Against the Mindflayer

Nine times out of ten I run published adventures. Always have. I rarely write up my own stuff, usually for one of two reasons. First, can’t think of a compelling premise. Or second, get lost in the long grass with overdeveloping it. Recently my weekly group hit a blank spot in the schedule so I had to pull together a game at short notice. I successfully fought the urge to go through my library, and instead got a blank sheet of paper out and started scribbling.

Classic opening; the PCs have been taken prisoner and are all suffering from amnesia. I liked the idea of an Mindflayer giving it the big monologue to the parties prone and semi conscious forms. That way they go tot see the villain before the final conflict with him. I said they had all been high level adventurers at one point, and this MF was their nemesis. Now he had captured them and essentially level drained them all the way back to 3. That gave me a campaign frame, and loads of design room for emergent memories and future plots that rely on a past.

The rest followed that basic idea. I made the dungeon an inverted ziggurat, and had it fly, though that part wouldn’t be revealed until later. I bullet pointed up a few rooms in the place (lab, kitchen, barracks, bridge, temple etc) and then dropped in a few events that would happened propel things forward. These were my fave bits. A delegation from the halfling settlement below, begging for mercy from the aerial threat. An ambassador from the Xarth Autocracy, a Beholder, come for dinner and nefarious planning. An assault by Pegasus riding paladins, devoured by a massive mutant cloaker. Clues to all these were scattered about, or visible as plot reveals in down time.

And it’s all gone swimmingly so far. I feel released from having to ‘get it right’. I can improv details and jot down notes as I go. I can react, steer or just hang on. And it’s fun to imagine things from nothing.

Should have done this years ago.

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Gone Fishin

I had some highs and lows painting these. It had been a long time since I’d seriously picked up a brush. Lighting remains a beast! What looks ok under a lamp seems like potato printing in sunlight. Still, I’m not looking to win any awards, just have some nice gaming minis. Which these are. 

Playing later tonight with Mat and Steve who are both infinitely better painters than I. 

Next up, some more Fishermen, another five. That will be enough for a full team with some choices. Then, the Union!

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Skin in the Game

White undercoat. That’s not something I’ve used in a very long time. We always went with black at GW. It’s forgiving, and quick. Trouble is, my eyes can’t pick out the detail on black so well these days. Plus, I watched a cool video here from GW  where the painter worked up a cool skin effect on white. So I went for it. 

So far so good! The paint is behaving itself well, and by thinning it out a bit it’s diving for the edges on its own. Two thin coats works best, and I’m only doing a few models so it doesn’t take long. 

It’s kind of like colouring in, which is big business these days! I’ve gotten back into the swing reasonably well so it’s moved from frustrating to relaxing

Another first for me, sanding the base before priming. I’m using the PVA mix to help secure the metal mini in the base along with the superglue. Speaking of which, my local Hobbycraft is getting my cash, because it’s five times cheaper than GW. Not even sorry. 

Next up: colours!

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The Sole Reason I Picked Up GB…


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Nothing like riding a bicycle

Painting minis. Once a huge passion, and a way of paying the rent when I worked at GW. In the intervening decade or so, I’ve rarely picked up a brush. Got into Warmachine early on and took a Cygnar force to tournament level, but apart from that, I’ve just watched from a distance. 

Just occasionally I get the urge to start over, and this time the bug has bitten hard. I’m astonished how far the minis hobby has come! The choice is staggering. 3D printing tech, and CAD availability has democratised the industry. And of course the internet has made sharing and learning trivially easy. 

But none of that helps me get over the fact that my skills have rusted over badly! My eyes aren’t what they were and I simply can’t see what I used to, even with specs. Brushes feel awkward. My wallet winces at having to pay civilian prices for plastic and metal. Warhammer is dead. Seriously, I’ve become one of those old bodgers who wonders where his hobby went while he wasn’t looking!

But, there’s good things to be found. My new beau is Guild Ball from Streamforged

I never had much love for Bloodbowl. I was a bit po-faced about it. Still am. But Guild Ball is more in line with my preferences. Half a dozen models (and they’re lovely!), a flat green pitch, and a free to download rules set. Sorted!

(It helps that one of the head honchos at Steamforged is in my weekly RPG group)

I’m now elbow deep in Fishermans Guild kit, and shaky YouTube tutorials. 

It’s great. I love it. I have an otter. 

I think I’ll put pics up as I go. It will be interesting to log my progress. 

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Fear of the Die

Are some games afraid of their own mechanics?

When you come from a d20 grounding, you get used to the sound of clattering plastic. It’s part of the game. If you’re in initiative mode then the dice hit the table every minute, at the very least. I appreciate that the frequency can knock the immersion out of the situation at times, but that’s the price you pay for granularity in the engine. 

Other games seem to come from a stand point of (and I’m putting words in many games text here) “here’s how the dice roll changes the outcome. It’s probably quite significant, and needs the table to buy into the interpretation” So fewer rolls, bigger impact. Sometimes these negotiations boot me out of my head space too, so neither end of this continuum is necessarily about immersion 

I’m reading the new edition of 7th Sea and seeing this latter way again and again. Making a roll in 7th Sea seems to be a big deal. I mean every game says only roll when it matters, but here, making the roll itself is what makes it matter (still with me?)

It’s a similar deal to Fate and PbtA games. Once the dice hit the table, the move is only just beginning, and the consequences are Fighting Fantasy-esque as you turn to a completely different numbered paragraph. No keeping your thumb in the page with the decision point. 

As I read these rules, I’m excited. Drama! Dilemmas! Narrative! Decisions! But when I actually run these games… I get story fatigue quite easily. A binary hit/miss roll takes little processing power. A villain/revenge/amour/reversal plot pile takes more. 

The answer is to take the advice as a hard rule. Only roll when it matters. Really matters. 

Which means, practically, games need to have more narrative punch, or need to use the rolls way less than they would in a dungeon-normal setting. Or, both. 

Interestingly, 7th Sea calls their rolls Risks. And that’s just the right word. The game changes when you take one. If your table is risk averse, then you’d be right to be afraid of the game. 

Which leads me to believe that modern designers and GMs would more likely be the instigators if they were playing. And they’ve brought that sensibility to the rules. But that’s not the only way to play. I’ve seen players bounce off these newer sensibilities, and I think it’s because of fear. Fear of having to become a GM for a minute. 

Which is reasonable. 

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Basic Complications

As part of my research into my own fantasy heartbreaker, and because why not? I brought the Moldvay basic book on hols. Me and my son Danny sat down and rolled up characters. Then he sketched out a quick dungeon and we stocked it as we went. 

It’s all harder than I remember. 

Rolling stats was cool, as was having your choices largely made for you. It did mean copying down text onto sheets with only a vague idea of what it meant at the time (well, I knew, but Danny is fresh to all this and it took some explaining). 

Picking equipment was ok, but took a while and as my fighter tooled badly for cash there were only a few options (would rations matter? Iron or regular?)

Having a magic user with a single magic missile and 3 Hp isn’t romantic. It sucks. Danny wasn’t expecting to be so fragile, or to be able to only do one cool thing the whole game. I remember thinking the same back in 1980 to be honest. 

We rolled room contents as we went and swiftly encountered some skeletons. As there were only two PCs I adjusted the numbers down to 2 skellies. Dan’s wizard but the dust in one round. 

We decided to play on. Met a trader. Had some interaction with ourselves. Got a Potion of ESP from him. Dan asked what happened if you just had a sip. Good question. Then an Orc. Rolled some treasure. 

At this point Dan was really interested in having his own ideas in the dungeon. Like a skeleton key, a secret door in a bookcase and an illusory treasure hoard. It beat the random rolls hands down. 

And that’s the point. The Basic system is all over the place. It makes it look like its full of little processes and flow charts that unroll the gaming session before you. But it’s all odd and clunky. It makes you want to think up cooler things on the fly. So you do. It really needs a DM (unsurprisingly) to plan out all the stuff and to mitigate the fragility and randomness of the game. 

Which is all fine. In the intervening years all those challenges have been solved in various ways. It’s just a matter of picking. What I want to keep is the idea of generating adventure by procedures. Basic offers the idea, if not the implementation. 

Danny had a good time in spite of all the potentially dull outcomes. That’s because we played with our imaginations. Which is the whole point. 

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