Saturday, September 17, 2016

Walk Along the Brandywine

It's getting toward Fall, and that means getting out and hiking (or walking in this case) whenever able. Amp and Julia had meetings to get ready for the Fall musical for school (Bye Bye Birdy), so Grace and I took the opportunity to get out and spend a couple of hours walking along the Brandywine near home.

It was a perfect day, about 75 degrees with no humidity, and we hiked a well-known trail from the Thompson's Bridge parking lot north along the creek (river) and back again.
Brandywine looking north

Water level over the gravelly bottom was low, and we saw a pair of kayakers attempt to run a shallow riffle and get hung up on the rocks in the few inches of water.
Brandywine looking south

Many others were out, including kayakers, walkers, bikers, and dog walkers. Grace found a nice tree at one point and needed to climb it (I would have if I were her), and she took a bunch of nice pictures with her camera from last Christmas.
Thing 2 up a tree (good place for a geocache...)

The highlight of the day's walk (other than the fact that my daughter suggested going for a hike in the woods with Dad!) was the sighting of a big bird swooping from tree to tree over the creek. The first time I saw it, my thought was "did I just see a bald eagle?". The second and third times, paying close attention, there was no doubt that this was what we saw. From a distance of maybe 60 to 70 yards, it was clearly a smallish bald eagle. I have seen many of these flying over the Sassafras River over the years, but I had never seen one so close to home. Thrilling. And a great highlight to a great day.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Repainting Thing 1's Room, part 1...

Time flies. It seems we have been in our house for 19 years (!). Hard to believe. That being said, we have repainted various rooms at various times over the years, but we are at the point where we feel like most of the rooms have been in their current colors for a while now. So...time to go on a painting binge.

Julia's room has had yellowish white walls for a bunch of years. She and mom decided that her room could use crown molding and a repaint. The yellowish walls would be replaced with three walls of a neutral beige color and one accent wall of a bright dark pink (behind her headboard). After I installed crown molding, of course.

Step 1 was to install the crown molding, spackle and sand, and then caulk everything. All moldings and trim were then painted in a bright white semi-gloss (two coats).
Step 1 - Crown molding and trim

Step 2 was lots of cutting in (in two coats). Beige on the walls. Brighter white ceiling paint. And dark hot pink ("Exuberant Pink") on the one wall. This is the tedious and time consuming stage, but the prep work and careful cutting in will make the final steps of rolling out the wall colors (and the end result) much better.
Step 2 - Cutting in everything

Step 3 - Two coats of brighter white ceiling paint. The original was a gray-tinged white (an MAB paint called "Arctic White" if I recall). The new paint is a Behr "ceiling paint". The difference is noticeable.
Step 3 - Painting the ceiling

Step 4 (shorthand version) - Two coats of "Casa Blanca" Sherwin Williams color on three walls, and a first coat of Sherwin Williams "Exuberant Pink" on the one wall. The dark pink is going to take several coats to go over the old light colored wall, as can be seen by the roller marks.
Step 4 - one coat on the walls, one coat on the accent wall

To be continued...

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fourth of July Weekend, Poconos

Amp has made some really good friends in her years on the costume crew for the Performing Arts Association, and two of the families have houses up in the Poconos, one on Crystal Lake and one on Lake Naomi.

With no other particular plans for the holiday weekend, and a pair of invites to stop by and join in on some holiday parties, we decided to book a room at the new Kalahari water park resort hotel nearby and spend the weekend.
Crystal Lake at Sunset

The water park at the Kalahari is already huge, and there are additional sections still under construction. When complete in 2017 it will be double the size it is now, and will be the largest indoor water park in the world. Needless to say, the kids loved that part of the weekend.

Equally enjoyable were the two evenings at the two different lakes for barbecues, in the company of 4 or 5 families from the Drama crew.
Sky on Fire at Crystal Lake

The food was good, as was the company, the conversation and the scenery. There is always something about water...

Having started with a day off on Friday, we left for home at around 10pm on Sunday, and were home and in bed by 12:30am. The Fourth of July holiday itself will be in the comfort of our own home (and there is a large pot of short ribs braising in the oven as I type - barbecuing is the typical meal of the day of course, but we are barbecued out).

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Carl Palmer Band at World Cafe Live

I had the tremendous good fortune to have been gifted with a ticket to see the Carl Palmer Band with a friend last night at the World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington (6/6/16). Carl Palmer (wikipedia entry here) is one of the legendary rock drummers, having been a part of the progressive art rock band Emerson Lake and Palmer, and later the drummer for the supergroup Asia.

This particular show was the third (?, started June 2 in NY) in a 25 show tour called "Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy Tour 2016". The shows would be an entire set of instrumental music, almost entirely of ELP classics.
The Carl Palmer Band (picture by me)

Our seats were in the fourth row, just left of center stage, and the view of Palmer and his two band mates from that close was amazing. Band members were guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick, both of who were also terrific. Palmer's energy at age 66 is astounding, and being as close as we were you could clearly see how physically demanding 2 hours of drumming is.
Carl Palmer... (picture by me)

The music was phenomenal, but would admittedly not be everyone's cup of tea. Prog rock/art rock isn't to everyone's taste, and listening to hard rock versions of classical music like Pictures at an Exhibition and Carmina Burana might be more akin to torture to some. But I thought it was great.

This tour is, in part, a tribute to Keith Emerson, the keyboard player from ELP, who committed suicide in March of this year at the age of 71. He suffered from depression, brought on at least in part by nerve damage that affected his ability to play. A very sad story, and a reminder that rich and famous people who would seem to have it all have their burdens as well.

Anyway, Emerson's keyboards were the foundation of much of ELP's music, and upon arriving at the venue, I couldn't understand how they were going to do ELP music without any keyboards (which it was obvious they didn't have). It turns out that the guitarist played pretty much all of what would have been the keyboard parts. I was a bit skeptical at first, and it was different (no question), but it worked.

A few tidbits from YouTube:
  • Hoedown (Aaron Copeland), ELP 1973 and the brilliance that was Keith Emerson.
  • Hoedown played by the Carl Palmer Band (same lineup we saw) in November 2015.
  • The Nutrocker (apologies to Tchaikovsky) - this is the show I saw. My head is probably in this shot somewhere on the left, 4th row, directly in front of the guitarist.

Live music of any kind is terrific, and as I have said many times before, you can't beat a venue this size (capacity is maybe 500-600 if I had to guess).
Autographed promo shot

After the show, the band had tables in the lobby to greet fans and sign things, so I got to fist-bump Carl Palmer and get him to sign a famous (reprinted) ELP promo picture from the early 1970s. Pretty cool.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Reflections on 18 months of Dungeons and Dragons

I can honestly say that I thought my days of this sort of diversion were decades in the past. Happily, that is not the case. We are 18 months or so into what could best be described as a leisurely D&D campaign, and it has been a lot of fun. A few random reflections follow.

When preparing to be the Dungeon Master for a campaign for the first time in oh...25 years or more...I thought it wise to do a little research. With the plethora of YouTube videos and other resources available, this was an easy enough thing to do. The results were both a positive and a negative.

I'm old school. Most of my players are. When younger folks speak of the "OSR" or the "old school revolution" in roleplaying games, this is a return to that which I/we never left. When we played back in the late '70s and early '80s, there was only old school. It was the only school, because we were on the leading edge of a whole new thing. Then we didn't play for 25 years or more. Old school to the newer generations of gamers means maps with every location detailed, "boxed text" to be read to players when they enter a certain room or a certain event takes place. It is a somewhat disparaging term in many circles. It was just D&D (or AD&D) back then. It was how it was done. Period. By Gygax himself, and all the others of the original generation. The pioneers. (Despite the fact that some of those early classic and groundbreaking modules are just awful in many ways...but that is a different post altogether).

The kinds of games we always played back in the day are now called "railroad games" where the DM decided what the group was going to do, and the group was essentially along for the ride. Now it is all about "sandbox games", where some background is laid out for the players and the players then decided what they were going to do, having a huge hand in determining the course of the campaign.

With all this buzzing in my head, we began our new campaign in October of 2014. If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things very differently. I think we have ended up OK, and we are still playing after 18 months, which is a great thing. But I can look back and see a few very basic things that I approached one way and would now approach in another.
Fighting gnolls in the Underdark

#1 - Starting Preparation. On this one, new school perhaps wins out over old school. When building a world for our new campaign, I spent too much time sketching out and detailing things that the players have never (and likely will never have) seen. In some ways, I think the extra work that I did has flavored the world despite the fact that it has no direct bearing on our gaming sessions. And I enjoyed doing it, so there is something to be said for that. But it wasn't necessary by any means. Given the ability to re-do, I would approach prep differently than I did for the first 12 months or so of our campaign.

#2 - Railroad versus Sandbox. The answer to this one will differ depending on the group, but for our particular group, and our particular approach to the game sessions, there is a lot to be said for railroads. If you had a group of die hard players totally immersed in the game and the rules, ready to involve themselves in story creation and the guiding of the direction of the campaign, then a sandbox would be great. We don't have this. It's not a criticism of the players by any means, just a simple reality. We have 4 players roughly my age, all successful businessmen in various pursuits. We have two 20-somethings, and a high school student. Knowledge of the rules varies widely. What people want out of the game varies as well. We play every 2-4 weeks on average, so there is a significant time gap between sessions. The players are all engaged and into the sessions, but if there is a categorization to be made between "I'm here to drive the story" and "I'm here to play whatever you've got for me", then we clearly have a group that is more suited to a railroad than a sandbox. Falling into the trap of "I need to be new school" and thus run a sandbox for my players, I tried to plan for that. I spent a lot of time laying out different plot lines, possible story arcs, and creating a bunch of choices for the players. The result, I think it is fair to say, was just to confuse the players. I put enough choices in front of them that they had no idea what to choose. There absolutely have been moments when I could feel the players looking at me like "ok, what do you want us to do?" So given the fact that we play every 2-4 weeks, and that providing too many choices has been perhaps just confusing, I have begun moving back toward railroading play to a certain degree. Preparation for me has been easier, and I think this will provide for better sessions - detail in the right place at the right time. Ultimately, our gang wants to show up, have some snacks and a drink or two, and spend 3 or 4 hours in the company of friends laughing and having a good time. Old school. Which is great.

#3 - World building. If I had it to do over again, I would start smaller and let the campaign itself shape the direction of how I would build the bigger picture. In the old school Gygaxian desire to know all ahead of time, I saddled myself with a world background that a little experience has shown me to be less optimal than I would want if I had it to do over again. Not a big deal; just an observation. Those of us formed in the primordial ooze of the Gygax days still carry the burden of how we were trained to think. I think a little differently now.

Lastly, a note on 5th edition D&D. For our purposes, this edition of the rules is (sort of) perfect. The subject is more fitting for a longer post by itself, but the short version is this: 5th edition is easy, and it works. There are some things about it that don't make much sense to me, some things I have changed, and some things we ignore. But in general, it works. Again, this might be a reflection of our particular group, but we play the game from my version of the character sheet, spell cards, and monster manual entries. We follow the combat rules and magic rules, and pretty much everything else is done by making d20 rolls against skills and abilities. It's easy and fluid. A different group might want more detail in certain areas, but for our group it is terrific. We are rules-lite. We play a recreational/social game, and a Pathfinder level of detail would kill us and the campaign.

But enough rambling for now. We have a game coming up next weekend, and I need to figure out what the Tombs of the Alberneth actually are...

Dungeons and Dragons Terrain

The first simple "I wonder if I can build something cool" did turn into a good solid 8 or 9 months of building this and that. Unanimous feedback from my players has been that adding the miniatures and terrain dimension to our games has elevated things, and made it easier to immerse in the experience. I'll post more on our game experiences later, but for now I just wanted to lay out some stuff in the basement and take pictures of some of the different terrain sets I have worked on. Some I like more than others...

The first set is what I now call my "negative space" set. A four foot by three foot "rock" base board is used in conjunction with geomorphic cavern and passage wall pieces to allow for the definition of what part of the overall area isn't solid rock. In the picture below, the party comes to a passage junction, but their course of action will soon be determined for them by the encroaching bad guys. There are a couple of mushroom patches thrown in for good measure.
"Negative space" Underdark terrain

The next picture shows the opposite of the "negative space" set, and thus could be termed the "positive space" set. In this setup, a black felt base serves as the background for putting down caverns and passages defining the spaces that aren't the void.
"Positive space" Underdark or cave terrain

The closeup of the central cavern shows a couple of detail pieces (of which there are a great many...). The pools are made by applying nail polish to the bare foam, letting the chemicals in the polish eat away the foam into a nicely textured depression. These have been painted a basic bluish green color and then coated with a few layers of gloss decoupage. The four huge mushrooms and the weird green fungus growth are made from different applications of Great Stuff expanding spray foam. Photos, as always, give a different effect than what we see on the table.
Cavern with pools and fungus growths

The next picture shows the same three foot by four foot "rock" base board as shown earlier covered with a variety of 2-inch foam "big walls" and an abundance of scatter terrain, including a few pieces of rock crystals. This is the setup that I use for big cavern layouts in the Underdark (although I also now have a four foot by five foot "rock" base board...sometimes bigger is better).
Cavern with "big walls" and scatter terrain

The next geomorphic set up my sleeve is a number of 2 foot by 2 foot base boards painted in a number of different patterns. I have water (shown below), lava, rift (black) and swamp. All of the geomorphic pieces layered onto these base boards can be used in any combination. Picture, for example, the scene above (in the prior picture) on a "water" base board. It works.
2 foot by 2 foot "water board"

The geomorphic nature of all these pieces is the beauty of the whole thing. All of the walls, scatter and detail pieces can be used interchangeably, and complement each other very well. I've gotten to the point that if I feel like doing some crafting, I can make a few pieces that I know can be used in any number of different configurations, which is great. Or I can know that I have enough modular stuff to be able to spend some time making a one-off piece that would be cool but has limited utility. Either is fine at this point. I have enough stuff to get by with whatever (and then some).

Beyond the above, I took a few more pictures today that I can't show you yet. Our party has chosen to once again descend into the depths of the Deep Realms, searching for the Tombs of the Alberneth. I can't show you what they will find until they find them...

Underdark Terrain...Circling Back

Way back in August of last year, I did a post on the beginnings of some Underdark terrain, with an eye towards replicating the type of terrain seen in the Bridge of Khazad-Dum scene of the Lord of the Rings movies. At least in terms of epic scale and sense of height.

I never showed any pictures of the end result, but I can rectify that now.
Finished Product - Massive scale bridge works

The pieces were finished (probably within days of the August post) and were used in one of our first Underdark game sessions (they were too cool not to...). Our group came down the high stairs and saw a troop of goblins moving parallel to them, but on another level well below them, and oblivious to the presence of the party.
Side view

There was ensuing arrow fire and the raining of much fiery (spell) death upon the goblins, who quite literally never knew what hit them.
A few of our characters on the causeway

The terrain pieces were actually quite simple to carve and paint, but this was one of the first "ooh and ah" moments we had in our game from a miniatures perspective, in terms of feedback from the players, and thus in a sense is partly responsible for all that came after. As is typical of human nature and the desire to replicate an ego/adrenaline boost, "that was awesome" quickly turns into "ok, how can I invoke that response again?"

And so is born the basement full of extruded polystyrene insulation board. But more on that soon. Probably in a few minutes actually...

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fantasy Maps

Back in a January post, I wrote about a couple of cool books that Brother Dave gave me for Christmas, one of which was on drawing fantasy maps. I showed a poor quality, badly lit picture or two of a map in process (something from our D&D campaign). I never showed the finished product(s).

The first is a map of a portion of the world; the portion that our campaign has taken place in thus far (a small portion of this map, actually). This is not a fine piece of art by any means, but was nice to be able to give to our players and say "this is your map of the world." It has enough of an old-ish style feel to it to seem like something that a band of adventurers could have in hand.
Our campaign area - larger scale (~400 x 300 miles)

The second is a smaller scale map of the immediate area that has been the base of operations for our group during pretty much all of the campaign to date. Again, simple but hopefully evocative.
The Shearingvale (~30 x 25 miles)

Lastly, here is a picture of a map of the largest city within easy traveling distance of the Shearingvale, Turil, about 50 miles west of Linden. The city center (the walled section) is a photocopy of the first version of the city that I sketched out while half watching a Flyer's hockey game on TV. Realizing that this area wouldn't be large enough to be a city of 5-6,000 people, I added the other two sheets of map on which the citadel has been placed (probably during another hockey game or two). These are simple black ink line drawings with some colored pencil shading on streets, marketplaces, corrals and stockyards. Even less of an attempt at "art" was made here, but the overall effect is pretty cool, I think. In a geeky sort of way...
The Free City of Turil

I must say that there are limits to my insanity, so no, I don't have a key that details each of these hundreds of buildings. But yes, I do have a simple key that names 4 or 5 locations in each of the 8 or 9 areas of the city. No detail to speak of, but some inns, taverns, and special locations. The players have been to the city once, interacted with maybe a half dozen of the locations, and the simple storyline prep for these was adequate.

I have always had a fascination with maps of any and all kinds, and I find it therapeutic to sketch out things like this. Whether we ever have use of them in a game is almost irrelevant. Almost.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Junior Prom

While I'm catching up on stuff I should have blogged about, I did mention proms, right?

Julia attended her junior prom on April 22, in a group with a bunch of her friends from the Drama Club.
All of my girls and Julia's best friend and guardian angel

One senior friend, Emily, came over just to do her hair and makeup.
Julia and her senior buddies

Another senior friend, Carly, drove her and went with her.
Some of the Drama Club gang

Of all places, her junior prom was at Springfield Country Club, in the town where I grew up. Go figure...
And again...

She had an absolute blast, and I will be forever grateful to the seniors who took the time to participate in her special day, and make it one that she will always remember.

Time goes by much too fast.

Skater Girl

It's been too long. Anyway...

Things have been busy, which is great, and I have done a lot of writing. Unfortunately from a blog perspective, most of my writing has either been related to our D&D campaign or some fiction I have been dabbling with, and nothing to speak of here in a dog's age. I hope to rectify that, as I do enjoy the blog, and have neglected it over the past bunch of months.

More on D&D, crafting, prom season, end of school concerts, etc, to follow. The topic of the day is skateboards. Specifically, a new board from the Girl Skateboard Company. Several of the older girls in the neighborhood have been into skateboarding for a while now, and Grace has been trying to keep up on a hand-me-down junker of a starter board and a penny board picked up recently.
New Board - Bottom

However, when you make distinguished honor roll for your first year in middle school, good things happen (at least from dads who like to spoil their little girls). So I took Grace to Kinetic Skateboards in north Wilmington this afternoon "just to look". The guy there was extremely helpful in addressing what we were looking for: a standard board, outfitted for cruising and not trick riding. Because of Grace's small size and the intended use, he suggested softer wheels, moderately fast bearings and softer bushings. After listening to him explain everything, all that made sense.
Top (with clear grip tape)

So we came home and had dinner. After dinner, I suggested we go back and get her a board. I got no objections, so off we all went. An hour or so later, we had a brand new completely custom-built board, outfitted for just what Grace needs. She picked the board, the trucks, the wheels, the bearings (all based on recommendations) and they put everything together while we waited. She even got a proper helmet (in purple of course, to match her newly re-dyed purple hair).

Fortunately, there was some daylight left when we got home, and she was able to try out the board.
It works!

She pronounced it "perfect". And that's a good day.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Spring Goldfinches

I'm not sure why this year and no other years that I can remember, but as it has warmed up this spring, I suddenly have swarms of goldfinches perching on my home office windows, and pecking at the glass. Odd. But nice.
Goldfinch friends

They are numerous, persistent, and don't scare off easily.
Close up...

At one point a couple days ago I had 5 at one time. Very odd indeed...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Double Rainbow

Twice in the last couple of weeks following evening rain showers, we have had beautiful double rainbows in almost exactly the same spot. Here is today's. There was a brief moment when it was a triple, but I don't think I caught it at the right moment despite many pictures. There may still be a hint of a third at top, or that may be wishful thinking.
Double Rainbow behind the house

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring Geocaching

It's spring, the trees are budding, things are greening up, and that means it is time for me to have my annual burst of geocaching energy. Between some finds in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania in the last couple of weeks, I have reached 1172 finds, and have now filled in 295 dates on the 366 date calendar. Sure, most of this was accomplished in 2010-2011, but hey, I'm making progress. Slowly.

More often than not, I get a few caches these days when either further from home, or when one or both of my girls are willing to go out and get a few with me. Julia is sitting at 225, and Grace is now at about 220 (give or take a few).
LittleCacherG up in a tree

The things that makes me want to grab a few caches more than anything is the desire to get out in the woods for a walk now that the weather has warmed up. My favorite kind of caches are the ones that will force me to get my lazy butt out onto a trail (however modest) and put a little effort into finding them. Or at least a short walk anyway...

Goals for 2016...modest. Get past 1200, maybe even 1250. Cross another 15-20 dates off the calendar. Clear out the newer ones that have cropped up near home. Have fun doing it. In other words, simple but achievable goals.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter Weekend

The kids had the week off, and I'd accumulated a lot of vacation time already, so we took the Thursday and Friday off and headed up to visit the in laws in northern New Jersey. We just got back almost exactly three days later, and we crammed a lot of good stuff in those three days.

Geocaching - The main thing for Thursday was for Amp, Julia and I to go into New York City, have dinner, and see a show on Broadway. But that left a few hours in the morning before we needed to go, and there are still a lot of geocaches not far from their house that need getting. So Grace, Ines and I went out and walked for about a mile and a half in the woods, picking up three caches along the way, including one really nice one in a tree. It was a good thing we had Grace along for that one. It was an easily climbable tree, and Grace enjoyed it, except for a minor touch of apprehension when she looked down from the top for the first time...
Little monkey in a tree

Saks Fifth Avenue Windows - Costumes from Outlander. Having left home at around 2 and gotten into the city by 3, we had time to kill before taking Julia to Ellen's Stardust Diner for dinner. We knew one thing that we were going to do - check out the temporary window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue, which had about a dozen costumes from Amp's favorite show - Outlander. Between her love of the show (and books) and her experience over the last few years doing costume design for the high school musical productions, this was something she really wanted to see. While not 100% my cup of tea, I have to admit that the costumes were pretty cool.
Outlander costumes

St Patrick's Cathedral - right across the street from Saks is St Patrick's Cathedral. I'm not catholic in particular, or religious in general, but I do appreciate art and architecture, and churches, especially the big opulent ones, have magnificent detail in abundance. St Patrick's did not disappoint in that regard, as you could probably spend days if not weeks studying the ridiculous amount of detail in that massive space.
St Patrick's Cathedral

Heading from Saks and St Patrick's toward Broadway, we passed through Rockefeller Center, which was nicely decorated for the Easter season. We stopped to watch ice skaters on the rink for a little while.
Easter in Rockefeller Center

We got to the Stardust Diner at around 4pm, and there was a line halfway down the block. We got in line to wait, as this was an experience we wanted Julia to have. This is the place where the waitstaff all sing throughout your stay. I've been there once and Amp has been there a couple of times, and we knew Julia would love it. A 65 minute wait later, we were seated, and it did end up being worth it. Julia was enthralled. At one point, one of the guys was singing a song, and made extended eye contact with Julia, pointing at her as he sang. Afterwards, Julia said "I think he likes me...but I'm way out of his league". Amp and I almost fell out of our chairs we were laughing so hard.

The real highlight of the day (and trip) was Something Rotten at the St James Theater. We had great seats 5 rows back in the center of the mezzanine, very close to the stage. The St James is an ~1,100 seat theater, medium-smallish by Broadway standards, but was comfortable. The show itself, about the creation of the world's first musical (in Shakespeare's time, and in competition with Shakespeare), was absolutely hilarious, and well worth the hefty price of admission. Heartily recommended.
Something Rotten at the St James Theater

The last major part of the trip was a private horseback riding "party" for Julia, Grace, Isa and Ines. Isabel and Ines do horseback riding at a local farm, and they also specialize in therapeutic riding for handicapped kids. We had 5 or 6 people, 3 ponies and a horse, and an hour in the indoor riding ring for the girls to enjoy. To say they loved it would be an understatement.
Grace on Junie

Julia was a little apprehensive at first, but became comfortable enough pretty quickly, and had a wonderful time. This will probably be something that we try to arrange again in the future when we are up there. Grace is also asking about riding at some of the local farms near us in the Brandywine valley.
Julia on Vanessa

Even with some time to relax around the house, and sleeping in some, it still seems like we had a pretty full three days. Which we did. Now we are back home, and tomorrow, we have Easter dinner with Dave and his gang, along with Mom and Chris, which is something else to look forward to.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Last weekend, after getting back from a week-long national sales meeting at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel complex in Nashville, I was able to finish the runestone project begun a week or so earlier. To recap, the runestones were carved from foam insulation board, painted a medium gray color, runes were scribed with a dull pencil point, and then colored in with a fine point black Sharpie.
In process

The next step was to dry brush the pieces with a light gray color (Folk Art craft paint in Dove Gray).
First light gray dry brush coat

The last step was to pick out a few bits of detail with a medium brown color and a tan color. The final pieces shouldn't be too monotone, and the bits of brown and tan coloring break up the all gray color scheme.

The pieces, when complete, are simple but effective. They can be used as Underdark pieces (which they will be...(spoiler)...or as outdoor pieces.
Runestones (again)

All in all, this was a nice simple project that took perhaps an hour and a half in total, and resulted in ten pieces of scatter terrain that can have multiple uses. Total cost, with the materials already in hand, was basically nothing. Allocated cost of the actual materials used would be less than $10. Not bad for a handful of multi-use pieces.

Christmas Tidbits

Brother Dave always does a good job of paying attention to whatever my interests-du-jour are, and getting Christmas or birthday presents that tie into those interests. This Christmas was no different, and Dave and his Darling Wife got me (among other things) a couple of books that I have devoured.

The first was the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, a brief paperback (121 pages) containing a variety of essays from a bunch of different people with a lot of collective experience in the fantasy role playing game and related industries. I liked this book a lot, and my only complaint, if any, was that it wasn't long enough. There were chapters on design methodology and a variety of different aspects of fantasy world creation. While none of these essays was extensive in length or scope, they were all filled with good advice on things to consider, approaches to take, and the like. Given my...ok, let's call it an obsession...with creating the world we are playing D&D in, this little book gets a solid "A-".
World building, and Fantasy Maps

The second of the two books was How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps, by Jared Blando. As we have gotten back into playing D&D after all these years, one of the things it has gotten me interested in doing is to get back into sketching and drawing. I have bought a few books on basics of drawing and sketching, and this is a good complement to those, focusing specifically on fantasy map cartography.
Sketching a piece of our World (in progress), 11 by 14 inches

In a couple of spare hours over the course of the past few evenings, I have made a beginning effort at turning a piece of the players' world into a basic (beginner) hand drawn map. The picture above is what I have so far. More to come as this progresses. Sketching in some forested areas comes next, which will be time consuming. So we'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, thanks to Brother Dave and his family for giving me a few Christmas gifts that do indeed keep on giving.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cavern Pillars

Interesting what two feet of snow will do. I've now posted more blog entries today than I did in the last 4 months of 2015 combined. Hmmm... of the things I have noted in our first few sessions of using my new Underdark terrain set is that there are a few kinds of pieces that were not in my initial build that would be very useful to have. A few of those, begun over the last week or so, and completed today are:

90 degree pieces of 2 inch tall cavern wall for forming passage entries into larger caverns. I had been using simple gaps in the walls, and while these new pieces are not really necessary, they look nice and work well.
Cavern passage entries (at left)

A few more pieces of rocky scatter terrain which character models could climb up on.
Rocky scatter terrain

A few pieces of floor-to-ceiling 2 inch terrain. This would serve to break up larger caverns, and represent areas where the rock goes from floor to ceiling. In my terrain pieces, this is represented by the black painted centers. Our rule is that if there is enough gray for a miniature to stand on, then a character can climb to that spot (and claim the high ground, for whatever purpose). If there isn't enough gray painted area for a miniature, then it represents sheer wall. The picture below shows two new "floor to ceiling" pieces for breaking up larger spaces.
Cavern with entry, scatter and floor-to-ceiling pieces

I also took a few pictures today as I made the new floor-to-ceiling pieces. The process detailed below is consistent with every piece of terrain-making in my Underdark collection (as well as most of my dungeon terrain as well...).

Step 1 - Carve the basic shape out of the appropriate sized foam, in this case 2 inch soft blue insulation board. The blue board is softer than the pink, which is grainier and stiffer. I just had some blue scraps, so I used them. When in doubt, use what you already have (and have paid for...). It took me maybe one minute each to carve these pieces.
Step 1 - Carve simple shapes with a knife

Step 2 - Base coat the pieces with your gray base color. I use Behr "Iron Mountain" as my base (from Home Depot). A quart of interior flat is maybe $12 (US). It took perhaps 2 minutes each to base coat these pieces.
Step 2 - Paint gray

Step 3 - Dry brush with a lighter gray (in this case, I use Folk Art brand craft paint from Michael's, specifically "dove gray"). On terrain pieces this size, I use a large semi-stiff artist's brush (shown). Pay particular attention to dry brushing "top to bottom" so that you make a point to catch the top edges of the pieces, as these will be the most visible to the viewer. Once the base coat was dry, it took about 30 seconds to dry brush each piece.
Step 3 - Light gray dry brush

Step 4 - Add a couple spots of tan and/or white dry brush to break up the monotony of all gray. And another 30 seconds for this step.
Step 4 - A little tan and white

Step 5 - Add black paint to mark out of play areas. As noted above, in our games, if there isn't enough gray area to fit a miniature on, the area is unplayable, and represents vertical walls. In the case of these two pieces, no miniature can fit anywhere on the top surfaces... And a minute each for these. In all, paint drying time is longer than the time spent in doing the different steps.
Step 5 - Add "theater black" to mark out of play areas

The finished product - the picture below shows the two new pieces, along with the 90 degree passage entry pieces and the new scatter terrain, making a large cavern with some interesting features. A large open area is never as interesting for an encounter area as one with a variety of features that the characters can interact with.
Finished product

So that's pretty much how I have made all of the stuff in the last few posts. Easy. Readily available. Cheap. All good things. A sheet of nominal 1 inch thick foam insulation board (4 foot by 8 foot by 3/4 inch thick) is about $15. A 2 foot by 8 foot sheet of 2 inch thick foam is about $18. A quart of paint, which can coat dozens of pieces, is about $12. Craft paints for highlighting are maybe $1.69 each. Add a couple of paint brushes and a knife, and you have all you need. Other than a place to store this big pile of foam...

I'm not aiming for fine art, which this is clearly not. And I am not aiming to make diorama quality detailed pieces. I want to make simple but effective pieces that enhance our gameplay, and these certainly seem to do that.