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14
Dec
10

Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft – part 3

Now that I had a big rough continent map made with my cheap watercolor and pencil techniques I was ready to begin adding some type of form to the elemental crayola chaos. I didn’t want the players to be flying across continents on the backs of eagles quite yet, so I needed to bring my focus down to a smaller region of the map to begin to pick details.

I knew that the area covered by the Wilderlands Of High Fantasy maps in the Judges Guild publications could roughly fit the surface area of New York state (275 x 167 miles in hexes). This helped me to zoom in and pick a spot on the coastline of my rough map that looked nice. The spot had a lot of green, a coastline, and some splots of gray for mountains. A nice variety of land to travel but nothing too crazy on the map, I would save my red leaf tree forests for later.

So I moved into the digital realm and scanned my painted map with my desktop scanner at a high resolution. I set it at 600 dpi because I knew I would be zooming in and I would rather the map details be the tooth and texture of my paper rather than the resulting pixels of a low end scan. I then opened the image file in GIMP and prepared to select my region map. To do this properly I needed to have my region map overlay so I could pick just the right rectangular box of my painted map that would fit my hexes. I needed to find some way of making digital hexes.

My quest was resolved when I found the excellent Boardgame Extensions for Inkscape written by Pelle Nilsson. If you did not know, GIMP and Inkscape are two free software packages that are used for editing digital image files. GIMP is for raster graphics and Inkscape is for vector artwork. The Boardgame Extensions in Inkscape allowed me to generate a hex map that was just the right size and with the right numbering sequence. It just needed a little graphical tweaking to make it look like a simulation of a Judges Guild region overlay.

Here is a zip file of the vector and raster hex overlay to use for your own map.

I then selected my now reduced region of the map and used the Layers function in GIMP to place my hex overlay over my painted section. You can adjust the opacity of the images and change the way the layers interact (multiply) to have only the black of the hexes visible. This way you could have as much or as little information on your map as you want. One layer for roads, one for villages, etc.

There, my region was laid out, and I knew what all my travel distances were, but there were no rivers, roads, encounters, definite regions of mountains, forests, etc. I just had vaguely suggestive color blots to maybe suggest changes in terrain. It was time to start finding out the lay of the land…

Continued in part 4

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10
Dec
10

Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft – part 2

If you peruse the excellent Cartographer’s Guild forums, you can see that the preferred method of generating random terrain and landforms is to use a cloud generator or some sort of static filter in a graphics program like photoshop or gimp to build up random shapes and curves that can later become continents, rivers, coastlines, and islands.

Instead of this strictly computer based approach, I decided that I wanted to try out a more analog method of making random shapes. Something like like cartography by way of reading tea leaves or a mash-up between Forgotten Realms and a John Cage composition.

My Analog Continent Generation Method

So I got out my thick paper, a pencil and eraser and my watercolor kit and set them on the table.

The first step is that I did a quick scribble of large shapes in light pencil marks, crisscrossing, and fiddling around on the surface until some definite forms start to appear on the surface. In art classes, they call this gesture drawing because it is intended to quickly capture the “gesture” or movement of a figure or object without focusing on the details. It is also used to find patterns or random shapes in a composition for later development, which is what we are trying to do.

Once I started to see some continents or land forms “raise to the surface” I stopped my scribbling and took the pencil and slowly jittered a dark line around the coast areas with harder pressure. The slow jitter helped to form a jagged coastline around my previously smoothed out scribble shapes.

After the heavy pencil marks were down on the paper, I started using a big eraser to remove the unwanted light lines and left the darker coastline marks to show the outlines of my continents. You can smudge some of the pencil marks, redraw others, or leave scuffed textures for mountains or plains or stormy areas or what-have-you. It is sort of like a tarot card reading where you just try and fiddle and reinforce what the image before you suggests.

This is just like campaign planning.

Once the continents had a good outline I took out my water color kit and mixed up some gray color for the mountains and green color for the forests and proceeded to splatter at the continents. I slowly started to aim my splatters where I thought the mountain ranges should go and avoiding splashing into the ocean too much. You can use the brush that came with the water color kit or, if you really want a nice splatter, you can dip an old toothbrush in the mixed color and then run your thumb across the bristles to create the right spray. I mixed and splattered a couple more colors and just generally played around until I was satisfied. I decided that I wanted to have a big forest of red-leaved trees in one region and so I gave it a japanese-maple color splat.

The next step was to finish applying watercolor to the rest of the map. Green for plains and forest areas, grays for polar regions, browns and yellows for arid regions, and blue for the ocean. Watercolor is great because it builds itself up transparently and all the splatters would come through in the final texture. And its fun to make a mess.

So I had my large continent map, but I needed to focus in and pick one area for my fantastical region map and get hexes on the there…

(Continued in part 3)

08
Dec
10

Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft

There are various modes of creating terrain and wilderness for your fantasy game adventuring. They range from non-existent and abstractly planned expanses that are resolved as the game narrative dictates to obsessively planned geopolitical ecosystems that bring a whole world’s history into frame before a single player character is generated. (Tolkien has warped our collective brains.)

I came up with a method of map and region generation to fill in a traditional sandbox style of play where the player choices dictate the important details about the campaign world. I wanted a design choice that was both detailed enough to give me confidence in knowing what was ahead of the players but also a process that was “out of my hands” so the game could develop organically. My solution was a procedural method based loosely on the wonderful region atlases for the Wilderlands Of High Fantasy campaign put out by Judges Guild in the early days of RPGs.

Wilderlands Of High Fantasy

I wish you could still get this much fun for $8.50

The Judges Guild maps and atlases are great in that they had these big beautiful B&W maps (about a trimmed Arch E size , 48″x36″) of a large region of countryside mapped out in hexes that are five miles across. A perfect scale for a party traipsing through a couple hexes a day. Accompanying the region map is a brief index booklet listing the vital statistics of of the mapped towns, castles, ruins, and lairs of the depicted region but little else in the way of flavor. The result is that the players are free to march and explore as much as they want and the DM has a loose idea about the lay of the land without having to stop play and constantly consult a litany of tables. It has important details like the nature of the occupants of the castle up ahead, but the brevity of the descriptions leads itself to good improvisation. The atlases listed the encounters thusly:

  • Villages
  • Citadels & Castles
  • Ruins & Relics
  • Idyllic Isles
  • Lurid Lairs

Oh my god that is awesome. I wonder how Idyllic all those islands really are? Let’s check the Judges Guild Island Book from 1978 that contains the Non-Potable Water table listing. Hmm… Dysentery and Yellow fever are quite possible.

The Island Book is also an example of Judges Guild conveniently publishing the randomized tables that it used to populate its own maps. Everything from the name of a town, to the nature of ruins could be rolled up in the many tables that are spread through the Judges Guild Books. With a little head scratching I found its was really quite easy to make your own random region using the same method. It took a bit of study to look through their collection of maps for the Wilderlands campaign and work out the rough chances of the various encounters across the map size. Each hex had roughly a one in six or a one in eight chance of listing an important feature. A DM with a lot of time on their hands could roll a die for each of their 1842 hexes on the region map but I wrote a half-assed computer script that spat out the randomly determined hex coordinates and the nature of the encounter, adjusting more towards ruins for the wilds and more towards villages on a more civilized map.

So I had the nitty-gritty to populate a hex map with encounters, but I needed to provide the rough terrain that would become the mountains, forests, deserts, and coastlines of my fantastical region.
That is when I pulled out my Crayola watercolors…

(Continued in part 2)

10
Sep
10

anybody can paint minis, part four

Brushwork

Logically, after covering the basics of getting paint onto your miniature, we can go on to topics and techniques such as washes, dry-brushing, and black-lining for improving the look of our miniatures. However I just wanted to take the time to talk about the really basic idea of using your brush right. On all these we will be of course discussing the typical 0 size synthetic brush that I recommended last week.

I teach art & design to kids in programs and to adults at a universities and the first common mistake that I see new painters do is that they just don’t know how to apply the paint to whatever surface they are working with. People have a built up experience of brushing their teeth, mopping floors, and painting their houses, so it is only natural for most of these new artists to shove their paint around and brush it about as if it was spackle that needed herding. They think of the paint as a substance that needs shoving around and wiping off, and this is true for new painters of canvases and for new painters of miniatures.

Painting for control and precision is a different experience. The goal is not to shove the paint where you want it to go, but to touch your brush to the surface and have your paint flow off the tip exactly where you want it. All the contact between the miniature and the brush should happen at the very tip of the pointed brush, so you can control where you put the pigment. If the bristles of the brush splay out , the paint mark becomes much more random and it’s almost impossible to retain control.

So what is required to keep your paint flowing off of the tip of your finely pointed brush?

  • You need to make sure that the paint is the right consistency. When you put your drops of paint color on your palette you have to mix in water to make the paint able to flow from the bristles of the brush. Mini-paint that comes in droppers is thin enough to only need a bit of water to thin it down. The paint that comes in pots usually needs a little more thinning down. On average, you want to have the paint be the consistency of heavy milk. Paint that is too thick will form a blob on your brush and conceal your tip, it will be hard to control. Paint that is too thin will take many layers to eventually cover the miniature and the coat of paint is easy to rub off because the acrylic binder is too weak to keep the paint film. Some pigments are just more transparent than others. Resist the urge to slop a heavy coat of paint on when you are trying to get a red, orange, or yellow part of your mini opaque. Several thin layers are much easier to control and cover the miniature much more evenly. You can even put additives in the water to have the paint dry slower on your palette or flow more easily in the recesses. I have several different droppers of water with different drying times and surface tensions that I add to the paint, advanced fiddling but very useful.
  • You need the proper light to see by and a comfortable position for your hands. Miniatures are small things you know and it’s hard to paint them, as it is, in broad daylight, so do yourself a favor and use a lamp. Painting under indirect daylight is the best, but any normal incandescent lamp can help you see better, especially in the evenings. Also find a comfortable position for your hands. For dine details like eyes, I find myself resting my wrists on the table edge to keep them steady but sitting up in a good work-chair should be enough for most of your process.
  • Your brush needs to come to a point as you paint. Once you see the tip of your brush running out of paint, dip onto the palette again and make sure it comes to a point by either rolling the brush over on a palette by twisting your fingers or wiping that little bit of excess paint off with a paper towel. I always have a paper towel underneath my tub of rinsing water and every time I dip my brush on the palette for more paint, I gently wipe the excess off with a streak across the towel. You can tell by looking at the tip and seeing if too much paint is held by the bristles. This will keep a consistent paint load on your brush that you can get used to.
  • Your brush needs to come to a point as it dries. You should rinse your brush out every once in a while to make sure none of the paint dries in the deeper bristles. You should never rest the brush in the water with pressure on the bristles because they will bend. And you should soap and rinse your brush before you put them away. Brushes become ruined (pointless) when paint dries in the bristles and splays them apart, so you have to use some hand-soap to rinse them clean at the end of the session. Warm water, and lather them up against your palm until no more color comes out. After they are clean, take a little bit of hand-soap and form a point on the brush with your fingers. This will help the brush to dry pointed when you lay it flat.

So that is how you keep a point going on your brush. And, in case you want to know, everyone has jittery hands to some degree. A little bit of practice just compensates for our own jitteriness when we are painting. So just ignore that excuse.

Next post we will get into some basic technique to make our lives easier.

03
Sep
10

anybody can paint minis, part three

Paint Your Miniature Now

Bare Essential Supply List

  • dish soap
  • sponge
  • 2 tubs for water
  • paper towels
  • Exacto or craft-knife
  • super-glue
  • palette paper or white plate
  • 2 synthetic hair short handle watercolor brush (nylon, taklon, sablette), one 0 size and one 000 size.
  • miniature paint (any brand, if needed you can go without the two browns, two silvers etc.)
  • white
  • black
  • bright silver metallic
  • dull silver metallic (gunmetal)
  • light brown
  • dark brown
  • light skin color
  • dark skin color
  • middle blue
  • middle red
  • middle yellow
  • middle green
  • black ink
  • brown ink

Bare Essential Instructions:

  • Soak your new miniatures in a tub of soapy water and sponge them off after a while. This will remove the mold release grease that all new miniatures have.
  • Dry your miniatures on a paper towel.
  • Cut all the excess casting metal (flash) from the miniature with your knife and carefully bend it into the proper shape.
  • Assemble and glue you miniature if necessary. Check the base for a proper fit before the glue goes on.
  • Plan out which colors will go where on the mini. Use a scrap paper to check for color combinations if needed.
  • Set the two tubs of water down on the table and put a folded paper towel under one of them. One of the tubs is to rinse your brush in, the other is to get fresh water from.
  • Paint a base-coat or priming layer on the mini to get it ready to accept the later coats of paint. Use black paint if your mini will be mostly dark colors or white if your mini will be mostly light colors. Red, orange, and yellow parts need to go over a white layer of paint.
  • Put a drop of paint on your palette. Put a drop or two of water on your palette next to your paint drop. Mix the paint and water so the combination has the consistency of heavy milk or light cream.
  • Get comfortable, pick the miniature up and hold it in your hands. If you need to, brace your wrists against each other or the table edge so they don’t move too much. Try and get used to painting sitting up straight.
  • Using just the tip of your brush, apply your chosen colors to the miniature like you were painting a coloring book. Just try to keep it in the lines.
  • The paint colors go on in layers. You usually have to make two or three coats of a color to get it opaque on the miniature. Do not glob the paint on to make it opaque. Work thin and in layers. Control is key, opacity builds up over time. Drying time is only a couple minutes.
  • Wipe excess paint or water off your brush with the paper towel, you should always have a point on your brush. Rinse the brush in water before starting a new color and don’t rest your brush in the water tub with the tip down.
  • Once you have covered the miniature with paint, you are done. Congratulations. You may alternatively keep correcting your paint edges but it’s not necessary.
  • Clean up. Rinse your brushes with hand or dish soap in the palm of your hand until no more color comes out. Use soap to make a point on your brushes and have them dry out laying flat. This will keep them pointed as they dry.

More arcane knowledge to follow. Post any question you have in the comments section.

28
Aug
10

anybody can paint minis: part two

To be a good mini-painter, all you have to do is paint ten miniatures.

That is my bold blogging statement for the week. Usually they encourage you to say dramatic and impassioned things in your blog posts so that people keep returning to the blog to either feel passionate agreement or to progressively get more pissed off in their disagreement with the the bold statement. The problem with the above statement is that it isn’t really all that bold, it is more just a matter of truth behind what happens when you gain skill. And I don’t mean this for those who are mildly “creative” or “artistic”. Even the most graphically tone-deaf person who has never lifted a pencil or brush before in their life can do this.

Photobucket

Painting ten miniatures, start to finish, on separate occasions, is all you need to do to call yourself a “good” miniature painter. Those ten attempts at painting a little pewter figure will guarantee the development of at least a little bit of ongoing skill at the task. Even if you are dunking them into a pot of paint and letting them dry without any brushwork, you are bound to start dunking them in different pots of colors and start making a layer-cake arrangement of stratified colors on the mini. (That actually sound pretty cool, come to think of it.) Somehow those successive minis will get better and better until number ten. And then BAM, you are a good miniature painter.

In the process of painting your ten, maybe on miniature number four or five, dabbing at your chartreuse owl-bear, you may say to me: “This isn’t good miniature painting, this is just painting them slightly less crappy than before.” And I will reply: Yes, that is exactly so. By the time you finish number ten, it will be so “less-crappy” that it will qualify as “good”. It will all be downhill from there, nothing but learning a few slight tips and tricks after that, the hard part will be over.

Now, I need to be very specific about what qualifies as the “ten”. Remember that I said they had to be start to finish, on separate occasions. You can not do all ten minis at once, in one sitting. You need to begin, work on, and complete each miniature so you can learn from your mistakes and victories at each of the steps, in ten sessions. You can paint more than one miniature at each of the sessions, but you need the passage of time between sittings for the skills to sink in. Sat & Sun would work for two sessions. I recommend working on two to three minis at a session so you can switch between the choices while they dry out, but you can go with more. Ten at a sitting can be tiresome if you are doing something other than the discussed dunking method.

Once you are done with one of your ten minis, you absolutely must plop it on the table at the next game, if only to show it off. You need to take pride in your work and use your toy for playing with. Showing off and playing with friends is what it is all about.

So steel yourself for the grand creative adventure, or just get ready for your 3D coloring book. Next post I will give you the bare minimum list of materials and steps to get that mini on the table. More arcane advice to follow after that.

19
Aug
10

anybody can paint minis, part one

Photobucket
You too can paint little greedy people.

While playing in the ongoing Red Box campaigns I found that many of our tactical situations utilized miniatures and dice as markers to clarify spatial positioning and marching order and things like that. It was the natural extension of figuring things out for fights and “picturing the scene” while playing at the table. Considering D&D’s storied history, using miniatures seems to have been a staple of the hobby back in the old-school days as much as it is in the current toy-heavy iteration of fourth edition.  We all remember the prophetic cover of the Red Box D&D basic set:

This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in the player’s imagination…”

But damn it, back in the day, those painted minis in the glass case at the game store looked so cool.

So fast-forward past my subsequent years earning a BFA and an MFA in painting and I am looking around the game table at our regular sessions. With up to ten people playing at a session, I was surprised to find that while many players had either a pre-painted D&D mini or a bare-metal representation of their character, practically no one was exhibiting the secret and profane art of miniature painting.

After bringing in my box of minis I found that there were a number of other players at the table who still thought painted minis where awesome but never had the chance to take a leap into the actual brushwork. I decided to plan for a group painting day where I could share all my hard-won information about painting little tiny people for those without the benefit of the supplies or instruction.

As a result I will be posting some outlines and advice over the coming weeks about how absolutely anybody can get started with painting their classic or new miniatures that they have collected. Hopefully this will allow even the most abominably unskilled artist to slap some colors on their nekkid mini, plop them on the table and be proud. Stay tuned.




Past Adventures of the Mule

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