Monday, 26 October 2020

[Review] Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise

Mandy meets Venger.
Sponsored content.

I thought I was done with Cha'alt after the exhausting three-part review I wrote earlier this year. I thought I can finally leave its mad vistas behind, come clean, return to normalcy, and recuperate. Then I heard a siren call from beyond the depths of the Void. The message was in za'akier, yet I understood it loud and clear. I knew immediately who was summoning me. "Hey kid, wanna buy some zoth? You know what, forget it. Here is some fuchsia malaise. It's new. It's free. You're welcome." It found me in a moment of weakness. I couldn't reject the offer. And here I am now, writing again about Cha'alt, when not staring at the fuchsia skies with a drop of drool hanging from the corner of my mouth...

Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise is a supplement for Cha'alt, the magnum opus of the Venger Satanis - madman, troll, za'akier, priest of Cthulhu, loving father, and old-school D&D enthusiast. Like its predecessor, CFM was also crowdfunded by a Kickstarter campaign - one that I missed. Fortunately when I was about to put the pdf in my DriveThruRPG cart the author asked me if I'm interested in a complimentary copy. Kudos for that hoss, and sorry for sitting so long on the review. It seems fate always tries its best to hinder me when I'm writing about Cha'alt.

If you are unfamiliar with the first book and too lazy to read my review (which I can completely understand), Cha'alt is a post-apocalyptic science-fantasy gonzo setting probably written on drugs, with one tentacle in pants. Besides being absolutely bonkers it also has a huge ass mega-dungeon called The Black Pyramid, which defies all logic and dungeon writing advice. What CFM offers is basically more of the same, but with a bigger emphasis on the world and its happenings.

The first chapter, Essentials, start swith summarizing the current status quo. CFM picks up 18 months after the events described in Cha'alt. There is a new sheriff in town, the alien company called Elysium, who are now in control of the entire zoth1 industry. They banned spice fracking in favour of slave labour, and use a drug called Fuchsia Malaise to keep their workers in a lethargic state until the next shift begins. They are also siphoning the planet's moisture, which turned it drier and even more hostile than before. The Chartreuse Sea dried up, the freed Kra'adumek's future is still uncertain, violet and purple priests wage an open war, while the evergrowing city of A'agrybah became the center of civilization. That's a great point to start a campaign, but the prelude barely scratches the surface. There is a lot more going on that's not covered here, but the information is all over the place, so it's up to you to pull all the bits and pieces together as you are plowing through the book.

These new times brought new races to Cha'alt. Blue velvet elves are amazing at everything and suave as fuck, but if something bad happens to a party-member they suffer the same effects, and they are also hunted for their pelts. Grogs are soulless sand-constructs capable of disassembling and reconstructing their bodies. Vores are reptilian bird-men without mouths, who can communicate telepathically and can digest anyone by wrapping their wings around them. V'symm are seven-eyed infernal creatures hiding their faces behind bronze masks, which are quite uncomfortable for long desert trips. I have a soft spot for the weirdo new races - they flavourful and unique. Are they balanced? Nope. Does it matter? Nope. This is still Cha'alt, the world of overpowered monstrosities and random deaths.

The rest of the chapter is mostly Cha'alt specific charts and miscellanea covering a surprisingly wide range of topics. The party got some important item? Here is a chart for who is following them and why. The party asks some random schmuck on the street? Here is a chart for traits, usefulness, beliefs. The party summoned some demon? Here is a chart for demonic offerings and favours. The party has a sorcerer? Here is a chart that will make their life hell. What I really appreciate about these tables is that most of them are meant to be used on the fly. They also do a damn fine job about capturing the setting's essence with weirdness, pop culture references, psychedellic sights, and of course some vengerian sleaze. Just take a look at this lovely random example from The Fuchsia Shadow (spell mishap) table:

I don't recall seeing stats for the
protoss, but it looks like they are
here too.
"Head Falls Off – The sorcerer’s head falls off immediately after the spell is cast – up from the neck hole sprouts all manner of tentacles dripping a jaundiced yellow and purple slime. Soon after, the tentacles devour the sorcerer’s corpse and give birth to an egg. Then, the egg hatches. A miniature-sized version of the sorcerer climbs out as he slowly enlarges to normal size. The whole metamorphosis takes about an hour."

You don't see shit like this in the dull D&D5e wild magic tables. It might be ridiculously over the top or juvenile sometimes, but it's also damn cool. Using the charts on the fly is hindered though by the the lack of organization. There is no rhyme or reason why things are in the order they are, unless they follow some extraterrestrial alphabetical order. If you want to use the book get familiar with the index, because this won't get any better in the following parts either.

The second chapter is about The City of A'agrybah. Like your adventures in the city, the section begins at the gates, where exiles hang around telling juicy rumours about what's going on behind the walls. The book then moves on to explaining how taxes work (and can be evaded), who are the ra'as and how can one become one of them (it involves 10,000 gold pieces and a pact with a devil), which are the noteworthy noble houses, and what is the water ritual.

A'agrybah has a few points of interest, including a colourful marketplace, the King's and Queen's palace, a temple where they resurrect people for 1,000 gp, a barely used spaceport, and various taverns. These get terse descriptions, which are a mixed bag. Check out The Chartreuse Dragon:

"The interior of this tavern is lit with zoth lanterns, giving the place an eerie yellow-green glow. An assortment of instruments hang upon the wall, all of them painted fuchsia. Various dirty and disheveled humanoids sit, drinking and eating."

Short and evocative, it sets the tone in three sentences and tells you enough to know what kind of place this facility is. Well done! Now compare it to The Burnished Soul:

"Another tavern filled with disreputable scoundrels."

That's generic and useless. It baffles me why is a damn good example of effective writing followed by something so bland and uninspired. If it was longer at least I could say it's a filler - I despise them, but at least they have a purpose. This has no reason to exist, but at least it manages to piss me off, because it would have taken zero effort from someone with such madcap imagination to barf up something that makes the place at least mildly interesting. There are a few more similar swings in writing quality throughout the book, but I wouldn't say it's plagued with them.

At least the hooks are good. Each place gets three to five of them, ranging from random encounters to adventure seeds. A merchant selling a three-eyed emerald snake, a bounty hunter looking for the bastard who sold him a junk starship, an apprentice begging for money so he can resurrect his master who was killed right after he discovered the meaning of life, universe, and everything... If these weren't enough, there is also a short table four tour guides who will gladly show you around the city, and a lengthy table for random unlikely events.

I'm torn about this chapter. On one hand A'agrybah itself is characterful and has a lot going on. On the other hand only a very small number of places are detailed, and some of those are done in a lackluster way. There is potential, but the execution needs improvement. Also, a map would be welcome. I don't expect anyone to go full City State of the Invincible Overlord, I don't even need the exact positions of buildings and precise ranges - just a vague sketch about what's where.

No clue who he is, but I have a hunch
he came here for the prostitutes.
The third chapter is Encounters, containing is a mishmash of places, scenes, monsters, charts, and important NPCs in no particular order. Two of them will get some more mention later. The Fuchsia Putrescence is a mile long floating entity randomly grabbing up people from the ground. Because its fallen slimy bits have healing properties, people began to worship the thing. Tha'anos is a scrotum-chinned warlord looking for the Rainbow Gemstones of Ultimate Power, which are hidden on Cha'aalt. Once he has all of them in his codpiece, he will create a cube outside time and space, where he can finally finish painting his miniatures while time stand stills. He is totally relatable villain, at least for me.

While it won't have any significant role later, I would also like to mention my favorite creature from the book: the clown-worm. It is a mix of sand-worms and demon-worms bread by the murderous night clown of The Black Pyramid. It's far from the most powerful entity on Cha'alt, but it can turn people with its sight into its clown thralls, and has all kinds of crap in its belly, including a magical weapon with a bonus against gods. The worm's full-page illustration is a thing to behold.

Onward to chapter four: Scenarios!

Fuchsia Flesh-pit is a genetic experiment of the wizard Vromka'ad, who was recently killed by his jealous bride La'ala. The girl came to this flesh pit looking for the other half of the glove she stole from the wizard, but she had to realize that it's dangerous to go alone: there are tentacles, mutant clams, evil cultists, a whispering cronenbergian monstrosity, and other weird shit within the organic hellpit. She tries to persuade the party into coming down and helping her out, after which she would try to betray them and leave with the treasure. It's a simply laid out, short dungeon, where the players are just as likely to release an Old One upon the world as finding a secret entrance to a synthwave lounge bar. Overall it's a decent module for a one-shot.

Tower of Vromka'ad takes place in the above mentioned wizard's tower. Since Vromka'ad's death the servants have taken over, and are now busy bickering among themselves. There are twelve colour coded rooms which could be reached by touching the corresponding orb in the entrance. Each has an interesting set-piece, but otherwise they rarely have anything else to offer. The servants are few, mostly very weak, and not worth bothering with. There isn't much loot except for the room with the three warriors and some magic items (those are pretty nice though). It ties neatly into Fuchsia Flesh-pit by wrapping up some of its mysteries, but overall Tower of Vromka'ad didn't leave much of an impression.

Tomb of Va'an Zayne is a more traditional dungeon than the previous two, with a proper layout and twenty rooms. Va'an Zayne was a sorcerer and writer, whose tomb is so frequently mentioned among the earlier rumours that it's nigh impossible the party won't hear about it. The sepulcher offers a good deal of interactivity combined with a selection of intriguing NPCs. There is a writers circle right at the entrance, a trapped clone of Elysium's head honcho, asshole energy beings taunting cultists, a play-doh statue that can summon demon, a post-modernists and anti-modernists arguing about bullshit, a gate to The Islands of Purple-Hanted Putrescene, and so on. Every room has something noteworthy and fun going on. If this wasn't enough, the tomb is tied to Cha'alt's greater metaplot in several ways. The place was raided not so long ago by Tha'anos, there is a Key to Time in Va'an Zayne's tomb that can erase time, and there are revelations about the true nature of the Old Ones and the planet's future. These open a can of worms and foreshadow a bleak future, which I hope Venger will explore in Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows.

A hive of scum and villainy.
Elysium
 is the biggest of the bunch, and probably my favorite. The module starts with introducing the alien races, factions, personnel, security systems within the facility, then without further ado moves unto describing its 56 rooms. Elysium feels like a living, fully functional complex. It is the most grounded from all the Cha'alt stuff so far, yet it still remains gonzo enough to not become just another boring futuristic base. The fantasy and weird fiction elements here are diminished in favour of science-fiction parody. The humour and the art feels like a distant cousin of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that replaced the british smartness with animated american sitcom vibe. Besides zany characters chasing their own (often shady) agendas there is all kinds of dangerous science to play with - the characters can try to stop a black hole generator, fiddle with THE INTERNET, destroy Elysium's reactor, et cetera. Furthermore, like the Tomb of Va'an Zayne, Elysium also has some mindfuckworthy lore drops and stuff related to the various ongoing events. It is by no means as large and exciting as the the Black Pyramid, but it's still a damn fine module and the zenith of this book.

S'kbah Pilgrimage is kind of a character funnel, thus it should have been the first in order, but I don't mind it being at the end of the book. The party is thrown out from the village to stop a plague of blood-sucking locusts, and aren't even allowed back until they succeed. I don't even know if returning is covered at all though, because I kept zoning out while reading it... The entire adventure is a chaotic railroad where the GM yanks the PCs from one cool scene to another. They are mostly well-written and do a fine job at establishing what's the setting is about, but the pilgrimage tries to do too much too fast - from desert travel, through subtrerranean Ka'ali worshippers, to fixing the generator of scheming dark elves... It's hard to follow its jumps between all the goodies it wants to show you and ends up being a confusing mess.

CFM ends with an appendix that contains three free products from earlier: the Crimson Dragon Slayer ultralight O5R ruleset, its Cha'alt Ascended supplement, and Old School Renaissance Like a Fucking Boss. There is also an index, yay!

Following Cha'alt's footsteps the art is stunning once again. Like the world itself it's a vivid mix of sword & sorcery, science fiction, body horror, and cosplay photos. The layout is simple, mostly gets shit done, but has a few issues. There is way too much whitespace that serves no purpose and highlighting seems to be an afterthought - while there are times when Venger plays with bolding and using colour to accent certain elements in the text, it happens rarely and doesn't help much.

CFM is chock full of content. Half of it is great, the other half not so much. Even those falling in the latter category aren't awful, but they could have been much better with minimum effort. The lack of organization and effective highlighting also diminishes the usability of the book. As a standalone product it pales in comparison to its progenitor. As a supplement it does a good job at expanding its possibilities and turning things up to twelve. If you liked the original, then by all means go grab it. If you don't have it, then get that first instead, and after absorbing it you will be able make up your mind if you want more of that stuff or not. Fingers crossed the third part will be a tighter, more focused product that manages to tie up all the loose ends.


Rules system: OSR/O5R
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
Publication date: 2020

Format: hardcover
Size: letter-size
Pages: 230

Available from:
 DriveThruRPG (pdf)
69%
A flawed gem.
I want more of it.

1 Zoth is the spice of the setting, "the bilious-green liquified remains of dead gods… monstrous, extradimensional titans who once ruled Cha'alt and various other planets". It's refined into mela'anj, which can power high tech devices, grant godlike powers, and generally fuck things up.

2 Print copies aren't out yet. Keep an eye on Venger's blog if you want one of them.

Disclaimer: The DriveThruRPG links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through the link we'll get some credit for your purchase too.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

[Review] T&T Adventures Japan

Couldn't they find a better place
 to hang out?
Tunnels & Trolls is the second oldest role-playing game on the market: its first edition was released in 1975 as a more accessible alternative to Dungeons & Dragons. Like "the world's most famous fantasy roleplaying game", it had a renaissance lately culminating in the massive, Kickstarter-funded Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe edition in 2015.

T&T Adventures Japan was released in 2018, along with the similarly themed Free RPG Day ruleset, which has the very same mini-rules along with a single solo adventure. If you thought this is an oriental sourcebook, you couldn't have been more wrong: T&TAJ is a tribute to the Japanese fandom, collecting art, manga, and adventures from their TtT Magazine.

While only 64 pages long, T&TAJ is packed with goodies. It starts with a manga about four adventurers on a dungeon crawl. The way it delivers rule explanations is a bit cringy, but nevertheless it's an amusing piece. You'll see more of them on the following pages.

The cartoon is followed by a mini T&T ruleset which explains character creation for four races (humans, elves, dwarves, fairies) and three classes (warriors, wizards, rogues), combat, saving rolls, advancement, and magic up to level 5 before it ends with random treasure generator and a bunch of character sheets - including pregens for the protagonists of the introductory manga. The actual rules take no more than 10 pages, and they do a fine job at explaining T&T's core mechanics. For those unfamiliar with it, combat usually boils down both sides rolling a bunch of d6s and adding their bonuses, then the loser takes the difference as damage. There are some cases of individual effects, like the Take That You Fiend! spell.1 Though the mini-rules might lack long-time appeal, they are enough to get your feet wet and run the adventures that follow!

The first module is Kitten-Napped, a GM adventure2 that throws players right into the whimsy! The party is hired to rescue a merchant's daughter, who was turned into cat, and kidnapped by a troll. To achieve their goal the adventurers have to infiltrate the troll hideout shrunken to tiny size, and face such dangers as spinning fans, giant-sized small animals, goblin cooks, a troll herding cats, and mundane heights that become deadly in the PCs' current condition. The author covers several ways the players can pass the challenges, and gives plenty of old-school advice for running the adventure - including punishing the players with Luck and Charisma penalties if they don't take the mission, rewarding only those who contribute to a solution, and generally allowing the players to move on if they came up with a good solution instead of asking for unnecessary saving rolls. While I don't agree with all of these, I appreciate the message. Woe to those who think XP is a participation trophy, woe to the fans of milestone leveling! Kitten-Napped is a 1-2 hours long adventure with 9 rooms illustrated on a flowchart instead of a traditional map. It's a delightful piece that captures T&T's lighthearted tone and simple gameplay.

The Guru Sylvia is well equipped
to brainwash people.
The second module, The Secret Order of the Eye, is even more comical than Kitten-Napped. It is a solo adventure where your character infiltrates a newly risen cult to assassinate its leader, a scantily clad dark elf sorceress. This is a bit more comical in tone than the previous adventure, and has a surprisingly large roster of NPCs who can be befriended or murdered. I feel kinda bad for killing brainwashed imbeciles who will gladly accept you among their ranks and trust you with all kinds of tasks, but if you get too attached and helpful your PC will have a harder time fighting the cult leader. and can even end up brainwashed. In latter case the character sheet is added to the guards as a possible foe for your next PC! That's a harsh reminder of your earlier failure... Solo adventures aren't my cup of tea, but The Secret Order of the Eye was a pleasant surprise with its interactivity, and its need for fine balance between murderhoboing and charity for success.

The last module is Journey to the Black Wall, another GM adventure. The party has to escort a weird sorceress and her servant through the wilderness, while two of her nemeses will try to thwart her journey. The whole fuss is about some teleporting shoes the sorceress wants to deliver to her disabled sister. This is a linear escort mission, with long and campy dialogues between NPCs, typical anime boss monologue by an NPC, over the top battle scene between NPCs, and almost total lack of character agency. It's like if someone gathered the worst adventure design advice and mixed it with the worst clichés of mangas and jrpgs. While Journey to the Black Wall has some intriguing elements, like the slight Wizard of Oz vibe, the sorceress and her daughter being skeleton men3, and unusual magic items, these aren't enough for redemption. It is a series of cutscenes broken up by some rolling, not an adventure.

The book ends with a manga starring the pregens once again, a short overview of what can one expect from dT&T, and some more T&T ads. Did you know there are free T&T adventures for iOS and Android? Seems like a good way to waste time on the way to the office...

T&TAJ does nothing extraordinary. The writing is forgettable, and sometimes the translation feels awkward. The layout gets shit done, but doesn't go the extra mile to help you find important details qucikly. There are small issues that bothered me probably more than they should, like references to spells and items not included in the book. The only thing I can't complain about is the art: both the cover art and the black & white interior are well done - I dare to say some of the latter are downirght stunning. Despite its faults I enjoyed the book immensely thanks to its amusing ideas, quirky humor, and amateurish charm. T&TAJ dares to be fun, which put me in the mood of giving it a shot.

Rules system: Tunnels & Trolls
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
Publication date: 2018

Format: magazine
Size: letter-size
Pages: 64

Available from:
Noble Knight Games (print)
 DriveThruRPG (pdf)
75%
A charming and entertaining
basic set for T&T.

1 I won't go into details about game mechanics. For those curious, there is a free rulebook on DriveThruRPG that has the rules, a solo adventure, and a GM adventure.
2 T&T differentiates two kinds of modules: GM adventures are your usual GM-ran modules, while solo adventures are akin to Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.
3 Skeleton men are like Nehwon ghouls: cannibal humanoids with transparent flesh. The two sisters in the module use bodypaint, mask, clothes to hide their true nature.

Disclaimer: The DriveThruRPG links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through the link we'll get some credit for your purchase too.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

[Musings] Reviews & Ratings

One night during my vacation in Rijeka I had a vivid dream of finding new issues of PC-Guru and 576 KByte at a newsstand. These two were the defining gaming magazines of my childhood. I was an avid reader of them from 1997 till 2003. After that I stopped caring about gaming magazines, because the editors I adored were mostly gone, the magazines got ridiculously expensive, and internet access became available for me in high school. When I saw that both of them had the old layout and editorial staff I started digging for my wallet, then woke up.

PC-Guru rating StarCraft

Besides the utter disappointment that it was all just a dream one thing kept bugging me: their info boxes. Both magazines had them, usually at the end of their reviews. These summarized basic stuff about the game (developer, publisher, requirements, etc.) and the editor's opinion presented in the form of a single mighty percentile value. 576 KByte even had a short tl;dr section above the final grade, and rated each of the game's four major attributes: visuals, playability, length/replayability, and sound.

576 Kbyte rating
Might & Magic VI

I really loved the percentile ratings, especially how counterintuitive they were. For many readers these numbers didn't serve as the closure of a review, but as the beginning. While I usually read the magazines cover to cover, I too prioritized reviews about games that got excellent or horrible rating over the others. I also found amusing how people interpreted the ratings. One would think that on a scale of 1 to 100 a game with 50% rating is mediocre. Even the editors told us so! Yet the general rule of thumb among readers was that games with less than 75% were not worth bothering with. Make it 80% if you are picky.

This got me thinking about improving my reviews a bit. A terse information box will not only help the reader find basic stuff about the product quickly, but also allow me to throw out trivialities from the text - like page count and format. I will also use percentile ratings from now on, because they are awesome. I have three reviews in the pipeline: Tunnels & Trolls Japan Adventures, Monsters! Monsters! 2nd edition, and Fuchsia Mayonnaise... Maladies... or something like that. They will be perfect to experiment with the new format. Stay tuned for more!

Disclaimer: The DriveThruRPG links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through the link we'll get some credit for your purchase too.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

[Homebrew] It's a Kind of Magic

The magic-user's choice.
Abandon hope all ye who enter here! These heretic house rules were written in the blood of massacred sacred cows. They haven't been properly playstested, because our Old-School Essentials campaign has been in stasis since the plague, when the highest level character just hit level 4. The reason for experimenting with spell points and throwing out memorization is as old as the hobby: most of my players are ambivalent, or at best neutral towards spell slots. I also tampered with clerics, so they have magic at level 1, and don't get both level 3 and level 4 spells on the same level. We'll see how these rules work out in the end, though so far my players liked them and I'm not that worried that it will horribly upset balance or break the game. Or maybe I just don't give a fuck anymore after running DCC RPG for years.

Preparing Spells

Spell casters don’t have to memorize spells. Users of arcane magic can cast any spell within their spellbooks, while users of divine magic can cast any spell from their spell lists.

Spell Points

Instead of spell slots, spell casters use spell points (SP) to cast magic. Casting a spell costs 1+spell’s level spell points. Recovering spell points requires a night of good rest.

Spell caster classes have the following amount of spell points:
  • Illusionists, Magic-users: level x 4 SP.
  • Clerics, Druids: level x 3 SP.
  • Bards: (level-1) x 2 SP.
  • Rangers, Samurai: (level-7) x 2 SP.
  • Paladins: (level-8) x 2 SP.

Spells become available at the following levels :

Maximum spell level by class

Lv

Ill, MU

Cl, Dr

Brd

R,S

P

1

1

1

-

-

-

2

1

1

1

-

-

3

2

2

1

-

-

4

2

2

1

-

-

5

3

3

2

-

-

6

3

4

2

-

-

7

4

5

2

-

-

8

4

5

3

1

-

9

5

5

3

1

1

10

5

5

3

2

1

11

6

5

4

2

2

12

6

5

4

3

2

13

6

5

4

3

3

14

6

5

4

3

3


Spellburn

When running out of spell points, spellcasters can burn their own hit points. The chance of success is equal to the chance of copying spells (OSE Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules p. 50.) with a penalty of (missing spell points x 10%). The caster spends the remaining spell points to cast the spell, then takes damage equal to the missing amount of spell points.

Success: The spell is successfully cast.

Failure: The spell fails, roll on the table below.

Healing: Spellburn damage temporarily reduces the maximum hit points, which can only be recovered through natural healing.

Spell Mishaps

When spellcasting fails during spellburn roll on the following table to see what happens. In case of thieves failing with scrolls the spellburn damage is 1d6.

Spell Mishaps

1d20

Result

1-2

Spell fails, no further harm done.

3-4

Etheric backlash doubles spellburn damage.

5-6

Etheric explosion, in a 100’ radius everyone suffers the spellburn damage.

7-8

Caster stunned for spellburn rounds.

9-10

A random spell of manifests. Its level is equal to the amount of spellburn

damage taken.

11-12

Spell backfires at caster! If the spell is harmless, be creative with the result,

or choose another spell of the same level.

13-14

Reversed spell! If the spell has no reverse, be creative with the result,

or choose another spell of same level.

15-16

Temporary loss of random ability score equal to spellburn damage.

With each day of rest 1 point of the ability score returns.

17-18

Caster unable to cast spells for spellburn turns.

19-20

Caster knocked out cold for spellburn turns.


Friday, 3 July 2020

[Kickstarter] They Came For Your Money

Possible future picture of PoN after
The Palace of Unquiet Repose is released.
The best thing about the pandemic is that all the money I couldn't spend on travel can be blown on ebay and Kickstarter. And July started all gun blazing on the Kickstarter front.

There are 4 days left of the Dunkeldorf: The Prancing Peacock campaign, which I don't want to waste any more word on - I have already talked enough about it.

There are 3 days left of the Giant Slayer!! campaign by Paul Smith (aka Creative Sculpt Studio / Dark Hollow Miniatures), who has been churning out all kinds of cool Oldhammer miniatures in the last few years, from chaos warriors through beastmen to badass mutant mollusks. Despite its name the Giant Slayer!! campaign offers more than a rude giant slayer standing atop a giant's head - which is a scene near and dear to me, because it pretty much happened in my high school Warhammer FRP 2e campaign too more than a decade ago. There are also two lovely valkyrie giant slayers wearing various levels of armour, and a valkyrie sorceress apprentice inspired by Fantasia.

A few days ago Prince of Nothing announced on the Age of Dusk blog the inevitable coming of The Palace of Unquiet Repose. The campaign hasn't even started yet, but the hype is real. Will the dutch luminary's magnum opus shake up the slumbering OSR scene? Will this nordic pundit become the long-waited messiah ushering a new golden age of old-school gaming? And most importantly: will he write a fair and humble review about his own work on his blog?

That's a pretty solid start for the second half of 2020.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

[Miniatures] Dunkeldorf Prototypes and Painting Hans the Joyful

Like last year, the fine folk running King Games DK sent me some promotional material for their new line of Dunkeldorf miniatures. The box was larger than I expected: besides the resin prototypes, stickers, and some art, it also contained a cool mug, which will surely see some use during my painting sessions. The miniatures I received were a cupboard, some containers with food, Philipp der Pfau (the mascot of the Prancing Peacock inn), Hans the Joyful (a merry patron holding a tankard of foaming beer), and Franz the Mutant (your quintessential tentacled Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay mutant). Writing a preview about my first impressions felt half-assed, so I decided to set my current projects aside, paint one of the prototypes, and write a "How It's Made" special about the process.

From Denmark with love.

Have no illusions: this won't be a tutorial. I started painting miniatures only three years ago. I work slow, I don't use any fancy techniques, I don't know much about colour theory, and sometimes I don't even touch my brushes for weeks. It is a secondary hobby for me to supplement tabletop rpgs, and also a way to chill - until I spill out a pot or drink from the wrong mug. So instead of lessons, get ready for a recollection of my fumblings accompanied by rants and shitty photos.

As I mentioned above, the minis are made of resin, a material I'm not too fond of. Despite my prejudice I was pleasently surprised with what I got: the details were crisp, the material felt sturdy, and the only preparation I had to do was washing them well with warm water and dishwasher liquid to remove the remaining mould release agent. Of course I managed to drop a mini in my mug of water, and as I hastily reached for it Archimedes' principle kicked in, and I flooded the entire table.

The prototypes drying in company of some
Creative Sculpt Studio beastmen and slimes.

After everything dried I glued the minis unto the bases they came with. Here I ran into a small issue with the resin: the tabs were very thin compared to the slots. In case of metal you can bend it with a plier until it fits, but with the rigid resin that wasn't an option. In the end I glued Hans and Franz to the base by the foot with some UHU super glue. I prefer gel super glues, but alas I couldn't find it anywhere, so I had to go with liquid, which was almost empty, and its tube was broken leaking glue all over my desk and fingers. It felt like elementary school DIY classes all over again.

Silence before the storm.

Once I was done with the bases I fixed the figurines on a box with Blu Tack and grabbed my brand new rattle can of Army Painter Matt Black Primer to prime them. I usually cover my minis black, because I work from dark to light colours, plus accidentally leaving some black in the recesses doesn't stand out like a sore thumb. I shook the can vigorously (dare I say violently) until I heard a rattling under the bottle cap. It turned out the cap came off - an unprecedented accident so far for me.

After fixing the cap I put on my mask (originally given to me to fight Papa Nurgle, but I'm flexible), and primed the minis with short bursts until they were covered nice and smooth from all angles. Something I learned at my own expense is when it's hot it's better to spray from a shorter distance, otherwise the paint dries before it hits the mini, resulting in a rough surface. I didn't repeat that mistake this time. I left the minis out for half an hour. I would have left them out longer weren't for the coming rain. Nevermind, I can endure the smell of acryllic. Heck, I even enjoy it a bit. It might have something to do with helping my father spraying cars when I was a child.

I see a mini and I want it painted black...

At this point I was still unsure which figurine should I paint. Franz the Mutant is a far more interesting chap, he looks like someone stepping right out of The Enemy Within campaign. There were already plenty of images floating around the internet of him though, so I went with Hans the Joyful instead.

Hans the Joyful still looking grim.

The time has come to come up with a colour scheme. The official images show Hans wearing a yellow shirt and a lovely purple doublet. I decided to do something different: my Hans is a burgher wearing more mundane, dirty colours. After some Googling I decided to give him an off-white shirt, red doublet, and black boots. I did hesitate a bit about the red because of the awful quality of most red paints.

Googling for references.

After I figured out the colours I assembled the triads for them. For those unfamiliar with the term, a triad consists three shades of a colour which you will use to build up layers from dark to light. Some manufacturers, like Wargames Foundry and Reaper Miniatures sell their paints in triads, which is extremely helpful for beginners. I have found a handy reference for Vallejo triads too on The Bolter & Chainsword forums, though the more experienced I become the more I diverge from them. The Paint Color Comparison Chart and Miniature Paints Color Matcher are also invaluable tools for picking colours. 

The colours I used for Hans - from dark to light, with additional comments:
  • Skin: Foundry Flesh triad. I used to have ssues early with getting skintones right. After I got tired of fooling around with the bazillion skintones I already had I bought the Foundry flesh triads, and never looked back. Because Foundry paints are relatively thin I don't paint them directly over black. For the skin I slapped on a layer of VMC[1] Flat Brown first.
  • Shirt, feather: Foundry Boneyard triad. My go-to warm white, be it skeleton, linen, fur, etc. Similar to the skin, I painted it over a layer of VMC Flat Brown.
  • Doublet, beret: VGC[2] Terracotta shaded with a mix of Citadel Druchii Violet and Agrax Earthshade, VGC Gory Red, VGC Bloody Red. I washed the terracotta with the Druchii Violet and Agrax Earthshade mix to darken it a bit. The glossiness of VGC Gory Red made painting the transparent VGC Bloody Red over it a pain in the ass. If I could do it again I would go with my VMC reds instead.
  • Boots, belt, trim: CdA[3] Black, CdA Iron Grey, CdA Dark Grey. In the end I shaded the leather with a wash made from VGI[4] Black, to make the transition smoother and the black leather feel more... leathery.
  • Belt buckle: CdA Brass shaded with VGI Brown, CdA Brass, CdA Bronze. I bought these as parts of a bronze triad, but the middle tone (CdA Dwarven Bronze) was rubbish and didn't fit the rest of the colours anyway. The shade and light colours on the other hand are great (my girlfriend calls CdA Brass her favorite gold), so I ended up darkening the CdA Brass with brown inks and washes, and using the CdA Brass as the midtone.
  • Beer foam: P3 Rucksack Tan mixed with P3 Moldy Ochre, Foundry Boneyard 5B, Foundry Boneyard 5C. I did not want to use the entire Boneyard triad again, so I tried to mix up something more amberlike for the beer. Ironically it ended up very similar to the Foundry Boneyard 5A. Oh well...
  • Tankard: VGC Charred Brown, VMC Flat Brown, VGC Beasty Brown.
  • Tankard metal rim: P3 Pig Iron shaded with VGI Black, P3 Pig Iron, P3 Cold Steel.
  • Trousers: P3 Greatcoat Grey, P3 Greatcoat Grey mixed with P3 Ironhull Grey, P3 Ironhull Grey.
The tools of my trade:
  • Citadel S Layer: My go-to workhorse brush since I started painting. Has a good tip, it's fine for layering and highlighting too. I call it the "slayer brush".
  • Citadel M Base: For painting larger surfaces, especially during colour blocking. Its bristles got scruffy after first use, and I couldn't fix them ever since.
  • Citadel S Base: For those times the Citadel M Base brush is too big. Seems to be better than its big brother, it only has a single bristle that doesn't know its place.
  • Citadel S Dry: Solid drybrush I guess, I've been using this for a while, and the previous one had a decent lifespan too. I wish it was smaller.
  • Windsor & Newton Series #7 Sable Brush 0: I fucking love this brush. Sharp and short, perfect for painting small details - like eyes, tattoos, lips, eyebrows.

Once I had my paints, tools, mug of water, and dirt cheap homemade wet palette ready, I started colour blocking with thin layers of the darkest shades. I try to do colour blocking as neat as possible, though no matter how precise I am there is always something to clean up - like the face around the eyes. When doing the eyes I first paint them the same colour as the face, then darken the recesses around them with a brown ink. This outline makes the eyes pop, and they also won't look like stickers on a plastic puppet.

Damn, you're ugly.

Next I started layering with midtones. I only left the deeper recesses dark. Hans had some nice folds on his clothes and salient facial features that made picking out the higher parts easy. When I couldn't figure out what should be emphasized I drybrushed the area slightly with the midtone to highlight what's worth picking out. I keep having problems with layering boots for some reason, so I usually drybrush them entirely. Otherwise I avoid drybrushing if possible, because it's hard to control and can mess up neighbouring colours. I neatened up the area around the eyes, and used my sharpest brush to pick out the eyeballs using Foundry Boneyard 5C, and  the teeth Foundry Boneyard 5B (he doesn't brush them very often).

Now even creepier with white eyes.


After finishing the midtones I began highlighting the topmost parts with the lightest colours, using layering for larger surfaces and edge highlighting for the edges.This was the time when I noticed, that the hair feels more like thick strands of spaghetti. More and thinner locks, or not having a shoulder length hair would help a great deal in avoiding the hair looking like a rasta. The feather's barbs were awkward too, but that's less visible, and when I can't find a feature I can just paint it in where I feel it should be. In the end it's the shades what make your miniature feel three dimensional.

I used my sharpest brush to paint a thin black vertical line over the eyes. It's a good idea to do this with the iris being closer to the nose. The eyes will be assymetric anyway, but with the irises leaning outward the mini will feel squint-eyed - though in case of Hans I toyed with the idea of doing so to make him look really wasted.

Still in need of some final touches.

After all the above I took some time to fix small mistakes and paint missing features - eg. I tinted the lower lip with some mix of red and pink, and evened out the irises using Foundry Boneyard 5C. Once done I sealed Hans with a layer of Vallejo Polyurethane Glossy Varnish, left him dry until the morning, fixed some more mistakes that revealed themselves in the light of the morning Sun, then finished the entire process by sealing him with Vallejo Polyurethane Matt Varnish.

I was lucky enough that my friends fucked up plenty of varnishings before I wanted to seal a mini for the first time, and they wree kind enough to tell me which varnishes to avoid. Initially I used Coat d'Arms varnishes. They were pretty good, but noticably dulled the colours and ate the highlights. Later I discovered Vallejo's polyurethane varnishes, which didn't mess with my work and dried much faster.

Ready to have a good time!

Hans the Joyful is a rather simple, yet characterful miniature full of potential. I'm considering getting another one to paint it squint-eyed, drool leaking from his mouth, vomit spot on his boots, black hole among his teeth. Life is too short to repaint the same stuff over and over again though! The Prancing Peacock campaign is full of other intriguing characters, and I still have plenty of unpainted minis all over my room. The next one victim will be Franz the Mutant. I might write a post about him too, but I can't promise to finish that before the campaign ends.

If you want to see what others did with the prototypes, check out #dunkeldorf on Instagram, or The Dunkeldorf Community on facebook. If you want to know more about the project visit dunkeldorf.eu or the official Dunkeldorf Miniatures facebook page.

By the way I found my gel superglue between my shelves and the desk when I dropped something...

[1] Vallejo Model Color
[2] Vallejo Game Color
[3] Coat d'Arms
[4] Vallejo Game Ink