Friday, September 30, 2016

#Drawlloween2016 begins tomorrow!

I will try to keep up with my regular weekly posts about gaming, LEGO, etc., but expect most of my content for the month of October to be part of this challenge. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Building the Bestiary #7: Oozes

This week, I'm going to delve into building ooze miniatures, with some discussion about how their special attacks can affect how you build them. I am indebted for parts of this article to LEGO Game Master, who blogged back in 2015 about making oozes and elementals out of spaceship cockpits and other transparent pieces.

The smallest oozes (Medium and smaller) are easy to represent with just a single brick, or a very simple build. Radar dishes (2x2, 3x3, or 4x4) are good choices here, as are "boat plates." (The latter are 2x2 round plates designed to fit into the bottom of a brick or plate, and are most commonly used to help lock pieces on the bottom of a boat or other flat-bottomed vehicle.)

(L-R): 4x4, 3x3, and 2x2 radar dishes, and 2x2 "boat plates"

Larger oozes can be represented by larger radar dishes (6x6 for Large, 8x8 for Huge), hemispherical bricks (such as those used for Star Wars planets, globe ornaments, and some spaceship cockpits), or by building a simple blob-like model in the appropriate color: black for a pudding, yellow for an ochre jelly, etc. Go back and review my Giants column about bases and size categories, but keep in mind that when you're building an ooze, the base is usually part of the creature itself. In fact, the very simplest mini for a large ooze is a baseplate of the appropriate size and color.

8x8 radar dish; 4x4 sphere halves; 8x8 base built from 4x4 plates; and a black pudding built solely from 3x4 minifigure bases

Most oozes make slam attacks with pseudopods extruded from their bodies. If you wish to build an ooze in attack mode, then attach arms, whips, vines, tails, hinged plates, arches, or other interesting parts to represent these appendages, or simply stack a few overhanging bricks and plates.


Some oozes are transparent, which gives these mindless creatures some degree of camouflage. If you own enough transparent bricks, try building your mini with those--or mix them with opaque bricks to expand your options.

A gray ooze is Medium, so a 3x3 or smaller clear or smoky transparent radar dish or boat plate is the most obvious choice. Giant amoebas and slithering trackers (both from Pathfinder Bestiary 2) are both Small, so use 2x2 pieces for them. For the amoeba, you can add a darker colored 1x1 round plate or tile for its nucleus. As discussed in the Tiny Creatures installment, an amoeba swarm can be represented by four identical amoeba minis.

For a gelatinous cube, build a cube out of clear bricks. As LEGO GM points out in his article, 5 bricks vertical height is exactly the same as 6 studs horizontal length, so a 6x6x5 cube will exactly fill a 2" = 10 ft. cube on the battlemat, just as the monster itself does. (Due to random past Pick-A-Brick Wall purchases, I own far more 1x2x2 windshields than 1x2x1 bricks, so I used those for my model, with a row of 1x2 plates along the top and bottom for better locking. That leaves it one layer of plates short of a perfect cube.)


Gelatinous cubes and some other large oozes also have an engulf attack. Building an ooze as a hollow model, using cockpits or other large pieces, allows you to represent an engulf attack by actually placing the victim's minifigure inside the monster.


Ochre jellies, black puddings, and certain other oozes are immune to some forms of damage (usually slashing and one other type), and are instead split into two oozes (each with half the original hit points) whenever they are hit with such an attack. In D&D v.3.5 and Pathfinder, this special ability's text states that the monster splits into "two identical oozes," while D&D Fifth Edition specifies that each new ooze is one size smaller than the original. Both versions specify a minimum hit point threshold below which the ooze no longer splits. 5E also gives a minimum size: Small oozes can no longer split.

As a brief aside, I'm inclined to introduce a house rule into v.3.5 and Pathfinder games to make split oozes one size smaller, as in 5E. Otherwise, you could end up with the nonsensical result of having up to 16* Huge black puddings trying to fit into the same space! (This nearly happened in one adventure I recently played.**) The one drawback to adding this house rule is that it requires changing size modifiers to AC, attacks, and grapple checks on the fly. (5E omits this level of detail, so changing sizes is trivial during play in that edition.) Alternately, you could simply ignore the changes to size modifiers--it's dead easy to hit an ooze at any size, after all--but consider that grapple checks tend to change dramatically between size categories, even when Strength and Base Attack Bonus remain the same.

To return to model building, if you are playing 5E or adopting its rule about split oozes being smaller, then you will need to prepare for that effect on your creatures. You have two choices here: Either replace the ooze miniature with two smaller models, or build your full-size ooze so that it can be broken into smaller pieces. The Large ochre jelly ooze shown below can be broken into four parts, each consisting of a 2x3 plate and a 2x2 plate. If it gets split, disassemble it and use two of these quarters for Medium jellies. If split again, separate the two plates to make Small jellies. Coincidentally, the minimum size of Small lets us sidestep the challenge of fitting multiple Tiny minis into one square.

Similarly, this ancient, Gargantuan black pudding (built solely from boat hulls) can split in half to form two Huge puddings. When the Huge ooze is split again, remove the two smaller hulls and use them for Large oozes. Beyond that point, you'll need to substitute other pieces for Medium and Small.

(L-R): Huge ooze; two Large oozes; and the leftover hull and Technic pins. 

Even More Oozes?

For the sake of space, I've limited this column to oozes found in the first Monster Manual or Bestiary, plus a couple more from Bestiary 2. But the Pathfinder Bestiary also includes the dreaded shoggoth, which grows eyes, mouths, tentacles and other organs from its bulk. That requires a much more complex model, so I will conclude with some pictures of a mini that combines several techniques for building those limbs and other organs. 

Lose 1d6/1d20 Sanity!*** 

* In Pathfinder, a 105 hp black pudding splits into two 52 hp puddings, then 26 hp, then 13 hp, and finally 6 hp, which is too weak to split further. With this house rule, the ooze would stop splitting at 13 hp (Small). A v.3.5 black pudding has slightly more hp (115), but the same number of potential splits.

** The pudding was located at the bottom of a pit, and our failed attempts to hurt it resulted in 8 puddings at one point. The GM (my wife) handwaved the increased space that a stricter interpretation of the rules would have required, and simply used a stack of 3x3 black radar dishes to show us how many were left.

*** Per the D20 Call of Cthulhu RPG.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Building the Bestiary #6: Four-Legged Friends

Most of my previous "Building the Bestiary" columns have focused on humanoid creatures, so now it's time to look at methods for building different body shapes. I will start with some basic quadruped bodies, then show how that base can be elaborated upon to create a wide variety of creatures.

A very basic quadruped can be built by adding four 1x1 legs (or two 1x2 bricks) to a 2x4 brick, then adding another brick for a head. Use cylinders, or 1x2 bamboo pieces, to make each leg look more distinct. For a smaller or larger creature, use a shorter or longer brick for the torso, and vary the length of the legs. Adding a base will help stabilize long legs, as well as indicate the creature's space on the battle map. (See "Building the Bestiary #3: Giants" about choosing appropriate-sized bases for different size categories.)

The simplest quadruped; a horse with bamboo brick legs; an alpaca with its head and neck on a jumper plate. (Click on photos to view larger.)

I've tried to demonstrate a variety of heads and tails throughout the photos for this article. A 1x1 brick with a Technic hole is especially useful for any creature with a long, forward-thrust head--horses, cows, dogs, etc.--and it allows you to insert a Technic half-pin or the studs of a pair of 1x1 round plates for eyes. If you're building an animal that has smallish, upright ears or horns, adding a 1x1 top-clip plate to the head covers this detail nicely.

Jumper plates are useful for centering a narrower head on the body, or for adding a tail. Capes, tiny arch pieces, plates with bars or hinges, and many other pieces can be used as tails.  (The Unikitty figure in The LEGO Movie theme introduced a new ponytail piece, which has since been reused in a few other models, but it's rarely available in a natural-looking color.) Add a 2x2 plate between the head and tail to avoid a swaybacked look.

You can also take a hint from the official LEGO horse figures, and build the torso from plates and bricks to leave an empty 1x2 space for inserting a rider's legs. This also allows you to add a horse saddle if you wish. Keep a spare brick on hand to fill the gap when the mount isn't being ridden. On a LEGO minifigure horse, the filler brick is actually a 1x2 plate on top of a 1x2 brick, but if you're not using a saddle, simply match the height to your model. A shallower leg slot means that the rider will sit higher on the animal, so keep that in mind when deciding how deep to make your torso and the leg slot.

A horse (with spyglass legs) and camel, both with rider slots and Large baseplates.

Another option for legs, and one that gives the model more articulation, is to use minifigure legs. The pegs at the waist fit into the underside of a normal brick, but are too tall to fit into a shallow plate, so this option works best with a 2xN brick torso.

Here are a few examples of models that can built with the basic quadruped body described above.

Riding Dog or Pony: Small races like halflings and gnomes usually ride Medium mounts, which need to fit into a 1" space on the battle map. Start the body with a 2x3 brick or plate. The head of the pony shown below is a specialized piece usually used as a podium for a control panel, but the shape is perfect for a small horse's head.

A halfling on a riding dog; a pony with a rider slot; a young (Medium-sized) unicorn. 

Unicorn: Use any method you wish to build a horse, then add a unicorn horn to the head. You will need a hollow stud on top of the head in order to mount the horn. 1x1 bricks with Technic holes usually have hollow studs on top, as do all jumper plates. If you don't have any spiraled unicorn horn pieces (available in some Castle and Ninjago sets), use a small rubber fang, which is the same size but slightly curved.

Pegasus: Use bricks or plates with clips to allow the attachment of wings to the sides of the body of a horse. This also works with a pre-fab LEGO horse; just add two 1x1 clip plates under the saddle or the filler brick.

Centaur: Add minifigures legs to the bottom of a 2x4 brick, and use a jumper plate to add a tail, Put either a 2x2 or 2x3 plate on the back, depending on how high you want the human half to stand, then add a minifigure torso and head. For an archer, hang the quiver from a peg on the horse back; this accessory hangs down too far the minifigure's back to fit on the centaur's neck as usual. For a centaur colt, use a 2x3 brick and 1x1 cylinders or cones for the body and legs; this model can fit into the 1" square of a Medium miniature (like the pony, above).

Centaurs: colt, swordsman, and archer.

Sphinx: This sphinxes shown below are more advanced models that use the basic quadruped build as a starting point. The bodies are built from plates, including clip plates to attach the wings and a hinge plate to add the tail. (I used an older "toothed" hinge when I built these some years ago, but the "clicker" hinges that are common these days would work just as well.) The head is attached with a jumper plate. For the gynosphinx's chest, I attached a 1x2 plate to the fronts of two 1x1 "headlight" bricks. The rear legs are built with arch bricks rather than cylinders in order to make them look a little more lion-like, and also to make the model more stable by giving it a broader base.

Androsphinx (L) and gynosphinx (R).

Go Wild!: Finally, here are a few wild animal models to help inspire you. The bear and giraffe are fairly simple monochrome models using slopes and arches to achieve a distinctive silhouette. The rhinoceros requires more specialized pieces, including hinges, a fang for the horn, a "boat plate" for the rounded belly, and a couple of unusual sloped bricks for the back.

Rhinoceros and brown bear.

Giraffe. Note the larger baseplate for this Huge animal.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Time of the Tarrasque: The Praetorian Guard

The Empire of Thovalas preserves the traditions of the lost human homeland of Prothonia, including its religion, matriarchal society, and glorification of the military. Thovalas has the largest and most highly trained army in Iath-Hemut, which gets frequent practice fighting the goblin and giant tribes that skulk about the empire's borders.

The military is nominally commanded by the Praetor (empress), but in practice is administered by her generals. The regular legions are relatively egalitarian, though with notably more female officers than male, especially at higher ranks. The most prestigious elite soldiers are all-female units known as Amazons. Her Imperial Majesty's Praetorian Guard are recruited exclusively from the most decorated Amazon units.

The phalanx soldier fighter archetype (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Advanced Player's Guide 105) forms the backbone of the imperial legions. Auxiliary units consist of archers, crossbowmen, cavalry, engineers, and scouts (most of whom are warriors so do not use archetypes).

The first stat block below represents a seasoned phalanx soldier trained to serve as a bodyguard to an important officer or noble. These infantrymen are trained to fight in groups, forming a shield wall around their charge when danger threatens. Each carries a healing potion, but that magic is usually reserved for saving the life of their employer if an attack gets through their cordon.

The second stat block represents the minimum training and experience for entry into the Praetorian Guard, the elites who are tasked with protecting Her Imperial Majesty's person and property. These soldiers continue to specialize in defense over offense, and also acquire just enough polished manners to understand the basics of court politics. This is represented by a rank of Knowledge (nobility) and fluency in Prothonian, the original human tongue from which Common derives. The legal, ecclesiastical, and academic professions in Thovalas still use this ancestral language for their most important documents, and the Praetor is expected to speak it almost exclusively when she is in public, so fluency in Prothonian is essential for anyone wishing to succeed at the imperial court.

Praetorian Commanders are veteran soldiers who serve as the senior officers of the Guard. At least one fighter of this level attends the Praetor at all times. Each carries a feather token that can be activated to summon reinforcements.

XP 600
Female human fighter (phalanx soldier[APG]) 3
LN Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Senses Perception +6
AC 23, touch 11, flat-footed 22 (+7 armor, +1 Dex, +5 shield)
hp 30 (3d10+9)
Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +1; +1 vs. trample
Defensive Abilities stand firm +1[APG]
Speed 30 ft. (20 ft. in armor)
Melee masterwork halberd +5 (1d10+2/x3) or masterwork shortsword +4 (1d6+2/19-20)
Ranged javelin +2 (1d6+2)
Special Attacks
Str 15, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 13
Base Atk +3; CMB +5; CMD 16 (17 vs. bull rush, drag, overrun, trip)
Feats Bodyguard[APG], Combat Reflexes, Shield Focus, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Focus (halberd)
Skills Intimidate +6, Perception +6, Profession (soldier) +6, Survival +4
Languages Common
SQ phalanx fighting[APG]
Combat Gear potion of cure moderate woundsOther Gear masterwork banded mail, masterwork tower shield, masterwork halberd, masterwork shortsword, javelin (3), courtier's outfit (showy uniform), jewelry (50 gp)

XP 1,600
Female human fighter (phalanx soldier[APG]) 6
LN Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Senses Perception +9
AC 25, touch 11, flat-footed 24 (+8 armor, +1 Dex, +6 shield)
hp 51 (6d10+15)
Fort +8, Ref +4, Will +3; +2 vs. trample
Defensive Abilities stand firm +2[APG] 
Speed 30 ft. (20 ft. in armor)
Melee masterwork halberd +9/+4 (1d10+3/x3) or masterwork shortsword +8/+3 (1d6+3/19-20)
Ranged javelin +5 (1d6+3)
Special Attacks
Str 16, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 13
Base Atk +6; CMB +9; CMD 20 (22 vs. bull rush, drag, overrun, trip)
Feats Bodyguard[APG], Combat Reflexes, Diehard, Endurance, In Harm's Way[APG], Shield Focus, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Focus (halberd)
Skills Intimidate +8, Knowledge (nobility) +1, Linguistics +1, Perception +9, Profession (soldier) +8, Survival +5
Languages Common, Prothonian
SQ phalanx fighting[APG]
Combat Gear potion of cure moderate woundsOther Gear +1 banded mail, +1 tower shield, masterwork halberd, masterwork shortsword, javelin (3), cloak of resistance +1, courtier's outfit (showy uniform), jewelry (50 gp)

XP 4,800
Female human fighter (phalanx soldier[APG]) 9
LN Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Senses Perception +12
AC 29, touch 12, flat-footed 28 (+10 armor, +1 deflection, +1 Dex, +7 shield)
hp 75 (9d10+21)
Fort +9, Ref +5, Will +4; +2 vs. trample
Defensive Abilities shield ally[APG], stand firm +2[APG] 
Speed 30 ft. (20 ft. in armor)
Melee +1 halberd +13/+8 (1d10+4/x3) or masterwork shortsword +12/+7 (1d6+3/19-20)
Ranged javelin +9 (1d6+3)
Special Attacks ready pike +1 (1/day)[APG]
Str 16, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 14
Base Atk +9; CMB +12; CMD 23 (25 vs. bull rush, drag, overrun, trip)
Feats Bodyguard[APG], Combat Reflexes, Diehard, Endurance, Greater Shield Focus, In Harm's Way[APG], Saving Shield[APG], Shield Focus, Shield Specialization, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Focus (halberd)
Skills Intimidate +11, Knowledge (nobility) +3, Linguistics +1, Perception +12, Profession (soldier) +12, Survival +6
Languages Common, Prothonian
SQ deft shield[APG], phalanx fighting[APG]
Combat Gear potion of cure moderate woundsOther Gear +1 full plate, +1 tower shield, +1 halberd, masterwork shortsword, javelin (3), cloak of resistance +1, feather token (bird)ring of protection +1, noble's outfit (uniform, medals, etc.)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Winds of Freeport: The Last Adventure

Last month, my gaming group concluded the final adventure of my most recent campaign using Green Ronin's Freeport setting. This was the third such campaign that I've run in that city. The first covered the original Freeport Trilogy, in D&D v.3.0. The second continued in v.3.5 with mostly new characters, and adventures solely of my own devising. This latest one, "Winds of Freeport," was the longest one so far, spanning almost five years of real time, which included a one-year hiatus in the middle during which four of us relocated across country and we converted the game from v.3.5 to Pathfinder.

You may now be wondering, how did the game survive four of us relocating across country? The four people who played in the campaign from start to end were my wife Erika and myself, and another couple, Chris and Seanna Lea LoBue, who we've been friends with, and gaming regularly with, for most of the past two decades. Erika and Seanna Lea were co-workers when their firm relocated their department from Boston, MA, to Lexington, KY. Both households decided to make the move. At the time, it was a good decision for all of us, for many reasons--not the least of which was the fact that we'd be certain of having at least two other close friends nearby, to help us stay sane through the transition. It also meant that 4/5 of my gaming group would remain intact, allowing us to keep the long-time core players together and continue my Freeport game.

For the last year of the campaign, I ran a long site-based adventure that I titled "Gorilla Island." I knew that we would be wrapping up the campaign in order to start a new one ("The Time of the Tarrasque," which I've mentioned in this column), and I wanted us to go out with a bang. One of the player characters was a hadozee--essentially a gorilla with wing-flaps that allow him to glide--so I threw as many monkey and ape monsters into the adventure as I could. The party met a village of vanara, fought keches, and took down a baregara-possessed girallon priestess. I also threw in a mermaid subplot to snare the undine cleric's attention, and a ship-to-ship battle to cater to everyone's bloodthirstiness.

Now that the campaign has ended, I have been adding pages to my "Winds of Freeport" wiki in order to share some of my GM notes from that last adventure. Most of my Gorilla Island notes are now up there, as well as some for the Mystery of the Merfolk story line that led into it.

At the time that we started "Winds of Freeport," I had been an active member of The Piazza (a UK-based forum devoted to RPGs) for a few years and was known there as something of an expert on Freeport: The City of Adventure. Naturally, I wrote about this new campaign in the Freeport sub-forum there. I provided summaries of the sessions I ran, as well as sharing some of my plans for future adventures and answering questions from other Freeport fans. Because of the spoiler-laden nature of that thread, I never shared the link with my players. But now that the campaign is at an end (for the foreseeable future, anyway), I have decided to copy those session summaries from The Piazza and add them to the "Winds" wiki in slightly edited form. For a full list of those adventure summaries, see the Winds of Freeport Session List page and follow the links in the "Adventure/Notes" column.

In hindsight, I wish that I had started sharing these summaries with my players before now, so that the group as a whole could have had them for reference while we were still playing. The best I can do is correct that oversight now, and do better for future campaigns. That goal will be much aided by the fact that I started writing "Studded Plate" since "Winds" started. I have been using this blog to write up sessions of the D&D 5E game that I'm running for my kids, and I intend to do something similar for my next Pathfinder campaign, "Time of the Tarrasque."

I will definitely return to Freeport someday. At some point, there will be a one-session sequel for a ship battle with the hadozee's arch-nemesis (probably when I can't get the full group together for "Tarrasque"). After that I can't say anything definite, but I will continue to collect releases for the setting--and if I get the chance, write for Green Ronin again. There's a good chance that any future adventures that I run in Freeport will use a different system. Green Ronin has promised a Freeport Companion for Fantasy AGE, so I may decide to try out those rules next time out (especially if I'm still running "Tarrasque," in order to get a break from highly crunchy Pathfinder). On the other hand, if I ever run any Freeport adventures for my children (a tricky question, given some of the setting's more adult themes), I might use D&D Fifth Edition, as that's the system that I'm teaching them now. But at the moment, that's all speculation.