards historical fiction in general. Your fiction inspired me to learn more about the facts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Morituri Te Salutant

I'm sort of wandering back into to gladiator gaming. Phil Bardsley and I started a project years ago using the excellent Foundry line of figures. We bought the lot together and divvied them up between us. The packaging for the Foundry line is awkward—any given pack contains figures you want and figures you don't. For example, in a pack with a nice thracian figure, you get stuck with a dwarf dimachaerus and a female samnite. It's not that I'm anti-dwarf or anti-woman, I just want to build a familia of gladiators without having to pick up a bunch of novelty acts (at $3.00 a figure!) just to get the other figures I want.

That situation is better with the excellent Crusader Miniatures range. Figures come four in a pack and are complementary, i.e., you don't get a pack with a thracian, a samnite, a secutor, and Bibulus the spectator making rude gestures.

West Wind also offers a line of 25mm gladiators for its Gladiator Wars rules (which, apparently, suck). It's a good line, though not as nice as Foundry or Crusader, but it does offer more types like charioteers and mounted gladiators. (Crusader has a pack of mounted, but no chariots.)

Many years ago, I sold my painted Foundry figures. I have a few unpainted and partially-painted figures, but they're mostly those novelty types: dwarves and women. That might make for an interesting match-up, but I need some of the more standard types: murmilliones, thraeces, secutores, retiarii, etc. So I started the hunt for new figures.

All the figure lines mentioned above are 25/28mm. After my 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids project, I'm quite taken with using larger figures for games that require only a few figures on the table. Enter Jugula. This is a new game system from Gripping Beast that comes with a new—and growing—line of 35mm figures. Nominally 35mm, that is. Comparing them to my 40mm Sash and Saber ACW and my 40mm Monolith/Graven Images Prehistoric Europe figures, they're every bit as big—in fact, they're bigger than the Sash and Saber figures.

At this point, there are just four figures and an "extras" pack with more weapons, helmets/heads, shields, etc. The figures are cast as a torso with arms 'n' legs. The left hand is a fist meant to attach a shield to; the right hand is a socket so you can attach a variety of hands grasping weapons: various swords, spears, axes, maces, tridents, daggers. The head is a post on which you can place one of several helmet types or bare heads (only one, for two-headed gladiators you'll have to wait for the figure from Foundry; two-headed female dwarf gladiators could follow soon after that).

This arrangement gives you some means of getting some variety from the same figure, but it's limited. The armor and weaponry of a specific historical gladiator type is pretty well known. Each torso's arm and leg protection conforms, more or less, to a type. For example, there is a torso that is intended as a retiarius, so converting it to something else would be a bit of a fudge. The main thing that identifies it as a retiarius is the manica (arm guard), but it's only just a shoulder protector of the left arm while the right arm is fully protected and the right leg has a greave. He's a little over-armored for an actual retiarius.

Retiarius (on the left) vs. a secutor
Retiarii typically wore only a leather or metal arm guard on their left arm, with a large metal shoulder guard. Otherwise, they were unarmored: no helmet, no shield, no greaves.

Retiarius shoulder guard
Their weapons were a trident and a net. They used the latter to ensnare an opponent and then stabbed him with the trident. Their usual opponent was a secutor, whose helmet was streamlined to minimize getting entangled in the retiarius' net.

Because I can, I fiddled a bit with the extra bits and made the following gladiators from pack 1: A secutor (the figure in the individual pack was meant to be a murmillo), a thracian with a wickedly curving sword, a velite with a tight metal helmet and a spiked mace, and a retiarius (pretty much as intended).

Pack 2 extends the gladiator types available to include a scissor, a sagittarius, a provocator, and a dimachaerus. I have it, but haven't started it yet. Soon. The first batch is near completion. I'll post pics when they're done.

Rules: Habet, Hoc Habet!

The rules I'll use are Habet, Hoc Habet! from Flagship Games. I played them some years ago with my 28mm Foundry figures and found them to be a nice balance of detail and playability.

I once had a copy of the rules, but it disappeared, or I sold it, or I lost it, or it's on my bookshelf and I've missed it the last umpteen times I looked, or it's in a box in the garage waiting to surprise me. This is a familiar scenario, which leads in many cases to multiple copies of rules and books. Flagship Games has gone away, but you can still get copies of Habet, Hoc habet! from Scale Creep Miniatures for a mere $25.00. That's a steal in these days of expensive over-produced rules sets and the ever-enticing buy-the-basic-rules-for-a-lot-of-money-and-then-buy-lots-of-supplements-and-specialty-cards-dice-etc-for-much-much-more approach.

There are a few others out there that were in the running. I have a copy of FGU's Gladiators. They offer some nice detail, but perhaps too much. They're also needlessly complex in some ways. I like old-school miniatures rules for the most part, but I think that too many have Rube Goldberg mechanics, i.e., over-complication of a simple process. I think I once had a copy of Rudis by Tabletop Games. I know that Habet, Hoc Habet! was the last rules set we used, but Rudis may have been what we started with. I likely sold them with my painted figures in days past.

There's also Jugula, the game for which the nice 35/40mm figures are produced. These rules are from the same designer as Saga. Like Saga, it has the potential to be a buy-the-basic-rules-etc. kind of thing. You need a grid map to play it on, special counters, and special cards in addition to the rules, which are about $30.00. You need a deck of cards per player, which limits hosting a multiplayer game to however many card decks you want to buy at $11.00 a deck. The deluxe game mat is about $40.00, the counters are $11.00—and you'll need more than one set for multiplayer games. That's about $125.00 for enough rules 'n' stuff to play a four-player game, which doesn't take in the cost for the figures, which are $8.00 a piece for the Gripping Beast 35/40mm figures. I already spent a lot on Saga stuff without yet buying the figures for an army. I'm not getting sucked in Jugula. Also, from what I've seen the rules don't really provide much detail.

 HHH is pretty straightforward. One of the things I like best about it is that it doesn't require a hex or square grid to play on, which seems to be a feature of most other gladiator rules.

The play is move/counter-move. A single deck of standard playing cards is used to determine the player's actions and play order. There are four classes of fighter, from novice (gladius fodder) to champion. The better the fighter, the more cards are dealt: 1 for novice, 2 for fighter, 3 for warrior, 4 for champion. Aces and Jokers are special cards. If dealt to a player, an additional card is dealt, so the player always has the correct number of action cards. The order of action is by card rank and suite, e.g. king of spades/hearts/clubs/diamonds on down.

Each card lets a player perform an action like move, fight, rest, etc. Aces let you interrupt another player's action and can be played anytime. Jokers let you call for the re-roll of any die result.

Fighting is a match up between an attack strength based on the gladiator's physiology and weapon skill vs. the opponent's physiology and defensive skill. If a hit is made, the weapon effectiveness strikes against the defensive armor and hit points assigned to a particular area (legs, arms, torso, head). As soon as hits add up to the critical amount, the gladiator is gone.

Fights can be 1:1 or in groups, so it's a fair bet that it can work as a multiplayer convention game—if I have enough figures painted.

Filthy lucre!

Back when our first gladiator project was alive, I kept looking for ways to incorporate betting into the game-play. The only Roman coins I found were from, I think, RAFM, but they were simple cast lead and would need to be cleaned up and painted and then would wind up chipping when used.

One of the inspirations for getting back into gladiator gaming is a Kickstarter campaign I joined last year for The Best Damn Metal Gaming Coins Ever! I kicked in $100.00 for several sets of the Roman coins and several of the smaller single Roman coins.

I should have 500+ coins coming, which is enough to be getting on with. The finished coins have been delivered from the manufacturer in China. They're still pending delivery to us. The last update from the campaign indicates that fulfilling orders will complete by February sometime.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Khalkin Gol: Sabres on the Steppe

Way back in the August of '14, Phil Bardsley got the clever idea to play a Bolt Action game based on the Battle of Khalkin Gol between the Russians and the Japanese in 1939. He'd just picked up three of the newly-released Warlord Games BT-7 models and wanted to use them in a game. Bill Stewart, Dick Larsen, Jerry "Banzai!" Tyer, and I already had a lot of Japanese infantry, tanks, and heavy weapons. In addition, Bill had buckets of Russians, including a lot of Cossack cavalry from the Coppelstone Back of Beyond range. So we though, why not?

It took a while to get going and we had to cancel once, but we finally got to rumble on the Mongolian steppe one Saturday. The game was at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA.

Jerry, Dick, and I were the Japanese. Bill, Phil, and Bob "Mad Ivan" Mackler, pony-killer of the steppe, were the Russians.

I laid out the terrain: hills, a mostly dry riverbed (using my excellent Wizard Kraft river bits), and scrub. Bill and Phil gave me much grief over the scrub. However, we needed something to break up the bleakness of the table and to provide the micro-contours that troops in a skirmish game need for cover to distinguish between totally completely open terrain and some bits of concealment and protection in what appears otherwise to be a vast open space. I need point out, too, that both Phil and Bill deployed in and stayed in the scrub the entire game. I feel vindicated.

The key terrain piece was a ramshackle wooden bridge across the dry riverbed that both the Russian and Japanese high commands had deemed "must hold." The Japanese deployed first no closer than 12" to the bridge. The Russians followed deploying no closer than 18" to an enemy unit or 12" to the bridge.

I was on the left with a reinforced Japanese platoon of three 12-man squads, two MMGs, a sniper team, a flamethrower team, and a light AT gun. Jerry was on the right with a similar command, but with no flamethrower and a wee 70mm mountain gun in place of the AT gun. Dick, the Japanese Patton, was in the center with five tanks: two Type 97 Chi-Ha and three Type 95 Ha-Go.

Facing me (on the Russian right), Phil had his three BT-7s and a reinforced platoon of three 9-man squads, one MMG, and a medium mortar. Bob was in the center with three squads of Cossack cavalry and a Putilov horse-gun, Bill had the Russian left opposite Jerry with three squads, an MMG, and a mortar.

The Russians deployed, tanks 'n' horses
Our games tend to have lots of units and the command dice bag is bulging on turn one and grows less bulging with each passing turn. I chose the never-fail brown command dice. For some reason, in every game we play, the brown dice are the first several dice pulled. Turn 1 was no exception.

I started out by putting a 37mm AT round into of one of Phil's tanks. I managed to penetrate and start a fire, but the uncharacteristically phlegmatic Russians just put it out and went on fighting. I laid down some fire on Phil's MMG and managed to knock out two of its three crew and suppress it.

My advance across the dry river
Before the game, Jerry recalled how in his last Bolt Action game running a Japanese force against an SS platoon with all the trimmings (assault rifles, chain saws, etc.), he simply used the Banzai rule to get into contact and won big. Units in Bolt Action need to roll an order test (morale, basically) when they're given a command while pinned. Each pin marker counts as -1 on the dice roll, so once a unit gets a few pins racked up against it, it becomes increasingly harder to get them to do anything. The Banzai rule for the Japanese lets them ignore any pins if the order given to the unit is Run and they move towards a visible enemy. Stormed at by shot and shell, the Japanese keep on coming, until they win or until they're all gone.

I've always considered the Banzai rule to be a mixed bag. If a Japanese unit is pinned down to a point of near-immobility, the rule lets a Japanese player make the most of a bad situation by just charging in. Moving at 12" per turn on a Run order, they're likely to make contact within a couple turns and, assuming they have enough figures remaining to make an effect, they can cause a lot of damage. The Banzai rule also requires fighting to the death, i.e., they don't go away after losing a round of close combat; like the tough fighters rule, they keep fighting until they're all gone or until their opponents lose. In my experience, as both Japanese and opposing player, it's dicey. They'll take a lot of fire going in and may be too shot up to pull it off. I have failed spectacularly to make a Banzai attack work and have foiled a few with sheer gunfire.

I'm also a bit uncertain about some of the fine points of the rule. As long as the Japanese player gives a Run command to the unit, it can move without taking a command check even if it has one or more pins on it. But how does that work if the unit is going through rough terrain. You can't give a Run order to a unit in or moving through rough terrain, but an exception allows it if the unit will make contact. So, is it OK to give a run order to a unit to move through rough terrain against an opponent that is more than 6" away?

In any case, Jerry went into the game expecting to be able to Banzai! to victory. It turned out to be glorious, but fell somewhat short of victory.

He launched his platoons towards Bill's positions and kept a steady advance all the while racking up pins (and losses) from Bill's fire. Jerry's right-hand platoon managed to get into contact with just a few figures remaining. Bill was able to wipe them out easily losing only a couple figures himself.

Two against too many
Jerry's middle platoon, attempted to attack Bill's "Festung Schrubben" position, but got sidetracked. He managed to shoot off an attack by Bob's Cossacks, but eventually succumbed to fire.

Jerry's left-hand platoon got war-Macklered. Jerry gave it a Run order that put it within 18" of  of one of "Mad Ivan" Mackler's squadrons. He had no option to fire defensively and "Mad Ivan" came in rolling three dice per Cossack (i.e., 24 dice!). Jerry's Banzai Buddies got Ginsu-ed by the Cossack sabres.

When banzai isn't fun any more
Meanwhile, in the center, Dick's tanks sparred with Phil's BT-7s and with the Cossacks. The Japanese tanks all had two MMGs per vehicle, so they could throw a lot of fire against soft targets. The tank battles were mostly desultory. One of Phil's tanks was immobilized early on and later destroyed. However, many of the shots were misses, bounced off, or did only superficial damage. Bob's horse-gun popped away at Dick's tanks as well, but to no success.

One of Dick's tanks got a bit close to the Cossacks, apparently thinking it was immune to men on horses. "Mad Ivan" answered the challenge and came galloping up. It was a long-shot from the start. Already shackled with a few pins from machine-gun fire, "Mad Ivan" passed his morale check to charge tanks and came on across the bridge with sabres flailing. He rolled for his penetration modifier and score a bunch of pluses. However, because troops without AT grenades can't do more than superficial damage, he couldn't knock it out outright, but he did set it on fire (we assumed that every Cossack had a bottle or two of Vodka to make ersatz molotov cocktails). Dick failed his morale and the tankers bailed out, presumably to the tender mercies of the surrounding Cossacks.

Sabres on steel
The Cossacks' glory was short-lived. Dick's remaining tanks opened fire with their MMGs and the Cossacks went reeling back. By the end of the game, Bob had exactly three horsemen left, one of whom was his company commander.

Back on my end of the table, I chipped away at Phil's infantry and plinked useless shots at his tanks with my single AT gun. Phil kept up a lively fire on the AT gun with his mortar, but failed to hit after several attempts. I managed to Banzai! away one Russian squad, though it left my attacking squad much reduced and in the open where it hung on in tatters, having been badly shot up.

My other two squads, one mostly intact and one untouched, worked away on Phil's remaining foot troops uphill and burrowed in the scrub. By game's end, I was encircling his MMG, a much-reduced squad, and mortar. These and two of his three tanks were all that were left. I was moving my flamethrower team up to attack the tanks, but we called the game before then.

Bardsley's last stand
Dick managed to take and hold the bridge with his remaining Chi-Ha. He'd taken out one of Phil's tanks and kept the other two occupied. He'd also pretty much laid waste the Cossacks. Despite "Mad Ivan" Mackler's unexpected success against one tank, cavalry versus tanks is generally not a good idea.

Larson-san takes the bridge
We only completed four turns, but it was enough to call a decision. Bob had covered himself with glory, but got all his ponies killed. Phil was holding precariously to the scrub, Bill was in better shape, but may have seen things turn for the worse in another two turns.

Bill holds to the end—good thing he had scrub for cover!
Dick had lost one tank and held the bridge, I had lost the equivalent of one infantry squad, but was in good position to un-scrub Phil.  Jerry was almost non-existent. He'd banzai-ed! forward and got the worst of it. His wee 70mm pop-gun and company commander was all he had left. With mandatory seppuko after his losses, we'll have to take that down to just the wee pop-gun.

Lonely on the steppe - Jerry's last remaining unit

This is one of those posts that I mentioned earlier were in perma-draft state. I started this just after we played the game. Now, months later, I've finished and posted it (my New Year resolutions in action!), although I've forgotten now much of how the real game actually went.

Friday, January 23, 2015

To 2015 with Love and Digression...

It takes a new year (and a few weeks after that) to pull me out of my blogging lethargy, but here I am. Another milestone, a new blog post.

I made a lot of resolutions last year, so no new year post would be right without a bit of retrospective.

So, how did 2014 go?

As to 2014's resolutions. Well, that was then.

Eat better - I am eating less pizza. That's better, I think.  I'm not jonesing for Chinese take-out. I am, however, eating a lot of delicious Beecher's Mac & Cheese and frozen Lasagna. I like pie, so sue me. I have gotten into the groove of not buying a big lunch. Instead, I get some frozen meals and eat those at work. I did lose some weight and then gained some back, but overall there is less of me being acted upon by the Earth's gravitational pull than there was 12 months ago.

Digression: I first encountered Beecher's at the Sea-Tac airport where they have a small cafe. The only other Beecher's cafe in the world is at Pike Place in Seattle. It's delicious. You can get it frozen almost anywhere, I think. For a while, I was in love with Whole Foods mac 'n' cheese. For a while after that, I was hooked on the Mac and Cheezola (made with Gorganzola cheese) from Metropolitan Market (which also has ready-made deviled eggs!). But Beecher's takes the prize. It's rich and creamy and has a wonderful tang to it.

Blog more - I have been reminded recently that my resolution to blog more in 2014 was a hollow promise. All too true. My last published post in 2014 was September! Two-thirds of my blogging last year was in January. After that, not a single new post until July and two posts in August. I do have several unfinished posts for 2014 to my credit (or is it my shame?). I start 'em, but I tend to write long rambling posts with lots of pictures and digressions, so I don't finish 'em. Being a writer for a living can be taxing when it comes to writing for fun. I much prefer the latter, but by day's end I'm all worded out. The last thing I want to do is sit at my computer and type. I get so far into a digression that I digress right off into a new draft post, from which I then digress...

Paint more - I have not painted more, but I have painted. My 40mm prehistoricalistic Europeanoids were a big project that I finished entirely. Entirely. I haven't one unpainted or half-painted figure left. Even the chariot is done. I also managed a few more 28mm WW2 figures, but the bulk of that work was done in 2013. Other than that, I have a lot of things started and in the works (which is a familiar refrain). Also, even though I've been not diagnosed as having ADD, the enticing shininess of new things often leads to old things languishing. I have a lot of half-painted figures. Maybe clearing the dining table was a mistake...

Watch TV less - I gave up TV for Lent. For 40 days and 40 nights (and a few weeks beyond that) I eschewed the vidiocy to which I am all too easily prone. I thought I might wean myself off TV entirely, but that didn't happen. I almost gave up TV for Advent as well, but that didn't happen either. I may have to wait until my antique Sony Trinitron goes kaput. The inertia that keeps me from buying a new TV (one of them new-fangled flat things) may just be the trick to kick the habit. Until then, I may get a bit dumber.

Read more - Yes! I have read a lot more this year. I featured that in the last blog of 2014. It was all I could do during Lent, anyway. As usual, I'm reading several books at once. I find that when reading I get diverted towards another book that gets addressed or whose subject is mentioned in the book I'm reading. I have typically spent more than two hours a day reading. I can feel the brain enlarging despite still watching TV. I hope it's not encephalitis.

Exercise - I renewed my gym membership. What more do you want? I watched TV less, but I read more. Both involve sitting. If I could sit and exercise...

Spend less - Getting better. Not really budgeting still, but spending more time looking at where the money goes and buying less of the things I typically buy (like blowing a lot of money on eating out, ordering pizza, etc.).

Declutter - I have done some. I took a hard look at gaming projects that I haven't done anything with for a while and sold them off. Gone are my painted 15mm WW2 figures. I have, however, many more unpainted WW2 figures than I ever had painted. At our recent Drumbeat game day, I tried selling my beloved 3rd c. Romans along with my mass of unpainted Sassanids. I got no buyers. That may not be too bad. I have mixed feelings about parting with them. I'll need to re-base them (ugh!) to do anything else with them, but I may go with an adaptation of the Lion Rampant skirmish rules that came out last year (yes, I have an unfinished blog post about thattwo, in fact). I'm also not averse to painting more Romans. I have another 80 figures or so that are unfinished and they are beautiful castingsbut I digress...

Blame the cats less - As if.

What else?

So, other unplanned, unresolved events in 2014 were leaving Expedia and finally becoming a Catholic.

Adios, Expedia - I'm at AT&T now. I got fed up with management issues after some changes and re-org at Expedia. I almost got a job at Google down in California, but stayed here in the cold, wet Pacific Northwest instead. AT&T feels temporary, so I might wind up somewhere else this year, but we'll see. There are a lot of advantages to being at AT&T. It's closer, the hours are better, the pay is a tad higher, I can fit in daily mass (see below). I miss a lot about Expedia, but if I go back there, it won't be where I left from. I am, alas, far from retiring.

I, Papist - After 35 years a Protestant, I stopped protesting and swam the Tiber.

It wasn't a Jesuit plot, I assure you, and having a degree in theology and further graduate studies at seminary beyond that, it was more than the smells 'n' bells that drew me in. It took a lot of study (which accounts for a lot of my reading last year). If M. Luther is right, I might have just imperiled my immortal soul, so I needed to be sure I wouldn't.

I also had to go through RCIAapparently the Church won't take just anybody. RCIA typically takes a year, but I joined the class in February, which is towards the end and just a few months before my confirmation, which took place on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27). Having a theology degree can hasten the processeven if it's Protestant theology. George Wallace infamously said about the Democrat/Republican divide that "there ain't a dime's worth of difference between 'em." So, somewhat, with Christianity; the DNA of Catholicism and Protestantism is about 95% compatible. Of course that 5% delta is fraught with controversies. It entails some of the big 'ologies, like ecclesiology and soteriology. There's also the Eucharist, confession, Marian devotion, prayers to the saints, etc.

As another Protestant convert to Catholicism noted, there's a well-worn path taken by Tiber-swimmers: You start with reading C.S. Lewis, move on to G.K. Chesterton, and before you know it, you're in the water dog-paddling towards the Vatican. So it goes.

What's in store for 2015?

Much, I presume, but mostly staying the course:

Paint more - I have many projects in the works and I want to stick with them. As I mentioned above, I amperhaps serendipitouslystill in possession of my 3rd c. Romans. There may be a project in there, about which I will blog. No, really, I will...

Watch TV less - If I manage to succumb less to the allure of mindless eye-candy, I'm pretty sure that will generate more time for reading and painting. That's the plan, at least. Lent is coming soon. Ash Wednesday is February 18. No TV after that until Easter.

More digression: The few TV shows I watch on Amazon Prime (I don't have cable) are Justified and Grimm. The unwatched episodes will pile up after Ash Wednesday, so I'll have some Easter season binge watching to indulge in. This is the last season for Justified. However, I re-watch a lot of the shows I buy on Amazon Prime, so the temptation will be always there.

Blog more - I'll try. I'll start with publishing the blogs that are in draft limbo.

Exercise - I renewed my gym membership. What more do you want?

Declutter - It's on the list. I've kind of given up on being more of a board-gamer. I don't have space for them and I don't play what I have. I see a game-purge coming sometime this year. I purged a lot of clothes earlier and I'm planning another purge. I haven't yet gotten ruthless about purging, but I really want to. I suspect that I would never miss half the stuff I have sitting around taking up space (apart from the cats; I'd miss the cats).

Read more - That's my one good one, so far. I'm spending an hour or so in the morning and at night reading. This cuts into my painting time. I can watch TV and paint, but so far I haven't found a way to paint and read at the same time. With the cats, it's hard to do either.

Blame the cats less - I'll try.

Spend less - Getting there. Focusing on existing projects will reduce money spent on buying more figures, rules, etc.

Eat better - I've got delicious Beecher's Mac & Cheese on the menu tonight and a frozen lasagna in the freezer. I don't, however, have dessert planned. That must count for something.

So, hello 2015. I expect good things from you. Don't let me down.