Monday, 10 October 2016

Family gaming pt.2: the depths of the castle

The kids have been badgering me to play another instalment of our family gaming, continuing from the last adventure which ended in the adventurers finding a trapdoor in the ruined castle.

For a dungeon based game we used the Heroquest rules as a starting point, but used these houserules:

  • All characters can walk 4 squares. If they walk 4 squares then they can also complete two other actions: attack, cast a spell or investigate the area
  • Characters can instead run 6 squares but forgo any other activity
  • Investigating the area could trigger a wandering monster or the discovery of treasure, traps or equipment
  • The spell-casting character (oldest daughter) can cast any spell she can think of (she has to use her imagination). For it to be successful she has to use rhyme in her spell incantation and had to roll under a GM determined amount - dependent upon how strong the spell is deemed. She only uses one battle dice in combat.
  • My middle daughter and young son had two combat characters so could use three dice in combat. My daughter's character also had a mind control spell which she could cast on an 8+ but easier on a weaker character and harder on a stronger character. And she can throw a knife. My son could attack twice..
  • Plus lots of other rules I made up as we played to help the flow of the game and keep them interested. Oh and treasure was in the form of jelly beans!

  • The three young adventurers descend the stairs into a dank and smelly dungeon. The walls are lined with moist moss and there are mushrooms growing through the cracks in the cold stone floor.

    Son runs ahead eager to explore and smashes open the locked door with his flail. At the end of the corridor he can see a couple of skeleton guardsmen. The female adventurers explore the room hoping for some early treasure. There is none.

    The little fella's not phased by the two skellies, "let me at 'em" he cries!

    And they were indeed quickly dispatched with a spell and a swing of the trusty flail. The spell went thus:
    "Swords and daggers have us all,
    Smash these monsters into the wall!"

    Middle daughter decides to leave the fighting to the other two and open the door which was mid way along the corridor.

    Inside she discovers a chef hard at work making gruel for all the dungeon monsters. In a bit of rpg fun they had a discussion:
    Daughter: "can you help us explore the dungeon?"
    Chef: "no I'm busy cooking"
    D: can you give us anything to help us on our quest?"
    C: "No, I'm busy cooking and I know your type, don't start rummaging through my stuff".
    D: "You're not very nice!"
    C: "Hmph".

    The end of the conversation. So what did my daughter do? That's right with her last available action of the turn she rummaged through some barrels! She was given a 7+ roll to make to enable stealth, which she failed and the chef heard her and ran after her! (Some sort of lesson to be learnt there?)

    Here you can see her legging it from the angry chef (sideways?)

    As the party moves into the next room, they see a wealthy looking man standing next to some gold chests. Without any hesitation they ran up to him and started rummaging through his gold coin! Should I be concerned? Well they should be, the man is actually a witch who had cast an illusion and the chests of gold turned into zombies!!!

    A slightly greedy older daughter faces off against a newly revealed witch and some zombies. She rummaged through those chests without even asking and now they're gravestones. The witch continues an incantation of sorts until my spellcasting daughter successfully casts a freeze spell on the witch with the rhyme:
    "Frozen in motion that's what you shall be,
    because you're a bad witch who smells like wee wee!"

    My middle daughter decides to return to the chef and apologise (worried that he may turn against her). He is pleased with her apology and then warns her of the witch who haunts the nearby rooms. When he is told that she's raised some zombies against her siblings the chef becomes enraged and charges off to confront the old hag!

    The Chef joins in the melee and soon all the zombies and the witch are no more. He returns to his cooking, concerned that a pot has boiled over. The kids discover some more chests of coin and gain some jelly beans too.

    Intrepid son marches on through the adjoining door where a rickety old bridge spans the sewers. An agility roll was passed and he continues onwards.

    But on ringing the bell at the portcullis, a giant stinking rat appears squeaking and trying to bite his ankles! Fight! 

    Meanwhile his sisters continue to explore the witches room and in their thorough searching of the gravestones they unleash a wight! Thankfully spellcasting daughter makes up a protective spell whilst they attack the undead witch:

    "I need a safety bubble to cover us three,
    so we can get away from this witch who smells like wee wee"

    A slight repetition of the witches unappealing smell, but successful spell casting none the less.

    Middle daughter, trying to harvest as many jelly beans as possible, without actually getting involved in any fighting, notices a section of floor above the room. She nimbly jumps up on the successful roll of a 7+ and finds another treasure chest with gold coin, a battle axe and a scared cat (that used to be the witches familiar). But with the witch dead the cat has returned to it's normal self. She names the cat Tigger and they have a new model in the adventurers party (and a few jelly beans to eat).

    Having slain the rat with ease the adventurers, led by the youngest boy approach the final room, a splendid throne room. They notice the ornate decoration as they enter but are soon stopped in their tracks by the sound of a whimpering princess and a nasty looking old dwarf with a walking spellbook. Behind all of this is a dead man on a throne and a set of stairs leading up and (hopefully) out.

    I was intrigued by how they would approach this scenario, fully expecting my kids to charge in and fight and look for more gems/sweets. But they had a short consultation (away from me) and starting asking the dwarf some questions..:

    Children: "Princess are you ok?"
    Princess: "I'm scared and I want to go home"
    Children: "Dwarf, why are you being horrible to the princess, what has she done to you?"
    Dwarf (slightly taken aback): "Well I've kidnapped her and am awaiting my ransom, but it's none of your business"
    Children: "That's quite greedy and not very nice. Do you know all the creatures we've defeated to get here? We're not scared of you and just think you're not very nice"
    Dwarf: "Well I'm not scared of a bunch of kids and you can't tell me what to do".
    Children: "You should be scared!" And on this note my daughter cast a spell to animate the skeleton!!!

    "That old skeleton bring him to life,
    we want to cause this dwarf some strife"

    Now at this point as GM (and Dad) I was so proud of their approach that I let the spell be cast without a roll and decided that yes, indeed the Dwarf was scared by the skeleton and out-thought by the children. He asks to be spared.

    My daughters both say yes and my son says no! At this point I let the dwarf run away and my son instead decides to free the princess. And they all get rewarded!

    But possibly I got the biggest reward from playing this with them and watching them resolve situations in a range of different ways that showed a growing thoughtfulness (ie from running straight up to some gold, or rummaging in the kitchen when they had specifically been told not to - towards talking and challenging someone down from a difficult situation).

    Oh and here's one of my daughter's spell-sheets. I'll be keeping them so she can use them in future games. Next time we're going to try a watered down Frostgrave.

    Monday, 3 October 2016

    Retinue Table: 8 Mercenaries

    Rasham's Forgotten Bandits, aka "The Blotted". An irregular company of hire-swords formed of deserters, rebels and plain besmeared characters; Arthur Rasham brought them together to fight under his disgraced banner, the walking fish. Unfortunately the band is currently comprised of only eight members, as some of the deserters, have of course deserted as soon as new fighting was imminent, but the remaining fellows are a pretty tight group, a rabble joined together for a love of earning money by doing as little fighting as possible. This is partly achieved through wearing a strict uniform of grey and brick red - they look the part and appear to be a successful warband - and have indeed acquired several jobs alone through appearance and charade.  

    The uniform itself was pilfered by Rasham's ex-wife, who once worked as a washer woman for the army of the Elector Count of Talabheim. The rest of the uniform is stashed in a cave ready for more possible recruits in the future. It still hasn't been washed.

    So in order to stay ahead of their real reputation ("The Blotted") they must be in perpetual motion, hoping to earn coin in many far flung corners of the land. They currently find themselves in a northern territory working for a mysterious, bloated, acolyte; asked to patrol the northern bank of the River Druhx, with the only task being to challenge anyone attempting to cross the small stone bridge. Easy money, they think...

    Arthur Rasham. The leader of the Blotted and once a fearsome fighter, renowned for his strength and wavy broadsword. Now he lives off reputation and a silver tongue alone, as he tries to hide the gout from which he suffers from in his right foot.

    Old Bill Borthwick. Fought alongside Rasham when a younger man, but has recently developed a worrying habit of losing his weapons and forgetting simple instruction. He has been given the task of banner bearer for now.

    Jim "Mustard", Rasham's new right hand man. He thinks the nickname is because he's hot with a sword, his peers know it's because he's so keen to lick the arse of the boss.

    Ginge Porter. Likes to work from a distance with his trusty crossbow. Has been known to shit himself so the others aren't too worried about him being away from any possible action.

    "Tripod" Smithers, retains his reputation for madness in battle, but due to him losing his leg, became a bit of a liability. Hence why he's armed with a weapon of distance. However the loss of his limb has only added more significance to his nickname, acquired from anyone who has seen him bathing.

    Young Toby Clyne. Small time thief, pickpocketer and general annoyance amongst the crew. His ability to pilfer from an enemy makes them put up with him delving into their own scant possessions.

    "High Born" Hosty. Always refers to the lie that he was born into money (he believes the lie he was told) and assumes that he should be better off than he is. He takes it out on any enemy who looks wealthy, trying to bring them down to his level with a bloody blow to the head.

    "Bright Eyed" Bill Watts. Last Saturday, retreating as quickly as he could through the thick mud, from an enemy he hadn't even got close enough to see, Bill stumbled face first and nicked his forehead with his own spear. Thankfully none of the other lads had seen so his story quickly became one of how he had narrowly dodged an incoming arrow. No one believed him, his cowardly reputation and shitty lying preceded him.

    And a close up of the freehand banner, prior to weathering from the Tamiya Mudstick.

    So 8 Mercenaries for my Retinue Challenge; only a few more entries until I can call this Lost and the Damned project finished; 3 minotaurs, 3 harpies and 8 skaven to go....

    Tuesday, 20 September 2016

    My new workspace

    For the last five years or so, ever since we moved house, I haven't had a permanent and dedicated space to call my own, for my hobby. My lead and plastic pile is in the garage (still is), my painted miniatures in boxes under the bed (still are) and my painting, basing, converting tools and bits were in a small cupboard in the kitchen. I'd have to bring out my daylight angle-poise, get all my stuff out and then sit at the dining table - all of which was a bit of a mission before I'd even started. And then of course there's the tidying away which is a real pain in the arse if something was half-finished. This was a reason some things have remained half-finished (so I tell myself).

    So after a conversation with the house-boss, after I'd completed some diy/renovation in the front room to gain some brownie points, I bagged myself a spot. The brief from the missus, was: "don't spend much on furniture, make it tie in with what we already have and make sure it's kept clean and tidy" (with young kids in the house this was important to me too and of course is just good practise in my opinion). So the challenge was on!

    After a bit of research into "hobby spaces", I decided that a roll top desk was essential - I could hide my wip/stuff neatly behind a screen that came down when I'd finished for the day. But these aren't cheap. However a bit of ebay scouring found me this one (and not too far away) for £12:

    Open and desk top tucked in

    Open and desk extended out


    It's not very big, which actually suits me. I've always found that the larger the work surface the more chance there is of me filling it with stuff and clutter. I believe this is an old Ikea design and was originally used for computers, hence the pull out surface - but this also works in my favour as I can increase the workspace area when I'm working and store it away when I'm not. The existing furniture in the room is of a cream colour, so I had to get to work on this to fulfil the wife's remit. After some sanding, masking, priming, undercoating and furniture painting I ended up with this:

    Ready to get my painting on. The black chair was a fiver from the dump and just needed some cleaning up and a new nut and bolt.

    Previously I'd always had my paints in a tray which was a massive pain because I couldn't always see which paint was which from above and sometimes I'd spend way too much time trying to find a particular colour; so I decided to make a quick and easy paint rack from some leftover mdf and a few shelf supports. An hour or so later in the garage and I'd created one for all my paints!

    I don't have space for my tools and basing materials in here, but I'll be adding a small set of drawers just to the left of the desk for easy access. It will be great to have so much hobby close at hand.

    The anglepoise clipped on nicely to the top of the desk and I'm ready to go, or not, but it doesn't matter because I can just close up whenever I want and hide my stuff away:

    Here's a close up of the painting rack - a little bit of forethought and planning and then a little bit more making and it's fit for purpose.
    The next step will be to add a set of drawers to the left of the desk, to house my tools, bitz box and basing materials, and you can't quite see from pictures but there's a set of separate shelves above the desk which currently hold kids dvds etc. Well these will be "phased out" and replaced with some books that are key to my hobby, ie the RoC books and some other painting guides. The sides and back of the desk will display a few inspirational pictures too, that relate to current projects, so expect to see illustrations from Warlock of Firetop Mountain, some steampunked rogue trader nurgle sketches etc on there.

    Will I now become a bit more productive..? Well I have one less excuse now, and of course I've kept the missus relatively happy (although she's not a fan of the chair) which can only be a good thing. I'd better get some painting done then!

    Wednesday, 14 September 2016

    The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

    For me Fighting Fantasy is where this whole obsession with my hobby began, way before GW etc entered my life. And during my blogging life I've made a few scratchbuilt models to re-create the wonderfully evocative illustrations from the books. Recently I re-visited (with some trepidation) the first Fighting Fantasy book I ever read; The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

     I say trepidation because I was slightly worried that it would now not be quite as exciting and amazing as it was when I first read so many years ago in the local library. I was not disappointed. Ok the actual dungeon is not very difficult to explore and it's actually quite hard to die but the map I drew as I was exploring was relatively easy to construct (more on that later), the story is still great and the illustrations by Russ Nicholson are still as wonderful to pore over as they were back then. Now I can further appreciate his sense of a light space in a dungeon and the detailed textures and wonderful expressions on the often dim-witted monsters that are encountered (who can forget the sleeping Goblin sentry or the frightened orc slave taking a whipping?)

    I read the book several times, both in story mode to help make my map (because you just have to make a map) and in numerical order just to get to read every passage and see every illustration. But also because I want to recreate this dungeon in my model making. Yes that's right, I'm going to start on a crazy project that will see me re-create the illustrations from the book, so that a dungeon explore game can actually be played within the setting of Firetop Mountain, with familiar foes, landmarks and puzzles.
    So to kick this off, where better to start than with page 1:

    At last your two-day hike is over. You unsheathe your sword, lay it on the ground and sigh with relief as you lower yourself down onto the mossy rocks to sit for a moment's rest. You stretch, rub your eyes and finally look up at Firetop Mountain.

    The very mountain itself looks menacing. The steep face in front of you looks to have been svaged by the claws of some gargantuan beast. Sharp rocky crags jut out at unnatural angles. At the top of the mountain you can see the eerie red colouring - probably some strange vegetation - which has given the mountain it's name. Perhaps no one will ever know exactly what grows up there, as climbing the peak must surely be impossible.

    Your quest lies ahead of you. Across the clearing is a dark cave entrance. You pick up your sword, get to your feet and consider what dangers may lie ahead of you. But with determination, you thrust the sword home into its scabbard and approach the cave.

    You peer into the gloom to see dark, slimy walls with pools of water on the stone floor in front of you. The air is cold and dank. You light your lantern and step warily into the blackness. Cobwebs brush your face and you hear the scurrying of tiny feet: rats most likely. After a few yards you arrive at a junction. Will you turn west (turn to 71) or east (turn to 278)?

    And here's my interpretation of the original illustration through using some of the descriptive prose from the above text:

    But of course this is a photograph of my 3d model, so to align it even further with the original illustration I used an iPhone app called Prisma which puts a filter over the photograph, here I used the filter named Light Summer Reading:

     And here I used Heisenberg:

    And here you can compare it to Russ Nicholson's original drawing:

    Next I'll show you some WIP photos of the model-making process, using just a few tools and materials:

    An MDF offcut created the base and backing (screwed together with some brackets for support). A citadel tree was chopped down so as to curve further to the right, as in the illustration and mounted on a bit of cork for some rocks. Expanding foam was then built up for the side of the mountain (I used too much, it really did expand more than I was expecting!)

    I added a few brass leaves to the tree and carved away the cured expansion foam, trying to recreate the "steep face in front of you looks to have been svaged by the claws of some gargantuan beast. Sharp rocky crags jut out at unnatural angles."  Sand was added with some pva to the ground.

    I added some skulls to cocktail sticks to recreate the entrance, added further sand to the craggy mountain side and then tested some grey primer onto the foam. It distorted it slightly and created a further textured dimension to the rockface (even occasional drips like stalagtites from the ceiling of the cave entrance. Pure chance!
    I got carried away with the painting and forgot to take any wip photos, but after the grey primer the rocks were washed with a dark grey to get into the nooks. I then drybrushed with a loaded brush, successive lighter greys, ensuring the lightest was on the most raised areas. Lots and lots of washes were then applied, mainly ochres, greens and browns to introduce some moss like colours and a bit more interest. The ground was sprayed brown and then highlighted up with drybrushed lighter greys and browns. Finally some gloss varnish was poured down from the top which created little streams of water and pools of moisture. A couple of swamp tufts and liberal scattering of bitch seeds completed the vignette.
    Here you can see the structure.

    And the map which I drew up as I was exploring the dungeon. This took me right back to being a kid and will help me as I re-create each illustration throughout the book. To make it easier upon myself, I'll choose a route that actually gets me to the end, but a route that has the more interesting illustrations in (hence the page numbers to help me reference the illustrations):

    Finally as I was doing some research on this I found two nuggets. First of all I discovered that the illustration I've work from was not the initial sketch submitted, apparently this one here was (I think it is much more interesting and even slightly Ian Milleresque...):

    but it was decided that it did not fit the story as well - perhaps a bit too scary for the little ones? And then amazingly when I was completing my research, I found this Warlock of Firetop Mountain colouring book which has given me a chance to add colour to the original black and white version, kind of a reversal of what I achieved with the Prisma app on the photograph of my own model!

    My colouring in! I wanted it to be quite mute but with some patches of colour, which is kinda how I painted the model. Here I've used pencil shading, pretty quickly applied for the rocks and tree and then blended in a few colourful hues (greens, yellows and browns) to represent the natural, outside feel to the drawing.

    So until next time....