Gods and Mortals

Another post in the same week? Bloody Hell, I must have too much spare time on my hands…

Anyway, in this post I’d thought I’d share some images I’ve managed to successfully create used StarryAI for the Rushlight rules. I seem to be getting the hang of using this software, although sometimes the prompts you put in don’t always bring back what you intend, but DO generate an image that can be used.

The FAQ’s for the App states, “You are the copyright owner of your creations as long as you have the right to use any initial images used in generating the creation.” As all the images I’ve generated have been via the App without using a base image, I am assuming that this means the below belong to me – which is quite cool.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to a couple of important NPC’s for the World of Rushlight, as well as the gods that were mentioned in my last post.

This is Sir Gideon, current Master of the Knights of Helios in Mourne. A straightfoward and somewhat humourless man, Sir Gideon is a master combatant, although those who face him sometimes underestimate him, due to his age.

This is Lord Eldyn, the current ruler of the city-state of Port Eidyn, which whilst physically located on the east cost of Norland, is not actually part of Norland. In Port Eidyn, anything can be bought or sold… as long as you have the coin. Lord Eldyn oversees the running of this port city, ensuring that it remains neutral in any conflicts. It is alleged that he has formed a pact with a Storm Hag to protect the port from those who would plunder its wealth. Whilst no proof of this exists, the number of hostile vessels that have been wrecked off its shores does lend some credence to this rumour…

As you might have guessed, tis is Helios, Lord of Light, the primary deity worshipped in the civilised lands.

And this is his sister, Selen, the Silver Princess, goddess of the moon and patron of those who hunt the evils that stalk the night.

Next up, the four rebellious deities that were banished by Helios and became known as the Whispering Gods.

This is Cyrene, Muse of Ruinous Obsession, Goddess of Forbidden Knowledge.

Kaustos, Lord of Fiery Destruction, God of Slaughter.

Mavia, Lady of Discord and Insanity, Goddess of Madness.

And finally, Morbus, the Plague Lord, God of Pestilence.

The two mortals were one of the four images initially generated by the program, but the initial images generated for the six gods were almost but not quite right. What I did with these was to choose the best of the four initial images, then use the ‘Evolve’ function, which generates a further four images based on the image chosen – so kind of like variations on a theme. The images above were the ones that I felt best represented the deities concerned.

The World of Rushlight

As I’ve been beavering away on the background for this setting, I thought I’d share a little more of the history of this world, events which occurred prior to the current age. Let me know what you think!

Many centuries ago, a civilisation arose, centred on the Aurassic Islands to the North of the Isle of Mourne. It was a civilisation of great scholars and brought forth an age of great prosperity and learning.

The primary deity worshipped by this civilisation was Helios, the Lord of Light, and the people of this civilisation called themselves Solarians, in honour of their god.

However, the volcanic islands that the Solarians occupied were not blessed with much in the way of natural resources and as the less civilised lands to their South were inhabited by warring tribes of barbarians, trade with these lands was all but impossible.

Aurelian, leader of the Council of Sages, proposed that as the barbaric people of the South refused to trade, and did not realise the benefits this would garner them, perhaps their resources should be taken by force.

This did not sit well with the Council, as they had always promoted the idea of diplomacy over aggression, but Aurelian’s arguments began to sway the more power-hungry members of the council.

Whether Aurelian was influenced by one of the lesser gods of the Solarian pantheon, whispering in his ear as he slept, is unknown, but Aurelian plotted behind the scenes and began to subtly discredit those who opposed his views. In cases where this was not successful, he employed more direct means and a spate of ‘accidental’ deaths occurred, until his will was unopposed.

Aurelian then declared himself the first emperor of Solaria and thus rose the Solarian Empire, borne of blood and violence.

The Rise of the Solarian Empire

The Solarian Empire spread southwards from the Aurassic Islands, initially occupying the Isle of Mourne and imposing its rule on the peoples of this land and taking their resources as their own.

However, this was not enough for Aurelian, and his eyes fell upon the greater continent of Ortania.

As the soldiers of the Solarian Empire were highly trained, dedicated and many, bolstered by the conscripts from the lands it had conquered, the Solarian legions invaded Ortania, slowly but surely increasing their hold on the lands of men, until most of the continent was under their control.

The Seeds of Destruction

The Solarian Empire held sway for many centuries, occupying Mourne and much of Ortania, ruled by a dynasty of emperors from the capital city of Heliopolis, on the largest of the volcanic Aurassic Islands.

However, trouble was brewing.

Emperor Magnus had stated that the sun would never set on the Solarian Empire, as it was blessed by Helios himself, and therefore the worship of any god other than Helios was declared heresy.

As the emperor’s word was law, there followed a period in which the worship of gods other than Helios was brutally suppressed.

Whilst most of the populace bowed down to this, the worshippers of the moon goddess Selene merely removed themselves from public view, continuing their worship and practices in secret.

Some of the lesser gods of the Solarian pantheon approached Helios, arguing that this monopoly of worship was unfair and would diminish their powers. Helios listened to their pleas, but was proud of what his worshippers had achieved.

‘Look at what my followers have created,’ he said, ‘An empire that spans the World. What have your followers done of note? Nothing that compares to this. Had you been less afraid to employ you godly might, you might not now be in the position of losing it.’

Kaustos, Lord of Fiery Destruction, gathered together a group of disaffected lesser gods, stating that unless something was done, they faced extinction, as their powers would dwindle as their worshippers turned away from them. As the Solarian Empire was the seat of the Church of Helios’ power, he reasoned that its destruction would break Helios’ hold, allowing the populace to worship whichever god they chose.

Whilst many of the gathered gods balked at such extreme measures, a handful were swayed by his rhetoric – Mavia, Lady of Discord and Insanity; Morbus, the Plague Lord; and Cyrene, Muse of Ruinous Obsession.

Realising that Heliopolis was not only the wellspring of the Church of Helios, but also the lynchpin that held the Solarian Empire together, they chose this as their target. As Helios kept a careful watch upon his favoured city, they knew that they must be subtle with their machinations, starting small, to ensure that once Helios eventually realised what was happening, it would be too late to prevent it.

Morbus descended upon the continent of Ortania, infusing part of his essence into the smallest of agents – the humble flea. Thus, the plague known as the Yellow Death began to spread across the land, carried unwittingly to other shores on the backs of rats.

Cyrene then began her part, posing as a well-travelled scholar returned from distant lands, carrying with her ancient tomes of arcane knowledge – knowledge that she speculated may hold the cure to the Yellow Death. Of course, this was merely a ruse, as the books contained forbidden lore, lore that corrupted those that read it, causing them to believe that the ends justified the means, no matter what the cost.

Mavia manifested as a courtesan, whose ethereal beauty caught the eye of the Emperor, and was soon sharing his bed. She shared the supposed rumours and gossip that she had overheard, causing the emperor to become paranoid and fearful that those he considered his trusted advisors were plotting to overthrow him.

And whilst these individual strands began to weave together, Kaustos laboured beneath the ground, using his powers to reignite the long-dormant volcano that cast its looming shadow over the great city of Heliopolis.

The Fall of Heliopolis

Disease ran rampant through the Empire, finally reaching the streets of Heliopolis, where the dead lay where they fell, their bodies covered with weeping yellow sores.

The emperor, having dispatched assassins to rid himself of his perceived enemies, had finally succumbed to madness and locked himself away in his palace, refusing to acknowledge that any problems existed beyond its walls.

Those sages who had searched within the forbidden texts, believing they had discovered a cure, rashly performed a sorcerous ritual to restore those who had perished to life. And the dead did rise, as unliving abominations who stalked the streets, preying on those who still drew breath.

And above the city, ominous clouds of smoke rose from the mountain…

The priests of Helios cried out to their god, asking why he had forsaken them. Helios looked down, shocked not only by what he saw, but also that he had failed to notice it sooner.

Realising that these occurrences were not of natural origin, Helios descended from his throne into the city that bore his name.

Extending his senses, he caught the scent of godly power, and stalked through the streets, seeking those who had wrought this damage.

The three conspirators, sending his presence, retreated beneath the mountain, joining Kaustos in the fire-lit chamber.

Helios confronted the rebel gods below the mountain, entreating them to end their destruction, but was rebuffed.

Tremors shook the city of Helipolis, as the gods unleashed their powers upon one another, seeking victory. However, the mortal plane was not meant for such displays of godly might, causing the now-active volcano to erupt with such magnitude that it not only destroyed Heliopolis, but most of the island on which it stood, leaving nothing behind except for a smoking caldera.

The Retreat of the Gods

Whilst Helios had emerged triumphant, much of his godly might had been expended in the battle.

However, realising that his own pride and hubris has caused this chain of events, he made a vow that he would protect his people, his world, from these rebel gods for eternity. He gathered the remnants of his power about him and banished the rebels gods outside of existence, imprisoned forever more beyond the realm of Man.

This took a heavy toll on him and he returned above much diminished, no longer able to manifest upon the mortal plane.

These rebellious deities – Kaustos, Mavia, Morbus and Cyrene – whose names were soon lost to antiquity, became known collectively as the Whispering Gods.

They wait beyond the walls of existence, sending dreams through cracks in reality, to those minds receptive to their will, their only goal to escape from their prison and wreak dire vengeance upon the world of Man.

Electric Dreams

Strangely, two of the blogs I follow have both recently posted regarding the use of AI generated artwork – namely Harry over at War Across the Ages and Dave Morris (he of White Dwarf, Dragon Warriors – amongst many other things – fame) at Fabled Lands.

Now, whilst I do consider myself a “reasonable” artist (i.e. things I draw usually look like what they are supposed to), people won’t be banging down my door for an original Winstanley.

Having seen what could be achieved utilising an AI art program, and based on Harry’s recommendations, I decided to download and give StarryAI a try, as the rules I’m currently adapting could do with some artwork.

What you have to remember is that StarryAI is a computer program, so the more ‘prompts’ (i.e. instructions) you give it, the closer to what you want you’re going to get.

For example, if you put in ‘Medieval pirate port city,’ which I thought was pretty straight-forward, you get this;

Which, whilst cool, wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

However, one you get the hang of what kind of input the program needs, you can get closer to what you want.

So, in the Rushlight settting, the Whispering Gods can imbue mortals with some of their power, creating avatars that can act on their behalf.

The avatar of Kaustos, lord of fiery destruction, for example, is known as the Burning Knight.

Now, as I ideally wanted a medieval style illustration, my prompts were ‘evil burning knight, medieval illustration, woodcut, Gustav Dore.’ Of the four pictures I got back, the one below was the best;

Having seemed to have got the ‘prompts’ right, I tried for the Avatar of Mavia, lady of discord and insanity, more commonly known as the Pied Piper. Of the pictures the program returned, the one below struck a chord, although the piper doesn’t appear to be piping;

As I said to Harry in the comments on his original post, whilst I can see the utility of using such programs, I can’t see it ever replacing human artists. An AI can compare various pieces of artwork accessible on the web and create art that apes this, but lacking imagination or a human perpective, they’ll always be something not quite right about it.

However, if you’re writing a Call of Cthulhu adventure and what some unique and slightly disturbing artwork for free, StarryAI has got your back;

Lost at Sea?

For those who regular visit this humble blog, you will have noticed that my last post was on 1st November 2022. Now whilst some (I’m looking at your, Keith) may be of the opinion that my absence relates to battling Tharks in the skies over Barsoom, clad in little more than a a leather posing pouch, this is not the case.

Yes, I may have been on board a ship during the month of December and yes, at one point I did have a sword in my hand, but this was on the Atlantic and there were no green entities on board (other than those people experiencing mal de mer as we traversed the Bay of Biscay).

And no, it wasn’t a pirate ship either…

And no, I wasn’t starring in a period crime drama, where a well-dressed, middle-aged man solves supernatural crimes, using his extensive library, no matter what the picture below would suggest.

I was actually cruising around the Canary Islands for the Christmas and New Year period, a a guest of my father-in-law, who had decided to take us all away for the holidays.

Prior to leaving for this long-anticipated break, my daughter was involved in a car accident, the end result of which was that the insurance company wrote it off as a total loss. Fortunately, she was uninjured, but the car, not to put too finer a point on it, was fucked. Whilst I was provided with a hire car, a hideous Citroen C3 that drove like a brick, due to the upcoming holiday, sourcing a new vehicle and gathering the necessary finances would have to wait until I was back in the UK in the New Year.

Understandably, hobby-time was limited, hence that lack of posts.

However, I haven’t been completely idle when it comes to hobby-related pursuits. Although no paints, brushes or miniatures have been touched so far in the New Year, I have been busy adapting the Romance of the Perilous Land rules to a different setting. As the author of these rules had posted various addendum to the published rules on his blog and Osprey had issued an errata sheet, I decided to consolidate ALL of this information into one typed-up document, then alter the setting to one that suited me better.

The original setting for Romance of the Perilous Land, as described in my review here, is a fictionalised version of “folkloric Britain” where both Robin Hood and King Arthur exist side-by-side. This mash-up, whilst interesting, didn’t quite do it for me. My initial thought was to adapt the rules for the Ravenloft setting, but this proved problematic, as new rules would have to have been added to take into account the genre of the setting, as well as the addition of flintlock firearms, as a fair few domains of the Core are Renaissance level, whereas RoPL is firmly medieval in flavour.

As RoPL also has no direct analogue for the Christian church, as the occupants worship gods derived from Celtic mythology, those scenarios that feature large religious institutions such as abbeys, monasteries and the like could not be used, as these do not exist within the Perilous Land.

So, in order to utilise my existing catalogue of medieval-flavoured scenarios culled from various gaming magazines over the years, I decided to create my own setting, which is a fictional version of medieval Europe, with analogues for the major powers around at that time. However, as with most things I do, there is an element of lurking darkness, represented by the Whispering Gods.

These entities were once worshipped as gods by denizens of this world, but were banished to the spaces ‘beyond’ by Helios, the primary god of this world, after their machinations caused the destruction of the Solarian Empire, the primary centre of Helios’ worship.

But whilst they are imprisoned and their power diminished, they seek to return to the mortal realms and finish what they started. Their dreaming forms inveigle their way into the minds of susceptible folk, promising them power, riches, whatever they want, in return for helping them to break the chains that imprison them. Should they secure their freedom and walk the land, this would result in an apocalyptic event of unprecedented proportions.

Whilst I am still working on the minutiae of the setting, I thought I would provide the Introduction I have typed for this setting to give some flavour. Enjoy!

  A lone piper plays in an isolated shepherd’s hut, surrounded by swirling female dancers. As they turn, their skirt hems lift, revealing the cloven hooves of deer. The piper prays to his god for the strength to continue playing until dawn, as if he falters, he knows the baobhan sith who surround him will claim his life…

  A black-clad figure stealthily creeps through the dim interior of a chapel dedicated to Selene, eyes focused on the silver chalice resting on the altar. His movement ceases as a grinding noise reaches his ears and he raises his eyes to the rafters, starting in horror as the gargoyle carved into the pillar slowly turns its head towards him, then begins its slow descent to the ground…

  An armoured knight pauses in a shadowed glade, as furtive movement in the bushes surrounding him catches his attention. Drawing his sword, the knight prepares for battle as several stunted forms, armed with a variety of  gore-encrusted weapons, emerge from the undergrowth, each one wearing a pointed red cap…

  A lone robed traveller, walking the rolling hills of Cambria, rounds an outcropping to come face-to-face with the scaly bulk of a wyvern. As it stalks forward, tail whipping, he carefully reaches into the pouch at his waist, using the stick of charcoal to inscribe a rune upon his palm. After a swift incantation, fire blooms in his outstretched hand, ready to be cast in the face of the oncoming threat…

  The is the world of Rushlight, a place where magic can be wielded by those who know how to tap into the Weave, brave knights ride across the land upholding the oaths they have sworn themselves to, and crafty thieves slip through the shadows seeking to fill their pockets at the expense of others.

  But whilst it is a land of adventure, where those who hear the call can ascend from lowly beginnings to become a hero whose name is on the lips of all across the land, perils both mundane and supernatural lurk in the shadows.

  The fey denizens of the Otherworld regularly cross into the mortal realms, sometimes merely playing mischievous pranks on those whose paths they cross, but on other occasions spiriting away their victims into the Otherworld for reasons known only to themselves.

  Brutish ogres, vicious redcaps and wizened hags lurk on the outskirts of civilisation, preying on those villagers who fail to take the necessary precautions when venturing into the wild.

  And those who have been seduced by the veiled promises of the Whispering Gods seek to free their imprisoned masters, not realising the implications of unleashing these unnatural alien beings upon the world.

  These are the threats that face the common folk of the world of Rushlight and it takes a particular type of hero to stand against them. For those who take this calling, the rewards are great, but so is the danger they face.

  Do YOU have what it takes to stem the tide of darkness that threatens the land?

  You are about to find out…

Character Building

His name was Weaver and he claimed that he was merely a travelling herbalist.

However, certain members of the party had seen him perform minor acts of magic and his pet crow appeared to be somewhat more intelligent than normal, so they believed him to be a mage…

Other members of the party had witnessed him slipping through the shadows, to suddenly materialise behind a sentry, and, after a brief struggle, leave the guard dead on the ground, eyes glassy and green foam dripping from the corner of their mouth. These party members assumed he was some kind of assassin…

Whatever the party believed, as Weaver would either launch into an elaborate tale that was clearly made up on the spot or merely smile, they learnt that if they came across an intricate, elaborate puzzle or trap, Weaver was the best person to deal with it.

Weaver was actually a 2E Bard, who’d taken the Riddlemaster kit and spent 2 additional slots on the Herbalism Non-Weapon Proficiency to allow him to brew some low-level poisons (with the agreement of the DM). He never used his bardic inspiration, because he was a bit of a self-serving, mercenary git. However, he was great fun to play and, unlike some of the party, when facing a rampaging red dragon, did not stand in the open on a stone bridge… so was able to tell the tale afterwards.

I recently came across his character sheet when having a sort out and thought it might be a fun exercise to see if I could recreate him using the Romance of the Perilous Land rules, as it does share some similarities with AD&D. However, as the RoPL Bard class features are all about performance and provide buffs for allies, debuffs for foes and minor healing (for some reason), the Bard class is not the best choice for recreating this character under this ruleset.

But if you select the Thief class, this gives you access to the full set of Thief class features (Sneak Attack at 1st lvl, Trapfinder at 3rd, Critical Stike at 5th, Disguise at 7th and Deadly Strike at 9th), a choice of Acrobatics, Bluff, Perception, Stealth and Thievery (choose 3 of 5), light and medium ranged and melee weapons and light and medium armour. Plus you automatically get a dagger, leather armour and set of lockpicks.

Now, if you combine this with the Assassin background from the Heroes of Avalon supplement (available for a very reasonable $2.00 here) you get Nature and Stealth skills as bonuses and get access to 5 talents that are only available to Assassins, including Poison Crafter, which allows you to “spend 10 minutes creating one poison with a single use” (there is a list of 5 poisons with specific effects within the supplement). However, if you take Magic Initiate at 1st level, rather than an assassin talent, this allows your character to “cast spells up to level 1,” which gives you the minor spellcasting ability that you would associate with the 2E bard.

So, we now have a 1st level Thief, with the Assassin background, who can cast 0 and 1st level spells, and when he hits 2nd level, will be able to craft his own poisons. This is basically what the concept of Weaver was when I tried to shoehorn him into the AD&D 2E rules, so RoPL actually made it easier to create this character. And there’s more…

Because the rules give an overview of each of the eleven kingdoms, based on my concept, I can easily slot him into the game’s background. So, Weaver (if that’s his real name) is from Lyonesse, and was trained by the Night Ward, a secret organisation of assassins that dispose of spellcasters in that land. Whilst King Meliodas officially denounces their actions, he privately appreciates their work (as he fears all spellcasters) and fails to crack down on their activity. However, when Weaver discovered his own spellcasting ability, he realised that if this talent was revealed, he would be the next victim of the Night Ward, so ran south. Finding Eastland to be a bit too lawless, he fled further south and ended up in Ascalon. Unfortunately, this was where he was caught and rather than compete in Hykaria’s death pits where criminals fight to reduce their sentences, is now working off his debt as an indentured ‘servant’ to Lord Talbot.

Now, once you have a character you want to play, you then start casting about for a miniature to represent them and having heard good things about HeroForge, I decided to see if I could translate the image I had in my mind’s eye of Weaver into an actual miniature.

So, this is the closest I could get to Weaver from my mind’s eye, so what will HeroForge charge me for having my own custom-built miniature? Let’s have a look…

$19.99?! And that doesn’t included shipping?!

Well, whilst it’s a nice idea, I think that’s a little out of my price range. However, as I am the Master of Web Fu and can generally find a figure to represent anything I want, I’m sure we can do better than THAT…

So, Dungeons & Dragons Critical Role Unpainted Miniatures Hollow One Rogue and Sorcerer Male, from Wizkids. Approximately a fiver (£5.00) for both figures, so I get a figure to represent Weaver for £2.50 and a weird sorcerer chappie to use elsewhere. Result!

And to be quite honest with you, I prefer the figure I found to the one I actually built, as it looks more like what I think Weaver should look like. AND I happened to find that my FLGS had one pack in stock, so I didn’t even have to pay shipping!

My Web Fu is Strong…

The Perfect Game?

With the resurgence in TTRPGs, which gained a big boost due to the COVID pandemic, as people discovered that they could spend an entertaining evening with friends slaying monsters over Zoom and other online platforms, this could be described as a “Golden Age” for gaming.

However, what if you’re new to the hobby and have had no experience of what is expected in these sessions? A new player, presented with weighty tomes setting out the rules that they believe that they must learn, can be somewhat daunted, especially if they’ve been nominated as the GM.

A search online can provide a plethora of GM advice, much of it contradictory and then there are those videos of “professional” gamers, such as Matt Mercer, that really don’t help that much, as you can begin to despair that you’ll never be good enough to actually run a game.

So, what makes the perfect game, if such a thing exists?

It’s actually very simple. The perfect game is one in which everyone enjoys themselves.

You don’t need to be the best actor in the world, characterising every NPC with unique voices, spent months crafting a fully realised fictional world for your players to adventure within or have memorised every rule of your chosen ruleset in minute detail – you just need to commit to the game, so that both yourself and your players have a good time.

Whilst it’s unlikely that your players will thank you directly, if you happen to overhear them later saying things like “Do you remember when we were trapped on that giant stone head in the jungle, surrounded by cannibal tribesmen, out of ammunition and we had to use flaming monkey carcasses to fend them off? That was wild…” then you know you’ve done a good job.

And that’s reward enough.

For those of you who still feel that you need further guidance, or just want to see what a proper game of D&D should look like, I would suggest you check out the TableTopNotch YouTube channel. This details a D&D campaign played by a group of friends who are actors/comedians who have never played a TTRPG before. It’s a truly entertaining watch and you can tell that everyone is having a lot of fun, even if they don’t always succeed at what they’re attempting to do. I came across it by chance and have been working my way through Season 1.

It’s rekindled my desire to actually play a game, rather than just talk about gaming, so I’ve been beavering away behind the scenes (hence the lack of regular posts here) putting together an introductory adventure for Romance of the Perilous Land. Once I start running this, I’ll be writing up these adventures and posting them here, but what format these will take I’m not yet certain. It will give me the opportunity to give the rules a thorough playtest, so at least we’ll find out whether they’re any good.

And on a final note, as I work for a haulage company and sometimes items genuinely “fall of the back of a lorry” and it costs more for the supplier to ship them back, I managed to score 5 full sets of official D&D dice this week. Result!

Romance of the Perilous Land – A Review

Now that I’ve got my grubby little hands on my copy of Romance of the Perilous Land (hereafter referred to as RoPL), I thought I’d do a review of the book and system. As this is the first time I’ve actually done a review, it may meander all over the place, so bear with me.

So, let’s start with the physical properties of the book itself. It’s a 256 page hardback, but quite dinky, being only 9 1/4 inches tall by 6 1/4 inches wide, so easily portable to your gaming sessions without causing undue stress to you shoulder. Full colour throughout, with the pages being glossy and designed to look like aged parchment, which doesn’t detract from being able to read the text. Lots of full-colour artwork, some full-page, with a mix of ‘classic’ looking art, similar to the style of a Ladybird Book of King Arthur, should such a thing exist.

Now the system is apparently derived from something called ‘Black Hack’, which is apparently “super-streamlined roleplaying game that uses the Original 1970s Fantasy Roleplaying Game as a base.” Which I guess means it’s based on the original Basic D&D from 1977…

Anyway, characters have 5 attributes:- Might, Reflex, Constitution, Mind and Charisma, which correspond to Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence and Charisma in D&D terms. However, there is no corresponding Wisdom attribute. Generating scores is a simple matter of rolling 4d6 and keeping the best three rolls, which are then assigned to the attributes. Now, this is where we get into what I consider to be a strength of the system. These attributes, rather than being numbers which then generate sub-bonuses or penalties, are actually used during play. If you want to do anything, such as picking a lock, climbing a wall, or attacking something, you roll against the relevant attribute – and it’s roll under. You roll a d20, and try to get under your score, with a 1 being an automatic success and a 20 being an automatic failure. Similarly, all saving throws are rolled against the relevant attribute, rather than a sub-table. Trying to resist being charmed? Roll under your Charisma. It’s a simple. yet elegant system.

Once you’ve got your attributes, you select a Class from the six listed, which are Knight, Ranger, Cunning Folk, Thief, Barbarian or Bard. Knights are your armoured do-gooders, similar to Paladins but without the spellcasting ability, Rangers, Thieves and Bards are similar to their D&D counterparts, Barbarians are effectively Norse beserkers and Cunning Folk are your wizards. However, as magic is rare, only Cunning Folk can actually cast spells. There are no spell-casting priest or clerics in this game.

Each class has a specified Hit Dice, which only comes into play when going up beyond 1st level, as all players begin with a number of Hit Points equal to their Constitution score. This varies from d6 up to d12. They also get assigned armour and weapon proficiencies, which give them access to specific types of weapons and armour, divided into three categories; Light, Medium and Heavy. For example, a Knight has access to Light, Mdium and Heavy melee weapons, Light and Medium ranged weapons and Light, Medium and Heavy Armour. A Cunning Man (or Woman) has access to only Light melee, Light ranged and light armour. You can wear or use other weapons, but this automatically gives the character a ‘Setback’ on rolls.

I’ll digress here to discuss ‘edges’ and ‘setbacks’. These are effectively advantages and disadvantages, so if a character is attempting to do something and has a relevant skill (i.e. they are trained in Thievery, for example), they receive an ‘edge’. Using a weapon that your not proficient in means you have a ‘setback.’ The mechanics of this are very simple – you roll 2d20 and if your have a setback, you take the higher of the two rolls. If you have an ‘edge,’ you take the lowest roll.

Characters also get to choose three starting skills from a list their class has access to, which grant them an ‘edge’ when using that particular skill. All classes also get ‘Class Features’ which are special abilities only accessible by that class, the first of which is granted at 1st level and every other level after that (i.e. 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th level). Once a character reaches 10th level, they are at the top of their game and are considered to be legendary heroes, about whom epics are written.

Character also have access to Talents, and gain one talent at each level. Some of these give additional points to your attributes (which are not limited to your starting rolls and can go as high as 24) to giving additional abilities, like granting non-Cunning Folk the ability to cast low level spells or enhanced ability to see in the dark. Some of these are restricted to specific classes, but the majority can be taken by any character, allowing for a a great deal of customisation.

You also choose a background for your character, i.e. what they were doing before they became an adventurer, which give additional skills and some starting equipment, on top of what they get due to their class.

The final bits around creating a character are choosing a patron deity, if you so wish, and whether you belong to one of the heroic factions that exist in the Perilous Land. I will expand on the deities bit in a bit, but if you choose to belong to a faction, you are pretty much expected to join one of those that are allies of Camelot, so you can become a Knight of the Round Table, one of the Merry Men of Sherwood, a member of the Order of the Fisher King, the Fellowship of Enchanters or the Iron Hawks. These give minor benefits, but are primarily for roleplaying and motivational purposes.

Right, let’s talk about Gods. The gods of the Perilous Land are based on those from Celtic mythology and the religion is polytheistic. There are temples, chapels and churches, but no large religious buildings, such as monasteries or abbeys. I know, because I asked the designer directly. So, whilst it is inspired by Arthurian romances and the legends of Robin Hood and is a mythical analogue for medieval Britian, there is no Christianity or similar faith. There’s nothing to stop you from importing Christianity into your games, it’s just not part of the background, so no gallivanting off overseas to smite the infidels. Similarly, whilst you can select a player background of Priest, this means that you were a priest of Taranis, Nodens or Morrigan, and you won’t derive any particular benefit or powers from being a priest. The list of patron deities does suggest the types of people who worship these gods, so at present, it merely adds colour to your character. However, Scott Malthouse is planning on doing a supplement about the Gods of the Perilous Land, whereby you can take Oaths instead of Talents, thereby tying yourself more closely to your patron deity and deriving benefits from this.

Magic next. Magic is rare and wondrous and fairly low-powered compared to similar fantasy games. the spell list is quite small, but covers both healing, scrying and other magic. Cunning Folk start off with magic points equal to their Mind attribute and each spell has a points cost. If a spell is noted as ‘Instant’, you don’t need to prepare it beforehand and can cast it immediately, as long as you have the spell points remaining. However, casting is not automatic – you have to roll under your mind attribute, modified by the level of the spell you are casting. That’s right, you don’t have to be of a certain level to cast a certain level spell. If you can cast spells, then you can cast ANY level of spell, but the more difficult it is (i.e. higher level) the more chance it has to fail. However, if it fails, you can always try again, as it is not lost if it doesn’t work the first time. You can prepare spells beforehand (a bit like memorising spells in D&D) up to your total spell points, but if you wanted to keep a few points back for emergency instant spells, you can.

Zero level spells are things like ‘A Heavenly Light’ or ‘Sense the Presence of Magic’, up to 10th level spells like ‘Call Upon a Golden Dragon’ to ‘Resurrect the Recently Deceased.’ As you can gather, the spell names pretty much tell you what the spell does.

Regarding magical objects, these aren’t ten a penny like in most fantasy games. You have minor Magical Charms, Enchanted Objects, Legendary Weapons and Armour and the Thirteen Treasures of the Perilous Land. Cunning Folk can imbue weapons with temporary magical enchantments, but unlike certain other games, whilst the creatures are dangerous, they aren’t totally immune to normal weapons, so you won’t be left in the position of not being able to harm what you’re fighting.

The bestiary is reasonably large, covering normal and magical creatures, fairy folk, dragons, the restless dead, hags and giants. However, just because something has a name you’re familiar with, don’t assume it’s the same thing. Ogres in the Perilous Land are a bigger and more dangerous giant, and have two more Hit Dice than your standard giant, so don’t assume a party of 1st level characters can take out an ogre, like they would be able to in D&D.

Creatures only have a few statistics, which are in the most part derived from the Hit Dice. All creatures have Hit Dice, which generates their Target Number, which is what they need to roll under to do anything on a d20. So a 4HD creature will have a TN of 14 (HD+10 is the standard formula) and will have 4d6+4 Hit Points. There is a table which lists the standard damage at each HD level, so our 4HD creature will do 1d6+4 damage. The other stat creatures have is Armour Points. These are deducted from any damage sustained before actually sustaining actual physical damage. (NB: PC armour acts in the same fashion, so a character will have the first X number of points of damage soaked by their armour, before sustaining actual harm. These can be replenished after a battle, which is described as readjusting or fixing the armour). Finally, creatures have any special abilities noted, such as a poisonous bite or reduced damage from particular weapons. It’s pretty straight-forward and makes the stat block of creatures quite small, as you have everything you need in a few entries. And because it’s derived from D&D/AD&D, converting creatures is a breeze, as I’ll demonstrate below.

Right, if we look at the Monstrous Manual entry for a standard wolf, they have 3HD, 1 attack, Damage of 2-5, an Armour Class of 7, usually appear in groups of 2-12 and have no special attacks or defences. The stat block for a standard wolf in RoPL is HD: 3, TN: 13, HP: 3d6+3 (13), Armour points: 3, Attack: Bite (melee), Number appearing: 3-8, Special: If another wolf is within 5ft, the wolf gets a second bite attack.

So, as an unarmoured man in D&D/AD&D is AC 10, we can see that the 3 Armour points corresponds to the -3 AC adjustment, so we can use a similar formula for statting up something not in the rulebook, namely a wild boar.

In AD&D, a wild boar is 3+3 HD, 1 attack, 3-12 damage, Armour Class 7 and appears in groups of 1-12. So, 3+3 HD is greater than 3, so we’ll call it 4 HD, which means we get a Target Number of 14 and 4d6+4 hps (averaging out at 18 points), a 4 HD creature gets standard damage of 1d6+4 and the AC 7 is 3 Armour Points. We’ll knock the number appearing down to 1-8 and give it a special ability, so it now reads as follows:

Wild Boar

HD: 4, TN:14, HP: 4d6+4 (18), Armour Points: 3, Attack: Gore (melee), Damage: 1d6+4, Number Appearing: 1-8, Special: A target damaged by a gore attack must succeed a Reflex saving throw or become prone.

So, if the big pig gores you, there’s a chance it’ll knock you off your feet. As you can see, pretty simple to convert creatures across.

Finally, we have the background on the Perilous Land itself, which describes the eleven kingdoms that make it up, who rules them and notable places on interest in each kingdom. Whilst this is a relatively short section, it does give a flavour of each kingdom, so you get an overall idea of what it’s like and some plot hooks for playing in that area. There is no map in the book, however, which a few reviewers have complained about, which caused Scott to get one commissioned and released on DrivethruRPG, although a rougher version of this is also available on his blog, noted below. So, do you venture in Corbenic, ruled by the mortally wounded Fisher King, his kingdom reflecting the poison that is slowly creeping closer to his heart? Or head north the mountainous land of Escose, whose king send regular sorties out into the mountains to try and stem the growing giant problem, the volunteers being celebrated and feasted before they leave, as not many return? Or head into Sherwood Forest in Eastland, joining with Robin and his Merry Men as he tries to prevent the evil Queen Eleanor and the Sisters of Le Fay from harrying Camelot’s borders? The choice is yours.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my purchase and would recommend this to anyone who wants to run a heroic old school fantasy game. It’s ideal for those new to roleplaying, as it’s a pretty straight-forward system and didn’t cause me to re-read bits because I didn’t understand them. It may not suit those who prefer more ‘crunch’ to their games and if you’re looking for Feat-slinging 5E powerhouses, then go play that game instead.

As it derives it’s roots from the original D&D game, you can convert modules from these over to RoPL (and Scott gives advice on his blog – Trollish Delver – if you want to do this) and play in whatever world you want. There is wealth of free material on the above blog, that you can add to your game and Scott has released some additional supplements on both DrivethruRPG and Itch.io. The Osprey website also has a free scenario, errata for their published edition and a character sheet, all in both printer friendly and full colour version.

And if you have any questions regarding the game, you can contact him directly – I did and he answered me almost the next day, which was faster than I expected.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the Crow Knight has heard rumours of a Bugbear terrorising a village in Ascalon, so following his knightly code, must sally forth and do battle with this unnatural beast.

Monster May(hem): The Last Straw…

I’ll have to admit, I was getting a little concerned that I wasn’t going to get my “monster” completed before the end of May.

I’d sat down, fully intending on making some in-roads into everything I’d previously started, then discovered that the reading glasses I use for detail painting had snapped, meaning I couldn’t use them.

My mother-in-law had given me one of those magnifier headsets, with removable lenses, so I thought this would be an ideal time to try them out…

Shouldn’t have bothered. For something supposedly designed for this exact purpose, they were remarkably crap. The lenses are too small, so you’re almost cross-eyed using them and whilst they are standard magnifications, I couldn’t find one that met my needs. I ended up going out and buying a cheap pair of 3.5 magnification reading glasses for 99p – whichnis what I should have done in the first place.

So, the only thing I’d managed to do during this debacle was give the figure and base an undercoat of Docrafts Linen.

As this is pale yellowy-white, I thought it would give me a head start on making it look like straw.

I then lined up my yellow and brown paints to see what would be the best colour to go for next. I ended up using an ancient pot of GW Swamp Brown, which is more yellow than brown.

And now we were cooking with gas!

The next stage wad to provide some depth, with a wash of brown. Viewing various images of hay bales online, I decided that probably Docrafts Chocolate Brown would be the best option, so a watery solution of this was mixed, then liberally applied to the model. I also used the same colour, but unwatered, to paint the muddy base.

Looking at the model, I thought it looked a little one note, so went back online to se how others had painted it. Unsurprisingly, the first one that came up was the one from Crooked Dice’s website, followed by one on Brummie’s Wargaming blog and Simon’s version at Fantorical.

Looking at all three, I noted that both CD’s and Simon’s had varigations in the painting, which upon closer inspection of both the pictures and the model itself, I realised were actually branches/sticks lashed into it’s body. Looking at the brown paint I had, I decided they were a bit too brown, so mixed some Chocolate Brown with some Docrafts Dark Grey until I had a colour I was happy with. All the ‘sticks’ were then painted and some of the bindings given a highlight of Linen.

As I wanted the eyes of the Straw Man to look as though they were glowing, I filled the cavities with a generous wash of GW Mithril Silver, followed by a coat of GW Bogey Green, which I also used to touch up the straw round the eye holes, to look as if the light was reflecting from within.

I then turned my attention to the base, giving the broken planks another coat of Linen, then washed the mud part of tge base with Docrafts Burnt Ochre. The planks then got a wash of mid-grey, as wood tends to go this colour if left untreated and then weathered.

I was almost going to call it done, but something was niggling at me. If you’ve ever been to a farm or anywhere that has hay or straw, it doesn’t matter how well bound it is, you always get stray strands scattered about. That’s what was missing.

Luckily, the sewing tin had a reel of cotton the right colour, so several lengths were cut, then PVA painted around the figure’s feet. I then sprinkled these about, adjusting where necessary, until it looked right.

I think it adds a little something.

So, Monster May(hem) done and with time to spare. As I had to wait for the figure to dry, I decided to crack on with AND finish my Action Man-inspired figures.

First, the finally completed Bulletman;

Next, Atomic Man;

And yes, he does have the silver piping on his sleeves;

And finally, what was originally a HeroQuest plastic Fimir, but with a little Carrion Crow magic, is now The Intruder- “Action Man’s Greatest Enemy”;

And as the three above are “Forgotten Heroes” this leads nicely into the announcement for this year’s ‘community art project.’

For those who are not aware of what this is… where have you been? We’ve only been doing this every year since 2016!

Joking aside, if you’ve not taken part before, the “rules” are simple:-

During the month of June, you must produce a recognisable figure of a character that has either not had an official or unofficial figure made of them or has, but you want your own version.

Any scale, any genre – your choice. You want to paint up a GW Imperial Commissar as Marshal Law? Go ahead! You want to sculpt the ultimate version of Venom? Go for it! You want to use a discarded Hulk action figure head to make a 28mm version of M.O.D.O.K.? Um… I may have beaten you to it…

If you want to take part, just drop a comment on here and I’ll add you to the blogroll. Your first post should introduce the character, as if it’s a touch obscure (like when I did Bananaman) people may not know who it is.

Any questions regarding this, feel free to ask. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun, so no need to take it too seriously and, if you do rake part, at the end of June, you’ll have a unique figure that no one else has.

Roll on Forgotten Heroes 2022!

Monster May(hem): Lost in the Mists

I can’t quite believe that I haven’t posted on here since March…

Whilst what time I did have spare has been used for hobby-related pursuits, it’s not been miniature-based and not really stuff that could be posted about.

And no, Keith, I’ve not been battling sky-pirates on Barsoom, clad in an outfit that would put Sean Connery to shame…

I was actually scooped up by the Mists of Ravenloft and have been spending my time negotiating the tangled history of the Demiplane of Dread, in order to make some sense of it…

In other words, I finally got my arse in gear to start typing up my revised version of this setting for AD&D Second Edition, picking and choosing the bits I liked from the setting (supplemented with fan-created content from The Fraternity of Shadows website) and revising those Darklords that I thought were a bit weak or incomplete.

Obviously, this is a pretty major undertaking and one that I’ve been planning on doing for a while (although some of my musings on revised Domains is available on the Café du Nuit forum on the Fraternity’s website, should anyone be at all interested – the Crow flies to many places…).

Anyway, as June is looming ever closer, which means Forgotten Heroes is on the horizon (yes, it will be back again this year), I needed to get my hand back in, so decided to take part in Keith’s annual Monster May(hem). So naturally, I needed a monster.

As the “Straw God” is actually a creature in Children of the Night: Demons, a fan-created netbook available at the Secrets of the Kargatane website and I happened to have the below languishing in a box, I decided to combine the two:

So, first order of the day was to plaster the base with Milliput, texture this with a rolled up bit of tinfoil, then jam the figure’s feet into this to set. I then attempted to attach the arms, initially with Milliput (didn’t work, as would have required me to sit there holding it in place for far too long), then Loctite Multi-Purpose Strong Adhesive. The latter is, quite frankly, rubbish – unless you want to cover your model in stringy bits of glue that stick to everything, but fail to stick together what you actually need it to.

So, we went with the old faithful – Wilko’s own brand ‘power bond adhesive’, which is the cheaper equivalent of No More Nails. I should really use this first, as I always end of using it and it works… Seriously, forget your expensive superglues in their tiny tubes – get some of this stuff. Squeeze a little out on to a spatula and spread as you please. Sets pretty quickly and as it’s designed to attach skirting boards to walls, etc. it’s pretty damn strong. And you get 300g for £2.60, which is cheaper than a 20g tube of superglue. It’s a no-brainer really…

Anyway, the base was looking a little empty, so some suitably snapped coffee stirrers and cook’s matches were snapped and distributed to reprsent broken fencing and we had a figure almost ready for painting;

However, I do have a plastic box somewhere which has some small white plastic birds, suitable for either pigeons or crows depending on how they are painted, which were from a model railway site. The idea is to add one or two of these as ‘crows’ to either the base or perched on his head and/or shoulder, but I couldn’t remember where the box was…

So, I may not have set the bar particularly high for myself (compared to others taking part), but I’m hoping that I will end up with a cool model that I’ll be able to use in my upcoming Ravenloft games… just don’t tell my players.

That’s all for this post, but rest assured I will be posting a little more regularly over the next couple of months.

The Lord of Menadine

I was first exposed to fantasy fiction when I lived in Kuwait, with the limited library the school had having a single copy of Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis. This opened my eyes to the fact that there was a whole World of fiction out there that catered to a young boy who was more interested in the fantastical than the mundane.

When we returned to the UK, my uncle lent me with his battered paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings, advising that I should read it, so I did, reading it under the covers when I probably should have been going to sleep.

I have recently reconnected with my uncle, as for many years, influenced by my mother’s opinion of him, I only sent birthday and Christmas cards. However, whilst my uncle is quite outspoken with his views, he is not as black as my mother painted him and as we share similar sensibilities, so I reached out and have been corresponding with him ever since.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with hobby stuff, but I shall explain. Since 1969 (the year of my birth) my uncle has styled himself as Adrian, Lord of Menadine, with all his letters bearing the legend O. L. A. S., which stands for ‘On Lord Adrian’s Service’. This persona of his is a warrior king, lord of the trees and has appeared in paintings (as he is an artist) accompanied by elves and dwarves, as I believe that Menadine exists, at least in my mind, somewhere in Middle Earth.

Now, due to my hobby leanings, I thought that it would be nice to create a custom miniature of Adrian, Lord of Menadine and send it to him, so suggested this to him. He liked the idea and decided to send me some reference pictures from his years as the Lord of Menadine, as he has accumulated various items of apparel and weaponry to realise this persona of his.

(I also remember seeing black and white pictures of him dressed as a Cavalier, complete with basket-hilt Claymore, taken at Hampton Court. Not because he was part of the staff, but because he wanted pictures taken with the appropriate backdrop for his costume. I guess that at the time, tourists would have assumed he was part of the experience, as this was long before you’d regularly see Anime characters on the London Underground, heading for Comicon…)

So, having got the necessary reference pictures, including one showing the emblem of Menadine, a phoenix rising from the flames, I searched through my figures to see if I could find a suitable donor figure and chose this:

This is Thorgrim, the Viking Champion from the original Heroscape boxed set. As my uncle does sport a beard, I thought this the best fit, although it did need some adjustments…

I first cut off the wings, like so…

Then I reshaped the helmet to make it less fussy and removed the sticker from the kite shield, so as to give a blank canvas for my attempt at recreating the emblem of Menadine. The figure was removed from the base, a drawing pin fixed underneath and the base covered in fine sand to give it some texture. Once this was dry, the figure was then reattached to the base, with the spike of the pin going up inside his right leg.

I then got out out my paints and started to add some colour;

Whilst I was painting for a while, as I had to wait in between coats for the figure to dry, other figures got a lick of paint too, with all my Chainrasp Wraiths being undercoated and some additional work done on my Action Man inspired figures – which I failed to take an pictures of…

As I’ve not been active hobby-wise for a while, I’d forgotten how cathartic sitting quietly and painting can actually be, so hopefully I’ll be a little more active going forward.

And before anyone suggests it (I’m looking at you, Keith), the reason I haven’t been active on here isn’t because I’ve been sojourning on Barsoom, as evidenced by my lack of tan. I have been chronicling Alexander Crowe’s attempts to prevent reality being overwritten in the novel I’m attempting to write, which I mentioned back in this post. It’s currently sitting at 127 pages, which is the longest continuous narrative I’ve managed, and as I have yet to suffer writer’s block, should continue until it’s done.

Of course, having spent so long with these characters, I now want to know what happens to them after this tale is done, so a sequel may be in the offing.

And this was in the face of someone saying to me recently “There’s no point in you trying to write a book, as you’re not as good as you think you are and you’re too old to get published.”

Given that this person has NOT actually read a single word I’ve ever written AND that everyone who has read it so far has both enjoyed it and wants to know what happens next, I think we can safely disregard their opinion.

Right, that’s all for this time. Next time more Lord of Menadine, hopefully with some of the reference photos, so we can see how close I’ve got to the real thing…