This blog is about the world of gaming miniatures, as seen from my perspective. I've been collecting and painting for over 30 years now, and while my primary focus is miniatures for D&D, I also enjoy many other games that use minis, so we'll be covering those as well. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Demons & Devils invade North Pole!

A couple of weeks ago, a long-awaited package finally arrived at my doorstep: a big box of metal and resin evilness! The box contained my miniatures for the Demons & Devils Kickstarter campaign from Center Stage Miniatures. All I have had time to do so far is unbox them and make sure everything I ordered was present - and I am very happy to report that it is all there. What I still need to do is check each mini and make sure nothing is miscast or missing parts. That will have to wait a couple more weeks, though.

This will give me plenty of posting fodder for 2014 as I clean, prep, assemble, and god forbid paint each one. Overall, they are totally badass and most of them look just like they stepped off the pages of the AD&D Monster Manual! If you need some demons or devils for your campaign and missed this Kickstarter, stop by the CSM store and pick up a few.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bargains in Lead & TheTwelve Days of Reaper

My friends over at FRP Games typically have great sales this time of year, and 2013 was no exception. I picked up Reaper's Cadirith, Colossal Demonic Spider for a whopping $10.00, along with my first two Red Box minis (Rotbreath and Gnasher) for a mere $1.50 each. Cadirith is the P65 version, but you can't pick it up for less than $35 on eBay, so I'm very happy with my haul.

If Reaper minis are your cup of tea, you better head on over to their website and partake in their Twelve Days of Reaper festivities. Spend $35 and get the free miniature of the day. Runs 12/6 through 12/17. I'd like to get on Sophie's naughty list! Ho...ho...ho.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

New Additions To The Lead Pile

Every now and then, with equal parts persistence, patience, and luck, you unearth a nugget of gold, a little gem amongst the dirt, the chaff, the fool's gold. Sometimes it is only a small find, like a Grenadier Frost Giant (2nd series #071) you've been looking for but didn't want to pay an arm and a leg for (I paid $3.50 plus $3 shipping). Other times, it is a bit more fun - like a Ral Partha Remorhaz (11-504).

 Posed jauntily atop some craggy mountaintop.

A quick auction site search for the Remorhaz shows models being offered for $120. A search of completed listings shows models for $100+ that did not sell. The most recent sale was for $64 + $10 shipping. So when I picked up one for $35 (free shipping!) it pretty much made my day. The other minis in the lot included a couple of Mithril blisters - the Barrow-Wight King (M257) and Balin's Tomb (M285), a partial RP Black Prince's Chariot of Fear, and a couple other misc. items to boot. Score! Now begins the fun part - assembling a multi-part ralidium frost worm. Hours of fun, no doubt.

 Paint, glue, and patience not included.

Another small lot landed a WOTC Umber Hulk and the body of a Citadel C28 giant, with another eight minis included. That set me back $6.50 (+ $4 shipping). I do love bargains, mmm hmmm.

And to round things out, how about some heavy metal in the form of an armored juggernaut? The Heritage Panzertroops Centurion III is big and heavy! I've posed it next to a Matilda for scale reference, as well as with a WIP 1/72nd Hasegawa Tiger.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mega Man: The Board Game

As a former Nintendo Game Play Counselor and fan of all things NES, I couldn't help but to smile when I came across a recent entry over on TGN: a Mega Man board game based on the Mega Man video games! If their proposed Kickstarter campaign looks good, I may have to back it. Lots of fun memories battling Dr. Wily and his various minions.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter

M. Scott Carpenter - Mercury astronaut, Naval aviator, SEALAB aquanaut, author - passed away on 10 October 2013 at the age of 88.

I met Mr. Carpenter in 1993 when I was working at Nintendo of America and we were launching Star Fox for the Super NES, or SNES in gamerspeak. I'm pretty sure the event was held at a Super Kmart in Cleveland, Ohio. I'll have to dig around through my archives to see if I have any papers relating to that event.

Mr. Carpenter and I shared a limo ride from the hotel to the Kmart. Even though its been 20 years since that day, I still remember it fairly well. Mr. Carpenter was personable, polite, friendly, and engaging. I asked him how he ended up promoting a video game, and his answer was something along the lines of "If it gets kids interested in space, then it's worth my time." I could tell he was truly passionate about getting the next generation of future astronauts started early, and if it took a space shooter console game, then so be it.

But Mr. Carpenter didn't want to spend the whole ride talking about himself or his interests. He wanted to talk about me. So we chatted about what I studied in college, sports, my family, things like that. He asked me if I was a football player or a wrestler, because he thought I was built like someone who played those sports (stocky and broad-shouldered). When I told him I was a soccer player (goalkeeper), he didn't change the subject or disparage my game, he wanted to talk more about it.

The ride ended way too soon, and I had a game to launch. One last memory was this one: the PR gals had some Star Fox posters, and they wanted us to sign them. Us, as in Scott Carpenter and yours truly. I protested, because no one wanted a poster signed by Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter and some dude from Nintendo. I was overruled, so my apologies to anyone out there who has one. They made me do it!

In addition to the achievements listed above, Scott Carpenter was also a nice, genuine person. I was fortunate to have met him, if only for a short time.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

David Sutherland's DragonTooth Saurians

It has never been a collecting goal of mine to acquire miniatures painted by other artists. I always figured I would paint minis for myself and for my group, and that was that. And then two years ago, that all changed when I received Asmodai, painted by Ron Saikowski. Having a mini in my collection with a story behind it and a paper trail (or at least electronic trail) makes it interesting, if only to me.

I still wouldn't say that I am actively seeking miniatures painted by others. However, if the right opportunity comes along, I am always willing to consider it. Such is the case with today's feature:

Lean mean fighting machines.

Old-school leadheads will recognize these DragonTooth Saurians (SMC1 Saurian Mounted Champion on Giant Lizard) despite the fact they have been been partially to heavily modified. What's even cooler is that they are products of the skill and imagination of legendary fantasy artist David C. Sutherland III. And it's possible that at least one of this trio is modeled after a rather famous illustration from the Holmes Blue Book seen here:
Colored by yours truly back in the day.

Art imitating art.

It is also possible that the picture was based on the miniature, but I don't know how we could verify that unless someone who knew David was able to chime in. The single horn is unique to the mini, and the rider is sitting in a more upright position. But the polearm and quiver of javelins (complete with skull) are clearly depicted in both print and on lead.

At first glance, they appear to be nicely-painted minis. Upon closer inspection, though, the attention to detail and skill becomes apparent. Each rider carries a unique polearm. Each lizard has a horn or horns sprouting from their heads. Skulls dangle from the horns. The riders hold hand-made reins. Various weapons are slung on the riders and/or their mounts. And there's even some bling in the form of tiny gems here and there. David used drafting pens to accentuate scales to varying degrees on the lizards, as well as on the shields and other bits. You can also see the letter S scribed on a few bits. Is that S for Sutherland, or S for Saurian? I'll go with Sutherland.

It gives me great joy to have these three miniature works of art as the centerpiece(s) of my collection. I hope that David's family would approve that they have passed from one collector to another, and that they will continue to be treasured and cared for.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Lead to Life

I recently picked up a small booklet entitled From Lead to Life - The Art of Preparing Miniature Figures by Robin Wood. It is one of those items that appeals to my love of printed matter, stuff from before the dawn of Al Gore's Internets. This is something I wish I had been looking for back when I was a budding miniature artist and didn't know my acrylics from my enamels.

 8.5" x 5.5" of printed goodness.

As the week ticked away before the auction ended, there was something about the author's name that stood out - where had I seen the name Robin Wood, and why did it mean anything to me? A Bing search reveals she is a fantasy artist, known for her Dragonriders of Pern work as well as some Dragon magazine covers. OK, getting warm. Further investigation reveals a pair of articles in Different Worlds:

Different Worlds #14 (September 1981) Painting Miniature Figures by Robin Wood

Different Worlds #17 (December 1981) Miniatures: Conversions in Lead by Robin Wood

Now we're getting a lot closer. But still not there yet. Hmm...and then I have my "a-ha!" moment and realize exactly where I have seen Robin's name before: Issue #1 of the OSFMapa!

At some point after she had the above two articles published in Different Worlds, she went ahead and compiled a booklet that covers miniatures from prep to finish, including sections on conversion and even scratchbuilding!

Something I would have liked to have known a long time ago.

The section on conversions is quite detailed, with over eight pages dedicated to modifying your minis. Besides the expected topics (adding or removing features, changing poses, etc.) Robin even shows you how to give your minis a sex-change operation if you desire something other than a chainmail bikini, and even how to make chainmail out of underwear!

More things I would have liked to have known.

Robin devotes four pages to scratchbuilding, including how to make ghosts, Runequest dragon-snails, gelatinous cubes, winged creatures, and snakes. A future project could see me attempting to create my own creatures using her advice and techniques. I'll put that one on the backburner for now and hope that I don't completely forget about it.

Circa 1983 or 1993

All told, From Lead to Life is a wonderful how-to booklet that is a fun and informative read, and I'm really happy to have stumbled across it and added it to my library of printed miniature reference material.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Best DM Ever

My brother Mikey was my first DM, so he gets credit for teaching me the game. But I think most of our time was one-on-one, so it would be not be accurate for me to call him my best DM ever. Best teacher, perhaps, so that still counts for a lot.

Next would have been my friends and classmates I played with early on, but we didn't exactly have a grasp on the nuances of the game (and sometimes not even a few basic rules), and were guilty of Monty Haul syndrome from time to time.

My then-neighbor Kurt was our first long-time DM. He did a pretty good job overall, but he tended to be a bit sadistic. You know, the kind of DM who took glee destroying magic items and killing off characters. He even threw pencils at us from time to time. Oh, and speaking of pencils, none of his ever had erasers - just the metal end, which tore holes in our character sheets when we lost magic items and whatnot.

And for a brief spell, I gamed with another group of chaotic lads. I think they rotated DMs between a couple of guys (Casey and Duane?) but I quit playing with them when they ganked my 4th level neutral cleric because "he was becoming too powerful" or something like that.

Ned has been our longest-tenured DM, our most consistent DM, and not surprisingly, our best DM. He has ushered us through 1E, 2E, our house-rules-heavy 2E, 3E, and currently 3.5 (the 4E debacle is my fault and mine alone).

There are way too many campaigns, adventures, and encounters to recall, so I shan't even try. But over the years, the one constant in Ned's DMing has been baseball (sorry, I mean fun). The ups, the downs, the player vs. player strife, memorable crits, forgettable fumbles, everything we have done has happened with Ned behind the screen. It doesn't matter if it was a pre-written module or one of Ned's homespun adventures, whatever we were doing was going to be run well and entertaining. Of course Ned has had to put up with our shenanigans, grab-assing, arguing, idiocy, and thick-headedness (especially at 2:37am while trying to solve a puzzle or riddle).

We may not have always liked or agreed with every single one of Ned's calls, but nothing has ever been a deal-breaker, and nothing has ever been out of spite or meanness. Well, except for when Ned nerfed the cavalier's ability to function at negative HP levels - I'm fairly certain that was directed towards me. Just kidding, dude.

So a heartfelt thank you to you, Ned - for your skill behind the screen, but more importantly, for your 30+ years of friendship.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Number I Always Roll on a d20

Seriously? How the hell am I supposed to know what I usually roll? I mean, in my mind I always roll crits, and in clutch situations I always fumble, but other than that, I dunno...ten? Eleven? At least I get to end the challenge on a good note tomorrow.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Character I Will Never Play Again

I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to throw the bard under the bus at this point in time. I know he fits the role of heroic story-teller, performer, acrobat, and comedian, but I just can't get excited about playing one. I'd rather give a monk or druid a thorough shakedown than play a bard.

Is there anyone out there who can give me first-hand accounts of playing a bard that might help me see the light, so to speak? Anything that might make me reconsider my shunning of the bard?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Future Character to Play

I have always wanted to play a svirfneblin in our 3.5 FR campaign. There have been a couple of planetouched characters, but I'm really curious how a deep gnome PC would compare to typical characters over the course of the campaign with regards to advancement. Do their racial abilities really make that much of a difference? My inclination is to say yes.

The deep gnomes have fascinated me ever since they first appeared in the D series (D2, I believe). What's not to like about a reclusive, naturally magical race of subterranean gnomes? To me, the iconic character selection would be a deep gnome wizard (illusionist), but I would rather go with a rogue or ranger. Hopefully I don't get to play one anytime soon, because I'm not ready to part ways with my elf wizard at this time.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Favorite Non-Magical Item

I'm going to assume the intent here was my favorite mundane item, and not things like longsword, chain shirt, longbow, horse, etc.

It really boils down to two iconic items found in most adventurer's packs - the oil flask and the 50' rope (with grapple hook, if allowed).

An oil flask could refill a lantern, be poured upon a green slime/troll, thrown as a weapon, lubricate a rusty lock/hinge etc, coat someone/something to make it slick (harder to walk/grapple), among other uses.

A rope, however, allows you to climb up/down various pits, cliffs, dropoffs and other obstacles, especially handy if you are not a sneaky type or monk. You can rope a party together, bind prisoners, set traps (snares and triplines), secure people and/or items to horses, wagons, ships, and dragons.

I have to go with the 50' rope. Now if I could just convince my DM to allow me to tie knots while falling, I would be set for life! (Sorry, Dino).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Favorite Magic Item

Really? Favorite Magic Item? How can anyone possibly pick just one??? I can't. There are so many choices it makes my head spin! Old-school artifacts (Wand of Orcus, Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, Hand & Eye of Vecna, etc.) are givens, as are Rings of Three Wishes, Vorpals, Holy Avengers, Cubes of Force...too much good stuff. So I'll take the easy way out and give my favorite magic item by type, as gleaned from the original DMG:

Magic Items table, Holmes-style.

POTION: Gotta go with healing potions here. How many times has the cleric/paladin/druid gone down and the only thing that stood between life and TPK was a potion of healing? Too many times by my count. Honorable mention goes to invisibility. Very handy for anyone needing to sneak into/out of a sticky situation.

RING: Multiple Wishes. 'Nuff said. Runner-up would be Free Action. I once famously (infamously?) raised my middle finger to my DM and stated "free action" when he attempted to hold me. And he has never, ever forgotten that small act of defiance. Pretty much a long-standing joke with the group. Oh, and I'm pretty sure my current wizard would kill for a Ring of Wizardry.

ROD/STAFF/WAND: Staff of the Magi would be a tempting pick, but I have to go with Rod of Resurrection. Honorable Mention goes to Wand of Magic Missiles, back when a certain house rule allowed for expenditure of ALL charges in a single round, effectively turning it into a tommy gun. Mon-ty!

MISCELLANEOUS: Almost too many choices here (Apparatus of Kwalish, Cube of Force, Daern's Instant Fortress, Deck of Many Things, Manuals/Tomes, and Portable Hole among others) but it really comes down to the versatility and strength of the Cube of Force.

ARMOR: Pretty easy due to the small variety of old-school magic armor, so Plate Mail +5 it is.

SWORDS: No blade was more coveted and feared than a Vorpal Sword. Unless you were a paladin and always hoping for a Holy Avenger, of course. Runners-up are the Giant and Dragon slayers, as the double and triple damage respectively were absolute money when fighting those creatures.

MISC. WEAPONS: For my money, the only pick here is the Trident (Military Fork) +3. April Fool! Pound for pound, the Hammer of Thunderbolts is wicked awesome. And if you happen to have a girdle of giant strength and gauntlets of ogre power, it is time to solo the G series.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Favorite Energy Type

Let's go on an ACID trip, baby! As a player and a DM, I think acid-based spells and attacks are great, simply because most players tend to have fire and lightning protection. Spells like acid splash, acid arrow, and acid fog are no save/no spell resistance, so it's not big damage but it is almost sure, constant damage.

Acid can also be used to melt locks and otherwise facilitate escape from some situations where other energy types are not effective.

Help me, I'm melting!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Favorite Monster/Least Favorite Monster

My youngest son had a birthday yesterday, so I kind of blew off posting. Moving on, today we have another combo post to cover my favorite monster and my least favorite monster. Without further ado:

Giants. Sure, you could say I am influenced by the fact that giants are my favorite type of miniature to collect and paint. And you might be right. But I think it goes deeper than that. I think if you go back in time, I am more inclined to say that it was the G series of AD&D modules that brings me to today's answer.

There is just something inherently cool about giants in D&D. Big, strong, tough, and capable of inflicting massive amounts of damage. But the way the G series was tied together really added to the mystique of giants for me (not to mention the fact it was the launching pad for the D series). It was more than a simple random encounter with giants, which is always tough, but attacking giant strongholds and their various followers, pets, and slaves. It started tough and just got harder.

And if you include creatures like ogres, trolls, and all the other big creatures that aren't "true giants" then you have a whole host of creature types to throw at your adventurers. What's not to love about giants?

Brain Mole. AC 9, 1 HP, and they can only attack psionically. Decent chance of causing permanent insanity (20% per round). And if you place it 10' to 20' underground and attack someone using spells or magic items that trigger the mole to attack, how are you supposed to get to it? It just seems like the kind of creature that a mean DM would employ. Perhaps I'm just not a seasoned enough DM to see it as more of a challenge to players than simply a dickhead move.

EDIT: Hey, this is my 200th post! Here's to 200 more. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Favorite Monster - Dragon Type

Color I've always been a sucker for blue dragons. Not sure if it's simply the color, or the way they are typically depicted in the various editions of the MM, but there is just something about them that makes me nod my head and grin. The dry, arid desert air, the cool underground lair, the crackling of lightning breath unleashed by an angry blue. I imagine a clever blue could whip up a mini-sandstorm with his wings, making the fight even more difficult for the players.

Reds are the iconic pic, of course. And I've always been partial to black and green dragons as well - how many adventurers are prepped to defend against acid or gas when a dragon makes an unexpected appearance? That's what I thought. Oh, and more than once we have had to deal with Dragon Turtles while transiting one body of water or another. Nasty business, those can be.

And lastly, in a totally shameless bit of self-promotion, you can still find my Instant Dragon Generator on WoTC's website. Nothing fancy or too involved, really - the bulk of the work was coming up with all  the different lair descriptions. If you are looking for something meatier, check out this link to the Unexpurgated Dragon Generator I saw on Swords & Dorkery.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Favorite Monster - Humanoid/Fey

This is another one of those "how do I pick just one?" categories. So I will list a few and try to make up my mind. Choices, choices...

Orc: Ah, the indispensable orc. How many villages have they raided, how many caravans intercepted, how many mines overrun by orcses? Pig-faced or otherwise, they have lived and died in countless adventures, and have leveled up many a young adventurer through their low levels.

Lizardman: The Trampier illustration in the MM definitely made an impression on me years and years ago. I've always thought of lizardmen as interesting enemies, and they were a staple in my dungeons and adventures when I was a young DM.

Gnoll: Another humanoid that captured my attention at an early age. Stronger than orcs, and their feral appearance only adds to their appeal.

Sahaugin: These aquatic raiders are hardy and versatile. Only the kuo-toa are more deadly and feared by adventuring parties, at least in my opinion.

Hobgoblin: I actually prefer hobgobs to orcs in my adventures. It must be the fact that they are militaristic, take care of their armor and weapons, and hate elves. And with their natural proficiency at mining, that makes them an enemy to dwarves as well!

Drow: From the pages of the MM: "The 'Black Elves,' or drow, are only legend. They purportedly dwell deep beneath the surface in a strange subterranean realm. The drow are said to be as dark as faeries are bright and as evil as the latter are good. Tales picture them as weak fighters but strong magic-users."

OMG what an awesome teaser for the G-D-Q series! Who would have known at the end of G3 that the adventure was just getting started? And that once let loose, the drow would become one of the most feared and hated enemies of all time? So my pick are the drow, hands down, no debate, easy peasy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Favorite Monster - Elemental/Plant

No offense to efreet, djinn, and elemental creatures, but I have to go with the shambling mound for today's pick. They are tough physically, resistant to fire/lightning, and can smother the adventurer unlucky enough to be grabbed by a shambler. Where's a druid when you really need one? Or a +3 hedge trimmer...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Favorite Monster - Immortal/Outsider

Ice, ice baby! As in Ice Devil (or Gelugon, if you prefer). I know there are more powerful demons & devils out there, and the various lords and named beings are iconic, but the ice devil has always struck me as an otherworldly terminator, if you will. Cold (no pun intended), remorseless, brutal, efficient killing machines from hell! The illustration from the 1E Monster Manual has got to be one of my favorite all-time black & white creature pictures.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Favorite Monster - Animal/Vermin

I have a love/hate relationship with spiders. They fascinate me and totally creep me out at the same time! I really like the garden spiders around the house and yard (as long as I don't walk into their webs), and some of the larger ones have very cool markings. But the hairy, knuckly ones that skitter around the inside of the house - those, I can do without.

So in D&D, I would pick spiders as my favorite animal/vermin. For DMs, they are incredibly versatile - they come in sizes ranging from tiny to big as a frickin' house, web-spinners to hunters, and can go up against characters from first to epic levels. Just keep them out of my sight.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Do You Recognize This Ogre?

This ogre (if he is indeed an ogre) appears to be an unreleased TSR miniature, most likely sculpted by David C. Sutherland III. It was acquired from a collector who knew and lived near David around 1997, when David lived in Poulsbo, WA and was seeking employment with Wizards of The Coast after they bought TSR. What I'm trying to find out is ANY information with regards to this particular miniature. If you or anyone you know can shed any light on this brute, I would be much obliged.

Was it in fact sculpted by DCS III? If not, then who?

Is it an ogre? If not, then what?

Where was it cast?

Was it intended as a test, an employee-only gift, or for future release?

What line (if any) was it intended for? D&D, AD&D, Dragonlance, Empire of the Petal Throne, etc?

The specs for this miniature are as follows:

Height (top of base to eyes): 1 and 1/2" (38mm)
Height (bottom of base to top of helmet): 1 and 7/8" (47mm)
Height (bottom of base to tip of axe): 2 and 5/8" (66mm)

Weight: 2 ounces (56 grams)

The hallmark on the bottom of the base is clearly stamped/inscribed  © 1984 TSR, Inc.

 Shield front.

Shield back.

The shield is 7/8" high and  5/8" across. There is a peg on the shield arm, but no mounting hole on the back of the shield.

This particular ogre holds a two-bladed axe. The other two variants I have seen hold a single-bladed axe and what looks like a hand axe.

 Posed with the DCS III ogre mage and a DragonTooth innkeeper.

Ogre and innkeeper.

In the pictures, it is shown as I acquired it: mounted on a thin cardboard base and primed. I soaked the base in Simple Green to remove the cardboard and reveal the bottom of the base. The axe is glued/epoxied into the hand. It has now been stripped of primer. Hopefully someone will be able to fill in the blanks for me. Otherwise I guess I need to call in Scooby-Doo and his friends.

Favorite Monster - Aberration

Carrion Crawler. What? A creature that does 0 damage? Ah, but that's the beauty behind the crawler's appeal to me. How many times has your character been attacked 8 times, been hit 3-4 times, and forced you to save 3-4 times or be taken out of the fight?

The best carrion crawler miniature out there is the Citadel AD&D version - ADD72. The second best would be Otherworld's Carcass Scavengers (this one and this one). I have never been a fan of Heritage's Carrion Worm.

Honorable Mention for aberration is another zero damage critter - the Rust Monster!

Put one or more of each in a room and watch the entire party scream like girls. Hours of fun for sadistic DMs.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Favorite Monster - Undead

As a DM, what's not to love about undead creatures? Sure, pesky clerics and paladins can foil your plans, but there's still that "oh crap, not undead!" moment when the encounter first unfolds.

My runner-up to favorite undead monster is the spectre (as least from 1E/2E). No offense to vampires, but spectres always made me groan "oh no!" whenever one or more would lay into the party and start draining levels. Same goes for our lower-level characters when wraiths and wights attacked. Ghouls were always a handful as well, just minus the level draining.

But I have to go with the lich as my all-time favorite undead monster. Any time one of our DMs would table a lich, you knew it was time to step up or curl into the fetal position - a lich battle was never, ever easy (unless you rolled crit 00 and killed it with the first swing - but how many times did that happen?). There have been several liches of note in AD&D modules and adventures: the lich from D1, the demi-lich from S1, Szass Tam (ruler of Thay in the Forgotten Realms), just to name a few.

If your party was strong enough and smart enough to best a lich, the thrill of the victory was short-lived, because you still needed to locate the goddamn phylactery! No one could relax until that was dealt with, and then and only then could you think about looking for the lich's loot stash.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Favorite NPC

There have been plenty of NPCs that we have crossed paths with over the past 30+ years. Some have been downright dangerous - assassins in a variety of shapes and forms, wizards, a particularly nasty and persistent vampire, and a couple of anti-paladins for good measure. Others have been "local flavor" varieties - nobles, innkeepers, Jimmy the Houseboy, and grizzled old men who all spoke in a nearly identical crusty, haggard voice (Ned is the bestest DM ever). Each one has in one way or another added depth, humor, danger, or suspense in our many adventures.

As far as memorable NPCs from TSR, I have to go with Icar the blind fighter from Secret of the Slavers Stockade as my favorite:

"Icar is second in command to Markessa the director of this slaver operation, and a battle trained veteran. Icar is blind and has been from birth. But special training he received while a child at a monastery, has made him remarkably sensitive to sounds, air pressure variations and smell, and he is thus able to "see" better than a sighted man."

There is just something very cool and very unique about a "7' tall, black man in black plate mail armor" with a +1 two handed sword called Death's Master. Icar is immune to illusions and visual spells, but susceptible to silence spells. Thanks to a ring of fire resistance, he is also able to stand in the firepit and throw handfuls of flaming grease at the party (see the very cool Jeff Dee picture on the front cover of the A2 booklet).

Best use of NPCs in an adventure has got to be The Village of Hommlet. And I'm not just talking about Rufus and Burne (His Most Worshipful Mage of Hommlet) and Lareth the Beautiful. Almost three dozen structures are populated with NPCs, including my favorite bar: The Inn of the Welcome Wench.

Honorable Mention goes to Eclavdra, the 10th level drow cleric/fighter from Hall of the Fire Giant King. Her name is brought up several times in the series, and it just sounds exotic and dangerous.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Favorite Trap/Puzzle

I hate puzzles and traps. They get in the way of my hacking and slashing! Traps aren't so bad, really, as they can usually be detected by competent sneaky types or detect magic. Disarming or bypassing them is another story, and not always pretty in the end.

Some memorable traps came from White Plume Mountain and the godfather of killer dungeons, Tomb of Horrors. The sphere of annihilation trap, pit of molten lava, the stone juggernaut, cursed wish gem, and of course the demi-lich Acererak.  Even some of the rooms have lethal-sounding names - The Chamber of Hopelessness. Need I say more?

For my adventures, I seem to recall employing traps using monsters. Green slime (a la the moathouse in T1), piercers, trappers, and the ultimate dickhead combo - a couple of rust monsters and a carrion crawler.

Puzzles are another matter. They can add great flavor to just about any adventure, or they can bring the action to a screeching halt. Sometimes it's a matter of timing - a puzzle at 2:48am always seems exponentially more difficult than puzzles presented in the first hour or two of the adventure.

For some reason, I always remember the riddle from White Plume Mountain:

Round she is, yet flat as a board
Altar of the Lupine Lords
Jewel on black velvet, pearl in the sea
Unchanged but e'erchanging, eternally

The answer is "the moon" of course, and if you figured it out, the gynosphinx in the room will lower the wall of force blocking your way. As I was in 6th or 7th grade at the time, I had no idea what "lupine" meant. But you can be damn sure I looked it up in the dictionary when I got home!

Teachers should take note - D&D is a wonderful educational tool! It can boost reading and spelling skills, among others. Use the lupine example above as living proof.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

My favorite dungeon is...a dungeon. I need a complex hewn out of the living rock, worked by tools or creatures with natural carving powers. It needs to look organized from above, laid out with purpose - even if the purpose is to kill the invaders. I guess I have OCD when it comes to dungeon design.

Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against organic adventure sites. D1-D2-D3 rank right up there on my all-time favorites list, especially when you throw in the fact they started...wait for it...under a dungeon. There is just something extra-special about going into a fortress, wizard's tower, etc. and discovering a hidden dungeon underneath. Cliche, perhaps, but I like what I like.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Favorite Adventure I Have DM'd

Most of my DMing was done back in the day, when I would run the neighborhood kids and a few schoolmates through various adventures. To that end, I am choosing B1 - In Search Of The Unknown as my favorite adventure to DM. You could stock the dungeon with any number of critters, loot, junk, and random encounters - and never do it the same way twice! As a novice DM, it really grabbed my attention.

Honorable mention goes to B2 - Keep On The Borderlands. Excellent low-level crawl. The owlbear always got their attention, if they felt a little too cocky after knocking off some kobolds.

I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to T1 - The Village of Hommlet. I don't think I had the proper DM chops to really give this the full experience it deserves back then, but now I have to consider it my all-time favorite low-level AD&D module. The suspense slowly builds up starting in Hommlet, and gets bumped up a few more notches exploring the creepy moathouse (frogs, spiders, and green slime, oh my!). By the time the party reaches Lareth the Beautiful, the tension is so thick you need a vorpal to cut it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Craziest Thing

There have been plenty of crazy things I've witnessed in over three decades of gaming - so many that I couldn't possibly pick out one. Hastur slain in a single stroke. A hasted (?) vulture lion killed with a single thought. The fate of entire adventuring parties hinging on a single, desperate roll.

I wasn't there, but one time the party stumbled onto the back door into the Pit of the Oracle. And yes, that would be the treasure room.

But the craziest moment? That would be a series of moments scattered over the years, and they were some very animated "discussions" about the rules. Dino arguing about his character being able to tie/untie knots in midair whilst falling. Craig trying to crawl around and drink a potion (think "fly casually"). Clerics trying to reach downed party members as they are about to roll over from -9 to -10 and perish. A thief trying to gain backstab positioning on dragons, demons, or any number of highly intelligent and magical creatures. You get the picture.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Favorite Character I Have Not Played

If this means "a character I have seen in action" or something along those lines, I would choose either our cleric or rogue in our current FR campaign. The dwarf cleric is tough, punishing, and versatile. The halfling rogue is a killing machine (assuming he can gain sneak attack position) and stealthy as a shadow on a dark Halloween night.

If this means "a character I have yet to play" then I would choose (from 3.5) a monk or a druid. I'd really like to see a monk in action, and same goes for a druid. Hmm, a druid with an animal companion, a summoned animal ally, and the druid in wild shape form. Now THAT seems like something I could have fun with.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Favorite Character I Have Played

My current character (Wizard 13) is on the cusp of taking a level in Archmage - next level, as a matter of fact. I have had a lot of fun being the party's arcane Wave Motion Gun, and can only hope I survive long enough to tack on a few more levels of Archmage. All sorts of possibilities await! So as much as love my fighters and clerics, I will go with Garrity as my favorite.

I'm going to have to go back through my pile of character sheets to get the facts straight, but I'm pretty sure one of my cavaliers had a weapon known as Big Steel the Giant Cleaver or something along those lines. If I remember correctly, it came from Verbosh, and it was a monty-ass two-handed sword. The drawback, it turns out, was a rather high chance for it to break every time it was used. But lady luck was with me back then, and I want to say it survived much longer than it should have. All I remember is by the time it finally broke, we caused a lot of damage, death, and mayhem. Good times, good times.

UPDATE: Found it! Verbosh - Schuwang-Nau Tower (gotta love those old JG names!) - page 69 - Room 75. Stats are as follows:

Faltsteel The Giant Cleaver (Renamed Big Steel The Giant Cleaver in our campaign)
+5 Vorpal Two-Handed Sword
Int 14, Ego 3
Communicates with owner
Triple Damage
Flame on command
Dancing (after 3rd round)
Ring of Regeneration (in combat only)
Strength (+1-4 points) says "plus 1-4 TIMES normal strength" in Verbosh. Wow!
See Invisible Objects
Locate Traps
Locate Secret Doors
Locate Sloping Passages
Detect Magic
Detect Evil
Detect Gold
Detect Gems (amount and value)

If used in battle, there is a 90% chance per turn or melee round that the blade will shatter into a million pieces and can never be repaired, even with a wish spell. The owner will be so shocked and stunned when it breaks they must wait 1-4 rounds before drawing another weapon. I don't know if Ned went by that 90% break chance or not, but even if it was 50%, the sword still beat the odds for a decent stretch.

On my weapons sheet, the word *BROKEN* is written in red sharpie next to Big Steel. Wah! But like I said, it was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Favorite Edition

I'm going to go with 3.5 as my favorite edition. I really enjoy the mechanics, especially the feats and skills. To me, 3.5 gives you the flexibility to really have fun with character (and monster) design.

Nothing against the Holmes rules or 1E, as I had years of fun with those. We probably played 2E the most, including our modified 2E rules that I like to call our precursor to 3E. There was a skill point system and everything! Once again, my lack of a scanner is killing me - I would love to post a scan of our chart.

4E was a complete and total disaster, and I have to take the blame for that. I convinced the guys to give it a try, as I thought it looked promising. We tried it, and it was an epic fail. I just couldn't get over how much it slowed the game down. I thought it was supposed to speed things up!

I will give D&D Next/5E a good, long look, but it would have to really blow us all away to get us to switch from 3.5 at this point in time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Favorite Deity

I, like many of you, spent hours reading through Deities & Demigods. The illustrations, the descriptions, the powers, the follower-specific info - so much to digest! I have a particular affinity for the Norse and Finnish mythos, thanks to my Danish heritage. Then there's the Greek gods, I may have heard about one or two of them before in the books of my youth. And I find myself drawn to the Egyptian mythos, especially Bast, the cat goddess. I have always been a cat person, but don't tell my dogs - they wouldn't understand. In our 3.5 FR campaign, there's no shortage of info on the various gods of Faerun, and they play a vital role in the big picture.

So my pick is Garl Glittergold as described in Deities & Demigods (page 109). I have played a couple of gnomes here and there, and I always felt like Garl had my back, you know? Other than that, I really don't have a compelling reason to pick him other than I like his write-up, attributes, and of course the Jeff Dee illustration.

Runner-up would be Gruumsh (Mike at Swords & Dorkery and I seem to think alike on some issues). I really like this snippet from DDG: "To become a shaman of Gruumsh, an orc must pluck out his own left eye." Gah!

Honorable Mention goes to Blibdoolpoolp, mostly due to her nigh-unpronounceable name. A nekkid chick with a lobster head and claws? Eww. I really hate fighting kuo-toans. They are nasty, tricky, tough foes, so it's fitting their goddess is equally vile.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Favorite Die/Dice

My favorite dice are the ones I currently use. I can't say they have been particularly lucky of late (especially my wizard's sad streak of seven consecutive 1s on hit point rolls between 2nd to 7th level), but hey, that's dice for ya!

Papa needs a new pair of Elven Boots!

And then there's some of my oldest dice, long since retired. Worn and faded d20s, and of course the always fun but hard to read crystal jobs. Plenty of memorable crits and fumbles in those, for sure.

 Oldies but goodies.

My rarest die has to be a large green marbled d6 I picked up during my stint at WoTC. It seems to be a GenCon giveaway from the 90s, so it sits on my shelf, looking good but not being used.

Shown with a standard d6 for scale reference.

And lastly is my set of 36 small d6s, still waiting to be employed in a WH40K game. They have been patiently waiting for over a decade, so what's another couple of years?

We serve Lion El'Jonson!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Favorite Game World

My selection is Faerun. As both a player and sometimes DM, I love the richness and depth of the Forgotten Realms. Nothing against Greyhawk, as it is always fun to see the famous names and locations when poring over the maps. And Rich Baker's Birthright campaign is cool in a quirky sort of way, although I mainly used it without delving into the whole Domain and Regency aspects.

If I can generate a campaign from scratch before I die, that would be awesome. The follow-through is the stumbling block for me, but stranger things have happened.

I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention Beloterra, my favorite homebrew world created by Ned, our longtime DM. The hand-drawn maps are wonderful, and it's fun just to break them out and look them over once in a blue moon. And when you consider it was populated by AD&D modules, Judges Guild adventures, some Harn, and of course Ned's own creations, it was a world never short on things to do.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Favorite Playable Class

Oh crap, how am I supposed to pick just one??? Looking back over the past 35 years, it's pretty safe to say that I seem to gravitate towards fighters. The brave, stalwart warrior wading into combat, sword flashing, bellowing battle-cries and all that heroic stuff. Hoo-ah!

One of my most memorable hackers was my first Cavalier. It was thanks to his many "look-at-me-I-can-still-function-at-negative-hit-point-levels" escapades that prompted our DM to make one of his more noteworthy nerfs in our gaming history. Still, it saved our bacon on more than one occasion. And he entered a jousting tournament one time, and made it to the final battle for all the marbles, where I promptly rolled back-to-back crits on the trusty d20 and won the day. Good times.

After a couple of years in our 3.5 FR campaign, I need to say this about the non-fighters in our party:

Rogue - the rogue is a freaking DPS machine in combat (assuming he can get into sneak attack position on a consistent basis), as well as the usual trap-finding sneaky-sneak kind of fellow rogues are supposed to be.

Cleric - I love our crusty little dwarf cleric! He is tough (AC and HPs right up there with fighters), his shield other spell is money, and he can dish out the pain, mostly via spell. Oh, and there's that healing business too. Medic!

Wizard - Garrity (my wizard) is the first wizard I have advanced into double-digit levels. I must say, I am totally digging it! Although the fighter in me is not happy with how soft and squishy the wizard can be. Just sayin'...

UPDATE: I had to dig through my archives, but it was worth it! Here's some additional character selection data, along with how the tournament mentioned above really went down:

(roughly sorted in chronological order, newest to oldest)
Wizard 13th (my active character)
Wizard/Fighter 8th/1st
Paladin 9th
Cleric 9th
Cleric 9th
Fighter/Illusionist 8th/9th
Cleric 9th
Cavalier 11th
Ranger 5th
MU/Assassin 4th/5th
Cleric/Fighter 5th/5th
Fighter 4th
Paladin 5th
Elementalist 7th (homebrew class Ned and I worked up)
Fighter/Elementalist 6th/7th
Cavalier 5th
Cavalier/Paladin 6th
Ranger 15th
Fighter 8th
Cleric 9th
Fighter 13th
Fighter 19th

And going way, WAY back, a pair of my oldest characters:

Fighter 30th
Thief 25th

I might have to start a column where I go back and showcase my old dead/missing/retired characters. But I'll need to get a scanner first so you can actually see my old sheets.

3/26 (year unknown, sometime in the late 80s or thereabouts)
"Lehrin (my cavalier) enters Jousting Tournament - and on not one, not two, but THREE consecutive crits, he defeats his first three opponents. The fourth & final is vanquished in two passes, and the Arch-Duke of Lankhmar presents him with the Tournament Trophy."

Also noted on the same day is the unfortunate passing of our party's housekeeper at the hands of one of our antagonists:

"Jimmy the Houseboy slain by the nefarious Drow Assassin Ny'Oreen Eragdazz."

Monday, September 2, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge

I have been terrible about my blogging this year. Plenty of good intentions, but very little follow-through. So today I stopped by Swords & Dorkery and saw the D&D 30 Day Challenge and decided it is just what I needed to light a fire under my ass. Today's post is a combo - Day 1 and Day 2, and then hopefully I will keep pace with the challenge the rest of the month.

How I Got Started

Hard to pin down exactly what year it was, but I know for sure I was playing in 6th grade, so right around 77 or 78. My brother had taught me chess, Avalon Hill board games, things like that. Then D&D came home one day. I had the Holmes Blue Box, and my brother had the AD&D hardbacks. Mikey taught me how to play, and we had plenty of 1-on-1 sessions with Mikey DMing and me playing.

I played with some elementary school and junior high classmates too, and we had hours of fun playing all sorts of characters through various adventures: White Plume Mountain, Survival of the Fittest, and many others. Sure, at times things took a Monty Haul turn, but we were kids! And then one fateful night I was invited to play with Mikey's friends (we went through a very long and memorable session in Tegel Manor), and I met some guys who I would game with from that day on, right up to present day. We joke about opening the first Old Gamers Home for elderly gamers, complete with large-font rulebooks so we can continue to play well into our golden years.

Since Mikey was very restless, cerebral, and always looking for another challenge, I was fortunate enough to try other systems too - Runequest, Tunnels & Trolls, Top Secret, and possibly one or two others. But D&D has always been and will always be my game of choice.

Favorite Playable Race

I am going to go with humans, although you wouldn't know it from my last couple of choices (current character is a 13th level sun elf wizard, previous character was an 8th or 9th level gnome cleric). I enjoy their all-around versatility and adaptability.

Friday, August 2, 2013

When Men Were Men And Tanks Were Lead

I recently picked up 10 blisters of Heritage Panzertroops, and they arrived in the mail the other day. Have I previously mentioned that I really like these little war machines? They were sitting around in someone's garage, and it shows - most of the cards were beat to hell and back, the blisters in rough shape, and the foam in the blisters had long since petrified and now easily crumbles. Still, the models are in pristine condition and none the worse for wear after 30 years, give or take a few. It is a mixed lot of American, British, and German models and quite armor-heavy (9 of the 10 blisters are AFVs). They are as follows:

 The usual suspects, rounded up for viewing.

1x M5A1 Stuart Light Tank (2 models)
2x M3 Grant Medium Tank
1x M47 Patton II Medium Tank

Stuart - small and boxy.

 Grant - 75mm not in place.

 Patton - 90mm goodness.

I'm curious why they included the M47 and other post-WWII tanks in their lineup - most of the vehicles are WWII, but perhaps they thought gamers would want to play Korean War battles with the late-model US and Russian tanks?

1x Daimler I Armored Car (2 models)
1x Matilda II Infantry Tank
2x Crusader II Cruiser Tank

 Daimler - not so boxy.

Humber - boxy personified.

Matilda - Queen of the Desert.

 Crusader - Cruiser tank.

1x Sd.Kfz. 251 Half-Track
1x Infantry Assaulting

 Sd.Kfz. 251 - MGs included but not yet mounted.

This purchase expands my overall Panzertroops inventory quite a bit. Previously, I only had a Humber II (read about that one here), two M29 Weasels, the Infantry Assault boxed set, and some loose troops on foot. I suppose if I painted up the Stuarts and Grants in British 7th Armoured Division livery, I could have a decent 8th Army force. Hmm, what to do, what to do.

 Patton with ruler.

And I thought they were quite a good deal at just a bit under $4.30 per blister (price + shipping factored in). To compare that to Flames of War models, it looks like those retail for $12.50 each, so even if you can find them on sale for half price, you would still be paying more. Maybe that's apples and oranges, but I'm always looking at the bottom line on my expenditures. Still, it would be nice to compare the two brands side-by-side. But that's going to happen because the last thing I need to do is start collecting FoW!