Tag Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

Mistress of Darkness

Not to be confused with the Mistress of the Dark who recently made an appearance on Roger’s site, this is an old (1989) RAFM miniature that is no longer in production and doesn’t seem to be available anywhere anymore. She is my Character of the Month for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge over on Instagram. I’m calling her a sorceress.

Here’s a secret: I didn’t paint this miniature: I REPAINTED her. Way back in 1990 or so, I painted her using those wonderful Testors enamels I still have nightmares about. She actually didn’t look too bad, all things considered.

I remembered to snap a picture of her before I repainted her; but not before I added her to this base.

As you can see, I went with a more “Egyptian” theme to her this time around as opposed to the Frazetta-style in which she’s so obviously sculpted. I was likely inspired by all the Egyptian goings-on in The Old Ways Podcast’s Masks of Nyarlathotep game.

Only five more character classes to go for the year: Bard, Monk, Wizard, Warlock and Paladin. Which one will be next?

Guess what? I know the answer to that.

Lord Gunthar uth Wistan

I’m getting a slow start on 2022, mainly because my painting desk is in complete disarray as I look for a better way to organize the paint racks of doom. Still, I’ve managed to paint a couple of miniatures this year so far, one of which is my Character of the Month for Tom’s (@the_goodground) painting challenge over on Instagram. If you recall, Tom came up with the completely original idea of painting one miniature each month of an official Dungeons & Dragons character class from the 5E Player’s Handbook. Well, who am I to turn down that kind of challenge? It’s pure genius!

Of course, anyone taking part might be tempted to write a complete backstory for the miniatures they paint in a challenge like this, but not me. I’m content with simply painting my miniature and showing it off, thank you very much. Who has time for back stories? That way lies madness.

I decided Tom’s unique painting challenge is a good excuse to paint up some old, classic lead; something I have long chastised myself that I do not do enough of. So, I’m starting things off with a classic Ral Partha miniature from their AD&D Dragonlance line: 11-073, Lord Gunthar uth Wistan, Knight of the Rose and Grandmaster of the Knights of Solamnia. (Sadly, I don’t know who sculpted this miniature.) Both of those honorifics are simply fancy titles for what Lord Gunthar is, at heart: a human fighter.

That’s Lord Gunthar on top of the dragon, there; in pretty much the only picture I’ve ever seen of him. This was from the 1985 Dragonlance calendar and was painted by the great Larry Elmore. Lord Gunthar is a guy in plate armor with a huge mustache. He isn’t described much differently in the books, and he isn’t a primary character. (On a side note, although I love Larry Elmore as much as any kid who grew up in the 1980’s playing Dungeons & Dragons does; I’m not wild about the dragon in this picture. I think he looks kind of insectoid.)

Anyway, the picture doesn’t really help much, since most of Lord Gunthar’s body and his rear are not depicted. The miniature doesn’t include the dragon, either; so he’s far less impressive than he is in the painting; and it’s not exactly faithful to the image (although it’s close). So, I had to wing it a bit.

Here he is: The Grand Master of the Knights of Solamnia: Lord Gunthar uth Wistan, who should be about a 15th level fighter or so. If you want to read his backstory (but why would you?), you can read the original Dragonlance Chronicles. Or, skip that and find the abbreviated version here.

The miniature is fine, I guess; but the Knights of Solamnia are renowned for having highly stylized and ornamental armor. Lord Gunthar’s armor is kind of plain. Even his scabbard is unadorned. Not really living up to the whole Grand Master of Knights look.

I think I will enjoy this challenge a lot this year. I had fun painting this classic miniature and I’m looking forward to doing more.

Braska Triskelion, Gamester

No one ever enjoyed playing games with Braska Triskelion; but everyone hated playing against him. That’s because no matter how much grace one may possess, no one likes to lose all the time, especially to the same opponent. Braska had a hard time keeping friends, but he acquired enemies easily; or as he preferred to call them, “sore losers”. Easy enough for him to say, because he didn’t really know what it meant. He didn’t understand how it felt to lose, sore or otherwise; because Braska Triskelion never lost at anything.

From early childhood, Braska Triskelion had an obsession with games. He preternaturally grasped and mastered the rules of any puzzle, riddle, contest or match; whether of skill, wit or cunning. Though possessed of extraordinary agility and coordination, Braska was not robust. Despite this, he occasionally played at sports and other physical pursuits, though he did not enjoy them. He was nevertheless always able, through his disciplined mind, to employ superior tactics or devise some winning strategy for his team.

Vast wealth came quickly and easily to him. With his abilities, he was able to make a killing in both the gambling houses and in professional contest circuits around the world, all in record time. By the age of twenty, Braska Triskelion was fabulously rich, with more wealth than any one of the sovereign rulers of the land; and more than many of them combined. But, as is the case with those who breathe the rarified air of being the undisputed best at what they do, Braska Triskelion was bored. He decided to get a job.

He hired himself out as a gamester and puzzle-solver extraordinaire. No opponent was too skilled for him to lay low, no riddle or conundrum was above his talents, no trap beyond his ability to defeat. He charged exorbitant prices to those who could afford them, but he was known to apply his skills and wits to any problem or challenge, free of charge, if it interested him enough.

In Evalaux, he negotiated the Puzzle Maze of Durwald D’Orsay, a trap-filled abattoir of mythic renown responsible for the deaths of countless daring adventurers; and claimed the fabled Ruby of Carmina from within. It took him less than one hour. In Mornellorn, he bested the Gynosphinx Volira in a riddle battle that lasted two days, most of which were spent in silence as the monster contemplated (with increasing frustration) the solution to Braska’s opening (and only) riddle. She guessed wrong. In Isoq, Braska stunned the Sultan and his entire court when, after a sumptuous welcoming feast, he opened the fabled Tomb of Ab-Vorath after gazing at the complex diagrams on the door for less than five minutes. The tomb had defied the wisest of Isoq’s viziers, the most determined tomb-robbers and the bravest of adventurers for centuries. In Thord, Braska Triskelion played Hnefatafl with the Storm Giant Gymir, rumored to be the most cunning and skilled ever to play the game, and defeated him five times.

In a row.

By the age of forty, Braska Triskelion had enough quatloos in his treasure hoard to be the envy of dragons everywhere. His name and fortune were known across the Ten Kingdoms, and naturally, there were attempts to take what Braska Triskelion had won for himself fair and square. Although he didn’t care much for his fortune (how much can one man spend, really?), Braska did care about fair play. He never cheated at any game or contest he took part in, and he felt that if anyone was going to take his treasure, they would have to get it the same way he did. By winning it.

Thus, he took measures to protect his hoard.

Braska’s private Island, Windisle, was an early prize he had won by betting the famously-dour Duke of Cornedayl that he could urinate all over his throne room and make the Duke thank him for it afterward. There is no record as to how Braska accomplished this; but his ownership of Windisle, long a territory held by the Royal Family of Cornedayl, proves that he did. Windisle is an inhospitable place encircled by the Reef of Shattered Ships. There, high upon the Cliffs of Vexation, Braska constructed a vault which he named the Toy Box; a multi-level dungeon filled with traps and deadly monsters, summoned guardians and magical wards. He hired the best guards: veteran warriors, mighty magic-users and cunning assassins, and paid them handsomely. And he placed his treasure within its walls.

Now, any who want the fabled wealth of Braska Triskelion have only to take it; either by braving the death trap that is the Toy Box, or, if one doesn’t wish to risk almost-certain death, by beating Braska in a fair contest. Any game will do, but you only get one try.

Take your shot. Braska Triskelion hopes you succeed.

He’s genuinely curious to know how it feels to lose.

For my final Character of the Month for 2021, I chose to do a Rogue. Of course, I didn’t have much of a choice, as it was the only character class I hadn’t done yet. Braska Triskelion is, of course named after the classic Star Trek episode, The Gamesters of Triskelion, in which Kirk, Chekov and Uhura are forced into gladiatorial combat for the amusement of a trio of disembodied brains, who wager quatloos on the outcome of the contests. It is unclear (and never explained) how disembodied brains would enjoy winning (and presumably spending) money.

Angelique Pettyjohn is also in the episode.

“Braska Triskelion” is the Deadly Gamesman from Black Scorpion Miniatures. I’ve had this miniature for almost 12 years. I was going to use him as a crazed, game-obsessed nobleman in my D&D 3.5 campaign; then I was thinking he’d make a cool supervillain for Super Mission Force. Either way, I never got around to painting him until now.

That’s it for my Character of the Month challenge, and that’s it for 2021! Up next, my 2022 Resolutions.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Darl Mandos, “Mandos the Magnificent”; and a Monster May(hem) Update!

Unlike most of those taking part (see below), I’ve been making slow progress on my Monster May(hem) projects this month. I recently hit a wall where I’m doing more staring than painting, so to give myself a kickstart I decided to crank out my Character of the Month for May. This month I decided to do a sorcerer.

(If you don’t care about my sorcerer and are just here for Monster May(hem), scroll down below.)

Even as a youth, Darl Mandos always stood out among the citizens of Snakehollow; renowned as the fattest and laziest halfling any of the village elders could recall. Darl’s appetite and corresponding gluttony was already legendary by the time he reached the age of 55, the so-called prime of his life. There seemed to be nothing he would not eat or drink if it was offered (and often when it was not); nor would he stop until every last morsel was gone. “Enough” was not a word that Darl Mandos ever understood.

When not eating, he was content to while away his days doing nothing, sleeping, or looking for more food. Although he was tolerated by the folk of Snakehollow he pushed the limits of their hospitality on more than one occasion. It turns out that there is such thing as a Halfling who eats too much and does too little, after all.

Put simply, Darl didn’t feel he should do anything he didn’t enjoy. He didn’t enjoy farming. He didn’t enjoy brewing. He didn’t enjoy baking. He DID enjoy meats and vegetables, good beer and fresh bread and pies, though; so he decided he would occupy his time with eating, along with his beloved companion and the one thing able to eat just as much as Darl Mandos: his goat, Mingo.

Darl would have lived a life remarkable only for its idleness had not Tom the Winker moved into a farm on the outskirst of Snakehollow. Tom the Winker was a miserable sort who rebuffed all attempts at friendship and good-neighborly-ness. He got his nickname among the halflings of Snakehollow because of his seemingly uncontrollable habit of winking, a tic he picked up, unbeknownst to them, because a mule he was beating decided to beat back. When Mingo wandered onto his land, Tom the Winker took that to mean Mingo was now his property. He threw the goat into a pen and promptly forgot all about it.

Mingo was likely to starve before he was butchered by Tom the Winker; but, much to the amazement of the people of Snakehollow, Darl Mandos decided to do something he had never even considered before in his life. He decided to act.

When Tom the Winker saw the obese halfling on his doorstep, he laughed aloud. When Darl asked politely for the return of his friend, Mingo, Tom the Winker grabbed a threshing flail and shook it in Darl’s face, threatening to use it on him if he didn’t leave immediately. That’s the last thing Tom the Winker remembers about the encounter. When he awoke from a peaceful slumber several hours later, he found Mingo gone. He also found the half-wheel of cheese that was in his sideboard missing, along with half a dozen eggs and a smoked ham.

The residents of Snakehollow expected Darl to return from Tom the Winker’s farm bruised, bloodied and without a goat. Instead, they discovered something about Darl that he already knew about himself. Darl Mandos was a sorcerer, born with an innate talent for magic. Through magic, he was able to put people to sleep and produce other effects as well, such as opening locked pantry doors and entrances to preserve cellars. While Darl found his abilities more convenient than, say, finding a key first; he didn’t like to use them overmuch because doing so required effort.

Since the folk of Snakehollow learned of Darl’s talents, he has become of service to his people, whether he likes it or not. In truth, he has warmed to his role a bit. He likes to yell things like “Presto!” and “Alakazam!” whenever he pulls off a big spell.

Darl’s familiar is the enormous goat named Mingo who is much like his master: fat, well-fed, good-natured and somewhat lazy. Mingo takes frequent naps.  Most afternoons, Darl joins Mingo if he has nothing else to do (and he rarely does). Darl accepts payment for his magical services in baked goods and beer. He doesn’t want to go adventuring (too much effort); but he does enjoy the feeling that he is contributing something to his community for a change.

The miniature I used for Darl Mandos is Reaper’s Del Brairberry, Halfling Wizard; sculpted by Glenn Harris. The Carrion Crawler is a previous Monster May(hem) submission by Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures, painted in 2019.

Just because I’m dragging ass this month doesn’t mean everyone else is. There are some truly awesome Monster May(hem) submissions already, with more to come. Here’s the blogroll!

And here are some links to the submissions so far!

Matt from PM Painting has outdone us all so far. He got his hands on Cthulhu: Death May Die and has used Monster May(hem) as an excuse to plow through the awesome miniatures in the game! Good on you, Matt! So far he’s done an Elder Thing, a Shoggoth, a Byakhee, some Ghouls and Deep Ones, and a Star-Spawn of Cthulhu! No way does Matt have all his Sanity anymore; you can paint that many blasphemous horrors and not expect a rubber room in your future!

Roger from Rantings from Under the Wargames Table has jumped in with two Prehistoric Cats, with a possible scratch-build to come! (I love that guy!)

The dread Carrion Crow has started his submission, and all I can say is…“WEN-DIIIIII-GOOOOO!” Happy to see the Crow is back!

Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop sculpted a Krayt Dragon (seen on The Mandalorian) from scratch and painted it, and man, does it look awesome! You continue to amaze me, Dave!

Azazel is KILLING IT!! He painted a Coral Golem, an Umber Hulk and a Sand Kraken (which is a truly terrifying beast from Shadows of Brimstone)!! HIs painting skills are insaaaane!!!

Tom (no relation to Tom the Winker; wink, wink) from The Good Ground has jumped in this year and painted a Red Slaad! Tom’s the only person I “met” on Instagram who already knew me from this blog, so I’m thrilled he’s on board this year! (To my knowledge, he has never beaten a mule.)

Mark A. Morin painted this amazing Aztec Temple Sacrificial Altar! I know, it’s not technically a monster; but Mark asked if he could include it and it looks so great I couldn’t say no! (Plus, I’d be a hypocrite if I said HIS building doesn’t count as a monster…stay tuned to see why…) Check out Mark’s Aztec project he’s been plugging away at; it’s truly inspiring!

You guys are putting me to shame with the quality and frequency of your submissions. I haven’t had a chance to swing by your respective blogs long enough to leave comments, but I’ll be there shortly! Thanks again for making this so much fun!

Raphinfel, “The Adored”

My “Character of the Month” for March isn’t MY character at all. Raphinfel, “The Adored”, is the creation of Jon, producer and creator of the brilliant Tale of the Manticore podcast, which you should all be listening to. As such, Raphinfel’s story isn’t mine to tell, so apologies in advance for those expecting my customary prose. You can hear it for yourself by checking out Tale of the Manticore: 31 short episodes and counting, all really good.

Unless I’m completely missing the point, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that Raphinfel is a wizard. Not the good kind of wizard. The other kind.

The miniature I used is Lamann, Sorcerer (02807), by Reaper Miniatures, sculpted by James van Shaik; but as I said, Raphinfel is a Wizard (actually called a Magic-User in Basic Dungeons & Dragons), not to be confused with the “official” D&D Sorcerer class, which will get its own “Character of the Month” at some point.

Although I’m pretty happy with how he turned out (and hope Jon is, too), this miniature would be a perfect miniature to display some Object Source Lighting (OSL) techniques as that crystal ball is begging for it. But I suck at that, and I wanted Raphinfel to look good, not sucky. Maybe if I wasn’t on a timetable I would be more inclined to mess around, but to be honest I’m a coward when it comes to risking the work I’ve already put into a model.

I haven’t decided what class will be featured next month yet. In the meantime, Imperial Rebel Ork has put out a call for hobbyists to display their geeky T-Shirts this month. Although I have far too many to display, here are a couple I’m proud of.

I bought this at Gen-Con in 2012, and to be honest I forgot I had it. It recently resurfaced from the depths of my dresser. While I was disappointed by Cloverfield, I have never been disappointed by my old furry pal, Grover. (He’s the Monster at the End of this Book, after all.)

Next, This T-shirt just arrived yesterday, all the way from Ireland, which is why it’s so wrinkled from the long trip over the water. It should come as no surprise to any who regularly visit this site that I would be powerless to resist the Vitruvian Dwarf, made by Quertee, purveyor of limited edition T-shirt designs. I am trying desperately not to give in and buy their “Surf Arrakis” and “Let’s Summon Demons” shirts. I’m managing.

So far.

Anyway, this fulfills my Character of the Month resolution with weeks to spare, unlike last month. New post soon!

Aramise Del’Arco; Arbiter of Disputes

Well, I’m not off to a good start with my 2021 Resolutions. I’m already a month behind on my Character of the Month. For Fem-bruary’s character I chose a to paint a fighter; and here she is, better late than never. Nevertheless, being late doesn’t get me off the hook for another character this month, so watch this space for my official submission for March. In the meantime, this miniature is Rhaine, Rogue; from Reaper Miniatures, sculpted by Werner Klocke. At least, that’s what she’s called now. My blister said “Rhaine, Duelist”; so I decided to stick with that concept for her backstory.

Among the rich and powerful nobility of Evalaux, disputes are often settled at swordspoint. Despite this, most nobles barely know which end of a dueling saber or pistol to hold, never mind how to employ one for its intended purpose. The richest noble houses have fencing masters on staff, ready at a moment’s notice to avenge an insult or satisfy the slighted feelings of their patrons. If, however, yours is not one of the richest houses; or if you have recently suffered the inconvenient (yet permanent) loss of a fencing master due to poor job performance, then you must hire one; else be at the mercy of the social jabs and thrusts of the aristocracy.

Aramise Del’Arco is the most sought-after duelist in Evalaux. She has been offered fencing master positions at the most prestigious and wealthy houses; positions she has declined. Some of the masters of these houses saw her refusal as an insult and made the poor decision to hire a duelist of their own to seek redress. Aramise Del’Arco killed every one without compassion or apology. Thus, the nobility of Evalaux must content themselves with never having the best duelist under permanent retainer; and they must fear that Aramise Del’Arco may one day show up on their own doorstep in the employ of a rival.

Aramise Del’Arco does not work solely for the nobility. In the crowded streets and back alleys of Evalaux, crime lords, cults and other nefarious organizations have all used her talents. Provided you can afford her, Aramise Del’Arco is for hire. But be certain you pay the bill when it comes due.

You may ask why. An illustrative example: before he was known as “No-Nose, One-Eared, One-Eyed Rickard”, Rickard the Butcher was a man to be feared in the dark underworld of Evalaux. When he decided to send three bravos after Aramise Del’Arco rather than pay her fee for her elimination of a rival, Aramise Del’Arco gave him the visually-appropriate nickname he enjoys at present.

As for the bravos, they didn’t get nicknames. They just got dead, and Aramise Del’Arco got her money.

Aramise Del’Arco is a mystery. No fencing master in Evalaux can say she was their pupil or their classmate. No one knows where she came from or how she became so skilled with a blade. All that is known about her is that she is quite possibly the finest swordswoman alive; and that she will work for anyone who meets her price. Once hired, she will work until the terms of the contract have been fulfilled. She cannot be bought off or bribed; but make no mistake: she is no assassin. If an opponent dies in the course of a lawful duel, then so be it; but she will not murder for hire, and sad indeed is the person who would make the mistake of assuming so.

I instantly fell in love with the “unofficial” duelist character class when I saw it collected in Best of The Dragon (magazine) Vol. 4, and promptly made one of my longest-running AD&D characters ever: a half-elf duelist who constantly found himself embroiled in political games with players much bigger than he. I used him as an inspiration for this Character of the Month.

Check back soon for March’s submission!

Kurn Velden, High Priest of Yevona

For my first character of 2021, I created a cleric. The miniature I chose is the War Priest kit from Avatars of War. I picked this miniature for three reasons: one, because he’s awesome; two, because I have had him for at least 8 years; and three, because he was sitting in my side pile, and I didn’t get to him (or anything else in the pile) like I wanted to in December.

Like most Avatars of War miniatures, this kit offers choices when it comes to assembling your hero. I chose two hammers, but I also had the additional options of giving him a holy symbol or a shield. If you have to ask why I would choose two warhammers over these other options, then welcome to Dead Dick’s Tavern, because you’re obviously new here.

While I painted him, I thought up a back story. Here it is:

Yevona is the goddess of purity and virtue, healing and knowledge in the service of good.  Yevona’s clergy are many, and are primarily clerics, although many monasteries and knightly orders serve the goddess as well. Priests, mendicants, friars, and healers revere Yevona, as do all good-aligned beings. Several orders of paladins and warrior-priests protect her Faithful and bring her light where it is needed most (and often welcomed least).

Kurn Velden is one of the goddess’s most devout and zealous faithful, raised as a foundling by the Sisterhood of Chadirra; a female monastic order devoted to healing and wisdom. Although the order is peaceful and pacifistic, there have been times in the Sisterhood’s past when they came under threat. As a result, they created the office of Champion of the Order; a position traditionally filled by the most qualified sister, most often a former warrior or soldier retired to the cloistered life. Kurn Velden is the first male to ever hold the office; because, despite the peaceful teachings of the Sisterhood, Kurn Velden has a talent for war.

Velden wields the Strikers of Undjask; twin magical warhammers forged in centuries past, once borne by one of Yevona’s greatest paladins and imbued with the power of the goddess herself. These divine artifacts are potent against the forces of darkness, especially the undead. (D&D 5E: On a critical hit against any undead creature, the Strikers automatically cast Divine Smite at Velden’s current level. This does not use a spell slot.)

While some in the order disapprove of his zeal for combat, others recognize him as a gift from the goddess; a bulwark against those who would do the order harm. Those who would threaten the Sisterhood will find Kurn Velden all too ready to meet them, singing a song of praise to the goddess with hammers in hand.

These pictures were taken with my new iPhone, which seems to work just fine with WordPress now. I use the same camera for my Instagram photos. The resolution is insane, so any flaws (and there are many) stick out like a sore thumb. Less work for me, but more unforgiving. Good and bad, I guess…

Monster May(hem) Straggler: The Dung Monster!

First: Thanks to everyone who took part in Monster May(hem), formerly called Monster Month, but now irrevocably changed, thanks to Roger. You guys are awesome, and there were many impressive and inspirational submissions. It’s my hope to continue this annually. I’ve hosted some challenges in the past, but this one seems to be the one that resonated best with people. In addition to my good buddies Roger (Dick Garrison) and Jeremy (Carrion Crow), I got to meet some new hobbyists, like Matt from PM Painting and Ken from Blue Moose Arts; as well as deepen my acquaintance with Dave from Wargames Terain Workshop, Harry from War Across the Ages, and returning participant Coyotepunc, who once converted a Toob tapir into a wizard (still love that). So, bring on Monster May(hem) 2021!

One of the great things about Zoom meetings where I don’t need to be on camera is that I can do whatever I want while “listening” to whatever drivel someone spouts off. This morning, I decided to paint one of the two monsters I didn’t get to by the end of the month (i.e. yesterday).

This is the “Dung Monster”, by Reaper. It’s their version of the Otyugh, a classic (if somewhat disgusting) Dungeons and Dragons monster. Otyughs live in filth, mostly trash and shit. This is what they usually eat, too (unless some tasty adventurers are doing a dump dive); so you can imagine the smell coming out of that massive cakehole must be pretty horrific.

This miniature came together quite by accident. I wasn’t planning on painting him for Monster May(hem)…in fact, I forgot I even had him. That’s because he was part of that same Craigslist lot that gave me the Marauder Giant I painted yesterday (2 posts in 2 days. BOOM.). I accidentally mixed too much Magic Sculpt while filling the gaps in the giant, so I had to use it lest it dry out (that shit’s not cheap). I rooted around in my insanity pile…kind of like an otyugh roots around in well, shit…and found him. I put him together and thought…”well, if there’s time this month…”

I decided there was time. This thing wasn’t gonna sit on my desk for another year, not when I had an interminably boring Zoom meeting to sit through. So I painted him.

This guy is actually a pretty old Reaper miniature, and he’s all metal, as his current price tag will attest ($12.99!) For those of you who want your own shit monster but don’t want to pay that much, you can find a different version in the Bones range for about 4 bucks. It also looks quite good, but different.

So, how did I achieve this particular shade of putrescence? I gave him a base coat of Vallejo Brown Violet (the violet part of which eludes me), then highlighted him with Army Painter Hemp Rope, followed by Army Painter Sulfide Ochre. Then, I gave it a final highlight of Citadel Zamesi Desert before washing the whole thing in Citadel Athonian Camoshade. Not bad for a couple of hours work, and certainly preferable to sitting through a Zoom meeting without painting anything.

I still have one monster on my desk that I didn’t get to last month. You can expect to see it soon, because like this ugly fellah here, that guy isn’t sitting on my desk for another year, either.

The New Golden Age of RPGs

A funny thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I got a notification from Amazon that my package had been delivered, which I found odd because I did not recall ordering anything. I ventured outside and lo and behold, a mysterious box was resting comfortably on my doorstep. I opened it up and found this:

I checked my order history and sure enough, I had ordered it the night before, but I had no memory of doing so. I opened up the liquor cabinet and regarded the level of gin in the bottle with a critical eye.

Well, that one look explained a lot.

My first impression of the game is that it looks like a lot of fun. With rules for running both cinematic games (where you’re likely to die) and campaigns (where you might live), it’s a comprehensive system that’s very true to the source material. The book itself is beautiful, but to be honest it could be about half the size; much of the pages are light on actual text, taken up instead with (beautiful) illustrations and lots of empty space. It’s a design choice, but it also contributes to the cost of the finished product. I don’t know if I’ll ever run it or play it, but it’s a great read nonetheless and it has inspired me to dig out my Dark Horse Aliens comics for some re-reading.

I have been on a RPG buying spree lately. It started before Christmas (when I was supposed to be shopping for others) and hasn’t really let up. In addition to my unexpected Alien purchase, I bought all of these:

Not to mention several supplements and sourcebooks for Star Trek Adventures and Red Markets not pictured here. (Addiction is a disease, people, and it’s real. Sadly, one addiction often feeds another, as in the case of my gin-fueled Amazon binge that made me the owner of a hardcopy of the Alien RPG.)

The keen-eyed among you may notice I haven’t even opened my 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons set or my Delta Green set yet. This is because I have been all-in on getting my Star Trek Adventures game up and running (more on that soon ) and delving deeply into Red Markets, which is a 400+ page hardcover I had printed at Indie Press Revolution. (I just can’t seem to navigate PDFs very well. I prefer books.)

What do these games have in common? Well, all of them have received stellar reviews, and all of them are extremely well-produced. I became aware of some of them from listening to various podcasts and watching YouTube videos. The small press is king nowadays, and Kickstarter has a lot to do with that. Otherwise it’s unlikely games like Red Markets would ever get made, and that is a shame indeed, because it’s pretty damn cool, with a system that is unique, innovative and often very harsh.

I have been a Call of Cthulhu player since I was in high school, and D&D since well before that. So why buy into new editions? Put simply, because that’s what people play nowadays. My last edition of CoC was the d20 OGL edition, which was great (at least I thought so, but I like the d20 system). Previous to that it was 5th edition. Now I can’t hear enough great things about 7th edition, and it’s what my friends play. If I want to run a game (and I do), then this is the way to do it. Ditto with Dungeons and Dragons. My last edition was 3.5. I skipped the horror of 4th edition entirely, and would have been happy to play 3.5, Pathfinder or even go back to 2nd edition for the rest of my life. But once again, I hear the buzz, and it’s pretty universally great. I picked up the core rulebooks to give it a shot.

I never played Delta Green in its earlier incarnation. Listening to actual play podcasts has given me the fever to run a few games of this, as it’s pretty much made for the one-shot scenario (and that’s about all I can seem to get going nowadays). This current edition has received almost universally positive press. Much like Alien, I don’t know if I’ll ever actually play it, but I know I will enjoy reading it.

Finally: Savage Worlds. I’ve been hearing about this system for years now. Much like Fate and GURPS, it’s a universal roleplaying system that gives players a lot of agency in how they create and play their characters. I haven’t had much time to look these rules over and it’s unlikely that I’ll run a game using them, but I collect rules sets, and always like to see what various systems offer.

I mentioned I wouldn’t have even heard of some of these games if it weren’t for my new love of actual play and gaming podcasts. (Since I don’t get to play very often, I can at least listen as others do.) I’ll list my favorites here, along with my pithy commentary. You can obviously find them anywhere you get podcasts, but I’ll link to their respective homes on the web.

The Roleplaying Exchange: These folks play a lot of games I like, like Star Trek Adventures, Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green and Slasher Flick. This is the first podcast I found, and through it I discovered many of the small-press games I’ve bought since. They share the Red Markets 10K Lakes campaign with Technical Difficulties, so you can find episodes crossing over on both podcasts. In addition to actual play, they do a lot of interviews with game creators and discuss topics related to the roleplaying hobby as well.

Speaking of Technical Difficulties, they play a lot of Red Markets (among other things). I have mixed feelings about this podcast, good and bad. The good: They play small press games. They have a handle on the rules and illustrate them well during the podcast. They have interesting ideas for game scenarios. The bad: they’re mostly annoying people to listen to. You will lose track of how many times someone utters the sentence “That’s fair”, often when there was never any question of the fairness of anything. (It’s like a shared nervous tic.) Not everyone is insufferable; some regular players are funny and interesting in spite of the podcast’s shortcomings. But sadly, it’s often true that there’s always at least one huge asshole in every gaming group. (If you don’t think there is one, then chances are it’s probably you.) This group has more than one. I won’t name names, but let’s just say there’s a guy who has to correct everyone all the time, another guy who only plays asshole characters because “that’s what I like to do”, and another guy who always wants to start some player vs. player bullshit. Luckily, not all of these people are on every podcast. Assholish behavior is generally not my cup of tea (YMMV, of course), but I can grit my teeth and enjoy what they do offer, which are some good examples of various games’ rules in play. I learned of several games I would have otherwise missed through this podcast. And I DID subscribe to it, so obviously I feel there is some value in listening.

Terrible Warriors: This is hands-down my favorite actual play group to listen to. The podcasts are all about an hour or less, the pacing is top-notch, they play REALLY interesting games, and the players are fantastic. I would love to play in this group. Unfortunately (for me), they’re based in Toronto. They play a lot of Star Trek Adventures (which is how I found them), but they play a lot of Kickstarter-funded games as well. It’s through them that I discovered so many indie games I would have otherwise never heard of. Recent highlights are Bluebeard’s Bride, a feminine horror game in which the players all play a part of the Bride’s persona (an awesome concept I wish I thought of) as they explore her new home and create their own version of the classic fairy tale; and Zombie World, a diceless card-based rpg that plays so smoothly, I’m dying to try it out. Both of these are from Magpie Games and use the new Powered by the Apocalypse Engine. Well worth a look, and I can’t recommend the podcast enough. Sometimes they get the rules wrong, but they always manage to have a lot of fun nonetheless.

The Lovecraft Tapes: This is an actual play 7th edition Call of Cthulhu podcast that uses Roll20. (It doesn’t look like they’ve done anything for 2020 yet, so maybe they’re on a break.) Although it’s a horror game, it’s often quite funny rather than scary, and the amount of time they put into editing it is apparent. Once again, each session is usually about an hour long. Great fun, with a talented GM.

One Less Die: I became aware of this actual play podcast through the creator’s appearance on the Roleplaying Exchange. It’s still in the early stages, with the beginning episodes focusing on the latest edition of Shadowrun. The Shadowrun campaign is still ongoing, but I started listening when they began a Call of Cthulhu campaign. I got annoyed because one of the players is playing a Russian investigator and he insists on talking like the most over-the-top Pavel Chekov you can imagine, so I bailed on it for a while. It sounded promising, so I’ll probably give it another shot at some point.

Coming next: the conclusion to my Fantastic Worlds Star Trek campaign: Hubbard’s World!