HackMaster Homebrews


New subject category being added here at Cries From the Attic — HackMaster Home Brews.

It may seem odd, being that I’m part of the HackMaster D-Team but even I have my own house rules and tweaks at my home table. Every Game Master is different and part of the fun of role-playing games is the ability to get under the hood and tweak things to suit your own peculiar tastes. And I’m no different.

Over the past few years I’ve come up with a variety of rule tweaks (and completely new rules) that I use in my own game. I thought it would be fun to share some of them here. Keep in mind that unless noted otherwise everything here should be considered ‘unofficial’.

I’ve been planning on doing this for a while but this past weekend while hanging out with some fellow gamesters I realize I’d been kicking this particular can down the road.

So stay tuned.

Exalted Die Shrines



For the past three months or so I’ve been slowly building up a small batch/short run of the Exalted Die Shrines.

I wanted to have 25 for Con on the Cob. I’ve managed to do 20. This is a limited run set. I may do more in the future but with alerations. Whatever doesn’t sell at the con I’ll probably save for Game Hole in November or give to the wife to sell on her Etsy shop.

This is just a fun little item for those who have a cherished ‘lucky’ or named-die. The Claw on top exalts your die and holds it up in honor — pleading to the gawds of the game to bestow even more magical energies onto it.

And for those dice that are poor performers or who have let you down…? There is a “pit of shame” in the base under the claw where errant dice and contemplate the errors of their way in total darkness. And, if the fates take mercy, some luck may trickle down from the exalted die to lift it up out of despair.  😉

So if you happen to be at the con come grab one — once they are gone they are likely to stay gone for awhile.







So you want to paint a ship…? Tutorial: Part Four

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So know we’re ready for our third shade of paint. Again we will be dry brushing and THIS time a little will go a long way. You can take this one too far very easily so the trick is remember “less is more”. And if you screw up (I have often times on this step) don’t panic. Just go back to the previous step and dry brush some of shade 2 per the ship and darken things up a bit.

Now the color for this shade is a very light tan. Americana’s “Coffee” works well right out of the bottle but I sometimes use Craftsman’s “Pebble” or Folkart’s “linen”. Or, in a pinch, just add a touch of brown to some flat white paint and mix it. You basically want a very light shade of brown that’s gong to draw out all the high details and grain (including the edges of any raised rails).

I dip my dry brush in the paint and then stroke it across a piece of cardboard until hardly any paint is being laid down. This is what you want – just enough paint so that only a hint is left when you lightly run it across the surface. When applying this shade just hold the piece at arm’s length now and then. If you feel an area needs lightened up, hit it again with more pressure. Sometimes rubbing the paint away with your finger can add some interesting highlights.

Here’s the end result.


Now I will tell you, if you compare this to photos from the last step you find it’s very subtle. And that’s what you want, although admittedly photos don’t do justice to all the subtle highlights and contrasts. Here’s some more pics.




Now we could stop here, paint all the little details (patches, door hinges and iron banding, etc) but there’s one more shade I’ve recent added to the mix that I think is a nice touch.

I take some Folk Art “Cinnamon” and do one more very light dry brushing – most across the deck surfaces and lightly over the entire surface. It adds a subtle touch of color back that makes things pop a bit more.

Here’s the ship with that fourth color.


Again, very subtle and my photos may or may not show it. But to my eye it looks better and is now part of my process for painting all my ships/docks.







So that’s it. Maybe not the best way but it’s the way I do it. And of course this process will work on any wooden piece. I use the same process on my docks and smaller boats.

That’s it for now. Next time I’ll highlight how I paint the smaller details on the ship and then how I rig them up with masts and sails.


So you want to paint a ship…? Tutorial: Part Three

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Okay, so we’ve let our first coat of paint dry. Time to add the next layer.

This time we’ll be dry brushing. I use a cheap dry brush for the purpose from Michaels (Craftsmart) that was made for oil paints and is about a 1/2 inch wide. The stiffer the bristles the better. You will be dipping into your paint, dabbing off any excess and then dragging the brush perpendicular to the wood grain/plank lines on the ship to catch the high points on pieces.

It’s hard to screw this process up as long as your brush is dry. Avoid the temptation to apply too much of this shade. All those dark nooks and crannies, nail holes and wood grain details and what’s going to make things pop when you’re finished.

For the color — again, I mix my own so I don’t have the name of an exact shade off the shelf to recommend to you. But a brownish tan is what you want. Something in this ballpark…


Again, it doesn’t have to be exact.

Mix the paint well but don’t add water. The thicker the better. You don’t want the paint to fill or be pulled into the lower surface areas.

Here’s our ship after a quick dry brushing.


As you can see I simply dragged the brush over the surface.


Already or deck is starting to look like wood. Simple tip here – on the edges of the railings be sure to hit there with the brush a few extra times to simulate light reflecting off them and wear marks from where the crew has been leaning and climbing over them.


Don’t worry about painting over any of the small details like the tiller house or the copper deck/hull patches. Those will be detail painted later. Also resist the urge to jab your brush back under the rail on the aft castle and other areas – these areas wouldn’t be getting much light so no highlighting there helps to give the piece more depth.


Don’t forget to do the wooden bowsprit we glued in. You’ll want it to match the rest of the ship when you are done.



And there we are – our second paint shade down. If you want a ship that’s lighter in color overall you can let this coat dry and then repeat the process.

Now this looks half way decent but is sort of ‘meh’ to my eye still. Nothing special.

It’s the third shade that’s going to really kick this up to the next level.

That’ll have to wait till the next time.

Edit: I got a few emails asking for more specifics on how I mix my paint colors. Next time I mix up a batch I’ll try to take notes on how I do it. If mixing paints just isn’t your thing however you could always try Gamer Decor’s paint kits. They have an Aged Wood set (for about $10) that uses shades similar to what I use (with no fourth shade/color) that will give you very good results.

I reviewed their paints here on my blog awhile back. Here’s a pic of the paint colors in their kit.


So you want to paint a ship…? Tutorial: Part Two

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Okay, so I warned you this might be slow going.  Deep in some deadline driven work on the comic so I was distracted for a few days with no chance to paint during breaks. Finally found sometime before supper tonight. This step will be brief.


First layer of paint

This step is easy. Basically we’re covering up the primer we applied from the last step.

Now not all wood (or ships for that matter) are going to be the same exact shade or in the same state of distress/weathering — so nothing that follows is an exact science. It just happens to be the way I paint these boats. Since I sell them handprinted I try to be semi-consistent in the interest of just speeding things up with fewer chances of screwing up a paint job. I’m comfortable with this method and it consistently works.

For different results you can go with different shades of paint. We’re going to be applying three basic shades of brown to complete our ship. With a possible fourth shade to make things pop (I don’t always apply the fourth shade – just depends on my mood).

In this step we are only going to be applying the first shade and letting it dry over night.

You want a dark brown acrylic for this step. Not brown but DARK  chocolate brown. You might have to mix a dab of black to your paint. Again the exact shade isn’t important. You just want to be in the ballpark. If you have a hershey candy bar wrapper – that’s about the shade I shoot for.



And yes, you could go out and buy a shade of acrylic craft paint that matches. I just find it’s easy to mix it up on the fly on a pallet.

Once you have the the proper shade you want to thin it with water. A consistency of milk is about right but if you’ve got a good quality paint the covers well you can go thinner. You want this coast to pour into all the nail holes and plank lines. It might not look it when you are finished with the step, but this is the paint that’s going to bring out the contrast int he woodgrain and planks and transform it later when we start dry brushing the other shades on.

I use a 1/2 inch house paint brush to do these boats – putting the paint on heavy and then dabbing off the excess. Since the paint is watered down it’s going to dry and tighten up very thin, so you don’t have to be overly concerned about the paint glowing on or filling in detail.

When you are done your ship should look like it’s made of dark chocolate like this.


Doesn’t look like much does it? I will make a confession. I’d painted about 75 of these ships over the past 18 months and for the longest time at this stage, I ALWAYS doubted myself, sure I screwed things up. The real magic starts on the next step when we dry brush our second shade on.

But that will have to wait for the next post.

Note: I mentioned I’m letting this dry overnight. A few hours would suffice for the next step. As I mentioned before I like to paint these in assembly line fashion, so I generally just do the same step to three to five ships and then wait and do the next step a few days later during one of my breaks.

Just make sure the paint is thoroughly dry. Being watered down it could take a few hours.

Till next time.

Edit: BTW I glued in the wooden bow spirit before applying paint for this step.

So you want to paint a ship…? Tutorial: Part One

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Okay so I’ve been getting a lot of emails from folks who bought one of my ships off the wife’s Etsy shop — basically asking how I go about painting mine. I’ve been promising to do a walk thru but with so many distractions this summer the project just kept getting side-burnered. Now that I’m catching up on things I thought I’d get around to finally doing a tutorial.

This is also my sneaky way to follow up on another promise. For months I’ve been promising my buddy, Craig Zipse on of my hand painted ships.  So — it’s going to be his ship I’ll be walking through the procession this tutorial.

One thing before we start. I like to paint ships in batches and at a leisurely pace. Generally I do one task/step a day (from casting to finished ship), devoting maybe 15 to 30 minutes to each task in the morning or during a break from writing. I find it relaxing to do it this way and I also find I do better work if I don’t rush it. A large ship like the one I’m doing here, hand painted and fully rigged? Might take five days to complete. If I’m doing a batch of ten to 15? About the same amount of time. If you’re doing more than one ship it just makes sense to do them assembly line fashion since much of the time is in prep (like pulling out the proper, paints, cutting masts, etc). Saves a lot of time doing it that way.


So the above pic shows the ship we’re going to paint. Only difference is, since this is for my buddy, I’ll be adding some extra touches such as chains, anchors and other details.

Okay so first off — the ship. I’m not going to bother showing the casting process. I’ll be painting the largest ship I’ve sculpted to date (about 19 inches tip to tip when finished). I sculpted this ship last winter and it’s been one of my wife’s best sellers. I’ve blown at three molds casting this ship and with each new mold, I’ve made a few changes to the original master. This ship pictured here is what I refer to as a “rev 3”




First thing I do with any piece I plan on painting is to do some sanding/trimming. The edges on the ‘pour side’ are typically rough or uneven. I gently sand to take off any shine and make sure the bottoms and smooth and flat. I also check for bubbles or defects even though I typically haven’t experience such problems with these boats. If you do find a bubble one good trick is to pack it with baking soda and apply a drop of super glue. It’ll harden and turn white. It works so well oft time you can’t even detect the repair. You can also use squadron putty or even speckling compound – just be sure to sand it down smooth once hardened.

Next thing I do is put the pieces on in the dishwasher (don’t tell the wife). This is the best way I’ve found to completely remove any release agent on the resin — which can wreak havoc on your paint job later in the process.




Next step is primer. Now you can run out and buy the expensive speciality stuff, I suppose. Don’t bother. For $3.00 a can you ca pick up a can of Rust-Olem Flat Red 2X Ultra Cover. Home Depot carries it, I’m sure Walmart does as well. This stuff is great. It bonds with resin, goes on thin (so it doesn’t obscure details), dries fast and helps acrylic paints bond better. You could go with White Primer is you want a lighter looking, new ship but for me it’s Flat Red all the way.

I’ve primered a LOT of the ships this past year. Best way i’ve found to do it is to place them upside down on a flat surface, primer the bottom and sides lightly. Let dry for 30 minutes. Flip – primer the top. There are a lot of deep lines/details on this boat (mostly woodgrain and planking lines) so hitting the sides from various angles will help get better coverage.

You don’t have to completely cover the ship. Coverage can be uneven, just make sure it has a good dusting with no white showing through.

And this is what I consider to be Step One. Tomorrow we will apply our first base coat of paint.



A buddy of mine emailed me the other day and said he’d discovered my blog a few weeks ago and spent some time catching up. He claimed it was all very fascinating to him. The various projects, insights into working on KODT, etc. But he finished with, “Why, blog? You write all the time. You have an outlet for your creative streak. Why bother?”

My reply was immediate. “It keeps me sane.”

The monthly magazine and other projects all have deadlines associated with them. And that means there is some stress involved. Catching up on the monthly print cycle. Worrying if any given strip is good enough. Wondering if readers are going to rebel. You know – the typical worries and stress that go with any job.

I get that this is a dream job for many, the notion of writing and doodling and getting paid to do it. And trust me, it IS for me as well. But it’s hard work and it’s the type of job that never quite leaves you when you push away from the desk. I’m always thinking of the current strip, I’m working on or the next one. Taking notes. Rereading old issues for recall so I can maintain continuity. I’m used to it after 25 years but takes it’s toll.

Through trial and error, I’ve figured out that the best way to avoid burn out and to keep the ideas coming is to set aside time when I do something completely unrelated to KODT.

Taking a drive at night is one of the best remedies. Sadly, I live in an area with lots of urban sprawl so that’s not as relaxing (or rewarding) as it once was when I lived in rural Indiana. Some time in the deep soaker tub with the whirlpool and air jets on max, ears just under the surface like some deprivation chamber — that really soothes the noise in my head and gets the ideas flowing as well.

Something, I only rediscovered a year or so ago is that, painting minis, sculpting  or crafting really relaxes me and recharges my batteries. Funny because there was a time, about 15 serfs ago when, I KNEW that. But somehow that activity in my life fell to the wayside. It wasn’t until the Bones I kickstarter a few years ago and the daunting task of painting over a hundred figs that was prompted to pick up a brush in fact.

And finally, just getting my thoughts on the page or screen helps. No deadlines. Writing about whatever comes to mind. I find that’s more relaxing and helpful then almost anything thing above. So yeah, that’s why I blog occasionally here.

Oh, there’s a  a picture of my dog, Violet up above because she helps rejuvenate my spirits as well as helps with writer’s block. Nothing like petting that little mop of hair on her head to make the stress go away.

And not that I’ve rambled for about 500 words or so, I’m feeling relaxed enough to drift off to sleep. 😉



Boy I was right about Summer being busy…

Just realized this morning it has been a few months since my last post here. Summers are terribly busy at KenzerCo. The big cons back to back with smaller cons scattered in between here and there drag all of us away from our desks. There’s time lost prepping before a con which wrecks production/concentration and of course there’s recovering and settling back into the chair at the desk after the con which does the same thing.

The upside is I come back from cons reenergized having had a chance to hang with both old and new friends and rubbing elbows with readers. Tossing dice. Raising toasts. Discovering all the new gaming goodness being offered up. I love it. Perks of the job I suppose.

Downside is the monthly magazine schedule never stops. Regardless of where I go, when or for how long the monthly beast demands to be fed. So it’s a cycle each year of falling behind in the summer and then catching up into the Fall/Winter. Just how it goes. And one of the reasons I haven’t had a non-working vacation/break in two decades.

The other result of the above is I begin posting less and less both here and to KODTweb.com

Which brings me to today’s subject…



I just wanted to make a quick post here today to get back into the routine. I thought I’d start out by sending out a big round of thanks to friends, readers of Knights of the Dinner Table and ZOE (Zombie Orpheus Entertainment).

I won’t go over the details here (I want to keep this positive) but you may have heard that last month just days before the world premiere of the Knights of the Dinner Table Live Action Series premiere at GenCon the producer announced he was canceling the after party (where backers and actors were to have an opportunity to celebrate) and that he wasn’t going to honor his promise of bringing the actors to GenCon (travel/lodging). It was such a shock and a let down.

When hours to prepare there was a scramble to make things right. Ben Dobyns and Chris Ode of ZOE took took up the heavy lifting of finding a venue for  a ‘replacement party”. All on their own dime using their own resources and contacts.

Two days before the premiere, an anonymous donor stepped up to say he would cover airfare for one of the actors. Late night calls were made to contact the actor (who had taken time off work for the premiere but found out at the last minute d20 Entertainment wasn’t providing him a ticket or lodging) to see if he could even make it still. Texts going back and forth Emails being exchanged trying to pin down flight times.

While travel was taken care of we didn’t  have a place for the actor to stay and the hotels in Indy were book solid. An email to Peter Atkinson (owner of GenCon) was sent out, asking if he might know of any options. His reply was amazing. “I can provide a room”. And then a few seconds later. “And it’s on me”.

That same night, Barratt Moy contacted me on Facebook asking if anyone else needed lodging. When I said yes he informed me he would cover it.

These developments were happening so fast my head was spinning. I was up for the job of driving the truck with all our product and booth materials to Indy this year so my wife and I had to hit the road while this was all still going on. Through it all Ben Dobyns and Chris Ode are sending a flurry of texts. Arranging for someone to meet the actor at the airport. Nailing down the venue. I can’t even begin to tell you how much work these guys did. And this is ZOE – they have their hands full as it is with their own events and headaches at GenCon.

I thanked Ben and Chris so often through all of this that I’m sure they got sick of me saying it.

** And while I’m on the subject, Ben made it very clear his agenda wasn’t to ‘swoop in’ and work some angle on taking over KODTLAS. It was about gamers being treated badly, he told me and showing folks how a kickstarter project SHOULD have gone ( lot of ZOE fans backed KODTLAS after all, because two of their star actors (Nathan Rice and Christian Doyle) were on board).

There were other heroes. Publishers like Necromancy Games, Fat Dragon Games and others (and I’m sorry I didn’t get list of everyone) donated product for the after party or offered discounts.

And of course there were the KODT readers/fans themselves. It was strange feeling that the folks who had put up money (in many cases over $300, for the privilege of seeing the premiere and attending the after party) were sending messages and emails of support. These were the very folks who were getting burned and treated so badly. Apologizing to ME for what *I* was going through?

Needless to say I was touched.

We’ve had a relationship with our readers or over two decades. Many of the folks I consider dear and old friends today, I me through KODT. I’ve watched the children of KODT readers grow over the years and in turn become subscribers themselves. (like that doesn’t make one feel old). We’ve become an extended family in many ways. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

You know the KODTLAS project (even though it wasn’t ours to run or manage) has been a long journey,  one with a lot of frustrations and let downs along the way.

But there have also been a lot of highs. More than enough to make up for the problems. I love he cast and crew one and all. They deserved a premiere and a chance to mingle with the backers who made the film possible and in the end — they got it.

As we filed into the room for the premier my stomach was in knots. There’d been a lot of drama the previous days/hours and I wasn’t exactly sure who things would go. As I took my seat and saw the smiles on the faces of those in the room and on the faces of the actors the knots went away.

Somehow, despite all the challenges, we had made it.

And it was made possible by the goodwill and hard work of some very good people who stepped. up. Thanks!

11903728_10204072075556773_9005943248823689880_n-1You made this picture possible. At least two of those faces (Josh and Jenny) wouldn’t have been in it if not for everyone turning out to turn a bad situation into a good one.

Follow Up: Wanted to add that the wife and I put up some of our personal KODT movie prop items on eBay last week to raise some money to reimburse some of folks who put up money to bring the actors in. I’m proud to announce it was a success. Once again, gamers helping gamers. 😉

** Edit: I mentioned a long journey. I was reminded of my thoughts on the first day of shooting KODTAS a year ago this week. You can read those thoughts here.




Summertime, Summertime, BUSY time…

Been awhile since I posted here. Apologies.  Summer is my busiest time of year. The con season starts with GaryCon and then it’s just a losing battle of trying to stay on top of the KODT monthly schedule up until fall when I finally can play catch up.

On the other hand it’s great seeing friends at cons, tossing dice and meeting readers.

We’ve been busy here at the ‘compound’ as well. After 8 years of tracking mud into the house from my home office in the back yard the wife has put her foot down and demanded we finally put in a slab and sidewalk.

Now normally, this is the type of home project I love tackling — but no time. So we broke down and for the first time ever hired someone to do work for us on the house.  Currently the backyard is a mess. The contractors came out and set up the forms and did just enough work (as they typically do) to tie us up and then left to chase other jobs and haven’t been back. But — they called last night and said they are planning on being here this week. So a big relief there.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.

We are running something we call “Operation Pay the Darn Thing Off” here. The plan is to pay for the work with the wife’s “Fun Money” from her Etsy shop. So she’s running the following special:

She’s selling 20 sets of an expanded “Fleet in a Box” offer.


Ten ships at almost half of her listed Etsy prices.



Includes the following;

Ten ships with masts/tillers along with a cargo item.

2 large Sailing ships. (Etsy price: $45×2= $90)
2 Fishing Boats (Etsy price: $15×2= $30)
2 small sailing boats (Etsy price: $12.00×2 = $24)
1 Sagging Rowboat (Etsy price: $10.00)
1 Bay Runner Sailing ship (Etsy price: $25)
1 Voyager Canoe (Etsy price: $12)
1 row boat (Etsy price: not available on our shop currently)
1 Cargo Item ((Etsy price: not available on our shop currently))

Comes with wooden dows for DIY rigging and sticks for the tillers.

* Note all ships come unrigged and unpainted.

This is a limited time offer limited to 20 sets.>>

Free shipping anywhere in the U.S. for $100. We will ship elsewhere if you cover the shipping. Message me if your interested.

If you want to see better pics of each ship you can check our Etsy site. https://www.etsy.com/shop/AmbersSecretCove?ref=hdr_shop_menu

Note that this is NOT being offered on Etsy. If you want one contact either myself or Barbara directly. You can contact me via Facebook or click on the “contact me” tab above the header at the top of the page.


Workin’ the Shipyard

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This weekend I’ve been busy pushing 15 of the large ships through the yard. As I reported a few days ago, I’m offering  my large sailing ship along with a rowboat and cargo piece — all hand painted and rigged and ready for table top. I decided to do a 15 ship batch. As of this writer only 5 remain unclaimed (see my previous post here for details if you’re interested).

I thought I’d share a few pics of the process. I’m doing everything in assembly line fashion. Yesterday I cast the ships and the various components while rocking’ to tunes in the shack writing KODT strips when waiting for them to cure.

This is a big bin of Aft castle parts and rowboats that have been deflashed/cleaned and ready to prime.


Some of the ‘big boys’ waiting to be commissioned and sent into table top action.



And these are the masts (all 15) for this batch waiting to be primed.





Plan is to prime everything else and then walk the batch to completion over the next week during my morning paint seasons.