Sep 22, 2016

Blogging and Painting

It's been quite awhile since I posted here, and almost as long since I've done any miniature painting. Let's try to change that starting today!


During an email exchange with some of the players in my current campaign, one of the more experienced mini painters gave out some handy painting guidelines, tips, and tricks.

But I just had to add my own commentary to the discussion...
  • Use an Xacto knife to clean up any flashing.  
    • [Use Xacto. Cut yourself and scream.]
  • Wash the miniature with soap and water; rinse thoroughly and allow to dry completely. 
    • [Wash your cut in soapy water and reuse it to clean the mini.]
  • I use a pair of small vise grips to hold the tab at the bottom to avoid touching the miniature while painting it.
  • Paint the whole thing black; I spray the black base coat. Make sure you didn't miss any, touch up as required.
  • Pick 3 major colors; more than 4 looks busy.
    • [Pick three colors, then realize they dried out since the last time you used them. Pick whatever is still liquid.]
  • Start painting from the inside out (ie paint the under shirt, then the shirt, then pants, then vest, then coat and boots, and finally the cloak).
    • [Paint the inside out. When you mess up the outer layer, repainted the inside layer.]
    • [Repeat this two more times before getting angry and throwing the mini across the room.]
    • [Clean up the broken mirror before your wife sees it. Prepare to blame one of the kids and/or pets.]
  • Consider going with a slightly lighter shade than you want the finished color to be. Apply a thin coat of brown wash or ink after finishing the main painting. This will add depth and a 'dirty' look.
  • Admire your work.
    • [Admit defeat and show up to the next session with a d6 for your character.]
  • Also consider watching some YouTube videos. Dry brushing highlights is the next step in spending too much time painting. Wet blending is another advanced technique I would skip when starting out.
... At least that's been my experience most of the time.

     

Mar 21, 2016

Terrain - Dwarven Forge Castle

Dwarven Forge recently launched their latest Kickstarter, Castles terrain. Like their previous campaigns, they have a variety of options to choose from, and have already achieved a number of stretch goals.

Like previous Kickstarter campaigns, parts of this new one are easily compatible with previous offerings, like the mixing the new castle offering with the city streets from the previous Kickstarter, or mixing the mountain add-ons with the caverns pieces from the second Kickstarter.

If you're interested in seeing just what they have to offer, check out the Kickstarter here. And if you missed out on the previous Kickstarter offerings, you can still pick up some sets here on the Dwarven Forge website.

Feb 11, 2016

D&D Comics - The (Almost) Complete History

As you can tell from my posts, I'm a big fan of the various Dungeons and Dragons comics released over the years. Starting with the TSR/DC comics released back in 1988 through the latest IDW comic that wrapped up in 2012.

I thought I knew of all/most of the D&D related comics, until I found this site: http://kuronons.blogspot.com/

Here, you can find a full chronological list of comics, including the original D&D comic ads as well as plenty of one-shots and promos that I never heard of.

While the information is complete, as of 2012, sadly, it seems not to have been updated since then to include the few new D&D comics that have come out in the last few years.

If you have some time, check out the site. Not only does it detail plenty of D&D comic goodness, but there's also information on some unusual treasures (like the Dragonlance baseball cap!) that I was completely unaware of.

Jan 28, 2016

Game Session: Pilgrimage (Part 1)

Some time after the events of the previous game session, Duncan is given a task by Lady Miranda, his superior in the Church of Kiri-Jolith. It seems a group of lay followers of the church have recently gone missing during a pilgrimage to the shrine of Arden Brightheart. The party is several days overdue, and Lady Miranda would like Duncan and his friends to quietly check out the shrine and its caretaker, Jarson Tender, and find what happened to the missing people.

At this point, the party consists of:
  • Duncan - Cleric of Kiri-Jolith
  • Ataraxia - Monk
  • Rainos - Apprentice mage
Arden Brightheart was a legendary Knight of Solamnia around the time of Huma Dragonbane. His shrine sits on the sight of his greatest battle, destroying the necro-lich Dread Watcher. The site also serves as his tomb, as the brave knight did not survive the battle.

To aid the party, she acquired the services of Rainos, a local apprentice mage. Rainos' mentor, Santos, is a powerful and well respected member of the Saltmarsh community.

After meeting up with Rainos, the party sets out in the direction of the shrine. It takes them about a day and a half to make the journey. Along the way, the party is forced to camp out under the stars and keep watch, but being so close to the city, nothing bothers their campsite.

By the middle of the second day, they arrive at the shrine. From the outside, it appears to be nothing more than a cave opening in the side of a hill. The real majesty of the shrine was inside the cave. The finely carved entrance stood nearly 20 feet wide. The walls curved to a rounded ceiling nearly 15ft overhead and on each side of the hallway, alcoves held ornate statues depicting Sir Arden Brightheart, along with placards detailing his many heroic achievements, including:
  • Defeating the One Thousand Fists goblin tribe
  • Slaying Sunfire, an orange dragon
  • Discovering the Helm of the Squire
  • Defeating the Plague Lord of Morgion
The last statue in the hall, seemed to be in much poorer condition than the other statues. When Ataraxia went to look closer, he set off a trap that caused the huge statue to fall on him. The monk dodged most of the attack, taking only minimal damage.

While the party was helping Ataraxia back to his feet, several stalactites that hung from the unfinished portion of the hallway appeared to break and fall to the ground. Before hitting the floor, the "stalactites" starting flying through the air toward the party. Only then did they realize that they were being attacked by magical beasts known as darkmantles.

After dispatching the creatures, the party continued down the finished hallway. They came across two doors, one on each side of the hallway. From the door on the right, they could hear monstrous noises coming from within, but the door seemed sturdy and the lock was strong, so they decided to leave whatever was inside the room there.

Across the hall, they found the door to this room unlocked. As they listened at the door, only small clanking and chipping noises could be heard. They opened the door slightly to look inside. Within, the party could see about half a dozen people all in tattered travelers clothes. They were all tending to a huge mural, depicting Arden Brightheart's conflict with Dread Watcher, that filled up three sides of the room. The people made no notice of the party when they entered.

The people within this room all seemed to be under some magical compulsion to tend to the mural here. But it was only after careful examination that the party realized these people were not caring for the mural, but instead making changes, big and small, to the narrative it presented. In one case, the mural was altered to show Dread Watcher killing Arden Brightheart. On another part of the mural, it was modified to show Dread Watcher leading an army of under toward a town. This town, newly added to the mural, had a clock tower at the center -- matching exactly the clock tower in Saltmarsh!

After some discussion, the party decided to leave these people in this room. It was the party's hope that they would find the source of this compulsion further within the desecrated shrine, along with the remainder of the missing followers of Kiri-Jolith.

Jan 19, 2016

D&D Goes Bump in the Night

Wizards of the Coast made an interesting announcement Monday, the ripples of which affect much of the official gaming content to be coming out over the next several months.

First, and foremost is the announcement that the next D&D module will be called Curse of Strahd. This represents the forth module to come out for 5th Edition since its launch (not including the module that was included in the Starter Set). Those previous modules have all touched on classic D&D adventures/themes, including Tyranny of Dragons/Rise of Tiamat (the evil dragon goddess Tiamat), Princes of the Apocalypse (Elemental Evil), and Out of the Abyss (Demons). Therefore it shouldn't come as a surprise that Strahd, the main villain of one of the most popular modules of any edition (I6 Ravenloft) should be the center of the latest offering.

While the original I6 module has been updated several times before for various editions of Dungeons and Dragons, see House of Strahd (2e) and Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (3.5e), this module claims to be the most expansive and open ended version of the classic storyline.

Some other little interesting tidbits about this module.
  • This is the first of the major module releases to be developed in house at WotC, instead of being outsourced as they have done for all their previous modules. 
  • This module was written by Chris Perkins, one of the most prolific module writers for Dungeon magazine before becoming a full time TSR/WotC employee. 
  • This is the first updated version of the module to include input from Tracy and Laura Hickman (authors of the original module). 
  • Unlike past 5e modules, this only offers enough content for players to reach level 10. I personally don't see this as a bad thing, part of the appeal of horror is the heroes being underpowered versus their opponent.
But there is more going on here than just the release of just this one module. Since all the previous seasons of D&D Adventures League have tied in to the current module release, it's not surprising that season 4 will also tie in to Curse of Strahd with approximately 14 AL modules that will have characters starting out in the Realms (per usual) and ending up in Barovia for the bulk of the season. As usual there will be some new rules (once a character starts season 4, that character can't play in other season's adventures - i.e. leave Barovia - until the end of the season). Also, while not officially stated yet, I would expect the module and/or the AL season to leverage the Fear and Horror checks from the Dungeon Masters Guide (page 266). For more details on Curse of Strahd and AL Season 4, check this official post here.

Random notes:

Anyone familiar with any version of the Ravenloft module knows that one of the key elements are tarokka card readings. The original version of the module provided charts to roll on, as well as instructions on how to modify a regular deck of cards to simulate a tarokka deck. Later, TSR or partners produced real tarokka decks for use in the game. For Curse of Strahd, WotC has licensed with Gail Force Nine for a new version of the deck.

As a way to generate more interest in Curse of Strahd, if you tweet to Madam Eva (@Wizards_DnD) with the hashtag #DnDFortune she will reply with a new "reading" each day!

Finally, if you are interested in reading more behind the scenes details about the creation of this module, check out this interview on Geek and Sundry's website with Chris Perkins, Tracy Hickman, and Laura Hickman.

So, until the module is release on March 15, 2016, beware of things that go bump in the night...

Jan 7, 2016

5 Reasons You Should be Watching Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated

As I've mentioned from time to time, I often look for inspiration as a Dungeon Master from a variety of different sources, and I'm always on the lookout for inspiration from unlikely channels.

Recently, as I was trying to introduce my 5yr old son to Scooby Doo, one of the cartoons I loved as a kid, and I found myself seeing the show as a wonderfully plotted long term Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

Now, just to clarify. When I was growing up, I was watching reruns of the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You! show, which, while good for its time, had some shortcomings in terms of story and animation. The show I was trying to introduce to my son to was the 2010 Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated (henceforth abbreviated as SDMI). After the first episode, I was hooked, not just as a TV fan, but also for the story telling techniques that I could borrow for my own D&D games.

Now, here are a few reasons you should be watching Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated right now!

  1. Easy Availability - This is a simple one, but still important. Unlike some other shows I might want to recommend for DM inspiration, this one is currently available for instant streaming on Netflix, lending itself to binge watching. As a DM, you could easily borrow the outline of one or two episodes (with a few minor changes) for entry level parties.
  2. Balancing Story of the Week and Ongoing Story - Most episodes included not only the monster/villain of the week, but also clues and details about a much larger mystery the group would investigate and solve by the end of the series (a refreshing aspect few of the other incarnations of the show follow). Watching how this unfolds and how seemingly inconsequential details all add together can offer inspiration and suggestion for DMs on how to do the same things in their own campaigns.
  3. Character Arcs - In addition to the monster of the week and the overarching story lines, SDMI also develops the background stories of many of the main and recurring characters seamlessly into the story of the week. Once again, all DMs can use these techniques to weave character backgrounds, either directly (like encountering a past villain) or indirectly (upholding a personal ideal), into any adventure they are running.
  4. Real Consequences - Unlike many of the other Scooby Doo shows before or after SDMI, this show had characters suffer real consequences over the course of the series, including the heavily implied death of several key characters. All D&D campaigns can be strengthen by reminding the players of their own mortality through the death of key or beloved NPCs.
  5. Setting Consistency - One of the best things I liked about this show over any other incarnation of Scooby Doo was how it took effort to be consistent in its setting and explain that consistency to the viewer. Thorough the course of revealing the overarching story, the show explains why Crystal Cove (the home base for this party) is so prone to strange events and even why Scooby (and a few other animals) can speak. It's often said that DMs can craft settings as fantastical as their imagination will allow, but those settings must be consistent. With SDMI, we learn the rational of some of the more fantastical elements presented.
In addition to these reasons, if you are a fan of the original show, other Hanna-Barbera (HB) shows from that era, or just geek culture in general, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this show. Many episodes have allusions and callbacks to classic Scooby Doo adventures, such as villains from the original 1969 show or references to characters like Vincent Van Ghoul, Flim-Flam and Scrappy Doo from later shows.

Several episodes featured characters from other HB shows, including Jonny Quest, Blue Falcon and Dynnomutt. One episode in particular featured a bunch of characters from other similarly-themed HB detective shows, including Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, and Captain Caveman.

Lastly, the show makes great reference to other shows and movies, from Terminator, Tremors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Star Trek, to name a few.

If you have a Netflix account, and some time to kill (the series consists of 52 episodes, each running about 22 minutes), I highly recommend checking this out.

Nov 19, 2015

Game Session: Dead Man Walking

After the events of the last session, the PCs made their way back to the town of Saltmarsh. As an extra reward for rescuing and returning Oswald and Humbert Fastralli, their father, Conte Fastralli, held a private dinner in their honor at The Silver Raven, one of the nicest restaurants and gentelmen's clubs in the city. Also at the dinner was Pinch, a private agent of the Fastralli family who also had done the family great service, though neither Pinch, nor the Fastralli clan were willing to elaborate on just what Pinch had done for the Fastralli's.

Before the dessert course, Conte Fastralli and his sons were called away on business by one of his attendants, but bid everyone else to stay and enjoy to restaurant's hospitality on him

Later, while everyone was enjoying a creme pastry dish with a heated chocolate drink, there was a mild commotion from one of the upstairs rooms. Hoskin Lashti, the owner of The Silver Raven, went to investigate. A short time afterward, he sheepishly approached the party. With worry in his voice he explained that there had been an "accident" in one of the upstairs private rooms and that one of the guests was dead. It seemed the patron, Milo Bornal, had enjoyed the company of a female companion a bit too much.

Hoskin then asked the party for a very special favor. The deceased man's wife, who was not the companion Mr. Bornal was with at the time of his passing, was a influential force in town, and if she learned the true manner in which her husband had died, she would use her connections to get this fine establishment shut down. Hoskin asked if the party would be willing to take Mr. Bornal back to his home across town, secret him back into his house, and allow his wife to think he had died at home in his personal study. The owner would be grateful and would cover the party's food and drink bill for an entire month at The Silver Raven.

Feeling sorry for the owner, they agreed. After first concluding, without a doubt, that Milo Bornal had died of natural, if not pleasurable, causes.

After sneaking the body out of the back of the Silver Raven, the party started making their way across town from the edge of the North Hill district to the riverside part of First Gate, all the while trying to avoid the attention of guard patrols. This took the party through various alleyways around the city.

by Merewina
While they did a good job of avoiding the town guards, they weren't so successful with one of local street urchins.
“Hey Misters, watcha doin’? I see ya walkin’ all funny around the streets like you don’t know where you’s are.”

“That’s not a smart thing to do in these parts.”
After talking with the young boy, Krist, who was asking more questions than the PCs were ready to answer, the party was able to send him on his way with a few coins.

Continuing their trek through the city, the party took a wrong path down an alley and suddenly found themselves in a dead end. Before they could back their way out, a nest of spiders skittered down from rooftops and out of abandoned crates to take notice of the prey that had fallen into their webs.

The largest of the spiders shot webs that trapped some of the party, while the smaller ones attacked directly. With a combination of magic and steel, the party skewered a few of the smaller spiders and one of the larger ones. This caused the rest to scurry up the building walls leaving the party alone.

After tending their minor wounds, the party set out down another path with their charge in toe (pun intended). While darting out a side street, quickly trying to cross the main street, the party turned a corner right into a patrol of local guards.

The obvious leader of this patrol greeted them, “Hello citizen”.

As they make their way closer, he adds, “nice night, don’t you think?”

Everyone froze as the head guard spoke to them. As the guards waited for them to respond, the air grew thick with nervous tension. If they didn't say something soon, maybe the guards would suspect something was amiss.

After a moment, Pinch spoke up and talked to the guards for a few moments. As the guards noticed Duncan and Ataraxia carring Milo over their shoulders.

It was Duncan who made a passing comment that their friend here had too much fun and they were taking him home. Duncan was apparently convincing enough that the guards laughed and waived them on their way. At the first opportunity, out of sight of the guards, the party ducked back into an alley, hoping to avoid any more patrols for the rest of the night.

After a few more alleys, they found themselves crossing through the business district, which was mostly shut down at this time of the night. Unfortunately, that left them vulnerable to the thieves that inhabited these alleyways as their own under cover of darkness.

The thieves thought they were mugging a group of drunkards that had wandered in to the wrong part of town, but after the heroes put Milo's body down and drew their weapons, the thieves soon realized they were in for a real fight.

With shadow and stealth, the thieves, tried surrounding the party. The two leaders of this pack tried to take Duncan down first, while the other members (including a dwarf and bugbear) concentrated their attacks on Pinch and the monk.

Duncan fought off one of his attackers, while Ataraxia went after the other. Soon, the two leaders were dead, and the other thieves ran off in to the night.

With their attackers gone, the party picked up the body of Milo Bornal and continued their city trek to his mansion. As they made their way down the alley toward the Bornal estate, a soft moan came out of the shadows.

Shambling out of the darkness a pale, gaunt figure with soulless eyes, covered in dirt and rags and smelling of death and decay emerged. It’s one hand out stretched as it slowly moved toward the
party.

Then the thing opened its mouth... and promptly burped and stumbled before you!

“Spare a few coins or a drink for a bloke down on his luck?”

After giving the homeless man, Calden, a drink and a few coins, the man continued.

“You tryin’ to get into the Bornal place? You won’t make it through the front. Lady of the house got some kinda party goin’ on tonight, but I seen the ol’ man get in through his private entrance in the back."

"‘E’s fond of slippin’ out a catchin’ a drink or two from time to time, and always sneaks back in with he’s private door. Door musn’t be locked, cause the good sir never carries keys, or anything else that makes noise, I guess so’in’s the misses don’t ‘ear ‘em comin’ back in.”

As the party sneaks on to the mansion grounds, they find all the guards are busy attending to the door and party guest scattered around the front of the house. When they get up close to the back door that Calden was talking about they see the door is sealed shut, but, there is no discernible lock or key hole.

Engraved on the door is the phrase, "Steady profit is the Key to success", and under that is a three by three grid. Within each grid are piles of coins, in various piles and denominations.

After looking over the images for a while, Duncan and Pinch realize that within each row of images, one pile of coins shows the same value. Remembering the phrase above the door about steady profit being the key, they touch the one image of coins in each row that has that similar value.

With that the door magically opened for them. After that, they party was easily able to sneak Milo Bornal's body into his private study and make it look like he died there, hunched over his accounting ledgers.

Then the party was able to sneak away, back into the darkness, after one of the strangest nights of their lives.
Behind the Scenes: Like Embreth in the last session, Pinch was also supposed to be a new member of the group. This player, sadly, wasn't able to continue with my group past this single session.