Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Just a quick note - I'm away on vacation, which means I'm away from my blogging as well. I'll be back in about 10-12 days, depending on how much I have backlogged when I return. To avoid spam, I've put all of the comments on moderator approval.

Since I've posted daily for months, I figured I better say something or people might wonder why the posts suddenly dried up. See you all in January.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Actual Play Year in Review

So how did I do with gaming this year, by the only measure that matters - actual fun gaming?


I ran 15 sessions of Felltower, which is not bad. Our goal is bimonthly, and play for around 8 hours at a clip. But we don't re-schedule if the day lands on a work day, Father's/Mother's Day, etc. or if I get sick. So 15 long sessions is fine.
We started on 1/5/14 and ran our last session of the year on 12/28/14. My campaign continues to amuse my players and my players continue to surprise me.


I played in seven sessions of Erik Tenkar's S&W B-Team game, starting with my third session overall. Work, illness, and protests in NYC (!) took out our end-of-year gaming plans, but all seven sessions were good, and T1m Shorts ro11ed 1ots of ones.

I played in three sessions of Douglas Cole's Alien Menace game, starting with the first session. Good stuff, mostly interrupted by Doug and his wife having a second child, which doesn't do much for increasing your time for game prep.

Non-Playing Stuff

I also did a lot of painting (probably close to 100 figures total), expanded my orc minis collection from "one full GW case" to "no where to put all of my orcs," wrote some articles that may see publication, got contracted for and wrote a GURPS DF book that's coming out in 2015 sometime, and taught someone how to play RPGs using GURPS Lite. I discussed some possible follow-on projects to write for GURPS, too, one solo and one with a co-author. I also got in a lot of blogging, picked up some cool gaming material, and got my first look at 5th edition D&D and liked it. I made a top 10 list. But gaming is about the game, and I got in some of that this year and I'm glad I did.

So that's GMing 15 sessions (not counting the teaching ones) and playing 10. Not bad for someone who works mornings, afternoons, nights, and weekends. If only my one free night was Monday - I'm jealous of Doug getting to be in Monteport. But it's okay, I'll find a way to sit down for some D&D at some point, and I'm hoping to play more GURPS in the next year.

For this upcoming new year: good gaming everyone.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How rumors spiral out of control

On Sunday, one of the players rolled a 17 and received this juicy rumor:

"17) The snakemen of Morthand hate the orcs, I hear - for a bunch of money they'll hire on as mercs if you promise them they'll fight orcs."

What I was really trying to say here was:

- There are snakemen in the world, and they live in the deserts of Morthand (which is, South By Somewhere Else of Stericksburg.)

- They aren't cheap.

- They do get a reaction bonus (possibly a Loyalty bonus, possibly a willingness to work for less) if you hire them to fight orcs.

All of that can really boil down to:

- I have a couple snakemen minis I've painted, including that guy from the Bones Kickstarter, and I want to use them as potential allies, not enemies. For once.*

What's amusing is that later discussion spiraled this rumor into a vague plan to tell the snakemen of Morthand that there are orcs north of Felltower, and maybe even hire them to go up and attack the orcs as part of a two-pronged assault on the orcs. Who knows? Maybe the snakeman army could ally up with a potential confederation of orc-haters: snakemen, cone-hatted cultists, hobgoblins, gnolls (well, maybe not if Raggi has a say), etc.

It's funny because this is exactly how rumors work. The one-two figures I have painted up become an army, because the rumor could have been referring to an army. Rumors are filtered through what you know, and non-specific language only encourages the pattern-recognizing portions of our brains to fill in all sorts of perfectly logical craziness. My cool wording on the rumor leaves enough room to expand it to an oncoming snakeman horde, looking for the next army of orcs to smash. Imagine how everyone would react when one snakeman slithers up. Disappointment? Or rumor that snakemen are so badass, one is as good as an army?

Or who knows, maybe this is a sign that I need to buy a lot more snakemen. I've bought minis with less justification than that!

* In a way, this is the Traveller approach. The tentacled telepaths? Friendly! The herd animal vegetarians? Violent killers! Etc. So, clearly these are the friendly slithering allies of humanity who are so well spoken of by Barry White Maybe the females need Sex Appeal.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Session 53, Felltower 44 - Caverns fully mapped?

December 28th, 2014

Weather: Unseasonably warm, cloudy.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Al Murik, dwarven cleric (262 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (386 points)*
     Father Keef, human initiate (125 points, NPC)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (464 points)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)
     Antonios, Demitrios, Leonatios of Meepos, human spearmen (unknown point totals, NPCs)

* Joined late.

Still in town:
Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (250 points)
Bern Brambleberry, gnome artificer (265 points)
     Mark Strawngmussel, human laborer (62 points, NPC)
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (372 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)

We started in Stericksburg. Since the last session was so light on treasure and costs, there wasn't a lot to do except pick up some volunteers and pack up to go. Father Keef's stipend was officially ended. Since Al Murik is a regular, they decided to just take their chances each session he'd be around as a daily hire. Luckily for them, he was. It'll be a die roll issue each time. Gort and Raggi were around, and so were the Meeposian brothers.

They heard a few rumors - there is a magic key that can open unopenable doors, that some ghosts can kill with a touch ("Stupid ghosts." "Beware hugger ghosts." "It's Casper."), and that there is a library of death spells in the dungeon ("Those are mine" - Dryst), and that the snakemen of Morthand hate orcs. Also, that there is a cursed statue in the dungeon that turns you into a Throttler. Al Murik talked to an ancient, tiny, 7-foot bearded old priest about the doors in the cavern area. He told them they are forbidden, don't ask about them, don't open them, and don't ask about them. So, naturally, he didn't, and the old priest coughed up some more details about how forbidden they are and encased a great evil. And no more questions, because he won't tell you anything!

The PCs headed up to the dragon cave mouth, observed it carefully for 30 minutes, and then headed in.

Condensing down a lot, they found a lot of nothing. They ran into the shrieking fungi again, and carefully scouted around fixing their map. That took - literally - hours of mapping. Eventually they erased parts of it, starting marking all exits and tunnels and branches with numbers (from 1 - 50 or so), and ensuring they linked up their whole map. This was probably worth the effort, all things considered.

They now think there are six cube-shaped rooms, and six pairs of double doors. If that's correct, then they feel each pair of doors is linked to a room, and you'll get teleported back when you try. They aren't sure how to get into the central area, though (and Earth Vision was neatly blocked between the doors). They think it might be try until you've tried them all, but that this seems too easy, and maybe each time just dumps you back and that's that unless you've figured out the trick to get in.

Somewhere in here they found a fungi-filled cave, and were attached by a giant lizard lurking on the ceiling. It snagged Leonatios of Meepos, but Raggi chopped it and stunned it, Al put an axe into it for heavy damage, and then Vryce ran in and cut it into three pieces. It didn't have anything of value, but it turned out to be valuable later when they used it to bribe the "behir" for passage.

Past the "behir" they found and fought perhaps a dozen stirges, killing eight. Nothing like the storm of dozens and dozens they'd dealt with before. But this time they tried to exterminate them, and searched the areas they laired in. In one, they found a dessicated hobgoblin gone partly skeletal, wearing moldy and ruined leather armor, a rusted pot helm, and clutching a rusted broadsword. A servant picked up the helmet and sword, and Vryce searched the corpse for extras. When he pulled off the gloves, a ring fell out. It was silver, but also magical (it later turned out to be Protection, +1)

Past there, they climbed up and investigated some areas they never did finish checking - the partially finished corridors (checked with Earth Vision, but nothing was found), the golem pedestals (enchanted with a variant, focused version of Repair, which explains the undamaged golem guardians), a trapped room (a nonsense glyph trigger and Stench and a stone door - checked with a servant and a Wizard Eye), and a few other dead ends. They also used the crystal ball room to scry the surface and see the orc defenses. Pretty much, the orcs have sealed the castle completely, even blocking the gates permanently. Presumably, they climb down the walls to go raiding, and don't care about/don't need supplies from outside.

Eventually they gave up and headed up to the surface. They decided the caverns are a dead end/side dungeon, and don't connect lower down (except maybe via the "stirge hole" they blocked up) or up aside from into the small level that leads to the orcs. What this means for the next trip isn't clear.

The broadsword and pot helm were Repaired and sold. Dryst rolled a 4 on the sword, which was nice - it was a fine, balanced broadsword, which is why they got enough loot to pay their hirelings and Gort. They gave the repaired helm to Gort, who sold it for beer money.


Only three guys today, all of whom have played games with me going at least back to '95. The newbies were all busy.

Not a lot to write about, since it was mostly mapping. Still, it was something the players wanted to do, and megadungeons are all about the immediate and the cumulative.

No snapshots of the maps today, because our photographer was out and my camera isn't up to it.

MVP was Vryce, because his player mapped while Dryst's player took a break this session. I threw Vryce a break and only gave him -1 for insufficient loot, since it wasn't zero and would normally be enough wealth for an adventurer to make a profit.

Speaking of Vryce, he's got HT 15 now, for stats of 20/14/10/15 with 30 HP and 14 Will. He's a mere 10 points away from Basic Speed 7 and Move 8 (since reduced Speed is part of a Knight's disad pool.)

Rumors were oddly clustered today, because I forgot my dice bag (I'd removed them from my backpack to use it for work, and didn't put them back.) So, no d30. We did 1d20 + 1d10, which weighted the chances to the middle.

Ring of Protection? +1 to all resistance rolls. No armor or defensive benefits. Just resistance rolls. "For now" they gave it to Al Murik.

The group is still debating ordering 2 x number of players water breathing potions, at 600 each, so they can swim under the Silver River and up into the water that flows out of Felltower. They are convinced they can either adventure underwater or find a new way in. I asked them not to raid the orcs, since I got a new job that's eaten all of my free time so I don't really have the time to sit down and draw a map. Maybe on vacation I can set my mind loose and doodle up some possibilities.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Orcs, Ready For Action

Six more orcs, ready for action in Felltower:

 photo OrcsFinished001s_zps36026e35.jpg

On the left are the first three Wargames Factory Orcs I made. The axeman has a GW shield and backpack (to conceal an oddity on his back, basically - the "reversible torso" looked odd painted.)

Next are my two Black Tree Designs orc shaman (also seen quite shiny here.)

On the far right is a "half orc" with two swords and brass knuckles. I'll have to dig around and see where he is from. He's a re-cast from a different original company, and he came in a mult-pack of figures, so I'll need to find the original catalog to check. If I still have it. He's been primed and sitting in a box waiting to be painted for over 10 years. Now he's done.

It was nice today so I could matte seal some minis - the day before yesterday, too. I think I can move 30 minis from "in progress" to "finished," counting those orcs. There are another 9 minis drying with gloss coating, and it remains to be seeing if they are done or need a matte coat on top. Not bad progress.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tips for getting started painting minis

These are some things I learned from re-learning to paint minis about 15 years ago.

Start small - I've seen people basically say, "I'm just starting out painting, so I'm getting the full collection of (whatever model paint line they think is awesome) plus a variety of W&N Series 7 brushes, a pallete, a new painting desk, a custom painting lamp," etc. etc.

I wouldn't do that. Honestly, just grab either:

a) A minis-specific Learn-to-Paint Kit


b) A small variety (10-12 bottles) of craft paints, a couple of reasonably small craft brushes, a couple emery boards to file minis, and a bottle of automotive primer.

That's all you need to start. Start with just-good-enough stuff and you'll be fine. Buying the top-end stuff right away is a waste. For one thing, you don't know if you'll like painting, so start cheap. Second, you have no experience of paints and materials so you're buying from reputation not from actual experience knowing you need the upgrade. Third, you won't be so much better off with the better tools because you don't have the experience to use them. It works out to be, basically, a waste of money. Even more so if you buy them and don't really know how to control the amount of paint, keep the brushes intact, etc. Practice on the cheaper stuff. Basically, learn to drive on a cheap beater, not on a Ferrari. Then upgrade the bits little by little - you'll know what gear to upgrade, what paint sucks (and what paint doesn't), what brushes sizes you find comfortable.

Not only that, you'll have a collection of beater brushes and large-area paints and such to use when you just need to get paint onto something - terrain, bases, big minis taking washes, and the like.

Paint Brush Cleaner - This you want to start at the top-end with. Get a small pot of The Master's Brush Cleaner and Restorer and use it from day one. Never leave paint to dry on your brushes and don't trust they are clean until they wash with no color on The Master's. Get a 2.5 oz container. I'm still using the same 2.5 oz container I bought about 10+ years ago and I think I have more than half left.

And don't get paint up to the ferrule.

Don't Strip and Repaint

Pick a few minis to start with. Clean them, file them, prime them, paint them. Then seal them and you are done. Don't strip them of paint and re-start. Seriously, don't. Keep them around as a reminder of how you started. Also, keep them around so you can take a look at your new paint jobs side by side with your earlier ones and compare technique.

If you get into the habit of ripping up your canvases and starting over, you'll end up with nothing but unpainted minis and frustration.

Save stripping and repainting for when disaster really strikes (oops, dropped the mini onto a dusty bunny while it was wet) or you have a one-of-a-kind mini and really need it just right. 95%+ of the time, this won't happen.

Think of all the not-so-good minis as practice. Don't scrap your practice or you might miss out on the improvement it brings.

Picking the minis

As I've said before, paint reveals, not conceals. My best advice is to pick minis that are neither too detailed (ahem), or not detailed enough (think plastic army men here.)

Too detailed? You'll be fiddling forever with your early minis. ("Now, only four more pouches to go and then I can start painting the first of his two packs.")

Not detailed enough? You end up frustrated because paint reveals the lack of accurate detail on the figure. ("Why does his belt only show up on the front? Where do these pants end and the legs begin? Is that a bag or a lump? Why does his mail armor just sort of stop halfway up the mini?")

It's up to you if you want to start an army - so you can paint a lot of the same kind of guys and get good at it - or do individuals - so you can move on after you try something.

Learn New Techniques ASAP

One thing I didn't do. I quickly got into a painting rut. I improved the rut (leveled the floor, smoothed the sides) but stayed in a rut. It took a long time to get me to branch out. Try to add new paint techniques to your repertoire from day one. I'd suggest going as far as finding a video or text instruction, buying the same mini they're using to demonstrate, and copying the technique. Then you can branch out and try it on other minis with other colors.

If you're not a video or text learner, I understand - I'm someone who needs you to show me how. Find someone who paints and ask for lessons or if you can paint side-by-side for a while and copy what they do. Don't stagnate like I did. Experiment and learn.

Most of all, though, enjoy the process. Enjoy the learning, the errors, the practice, the figure prep, the rushing outside on the nice days to get things primed and ready.

If you like painted figures but don't like painting, buy painted figures. As much as I love having well-painted figures on the table, I'm sort of like Jackie Chan - it's not enough to say, "Check that stunt out!" I want to say, "I did that." I enjoy the actual process, I love looking at a finished figure and seeing what I made out of some pots of paint, a brush, and a bare metal or plastic figure. You need to like the process as much as the finished product or it's worth it just to skip to the final product.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Loot: The Gaean Reach

I only received one gaming item for Christmas this year, not counting the GOTY Edition of Borderlands 2.

It was this:

The Gaean Reach

It's by Robin Laws, and uses GUMSHOE, which I've only read about, not read.

It was a good choice of a gift - I like Jack Vance, I had no idea this game even existed, and I wouldn't have picked it up for myself. Yet at the same time I'm totally into reading it through even if I won't get to play it. I'm not even familiar with those Vance stories in particular, so now I have a double set of things to look into.

This is a great upside of having a close family member who games. I got him the Dungeon Dozen hardback and one of the D&D 5e adventures. The second was on his wish list, but I knew he didn't know the first was out there.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Frog God Games Sale & Last Chance for Cheap Manor

Two things:

First, it's the last chance to get any of all of the issues of Tim Shorts's excellent zine The Manor for $1 each from RPG Now:

The Manor Sale

I filled out my collection, having previously purchased #1 and #2. Now #3-7 are mine, and they're worth more than than the $1 each I paid for them.

Second, until Friday Frog God Games is having a 30% off sale on everything except grab bags. I might have to get a hardcover version of the S&W Complete Rulebook, just because I can. Roughly $30 with shipping isn't crazy for a book I use for an actual game.

Holiday Painting Plans

Despite adding a massive amount of work to my schedule, I've managed to get a little painting in. Mostly because I'm so busy and doing so much that painting is easier than writing at the moment. It's easy to fill the pots with water, paint for 15-20 minutes while I listen to the news or just turn my brain off and relax. It's much harder to stop work, have a short break before the next task, and do some writing.

This is good because I have large amount of unpainted minis. The Bones I Kickstarter, some old TSR minis, a few straggling Chainmail minis, that dragon my school kids keep asking to see, some Sathar and UPF starships, lots of GW plastics I need as henchmen and hirelings, Foundry Street Violence minis, pirates . . .

That even leaves aside the Ogre minis I've got in boxes of boxes. It doesn't help that I picked up a lot and then someone with a nearly-complete collection of one of each gave me his.

Then add in the new stuff I got on sale, the incoming Bones II Kickstarter minis, and who knows what else I'm forgetting now.

So I've come up with a plan for how to approach my painting to maximize the minis I get painted and ready over the next few months. We'll see how it holds up.

Maximum Painted Minis Plan

Quick Paint Jobs - I'm trying to get as many of the "no special paintjob" minis done as quickly as I can. This generally means generic soldier-types, repeat versions of previously painted minis, and minis I have no special plans for.

If I don't have any particular reasons why the mini needs to be carefully painted or put to a specific use, I'm going to try and get it done as a quick paint job.

This also means the minis I don't particularly like - but which I can use - are moving up to high priority. A good example is one of the Chainmail gnolls I have. It's done, primed, and ready - but really ugly. Bizarrely wasped-waisted, overly froo-froo triangular shield, and overly-elatorate armor. Too bad. It's getting done ASAP, even if it doesn't come out so well. Why not? Better a tabletop-ready mini than junk in a drawer.

Prep or put paint on at least one mini a day - even if I'm painting the base or just touching up a figure, something needs to get some paint on it. Obviously, some days are going to fall by the wayside - or maybe not. I am pretty good at "do it every day no matter what" plans (like my daily exercises or Japanese practice). This is totally non-portable, though, which impacts my ability to do it greatly - when I'm away from home, this simply won't happen.

So yeah, every day something gets some paint - a quick coating on a tank, ship, base, monster, whatever. Maybe dot some eyes. Put a wash on a figure that needs it.

Rotate the pile - I often start minis, and then lose inspiration to finish them (or they require more work than I have time for.) So if I have something in my "to finish ASAP" pile and I don't touch it for about a week, it goes back into storage. I want to only keep after the minis that I am making progress on.

So no matter why the mini popped to the "finish this" or "paint this" pile, it's got a week to sit idle.

My reasoning here is that I know myself - I won't just finish the mini if I feel like it's not going well. So if I rotate in new stuff, the new minis out on the desk will have time to catch my eye and get done.

I will make exceptions for a couple - I have some very fiddly detailed minis I really need to get done, and they take little bits of work for a long time. That's fine, even if they sit there, because I want them done for game.

Also, every day I'll try to take a quick look through my mini trays and pull a new one out of deep storage and get rolling on it. That's how I got that Sathar done, for example.

We'll see how this plan works.

Incidentally, I'm going to sell off some more of the minis I just don't like on eBay early next year. I'll post about that when it happens. Some figures I have no liking for and no use for, and that's a bad combo. Those need to go to someone who has one or both.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

DF Felltower / MM5e crossover

I read the Gargoyle entry in the new Monster Manual yesterday.

Basically, gargoyles are elemental in origin, born out of the cracked footsteps of the prince of elemental evil Ogremoch (who made his oddly compelling but oddly illustrated appearance in the Fiend Folio.) They're cruel bullies who'll side with evil beings pretty much because it gives them a chance to be cruel bullies.

In Felltower, gargoyles are also elemental in origin, born out of the warping effects of Earth magic on the dungeons of Felltower. It's not clear how they become cruel bullies out of that, but it's possibly the effects of Felltower and not of magic in general.* They spring up twisted from fragments of magically shaped rock, and inflict their personality issues on anyone they can and will freely side with evil beings to do so.

I just feel really sad I didn't think to tie the winged elemental guys to Ogremoch in my own game.

But who knows, maybe he's the reason why shaped stone turns into winged mockeries of flight with cruel intentions.

* Although, we have it on the authority of the party wizard that all wizards are evil.

Good customer service from Black Tree Design

A couple days ago I showed the Black Tree Design orc shamans that I picked up.

I also picked up some other orc figures (I'll show them off when they are done) and some fishmen (because there are Fishmen in Felltower). What can I say, 50% off to fill in gaps in my collection is hard to resist. And I'd been using some junky sahuaghin or lacedon counters for the fishmen, which isn't as cool as having some glossy-green black-eyed fishmen minis. Not the least part of the awesome is that those guys do resemble the description I use - more fish than man, with nasty teeth and fish eyes.

Anyway, customer service.

Long story short? One pack of orcs came without shields, and one pack of fishmen came with a fishman missing his left hand. But the guys at BTD mailed me another pack of shields, and full replacement pack of fishmen to make up for the miscast guy.

Nicely, that means instead of having just enough fishmen, I have a couple of extras - and I'm sculpting a "magic effect" with greenstuff to replace the missing hand on the miscast. I'm not remotely skilled enough to sculpt a hand. Naturally this means lots of conversions.

So I received the minis I wanted and more, and good customer service, too.

Hopefully I can get to painting these guys soon - holidays, work, and some vacation will actually make it hard to get filing, cleaning, priming, and painting in.

Now I just need to justify getting some daleks.

Monday, December 22, 2014

5e DMG received

I received my hardcover copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide the other day. I now have two of the three 5e hardbacks, thanks to a nice coupon deal from and some early gift cards.

Originally, I wasn't planning on getting the DMG. But after reading a few reviews (specifically, this one I talked about from Geek Dad and this one I mentioned from Boing Boing), I was tempted.

After reading Rob Conley's series on the DMG, I was sold. Even where he had criticism of it, it was still clearly a book I wanted to read and have on my shelf to refer to.

So far, I like what I see. The art is fine, the tables easy to read, the text well laid out. As I flip through it I keeping things I want to read right away as well as things I have to force myself to put off - until I can read them in their full context.

By the way, check the Wizards page for the DMG - there is a freebie "Magic Items by Rarity" PDF. Amusing that the two most common potions are climbing and healing. Climbing? Says something about the world - either lots and lots of sheer walls, or deficient ladder technology, or something of that sort.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

DF Felltower: Anachronisms

When it comes to fantasy gaming, I like a good dose of reality in it. That includes historical reality. But not too much.

I run my GURPS DF game with the "usual" Tech Level (TL) range: 0-4. That's stone age to Renaissance, minus the firearms and gunpowder.* But within that range are some things that require some later mechanical, social, or scientific advances.

Some of the things that allows me to do this are:

Dwarves & Gnomes. Racially, these guys are a good excuse for advanced tech of all kinds. They're long lived and obsessed with perfect demonstrations of skill. They have time to get good, higher levels in the relative skills in the first place, and a strong social drive to make tech things happen.

Magic. Distilling is easy with spells that can concentrate alcohol by removing water, and it's no stretch to say a mechanically advanced magic-using race that lives a long time and needs strong booze to get them tipsy might really see the value in making hard liquor.

Quick Gadgeteer. Artificers, too, are a good excuse for one-off functioning devices of all kinds and the occasional breakthrough that doesn't have sufficient social/mechanical/scientific scaffolding to support its widespread use. The latter especially allows for crazy traps, one-off mechanical contrivances, and strange results you couldn't make happen without something of that sort.

Here are some of the anachronisms in my DF Felltower game:

Cut Gemstones - Anything, up to and including diamonds, can be cut (even magically shaped, with sufficient magic and skill) as well as smoothed and polished. Races that prize technological advances, crafter skill, and magic (gnomes, dwarves) and races that prize beauty (elves) mean that even if humans haven't gotten up to the whole cut-and-facet level of fine gem working, other races have.

Precise Time & Measurement - Lots of magic and precision measurement via magic allows for precise timekeeping, where necessary. It's not necessary for most folks, and it's not like you can go buy a watch, but it's possible to link things to precise times simply by access to knowledge magic. If adventurers didn't waste their lives on get-rich-quick schemes like dungeon raiding and learning Explosive Fireball spells, they could get a solid job using magic for timing and measuring just like their mom told them they should. But noooooo, they had to run off with that barbarian friend of theirs and that no-good thief of a neighbor and raid the lich's tomb. Sorry, where was I?

Distilling - Booze, for one, and advanced chemicals of a wide variety of sorts. Since Alchemy works - you can mix elixirs that do truly wonderful things advanced science and medicine can't touch ("Rub this on, your missing hand will regrow perfectly" and "Drink this, you'll be able to fly"). So it's no stretch at all to have hard liquor.

Social Equality - No sexism, racism, etc. unless you go ahead and take a Social Stigma, in which case you do suffer some effects. This isn't even a modern problem we've solved, but in Felltower? It's all fine.

Felltower lacks a few things I usually include:

Banking - I tend to have fairly advanced banking instruments in my gaming. Bearer bonds, notes, deeds, stock, etc. and a lot of investment and banking options. Felltower? All that has is the First Bank of Honus, which pretty much is because no one robs a barbarian wearing an owlbear hide cape he made with his bare hands (plus a knife and some teeth).

Advanced Shipping - Players tend to be more familiar with pirate ships than cogs, carracks, and naos, so I tend to go for more advanced shipping, regardless of the actual tech level we're at. No ships yet in Felltower, so this hasn't come up.

* Of course, GURPS has rules for them, and DF has the Demolisher and Musketeer. And I have minis aplenty with guns thanks to all of the Warhammer, Mordheim, pirate, and weird fantasy minis I purchased. But still, for my game, no guns.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

D&D 5e Monster Manual: Black Dragon Awesomeness

Good monster description writing is clear, but inspirational.

I always liked black dragons. Swamps, acid-spitting, cool looking forward-angled spiky horns in the pictures. Swooping up out of Xak Tsorath, lurking in the fetid swamps in I8 The Ravager of Time, and menacing from the edges of dangerous territory.

So this description of a black dragon lair from the new Monster Manual grabbed me.

"A black dragon's lair is a dismal cave, grotto, or ruin at least partially flooded [. . .] where its victims can ferment. The lair is littered with the acid-pitted bones of previous victims and fly-ridden carcasses of fresh kills, watched over by crumbling statues. Centipedes, scorpions, and snakes infest the lair, which is filled with the stench of death and decay."
- Monster Manual, p. 89

That and this bit from their "Foes and Servants" section.

"Evil lizardfolk venerate and serve black dragons, raiding humanoid settlements for treasure and food to give as tribute and building crude dragonic effigies along the borders of their dragon master's domain."
- Monster Manual, p. 89

I read that and basically sat up and thought, I need to write up a black dragon's lair. I can picture that in my head, picture the swamp with the lizardfolk lurking on the fringes of vision and you look at their crude, fog-shrouded effigies hoving into view as you walk on a wet "road" that only takes you deeper into some place no one has lived in centuries for reasons that become clearer with each step. A sinister black dragon waiting within, patiently building up its power and wealth, as its servants stalk you and try to end your trip before you reach the half-sunken ruins that house the dragon.

Really evocative stuff.

So yeah, to my players - don't go into any swamps on my map of the area. You already know what lurks there. Don't doubt for a second that I would spraypaint that dragon mini black if I had to.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Starter Adventures is out

Starting Adventures by Tim Shorts is out. You can find it here:

Tim was nice enough to send me a preview back when I was looking for material to use to teach a new player to game. The player ended up choosing GURPS Lite over Basic Fantasy. But I read all of Starting Adventures and I was impressed with what's in it.

Based on the preview I've received, I'm pleased to see the final version is out.

If you:

- need a starting adventure to play right now, with minimal (maybe no) prep for a solo PC just learning the game


- need a solo adventure for a starting character of any class for a DnD or a retro-clone


- want to ease someone into gaming without starting a long, drawn-out adventure

then this is a book you can use. So many of the adventures are short enough you could generate a character and then play for an hour or so and give someone their first taste of gaming. They're very short, but also very open to the actions of the players. There isn't a lot of script here, just opportunities and obstacles. They're mapped (by Robert Conley), fully detailed, and ready to go.

I haven't seen the final copy yet (and I'm too busy to read it right now if I had it), but my impression of the preview was extremely positive. I keep a copy on hand, just in case I need it as speaking practice with a student or to use to teach a new gamer. It's like having a ready-to-go adventure for any one PC of any type in your pocket.

I think it's worth checking out if you need anything remotely like that.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Melee Academy: Unarmed vs. Knife

The is (was?) a whole thread about this over on the SJG Forums. I saw the title, and emailed Doug and said, "That's our next Melee Academy." But I haven't read the thread itself. I wanted to basically put forward the tactics I've seen work in play when forced to fight unarmed versus a foe with a close combat-capable weapon and the intent to use it.

Unfortunately for this post, I also got a sudden, huge, last-minute influx of good paying work, which killed the free time I'd budgeted for a page reference and turn-by-turn tactical description. But this still might help, so I'm posting what I have.

These assume Basic Set and Martial Arts rules. If you use Technical Grappling, some of these options will work very, very differently. Lucky for you, Doug has you covered over at Gaming Ballistic.

The basic tactic for unarmed vs. knife is pretty much:

- Don't get hit.
- Defend if you do get hit.
- Grapple the weapon arm. Per B371, this makes it impossible to strike with the weapon in it.
- Arm Lock (if you can) or strike (if you can't). Don't let go of the arm.

Don't Get Hit

Goal number one, avoid getting hit in the first place. There isn't a lot you can do to ensure this, but if your skill is better you can try this one:

Defensive Feints

If your skill is much, much better (think, 10+ skill points) than your opponent, consider this option. Use Defensive Feint to lower the chances of being hit. Hopefully, this forces your opponent into a normal, non-Deceptive Attack, or possibly even a Telegraphic Attack. Then you can use your effectively improved defenses.

Otherwise, All-Out Defense is your friend while you just pray the guy rolls an 18 on his attack.


All-Out Defense is probably the best option to start with. The unarmed fighter will want to All-Out Defend (Increased Defenses) for a +2 to Parry if intending to use the Parry to set up an Arm Lock. +2 to Dodge is also good if you have a superior Dodge and intend to set up your own grapple later. Double defenses (use Dodge first) is also a good option.

Retreat is tough, because you want to avoid getting hit but you don't want to stray any further from the foe than you can. A weapon gives him a reach advantage (in Tactical Combat) so you will want to stay close so you can attack when your turn comes around.

Eventually, though, you'll need to stop using AOD and start attacking.

Grapple the Arm

There is a -1 penalty to eat up when you grapple the arm (and -2 for hand), but you need to - just like in real life, in game, you'll want to immobilize the weapon.

Feint, then Attack

If you think you've got superior skill to your opponent, use Feint to lower his defenses. Use Beat if you think your ST+skill and you successfully used Parry to defend against his weapon.

In any case, when you attack, use Deceptive Attack aggressively. As in, drop your skill all the way down to 10. You can afford to miss but can't afford to be parried since that will result in a free chance to cut you. Once you've got it, look at Arm Lock or using strikes (I like Knee Strike here) to disable your opponent or remove the weapon. You no longer need to worry about being weapon parried, because you've got the arm.

Ultimately, though, none of these are optimal - it's a case of "X-1 vs. X" and, surprise surprise, you're better off being the X not the X-1 in that equation.

That's the basic cycle I use. Avoid getting hit, Feint is you think you have the skill edge, use Deceptive Attack aggressively to ensure you only hit when you've stomped his defenses down, and hold to the arm and do violent things to your opponent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Black Tree Design Orcs WIP: Part II

Here are the orcs from yesterday, next step closer to finished:

 photo Orcshamans003s_zpsd3e73c89.jpg

 photo OrcShamans004s_zps44d2028f.jpg

Left: Orc Shaman
Right: Orc Barbarian Shaman

Love that fish.

The shine off the minis is the glossy cote that Quickshade gives it. But it's a very good all-in-one sealer and dark wash, and it really filled in the many little crevices on these guys that called for a blackwash or brownwash to give them shading and depth.

All they need now is to sit another day or two just to make sure they're completely dry. Then I'll re-dot the eyes and put on a few tiny highlights. Then, finishing the base (color it black, possibly flock it.) After that, matte spray. The spray will need to wait for better weather - it's either been too cold, or too humid on the days that it is warm enough.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Black Tree Design Orcs

Also on sale around the end of last month were some Black Tree Design minis. I got a couple of orcs:

 photo OrcShamans001s_zps35981140.jpg

 photo OrcShamans002s_zpsb46b8194.jpg

Left: Orc Shaman
Right: Barbarian Orc Shaman

Those guys are fully base-coated, and if I (somehow) have time tonight I'll brush them with Army Painter Quickshade. I half-painted them in one session (primed, then painted the flesh) and then finished the whole job yesterday while I was doing some listening (painting helps me concentrate on what I hear, I find.) Very quick paint jobs, using the painted examples on the BTD website to give me some ideas (or all of my ideas, for the first guy.) I really like the quality of these figures.

Overall, I'm quite impressed with them. They have just enough detail to get better as you paint them, but not so much detail I had to fiddle with the mini and blackline and shade and choose colors to get all the details right. The have a low, squat, but not too-short stance, which bodes well for packed orc vs. PC fights. For some reason, I didn't notice this orc shaman, but I guess I have plenty. I wanted a couple more basically because my players see the same 2-3 orc shaman figures I have regularly, and have to ask "Same guy as last fight? Or just the same mini but it looks like a different orc?" I'd rather have a little variety.

Originally they came on square 20mmm bases but as usual I based them using my "cup base" style and put their slot-tab bases into inverted 25mm round bases. Once they've been Quickshaded, I'll do the bases. I find that works best because I don't worry about the Quickshade gumming up the bases, and if I miss when shading or painting or gluing I have a tiny window to fix it because the hard shell of Quickshade keeps the material from scarring the paint underneath on the actual figure.

Actually, I also got some other figures I'll debut at another time. I had a (positive but time consuming) change in my non-gaming life which probably means I'll be painting a little less. So I'm hoping to get a few more done ASAP so they can be used on the table.

Monday, December 15, 2014

GURPS 101: Using Meta-Traits

Here are some thoughts on meta-traits, for those relatively new to GURPS and wondering how to use them effectively. Some of the advice might help more experienced GMs as well, if only by reminding them of the reasons meta-traits make life easier overall.

Meta-Traits (p. B262) are package traits. They collect a set of advantages and disadvantages into a short name you can apply to creatures and characters. This post assumes you've read the description and examples on p. B262-3.

Why use them?

There are a few reasons I like to use meta-traits.

- They ensure everything of a like kind gets all of the same effects. If every demon in your world is Immune to Metabolic Hazards and has Doesn't Breathe and has Dread (Holy Objects), it's just easier to put them in a meta-trait called Demon and stick that on every demon than to remember to put each of those on each demon you generate.

- It vastly speeds up monster generation if you don't have to comb through all of the advantages and disadvantages to find what you need each time. You never get caught out thinking, "why doesn't this wild animal have Bestial?" because you just bolted on the Wild Animal Trait which includes it.

- It makes modifying creatures a much simpler task. The idea is to speed up and simplify the process of making and playing a creature.

For these reasons, I use meta-traits aggressively in my creature descriptions for my games.

What are the downsides?

Nothing is free of downsides.

- You have to know the package. If you're wondering if skeletons have Immunity to Mind Control because you didn't check if it's in the Mindless Undead meta-trait, you'll know what I mean. Any meta-traits you use, you need to keep track of. Know them before you use them. Know that Body of Fire means "know the stuff on B262 is on there."

- They come with everything on the meta-trait. Obvious, I know, but the point is that by choosing the meta-trait you're accepting all the items on the list pending subtractions. The bigger the trait is, the less broadly it is able to be used.

Some pro tips:

- Make it the minimum overlapping set. It's easier to add more traits (and more meta-traits) than to keep track of subtractions. If the creatures with the exceptions are truly rare, or the subtractions are single traits with no spillover into other traits (for example, SM modifying cost), it'll be okay. But it's generally easier to add more traits or a new meta-trait than to say "This without that." The moment you end up with, say, Dwarf (Remove Greedy, Add Miserliness and Callous, Remove Lifting ST) you end up with so many changes to track it would be easier to just list the parts that are there.

- Don't be afraid to use multiple meta-traits. A demon-dog might have Wild Animal and Demon. An air elemental-like mindless slave might have Automaton and Body of Air. And so on.

- Stay on topic. If you mix too much into a meta-trait, it becomes less broadly useful. "Rubber-Bodied Alien" is not as good as "Alien" and "Body of Rubber" because you can't use the former easily for non-aliens or non-rubber bodied types, but the latter are useful on their own.

- Make the meta-traits as simple as possible - don't include a lot of if:then or "raise X by Y" in them. The DF prefixes do this, it's true, but they also require a little more work to use. Once you start including variable modifications, expect the work load for using the meta-trait to go up.

- Use meta-traits to drive campaign themes. If all of your demons are unable to harm the truly innocent (directly), or all of your golems can only be disabled by removing their scroll, or all of your bug-eyed aliens have Lecherousness (after all, Mars needs women), put that kind of stuff in a meta-trait and use it widely. This will ensure players begin to see the patterns in creatures, and understand what drives them or harms them. It helps to establish a shared experience because of the commonalities between creatures.

Compare that to making up each demon, golem, or BEA separately. If each is basically different, with no common trait beyond a name with no shared game effect, then it's just a name. There isn't a predictive knowledge to be gained, just a pool of possible effects ("Demons can't harm the truly innocent. Well, some of them.")

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Technically Correct - the best worst kind of correct

In other words, exactly the opposite of what the Central Bureaucracy on Futurama says.

The way I see it, Technical Correctness doesn't have a lot of place at the game table. It's got a lot of place in a playtest, or when otherwise testing rules to see if they do what you put in the place intending to do. But once the dice hit the table for chargen or game, I figure that's over. From there, any broken rules you find or rules exploits you notice are only worth reporting so they can be fixed, not used for anything else. Game writing is technical writing, of course, and if technical errors occur, the goal is to fix the errors . . . not exploit them in game or online to pronounce victory over the rules.

There is sometimes an assumption that RPG rules are to settle arguments over who can do what . . . but I don't think that's what they are for. They're to set boundaries on your choices and link effects to them so you can interact with the imaginary, shared experience of the game table. I've written about this before, having written "GM toolbox" rules you could read broadly and use to justify almost anything.

Ultimately, the point of the rules are to facilitate an enjoyable game amongst friends. Anytime the a reading of the rules goes against that, the rules must give way. Aiming to be T.C. is the reverse of that. T.C., in my eyes, is:

- about winning. As if there were winners in a coop RPG.

- rule-lawyering. This is especially bad when people take a rule and argue with the GM and/or other players about the results of the rule. The rules aren't there as weapons for the players against the GM, nor are they weapons for the GM against the players.*

- munchkinism. Totally in-place in Munchkin. Totally out of place in the games that inspired Munchkin.

- Murphy's Rules generation. "Hey, it says here "For groups 1-10, and then "a dozen or more." A group of 11 is immune!" Funny stuff. Send it in to Pyramid, but don't play it that way at the table.

But basically, the time I want rules utterly hammered on is when they are being stress-tested. Once we play, though, Rule Zero trumps everything - the GM's word is law. But at even a lower level than that, there a basic understanding around my table that RPGs are about an enjoyable shared experience. If it's not fun, you can't even get to Rule Zero, and if it's the rules doing that, the rules must change.

It's funny, because I started writing this post days and days ago, but kept pushing it off until I had time to write more. But then a whole argument about the specific wording of one my posts on the SJG Forums exploded, and I figured there was no way to post this with it being seen as some passive-aggressive post about that. It is and isn't about that argument, of course. It's really a whole issue in general. I almost sat on this until I read Doug's post today.

My tabletop is blessed with players who can rules lawyer with the best of them, but do so only to see what's actually allowed and generally come to me to report what they see as exploits before they use them. Being Technically Correct, but not in the spirit of the rules or the spirit of the game (which is to have fun with friends), is a bad thing around my table.

What's odd to me is that it's possible people can take exception to this, too, arguing that Rules Lawyering is part of the fun. And it may be, for some - but I think it's so only if everyone at the table agrees that rules exploits and rules lawyering and rule-book quoting to maximal effect is part of the game. If so, great. But a good part of my intent here is to say, that's not my table, and generally, I write and act as if people play at my table. I think the aim of being exactly, literal-reading correct about rules (or doing things you can make the rules say is correct) is ultimately less fun than putting fun ahead of the rules. I've seen games disintegrate over rules arguments, but I have yet to see a game disintegrate over too much fun.

* Yes, even in Paranoia. There, the power of the GM and the setting is a weapon against the PCs, and the rules are just a way to express that. You don't have to rules-lawyer against the PCs in Paranoia to make that game work, the setting and situations do that without any further help.

PS - For another look at how I think rules should be made, and enforced, check out The Rule of Awesome.

The Known Entrances of Felltower

Hey buddy, how do you get into that place, anyway?

Much like my Monsters Encountered So Far post, I thought I'd do a roundup of entrances the PCs have heard of or confirmed the existence of for Felltower.

So here they are, as of 12/14/2014:

Bugbear Tunnels - a narrow entrance requiring crawling, from the surface ruins on top of Felltower. Current status: Unknown, known to the orcs, believed guarded or trapped.

Dragon Cave Mouth - a mouth-shaped cave on the west side of the mountain, leads to the cavern warren roughly 100' or so below the first level of tunnels. Originally guarded by a fierce dragon. Current Status: Occasionally used by orcs, otherwise unguarded.

Felltower Entrance photo felltowerfortifiedentrancesmall.jpg

Main Entrance - fortified main entrance under the castle (pictured above). Current status: Guarded by orcs.

Orc Entrance - unknown location, but it's known the orcs enter the tunnels under Felltower via a tunnel, possibly from a cave-riddled canyon to the north.

Underwater Entrance - an underground inlet to the Silver River believed to reach deep into Felltower.

Tower Entrance - there is a "hatchway" entrance under the collapsed ruined tower knocked down by the PCs. Current Status: Often locked from within, guarded by orcs, and inside the restored fortress of Castle Felltower.

Well Entrance - a secret entrance at the bottom of a dry well. Current Status: Inside the orc-guarded restored fortress of Castle Felltower, possibly blocked up.

There are rumors of other ways in, too, but they may have been identified already:

- the well. (almost certainly ID'ed.)

- the second surface entrance in the castle. (Probably the tower "hatch" or the bugbear tunnels.)

- possible entrances from other dungeons or caves far, far from Felltower. (In other words, find another dungeon, clear the sucker, and then march underground a long way, not even remotely identified.)

But so far, that's it. In case you are wondering why the PCs keep hitting the same well-traveled areas, you might understand a bit better. Many entrances are orc-guarded, and it's unclear how to effectively utilize the more difficult ones (the underwater entrance, say.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

25% Coupon at until tomorrow

Until tomorrow night, has another book coupon going: 25% off any one book, limited to $10.

Might I suggest gaming books? Say, GURPS books?

I have all of those, so I used it on something else, but it's a good chance to get a solid discount on a gaming book.

Monster Manual Master of Magic easter egg?

So I'm reading the 5e Monster Manual, and I find this quote:

"No one carves statues of frightened warriors. If you see one, keep your eyes closed and your ears open." - X the Mystic's 4th Rule of Dungeon Survival
(Monster Manual, p. 24)

I was wondering what Mystic X did after he helped me become the Master of Magic. Maybe now I know. He kept whacking monster lairs, and still has enough sense to flee Nature nodes protected by basilisks.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mini WIP: Star Frontiers Sathar Trooper

This guy is only about 75% finished, but I dotted his twin pupils to see how the overall mini could look near the end. I might need to re-do the pupils, but even so:

Creepy Sathar photo Sathar001s_zps7325023c.jpg

Creepy. It feels like he's staring at me from the WIP section of the desk. Double-pupil eyed sinister space worms are pretty cool.

This guy has been primed and unpainted for at least 10 years, and owned by me since at least the mid-80s. But he's getting the full yellow-pink-green sathar color job going now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

GURPS: Can Change Posture be merged into Move?

Occasionally, people will point out that the best way, rules-wise, to deal with a berserk opponent in GURPS is to trip him or her. Why? Because Change Posture isn't a valid maneuver choice for a berserker, and only Change Posture lets you stand up from prone, so a prone berserker cannot ever stand back up. You've now reduced your foe to crawling.

Pretty ridiculous, but there you go.

While I have my own other suggestions on re-working berserk, which will either become a Pyramid article (if it runs long) or a blog post (if it doesn't have enough meat to work into an article), I did end up thinking a lot about Change Position.

Do we need that as a separately defined maneuver in GURPS?

What if you shoved the Change Posture maneuver under Move? Thus making posture change just a way to Move?

Just off the cuff, here are some things I think would need to happen:

- you'd need to define posture changes as having a movement cost. These could be in movement points (much like forward is 1, change facing is 1, moving backward is 2, etc.) or as an effective percent cost in move (most of them are 100%, since they take the whole of your turn by the raw, but you could make that a 5-move cost if you wanted faster people to get to do more.)

- you'd need to clean up the various bits of posture changes subsumed into other forms of movement to match that. This is close to no work if you use the effective 100% cost assumed for most of these (B368's discussion of step and rising from kneeling, the various options in GURPS Martial Arts.)

- and that's pretty much it, I think.

That this would also incidentally take care of the "trip the berserker" thing makes this even more attractive. But it did make me wonder, why does changing posture need to be treated as a discrete option for your turn?

Alternatively, you could pry posture change out of everything. Make a section on posture changes and costs, much as the posture table does. So kneeling costs X Move (or 100% of Move) or your step, falling prone costs 100% of Move or Step, Crouch costs 0 (but changes movement cost after you do it), coming from prone to kneeling costs 100% of Move and has N/A under the Step costs (can't do it), etc.

It seems to me that you could do it either way, just as a way to make the options more clear and clean up the need to refer to changing posture and to movement separately. Or, with the table option, wholly move it to an overall modifier in the way that, say, crouching or crawling are.

If I wasn't working morning until night today I'd explore this in more depth, but lunch time is over now and I had to spend most of that studying. I will try to explore this idea a little further - anything that tightens up the number of discrete choices without restricting your options or freedom of action seems like a good thing to me. Ask me about Feint as a Combat Option sometime.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My secret DF project is in peer review

A very busy day today, so just some brief news:

DF _ _ : Peter's Secret Project has entered peer review.

Actually, it entered peer review on Friday night, but this is the first chance I've had to mention it - too much other stuff I felt like I needed to blog about or post.

So far the comments have been fairly light, but helpful. I'm not sure how long from end of peer review it is until the next step - after all, my light source only extends out about 12 yards ahead of me. But my DF contribution proceeds apace.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jeffro's Top 10 RPG Blogs of All Time 2014

I made Jeffro's Top 10 RPG Blogs of 2014 list.

The Top Gaming Blogs of 2014

I'm in some interesting company, for sure - all blogs I read (most of them), or have read (The Tao of D&D) in the past. Most of them I read every post that comes up, and some of them (especially Delta's D&D) I've spent way too much time combing through back pages reading old stuff I'd missed before I started blogging myself.

What makes me grin is that I write my stuff on this blog, primarily, because I want to write these things down somewhere. A good part of it is me talking to my future self at games* I like putting this stuff out there in case others find it helpful or useful. It's a mix of stuff I just wanted to set down on paper, modules I wanted to stick up for, and musings and posts I want to keep track of** so I don't have to comb forums and emails and hand-written notes to find them.

(Interesting, my first post is a pretty good explanation of what my blog has been for the past 3+ years. I've stayed on target.)

But for all of that, it's gratifying. With luck what I turn out this year will be perceived as being as useful, informative, and interesting to Jeffro and his blog readers as it was this year.

So thanks to Jeffro, his readers, and all of mine as well. Now go comb through that list and see what is useful for you, and your game, on those other blogs. It'll be well worth the time.

Now all we need is a badge like my Newbie Blogger Award!

* I look stuff up on my blog during game. How much is a 4-point spellstone? It's a click away.

** Like this one.

Review: The Basic Fantasy Field Guide

For a complete list of my reviews, click my reviews page.

Compiled by Chris Gonnerman
88 pages (84 with content, including the title page)
Available free in PDF here.

This book is a monster supplement for Basic Fantasy-Roleplaying (review). What you get here is basically 180+ monsters for the game. Some are new and unique, and others are either riffs off of monsters from AD&D, etc. and still more just stats for animals and generic monster types overlooked in the BFRPG core book. If you're either playing that game, or a B/X compatible rule set (Labyrinth Lord, actual B/X D&D, etc.) or are conversant in B/X D&D's rules, this can be useful to you.

There is plenty to love in here. Want normal animals? Done. Want mind flayers-types for you game? Done. More eye monsters? Done. Themed sets of monsters (like the Nazgorians, or faerie), complete with common traits? Done and done. That last bit is especially good - all of the faerie types seem to have the same special abilities, so it's very clear that they are of a type (or at least of a category.) That kind of unified definition of terms of art and categories of rules helps speed things up a lot in play, even if it means a few book referrals when you're writing such a book. Good stuff.

Demons and devils are here, too, as infernals. The conversions are well done. However the downside of a no-aligment game is that "infernals" - that is, devil and demons and whatnot - are all put together. So you get excellent conversions of both types, but the overlap between similar types becomes clear (imps and quasits) and the differences between, say, devil's attack immunities and demon's attack immunities, becomes a little more odd. It might have been useful to sort them into two different bunches, with an organized class of infernals with common traits (devils) and a disorganized class of wild infernals (demons), each with a distinct group name. Either that, or go the whole way and change them from the originals and unify the special abilities and weaknesses.

Some of the monsters are very cool. Others seem a little . . . "annoyed GM did it" instead of "mad wizard did it." Like the flying, fire-breathing owlbear variant, or the many-jokes-in-one giant shrieking tarantella spider. Others are very cool but have pretty unimpressive names. For example, the Cadaver is a nasty and interesting undead being with a name that doesn't evoke much except possible confusion. Are we fighting in a morgue? Heck, it's an undead with cleric abilities, make it "Death priest" or "Corpse Minister" or something. If I use it, expect to hear "Corpse Minister" come up in my game summaries.

Most of the monsters have a very good text description of what they look like. Some, not so much. This is kind-of forgivable with, say, the remorhaz, or ones that have a picture.

But others, it's just not clear. The remorhaz tells me the size, but not much else. If I didn't have another monster book to look in, I wouldn't know what it is or looks like . . . fine for me with my giant monster book collection, but it puts a moment of hesitation in recommending this book to a new gamer who doesn't come with built-in knowledge of what a remorhaz is or what an otyugh is shaped like. That I do means I don't even need the description given, so it's either too much or too little. Similarly, some monsters lack just a tiny bit of vital information. The giant mosquito is clearly big. But how big? 1d+1 can swarm you, so not too big - but it never says. I can make a guess, but like I often say, if I'm using someone else's material I don't want to guess what was meant.

Overall, though, it's very good material in a free electronic form or very cheap physical form. It's a good addition to any GM's bookshelf of monster books. Like all of the other BFRPG supplements, you get a lot more value than you pay for. Recommended.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Cold Day Painting

I had some extra time off today, thanks to getting a nasty cold. Concentrating on something helped, but it was hard to do anything really mentally productive. So I did some painting and let my hands just go. Here are the figures I worked on that I can show:

 photo RainyDayPainting_zps4aa9dff2.jpg

Those are:

- two Elizabethan swashbucklers from Wargames Foundry

- four skeleton archers and three spearmen (all Reaper Bones)

- a RE-11 Reptiliads-line Rogue War Turtle (RAFM)

- a 100 Kingdoms Wuxia Warrior on a flying base.

I also painted some other guys, but they aren't display-ready yet or I prefer to keep them under wraps until they debut in my game.

Why green for that swashbuckler? No idea. He was half-painted green when I pulled him out of my half-painted pile. So I just kept going.

I didn't pain my new WF orcs yet, because I need to prime them and I only have spray primer. Grey or black, grey or black, I can't decide yet. "Lucky" for me, I don't have to, because it'll be freezing and snowing or wet for a while yet.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

DF Session 52, Felltower 43 - Cloaker's End

December 7th, 2014

Weather: Cold, sunny.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Al Murik, dwarven cleric (258 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (374 points)*
     Father Keef, human initiate (125 points, NPC)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (454 points)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)
     Antonios, Demitrios, Leonatios of Meepos, human spearmen (unknown point totals, NPCs)
     Melchior the Malevolent, human necromancer (approximately 130 points, NPC)

* Joined late.

Still in town:
Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (250 points)
Bern Brambleberry, gnome artificer (265 points)
     Mark Strawngmussel, human laborer (62 points, NPC)
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (372 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)

We started as usual, in Stericksburg. The group gathered rumors, restocked, and otherwise made plans. Vryce made up for his terrible rumor-gathering last time with a record 7-rumor haul. A few were especially interesting - he heard the cone-hatted cultists had raided the orcs and came but battered but alive, that some people stole corpses from the pauper's cemetery and brought them up to Felltower, and that the orcs have grabbed prisoners from the slums north of the river. A couple other rumors said there is a way into the center of the world under Felltower, and that there is a "world ocean" that everything floats on and that Felltower has the way down to it.

Once they'd stocked up, the PCs gathered up some volunteers and headed out.

Knowing they had only Al as a good-eyed scout, they took their time and camped out for 30 minutes outside the dragon's cave mouth and watched the area. Nothing showed up, so they moved in. No more recent signs of the orcs were found, and they decided the orcs may have decided not to take over that section of tunnels especially in light of the blockades they saw last time.

They moved into the caves, and started to systematically try to tie off some sections of their map and find treasure and monsters they may have missed. It wasn't long before they came to one of the pairs of double doors. They decided to try this pair. Lacking servants, they had Melchior order his zombie - the big, hulking one they'd let him make out of the leader of the crazies - try the door. Bad move, it turned out. There was a zap noise and a flash of light, and the zombie was scorched and let out a howl and ran. It took off full speed, ignoring Melchior's frantic commands. Raggi stopped Melchior from chasing it into the twisty tunnels. They figured they'd find it later, perhaps, but didn't want to try and chase after it.

Beyond the doors was a corridor and a silver-studded door at the end. They closed the doors and moved out, not wanting to try the inner door.

They continued exploring, and found an area they'd bypassed several times. This time they headed in, and found a room strewn with bits of broken bones and skulls and occasional weaponry. There was also a blind cul-de-sac, and they started to advance on that. As they did, two many-armed round things with pink skin, bright red eyes, and nasty claws and mouth that split its torso in half came rolling out at them. As they closed, the Holy Continual Light spells the PCs were using for light began to wink out. Gort and Al both identified them as Devil Maws, and Al said they needed magical weapons to put them down. Reverend Al threw his throwing axe at the lead one, and it snatched it out of the air. Then they attacked in melee, spinning around and dealing multiple clawing attacks before closing to bite. Vryce was in good form, though, and chopped one clean through the moment it got near him. The next one got closer and hit him multiple times but he was able to back off and parry them all. Gort slashed it as Vryce backed clear, and even as Raggi ran up Vryce was able to cut it down.

Down a few light stones, and without time to replace them all, Vryce took one of the Meeposian brother's stones and Al made Raggi a new one. In the meantime, they searched - nothing special, only more skulls, more bones, and more broken gear. Everything was clearly broken as much as it could be, mostly like it was smashed against walls or snapped by strong claws. Demons, they decided, like to break stuff.

More exploration down previously unchecked tunnels found them in a square-ish cave with pointed corners. It smelled of ozone and sulfur, and an ape crouched in the corner. It seemed dazed, and responded a little sluggishly. Al threw his axe at it and hit - no demon, it seemed to just be another flesh-eating ape. Wounded, it charged, but Vryce cut it into multiple pieces.

Further exploration told them nothing else about the room, but they felt like the ape must have been summoned - it clearly didn't live here, there was no sign it was there long, and the sulfur and ozone was a further clue something had happened. Melchior confirmed there was magic used in this room, either strong enough or recent enough or often enough to trip his Magery-enhanced senses.

From there they explored more, connecting up more map areas. They eventually came to another pair of double doors (new, for sure) but left them alone after marking them down.

They then found "the demon-ape room" and fought a pair of phase serpents. It took some doing, but they managed to chop them up without getting hit in return.

From there, they explored through the gargoyle's lair but weren't bothered by them. Past there, they meet the "behir" (as they call the 12-legged wyrm) and spoke to it for a while. It was disappointed they didn't have food. They told it the apes it told them about were demons, and couldn't be eaten. It tried to get them to bring it more food, and without agreeing either to do so or refusing to do so they managed to back off and leave the thing alone.

They found another cube from from here, and marked it with a 6.

After that, they found the room where they'd fought the cloakers and "trogs". They walked in, and immediately something started to blubber and spit and chitter and gibber - and spat corrosive spittle at Vryce. There was a gibbering mouther on the ceiling. Vryce got nailed, and the spittle blew a hole clean through his armor and wounded him pretty solidly. With his helmet on, he couldn't pick it out on the ceiling. Al and Gort yelled its location to him, and Al threw his axe at the mouther (but it dodged it). It spat again, wounding Gort, even as it kept gibbering. Raggi and Vryce charged, Gort advanced, and Al moved to cover the flank while putting Strengthen Will on Vryce. Vryce moved up and the mouther attacked him, biting him many times. Again, though, Vryce was able to dodged back and parry away the five or six bites that landed on him. Raggi, though, just ran up and stopped cold, as the PCs heard and felt a low moaning just as the edge of the hearing.

A cloaker had moved out of a side passage to attack. Its moans had paralyzed Raggi. Gort yelled, "Cloak monster! I fought one, once, in a room much like this one."

In the meantime Vryce chopped the mouther and killed it outright in a single massive blow, causing it to explode. Vryce took no damage from the blast, Raggi a small amount, and Gort none. But the shrapnel (razor-sharp armor-piercing teeth, mostly) punched a hole in Vryce's leg armor and wounded Raggi more as well.

The cloaker tried its paralytic moan on Vryce, but despite a stunning 9-point margin of success on its roll, Vryce made his roll by 10 thanks to Al's spell and his mind shield headband. Melchior chucked a fireball at the cloaker as Vryce moved up, and hit it (with a 3!) and hurt it badly. As it tried to back off, Al boosted his own Will and Vryce attacked. He landed a solid set of blows and knocked the cloaker out of the air. Before it could recover, Vryce hit it again. Melchior hit it with another, smaller fireball, and then Vryce chopped it a few more times, just as Dryst showed up and Al removed the paralysis from Raggi.

They made sure the cloaker was dead (to Vryce, battle is over when the foe is down, but monster battles are over when he's sure it's really dead) and searched the room. Nothing - and no sign of the two other cloakers they saw.

From there they headed in the room the "trogs" had come from, back last time they were here. The room turned out to have three very large erupting slimes on the walls. Dryst knew a surprising amount about them (Naturalist roll of a 3) so the players knew they'd need to protect against ranged, melee, and poison. So they did, and used a mix of fireballs, a Flaming Weapon spell on Vryce's sword, and missile and poison protection magic to deal with them. They were mostly torched before they could do anything, but one got a glob of itself onto Vryce's leg. Dryst decided to "help" Vryce by whacking him with a 4d Flame Jet. He botched it (an 18 to hit) and his Vryce's foot and almost crippled it, and set Vryce on fire. Vryce dropped down to roll out the flames and Dryst moved the jet up his leg, scorching off the slime but also burning Vryce's leg even more.

The slimes were toasted, but Al needed to jump in and heal Vryce after Dryst's gallant "assistance."

With Dryst around, they had him use Seek Earth to try to find gold (didn't work) and silver (above, far enough to be in the orc territory, perhaps.) This would be a dry run, they figured, but they better get something out of it in terms of information.

So from there, the PCs explored more, finding the stairs up, the statue room, and a room full of broken stalactites and stalagmites and broken bits of stone (not piercers, though, they checked) and connections between their map ends. That meant, basically, they made a "circle" out of the map - going either way out of the entrance they use, they can come all the way back around to the entrance again.

Time was running low, so they headed out.


- No profit, at all, but they did get some mapping done, find a couple of (new?) double doors, and kill off some potentially annoying monsters. They also discovered a "new" cube-shaped room, which in fact they'd found before but couldn't place on their map once they started coming in from the dragon's cave. Not a bad session.

- No profit mean less than the max XP, but they explored a lot and beat up some monsters, so I didn't dock them anything beyond "no profit."

- Vryce got MVP, after he and Al ruled out Dryst and then couldn't decide between them . . . so they rolled dice and Vryce got the high roll. Whatever, it's their decision.

- Poor Melchior is down a zombie and got nothing out of it. He wasn't pleased, but he took the risks and didn't complain about it. He needs another zombie. Unfortunately, the ape would have been pricey and Vryce cut it apart, and the other monsters were just unsuitable (and, again, diced into pieces.)

- They've decided there are at least 5, probably 6-7, and possibly as many as 9 doors into some central area.

- The devil maws are based on what I think the Chainmail abyssal maw minis I have should be in GURPS. Which is to say, nasty albeit fragile, like most summoned monsters are. Fun, though, and obviously there will be more of them. As I said to my players, in this game they will fight a) everything I have minis for, b) everything I have homemade counters for, and c) everything else. Doesn't narrow it down much, I'll admit that.

Not sure if we'll get another game in this year, but we will try. And I'm not sure yet where they'd go. It's winter in the area so going overland at the orcs will only get harder each session until Spring comes and warms it all up. We will see what they want to deal with next.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Wargames Factory Orcs: First 3 Figures

Over the course of the day I assembled three figures from my new Wargames Factory orcs box.

My goal with these was:

- make three usable figures for my game.

- only use parts from one sprue, just so I have an idea of the limitations on my assortment.

- try to make them look good, but not at the cost of being in very breakable poses.

 photo WargamesFactoryOrcs004s_zps8046e6cf.jpg

That axe guy will get a shield from my bits box pretty soon. I wanted a picture with just the Wargames Factory stuff, and the crescent-shaped shield is . . . yeah, I don't like those. I can't find a way to position them on the arm that looks safe and useful.

 photo WargamesFactoryOrcs003s_zps094706b0.jpg

As you can see, I'm basing them on square 20mm bases, because I have a metric ton of them and no use for them. Giving them a slightly smaller footprint will make it easier to deploy them in bunches on a battlemat. The white is glue - Elmer's glue-all. I turn the bases upside down, glue to minis down to the slotta ridge (at least, for these guys) and then fill in the base with glue. It'll dry and settle, giving a solid connecting for the mini to the base. Then I'll fill it with basing materials and cement that down, too, with watery glue. Having a flat base makes it easier to deal with levitated figures in a game.

So far . . . I'm okay with these guys. Not really excited, though.

- the no-socket flat mesh connections means fairly weak connections. I see breakage in the future for these guys. For the next batch, I'll go back to pinning them. I already scored the surfaces to get a rough surface to glue, which experience has shown me will work better. And I'm using the right kind of plastic glue. Still, they aren't very strong connections.

- I see the "reversible" nature of the torsos, and on a couple it doesn't look great. This is a feature I could do without.

- The arm positions are a bit odd, although it might be my choice of arms.

- The weapons are really attractive, and the right size. I think I might need to clip the morningstars and make them drape down like they aren't being actively swung, just to keep them intact during travel to and from game.

- The arm-to-shoulder connections and neck-to-shoulder connections are especially odd. I can fix that in the future with some filing, but I was hoping for an out-of-the-box smooth connection.

Overall, these guys seem like a good addition to my orc pool, but maybe a bit odd looking and/or fragile. I see them getting deployed when I don't have a metal figure that fits the bill. I'm going to take the opportunity to give them the rarer weapons in my collection - and fit them out with leftover GW weapons to do so. In the future I'll just clip all of the legs, torsos, heads, etc. into one box and make some more interesting mixes, too.

Not a bad investment for the verisimilitude of my game and the minis I deploy, overall, but it could have been better. So far, let's call it a 3 out of 5 for quality, 4 out of 5 for value.

Wargames Factory Orcs: First Impressions

I got these guys yesterday. On sale over the Thanksgiving holiday, with shipping, it was 50% off for 24 build-it-yourself orcs. Not bad.

 photo WargamesFactoryOrcs001s_zpsddfd41d5.jpg

 photo WargamesFactoryOrcs002s_zpsba34000a.jpg

The pros:

- lots of heads! 7 different heads I can use, with different features, so I can make them all GW-y or LOTR-y or something different.

- arms to hold weapons, not arms holding weapons. This means I have two polearms, a flail, a bow, four swords, and two axes per sprue, x8, minus the ones I use. So I have a lot of weapons I could use for other minis or as battlefield litter.

- Only two shields, though, per sprue, and one is a moon-shaped one it would be suicide to carry. So I'll need to dig into my bits box for shields.

The cons:

- 8 sprues, all alike. Three legs, three torsos. The box says "reversible torsos" but I can't see what they mean - the "front" looks clear to me on them. Maybe that'll change as I assemble them.

- No bases. Okay, That's fine, I have a lot of GW bases I can use. But bases would have been nice. They have an integral base, much like old Airfix 1/72 scale soldiers do, but my experience is bases like that tip a lot in play.

- Very open hand grips on the hands, so the hands don't look like they'll close around weapons. A bit more "C" and less "U" would have been nice.

Overall, I feel like I got a good deal here, and I am happy to expand my orc collection by 24. That I can easily add, say, 8 archers or some more flail users or - combined with bits from my various GW sets - maces, hammers, etc. is a good thing. I think I can get these guys assembled pretty quickly, or at least most of them (I might leave a few in pieces in case I need a custom mini later). Then I'll quickly paint them up to my tabletop standard and deploy them.

I'm glad I got these, so far, and I'll post more pictures as they come together. It's not like there is any surprise value in my DF game to orcs, or that my players would be worried. They already know I've got piles of orcs. This just adds some variety to my orcs!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: A1-4 Scourge of the Slave Lords

This wraps up my review of the "Slaver's Series" - A1-4. For the individual adventures that this supermodule is adapted from, look here:

A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
A4 In The Dungeons of the Slave Lords

There is also a special edition hardback out containing A1 - A4 plus a new adventure. I do not have that, but if ever get my hands on a copy I'll be sure to review that, too.

Speaking of reviews, if you like them, there are all linked on my reviews page.

A1-4 Scourge of the Slave Lords is one of the "supermodules" put together out of earlier adventures. This one assembles the slaver's series into a single volume.

The adventure opens with the assumption the PCs have completed T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil, and are now heroes. They're invited to a party by a noble woman, who gives them a desperate mission of mercy to go on. Naturally, as soon as they leave the manse it gets sacks by slavers and everyone carried off.

This is not a good adventure intro. Now, the PCs have two choices - complete the mission (and get punished for doing so, because this isn't a "Good" action) or give up and chase after the slavers. Instead of a mission with real meat on it - PCs getting hired by nobles and sent on their way to try and take out the slavers at minimum cost to their employers, they're guilted into the mission by the raid.

The railroading just starts there. After that, the road is strewn with clues pointing to Highport and the slave-pits of the undercity. Instead of letting the PCs make their way there, the module puts obstacles in their path in the form of slaver agents. If the PCs lose, they're tossed onto a ship and made to be slaves for a while before they are aided in an escape that puts them in Highport. If the PCs win those fights, they're automatically overwhelmed in a later fight and tossed onto a ship and made to be slaves for a while, etc.

Whenever the PCs either fail, or when the original modules would have aid from the (few) agents of the hiring lords, the PCs get bailed out by a conniving slavelord looking to overturn one of the other slavelords.

That addition actually makes a lot of sense, but the actual mechanisms of the plan (planted materials, aid to the PCs) tend to be a little obvious and overcomplicated. Basically, every chance the adventure has to give the players a lot of choices and an active mission with a plausible explanation of minimal support* the PCs get forced down a specific path. It's disappointing.

This is really too bad, because the connective tissue put before A1 and between A1-2, and 2-3 is good stuff. It makes the Drachensgrab Hills come alive, gives the Pomarj a feel of a dangerous area full of uneasy and ill-cooperating humanoids, and lets them use violence, bribery, or their wits to deal with any number of situations. One section - the Broken Rudder, an inn with lots of clues about the road ahead - are excellent set-pieces that invite good roleplayer and/or good tactics. It's just that whenever there is a chance to let the PCs find their own path the adventure chooses a ham-handed railroad.

The book also has a lot of little editing issues. These include errors, missing stats, assumptions that mix "the players have their own characters" and "the players are playing the tournament characters" that show where text was lifted without review from the originals.

The art is interesting. It's a mix of illustrations from the original modules and many new ones. The new ones seem like illustrations done over pictures, which a mix of photo-realism and clearly drawn elements. Overall, I'm not a fan of most of it. Even more oddly the picture of the slave lords changes the sex of several of the members (Lamonsten and Neralas become women) and the half-orc looks . . . just odd.

Overall, this isn't one I can recommend. For all the good, useful, and fun stuff in here, it's not one you would really want to run for a party. It is too much railroading for no good purpose, especially the set-up slave raid and the even-worse automatic capture to get the players into Highport.

War Stories

For all my complaints, you'd expect I would have never run this.

But I did.

I ran it with AD&D for an Unearthed Arcana-era group. They never made it as far as Highport before the game broke up, although I didn't enslave them. I was actually kind of surprised to be reminded the module calls for that - I don't know if I was planning to use that or not. I didn't use it, though.

I later ran bits of this with my 3rd edition GURPS group back in the mid-90s. I moved the lot to the Forgotten Realms, put a slave ring outpost in the sewers under Waterdeep, and let the PCs at it. They took the slavers out and found clues leading to The Broken Rudder. They went there and had an epic fight, with several PC deaths and lots of NPC casualties. From there they found the clues to Highport and headed there. Once there, they went into A1 and never came back out. Well, some did, as slaves, and the campaign changes radically as half of the players dropped out.

At that point, I knew this was a bad railroad, so I wasn't planning on any forced slaver or deus ex machina assistance from NPCs. Had the PCs made it out of A1, they'd have had a chance to deal with A2 or A3 (they had enough clues in A1 to skip ahead) and go from there.

Like I said above, the expansion material is uniformly good. It's just how it's put together as a railroad is bad. If I were to run this, I'd get rid of Dame Gold (unless I just wanted to give the PCs an additional, personal reason to go), get rid of the alternate quest, and save A4 for the results of losing on the way.

It's not a bad pickup for the extra material - especially the Drachensgrab details - but the originals are better.

* These coastal nobles are also paying protection to the Slave Lords, so it makes sense they'd like a cheap and deniable solution like sending some expendable adventurers. Win if they succeed, nothing to lose if they fail.
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