Saturday, June 9, 2012

D&D Encounters Buffs

When I was running D&D Encounters sessions at FCB Comics & Games, in Alpharetta, Georgia (If you are in the area, definitely go there. I highly recommend the shop. Chris and Pat are great guys!), I wanted to pay the store back for staying open later on Wednesday nights, and help them to be more profitable, in general.

I had heard from a friend of mine that the store he went to was doing a promotion for Encounters, where the players could earn bonuses for the game by buying things from the store. I didn't know all the details, but I thought that basic idea would be a great addition to my games.

So, over the course of a few weeks I worked out what kind of bonuses players would appreciate having, and how valuable those bonuses would be in the sessions. This is what I came up with:

Click to download pdf
I even printed out cards to hand out as something physical to the players, so they wouldn't forget they had the bonuses. Here's a sample of a few:
Click to download the pdf with all the cards.
Yes, the card design is lifted directly from the D&D Fortune Cards. Hopefully that doesn't earn me a visit from WotC's legal counsel, but it was a cool design (and I'm not making any money off it).

This system is far from perfect, of course, so feel free to alter it as you see fit. Also, if you use these, please report back on how they worked for your group/store, any changes you made, and/or any suggestions you have. Thanks!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Keeping My Game Afloat, the Finalé

Since moving back to Canada at the end of February, I have been without an official web service, thus I haven't had anywhere to upload pdf files. Then, today, it occurred to me that I've had somewhere to upload and store those all along... Google Documents!

I've uploaded my Baba Yaga's Hut model pdf again, so that link is now corrected and active, but I can also upload something that I've been wanting to for some time.

As the title of this post implies, I've been working on D&D ship tiles for some time. I started off by making some basic tiles from the Caravel deck plans in Part 1,
moved on to look for existing products in Part 2,
and then went back to my tiles in Part 3.

After Part 3, I went back to a different base ship than the Caravel, spent a LOT of time editing those plans in Photoshop, taking out specific details, widening the decks, creating additional decks, and working out all the details of putting the decks together into a functional model, and I posted the results of all that work in a new post, here, where I showed the final model I build for my friend Craig's Astral Pirates game.

After building that initial model, I got back to work putting the plans together into a document, along with the instructions for building the model, so that I could put it out onto the web. I made a few refinements too, as the one we used in Craig's game was something of a functional prototype rather than the finished product.

So, now I present, the HMS Freebooter*!

*I named it that just as a place-holder. Feel free to name your ship whatever you want, of course. :)

Related Posts

Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 1
Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 2
Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 3
Yo Ho. Yo Ho. It's an Astral Privateer's Life for Me

Monday, January 16, 2012

My thoughts on D&DNext and Edition Wars

Like everyone else that has an interest in D&D, I've seen the announcement for D&DNext/D&D5e. It didn't even come as a surprise to me, since I'd kind of "seen it coming" over the past several months, through the various D&D articles, the blogs I read, and tweets from people I follow. I was surprised that they decided to go with the Open Playtest right from the start. Surprised and quite pleased.

One thought I'd expressed right from reading the announcement was that I hoped that we, as the collective fanbase, could approach the new edition with a positive attitude, rather than swamping it with negativity. I think that E. Foley (Geek's Dream Girl) put it rather well on her blog:

This got me thinking about Edition Wars, as I've seen plenty of articles and blog entries crop up about this. I can see that one is going to be inevitable, but at least with the open playtest, the community will be aware of the direction that the designers are going in, and the designers can stay aware of how the community feels about their choices, and adapt their plans accordingly. I hope.

Personally, I've never participated in Edition Wars, no matter what editions were on the two sides of the battle lines. I've played everything from Holmes edition Basic D&D in 1979 up to 4th edition D&D Essentials just last week. I certainly have my opinions and preferences, but I've played each edition that has come along without serious complaint. My most vocal complaint about the game, over the years, has been about how they turned Rangers into two-weapon fighters in 2nd edition, but I didn't not play 2nd edition because of it. I just tried out other classes, and I eventually played two Rangers under those rules, without complaint.

When 3rd edition D&D game out, I loved it. I bought it immediately, and I bought 3.5e when that came out, and I played in several games using both. Most of the games were online, simply due to my work schedule not allowing me to participate in regular tabletop games, but I played. I posted about the game on a D&D forum, which I eventually became a moderator for, and I ran and played in several games on that forum. I designed house rules, most notably converting the Star Wars RPG system of Vitality and Wounds over to replace Hit Points (long before the Unearthed Arcana came out). I was also revising the multiclassing system so that spellcasters wouldn't get quite as hosed as they were getting (compared to other classes), and I was working on a system for masterclass and magical weapons and armor that would give weapons and armor mundane masterclass bonuses for attack and damage and defenses, but you would add magical abilities and powers to the item to turn it into an actual "Magic Item". So, I definitely wasn't just enduring or toughing it out. I fully embraced the system.

However, by the time we came around to 2007/2008, I was getting seriously burned out on 3.0/3.5e. What I once thought of as "detailed and thorough" was coming off as "overly-complicated and rules-heavy". It wasn't that the game was bad. I'd played it for 7 years without feeling this way. So, the game wasn't the problem. I was. I suppose I knew the rules so thoroughly, and had played around with them so much, that there wasn't anything novel about them anymore. Once that happened, my ADHD brain started to look for other diversions.

I ran a Moldvay-edition Basic D&D game with some online friends, mostly because I had just won a copy of it in an eBay auction, but also for the nostalgia. The simplicity of the rules was invigorating!

As a result, my next 3.5e character, Geldan, (who was also my LAST 3.5e character) was the most vanilla human fighter I could make with the rules. I basically did whatever I could to make him as close to a 1st edition fighter as I could. The most "extraordinary" things I gave him were Cleave and Great Cleave, and that was only to emulate how a 1e fighter would get 1 attack per level against less-than-1HD creatures. Other than that, he was a completely boring "plate-armor-with-longsword-and-shield" fighter, and it was the most fun I'd had with a D&D character in the last few years! My turns took about 15 seconds to resolve (allowing extra time for confirming and resolving critical hits), and I was just able to relax and have fun with it! I even dealt the killing blow to the Big Bad Evil Gal, at the end of the campaign, who was hovering 10 feet off a sheer cliff while we fought her minions on the cliff! Geldan drew his sword and charged, running and leaping off the cliff, landing a critical hit that did nearly maximum damage!

Then 4th edition came out, and just like Basic D&D, it was incredibly refreshing. When I started playing it, it made me feel like I was 10 years old again, sitting in my friend's attic, running Brandon the Fourth, human fighter, for the first time, wanting to do great things and have great adventures. The rules were simplified. Character creation was something new and exciting again. The new powers that characters had in 4e made me think of all the stuff that I wanted my characters to be able to do in the old days, but was told that the game didn't work that way.

One thing that has irked me in the past few years, and has gotten my back up a few times, has been the 4eD&D hate. I just didn't understand most of the criticism, since I was having so much fun with the game, but I just chalked it up to everyone being different and needing something different from their rpg, and didn't bother to fight or feed the trolls. However, one of the negative claims I read was "It's a game designed for Attention Deficit 10 year-olds!", and that one struck a bit closer to home.

I was pretty angry when I first read that. I'll even admit that I ragequit the group that it was posted on. However, having thought about it since then, I have to say that statement has some truth about it... but not in the negative way the person who wrote it intended.

As I said above, 4th edition D&D made me feel like the ADHD 10-year-old kid I was back then, and that's a GOOD thing. It got me excited about playing D&D again! I was enthusiastic about making characters, rather than viewing it as a grinding chore. I was excited about playing through encounters, rather than viewing it as a grinding chore. So, I'm quite happy that Wizards created 4th edition, and I'm happy with how it changed the game. It may seem a bit dramatic to say this, but it's quite possible that if 4th edition hadn't been released, I might not be playing Dungeons & Dragons anymore, and the thought of that makes me more than a little bit sad, because the game has been such a great part of my life!

So, for 5th edition, or D&DNext, if that's what they want to call it... bring it on! I'm not bored with 4th edition yet, but I'm really enthusiastic about what they're going to come up with for the next iteration of the game!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Next More Miniature Conversions

I'm having a thought that I should turn "More Miniature Conversions" into a thing, and keep the trend going, sticking something different before it from now on. When my wife and I were first courting, we kept a "Wednesday" thing going on in our email subjects for quite awhile, so I have some faith in my ability (likely with her help) to keep it going for awhile. heh.

Anyway, in my last post I said that I'd post up the other miniature conversions I was working on, so here they are:

First up... The Pixies.

These are "Wasp" minis from Heroclix, repainted and rebased. The paint job isn't the greatest on these, for sure. They definitely need some touching up. The funny thing about these is that they are normal medium-sized minis, compared to D&D minis... so those are some pretty big pixies. heh. I used them in my last episode of D&D Encounters, and just told the players "This is what you'd see if you had a magnifying glass." :)

The funnier thing about it, is that I could have bought the same minis from a different set of Heroclix, and they would have been smaller. I actually am not sure how I missed that. I ordered a few of those this week, so I'll do the conversion on them too.

Next up... more Boggles.

These are pretty rough too, honestly, but good enough for now. They're rebased and repainted Mage Knight Squalid Gremlins. I hope to get a chance to clean them up a bit before they're needed.

Next... Xivorts.
In the Monster Manual 3 and the text of the Beyond the Crystal Cave module, Xivorts are blue-skinned goblins. So, I grabbed the Goblin Cutter minis from my copy of The Legend of Drizzt boardgame, primered and painted them up. Here's a sample:

Last, but not least...
In the regular Every-2nd-Saturday game I play in, we are the crew of an Astral Privateer Ship, and a member of our crew is Whizbang Whirclank, a modron. They don't make modron minis, so I thought I'd make one myself.

I made Whizbang by cutting up a Kythren mini from Mage Knight Sorcery, and combining it with the wings from another mini (who's name I cannot currently remember). A quick brush of Tin Bits paint, and some yellow for his eye, and he was done. This is probably my favorite mini conversion so far, and it was done mostly by the seat of my pants.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More Miniature Conversions

It's been awhile since I posted anything new.

I've been running the last three seasons of D&D Encounters, which has been a lot of fun. One of the challenges of the games has been coming up with miniatures for all the opponents the PCs encounter.

In the season before last, Dark Legacy of Evard, there were a few monsters that didn't have miniatures available, such as the medium-sized spider swarms, and there were others that required rare miniatures from older sets, which would have been a little expensive. So, I ended up making a few, and I turned to other existing sources for the others: The Castle Ravenloft boardgame, Mage Knight, Heroscape, and Horrorclix.

The ones I made:
The Spider Swarms

For these, I used some mold-making putty, pressed a Rot Scarab Swarm miniature into the surface until the bottom of the miniature was flush with the putty, and waited for it to set. I then pressed black clay into the mold, and baked the results. A quick brush of grey paint across it, and they were done, at least for the quick job I was doing (I was on my way out to the session at the time).

The Castle Ravenloft figures:
Deathjump Spiders, Frenzied Werewolf and Fell Court Ruffians.

I bought these from Auggie's Games*, who has taken apart several copies of the D&D boardgames, and is selling the pieces individually. I took a little longer to paint these, to make them look like the official miniatures.

The Horrorclix and Mage Knight figures:
Zombies and a Ghoul

These are Pod zombies from the Horrorclix game and a Marsh Zombie from Mage Knight. The Pod Zombies are simply rebased, but the Marsh Zombie has been rebased and repainted.

For the season after that, Lost Crown of Neverwinter, I was able to fill most of my miniature needs from the official mini sets, but there were a few that I used from the Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon boardgames, and from the Monsterpocalypse game.

The Castle Ravenloft figures:
Blazing Skeletons

These were already transparent blue, so all I did was paint the skeleton itself and the base with Chaos Black paint, and add some Red Ink to the fireball in its hands.

The Wrath of Ashardalon figure:

Seldra, the False Heir

This figure I'm fairly proud of, but my success with it is mostly just a fluke. It's a Keyleth figure from Wrath of Ashardalon, which comes in medium blue plastic. I originally just bought it because I liked the miniature, but my initial paint job wasn't very good. I soaked it in water for a day, then scrubbed the paint and primer off, and started over again. This was my first attempt at using inks on a figure. Diluted blue ink worked out very well for accenting the plates of her armor, but what worked out the best was her hair. I'd painted it a light yellow color, and was accenting it with a drybrush of orange, and it started to look really bad. As an experiment, I picked up some Chestnut Ink and just brushed it on undiluted. The result looked really good. So, I don't take any credit for how it turned out, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. heh.

The Monsterpocalypse figures:
Kraken Tentacles

These are from the Monsterpocalypse figure Ultra Ancient Asheroth. I found four of them on eBay, and I found the other four by lucking out on a discounted Monsterpocalypse "All Your Base" booster pack. I didn't do anything with them except to rebase them, but they worked out really well.

I needed one more set of tentacles, though, since I was supplying miniatures for both Encounters tables at the store I play at. So, I dug into my supplies and found I had one of these:
Which I then turned into this:

I didn't use the body for anything, but the tentacles saw duty at the other table.

This newest season of Encounters features a lot of fey creatures, and there aren't any D&D miniatures for them. Pixies, Xivorts, Boggles, Nymphs, and a medium-sized, horned, winged devil. I decided to use Will-o'-Wisps for Pixies (for now), and goblin minis stood in for Xivorts well enough, but there wasn't anything I could find that really fit with what Boggles look like. Not until I located the Gremlin figure from Horrorclix.

That's him on the left, and my repainted, rebased figures on the right:


That's all I have done at the moment, but I'll have others done soon, and I'll post them up as well.

*I highly recommend Auggie's Games for your miniature needs. He has great prices and exceptional customer service. He's also on eBay.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stuff in Mind

I've taken a break from model building after that last one, mainly to prepare for Dragon*Con, which is coming up this weekend.

I have several ideas in mind for my tile projects, though.

I'll be putting together some standardized sets of tile walls. A Dungeon set and a City set are the two primary ones, with a Wilderness set (with trees and rocks and bushes and the like) in the works as well. I think I have the right idea for the dungeon and city walls, and it's just a matter of setting out the correct set of pieces in each set to give the best, most flexible coverage. I'm also getting some ideas together for extra pieces... tables, chairs, beds, a bar, a cart with horse or ox, and a fountain... to add in to the appropriate sets. A bridge is also in the works.

I have a request from my FLGS representative to make him some Warhammer 40k terrain for the store, based on my chipboard tile designs. That should be interesting, and I'm looking forward to starting in on that.

I've been taking advantage of the sales on Star Wars miniature packs at Target over the past few months, and now that I've built up my personal collection, and I'm selling off the excess, an idea that has been floating around in my head for awhile is starting to gel.

I don't exactly remember when this idea developed. It's possible it was a culmination of collecting a bunch of Star Wars minis for my Gamma World game, thus having a lot of Duros Scouts (from the Imperial Entanglements set) to stand in for the aliens in Famine in Far-Go, and thinking that if I ever finally run the "Just after Order-66" Star Wars campaign I've had in mind for a few years, I should have the campaign centered around a Duros space station, to take best advantage of all these minis.

The idea is to create a modular tile space station, scaled for miniatures (25 mm = 2 meters). The station would be roughly circular, with a central hub Command Center, and an outer ring. Each part would have three levels. The lower level would be the maintenance level, with narrow access hallways to cramped maintenance and repair chambers and lots of filled space (machinery). The middle level would be the most open, but with various services... bars, customs offices, retailers, etc... and the upper level would be open to the middle level, with numerous personal quarters along the sides, and bridges spanning the central area, linking both sides. I guess it's starting to sound a bit like Deep Space Nine, now that I type it all out. I'll have to change that. heh.

The scale of this would be huge, admittedly; probably around 6 feet wide at the minimum, which is why this simply remains an idea, rather than a reality. If I was going to invest time in making this, I would need to guarantee myself that I'd actually end up using it, and that's just not a guarantee I can make myself right now. I'll start with designing some maps for the game, based on some of the examples and tutorials available on the web, and we'll see where things go from there. Designing it as a more generic set of "space station tiles" might be a better way to go, but I have this fairly good picture in my mind showing all the 3D aspects of it, and it's pretty cool. ;)

Oh, and I am also working on compiling all of my models on here into pdf files, so that people can download them and build them for their own games. Each pdf will include all the images you will need, along with a full list of materials and instructions, and I might throw in some optional ideas too. Selling anything I've designed here would just cause a lot of unwanted complications, so it will all be available to download for free.

So, stayed tuned, I guess, and I'll get those up on the site as soon as I can. Dragon*Con first, though. So, I'll get back to work on that next week. :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut

Recently, I took a request from a friend for a specific D&D tile model.

The project? Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut.

Now, I've known what Baba Yaga's Hut looks like for quite awhile. I'd seen the original D&D adventure years ago (in Dragon #83, above), and I've read the old folk tales about it. So, I knew what to expect when I took this on, but building this model definitely presented some challenges I hadn't dealt with yet.

The stats of the Hut called for the model to be (in a scale of 1 inch = 5 feet) a 15-foot-wide hexagon, and 15 feet tall. The first challenge to present itself was the stability of the wall tiles, which is highly dependent on the angle the wall tiles are joined at. Anything greater than 90 degrees sees a decrease in stability that bottoms-out around 135 degrees, and with the interior angles of a hexagon being 120 degrees, that meant that the walls were going to be pretty unstable if I stuck with my standard tab/slot design. There would be the benefit of this being a closed model, so all the walls would just link together, but I'd still have to take steps to make sure the thing didn't just fall apart in play.

Before working on this model, I did some tests using my standard wall tiles, matching them up to a hexagon on one of the D&D Encounters maps I was using during Season 5. This was before realizing that the Encounters map hexagon was 4 squares across, and the Hut is 3 squares across, but it did demonstrate the stability, or specifically the lack thereof.

The 4 square-across hexagon had walls that were 2" long, as seen above, but for the 3 square-across hexagon, I had to adjust that. Finding the proper size for the walls took some trial and error, but the simplest way to deal with it was just to drop a 3 inch wide hexagon into the Photoshop image of the roof, scale that hexagon properly so that the roof would overhang the edge by a bit, and then just take a measurement of each side from there. It gave me a length of just over 1.7 inches.

The Hut looks like a log cabin on the outside, so after downloading a clip art image of a log cabin wall, I created 6 different images from that, and cut multiple tabs and slots out of both sides, following the pattern of the logs.

The multiple tabs and slots definitely helped with stability, but ultimately, I needed to make the slots deeper and thus the tabs longer, in order to increase that stability, and also give the stereotypical "log cabin" corners.

I also made sure to add a tab at the top and bottom of each tile, which is something I haven't been doing so far with my wall tiles, since I would specifically be putting a roof and a floor on this model.

The next thing I tackled was the roof. Starting with the hexagonal roof I posted previously, I cut each facet out of that image, and made each of them slightly longer, using a bit of Pythagoras, and then put the image back together again. The result left a gap between the first and sixth facets, as it should, but when I printed it out and folded it along each facet edge, it turned out the roof was too steep. So, I went back to the original facets, and made them wider as well as longer. This made the gap smaller, and when I printed that out and folded it, it ultimately made the roof more shallow. It wasn't perfect, since I had the idea to make it so that figures could still stand on the roof, but I realized fairly quickly that to have figures be able to stand on the roof, it would have to be so shallow that I may as well just leave it flat. Besides, it looked really cool!

Next, to add stability to the roof, so that it wouldn't just collapse if you did put a figure on it or push on it the wrong way or push on a wall, I cut out individual pieces of chipboard and stuck them to the underside of the roof piece, so that when the roof was folded and joined together properly, the edges of the chipboard pieces would meet, and any weight or pressure put on the roof would be shared by all parts of the roof. It worked, for the most part, but I ended up making the individual chipboard pieces slightly too small, so that the gap at each fold was a bit too big. Still, it worked.

The next part of the roof was the chimney. This was fairly easy, overall, but it took some adjustments to get it just right. The main issues involved where the small size of the tiles, which made them more difficult to work with, and the fact that the part of the hut that they were slotting into was on an angle, whereas I wanted the top of the chimney to be parallel to the ground. In practice, it simply came down to cutting the pieces to what I thought would be right, then cutting them again, and again, and again, and again, until I had it how it needed to be to be right. Cutting a slot near the edge of one facet of the roof and a tab into the bottom of the chimney piece closest to the edge gave it a stability point for gluing it to the rest of the model, and using a black sharpie on the inside surfaces of the chimney, and the surface of the roof underneath where it was glued down was the finishing touch.

The floor of the model was easy. I edited the image of the log cabin wall into a three-inch-wide hexagon shape and printed that out, then cut out the same shape out of chipboard and stuck them together. I then cut slots into the middle of each facet of the hexagon so that I could slot the tabs of the walls into them, and that was that.

The real challenge, even more so than the roof, was the legs. If I haven't mentioned it already, the "Dancing" part of Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut comes about because the hut itself stands on two giant chicken legs!

My thoughts about how to do this part of the model had been percolating in my brain since I took on the project, but I started off simple, by grabbing a random image of a plastic chicken figurine off the internet. I found something appropriate, then set to work cropping and resizing it so that I had just the legs, and they would be the right size for the model. Then I set to work on the actual structure of the legs.

When I first started thinking about the model, the legs were the first thing I focused on. My immediate conclusion was that, given that these are thin chicken legs, just using flat pieces of tile was not going to work. It wasn't going to give enough stability for the model to stand up. However, if I cut slots into the leg pieces, lengthwise, and slotted two pieces together, the + shaped cross section would definitely do the job.

With that in mind, I decided to make each leg out of four pieces of chipboard. Two would be slotted together, perpendicular to each other, to form the thighs, and two would be slotted together, similarly, to form the lower legs. I made 4 images from the picture of the chicken figurine, two for each thigh and two for each lower leg, and then reversed them and printed them out.

Once I had the individual pieces assembled, I cut the slots into them, and slotted them together. I used the thigh pieces to plot out the slots that were needed in the floor of the model, and once that was done, I set to work on the biggest challenge of the model.

Since I made the thighs and lower legs separate from each other, I had to find a way to slot them together that would remain stable. I was having difficulty with this, and I started to rethink the design, to possibly make each leg out of three pieces - one long piece that would be both the thigh and lower leg, then two other pieces that would slot into that larger piece, perpendicular - but I was seeing the possibility that it wouldn't be very stable at the "knee". However, as I was exploring that possibility, I rotated the lower leg by 45 degrees, and saw that I could slot the thighs and lower legs together that way.

With the lower leg rotated 45 degrees to the thighs, not only would it would allow me to minimize the width of the slots I would need to cut in the pieces (something that is always a concern with these models), but it would make for a very stable structure.

The very last part I made was the base. I made a round "Huge" base tile, and cut small slots into it, which I could fit the tabs at the bottom of the lower legs. I added a pair of feet onto the base as well. I originally thought of making the feet 3D as well, but the logistics of that were a bit much, and I decided having them be flat would be better, simply from the perspective of having D&D miniatures "walking" around underneath the model.

With the legs and base assembled, I added the walls and the roof, wary the whole time that the model was just going to topple over, but I was pleasantly surprised by how stable it ended up being.

I've had a lot of fun working on these 3D tile pieces and models. I've made a pickup truck. I've made a sailing ship. I've even made The Big Chicken, from Marietta, GA. I have to say, this model was definitely the most challenging to build, but it was also the most fun.

PS: By the way, I should note that the Hut model is not supposed to have a door visible, even though the image from Dragon #83 does have a door there. :)

Note: To build your own model of the Hut, you can download a free pdf with the instructions and image files HERE.

Added note: if you want the chimney to be more sturdy, cut out four pieces of chipboard, one to match the length and height of each wall of the chimney. Then, when you fold the walls back-to-back, do so around the chipboard pieces.