Posts in Painting
Painting White Plume Mountain

I had to keep most of these hidden away from my player's long enough to try and surprise them when we ran White Plume Mountain, but now I thought I'd show off some of the paint jobs. I'm particularly happy with the pewter ogre with his big tree trunk club modeled after the art in the 3rd edition Monster Manual. 

Converting Mage Knight Minis for Dungeons & Dragons!

I've been preparing myself to run the classic adventure White Plume Mountain for some friends over the upcoming holidays in December. White Plume Mountain is a puzzle dungeon or what Matt Colville calls a "Funhouse Dungeon". Being the over achieving kind of DM that I am I want to get accurate miniatures for all of the weird creatures that prowl the tunnels of the mountain.

One of the puzzle rooms makes use of five flesh golems. I'm trying to save time and only hand paint the major monsters and characters in the dungeon, using pre-painted miniatures for the more common dungeon monsters. Well, painting five flesh golems would certainly set me back some time that I could be better using on more interesting minis. The problem for me was those darn flesh golem miniatures are freakin' expensive.

What is a Dungeon Master short on time and money to do? Find some Mage Knight miniatures that would get the job done is the answer! A lot of Mage Knight miniatures are super cheap compared to D&D due to the comparative popularity of the two games. These flesh golems were 99 cents. If you can find a Mage Knight miniature for the D&D monster you want to represent, it's a very simple matter to re-base them and save some cash.

Step 1) Grab your mini by the foot with a pair of pliers and apply some gentle twisting. The cheap glue on these separated without much effort at all.

Step 2) Get distracted taking apart the Mage Knight clicky base.

Step 3) Glue those suckers to an appropriate D&D sized base.

There you have it. Get yourself some Mage Knight minis, re-base them, and bask in the glory of your new collection of cheap miniatures.

A Very Reaper Halloween

Halloween is just around the bend and as a Dungeon Master, I must consider Halloween a sacred day to celebrate monsters. Without monsters there are no valiant heroes slaying monsters, just a bunch of dopes standing around in shiny armor with nothing to do.

Some of the cooler and weirder monsters in D&D lore can be found in the adventure module White Plume Mountain. Originally released all the way back in 1979 for the very first edition of the game, it is considered one of the greatest dungeons of all time. It's been updated for every edition of D&D, most recently via The Tales from the Yawning Portal book. Someday I'd love to run it with a full suite of painted miniatures to represent all the monsters within. This halloween I continue that quest with the addition of some sea-lions to my miniatures.

Those are half-seal and half-lion by the way. Very different from your traditional Sealion.

You may notice in that picture some candy. That isn't from my own stockpile of Halloween treats, Reaper actually sent me candy with my order. Not only that but I got two freebie bonus minis. One is an undead champion looking fellow and the other a female elf wizard. Both are kitted out in some rather highish level looking gear. Free miniatures AND free candy? That's how you build brand loyalty, I don't remember any other companies ever sending me candy. Not bad!

Continuing on with the monster theme, I've been running into some trouble with my long running Princes of the Apocalypse campaign. You see the players are getting rather competent and their characters rather high level. After their last session they hit level 11. What is a dungeon master to do? Call in back up from your friends at Kobold Press.

The Tome of Beasts is a 3rd party supplement put out by Kobold Press with a whole host of new monsters for your campaign. A lot of those are higher CRs so this isn't a book I'd recommend to people just starting out. But! Eventually players catch on or spend too much time reading the Monster Manual on their own, or perhaps are DMs themselves. The Tome of Beasts gives you a new arsenal to keep those PCs on their toes.

In fact, the reason my players got to level 11 is because they managed to take down the Flame Dragon from this very book. It took the place of the most powerful creature the Fire Cult could muster in the Princes of the Apocalypse game and not only did they report having a ton of fun fighting it - but I had a ton of fun almost wiping out the party with it.

I also picked up the new iteration of the Dungeon Master's screen put out by Wizards of the Coast. I haven't had much time to go over the differences between the two yet, but I'll have my thoughts on those two screens along with some ideas about using a DM screen in general in a lengthier upcoming post.

Until then, Happy Halloween and good gaming!

Homemade Tak On A Budget

First, some images of the final product!

Here is how I went about making a set of Tak pieces cheap. As described in my last post Tak uses only two kinds of pieces. Primarily flat "stones" which can be played flat or on their side and a capstone piece. The first thing I needed was something for the stones that I could get a lot of cheaply. It's possible to get small unfinished wood blocks ordered online of the roughly appropriate size, but this build was all about cheap cheap cheap.

My solution was straightforward: buy a set of replacement scrabble tiles. They're about 0.75 inches square and slightly smaller than 0.25 inches thick. I was able to find a pack of 100 scrabble tiles on Amazon for about 5 dollars, enough for black and white to have a set of stones for an 8x8 game. For the capstones, I ordered a set of 4 wood knobs used for drawers and cupboards. They're spherical with the bottoms cut off so they will not roll around. The 4 pack of those ran me another $4.50.

All it took once I had the pieces was a few quick coats of spray primer. Another $4 each for a can of black and white paint. After some patient spraying and flipping and respraying, the black lettering was still visible on some of the white pieces even through the primer, so by hand I took a few coats of regular acrylic white miniature paint to them.

Once that is dry the only other thing you will need is a board to play on! There are some free boards available from the publishers website along with the rules, both of which you may want to print a copy of to store with the pieces.

I have also created my own 5x5 Tak board which is marked with the ABCDEF/12345 grid notation used at playtak.com and described in the Tak companion book. It's printer friendly, feel free to print it from here:

Then I made an adorable folder with a cover I taped on to give it some character to keep all this stuff in. If you want that image for your own Tak folder or binder it's right here:

Sword & Dragon Prep: The Initiative Coin

The two command lance packs available for the Sword and Dragon Classic BattleTech campaign each came with a cool metal medallion imprinted with each house's symbol. They look pretty cool and rather than just having them sit around as pretty pieces I decided to make them functional for our campaign by kit-bashing them together into a single coin that we can flip to determine and track initiative during our missions.

The first step was filing down all the nubs of flash hanging off these things and then gluing them together. Once it was solid, I molded a bit of green stuff around the edges and then rolled a ridged bottlecap along it to get a nice even coin ridge pattern.

Once that was done I gave them a quick spray of black primer and gave them a solid base coat of Reaper Scorched Metal paint. From there it was just a matter of trying to recreate the house symbols color. House Kurita was pretty easy with just a red background and the dragon symbol itself in black. The Davion symbol is a bit more complicated, but the sun in the center gave me a good opportunity to practice doing a gradient on a smooth flat surface and I am mostly pleased with the results.

When the paint was dry I gave it a few sprays of clear cote for protection on each side. I lost some of the shininess of the metallic paint by doing that, but it's worth being able to actually flip the coin without being terrified of paint chipping off every time it hits the table. With just a little extra elbow grease I was able to turn those somewhat superfluous (but cool!) medallions into a piece I can actually use at the table that just adds to the flavor of the campaign. 

My Black Base Philosophy

You've spent hours painting your new badass archmage that your players will be facing at the next game. But what is he standing on? Many painters don't consider a miniature complete until it's been based in some manner. Some people just paint the top green or brown or leave it black, while others take it to a whole different level.

I like to keep my bases matte black and featureless 90% of the time. The most obvious reason why is that it simply takes less time. If I want to ambush a party of adventurers with 10 goblins in 5 days I don't  want to spend the extra hours for PVA glue to dry. It reduces the painting load as well. So this is great if you're kind of lazy like I am. But that isn't the primary reason I do it in all honesty.

For display pieces or miniatures intended for a painting competition, doing a detailed base places the figure in a context and helps lend some character to the mini itself and should probably be considered mandatory in those cases. For the average painter who is readying their figures for the game table they have a choice to make about how far they want to go with basing.

The same way that a really cool detailed base lends context to a display piece, using a featureless black base makes the miniature void of context. Zombies can show up in a lot of places in Dungeons and Dragons. If I base the zombie with grass what happens when it shows up in a sewer? If I base it with dirt what happens when it attacks the players in the wizards mansion?

These skeletons could be anywhere!

These skeletons could be anywhere!

Roleplaying games are a story taking place collectively in everyone at the tables heads. I take the stance that everything on the table should serve to help fuel the imaginations of the players. By not putting a lot of frills you highlight the character or monster so the player can drop it into their imaginary scene without having to do any mental editing.

An adventure could go to any number of locations and even as the DM I can't always know exactly when and where a specific fight may take place based on the choices of my players and I want my minis to fit in anywhere. I do make exceptions, of course, for bosses or NPCs who I know will be in a specific location. In that case the context of the base detail is another storytelling tool. For instance, the barkeep miniature I put on a nice wood grain floor like you might find in any tavern across Faerun.

Wargames on the other hand are expected to be represented explicitly rather than in the imagination. Games like Bolt Action and Warhammer 40k are usually played on highly detailed 3d terrain where every aspect of the battlefield is physically on the table. For those kinds of games I take a middle ground with a simple dirt with splotches of grass as a kind of all-terrain compromise.

If you're putting together minis for role playing though? Stick to the black bases is my advice. It is less work for you and a better experience for your players.

Prioritizing Your Backlog

There is an inescapable truth about hobby gaming: buying a miniature is always faster than painting one. This can be a real problem especially when companies are more and more moving to cheaper high quality plastics that look great and don't cost a ton - unless you're Games Workshop, then you just make them cost more.

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I have a whole stack of Reaper Bones miniatures from my wife for my birthday that I have barely made a dent into so far plus a handful I picked up on my own. I also have five new Lance Packs (20 mechs!) for BattleTech to paint up for my Sword and Dragon campaign. Not to mention making enough terrain to fill a battlefield around these nice minis. For that, I have a set of hills to finish flocking on top of a big bag of trees to base and a whole smorgasbord of card stock buildings to assemble.

The question of course is how to tackle all this without feeling overwhelmed and getting demotivated by seeing a pile of grey unpainted miniatures, like this one:

The easiest way I have found to think of it is to focus only on exactly what I'm going to need for my next gaming sessions. There are some models that have a really cool look or that I bought more recently than an older model that I would love to jump to the front of the line, but for me it makes more sense to save those models for when I will be needing them.

I've got a lot of gaming coming up with friends and family over the holidays so I'm focusing on what is going to maximize the amount of fun we're going to be having.

First, I know we'll be playing some 4 player, 2vs2, Song of Blades and Heroes. So that is going to be a 4'x4' table that needs to be covered in a reasonable amount of terrain. Plus having whatever miniatures finished to include in the war bands we'll be using. Luckily, most of my Reaper minis are painted and some war bands will use pre-painted miniatures from the official Dungeons and Dragons lines.

Second, I need to finish preperation for the first two missions of Sword and Dragon. My opponent and I will both be taking the recon mission track first which means I have around 2 lances worth of mechs to paint. But I also know we won't be having time to start this until probably a week or so after Song of Blades and Heroes, so I'm tabling this for now until I finish my terrain.

Prioritizing my backlog this way has let me feel like I'm constantly making progress. For a game like Warhammer 40k or any system where you're trying to paint a huge army, you can still make use of this by building out a few points value lists. Instead of viewing your 2000 points of Chaos Marines as a solid block you need to finish, break it down into four 500 point combat patrol lists you could play before you finish the whole thing. For me, thinking like this lets the hobbying motivate the playing and the playing motivate the hobbying and I have more fun with both.

Practice

In the image below, the yellow Vindicator on the left is the first mech I painted out of the 'BattleTech Introductory Box'. The Cyclops on the right is the 24th and final one. I painted the yellow mech without thinning the paint at all and uh, it shows. I plan to strip down and repaint it, but I had to snap a picture for the archive.

What a difference practice makes. I saved this image to help myself remember that practice does actually help; it's just hard to notice improvement while it's happening. Hopefully after 24 more minis I'll be even better. Even with the difference in results, I had as much fun painting the first one as I did the 24th. That's what I love about this hobby: you can always improve but it's still fun and satisfying no matter what your skill level.