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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