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.

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:

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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014