Wednesday 29 May 2013

Outrider: My First Print On Demand Experience

I've been buying PDFs from the likes of RPGNow / DriveThruRPG and printing them at home for a few years now, but recently I took the plunge and decided to order my first Print on Demand (PoD) product.  Being based in the UK, I've always been reticent to use the PoD option as the costs have been quite high to have things printed in the US and shipped to the UK, but a couple of things made made me take the plunge.
  • I had an interesting conversation with the CEO of OBS, Steve Wieck, via his blog OneBlogShelf, which re-energised my passion for making games.  I've had a few ideas for card games in the past and so this was a great opportunity to try out the PoD option particularly with respect to cards.
  •  Another advantage of OBS was that I could convert some of the proceeds from my own product sales into credit with which to purchase the PoD copy of the Outrider cards
  • Following the recent launch of DriveThruCards, a One Book Shelf (OBS) site which specialises in printing card games, I discovered Outrider, an auto duelling tabletop game by Dice Fest Games which featutures an innovative movement/manoeuvre mechanism using cards.  I'm a sucker for post apocalyptic road racing games and sook took advantage of the Launch Discount and got the whole PDF + POD Cards for £17.04 including delivery.

What Makes Playing Cards so Special?

I've made my own cards in the past for things like my DM's Decision Deck and My Item Cards and whilst I'm really happy with the results from my own prints there are a few things unique to playing card printing which are pretty insurmountable for the Print-at-Home (PaH) user.

Double Sided Printing - The major advantage of PoD over PaH is that you get access to commercial grade print technology Yes with a little lot of trial and error you can get pretty good results, but you will never match commercial printers which use registration marks for alignment.

Print / Paper Quality - Home printers have come on in leaps and bounds but there is no escaping that with every incremental increase in quality you have an exponential increase in cost.  High grade papers are really pricey and tend to drink ink like a vampires drink blood.  If you want a photo quality result you have to suffer that slightly tacky feel which as you can imagine does not make for good playing cards.  Casino's are very particular about their casino quality cardstock which has a very high opacity preventing stopping people seeing the card values through the substrate.

Cutting - Several cards are usually printed on a single sheet and unlike books are not bound together before guillotining.  I've had some great results at home, but inevitably you do end up with cards either not having precisely the same dimensions or being gaffed in some way.

What You Get

The Outrider download consists of 8 files; the rules, a scenario booklet, a series of optional Terrain Tiles and 5 files of cards, counters and dashboards.  The printed cards which will be delivered to you from the printer consist of:
  • 18 x Manouevre cards.
  • 8 x Vehicle cards (double sided 16 vehicles in total).
  • 8 x Dashboards (double sided 1 for each vehicle).
  • 15 x Counter cards (require cutting up before use).
  • 3 x Range Cards (double sided single/double fire lanes).
  • 1 x Turn Order/Control Loss Reference Card.
  • 1 x Lucky/Second Wind car.

A sample of the 54 different cards contained in the deck

I would have preferred to have multiple sets of the manoeuvre cards included in the PoD element rather than the included tokens.  Personally, I find thicker cardstock counters are easier to pick up during play and would have been happy to do a little bit of DIY before being able to play.  Similarly the included Dashboards and Vehicle cards are double sided meaning that you can only play one of each style of vehicle unless you print your own duplicates.  At the end of the day you have all the files necessary in the PDF element so it's not too much of a hassle to print additional cards.

From the point of order it took about 12 days for my order to arrive, which is pretty good considering that it has to be processed, printed and delivered to the UK.  I suspect that if a UK printer/distributer  could be sourced this time lag would be greatly reduced.

A really nice poker style plastic card box was supplied for free (sadly, mine had a little crack in the lid)

The cards come cellophane wrapped, with a nice plastic poker style protective case.  Print quality is superb with a nice glossy finish.  Although the cardstock used was nice enough, it is slightly thinner in weight to regular playing cards.  This may become an issue in the future as I'm not confidentt it will stand up to normal gaming wear and tear from a bunch of hamfisted boardgamers.

How did the costs stack up

As I mentioned before, the discounted price for the PDF and POD Cards was £17.04 (which includes USPS First Class postage to the UK at £6.73) which compares favourably with say a Fantasy Flight Silverline game such as Bruno Faidutti's Citadels.  The cost of postage from the US to the UK is a significant proportion of the price (almost 40%).  This is of course largely out of the hands of either the printer or OBS and is the one issue which needs to be overcome if PoD as a concept will become generally accepted.

Final Thoughts

For me although the cost was comparable to a mass printed card game, the quality of the cardstock was a little dissapointing.  I also hope that the guys at OBS can source some UK based printing companies to add to their cadre of US ones.  This would certainly go a long way to making me choose PoD as a viable alternative to just buying from one of the big games manufacturers.  At the moment it's a bit of a 50/50 choice, which will most likely be decided by how much I lust after a particular game or not.

I have yet to actually play the game, so stay tuned for a follow up review.

Monday 27 May 2013

Fiasco: The Sins of Anarchy's Sons

On Friday night I ran a FIASCO using the Sins of Anarchy's Sons playset created by Chris Groff and Rob Wakefield which is loosely based on the hit FX TV Show, Sons of Anarchy.  If you've not seen the show it's follows the exploits of an outlaw motorcycle club (the Sons of Anarchy MC) trying to keep their powderkeg of criminal activity from blowing up in their faces.

I've run FIASCO a couple of times before with varying degrees of success and decided to change things up for this session.
FIASCO by Bully Pulpit Games

This time I decided to be the "Director"

FIASCO is cinematic in concept and I've found that players can often struggle with closing a scene because they try to resolve all of the loose ends right there and then.  I've put this down to in part to their lack of experience with FIASCO but mostly because they all want to get in on the action and develop their own stories.  The role of the director is to look at the whole picture and shout "CUT!" when he spots a great cliff hanger, one liner or that the players are drifting from one scene into something else. 

As director I also get to play any NPCs which get created and through them drive the story in interesting ways, primarily to stop the players from having meatshields, but also to create conflict.

My players are very familiar with other RPGs which contain concepts of self preservation, character progression and achieving goals collaboratively.  FIASCO is about going to hell in a handbasket in the most messed up way possible and this is difficult for players to reconcile.  It really only works, If they manage to put away any silly notions that they're going to come out of this alive and start to selfishly concentrate on achieving their own NEEDS.

How it went

Here's the setup for friday's game (with TILTS)

Friday Night's Sins of Anarchy's Sons Setup (Click image to enlarge)
Mel Carver's high school friend Misty turns up at the Junkyard (which doubles as the MC's Clubhouse) claiming to be on the run from a Federal Taskforce Agent (Mario Marquez) who used her as an informant against the Colombian Cartel.  She wants the MC to kill the fed and destroy his list of informants and is willing to pay the club a lot of money in return.

Flashback to a couple of months ago when Spanner, Dice, Blanco and Bull are dismantling a stolen car that Bull and Blanco acquired.  Inside the door pockets of the Red Ford Taurus are 8 kilos of coke.  A heated debate ensues as to where they got the car from and how they're gonna turn the uncut coke into a huge amount of cash.

Flash forward to Blanco and Bull burying a teenage meth chef in the desert after having just shut down his laboratory.  His wallet has fallen on the ground and they discover he's Ernesto Marquez.

Bull and Blanco have set up a meet with Agent Marquez to buy the list of informants from him.  Marquez is receptive to this as he is trying to rebuild his life after his wife kicked him out, blaming him for the disappearance of their son Ernesto.  During the exchange muffled cries can be heard coming from the trunk of the agent's SUV.  For some unexplained reason a very pissed off Mel is being held captive in the trunk.  She manages to get free and stabs Marquez in the groin with a tyre iron, Bull and Blanco finish him off by shooting him in the head and they take his car and body to the Junkyard.

At the Junkyard the MC agree to meet with the colombians and give them Marquez's head as a gesture of good faith.  The rest of him gets put in a bath tub full of battery acid... (nice).  They also decide that Misty is too nice to hand over to the Cartel (particularly as she was very grateful to Arnie) who will end up killing her for being a narc and so Dice doctors the list of informants and removes her name.

Flashback to Puff and teenage Meth chef Ernesto in bed at Puff's house.  Bull calls asking Puff to come to the clubhouse to discuss how they're going to cut 8 kilos of coke and distribute it.  With hindsight this scene doesn't quite work in the timeline (as Ernesto should be dead) but nobody noticed at the time.

The MC members meet with the Colombian Cartel's representative General Garcia who is grateful to the MC for disposing of Agent Marquez.  He then asks them to help locate the people who stole his 8 kilos of coke for which he will pay them $250K.  As he departs in his Humvee he tells them that he will contact them in two weeks, if they haven't found the thieves he will kill them all.

Back at the clubhouse Puff, who still carries a torch for Bull, has just observed him getting freaky with Misty and so shoots her in the head from outside his window.  Bull throws the Misty onto the floor, grabs his gun and leaps through the window.  The back of the clubhouse is littered with junk and he ends up cutting his foot on something and giving up the chase.  Dice goes to look around outside and finds Puff's monagrammed derringer outside Bull's window.

Arnie calls a chapel meeting to decide what to do about the mexicans and Bull and Blanco decide that two of them have to be given up to the Cartel and it isn't going to be them.  Bull punches Arnie who then pulls his gun.  Dice tries to ring his FBI contact and relay the whole confrontation to him but in the fracas his phone is knocked from his hand and spins out onto the chapel tabel.  Everyone's eyes are transfixed by the phone as a voice crackles "Hello... This is Agent Johnson".  Arnie shoots Dice through the head.

Meanwhile Mel has taken Agent Marquez's SUV out of the junkyard to dispose of it when she is followed by a rival gang of mexican bikers intent on killing the taskforce agent for some reason.  She runs one of them off the road but the others open fire on the SUV causing her to veer into oncoming traffic and getting hit by a semi-trailer.  The SUV spins off the road and down an embankment.  Barely alive she is beginning to think about how to get herself out of the crumpled vehicle when the bikers turn up to finish the job.

Unfortunately we ran out of time to complete all the scenes, but as there were only white dice left in the pool everyone just took one.

Almost everyone survived the Aftermath but in typical FIASCO fashion most were "dead on the inside"  The final scene was Puff trying to hitch a ride down a lonesome desert highway with her life in tatters.

What I'll do differently next time

Character Generation - We usually manage to get about 3 hours of actual gaming done on a Friday night, character generation (in my experience) normally takes a group of 5 players (or 6 in this games case) about 50-60 minutes of dice rolling consulting charts and mulling options.  This leaves about 60 minutes for each act which means it's quite a push to get round the table four times and allocate all of a players dice.

I put this delay partly down to my players coming to the table burdened with other RPG experience, and partly the "picking" aspect of the games character gen, so next time I'm just going to give them the option of either rolling two dice (finding the result and then choosing which relationship card to write it on) or choosing one of the available pregenenerated setups.  I hope that this way we can reduce the prep time and get down to the enjoying the mayhem.

Roles with Conflict Built In - Even using all the presets, the players managed to engineer characters who all had some connection with the MC and were not in roles of direct conflict, for example no-one was playing a cop or other town luminary charged with shutting the club down.  This may have been a direct result of the playset's design and to be fair we didn't really need it to create a good enough game, but I felt it didn't reflect the feel of the show where the MC are beset on all sides by authority figures trying to crush them.  Hopefully future games (with different playsets) will result in PCs with roles which already have the conflict built in to them.

Did They Enjoy it? 

Only two of the players had any experience with FIASCO, and about half were familiar with the TV Show.  Despite this, everyone said that they'd had a good time, it was refreshing to play something totally different and would definitely play again.  It was by far the best FIASCO I've run so far and I can reccomend the playset to those gamers (and fans of the show) wanting to recreate their own little version of Charming.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Reaper Bones #2: Kobolds are they dogs or dragons?

The next milestone of this marathon painting challenge is the kobolds.  

Just like the Giant Rats I painted last time, these are one of the monsters in my Monster Mini Box: Level One and are a classic low level minion and dungeon pest.

Lots of people have gone before and written heaps about The Ecology of Kobolds, how they are Reimagining Kobolds and even how Kobolds are the D&D equivalent of Star Wars Jawas.  I'm not going to be going into that level of detail about their origins or whether or not they're the offspring of dogs and dragons (unlikely).  Suffice to say that my kobolds are both, they share some draconicon physionomy as well as canine.

They are hairless scaly bipeds with tails, their dog-like heads have vestigial horns and spine crests.  Their tails are not prehensile being used primarily for balance and as a way of conveying emotion.  The skin on their abdomens and upper tail is much thinner (and of a different colour) to that on the rest of their body.  They can be any colour (just like the various hues of dragonkind) but the ones I'm painting today are red.

Muttley (Hanna Barbera)
They are scavengers and any weapons or armour they use is cobbled together from items lost or discarded on battlefields or at the roadside.  In fact it is not unheard of for them to scavenge from the edge of a battlefield during the night, despatching any dying soldiers in order to loot their bodies.  During research I discovered that there was a 17th century expression "to laugh like a kobold" so now mine laugh nervously like Muttley.

The 4 Stages of a Miniature Paintjob

Stage 1 - Primer - As I've said before I like to paint over a black basecoat which helps me to build up the layers of colour from dark to light.  I use an acrylic car primer in a spray can, and any areas that get missed like undercuts can be touched up later.

Stage 2 - Basecoat - Blocking out the colour areas on a figure with base coat helps you to pre-visualize a colour scheme (ie: work out where your contrasting colours need to go), what your midtones and highlights need to be and finally avoids any need to blackline.

Stage 3 - Midtones - Pick out your midtones by painting smaller areas of colour within the basecoat patches you applied earlier.  Midtones are usually halfway between your basecoat colour and your highlight colour and should match the colour of any material or skin your are trying to simulate.  For example if you are going for a woodland green cloak, then your colours will be:
  • Black Primer
  • Basecoat - Woodland Green + Black, Navy Blue or Brown)
  • Midtone - Woodland Green
  • Highlights - Woodland Green + White, Grey or Yellow
A well stocked range of colours will enable you to paint "straight from the pot" as it were, without any need to mix colours together.  This is very important when painting large numbers of the same figure as you'll end up spending the majority of your time mixing colours.  Acrylic dries pretty fast so remember kids if you're using Dad's paints (or Mom's, cos girls likes gaming too) blob a reasonable amount on your palette, don't actually use the pot lid to paint from, you could knock it over or worse end up with the pot lid getting all gunky, losing it's seal and drying out entirely. 

Stage 4 - Highlights - Pick out your highlights in the same way as your midtones by painting even smaller patches inside your midtone patches.  The effect you are after is a subtle shift in shade from black all the way to your highlight colour.  If it looks too "stripey" then your colours probably need to be closer together in shade.

Stand Back and Admire your Handiwork

Remember it's a gaming miniature, for gaming, as long as it looks okay at "stand off scale then "jobs a good'un".  If you get good at painting there are plenty of people who will pay good money to get you to paint their armies.

Kobolds x6 (Ben Siens SKU: 77010)

A dozen Kobolds, enough to challenge any 1st level party

A Word about Variety

The Bones Kobold miniatures are all well and good, there's a dozen of them (frankly enough to enable me to meet my Appendix C requirement of 6-18) but there are only 3 sculpts (Kobold with; Sword and Shield,  Sword and Spear, or just a Spear).  When gaming you need something to identify each minion and if you can't do it by their pose, you have to resort to other means such as painting something a particular colour, in the Bones Kobold's case they're either holding a shield, or wearing a waistcoat or mantle. 

I've therefore painted a version of each sculpt in each of 4 colours, enabling my players to identify the target of their attack as "Red Shield" or "Blue Mantle" rather than me needing to paint or stick numbers on them (a less visually pleasing option).

3 Bones Kobold sculpts in 4 different colour combinations (Purple, Brown, Blue & Green)
gives me 12 uniquely identifiable minis.  A much better system than adding numbers IMHO.

Oh and if you look closely you'll see that one of them has left behind a little present...
You can tell this Kobold's shit scared.

Bones Progress

Reaper Bones: 245 - Painted: 24

Related Posts:

Friday 17 May 2013

RPG Blog Carnival - What Campaign do I want to Play Next?

This month's RPG Blog Carnival hosted by Age of Ravens is entitled "Campaigns I'd Like to Run".  The short answer to which is always "my next one".

The Lands of Dual

It's been over 2 years since I last ran my Castles & Crusades campaign world, The Lands of Dual, and high time that I revisit it.  Of course I can't go into much detail about what will be happening as some of my players may inadvertently read this blog and that would most definitely let the cat out of the bag.


The Lands of Dual (interactive map availiable via MapLib)
In previous campaigns I've asked players to pick an unexplored area on the world map as their birthplace and write up a little description of it as part of their background. 

This has been quite successful but there are a still quite a few parts of the world which could do with being explored or at the very least developed:
  • The Frozen North & South - no-one has ever visited the northern icecaps so no-one knows what's there.  Perhaps a hidden valley with it's own microclimate, perhaps even a tunnel into a hollow world below, on the other hand it could just be the land of the long white death.
  • Hjorselandte - The interior of the land of the horsemen is rumoured to be inhabited by a race of wild and savage centaurs.
  • Kharis and Haki - These two warring domains, one a Matriarchy, the other a Patriarchy, could be of interest to the ladies in my group.  Think Amazonia, She-Ra, Xena Warrior Princess, Wonder Woman.


I'd like to expand on my demihuman races a little:

Salamankari (Lizardfolk) - Early on in my last Dual campaign one of the players chose to be a Red Salamankari (Red Lizardman).  We had a blast with the species racial history,  particularly in setting up some great bio-religious schism which caused the species to fork into two distinct coloured subtypes, the green marshdwellers and the red desert dwellers.  I'm thinking about adding at least one more subtype, but the details will have to stay secret.

Elfenkin - In Dual, Elves also have subtypes which are very closely aligned with their respective environments and elements.
  • Sea Elves (Vassadhim) - I'd like these elves to be something like the mariner from Waterworld, semi aquatic they can breath underwater and cruise the deep oceans in boats crafted from driftwood and kelp.  Their magic is restricted to the elements of Air and Water crucial to their survival on the high seas.  Their skin has a lightblue colouring and shimmers like fish scales.
In my world Kevin Costner is blue, honestly it will make sense, I promise.
  • Cloud Elves (Aerohimm) - The Aerohimm have broken the bonds of Earth and risen into the clouds in their glimmering floating cloud fortresses.  They keep a watchful eye over all the lands and are said to resemble angels being very tall and lithe with long flowing white hair.  They have a longstanding pact with the Grand Caliph of the Djinn, who supplies the Aerohimm with Elementals to power their great crystal castles.  It is said that they are the most cultured of the Elfkenkin and are fond of humans, often having relationships with them which bear children.  Their magic is largely concerned with the element of air although they are the only elfenkin who practice all forms of elemental magic.
  • Green Elves (Woedhimm) - Woedhimm shun contact with the other races of Dual and are rarely seen outside their woodland kingdoms.  They are reclusive and secretive, the few sitings of them suggest that they are the most diminutive species and their mastery of camoflague is exceptionally.  Their magic is restricted to the sphere of Earth and Water.
  • Desert Elves (Desierto, literally "The Abandoned") - Desierto are a peculiar species of elves in that they are a loosely knit community of fierce nomadic tribespeople who roam the great deserts in large caravans ekeing out an existence.  They are legendary masters of desert survival and their skills are highly prized by caravanserai who employ them as trackers and guides for journeys through the treacherous deserts.  They have ruddy skin, and wear brightly coloured gallebya, their dreadlocked or braided hair is woven with complex beadwork which is said to be a record of their life.  Their magic is restricted to the elements of fire and wind, but they are alo excellent desert animal handlers.

    House Rules

    I have been doing a fair bit of blog reading and some of the house rules I've seen have piqued my interest:

    No Alignments at Level 1 - I first read about Character Funnels in the Giblet Blizzard article DCC: Funnel Runners, and it struck a chord with me.  One of the things that has always bugged me is the chasm of difference between what a PC's character sheet says their alignment is and how it ends up getting played.  This is sometimes the fault of the player but it can equally be a reaction to a party dynamic.

    Whilst I don't think I could convince my players to go the whole hog by using the Character Funnel approach to create zero level PCs (check out Purple Sorceror's neat DCC Generator), I think it is perfectly acceptable to only let them decide what alignment their character is at the end of a few sessions of play when they level up.  I might even knock up some quick alignment tokens to award players during play or have Karma Points or something.

    Magic Corruption - I wrote a little D20 table of Corruption Effects for Mage Levelling and I will be getting my players take on whether or not they like it and if they would still choose to play a mage knowing that this house rule would be in effect.

    Magical Prosthetics - Loved this random table of 100 Magical Prosthetics so much that I will definitely have to use it in my campaign should anyone lose an appendage through combat or the above corruption effects I shall be deploying prosthesis.  This might become even become a bit of a hook (pardon the pun), King loses his nose in an ill conceived duel and requires PCs to find him a replacement.

    Meat Shields - In all my years of DMing and playing I've never used or utilised hirelings.  The closest that I've ever come to is when my fellow Hobbits Holer, Richard Wells, had us playing each others sidekicks in his Victorian Science Fiction game, but they were more than just hirelings.  This worked brilliantly and gave everyone the opportunity to be in two places at once.  So I think I'll return the compliment and do it in my game with mandatory meatshields.  Perhaps I'll utilise the DCC Party Generator to furnish them with stats or just stick with the meatshield generator.

    The Desert of Desolation

    It's been my long term ambition to run the Desert of Desolation series of modules (I3-I5), but I think I'll be having a mixed 1st and 3rd level party this time around so they're safe... for now

    Plenty of food for thought I think you'll agree.

    Thanks of course go to Of Dice and Dragons for continuing to promote the RPG Blog Carnival.  This is my 4th entry and you can read the rest by clicking the RPG Blog Carnival tag below. 

    Wednesday 15 May 2013

    Optical Illusions in RPGs

    In a previous post I wrote about the Droste Effect, a form of optical illusion using recursion, which provoked an exploration of other illusions, particular those of a physical or architectural nature. 

    Now I'm sure everyone is familiar with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and remembers the final Grail test where Indy has to make "The Leap of Faith" out into the chasm to find a hidden walkway.  This is a good example of a forced perspective illusion, the walkway is painted in such a ways as to  render it invisible from the only perspective that the hero can have, the ledge.

    This limits your options in a collaborative group scenario, as either requires you to bottle-neck the party or limit the number of viewers to force the illusion to work. However, perspective can also be used to make something visible (or at least legible) from only a single point of view. In otherwords an Anamorphic Perspective, the word itself being derived from the Greek words 'ana' meaning back or again, and 'morphe', meaning shape or form.

    Anamorphic Perspective in Art History

    One of the more famous paintings to demonstrate this trick was "The Ambassadors" (Hans Holbein the Younger 1553). In this we can clearly see a strange random grey shape which floats at the bottom center of the image.
    The Ambassadors (Hans Holbein the Younger, 1553)
    If the painting is viewed at an acute angle from the left side (as demonstrated above) the strange grey shape resolves into an image of a skull. 

    Many art historians have come up with explanations as to its symbolism, which is unsurprising as the painting contains many cryptic clues as to the identity of the two sitters, although my favourite is that Holbein did it to show off his skill as a painter.

    The painting hangs in London's National Gallery and well worth a visit, if you can't and want to learn more, the curators have put together a few nice videos to explain the painting's symbolism and how Holbein might have achieved the effect.

    At the same time Erhand Schön a prolific woodcut designer from Nuremberg was using the technique to hide naughty pictures in his art.  This example is held by the British Library.
    Jonah and The Whale (Erhard Schön, 1537) containing the anamorphic Squatting Peasant (highlighted in red)

    More Modern Examples

    One of my favourite modern exponents of the technique is Felice Varini who uses striking geometric shapes painted on the walls of rooms and even on the outside of buildings.

    Rettangoli gialli concentrici senza angoli al suoo (Felice Varini, Switzerland, 1997)

    Here's a great example from Brusspup, which uses a sliding glass door and coloured paper.

    So how the heck do I use this in an RPG?

    Anamorphic Illusions can be simulated in RPGs in one of two basic ways, either:

    Room as presented to players
    In Plan View - By presenting presenting the players with a map of a room (either as a handout or as a battlemap) in which are contained several prominent architectural features. 

    In the example below it would something like:

    "Beyond the door lies an undecorated and austere looking 100ft square room with no exits.  Against each wall stands a large statue which appears to be pointing with it's right hand outstretched at a series of large urns which stand in front of the northernmost statue.  Each urn appears to be sealed shut with wax and is large enough for a man to climb inside.  On the front of each urn is pasted a label adorned with strange eldritch symbols".

    Room with solution (in red)
    The solution (if you spotted my deliberate misdirection) is that the statues are not pointing at the urns at all.  They are in fact pointing to a floor tile (red square) which if smashed will reveal a secret under ground tunnel.

    You could of course allow the party members to make copious spot hidden checks to determine the true target of the pointing statues.  If they cross the red square whilst traversing the room to reach the urns, their footsteps will cause an echo in the tunnel below.

    Or you could just fill the urns with unspeakable horrors and watch the party dash across the room to their doom.  Your game your choice.

    As a Handout - One of the simplest types of anamorphic uses layers which need to be positioned above one another to produce the effect.  Consider the three images below, trace these out onto some semi transparent paper (such as grease proof paper) or print them on OHP paper.  Tell your PC's that they have been written on the finest almost translucent animal skin or that they are etched onto sheets of glass.

    Handout AHandout BHandout C

    Message is revealed when
    the images are combined
    Individually they don't really much, but when combined together they read "This is a Hidden Message".

    It's best to keep the handouts square, as you should let them spend some time puzzling over each one before they get them in the right orientation.

    This is a massively oversimplified example for a fantasy game.  In a modern or future game glass and other transparent materials are common place and the handouts should seem matter of fact.

    I've been toying with the idea of presenting my players with some DNA Chromatographs where the little blobs spell out a message when overlayed.  Luckily the extent of our knowledge of biology or medicine is limited to CSI Miami, so the science of chromatography shouldn't get in the way of a good reveal.

    On a Serious Note... Dwarves and other little people

    Whilst writing this I discovered a real world application of an associated technology to produce a similar effect.  Lenticulars have been atound for years, you see them on stickers, movie posters, postcards, anything where you want to show movement, animation or to reveal a hidden image.

    The Spanish organisation, Anar Foundation, has recently produced a poster campaign which uses lenticular printing to reveal a hidden message including the telephone number of an anti-child abuse help-line.  The lenticular is arranged so that the message is only visible to children (or people of children's height) and not any adults (or potential abusers) who may be accompanying them.  A great idea and I'm sure you'll agree a worthy campaign.

    This technique is of course something you could use in a delve of an old dwarven (or other half person) stronghold.  The original builders may have left messages to their kin in the walls which are only visible to persons of dwarvish height.  These could be anything from simple sign posts, elaborate trompe l'oeil vistas or warnings about the trap a bit further up the corridor.


    Tuesday 14 May 2013

    Do you blog blog about the OSR from the UK

    On the blogosphere the other day I spotted a list of Canadian OSR blogs (If it was your site thanks for the inspiration).  I thought this was a great idea and that us UK based Old Schoolers should have something similar.

    Join the UK OSR BLOGROLL

    Do you blog about the OSR? - Your blog doesn't have to be "OSR, all OSR, all the time" but you should lean towards the OSR side of the force.

    Fanboys: "Rule number one, In my van, it's Rush. All Rush, all the time."
    Are you UK based? - Do you know what Tizer, Irn-bru, Jaffa Cakes, Kinghtmare and The Adventure Game are? This is a chance for us UK based gamers to band together and fight the good fight using our unique sense of humour, quaint accents and stif upper lips.   

    Walmington on Sea - "A great holiday hotspot" (Timeout 1943)

    If you can answer YES! to both these questions and want to celebrate your unique UK centric take on the OSR, then add your blog to the list then post your URL in the comments below.


    Monday 13 May 2013

    DIY Rot Grubs

    As I alluded to in my Monster Mini Box - Level One post, there's no point buying rot grubs unless you're a serious D&D mini collector or have oodles of cash to throw about.  So I'm gonna show you how easy it is to make your own.

    You will need:

    • Coins, washers or other basing material - In the UK our second lowest denomination coin is the 2p (worth about 3 cents) measuring exactly 1 inch across.  I've used them as bases for my miniatures for decades despite the fact that it's technically illegal (sorry Queen) but where else can you get readily available metal bases for 2p a pop?
    • Modelling Putty - I use milliput (mostly because I have it) but other putty's like green stuff, fimo and DAS Pronto would work just as well.  Obviously you may have to modify these instructions if you your putty needs to be baked to cure.
    • Modelling tools - I use a metal ruler, a craft knife and a cutting mat, but to be honest you can use just about anything as long a you don't tell your wife.

    Rot Grubs A-go-go

    Build up your base with putty
    Step 1 -  Build up your bases. 

    Tear off some putty and squish it onto your base to make a decent base for your pile of grubs and to cover up the face of whichever monarch or dead president is staring at you with dissaproving eyes.  Pile your putty up in the middle, if you want to have a big writhing mound of grubs or you can spend hours modelling a crazy paved floor for them to crawl over.  The amount of time you spend on your bases is entirely up to you.

    Step 2 - Make some sausages. 

    Make a putty sausage and score it
    A sausage sandwich would go down really nicely at the point, but you should concentrate on your sculpt and start rolling out some putty sausages using the ruler and a flat durface.  These sausages can be any length but try to keep them about 2mm in diameter. 

    Step 3 - Score your sausage. 

    Using a sharp edge, like a craft knife, roll grooves all the way along your putty sausage to simulate the segments of your rot grubs.  Take care not to cut all the way through other wise you'll be making little slices of black pudding and we ain't modelling them this week.  Varying the spacing of the grooves can give you options for heads or tails when you get to the next stage.

    Croissants or Chippolatas?
    Step 4 - Chippolatas and croissants. 

    Chop up your sausage into small lengths, about 1/2 an inch is perfect, and put a bend in them to resemble semi-circles or croissants.  You can try longer ones with more complex curves, it's entirely up to you.  In a short while you should have about 10 to 12 grubs, that was easy don't you think?  Try having longer segments at the ends to simulate either heads or tails.  If you're confident with your modelling skills you could even try opening up a mouth at one end with a cocktail stick.

    Step 5 - Plate them up. 

    Rot Grubs curing in the noonday sun.
    Start piling your grubs onto your base in as random a fashion as possible.  You can rinse and repeat steps 2 to 5 as many times as you like to get the perfect pile of grubs, the great thing is that unlike a production miniature each one of yours will be absolutely unique.  When your satisfied leave to cure as indicated by the instructions for the material you're using.

    Step 6 - Presentation is everything -

    Your rock hard grubs will need a lick of paint to really finish them off.

    Painted, but finished? the question is do I give a flock?

    How to Play Them

    Despite the fact that rot grubs feature in Head Injury Theatre's hilarious Celebrating 30 Years of Very Stupid D&D Monsters, they are an effective way of making challenging choices that bit more icky or just punishing failure.  Use them sparingly when your party has just got a little bit too cocky or blasé about this dungeoneering lark.  It reminds them "Who's the Daddy?"

    I'm an Adventurer, Get me out of here!!

    Let's make no bones about it, they live in shit (and other nasty fetid places) and that's nasty.  If you've not seen Jo Nesbo's Headhunters then I suggest you rent that puppy now.  Simply put, Aksel Hennie's lead character has to make an unpleasant choice to avoid a confrontation with Nicholas Coster-Waldau's bad guy Greve.  You can make the "eeeeuwwww" factor even worse by keeping this to yourself until they're half way across the river of merde and they start feeling the little blighters nibbling at their extremities or worse burrowing into their faces.

    Where there's muck there's Brass

    How easy it would be just to let the PCs root through that pile of corpses to recover the awesome treasure.  Woah Stop!! where's the fun in that?  Remember how fun it was to bob for apples as a kid? Well bobbing for booty is more fun when there's rot grubs in the pile of poop.

    Don't Cross There!!

    Sometimes you need to subtly railroad (also known as convincing or dissuading) your players using obstacles which, although not impenetrable, have obviously undesireable outcomes.  So you ignored my warnings, eh?  Well not only have you just fallen into the poop but you now realise that the poop is infested with rot grubs.  You get the point.

    Related Posts:

    Sunday 12 May 2013

    Reaper Bones #1 - The Painting Marathon Begins

    My Reaper Miniatures Bones Kickstarter Vampire Level miniatures arrived in the post on Friday and I am flabbergasted by the sheer weight of minis.  

    I admit that I was incredibly foolish in not backing it originally when I had the chance and so I've had to resort to ebay to acquire mine.   Which undoubtedly means I've paid over the odds, but even at the £120 I paid, it's still less than 50p a miniature, ie: cheaper than chips.

    A big Box of Reaper Bones Miniatures
    A big box of Reaper Bones
    Reaper Bones unbagged
    The first bag unbagged
    The conclusion to my Monster Mini Box Level One post highlighted just how expensive it is going to be to put together each Random Encounter level in lead and was frankly quite disheartening.  Therefore, my next project series is going to document painting all my newly acquired Bones minis, starting with those which appear in the Level 1 list.


    Every dungeon needs rats, and mine are no different, so these puppies are first up for the "fun painty time treatment".  I've not painted this particular type of plastic, so erring on the side of caution out came the soapy water and an old tooth brush to wash off any mould release agent before they got primed.

    Reaper Bones Rats based but not primed
    A dozen Giant Rats based up and ready for black undercoat
    The minis are mounted to my base medium of choice (2p coins) and then household filler on top to create the flagstone floor.  This takes an hour or so to set dry giving me ample time to score it with a knife to create the flagstone pattern.

    I'm a black undercoat type of guy and just use a can of matt black primer from any car spares shop, and was glad it didn't react with the plastic.

    Reaper Bones Rats primed and pink bits painted
    Primed and pink bits base coated
    Gone are the days when I had the accuity to paint very fine detail so I'm aiming for a stand-off gaming miniature level of detail.  These ain't gonna win any Golden Demons but they'll look a hell of a lot better than Pathfinder or D&D sweatshop paintjobs.

    Rats x6 (Sandra Garrity SKU: 77016)

    Reaper Bones Rats completed
    A dozen rats done.
    So what do I think of Bones so far.

    The plastic is okay, the density varies from sculpt to sculpt.  Some you expect to have weak points (ie: if the mini is on one leg) and don't and yet others you expect to be stiff and bend at the slightest touch).  This could be a quality control issue with the plastic recipe used in that particular injection mould on that particular day.  It's not a big difference, just noticeable. 

    Sculpts are clean and flash free and they are far less flexible than the aforementioned Pathfinder and D&D Miniatures and the size and levels of detail are obviously comparable to their lead counterparts.  All this (and not to mention the cost) makes them a far more satisfying gaming proposition than expensive resin minis.

    My only reservation is do I seal them or not?

    Score so Far:

    Total Bones: 245, Bones Painted: 12

    Friday 10 May 2013

    Ray Harryhausen Appreciation Blogfest

    Thanks to RJ at Gamers & Grognards for suggesting the idea of a blogfest as a great way to honour the passing of one of the greatest cinematic geniuses of our time, Ray Harryhausen.

    Some of my earliest memories were sat infront of the TV watching classic monster movies, it was here that I discovered Sinbad and the tales of far flung Arabia.  Of course none of this would have caught my imagination if it weren't for the terrifying duels between man and monster cooked up by the genius animator that was Ray Harryhausen.  It must have rewired my brain somewhat as my favourite setting for D&D has always been Al-Quadim.

    Last night I decided to rewatch...

    Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

    The first monster Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) encounters are the fire demons (Harryhausen's storyboard maintains they are ghouls) conjured from the flames of their campfire as they celebrate ending their return to the city.  These insect headed animated corpses  see off most of Sinbad's crewmates before he crushes them with an inexplicably placed pile of huge logs.

    Fire Demons emerge from the camp fire ready to attack
    Sinbad tries to return to his boat and encounters the beautiful Princess Farah (Jane Seymore) brother to Prince Kassim who has recently been turned into a baboon by his step mother the Evil Witch Queen, Zenobia (Margaret Whiting) in order to retain the throne for her own son.

    Farah then introduces her Uncle Balsora who pleads with Sinbad to aid them by returning Kassim to his true form.  We get introduced to the transformed Kassim as his cage is being loaded onto Sinbad's ship.

    Prince Kassim is a pretty mean Chess player
    Meanwhile Zenobia, discovering that Sinbad aims to sail to the island of Cascar to seek the aid of the sage Melanthis and constructs The Minaton, a Bronze Golem, to act as her bodyguard, henchman and the oarsman for her marvelous ship without sails.

    The Minaton has the strength of 6 men
    The Minaton is a really iconic creature  and one of my favourite Harryhausen creations.  Interestingly I discovered that Peter Mayhew (aka Chewbacca) acted as the stand-in during filming, the model Minaton was added later by Harryhausen during post production.

    As they leave in pursuit of Sinbad, Zenobia instructs the Minaton to see off Balsora's spies.  The automaton wordlessly obeys, capsizing their boat and skewering their leader.

    Sinbad successfully negotiates the treacherous reefs which surround Cascar and meets with Melanthius (Patrick Troughton) discovering that the only way to return Kassim to his true form is to travel to the fabled Shrine of the Four Elements hidden in a green valley in the frozen North of Hyborea.

    Zenobia's attempts to navigate the reef fares less well and the ships metal oars aredamaged in the process.  She is thwarted again when Sinbad's ship sets sail whilst her son is still making good the repairs.  In desperation she uses a magic potion to transform herself into a seagul so she can learn of Sinbad's plans.  Unfortunately she is captured by Melanthius who also discovers the amulet containing her transformation potion and uses it to enlarge a wasp to monstrous size.

    Melathius fends of a giant wasp whilst the imprisoned Zenobia goads it.
    In the chaos Zenobia's glass jar prison is knocked off the table and she makes good her escape, once more transorming her into a seagul and she flees back to her ship.  As bad guys go she has no luck at all however and the remaining potion is not enough to fully transform her back into her human form and she is stuck with a bird like right foot.

    When they reach Hyborea Sinbad forgoes the ice tunnel and opts to travel across land.  His party encounter a Giant Walrus which further whittles down his crew.

    Sinbad and crew fight off a Giant Walrus
    Their journey continues to the temperate valley where they encounter a friendly giant horned troglodyte who shows them the way to the entrance mouth of the valley.

    Dione befriends the Troglodyte
    Zenobia arrives at the ice tunnel and the current draws them towards a jetty.  This short-cut is the first piece of fortune which goes Zenobia's way and she arrives at the pyramid Shrine of the Four Elements ahead of Sinbad.  However, her luck is short lived as without a key to the temple she uses her magic and the Minaton's great strength to break in.  The Minaton is crushed under a giant stone block in the process, quite a sad end (IMHO) for a quite menacing and well envisaged creation.

    A dissapointing end to the Minaton in his hour of triumph
    Sinbad rushes to the shrine as Malanthius suspects that Zenobia's forced entry will disrupt the delicately balanced nature of the Arimaspi magic.  They encounter Zenobia at the foot of the great steps in the middle of the temple and Kassim who has by now lost entirely his human traits and attacks and kills Zenobia's son Rafi.

    The Troglodyte could have been a contender with his mean left hook
    They managed to get Kassim into a cage and lift him high into the cascading waters which form the centrepiece of the shrine.  When the cage is lowered Prince Kassim has been miraculously restored to human form, but the distraught and enraged Zenobia, posesses the body of a frozen Smilodon and tries to kill everyone.  The Troglodyte comes to the rescue enabling the party to escape, only to die in the battle, Sinbad prevails, finally impaling Zenobia on the Minaton's spear.  With the secrets of the Arismapi lost the shrine disintegrates and Hyborea reclaims the hidden valley to ice and snow.

    Sinbad is victorious, impaling Smilodon Zenobia on the spear of her own creation.
    Sinbad and his comrades return to the city state of Charak where Kassim is crowned Caliph and gives his blessing to Sinbad and Farah.  This happily ever after ending is tainted by the shocking appearance of Zenobia's eyes as the credits finally roll suggesting that she will return...

    Wednesday 8 May 2013

    Sci-Fi Ship Morphs - Part 5 - Even More Basic Tiles

    Here are some more basic tiles for you to fill with your own furniture.

    With Doors Without Doors

    Daves Mapper

    All the tiles for this and previous posts in this series have been uploaded to, so go get mapping!

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