Monday 29 December 2014


I wish I had said it first, but I didn't. Zak S said it, and I absolutely, thoroughly agree:
"Hobbit: Battle of 5 Armies may not be very faithful to Tolkien but it is really faithful to Warhammer Fantasy Battle which is a way better thing to be faithful to. It is the Warhammer Fantasy Battlest movie ever made . #wargoats"
 I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I liked the first two a lot better having seen the extended versions, which put back in a lot of bits and pieces that I'd missed, but of the three I enjoyed this one the most.

I will spoiler no spoilers (though I doubt that there's much there to be spoiled because frankly it's not a movie of great subtlety), but I will say this: you really, really don't want to piss off Galadriel, because she will fuck your shit up.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

On the Day Before Xmas, A Red and Pleasant Land

My copy of A Red and Pleasant Land by Zak S. arrived today, the day before Xmas, which is kind of appropriate I think.

I love everything about this book. I love the size, and I love the red fabric binding and gold foil stamping. I love the feel and smell of the thick, cream-coloured paper, and I love the crispness of the printing. I love the typefaces and the layout, and I love the drawings. And, luckily, I also love the content — what I've seen of it so far.

This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful gaming book I've seen. It is positively sumptuous.

I don't know yet how much or how little I'll use of it in my own game. I'm pretty sure something will leak out though, because it's just jam-packed with interesting stuff.

At present, I'm just enjoying reading it as a somewhat trippy work of imagination. It reminds me, in feel, of some of the drug-addled sci-fi/fantasy writers of the '60s I was reading in my youth, though the writing is less mannered and pretentious than twats like Moorcock, and it includes a lot more useful pictures and charts and things.

The stuff in the background: the triptych is a thing I did in oil pastel a few years ago, on a cheap folding MDF screen I'd bought many, many years ago. The garuda is a carving I picked up for about eight bucks at a junk shop, going cheap because it has a crack through its base. Fortunately, I don't give a shit about stuff like that, so I was just happy to get it for a shiny penny.

Tuesday 23 December 2014


Having just finished my initial read-through of the new DMG, there are a few options that I'll be adopting, some of which are new(ish), some of which restore some features of earlier editions.

  • Hero Points (p.264) is one — I prefer it to the Inspiration mechanic. I suspect a major use might be to stop people dying of crappy saving throws.
  • Healer's Kit Dependency (p.266) — I'll have to sort out just how much, in terms of game mechanics, a Healer's Kit can be used before it's exhausted and has to be re-stocked.
  • Action Options (pp.271-272) — Climb on to a bigger creature, Disarm, Overrun, Shove aside, and Tumble are all options I'm happy to adopt. I'm not convinced about Mark, and probably won't use it. I'll also reinstate Cleaving Through because I like the trope of fighters cutting a bloody swathe through legions of mooks, though it may very well make being mobbed a bit less frightening.
  • Lingering Injuries (p.272) — I'll use this, but only for when characters are reduced to 0 hit-points but not killed, not also for critical hits. It will mean that restoration/regeneration magic will be more necessary, of course.

I like the Chasing rules (pp.252-255), which will make chasing and escapes a lot more interesting and fun.

Something we haven't been doing, which we should get back into the habit of, is declaring actions before Initiative is determined, for the purposes of spell-casting interruption and so forth. I'd like to get back to using Speed Factor Modifiers (p.271) for initiative too, even if only for spell-casting and potion-glugging and the like.

Apart from anything else,
it gives me an excuse to use
my Judge Dredd playing cards.
I'm also wondering about modifying initiative determination from die rolls to secret card-drawing, and then running each turn through an initiative count-down. We'd use a standard deck of playing cards, with your initiative being the value of the card you draw (1 to 13 — Ace to King) plus or minus any DEX or situational modifiers. Maybe if you draw the Joker, you get to go first OR swap it with another player's (or DM's) card. (?) That would mean that if you have an absolutely vital spell in the offing, you can give the Joker to your wizard and be secure in the knowledge that she's not going to be interrupted in the casting... or not for that turn, anyway.

When the deck runs out, it's shuffled and re-started.

The advantage of all this is that it makes combat ever so slightly less predictable, since none of the combatants will know exactly when any of the others is going to act.

Monday 22 December 2014

Forward mail to...

High above the Thieves' Guild on Cutpurse Row in the Snail Quarter (P/F) is where, living mostly quietly in semi-retirement, you will find Prince Fnord the Golly-Gosh Darned Nice Guy (fighter 13), and a few floors below, his hideous and intellectually stunted compatriot Smirnoff (fighter 9).

It's tragic the way they've just relaxed into getting old and fat, instead of running around trying to avoid getting killed by everything they meet.

And now, behold the power...

...of this fully functioning character generation wheel!

I've fancied it up since I first made it, so it's now also available in glorious full colour (pdf is about 480 KB).

You will observe that I've cut out a disc of clear plastic to write the scores on in dry-erase marker, and pinned it to the card with one of those brass bendy-staple things that I don't know the name of so that it rotates freely.

This particular set of characteristics were generated with just 3d6, so they mostly suck, but the set I've selected actually aren't too bad... except for that DEX. This person is going to be kind of a klutz if something isn't done about that when choosing its species.

Hey Boys & Girls, It's Neato-Keano Time!

My DMG just arrived from Amazon, precisely on schedule.

So, that pretty much takes care of any of the other things I might have had planned for today.

Friday 19 December 2014

Alas, Poor Owlbear, You Were Great Once

Statblock and illustration from the AD&D Monster Manual
From the AD&D2e Monstrous Manual description of the owlbear (basically the same as the AD&D1e Monster Manual version):
"The owlbear attacks prey on sight, always fighting to the death (ignore morale rating for purposes of determining retreat). It attacks with its claws and snapping beak. If an owlbear scores a claw hit with a roll of 18 or better, it drags its victim into a hug, subsequently squeezing its opponent for 2-16 points of damage per round until either the victim or the owlbear is slain. The owlbear can also use its beak attack on victims caught in its grasp, but cannot use its claws. A single attempt at a bend bars/lift gates roll may be made to break from the grasp of an owlbear. Note that if the Armor Class of a victim is high enough that 18 is insufficient to hit, the hug is not effective and no damage is taken."
(Emphasis is mine.)

One of the things that used to make owlbears terrifying to low-ish level characters back in the day, besides their psychotic rage and refusal to run, was this potential for damage escalation. Getting hit by a claw would sting, but if your luck really ran sour you suddenly went from taking maybe 6 or 7 points a round from claw hits to anything up to 28 points a round as it crushed and pecked you to bloody tatters while you struggled helplessly to get away. And like a Terminator robot, it would never stop.

D&D3e sort of kept this, though it shoehorned it into its terrible grappling combat system, a system awful enough to make grown DMs shudder and go weak at the knees. If it managed to grab you, it would (probably) keep doing damage each round, and I guess it could still peck at you, but working out just how much damage it was doing wasn't spelled out — the DM had to work it out from the grappling rules. Bleeuch.

The rot was clearly setting in.

D&D4e dropped the hugging damage entirely, and just said that if the beast hit with both claws it could bite its victim as well. There was no ongoing round-to-round effect. Booooooring.

In common with most 4e monster descriptions, there's practically no information about it except combat stats, but such description as there is drops any suggestion of congenital insanity for a vicious temper.

Now we come to D&D5e, and things are not getting any better.

Apart from anything else, I think this may be my least favourite artistic rendition of the owlbear. It doesn't look fearsome or crazy or ferocious, it just looks rather stupid and sedentary. Regrettably, the illustration pretty much matches the D&D5e treatment of what used to be an iconic D&D monster.

It's no longer a magically-blended abomination, it's basically just another forest beast. It's no longer fundamentally insane, it's just a bit bad-tempered. It even suggests that it can be tamed and kept as a pet, for fuck sake. It no longer gets its old signature crushing hug attack at all, it just gets to attack once with its claws and once with its beak each round.

Ho-hum. Ho-bloody-hum.

Basically, what we have here is a long slow slide from what was once a basic but reasonably imaginative creation, to a bear with a funny head.

It's tragic, and it's a crime.

Just as a matter of interest, I intend to re-write the 5e version of the owlbear and take it back to its bizarre, huggy, crushy, psychotic roots.

Here's the original plastic toy the owlbear was imagined from,
along with the rest of the set.

Thursday 18 December 2014

...paved with good intentions...

Drawing by Dylan Horrocks
Tonight, Ash the paladin died because she put herself between an owlbear and its escape route, under the impression that she was protecting her friends. Alas, a tragic and fatal mistake. Jay-Zee (the bard) had previously done it entirely by accident, but was better at making life/death saves, and so survived the whole horrible affair.

One good outcome though — the escaping owlbear scattered the approaching hobgoblin warband which would almost certainly have killed everyone else.

Tee-Bee-Ay (wizard) was surprised and badly chewed up by a grick, before dual-longsword-wielding Bea sliced it up in a trice with max-damage critical hits from both attacks in the very first round of combat.

Jay-Zee was surprised and stabbed in the face by the single remaining goblin (hiding fearfully under the altar) which then ran away and hid, and amazingly, got clean away. Jay-Zee is disgruntled at the pathetic level of treasure to be found, in spite of having scored ten year's wages worth of coin and other loot.

There appears to be an issue with killed things refusing to stay lying respectably still; they insist on getting back up after a while and shambling about moaning. It's a disgrace, and most inconvenient.

Wednesday 17 December 2014


77156: Owlbear by Jason Wiebe
D&D is no stranger to stupid monsters, and this is one of them — the Owlbear. Mechanically, it's not terribly interesting; it's just a big biting, clawing monster, more dangerous than some, less dangerous than others, but with no real distinction about it. It might as well just be a bear. A rabid bear, but just a bear.

Its existence in the D&D canon does have implications for the standard milieu, implications that are borne out repeatedly: in the D&D universe, anything can be interbred with anything else. It's a concept that really doesn't hold water in the real world, though it appears to be central to the world view of those peculiar people who think that two men getting married is going to lead to general mayhem and apocalypse. But that's a bit beside the point.

This figure does have something going for it that I haven't really seen in others. The owlbear is supposed to be fundamentally bonkers insane to its very core, and this figure does look a tad doolally.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Potion Labels

I'm kind of a fan of using handouts and, where possible, props at the table, just because I think they're fun and cool.

I like the idea of your common-or-garden potions — things like potions of Cure Wounds, Neutralize Poison, Cure Disease, and so forth — being sold like the snake oil that hucksters used to peddle out of suitcases back in the day, with the difference being that you have a slightly higher chance of getting something that will actually work instead of just making you a bit drunk while dissolving your innards.

The labels might serve, after a while, to reassure the players that they're going to get the results they expect (or to make them suspicious that they won't). After all, everyone knows that Professor Pinkman's remedies are generally reliable, but what about this Doctor Arnolfius? has anyone ever heard of him? Should they risk it?

To both of these ends, I thought I might start coming up with some labels that might be found on potion bottles. This is the first.

Here's a link to a PDF (about 880 KB) which will print at the 60x120mm I intended.

And here's another, for the unknown and therefore suspect Doctor Arnolfius' Muscular Enhancer. This one's only 470 KB.

Monday 15 December 2014


77048: Mocking Beast by Julie Guthrie
I've finally got around to painting the Reaper Bones Mimic figurine I got in their last Kickstarter.

I don't believe this is a monster I have ever used in any of my games. I'm not sure why, because I'm not at all averse to making my players just as paranoid as can be.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Ah, fun times!

Cave Monster by lpeters on deviantart
I like this picture. I like it for many reasons, but not least because the guy with the torch is clearly shitting himself with fright and concentrating his whole being on getting the fuck outta there rather than bravely standing up to his mighty foe with raw grit and cold steel.

Judging by the sanguinous state of the critter, torch-guy has already seen what happened to somebody else who attempted to bravely stand up to his mighty foe with raw grit and cold steel.

I would run away too. Just as fast as I could.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Power Grid — Australia, India

I just got the Australia/India expansion for Power Grid. As well as providing new maps to play on, each changes the way the game is played a bit.


  • Australia does not have a single connected power network. Only in the populated regions, mainly in the south east are several cities connected to each other. Because of this, players may connect to any city for a generally higher connection cost.
  • Australia does not use uranium for their power production, but they do mine huge amounts of the material to sell to other countries.

Game preparation

  • In Step 1 and Step 2 of the game only the areas of the resource market for 1 to 8 Elektro are used.
  • There are no uranium spaces in the resource market. The uranium is sold in a separate uranium market in Australia. At the start, all 12 spaces of the uranium market are filled with 1 uranium each.
  • Australia only has 5 regions. In games with 5 or 6 players you always play on the whole map. With 2 to 4 players you may choose the matching number of regions in Australia, the chosen regions do not need to be adjacent!
  • Before preparing the power plant deck, remove the nuclear power plant #17. Place the removed power plant back into the game box; it is not used during the game.

Phase 2: Buying power plants

  • In Australia the nuclear power plants are considered uranium mines. Instead of supplying cities with electricity, the players mine uranium and sell it at the uranium market.
  • The uranium mines are equivalent to the power plants and players buy them in the same auctions. A player may buy a single card during each round - either a power plant or a uranium mine. The uranium mines are not counted towards the limit of 3 power plants (4 power plants for 2 players). In other words, a player may have up to 3 (4) power plants and any number of uranium mines. The uranium mines are considered when determining the player order in Phase 1!

Phase 3: Buying resources

  • The players may only buy coal, oil and garbage. At the start of Step 3 the Australian government establishes C02 Taxes. All prices for the resources in the resource market increase by 2 Elektro. Move the 6 cheapest resource tokens of each type in the resource market to the spaces in the areas for 9 and 10 Elektro. The areas for 1 and 2 Elektro are not used for the remainder of the game. In Step 3 the cheapest resources cost at least 3 Elektro per piece.
  • The uranium tokens are only used to track the uranium prices. They are in either the uranium market or in a separate storage space next to this market. The players only move these tokens in Phase 5: Bureaucracy.

Phase 4: Building

  • Players may connect any available city in the chosen game area to add to their networks. A player either pays the specified connection costs between cities, which are printed on the game board, or he pays the general connection costs of 20 Elektro, in addition to the building costs for the city.
  • The player may always choose the general connection cost, if this is cheaper than the specified connection costs on the map or if there are no connections between the cities at all. In other words: each city in Australia is connected with each other city for a maximum general connection cost of 20 Elektro. A player follows all other rules when connecting a new city: in Step 1 each city is only available for a single player etc.

Phase 5: Bureaucracy

  • Besides getting money from powering the cities with electricity, the players also get money from their uranium mines. In reverse player order, starting with the last player, each player may sell the uranium from his mines to the uranium market. A player may decide not to sell his uranium.
  • In contrast to getting money from powering cities, which players do not get at the end of the game, players get money for selling uranium in the last round of the game.
  • If the player decides to sell uranium, each uranium mine produces an equal amount of uranium matching the number of cities it normally powers with electricity. The player multiplies this amount with the highest available number in the uranium market and gets that sum in Elektro. Then, he places one uranium token per uranium mine (not per produced uranium) from the storage on the highest available spaces of the uranium market. Afterwards, the next player sells his produced uranium for the new price and so on.
  • Afterwards, uranium markers are removed from the uranium market; this symbolizes the demand of other countries for uranium. Starting on the cheapest spaces remove uranium markers in accordance to the resource supply table on the last page and place them into the storage.
  • Finally, fill the resources on the resource market in accordance with the Australia resource supply table.


  • The Indian Subcontinent is always in danger of suffering huge power outages if the players increase their networks too fast.
  • Additionally, the players must buy their resources on a limited resource market, which not always guarantees enough resources for all players.
  • The garbage power plants use livestock manure and have a low efficiency. When producing electricity they need one additional garbage.
  • At the start, the prices of resources begin at: coal 1 Elektro, oil 2 Elektro, garbage 2 Elektro and uranium 6 Elektro. Use only 8 uranium tokens during the game and place the other 4 uranium tokens back into the game box.
  • Before preparing the power plant deck, remove the nuclear power plant #11. Place it back into the game box; it is not used during the game. 

Phase 3: Buying resources

  • At the start of the game the resource market is very small. The players can only access the areas for 1 to 3 Elektro. At the start of Step 2 the areas for 4 and 5 Elektro are added. Only at the start of Step 3 is the whole market completely accessible to the players.
  • In reverse player order, starting with the last player, each player may buy just 1 resource token per buying turn. The players continue in this manner for several buying turns. If a player wants to stop buying, he passes. The other players continue to buy 1 resource token per buying turn.
  • The garbage power plants need 1 additional garbage token to produce electricity, but they do not store more garbage. For example, the garbage power plant #24 now needs 3 garbage tokens, but it can only store up to 4 garbage tokens.

Phase 4: Building

  • When the players connect new cities to their networks, they show this by placing their houses on their end.
  • At the end of this phase the players count the total number of houses placed on their end (which were newly connected by all players during this round). If this sum is higher than twice the number of players, at least 5 houses with 2 players, at least 7 houses with 3 players and so on, the players cause a huge power outage. As punishment they get less income in the following Phase 5: Bureaucracy.
  • Finally, all new houses are placed right side up.

Phase 5: Bureaucracy

  • The players must power as many cities in their networks as possible with their power plants. If the power plants have enough resources and there is still an unsupplied city in that player's network, resources may require to be moved between power plants using the same resources, until the power plants produce enough electricity even if they now overproduce. Only if a power plant is not needed to supply electricity, may the player choose to produce no electricity with that power plant and save its resources for the next turn.
  • If the players caused a power outage in Phase 4: Building, all players are punished and receive less income for powering the cities. For each city connected in a player's network, that player must subtract 3 Elektro from his total income. For example, if he owns 10 cities and powers 8 of them, he gets 90 Elektro - 30 Elektro = 60 Elektro!
  • If there is a power outage in the last round, you also play phase 5 for once, so all players get one more income.
  • Finally, fill the resources in accordance with the Indian Subcontinent resource supply table. Refill the most expensive spaces first, even if these spaces are not available in the first turns, like uranium.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Red Light Artillery

And here are the Gatling guns of the Red Army.

I think this will do for artillery for a while. Both armies could do with a bit more padding out with infantry and cavalry yet.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Blue Light Artillery

Progress has slowed a little recently, mainly because we've been having an unseasonable cold snap. That means that it's not that comfortable in my workroom, and also that it takes quite a bit longer for the Quickshade varnish to cure.

Something I've learned is that you shouldn't use a hair dryer to blow off the excess Quickshade, because the heat accelerates its tacking off, and it doesn't give it time to drool down off the high points and self-level, and you end up with something that looks like it's been bathed in black treacle. The offending model is at the back, on the right.

Oops. Well, now I know that. Now, back to the Reds!