Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Campaign Construction: Dark Sun (Session 1)

As I mentioned earlier, in Meet the PC, a few years back I took my first foray into GMing by running a Dark Sun D&D campaign for my friends. Since it was my first time behind the screen, I wanted to bring a little something else to the table: Custom minis for encounters.

Dark Sun is a unique world, and to sell the setting I wanted authentic feeling encounters. It's a desert world without Gods, and without metal, and where arcane magic corrupts the natural surroundings. So finding the right minis, and painting them properly posed an interesting challenge.

Each week I'd make sure at least one fight featured a specially prepared enemy. This sometimes had me painting a mini up until my buddies showed up on my doorstep.

The very first encounter took place in a gladiatorial arena, where they were pitted against dangerous desert monsters. The first was a Winged Snake (Warlord's Couatl) that I painted to look like a rattlesnake, and a pair of Drakes who sported a Gila Monster motif (minis are Crested Fellrakes from the WotC Chainmail game).

The second fight in the arena had the PCs facing off against a Mul (Dwarf-Human hybrid, bigger than either, Kinda like a Liger). Looking at the art of Dark Sun, most of the characters are lightly clad (due to the oppressive heat) and since Muls are massively strong, I decided that Dark Heaven's Goldar (I named him Dru'ul in the game) would be the way to go.

Like I mentioned earlier, There's no metal in Dark Sun, so I replaced painted things that would normally be metal as though they were hide, leather, bone, stone, or wood. Most notably, I made his axe bone, and tried to get his plate armor to look like it's reptile hide. This was the mini that helped me realize that this would actually work.

I figured as a gladiator would be in the sun all day, then get oiled up before a fight, like how professional body builders look during competitions, hence the tan and shiny nature of the skin.

Incidentally, if you ever name a Mul gladiator Dru'ul, be prepared for your players to rename him "Drool the Mool"


Monday, June 24, 2013

Meet the PC: Lucy, Half-Orc Ranger

One of my favorite parts about tabletop roleplaying is finding, modeling, and painting the perfect miniatures for our party PCs. I've been doing this for years now, and thought I'd share some of these characters with you.

 Lucy here was being played by a first-time gamer, so her personality didn't come out as strongly as the veteran roleplayers. Still, she was a enthusiastically violent gal, who took instruction well and wasn't afraid to get stuck in. The two-weapon ranger was a fun build in 4e.

Finding a miniature to represent a female half-orc is a bit tricky. Lucy's player was adamant that Lucy not be represented by a "pretty" miniature - she wanted to play a tough-looking warrior, not a dainty elf! This proved to be difficult, however, and eventually we had to make quite a few compromises. I suggested Moraia, Overlords Hero as the miniature is wearing a mask, and had hands that could be converted into holding two axes (Lucy's weapon of choice). By this time I had decided to use differing shades of the core color in the minis, as is obvious here. The olive-green armor was supposed to provide visual interest against the bright green cloth, but I don't feel it completely came together. The skin tone also didn't end up with as much green tint as I would have preferred, and the hair is (I feel) too dark to add to the overall effect. The axes were painted metal, then washed, with a result that I am not happy with. Despite my issues with the paint job, I love this mini's dynamism. I posed it in such a way that Lucy is jinking over a hole int he floor, either bringing her axes to bear, or just finishing a follow-through. This model looks great in three dimensions, and no picture can really do it justice because of that.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A review if Gale Force 9's D&D collector's series minis

If you're anything like me, you were living under a rock when Gale Force Nine announced that they were teaming up with Wizards of the Coast to release a new line of high-quality, resin D&D minis.

When I found out, it immediately struck a chord with me. Back when D&D turned 25, and 3.5 was released, WotC put out a few lines of fun, game-enhancing minis to go along with it. I was a big fan, and still buy these minis when I happen across them in stores (even if they look kinda durpy).

I had really hoped that Wizards would have another similar mini release along with 4th edition back in 2007, but it was not to be. So now, 6 years later, we're on the verge of a new D&D system, and my hopes have been realized.

Shortly after the onset of my May Mini Challenge I discovered the news of the GF9 minis. they had a great looking Illithid raiding party box set so I immediately set out to get my hands on it.
That is we're I will start my review.

I prefer to buy local when possible, so my first step was to call up my FLGS and have him order it.

Turns out that isn't possible.

Since the D&D minis are being released in limited editions the only stores to receive the figurines are "exclusive retailers," stores that carry a certain amount of other GF9 products like Flames of War. I live in the middle of Oregon, an the only store in the state that fits the "exclusive" category is about 90 miles away. Screw that.

So online I went. You can buy the minis directly from GF9's website, but I was feeling a bit miffed that I couldn't buy from a local store, so I went to Amazon instead.

I buy GW, so I'm used to bruising my wallet to get what I want.

The price tag on my box of choice was $50 for 5 minis. Not too bad when you consider how much a single Farseer costs, but it seems a bit steep compared to a comparable Reaper mini.

Likewise, I was only really buying the box for the two Illithids (Illithi?). The Intellect Devourer spoke to me a bit, but I didn't really care about the Duergar or Gnoll. 

No Illithid would go on a raiding party without it's thralls so it makes sense, but it still means I'm buying $30 worth of minis that I'm only lukewarm about. I feel the same way about the Drow War Party set. I love the rogue and the wizard, but I could do without the other three.

The single monster minis seem quite reasonably priced though. The Purple Worm model is large and well detailed for a price if $35. That's reasonable, even looking at Reaper.

One of the first things I noticed was that I didn't have all the right minis. Instead of a Gnoll I received a second Duergar sprue. I was lukewarm about the Gnoll, but I still want what I paid for. Fortunately the third-party store that I purchased from was gracious to ship me the missing mini free of charge. I was happy about that, plus hey, now I've got two Duergar.

There is some creativity here. You can see from the box art that the Illithid's heads have four delicate tentacles. This is done by dividing the head into two bits: the bottom part of the head (including two tentacles) is part of the chest-bit and the top of the head (with the other two tentacles) as another.
The Intellect Devoirer is also rather clever. The hind legs are incorporated into the base, while the forelimbs and head are a separate bit.

As always there are a few casting flaws here & there: an errant air bubble, an inexplicable bit of flashing, etc. The worst I experienced was a large mass of resin attached to one of the Illithid's mouth tentacles. I basically had to carefully carve a new tentacle out of the hunk of plastic. It turned out fine though.

The resin is light, and a little bit soft, so it's probably most comparable to finecast. Unsurprisingly, the resin can be brittle too. The gnoll's leg broke in shipping, but with a little pinning & reshaping with hot water, it was good as new.

Like I said earlier, I knew I wanted some of these minis as soon as I saw them. They're posed very naturally, and look like the models were taken directly from the pages of the Monster Manuals. All of the sculpts I've seen so far are great, with some very deft modeling. Just because I like them doesn't mean I want to buy them all though, as with any range of minis, some appeal to you more than others.

So far they've only released monsters and similar baddies, but they've stated that they'll be putting out PCs & heroic models in the future (Drizzt for instance). GS9 recently announced they would be releasing a Gen Con only D&D Next module "Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle" and pre-orders would get a free Paladin model to boot. He isn't very energetic looking, but he has a ton of character.

The models are 30mm scale, so they're a little bit bigger than say, Reaper's Dark Heaven series, but on par with their Warlord line or GW minis (which is called "Heroic 28mm").

They also come with their own specially modeled scenic bases, but I'm not actually a fan of those. I get the appeal, but I like to model my own bases sometimes. It's silly, but I also have a strong preference for GW's 25mm bases, and prefer to use them when I can.  

But Muninn, why not just put them on the bases you prefer? 1. I could do that with several of them, but not the Intellect Devourer, since the model is actually a part of the base. I'd rather use the bases they provide than have mismatched minis. I'm kinda OCD like that. 2. What's the point of having Limited Edition minis and not using the whole thing?

In Summary:
I like what I've seen, what I've bought, and really look forward to what they'll be putting out in the future. I hope some of their future releases are available through gaming distributors, so I can buy local, but if the minis are cool enough I'll find a way to get them.

The good:
* beautiful minis
* creative sprue layout
* fun, iconic characters & monsters
* I want to see many many more

The bad:
* Hard to come by
* moderately high price
* non-standard bases
* you buy both wheat & chaff
* typical casting issues


Meet the PC: Human Fighter

One of my favorite parts about tabletop roleplaying is finding, modeling, and painting the perfect miniatures for our party PCs. I've been doing this for years now, and thought I'd share some of these characters with you.

 The name of this PC is, tragically, lost to time. Even the player who played him cannot remember the gent's name! What I do remember about him is that he was a reliable, if slightly lethargic warrior who carried a variety of weapons, selecting the most appropriate for the task at hand. While not a particularly powerful build, he did make for a fun, engaging character.

I was drawn to Alain, Iconic Cavalier due to his relaxed stance and plethora of weapons. The character switched fluidly from sword/shield to longspear to mace, a variety of gear nicely represented by the mini. This was the last mini I painted for the set, and I feel it benefited most from what I had learned. The orange cloth is bold and bright, but I kept the white untainted by the main color to provide greater contrast. The skin tone on this mini took better to the mixing of the primary color than the other minis did, giving him a more natural look that still ties in. By this time I had learned to take it easy when washing the metals, and I feel that the more subtle tinting of the sword and armor works better overall. My favorite part of this mini is the shield on the back, which is quartered like the small loin guard and has a black boar's head emblazoned in the center. Probably the strongest single mini in the set.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Meet the PC: Harkoth, Dragonborn Warlord

One of my favorite parts about tabletop roleplaying is finding, modeling, and painting the perfect miniatures for our party PCs. I've been doing this for years now, and thought I'd share some of these characters with you.

His all! Yorrik here to talk about some of my own pieces for the blog. Most of my tabletop roleplaying experience has been in the Gamemaster's chair, which means that quite a bit of my creative output is tied up in the preparations for that role. Whenever I get a chance to be a player in a game, I like to add a little something to the proceedings (a little something that I might not have had the time to contribute if I were the GM). When a friend of ours offered to run a little D&D 4E for us, I jumped at the chance to convert and paint some PC minis, and I was struck with the whim to paint them with a particular theme in mind. Fourth Edition is the most "board game-y" iteration of D&D so far (with the use of a battle grid compulsory) so I decided to embrace that idea and paint the five player characters in a color-coded fashion reminiscent of the board game Clue.

The Warlord class is, in my opinion, one of the best things to come out of 4th edition D&D. They effectively gave mechanics to an archetype that many players were already klugding together from the fighter and bard:
an inspiring officer or combat leader that could fight as well as command. Harkoth here was a mercenary sergeant turned adventurer, more bombast and bravado than cunning and strategy. 

I started with Golanth, Half Dragon Warrior as a base. This is a mini where I love the converted elements quite a bit, but feel a little cold on the paintjob. Roshko (the player) wanted his character to use a warhammer, so I pulled an old metal bit from the bits box and made it happen. I eschewed the stylized "dragon scale" shield that came with the model in favor of a smaller, more weathered-looking bit from the Vampire Counts range (from the skeleton box, I believe). The strap across his chest connects to a backpack on his back, sculpted from greenstuff. I felt the pack was necessary to bulk out the model's torso (the mini suffer from a certain scrawniness up top) as well as to give him some adventuring panache. The armor, shield and scales were painted with a similar recipe of red, though the scales had an extra layer or two of orange highlights to give them a subtle difference. The metal areas were painted with typical metal paints, then the whole model was doused in red wash. The base was painted grey and drybrushed bone, then washed red to make it match the mini. If I were to go back and paint this model again I would darken the armor or brighten the scales to give the mini more contrast. That said, I find it to be a great addition to the set, and it served it's purpose by being immediately recognizable on the battle mat.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 31: Heroquest Elf

Alright. Now I consider my mini challenge to be complete.

Back around 1995 my older brother took his first tentative steps into geekdom, and like any good sibling I followed right in his footsteps.

It started with a copy of the D&D red box, then the DragonStrike board game (I still remember that video), and of course, Heroquest. After much badgering my brother eventually let me paint the minis. Problem was, the only paints I owned were Tester's model paints, and my brushes were those crappy plastic things that came with kid's watercolors. That, plus the fact I'd never really *painted* a miniature meant the finished product was not very good (in my defense, I was 12). During a raid of my parent's house I found a handful of these, my first painted minis.

My buddy, and fellow gamer, Robotlich, happened to have a copy of Heroquest, and I thought it'd be fun to paint one, and compare them to see how far I'd come.

I decide to use the same color scheme as the original mini: White hair, red shirt, green pants, etc. which should make it easier to compare the two. Speaking of which...
I have no doubt that my friends will take one look at these two minis and say "which one is new?" 
I changed a few things on this paint job. I decided he wasn't wearing gloves, and that he had ridiculous rolled down boots instead of ridiculous rolled up pants. You can't tell from this angle, but I also tried to duplicate the look of a Heroquest board tile on the base.

I'm happy with it, and the comparison. My local game store owner wants to put these two minis on display. I'm not totally sure why, but I think it's to show customers that everyone's minis suck when you first get started, but it gets better with practice.

Maybe that's just my takeaway.

Anyhoo, now that this year's May mini Challenge is complete I'm on to a few new projects. Namely, I got a whole bunch of new Space Wolf commissions that I'm going to start plugging away on here, as well as my own Tau, although he Wolves take precedence since someone's paying me for those.

Thanks for following my personal painting challenge. More in a few days.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 30: (Meet the PC) Gragnoc, Goliath Barbarian

During the course of our "Acid Reflux" inspired game we discovered that there are few things more fearsome than a charging Goliath Barbarian. On several occasions he took down an enemy in a single powerful swing of his axe. 

We found out later that we'd missed the fact that the barbarian got nerfed in an errata. Oh well. The legend of Gragnoc, the barbarian stronger than any ten other barbarians will live on.

This is the tallest mini I've painted this month. It isn't as noticeable without another mini to compare him to, but he towers over almost every other mini. It's almost remarkable he doesn't topple over despite being on that small base (Goliaths are medium size creatures after all). While this mini (Reaper's Uglunuk, Half Giant Warrior) IS a good depiction of a Goliath Barbarian, it isn't very accurate to Gragnoc.

As it was a tongue in cheek game the player, Robotlich, described Gragnoc as having a giant, crazy, stick-filled beard. Specifically because Gragnoc read the Players Handbook entry that Goliath males are universally hairless as a challenge. Then, in a bout of concentration & sheer willpower Gragnoc forced himself to instantly grow the craziest, longest beard ever.

It was that kind of game.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 29: LotR Lothlorien Elf

The good news is that I completed 37 miniatures in the Month of May: three more than I managed last year. The bad news is that May is over and I still feel like I've left minis incomplete.  I started three minis to complete within the month, but didn't quite finish them in time.

I still want to wrap them up though, so here's Thursday's offering.

I didn't actually buy this mini with any intention if painting it. This guy was part of a three-mini blister that I bought intending to steal the bows for a conversion. I only ended up needing one of the bows though, so this guy got to keep his hand.

This is actually the first Lord if the Rings mini I ever painted. It was kinda fun. The difference in scale is interesting though. When you're used to "heroic 28mm," like you see in most Warhammer & Reaper minis, The LotR minis seem particularly small. 

The dark green was a new one for me. I started with an old Foundation paint, Orkhide Shade, then mixed in white for subsequent layers. In the end it looked oddly blue, so I drenched it in green wash, which brought it around to a nice evergreen shade.

I don't this this mini will make me convert to playing LotR, or the Hobbit, but it might have coaxed me into picking up a few loose minis here & there. I do rather like Kili, Oin, & Thorin Oakenshield's minis.