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.