Saturday, September 27, 2014

LMoP — players' map

I've been running our gaming group through the D&D5e Starter Set adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, which is set near the city of Neverwinter™ in the Forgotten Realms™ (which has taken over from Greyhawk™ as the official™ D&D®™ world™©).

I don't use the Forgotten Realms™ as my campaign world, but I've got plenty of empty space left on my maps to slot this bit in somewhere.

Anyway, there's an overland area map supplied with the adventure, which is a good and fine, but I prefer that my players not be able to count hexes to get an exact idea of how far away anything is from anything else, so instead of giving them access to that map, I've made this considerably cruder and less exact map for them to refer to, and to scribble on and abuse as they see fit.

I intended it to be a bit crappy, but I have to confess that it's even crappier than I intended. Never mind, it will do the trick.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bring wine! Wine for the Blood God!

Painting by Boris Vallejo. Perfect.
NOTE: This is not my idea. I'm stealing this idea from somebody else. Just so we're clear. I don't remember exactly when or where I saw it, alas.


The person who originally came up with this noted that one fantasy trope, presented in oodles of films, comics and novels, is the recuperative power of wine. Any alcohol really. How many times have heroes staggered, bloodied, bruised and battered, up to the nearest bar, quaffed a mighty tankard of wine (or ale or brandy or whatever), slammed down the cup and returned to the fray, rejuvenated?

A LOT. That's how often.

So, I thought I would make it available to players in my campaign as a sort of el-cheapo substitute for healing potions:

  • If you heroically quaff a mighty quaff of wine/ale/brandy/whatever, you immediately recover 1d6 hit-points. Huzzah! (Note that this requires actual quaffing, none of this sissy sipping nonsense. Quaffing.)
  • The down-side is that you also temporarily lose one point each of  Dexterity, Wisdom and Charisma. Boooooo! Until you complete a Long Rest. Yaaaay!
  • If you're on zero hit-points, having a swig of brandy poured down your throat will stabilize you, and you will lose the DEX, WIS and CHA, but you won't actually recover any hit-points on that initial guzzle.

I realise the danger of this turning the party into a bunch of wildly violent and increasingly incoherent alcoholics reeling their way from one encounter to the drunken next, but I like the trope so much that I'm willing to accept that peril.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

D&D5e — Inspiration

Inspiration is the term used more or less for what in other games are called Fate Points — points players can use to improve their dice rolls and what-not.

In 5e, however, players can't amass Inspiration points; they either have it, or they don't. That means that no matter how consistently clever and excellent they may have been, if they use Inspiration at all, they then have to wait for the whimsical GM to arbitrarily decide that they're worthy of having it again.

I don't like that.

Instead, I will allow players to stockpile accrued Inspiration points, with the caveat that if one is used, the character needs to take a Short Rest (about an hour of restful down-time) before another can be used. This should prevent the situation where the party save up all their fate points for the final Boss Fight and then blow them all in the space of a few rounds in a GM-depressing holocaust of automatic hits and saves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

D&D5e — Recovery and Healing

Casualty. by Heather Nicholson
In general, I like the way that hit points in 5e are much more explicitly linked with luck and fatigue rather than with actual cuts, scrapes and bruises, and also the way that recovery of these points is so much quicker and easier. There's less need for parties to be constantly scurrying back to safety after ten minutes of dungeoneering to get themselves healed, and it also means that a party without a cleric (or a guaranteed cheap supply of healing potions) can actually be a viable adventuring party.

That's all very well and good, but what about situations where your character is actually folded, spindled, and/or mutilated? I guess the easiest thing to do would be to reflect that condition with Ability Damage. That has two advantages:
  1. It doesn't require the addition of a new damage mechanic to the rules, and
  2. Ability damage is scary and hard and expensive to fix, and it can give combat meaningful consequences (and thus a good reason to find ways to avoid it if possible).
A potential down-side is that it could easily lead to the 'death-spiral' effect, which may make sadistic GMs rub their hands together and go "Muahahahahaaaa!", but isn't actually all that much fun to experience in play. It would need to be applied with a bit of thought rather than willy-nilly — I'd probably use it only as a consequence of a critical hit, or of long, bone-breaking falls and the like.

Anyway, the actual focus of this rambling is that I think it is wise to distinguish from the outset between RECOVERY and HEALING.
  • Recovery is what your character does when resting, or when a fighter gets their second wind or what-not. If all you're doing is getting back hit-points, you're recovering, not healing.
  • Healing is what you have to do to cure Ability Damage (in which I include such conditions as deafness or blindness, or loss of mobility due to injury or disease or whatever).
Magical means of recovery are pretty straightforward to identify: low-level "cure" spells are about it, along with Cure Wounds potions and so forth.

Magical healing, in the sense I've been using it here, is less easily categorized, though it doesn't take a lot of thought on a case-by-case basis. Heal, Restoration and Regenerate are three spells that spring immediately to mind; I haven't looked thoroughly enough through the current spells lists to be definitive. Generally, I'd say that if the wording of a healing spell indicates other effects over and above simple hit-point recovery, it's probably appropriate.

Natural healing can be handled by the GM pretty much as a matter of common sense. Broken bones will take a month or two to heal, while blindness caused by having one's eyes gouged out probably isn't going to get better on its own. Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about gross stuff like secondary infections and gangrene and so forth; it's just not very heroic or mythic to succumb to septicaemia after weeks of lying in your own pus. However, your mileage may, as they say, vary.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

D&D5e — Find Familiar... not on my watch!

And so begins the tinkering.

The D&D5e version of the Find Familiar spell is one with which I have many issues. It not only drastically changes the way that the spell works from earlier editions, but it also messes with the nature of familiar spirits as represented in myth and legend.

It really should be renamed Summon Cheap Little Expendable Reconnaissance Robot. Here's the text of the spell as written on page 240 of the PHB, along with my comments.


1st-level conjuration (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 hour
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (10 gp worth of charcoal, incense, and herbs that must be consumed by fire in a brass brazier)
  • Waaaaaaay too cheap. 10gp? Pffft! 
Duration: Instantaneous
You gain the service of a familiar, a spirit that takes an animal form you choose: bat, cat, crab, frog (toad), hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish (quipper), rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel. Appearing in an unoccupied space within range, the familiar has the statistics of the chosen form, though it is a celestial, fey, or fiend (your choice) instead of a beast.
  • I can see why people would want to be able to choose the vessel for their familiar spirit, but one of the big things about the old version of the spell was the gamble. You got a toad? Suck it up! Also, I'm inclined to have the magic-user have to supply an appropriate vessel animal to be filled, if they want to be able to choose the form the familiar takes. 
Your familiar acts independently of you, but it always obeys your commands. In combat, it rolls its own initiative and acts on its own turn. A familiar can't attack, but it can take other actions as normal.
  • That's OK to a degree, but in my view while a familiar is incarnate, it will keep at least some sense of self-preservation. So if you order it to do something clearly dangerous, it may... be reluctant. 
When the familiar drops to 0 hit points, it disappears, leaving behind no physical form. It reappears after you cast this spell again
  • OK, I can live with his I guess, though unlike in the olden days, there's no real down-side to a magic-user losing a familiar, except that they've got to cast the spell again. Quelle horreur! I prefer the old way, in which the death of a familiar actually cost the magic-user a permanent loss of hit-points so that there's an incentive to keep it alive.
While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through your familiar's eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that the familiar has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own senses.
  • I'd add a feedback penalty here: if the familiar is attacked and damaged while you're linked with it in this way, you take the damage as well due to psychic shock. 
As an action, you can temporarily dismiss your familiar. It disappears into a pocket dimension where it awaits your summons. Alternatively, you can dismiss it forever. As an action while it is temporarily dismissed, you can cause it to reappear in any unoccupied space within 30 feet of you.
  • HELL NO! If you don't want your familiar around, find somewhere to hide it. None of this blinking out conveniently bullshit. Also, this is just an excuse to give the thing a free short-range teleport ability.
You can't have more than one familiar at a time. If you cast this spell while you already have a familiar, you instead cause it to adopt a new form. Choose one of the forms from the above list. Your familiar transforms into the chosen creature.
  •  I think not. Once you've summoned a familiar, it stays in the vessel you summoned it into until it's released either voluntarily or through the death of the vessel.
Finally, when you cast a spell with a range of touch, your familiar can deliver the spell as if it had cast the !spell. Your familiar must be within 100 feet of you, and Tit must use its reaction to deliver the spell when you cast it. If the spell requires an attack roll, you use your attack modifier for the roll.
  •  Tchyeah, riiiiight...... by which I mean, of course, FUCK NO! This is a first level spell, for fuck's sake. This ability to redirect one's magic is way too powerful for a spell of that level.
There's so much wrongness here that I may as well just rewrite the whole bloody thing. I suspect that this won't be the only new spell definition I'll have problems with, but one step at a time.

Friday, September 12, 2014


I have come to realise that one of the main reasons I prefer to DM dungeon-crawl type games is because I am really, really bad at adjudicating and presenting NPC interactions on the fly. Just terrible. I would be the worlds most pitiful improv actor ever.

Dungeon crawling means that I can focus on describing environments, present problems to be overcome, and (for the most part) avoid all that troublesome social and psychological stuff.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Speed Painting

This guy is an experiment in speed-painting using Vallejo inks over a sprayed, graduated undercoat. Everything except the metallics, the torch flame and the base is painted in the inks, without any additional shading or highlighting.

They're very useful for getting instant shading, and because they're both transparent and fairly intensely coloured, they don't fill in detail as thinned paints do. The range of colours is fairly limited, but all the basics are covered.

The figure is Reaper's Bones 77140: Townsfolk: Village Rioter, who will, no doubt, do sterling service as a lowly-paid torch-bearer. Because I wanted to see just how quickly I could knock him out to a decent tabletop gaming-piece standard, I haven't done anything about the mould-lines, nor the way he's toppling over backwards.

For dungeoneering service, he could probably do with having the top half of his pitchfork replaced with a ten foot pole.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Innkeeper - Reprise

Here's another version of Reaper 77084:Townsfolk: Innkeeper. This time there's less dirt, but a lot more blood. He could be the town butcher, or doctor, or torturer — the possibilities aren't endless!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

TPK Averted By DM Incompetence! Pictures at 11!

Session #2 of our introduction to D&D5e, via the Lost Mine of Phandelver, was saved from a TPK* only because I skipped over the monster description for the Bugbear and failed to read a crucial point.

I'll know better in future.

*TPK = Total Party Kill

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Yowzah! It's New! It's Shiny!

I now own my very own copy of the 5e PHB. I am more excited by this than may be properly appropriate for a Gentleman Of A Certain Age.

I have to say, even on a very brief acquaintance, I can see that it contains a hell of a lot of fluff that I would have ruthlessly edited out, had it been up to me. But it wasn't.... those FOOLS!

It's got lots of good, useful stuff in it too, so that's all right.

I see a few areas where I want to make some changes, though they're pretty minor really.

  1. I'll be changing the time scale for ritual spell casting. The rules as written say a ritual spell takes ten minutes longer than normal to cast, but my view of rituals is that they're the sort of things that take a lot longer than that — hours, possibly days.
  2. I'm not 100% sure about this, but I think I may equate one feat with one point of characteristic increase, with the rider that the character can take no more than one feat at a time. So, when the character gets a chance to increase a stat, they can either take two points of increase, or take one feat and one point on a stat. I do like the feats as presented — I like them much, much better than the system used in D&D3.x
  3. I think I may institute STR reductions for halflings, gnomes and elves. The idea of a three foot tall hobbit with a strength of 18 just offends me. I know that this is not a game of realism, but tough.
Done — from now on, elves will get -1 STR, gnomes get -2 STR, and halflings get -3 STR. That still means a halfling could conceivably start with 15 strength and thus be stronger than a burly six-foot human blacksmith, but c'est la vie. The alternative to that is to also institute STR Maxima, which I am loath to do.

I've started playing around with the character creation rules, recreating my favourite old character, Prince Fnord the Pretty Neat and Well Beloved at 13th level. It gratified me to see how compact his basic character description could be in 5e at this relatively high level; the great bulk of his character sheet would be taken up with equipment and magical doo-dads. The hardest part about the conversion was thinking about just how to define his personality traits along the lines of the samples given. However, considering how long Fnord's been around, I don't really think it's really all that necessary; his character has long been established, so I don't really need any set written guide as to how to roleplay his reactions.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Next up in the series of Useful Potential Innocent Bystanders is this one — Reaper 77084: Townsfolk: Innkeeper.

I wanted to make his apron and washcloth look disgustingly unhygienic, and I don't know that I've really achieved that, but I'm pretty happy with it nonetheless. The pockets and folds do make it look a bit like he's wearing a happysmileyface.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


In spite of my initial inclinations to leave all the townsfolk in stunning black & white, I started painting them in colours after all.

The first of them out the gate is this housemaid or charlady or serving girl or whatever you want to call her. She's figure number 77088: Townsfolk: Grandmother, though she doesn't look very grandmotherly to me.

This could be quite a flexible gaming piece in terms of time period; she could serve for pretty much any time from the 1300s to the 1920s.

Here's another version of the same figure.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

50 Shades of Grey

Not a black & white photograph.

There's some town-based action on the near horizon in my D&D campaign, so I thought it behoved me to get some innocent bystanders painted in preparation for the inevitable carnage.

These are from Reaper's Townsfolk sets, from their first Bones Kickstarter. I have another identical set as well, so there are plenty of potential victims to stock any likely scene.

I've under-coated these in black, and then sprayed a downward-raking coat of white to bring out the contours of the figures, and to provide some artificial shadowing.

I was going to over-paint with glazes and washes, but to tell the truth I kind of like them just as they are. I think I might just leave them monochromatic, for the time being at least. Then I can play my town action in arty-farty "Sin City" black & white.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Beginning

Last night we had our first go at D&D 5e, using the el-cheapo Starter Set, with me in the DM's chair running the supplied adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver.

Inevitably there were some hiccups, since none of us really knew what we were doing. We've all played enough 3e to be comfortable with the fundamentals of playing the game, but it took us a little while to start to come to grips with the new survivability mechanisms. Also, since we were using the pre-fab characters, and none of the others had seen any of the character creation rules in the Basic Rules PDF, we had to do a little bit of deduction to figure out why some of the values given were as they are.

However, I think we're getting a decent handle on it, and it seems to play pretty smoothly and easily.

One thing that I think deserves special mention: the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic is a stroke of genius; kudos to whoever came up with that one. It's simple and intuitive, and it could be slotted into just about any RPG system (though it might get a bit cumbersome in the buckets-o'-dice games.)

One major down-side to using pre-fab characters is that players don't have the same emotional attachment to them as those they've built themselves; I have no doubt that when my PHB arrives, there will be a massive cull and replacement of characters.

The adventure is written with a neophyte DM (as well as players) in mind, which is handy because it meant I could devote more of my limited intellect to learning the new rules rather than juggling monsters and encounters. Something that I think would have been advantageous though, would have been to have the various maps printed on separate sheets — it's not a biggie, but it would have meant less page-flipping. (I've since scanned and printed them myself.) Also, having the monster descriptions/statistics in the same booklet meant I had to keep jumping from my place in the adventure to the stat-blocks and back... fortunately, the 5e monster stat-blocks are about a bajillion times simpler than the 3e ones, so it's not usually too bug a deal to scribble down the relevant info in my notebook.

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic about this version.

Dice! Dice! Dice!

The dice of FUDGE,
plus the set of polyhedrals
that came with the D&D5e Starter Set
I stepped out on to my front porch this morning to find a little package waiting for me — a couple of blisters of FUDGE dice that I ordered from Evil Hat Productions.

Each blister cost $15, for three sets of four dice (so, $1.25 per die). That's not too bad for speciality dice; not the cheapest ever, but not overly expensive considering what a niche product they are.

I really like FUDGE conceptually, but I have to confess that I've never actually run a game myself. I played in one brief game that I enjoyed, but that's it. Therefore, these dice aren't really likely to see much day-to-day use.

But now I am PREPARED.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Now, about that Kool-Aid...

This just arrived this morning. I ordered it from Amazon, because it was on sale for a shiny penny (actually about thirteen bucks) and I thought it would be a fairly cheap and easy way to get to grips with D&D5e, and more convenient than trying to use the Basic Rules PDF at the table.

Plus, it includes another set of dice to add to my collection. You can never have too many dice. They look like quite nice dice too; the standard D&D set of polyhedrals moulded in a pearlescent dark blue with good, clear, readable white numbers.

Those free Basic Rules, by the way, have improved a lot since their first release. It's been split into separate files intended for players and DMs, and now includes information about a bunch of monsters. It still suffers from over-padding in some areas, and from a paucity of material in others (e.g. character backgrounds, magic items), but it's definitely better and shows signs of getting better still. My major complaint about it is that it's pretty much just a layout dump from the hard-copy design, so unless you've got a good, large-format tablet, it's a real pain in the arse to try to use at the table.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

28mm space opera miniatures

I don't have many 28mm space opera figures at my command, and even fewer painted and ready for gaming. These are all there are so far.

I have some more that I got in the first Reaper Bones Kickstarter, but they're mostly armoured infantry figures — there's not a great deal of variety there. And very, very few female figures of any sort.

I don't recall whether there are any more to come in the next Kickstarter; I think that's due for delivery some time about November.

Cyrus Button

I've finally got around to painting a figure for my character in my friend Joff's Traveller game — Cyrus Button, bodyguard, enforcer, and party accountant. It's one of Reaper's Bones plastic range (80016: IMEF: Nick Stone by Bobby Jackson).

Just in time for the campaign to fold. Oh well, timing is everything, they say.

We never really used miniatures in that game anyway.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Here, for your printing-and-folding-and-glueing pleasure, are some doors.

The link points to a PDF of about 650 KB, with 16 doors ready to assemble, and some simple instructions.

They should be printed on reasonably heavy card. My own laser printer won't handle anything heavier than paper, so I print on to sheets of un-cut self-adhesive label paper, and then stick that to black card before cutting anything out.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

WW1 Mk.IV Heavy Tank — 1:100 scale (Peter Pig)

I bought a Mk.IV tank from Peter Pig to accompany the WW1 British infantry I bought from them a while ago. In fact the infantry and the tank aren't right together, chronologically, as by the time tanks first appeared in 1916 the Brits were equipped with steel helmets, and this one — the Mark IV — didn't appear on the battlefield until 1917.

The model isn't too bad for the price (£6.50 plus postage) but it does have its flaws. Not the least of which is that the rails running along the top of the vehicle, to hold the unditching beam, are moulded as solid plates rather than as the posts and rails they actually were. No doubt this simplifies manufacture of the model, but I think it would be substantially improved if the rails were provided as separate white metal pieces.

I set to work on it with my Dremel(ish) drill to free it up, but the resulting resin structure is a little fragile.

Once the rails were cleared out, I ground down the resin under the vehicle a bit so that the tracks are hard against the table surface, and assembled the few parts that go to make up the model. These consist of the resin body, and white metal sponsons and unditching beam.

The sponsons suffered a bit from pitting, and needed some filing to get the affected surfaces flat again. All the rivet detail is impressed into the surfaces rather than standing proud, so it was a simple matter to replace it where I'd filed it away.

I gave the whole thing a base coat of khaki-green to begin with, and because I intended to paint it in the outlined disruptive camouflage pattern typical of late-war vehicles, I marked in the crazy-paving pattern in black.

I find it much easier to do the outlines first and then colour in the panels rather than the other way around.

Once all the camouflage had been applied, and the unditching beam and chains and what-not painted, it was just a matter of weathering the crap out of it. I don't go overboard with mud effects in this small scale, because they tend to drown any detail present, so instead there's just a lot of streaking and stuff like that.

I managed to bust a section of unditching rail while I was weathering, and the fragment flew off I know not where. I could fix it easily enough, but I probably won't bother.

And now it's done.