Sunday, 26 April 2020

But wait ... there's more!

More insufferably nerdishness and influence-spotting, that is! The miniatures above are from Citadel's Goblin Raiding Party, a terrific boxed set from the early 80s, complete with such euphonious names as Norgus the Flatulent and Gigblad Childsplatter.

Gigblad Childspatter
It's struck me before that the armament of these goblins was a bit out of synch with the usual Warhammer (and Tolkien) goblins: military picks and slings rather than scimitars and bows.

But after the last two entries on this blog, there are no prizes for guessing why. Here's the Monster Manual on goblin armament:

And sure enough, among the war party, we get a military pick, a short sword and sling, a short sword and spear, a morning star (here a flail rather than a spiked mace, but described on the box as a morning star). 

There's one with a warhammer too - but it's the historical sort of warhammer that has a pick head. And while the chieftain, Ubar Earbiter, has a falchion or scimitar, his lieutenant, D'Glish Sharpcut, has a short sword and a military pick on his back (leaders having the best weapons and two each, of course).

So I think it's pretty clear that these goblins are based on the Monster Manual entry. But there's something even more glaringly obvious. Just look at the illustration!

I can't believe that I'd never noticed this before, but the Goblin Raiding Party have exactly the same helmets - and in once case, exactly the same weapon - as David Trampier's illustration. Check out Torg Dwarfsmasher, bottom right:

Again, none of this is exactly earth-shattering. But it is interesting (to me at least!) to trace the origins of this rather distinctive bunch of Citadel goblins. 

Friday, 24 April 2020

More gaming archaeology - hobgoblins in D&D and Warhammer

After exploring the influence that the Monster Manual had on Citadel's Fantasy Tribe orcs and dwarfs, I though I'd have a poke around and see if the hobgoblin entry shed any light on Citadel's early range.

And it did. Some armament influences are detectable: "sword & whip" - possibly the origin of the "discipline master" figure that recurred throughout Citadel's early hobgoblin ranges. And the mace that the fellow above is holding could be loosely interpreted as a morning star.

But look at the paragraph below the weapon list:

That business with the standard must surely be the source of the hobgoblin propensity to Frenzy in the Warhammer rules. It's there in the first and second editions. But in the third edition, it's restricted to Mourngul hobgoblins in the presence of their tribal standard (pulled on a hobhound-drawn cart if I remember correctly). 

A case of Warhammer hobgoblins returning to their roots? 

Citadel's Fantasy Tribe orcs and D&D

All Gygaxed up: orc chieftain with sword and flail (centre)
This is a post that may well interest no one. And its conclusions are a little, "Well, duh!". But here goes.

I've long thought that Citadel's marvellous Fantasy Tribe orcs from the early 80s were designed specifically for Dungeons and Dragons rather than for any other purpose. They're certainly not Tolkien's orcs: they're too tall, for one thing, and they've often got long, protruding faces or upturned snouts, as well as a bizarre array of dentistry: tusks like those of a boar or a walrus.

Note the dentistry to either side of the bodyguard with battleaxe.

Now, on the one hand, this is obvious. The Fantasy Tribe range predates Warhammer, and the genesis of that game has been well documented as a means to get people to buy more Citadel miniatures than they'd need for a dungeon crawl.

Later in the 80s, when Citadel acquired the licence for Middle Earth miniatures, its orcs changed in appearance, with some becoming noticeably shorter and more bow-legged, and a larger number of bows

But I think there's a fair bit of evidence that the Perry twins - or someone else at Citadel - was paying a fair bit of attention to to the descriptions of D&D orcs as set out in the 1979 Monster Manual. Look at how the Monster Manual describes orc armament:

And look at the weaponry of the Fantasy Tribe range here or below:

(From here)
It's not an exact match: the Fantasy Tribe range includes an orc with a mace and one with a sword. But it's pretty close. All the Monster Manual variations are covered (barring the absence of an axe as a sidearm for the crossbow and polearm guys), including such combinations as "sword & flail", "axe & spear,  "sword & spear" and "axe & bow" (the archer has an axe tucked into his belt).

Note, too, that the rarest combinations ("sword & flail" and "sword & battleaxe") are assigned to Citadel's (sword & flail) and bodyguard (sword and battleaxe - always a two-handed weapon in D&D). And of course the Monster Manual tells us that orc chiefs have 5-30 bodyguards, so I think we can spot the provenance of those titles too.

And what of the other Fantasy Tribe ranges? Well, the dwarfs show the influence of the Monster Manual even more clearly:

(From here)
The first seven before the standard bearer match up to their Monster Manual equivalents perfectly - and the "chieftain in plate mail w. sword" nods to the note about "dwarfs above normal level".

But all of this only deepens the mystery of the Fantasy Tribe gnolls. By the time of Warhammer's first edition, the "gnolls" had been rebranded "great goblins". They might have passed muster as the original D&D's gnolls, who were possibly a "cross between gnomes and trolls". But they were nothing like the hulking hyena-men of the Monster Manual. Nor were they armed accordingly. So, given the Monster Manual's clear imprint on the orc and dwarf ranges, it's a bit of a puzzle that the gnolls were so defiantly free from its influence.

Saturday, 18 April 2020


I knocked these troglodytes out this morning in case they were needed for this afternoon's D&D game (they weren't). They were very quickly painted and suffer from all the usual Reaper Bones problems (chiefly undetectable or unremovable mouldlines), but I'm quite pleased with them - especially the colours, which I think are about right for subterranean reptile-people.

Alas, I can't get a decent picture of them for love nor money. Here they are anyway!

Blue-nosed bastards!

Seven rebased old hobgoblins to go with the recently painted Ral Partha one. A mix of Citadel, Grenadier, Acropolis and Chronicle.

These fellows caused the party no end of trouble in yesterday's Keep on the Borderlands session. Most of the party are currently cowering in a hollow in the woods beyond the ravine, one shot through the leg with a crossbow bolt, another with crushed ribs from a trap, all trying to still their very heartbeats ...

Sunday, 12 April 2020

A Ral Partha hobgoblin - blue nose and all!

In D&D, hobgoblins are one of the more uniform and organised of the monstrous humanoid races. But - aside from the marvellous Aly Morrison Citadel range - there aren't many large ranges for them.

My solution is to unite disparate miniatures with a uniform paint scheme: blue noses and orange hides/fur, like golden monkeys.

This one's an old Ral Partha miniature. I have a couple more to go with him.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Another ugly orc

Here's a C16 orc archer. He's one of a few early Citadel orcs that I began to paint a few years back and have started to repurpose for the square-base project.

As with his immediate predecessor, he's in Gygaxian colours as set out in the Monster Manual. He even had a bit of bluishness about him to begin with, as I'd originally painted him with a blue-green wash as with these chaps, but with pinkish mouthparts, nose and hands. He was supposed to look like an intermediate sort between two orcish schemes.

He's got the same face as one of the armoured orcs in this photo, with a huge, bulging left eye. The inventive reworking of the same elements is one of the joys of early Citadel miniatures (for my money, Aly Morrison was the leading light in this, in that some of his half-orcs and hobgoblins reuse the same bodies but in such inventive ways that the recycling can go unnoticed for years).

The next task is to get this orc's other long-neglected and half-painted brethren finished off. There are  three more half-painted ones, plus a few more that are merely undercoated. And I have a shaman from a more modern source underway too.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Knight time

Painting humans is, to put it mildly, not my forte. As a result, I have precious few in the Cabinet of Shame. As our online D&D campaign takes off - and as I contemplate assembling an army of 'goodies' for MicroHotT and Book of War - I've decided to get a few more painted up. They'll no doubt see some action as PCs and NPCs.

This fellow is a Fireforge Teutonic foot knight with the arms of an Oathmark human soldier. The slightly more cartoony/heroic arms give him a bit more character, I think.

The somewhat unimpressed-looking sun face was based on some real heraldic examples. I'm hoping to get a few more fantasy knights/fighters/clerics done over the next few days.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Strength, shields and spears - my house rules for Basic D&D

While in lockdown, I've been running D&D for my kids and some friends. We've got a seven-strong party with player ages ranging from nine to a fair few decades past that. And it's been great - not only as a way for the kids to see their friends every day but also as a gaming experience. I've been taking them through The Keep on the Borderlands, which I've never run or played before, and it's been a blast.

We're using Basic D&D (as contained in the Rules Cyclopedia). Although the red-box Basic set was probably the second RPG I ever read (after Runequest), I don't think I ever played it. I did play a bit of AD&D, but - as children - we disdained Basic as childish!

Clearly, that was absurd. The rules contained in the Cyclopedia are well constructed and sturdy, and they seem nicely modular. In choosing them over the superb Whitehack, I wanted three things: a proper 'rules as written' game of D&D with simple choices (against Whitehack's more freeform approach), an instantly available common reference for the players and a very well-defined system of character progression. After all, who knows how long lockdown will last?

Nevertheless, I had to tweak a few rules. We're now eight or so sessions in, and I'm quite pleased with the tweaks. So here they are.

1. STR as HP/STR and HP
I've blogged about this before, but I've never been able to get over the possibility that a first-level fighter might have STR 18 and HP 1. The Fantasy Trip's use of ST(R) as HP gets round this elegantly. And Into the Odd takes a similar approach by combining HP and STR as HP. When characters run out of HP, they take wounds off STR and have to save under their remaining STR to stay in the fight/conscious/alive. I love this system. As in The Fantasy Trip, I have characters take STR damage off a running total that leaves the 'true' STR stat unaffected for lifting portcullises, 'to hit' and damage bonuses, and so on.

It works really well because it preserves HP as the classic Robin Hood vs the Sheriff of Nottingham store of cunning parries, shaken-off light wounds and narrow dodging of death. And it means that characters who roll 1 for HP don't feel too aggrieved. Perhaps they're just green, clumsy or plain unlucky - all conditions that can be cured through advancement. And it means that the STR 18/HP1 fighter is still much hardier than the average fighter; even after taking a 6HP blow, he'll be much more likely to stay in the fight than the STR 6, HP 4 magician would. That's just as it should be, I think.

At the same time, the fragility of first-level characters (and others) is preserved. There's no need at all to fudge your initial HP roll (my son's thief has 1HP and only 10 STR, but has made both his STR saves so far!).  Low HP mean that you'll be taking STR saves sooner rather than later. But they don't mean that you'll always die or pass out on being struck by a goblin slingshot or hit with a kobold cudgel. Combat becomes less predictable, which can't be bad.

2. PC and NPC deaths
Now, the chances of a PC death with this system are reduced somewhat. I've generally ruled that if you fail your STR check, you're out of the fight (not necessarily unconscious, but groaning and unable to do anything useful), but if your comrades rescue you, you can be revived with proper care (say, a week of rest and the attendance of physicians or equivalents). If your friends get you back to base immediately, you'll probably be OK.

That helps with party continuity and plausibility, and also with forcing the PCs to adjust their plans. If someone breaks their leg in a fight, you can't take them with you. And if you leave them, they'll die. Decisions, decisions ...

Similarly, if you're forced to retreat from combat without rescuing your friend, he's dead. So far, such injuries have made our campaign more episodic, which is a good thing. Raids on the Caves of Chaos are all fun and games until someone gets hurt ...

And there's also a risk of immediate death in certain situations. Our sole death so far came when a PC tried to leap through the gnashing portcullis-mouth of a living tower (pinched from Return to the Keep on the Borderlands). I warned him that this was a DEX save with death as the consequence, and he still attempted - and failed - his roll. Splat!

I'd apply the same warning in a focused combat like a duel to the death with a master swordsman, but not to a sudden skirmish with orcs. It means that the battlefield is strewn with the dying as much with the dead; the orcs don't get the STR save, but their leader might. Important NPCs get STR saves, but faceless minions don't.

In proper wilderness adventures (the Caves of Chaos are too close to the keep to count!), a failed STR save probably entails death. So running out of HP is no laughing matter - but it's something that the strong can usually shrug off.

All in all, this system makes combat more interesting. Maimed companions demand decisions - and death always threatens but isn't always instant.

3. Target 20
I've shamelessly stolen this from Delta. It's great - no need for THAC0 and all that. It makes combat and other stuff much faster. Hooray!

4. Shields shall be splintered
And I've nicked this from Trollsmyth too. I have a more complex house rule for Whitehack, but it doesn't work in a roll-high system. The point is that shields should be valuable in combat - just as they were historically. And I just love the heraldry-driven complications that can arise from carrying the Broken Skull's tokens into the Bloody Tusk's territory ...

5. Spears go first - and polearms can be spears
I'm just about OK with Basic's individual-initiative system, in which two-handed weapons attack after others. I can rationalise certain things with reference to cramped dungeons and sudden ambushes. But it becomes laughable when a dagger-wielder takes on a halberdier in the open and goes first. So, the way I fix this is to allow spears to win individual initiative (whether wielded in one hand or two), which makes them the natural weapon of choice for soldiers. And of course they can be thrown too. So the archetypal spear-and-shield-wielding guardsman makes a lot of tactical sense.

On top of that, I allow polearms to be used as spears or as two-handed weapons in any given round. So, if you want to hold your foe at bay with the pointy bit of your halberd, you'll win initiative against a foe with a sword, axe or knife, but you'll only do d6 damage. If you want to swing it for the full d10, you lose initiative.

I'm well aware that this isn't strictly accurate - you can swing a polearm at a foe long before they get a chance to close with you. But there might be a glimmer of truth in it for a 'killing blow' - especially if we're assuming that most fights take place in fairly cramped conditions. And it makes for nicely balanced decisions.

I'm not quite sure what to do about poleaxes. It's fairly clear that the authors of Basic had little idea of what a poleaxe actually was (up to 15' long? And no spike? Cheaper than other polearms? Really?). As the poleaxe is the descendant of the Danish axe, they might both be covered by the battle-axe category - but then the poleaxe was the weapon of choice of the heavily armoured knight, so it should be the best thing on the battlefield! I suspect it's easiest for now just to group it with other polearms - although poleaxes are generally significantly shorter than halberds, so would be more wieldy in close and less good at the speary stuff. I probably have to accept that D&D just doesn't do that level of detail!

6. Magicians are rare
This is less of a rule than a tonal note. The only magician in our party is an elf. I'm keen to have sleep spells and magic missiles be awe-inducing interventions - not something that most bandits or guardsmen will have seen before. So magic-users are rare, distrusted and generally keen to conceal their powers.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Elven swords as minor magic items

Decisions, decisions ...

Almost every GM must have at some point purloined the likes of Sting, Glamdring and Orcrist from The Hobbit. As a reminder, these are elven swords "made in Gondolin for the Goblin-wars. Their blades glow blue when orcs are near.

A neat magical item, then. But where's the catch? My view of magical items is that they're at their best when they bestow minuses as well as plusses. The best magic items in legends and literature are ambivalent: think of Stormbringer, Tyrfing or Andvaranaut.

Tolkien's elven swords don't have any obvious disadvantage in the books. Most GMs would probably include them as "+1 swords, glow when orcs are near" (or goblins - D&D's division of the species makes this tricky to translate!). Fair enough - but I think it's better to drop the bonus and make their magic more minor.

After all, a sword that acts as an early-warning system is a considerable advantage in its own right. So here's how I treat "elven swords" in our D&D games:

1. They glow when non-human and non-demi-human chaotic creatures are near. So they'll help detect a disguised demon but not an evil priest or chaotic bandit.
2. They give no mechanical advantages in combat; they are, however, elegant and well made.
3. They have to be fully drawn to glow (you can't just loosen one in its scabbard to check the edge).
4. As a result of 3 above, you have to have the sword readied as you advance with it. That means that you can't use a bow or crossbow, or a two-handed weapon, at the same time.
5. As elves are on the small side in D&D (unlike Tolkien), elven 'swords' are short swords or 'normal' (i.e. arming) swords. They do not come in bastard or two-handed varieties. Daggers are much rarer than swords.
6. You can carry a drawn sword in your shield hand, but you'll have to drop it to use the shield in combat; in our D&D games, shields are highly desirable thanks to Trollsmyth's tremendous 'shields shall be splintered' rule. So, if you have a better weapon for combat (a one-handed bastard sword, say), you'll need to weigh up whether the early warning trumps optimal combat readiness.
7. While you get an early warning, you also give an early warning: the blue light from an elven sword is fierce and bright.

There are still ways to optimise situations, of course. A shield-armed character might carry the drawn sword in his shield hand and a spear or axe ready to throw before switching to the sword. And an adventurer sneaking round the underworld with an elven sword might duck down empty corridors to inspect the blade safely. But characters still have to make decisions of minor difficulty. And that's just as it should be.

And it's always worth remembering that some people react to such swords very badly indeed:

The Great Goblin gave a truly awful howl of rage when he looked at it, and all his soldiers gnashed their teeth, clashed their shields and stamped. They knew the sword at once. It had killed hundreds of goblins in its time, when the fair elves of Gondolin hunted them in the hills or did battle before their walls. They had called it Orcrist, Goblin-cleaver, but the goblins called it simply Biter. They hated it and hated worse anyone who carried it.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Speed-painted bugbear

We're playing The Keep on the Borderlands with friends via Zoom - and that means, inter alia, bugbears. I have a few bugbear miniature kicking around, but they're awfully inconsistent. Somehow, different manufacturers' bugbears go together much less well than their gnolls, goblins or orcs. I think it's principally to do with the size of the heads.

Anyway, I like this chap. He's an old boardgame piece: quite crude but suitably big and blocky without intruding into ogre territory. And he took about an hour and a half to paint all in.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A very ugly orc

This is an old Citadel Fantasy Tribes orc from the early 80s. I've painted loads of these fellows before, chiefly in a 'fish-white' scheme in a nod to Alan Garner's svart-alfar. 

But, as we're playing a lot of D&D at the moment (in the house and over Zoom), I thought I might try some with square bases (for Book of War and MicroHotT) and a more Gygaxian colour scheme ("brown or brownish-green" with "pinkish snout and ears" - I didn't bother with the "bluish sheen" prescribed by the Monster Manual as well). 

This guy's a test. I'm quite happy with him, though I can't seem to get a terribly good photo.

The Fantasy Tribe orcs predate Warhammer and were, presumably, designed with D&D in mind. They're certainly not Tolkienesque, like some of the slottabased C15 orcs, which had long arms, bow legs and short stature. Those were produced around the time that Citadel obtained a licence for official Lord of the Rings miniatures; some may have been trial runs for that range. But the Fantasy Tribe lot were taller, ganglier and armed, inter alia, with crossbows and polearms - the quintessential weapons of the D&D orc. 

The range was huge, thanks to the practice of swapping a dozen or more heads between a dozen or more bodies. I used a similar - though bluer - scheme on some other orcs a few years back, and also on a Fimir; I was planning to use the lot of them together as a Fomorian warband for Of Gods and Mortals. I may yet do so.

Here's the new fellow with his predecessor:

For the shields, I was aiming for something that looked primitive enough for an orc to draw itself. The older shield works a bit better, but I like the idea of having some in black and some in white. I based the design on the figurehead of a Viking longship. The two bluish orcs on the right of the photo with the Fimir might end up being rebased to work with this lot. Then again, I have plenty more ...