Posted by: davflamerock | May 18, 2014

Cube Primer: The Antiquities War

Antiquities War

Antiquities War Cube Primer

The two brothers Urza and Mishra wanted only to learn about the Thran, the ancient artificers whose talents they had inherited. But their rivalry, fueled by two halves of an ancient powerstone found deep within the Caves of Koilos, brought Dominaria to full-scale war. The artificers’ war has left its mark on the history not only of Dominaria, but upon the entire Multiverse itself. This is the Antiquities War.

This started when I was thinking I wanted to build a cube of my own, but being a storyteller at heart, having a regular old cube just wasn’t enough. It was in recalling my love of old cards (particularly the Antiquities set), that I realized I could make a cube that would have a theme and a story to it: it would make my players into two warring artificers. And so my artifact cube was born.
(Link URL: http://cubetutor.com/viewcube/4004)

After a number of massive overhauls, I have reached the cube I have now. The metagame is one defined by artifacts, constructed to allow aggressive decks that utilize artifact creatures or green beaters who hate artifice as much as their controller does. The cube has been getting less and less “old-school,” just because older designs aren’t as fun, but because this is a cube based on Antiquities, I did keep out a few modern innovations to keep up nostalgia, namely Planeswalkers and Equipment. However, artifact creatures are strong, green creatures are strong, spells are strong, and a potent synergistic cube based on Wizards’ modern booster draft design (synergy first, power second).

The way this cube is meant to be drafted is with 14-card packs which are supplemented by a single artifact land at random. However, this is the Antiquities War, and all of the artifact lands are highly Mirrodin-specific. So that’s easy: I’ll make new ones with the appropriate art and flavor. This, by the way, is how you make a storyline-themed cube: with functional reprints that have been re-done to keep the gameplay you want but with the addition of the flavor you’re seeking to create.

Yotian Tower

Yotian Tower

Argivian Laboratory

Argivian Laboratory

Ruins at Koilos

Ruins at Koilos

Tomakul Forge

Tomakul Forge

Argothian Outpost

Argothian Outpost

Archetypes

And now we’ll go into the main archetypes of the cube, so you have some idea what happens when you draft…

WU Esperzoa/Trinkets

UW Esperzoa

There are two (slightly overlapping) primary white-blue archetypes, and anyone who has played Modern Masters will be familiar with them. On the one hand, you have Esperzoa and Crystal Shard, both equally powerful engines, while on the other you have Auriok Salvagers, another recursion enabler. Combine them with valuable comes-into-play effects (such as Faerie Mechanist and Sanctum Gargoyle, or even better Blade Splicer and Trinket Mage) and you can create a very difficult engine to stop. Not to mention that Esperzoa hits for 4 in the air with only 3 converted mana cost. The overlap in these archetypes is that both Auriok Salvagers and Esperzoa like cheap artifacts, especially artifact lands. There are a few incomplete cycles (WUBR) of artifacts in the cube, one of which is “trinkets.” Someone familiar with Mirrodin and Modern Masters would immediately think of the power of recurring an AEther or Pyrite spellbomb, but what about recurring a Dispeller’s Capsule? Or an Engineered Explosives? Even reusing an Arcbound Worker can be good, with a sac outlet and another artifact creature.

UB Artifact Ramp

UB Ramp

Blue loves artifacts, and black loves control, so they go together quite well. Cards such as Grand Architect and Priest of Yawgmoth power out immense superpowers, along with some help from mana artifacts. Powerful sweepers such as Damnation can keep aggressors at bay, suggesting a prominent utility artifact theme, but imagine what you can do with a Master Transmuter, a Precursor Golem, and an Epochrasite? You could easily swap out the large threat for any of a number of things: Sundering TitanPentavusTriskelionDuplicant

BR Sacrifice Value

BR Sacrifice

Every color interacts with artifacts in a different way. White likes attacking with them, while blue likes tinkering with and ramping into them. Turns out, red likes sacrificing them. And its next-door neighbor, black, likes sacrificing creatures. So with the proper recursion, a deck that sacrifices creatures (such as Perilous Myr, modular creatures, Myr Retriever, etc) can go a long way. Greater Gargadon is the king of this effect, offering a free sac outlet that can’t be interacted with until it’s a 9/7 beater, but other cards can offer effective sacrifice engines to produce value, whether it be a +1/+1 counter (Carrion Feeder), a free 2 damage (Orcish Mechanics), or even a 6 mana 6/6 flying first strike demon!

RG Wildfire/Big Red

RG Wildfire

Traditionally, red takes the aggressive role in most cubes, with “Big Red” being a more niche strategy that maybe tags onto another color’s ramp or artifact strategy. However, red doesn’t play aggressively with artifacts (not the way white does), and so the traditional aggressive role that red fills doesn’t work here. However, artifact ramp is very much a strategy in this cube, which makes Wildfire exceptional. This deck generally pairs red’s burn and land destruction with green’s cheap creatures and accessible ramp to create a deck that goes for the enemy’s manabase early enough to prevent them from stabilizing in the face of a Polukranos or Steel Hellkite (backed up by artifact mana).

GW Straight Aggro

GW Aggro

With red unable to provide the cube’s aggro, the aggressive colors become white and green. Each color pursues its aggressive strategy in a slightly different way—white likes metalcraft while green just goes for straight value—but they can be combined in a number of interesting and effective ways. Straight GW beats could follow a Wolfbitten Captive with an Accorder Paladin to apply pressure until the Indomitable Archangels and Wolfir Silverhearts drop, or an Ezuri’s Brigade can follow up an Ardent RecruitCourt Homunculus, and Epochrasite lead. And of course, in the absence of Bonesplitter, an early Rancor makes every creature a threat.

WB Tempered Steel

WB Tempered Steel

One weakness to Selesnya Aggro is that neither green nor white has easy access to reach (ie, punching the last points of damage through to your opponent), a role traditionally filled by burn in red or drain in black. That’s why when black is paired with white’s aggressive Tempered Steel strategy, it can help close out games even after an opponent has stabilized at low life. Early aggressive artifacts buffed by a Tempered Steel can be hard to stop, especially with black’s powerful removal keeping blockers out of the way, but the inclusion of a Disciple of the Vault or a Blood Artist can change an early assault from difficult to stop to downright unbeatable.

UR Izzet Spells

UR Spells

One feature that was very popular in my previous cube build was the “creatureless spells” deck, which relied on cards such as Grid Monitor and burn spells to hold off enemy creatures while Bosium Strip and card draw gave inevitability. In this much more aggressive and much more interactive build, the spirit of the deck is retained in the addition of two exceptional creatures: Young Pyromancer and Guttersnipe. While the pyromancer turns all of your bounce, card draw, counterspells, and burn into chump blockers (or sacrifice fodder), Guttersnipe ensures that your board-control spells also give inevitability. Bonus points for setting up an Isochron Scepter lock with one of the creatures out—the scepter gives you a spell every turn, even to an empty hand!

BG The Rock

BG Aggro

While a black-green build doesn’t have the same kind of synergy most of the other color pairs have, it makes up for it in sheer value. On the one hand, allied color combinations are supported slightly more just due to the extra fixing available in the presence of the manlands, while on the other, enemies often offset each other’s strength. In this case, a mono-green aggro deck (which is possible in this cube) is heavily supported by the removal and reach offered by black. Sometimes, a nice curve and cheap removal is all you need.

RW Recursion Value

RW Recursion

The biggest weakness of the black-red sacrifice deck is the limited recursion options. However, when red’s sacrifice engines are combined with white’s much more plentiful recursion outlets, ranging from the fragile (Argivian Archaeologist) to the dominating (Sun Titan), it can become difficult for an opponent to match the value generated by sacrificing artifacts again and again. Once more, artifact lands come heavily into play here, but so do more pricey enters-the-battlefield artifacts such as Pilgrim’s Eye or Solemn Simulacrum.

GU Proliferate/Sunburst

UG Proliferate

An interesting thing about artifacts is that they often use counters. Modular is fairly common in the cube alongside some charge counter-wielding artifacts. Combine those with green’s love of +1/+1 counters and you get the perfect space for proliferate, which only exists in the cube in repeatable forms. In addition, the use of vivid lands and cards such as Cultivate or Yavimaya Elder make it much easier for a green mage to hit domain to make the most use of the sunburst cards in the cube. Etched Oracle and Pentad Prism are already respectable cards, but when you can proliferate every turn or every other turn, things get downright nasty.

This should give you a sense of the ten primary archetypes in the cube, though they are far from exhaustive, and each can be stretched into related colors or built a number of different ways. None of them are exclusive enough to be ignored by fellow drafters, but all have cards that only a related deck would want that can table. I challenge you to try to come up with other decks and archetypes that are possible, for the play should be very deep. For the risky players, there are enough pieces to attempt a Golem Tribal deck, and for the really brave ones, powerful utility artifacts such as Unwinding Clock and Trading Post can quickly take over games, if protected appropriately.

~Dav

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Posted by: davflamerock | May 15, 2014

The Bulwark of the West

Been a while since I’ve been by here. No need to get too much into things, except to say that post-college life is more time-consuming than you’d think, especially when you have to find jobs. That, plus the fact that the local game store is very Magic/Warhammer/Warmachine/Living Card Game-heavy means not much time has been spent painting or roleplaying. Oh, I’ve been working on writing a couple adventures for Call of Cthulhu, but there’s no really good D&D out here or Dark Heresy or anything to actually play. To make my efforts less focused, I’ve been taking this whole “game-design” passion of mine more seriously, so I’ve also been tinkering with making my own board & card games. So things for the blog have been very quiet.

However, I was fortunate that a member of The One Ring forums lives in Worcester… and I’ve been able to get some regular LotR SBG in after all! So don’t be surprised to see some battle reports in the future (and he’s much more into the hobby than I am, and I’m constantly impressed by the terrain and paint work he’s done. When he completes his current big project, I’ll be sure to post pictures of them (with his permission, of course).

But that’s not why you came here! You came here for this!

For Gondor!

"Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Numenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten." - Boromir, the Fellowship of the Ring

“Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Numenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten.” – Boromir, the Fellowship of the Ring

Soldiers of Minas Tirith Soldiers of Minas Tirith Soldiers of Minas Tirith

The part I didn’t mention is that I also haven’t been posting my painting work because I’ve been wanting to save up and put the entire Minas Tirith legion I finally finished up at once. Between inheriting my friend’s Gondor soldiers and my own significant collection, I’ve ended up with almost fifty models that were either poorly-painted (he and I painted ours many many years ago) or not painted at all, so it’s been a bit of a haul getting them all looking like proper soldiers. Obviously it can be somewhat grueling to go through so many basically identical models, but I do love getting to see a whole company of units all looking good together on the table. Also make for excellent guards/soldiers in D&D and other fantasy RPGs.

For Gondor!

For Gondor!

Minas Tirith Archers

Closeup on the Captain of the Guard

Closeup on the Captain of the Guard

Some closeups on the banner.

Some closeups on the banner.

This was actually printed and then glued into place, using Elmers Glue-All to coat the banner and give it shape.

This was actually printed and then glued into place, using Elmers Glue-All to coat the banner and give it shape.

But I’ve got other models I’ve been working on in breaks from the soldiers of Gondor, and I’ll put some of them up in the next couple days. Also, after some tinkering last night I pulled together a scheme for my Guards of the Fountain Court that I like, so here’s a preview for some models I hope to finish tonight…

Closeup of Boromir

Closeup of Boromir

Boromir Back Boromir Side

More coming soon!

More coming soon!

See you next time!

Posted by: davflamerock | October 7, 2013

Introducing: Magic: the Gathering RPG

Now I’ll admit that I said I didn’t want to turn this into an MtG blog, and I still won’t. However, because I do want to spend time talking about roleplaying games, and because this is a roleplaying game that I’m designing, I thought that makes this a good topic for the blog. The full ruleset as I’ve written (the most recent draft) can be viewed publicly here, and if you’re interested then I encourage you to read it. That said, I’ll give a brief rundown here as well. Remember, this has yet to be playtested (so if you want to give it a try, let me know!)

A Brief Explanation

The MtG RPG operates largely off of three main statistics, Power, Toughness, and Character. Based on their counterparts in the card game (Power, Toughness, and Converted Mana Cost), these stats govern most of your rolls in the game. Almost all rolls are opposed, meaning each player rolls a ten-sided die and adds their characteristic, and whoever gets higher wins (some skills or tests are made against the GM, who may either choose a static difficulty or roll their own die). In the case of combat, variable damage is also produced this way: your attack damage is equal to your Power plus the difference between your “to hit” and your opponent’s “evasion” rolls.

Zekrom, a sample Br human rogue from Zendikar, immediately after character creation

Zekrom, a sample Br human rogue from Zendikar, immediately after character creation

As you can see, this system is HIGHLY simplified. It’s so simplified, in fact, that I even omitted a section for spellbooks or equipment in the character sheet, so that I could keep it half a page long (and that’s just a set of empty tables anyway). In addition to working with only three stats, the game works only with three classes, in true Diablo I fashion: Fighter, Rogue, and Mage. Each is designed to have a simple ruleset for a variety of different actual professions (the fighter could be a soldier or a barbarian, the rogue anything from an advisor to a thief, and the mage a wizard, cleric, or druid), and each one has a focus. The fighter is capable of beginning the game with higher stats or special abilities, while the rogue is middling and has a host of skills, and the mage works with the lowest stats but has magic. There are no levels, but rather the game uses an experience system derived from Dark Heresy, where you acquire experience during game play that is then spent between sessions to purchase abilities, upgrade skills, or increase stats. Rather than using different purchase trees based on class, however, the xp cost of upgrades and abilities is actually determined by your color—for example, a White character will have an easier time getting Vigilance than Devour as a special ability. Combat and adventuring works, for the most part, identically to the RPG’s published counterparts (D&D, Dark Heresy, Cthulhu), just with a d10 rather than a d20.

The titular mechanic, Magic, operates very similarly to the card game. Each mage starts the game with a spellbook of 10 cards (usually 7-8 spells and 2-3 lands), which gets turned into a library (deck) during encounters and plays exactly like a game of Magic (albeit smaller, and with more complicated ways of playing lands!). Each spell included in the spellbook also indicates that such a spell may be cast once per day, encouraging the inclusion of multiple copies of important spells. In this way it operates similarly to D&D’s spellcasting system, but with a little more flexibility: you may cast used spells (which are stored in “the graveyard”) at the cost of acquiring significant penalties (Fatigue) that last the rest of the day, creating a soft limit where you only want to cast each spell in your spellbook once per day… but if you really need to, you can cast them again. It’s interesting to see a mage who’s been casting spells all day enter an encounter—most of their spells are in the graveyard, meaning they’re able to power out their remaining spells faster and by gaining Fatigue they can gain access to more spells than they would normally have during an encounter. But you’ll notice something distinct about these rules: most of the complexity is built into the magic system, and much of it piggybacks on rules a mage would already know (the rules of Magic: the Gathering), making this one of the simpler RPGs written.

Why Simplicity?

The first question you’re bound to have is, “Why in the name of all things good did you simplify to three stats, three classes, and some card game abilities???”

Undoubtedly, comparisons will be drawn between this system and the upcoming D&D Next ruleset. Both make heavy use of stats as the basis of a character’s checks and abilities, and both are highly simplified to flatline the learning curve (at the expense of game depth). While my experience with D&D Next has been largely positive, I still think I prefer Pathfinder as a D&D game (that discussion deserves its own blog post!). That said, there is a prominent niche that D&D Next will fill and do well in, and this game is designed for an even smaller niche. Not every game can be Pathfinder, but not every game should be Pathfinder. The desire to make this game came from an interest in roleplaying in the MtG storyworld—and therefore, the story must be prioritized over game mechanics. To this effect, I took a great deal of inspiration from the Call of Cthulhu game system, another one whose strength comes from the fact that its mechanics “get out of the way” of roleplaying and allow the game to be about the story rather than the gameplay. Obviously in Cthulhu, combat isn’t developed because it’s supposed to be something to be avoided rather than sought out, but even a simple combat system is fun and interesting.

I say this will be compared to D&D Next because both games were designed by stripping successful RPGs (predominantly D&D) down to their cores and building around those. The basic combat mechanics in D&D and Pathfinder—ones which operate with the simple rules of “1.6 standard actions per turn” and “move your pieces around the battle grid”—are what makes conflicts in those games fun. They turn a roleplaying endeavor essentially into a tabletop minis game with complicated hero units. But even better: such a switch into tabletop tactics game isn’t even mandatory, for if your group is having more fun roleplaying, then nothing’s to stop you from just roleplaying through the conflict entirely and never even breaking out the battle mat! What’s more, such a combat system is incredibly simple, and while adding on a huge amount of special abilities, modifiers, and decisions gives players a lot of options in character creation and play (allowing a high degree of personalization and customization), it doesn’t necessarily make the combats any more fun, just more diverse (and even basic character creation and combat mechanics such as those used here allow for very diverse encounters).

What’s more, It’s worth mentioning that there exist roleplaying games with two-page rulesets that are just as fun and interesting as Pathfinder (such as Cthulhu Dark). Therefore, when complexity isn’t needed for a positive and engaging experience, I’ve learned it’s better to cut the complexity and lower the barrier of entry. I will admit, in full disclosure, that my attitude on this matter is likely due to the fact that games I tend to like also tend to be the obscure ones; the Call of Cthulhu card game, for example, or the Lord of the Rings SBG. This means I rarely end up playing games with people who are already knowledgeable and invested in the game, so I end up having to teach them. This game falls squarely in that camp. I don’t expect this game to be one that gets played outside of my own (theoretical) playgroup, and I expect it will be played more due to my own efforts than anything else. Therefore, since everyone else who will play the game will theoretically be a beginner, having a system that’s simple to learn and gets out of the way of the storytelling is of prime importance. More than anything else, perhaps, being an easy game to learn and to teach lets players spend more time playing and less time figuring out how to play (Arkham Horror, I’m looking at you!).

The Rule of Three

So why choose THREE stats and THREE classes? The stats question I’ll get to below, but the classes question came on the heels of some thinking about a very important question: “Who wants to play this game, anyway?”

While this is probably one of the biggest questions any game designer should ask themselves, it’s also something that’s been interesting to explore. Why do people play roleplaying games? What is it about D&D that they enjoy so much that they keep coming back? In Call of Cthulhu it’s definitely the roleplaying and storytelling—that’s been all but fused into the rules themselves. D&D players also enjoy the roleplaying, but not exclusively. When combat begins and the battle mat comes out, it can stop being an RPG entirely and transform into a tabletop wargame. I’ve seen it happen with some groups, while more roleplay-oriented groups might forego the combat, or play in a heavily character-based manner, mostly talking through the encounter but never bringing out the battle mat or setting up miniatures.

So why do people play RPGs? Because they like improv and roleplay, of course, but also because tabletop tactics games are fun—even more so when you’re in command of a character you’re heavily invested in. What this means is that I need to make sure I’m fulfilling both of those roles for the players, so that the tabletop wargamers of the group have something to look forward to and do (because a lot of D&D players I’ve noticed are really using it as a cover to get a wargame experience in which they’re only responsible for one unit), and also so that there are ample opportunities for the roleplayers and storytellers in the group. But then there’s one more group of people that would play a Magic: the Gathering Roleplaying Game… Magic players! Of all the people to whom this game would be an easy sell, they should be it, as they are most likely the ones to already know the lore and culture and settings of the game, and they would be least put off by receiving cards as character advancement rewards. So now we have three different types of players who might want to play this game: tactical wargamers (fighters), roleplayers (rogues), and MtG card players (mages). Turns out they fit into class archetypes pretty well!

Now that’s not to say that they have to play those classes, of course. A rogue could be just as tactical as a fighter, or a mage be just as story-driven as a rogue. But it helps with the introduction: “Oh, you want to play an interpersonal character? Try a rogue, you’ll have all the skills you’ll need to be a versatile problem-solver” or “If you’re more interested in playing Magic with us than an RPG, try playing a mage. You’ll find the gameplay is very similar to the card game but with some different strategic options available.” All three classes still play like roleplaying game characters, though, so at the end of the day if you want to roleplay in the Magic: the Gathering storyworld, then this is the game for you.

Verisimilitude and Designing to an Existing Property

Before I wrap up, I do want to talk about something that I encountered while iterating the game mechanics, and that’s the balance between verisimilitude, good gameplay, and matching the source property. In RPG mechanics, a lot of attention is brought to the question, “How realistic is it?” The unspoken agreement is that verisimilitude to reality is a good thing, without consideration as to whether or not the gameplay is still fun or whether the added complexity is worth it. As it happens, I tend to fall into the “verisimilitude is good” camp, and so am always on the lookout for mechanics that I feel are more realistic than the ones I know to implement (two areas in particular where I’m always searching are realistic character damage rules and sanity rules). At the moment, my favorite damage rules comes from the Dark Heresy Second Edition, while my favorite sanity rules come from Abantey. As might be expected, then, my initial damage rules were implemented based on the Dark Heresy rules, where players didn’t have hit points of any kind, but subsequent strikes did increasingly harmful damage effects (gaining fatigue, taking stat penalties, eventually bleeding out and/or dying). I haven’t gotten a chance to playtest it, but I expect it would be a fun mechanic and I’d certainly want to give it a go. Then I remembered an observation I’d made when I first encountered Dark Heresy.

When designing to an existing property, it’s generally assumed that most of the players will already be people familiar with and fans of the existing property. As such, if you design the rules of the RPG to function or at least appear similar to the rules of the existing property, it will be easier to pick up (because in a sense, they’ve already learned it), and it will feel more familiar—I know this must be a Warhammer 40k game because the stats include Weapon Skill and Ballistics Skill, and because damage is measured by Wounds. In this case, I realized that as much as I like the Dark Heresy 2e damage rules, the health system in MtG RPG needed to be based on Magic, not Dark Heresy. So I turned back to a hit point system… but this time labeled it as a character’s “life total.” As I’ve already established that “player” = “prominent character” in the Magic jargon, assuming that each player has a life total already fits with how the card game works. What’s more, it meant I didn’t have to do any shenanigans with using a glossary for how healing worked: if you cast a spell that gains you 5 life, then your life total goes up by 5! In addition, I went a little further and made it so that summoned creatures healed at the end of each round, which makes less sense narratively but fits excellently with the already-established Magic rules, as well as making it so that summoned creatures had significantly less life than players without being glass cannons. I previously talked about how important it was for the game to be easy to learn and accessible, and one way to do that is by incorporating the rules as much as possible with the source material, so that players have in some senses “already learned” how the game works.

I hope this has given a little insight as to how a game comes together, and why some choices might have been made! Obviously I’m interested in finding people to help playtest the darn thing, so if this interests you then give me a shoutout!

~Dav

Some New Paintings

PS: Of course I couldn’t write a blog post without sharing some pictures of what I’ve been painting! As it happens, these are some that’ve been painted between a little while ago to almost a year ago, but I just never got the chance to share them! Enjoy!

A piece I painted last December, this Reaper ship's figurehead is one of my more significant paintings.

A piece I painted last December, this Reaper ship’s figurehead is one of my more significant paintings.

Figurehead Side Figurehead Back Figurehead Front

I picked up this pirate duelist from Reaper simply because I thought the sculpt was cool. And now I get to show it off fully-painted!

I picked up this pirate duelist from Reaper simply because I thought the sculpt was cool. And now I get to show it off fully-painted!

Yes, those are purple highlights she's got

Yes, those are purple highlights she’s got

Pirate Back

Finally, here's a curious project: From Reaper's Bones line, I picked up a bunch of translucent green ghosts. They look pretty sweet being translucent, but I thought they'd look better if they had some defined solid sections. This was practice round for the other 9 I have.

Finally, here’s a curious project: From Reaper’s Bones line, I picked up a bunch of translucent green ghosts. They look pretty sweet being translucent, but I thought they’d look better if they had some defined solid sections. This was practice round for the other 9 I have.

More Ghosts!

Posted by: davflamerock | September 23, 2013

Painting To a Model

Painting miniatures has been an on and off hobby for me for the past four years, and in the six years before that, I painted some (but not well). I’ve done everything from tiny sculpted snakes to giant Fell Beast-mounted Nazgul, and a number of my older ones I’ve repainted recently(ish). However, even with all of that experience I still encounter the same feeling of “where do I even start!” that a new player faces when staring at a fresh project. Take this Bones model I just painted (I foolishly didn’t get a photo before starting to paint her).

 

My newest model, Sarai

My newest model, Sarai

When I started, she was all Bones-white (I didn’t even use primer on her, though I did paint a layer of black first). It took me a little while of sitting there trying to figure out what she was going to look like before I set myself to begin somewhereanywhere, where I could break up the figure to get a sense of what was needed. Even for someone who’s been painting pretty seriously for a couple years, breaking the ice on the mini is a daunting task, and it’s even more daunting when you don’t really have a sense of where you’re going with it. Sometimes, a paint job requires serious trial and error, as with this one (we’ll call her Sarai) and with the dwarf assassin, Akorn. In both cases, it came down to “well, start by painting the skin flesh colored and the armor metallic and go from there,” figuring out in the process which colors don’t go well together (Akorn started out with a much brighter-white undershirt) or seeing where a solid block of color needs to be broken up (I ended up using more white than I expected on Sarai’s armor to make it deeper than just a ton of metal). This can be rewarding, but it’s also frustrating when you’re repainting the same piece of clothing multiple times just to see what looks good. Sometimes, especially for newer painters (and less artistically-inclined people like myself), it’s worth it to not go alone… and to get a guide. One of the most challening and rewarding exercises I’ve used for myself is working off of a model.

Now when I say to work off of a model, I should be clear that “model” in this case means “source material” more than “miniature,” since I know that word has a double-meaning here (why do you think I used this as the blog title? :P). I’m talking about painting Gandalf to look like Gandalf, or Merry to look like Merry.

Gandalf the Grey

Gandalf the Grey, August 2012

Meriadoc Brandibuck

Meriadoc Brandibuck, circa August 2011

This is where beginning with a wargame is actually quite helpful, especially one based on an existing property. Now I love customized armies as much as the next guy (I’ve basically redesigned how I paint my orcs from 10 years ago, though I’m not repainting the 50ish ones I have), but it’s much easier to paint something when you have a scheme to work from. It gives you some direction, which is always appreciated, but it’s also important that it gives you something to compare with when you’re finished. Now using a source image for feedback is far from the best method (getting actual advice from actual painters from your FLGS or school or some-such is always much better), but sometimes you don’t have access to good constructive painting feedback and so you need to make do. If you’re more or less teaching yourself, it can be very hard to see your weak points without some frame of reference—and because it’s your own work, so you don’t usually have enough distance to see the final product objectively right away. However, when you’re constantly comparing your work to an image—while definitely frustrating—you are constantly challenging yourself to make the painting more accurate and forcing yourself to employ more sophisticated techniques to reach an acceptable level of verisimilitude. This is essentially how I learned to layer paints to create depth and make my heroes’ attire look worn and weathered. Perhaps the best case of this was with Oldrian’s owl, Locke.

Locke the Owl

Locke the Owl (still needs a better photograph)

I’m fairly proud of that model, and it took much longer than a model of such a small size should take, but that’s because at each step I looked back at the photograph, picked out a color I could see in the bird’s feathers, and drybrushed it on. Without the photo, the owl would have been a couple shades of brown over some white, and would definitely not had any dorsal/ventral differentiation. This gave me the reference to consider including other colors to make the feather coloring richer than it might have otherwise been. And this is not just a skill limited to working on a reflection of something in the real world. Working off a model is an easy exercise that I’ve found helps tremendously at improving skill both with the paintbrush (getting some of those details right) and in designing paint schemes for your models.

This is especially useful should you ever consider painting models for someone else. As it happens, I painted my entire recent D&D party, many of them to specifications set by the players (some more so than others). However, my girlfriend has only started painting her own miniatures very recently, and so before that I was painting characters of her creation that she knew and loved—and had drawings of (she’s much more artistic than I am!) This was an exercise not just in improving my own ability (something I try to do with each miniature I paint), but also in painting minis to look the way she wanted them to and to match her drawings of the same characters. Obviously there were some changes thrown in based on the sculpts (some of which were more customizable than others), but here you can see some of those painted characters… as well as a couple of characters that she painted herself!

Carter

Carter

Amora

Amora

Erusa

Erusa

Ueseta

Ueseta

Kita, painted by my girlfriend!

Kita, painted by my girlfriend!

Kiti, painted by my girlfriend!

Kiti, painted by my girlfriend!

This was written more with the “non-artistically-trained-gamer” in mind (that being my paradigm), and so to them, I hope this post had some worthwhile ideas!

Check back next Monday, when I’ll delve into tabletop roleplaying game design.

Post-Script

I did have one other thing I wanted to mention. I’ve gone back to the blog post I wrote almost a year ago now, in which I created rules for last year’s D&D party within the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game rules. I’ve updated that post to include a few things, including Kieran’s full powers (which I’d kept hidden for spoiler reasons), Kara’s character (who was added), and a total update to the new Hobbit rules (which mostly revolve around updating spells). If you’re interested in that, here’s the link. Any feedback can go in the comments!

Also, because you’ve been so kind to read the whole article (or at least skim to the bottom), here are some dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs!

Dinosaurs!

Posted by: davflamerock | September 16, 2013

MiniFlamerock Episode IV: A New Hope

Welcome Back

To what viewers I have, welcome back. It’s taken some work on my end getting settled in a new place, especially since I haven’t had any luck getting a job worked out until recently. Nothing yet, but actual leads are promising! This has given me a lot of free time but also not a lot of focus, and so it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve gotten some painting projects finished and spent some time figuring out what to do with this blog.

This blog was originally started as a place where I could post pictures of the miniatures I painted and where I could talk about miniature wargaming—a type of gaming that is very fun, if not something you can do terribly often (unless you play Warhammer 40k, apparently). Obviously my passion is geared largely towards the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (now The Hobbit Strategy Battle Game) but frankly that’s a very niche game, and most of my friends don’t play it. I’ve been told there actually are some people that attend the local game stores here that do play it—they ran a large demo of the game at TJ Collectibles a couple weeks ago—but I don’t know who they are or how to get in touch with them. I’ll let you know when I do!

Because I don’t do a lot of wargaming, my miniatures have been used recently more by roleplaying games than on a tabletop battlefield—and this means that this blog has had a fair amount of roleplaying content in addition to tabletop wargaming. And surprise surprise, I have a lot more friends who play D&D than I do who play LotR SBG, so it turns out that content is content that is more interesting to my immediate audience!

Finally, I know how important predictability is in following something (Wizards of the Coast is great about this… Fantasy Flight Games not so much), so I’ve been wanting to get a regular post schedule up. What this means is that I’m going to make this blog dedicated to both tabletop wargaming and RPG writing equally, obviously with lots of pictures scattered throughout of painted models. That way I get to have a strong voice on the blog (that it’s not just a photo gallery) and I have enough that I can post one post a week about tabletop wargaming, roleplaying games, or the hobby (modeling, painting, etc), so this blog will update every MONDAY. This is the first post of the new pattern (I actually wrote this post over the weekend), and now you can look forward to a regular update schedule, both so you have some expectations and so I have more incentive to keep burning through my limitless collection :p

Alright, Alright, We Get it, You’re Giving Some Focus to the Blog. Where’s the Content At?

Why, thank you for asking! As I said, I’ve been doing a fair amount of painting recently, so now I’m going to start sharing it. It’s taken a lot longer than I hoped, considering how large the party was and how little time I had last year and over the summer to do it, but I’ve managed to finally get the entire party of customized miniatures we got for last year’s D&D group painted up and looking great. This week I intend to spray them with a few layers of sealer so nobody has to worry about paint chipping (something I think I’d like to start doing more, now that I’m spending a lot more time & effort on my painting). In the meantime, here’s the full gallery of the player characters.

The Party

Another Image of the whole party together

Another image of the whole party together

Milo Khazarad

Caption

Milo Khazarad, our dwarf mechanist

Caption

Caption

Oldrian of Instag

Our resident half-elven ranger, Oldrian.

Oldrian, the half-elven ranger and hypersorcerer

Oldrian Back

Oldrian's Owl animal companion, Locke!

And Locke, Oldrian’s faithful animal companion

Carter & Amora Hitchin

Carter and his small serpent familiar, Koia

Carter and his small serpent familiar, Koia

Caption

Caption

And his twin sister, Amora the fighter

And his twin sister, Amora the fighter

Caption

Caption

Chava Bhairravi

Chava Bhairravi, the young, impulsive thief

Chava Bhairravi, the young, impulsive thief

Caption

Caption

Yantse the Anansi

The unofficial leader of the party, and now the Chancellor of Illos... Yantse the Anansi

The unofficial leader of the party, and now the Chancellor of Illos… Yantse the Anansi

Caption

Caption

Hall, Yantse’s Guardian

Yanse's staunch guardian, and a cohort who became his own character

Yanse’s staunch guardian, and a cohort who became his own character

Caption

Herren “Akorn” Oakbreaker

Akorn's front

Akorn, the dwarf rogue and assassin, now the Royal Spymaster

Our other dwarf, the beloved Akorn. This rogue decided to evolve into something of a lethal assassin.

Akorn side-shot.

Tero, the Necromancer

The titular Necromancer of Illos, the teenage Tero

The titular Necromancer of Illos, the teenage Tero

Caption

Kara, Angel of Chaos

Kara, an angel from Carter & Amora's world, and a cleric with a silver tongue.

Kara, an angel from Carter & Amora’s world, and a cleric with a silver tongue.

Caption

Kieran & Cyw

Kieran, the Wanderer.

Kieran, the Wanderer.

To go with Kieran, the last druid, is his animal companion Cyw

To go with Kieran, the last druid, is his animal companion Cyw

Kieran & Cyw

Thanks for viewing! These minis were a very long project, but they were fun and more than worth the time and effort. I hope their players like them!

Come back next time to see more painted models… with a twist!

Posted by: davflamerock | September 11, 2013

Brief Update

I’ve been more quiet on here than I’d like to have been, but I do want to get a regular schedule going, so stay tuned later in the week for that. In the meantime, here’s something I’ve put together to help tide you over for the near future. My past D&D players will be excited to finally see everyone together, and I’m glad that I got them all painted too!

The Full Illos D&D Party Together

The Full Illos D&D Party Together

Posted by: davflamerock | August 26, 2013

Player Characters: Heroes of Divinity

Today I’ve got a couple more pictures to put up from the last D&D party I ran, this time being the divine spellcasters. Enjoy!

Kieran, the Last Druid

I’ll admit, I’m exceptionally impressed by Kieran’s player, and not just because she wanted to play an elf child riding a dinosaur. I warned her that the world would think her people dead, and that they would treat her with hostility upon discovering she was a druid. She spent the first HALF of the adventure hiding her druidic magic, even from the rest of the party. And then she couldn’t even make it regularly to the rest of the sessions, so she barely got to play the druid she had made! But the character was a fantastic one, and during the finale she was able to meet her long-dead mentor (who had reincarnated himself into a tree beneath the Trazan capitol building) so there was that.

Kieran, the Wanderer. The last druid despite his young age. (His dinosaur has yet to be painted)

Kieran, the Wanderer. The last druid despite his young age. (His dinosaur has yet to be painted)

Kieran's Back

Kieran Back

Kara

On the flip side of the coin, we have Kara: an angel from Carter and Amora’s world with something to prove and total outward assurance. A self-proclaimed cleric of chaos, she rivaled the rogues in her ability to talk people into getting what she wanted and was not averse to using magic to reinforce her will when needed. But she was just as fickle to her party as to her foes–when everything came to a head, she gladly took control of Yantse’s cohort to make him turn on his friend and companion. A late addition but a dynamic party-changer, Kara was a key part of the party and an excellent protagonist.

Kara, Cleric of Chaos. Most of her action came through dialog and archery.

Kara, Cleric of Chaos. Most of her action came through dialog and archery.

Kara Back

Kara Back

 

Just a few more characters left, with Chava on the way, Yantse finished, and two more (Hall and Cyw/Chompy) to paint!

Posted by: davflamerock | August 18, 2013

New Life, Old Paint

Hello again!

Done with my undergraduate schooling, I got to go home for the summer to do some work, make some money, and apply for jobs in Boston, where my girlfriend will be attending Tufts for graduate study. I did a lot of the first thing, some of the second thing, and while I applied to a number of places I’ve really sent emails out into the void so who knows what that’s about. However, tomorrow is move-in day for us to the new apartment so the car is packed and with it are a number of my minis. However, while free time this summer has been sparse, I did get some painting done and even some photographing done, and here’s a backlog of photos on my hard drive. So while I get ready to drive up to Boston, you can enjoy a couple more player characters from last year’s D&D group.

I should also mention that I ran a small epilogue adventure over the summer, featuring several of the player characters from last year, with a few of my friends from back home and it was a wonderfully insane five weeks. Not a lot of plot ended up unfolding, even if plenty of inter-character drama kept us all busy. Good times were had by all, and they even captured a criminal!

In other news, here’s some paint jobs from last spring…

Milo Khazarad, “Stormhammer”

Milo Khazarad, the steampunk dwarf fighter. His concept was based on Iron Man and the Ultramarines. He was awesome.

Milo Khazarad, the steampunk dwarf fighter. His concept was based on Iron Man and the Ultramarines. He was awesome.

More Milo

More Milo

More Milo

More Milo

Herren “Akorn” Oakbreaker, the Assassin

Our other dwarf, the beloved Akorn. This rogue decided to evolve into something of a lethal assassin.

Our other dwarf, the beloved Akorn. This rogue decided to evolve into something of a lethal assassin.

Akorn's front

Akorn’s front

Akorn side-shot.

Akorn side-shot.

See you next time, with more pictures and maybe even more story!

Posted by: davflamerock | July 7, 2013

Miniflamerock: An Unexpected Update

I apologize to anyone who’s been wondering what I’ve been up to these past few months. The answer is that second semester senior year is a challenging and harrowing time, and there was absolutely no opportunity to update frequently. I also didn’t have much time to paint, either, so you didn’t actually miss much. However, now I’m graduated, plunging into the job market, and working over the summer before I relocate again in August. Also, I have several miniatures I’ve painted since my last significant update that need to be posted, and I even have an actual digital camera to do it with!

Being unable to update really this past semester, I was unable to talk about my Dungeons & Dragons campaign, which ended highly successful. Many of the players succeeded, some of them died, and the geopolitical structure of the kingdom of Illos is permanently altered. Many sequels are hatching in my mind, starting with the fact that this is merely one country in an entire world–and between world-building and exploring the future of Illos, I seriously need to find a D&D group where I’m going! I have painted over half of the party (I didn’t manage to get them all painted before graduation, but I will still attempt to get them out to their respective players) and will finish that before I move on to other characters.

Speaking of other characters… for those not following the Reaper Miniatures kickstarter progress, they received their final shipment a little over a week ago and have been aggressively fulfilling their orders. As one of my D&D players & I went in together (so he could get his minis for cheaper, since he missed the kickstarter), our order is still much larger than the ones they’re fulfilling, but I expect to receive an email sometime late this coming week. Then a week after that I’ll have a big box at my door with an overwhelming amount of little white plastic minis to deal with. Considering I’ve also been snapping up Lord of the Rings minis when I can find them for cheap on Ebay (I’ve added a warband of Easterlings and a few mounted heroes now as well), I don’t forsee an end to painting. But that’s the nice thing about hobbies, right?

Now that I’m back free to attend to this blog, expect to hear more from me, and to see more from me. For now, I leave you with one of the characters from this past year: Oldrian the half-elven ranger and his owl Locke.

Oldrian and Locke

Our resident half-elven ranger, Oldrian.

Our resident half-elven ranger, Oldrian.

Oldrian Back

Oldrian Back

Oldrian Side

Oldrian Side

Oldrian's Owl animal companion, Locke!

Oldrian’s Owl animal companion, Locke!

Locke Side

Locke Side

Locke Back

Locke Back

Posted by: davflamerock | February 20, 2013

A Minor Update

Oh man, I haven’t been here in a while! I got stuck trying to get the D&D recaps written, and too much time has passed/too many events have occurred for me to be caught up. I have been painting in that time, however, and so I have a bunch of little miniature dudes to photograph and put up here. However, before I get that chance I wanted to say a couple things.

Because I’m so far behind, and due to the nature of my workload this semester (protip: I’m writing a piece of transmedia fiction) there’s no way I’ll have time to resume the D&D recaps. Sorry to anyone who was reading them 😦 My work will largely be focused right now on my transmedia project, on my schoolwork, and on occasionally painting some dudes when I have time. Also in a month I should be receiving the Reaper Kickstarter package, so we’ll see how that goes!

Also, spurred by the needs of my transmedia project, I’ve acquired a digital camera! So my pictures from here on out should be much better quality! So look forward to that.

With that, I leave you to whatever you were doing on the internet before you read this post. See you in a bit…

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