Thursday, October 20, 2016

Welcome to Winter, 59AD! (In Pictures)

Winter has come to my campaign world, and with that, the Harvest Feasts at the Years End have been eaten. A New Year starts - goodbye 58AD, welcome 59AD!



The last of the harvest has been stored.


The northern areas are hunkering down for the expected winter snows. The Southern areas are waiting to see what the Winter rains bring.


Some of the Duchies are taking advantage of the Winter to prepare forces, especially those who have heard the news of the Orcs attacking the Duchy of Pisces. In that war torn area, armies continue to wage war, with only the rain slowing them down.

And in the Duchy of Irecia, where the tabletop players are located, the damage around the recently-freed town of Yew is devestating.


(Pictures from all over the web. Original authors/rights holder retain all rights.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dynamic NPCs in action

My tabletop players have just reached a new year in the campaign calendar. This marks the third campaign year that PCs have been exploring my world and with this year comes new changes - deaths, childbirths and seasonal activities. I covered this briefly earlier (Part 1, Part 2) and now I've implemented it in an NPC database.

A far cry from the Rolodex cards that Tony Bath (of Hyboria fame) or Professor M.A.R. Barker (of Tekumel fame) started out with. I'm using an Access database. For the Yearly and Seasonal events, I've coded the procedures in old school Visual Basic for Applications. That's taking me back to some old school programming!

I have to admit, during test runs, seeing the deaths of some of the NPCs that I've given life to over the past few years was a bit of a gut-punch... and that's why I'm glad I'm doing this. The world will continue, things will happen ... and the cycle will continue.

One of the ways I keep track of these events for game planning is to use Obsidian Portal's "Adventure Log" feature, future date the log post and drop in the Yearly and seasonal events into that log. I then mark it as "GM Only" and I can keep track of things much easier, it shows up on the dashboard as one of the first log posts.

One bit that I am still wrestling with is the idea of magic - divine most likely - in how it might affect an NPC for illness and death. Based on the costs of casting spells (~ 100gp per level) in contrast to the average yearly wages of someone in my campaign (~175gp/year for common labor), it would be quite expensive for normal folks, merchants, tradesmen to afford a "resurrect", even a "cure disease" represents 2 years of wages. For nobility, probably not as much of a problem. So if those results come up during the Yearly run, I'll be throwing some extra dice to see what happens.

This post marks the 101st post of my "new" vanity blog.  I've largely stayed away from the "What is OSR" posts and the drama and the things like the "Swords & Wizardry cover" deal. It just doesn't interest me anymore, I've said what I had to say about my version of D&D and what I like to play. When I restarted last year, I was just getting back into miniatures and gaming. Keeping my focus on that has served me really well. I get fewer hits, but I'm OK with that. Let the popular kids go play at The Game. 

(And I still wouldn't piss on ScottSz if he was on fire. So there's that.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Addendum to X2 Castle Amber post...

An addendum to my post last week about the venerable TSR Basic/Expert module, X2 Castle Amber, and a link to my edits.

I ran this game on Thursday evening. The game was a huge hit. The party didn't make it past the West Wing, as we started late and folks were too tired after traveling. It was about 2 1/2 hours of play and fighting. Tons of fun!

1. Players HATED Jean Louis and didn't trust him, even after they won 10,000 gold coins from him! They more trusted a dozen rakasta (cat people) in an orgy room. Go figure.

2. They were fascinated and freaked out by the Hall of Mirrors. Because they befriended the rakasta, they were warned about it.

3. The dinner took out a third of the party, to become either ghostly servants or, in the case of one player, died of poisoning from the mushroom soup so badly, he turned into a mushroom. No resurrection for this one!

So they didn't get to the rest of the module, but that's OK. I never expect the players in an event game to make it through, half the fun is just seeing what craziness they come up with.

Some of you expressed interest in my changes, to make the mansion come "alive" with factions, purpose or just a better (in my opinion) flow. I'm linking to the document with three caveats:

1. This is changed to a more salacious, kinky theme - decadent sexuality and outright in-your-face, 50-Shades-esque (without the shitty writing) themes. You were warned...

2. This is written in the left page map, right page One-Page-Dungeon key, so that when I open my binder, everything is there. I printed out the module to have as back-up, but ran mainly from the key.

3. I ran this as d20/d6 game - all hit points and damage was d6 based. You will have to convert back to your favorite flavor and approach of D&D.

Let me know what you think!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rethinking X2 - Castle Amber

I was looking for a relatively self-contained adventure for a one-shot game I was putting on for a group of folks recently. I was looking for an adventure that would fit in with the old "You suddenly appear in a setting where you weren't earlier..." trope (Hello Guardians of the Flame series). Something that could be self contained, but provide a lot of interesting opportunities for exploration. And it had to lend itself to a bit of salacious content. The adults playing in this one-shot would be looking for that.

I looked at B3 - Palace of the Silver Princess for a bit, but decided that it just didn't have a vibe, even though I could tinker with it and recast it. Then, for some reason, I kept remembering a module I had read about from old blog posts, one with a giant crushing a castle tower. The reviews made it sound like something I might use for this situation. Viola, I found my copy of X2 PDF stashed on my hard drive and went to work reading it through.

This is where I probably get my grognard card yanked... I have read very little on Appendix N of AD&D 1st edition.

You know, the sacred list of the holy texts of pulp fiction and sci-fi that the authors of D&D felt "were of particular inspiration to me." Yea, I didn't read so many of those. A bit of Moorcock, Norton, Saberhagen and definitely Tolkein. But most of my inspiration for learning and playing D&D is from contemporary or really obscure sources.

That means that going into the module X2 - Castle Amber, I had no real knowledge of Clark Ashton Smith and his Averoigne stories. I may have read a story or two of his from an anthology, but nothing that ever stood out in my mind. I approached this module on the basis of what it provided for me alone.

TLDR: My read thru of X2 - The Mansion - left me feeling like everyone sits in their rooms, waiting for something to happen. BORING. I'm surprised for a module with this popularity and source material, that the writers didn't do that. So I juiced it up. I blame for opening my eyes to this sort of thing.

==== NOTE: Spoilers follow. If you haven't played or don't want to know, don't read further. ====

For atmosphere, self-contained, modding possibilities and the inclusion of salaciousness, X2 is a great choice. A family of chaotic, BORED personalities with a name and knowledge/power. So many possibilities!

To fit the on-shot time, I limited the play to the mansion alone. I cut out the dungeon, Averoigne and the Tomb. Mainly for time, because I know that 4 hours is not enough for these players to get through the whole thing. I like having event games where there's a good chance of success - I prefer those games where there is an ending in sight!

If the players make it to Simon in the Sanctum Sanctorium, he's guarding the silver gate with the keyholes. Taking the silver gate allows the players to return to "The Real World." Red Pill, anyone?

So - the mansion. Full of family members of the D'Amberville family. Lots of crazy little touches that lend themselves to being converted to a more salacious or even kinky tone... but as I'm reading through, I get the distinct sense of ... yawn.

The West Wing, for instance:
  • Jean-Louis is running a boxing match, and invites the players to attend. He's sitting on a chest of loot. That's it. Get rewarded for a fight or kill him and his buddies.
  • Rakastas are sitting around in a room full of treasure. They'll attack. Kill them, loot, move on.
  • A Dining Room that SCREAMS to be the focal point of things... but you interact with the dishes and that's it.
  • Arachnae Lair - fight and loot.
  • A Master Bedroom with a lion-man - Richard D'Amberville. Nothing else other than "If he's mad, he roars and attacks." Kill, loot.
  • Wraiths in a bedroom. Kill, loot. 
That's it. The text of the adventure to help set the mood and tone are more worried about making sure the players are given the softest of pillows to make it through unscathed. There's no atmosphere, no suggestions of any factions or disputes or ... nothing. YAWN! ZZzzzzz...

Now, I know I'm stepping a metric-shit-ton of toes here, because I went through the various blogs and found that this module was played a lot by kids my age back in the day. Clearly, there's a lot of love for this module, but as I said, I'm not steeped in CAS lore, so the way the module presents the various D'Amberville members is pretty boring.

So... time for me to jack this up. Make it more interesting and challenging.

Let's rethink the West Wing -
  • Jean Louis sees Richard as a rival. He wants to force Richard out of the West Wing. Richard wants Jean Louis to get off his jock, yo! So Richard with the rakastas is opposed by Jean Louis with the arachnae and magmen. They're at a stalemate - the PCs represent new pawns to be used. So each NPC and their aligned monsters aren't going to auto attack-kill. They're going to negotiate, seduce, bribe or otherwise try to get the players to join their side. While all the players want to do is get the frak outta Dodge and get home.
  • The rakasta are having their version of "furry fun" in the room where they're guarding a silver key. They'll trade it in exchange for a PC who will stay behind when the rest go through the gate, to return and join in the kitty-cat fun. They'll take the PCs to Richard to help seal the deal.
  • That boring linen closet? Now featuring ghostly servants visit to change sheets in the various bedrooms (which gives a 1 to 2 in 6 chance of showing up in any of the bedrooms and possibly revealing the secret doors within).
  • Make those two bedrooms with the ogre and wraiths as wing bedrooms to Richard's master bedroom (so ogre in 9, Richard in 10, wraiths in 11.)
  • Rather than have wraiths just auto-kill, have them seduce and drain via giving the PCs their most carnal desires. It won't look like an attack, until it's too late... Richard sends rude guests to 11 to "relax" so he can kill them off and make them into more ghost servants.
  • Wandering monsters become residents of the wing walking about. Or a pair of floating wizard eyes (like the ones in the boxing match room.)
  • The Dining Room. Focal point of the conflict. Both Jean Louis and Richard invite the PCs to dine with them and take them to the Dining room... where the other shows up and it's a tense stand off. Do the PCs waste time and fight, or do they say "Not my circus, not my monkeys" and head off to the woods? 
For every area - West Wing, Indoor Forest, East Wing and Chapel, I had to do a lot of this. The only time that the module provided some pre-established conflict was between Madeline D'Amberville and her brother, Charles in the chapel. Loved it! 

You get the idea. I was surprised that for such a highly regarded, fondly-remembered module like X2, I had to do a lot of this. And maybe that's the biggest lesson of these modules. A lot of them have wonderful germs and seeds, but it really takes going through them and tweaking them and adding in those touches, factions and conflicts that makes the module and setting come alive. 

Dammit, Bryce @ ... you're rubbing off, man!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The fingers done easy - and Learning Chaos Wars update

Doing the Foundry/Dallimore painting method calls for contrast between flesh areas and other areas, usually by a black line. When painting the hands and feet, one paints only the tops of the digits so that there is black (or base color) between them. It's a pretty dramatic technique when done right.

Figures done by Kevin Dallimore himself - from Dallimore's site:

Now me, I have had a hard time with the fingers. Sometimes the digits on the sculpt are not straight, or they have little creases and "breaks." I also have a pretty constant tremble in my hands, which can be very challenging when trying to draw 10 perfect lines. I struggled with fingers and hated them a little more than I hated eyes. Then I was working on some chainmail and it hit me... drybrush the fingers.

And voila:

Now these are WIP - what you're seeing is the base color of a two color approach (base + highlight). If I were doing this three color, I'd paint the base over  everything, and then dry brush the highlight colors.  The brush-over on the bows and other areas will be cleaned up.

These fingers look a lot better than they would have if I was using my trusty 00 to try and make straight lines.. and it was faster. These are tabletop quality, so on a leader/character, I would go over the black areas (or base color areas) with a bit of black (or base color).

So maybe this is something you already do, or perhaps you just skip the fingers, but maybe this will give you an ah-ha like it did for me.

Learning Chaos Wars update:

There won't be a post this week. VERY busy week with lots happening, including preparing for a D&D game at the most unlikeliest of events. After I'm done, I'll be releasing my updates to a very well-loved module from TSR lore.

However, next week, we'll be back at doing Chaos Wars with Fantasy Troop types and Creatures/Monsters! Release the War Trolls!

And I still need a War Ox...

Monday, October 10, 2016

Release the Kraken! (WIP)

No, no... not *THAT* Kraken... the old school style Kraken.. you know...

Yea, that's the one... except really, I'm talking about the Ral Partha Kraken cavalry which I got through the first Chaos Wars Kickstarter back in 2015. These have been part of the lead pile for about 9 months now... and it's time to build one!

These suckers are huge and heavy. The tentacles need to be attached to the body, so that's a job for pinning, epoxy and then green stuff! So that's part of what I was working on this weekend...

Eventually, a Sea Elf leader-type will be seated on this beast, but for now, it's all about the monster.

I may also be working on a homebrew battering ram, since there aren't any readily available 25/28mm ones at a reasonable price available.

And just between you and me... if we want to go old school on Krakens, THIS is what scared the hell out of me when I was a young boy...

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Learning Chaos Wars, Part 4 - Characters/Leaders and Terrain

I started this series to explore the updated release of "Chaos Wars", a set of miniatures wargaming rules by Ral Partha. In Part 3, I played a game of Chaos Wars that added morale and rallying to the mix, leading to a game that took half the time/turns to conclude!

In this part, I'm adding Terrain (Section 8), Characters (Section 4, plus inclusion of new bits from previous rules) and Challenges (Section 15).

Now come the Days of the Fiddly Bits... as these rules start to add in look ups and specials rules that bolt onto the basic mechanics.


Terrain is pretty straight forward, it provides bonuses and penalties for ranged attacks & melee, as well as affecting movement. Most wargamers are used to this, so it's not out of the ordinary. I wish the terrain effects were on the reference card that you can print out (or comes with print orders), but I may have a bit of experience at creating reference sheets, so I can make my own.

What I thought was a really damn cool rule is that units can occupy buildings and shoot from them! Sweet-sniper-awesomesauce! Buildings can take damage from melee/ranged attacks, but Towers can only be damaged by creatures, artillery, and magic! I now have a reason to start working on a LOT more Hirst Arts towers. Aw yea!

So that's about it for terrain. The rules have a nice battlefield terrain generator, which is useful for solo games or games where the scenario doesn't specify terrain features.

Characters / Leaders

Characters are just what they sound like, individuals of high power on the battlefield. Aragorn, Gandalf, Elric, Conan -- you know, the BBAMFs! (Although, I have to admit, I'm a little skeptical of superheros on the battlefield, thanks to Daniel Collins' thoughts on the subject from his D&D skirmish game... but this is fantasy, so I'll go with it.)

Each character has the equivalent of Armor Class, hit points ("vitality"), melee/ranged attack skills ("prowess") and magical resistance/power. You pay points to get the heavy hitters. There are four types of character "classes": Champions (Fighting Men), Priests (Clerics), Wizards (Magic Users) and Necromancers/Demon Summoners (Conjurers). You can also buy mounts for your characters so that they can ride with the cavalry, and you can also buy leadership "titles" for them.

What, no love for the Necromancer/Demon Summoner?!?
Picture is from the Chaos Wars rulebook.
This is where the real usefulness of Characters come in. You can "attach" a character to a unit. Depending on that character's title is how they can affect the unit's attacks and morale/rally. Which, as we learned last game, having a leader around to auto-rally troops is a big benefit!

Each army gets an "Army Commander" for free, so all you pay in points is for the type/power and if they're mounted. Adding subsequent characters requires you to pick a title (General, Colonel, Captain) which limits which units they can affect.

Characters can also fight as well, as part of the unit they're attached to, or individually. If they fight with a unit, they add a bonus pip to the attack roll. If they attack individually, their combat mechanic is a bit different - based on the "prowess" of their melee/ranged attack, they roll that number of d6s. Modified 5s/6s are hits. Here's the power inflation - if a character attacks a unit, they can kill figures! Superheroes indeed!


Including Characters adds the Personal Challenge to Event 1 - Initiative.

1. Initiative and Personal Challenges
2. Ranged Combat
3. Movement
4. Melee Combat
5. Rally

Personal Challenges are individual combats between characters/creatures within 12" of each other (except for Army Commanders, who may designate a substitute that is within 12" of the challenger). They fight one round of combat, either using a Ranged, Melee or Magical attack on each other. Damage is tallied up and then the next challenge is issued. Characters fight in only one challenge per turn.

A character can decline, but the first time they do so, the penalties are high for that turn, since the troops around them are all about "Hey, man... no guts, no glory! Some leader YOU are!" Future declines bring no penalties, since the troops already know the deal.

So personal challenges are a sweet way of having some one on one combat to whittle down the opponent character. That's very useful because losing vitality brings penalties as the hits stack up. And, if you manage to take a leader out, that means morale and rallies suffer.

Wow, that is a lot of text to talk about these bits, but Characters bring a lot to the table. So...

Let's see how they work in combat.

You already know the belligerents from the previous battles:


We're going to add in two Rank 2 Champions on either side of the fray. These are small forces and probably wouldn't attract the strongest of leaders. Since each side already gets a free Army Commander, we don't need to spend points to give them a leader type, and we'll make them both mounted on Standard Mounts, so that they can be attached to both cavalry and foot soldier types.

Meet Subchief Ushuk-Rifaah for the Orcs, and Lord Colinet for the Humans.

The two Army commanders - Orc vs. Human

Set up was different this time, as I finally had terrain! I used some random dice rolls to place the terrain. (And please ignore the fall decorative table cloth underneath my el-cheapo green Easter table cloth. I didn't feel like lugging the 4x4 up the stairs... and this worked well enough.)

For the battle, the Humans are charged with protecting the village from the Bestial raiding party. The Orcs and Goblyns need to occupy or destroy the village building (represented by the two buildings. The orcs deployed to send the Goblyn foot as flankers, while the Orc cavalry would flank on the other side. The Humans deployed to keep their archers in woods (for protection) and near the buildings, while they sent footmen up the middle and to the right to oppose the center and flanking assaults. The Human cavalry would oppose the Orc cavalry.


Turns 1 and 2 saw maneuvering and foot troops engage in melee. Terrain was a bit of a factor as the Goblyn archers in the center rear had to maneuver around the wall -- their objective was to start shooting at the buildings, as building terrain can take damage and be destroyed! Melee was inconclusive as all Goblyns and Human units passed their morale checks after taking casualties.


Turn 3 saw characters take the stage front and center. Being close enough, the Orc Army Commander issued a challenge to the Human Army Commander. The two faced off between the closing cavalry and engaged in battle...

... and killed each other! Both commanders had Vitality of 2, and Melee Prowess of 4. That meant I rolled 4 dice and 5s/6s were "hits". Both scored two hits on each other, reducing the opponents' vitality to zero... and there you have it. The leaders are out very quickly and that had serious ramifications later that turn!

The remainder of turn 3 saw the foot troops continue to lock in battle, with neither side routing and casualties mounting. However, the day wasn't good for the Human cavalry. Casualties and the loss of their leader/Army Commander was too much; they routed and were unable to rally themselves. The Human cavalry are out of play! (to the left of the battle)

It was at this point that I realized that I had forgotten to move my Human archers out of the woods (mid-left) towards the buildings, as they had been taking potshots at the cavalry, and I wanted them to occupy a building to protect it. Oops!


Turn 4 saw the human archers in the woods (to the left) pour arrows on the Orc cavalry, scoring a casualty and forcing them to rout. They then raced towards the village building to occupy it!

The Human foot in the center of battle crumbled to mounting casualties, routed and were unable to rally. Things are starting to look extremely bad, but the human foot to the very right manage to force the Goblyn foot to retreat and they then turned towards the Goblyn archers!

Turn 5 - The Human archers split move and fire at the Goblyns. (split move/fire - moving only half of their allowance to be able to fire during Ranged Attacks) Between the casualties from missiles and the ensuing melee with the Human foot, the Goblyn archers rout and can't rally.

The Human archers make it into the village building! This gives them a +2 on morale checks and forces attackers to either attack the building to destroy it, or suffer a -1 on their attacks of occupants.

Turn 6 - 8 - The rallied Orc foot confront the Human foot in a key melee. Both units were routed, but the Humans, sensing that they were losing the battle, fled for their lives, leaving only the Human archers to protect the village!

As dire as that sounds, the Human archers had a chance! They had managed to survive the Orc cavalry attacks and had reduced the Cavalry to one figure. With the way the penalties stacked up for the cavalry unit, they had to roll sixes to cause even one casualty on the humans inside. It wasn't happening! Can the humans hold out?

Turn 9 - the Orc foot join the cavalry in attacking the human's holed up in the village building. Unfortunately, the casualties were too much. The human archers routed, right off the board. The Orcs were victorious! The buildings burned while the Orcs collected human captives and looted their belongings...

Some last bits

Well, that was interesting! Since the commanders eliminated each other early on, characters were a non-factor in this battle. The terrain made it interesting for sure though, between the orc cavalry not wanting to try and get to the archers in the woods, and then the archers almost pulling out victory by holing up in the building and whittling down their attackers.

Morale and rallies were a huge factor in this game for both sides. The human cavalry dissolving at the beginning doomed the humans, although it took awhile for that to play out.

Chaos Wars continues to serve as a fast, fun little game. This battle was over in about an hour or so. I am starting to get the hang of the modifiers and fiddly bits. I can see where the game would be very interesting with more units on the table. To that end, I'm painting as fast as I can!

What's next?

Well, according to the Chaos Wars rules, they say this:
Beyond this point, the order in which you tackle the remaining parts of the rules is up to you. To avoid confusion, take it one step at a time. We suggest adding new aspects of the game in this order: Fantasy Troop Types (3:7), Creatures (5:0), Magic (16:0), Flyers (10:0), Titans (6:0), War Machines (7:0), and finally Equipment Upgrades (3:9).
So that's how we'll do it! Next up is Fantasy Troop Types & Creatures. See you next time!