What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
After Winter Dark Campaign Setting

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Weekend R&R: The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions

Some of the greatest breakthroughs in science were the result of accidents...  But what about gaming supplements which started out as an adventure?

A couple years back, James Raggi ran a campaign to publish some adventures (part of the LotFP July Grand Adventures Campaign which ran in, well, July of 2012) and one of the projects to get funding was 'The Seculsium of Orphone'.  The premise was fantastic and here's some of the text talking about it:

Orphone of the Three Visions is a wizardess of restless and fitful ambition, so often seen in city market and bazaar, paced always by her velvet half-human servant and bodyguard Ioma. For decades she has kept her seclusium unassailable upon an island of three concentric gardens in the Cove of Bar's Toll, working her magics, pursuing her grandizement and mastery, forbidding all to come. Now she has ventured into the subrealm Paume, for reasons of curiosity, provocation or entrapment, and has neither returned nor left any remnant impulse of her will. Even loyal Ioma has departed for other employment.

So her seclusium stands, not vacant, but vulnerable. The wise have not yet approached it, but cast greedy and speculative looks. Who will be the first to venture an incursion? What will they find within?

It didn't offer anything too complicated but the concept hit the right notes for the fans.  It sounded like it was something that a GM could just dive into and run as an adventure.  And, as a bonus, this proposed resource was basically described as a system to create these 'specialized wizard lairs' to drop into your campaign -- Ophone's Seclusium is included as a fully fleshed out example of this system.

Well, there certainly was no false advertising here and the book delivers EXACTLY what the campaign promises.  I also got the impression that this was originally intended to be a much shorter book as far as page count was concerned.  Unfortunately, based on what I have seen in various other reviews, I think some people where expecting something else.  To be fair, it was ALWAYS described as a system but, the complete example provided isn't near as complete as most would hope for.  Interestingly enough, there are two other examples provided but these are even less detailed than the first.

The best analogy I can offer are model kits.  You have kits for beginners, intermediate, and advanced modellers and each skill level will offer more pieces and prove increasingly challenging depending on the difficulty of the model and skill level assigned.  The three examples are a bit like that.  All three need work to put together to actually use but the first one (Orphone's) will require the least amount of work to have it ready to play.  But, know that there is quite a bit of work to get to that point where you can run it.  There are no maps with locations.  All that is provided for the three examples are 'areas' such as an island.  The manner of buildings or structures is all up to the GM to devise bases on scant (though arguably useful) information.

Simply put, the examples fails in every single way as potential adventure material.  It is a resource to create and populate an area -- nothing more and nothing less.

On the other hand, as a tool, the mileage you get out of the system will vary.  There are many lists that will help you bring about a concept of a seclusium into being and, for people who love tables and lists, this book has a lot.  Many can be used for completely different purposes for gaming, designing, and writing creatively.  While some detractors of the book have lamented on what was basically described as a book of lists, the various items spread out are interesting enough to engage the imagination and any gaming book that does that has merit and value.

The book itself has a page count of 160 pages and is divided in three sections.  The first part is basically an overview of the concepts presented in the book.  It's short and sweet and only takes up 7 pages or so.  The second part is just shy of 70 pages and you have the three examples provided for play.  The third section is about the same size and are just complete lists (tables) dealing with wizards, the seclusim itesl, magic items, people, and creatures.

There is no color in the book but it is cleanly and wonderfully presented and illustrated.  As a small hardcover format (A5), it is like other Lamentations of the Flame Princess recent releases and has that premium feel and look that so many people (like myself) happen to like.  Pricing is fair for what you are getting and is approximately $22 USD if you go to the LotFP site and order a physical copy (HERE).  Of course, shipping is a different matter but it might be cheaper to get a copy from Noble Knight Games (listed as $23.95 USD) depending where you order from.  However, if you don't think a physical copy is worth the investment, the PDF can easily be gotten for a mere $10 and, I think that's a great price to pay to start playing around with the material -- if you think this might be your thing.  You can find the PDF over HERE at RPGNow (part of the OBS family).

The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions is by no means a breakthrough but it wasn't a mistake either.  The mistake here would be to ignore this resource for not complying to some preconceived notion of what this should have been or was supposed to be.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Stalagmite Painting Guide

With everything going on, I have not been painting as much as I would like.  Hell, there are a lot of things I would like to be doing and don't get to do as much as I would like.  However, I still paint when I can.  Every now and then, I get someone telling me that they would paint if they had the time or I wish I could paint and anything I would try to paint would suck.

People that make such statements often do so because of misconceptions.  Don't get me wrong, it does take some time to paint a single miniature you're intending to use to represent a character... You've got different colors and a strong desire to be attentive to all the details you possibly can to realized what you want to do.  Admittedly, it might not be quite what you envision the first couple of times out the gate when you do one but there are so many little tricks to make your life easier when it comes to painting miniatures.

As for time, that can be a tough one but, if it's important enough I think it's easy to work something in.  Watching the game?  Why not paint at the same time?  It doesn't take much to look up and takes to the wonders of instant replays (and PVRs that allow you to rewind anything you may have missed), and it won't stop you from LISTENING to the the commentators describing the action.  Can it be a bit tricky at times?  Sure and it won't speed up the painting but you'll get some work done.

Some people are also not *into* a lot of the detailed painting of miniatures.  I get that, and thankfully it isn't impossible to find some pre-painted figures for you to use.  Scenery might be a bit tricky.  Oddly it can also be simple to paint.

These Stalagmites from Reaper Miniatures (out of their Bones II Kickstarter) are a perfect example.  These were not time consuming, did not require any significant attention to detail, and so simple that anyone who hasn't painted before can be practically guaranteed of a paint job they can be VERY happy with.

I primed the miniatures with liquid acrylic gesso (as I usually do with these models).  Once dried, I gave them a grey basecoat.  If using Citadel Paints, you can use 'Mechanicus Standard Grey' but really any acrylic grey will do.  A mid-range between white and black is what you are looking for. Once again... very easy thing to do.  You don't apply to thick or too thin.

Depending on the look you are going for, you have several options limited only by your imagination.  I liked a purple color and chose a wash (Citadel's 'Duchii Violet') and applied a generous coat from top to bottom on them.  I let the dry while making sure not too much pooled at the base of the figures.  If it started to pool, I took the brush to 'soak up' some of the excess liquid.  I allowed it to dry.

Honestly, at this point, if you are happy with the look, you can consider this 'mission accomplished'.

I went one step further and did a bit of drybrushing to bring out some of the edge and surface details.  This is VERY minimal kind of work and I chose something with a light purple look about them.  Once again, if using Citadel, you can use the Dry compound, 'Lucius Lilac' or the Edge paint, 'Dechala Lilac'.  They are pretty much the same color expect the consistency is obviously different.  I love drybrushing my models ever since I got used to it but, in this case, it was such a small and light amount that you can hardly tell it was done.

I did all six pieces, from start to finish, while watching a hockey game.

So, if you are not the type to get into a lot of miniature painting, or are just looking to get started, I don't think you can get much easier than doing something like these.

Happy painting!


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Weekend R&R: Role Aids - Dragons

The Role Aids line published by Mayfair Games was in some ways, ahead of its time.  Some people love the material, others disliked it, and for many, reviews were mixed depending on the product.  TSR certainly had issues with them back in the day that was years before an SRD and Open Game License saw the light of day.  Mayfair Games got out of the RPG business well before this happened as well, and one wonders what could have been had they held out and not sold the line to TSR as result of the latest round of litigations.  Today, remnants of Role Aids exists in older, unsold stock in the hands of various retailers and the second-hand market.  Some titles are remain popular among those who are familiar with them where as others are largely forgotten.

I was never greatly exposed to the line when some of the stuff was coming out in the 80's but I found out more about the line in the 90's when TSR took Mayfair to court.  However, in the early to mid-90s, I had effectively put TSR and their family of products in the back of my mind as I become tired with their offerings and began to explore other games.  Shortly after I stumbled upon Castles & Crusades in 2006, I also found out that Mayfair was still sitting on a lot of Role Aids products and clearing the stuff out in bundles.  I knew that compatibility wouldn't really be an issue so I grabbed a lot of it and, I've very glad I did.  Since then, I've picked up a few things here and there to round out my collection and, while I may not have a 'complete' collection, I've managed to pick up a lot of it and even put some of it to good use.

One of the books that genuinely surprised me was the Dragons book they put out.  Published in 1986 and inspired in part by the Dragonlords: Dragons of the Month miniatures put out by Grenadier.  While the book is described as an 'Adventure for 6-8 Characters of Skill Levels 6 to 9', it is more than that.  It is also a 'Reference Work' which makes this book and others like it in the series stand out.  The book contains three adventures in the last third of the book but the first part of the book shines.  It covers the traditional castes (color and metallic) plus a couple of others and introduces the concept of clans.  It offers more detail in terms (easy convertible) 'crunch' and expands the material by talking about molting and how this affects dragons as they age and molt.  There is a section covering biology, 'gifts', diseases, and parasites.  Culture and history is covered as well and even ideas dealing with guardian and pets.  There is a new class, the 'Dragonlord' and there are even rules for playing a Dragon as a PC.

The ideas that can mined from the book are many.  There are a couple pages devoted to plant and mineral lore which can easily be transplanted and certainly give one's game a different and fascinating spin.  Considering it's a trope that is now often over looked... say trying to find the knowledge on how to best gather and prepare certain herbs or stones to produce a special, game altering effect, and the possibility of a few cool adventures can begin to seed in the creative mind of an imaginative GM.

Is the book perfect?  Well, as I stated earlier, some people really had mixed reactions towards the line in general.  While picking up an OSR product designed for one system todayand  using it in another is accepted practice, it was a bit different.  Some fans just didn't care for the Role Aids material or even the Judges Guild stuff because it wasn't 'official TSR'.  However, with the lack of an SRD and OGL, it was even harder to produce support material for anything D&D.  A slightly alternate system was devised for the purposes of Stat Blocks.  Example, instead of Hitpoints or 'HP', you had Hits to Kill or 'HtK'.  Insight replaced Wisdom, Agility replaced Dexterity, Stamina replaced Constitution, Appeal replaces Charisma, Intellect instead of Intelligence.  But Strength remained Strength.  It still used armor class, THAC0, and had all the other trappings you would expect but some people just didn't like that.  In the light of what they could have done today, some people still might have an issue with slightly different looking but ultimately the same sort of stat blocks.

The other issue that some people may have are the adventures themselves along with the history and clans aspect of the material making this resource bordering on setting material.  Frankly, I like it and, while I may not use the material as-is, a lot of it could be tweaked and inserted for some sort of campaign use.

If I've piqued your interest about this book (and other Role Aids material), the sad news is this has long been out of print and will likely never be reprinted.  There are no official PDFs available through any legitimate means.  The best courses of action available are resellers (typically secondhand) or the odd instance you can find old stock somewhere.  This pretty much means eBay or Noble Knight Games.  Prices will of course vary and as I write this, there are two listings at Noble Knight Games ... a mint (shrink wrapped) copy going for $19.95 and a used copy (condition Fair) listed at $7.00.  It's easily worth that $7 but, since your mileage may vary with this product, a 96 page softcover at $19.95 might be asking a bit much unless you are a collector.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sword & Wizardry Appreciation Day: 2015

Well, tomorrow is Sword & Wizardry Appreciation Day but I've had a bad week this week.  With so many things going on at my regular 9-5 and a to-do list which is WAY too long, I realized that I ran out of time to officially participate in this year's event.  Deadline to register was about an hour ago according to the Gamers & Grognards blog.

Screw it ... I'm running a sale anyway and unofficially participating.

I haven't given as much love to Swords & Wizardry in the past couple of years as I would have liked but it's a fine system and my FRPG baseline.  There will be more offerings in the future, I can promise you that.

However, in the meantime, I have three Sword & Wizardry products that are available at 50% off.

You can find them on RPGNow! (and other OBS services) HERE

There will be much more happening all over the web, so take advantage while you can.

This sale is live now and will continue through the weekend.  Prices will revert back to their original ones during the course on Monday, April 20th.

Happy Gaming!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

X-Wing Miniatures Battle Report: 'Misfit Squadron' Rematch!

The Misfit Squadron was called into action again!  Back in February of this year, I had the pleasure of trying and playing a build for X-Wing Miniatures with surprising success given the build and the fact that these ships don't appear often in various Rebel builds.  I detail the match HERE.  A couple of weeks ago, my friend and opponent had a rematch.  I wanted to continue testing the build and he wanted a chance to defeat and hopefully 'crush' my spirit.  It didn't go to plan... for him.

Surprisingly enough, the build held.  There was no change on my side:

'Misfit Squadron' (125 points)

Hwk-290 w/Jan Ors (25)
  - Squad Leader (2)
  - Ion Cannon Turret (5)
  - Chewbacca (4)
A-Wing w/Gemmer Sojan (22)
  - Chardaan Refit (-2)
  - A-Wing Test Pilot (0)
  - Outmaneuver (3)
A-Wing w/Prototype Pilot (17)
  - Chardaan Refit (-2)
  - Stealth Device (3)
A-Wing w/Prototype Pilot (17)
  - Chardaan Refit (-2)
  - Stealth Device (3)
Z-95 w/Bandit Squadron Pilot (12)
  - Proton Rockets (3)
Z-95 w/Bandit Squadron Pilot (12)
  - Proton Rockets (3)
However, there were a few on his side.  Gone were the two Tie Interceptors along with Vader in the Tie Advanced.  Instead, you had a point heavy Tie Defender and a point heavy Tie Bomber.  Both are solid vessels but I think what gave me an edge last game allowed me to prevail in this match as well.  It's a rare thing to see a Rebel vs Imperial X-Wind Miniatures match were the Rebels outnumber the Imperials!

The Tie Defender was ultimately put down by the three A-Wings in short measure and while the target was a difficult one, three vs one just whittled down his defenses.  The extreme maneuverability of the A-Wings bolstered by the Stealth Device (or Gemmer's ability) kept them safe.  The other major threat on the board was effectively neutered by the Hawk's Ion Cannon which slowed its effectiveness till the A-Wings dealt with the Tie Defender.  The pair of Z-95's and Tie Fighters mostly exchanged shots with little effectiveness.

When both the Defender went down and the Bomber pretty much followed, my opponent conceded victory.  The Misfits managed to avoid all damage by the time the Tie Defender was taken out.

It was another Rebel Victory!

As it turns out, it wasn't a clean victory.  There was something we weren't doing exactly right as far as the ion cannon was concerned which the latest tournament FAQ addresses.  A minor detail but relevant nonetheless.  It would not have affected the outcome of this particular match but it could be a factor in future matches.  I'm still unsure how I can ct it down to be 'tourney legal' as a 100 point build but I want to.  The most obvious cut would be the Hwk-290 though it is a fantastic (and undervalued) resource and support ship.  However, doing that would cut my build to below a 100 points.  If I did that, I might be tempted to swap out a Z-95 for a Y-Wing but the costs for that Y-Wing could spiral out of control depending on what I do with it.  I could go the other direction and just add another Z-95 to the mix as well though I still would need to tweak things just a few points down to achieve this.

Much to think about and play out with these misfits.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Kickstarter Reminder: The Lost City of Gaxmoor (C&C)

About 15 years ago, Troll Lord Games published a large adventure module for the d20 OGL for D&D (3rd Edition).  They have since moved away from that system to concentrate on Castes & Crusades and the SIEGE engine mechanic but Gaxmoor remained a favorite long after it went out of print.  What made this adventure stand out?  It was written by Ernest Gary Gygax Jr and his brother, Luke Gygax.

Gaxmoor is presented as a legendary lost city and was teased in the original 'Codex of Erde' released by TLG in 2001. The Codex contained an introductory adventure written by their father, Gary Gygax.  For some fans, this alone is well worth tracking down an older copy of this book.  As a d20 module, 'The Lost City of Gaxmoor' had the style and flair which was reminiscent of the D&D adventure modules of old.  This sort of design methodology to adventures wasn't to everyone's liking but those specifically looking for something that was clearly influenced by Gygax didn't need to look very far.  His sons did an admirable job in putting this together and while some of the d20 work on it was hit-or-miss (Third Edition was still quite new and decidedly more detailed), a lot of people liked it.

After the initial print run, it wasn't reprinted and when TLG moved away from much of the d20 material at the end of the Third Edition era, this city became 'lost' once again and was returned to its rightful creators -- until now.

There is a Kickstarter (and, let's face it, there is ALWAYS a Kicktarter), to bring back and republish a Castles & Crusades version of 'The Lost City of Gaxmoor'.

Come to think of it, that's wrong.

'The Lost City of Gaxmoor' has been republished for C&C and those lucky few who attended Garycon a couple of weeks back could have picked up a softcover copy of the module.  The successful Kickstarter which is in it's final hours now is to do a hardcover run of this large and sprawling adventure.  Those who weren't fortunate enough to attend were still able to snag a copy of the softback if they pledged for a hardback as an 'Early Bird' (no longer in effect).  Frankly, the objective here is very modest and the work is already done -- the book already exists.  This effectively is the closest thing to a sure thing that a Kickstarter can get.  Obviously there are stretch goals on top of what was already promised and many were already passed including a couple of extra modules, poster map, map booklet, and extra isometric maps.

The $25 level the hardback, poster map, and PDFs of those and stretch goals.  The $59 level ensures that all the stretch goal material is also in print and throws in a model template from Fat Dragon games, and a pretty cool T-Shirt.  There is one bonus goal being worked on that will also give people at that level and higher a nice glass mug.  There are other pledge levels available as well.

If interested, I suggest visiting their Kickstarter over HERE.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Weekend R&R: A Red & Pleasant Land

There are many things that can make a gaming book, supplement, or adventure stand out for a gamer.  For me, it always comes down to diverse utility beyond the scope of what may have been originally intended or simply the ease of being able to mine material for personal use.  Zak Smith's "A Red & Pleasant Land" is such a book.  There has already been a lot written about this book which is why I decided to weigh in a bit with my own thoughts -- if only to present another opportunity for a book that manages to offer so much.

Besides, I also love the wonderful world that Lewis Carroll has created and the various interpretations that pop culture and various creative minds have given to us over the years.  The more twisted and imaginative they were, the better.  One only needs to look at American McGee's "Alice" and "Alice: The Madness Returns" to get an idea of what I'm talking about.  Of course, Lewis Carroll's influence was seen before "A Red & Pleasant Land" as far as pen and pager RPGs were concerned as well.  Gary Gygax penned two adventures heavily inspired by Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" for AD&D based on material he used in his own campaign.  Fans of the modules, "EX1 - Dungeonland" and "EX2 - The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror" accept these as 'funhouses' and something never intended to be taken too serious.  They are lighthearted in tone and generally fun.  The Alice videogames I mentioned earlier, are darker and more twisted.  The tone of "A Red & Pleasant Land"?  Dark and purposely disjointed.  Don't get me wrong, it is a brilliant and beautiful piece of work and, in the right hands, will make for a fantastic adventure or even a great campaign.  Everything you need is here -- croquet mallet included!

However, it isn't a standard adventure by any means.  It's best to consider this a sourcebook although some may prefer to describe this as a setting book.  It certainly has many characteristics of a setting book.  Basically combine your Alice in Wonderland and Looking Glass material along with a coupe of warring factions made up of vampires with a twist and dark fantasy and you'll get a glimmer of an idea of what the book is presenting to its reader.  It has a couple of larger dungeons -- Cachtice, The Card Castle and Poenari, The Looking Glass Palace, and a very comprehensive bestiary for this land called Voivodja.  But along with this material, you have SOOOO much more starting with a brilliantly conceived 'Alice' class.  I simply *love* the 'Exasperation' ability of the class and plan to exploit it in other areas.  Which brings me to my next point, the book has a lot of optional rules and tables which makes this a great resource to use in many other ways to enrich your campaigns.  While there is plenty of material in this work that fleshes out 'A Red & Pleasant Land' to give it that special, unique feel providing an enriched and memorable campaign, there are equal amounts of it that can be used almost anywhere.  This book truly is a great tool kit for creative GM's to use and, most likely, adore.  The various random tables I mentioned earlier seem to have more of a flow to them than just a book collecting a bunch of random tables for a variety of topics.  These tables can really be used to craft an interesting adventure just using the resources available from this very book.  Frankly, it's hard not to like this book.

On top of it all, the look and presentation is very much superior to a lot of what is available on the market today.  It is truly a beautiful book with interesting art and engaging layout.  I read somewhere (but I can't remember where) that, if you didn't use ANYTHING from this book, it could still be a good looking coffee table book.  Or, in my mind, a very interesting conversation starter and curiosity.

Simply put, Zak Smith and James Edward Raggi (of Lamentations of the Flame Princess) make a great team, and this is a truly a great product.  I regret nothing with this acquisition.  For those that want a print version of the book... you can check or perhaps request it from your FLGS or order it straight from LotFP over HERE.  On the other hand, it that is too rich for your blood (it is a bit pricey but it is a premium book in every sense of the word), you can opt for just the PDF over HERE.

Happy Gaming!


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Games & Gears Ichiban Studios Pro Line Brushes - 9 Months Later

Last year, I participated in the Games & Gears Kickstarter and began to use their Ichiban Studio Pro Line Brushes I got from it almost exclusively.  You can read my initial thoughts about them HERE.  Many readers have read that blog post and a couple indicated an interest on seeing an 'update' after extended use of the brushes.  I thought it was a great idea but I also wanted to wait till I received some of my other goods from that Kickstarter and I didn't want to rush it either.

Admittedly, it took a bit longer than I thought to revisit that topic but, here we are, about 9 months later.  Overall, I still like using the brushes but, it hasn't been without some frustrations.

I had two sets of brushes from Games & Gears as opposed to one and got them earlier than most since I benefited from one of the Early Bird Pledges.  The brushes are great to handle and generally pleasant to paint with, until you run into issues with them.  The more I used them, the more I ran into little issues with the brushes and I was at a loss to account for some of the things I was noticing.  I have a couple of theories though.

Here is a picture of one of the sets I have been using during these past 9 months:

Notice how the one on the far right 'curls' at the tip?  Or how some of the bristles seem to shoot out away from the main body?  These brushes are clean and I take care of all of my brushes.  I use 'The Masters' Brush Cleaner & Preserver almost exclusively to clean my brushes at the end of every single session.  Actually, one of the brushes used to be worse.  The brush head had a tendency to 'split' despite being clean.  It started doing that within weeks of owning the brush.  I shampooed and conditioned the brushes and then used my Brush Cleaner to try and sort that out.

For comparison, these are my OTHER sable brushes after a couple of years of use:

Notice are the tips come to a sharp point?  I can assure you that they keep their points a lot better then the ones from Games & Gears.  The same care goes to these brushes as my newer ones.  Of course since the belly of the Ichiban brushes are thicker and shorter than these trusty, older and reliable brushes, it did take some effort to not go back and use these three instead.

So why am I having the problems I'm having?  Well, my Ichiban brushes were part of the initial batch sent out with the early birds so it's entirely possible that they hadn't gotten all the kinks out in production yet.

I have generally managed to correct the 'curling' that was happening with the use of the Ichiban brushes and I suspect it has to do with the main body of the bristles being so thick and shorter.  Constantly painting and using the brush in the exact same manner brush stroke after brush stroke may have been the problem and I found that slowly rotating the handle as I painted eliminated the issue.  Interestingly enough, I've never had to do this with any other brush.

The split ends though, I'm a bit at a loss.  I thought that, maybe, some of the pigmentation of my heavier (base coat) paints might have just gotten lodged closer to the ferrule of the brush and, being very thick, it was just much harder to work out while cleanging.  However, I largely paint with the tip of the brush -- especially when using smaller brushes since we're talking detail work, not just base-coating.

If could just very well be manufacturing issues.  There have been issues in the past with some of their products (brushes) before these were done and, while I believe that it has greatly improved by the time they launched these brushes, it might still not be perfect.  A lot of their stuff comes out of China so some people putting this stuff together to be shipped out may not be giving it their best.  Case in point, while I recently received and reviewed the Katana brush, it didn't get to me in pristine condition.  Of course, this most likely happened during shipping but it did ship direct from China.

Note that the slight 'bend' above is NOT an optical illusion.

I should point out that the bodies of these brushes are made of SOLID ALUMINUM.  A bend and dent this pronounced would require quite a bit of pressure.  I'm actually inclined to believe that this might have happened during production as opposed to post production.

In any event, it's irrelevant.  Games & Games is apparently replacing this and the other brushes.  I will say this of them, the customer service I have received has been top-notch so I'm more than willing to continue working with them and continue to give them my business.  I have been using a synthetic brush they gave out at Gen Con last year and have had ZERO issue with it.  It's been one of nicer synthetic brushes I've had the pleasure to paint with.  I think that they genuinely want to put out a quality product and have been working towards producing a better one.

I still use the Ichiban brushes I have because they are actually decent brushes ... at least until the bristles start misbehaving.  When I start off with them and get the brushes wet and load them with paint, they seem to want to keep their tips for a time -- they are sable brushes and seem naturally disposed to do so.  However, I find that part way through, I will need to switch up my brushes... either by going to a different size or grab my 'spare set' to continue my painting.  I have finished many models with just these brushes even though these (the brushes) still aren't perfect.

In the meantime, I'm still holding off getting those Windsor Newton series 7 brushes and I'm hoping the replacements will be a step closer to what I've been looking for.  If the replacement don't seem much better, I know I'll still be able to use them in some capacity.