Tuesday 24 December 2019

[Homebrew] The Portals of Eremus Have Opened

Like all good campaigns it started in a tavern.
By session #3 they stepped on the moon.
In August our HackMaster campaign ended with a glorious TPK, after which we decided to give the game some rest - it was fun, but it was becoming a bit tiresome, plus we were in the mood to play something else. My best and longest campaigns so far were my two Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaigns (using Swords & Wizardry Complete and D&D5e), and my homebrew Terminus campaign (using DCC RPG). Following the old wisdom "let the shoemaker stick to his last" I decided to run something akin to those: a gonzo kitchen sink sandbox inspired Wilderlands, Arduin, Tékumel, Wizardry 6-8, and the various Might & Magic games.

"I hope it won't be AD&D though" said one of my players after I told them my idea. Once again my plans to use my dream mix of AD&D 1e + 2e + house rules were delayed indefinitely. I rarely let my players have a say in what I'm going to run, but this time I had to agree with him, because I both wanted to minimize preparations and introduce some new players to the game, thus something lighter seemed beneficial. Enter Old-School Essentials, which I managed to upgrade last minute to the print version in the pledge manager, which closed on the night of the aforementioned TPK. After I got the pdf I began to revamp old materials, write new stuff, convert content from other games, draw shitty maps, outsource said maps to someone more skilled, and so on.

This isn't even my final form!
Thus Eremus was born, a continent on Anachron IV, a planet terraformed eons ago by the primogenitors to be a paradise on the galactic fringe. Then they fucked it up during their great war, and vanished without a trace, leaving behind the soldiers and creatures they summoned from across time and space to wage their battles. After a long dark age the survivors began to rebuild civilization.

The campaign which I named Portals of Eremus takes place millennia later, during the tumultuous centuries following collapse of the Tritonian Empire, which ruled over the entire region before it fell apart during the Succession Wars. The players are adventurers seeking fame and fortune in the Contested Lands, where barbaric kings began to raise kingdom upon the ruins of past nations.

We use a heavily modified and expanded version of OSE. Without going into details, the following resources are in use, more or less (sometimes an entire book, other times a few articles only):

Plenty of house rules are work in progress, under playtest, even totally untested. Nothing is set in stone, and if they won't work out as intended they will be changed, retconned, or thrown out. Not that I care too much about balance, but usability and simplicity are paramount. If we keep forgetting to use something, then it wasn't interesting in the first place and should be thrown out. Some highlights of my house rules document:
  • crapton of races for the wandering circus feel
  • monk, samurai, techno class conversions
  • a deck o' stuff table that keeps growing
  • learning skills and talents by training
  • improving ability scores by questing
  • smoother THAC0 and save charts
  • expanded secondary skill list
  • spell point based spellcasting
  • spellburn and spell mishaps
  • expanded weapon qualities
  • dungeon fortune cookies
  • combat maneuvers
  • psychic powers

I will go into the details in future posts. I will also consider writing session reports, but time and time again they have proven to be something I can't keep up with on the long. For now, enjoy the Holidays, and this overview map by Gábor Csomós (author of the excellent The Lost Valley of Kishar).

Work in progress overview map of Central Eremus

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.

Monday 23 December 2019

[Review] Cha'alt, Part I: Planet of Apostrophes

Beauty is in the eye of the be'holder.
It's the end of December and I finally have some time to sit down and blog again. Since Christmas is right around the corner, it would be fitting to write about something relevant, like The Kringle Castle Invaders or How Orcus Stole Christmas!, but I won't yield to the comformity of the Holiday Season - instead I'm going to write about Cha'alt, like a fucking boss. Cha'alt is the magnum opus of Venger As'Nas Satanis, a controversial OSR author and a many-faced agent of Chaos. Is he a Raggi knockoff? A za'akier high priest of Cthulhu? A mad genius of adventure design? A juvenile metalhead with sleazy imagination? The greatest troll of the old-school gaming community? He might be all of them, and neither...

I have ambivalent feelings about Venger's previous works.  While there is a rampant creativity behind them I enjoy, it's often smothered by incoherent writing. Venger needs someone to discipline him, badly - preferably not with a whip, because he would enjoy that, but with strong criticism. Enter the fair prince of the Netherlands, whose passionate reviews of Venger's works lead to one of the most entertaining bromances I have seen in the history of the OSR. Him jumping aboard during the Kickstarter campaign was the straw that broke the camel's back, and made me shill out the money for the pdf.

I would gladly travel back in time to the very moment I selected my reward tier on Kickstarter to slap myself for being a miserly bastard and not going for the hardcover, because Cha'alt looks stunning. It's a lavishly illustrated book with a nice parchment background. The art styles are varied, and do a good job at telling what kind of kitchen sink madness awaits the reader in this book as the mecha battles, lovecraftian monsters, vast deserts, gonzo postapocalyptic scenes come alive on its pages. Sometimes it's unusually alive, thanks to the cosplayer photos used here and there instead of illustrations. They aren't bad at all, but they feel a bit out of place. Cha'alt uses colours to convey information: all chapters have a defining colour scheme that makes them immediately recognisable, and maps have sections differentiated by colouring too. Sometimes it goes a bit overboard, but it didn't make my eyes bleed. Most of the text is presented in a simple two column layout, with a rather minimalistic use of highlighting and bullet points. It's okay, because the majority of the entries are short anyway, but it does feel a bit lackluster after the clean german precision of Old-School Essentials. The stat blocks do deserve praise though: although far from groudbreaking, they use space effectively, are easy to read, and cover everything you need in a terse style. They are like a very light-weight version of HackMaster's combat rose.

People with 300 hp mechas are the kind of people
one should befriend.
While Cha'alt doesn't use an exact rules system, I wouldn't call it system neutral either: the stats are some hodge podge of a D&D-isms with hit dice, hit points, ascending armour class, and single saving throw. It's straightforward and easy to convert to your game of choice, though if Cha'alt is very old-school in one way, it's balance - or rather, it's lack of. Monster power levels are all over the place, some of them have ridiculously high hit points, and there are save or die attacks galore! The Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 ruleset is included in the appendix, though calling it a ruleset is a far stretch - it's one of those super light few pages long "systems" that I find too vague and basic for anything other than a beer & pretzels session (heck, even for those I would rather run B/X or Tunnels & Trolls).

Enough of the form though, let's talk about substance! Cha'alt offers a post-apocalyptic setting that feels like an unholy bastard of Gamma World, Tatooine, Dune, Lovecraft, and who knows what else. Originally a generic fantasy world, Cha'alt was first fucked up by the Old Ones for shits and giggles, then aeons later again when they re-awakened and started an apocalyptic war with the now technologically advanced surface dwellers. The current era is called the Obsidian age, where ancient technology, sorcery fueled by the corpses of fallen Old Ones, monsters mutated by the radioactive wastelands, and insane lovecraftian cults co-exist. There are also travellers from outer space who visit Cha'alt to extract the rare resource called zoth needed to refine the spice Mela'anj, which will destroy the planet in a few months. The latter is mentioned only casually once or twice, which is surprising considering saving or leaving the planet seems to be a great hook to kick off the campaign.

Cha'alt's (sigh) map aims to look good over being functional. I would preferr having a hex or square grid overlay over the scale at the bottom right corner - I hated using that on geography classes, and still do twenty years later. There are a dozen intriguing points of interest shown on the map, including a city mind controlled by a giant purple demon worm, a high tech outpost guarded with battle-droids, a sea of green slime full of dredge, a hardcore feminist matriarchy where males are castrated, and so on. The journey between them isn't trivial, because most of the region is covered by the S'kbah, a radioactive desert that will kill or mutate the unprepared. The rules and advice for travelling the hostile sands and obsidian patches are simple: bring plenty of food and water, doff your armour, take anti-radiation pills, and avoid other wanderers.

Rare photo of a ga'athrul mating ritual.
The latter should be taken to heart considering what kind of factions inhabit the wasteland: the cults of the desert are worshippers of Old Ones, the skeevers are desert pirates scavenging the S'kbah, the hunter-killer droids are mysterious machines attacking humanoids on sight, the spice frackers are the aforementioned space travellers, the death-stalkers are nihilistic raiders who fuel their vehicles with blood, and the Dha'arma Initiative is a secret sect of scientists trying to change the past so the Apocalypse never happened. All are cool and inspiring, but it's a pity that half of them is so antagonistic by default it's unlikely the PCs will do anything else other than fighting them. If the desert wasn't colourful enough already, gargantuan sand worms, alien dinosaurs, serpentine sirens, and lovecraftian horrors also lurk among the dunes. Except for the sirens, neither of them has less than 10 HD. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that Cha'alt begs to be ran using Rifts. MDC weapons will come handy.

The overview ends with a generic loot table for NPCs (simple but good), some meh magic items (the good ones are in the adventures), six elf sub-races with vague racial abilities (interestingly none of them has tentacles), a random chart for names (of course most of them has a'po'stro'phes), and some rules about saving throws, advantage and disadvantage, critical success and failure. This section was a bit of a letdown after all the zaniness seen so far, but it's just a slight downturn before Cha'alt picks up the pace again. We are 32 pages in, and the meat of the book is just about to begin, so buckle up!

Other parts of the series:
Part II: Dungeons and Demon Cat-Snakes
Part III: Fear and Loathing in the Black Pyramid

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 26 October 2019

Satanic Panic's Great Gnolls

No trace of hyena DNA here.
One little bit of detail that made me raise an eyebrow when first reading the Monsters & Treasures booklet of Original Dungeons & Dragons was the description of gnolls: "A cross between Gnomes and Trolls (. . . perhaps, Lord Dunsany did not really make it all that clear) with +2 morale.".[1] After knowing them as hyena men for years I found this paragraph more than amusing, especially with the included illustration, which shows them as some crouching goblinoid.

Since the release of the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual the hyena-headed humanoid became the widespread design for gnolls, and I recall very few examples that deviated from them. One of them was Citadel's FTG Fantasy Tribes Gnolls line, where similar to OD&D's Monsters & Treasures the gnolls were big goblinoids. The line was later renamed to FTG Fantasy Tribes Goblins, and finally became C12 Great Goblins.

This April Satanic Panic Miniatures ran a Kickstarter campaign to release its Great Gnoll line - a bunch of multi-part old-school miniatures inspired by the classic gnolls/great goblins. The campaign was successful, and the figurines are available for sale on the SPM website. A few months ago during a sale I bought two sets, which collected dust until two weeks ago. Despite my aversion towards multi-part miniatures, I had a lot of fun already with these little bastards, and I'm nowhere near finished! I spent a copious amount of time figuring out how to combine the various parts, gluing them together, coming up with the color schemes, et cetera. Alas this project is on hold now, for I ran out of bases, which probably won't arrive in the next two weeks (thanks Brexit).

Crossbow gnoll looks so excited to get primed,
 longsword gnoll not so much.
The minis have separate heads, torsoes, shields, and weapons. While the bodies within a set are identical, the heads are all distinct and characterful - my favorite being the one with the chubby cheeks and buck teeth. For some strange reason there are only three shields for four minis, but the weapons more than compensate for that, because there is a crapton of them. Preparing the great gnolls wasn't hard. There were plenty of flashes to cut down, but none of them were problematic, and the seamlines were few and far between. Be careful with the weapons though! They are a bit fragile, I managed to break a sword while trying to force it into a great gnoll's hand. The "great" part in their name is no joke, they are pretty tall for goblinoids - they are a bit shorter  than my Frostgrave characters, and taller than my Heartbreaker Kev Adams orcs.

Not sure what these charming fellows will be at my table. I might introduce them as "true" gnolls into Old School Essentials, or use them as great goblins in Zweihänder. It's also possible I'll use them as hobgoblins until I find better minis for that - although SPM has some intriguing plans for them too. Speaking of which, SPM has another Kickstarter campaign running as I post this to produce a bunch of multi-part great gnoll boar riders. There are only a few days left, and it's almost funded. If you are not interested in mounted units or you want some footmen too, you can add the original infantry packs and their C variants to the pledge.

A finished great gnoll in classic D&D hobgoblin colours.

[1] Interestingly the Lord Dunsany story the author refers to is How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art upon the Gnoles from Book of Wonders, and doesn't have any description of its titular gnoles. In Margaret St. Clair's The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles one of they are likened to an artichoke, and have tentacles instead of arms.

Monday 30 September 2019

[Review] Wee Warriors Reprints, Part III: The Misty Isles

The original cover dug up from the depths
of Pinterest, because you deserve it.
Well crap, it took more than two months, but here we go again: the final part of my Wee Warriors reviews has arrived! The Misty Isles is not only the last of the Wee Warriors modules, but also happens to be my favorite from the trilogy. Unlike its predecessors, Palace of the Vampire Queen and Dwarven Glory, the third and final DM's Toolkit is not a dungeon crawl, but a collection of nine small islands complete with hex maps and keyed entries.

Lacking better option I have to go with the Pacesetter release again, which thankfully has no bland AD&D conversion this time. This doesn't mean the Pacesetter version is an exact reproduction of the originals: the maps were revamped, there are some reused illustrations, and a new cover nobody asked for. My mind boggles why we get is a cheap ass homage instead of the real deal - again. Heck, Bill Barsh even praises the original cover in the introduction! At least it could have been included in the book, but alas instead of preserving this historical piece of rpg art it was more important to waste an entire page for an orc, and for the fucking Vampire Queen again, who isn't even in the module. Give her a rest, please.

The Misty Isles wastes no time on bullshit. After a short guide about using the maps and an introduction we get a summary the nine islands, which then the book describes in more details one after another (frequently on a different name, to make things confusing). Each isle comes with a map of 21 hexes, and a few pages of entries explaining what each hex contains. There are only a few empty spots, which are usually areas covered by the sea anyway. The regions are full of encounters and adventure sites described in very dense, but straightforward manner. Monster and NPC stat blocks are embedded in the text, and aren't highlighted in any way, so good luck looking them up on the fly. Not that they would help much, at best you get hit points and armor type (not class!), other times just class and level. Most entries are related to the main conflict or theme of the land, and frequently the hexes are connected to each other, even if it isn't spelled out outright. Yeah, they weren't big on cross referencing back in the day either (although there are some examples).

If the overpowered local ruler wasn't enough, there are hexes
of carnivorous unicorns and transforming wild cats.
But why should you care about a bunch of small hex maps with messy entries? Besides being historical curiosities from the dawn of our hobby, they are also surprisingly good. The themes and tone of the isles range from mundane through fantastic to gonzo. While the most remarkable happening on the Island of Baylor might be a plot against its king or a royal hunt, on the ruined Island of Dwarven Outcasts one of the warring clans discovered an arsenal of modern weapons, on the magically fucked up Island of Warring Wizards an order of lawful kung-fu wizards have been fighting chaotic magic-users lead by a beautiful sorceress for fifty years now, and on the Island of Tripids invasive shapechanging space plants are waiting for a way to spread out. My absolute favorite would be the Island of Nonhumans, which was conquered by merciless aliens who are now living in harmony with nature. Would be, if it wasn't left for the GM to work it out...

Well fuck you too.
The empty half page under the "NOTES" subtitle is just furter insult to the injury. There is one intriguing tidbit in the text though: the "if the game is played without a Game Master" part. GM-less roleplaying games seemed to be a relatively new invention for me - with the exception of solo adventures and gamebooks, which are a different kind of animal. For some reason the author felt an urge to mention how to handle the island for GM-less play, which suggests it must have been a ting even back in the day. Gentle reader, if you have any stories, house rules, or anything about GM-less sessions from the seventies or eighties, please share it in the comment section below. Thank you!

The way The Misty Isles approaches its regions is quite different from how the contemporary giant Wilderlands of High Fantasy does it with its dry charts and lists. It's also pretty deceptive. The entries in The Misty Isles might be wordier, but usually they don't carry more net valuable information than what you can decipher from the average Wilderlands of High Fantasy entry, and it's also harder to find relevant information in a chunk of text than in a table row. While far from perfect, I consider Wilderlands of High Fantasy to be a far more useful tool in running a hexcrawl with its technical style. One thing that The Misty Isles does better though, is being focused. While its regions are smaller, they all have an obvious overarching theme, which makes them easier to grasp for both Players and Referees.

The Misty Isles is a curious relic of the past. It's rough, it won't blow your mind, and there is a product from the same era that did at better job at what The Misty Isles attempted, but still, it's an interesting and entertaining snapshot from the era of low production values and high creativity. It has a heart and a vivid imagination behind it, and for that alone I recommend having it on your shelf, be it physical or virtual. Still, fuck you for the Island of Nonhumans...

Onward to Cha'alt...

Tl;dr: A forgotten attempt at sandbox campaigns that falters in presentation, but has some really good ideas.

Where to find it: You can find the module in print and pdf in the Pacesetter Games & Simulations webshop. Some of their modules are alse available on DriveThruRPG in pdf, so I wouldn't be surprised if the above mentioned three would surface there in the near future.

Other parts of the series:
Part I: Palace of the Vampire Queen
Part II: Dwarven Glory

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 29 September 2019

Beasts of Chaos!! Kickstarter Launched

Why buy a regular minotaur when you can get one
with a fucking drill arm?!
In July I had an interview with Paul Smith of Creative Sculpt Studio about his second Kickstarter campaign called The Bigger Hordes of Chaos!!!, where he was gathering money to expand his line of Oldhammer chaos warrior miniatures. The campaign not only succeeded, but the rewards arrived in time. I love them all, they are characterful sculpts that are fun to work with, so it's needless to say, even with my ever growing backlog of unpainted figurines I was eagerly waiting for the next line.

The third Kickstarter campaign called the Beasts of Chaos!! just launched this week. I'm not sure why there is one less exclamation mark in the title - heck, there should be at least four, because it's a more ambitious project than the earlier ones. This time Paul wants to introduce a bunch of misshapen monsters into the hordes of Chaos - hounds, beastmen, minotaurs, slugs, and even a Jabberwocky. Some of these are pretty big, and thus only available in resin, unless we cough up enough money to cover the cost of metal moulds.

If you are looking for quality, hand-sculpted, old-school miniatures for your Warhammer FRP or Zweihänder sessions, I recommend checking out the campaign.

My humble attempt at painting the Cavalier from
The Bigger Hordes of Chaos!!! in the colours of Tzeentch.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

[Content] Generic Fillable B/X Character Record Sheet

What the new campaign will end up looking like.
Summer has been busier than usual this year, if it wasn't obvious from the lack of blogposts. Miraculously it didn't have any effect on my campaigns - unlike the chain of bad decisions and critical hits that TPK-d my HackMaster party. My players started rolling up new level 1 characters immediately (that's the spirit!), but the process came to a halt as we ended up discussing that this might be a good time to give HackMaster some rest, and play something else. We agreed that an old-school kitchen sink sandbox using the B/X rules would be fun, so that's what I'm going to run starting this September or October.

I've spent a few hours on retooling one of my older character records into a bare-bones, printer friendly, form-fillable sheet. B/X has probably the largest amount of variants and descendants within the OSR. My game of choice is Old-School Essentials by Necrotic Gnome, but I wanted my character sheet to be useful for those too, who prefer some other flavour. Thus, there are no logos or watermarks on it. On the other hand, it has a place for race, in case you are running a variant with Advanced options. I hope you will find it useful!

Generic Fillable B/X Character Record Sheet (A4)
Generic Fillable B/X Character Record Sheet (US Letter)
Generic Fillable B/X Character Record Sheet with AAC (A4)
Generic Fillable B/X Character Record Sheet with AAC (US Letter)

Update #1: US Letter-size version added.

Update #2: Version with both descending and ascending AC addad.

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 2 July 2019

[Interview] Paul Smith About Sculpting and the Ever-Growing Hordes of Chaos!!!

The Ultimate Chaos Hero!
A few months ago in an Oldhammer group I ran into a nicely painted miniature of Kaleb Daark, the forgotten badass champion of the forgotten badass Chaos God Malal. At first I thought it was an ancient Citadel mini I haven’t seen before, but as it turned out it was a custom sculpt made by the talented Paul Smith of Creative Sculpts / Dark Hollow Miniatures. He already had a small but successful Kickstarter campaign called The Hordes of Chaos!!! that helped him start a line of Chaos Champions, and is running his second campaign called The Bigger Hordes of Chaos!!! to expand the line, which will end in a few days. Since Paul seemed to be keen on answering questions and talking about his work, I thought I should ask him for an interview.

When did you get involved with miniatures?

I started to kitbash tanks and jet plane airfix models when I was about 8 years old - painted them gold and silver enamels to look sci-fi... It was the 70s everything was in white or silver and looked sterile.

I started collecting miniatures when my Nan took me out for the day (we lived in Balham SW 12) to a shop in Hammersmith - and I bought my first miniature: a pre-slotta dwarf. It was so grey, I painted everything back then in enamels. I went on to buy a Chaos Dwarf Bazooka Team, and then saved, and bought more and more when I could.

How did you get into tabletop gaming?

I didn’t start tabletop gaming until last year when I bought HeroQuest. I absolutely love the ease of game mechanics, although now we are all thinking about adding new characters, and rules, and working out some level progression for our existing characters. It’s just loads of fun, my family and friends love playing it, and we usually make an evening of it with drinks and nibbles - £120 well spent! In fact I love playing it so much that I commissioned someone to make me £300 worth of dungeon tiles and buildings that I’m painting up (slowly as time allows)

So you got into minis without the influence of any wargames, rpgs, or other games, do I understand that correctly?

Yes, I always enjoyed drawing and painting as a kid - loved fantasy and sci-fi. My dream job as a child was to be able to make monster like I saw in the Ray Harryhausen movies like Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Star Wars (obviously!), Alien - these fuelled my imagination so much I wanted to have my own creatures. I started collecting White Dwarf magazine and loved all the fluff/backstories to the scenarios and the painted minis . As far as gaming went I didn’t know anyone else that was into it at that age and I moved around a lot for the next years - from London to Bournemouth to the middle of nowhere in country village.

When did you start sculpting?

When I was 11. My first mini that I made was a “slime monster”! With a spear! It was made out of Blu Tack and the spear was a cocktail stick... I painted it green with black shade and a mix of white and green for highlights ... all in enamels. I was super chuffed with it until a few days later, and then the paint started peeling off it ... Then along comes WD and someone in it mentioned Milliput, and how you could stipple it to make grass and also make mushrooms.

Bugs Bunny after a few months of warpstone diet.
When did you start freelancing?

Well, I did paint miniatures for money as a teen for the very small group of fellow teens that collect minis as well - I had also by this point started doing conversions and making full scale dioramas. Just before I turned 17 a friend in Bournemouth contacted me and asked if I wanted to move down there and sculpt miniatures with him and a mate - which I jumped at!

So I grabbed my backpack and moved down there. It was a small company run out of an old school house on a private estate in Winterbourne/Dorset. The owners didn’t charge rent, just wanted a collection of the miniatures we made. I sculpted a few minis and learnt how to cast, clean up, and paint resin casts for sale in shops all over the country and for festivals - Glastonbury festival being one of them and the Dorset steam fair being another. Our stuff was very influenced by the art of Rackham/Froud/Lee - all of which were big influences as well as 2000AD artists, Simon Bisley, Rodney Matthews, Roger Dean, Vallejo, Frazetta, Blanche....

Also, strictly speaking my mates couldn’t actually afford to pay me, so they subsidised my rent in the bedsit and I sold reject models at the weekend to make some cash to live on

You mention in your Kickstarter profile that you took a break for 27 years. Why did you leave the hobby, and how did you rediscover it?

Unfortunately my mate’s company suffered a bit of a blow - the person doing the accounts was draining money out of it on “expenses”, which is why we never seemed to see much of a profit and it came to an unhappy split - my mate was so upset by it that he stopped trading . I went back to where I used to live, met a girl, got married, had kids - broke up a few years later - time just seemed to fly by and I just didn’t really get back into it. Getting a “real job”, paying bills, and spending time with my kids became my priority when I got married and stayed my priority ever since. My kids moved in with me 14 years ago and they are now grown and flown the coop.

So I rediscovered the hobby a few years ago. I was doing my first ever further education course learning to become a therapist at Southampton university - half way through my 3 year course a series of unfortunate events happened - my mum passed away, my brother had been diagnosed as mentally ill, and some other things that I don’t wish to get into happened to my family that resulted in me taking a break for a while. I found myself feeling creative and a need to do something that made me happy, so entered the Milliput! Started sculpting again and loved it, great way to focus and relax from the things I couldn’t change (from a therapists point of view). I went back to my course and did it for another 6 months and couldn’t stand it anymore. I spoke to my tutor and he said that so many people join the course and then “find themselves” doing it without realising. He said that “of the 21 in the class - by the end of the 3 year course - only 5-7 will actually finish.”

So I left the course and looked into making miniatures - and was bowled over by the amount of talent and that the the community had grown so much! I decided to practice getting better at sculpting for a year before going the whole nine yards and asking peeps to pay me. I’d done it before. So essentially after everything that happened I guess I just realised I’d spent most my life doing what was needed, expected and wanted of me only to realise that life really is too short, and now I have an opportunity to do what I always wanted - which was to make monsters and stuff and took the plunge as it were

Wasn’t the abundance of sculptors and miniature projects threatening?

No, I thoroughly enjoyed looking at other peeps work. Obviously it makes people happy (like myself) and I don’t really see it as competitive, but I suspect some do unfortunately - the mini sculptors and small businesses can be quite “cliquey” and competitive as other businesses and industries. It’s not something that really interests me. I do my job because “I” love it, if other people do too that’s great, and I do appreciate their support, but essentially I’m doing it for my reasons.

Are there any particular projects or lines you like and support?

Recently I’ve loved getting some of Hasslefree Miniatures stuff - I recently went to Salute and bought loads for future projects.... They will get painted as well as my 2000 point Skaven army... I quite like a lot of other sculptors in the OSG and also in the Shiflett Brothers Forum . But at the moment organising my first couple of KS’s, tweeting, a webstore, sculpting commissions, painting minis, and running the campaign on 3 different media platforms doesn’t leave me much time at the moment! Hopefully, over time I will get used to running it all and have more time to devote to other projects

Do you have a favorite sculptor or painter?

No - there’s too many to choose from! I like a lot of sculptors for their ideas that they bring, regardless of “perceived” skill - as for painters well I’ll always be a fan of John Blanche’s techniques. Ana Polanscak does great minis too, but I also like fun, colourful paint jobs too and there are lots of good painters - David Stafford is one. There’s a few others but I can’t remember the names at present.

A chaotic cast of new minis, only the Usurper is missing.
What's the difference between Creative Sculpt Studio and Dark Hollow Miniatures? 

When I started out I just intended to be a commission sculptor, hence the name “Creative Sculpt Studio Ltd”. As time went on I had lots and lots of ideas of things that I thought would be awesome to sculpt and have as minis to paint (not a lot of everyday hobbyists can afford sculpts). The idea of selling my own miniatures to people sounded “wrong” with the old name, so I came up with a new one just for the miniatures - so, essentially I’m still Creative Sculpt Studio Ltd (for the sculpting) and Dark Hollow Miniatures is trade mark of CSS Ltd and gives a bit of a background for the minis live in - like Citadel was for GW. Plans change and I’ve loved making my own ideas so far.

Your miniatures are very characterful. Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you have a story or background for them?

Thank you! Usually I read a fair bit and get most of my ideas from books (I have a fair few WH novels), my favourites being “Ignorant Armies” and the older GW books Warhammer Armies. I tend to get an idea of how something looks and feels in my head quite easily - by that I mean I can see it and get a general vibe that I want to convey. Then sometimes I will do a sketch (which speeds up the process quite considerably), but most of the time I just do it straight out of my head. Although I have done a couple of “fan sculpts” I tend not to copy anybody’s else’s ideas, I have plenty of my own. It’s easier to sculpt something fast if half the work has been done and you have the reference material in front of you to work from.

But, I digress! I enjoy making up stories for my miniatures, it puts them firmly into context for the “viewer” and it just makes the work more fun to look at and brings it to life.

Artistically a lot of my influences come from the artwork of famous artists Rackham, Froud, Frazetta, Vallejo, Bisley, Blanche and Miller (there’s definitely more). The odd movie is a good source of inspiration sometimes. One of my favourite movie makers (apart from George Lucas and Spielberg) is Guillermo del Toro - Hellboy (I & II, not that travesty... Hellboy III) - he has a unique and wonderful imagination, and some of his sci-fi stuff too.

How much time to do you spend on average on sculpting a mini? Which one was the most fun to work with?

Ooh, difficult question! Greatly depends on the complexity, size, and whether or not it’s getting cast or just a private one-off. I’ve managed to sculpt an entire mini in 3 hours (see below), and loved it, very fun. Some of my bigger sculpts have taken weeks - and I loved doing them too. I don’t really have a favourite one, I tend to (if I have the time nowadays) to set myself goals of doing something for the first time - getting hands right (can be a pain) - doing an anatomy study because people actually look different to how you imagine them to be. Scales on dragons, making wings, all need to be done for the first time if you’re self-taught. I have the most fun, I think, sculpting my own ideas. But I do also get some really fun commissions too. My average time is about a day for a standard generic posed mini, sometimes I’ll do 3 in a day and a half. But it is very dependent on details, pose and size - the bigger it is, the more care you take with it, the more time it takes.

A few of my personal sculpts - the “speed” sculpts are the Warlock and Hag (middle top, top right) the blind cave troll is one of my favourites and the Draugr with the spear was my first 28mm sculpt I made after I got proper glasses for work. And the Chaos Marine was just because I’d never sculpt any sci-fi yet

The Hordes of Chaos are steadily growing. What's next? Are we looking forward to even more Chaos, or you have plans to explore other Oldhammer themes?

Yes more Chaos is on the way! This morning I made armatures for sculpts (11 more) 5 Beast-Men, a couple of hounds, 3 Minotaurs, and an abomination. The Chaos Minotaur Standard Bearer is already cast, I’m using a couple of the casts to convert into new and interesting Minotaurs - Minions and familiars are on the way, as well as war machines. But I also have s bunch of “randoms” that I want to release too, but we’ll have to see how the timetable goes before I can say when.

Can't wait to see more of them. Thank you for taking your time to answer my questions!

If you want to know more about the sculpts visit the Creative Sculpt Studio Ltd. website, the Creative Sculpt Studio facebook page, or the Dark Hollow Miniatures facebook group. You can also still support the The Bigger Hordes of Chaos!!! Kickstarter campaign to get both the previous, and forthcoming minis.

Saturday 13 April 2019

[Review] Wee Warriors Reprints, Part II: Dwarven Glory

The cool original cover...
Not to be mistaken with the unfortonately named Judges Guild classic Glory Hole Dwarven Mines, Dwarven Glory is the second Wee Warriors Dungeon Master Kit originally released in 1977. The module got a facelift when Pacesetter Games reprinted it in 2013 with an additional AD&D rewrite included.

V3 Dwarven Glory is 44 pages long, with color covers, and black and white interior. Visually the book is quite a disappointment. My biggest gripe is the cover - I have absolutely no idea why the excellent original illustration was replaced with something that looks like a cheap caricature of it. It's not only a downgrade aesthetically, but also feels disrespectful. The obvious answer would be for legal reasons, but as far as I know Pacesetter did reprint the book with the original cover before. My other issue is the obsession with the Vampire Queen. She is on the back cover of the book, on the first page, and she is glaring at me with her smug face from every page header. I know Palace of the Vampire Queen was a huge milestone and the first kit in the series, but she has absolutely nothing to do with Dwarven Glory - it's only good to mislead customers and hurt the module's identity. Let's give her a rest, shall we? Otherwise there are barely any illustrations within other than the maps, and those few pieces range between okay and meh.

The adventure takes us into the semmi-abandoned dwarven caverns within the mountain chain on the island of Baylor. The background  is summed up in less than a half page: the once thriving dwarven community was besieged and conquered by Mortoc and his 10 Orc Tribes, but there are still rooms they didn't penetrate, and survivors they didn't slaughter. It's a great setup, not only because it goes against the usual cliché of dwarves digging too deep, but because it also promises opposing factions - one of the cornerstones of turning your dungeon into a dynamic environment.

The caverns have 7 sections and 64 keyed rooms. Their presentation is unusal: the maps use hexes instead of squares, they are marked by letters ranging from B to G instead of numbers (curiously, there is no A), and there is no set order to them, although the introduction offers a sequence for beginners, and another for medium strength parties. The maps can be connected through their north and south ends, resulting in a long tunnel of thematic segments instead of the classic vertically aligned set of levels. Each section has branches and loops of their own, but due to their small size they don't make a meaningful difference in the exploration's overall flow.

The room descriptions in Dwarven Glory are a huge step forward compared to PotVQ. Each section has a theme outlined in one or two sentences, followed by terse summaries of the room entries which deliver more information than the predecessor's tables ever managed to. Of course the new approach is far from perfect: the entries often turn into a laundry lists of trivial objects, some of the details are unnecessary, and there is zero highlighting. Still, it's an improvement!

...and the crappy remake.
While it had a minimilastic presentation, PotVQ packed quite a punch with its varied and imaginative entries. The caverns of Dwarven Glory follow suite as its parts get introduced from the once busy cities entrance, through its monster-infested mines, to a desecrated temple of heretic stunties. The environment is the least interesting part of the module though: it's the NPCs where Dwarven Glory really shines. They have interesting relationships with each other, they have their own goals, and are mostly shameless opportunists who will try to take advantage of the adventurers. Some highlights include the thieves in the first tavern who want to poison and loot the party, pixies who blatantly lie about the magical properties of the clothes they sell, an ogre chess player who is a sour loser, heretics who summoned the Elenoin (see a Gods, Demi-gods, and Heroes or Deities & Demigods with the melnibonéan pantheon in it) to assassinate their own high priest, and so on.

My absolute favorite is the mess in Section F. There is a minotaur who will put a geas on the party to recover his son, two ogres in the neighbourhood who hate him, the minotaur's lost son with a gem of insanity around his neck on his way to kill the ogres, twenty ghouls working for the minotaur, ten lizardmen on friendly terms with the minotaur and a cave troll (to whom they will try to lure the party the bastards they are), and a lich who will put a geas on the visitors to recover the young minotaur's head. It's fucking brilliant. Shit like this is what make a dungeon come alive. When the players arrive the whole level is in the middle of a chain of events that unless stopped will make the place explode in a wave of violence. There is so much opportunity to roleplay and get slaughtered it's amazing. It makes me even forgive the relative small size and simple design of the level.

The loot is nothing extraordinary, but at least it's varied. The upper levels offer mostly gold and mundane valuables, but as further one ventures gems, magic items, and magic gems become more common. The module rewards exploration with some ludicrously precious hidden treasure, while other times it punishes with traps and cursed items. Needless to say, the descriptions of traps and new magic items is vague. A chest has a 6-hex chlorine gas trap on it. What does it do? No clue. Probably save or die, but at least you get a book that tells you the value of gems, which is nice.

Dwarven Glory's tone feels more lighthearted than PotVQ's, mostly because it lacks gory and disturbing scenes - no children drained dry or grinded into blood pudding this time. It has plenty of old-school quirkiness and humor, even some juvenile, like the former night club with posters of dwarven go-go-dancers, or the two bookcases of X-rated materials in the dwarven high priest's chambers. That wasn't meant to be criticism - I leave a healthy amount of naughty magazines and kinky statues in my adventures too for the sake of immersion and verisimilitude.

The AD&D version pisses me off even more than PotVQ's. Dozens of rooms were replaced with empty holes, encounters were watered down, the eccentric elements were mostly thrown out the window. The conversion strips down the charm of the original module and sacrifices cool roleplaying opportunities in favor of run-of-the-mill encounters. The only good idea is the extra detail the heretics receive: they are deviants who want to live in forests with elves, which is actually an idea fitting to the spirit of the original.

This time it's a no-brainer which version to choose if you want to run the adventure. The conversion is just deadweight to the original edition - it adds nothing of value while increasing the page count. Dwarven Glory is by no means a masterpiece, but it is a good module and an interesting historical curiosity, with some qualities many modern adventures should envy and take note of.

Part III: The Misty Isles coming soon (hopefully in less than two months).

Tl;dr: A solid old-school dungeon crawl with exceptionally well done NPCs and factions, accompanied by a weak conversion.

Where to find it: You can find the module in print and pdf in the Pacesetter Games & Simulations webshop. Some of their modules are alse available on DriveThruRPG in pdf, so I wouldn't be surprised if the above mentioned three would surface there in the near future.

Other parts of the series:
Part I: Palace of the Vampire Queen
Part III: The Misty Isles

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 23 March 2019

Grim and Perilous Goodies

The post office must have sensed I was considering kicking
down the door on them when they delivered all of these.
A few weeks ago the Dunkeldorf Kickstarter (which I interviewed Nicki about) has launched, and was funded within the blink of an eye. The original goal was surpassed ten times, new stretch goals are revealed at a steady pace, and the campaign is still far from over - so in case you were hesitating to jump on the bandwagon or not, it's still not too late to make up your mind.

As classy as they are, King Games sent me a promotional package, which arrived on the 27th of February. Thank you very much again! Also kudos for the Hungarian post office for delivering my stuff only a few days later than expected - the Lulu order I also received that day was around two weeks late. The little black box contained the early casts for Herman the burgomeister, Gunther the barber surgeon, Berta the ratcatcher, plus some stickers and leaflets.

A crap photo of the triumvirate. NSFW because of Herman.
I gave away Herman and Gunther to friends, and had plans to paint Bertha, but as usual, life found a way to hinder me in doing anything fun with my free time, so all I can give you are some shitty photos. I love them. The sculpts are great, they are full of character without being overly detailed. Herman is probably the best in this regard, with his obese body, double chin, smug face, and bulging codpiece. My favorites though are the small rats hanging from Helga's man-catcher (or rat-catcher?) and belt - painting them will be challenging, but I'm persistent in doing such small details, probably to compensate for my lack of skill. Despite being from a test run the minis were light on seamlines and had no flash.

Dejan's art delivers as usual.
ZWEIHÄNDER is on a roll too. The MAIN GUACHE pdf has been updated with art. Like the core book its a thing to behold, and full of content - mostly of the crunchy kind: professions, equipment, vehicle rules, alchemy, spells, mutations, etc. There is a lot about daemons too, but interestingly no new monsters. Expect an in-depth review in the near-future (hopefully I can do it in a single post this time). Grim & Perilous Studios also announced that the ZWEIHÄNDER family expands with yet another game besides Tetsubo in the future: Colonial Gothic. While neither of them is my cup of tea, I welcome this trend - covering more ground and styles is exactly what I would like to see from Cubicle-7 too.

Speaking of Cubicle-7... While my ZWEIHÄNDER campaign is crawling, the WFRP4e campaign I'm playing in seems to be pickig up pace as our party of three (the elf wizard, the bounty hunter, and the flagellant) are trying to make a living in Übersreik. It's a well balanced company: the elf has some cool spells, my bounty hunter is good at fighting, while the flagellant is an excellent cannon fodder - in the least two adventures he was pulled from the sewers back to the shallyans while leaving a red trail of blood on the cobble stones after being backstabbed by a goblin, was almost torn apart by undead wolves during his berserker rage, and lost a toe too. Thank Sigmar the worst I had was a wound infection! Time to tie up some loose ends and leave for Marienburg.

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 26 February 2019

[Interview] Nicki Irmark talks about Dunkeldorf Miniatures

A blood moon rises upon Dunkeldorf heralding
the doom which comes to my wallet.
The Oldhammer movement is basically old-school Warhammer's equivalent of the OSR: its goal is to revive interest in classic Warhammer games and keep their spirit alive. Old miniatures can be hard to come buy and are expensive, so to fulfill the needs of the community dozens of manufacturers jumped the bandwagon and flooded the market with excellent figurines following the classic style. There are orks, goblins, daemons, goblins, chaos dwarves, and goblins galore! I'm not a wargamer though. I'm a roleplayer, who runs a Zweihänder campaign, and plays in a WFRP4e campaign. I don't need dozens of goblins, but on the other hand I need minis for rat catchers, stumbling drunkards, filthy whores, dirty peasants. Of course I can buy generic renaissance and medieval commoners, but most of them are nowhere as characterful as Citadel's 1987 Villagers, 1987 Travelling Players, or Mordheim frenzied mob.

Enter Dunkeldorf Miniatures, a Denmark-based initiative that was meant to satisfy the hunger for Oldhammer townsfolk. The team consists of Nicki Irmark and Nana Kronmark of King Games, the illustrator Mustafa Bekir of Spevna Studio, and the sculptor Sonny Bundgaard from Imitation of Life Miniatures. Their first Kickstarter campaign will begin on the 5th of March and plans to bring the inhabitants of Dunkeldorf to life in form of 28mm white metal miniatures.

The project was near and dear to me from the first time I heard about it. Last week I took the opportunity to ask some questions from Nicki about Dunkeldorf and the people behind it.

When and how did you get involved in tabletop gaming?

I believe I was 10 years old, and my parents, my sister and a friend of mine were attending a yearly event in my hometown, it was basically just all the businesses being open until midnight, along with a lot of street events. So my friend and me were perusing the different stores and got into a store that sold hobby supplies. In the middle of the room they had set up a table with Warhammer Fantasy Battles. It was the 5th Edition, Bretonnia vs. Lizardmen. I get so nostalgic when looking at the box art!. Both me and my friend were immediately hooked, we both bought the box along with a paint set. We spent all the money we had saved up for the evening, and just wanted to go back home to look at it! Later that same evening I painted my first miniature, a Chaos Warrior that was included in the paint set. It looked horrible, but I thought it looked pretty good back then! ;) I've been into miniatures (Primarily fantasy) ever since!

What games besides WHFB5e had a big impact on you? What do you play nowadays?

When thinking back, I believe HeroQuest had the biggest impact on me. I played it a lot with a friend who owned it, but I never actually got it myself. I loved all the dungeons accessories and of course the miniatures. I believe that has carried over for me when playing RPGs, I can't imagine playing without terrain, dungeon accessories and miniatures.

I haven't really had that same "wow" feeling with a board game, until recently when Nana, my wife and me received Gloomhaven. What a thrill it was to open that box and play the game! Nana and I play a bunch of co-op board games. But we mostly enjoy playing RPGs. We've been playing WFRP, Pathfinder, and D&D.

WFRP has always been our favourite, we love the setting and for the last couple of years we've been playing with our own homemade ruleset. We're gearing up to play 4th edition now though – We haven't started our campaign yet as we're finishing up a D&D campaign and also spending a lot of time working on Dunkeldorf!

Five of the twelve Dunkeldorf miniatures posing for a group shot.

Seeing the Dunkeldorf minis the influence of WFRP is obvious. But where does the idea of Dunkeldorf come from? Was it a place you used before in rpgs, or was it created from scratch for your miniature line?

We're definitely influenced by WFRP. Nana and I have talked a lot about having our own line of miniatures, for several years actually. And we have always talked about the lack of "modern" WFRP townsfolk. There's a lot of Oldhammer/Citadel townsfolk, some really awesome miniatures that we also have in our collection. Unfortunately they're extremely expensive to buy nowadays, as they're no longer in production, many of them are recasts and finally, they're pretty small compared to newer miniatures. So, we decided if we ever do move forward with our own line, we wanted to create townsfolk/rpg miniatures that could be used in WFRP and of course other fantasy settings as well.

We have never had an actual town in our campaign called Dunkeldorf. But most of the characters, the Dunkeldorf background story and the character stories – All of that is straight out of our own campaign! (And it all takes a pretty grim turn all of a sudden, something we'll hopefully get to explore and share in future Kickstarters!)

Bertha the Rat Catcher and
 her large but grumpy cat. 
You mention having your own line of minis was a long time dream of yours. You had to gather your party before venturing forth, though! How did you meet and get Sonny Bundgaard and Mustafa Bekir on board?

Nana and I knew Sonny through the work with our shop, King Games. We knew that Sonny had some sculpting experience and knew a bit about the casting process as well. When we talked to Sonny about our upcoming project, it was mainly to pick his brain, ask his advice and such. But as we talked more and more, it became clear that Sonny was pretty hooked on the project and we started talking about him doing the sculpting work. And now I can't imagine not having him on board, he has really captured the essence of what we imagined, and we're continually impressed by his work.

After we had Sonny on the team, we needed sketches for him to work from. Nana and I had already envisioned that Dunkeldorf should be more than just a line of miniatures. We wanted the stories and we wanted proper artwork, not just quick sketches. We felt that we needed to find a person that had the same kind of passion for these sort of characters as us. So the obvious choice was an Oldhammer guy. Lo and behold, Mustafa's artwork popped up in my Facebook feed from The Oldhammer Artwork FB group. I contacted Mustafa, and he was crazy about the project. And not only did we get some awesome artwork from Mustafa, we also got a very nice, helpful and talented person to be a part of the project. He has been a large driving force behind the project with a ton of ideas and input.

We're really excited to have both of these talented guys on the team, and we hope to continue working with them on Dunkeldorf in the future. :)

What would you like to do after the inhabitants? Monsters? Adventurers? Something else?

Well, we have a lot of ideas. But things can still change. So… The thing that makes Dunkeldorf special, is that a sort of supernatural event happens every year, a moon eclipse (a Blood Moon) and it can only be seen in Dunkeldorf and the surrounding area. This event attracts a lot of visitors and astronomers and such. The town has a yearly festival celebrating the event. The Dunkeldorf stories (and the RPG Source Book we plan on making in the future) take place during this festival. Did I mention that we're big fans of Shadows over Bogenhafen? Everything seems to be going just dandy, until the Blood Moon continues to linger in the sky, night after night. Weird things start happening in Dunkeldorf, many of the townsfolk start acting different.

So, as we see it, the first Kickstarter is how things are when the festival begins. Our plan for the second Kickstarter (Hopefully the first is a success so the second one is possible!) is with a focus on the actual festival. Entertainers and such, still with a focus on townsfolk, but with the introduction of some of the weird stuff that's starting to happen in Dunkeldorf. There's several villains and villain-like characters in our story of course, and many of these are easily corrupted by the Blood Moon. So, some of these characters could possibly show up as mutants or cultists. While some of the "heroes" could show up in combat poses. Erika for example, a former soldier stuck in a smithy, day-dreaming about swinging her Zweihander again. And! Then we have the surrounding area. Lots of stuff happening just outside of Dunkeldorf as well. So yea, we have a lot of ideas for the future. But, one step at a time. Our first priority is to make our first Kickstarter a success! :)

Regarding monsters, they're not a high priority for us, as we feel like there's a lot of those to choose from on the market. We love the minis from Knightmare Miniatures for example, they would fit right in with our miniatures. There's also The OS Miniatures Company and their Circus of Corruption. And of course many others!

A finely sculpted halfling, alas
without sausage in his hands.
What kind of sourcebook can you imagine about Dunkeldorf?

The sourcebook would be a book that any GM/DM in a fantasy group could pick up and have a ready-made town along with the area surrounding it. It would contain lots of adventure hooks, maps, artwork, rumours, minor encounters/jobs and an adventure/campaign. All the characters will of course be featured in the book, so those that play with miniatures can pull out the real Dunkeldorf townsfolk/NPCs/characters and use them for their sessions if they wish.

We obviously have a lot of love for WFRP, but we want to make sure that Dunkeldorf fits into most fantasy settings. So we decided early on not to include blackpowder weapons for example. But we'll make a lot of things open, so it's easy for the GM to add his own stuff, but not so open that you necessarily need a ton of planning.

That sounds like something right up in my alley! How is the gaming community in Denmark by the way? What games are popular?

Glad to hear that! I have to admit that I'm not an expert on what is the most popular any longer. But we have a bunch of great hobby/gaming stores in Denmark where players can meet up and play. Games Workshop is still very popular here and I think that GW games take the crown as to what is played the most. I feel like there's many RPG'ers in Denmark as well though, but they tend to be a bit more "secretive/not noticeable" as they're mostly playing at home and not in a club/store (some are of course!).

How big is the interest in Dunkeldorf there?

There's definitely interest! We've gotten really good feedback so far and it's so great to know that other gamers are into the project we're working on! We have also talked to a few Danes who don't even have a particular and immediate use for the miniatures, but they plan on backing the Kickstarter anyway just to support us and a Danish line of miniatures. That's such an awesome feeling to know that. :)

I think this will be kind of a "Sophie's choice" for you... Which is your favorite Dunkeldorf miniature so far and why?

I love Old Tully! The character is based on a crazy beggar from our own WFRP campaign. And I really wanted to do an homage to Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull (if you can call it that, taking the end result into consideration!). So he's this sort of creepy guy, lurking around the streets (in dark alleyways and such) just waiting for his chance to jump out and scare unsuspecting townsfolk, he'll then almost stalk them, playing his flute loudly right next to them until they give him a coin or two.

I've also grown very fond of Haelga, the town watch captain, who originates from the far north (viking type) and has a hard time letting her past go. I think the sculpt by Sonny has turned out so great. And the end result is a very unique miniature.

Okay, final question! What would you do if one morning you woke up in Dunkeldorf?

If I woke up in Dunkeldorf, I'd probably try to get on the Burgomeister's good side. With him in power I'd never feel safe if I wasn't! But then again, even if you're on his good side you may not be totally safe. Might be best to actually just get the hell out of there! ;)

Thank you for taking your time to answer my questions, and good luck with the Kickstarter!

If you want to know more about the project visit dunkeldorf.eu or the official Dunkeldorf Miniatures facebook page.

Update: The Kickstarter campaign has started, and is already funded!

You can't have proper Oldhammer feel without pop culture references.

Sunday 17 February 2019

[Review] Wee Warriors Reprints, Part I: Palace of the Vampire Queen

The palace on the cover doesn't have much
in common with the maps.
Wee Warriors was a publisher in the late seventies who released all kinds of supplements and accessories for Dungeons & Dragons, which were distributed by TSR itself despite being unofficial. Wee Warriors sold character sheets, cardboard tiles, even a boardgame, but in the old-school community they are remembered first and foremost for publishing the first ever stand alone adventure module (or as they called it, Dungeon Master Kit), Palace of the Vampire Queen. They released two other adventures before vanishing from the market: the dungeon module Dwarven Glory, and the hex crawl The Misty Isles.

Needless to say the original Dungeon Master Kits are nowadays exorbiantly priced collector items. Fortunately, you can enjoy them without selling your kidney: Bill Barsh of Pacesetter Games & Simulations (not to be confused with Pacesetter Ltd) has secured the rights to the Wee Warriors Dungeon Master Kits a few years ago, and revamped them with the intent to support the North Texas RPG Con from the income. The following review is the first part of a series that is meant to give you some idea about what to expect from the PG&S releases of these classics. While there were expansions released for them, I'm not familiar with any of them, thus I will avoid that topic until the status quo changes (i.e. I buy and read them).

V2 Palace of the Vampire Queen is 36 pages long, has a cool front cover about the castle, and an even better back cover with the titular buxom vampire queen enjoying the company of some shady figures and hanging corpses. The book offers two versions of the adventure: both an exact reproduction of the original, and an AD&D conversion done by Bill Barsh. It has the original maps and texts, some sweet new black & white illustrations by Matthew Costanzo, and new text using a solid two column layout with lots of white space, which actually came handy for taking notes.

The adventure takes place on the dwarven island of Baylor. The palace is actually a tomb, raised by grieving shipwrecked humans to bury their beloved queen. Or at least that was the plan, but for unknown reasons the site turned into a nest of evil, and since then vampires and other children of the night have been preying on the locals. One of the latest victims was the dwarf king's daughter. The king promises fabulous riches and land holdings with titles to the rescuers. It is a damn fine offer if you ask me, I have seen adventurers risk their lives for far less.

Despite being the first of its kind, the original module does a great job at setting the tone and telling the backstory in a single page. It also has some sweet old-school maps full of loops, branches, secrets, and even cool illustrated borders - not as busy as in DCC RPG modules, but they are still aesthetic in their simplicity. So far so good! The room descriptions on the other hand are very bare bones. After each map you get a chart with columns for room number, creatures encountered, max damage (i.e. their hit points), and contents of room. And I thought the original Tegel Manor's descriptions were spartan!

The two guys on the sides love hanging out
with the queen.
At least the rooms are colorful, show plenty of creativity behind them, and lack any semblance of game balance, reminding me of Tegel Manor once again. The five levels of the dungeon have a great variety of creatures, traps, treasures, even if they are usually mundane - trolls, skeletons, spiders, slugs, etc. There are some potentially memorable encounters, like a madman with a bunch of cats, an owl that alerts bandits a few rooms aways, a chest that once opened starts spawning wights until closed, the kitchen where ogres are slaughtering dwarven children for blood pudding, and a random balrog guarding a mace of disruption because fuck the player characters. It's a huge horror funhouse, and as such it doesn't have to make sense, but boy isn't it fun to come up with explanations for all its weirdnesses!

The latter is exactly what Bill's version tries to accomplish: expanding the original entries into something more useful and reasonable. Unfortunately while converting PotVQ into an AD&D module, the author took plenty of liberties with the source material, and made the adventure more balanced, and less wacky. Some of the gonzo elements were thrown out, often replaced with yet another boring empty room. The madman with the cats is gone, just like the chest of infinite wights, and the balrog is changed into a lame Type I demon. He also downtoned the disturbing and gory elements, so instead of a room full of dwarven children drained dry we end up with one where dwarven children are hiding from ghouls, and instead of butchering them the ogres are just preparing the children for the cooking. It's not all bad what he does of course. His terse descriptions give some much needed character and purpose to the NPCs and rooms, and sometimes he even turns otherwise boring rooms into interesting ones. E.g. in the original level 4 room 17 has just four mummies hanging around, while in the revision there is a locked sarcophagus with one of the Vampire Queen's minions placed inside as punishment. I think it's obvious whether I would choose a filler encounter, or an NPC that can be turned against the main villain as a DM. Still, I feel too much of the fun stuff was thrown out. Their lack makes the conversion's approach feels workmanlike, unambitious, and while the end result is fine, it feels less exciting than the original.

Which version should you choose if you want to run the adventure? Both. Last November I ran PotVQ on Kalandorok Társasága for four players, using OD&D and some house rules. I printed the pdf, took my pencil, and started taking notes to create a hybrid from the two renderings of the adventure, while also adding my own content and ideas to the mix. It is a Dungeon Master's Kit after all, and it works even better as such with the two variants. The session was a lot of fun by the way, full of careful exploration, parleying with monsters, abusing random magic items, surprising deaths, and shocking near-deaths. In the end the party left some valuable treasure with the Vampire Queen, in exchange for the dwarf princess, and decided to leave the island once they are paid, because they don't want the kind of neighbourhood Baylor has to offer. All in all, I recommend getting PotVQ not only as a historical curiosity, but also as a module worth running.

Tl;dr: You get the wicked cool but overly terse original version, and a tamer but more useable revision of one of the original funhouse dungeon for the price of one. Shake it well before serving.

Where to find it: You can find the module in print and pdf in the Pacesetter Games & Simulations webshop. Some of their modules are alse available on DriveThruRPG in pdf, so I wouldn't be surprised if the above mentioned three would surface there in the near future.

Other parts of the series:
Part II: Dwarven Glory
Part III: The Misty Isles

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