Saturday, December 31, 2016

Into the Dungeon: Castle Meatgrinder AP

The kids were kind enough to playtest Castle Meatgrinder over the holiday break, and we found that it needs some serious work.  They had a good time, but I wasn't satisfied with the amount of action, the speed of play, or the organization of my notes.  Most important, I was not at all satisfied with the amount of stuff in the dungeon.  We'll talk more about how I can improve as a DM later.  For now, let's look at what happened.
Seven PCs entered, and seven PCs returned.
Three entrances the players had, a barred door, an open cave, and a strange stone passage whose entry was carved to look like a mouth.  They chose the open cave, and after dropping down a flight of stairs found themselves in a 30-foot room with stairs leading down in all three cardinal directions.  The center of the room held four large columns surrounding a simple well.
After putzing about with the well for a bit, they chose to descend to the right.  A bit of exploration through large, empty halls, and they found a plain chest in an alcove.  Opening it dropped an iron cage down on the thief and cleric sent to investigate.  Together, they managed to lift up the cage enough to free them.  Just as they slipped free, cultists appeared in the distance.
They challenged the party, wary, but not hostile.  When they realized the party was interlopers they attacked!

The party's pyromaniac Halfling lit them up with burning oil, and they quickly dispatched the red robes with little trouble  They scored 25 gp and a strange gold mask the leader had been wearing.

 Further exploration revealed a lot of empty rooms and empty halls.

My wandering monster dice kept coming up sixes, and that meant the only other combat they faced was two tentacles guarding a treasure horde on a small island.  After beating sense into the tentacles and driving them off, they took the loot and ran.

After several hours, two combats, several traps, and even a bit of role-play, it was time to call it a night.  The team enjoyed the miniature heavy version, but at the conclusion suggested that they'd prefer to return to Skull Mountain and see if they can get past the shrieker at the entrance to put some hurt down on the orcs that guard the entryway. 

I'm not much for railroading, so if that's what they decide...I'm up for it.  Even if it does mean shelving the dungeon terrain for the most part.  I'll just have to find a local game convention and run Castle Meatgrinder for some strangers if that's what it takes.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Big Surprise!

After writing up my last post, it occurred to me that I do have a box of odds and ends that might be perfect for Castle Meatgrinder's heavy hitters.  Here are two of them.  (There are a few more that we'll leave in our back pocket for surprises).  Here's what they look like next to a pair of 15mm figures.  

I don't know who manufactured that dragon, but it's been in the collection for decades.  The second one here is an old Nyarlathotep miniature - I think it's an old RAFM figure.  Anybody out there that can confirm that?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Compleat Castle Meatgrinder

Who are we kidding? A project like this is never complete, it just goes into hibernation. As we round out the year of fantasy skirmish here at War In A Box, let's take a look at where the project stands. At the current time we've got over 50 characters in four different races for player pawns.  We've got at least a dozen each of orcs, ratmen, lizardmen, undead, cultists, and frogmen.  We've got creatures from vermin to ogres, flying things, climbing things, swinging things, and tentacled things.  We've got traps galore and puzzles to boot.  As it stands Castle Meatgrinder spans ten dungeon levels, each with ten to fifteen rooms, and a few hidey-holes to allow for future expansions.

That's a lot of stuff, but in keeping with the mission of compact gaming on a budget, let's take a look at how compact you can make a D&D megadungeon if you're willing to game in 15mm.

Every figure in the fantasy collection.
With room for another faction/warband in the case.

The plastic tub contains all of the dungeon floor tiles, and the Old Spice box contains the delicate dungeon dressing.  To give you a better idea of scale, that tub is designed to carry two reams of standard sized paper.

You won't have any trouble carrying this mega-dungeon around a crowded convention hall.

So what are we missing?  A few things:
  • Natural caverns.  There's room for a few more halls and rooms in the tub.
  • Big beasts.  We don't have a dragon or giant or any number of high-level threats.  Right now it's all strictly low level gaming.  Aside from a few minotaurs, we don't even have any of the heavy-hitting humanoids.
  • The Old Spice box is pretty empty.  We can add a lot more dungeon dressing to it, or maybe find a better carrier so that all of the dungeon materials themselves are in a single box.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Children of Mordor

The biggest warband in Castle Meatgrinder must be the ravening horde of orcs.  You can get an even two dozen of these bad boys from Splintered Light for twenty bucks.  And these figures pretty well match the style of those in the Jim Roslof artwork on the cover of B2: Keep on the Borderlands.

The green skins might surprise some readers.  Most old-school painters go with the reddish to ochre skin of later editions.  According to the Moldvay canon, orcs look like "a combination of animal and man," with no mention of skin color.  Not only does the green skin adhere to the color picture on the cover of the B2 module, it's really the best choice from an artistic standpoint.  It provides plenty of contrast against the brown leather armor that dominates the garb of these figures.

And just for reference for those of you who, like me, mix manufacturers, here's a comparison shot of a bunch of different ones.

From left to right you're looking at:
  • Ral Partha Europe Dwarf (15mm)
  • Ral Partha Europe Elf (15mm)
  • Splintered Light Thief (15mm)
  • Splintered Light Orc with Spear (15mm)
  • Splintered Light Orc with Axe (15mm)
  • Pendraken Minotaur (10mm)
  • Pendraken Ogre (10mm)
  • Pendraken Ratman (10mm)
  • Pendraken Lizardman (10mm)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Time for Elfs

Merry Christmas!

Ral Partha Europe makes another appearance in the depths of the dungeons beneath Castle Meatginder.  This time its a full unit of wood elves painted in muted blues and browns. 

This makes for a pretty good range of character choices.  You've got everything from magic elf to bow elf to spear elf to sword elf.  What more could a guy want for figure choices for Moldvay Basic where elf is a class and not a race.

As discussed earlier, I've been thinking of ways to make elves in Castle Meatgrinder more than just tall, pointy-eared humans given to tree-hugging and prancing about.  I think characterizing them as soul-less beings poisoned by iron opens up a lot more possibilities than the current fad of, "They
re people, but you know, different somehow.  Here's a few stat changes."

Some of you may realize that I've been done with this project for a while now.  My wargaming output is pretty sporadic, so I've pre-scheduled a lot of these posts in advance.  The good news is that I want to start 2016 with a clean slate, and that means an upcoming post dump of random things.  Enjoy.

Monday, December 19, 2016

More Heroic Dudes

This last collection represents the last heroes from (plus the second Halfling from Irregular Miniature's 6mm line).  All that's left now is the wild elves from Ral Partha Europe, and we'll have all seven character classes available for the party.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Quick Notes on Random Heroics

Here's a shot with a dwarf so you can see the relative size differences between human males, females, dwarves, and halflings.  As mentioned earlier, the humans here are, the dwarf is Ral Partha Europe, and the halfling is Irregular 6mm.  As you can see, it's a good spread.  The dwarf is a head shorter than the human male, and the halfling stands just waist high.  I'll make sure to add one more once I get the last race (elves) painted up, and they are waiting on-deck.

One other thing that's worth a mention is the shield on that fighter/paladin type.  At a distance, or if you don't know your traditional Catholic artwork, it just looks like some colors thrown down.  When you see it right next to the reference work?

Like the colors for the dwarf clan, this is a bit of an inside joke that works well in the setting.  Hewing as close as possible to the medieval church opens up a wealth of inspirational material both in the paint process and the dungeon creation.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mondy Miniatures: Random Heroics

Still working to get the last of the necessary figures ready for Castle Meatgrinder.  It's going to be a largely procedurally generated dungeon heavy on the wandering monsters and set-pieces and light on the railroad tracks.  This should be the last batch of heroes, aside from the elven warband.  That just leaves the orcish warband, and then we should be able to hit the tables. 

The tiny little guy on the far right is a full-plate mailed halfling.  He's actually one of the heroic single figures available from Irregular Miniatures, but he works great as a half-a-ling.  The rest are from's adventurer packs.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Three Rooms

The map of Castle Meatgrinder has been done for months, but there are enough empty rooms in its halls to allow for a few more rooms with interactive elements.  The crypts needed a little bit of furniture, and makes these nice little crypts:

They also sell blisters with mushrooms that paint up nice.  I added a few wooden furniture plugs to serve as broad shrooms as well.

While I was able to save a few small treasure chests from the 10mm collection, I wanted a couple of stands of generic storage markers.  These boxes, barrels, and spears are also from  They'll add a little more variety to the gray halls of the dungeon.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Miniature Monday: The Bard

He's not Shakespeare, but given the old school rules that I use for my games don't even have "Bard" as a class.  Yes, your thief can carry a guitar, that's a 25 coin encumbrance hit.  He came with the pack, and it adds a nice touch of flavor for somebody wanting a more flamboyant fighter or thief.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

More Monsters

More zombies!  This brings the total population of zombies in the dungeon to seven, not a bad little number.  These guys have great hair, too!
Undead fist bump!
Castle Meatgrinder has a rodent problem.  In addition to the swarms of rats that prowl the halls, the steady drip of chaos into the halls create these lion sized monsters that make ROUS's feel inadequate.  These rats are the weird plastic figures sold under the Reaper Bones line.  They look okay, but for some reason the typical spray primer just makes them sticky.  They are cheap, though, gotta give them that.

This last shot isn't a new figure.  This is a 10mm Ogre from Pendraken, but he's a beast.  He's tall enough to serve as a smallish ogre, so that's what he is.

True buckaroos better buckle up and grab their nuts.  The Thanksgiving break was productive, and Uncle Warren has a whole mess of miniature shots ready to go for the month of December.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Miniature Monday: Twin Fighters

When you order a pair of random packs of adventurers from, you run the risk of finding a few doubles in your bags. Good.  That's what creativity is for. A little paint, scrape off a gubbin here or there, and your twins might look a lot alike, but they won't be identical. Shields are always a joy, especially the flat ones that give you a blank canvas as a starting point.

Some day I'll get the nerve to try weapon swaps on 15mm figures.  They just seem so tiny I don't trust myself to handle it right.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

On Elves: Idle Thoughts With No Conclusion

 Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm grateful you're all along for this ride.  It's been fun.

Part of my decision to eschew post-1985 versions of D&D is the sheer blandness of it's creativity.  The most recent title by Wizards of the Coast, Volo's Guide to Something or other, includes a host of new player races designed to help tables do new and different things with their games.  From what I gather from its fans, the new and different things amount to little more than new collections of stat modifiers with a bit of chrome thrown in.  That is to say, the new races amount to little more than rubber-suited humans with maybe one dominant personality trait.  
I'm not the tabletop cop.  The hobby has enough of those already.  If that brings you joy, then take your mods, zip up the lizardman suit, and go to fantasy-town.

But it's not for me.  One thing that I'd like to see make a resurgence is the idea of truly alien demi-humans.  Not just different looking, but different thinking.  That's why my dwarves are literal creatures of earth.  They aren't just short hairy humans who like wine, women, and song, they are driven by very different needs.  Granted, they love gold, but it's near and dear to their hearts because it is made of the same stuff they are.  They don't identify stone-traps easily because they build them, but because the very stones themselves speak to a dwarf in ways humans cannot even understand, let alone learn.

What to do with elves and/or elfs has been bothering me for a while.  The dominant view of them as tall, placid, tree-hugging humans, leaves me cold compared to the dark and mysterious creatures of raw magic that you see in Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword or Three Hearts and Three Lions.  The most recent IP that I've encountered that conveyed that sense of menace was the Hellboy sequel with its hidden elven kingdom standing in as the main antagonist.  All this talk is inspired by my current read, John C. Wrights Swan Knight's Son.  So far it is hitting the sheer menace and alieness of elfs right on the head.  It also uses the older plural spelling for a collection of elves, which I've become agnostic on and freely switch between out of sheer impishness.

If you need a little more background to understand where I'm coming from, check out this review of the sequel.  It gives more and better examples than I could.

We see a bit of the elven magic at play when Modlvay's elves are given immunity to sleep and charm spells, and their generally better saving throws.  But where's the aversion to iron in the modern Tolkeinian/Warcraftian fantasy zeitgeist?  Holmes Basic forced elf players to choose whether the character would play as a fighter or wizard - suggesting that elfs could use iron or magic, but not both.  That choice was lost with the Moldvay rules, most likely for reasons of playability, but it definitely serves as a way of making elfs play very different from tall humans.  

Adding in an aversion to iron would be a nice start, mechanically.  It would help remind players that their little avatar isn't just an old, willowy human.  It also makes any iron-age race that much more fearsome to elfs.  A kobold with an iron sword might do an extra d6 damage to elfs - that would give any player pause.  A powerful magic weapon that is crafted from iron - the sword of a long-lost ancient king, for example - might be an iron sword, and thus unavailable to elfs.

Another important method of distinguishing between elves and humans is drawing a sharp contrast between a human's trust in an afterlife and an elf's complete lack of a soul.  When an elf dies, he doesn't go to a better place, he goes nowhere, but is destroyed absolutely.  That has important implications in the game world.  No resurrection - there's nothing to call back to the corpse.  No speak with dead - there's nothing to speak to.  The upshot is that any spell that would trap a creature's soul in a gem or jar would have no effect on an elf.  Lacking a soul, they may even be immune to the healing power of God's clerics.

That might also apply to clerical healing, too.  You want to make players get jittery about playing a class, and handle that class differently, take away their precious cure light wounds.  They've got potions still, but that's a pretty big sign that these guys are different from everyone else.

This would also provide an in-game reason for an elf to crawl into dank holes in the earth.  They are looking for immortality of the sort unavailable to them in the afterlife.  Every lich you meet might be a desperate elf clinging to this mortal coil.

At this point the brain needs to cogitate further, but after recasting dwarves as more than short, hairy, men, I'm really leaning towards a more alien and unknowable race of elfs.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Miniature Monday: Barbaric!

Shorty on the right is probably just a vanilla fighter, but next week you'll see why I put him in this photo with the big hairies.  The middle guy just screams Fafhrd, and the guy on the left in full breastplate and fur loincloth amuses me - he straddles the line between civilization and the frontier.  Business up top, party in the basement.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Miniature Monday: Clerical Skills

Holy cats! It's time to show off the holy cats who have dedicated their lives to wiping evil off the face of the dungeon map.

These guys are all a little blunt, so they could serve as fighters who favor maces, hammers, and other impact based weapons.

There's a couple shields with that dangerous iconography I warned you about.  The yellow cross on the black shield is part of the figure mold.  The red cross on the white background is all Warren, baby.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Moving Day, Helping a Friend

There's a new blog on the block that should be of interest to anyone who has been following my own conversion over to the (latest) One True Scale: 15mm Skirmish.  You probably already know Sam Pate from his blog, Wee Blokes.  He has decided to open a blog specifically for his forays into 15mm skirmish gaming.

From the man himself:
One of my plans for 2017 is to push on with my delayed exploration into 15mm Skirmish Gaming. I know it happens but the majority of 15mm posts I find are either figure reviews or larger battle reports\games. Similarly most Skirmish posts I find are in 28mm. Having dabbled my toes in I feel that 15mm Skirmish has something different in its play, more than "the same but smaller". The scale distances and movement seem more open, so (in theory) the tactics could be as well.
Add it to your regular blog feed, because he has some of the best looking games around.  Unlike we eternal planners, he also posts a host of actual play reports.

Note:  I'm not actually a friend of Sam Pate's, I'm really more of a yuge fan of his.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Miniature Monday: Wizards

I may have posted a couple of these guys way back before my fall hiatus. Here is the current crop of wizards available for delving the depths of Castle Meatgrinder.  Players now have a choice of a death mage or necromancer, a starry mage, and a snake wizard suitable for fighting hairy barbarians with Austrian accents.

If this seems like slim pickings, take heart!  There are more spellcasters waiting in the slopes of the lead mountain.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wierdo Beardos In the Lead

Ral Partha Europe's Blighthaven line includes a dwarf pack with ten miniatures, of which I've painted all ten, and here's the first nine of them.  One went AWOL.  Dwarves do that.  Let's just say that I'm keeping one in my pocket as a Castle Meatgrinder surprise for the players.

Once again, I've painted these bad boys in matching colors for skirmish purposes.  For the record, these are the school colors for my son's high school.  It's a great combination that's distinctive, bright, and cheery - just like these dwarves.  There's an in-game reason for it, too.  Gimme a minute and I'll think of something.  Probably something about all coming from the same dwarf nation.

Here's a close-up shot of the shields for these little dudes.  Anvil, pattern, face, axe, and forge fire, just in case it isn't obvious.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Weirdo Beardos

One of the advantages of playing a miniature heavy version of B/X is that it gives you complete control over character selection.  Taking a general WYSIWG approach to things makes it easier to explain to modern players why their super-unique character with the long blah-de-blah backstory - at 0 XP! - falls under the large category of #NotAtMyTable.

Take female dwarves.  Seriously.  Take them.  While you're at it, take any dwarf that has a separate class modifier.  They don't need those, they have a class already.  It's dwarf.

Using B/X as the starting point means race as class.  Which isn't to say players have no choice in the matter.  They can play a sword dwarf or an axe dwarf or even a hammer dwarf.  See?  Lots of choices.  And I've got miniatures for all of them.  What I don't have is miniatures for thief-dwarves or cleric-dwarves or, god forbid, sorcerer-dwarves.  If you play a dwarf yo get enough boosts that you don't need any more of them from having a separate class.  Take your doubled chances to find traps and shifting walls and be happy with them.

Using B/X as the starting point also means that dwarves have dark brown skin and three hair colors: brown, black, and gray.  You'll see this reflected in my painted miniatures.

Pictured: Every 15mm female dwarf figure I could find.
Feel free to prove me wrong.
Using B/X as the starting point also also means that all dwarves have beards.  That tells me that all dwarven adventurers are males.  That's probably true in large part because dwarves are practical (again, canon written in the sacred text as recorded by the prophet Moldvay).  They wouldn't dare squander the lives of their precious womenfolk on such silly things as looting tombs, crawling through deep holes, and plundering long lost ruins.

As I re-read the works of Appendix N, I'm even leaning towards a much more mythic folklore interpretation of dwarves as literal people of the earth, maggots that infest the earth until invested with the gift of reason by way of contact with holy relics or some such excuse that fits better with a semi-Christian background.

Either way, dwarven players have ten choices for representation, because ten dwarves is how many you get in a pack of Ral Partha Europe's Blighthaven range.  Heck, even if I wanted a female dwarf figure, I can't find any on the market in 15mm.  So don't blame me - blame capitalism.

Monday, October 24, 2016


With apologies to Splintered Light...

The deeper levels of Castle Meatgrinder are populated by the slimiest critters in the dungeon.  Oozes, slugs, and all sorts of wet nasties - you can't get slimier than actual slimes, after all.  Naturally, these fellows are perfectly at home in the dank corners of the dungeon.

Rumor has it that these particular dungeon denizens have a particular hatred for moneylenders and female adventurers, but some say those are bedtimes stories designed to scare the gullible.

Whatever the truth about these particular monsters, they are very rare.  

As mentioned above, you can get this 13 toadman warband from Splintered Light for just $10 USD.  They have a ton of character, are quick to paint, and provide some variety to a dungeon beyond the everyday kobold/goblin/orc/ogre progression.  While they don't look much tougher than your standard orc warband, what with the lack of armor and cheap spears, I'm planning on building some pools and ponds that they can use for easy movement and ambuscades.  Fights with surprise attackers with little staying power make for a different sort of encounter than stand-up fights against armored hog faces.  These surprising chaps should keep the players on their toes, and give them a healthy respect for any pools and wells they encounter.