Friday, 16 September 2011

Chibis Ate My Dungeon

Human Paladin
-Super Dungeon Explore-
Soda Pop Miniatures
A lesson I keep having to re-learn is that my bias and prejudices can be reprogrammed in an instant by a consistent aesthetic (cool believable pictures in games).

It's difficult to recollect how strange the art for Pathfinder first seemed.  I'm mean it looked really strange, and that was even after I'd seen the art it the relatively new D&D.  After years of hoarding the heavy paged black and white rules for AD&D, it was in great contrast touching those luxurious colour magazine pages of D&D3, every one with an art border.  Even nonsensical inter-dimensional monsters seem real and plausible, once shadow and camouflage was added.  Gnomes and bards actually looked cool.  *Headspin.*  I think players, designers and publishers always have to remember that even the apparently silliest of ideas can take on a machismo when treated with respect by a good artist.  If someone says "d20 Space-Rabbit-Samurai", take a deep breath and think about how mutable the mind is when faced with the right art work.

Naturally, it also depends on a reader's influences from other media (films, comics, console games).  I'm sure that some of today's players go a bit misty-eyed at the thought of musket-toting C18th pirates in their quasi-medieval game, possibly because a certain franchise of films made them seem wickedly dynamic. Judging by some recent releases in the figures and games world, some players are drawn to sword wielding mice and badgers - I'm not quite turned on by this yet, but I know that deep in my heart, given little hard sell, that I'd enjoy playing a cavalier character like Reepicheep (sp? from Voyage of the Dawn Treader) but I possibly wouldn't admit this to my close friends just yet.

As a child I hated the idea of kids as lead roles in action films.  In games and films I preferred to identify with grown-up heroes (i.e. Indy vs. Goonies).  However, later in life, the Legenda of Zelda games came along and well, to be honest I was always a bit disappointed when Link has to grow up and you have to play him as an adult (which sort of works in terms of the themes of innocence vs. experience in The Ocarina of Time - or am I over-analysing?)  So from that point, I was finding it acceptable to play anime-manga influenced graphics of a boy hero with a slingshot.  He aint Conan, but he's still an unstoppable Stalfos killing machine!

Back to pirates, or more specifically, muskets and flintlocks.  Guns (or "gunnes") in fantasy RPGs and tabletop wargaming, for that matter.  I reckon that this is a subject which can divide a room at a convention.

Don't worry, I'm not going to get into talking about ray guns from 'Barrier Peaks here. ;)

Basically, I think I'm a genre-ist (re. like racist but with game settings), but an ill informed one at that, which means that I half-believe that guns, or even canons, have much of a place in Middle Ages battles.  Actually, it's turning out they did.  As a younger player I didn't care much for pole-arms either.  Hand-crossbows send a wave of worry over me.    Somewhere in my mind Arthurian fantasy and the Battle of Hastings combined are what influence my view of battles in games like D&D and Tunnels and Trolls.  Glorious combat is done hand-to-hand with swords and shields!  Most of what I read now says that battles throughout history were determined victoriously through archery/primitive artillery  and surviving infantry meeting with pole-arms, shield wall smashing and general meat-grinding.  So essentially my view of combat beyond court melee is deeply flawed.  My concept of the rate warfare technology advanced is a bit hit and miss as well.  

A little while back I bought Warhammer Quest with character and expansion packs.  However the dual pistol wielding Witchhunter rarely made it out of the box - aesthetically and genre speaking he fell too much into a later period of (quasi-fantasy) history.  I could almost cope with the steampunkified Skaven.  Fortunately WHQ didn't contain the infamous Dwarven 'Copter, which would have been more than I could bear.

Final Fantasy VII on PS1 broke my prejudice just a little, but still the mixture of swords, guns and even lasers seemed a bit much.  "But hey, it's fantasy" people say, "mix it up!"  But to me it didn't feel right, and I think that might be just down to art from traditional sources.  Siegfreid wasting Fafnir with a gatling gun wouldn't work for me ... at the time.

History aside, pirates and flintlocks came from a different story set.  But the artificers, alchemists and mechanical races didn't go away - "High Magic" embraced the simpler explosive arts.  The Warforged of Eberron looked at me with warm bejeweled eyes, beckoning me onto strange energy driven steam engines.   I crawl back to the 1980's D&D Basic fantasy world of a few classes with simple weapons.  In Fighting fantasy, even missile weapons seemed like a hassle.  No bows?  Harsh.  You just can't beat metal armour, grit and swords.  If I DMed again, maybe I'd get rid of crossbows... too mechanical.

Even the pictures of the dwarf with the dragon headed musket in D&D3 (&3.5) and the section on Gunnes in T&T didn't fully sway me.  Despite both having special rules for making the devices explode on players - which added a whole gamble to the arms race, I just couldn't accept these infernal hell rods in my fantasy worlds. 

Okay, you get the idea, but we must flash-forward to the Now -just to prove who stupendous fickle I am.

Several weeks of playing the PC game, Torchlight, have converted me utterly to pistols and muskets.

Acting upon a recommendation on Facebook from a fellow Diablo (I) fan, I downloaded the demo on Steam and hammered it, to the point that my partner, taking pity on me, ordered a full copy from Amazon.  For the reasons of usually having an older computer and never paying the full price of a computer game, I often discover games , a few years late, when they hit the budget lists.  Torchlight came out in 2009, I believe Torchlight II is imminent in release.

If you like single player dungeons, I recommend this game, and I also recommend stockpiling muskets, blam-blam!  The world iso-metric world is just medieval enough, with a touch of brass clockwork and gorgeous colour themes.  Flipping from massive axes to muskets seems to appropriate here (in that misproportioned way that works for tabletop miniatures and characters in fantasy games).  It was the look and the feel of kick-back which makes it believable that a muscley hero would use a flintlock.

So there you go.  Headline: "Issue-with-genre collector opposed to firearms in FRPGs now totally accepting of musketty-blunderbusses"

(I still think the flamethrower in Deathtrap Dungeon was an abomination, mind.) 
Demos and trailers and full game available from:
(for Torchlight on Amazon see adverts on right)
It's a visual thing.  The game sold me the concept.

Now, here's a larger leap.  For years we've been playing chibi style characters in computer and console games.  But are tabletop gamers ready for chibi miniatures and a whole 3D game?

Super Dungeon Explorers!
A game where having a
"big head" is essential.
I'm following this site with interest:
Soda Pop Miniature's Super Dungeon Explore.
It caught my eye initially because I somewhere there was the mention of "modular" board sections, which I'm a real sucker for, but so far I haven't found much about the board itself, or the quality of gameplay, mainly just the figures are making the news. 

The figures do indeed look supberb, and are certainly from that new generation of figures designed on computer. The base scale measurement is 32mm - but how that translates into the actual height of these figures, I'm not sure.

I'm guessing that you have to really like that level of caricature in order to invest in the whole series.   The style extends to the dungeon props, chests, for example (see photo)

These figures, like the banished muskets above are growing on me.

I'm falling in love with that dwarf,
-is this natural?

Which shall you open first?
(photo courtesy of Board Game Geeks site)
Kobold Art
Putting the "cute" in "brute"

Has anyone seen this game in action at any of the conventions?

The conclusion of this particular post is really that I don't like change in the look of my games or rulebooks even, but in the end I'm complete gimp for cool art and graphics!

Thanks for reading (or for just clicking on the pictures ;) ).


  1. Had the chance to demo at PAX. Its a TON of fun. HeroQuest meets Gauntlet. Its party vs. DM, so keep in mind you will need at least one player and one GM.

  2. Cool, that's exactly the sort of comparison I can understand. :)
    I'm guessing that the board is based on the DMs maps, which in turn use standard board pieces (like HQ, Space Hulk and Mattels D&D board game). Most curious...
    Thanks for commenting, Kane.