Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018 in Review: The Blog

"Studded Plate" is now four years old!

I started this blog in late 2014, and has been a weekly blog since early 2015. This time last year, I posted a brief review of what I had accomplished on my blog during 2017. In the interest of monitoring my own progress, and assisting any new readers I've acquired since then, I've decided to make this an annual tradition. 

To quote last year's review: "I write about roleplaying games, LEGO toys, and how I combine the two, with occasional forays into my other hobbies. I have a number of ongoing series that I add to as I find the time and inspiration. These include session summaries for the campaigns that I Game Master, reviews of RPG and LEGO products, and other subjects." Each item below includes a link to either the series index (if I've created a separate page for one) or to the most recent installment (which usually includes a list of links to earlier columns).

"Building the Bestiary" is my series on how I build LEGO miniatures for my tabletop role-playing games. It focuses on the first Pathfinder RPG Bestiary and the D&D 5E Monster Manual. It's my longest-running series here (19 installments plus the Index), but I only finished two new columns for it this year (Aberrations and Celestials).

I wrote more reviews of collectible LEGO Minifigures Series in 2018 than I did in 2017, covering The LEGO Ninjago Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie Series 2, Series 18: Party, and Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts.

"Time of the Tarrasque" is a homebrew Pathfinder campaign that I started in January 2017. We had a hiatus of about a year due to some players moving away and others (including myself) having dramatic changes in employment, but we were finally able to start again in September with a smaller group. We've completed 17 sessions of this game so far, so I have finally made an index page for it.

I continued running Tales from the Yawning Portal (D&D 5E) for my wife and children. However, my kids are now playing in local Pathfinder Society games regularly, and "Time of the Tarrasque" has restarted, so we all have less time to devote to this game. That has seriously delayed us finishing The Forge of Fury, but I hope to fit that in soon so we can leave this campaign at a better stopping point while we wait for a good time to start the next adventure.

Speaking of Pathfinder Society, I've played nearly three times as many sessions this year as I did in 2017 (as of writing this, I have played or GMed 107 adventures in 2018). I also earned my first GM star (for running 10+ games) this year. I won't be able to GM as often now that Tarrasque has started up again, but I do plan to continue running occasional scenarios when needed. I rarely discuss those games here in my blog, but many of my "Building the Bestiary" models have seen use in those games (or originated in prep for them), and I recently posted photos of the iconic character minis that I built for PFS. 

I posted a couple of articles about Green Ronin's Fantasy AGE system towards the end of 2017, with the intention of doing more, but other games have taken up too much of my GM headspace to follow through with Fantasy AGE this year.

I did, however, continue my series of Freeport 5E articles. 2018 featured installments about using Volo's Guide to MonstersXanathar's Guide to Everything, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, and Mordenkainen's Book of Foes with Green Ronin's Freeport setting; using the Book of the Righteous and Cults of Freeport together; and more reviews of new "Unearthed Arcana" and "Plane Shift" material. In addition, I backed four Kickstarters for third-party 5E products this year: Mini-Dungeon Tome (AAW Games), Tome of Horrors (Frog God Games), Strongholds & Followers (Matt Colville), and Pirate Campaign Compendium (Legendary Games). Once I receive my print copies of the last two, I plan to give them similarly Freeport-focused reviews. (I backed the first two at the PDF level only, so might or might not do the same with them.)

I participated in #Drawloween in 2016, but worked far too much overtime in October 2017 to do so that year. This year, I didn't care for the list of prompts for #Drawloween (too many weird, overly limiting puns), so instead decided to try #Inktober (which used single words). I posted those drawings in small batches here in the blog, but you can also see the whole set at my DeviantArt gallery.

During my 35+ years of gaming, I've almost always drawn portraits of my RPG characters, but for some reason, I went over two years in Pathfinder Society without drawing any of those PCs. I drew my first one during #Inktober this year, and drew and posted another (Cassilda Tillinghast) soon after. I've drawn a third PFS PC since then, and plan to do more, but I haven't decided yet how I want to share them here on my blog. (Meanwhile, I'll be posting them to DeviantArt as I finish them.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My LEGO Nativity Scene

With Christmas just a week away, I was reminded of the LEGO Nativity set that I built for our holiday decorations two years ago. I disassembled those models soon after the holidays rather than storing them, and also so I could reclaim the bricks for other projects. But I took several photos, which I'm sharing here, with a few comments about some the building techniques I used.

Part of the inspiration for this set was a papercraft Nativity that my parents displayed in our home every year. These had originally come as a book of cut-and-assemble models, one for each day of Advent, when I was in very early elementary school. Besides the pieces and instructions, the book also retold the Biblical story of Christmas (including many apocryphal details, like the Magi's origins and the Christmas rose), split up into passages matching that day's paper element. Part of the heavier cardstock cover formed the stable and backdrop for it all. The models were cute little pieces of art, and I usually called dibs on unpacking and arranging them each year.

For my LEGO scene, I first had to choose a scale. Using minifigures seemed a bit like cheating--plus my selection of "Middle Eastern-looking" garb consisted mainly of turbans, hoods, capes, and Star Wars robes. Instead, I made stylized brick-built figures about half again to twice that height. 

The stable was built of plates, with click-hinges connecting the roof and side walls to the back walls. The side walls were positioned at an angle, and their top edges used angled plates to build their trapezoid shape. 

The people's bodies were essentially stacks of regular and sloped bricks and plates. 2x2 cylindrical bricks are used for heads, and various SNOT (Studs Not On Top) parts were used to make beards and headdresses.

The manger was a small ship's hull piece, with bricks filling in the ends, and 1xN plates around the top; a couple more plates gave it a more stable base. Being a much smaller person, the baby Jesus used a blank minifigure head, with a radar dish added for a halo. (Mary and Joseph lacked halos because--unlike the angels below--I couldn't find a solution that I was satisfied with.)

The three Magi were, as befits kings, the most colorful models in this set. I used contrasting colors and styles for their robes and headgear, and heads of different colors (white, yellow, and black) to match one traditional depiction of them as belonging to different races. Two of their gifts were pieces from the Orient Bazaar LEGO Game; the gold crystal is a piece common to mining-themed sets.

The shepherds were built in neutral tones to show their humble origins. Their crooks were built from whips and wands. The sheep were 2x4 bricks covered with SNOT pieces that both suggested their wool and allowed a slope brick head and a 1x1 round plate tail to be attached. (The sheep were inspired in large part by the Wild Wool LEGO Game, though my models weren't designed to be sheared.)

The other animals--cow, camel, and donkey--were built using various techniques that I touched on in "Building the Bestiary #6: Four-Legged Friends," though at a slightly larger scale. This camel was very similar to the model from that column (which preceded this project by a few months), except that the head and neck were built from a number of SNOT bricks.

After taking the previous picture, I redesigned my cow model to make it a little smaller and less blocky.

The angels were monochrome except for their halos and the trumpet. Wings were attached using one of the techniques used in "Building the Bestiary #15: For the Birds" (which was posted the following summer).

The star was built out of round plates and sloped bricks. The 8 rays were sandwiched between two disks of plates, which allows the smaller rays to be turned to the diagonals. The star's tail was attached to the roof of the stable using some click-hinges. This photo also shows the placement of the angels, which were attached with hinges and 2x2 turntable plates.

The photo below shows the finished set, arranged atop a small shelf unit in our living room, where it remained for most of December. The shelf had a very smooth veneer, so I placed a sheet of felt on top before placing the LEGO models. This kept them from sliding around (or off) at the slightest bump or vibration.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, the solstice, another winter holiday, or none of them, I hope that the close of this year and beginning of the new year prove to be happy for you all!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Building the Bestiary #19: Celestials

It's the time of year when we start to see hosts of angels everywhere, so it seems appropriate to turn our attention this week to building models for those paragons of virtue: the celestials.

Celestials are innately good-aligned outsiders from the Upper Outer Planes. In most D&D and Pathfinder campaigns, they usually appear as allies rather than enemies, most often joining a fight through summoning spells. However, as beings of pure good, they will hold mortals to high standards, and will often punish those who (knowingly or not) profane a sacred site or who abuse their trust. In exceptionally rare cases, a celestial may fall from grace, and become a villain every bit as dastardly as the fiends that they were once tasked to battle.

A few celestials have already been covered in previous "Building the Bestiary" columns. See #6: Four-Legged Friends for the pegasus and unicorn, and #16: Serpentine Creatures for the couatl; all three of these creatures are considered celestials in D&D 5E. I've also presented one angel model (in #15: For the Birds), but this column offers new models for each type in the Bestiary.

For titans, see #3: Giants about building oversized humanoid minis. The Monster Manual's empyreans are Huge, while Bestiary 2's Elysian titans are Colossal. I haven't covered any Colossal creatures in this series yet, but I plan to devote at least one future column to additional techniques for models of that size.



Aasimars are native outsiders descended from humans (and sometimes other bumanoids) who interbred with celestials. They appear mostly human, though many have metallic hair, skin, or eye colors, so simply choose minifigures with the appropriate coloration. A few have halos, which can be added by attaching a transparent 2x2 radar dish to the stud on the minifigure's head; a clear 1x1 round plate can give it more altitude. (See the planetar angel later in this column for an example.)

Creatures with the celestial or half-celestial template look little different from the base creature, except that many have gold or silver coloring, and the latter template adds wings (see #15: For the Birds).


Agathions (Bestiary 2) are neutral good outsiders who combine humanoid and animal features. The weakest, the cat-like silvanshee, can be represented by a black cat figure.

Most others agathions can be built using animal-like minifigures such as those from the Legends of Chima theme: Eagle or Raven Tribe characters for avorals, Lion for leonals, and Fox for vulpinals. (For the avoral's wings, use the Eagle Tribe's wing assembly or see "Building the Bestiary" #15: For the Birds.)

The orca-like cetaceal can be built like a merfolk (see #2: Underwater Races), but with black and white parts. In the photo below, the tail is from The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures, the torso from an Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet villain, and the head from the Minifigures Geisha Girl.

A draconal has a snake-like body; see #16: Serpentine Creatures for options. The easiest method is to use a Ninjago or Medusa snake body as shown here, which also fills a Large space nicely without needing a base. This model uses a Crocodile Tribe head and torso and Bat Tribe wings (both from Legends of Chima).

(L-R): Leonal, Avoral, Draconal, Silvanshee, Cetaceal, Vulpinal

Detail of the solar's
wing attachments


Angels may be of any good alignment, and can be found throughout the upper planes, as well as pursuing missions almost elsewhere. "Building the Bestiary" #15: For the Birds presented one method of building an angel (with brick-built wings), but here I've built separate models for the three ranks appearing in the first Bestiary: astral devas, planetars, and solars. In Pathfinder (but not in D&D 5E), the more powerful the angel, the more wings it has. In order to mount the planetar's and solar's extra wings. I've used small plates to attach more clip plates to the back of the minifigure. The two senior angels are Large, so have been mounted on appropriately sized bases. The heavily armored solar uses the oversized Axl minifigure from Nexo Knights as a starting point, both for its size and for the 2x2 studs on its back.

Astral Deva




Archons are lawful good outsiders. The weakest, the lantern archon, is described as an orb of light, though the Bestiary picture shows a filigree-like frame around that light. The photo below shows examples of both interpretations.

For the hound archon, use a canine-headed minifigure such as a werewolf (LEGO Studios, Monster Hunters), Wolf Tribe (Chima), or Anubis Warrior (Pharoah Quest).

Trumpet archons are built just like a two-winged angel (see above).

Hound Archon, Trumpet Archon, three Lantern Archons


Azatas are chaotic good outsiders who strongly resemble elves or fey. The Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, and LEGO Elves themes are the best sources of parts to convey this look.

Bralani and ghaele look like majestic elves with obviously magical weapons, so can be built with normal minifigure parts. I've used an Elves minidoll for the bralani, and LOTR elves for the ghaele's head and hair.

The lillend requires a bit more work, as they are Large, with snake-like lower bodies. Like the draconal agathion above, this model uses a Ninjago serpent body. These azatas have bardic abilities, so adding a musical instrument (like the brick-built lyre shown here) is a nice touch.

(L-R): Bralani, Ghaele, Lillend

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

[#0]: How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon
#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils
#11: Aquatic Animals
#12: Vermin
#13: Non-OGL Monsters
#14: Plants
#15: For the Birds
#16: Serpentine Creatures
#17: Demons
#18: Aberrations

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pathfinder Iconics Minis

Seoni and Feiya look like they are up to no good!
Around a year ago, I made LEGO minifigures to represent the iconic characters for the 11 classes found in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook (whose stat blocks appear in the NPC Codex). I take these to every Pathfinder Society event that I attend, in case anyone needs to (or chooses to) play one of the official pregenerated characters. They have also proven useful for representing other PCs or NPCs of the same class, or who have similar equipment, or when we just need random pawns.

I have not yet attempted to build all of the other iconic pregens from other books, because that would require 3-4 times as many miniatures. By my count, including alternate classes but not unchained or prestige classes, there are now 40 classes for Pathfinder! (And I still don't own the books for two of them.) 

I did, however, build a couple of the iconics from the Advanced Player's Guide at the same time as the core characters, because I had recently tried them out for myself. Since then, I have built the other four.

Core Rulebook Iconics

Amiri (barbarian), Lem (bard), Kyra (cleric)

Lini (druid) with Droogami (animal companion), Valeros (fighter)

Sajan (monk), Seelah (paladin), Harsk (ranger)

Merisiel (rogue), Seoni (sorcerer) with Dragon (lizard familiar), Ezren (wizard)

Advanced Player's Handbook Iconics

Damiel (alchemist), Alain (cavalier) with Donahan (mount), Imrijka (inquisitor)

Alahazra (oracle), Balazar (summoner) and Padrig (eidolon), Feiya (witch) and Daji (fox familiar) 

Advanced Class Handbook Iconics

Finally, I have also built the bloodrager and investigator and bloodrager from the Advanced Class Guide. The latter is the ultimate skill monkey class, so is a favorite among our local PFS community. However, I often find that the hybrid classes are confusing for new players (and the occult classes from Occult Adventures even more so), so I feel no pressing need to build all of them anytime soon.

Crowe (bloodrager) and Quinn (investigator)
I strongly encourage people who are still learning Pathfinder to stick to the core class pregens, or at least to core plus APG. Save the hybrid, occult, and Ultimate pregens for later, after you have a solid grasp of the basics and are ready for something more unusual or challenging. Part of the GM's role is to help teach new players, but not all GMs are experts on every supplement. If your GM isn't well-versed on the class you want to play, then the burden falls squarely on you to know how the class works well enough to minimize delays to consult rules. If you're not up to that challenge, then it will be kinder to the rest of the table to choose one of the old staples, and wait for a better time to explore that shiny new toy.

Similarly, if I'm GMing a table that needs a pregen to use as a virtual fourth player, I insist that the choices be limited to classes that at least one person at the table knows well enough to run without help, because I already have plenty to juggle on my side of the screen--as do they, with one less brain to put together to solve the mission's problems.

A lot of this advice about classes applies to your own personal, custom-built characters as well, but it's even more important for characters that you haven't been playing and learning since 1st level.