Sunday, 29 January 2012

Trolls & Harpies.

A mixture of old and new here, at least to me. The Giant Troll and the Trollwife below were miniatures that my brother and I bought right at the beginning of our roleplaying days, both came in those old style citadel miniatures plastic bags with the card tops with either Fantasy Tribes or Fiend Factor printed on them, I forget which either of these came in. These were both re-painted a couple of years back as part of my ongoing revamp of old gaming stuff.

Neither of them look particularly like the standard TSR style troll with his long carrot of a nose and rather simian gait which frankly is a mercy because I never really liked that take on the subject, the Trollwife above comes much closer to what is after all a particularly vicious being. The giant Troll on the other hand got used as a stand in for just about every other large and threatening monster that we came across but he is quite generic and not remotely trollish in any respect.

The Harpies in the photo below are a more recent purchase won in an online auction for about four quid  which was quite reasonable and they've painted up quite well. I always found Harpies a good nuisance monster with which to  torment player characters, the combination of charm person & flying could be really distracting. Not that great in themselves against higher level characters but still useful as scouts and spies for more powerful monsters.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Why do Geography Homework when you can create Fantasy Cities.

Well, according to my Father because it does your prospects of getting a job more good but I digress. Rooting around in some old roleplaying stuff this morning I came across this:

This being Palathar, the fantasy city I lovingly created as an adventuring base for a Runequest campaign I ran 25 years ago. Now I'm jumping ahead of myself here as I wanted to do a couple of retrospectives on the D&D stuff we played before getting sidetracked into other systems, but finding this bought back a lot of fond memories of playing Runequest so here goes with a bit of history on that instead.
My friends and I were latecomers to Runequest relatively speaking, we were familiar with the Gloranthan version of the system but never had any opportunity of playing it. There were many reasons principly the difficulty of getting hold of the material at prices we could afford.
Instead our introduction to it was the hardback book released under license by Games Workshop in 1987. Despite some initial reservations it was a hit, because I had bought the rules I was nominated GM ( a pattern that was to repeat itself more than once) and guided the other three novice players through character creation ending up with an Elf warrior, a civilized human priest and a human soldier. The initial adventure we ran through was "The Hill of Peace" published in White Dwarf where the fledgeling heroes were tasked with rescuing a merchants daughter from a religious cult led by a deranged Satyr.
This went off with a good measure of success and so began the above project that undoubtedly ruined any  chance of me ever getting a good job.
As things progressed the characters fell into bad company and ended up raiding a caravan carrying goods belonging to a powerful sorcerer, who happened to abide in the city depicted above. He magically imprisoned their souls and used this as leverage to force them to undertake various ill advised ventures to dark and dangerous places including the ghoul haunted ruins of Tha'al nan Jaax and the Plane of Anarchy where they were memorably pitted against motorcycle riding undead racing to retrieve an Ancient tome from a dead gods tomb ( shades of Moorcock here).
The climax of the campaign came after their sorcerous master was killed in a duel with a Nomad Shamen and the player characters penetrated the catacombs under the dead sorcerers tower to retrieve their souls from bezoars inside the bellies of two manticores. Epic stuff.

The city as depicted in the map is shown in a state of flux, the original docks in caverns under the sea cliffs having recently suffered from roof falls has led the authorities  to have new wharfages dug on the river bank, these in turn are served by newly erected wooden warehouses and protected with earth and timber ramparts. These are in the process of being superceeded by stone walls but only a short section has been completed at present. The city proper is based on an earlier settlement laid out on a grid system around the older fortress in the bottom half of the map, subsequent development has been less formalised and has led to a somewhat chaotic street plan particularly in the 'Shambles' at the back of the temple shown on the right hand side of the square. This naturally has become the more lawless end of town sheltering various rogues and ne'er do wells. The further east one travels the better the class of population with most of the artizan classes living in the oldest area of the city and merchants and petty lordlings living nearer to the port. The governer of the city lives in the newer castle overlooking the sea and his garrison either share this accommodation with him or are spread through various billets within the city.
Feel free to use it as you see fit, within reason of course. Hopefully at some point I'll turn up all literature I produced to go with it and upload that but in the meantime perhaps someone will find it useful as is.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Two takes on the Humble Gnoll.

I always liked Gnolls in D&D, more often than not they were my go to humanoid monster of choice when one was required. It wasn't as if I had anything against goblins and orcs but my teenage mind had them pigeonholed firmly in Middle Earth where they more formidable foes than their puny one hit dice TSR incarnation.
Frankly this did not fire my young imagination.
Bipedal hyaena headed dogmen on the other hand just leapt off the page; just imagine those reeking, brindle furred monstrosities pursuing low level characters through the tunnels of some murky undercroft. Fantastic!
It was fortunate then for me that the powers that be at Citadel miniatures were kind enough to produce a pack of these two legged hounds as part of their AD&D Miniatures range. Back then I did a rather horrible job of painting them so I recently stripped them back to bare metal and started again. I discarded the old, rather horrible plastic shields and replaced them with items sourced from the spares box; the fancy number in green comes from a GW wood elf hero and the round,rusty one is actually part of a plastic AFV kit that came to hand.
Overall these miniatures have stood the test of time well, the poses are a little static and the weapons are of the usual ridiculous proportions that seem de rigeur for fantasy miniatures even now, but other than that I like them.
As a comparison here are a pair of Ral Partha AD&D Gnoll Raiders that I picked up online recently:

These are more or less contemporary with the Citadel offerings- perhaps a couple of years later but demonstrate just how good that particular range of Ral Partha miniatures actually was, little wonder they can go for such high prices on Ebay.
Heres a comparison shot of the two versions:
This shows the differences in sculpting styles quite well, though they do match up quite well certainly well enough to mix the two together on the tabletop.

Post script. Just won another blister of the Ral Partha Gnolls on Ebay, £9.50 plus P&P for three which compares favourably with the Otherworld Miniatures Gnolls at £11.00 for three that I was contemplating buying last night.

Retro Dungeon Masters.

No not power mad teenage pedants struggling through reams of badly indexed rules, but scaled 3 dimensional representations of the actual dungeons. This is an ongoing project for me intended to supplement the rather meagre supply of actual retro dungeon terrain that I have available and I actually like the sculpting process as a means of relaxation. Access to easy to use materials is definitely a factor in this, the Palight foamed PVC is easy to cut & texture yet quite rigid whilst the blue insulation foam although a bit of an arse to cut into thin strips is simple to score detail onto with cheap & nasty sculpting tool and retains a nice rough finish that drybrushes well on the finished article.

After a final fettle these pieces will be used to create silicon rubber molds so I can cast the items up in either Herculite dental plaster or 2 part epoxy.
The herculite method has previously been my prefered method of casting as its dirt cheap and sets hard in about 15 minutes so its a quick way of producing multiple pieces, its also kind to the mould material. On the downside the pieces do need to be dried out for a couple of days in a warm place to fully get rid of any residual moisture before painting, otherwise some interesting molds of the organic variety can form inside the dungeon.
Using two part epoxy resin is a bit messier and if you want one that sets in a reasonably short time involves some fairly horrible chemicals that as well as being deleterious to ones health knacker up the moulds in fairly short order by hardening the rubber.
On balance I may try the resin method for the experience, its not as if this project is ever likely to become a commercial venture involving dozens of casting runs. I have tried previously to sell some of my pieces on Evil Bay but it seems the demand for retro dungeons is limited in the extreme.
However if anyone is interested I'm sure I could cast up a few extras for a small financial consideration, as long as you ask nicely :)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Mystery Dungeon. ( and some Bugbears.)

For obvious reasons most of the scenery items I have purchased over the last few years in my quest for retro dungeon perfection have been sourced via online auction. In most cases I can identify the manufacturer from either memory or from adverts placed in White Dwarf etc, however with the following pieces this has not been the case:

The pieces are cast in the usual off white epoxy resin and came with a few doors which initially led me to assume that the manufacturer was a company called Darkways who used to advertise in White Dwarf. This assumption was based on a single picture of a door that featured in their advert. However I recently came across some images of Hirst Arts cavern floor molds which look remarkably similar to the flagstone pattern depicted above, so now I'm wondering if these are someone else's homebrewed take on dungeon terrain.
Not that it really matters, just idle curiosity on my part but if anyone has any bright ideas let me know.

Heres some more eye candy: this time Ral Partha AD&D Bugbears that were finished off this afternoon.

Miniatures and the characters they represented.

A dungeoncrawl isn't a dungeoncrawl without miniatures, you could get away with counters or tokens I suppose but it doesn't really cut it. One of the eye openers for me as a callow youth was the realisation that someone out there made miniatures to represent the characters that you were creating, perusing the racks of Citadel/ Ral Partha miniatures in our local model shop made the 10 mile cycle ride into town seem far less onerous.
Pictured above is my first effort at painting white metal miniatures, using the Humbrol enamels. Considering he's thirty years old this year he hasn't weathered too badly. Although he's a Citadel Evil Cleric ( mounted) he was used to represent a lawful fighter going by the name of Beorn who was by far my longest running D&D character eventually making it all the way to 12th level when he retired and presumably had a long and prosperous old age.
He was replaced by the two reprobates depicted below:

 A dwarf fighter known as Alfred and the alarmingly titled Obnoxious a human illusionist. These fellows marked a departure from D&D into the heady world of AD&D where they both made it up to 4th level. They also marked a steady albeit temporary decline in my roleplaying activities as a new group of friends  garnered at sixth form college drew me into the world of wargaming.

Now obviously these ne'erdowells need opponents to fight, this role was admirably performed by the citadel C17 skeletons above. They also proxied for any number of other foes which I lacked the resources to acquire plus I've always liked skeletons.

Now moving forward to the present here is my current take on the same subjects.
Firstly the current adventuring party created for D&D.

These are all Darksword miniatures, all very new but based on the AD&D artwork produced in the 1980s.

Some of their intended opponents:

These are Denizen Miniatures Legion of the Damned undead, produced in the eighties but three decades later still the best undead ever made.
Thats all for now, next up some set dressing for the dungeon and hopefully some progress getting a group of players together for a dose of nostalgia.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Genesis of a New Project.

Lets start with a Big Bang.

I've always been a big fan of props for roleplaying games whether it be nicely presented physical clues for Call of Cthulu or scenery for dungeon crawls; in the latter case financial constraints as a teenager prevented me from fully expressing myself in this regard. As a consequence in latter years I have attempted to rectify this injustice by buying and creating suitably 'old school' dungeon terrain for just this purpose.
I present to you below some results of these labours:

This is my current  level two crawl lay-out, the majority of it is Torchlight Resin from back in the day, the round rooms and water corridor/sewer are my own home brew items, cast in home made silicon rubber moulds.

Some close ups:

A Torchlight throne room recently purchased via EvilBay and given a new paint-job.

More torchlight stuff, this time a plain room and pile of treasure, updated with magic ward round the treasure ( actually florists clear resin, but just as resilient).

Some home cast sections with florists resin water and an old GW plastic skeleton trapped like an insect in amber.
This old tomb/public utility level lies beneath a ruined town:

which due to being hidden in the dark and  shadows of an ancient forest forms level one of the dungeon.

Level two is accessed beneath this ancient temple:

which can be removed to expose this grim archway:

Physically a lot of this would not have been possible thirty years ago, not only were my motor skills not up to it but a lot of the scenic materials were not commonly available. The only elements that I could have bought would have been the Torchlight Resin rooms & corridors but living in the depths of Shropshire these things were not that accessible. The items that are assembled above have been hunted down via the internet over the last couple of years, its been a bit of an effort as they don't turn up that often but thats offset by that smell of originality that still attaches to them.