Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Where are they taking the hobbits?

I blundered into this at DM of the Rings...which I often read these days when I should be doing other things. At 3:45 this morning, that other thing was sleeping. I may have liked this more than I should have because I am under the effects of half a Tylenol PM...so be warned.

Also be warned to turn you volume down if you don't want to get fired, but to 11 if you want to get fired up. As Shamus says, this is awesomely annoying.

The original source is haibane.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Shamus Young on the Mysteries of the Backpack

In addition to his hilaroius and informative DM of the Rings comic, Sean Young has lots of really good articles on gaming at his TwentySided website. The installment I read today was on the abuse of the backpack in D&D, and from there I followed a link to a great article on Encumberance.

Have a look, enjoy the laugh.

Eventually I will get around to prepping and organizing a session, but after teaching three different classes in a six week intensive MFA program of my own creation where I was also actvities director for 9 MFA students...I need to shake the Etchasketch a little before I get back to my real or my fantasy lives.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

DM of the Rings

I was looking at Treasure Tables today and came across a link to one of the funniest commentaries on D&D play I've ever seen, all using The Lord of the Rings movie as a template for a comic book version of a role playing game. The website is the hilarious DM of the Rings, and I'd encourage anyone who has ever DM'd to read it. It is very funny for everyone, of course, but especially for DMs.

The strip is by Shamus Young, and he's a genius. The comments from viewers are intersting, but what really sells the strip for me is how each installment sets up some pithy commentary by Young on the art of DMing. Be sure to scroll down far enough to read each one.

If you are a DM, Treasure Tables is an excellent blog, and knowing it is there is easing my frustration that Paizo won't be publishing Dungeon or Dragon magazines any more. Even though for the past few years those magazines were using 3E and higher, it was nice to have a monthly magazine to remind me that there is a gaming community out there interested in learning more about that thing we do.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

About to enter the Dwarven Forge

I've been thinking about it for a long time...and I'm almost ready to take what could end up being an expensive plunge.

One of the things that I most loved about playing D&D when we started back in the 1970's, was the building of 3D dungeons. I used to get core board and balsam wood and we'd construct elaborate 3D mazes that stacked in levels on top of each other.

I always wanted a good, modular 3D dungeon system but nothing good ever came on the market. I tried the DungeonWorks magnetic sets with the black plastic walls. They sucked. The tiny sheet metal base board was only 10x10, the walls never quite fit together well. The magnetic strip kept falling off the wall and door pieces.

The Mage Knight 3D Dungeon would probably work fine for my purposes...but you can't find it anywhere any more. Except on eBay for outrageous sums. It also looks like it might give me some of the same fits that Dungeonworks did.

No...I was going to need something really easy to use that looks extremely real and isn't going to involve me losing even more precious life points to this hobby. That leaves really only three options. Make my own, Hirst Arts, and Dwarven Forge.

All three choices have their up and down sides. In the end, the final decision boils down to deciding which is more valuable...my money or my time?

Time is winning.

When I was down at Reapercon they had a big Hirst Arts dungeon set up, and it was really nice looking. With the dungeon molds you can make anything you want...but you have to make it. You have to cast it, let it dry, build it out of individual bricks, let it dry, and then paint it and...you guessed it...let it dry.

The Dwarven Forge pieces come fully assembled, hand painted, and ready to play...complete with felt bottoms to keep them from scratching any surface you put them on. And...they look fantastic.

Take a look at the Tavern Accessories Set.

Take a look at the Cavern Set.

Take a look at the Cavernous Lake Set.

Take a look at the Cavernous Lake Expansion Set.

Take a look at the Den of Evil Room Set.

They come professionally hand-painted and ready to go in convenient styrofoam storage boxes.

There are a few down sides to them, which is what has taken me so long to take the plunge already. First, of course, they are really expensive.

Second, I hate the bow tie connector pieces and they look crappy without them. Well, crappy is a relative term, these things look fantastic but the divits for the bow ties do spoil the effect a little. I think I can live with it, though.

Did I mention they are expensive?

OK, so the downsides don't really outweight the upsides. Since I've started photographing re-creations of the adventures we're running (as though I were the Matthew Brady of Dungeon Delving) I've really been craving nice looking backgrounds for the photos. Dwarven Forge is the best company to give me those backgrounds, bar none.

I think if I can limit myself to buying one DF set a month, I will have a really nice collection in a very short time. Especially since I'm not going to have a huge set up, only laying down pieces as needed...like in combat situations...and relying on the battle mat for most of the dungeon creation in gaming sessions.

The underground rivers, lakes, and cavern pieces are amazing. So are the above ground building sets and the furniture to go with them. And because they are modular, you can create an infinite number for floor plans for inns and other buildings from them.

For some really interesting variations on the Dwarven Forge line, visit Fantasy Mini. That's the blog in French in my side bar. He is constantly reviewing Dwarven Forge materials and showcasing interesting add ons and repaints.

The best thing, for all of you out there who say you don't like to buy me miniatures related items because you don't know what I already have....multiple sets of Dwarven Forge items are something I plan to buy anyway...so it doesn't matter if I already have a set...I can always use as many as I can get my hands on.

Hint, hint!

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Monster Manual V (3.5E)

As any 2E adherent playing with current minis knows, you need to pick up the current materials and convert the stats from 3.5E to 2E.

I picked up the new MM5 today and as always, there are some good things, some bad things, and some brain explodingly frustrating things.

One of the good things is that WOTC seems to have finally started doing a pretty good job of timing monster stat books to mini releases. There are several minis in the Night Below and the upcoming Desert of Desolation sets that are represented in this volume. I was relieved to see Arcadian Avenger, Carnage Demon, Magmacore Golem, Greenspawn Zealot, and Verdant Reaver in this book. I hate having minis on my shelf that I have no idea what they are...and invariably after I make up stats for them they appear in an "official" tome.

Another good thing is that the WOTC folks are starting to include more of the information 2E provided that the earlier 3E books didn't--like ecologies. The bad thing, however, is that this book drops the Organization description, and as a result there isn't a single "number appearing" citation for any of the monsters. You can't even really figure it out from the "sample encounters" desctiption. Don't even get me started about how much I miss the frequency ratings.

This is really frustrating because it shows just how focused on warband creation they are at WOTC and how little the RPG customers count for anything anymore. Number appearing is useless informtion to a warband skirmisher who won't have any more appearing than his point limit will allow, but it is really essential information for any DM setting up RPG encounters. I was rug-biting mad about it all the way home. Dropping $35 for a book that you know you're going to have to convert most of the information from one format to another is bad enough, but finding out that you have to just "make up" some of the most important information makes you feel pretty stupid about dropping that many bones at the bookstore.

It is also mind explodingly frustrating when you stop to think that more than half of the monsters in the book don't and probably won't have miniatures for skirmishing anyway. Why don't they just stop putting out monster manuals for anything but monsters they plan to do minis of? Because nobody would pay $35 for a book with 5 monsters in it, I suppose.

There are a few interesting monsters that I'd llike to see them do figures of. (And yes, whippersnappers, the Old Guard still call them figures.)

The Adaru is a nice looking demonic centepide. I"m always looking to expand my denizens of the Abyss. For the same reason I'd love to get a few Gadcros (though how many is a mystery...grumble grumble.) I can't remember if they are doing a Solamith or not, but if they do I'm likely to want at least two so that I can repaint it into something else. Maybe I could use some creenstuff to stitch its mouth shut and make it a Nupperibo.

Stitched anythings are really stupid. Stitched Devils are more stupid that that, even. This is the kind of monster they make up that I pray and pray they don't make a figure of because if they do I have to find some way to use it in my campaign because it has to go on my shelf with the resto of the collection...can anyone say Wrackspawn? Yeesh. What a waste of overpriced plastic and shelf space.

Now, I have to say that one really innovative thing in the book is the section on Dragons of the Great Game. This device is nicely explained in the "Behind the Curtain" section--a section they should do for more of their entries! Basically WOTC wanted a way to make dragons seem more like dragons and less like super powerful wizards who happen to be dragons, so they invented this game that dragons play in which they swap their spell casting abilities for the ability to control large numbers of minions. It was almost enough for me to consider seriously taking away the spell casting abilities of dragons in my world. I don't have time to consider it right now and it will be decades before my players face any kind of dragon that the question is a bit moot, but interesting none the less.

The Frostwind Virago is so beautiful that I really want a mini of her...though I'd be more likely to use her as Auril the Frost Maiden than this particular monster. If WOTC ever made an Avatar (aspect, sorry) of Auril, then I'd use this mini as her priestesses. I have a real crush on Auril, for some reason. She was a major player in my previous campaign. As a result, I collected lots and lots of frosty monsters.

I liked the section on God-Blooded creatures, because it gives me a way to explain when WOTC makes a monster mini that is closer to 30mm scale than 28mm.

I'm really over the whole "Spawn of Tiamat" thing. They ought to just make a campaign setting called "Dragonworld" and be done with it. Greenspawn Zealot...yawn.

Why do we need so many sub-classes of monsters? What is the point of having all these specific specializations for hobgoblins and Kuotoa? Oh, right, to pad the pages and justify cover price. Yawn. Also, these kids today don't have time to be creative and come up with this stuff on their own, they need to hurry up and lay down their tiles and roll their dice, skirmishes go faster when you don't have to think about anything but point values.

I also have no desire to find out why on Earth anyone thinks I'd be intersted in Thoon and its variant rules/monsters.

Ruin Elemental. God, who'd have thought they could come up with something dumber than a stitched demon? How is an animated ruin in any way an elemental? Now, if you're going to argue that ruin itself is an invisible element at work causing decay, fine, that's interesting, but a ruin is a broken building. It is an animated construct, not a denizen of the Elemental Plane of Ruins. Fer crying out loud. Makes me want to spill coffee on this page.

I like the Serpentir, though. Nice critter. Give me a mini. Though, I have to say, I'd rather see it done in metal by Reaper. WOTC skeletal creatures never look like the skeleton could fit inside the flesh it used to inhabit.

Bladerager Trolls seem cool at first, but then you realize they are pretty stupid. Why bother riviting metal plates to a creature that regenerates? Just dumb.

Red Widow, Female Vampire Ninja. Just make the mini and let me use her for something else. Just give me vampire stats and let me figure out the unique ones if a vampre version of Elektra is all you can come up with.

The Verdant Reaver is an interesting concept, too bad the mini looks like a tiki doll that's been living on Skid Row for the last decade.

I could make, with my very limited sculpting skills, a mini of the Vinespawn...but why would I want to?

I hope they don't make a Master of the Wild Hunt mini, because I really like using my one from Ral Partha. I suppose that if they do I could use it for an avatar of Silvanus.

All in all, probably a waste of my time and money...but now that I have it I can stop thinking I want it, and that is a victory of sorts. Or at least it seems so to the addict.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Holy Collectible Mini, Batman!!!

I was doing my normal mini searches on eBay, looking for hard to find and OOP Ral Partha figures from my youth...and noticed this one: Ral Partha AD&D RAISTLIN 11-069.

Holy crap! An opening bid of $124.99???

I realize this one is mint in box, but can anyone tell me why on Earth this particular mini is worth that much money?

This seller has a bunch of minis from the OOP Official AD&D line, most of which I have, but they are all starting bids of between $25 and $99. I know they are really hard to find, but with starting bids that high, if nobody bids, you're out a pretty hefty unsold item fee.

Oh well. I actually have this one. I must have had it for years and years, because I don't remember it ever being in a box and I actually thought it was one of the Reaper minis that my friend Matt had sent me.

I painted it up and let one of my players use it for her wizard character, Duncan. I'm sure she'll be pleased to know that someone thinks her mini is worth a fortune.


Night Below

This summer has been extraordinarily busy for me, and I haven't been able to play as much as I'd like, nor have I had the ability to pre-order my normal 3 cases of the new figs. Maybe next month....

But, today, unable to keep my plastic jones in control, I went out and paid full retail for 6 booster packs. A more complete review to follow, but for the most part I was much more pleased than I was with Unhallowed. The paint jobs were very good on all the minis, and other than the defender of Mithril Hall, everything seems to be in a more accurate scale...if anything, they overcompensated and went nearer to 25mm than 28. The gnoll claw fighter looks tiny compared to the gnolls of that last few sets, but I am NOT complaining about things being too small. These are very nicely scaled in the sets I've opened so far. That dwarf from Mithril Hall was not painted well at all, his beard being mostly flesh colored and of massive enough size that I'm going to do a little repainting and use him for an avatar of one of the dwarven gods. Problem solved.

The Darkmantle is excellent, much nicer looking than the images on the website made it look, and I was pleased as punch to get both a Babau and Large Gold Dragon in the first 6 booster packs bought.

I have no idea what I'm going to do with 36 kobold trap makers though...which at the rate of one per box which seems to be the average, I will have by the time I have my three cases. It seems so dumb to have a mini doing such a specific action be a common instead of a unique...remember the army of cloned tavern brawlers you had?

Anyway, this set looks pretty good, and so I'm happy with WOTC again.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Matt Clark painted minis at Reaper.com

I just checked the news over at Reaper.com, and my old high school buddy Matt Clark has painted the newest additions to Reaper's line of large figures. The closest thing to a 3rd Edition Aboleth you're going to see for a long time is the Goroloth by Michael Brower. I watched Michael do the sculpt for this mini during Reapercon. It is truly amazing and I remember Matt saying about 100 times how much he wanted to paint it. I'm glad they let him. I'd post the images here, but they are in "Reapervision", the 360 degree viewing format.

Michael is a great guy, and I really enjoyed getting to know him during the con. I can't wait to get this mini for myself. I think my scratch built aboleth will be my normal one, and this will serve as the savant version in my world. A deeper and more dangerous type of aboleth.

Other minis on display there right now are Matt's paint jobs on Rauthoros, Diabolus the devil dragon, and Abyst. There are several more pages, but these are the most recent.

Check it out: http://www.reapermini.com/reapervision