Monday, December 27, 2010

Keeping my game afloat. Part 2

Ugh, I've been working on this post since Dec 19th, at 9:17am. It is currently December 28th, at 10:15pm. I'm getting this done tonight, dammit!

While I was working on the ship tiles I featured in my previous post, I was looking for an easy way out. Why? Because doing the intricate cut-and-paste job to cover up the room numbers that are all over that particular map was driving me nuts at times. I got myself into a grove to finish the tiles, but before I hit that grove, I started looking into 3D models.

First I started researching scales, so that I could focus my search and waste as little time as possible. If you don't know, maps in D&D are designed with a 1" grid, with each 1" square representing 5 square feet. Thus, the maps and miniature bases are on a 1:60 scale. However, vertically, the miniatures themselves are bigger than that. In general, they more closely match the 1:48 to 1:50 scale. It depends a lot on the individual miniature.

In order to fit the horizontal scale of the maps (and thus miniature bases) without making things look exceptionally tiny compared to the vertical scale, I decided to favor the vertical scale, and adjust accordingly for the horizontal scale. Unfortunately, though, not many scale model companies use a 1:50 scale. This scale corresponds to O-scale in train modeling, and that's a fairly common scale, as I understand it, but looking into these products had my eyes bugging out of my head at the cost! So, after recovering from sticker-shock, I scaled up ever-so-slightly, and went with 1:48 scale, which is a fairly popular one for military models (especially those by Tamiya, a Japanese company that produces very high quality models).

After working out the scale, I ran into another problem, though: there actually aren't many ship models that are produced in 1:48 scale. If they are, they are rather expensive wooden models. Since this whole project is to produce this kind of prop on a budget, that wasn't going to work out very well, so I simply began searching for models of an acceptable length and width. I was dubious about this particular plan of mine, but it actually worked out better than I'd anticipated.

I found a model on eBay and in a few online shops. It was for a pirate ship wooden model, by some unidentified company. (Note: Oh, apparently it is "Toysmith". *shrug*)

The details of it said that it was 16 inches long, which would be a pretty good, given the scale of 1:60 putting that at around 80 feet long. It looked to be about 3 or 4 inches wide, which would be about 15-20 feet by that scale, so I was liking this idea! I was still not entirely comfortable with the price, though, as most of them were between $25-35. Geez. (Oh, or the actual price of the model isn't too bad... around $10, but they attempt to scam you by charging up to $15 for shipping!)

However, on one trip through Michael's, the craft store, I found this!

It was on special for only $5, too!

It took me a few days to get around to building it. I punched out most of the pieces right away when I got it home, but since I had to figure out the order of putting it together (it is a puzzle. heh), my focus waned and it got put aside for awhile. Finally, though, I kicked myself in the ass and put it together!

Now, you'll notice the grid on the decks. Those weren't there to start. To start, the decks looked like this:

Fortunately, though, the decks were blank wood on the other side, and I was easily able to sketch the grid onto the backs and use the flip-sides as the decks of my ship.

I still need to put the sails and rigging on the ship, and I'm still debating on whether I want to glue the puzzle together. If I do, it'll be more stable, but if I don't, it will be more mobile (in case I want to take it with me to a game).

I'm still halfway interested in those first models I found on eBay, but it's really not much of a priority right now, so I can just keep that one on the back burner. Granted, for me, the back burner tends to be a place where ideas go to die, but hey, that's what this blog is for, isn't it? :)

Also... hey! I actually finally finished this blog post! Whoo! :D

Related Posts

Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 1
Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 3
Yo Ho. Yo Ho. It's an Astral Privateer's Life for Me
Keeping My Game Afloat, the Finalé

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Keeping my game afloat. Part 1

In my continuing search for things to add to my game, I ended up on such sites as, and the tutorial there on making your own dungeon tiles. Given how rare and thus expensive some of the tile sets are now, finding this tutorial was quite the boon, as I hadn't even considered that idea before.

However, my first project using his methods was going to be a bit more ambitious. :)

I am currently running a 4th edition D&D version of the U-series modules from 1st edition D&D. I probably should have played around with them a bit more, and actually created them as 4th edition adventures, but I just took the lazy route and changed the populations of the monsters from 1e to 4e stats and left everything else as is. Nothing wrong with that. It just affects pace a bit more.

I'm running the game as an online adventure, on, but as I was running the "Giant Octopus Attack" from the third module, while they're on their way to a lair of Sahuagin, I was thinking that it would be cool to run this with miniatures, rather than doing it with the Photoshop maps I was editing at the time. I had the images of the ship's decks from the original module, and I just altered them so that they had 5' squares instead of 10' squares. Then I put counters on the map, which were perspective shots of various miniatures, keeping each "miniature" as a separate layer in the Photoshop image, and I moved the miniatures about as their players dictated a change in location.

Since there are three decks to the ship that you can fight on, I started thinking about building a 3-D ship, and putting the miniatures on their, and moving them about, taking pictures of the map and uploading those, instead of using the Photoshop images.

Well, I never did get around to doing it that way, but I did create the tiles for the various ship decks and they are all set to be put together into their 3D representation.

I started off with The Newbie DM's tutorial on making your own D&D tiles. I found the Caravel deck plans from WotC's Stormwrack sourcebook, did some editing in Photoshop, to remove the room numbers, and then separate the decks into separate images. I removed as much of the water background from the image as possible, except for around the hold, since that would become the bottom tile, and I extended the grid in the image of the hold, so that it covered the water as well. Once I added in some yards across the masts, just for the option, I figured they were ready and I printed them out on cardstock.

Gluing them to medium weight chipboard, and cutting them out, I had this:

Unfortunately, that's as far as I've gotten with it at the moment, but the plan is to do this, but with wooden dowels in place of the dice:

There's some issues I need to fix with the "Fo'c'sle" and the Quarterdeck. I shouldn't have put the yards actually on those deck pieces, but I should have just had them as separate pieces. Also, the crows nest needs to be wider, to accommodate the base of a mini once the dowel is in place.

Then I plan on passing this beauty on to Craig, for use in his game (at some point), and I'll make another for myself. :)

Related Posts:

Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 2
Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 3
Yo Ho. Yo Ho. It's an Astral Privateer's Life for Me
Keeping My Game Afloat, the Finalé

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Adding Dimension, Part 2

So, with the blocks I cast myself, and the blocks that I'd purchased from Billie, I'd started to put together more walls and floors, and I could at least build a dungeon room and some hallways. I didn't get to use them for a dungeon, as I've been hoping to do, but I did put together some interesting encounters using them. Here's a picture from one, where the PCs fought goblins and orcs in a ruined manor.

I had other aspirations, though. Looking at the Hirst Arts site I had made a list of the other molds that I'd like to get, but it remained a wishlist, due to the expense. Of particular interest to me were the Cavern Floor Mold #281, the Rock Cavern Root Mold #83, and the Rock Cavern Pillar Mold #84. As well, Cracked Floor Tiles Mold #203, Cavern Floor Accessories #282, and Fieldstone Accessories Mold #71 caught my eye. You can see the problem here. Six molds at $35 each. So, yeah, that adds up.

Well, I was fortunate enough to make it to GenCon this year - my first GenCon ever - with the help of my friend Craig, and well, wouldn't you know it, Hirst Arts had a booth in the dealers room! (Go Figure!!) I took a look at their stock and hung around to talk to the people at the booth, but I waited, figuring that they would have some deals on the last day, and of course, they did. It was "Buy 4 molds, get a 5th for free". Not exactly the win-fall I was hoping for, but a 20% discount is nothing to sneeze at. I hadn't made a big convention purchase in awhile, so I went for it, and picked up all the molds above except for the Cracked Floor Tiles Mold #203. I'd still like to get that one, since it gives much cleaner floor tiles than the Flagstone Floor Tile Mold. Just aesthetically better to look at, but not really all that important.

Getting home, I set about casting blocks from these sets, and building more pieces. I had plans to build another bridge, since the Fieldstone Accessories mold had some pieces that would work a lot better for the arches, but I never did get around to that. I did put together sections of walls from the cavern molds, though, and I built a set of stairs. There's a tutorial on the Hirst Arts site about this, and the stairs look very nice, but there's no way that you'd fit a D&D miniature on them. The mini would just topple over. So, I did a little redesign and came up with this:

Here are some pictures of the cavern wall pieces together:

I'm looking forward to using them in an upcoming campaign. :)

ADHD Follow-up

I'm not going to turn this into an ADHD blog, but I want to follow-up on something.

ADHD can be a very difficult condition and a very difficult struggle to live with for a lot of people, especially if you don't know you have it. It causes, as a bi-product, a lot of self-esteem issues. However, as a condition, it is not all negative.

I have no idea what I would be like without ADHD, but by all indications of the trends of the condition, I would not be half as creative as I am. That doesn't always help me in my work, but it has let me come up with some fairly novel solutions to problems I've encountered in my job. It also helps with my gaming too, of course.

Who knows if I'd have stuck with gaming all this time if I didn't have ADHD. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment out of games over the years, and I've met a lot of great people and had great experiences due to gaming. Based on my previous post, it kept me out of a lot of trouble too, contrary to the fears my mother had back in the day, that playing D&D was condemning my soul to eternal hellfire.

So, my previous post on this topic had a lot of negativity in it. I will admit that I have some bitterness about how long it took to get diagnosed and treated. I was 39 when I was diagnosed. I suffered through a lot of crap over the years, and that could have gone a lot better... school... work... relationships...

However, if I had the chance to go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would not be "get diagnosed before college". If I told my younger self that, I'd probably be in a completely different place, and quite frankly, I kinda like where I am right now. Having more money in the bank would certainly be nice, but I have a beautiful, smart, funny wife who keeps me grounded and loves me for who I am. I have a good job, with good benefits. I have good friends. I'm not really close to my family (geographically or socially), and I've always felt a little disconnected from them, but even that has served its purpose, as I'm very independent and can take care of myself (for the most part). If I went back to say something to my younger self, it would probably be "Keep your Star Wars figures", or "in 2004, put in an application to Yale too", or "on Nov 7, 2009, stay on the highway."

So, yeah, ADHD is a pain in the butt to deal with, but I've never given up on something I wanted. I graduated with a degree in physical sciences, specializing in physics, and went on to get a degree in meteorology after that. I've been successful at the three career-path jobs I've worked at. I've stuck with gaming for over 31 years. I've been married to a wonderful woman for almost 10 years. Sure, there have been problems, but I can't complain that much, and I wouldn't really want to change anything (well, except for having more money... or I'd settle for less debt).

That's all. On with the gaming posts! :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Adding Dimension to My Games...

This is something I've become keenly interested in over the past year.

About a year ago, I was reading on the Penny Arcade site about how "Gabe" was getting a lot of Dwarven Forge terrain for free, for his D&D game. This was, of course, a clever marketing tactic by Dwarven Forge, because I am sure that scores of gamers said "I MUST HAVE IT!!". I'm sure, because I was one gamer that did, I'm far from an atypical gamer.

I started investigating 3D terrain, and found out how expensive it was, and my dream unfortunately died a sad death upon seeing that. At $100+ per set, with a set looking to be enough to make a small room and a short corridor, our budget just couldn't handle what it would take to put together anything significant. That was the impression, anyway.

Searching elsewhere, I happened upon the site of Hirst Arts, who make Castle Molds. These are silicon molds you can buy and use to cast your own blocks, to build your own 3D terrain. With the molds being around $35 each, and a container of dental plaster (the best stuff to use for this) being around $50, which can last you for a LOOOOOONG time, that was a much better option, but still a little bit expensive. Fortunately, I found out shortly thereafter that a friend of mine, Billie, had two molds... Fieldstone Wall mold #70 and Flagstone floor mold #260... which he wasn't using and was good with loaning to me for awhile.

Ordering a big box of dental plaster was still out of my reach at the time, so I first bought a small container of Plaster of Paris, which was pretty bad, and then switched to this other product called Permastone. Permastone turned out to be really good, and a lot closer to dental plaster than Plaster of Paris.

I looked up all the techniques and tips on the Hirst Arts site, about properly mixing the plaster, and using "Wet Water", and everything else to make sure there are no bubbles in the plaster as it sets. Once I'd gathered my supplies, and figured I knew (basically) what I was doing, I set about molding blocks.

It was slow-going at first, since I was still pretty bad at organization and time management, but I finally cast enough to put together part of a room!

We went through some difficult times after that, due to a minivan running a red light and t-boning us while I was taking Caroline to work one night (3 days before my 40th birthday!). It took me awhile to get back into it, but when I did, I bought the molds from my friend, along with his dental plaster and all the blocks he'd cast, and I focused on casting as much as I could as well. I started sketching some designs and plans, looking at different kinds of old bridges, and I came up with this...

I went on to use this bridge in an encounter. The encounter didn't turn out as well as I thought it would, mostly due to organizational issues, but it still went well enough.

Here's a picture from it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Without further ado, I am now kicking off this new version of Always a Gamer. To do so, I will tell a long, convoluted story, which will eventually reach the conclusion I want it to... I promise. Bear with me. Alright? Here we go. :)

As of August of 2009, I was officially diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - Primarily Inattentive. AADHD-PI. Quite the initialism, huh? :)

There are some that classify it by ADD/ADHD, though, with ADD being for the inattentive types and ADHD being for the hyperactive types. I would fall into ADD, then, because I do not exhibit many hyperactivity traits.

Exactly what causes ADHD is still up for debate. It may be a problem with neurotransmitter deficiencies or neuroreceptor sensitivities. It might be due to thinner than normal tissues in the frontal lobe of the brain. There is most certainly a genetic component to it, as family studies have shown that it is highly heritable. In my family alone, my father and my younger brother most definitely have it. My mother might have some as well, and my older brother definitely has the creative aspects, but I don't believe that he suffers much from the negative aspects. There have been studies that have found possible links to pesticides, food additives, lead, smoking/drinking during pregnancy, but none have been entirely conclusive, I believe. These factors may simply exacerbate the situation, causing the ADHD symptoms to be worse or for the genetic factors to express themselves stronger.

The vast majority of my issues are about attention, concentration, and procrastination. I find it very difficult to pay attention and concentrate, unless what I'm doing is extremely interesting (due to this extreme interest causing my brain to flood with neurotransmitters). Any time any kind of routine or boredom comes into play, and the levels of those neurotransmitters drop, either to normal levels (if my receptors are the problem) or to deficient levels (if production is the problem), I suffer problems with attention span and concentration. It's not that I don't WANT to pay attention, it's that I am physically incapable of doing so. My brain will start looking for other stimuli to increase the neurotransmitter levels again, and this will be at the expense of listening to my mother, or my teacher or professor, or my boss... or reading a textbook, or a test, or lab instructions, or an essay or article.

When I was in school, I used to study in front of the TV, or have the radio going, or be playing a tape... something to keep my brain busy. I didn't know I had ADHD at the time. I just knew that I needed some kind of background noise going on so that I could study. I told people that there was part of my brain that just wouldn't sit still unless I gave it a distraction to focus on. Then the rest of my brain could focus on studying. Sure, they thought I was weird, but hey, I've always been weird, so what of it? *shrug*

Procrastination has been a HUGE problem in my life, even for things that I am really interested in. Things that I'm not so interested in simply get pushed aside into the "I can do it later" category, until I finally realize the impending doom if I don't finish it, and then I would drive myself to finish whatever it was. Often times, in the case of schoolwork, this would end up with me finishing things late, resulting in a reduced mark, typically at a 10%/day penalty, if memory serves. My grades came out fairly mediocre from high school and later in university, due to this exact thing. I would get a total grade on assignments in the B+ to A- range, but late penalties would drop that into the D+ to B- range.

The more insidious side of this is when dealing with things that I'm actually quite interested in. Projects, games, whatever. In these cases, I would get very innovative and creative ideas, but having no clue how to implement them right away, my brain would slowly lose interest in the fine details, and I would end up in the same situation as above... driving myself to finish at the last minute, and turning in or presenting something far less grand than I originally planned.

Coupled with this is how stress effects people who have ADHD. I'm not exactly sure why, since dopamine levels are supposed to increase due to addition of stress, and dopamine is a precursor to norepinephrine, so stress should actually be good for an ADHD person, but the stress of tests and exams always left me very unfocused and I had a lot of trouble concentrating. I was really lucky that the physics professors at my university allowed us to bring in a "cheat sheet" filled with equations and proofs. We could put pretty much whatever we wanted to write on it, 1-side of the page for the midterm, both sides (or all 6 sides if you're being a smartass) for the final. This probably saved me, academically. Having that page as a prompt was a big help.

I remember going into one math exam, sitting down, flipping over the exam, reading through all the questions, one-by-one, not finding a lick of sense in any of them, having absolutely no place to begin on any of them at all, standing up, picking up my exam and my bag, walking over to the invigilator's desk, dropping the exam in front of him, walking out, going straight to the registrar's office and dropping the course. I had already been having a little bit of a problem in that class, since it was one I HAD to take, and I wasn't very interested in it. I had studied for the exam. I was nervous about the exam, as I always am about exams, but even going into the room I felt okay about it. The stress hit me, though, and it got worse as I read through the questions, and I just couldn't make sense of anything, and it was completely hopeless. Perhaps if I'd taken a moment or two to calm down I could have focused, but it felt like there was absolutely no way, and I was doing so badly in the course so far that there wasn't any point to it. I took a different version of the course the next semester, and did far better then, but I was out a few hundred dollars due to dropping the course on the last possible day to drop it.

Anyway, through all this, as I have said, I had no idea it was due to ADHD. I just thought I was stupid, or lazy, or screwed up, or whatever. Most people who have ADHD and don't know it end up self-medicating. They can do this in one or more of several ways. A very common one is turning to drugs and alcohol. Drugs such as speed, heroine, and cocaine are stimulants. Rather than make an ADHD sufferer high, they allow them to focus, acting in the same way as ADHD medication does. They increase the amount of dopamine produced, thus regardless of the exact issue (production or reception), the ADHD sufferer can act "normally". Alcohol and marijuana are depressants and basically act to "quiet" the mind, essentially relieving any hyperactivity symptoms. People can also turn to extreme sports, gambling, etc... whatever it takes to get that extra dopamine.

I didn't do any of that, though. I had no interest in drugs or alcohol. It was an academic thing for me. I'd never tried any of it. I just saw it all as a colossal waste of time and money. I played sports for awhile, but I was a pipsqueak compared to the other players by age 13, so I quit before I ended up with broken bones.

I turned to gaming. D&D was my "drug" of choice to give me the dopamine I needed. The creativity, excitement and "action" of the game did what drugs did for other ADHD sufferers... it focused me. Granted, I thought a lot more about D&D than I did anything else those days, but that's the mind of an ADHD sufferer. It sought out what was exciting. School wasn't exciting. School was extremely boring. Being a hero and slaying dragons, even if it wasn't real, was exciting.

In the early days it was easy. Even DMing. My players really only wanted dungeons to crawl through, slaying monsters and getting stuff. Story wasn't necessary. But as I matured and the players I played with did the same, story became more important. Details became more important. What all my problems hammered into me was that I just wasn't good enough. I had some good ideas, but I could never follow through with anything. I've had lots of great ideas for games over the years, but the lack of confidence always hampered the development or execution of my plans. I did run a few games, but even those always seemed to fall flat, at least to me. I had grand ideas for stories and encounters, and it all just seemed to flop. I'm sure that part of it is the dopamine/norepinephrine issue, since with lower levels of those being produced/absorbed in my brain, I can't take quite as much joy out of things as someone else might. Also, though, was the constant voice of criticism in my head, saying how much more fun it was when other people ran the game, since their adventures were far more creative and interesting, and always ran smoother and better than mine.

Even since I've been diagnosed this has still been a problem. I'll leave encounter planning to the last minute. I'll forget to implement certain details at the right time. I'll get flustered as things start to go "wrong" in the encounter (ie: it doesn't live up to my expectations, due to leaving it to the last minute and leaving out details), and it just ends up being bad for me. My players probably don't see this. They probably had a great time. I just see how this went wrong, or that could have been done better, and "Oh, you guys should have seen how the encounter was SUPPOSED to have gone."

Now, I'm sure that anyone reading this will just say "Well, if the encounter didn't go exactly as you planned, and the players still had fun, it's a success! Stop beating yourself up!", and they'd have a point. It'd be nice if I could come away with that feeling, though. I really need to fight to get to that point, and my opponent is a Solo Brute that is 4 levels higher than I am.

So, that's when I come around to my point, and the new purpose of this blog. This will be a place for me to organize my thoughts, and keep myself motivated. The content will be anything but consistent. Ideas, encounter planning, crafts, terrain building, miniatures, organizational tips and tricks... pretty much whatever I think of for my games, that I think or hope will be interesting for people to read about, and possibly even help other people who have similar issues.

New Purpose

For anyone who is reading this blog, I apologize that all the posts have disappeared. Not that there were many, but you can find them over at I found that I didn't have a lot to post over there anymore, and since that is supposed to be my "reminiscing" blog, I thought I should just keep all my stories over there. Now that I've made the change, I'll continue posting there more often, as I have about 3 years worth of gaming to work through, and I eventually started taking pictures of the combats we played through, so that should add some extra spice to things. :)

Now, for this blog, I have something else planned. We'll see how well it goes.