Bring Your Own Brush – Miniature Painting

It occurred to me that I should post on here about my miniature painting.

I don’t want my blog to become all about mini painting, but it is an aspect of D&D and something I enjoy immensely.

First a little background. In 2012 the owner of my local game store (Guardian Games!) received some demo materials – some paint and a couple of brushes and some color guides. She offered to let me use them, then dug out a couple of old Warhammer figures to let me paint. My first figures weren’t primed, and they were painted with a very limited selection of colors. Surprisingly, I think they turned out all right for someone who had never painted a miniature:

In the following months I discovered I really enjoyed painting. Despite bad eyes, shakey hands, and many a cramped wrist, I started getting pretty decent at it.

So I plan to post here occasionally about whatever I’m working on currently, like this samurai that I’m painting for a friend (Rich Ellis!)…

samurai_mini_wipor this goliath warrior with a greatsword for one of my players…


… or any of the many other miniatures I have in progress!

Edit: A quick mention… I paint every Thursday Friday night at 6:00pm at Guardian Games, so if you’re in Portland, drop by and try your hand at mini painting!

Legacy of the Crystal Shard Tracking Sheets

The new season of the Legacy of the Crystal Shard is ready to launch. If you’re coordinating for your local game store, you’ve probably already received your packet of materials for the season. This season, much like the last, provided a custom d20 and a full color player handout map.LotCS-dice

During the Murder in Baldur’s Gate season, I noticed less than a fourth of the players were interested in their maps. On the first day maps were handed out to players I found many players left their maps behind on the table. I collected them back up so they wouldn’t be wasted, but I resolved to do something about it the following season.

While examining the old maps, I realized the back sides were completely blank and I knew I could make use of that! In the early seasons of Encounters, tracking sheets were made for players to keep track of objectives, experience points, treasure, and game notes.  I could print player trackers on the backs of the maps and players would have more incentive to keep them.

The old trackers were not very conservative with space, and they tracked all kinds of things that wouldn’t necessarily apply now. Plus, our store runs a mix of Next and D&D 4e tables, so I needed a single tracker useful for any table. With that in mind, I created a new, simplified tracker. Then I did a test print on the back of a Baldur’s Gate map.

Legacy of the Crystal Shard Tracker

It worked!
Well, sort of… The coated paper printed very well, but the heat of the laser printer made the paper curl intensely. I had to immediately flatten the paper. If you decide to print on the back of your maps, make sure to watch and flatten any curling before the paper cools if you’re using a laser printer. I suspect inkjets won’t have the curling issue, but the glossy coat may cause inkjet printing to smear the lovely maps as they slide out and stack up. Between the two, I’d rather deal with curling.

I’ve shared the tracker I created at the link below. If you’re a player or a store Encounters Coordinator, you can print it on the back of your maps, or on regular paper.

Legacy of the Crystal Shard – Player Tracking Sheet

When Old and New Collide

In a tower, in a prosperous trade city, an archmage desires a guardian and an assistant. Familiars are useful but fragile things. He knows of golems but they are unintelligent, inflexible things. He wants a finer creation. He studies, researches, and experiments. He crafts a better golem body – strong and dexterous – and armors it with finely forged steel. Finally, he begins the invocations to animate the construct – but he goes a step further and imbues it with the tiniest shred of his own soul to give it life.

“If this works I will create more,” the mage swears quietly to himself as he waits.

The construct’s eyes flicker to life, and it moves. Limbs bend and twist. Its legs fold and shift. Turning, it rises to its feet and stands over the mage, looking down at him with glowing blue fire in its eyes.

“What is your name?” the mage asks keenly, waiting to hear how this new creation responds without any other prompting.

The construct’s eyes flicker with surprise and it considers this question. Finally, it answers.

“I should like to be called Mohr, I think.”

The mage smiles, amused.

“Welcome, Mohr. I look forward to getting to know you.”

As D&D Next continues to ramp up, I’m reminded of what happens when two editions collide in the context of a home campaign. Specifically, how we as DMs deal with the change of materials and how it affects the canon of our homebrew settings. Thinking about the changes from 4th Edition to D&D Next reminded me how a new element joined my campaign while another element gracefully bowed out during the edition transition from 3rd Edition to 4th.

I began my homebrew setting, Solista, in early D&D 3rd Edition, easily transitioned into 3.5 Edition, and finally transferred happily into 4th Edition. Most new 4e races fit right into my world, or else had very easy explanations to squeeze them in with the rest. Genasi? No problem. Tieflings? No problem. Changlings? No problem. Warforged No prob- w-wait, what!?

Warforged seemed pretty cool to me as a player and as a DM. I never thought of them like robots, instead I had mythological Galatea-living-statue type inspirations. Regardless, warforged simply hadn’t existed in my setting previously. I didn’t want to ban the race, so I embraced their existence in my setting. I added them to a city the players had never visited, and established their numbers were few, but enough that my players could choose to play one.

In 3.5 Edition I had crafted, playtested, and perfected to my personal satisfaction, a custom homebrew race. They held an important place in my world’s history and lore. Unfortunately, 4th Edition had no room for them – mechanically they just didn’t work out at all. After much playtesting and pulling of my hair, I eventually accepted the fact they would not be a good fit for 4th Edition rules. While I could just change them to monster stats, it didn’t feel right. So I embraced another change and took things to their next logical conclusion: the homebrew race had to go.

Over the course of a few plot arcs, I established that the race, called gryfalkyrie, packed up and moved out without so much as an explanation or a farewell. They left behind their cities and their villages. I used this to spark controversy and war. Kingdoms that conflicted with the gryfalkyrie now surged in to claim their lands. They disputed over new borders, treasure hunters looted the empty cities, and preservationists protested potential destruction of the nearby natural wilderness. A new organized was formed to protect the forests – the Wardens – which became a basis for an entire campaign in of itself. This and so many other things evolved from my setting just from dropping a single homebrew race.

D&D Next may or may not bring new things to my campaign setting, but it may very well remove some things. I don’t need to make that a bad thing though – it can mold and shape a new age in my campaign, which is good. Nothing should stay the same way for too long.

The Eternal Dragonborn

A while back I wrote a funerary verse for the death of a dragonborn NPC in my home game. Recent urging from a friend encouraged me to post it here.

In my world, dragonborn souls, their animus, reincarnate in an endless cycle of death and rebirth. Since all dragonborn are united in this fate – no one goes to a heaven or hell – they have a very strong sense of community. It became important to me to show how the dragonborn felt about death as merely a temporary state for the soul to transition through.

They also worship all three dragon gods equally – Tiamat representing a natural force of wrath and strength with which to defend themselves and their homes, Bahamut is good and justice to keep them on the right path, and Io is (neutral) fairness and knowledge to give them the means to improve themselves and know what is true in the world.

The Keeper refers to the Keeper of Names, the dragonborn that keeps the names of the dead and tracks which dragonborn souls have been reincarnated.

This soul sets free to rise above the fray,
The Keeper takes your name and lays your path.
Remember no sorrow, tempt not to stray,
Be strong for us, fierce as Tiamat’s wrath.

And this soul, set free to wander, abides
Cold and wise as a star in the night skies.
Return to us adrift on ageless tides
As true as the light in Bahamut’s eyes.

Now this soul is free from sorrow and pain
To promise our fate in rebirth and death,
From shadows renewed with life and breath,
Eternal as Io, we rise again.

Judge Not

Something I make a constant effort to do is keeping an open perspective of how other people play Roleplaying Games. I frequently witness other groups playing, or I read discussions online. As my group plays in public and I too post in online discussions, I’ve also been subject to others observing and commenting on how I play. It is a constant reminder that we all play differently.

Roleplaying isn’t about telling people how they should experience their own game. It transcends settings, editions, even entire systems.

We are rightfully entitled think the specific way we play our game is so awesome. Clearly we’re having so much fun, so it should be helpful to share how we enjoy the best about how we play, right?

But sometimes we get on the wrong path. We try to find a way to tell someone else if they’re roleplaying the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, but we really can’t.

Its not because there’s a formula for the perfect roleplaying, it’s because we can’t play in anyone else’s shoes except our own. Our experience is entirely subjective to our own preference. We find a perfect balance for ourselves, but we’re still not the other person. The method he or she enjoys: they will swear by it, just like we will swear by ours.

Advice is helpful. Judgement is not. Challenge yourself to play a game differently if you desire, but never judge how someone else enjoys their game.

The Gamer Effect – Jumping Into D&D Next

I’m now contributing over at The Gamer Effect and I have a new post up over there: Jumping Into D&D Next. Check it out! In it I talk about my first foray into DMing D&D Next.

I will still be posting updates here, including posts that I feel don’t fit well with The Gamer Effect’s topics. I know things have been slow, but I have plans and as always – lots of gaming going on!

The $5 Pledge for Free RPG Day

I saw this over on, The $5 Pledge for Free RPG Day

“Free RPG Day is coming up so don’t just swoop and loot the place. Look around, talk to people and show a little appreciation for your FLGS by throwing a little cash their way. Just a couple of bucks. Maybe about like say $5. I know that isn’t much. Maybe a new set of dice or a miniature.”

I heartily agree with this!  Show a bit of love, spend a couple dollars and show love for your favorite game store. Free RPG Day is June 15th, I’ll be at my local game store Guardian Games helping with the Vault of the Dracolich event.

Et tu, DM?

Betrayal is a classic trope. I think every DM uses it sooner or later. Betrayal reminds our players to question what they hear, to think about other perspectives; to anticipate betrayal means  thinking about what benefits your betrayer. Players that fail to do these things fall victim to betrayals easily.

The key to DM planning for a betrayal is flexibility. You can never truly predict a party’s cleverness and reactions. As a result, I take a sort of “Schrodinger’s” approach to NPCs – an NPC’s goal can be changed at any time until observed definitively as one particular goal by the PCs. I’m not perfect, I can’t perfectly predict every possible outcome of my group’s actions, therefore I have to take a reactive approach to planning certain twists. I find this makes them more believable. After all, this is sort of true in life as well – any person can change their mind at any given moment: including the bad guys.

Types of Betrayals

The Inevitable

Most of us are familiar with the quote “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” (shaking your fist when you say this is usually required.) We tend to think of betrayals as a surprise, but some are not so unexpected. The Inevitable is the betrayal you see coming from a mile off.  Sometimes we can’t help it. Evil Bart the local trail guide is obviously going to betray the party at the first possible chance, but sometimes a party just has to take that risk to gain other benefits.  Like the stabby equivalent of a surprise birthday party, the party knows the NPC is going to throw one, it’s just a matter of when and where. The best way to make an Inevitable betrayal more interesting is to challenge the party’s assumptions. Listen carefully to your party’s opinions about your NPCs for ideas – consider if you can twist those perceptions even a little. It wouldn’t hurt to encourage some wild speculation while you’re at it. Whatever the players are expecting, try to take a different angle.

Well-placed Inevitable betrayals will build a gritty atmosphere in a setting where you want to portray a lot of corruption and strife. Lightly handled Inevitable betrayals can bring an air of humor to an otherwise serious transaction. Out of all betrayals, Inevitable betrayals are the easiest on the trust between a DM and the players. By continuing to interact with the NPC, they acknowledge they’re accepting that possibility. Personally, I feel Inevitable betrayals should never be huge story-changing betrayals. They work better with smaller consequences that the party can recover from quickly.


Blind-siding my players is sometimes immensely satisfying. This betrayal is all about it. Give no clues, reassure the players frequently about trust, raise no alarms and when no one in the party questions their loyalty that is the prime moment to strike. Treasure the look on everyone’s faces when they realize their fervent ally just jabbed a poison dagger in the party’s collective back.

As the DM, you control all the information your party receives. Therefore the WTF is the easiest betrayal to pull off by simply denying your players knowledge of the impending betrayal. The easiest to prepare and use – you don’t necessarily have to do any long-term planning. You can simply decide on the spot to suddenly have a trusted NPC suddenly sell out the party – for no particular reason if you need it that badly (although gold, lots of gold, is usually a solid stand-by). Be warned though! The WTF betrayal is an easy crutch. Used poorly it comes across as petty: a cheap shot at the players for daring to trust their DM. It’s a sudden and shocking experience and it burns bridges fast. Use it too much and your players will soon trust no NPC, regardless of undeniable proof or sincere gestures of loyalty, because they will no longer trust YOU.

The Hindsight

The best betrayals are the ones the group should have seen coming, but didn’t. This is the villain’s betrayal. The masterpiece. I call it the Hindsight because all the clues were right there all along: seen but never suspected. Only when they look back do they see how they were played all along. Unlike the WTF and the Inevitable, the players will only blame themselves after a beautifully executed betrayal.

The Hindsight betrayal is the opposite of the WTF in that, as the DM, you must shower your players with hints about their impending betrayal without ever revealing their doom. Too much info and it tips over into the Inevitable territory. Not enough and the players will be oblivious and WTF’d by the outcome. It’s a narrow and delicate line to tread.  It can involve providing clues that seem unimportant, by distracting the characters with a scapegoat, or an over-abundance of information that mixes truth and falsehood.

The downside of any betrayal is sometimes you’re not as clever as you think you are – or your players are far more clever than you gave them credit for. Always stay prepared for a premature epiphany. If someone does figure out betrayal is inevitable (heh), you have a few options depending on your situation. If the evidence is still in the early stages you can back out of your plans and perhaps play up a sense of unfounded paranoia. This can be great for some games – a sort of “reverse betrayal” in which you can “betray” the party’s sense of distrust and paranoia by surprising the group with intense acts of loyalty or piety from the suspected NPC.

In late stages it may be best to let your plans unravel. Perhaps the villain realizes the gig is up and has to change their tactics to their own disadvantage, or the villain could carry on as usual and your players end up with the upper-hand, surprising the villain with their preparedness. Either way reward, don’t punish, the players for their insight. Allow them to enjoy having the jump on your villain’s plans for a change – you’ll surprise them again soon enough.

Guest Post: Arashidrgn Explores D&D Religion Part 2

Today’s post is a guest post from friend, reader, and writer Arashidrgn. He explores religion and deities in D&D in two parts.

The influence of deities and religion is often overlooked but really has a huge effect in how it shapes the D&D world. Its actually pretty easy to talk about how individuals perceive their gods – after all belief and perception are uniquely subjective to each individual. What about gods and their place in the world? If we absolutely know multiple gods exist, we don’t necessarily know their exact positions and influences in the universe.

Its interesting exploring religious knowledge in D&D because we have canonical information: this celestial realm is here, the gods warred here and at this time, this god lives here, this god eats souls, this god likes ponies, etc. So I had to explore theoretical ideas about how people think where the gods fit into their universe without this empirical knowledge – because what the game designer dictates isn’t necessarily what the imaginary inhabitants in our fantasy world actually know. In other words: “The gods work in mysterious ways”.

Part II – Philosphy Pie

The Clockwork Universe

The Clockwork Universe is a particular viewpoint on the relationship between the gods and the mortal realm. It may be held by any deific practice. Omni-deific individuals most commonly hold this viewpoint. Whatever the reason, this religious philosophy thinks of the gods as architects and designers and the world is a great clockwork machine. Once the gods set the machine in motion they stepped back and let it run by itself.

This religious philosophy holds that the gods have a very small or no guiding hand in the petty affairs of mortals. The gods watch the universe from afar but rarely intervene in the affairs of the world. There are a number of explanations for why the gods do not intervene in the affairs of mortals. Some consider that to the gods an individual or even large group is insignificant in the eyes of the gods, or to the gods a single lifespan is too short to hold lasting meaning to gods who are eternal. The most predominant theory is that the gods have agreed amongst themselves to refrain from meddling directly with the mortal realm to prevent wars between the gods.

This religious philosophy sees the tenants of the gods as a set of guidelines they wish mortals to follow; however, since the gods do not take an active part in monitoring or punishing a mortal for breaking their tenants it is up to the individuals own dedication and integrity to adhere to them. Mortals who live their life very closely to the tenants of their god and are wholly devoted to their cause gain divine benefits and boons becoming clerics and paladins of their varying faiths. It is like each individual is a potential cog, axle, or spring and if they are right for the job their god will set them in motion with their blessings.

Because the gods are seen as taking no direct action in the universe, to anyone who believes in the clockwork universe they are ready to stand up and act taking a proactive involvement in affairs around them. Other religious philosophies that believe in praying and waiting for divine salvation are considered foolish. To The Clockwork Universe mortals must act on their own in order for anything to be done. The gods will only support the actions of mortals. Because of this those that practice of The Clockwork Universe hold self-reliance in great esteem.

A church of this philosophy is more likely to have active involvement. A church of Avandra may actively build roads between major trade routes or missions out on the frontier while a church to Erathis may train a police force to enforce the laws of the land.

Prayer for The Clockwork Universe is given less emphasis than in other practices. Typically prayers are made as a request for guidance or blessings in ones actions rather than for ones deity to solve their problems for them. While it is believed the gods hear their prayers the answers to them are much less direct. A request for knowledge may be answered by a readily available library or mentor. A request to defeat an enemy comes by receiving divine strength in fighting instead of a bolt of lightning striking them down. Whatever the answer, it will come from something already in place or already in motion.

The views of The Clockwork Universe can sometimes become pessimistic. Some consider the fact that the gods do not take direct action in the universe as abandonment and come to believe, “If the gods don’t want to take care of the world, then it is no longer their world. It should belong to those that must live within it.” This tangent view on The Clockwork Universe has spurred warlords to conquer great expanses or warlocks to summon terrible demons for power.

The Great Game

This concept is most commonly applied to a mono-deific or radiant-deific viewpoint. It is a viewpoint on the interactions between the gods themselves and the reasons for how they interact with the mortal realm. This idea is neither mutual exclusive or inclusive with The Clockwork Universe.

The Great Game is a concept which describes the mortal realm as a large and complex game and each of the gods as the players. The rules to this game are seen as being too vast for mortals to understand; however, it is commonly thought that the stakes are mortal souls and that mortals themselves act as pawns and other pieces on the board.

This concept spurs, or is spurred from, the gods being in conflict with one another. It is not agreed upon exactly what ‘winning’ is in the great game. To worshipers of Erathis having the most advanced, widespread, or prosperous cities may be sufficient while worshipers of Pelor see it as having the largest population of followers and the longest lasting church. Furthermore, followers of Bane, Gruumsh, or Kord focus on individual or military victory over worshipers of other gods in combat.

Whatever the goals of the gods in The Great Game, it is the responsibility of the individual to follow the tenets of their god in order for them to win. Those that believe in this concept often have a ‘my god is better than your god’ attitude. Any aspect that can be considered rival point between gods becomes a competition. Churches of Moradin and Erathis may try to best each other by building a larger church than the other, while Ioun and Corellon compete in scholastic competitions.

The Great Game is also sometimes referred to when mortals attempt to explain why gods act a certain way or why they keep the tenants that they do. The cultivation of nature praised by Melora might be a play to combat Erathis strength in civilization and cities. It is also considered that the gods may ‘make moves’ looking at the world in terms of centuries or generations. The actions that worshipers make may not pay out during their lifetime but will pay off for their children’s children. This is a common concept for Dwarves who worship Moradin as they begin building temples and strongholds which they will not see completed in their lifetime.

The Great Game best lends itself to Mono-Deific beliefs because of the close attachment and loyalty to their god. When The Great Game is referred to in a Radiant-Deific sense it is often a reminder that while all of the good aligned gods are working together to defeat evil; ultimately, each god has their own goals to achieve. This can often be used to imply that the alliance between good aligned gods may not last forever and is only a temporary truce until a more common threat is removed.

Believers in the Great Game who also follow The Clockwork Universe especially believe they hold direct control over whether or not their god wins. These individuals or religious groups often spend a great deal of time in religious practice and study in order to make themselves more valuable pieces on the board. Some who follow this concept attempt to interpret the game and base their actions on what they believe to be the winning move for their god. Others may adopt this ideology to give justification for their actions. Cults with skewed motivations from the gods they worship will arise from time to time in this manner.

The term The Great Game was originally coined by Halflings who preferred to put a lighter spin on the conflicts between gods. They also found it easier to apply terminology found in more universally known and understood games to explain the actions of the divine. The Great Game is a more modern alteration to the term which was originally coined as, “The Great Card Game.” When describing the game to other races like humans terms like ‘pawn’ that refer to other types of games became more common and the title was changed to be more inclusive. Worshipers of more militaristic deities may refer to this concept as The Great War.

The Celestial Garden

The Celestial Garden is a concept to describe the relation of how the gods view the mortal realm. It is juxtaposed to The Great Game point of view. It describes the world as large farm or garden and the gods as its caretakers.

In this view the gods goal is to raise and cultivate the world to make it healthy and prosperous. It is considered that there are varying views between the gods and their followers regarding what is considered to be prosperous. As described in The Great Game gods of combat may regard great warriors as prosperous while other revere civilization or the bounty of nature to be true prosperity. It is thought if the world is a great communal garden to the gods they would have differing views as to what should grow there.

The primary difference between this viewpoint and The Great Game is the scale of and reason for conflict between deities. In this viewpoint the only reason for conflict between gods stems from when their goals for The Celestial Garden are mutually exclusive. For example Erathis and Melora are constantly at odds between the desire for civilization and nature. In this way struggles between the gods are viewed more as territorial disputes than a desire to win and dominate another god’s realm. As such those who take this point of view are more open to resolve conflicts through negotiation and reaching common ground.

The Celestial Garden is a common viewpoint for those that practice radiant-deificisim. Those with this particular perspective see the deities of good as wanting to see the world thrive and being willing to set aside differences to make that happen; however, the evils gods are unwilling to compromise and are inclined to see the destruction of the garden in order to get their way.

Organizations that believe in The Celestial Garden general concern themselves more with creating and building. Worshipers of Erathis would focus on creating great structures or a follower of Ioun collects a vast library of knowledge. Kord’s warriors might be seen as the defenders of the garden and the creations of all of the other gods. While this viewpoint may seem counter intuitive to Kord as the lord of battle; however, this viewpoint is right in line with his tenant, “Be strong, but do not use your strength for wanton destruction.”