Thursday 26 May 2016

Some D&D campaign updates

I post infrequently about my D&D campaign, largely because it usually isn't very visual and I like to make posts that include an image or two. But this recent session was a bit more photogenic than previous ones, so let's have a look.

A quick recap: when last we left our heroes, they were on their way to Eyvind's homeland of Nornrik to help liberate it from the Empire, stopping off on the way to investigate the mystery of Zylphia's family. They did eventually find the Lockwoods, and discovered that they were being manipulated by an alien conspiracy to get hold of a transdimensional artefact, the Worlogog, that contained all of Creation within itself. A big fight with the aliens led to one escaping into the Worlogog itself; our heroes pursued it and emerged in a different dimension -- which is to say a different game. The next session and a half were a game of Call of Cthulhu, with equivalents of our heroes hunting the aliens through 1920s Massachusetts.

After finishing that, they returned through the Worlogog, emerging in Nornrik. Realising that the Worlogog was out of whack, they concluded that since the artefact contained all of Creation, they needed help from someone who had been outside of Creation -- which meant an Abyssal being (unlikely to help), a god (not seen around lately), or a dragon (created before time in the instant when the Creator, er, created Creation). So hey, fortunately Eyvind knew where a dragon could be found, chained to the sky above the Eight Cold Kings range of northern Nornrik. They bandied words with the dragon, who agreed to help if they freed him. Eyvind secretly planned to use the amulet the serpent priest had given him to lure the dragon to Frog Island, but later reflection suggested that was a bad idea.

Aaaaaanyway, they needed some way to free the dragon first, so they tabled the idea to concentrate on the liberation of oppressed Nornrik. Joining forces with Eyvind's overachieving sister Nornvar, they carried out a series of daring raids against the Empire, including staving off an attack on the workshop of Klaus the runesmith:

... and venturing into the ancient tomb of King Bor, where they battled, among others, these guys:

Until they recovered the mystical secret of Bor's legacy. They infiltrated the Immortal Buffalo General's Fortress Golem and encountered both him and his elite bodyguards, the Brides, who included one of Frances' "sisters," Mercy. Defeating them, they hijacked the golem and marched to the relief of the beleaguered Nornic tribes holding out at the fortress of Laxegard. Arriving just in time, they battled the fiercest of the Buffalo's commanders, Lord Tye, in a battle that ended with Tye literally exploding while standing on the head of the Fortress Golem. The explosion nearly killed Zylphia, and in the aftermath of the battle she told the others that she wanted to return to her homeland and get to know the family she'd been separated from for so many years.

Laden with treasures by the High King -- and concerned by sinister new revelations about the mysterious assassins chasing them -- the party picked up a new recruit, tough brawler Caitlyn, and headed back to Frog Island, where they were joyfully welcomed by the followers they'd left behind. They determined that their only real chance of controlling the dragon when it arrived was a set of magical artefacts created by heretic serpent priests and locked deep within heavily-defended temples in the days before the Elves shattered the coldblood civilisation.

So these temples: there was a fight against a guardian beast, a misshapen monstrosity made in the form of a dragon. Ish.

The temple, with party at top centre and escape on the left. 

Caitlyn decides to get stuck in; Kaia's summoned fire elemental helps out. 

Eyvind polymorphs into a roc and I don't have an appropriate figure. 

The dragon clumsily flaps away to attack Frances. 

Kaia turns into a giant bird and attacks. 

And Caitlyn climbs on for extra punching. 
There was also another temple filled with tricks and traps.

Ah, the old room-full-of-crap-and-gravity-control trap. How many times have we seen this one? 
And a dramatic undersea battle against a load of fishmen.

A city beneath the waves (the blurring is caused by all the water in the way, y'know)

The fishmen's backup arrives. 

Alarmed by this arrival, Eyvind polymorphs again. 
Having recovered the artefacts, the party stash them in a safe place and begin planning to seek out the infamous Pirate Queen of the Thousand Isles, who they now believe is corrupted by the Eye of Daoloth, the artefact Frances was mistakenly jailed for stealing back in session one in ... May 2014. Lord.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Frugal gaming: aquarium plants on sale.

I was in Pets at Home today and, as is my wont, I had a bit of a browse among the aquarium plants. I noticed that lots of fish tank plants and ornaments are on sale until the 30th: buy one, get one half-price. I have in the past used some aquarium ornaments as terrain for things like bridges and ruins (see this post, for instance), so I had a look. Nothing grabbed me among the ornaments, although they did have some nice jungle ruins, but I did pick up some plants for £7.50. 

These are mounted on little bases, so I might use them separately. Alternatively, I might make larger bases of some of them, or break them down into smaller pieces to decorate models (or make some modern-day planters). I could paint them a bit, but actually I like their brightness and don't want to put a lot of effort into terrain that's supposed to be quick, easy and cheap, so I might just leave them as they are.

I imagine that the blue ones are some sinister flower that grows in Frostgrave, drawing its nourishment from the latent magic of the place.

Here are some shots of them with models:

"This is a bug hunt, mannnn! A BUG HUNT!"

An intrepid explorer seeks ancient ruins in the jungle.

Friday 20 May 2016

I think my painting queue is taunting me

From where I sit in my study, I can see the space on my work table that is set up for painting. I haven't had much chance to paint this week, and I feel like it's mocking me. The thing about good weather in England is that you do a lot of spray priming when it happens, because you know you can't count on it continuing. Which is all well and good -- as is the fact that I received a bunch of models lately, partly as a treat for myself in a sale and partly as a pair of generous gifts. But the result is this: 

As much as my think of myself as "not a real Oldhammer," there is a bunch of good Oldhammer stuff on there: a couple of 80s Gretchin, six 80s Doctor Who figures, an Ogre, couple of Marine scouts, a Chaos Dreadnought, a Melnibonean ... maybe I am. But there's also some of those Foundry Pickford space orcs, a bunch of whimsical kitbashes, the beginning of the "bits box warband," and the ever-present Reaper Bones. And I can't paint any of it at the moment because my attention is required on a different gaming project -- kind of a dream gig for me, actually, so I know I'm sort of complaining that my diamond shoes are too tight. 

Also I know that eight million painters will immediately go "you call that a full painting table?!" and they'll be right. So there's that. 

Wednesday 18 May 2016

The Emperor's He-Man Woman-Haters Club, or, the Perils of Complexity

 So I've seen passing reference on social media to a new iteration of that old debate about whether there can or should be female Space Marines in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. I think there have actually been good points made on both sides, and as always my answer is going to be something like "weeeeelll ... yes and no." But before we do that, let's just get a few predictable comments out of the way:

  • Yes, the Sisters of Battle exist. No, they have nothing to do with this question. (And don't get me started on the Sister of Battle harem girl model; would one beefy, oiled Space Marine in a loincloth kneeling at a Dark Eldar's feet be too much to ask?)
  • Yes, I know there were originally female Space Marines (check out the left column of the ad below -- even though they're not called Space Marines they clearly are. And yes, I know that one of them is wearing power-armour chaps). 
  • Yes, GMs in individual campaigns are free to make up whatever they want; the bizarre thing is that so few people seem to think this. 
With those anticipated points out of the way, let's take a look at the discussion. 

Now, I'm sure that there's been a lot of writing about this I haven't seen, but the argument in favour of there being female Space Marines is simple and obvious: it would be fun to have opportunities for both male and female characters in this group, and it would be nice in general to see some female characters in the 40K universe, which has ... few.

(I'm speaking here, of course, about people who care about the "lore" or "fluff" of the setting; to many players, these are just figures on a table, whose genders or personalities are irrelevant.)

There have been a number of different responses, but the only interesting one that I've seen so far is that it would be thematically inappropriate for there to be female Space Marines, because Space Marines are a dark parody of masculinity. Huge, hyper-muscular and either stoic or brutal, they are what men would be like if they had no stereotypically "feminine" traits at all. Having women among their ranks would spoil that image. Further, this argument goes, they're not meant to be admirable -- they're the ruthless enforcers of a monstrous tyranny, dripping with imagery from the worst regimes in history. "Women, too, can be Space Fascists" isn't a message positive enough to mess with your canon to send.

And I think that argument has several good points. There is certainly art and fiction that presents the Space Marines as grotesque hypermasculine-but-asexual creatures, and certainly introducing a female character who was in any way different from her male counterparts might tend to push against that theme.

But ... and here's where I think this argument is incomplete ... it wouldn't mess with that theme nearly as much as the bazillions of words of fiction in which Space Marines are presented as noble, heroic warriors, maybe a little gruff and unsympathetic but ultimately good guys whose virtues of discipline, courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice are supposed to be admired. I'm not even talking about people who view playing Space Marine or Space-Marine-like characters as an excuse to be a tiresome, hard-charging, no-emotions-but-duty-and-wrath jerkoff, I'm talking about Marines presented as no less terrifying or unlikeable than the protagonists of a sepia shooter.

And ultimately that's the problem(?) with a corporate franchise like this one -- it consists of a huge variety of art, fiction, models, games and so on, all created by different people and all necessarily having different thematic and artistic approaches. That can be as obvious as a world that's supposed to contain both Shadows over Bogenhafen and Blood Bowl, or as subtle as the difference in portrayal of the rule of Chaos in the setting's cosmology between the work of different writers. And it's not just limited to Warhammer, of course -- both the avuncular boy-scout Batman and the grim avenger of the night are Batman and always will be.

So if Space Marines were always portrayed in a way that meant that "a grotesque exaggeration of typically masculine qualities" was central to their thematic role in the story, then it would be true that having female Marine characters wouldn't make a lot of sense (although you could still tell some interesting stories with that concept, couldn't you?). And furthermore, players of those games would probably be less likely to be interested in playing female characters. But they're not always portrayed that way -- they're portrayed in a wide range of different ways; in the original version of the game, they're clearly just hard-bitten Special Forces types with some weird rituals, in much of the second edition they're portrayed as basically superheroes, and in the Horus Heresy books they're often presented as quite flawed and human despite their superhuman powers. You just can't make that argument consistently across the franchise as a whole, although it's a very valid interpretation in itself.

Don't like a female Marine miniature? Don't put one in your army; problem solved. Want to include female Marines in a Deathwatch game (which may even be suggested in the book, which I haven't read)? Go for it. Sadly, this probably doesn't extend to GW models, since they seldom make female humans, let alone Space Marines, and that seems unlikely to change, but I bet if you have a bit of a look around you can find some suitable conversion heads or Marine-alike models.

And this diversity of possible interpretations is a feature, not a bug. You're never going to nail a multi-creator, decades-long work down to a single interpretation, and that's OK. The inconsistencies and contradictions and changes create opportunities for varying recombinations of the source material, which is fun as heck. That's what Warhammer Sorta Thousand is all about.

Monday 16 May 2016

Frugal gaming: Dragonish

A long time ago I picked up this cheap plastic dragon toy at Poundland; it came in a pack of two for, y'know, £1. I didn't know what I was going to use it for, but I was pleased by its resemblance to Fin Fang Foom. 

Anyway, it lingered in a drawer for years until I finally decided to do something with it. I have a dragon-like monster coming up in my D&D game (not a dragon per se, but a creature that looks a bit like one), and dragon models are expensive, so I thought this stubby-winged abomination might do for it.

I did what I usually do with cheap plastic toys; mostly ignored its mould lines, gave it a bit of a scrub with washing-up liquid, let it dry, primed it with Halfords grey car primer, drybrushed it, coloured it with ink washes and filled in a few spot details. Here's the final result:

I don't know, I think it looks OK!

D&D "Gorgon" painted and pondered

So in D&D, confusingly, gorgons are called "Medusas" and the "Gorgon" is a giant metal bull critter, which I believe is based on the brazen bull, a presumably fictional torture and execution device.

Now, the bull may be associated with the cult of the Carthaginian god Moloch, who a) has a great name, b) is awesome in Paradise Lost, c) already exists in my campaign, and d) gets some extra emotional heft from his appearance in Howl.

That being the case, clearly in my campaign the "Gorgon" is the Sacrifice Engine, a mechanical construct powered by the life energy of humans horribly roasted within it. In 5th ed., its main attack other than just goring and trampling people is its petrifying breath, which obviously doesn't quite fit in with the image, so I'm gonna give it a horrifying scream -- after all, the ancient writers focus on the gruesome sounds the thing made -- which forces characters to save or be frightened. And I might give it a scalding blast of steam as well, although I'd rather it did something cleverer than just do damage. Characters should also be able to get into the hatch on its side and pull out the victim, although presumably at the risk of burning themselves.

Anyway, the miniature: this Reaper Bones Gorgon was one of the models from the second Kickstarter, and I didn't really care that much about it, but I thought I'd polish it off. I integrated its textured base with some crudely-sculpted flagstones of my own (I suck at sculpting but I'm just doing a bunch of it anyway to build skill and confidence), then primed it grey. Metal paints, slightly lighter metal paints, couple of washes, some bright eyes and the job's a good 'un. I think it looks OK, particularly given that I did not previously give a hoot about this monster. Now I might actually use it, since I have both a mini and a backstory for it.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Some in-progress raiders

I have been messing around with bits and pieces of various miniatures, inspired by the idea of a Fallout-style raider group with a Viking theme (like the Great Khans have a Mongol theme). The nice thing about this idea is that they don't have to be historical at all; they should mix apocalyptic and fantasy elements. I dragged out all the spare sprues I had, including a big pile of Wargames Factory Vikings my friend Chris was kind enough to give me after putting together his SAGA army.

Here's what I've got so far:

The guy on the left is mostly a Wargames Factory Viking with some bits and pieces from a WWII Russian sprue. The guy on the right is a Wargames Factory apocalypse survivor with a Viking head; the crossbow arms don't fit neatly on the body, so I made a crude shoulder pad and strap for him from green stuff. These sculpted pieces are pretty crude, but these guys are mainly for practice.

The guy on the left has the body of a Viking, the arms of a Soviet WWII guy, and a backpack and head from an apocalypse survivor. He didn't have much Viking flavour about him apart from the shape of his body armour, so I sculpted a little beard on him. The guy with the axe has the fat-guy body from the apocalypse survivor box, plus the head from a Gripping Beast (?) Viking and the arms and axe from a Wargames Factory Viking.

I have a few more in progress, including one exciting piece I think you guys are gonna enjoy.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

An apology and some cold-blooded dudes

I had some trouble with Blogger yesterday, so no post then. In recompense, here are some photos of painted frog models to inhabit Frog Island in my D&D game.

A group shot of the guys. Faithful companion Rroark is in the centre of the front row. 
The shaman in his skull helmet. This shot isn't great, but the model's ... OK. 

A proud Frog Island brave. 

A shaman from the Council of Elders. 

Another warrior.  
This guy doesn't quite fit with the others, but whatever.
He is a Reaper toad-man I bought at a games shop in Colorado, I think. 
These group shots are not great, but you get a better shot here of Rroark's bitchin' tiki shield.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Frugal gaming: spirits or elementals or whatever

One principle of frugal gaming is that you take your opportunities where you find 'em. I often find them among singles for old collectible minis games. The value of a model from one of those games on the secondary market is typically based on how good it is in the game rather than what it looks like, so you can pick up some fun models very cheaply in discount bins at shows or online.

These models will do nicely for spirits or elementals, maybe in D&D or in Frostgrave. I picked them up for well under a pound each from Blue Rat Games. They're Solstice and Living Lightning originally, but I really wanted them because of their cool clear plastic. Pried them off their bases, stuck them on new ones, textured them and was done. Frugal as you like.

Clicky models tend to be on the large side, but they're very variable and I've never cared much. Still, even if you're picky about that kind of thing, you can still find a lot of cool models for use as monsters, robots and so on, even if the humans are a little on the big side.