Friday, September 18, 2020

More HeroQuest painting done

So here are a few more pictures of my progress painting the HeroQuest miniatures. They're far from prefect and I will probably fix many little details in the future, but for now I'm going to call them done and ready for the table.

I'm the next few weeks I'll work on the remaining monsters and I bought some remastered heroes on ebay... I'm planning to do the heroes last, since I can see my skills slowly improving mini after mini and I'd like the heroes do be decently done. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Painting HeroQuest

Not only I found a 2nd hand HeroQuest box in very good shape, but I bought colors, brushes, etc. and I am trying my hand at miniature painting. The goal is to have a fully painted set before the end of the year.

It's been like 25 years since I last touched a brush, and back when I was a teenager I was not very good at painting. I found out that even though my eyes are not the same anymore, I am much more patient now, and that helps a lot. And I use a magnifying glass, too :-)

So with the help of patience and video tutorials (which are really a big help! and those were also not available when I was young) and Contrast Colors, I am working first on the green monsters. It's not easy but if I manage to get in the right mood, miniature painting is very relaxing. And it feels good to have a visible, tangible project.

Here you can see a few pictures of goblins and fimirs. I used mostly Contrast for goblins, while with the fimirs I took more time to prepare them with a black wash. I struggle mostly with metals, but I am improving with those as well. I don't have pictures of orcs yet, but I will post those soon. Then it will be time to start with the undead. 

Next week I will host the 2nd game session for my family (partner, daughter, sister and her husband) and once the set is fully painted, I'll start a second group with my friends. I am writing several new quests with also a few house-rules to use with my friends, to get back to the sense of novelty and discovery that HeroQuest gave us back then...

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Playing HeroQuest, first time after 30 years or so

As I wrote a few days ago, I am getting back to HeroQuest after I found a second-hand complete set online, and I managed to pay a reasonable price for it (not cheap, just reasonable considering it was missing nothing, and everything was in very good shape).
When I received it by mail, I opened the outside anonymous box, and it was exciting to slide out that old, black box with its powerful cover image. It smelled of mould and dust, but it was in good conditions, with just a split corner. I called my 15 years old daughter to the living room, and told her to open the box.

I just wanted her to experience the thrill I felt myself, 30 something years ago.
Perhaps it's not the same for a teenager girl (although she's quite into fantasy and anime and all the rest...) as for a 12 years old boy in the early '90s, but still...
She was excited about the miniatures, the board, the furniture, everything. She looked at monsters and compared them. She admired the hell out of the whole thing - she might have even said something with a certain degree of admiration for the game concept, and for the amount of material, for such an "old board game".
And she said perhaps she should be getting the Stranger Things D&D box for chistmas :-) 

Then the box had been sitting there, in a corner of the living room, for a couple of weeks. In the meanwhile I hunted for some additional miniatures (original fimirs and goblins, for a start). 
I want to start painting the original miniatures, but I want also some spare parts in case I make a mess.
I wasn't a good painter 30 years ago, and even though now I have a bit more patience, and better colors and tools, I expect the first few tries to be mediocre. Still, using a mix of contrast paints and regular paints, and testing on modern miniatures, have let me decently confident.
I would like to have a full painted set for the christmas vacation period, but I doubt I'll succeed... Well, we'll see.

Anyway, after a few weeks, we arranged the first game.
It was me (age 42) running the game for my daughter (age 15), my partner (age 40+ and little love for fantasy), my young sister (age 25) and her husband (age 29). My sister and her husband are both very much into fantasy and games (but too young to have seen HeroQuest back in the days), and so is my daughter, so my partner played along.

My daughter jumped on the wizard and I encouraged her not to hold back on spells - I told her the quest had less than 10 rooms to go through.
I tought it was important to say this: I remember many games when I was little with the wizard playing no part in the adventure and just finishing the game with almost all the spells still available. To play a part, the wizard must use the spells - and I prefer for her to end up short a few times than to just sit passively there.
This I think is an important part which the original game missed: I am thinking about a little house-rule to force the GM to give an approximate "size" of the dungeon to the players. In fact, getting some info or a partial map could be sometimes part of the adventure setup, or of the previous adventure.

My sister was quick to snatch the elf, while her husband took the barbarian (he has more or less the same physique), and my partner ended up with the dwarf (and couldn't care less, of course!).
After a very brief introduction about the movement and action rules (they would have been bored by a long explanation, I just gave them the basics and made sure to correct mistakes or oversights in the first few turns), we started The Rescue of Sir Ragnar.
It's easier but especially, more focused than The Trial, and I am sure many modern players just do the same as I did.
The Trial seems to be a bit too hard for beginners, and everyone liked the idea of having to save Sir Ragnar (except my partner who was wandering why they should waste time on someone who was uncapable enough to be captured. The 240 gold coins persuaded her).

They messed up things a little and of course ended up splitting the party (at least with some balance: the wizard with the barbarian, and elf and dwarf together on the other side of the board).
They got into trouble in small corridors - the wizard ended up often in the front line and was exposed to my monsters. This also meant that the barbarian could not get an attack in the first turn afterwards, having to wait for the wizard to move out of the way.
On the other hand, this gave my daughter plenty of opportunities to use spells, and play an important role. With the barbarian, they found some treasure and even detected the needle chest trap before it was triggered.
The barbarian was a little bit unlucky with the dice and this also made the monsters - even the little goblins - feel like dangerous foes. They were surprised when the first few of them went down easily with just one hit, but in the end all except the dwarf had 2 or 3 body points left at the end of the quest, and didn't even explore all the map.
They will respect the monsters next time, I am sure of it.

The elf and the dwarf went exploring in the "right" direction, and were close to Sir Ragnar, although taking some risks.
The dwarf rolled low on the movement dice and the elf didn't wait for his companion, so ended up facing an orc alone, and then two of them in the next room. He was surrounded for one turn before the dwarf could catch up and kill one of them.
This costed the elf several body points and next time my sister will be a bit more careful in her desire to reveal all of the board in a hurry. Again, a valid lesson.
Then they found the secret door and Sir Ragnar, which was represented by an alternative, badly painted wizkids miniature (the first I tried after the aformentioned 30 years hiatus). They called him looser and wondered why he would walk so slow, and not take part in the fights towards the exit.
Even my partner - very much not into role playing nor complex board games - had slowly succumbed to the part. It was a confirmation of how powerful even the simplest story can be, and how strongly a table full of figures drags you in, regardless of your initial stance.

Sir Ragnar was saved, as expected, but they took a few risks and in the very last round the wizard killed an orc, which could have killed him instead if the attack roll failed.
It was exciting and my daughter was initially a little worried (she had a few unlucky turns, before), then really cheering and saying nasty things to the cadaver of the orc. That's how you do battle.

The game proved to be a success, of course. Now, about the "technical" side of the evening:

1- Keep rules discussions short, before the game. It's better to explain a little more between the various turns and give a few initial suggestions during the game, than to wait too long before starting because of complex rules or too many options to present etc.
2- HeroQuest is great just because of this: it's simple! Move and act, and not much more. For anyone who played it already (or a similar game), it's dead simple, but for a beginner? (move with dice, understand the spaces on the board, act and move or move and act - then waaaait! - enough actions for sure, understand combat, start to discover the underlying strategies... there's more than enough).
3- Keep a decent balance between interesting rules and interesting "fantasy" materials (miniatures, stories, etc.). Optimal rules without stories are boring. New miniatures (i.e. monsters) will keep players entertained even on basic rules, for a while. Then more complexity or something new is needed, to give life again to the old materials. Then new materials can be introduced again, etc... Keep a decent cycle and the game will remain not just entertaining, but will provide that little sense of wonder we all risk to lose with our "we've seen it all" attitude.
4- It's better to add complexity game after game. I will have to think a little more about this, but perhaps if I start to write the fanzine with an HeroQuest reboot, the first couple of quests should not have all the basic rules coming into play. For example, a quest without monsters will allow players to understand movement and searching. It would be challenging to make this interesting... well, perhaps a complex labyrinth where there are early traps to make players understand that they need to be careful, then dead ends which will teach to search for secret doors, locked doors to teach to search for treasures (keys), etc. And a final monster so they can get their hands bloody.

NOTE to self: I need to be careful especially with the many house-rules I started to think about. These too should be introduced little by little, even for experienced players, or the auto-pilot of old rules will kick in (or just boredom for new players having to learn too many rules).

About the actual rules:
- Perhaps something at the start of the quest to give players some minimal info (rumors, suggestions by the GM, partial maps)
- For now, narrow corridors and monsters have earned some respect, as did outnumbering the lonely elf (no changes for now)
- Movement dice: yes, it's a thing of the past, but look what it did to the elf. And I like the idea that players do not have a fixed movement (especially when they need to stick together, or if they need to run away... it just adds to the thrill of the game!). So for now, they're definitely staying
- Just a random thought - give up two spells to recover a used one? (probably not right away; seems like a nice power for an artifact)

Unfortunately, only one picture was taken (and not a very good one...).
And the head of the Gargoyle was broken when my sister was trying to understand how the pieces fit together... well, this happens to everyone who plays, right?

Friday, August 21, 2020

The situation is fine, thanks!

 I've been away from this blog (and gaming) for a while now. I received a few mails inquiring about the current situation and I want to reassure everyone: I'm fine, and I must consider myself lucky. I've not been affected by the covid situation (moreover, basically no one I know had the virus nor suffered too much from a personal or ecomical point of view). This is something to be grateful for.

I want to thank anyone who reached out - these were unexpected kind gestures and I am grateful for them.

I also hope to find you all in good health and that this covid situation did not cause any serious trouble.

Continue to keep safe; autumn is approaching (and winter is coming). The situation is still serious and there is not going to be a silver-bullet solution to this problem, I'm afraid. The virus will not go away easily, and we all might face more quarantine, more economical issues, more personal losses.

I imagine it's hard to give up hope, but facing reality does not mean being hopeless nor helpless. It means to be prepared. I am not sure of what's going to happen in the next few months, but I can only suggest to keep an eye on the numbers. Numbers don't lie. 

Do your best to separate numbers from how they're presented. Read what scientists say, rather than what politicians or gurus say - or at least, that's my personal suggestion. Be prepared for a winter as harsh as it was when quarantine begun.

Now; enough of this. This is a blog about RPGs and especially OSR. For those of you who understandably are interested only in my gaming materials, just be aware that I am switching my focus.

I bought on ebay a second hand HeroQuest box, I bought miniatures and paint, and I am traveling back in time 30 years to the '90s. 

This is what the blog will be about, when I will start posting again. See you soon!

Friday, March 20, 2020


Hello everyone,
Some of you are in quarantine already (I'm writing from the north of Italy, so I know what it feels like), most of you will be very soon anyway.
What can I do about it? Nothing, except giving everything away in Pay What You Want, to make it easier for you to grab something to pass the time. If you like what you read, or want to show your support, feel free to throw me some money - but if you are stuck in the house with nothing better to do, download everything for free.

Well, there is something else I can do, for all of you who are not in quarantine... I am in the north of Italy but most of my customers are from other countries, so let me tell you something:

Be VERY careful, be STRONG, but be PESSIMIST. If you are not in quarantine yet, make plans about it.

Not just food - and definitely not guns... (if we will ever get to the point when we run out of food or we need guns, I'm the last person to take advice from, and my email won't save you)
Make plans about your space (how can it be made more comfortable for months of quarantine? What is broken and needs to be fixed before the quarantine? Should you move somewhere else, if you have the opportunity?),
about your physical health (get ready to do some exercise indoor, make a daily workout schedule, buy what you need but most of all: get in the mindset that you WILL HAVE to do exercise at home; it's important!),
and mental health (do not panic, reinforce your network of family and friendly connections, get to know your neighbors, find a therapist who can work online, call a truce on any war you might have with people next to you),
buy/prepare now what you will need later (internet connection, decent hardware, medicines, books, materials for your kids, for you, for your hobby, for your partner, etc...).

Make a list of all the things you wanted to do and never had time for... because you're about to have plenty of time!

This virus WILL pass (meaning also: it will pass through your country too, before it's gone!), but there will be sacrifice to be made. Do NOT think: it won't happen TO ME, it won't happen HERE. It might, indeed, not happen to YOU, but it will affect your country, your region, your city - someone you know. I wish all of you the best of luck (I'm not one for prayers), but unless you're lucky enough to live on a tropical island (or somewhere similar), your life will be touched, somehow. Whatever they tell you: this will last for MONTHS, in a form or another.

ONE LAST THING: if your government tells you not to worry, do as you wish... but I think it would be very wise for you to make plans and take action as if the government was wrong and your instinct (your healthy fear) was right.
I bet they have a private hospital ready for them - do you have the same? Do your parents or grandparents have a team of private doctors? Does your family have a secret medicine we don't know about? The virus itself is not terribly lethal; but plenty of people suffer from other diseases or are too weak because of their age, to fight it properly. And hospitals are made for REGULAR situations; this is NOT a regular situation. Many people will die because of pre-existing conditions, age, or lack of proper treatment. The more the virus spreads (through all the people with no symptoms or not careful enough), the more the epidemic (and the quarantine) will last, and more people will die.

So, be careful, stay safe, play games, and see you all at the end of this!
Feel free to share this.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Encumbrance rules

If buying equipment at char-gen is often a waste of time, keeping track of the weight of each item is often too much even for the fanatic OSR player. Numbers to add and subtract, movement rate to re-evaluate, etc.
The good things is, there are plenty of easier encumbrance systems out there for you to use.

The first link uses a simplified weight unit: the stone.
Most stuff weights one stone (150 coins, several small items, a normal weapon or shield) and a few of them weight a little more (armor, basically).
The link contains also a few notes about the Imperial units vs. the Metric system.

Encumbrance is one of those fiddly bits in D&D that no one really enjoys (and lots of people just ignore once the game is in progress). [...]
In short, you should just use a coarser unit, one which makes the numbers easier to count mentally, and only have to deal with them when it makes a direct difference on gameplay.
Calculating encumbrance can alternatively be done using the old English unit of the "stone" (that is, 14 pounds). For D&D, let's say that 1 "stone" = 150 coins weight. For example, a grown man weighs about 12 stone. 
Conversions for gear are as follows:
Plate -- 5 stone
Chain -- 3
Leather -- 2
Shield -- 1
Weapon, heavy -- 1
Weapon, light -- 1 per 3 carried
Misc. Equipment -- 1 (total)
Tiny items are counted only if a character carries a large number of them; such gear as a dagger, potion, scroll, jewelry, etc. can be counted at 1 stone per 6 items, if so desired. Obviously, every 150 coins of treasure adds 1 stone (a backpack or large sack can carry 2 stone worth). 
Conversions for movement categories follow:
12" Move -- up to 5 stone weight
9" Move -- up to 7
6" Move -- up to 10
3" Move -- up to 20

If you like this system, note that Adam in the comments also proposed a small tuning based on the Strength score:
A Strength 12 man can carry 12 stones of encumbrance and still move 6".
You could make the categories12" = 1/2 Strength in stones9" = 3/4 Strength in stones6" = Strength in stones3" = 2 x Strength in stones (this seems a little high, but 150% of Strength is lower than the top of your current scale).

A further simplified version of encumbrance rules could just track the number of items, without the need to specify their weight. This post by Eric Diaz was directly inspired by the Delta article linked above.

Encumbrance, Movement and the rule of four
[...] Nobody seems to care much for "coin" weights, so a number of alternate systems have emerged. Delta's stone encumbrance is a favorite and an inspiration for this one.
For encumbrance, a "rule of four" might work quite well to help you remember that a regular character can carry 40 pounds without adverse effects, and up to four times time much, but with one fourth of their speed (if you carry more than STRx3). Combat movement is 40' per round.

I wanted STR to be relevant to encumbrance, so let us say that you can carry a number of 4-pound items equal to you STR. Four pounds is a good weight for a sword, mace, etc, with a scabbard. Two-handed weapons, or shields, counts as two items. Armor is a bit trickier; to keep it easy and quite close to Moldvay, I would make it count as [...] 4/8/12 for leather/chain/plate

The article contains a link to a single page pdf with the complete encumbrance rules:
In the PDF the rules refer directly to a number of items, instead of pounds (while it still maintains a reference to the weight of objects).

A character can carry a number of regular items equal to his or her Strength score before being slowed down. Thus, a character with Strength 12 can carry up to 12 items without penalty.
Any number of items over the Strength score will cause speed to drop to 3/4 of the regular speed and a -1 penalty to various activities. If the number of items is equal to Strength x2, speed is halved and the penalty is -2.
A standard “item” weights up to four pounds; examples are one-handed weapons such as sword or mace (with belt, scabbard, etc.), a winter blanket, climbing gear, a backpack, a grappling hook, 40’ of rope
Heavy items such as two-handed weapons, shields, 10 foot poles, winter clothing, etc., count as two items (or more, depending on the case).
Leather, chain and plate armor count as 5, 10 and 15 items respectively.
Small items may be bundled together and count as one single item (for example, four knifes, 40 arrows, 40 coins – or 1000 coins if you’re being historical, etc.).

The first article used "stones" as the measurement unit for encumbrance, the second a basic 4 pounds item, then further simplifying in the pdf by simply counting the items themselves instead of their weight.
This is of course very similar to the most popular system now, based on "encumbrance points" and connecting that directly to movement rates. Yes, talking about Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

When I've first read the rules, I had to glance at the character sheet to understand better how it worked, but it's in fact quite simple:
- Every 5 items, it's 1 encumbrance point
- Multiple items get written together (i.e. "arrows") and count as a single item
- Armor and/or oversized items count directly as encumbrance point(s)
- Worn or very small items are not counted

For additional details about the encumbrance of each single item, look at their forum:

The only part which I don't like too much about the LotFP approach, is that you have a layer of abstraction (encumbrance points) and:
- you track your armor separately,
- you count your oversized items (but have no space in the character sheet for them, unless you use the non-encumbering equipment space),
- you write items in the list and count them by multiples of 5
... then after you've done all this, count your encumbrance points and figure out your movement rate

When I worked on the Black Dogs 'zine, I wanted an even easier system: something that worked by slots and told you right away what your level of encumbrance, and penalties, are.
It's done like this:
- Regular items are written one per slot (as in LotFP)
- Small items are written together in a slot, a few of them
- Armor is not tracked separately, but counts as multiple slots (as a rule of thumb, each point of AC counts as 1 slot)
- Very large or heavy or long or encumbering items count for 2 or more slots...

You have a number of slots equal to CON score + STR modifier (so both stats count... but it works easily with an average of the two, or just using STR, and so on).
So if you have 14 slots, you simply erase (fill with black) all the slots above number 14 on your character sheet.

If you need to carry more than that, you must use the "encumbrance boxes" which have fewer slots. By default, each box is 1 slot + CON or STR modifier (whichever is higher, or whatever you prefer). Again, you simply erase (fill with black) the slots you cannot use.
Note that the slots come with progressive penalties.

Design notes:
- Tracking the weight of each single item, adjusting movement speed and penalties, and so on, is simple but time consuming and therefore encumbrace rules are often overlooked, or turn into a burden for many players
- A simple solution is to use a measurement system with a large base unit, such as the "stone"; a sack of coins is a stone, a weapon is a stone, a large weapon 2 stones, multiple small items are a stone, etc.
- The stone, or a fixed weight, could be used as the base for the encumbrance system. Often these alternative rules use a generic weight which is equivalent approximately to the weight of a one-handed weapon, a piece of gear, a sack of coins (heavy items count double or triple, small items are bundled together)
- This allows to move from a weight-tracking system, to simply counting items
- Which is what LotFP does: every 5 items is 1 encumbrance point, armor and oversized items count for 1 or more enc. points, very small items do not count... and you get a movement rate based on your encumbrance level (number of points)
- In the Black Dogs 'zine, I mixed those ideas in what I felt was a very functional character sheet: items go in slots, armor takes multiple slots (i.e. one per AC point), large items take multiple slots... and when you're out of regular slots, you write in the encumbrance slots which give your character progressive penalties