6/3/18

Miniatures


   This post is a collection of personal tips and analysis regarding miniatures. You may find it, or some of it, useful, and even interesting. As always, take what works for you, and leave the rest – that’s what the almighty blogosphere is all about.

   I first started to paint minis when I was 13 years old, and I still have a few of the figures I painted back in those days. Needless to say, they are ugly. But then again, the sculpts themselves were not that good, especially if you compare to the amazing figures available today.

   My painting skills improved over a period of five years, and then I quit painting minis because I started to play different games that did not really require them. Fast forward to 2014 and I picked up the brushes again, because I started to run a good old First Edition AD&D campaign, and who in their right mind would ever want to do that without some miniatures?

   Geeking out for real here.



1. THE PAINTING

   Painting miniatures is difficult. It’s far from being brain surgery, but still much more difficult than making toast. Don’t get deterred by the breathtaking stuff you see online. If you look things up on the Internet, honestly, you’ll never start anything new, ever. You won’t take up chess, because Garry Kasparov. You won’t take up sculpture, because Michelangelo. You won’t take up basketball, because Michael Jordan. And you won’t take up miniatures painting, because HopeRiver.

   Of course, if you type “Space Marines” into Google, you’ll get the best, most gorgeous Space Marines on the Internet. These guys are professional figure painters. The little ordinary painter won’t post pictures of his Space Marines. But trust me when I tell you – there are way more crappy Space Marines than there are professional ones.

   Whatever the heck it is that you do, somebody on the Internet is ten times better at it, and if everyone who played basketball quit playing after watching the NBA guys, that would be a damn shame. So keep playing, and keep painting. Just don’t obsess over it.

   Know that HopeRiver is out there, and that her work is awesome. If you ever need one important figure professionally painted, hit her up for a commission, you won’t be disappointed. But for the rest, don’t look at the Internet too much. Paint your own minis, and try to improve yourself over time.

   Start with the easy stuff. Paint some elementals, zombies, and werewolves. Elementals don’t carry equipment: they don’t have belts, pouches, backpacks, bracers, talismans or fur-lined cloaks. You’ll tackle these later. Begin by practicing on creatures with less detail. Zombies are excellent to practice layering – if the result is ugly, it’ll still work, because that ugly shade is rotting flesh and clothing.


   And when you put those figures on the table during a game, if there is one player who says, “Shitty paint job,” then you can reply, “Well, you know I do this for free, don’t you? I run three or four games a year for you guys, and also paint all the miniatures. I don’t get a buck out of it. When did you run your last game?”

   Professor Barker started to use miniatures in his campaign back in 1976, and he used to say, “Miniatures need only be good enough.

   Start painting, take good care of your brushes, and persevere. The first ten figures will look like crap. Then you’ll get better. And you will know when you reach your very own “good enough”.


   For instance, this ettin is perfectly okay to put on the game table. When you pull it out, your players certainly won’t start admiring the shading techniques you used; they’re just gonna say, “Ettin, shit. You kill it, Eric. You’ve got your ranger damage bonus thing.”

   Even if you paint the most subtle, exquisite nuances, who’s really going to enjoy them? You can’t even properly photograph miniatures unless you’re in a professional studio environment with the correct lighting and all that crap. Otherwise, there’s always gonna be a glare or something. You don’t want to have to become a professional photographer also.

   Tabletop gamers and professional miniature photographers are two separate things. Some professional miniature photographers are also tabletop gamers, sure – but it’s not an absolute rule.

   In my humble opinion, even ‘ardcoat is optional. It depends on the figure. Magma elemental: yes. Stone golem: no. Magma is shiny. Stone isn’t. And Citadel’s ardcoat is very shiny. So shiny in fact, it’ll make you lose part of your drybrush highlights. I won’t use ‘ardcoat on every figure. What’s up with a shiny bugbear? I have also decided not to use it on player character minis, either. I do not want PCs to shine (pun unintended).



2. PLANNING A GAME

   “Which figures do I absolutely want the party to encounter?” This is the first question I ask myself when planning a new session. Start with what you want to see on the table for sure, and then build around that and add other monsters / enemies that are less likely to make an appearance.

   This is one very important thing I’ve learned. The boss is not necessarily what I call the core encounter – or busiest encounter – of the game. Miniatures are nothing but a gaming aid meant to clarify chaotic / complex situations. From a miniatures point of view, your core encounter is the one where you have the most figures out on the table at the same time. I’ve got a lot of unpainted cultists: they’re going to be a core encounter sometime in the near future. I’ve also got a shitload of unpainted orcs: that’s gonna be a core encounter next year. Make yourself a painting schedule: it helps a lot.


   No monster is boring. This is a role-playing game, not a video game. Give this monster a story. Make it part of something bigger. I recently took simple skeletons and made them amazing by conjugating them with living frescoes à la Tegel Manor – they regenerated any broken bones from painted bones flying out of the frescoes, which were huge eternal battlefields scattered with bones. Players loved it.

   Some creatures are unpopular, and there’s not much we can do about it. Sculptors don’t think it’s even worth their time and effort. Don’t search for bandits: you won’t find any. I mean, real bandits – bare-chested, with rotten pants and matted hair and knives and clubs. Nobody makes them. And don’t try to find female undead, either. Ghoul, zombie, mummy or lich, nobody makes female versions of those. And don’t go looking for Lava Children, one of my favorite monsters from the original Fiend Folio. They don’t exist. Trust me. I checked. And you won’t find any figure of the first Cat Lord from Monster Manual II – and the logical replacement for it, Michael Jackson miniatures, are not available in 28mm.



3. MINIS OR NO MINIS?

   In the ‘90s, miniatures were “out”. Believe it or not, even Dungeons & Dragons was “out” between 1989 and 2000. Some folks thought it was a superior stage of evolution in role-playing games. I won’t dive into this topic here. No sir.

   I used to play in a campaign like that. Pure thought. Everything was only described to us orally. Never a single map. Never a handout. Never a picture. And I really mean n-e-v-e-r. Our brains are the most powerful computers, right?

   One day, we got into a big fight in the middle of the audience chamber of some petty Lord, and it was quite confusing. At the beginning of round three or four I said, “Hold on. When you say, ‘the two guards that initially stood by the door’, which door are you referring to exactly? The one we entered through, or the one the Lord used? And those three other guards hanging by the fireplace? You said the Lord went to stand close to the fireplace, right? How come I am currently fighting one of those ‘three other guards’, but am still ‘on opposite sides of the room’ in relation to that damn Lord? Man, lemme draw a quick little map here...”

   And I did.

   The other players were very glad to finally have an overview of what was happening. It made things less vague. “Theater of the Mind” is okay when it’s just the PCs against two big monsters, because each player knows if he or she is fighting Mr Ogre or Mr Troll. But when it’s 6 player characters against 5 guards plus 1 Seneschal and 1 Lord, you’ll definitely need something visual.

   And this, by the way, is also why you don’t need a Demogorgon miniature. When it’s “the entire party against one big baddie” you won’t need minis: it’s a static fight scene. Big baddie in the center, characters around it. No need for a visual. Players can process that.

   Even in those games that are not usually associated with miniatures, you will need to use miniatures – or at least a map – once in a while. One of my friends runs the Walker in the Wastes campaign for Call of Cthulhu. Most games, we don’t need miniatures. But there was this time at the end of chapter one – crazy, giant battle in the middle of an Inuit village – and that utter mayhem called for almost fifty figures on the table.

   Miniatures are to tabletop role-playing games what video replay is to professional sports. The game is the thing. Minis are nothing but a pretty cool gaming aid.

   Know when to use this gaming aid, and when not to bother with miniatures at all. Also, know when there’s room for improvement in your painting technique, and when your figures are good enough. Chances are, they may be good enough already.


4/23/18

Strongholds & Followers


   When something this big happens, there is going to be a few blog posts about it. They say it is one of the top ten most profitable Kickstarters of all time. Two million dollars, just to write a game supplement – that is really something. Let’s do the math, shall we? Word count in a normal GURPS or White Wolf supplement hovers around 60K. Divide two millions by 60,000 and lo and behold – Matt Colville will earn $34 per word he types. It’s almost absurd. This right here is peak RPG profit margin if there was ever such a thing.

   Between Arneson and Gygax who both ended their lives in near poverty, and Steven Erikson who received one million dollars for his entire Malazan Book of the Fallen (ten tomes and over 2 million words total), this Strongholds & Followers thing looks like an aberration. Erikson earned 50 cents per word – which is already a very sweet deal for a writer.

   If Colville had been writing this blog post, he would have made $5,440 already.

   But how can his book ever live up to its landmark profit margin? It’s unimaginable. The end result is bound to be a disappointment. Yes, I admit I am curious to see that “two-million-dollar supplement”. At least one of my friends will buy it, since he buys everything RPG. But I don’t need to buy it, since I already have Lion Rampant’s original Ars Magica.

   Because that’s just it, isn’t it? Strongholds & Followers is really Ars Magica for D&D.

   Ars Magica is a role-playing game of political alliances, political borders, diplomacy, intrigue, public relations with the “mundanes”, tribunals, and basically managing the resources of a covenant. The magi have Companions and Grogs – in other words, followers –, and they seldom have to trade and interact with other covenants. My friends and I played Ars Magica for a solid ten years, and it was awesome. Here’s a confession: sometimes you will skip the tedious upkeep and go straight to the next adventure. Who around the table is going to make contact with that old beekeeper who lives downhill from the covenant? Who wants to role-play the boring negotiation scene with the local fishermen? Vincent, you up for it? Fuck that. Just roll percentile dice and be done with it.

   Sooner or later, the magi always end up going on yet another adventure anyway – and leaving the covenant into the (usually) capable hands of some NPC. So, the covenant or stronghold or temple isn’t the centrepiece of the game; embarking on adventures is still the centrepiece. True sedentary campaigns only work up to a certain point.

   And let’s not forget vis. What is an Ars Magica covenant without a source of vis? For those who are definitely not familiar, what we call “vis” is the main commodity in Ars Magica. Raw vis consists of physical, storable, tradable “magic points” that need to be harvested in remote magical places (for instance, a sacred glade or mysterious cavern) at exactly the right time of year. Covenants usually have jurisdiction over one such magical place. Some covenants can control two, three, or even four different vis sources. Very powerful / influential covenants may control five vis sources – we’re talking between 15 and 30 resident magi here. And of course there are some “disputed” sources of vis. These may be located halfway between covenant A and covenant B, or maybe there was a very old clause in that covenant’s charter about the magi from the neighboring covenant being allowed to harvest a fixed quantity of vis once every seven seasons – but the head of the covenant has been replaced in the meanwhile, and that new master refuses to honor that outdated clause. Clashes often ensue. Sometimes, the dreaded Mage Tribunals are needed to settle disputes – and the votes there can be bought... with vis, obviously!

   Now, tell me why in hell wouldn’t Matt Colville implement something eerily similar to vis in Strongholds & Followers, some kind of magic currency that will generate constant competition between neighboring Strongholds / Temples / Towers, and force the PCs or their followers to encroach upon the domains of rival Strongholds / Temples / Towers? I believe Colville would be crazy not to include that.

   In the end, bringing higher level D&D characters into a geopolitical Ars Magica adjacent setting is not a bad idea. It’s the sort of thing DMs do all the time in their home campaigns. I had a friend who ran an extensive, multigroup campaign of HârnMaster set in Middle-Earth’s Second Age; he called it “Middle-Hârn”, and it was a good idea. I myself once ran a King Kull campaign using Warhammer Fantasy’s system and career paths. That, too, was a nice idea. Dungeon Masters have been doing stuff like this since 1974. It’s called a homebrew.

   The difference now is that you can put your homebrew “idea” on Kickstarter, and pretend like Middle-Hârn is a fresh, never before seen take, while in fact it’s nothing more than Tolkien’s ideas plus HârnMaster.

   If you look up “plagiarize” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it says, “to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source”. I mean, look all around you. It’s everywhere. We have undeniably crossed the Rubicon––

   Midnight, Texas is Grimm.

   Deception is The Mentalist.

   The Emperor has no clothes.

   And nobody cares.


2/18/18

Explore vs Repel


   Just like in everything else, there is a political spectrum in tabletop gaming. You have the right, the left, and the center. Some games are focused on Exploration – that’s towards the left. Other games are focused on Repelling – that leans towards the right. When there’s no clear, definite enemy against whom both characters and players struggle constantly, that game is to the left of the spectrum. When there is a clear enemy to push back, that game is more to the right. One of the key tenets of fascism is that there’s an “other” against whom “we” must defend. Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS are good examples of “Exploration” games. Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer are good examples of “Repelling” games.

   High concept settings are not necessarily to the right of the spectrum, but one thing’s for sure, it’s hard leaning to the right when you’re in a generic, low concept fantasy kingdom in the middle of a generic, fantasy forest, and heading towards the nearest generic, fantasy town.

   Everybody knows Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a racist, but I don’t think his message was a racist warning. It was a warning of a much greater magnitude: science and reason both have their limits – the rest is limitless and unimaginable. Dark matter, anyone?

   No, the lovecraftian message isn’t inherently racist, I don’t think so; but the role-playing game inspired by HPL’s works evidently falls into the “Repelling” category – like I said, the repelling of pesky invaders is a core tenet of fascism since the days of Sparta and even before that.

   As for Warhammer, well, I’m certainly not the first guy to say it. Haven’t seen many Latino or Asian or Black Space Wolves lately, and the constant struggle against “chaos” in the Old World left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth, even though I played and even ran that game many times. Then again, games like Warhammer 40K are direct descendants of the kriegsspiels of old, and those were based on Napoleonian warfare – in other words, European troops, not Zulus or Aztecs.

   The main focus of D&D is to explore dungeons and gain treasure, while the main focus of Warhammer – any iteration of it – is to repel pesky invaders. This alone ought to tell you something fundamental. Warhammer 40K is a huge favorite among the 1d4chan shut-ins, and some of the stuff that is being discussed over there is just plain sad.

   And then there’s a second degree to this entire thing.

   A debate about diversity at the gaming table is currently going on in social media, and that is also quite reminiscent of the left vs right affair. Proponents of inclusiveness and gatekeepers don’t hang out in the same spaces, because gatekeeping means “Repel”, while inclusiveness and diversity means “Explore”. It seems convenient, but it’s all part of the same sweeping phenomenon.

   The world has undergone a paradigm shift. We now live in a “sharing” society, and those who refuse to share are viewed with growing contempt and suspicion. Of course, this is much less apparent with Monopoly, for instance, because you don’t usually play Monopoly with a bunch of strangers; thus, you’re not expected to “share” your Monopoly experience or stream it live – although someone is probably doing it.

   You’re much more likely to share your poker experience, because poker was originally a frontier game, and it was naturally meant to be played with a bunch of strangers.

   Role-playing games started out with a strong convention / tournament spin. Players used to roam from one DM to another with the same character. This style of organized play slowly but surely died out when the high concept, Silver Age RPGs appeared. In a game with lots of background info, players can’t go from one DM to the next, it’s impossible. Less sharing was inevitable. Complex homebrew campaigns are also bound to be fixed and confined. Low concept games are easily sharable.

   Just don’t pay any attention to the gatekeepers. There will be gatekeepers in every game and pastime. I have seen severe noob bashing in MMORPGs. I have heard of people being ridiculed by seasoned fishermen when they first took up fly fishing. I have heard stories of gatekeeping in the centuries-old game of Go. And have you ever tried playing Magic at your FLGS when you only recently started building up your deck?

   Mind you, inclusiveness and diversity can also go a bit too far. Someday, someone is going to roll up an Illithid-Dragonborn Undead Assassin/Paladin, and one poor Dungeon Master is just gonna quit. But that is in-game diversity. At the table itself, it can’t ever go too far.

   This rule of thumb (if I may even call it that) is far from being absolute. It is kind of yin and yang, to be honest: there’s always gonna be a bit of exploration within the repelling, and there’s always gonna be a bit of repelling within any type of exploration. Threat remains ever present. It’s the proximity that counts. If a danger is out there” somewhere, it’ll be called exploration; but if that danger is right here at our doorstep, then it’ll be called repelling. Cortés was exploring. The Aztecs were repelling. The terrible threat of extinction would never reach all the way to Spain itself.

   You have to explore the Caves of Chaos from The Keep on the Borderlands, but you have to repel the Hordes of Chaos Undivided that pour into Kislev.

   Choose your threat level.


1/16/18

Rogue One Big Letdown

   Friends and even work colleagues kept bugging me about Rogue One for over a year now. “It’s the best of them,” they all said. “If you had to see one of the new movies, it’s definitely Rogue One! You’ll love it!”

   So I watched it.

   First thing I noticed: the laws of physics are different with Disney. Two star destroyers of equal mass collide in orbit, and the first ship cuts through the second one like a red-hot spatula across a slice of thin-crust veggie pizza. That’s just plain impossible. If two objects of equal mass collide, both are supposed to sustain equal damage. Where the hell is this big heap of nonsense coming from?

   Then we have the destruction of Jedha. It’s a small town on top of a canyon, the size of seven or eight modern city blocks – the fallout of that destruction isn’t supposed to be that immense, and it cannot continue for, like, six entire minutes. It reminded me of that J.J. Abrams film with the enormous (literal) train wreck, and railcars that keep falling out of the sky for an entire two-minute scene. No kidding. There’s even some dialogue between the characters in the meanwhile – and then another train wagon comes crashing down behind them, boom. Physics 101, guys. Breathe.

   Second thing I noticed: the tower of Orthanc. What the heck is Darth Vader doing in friggin’ Isengard? The Disney people decided that Vader should have his own awesome villain’s lair and that it was long overdue, so they gave him a whole volcano planet with a sinister pointy black tower in the middle of nowhere. That’s ridiculous. Darth Vader ought to live on Coruscant near the Emperor’s palace, or even in that palace. Bormann was in Berlin, with Hitler. Pence lives in Washington, near Trump. Think about it. His own isolated planet with a vaguely Muslim name – if that’s not the most counterproductive thing ever, I don’t know what is.

   So, Darth Vader is Saruman, the good Maia (Jedi) who turned evil and allied himself with Sauron (Darth Sidious). Did they figure that out two years ago, or did they give the tower of Orthanc to Vader unconsciously? Either way, this is incredibly lame.

   Third thing: consistency. They think they have it right, but they sure don’t. In ‘77, it was an “intercepted transmission” Vader was looking for. Now it’s a hard drive that is passed from hand to hand down the length of a corridor, all the way to the hatch of Leia’s consular ship. That right there is one BIG inconsistency.

   Leia’s ship jumps into hyperspace; Vader’s star destroyer jumps into hyperspace; Leia’s ship exits hyperspace near Tatooine; Vader’s star destroyer also exits hyperspace near Tatooine – and captures Leia.

   Okay. Fleeing isn’t an option anymore.

   Strangely enough, that is the part that irked me the most. In the Star Wars universe, once your ship jumps into hyperspace – you’re safe. You are gone. No enemy will be able to track you, unless they know your ship’s exact course beforehand, which, in the case of Leia’s ship at the end of Rogue One, is absolutely impossible.

   But Darth Vader’s ship is still in pursuit during the opening sequence of A New Hope, right? How can that be? Why then didn’t Vader pursue the Millennium Falcon at the end of The Empire Strikes Back? This would have gotten him straight to the Alliance fleet!

   If we posit that Scarif is located along the Manda Merchant Road, then Leia’s ship disappears somewhere towards the Western Reaches. That general direction offers a lot of possibilities: Tatooine, Geonosis, Naboo, Dagobah, Bespin, Hoth, Endor, and scores of other systems. Where’s the Rebel base in all of that? It’s like trying to find a needle in a galactic haystack. Vader has to guess. Maybe that ship isn’t going back to the Rebel base right away. But why wouldn’t it? Maybe Alderaan? What’s more important and pressing than securing the stolen plans that just cost them so many lives? What’s the exact bearing of the Tantive IV (Leia’s consular ship), and how long do they intend to remain in hyperspace – because, of course, a difference of a few minutes may take you to the next system, and a difference of one degree may take you through a red giant star!

   How did Vader get it right? And don’t say, “The Force,” either. He couldn’t sense the Rebels on Hoth without wasting millions of Palpatine’s precious dollars on probes.

   Look at what Disney did here. They wanted to seamlessly link the end of Rogue One with the beginning of A New Hope, and they wanted this so bad, they broke something fundamentally canon in order to achieve it. Bravo, guys!


Other noteworthy failures

   Why is Galen Erso stepping up to prevent evil Imperial engineers from being executed? It makes no sense at all. This guy built a flaw in the Death Star’s reactor that will eventually kill eighty thousand stormtroopers and other Imperial personnel, but he draws the line at... six Imperial engineers?

   Make up your mind, Galen. Do you want the Imperials to perish, or not? You know you can’t win if you’re not sure, don’t you? You need to be sure. You need to be adamant. You need to be consistent.

   There’s also a huge problem with Grand Moff Tarkin. The man is just too much for me to digest, really. Who the fuck does he think he is? He orders the bombing of the Imperial laboratory on Eadu, and then uses the Death Star to completely destroy the main Imperial data center on Scarif. By my rough calculations, it amounts to 5 billion dollars’ worth of infrastructure. Man, I’d love to be a fly on the wall during his next audience with the Emperor...

PALPATINE: “Approach, Governor Tarkin. It has been quite a while, isn’t it?”

TARKIN: “It has, Your Highness.”

PALPATINE: “You appointed yourself as commander of my new battle station?”

TARKIN: “A temporary decision, Your Highness. Purely informal. Krennic was untrustworthy. Of course, you can now appoint anyone else you want to that post.”

PALPATINE: “I probably will, Governor. Maybe you are of a mind to govern the whole Empire, are you?”

TARKIN: “Of course not, Highness. I’d never think that––”

PALPATINE: “You also blew up our base on Scarif.”

TARKIN: “A necessary sacrifice, Your Highness. Rebel intruders got inside the Tower...”

PALPATINE: “How many Rebels? Five hundred?”

TARKIN: “Uh, more like five, Your Highness.”

PALPATINE: “You vaporized sixteen thousand officers, highly trained technicians, troopers and Imperial droids, just to get rid of five Rebels?”

TARKIN: “Uh...”

PALPATINE: “This facility was worth billions, Governor. Did you ever think about that?”

TARKIN: “You don’t understand, Highness––”

PALPATINE: “Thread lightly, Governor. What is it you think I don’t understand?”

TARKIN: “...”

PALPATINE: “Go back to the Death Star, there to await my orders. Do not blow anything up on a whim. It is a battle station, not your personal toy. And the cost of rebuilding Scarif and the crystal refineries on Eadu will, of course, be deducted from your pay.”

TARKIN: “...”


Final word

   I did it. I saw “the best of them all”. I honestly don’t feel the urgent need to watch the others. One movie a year, that’s a bit too much. As for The Last Jedi, from what I read on Twitter, critics loved it, but the fans, not so much. Why am I not surprised? Critics won’t bite the hand that feeds them.

   Let’s not forget one thing here. The new films are written by fanboys and fangirls: people like me, who saw Star Wars back in the late seventies when they were kids. Now, unlike me, they work at Disney and they’re on a high – blinded by their sheer love of the franchise. But a fan movie remains a fan movie, whatever the Intellectual Property documents might say. Same way a cover band remains a cover band, even if you happen to legally acquire the rights to the songs you play. “Dave’s Iron Maiden” will never be Iron Maiden, despite Dave’s very best efforts.


12/26/17

THAC0

   I never understood the THAC0 debate.

   Everybody rolls a d20 when their character is attempting to hit an opponent – that won’t change. How you determine the difficulty of the roll is a technical aspect of the game that DMs should tackle while prepping their session. I never look at Armor Classes during a game: everything I need is on my cue cards. I fill one such card for each and every monster or NPC the player characters might possibly encounter during a game. Prepping is when I look at all the AC and To Hit matrixes. I check every possible combination.

   For example, gargoyles. Four / five Hit Dice monster. Gargoyles hit the Dwarf (AC -1) on a roll of 16; they hit the bard or the ranger (both AC 0) on a 15; hit the cleric (AC 2) on a 13; hit the thief (AC 3) on a 12; hit the magic-user (AC 7) on a 8. The PCs hit those AC 5 gargoyles on a roll of 13 for the level 4 fighters (Dwarf, bard, ranger), 13 also for the level 5 cleric, 14 for the level 5 thief, and 16 for the level 4 magic-user. All that info goes right on the cue card.


   Then you do that again for the grells and again for the wights and the carrion crawlers and the clay golem and the boss, whatever he / she is. When you run the actual game, you no longer need to bother with any Armor Class.


   THAC0 or no THAC0, it’s all the same. Each character rolls a d20. Each monster rolls a d20. It’s been like that since 1974. If you do the prep work and do it well, then there is no difference between First Edition and Fifth Edition. There was never a real debate. It’s just how you tell your players what number they need to hit.

   You’re welcome.

   If anyone wants to hit me, they need 15.


12/7/17

Citadel AD&D Beholder

   Let’s write a short post about the great 1985 Citadel Beholder, for no reason other than there’s not much stuff out there about it.

   This baby was sculpted by Nick Bibby, and looks exactly like the original beholder in the Monster Manual – not those newer, meaner beholders-on-steroids we see these days. The transparent base is long gone – I wasn’t quite careful in the late eighties and nineties – but I might give it a fire bat or black dragon base and get that beholder flying again.


    One of the ten eyestalks has broken off, and I honestly don’t remember if it broke while in storage, or if the clumsy 14-year-old me tried to bend one eyestalk and snapped it. But the missing eye is still cool. It gives this beholder a sort of “battle scar” feel, and when I eventually fling it on the table in my current First Edition AD&D game, the players will automatically wonder out loud, “Which of the deadly powers is gone? Please let it be the death ray! Please let it be the death ray!

   I have no intention of twisting or bending the 9 remaining stalks, because in my humble opinion, beholders look way cooler when they “stretch” all of their eyestalks, like in this awesome picture from the CM3 adventure Sabre River (see the archives for a full post about this killer module: 04/05/2015).


    Reminds me of a cobra’s neck hood, or the Australian frilled dragon with that collar around its head. Mean.


    From the same short-lived Citadel AD&D line, I’m also lucky enough to have kept the amazing troll and the gorgeous owlbear. To think that these little guys are now over 30 years old!




10/22/17

Fourscore Phantasmagores

   If you are running a game of Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, Numenera, or basically any other fantasy role-playing game, you probably have to deal with at least one savvy player who knows the monster stats by heart.

   “Five Hit Dice, guys! That’s 40 HP max! We got this!

   The phones and tablets are yet another nuisance, these days. Players whip ‘em out immediately to check your monster’s Special Attacks or Magic Resistance. Annoying, right?

   Surprise them with new monsters!

   Rupert Bottenberg’s book, Fourscore Phantasmagores, offers eighty (that’s right, 80) new creatures for your campaign. Each of these monsters have its own explanatory text and gorgeous illustration, but no stat-block – so it can be “adapted” in virtually any game system you want, including your 100% homebrew campaign world.

   See the look on your players’ adorable little faces when you show them this picture, for example:


   “What the hell is that?” says the savvy player.

   “It is called a Blightseer,” you reply.

   Three of them whip out various devices and immediately google “Blightseer”. They come up with what we might call a big fat zip. O joy!

   Even if they find the link to Fourscore Phantasmagores and ChiZine Publications, that won’t provide them with any in-game advantage, since the creatures’ stats are your own.

   My take on the Blightseer, in classic First Edition AD&D format:

Blightseer
FREQUENCY: Very rare
NO. APPEARING: 1
ARMOR CLASS: 4
HIT DICE: 6+4
NO. OF ATTACKS: 1
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1-8 (+2)
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Ray of Enfeeblement
SPECIAL DEFENSES: Cannot be Surprised
MAGIC RESISTANCE: 60%
INTELLIGENCE: High
ALIGNMENT: Neutral

   Note that I didn’t write the text that’s supposed to follow the stat-block here – because it’s written already, and very well written indeed. You open the book, choose a creature, read the text, and then come up with the appropriate stats, depending on which system you’re currently using. Recommended for experienced DMs and gamemasters.

   Here’s another monster adapted (again, by me) for Call of Cthulhu.


Prismite
STR                        3d6
CON                       2d6 +6
SIZ                         1d6 +10
INT                        3d6
POW                      4d6 +20
DEX                       2d6 +3
Hit Points:             32
Move:                    8

Weapon                 Attk%    Damage
Touch                    40%        1d6 +1d4
Rending Light      60%        5d6

Armor: None, but normal weapons can not harm a Prismite.
Prismites also regenerate 2 points of damage per round until destroyed.


   Here’s the link – your players will hate you so much!