The Flaming Scimitar

With its arabic theme and djinn's, The Flaming Scimitar is one of the most characterful models in Dreadfleet. It's got a real feeling of motion to thanks to those swept forward sails being inflated by the air djinn's great gust.

The Flaming Scimitar and Cog
It also turned out to be a bit of a nightmare to paint. Not the purple, or the gold. Purple and gold are pretty easy. Those sails though - those drove me a little mad. Many, many coats of paint were needed to paint those up and get a solid coat down. The worst bit was the designs on them though - even being slightly embossed, it was still a challenge. I'm not that pleased with the air djinn either; I think it looks messy and I may go back and redo it someday.

Overall though, despite it taking me over twice as long as Grimnir's Thunder and The Black Kraken combined and still not looking perfect, I'm pleased with it. I like the fire efreet, I like the little water spirits riding the waves. I am pleased with the overall look of the sails, even if they're not going to win me any prizes!

Next - something dwarfen.


Index Cards and 'Gimmicks' in Game Prep

For the longest time (since I've been GMing, in fact) I've written up my game prep on the PC beforehand, usually in full prose. I've then printed out those notes and run from them at the table. Sure, there's been times when I've experimented with only putting bullet points, tried separating things by 'scene' or similar, but on the whole I've usually ended up with a mass of confusing notes on several sheets of paper that is fine for the first hour or so of the session. Soon though I need to switch sheets back and forth and then suddenly it all falls apart. Drowning in a sea of paper I begin to lose track of exactly I was trying to do and where was that monsters stats again? What treasure is in this room? What the hell is the name of this NPC?

It only took me about 7 years but finally I decided that I couldn't run like this any more. Especially when I discovered my group had grown from 4-5 people to 7-8. Which was untenable. More people meant more to think about and, yup, more paper to wrestle with.

These things saved my life. (Possibly an exaggeration)

I recalled a pair of articles on gnomestew.com that dealt with using index cards. Previously I'd skimmed them but mostly dismissed them as a gimmick. They've proven to be real game changers (literally), however. I'm writing more consise, better thought out, notes. I'm having less paper to juggle with. In short, I'm more organised and running a better game because of it.

Having nice colour coded notes (red for combat encounters, purple for skill challenges, blue for places etc) helps too. I quickly stopped numbering the cards though - anything that avoids me taking the players down a linear path is a good idea, in my opinion.

Where I differ from the gnomes, however, is that I don't keep my cards. (well, aside from the ones scattered around my room. I'm never going to be that tidy!) Instead I use Obsidian Portal to keep my game notes. This combined approach has worked really well - my notes at the table are easy to access and I have (via my iPhone) an encyclopaedia of campaign notes at my fingertips at all times.

My revelation about index cards caused my to look closer at other game 'gimmicks' that I'd previously dismissed. Especially as my group is now rather large. Taking cue from the 4th ed Dungeon Masters Guide, I now have one of my players (who is, of course, rewarded with a drama card!) keep track of iniative on a white board that everyone can see. One less job for me and having everyone know when their turn is coming up has helped make everything a little quicker.

The final gimmick I introduced serves a dual purpose! When you have a large group it's hard to stop people talking over eachother. Players tend to carry on conversations whilst waiting for their turn to come up - and in 4th ed that can take a little while.

That meant I had two problems to solve, both with solutions I'd heard many times before (but, again, dismissed). To solve the problem of players talking over eachother, a conch was needed and to solve the problem of turns taking a long time, I needed a little hourglass to help people along in taking less time.

So why not combine the two? I ordered a nice, big, green sandtimer from ebay. Big enough to be clearly symbolic and useful to keep track of time. Also it was nice and sturdy to stop certain players destroying it. Because they would.

 Just because something is a gimmick doesn't mean it should be dismissed.

There's a lot of advice out there for GMs. Previously I just stuck to the 'game theory'. I'm glad I've opened my mind a little - the game is definitely better for it.

Next - something with sails.


Something from the Deep...

Without a doubt, it was the Black Kraken that really sold me on Dreadfleet. It made the set something interesting I might like into something I needed to have. Immediately.

I mean, how could I resist it? It's a giant mechanical squid piloted by a single mad dwarf, driven half insane by jealousy and half by daemonic possession.

Oh, and the model is awesome.

The Black Kraken and her Cog
I'm really pleased with this one, even if the highlighting on the cog is a bit scrappy. The thought of all those tentacles ripping and tearing the ships of the Grand Alliance (Dreadfleet's 'Good Guys') apart fills me with childlike glee. I am grinning now just thinking about it.

Next - something completely different.


Dreadfleet + Grimnir's Thunder

Dreadfleet is incredibly pretty. It also looks fun. It's not quite Man O' War, but in some ways it looks even better. I especially like the system for damage on the ships - I would love for something similar to be implemented for vehicles in 40k!

I love how each ship is a distinct individual with an interesting back-story and fancy pirate Captain. A self-contained game like this needed something like that to tie it all together.  If the box had just had an Empire vs Vampire Counts fleet in it, it would have been fairly soulless.

Unfortunately, I've not had a chance to play it. I'm not sure I will for some months yet. The reason for this is I've decided to paint everything up first. The idea behind this bonkers notion is primarily one of practicality. Most of these ships, particularly those with sails, will be a nightmare to paint once assembled and I don't want to risk damaging them by dry fitting them and trying to pull them apart - some of the bits, especially, again, the sails, seem quite flimsy. So, in what is a near first for me, I'm painting before assembly.

The other reason is that I've spent what is, for me, quite a lot of money on this game. When I finally play it, I want it to look like it was worth £70! Grey plastic ain't gonna cut it.

With that in mind, I present the first painted ship - Grimnir's Thunder! I knew that I wasn't going to be able to resist painting the great dwarfen dreadnought first!

Grimnir's Thunder and her Dirigible
All in all, I'm quite pleased with how she turned out. There's a couple of bits I might want to touch up later though, but I won't point them out! I think this does highlight one of the reasons I'm usually loath to paint before assembly though - joins stick out a mile. Once painted, it's a fair bit of hassle to fill them in again and make it look any good so, for now, I'm just going to leave it. Hopefully it won't notice so much on the other ships!

Next I'll have something else dwarfen for you.


Drama Cards

These Drama Cards were thrown my way by the awesome folks at Penny-Arcade's Critical Failures Forum  some months ago now and I've been using them with great success in my 4e D&D game.

A Quick Note on 'Fortune Cards'

I know Wizards of the Coast has their official 'Fortune Cards' and these follow some of the same ideas. However, WotC's idea doesn't grab me half as much for a couple of reasons. Firstly, WotC's cards are about increasing player power. Secondly, they're put in the hands of the player. Those two facts combined are fine in themselves but not what I want, even if I took the control of them back from the player via houserules.

The Power to Change the Story

What I love about the Drama Cards is the fact they give the player the power to change the story. I don't run a totally open sandbox. I try not to railroad either but there is a story the players are working their way through. These cards let the players shake that up a bit more than the usual player/DM relationship might normally allow. Last week an encounter happened that really got me thinking about these cards and how they change the player's influence on the game.

My players were walking through the treetops of a Feywildian forest, taking part in a treasure hunt set up by an eccentric Eladrin noble. They were a little bit lost. One player smiles and hands me a card. It was the 'Strangers in a Strange Land' card. The card called for me to come up with a group of strangers that were also in the area, with the one caveat that they must be 'from a far-away place'.

Taking a minute to think, I eventually decided on a group of drow. Honestly, it wasn't the most original idea I've ever had. The players came to my rescue though, discussing where they came from in the Feywild and whether or not they may be 'good' drow. All those elements together created a great little encounter; the players were suspicious but forced to concede that they needed the drow's help to find their way. In return the drow needed help tracking the eladrin noble in the search of a lost artefact. Unwilling to betray someone that hasn't been at all hostile to them to a group of drow, the players gave the drow false information.

Now I've got hooks to work with I might otherwise not have considered. The drow, their artefact, their relationship with the eladrin and their relationship with the party. I know this is going to enrich the story and add layers of intrigue that simply wouldn't have been there before.It got them involved in building the story and in a way that went beyond the reach of their characters.

Using Drama Cards as Rewards

I wasn't able to print out the (very) large amount of cards suggested by creator but I did get four decks made - Copper, Silver, Gold and Platinum. To simulate rarity I've been having my players roll a d10. 1-4 for a copper, 5-7 for a silver, 8-9 for a gold and 10 for a platinum.

How and why you hand them out is up to you. I decided against using them as a reward in-character actions, or even for something like 'good roleplay'. The in-character rewards already exist within the game-world (treasure, XP, renown), mechanically or otherwise and 'good roleplay' is such a difficult thing to define I wasn't convinced I could judge on that basis and remain fair.

What I have done is use them to reward helpful Out-of-Character behaviour. I give cards out for running companion characters, for writing up a page on the wiki and for writing up the diary entry for the week and for anything else that makes my life, as a DM, a little easier.

To say it's worked would be an understatement - I'm not sure I could stop some of my players writing on the wiki even if I wanted to and now, in a total reversal of what used to happen, the players now dice off to see who gets to write the diary!

Not everything has gone perfectly though. Whilst I've got my players keen to get cards, getting them to use them has been a different matter. I have a horrid feeling they're just saving them all up for the final encounter! I'm thinking of setting a limit to how many they can have at once. Around 3 or 4 sounds about right but we'll see - that's something I'll discuss with them.

Put Some Drama in Your Game

If you're looking for a great reward system, or want to give your players a way to influence events in a different way, I say give these cards a shot. Just be careful not to let your players hoard them!


Painting Goals for March (and some WIPs!)

I started this week with a goal. It was part of my grand new idea to get myself painting more often and more regularly. That goal was to paint an entire unit of dwarfen Longbeards. I'll be frank, it wasn't even a very honest goal - I'd already painted the first rank! Even so I've come to realise that I'm simply not going to be able to paint the poor buggers fast enough to get them all done this week.

I'm not going to give up though - that way lies a half painted unit sitting in my case for the better part of six months, unloved and untouched whilst being cruelly mocked by the legions of painted dwarfs. I am, however, going to reassess how I look at the goals I set myself.

Firstly, I'm going to set realistic targets. I know now I'm not going to get a full unit of 20 dwarfs painted in a week (or the 15 left, don't judge me!) but I might manage 10 (or 7.5!) quite easily, judging by what I've got done so far.

Secondly, I'm going to change the goals to monthly ones. How much can I get done in a month? This is a pretty common idea amongst the project log scene so it's not some great revelation but it is something that I wish I'd considered before.

With that in mind, here's my goals for this month.

  1. Finish that poor unit of Longbeards that's been sitting half finished for rather too long!
  2. Paint up my Redemptionist Necromunda gang. I spent a week or so putting these together and I learnt a lot doing it regarding pinning and my own abilities as a hobbyist. Turns out I'm better than I thought! Really looking forward to getting some paint on them!
  3. Paint some dwarfen Miners - they're the Skull Pass ones so they're not the best thing since sliced bread but they'll be a simple project to end the month on!
So, that's one large project, a medium sized project (I only have 10 Redemptionists to paint and some of them are going to be fairly simple) and one small project. I feel excited already! Breaking it down like this, as with everything in life, already seems to have made the whole thing feel more attainable. Brilliant.

Right, anyway, here's some pretty pictures to tide you over until I can show you those finished miniatures!

Dwarf Warrior Regiment
Those are my warriors; I finished them a fair while ago. The bases need cleaning up, but other than that I'm pretty proud of them! I still have another unit of them to go, but I'm getting fed up of painting the same dwarfs over and over so they're going to be on the backburner for awhile, I suspect.

Dwarf Longbeard Front-Rank

This is the front rank of my Longbeards. The picture isn't as great and I had to use the flash as the light today is awful. They're coming along nicely though - I like the gold and I like the way they're beginning to feel more uniform than the rabble that is the warriors. When the unit is done, they're going to look great.

Longbeard WIPs
And here's the WIP Longbeards. These were painted under a daylight magnifying lamp, unlike everything else, and because of that the red is looking a lot more vibrant and cleaner (although you wouldn't know it from this photo - the perils of using the flash! I blame the sun. And its hiding away). These are, however, just the same old dwarf warrior models with masks. I'd hoped that difference, plus the fact they've got gold (and gold is fun to paint) on them would make a big difference. It hasn't and I'm getting tired of painting this model now... Still, one soldiers on and hopefully I'll have something to be pleased of by the end of this.

I am looking forward to painting the gold though. Something about shiny things...