Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Frostgrave Warband - Terezinya's Tomb Robbers

Terezinya watched the moon rise, the silvery light illuminating the scintillating towers of Felstad in the distance. She drew her robes more closely around herself; she regretted not packing a thicker robe, or at least trousers. For some reason, she thought that the thawing of Frostgrave meant that the area around it was warmer. Her henchmen, a band of thuggish, green-skinned orcs, were gathered around a bonfire, passing around a helmet filled with beans and pork sausage and slurping noisily - especially the big one, with the axe. She sighed. They were the best she could do on short notice; she hoped to replace them with more...effective troops once in the city. 

 A scuff of shoe leather on stone caught her attention. She turned. Her apprentice, John Grymmlan, had brought her a cup of tea - bone china, of course. She took it, and sipped appreciatively. 

 "Why wait until dawn, Mistress, to complete our journey? We could march through the night and get there before the sun rises." He commented, his voice like creaking leather. 

 She smiled thinly. "And have our boys too tired to fight, John? No, let them enjoy their rest. They're no good to me dead." 

 Grymmlan scowled, but could not maintain the expression. His dry lips involuntarily cracked a smile. He laughed, a hard, braying sound. 

 Terezinya joined him in laughing. Wiping a tear from her eye, the Necromancer said, "I had you going for a moment there, John."

Here's a few shots of my first Frostgrave warband - Terezinya's Tomb Robbers, led by the necromancer Terezinya and her apprentice, John "Dig Me No Grave" Grymmlan.  With them are Lug-All the Pack Mule (carrying a casket full of supplies), the orcish barbarian Boss Grug, two Archers, Hoodsie and One-Eye, and a gaggle of Thugs to round things out.  Finally, there's Lil' Anklebiter, an Imp/Familiar Terezinya can try to summon at the start of games.

You'll notice there are more figures here than can be fielded in a regulation game.  I think my "standard" list will be Terezinya, Grymmlan, Boss Grug, the two Archers, four Thugs and the Pack Mule, but in a pinch I can swap out the Pack Mule for the fifth Thug.

Terezinya, Lil' Anklebiter, Grymmlan and Lug-All are from Reaper Miniatures; the Orcs are built from a Wargames Factory boxed set that I believe is currently out of production.

As an added bonus, here's a WIP shot of a couple of Reaper Bones figures I dug out of my closet to test out some new Reaper paints on; I'm in the process of upgrading my collection of paints from craft store acrylics to Reaper brand paints, and I decided to see if I could get better results on the Bones figures using these than with the old paints.  The "Irongrave Warrior" I painted up as a statue and the verdigris-crusted armor of "Arrius, Skeletal Champion" (who stands head and shoulders above the Irongrave Warrior, I should add) speak for themselves.  The Irongrave Warrior will become a piece of Frostgrave scenery while Arrius will be an armored skeleton for my Frostgrave bestiary.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Gaming Loot 2015

Here's what Santa (and by Santa, I mean the Lovely Gina and my mother) delivered unto me:

Mom was kind enough to give me the Lion Rampant ruleset (which I read through some today - I was not expecting the amount of humor in Daniel Mersey's writing that was there.  The Serfs entry had me rolling) and the Malifaux starter set, while Gina got me a stack of Reaper Miniatures.  In case you can't read the labels from the pictures, she got me:

  • "Cactus Joe, Gorilla Gunslinger" (on the grounds that I love gorillas and "this seemed so pulpy for you Bill."
  • "Black Mist, Vigilante" (furthering the Pulp theme, since this is The Shadow in all but name - even his girasol ring is depicted!)
  • "Sasquatch" (I'm a sucker for Bigfoot stuff, even though I'm not a believer)
  • "Crazy Pete, Prospector" ("It's Old Man Walter!" Gina said, referencing a character from my last D&D game)
  • "Nadia of the Blade" (on account that she couldn't let me go without getting a barbarian woman)
All of these will be getting painted up for the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, with Nadia of the Blade being recruited into my second Frostgrave warband, the "Sisterhood," while Sasquatch will be incorporated into one of my bonus round entries.  Which one? I'm not telling...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas to All

Merry Christmas one and all from Dice, Doubloons and Random Musings.

I took the day off work, and got a little bit of painting done today, including learning what an idiot I've been in the interest of being thrifty.  Reaper Miniatures includes a sample bottle of their brand of paint in every order placed on their online store, so I've amassed a bunch of them.  I never use them though, because I've always said, "I get perfectly good results from the 99-cent acrylic paints I buy at the craft store." Well, it turns out I don't have a good caucasian skin tone from the craft store, but I've got two-thirds of the medium flesh-tones triad from Reaper via samples.  So, while painting a Necromancer for my Frostgrave warband, I decided to give the Reaper samples a try.

I am an idiot, and could now easily toss all my cheap acrylics right in the trash.  Using this paint was like having an angel guide my hand while I painted.  Amazingly good coverage, no clogging of details, perfect flow.  Why haven't I been using this all along? While I've always balked at the idea of paying $3+ per bottle of paint, these are clearly worth the investment.

I will likely have some goodies to display tomorrow - Gina and I are exchanging gifts tonight, and she had me walk her through a half-dozen websites including Wargames Foundry, Reaper Miniatures, The War Store and Brigade Games showing her the sorts of things I like.  And she received a box in the mail with a return address which I recognized as being that of The War Store.  That box is now wrapped and under our tree.  I keep looking at it longingly.  Similarly, my mother wanted to do "fun" gifts for my sister and I this year, so I sent her a bunch of links to items at The War Store as ideas.  Between suggestions I made to both of them, I may have a Lion Rampant/Dragon Rampant warband in the new year.

Gina's gotten really fascinated by the miniatures painting process, and has tentatively asked about painting up a miniature of her own to try it out.  She's also asked me, starting in 2016, to paint a miniature a year to convert into an ornament for our Christmas tree.  We're going to be starting off with Foundry's Scary Santas, specifically the handsome Orc to the left.  She especially likes his pick-axe left foot.

The allure of a new period and scale has been very strong the past couple days - I ordered the rules for Sword and Spear as my Christmas gift to myself, and am strongly considering building a couple armies in 20mm (1/72 scale) plastics for it.  Right now New Kingdom Egyptians and Sea Peoples are the strong contenders.  Hopefully I can keep myself busy enough with Frostgrave and any new acquisitions from Christmas to let these urges pass quietly by.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

I Want to Be...Under the Sea...

Now that they've been up on the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge blog for more than 24 hours, I'm free to post the first few miniatures I've painted here at my home blog.  These are two of Brigade Games' 28mm Deep Sea Divers/Treasure Hunters, affixed to 25mm round bases from Renedra and based with Army Painter-brand basing grit.  The kelp is a few leaves snipped from some aquarium decor I'd bought for terrain purposes, given a rough and heavy drybrush of citron green to make it look a little less plastic-y before supergluing it to the base.  Paints used were craft store acrylics, primarily Folk Art brand.

Photos were taken on my dining room table, which currently doubles as my workspace, pretty much as soon as the varnish was dry.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Start Your Engines!

The Sixth Annual Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge has begun.  Between now and March 20th, everything I paint will be uploaded to the Painting Challenge blog for review and judgment a few days before it appears in its finished form here; I may still post some WIP shots here as I go.  I've set myself the fairly humble goal of 400 points, which would equal 80 28mm figures on foot assembled, painted and based.  I have something like 40 figures already assembled and primed.

I'm taking my time and working slowly but steadily; I've got basecoats drying on a pair of figures right now that I'd like to get as close to completed as possible today to start me off.

However, an interesting complication: I have been asked to provide a short story of 10,000 words for an upcoming anthology, for which I will be paid.  The story must be complete by March 16th.

So I'm going to be splitting my creative energies between painting and writing this winter.  I think I'm going to have a real good time with all of this.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What to Buy Next?

Gina and I have been on hobby no-buy for the month of December - I can't buy toy soldier stuff (not even based or flock) and she can't buy knitting supplies. Well, one of her favorite indie yarn dyers put out an update last week and Gina would have been unable to purchase any of the one-of-a-kind skeins if she'd been forced to wait until January 1st - they would have been completely sold out.

So we came to an agreement; I would turn a blind eye to her buying a few skeins of unique yarn, and she would turn a blind eye to me making a toy soldiers purchase AFTER Christmas - she's buying me some toy soldiers for Christmas so doesn't want me buying anything she might have picked out for me.

Now, I know what I showed her in terms of miniatures I was interested in, so I have a pretty good idea of things I won't find under the tree. So I'm considering what my "post-Christmas" present to myself would be. I've narrowed it down thusly:

photo courtesy Warlord Games
1.) Terrain for Frostgrave. I have two warbands and might be able to put together a third or more after Christmas, so I ought to get some terrain going for games. I'm eyeing a couple of Warlord Games' bombed out farmhouses from their Bolt Action line and maybe the snap-together gothic buildings that I think Pegasus Hobbies currently puts out. I'm curious to hear from readers who've built these structures about how the construction process went.

2.) Colonial/Victorian/Steampunk-appropriate figures from Wargames Foundry. I've been rereading Chris Palmer and Buck Surdu's Victorian Science Fiction skirmish game GASLIGHT lately, and I'm more impressed with them than ever. I haven't run GASLIGHT in years and don't have the figures from those long-ago days any more. I think I'd like to be able to run demo games of both GASLIGHT and Frostgrave at conventions by autumn 2016, and that means new armies need to be painted. Colonial-era games are tricky things in our current hyper-sensitive climate; it's too easy to get accused of ethnocentrism by putting on a game set in this era.

I'm thinking a couple packs of Foundry figs would take advantage of their end of year 20% off sale, and build a force of Belgians (who were dastardly in their dealings in the Congo, no doubt) and some stalwart Brits to oppose them. I've got a pretty nice mental image of a demo game in which rival European expeditions racing to the entrance of King Solomon's Mines - which happens to be located in a "Lost World" valley populated by dinosaurs who don't care about the national origin of their next meal.

photo courtesy Wargames Foundry
The thing is, I'm not sure if I'm spreading myself too thin by dividing my time and money between two games; would it be better, I wonder, to focus solely on Frostgrave for now, get my warbands painted, and start playing the game, learning it as best I can before I start building armies for another game? Or would being able to go back and forth between working on the two games make me less likely to experience burn-out because I'd be painting a greater variety of figures? This is the first time I've ever really had the income to where I could work on two games at once. I'd love to hear others' experience, ideas and advice.

Murderhoboes of Devil's Canyon, Session 6: Going Out With a Bang

We wrapped up our current D&D campaign this past weekend, which not only frees up my writerly creativity for a secret writing project I've got in the works, but also frees up my weekends for the Painting Challenge.  Here's a rundown of how things went:

Dramatis Personae:

Johann Borscht, Dwarf Fighter 4
Baphomohawk Jones, Elf Magic-User 3
Turkman Price, Human Cleric 3
Helga Ironbreaker, Dwarf Fighter 3

Adventurers and ne'er do wells were beginning to drift away from Devil's Canyon, citing that the dungeon had been "played out" and the risks now far outweighed the rewards, but our heroes continued to stick around, blasting things with their Cosmic Ray Cannon and counting the staggering quantity of gold they'd accumulated by doing so.

After a few weeks of this, they were summoned to the floating tower of Meinrad the Star-Gazer, now doubled in size again (standing 24' tall if he'd stand up) due to the weird magical energies he was channeling, and with a TOTAL RECALL-style conjoined twin growing out of his chest that now did the talking for him.

like this, but still dressed like Galactus

He explained he was going to be leaving the Devil's Canyon region soon, but had one last job for the PCs.  A hundred miles north, on the coast of the Sunset Sea, stood a temple held by a band of cultists who had summoned and bound the demon VANAMAN: the last time VANAMAN was unleashed upon the world, fifteen million years earlier, it had exterminated the Second Empire of the Serpent-Men.  Meinrad wanted the adventurers to breach the seals on VANAMAN's bindings and banish it back to Hell.  This would not be easy, as the complex was shielded by a device called a "Nullifier" that prevented energy weapons, teleportation and scrying effects from functioning within 20 miles of the complex.  Meinrad was willing to offer them teleportation to the edge of the Null Zone and explosives to deal with the bunker housing the Nullifier.

Sneaking in under cover of darkness and bypassing a hovercraft-mounted patrol, they quickly found the temple, standing on a promontory of rock on the edge of the sea, and the bunker, standing atop an outcropping rising from the waves about 20 yards out to sea.

Crossing the water, and using their talking dog Asheron as a distraction for the guards, they broken
into the shield generator bunker and began to plant their explosives, setting the timer for an hour.  This would give them time, they figures, to infiltrate the temple, find the leader of the cultists and kill him to ensure he did not release VANAMAN.

Killing two guards and stealing their uniforms, Johann and Turkman led a loosely manacled Helga into the complex, claiming they'd caught her snooping around the perimeter, while Baphomohawk, magically invisible, followed behind carefully.  Their ruse worked, and they were soon brought to see Voros, the leader of the cult.

Voros turned out to be a doddering, talkative old man whose comments about VANAMAN and what they were doing to contain it began to make Helga doubt that Meinrad had been on the up-and-up regarding their mission.  Before she could convince her fellows, however, the explosives went off, destroying the bunker, and Turkman brained Voros to death.

They quickly learned, however, that Voros was correct; that VANAMAN was a terrible creation of the Elder Things, the last of whom maintained a lonely vigil over the containment unit containing the hovering silver sphere of VANAMAN, until blasted apart by a Cosmic Ray Blast; a shot to the containment unit caused the sphere to collapse into flowing, quicksilver-like liquid that began to throw out pseudopods and consume anything it touched, growing rapidly in size.

Energy blasts caused the VANAMAN entity to double in size with each shot, and it quickly devoured Johann's meteor-bladed axe.  Running outside, the party soon saw Meinrad's Tower floating overhead, and were teleported aboard.

Here, the creature that was Meinrad gloated that the PCs had done exactly as he wished, and now, with the coming galactic alignment, he would absorb the "Power Cosmic," become a god, and with the VANAMAN under his psychic control, conquer world after world throughout the universe.  He offered the PCs the chance to become his Heralds, the fly the spaceways and find new worlds for him to conquer.

Johann blasted Meinrad with a Cosmic Ray Blast, the beam slicing through the engines holding the tower aloft on its way towards the unholy warlock.  Dying, Meinrad revealed that without his psychic control, the VANAMAN - not a demon, but tens of trillions of self-replicating nanobots, "Von Neuman Machines" in the Old Speak - would consume the entirety of the planet's mass and everything on it in a matter of months.

Johann went to the window, where he could see his Cosmic Ray Cannon.  With a tear in his eye and a mutter of "best damn investment ever," he pointed the targeting gauntlet at the Cannon itself, overloading the capacitors and setting off a massive thermonuclear explosion, which would hopefully destroy the VANAMAN.  As the expanding, incandescent cloud of screaming atomic energy reached the tower, Helga threw an amulet of force-field generation around hers and Asheron's necks.

The tower, the temple, everything in them, and the surrounding landscape for thirty miles in every direction, was completely consumed, reduced to a fine, white ash.

A bit of ash crumbles, and Asheron the Talking Dog pops his head up and surveys the landscape.

"Wow!" he barks, "Do it again!"

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Miniature Painting in the Blood

No, I haven't gone off the deep end and started applying my own hemoglobin to miniatures for "realism."  I just saw this photograph on the Perry Brothers website:

Painted by a Chris Adcock.  And I happen to be William (Bill, for preference) Adcock.  The Perrys are based out of Nottingham, which is a 42 minute drive from Leicester, where my great-grandfather was born.

It would not surprise me in the least if it turned out that this Chris Adcock and I are somewhat distant cousins.  I joke that holding a university degree in History is the Adcock Curse (I have my degree in History, as does my father, as did his mother, who was one of seven women working towards a Masters Degree at Columbia University that year), but perhaps painting toy soldiers is as well.  I paint them, my father built model kits and 1/32nd scale plastic figures until he was in his 40s, and apparently there are Adcocks back in the Motherland working with toy soldiers as well.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Stockpiling for the Winter

It has been unseasonably warm here lately - and given that I'm in Western New York, just below the Great Lakes, it's only a matter of time before the other shoe drops, and given the current warmth, the "other shoe" will be an iron-shod boot dropped from orbit.  Last year this time much of this region was digging out from under a six-foot snowfall.  So I've been taking advantage of the warm weather to get as much assembly and priming done as possible in preparation for the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, which begins December 20th (just 14 days away!).  I believe I've hit the limit of what I can do for right now; Gina and I agreed to do a "spending freeze" for the month of December; neither one of us can spend money on our hobbies right now to take care of buying presents for others.  So anything else I want to buy - including more miniatures, bases, etc - has to wait until January 1st.

In the meantime, I have 42 individual 28mm figures on foot and a small diorama piece to keep me busy; these include two full warbands for Frostgrave plus additional figures that can be swapped in and out for both of them, a couple miscellaneous figures, plus my entries in the first two Bonus Rounds, "Nostalgia" and "Epic Fail."

Here's a group shot of everyone assembled, primed, and ready for December 20th:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Don't Throw a 1's One Million Hits Giveaway

I don't have much to show, miniatures-wise, right now unless you like to look at a lot of primed and unpainted figures; I've been working like mad to try and get as much done as I can in preparation for the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, so I haven't been painting so much as preparing to paint.  However, I would like to congratulate Ray at Don't Throw a 1 on hitting one million page views on his blog.  To celebrate, he's offering up some stuff he's had laying around.

You can see what he's offering here!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Paint Table Saturday: Dinovember Edition!

Getting this Paint Table Saturday entry in under the wire...I'm sure most of the people who read this blog won't see it until Sunday morning.  I'm also pleased to be able to share my contribution to the Celebrated Mr. Awdry's Dinovember: Reaper Miniatures' Carnotaurus, an anniversary presently from my lovely Gina.

I'd decided to paint up this terrible lizard with a beige and turquoise color scheme, and Gina watched with interest as I built up the beige in layers of drybrushing, starting with a burnt sienna and gradually lightening both my tones and my touch to leave the darker browns in the recesses and bring the tops of the scales up to a near-ivory.

She then gasped in horror as I began to apply the turquoise, believing that the color was too loud and fearing that I would "ruin" the figure with a garish, heavy-handed paint job.  She felt a little better after seeing me apply a dark blue wash to bring the texture out in the turqoise areas, and I finished off the turqoise with a light blue drybrush this afternoon while she was napping.  I then applied a tangerine orange to the bone structure around the eyes and the undersides of the horns, based on speculation that the horns would be used to display for a mate.

"Make sure you get my good side - or you'll get on my bad side!"

The base is done in Army Painter-brand basing material, which I'd never used before but quite like, and some dried lichen from my local arts and crafts supply store served admirably as undergrowth - grass having not yet appeared on Earth at the time when Carnotaurus was stomping around South America.

From there, a touch of citron green for the eyes and my Carnotaurus was ready to proudly stride forward, displaying his colors for any interested females while bellowing a challenge to any wayward males in the area at the same time.

A coat of Krylon spray matte varnish sealed him in, and I honestly believe the spray alters the saturation of the colors underneath; he looks different, and I'm not sure I have the words to describe just how.  Gina saw him after he came in from his varnishing, and gasped in delight - she LOVED how he came out in the end!

All that's left now is I want to apply a little bit of lettering to the base - identifying this not as Carnotaurus sastrei, but as "Anniversaurus regina, 2015."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Frostgrave WIP: Orcs on the March

So I've been reading through the Frostgrave rulebook, and the expansion "Thaw of the Lich Lord" will be arriving on my doorstep tomorrow.  In the process, I've been looking at allllll those Wargames Factory plastic figures I bought last year and which have been firmly ensconced in my closet, unbuilt, ever since.  And I took them out, and I started to cut pieces of sprues and glue them together.  I had a plan.  I was going to turn these kits into Frostgrave warbands.

I started with the Orc boxed I bought for something like 1/2 price at last year's Black Friday sale.  With their more human proportions, I liked the look of these orcs far more than the lantern-jawed goons of Games Workshop, and looking over both the weapons offered by the kit and the soldier list in the Frostgrave book, I began to put together an army list.

Or should I say, multiple army lists, built for a couple different styles of play; because I don't have scenery yet, I imagine the first couple play-tests of the rules for me will take place on a more open table than the game recommends, so I have an archery-heavy list, for example, and a two-handed weapon wielding list for if I want to really wade in and chop some metaphorical heads.

And so, I built enough figures to accommodate the different lists I'd come up with.  Eighteen orcs in all, built over the course of Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  I had to take a couple more breaks than I'd intended because my eyes began to really bother me and not want to focus - I'm not used to holding things two inches from my face while working on them any more.

I won't be able to begin painting these fine fellows until December 20th, because I intend to make them a good-sized part of my entry into the Analogue Hobbies Annual Painting Challenge, but for the meantime, here they are in their assembled glory:

Group shot.  The group in the foreground right is my "core" army composition, 5x thugs, 2x archers, 1x barbarian

The Barbarian, coming in on a lunging down-stroke with his two-handed axe.

Three thugs.  The one on the right has a sword and scabbard from the Wargames Factory Amazons box.

The other two thugs.  The one on the left has a shield on his back for visual interest, and a spear clipped from a Persian sprue.

All six archers.  The arms holding bows outstretched were taken from the Persian sprues.

Six Infantrymen, with polearms of various types.  

I really like how this fellow turned out - I used the archery arms from the Orc sprue to create a "salute/shading eyes from the sun" pose.  

A better shot of the Persian archer arms on the Orc body.  Also, that head has an eyepatch, which I think makes for a very amusing archer.  

Another shot of the orc with the Amazon sword and scabbard.  I was going for a "just drawing the sword" pose.  The left arm is the archer arm from the Orc sprue.  
I'm really loving the flexibility that a skirmish wargame like Frostgrave is giving me over a rank-and-file, massed-troops type game like Warhammer, just in terms of posing figures.  I was able to put a lot more character into these guys than I would have otherwise; each figure in this warband telling a story with body language and equipment.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Paint Table Saturday: Mounties and Rocket Corps, FINISHED!

Not so much what is *on* my paint table this week, as what came *off* the paint table today.  The Mounties and Rocket Corps from Pulp Figures that I posted in-progress shots of last week are now more or less done; nothing special has been done with their bases, because these figures were more about reminding my hands what to do when presented with a paint brush and figure than any sort of special project.  I bought the figures on a whim, I painted them on a whim; a whim they remain.

Also, check out my excellent photography backdrop; that's two sheets of gray foam padding from the local hardware store, set at a 90-degree angle facing a window with the curtains opened.  We're reaching the time of year here where the sky is just about that shade of gray during the day, so I figured I'd take advantage of whatever vestige of sunlight I could garner.

Alea Iacta Est: The Sixth Annual Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge

The Analogue Hobbies Annual painting challenge has arisen for its sixth year, and after watching some of the entries roll in last year, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for this year.  The theme is "Gamblers, Risk-Takers and Daredevils," so I should think the Frostgrave Warband (or two) I'm putting together should count, seeing as how they're delving into a frozen ruin to loot treasure and hopefully not be disemboweled by skeletons along the way.  Likewise I have my suspicions that a Viking crew may be heading in the direction of my painting table come Yule, and certainly Leif Erikson and his crew took some risks along the way to Vinland.

In other news, my lovely Gina has expressed an interest in trying out painting toy soldiers, and acting under her direction, I've assembled a single Wargames Factory Amazon for her to try out.  I'm hoping she enjoys it enough that I can nudge her in the direction of playing wargames with me every once in a while.

I've also got a new game store in the area to check out; not new in that it just opened, but new to me, and it comes very highly recommended by my friend Nick, who plays Malifaux and has expressed an interest in Frostgrave.  Since I've begun looking at Malifaux and drooling over the figures, Nick has offered to introduce me to a group that meets at this game store for Malifaux games, so that's exciting.

Building a Mystery, Part 4: The Plot Thickens

Cthulhu by Fufu Frauenwahl
Greetings readers, it's been a bit now since the last entry in this series.  I'd hoped to have more of the adventure plotted before writing this post, but that hasn't really been happening - so now I'm hoping that maybe writing about the process of creating an adventure plot will help me break through that creative block and finish writing this adventure.  I'm planning to run "The Haunting of Holdernesse Hall" at Running GAGG 2016; so I have a few months, but that does not mean I want to leave anything until the last minute.

When I say I'm writing an adventure plot, I don't mean that I'm writing something that's tightly scripted, where the players are tightly bound to a railroad that they can't control or get off of.  I try very hard not to do that.  The way I generally like to write adventures is to provide a strong opening scene to hook the players in and then set up a mystery that demands investigation, either through being particularly gruesome or by playing to the nature of the Investigator characters.  I've got some nebulous ideas in my head for a couple different Call of Cthulhu scenarios in which the player characters are a CSI team, and that's how they get hooked into the scenario.

Once they're hooked into the adventure, I try to let them drive the investigation as much as possible; this is A) sometimes very hard, because sometimes players just want to sit there and be entertained and not take a proactive role, in which case they really should just be watching Netflix instead of wasting everyone else's time at the gaming table, and B) it takes a ton of effort on the game master's part, far more so than an improvisational dungeon crawl does.

To this end, I try to plot out short "scenes" that I can guide the players to when their investigation begins to flag or they start to wonder if anything is going to happen.  With these I try to include either action or a strong expository clue that advances the investigator's understanding of what's going on.  Including both is ideal, but not always feasible.  Here's an example scene from the "Nightmare on the Slopes" modern day adventure I ran at Queen City Conquest:
A Hunt Gone Wrong 
A small posse (consisting of Joe Svenson, Tom Rill, Sheriff Fred Baker, two deputies and a local hunter) is organized and sent to take out the “rogue bear,” aka Sasquatch. If this event takes place after A Robber Reappears, they may be aware that there are in fact three Sasquatches.
 Spot Hidden rolls will reveal footprints in the snow and the occasional oddly snapped branch or piece of tree with the bark peeled back strangely.
 Track rolls will allow the PCs to follow the tracks and, at least once, recognize that the tracks are doubling back and leading the hunters on a circuitous route through the dense pines.
 Listen rolls will allow the PCs to hear heavy breathing among the pines and, once a high-pitched, howling scream echoes among the trees, will allow them to hear a fainter response scream and differentiate it from an echo.
 From the time they entered the woods, the posse was being stalked by the Sasquatches. The big male went ahead, leaving tracks for the posse to follow, while the female and young male followed behind the posse. This is not something the Sasquatches would have thought of on their own; the Lloigor is directing their actions.
 The Sasquatch will attempt to lure/herd the PCs into a particularly dense stretch of woods where they can be separated among the dense, dark pines. Here, they will pick off the posse one at a time, attempting to beat them unconscious or simply disarm them and carry them off to the Lloigor’s lair. They will carry off three victims before breaking off the raid.
As you can see, I don't organize every scene around every investigator being present; with "Nightmare on the Slopes" I decided to test myself and wrote it so that the scenes could be arranged in any order and still tell a coherent story, and ultimately the investigators were not all in one place at one time until the climax of the session.  It made for a very different style of play than the players were used to, and I think it went very well.

I don't know that I'll use this style of scene-plotting, where anything could take place before or after anything else, for "The Haunting of Holdernesse Hall," but before I get too deep into scene plotting, the first thing I need is the Big Problem.

The Big Problem

The Big Problem is the Mythos incursion into our reality - cult activity, summoned horror, etc. - that needs to be addressed by the player characters.

I think for this scenario, the Big Problem needs to be that Gol-Goroth has grown tired of the meager, irregular sacrifices its tiny coven of cultists has been able to supply over the years, and has demanded something more from them; I'm leaning in the direction of this sudden change in desire relating to a milestone in its cycle of existence on Earth; if we go with the idea that the year of the scenario, 1928, is the 200th anniversary of Lady Elizabeth of Holdernesse throwing herself off the balcony in response to the miscarriages caused by Gol-Goroth, maybe Gol-Goroth was revived in 1728 and now needs an extra strong offering to maintain his toehold in our reality.  Maybe he's just sick of squatting in a basement and wants to improve his lot.

Maybe, he's reached out and made telepathic contact with the current Duchess, and has offered her restored youth and vigor (perhaps an empty promise, perhaps not) in exchange for a sacrifice of the right kind.  Such as, for example, the American Heir(ess).

Maybe that's why the American Heir(ess) was contacted and invited to Holdernesse in the first place!

I like this.  I like this a lot.

Opening Scenes and Hooking the Players

Now that we have our Big Problem, we can start hooking the players.  The opening scene needs to introduce the player characters to one another, possibly in media res, as well as introduce the players to the major NPCs.  Lester Dent advocated introducing all the characters of a story in the first 1500 words; it worked for churning out pulp adventures in the 1930s, and it will work for you in producing a Call of Cthulhu adventure now.

Heck, that'd be a good project in and of itself, using Lester Dent's Master Plot to write adventures.  One thing at a time, Bill, one thing at a time...

"The Haunting of Holdernesse Hall" is actually proving to be a less than ideal adventure to use in showcasing how to build an adventure, because I'm realizing how much of it is going to be predicated on the player characters interacting with one another.  And while this is great for me as a game master - I get to sit back and watch the players drive the session and just respond to them, rather than lead them by the nose - it does not lend itself towards interesting discussion or a valuable look under the hood of adventure design.  But we've come this far, and we're not going to chicken out or start over now.

So.  Opening scene.  This I do have already in my notes, drawing off, again, the novel The Evil of Pemberley House.  The session will open with the American Heir(ess) getting picked up at the nearest train station by the Chauffeur just as the skies open up in a torrential downpour.  On the slow drive back to the Hall, their car is shot at - by former associates of the Chauffeur, feeling he chintzed them on their shares of the last heist, but the players and their characters may not necessarily find this out at this point.  The rain will halve all shooting percentages, making death or injury at this point far less likely, but if things start to seem rough the Groundskeeper will hear the shots and (hopefully) come running.  The two ne'er do wells will scurry off into the woods if they see their attempt isn't looking so sure.  The Heir(ess), Chauffeur, and Groundskeeper will make it to the Hall without further incident, where we introduce the other three PCs as well as most of the NPCs.

We're technically starting the adventure off with a red herring, which I've never done before, but I think it should work very well for seizing and holding the players' attention.  I'm a little hesitant about it because this is, recall, a convention game, limited to a four hour time slot, so I can't get too sprawling in my adventure design.

Following this I'm going to run a scene introducing the Duchess and showcasing her attitude towards each of the PCs - including utterly vitriolic towards the American Heir(ess).  I won't say too much about this scene, other than to note I've ripped off a few lines of dialogue wholesale for the Duchess from the Colonel in THE BIG SLEEP.  I ain't ashamed.

I should note, following up on that, that I tend not to script NPC dialogue if I can help it, because there's no predicting what players will ask or say to NPCs, and if I write a piece of dialogue that I consider especially good, the temptation will be there to use it when not appropriate.

So that's two scenes right there,  I'll probably drop a reference here and there within those scenes to the Holdernesse Ghost and the legendary Lambton Toad to whet player curiosity and to quietly get across that these are things relevant to the adventure as a whole.

From here, I think 3-4 more short scenes will do it before the climactic encounter.  I want to do something with the ghost, something with the butler, something on the moor, and maybe one more scene.  And these will not necessarily be utterly discrete scenes; they may flow into each other organically.  So let's take these three and put them in some sort of order:

  1. Lights on the Moor: one or more of the PCs sees lanterns bobbing on the moor in the vicinity of Toad Hill late at night.  Investigation reveals these to at first glance belong to a small group of Irish Travellers, i.e. "pikeys," crossing the moor and valuing their privacy.  This is a front for the cult of Gol-Goroth to ensure they're left alone.  
  2. The Ghost Appears: One of the PCs (most likely the American Heir(ess), but not necessarily) is visited by the ghost.  While frightening at first, if the character can get past the fact that they're interacting with the dead (and believe me, there's going to be a SAN cost to do so), the ghost can reveal that they're bound to the Hall until "the curse" is lifted.  Like most ghosts, this one is vague, and won't just say, "yo, banish that thing in the cellar and I can go to my rest, y'dig?" Maybe they can reveal that the curse was awoken or revived by her husband 200 years ago, and that this year's calling for a big sacrifice.  
  3. The Butler's Scheme: Awoken by the ghost, one or more PCs will encounter the Butler sneaking around with some of the family papers.  If confronted, he can be compelled to explain that he believes the Holdernesse Ritual leads to buried treasure dating back centuries.  Assisting him in his calculations and investigation (with the promise of a share of the treasure) leads the PCs back to Toad Hill.  I think this should be interrupted by the maid hysterically demanding that the butler take her to town now, to marry her, and to get out of Holdernesse.  This, in turn, could be interrupted by either the cultists or the two bandits from the opening scene, leaving the players to deal with some small scale anarchy.  
And that's something to keep in mind: We have these two random elements in the form of the bandits, who want to take a cut out of the Chauffeur's loot from the last heist (buried in the vicinity of Mary's Tower until the heat's off), and the cultists, who want to appease Gol-Goroth for another year.  If the momentum of the session slows or bogs down entirely, as Raymond Chandler said, "have two guys come through the door with guns."

I'm planning for all the PCs to actually be armed in this scenario, or nearly all, for various reasons - the Groundskeeper has a fowling piece to address the issue of varmints, while the Chauffeur is an armed robber waiting for things to cool down so he can come out of hiding.  The Doctor and the Grandchildren are just terrible people who are willing to wave a gun around if it gets them what they want.  So having the cultists armed is not as one-sided a contest as it might be otherwise.  Given that the Call of Cthulhu rules do give stats for Colonel Moran's Air Gun from the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the Doctor in the novel The Evil of Pemberley House is a descendant of Colonel Moran who has the Air Gun, I'm tempted to carry that over into this adventure.  Sadly for him, given that this adventure takes place in the 1920s instead of the 1970s, I don't think he'll have access to a portable air-compressor to reload the gun on the go.  I'll look into it though.  

And that brings us to the final scene.  The PCs will find their way into the buried temple in time to see the cultist's making their offering to Gol-Goroth (potentially, this offering will be one of the PCs; otherwise, the maid, butler, or cook would be of use) and can try to disrupt the ceremony.  Gol-Goroth slithers up from the pit, making his unclean presence known, and brought face to face with a Thing of the Outer Darkness, the player characters can go mad or try to slay the beast or both.  

This is kind of a mile-high view of breaking the scenario into scenes, and I'm leaving a lot of detail out because I don't want this to be a 20,000 word blog post.  Scattered through and between the "scripted" scenes will be clues and hints to help guide the investigators through the adventure -- a medieval account of Sir Richard of Holdernesse slaying the Lambton Toad with a sword forged especially for the occasion, with three priests laying benedictions on the metal as it was being forged; a Roman-era account of a temple housing an ancient local god on the edge of a moor; etc., etc.  I'm not going to be holding the players' hands, but neither will I be letting them flounder in the wind.  

And I think that's where I'm going to leave off for this post.