Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Monster Man podcast

Anyone with even a glimmer of an interest in monsters or RPGs should enjoy James Holloway's Monster Man podcast.

James has read his way through the Monster Manual already, discussing the origins of the book's monsters and their use in games. He's moving onto the Fiend Folio in June.

The special episodes on trolls and valkyries are particularly good.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Half-hour dungeon - and the guard-room without a guard.

The afternoon called for a D&D (specifically, Whitehack) session with the kids and their friends. I'd had plans for them to revisit the portion of the Devil-Warrens they investigated a couple of weeks ago, but an accidental upside-downing of the second-level map in transition to the table last time out meant that some detailed retrofitting of corridors and rooms was required.

So, rather than get all fiddly with graph paper, flip mats and dungeon tiles, I just scribbled some caves on one-inch graph paper and fitted them together to make a smallish cavern complex leading to an outdoor section that I scrawled on a flip chart.

The governing idea was pursuit. Although the PCs were charged with destroying a wight who had struck some awful pact with the Lords of Chaos, they made their initial entry into a "guard room" from which the guard was absent.

That set up a nice dynamic: the point being that the guard would return at some point. As the PCs had to cross a fast-flowing subterranean river, with an enticing portcullis and lever arranged at one end, they spent a lot of time faffing around once they were past the guard chamber. Then, when they were attacked by orcs from deep within, they panicked when the orcs started shouting "Bruglod! Where's Bruglod?"

Bruglod, a beefy bugbear, had gone hunting in the hills outside. And when the PCs heard him coming, with half the party still stranded on the far side of the river and a troll clawing at them through the portcullis, we had a terrific set-up for a panicky, fast-paced chase scenario.

Where THE HELL is Bruglod?

The PCs released the troll, which eventually dispatched Bruglod and then pursued them deeper into the orc-warrens.

The climactic encounter with the wight was enlivened by his summoning creatures of chaos from some demented dimension. My Hordes of the Things chaos hordes featured as swarms of chaotic beings - all multiple attacks, huge hit points and low AV and AC.

Using multi-based miniatures in RPGs works pretty well. There's something satisfying about a big block of things crawling across the table. It's an idea I'll revisit at some stage with multi-based hordes of goblins or the like.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Fast and furious: speed-painting techniques

Fast ... and at least a little bit cross!

I'm by no means a great miniature painter. But I am a reasonably fast one. And for gaming, speed is often more useful than skill: better to have lots of half-decent miniatures on the table than a handful of good ones.

As several people have asked me about my speed-painting techniques on my Lead Adventure Forum thread, I thought I'd put up a bit of a tutorial here.

I use various different speed-painting ruses. This is probably the fastest. I start off by undercoating the miniatures in Pebeo's black gesso, which costs about a fiver on Amazon for an ample tub. It covers very smoothly and dries quickly. I then paint in all the base colours except for metal things.

Base colours over black gesso

Next, I drybrush the whole thing with Vallejo's silver grey (equivalent to Citadel's Wych Elf Flesh). This takes seconds and picks out the highlights (rather too starkly, but we'll fix that later).

Drybrushed in silver grey
After that, it's time to paint the metals. You could do them before the drybrushing, but that would leave them with non-metallic highlights (which might work OK, depending on the effect you're after). 

Now with a glint of steel

Things look pretty rough at this point, but that can be remedied with washes. For these ratmen and similarly scruffy types, I slop on Citadel's Agrax Earthshade wash on wood, armour and bits of clothing. In a real hurry, you'd be fine using it on everything. I usually use sepia on reds and greens, but sometimes use red or green washes instead or as well. For flesh, I usually thin down some of the Citadel blood-effect paint with medium, to get a ruddy glow in the recesses.


All that remains now is to paint in the eyes, teeth and other details, and then add a few highlights here and there. For this, I use silver grey thinned with glaze medium. The silver grey (or Wych Elf Flesh) is sufficiently opaque to provide a visible highlight even when thinned heavily. I use it on everything that requires it, regardless of the underlying colour. This is a very quick process - just a couple of minutes on each figure. 

A final step is to thin down some black paint with water and add the odd bit of black-lining or darkness where required. This and the highlights could be comfortably skipped. A quick drybrushing of the bases, and we're done.


The results aren't anything spectacular, but they'll do the job. In the group below, the two closest to the camera were painted with this method, while the others were given more time and care. The others hold up better to close inspection, but who bothers with that on the tabletop?


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Some more Jacks-in-the-Green

Here are the first six Jacks-in-the-Green. They'll feature in our next Whitehack session, I imagine.

I generally prefer the Perry twins' goblins to Kev Adams'. The Perry ones are more Tolkienesque: nasty little subterranean soldiers. The Adams ones are more comic. But that means that they're better suited to a more whimsical, folkloric role: fairies or elementals rather than orcs.

These were quickly painted as part of a larger batch; I have another seven just about finished and many more in various stages of preparation. This first six will make a nice little unit of scouts for Dragon Rampant.

The one with the boulder is a crewman from a stone-thrower. He'll double up quite nicely as a 15mm forest troll, I reckon.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Correlated stats and The Fantasy Trip

Plenty of strength, plenty of hit points

One thing that a lot of RPGs get wrong, I think, is allowing characters to have uncorrelated physical stats. A character with STR of 18 and CON of 3 makes little sense - and nor does a character with STR 18 and just one or two hit points.

RuneQuest does a little better than most old-school games, in that it also has the SIZ stat. Your damage bonus comes from an average of STR and SIZ, which seems logical, and your CON and STR can be trained up to the level of whichever is the highest out of the other stat and SIZ. But the fact the starting stats are uncorrelated still leaves problems. A very strong person, even if small, is likely to be muscular and therefore relatively heavy, which suggests greater hit points (based on CON modified by SIZ and POW but not STR in RQ2). And it's hard to imagine a small, strong person who is yet physically frail.

Equally, though, it's easy to find examples of fit, tough people who aren't particularly strong. But not, I think, to the CON 18, STR 3 level. It's also easy to imagine people (or creatures) that are very strong but not particularly healthy: an obese hill giant or ogre, for example. But it's hard to imagine that unhealthiness impinging on their hit points. The chances of a heart attack are not, one suspects, correlated to the chances of being killed with a single sword-blow.

How, then, to resolve this? One approach might be to adjust below-average CON up when STR is higher than average. Something similar could be done with hit points.

But there's another approach: shed some of the stats. I was looking at some retroclones of The Fantasy Trip and Melee (the combat game on which TFT is based) yesterday, and was impressed by the way that the STR stat is both physical power and hit points: you simply lose STR as you take damage. So, as you are wounded or fatigued, you become a less effective grappler and less able to accomplish physical tasks.

For combat, TFT and its clones use the DEX stat. That also makes sense; skill in combat is very different from brawn. Brawn certainly helps, of course - not least because it provides more mass to absorb damage, as reflected in TFT's system of declining STR. Of course, as in most RPGs, DEX encompasses much more than dexterity; deftness, agility and skill (and thus, presumably, training). For a game using a similar two-stat system, I'd be inclined to go with "strength" and "skill" to describe the attributes.

Now, there are myriad holes to pick in this. Someone can be a skilled swordsman but clumsy in other respects. And a skilled swordsman can certainly be a poor climber and otherwise unathletic. But I think that reducing the physical stats to STR and DEX (or "strength and skill") is actually preferable to having uncorrelated attributes of STR, DEX and CON (with SIZ too, in RQ).

Steve Jackson has reacquired the rights to TFT, which is to come back into print. I'll certainly pick up a copy when it does.

Have you seen the Jack-in-the-Green?

A mischievous or malevolent fairy of the woods, the Jack-in-the-Green can be a hazard to travellers. Occasionally, however, the creature will prove helpful in return for assistance towards some obscure goal of its own - the retrieval of a treasure from holy ground, perhaps, or the driving off of a monster that has moved into the forest.

Jacks-in-the-Green appear as ugly sprites with skin the colour of moss. They dress entirely in greens and browns. A few wear mail shirts of corroded bronze, doubtless looted from ancient barrows. They
cannot abide the touch of iron, but arm themselves with bows, cudgels and daggers of bronze or flint.

 Typically encountered in groups of 1 to 12, Jacks-in-the-Green have an equal chance of being hostile or 'friendly'. If hostile, they will act as follows:

1. Remain unseen but direct the travellers towards an area of danger (a swamp, crumbling ruin or monster's lair, for example) through enticing words ("There's treasure that way.") or warnings ("Don't go that way - that's where the spiders are.")  from the undergrowth.
2. Pelt passers-by with stones and twigs.
3. Drive forest beasts into the travellers' path (1D6: 1. birds 2. deer 3. boar. 4. wolves 5. bear 6. monster)
4. Shoot arrows at the travellers from behind trees.
5. Block the travellers' way and demand they turn back.
6. Launch a full ambush.

Alternatively, these tactics can escalate from 1 to 6.

If friendly, they will offer one of the following in return for a favour:

1. Guidance to any part of the forest that the PCs wish to visit.
2. A bag of gold: 3d20 ancient gold pieces larger and more valuable than contemporary coins (worth double). These coins will last for three days after acquisition, at which point they will turn to leaves, mud and earth. Those paid with the coins may be annoyed (and vengeful).
3. A sealed jug of fairy wine. Made from brambles, this is delicious, addictive and extraordinarily potent. An hour after drinking it, those who fail a saving throw will be unconscious; those who make it will be confused, incoherent and very happy. Perfect for bribing guards ...
4. An wolfskin that gives a +5 bonus to any stealth-related roll. It also conveys the curse of lycanthropy at full moon; this is permanent until the hide is burnt.
5. A homunculus made of woven twigs and leaves. Though apparently inanimate, it will act as a servant and guard for D6 weeks, before disintegrating into its constituent parts.
6. A small blue egg containing the life essence of an ogre who lives nearby in the forest. He will begrudgingly obey the owner of the egg in all matters (though will look to murder them in their sleep to retrieve the egg, which he will then swallow).

The favour the Jacks-in-the-Green request could be one of these:

1. The retrieval of a small wooden idol from a ruined and overgrown temple (the Jacks cannot enter holy ground).
2. The slaughter of a group of humanoids who have set up noisy and rambunctious camp in one of the  Jacks' favourite groves. These humanoids are heavily armed and armoured with iron or steel weapons, so the Jacks would rather have someone else do their fighting.
3. The removal of a dangerous creature from a forest river.
4. Obtaining of the skull of an armoured warrior who lies in the undergrowth. His visored helm, affixed to the rest of his armour, prevents the Jacks from doing so themselves.
5. Burning the hut of a local witch. For reasons of their own, the Jacks' animus is against the building rather than its occupant.
6. Retrieving a great blue gem from the belly of an ancient serpent that lives in a cave deep in the woods. The gem is very valuable, but failing to deliver it to the Jacks-in-the-Green will earn their undying enmity.

Refusing to strike a deal with a 'friendly' Jack-in-the-Green turns it hostile, typically resulting in escalating aggressions as detailed above.

In Whitehack terms, a typical Jack-in-the-Green has AV 11 (13 with missiles), HD 1 and AC 2 (agility rather than armour). A few wear ancient bronze hauberks and helmets (AC 4), and some carry tomb-looted shields. Many have bows or darts, and all are adept at throwing stones.

Some are extremely small, with a single hit point and a single point of damage for attacks. Occasionally, some are larger - 2HD, AV12 (14 with missiles), damage by weapon.

All Jacks-in-the-Green can cast spells of a petty sort. Each can cast one per encounter, at no cost to its HP. The available spells are as follows:

Snake-arrow: if a Jack misses with a shot or thrown stone, he can instantly turn the missile into an aggressive and venomous snake (AC2, HP 1, AV 10, damage 1 + save vs poison).

Wasps: a swarm of stinging insects attacks the target. Damage is insignificant (though painful), but an affected character will be too busy beating the bees off to do much else. A victim of the spell counts as being in combat with the bees, so that any other opponent gets advantage (best of two dice rolls) if they attack. Bee victims are disadvantaged in attempting to fight back, although they may use a lit torch or other fiery implement to attack the bees (AC6, HP6). The bees disperse in D3 + 1 rounds, or if their creator is killed.

Roots: the target must make a DEX check or be gripped around the ankles by surprisingly strong plant forms that sprout from the earth. A sharp implement and a DEX check with disadvantage are required to break free.

Greening: if a saving throw is failed, the target's skin and hair will be turned green. The effect is permanent unless the caster is killed or persuaded to lift the spell (perhaps by performing one of the favours listed above). A Jack-in-the-Green may use this spell as a preliminary negotiating tactic (casting the spell before he introduces himself, of course).

Lurker: something huge appears to be coming through the forest, to appear in D6 rounds. There is crashing, stomping and a terrible mournful call - but the noises end just as the illusory beast should arrive. Characters who investigate before it does will see branches moving and the undergrowth shifting, but without visible or tangible cause.

Startle: a great terror comes upon any animals associated with the party (horses, mules, dogs, etc.). These will bolt into the forest unless the PCs spend three rounds per animal calming them. Any halters, etc., will be unravel themselves from branches.

A Jack-in-the-Green's lair is typically an old barrow in a forest glade. Several of the creatures will typically inhabit such a mound. If followed in, however, they are seldom to be found within; there are old roads in the dark places of the earth that mortals cannot follow. Ancient grave goods may be found, however - the bronze swords and knives that the Jacks-in-the-Green wield, torcs and arm-rings.

Some say that a Jack-in-the-Green is the spirit of a child lost in the forest or stolen by fairies. When a Jack is slain, its body dissolves into a heap of twigs, moss and leaves. On occasion, a tiny skeleton may be found within.