Studies in red and green

Over the long MLK weekend I managed to get a little painting in. I’ve been kind of torn between prioritizing adventurers and monsters.  Although I have a fair number of player character types painted, we always end up using the same dozen or so for every campaign — there is a particular shortage of human rogues, rangers, druids, and bards, as well as demihumans other than dwarf fighters and elf archers. But then again we use a lot of different monsters and I get a sad sort of feeling of accomplishment when all of a given type of monster have finally been painted, sorted, and placed in a labeled box. (There might be meds that would help with that.)

Anyway for some reason I kept to a palette of mostly greens and reds for this last set.

Four adventurers: a gnome mage, a halfling fighter, a human thief, and a human bard.


The gnome is Ral Partha, the halfling Grenadier — one of my oldest minis in terms of how long I’ve owned it. My brother & I bought the Grenadier AD&D halflings and dwarfs boxes back in 1981 or so. The gnome is a much more recent acquisition — it was among those sent to me by someone looking for a better home for their old lead.


The thief is also Grenadier. Now that I see the pic enlarged I see he needs some eyelids — though I guess he could just have hyperthyroidism, or surprised.  He’s one of the minis I rehabbed a while back.


Lastly, the Groo the Wanderer “Minstrel” mini from Dark Horse. I didn’t get the color scheme quite right (his hat should be entirely yellow and the bells and belt gold) but I am happy with him. I traded for this guy though I forget from whom. :(  I love Sergio Aragone’s work in Mad Magazine but never read the Groo comics. I still have one other Groo mini — a wizard — that I am holding onto for a former player. He left it at my place several years ago, and I rarely bump into him any more.


Lastly, two demons — a Metal Magic succubus (actually a MegaMinis re-cast from their monsters box set) and a Reaper imp.  The imp is probably mini-me to the D&D 4th edition version of Orcus (link goes to an image in someone’s Photobucket — I think it is actually art from a module cover?), what with his mini Wand of Orcus.  FWIW I prefer the older version of Orcus, bloated, grey, and decadent, to the new buff generic demon with goat horns, but that’s me.  The succubus unfortunately has a flattened nose — either from falling face-down at some point or just an imperfection in them old. So to compensate I painted her face to suggest overdone make-up and draw attention to the eyes. NSFW if you work in a fairly puritanical environment.



Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Not with a bang, but a whimper

That’s the way my campaigns end. That’s the way my campaigns end. That’s the way my campaigns end.

So I’ve noticed that of the campaigns I’ve run, they tend to end with a nod and wink and “this a hiatus, not the end” but whatever my intention might be, they don’t re-start. Both times it was more DM fatigue than anything else, and DM fatigue has also killed a lot of campaigns I’ve played in. But I’ve also played in way too many campaigns that ended because several players had real life/responsibilities overtake their ability or desire to play. Sadly, I am pretty sure I have never seen a campaign actually play through to a conclusion, or end game, or PC retirement. Well, there was one fairly short but epic campaign, now that I think of it, which I think ran over a winter break from college, had about 13 players, and ended with a massive battle involving several hundred minis and the PCs…though honestly I am not 100% sure that we finished the battle before fatigue overtook us. It was a chaotic, short-lived, and awesome campaign. Come to think of it, there have been a few campaigns that just ended with a TPK, and usually the players or the DM or more likely both were just done with the game for whatever reason.* Still, the vast majority just end with tons of loose threads.

Now I’m not necessarily complaining about stopping in media res. There is actually something satisfying about feeling like we’ve told part of a story, but the adventures might continue in Meinong’s Jungle.

But, I do wonder what it would be like to play a campaign all the way through. I am thinking the next campaign I run should take the end game into account more explicitly. I absolutely hate “budgeting” XP and loot but maybe that’s the secret.




*Well-deserved TPKs that occur to me now:

  • A 3e game that had been drained of fun for the DM by one surly player’s constant rules-lawyering and min/maxing. (A dwarf cleric, because of course in 3e. But this was compounded by a loss of a player whose character was the reason all the PCs were working together. Actually I still kind of miss that campaign — Warhammer setting, 3e rules.)
  • A 3.5e game that petered out when the DM couldn’t take the players’ collective refusal to follow a railroad track. (The DM simply had his Mary Sues come and fireball us to hell. But we did burn down the town first.)
  • A 4e game where the players’ utter contempt for the system is probably best summarized by the party’s collective name: The Skullfuckers. (Contempt + hubris did us in, in this case — the party split up, some staying behind to loot corpses while others pursued some fleeing monsters, and we all ended up Ettercap food.)
Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  

No one here gets out alive

(Well except the dwarf, usually. In fact he’s usually the sole survivor.)

There have been several total party kills (TPKs) and near-TPKs (one or two survivors) in Telengard 2.0.  In fact the first session was a TPK if I recall correctly. <This post has been languishing in my “drafts” folder for long enough — we’ve been through like three other campaigns since then, and I haven’t been DMing much. Still, because I still grin when I read it, I’m going to go ahead with the post. Fair? No. Funny? I thought so:>

Based on the Telengard experiences, I think the following tips & tricks might be useful if you ever find yourself in a game I am running.

1) Consider fleeing when outnumbered by ghouls or ghasts.  Consider fleeing when encountering even one ghoul, if you are first level.

2) Wander into a room with a gaggle of imps who immediately turn invisible? Those are poisonous stingers, son.  Seriously, at least consider fleeing.

3) If the party’s resources are nearly depleted, it is a good time to consider exiting the dungeon, even if you think there might be some treasure nearby.

4) “Let’s just try one more room before heading back” and “Let’s just clear this level before heading back.” Those are lyrics to the Death March of a Doomed Party.

5) Trying to backstab or assassinate a major monster/villain/boss is only a good idea if you have an escape plan for if the roll fails. Jumping out the window of an 80′ tower is not an escape plan. Even if you have a ring of feather falling, if you also know the monster and/or its minions can fly.

6) Did I mention that 25% of PC deaths are preventable?  Some of the most effective measures you can take are: not being an unarmored front-line fighter; not touching the Yellow Mold; not bashing in a door with a sign that says “Caution, demi-lich at work.”

All of the above tips would have saved someone’s life at some point in Telengard.


As a player, I admit I am a hypocrite about fleeing, many times. But I do consider it an option.

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 4:00 pm  Comments (5)  

Merry Everything!

"""""""BOAS FESTAS"""""""
"""""""'N PRETTIG KERSTMIS"""""""

Enjoy your winter solstice celebration of choice! The above ASCII art is a polyglot Yuletide greeting posted annually to library forums by J. McRee (Mac) Elrod of Special Libraries Cataloguing

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 10:49 am  Comments (1)  
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Will McLean

The 1e Dungeon Masters Guide is still one of my favorite RPG books — maybe because when I began playing it was off-limits to players. You can supplement all the older versions of D&D with it pretty decently, and it fills in the gaps for retro-clones have too. Anyway one of the many things that were unique to it were the cartoons by Will McLean (not to be confused with the folk song writer). They weren’t all great but mostly they hold up. (I always thought there should be more cartoons in the Players Handbook, too.)

On a lark I looked him up online and I see he’s involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, big surprise. He also wrote a book on England in Chaucer’s time, and was involved with various SCA publications.

Mr. McLean has a Deviant Art gallery here, which is worth checking out, though it does not have his old DMG and Dragon Magazine toons.

Published in: on December 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Fantasy weapons

Some time ago B/X Blackrazor touched on an interesting issue that I’ve been pondering — the weapons we know developed in the world we know.  The arms & armor of our world evolved in a world where they were generally used against men and small set of domesticated animals — horses, and to a lesser extent elephants, camels, and dogs — and are distinct from the hunting weapons which were developed for use against specific prey. Of course, a boar-hunting spear might be used as a weapon of war, and in a pinch you could use a longbow to hunt rabbits, but the point is that arms have been fairly specialized.

So how would the existence of D&D monsters and dungeoneering affect the development of arms & armor?

  • What weapons would you carry into battle if you know you’re facing a necromancer’s horde? Blunt weapons maybe for use against skeletons, and maybe you’d be more tempted to use a big, heavy weapon if you know there are zombies that are themselves very slow but can take a lot of trauma.
  • Would spiked suits like the “Siberian bear hunting armor” be useful, for example if you know you are going up against creatures that will try to grab, grapple, or constrict you? The famous tale of the Lambton Worm comes to mind. Would spiked armor help with monsters that try to bite you, like ghouls?
  • Is there anything that would increase your chances versus a frost giant or a red dragon? I kind of doubt that any armor would matter when you’re facing the kinds of impact a huge beast could hit you with, but maybe the infamous “bear-proof suit” (not to be confused with the Siberian bear hunting armor mentioned above!) would help.
  • Would you design a different kind of helmet for dungeons, which would be less limiting to vision and hearing, or maybe have a candlestick instead of a plume? Real world helmets severely limit one’s ability to see down, up, and side-to-side, and by covering the ears limit hearing.
  • How about shortened versions of various weapons for indoor use, paralleling the shortened weapons used in naval boarding action (e.g. the cutlass as a shortened sabre, the boarding pike, the boarding axe, etc.)?

John D. Batten illustration, a public domain image from Wikipedia.


Some of the silly designs in Halbritter’s arms through the ages come to mind, like the bladed breastplate. Frankly I have not seen any really convincing “fantasy” weapons in video games, and the “exotic” weapons offered up in 3rd edition were a bust IMO, looking like they were more influenced by bong hits and manga than problem-solving. Still the real world produced messed up stuff like urumis and nine dragon tridents, so what do I know?

On a related note, the existence of flying, tunneling, and magic-using creatures (and humans) would obviously be a big game-changer to sieges and fortification. I think I’ve seen several people offer dungeons as a partial solution to that: by putting one under your castle, you are keeping out tunnelers, and also giving yourself a refuge against aerial bombardment. The Warhammer Fantasy Battle supplement “Siege” had another ad hoc notion: castles would include magical barriers in the foundations of the walls, so that magic is deflected or blocked by them and you can’t just send ethereal creatures or spells through or over the walls. (WFB Siege also made castle walls disrupt the undead, presumably to stop necromancers from just summoning wave after wave of skeletons at the walls (or sending skeleton cavalry through the walls — the WFB rules had skeleton cavalry ignore terrain and barriers because they are partly insubstantial, and the ramification that they could ride through walls was too game-breaking for a siege, I assume.)


Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 11:26 pm  Comments (10)  

Morlocks and more

I already use some classic wight minis and some plastic “beastmen” from Descent as morlocks, but when I was in the Columbus convention center for something work-related, I noticed a small games & comics shop nestled among the shops near the food court.  Inside I found a box of clearanced HeroClix figures, and I couldn’t rest getting a few.  A couple (Ulik, and The Abomination) I’m leaving as they were, but the rest looked like they could be pressed in D&D duty. The first batch are small horde of morlocks made from the Marvel Comics “Morlock” and “Moloids“.  The moloids were a little more suited to conversion, so I added weapons to them in place of the stalagmites they were holding. Then I repainted them all. These guys all have very good detail for plastics, and washes and drybrushing really bring them out.

Morlocks (which could equally serve as ghouls, wights, or morlocks)

Morlocks (which could equally serve as ghouls, wights, or morlocks). I don’t think he represented a particular Marvel character, just a generic trooper for the “Morlocks” — underground-dwelling mutants occasionally featured in the X-Men comics back in the 80s.



Moloids repurposed as small morlocks. The bugged eyes are a little goofy (the minis have goggles or visors) but what the hell.

A molid would also stand in pretty well for Gollum.


Side-by-side, the moloids are about goblin-sized and the morlocks slightly taller than the typical 28mm human.

One other item I painted about the same time is this Reaper Bones gravestone with a swarm of bats:

Reaper Nones bats

Reaper Bones bats

I was tempted to take them off the gravestone and just put them on a more generic base, suspended on a piece of wire. Still might.

Published in: on December 14, 2014 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bookjacking is a real thing, a real sh;tty thing

So I’ve never been terribly fond of for many reasons (they are a giant welfare queen, they put b&m bookstores out of business, the Kindle is disposable rather than repairable, … feel free to add your own grievances to the list).

But today I learned of yet another atrocity. In this case it is not really Amazon’s fault, though it is something they tolerate and apparently make no effort to stop. I am talking about “bookjacking” — the practice of using software to find books listed on one but not another book seller site (Amazon, Abebooks,, etc.) and automatically relisting said item on the other sites, at a markup. And by “markup” I mean a potentially huge markup. Though you could say “caveat emptor” and yeah you should probably shop around, the fact is that they are exploiting and hurting consumers, plain and simple. By automating this process, these phony sellers are able generate sales, and feedback, so that they look legit, even though they just act as middlemen and do nothing but run algorithms through the sites. A more detailed explanation of the process is here at Zubal Books’ site.  Do not patronize the bookjackers identified there.

If you are like me, you occasionally purchase out of print titles. These bookjackers drive up prices  and use deceptive advertisements (see Zubal Books above — the bookjackers use weasel words and ambiguous, generic descriptions because they are not examining the merchandise, they never see it). If you want to see what bookjacking looks like for RPG titles, see this listing (it will no doubt change over time but as of this writing there are listings for the Judges Guild “Dark Tower” module with prices all ranging from $115 to over $325, and all the conditions are blank or generic BS like this: “Item may show signs of shelf wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. Includes supplemental or companion materials if applicable. Access codes may or may not work. Connecting readers since 1972. Customer service is our top priority.” (emphasis added)


Published in: on December 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm  Comments (16)  
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“I heard you can do anything. I’m going to decapitate you.”

So this Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to introduce D&D to four nieces and nephews, as well as my own kid. We’d messed around with a sort of rules-light variation on D&D before, and they’d all set up my minis and terrain and played with my D&D stuff, but this time we doing it for real: rolling up actual characters and playing according to actual rules — in this case, my trust B/X set. I just ignored the chance of success/failure on Thief and racial skills, gave maximum HP, used 4d6 (I think some just took them in order, and some arranged them after rolling) and threw them into it. At the tavern, where all their ne’er-do-well PCs had spent their last coin, they heard about two wizard towers that were worth checking out — the ruins of the tower of Elandin, and the abandoned tower of the Stargazer. (BTW thanks to everyone who commented last time with suggestions for a first adventure. Tower of the Stargazer really fit the bill on most counts, but the other suggestions were all solid too. In the end I went with Tower of the Stargazer, as I’d read it before, and thinking they’d blow through it really quickly I also brought the Endless Tunnels of Elandin, which is a free module at Dragonsfoot by the multi-talented S. Poag. I particularly like some of the tricks & traps in this one.)

They decided that a standing tower sounded better than a ruin and set out. Meet the party:

Commander, aka Commander Poop, aka Warrior, the fighter


Angry Horse (formerly Lord Dexterity), the thief


Spike, the Elf


Belladonna, halfling


Captain Candles, another elf


the two grownups playing were Killian, dwarf


and Raydor the Mysterious, magic-user


There were some road-bumps, mostly because Commander’s player was obsessed with killing and robbing everyone he met, including the other PCs. This eventually rubbed off onto Belladonna and Captain Candles, who had to be restrained by the dwarf and sleep spells. The title of this post is one of his pre-game taunts … he had been telling another player he was going to kill his character when we played, and one of his older sibs told him he couldn’t do that. :)

Even so, they managed to overcome some bandits on the way to the tower, and to get inside the Tower of the Stargazer.  They explored the first floor, and found the trap door to the basement.  The undead creatures in the prison cells did in the dwarf, so I decided that, given that there was no healing magic in the party, I’d give them a few gimmes — the wine from the sitting room had healing properties, and this also saved Commander Poop, as well as Spike. The biggest challenge for the party was the mirrors in the alcove. Because the first PC benefited from the first mirror, they tried out every one. Several PCs lost points of from their attributes, and the character sheets above reflect the vicissitudes of the mirrors. Commander Poop ended up trapped inside a mirror, but fortunately he had a henchman (his cousin, Major Lord) along so he has a replacement. We stopped after about 2 or 2 1/2 hours of play time, but everyone wants to resume the game the next time we’re all together, so mission accomplished!


Published in: on November 29, 2014 at 9:36 pm  Comments (7)  

Help me, OSR Kenobi, you’re my only hope again, or, Once more unto the well…

The good news is that nieces and nephews and my child (ranging from 4th grade to high school) are totally into playing D&D tomorrow after Thanksgiving dinner at Nana’s house, and everyone is staying the night so we could potentially play more than an hour or two if we want. But as usual I’ve dropped the ball on planning anything. I’d like their first game of real D&D to be fun, and a good taste of what the game is about, not least because at least the oldest could probably start a campaign on her own for her friends and I want to set a good example.

I’m kind of thinking there should be:

  • an introductory fight to learn the ropes
  • some exploring
  • at least one trick or trap to overcome
  • at least one more fight they can avoid
  • at least one NPC to talk to
  • a final fight with a boss type

Is there a free starter adventure like that you know of? Maybe a One Page Dungeon, or something like that, not too tied to any system (I am thinking B/X aka “1981 Basic D&D” is the way to go with this). Even a suggestion regarding a trick/trap or NPC would be helpful, since the other stuff is pretty easy to improvise. Thanks in advance!

Published in: on November 26, 2014 at 11:35 am  Comments (10)  
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