Saturday 31 December 2011

Fun For All The Family... With Tables!

Demon-slaying is a fun and profitable pass-time that everyone can enjoy. But demons aren't your everyday monster; they shouldn't just fall over and expire when you slay them. So, when you land that killing blow, rattle your d20 and...

What Happens When A Demon Dies?
1The killing wound bursts into flame which spreads rapidly through the demon's body, incinerating it from the inside out and leaving nothing but greasy ashes and thick, stinking smoke.
2The demon collapses into a pile of squirming, slimy worms, which rapidly disperse, leaving behind a foetid slime-patch where the demon fell.
3The demon deflates as thousands of small black beetles pour from the killing wound and scurry away.
4The demon petrifies instantly into solid granite. A weapon that inflicted the killing blow is momentarily trapped; make an easy STR save to free it (the attempt takes one attack).
5The demon petrifies instantly into very soft, friable stone that will crumble to the touch.
6The demon instantly freezes solid, falls over and shatters into a million shards. A weapon that inflicted the killing blow is momentarily trapped; make an easy STR save to keep hold of it as the slain demon falls.
7The demon transforms into a cloud of tiny, vicious birds that immediately turn on each other, pecking and slashing until the flock disperses in 1-3 rounds.
8The demon swells up like a bullfrog, tearing open from the point of the killing wound and spilling its bones and entrails out across the surrounding area. Anyone within 20' must make a CON save to avoid throwing up in their mouth.
9The demon disappears with a blinding flash and a deafening crack, leaving behind nothing but a small cloud of stinking smoke. Save or be dazzled and deafened for 1d3-1 rounds.
10The demon implodes, its hide crushing its bones and entrails, until all that is left is a small, leathery, wrinkled ball (about 6" in diameter) smelling strongly of putrescence.
11The demon explodes, showering everything within 20' in stinking mince.
12Translucent, ethereal tentacles spring up from the ground and drag the demon down to the abyss, leaving nothing behind but a shadow that slowly dissipates.
13The demon collapses into a pile of worn terracotta blocks, a couple of inches on a side. If someone wanted to take the time and effort, and had access to mortar and brickworking skills, they could be reassembled into a brick statue of the demon.
14Thick, stinking, tarry ooze gushes from all of the corpse's orifices. It sticks like treacle (and tastes absolutely disgusting).
15The demon and everything within 20' is covered with (harmless) electrical arcs for 1-3 rounds, after which it disappears with a flash and a smell of ozone.
16The demon disappears, leaving behind only an irridescent green pearl about half an inch in diameter. It is subtly unpleasant to look upon or to touch, and leaves a viewer with the distinct impression that it's watching them.
17The demon putresces and mummifies incredibly rapidly, as if a hundred years of decomposition takes place in a moment, and then falls to the floor, shattering into scraps of hide, bone and dust.
18The demon's skin sloughs off, then its muscles and entrails fall away, leaving its skeleton standing in the posture it was in at the point of death. If touched, the bones will collapse into dust.
19The demon, and everything around, it appears to suddenly stretch out to a hundred times its length and then snap back like a rubber band, disappearing with a noise like a bag of custard hitting the footpath, having been dropped from the top of a high tower. Make a WIS save or be severely disoriented for 1d3 rounds.
20The demon is petrified into a statue of sand; a wind arises and blows it back to the Abyss in 1d3 rounds. Make a DEX save to close your eyes or be temporarily blinded by wind-blown demon-grit.

Friday 30 December 2011

Android Ahoy!

I recently got a B&N Nook Color from a friend, which has been rooted and turned into an Android tablet. I'm pretty happy with it so far, and I've just loaded it up with a bunch of gaming PDFs.

I'm using RepliGo for PDF reading at the moment, and it works pretty well and reliably, but it does have one major fault (for my purposes), which is that it will only keep one file open at a time. I believe that something called GoodReader for iOS uses a tabbed interface to switch between open files, but I haven't been able to find anything comparable for Android. Does anybody out there know of such a thing?

Being unable to switch easily and seamlessly between files makes tablet-based reference reading much, much less useful or easy than it should be. I really hope they'll be addressing this soon.

Tuesday 27 December 2011


Xmas goodies for FREE! Go here, where you can find your way to this spectacularly well produced hundred-and-a-bit pages of adventures, locations, tables and what-not, all produced from the fecund brain-meats of people just like you and me and offered up FREE (did I mention that it's free?) to people just like you and me.

I'm impressed. Also grateful. Thanks, people-less-lazy-than-me! Thanks a bunch!

Saturday 24 December 2011


I originally saw this this illustration by Les Edwards in Omni magazine (I think), and then again in a collection of illustration that I bought in about '83 (I think).

I found it immensely evocative then, and still do. It would make an excellent setting for a megadungeon-based campaign.

Wednesday 30 November 2011


Dang! Looks like Hero Games is pretty screwed. They're cutting their full-time staff down to a total of ONE, which isn't a good sign. I really hope they can come around again, they've managed to return from the dead before, but I wouldn't bet my life on it.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Creepy Critter

All I know about this thing is that it's a bat of some kind, and that it creeps me out. Enlarge it to human-size, and you have a creature of nightmares.

And here's another: a leaf-tail gecko:

Friday 18 November 2011

Hirelings from Planet Algol

Read this.

It's the first time I've seen anything written from the point of view of the hirelings. It's great.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Very Excellent Screen of Fitz

I've made several DM screens in my time, as I've moved through various rule-sets and their various editions.

The first one I ever made was made of very heavy card (Whakatane board, for those who know what that is), lovingly illustrated on the players' side by me in pen and ink and coloured pencil, and like all of them until the Age of Computers, the DM's side assembled from photocopied tables from the PHB and DMG. It took me many, many hours of loving work.

That one was eaten by a dog. I was not happy.

This one consists of four sheets, 210mm square, in a concertina fold, the whole lot held together with white (off-white, really) cloth tape. Previously I've mounted the printed sheets on heavy card; this time I just laminated them back-to-back and taped them together, and it seems to be quite sturdy enough for use, and will fold a lot flatter.

It's designed for my ultra-houseruled version of Swords & Wizardry. There's really not a lot in S&W that the DM has to have constant reference to; there's so little to the rules that they're pretty easy to remember, so I've had to pad out these four sheets to get enough stuff on there to fill them up.

The outside — the players' side — has been decorated with an assemblage of Dyson's excellent dungeomorphs, slapped together with the aid of the also excellent Dave's Mapper.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

In praise of the Dice of Fudge

Minus one. Slight bummer.
Once upon a time, a chap called Steffan O'Sullivan instigated a process that ended up with the creation of a generic roleplaying game system which he called FUDGE.

I really like FUDGE conceptually, but it requires a lot of work from the GM to build a campaign. There's a reasonable amount of stuff available for it, already built by people like us with an unreasonable obsession with playing make-believe games — for example, there was a pretty complete port of AD&D to FUDGE built by a guy called Peter Mikelsons some years ago (it, and he, appears to have dropped entirely off the internet). But if you want to build something from the ground up, expect to put in some pretty hard slog.

Anyway. About the dice.

FUDGE's core resolution dynamic rests on rolling a number — often, but not always, three or four — of d3 marked with a plus sign, a minus sign, and blank face (there are two of each on a d6, like those in the picture). You can buy dedicated FUDGE dice like those shown here, or you can just use ordinary six-siders, counting 1-2 as a minus, 3-4 as blank, and 5-6 as a plus. The pluses and minuses are tallied against each other, with blanks being neutral, so scores from -4 to +4 are possible on 4dF (though there's only a 1:1,296 chance of getting either of those results on any given throw). The higher your plus result, the better the outcome. The lower the minus result, the worse things turn out.

What I like about them is that the results conform statistically to a bell-curve, where things are most likely to be only averagely good or bad, but with the (small) possibility of astounding wonderfulness or horrifying horribleness. You can easily modify the degree of potential wonderfulness/horribleness by adjusting the number of dice thrown. I like to use them as Luck Dice, in situations when things could go either way and the outcome rests in the laps of the gods. They fulfil a similar role to a d20 saving throw, but without the linear result curve, and without any level-based modification.

Of course there's no reason why I couldn't just use regular six-siders. But as may have become apparent, I really do like special dice.

Friday 14 October 2011


Falling damage is something I've been wrestling with for many years. On the one hand, one doesn't want to make it as deadly as it is in real life, as that would tend to make for a level of character mortality that would delight only the most sadistic DM (or masochistic player). On the other hand, if it's not serious enough you end up with the situation where a massively muscled but brainless fighter with many, many hit-points* will simply hurl himself off a hundred-foot-high cliff as a means of getting into a fight faster. That may be heroic, but it's a bit too anime-ridiculous for me these days.

What I'm thinking is this:

  • Falling characters take 1d6 damage per 10' per 10' fallen — i.e. 1d6 for the first 10', plus 2d6 for the second 10', plus 3d6 for the third, and so on — up to a maximum of 20d6 (terminal velocity).
  • Falling (or fallen) characters are concussed for one Turn per point of damage over their level. They will be seeing double, will probably puke if they attempt any vigorous activity (or even no activity), and all their die rolls will be at minus 1 per Turn of concussion remaining. For example, a level 5 character who takes 10 points of falling damage will be concussed for 5 Turns, and will be at -5 to everything the first Turn, at -4 the second, -3 the next, and so on.
  • A character who takes more falling damage than their level plus CON score is knocked out; the duration of unconsciousness is up to the DM, but when they wake up they will be concussed (as above) for at least a day.

Hopefully this will make falling dangerous enough to make players wary of suffering it, but not so dangerous the campaign will be littered with more broken and splattered corpses than is fun.

I'm tempted to allow a saving throw to halve falling damage, just because I think almost anything should allow some chance at mitigation. If so, I'd probably make the save at -1 per die of damage taken after the first, or something like that. Or maybe you get to knock off one die of damage for every point you make the save by... that might be better than a flat halving.

*His name was Smirnoff. He was one of my very first D&D characters, and had practically no skills except taking damage and dishing it out in vast amounts.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

The Damage Done

Back in those ancient days of yore when giants walked the earth and D&D was O, every weapon and every monster did 1d6 damage with a successful attack. The rationale was, I believe, that because a dagger was capable of killing a person with a single blow, and a two-handed sword was equally capable of inflicting a mere scratch, that having different damage ranges for different weapons would be functionally pointless, though I believe (I'm not really sure here) that weapons like greatswords got to roll two dice and took the best score. Maybe not. Anyway, the system is still used by people playing with the original D&D Little Brown Books, and with S&W White Box. Somebody on the Swords & Wizardry forums suggested using it for S&W Core Rules as well, but using a d8 instead of a d6.

I find the idea attractive for one major reason: it makes a character's choice of weapon largely aesthetic; there's no weapon-damage min-maxing to be done. If a scimitar suits a character conception better than a greatsword, the player won't be tempted to go for an inappropriate weapon for mechanical reasons. Also, there's nothing for the DM to remember when it comes to what damage a monster does with its fangs or claws or tail-bash or whatever.

It does have its aesthetic down-side though. In a game in which encumbrance is actually important, everyone is going to be using daggers exclusively — and why not? They're lighter, smaller, you can throw them, and they do just as much damage as anything else.

The most important reason not to adopt Ye Olde Damyge Systeme though is this: it reduces still further the use of all those excellent funny-shaped dice. And the poor d12 already gets the short end of the stick there.

I think I'll stick with the many-dice model.

Friday 30 September 2011

Dear oh dear oh dear

After a false start last week, I re-started my S&W campaign last night. Oh deary deary me.

I totally sucked. The suckage was immense. I stand in awe at my own suckitude.

I was really not on my game at all; I forgot to take all my maps and other prep stuff for a start — we were playing at Andrew's place, not mine, so instead of just going to another room to get the stuff I'd forgotten I had to go home again. Then, once we got going I found that I was really just not feeling the vibe, and my descriptive powers were bland and lacklustre to say the least. I managed to kill one of the party more or less accidentally in the set-up to the campaign start, and then killed half the party with trolls later on due to woolly-headed thinking about the nature of the battlefield* (it was on board a small ship). I may have to go back to using miniatures and tabletop battle-maps so that people can make meaningful tactical decisions without having to rely on my worthless brain-meats to keep track of everything.

Now, I don't actually mind too much killing characters, but I really do prefer it if it's their fault (or at least, the fault of an uncaring universe via random probability variations) and not mine. Annette really takes it personally, but then she seems to think that the GM should actually be benevolently on the side of the characters, poor naïve trusting soul that she is. I don't think that, but I don't think the GM's incompetence should have to be one of the challenges the characters have to work against.

D. Must try harder. See me after class.

* In my own defence, nobody except Andrew actually asked any questions about the battlefield or attempted any sort of tactical action, so the combat just boiled down to a dice-rolling competition — three 5th-level characters against five critters, each roughly the combat-equivalent of a 9th-level fighter. I'd say they got off lightly, really.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

More creativity from somebody else

Zak, from over at Playing D&D With Porn Stars, came up with this excellent rationalization of a D&D-style multiplanar milieu. I do believe I may steal it in its entirety and run off sniggering into the night, with a muah-ha-ha-haaaa and a twirling of my dastardly moustachios.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Monsters and Manuals: Yes I Just Collated Loads Of Stuff From Other Blog Entries

Monsters and Manuals: Yes I Just Collated Loads Of Stuff From Other Blog Entries

Oh, the irony. Sort of. Of just publishing a link to a collation. I don't necessarily agree with 100% of what noisms has to say, but he does often stir up my brain-meats.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Talking Animals

I was reading through some AD&D spell descriptions yesterday, and noted that the druid and magic-user versions of Reincarnation differ quite dramatically in the range of critters a dead character can come back as. The druid spell will probably bring you back as an animal of some kind, while the magic-user version will always result in some humanoid type or other.

Dark Sword anthropomorphic mouse fighter,
nice miniatures, if you like that sort of thing
In my Swords & Wizardry campaigns, I've conflated the magic-user and cleric spell lists, so there's just the one version of reincarnation, and there's no set list of resulting creature types. It occurs to me that the spell would be an ideal explanation for the existence of talking anthropomorphic animals with opposable thumbs and a bad attitude....

It's an outcome that would have to be employed with some care. Not every player is a secret (or not-so-secret) furry, not every player is going to enjoy waking up as a talking badger. But for those who swing that way, it could be fun, until the novelty wears off.

I've never really seen the point of the druidic reincarnation spell; it always seemed to me that it was mostly a pointless waste of time and an annoying "gotcha!" — your character dies, boo-hoo, but not to worry, you can be reincarnated! And you come back to life, but as a muskrat or something, and scurry off to burrow through the leaf-litter eating bugs (or whatever muskrats do). Not a lot of scope for adventuring there.

Tuesday 20 September 2011


Looking back over some old — sometimes very old — campaign journals, I note that hirelings are most notable by their absence. It seems to be taken for granted in all the old-school rulebooks that PCs will hire flunkies to do their heavy carrying and what-not, but we almost never did as far as I can find.

Maybe it's because we were always too cheap to pay wages, but I think it's more likely because we were a bunch of softies who felt guilty at the inevitable demise of such fragile creatures, for whom we felt a responsibility of care. It's bad enough having to constantly replace horses, especially if (by some miracle) they'd lasted a couple of adventures without being gutted and eaten by some hideous abomination.

It's a pity really; the addition of a miscellaneous group of sometimes questionable reliability or loyalty, largely reliant on the PCs for their very survival, can add an interesting social element to running a party. It actually makes Charisma useful, instead of becoming the inevitable dump-stat. And if, as we were, the players are basically decent types who played basically decent types, the very vulnerability of the hirelings to a ridiculously dangerous environment can provide the DM with a host of side-quest ideas.

NOTE: The picture to the right, of Bearer No.4, was one of the very first things I coloured in Photoshop 2, but I can't for the life of me find the coloured version, so this will just have to do. The one to the left is a recent thing that I doodled in Painter VIII.

Sunday 18 September 2011



HD: 1-3 hp
AC: 5 [14]
Attack: Bite 1-2 pts, claws 1-3 pts
Move: 12"
Save: 18
Special: Venomous bite, climbing, camouflage

These shy, diminutive creatures are hunters and scavengers, about the size of a chihuahua, preying on any insect, reptile or mammal up to about the size of a rat, or feeding on the remains of any larger animals they may find. They are not particularly aggressive unless cornered, and will (if possible) flee from anything larger or more dangerous than their prey; if they attack a larger creature, it will be solely so that they can escape, and they will not persist if an escape route presents itself.

Their needle-like fangs can inflict deep puncture wounds, and the bite is venomous: a paralysing and  necrotizing poison that numbs and eats away at the surrounding tissue, leaving it dead and gangrenous. A bite to a hand or foot will, over the course of a few Turns, will leave it numb, useless and stinking. A bite to the head or neck can easily kill the victim.

The adder-wyrm has gecko-like pads on its spatulate toes, allowing it to run up sheer surfaces and even across ceilings. Like a chameleon, it has an extensible tongue that it can use to attack flying insects and the like, and it can also change its colour to match its background — when motionless, an adder-wyrm can be quite difficult to detect.

The retiring nature of the adder-wyrm means that it usually presents no great threat to adventurers, but they will sometimes creep into a bag or pack in search of food, and may sometimes be surprised during the search of a chamber.

Adder-wyrms live in all sorts of environments short of arctic cold, and in the tropics they can become something of a pest, as they breed more successfully the warmer and more humid the climate. They are often found underground when food is plentiful.

Adder-wyrms make very poor pets, but might possibly serve as a wizard's familiar.

Monday 12 September 2011


I'm not sure where this excellent map of Old Constantinople came from, but it's great. It wouldn't be as easy to use in a game as a boring old plan view of the city, and it's certainly not accurate to scale, but it's a wonderfully evocative image.

This is a modern image, but it's very reminiscent of 15th-16th century woodcut city maps I've seen from Northern Europe, especially Germany.

Friday 9 September 2011

Treasure Map

I like to have physical props for my players to fiddle with, and one of the ones I've created over the years was this treasure map which I made to go with the opening of a low-level campaign I ran once.

All the characters started out as zero-level farm brats, the McMurdoch siblings, forced off the farm upon the death of their father. This map was found amongst his effects, along with his old sword and chain shirt.

That campaign was at its most fun when the characters were all hopelessly incompetent, but as they gained experience it became a lot more run-of-the-mill — I don't mean it wasn't fun then too, but it wasn't really much different to any other campaign. In the beginning, decisions like what farm equipment to take with them really mattered (they decided to take the anvil, for some reason). Later on, that sort of stuff disappeared. Ah well.

Anyway, I drew the map with coloured ink on heavy rag paper, and then baked it until it became quite fragile so that the players (just like their characters) had to be quite careful about how they handled it.


Another old picture. A creepy bald wizard this time; you just know he means no good.


I have shown this image before, but not here, so here it is.

This is a critter I drew for my AD&D campaign some considerable time ago. Apart from some camouflage ability, there was nothing particularly special about them; they were pretty much just generic orc-replacements for a desert adventure.

However, that's not to say they couldn't be made a lot more interesting if one were so inclined.

The image can be inflated merely by clicking on it. What a marvellous age this is in which we live!

NOTE: The image is skewed because that's how I drew it. I don't remember why I did that.

Monday 5 September 2011

Siegfried Slays the Dragon Fafnir

I was looking through some old sketch books and found this — I drew it some time in 1985, when I was "working" at the Lyttelton Library on some student job scheme or other. I was hired to produce a history of Lyttelton for the Harbour Board, but when they found out how much it would cost to print they dumped that idea and shuffled me off into a back room at the library, out of sight and out of mind. I spent my time there reading through their science-fiction and fantasy collection, and scribbling in my sketchbooks.
Even older than that is this one, from 1983. It was drawn from a photograph of a Tibetan rhododendron forest, and I just added the little dude on the rock. It's drawn with a Rotring rapidograph, probably a 0.18mm nib since that's what I favoured at the time. I quite like it really.

Saturday 3 September 2011

I shall call him... Mini-Me

A couple of days ago, another purchase arrived in my mailbox. Observe, if you will, the beauty and glory that is the A5 size imprint of the OSRIC AD&D retroclone, from Usherwood Publishing. I show it here with the large-format hardcover and softcover versions of the same content.

It's a Lulu print-on-demand book, and costs $US 13.50 (plus postage to NZ of about $7). With the exchange rate as it is at the moment, it ended up costing me about $NZ 26-ish all-up, which is not too bad at all.

It's terrific, and I can see it being my default version in use. I'm a great fan of smaller book sizes than the traditional US Letter format; they take up less room on the table, they're easier to shelve, and they're much lighter and more convenient to carry around.

A tool in search of a task

Today was the official grand re-opening of Comics Compulsion, the pusher of all my comic-based junk, who had been forced to move owing to earthquakes knocking down most of our central business district. They also stock wargaming and roleplaying stuff, though naturally they go for the more commercially viable brands (Warhammer, Flames of War, D&D4e etc.) rather than the weirdo crap I prefer.

I wandered along there to take a look at the new premises and to pick up a stash of 2000AD and Judge Dredd comics, and while standing at the counter I saw THIS ⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒

A d30. A thirty-sided die. A die for generating random numbers from one to thirty.

Now, at present I have absolutely no use for a d30, except maybe to generate random days of the month (which I could do with a d3 and a d10 anyway). However, if there's one thing I've learned over the years it is that not having an immediate use for a Cool Thing is no reason not to own one, so without hesitation I laid down the princely sum of four bucks to get a d30 of my very own.

So, now I have one. All I need now is some reason to use it. Time to start hunting out all the d30-based random generation tables people with too much time on their hands have been obsessively compiling for just such an occasion.

Monday 22 August 2011

I am alive!

It's been a while since I posted anything here, and I think that's because I'm not GMing at all these days.

When I'm GMing, I think about roleplaying a lot (especially about how to torture an innocent rule system into some sort of freakish, twisted, mutant form of itself), but when I'm not actually running a game I find that I don't really think about the nuts and bolts of gaming at all. I play, I enjoy myself a lot, and then I go away and think about other things until it's time to play again. It's quite laid back really, which is good for a while.

As for modelling stuff — well, it's winter here and it's bloody cold in my workroom. It's much nicer to sit by our nice new wood-burner, all toasty and warm than to huddle in my man-cave with my nose running and teeth chattering. I've been tinkering with a design for a portable modelling-station-in-a-box with built-in lights and what-not, but haven't progressed very far with it as yet, not least because to build it I would have to spend time shivering in the refrigerator that is my workshop. It's kind of a Catch-22 thing, since when my workshop becomes bearable I won't have to worry about needing a portable workstation, and it will therefore fly from my mind.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Misty Temple Scenery

I'm not sure where this is, or what those conical structures are, but it has a south-east Asian look to me. I could be completely wrong though.

Mist and fog are great for atmospherics, but they work more easily in film (or real life) than in DMing. You really have to work your descriptive muscles to accentuate the claustrophobic creepiness, and stretch your players' paranoia levels until their nerves are really twanging, and then...... maybe nothing happens. What a let-down. Pffft. Then, BOO! The running, and the screaming...

Sunday 24 July 2011

Mister Potato-head Goblin

This is just a little doodle I did this evening and finished off with texture and tone in Painter XIII.

Monday 18 July 2011

GHQ vs. H&R

Clickify to embiggenate
Here's a comparison between GHQ infantry (on the left) and Heroics & Ros infantry (on the right). They're both Vickers machine-gun teams; the GHQ figures in desert uniform and the H&R figures in ETO battledress.

GHQ cost $US 9.95 for 50-60 figures. H&R cost £2.50 for about 50; at current exchange rates, that's about $NZ 11.50 and $NZ 5.00 respectively. Postage rates are more expensive for H&R; they charge an additional 40% for shipping from the UK to New Zealand, but that's still not nearly enough to make them as costly as GHQ figures.

GHQ figures cost more than twice as much as H&R, but then they're undeniably better sculpted. However, though they're cruder, H&R figures are still easily identifiable as to weapon load, troop type and so forth, and so serve perfectly well as wargaming units. At arm's length, on the tabletop, GHQ's finer modelling really doesn't make itself obvious, so from a functional point of view, H&R would be the obvious choice — after all, why pay all that extra for detail you're mostly not going to see?

I do like a nicely-detailed model, but that alone wouldn't be enough to make me pay a premium for GHQ. What does push me over into buying from GHQ is the fact that I can do all my purchasing automatically, direct from their website, and their stuff arrives here in New Zealand within seven to ten days. When dealing with H&R, on the other hand, I have to make my choices, send them an email order, wait for them to send me a PayPal invoice, pay them, and then wait for the figures to arrive. That extra inconvenience is enough to get me to pay extra just to avoid it.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Castle in the Mist

More gamish scenery. The hand-rails and lamp-post might be a bit out of place, but apart from that...

(Image nicked from imgur)

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Genius of Zak Makes Me Weak at the Knees

Zak, of Playing D&D With PornStars and Vornheim fame, suggested this initiative sysytem:

Each side rolls initiative (one die for all the PCs, one die for the GM).
  • The winning side has one character go (if it's the PCs, they just choose among themselves who'll go first)
  • Then the losing side has one character go
  • Then the winning side has one character go...
etc. etc. the side with more characters has the leftovers all go at the end.
This is an idea of sublime genius, and I want to try it IMMEDIATELY.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

New toys make me happy

I just received an order of GHQ 1:285 infantry in the post, and I'm more excited by it than a grown gentleman of a Certain Age should be. They are ridiculously detailed, though they're also rather large for what are supposed to be 6mm figures (they're more like 8mm). Personally I don't really mind that they're a trifle gigantic; there tends to be differences in scale between terrain features and vehicles anyway, ground scale vs. model scale is way out of whack, and as long as they don't look too out of place the infantry can all be 8-foot heroes as far as I'm concerned. And they are great little figures.

The trouble with very highly-detailed figures is that one is tempted to spend more time than is really warranted for wargames figures in painting them; even so, they're still a lot quicker and easier to paint than 15mm stuff.

Realistically, once they're based and on the table being pushed around to the sound of mouth-sound-effects and the rattle of dice, there's not really any functional difference between these guys and Heroics & Ros infantry, which are smaller (much closer to nominal 6mm scale), much less detailed (though still perfectly identifiable) and much, much cheaper.

Monday 11 July 2011

Crusader Mk.I (15mm)

This is my latest 15mm (1:100 scale) AFV model — a Crusader Mk.I, from Battlefront. The Crusader, in any of its incarnations, is one of my favourite British tanks of WWII; from an aesthetic point of view I find it a great pity that the Sherman was so much more useful, and so displaced it.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Lock-picking for all!

I'm not in favour of absolute exclusivity between the classes in my D&D campaigns. Anyone can try pretty much anything, as long as the players can reasonably justify it somehow. The benefit you get by choosing one class over another is that, whatever your class schtick might be, you can do it better than any of the other classes. At first level the difference might not be extreme, but it will become so as you rise in level.

In this spirit, I present my house-rules for handling lock-picking.

Picking Locks

Anyone, with access to a set of lock-picks and a little bit of training*, can attempt to pick a lock. An attempt takes one Turn (ten minutes) and succeeds if a 1 is rolled on 1d6.
* When I say "a little bit of training" I really do mean a little bit. Basic lock-picking is easy; a couple of hours instruction is enough to get anyone of reasonable intelligence into action.
If you buy a set of lock-picks as part of your starting equipment, it can be assumed that you've had that basic training as part of your character's background. If not, (i.e. after character creation) you'd have to seek out such training in-game.
If a 6 is rolled, the lock is unopenable — the pick breaks off in it, the mechanism is jammed, or something else similar occurs — and will require attention from somebody with real skill (i.e. a Thief or a locksmith) to clear it before another attempt can be made.

A Thief works in fundamentally the same way, but has advantages:
  1. A Thief takes a Round (one minute) per attempt, not a Turn.
  2. A Thief succeeds on a 1 or 2, but still jams the lock on a 6.
  3. A Thief can use a successful picklock roll to clear a jammed lock. (Note that a 6 rolled on a clearing attempt makes the situation worse: each additional 6 doubles the number of successes required to clear the lock).
  4. At every three levels, a Thief gets an additional die to roll per attempt; a 1 or 2 rolled on any of them indicates a success, and a success on one die can be used to cancel out a jamming result (a 6) on another (a success used to cancel a jamming result doesn't count against the successes required to open the lock).
Note that a successful picklock roll won't neccessarily open a lock; more difficult locks might require two, three or more successes to get them open. Particularly fiendish locks might even require multiple simultaneous successes, and would thus only be openable by Thieves of elevated rank. Or by a key.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Certain Death

Why "certain death"?

Because if you get rid of that modern-looking cable car, then getting into this place will probably involve a party swimming and/or climbing.

Both of those activities have a much higher mortality rate, in every game I've played in, than even the most terrifyingly armoured, venomous, fire-breathing, fanged and clawed monster.

This can only be in Japan, and there's no way I'd live there — a decent earthquake would be likely to snap those puny supports and send the whole kit and kaboodle into the sea.

Friday 8 July 2011

Magical Landscape

Just because I haven't done a scenery piece for a while, here's this magical landscape. It's somewhere on the borderland between Germany and the Czech republic.

Last night

We finally managed to get another session of Joff's Travelleroid game played last night, after a bit of a hiatus due to various real-world irritations, and it was a HOOT!

To cut a long story to its absolute essentials: we successfully nicked a spaceship and some other stuff from a bunch of mercenaries without actually getting any of us killed (but only just).

More detailed session log here.

Our gaming group appears to have an uncanny ability to roll dice at either end of the curve without ever visiting the middle, which means strings of either abject, humiliating, farcical failure, or crushing triumph, with nothing much in between. The GM, no matter who might actually be taking that role, somehow manages to regularly roll higher than is statistically likely.

We're using a d20 mechanic, which means that the curve is actually a line. I'm not a fan of that for simulationist gaming; I think a multi-dice bell curve is better in that respect, as it reduces the effect of luck and emphasizes adjustments for character skill. However, I do like linear probability for more cinematic gaming because extreme results are more common, and extreme results are more amusing... as long as you're not taking things too seriously. It can get a bit depressing when the extreme results consist of nothing but pathetic fumbles, one after the other, but que sera sera.

Anyway, we can enjoy our ill-gotten spaceship for a while before its inevitable theft from us in turn, almost certainly stranding us all on some awful shit-hole of a planet, because one of us once again manages to throw a 1 at a crucial juncture.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Boring old magic weapons

I hate those stupid anime/GW oversized weapons.
I have an idea for defining how the pluses (e.g. +1, +2 etc.) could work for magic weapons.

A +1 weapon, instead of just adding +1 point of damage, the player would roll +1 damage die, and choose which of the two results to use. A +2 weapon would add two dice, and so forth. A character wielding a +2 longsword would get to roll 3d8 instead of 1d8, and could choose the result showing on any of them. A +1 dagger would roll 2d4 instead of 1d4, and so forth.

Just to clear up any misconceptions: you DON'T add all the dice to get a damage result, you CHOOSE ONE of them.

I should note that I have done absolutely no statistical analysis to determine how this might affect damage infliction rates. At this point, it's just a brain-fart.

I guess it should work well enough for cursed weapons as well, except that the player would lose the element of choice and would always have to take the worst result, normally the lowest.... but if, for example, attacking a friend while charmed, it might be the higher.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Battlefront 15mm A9 Cruisers

These 15mm (1:100 scale) models of the A9 Cruiser Mk.1 are Battlefront's old casts; they've since been remastered, but I haven't seen any of the new ones in the wild so I don't know how they compare. These ones were given to me by my friend Steve.

I've painted them in BEF livery, circa 1940. It's taken me an age to get them finished.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Great Geomorphic Genesis, Batman!


(The link goes to Stonewerks blog).  I'd just like to second the plea for an automated geomorphic mapper to pump out pseudo-3d maps like this.

It would not only make me happy, it would also align the stars and bring peace and happiness on earth.

(NOTE: I am not a programmer, so I have absolutely no clue how difficult such a thing would be to create.)

Monday 13 June 2011


Today, two major earthquakes within a couple of hours once again laid waste to my workroom. The shelf module holding the plastic storage drawer thingummies that I keep all my figures in, painted and unpainted, tore itself loose from its brackets and dumped everything on to the floor, simultaneously blocking the door so that it will be very, very tricky getting in there to clear it all up (again).

There's bound to be other chaos in there too, but that's all I could see through the tiny gap I could force in the doorway.

I'm really over all this earthwobbling crap. Enough is enough.

Monday 6 June 2011

"Plastic Soldier" and Battlefront 15mm Pz IV comparison

The sprue - obverse and reverse
The Plastic Soldier Company makes, well duh, plastic toy soldiers for wargamers, in 15mm (1:100) and 25mm (1:72). They also make a limited, but expanding, range of vehicles and guns in those scales.

Proving that I have absolutely no impulse control, I just bought a box of their 15mm Panzer IV models in spite of the fact that I'm (supposedly) getting out of 15mm WWII gaming. There are 5 models to the box for $45 NZ; not too dear, but they could certainly be cheaper, since they retail for £16.50 (about $NZ 35.00) direct from their website.

Parts are supplied to build Ausf. F1, F2, G or H models of the Panzer IV, though some compromises have had to be made — for example, the muzzle brake on the long 75mm gun barrel is more or less right for the G or H, but not for the F2. However, the fundamental form of the Panzer IV never really changed, and unless you're feeling really anal about it the errors in detail really don't matter that much on the wargames table, and if you are feeling anal about it, plastic is a lot easier to modify than resin and/or metal.

Shown here on the left is Battlefront's model of the Panzer IV D (which I use as a stand-in for the Pz.IV A of 1939-40).
To the right is the offering from Plastic Soldier, built as the F1.
The two are pretty close in size and proportion, and would mix and match well enough on the table.

Each kit comes on a single sprue in a dark yellow plastic that is a reasonable match for the German Dunkelgelb base colour. They go together very smoothly. There are a couple of things to be wary of though, when building the track assemblies:
  1. The drive sprockets are not interchangeable left and right; make sure you have the right one for the appropriate track assembly.
  2. The tracks come in two sections, an upper and a lower run, and will only fit properly one way. Test-fit before charging ahead with your glue.
A few stowage extras (spare road wheels, jerrycans, a length of track) are provided on the sprue, and there is also a set of schurzen for those who want to build the Ausf.H. Unfortunately the sheet showing an exploded view of the model presents only the Ausf.F1 build, so if you want to do any of the later models you'll have to nut it out yourself.

No transfers are provided, so markings will have to be painted on, or transfers in the correct scale obtained elsewhere (Battlefront sell them).

In the example shown here, I've just sprayed it with Vallejo ModelAir German Grey, given it a wash of Devlan Mud, and then a quick dry-brush in VMC Stone Grey to highlight the detail. Properly weathered, and with the commander and markings decently painted, it would look just as good as the more expensive resin model I think.

Compared with Battlefront's resin and white-metal model, the injection-moulded Plastic Soldier model's detail is generally crisper, more delicate and more regular. On the other hand, surface details like the tools on the fenders are more deeply modelled on the Battlefront model, and have more dimension to them. The Battlefront model is heavier, and feels more satisfying in the hand, but it's an easy matter to add weight to the plastic model by glueing a couple of lead weights into the hull during assembly.

In the end, where the Plastic Soldier model really comes out ahead is in price. On a model by model basis, you pay less than half what you'd have to fork out for Battlefront models (and resin/metal models are only going to get dearer). If you're on a budget, the choice is clear — build the bulk of your armies in plastic, and only spend the big bucks where you absolutely have to, for specialty items.

Thursday 2 June 2011


Clickerate to embigginify

Apart from the outlines, which were drawn in black fountain-pen, this is all done digitally — the tones and textures are all drawn in Photoshop.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Swampy Ruiny Goodness

Combining my two great DMing loves: swamps and ruins. The possibilities are endless (and slimy).

Wednesday 25 May 2011


Click on the picture to enlargenatify
I have no idea where this is, only that it looks cool. You don't want to be paddling your canoe into this shit, you bet.

I'd use it lke this:
  1. Give the party information that the entrance to some underground cave complex or tomb or something, containing something they want, is behind a waterfall on the River of Certain Painful Death (or whichever river you prefer).
  2. Provide them with landmarks to look for so that they'll know when they're in more or less the right place.
  3. Allow them to struggle up-river through dense jungle for three or four weeks.
  4. Eventually, when you're getting bored with their suffering, tell them that they've spotted the landmarks they're looking for and have them start casting about for the waterfall.
  5. Show them the picture.
  6. Have a digital camera handy to capture their expressions.
But then, I'm kind of a bastard.


Black ball-point pen on cartridge paper

For some reason, when I think of Chaos (in the Moorcockian sense) I alway think of tentacles. Tentacles and eyeballs.

I got really bored with this before it was half-way finished.

Friday 20 May 2011

Build Your Own Cult For Fun And Profit

Click to bloat
I was flailing around last night, trying to put together a credible cult for use in an upcoming episode of my D&D campaign, and my poor old brain was overheating a bit with the work, trying to come up with a multitude of interelated personalities and agendas.

Then I had an epiphany — it occurred to me that I had a ready-made Evil Cult right at hand in the Nazis. It fulfilled all of the requirements, having just the sort of organisation, personalities and inner rivalries that I wanted to represent.

The best part is that it was already made up; all I have to do is to assign new names to the various personalities, maybe give a few of them some powers (the "Hitler", for example, would get some clerical and mind-control powers), and Bob's yer uncle. Instant Evil Cult! It should work for cults of any size, from a couple of hundred, lurking in the shadows, to massive cults oppressing whole populations.

Now to crank up the Everchanging Book of Names and get to work. Now let's see, who's going to be the "Göbbels"......?

Thursday 19 May 2011

The Caunter Scheme for the A9 Cruiser Mk.I

This "dazzle" scheme was named after its inventor, and was used by British forces in the Middle East and North Africa 1940-41.

Mike Starmer has written an excellent reference about it — there's a review of it by Peter Brown on the PMMS site. I'd really like to get my hands on a copy, but I've never seen on in the flesh.

There seems to have been a different implementation of the scheme developed for each individual vehicle type. The one shown here is specifically for the A9 Cruiser Mk.I

I've been painting all my WWII wargames stuff for the 1940 French campaign, but I'm tempted to start doing some stuff for the desert war, if only because wargaming that theatre of operations would require a lot less in the way of tabletop terrain models. On the other hand, the Caunter scheme is kind of a pain in the arse to paint... though it does look pretty.

Click on the image to bloat it to gigantic size.

Wednesday 11 May 2011


I've been taking the opportunity, during my break from GMing, to think about multi-classing. Or dual-classing, or whatever.

At present I'm using a sub-class system, in which a bunch of abilities is tacked on to one of the basic classes and just adds about 15% to 33% to the experience points needed to rise in level, but I'm not entirely happy with that. I'm tempted to rebuild all the sub-classes as fully-fledged classes and move to a more open-ended multi-classing system, similar to the d20 system.

My design aims are these, more or less:
  1. No species-based restrictions on multi-classing (because, phooey)
  2. Fairly easy prerequisites for most classes, enabling at least 1 in 3 normal characters to multiclass if they so desire
  3. Simplest possible prerequisite chains (without enabling ludicrous class combinations)
  4. Simplest possible level advancement requirements (i.e. experience points)
  5. Maintain compatibility, as far as possible, with by-the-book 3rd-party resources (e.g. adventure modules)
  6. Maintain character-level HD cut-offs (i.e. no more HD after 10 levels, regardless of how those levels are composed)
  7. Character levels are counted individually by class, not together (e.g. a L3 fighter, L5 thief is NOT an 8th level character)
  8. Experience is always split between all a character's classes, even if for any reason they can no longer advance in a class
At present my thoughts are somewhat inchoate, and tending towards the general.

I'm thinking (so far) that multiclassed characters would be allowed the best saving throw and attack of any of their classes, with any weapon allowed to any of their classes, but be restricted to the lightest armour of any of them to be able to get the benefit of all class abilities. For example, a 5th-level fighter, 5th-level thief would attack as a 5th-level fighter, could use a two-handed sword, but could not wear any armour heavier than studded leather, nor could he employ a shield, while doing thief things. A magic-user-thief could carry and use a longsword, and attack as a thief, but can't cast spells in any sort of armour. And so forth.

I'm also thinking about the time and training that is assumed in the background of any of the basic classes. For example, a 1st level magic-user is generally assumed to have had a fairly lengthy magical apprenticeship even before beginning their adventuring career, and a 1st level fighter is assumed to have had considerable military training. It may be that some sort "apprenticeship" period should be required before adding one's first level of another class could be allowed: often enough, that would have little impact on the game, since it could be glossed over with a simple decree by the GM that "two years pass while you do your basic training..."

It would mean that it wouldn't really be feasible to start on a multiclassed career half way through an adventure, but that's not such a bad thing in my view. I never liked the way, in D&D3e, a player could just announce that they were going to spend their experience to get a level in some class just because they happened to need access to those skills right then and there.

I guess I also need to think about how energy draining attacks should be applied against characters with two (or three, or four) classes, but I'll get the bones of the system worked out first.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Mike McMahon's Sláine

2000AD, for those unfortunate enough not to be aware of it, is a British weekly comic that has been in publication since 1977 (Wikipedia entry here). Its most famous character is probably Judge Dredd, but another is Sláine, a Cuchulainn-like barbarian warrior. He's been drawn by several different artists in very different styles, but one of my favourites was Mike McMahon, who drew the strip from progs 335 to 360.

These two images are from near the end of McMahon's run, and illustrate an encounter between mystically powered sky-ships.

I love McMahon's scratchy, angular style, and I also really like the fact that most of his warriors are wiry rather than hugely over-muscled. It's a style that really suits the milieu, I think.

Click on the images to see them larger.