Thursday, May 17, 2018

Confession Time


This blog is about games and geekdom. However, if there is one thing that I think the modern era has taught us, it’s that nothing with any meaning can avoid being touched by the political or the socially relevant.

Because of that, I wanted to clarify some things about myself. I’m not doing this to rally support or to declare sides, but because I don’t want people to have false impressions about me. What drives me may not always be what is on the surface, but it is always there.

The biggest reason that I’m posting this stems from the recent Origins issue, specifically regarding the Guest of Honor invitation, then reciending of that invitation, for Larry Correia.

My Past

I have had a lot of waves when it comes to my political orientation. When I was in grade school, I honest to goodness watched press conferences and State of the Union addresses. When I was in high school, I was told that my American Legion report was the best ones that my teacher had ever read--and that I had to rewrite it because it was way too cynical for a high school contest.

As I grew into adulthood, I would have, for many years, considered myself at least right of center. No matter where I judged myself, I had a tendency to not want to be tied to an actual political party.

I developed a reputation for being a diplomat and a peacemaker when dealing with contentious issues, and as such, I ended up being a moderator on various message boards. Because I considered myself right of center, and because I was a huge fan of his work on Batman, I ended on Chuck Dixon’s website.

This is relevant because Larry Correia posted there, a lot. I never heard of him before I was on the site, but eventually I checked out his books. I tend to like the monster hunting genre, so it was natural that I gravitated towards reading Monster Hunter International. I followed Larry on Facebook, and I saw many of his political comments, many of which were about gun laws.

Sticking To My Guns

Even as some of my other tendencies drifted leftward, growing up in central Illinois, I held on to the idea of that the best interpretation of the second amendment was the most open-ended interpretation. That might be why I tended to see Larry as a “laid back” conservative for a while. His biggest right leaning stance was something that didn’t challenge much of what I was thinking. Hell, he didn’t even seem to be too bent out of shape about same sex marriage, so how bad can he be, right?

Working in a school district has pushed my already left leaning thoughts on guns a bit further. It’s hard to not worry that someday it’s going to be the kids at our schools that go through that hell. That it’s going to be people I have worked with and sat on committees with that are terrified for their lives. But, sure, at the time--guns aren’t so bad, so I guess Larry is okay, right?

Sadness

I had more or less forgotten about Larry for a while. I wasn’t “right” enough for some of the most prolific posters on Chuck Dixon’s website, so I moved on from moderating. It wasn’t any direct altercation, more like statements that presupposed that I couldn’t exist.

“How could anyone care for the country and think that X is a good idea? That kind of person would be the worst traitor I could think of.”

The more I heard statements like that, the less I felt like I was welcome. I had plenty of ideas that didn’t quite fit in. Had I said up front that I was moving more center in my beliefs, the rhetoric would have been “we don’t hold that against you, we just hold it against a theoretical person that holds the exact same views--you’re one of the good ones.”

So as I drifted from the community, I saw Larry’s posts less. Eventually, the message boards fell apart, and everything migrated to Facebook. I was added to the group, but never became very active there. I had a few people I enjoyed talking to in the community, but it became harder to just connect with them.

I didn’t want anyone to think I was being actively hostile, so I just “unfollowed” the group without leaving it, and “unfollowed” Larry, because I didn’t want random things cluttering up my Facebook page.

Then, I heard about the Sad Puppies thing.

To this day, I’m not quite sure why you go on a crusade to get the work of people doing “good old fashioned two-fisted action stories” recognized by an organization that you have already decided is not about the kind of fiction you write. In the end, I think the contempt shown by this attitude reveals that movement wasn’t really about getting “deserving” writers proper recognition--it was about destroying something. “This isn’t about us, so it should be ridiculed and undermined.”

I have heard people mention that Larry wasn’t the worst actor in this situation. He got the ball rolling, but Vox Day was the one that really made the movement toxic. Sure, Vox Day’s rhetoric was more confrontational and adversarial, but at the end of the day, Larry’s contribution to the whole situation was to say “this group doesn’t respect us--it’s not really going to benefit us all that much to get these awards, but if we can show that we can game the system, that means nobody takes it seriously.”

It was an effort to ruin something expressly because that thing wasn’t designed for your particular group, rather than just saying “this isn’t for us” and calling it a day. It’s not “Live and Let Live,” it’s “you need to be punished for being wrong.”

For the Record

I’m not sure its 100% relevant to everything else, but if you want a wrap up of how I’ve drifted over the years, here’s a quick primer:

     Why the hell would I tell anyone they can’t get married to anyone else?
     Who am I to tell anyone that I know better who they are then they do?
     Why the hell wouldn’t we take a hard look at gun laws in light of all of the shootings?
     Why the hell would I worry about anyone wanting marijuana to be legal?
     Why the hell would we give primacy to a religion that the founders thought gave them permission to own people, but wasn’t important enough for them to enshrine in the actual founding documents?
     How the hell do we think we’re the good guys when we come up with rules for torturing people?
     How the hell do we think we’re the good guys when we murder people with drones?
     How the hell do we think we’re the good guys when we keep refugees from coming into the country?
     How the hell do we think we’re the good guys when we ignore systematic sexism, racism, and exclusion, not just in private organizations, but also in public institutions meant to help everyone?
     How the hell is it not “providing for the general welfare” to admit that a little socialized medicine might actually be the best thing for our country?

I’m sure there is a ton of stuff I’ve missed, and it’s not the most nuanced of ways to elaborate a stance, but that’s a quick snapshot of my political brain. Just so you don’t think I’ve gotten less cynical, I trust about 0% of politicians, still don’t like aligning to a political party, and think we should audit the shit out of every government agency, not because they shouldn’t exist, but because our public officials don’t need “their take.”

How I’m A Screw Up

I never spoke up when I was “in” communities where discussions were happening. I was too worried about being the peacemaker. Even after I saw the Sad Puppies thing developing, I never actually said anything about it. I wanted to stay “above the fray.” I wanted to have my own personal opinions, but not to engage when it might be uncomfortable.

I still fall into this pattern at times. I would much rather help two people talk to one another, than to watch a conflict unfold. I tend to devalue my own opinion on things, because I’m sure others have a better take on just about everything where I have an opinion. I do it less now, but I still fall silent at times that I should not fall silent. That’s bad.

The main reason I point all of this out is because, this is who I am. I’m a more left leaning guy now that still doesn’t always do the right thing, and had a past where I was more right leaning.

To sum up:

     If you don’t like me because I used to be right leaning, I get it
     If you don’t like me because I still have a hard time being the person I want to be, I get it
     If you don’t like me because I’m now more left leaning, I get it

But now you know, and can make an informed decision.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What Do I Know About (Short) Reviews? Chultan Death Curse: Revised!

I haven't played as much Adventurer's League this season as I have in some past seasons. Over the last year, I've been busier running Storm King's Thunder online and running a Midgard campaign. I only managed to briefly play my Triton cleric Orin. But that doesn't mean I haven't gotten to hear all about the Death Curse.



If you haven't looked at Tomb of Annihilation, the Death Curse is a special set of circumstances tied to the plot of the adventure which afflicts characters that have died and have been brought back to life, and it is brutal. Various NPCs, and potentially PCs, are afflicted with this, and the Death Curse keeps people from getting brought back to life, eventually kills people that are afflicted as their maximum hit points wane, and there is even a chance that a soul is permanently destroyed, so that even if the Death Curse is removed, that particular character ceases to exist.

In addition to the Death Curse, there is an optional rule for the Tomb of Annihilation adventure called Mead Grinder Mode, which makes it harder for characters to make their death saves, which means death is definitely looming. 

A Cure For What Ails You

Teos Abadia, a prolific author of D&D organized play products, has written a product for the DM's Guild called Chultan Death Curse: Revised!

Chultan Death Curse: Revised!

While it won't save any Adventurer's League characters, if you are planning on playing through the Tomb of Annihilation in a non-organized play environment, here is what you can find in this product.

What Is This Mysterious Thing?

The product is seven pages long and only available in PDF format. It has a simple layout with some well-placed art assets, and it costs $1.98, so it is definitely affordable.

What Is In This Septemvirate of Pages?



The product details a new version of the Death Curse, and instead of hitting an afflicted character all at once, the worst aspects of the Death Curse can scale at various times in the adventure, triggered either by plot or level progression.

In addition to the standard progression, certain action taken by the characters may trigger the Death Curse to move up to the next level. So the overall curse for everyone may be at stage 2, but a given character may be suffering the effects of stage 4 due to events in the campaign and actions taken by the party.

I could explain a bit more, but I don't want to give away any of the mechanics. Suffice to say, with the effects spread out, the Death Curse is less punitive in the early stages of the adventure, allowing the PCs more time to explore and enjoy the content, but certain developments may still make solving the Death Curse much more important.

There is also an alternate version of Meat Grinder Mode, which also scales to different stages, instead of just imposing a penalty on death saves. 

Anatomy of a Revised Curse

I am a sucker for consistent rule implementation, so I really like that the Death Curse and Meat Grinder Mode work in a manner consistent with levels of exhaustion. While it is still a new rule implemented for a campaign, it feels like it fits, because it is structured in a familiar manner.

Additionally, this is a good document to read through to get ideas for other similar progressive conditions that you may want to implement in a campaign. Even without modification, the revised Death Curse could be something that hangs over the PCs until the appease a god of death in one campaign, and Meat Grinder Mode could be a curse of ill-luck thrown over the party by a trickster god.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

At the price, if you have even a passing interest in D&D 5th edition, even if you aren't playing Tomb of Annihilation, its a neat set of rules to check out. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

What Do I Know About Crash Override? (This Time It's A Lot Less Ironic)

I have a confession to make. When Gamergate hit its fever pitch, I knew of Zoe Quinn as an indie game developer that was victimized by an unfortunately large percentage of the internet. In other words, I didn't go much to learn more about who she actually was as a person. No matter how sympathetic I may have been, I didn't dig very deep into her own personal story as I did the antics of those trying to ruin her life.




How Did I Miss This?

Last August, Zoe Quinn's book, Crash Override, was released. The book takes its name from the crisis site that Zoe helps to maintain, and she discusses its origins and its function in the book.

Crash Override

The particular version of the book that I purchased was the audiobook, which is also narrated by Zoe Quinn herself. There is something very appropriate to not only hear her words being read, but to also hear her story in her own voice.

Crash Override by Zoe Quinn on Amazon.com

When I saw the ad for this come up, and realized I had been missing out, I purchased the audiobook immediately. What I didn't realize was that I would listen to the entire book in one night. It was that compelling.

Point of View

The book not only recounts the events surrounding her vilification online and the perverse crusade that resulted, but also looks at her childhood, early life, and her path to indie game development. She talks about how the insanity of Gamergate affected not just her life, but the life of her family and friends, and how it spiraled out to affect other targets, as well.

However, just as important as the impact this had on her, and the discussion of how the movement reached out to new targets after it put her through hell, she also mentions the origins of the movement, and the marginalized communities that the several of her most vocal detractors attacked before her, which ties to much larger current movements online.

As horrifying as these events were at the time, its hard not to see this as a segment of the internet testing the waters to see how much the mainstream public would tolerate in the future. Quinn also explains how the core movement had very organized and specific plans for persecuting their attacks, but how that core set of tactics was easily made exponentially more effective by outliers simply sharing videos and links across the internet after they had been created.

If you think you know the extent to which the initial harassment affected her life and the lives of those around her, you probably haven't heard the worst of it, and if you think it is all in the past, you really need to hear things from Zoe's perspective, to see what she has to deal with now on a daily basis.

Deeper Perspective

It would have been fascinating to only hear Zoe Quinn tell her own story, from her perspective, but one of the extraordinary things that Quinn does in this book is to solicit the harassment stories from people that are from other marginalized groups, groups that do not receive the even the level of responsiveness that white women typically receive when reporting harassment. 

Not only does Quinn hand over the narrative in a few places to those that otherwise might not have gotten a platform, but she outlines that work that she has been doing with Crash Override. The organization helps those that have been harassed navigate the systems of various social media sites to best effect, and it works with various platforms to strengthen terms of service and enforcement.

Even then, she is candid about the degree to which various platforms actually want to affect major changes. Even when shown what is happening on their sites, many platforms still have people in positions of power that would rather ignore a problem than invest in solving them.

Zoe had no responsibility to put herself in a position where she was helping others that were suffering from harassment, but, despite the frustrations with the slow process of affecting change, it is ultimately a very uplifting section of the book to read about the passion with which she dove into advocacy.

More Than A Biography

While the book tells Zoe Quinn's story, and arguably, even explaining her work with her advocacy group could be framed as part of that story, the book does more than recount just her experiences. At various points in the story, she details watershed moments regarding the internet and how it has been used and abused over the years.

Additionally, she gives some tips on the best ways to insulate people from taking the full brunt of an internet assault, and some of the most common steps to take to begin the process of damage control in the event of a doxxing. She is also careful to point out that no amount of preparation is going to make someone immune to a full-scale assault, but that people can take steps in the right direction.

A Way Forward

For me, at least, the most uplifting part of the book deals with Zoe Quinn's perspective on empathy and moving forward. She talks about the importance of seeing people where they are now, and not where they have been. She mentions that for all the bad actors on the internet, there are many people that don't fully realize the magnitude of the things they have done when they share links to toxic sites and material.

She discusses her own youth and the fact that she may not have been the best "digital citizen" in her treatment of others, and that while she never participated in hate campaigns or doxxing, it took viewing the reactions of others when discussing her online interactions with people she disliked to realize that her own actions were not ideal. She talks about the importance of expressing what is and isn't acceptable online, without dogpiling or crusading against people.

She discusses positive ways to help people that have been harassed, such as promoting their work rather than just empathizing with them when they have been victimized. She cites as a best practice making sure to share marginalized voices speaking out against harassment to make sure they are heard, before adding your own voice, if you are not from the marginalized group.

While she never goes so far around the bend as to say that everything will turn around soon, and in fact cites a lot of issues that are complicated and ongoing, she presents an amazingly positive stance for supporting people that may be vulnerable rather than tearing down anyone that may be a problem.

Final Thoughts

I didn't know what I didn't know going into this book. Zoe Quinn's story is both heartbreaking and heartening, and I am very glad that I got to hear her story, in her words, in her voice. This book will not make you particularly happy about the state of the internet. I learned a lot more than I realized about how bad some corners of the web can be. But the perseverance and positive call to action that Zoe Quinn elaborates in this book also restores some of my faith in people.

Strongly Recommended--This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.

I don't normally review books, but this story was so momentous I had to look at it, and so compelling I had to put down my thoughts about it. I greatly recommend this book.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Random Encounters, Now With More Randomness!

I played around with my laminator recently and created a "deck" of encounters for when random encounters come up. The idea that I came up with is more along the lines of what type of encounter will come up, rather than exactly what shows up at a given time.



Keeping D&D 5th edition in mind, I wanted to make sure to keep the pillars of adventures in mind, so that random encounters were also reinforcing this three-pillared design as well.

How This Works


  • Whenever a random encounter might be called for, a player pulls one of these results from the deck
  • That result is set aside until all the other results are drawn, at which point it all gets reshuffled
The larger point is to make sure that I'm being pushed to having more complicated encounters, and some days that just have a lot going on at one time.

Definitions

  • Combat Encounter--Something shows up and is already hostile; this doesn't mean they can't be calmed down or negotiated with, just that without some effort, the element that shows up will be hostile to the PCs.
  • Roleplaying Encounter--Something shows up that is not immediately hostile; this doesn't mean that they can't be made hostile by the PCs, but if the PCs do nothing, the element will not be hostile to the PCs. This element that shows up has to have a desire--a merchant wants to sell his wares, an animal might try to steal food or shiny objects. Nothing should show up and not have some drive to do something, which gives the PCs something to interact with.
  • Exploration Encounter--This can either be a random element that does something to the PCs (i.e. save to avoid exhaustion or damage), something that requires the PCs to do something (road or path blocked), or something along their regular path that can be interacted with (unmarked ruins, cache of treasure or supplies, landmark, or phenomenon). There should be something the PCs either must or can interact with in a meaningful way (i.e. not "you see a burned down house and you know for sure there is nothing in it of value," versus "you see a burned down house""after exploring it, you find a journal that is partially burned")
  • "X" & "Y" Encounter--This is an encounter with multiple elements occurring concurrently or in a manner that overlaps. For example, a merchant shows up in camp and asks for shelter, and is quickly followed by thieves following them.
  • Two Encounters and Three Encounters--This indicates that there are multiple encounters on the same day, but not at the same time. Some days are rougher than others.
  • Day--This encounter takes place while the PCs are traveling from point A to point B. This is an "on the road" encounter versus an "in camp" encounter.
  • Night--This encounter takes place while the PCs are resting and setting up camp after traveling. This is an "in camp" encounter versus an "on the road" encounter.

Other Prompts and Improvisation

This method may not completely replace other kinds of encounter tables. The GM may still want a random list of hostiles, neutrals or potential allies, or exploration elements in the game. The point of this is to make sure that the GM has an idea of the context of the encounter. 

This does mean that the GM is probably going to have to improvise what happens to an extent. Some older, more traditional encounter charts can at least imply "fight or ignore" what shows up. There have certainly been more in-depth encounter charts, but I wanted to shift the idea of providing context.

Story Beats

For GMs that are very conscious of story beats, and are concerned that these random contextual encounters might mess with the flow you are trying to establish or reinforce in the game, there is one other thing to keep in mind.

Changing the risk versus reward level for any given encounter is going to change the feel of any of these encounters, as will the specific stakes.

A serious downbeat for a combat encounter can be an encounter that is clearly one that the PCs should run from. An upbeat for a combat encounter might involve a fairly quick fight where the creatures have a clue for the ongoing story and a valuable item.

A serious downbeat for a roleplaying encounter may not involve someone that will fight the PCs, but might be able to ruin their reputation or enact consequences for them when they return to civilization after their travels. An upbeat can be someone whose desire for the encounter is literally to help them, with the character bestowing gifts or healing magic if the PCs don't outright reject them.

A serious downbeat for exploration could be very dangerous, damaging weather, or something that makes the rest of the journey more difficult. An upbeat could be good weather that restores the characters' mood and removes a level of fatigue or grants inspiration, or it could be an easily found cache of a ranger's care package for travelers with food or even healing items.

Card List (For People That Don't Want to Look At My Bad Photography)

  • Two Encounters (Draw Two More Cards)
  • Three Encounters (Draw Three More Cards)
  • Combat Encounter (Day)
  • Combat Encounter (Night)
  • Roleplaying Encounter (Day)
  • Roleplaying Encounter (Night)
  • Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Exploration Encounter (Night)
  • Combat and Roleplaying Encounter (Day)
  • Combat and Roleplaying Encounter (Night)
  • Combat and Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Combat and Exploration Encounter (Night)
  • Roleplaying and Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Roleplaying and Exploration Encounter (Night)
  • Combat, Roleplaying, and Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Combat, Roleplaying, and Exploration Encounter (Night)
Inspiration (In Real Life)

While this doesn't work exactly like either of those systems, whenever I think about overland travel and random encounters, its hard for me not to think of the following game systems these days:

The One Ring
Adventures in Middle-earth (with uses the 5e OGL version of The One Ring's Journey system)
13th Age (montage travel, which appears in the GM kit and some adventures and is further discussed  here: 13th Sage--More Uses for Montages


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Flat Plastic Miniatures First Look

I've been flirting with introducing at least some "tactical map" encounters in my upcoming face to face Midgard D&D game. While I like the flexibility of theater of the mind, and I think that sometimes setting up a battle map reinforces a meta-narrative ("the battle map came out, guess we have to resolve this with combat"), I can't deny that for some set-pieces, having visual, tactical representation is a satisfying option.



I have a bunch of D&D minis from my 3rd edition days, but it always feels like it takes forever to sort through them. Even having them sorted by "creature type" baggies like I do, some minis just always seem to "hide" when I really want to use it for an encounter. Additionally, purchasing those minis still left me at the whim of random chance for what I had to use.

My first alternative was to start picking up the Pathfinder Pawns line of miniatures. I have the minis from the starter kit, the Bestiary Box 1 and 2, and the Villain Codex box. These are a lot more affordable than trying to buy the random pre-painted miniatures, and it's easy to find out what is in the boxes. The artwork is high quality. But the cardboard thickness means that these still take up a pretty hefty amount of space, but nowhere near as much space as the randomized plastic minis I have.

Enter the Arcknight

I had seen the Arcknight Flat Plastic miniatures a few years ago when it hit Kickstarter, but I was definitely not running anything on a tactical map at the time. I mainly started paying attention to these again more recently because Sly Flourish helped to curate a starter set of miniatures, and I saw some of these in the wild at one of the local game stores last year.

Because of this, I dove in. I saw some pretty positive reviews. I saw some impressing looking videos unboxing these miniatures. So I invested in the DM Starter Set cultivated by Sly Flourish, the Flat Plastic Miniatures Core Set, and, because Midgard, the Southlands Bundle.

Some observations on purchases:


  • While there are pictures of each of the individual sheets in the bundle, there isn't a handy list telling you what is in each package
  • The website can be a little overwhelming, with a landing page and a whole bunch of individual options you can click on, but not really a good "pitch page" or cross-selling descriptions
  • I ordered the miniatures last weekend, and they came about a week later, so I'm pretty happy with the turnaround

I want to do an overview, but I got a lot of stuff in this order. I was really amazed that all of it fits in a box that was smaller than a normal hardcover novel, which boded well for the storage space for the miniatures. All of the following observations are based on about two hours of sorting, and it would take a lot longer to do an exhaustive analysis of each set, but I wanted to get some impressions out there.



Southlands Miniatures

The Southlands set was obviously a little different, because it utilizes art from the original Southlands Bestiary from the Midgard line. Because of this, the artwork is mirrored on both sides of the mini, instead of having a front and back, and instead of color line art, the artwork is a reprint of the painted art from the book.

  • Overall, the art looks good on the miniatures, but there are a few where the detail level of the painting gets muddied when reproduced on the miniature
  • The Southlands pack that I received all had thicker plastic sheets than the other miniatures sets, which made them harder to punch out--on one sheet I actually had to use scissors to cut the miniatures free because the perforation wasn't deep enough
Sly Flourish DM Starter Set

The Sly Flourish curated DM Starter Set has a good range of miniatures in it, focusing on a lot of iconic monsters from D&D history. This seems to skew towards providing a good smattering of PC miniatures, some cultists, and a range of monsters that you might find in the D&D Starter Set for 5th edition, with a couple of other giants and dragons and a beholder thrown in for good measure.

Flat Plastic Miniatures Core Set

Then, we come to the Core Set, which is actually composed of the following sets sold as a bundle:
  • Ancient Evils
  • The Grove
  • Mankind
  • The Underground
  • Wildlands
The feeling I get from most of these sets is that they are less trying to emulate D&D or Pathfinder iconic monsters, and instead creating more general miniatures based on a theme. Lots of undead and tentacled things in Ancient Evils, lots of elves, centaurs, and druidic minis in The Grove, lots of random citizens and PC fantasy types in Mankind. 

The Underground has a lot more D&D/Pathfinder specific miniatures, with drow, duergar, illithids, various demons, behir, basilisks, umber hulks, myconics, cloakers, oozes, a beholder, bulette, carrion crawlers, cloakers, troglodytes, aboleths, and gricks making an appearance.

Wildlands is kind of a mixed bag, being both "general fantasy" with lots of goblins, orcs, large animals, and ogres/giants that don't look like they are meant to map 100% with how any giant/ogre species are portrayed in the most popular level based fantasy games, and a few elementals. There are a few minis in the set that look like, say, a tentacled cat monster, or the kruthiks that first appeared in the 3.5 Miniatures Handbook. Oh, and some dinosaurs.

As a true core fantasy set, I think it functions well, but as a core Pathfinder or D&D set, it does feel like its missing a lot of variety of "uncommon and/or not as exotic" monsters that are staples of level based fantasy games, like gnolls, some giant types, genies, bugbears, etc.

I'm happy with the quality, the art, and the product, but I feel like the variety and utility could have been a little better in the "mid-range," even though I'm having a hard time properly defining what that is without creating an exhaustive list of whats in the Monster Manual for D&D or the Bestiary for Pathfinder.

Accessories



The various sets have different bases provided. Without getting a bundle, you generally only get the "medium-sized" bases, but the bundles have larger bases, with what might be termed "large" and "huge" bases. All of the bases are clear, and one of the things I like about how the bases work is that it is very easy to take some of the larger miniatures and use either the large or huge base. The miniatures don't look "wrong" on either size base, and if base size matters for the game, you can easily scale the "not medium" miniatures up or down. This can be handy for monsters like dragons and their age categories, or the shift in monster size between 3rd edition D&D/Pathfinder and their large giants, and 5th edition D&D's huge giants of that same giant type.

There are also flight stands with two different height elevations. While they won't be extremely effective at showing exact elevation, they are handy for showing when a monster just isn't sitting in its space, and so isn't affected by ground terrain or damaging effects. The biggest downside is that the base for the elevation markers is a "medium" base.

Positive Takeaways

Lots of affordable, attractive minis that are easy to store. Lots of versatility when it comes to using the bases to display different things like flight or the size of a creature. 

Negative Takeaways

This could just be a massive failing on my part, but with the miniatures bundles on the website only showing pictures of what is included, its hard to remember what picture went where, and it feels like a list naming miniatures, even if they didn't use the "brand name" of some of the creatures, would be a lot more useful and functional.

Underdark creatures get the lion's share of "unique to level based fantasy" monsters being represented, with a lot of mid-range creatures lacking in representation. Of the sets I looked at, more modern PC player race options like tieflings or dragonborn don't get a lot of love. That's not to say there aren't sets on the website that feature them, but not in the core or DM Starter sets.

The vast majority of the miniatures were in easy to punch out plastic, but the whole Southlands set, and at least one sheet in the core set was on thicker plastic that was more difficult to punch out.

Because This Deserves Its Own Category

There are a lot of humans, dwarves, and elves in this set, as well as a few halflings/gnomes. With the exception of the duergar/drow miniatures, there is not a lot of variety of skin tone on the miniatures. Some of the human minatures have more of an olive complexion, and a few have lighter brown skin, but the vast majority are pale to average white complexion. None of the elves, dwarves, or halflings appear to have darker skin tones.

I don't want to paint with too broad a brush, so I will point out that if you look on Arcknight's site, other lines, such as the Supers or modern Civilians line do include people of color. Its hard to evaluate some of the lines from their website, because they don't have pictures of the individual sheets posted for that product. 

That said, if you are a person of color looking for representation in miniatures, or even if you aren't, but you want to represent your PC as having a wide range of skin colors, the miniatures that I have seen aren't going to serve you particularly well.

Final Thoughts

I'm not framing this entirely like one of my usual reviews, because I haven't had time to dig into the individual miniatures, and because I wanted to encompass the entire process of shopping and sorting the miniatures that I bought. So I don't want to give any level of recommendation, other than to point out the positives and negatives of these miniatures.

I love how these look and how portable they are. I really wish I could give a stronger overall recommendation, but between the difficulty in finding exactly what is in each set, and the fact that some gamers aren't going to find the representation that they desire in the sets, I can only say that these have an amazing amount of potential, and you may want to give them a look, but there are areas where the line could improve that would make me feel much better about directing others to them.