Category Archives: Flavor

Where Do You Get Good Miniatures?

Back when I was really big into RPGs, Ral Partha was the brand that we mostly turned to. I do not recall others off the top of my head.

Since then, Ral Partha and several contemporary companies that made miniatures for fantasy gaming have gone out of business.

Now, it seems that over sized (bigger than 25 mm), cartoon like figures are the standard. They are also expensive! The local comic/game store has some of these miniatures, and they are $3 or more each! In my day, I might pay $1 for a really good figure that was something I really wanted, but most were 75 cents or so. Packages of 6 of  the same figure, could be had for $3 or $4. Of course, you had to paint them, etc.

Now, in trying to Google up miniatures and to follow up on miniatures recommended on RPG related blogs and sites, I find pre-painted miniatures that are $5 or $6 or more each!

I can understand people wanting to have someone paint their miniatures if that is the thing they want.

I would like to find a reasonably priced source of “realistic”, well-done, and consistently sized miniatures. I think that finding a miniature to represent players, or a major NPC adds flavor to the game, and can be used to illustrate the position of encounters. Instead of making Jim be the red six-sider, when he wants to be the ruby d20, etc. can be avoided. Yes, we can use our imaginations to suspend disbelief and let any object be our placeholder, but with enough players in the mix, a table can have a lot of dice, etc. It is nice to have miniatures to represent the main players in a scene, especially for the more complex encounters with combat and magic in the mix.

I have played with and without miniatures, and with and without some object or mark on a page to represent characters.

For those of us who are visually oriented, having s physical representation on the table can eliminate confusion and arguing over position and who can see/hit what or be seen/hit by whom.

I am not interested in spending a fortune to re-enact Helm’s Deep, or any other large-scale action. While it does have a certain coolness factor to it, I just want a reliable source of miniatures at a reasonable price. Both for players to find representatives for their characters, and for the DM for major NPCs or a large gang of orc/goblins/zombies/etc. The one nice thing about a large gang of monsters, is that we can use 20 orc figures to be goblins, zombies, etc. In time, perhaps have 20 of each, but time, space, and finances all have to come together for the gradual acquisition of a large collection.

Pantheons in Roleplaying

I do not like the idea of using the pantheons of real, yet dead religions, such as the gods of the Greeks, Vikings, Sumerians, etc.

There are several reasons for this. D&D already has a bad name and is wrongly associated with devil worship. Invoking the names of the gods of other religions, some of who are mentioned in the Bible, Apocrypha, and historical writings, just adds fuel to the fire. Both the Monster Manual and Dieties & Demigods/Legends and Lore, use these historical names. Tiamat, Mephistopheles, Zeus, etc. are all from historical religious writings.

While one could use a the structure of those historical pantheons, for their ready made stats in various game source books; change their names, to avoid continuing the stigma. It takes a lot of effort to come up with a religious structure from scratch. Yet, there has to be some framework of dieties if a player wants to be a cleric. For the humanoids, I go with the materials in the various source books. For the humans, I am torn between finding the time to develop my own, or just picking and choosing a few from the Greyhawk setting. After all, keeping prep time to a minimum, to maximize play is the key. A DM does want a life outside the game, right?

As a Christian, it does bother me to speak the names of historical deities while roleplaying. Roleplaying is not the same as having a literate discussion of the religion of the ancient Greeks.

That is one aspect of roleplaying where I think we should draw a line. Granted, we are all free to run the rules as we see fit for our own group. For my campaign in the works, I will avoid the use of any historical religious names, for both a clean conscience and to avoid the appearance of evil, for those who would judge our preferred game without all the facts.

Some may view this as a naive view of the world, but if we want our game of choice to be an option for the people of faith in our communities, or at least move them to a neutral and accepting frame of mind, we should keep such things in mind. Granted, there have not been a lot of movies about the dangers of D&D like in the 80s. However, I still do not feel comfortable discussing D&D with those who are more likely to look down on it.

While I have not run into outright anti-D&D sentiment in a long time, I have been an “in the closest” gamer for years. It was really bad when my wife questioned my beliefs when I mentioned that I like D&D. She like many from the 80s, bought the line of the movies and sensational headlines.I think I finally have her convinced it is not devil worship or evil, as she has not complained about having my books openly displayed on the shelves in our computer room. Yet she did state she did not want me spending hours wrapped up in those books. (She understands the time sink problem.)

How does your family, friends, and community react to D&D?

How Do You Pronounce Paladin?

When we first started playing AD&D and had the new character class of Paladin, we had never encountered that word, so we did not pronounce it correctly.

We said it “pAl – a – din”, like “Aladdin”. We said it the wrong way for a long time. I am not sure which of us found out the correct pronunciation.

We were too young to see the original “Have Gun Will Travel”, and it was never in re-runs when we were growing up. It might have been my mom who corrected us, because she remembered “Have Gun Will Travel.

I do not think there was any other terms that we mangled so badly. We were all well read, and had read “The Hobbit” and “LotR”, and many others, so words were something we knew.

Magic Battle Standard

Robert, my brother, and I were at a game store that had a huge miniature  collection. I believe it was one of the times we made it to Kings Crown in Overland Park, KS, which was about an hour drive from home. I was 16 or 17, so about 1980-81 time frame.

They had a large terrain map, that as I recall was at least four 4×8 sheets of plywood. This was the central focus with the counter and displays around it. There were several “old guys” probably in the 30+ age bracket.

They regaled us of stories with their battles and talked of Magic Battle Standards. They gave their bearer and units that fought under them additional bonuses and protections. The more victories a unit won, the more powerful the standards became, until they were intelligent and could actively participate in the battle.

I wrote up some description for battle standards in my game, but no real stats yet. One thing I came up with was Greater and Lesser Standards. A Lesser Standard is magic, but does not grow in power, and has limits to how much of a unit it can protect. A Greater Standard, grows in power, etc. Using a variation on the rules for intelligent swords would be useful. I envisage them having alignments, so that will affect the kinds of things they can do. Perhaps even “holy” standards dedicated to a particular deity or pantheon. Another feature I came up with for Greater Standards is a bag of the same fabric attached to the pole. This bag will magic a soldier’s insignia to expand the protection of the standard to that individual. Only one insignia per day can be magicked when the standard is not in battle.

I have this vague recollection that these “old timers” mentioned planting the standard as a way for the unit to rally around the standard when the fight was going poorly.

I can see lots of choices for making such standards. I took the easy way out for now, and have the art of making them lost in antiquity, so I do not have to flesh this out in my game, until it becomes necessary. Since I have yet, to start this campaign, I have plenty of time.

Robert said he has his own rules for battle standards, but I have not yet gotten that information from him.

Quest For The Dice of Destiny

Quest For The Dice of Destiny was supposed to involve these artifacts, The Dice of Destiny. The players never got to find these dice. My brother, Robert, was the DM

I do not know if it was because the players never lived up to the DM’s expectations, or if he was just ready for a different campaign.

The transition here was for the more well-rounded characters we had to travel by ocean to the area of the new campaign.

The situation ended with play frozen in time, as we never returned to finish the scenario we left off.

My character, Fasbold Torion, was a fighter with a charisma of 3. He had a henchman Flaessan Os, whom Fasbold had saved his life so many times, Flaessan was intensely loyal. In the ocean voyage, they had stopped at an island and found some sort of ruins and encountered a ghost. Both Fasbold and Flaessan were hit by the ghost and the game play stopped with Fasbold aged about 90 years, and Flaessan aged about 60 years.

Prior to the ocean voyage, Fasbold and the party were in the lair of an ettin and Fasbold had found a magic sword but not yet knew what it was. In combat the party was being slaughtered by the ettin. Fasbold managed to role a 20 and decapitated both heads of the ettin, and learned that he had a sword of sharpness. Fasbold sold the sword to make enough money to buy a share in the ship. If he had kept the sword, he might have kept the ghost from aging him and Flaessan.

During the ocean voyage at sea, prior to the island, they were attacked by sahuagin or some such, and the ship was boarded. Flaessan was about to be hit by one and Fasbold threw his dagger and hit it between the eyes for the kill, saving Flaessan one more time.

I still have the hand-drawn character sheets on notebook paper for Fasbold and Flaessan.

Robert and I often joke about Fasbold and Flaessan as old men reliving their adventures from their youth. This over 25 years ago! It is amazing the stories and fun one can reminisce over so many years later.

Robert’s next campaign, is his current campaign, he has run for over 20 years now. I do not know what he might call it. We all just refer to it as “The Fife” for the name of the country where all the action in his campaign started. The fun of this campaign is that each player has multiple characters in different places on the known map, and some are unlikely to ever meet in the game.

Abdul’s

My brother, Robert, is my favorite DM. He can improvise almost anything, and never seems to be surprised or disappointed with the actions a player has his character make. He has had what I would classify as four campaigns. The first campaign was the generic catch-all, different dungeons and modules.

His second campaign, was a desert campaign that centered around Abdul’s. Abdul’s was basically a giant shopping center for the adventurers. One could get anything at Abdul’s if you had the gold.

Abdul’s was inside  a giant mesa. If one looked up, they could see a Constellation class starship hanging from the ceiling.

I remember having to roleplay equipping our first level characters. I ran a thief, who foolishly asked for thieves picks and tools, and had to avoid the law.

Robert invented a couple of creatures, one was a mount called a quast. It was a fast-running desert creature that needed little water. It ran fast enough that a human rider could cross a large stretch of desert and not have to worry about dying of thirst. The other creature was a flying creature. I do not remember what he called it, but they came with a special saddle that had the commands on the saddle, and the word “avaunt” which meant to take flight.

One time two players had these new gizmos, basically Chinese repeating crossbows that could fire 10 bolts a round. They went to a cave and were trapped by a huge hoard of orcs, and rather than rely on our new weapons as Robert, the DM, thought we would. We instead drew our swords and died, a TPK becuase we did not rely on the tools the DM let us have.

Another incident we had in the desert was coming to an oasis and stumbling across a dimensional rift where a bunch of French Foreign Legionnaires were fighting desert tribesmen.

Abdul’s became a crutch for the players in this game and the DM had a great solution. Abdul had done something to offend some ghostly host that one night came and took away Abdul’s piece by piece, and we all watched it disappear. This was a transition to a new campaign Robert called “Quest For The Dice of Destiny”.

First Is The Favorite

All of the online discussion I have followed the last several months about Old School/4e/New School gaming got me to thinking.

My first exposure to Dr. Who was Tom Baker, Doctor number 4. As with most other fans of Doctor Who, my favorite is the one I first encountered.

With some exceptions, I think this informs a lot of the old/new debate. That to which we are introduced first, in a successful, and non-biased way, will tend to be our favorite. When a game or TV series is new, one tends to have a different perspective to those who come in on the middle.

For those of us who remember the enormous impact Star Wars (That’s episode IV to you young wippersnappers.) had upon our childhood/teenage years, that movie had a bigger impact than others, because it was first. Those of use who lived the movies in their historical order have a different perspective than our children who were toddlers & infants when the re-makes of the first three movies prepared the way for the final three movies. (Do you remember all the speculation in the 80’s about either a total of 6, 9, or 12 movies?) The special effects got better, and some argue are what carried the final three movies.

With D&D, my story begins with “Basic D&D”, a Blue box with a dragon on it. It had some funky dice in it. I still have the dice, they are chipped & worn. The d20 is nearly a sphere. the d4 is the only one I still use, but it is hard to read. It was an introduction to D&D and featured only up to level 3. The label of “Basic” led my brother and I and our eventual crowd of fellow players in our school to consider it old and poorly done. We were 13/14 years old in 1978, give us a break! When we got wind of Advanced D&D, that is where it was at. We were children of the space age, the children of the baby boomers, “Newer Is Better” was what we were all about.

The hardcover books, cool illustrations and better quality paper and type led us to feel that AD&D was the real deal. We bought all the books as they came out and read them with delight and quickly incorporated them into our games. At first $12.00 then $15.00 for a book, that was a lot of money for a teenager mowing lawns. At $10.00 a pop, and only 3 lawns, it took time to earn that money.

I think the more one has invested in time and expense also impacts which version one prefers.

I tend to favor the older rules since those are what I know so well, and have laid out a chunk of cash already. It is hard enough to get an opportunity to play, why shell out money for a new set of rules that change the way you have always done things?

I have never played 3e or 4e. I have not even taken the time to flip through the manuals at the local game shop. It does not grab my interest. Now, if I were 13 again, 4e, and possibly 3e, would be all I could easily find, and would probably think newer is better.

I have more of an emotional attachment to AD&D, but it is more than that. It is familiar, and I could play AD&D at a moment’s notice. When I hear all about feats, skills, multi-class, and other such terms, they are either new terms, or used differently than I learned them. There is a whole new jargon to learn.

I also played more than just D&D, but D&D is the one that capture my imagination, and the one that I think about the most. Rarely do I think of something and make a mental note, “Hey, that would be good to use in Boot Hill.” Partly, I think it is because the medieval style fantasy settings with their magic and other things that can never happen do more to capture my imagination. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big Science Fiction fan, but I am of a generation that has seen so many things become reality, such as a computer on every desk, and more than one computer in many homes. I remember when the year 2000 seemed a long way off and we wondered what it would be like. There are lots of neat gadgets, cable is common and relatively inexpensive, and via the net, one can communicate around the world in an instant. Those changes have taken the edge off the unknown of the future. While it is not yet reality, many things are not far from becoming reality. Although we still do not have a flying car in every garage.

This is similar to computer games. Sports games and things like The Sims and Second Life do not interest me. Why pretend to do and be something that I already do everyday? Well, sports games do not interest me because I don’t like some of those things in reality, and the ones I do like are more fun in reality. Now fighting the alien hordes, or exploring the depths of space are things I will never do. The same is what hold my interest with D&D — fighting an orc invasion, gaining a treasure, or casting spells to overcome a challenge.

The appeal of D&D is that we can be the hero and be admired by our fellow players for how we play our heroes and their exploits. We can do the things that only action heroes in big budget movies can do, all for a few dollars here and there.

The rules each of us choose are the ones that best suit our needs and the group(s) with which we play. For me it is AD&D, and all the OD&D and other retro-clones make more source material available for lots of ideas. More rules-neutral resources would have more traction for the broadest base of players. If you are a player/DM with a strong grasp of your chosen rules framework, you can take any resource and run with it.

I must be honest and label myself a grognard. I do not need lots of new monsters and magic, when I have not managed to run into all the creatures in the original Monster Manual during all the games I’ve played in over the years, let alone MMII, FF, etc. What I need are ideas to help me be a better gamer, either as a player or DM. The fight over old/new school is like the old vi/emacs debate. Everyone is right and everyone is wrong. Be honest about your ‘drothers, but get on with it and get to the common ground of tips, tricks, ideas, etc.

Those who point out that having fun is the most important part are right. We need to “man up” and not be like the dreaded little league coach or parent who thinks they know it all, and ruin it for the kids. It’s just a game after all! Kids have to pay to play, it’s not like they’re being paid millions of dollars just to play a game.

I must admit watching sports does not catch my interest, but RPGs and D&D in particular do. But I try not to be annoying with my interest of RPGs the way many sports fans I know who are annoying with their constant talk of stats and legendary feats. I’m just glad the gamers don’t get wrapped up in the numbers and the old war stories of games past. 😉

Genealogy Programs To Generate Family Trees

One of my non-RPG interests is genealogy. There are several free genealogy programs that can save off various styles of family trees to PDF. This could be used to generate a family tree for characters, or kings and other rulers.

Many of these can export to RTF or other formats, so that a background could be used if the PDF is only to be used online. Otherwise, get some parchment paper, and give it the rough treatment, if it is to be an ancient document. For example, tear off or burn a piece that the players will need to know for some reason.

For Windows PCs, Legacy Family Tree has a free version able to meet these needs. It also works on other OSes with Wine. For Linux, there is a GUI based program called GRAMPS, that can also run on other OSes. For those not afraid of the command line and an ncurses text interface, there is LifeLines. It was originally developed for Unix, but has been ported to Linux, Mac, Windows and others.

What programs and utilities do you use outside of your gaming life that could be used to add flavor?

Who Killed the Men of England?

Harvard Magazine has an interesting article that investigates the transition of Britain from Romans & Celts to Anglo-Saxons in a 400 year period.

The article is about scientific disciplines helping fill in the gaps in the written record of historical times. The findings of science are informing revised interpretations of evidence.

One example is the black earth where the towns of France were thought to have been abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire, but actually show a change in building materials from stone to organic materials such as wood and thatched roofs.

They also tie the DNA study into examples from the descendants of the former slaves in the US, and the population of Medellin, Columbia. This can add flavor to the history and sway of one’s campaign.

The article can also be saved as a PDF that has illustrations to help visualize the point. Save off the PDF in case the link goes dead in the future.

It is amazing how little things we do not expect can inform us and help add spice to a campaign.