Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon

Sometimes the easiest way to build the LEGO model you need for your game is to find someone who's already built it and copy theirs. Here are a few examples of dragons that I've built for my own fantasy games, based on models from official sets that I never owned.

My daughter and son are huge Minecraft fans, so as soon as the LEGO Group started offering sets based on the game, they both started lusting after them in their precious little ABS hearts. My daughter's first acquisition was LEGO Minecraft The End (set 21107) as a gift last year. This set includes a micro-scale Ender Dragon, which measures about 3" long. This is the perfect size for a Large-sized d20 miniature, so I built a couple copies out of my own bricks:

If you look at the pictures of the original (see that set link above), you'll see that I omitted the printed eyes plate (which I lack) and changed the orientation of the mini-slopes to fit my own aesthetic preference. This is a simple, elegant little model that makes excellent use of the dragon wing elements at a more realistic scale.

More recently, when I was perusing the new holiday 2015 catalog, I noticed that several of the new Ninjago sets from the Airjutsu storyline include brick-built dragons. Two of these dragons are the focus of large sets with numerous pieces that I would have trouble copying. In addition, those dragons would be grossly oversized as RPG miniatures for all but the largest Colossal wyrms. (Most brick-built dragons from older Castle, Ninjago, and Hobbit sets have this same issue.) However, some of the other new Ninjago sets include much smaller dragons that would be suitable for d20 scale. The smallest of these creatures comes with the Blaster Bike (set 70733), and is not much bigger than the micro-scale Ender Dragon. I downloaded the building instructions from, and built my own version:

When copying this model, the rarest pieces needed are those A-shaped elements that form the wings, which have only recently been produced for the first time. However, I own Flinx's Ultimate Phoenix (set 70221, from the Legends of Chima line), which uses multiples of these pieces in its wings. Other than color, my only deviation from the instructions was the head crest; I only own the two-toothed plate in white, so decided to replace it with horns that better fit the new color scheme. This spiky model recently saw use in my Pathfinder campaign as a spire drake (Pathfinder Bestiary 4).

I also downloaded the building instructions for the next smallest Ninjago dragon, from Ronin R.E.X. (set 70735). The Ultimate Phoenix also supplied several parts for this model, most notably the flame-shaped wings and tail. My version has a couple of minor substitutions (part of a tail segment and the head crest):

This model provides a nice Far-Eastern alternate to the classic Castle dragon, and is approximately the same scale, suitable for a Huge or Gargantuan creature. You could also replace the head with a more avian one for use as a smaller phoenix than Flinx's full-sized model. (A Pathfinder phoenix is Gargantuan, while the firebird spell from the Freeport setting summons a Large creature.)

To find free PDF downloads of the building instructions for a LEGO set, go to the Customer Service section of the website, and click on Building Instructions. This page will let you search by set number, keyword, year, or theme. When I searched for "dragon," I discovered the following additional sets with small models suitable for RPG miniature scale:
  • Dragon Pod (set 4337) contains instructions for a small green dragon and a few other models. (This is the oldest set mentioned in this column, and also the only one of them that I own myself. It was a pleasant surprise to be reminded of it!)
  • The Lava Dragon LEGO Game (set 3838) includes a small dragon built with only 13 pieces--three less than the Ender Dragon!
  • Dragon Fight (set 30083, for Ninjago) was a polybag store exclusive containing a brick-built dragon and one ninja.
  • Set 40098 is a dragon from the monthly mini model build events held in LEGO Stores.
  • And finally, The Cowler Dragon (set 30294) is a yet-to-be-released 2015 polybag set for Ninjago.

Do you have a favorite model (dragon or otherwise) from an official LEGO set that you've used as-is, or in slightly modified form, as a miniature in your role-playing games? If so, please let me know in the comments! I'm always on the lookout for new ideas to expand my own repertoire.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Creatures of Freeport: Deadfall Beetle

The deadfall beetle was inspired by a family trip to a state forest on the edge of the Arizona desert. Fallen trees scattered throughout the woods suggested bizarre, crouching monsters lying in wait for prey. I made a quick sketch then, and finished statting it up as soon as we returned home and I could consult my Bestiary.

I was finally able to use this creature in the most recent session of my Freeport game, which means that I can now share it here. Two beetles did not pose a serious danger to the party as a whole (who are now 8th level), but their bite was brutal enough to nearly take out the party ranger, who was unlucky enough to suffer a critical hit (which fell one point short of forcing my campaign's first save vs. massive damage!). I was quite pleased with my new beastie, who my players won't forget anytime soon.

What you first mistook for a fallen tree now stirs, revealing itself to be a gigantic insect with legs and mandibles resembling twisted, dead tree limbs or roots. It rushes forward to attack.

XP 2,400
N Huge vermin
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +0
AC 21, touch 9, flat-footed 20 (+1 Dex, +12 natural, -2 size)
hp 60 (8d8+24)
Fort +9, Ref +3, Will +2
Immune mind-affecting effects
Speed 40 ft., fly 20 ft. (clumsy)
Melee bite +12 (2d8+12 plus grab)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks trample (1d8+12, DC 21)
Str 26, Dex 12, Con 16, Int --, Wis 10, Cha 4
Base Atk +6; CMB +16 (+20 grapple); CMD 27 (32 vs. trip)
Skills Fly -6, Stealth +2 (+10 in forest or jungle); Racial Modifiers +8 Stealth (+16 in forest or jungle)
Environment warm or temperate forests
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure none

A deadfall beetle is an ambush predator who waits near game trails or water sources for prey to come within its reach. When motionless in forested areas, its excellent camouflage makes it appear to be harmless fallen tree with several large branches remaining more or less intact. This insect is also a scavenger, and will attack other creatures in order to claim a large carcass for itself. In general, it will attack most Large or Medium creatures that it encounters while hungry. Smaller creatures are usually ignored unless they attack the beetle first or bar its way to larger prey.

Deadfall beetles are territorial, and will drive off other monstrous vermin except during the brief mating season. If a displaced beetle has to travel a long distance to find a new hunting ground, its offspring (if any) adapt to match the new location's tree species within a generation or two.

Some sages claim that the deadfall beetle is actually a monstrous version of the walking stick insect, and not a beetle at all. Few adventurers concern themselves with this distinction when faced by what appears to be an full-sized tree rather than a mere twig or branch. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Cat Swarm

The following creature is my own original creation. It was inspired by the highly organized feline army that Randolph Carter enlists as his allies in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but lacks those cats' supernatural intelligence and their ability to jump through space to the Moon. (I may present rules for playing such a cat in a future column.)

In the Dreamlands, cats often band together for war against zoogs (Bestiary 3), alien cat monsters, and other hated enemies. The stat block below can be used to simplify combat against these cat armies.

Cat Swarm

A hissing, snarling mass of fur and shining eyes moves towards you. As it comes closer, you can discern that it is composed of hundreds of cats, with their claws and teeth bared and already bloody.

XP 600
N Tiny animal (swarm)
Init +6; Senses low-light vision, scent; Perception +12
AC 14, touch 14, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +2 size)
hp 17 (5d8-5)
Fort +3, Ref +6, Will +2
Defensive Abilities half damage from slashing and piercing, swarm traits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee swarm (1d6)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks distraction (DC 11)
Str 3, Dex 15, Con 8, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 7
Base Atk +3; CMB --; CMD --
Feats Improved Initiative, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +6, Perception +12, Stealth +14; Racial Modifiers +4 Climb, +4 Stealth
Environment temperate and hot plains and urban
Organization solitary, army (2-4 swarms), or legion (7-12 swarms)
Treasure none

A cat swarm seeks to surround and attack any warm-blooded prey that it encounters.

Cats are naturally solitary hunters, and rarely swarm except under supernatural influences. These feline armies sometimes form in response to an infestation of vermin, or to mete out vengeance against those who have offended druids or cat-worshipers. A cat swarm is composed of about 300 cats.

Spellcasters who revere cats or cat-gods may (with the GM's permission) learn a variant of summon swarm that summons a cat swarm instead of bats, rats, or spiders.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Blupe

Just a quick monster entry this time, as I've been busy and/or ill most of the past week.

This creature has been converted from The Complete Dreamlands (Fourth Edition, Revised & Expanded), for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.


This small creature looks like a levitating amoeba made out of water. It numerous pseudopods wriggle as it swims through the air.

BLUPE (CR 1/2)
XP 200
Small outsider (elemental, water)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +4
AC 12, touch 12, flat-footed 11 (+1 Dex, +1 size)
hp 11 (2d10)
Fort +3, Ref +4, Will -1
Immune elemental traits; Resist fire 5
Speed fly 30 ft. (good), swim 30 ft.
Melee tentacle +4 (1d3-2)
Special Attacks extinguish fires
Str 6, Dex 12, Con 10, Int 6, Wis 8, Cha 6
Base Atk +2; CMB -1; CMD 12
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Fly +12, Perception +4, Stealth +10, Swim +11
Languages Aquan (can't speak)
Environment any aquatic (Plane of Shadow or Plane of Water)
Organization solitary or school (2-5)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Extinquish Fires (Ex) A blupe can extinguish normal fires with a touch, automatically quenching any nonmagical fire of Medium size or smaller. On a successful melee touch attack against a creature with the fire subtype, a blupe inflicts 1d6 damage to the target. If the target is also an elemental, this damage is doubled.

Blupes are minor water elementals native to the Dark Dimension, as the Plane of Shadow is known within the Dreamlands. On the Material Plane, blupes are most commonly encountered when summoned by wizards and priests to combat fire-based menaces. (They have few effective attacks against other foes.) Spellcasters familiar with blupes may call one using summon monster I or summon nature's ally I