Sunday, April 06, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Starts Tonight

The fourth season of HBO's Game of Thrones starts tonight in less than an hour.  I was able to score two bottles of Fire and Blood Red Ale before it sold out (I wasn't quite so lucky last time).  The maesters predict that both bottles will be gone before the night has passed.  I do not plan on letting them down.

While the first two seasons followed the first two books fairly close, season three failed to do so.  HBO ended last season at roughly the halfway point in A Storm of Swords, presumably due to the massive amount of material to cover.  It will be interesting to see how the fast paced and exciting second half of book 3 combines with the much slower (and frankly rather dull) book 4.  I am hoping that HBO is able to piece together a combination of A Storm of Swords and A Feast of Crows that brings the latter book up to par with the other books in the series.  Of course, there is always the chance that the second half of book 3 will fill the entire fourth season of HBO's version.  There is certainly enough material to do so.

Time to pop the top on bottle number one and find out what HBO has in store for us.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Nontraditional Goblin Skin Part 2: Old School Edition

Goblins have been on my mind lately.  I know that's an odd thing to say but it is true.  I have been contemplating goblin weapons, goblin society, goblin raiding tactics, even goblin intelligence (or lack thereof).  But mostly I've been thinking about goblin skin.  Several months ago I began a project experimenting with goblin skin color.  I wanted to try different skin tones beyond the usual green-skinned little monsters that seem to be the norm these days.  While I have nothing against 'greenskins' and actually like them for certain aspects of gaming, I wanted to wander off the beaten path for a bit.

My first foray delved into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien.  I wanted a dusky look that fit more closely with the professor's description of goblins in Middle-earth.  For this attempt however, my inspiration came not from Tolkien but from the excitement surrounding the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons.  I wanted a color scheme that would harken back to the early 80s when I first started playing.  This is what I came up with...

For the miniature I chose a model from Hasslefree Miniatures.  This little grinning goblin is called Dima (HFO007) and can be found in Hasslefree's Orcs and Goblins line.  I liked the semi-old school style of the sculpt and thought he would be perfect for my old school color scheme.

I have a sizable collection of goblins from Otherworld Miniatures that would have served even better for the old school theme I was attempting.  I wanted to save them though until I found the right goblin skin color so that the entire tribe will look somewhat homogeneous.  So for now I will stick with Hasslefree's goblins for experimenting.

Now that I had my miniature I needed to decide on the paints I would use.  To aid in the decision I pulled out my trusty copy of the original Monster Manual and flipped to the well-worn page describing goblins (hmm... I guess I fought many of them back in the day).  On page 47 I found what I thought I remembered.  There, goblin skin is described as ranging from "yellow through dull orange to brick red."  Though the description would change in later editions (sounds like a subject for another blogger post), this was the goblin I had such fond memories of from those long ago days.

Shortly after reading the description in the Monster Manual I remembered a color photo depicting goblins with a similar color scheme.  I wasn't sure where I saw it so I rummaged through my collection for hours.  I finally found what I was looking for.  There, on the cover of module N2 The Forest Oracle, were three goblins with a pretty close resemblance to what I envisioned in my mind.  I then had both inspiration and an idea of the color scheme I wanted to use.  It was time to paint.

For painting the skin I chose a medium brown for a base coat.  I can't remember the Reaper color (maybe Intense Brown??) but it is the equivalent of GW's Bestial Brown.  From there, I started layering in various shades of lighter browns mixed with tints of red, orange, and yellow.  I made particularly heavy use of Saffron Sunset (09247) and Orange Brown (09201), both from Reaper.  Highlighting was accomplished with Saffron Sunset mixed with various shades of yellow.

The rest of the miniature, including the garb, armor, and weapons was painted in rather drab colors to contrast with the skin tone.  Greens and dark browns dominate the color scheme to help highlight the orange and yellow of the skin.  The armor and weapons were heavily washed to knock down the shiny new look that so often breaks the character of this type of monster.  After all, they should look like desperate scavengers and raiders and not like a knight in shinning armor.  With that being said, now that I look at the photos on blogger, I need to go back and wash the helmet a few more times.  It does look awfully shinny.

I am fairly happy with the outcome of this goblin and I think I'm close to finding the skin tone I want to use in the future.  I think I will paint one more goblin and intensify the oranges a bit to see what happens.  Afterwards a final decision will be made and the resulting color scheme applied to my waiting Otherworld Miniatures goblin tribe.

Anyone else use this style on their goblins?  Any comments, hints, and/or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Beginnings: DSM Dragon Diorama WIP

It has been said that from humble beginnings come great things.  Well, I'm unsure about the 'great' part but I certainly have started off my next project in a humble manner.  After sitting in an unprimed state for months, I have finally put a layer of paint on the base of my Dark Sword Miniatures dragon diorama Kickstarter that I backed last year.  The excitement of DSM's current Kickstarter project bubbled over and vanquished the painting lethargy I've been suffering through for the last few weeks.

For this project, I decided to start with the base this time instead of the miniature, as I normally do.  Two reasons drove me to this decision.  First, in this case the base is very much part of the miniature instead of just an afterthought.  I will not say that it is the focal point (the dragon obviously serves in that role quite admirably) but for the diorama to come to life and provide the proper backstory to honor Larry Elmore's iconic painting, the base needs to be nearly as impressive as the dragon itself.  To say that I will need to spend quite a bit of time on the base to make it so would be a huge understatement.  The second reason deals with logistics.  The dragon is huge! I do not have the proper equipment available to mount it for painting.  By completing the base first, I can use it to securely hold the dragon during the construction and painting process.  I will just need to be extra careful not to damage or ruin the already painted base while working.

My plan of attack is simple.  I've already cleaned, primed, and thrown down the initial base colors to give me a good starting point.  The dirt/grassy area around the stone was given several coats of a mid-range brown for a base.  I will darken some areas and lighten others to give an overall impression of scattered dirt and rocks.  Much of this area will be eventually flocked with grass and shrubbery so I'm not overly concerned with this particular portion of the model.  The stone however will play a much more important role.  I have an initial coat of Reaper Shadowed Stone (9085) covering the rocky areas.  After a few light washes to bring back some of the detail, I will slowly bring up the mid-tones and highlights with successive layers of Stone Grey (9086) and Weathered Stone (9087).  Then comes the hard part: the treasure.

The coins will take me some time but I'm looking forward to the challenge.  I will not say that I will paint each and every one by hand but I do plan on avoiding drybrushing as much as possible to really concentrate on the detail.  I plan on most of the coins being gold in color for two reasons.  In literature and popular media, dragon hoards always seem to be comprised of gold coins.  It's an iconic image that I do not plan on tinkering with.  Second, even if silver were the preferred color of a dragon's treasure, I would still choose gold.  The gold coins will contrast much better with the grey stone than silver.  I do plan on mixing the treasure up a bit though.  I'll add silver and copper here and there in small patches to break up the golden monotony. 

As a basecoat for the gold coins I chose a deep red - Bloodstain Red (9133) to be exact.  I can't remember where I learned the technique, but basing gold, copper, and brass metallic colors with a deep red will produce much more vivid and rich hues than when applied over black or white.  I use this technique every time and have been quite pleased with the results.  Try it and see if you notice a difference.

So that's it for now.  I have thousands of coins to paint.  I will post another update once I get a little further along.

One last thing though:  today is the last day of the Dark Sword Miniatures G.R.R.M. Masterworks line Kickstarter.  Lots of backer rewards have been unlocked over the course of the drive and the total number of included miniatures is now up to 24.  That's more than double the initial offering.  Plus lots of great add-on deals are also available.  Go have a look at the funding page here before it ends tonight at 11pm (EDT).

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Another Kickstarter from Dark Sword Miniatures

Those that regularly visit this blog know without a doubt that I am a huge fan of Dark Sword Miniatures.  I frequently rave about the quality of the sculpts and great customer service provided by the company.  I also tout the fact that a large portion of their miniatures are inspired by my favorite fantasy artists:  Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, and Keith Parkinson - the giants of the golden age of gaming. For those reasons alone, DSM has more than earned my business.  But an additional feature has ensured that my money tends to flow their way more than any other miniature company- the George R. R. Martin line of miniatures. 

My favorite sculpt of the bunch so far.

For some years now, DSM has been producing wonderful sculpts of many of the characters from Martin's epic series A Song of Ice and Fire.  The Starks and Lannisters and every character in between have been beautiful rendered in 28mm metal.  Now Dark Sword Miniatures is further expanding the line with a new Kickstarter.  Eleven new miniatures are being offered at a very reasonable price with plenty of promised stretch goals along the way.  Viserys Targaryan, Ser Barristan Selmy, a mounted Khal Drogo and my favorite of the bunch, Ser Brynden Tully, The Blackfish, are just a few of the upcoming minis.

Finally, a mounted warrior!

If you're a fan of Dark Sword Miniatures and/or A Song of Ice and Fire (or just like well-sculpted miniatures) then help spread the word and let's get this Kickstarter funded!

The Kickstarter page can be found here.

The Dark Sword Miniatures homepage is here.   

As a final note I want to point out that the previous DSM Kickstarter was a pleasure to work with.  The dragon and all of the stretch goals were shipped out almost immediately after the drive ended.  There was no waiting on miniatures for months and months like another Kickstarter I backed that rhymes with Reaper Bones (yes I do realize that they were on an entirely different scale).  The loot comes quick!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Black Sails

If you're into pirate gaming, or simply like pirates, I recommend you check out the new series on Starz called Black Sails.  I've watched two episodes now and I have to say that I have enjoyed not only the story and visuals, but the cinematography as well (I'm not a TV/movie buff so I cannot put into words what I have noticed, but something is definitely different and refreshing about the camera work).  The acting is top notch and the wardrobe people (see, totally not a movie person.  I don't even know the correct term) have set the series firmly in the proper time period.

The story takes place in and around Nassau in 1715.  I'll not give away any of the plot details but the weekly series is based on a nice mixture of history, literature, and creativity.  Black Sails features historical pirates such as Captain Charles Vane and Calico Jack Rackham.  Fictional pirates such as Captain Flint, Billy Bones, and John Silver add a unique but believable twist to the tale while a cast of invented characters round out the show and bring to life Nassau during the Golden Age of Piracy.  After watching two episodes I am completely hooked.  It's like watching HBO's Game of Thrones set in the Bahamas.  Yes....that's a good thing!

Watching the series has helped rekindle my love for Legends of the High Seas and pirate gaming in general.  Suddenly all of those backlogged projects have taken on a new urgency and I find myself enjoying sitting at the hobby desk again.  Beacause of the show, I am currently at work on two different ships, three different pirates, and a naval captain along with his crew.  I'll post updates in the near future.

Once again, check out Black Sails on Starz and prepare yourself for a damn good pirate tale!  You can watch the first episode online now for free.  It's a heavily modified version (the nudity and some gore have been edited out) but the story and the visuals are still intact.  You can watch it here.

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Aleena the Cleric

A few months ago (wow, has it really been that long?!) I made a comment about how a miniature I was painting reminded me of a certain NPC cleric of my past.  I thought the mini seen below was based upon Aleena the cleric from the Metzer red box edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  Well, it turns out my memory of the 80s when I was a D&D fanatic is not as I thought it to be.  I was clearly wrong with my assumption.  But in discovering my error, I took a fascinating journey of reminiscence and discovery into the past.  Please allow me to share.

The WIP of the miniature in question

My first introduction to D&D was through a strange mixture of the Moldvay Basic set and AD&D.  As clueless preteens we gleefully mixed the two systems into a loose ruleset that guided our adventures into strange lands.  While I have very fond memories of that first set it was actually the Metzer version of the basic set that I spent the most time playing back in those days.  Ahh, the memories.  How can one forget the awesome and terrifying red dragon painted by Larry Elmore gracing the cover of the fiery red box or the beautiful cleric that befriended a lonsome adventurer in the introductory adventure?  That of course is where Aleena comes in.

For those of you who may have forgotten, we meet the blonde-haired cleric shortly after wounding a goblin in a cave.  As we cautiously pursue the fleeing goblin, we come upon her silently meditating in a corner of a cavern chamber.  She is drawn to our high charisma and invites us to join her for a rest.  After instructing us on several aspects of an adventurer's life, the cleric not only joins our expedition but kindly offers to heal us as well (that 16 charisma really pays off).  Aleena becomes a mentor of sorts as we explore the remainder of the caves together but she can do more than just offer instruction.  She exhibits her skill and power as she uses her clerical abilities once again, this time turning the undead ghouls that block our route.  We are beginning to fall in love with this woman!

But our love affair is not meant to be.  Bargle, the roguish magic-user that has been terrorizing the countryside around Threshold slays the beautiful young cleric with a deadly spell.  She falls in battle and no matter what we do, we cannot alter that fate.  We either kill the evil Bargle after making our saving throw or unwittingly aid him while under a charm spell.  Either way, Aleena the cleric is no more.

With either outcome, we do manage to recover Aleena's body and return her to the local church.  Hearts are broken, both in the game and in real life over the death of the cleric.  No matter how many times we play the scenario or what we do, we cannot save her.  The cleric's fate is preordained.  It is with great remorse for her loss that we begin our adventuring careers in the world of D&D.  But with her loss comes wisdom and the understanding that death is real in the game and the hero does not always win.  We are shown just how dangerous the adventuring life can be.  This would have been a profound lesson to those new to the game and perhaps this is why the Metzer boxed set remains so ingrained in the collective memory of D&D players worldwide.

I was reminded of her sad story as I went back to my worn red box to research what Aleena looked like and it brought back so many pleasant memories.  I wondered if others thought the same. I turned to the internet for answers.  What I found there was surprising.  The memory of her death was a topic much discussed. I discovered that many others felt the same way I did about the poor cleric and that the solo introductory adventure and her death remained with many players for years.

But I also discovered that her death was not in vain.  Aleena's fall galvanized the will of the countryside and thousands upon thousands of players rose up in anger to find and vanquish the evil wizard.  Who knows how many adventuring careers were launched by the memory of her fair face and kind demeanor? 

The anger directed toward Bargle was both in game and in the real world.  I found that many who played that introductory solo adventure retained a hatred of Bargle well after the Metzer red box became a collector's item.  For example, as a nod to the intense dislike that players held for the magic-user, Paizo included an adventure entitled Kill Bargle in the very last print issue of Dungeon Magazine (#150).

Some expressed this 'anger' in a more artistic manner as evidenced by the poster and t-shirt seen below.  Gamers from across the world were united in the memory of Aleena and a desire for vengeance.

Visit here for a short video about the "Kill Bargle" t-shirt.

One of the creators of the shirt

In my research I also found out that Aleena may not have perished after all.  I stopped playing D&D in 1987 when girls and cars became more important than dice and character sheets so I missed the future developments.  Apparently Aleena was sighted again after my departure in several TSR supplements.  In 1987 she was given a description and stats in GAZ1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos as a 12th level cleric along with a note stating that if it were extablished that she had died in the solo adventure from the Basic set to change her name to Anielle.  In 1994 she was again found in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure with basically the same descritpion but with no mention of a possible earlier death.  Though she may have existed for future players, her death and our failure to save her still sits heavily with those who played the adventure before additional supplement releases.

Is this Elmore's new revised Aleena?

Which brings me full circle with this post.  It was the thought of Aleena the cleric that came to mind when I started painting the miniature.  But my memory of her failed me utterly.  My miniature is the wrong class, has the wrong weapon, the wrong garb, and even the wrong hair color.  Hell, the only thing remotely similar is the helmet.  Maybe that was the memory trigger.  Though the miniature does not resemble Aleena as described by Metzer and illustrated by Elmore, the trip down memory lane was definitely worth the mistake on my part.  And really, as in most things in life, it's the journey that counts...not the final destination.

What memories do you have of Aleena and Bargle and do you have a miniature that aligns more closely with her description? 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Birthday D&D!

Happy 40th Anniversary D&D!  Though the date varies depending on who is asked, I see that today seems to have been chosen as the official day to celebrate.  I did not start playing in 1974 (I was only three years old) but it wouldn't be long before I was introduced to the game that would define much of my childhood.

My original Moldvay Basic Set

I was 11 years old in that magical summer of 1982...the year my life changed.  I had recently moved to the other side of town and was the proverbial new kid when Chris Chew invited me to a birthday party camp-out in his back yard.  After the normal stuff that kids do, and when the parents had all gone to bed, Chris and his friends pulled out numerous books, boxes, miniatures, strangely shaped dice, and sheets of paper and told me we were about to embark on a grand adventure.  That night will forever remain as one of the most memorable of my life.

From that night forward, I was hooked on Dungeons and Dragons.  I played every possible moment and collected as much material and books as I could get my hands on.  For about the next six or seven years my life revolved around the fantasy world.  I made great friends and went on wonderful adventures, and even learned a few things that could be applied both to school and life in general.  Those were the best of days.

Eventually my obsession began to wane and by the time I left for college, D&D had become much less important than girls, and cars, and girls, and beer, and girls.  I sold off most of my vast collection for beer and date money (a huge mistake that I still regret to this day) but I did hold on to a few pieces that held the most memories.  (My original Moldvay Basic Set is my most prized and beloved gaming possession).  I sometimes thought about D&D but I never returned to the game.  It was Peter Jackson and the LotR movies that rekindled my love for fantasy and gaming in general.  After a nearly 15 year break, I began to drift back to the game I so loved. 

So happy birthday D&D and thanks for the memories!