Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Citadel Finecast

As many of you are no doubt aware, last summer Games Workshop announced its new line of 'Finecast' miniatures - the brand name they've chosen for their resin-cast models.  They no longer produce metal-cast miniatures and are in the process of replacing their whole metal line with resin.

Naturally, this resulted in a storm of controversy, and opinions regarding Finecast are strong and fall into one of two camps: love it, or hate it.  I've been anxious to try out a Finecast model, myself, to see what all the fuss was about, and just before Christmas I purchased my first resin miniature; a Dwarf Runelord.

As you can see in the photograph, the level of detail is exquisite.  The reason for this, I am told, is that moulds for resin-casting are made directly from the 'green,' the sculptor's finished product, whereas moulds for metal casting are made from a cast of the 'green.'  Therefore the moulds for resin models retain a higher fidelity to the original sculpt.

There are a few other advantages to casting in resin; the models are extremely light weight and low density.  Thus, when they are dropped or knocked over they are less prone to damage and paint chipping and are therefore well-suited to play on the table.

Resin is not without its drawbacks, however.  The main problem, which has plagued the Finecast line since its release, is the abundance of pitting on the surface of the model, which mars the appearance.  You can see an example of this pitting in the face mask on the Rune Lord model above.  In this case, the pitting isn't too problematic and can be explained as 'battle damage' to the helmet.  More serious were a series of fine pits in the beard, which were next to impossible to fill and really ruin the fine detail of the model.  The underside of the rune staff had a couple of really big pits, but since they were on a smooth open surface, they were easy enough to fill with greenstuff.

The pitting on this model was not terribly serious, and though I am somewhat dissatisfied it wasn't bad enough to warrant a return, and it is no where near as bad as some of Finecast models that I've seen on other people's blogs.  Apparently resin is far more damaging to the moulds than metal is, wearing them out much more quickly.  I suspect, that in an effort to maximize profits, Games Workshop has been pushing the moulds beyond their useful life, which results in a number of very sub-par miniatures being released for sale.

One of the other drawbacks to resin is that it is extremely soft and fragile and the models come with excessive amounts of flash and mould lines, compared to metal miniatures.  GW has dismissed this, claiming that the models are easy to clean up by scaping a knife edge along the surface of the model.  This is probably true when the flash and mould lines are on flat open surfaces, but dwarf models, such as this one, are so small and compact that getting in and cleaning them can be tough, especially when the mould lines cut across the beard, as it did with mine.  Because the resin is so soft and fragile, extreme care must be taken when cleaning or damage can easily occur.

The final complaint with Finecast is the price.  Despite the fact that resin is a much cheaper material than metal, GW is charging the same price.  They also, rather unwisely, introduced Finecast along with an 'across the board' price increase, so you're actually paying more for a Finecast miniature than you would have for a metal one.  Given that GW's metal miniatures were, themselves, horribly over-priced, the cost for the resin miniatures is atrocious, especially in light of GW's poor quality control.

In the end, I'm not in one of the hate 'em or love 'em camps.  I'm still on the fence.  While I 'm a something of a traditionalist and prefer the heft of a good, solid metal miniature, I do see the advantage that resin offers, particularly for large and unwieldy figures that are prone to toppling over.  Small, character sized miniatures, on the other hand, have little to gain from being cast in resin, particularly if we are being asked to pay exorbitant prices for sub-par casts.  Games Workshop appears to have jumped the gun on the Finecast line and switched over to resin casting before they had the process completely worked out.  Consequently, they must be purchased with the caveat 'buyer beware.'  When purchasing a Finecast model make sure to open it in the store and inspect it before purchasing.  Even still, it is unlikely that all of the imperfections will be apparent until you sit down with the model and begin cleaning it up, so trips back to the store for a return may be necessary.

Here's a summary of what I consider to be the pro's and con's of Citadel Finecast miniatures:

Pro                                                            Con
1. Exquisite detail                                       1. Frequent pitting
2. Light weight and resilient to dropping     2. Commonplace warping
3. Soft, making conversions easy               3. Excessive flash and mould lines
                                                                   4. Fragile
                                                                   5. Overpriced

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Solstice to All!

Courtesy of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.
(if you want skip the long instrumental, the song starts at 58 seconds)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fun Family Games

My daughter's sixth birthday was last week and I got her a couple of new games for us all to play on our weekly family game night.  Since Christmas is just around the corner I thought I'd post a quick review of them in case anyone is looking for some last minute game gift ideas.

I've been intrigued by the the line of Lego games ever since I first heard about them, and I was sorely tempted to pick up Heroica, but I was afraid that it might be a little too advanced for a six-year-old.  Instead I opted for the simpler Lego Magikus, which is aimed at ages 6+.

Like all Lego games, the first step is putting the game together, which is half the fun and though the box that it comes in is big enough to store the entire assembled game, my daughter often likes to disassemble it so she can put it together again.

The game itself is pretty elementary.  The object is collect one each of four different spell ingredients that are on a set of shelves.  On each player's turn he or she chooses a row or column on the shelves and rolls the die and receives an ingredient that corresponds to the colour rolled.  The first player to get all four ingredients wins.

It seems to me, however, that many game manufacturers underestimate children's abilities and over-shoot their audience.  While my daughter does enjoy Magikus, I'd say that six years old is approaching the upper age limit and that a more accurate range would be about 4-6 years old.  The game is entirely random; it requires no skill to play and can be quickly learned by very young children.

One of the really cool things about Lego games is that they encourage kids to make up their own house rules, which can be posted on the Lego website to share with the entire community, so Lego appears to share the same game ethic as the OSR community.

While Magikus may be a bit too young for my daughter, I'll definitely consider buying other Lego games in the future, and I'd certainly recommend Magikus for younger children.

The other game that I bought her was Carcassonne, published in North America by Rio Grande Games.  This is an amazingly fun game which involves laying tiles to create the countryside and the object is to complete projects such as roads and cities.  Points are scored by allocating followers to certain projects; the player with the most number of followers on a project when it is completed wins all of the points.

The game is extremely simple to learn and, because there is no writing on the tiles, it can be played by children much younger than the manufacturer recommended 8+.  Indeed, it has quickly become my daughter's favourite game and she regularly beats my wife and me.

On each player's turn, he or she draws a tile from a face down pile and places it on the table adjacent to existing tiles making certain that road sections connect to other road sections, city sections to cities, and so on.  One of the important aspects of the game is resource allocation, because you only have seven followers to devote to projects and you don't get them back until the project is complete (i.e. city or road is completely built).

While the game is very quick and easy to learn, there are subtle strategies that take longer to master, which makes it fun and challenging for all ages.

I highly recommend Carcassonne as a fantastic family game.  With several expansions available, it will provide a great deal of fun for years to come.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bestiary of Lemuria: Suideans

Among the commonest threats to human civilization in post-Atlantean Lemuria are the roving bands of beast-men that were created by the Atlantean overlords by crossing humans with various animal species to create superior slave races.  Left behind when their masters quit Lemuria, they now lurk in the ruins, worshiping the gods of Chaos and preying upon the weak and unwary.

The Suideans (pronounced soo-idean) are one such race, created to serve as shock troops in the internecine battles of the Atlantean warlords.  Bred for ferocity and stamina, the flesh-shapers combined human DNA with that of wild boars to create the ultimate warrior race.

Suidean tribes are able to grow quickly because sows have large litters and short gestation periods.  They also have short generational spans; the average suidean reaches sexual maturity in just five years.  Despite their high fecundity, only a handful of suideans survive to adulthood.  The Suideans are typical r-selection strategists; they produce far more offspring than can possibly survive and provide little parental investment.  In their brutal and militaristic society only the strongest survive to join the ranks of the warriors, while the weak are bullied for sport.  Indeed, the only members of suidean society outside of the warrior caste to receive any degree of respect are the armourers and boar-handlers.

The idea for suideans arose from a strange dichotomy; I have always, since my very first days playing D&D, disliked pig-faced orcs.  Actually, 'hated,' would be a better word for it (see my previous rant on the subject) The Tolkienien concept of the orc was permanently entrenched in my psyche at a young age and I refused to accept the AD&D spin on them.  At the same time, I really like the aesthetic of the pig-faced orc and I love the Otherworld Miniatures line of pig-faced orcs.  The solution, of course, was to create a race of pig-faced humanoids that are not orcs.  Now I can indulge in these wonderful miniatures without betraying my ideals.  Semantics, I know, but putting a new, campaign-specific, spin on an old monster freshens them up and makes them far more palatable to a pulp sword & sorcery campaign.

Suidean (No. Encountered 2d4/3d10 x 10)
Armour Class: 6           Special: Bestial Charge, Berserk         Morale: 8
Hit Dice: 1                    Move: 12                                          Alignment: Chaos
Attack: by weapon        HDE/XP: 2/30

Bestial Charge: Suideans are capable short range bursts of speed coupled with savage fury, and they receive a +1 bonus to hit and damage on the round that they charge into combat.
Berserk: Suideans are, by nature, cowardly bullies and are easily intimidated by superior force, but when they are wounded they go berserk and fight with suicidal rage.  Berserk suideans automatically pass all morale checks and will fight to the death.  In such a state they are immune to fear and mind control effects and cannot be negotiated or reasoned with.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's The Most Horrible Time of the Year

It's official; it is December 1st and the holiday season is well and truly upon us.  I awoke at 7 a.m. this morning to a seemingly endless playlist of Christmas music on the radio.  By 7:15 my sanity was at the breaking point and the mad piping of Azathoth would have been a welcome respite.

In Lemuria, celebrations, albeit of an entirely different sort, are also held at this time of year.  For much of the year the human inheritors of Lemuria concern themselves with the perils left behind by the Atlantean overlords; but there are older and darker things in the land that surpass even the foulest works of Atlantis, and they begin to stir as the solstice approaches.

For twelve days prior to the solstice, the people celebrate with gift-giving and offerings of food to passing strangers.  This tradition dates back thousands of years and is believed to have started as a means of appeasing the capricious spirits of the earth that stir more fitfully as the days grow short.  Of course, city-bred men scoff at such superstition, but many country folk, who live at the sufferance of such forces, hold to the old ways and huddle warily behind locked doors and shuttered windows in hope that their offerings will be sufficient to divert the attention of things best not spoken of.

The barbarian tribes of Lemuria seek not only to appease, but also to gain the favour of, the primordial eldritch forces of the earth through the performance of ancient rites passed down from elder to elder through the ages.  These rites include such offerings as the skulls of slain enemies, the hearts of captured foes ripped, still beating, from their chests, and the life-blood of comely maidens of virtue true.  As a consequence of this last, young women of child-bearing age are eager to lose their maidenheads prior to solstice night, and the nights before solstice are carnal bacchanals that the young men of the tribe look forward to all year long.