Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hiatus Interruptus and Zero Level PCs

  I am going to lay the blame for my long blogging hiatus fully at the feet of my lovely wife and gestating larva. My son, my heir, has required massive attention in preparation for his imminent arrival - including appointments, classes, research, and home remodeling. The latter is still underway, and sadly my painting and modelling cave is being retrofitted into a new expanded kitchen area, and all of my assorted bits and bobs are temporarily boxed and stuffed into a spare bedroom while a new office space is arranged.
  In lieu of a modelling and painting update, I guess I'll just leave this here - some of the campaign materials from my groups summer game. A few of my players are teachers, and when summer hits, one of them escapes the stagnant swamp of Virginia for fully three months in exchange for cooler climes. This necessitates a break from regularly scheduled programming. Well, necessitates is a strong word. I suppose 'presents an opportunity' is more accurate. After a year of post-apocalyptia, the itch for some good old fashioned fantasy arose. 
  Had an idea to run a short summer game in the same world as our group's last two fantasy runs, though set a few hundred years in that world's future, allowing me to season the setting with some Victorian gas-lamp goodness. It's essentially fan-service, the premise revolving around the final fate of our group's very first party, which due to shifting player schedules, was never quite resolved after two years of playing. These characters and their shenanigans are still oft quoted and remembered fondly at the table, after four years and a few intervening games. So - I give them the city of Baelheim. A sprawling, seeming endless mega-city, and cast them as children. The idea of PC's as children appealed to me for a few reasons, foremost being that heroes are made, not born.
  In your standard D&D character generation rules, adventurers are exceptional individuals from the outset. You know, that farm-boy who can punch an ornery cow unconscious and is for some reason innately comfortable in plate armor, despite, y'know, never seeing any before.  Low levels have always been the most fun to DM for me. Once you hit around... I dunno, level 12-14 - the PCs realistically have the skills and resources to deal with whatever world annihilating horrors you can dream up with relative ease and aplomb. I greatly prefer being able to ravage them to the point of near-death with a pack of dire rats. It's not just my sadism, though that is certainly a factor, but the blase 'Oh, another ancient lich and his horde of undead servitors' ho-hum workaday attitude that develops. Point being, I want these fuckers scared. Setting them as children in a hostile urban wilderness seems just about perfect to me. 
  I scoured the interwebs for ideas on systems to develop 'under-powered' 0 level characters, and found quite a few great ideas scattered around. I pieced a few of these together and decided on a point-buy system that would allow the PCs to create characters without the physical means to render draft animals thrice their size comatose with a fusillade of fisticuffs. Even better, it seemed to work. First, they get a splash of flavor text and scene-setting. 
  One hundred and fifty years ago, the great northern capitol of Balin's Watch was razed to the ground in a legendary battle between the Three and the nameless horrors awakened by the necromancer Vethin and his illithid thralls. Iberra heeded the call of the Three, and the ranks of the Army of the North swelled with heroes of legend, united against the seemingly endless tide of darkness. The battle raged for nearly a year, the armies gathered and led by the Three clashing against the creatures disgorged from the Abraxus riftsea north of the Ettinspine mountains. They fought, the weight of the entirety of the world on their weary shoulders. They fought, and they lost.
Betrayed in the end by a creature called Kasparov, the Army of the North was scattered and destroyed, the battlefield soaked with the blood of heroes. A final desperate charge was mounted by the Three and their remaining allies, striking deep into the heart of the enemy, forcing them to abandon defense of the city.
In their absence, the remaining defenders were overwhelmed, and the flood of darkness poured through the city, slaughtering it's inhabitants to the last and tearing it's ancient towers from their foundations. The creatures flowed over and through Balin's Watch, Iberra's last bastion against the tide of nightmares threatening to drown the world in darkness. All was lost. The cities and villages of the north were swallowed whole.
And then, the Flare. There are some among the long-lived races who still remember those dark days, when the end of all things loomed close enough to taste on the wind. A flash of white, from the distant north, a light of such purity and ferocious intensity that it struck witnesses blind for days afterward. The flash, and then the Howl. A chorus of screams from the advancing armies of the rift, a cacophony of rage and frustration, so loud that it is said that it rattled the windows in the southern desert palaces of Khapra. The darkness was gone.
Though they never returned from that final charge, it is commonly held that the Three and their allies somehow managed to seal the tear between the worlds at their end, banishing the darkness back to the void. They were raised up by the religions of Iberra as martyrs, and shrines were erected throughout the Thirteen Kingdoms. It is claimed by many that the Three and their allies were lifted up by the gods at the last to reward their sacrifice, and they are widely considered to hold places among the pantheon. Zende the Black, patron saint of warriors and pirates. Rhona the Wolf, matron of madness and the hunt. Dracht-Cha, patron saint of storms and the wild. In recent times, worship of Olidimarra has been almost entirely abandoned in favor of Garren the Grand, one of the Three's staunchest allies, who accompanied them on their final charge, as the patron saint of thieves and luck.
Balin's Watch stood abandoned for a decade, a cursed place, haunted by the dead. But the living have short memories. The promise of abandoned riches drew adventurers, the lure of arcane secrets drew scholars and mages. Behind these enterprising pioneers, settlers began to creep back into the lands of the north. The village of Baelheim was established over the ruins of Balin's Watch, and grew quickly. Wooden palisades and clapboard hovels rapidly gave way to permanent structures, and stone towers again began to climb into the sky. Up and up they stretched, their upper stories connected by broad covered bridges, wrought from stone scavenged from the bones of the dead city beneath them, blanketing the lower city in perpetual twilight of factory smoke and shadow. Gaslamps burn on most corners in Lowtown, a feeble attempt to banish the fog and murk that Baelheim's lower classes work and live in.
In recent years, harvests have been especially poor, the once fertile ground gone sour, the livestock barren and sickly. Lowtown is hardest hit, the winter dead stacked like cord-wood at the intersections, picked over by Collectors from the Scholia Biologica or the hooded acolytes of the Brotherhood of Silas. Countless refugees are driven into the great city from the outlying villages, their homes either ravaged by plague or razed by the pale-haired, sharp fanged White Elves of the Ettinspine mountains. It is a hard, cold place. As the snows begin to fall, the debauched nobles and scholars of the Upper City debate politics in teahouses warmed by alchemical light-globes while below them orphans with black, frozen fingers dig through the red slush run-off of the abattoirs for scraps of fat to sustain them.
The city is a nest of warring factions and guilds, an endless parade of alliances and betrayals, bribery and blackmail. Gangs offer the only chance of survival for many in Lowtown, and their ever-shifting turf boundaries are marked in the blood of their rivals. The High Guard, with their faceless, gilded helms, patrol the Upper City, but Lowtown is left to it's own sort of brutal, primal law – survival of the fittest. Beneath them all, the Under Guard stand their thankless watch, debtors and sentenced criminals pressed into service in the endless, unmapped web of ancient collapsing sewers, tunnels, and mines that honeycomb the earth beneath Baelheim – and things have begun to again stir in the darkness beneath the city. Black, nameless things, like from the stories of the Three.  

  There's the fan-service portion, Zende, Rhona, Dract-Cha, and Garren being characters from previous games, raised at this point to sainted status. The setting lifts ideas from all sorts of places, most notably Wermspittle and Vornheim. I like to think 'inspired by', though bits and pieces are stolen whole-cloth.  From here, they rolled out their characters from the point-buy system detailed below.

Character Creation -

Characters in this campaign will start as adolescents, orphans living in the Lowtown streets of Baelheim. When creating your character, consider what path you envision them taking at level one, selecting from among the more traditional base classes. This choice will determine your starting Baelheim class.

Fighter –             Street Tough      +1 HP, +1 Str                Typically street gang muscle
Barbarian -          Feral                   +2 HP, +1 Con             Usually nonverbal loners
Rogue-                Guttersnipe        +3 skill points, +1 Dex  Pickpockets and hoodlums
Ranger-               Streetrat             +1 Dex, +1 Wis             Self reliant survivors
Sorcerer -            Witchborn          +1 Wis, +1 Cha            Tainted blood grants magic
Wizard -              Squint                -1 HP, +2 Int                Physically weak, smart
Cleric, Monk -    Adept                +1 Wis, +1 Con             The faithful are few

I particularly like the idea of 0 level characters having access to under-powered setting-specific analogues to the traditional classes. I realized later that I left druids out of the list, unintentionally.

Ability Scores -
Ability scores will be determined with a 'point buy' system. All ability scores start at a baseline value of 8. You have 22 points to distribute among your character's abilities.

Each increase in an ability sore, up to 14, costs 1 point. Thus, raising any ability from 8 to 14 will cost 6 points total. Raising an ability to 15 costs an additional 2 points, as does raising one from 15 to 16. Thus, bringing an ability from 8 to 16 would cost a total of 10 points.

Lowering a score below 8 earns 1 point for each step down taken. For example, lowering Charisma to 6 will garner 2 points to spend elsewhere. However, no ability can be lowered below 6.

With these points, you will have created a character whose scores are average at best, and could appear under developed. Well, they are. Your character has unrealized potential. Upon reaching 1st level, your character will receive a small pool of bonus ability points to be again distributed in the above manner, raising their ability scores to 'heroic' level.

This seems a good idea to me, as well. A character achieving level 1 in Baelheim will be just a touch above a normal level 1 in terms of skills and ability points, owed to the harshness of their upbringing. It's a hard-knock life. For us.

Game Statistics -

0 level characters have a Base Attack Bonus of +0
0 level characters do not receive any base bonuses to saving throws.
0 level characters determine their Hit Points by rolling 1d3+1, and adding their Constitution modifiers (if any) to the total.
0 level characters have no proficiencies in armor or shields.
0 level characters are considered proficient in clubs, daggers, and quarterstaves.

Feats -
At 0 level, a character is granted one bonus feat, which should be selected from the list below.
Acrobatic, Agile, Alertness, Athletic, Deceitful, Deft Hands, Diligent, Nimble Fingers, Persuasive, Skill Focus, Self-Sufficient, Stealthy, Toughness
Others may be deemed acceptable at the DM's discretion.

Skills and Skill Points -
To determine your skill points, add 2 to the character's Intelligence modifier, and then multiply the result by 2. If the character is Human, add 1 to this total. This will result in a total between 3 and 11, which represents the number of points that can be spent on skills.
The skill list for 0 level characters is limited, and dictated primarily by their environment and upbringing. Available skills are listed below -
Balance, Climb, Craft, Jump. Handle Animal, Knowledge, Listen, Profession, Riding, Swimming, Spot, Survival.
Each rank in one of these skills costs 1 point, and characters can gain no more than 3 ranks in any skill at level 0. Buying a rank in any skill outside of the above list costs 2 points, and characters are limited to only having one rank in them.
Once the character achieves 1st level, these skill points will be considered a bonus. They will not be subtracted from the 1st level point pool (determined normally, as per the PHB rules).

Spellcasting at 0 level -
Characters planning to be spellcasters at 1st level will be handled in the following manner -
A 0 level character recieves a number of 0 level spells per day equal to ½ what he or she would receive at 1st level as their target class. The character's spell selection is subject to the same restrictions that affect their target class. If the character is to be of a class that only knows a select number of spells, such as a sorcerer, halve that number as well.

  From this system, we ended up with a Feral (Barbarian), Witchborn (Sorcerer), Adept (Cleric), Streetrat (Ranger), and a Guttersnipe (Rogue). And so it started off, five orphans living in Castor's Home for Wayward Youth in the Kettleblack Downs district of Baelheim's Lowtown. After four or five game sessions, I can say that forcing them to create theses decidedly 'un-heroic' characters has really changed the pace and feel of the game. It's been great. There is no 'kick down the door' playing, they are forced to think carefully before fighting when they could pretty easily be murdered by a pack of giant hairless molerats, and even those among them who rarely engage in RPing seem to really be getting into their characters.  It has been a really great experience so far. 
  While my modelling stuff is currently packed away, maybe I will try to put up the occasional game report or synopsis. Anyhow, that's all for now.

-JM out

Friday, May 18, 2012

Let There Be Paint

  Finally got those other grems painted up a bit, and in honor of their departure from the WIP shelf, I even threw a little digital paint over the original concept sketch.  I'm not much of a painter, but I think they turned out pretty well. Of course, everything looks better at 2am, when my eyes are all bleary with sleep deprivation and cigarette smoke. Could use a little more detail work - like boring out the gun barrels with a pin vise, and a black wash over the teeth to define them better and make them a little less cartoony. At any rate - behold! Click to embiggen.

That's all I've got at the moment. Still struggling with my airships - having a hard time striking the balance between practicality and playability.  They're in the works though.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Modular Post-Apocalyptic Scavenger Compound

  My PC's got robbed by a band of roaming scavengers last week, leaving them stranded in the hostile wastes, their vehicle stripped of useful parts and their precious gasoline siphoned away. Nothing quite like returning successfully from a quest into a hidden valley full of horrific mutant parasitic plants to find your hard-won and handcrafted apocalyptic tank/truck standing up on blocks. With my PC's searching the grasslands of the Caldera Basin for the aforementioned compound, I figured I had better whip up something for them to find.
  I initially started gathering pieces to create a big terrain piece, an entire compound of ramshackle fences, huts, and towers standing on a polystyrene bluff. And then I looked at my terrain shelf, noted the other large pieces I have made in the past. They're cool, and fun to build, but I can rarely get more than one or two uses out of these highly specific 'specialized' pieces. It seems to me that it's much more useful to make a bunch of smaller pieces that can be assembled in different ways, giving them a little versatility and most importantly 'replay value'.
  This theory in mind, I decided to make a bunch of short lengths of scavenged wooden fence-wall, that could be used as stand-alone pieces or combined into a larger enclosed compound. As always, click to embiggen.

  I started with a few styrene scraps sporting flat sides for a level base. I sculpted them down into low 'hills' by plucking pieces away with my fingertips.

Next I planted the 'posts', carving the ends of the balsa strips down into a point and anchoring them into the styrene with a little PVA.

Then, the crossbeams. I decided to extend the fences by a section on either side of the styrene bases to facilitate the modular aspect I was shooting for.

Then the fun part. I cut a pile of fence boards from balsa, varying the lengths slightly, carelessly breaking and damaging them as I went. To make them more post-apocalyptic, certainly not because I'm careless and lazy. Certainly not that.

  I started attaching them to the cross beams with PVA, following the contour of the styrene hills as much as possible, and then edging the bottoms with rocks and fine sand where I thought wind-blown dirt would accumulate in drifts.

  Then the rivets. Or nails. What have you. Whenever I use greenstuff, I end up mixing far more than I actually need. It never fails. I roll the excess into long cylinders and let it cure that way - granting me a nice supply of easily cut rivets for detailing terrain.

  I spent some time attaching the 'nails' here and there with PVA, wherever I thought the fence looked like it needed extra support. The scale is all wrong for nails, but looks good. Unless they used railroad spikes for construction. Yep, that's it. That's my new justification.

At this point, I realized I needed some kind of an entryway, or gatehouse. I started gluing balsa together with little to no plan, and an hour or so later, I ended up with this, which I was pretty happy with. A few lengths of craft chain and a few random plastic bits salvaged from who knows where yielded an almost functional pulley system for raising and lowering the gate, along with a nice, defensible lookout post. Note, if I had been smarter, I would have added the chain last, after priming and painting. Alas, I am not, so I spray primed it right along with the rest, rendering the links sticky and prone to kinking - making my almost functional gate into a barely functional gate. I learn most lessons the difficult and stupid way.

Now the moment of truth. Paint time. I always get a little nervous when I start painting a terrain piece. Am I about to completely wreck this? Or conversely, is this pile of crap going to look good after I slather paint all over it? Here we are after a Krylon H2O spray basecoat and a layer of drybrushing.

Another, lighter drybrush on the fence itself, and then I moved to the ground, in the usual color scheme. I made sure to over-brush onto the bottoms of the fence posts, to imply weathering and staining.
A final pure white highlight on the fence, and a few patches of flock at the base, and it was pretty much good to go. I should have gone back to touch the railroad spikes with a silver, maybe a few streaks of rust staining downwards from them - but I was out of time. The pieces hit the table, still reeking of spray prime, as has become the developing pattern.

Below, you can see the finished pieces all assembled and ready for game night. It was a good fight, and the gate, while barely functional, still played great. And, as a bonus - I think the modular aspect of it all was successful, the fence-walls look good, even standing alone. Next time - airships. Of a sort.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

DIY Horrific Bug-Men


Insectile moreaus in the Nuevo Esperanza Basin are collectively known as Hivers. Though genetically 'uplifted' by the Krieg particle radiation from the necropoli, their minds remain simple and barbaric - making them vicious and territorial scavengers that plague the scattered wasteland settlements.

Hivers were some of the first creatures I planned to have my PCs encounter when we started the Crucible campaign, but I couldn't find any miniatures that fit the look I wanted for them. Horrific, alien, giant bug-men. Yes. Then I found a bag of fake plastic cockroaches at the dollar store. Perfect. They looked pretty similar to the ones pictured at right, maybe a little cheaper, less detailed. They did sport a nice embossed Made in China on their undersides that I had to cut away. As always, click the pictures to embiggen.

   First I had to re-pose them, to give them an upright posture and to make them appear more 'humanoid'. I dropped them all into a pot of boiling water until the plastic became malleable, then plucked them out one by one with tongs and twisted them into the postures I wanted, and then dunked them into a bowl of ice-water until the plastic re-set itself into it's new configuration.


In order to provide a little diversity among them, I made two varieties - a ranged attacking Spitter, and a more melee oriented Soldier. For the Soldiers I made a few makeshift-looking weapons from toothpicks, pieces of sprue, fine gauge wire, and random other bits. The finished product matched the primitive technology level I was shooting for pretty well.

 For the Spitters I glued black peppercorns at their throats, to represent swollen acid glands. Black peppercorns have a really great texture for this kind of thing, roughly spherical, and webbed with 'veins'. Then I based them up, and put on a few coats of paint. I think they came out great. You can see where I missed the CHINA on this one. Ah well. I chalk it up to a strange scarification ritual that is peculiar to Hiver culture. And inattentiveness. Mostly that.

 You can see in some of the pictures the 'egg piles' I made at the same time, from more black peppercorns glued all over a small lump of pink foam, drybrushed a little for highlights, and decorated with strands of hot glue to make them look slimier, more 'Alien Hive'.

 Apologies for the poor picture quality - all taken with my cellphone camera. I'm going to have to build one of those 'light-box' miniature photography rigs I keep reading about. Anyhow, gets the point across. On the whole, I was pretty happy with the end results of these guys, going from flat, dollar store plastic roaches to convincing tabletop miniatures. 


I'm still currently working on painting the rest of the Grems, along with a prototype dirigible made from cereal box card and plastic bottles. More on those soon-ish.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Foamcore Chronicles

  I picked up a few sheets of foamcore at a department store last night, with the intention of trying to build a few ruined buildings out of it - but when I got home with it and sat down at the table, another idea occurred to me. A sweet painted battlemat.
  Our group has been using Chessex erasable mats for years now, and they work great - especially for dungeon crawls and the like, where I need to reveal the interior room by room. For outdoor encounters, I have a box of terrain crap that I like to use, various rocks and the like, and I scatter them around for visual interest and to complicate combat. But, there they are... lying like little islands on a gridded tan plain, devoid of thematic consistency. This makes my eye twitch. Christ knows why.
  I've seen folks use different things for their battlemats, painted sheets and whatnot - but haven't attempted one of my own until now. Here goes...

  First I dug out a ruler and a Curious George mechanical pencil, and started gridding out the entire sheet. I wanted the grid to remain clear, and attempt not to muddy the function of a battlemat with my perverse need to make things prettier.

  A standard sheet of foamcore is 20x30, or at least this brand was. That leaves me a grid of 18x28, with an inch border - sacrificing a little in width from the standard mat, but our gaming table is rectangular anyhow. That's a hundred careful cuts with an X-acto knife. Regret begins to sink in.

That's somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 little strips of paper to pick out between the lines. There is surely a smarter way to do this, but I was committed. I think of Sisyphus.

  Somewhere around a third of the way completed I begin to curse myself. An hour of careful paper-scraping later, I have moved on to cursing at the foamcore itself, investing the inanimate object with malevolent purpose, spiteful reticence. It has become my hated enemy. It will not win.

  I am victorious. I have bent the hated foamwich to my will. I thin PVA glue with water and apply it liberally in loops and whorls, smiling with smug satisfaction. I dust it with fine sand.

Once the PVA dries, the board gets a liberal coat of black primer - Krylon H2O, a marvel of modern science. It doesn't melt foam and has such a low odor that you could almost use it indoors. Almost.

  I pull a housepainting brush from the shed and begin drybrushing the board with my current game's most common outdoor color scheme. MSP Rust Brown, 50/50 Rust and White, and a light finish of almost pure White.

  I repaint the borders black, to cover my sloppy drybrushing, and then I notice that the foamcore has started to warp slightly. Nice try, foamcore. Nice try. I mount the finished board atop one of it's fellows to increase it's sturdiness. Warping allayed.

  And, finished. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the result, but less than thrilled with the 'carving' process. My original intent was to make several of these, of varying schemes to match all of my little terrain bits, but unless I can think of a less soul-sucking methodology - I don't see it happening soon. At any rate - here it is. Not too shabby for a night's work.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kriegsprout Hosts

  As they are wont to do, my PCs took a hard right from the main narrative to scamper off on a sidequest that I had come up with a while back, and neglected to flesh out - so I found myself four hours ahead of game time tapping away at the keyboard to figure out what is supposed to be happening to them. It's sort of a game I play with myself - offering them a hook for a sidejob that I haven't even remotely figured out yet, and then frantically trying to write a short adventure to follow it. It works out pretty well, though. I guess I work better under pressure?

Kriegsprout Walker sketch
  The hook was that the local Doc was in need of medical supplies, and had gotten ahold of an old aerial survey map that showed what he thought could be a hospital in a narrow valley, cut off from the wastes by a collapsed overpass. The thought was that it may be out of the way enough to still offer some decent scavenging. 

  They took the gig, and set straight out for it - and after a hard climb up this ridge of rubble infested with sand sharks, look down into the valley to see that it's green. A hidden Eden of swaying trees heavy with strange fruit and lush grasses. And that's where I left it - I had to figure out the hows and whys in the intervening week. 

If any of my PCs are reading this, cut it out. At least for a week.

  So I came up with the plan that along with the abandoned hospital, the remote valley was also home to the Happy Lawn Fertilizer plant, it's enormous holding tanks slowly leaking into the shallow stream that runs the edge of the valley, giving rise to all sorts of lush, green, but terrifyingly corrupted and mutated plant life. Most importantly - a kind of parasitic, hive-mind fungus that claims humanoid hosts in order to spread it's spores. I'm calling them Kriegsprout Hosts.

  So, that figured - I needed a few minis to represent these guys on the tabletop, but with only half a day to get them done. I have a pretty huge bin of D&D minis, most of them gifted to me by one of the PCs for Christmas, so I started digging. I was looking for a few miniatures that with a couple of quick, simple conversions and a little paint could imply a life-cycle for the creatures, starting with a fairly freshly claimed host, all the way through to a fully overtaken one. I picked out a handful of Orc Zombies, a Web Golem, and a pair of Blackroot Treants.

  I knew I wanted them to have additional 'limbs', so to speak, so I pulled out the pipe cleaners and started twisting up a few tree branches. I have seen pipe-cleaner tree tutorials on a few sites before, and it is by far my favorite method. The end product has a great texture for painting and the best part is that they remain fully pose-able, even after priming, painting, and dull-coating. I took a few pictures of the process, if you've never tried it before.

  Start with a few scraps of pipe cleaner, color doesn't really matter here, but I usually use white or black.

  Twist them together tightly into a vaguely tree-like shape. Easy enough.

  Using a lighter, melt the 'fluff' down onto the wires, pinching it here and there to ensure a good taper towards the ends of the branches. You should probably do this step outside, as there is a little bit of smoke and some mildly unpleasant fumes released.

 Aaaaand, done. I made a handful of these, and started sawing off limbs and drilling holes with my pin vise to securely anchor them to the minis. Afterwards, I decided that they still needed a little more, so I wrapped lengths of floral wire around them in places to represent creeping vines.


  Conversions complete, I sanded the bases, and then spray primed the lot of them. After they dried (mostly), a washed them all with MSP Walnut Brown, drybrushed with MSP Chestnut, and then another drybrush of 25/75 Chestnut and White. I am always amazed at how much detail is put into these prepainted minis that you would never notice under the factory paintjob. A wash and a few half-sloppy layers of drybrushing, and they look amazingly better.

I used a few dabs of superglue to apply a mixture of flock and dried herbs from the kitchen to give the appearance of moss, and then picked out the eyes with orange and the vines with a few highlights to give them a little more color. After that, I was out of time, but they were looking good enough for the tabletop, despite the fact that they still reeked of spraypaint and the glue holding the sand to the bases wasn't dry yet. Nonetheless, game on.

All in all, the conversions are a little slapdash, but I was happy with them, and they worked. With more time I would have like to add some small leaves to the vines, and maybe a few patches of foliage to the branches, but they look alright without those fine details for now. The PCs are still deep in the valley, and I might have time to touch them up a bit before next game night.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On Grems

Grems. Pretty much my favorite creatures from our current game. So far, anyhow. I mean, they wear stilts. All of them. All the time.

Grem Scavenger (Level 1 Fighter)
Original grem sketch.

Size/Type Small Humanoid
Hit Dice 1d8 +1  (7 hp)
Initiative           +1
Speed 40'
Armor Class 14 (+1 size, +1 Dex, +2 leather armor)
Base Attack +1
Attack Stilt +2 melee (1d6) or Crossbow +3 ranged (1d4)
Full Attack Stilt +2 melee (1d6) or Crossbow +3 ranged (1d4)
Space/Reach 5 ft. / 5 ft.
Spcl Attacks Trip
Spc Qualities          Darkvision 60 ft.
Saves Fort +3 Ref +1 Will -1
Abilities Str 11 Dex 13 Con 12 Int 10 Wis 9 Cha 6
Skills Hide +5 Listen +2 Move Silently +5 Spot +2 Balance +5
Feats Alertness
Environment Any
CR 1 / 3

These squat, demihuman creatures are possessed of a low cunning and a vicious territoriality that have made them a recognized menace throughout the Crucible wastes. They are largely thought to be a genetically uplifted variant of the horned desert toad, mostly due to their disproportionately large mouths and the small knobs and spines that dot their mottled yellow hides, though many Mesa scholars claim that they are more likely a highly mutated offshoot of humans. 
In addition to their origin, the reason that the grems seem to have adopted stilts universally remains unclear. It is thought that like the natural defenses of certain animals such as the frilled lizard or blowfish, the short-statured grems use the stilts to appear larger than they are and to dissuade predators. Regardless of the reason, a Grem is rarely seen without his stilts, and after the first few years of life, they are nearly incapable of walking without them. 
Grems breed and grow with incredible rapidity, and the practice of binding hatchlings with short 'training' stilts just days after birth has resulted in a nearly universal cultural affliction of clubbed and useless feet. Despite this, when fitted with it's stilts, a Grem is capable of moving with almost unsettling speed and grace.  The Grem's familiarity with  and affinity for it's stilts are such that they are considered 'natural' weapons, and their tendency to decorate their stilts with bits of colorful, broken glass and metal scraps makes them even more dangerous.
Most Grems live in small, independant tribes - claiming abandoned buildings at the outskirts of populated areas as their own, and defending them fiercely with a variety of scavenged and makeshift weapons along with traps of surprising complexity and lethality.
Grems tend to dress themselves in poorly cured leathers reinforced with chicken wire and scrap metal along with scavenged scraps of brightly colored cloth. They also appear to have an attraction to hats. Their attire can give them a bedraggled, clownish appearance, but it would be a mistake to think them any less dangerous.
Grems do have a rudimentary language of their own, though they as often as not use scraps of Common, mashed together seemingly at random. They appear to collect bits and pieces of language from old radio signals and billboards the way rats hoard shiny baubles. Their nonsensical utilization of these language fragments can make a Grem attack even more unsettling, as they excitedly extol the virtues of Extra Strength Dran-O as they try to shove a knife into your belly.

Of course, grems will arm themselves with whatever they can steal or scavenge. The PC's thus far have run into grems wielding broken bottles, rusty kitchen knives, ramshackle tommy guns, molotov cocktails, and more. I've also had great fun in providing the grems their garbled language, picking random movie quotes or advertising catch phrases as appropriate (or inappropriate, as it were).
For the tabletop, I've been using whatever assorted goblin miniatures I have on hand standing on spare d6s to indicate the stilts, along with the one completed grem mini I made a while back, the fellow in the tophat there. I picked up a couple of blisters of goblins from Reaper Miniatures by John Manor with the intent of converting the whole lot into be-stilted mutant monsters, but until recently they've just sat forlornly on my WIP shelf awaiting attention. I picked these particular minis because I thought their facial expressions were great, and fit the half-insane look I wanted for my grems. As the PC's move into the next part of the story, airships are going to have a greater presence, including a lengthy quest that will lead them to obtaining one of their own. That said, I wanted to bring the grems back from the level 1 closet and find a way to make them a viable threat again. The how of that I'll cover in a later post, but needless to say - the time has come to finish up Tophat's fellows.
I've finished the converting, carving, and modelling at this point - here they are, ready for me to throw some paint at them. I'll post up the results in the near future.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Hiya, I'm JM.
     I've been DMing a shifting roster of gamers in Central Virginia for seven or eight years now, and I've been gaming in some form for as long as I can remember. We've been through a few traditional fantasy games (years long, in most cases) at this point - castles have been sieged, dragons slain, phylacteries destroyed, planes traversed. In order to give everyone something a little different I came up with the world of The Crucible - a mash-up of a bunch of ideas, systems, characters and influences that I've had rolling around in my head for a few years. At it's heart it is a post-apocalyptic world, with a heavy western steampunk bent - though I created the world with DMing in mind - and nearly every idea can be incorporated with only a little thematic tweaking. Goblins? We've got that - or at least a close enough proxy we've dubbed Grems. Magic?  Sure thing, rebranded as Thaumaturgy. Undead? Of course, right next to the airships, clockwork golems, and genetically-uplifted Moreaus in the back. 
The Esperanza Nueva Basin
     To be clear, Crucible isn't an attempt to create something entirely new - it's a setting I designed to be fun for all of us, and to free me up as a DM to write almost anything I want without having to labor over whether or not it would be appropriate for the setting. I write the game and the world week to week, adding new areas and enemies as the story dictates - and in doing so, the PCs have a very real means of influencing the world around them. I mean, who doesn't want to run a game where your party fights a monstrous, flying genetic aberration with spells, rifles, and Molotov cocktails - roaring through the streets of a ruined city standing on the roof of the last of the V8 Interceptors while their salvaged 8-track blares the Immigrant Song?  I guess there are some who wouldn't dig it, but I sure as hell do.
     The rules we run with are a cobbled mixture of D&D 3.5 (the system nearest and dearest to most of our hearts), with bits pulled from d20, Darwin's World, and Deadlands, along with a healthy dose of long-standing house rules. I know it sounds like a completely unmanageable and nightmarish home-brew disaster - but it ain't.
A 'Grem'
     The bigger point, and the point of this site in general, is that of all the tasks I willingly saddle myself with as DM - the one I enjoy the most is the modelling and terrain building. Hunching over a fantasy goblin mini at the desk with a handful of toothpicks, cardstock scraps, wire, and bits and after an hour of filing, hacking, gluing, cursing, and painting, coming away with a be-stilted, top-hat wearing, Tommy-gun wielding demihuman mutant Grem to throw at the party next Tuesday night is ridiculously satisfying.
     I spend a good amount of time scouring miniature and modelling sites for ideas, inspiration, tips, and the like - and I figured it couldn't hurt to put up some of my own work. Anyhow - that's the plan. Works in progress, finished minis and terrain, tips, caveats, campaign ideas, statblocks and tables. Just another role-playing game DM miniature modelling site. There are many like it, but this one is mine.