540 – The Curse: 01


A couple of weeks ago Roxanne (one of my D&D players) took some pix as we were playing the last big scene before the transition to paragon level. The giant army which had been bedeviling the party for months finally attacked. I thought it might be fun to show you guys what my gaming table looks like. (On a really good night.)

The town of blackleaf is a combination of printed and folded buildings from Dave’s Games as background set pieces, and flat dungeon tiles from WotC’s town set for the areas where I was expecting a lot of action and wanted players to be able to easily see what was going on.

Tonya and Ron ponder whether to fight giants, or drink more wine.
Tonya and Ron ponder whether to fight giants, or drink more wine.
The cows read the initiative board, awaiting their turn to flee.
The cows read the initiative board, awaiting their turn to flee.
Looking up the side street behind the keep… also known as "the giants' surprise ambush zone/fashion runway."
Looking up the side street behind the keep… also known as "the giants' surprise ambush zone/fashion runway."
(In reverse order) The wizard Ravanna, the cleric Mother Vexation the Innocent, and the cleric's "pet," Binghamton the clay golem.
(In reverse order) The wizard Ravanna, the cleric Mother Vexation the Innocent, and the cleric's "pet," Binghamton the clay golem.
On the wall of the keep, the townsfolk prepare to party like it's 1499.
On the wall of the keep, the townsfolk prepare to party like it's 1499.
To the untrained eye these look like dogs. Only an expert can tell that they're really trained manticore kittens the party brought home from an earlier adventure. (The one in the back isn't going to make it.)
To the unskilled eye these look like dogs. Only an expert can tell that they're really trained manticore kittens the party brought home from an earlier adventure. (The one in the back isn't going to make it.)
Here come the giants, and it looks like they're all out of bubblegum.
Here come the giants, and it looks like they're all out of bubblegum.
Fog, the earth titan leader of the giants, knocks down a wall of the keep. He's feng shui that way.
Fog, the earth titan leader of the giants, knocks down a wall of the keep. He's feng shui that way.
Next, Binghamton offends Fog's decorating tastes.
Next, Binghamton offends Fog's decorating tastes.

Finally, the rest of the party catches up to the clay golem and puts the beat down on Fog, after which they sacrifice one of their own (the rogue) to dispel the magical storm that is resurrecting the giants as they fall, and call it a day.

I know, I know, looking at someone else’s gaming table is kind of like watching someone else’s six year old play soccer. Fun for them maybe, but it’s watching paint dry for everyone else. Still, Friday’s blog is supposed to be all about geeking out over your D&D stuff, so I guess I can excuse myself.

So what kind of table do you play on? Do you use minis at all? Maps? There are a million different ways… how do you play the game?

38 Responses to 540 – The Curse: 01

  1. Both impressive and funny.
    Impressive is evident. I mean, wow, and entire town???
    Funny? Well, D&D (and thus RPGs) comes from wargames, went away from this, and then, looking at your table (and this is D&D4 orientation), I can see little difference between it and a wargame board. Full circle 😉

    Me? I’m too lazy to have anything, save perhaps my rulebook 😳

    • The whole town wouldn’t really fit on the table, so this was still just part of the town. Still, I was happily surprised by the way it all turned out. (And that certainly isn’t the way we game every session!)

  2. A few years ago I printed out a 3d paper model tower from the WotC website and put it together. I thought it took entirely too much effort and looked like crap when i was finished. I didn’t do anything wrong, I just thought it looked cheap next to the painted minis. Now I wish I had printed and assembled more – when viewed as a group, the paper buildings look just fine.

    Most of the time I’m running my game with minis on a flat map, either full color poster maps from official D&D products or drawn in wet erase on my Chessex battlemat. However, this past week I set up a 5-room Master Maze dungeon on a piece of scrap plywood and hid it in the next room. When the PCs finally reached the dungeon I was able to plop it down on the table in front of them, ready to go.

  3. Oh, and you forgot to mention how the town of Blackleaf was constructed atop a custom-made lazy susan so that every player could rotate the battlefield to where their mini was during their turn. Which is actually pretty dang awesome.

    • I do love the lazy susan. I’m pretty sure that was Brilliant Lena’s idea.

      We haven’t really had any problem with stuff “flinging” off, though if anything is hanging over the side, it WILL get caught on someone’s stuff as you spin the thing around.

  4. Your table is so much more awesome than mine, lol. Although I have inherited a few model buildings and bridges (which are really awesome), but haven’t got to put them to too much use yet. My group typically just has a chessex mat with markers, sometimes with some low walls or terrain pieces I have thrown in. I do have custom-made minis that I churn out every so often. I’m particularly happy with how my recent rimefire griffon came out.

    I need to get me some of those pop-up cities. And not to mention a good table, my group had been playing on the floor the past year since I didn’t have a large table in my apartment.

  5. Our group meets at the local comic shop, so use folding tables for our seating, as that’s what advailible. Formerly, we were in a d20 modern game, and used a dry-erase board for orientation. Frankly, it didn’t work well, as scale changed depending on a person’s perception, we forgot which squiggle represented what, etc etc. Wrose that was basically the DM making a bunch of pop culture referances and loosely tieing them to a plot. Funny as hell, but not much by way of serious RP.

    New game is 3.5, useing some randomly grabbed minatures (my chrecter is represented by a Drow, closest thing we had to an elven rogue) and a grid board. Way more structured, and far better tactics, as things like flanking are now clear. Only played one game thus far, so have yet to see how it’ll work out.

    • Yeah, minis normally result in more strategy… but not always. The group I play in (not the group I run) seems more or less allergic to tactics. Invariably each person will attack a different bad guy, which means that the baddies all last too long, and I, as the party tank, go down around the middle of the fight. (Heh, heh.) The trade off is that this group would actually not enjoy themselves as much if they were trying to think tactically, and no one wants that.

      So we muddle through, I keep rolling death saves, and everyone has a fun evening.

        • I swapped out my cleric for a pally, but I’m still not very well geared up. The real issue though is coherence. Any group CAN work if you build your strategy around that group’s strengths instead of deliberately ignoring them. (Not that I’m complaining!)

          That said, yes a fighter does have the ability to create a tactical situation on the spot, with their wide variety of crowd controlling options and high damage outputs. Given that, adding a fighter played by a more tactically minded person would probably really turn things around. We used to have just such a fighter in this group, but I think that character decided to go to work for the spoiled young Princess as the Royal Butt-of-All-Jokes. The Princess gets to act abusive and ungrateful all day and night long and the fighter has to take it. (Think Richard Pryor in the The Toy, dialed up to eleven.)

          On the up-side, the DM for that game has recently become much more relaxed about the way he runs things, so that even our girliest players have told me how much more they’re enjoying the game these days. Just sayin’.

  6. My group is pretty lazy, so I just use a dry-erase board on the wall beside my usual chair and table.

  7. We have the same castle, and that baby gets a lot of work. I tried those foldup models, and got the same crappy results.

    Mostly use dungeon tiles of some description. We used a projector for a while, but haven’t hooked it back up since we refinished the room.

    • I really like the fold-ups a lot. Some are better than others though. The fold-ups from Dave’s Games are great, while the fold-ups from WotC (I’ve linked it before, but I don’t remember where) are overly complicated and not as nice to look at. The WotC pieces do have some nice variety though. Both are free, so they are well worth the price.

      I would suggest using some kind of burnisher (the edge of a spoon would work) and a ruler to make your fold lines, and go over your folded edges with appropriately colored markers. Also, many buildings always look better than one building, no matter how crappy a job you did.

  8. I’ve had a tendency to handing out pairs of 80s-sunglasses and prop guns for running cyberpunk. I find that the biggest trouble with setting up a huge map or set is keeping track of fog of war and how easily a person can get lost–it’s a lot more difficult when a person has a bird’s eye on the whole thing and where all their friends are. Folks with in-skull inertial-tracking maps on their neural processors can get a pass on not getting lost and knowing general terrain though.
    Perhaps I am a bit too evil as a GM for inflicting those tortures, but why stop now when it’s what people want from me and expectantly fear? It’s fun when you get lost and accidentally stumble into cool things.

      • Never ran any and only played one CoC session myself.
        Played as an unexpectedly successful private eye in a homebrew survival-horror once though, the GM running that made very good use of randomized-destination teleportation as a game device. In general it was a very successful exploration of limited player information–a concept I’m always promoting with good reason.

  9. We discovered recently that my wife (a fantastic artist) makes a really good mapper and she got the job of drawing up all the maps and keeping track of where everyone was on said map. We found this out when we were playing Deadlands and I had the group on a train they were supposed to rob. Everyone kept asking which car they were in so finally she says, and I quote, “Fuck this, gimme a piece of paper!” Started drawing up boxcars and where everyone was for the big gunfight with the Pinkertons. After that she started doing maps for all our adventures, like when we found a town with a deranged cult being led by the local preacher. She drew up the church from my description and it looked perfectly like what I had in my head. When we can we use minis, but I don’t have any cowboy minis so that game we just let her draw us in.

  10. Well, for one, I disagree with you – I LOVE seeing other peoples’ gaming tables, especially when it’s as spectacular as this. Well done!

    I play with a wet-erase roll-out mat that I can draw the terrain on. I have a fairly extensive set of miniatures, and when I have access to them I can usually find appropriate (if completely unpainted) minis for the encounter, and the have that I have above-standard drawing skills means that the drawn-on-terrain can be pretty detailed, especially if I have time to prepare it.

    But I have NEVER done anything approaching this level of awesome.

    The fact that most of my gaming has taken place well away from my supply of miniatures means I have had to get creative. The fact that my minis are all fantasy-based and my games range all across the theme-board contributes to this, as well. Monsters, terrain, and players alike have been portrayed by dice, legos, books, salt-shakers, and once a fork for a dragon. My favorite instance of such creativity was a kobold horde my heroes ran into in some catacombs under the city; I grabbed up my big blue dice bag (full of a large, unknown number of dice), and dumped it on the terrain map.

    “That’s how many kobolds you see.”

    “How many IS that?” asked a flabberghasted player.

    “Count them,” I said. “I’ll time you, divide by 6 seconds, and that’s how many rounds you’ll be sitting out.”

    Wisely, the player rolled initiative instead. I think it came to about 70-80 kobolds in the end. Half-way through the fight, one of the heroes made it around the kobolds and found a switch for a trap. He pulled it, and down came a rolling-boulder trap.

    Not wanting to subjectively decide where the boulders went, I took the only two dice I’d left out of the kobold horde – a 100-sider and a 30-sider, each roughly the size of a golf ball – and rolled them along, noting which kobold-dice and heroes they struck.

    After a long struggle, the heroes prevailed. What a battle!

    • When in panic, when in doubt, spin in circles, scream and shout?
      What exceedingly stupid thing did they do to have scores of kobolds after them?

  11. First time I ever played D&D we used Castle Legos to represent our characters. I think my thief was from a Robin Hood set. Would have made a better ranger, but whatever.

  12. Imagination be damned, i need some of that! All I generally use is the map squares from the back of the DMG and wooden nickles to represent the walls tables bookshelves, etc. it leaves a lot to the imagination. Oh yeah, I use minis too, although mine don’t really cover all that I need (“is that squid thing a goblin or an orc?”).

    • Everybody always forgets that rolls of pennies, nickels dimes and quarters are excellent potential stand-ins which are mostly fairly cheap. (Maybe not quarters and dimes but certainly pennies and nickels.) Pennies and nickels make good stand-ins for two different kinds of plentiful mooks.

      • Hey! You can even use the heads/tails thing if you need to note smaller differences, like orc archers vs. orc skirmishers!

        Great idea. Thanks!

  13. Ah, Tabletop wargaming…makes me want to sneak into work and use the hotwire machine to make some miniature castles…

    RE: Residium – The entire World of Warcraft Enchanting system uses this concept in one form or another…

    So…you have to destroy magic items to enchant items…so…where did the first magic item come from again?

  14. we meet at my house on mondays and every other saturday.we play on the big table on my back porch.we use book maps that we take to kinkos to have blown up for minis.someone is designated as the “roller”(usually my friend that rolls the best and he doesnt mind). we have beer and pot and lots of soda (for the non-drinkers like me) and we sit around and get wasted and kill things. good times.

    cant remember where we got it but we got a book that had premade buildings in it that we had to cut out and put together.
    we use those for town scenarios i think it was a wotc release but not sure

    • It was a WotC release, and that’s the same one they have for free download now.

      We often drink wine with gaming, but the last group I played in that got high, there was a guy who actually got angry and belligerent when he was stoned (what the hell was up with that?) to the point where I had to back out of the group entirely. I sometimes have some beer, but never when I am DMing, only sparingly when I play. My mind gets fuzzy too quickly these days and I find it hampers my ability to enjoy the play.

      Back in high school however…

    • Aye. Us too. Junior year of HighSchool was the best year EVER. All we did was burn down and play D&D. My favorite was the time we ordered like 60 bucks in pizza. Which, to be fair, was 2 nights a week, but this one stands out.

      Mike: Yeah. Thanks. *hands DeliveryBoy a hundred*
      DeliverBoy: I’m sorry sir, I can’t break this much.
      Mike: Then don’t rip it. *closes door*

      Course now I’m DMing, so pot’s not really an option for me. Found that out the first time I ran 4e. Had all my notes prepped, read the adventure in the DMG 2 or 3 times beforehand. Started, hit it, and 10 minutes later I was postulating on whether or not these kobolds had a SkullRock team, and whether or not the national championships would be held in THIS dungeon (due to the many piles of sticky goo) or in the Keep of the Shadowfell, which I hear has much more variety. And an ooze. Can still DRINK. Just don’t smoke anymore.
      Dungeon Tiles and HeroQuest miniatures for us. Wish we still had all our MageKnight figures.. We use dice boxes, or zippo’s for larger items, or their train of battle-ready wagons.
      I still have a Heirophant figure from MageKnight. I’m trying to draw it up using the MonsterBuilder as a solo for them, next adventure.

  15. Great setup. Thanks for sharing it.

    I like having mini’s (or at least dice standins) for tactics. esp, ever since my character did a full frontal charge across a clearing (heavy armour but not enough for big movement penalty) to draw fire away from the our pleb support troop and got beaten to the opponents … by a thief-type who was MovSilent/HideShad all the way around the perimeter of same clearing

  16. Very nice setup. A mistake most likely made by Ron when he made his 3d model is not using heavy enough stock. You’ll have to go to a business supply store or maybe a crafts store. Twenty pound stock just doesn’t hold shape very well.

  17. I know it’s late on to be adding to this, but what the hell – only recently got into H.o.L.E. so have been playing catch up, but it’s been great fun reading through so much at once.

    Commenting on the matter at hand though, I have to say that our gaming group doesn’t use minis, grids, or even a table right now! We all cram into my bedroom/lounge and sit with our character sheets laid on whatever gaming books from my collection aren’t needed, rolling the dice on the same. That was how I was first introduced to the game (2nd ed. Ravenloft) and it’s always held a nice feel for me.

    We do use maps for reference, but we tend to have them projected onto a screen from my PC, rather than on the table, or printed hand-outs if it’s something the players need to have to hand. We have used miniatures on occasion for reference, but we stopped that when an ex-member of the group tended to spend all the time there was any actual role-playing going on lining up all the figures he had brought with him in a mock army, then attacking them with a small, plastic model of the U.S.S. Voyager until he’d knocked them all down (this was then repeated until it was time to hit things again).

    I have built up quite a lot of nice scenery over the years however, since I used to play both Warhammer and 40K, and seeing your table has inspired me to think about doing something similar for when my group next has a an encounter worth laying out like that, so thanks.

    Keep up the good work with the comic and all (should go without saying, but worth mentioning I think, since it’s such a good one).