Small Forest Vignette + Galdanoth

I finished up this scene using the test colors that I previewed a few days ago.

In addition to the new color scheme, there were actually several other things I was testing out with this piece: combining different terrain elements to create a new model; using 3D modeling software to plan out and create the scene; and using Realistic Water to simulate a low area of ground that’s normally dry but which had flooded with a few inches of water due to recent heavy rains.

This is a fairly small piece, but now that I have a “proof of concept” I can easily scale it up or design a new piece using similar elements and do a step-by-step. Below is a comparison of the 3D model to the finished version. It’s hard to see in the screen cap, but I added a small lip to the edge of the base to contain the Realistic Water. I designed the tree armature to provide enough structure to attach clump foliage to represent leaves, but to work without foliage as a dead tree or as part of a winter scene.

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The new colors also proved to be just what I was looking for for a basing theme for one of my miniatures (“Galdanoth, Elf Sniper” from Reaper). I had painted this mini a few years ago, and had a mental image of what I wanted to do for a base, but I hadn’t been able create anything that matched what I had been envisioning until now. The decorative base is from CMON’s base Kickstarter from a few years ago. They packed a tremendous amount of detail into these, but I went the quick route and just did a simple paintjob with various flocks and scatter on top to match the rest of the vignette.

 

 

Lastly, there’s one more reason I’m glad to have finally completed Galdanoth: He’s the miniature that my gaming group at the time used to represent our friend Michael’s character in a short-lived D&D campaign back in 2013. Michael tragically passed away that summer before I finished painting this mini, and we abandoned the campaign after his death, but still I think of him every time I see this mini. Michael, I still miss you, man.

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My copy of Clank! arrived today

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In between dinner and bedtime (our daughter’s, not ours), we sleeved and prepped the game as a family, and my wife and I got in a few rounds of play, with the girl spectating off to the side. Our first impressions of this game are good. It’s always a plus when I find a new game that my wife genuinely enjoys. We would’ve played more, but my daughter protested the idea of missing out on “discovering the game together as a family” (her words) so much that I promised her we’d wait until tomorrow morning so that we could all play it together.

#100: Sir Conlan

For my 100th post I thought I’d wax nostalgic for a bit about one of my all-time favorite miniatures: Sir Conlan, from Reaper’s tabletop miniatures game, Warlord. The game itself has been dead for some time now, but they still sell the miniatures. Most of the sculpts are fairly high quality, and there are some standouts, but to be honest, most of it is the standard stuff that you’d expect to find in a range of fantasy minis. All of that aside, Sir Conlan holds a special place in my gaming history.

In the fall of 2004, I found myself at a Hobbytown USA in Pittsburgh, PA. At that point, I had been away from any serious tabletop gaming for several years. I was staring at a display wall of metal minis, many of which were part of something called “Warlord.” The blister packs contained not only the minis, but colorful cards with an image of a painted version of each miniature as well, and on the back was a a list of the figure’s stats and abilities. While I had painted plenty, I had only dabbled in miniatures games before, but I was genuinely intrigued by the Warlord minis, and I chose Sir Conlan as my first purchase.

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Sir Conlan 2004 (metal version)

I painted Sir Conlan over the course of the next week or two, at the same time trying to find out more about Warlord. I was already familiar with Reaper, but I didn’t know that they were making a fantasy miniatures game. I soon acquired the core rulebook for Warlord and, over the next several months, got a few games in with my wife and some of our friends. Sir Conlan was from the Crusaders faction, so that’s what I started collecting and painting. I didn’t have many official Warlord minis yet, so we proxied about 90% of our armies.

I also got back into playing D&D with a short-lived campaign that one of my friends ran during this time, and I liked the Sir Conlan miniature so much that I used him to represent my character, a half-elf fighter/mage. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was close enough to work.

Today, while I still have a good portion of my collection of Warlord minis, it’s considerably smaller than it once was, and I haven’t actually played Warlord in several years. It’s a fine game, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it if I played it again; but the reality is that gaming is a social hobby, and it’s much easier to play games that already have an existing player base and not one that you have to build yourself.

Although it’s in my past now, I owe a debt of gratitude to WarlordLooking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment of my serious return to gaming; it took me several years to get as deep into tabletop gaming as I am now, but getting into Warlord, beginning with Sir Conlan, is where it started.

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The plastic Bones version, painted in 2016

Painting With Voltaire

I know you’re familiar with a guy named Pareto and a principle that was named after him because you’re such a devoted fan of this blog and have read that other post. But in case you’re new here, you might want to check out that other one first (don’t worry, it’s not that long). There’s another guy, a French philosopher named Voltaire, who sounds like he knew something about miniature painting, going by one of his most well-known quotes: “Don’t let perfect [minis] be the enemy of good [minis].” Actually, he didn’t say it exactly like that, but the gist of it is basically the same.

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Props to you if you knew that this is a portrait of Blaise Pascal and not Voltaire before reading this caption.

 

Not every miniature has to be painted at showcase-quality level. This is an incredibly important concept to realize and accept if you’re interested in playing miniatures games that go beyond skirmish-level scale¹. Sometimes, “good enough” really is good enough. When you have a mob of 50 ork boyz or hormagaunts on your table, not to mention the possibly dozens of other minis that make up your army, it’s ok if not every single one is painted to the best of your ability. “Tabletop quality” really is a thing.

It’s much more enjoyable playing a game with a fully-painted army that’s painted reasonably well than playing with a mostly unpainted army with a few minis painted at an extremely high level. It’s fine to spend more time painting your larger or more important models, but as much as possible, it’s better to separate minis that are intended to be display pieces from minis that are going to be used for gaming. Not only will this prevent your display pieces from being subjected to the normal wear and tear of tabletop use, but the dirty little secret is that from a tabletop viewing distance, most of the extra effort put into a showcase-quality piece will be lost.

Perhaps a good approach is to use the Pareto Principle as a guide when painting display-quality minis and Voltaire for tabletop quality. Pareto can help you realize and appreciate the fact that there will come a point where you’ll start getting tired of the mini that you’re painting, most likely when there’s still quite a bit to go. Mentally preparing yourself for this can help you keep going to the end when the time comes, when it becomes a slog. Or, perhaps more importantly, it will help you avoid wasting time by quitting at the right time: before starting². That is, realizing that you don’t actually want to put in the necessary time and effort to finish a particular mini, and avoiding adding a new member to your “shelf of shame.”

I don’t have anything else to add to what Voltaire said. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.

 

  1. Either that, or be prepared to have an already expensive hobby become more expensive as you outsource your painting to a studio. What’s that? “Third option”? Ok, you can play with unpainted minis, but since so much of the appeal of miniatures games comes from the visual spectacle of it all, it really is worth making your best effort to get your minis painted.
  2. I’m borrowing from Seth Godin here. Look up his book The Dip if you want to learn more about quitting before you start. Or anything else by him, actually. It’s all good stuff and will be worth your time.

Painting With Pareto

“Does anyone else get real close to finish painting a mini and get an undeniable urge to put it aside and start a new one? I have like 5 miniatures near done and just keep starting new ones lol.” – a fellow miniature painter on Facebook

 

You, my friend, are quite likely having a first-hand encounter with the Pareto Principle (aka, the 80/20 rule). If you’re not already familiar with this concept, it’s worth spending a few minutes to learn more about it in detail, but basically, this is an idea that the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto came up with based on some observations he made in his vegetable garden. The core of it is that in many situations, 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. When applied to hobbies or other creative endeavors, it’s a perfect explanation for the phenomenon of losing steam partway through a project: great strides are often made at the start of a project, but it’s the last bit, the final 20%, that requires 80% of the time and effort.

The Pareto Principle in a nutshell. Er, wait a minute…  (Photo by Bill Ebbesen)

 

In the beginning, it’s easy to work on something new and exciting — it’s new and exciting after all! There might be some bumps and hurdles to clear along the way, but you can clearly see results from one day to the next. Then, as you get close to the end, you hit a wall. You put in the same amount or even more time and effort as before, but now you’re only crawling along. You become frustrated, your motivation is gone, and now you just want to be done with it (or maybe you abandon it altogether). What was once a fun and engaging project has become a grind. But it’s this 80% of time and effort spent polishing and refining and working on the details that turn unfinished or mediocre project into something that you can be proud of, something for which you can own the satisfaction of having completed.

Moving to an even more granular level, it’s spending inordinate amounts of time on the fine details when painting a miniature: adding layer after successive layer or meticulously wet-blending to achieve those ultra-smooth shades and highlights; repeatedly starting over when painting the eyes because you keep messing up and want to get them right; painstakingly fixing tiny mistakes and imperfections that the vast majority of people will never notice, but which will bug you every time you look at that mini because you know they’re there. Tedious and mentally taxing for certain… but it’s the thing that makes all the difference in the end, the thing that separates the amateurs from the masters.

 

On the other hand…

Well, it *has* been a few weeks since I backed a Kickstarter

I really don’t need more board games or other things to spend money on at this point. Naturally, just when I’d thought that I’d gotten away from going overboard with Kickstarters, I see this.

Actually, I was aware of it the last time around with the previous KS campaign which was cancelled, but I made my will save to resist backing it then. I’m currently looking at almost an entire month of additional will saves at this point, and I can feel my resolve eroding — I mean, it’s freakin’ Warcraft in boardgame form!

First Quest

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Years ago, Dragon Magazine ran a series of guest editorials entitled “First Quest,” in which members of the industry recalled their introduction to gaming. The name was a reference to a line of D&D products that TSR released under the “First Quest” banner which were designed to help new players learn the game. The title of this piece is an homage to that series of editorials, although I do not claim to put myself in the same category as those game designers who made an indelible mark on the gaming world.

 

My introduction to gaming took place on my 12th birthday. It was the capstone experience of the day and one that would have an immeasurably profound impact on my life, but I didn’t know it yet. It took place during the lull between an awesome birthday party at an indoor amusement park/arcade earlier in the day, video games at home that afternoon, and ice skating that night. The one common denominator in all of these activities was my cousins. They’re a few years older than I am, which made them and the things they were interested in awesome by default.

We were at Anthony’s house. He’s always had a great sense of humor and a certain low-key cool that made me really enjoy being around him. Also, when we were kids, I could always count on him to bring his NES (and eventually, his Super NES) to the New Year’s party at our aunt and uncle’s house, transforming what would otherwise have been a boring evening into a solid block of hours and hours of playing Nintendo.

Dave was the oldest of the three of us. He was the smallest in terms of physical stature, but he carried himself with a wry, confident attitude. This, combined with the fact that he was a whole three years older than me meant that I tended to approach him with a level of respect and deference, despite him once describing me as being “ten times bigger” than him.

Dave took on the role of Dungeon Master and described the scene for Anthony: “You’re sitting in an inn.” And so, the adventure began, using what has become the ultimate cliche for D&D adventures, but which was still new to me at that point.

“The serving wench brings you your drink and then goes over to serve another customer, a mean-looking dwarf. All of a sudden, he starts loudly berating her for some reason that isn’t clear and then he starts beating her savagely.”

Anthony had an affinity for mages, but the character he was playing that night was more of a fighter type — probably something whipped up on the spur of the moment just for that adventure. In any event, he quickly sprung into action, drawing his blade and coming to the girl’s rescue. The malicious little bar patron turned his attention to Anthony’s character. A brief fight ensued, and he easily dispatched the dwarf.

The game had only been going for about three minutes, but I was already enthralled. The concept of free-form, collaborative storytelling wrapped up in a game was a completely new concept to me. Furthermore, in an experience no doubt shared by countless neophyte RPGers before and been since, I was also fascinated by the strange, multi-sided dice that my cousins used to determine the outcome of the fight and which conferred a sense of arcane, esoteric wonder to the proceedings. Who knew that dice could come in so many different shapes?

 

With the dwarf slain and lying in a bloody heap on the tavern floor, Anthony turned his attention to the serving girl. The dwarf had managed to inflict serious injuries in a short period of time and she was unconscious. Seeing her condition, he scooped her up and went searching for a healer in the town.

He barged through the front door of the nearest temple, interrupting the priest during the middle of a morning sermon. The cleric was irritated by the interruption, but was willing to help in exchange for a random item from Anthony’s pack. (Even non-adventuring NPCs want treasure.) Anthony agreed, and the priest cast healing spells over the girl, bringing her back to consciousness.

The callous priest collected his payment. Reaching into Anthony’s pack, he pulled out a gaudy-looking necklace and was instantly immolated by magical flames that engulfed his body the moment he placed it around his neck.

I was blown away; this game was like nothing else I had ever experienced before.

To drive home the point of just how free players were to take the game in any direction, Anthony and Dave reset the scenario back to the tavern with the serving girl waiting on Anthony. This time, they role-played a conversation which quickly degenerated into the two characters haggling over the price of sexual favors. (Hey, I had literally just turned twelve and my cousins were in their early teens, remember? What else would you expect?) I was in stitches, and my cousins had made their point effectively.

That was the end of the short demo adventure, but this game was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced and all I knew was that I wanted to play more.

D&D was always high on the priority list whenever I got together with my cousins after that point, and it was some time before I was able to play D&D without them. The main impediment was that my parents had become aware of the moral panic surrounding D&D which still existed at that time. They generally didn’t like the idea of me playing and resisted my efforts to do so to different degrees at various times, but they were certainly never supportive. Eventually, possibly due to my persistence, or possibly to them realizing that there really wasn’t anything to be concerned about, they officially let me try out my new hobby. In an uncharacteristic show of support for anything that interested me, my father was actually the first person to drive me to my closest FLGS, 20 minutes from our house.

The store was small, but I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books and other gaming material: “There’s an entire *COMPENDIUM*¹ full of monsters, and this big binder is only the first volume?? This one city gets a whole book² written about it??!” I found a copy of the one book I was already familiar with and selected two sets of plain opaque dice, one blue and one black.

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A treasured relic from my earliest days as a gamer. The amount of time I’ve spend pouring over the pages of this tome is orders of magnitude greater than I’ve spent with any other single book.

Armed with my brand new Player’s Handbook and dice, I set forth on my first quest: recruiting new players.

My sister was the first person I DMed for. Being four years younger than me, she was in second grade at the time of her first adventure and couldn’t quite read all of the words on her homebrew character sheet (i.e., a sheet of loose leaf with boxes drawn on it), much less the actual rules of the game. We rolled up her first character, a dwarf fighter that she named Rosella Thogard. The adventure got off to a rocky start, with Rosella being killed by orcs in the first encounter, so we started over and things improved dramatically on the second try. I made it my mission to introduce as many of my friends to D&D as I could, and I was finally able to put together my first gaming group during the summer in between eighth grade and high school.

Having written all of this, I realize that in both of my “first quests,” I didn’t actually participate as a player: I was an observer when my cousins introduced me to the game, and when I did ultimately find other people to play with, I took on the role of Dungeon Master. Furthermore, not only did I run games for my friends, but with only one exception, I was also the one who introduced them to the game; it wasn’t until early in my freshman year of high school that I became friends with someone who already had experience playing D&D (a fact which I became aware of when I saw him reading the PHB while waiting for English class to start). This is a pattern that continued in my adult life, after a long hiatus from gaming, when I introduced a new group of friends to the game and ran a campaign for them. Upon reflection, I realize that I find both this approach and the DM’s chair are where I am most comfortable.

Today marks twenty-five years since my cousins opened up this new world to me, one that not only became a hobby, but which has impacted almost every aspect of my life in more ways than I can describe, including the real-life adventures I’m now engaged in. Thank you, Anthony and Dave, for introducing me to the game that would have such an incredible impact on  me, and for giving me what is, other than life itself, probably the greatest birthday gift that I have ever received.

-John

 

  1. The poorly-conceived Monstrous Compendium. You know, the one where they decided to put the monsters in a three-ring binder instead of a hardcover book because it gave you the flexibility to expand and customize by adding new monsters, but which only stayed alphabetized (in other words, usable) as long as you didn’t expand and customize by adding new monsters. Not to mention the poor durability of three hole-punched sheets.
  2. Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep