Category Archives: Role-Play Games

GM Section: Low Fantasy Gaming – A Return to the Old Days of Gritty Dungeons & Dragons?

Last week we took a look at Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG) by Pickpocket Press. Our focus then was aspects of the game most relevant to the players around the table. This week we’re going to look at the Games Master (GM) potions of the book, namely: exploration, traps, treasure, monsters and some of the extra content not always considered in fantasy roleplaying games.

There was some criticism on the title phrase of last week’s article, mainly that Betteridge’s Law of Headlines was true (in that, when a headline generally ends in a question mark, the answer is usually ‘no’). It was interesting to learn about something new (thank you reddit user) however, in part 2, I think Betteridge’s Law of Headlines will prove false this time: it is a damn sight grittier and a return to the old style of D&D!

I wanted to know why LFG was made, so I got in contact with Stephen Grodzicki at Pickpocket Press and asked that very question, here’s the answer:

“… it all stemmed from wanting to GM a Primeval Thule campaign with 5e. But the mechanics didn’t mesh with the setting. I wanted something gritty and dangerous, with magic that was rare, dark and unpredictable. Which is pretty much the opposite of 5e’s heroic, high magic system. And LFG was the result.”

I think they nailed it on the head. So, here comes the second part of the Low Fantasy Gaming review…

The GM Section

From the outset, we’ve seen LFG adjust many of the regular or common place rules, and completely get rid of others. So far most of this has been aimed at the character makeup and  their interactions within the game. Now though, we’ll take a look at some of the content aimed specifically at the games master, and check out some of the cool mechanics included in LFG!

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Exploration is often overlooked in modern adventures. The fact that exploration in 5th edition D&D is only mentioned in the DM guide as a form of travel, consisting of a few small random encounter tables, suggests that the element of exploration is now considered secondary to most tabletop role-play gamers. Indeed, we at CC have even written about how much more exploration should be part of a standard game. We feel that strongly about it.

So, how has LFG tackled exploration?

Pretty smoothly, it seems. While it’s not mind blowing in its approach, it certainly covers all the bases. Travel speed, weather effects, then broken down into divisions of overland, underground, voyage and even flight encounters are covered. Not all of these encounters are monsters or NPC interactions. LFG covers weather change, being off-course (i.e. lost!) and some tasty little role-play events.

Our favourite is the Inspiring Tale event, where the characters are having an uneventful travel day: one of the players may wish to regale the whole gaming group with a story or song of some sort. If most of the people at the gaming table are entertained, the GM may allow one of them to advance to their next level. It’s a pretty random occurrence, requiring a one in twenty dice roll, but it’s a wonderful learning and role-playing experience which has an in game effect. We feel this is a very encouraging element to any RPG and we’re glad it’s made it into the game! Not much on the gritty side, but certainly something you would expect in an early version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Finally, there’s a table of random encounters covering 20 aerial encounters, 100 city or settlement encounters, and sets of 20 encounters for deserts, jungles, forests & woodlands, mountains and hills, oceans lakes & rivers, plains & grasslands, roads and trails, snow and ice and swamps… pretty much LFG has got you covered wherever your adventure is taking you, and it looks pretty thorough!

And since monsters do not have associated experience points, any ‘level’ of monster could be encountered (in theory). Fear not though, this is simply another challenge for the players to overcome without battle. Maybe they really should let sleeping dragons lie?

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Hirelings are included in the game too. It’s a small section with tables to generate names, catchphrases and other personal identifying traits. There’s even some scope for pets as hirelings.

What’s new and different about LFG is that there’s a simple advancement table for hirelings. And its not simply going up in levels, instead they can advance, for example, in their ability to increase their attributes, learn a skill or gain advantage to moral checks. This keeps the distinction between player characters and NPCs and does not permit an allie as powerful as the players.

And my favorite but about hirelings… there’s a 2D6 point table dedicated entirely to payback if you mistreat your hirelings. It’s another great little story and role-play element to the game. These little touches really do add up.

I don’t think we have ever used hirelings in a game of D&D since second edition, because since third edition they always just seemed like faceless add-ons rather than an opportunity to develop and become entertaining and useful.

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Disease is pretty grim, and covers everything from Oozy Eye to Flesh Grubs. And we’re not talking about some minor afflictions that last a few hours or are passed on for a day or two. Some of these effects can last for months if they don’t get cured. Oozy Eye for example can affect one or both eyes and last for 1 to 4 months, suffering perception loss. For a game of low magic, diseases for player characters can really make a lasting impact on the gaming sessions.

Purge the Accursed is a 3rd level spell which removes a curse or disease from the target of the spell… but not right away, no, it could take up to 3 or 4 days. Otherwise, you need to find an apothecary who is familiar with the disease to cure it. Side-line adventure ideas should be boundless. And yes, pretty gritty even for early D&D editions.

As for Madness effects, well I am a great fan of madness effects in tabletop RPGs. There are 20 possible madness traits, described from the first person perspective, such as: “I keep my dear friends ear with me always. As long as I have it, I know he can still hear me.”

Messed up. Quite cool.

These madness traits can vary in severity and intensity, with another small table to help define how serious the affliction is. It could be a day or two, or last for years and there’s no direct cure: a character has to pass up or down the intensity rather than just negate the effects. Much like in real life, and this suitably gritty!

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Mass Battles, have a very good narrative feel without the need to roll thousands of dice.

This is something to be excited about. In most mass battle mechanics there’s a clunky or crunchy aspect which seems to either miss the personal role-play aspect or goes completely the other way to create a purely story driven battle. LFG manages to combine both in their mass battle chapter.

Mass battles then are broken down into two broad sets of rules; the party spotlight, where the characters are driving the story, and unit combat which details the battle field, managing, manoeuvring, fighting and moral of troops. LFG make it clear that these rules can be used separately or they can be  combined.

In the party spotlight, it is the player characters’ exploits that are defined. This is achieved by the GM throwing critical events at one or more of the characters. Critical events include a variety of situations, each with a description and resolution followed by a player character impact and a unit impact. This can only really be explained by an example:

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Hold the Line: In this example the characters are aware that the enemy is about to break through an allied line during the intense fighting. The resolution is simple: stay in the fight for 2D6 rounds, facing cumulative 1D3 enemies each turn. The impact of this is that if the players do not succeed a friendly unit is utterly overrun and destroyed. One less friendly unit to worry about!

Now this doesn’t sound too insane for a traditional game of Dungeons & Dragons where the warrior classes are capable of smiting down a good number of enemies in a single action, even helping the less martial characters in a close shave. But in LFG, it’s much easier to get laid low. There’s one extra facet of the mass battles which ties in nicely here; sudden twists!

Sudden twists occur when the players roll a 1 or 20, with a further roll to consult the sudden twist table. The table includes positive and negative effects, such as hirelings or allies being knocked unconscious (dead weight) or the opportunity to engage an enemy champion or officer with a successful dexterity check. An element of heroic actions, or the ill-fated meeting in the melee against a terrible foe. The GM gets to decide…

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Unit combat works almost like a nicely polished mini-game. It could easily be employed with miniatures or tokens to represent different units on the battlefield. There’s a simple turn order, starting with ranged attacks, followed by movement, melee attacks and then a resolution setup for victory points. I’ve seen corporate gaming facilities create worse systems than this.

Each method of attack is simply a roll of two dice, with some modifiers to the roll for exceptional circumstances (such as units in heavy woodlands) along with more serious options, such as resource attrition. Consulting the table determines a units effectiveness on the battlefield that turn. What I like about this is that it’s not a direct amount of damage, it’s narrative effects created with mechanical elements. Check out the table for ranged combat for units in mass battles as an example.

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There are unit attributes and stats for the main types of units found on battlefields such as cavalry, heavy infantry and the like. There’s also an Ogre warband and a dragon for when the battle needs an extra injection of adrenaline.

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To top it all off, the characters may reach the final encounter: the final confrontation of generals or villains. It may happen early, by chance or it could happen after days of gruelling slaughter. As it says in the text, it is the battles ultimate encounter. This is a nice little touch because it creates a sense of actual achievement rather than the GM plotting or narrating the story. By giving the GM the option to fall back on chance (well, in part at least) it can give the players a real sense of taking part in the battle.

All in all, the feeling the mass battle mechanics generate is one of energetic, nay, frantic encounters in what could potentially be a very flat large scale combat session. Some GM’s do not need help with this sort of thing, but the content is usually not included in source books, or a game system may rely on third party homebrew mechanics. LFG though get it right on the pages, no doubt inspiring newer gamers and offering veteran gamers some interesting ideas or adaptations..

Traps. Blimey, I’m just going to give an example here. There are tables to generate random traps or to give you a good idea of how traps may operate in an adventure, but nothing is as grim as the example below:

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The Harpoon Crusher is horrific:

  • A room covered in tiles, which, if the wrong tile is stepped on triggers a series of harpoons to strike out. Now, here’s the fun bit: there are a series of rolls to judge just how unfortunate the character is – Dex save to avoid 2D6 damage, Dex save to avoid being knocked prone, a luck save will determine if your armour is snagged by the barbed harpoon or if its a body part that is snagged. We’re not done yet though!
  • The harpoons, which are attached to chains, will then hoist the character into the air, retracting at the rate of 1D6 feet per round (while other harpoons are primed and ready to fire again that round). The rate of lifting increases by 1D6 feet per round, as it gains momentum.
  • Panels surrounding the harpoon that struck the player open, and large grinders whirr to life. At 25 feet the character is dragged into the grinders and dies horribly in a spray of gore and crunching bone, forever dead and losing all of their gear too.
  • Sure, you can try to save them by breaking the chain, but it’s bloody difficult, or you could pull your friend to safety but they’ll suffer more damage and likely fall onto another panel if you haven’t triggered another harpoon yourself!
  • Helpfully, there are methods of resolving the traps (which won’t be mentioned here in case you want to find out for yourself and there’s also suggested variants should the GM wants to make the trap easier to overcome, or indeed harder!

This is just one example, others include: the Flesheater Tank (made me shiver), Snare & Roast or the Whirlpool of Reduction (yikes!).

Treasure is broken down into some nice and easy to manage tables. The most helpful I found is the table of carry loot, which is used for the treasure lining the pockets of monsters or NPCs. It’s a D100 table so there’s quite a bit of variety. There are tables for lair treasure, trinkets & curios, valuables and potions.

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For magical items there’s a nice mechanic which may be familiar to some veteran gamers: obvious properties and discreet properties. This is a nice touch to the game and provides a bit of mystery for the players, such as “Why am I never surprised by an ambush, is it the weapon I’m carrying or the trinket I found?”

These simple but cool tables certainly bring out the questions and the sense of mystery lost in mainstream D&D games. It’s all too easy to become familiar with the same list of iconic magical items throughout the various editions of D&D, and although some of these are similar in LFG, they certainly will raise and prompt questions around the gaming table.

Monsters

From the lowliest goblin to the mightiest dragon, you’re f****d…

There’s a good variety of monsters from the lowliest goblins to the mighty dragons.

Some monsters receive the cause injuries ability, which, rather than just knocking off hit points produce lingering effects that can range from impressive scars to internal bleeding. They really do bring the game of death to life!

Off-turn attacks means player characters must consider that monsters are not always out of the game if they’ve already taken their turn. It adds a new dimension to the turn sequence and requires more tactical thinking from the players. This ability means characters cannot simply pile in if the monster has taken its turn, so it’s always going to be capable of dealing damage throughout the turn. The mental imagery of this violence is quite visceral, and combined with the added level of destruction really highlights the danger level.

Magic resistance works as a percentage, making them better or worse than the characters resistances. Quite good as it harks back to older versions old D&D but also provides more variation for creatures resistant to magic, eg, a minor resistance (10%) or a major resistance (90%).

Boss monsters are improved monsters from the typical monster type. They almost always have off-turn attacks, have greater hit points and cannot be instantly killed by major exploits from the players. They also gain re-rolls and can cause injuries on a roll of 19-20. The designer’s thoughts on this is that boss monsters should be capable of taking on the player characters by themselves.

There’s also scope for Custom & Improv Monsters as a way of creating your own monsters or perhaps making existing monsters harder or easier encounters for your player characters.

There are mainly classic monsters, such as Medusa, Merrow and the Minotaur to Wraiths and Wyverns, along with regular animals and example NPC humans, elves and dwarves. Added to these are more unique monsters to the LFG such as the Slop Gorger, as slug like monster who is surprisingly fast overland and the Urgot, remnants of cursed humanoids bloodlines

Conclusions

How does it feel?

Harder, grittier and dangerous. Excited just reading through the pages. Very much nostalgic feel to it from first viewing of the AD&D in the 90’s – my character can die so easily!

From the outset, everything is geared towards choices. The GM decides on how hard the game is going to be by selecting what options to take. And there are plenty of options for the GM to choose from (or ignore).

Is it gritty? YES.

Would I play LFG or run it as a game? (thanks for the suggestion, reddit user!)

Yes, but I think as a player I personally would get more out of it. The excitement of losing a character permanently and knowing that it could happen at any moment really gets the juices flowing. The effort of creating a character, their persona and motivations means they become more than just a literary device – will my character live to see their dreams come true? Better be careful!

As a GM, I think the game runs very smoothly. Just reading through the book makes it very clear that Pickpocket Press has put time and effort into writing something that makes sense and keeps to the style of a very dangerous adventure game. Nothing is in there without considering the impact on the speed and flow of the game. The optional rules, or indeed the ability to remove rules from the game without the whole thing breaking down is a selling point for GM’s who may like to plan a game with out too much focus on mechanics and more on story also really helps.

Value for Money

20 dollars gets you the watermarked PDF, 45 gets you the colour softback book. Current at the time of writing, you can get the deluxe version of the book for 60 dollars (down from $80). I’m a collector of RPG books, so for me the discounted Kickstarter pledge was great, and the book looks tasty and fragrant. It feels good in the hands and the pages are a nice thick feel too. That said, you could grab a couple of the $20 PDFs and have enough content for the gaming table.

That is all for LFG.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Low Fantasy Gaming, or you have some interesting ideas yourself, please drop us a comment!

Alternatively you can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Or through our Facebook Page!

Interested in how to become a great games master or dungeon master? Take a look here and here!

Maybe you want to learn more about how exploration could work in your role-play games? Check out our article here.

Ferris, CC 😉

Low Fantasy Gaming RPG – A Return to the Old Days of Gritty Dungeons & Dragons?

Part One

Like the dodgy dealer in the side-street, I’m wearing a long coat, stuffed, you believe, with all the content of some knock-off role-playing games. But when I speak, the words are not what you’re expecting…

“Wanna play some high risk D&D, do ya?”

This is Low Fantasy Gaming, and if it was a drug, it would be up there with the class A’s.

Pickpocket Press (Stephen Grodzicki and co.) successfully completed and shipped their kickstarter for Low Fantasy Gaming. For the primary backers, that meant that some of us received a link to make use of a discounted print version using DriveThruRPG. As a backer, I decided to get the hardback deluxe version and take a look!

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In this article, part 1 of 2, I’m going to look at the character creation and aspects of the game that relate mostly to the payers. Part 2 will focus on the GM section and go into detail on the various game elements introduced to widen the scope of the game and bring it to life!

Read on…

Why did I back LFG?

Mainstream Dungeons & Dragons, to some, has lost its danger element. It seems too easy to safely succeed. Clearly some of this is down to the GM’s style, but the game system itself feels designed to permit “winning.” The general feeling is that players are expected to win, with the rare exceptional circumstances. This is a huge area for debate, which won’t get covered here but it outlines why I wanted to see what LFG had to offer.

So, LFG takes D&D away from the safety of a kids animated TV show and throws it into a bloody meat grinder operated by Stephen King and the reanimated corpse of Howard Lovecraft. Frankly, no one is safe… which makes the game feel far more exciting. The tension is going to build easily when players realise their fighter is not the steaming tank of hit points, but rather a human with human weaknesses!

So what is Low Fantasy Gaming? What’s the book and its content like and how does it feel? Is it just a grittier version of Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition or is it something else? We’ve got you covered, so read on for more!

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A Note on OSR & OGL

Low Fantasy Gaming seems to be part of the old school revival (OSR) of role-play games. This revival focuses on less about keeping in line with the rules and more about full immersion into fantasy. The point of any exercise was to test the players themselves, encouraging them to test their ingenuity and creativity.

According to Wikipedia the OSR was only made possible by Wizards of the Coast introducing the Open Game Licence (OGL) way back in 2000. The OGL allowed for unofficial creative content that was in line with the traditional Dungeons & Dragons game content. The explosion of home brew rules and adventures from third parties exploded in the early 2000 because of this and is attributed to much of the long life of 3 and 3.5 editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

Low Fantasy Gaming is definetly part of the OSR, and it’s content is 99% OGL.

General Overview

Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG) is a primary source book, made up of a players handbook, a games masters guide and a monstrous manual all rolled into one. It is fully compatible with D20 system material RPG’s and with a bit of work compatible with content from Wizards of the Coast material such as Dungeons & Dragons. Saying that, why would you want to? This game is perfectly standalone and seems to have itself balanced out!

LFG is set in its own “quasi-realistic world” in which magic and monsters are present, but are not as common place as in your typical fantasy world setting. In its default setting, LFG is a game where player-characters are human and one of the 9 classes. Those classes are much less magically inclined but are still greatly inspiring.

The deluxe edition of LFG is 286 pages (from contents page to the end of the index) and covers everything from character creation, equipment, spells and magic, how to play the game and then onto the GM specific chapters, such as monsters, how to prepare adventures, traps, treasures and a whole host of other cool mechanics and ideas.

It is everything you need in one book. You just need paper, pencils and dice!

It may not be for everyone however, as the game is very much swords and a bit of sorcery, rather than the high fantasy heroics of its mainstream counterpart.

If you’re not a fan of tables you may struggle a little too. Although it’s not reliant on tables (the GM can, after all choose to ignore them), they do add a strong element to the game, particularly  if the GM likes to add a bit of chaos to the table!

The artwork is second to none too. The quality and variety of styles could be found in any professional quality gaming book. I would happily rank it right up there with Wizards of the Coast. You can find examples of the artwork throughout this article!

So what’s in the book?

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Character Creation

The first obvious change to the standard is that character attributes, those numbers which determine how strong, wise or fast your character is, have been altered. Whereas a score of 14 in an attribute would provide a bonus to a dice roll of +2, it now only provides a bonus of +1. The maximum score for an attribute for humans is set at 18, not 20. So we see a reduction of ability score bonuses and their maximum.

However, we also see the introduction of several more attributes. In “regular” D&D we have six attributes; 3 physical (strength, dexterity & constitution) and 3 mental (intelligence, wisdom and charisma). In LFG there’s a split of the wisdom attribute into Perception and Willpower and they’ve also introduced Luck as an attribute. Luck as an attribute isn’t new to role-playing games (we even have it in our own Pulp RPG beta system).

So, perception covers your characters physical wisdom, sight, hearing and observations, whereas Willpower is described as self confidence and mental fortitude. I suspect that these will either mean you must spread out your strong attribute scores or have to pick between one or the other. It does however mean you’ll likely be “OK” for at least one of them!

The Luck attribute is interesting. It is broken down into two primary functions; luck saves and luck checks. A luck save deals with direct attacks and reflects your characters adventuring expertise to avoid hazards.

The luck check is way more interesting. You can use luck checks to perform unusual actions which are situational, defined by LFG as “Major Exploits.” These are essentially like ‘get out of jail free’ cards but a bit more fun. For example, you can use your luck checks to escape from dangerous or ill-fated battles. This may seem like a role-play cop-out but the players need to explain how they will execute this tactical withdraw and there’s no guarantee it will work!

So as you can imagine, a game with this sort of narrative-enabling mechanic is going to have moments where the players decide it’s time to bug-out. The expectations are great, because in every game I’ve ever run for players, retreat never seems to be an option considered. It is a lesson that has cost them dearly, but I suspect a quick lesson for LFG gamers.

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Races are not limited to humans, but there is very little in the way of advantages per se. Dwarves for example gain advantage on rolls associated with resisting poison and magic of all kinds (which is quite a strong benefit but a low intensity mechanic). They have some benefits in low light conditions, but are just as blind in total darkness as humans.

In opposition to this, each race gains a less desirable trait, such as gold lust and highly honorific for dwarves – they must undertake willpower checks to resist opportunities for riches (making them reckless prospectors) and similarly, a willpower if they perceive themselves to be slighted. Don’t forget, there is no single Wisdom attribute, so be prepared to pull the dwarf out of the furnace trap!

Gone are the attribute score improvements and randomly assigned bonus skills and abilities. At most, a race other than human will receive advantage rolls of some sort, but that is all. The disadvantages may seem meekly role-play ones, but they will no doubt get the characters in trouble… and in a system like this, trouble can mean death.

Character classes are a lot less magically inclined and much more martial. This does not rule out characters with magical abilities. In the place of wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, clerics and priests we have the Cultist and the Magic User. Appropriate names in modern society? Probably.

Classes include: the artificer, barbarian, bard, cultist, fighter, magic user, monk, ranger and the rogue. Some of these may seem like magically themed classes, but they are not so obviously brimming with magical powers.

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Hit Points act much the same way as they do in other 5th Edition games but have undergone some changes: class hit-dice are half the potential maximum hit points for a higher minimum (for example, 1D5)… and since you’re only reaching level 12, you’re not due to get many more, especially when you realise that towards the upper levels, your characters bonus hit points are capped by class.

So far many of the changes are aimed at reducing numbers. In a strange way they also seem to be streamlining the game system. Compared to Dungeons & Dragons, we already begin to feel that the game is closer to a real life experience with believable heroes, compared to a heroic world with unrealistic and death defying mundanity. There’s less messing about too, which I like.

What about character Advancement and variety?

So where does the character variety and customisation appear from? They would be the Unique Features. Unique features (UF) are gained as characters advance in levels. There are 37 unique features to choose from but unlike Feats in Dungeons & Dragons, many of the UFs are tiered. This gives many more options to customise a character, where a player can dedicate their efforts into a single UF or spread out in a variety, becoming adaptable. Here’s “Iron Grit” as an example (edited so as to avoid spoilers!):

  1. Increase your hit point maximum by x per level.
  2. Whenever you suffer a critical hit, you can perform an attribute check (X) to turn it into a normal hit instead.
  3. Gain advantage (re-roll 2 dice and choose the best result) on all Dead or Mostly dead checks.

Interestingly, there are no tables of experience points to advance your character through levels 1-12. Instead, the games master is meant to decide with the players when they think they’ve earned it. This brings the game to both the players and GM: involving both sides pulls the cohesion of the game together and breaks down some of the barriers over the table. It also cuts out the farming of experience points in a desperate race to gain levels.

It worth noting too that monsters do not earn characters experience points for slaying them. This introduces the status quo element to LFG. Go to Dragontop Mountain, expect dragons. Fully grown dragons!

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The Magic System is both dangerously mysterious, and oft unpredictable!

Despite being low fantasy, there are some surprising little tricks in the magic mechanics f LFG. Firstly, anyone can “sense magic” with an appropriate Intelligence or Perception check. That’s quite cool, it means that any character can get a foreboding sense or eerie feeling about something – very flavourful!

On the down side for spellcasters, if you take damage before your turn, you simply can’t cast a spell. Quite limiting but in tune with the low fantasy setting – casting spells requires a lot of concentration, so rather than pump a stat or skill to overcome this, the option is simply taken away. Good or bad, I’m not too sure. I like the flavour, but others may see it as a little too constrictive.

Casting a spell is great though! In LFG sorcery is inherently dark and dangerous. So rather than just casting a limited number of spells per day, an extra dice roll (a D20) is required. On the roll of a 1, something bad happens when the spell is triggered (and the spell is always cast). There’s a lovely table of 100 effects for this!

And it gets better. Every time a spell is cast, the chance of rolling a dangerous effect increases by one. So if you cast 5 spells, on a D20 roll of 1-5 a dangerous effect applies. This only resets after a dangerous effect triggers or the character survives to the end of the adventure… the END OF THE ADVENTURE.

So yes… a cumulative 5% chance of things going wrong!

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Negative effects can include having ones lips fused together for upto 24 hours, aberrant terrors, demons or undead appearing nearby for several minutes or a limb turning into a giant tentacle for several days! Preserve your spells or go nuts for a touch of chaosivity!

Cultists (the divine casters if you like) don’t get away easily either. If you do not follow the tenets of your faith, or displease your god in some way, you can lose Favour. There’s a whole set of rules similar to sorcery which can hinder and play with the mind of your player character. The essence is as above; it’s all about flavour and enhancing the roleplay and excitement of the game.

So far, there are 120 spells in LFG each of which follow an easy to read and execute format. The spell names are colourful but termed in a way which makes them easy to identify. The descriptions also contain a lot of variety or variations. What I really like is that the GM often has control over how some of them work in the form of “The GM may allow a perception check to identify if something is wrong.” Essentially, it cuts out those players who are rules lawyers (that is, those who stick to the word of the rules and does not like any sort of variation or GM flavour to permit a smooth game). Empowering the GM or players in equal yet different ways. Good skills LFG!

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In Battle your character is not just a sack of hit points encased in a numbered armour class in need of being reduced. No, it’s far worse than that!

The warning signs come on pretty early – when a character is reduced to half of their maximum hit points they incur penalties as they slowly get beaten to death. Just when they thought they could lie down and wait for help, the end may be sooner than they expected.

A character that is reduced to 0 hit points is out of the fight. To add some tension, no one around the gaming table knows if they are truly dead or mostly dead (those are the actual terms used in LFG) until, and I quote “… someone turns the body over for a closer look (rummaging through pockets optional).”

No dice rolling to pass three fifty/fifty saves, no sudden burst of hit points in a ranged heal. Just quiet, excruciating death-tension.

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Let’s assume your character survives the ordeal, you’re still not out trouble: there’s a table for injuries and setbacks. Now, I loved the old Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying injury system, with its visceral and character building effects, but it’s very crunchy and can slow down the game, reducing the tension as the GM begins rolling on several tables and calculating just how messed up a character gets. LFG gives a simple table of 17 effects, each of which can only be dealt with in a certain way… sometimes with very particular spells to help you out.

So far this RPG system feels wonderfully gritty, with a real measure of danger that goes beyond the GM simply killing of their player characters or fudging dice.

That’s the end of part 1 of our review of Low Fantasy Gaming.

Next week we’ll be looking in depth at the GM side of the game, review the cool mechanics and content, such as mass battles and the scary monsters that lurk within it’s pages!

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You can find Pickpocket Press on twitter with @LowFantasyGamin or their website. With thanks to Stephen Grodzicki (author of Low Fantasy Gaming) for being a top bloke, and generally making us here at CC really happy with a cool RPG system, and a fancy book (we’re so happy we backed it!).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

Interested in how to become a great games master or dungeon master? Take a look here and here!

Maybe you want to learn more about how exploration could work in your role-play games? Check out our article here.

Creator Consortium’s Summer Project Update

For the last few months we’ve been working hard on many levels. With full time jobs and weekends away for creative role play events, it’s quite easy to forget where we’re up to and what we’re doing. August is the end of the LRP season and the summer is waning slowly to the darker hours of the winter – the perfect excuse to stay in and play games or write reviews without the guilt!

So, that said, it’s time to give an update! Here goes…

The CC Website

We’re hoping to be taking the website to a different level, stepping away from WordPress.com and switching to WordPress.org. We realise, now that we’ve played around a bit with various site settings, that wordpress.com is quite expensive, more so when you want some simple functions.

We’ve got some help in the form of friendly expertise and hopefully, in the next couple of months we’ll be switching sites and porting everything over. We’ll keep you in the loop when this is likely to happen and chances are we won’t be posting any content during that time.

You probably won’t notice any immediate changes, but there will be space to properly organise our articles and feed. Fingers crossed it all goes to plan without a hitch!

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Pulp RPG

We’ve not had chance to get much more written for our various Pulp RPG game systems, and as always, there’s bound to be some creative differences. Hopefully by the new year we’ll have something more concrete to present! We still have ideas for the chase across Panama to stop Zombie Hitler and his diabolical plans! And of course, our Fantasy game still needs a lot of work, along with Mr Steadman’s space combat pulp RPG (which we did play test a while back and we’re keen to see where it goes!)

The Godless Realm

We’ve been plugging away at the Godless Realm, CC’s (currently) system neutral fantasy setting. While we have the majority of the metropolis written and planned out, we’re now moving to the outer regions of the setting. If you use Twitter, @FerrisWrites has been posting teasers about the various aspects of the setting.

We’ve made some changes to the cosmology and fleshed out some of the unwritten context for the eyes of the GM only. This, we hope, will provide a lot more variation for future writing and give us writers a bit more juice when we’re dreaming up ideas!

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The 9th Age

We caught the eye of the 9th Age assembly and they liked our review! The 9th Age is a tabletop war game set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting. It mirrors very closely (and frankly performs better) than the old Warhammer Fantasy Battles (no longer in production) by Games Workshop.

We’d like to take a moment to thank them for all of their support, and look forward to seeing 2 out of 3 articles in their online magazine, the 9th Scroll. Part three of the trilogy will be ready when we’ve mustered up some players and miniatures and get some battles under our belts!

We’re also going to have a look at the 9th Age Army Builder site and app and compare it to BattleScribe to see which of the two we think is easier to use and provides the best output regarding army lists and details. We’ll do this in our part three article and run the battles with those outputs and see how seamless they are!

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Upcoming Reviews

Cthulhu Mythos (5th ed) – Sandy Petersen has done it again with Cthulhu Mythos, a source book for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons… and it’s more than just a list of monster stats!

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Low Fantasy Gaming by Pickpocket Press, a grim and gritty variant on mainstream Dungeons & Dragons, and possibly a better spiritual successor than 5th edition D&D? We shall see!

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Key Forge, made by the same guy who created Magic the Gathering only this is better than MtG, for your pocket and your blood pressure!

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Arcworlde, a skirmish game for 32mm miniatures in a fantasy setting! With rumours of a second edition, Alex Huntley is set to impress us yet again with his miniature line and games!

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All of this extra content should keep us going over the next few months!

Calling all Artists!

We’re getting to the point where we are hoping to start formatting our content for the Godless Realm fantasy role-play setting. Although we have the skills to manipulate some free media, we would really like to get some budding artists to donate sketches and doodles that could appear in the final PDF.

We’re still not there yet and we obviously need to get everything into one place, but in the distant future we’re considering kick-starting the Godless Realm to get professional editing, proofing and formatting. This means that if you’re able to donate some art, we may also be able to provide you with some financial rewards for artwork you’ve developed (if we successfully kick-start) – essentially, get in early and join us in this endeavour and perhaps we can create something amazing!

Of course, the written content will always be free in its raw form, we’re not taking that away from the world, but it would be great to have a print-to-order service from the likes of DriveThruRPG!

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New Friends!

Last but not least, we’re having a bit of fun with Summon Games, where we’re having a go at playing games for the first time under the scrutiny of YouTube viewers. It’s early days yet for Mr Dodd (@Doddymaster). You can find Summond Games YouTube channel here.

Stay tuned, and if there’s anything you want us to take a look or, or indeed join us as an affiliate Creator, get in touch!

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter, or on our Facebook Page!

Bye for now!

Ferris, CC

Themeborne: Those Rising Dark Stars…

If you’re familiar with Themeborne and Escape the Dark Castle, you can jump straight to the section entitled “Escape the Dark Sector!”, there’s a nifty banner to help you find it!

A couple of years ago I was cruising through Kickstarter town when I came across some great looking, creepy and nostalgic artwork. I investigated, sipping my breaktime tea to find a small tabletop card game… a very simple, pleasing to the eye game.

I read deeper into this game, Escape the Dark Castle (EtDC), and fell in love with it – at this point I hadn’t even played it, or read the rules enough to fully understand them… because it did something that most new games these days fail to do…

Create an immersive atmosphere.

Fast forward a year or so and the box lands at my door. I was surprised, because the game fit into a relatively small box, but that didn’t matter, not all great things come in huge packages (know what I mean?)

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EtDC was made and published by Themeborn. Who are Themeborne, and what about their game makes it so engaging?

Themeborne are a small design studio located in Nottingham, UK. They have a small portfolio of games on their website, but it is one that is growing. Three individuals, each with very different skills as either a writer, artist and musician make up the studio. Whoever they are, it seems to create a perfect blend of creativity. Thomas Pike, Alex Crispin and James Shelton put their heads together and created this atmospheric and easily engaged card game.

They’re exploding onto Kickstarter again, this time for a space themed game, a spiritual successor to their first, with Escape the Dark Sector – more on this later!

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So what is Escape the Dark Castle?

Imagine waking up in a cell, in the dark. Perhaps you’ve been there for months or years suffering torture and starvation. One day, the door to your cell is open. Several others blink as they walk out of their cells. Now, how do you escape?

With this premise, player’s characters encounter situations as they flee, sometimes given choices and other times being forced to fight monsters or jailors. The game is based on a deck of well presented cards, with the players either taking it in turns to reveal the next card or deciding amongst themselves who should draw the next.

These cards acts as chapters in their escape, detailing the story as they sneak, run and fight their way through various chambers and obstacles.

Specialist 6-sided dice are used to determine survival, with each character, such as the Bishop or the Cook, having their own character cards and special dice. When fighting or struggling to overcome an obstacle, the dice are rolled against the “chapter dice” which act as a randomised challenge. If your dice roll matches one of the chapter dice, you can remove it, hopefully whittling the monster away to move onto the next chapter… or die trying!

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Not equal, however – the dice are spit into might, wisdom and cunning and each character will have a better chance at rolling one or more of these attributes, meaning some combinations of characters can hinder the escape.

The chapter cards are drawn at random during game setup, meaning there is almost limitless possibilities in the escape story. Expansions to the game, which came out this year, means there are even more cards to randomly create the story.

And finally, as your make your get-a-way, you will encounter one of several special end of game enemies, each acting differently to immolate, terrify or devour the escapees.

The chances are you’re not going to make it, with less than  25% of our stories resulting in the characters escaping the dark castle! Why? Because if one of the characters dies, everyone loses and chances are that by the time you get to the ultimate encounter, you’ll be struggling already! The odds are not stacked in your favour… and it’s great!

etDC Kit

How does it feel?

Escape the Dark Castle has many great features, which I’ll go over briefly here. The important bit is that combined, these traits create a wonderful, narrative and enjoyable game play reminiscent of Knightmare, a UK kids TV show.

Easy to learn

The rule book is slim and easy to read with direct examples of how to play. The nature of the game focuses on getting started as a group and jumping into your first game. The storytelling aspect of EtDC means that just about everyone and their grandma can learn to play. Each player is encouraged to read out the chapter card they draw and are written in an old sword and sorcery style.

Quick as you like Pace

They say that the game takes 2 minutes to setup and around 30 minutes to play. I disagree with the 30 minutes but only because the game can be played as quickly or as slowly as you like. We’ve played many games of EtDC and frankly, when you’re sat around a table in a dimly lit room, the atmosphere suggests you take it slowly… but as you near the last chapter card, the pace quickens… almost as if you’re running blindly through a dark castle and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Social, Inclusive, Cooperative

This is a game for everyone (assuming they can read, and even then, others can help). Because it is truly a cooperative game, where everyone or no one is a winner, it’s very easy to get involved. Who draws the next card can be decided democratically, people can look at the state of their character and think: I can’t survive another round of fighting! Others will openly declare that they can take whatever happens next, effectively ‘taking one for the team’ so there’s room for limelight too.

The inclusion of ‘equipment’ cards adds an extra dimension to the escapees: who will take the rusted sword, or who needs to eat the stale bread?

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Even Grandma can learn to play…

Variety

There are 45 chapter cards in the basic game, of which 11 are randomly drawn to create each story. The chances of drawing the same 11 cards each time are so astronomically low that you’d have to play thousands of games to get an exact same combination. But worry not, there are several expansions already out for EtDC and each one adds even more chapter cards, end of game bosses and even starting cards to the story. Cult of the Death Knight, Scourge of the Undead Queen and Blight of the Plaguelord are great additions, each one bringing more themes and story to your escape.

Value

With 3 expansions, a collector’s box, play mat, card sleeves, a book of character deaths (I know, right?) a story book and even an 80’s style musical cassette you’d be forgiven for thinking that the prices are going to match the likes of Fantasy Flight Games. Except that they’re not.

The Core game is priced at £30 – and this is truly all you need. The expansions, which you could buy several years down the line, are priced at £15 each and everything else is £20 or less, depending on what you want – Themeborne have made a great little game that is affordable and so re-playable you’ll never get to experience every possible combination of game.

And now they’re going a step further and taking us into the timeless void of space, where no one can hear you scream…

Escape the Dark Sector!

Escape the Dark Sector

ETDS Logo

Escape the Dark Sector is a science-fiction adventure, pitting the beleaguered crew of a ship against a detention block space station. Again, if anyone dies, the game is over, presumably because the ship can’t be flown without a full crew!

Themeborne suggest that the story and game-play comes from popular science fiction of the 80’s, including Alien, Startrek and Star Wars combined with the literary adventures of the amazing Fighting Fantasy novels and classic Dungeons & Dragons – much like Escape the Dark Castle!

Whether you like all of those titles or not, it seems there is something for everyone.

What’s different?

The core storytelling concepts from EtDC still run through Dark Sector, but Themeborne have introduced several new and easy to learn mechanics to the game and its setup. They make sense too, creating cinematic shootouts with aliens. So what’s new?

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The Setup

The characters are familiar to those who played EtDC – each character has a dice specific to them to roll during actions and combat. However, adding onto the basic character concepts, players can choose ‘cybernetic implants’ which give their characters an edge in certain situations.

The story aspect has been developed to include not one single stack of story chapters and instead is now made up of three acts which, we’re told ups the tempo and intensity the deeper into the escape story the players drive their characters.

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The Gameplay

Since the theme of Dark Sector has catapulted the story into space, so too has the technology level, introducing tactical combat actions and  ranged combat.

Tactical combat actions include shooting, charging, reloading. re-equipping, and flanking, giving the game a much more tactical feel without detracting from the flow of the game. As is the way of Themeborne games, the action to charge is carried over for each character, meaning when one of you declares a charge, everyone has to go with them! It’s all or nothing!

Further, the action to heal some wounds can only be taken by one character at a time. No one gets to sit out for more than a round either. This seems to have upped the challenge! To balance this, certain actions such as reload or flank mean your character is not targeted by the enemy, but at least one character has to choose to fight or shoot. Actions come in the form of cards, where the character dice are placed in order to keep track more easily.

Ranged combat involves equipment and dice specifically related to the weapons, which, we’re told are not always positive effects for the characters. They seem to include ballistic, beam and explosive symbols, so no doubt each one comes with risks!

Some monsters and enemies are affected by or deal special damage depending on the type of ranged attack being made, so teamwork is still at the centre of the game mechanics – pile it up together or decide who should be shooting what weapon and you’ll crack the chapter and be able to move on!

If you want a copy of Escape the Dark Sector you’ll need to back the Kickstarter, there’s less than 40 hours left! Otherwise you can wait for the official release online, sometime next year!

Alternatively, you can grab yourself a copy of Escape the Dark Castle!

You can find the Kickstarter here

Themeborne website and shop

@FerrisWrites for Twitter and our Facebook page.

Give Sigmar a Chance: Why I’m giving Games Workshops ‘Age of Sigmar’ a Second Look…

Age of Sigmar is a tabletop war-game set in a fantasy world created by Games Workshop (GW). The game involves miniatures to represent warriors and monsters, with dices rolls used to represent the fray of battle as two or more players strive to defeat their opponents.

Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WFB) was the precursor to Age of Sigmar, and its development into the newer game was fraught with poor decision making and knee jerk reactions, with an unhealthy dose of corporate foolery.

I was a long time fan of Warhammer in its earlier and middle life. It was something I grew up with. Its strong sense of fantasy and rich lore was inspiring to a young boy, teenager and adult. As a nerd, it was a binding force among friends that ran alongside games like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a large part of our youth.

I took time out from Warhammer and GW they fell out of favour with me for many reasons. So when I heard about the new Age of Sigmar I was hopeful for a balanced and fun game. I felt let down and the following history tale feels like a terrible loss to something I held very dearly.

But I’m giving GW a second chance, and I’ll explain why later.

First, some history…

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The Lore Unflinching

Since its inception in 1983, Warhammer Fantasy Battle has been rich in its setting, abundant history and legends combined with inspiring artwork and grandiose tales. It was for the most part, a thing of beauty, the likes of which no other company had managed to create. WFB ran until 2010, with 27 years of added legends and story, enriching its own lore within each incarnation, eventually ploughing itself into an 8th and final edition.

However, a common complaint is that the story of the world never really advanced. Most of the rich storytelling, the history of the world, had already taken place. Global political and natural events had already shaped the world, from the war between Elves and Dwarves to the cataclysms that shaped the geography. With the exception of the incursions forces of Chaos (the ultimate big bad guys of the setting) very little else changed, and for 27 years humanity and its allies stood on the brink of extermination and extinction… yet was never quite defeated or victorious.

Arguably there’s a difference between the campaign world and the larger written fiction world: Despite gaps in the world, the GW development team failed to seize and advanced certain narrative arcs or historical campaigns, such as the War of the Beard, pitching Elves and Dwarves into a war that lasted years, creating offshoots of each nation / faction. Despite having untapped regions on the world map, it seemed that GW prematurely ran out of geographical room, never actually filling out all the regions in detail. The missed opportunities were vast.

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A Lore Uncopyrighted

WFB was expanded in the 80’s and as such borrowed much of its history and cultural ideas from Lord of the Rings which saw a rise in popularity and profile during that decade. Warhammer was generally considered a variant of many different stories and world settings at a time when copyrighting the name of a species wasn’t ever considered.

This borrowing of cultures and ideas meant that other, smaller companies were able to borrow in turn from GW. Being a large and successful company, GW didn’t like that idea. The prime example of this is the novel “Spots the Space Marinewhich GW wanted removed for copyright reasons. Owning ‘Space Marine’ for themselves was apparently critical to their business model.

When you considered how much GW borrowed from other media, you realise that much of their content was not their own. Copyrighting that content and cornering the market to their benefit was not possible with the old WFB lore. They would have to change everything… which Age of Sigmar does; the heart warming Elves, Dwarves, Goblins and Orcs were replaced with Aelves, Duardin, Grots and Orruk. It’s also hard to copyright historical figures and names, looking at you Bretonnian players!

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Compounding the Fractures

For new players, starting a game of Warhammer can be costly, with players investing their time and precious money into buying miniatures, paints, brushes, terrain boards and books to create their armies. If you just look at the price of the miniatures, you can spend hundreds of your precious monies before you’ve assembled anything. So when a game loses its appeal to old gamers, and new gamers can’t afford to start playing, sales begin drop and any company is likely to worry. But GW didn’t seem to learn with each new edition of WFB…

The 6th Edition of WFB was considered ‘alright’ in its early days for game balance. It still had its problems, much like any game. Unfortunately it was the start of the fall, where the final few Army Books published showed an increase in the power creep (where successive armies would be significantly tougher and cheaper to purchase in-game). Matching armies to play a fair game was harder and players started to emulate the winners creating a stale gaming style. Spending hundreds of pounds on an impressive army didn’t guarantee a satisfactory win/lose ratio.

7th Edition compounded on 6th edition and was the point in time when the famous (probably misquote) “We’re a miniature company not a games company” by the CEO of that time, Kirby. This was considered the primary unbalanced version of the game. This was also the time of the GW store changes, where a single member of staff was expected to run the store. This lead to an end of local store tournaments and a reliance on local independent gaming stores to do the hard work, which they were not prepared to do.

8th Edition simply added on top of this again, removing some parts of the game that required skill and understanding and replaced them with unbalanced armies and rules in totality.

 

Mat Ward held the creative reigns during these times of troubles and was supposedly responsible for the power creep of factions – most of the army supplement books were under his name which unfortunately lead to a loss in popularity. This lower-quality “modelling business” seems to have driven a core of players away, especially when GW tried to claim gamers only made up 20% of their sales (maybe they included digital games and fiction in those sales numbers, who knows). Still, 20% is a huge chunk of your market and not to be sniffed at.

The messiah Jedi to bring balance should have been 9th Edition and was rumoured to be an amazing game of fortitude and fun. However, some internet folks believe that this dropped the sales of the 8th edition as players saved their cash ready to spend it all in a glorious fit of nerd-frenzy… GW scrapped most of what 9th edition could have been. Frankly, GW had failed its panic test and bottled it, doing something so knee jerk worthy that many of their core fans and players simply stared in disbelief.

They killed it all off.

In an act of terrible corporate zeal, it was deemed unworthy and so all of it had to burn, apparently.

Warhammer 40K, the Expanding Galaxy

On the other hand, GW’s Warhammer 40,000 (40K) storyline moved onwards in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium. Players still flocked to it and it seemed always popular. Everyone loves “Spess Ma-reens!” So while WFB fell, GW put their time and effort into 40K. This lead to more delays and lethargy in creating content for WFB, hammering further nails into its coffin.

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Birth of the Mortal Realms, the Age of Sigmar

It was expected that 9th edition was going to mend itself, bandage its blood spouting wounds, stick on an eye patch and throw itself back into the fight for the old world with a grizzled low growl. But with the panicked reaction from a slump in sales, GW rushed ahead with Age of Sigmar and dumped the Old World. The lore and world history of WFB was abolished, the relics and lessons of the Old World were forgotten and the new world, the world of Mortal Realms was born.

Many fans were outraged (I mean, it is the internet) and a solid core of supporting players felt abandoned and ignored. No doubt many miniatures ended up in the bin, or left to fend for themselves Toy Story style in a box of Barbie dolls… or likely ended up on eBay.

Warhammer now looked like something from Magic the Gathering, minus the charm.

So why, after the loss of something held very dear, am I giving Age of Sigmar and Games Workshop another chance?

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Age of Sigmar

The new game is very accessible and despite frankly large problems, holds promise. The core rules are completely free and readily available online to print out yourselves.

Now you can play the game as a narrative (discard point values for armies) or you can carry out matched play, where you decide on the points values for your forces. This means you can tailor games for competitions or story driven wars.

A Battle Narrative

The revived and quick to learn rules have given GW a chance at another shot to regain the glory of the old days – quite simply it’s a shame they had to destroy everything the fans loved about the setting (but all is not lost). Games are now played in scenarios. This put me off originally, because I love a good ruck in the mud with swords and death, but actually, scenarios allows me to play a relatively weak force (High Elves, who are now Swifthawk Riders) against an incredibly overpowered force (such as the Beastclaw Raiders) and hopefully run rings around them, because no army is able to be perfect in a randomly determined scenario.

Embers of the Old World

Thankfully, GW are still publishing fiction related to the Old World. They’ve even gone back further and re-released fiction before the time of Karl Franz (the emperor with the big hammer at WFB peak). Third parties such as Cubicle 7 have brought fresh life to the Old World with a renewed and updated version of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game (we had a peek early on here…) and God’s bless the Creative Assembly for sticking with the Old World in their very successful Total War: Warhammer series (which merges two of my favourite things wonderfully).

And finally… Gotrek Gurnison lives! The doom-seeking Slayer wandered out of the time warping Chaos Wastes of the Old World to bring some good old fashioned Slayer perspective in Realm Slayer. Gotrek quests through the Mortal Realms to find his manling sidekick, Felix Jaeger, who may have been reincarnated as a Stormcast Eternal! This is a great tale that sets the scene for Age of Sigmar and throws us veteran players a much desired connection to the World that Once was.

Gotrek Gurnison Felix Jaeger troll salay beast slayer everything slayer

So, like with the new Star Wars movies – the new stuff doesn’t invalidate the old stuff – you can still read and watch the old stories and enjoy them for what they are. You can do the same for Warhammer.

GW took a huge gamble which seems to have paid off.

At least for now…

Absolutely Final Bit

If you keep up to date with the acts of GW and their Age of sigmar game, you may want to take a look at this petition that is over five years old. If you read it you’ll see that most of what the petition was asking for has actually been met by the GW. Shame they never actually replied to the petition…

https://www.change.org/p/games-workshop-limited-refocus-your-business-model-on-the-sale-of-a-game-and-support-of-a-gaming-community-vice-the-pure-sale-of-collectible-miniatures

That about wraps it up for now! Thanks for reading, and as ever, your comments and discussion are always welcome. perhaps you know something we don’t and would like to share your thoughts?

@FerrisWrites for Twitter and our Facebook page.

Interested in table top terrain crafting?

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Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Getting your Hands on the Materials

Over the last few weeks I’ve been offering tips, hints and advice on creating tabletop terrain for wargames such as Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 40K and Skirmish-style games such as Frostgrave. The feedback, comments and notifications I’ve received have had an underlying theme; where do you get your supplies from in the UK?

Being in the UK, many of the materials we see used online do not seem to be available to us. So, I’ve decided to create a comprehensive list of the tools, materials and where I sourced them from. This should hopefully give you a better idea of what you’re looking for and how to get hold of them.

Here goes…

Tools of the Trade

Knives, Blades & Cutting Mats

I’m not going to go into too much detail here as, chances are, you know where to buy crafting knives. The places I think do reasonably priced craft knives are places like The Range, Wilko (Wilkinson’s) and the like (some of these places are relatively new to the north-west UK). That said, some hobby and craft supply stores do tend to charge an arm and a leg for their products, so shop around. I’ve often found supermarkets can surprise you with some cheap, good quality craft knives. A couple of GBP should get you something sensible

Wilkinson’s do a good range of affordable tools, disposable knives being one of them.

The same can apply for cutting mats. I tend to get the SpaceFly brand because they’re cheap, available all over the place and come in a range of sizes and colours. The best place for cutting mats? I actually find Amazon works best. Try to avoid the rotary cutting mats – they’re thinner and not as robust. In my experience, they tend to slip about too.

Hot-wire Cutters

If you want to be cutting bricks from foam or saving yourself from buying a tonne of extra blades, then a hot wire cutter is something you should consider. There’s two thoughts I have on this; cheap is fine, expensive isn’t necessary.

I started with a cheap, basic, hand made hot wire cutter from eBay which set me back about £35. It does the job and you get what you pay for. If you’re flashing cash, you could go for the Proxxon version but in reality, you don’t need to. I upgraded recently to a hot-wire cutter made in China and sold in the UK, from eBay which set me back just over £60. It comes with an pretty accurate set of measuring points, the wire doesn’t flex too much and is held in place neatly. It also cuts faster by having a hotter wire.

Paints, Inks, Washes & Brushes

Again, there’s not much point in going into detail here. If you’re making terrain you don’t need to buy expensive paints. So long as they’re acrylic and mat finish paints, you can buy the cheapest you can find. Art shops are a good place to go, but they will stock more expensive brands, so again, try shops like Wilkinson, the Range and Hobby Craft.

The same applies for brushes. For finer detail paints or highlighting you want a medium sized and soft brush. For mass painting or large areas or slapping on paints and sealers like Mod Podge, a large coarse brush is fine. You can usually get sets with a good variety. Same rules apply; you can buy expensive or cheap, the difference is that one you will replace more frequently but that’s perfectly natural for paint brushes.

More on washes later…

Glue & Glue Guns

Mini glue guns are best. You can get them for less than £5 and the glue sticks online, especially eBay, are sold by the 100 for a couple of GBP. You can go a little more up market here if you have the budget – cheap glue guns will tend to dribble  the hot glue between uses unless you turn it off and on again (which takes time to heat up, so I tend to leave them on as I work).

With PVA glue – the price reflects the water content. Expensive means thicker and stronger, cheap means more water but likely quicker to dry and easier to paint on. Again, buy what you can afford, but for the terrain making, you can buy the cheap stuff and no one will ever know! The great thing about PVA glue is that you can thin it down with water (which for the most part, is free).

Foam, XPS & Styrofoam

The crux of this article. Let’s get something straight. In the US & Canada, XPS foam comes in pink or blue colours and is readily available in large quantities. In the UK however, it seems to be nowhere. That is because over here in the UK we call XPS foam, Styrofoam. XPS is the abbreviation for Extruded Polystyrene – it is basically a very strong, durable but craftable foam which does not bend. EPS, which is expanded polystyrene is the stuff that your electrical goods get boxed in, the white stuff which looks like it has been made out of thousands of tiny bubbles.

Styrofoam / XPS is available mostly online through eBay. I tend to use the supplier named Blue Foam, found here. Depending on the thickness and sheet size, you can get a reasonable amount of Styrofoam for less than £20. This is the material I commonly buy and use to create bricks and bases for my terrain buildings.

You could buy from a hardware or DIY store but I’ve yet to find it in an affordable or ready to use format. If you have found it, please let me know!

Foamstock, Card & Paper

Foamstock is just a piece of foam front and backed with paper. It’s used to mount photographs amongst other junior school crafts. Again, you can get it just about anywhere but the cheap stuff is fine to use and available in pound shops!

I use card recycled from postal packaging. When you buy a book from Amazon they usually turn up in a thin but sturdy card envelope. This stuff is strong and durable and ideal for detailing terrain miniatures. I use it for cutting roof tiles / shingles.

Paper. It’s just paper!

Measuring Rules

I tend to buy rulers and squares from Wilkinson’s or the Range. You may need to dig deep in store to find them. For £20 you should be able to get good quality steel rulers etc that will last you years. Not bad for a small initial outlay!

The God that is Mod Podge!

Yep, this stuff is amazing. It’s not just a fancy PVA glue. No. It is terrain divinity. It dries with more toughness and water repellent properties than PVA, because it contains resins which act as a sort of easy to use concrete. No terrain made from foam should be made without it!

The best news is that you can now buy it in UK shops readily. I first bought some online, but recently found it cheaper in the Range. Not even Hobby Craft had it in stock last time I checked!

Making Decent Wash…

You’ll notice a lot of people create their own washes for terrain. A wash is a water-thin paint that is applied liberally to a miniature which, as it dries, recedes into the recesses of the model to create shadows. It’s a miracle product!

The problem for terrain crafting is that you need a lot of it, and frankly it can be expensive (looking at you, GW)! So here’s how to make your own – keep in mind, if you buy these products you’ll be able to make litres of wash and you can modify them for varied results…

What you will need:

  • Artist Ink (black and brown usually)
  • Mat Medium (essentially colourless paint)
  • Water (deionised is best)
  • A bottle container or two
  • A smidge of washing up liquid

Now, there are literally hundreds of tutorials online to show you how to make washes, so I’m not going to repeat them here, I will however share a link to a really helpful guy who knows a bit more about painting than I do, meet Luke!

If you’d like to read on the previous articles, you can find them in the links below:

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Bombastic Buildings and Fantastic Features – Creating your Tabletop Battlefield

TABLETOP WAR-GAME TERRAIN & SCENERY: Part two, the basic steps

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

If you’re on Facebook or Twitter you can find us in these links, where we post often, so you’ll get notifications if you follow us:

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

Facebook page!

In the next few weeks I’ll be looking at making trenches, futuristic and alien terrain pieces (Mars was requested) and possibly upping my painting game!

If you think this article or related articles have been helpful, or if you want to contribute with some knowledge of your own, get in touch and leave or comment or get hold of us on Twitter or Facebook!

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

In the last few weeks I’ve gone over some of the techniques for making battlefield terrain. The focus has been on buildings and structures and this week we’re going to finish that theme off by bringing it all together. I promised some multistory buildings too. Read on to see more of the good stuff and how I achieved the beginnings of some great results!

What am I doing?

I decided to make everything so that it would fit on convenient 15 x 15 cm tiles. This was so that I could orientate the same tiles to create different looking terrain, whether I’m playing Age of Sigmar, AoS Skirmish, Frostgrave or even some Dungeons & Dragons.

Similar tiles can be used to create urban scenery in Warhammer 40,000, which I’ll cover at some point in the future.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I also upgraded my hot-wire cutter. It was a little more expensive, in the £50-60 region, but the arm doesn’t flex, the wire doesn’t bend and it heats up consistently making its ability to cut through foam much better! Alarmingly, the wire does glow bright orange, which was a little disconcerting at first!

So how did I do, what did I do, and how did I do it? Read on…

A trial run…

I decided to test my formula for creating tabletop scenery with an unsuspecting volunteer. I quickly ran down the basic steps of creating the terrain piece, introduced the volunteer to a hot glue gun and Styrofoam, hefted a tonne of miniature bricks onto the table and allowed that person to run away with their imagination. This is the outcome so far (note, it still needs painting).

 

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As you can see, it really doesn’t take much to get stuck in and have a go. Once again, there wasn’t a huge amount of planning involved in the creation of this quaint little tower – imagination provided the blueprints and away they went!

The Tile Set Blueprints

OK, so creating as many 15 x 15 cm tiles as required. To make my life easier, I got hold of some 1 cm thick black Styrofoam. It was an eBay purchase and cost me about £16 but may be cheaper in other parts of the world. Why did I buy these? It’s quite difficult to thin down thick Styrofoam on account of the wobbly nature of the hot-wire cutter.

So, not everything needs be to broken or derelict, no, there needs to be more so I’m going to build some complete structures which fit on the 15 cm tiles; watchtowers, tall walls, dead-ends, bell towers, warehouses, pig pens, shambolic defensive positions – you name it!

Because each tile is essentially 6 x 6 inches, I can fit four in a single square foot. Multiply this by four and you’ve got yourself an interchangeable, customisable and modular tabletop terrain system. I’ll go to town on some bigger open plazas with ruined columns etc in the future (to make it easier and give any missile troops a chance).

Footpaths & Plazas

From a design point of view, I’d like to build some footpaths, essentially narrow death traps that must be risked to get to different places on the map.  Here are some images of the test pieces I worked on. It can take time to get it right, so give yourself an open mind when you’re trying out ideas – you won’t put pressure on yourself and get worked up by perceived ‘failures’ at the end of your crafting session.

 

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The dirt footpaths are 5 x 15 cm. By applying a lot of pressure with some scrunched up tin foil to the centre of the Styrofoam piece, and lighter touches to the outer quarters I was able to create the impression that the path had been used for many years. I cut some 0.5 x 0.5 x 15 slithers of foam and cut them up, weathering and aging them with the foil to look like curb pieces.

In the future when I attempt larger roads, I will use the ‘crazy pathing’ idea and simply trim the pieces down to compensate for the curb. I’ll also impress the foam in places to make it look like carts had been through, wearing down the road over the years.

The roads should be at least 10 cm wide and up to 30 cm long (the extent of my purchased Styrofoam sheets) – they will look good running through the centre of the board, or alongside the boards on bigger battle arenas. Details are important here, so I need to think about how I’m going to decorate the pieces to make them believable.

It sounds easy, but it’s actually very hard to make simple open spaces and retain the feeling of interest and wonder. Because there’s likely no focal point to grab the eye, it needs to have a few extra details to keep the area ‘alive’ and quirky.

I’ve decided on a single gallows with some stakes rammed into the ground to keep people away from ‘justice’ being served…

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I added some ‘crazy pathing’ for a bit more variety, weathering the whole lot with the tin foil method. To make the pathing stones I cut foam strips 2 x 2 cm then went over the corners, freehand cutting in irregular ways. I then cut the stones from the end of the strips at 0.5 cm, creating odd and mismatched but flat stones. In hindsight, I should have cut these narrow than 0.5 cm, maybe half that again to 0.25 cm.

Texture is also important, so I’ll likely be using some of the rolling pins from Green Stuff World. An example of my trial run with these can be found in the images below…

 

 

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Ramping It Up!

Finally, I decided to have a go at the multistory building idea.

I wanted to make this bigger, but I also wanted to be able to use different parts of it at different times. To achieve this, I started with 4 tiles to make a jumbo tile and began building a wall which would interconnect. I added a ruined wall around the edges of the jumbo tile, leaving plenty of gaps and debris for cover and interesting features.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I then started to make a second story of brickwork, which I could lock or lay in place and built this up a few times. Finally, I made a third story set of brickwork, but this time to accommodate half a roof.

The roof in these pieces was made from foam board, which is light and tough. I cut out rows of packing card (the sort of thin card your Amazon books are delivered in). Each row was 2 cm high with a cut  1 cm deep every 1 cm along the row. I then just cut and hacked out pieces to create the impression of roof slates. This was time consuming, but quite rewarding. You can see some of the details in the image below.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Finally, here’s a series of images showing you how to connect together.

 

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OK, so its not complete yet (I mean, I did just complete an entire week of a UK LARP event!) So I’ll post some images next week.

That’s it for now, and the end of this miniseries for terrain and scenery. If you’ve learnt anything, or if you have some advice and tips of your own, please leave a message in the comments below.

There will be more on tabletop terrain in the future, but for now, I really want to get these pieces finished and have them lined up for some gaming!

Good luck, and have fun!

Ferris

Part One…

Part Two…

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

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