Tuesday, 6 February 2018

CLIX. Monstrous Births: Final Commentary

I have a few final things to show and tell in regard to this project before I put it down for good. Here they are.


Story, campaign structure and themes

Monstrous Births is a crime investigation, where the mysterious culprit is a supernatural creature. This story is here to frame three miniature battles. And the battles need to matter.

During the first one, we have our inciting incident. Monstrous births appear twice: in the deer that wanders onto the scene, and in the wolf young that are discovered if the wolves are defeated by the Countess. This establishes something is wrong in Glassfog County, and makes our protagonist begin investigating.

The start of the investigation does not involve any opportunity for miniature fights, and had to be conveyed through text alone. However, in the RPG version Witold and I have written, this actually makes up a huge chunk of the adventure. Just as it would if this were written as a short story. Anyway, the second battle can happen when the Countess learns through interviews that there is a being causing the trouble, and ventures into the woods to look for physical evidence of it. Here she is ambushed by the brethren of that deer she encountered in the first battle. Depending on her success in finding clues, she learns more or less about the culprit. I'm really curious what kind of image the clues painted in your heads before you found out what the monster was, so if you feel like it, please share it in the comments.

The information she has makes the Countess more or less prepared for the final battle, which is a showdown with the main boss. Here Tomislav, my player, had a choice: he could have gone for capturing the unicorn so the Countess can make a show of it later, or he could have played it safe and just gone for killing it there and then. The story can resolve in multiple ways, the most satisfactory one being that the unicorn is captured and the Countess alive and well. The fact the ending of the story depends on the game's outcome is what makes it worth playing... In the RPG version, which has a lot more characters and actual subplots, there is at least one other party involved in the final encounter, too.

For me personally, this monster is more horrifying than the more commonly found kind, one that only kills its victims. Rather than take it, the unicorn's deplorable acts of violence create life. There's an interesting thought... But  I won't go any further in analysing and interpreting this, that's meant be the reader's job.


 Monstrous births

It is a real-life phenomenon, as you surely know. Monstrous births, human and animal, were explained in various ways throughout history: as omens, warnings from God, errors in conception process. 

The Papal Ass and the Monk Calf, 16th century monstrous births.

There was this, rather charming, theory that a monstrous birth is the result of the mother seeing or imagining someone/something other than her husband in the moment of conception, which then results in the baby not looking like its father. At some point maternal imagination was believed to be responsible for the form of the child, and this was the explanation for the usual likeness of the progeny to its parents. This idea changed and evolved over time, and it is fascinating to follow that process. If anyone happens to want to dive into that, check out Monstrous Imagination (1993) by Marie-Hélène Huet. Another book I can recommend, that deals with the phenomenon from a different perspective, is Jennifer Spinks: Monstrous Births and Visual Culture in Sixteenth Century Germany (2009). 

There was nothing ever about unicorns; that was entirely my own take on inventing the cause of these unfortunate happenings.


The Unicorn

[This section might contain a few spoilers for a Discworld novel and some NSFW images.]

In the world of Gardens, unicorn is a species of abominable animal from the underworld where faeries dwell. Long, sharp horn on the male's forehead is a deadly weapon. Females have no horns. Like all fae, unicorns radiate fairy taint and have particular aversion to iron. They are omnivores.

Male unicorns are completely wild creatures that force themselves on females of all species and kill any males that stand in their way. The victim, if they survive, has no memory of the attack. Any offspring a unicorn produces with non-unicorn mates are monstrous births. The pregnancy lasts only a few weeks. The children are deformed versions of their mother's species, often not surviving past infancy. Those that survive reach adulthood rapidly. Members of some species manage to survive better than others. It also depends on the particular nature of the deformity. The children, like their fathers, radiate fairy taint (but not as strongly as pure fae). Fae nobles will keep unicorns as pets. The males are very difficult to train and are not suitable for riding (it's not unheard of, though). Females are more managable in that respect.

The base for the model is Sisters of the Thorn mount, only I broadened the body by adding material between its left and right half. The head comes from some horse model from Reaper. His horns, extra hair and tail were sculpted by me.  

As I've mentioned before on the blog, my fae are definitely influenced by the elves in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. They feature heavily in Lords and Ladies, where the plot revolves around the elf queen from a 'parasite universe' attempting to take over Lancre. There is a unicorn on the loose there, too. But it is not a serial rapist like the one in Monstrous Births.

But why a unicorn, you may ask. Well, I don't like the buggers. I can't identify any particular reason, they just rub me the wrong way. In Western tradition the unicorn is a symbol of purity and grace, and can only be tamed by a virgin. I just went and flipped that on its head.

In regard to appearance, I did not wish to make him look overtly wicked, with spikes and the like. Christian Schwager's Vnicorne (2013) is a really neat twisted unicorn, but is an example of this spikiness I wished to steer clear of. Mine should be a light-haired, relatively elegant thing, but with a few details that are off. So there are the red eyes and the visible dong.  

The Marriage of the Unicorn. Ernst Fuchs. 1952.

The Temptation of the Unicorn. Ernst Fuchs. 1952.

Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn. Albrecht Dürer. 1516.
Detail from an illustration in The Brave Little Tailor book by Andrej Dugin and Olga Dugina. 2000.


The Rules

As stated many times before, the ruleset I used was Malifaux 2E. I wrote my own stat cards for the characters, often using existing ones as a starting point. The suits in my decks have different names and symbols, but otherwise work the same. I call Soul Stones Fate Points, because there is no such thing as Soul Stones in my universe. Since each Encounter has its own predetermined objectives, there are no Strategies or Schemes to choose. There are no Scrap, Corpse nor Scheme Markers. The faction system of Malifaux and all that jazz does not apply here for obvious reasons. The Countess had a limited pool of models she could choose from. Since I was the one playing the Countess' enemies and game-mastering at the same time, I did not have to have everything programmed and could improvise a bit during the game.

Act I


Tomislav in control of the Countess could assemble his crew of up to 30 points. He chose the following: the Countess, a Crimson Sphynx, 3 Custodians, the Ubergheist, and a Ravenous Bloodfiend. His Fate Point Pool thus only had 3 FP to spend during the game. The Wolf Herdsman's crew was fixed. It consisted of him and 6 Wolves, and the Herdsman had a Fate Point Pool of 4.

Board and Terrain:
Board size was 100cm x 100cm. I used my Wilderness scenery: forests, trees, rocky outcrops, stone fence. Special features in this encounter were the cave and the well.

Deployment: Corner.

Special Rules: 
The Deer Event.
In Turn 3, a Misshapen Deer appears at an edge of the board, placed so that it must pass near the two crews on its path towards the well. The Deer does not activate like normal, and the information on its stat card is secret to the Countess player. After each activation of any model, randomly determine whether the Deer makes an Action. If it is not engaged with an enemy model, it makes walk actions, if it is engaged it makes attack actions or attempts to disengage. The Misshapen Deer makes 2 actions per turn. It is meant to walk the shortest route to the well terrain piece, and when it comes in base contact it is immediately sacrificed. The Wolves should avoid coming near the Misshapen Deer.

Before deployment, three Herb Markers are placed by the GM on their half of the board.

The Countess: Control the cave terrain piece at the end of Turn 5 by having more non-peon models in base contact with the terrain piece than the opponent's crew. Additionally, gather at least two out of three Herb markers present on the board (picking it up takes a (1) Interact Action). If successful, the Crew will get a one-use Healing Potion upgrade for the next two games.  

The Wolf Herdsman: Stop the spirits from coming near the cave.  

Act II

The Countess could again assemble her crew of up to 30 points. However, in this game the Countess is not deployed on the table, and The Beast model is deployed at the start of the game. Tomislav chose the following: the Countess, a Crimson Sphynx, 3 Custodians, the Ubergheist, and a Ravenous Bloodfiend. He again had 3 FP to spend during the game. 
There can be up to 5 Misshapen Deer on the table at any time. Only one Misshapen Deer deploys at the beginning of the game.

Board and Terrain:
Board size was 100cm x 100cm. I used my Wilderness scenery: forests, trees, rocky outcrops, stone fence, fairy ring. Special features in this encounter were two forest bases, which served as spawning points for Monstrous Deer.

Deployment: Close.

Special Rules: 
There is a fog on the battlefield that impairs visibility. On Turn 1 models cannot draw line of sight further than 10''. At the end of each turn, GM flips two cards. The first is to determine whether the LoS went up (on Blood and Flesh suits) or down (on Bone and Spirit). The second card determines for how much (1'' for 1-5, 2'' for 6-10, 3'' for 11-13, Jokers reflipped). 
Misshapen Deer. 
One is placed in base contact with the nearer of the two spawning forest bases whenever a Countess' model ended a move or activated within 3'' of any Clue Marker. This rule is not revealed to the Countess player at any time.

Fairy Taint. 
The Countess' crew will in all probability end the game with the Fairy Taint condition on its models. Note the value of the condition on each model at the end of the game. Each model will start the final Act of the campaign with the Fairy Taint condition whose value is equal to half the value it was at the end of Act II, rounded down.
Clue Markers. 
Before deployment, the GM places four Clue Markers on their half of the board and in base contact with a piece of terrain. For each marker controlled at the end of the game, the Countess player flips a card and consults the following table:
Bone - the droppings - BEAST, Wd, Ht, FAIRY TAINT, ABSORB TAINT.
Blood - the slain boar - HORN, HOOFS, TERRIFYING.
Spirit - the hoof prints - BEAST, Wd, Wk, Cg, NIMBLE.

Reflip the Jokers and any suits that have already been flipped. In the table, each suit has certain information assigned to it. Before the final game, the Countess player is given the Monster of Volovska Weald stat card, with all information (including the illustration) expunged but that which matches the suits flipped. If the player flips all four suits, they are given access to all information on the stat card.

The Countess: Control the four Clue Markers at the end of Turn 5. The crew controls a Clue Marker by having a non-peon model within 3'' of it.

The Misshapen Deer: Exterminate the enemy crew.



This time, the Countess had 35 points to spend. This was Tomislav's list: the Countess, a Crimson Sphynx, 2 Custodians, the Ubergheist, and 3 Ravenous Bloodfiends. This time there were 5 FP to spend during the game.

The opposing crew was again preconstructed, and it consisted of The Monster of Volovska Weald and five Misshapen deer.

Board and Terrain:
Board size was 100cm x 100cm. I used my Wilderness scenery: forests, trees, rocky outcrops, stone fence, fairy ring.

Deployment: Standard.

Special Rules: -

The Countess: Either to kill the The Monster of Volovska Weald, or to have it within engagement range of at least one friendly model and no enemy models at the end of Turn 5.
The Monster of Volovska Weald: Kill The Countess, evade capture.

How the photos were taken

It's obvious that the photos illustrating the accounts of the three battles were not taken during the games. The reason for that is twofold. First of all, halting the game all the time to take detailed photos of what is going on is distracting and ruins the experience for the players. Secondly, the photos come out much more aesthetically pleasing when I can take my time to arrange the scene and backdrop. So, while playing, I just took snaps with my phone and short written notes, which I then used to recreate the key events in image and word. That may not be 100% accurate to what it looked like during the game, but that is not what this is all about, anyway.
The fog and rain were edited in. I had no idea how to do that until I needed it for this project. I simply googled for tutorials and tried them out. Used this one for fog: FOG, and this one for rain: RAIN

Music is important

...for atmosphere. I invested in some dark ambient music. The titles I used are mostly very affordable and can be purchased as mp3 downloads. It works like a charm. I will list all the albums again here:

Flowers for Bodysnatchers: Aokigahara (2015)
Paleowolf: Primordial (2015)
The Witch (2015) OST
Diablo II 15th Anniversary Soundtrack
Asath Reon: Buried Visions (2017)
Ugasanie: The Dark Side (2016)

 *   *   *

Somewhere in the left sidebar you can find an icon that says Monstrous Births. If you click on it, you'll end up on a page that has the entire three-act story from beginning to end, with all the pretty pictures. This is there to stay. The events as they happened in this playthrough are canon.


Aaaand we've reached the end of this lengthy post, and of coverage of the campaign. Thank you for following the Countess on her adventure. See you again soon.


  1. This is astounding stuff - absolutely brilliant!

    I love your take on the unicorn; it restores the beast to its original status as a wild and terrible monster.

    Have you ever come across the broo, from Runequest's Glorantha? They fulfil the same role as "monstrous impregnators" (though they can impregnate virtually anything, regardless of gender and sometimes even regardless of whether or not the "host" is animate); the monstrous births that result are other broo. Citadel did some brilliant broo miniatures in the 1980s, a couple of which had unicorn heads ...

    1. I have indeed come across old broo miniatures on the internets, but I had no idea about their background. I thought they were simply archaic beastmen. Well, live and learn. They seem much more interesting now.


  2. It has been a pleasure to read the development of this campaign. I liked your goal-based approach to the story, instead of using Malifaux's victory points.

    About the culprit of monstrous births, I thought it was the Doctor (the other warband) who experimented with animals and released them in the forest XD.

    I would like you to talk more about the roleplaying part. Did you play like in a traditional pen and paper role-playing game or how? I ask for what you said about using non-player characters ... etc.

    A greeting.

    1. The roleplay elements in this campaign consisted primarily of Tomislav and me making sure we react in accordance to our crews' backstory. For example, Tomislav thought it a better choice to try capture the Unicorn alive than to kill it, because that is what the Countess would rather do. We didn't actually act out the parts that happened between the games.
      There is, however, an RPG adventure version of Monstrous Births story that is meant as a one-shot for pen&paper RPGs. In that version the Countess is an NPC, and the players take the roles of her human henchmen. For now it's available only in Polish, since Witold and I submitted it to a Polish writing competition. Hopefully some day we will publish it in English.

      Roleplaying elements in miniature wargame campaigns are a cool thing to add. And the campaign having a game master is good, because there is someone to organize the story framework for the players. You don't have to have every option set in stone from the beginning, the GM can react to things the players' warbands do and add or change some elements so it makes sense.

  3. Your site is always a feast for the imagination.Keep up the good work !

  4. Truly excellent work here. The unicorn is a great use of the sisters of the thorn mount, somehow retaining a "deer" feel to what could be just a horse with a horn.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it's better if it looks more like a separate species than a common horse with an extra bit glued on.

  5. Hi, I love your work, what you show us is really unique. For the music, in case you don't know them, I would recommend that you listen to Heilung, especially this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRg_8NNPTD8.
    It might be a good background for some of your artwork. If you allow me, I would like to copy some of our characters down to 1/72 scale.

    1. That band looks and sounds interesting. I'll definitely take a look at their discography.

      If you intend to just recreate the same characters, I don't mind as long as you're doing it for personal use, and you credit the original creator. I'd love to see them if you do it, so do send a link if it happens.

    2. Thank you for your answer. Their discography is very short :) but interesting nevertheless. Thank you for your permission. Yes, I would like to convert a mini in the same spirit as your countess. It is only for personal purpose, and it won't be a copy by any mean (I didn't use the proper word: not the same mini, not the same scale), but if the result is good enough, I will publish a few pictures on my blog, so I preferred to ask first, and of course I will credit you as the original creator. I must say that the white dress of your countess is a pure beauty, highly inspiring - this is mainly what I will try to imitate, once again in a smaller scale.

  6. Nice to get all the behind the scenes info, particularly regarding the Unicorn. The common take on them tends to be kind of bland, but there's tons of potential there, which you used really well here, even without really changing the physical form much, as in that Fuchs painting, or Jim Butcher's novel Summer Night.

  7. I hadn’t been expecting a fey unicorn. It was a great sinister twist!

  8. Do you intend on releasing the RPG rules? Your work is really impressive... as someone else pointed out "a feast to the imagination". Thank you!

    1. Thanks! We talked about publishing it for a while, but then it sort of fell by the wayside as we focused on other projects.

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