Thursday 30 June 2016

Miniatures project roundup

While I'm talking about D&D stuff, I want to take a moment to review, mainly for my own benefit, what I'm working on at the moment minis-wise, and when I want it done by.

I would like to complete my unreleased John Pickford space orcs by Bring Out Your Lead. I don't have a gaming use for them, but it would be a nice piece of closure. I have five done so far, with another five or six on the table waiting to be primed.

These are the same officer, but I just wanted to show off the two main troop types. I'm going to do the MG team, then finish the rifle and assault squads, then do the commander. If I want to get really ambitious, I will kitbash a vehicle for them, but that seems less and less likely.

I would like to put together a Chaos force for the RT tourney, but I don't know what list to use. This would mainly be a case of rebasing some of my older models, I guess, and maybe dulling down the bright-green paint job of my Predator. I don't know if this is realistic.

I need to finish my Orks for BOYL as well. This currently means painting one base of snotlings and one Gretchin, so that should be OK. I could do quite a bit more, but I don't know if I'll have time.

So that's what I'm hoping to get done by the end of August. Then I need to get moving on some more Wasteman models, some Frostgrave stuff, and my long-stalled SAGA Normans. So ... it's quite a bit, especially since I'm sure I'll come back from BOYL with some new models. Still, I'm making this list so I have something to hold myself to; I'll update as the month progresses.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Frugal gaming: some notes toward a book of cheap monsters

OK, so here's the promised two-dollar monster thinkpost. I'm not wedded to the two-dollar monster title. Pocket-change monsters? Anyway.

So, by now we all know that in the early years of fantasy gaming there were not many miniature figures of appropriate style out there. The founders of the hobby were forced to improvise, either by using or converting rough equivalents (here Gary Gygax discusses making dragons out of dinosaur toys and clipping hair for giants from his kids' dolls) or by coming up with monsters that resembled toys they bought at the dime store (as described in this excellent post about the origin of the rust monster, the bulette and the owlbear).

The point is that owlbears are fun but that the process of bricolage that created the owlbear is also fun. That's what I hope the appeal of this series is going to be. There are three principles underlying this process. 

This first figure illustrates the first principle -- substitution. I want a dragon in my game and I don't have a lot of money; Poundland two-pack toy to the rescue. I am going to talk about substitution in this text, just in terms of where to find inspiration, but it is only part of the larger picture.

This second figure illustrates the second principle -- inspiration. I buy a toy because it looks great, and I think "what kind of monster could I make out of this?" A lot of the series will be about inspiration, naturally!

The third principle is really just a combination of the previous two -- modification. That's where you take a toy and think "what kind of monster could I make out of this, with a little work?" A certain amount of the series will be about that -- including some basic conversion techniques for people who aren't experienced modellers. You don't have to be an expert to make this kind of thing work. This figure is an example of modification:

So, in short, that's what this series is going to be: some quick discussion of the principles, and then a bunch of monsters as worked examples, with stats mainly for 5th edition D&D (although if anyone wants to propose them for other games they're very welcome to) plus a simple guide to modelling. By the end of the series of blog posts, I'm hoping to have enough to compile into a little monster book that I can PDF-ify.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Some long-term blog thoughts

As I have mentioned elsewhere on social media, I'm currently on holiday in Italy, and very nice it is too. A week off gives me plenty of opportunities to catch up on my reading and work on long-term writing plans. Among those long-term writing plans are a couple of game-related things. 

At present, I think I should be working on the following game projects: 

  • The B-Movie Mogul card game I'm working on with a friend, which has been in abeyance for a while since, with no deadline, it constantly gets nudged out of the way by things that have to be done by such-and-such a time and, being large, it also gets nudged out of the way by projects that can be done quickly (like painting miniatures, for instance). Ultimately, I hope this will be a print-and-play card game that might eventually turn into a fun one-box printed game. 
  • The Magonium Mine Murders, an investigative/location/dungeon scenario that I think would be a fun contribution either to the OSR or to the booming 5th ed. scene (honestly, the latter is probably better). I have discussed this before, but I need to set about working on it in an organised way. My final goal is that this will be a moderate-to-low price-point PDF that displays investigative scenario information in an easy-to-use way. 
  • Junk Monsters (or whatever I wind up calling it), my project in which I take cheap toys, make monsters out of them, and then stat them up. I suspect the final form of this will be a series of blog posts that then gets combined with some bonus material into a PWYW PDF. 
To that end, I'm going to try to make at least one of my blog posts each week into a blog about the things I'm working on for these projects. That should motivate me to actually work on them regularly instead of trying to do it all in bursts. 

Thursday 23 June 2016

Dream dungeon?

OK, so -- the idea is that the characters get a way (the Helm of Subconscious Materialisation, I dunno) to project themselves into an unconscious character's mind so that they can retrieve some vital piece of information. Like, the only guy who knows a particular spell is in a coma, or the only one who knows the location of the missing princess, or what have you. So they have to go into his head to retrieve the knowledge, only the inside of his mind is essentially represented as a dungeon.

I guess that's The Cell, basically.

Good points:

  • It fits the existing metaphors we have about the subconscious -- for instance, we tend to think of the subconscious mind as being "down" or "buried" already. 
  • It solves the problem that not a whole lot in a dungeon may make sense by specifically using dream or psychological logic rather than physics. 
  • Speaking of The Cell, go nuts with all kinds of wacky Tarsem Singh imagery. 
  • But, crucially, it isn't totally random, and the players can still use their heads to figure out what they need to do; they just need to think thematically/emotionally. 
  • You can fit all kinds of surprises and clues into it in the form of memories and so on. 
  • Things the players do in the mind can actually affect the character's knowledge and behaviour when they wake up. 
  • What if some of the subconscious bad stuff makes it out along with the PCs because no one really knows how this works, so now Uncle Timothy's id is out there just running around unrestrained or whatever. 
Warning signs: 
  • Works best if it's an NPC that the characters know, so that it's not just "what is in the depths of a person's mind" but "what is in the depths of Uncle Timothy's mind?" Then you can both allow them to use what they know to figure out puzzles but also surprise them. 
  • I guess you could get away with it if it's a character that has a lot of heft in the game world -- like, if you're going into the mind of Batman or Robin Hood or Merlin or something where the idea that they have certain traits is already well-established in the expectation of the players. 
Alternative version: 
  • You could just have it such that there's some powerful force in the world that has an externalised mind in the form of a dungeon or a palace or something -- so Galactus is out there rampaging and the reason he can't be mind-controlled is that his space station is actually his mind, so you have to board it and get in there to reason with him or find out his weakness or whatever. You could either set this up such that nobody knows this and the players just go to the palace to rob it or the space station to desperately find a weapon to beat Galactus with, or you could have the fact that the palace controls the force/person's mind be a well-known thing so that it is jealously guarded by that person's faction and different groups are trying to take control of it. 
Designing as a product: 
  • You could either approach this dungeon just as a plain old dungeon where the gimmick is that it's someone's unconscious mind orrrrrrr you could go full nutso and (this is much more difficult) turn it into a system for generating what a person's brain-dungeon looks like. So, to take a D&D 5th example you could say, well, what about a person represents the things you might find in their mind? Well, their class and race, obviously, levels, Background, Int, Wis, and Cha, right? So each of those things leads to or influences a set of random tables or lists of elements you use to create the dungeon. Maybe what level they are (ie how old, how experienced) determines how big the dungeon is, for instance? 
  • Again, it depends on the system and setting assumptions. So, for instance, if we were doing this in Vampire: the Requiem, the house would be a spooky old house full of all the character's old enemies, dead friends and lovers in which horrible scenes from their past were constantly being played out and their Beast was a literal monster lurking in the basement. 
  • Or in Glorantha it might be a big hall filled with their ancestors, but then those are games that already have a pretty good line on modelling the character's unconscious and social context, you know? I think that the interesting thing about this idea is that dungeons are such a good metaphor for the unconscious mind in a game where the focus on challenge and action is often thought of as detracting from engaging with that kind of thing. 
Anyhow, that is just a thought I had after watching cartoons while trying to go to sleep. I guess it is mainly just Labyrinth already, or maybe A Nightmare on Elm Street, but whatever. 

Tuesday 21 June 2016

One of my really weird GMing weaknesses

So here is a random thought: as a GM, I have an almost-paralysing fear that a player will, in game, comment on an aspect of the plot that seems artificial or unrealistic. I compensate for this very badly, often by producing plots which have lessened conflict, since conflict in dramatic narratives often comes at the expense of realism. I don't know why I don't seem to mind players thinking my games are boring; maybe, paradoxically, it's because that's such a serious problem that people don't joke about it at the table. 

But every time a player jokes "well, here's the guy who's gonna die to show how the monster works" or something, I feel really terrible. I have been intentionally trying to write scenarios that are balls-to-the-wall nutso to train myself out of the habit. It's working OK so far, but it's a really weird problem to have in the first place and I am aware of that. 

Have a photo of some more miniatures doin' stuff: 

"Haunted bridge? Some people will believe anything."

Friday 17 June 2016

First game of Wasteman played

I have talked a bit in the past about Wasteman, the post-apocalyptic game from ThunderChild Miniatures, but although I have read it, I hadn't had the chance to play it until Thursday. 

I don't have many actual Wasteman minis painted up yet, but it's pretty straightforward to stat up whatever for the game. It only took a while because it was my first time. I created two posses. One consisted of fierce wasteland bandits:

Front row, left to right: The Chainiac, Lord Hockeystabs, The Gentleman Scavenger.
His umbrella is a ray gun. 
The next consisted of elite troops from the Lunar Coalition: 

Seen here discovering the delights of local lunar wildlife.
Not pictured: sniper, hardass leader in exo-armour.

We set up a scenario involving the bandits defending a stalled convoy from the Lunars. Doubtless they had something on there that didn't belong to them. 

The bandits take up positions around their caravan. 
Things got off to an inauspicious start when a passing giant monster stepped on some of my guys: 

... but fortunately as it proceeded across the table it then stepped on some of the attackers. 

The game itself is fast-paced, knockabout fun, with an alternative activation system and a very simple central combat mechanic. It reminded me a little of Song of Blades and Heroes in its activation system and in its basic few-stats-but-lots-of-special-skills setup. We finished a complete game in two hours, counting setup, and it was our first time. I suspect we could have played start to finish in 90 minutes if we'd had a couple of games under our belts. 

The random event cards were something I worried might disrupt the game, but actually I thought they added to the tone and excitement. You build a deck of these things and then draw a hand from it; they may be attacks against the other player, healing for your own guys, rerolls, extra actions, or what have you. Curiously accurate tornadoes kept sweeping models across the board, and at one point or another the leader of each faction was abducted by aliens. 

The gentleman scavenger is caught in the saucer's beam. 
This was a lot of fun and I think that Wasteman is going to go into my go-to skirmish pile alongside games like Frostgrave and Strange Aeons. It's fast-playing, but the factions, despite their mechanical differences being more what you might call guidelines, do feel distinctive. It's easy to adapt other models, but I like the Wasteman models enough that I'm definitely going to expand my collection. Above all, I love the goofy mixture of different genres of trash cinema and TV: it's all very Gamma World but with a bit more of the gross-out sensibility of the 70s. 

I feel like it wouldn't be too hard to rough out a set of campaign rules, but then I'd need more regular opponents. In other news, I need more regular opponents.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Spoilers in game blogging?

One of the reasons I write this blog is as a resource and a thinking-out-loud space for games I run. But I'm not sure that it is very effective in that role, partly because I'm so worried about spoilers. After all, I don't have a huge number of readers, which means that a lot of the people who read this are people I personally know. And some of those are people who might wind up playing in one of my games. 

I know that people say worrying about spoilers is a sign of bad writing or whatever, but I am 100% clear that a lot of my games work on gimmicks and shock value. When I put the eye guys on the table, I got the reaction I wanted from my players; "what the hell is that?!" Even apart from that, good encounters in D&D often have mystery elements, and that's not even mentioning my Requiem game, which is at least 50% a mystery/conspiracy game. 

Maybe I should just draft my posts before I introduce an element into the game. That way I can have the thinking-out-loud value of writing them, and then I can put them up after the thing appears, whenever that is. 

Anyway, this has just been me pondering. Thanks for reading; as a reward, have some pictures of miniatures. 

These are part of a series of vignettes I've been posting on the Facebook Oldhammer community as well as on other social media. Basically, now that I've got some free space on my workbench, I've been using it to shoot tiny little miniature scenes. So far I've focused on Oldhammer stuff, but I will probably eventually expand it to showcase the stuff I've painted for Strange Aeons, Frostgrave and (in progress) Wasteman. I will have a longer post to make about this series at a later time. 

Monday 13 June 2016

Frugal gaming: cheap summoning circle or plaza thingy

I was in Poundland on Saturday and grabbed up one of these. It's a stepping stone for your garden, and they come in a variety of different designs -- a compass rose, this sun thing and a more moon-looking symbol were the ones I saw, but there could be more. I think it will make a rather nifty feature for dungeons or Frostgrave or wherever.

Here it is in use as a summoning circle for a wizard to bring forth a djinn.

Pretty substantial; not bad for a quid. And a useful reminder that good gaming stuff can turn up more or less anywhere; just keep your eyes open wherever you go.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Frugal gaming: custom D&D bad guys

Having unique miniatures for enemies in your D&D game is very cool. But spending a lot of time and money on characters who are only going to appear once or twice is not practical! How to solve this problem? Frugal gaming, of course!

These bad boys represent some, er, bad boys, in this week's session of my D&D campaign. The players went looking for the notorious Pirate Queen of the Thousand Isles but ran into some villains with a certain ... theme.

These models represent various sort of tiers within the enemy force. The hapless humans who have fallen under its control have giant eyeball heads and come from a variety of sources, including some spare Wargames Factory Vikings given to me by my friend Kit and a Mordheim militia figure I've had lying around since I started to put together my WHFB Empire army in liiiiiike 2001 to 2002. There are more in the pipeline, including one based on an old plastic Dark Elf missing his head. The spheres used to make the heads are the projectiles that came with the little robots I bought a few posts ago. I kept them around because, well, you never know.

Speaking of Teutans, the eye walker thing is one of them; I think it'll make a good shrine or altar for this group.

The medium-sized eyes are bouncy balls that came in a pack of Halloween toys for 99p many years ago. I have more, but some are too yellowed by age to look good. I mounted them on cheapo flying bases from em-4 miniatures.

The big eye is a ping-pong ball from a pack of them I got at Poundland mounted on a later-style Citadel flying base.

The paint jobs on the zombies are a bit basic, but again, that's part of the idea -- if I thought I had to spend a lot of time on these guys who are only going to be in the game for a little while, I'd never do this kind of thing -- or worse, I'd railroad my players so that I knew where they were going to be months in advance.

Here is a shot of our heroes in action against two eye-guys, a smaller floating eye and their scurvy pirate thralls. Kaia is in the form of a giant frog.

Next session, they may run into the enemy leader: can you guess what it is?

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Further adventures in minis photography

I reorganised my terrain shelves, so now it should be easier to make little dioramas like this one: 

The model on the steps is a Time Lord from the old Citadel Doctor Who range, while the zombies are among the models I've had longest -- I think I got them out of the "tin bin" at Gamescape in Palo Alto when I was just a youngster. I have painted them at least twice over the years, and possibly more often.

These are two more, here seen confronting an old Metal Magic Servitor of the Outer Gods, now available from em-4/Moonraker:

Inquisitor Stompheader and his Engineer investigate a mysterious device in a Peterson's World slum.

These little scenes are imperfect, but they please me and I'll try to do more of them in future.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Working on photography

I am not very good at miniature photography; I can't tell if that helps to hide my paint jobs or actually makes them look worse. I know I should probably make a light box and maybe use a better camera than my phone, but on the other hand this kind of slapdashery is sort of my thing.

Anyway, I've been experimenting with more elaborate photo setups, so let's see what we've got.

This backdrop was a piece of packaging from a toy I bought ages ago to make scenery from, and the models are a Teutans toy and some Harlequin Doctor Who models. I think it looks OK!

"Behind you!"
The lighting's not as good in this one, possibly because a lot of it is natural and I shot it later in the day. Still, the scene is fun.

I don't have many other backdrops; this is an old Call of Cthulhu supplement, but it's not as great as the others. Trying to set it up to minimise glare, I struggled to get it to focus properly. The models are an old Doctor Who RPG figure and a couple of classic Citadel zombies.

Anyway, I will keep pushing forward and trying to make better stuff for the blog. I'm even thinking of doing some video tutorials for a frugal gaming project or two.

Friday 3 June 2016

Ramshackle Games musician painted

Another miniature received from the talented and generous Curtis Fell of Ramshackle Games, this robed figure has mechanical limbs and is playing the most futuristic of all instruments: the keytar!

His shoulder-mounted speaker reminds me of the old Squat musicians; I like the idea of him as some kind of anti-Noise-Marine, playing space-age synth solos to counteract their nerve-shredding, er, shredding. Perhaps he could take on my Ork army's Goff Rokker, Hello Cleveland, in some kind of musical duel to the death. Or he could just be another mysterious robed figure roaming the post-apocalyptic wastes; can't ever have too many of those.

Here he is with another robed tech-guy from Ramshackle and a lovely old Bob Olley techpriest. I think he fits in nicely. I've just noticed that his base is a bit sloppy, but here's the thing; I don't care.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

More megagame miniatures!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been helping a pal of mine prepare models for an upcoming megagame. This weekend we tackled the remaining models, which covered a range of different unit types in the game. Probably the biggest job was the rioters.

These 18 models come from Offensive Miniatures. I believe these are the "World Rioters" and "Masked Rioters" sets. One was missing a hand (you can see her at bottom right), so I replaced it with a hand holding a bat from the Wargames Factory apocalypse survivors set, which scaled nicely.

I threw together some test paint schemes: these are primed, then drybrushed up and coloured with washes and thin paints. Each of them took about 10-15 minutes.

On Friday, Bob and I sat down and just mashed these out. One of them was missing a hand, so I had to finish her on Saturday morning, but basically we got these all done in about four or five hours or so. We kept our paint scheme limited to a few basic colours, and I think it worked.

The paint jobs are simple, but the mob looks pretty good overall, I think. They would make a great addition to any near-future or modern game (or zombie apocalypse or whatever), and they are £22 for 18 figures, which is not half bad.

Next up were some structures for the aliens to build on Earth. These are pieces from a board game, I believe.

The last item on the list (for me; Bob was slaving away on the alien mothership, which I don't have a photo of) was a load of army units for the various nations in the game. These were just simple playing pieces that had to be given paint jobs in their nations' colours (the same ones used as the markings on the interceptors).

Bob separated them into their factions and I stuck them to popsicle sticks for priming.

A quick two-stage paint job later, they were all ready:

Our main concern was that it might be hard to tell yellow and orange apart, but I think they look quite distinct.

Anyway, there's going to be a lot of fun models in this game. In addition to the ones in this post and last, Bob also created some more alien units that might crop up during play. I think that this all shows that with a little creative nous, you can have a good-looking megagame without having to spend a whole lot of money.