Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: Some Thoughts on the New Game

As I wrote back in July, I was feeling the old RPG bug gnawing at my brain. I was interested in getting a group back together again for some hack-and-slash dungeon crashing. I did a few internet searches and discovered that the new edition of D&D was about to be released. This piqued my interest, despite the fact I hadn't played D&D for about 30 years.

I've now run several sessions of the new D&D rules, and have a regular 6-person group meeting every couple of weeks. We've put enough time in to allow for some considered observations about this set of rules and the play sessions it helps create.

This blog post is just some rambling thoughts on the new system, role-playing and, perhaps, what we should be getting out of our hobby time.

So, to put my comments in context, I'll run through a quick personal history: my experiences with RPGs.

I started back around 1978 with this set of Basic D&D rules. 


If you were around at that time, and are familiar with the late '70s gaming scene, you know this box contained some pretty powerful and magical stuff for imaginative teenagers. Looking back, it was all crap, but really...at the time, it was amazing. In high school, we quickly got sucked into this game, and played...and played...and played.

Soon after that, AD&D came out...which is what, I believe, is now referred to as 1st Edition. My high school group lived in this set of rules for a couple of very happy years. It was the last version of D&D I played.



Looking for a more complex and "realistic" game, I started playing Rolemaster, with the original Arms Law and Claw Law sets. This was heady material at the time. We loved the system and crits.


I spent some time from my last year of high school writing a sci-fi extension to the Rolemaster rules. That manuscript eventually got expanded in partnership with Terry Amthor and a full-blown project, called Space Master, was the resulting RPG. I worked for Iron Crown for several years after university and was involved in many RPG and miniatures releases. All fun stuff.


But dipping into many rule sets and genres during that time (e.g. Cthulhu, Runequest, Cyberpunk, 40K Rogue Trader, Champions, blah, blah, blah) made me realize that heroic fantasy is what turned my role-playing crank.


As the years went by, there were many games systems being released that were far superior, system-wise, to D&D. A few years back I latched onto my all-time favourite, 3rd Edition WFRP from Fantasy Flight. The non-binary success/failure task resolution mechanic led to a brilliant narrative dice system. This was great stuff. But the barrier to entry was a really expensive starter set. The game never really caught on. It's derivative, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, was more successful.


I ran WFRP in my favourite heroic fantasy world, Middle-earth. Now that was a lot of fun, and a great RPG experience.


But that brings us to this year, and the release of 5th Edition D&D. 

If you've been reading the reviews for this game, or have played it yourself, I'm guessing you're familiar with what I have to say. The game is good; the system is pretty solid. It feels a LOT like playing D&D 30 years ago, but with far less complicated rules. But, still, it feels like a very old game. At its core, this feeling comes from the very binary pass/fail task resolution system. 

Essentially, anything you do in the game (e.g. attack role, saving throw, skill check) has a target number. You roll a D20, add your modifier, and if you meet or exceed the target number, you succeed at the task. Roll lower, and you fail. Sure, this system works, but in practice, it can be very unsatisfying.

Why? Well, take the combat round for instance. You're playing with 6 people and there are a slew of monsters on the table. Everyone rolls initiative and the combat rounds start ticking by. It is very common for your character to get locked into melee with an opposing figure. When it comes your time to act in the round, you swing your sword against the target. You will hit and do some damage, or you will miss. And it's on those rounds that you miss...or heaven forbid, miss on several consecutive rounds, that D&D feels old. 

As a player, you are spending 20 or 30...or 45 minutes in combat. Rounds are ticking by...players are taking actions, moving around, casting spells, etc., etc., and you're just rolling a D20. You are missing your target and then waiting for your next opportunity to swing. 

Its a function of hit points, armour class, weapon damage and the round sequence. It's D&D. Players can get locked into a state where a lot of time passes, and they don't feel like they do very much. You can counter-argue that the player should be more inventive, or work with other players, or try to do other things...but the rules around opportunity attacks, character speed and so on really put players into the World of Warcraft state of standing in combat and hoping your target runs out of hit points before you do. Afterwards...heal and repeat. 


This isn't necessarily bad...it's just D&D. And this new edition doesn't break that beat-stick/damage-sponge mould. What brings interest is the variety of characters in your party, the tactical situation, and the arsenal of spells or special abilities that come into play in any given encounter. But that variety is really just different condiments spread on the same hotdog. 

As I've mentioned, other games are better at creating more action-oriented and cinematic conflict resolution that promotes a fast-flowing narrative. More like a movie sequence. But this post is about D&D, so we'll keep the conversation there.

Why does D&D work, despite its shortcomings? I think it's the same reason that any particular RPG works, regardless of how good or bad the rule system is. In the end, it comes down to the people you're playing with and the power of the story you're living through together. 

Let's face it...role-playing groups don't fall apart because people agree that the rules suck. It's because they don't enjoy spending time with each other...or they don't like the way others in the game role-play. Or act. Or what they say. Or, honestly, smell. 

Role-playing works when the players and GM are on the same wavelength. Meaning, when they enjoy the same things. Maybe that's an intricate plot, or complimentary character backstories, or combat synergy...or maybe the people involved just like each other. 

I think RPG rules are like a campfire. People hang out around the campfire after dark, and they will stay there for a long time telling stories, or they'll sit for one beer and then go to bed. That decision (to stay for a long time, or leave quickly) isn't based on the quality of the campfire...it's based on the quality of people who are there. 

So in the end, D&D 5th edition makes for a nice, warm campfire. I'm playing it right now, and enjoying it, but I think that's mostly because there are good people sitting around the table. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

Video Tutorial: Painting Reaper's Dire Bear

This week I painted up a Dire Bear from Reaper Miniatures. Great sculpt, nice clean casting...and easy to paint up.


Here is a quick painting tutorial for this miniature...



I picked a couple of Grizzly images from a Google search to use as source material for the project.


This picture was particularly helpful.


And the end result is a nice figure...happy with the way this one turned out.


'Til next time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Video Tutorial: Painting the Green Dragon

This is a video tutorial of the steps used to paint the Reaper Young Forest Dragon I finished off this weekend.



The figure is small, but nicely detailed. I was satisfied with the end result.


Enjoy.

'Til next time.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Young Forest Dragon from Reaper

I've been working my way through a stockpile of Reaper RPG figures in 28mm. As I was painting this Green Dragon, I came to a strange realization. In all my years of painting, I'd never painted a dragon before. Sure...plenty of draconic Legion of Everblight for Warmachine, but never an honest to goodness D&D dragon.


Well, here's the first one. The Reaper blister listed it as a Young Forest Dragon...so I think it's safe to say this is a D&D Green Dragon.


I had a lot of fun painting this guy (and it went pretty fast). I video-taped the process, so hope to post a full painting tutorial on this figure shortly.


'Til next time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Vallejo Game Air: Using Vallejo's New Airbrush Paints

Many readers are familiar with, and probably use, Vallejo's awesome line of military airbrush paints: the Model Air line. Can't say enough about Model Air paint. Great pigment density, brilliantly pre-thinned for airbrush use. Fantastic coverage. What could Vallejo possibly do to make their line of airbrush paints any better? 

Well...how about a line of bright colours more suited to fantasy and science fiction figures? That's just what they've done. Released in Europe a few months ago, their new Game Air line got great reviews...and it's finally available in North America.

Nothing tells you more about the differences between Model Air and Game Air than this single photo. On the left, there are the muted historical military tones of the Model Air line: USAF Dark Grey, USAF Green and IDF Green. Now, on the right, we have some of the new Game Air colours: Ultramarine Blue, Magic Blue and Electric Blue. Perfect for so many fantasy and sic-fi projects.


So, my first project to try out the Game Air colours was this Mage Knight metal figure of a Crypt Worm. Once I had finished it, I realized that it probably wasn't the best example because I did it up in muted organic colours...but it did at least utilize pink...something not in the Model Air line!


Anyway, starting with the base figure, this two-part model was glued down to a base, primed and inked...and I painted up the flagstone base first. Now to move onto the paint job.


The Vallejo brochure that came with the Game Air colours suggested a few triads of paints that can go well together. I wanted a rotting flesh look for the Crypt Worm, so I used their suggested Khaki—Dead Flesh—Bonewhite progression. At first glance, this didn't make much sense to me; This wasn't a progression of a single colour. But I wanted to give it a try anyway.


I'm glad I did. the subtle brown from the Khaki and green from the Dead Flesh worked really well together. I added in the Squid Pink to provide colour interest around the mouth and underbelly areas of the worm.


To pop out the model's detail, I washed with Sepia, Fleshtone and Red.


I then went in and brush-highlighted the raised portions of the sculpt. This is where I would normally go to standard hobby acrylic paints...but I wanted to see how versatile the Game Air line was, so I used them with a brush. The highlights were painted on with the Dead Flesh, Bonewhite and Stonewall Grey colours.


Super-happy with the results. The thin, but dense, Game Air paints provided great coverage and translucency during the highlighting pass.


And the tonal variations I was able to lay down initially with the airbrush carried through to the final figure.


So, overall, this new line of paints from Vallejo gets two thumbs up from me. I picked up my set at the Game Store in Red Deer, south of Edmonton.


'Til next time.

Woodland Monsters

Many years back, I was involved in the creation of the game Mage Knight, put out by our (at that time) company, WizKids Games. The figures for the game were pre-painted plastics, with masters sculpted in the USA and mass-produced in China.

A little-known fact was that 32 of those initially released Mage Knight figures were struck in white metal as limited edition hobby releases. I've had a box of them stashed away in my basement for well over a decade.

Anyway, as my thoughts and efforts have recently turned to RPGs, I remembered having these models and dug through some boxes to find some new RPG monsters. And the result...


We have the Wood Golem and the Living Elemental. Of all the initial Mage Knight releases, these two were my favourite models, and I was glad to find them in metal. Super fun to paint up, and I went to town on the Wood Golem giving him some extra love on the base and covering him with moss.


Hope you like the end result.

'Til next time.

Two Everblight 'Casters

For central Alberta's October Warmachine painting challenge, I decided to bulk up on some Legion 'casters. I've had Kallus sitting around the hobby room since he first came out a few years back. Epic Absylonia, on the other hand, has just recently been released. As soon as was able to get her through the LGS, I picked her up...very cool flying model.


I'm gravitating more and more to the blue-skinned theme in Everblight, so here they are.


Kallus, obviously, was super-easy to paint. Tons of armour, with just a face, some hair and a leather skirt. Absylonia, on the other hand, with her wings, tail and so on, was more of an interesting challenge. Love the model though.

'Til next time.