Monday, July 24, 2017

The Best Box of Monsters

So here's something cool I dug up a while back and meant to share with all y'all.

Back in 1982 or so tabletop fantasy gaming was so big that Grenadier Miniatures, one of the best manufacturers back in the day, started a division aimed at a more mainstream audience.  I don't think Pinnacle Products was around for long, but they did manage to release a pair of Dark Crystal figure sets and 2 Masters of the Universe boxes.  That's right, back in the day you could get Skeletor and the skeksis in 25mm.  What a time to be alive.  (Skeletor and the Skeksis would be a pretty decent band name.)

Anyway, one of Pinnacle's releases was, in my humble opinion, the single greatest boxed set of monsters in the history of the hobby.  Their humbly named Fantasy Monsters set contained eleven pieces.  One of them is one of the best sculpts of a smallish, wingless dragons I have ever seen:
Called the Vermillion Dragon, according to the box.

But what really makes Pinnacle's Fantasy Monsters stand out for me is that the other ten figures were bat-shit crazy-go-nuts.  Dig 'em:


False Phoenix!

Green Gaunt!

Ram Horn! 
Is it just me or does Ram Horn look a bit like a squished version of the monster from the second Conan flick? The face is also a little reminiscent of the Phantom Stalker in the D&D cartoon, I think.

Sand Ripper!
Of all the figures in the set, this one is the hardest one for me to get excited about.  In the few photos I've been able to find online, it doesn't really look like anything in particular.

Five Eyed Terror!  One Eyed Pit Fiend!  Tri-Ora!  Red Horned Mane!
Trust me, you'll want to click to see these bad boys close up.  Don't miss the One-Eyed Pit Fiend's troubling toes or the fact that those aren't crab claws on the Tri-Ora.  They're mouths.

Six Legged Nightmare!
I saved the Six Legged Nightmare for last because that paint job is by the one and only Erol Otus.  That shading from peachy pink to brownish purple is vintage Otus.

I can't find a scan of the cover of the boxed set online, but here's the front of the painting guide that included with the figs.

Why is this boxed set so great?  Firsta of all, any campaign should have at least one or two custom GM critters that feature prominently in play.   This box set gives you ten new freaks that you could stat up and be assured that no one has ever encountered them before.  Hell, this set is practically a taunt in 25mm lead form, "Here's a dragon kid.  I dare you to figure out what to do with the rest of these weirdos."

Second, if you're the kind of DM who uses miniatures, you should always have at least one figure that you can use as the "What the hell is that?" monster.  Ideally, you don't want to use a figure that evokes any particular hit dice or abilities or behavior.  If you use a troll, for instance, the players will tend to start thinking trollish thoughts about your decidedly non-troll weirdo monster.  A figure that is monstrous but a blank slate as far as past associations is best in these circumstances.

And there's no reason why you can't do both with these figures.  Take your favorites and turn them into regular features in your campaign and take the ones you consider duds and set them aside as fill-in-the-blank figures.

The one thing these critters don't have going for them is size.  I'm pretty sure that the dragon is the tallest figure in the bunch and I don't think it's any bigger than 2" tall.  The five eyed terror is more typical of the set, and it is about 30mm tall.  That's not very big and menacing in today's 28mm world.  Of course, nearly all the monsters in your minis universe (except orcs and skeletons and whatnot) could be much bigger is you started using Caesar 1:72 plastic Adventurers, Copplestone Castings 10mm Heroes and Halflings, or Perfect Six Scenics 6mm Adventurers.  Heck, nowadays you can even buy 10mm dungeon rooms, corridors, and furniture from Pendraken.

By they way, three of the figures in Pinnacle's Fantasy Monsters set were also sold by Grenadier in a blister.  Fantasy Lords number 147 contained the One Eyed Pit Monsters, Ram Horn, and Barracuman.  Grenadier was later bought out by the French company Mirliton, or they purchased the molds or something like that.  You can still get a lot of old Grenadier designs at, including a four pack called Horror Monsters, which contains the Five Eyed Terror, One Eyed Pit Monster, Tri-Ora, and Red Horned Mane.

Anybody have this set back in the day?  What did you do with it?

Almost forgot: much of the info and many of the images in this post come from the thoroughly excellent Lost Minis Wiki.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What does the party look like?

I don't usually use the jump break thingy when writing a blog post, but I'm going to try it here today.  Hopefully it works.

Anyway, I'd like you to close your eyes and imagine a typical D&D party.  Once you've got that idea in your head, click the thing to load the rest of the post.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

a handout for raw recruits

Running a demo game somewhere?  Luring some nice, normal people into the sordid world of elves and orcs?  In my experience, one of the hurdles newbies often face is making sense of the weirdo dice.  So I made this:

How to Dice

This document is a public domain release.  The images are already in the public domain.  So, please feel free to include this page in other stuff like demo packets and GM kits if it meets your needs.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Vaults of Vyzor session 9

Dale the Valet


Brutal Pete, dwarf (Aleksandr Revzin)
Young John (0-level hireling)
Jarrod, LotFP magic-user (Ian Reilly)
Sigismund von Flegelschnecke, gnome fighter/illusionist (Alexei McDonald)
Gary Oldman Badger (pet badger)
Barnabus Sleet, muscle wizard (Maxime Golubchik)
Dale the Valet (0-level henchman)

So the explorations of the first level of the Verdant Vault continued today.  A large metal urn full of gold and silver coins was brought out of the dungeons--as well as the Underworld Wrestling Federation championship belt--but at the cost of the life of Jarrod the Magic-User.  A lot of carousing followed, so here's the drunken, slurred gist of what happened.

The party got by the Bargain Wolves with a bag of juicy steaks.  They then proceeded through the secret door down to the room with the orcish crossbow trap on the door.  Barnabus Sleet did not expect the orcs to replace the crossbow from last time and was nearly shot for a second time by the same trap in as many visits to the Vaults.  The group then examined the small room with the strange waterfall effect (marked with a small black dot on the map), where the magic-users concluded this place was designed for meditation and rapid recharge of MU spells.

The group then mapped out several new halls and chambers that don't quite line up with previous maps.  Sometimes I make mistakes when describing areas, sometimes I miss errors in maps, and sometimes I see a 10' mistake and don't say anything.  No PC map is going to be perfect, given the conditions under which they are made.  But as a rule I never intentionally mis-describe an area.  I just don't always correct small deviations.

The first new room with anything interesting is marked on the map as "Undead Inside."  It contains a half dozen or so shriveled inhuman corpses sleeping the nightmare sleep of the undead.  The party disturbed one of the corpses, which animated.  They hustled out and spiked it shut.

Gnome-amania runs wild!
The party discovers the large balcony overlooking a huge chamber on the second level where they see Gnome Hogan about to defend the Underworld Heavyweight Championship against the Macho Gnome, in front of a group of a couple hundred hooting and hollering gnomish rasslin' fans.  Barnabus decides that he MUST own the gold championship belt and inserts himself into the match.  Between a combination of acrobatics, chicanery, lucky rolls, and a timely illusionist spell from Sigismund, they escape the crowd with the big gold belt.  The belt turns out to be the single biggest item of treasure found this delve.  Later, Barnabus borrows money from the local Thieves Guild in order to pay off the other surviving party member's share of its worth.

The room with the pentacle contains the classic demon-summoning sigil, with an orc skull sitting at four of the five points of the star.  The last point was empty.  The group decides they need a fifth orc skull.  They head over to the section of the dungeon where the orcs are known to be found and kick in a previously-unexplored door, to find 2 orcs playing orchess.  

Unfortunately for the party, these two orcs are 3 and 5 hit die badasses respectively.  Barnabus puts the sleep spell on one of them, but the party only barely defeats the other one, Gary Oldman Badger disemboweling him with a natural 20 claw attack.  This is where they find the metal urn full of treaure, but it also contains a scorpion that stings Jarrod, who writhes in agony for a few rounds as the party tries to save him, but he eventually dies.  His last words were "Put my skull on the fifth point of the pentagram."  Even in death LotFP wizards are messed up guys.

They head back over to the pentagram room and put Jarrod's decapitated head on the fifth point.  Black smoke coalesces into an orc-demon.  Imagine a naked orc that's been tarred and feathered.  Give him two stunty crow's wings on his back and hideously long talons at the end of his fingers.  That's what the guy looks like.  Once this dude realizes the fifth skull isn't an orc's skull, he goes after the nearest PC, Barnabus, and slashes four vertical claw lines neatly down his face.  The party flees, spiking the door closed with as many spikes as they can.  They get the hell out of the dungeon.

The party goes carousing and Sigismund ends up with a majestic full back tattoo of the orc-demon done in ukiyo-e style.  Demon tattoos are all the rage right now, it seems.  Brutal Pete levels up and becomes one of those crazy mohawk dwarves, thanks to this table.  So between Pete's mohawk, Sigismund's tattoo, and Barnabus Sleet's wicked facial scars, these guys look pretty badass now.

Borrowing from the Thieves Guild Rule
If you are in Vyzor, you can borrow funds from the Thieves Guild to cover local expenses of your level x 1,000gp or less.  A common usage of this is to go carousing, but you need at least 100gp in pocket money to start carousing, you can borrow any additional funds you need.  I.e. you can't tell the mob you're going to drink their gold away.  First you get drunk, then you make up a legit use for the funds.

You have until the end of your next session in Vyzor to pay back the loan shark at no penalty.  If you don't the amount owed doubles the next time you are in Vyzor.  This becomes time three the next session, times four after that, etc.  Also, mob enforcers may come after you, at the DM's discretion.  Paying at least 10% of what you owe at the beginning of the session will keep the muscle off of you that run.  You cannot borrow from the thieves guild a second time until you have paid off the old loan.


Jarrod the Magic-User (Ian Reilly)
Jonesy (0-level NPC)
Little Liam Linkboy (0-level NPC)
Limpy the Naileteer (Jeff Call)
Engsal the Enchanter (Alex Joneth)
Elfbraham Lincoln (Jeff Call)
Littlens (0-level NPC)
Biggens (0-level NPC)
Stimpy (0-level NPC)
Ren (0-level NPC)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I'm calling it the Evans Method

So check out these sweet maps:

(click to embiggen)
These babies appeared in various D&D kiddie products.  The one on the left appears in my D&D cartoon boxed set.  I think they are pretty rad.  A bunch of these places appear in the cartoon series, but some of them do not.

So here's the thing: not everyone needs a big numbered hexmap to have a wilderness campaign.  Strange, I know, but true.  The Conan stories didn't need no stinkin' hexmaps.  One story the big Cimmerian lug is getting his sandaled feet into trouble in Aquilonia, the next he's squooshing through the muddy swamps of Pictland.

Mike Evans shows us one way to make this sort of thing work in his kick awesome campaign book Hubris: A World of Visceral Adventure.  In Hubris, each major region gets about 10 pages detailed this way:
  • A few short paragraphs giving the basics of the region.
  • A d100 "Lay of the Land" chart providing thumbnail sketches of locations in the region.
  • A d100 encounter chart for the region
  • One or more brief write-ups for special locations, with rumors/adventure hooks
  • Some extra thing unique to the region, like rules for eating the mushrooms of the Bogwood Swamp
My favorite part is the Lay of the Land charts.  You know someone is from the region in general, but where specifically?  Just roll d100.  The caravan is stopping where next?  Throw them percentiles.  Where did that jerk hide the MacGuffin?  You get the idea.  Obviously much loosey-goosier than a hexmap, but it ought to be a sufficient level of detail for some styles of play.

You could even scale the Evans Method down to a sentence or two of basic descriptions, two d6 charts, one adventure hook and one unique thing.  I bet that would even fit on a One Page type template.

Anyway, those maps above?  Prime candidates for the Evans Method.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

quick Vyzor update

The dotted line represents the unknown depth the last expedition descended via elevator.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Or get them all together

Here's a single Gdoc file with all the random advancement charts that Zak and I have done, with a bookmarked table of contents so you don't have to hunt for the one you are looking for.

UPDATE: The doc now includes Reynaldo's Paladin and Anti-Paladin charts!  Sweet!