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.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Murderhoboes of Devil's Canyon Session 5: Fire When Ready

After almost a month away, we reconvened!

Dramatis Personae:
Johann Borscht, Dwarf Fighter 3
Baphomohawk Jones, Elf Wizard 3
Yngwie Magnusson, Dwarf Thief 3 (deceased)
Brunhilda von Sass, Elf Fighter 2 (deceased)

Replacement Characters:
Skogul von Sass, Elf Fighter 2
Turkman Price, Human Cleric 2

Flush from the victorious counting of coins and appraising of gems, Johann Borscht gleefully dragged a bag of money into Old Man Walter's Junk Shop, purchasing the Cosmic Ray Cannon he'd put on layaway weeks earlier.  With it, he received a chrome-plated gauntlet connected to the Cannon's onboard targeting computer, allowing him to "throw the horns" at a target and have the Cannon calibrate and fire, as well as a spare battery pack and a battery recharger, ensuring he'd never run out of firepower.  He proceeded to test the Cannon by disintegrating a couple trees, including one apparently possessed by a demon - and then disintegrating the demon.  Carefully pocketing the gauntlet and storing the Cannon in the Sagoth Caves for safe-keeping, the party returned to the town of Devil's Canyon and their local watering hole, the Chunderdome, to plan their next move.

They quickly learned that Vathek the Diviner is still offering a reward for the iron-bound Book of Necron, which he has seen in the caves via his crystal ball, guarded by corrosive slime creatures.  They also learned that another adventuring group, the Scofflaws of Renown, ventured into the cave of the Sloth-Toads to retrieve the magic sword of Delos the Throat-Slitter and never returned.  The appeal of a magic sword led them to decide to enter the cave of the Sloth-Toads themselves, even hiring Vaako, the former torchbearer of Delos, as a guide.

Their first foray into the swamp that fronted the cave proved less than successful, as a monstrous hybrid of swan and scorpion rose up and promptly sliced off one of Yngwie's legs with its claws, then slicing and stinging Brunhilda von Sass to death before Johann could hack the monster apart with his ax.

[Game Master aside: Brunhilda von Sass is played by my girlfriend, and was her first RPG character ever.  I count myself blessed I'm not sleeping on the couch for the next week.]

Retreating and recruiting, Johann and Baphomohawk picked up Skogul von Sass, Brunhilda's bitchier sister with an eye for getting people in her debt, and Turkman Price, a cleric of Nyarlathotep bedecked in plate armor and a particularly stupid corkscrew hat.

Their second trip was much less eventful, until nearing the mouth of the cave, when numerous giant frogs surfaced from the swamp muck, their bodies coated with mangy patches of greasy black hair, some of them with extra eyes - they didn't harass the adventurers, just watched.  Baphomohawk recalled that these mutations were likely a sign that the area was consecrated to the Dread God Kzadool-Ra.

Entering the cave, they spotted a cluster of Sloth-Toads -- five foot tall humanoid toads, their bodies covered in patchy black hair and with large, pointed ears.  These creatures were crouching behind a pile of rocks, watching the adventurers but not advancing.  At the far end of the cave were an enormous pair of bronze doors, and on the other side a sub-cavern, from which quickly emerged a special minion of Kzadool-Ra -- an enormous toad whose eyes snapped open, bathing the cave with blinding light.

Fortunately, the adventurers had come prepared, having been warned of this creature by Vaako, and only Turkman was blinded by the light.  Shielded behind a welding mask, Johann threw the horns, eager to discover if his Cosmic Ray Cannon, now positioned on a ledge outside the Sagoth cave, could target the creature.

It could, and in a moment everything within 30' was splashed with the flesh of this creature, the light gone.  The Toad-Sloths, seeing this grumbled and slouched out into the swamp.  Forcing open the bronze doors, they found themselves in a long hallway, the walls polished and carved into detailed reliefs, which Skogul took the time to examine, determining that they told the story of this temple - that a heretical sect of Serpent Men turned their backs on Father Set to worship Kzadool-Ra, set up shop here, and were cursed by Set, transforming them into the dull-witted, non-sorcerous Sloth-Toads.

At the end of this hallway, a second set of doors led into a football field-sized chamber, with two doors on the left and three on the right, and a 30' tall statue of Kzadool-Ra, appearing as a gigantic sleepy black toad, covered in fur, with large batlike ears, reposing in a Buddha-like recline.  The statue's eyes consisted of a pair of giant yellow-green gems, carved into spheres and enchanted to glow, illuminating the room faintly.

Investigating the rooms on the left revealed a pair of treasure vaults; Johann began shoveling coinage, much of it belonging to empires long fallen, into their Bag of Holding, while Skogul found the magic sword they'd been looking for.  One of the doors on the right opened, with a pair of sword-carrying Sloth-Toads emerging, but they were quickly dissuaded, and investigating the other two doors revealed Sloth-Toads that simply refused to acknowledge the adventurer's presence, even when Johann hacked apart one of them that was wearing a hat resembling a bishop's miter.  And stole his hat.

Vaako was sent to try and pry the eyes loose from the statue of Kzadool-Ra, and after working one free, something grabbed him and started pulling him into the (apparently hollow) statue.  Johann blasted the statue apart with the Cosmic Ray Cannon, and from the rubble emerged a flowing blot of inky blackness, like a slithering absence of light.  Johann blasted it again and again with the Cosmic Ray Cannon, each bolt dividing the slithering blackness into smaller entities that continued to ooze sluggishly forward until finally broken down by the power he was throwing at it.

Returning home, they made a stop-off at the Sagoth cave to return the Cannon to storage and to arrange for the Sagoths to loot the cavern of the Sloth-Toads in its entirety on the adventurers' behalf.

A cursory examination confirmed the enchantment on the sword - a +1 Shortsword, +3 vs. Diurnal Mammals, granting the wielder Darkvision (or, if they already have it, doubling the range), and on a natural 20, a swarm of Giant Vampire Bats descending on the target for one round - and also revealed an enchanted ring in the treasure gathered by Johann.

As Turkman held the heavy platinum ring, set with an enormous amethyst and a dozen tiny diamonds, he heard a whisper in his mind to place the ring upon his finger.  Considering this no more ominous than the usual voices he hears in his mind, he slipped the ring on, instantly being aware of its power - three times a day it could fire a bolt of crackling eldritch energy, and could do much more when reunited with its "other half," ensconced in the Temple of Zygak-Xith on the Purple Islands far to the west.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dinovember - and Dinoversary!

Next Wednesday, November 18th, marks five years that Gina and I have been a couple.  Last year, as a gift she gave me the Reaper Bones Cthulhu; this year, while a much more modest purchase, she got me a figure that I probably would not have dropped the money on myself, much as I might want it - and it qualifies me to join Michael Awdry of 28mm Victorian Warfare in celebrating what he calls "Dinovember."  Behold, Reaper Miniatures' Carnotaurus!

Yes, I know the packaging reads "Carnosaurus."  While "Carnosaurus" is a loose sort of way of referring to any large meat-eating reptile, this specific example is a Carnotaurus sastrei, a somewhat unusual theropod (bipedal meat-eating dinosaur) from South America, dating to a few tens of millions of years before Tyrannosaurus rex showed up in North America.  Carnotaurus was unusual for a couple reasons, the most obvious being the two thick, flattened horns above its eyes.  Paleontologist Gregory S. Paul speculates that these were like used by males competing for mates, and I for one don't find any reason to disagree.

As an aside, I was a biology major before I switched to the study of history (couldn't pass Chemistry, so couldn't proceed in the biology major program at my alma mater), and my primary interest in that field was always prehistoric life.

This being a gift from the Queen (no lie - Gina's full first and middle names are Regina Victoria), you can bet your sweet bippy I'll be taking my time and making sure this is the absolute best work I can do.  I've been considering color schemes, and originally had thought to do him a sort of bricky red-orange with dark brown, almost black, striping on his flanks.  However, this is apparently the single most popular color scheme to depict Carnotaurus in - checking Google Images, I came across a number of these figures painted that way, as well as a couple paintings of the animal artists had done.  I don't want this to be just one in a dozen or so of these figures - I want it to pop.

image source: Wikipedia
I found the image to the left, and I think I might go with something similar, possibly brightening the turqoise/teal of the dorsal and flank striping and fading the tan tones down to a light buff or even an ivory on the underbelly and lower jaw.  The orange I might even brighten to a yellow in highlights.

In other hobby news...I got just about nothing.  I haven't painted since last Sunday, I've done very little RPG writing -- my notes for this coming Sunday's D&D game have been completed for over a week now, and I've stalled somewhat on not just my series on how to write a Call of Cthulhu adventure, I've also stalled on writing the adventure itself.  I may try to start work on the next post in that blog series to see if it helps snap me out of the writer's block I'm feeling towards the adventure.

I did order a copy of the game Frostgrave this morning, after reading a number of reviews and being very impressed with what I saw, as well as discussing the game with a friend of mine who plays the wargame Malifaux, to see if he'd be interested in learning the game with me (and given that Malifaux players are somewhat thin on the ground where he lives right now, I may build a warband for that game - you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, kind of deal).  The clincher was realizing that this game would give me a reason to build and paint some of the Wargames Factory figures I've had sitting in my closet since, ahem, last November.  Wargames get much more appealing when you realize you don't need to spend any more money on figures then you already have.

Well, OK, I will probably end up buying and painting a couple wizards for the game at some point.  And some undead.  But the core of two, maybe three if I decide to do something with the Persian figures I've got, war bands for Frostgrave are sitting in my closet waiting to be assembled, and I feel pretty good about that.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

There is More to Manliness than Machismo Alone

November is Movember, dedicated to raising the profile of men's health risks, especially in the areas of prostate and related cancers as well as men's mental health - an issue that many men suffer in silence on, deeming it "unmanly" to ask for help.

Bob Murch of Pulp Figures is, for the third year running, raising money for Movember and offering an exclusive figure, only available for the month of November, in exchange for donations.  This year's figure, shown to the left, is rugged adventurer Captain Krustache of the Kashgar, with guns drawn and furry vest belted tight against the chill of the Gobi nights.

Pulp Figures has long been my number one preferred source for figures - I love the amount of character in every sculpt, as well as the clean lines and (in most cases) minimal flash to clean up.  As a man who has experienced mental health issues in the past and manned up enough to ask for help, I recognize what big issues these can be, and I was happy to donate to the cause - getting a figure in exchange was gravy.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Paint Table Saturday - Pulp Figures' Rocket Corps and Mounties

One very nice thing I've been seeing in the miniature painting/wargaming side of the hobby is "Paint Table Saturdays," in which bloggers show off what they've got on their work benches on any given Saturday for others to comment on and offer commendation and encouragement.  It's a very friendly thing and as I get back into painting my little toy soldiers, I thought I'd offer up my own Paint Table Saturday this weekend.

I dug out two packs I'd purchased a while back from Pulp Figures to work on this weekend; I love Bob Murch's richly characterful sculpts and clean lines, and his figures are always a joy to paint.  Given that he also worked on RAFM's Call of Cthulhu line, these figures fit nicely with that range.  I'm not sure what inspired me to buy a pack of Canadian Mounties, other than perhaps I'd read a piece of Mountie fiction; the Rocket Corps are an obvious one, given my long and deep-seated love for Disney's adaptation of Dave Stevens' love letter to the pulps.

The figures were cleaned and glued to 20mm plastic bases (courtesy Wargames Factory), and then given an undercoat of black Krylon since it was warm enough to go out and prime on the porch today.  I've begun basecoating the major color blocks of the figures as well; red being such a finicky color in general, and doubly so over a black undercoat, the Mounties' jackets have been based with burgundy so I can layer up to a bright cardinal red.

My "work bench" is also my dining room table, so I won't be able to leave these guys up overnight (since I do have to get to work on Italian chicken and broccoli alfredo in a little while), but I'm hoping to get a little more work done on them maybe tonight, and certainly tomorrow.

Fire Spiders, Part 2

Here's a few better shots of the two Fire Spiders, taken under daylight conditions:

It's startlingly warm for November in Rochester, New York, so I took some time this morning to clean, assemble and base the handful of metal figures I currently have unpainted, and I'll be taking them out in a few to put a coat of primer on them.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fire Spiders!

I had some free time today, and I had a couple cleaned and prepped Reaper Bones figures - a pair of Giant Spiders - sitting on my work table.  I'd spent a lot of time trying to repose the legs on these fellows into more dynamic poses only to have them slowly revert towards their original positions after their baths in boiling and ice water.  I'd seen these spiders painted up in purples and greens, as well as a number of examples people had painted up as "Ice Spiders," in shades of blues and whites.  I decided, if there were so many Ice Spiders, then there needed to be Fire Spiders as well, and thus was my color scheme decided.  I'll take better pictures tomorrow but for now here's a shot of the pair.

I think these will be among the last Bones figures I paint; I thought I had a good handle on working with the material after Cthulhu, but I've just had a lot of hassles with other figures in this line, and I've had enough.  Gina has recommended I go back to metal figures and work slowly and paint beautiful display pieces.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Feeling the Wargaming Bug Again

Traditional historical wargaming, for whatever reason, is essentially a dead hobby in America, I think.  I don't know if the evolution of Dungeons & Dragons from wargaming contributed to its decline, or if it's somehow seen as an "English" thing that we, as Americans, have turned our backs on out of some sense of patriotism, or what.  Either way, I cannot drum up interest locally for historical gaming; wargaming, if it occurs at all (especially where I live), is strictly Warhammer/40K stuff, with a little bit of Malifaux seeming to float around as well.

I don't have the money, nor the time, nor the steadiness of hand and keenness of eye to handle that sort of gaming.  I'm realizing that as I putter at applying paint to a few Reaper Bones figures; even my big, chunky Bugbears are giving me trouble (in part because I can't lay down a basecoat on these figures without clogging the detail).  I think, for financial and eye-strain reasons, if I resume wargaming I'll need to go down to 1/72 scale plastic figures or similar.

Nevertheless, I'm craving the act of setting up painted toy soldiers, pushing them around a table, and creating a narrative of a battle being fought between them.  This flared up extra-hard yesterday; I was listening to the Hardcore History podcast's newest episode, on the rise of the Achaemenids, and I just desperately wanted to recreate the battles fought by the powers of the time - the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, all of them.

This is probably because I'm some sort of crazy person.

I also want to not spend money on things right now; Gina and I have agreed to do a giftless Christmas because the consumerist urge and the constant media barrage demanding that we SPEND SPEND SPEND BUY BUY BUY takes away from what really has value in our lives.  I don't want to keep up with the Joneses; I want to celebrate what I have that's important.

Instead, we're putting money away instead for two trips to Columbus, Ohio in Summer 2016; in June, to attend Origins Game Fair, which we may attend strictly as civilians or which I may try to run a game of Call of Cthulhu at.  Haven't really made up my mind yet, and I have a few months yet before event registration closes.  Then in July, we'll be returning to the same hotel to attend Pulpfest 2016; we both had a very nice time at the 2015 show, and met some really great people and ate wonderful food, so we'd like to return to that show.

So what's a crazy person to do?

I won't lie, I came close to pulling the trigger on some 1/72 scale plastic Egyptians and Sea Peoples yesterday; each box would have sufficed as a full-sized army for Neil Thomas' One-Hour Wargames (which I still want to try out one of these days; and there are solo play rules in there...) but restrained myself; even if it only came to $25 for the two boxes of figures plus shipping, that's still $25 that could have been a meal for Gina and I at Origins or Pulpfest, or a new book at either show.

I took a pretty significant pay cut when I switched jobs back in August, and I'm still adjusting to the new pay-schedule (I get paid every other week now, whereas every other job I've held since 2004 paid weekly), plus Gina just went down from working a per diem job plus two part time jobs while going to school full time, to just school and the two part time jobs, so we don't have a ton of excess money right now; we can cover our bills just fine and have a bit left over for fun, but it would feel very irresponsible of me to throw away money on a hobby on a lark like that; What does it matter how little I'm spending on armies if I've got nobody to play with? Playing a solo game just seems lonely.

So I'm going to bank this for now and see how I feel in the coming weeks; if the desire's a passing thing brought on by listening to the history of Cyrus the Great, I'll feel better about not buying two boxes of soldiers.  If this keeps up, I may just have to bite the bullet and play by myself for a bit.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Building a Mystery, Part 3: Send in the Nouns

So, in the last segment I began to flesh out the scenario skeleton I came up with in part 1.  I filled in some of the details relating to the NPC who brings the investigators into the adventure (i.e., the Duchess of Holdernesse), the supernatural hook (the Holdernesse Ghost) and the locale (Holdernesse Hall and the Roman ruins underneath).  In this section, we'll flesh things out further, with a focus on People, Places and "Things."


This isn't just the NPCs, but covers the Investigators as well; since this is a convention one-shot, I'll be providing pre-generated characters, which is a nice opportunity for me to tie the player-characters into the story.  This is actually something I know I have a lot of trouble with, so I'm going to be extra careful about ensuring the characters are well-connected to the adventure.  But before we get to the Investigators, let's take a look at who all's in Holdernesse Hall during the course of this adventure (drawn from The Evil in Pemberley House).

The Duchess
The Butler
The Maid
The Groundskeeper (secretly a plant from Scotland Yard)
The Chauffeur (not so secretly a former career criminal)
The Cook
The Duchess' live-in Physician
The Duchess' two adult Grandchildren (children of her adopted son)
The American Heir(ess)

I don't want to go crazy with tons of NPCs running around because A) that's harder for me to keep track of, and B) it's harder for the players to keep track of.  It makes good sense from a story perspective that the Holdernesse fortunes are not what they once were, and with the Duke dead and the family consisting of the aging Duchess and her two adult grandchildren, the property has probably gone somewhat to seed and they don't have the staff of servants they once had.

Furthermore, rather than have these characters running around as NPCs and then trying to shoehorn in six player characters (I don't run convention games larger than 6; for that matter, I don't run games larger than 6, period.  I learned that lesson the hard way), I think it might make for a very interesting and role-play heavy session to have the player characters be six of these individuals, and provide, alongside a pregenerated character sheet, a brief blurb detailing what the character hopes to inherit when the Duchess finally croaks and what they're prepared to do if things don't seem to be going their way.

This is something I've begun doing lately with convention games that's proven to be a lot of fun - providing the Investigators with reasons in their back stories not to trust or want to work with each other, and then put them in a situation where survival requires them to work together.  I attribute this to lots of years spent watching horror movies; look at Romero's zombie films, for example -- the zombies are actually not that dangerous and easy to escape from, but the living characters tend to spend so much time bickering and arguing and trying to assert their dominance over one another that they all get munched.

And I don't go crazy with Investigator back stories for convention games; a few sentences and a list of equipment is enough.  Here's an example from a recent one-shot:

Sheriff Fred Baker: Nominally, you are the law in Pine Valley. It’s a small enough, sleepy enough town that you and two deputies are enough to cover almost every situation, even the crowds of drunken tourists at the annual Winterfest. Now a trio of bank robbers may be hiding out in the vicinity of Pine Valley after stealing $25,000 from a bank in Bluff Creek, and pursuing them are a pair of FBI agents. You’re not too keen on having Feds stepping all over your territory like this, and you’re hoping to catch these guys before the Feds do. Wouldn’t that look good in the papers? Equipment: Cell phone, badge, Glock 27 (17 bullets), handcuffs, squad car.

So you can see I don't get overly detailed.with these back stories.

Looking at the list above, who do I want to be the investigators?

For the Investigators, I'm going to go with the American Heir(ess), the Duchess' two adult grandchildren, the Groundskeeper (who is secretly from Scotland Yard), the Chauffeur (a former career criminal who may or may not be trying to make good) and the Duchess' personal physician.  We will come back to them later, possibly in another blog post, but rest assured that they will have back stories making them horrible greedy people who would not appear out of place as replacement characters in a game of "Clue" (or "Cluedo," for those outside of North America).

For now, let's take a look at the NPCs.

  • The Duchess:We gave the Duchess a little bit of back story last time, but who is she now? I'm picturing her as a little physically infirm, but mentally still completely present, despite her advanced age.  You can tell she was once a very beautiful woman, but now the flesh of her face has drawn tight and her aquiline nose and high cheek bones, coupled with the wattling of loose skin on her neck, gives her the appearance of a gigantic vulture.  Her tendency to dress exclusively in black does not soften that impression.  She's bitter and cynical, having seen little in the past several decades of life to endear her to people in general, and people connected with her late husband even less.  She's quick with an acidic comment, and not terribly susceptible to flattery, but if you express a genuine interest in hearing about her life, she's happy to talk for hours about people she's known and places she's been.  She despises the American Heir(ess) on principle, dotes on her two grandchildren (though can be quick to comment on their failures or setbacks), enjoys conversation with the Chauffeur (living vicariously through his stories of criminal exploits) and relies on the Physician.  
  • The Maid: Youngish, maybe late teens/early 20s.  Slender and waifish, kind of a delicate mental disposition, prone to overreaction.  She's been carrying on a relationship with the Butler, despite him being twice her age.  I'm basing her heavily on the maid who goes crazy and runs into the lake in "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," and I think her going cuckoo-bananas during the adventure could provide a good red herring/side route of investigation if the players bog down on the main storyline.  I think she must be a strong believer in the legends of Holdernesse Hall and its surrounding environs, and maybe the instigating factor in her going cuckoo-bananas is discovering she's pregnant by the Butler.  Being terrified that the Holdernesse Ghost will cause her to miscarry, she wants the Butler to A) make an honest woman out of her and B) take her out of Holdernesse.  In interacting with the Investigators, she'll be all smiles and curtsies to everyone except the Chauffeur and Groundskeeper, whom she views as below her, seeing as they work outside the Hall proper.  
  • The Butler: Late 30s/early 40s, big beefy guy, bald/shaved head, but not dumb muscle; going off the butler in "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," he's trained as a schoolteacher but couldn't find work in that field, and so accepted a position as Butler for Holdernesse Hall.  He's done excellent work at Holdernesse for twenty years now, and even the Duchess can't find fault in him.  In addition to schtupping the Maid, he's been applying his intellectual abilities lately to the "Holdernesse Ritual" - a meaningless bit of doggerel that's been a family tradition for centuries, with each Duke having to memorize and recite a few lines of call-and-response upon ascension to the title.  The Butler is convinced the call-and-response is actually coded directions to buried treasure hidden on the grounds of Holdernesse, and is working on figuring out just where it is.  This gives the Butler reason to sneak around and act suspiciously, drawing the attention of the Investigators.  Right now I'm 50-50 on whether I want it to actually lead to buried treasure, or be coded direction as to how to get into the tunnel from Snake Hill, and thus tie the Butler/Maid subplot into the main Mythos action.  In interacting with the Investigators he'll tend towards aloof deference, though he'll look down on the Chauffeur and the Groundskeeper.  
  • The Cook: I don't have much in mind for the cook, to tell you the truth, but it makes sense that she'd be present and can provide an extra witness to weirdness that she can report to the PCs if their investigation stalls, and an extra body to stumble across once the Mythos really bleeds up into the Hall.  I picture her looking like Kathy Bates.  

I'm not going to bother assigning detailed stats to these NPCs, because it's very unlikely to come up; my usual method if it does come up is everyone has completely average stats (in older editions of CofC, I'd say a 10 in each ability score, with 7th that becomes a 50), and a percentage chance of success on a skill roll somewhere between 30 and 50 percent for most skills, or no chance of success for unusual skills (the Maid, for example, should not have a good chance of success when trying to Psychoanalyze).  The NPCs aren't there to show up the player characters, they're there to go mad and die as a warning to the player characters, so I never make their skill percentages very high.

I also tend to sneak little references or hints into NPC (and at convention games, Investigator) names, something that subtly hints at their natures or calls back to a piece of source material; for example, in the Kolchak: The Night Stalker-inspired one shot I ran at Queen City Conquest, one of the Investigators was a reporter named Carl McGavin - after Carl Kolchak, and the man who brought him to life, Darren McGavin.

The naming thing is something you should feel free to skip if it doesn't suit you - I know it's kind of needless effort on my part, because in my own games it tends to end up fairly obscure (for example, I ran a campaign a couple years back based on the film QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, and there were a number of villainous NPCs whose last names were all taken from actors who'd played Quatermass over the years) and I've never once had a player, in my home games or at a convention, catch a reference.


Having already covered Holdernesse Hall, the Roman ruin, and Lambton Moor in some detail, I won't go back over them here.  However, I would like to address the town of Lambton, as the possibility exists that the players may decide to visit the town to look for information not readily available in the Hall.  I'm not going to detail the entire town of Lambton, as that's outside the scope of this adventure, but I will detail three locations that Investigators are likely to check out: the Pub, the Church and the Newspaper Morgue.

The Pub: Every role-player, I think, at heart has an instinct to go to the tavern for information.  I think this is best suited, for the purposes of this adventure, as a place to hear local lore in general - if they don't get it in the Hall, this would be a source for gossip about the Holdernesse Curse, or legends regarding the Moor (moors in England tend to be associated with ghostly dogs and miscellaneous hell-hounds; it would be wholly appropriate, I think, for their to be a Black Dog of Lambton Moor that the PCs can hear about here, which would serve as local color and possibly a red herring), maybe even a little bit of information, or at least rumors, of unsavory practices of Dukes past.  Calling this place The Slaughtered Lamb, after the pub in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, might be fun and get players thinking in the direction of werewolves.  Other vaguely-unsettling names, like "The Waiting Owl" or similar, would be good as well.

In case you can't tell, I LOVE providing misdirection for players.  The Mythos should never be a straightforward thing, it should heave and squirm and slip through the Investigator's fingers like a writhing ball of eels.  There should never be a straightforward or easy path that leads to the Horror Behind It All; it's only once they've dug, and dug, and dug that the Investigators should look up and realize they're in a pit too deep to easily climb out of.

The Church: I'm picturing the Anglican church in Lambton as being not just a site of worship, but also a place for the antiquarian; the vicar is also the town historian and has shelves and shelves of books, bundles of manuscripts, genealogies, reams of old papers and deeds and wills on file that can be delved into to research the history of Holdernesse Hall and its inhabitants.  For added fun, maybe the church also holds, as a sort of relic of local history, the skeleton of the Holdernesse Serpent - whether this is dinosaur bones or fakes created from cow bones and paper mache, it doesn't really matter, but it provides some interest and something for the players to try to puzzle out.

I imagine the Holdernesse Serpent display looks something like this 19th century
Sea Serpent hoax.

The Newspaper Morgue: I think most players nowadays are of too late a generation to know what this is and go visit it for information; I know I've certainly never had a player ask for the sort of information one would find here.  Maybe newspapers are just too far gone for today's players to consider.  As such, I won't dedicate a lot of brain-power or time to this one, just to say that the records only stretch back 20 years or so, with older records having been destroyed in a fire, but it's there in case a player does think of it.


These are our monsters.  I tend not to go monster heavy in convention scenarios, favoring just one monster in most scenarios.  It's Call of Cthulhu; even the weakest monsters tend to overshadow even the mightiest of mortals, so why add insult to injury? Five shoggoths are not scarier than one shoggoth, they just say that the Game Master is sick of your shit.  I prefer not to insult my players  that way.

So far we have two "Things" in this scenario: the Holdernesse Ghost and the Thing in the Ruins.  I'm not planning to make the Holdernesse Ghost particularly monstrous; I almost consider her more of an NPC that happens to be slightly incorporeal.  The 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu has this to say on ghosts:
Ghosts especially seem to haunt locations in order to communicate the awfulness that prompted their formation. Sometimes a ghost gives clues or instructions, which, if carried out, let the anxious shade dissolve and find peace. Though all ghosts are terrifying, some are more loathsome than others; a 1D8 Sanity point loss should be the maximum loss for seeing a ghost.
Maybe the Holdernesse Ghost only exists because the Thing in the Ruins keeps her bound to the Hall, savoring her suffering, and only be defeating it and banishing it from the earth can she rest in peace.

So what is the Thing in the Ruins?

I'm still working on that, to tell you the truth.  With the LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM connection, and the emphasis I've been placing on the "Holdernesse Serpent," I've been looking at some of the more serpentine monsters in the book: Chthonians, Hunting Horrors, Dholes, Lloigor...Ultimately what I want is something intelligent, that can make bargains and offers in exchange for sacrifices, and generally act like a malevolent godling.

Chthonians I think might be *too* alien for what I'm looking for, while Dholes are just absurd.  Who can fight something the size of a cruise liner? The Lloigor fits well with a lot of what I've got so far, but I'm slightly disinclined to use the Lloigor since I just used one in my last convention game.

But what if I take the "Serpent" a little more metaphorically? Maybe there are degenerate serpent-folk, like Robert E. Howard's "Worms of the Earth" down there.  Having stunted little creepy pre-humans creeping up into the Hall would give the scenario a DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK vibe.

If I replace the "Serpent" with "Toad" we get even more options, and helps disguise what I'm stealing from LAIR.  Perhaps a Nagaae, one of the bloated servants of the Great Old One Cyaegha, is down there.  Or speaking of Great Old Ones, maybe something akin to Gol-Goroth (identified by Chaosium with the tentacled toad-like horror in Robert E. Howard's "The Black Stone") is even down there.  I've never used a Great Old One in an adventure before, and a convention one-shot where players are expecting their characters to go mad and die would be an appropriate place to use one.  Gol-Goroth is not exceptionally powerful, and the creature in "The Black Stone" was even cornered in a cave and killed with fire and blessed steel, so it would be entirely possible for the players to score a victory.  For a tougher fight, Byatis could be an option, being imprisoned in England (not that we need be beholden to the source literature) and being variably known as "the Berkeley Toad."

The more I turn this over and over in my head and chew on the matter, the more I think my two best options are to have it either by a Lloigor or Gol-Goroth in the ruins.  The Lloigor is pretty much perfect for what I have in mind - it's intelligent, sadistic, reptilian and has some nasty powers and thick, bullet-resistant scales.  Gol-Goroth, meanwhile, straddles a line between "god" and "monster," something I've enjoyed toying with ever since I first saw the 1982 film Q: THE WINGED SERPENT.  From the stats in the 6th edition book (since it hasn't been formally updated to 7th edition yet), I'm guessing it's something of a sadist, given that "the toad-thing's worship usually involves orgiastic dancing, copulation, flagellation and human sacrifice," It's as smart as a very smart human being as well, and knows the spell "Create Gate" (which seems a little pointless to me, and I'd swap that out for something else, something it can dangle over a greedy human's head to ensure their service).  It's not armored the way the Lloigor is, but instead its unearthly atomic structure causes all physical attacks to deal minimum damage.  No weird powers other than spellcasting, instead preferring to stomp, strangle and eat its foes.

Honestly, I keep getting this nagging feeling like I bungled the Lloigor's powers in the adventure I ran back in September featuring one, and maybe I could use this adventure to make it up to myself and "get it right." On the other hand, Gol-Goroth's minimal power set makes it a much easier creature to run, operating largely as a physical brute rather than a subtle manipulator.

Plus, if we count the toad-thing in Howard's "The Black Stone" as Gol-Goroth, then there's a literary antecedent to ghosts hanging around this thing - in the story, the ghost of Gol-Goroth (slain, recall, by fire and blessed steel) still squats on its ancient monolith, surrounded by the ghosts of its followers, on Midsummer's Eve.

Yeah, the more I think about it the more I think I want to use Gol-Goroth as the Thing in the Ruins.  So go back and replace all references to the Holdernesse Serpent with ones to the Holdernesse Toad or the Lambton Toad (and that skeletal relic in the church is now a hippopotamus skull that someone paper mache'd up to make it more imposing). Because of the creature's toughness (55 hit points are a lot harder to kill when every weapon does minimum damage) the players will have to be a bit smarter in confronting the monster; I think through records in the Hall library, as well as at the Church, they'll be able to find both Roman-era accounts of the creature and medieval-era accounts of the first Duke "slaying" the toad, and between these the Investigators will be able to synthesize a means of either permanently banishing/killing the monster or at least sealing it up for another couple hundred years so that it becomes someone else's problem.

And who knows, maybe that first Duke's sword is still hanging over a Holdernesse mantle, silently charged with some enchantment that will let it actually harm the monster - "Blessed steel" and all that...

Anyways, this post is running very long and I think I've covered much of what I wanted to say with it, so join me next time when I start synthesizing a story out of the elements we've come up with so far.