Archive for February, 2011

Based, primed, and ready to slay

The white dragon from the official AD&D line of miniatures is one of the highlights of this painting project. It has always been one of my favorite dragons, and this one is taken, look and pose, straight out of the original Monster Manual. So this is really as much a photo gallery of my work than a blog post, but I am really excited about getting these miniatures painted. Tonight I will describe round 2 of my painting method, which is the bulk of the actual painting. I have selected a dozen or so miniatures out of the pile I was given. See here for a few shots of this batch of miniatures straight out of long term storage, and the steps I took to prep them for the painting. If you want to delve a little deeper, you can go back here to my post where-in I describe my methods used to paint the miniatures from my Castle Ravenloft board game.

see above

Before we get started with that, there was one issue I needed to solve, and that was finding bases for the miniatures. The old metal minis have strange and often small bases which tend to leave the miniatures unstable. This, coupled with the importance of base size in newer editions of D&D, led me to search for a way to get better bases. A few options were available, such as buying plastic 1” bases, using coins (penny was too small, a quarter too expensive, I was eyeing the nickel) or, as one helpful commenter pointed out, by using 1” washers found at any hardware store. Sudden inspiration, however, led me to choose the cardboard tokens I have accumulated through 3 seasons of Encounters. The fancy tokens from Red Box and Monster Vault are too nice to use for this purpose, even though I have no intention of ever using them for their intended purpose. The glossy surface of the fancier tokens also had me worried the glue wouldn’t stick as well.

AD&D White Dragon Unboxed

The tokens also alleviate one of my concerns, which was weight. Now, these babies are going to sit on a shelf somewhere, so there isn’t too much issue with weight, other than a washer or coin, doubling what is already much heavier than their plastic cousins. Whether the cardboard tokens were a good choice or not remains to be seen. Being cardboard, if they get wet they can be damaged, and with a weighty miniature glued to them, I could see the edges getting bent, scuffed, and eventually failing to keep the miniatures standing at attention. If that happens, short work with an X-acto knife, glue, and a new base will solve that problem. One last shot of the white dragon, next to his kin, the large green fro the 4e starter pack, and the large black lurker, from Demonweb if I recall. He stands up well, the rigid lil devil. The stand comes courtesy of the Red Box starter set, which supplied a large white dragon base. I went against my rule of using the dull finished tokens, but the coincidence was too good to pass up.

lil Bohemian on a play date

Glue consisted of Gorilla Glue (white) whih can be seen to excess on the bases. It really bubble up. There is no better glue I have found however, and I used it on the white dragon, whom I named Bohemian, in my honor, to good affect. I used it with superglue in a two-part process, since it takes gorilla glue 30-60 minutes to dry. A dab of superglue will hold it while the other sets. And really, it does expand, so be prepared to trim away huge bubbling sections. For careful gluing, like the dragons wings and tail, it was important to get it right. I had to do the tail twice.

the rogues gallery

Here we have the bulk of the first set all primed, using a white/black mix of all purpose acrylics. I like the lighter color, and tending closer to just using pure white, or some type of off white for a primer. I should look into finding a good premix. The lighter shade helps bring out subtle details and the consistency is good too. It seems to really give a good grip for future layers of paint, even the flimsiest thin metallics. When applying the coats of paint, I would go though an assembly line method. I would pick my color, and the brush I planned to use, then go through the miniatures one by one, applying that color where needed. If I was on a roll, I might have a spread of shades of that color, and just dab amongst them as I was going, doing a quick mix on the tip of my brush. It can get muddy with too much mixing.

my four dwarves, the Bronzebottom Bros.

My four dwarves, these chaps are a favorite. Sorry about the terrible focus. I will get better for their final shots, I promise. And that is only a few steps away. The drummer is great, a whole character concept. I am going to use these four dwarves as the Bronzebottom Brothers, a family of dwarven merchants known to the heroes of my campaign game, D Erte. They were ripped from a podcast game with Chris Perkins, and from a Dragon article about a similar set of dwarven brothers. I dont know where these miniatures came from. They were a very dull gray, almost like they were pre-primed. They have great details, and I love the non-traditional use of spears, it gives them an old-school wargame look, like they are a unit of dwarven spearmen, with drummer.

Ladies in Lead

The ladies. The hair looks pretty bad now, but I am hoping with a good wash and some highlights, it will really draw the color out, nothing I can do about the style though. I think I am going to give the red head on the left a crimson unitard. There is a propensity to show plenty of midriff in these and mot minis. I have found, through play, that it is often the male players drawn to the bare-assed midriff showing harlots for their player characters rather than the women role players. For this reason, I try to show to paint the women in as appropriate attire as possible. To be fair, when I am reaching for a lady villain miniature, my fingers are drawn to the same bare-assed harlots. And as a dm with more ladies at the table than men, I can attest that this kind of stuff can become important. Bottom line: provide mix of slatern doxies and noble dames, and my own favorite mix, the slummin’ princess.

Steadfast warriors of legend lore

Here we have a few mighty heroes of the set, a brawny warrior, a wily magic user, and the lone member of the light elf infantry. I love conan, he is perfect in every way except that he does not wield or carry a broadsword. I must somehow rectify this, perhaps Gorilla glue willhelp me out here too. The wizard spell is my favorite. I intend to shade and highlight the hell out of that demonic summoning. Im mixed about the elf. He looks blah, I wonder about metallizing the green armour. Maybe I am metallic-crazy. The green armor seem rather heavy and yet weak, He needs work. perhaps the miracles of dry rushing will bring his inner infantryman to the fore. But dont expect miracles, as Im really not very good. See above, or below for proof of that.

leaping dragonborn, is that a bohemian ear spoon he wields?

Blazing skeletons, no, the bohemian halbardier wields a halberd, or possibly a voulge-guisarme. Here are a few loose ends. Two of which come from Ravenloft, finally got around to painting them. I am really happy with the dragonborn, although I cant say I really get the pose. Mid leap, perhaps. I am also happy with the flaming skeleton. Finding some way to keep the blue translucence was a challenge, and I think it does well.

Unknown dragon

I will end this post with a mystery. I am unable to tell what type of dragon this is supposed to represent. I am almost convinced its a gold or platinum, except for the evil glare. Maybe it actually is meant to be blue, though it is missing the distinctive snout-horn. If I had to guess, I would go with a black, with non-traditional backwards-pointing horns. They might be tied-back.

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Having tip-toed through the demesne of the ‘Frog God’ without disturbing anything other than a few easily pocketed emeralds, the party stood outside the door to the teleportation chamber. With a deep breath they pushed the door open to a strange site. Being familiar with teleportation circles, they were expecting a soft blue glowing arcane diagram on the floor of the chamber. Instead they saw a fiery red symbol, and beneath it the floor was like glass, showing a fiery staircase spiraling downwards to a land of endless flame and lava. Within the lava trudged countless humanoid devils wreathed in flickering white fire. Above the lava field of burning devils were two platforms connected by a narrow walkway. The stairway led to the nearest platform while on the second platform they could see an alter and laying on the altar, the daughter they were meant to rescue.

Thus was the vision they saw of the underworld beneath their feet. An umbilical of flaming spiral stairs connected the devilish realm with the wizards dungeon, and 4 burning devils climbed the stairs towards the arcane circle. Around that circle were three evil imps, known as murder guards. These imps were in charge of maintaining links between the underworld and the real world. One of them was reddish in color, and it wielded a red-bladed dagger in one hand, and a ruby scabbard on its belt. It was cutting itself with the dagger and smearing its blood over the arcane marks in the floor, turning them red. The second, bluish one, carried a white glowing hand axe, and wore an amulet with a green gem around its next, while he held a jar full of thick blood, and poured it over the lines, rubbing the blood into the lines. The third imp carried a mace in his hand with a hawks beak of black iron, while in the other hand he held a rotting severed leg from some unfortunate creature, which he pressed and dragged across the arcane circle. When the party bust through the doors, the imps all winked out of visibility.

Like a well oiled machine the party moved into the room. Those with arcane, religion, or thievery knowledge knew that by channeling the arcane energies away from the underworld, they could wrest control of the circle, cutting off the burning devik who climbed the stairs 4 at a time. The burning devils attacked with their flaming claws, but went down with a single blow, exploding into a fireball twenty feet in diameter. 4, 8, then 12 burning devils made it into the chamber all told, exploding for a grand total of 108 hit points damage.

The imps attacked, turned invisible, then attacked again, and the battle was bloody and fast paced, but the band of adventurers were able to take down the imps once the arcane circle was closed. Since Felipe, their minion-killer was indisposed at the moment (it was her aromatherapy hour, and Felipe NEVER missed aromatherapy hour, so the rest of the party thought they would get a bit of adventuring done during aromatherapy hour.) they decided to keep the circle closed while they edplored more of the dungeon. They were certain the heart they sought was down below, and would come back later. THe room to the south opened into a capacious well furnished library. Without wasting a second, Ria cast detect magic items and discovered 4 scrolls amongst the miscellany. One was a deed for a duplicate magic library, the other a deed for a magic armory. The other two scrolls were recipes for alchemists fire and frost.

To the south, they discovered a shrine to Ioun. The man held his hands out, and a bowl at his feet held a pile of gold coins. The characters each added a coin or some other valuable, and felt a feeling of contentment and good fortune. After 5 minutes, they received a fortune card. The statue had a frown instead of beatific smile, which Ria the priestess worried meant the deity was upset about something.

They turned east, deeper into the wizards dungeon, and entered through a door that was solid iron with strange copper filigree, and had a chess-like pattern of metal plates for a floor. The door slammed shut and the floor electrified, stunning Hex, but Poppy and Thokk were able to disable it before anyone suffered fatal damage.

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The big and unassembled

A friend of mine gave me this great box of miniatures. JW, whose occasional appearances in my campaign have led to such memorable characters as Bull the minotaur bailiff and The Naked Priest, had these from back when he was more into the game. All of them date from the 80’s-90’s and it looks like most are Ral Partha. One dragon miniature is still in its AD&D box. He looks pretty cool!

The larger miniatures, and even some of the smaller miniatures will need gluing. I can remember very well the hassles of gluing lead miniatures together, having myself begun gaming in the very early 80’s. They can be difficult to keep together. Two things should help me this time around. I have learned an advanced engineering method of drilling little pin-holes to add a support toothpick, strengthening the bond. Also, I have discovered Gorilla Glue, which is my new favorite glue, and able to create these thick foamy bonds that are nearly unbreakable.I might skip the toothpcik thing and go just with gorilla glue. I will try it that way on the first one I do, the six-armed lizard man, which I am going to pains white so he can pass as a barsoomian ape.

four dwarves

These four dwarves are my favorite set.  Dwarves are rare in my games for some reason, at least as characters.  In th elast campaign, playing in 3rd edition, our friend Wil played Gul the dwarven cleric, then his brother Lug the dwarven cleric.  There have been some great dwarf NPCs in the 4th edition campaign, such as the merchant Bronzebottom Brothers.  These dwarves, and maybe a third or so of all of the miniatures are a very dull gray, and almost seem pre-primed.  Even the bottoms of the bases as the same dull ship-steel color.  I cant tell if it is a primer coat or not but my first action will be to prime the entire set in my own mixed gray.

the rogues gallery

There are some really awesome miniatures in the collection.  A Wulfgar like blonde barbarian is one suh that stands out, possibly because he is painted.  Much of the paint is chipped, an he too, along with all the painted miniatures in the group will get a fresh primer coat.  I like to begin from square one with the painting, and have found that a good primer is the most important part of getting a good paint job.  It would be wise to go to the extra work of completely removing the previous paint, but that would be too much work. I did however, wash them in soapy water, before rinsing them really well and setting them up to dry.

a throng of new miniatures

One concern I have is that these old miniatures have small oddly shaped bases.  Coming u;p with a bae to glue them to (with Gorilla Glue) is another maor objective.  In the past I have used a quarter (too expensive!) and a penny (too small!) so I need tofind a source of 1″ bases that are less than 25 cents (wheres the cents key?) ¢  (found it)  I am considering the nickel, but didnt have one in my pocket at the time of consideration, so that idea is currently shelved.  I am also going to look online for ordering miniature bases for games like Warhammer.

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Enter the ruins of Castle Inverness and secure it against any dangers.

For two weeks running now Basement Games has hosted a two-table night of Encounters, run by the father-son DM Duo Jason and Jackson Barnes. (of which I, your humble narrator, am the fatter, taller of the two.) The DM JBs each led a table of four through the night’s episode, with the same party make-up as the week before.

This week, we began with the heroes hurrying to catch up with the caravan with their new friend, the sage Faldyra. As they walked she told them what she knew of the history of the castle Inverness. She mentioned it was the sight of one of the three “ghost towers” of the region. Quinn had studied his history, and he knew of one other ghost tower, somewhere in a place called the Witchlight Fens, near the keep on the Shadowfell. Faldyra also mentioned that nothing ghostly has been seen in the area in over 100 years.

Ahead, the caravan was pulling to the stop at a rise in the ground. As the party made their way forward, they could see the ruins of Castle Inverness spread before them in all its faded glory. Where once stout walls boxed in a vast central yard with tall towers at every corner, now tumble-down stones showed the ruin the castle had become. Each of the towers were toppled, the southwest being the worst, barely pulling above the twenty foot high walls before it too was smashed in, leaving fields of stones round about. They could just glimpse what looked like a small cemetery, and Faldyra explained about a group of adventurers who died here some 75 years ago. The rumours spoke of them dying from their own stupidity.

Aldus Splintershield strode forward. “Isnt she a beautiful sight for a town?” he asked proudly. The party was not so sure. Was that an area of gravestones in one corner of the ruins? The party was very concerned that Aldus chose such a location for the new colony, but he assured them that it was the best possible situation. On the trade route, in a favorable valley, and look at all the pre-cut stone just waiting to from stout new homes and businesses. The thing about ghosts, why Aldus didn’t put much belief into the stories of the area being haunted.

On the other hand…. He would like the party to do a quick scout of the grounds, before him and his non-combatant ritualists performed a ‘cleansing ritual’ to drive away any evil that might be lingering. By this point, the group was very suspicious of the choice of locations for their new homes, but Aldus said that his name, and his families proud name were invested in the colony, and that he would never do anything to harm that reputation. They accepted his assurances, and with some hesitation and backward glances, they set out to investigate the ruins as the sun turned big and red behind them.

Making a circuit around the outside of the ruins yielded little in the way of information. The moat was little more than a weedy overgrown ditch, and eventually they crossed and came to the walls near the southwest tower. The looming, dark and foreboding walls loomed above them, dark and foreboding.

Erimikos was first up, climbing the twenty feet with ease. He crawled forward across the wide wall to peer down the other side. As he crawled forward, an unusual feeling of dread chilled his bones. He saw the grave site they picked out from earlier. From here, he could count the graves, 13 of them. As he crawled back to tell the others, the feeling of dread slowly dissipated. He motioned the others up. First Quinn, who pulled his heavily mailed form up the twenty feet. The cleric, though had trouble. Having spent many years cloistered with her habit, she had little real world experience, and though the men up top tossed her a rope, she fell the first time she tried to ascend. Jarren was worried, but cautiously made it to the top.

Luckily, getting down from the wall was much easier than getting up, if more painful. Thief, then knight climbed down. Then the cleric through herself over the edge. She would have slammed into the stony ground below had it not been for Quinn running forward to break her fall with his body. They both took damage. The wizard looked on aghast, wondering if these walls would be the end of them. Perhaps another four graves should be prepared. Looking down from the wall at the graves, Jarren began to understand the stupidity that might have killed him. Carefully, oh so carefully, he made his way down and into the inner square of the castle ruins. Never had the main gate looked so inviting.

They searched the graves, noting that the area around them looked well tended as opposed to the rest of the weed strewn courtyard. They passed the central area where the tower once stood on their way to the fountain, which the saw from a distance, also looked well tended, although for a different reason, muah hah hah.

SLURP! Only Valenae heard the subtle sound in time to react as amber slime spewed out of the fountain, formed itself into two large ochre jellies, and rolled out of the pool. She used her warning to inspect them, running through her memory any weaknesses they might have. She knew they were oozes, and thus were blind and deaf. She also had a sneaking suspicion that they were resistant to acid, and coated in the caustic substance. The amber jellies each moved to the nearest foes, Quinn and Valenae.

After a long day of fighting, some of the party members were low on health. Erimikos especially had to play it very careful. Below full HP, he spent the battle skirting the edges, and only ran in for a melee attack when he had to. Erminkos shifted, threw daggers, shifted more. At one point, he moved in for the kill against a jelly, and his dagger thrust cut through from top to bottom, neatly separating the ochre slime in two. This did not stop their attacks, and soon they were fighting one large and two medium slimes.

Knowing the party was below full strength, due to the long day of fighting, not to mention the encounter with the wall, Quinn stepped up between the two jellies, forcing their attention. He threw 3 flasks of flaming oil at the jellies, which damaged them, but no more than usual. Pulling his sword, he kept at them. He suffered for it, but his strong armor kept the majority of slime away.

Meanwile, a berserk fury entered the peaceful cleric Valenae. Perhaps it was her rage at the walls who dared to throw her off, or perhaps she hated jelly, but one way or another, her mace flew from side to side, battering the jellies into, well, jelly. She moved on to the large jelly, and smote it such a blow that it too was split in twain. Once, twice, three times she was coated in slime during the battle, the burning acid pouring down her collar as she fought to swick it away. The wizard poured water on her in an effort to help. Alas, just as the last slime, now diminished, was being finished off, the cleric fell from the numerous wounds she suffered.

Jarren meanwhile, was in his element. He too stood back and let the warriors handle the upfront stuff, while he cast spell after spell into the slimes. First arc lightning, then freezing burst, then the jelly moved too near, the cleric was down, the knight hard pressed, and the thief hiding and shifting as usual. He took a step back, cast his freezing burst, and hit both slimes. His burst allowed him to slide the slimes, but it melted into a pool of itself from the icy damage and instead became an ice smear.

The battle was won, the heroes victorious again. Albus thanked them and true to his promise, gave each character a healing poultice that would restore a healing surge if applied. (They needed it.)

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The Wild Isle of Wide Eyed Dread

As The Wild Isle of Wide Eyed Dread unfolds every week through gaming, so grows the raw material for the final product. Offering hardcore gaming material has always been a focus for my corner of the web here, and this will be my largest project yet.

An expert level Adventure Site for characters entering the paragon tier

The original adventure X1 Isle of Dread is the driving inspiration behind my current campaign (read about it here) but I draw inspiration (and more) mercilessly and guilt free from everywhere I can. In this adventure I plumb the depths of Pirates of the Caribbean I thru IX, King Kong, Chateau D Amberville, CS Lewis, and many many others, like Joe vs the Volcano.

The idea of an adventure site in this case means to set no limit, or order, for the adventuring done on the island. The encounters themselves are geared toward a party of 4-6 characters levels 8-10. Some are easier than others, and a few are damn nigh impossible. The original idea behind this Isle of Dread Adventure Site project was for the Isle to be a smorgasbord of different sized delves or mini-adventures, to be played in whatever order the group chose. However, there are over-arching story-lines that link many of the individual adventures together, so it is still possible to play through the adventure site as one large sandbox-style adventure. The Wild Isle of Wide Eyed Dread will be presented in the form of one such story-line, that of the characters who are taking part in its formulation every Friday night at my house.

Break it down, tear it up, paste it back together, or string it along, this adventure site is built to survive and prosper through such misuse.The Wild Isle of Wide Eyed Dread will be presented in several parts over the coming days. When the project is complete, the edited version will be finalized and offered as a free pdf download on my lil website here. I hope it to be the first of many more to come.

The Wild Isle of Wide Eyed Dread


The premise of the story is very simple. A group of heroes are cast into the mouth of a volcano on an unknown island, and must survive and escape. The means of their arrival is a magic summoning circle of ancient origin, that somehow survived among the ruins of a stone temple built into and over a volcano. If they survive their arrival at the Monastery of SU, they will find themselves overlooking a panoramic view of the entire island. Their perception could pick out any number of things as they gaze to the far southern tip of the island many days away.

Shaped like a hand, with the five fingers being the long, crooked, and spiny mountain ranges that separated the island into separate regions. Where the hand should have met the wrist was the volcano, the highest point on the island. The backside of the island was tall craggy cliffs, with savage crashing waves, in a great arc from the eastern limits around the north to the western wall. Large flying creatures could be seen swooping between the spires and outcroppings, diving into caves in the sea wall.

The western finger of habitable land stretched almost to the horizon. From the altitude of the volcano, that meant at least 25 miles. Nearest them, the volcano sides sloped down on the eastern side into a green bog, misty and forested. The bog gave way to a great lake, in the center of which rose a hillock of an island, perfectly round. Elven eyes might detect a mansion surrounded by a hedge on the pinnacle of that isle-within-isle. Adepts of the Arcane might wonder about the mystical energies of such an islet. South of the great lake, fed by swift mountain streams on either side, was a vast expanse of pampas, tall grasses waving in the tropical breezes. Miles and miles of pampas opened up between the first two fingers of mountains. It ended only at the aquamarine coast, fringed in golden beaches. On one of those beaches lay the broken hull of a great ship like a beached whale. Split in two by some grave calamity, the halves lay open to the sun, cracked like a clam, half buried in the shifting sands of high tide.

The mountains themselves were not overly tall. They were like long lines of knife and spear thrusts of stone many hundreds of feet high, sharp edged, pointing skyward. They could be crossed, at great peril, or through known passes, but the ways were few, and they separated the regions of the isle as surely as the expanse of a continent might. Stair-like outcroppings led to dark cave mouths or into dead-ends.

Coming straight down the mountain form the volcano leads to a highland raised plateau. The mountains peaks were like teeth poking over the perimeter of the lava field. South of that began the central region, known as the Steaming Jungle. Pinned in on all sides, this wild jungle grew tall and verdant, protected from winds and weather, the trees here grew hundreds of feet high. There were multiple levels of tree cover, and a dim uncluttered forest floor. The trunks rose like curving pillars into the sky. A single river, fed from the mountain walls, snaked through the jungle, to end at a great crack in the southern crook of mountain range, where it spilled into the tourmaline sea. Where the mountains separated, they leaned apart their sharp points askance, and a long narrow bridge of rope and board spanned that gap.

That same stretch of sea was turbulent where the river spilt into it, and it cut through the mountain range of the third finger, leaving a natural stone bridge as the only connection between the mainland and that rocky spur of beach and jungle. Keen eyes could detect the tell-tale signs of habitation. Camps or villages dotted the southern region, at least half a dozen spaced along the coast. Where the turbulent sea cut through the third mountain range, it led to a deep calm wharf, where a black sailed ship lay at anchor. On the narrow coast near the ship was a walled village made of wood. Smaller ships were tied up at its dock.

The only area left to mention were the eastern hills. Great dusty plumes rose from the trampled hills as some great pack of beasts moved from one area to the next. A smaller lake in this hilly region begat a river which wound its way through the hills to spill over into the sea by way of a great cascade, at the narrow end of the pirates cove.

Thus was the island first beheld by those doughty adventurers as they pulled themselves up and out of the steaming pit of the volcano to gaze upon their next problem to overcome, their next chance to shine, their next adventure.

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My experiment with the new Fortune Cards has been going on for a few weeks now. There is quite a bit to love about the cards: they are well made and look handsome with very nice artwork. They offer the player another resource to use at the table, and add to the variety of play pieces and tactile stuff we have available in the game. On the downside, they definitely add a layer of complexity to the players turn – having to remember to flip them and even look at them to see if the card is usable seems to be the biggest hurdle. A players turn often descends into the tyranny of too much choice, and the cards can exacerbate that all too common 4e affliction. In addition, some of them are overly complex, requiring a+b+c to happen for the card to work. They are also “collectible” which can cause aneurysms in some purists.

What has come before


The addition of cards into the game has been slow but steady since even before 4th edition came out. In our 3rd edition game, I used cards for magic items and for criticals (both published by Paizo). 4th edition took the concept to new levels, making the class powers of the characters into cards, or card-like pages. Same with magic items, although I wish they would put out an actual deck of magic item cards, rather than the print-outs we get with our character builder.

Aside: ]
This was tried with player power cards, but the separately sold class power card packages did not go over so well. It is my opinion that this was due mainly to the amount of math required to configure the powers, as well as the constantly increasing number of powers available through DDI and splat books, and ALSO because of the constant errata, making the power card packs obsolete and practically useless before they even left the store shelves. It is pointless to buy a pack of uniquely over-sized cards only to find some of your powers missing, and that every time you leveled you had to redo all the math for them. The handy card pages that print out with the character sheets are nearly perfect – besides having to be cut out, and being printed on standard paper rather than card stock. They work because they are automatically updated from the Character Builder.

You sir, are prone!Condition cards are another type of card used for 4th edition. These have been given out as DM rewards for the Encounters program. I have never seen them on sale, but they are fairly useful. I like to hand them to a player if his character is suffering from one of the conditions, especially ongoing damage, since no one ever remembers it.

So, all in all the card creep has been coming to D&D for years, and I am not surprised or opposed. Why should dice have all the fun? cards are an historically important gaming aid, and for D&D to expand into greater use of cards adds to the complex, esoteric mystique of the game. I would have absolutely adored these back in the glory days of 1st edition gaming, but sadly all I had back then were the Monster Cards (which I loved for all their absurdity.)

In many ways, the recently released Gamma World takes cards to the next leval (again with the collectible option.) Based on a stripped down D&D rule set, Gamma World paved the way for more card use with their Alpha Tech (powers) and Omega Tech (treasures) which became an integral part of the character. The game came with dozens of cards, and random packs were available to purchase for more options, or to complete the set. There was no necessity to purchase additional cards, and Wizards of the Coast seems very cautious about making sure that none of these card packs (so far) are mandatory for any kind of play. With Gamma World, additional packs are optional and merely increased the number of different possibilities. Being optional has mollified many enthusiasts who worry about the increasing buy-in for the game. However, it does nothing to quell the unspoken fact that people who spend more on the packs in 0rder to build an optimized deck will have characters who perform better.

4e Fortune Cards for a better future
All this backstory brings us to the newest product for D&D – Fortune cards. These cards have many of the traits gamers have come to dislike about card usage in D&D. They are collectible. They are sold in random packs, with variable levels of rarity. They are relatively expensive at $4 for a pack of 8, though cheap enough that the average customer would have no problem buying them as a spur of the moment purchase – such as just before an Encounters game. They add a layer of complexity to the game, by adding choice and requiring more accounting. They are also one more thing to forget about and regret not using later.

But they make up for this with positive additions to the game. They give more choices to the player (a double edge sword) and offer at least the chance for character development. At best they are a prop or pompt for some role playing opportunity. They offer a small to medium level bump or buff to a characters power level. But the best thing about them, as written, are that they are completely in the domain of the player. The DM does not need to remember to use them, or to keep track of them at all. The only interaction the dm has with the cards, in the official rules, is to adjudicate whether they are usable in a specific situation, which doesnt look too difficult. Thus the true beauty of the fortune cards, for me personally, is that I dont have to do anything at all.

This is your card, may you use it well.

The above example is fairly typical of the cards. Some are slightly more powerful than others. Some cards are completely useless most of the time, and require very specific circumstances to work. This adds value to “personally constructed” decks, made up of cards that all have meaning for a particular character. Careful aim would be useless for an assassin, for example, but a fireball-hurling wizard would surely make the most of it.

In D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade, we use them by the book. The first few encounters, when each character had merely one packet of cards to play with, it meant that the majority of cards never got used, and indeed, in most cases were forgotten or even purposefully spurned. One or two players tried using them, and especially the way they worked in conjunction with the twitter buffs (another headache of mine, since I have to constantly adjust for them) but that was especially confusing. Hopefully they will figure it out, but as Dm, I dont waste my time with it (unless Im very bored at work.) The fortune cards are thus not being shown to their best, most gamey-ist, i.e. helping the rogues get combat advantage each round, giving the wizards the chance to cast a rage spell without provoking, and similar tactics. This is what optimized decks allow.

Aside: Power creep?

There is little doubt after imagining optimized decks, that a level of power creep is coming to those characters with such decks. A great set of 8 or 10 cards would allow a character to consistently perform at their best – about on par with a great night of rolling. Whether or not this is a good or a bad thing depends on each playing group. I could see some player envy happening at a public play event, but in private, any good DM should limit that type of gaminess by making them available for all (thus putting some cost back on the dms shoulders) or by disallowing them altogether (and thereby pissing off their gamey Monty-Haull assed, munchkin friends.) The cards at their worst could disrupt tables with incomplete card coverage.

By the book
From the DM perspective, there are many ways to alleviate some of the problems that come when using the Fortune cards, and to even put them to new uses. One way to help out the players during public events is to have a “DM Deck” that a player can opt to draw from if they do not have a deck of their own. A friendly dm, could even go out of their way to optimize their own deck, thus helping the poor player to get a fortunate outcome. This is a great way for a DM to get some use out of the cards, and to justify spending a bunch on them, rather than their obsessive compulsive desire to have a complete set of all the tools available for the game. When going this route, it might not be a bad idea to put the DM Deck fortune cards in sleeve protectors, making them easily identifiable during clean-up.

The only other way I bother with Fortune cards while DM’ing Encounters is to remind some one that they might have a fortune card to help them, if their attack misses. Whenever a players turn goes south I try to give them upbeat advice to turn things around, like spending an action point, and now checking their fortune card. But then, I am a pretty easy going dm (usually!) and I make it a priority to try and let the players ‘write their own script’ as we play. These cards, if woven into the story, provide a chance to add to the story of these heroes exploits, and that is a good thing.

Going off the grid

Something wicked

When I first heard about the fortune cards (and their evil twin, the despair deck) the wheels in my skull immediately began concocting ways to use them. The Fortune cards offer a chance to hand out treasure-like boons that offer small to medium sized benefits without being burdened by the wealth of countless magic items. They can be gifts bestowed by powerful allies, or fortunes won through amazing luck. Most recently, I had each player draw from my deck of Fortune cards when they attempted to read the stone tablets of a long-dead frog god. Those who were successful, pulled a card, which I read and gave a sort of mini-prophecy to the player.The character would then have the card to use whenever they needed, be it this session, or in six months time.

I love D&D. I love the products, and all the different formats, from large glossy tomes, to strange shaped dice. Adding cards into the mix of stuff I use around the table, which includes stuffed bears, and once even a stuffed e-coli virus, is a good thing to me. Props are fun, and I will find many ways to use my set. Handing them out as minor boons seems to be working better than having an unoptimized deck. Some other ideas are giving out optimized decks, or quest lines that involve attaining an optimized deck. Sort of a good fortune deck of many things. It could be used to make a pretty cool artifact.

Coming soon, the optimized Fortune Deck, used by Drizzt himself in his battle against Chaos warped Orcus. Watch as he leaves Orcus in the lurch, trips him up, thumps him a good one, then leaves him rolling on the floor with some distracting banter before finally whipping him mano a mano.

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Open Heart Surgery! A skill challenge

Felipe pulled her attractively wolfish snout from the chest of Gorechain the bemused devil, dripping with black bloody entrails, and the demon bellowed his last scream of rage as he melted into dripping ooze, banished back to the lowest pit of hell to squirm maggot-like in the filth of the deepest cess pit of all. As Gorechain shrieked his last and his limbs turned to a gooey mess of black slime, the crystal case that held a beating heart fell from his grasp. Tucked under the devils arm while he swung his deadly chains, now it was free to tumble to the flagstones.

Poppy leapt for the heart, grabbing it in her hands even as the crystal that once surrounded and protected it seemed to break into smaller and smaller pieces, disentegrating. Poppy grasped a live twitching heart in her hands, slick with the hot blood oozing from ts orifices. Behind her came a gasp, as one on the ghosts playing silently at one of the tables seconds before suddenly became a living person, falling backwards and clasping at his chest, where an open wound and broken rib cage show a cavity where the heart belonged.

The man was Xvart Amber, one of the children of Obitallo Amber, who they came to rescue. They leapt into action. Felipe rushed over with the heart and placed it into the chest, using her knowledge of the naural orde of living things, to put it in correcxtly. It took Poppys nimble fingers though, to slide it under and through the rib cage. Ria used her divine healing to have the veins, and ventricals begin knitting back together.

Hex, an expert in blood, created an arcane bond between the two. he slashed his arm and let his blood flow freely over Xvarts trembling heart, which began to absorb his blood. Thokk, a brusque and often uncaring brute, nonetheless took pity on the purple pantsed dandy, and knelt at his head. He gently slapped him, first one side, then the other, while cajoling him to stay with them. Finally sharia knelt beside the man and laid her healing hands on him. Whispering a few words to the spirit of the flame which lived within her, she turned the energy into divine healing flames, that knit his ribs, his muscles, and finally his flesh back together.

The mans eyes rolled in his head as he lay on the cold stone, trying to recover from the emergency open heart surgery. Slowly the color began returning to the ghost white skin of his cheeks. He had trouble remembering the past, and had no memory of his ordeal with the devil who held his heart.

As Xvart stood wobbling in the training chamber, the rest of the adventurers moved to investigate a swmall locked closet to the south. After swiftly picking the lock – a fine piece of work from a famous locksmith in Shalazar – Poppy smiled to see a large bronze bound chest in the room. There were also two rolls of canvas, and a barrel holding a pair of sledge hammers. As Poppy moved closer to get a better look, a huge fist formed from one side of the chest and took a swing at her chin, but nimble Poppy dodged out of the way.

Thokk was right behind Poppy, and he noticed the tools and the canvas start to tremble and shake. Suddenly the two canvas rolls leapt into the air. One extended itself into a long sheet and tried to wrap itself around Poppys neck. She twisted out of the way. The other canvas roll twisted one long end into a knot and slapped it toward Thokk, but it clanged off his chainmail briefs.

Ria noticed the two softly glowing globes of light that hovered fifteen feet overhead became agitated and started moing about erratically. Having the drop on them, she played it safe and blasted them with a jolt of holy light. The will o’ wisps were not amused. Being dual purposed guardians of the enchanters dungeons, as well as givers of light, they became angry and their lights winked out, making them practically invisible. The heroes found the best method of finding them was to rush wildly around the room and the wisps would find them, becoming invisible to attack.

The chest continued to pound away with its fists, the canvas slapped, and two hammers tried to smash nails down through Thokks feet. The bwrbarian swept both animated weapons away with a swing of his great axe, but he stood in front of the doorway into the small closet, so Sharia had to crawl betweejn his legs to get in there. As she stood up, one of the object mimics arms transformed and wrapped Sharia in a giant tongue-like appendage, before Hex saved her by using his teleportation magic to trade places. (He saves this power for whenever a damsel is in distress, works well with the ladies.)

The fight continued. Soon the mimic was put down, the canvas tents were torn up and the sledgehammers were destroyed. The wisps were harder foes to kill. They could envelop their foes in a nimbus of green lightning which drew strength and energy into them, healing them. They were also insubstantial, meaning all damage was cut in half. These factors combined to make them no easy enemy, but when one of them finally succumbed to the focused attacks of the party, the remaining wisp surrendered by floating to the floor and rolling back and forth sadly. They let it carefully float back to its original position, casting light in the room dimmer than before.

During the fight, they noticed that the doors leading down into this dungeon were closed and that a thick black goo covered them. Hex, an expert in all things infernal, knew that it was devil slime. Either the dungeon was being dragged down into the abyss, or a bubble of hell was reaching upwards to envelop the world. The devil slime built up in all the corners, edges, and perimeters of abyssal boundaries. The floor too had a sticky residue of bubbling goo. There was also a palpable feeling of evil, like the throbbing drum beat of a heart that was felt rather than heard. Where three demons once vied for control of the enchanters dungeon, now two had consolidated the power of the banished third.

The dungeon of the Enchanter

After a rest spent questioning the punch-drunk apprentice Xvart, or Sfart for short, they learned that he was the least of the three apprentices, and had never been past this the entry training room. He knows that the Frog God door was forbidden but that his youngest sister wanted to find out what was behind the door. Amber mansion was built on the foundations of an older structure, and the door led to deeper older things best left alone, so the e3nchanter Obitello Amber had told his apprentice-children.

They also found out that Shalazar Shackleton, or Shazzy Shack, was an entrepeneur-explorer who left his oldest sister Ismaleda at the alter in SHalazar. It was this act that led to her joining the expedition with the Amber Enchanter to set up this mansion on the faraway isle.

Meanwhile they were moving through the opened frog god door. The chamber beyond was completely dark and smelt musty. Rather than a solid floor, metal grating provided the walking surface, with the splashing of water from below. They could see multiple dark shapes moving in the water beneath them. poppy used her magic goggles to see one such shape: a savage flesh-ripper shark, many times larger than herself tore through the darkness below. Ria was able to use her knowledge of underworld design (it was a college requirement) to note that the area below them was of the same dimensions as that which they were walking through; i.e. that the level below was a mirror image of the section above.

That was below. Ahead was a long wide dripping passage. Off to one side was an alcove with e statue of the frog god. He was bulbous and sat on a stone bench with his slender legs folded. Upon his knees rested a stone tablet with strange writing. The idols eyes were huge polished but unfaceted emerald orbs, fist-sized. When they were pried out, a jet of steaming water soaked the theif, but the slight discomfort was worth the 250 gold estimated value of the gems. Hex and Ria got the first pair. By reading the strange script, they could test their knowledge of religion to grant a boon of prophetic fortune. Hex saw a vision of a future battle, and glimpsed where he might twist the blade all that deeper, killing a foe otherwise merely wounded. Poppy caught a vision of herself trapped by a huge brute who blocked the doorway. She could not escape, and was thus slain,l but in her vision she saw were the foe favored his left side, and she saw the space that would allow her to slip from sure doom to survival. Yeah thats right. Maybe it will happen tomorrow, maybe in ten years time, or maybe never at all, bu if and when it does, it pays to have fortune on you side.

The hallway turned left, and there were two doors on one side of the hall, double doors at the end, and another stone idol against the far wall. This statue was of a huge manta ray with long pointed fangs with its wings draped around a stone chair, that looked like it was meant to be sat in. Felipe conjured her panther who leapt into the chair. As he adjusted in the seat, he suddenly stiffened, and the manta rays fanged head swung forward on its hinges to stab into the panthers neck. Then the head hinged back and the panther was freed from its paralysis, shaken and wounded but alive. Nobody else opted to sit in the chair, but Poppy and felipe each retrieved a 250 gp emerald from the eyes of the vampire manta ray.

The two rooms to the south each held a half completed ritual written in primordial. Ria was able to decipher them. THe first was a ritual to bring “cleansing fire.” The second ritual caused a “rising of the waters.” Neither ritual enticed completion, so they moved on to the double doors at the end of the hall.

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