Thursday, October 30, 2014

DungeonScape for 5E is gone before it started

This just in from OSR Today:
This morning it was announced by Trapdoor Technologies, who were creating the new character generator called Dungeonscape for Dungeons & Dragons 5e, are shutting down the current version of the tool, effective noon MST October 31, 2014, giving little more than 24 hours notice of the shutdown to current users. 
Well crap. I doubt that Wizards has a "Plan B" when it comes to digital development; there's no way they would have let Trapdoor get as far as they did.

Personally, I think it might have a lot to do with the fact that this deal also pretty much precluded the release of the 5E books in pdf format. It looked like the agreement with Trapdoor locked them into all of the digital content for 5E, and they were going with a proprietary system that required a subscription to their service to work.

So while this is definitely bad for people who like online character generators and that sort of thing, it's potentially very good news for folks who were hoping for pdf releases of the rulebooks. Without Trapdoor's exclusive lock on all things digital, Wizards might be in a position to release pdfs now.

It's also (and this is entirely speculative, based on no actual data) possible that Wizards will open up digital development in the same license they've promised us for more conventional third party products.

That would certainly explain the delay in releasing the license, if they decided late in the game that they wanted to let folks develop their own character generators, etc. Again, pure speculation on my part, based entirely on this news.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

BRW Games Call for Submissions

It's that time of year again - BRW Games is looking for authors who think they have what it takes to get published.

At the moment, we're looking for RPG adventure modules that aren't tied to any particular campaign setting, either using the AD&D 1st Edition/compatible or D&D 5th Edition systems. We are not looking for settings or rules supplements. Submissions should not have been previously published elsewhere, but we can make exceptions in special cases. Please contact us with details.

Please do not send in proposals or multi-adventure series. We are looking for finished self-contained adventures, but that doesn't mean they need to be able to be wrapped up in a single session - longer adventures are okay. Plot-driven, location-based, and sandbox styles are all acceptable. You do not need to have polished cartography, but preference will be given to submissions that have been playtested more than once.

Please send your submissions to joseph@brwgames.com. If we like what we see, we will contact you with rates and terms. Good luck!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Sea of Death

(Caution: Spoilers)

No, I haven't forgotten my reviews of various Greyhawk novels. When last we left, I had just reviewed Artifact of Evil, the second in Gary Gygax's "Gord the Rogue" series of books, published right before he left TSR. Now we turn to the first in the series to be published after his departure (and the first to actually bear the "Gord the Rogue" banner as a series identifier), Sea of Death.

Published by New Infinities in 1987, this novel picks up some months after the previous installment, and finds Gord in the Baklunish lands west of the Flanaess. He is on a mission to recover the second part of the three-part artifact known as the Theorpart, which will free the god Tharizdun from his aeons-long sleep and bring about the final victory of Evil over the multiverse. To assist him in this mission, he has been endowed with magical powers by the Demiurge (Basiliv, who in Gygax's Greyhawk is the Mage of the Valley), and the Cat Lord, who favors the forces of Neutrality.

The second part of the artifact, known as the Second Key, is found in the City Out of Mind in the dangerous Sea of Dust. The map in the beginning of the book confirms that this is the same as the Forgotten City on the original Darlene map of the World of Greyhawk.

One of the things I like about this novel is that we see a lot of the inner workings of the various evil factions. Iuz finds himself under the thumb of his mother Iggwilv and his ally Zuggtmoy, while at the same time opposing his father Grazz't, who is in turn opposed by various other princes of the Abyss. They, being chaotic, oppose the release of Tharizdun, but wish the power of the various keys that will free him for themselves. Against all of these chaotic evil factions is Anthraxus, leader of the neutral evil plane of Hades, who is working to see Tharizdun released, feeling he will be given a high place in the new order of evil. It's clear in these passages that Iuz is a favorite character of Gygax's, and he gives some wonderful dialogue to the cambion.

And opposing all those still are the forces of Neutrality (of which Gord is a highly-placed champion), and we get some inkling that Good is also involved, but appearances by angels and solars are few.

Iuz and Grazz't are contesting for the Second Key by sending a single agent with some assistants; the evil dwarf Obmi (from the previous book, as well as appearances in Hall of the Fire Giant King and the original Castle Greyhawk) on behalf of Iuz/Iggwilv/Zuggtmoy, and the drow priestess Eclavdra (also from Hall of the Fire Giant King, as well as Vault of the Drow) on behalf of Grazz't. To befuddle their enemies, Grazz't and his right-hand-demon Vuron (one of the most fascinating characters in the series; more about him later) have created a clone of Eclavdra, who will act as a decoy.

Of course, things don't go according to anyone's plan. The clone of Eclavdra survives, although she doesn't remember being Eclavdra, and is known as Leeda, Gord's love interest. They proceed to the buried city with trusted Baklunish tribesmen, and all three groups converge on the resting place of the artifact at the same time (which is actually lampshaded in the book, with one of the characters saying something about such synchronicities being arranged by mysterious forces).

In the city, they encounter albino pygmies, the degenerate descendants of the Suel who did not flee the city when calamity struck down the Suel Imperium centuries earlier, who are served by vicious albino apes. They have many captives from the surface, and we learn that there is some trade between the underworld of the drow and this place; Leda's memories slowly resurface as she continues on with Gord (and her character becomes more like that of the true Eclavdra).

Eventually, Gord prevails over the perils of the city, and a cadre of slaves is rescued. The desert is once again crossed, and on the shores of Jerlea Bay a huge battle is fought not only between the three agents, but also the extra-planar assistance they invoke. Leda slays Eclavdra, the forces of Good intervene, and eventually the magical powers involved hurl most of the combatants into other planes.

At the very end, Vuron convinces Gord to hand over the Second Key to him, along with Leeda, who will serve in the role of Eclavdra, to temper the actions of his lord, Grazz't. This is an instance of the odd nature of Vuron, who is as alabaster-white as his master is ebon-black, and who displays a decidedly lawful streak for a demon lord. He might even be said to suffer from pangs of Good, and the scenes were he puts his intellect on display are wonderfully done.

From a gaming standpoint, there is a ton of material that could be used in a campaign. Details large and small abound about the Baklunish tribes north of the Sea of Dust, there are enough pieces of information about the flora and fauna. weather, and environment of the Sea itself to run an adventure or three within it, and tantalizing hints about some of the lands west and south as well (some nations are named, which I used in my own "Beyond the Flanaess" maps several years ago). The City Out of Mind/Forgotten City is described in relative detail; certainly enough that an enterprising DM could use the chapters set there as the basis for a fully fleshed-out adventure.

This is the point in the series where Gord becomes more of a Mary Sue, however. Imbued with magical powers by various powerful beings, this novel sets him on the road to near-unstoppability, and the resultant increase of the power level of his enemies means that his companions (Curley Greenleaf, Gellor, and Chert) become more sidelined. Personally, I find that hurts the stories themselves, and therefore I give this novel three wizards out of five. Still recommended, especially if you're looking for a source of inspiration and information on the places visited, but not required reading.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Metatopia schedule now up

The schedule of events for this year's Metatopia convention in Morristown, NJ on November 6-9 is now up. For those who don't know, Metatopia is a rather unique sort of convention that caters to game publishers and designers, and hooks up people looking to playtest new games with companies in need of playtesters. You tell them what sorts of games you're interested in, and they put you in an appropriate playtest. I personally go for the panels and seminars; they're invaluable to anyone interested in the game industry (and it's not just RPGs; all sorts of games are represented).

Now that the schedule is up, here is what I'll be doing, for those who might be interested:

D015: "Self-Publishing 101" presented by Joseph Bloch & Fred Hicks. It's a terrifying prospect, taking that first step into the world of game publishing. You have already made a great decision to come to METATOPIA; two of our industry veterans will take your newbie questions here. Friday, 1:00PM - 2:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D019: "Planning Your Crowdfunding Campaign" presented by Joseph Bloch, Fred Hicks, Kevin Kulp & Joshua A. C. Newman. Successful Kickstarts (or campaigns on other platforms) don't just "happen". There's a lot of work that needs to be done in advance or behind the scenes to bring your plans to fruition. Friday, 3:00PM - 4:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D033: "Print On Demand 101" presented by Joseph Bloch. A veteran designer of the Old School Revival gives you the basics on doing small print runs without losing your shirt. Friday, 11:00PM - 12:00AM; Serious, All Ages.

D060: "What is the OSR?" presented by Joseph Bloch. The Old School R... (OSR) has been something of an enigma for years, but its influence is keenly felt in the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Explore the history of the OSR, see just how many OSR games are out there, discuss the influence it has on the RPG industry, and figure out just what the heck people mean by "OSR", including the real enigma... what does the "R" stand for? You'll be surprised at the answer. Saturday, 5:00PM - 6:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What is the OSR? The *definitive* answer

With all the hullabaloo around the definition of "OSR", I felt it was incumbent upon me to provide the definitive answer.

And of course, given that it's the OSR we're talking about, that means a random table!


Die Roll (d20) The OSR is...
1
...Old School Renaissance.
2
...Old School Revival.
3
...Old School Revolution.
4
...Old School Rules.
5
...Old School Retro-clones.
6
...Old Shit Rules.
7
...any game I played, or might have considered playing, from 1980 to 1990.
8
...a design philosophy of creating systems, settings and adventures that fit within the boundaries of old-school mechanics and concepts; that is, either directly utilizing features that were in existence in the period before the advent of 2nd edition AD&D; or features that, in spite of not having historically existed at that time, could have existed in that period without the addition of material or design concepts that are clearly the product of subsequent ideas or later theories.
9
...Oh Shit Really? That's what OSR means to me, because I realized I was playing the way I wanted to, and I liked it.
10
...anchored on classic DnD and on an interest in similar old school games.
11
...grounded in classic D&D.
12
...a marketing term and is neither old nor an identifiable single way to play.
13
...about stripping away rules and making gamers simpler.
14
...about moving away from storytelling to adventuring.
15
...a movement in gaming that focuses on role playing games from around 30-40 years ago. In many ways it is like freeform jazz-funk – it is very 70s/80s, it scares me, and I don’t fully understand it … and among the terrible squealing and hurumphening it produces moments of such sublime beauty and genius that it takes my breath away.
16
...a term used to describe the vigorous growth of activity and interest in TSR D&D over the last several years, begun online, but spreading beyond that medium.
17
...a type of RPG that allows a group to have a simple, elegant experience without the fuss or setup involved in more complex, modern roleplaying systems.
18
...about random monsters, hit locations and armor values.
19
...people who like certain kinds of games (‘old school games’) and sometimes product things (modules, rules books, settings, fanzines, etc.) for those games.
20
...like pornography. I know it when I see it.

With apologies to the various places and people from which I stole these answers, some of which date back to 2009. It could very easily have turned into a d100 table...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rebasing Prepainted Miniatures

One of the advantages of modern pre-painted miniatures is that there is usually a glut of suitable figures available in the after-market. Right scale, more or less, and covering both the usual fantasy tropes as well as some interesting monsters. Many of these, especially those that are reasonably priced ($1-2 each, sometimes a little more or less, especially at conventions) come from other games and other lines. 

One of the problems with doing this is that such miniatures come with weird bases, bases that have "Heroclix" type dials, odd sizes and colors, etc. In later editions of D&D, miniatures should have standard-sized bases, as it has an impact on movement, zones of control, etc. You can get away without doing it, but it looks nicer on the table when things match up. 

Usually, the answer is to use metal washers of the correct size, possibly painting them black. They will certainly do the job, but they have the disadvantage of having the incorrect thickness and a hole in the middle (the hole is smaller if you use a "fender washer", but it's still present). Naturally for someone as anal retentive as I am, it simply won't do.

The quest for suitable replacement bases was a long one. Most commercially available bases have some sort of terrain molded into the base, making it look like flagstone, etc. Nice, but unfortunately the "official" D&D miniatures use plain black bases. Litko makes a very nice plain base, but they're either wood or magnetic, and not quite thick enough. Battlemart makes some plain white ones, but they're just ever so slightly the wrong size, because they're metric. Annoying. Proxie models makes ones with a raised lip and a slightly textured bottom; I might get a batch of them to use with my metal figures, and fill in the depression around the metal base with flocking, but until I'm prepared to do that for all my figures, both metal and plastic, I went looking for something suitable for the plastics I already had.

And lo! and behold after a lot of searching, I found something suitable from an industrial plastics supply company. So suitable, in fact, that I'm going to start selling them in small batches, since it took way too much effort to find something that should be ubiquitous and which I think at least some gamers are going to find really useful.

Here's how it works.

First, you start with a suitable figure on a large/incorrect/unwanted base:


Next, carefully pry the figure off the base with an x-acto knife. They're usually attached with super-glue, and it's possible to pop them off without damaging the figure. You have to be careful on two counts. First, you don't want to slice into your fingers, especially given the natural way to hold the figure while you're gently prying with the knife. Second, you want to make sure you're not cutting into the plastic of the figure itself; when it comes off, there shouldn't be anything left on the base except glue:


Now, here is the replacement base. It's dull black, the correct diameter (1" for a medium-sized creature), and the correct thickness (1/8"):


A dab of super-glue on each foot, hold it down for a few seconds, and voila!


Here's the above dwarf with an official Wizkids D&D figure for comparison. The bases look almost identical at a casual glance, which is exactly what I'm looking for:


And the best part is, they come in the proper diameters for large, medium, and small creatures:


An official announcement of availability will be made once I get some of the details down. I might start at conventions just to test the waters, but if anyone absolutely has to have these now now now, email me and I'll see what I can do.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The most useless miniature ever

I give you... the doppelganger:


Let's make a miniature of a creature that only appears in the shape-shifted guise of some other creature. Something that quite literally is never, ever seen in this form in the game. 

At least there's a shot that the rakshasa (also a shape-shifter) could choose to appear in the form of a chunky humanoid with the head of an elephant:



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Tale of Two Castles

Miniature Building Authority
Well, two modular castle-building miniature Kickstarters, anyway. Coincidentally, both of these launched on September 30, and both look remarkably similar on the surface. Which shouldn't be too much of a surprise, given what they are, but it is probably unfortunate for both that they just happened to launch on the same day. Ouch.

The first (completely arbitrarily) is by Miniature Building Authority. MBA has been around a while, and has a decent enough reputation in the field to make a credible effort. The smallest reward level that actually gets you something to put on the table is $110, which gets you a market building (I'm not counting "early bird specials"), which is sort of an open-walled storefront like you'd see at a Renaissance Festival.

Miniature Building Authority
Some of the higher reward levels, like the tower house, are really cool, with detailed interiors that you can open up and use for play (sort of like a dollhouse, with floors and ceilings that can be removed for access). The barbican ($375) is the first really castle-looking set, and it's a very impressive piece of work, with walls, round crenelated towers, and a gatehouse.

The point of something like this, however, is modularity, and that doesn't really kick in until you get to the three castle sets; small ($500), medium ($1,600), and large ($2,600). Ay caramba! These things are really pricey, but damn they are beautiful. And come painted, to boot. Of course, there will be freebies, stretch goals, and you can buy the pieces a la carte as well. All in all, a pretty impressive offering.

UpWorks - manor house
The second is called UpWorks, and is done by True Adventures, Ltd. This is a new company, but the head is an old hand at this stuff, having formerly been the president of Dwarven Forge for the last decade or so. These pieces don't come painted (there's a tutorial video on how to dry-brush them), but they are cast in stone grey, so if chipped there won't be a white layer underneath poking through.

This one is a little different than the other, in that the walls and floors seem to be made to fit into pre-fab floor frames that have a sort of tongue-in-groove thing to keep the walls lined up. Looks like your buildings have to follow the arrangement of those floor frames, so I'm not sure how this would work if you wanted to do an irregularly-shaped building.

UpWorks - castle + stretch goals
There are significantly fewer reward levels on this one, and the smallest reward level is $90, which gets you a manor house (but no stretch goals). $140 gets you a tower (and the stretch goals), $295 gets you a fortress, and $590 gets you a castle.

There will be add-on packs for UpWorks, so you can buy additional bits and pieces, and stretch goals will really add a lot - the first stretch goal will get everyone at the $140 level or more an entire 111 piece fortress set. That's pretty damn impressive, but it's hard to make direct comparisons based just on the number of pieces.

Aesthetically, I think I like the MBA stuff better. The UpWorks buildings, by virtue of the fact that they use those square and rectangular floor frames, look very chunky to me. One advantage is that it allows you to have floors that hang over lower floors, as shown in their gallery. That's pretty cool. Either way you go, though, it's a good time if you like castles in your games.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pig Faced Orcs, Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I posted that my pig-faced orcs from Miniature Figures had arrived from the UK. Well, now I've painted the beasties, and folks seemed interested enough that I thought I'd share the results.

Here's what they looked like out of the box, with flash and shields still attached (now that I think about it, I still need to give some of them shields, but what the heck - you get the idea):


This was the basic paint job. Olive green skin, a dab of pink on the nose, brick red for the uniforms, and a dark yellow for the officer's cloak. My painting skills won't be winning me any awards any time soon, but they do the job, especially after the miracle of Quickshade is applied:


I based the paint scheme on the orcs from the 1980's D&D cartoon: 


But I thought the yellow cloaks looked better than the mauve/purple one (only one figure had a cloak, so I couldn't mix and match):


This is what they look like after the Quickshade wash. I use the Soft Tone Quickshade from The Army Painter (which is plenty dark for my purposes), applied with a brush. I tried dunking some figures early on, but once I dropped a Mind Flayer into the can and needed to fish it out with a pair of forks, I opted for applying it with a brush. Ahem:


And that's pretty much all there is to it. The shine will be muted by a spray with a clear matte finish from Krylon. But that's what I've got for orcs now. I think ten should do me for now, but if Miniature Figures comes out with some new casts, I will be augmenting my forces for sure.

Chronicles of Gor Indiegogo Campaign Ends Today

The Chronicles of Gor Indiegogo campaign is only about $800 short of its goal, and ends today. I'd urge everyone who is interested in swords-and-planet type settings to give it a look-see.

Yes, the Gor novels have a reputation for an ever-increasing focus on the slave and sex angle. But the earlier books are wonderful combinations of primitive cultures, advanced alien races and technologies, very intricate political maneuvering, and wonderfully detailed cultural descriptions.

I've been reading the books since high school and even I tend to skip over the "she knew herself to be a slave" bits. There's still a ton of great adventure story in there. And, of course, as an RPG, you can tone down the slavery angle as much as you want.

The campaign is offering two books; a rulebook and a world book. So fans of RPGs will want both, and fans of the Gor books themselves might be content with the worldbook, which will function as a sort of Gorean encyclopedia. The art work looks decent, and the author has a track record, having won an Origins Award for the Munchkin's Guide to Power Gaming. Worth checking out.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Is the OSR anti-miniature?

The always-excellent Chirine has a post up today about miniatures. One of the things he mentions, based on his experience in OSR message boards (he doesn't mention which ones), is that the OSR in general feels miniatures are a Bad Thing in RPGs.

With all due respect, I don't think it's the case that we OSR types are invariably anti-miniature. Although I don't go on gaming message boards at all now, except for Canonfire!, and the subject never seems to come up there, it being Greyhawk-specific. Perhaps the attitude is different on message boards than it is on the blogs, I honestly couldn't say.

I, myself, am a prime example. Back in the day we always played with figures, except when we played someplace where there weren't any to be had, in which case we didn't. It really didn't enter into our minds that the question was relevant; use 'em if you got 'em.

Labyrinth Lord at Dreamation 2012
Then I stopped playing in the 90's, got rid of all my figures (and repeatedly bang my head into nearby cinder block walls when I think about it), and when I came back to gaming I didn't use them, strictly because it was too expensive/too much effort to reassemble a collection. Now, though, I'm about to run a new campaign, and have been painting up a bunch of figures especially for it. (It happens to be a 5E campaign, but they'll be used when I run 1E or ADD, too.) But the attitude is the same; miniatures are nice to have, but aren't essential, and neither are they anathema. I get the impression that many of the OSR bloggers have the same attitude, but I may be mistaken.

I would say that the existence of a whole company dedicated to making OSR miniatures might be a point against Chirine's conclusion; pig-faced orcs and all. Heck, Otherworld Miniatures even has a Labyrinth Lord line, which would be odd if the writers and players of Labyrinth Lord (an OSR game if ever there was one) were against the use of miniatures in their games. There are also going to be some Barrowmaze figures, which again is a prime example of an OSR type adventure.

My point being, one's experience on some message boards shouldn't be extended to the OSR as a whole. Some folks might well be against miniatures (their loss), but some of us are very pro-miniature, or, at the very least, pro-miniature-if-they're-handy. Please feel free to sound off in the comments; is the OSR (or should it be) pro-, anti-, or practical- when it comes to miniatures?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (5E)

Today was the early release date for the new Monster Manual for the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, available at Wizards Play Network stores. I picked one up, because I don't mind paying full price for an early copy ($49.95 MSRP, $29.97 at Amazon, available in a couple of weeks).

Physically, it's a nice looking book, 352 pages (compare with 316 pages for the Player's Handbook). It's got the same glossy cover and half-glossy back (which is a little annoying because every time I pick it up I have to check to make sure I haven't grabbed a piece of paper beneath it by accident). It has a couple of obligatory "what is a monster" and "how to use this book" pages to explain the various monster entries, and then off we go with the aarakocra. There is ample artwork throughout (no boobs, even on the succubus and marilith), and I suppose it makes up for the lack of a text description of each creature.

Intellect Devourer
Most of the monsters I would expect to see in such a book are present. We have beholders, goblins, giants, devils, demons, and of course dragons. Some entries are new (to me, at least); half-dragons, flameskulls, helmed horrors, and chuuls, for instance. Some I feel are missing that should have been included in a starting book of monsters; dryads, for instance, and most of the "faerie" type creatures. Plus derro. I love derro. While they do have some of the "made for the game" monsters like rust monsters, ear seekers, bookworms, and mimics, others such as the trapper are missing. I know such creatures aren't popular with today's crop of players, but as an old schooler I feel their absence.

Some oldies-but-goodies have been renamed. Ogre magi are now oni, which I suppose makes sense, but the rename seems somewhat arbitrary, although it does keep them right after "ogre" alphabetically. Merrow, on the other hand, have been completely changed from aquatic ogres to a corrupted form of merman. Fine. Daemons from 1st edition remain Yuggoloths, but they will always be Daemons in my game. Interestingly, although there is mention of demon lords and archdevils, there is no mention of the daemon lords or the Oinodaemon, just someone called The General. Anthraxus will, needless to say, exist in my game.

Umber Hulk
Some creatures have had minor tweaks. Piercers are now larval forms of ropers, but at least those lovely "hidden death from above" beasties can still plague my large cavern spaces. Succubi/incubi are now no longer classified as demons, but are common to all the lower planes. I'm not sure how I like that; there was a certain symmetry in the succubus/erinyes dichotomy, but time will tell if I just end up ignoring it and calling them demons.

There's lots of background text, which is both a boon and a bane. It certainly will help DMs who need some help integrating a creature into a game, but in some cases it becomes intrusive, such as the entry for shadow dragons, which is replete with references to "the Shadowfell" whatever that is. Perhaps it's something that will get explained when the Dungeon Master's Guide comes out. They'll be native to the Plane of Shadow in my campaign, where the Material casts its shadow from the light of the Positive.

I know a lot of people are bemoaning the lack of a table showing each monster by it's challenge level, as they feel it would be very helpful for writing encounters. Apparently that (as well as encounters by terrain type) is coming in the DMG, just like it was in 1st edition.

Gynosphinx
One oddity; there is a section at the back for "miscellaneous creatures." These are much shorter than the full-page-at-least entries for the other creatures, and include both ordinary things like brown bears and mastiffs, as well as more esoteric creatures as blink dogs and giant fire beetles. They're organized alphabetically, but whenever there's a "giant" creature, they're in the G's, which I find confusing. I think, though, that the reason these miscellaneous creatures got stuck in the back is that it would have wreaked havoc with the pagination and layout of the creatures in the main part of the book.

Bottom line, this is a great monster book, and I think it's worth the money. You could use a lot of the background text for any game, and the selection of creatures, while not perfect (in my completely subjective opinion), is certainly defensible for a "baseline" monster book that doesn't strive to be completely comprehensive (although there is certainly room for such a thing, ahem).

This is certainly a worthy addition to the Player's Handbook, and 5th edition is certainly shaping up to be something I'll really enjoy playing and running. Next stop, the Dungeon Master's Guide!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pig Faced Orcs!

I got yet another piece to the miniatures puzzle in the mail today. Pig faced orcs from Britain!

No, these are new casts from the old Minifigs fantasy line, now kept in production by Miniature Figurines in Britain. These are the self-same figures that were part of the old World of Greyhawk Miniatures line (WOG68), way back in the early 80's. Now, it seems that Miniature Figurines doesn't have the entire line back in production (they don't have pictures of everything in the line on their website), but they certainly have enough of them to make a decent showing, and if they get more in, I'll be buying. (If you're reading this, I want orcs with swords!)

There is a bit of flash on the figures, and the shields will need to be glued on, but other than that the casts are very clean and the details are quite good. Much better than I remember some of the old Minifigs casts being, actually.

Why did I go with Miniatures Figurines and not another purveyor of pig faced orcs? Price and scale. Here's how the four companies compare:

Company
Price
Scale
$3.17
25mm
$5.97
28mm
$4.92
28mm
$4.00
28mm
The price is per figure, converted into US dollars at today's exchange rate. I know that Otherworld Miniatures is sold through Noble Knight, but they don't have the regular packages in stock, so I couldn't use them for a price comparison. I used only the regular sets (where they had sets), so no command packs or mounted figures; those are usually higher.

The thing on the right is actually the shield.
The scale is also pretty important to me. I'm using a ton of classic Grenadier and Ral Partha figures as the backbone of my collection, so I want true 25mm if I can get them. I know a lot of people have a bazillion 28mm figures (that's the scale that a lot of modern places like GW and Reaper use), but I find the 28's just don't look right next to the 25's. And there's also "scale creep" on the 28's, as I noticed yesterday with the new Wizkids' prepainted D&D figures.

It's a minor thing, but I'm also not a fan of "slotta" bases. I like flat metal bases. The Otherworld and Fractured Dimensions figures come with slottas. Not a decisive factor, but it's still there.

So there it is; based both on price and their being the same scale as my other figures, it was pretty much a no-brainer. The fact that they have the nostalgia factor going for them is just a bonus, and the figures themselves are certainly as good as any of their competitors, at least based on the photographs I've seen. Some day I might order some from the other three companies and do a face-to-face comparison, but for now I've got a lot of painting to do.

Speaking of which, I just had to share this guy's quick video about Otherworld's pig faced orcs. He sounds so enthusiastic about them!


Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: D&D Miniatures by Wizkids

Although I passed on the Icons of the Realms miniatures starter set that came out earlier this summer in conjunction with the big Hoard of the Dragon Queen release, I finally found a FLGS that actually had some of the boosters, and decided to check them out to see how they look. I got two boxes (each box contains one large creature and three small/medium sized creatures), which my FLGS was selling for $15.99 each (only slightly more than you'll find on Amazon), meaning they clock in at around $4 per figure. That is a bit much for my taste.

These are "blind boosters" meaning that you don't know what you're going to get until you open it up (which will presumably not be until you buy it). I find this a huge strike against them right off the bat. As a DM, I will be looking for specific figures, and want to have large numbers of certain types of figures like orcs and skeletons. There are 44 different figures in the series, and we have been told that the dragons (and a few of the other figures) in the Dragon Wing Attack game will be repurposed from the D&D miniatures line, but given different bases for the game.

The first box contained a black shadow dragon, an invisible sun elf wizard, a guard drake, and a hobgoblin warrior. The second box contained a frost giant, a kobold fighter, a human red wizard, and a quickling. At least I think that's what they are - the writing on the bottoms of all of the figures except the large ones is nearly impossible to read, and I literally have a magnifying glass helping me.

Small bases are 3/4" in diameter, medium bases are 1", and large bases are 2". The bases themselves are plain black disks with no raised lip or any decoration. Regardless of size, all are 1/8" thick.

The sculpts are very well-executed and have a lot of good detail that the paint jobs pick up well.

The paint jobs on the figures are nice, except for the invisible elf and the shadow dragon, which are unpainted. This is because the invisible elf is cast completely in clear plastic (to show she's invisible), and the shadow dragon is cast in a smoky semi-transparent gray that gives a very nice effect. The human red wizard also has some semi-translucent plastic around the hands to simulate some spell effect, and it works. The human wizard is a full 30mm to the eyes (not counting the base), which makes these even a tad larger in scale than the "heroic" 28mm that has come to replace true 25mm over the years.

Wizkids' 30mm scale frost giant (l) from 2014,
and Grenadier's 25mm scale frost giant (r), circa 1980
Even at that scale, the frost giant seems a bit too large. In scale he's something like 18' tall, which is 20% taller than the 15' tall they were in previous editions (I don't have the 5E Monster Manual yet, so I don't know if they're taller in the game or the figure is just outsized). EDIT: Now that I have the Monster Manual, it says frost giants are 21' tall. Wowzers!

The small figures, the kobold and the quickling, seem somewhat frail, like their legs are going to break at any moment. They're made of the same semi-flexible plastic as many other prepainted figures (and the kobold's pole-arm is bent), so I'm guessing they'll endure just fine, but they give the impression of frailty.

One other thing - I think the fact that the shadow dragon is flying is going to lessen its utility at the table. I understand that they want to repurpose the figures for D&D Attack Wing, but when I've run dragon encounters in the past, they're rarely flying (at least not constantly). Too, I don't think I will ever end up using the invisible elf, because it's just too specific a figure. I might use it as a generic "invisible character" marker, but that somehow feels like I'm defeating the purpose of the figure. And if I get more of them in some other box, I'm going to be a little ticked off that I'm wasting money on figures I won't use.

On the whole, I'm not too impressed with the line and probably won't be buying any more of the boosters. If they come out with some sort of themed sets later, I might go in on a box depending on what's inside, but I don't find blind fishing worth $4 per figure (close to twice that if you pay the actual MSRP). Too, the ever-increasing scale makes them harder and harder to use with my older 25mm figures (which are also "thicker" and give more of an impression of substantiality).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Looking forward to the D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual

Next Friday the second core rulebook for D&D 5th Edition, the Monster Manual, will land at Wizards Play Network stores next Friday, September 19th, and at all retailers (and Amazon) on the 30th. I was very impressed with the Player's Handbook, and I just wanted to give a quick recap of what we've been told so far about the Monster Manual.

First and foremost, we have the table of contents, and thus a complete list of the monsters contained within (although there are doubtless variations and sub-types that are also included).

We've also been given various sneak previews of specific monsters on the Wizards site. We've seen things like the Intellect Devourer, Umber Hulk, and Sphinxes, which gives us a good idea of the layout and level of detail we can expect to see.

We're also starting to get full reviews of the book (from the lucky bastards who have gotten advanced copies - no, I'm not bitter at all, I promise). Critical-Hits.com came out with a very good review today, Dread Gazebo has a brief overview (and will be doing a live page-by-page look-through next Monday), and The Walking Mind has been giving paragraph-long mini-reviews of each monster, as well as a nice recap of the book as a whole. I am sure there will be others coming out in the next week or so.