There’s nothing less private than private life

Inspirations, Reviews, Worldbuilding

At least for a historian. Seriously, those guys will raid your garbage bin and steal your receipts. And the humanity will be grateful. After a while. I’ve just put my hands on the last (well, fourth out of five, they weren’t delivered in the right order) volume of History of Private Life. It’s probably one of the best series about history ever written, especially if you’re interested in social changes, not the fates of battles and wars. And if there’s some study area I’d love more than social and cultural history, I haven’t found it yet.

Kickstarter Alert: Critical Role Miniatures!

News

Yesterday the RPG world has been stunned into silence (for like a second, before the cheering started) by the announcement that on 26/06 20:00GMT launches the Kickstarter for Critical Role Miniatures. And so it did.

There was a fair amount of speculation whether this will happen ever since in January 2018 Russ Charles, an incredibly talented miniatures sculptor (well know known for his previous work for Privateer Press, Warlord Games and other wargaming companies) started posting on Twitter 3D renders of his renditions of the Mighty Nine, player characters from the Critical Role’s second campaign. As everybody might have guessed, that was met with applause and ‘Shut up and take my money’ gifs.

So, when yesterday folks at Critical Role have announced that they will launch a Kickstarter with the minis (produced by UK-based Steamforged Games), I wasn’t particularly surprised but ecstatic nonetheless.

The Kickstarter was fully funded in about 4 minutes. True, the goal wasn’t too high (only £20.000), but nobody can say that it didn’t deserve the attention. The minis are beautifully rendered, detailed, characterful, with believable proportions and great design. And they’re dirt cheap.

This Kickstarter is rather unique: there is only one pledge level (take all), no stretch goals, and the set of 22 minis costs only £45. They’re plastic, which vastly reduces the price when the production reaches a certain scale, and come pre-assembled and ready to be painted or just played with. As six of the minis are marked ‘Kickstarter exclusive’, I suppose the rest will be available later via Critical Role / Steamforged Games website.

Even if you’re not a fan of the series (after all, it is a considerable time commitment to watch it all), the models are still worth buying: scaled for standard RPG purposes (28mm), with a good mix of genders, races and classes, and with an armoured bear. And for £2 per mini, so no reason not to get those.

The Kickstarter only lasts until 6 July, though, so get them ASAP!

Wraith Recon Files 01A: The slow sail south

Session recaps

In my usual RPG group sometimes we can’t all make it to the game, as I’m sure it happens to each party. Normally we play Earthdawn (3E), and due to the storyline it’s rather hard to come up with reasons why one character or other disappeared. So, instead of making us all stop when we can’t have a full party, we’ve come up with Wraith Recon.

Well, obviously, we didn’t come up with Wraith Recon itself. It’s moderately known setting for Mongoose’s RuneQuest II – or rather, for D&D 4E, which was reworked for MRQII, and which we’re currently playing on house-ruled D&D 5E. Why the roundabout way? Because RuneQuest edition is what I have on a shelf, that’s why.

The main premise of Wraith Recon is simple: the players are a kind of spec ops for a fantasy kingdom, part of a super secret organisation specialising in trouble-shooting all types of issues that might endanger the country and its citizens. Need the price of an invading nation quietly assassinated? Send a Wraith Recon. Need somebody to spy on the new industrialist that decided to bring in some strange magics to the table? Send a Wraith Recon. Kill off all people in a village to keep the plague from spreading? You get the gist.

The players get debriefed, they are handed portraits/maps/items, collect their gear, and are directed to the portal or griphon-riding Air Cavalry. Off they go! The strict mission-oriented adventures make is easy to play Wraith Recon as a series of one-shots, either week after week or with months pause. Characters do not need to worry about equipment, magical items are provided as GM desires from the quartermaster, no need to count XP (just level-up players every mission or two, to keep the progression going), no need to worry about coming up with adventure hooks, no need to worry about all-encompassing story arc if that’s not what you want to do.

As we just started, and we weren’t sure whether this style of play would suit as all, we’ve decided to play through the introductory adventure included in the book. However, as I can’t ever just play by the book, I’ve mixed and matched my favourite tropes from war films and stories (I’m really into military history, you folks). The adventure is heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now, just with lizardfolk instead of Vietnamese (borderline racist, I know. But that’s a standard issue of fantasy, ain’t it?)

The party this week consisted of:

  • Carric, half-elf barbarian (path of the zealot) with acolyte background
  • Varius, human ranger (gloom stalker) with noble background
  • Halvar, human wizard (school of evocation) with urchin background

As all of the characters were proficient in Stealth, that informed a lot of story choices. The adventure, for example, called for a battle with lizardfolk patrol – which of course was resolved on a sneak-around basis – and for a full-on assault on a fort at dawn (yes, there should be Wagner playing in the background for this scene), which was dumped as a dumb and risky Air Cavalry plan and replaced with night infiltration, assassination and sabotage. The issue of ruins swarming with undead was resolved with ‘we’ll just stay on a boat in the middle of the river and order an air strike from the command centre’. And you know what? It worked. This time.

The main house rule is the assassination. After all, if a standard humanoid is ambushed while sleeping or by an invisible enemy, they should die of a single cut to the throat. Of course, if there’s magic involved, or players roll poorly, it’s not going to work, but I’m all for awarding the players for thinking and using proper tactics in the field. If it means they can one-hit the boss, that’s perfectly fine – after all, the boss may have possessed some knowledge the players may need in the future, and neither or them can speak with dead. And of course the rule works both ways – if they’re not careful, the players can not-wake up one morning with their throats slit.

The feedback after the first session was pretty good; however, I don’t like the style of play suggested in Wraith Recon rulebook as it’s rather episodic and doesn’t leave much space for character interaction or roleplaying. It does have a certain cinematic feel, with a lot of fast-forwarding. I’m sure next time I’ll make some more space for those elements of play as I know my players like to get a bit more into their characters.

Anyway, this Sunday we’re going to finish off the story – finally off the boat, the characters will face some jungle encounters and the ultimate evil in the Heart of Darkness: Colonel Kurst. After that, back to Earthdawn – unless somebody can’t make it, again.

Review: Mordekainen’s Tome of Foes

Reviews

Mordekainen’s back! Everybody’s favourite wizard brings us world lore, racial lore, and a nice selection of monsters to charm and slaughter (or die of, to be honest).

The book looks pretty much standard for the fifth edition: hardcover, gloss varnish, pretty artwork. I actually like the cover art of the standard edition (by Jason Rainville) more than the special edition by Vance Kelly.

So, what’s inside the book that promises that we’ll discover the truth about the great conflicts of the universe?

There are six chapters full of goodies, and the review will discuss them all, because that’s more fun:

  1. The Blood War: description of the eternal war between devils and demons;
  2. Elves: sub-races, gods, day-to-day living;
  3. Dwarves and Duergar: the war, dwarven and duergar ways of living, duergar characters;
  4. Gith and Their Endless War: long-awaited lore and rules for Githyanki and Githzerai;
  5. Halflings and Gnomes: lots of lore about the small races;
  6. Bestiary: 140 monster stat blocks, with the emphasis on demonic and devilish creatures.

TL;DR: A quality supplement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the racial lore, as I’m a bit sentimental about the amount of write-up that used to accompany bestiary entries in AD&D. I like the new monsters, especially those above CR10 – it’s always nice to have something that will challenge players who got too cocky.

Chapter 1: The Blood War

MTF Chapter 1.png

The war between Lawful Evil Nine Hells and the Chaotic Evil Abyss is eternal – at least when looked at from a humanoid perspective. It’s ranging everywhere from Lower Planes, to Material Plane, to anywhere possible, really. Put a demon and a devil in one room, and the hilarity (also known as bitter struggle for dominance) will ensue. The book gives rather short description of the history of The Blood War itself – and I’m glad it kind of skips over it; I’ve read way too many pages on the lives and wars of Phoenix Kings to ever enjoy the dry, over-detailed chronicles of any world, including the one I’m living in.

So, as I much prefer the social history (especially in combination with military), I was happy to see the different points of view on the war, and its consequences on mortals. The books lists and describes each of the archdevils ruling the Nine Hells (Asmodeus, Zariel, Dispater, Mammon, Fierna and Belial, Levistus, Glasya, Baalzebul, and Mephistopheles), as well as their diabolical cults (no more generic cultists! Give them new abilities and signature spells!). There’s also an interesting snippet on the gender of devils, and how they’re used to taking any form that gives them an edge in an encounter.

Rules-wise, there are new options for tieflings – they can now be connected to any of the Lords of the Nine Hells, which brings their own perks, although they’re just variants for ability score increases and known spells. Anyway, more options for character creation are just something I love, so I’m not complaining. Also, tables for devil customisation: honorifics (‘the Perciever’, ‘Chainer of Demons’, ‘the Shatterer’ etc.), personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws.

Next section covers demons and their spread over the planes. Again, we get to meet demon lords (Baphomet, Demogorgon, Fraz-Urb’luu, Graz’zt, Juiblex, Orcus, Yeenoghu, Zuggtmoy) and their cultists, and the boons they can impart on their followers (+8 to Constitution, anyone? Just pledge your undying loyalty to Juiblex and kiss your mental ability scores goodbye). The chapter closes in the demon customisation tables: personality traits, ideals, bonds (just one! I am a perfect product of creation, destined to one day shape the cosmos to my whims. Everything I do verifies my destiny), flaws and unusual demon features, like belching flies, snake hair, bleeding wasps (yeah, really?). Also, fiendish cult random generation tables.

Overall, a solid 30 pages. Incredibly useful if you want to incorporate the Capital ‘E’ Evil to your campaign.

 

Chapter 2: Elves

MTF Chapter 2.png

Elves! The race I could never get behind (I have a list of issues with long-lived races, or rather their progression/development speed). However, reading the lore on the sub-races and the childhood/adolescence of the elves in society, I was actually fascinated with the whole idea of souls going away and returning. I don’t know if I missed it previously, but the reincarnation actually explains a lot about the elves (and my issues with them). I think there’s quite a good couple of pages of lore there. Even better is the following thorough description of the elven philosophy, especially its long-term part, as well as discussion on the elven adventurers.

A short piece on elven magic (including rather unique mythals – like the one in Myth Drannon – and bladesongs) is quickly followed by the elven pantheon, The Seldarine, which is a nice addition. In true D&D style, there’s a table with deities, their alignments, provinces, domains and symbols. The more known deities are also described in more detail: Corellon Larethian (really, it’s hard to find a more iconic elven deity), Hanali Celanic (god of beauty and love), Labelas Enoreth (god of time, history and memory – a rare nod towards the ‘ancient’ aspect of the elves), Rillifane Rallathil (god of nature and beasts), Sehanine Moonbow (god of mysteries, travel and death), and Deep Sashelas (god of sea and knowledge). A couple of paragraphs on elven ‘paradises’, Arvandor and more achievable Evermeet, conclude the god-oriented part.

Let’s carry on: there are goodies ahead of us. A piece on Eladrin and the Feywild (yes, there are stats for the season-aligned eladrin, and they’re more or less playable), followed by way longer description of Drows, complete with societal descriptions and the drow pantheon (of course that includes Eilistraee, the only good diety of drows). More interestingly, the next section covers the Raven Queen and the Shadar-kai, her elven followers from Shadowfell.

The tables at the end of chapter cover new character creation options: rules and traits of the eladrin (separate for each season), the sea elves (water-breathing!), and the shadar-kai (come with necrotic damage resistance and built-in short-ranges teleport). Couple extra tables cover elf-specific trinkets and adventure hooks (separate for drow and non-drow adventurers). Pretty good options in those!

 

Chapter 3: Dwarves and Duergar

MTF Chapter 3.png

Yes, there are more dynamic, action-filled artworks in this section of the book. But this one has a dog, so…

We start the chapter on dwarves and duergar with the description of their conflict, as promised by Mordekainen. It’s not too long – more of an overview, really, just enough to give you an understanding of the reasons behind the still simmering (blazing?) hatred.

Afterwards we’re faced with the main tenets of the dwarven life: path to perfection, the legacy of the clans, the stability of the stronghold. They make up the pillars of the dwarven society and psychology, and I have to admit, they’re rather well-written as well. I really appreciate that the book creators decided to discuss the different variants of the dwarves in more than one setting: there are dwarves of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. We’re introduced to dwarven deities (yes, there’s more than just Moradin – I can make this joke, as I only even bothered to know Moradin, and I’m not happy with my own ignorance). Next sections cover the standard dwarven enemies (dragons, giants, orcs and duergar), clans and dwarven adventurers.

Duergar, the evil dwarves, get their own section of the book. It’s more of an dark mirror image than the opposite: there are still the main tenets (Our pockets are never full, Our fight is never done, Our resolve is never shaken), but it all lacks the feeling of society, happiness or satisfaction. With just two deities (Deep Duerra and Laduguer), duergar feel the least developed in this matter, but it’s rather fitting. There’a a section on psionic talents of duergar, as well as duergar adventurers, which includes some tips on roleplaying such characters. Also, rules for creating duergar characters (120ft darkvision, some magic and resistances + sunlight sensitivity).

The Dwarf Tables  include random generators for dwarves on the move (caravans, patrols, travellers etc.), duergar raiding parties, for clans, adventurer story hooks and quirks (my favourite is duergar The outside world is a giant cave, and nothing will convince you otherwise).

 

Chapter 4: Gith and Their Endless War

MTF Chapter 4.png

If you’re, like me, fans of Planescape: Torment, you’ve probably waited for the appearance of Gith in D&D 5E. I mean – who doesn’t want to see more Dak’kons? By the way, he was brilliantly voiced in Polish edition of the game, and I loved Gith ever since.

It’s comes as no surprise that this chapter starts with the description of conflict between githyanki (lawful evil) and githzerai (lawful neutral). Both are motivated by their intense hatred of mind flayers (centuries of slavery do that to people), but their choices and ways differ considerably. While githyanki are merciless raiders, githzerai are more mind-oriented pacifists.

A section aboyt githyanki covers their goddess-queen Vlaakith, the history of the servitude to illithids, description of their society, the order of knights, skyships, and the city of Tu’narath, githyanki capital on the Astral Plane.

Githzerai, described here as strong-minded philosophers and austere ascetics,  revere their great heroes more than they hate everything that’s not them. Their fortresses are located in the Chaos Plane of Limbo, where githzerai learned to manipulate the Chaos to their own uses. They wage the war against githyanki and the mind flayers, although it’s rather through precise attacks instead of full-blown assault.

The chapter covers long-awaited (again, at least by me) rules for creating gith characters, both sub-races having access to some psionics and either extra proficiencies (githyanki) or advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened (githzerai). Extra tables cover gith names, personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, as well as githyanki raiding parties and githzerai groups.

 

Chapter 5: Halflings and Gnomes

MTF Chapter 5.png

Often overlooked, but thoroughly enjoyable, smaller races have been described here in pretty much the same amount of detail. What makes them stand apart is that they are not enrolled in any great conflict – they’re actively avoiding it by trying to go unnoticed. They live peaceful lives, making desserts and gizmos.

Section of halflings covers their daily living and psychological make-up. A nice addition is the small boxed-out with halfling superstitions – a cool way of adding a bit of extra flavour to you characters or NPCs. They vary from wearing flowers on your hat to ward off evil faeries, to rules regarding planting turnips. All in all, delightful. There are also the deities, all of them described in detail (Yondalla, Arvoreen, Sheela Peryroyl, Charlamaine, Cyrrollalee, Brandobaris and Urogalan). We get some text on the halfling adventurers as well, and the descriptions of halflings in the multiverse. The usual tables cover personality traits, ideals, bonds, flaws and reasons for adventuring.

Gnomes are presented as ingenious toymakers, lovers of life, easily fascinated with various ideas and peoples. There’s a section about each of the sub-races (rock, forest and deep gnomes), as well as about the gnome gods – again, with detailed information on all of them: Garl Glittergold, Baervan Wildwanderer, Baravar Cloakshadow, Callarduran Smoothhands, Flandal Steelskin, Gaerdal Ironhand, Nebelun, Segojan and Urdlen. There are also The Golden Hills, the home of the gnome gods. Usual section on adventurers and their love of travels.

Rules-wise, there are notes on creating svirfneblin (deep gnomes), and the gnome tables (classic choice of personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws).

 

Chapter 6: Bestiary

MTF Chapter 6.png

After a long trip we’ve arrived to the all-new pile of monsters. There are entries complementing all previous chapters – a lot of fiendish and demonic monsters, drows, shadar-kai, duergar and gith. The challenge rating varies between 1/8 (young kruthik) and 26 (Demogorgon, Orcus and Zariel). With 140 stat blocks, that makes a nice selection of opponents.

As I intend to write a separate article on the monsters in this bestiary (there’s so many cool entries to discover), I’m just going to add that the chapter ends in useful tables, grouping the monsters by creature type, challenge rating and environment.

 

___

All of the illustrations are taken from the Mordekainen’s Tome of Foes and/or the promotional images, and are obviously not mine.

General update

News

So, I haven’t really posted anything in a while. A long while, if you don’t count an odd Instagram pic of the minis I’m painting, or an occasional tweet a out random rpg-related stuff.

However, there have been things happening. My collection of RPG book grew considerably in size, my collection of minis even more so (I got into Age of Sigmar, and it’s fun!). I’m playing Earthawn (3E), DMing D&D (5E) as a kind of fantasy spec ops (Wraith Recon, anyone?), reading through incredible 800-pages Glorantha setting for Runequest, making sample characters (D&D 5E, 3rd level, complete with backstories), painting terrain pieces, writing adventures, working full-time (plus some more) on cool stuff for Warlord Games, and finishing off my home office/paint station.

So, I’ve been busy. Add to that the impostor syndrome and you get a clear answer why I haven’t been posting much. I’m trying to do better though, and hopefully stuff will actually appear here soon. For the time being, please accept this random shot of the minis I’ve finally got to base properly this week – made by Midlam Miniatures, Reaper and a whomever made a game called Drakerys and put the elves in there.

Show your face! Free character portrait generators for all your RPG needs

Inspirations

We all know that roleplaying games are a theatre of the mind, but there’s nothing as fun as actually seeing your PC. It helps you to get in character, it helps your party members with visualisation, it makes it easier for your fans/friends to do fanart.

However, for those of us who aren’t artist, it’s either to commission some proper character portraits, do a lousy sketch ourself, or delve into the wide and deep ocean of internet resources. A side note: if you’re going to use somebody else’s art because it fits, be prepared to tell people who the artist is. You’re using their work, so let’s have the basic honesty to credit them when possible (e.g. when someone asks).

If you’re not willing to dig deep for appropriate artwork, or just want something that fits perfectly (more or less), there’s a massive amount of portrait generators out there that can help you in your RPG needs. Almost every RPG/MMO computer game (and Sims series, of course) also has a built-in generator which you use for this purpose (just take a screencap!), but I’m going to show you the free-to-use that you can use without installing anything on your computer.

To make it easier to show differences in the generators, I’m going to create portraits of two characters from a D&D 5E campaign played not so long ago: Enid, half-elven bard/warlock (think trickery with a bit of fae vibe thrown into the mix), and Kronis, human paladin of Kord (straight outta Skyrim).

Hero Forge

Although ultimately a website that lets you create and commission the miniatures (definitely a cool thing to have, but a bit expensive, especially if you’re not earning in USD), you can also export the images to use as character portraits.

HeroForgeScreenshot (11).png

HeroForgeScreenshot (10).png

Pros:

  • a lot of styles and customisation options, including sci-fi
  • non-human races, a choice of horns, wings and tails
  • optional familiars, mounts and basing
  • you can get a mini that looks just like your character portrait

Cons:

  • lack of colour
  • you’ll really want to get that mini, no matter the cost
  • miniature/comic-booky style might not be a thing for you

 

Mega Fantasy Avatar

If you’re more into drawn, comic book style, this generator might be more for you. It creates 2D images of your characters, just busts with hands attached, but they give you more complicated facial expressions. It often falls short when you’re interested in masculine PCs, as evidently shown below.

mega-fantasy-avatar Enid.png.jpg

mega-fantasy-avatar Kronis.png

Pros:

  • great choice if you’re going for cute, good-looking female/feminine characters
  • options for colouring every piece of the garment
  • different backgrounds to choose from
  • sheer amount of jewellery and hairdos makes my heart sing

Cons:

  • no matter what you do with the male characters, they’re going to look like dressed-up babies.
  • won’t be easy to create non-human races
  • just fantasy, and with a slight manga vibe – not for everybody

 

RPG Heroine Generator

One of my favourites, but it might be due to fact that I grew up watching Sailor Moon, and that I always roleplay female characters. If I ever wanted something masculine, this might not be the best choice (you know, “heroine”). As in: there’s only one body type, and it’s a generic, skinny doll with big breasts.

Enid.jpg

Pros:

  • lot of colouring options & garments
  • useful for making cute characters, but only with human proportions
  • I quite like the style

Cons:

  • no masculine characters
  • just one silhouette, no poses or body types
  • just fantasy and magical girls

 

HeroMachine

Several options here: basic or advanced, or even a downloadable offline version (paid). Basic version covers mostly superhero-style images, the advanced allows for more variations. The images shown below have been made with the basic variant.

Enid

Kronis

Pros:

  • simple & advanced options, depending on your needs
  • many features in different style
  • colouring options for every piece of the design
  • in advanced version there’s a lot of options for body types, disabilities, skin tones etc.

Cons:

  • needs Flash, so doesn’t work on iOS, or on computers that don’t like viruses and malware on them
  • interface is stuck in 90s, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change
  • If you’re almost done with the character, and decide to go back to poses – pick ‘keep items’ on the pop-up or you’re lose all of your progress. Guess who did not know that
  • Overall quality of the images is not amazing

 

Vox Machina: Origins, issue 4 – The story goes dark

Reviews

I’m a bit behind on the reviews but… Oh my, this comic book is everything I’ve ever wanted (until the animated series comes out, and then the 10-season live action TV series).

Ending the last issue on a high note, with “roll initiative” in the air, Matt Colville decided to throw the characters under the bus. The villain is deadly, intelligent, and doesn’t care at all that the protagonists would very much like to loot her afterwards, thank you very much. I cannot wait to read more about her, and her compatriots.

The story progresses just like it should, seeing as we’re 66% into the story arc – there’s a party to be assembled, and the main characters must go through the hardships and tribulations to achieve their final goals in issue six. And yet, even though it’s classic story composition, it still feels natural and fresh. Vex is incredible and believable (she made such progress during the campaign!), Keyleth has the best facial expressions, and Scanlan is the most genre-savvy character I’ve seen in a long time.

But the story needs more Percy.

I’m going to leave you with my favourite snippet of this issue: Tiberius being awesome.Opera Zdjęcie_2018-02-06_202254_digital.darkhorse.com.png