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Ruins of Glitterdeep

Hey everyone, just wanted to share the release of my latest project, Ruins of Glitterdeep!  It’s a Puzzle / RPG hybrid, where you lay dungeon tiles to build a dungeon and move your dwarven delver around in search of treasure.  Upgrade your dwarf with better stats and new tiles with unique abilities to solve ever harder dungeons and defeat more powerful enemies.  Check it out at glitterdeep.com!

Facebook

As I get back into updating this blog, I noticed there’s a new feature that lets me automatically publish new posts to Facebook.  This post is merely to test that feature.  Apologies for the excess noise.T

Tablets

I noticed during our game last weekend that Dan uses a tablet or e-Reader of some sort when DMing.  The DM of my regular game actually has a full-on computer at his side (no really, giant monitor and everything, it’s like the great wall of DM screens).  Incorporating some kind of into my DMing is something I’ve tried many times in the past.  Geez, this blog entry from 7 years ago (7 years!  holy crap!) is probably my most recent attempt where I put some crazy HTML-ified version of a module onto a netbook.  That lasted, well, not quite as long as netbooks.

So I started thinking maybe it was time for another try.  While to date I’ve found nothing quite as versatile and easy as paper, I do use a lot of it, and that always feels just a tad wasteful.  Especially with longer material like the Stonehell PDFs, or the DCC book, etc. I’d love to have a lighter / faster method to have more of that material on hand quickly.  So I did a little poking around on the inter-webs.  I was curious to see what was out there for tablets or similar that would be useful specifically for gaming.

My primary requirement was a long battery life — it’s got to last through an entire gaming session, even better if it could last a whole day of gaming at a convention without needing charging.  The actual software requirements are pretty light.  Mostly I just want a good PDF reader and access to my cloud data (I run a personal owncloud server, because I like my bits where I can see them and the cloud is just someone else’s computer).  In fact, inability to play games or run other fancy/expensive software is probably a good thing here, so I’d be less tempted to multi-purpose the device and then be frustrated that it doesn’t do everything amazingly well.  

Honestly I wasn’t really considering buying something, it was just mild curiosity and boredom driven web browsing, but I made a startling discovery.  In most reviews I read, after the very expensive latest iPads in positions #1 and #2 for best battery life, many rated #3 as the humble Amazon Fire HD 8, which retails for a pretty conservative $80 on Amazon right now.  I guess this makes sense, Amazon’s target has always been the e-Reader market.  Kindle has more brand recognition than Fire I would think.  Also, as the Fire is ultimately an Android, I know I can get access to the software I’m already used to for my phone and/or develop my own.  On that point, while Amazon is pretty lacking in apps (and as a developer I know too well how crappy the value proposition is for supporting Amazon devices) I did find that it’s pretty easy to just install the Google Play store onto a Fire device.

Since it’s my birthday, and it was so inexpensive, I figured what the heck and ordered one.  It came in yesterday (on my birthday, what a happy coincidence!) and so far I’ve not played with it very much.  One immediate downside I’ve found is that it’s a bit smaller than I anticipated.  Perhaps I’m just used to iPad size of tablets from work, but the 8″ 16:10 screen seems pretty small and narrow for a tablet.  On the plus side I was happy to discover that it has an SDHC slot, so there’s no good reason to pay the extra for the 32 GB size.  In fact, I had a stray 32 GB SDHC card just lying around that I was happy to chuck into it.  

Here’s the software I’ve installed so far, I’d be curious to hear any other recommendations from DMs used to using a tablet behind the screen:

  1. ezPDF Reader – First and foremost I need a good PDF reader.  I’ve tried a lot of them, and the free ones are fine, but this one is my favorite so I forked over the $4 for it.  Features I love:
    • Fit Text to Column – this is amazing for D&D modules.  You double-tap on a page containing multiple columns of text, which is a classic and much-used module layout, and it zooms the view to fit one column across the entire screen.  Then it gives you navigation buttons to page along by column, moving between columns correctly to give an even flow of text.
    • Annotations – ability to write/draw on top of your PDF is pretty common feature these days.  I’ve never really used this, but I think this may be the time I start.
    • Text to Voice – silly I know, but sometimes if I’m in the car or painting minis or something it’s nice to have someone read a module to me.  As this uses the device’s built-in voice software, it appears Alexa is reading modules to me, which is actually much better than other computer voices I’ve heard.
    • Page Turning Animations – another silly one, but I love the verisimilitude of a nice page turning animation that looks like real pages in a book.
  2. ownCloud – Access to all my stuff.  You probably want DropBox or GoogleDrive or whatever Amazon has.  Everyone has cloud storage these days.  Personally, I’ll pay the $1 for access to the 12 TB raid array I have plugged in at home.  Yet another reason 16 GB on the device really isn’t a limitation.
  3. Inspiration Pad Pro – Best table rolling app out there.  I’ve written a lot of tables for this thing, from an adaptation of my favorite fantasy name generator, to the OD&D treasure tables, to a complete character generator.  It’s super powerful and a great tool, and amazingly the desktop version is completely free.
  4. DiceShaker D&D – No, I totally prefer real physical dice, but in the rare case I don’t or can’t use real dice, this is a reasonable substitute.  I’m sure there are plenty of free dice apps out there that are just as good.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for good digital emulation of real physical objects.
  5. Evernote – This is a new one for me, I found online someone saying they used Evernote behind the screen and its laissez-faire attitude towards collecting scraps of information does strike me as pretty well aligned with DMing.  I haven’t yet had the lightning stroke that makes me think this is a totally required DM tool, but I’m giving it a shot.  I’ll make sure to follow up on this one in the future, even if it’s just to say that I’m abandoning it.

Back to the Well Once Too Often

OK, time for some analysis of Rappan Athuk. As before, this will contain all manner of spoilers, so if you intend to play this module and want to be surprised, turn back!

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Rappan Athuk

The dungeon Dan brought us this weekend was none other than Rappan Athuk, which appears to have quite the old school pedigree.  I had never heard of it before, but it’s one of a few mega-dungeons to actually see print, and it has quite the history from inception in the late 70’s, to printings for d20 (aka 3.0 D&D), Pathfinder, and Swords & Wizardry.  You can find more details of its history on boargamegeek.

What follows is an account of our game, and I’ll hold off on any analysis until a later post.  That said, this will be rife with spoilers, so if you think you may some day play Rappan Athuk, maybe you don’t want to read this.

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Happy Birthday to Me

This year for my birthday I received the dearest gift I have ever received — my brothers Max and Christian and my good friends Dan and Isabelle drove up from NY to stay at my place and play a 3-day marathon D&D game.  In fact it’s the same gift I’ve gotten for the past four years running, and I couldn’t dream of anything better.  I invite some local gamer friends to pop in for an hour or an afternoon or a day, whatever they have time for, and we punctuate the gaming with some good meals and the odd dip in the pool.

Dan DMed for us a very difficult dungeon, and I think I was the only one to make it through the whole weekend with the same character.  My brother Max and I were the sole survivors of last night’s climactic encounter.  Our little party of 3 4th level characters and 3 1st level henchman managed to get themselves in way over their heads at a Temple of Orcus, facing off against a 12th level priest, a half-dozen 6th level priests, a type II demon, and a flesh golem.  By all rights it should have been a very quick TPK, but on the second round my invisible wizard managed to slide near the high priest and cast a simple Charm Person spell on him.  Despite his +15 bonus to resist, he rolled a 1.  Thus the high priest of Orcus was more than happy to call off his minions, pile his treasure up outside the temple, and wait for us to return to hatch the next stage of our amazing evil plot (spoiler: there is no evil plot, we took all the loot we could carry and high-tailed it.)

We returned to town to sell off all the treasure.  We found we were in possession of a particularly nasty evil artifact made of solid gold.  Max wanted to sell it at full value to the shady fellow at the bar and his unknown “master”.  I argued that half-value was fine if we just melted it down and sold it for the value of the gold.  With only two of us left we were at an impasse.  Finally I said “let’s dice for it!” and what gamer can resist that?

We both snatched up dice and shook our fists over the table.  We looked each other resolutely in the eye, and let the dice drop, clattering mere inches apart on the tabletop.  I won handily — 13 vs 3.  Of course, it helped that while Max had chosen a d6, I had rolled a d20.

Tears streaming down our faces from fits of uncontrollable laughter, I managed to convince Max to let it lie.  We agreed to dice for it without specifying the die type, and it was his poor strategic choice to go for a d6.  As a consolation prize I gave him a trading card I got a few years back at TotalCon, depicting and signed by Mr. Tim Kask, the epithet on the card reads “Never bring a d4 to a sword fight.”

Apologies to Origins Players

As I’m posting here again, in the off chance that anyone who attended Origins a couple weeks ago and signed up for my games reads this, you have my most sincere apologies.  Due to a truly horrible experience at Logan Airport I never made it out of Boston and missed the convention entirely.  As bummed out as I am about that, I really hate being the no-show GM.  I did what I could to notify the convention to cancel my games, but I know how these things work, and I imagine some number of players arrived at my table for each game wondering where I was.

So, my sincerest apologies to those gamers.  I hope you’ll give me a second chance if you see me running games at a future convention.

New Game

I’ve joined a new gaming group and it’s quite a different experience for me.  I’m very used to being either the GM, the group organizer, or most often both.  In this game I am neither, I was invited into an existing group and was glad for the invite.  It’s a little different of a game from what I’m used to as well, we’re using the system DemonWars: Reformation based on the novels by R. A. Salvatore and developed by him and his two sons.  It’s definitely not my typical type of game, but I’m having a great time with it, mostly due to it being a great group of players.  Last night we had a near TPK, only one person made it out alive.  Clearly I’m with the right group.

I will post more details as the game progresses.  For now I just wanted to break the ice on never posting and introduce what I’m sure I’ll be spending more time discussing in the future.

Road of Kings now Free on Android

Road of Kings was removed from both Google Play Games and iTunes back at the end of 2014.  I still to this day get the occasional message from a fan wondering what happened to the game.  It’s especially bad for fans who bought the game, but since have upgraded their device or for some other reason can no longer recover the game from iTunes or Google Play.  Sadly that end of it is out of my hands, how those two markets deal with legacy games is entirely up to them.

But what I can do is now that some time has passed, I can put together an official, totally free, off the market version of the game.  Unfortunately Apple does not allow for any reasonable way for me to distribute such a game to players short of paying $100/year to maintain an account on their distribution channel.  Fortunately Android is far easier to deal with, so I present to you, totally free of charge, Road of Kings 1.3:

Download Road of Kings 1.3 for Android

Enjoy, redistribute, do what you like.  I’m just happy to see people play the game again.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Wizards of the Coast has once again firmly cemented for me the idea that I am not their target audience.  An article showed up today on Polygon titled “Dungeons and Dragons is changing how it makes books“.  Man, with an opener like that, it’s really hard not get super cynical on this.  And that’s reinforced with quotes like this one:

“I have this kind of personal philosophy for managing the product line,” Mearls said last month in Renton, Washington. “I don’t want to duplicate any product that’s come before. I think that if people have seen it, then it’s not really new and it’s not really exciting.”

Really?  And you’re doing that by making a book that has more narrative fiction in it and titling it “Volo’s Guide…”  Because we’ve never seen anything like that before.  Sigh.

But I’m trying not to be too negative on this, because honestly this book simply underscores what I’ve known for a long time, that I’m simply not their target audience anymore.  So who is it for, who wants 14 pages just on the beholder?  The answer I think must be people who are buying these books for the nostalgic factor alone, but don’t actually ever get to play the game.  Reading game manuals as a hobby in and of itself is definitely a thing.  Who am I to poo-poo that?

Honestly, I think my only problem is that D&D is still niche enough that friends and relatives will send me links to articles like this.  “Hey, you’re into Dungeons and Dragons, right?”  How can I explain to them that this is definitely not what I’m into?  The only arguments I can give are along the lines of “this is not Dungeons and Dragons” or “I’m only into early Dungeons and Dragons”, both of which really make me feel like a serious RPG hipster.  I wish Wizards would do me the favor of rebranding their product to stop the confusion, but obviously that makes zero fiscal sense for them.

I suppose ultimately what this means is that I really should just stop posting about stuff like this, as it’s basically not relevant to this blog.  In other news, Nike released their new Foamposite One sneakers today.