Monday, April 2, 2018

Warsenal's Access Terminals

The Havoc Girls putting some access terminals to use.

These are Warsenal's Access Terminals. I finished painting and assembling these pieces last week. They have a bright future as roleplaying game scenery and wargaming objectives/terrain in a couple of upcoming projects.

I primed and spray painted the MDF parts prior to assembly. This was to avoid having the raw MDF showing through the transparent acrylic parts. Black primer was used to fill in the details. I picked out a can of purple paint from an old project that wasn't doing anybody any good just sitting there. The purple went on thicker and more glossy than I expected, but the final result looks good. Looking back, I should have glued the MDF parts together prior to priming and painting them. The paint made putting assembling the MDF parts harder than it needed to be.

The combination of small MDF parts, fragile acrylic parts, and my fumble fingers made assembly a challenge. I would strongly recommending watching the assembly video on YouTube when starting the project and immediately prior to any attempt to put these things together. Relying on memory just leads to avoidable mistakes.

Each package contains the parts to build six Access Terminals. There are only five assembled Access Terminals in my photo. And my bits collection is little larger. In the future, I may choose to avoid Warsenal's smaller and more detailed terrain pieces. This isn't a strike against Warsenal - I like their acrylic markers, MDF terrain, and plastic bases. On a personal level, I'm finding that I lack the manual dexterity to put together the small parts that go into their scatter terrain.

Overall, I'm pleased with Warsenal's Access Terminals. The transparent acrylic parts give each piece a holographic appearance. The design is not so specific that it won't fit into a variety of futuristic settings.

Friday, March 30, 2018

From Junk to Stasis Pods

Stasis pods make for secure places to confine prisoners.

This was a quick and easy project that combined a happy coincidence, a moment of inspiration, and a need for a particular piece of terrain. There are better looking pieces available for purchase. Two fine examples are the "Bio Chamber” from RAFM Miniatures and the gorgeous "Stasis Coffin" from Warsenal . Unfortunately, I was both in a hurry and broke. So I made my own out of things I had lying around.

The coincidence happened when I was playing with some random junk from my bits collection. The shape of the milk bottle caps saved them from the recycle bin. A trip through the dishwasher later and they were in my bits collection. The prescription medicine bottles were washed and saved because of how useful they are in storing bits small enough to get lost in bags and boxes. The coincidence was that the threading on the milk bottle cap meshed with the medicine bottle. It isn’t a perfect fit, but is tight enough to be secure.

The inspiration was the appearance of the two joined bits. I had recently watched Rogue One again and it reminded me of the bacta tank that Darth Vader spent some time in before dealing with some personnel issues. I didn’t have any need for any such terrain pieces at the time, so I made a note to myself and moved on.

Havoc Girls in trouble.

It was a good thing I made that note. Sure enough, I have a need for some kind of cryo-stasis pod for a game coming up in about a week at the time this gets posted. It would take too much time for me to order something, have it arrive, and get it ready for the gaming table. Besides, I have nothing in the gaming budget at the moment. The stuff in my bits collection is already paid off and saved from the recycling bin.

Digging around my bits collection turned up four caps and bottles along with some random plastic bits to add a little detail to the finished piece. The caps and random bits were sprayed with black primer. Next was a spray of silver paint at an angle. The goal was to leave some of the black primer coat showing to give the impression of shadows. The rest was just a matter of gluing the now-silver painted plastic bits to the bottoms (now tops) of the medicine bottles.

Prescription bottle, milk bottle cap, and random plastic bit before painting.
The pieces are right size to fit a 28mm-32mm scale human figure as long as the figure doesn’t extend too far from the base. So figures striking epic poses are not suitable volunteers for trips into these stasis pods. A 25mm base fits with plenty of room and a 30mm base barely squeezes in. So I’ll need a bigger pod to put any ogres or dragons into stasis.

Overall, I’m pleased at how this quick and easy project turned out!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Khurasan Miniatures Parasachnid Warriors

Carnivorous space critters out for a snack.

These are the Parasachnid Warriors of the 15mm Feral Parasachnid "Bug" line from Khurasan Miniatures. Sculpted by Aaron Brown. These little guys get through life by swarming with their buddies and skittering around for a bite to eat.

This batch of freshly painted space critters are long time residents of my lead pile. I honestly have no idea when I bought them. These got pulled out of storage when I realized that I needed some kind of alien carnivore for an upcoming game.

The Parasachnid Warriors come in two pieces - one for upper body and one for the lower body/legs. The two piece construction offer the option of mounting the lower body/legs lengthwise or widthwise. Lengthwise offers the narrow appearance of a creature built for speed. Widthwise gives a wider look resembling that of a spider or crab. I choose the widthwise option.

I went for a simple paint scheme dictated by what paints I happened to have on hand. My paint collection survived my years-long illness induced gaming interregnum mostly intact. However, I am trying to use up certain lines and products before they degrade. The base coat is Formula P3 Menoth White Base, which is actually a light tan color. Highlights are Formula P3 Morrow White. As the names imply, Formula P3 is produced by Privateer Press for their Warmachine/Hordes line. I bought the two paints some time ago simply because I heard good things about the line and wanted to it a try. The quality is impressive, especially since they have been in storage for years. Two thin coats were all that was needed to provide good coverage with no separation or uneven patches.

Next, I applied Citadel Ogryn Flesh Wash to the bodies. Well out of production, Ogryn Flesh provides a middle ground between Devlan Mud and Gryphonne Sepia. The result is a reddish brown glaze that pools in the details.

Half of the Parasachnid Warriors were modeled with open mouths. I applied Citadel Baal Red to imply the softer flesh of the little guys' gaping jaws. The teeth were highlighted with Formula P3 Morrow White. The red flesh and white teeth contrast nicely with each other. I'm sure my players will appreciate that level of detail. Speaking of detail - the eyes were picked out in Citadel Chaos Black.

Ain't it the cutest little critter? Just begging for a treat!

None of the bases I had on hand would fit well with the figures. I ended up using some circular plastic pieces I salvaged from elsewhere. The basing material is the sand/brown craft paint/glue/water mix I use when I can't think of anything better to do. I drybrushed some light tan on the basing material after it had dried to bring out the texture.

The Parasachnid Warriors are scaled for 15mm - one Warrior is about the right size to consume a 15mm human figure without too much trouble. However, they are suitable for use in 28mm games as creatures about the size of a large dog. The eight figures that come in a pack are enough to menace a party of space adventurers, but more would be needed to threaten a formation of infantry.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Star Trek Adventures Character Generation

My group dove into character generation for Star Trek Adventures recently. Every one of us is a Star Trek fan and we're excited about revisiting the setting as role players. A science fiction RPG would also be a welcome change of pace for some of our players.

Star Trek Adventures assumes that the player characters will be the bridge officers of a Federation starship. The character generation system creates characters comparable to the main characters of each TV series. They are highly capable in their area of expertise and competent in a range of other skills. No character is going to be good at everything, but with each player character occupying a different bridge position, a variety of specialties will exist within a given group. This will tend to insure that everything is covered.

The game uses a lifepath system as a possible nod to FASA's Star Trek: The Role Playing Game. The system takes each character from early life through Starfleet Academy and their pre-campaign Starfleet career. Players can choose or randomly determine the results of each stage of their character's development. Questions are posed about each stage to develop the details needed to flesh out the character's background. For example, it turns out that the character's ship was destroyed earlier in their career. The obvious questions are which ship, what were the circumstances of its destruction, and what role did the character play in those circumstances? The combination of a lifepath system for inspiration and questions to provide details helps to avoid characters who are fully defined mechanically, but are blank slates for role playing.

The lifepath system can create characters ranging in experience from a fresh-from-the-Academy Ensign to a seasoned officer to a veteran Captain. All of these characters will be built with the same number of points - the main difference will be in role playing opportunities and specializations. The Ensign will be pretty good at a variety of things, but not as good at what a seasoned officer has years of training and experience in doing. Likewise, their Captain is better at leading and inspiring others than any of them.

The core book provides a diverse selection of species for players to pick from. Each species has a set of bonuses that give them a slight bias towards a particular role - it should come as no surprise that Vulcans gravitate towards Science. That said, the bonuses are small enough to be easily overcome during the rest of character generation. Humans have the advantage of being able to pick what bonuses they receive, allowing them to boost themselves towards whatever role they wish to fill.

The species available in the core book cover a range of Star Trek eras. Many species are available in all eras of play - Humans and Vulcans are always going to be around, even as early as Enterprise. Other species are only available in later eras - Trills show up during TOS and Bajorans during TNG/DS9/VOY.

The group's starship can also be created during character generation. The players select a ship class and various options to customize their specific vessel. These options include mission packages, additional equipment, and - for older ships - refits.

The ships available in the core book offer a variety of choices from different eras and intended roles. Each ship class reflects what the source material established about it - a Defiant punches way above its weight, but isn't exceptional in any other category while many of the cruisers are jacks-of-all-trades. Newer designs are naturally more technologically advanced, but refits help longer-serving starships to stay viable decades after launch.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Effigy Miniatures' Havoc Girls

Three sci-fi adventurers just arrived at a busy spaceport? Or three figures taking their place in my display case?

These are the Havoc Girls, a set of 28mm figures individually called the the Pilot, Recon, and Hacker from the now-defunct Effigy Miniatures. I'm not sure if the sculptor - Tom Mason - was going for a sci-fi version of "Charlie's Angels" when he created these figures, but I have strong suspicions. These were the first figures available from Effigy Miniatures' initial Kickstarter and later the company's online shop. They later become part of Effigy Miniatures' Havoc Protocol line – a series of miniatures with a similar futuristic aesthetic. In 2013, a career change prompted Tom Mason to close down Effigy Miniatures. To the best of my knowledge, these figures are no longer available for sale, even at the new company that Tom Mason started up.

These long-term residents of my lead pile finally made it to the work table early this year. I decided on a darker color scheme than the one used in the original artwork for greater contrast between the bodysuits and the accessories. The accessory colors on each figure are based on the Starfleet uniform colors used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the 24th century Starfleet, Pilot would be in the Command division and wear red. Recon would be in the Security department and wear gold. I decided that Hacker would be in the Sciences division and wear blue for variety, but an argument could be made for her to be in Engineering. The uniform color choices were made with an eye towards using them in a future Star Trek Adventures campaign. The hair colors are the result of me being unable to decide what natural hair colors to use and picking the three brightest paint colors to catch my eye.

The bases are from a Warsenal Tracking Beacon 3-pack that proved a little too fragile for my fumble fingers during assembly. The remains of that project found a home in my bits box. The bases are assembled from two pieces of plastic and create a layered effect. They are available separately from the Warsenal Tracking Beacon 3-pack as Tunguskan Bases.

I'm not entirely happy with how the paint jobs worked out. The base coating and highlighting went fine. Unfortunately, the washes broke after I applied them, leading to uneven coats on the figures and the bases. Still, given that this is my first painting project in a long while, I'm willing to live with a "tabletop as long as nobody looks too closely" standard.

Improvised light box on the kitchen table. It has the advantage of folding up for storage.

The initial set of photos that I took in my improvised light box were also disappointing. None of them turned out well. I resorted to snapping a shot of the Havoc Girls in my display case with my phone. The results were a pleasant surprise – not perfect, but better than the ones I took earlier. If this keeps up, I might make it my standard practice – it would certainly be easier!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Star Trek Adventures - First Impressions and the Default Time Period

Really liking the LCARS look.

Finished up my initial read-through of Modiphius Entertainment's Star Trek Adventures last month. Our group's other GM ran an outstanding short campaign just before the holidays. I ordered a copy as an early Christmas present for myself. The next step is to go through the book in more detail and make myself some notes on how the game works mechanically. After that, it will be time to pitch the idea for a campaign to our group and go from there!

The designers put in the work to make the 2d20 system fit Star Trek rather than the other way around. The game play reflects how things are seen to work in the various Star Trek television series. Too many licensed games try to make a given peg fit through whatever shaped opening they have handy.

Time Period

The time period that Modiphius Entertainment picked for the default in Star Trek Adventures was a little curious to me. In series terms, it's just after The Next Generation finale, in the middle of Deep Space Nine, and just before the premiere of Voyager. Significant amounts of canon haven't happened yet. Enterprise-D is still kicking around, but her days are numbered. The renewal of the Federation-Klingon conflict is right around the corner. Both the Dominion War and all of Janeway's Delta Quadrant odyssey are down the road. That struck me as quite a bit of story potential to omit.

Then again, setting the default any later has its own problems. Does Star Trek really need another post-Nemesis time line? Star Trek Online and the novels each present their own versions of events tailored for their own purposes. Setting the game during the Dominion War means that it will tend to dominate story telling. Even if not every session deals directly with the war, it's always going to be there, just barely in the background. And there just doesn't seem to be much going on in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants between the end of Deep Space Nine and Nemesis.

The default time period of Star Trek Adventures allows for a full range of plots against the widest possible variety of adversaries. Want the classic episodic problem-of-the-week set up for your starship crew? Perfectly plausible without having to explain why a powerful ship is not on the front lines while the Federation is fighting for its existence (see: Insurrection). A colony or station on the frontier? Fine. Hunting outlaws in the Badlands? The Maquis are still around. Facing a straightforward military threat in a scenario short of a shooting war? The Romulans and Cardassians are available as opponents. Thorny political situations? The area near Bajor is still as troublesome as ever. Plenty of possibilities for player characters to get into trouble while tugging down the front of their uniforms.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Look Back at The Keep on the Borderlands

Let's take a look at a classic D&D adventure module - B2 The Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax. I'm not sure if this is a review with a healthy dose of nostalgia, a retrospective, or something else. In any case, I'm not even going to pretend to be impartial as I examine the module's place in gaming, it's effects on me as a gamer, and take the module apart to see how it works.

Dungeon Module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands was the first RPG adventure module I owned. It came into my possession the same way it did for so many others - it was part of the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set. My set was the victim of too many moves from place to place in my youth. The rulebook, dice, and cardboard box are long gone. My current copy is second hand from Half Price Books.

The Keep on the Borderlands was intended as an introduction to D&D. Space is given to advice aimed at new players and DMs. Much of Gygax's advice still holds up decades later - things like "be fair" and "read the module before running it". A few pieces - like designating a "caller" to act as an intermediary between the DM and the other players - reflect practices specific to the time or to Gygax's gaming group.

The titular Keep is detailed enough to support adventures by itself - rob the bank, recruit some NPCs to help the party, or maybe even try to impress the person who runs the place. Curiously, the Keep is presented in much the same fashion as the module's dungeon - the Caves of Chaos. There are combat statistics for the Keep's inhabitants and notes on how they will respond to threats. A modern presentation might omit these details on the assumption that nothing would happen to the party's home base. One wonders if Gygax had players who were inclined to just straight up assault locations like the Keep for one reason or another. Another curiosity is the lack of names for the NPCs of the Keep. Each is referred to by their title - the Jewel Merchant, the Curate, the Castellan, etc. This gives the Keep a generic feel and places the burden of coming up with names for the NPCs on a DM running an introductory adventure.

The map of the area around the Keep and the Caves of Chaos places the two locations within a few thousand yards of each other. However, Gygax presents the Caves as something the party needs to search for, despite the presence of a road that runs close by it. The inhabitants of the Caves do not seem to be engaged in hostilities with the Keep or any traffic using the road. Otherwise, the garrison at the Keep would have already been deployed to neutralize the nearby threat. The Keep's garrison also seem to be content to leave the handful of wilderness encounters described in the module for the adventuring party to deal with. Why the Keep and the Caves of Chaos are located so closely to each other is never explained.

The majority of the module presents the Caves of Chaos. The dungeon is not a linear series of static encounters. The players are free to choose the cave entrances in any order they wish. However, knowledgeable players will generally opt to tackle the lower caves first, since they contain less challenging monsters.

Each of cave entrance leads to an underground area inhabited by a specific group of monsters - kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, more orcs, gnolls, etc. Gygax includes notes on how each group will react to invading adventuring parties. It was not Gygax's intent for the monsters to stand around while a battle rages within earshot. The monsters sound alarms to bring in reinforcements and employ various tactics to counter those of the player characters. There are even notes on how each group of monsters will behave if the party leaves any survivors behind, but this is rare in my experience.

While there are suggestions of conflicts between the different groups of monsters inhabiting the Caves of Chaos, it is still difficult to imagine all of these monsters co-existing in such a small space. The space occupied by the Caves of Chaos is comparable to an apartment complex. Perhaps the evil cult exerts some influence on the other groups? In any event, internal politics exist in Caves of Chaos and can be exploited by the player characters. However, Gygax provided no mechanism for the DM to use to pass this information on to the players.

The Keep on the Borderlands may have prompted the earliest arguments about alignments and morality within the D&D setting. The various groups of humanoid monsters contain family units, including children, living with them. Their fate is entirely up to the players, but the module provides no advice to the DM on how to resolve the issue.

The module's text and art evoke strong imagery. Gygax's description of the party's journey to the Keep conveys the sense of leaving the safety of civilized lands behind for a dangerous wilderness. Erol Otis' piece on the back cover of the Keep - standing tall atop a hill as the party approaches it - suggests its role as a solitary bastion of law on the wild frontier. The Keep on the Borderlands has a raw quality found in many early RPG products. It lacks even a hint of professional polish, relying on unrefined energy and amateur enthusiasm to carry it forward.

There's no way I would run The Keep on the Borderlands for my current group of players. They are mostly veterans to the hobby and have been through it far too many times not to have it memorized. I've run homages, borrowing elements and breathing a little nostalgia into newer systems, but I haven't run the module directly for many years. If I ever had a group of players fresh to the hobby, I might run it. Maybe. It no longer holds any surprises, secrets, or lessons for me. It's place in my collection is as a touchstone to days long gone.