Monthly Archives: February 2016

Running Hoard of the Dragon Queen:When Good Players Go Bad

“Whaddya mean Govenor Nighthill has no money? He had about 5,000 gold pieces last time we robbed him.”

14709_842496389153439_4449791469832993263_nFor those in the know, the first part of Wizard’s Tyranny of Dragons: Hoard of the Dragon Queen, is sort of a “one event leads to the next” type of story. I posted before on my decision to run a more linear campaign with a new player. I completely regret that decision.

The following contains what may be construed as mild to significant spoilers.

The Dilemma
You just never know. New Player certainly is a noob, but not the type to ever differ to other characters, or even be a team player for that matter. New Player, “Instigator” is thy name. What’s more, this is not a party that works for charity. You have a piratical priest of Talos the Destroyer, a maniacal tiefling assassin, and a Neutral half-orc wizard, who’s saintly in comparison to the other members who barely tolerate his presence. My dilemma going forward is finding out how to motivate these players to pick back up with the story as planned without dangling tons of gold in front of them, and to try to foster party cohesion.

The Carrot
As I see it, there’s little motivation for this band of nare-do-wells  to investigate a dragon cult and build coalitions to put the kibosh on their plans. Setting fires, pointless torture, human trafficking, and a range of other types of demonic activity is more in line with their modus operendi.

So I’ll have to hit a little closer to home. The cool thing about 5th edition D&D is that each character comes with a bond–something or someone in the setting they profess to care about. And that can be a powerful leaver. I’ve already introduced the AssAssin’s bond–a maguffin in the shape of a mysterious key that belonged to his parents. I can’t keep snatching the key away to keep him chasing it. At some point you have to deliver. The thing I have to brainstorm is what significance is the key, how will that spur up a motivation, and how can I tie that neatly into the story as written? The others are a bit more obvious. Every cleric comes with a deity that can make them care. And Wizards are almost always motivated by the advancement of their craft.

The Stick
One character goes off after something that grabs their attention. Another starts off to explore on their own; it’s a DM’s worst nightmare. More than this, the tiefling name calls the other characters and both tiefling and priest snub the wizard, so the wizard sets his own agenda.

I’ve gotten pretty good at wearing two hats. I can DM as well as play an NPC who is a party member. I’ll speak in character, using a different voice affectation and most of the time they get when I’m a DM and when I’m speaking as a supporting character. “Supporting” is a key word. A DM should never make the big decisions for a group, simply offer opinion and advice. This time I have no such voice, or any agency to influence any of the shenanigans within the narrative with the authority that a party member has. So I have to sit mute and slack-jawed at the atrocities being described.

The solution? If they bake a cake, let them eat it. They may run off to commit crimes, but there are champions of good out there, and the world is a dangerous place. If they want to solo, then they may just find that cooperation is actually beneficial to their survival.

To Conclude
When you go to start a new campaign, learn what it is you’re buying into. Hoard of the Dragon Queen is not the setting for an evil campaign. I have to say that this is the first campaign I’ve ran where I genuinely don’t like the characters who are in it. Note, I’m not saying players, I wouldn’t be there if that was the case. But what keeps me running this campaign is mostly the love of the game, and a morbid curiosity. Only time will tell if they can get it together for the next fifteen levels.



Spell Crafty

“I get dibs on the scrolls!”

Most of the time, necessity is the dictator of my craft table. My regular group has a priest player character, whose Spiritual Weapon marker on the table was a Bigby’s hand I made last year. I realize that the dilemma of  substitute minis is a minor problem in the grand scheme of things; we somehow made it through the evening with out too much confusion. Even so, I’m not one to shy from a sculpting challenge.

Hammer Time!
As soon as I got home I busted out the sculpting tools. It was an easy decision to settle on a warhammer for Spiritual Weapon since that’s the classic incarnation of it. The narrative called for a triple headed hammer monstrosity, but I’m sure my player will forgive me if I make some thing a bit more generic, and thus re-usable.


I had a pin vice it just so happened that same player bought me a bit ago. I used it to hold onto a pin (of all things) that served a an armature for the hammer part. The medium is ProCreate, a sculpting epoxy that is a standby of mine. It takes a couple of hours before that stuff hardens enough to handle. then I superglued a loop of wire to some plasticard. Then I shaped the wire into a dynamic gesture for the supporting ribbon of spiritual “energy.”  (Gravity: the sculptor’s bane!)



A Spicier Meatball
The Flaming Sphere is really a re-do. I employed some DM Scotty techniques to make it, only I used the poor-man’s medium, wall filler, instead of the expensive modeling paste, which I just don’t have on hand at the moment. You don’t get the drastic points of flame, but you can convey the idea all the same.


Truth be told, I’m not crazy about my paint job. Cherry Cobbler may not have been the best finishing color, though it looked good while wet. I might go back and retouch it with a brighter shade.








Wyloch’s Dungeon Tiles In Review

Nice room. So where’s the loot?

It’s been a while since I’ve had the occasion to craft much, and even longer since I’ve made a post. But even when life keeps me busy, I keep one eye open for ideas and inspiration. I ran across a stray comment on DM Scotty’s Crafts N’ Games Facebook group, mentioning a triumvirate of RPG craft personalities—namely,  DM Scotty, DMG Info, and Wyloch. I knew of the first two, but the third was a mystery. I was intrigued.

We’re Off to See The Wyloch
The experience of watching Youtube craft tutorial vids is an eclectic pleasure, I’ll admit. Yet there’s a tingle of excitement when I come across a new video, even if it’s a bit of a rehash of an old idea. It’s a thrill akin to getting a letter, or a postcard in the mail. Anyway, Wyloch’s channel is an absolute gem, and it’s strange that, as I write this, he’s relatively undiscovered. His videos are amazingly well produced considering that his equipment consists basically of a PC and a smartphone. He keeps everything in frame and focused. He narrates clearly and is easy to follow. His edits keeps the pace interesting. From start to finish, you understand clearly everything you need to do to produce a similar result.

Some Compact Tile Issues
Over the years now, there have been a couple of 3D tile products that I wouldn’t mind having, but were too expensive to buy, or too messy to make—involving molds and plaster or resin, and that’s simply not in my sphere of expertise at this point. I’ve had some measure of success in making small interior tiles with 3D walls, but there’s a number of issues I ran into that discourages their use and manufacture. First, the walls are a hindrance at the table. For a small room, everyone has to stand up to see or move the figures inside. Secondly, wall thickness is problem. If the width comes out of the tile, then a miniature simply can’t sit on a perfectly legal space. Add the wall on the edge of the tile and you’ve got a tile that doesn’t line up with its neighbors.


Some 3D tiles from yester-year.

The Big Deal
Building off the notion that it’s not necessary to fully represent the height of every wall, Wyloch tiles suggest the wall in the vein of the DMG Info, and DM Scotty 2.5D tiles. What’s innovative, is that he retains the grid, yet sacrifices the “one inch equals 5 feet sacred cow. And that cow makes for a tasty brisket.

For the complete rundown and tutorial check out his channel, but the secret? Make the spaces big enough to support a wall while retaining the same sense of scale. It’s simple and elegant! This is the kind of brilliance that invented the combustion engine or the electric light. So, after watching and re-watching his videos numerous times, I decided to try my hand at making such tiles of my own.

So You Wanna Make Some Tiles?
One of the first things to consider is that with these tiles it’s all about precision. It’s kind of like the difference between being an artist and being an engineer. You have to put your hard hat on. To be fair, what you’re still doing is art, but it requires a bit more care and deliberation than what’s usually “close enough” or a fair approximation. Each tile, and each tile component, must be painstakingly measured and re-measured and cut precisely or things won’t line up right. You can’t rush these things, and for me, that’s probably the biggest detractor.

I do enjoy crafting. Yet cutting out scads of carefully measured card stock squares, to me, is definitively tedious. When each tile has 4 spaces, and each space needs two squares, we’re talking 80 carefully measured and hand cut squares for only 10 tiles. Painting and assembly is only less tedious. As mentioned, there’s a lot of components, and some things really should be painted first before it even gets glued on. Depending on what you count, there are no fewer than 20 steps for each tile: measuring each component, cutting each component, sub assembly, black-basing each assembly, cutting bricks, embossing bricks… you get the idea. Yet the kick I get for seeing things come together is enough Pavlovian reinforcement to keep me at the assembly line.


Many tiles organized through a lens darkly.

Well, These Things Won’t Make Themselves
I started this project about or almost three weeks ago. I’ve spent several days and evenings working diligently each week. I’ve so far produced some 64 tiles. Aside from the labor, the cost was negligent. Most of the materials are basically free. I had some trouble locating double thick cardboard believe it or not. That stuff’s kinda like the Mafia. You know it’s out there, but you just don’t see it every day.

I had some initial concerns about the durability of these tiles. Even with a chipboard backstay, the foamcore wall connection with the tile seemed to be a weak point, that is until I started gluing on the spaces. The thickness of these spaces I thought were a bit extravagant, but they serve to reinforce the wall from the front, and give the tile a bit of heft and rigidity.


I went to some greater lengths in cutting the spaces with interesting patterns of distress. I avoided perfectly straight lines. I only distressed the top layer with chips and cracks. It gives the floor interest and dimensionality, and the color scheme keeps the floor at a visual baseline without screaming for attention. That’s really a job for the minis and the furnishings.

I’ve been painting stuff for longer than I can remember. I’m not an award winner by any measure, but I know how to use a brush. That said, I’ve never used a sponge. Most of the time, if I want texture, I build it on the model, and use various paint techniques to bring out the texture. I’ve been aware of the sponge technique for quite a while now, but trying it for myself was educational.

I find that with a properly loaded sponge on a flat surface you will get some impressive results. You always want to “daub” the surface, never smear. Having a mostly dry sponge with a vigorous stipple will get you a speckle look, while a moist sponge with a single stamp will get you a veiny or cratered look. There’s always a danger of leaving patterns of lines with the edge of the sponge, which is definitely undesirable. When I dab, I pinch the sponge to make a convex surface, which leaves fewer or no traces of the sponge’s edge.

As for painting the wall with the sponge, I didn’t care for the result. I stuck with it, but in hind sight, I would have gone with brush techniques. Using a sponge on a varied and porous surface left me with less control than I usually find tolerable. Trying to brighten up the lower part of the wall, I generally only succeeded in over saturating the upper part of the wall with paint. As it was, I went back and evened out tones with a brush. Part of the challenge is to get a look that’s consistent from tile to tile without spending too much time on each tile, because, again, you want to make a set some time within your lifetime.

I went with the two part gray over black and the occasional brown brick to break up the monotony. I kinda wished I’d have used a slightly less bright gray to finish, But I can live with what I’ve made. I am happy with the shade of brown “camel” which is a more subtle shade compared to the rich browns I’ve seen used. I think it helps to sell what is an otherwise sub par paint job.


To Conclude
Overall I’m pretty happy with them, and I can’t wait to use them in a game. I can foresee these getting a lot of mileage, so the time and effort was a great investment. I haven’t made curved or dead end halls yet, So I actually have a few more to go. The 2×2 form factor is easy to store and even the whole set is very light weight, which is good for a DM on the go. Now to start furnishing my dungeon!


Some of my home made minis. Sayin’ grace over some goodies.


Ok, so don’t mention the Owlbear in the corner.