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?"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reaper Bones Review

When I first heard the announcement of Reaper's new Dark Heaven Bones line of polymer plastic miniatures I was cautiously optimistic, though a little dubious about the claims - specifically that the quality was as good as metal and that they could be painted without primer.

Consequently, I limited my initial order to just three miniatures: Purple Worm, Ghost, and Ogre Chieftain, so that I wouldn't lose too much money if they turned out to be crap.  My order arrived the other day and I spent much of the weekend testing them out and painting them up

After giving them a good look over I was pleasantly surprised; the quality is, as advertised just as good as metal. In fact, once they are painted I doubt you would notice a difference.

The first thing I did was to test the no primer claim.  I base-coated my purple worm and gave it the gears: I rubbed the heck out of this thing, subjecting it to the sort of abuse that no miniature is ever likely to experience unless your dog starts chewing on it.  In the end I was only able to rub paint off the points of some extremities, which is no worse than you'd expect from a primed miniature.

Furthermore, these things are incredibly tough and resilient. The polymer is soft enough to absorb an impact, so you can drop these things, knock them around, step on them and you will likely not even mar your paint job let alone break them.  These miniatures are meant to be played with, unlike resin, which is incredibly fragile and easily broken.

The downside to this durability is that the mould lines, while small, are extremely difficult to get rid of.  Scraping them with the edge of a hobby knife does nothing, and light filing is ineffective.  To file off the mould lines you need to really put some elbow grease into it.  This is fine when they occur on flat open surfaces, but when they cross detailed areas they become a serious pain in the ass.

Another minor downside is that the bases are somewhat warped and the miniatures do not stand stably on them; even the wide-based purple worm was wobbly.  So they do need to be based.  This is not an issue for me because I always base my miniatures, regardless, as even metal miniatures usually need a wider base to stabilize them.

The miniatures took the paint well, even without priming, although I found some of the details hard to see in the naked white plastic.  I tried applying a black wash prior to painting, to make the details stand out, but the wash tended to bead on the surface.  I created a wash of thinned down Reaper brush-on black primer and this worked very well, making the details pop.  Of course you can always just prime the miniatures as normal if you wish, and I will probably do so in the future because old habits die hard, and I'm too set in my ways to change them.  I just wanted to paint these first miniatures, unprimed, to put Reaper's claims to the test.

So, behold my finished products:

Here is the purple worm, with a snack-sized Otherworld Orc for scale.  The metal version of the purple worm costs $27.49.  The plastic version: $2.99 and there is no fear of a heavy metal monstrosity toppling over and crushing miniatures beneath it.

This ghost is a mere $1.99.  For twenty bucks you can overwhelm your players, and their little hirelings, too!

Finally, this big-ass Ogre Chieftain was only $2.49.  Now that I see the photograph, I'm not sure I like the blue furs.  I wanted a cool colour to contrast with the dominant earth tones, but I'm not sure it works as well as I'd hoped.  The camera is the harshest critic.

So, that's the skinny on Bones.  They are cheap, durable, and of comparable quality to metal.  I still prefer metal miniatures; there's something about the heft of metal that I really enjoy, but the good news is that, unlike Games Workshop, Reaper is not replacing its metal miniatures with plastic.  They have no plans to stop producing their metal lines, but the possibilities offered by the Bones line is very attractive.  Imagine fielding an entire army for less than $100 dollars.  Needless to say, I plan to buy more of these.

Reaper has kind of gone down a different path from GW, whose resin miniatures are badly cast, pitted and often warped and who charge more than 20 times the price of a Bones miniature.  Bones, on the other hand, lack the crisp detail of resin, but are vastly more durable and the price speaks for itself.  For example, if GW had produced the ghost miniature in resin it would cost $20, not $2, and the purple worm would sell for about  $60 or $70.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Session 7: New Arrivals in Catapesh

There has been an inexcusably long hiatus since my last session report in January, owing to an unfortunate series of scheduling conflicts for most of the players, which kept us from playing for two months.  Chronic absenteeism has made the current campaign locale impractical, since the ruins cannot be safely explored by less than a full party.  Consequently, I decided to relocate the campaign to an urban setting, which offers adventure of suitable challenge for any number of players, assuring that the game will go on, even when attendance is low.

And, so, the party fled the ruins of Thrace in advance of a horde of vengeful grimlocks that were expected to descend upon the looter's camp, after being stirred up last session.  They made their way west, through the Hellspire Mountains, to the fabled city-state of Catapesh, on the western shore.  The party arrived in the Crimson City when the late afternoon sun glittered gold off of the red slate tiles that adorn the buildings and high-spired towers.

The party, used to life in a lawless frontier, felt greatly put-upon by the strictures of civilization and complained bitterly when the gate guard confiscated their weapons, informing them that only city guards, the Overlord's troops, and licensed members of the Armsman's Guild were permitted to bear weapons and armour within the city's walls.  They were further aggrieved by the requirement that they, as outlanders, must register the name of the inn at which they would stay with the gate guards.

Muttering darkly about 'Dungeons & Paperwork,' the party made their way to The Sullen Ghoul, an inn in the funereal district owned by one of the guard's second cousins, and secured lodgings.  From there they made their way to the offices of the Armsman's Guild and quickly discovered that the 100 gp annual membership fee was well beyond their current financial means.  The guild master took pity on them and offered them membership in exchange for promissory notes; he even gave them contact information for a prospective client named Mustafa al'Zuul, who had so far been unsuccessful in contracting any of the guild's mercenaries, for some reason.

Eager to earn some coin and pay off their promissory notes quickly, the party met with al'Zuul at an inn called The Prancing Banshee.  The client was a slightly nervous, suspicious man and a self-proclaimed student of human anatomy, who required four fresh cadavers for his research.  He noted that the cadavers could easily be obtained from a mass grave pit in the necropolis that was reserved for criminals executed in the Plaza of Infinite Regret, but that the city authorities held a narrow-minded prejudice against 'anatomical research.' Thus, they would need to obtain the bodies surreptitiously and find a way to smuggle them into the city.

The party agreed to supply Mustafa with his cadavers for 25 gp apiece, then began to plan how to obtain them.  Citing the logistical problems involved in stealing fresh corpses from the necropolis, most of the party members argued for simply waylaying four passersby and thereby providing al'Zuul with the freshest possible cadavers at little effort.  Tohm, monk of Thoth, who is usually able to tolerate the ethical lapses of his companions, drew the line at the outright murder of innocents and vetoed the plan.  Instead, the party borrowed a horse and cart from Mustafa and purchased four kegs of ale in which to smuggle the cadavers.  Fearing that coming and going via the northern Anubis Gate, nearest the necropolis, would arouse suspicion, they decided to use the Trader's Gate in the east wall.  After exiting the city, they waited until nightfall, then made their way north to the necropolis.

They made their way stealthily through the necropolis in the dead of night, circumventing a band of tomb-robbers who were engaged in breaking into a crypt, and found their way to the mass grave on its southern edge.  The open pit was muddy and foul with with the rotting corpses of criminals.  None of the party wanted to get down into the pit and haul out the freshest corpses, but in the end it came down to Tohm because none of the warriors wanted to befoul their armour, or so they said.  In all likelihood this was their way of getting back at Tohm for vetoing the expeditious plan to create their own cadavers.  When four likely corpses had been found they were stuffed into the ale kegs and then the party spent the rest of the night camped outside the city, waiting until day to return with their cartload of ale.

This night's work enabled the party to pay off one of their promissory notes, but they ground their teeth in frustration when they heard rumour that a band of tomb robbers had recovered a chalice worth a thousand gold crowns the night before.  Despite being strangely okay with murder, the party was unwilling to stoop to tomb-robbing to pay their debts, and so sought out another client from the Armsman's Guild.  This time they contracted with Kamal the slaver to recover a group of slaves - prime specimens destined for the galleys or the fighting pits - who had escaped from Kamal's recently arrived caravan and were believed to be hiding in the woods east of the city.

Entering the ominously named Black Goat Wood east of Catapesh, the party soon found fresh blood and signs that something, or someone, had been dragged off deeper into the woods.  Following the spoor, they finally found the escaped slaves in an encampment of beast men.  A few of the slaves were still alive, but most had been flayed and gutted and were hanging by their feet to ripen, although one was roasting, already, on a spit.

The party decided to write the slaves off as a lost cause and began to sneak away, but they didn't reckon on the preternaturally sharp hearing of the beast men who were eager for more fresh meat.  The party's retreat soon became a panicked route as they raced through the woods to escape the pursuing beast men.  When it became clear that the beast men had no intention of giving up the chase, the party decided to rally and fight, even though they were badly outnumbered.

They managed to fell a couple with their bows as the beasts closed in, and the sorcerer put paid to one with a flask of oil and a judicious casting of Azoul's Spontaneous Combustion, but he was badly injured himself.  When one of the warriors was slain, Tohm grabbed the sorcerer and ran, abandoning the two remaining warriors, Ebbin and Balinor to their fates.  The two doughty warriors stood back-to-back as the beasts closed in around them, and prepared to sell their lives dearly.  Horus, himself, must have been pleased by the valour they showed, for they overcame the overwhelming odds, cutting down one beast man after another until the few remaining broke and ran into the depths of the wood.  Ebbin and Balinor then made their way back to the beast man camp and rescued the still-living slaves, only to return to Catapesh and sell them back to Kamal the slaver for enough gold to pay off the remaining promissory notes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The City State of Catapesh

On the south west coast of Lemuria the Crimson City of Catapesh overlooks the Sonorous Sea from atop high limestone cliffs.  The Crimson City is so called for the red slate-tiled roofs that shimmer in the late afternoon sun, but refers also to its sanguinary history.

The ancient cyclopean towers of the city were constructed by slaves who toiled under the whips of their Atlantean overseers, and then were sacrificed to the dark gods of Atlantis to consecrate the temples; their very blood and bones mixed into the mortar.

Catapesh remained one of the last Atlantean outposts in Lemuria and served as the staging ground for their exodus, after which the city was inherited by the Rhajani, descendants of the desert nomads who had been enslaved and subsequently civilized after many generations of serving their Atlantean masters.  The Rhajani made Catapesh their own and built it into one of the first powerful human city-states to flourish after the Atlantean exodus.  They remained the masters of Catapesh until the city was conquered, sixty years ago, by an invading army of Dolrathans from the east, led by the enigmatic general known only as The Overlord.

Under Dolrathan rule, Catapesh has become a center of commerce, particularly in the slave trade, and slavers come from abroad to auction their merchandise in the flesh markets of the Crimson City.  Many of these unfortunates end up as labourers, galley oarsmen, gladiators, and pleasure slaves, but some few are loaded onto the sinister black barges of Atlantis that sometimes make port of call in Catapesh.  The fates of these poor souls can only be imagined and is the subject of much rumour and hushed gossip.

Among the more notable features of Catapesh is its vast necropolis, which lies north of the city beyond the Anubis Gate.  The necropolis has been home to the dead of Catapesh for thousands of years, and the recent crypts and graves on the margins give way to the ancient tombs of the Atlantean nobility deeper within.  The heart of the necropolis is dominated by a great Atlantean ziggurat, which is thought to have been a temple, and tomb of the kings of Catapesh in ancient times.  Thieves of the city near drool in their beer when they speculate on the riches that must lie within, but the horrors that guard it must be equally great and such is the ziggurat's evil reputation that it has become taboo even among the notoriously irreverent thieves of Catapesh who have made tomb-robbing a cottage industry.

More recently, rumours of a vast underground network of catacombs discovered beneath the necropolis has led to a resurgence of grave robbers breaking into family crypts in search of entrances to the catacombs.  By the command of the Overlord an elite guard unit known as the Barrow Wardens has been formed, who are tasked with patrolling the necropolis to keep thieves out and the dead in.  The authorities fear that meddling thieves and adventurers might inadvertently awaken some long-forgotten horror that will rise and threaten the security of the city.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reaper Bones

Reaper Miniatures has just released a new line of polymer miniatures, Dark Heaven Bones, that is billed as having today's quality at yesterday's prices.  While I can't vouch for the quality, the pictures look pretty good, and the prices are, indeed, a throwback to the 1980's.  For example, a pack of six kobolds for $3.49, and a large Purple Worm for $2.99 (the same miniature in metal costs $27.49) .  This line only has 12 products at present, but I'm sure they'll be adding more shortly.  I'm not a fan of resin miniatures; I prefer the heft of metal,.  But at these prices  I may just have to re-evaluate my prejudices.  I've long wanted that Purple Worm miniature, but have never been able to justify the price.

Reaper appears to have gone in the opposite direction from GW who have switched all of their metal miniatures to resin, then raised their prices despite the cheaper casting material.

You can check out this short promotional video for Reaper Bones:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bestiary of Lemuria: Clockwork Scorpions

Relics of ages long past, clockwork scorpions are deadly mechanical constructs that were once a much-feared assassination tool employed in the internecine struggle for dominance between Atlantean warlords.  The few surviving models that are still active are mostly found guarding the tombs and treasure troves of Atlantean lords, but time has not diminished their lethal sting, which delivers a fatal dose of neuro-toxin that can kill a grown man in seconds.

Almost impossible to detect until they activate, clockwork scorpions are fiendishly fast and resilient to damage thanks to their bronze carapace.  Often the first sign of their presence is the death cry of a dying tomb-raider.

Clockwork Scorpion
Armour Class: 2              Special: Sting             Morale: N/A
Hit Dice: 1                       Move: 12                   Alignment: Neutral
Attack: Pincers (1d3)      HDE/XP: 3/60          

The clockwork scorpion's sting, located at the tip of its flexible tail, contains a single dose of lethal venom.  The sting, itself, does no damage, but anyone hit by it must save vs. poison or die.

I created the clockwork scorpion several months ago while trying to come up with a striking paint scheme for this pair of Reaper scorpions I had recently bought.  I'd tried several realistic colour schemes but since scorpions tend to be well-camouflaged, the results were pretty drab.  The idea for a mechanical scorpion was inspired by a scene in Dune, shortly after the Atreides arrive on Arrakis and Paul snatches and destroys the mechanical assassin in his bed chamber.  Thus was born the bronze and verdigris colour scheme and a new creature for Lemuria.

Amusingly, an almost identical creature, the clockwork cobra, is described in Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze, which just goes to show that great minds think alike.  Or that there is no such thing as a new idea, but I rather prefer the former explanation.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Megadungeon! On Sale Now

I just wanted to let everyone know that I'm participating in RPGNow's GM's Day Sale, so until March 7th you can get Megadungeon! Fantasy Adventure Game for only $1.50.  For the price of a cup of coffee you can give your hard-working DM a break and take a run through The Catacombs of Chaos.  Kill monsters, loot treasure, steal from your friends, and maybe you will be crowned Master of the Megadungeon!

Bringing out My Dead pt.3: The New Hotness

In the last couple of posts I've been showing off a lot of my vintage out-of-production undead miniatures, which I've recently stripped and repainted.  But I've also been buying some new Reaper undead miniatures for my campaign, particularly Egyptian-themed ones.  In addition to the great-looking models of their Dark Heaven Legends roleplaying line, the Nefsokar faction from their Warlord line has some fantastic undead that fit very nicely into my pulp sword & sorcery campaign as well, and many of these will join the ranks of their out-of-production brethren in stocking the Barrowmaze.

Mummies old and new
The figure on the left is a Reaper Warlord mummy, Nefsokar Awakened, sculpted by Bob Ridolfi, while the one on the right is an old Citadel mummy from their Fiend Factory line that I bought in 1981.  There is quite a size difference between the two; even accounting for the different scales, the Citadel mummy is a bit undersized even compared to other 25 mm models from the same line.  Perhaps I'll just explain it as a mummified child.

14370: Nefsokar Tomb Guard

This next one is a Nefsokar Tomb Guard, also from the Reaper Warlord line and sculpted by Bob Ridolfi.  What tomb doesn't need an eternal guardian?  With the jewel on the chest piece this might make a good representation for Greg Gillespie's terrifying and nigh-unstoppable Sapphire Skeletons in Barrowmaze.

14908: Khufu, Nefsokar Warlord
This imposing looking figure, Khufu, Nefsokar Warlord, has also been sculpted by the very talented Mr. Ridolfi for the Reaper Warlord line.  I really love the scorpion motif recurring on his helm, chest piece, and axe.  I think the stylized scorpion tail for the axe haft is particularly cool.

02507: Khalith, Mummy King
I really love the dynamic pose of Khalith, Mummy King, sculpted by Sandra Garrity for the Reaper Dark Heaven Legends line.  The detail on the base is especially nice, particularly the broken pharaoh's head seen in the rear view.  The scorpion motif is present again, both on his head piece and, more subtly, the sword hilt.

And, finally, the crowning jewel of my Reaper mummy collection:

02885: Khalith, Mummy Lord
I fell in love with this miniature as soon as I saw it; the feeling of menace and power that it projects is awe-inspiring.  While I knocked off the other mummies in a day or so, I spent several weeks working on this one and lavished a lot of attention on blending the skin layers as smoothly as I could.  When I was finished, I wasn't entirely happy with it.  I was pleased with the technical skill of the paint job, and I liked the colour palette that I chose, but the model just didn't feel finished.  This bugged me for quite some time and I just couldn't figure out what I needed to do to finish the paint job, so I posted a picture of it on the Reaper forum and asked for suggestions.  I didn't get the answer I was looking for, but one commentor pointed out that the clothes looked too new and clean for a mummy with rotting linen wraps and a rusted sword.  He was right, so I applied some brown wash to mute the brightness and, as an afterthought, applied a wash of Gryphonne Sepia - a subtle reddish brown wash over top of that.  It looked pretty good and I had the idea to apply this wash to the entire model.  I was really scared of ruining all my hard work, but I bit my lip and went for it.  As it turned out, this was the answer I had been seeking all along.  The wash unified the pallid skin tone with the richer colours of the clothes and pulled the whole thing together.

My grade 12 art teacher used to chide me for being too timid to take the steps necessary to finish my work.  I'd become too attached to what I had done and was afraid of taking it too far, so never really took it far enough.  It turns out she was right.  Sometimes you need to throw caution to the wind and take a chance.  Consequently this miniature is the one that I am currently proudest of.

The last of the new undead hotness is a lich that I painted last summer, and while it doesn't match the Egyptian theme of the other miniatures in this post, it is still pretty cool:

02614: Rauga, Lich-Sage