Archive for 2015

Say My Name

As a follow-up to my earlier feminist gaming post, I happened to get in touch with a certain author of a certain fantasy name generator.  I’m being coy because while he was happy to share all his code and data with me, he explicitly asked that his name be removed from any credit or blame.  I guess that name generator is well over a decade old and not the author’s proudest work.  I think he’s mad, it’s wonderful and has been naming characters in my game world since its inception five years ago.

I have finally rooted through it, pulled out the data I wanted, reformatted it, and added in the missing female names.  It was actually pretty easy to just reformat the tables into something usable by my favorite randomizer: Inspiration Pad Pro.  Even better, I have discovered in the course of doing this that Inspiration Pad Pro now has an Android port, which means I get all these awesome names right in my pocket.  Huzzah!

And of course, share and share alike, right?  So here it is, my Inspiration Pad Pro table for Silly (Awesome) Fantasy Names:


Crafting my Convention Pitches

OK, so, I think I’ve resolved what I’m going to run at TotalCon, now I just have to submit them by Sunday.  That means writing up a quick description, and perhaps I’m overdoing it, but I always think these are really important.  This is the only information my perspective players have.  This is my one chance to set their expectations, filter out players whose style does not match my own, and hopefully reel in as many good players as I can get.

So here’s my thought, why not post them here and see if I can maybe get a little early feedback?  Maybe you guys can point out some off-putting or confusing language, or ask probing questions that might reveal important info I forgot to include.  Or if nothing else, forcing myself to type these out twice should enforce a double-pass of self-editing.  So here we go, here’s my current slate of ideas for TotalCon:

Title Gentlemen of the Wardroom
System Call of Cthulhu (Custom)
Time Thursday, 7 PM – 11 PM
Welcome gentlemen to the HMS Orpheus, a fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy, bound for the West Indies in this the year of our Lord, 1806. Your orders have not yet been revealed by the Captain, but sailor and officer alike are thrilled to escape the drudgery of blockade duty, and perhaps at last find a chance for action against the frogs. Beyond the usual threats of harsh weather, deprivation, mutiny, and privateers looms something too dark and horrible and name. Will you survive to see the hallowed shores of England again?


Title Boss-fight for Breakfast
System Classic D&D
Time Friday and Saturday, 10 am – noon (note these are unusually short time slots, I’m hoping to attract like-minded folks that don’t want to get up for an 8 am game, but might also like a little something to do before lunch).
Bring your coffee and your donuts with you for a quick throw-down of classic D&D. We’ve got just two hours so we’ll cut to the chase – kick down the door and roll initiative, because we’re skipping straight to the exciting climax. Use all those potions and spells now, because they’ll do you little good in the here-after. DM will do his best to give you a glorious and heroic death, or maybe, just maybe, you’ll emerge victorious laden with fabulous treasures. Good luck with that. Mid to high level classic D&D, each one is different so feel free to sign up for both if you like.


Title The Lost Tablets of Emoria
System Classic D&D
Time Saturday, 1 PM – 5 PM
The scholars of Bridgefaire claim that the source of the undead invaders will be revealed in ancient texts left behind by the ancient Emorians. A team of highly skilled adventurers have been assembled to recover these tablets from their forgotten resting grounds. The fate of the Empire depends on your success! A high level classic D&D adventure set in a long running campaign world.

So what do you think?  Any/all feedback would be appreciated.

Convention Games

OK, Carnage is in the past, and TotalCon is coming very soon.  In fact, I’ve just noticed that their deadline for GM game submissions is this weekend.  Oh geez, time to slap some stuff together.

So, I recently created a spreadsheet of all the convention games I’ve run in the past and have notes ready at hand to run at the drop of a hat.  I cross referenced this against what conventions I’ve already run them at, so I can try and not repeat myself, at least on a convention by convention basis.  Though Carnage and TotalCon do present the interesting problem of having a lot of the same people, and people I really enjoy playing with such that I’d like to bring new material so we can play together again.  Looking over that data I see exactly one game I have in the bag that I could run at TotalCon.  It’s a pretty straight forward D&D adventure I wrote for HelgaCon a while back and I think it will play well with the TotalCon crowd, so it’s on the list.  However, that’s not nearly enough.

Of course, attending a convention is always an immediate boost to the creative juices.  In fact, that’s one of the things I love about attending these things.  I always come away with a million ideas of things I want to try.  The key is to grab onto that energy and make something happen soon, lest it slip through my fingers.  So, here are the ideas currently percolating in my head:


I haven’t run a game of Paranoia in a very long time.  I was talking to Adam about the last game I ran which has prompted me to go dig through my old notes, and I was amazed at how much gold is in there.  That game was run for a bunch of co-workers back at 38, most of which (all of which?) I don’t really see regularly any more.  Which makes me think, maybe I should just dust this thing off and run it again.  The only question is, what rules do I use?  I originally ran it with Paranoia XP, which was fine.  Adam also sent me some custom rules he uses for Paranoia, which seem interesting.  Finally, there’s the current Kickstarter edition which I did back and do have the early beta rules for.  And there’s always the hope they ship before my next convention.  Anyway, I can certainly start getting my material together for this and delay choosing a rules set.  The only downside is that I recall that game being particularly exhausting to run.  Am I really prepared to run that kind of game at a convention setting, where already sleep is in very short supply and the energy may be difficult to raise?


OK, I’ve never really run any official version of Cthulhu nor am I like to now.  But I did recently formulate what I think is a rather clever system for dealing with sanity and I’d love to test it out.  I’m sure I can dig up some system to give me a simple skill-based platform to layer this over, and then it’s just a matter of coming up with content.  Actually, I have a couple ideas on that too.  This one needs more time and some note taking, but feels like it wouldn’t be too hard to bring to fruition.  Somehow that makes it both the most vague and most promising item on this list for me.


I love the Warhammer fantasy setting, but I’m really not terribly pleased with the crop of rules systems for it.  I prefer 2nd to 3rd, but even then it’s still not my favorite thing to run.  That said, I’ve had an idea in the back of my head for some time now that Warhammer Quest could be expanded out into a fuller RPG system, and I’m pretty curious to experiment with this.  I mean, the Roleplay book that comes with WHQ basically reaches this, but can I take it a step further and eliminate the minis entirely?  Is there enough non-combat stuff in there to make it into a satisfying RPG?  I would also have to layer in some more grimness I think – perhaps the sanity system mentioned above that I have ear-marked for Cthulhu would do well.  I’d also like something for magic mis-haps, which I think is lacking in WHQ.  All interesting stuff and I’m sure it could be done, again it’s just a matter of finding the time to sit down and flesh it out.  And even if I do that just leaves me with a system — I’d still have to write some kind of adventure to test it out.

Short-Span D&D

The final idea is to make some standard D&D content that fits a shorter time limit – specifically 2 hours.  In the past at TotalCon I’ve really enjoyed when a DM I know ran quickie games in the 10-12 time slot.  I’m not getting up for an 8 AM game, but having something light and quick to do from 10-12 is really nice.  The challenge of finding something that fits in that is actually a rather fascinating problem to try and solve.  My current idea is to take some of the more exciting scenes from recent campaign play, things that involve an elaborate fight over interesting terrain, and just play that.  Shoves the players in media-res, and let them play through a single action-packed combat.  It would minimize the exploration, but provided there’s enough scenery to bounce off of and enemies with unusual combat strategies I think it could be quite fun.  It would certainly be very rail-roady, but perhaps the short time-span format would make players more forgiving of that.

OK, so, clearly lots of ideas, and several cons coming up to run them.  I’ve got TotalCon in February, HelgaCon in April, and then we’re off to Origins in June.  The only problem is that game registration for these is frighteningly soon, especially in the case of TotalCon where I’ve only got a couple of days to get my stuff in.  Which honestly probably means writing a quick description for a game that doesn’t exist, and then I’m really under the gun to flesh it out before the convention rolls around.  Plus there’s the risk that as I start to flesh out one of these ideas I lose interest or it just doesn’t come together as I’m hoping it will.  But there’s nothing for it.  I’ve really just got to pick what feels most promising and run with it.  Gulp…

The Carnage of Carnage

As you may have guessed from my previous post, I spent last weekend having a great time gaming at Carnage on the Mountain.  It’s a fantastic convention at a truly gorgeous location, full of really fun and welcoming gamers.  This was my second year attending, and as before it flew past in a blink of an eye.

The hotel is just amazing, I really can’t overstate that.  Our suite was bigger than my first apartment — three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a kitchen / dining room.  It was really amazing, and frankly, a brilliant location for a gaming convention.  Being able to prepare your own meals and not have to go out and scavenge between games is really quite wonderful, especially for those of us with more restrictive diets.

Though some gripe at the manual process of registering for games (paper forms via snail mail), I do kind of like the simplicity of it.  I make a list of the games I want to play, as well as backups, and when I arrive they hand me a list of what I’m playing.  There are no tickets, if you don’t have something to play then you can just pop over and ask a GM to sit in, and if there’s room you do so.  The downside is, that’s exactly the position I found myself in first thing Friday afternoon.  I hadn’t gotten in to either of my choices, and so had nothing to play.

Mike was in the same position, so we roamed around and landed in a Pathfinder Society game.  They were very welcoming and obliging, given that neither Mike nor I knew anything about Pathfinder or the Pathfinder Society.  Note – the latter is something akin to the old RPGA “Living Campaign” style of play, where you maintain a character across games and even conventions.  It was OK, definitely not the kind of game I’d seek out, but better than sitting in the hotel room waiting until 7 PM for the next slot.

Friday night I ran a session of House on Hangman’s Hill, an old Judge’s Guild module I was first introduced to at TotalCon.  After playing it there I obtained a copy and ran it myself at last HelgaCon, where I think it went really well, in part because the party happened to pace themselves through just the right rooms to really feel like there was a solid plot arc through the game.  We were a little more haphazard in our approach when I played it at TotalCon, as was my group here at Carnage.  It was fun play and I had a good group of players, but I think they were rightly disappointed at the end at failing to find a real sense of closure.  This ultimately I think is the problem with these big old rambling modules.  On the one hand, there’s tons of interesting stuff for the players to explore, which really gives them a sense of agency.  On the other hand, they can totally screw it up, or just have a bit of bad luck, and leave the game having difficulty assembling a narrative from it.

Saturday I had no games to run myself.  I played a Call of Cthulhu game in the afternoon with Andre Kruppa, who incorporates some pretty fancy lighting and sound systems into his game.  Andre is a great GM, and frankly I think his game would be really fun with just paper and pencils at hand, but he clearly digs going that extra mile and I have no gripes about that.

In the evening I played my first session of D&D 5e ever.  It was OK.  It was a big group with an even more open sand-box setting, and so again we struggled finding the right pieces to build a plot from.  The DM was very good, and I really enjoyed a lot of his content, though when you’re exploring or solving puzzles it really doesn’t matter what system you’re using.  The actual system I can say is definitely not my cup of tea.  It feels to me like a slight improvement on 3rd, which I suppose is what one would have hoped for out of 4th, and so now that we’ve got it I guess that’s an improvement.  Still, not knowing the system I chose a 6th level halfling fighter to play, and for a fighter with no magic items, geez was there a lot of stuff on that character sheet.  So many options to keep track of!  I know that some people really dig that sort of thing, and I don’t want to dump on that, I can just honestly say it’s not for me.

Sunday morning I scraped myself out of bed to run my last game from 10 am to 2 pm.  I have to say, good on Carnage for inventing this time slot.  They still have games from 8-12 and 1-5, but man 8 am is way too early for me to get up for a game after a long night of booze and chatter, and with a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me I really don’t want to be leaving after 5.  Thus this time slot was perfect, and I was happy to run my game “Gloomwood Falls”, which is really just a 1-page dungeon torn from the pages of my home campaign.  It happens to have a purple worm encounter in it, which never fails to both terrify and delight the players.  This time I managed to swallow 3 of them whole, a new personal record!

The only off thing for me this convention was how few official players I had sign up for my games.  Both games specified 4-8 players.  My first game had 2 signed up, though fortunately we managed to pull in 3 more as we were preparing.  I was very worried for a while there though, and was ready to can the whole thing and go find something else.  Sunday morning I had 4, and by the time we ended I had 7, so that was actually perfect.  I suspect a fair number of folks perhaps left that time slot open thinking they would see if they had the energy on the spot, and then were happy to fall into my game.

So the question is, why am I having trouble gathering players?  The guy running the 5e game ran his game every slot of the convention (it was really one continuous hex crawl, kind of an interesting idea), and also maxed out at 8, and had to turn away people every slot but Sunday.  Is it the games I’m running?  Am I failing to promote them correctly in my descriptions?  Is old school popularity dying out?  (I think I was one of two people running old school at the convention).  Or did I just choose unpopular time slots?

Given my own trouble finding a game to play on Friday afternoon, I’m tempted next year to sign up to run something in that slot, so I know I’ll have something to do.  On the other hand, if Friday is even quieter in the afternoon than the evening, I may have trouble scraping together enough players, and still be left searching for something else.  Perhaps I need to play to the ebb and flow of attendance – maybe try something a bit more experimental that requires a smaller group on Friday, and then do my traditional giant dungeon crawl on Sunday.

And that’s what was in my head when I sat down to right this post.  What happened, how did this become a full on convention report?  I guess I’ll have to save my ideas for future con games for another post.  Hold onto your hats, because I have several ideas, and rather shockingly most of them do not involve D&D!

Tropes vs. Women in RPGs

Last night I was recounting to Jenn what Adam and Mike had told me about the “overt sexism” they experienced in one of their games this past weekend at Carnage.  (Which, at first, I misheard as “avert sexism” and thought it was some kind of weird mechanic built into the game — roll to avert sexism!)  Apparently they were playing a game set in ancient Rome, and there was one female player playing the one female character who was a courtesan.  Despite the GM informing the group that at this time courtesans were a respectable role with some level of authority, this did not prevent some of the other players from immediately assuming courtesan is a synonym for prostitute, and making “clever remarks” in that direction.  And despite the female player’s obvious discomfort, and Adam and Mike’s attempts to move on to other topics, the comments persisted throughout the game.

It’s unfortunate that some RPG players will always jump to the conclusion that roleplaying a character in a time period when sexism was more prevalent that this means it’s OK to be as big of a jerk as possible, and we’ll all enjoy a laugh at their foibles.  Roleplaying really does require buy-in and trust on both sides of the table though.

I could ramble on about the need to read your audience and have trust at the gaming table, but that’s not my point here.  What I found most interesting was Jenn’s reaction to this anecdote, which was along the lines of “Yeah, if you’re the only girl at the table you should never play the only female character.”  It was such an interesting statement I started prodding into other edge cases.  What if there were other female characters to choose from but only male players?  (Wait to see if some of male players play one of the female characters first.)  What if there are other female players but only one female character?  (Skip the female character, play a male character.)  What I found so surprising here was not necessarily the actual answer, but the fact that Jenn had them so readily at hand.  Clearly she had thought this through and had made a set of mental rules.

This is kind of disappointing really.  I never think of such stuff when sitting down to play a game.  Generally I do prefer to play male characters over female, but only in the same way that say I prefer playing humans to elves and dwarves.  I have certainly played my share of female characters at convention games.  I suppose this is male privilege for you.

Also, over the years I have become accustomed to Jenn playing male characters at my own games, so much so that it is now ingrained in me to ask any female player if their character is male or female before accidentally using the wrong pronoun.  But I don’t do this to my male players, and that kind of sucks.  I am really not sure if this means I should try to stop myself from doing this, or do it to everyone, or just continue on as I have been.  Is asking this question being open and accommodating for players more likely to be playing a different gender?  Am I being insultingly sexist by only asking the girls this question?  Would it be overly PC to ask everyone?

And in pondering all that, I realized one of the problems is in the characters themselves.  I bring about double the character sheets I need for any game I run at a convention..  This is in part to give players options, partly to allow for the occasional character death, and partly because I use a random generator so it’s really very easy to do so.  My random generator in turn uses Chris Pound’s “Silly” fantasy name generator, which I absolutely adore.  The names are fantastic.  This weekend we saw a dwarf in full plate wielding two magic daggers named “Grisha the Killing Machine”.  We also had a hammer wielding fighter named Rodor the Laborer, backed up by Orzaize the Blue Wizard, whose player decided to describe all his spells as being colored in blue in some way, and some discussion was had about his hopes for promotion to Silver Wizard and tenure when he returned to the magic college.

Some players change the names, which I have no problem with, and I even often make the point that they should feel free to do so if they like at the start of the game.  Many players though (the good ones in my opinion), will pick a character in part because of the name.  All that said, in looking over the names spat out by that generator, I’m noticing a strong lack of female names.  In fact, I’d say all the names are either obviously male or ambiguous.  There are no clearly female names in the entire thing.  And that means that at the table when I turn to a female player and she’s playing “Grimbold Oakshield”, it does not seem unreasonable to ask “is your character male or female?”  And perhaps it explains why I’m more likely to do this with a female player than a male player.

OK, so resolutions:

  1. Find a way to incorporate some obviously female names into my random characters.  This may mean having a poke into Chris Pound’s name generator to figure out how it works so I can modify the output, or perhaps simply taking a dump of names from it and then hand-massaging some percent of them to feminize them.
  2. When starting up a convention game I often go around the table and ask for character name, race, class, level, and AC, just so I can make a quick cheat sheet and not have to ask those questions over and over while playing.  Perhaps I should add gender to that list, that way I get it from everyone and just don’t have to think about it later.

I am quite satisfied that resolution #1 there includes digging into some new code.  This reinforces what I’ve always found obvious: all problems can be solved with better code.  I am the man with the hammer.


After returning from my trip abroad I was greeted home with a horrible flu.  But I did manage to get that one post in before resigning myself to days of day-time TV curled up on the couch.  Actually, in this day and age of streaming TV day-time TV isn’t quite the same curse it was to the cold sufferer of my youth.  But, that’s all behind me, so what’s on my radar now?

Well, Carnage is this weekend and I’m woe-fully under prepared.  That’s not really true, I did cleverly sign up to run stuff that I have run at other conventions so really I should be able to just dust off my notes from previous runs and off we go.  The one bit of work I do need to do though is generate some characters.  I’ve been doing this long enough that of course I have some scripts I wrote to automate the process, but as my house rules are ever morphing I find each convention that creeps up I have to revisit those scripts and make some minor corrections.

This time around I find myself thinking about my rules for multi-classing.  First, let’s look at what I’m using in my home campaign right now:

IV. Multi-classing

Players may take on additional core classes (not including Ranger or Paladin) upon reaching 2nd level. They may never have more than three total classes, nor ever be both a cleric and a magic-user. A character’s second class can never exceed level 8, his third class is capped at level 4.

  • Must sacrifice single highest level of experience, XP is pro-rated at time of multi-classing.

  • Must have a 9 or higher in the prime requisite of the new class.

  • Must track all stats (XP, hit points, etc.) for each class. Always pick the current highest value as the actual value. May choose highest value for saves for each individual save.

  • Must choose at the start of each adventure which XP pool XP earned will go towards.

  • May use all abilities of any class. May not cast magic-user spells in armor heavier than chain mail. May not use thief skills in armor heavier than leather.

  • Elves may begin play as level 1/1 multi-class character, provided one class is magic-user.

That’s directly out of my 3-page booklet of house rules for my game, affectionately known as the BXCL (B/X Change List).  So, how has this affected my home campaign?  I currently have 7 players in my game, and they include 1 human fighter, 1 dwarf fighter / cleric, 2 paladins, 2 elf magic-user / fighters, and 1 elf magic-user / thief.  As the paladin class is specifically proscribed from multi-classing, that leaves 5 players out of which 4 have decided to multi-class.  In fact, the 5th one would have done so, but his stats are all so terrible that he doesn’t have the required 9 in any prime-reqs of alternate classes — likely why he chose fighter in the first place.

There are two things in play here that I’m not terribly happy with.  First off, that’s a lot more multi-classing than I would hope for.  I like multi-classing, but I prefer to see it in a minority of characters.  In my mind it should be for support characters willing to sacrifice some power for more flexibility, not an obvious tactic that simply makes all characters better.  Secondly, note how all the elves are first and fore-most magic-users.  I do like that elves encourage multi-classing, as it harkens back to the original B/X concept that all elves were essentially fighter/magic-user hybrids, but what about a fighter/thief, or even a fighter/magic-user over the magic-user/fighter?  It turns out that the rules above basically highly encourage players of elves to choose magic-user first, so that they won’t be level capped in magic-user and thus can conceivable obtain 5th level spells (available at magic-user level 9).  Conversely, what you miss out on for limiting fighter or thief to level 8 is far less powerful – a third feat for fighters, and the ability to read magical scrolls for thieves at level 10.  The choice to all my players has been obvious.

So, here are some alterations I’m considering:

First, I think maybe I should increase the stat requirement for multi-classing in general.  Let’s make it a littler harder to obtain so we see a few more single-classed characters in the wild.  The obvious choice for me seems to be to raise it to 13, as that’s the point where the related modifier increases from 0 to +1.  That’s a pretty strong change in probabilities – according to this site the chances of getting a 9 or higher on any given stat is 74%, while the chances of a 13 are only 26%.  Assuming that we don’t care about the prime req of your starting class, and we don’t care about the 2 stats that are not prime-reqs for any class (Constitution and Charisma), the chances of any given character being able to multi-class is the chance of getting a 13 or higher on any of three rolls.  Or to make the math easier for me, it’s the inverse of the chance that you roll 12 or less on all 3 rolls — 74% x 3 trials is about 40%, thus 60%?  Am I getting that right Delta?

Huh, that’s still higher than I expected.  Should I go even more severe?  I don’t know, I don’t want to swing the pendulum too far to the opposite side, and honestly, it’s taken many many months of play to observe the current trend naturally in my player base.

The other problem is probably simpler to tackle – to find a way to encourage a more even distribution of multi-class typed elves.  Obviously whatever solution I find to the general rate of multi-classing will apply just as well to elves, so really the only problem here is that there’s no reason to pick magic-user as the second class when taking advantage of the free first level multi-class.  I could obliterate that rule entirely, but I do still like the idea that elves are somewhat magical in nature and thus more inclined to at least learn a little magic.  So perhaps I just need to restrict it a bit more?

Some of my players have suggested just changing it to a free second class in magic-user.  That is, a starting out elf may start as a level 1/1 something / magic-user for free.  This means players of elves that want to reach name level as magic-user will either be single classed, or have to pay for their multi-classing the same as every other starting character.  The bonus will be restricted to players who wanted to play fighter or thief primarily, and happen to have a high intelligence and don’t mind have a little free magic on the side.

I kind of like that ruling, but I want to think over both of these a bit more before I make up my mind.  I suppose that means for the coming convention that I will just stick to what I already have.  I really should make decisions on this stuff soon though, as I’ve been promising my players to do so for some time now.  Not that it’s hugely important, as obviously any already existing characters in my game will be unaffected.  Though you never know when a poisonous snake might get in a lucky bite, and it’s time to roll a new character, right?

Returned from my Wilderness Adventure

Sorry for the silence the past week, but I just returned from a lovely vacation in Merry Old England, and on returning the climate of New England has been like a punch to the gut.  Ugh, what happened here while I was gone?  Who said it was time to be winter?

Anyway, you can see some lovely holiday snaps via Google Photos here if you like of my trip to London and Oxford.  All the museum trips and exploration of 600+ year old architecture naturally sparks one kind of thought in particular for me though: how can I apply this to my gaming?  Here are a couple ideas that came to me while looking at the artifacts:

1. Narrow Stairs

I climbed the tower at Oxford Castle and at Christ Church in Oxford, both originally medieval military defensive structures, and they had one feature very much in common: super steep and narrow stairways.  Here’s a shot, notice how much my feet hang off the incredibly narrow step:

IMG_20151014_113001At the more crowded Oxford Castle when I went up and down such stairs as part of a large tour, we fit one person wide, and I could maybe see two people above and below me at most.  The stairs are also all curved in this same direction, so that defenders coming down them can easily swing swords with their right hands, while attackers coming up have the awkward choice between trying to swing around the central column, or switching to their left hand.

This strikes me as a great setup for a really interesting fight.  Everyone in single file.  You can only see two people in front and behind you.  It’s a huge crowd.  Fight!



2.  More Clever Locks
IMG_20151010_142525 IMG_20151010_142544Here is a chest I saw in the British Museum in London.  The little placard tells of how it contains three separate locks each with a unique key.  And note the weird hinges that would be entirely confined to the inside of the box when closed.  No breaking off the hinges to get into this sucker.  Add in super thick wood and lots of metal, and this is sure to drive any party mad.  Depending on how diabolical a DM you want to be, the interior could contain amazing treasure, or just another trap.  Similarly, I saw a mummy enclosed in no less than three nested coffins.  Makes that needle trap and orc guard seem like a pretty poor method of securing your valuables, doesn’t it?

3.  Prison

OK, this one I don’t have a picture of, but apparently the Oxford Castle was used as a prison for a pretty long time, and as such is a good record of Medieval methods for dealing with criminals.  The most interesting fact the tour guide gave us that made me think was that the prison itself was not meant as a punishment.  No, punishments were far more severe – prison is just where you went until they got around to dealing with you.  And conditions being so dreadful, probably you died just waiting for someone to pass judgement on you.  But if you survived perhaps you would get off lightly and they’d lock in you in the pillory in the town square for a couple days, with your ears nailed to the boards, to have rotten food and rocks and who knows what else pelted at you by the public.  And if you survived that, and you were very lucky, maybe when they opened the lock they’d give you a dull knife so you could cut off your own ears and go home.  If not, well, give ’em a good yank and I’m sure they’ll tear free.

So there you have it.  Use these to torment your players as you see fit.

Battle Masters: First Unit and Box Failure

Progress continues very slowly on my mini Battle Masters game.  As I’ve said before, I’m in no rush with this one, so I’m not afraid to scrap anything that I decide isn’t good enough.  But first, some good news, the first unit is complete:

Men-at-Arms of Altdorf

Men-at-Arms of Altdorf

I’m pretty happy with the final result here.  As you can see, I’ve decided on a red and yellow theme for the Imperial army.  This model was assembled and based then painted as a whole.  I’m still not convinced I want to do it this way — the other option being to paint the models individually, then mount and base them.  Though that has its own problems.  This one worked fairly well, so I’ll probably stick with this method until it becomes an issue, then swear at myself for mounting models that are impossible to reach with a brush.

The flag was made by simply printing it out on my inkjet printer, then glueing it in place to the metal rod used for a pole.  The flag was then given several coats of gloss to shine it up and give it some stiffness.  My sole reason for including a flag was to have the number of dice on the unit somewhere, and I figured the unit icon that is used for placement in the rulebook would be nice to include.

IMG_20150919_220529And now on to the less good news.  I completed the interior of my first unit box, which you can see here with all the imperial units placed, plus some dice and a few cardboard hexes from my copy of Battle Lore as stand-ins for cannon tokens (actual cannon tokens I expect to be much smaller).  It may not be obvious from the picture, but the right column of cubbies is narrower than the rest.  This was done intentionally, as the box was not wide enough to admit three columns of forward facing units.  I figured I could place the right-most column side facing since the box is so deep.  Unfortunately, I failed to allow for the thickness of the felt, and thus the units in the left two columns also don’t fit forward facing.  This works OK for the imperial units as you can see here, but simply won’t due for the chaos army, which numbers 15 total units.  There are simply not enough cubbies.  My plan had been that since many would be forward facing, I could make an insert to use up the depth of the box and thus have a few cubbies that were essentially storing two units each.  Obviously, this will not work.

So it’s back to the drawing board.  Ultimately I think my problem here is the boxes I chose.  The interior of these boxes are very deep, much deeper than I require, but don’t have enough surface area.  I need wider, flatter boxes.  So back to Michael’s I went, and discovered the box I wanted was not there.  So I bought all the kinds of boxes they had, and then ordered the box I wanted on Amazon.  Here are some images of all the boxes collected together.  The current box is the left-most on first picture, and on the bottom of the stack in the second:

IMG_20150925_070247 IMG_20150925_070315

Newly acquired from Michael’s we have the box with rounded sides, and the box that is in the shape of a book.  The latter is cute and ultimately the largest of all the boxes.  Plenty of room in this one, but I’m not terribly fond of its closure, which is a pretty weak magnet.  I imagine that going pretty quickly, and models spilling about inside the main box and getting all banged up, so it’s right out.

The box with the rounded edges isn’t bad.  It’s shorter, but wider than the original.  The interior of the original was 7.875″ x 4.75″, while the interior of the rounded-edge box is about 6.125″ x 6.25″.  It will work, but will require using the side-facing method I used above to fit all the units of the chaos army, with very little space left over for other stuff.  Keep in mind that the chaos army box must also contain the ogre cards, while the imperial army box must include the cannon markers, and if possible I’d love to include a set of dice in each box.

So that leaves the classic cigar box, the one that was missing from Michael’s collection and I had to order online.  It’s in the middle bottom in picture 1, and second from the top of the stack in picture 2.  It has a very generous 8.125″ square interior, plenty of space to put all my models forward facing.  The depth is very shallow though, and thus there is not room for the chaos army’s ogre cards to fit in a vertical stack.  Still, it’s my favorite of the group — I’d really prefer the presentation of all the models facing out of the box when it’s first opened up.  Perhaps I can mount a pocket of some kind into the lid for storing the ogre cards of the chaos box.

This means for the boxes it’s back to square 1 – cutting out new dividers, felting them, and gluing it all together.  I also did a little research online about felt.  The craft felt is OK, but it’s shedding a bit more than I hoped.  I understand pool tables use a much higher quality wool cloth, which still has some fuzziness to it.  Perhaps I can buy scraps of that somewhere?  Or maybe it’s worth a trip to a fabric store to see what other options I can find.  Of course, the main purpose of the felt is to offer a little extra padding for the models when the box is moved about, so I may be willing to deal with the shedding of the craft felt if nothing else is available that offers the same amount of cushion.

Hybrid Games

Recently for one reason or another I found myself contemplating the old board game Dark Tower.  For those that don’t remember it, this was a board game that featured a large electronic device in the center (the titular dark tower) that did some random number generation and supplied sound effects and other minor visuals.  Here’s the original commercial (starring Orsen Wells!) and a more recent video playthrough.  This game has still has a pretty sizable cult following, and due to the unreliable nature of the circa 1981 electronics, it’s pretty collectible.  I never had or even played this game as a kid, but I was certainly aware of it, and eventually Delta introduced me to a pretty good simulator online.

Anyway, I was pondering the game for unknown reasons, and thinking about the process of finding and repairing parts to put together a working physical version.  Not that I have any such plan to do so, but I was just curious about the electronics and the repair hobby, in the same way that I’m fascinated by guys who collect and repair pinball machines, but would never really want to get into it myself.  Anyway, I happened upon an android app called Droid Tower, which is both a full simulator and just a tower simulator – the purpose of the latter being that maybe you own a copy of the game but your tower no longer works: now you can play again using your smart phone instead.

This idea of replacing the tower with an app tickled me.  Then I started wondering, why aren’t there more hybrid games that have both physical and virtual components?  The only other example I can think of is the way I play Space Alert.  The original game comes with a CD of audio tracks that actually drive the gameplay, and eventually I replaced that with mp3’s on my phone, and then later the Space Alert Mission Generator app, which actually generates random missions by assembling different audio elements.  That last bit is what I think makes it cross the line into actual software that affects the game.

Also, I wonder what other existing games could benefit by having some element replaced by software?  The first idea that came to my mind is Hero Quest.  This game includes a GM type player that must lay out the contents of the dungeon the other players are exploring.  It includes a booklet of adventures, in a sequence that presents a sort of story line, for the GM to follow.  The later iteration of this game, Warhammer Quest, eliminates the GM in favor of random dungeon generation and algorithmic movement of enemies.  I wonder though if one could preserve the pre-authored feel of the adventures by simply having a piece of software present it to the players.  It could speak out where to place the elements as the players reach them.  I’m not sure exactly how to achieve this, maybe some kind of recognition of the board and pieces via the phone’s camera?  I suppose you could replace the board entirely with an interactive surface, but I think this breaks some of the feel I’m after here.  I want to play the original game, just with a computer playing the GM role instead of a real person.

What else?  Anyone aware of any existing physical games that augment gameplay with software?  Anyone got a really good idea they’d like to share for such?

Battle Masters: Army Boxes

With my model base size fixed at 1″ x 1.5″, from there I can determine that an individual hex should be about 2″ wide, and thus the full board will be about 2′ x 2′.  This is small enough to fit nicely on a table top, but it’s still big enough that storage becomes a tricky question.  At minimum, I think I’m going to have to build it as a bi-fold board monopoly style and then find a box large enough to fit it in.  Or perhaps I will build a custom box with the board built into it, sort of like a chess box where you open it up and flip it over to make the board.

IMG_20150913_131929So last weekend I went over to Michael’s to see if they had anything that might serve as box for my game.  They did not.  They did have some nice unfinished boxes like the one pictured here, all of which were far too small to fit the contents of my game.  But as I mentally pictured a 1′ x 2′ box large enough to fit the board, I realized the units would be swimming in all that space.  What could I do to contain them inside the larger box?  So, I bought a couple of these smaller unfinished boxes to use as army boxes.  I’ll make one for the empire army and one for the chaos army, each just large enough to contain all the unit models, plus maybe some extras like the ogre cards, cannon markers, and maybe some dice.  I like the idea of each player picking his side and taking the appropriate box.  Maybe I could even fit a copy of the rulebook in each box.
IMG_20150913_123617Alongside the boxes I bought some pieces of basswood to build dividers.  I used my trusty scroll saw to cut up some pieces wine-box style to make little cubbies inside the box for each unit.  Man, I forgot how much I like working with that scroll saw.  What a neat tool.

Actually, before the cutting began I did a lot of measuring.  The interiors of those boxes are somewhat awkward size, and it took some effort to figure out how to divide it up to fit all the units.
IMG_20150913_131914I managed to make something that will work just fine for the empire army, but the chaos army is a bit larger (14 units over the empire’s 11), which is causing me some difficulty.  Especially as I have yet to even figure out what models to use for all the units.  I’m sure I can make it work, but it may require some kind of layering technique, where a tray of some kind such that I can take advantage of the depth of the box.  Or maybe I’ll just take another trip back to Michael’s and see if I can find a wider but shallower box.  I’m committed to taking my time with this project, so I’m not against scrapping any part of it along the way.


Here’s the finished interior with all the empire units placed inside.  Most of those units are temporary, just fun-tacked unpainted models onto a bit of foam core so I could experiment.  As you can see I had to turn the left-column sideways to fit all the units.  It’s pretty tight but everything fits, and the slot at the top could be used for the cannon markers and dice.  I also kind of want to felt line the whole thing to minimize damage of shifting models.  I’ve started some experiments along that line, I’ll have more pictures to post of that when it gets further along.

I’m thinking for the exterior of the box I’d like to put a nice large graphic of the army’s symbol on the front.  The chaos symbol is pretty easy to find, it appears people like that as a tattoo design, but the empire symbol is more difficult.  I’ve found a couple but the resolution is all pretty low, and I’d like something I can print out at a good 6″ square to decoupage onto the top of the box.  If anyone has anything that might be appropriate, please do let me know.

Ultimately I really should start painting the models, but that feels like the easy part, so I’m holding off for now.  I think once I have a plan for the various pieces I can take my time enjoying the construction of each, but the first phase really has to be experimentation on how exactly to build each part.

The board itself, and the box to hold the entire thing, is still quite an open question.