Wednesday 24 October 2018

Hierarchical scale in RPGs

From the Narmer Palette
(photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts)
Hierarchical scale is a common feature in art. Important people are big and unimportant people are small. Look at any medieval tympanum or ancient Egyptian tomb painting, and you'll see it.

When we look at ancient or medieval artworks, hierarchical scale hardly registers. It's clear what's meant, and the unnatural proportions are easily accepted because they help the artist to tell a story.

Might this work in miniature-based RPG games too?

I like to use miniatures in various scales in the same games. Usually, though, I'm using them to represent creatures of unusually large or small size. For example, 28mm goblins make good 15mm ogres and trolls:

And 28mm kobolds work as 15mm gnolls:

And I have 25mm black orcs that work as ogres in 15mm and small goblins in 28mm. 

But what I'm thinking about here is something different. A couple of posts ago, I mused about the attractions of 1/72. The ready availability and cheapness of suitable figures for town guards, baronial soldiers and ordinary civilians makes that scale very attractive for RPGs. There are a lot of ancient civilians available, for example, and the cost of assembling a crowded marketplace, say, would be a fraction of that involved in 28mm. And the time taken to paint them would be an even smaller fraction. 

So I'm starting to wonder how it would work to have  - for example - an RPG encounter in a village square in which most of the populace were in 1:72 but the heroes and villains were in 28mm. It might be odd at first, but perhaps no more so than a game in which some characters are represented by miniatures and others by paper 'pawns' or even counters. 

There might even be advantages other than convenience and cost. Smaller miniatures need smaller bases, which means that you could get real crowds in a way that's impossible with conventionally based 28mm figures. And you might get a clearer visual dynamic too, from the fact that protagonists and antagonists tower above the 'extras'.

Wargamers often accept this sort of thing, of course - especially when a high figure scale's involved (one figure = 100 men, but the general's just the general, or whatever). The size of buildings and terrain becomes a matter of aesthetics as much as consistency.

In the photo below, then, the 28mm ratman wouldn't necessarily be bigger, merely more important. I think it might just work ...

Monday 22 October 2018

Alone in the lair of the troglodytes ...

A very rough photo - but I think it shows how these 1/72 soft-plastic models can look quite at home with 'proper' miniatures:

Discount dungeon-stocking with 1/72 miniatures

In a fit of displacement activity when I should have been working on the kids' Halloween costumes, I painted up some Caesar 1/72 lizardmen over the weekend. I bought these two or three years ago, but did little with them other than paint up three as 15mm giant lizardmen and allow the kids to paint a few more. As the box contained 34 for £7, the rest had been merely cluttering my miniature boxes.

These are cast in soft plastic and have all the attendant problems: a lack of detail, rubbery flash and bendy weapons. But they're also nicely posed and varied, and a decent size too. They're meant to be hulking brutes in 1/72 scale, so come up just a little short of man-height in 28mm - but with a sinuous reptilian brawn to make up for it. So they're definitely "medium" creatures in D&D terms. As, of course, are D&D troglodytes. Given the coxcomb-like crests on these fellows, I decided that that's what they'll be. 

Roughly man-sized
Painting them was surprisingly enjoyable. You can't hope to treat them as you would "proper" miniatures: the surface is too rubbery and the detail too soft. On the other hand, you can rope in smaller helpers in the knowledge that there's nothing much for them to mess up; my seven-year-old daughter painted in the base colours on a few and did a perfectly good job.

I also have some of the Caesar ratmen, which I initially used as very small 28mm ratmen, but then rebased on pennies for use as large, gnoll-like creatures in 15mm. They still work in 28mm, of course: I don't mind my small vermin being closer to the ground:

Anyway, I managed to get 15 of the troglodytes done over the weekend, along with converting another five for painting later. I've run out of bases for now, but hope to have a good few more painted up this week - certainly enough to make PCs' lives uncomfortable underground. 

The troglodyte first XV

It strikes me that someone starting to run fantasy RPGs with miniatures could stock a dungeon very cheaply by buying some 1/72 monsters to use with 28mm PCs and 'specials'. The lack of detail and individuality has attractions of its own: they're much quicker to paint, and it means that your players are less prone to saying "Hang on - we killed this guy in the last fight!". Also, I suspect that players find it easier to accept generic miniatures as proxies - so that these troglodytes could stand in happily for kua-toa or sahuagin or other cold-blooded types. The slightly smaller scale may help with that too.

And it's hard to argue with the cost: you can get 45 Dark Alliance 1/72 orcs (i.e. D&D goblins - and there are mounted versions on hyena-things too) for a tenner (including postage), 40 Caesar ratmen (i.e. kobolds or similar) for the same or less, and 34 of these lizardmen (troglodytes, lizardmen, and other reptilian, amphibian or fishy types) for the same. Throw in some EM4 orcs, which are hard plastic but similarly priced, for larger humanoids, and you've got a huge amount of generic dungeon monsters very cheaply.

Individuals can be distinguished by paintwork (I'm going to experiment with a couple of albino or striped trogs) and by conversions; the Caesar plastic takes superglue very well, and hands can be drilled out quickly to take hard-plastic weapons. And you can always use 28mm types as chieftains or bodyguards.

The only downside is the temptation to go the whole hog and do everything in 1/72; with all the historicals available, town guards and the evil baron's retainers would be very quick to assemble ...

Wednesday 17 October 2018

You shall not pass! Or, how to make orc guards more interesting

You're barred!

Perhaps the most common staple of dungeon adventures is the orc guard. Alert, sleeping or drunk on duty, alone or with a pack of peers, he's so often the first encounter for a party of adventurers. His quintessence, I think, is Russ Nicholson's marvellous illustration for The Warlock of Firetop Mountain:

Russ Nicholson's immortal (but sleeping) orc guard

Now, it's easy to scoff at the humanoid guardsman as a lazy trope that should be banished from any self-respecting GM's toolkit. But I think the orc guard has quite a bit to offer. Here are some ideas to help him add interest to an adventure.

First, make sure that the orc and his cohorts are actually guarding something. That automatically adds interest; if someone has hired orcs to guard an entrance, there must be something worth guarding beyond. It should be obvious, but rarely is. Why? Because, too often, the orc is guarding the whole complex in which the adventure is set. That was OK in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but it's a little tedious now.

Second, then, have orcs (or your humanoids of choice) guard a section of the dungeon. Picture a large cavern. Tunnels lead off to the north and west, but to the east, a natural staircase rises from the cavern floor, leading up to a reinforced tunnel above. At the top of the stair sit, squat and slouch at least a dozen orcs, well armed and equipped with horns to summon reinforcements. They may jeer and catcall as the PCs go by, but they won't fight unless they have to. And then of course, they'll blow their horns and shout for help while using higher ground and numbers to their advantage. Perhaps they have a bolt thrower or guard-wolves too. Whatever, the PCs aren't going to get past easily. But nor are they going to be harmed if they simply head to the north or west tunnels.

Third, an orc guard should be bored. It's a dreary business, this dungeon-guarding duty, especially when the grub's grim, the Higher-Ups don't tolerate slacking and your companions cheat at dice. So, while orc guards will put up a savage fight if you try to get past them, they might well be happy to talk with passers-by. They'll almost certainly be rude, and they'll definitely be uncouth, but they might have valuable information to exchange. Or they might know hidden routes to other parts of the dungeon. Or they might spin tall tales for their own amusement and to send the PCs in pursuit of wild geese.

Fourth, give your orcs personalities. Tolkien's weren't just grunting monsters: he gave us the brutal but efficient Ugluk, the cunning and well-informed Grishnakh, the loyal, vicious Shagrat and the treacherous, thieving Gorbag. And the whining, sceptical tracker and the unfortunate, orders-following uruk who accompanied him. A GM can use a much wider palette. Are there dreamers, schemers, liars, simpletons and practical jokers among orc-kind? Why not?

Fifth, change the guard. Remember that fat guard with the ratskin cap? The one who seemed a bit slow, and whom you got almost friendly with after you gave him that bag of coins in return for the route to the Red Door? Well, this time he's not there. There's a much fiercer-looking fellow with a brazen helmet and a broken fang, and he's eyeing you suspiciously.  Or, the fat chap's with some others, and he seems totally different with them around - pretending not to recognise you. Or, there's the fat fellow's head - on a spike, with the bag of coins in his mouth. And the new guards aren't talking.

Sixth, have comings and goings. If the orcs have blaring horns or marching songs or distinctive drums, let the PCs hear them - even much deeper in the dungeon - when the orcs are up to something. Perhaps a regular patrol is going deeper into the complex; perhaps the orcs' master is on his or her way out; or perhaps the noise simply signals the changing of the guard (your fat friend in the ratskin cap might be back on duty now).

Seventh, watch out for the orcs on the way back out. Noisms has just posted a typically interesting blog on "going in is easy but returning is not". Well, one way to make that the case in a dungeon adventure is to have the orcs guarding the eastern tunnel decide to close off all of the upper level, thus blocking the exit. They might drop portcullises, roll boulders or simply deploy more guards at the tunnels. They might cut down bridges or set areas on fire. Or they might open the hidden crypt to release the walking dead within, before scuttling back behind their own barricades to watch the fun. Alternatively, the orcs might take a much more aggressive interest in wounded adventurers returning from the depths with loot than in those same adventurers when they went in rude health and with nothing of value but their weapons.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

More blue-nosed hobgoblins!

A brace of Grenadier orcs

When I was a kid, Grenadier was an intriguing alternative to Citadel. Grenadier miniatures were fairly cheap (£1.50 and later £1.95 a blister, if I remember correctly, for typically three infantry or one or two surprisingly large monsters) and they offered a huge amount of variety.

The downside was that there wasn't a great deal of each type. If you wanted orcs, for example, you were faced with small numbers of various visually distinct types - at least until Nick Lund joined from Citadel and created the Fantasy Warriors range. Meanwhile, Citadel produced scores of their main humanoid creatures. So the bigger Grenadier monsters tended to be the main attraction.

But many of the Grenadier humanoids were nice miniatures and often rather distinctive: an orc leader mounted on a hefty warhorse, for example, or kobolds riding large reptiles. They also did orc skeletons.

Here are a couple of their orcs, from two very different boxes in the Dragon Lords range: a lesser orc with war axe from the Monsters box; and the chieftain of the Orcs of the Severed Hand. I think the latter would make a decent RuneQuest dark troll. The former, on the other hand, is a much more Tolkienish orc: short stature, big head, big hands, long arms and short, thick legs.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

A giant orc and some little ones too

Little and large

I've been painting up some of the glorious old Citadel C15 orcs recently - specifically the slottabased range sculpted by the Perry twins before Kev Adams took over orcish duties. It may be heresy to say so, but I actually prefer the Perry orcs; they're a little less cartoony and a good deal more Tolkien-esque (though most of them have grown a bit too big even for uruks).

Today, I received some 54mm 'toy soldier' orcs from Russia - ordered on a whim. I painted the first one up after the kids were in bed; they've staked claims on two of the remaining trio, but I should be able to paint one more myself.

The raw and the cooked

I'm quite pleased with how the 'giant orc' turned out, not least as he cost less than £2 including postage.

Here are a few more of his smaller kin: