Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lazy Blog Post: Random Rammstein

I realize now that last Saturday I missed posting Soundtrack Saturday. Also, there'll be no VPA post for today.

I've been busy with lots of writing, getting a couple of short novellas ready for Amazon Kindle... more on those later. So, for now, here's some Rammstein:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mini Monday: Primers, which do you use?

What kind of primer do you use and would recommend?

I use spray primers. Though I've heard the paint-on primers work, I just don't have the patience to deal with them, as I already get a little annoyed having to paint in crevices and other spots I missed with a spray-on primer.

I've been using Games Workshop's Chaos Black since I started painting miniatures. It works well, laying on an even coat. It even works in high humidity, though I've avoided using it in warm temperatures. For those who don't know, using primer when the air is warm and humid causes a "fuzzy" or "grainy" effect. Overall, GW's Chaos Black (and white) works. The downside (as usual when dealing with GW) is the price ($16+ per can)

Price hasn't stopped me in the past, but since I no longer wish to support Games Workshop, I'm looking for other alternatives.

My next choice will be The Army Painter's black primer. I've used their other color primers and have had no problems, but those were for what's called the "The Army Painter Method." That's where you spray on the dominant color of your miniature, paint on the details, and then dip the miniature in the Army Painter's varnish. The primer is also cheaper, around $11 per can, opposed to Games Workshop's $16+ per can. I also really enjoy the Army Painter's tutorials--they actually show you how to use their products.

I've never used "non-gamer" primers, such as Krylon and the like. They are usually cheaper--around $8 per can. I've heard they work okay, but never have I experimented with them.

There is one primer, by a company called Armory, that I recommend you avoid using. You can tell them by their Munchkin-like characters on the side. While I'm using up for trying something once, I've read too many bad reviews, (like this one and this one and these), for Armory primer. Apparently, it has lots of quality control issues--likes to go "fuzzy" or "grainy." People have been lured by the cheapness of the product (around $5-6 per can), but end up having all kinds of issues.

Yet when it works, it works well. But why bother risking your miniatures with such low odds?

So what primers have you used? Which ones do you recommend?

Friday, June 21, 2013

In Retrospect: Thunder Rift, by Colin McComb

Thunder Rift was one Colin McComb's early projects for TSR, published 1992, before his infamous Complete Book of Elves, of which he's issued a rather humorous apology.

Thunder Rift is a modular campaign setting. You can place Thunder Rift in just about any "standard" D&D world. I remember reading it and wanting to somehow include it in my Greyhawk Campaign. I'd imagined it somewhere in the Abbor-Alz, or maybe the Cairn Hills. But, my players never adventured there. 

Thunder Rift derives its name from being a mountain valley where the roar of a waterfall can be heard at least faintly in most places. The rift itself is about 30 miles long, north to south, and 20 miles wide, east to west.

There's actually a lot packed into Thunder Rift's 32 pages. It's meant as a wilderness expansion to the basic D&D Boxed Set published in 1991. Apparently, all of the adventures in the boxed set started characters right at the dungeon. Thunder Rift provides beginning Dungeon Masters an example of what wilderness adventures could entail, but yet not overwhelming them with an entire campaign setting in a boxed set. 

It accomplished its aim, in my opinion. It provides short descriptions of wilderness and settlement--enough to get an idea of what's there, but leaving room for the DM to expand as he or she sees fit. In the Gauntlin Forest, for example, elves face a perplexing situation as wild magic plays havoc on the landscape, altering terrain ("Streambeds mysteriously flow into nothingness...") and animals. Meanwhile, the Gloomfens used hold the site of a warrior's academy, but now the academy is in ruins, and the fens themselves are known for their poisonous gases. You even get a fairly comprehensive description (8 or so pages) of the Rift's major city, Melinir, which includes major NPCs, shops, and other places of interest.

Overall, the material is presented well, in a clear, easy-to-read manner, perfect for beginner DMs. You even get a large full-color poster map of the Rift. There's only one major error that I found. Apparently, Melinir is a city of only 200 people

Some might turn their noses up to Thunder Rift's simplicity, but I think its simplicity is its greatest strength. When it comes to campaign settings, any DM really doesn't need to know much more than the area the PCs are exploring. I think fully-developed campaign settings can be overwhelming at times. Colin McComb delivered a mini-campaign setting, complete with a history and plenty of interesting adventuring sites. 

Thunder Rift also has some adventure modules written specifically for it. This include Assault on Raven's Ruin, and The Quest for the Silver Sword (and others). Both are worth picking up, at least for their colorful battlemats. The big D&D boxed sets, The Dragon's Den, The Goblin's Lair, and The Haunted Tower if I recall are also set in Thunder Rift, but I am not familiar with them. 

I wish I'd gotten more use out of the Thunder Rift. It's a neat little setting. 

Presentation: 9 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 8 out of 10

Get this if... you're a beginner DM who doesn't want to bother with designing his or her own region for your games, or if you just want to complete your Basic Dungeons & Dragons collections. 

Don't get this if... you have no problem designing your own wilderness areas, complete with its own history, towns, etc, or if you don't like a really generic D&D setting. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

VPA-7: Gaming, Alcohol, and why they don't mix well

You're probably either thinking: "duh" or "what? a beer or two at the table is no big deal."

And I agree with both assertions.

I'm a fairly sober person, really. I drink once and a while, usually for special occasions. Gaming isn't one of them. When you drink, drink. When you game, game. Don't mix the two. Why? I've got three reasons.

First, I'd like to break the drunken depressed writer stereotype (Yeah, I know, good luck with that). I ruminate enough as it is. I don't want alcohol to release my inhibitions to speak about religion, philosophy, politics, and "life" at the gaming table. 

Second, I'd like to prevent that stereotype from being added to the gamer stereotypes already out there. That is, the "nerdy anti-social satanic overweight smelly gamer" stereotype doesn't need "drunken" and "depressed" added it to it.

Third, in the handul of times drinking and gaming went together, the drinking eventually took precedence--even if there was no alcohol being served. Sure, I've got a few funny stories, but why they are funny is because something sad happened. That's pretty much the definition of comedy.

Sure, there's something funny about "getting too drunk to play D&D," but the end result is that you game to play D&D, but the alcohol took over. 

Like the time, years ago, when my DM celebrated his birthday by running a one-shot Dark Sun adventure. While we, the players, had a beer or two, he knocked back some mixed drinks. But at the end of the session he kept forgetting to have the villain take its turn. "Who's turn is it?" he kept saying. And I, who figured out what was going on said, "Mine!" Needless to say, the game had an anticlimatic ending. Afterward, the DM realized that his couch need to be his new best friend. 

Even when alcohol isn't being served, it can still have long term consequences.

A campaign of my own ended because a player showed up both late and drunk. A few minutes after he arrived he threw up (fortunately missing the gaming paraphrenalia and the other players). Game over. While the rest of us cleaned up his mess, somebody else took him home. The campaign itself was limping along, but that caused it to fold.

I'm sure some of you out there have got similar stories. While I don't practice it myself, I can understand having a beer or two. It's drinking the hard stuff that causes trouble.

As for gaming and drugs? Never.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Multi-classing--to the EXTREME! Has anybody done it?

In D&D 3.x, you could multi-class as many times as you wanted, but you suffered an experience point penalty (20%, if I recall) if any of your levels deviated more than 2 from your primary class.

In theory, you could tack on a new class every time you gain a character level under this system. Thus you could run through the entire base class list in the Player's Handbook, resulting in an 11th level character with a single level of Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard, all with first level abilities.

In theory, yes, but I'm curious: Has anybody actually done this in practice? 

About a year or so ago I did end up in multi-classing hell. We had a small group in 3.5e. I was playing a Bard 1/Druid 1, but our group lacked fighters. So, being a sport, I added a level of fighter when the character reached 3rd level. Then, suddenly three more players showed up and balanced things out. Suddenly, my character was the outlier, and it'd be along time before my character would even qualify for the prestige class I wanted. I felt like my character was wallowing in sub-mediocrity.

Previously, the last time I played a triple-classed character was more than ten years ago, during an AD&D 1st Edition campaign. A half-elf fighter/wizard/thief. He was very versatile, though it took him forever to gain experience. He was more enjoyable to play than the 3.5e character.

What are your experiences with multi-classing--in whatever edition? Did you character seem over or underpowered? How much fun did you have playing the character?

In Retrospect: Campaign Settings

The World of Greyhawk Map
from "From the Ashes" boxed set.
I used to think that published campaign settings were great, I still do, I guess. But now I know they can be overwhelming, especially for new DMs. And question the value of having small collections of campaign setting books that may never actual play.

AD&D Second Edition was best known for its plethora of published worlds. We're talking about Birthright, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, The Forgotten Realms (including Al-Qadim, The Horde, Kara-Tur, and Maztica), Greyhawk, the short-lived Jakandor, Mystara (including Hollow World), Planescape, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and the mini-setting Thunder Rift. (Is that it? Did I get them all?)

You had lots options to choose from. I myself invested in Greyhawk, Ravenloft, and Planescape. I did play some Dark Sun, loved it, but never bought it. I picked up the Forgotten Realms boxed set to see what it was all about, let it sit on my shelf for couple years or so, then sold it.

Looking back, I realize how overwhelming it all was. I'm glad I stuck with Greyhawk, because TSR stopped churning out stuff for it, and the material WotC later published for it was basically a rehash of earlier material--I didn't feel the need to read up on anything new as a GM.

Even so, I only use a fraction of the material I owned. There was no way to use it all--and I've run three complete campaigns (one that lasted almost 11 years) in Greyhawk. All three included quick jaunts into Planescape and Ravenloft.

My biggest turn-off to the Forgotten Realms is that back in the day the material was so damn prevelant. I can't blame TSR--FR became the most popular D&D setting. But on top of that, it seemed there existed this unspoken assumption that you, as FR player, were supposed to keep up with everything.

Heaven forbid that a beginning DM fall into this trap, and feel the need to use it all. And them WotC comes along every few years to screw around with "official material" with yet another upheaval. (Dragonlance used to be #1 victim of this, but I'll put the Forgotten Realms in the pole position since  GenCon 2012's announcement of "The Sundering!"--gah! get Ed Greenwood's voice out of my head.)

Sure, if you like collecting all of those books, fine. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

But I think the best campaign setting is one a DM creates for himself and his players. Even moreso, especially for a new DM, is to start the campaign small, beginning with the classic "village with a dungeon nearby" scenario.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mini Monday: Hundred Years' War battle with Joan of Arc

I had a great time gaming down at Treefort Games  on Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday I ran my Expeditions in the Northlands campaign. Five players showed up to explore a ruined keep, where the encountered an evil gargoyle-bat-demon thing. Over half the group ran away while two stayed behind, charmed. When the creature chased off the others, he turned on his charmed "servants." They actually killed the creature, got the treasure, and made it back to down before others did!

On Saturday I played a Hundred Years' War game using Ancient and Medieval Wargaming rules by Neil Thomas.

The English had their typical line of archers while the French bought Joan of Arc and a couple of artillery.

As you can see, both sides were fairly spread out over the large gaming area.

This wasn't meant to simulate any particular battle, but just to have a good time.

As the French put pressure on the English weak right Flank, the English did the unthinkable--they marched their archers forward!

In retrospect, this wasn't a great idea, but I had to distract my opponent from putting too much pressure on my knights. The poor archers got whittled away by artillery fire before the engageed the French crossbowmen.

A group of English billmen slipped passed the French right flank. They went off the tabletop to pillage the French camp.

The English seemed to have the upperhand.

The hobilars and the English commander charged another unit of French crossbowmen on the other flank, to relief the pressure there.

However, their victory over the crowbowmen took too long. They got pinned and obliterated by two units of French mounted knights.

The game ended with a brawl where Joan of Arc died/got captured, as well as the English commander.

In Neil Thomas, you loose if your army gets reduced to two units.

Each side had three units left at the end of the game.  Although the French mounted knight appeared surrounded they broke off combat, leaving the English to wonder if they wanted to chase them with the remaining French artillery shooting at them.

The French player called it a marginal English victory. I claim it was a draw--all of my archers were dead, and so was my commander. The French still had a fairly fresh unit of Mounted Knights on the table that could cause problem... if my units didn't fail their morale from the canon fire.

I had a fun time. I really like Neil Thomas's rules because of their simplicity. The game lasted for about 2.5 hours--which is sort of long for the rules, but still quicker that many other medieval wargames out there.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Soundtrack Saturday: Herzeleid, by Rammstein

Rammstein has come a long way since their first album, Herzeleid, debuted way back 1995. Herzeleid is chalk full of anger and aggression, well suited to Rammstein's fiery performances. At times, Till Lindemann sounds like he just sank his teeth into piece of raw meat, and the blood and juices are dripping from his chin as he sings. 

So why would you want music like this at your gaming table? 

1. Bloody Combat to the Death.
Combat where the player-characters are facing down some longtime hated foes, foes that have somehow gotten underneath their skin and its time for revenge. The first four tracks of the album, starting with "Wollt ihr das Bett in Flammen sehen?" ("Do you all want to see the bed in flames?") can be played in order for a fast-paced, blood-pumping combat to the death. 

2. You need an evil-sounding incantation. 
Your player-characters are exploring an evil temple. As they around the corner, nearing the main sanctuary, they hear the first part of "Heirate mich." You only have to play the first part. The loud thunks at the end, before music really starts, are doors shutting behind the players, trapping them.  

3. Something evil lurks in the dark... and then reaches out and grabs somebody.
Just listen, the music in "Rammstein" starts off slow, and the grabs you. David Lynch used "Rammstein" to great effect in the movie Lost Highway. 

Auf weidersehen! 

Friday, June 14, 2013

In Retrospect: Grimtooth's Traps

I actually have fond memories of Grimtooth's Traps, by Flying Buffalo, Inc.

In case you didn't know, Grimtooth's Traps is filled with some of the most vicious traps to ever grace a roleplaying supplement. All of the traps are system-neutral. If you put them all in a dungeon they'd almost make the Tomb of Horrors look bad. Add Grimtooth's dark humor (Grimtooth is a snarky troll serves as your host, drawn by S. S. Crompton) with traps written by a number of now-veteran game designers and authors like Mike Stackpole and you've got a legend among older gamers.

My older brother bought this book when I was a little kid, and let me look at it occasionally when little hands weren't grubby. While my young mind couldn't read all of the words (what's a "delver?"), the pictures showed me all of the ways characters could get hacked and mangled to death.

And you know what? Later I learned that he even had the audacity of including these traps in his adventures.

Within this book we've got corridors that suddenly turn into drop shafts with spikes at the end, doors that when kicked open kick back, traps that shread a character's calf-muscle and Achilles' tendon. There's a room where your character wakes up in a cage, and two giant lobsters are down below. Not all is as it seems. What do you do?

Then, of course, there's the infamous "Rope Serpent."

Much later I inherited this book and also had the audacity to inflict some of these traps on my players. Most of these were the many "trapped" or "cursed" items found farther back in the book.

I do recall one time when a brash Paladin smashed a cursed vase to get the gold inside. It was a stupid thing to do, because he lost 6 intelligence points. This also meant couldn't meet the requirements for the Wyrmslayer "kit" from the Complete Paladin's Handbook. His player didn't like this one bit, got mad, and decided that his character had become too stupid to avoid reading the nearby Book of Vile Darkness. His paladin became a fighter and a night hag the book summoned killed the fighter.

Afterwards I didn't have the heart to tell him that the intelligence loss was only temporary... (also it was pretty damn funny).

I don't recall using many of the "meatgrinder" traps from this book, because I really didn't want my campaign to just end with a TPK. A lot of these traps are the "step and die" variety. In fact, there's subsection in the book titled Step and Die. Many of these traps reek of "no saving throw."

Still, the traps are generic enough to adapt to almost any system. There are no stats, so the referee can decide their game mechanics. For a few of the traps, Grimtooth himself suggests how to make the traps more character friendly... or more lethal.

In short, Grimtooth's Traps is at least a humorous read, but DMs should use some caution.

Creativity: 7 out of 10
Presentation: 8 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10

Get this if... You're an old school DM who needs more ideas for make his dungeons more lethal, or you're a player who suspects the DM might have this book. ;)

Don't get this if... You run "adventure path" campaigns with convuluted story arcs. Many of these traps often result in a total party kill or may be interpreted by players as unfair. There are, however, a few cursed/trapped items that might be worth looking at.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

S&W Module: Grimmsgate, What I'm Doing With It (Not a Review)

I've missed out on playing through too many classic modules over the years.

I own The Keep on the Borderlands, have run my players through it in a 3.5e conversion, but am kinda sad that none of my characters have heard those goblins shout "Bree-Yark!" When I was really little, I watched my brother run The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh for his players. The cover artwork with the Haunted House overlooking the sea and what looked like a vampire with lamp was a little scary. Later I inherited his Against the Giants and Drow series.

The era of AD&D 2e wasn't really known for its classic modules, though there were some good ones, but I never played through them. That era was more about the campaign setting, "generic" modules were almost a thing of the past.

I did get to play through The Sunless Citadel for 3e. And that was a decent little module. The Crucible of Freya, by Necromancer Games, I bought and ran it for my players. Rappan Athuk? Yeah, I own the originals, and Reloaded and am eyeballing the Swords & Wizardry version.


I'm not going to miss out on playing through cool modules anymore.

For Swords & Wizardy Appreciation Day, I bought both pdf and hard copy versions of Grimmsgate. I haven't looked though either. I stopped reading on the very first page where it says: "If you are going to be a player in this adventure, and you are not the Referee, READ NO FURTHER!"

My goal: Loan the print version to another DM, a beginner, to run this module for me.

It says right on the front, it's an introductory adventure. And it looks like it has the basic "village with a dungeon" theme going for it. Perfect for beginners.

I'm setting this module aside... for now, and am encouraging other DMs/Referees out there to do the same. By all means purchase it. You're getting a quality product; Matt Finch and Frog God Games have history of producing great stuff. So no worries there.

Use the module to cultivate new Referees--there's a shortage out there, you know.

Somewhere along the way, one of your players will catch the DMing bug.

That's when you say: "Hey, I've got a great module for you to run..."

Besides, I'm sure many of you DMs out there who would love play through great module for once...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

VPA-6: The Top Five Things that Distract Roleplaying Gamers

From the infamous "Dark Dungeons," by Jack Chick

There are many, many forces arrayed against an RPG session that must be overcome in order for you have a great time. Countless distractions that can make us forget why we are at the tabletop to begin with. It's important that both the DM and the players recognize these distractions and deal with them accordingly. 

Most can be overcome with good communication, scheduling, and a promise from all players to keep their commitments. Even so, these top five can become ongoing distractions if not dealt with. 

#5. Sports
Believe it or not, RPGs are in competition with sports. Both are forms of entertainment, and "mainstream" America would rather watch a football game on a Friday night than play Dungeons & Dragons. 

In my experience, you've got the "gamer stigma" working against you. The "closet gamers" (how I dislike that term) out there may like your game, but are afraid that the might be made fun of for ditching their non-gamer friends to play a wizard. 

Overcome this by having strict scheduling and a great game. If you're a DM and your players are sports fans, listen for cues for when the next big game might be coming up.

Don't schedule a game for Super Bowl Sunday. Like I did. Once. 

#4. School/Work
I've lumped these together, though they are different in many respects. There really isn't much one can do when work calls and says, "Guess what? We've rescheduled your shift!" or you're salaried in the corporate world and just some tasks overflow into your fun time, or your just beat from a long work week. Commutes can also eat up lots of time.

School is another matter. Common sense dictates to get your homework done. When I first came to college, somebody said you were supposed to spend at least two to three hours in study for every hour spent in the classroom. To me that sounded crazy... but now, looking back perhaps I should have been paying more attention.  

How many times going into an RPG session was I nervous about getting an assignment done for the next day? That nervous energy, I'm certain, sapped from the play experience. How many times have you done this? 

Again, the best advice is to get your work done. If you have to work for the weekend, then do so. Don't let work/school time interfere with your fun at game time. 

#3. Other games and gamers
If you're fortunate to be able to play in the privacy of your own home, this shouldn't be too much of an issue. Just turn the TV off, perhaps even disconnect your Internet connection and ban computer and cellphone use (see #2), hide your board games, ban edition war speak and talking religion and politics. 

However, if you're running a game in public or semi-public place, such as at a college campus gaming club, or gaming store, you'll full on into other games and gamers distracting your players. At the very least there'll be the noise factor, or lurkers stopping by. At worst, you'll end up in a feud with the CCG gamers (usually a tournament), wargamers, and other RPG groups who'll want to use the space you've occupied. 
Original image from

There's really no easy way to circumvent these problems if you're playing in a public forum. 

The best way is for as many players in your group as possible to arrive early and stake a claim--two players at the very least. If you can, find the most quietest and out of the way place.

If you don't like noise, try avoiding CCG nights--especially Pokemon or Yu-gi-oh, which attract a large number of restless children. 

#2. The Wonders of Technology
Sometimes I wish cellphones/smart phones were never invented. Sometimes I wish we could go back to the 1990s when laptops hadn't become so prevalent. 

I don't have much else to say about this one, we all know how distracting the wonders of technology can be at the gaming table. My only advice is: UNPLUG. 

#1. Significant Others
In the United States, anyway, there's this weird unspoken assumption that couples are supposed to do just about everything together. I have no idea where this comes from--marketing? The media? the TV-show Friends

On top of that, guys are supposed to feel guilty for not spending time with their wives or girlfriends. But if they spend too much time, then they're smothering. Yet if they don't spend enough time, then something might be wrong in the relationship.

(What's the female perspective on this? No really, enlighten me.)

This bogus assumption can disrupt your gaming session, if it hasn't already. A significant other who becomes a gamer can be wonderful thing, but a jealous partner can cause unneeded drama. In the very least one of your gaming buddies probably won't show up as much anymore.

All I else I can say is treat each situation differently, but try to win the significant other over to your side if possible. Proper scheduling helps... does getting older, and more mature (I think).

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mini Monday: What was your hardest miniature to assemble?

Yeah, it sounds likes odd topic, doesn't it?

But I feel that we, as figure painters, can learn more from our most difficult and annoying miniatures than from the easy ones. I'm talking specifically about those that are hard to assemble (or stay assembled).

For me, the Zombie Troglodyte from the old D&D Chainmail game and Labith, Spider Centaur from Reaper Miniatures.

I actually don't have the Zombie Troglodyte anymore. I bought it probably around the year 2000, back when I was still a novice to the painting hobby. It proved to be a pain in the butt. The body itself was fully intact. But each of its tiny arms was separate, as was its hands holding the axe. Somehow you had to line up both arms with the hands on the axe handle just perfectly.

The tiny arms kept falling off. I'd get them aligned just right only to realize I'd superglued my finger to the miniature, or when I'd tried to attach the arms to the hands I'd push just a little to hard an arm would pop off. I eventually gave up.

About a year ago I found the Zombie Troglodyte, super-glue encrusted parts and all, got mad and threw it away. (Only when assembling certain units of Warhammer figures has brought me more ire).

I don't regret throwing the miniature away, even though I'd figured out a solution to the problem.

That solution came when assembling the Labith miniature.

She was about as frustrating. Where the legs attached to the body gave me the most problems. I had learned much earlier that at times superglue just doesn't quite cut it. With this figure, the legs kept falling off. I'd attach one, only to have another come loose. I was reluctant to use pins, because there wasn't enough metal to drill into where the legs attached to the body.

The solution: green stuff and superglue, together. I put very tiny beads of green stuff in the holes where the legs attach then used superglue.

It worked. The miniature has held together through two moves. Now I just need to paint her up.

Had I known about the superglue/green stuff combo over 12 years ago, the Zombie Troglodyte might not have given me such trouble.

Then again, those tiny parts--pins were out of the question. And who knows? Had I tried the combo, I'd probably have both green stuff and superglue stuck to my fingers.

So, what was your most difficult figure to assemble? How did you do it? What new techniques did you learn?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Soundtrack Saturday: BSG Mini-Series

Has it really almost been 10 years since the BSG mini-series debuted? 

I've always wondered by Richard Gibbs didn't stay on for the regular series. Either way, I like Bear McCreary's stuff better. Still, there are few choice tracks from the Mini-Series.

The Sense of Six:


The Lottery Ticket:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: The Teratic Tome, by Rafael Chandler

Note to readers: I won both the pdf and the hard copy in Tenkar Tavern's Best Character Death Contest.  

First off, I'm assigning a soundtrack to this book, since these songs kept playing in my head as I read through it the first time: "In tiefster Nacht" and "Geister und Dämonen," by Schwarzer Engel, followed by "Rammstein," by Rammstein.

There's plenty of monster books out there, most are just ho-hum. Grrr... another monster. It's hard to invoke fear and horror at the gaming table. But if you, as the DM,  have the Teratic Tome, you stand a good chance of instilling some good old fashioned horror in your players.

 Teratic Tome is a combination of old school AD&D, Gothic Horror, and Cthulu Mythos. It's old school AD&D because its formatted just like an old monster manual (its meant for OSRIC, after all). It's Gothic Horror because many of the monsters hunt people down for their sins. And it's part-Cthulu Mythos; many of the creatures would require a sanity check to look at them (at least that'll be my house rule).

You also get an ecology with each creature, highlighting how it selects and hunts victims. You almost get the full range of senses with each description. First, of course, the monsters often look terrifying. Second, the often make scary sounds; one recites bad poetry while another waxes philosophical on its own nature of evil. Third, how many monstrous compendiums out there mention a monster's odor?

The Altar Beast smells of strawberries. The Onlooker "sweats a milky substance that reeks of fresh fruit." Gusion, the Countess of Misery, "drips a clear fluid that smells of pine."

As for touch, of course some of the monster are slimy, and others have sharp pointy teeth and claws, fetid breath weapons (and so on) Yet many of the more powerful ones issue portents of their eminent arrival--asthma attacks, painful bleeding, animals going crazy, paintings that speak of horrible calamities.

As for taste, well... perhaps I shouldn't go there.

The Tome also features a large number of unique monsters. The standard fair, of course, are new high level creatures like powerful demons, devils, and aberrations. Yet every dragon in here is unique. You've also got a few unique monsters (around 3 HD each or so) for low-level characters. One that stands out is the Seamstress, "a demented old sorceress" who creates pillows and quilts out of humanoid skins to sell to demons.

Overall, the Teratic Tome is well done. While some might turn up their noses to the black and white art,  I think its fine--its supposed to look like an AD&D book after all.

My only caveat: some might view the female monsters in here as bad taste. There's at least twenty creatures with sexualized female forms altered in a horrifying way. You have the "lamia" trope throughout (woman's torso and breasts on a monstrous body). But there's also more, monstrous, mutations.

I can only say that horror is a delicate subject, and I think the Teratic Tome delivers.

You can get (and preview) the hard copy and pdf on Lulu.
The pdf is available on RPG Now as a "Pay Want You Want" item.

Presentation: 9 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 8 out of 10

Get this is if... You want a manual of monsters to frighten and horrify your players, and you don't mind, as a DM, that some of the monsters might even frighten you.

Don't get this if... You prefer more traditional "Tolkienesque" fantasy, or are easily offended by sexualized horror, or if you don't like horror at all.

(Yet horror in fiction, by definition, is supposed to be offensive. Part of the appeal of horror is being able to overcome it. But that's a topic for another time...)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

VPA-5: Character Sheets and YOU

"The game starts at 6:30 pm, but anybody who needs to level up or buy stuff for their character should come a little early."

Part of the fun is leveling up and buying stuff for your character. Many RPGs, especially D&D, are about accumulation. In pre-3e versions of D&D, your character often got more experience points from treasure than from defeating monsters. In the post-3e world that's changed (unless you're playing those older versions or a retroclone). Even more "modern" games have shifted their focus, giving characters a each a broad array of skills and abilities, in order for a player to perfectly customize his or her character.

Some call this min/maxing. Others call it character building or optimization.

I call it a potential waste of game time.

The essence of this series, Victoria Praeparatio Amat, is that what makes or breaks a great session is what happens before the game starts. Having your character done before session starts goes a long way.You've done your prep work. You're not that guy who mulls over every ability and modifier while other players patiently wait for the game to begin.

Now most sessions will have about 15-30 minutes of small talk at the beginning before actual play begins.

Aside from a few small calculations and scribblings here and there, that isn't the time to start fully min-maxing your character. That's the time to get relaxed, discuss things, and get ready to play.

An old DM trick I've used is to announce that the session starts at a given time, usually have hour before I really want the session to actually begin. For example, if I say the game will begin at 6:30 pm. I really don't plan actually running the game until around 7 pm.

This gives a cushion of time to allow for people settling in, doing last-minute updates to their character, and to allow for late arrivals.

If you use this trick, don't let your players find out. (Hell, maybe I shouldn't have posted this in case my players read it).

Overall, have you character sheet organized and ready to play before the session begins.

(Okay, I admit, this might have been a "Well, duh!" kind of post for VPA, but it still amazes me how even veteran players will wait until the last minute to update their character sheets).

Monday, June 3, 2013

Mini Monday: Paladin Initiate

Next up in my quest to complete 52 miniatures this year is a "Paladin Initiate," by Reaper Miniatures.

With this miniature I tested out a technique I learned on How to Paint Minis the Bruce Campbell Way on EN World.

I primed the miniature black, as usual, but instead of layering on colors, I drybrushed the miniature Rainy Grey from Reaper.

You can still see a bit of the grey-brushing in this picture (especially the sword and the armor trim):

Then I started painting on colors--but only one layer in most cases. See, the grey-brushing is supposed to save you time on shading the miniature.

I think it did. Every color, save for the purple didn't need another layer or dry brush. Here's the colors I used.

1. Armor--Boltgun Metal--by GW, "Trim"--Copper, by Reaper
2. Sword--Chainmail, by GW
3. Tabard, clothes, and Shield--Liche Purple, by GW; (light dry brush) Lich Purple, by Reaper; Skull White, by GW
4. Leather Straps--Ruddy Flesh, by Reaper

I spent most of my time detailing, it seemed. I finished the miniature off with a light wash of black ink to make the details stand out more.

I think the Bruce Campbell Way has some merit. But I'll have to try it on some other figures, since I'm not sure I like how this one turned out.

And... done!
Of course, if you need to make some statues or stone golems, the grey-brush method is probably the way to go.

I'm not sure if I quite like how the miniature turned out. Maybe I over did it on the copper. It just feels like the miniature is missing something, and I'm not sure if it has anything to do with the grey-brush technique or not.

But most importantly, the miniature is D-O-N-E.

And that makes 9 out of 52 for the year.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Soundtrack Saturday: Battlestar Galatica Season 1

Since bought the BSG Season 1 soundtrack back in say, 2005 or so, I'll occasionally start my RPG sessions like the opening sequence to the show. It's a three-step method.

Step One: I'd say,  "Previously, on The War for the City of Peace Campaign..." 

And then every player would give a one-liner describing what had happened in the previous session while listening to the prologue...

Step Two: I'd then give a brief recap of the last session while we all listened to the Main Title [US Version]...

Step Three: And then I might start the session in media res, with "Helo Chase" and "The Olympic Carrier..."

Do you know why this works?

First, all four of these song are in order on the soundtrack itself. You don't have to switch between songs. (Which was great back in the day when I didn't have an mp3 player).

Second, it gets the players involved right from the beginning. You, as DM, don't have to start the session with a lengthy exposition. You have about a minute to get done what you need to say, and then...

Thirdly, get to the action.

This soundtrack works best for games that feature an over-arching plot with lots of drama. It doesn't quite work with sandbox campaigns with lots of dungeon and wilderness exploration, though there are a few combat tracks you can use.

Some might not want to mix a science fiction soundtrack with fantasy. But I've done it, and it works. Besides, playing music from Lord of the Rings over and over again gets dull.

Try this method, let me know how it works.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...