Sunday 30 November 2014

Gatling Gun

Whatever happens,
we have got
the Gatling Gun,
and they have not."
— jolly morale-raising Victorian jingle by Hilaire Belloc.
Here's the first of my HäT Gatling guns, which will be filling the role of light artillery for my generic Victorian Red and Blue armies. These guys, obviously, belong to the Blue army.

There are seven more yet to do, so each army will get four each.

I'm quite impressed by the quality of these little models. The sculpting is a bit more refined than that of the infantry set, and they were pretty good to start with.

Thursday 27 November 2014

None so blind as those who will not see

Tonight's game revolved around the party playing hide-and-seek with a green dragon.

Success was made possible by the fact that they were dealing with maybe the least observant dragon in the whole history of dragoning. Over the course of the evening, it got to make maybe twenty perception rolls of various sorts; none of them scored more than a seven. And whenever its very respectable passive perception might have been relevant, the party were happily rolling natural twenties for their stealth skill as if there was no other number scribed on the die. (There was, I checked.)

All that was to the good of course, from the players' point of view, since if the dragon had actually found them it would very probably have made pretty short work of the whole lot of them. As it is, they nicked its loot, torched its lair, and got away unscathed.

I have the worst luck with dragons.
P.S.  Annette was most aggrieved that I didn't mention that they were clever too. So then, they were clever too.

Red Artillery

Following on from the Blue artillery, here's their opposition. Exactly as with the Blues, the two medium guns have four crewmen each, while the heavy gun (the ACW howitzer in the centre) has six.

I've conscripted some of the figures from the Revell ACW artillery set to fight for the Reds.

I've managed to track down some HäT Gatling Gun sets, so I'll grab those just as soon as I can and put together some light artillery for each side. And I suppose I'd better get on to some more infantry as well, and some cavalry. There's just no end to it.

It's The Waiting I Can't Stand

The only things I don't like about Army Painter QuickShade are

  1. How long it takes to cure, and
  2. The price.

I hate waiting.

Monday 24 November 2014

Blue Army Artillery

Here's the beginnings of the artillery park for the Blue Army.

In point of fact, the uniform is that of the British Royal Artillery, of the same era as that of the Red Army, so they really should be shooting for the Reds and not at them. However, I cast aside all historical considerations, and because these lads are dressed in blue, they'll be fighting for the Blue Army — and they'll like it!

The two outside guns came with the figures, and are from HäT's Colonial British Artillery set. They'll be doing duty as generic Medium Artillery, and I've therefore only given them a puny four cewmen each. The middle gun is from a Revell set of American Civil War artillery, which will serve as Heavy Artillery and therefore gets a crew of six. The Revell crew figures will end up crewing guns for the Red Army.

I want to get one or two of HäT's Gatling Gun set, to serve as Light Artillery, but that will have to wait until I can find some.

Brave Boys of the Blue

Here is the first battalion of those brave boys of the Blue Army, ready to take on those repellent and repulsive rapscallions of the Red.

For some reason that I can't put my finger on, I feel like this colour scheme has a Bavarian look about it. My knowledge of actual uniforms of the late Victorian era is sadly lacking though, so it may just be fantasy. Which this army is, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.

I considered going a bit more realistic with the base landscaping, but in the end I decided on this plain, even, bright green grass, which I think is a good compromise between the toy soldier aesthetic and the more modern mini-diorama wargamer's style. It hides the individual figure bases well enough, which is its main function.

Friday 21 November 2014

Blue Army - Command

Here's the command base for the first Blue Army battalion, front and rear. Note that all the officers get fancy-schmancy crimson pants, while the ruck and swill in the rear rank have to make do with common old dark blue.

I'm pretty happy with the way that these figures are turning out. They do look a bit terrible in high magnification, but in real life they're quite acceptable as gaming pieces.

D&D5e Character Generation Wheel

This PDF (some assembly required), when printed on to card and a circle of acetate or clear plastic pinned to it (for writing on with dry-erase marker), creates a handy-dandy tool for initial characteristic generation for my D&D campaigns.

Basically, the way it works is this:

  1. For each of the small circles, roll 4d6 and write the sum of THREE of them on the plastic over the circle. (I've used this system with 3d6 straight as well, and still got pretty decent characters.)
  2. Repeat until all the circles are filled.
  3. Rotate the plastic circle until you get a characteristic array you like matched with the characteristic name labels in the bottom quadrant of the array.
  4. Once you've chosen a set, you can rearrange them, but at a cost:
     .....For the first pair, each score of the pair is reduced by -1.
    .....For a second pair, each is reduced by -2.
    .....For a third pair, each is reduced by -3.
    And so on, if you really want to play around with them.

Note that I have included the Strength reduction I use for the teensier races. If you hate that idea, just ignore it.

Wednesday 19 November 2014


Posted on reddit by MrApophenia, which I then found out about from ZakS, who found out about it from danbuter on therpgsite:
So I was thinking about goblins in my game, and came up with an idea I thought was kind of fun. Figured I'd post it for anyone who wants to swipe it. 
In my game, I want goblins to be scary, even though they're mechanically identical to the usual low-level baddies. Mostly I'm swiping the Pathfinder mode of Gremlins-inspired craziness for my goblins, but rather than being cowardly, I'm planning to make them gleefully suicidal, with absolutely no concept of self-preservation or survival instinct. These guys will throw themselves at the heroes in giggling hordes no matter how many get slaughtered. 
Then I got to thinking about why they would have this trait, and an idea struck me: Nematodes. Specifically, nematode cannibalism. 
Nematodes are a type of flatworm with an odd characteristic - if one nematode eats another one, it seems to take on the memories of the consumed worm. Yes, really! 
Goblins, it turns out, are the same. Goblins don't fear death because they have a very peculiar form of immortality: As long as a dead goblin is eaten by another goblin, all its memories will be passed on to that goblin - including any memories from previous consumed goblins! And since goblins are voracious cannibals, most goblins remember dozens or even hundreds of lives (and deaths), and see it as little more than an inconvenience. 
A goblin who eats a hobgoblin not only gains the memories of that hobgoblin, but will begin to grow; over the course of about a month, it will become a new hobgoblin, with the personality and memories of the deceased hobgoblin. This is why hobgoblins are always sure to keep some goblins around, despite their contempt for their inferior cousins - when a hobgoblin dies, assuming it's a hobgoblin the others still want around, they'll go grab the nearest goblin and feed the corpse to it. 
However, one hobgoblin eating another is a severe taboo, because of the result - a bugbear, a monstrously huge goblin that hunts and eats other goblins and hobgoblins. (Bugbears tend to be solitary and avoid each other, so what happens if one bugbear eats another is left to the imagination of the GM.)"

Monday 17 November 2014

Half a zombie is better than none

Among the stuff I got at the Christchurch Wargaming Society's annual bring-and-buy was a plastic bag labelled "Various Zombies" for three bucks.

Naturally, I couldn't pass up Various Zombies for only three bucks, so I snapped it up. They're plastic, 28mm scale, and thirteen of them, so, 23 cents per zombie. That's a bargain by any measure.

Among them was this guy, which I've repainted and rebased.  I can't help thinking now that the pile of guts in front of him would probably not be as fresh and pink, considering how decrepit the rest of him is, but never mind.

Sunday 16 November 2014

1st Battalion, Red Army

Almost finished — all bar the base landscaping, on which I have not yet finally decided — is the 1st Battalion of my generic late 19th century Red Army. Another two or three battallions of infantry, a couple of troops af cavalry, and a few artillery pieces, and that will be one army... then I do it all over again for the Blue Army.

I'm impressed with the labour-saving utility of Army Painter Quickshade varnish; it really speeds up production, and gives a pretty good shaded finish. It dries very glossy, and I was considering matte-coating the figures, but I now think I won't bother — I quite like the toy soldier glossy look for these.

The figures are HäT's soft plastic 20mm (1:72) Zulu Wars British. There's no particular reason why I couldn't use exactly the same figures for the Blue Army, and I probably will — these sets of figures deliver the best bang for the wargaming buck of any I've seen. I was considering using, say, 1870s Prussians for the Blues, but of the sets I've seen, I'd end up using about half a dozen figures from each box and tossing the rest. Since the main benefit to me of using plastic figures is their low cost, that would pretty much make using them pointless.

This is the furthest I've got towards building a whole army in many, many years.

Friday 14 November 2014

The Dip

A mass-production miniatures painting technique that has really taken hold in the last decade or so is auto-shading by using glazes or washes of various formulations. Vallejo and Citadel both produce water-based washes in an increasing range of colours, and when used sensitively they can create excellent, subtle shading with minimal effort.

For wargames figures, less finesse is required. The miniatures are intended to be viewed at arm's length or further, so the shading results can (and probably should) be less subtle. Plus, wargaming figures benefit from being well protected from the vicissitudes of handling by a good, sturdy sealing coat.

Here are a couple of alternatives to achieve that end.

On the left, Army Painter Quickshade (Dark Tone). Quickshade comes in three strengths of tone, so you can use whichever best suits the underlying colours. This 250ml tin cost me $45, which is not cheap.

On the right, Cabots Varnish Stain (Indian Tea). This can be tinted in a much wider range of colours. The 250ml tin cost me about $25 — slightly more than half the price of the Quickshade.

However, price is not the only determining factor when one is choosing a product. How do they perform? Both, as far as I can determine, do fundamentally the same job: both are oil-based, fairly low-viscosity, tinted varnishes.

Below are two varieties of Reaper plastic zombies. Each type has been block-painted and then just dipped in the stain — a crude method of application; brushing the stuff on would certainly give you more control.

Of each type, the Quickshaded one is on the left, the Cabots Varnish Stained one is on the right.

The Quickshade gives you a much more subtle shading effect than does the Cabots, which is probably usually going to be preferable. I haven't yet tried thinning the Cabots to see if that ameliorates the chalk-and-soot effect — if it does, then its much lower price would make it a more cost-effective option. Both products do a decent job; if price is no object, my taste runs more towards the Quickshade outcome.

Both of them harden over about 24-48 hours to a a rugged, glossy finish. That means that unless you like your toys shiny, you'll need to hit them with a decent matte-coat afterwards. Some acrylic varnishes don't work or play well with oil-based underpainting, so that means that the matte-coat should probably be spirit based.

The Next Day...

I gave the zombies a squirt of Vallejo acrylic matte varnish to take the gloss off them, and it went on just fine. It doesn't seem to be bothered by the oil-based varnish underneath, which is good.

Something I've found about acrylic matte varnishes is that they really do work best sprayed. I've never achieved anything better than a satin finish by brushing them, while the identical varnish goes dead flat when applied through the airbrush.

Thinning the Cabots

Thinning doesn't work very well. I suspect that what it needs is not thinning, but dilution — I may get an un-tinted can and use that to get the exact degree of tint I need. However, there's not much point in that until I run out of Quickshade, and a pot does go quite a long way, especially when it's brushed on.

More Plastic Toy Soldiers

These are some of HäT's 20mm (1:72) plastic Zulu Wars British infantry, based for the Black Powder rules.

They're painted somewhat inaccurately, but that really doesn't matter for my purposes, since these particular guys are intended for one of two generic late C19th Red and Blue armies, made up of whatever figures I can lay my hands on.

HäT figures are ideal for this sort of thing, because compared with metal figures, or even with hard plastic 28mm figures, they're as cheap as chips. The Zulu Wars sets are especially good for wargaming purposes because the sprues are mercifully free of the sorts of "character" poses you tend to get in figure sets from the likes of Airfix, Italerei, or Revell, which improves their cost/benefit ratio enormously.

The only problem with them is that they're not that easy to source here in New Zealand. There's a local chap who imports them, but I keep forgetting to get his contact details, and so whenever I see him at conventions and what-not I pretty much have to just be happy with whatever he might have in stock at that moment.

So far I have enough infantry for about twenty stands, half a dozen artillery pieces, and a couple of dozen cavalry. Those in this picture are HäT late C19th (Zulu Wars/Sudan) 17th Lancers, but I have a box of Revell Waterloo-era British Life Guards that I'll also press into service. The horse-drawn artillery limbers shown here come from the Revell American Civil War set of Union artillery. At a pinch, I could even throw in some HäT Peninsular War British infantry, though they might start looking just a teensy bit out of place amongst the pith helmets.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Spell Book

Here's a little thing I whipped up — it's a 4-page A5 booklet-fold spell book, with spaces to record spell level, name, casting time and components.

Click here to grab the PDF.

Campaign Details: Half-Elves

Half-Elves move a lot more freely in Human society than do pure-blood Elves, mainly because it's easier for them to pass for Human.

If they are revealed as having part elvish ancestry, they're very likely to be shunned and discriminated against — the days of Elvish domination may be far in the past, but their reputation lives on on tales of Ancient Times, when Elvish overlords exercised ruthless powers of life or death over whole populations, and humanity was utterly subservient to their will. There are plenty of superstitions about the Elves, few of them complimentary, and though the learned may know them for the fictions they (mostly) are (these days), most of the ruck and swill of humanity still give them full credence.

The situation in Elvish society is different, but certainly no easier for the half-Elf. Even fairly tolerant, enlightened Elves tend to view Humans with a degree of distaste — to the Elves, humanity (and pretty much all the non-fey humanoids) are untermensch; at best, barbaric, and at worst, actually bestial. Half-elves are therefore, at best, objects of pity, being as they are the products of bestiality. In the more xenophobic Elvish domains, a half-Elf is an abomination to be expunged as quickly as possible.

Probably the most congenial societies for the half-Elf to live among, as far as acceptance goes, are those small, primitive tribes of Wild Elves, who have fallen far away from the knowledge and mores of old, and to whom purity of blood is much less important than the individual's usefulness to the tribe. Life among the Wild Elves is far from easy though; they live fearful, furtive lives of hiding, hunting, and being hunted in turn.

Monday 3 November 2014

Bugs Galore

These are some of Reaper's Bones plastic miniatures — 77130: Vermin: Beetle Swarm, by Bob Olley.

I got them amongst the first Bones Kickstarter, and in truth they're not the sort of thing I'd normally spend any actual money on. You'd get much the same effect by printing pictures of swarming beetles and sticking them to tiddlywinks or something. However, I've got them, so I thought I might as well make use of them.

I haven't yet looked at the vermin swarms in the new Monster Manual, so I don't know how frightening they're likely to be. I'm imagining something like the swarms of carnivorous scarabs in The Mummy, which could be fun. Though I may need a few more beetle-swarm-markers.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Green Dragon — pre-paint re-paint

This is a re-paint of a pre-paint of a Deep Dragon. I had two WotC plastic Deep Dragons, but no Green Dragon, so I figured I might as well give one of them a make-over. As well as painting it, I ripped it off its original plastic base and re-based it on a large panel-washer and added a bit of flocking.

<< This, incidentally, is the original factory paint-job. It's pretty underwhelming.

I very seldom use dragons in my game. I was traumatized by a session in which the dragon was supposed to be a massive boss-fight, but which turned into complete farce when the dragon was taken out by a single lucky hit from a Sword of Sharpness before the fight had even really got started. We were using a pretty vicious critical-hits system back then, so it was really my own fault.

Don't bother me, I'm Concentrating

I've been looking over the D&D5e rules for maintaining concentration on spells, and I was a little bit startled at how lax they are. It's assumed that as long as you don't actually get stabbed in the guts, you can easily maintain focus on a spell.

Well, I am a lot meaner than that.

In my game, if you do anything more mentally taxing than walking along a reasonably clear path, you will have to make a DC10 Concentration check to keep a spell that requires concentration going.

Have to jump out of the way of a runaway cart? Concentration check. Being pestered by an annoying beggar-child? Concentration check.  Want to take a swing at an annoying beggar-child? Concentration check. Climb a ladder? Concentration check. Suddenly subjected to very loud noises or flashing lights or other dance-club phenomena? Concentration check. Someone throws a bucket of cold water over you? Concentration check.

If you take damage, the DC for the concentration check is 8+ the amount of damage you've taken. A separate check is required for each individual lot of damage, not for each attack — so, if you get hit by three spines from a manticore's tail for and take 4, 6, and 8 points of damage, you'd make three checks at DCs of 12, 14 and 16 respectively, not a single check at a DC of 30 even though all the damage came from a single attack.

If that seems harsh to you.... well, tough. Suck it up, and stop being such a big cry-baby.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Find Familiar - rewrite

Because I really hate what they've done with familiars in D&D5e, I've rewritten the spell description. It's heavily based in the way it was presented in AD&D2e.

Find Familiar

1st level Conjuration (Ritual)

  • Casting Time: 2-12 hours
  • Range: 1 mile
  • Components: V,S,M (10gp/hour of charcoal, incense and herbs that must be consumed by fire over the course of the ritual in a brass brazier)
  • Duration: Instantaneous

This spell enables the caster to attempt to summon a familiar spirit to inhabit the body of a small creature, and to act as his or her aide and companion. Familiars are typically animals such as cats, frogs, ferrets, crows, hawks, snakes, owls, ravens, toads, weasels, or even mice, though more exotic creatures are sometimes (rarely) found in the role, such as imps, quasits, or pseudodragons.

A creature acting as a familiar can benefit a wizard, conveying its sensory powers to its master, conversing with them, and serving as a guard/scout/spy as well. A wizard can have only one familiar at a time, however, and he or she has no control over what sort of creature answers the summoning, if any at all comes. If an appropriate animal is supplied by the caster for use in the ritual, it can improve the chances that the spirit (if it answers the call at all) will inhabit the desired form.

The familiar will be of normal human intelligence — 3d6 (3-18) INT. It will normally be longer-lived than the normal animal, but familiars are not immortal, and the bodies will eventually wear out.

The wizard receives the heightened senses of his familiar, which grants the wizard a +1 bonus to Passive Perception.

Familiars have the same hit points and armour class as their animal prototype, plus 1 hit point per caster level.

The wizard can drop into a trance-like state in which he or she can see, hear, smell etc. through the familiar's senses. While in this state, the wizard has no use of their own senses, and cannot move about or perform any other actions. Any damage taken by one member of the link is also experienced by the other.

If separated from the caster, the familiar loses 1 hit point each day, and dies if reduced to 0 hit points. When the familiar is in physical contact with its wizard, it gains the wizard's saving throws against magical attacks. If a magical attack would normally cause damage, the familiar suffers no damage if the saving throw is successful and half damage if the saving throw is failed. If the familiar dies, the psychic shock is intense: the wizard must successfully make an immediate DC 10 CON save or drop to 0 hit-points (at which point they are dying — make Death Saves as usual). Even if he or she survives this check, the wizard permanently loses 1 point from their Constitution when the familiar dies.

When the wizard decides to find a familiar, he or she must load a brass brazier with charcoal. When this is burning well, he or she adds 10gp worth of incense and herbs per hour that the ritual lasts. The spell incantation is then begun and must be continued until the familiar comes or the casting time is finished. The DM secretly determines all results. Note that most familiars are not inherently magical, nor does a dispel magic spell send them away.

Deliberate mistreatment, failure to feed and care for the familiar, or continuous unreasonable demands have adverse effects on the familiar's relationship with its master. Purposely arranging the death of one's own familiar will almost certainly result in no spirit ever voluntarily acting as a familiar again.

A familiar spirit can be dismissed by means of a similar ritual as that which invokes one, whereupon the creature becomes a normal animal once again.

Random Familiar Summoning Results
D20 RollFamiliar*Sensory Powers
1-5CatExcellent night vision & superior hearing
6-7CrowExcellent vision
8-9HawkVery superior distance vision
10-11OwlDarkvision, superior hearing
12-13ToadWide-angle vision
14-15WeaselSuperior hearing & very superior olfactory power
16-20No familiar available within spell range

* The DM can substitute other small animals suitable to the area.