Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tornado Warning Issued For Your Area!!!

This is not a gaming post, but I should try to find a way to turn it INTO one... hmmm...

We had storms go through the Atlanta area last night. Some pretty nasty ones too. I believe that an EF0 Tornado passed just to the northwest of where we live. I'll look into that, to see if it is confirmed by the National Weather Service. (UPDATE: Although storm-relative motion radar views did show rotation for this storm cell, a tornado was not confirmed by NWS. So, it is likely that the rotation within the cloud did not develop into a funnel touching down.)

In the mean time, I took some really cool pictures of the hail that fell. I went outside and used a small plastic bowl to scoop up a bunch of hail stones from this "drift" that had formed in front of our building.

Here are some nice ones from the top of the bowl.

A particularly nice example:

Some internal structure images:

This stuff is particularly relevant to me because I'm a meteorologist. Weather fascinates me.

Oh, I know how to relate this to gaming... last year, I ran an encounter that, personally, I deemed to be a failure. Granted, I had some high expectations of myself, but ultimately the effect I was going for failed... fell flat... whatever... and really only served to piss off one of the players, and I think the others were just unimpressed. That might not be the case, but that's how I read it from my end of the table.

The encounter itself was fairly normal... 4 hobgoblins and a bugbear are guarding a bridge that the PCs have to cross. Fight ensues.

But then I threw in this:

This is a natural tornado that was ripping through the area. As a little background info, the encounter took place in a ruined Dragonborn city that had a perpetual storm churning in the skies over it. So, it was constantly raining, and I thought I'd throw this in to make an encounter a bit more interesting.

The tornado's effects are all based on progressively-smaller auras. From 6 to 10 squares away from the tornado, anyone who entered that area or started their turn there would be subject to the Microburst attack, which was just a slide effect. I just noticed a typo in there too... I called the aura "gusting winds" in the Traits block, but "driving winds" in the power block. Oh well. heh. Anyway, as you got closer, you passed in to the Blasting Winds aura at 5 squares away, and then into the Shredding Winds aura at 2 squares away, each adding damage to the attack and a stronger slide effect.

This was an example of a "directional slide" too. A push effect wouldn't work, because a tornado wouldn't push you away from it. A pull effect wouldn't work, because a tornado doesn't pull you towards it. Only a slide worked, but it had to be in a specific direction only, as the winds would be swirling around the tornado in a counterclockwise direction. That's not ALWAYS the case in reality, but it is statistically the most likely.

The encounter fell short of expectations, and was deemed a failure (by me) because I was stressed, I didn't eat before the session (bad move since I'm hypoglycemic), and this all exacerbated my ADHD, causing me to forget some important details until it was too late to implement them. Only one character was affected by the tornado, and it only served to piss off the player, as the "slide" slid her character right off the bridge into the raging waters of the canal below. She was playing an Eladrin, though, so that was easily solved.

I still like the idea, though. I hope to use it again at some point.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When will it end??!!

How much fun can you have with tiles, I ask you??!!

Well, for starters, I updated tile pickup truck that I made. This was a good start, but I put the design through a couple of revisions, and I took new images of the original model, and the result was this...

After I was done, I brought that over to Craig's where it will stay for the duration of our Gamma World adventures, because it is a little bit fragile. I decided to put some rubber cement in the slots, to make it hold together better, leaving only the roof as a "free" tile, so that minis can be put inside the truck.

Just the other day, I decided to try a motorcycle (since my Gamma World group has one). This design took a little bit of thought, since I would have to accommodate the base of the miniature. My first idea was to make three pieces, the front of the bike, the back of the bike, and a flat piece that the miniature's base would sit on, and which the front and back would slot into. That would work fine, but it suddenly dawned on me yesterday that each miniature comes with a built-in "flat piece". So, the final design became a front and back piece, each supported by a cross-piece for stability, and then a slot was cut near the bottom of both pieces which the miniature's base would slot into.

Check this out!

It's a little rough at the moment. I'm tempted to cut some of the white parts a bit closer to the graphic.

Now, I just need to make a few more of them, in other varieties of motorcycle. Next up... The Chopper. :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Big Chicken

When we finished our last D&D campaign arch, Craig said that he wanted to run Deadlands, the horror western game. I'd heard of Deadlands, but I'd never played it, and I'd never played in a western game before. I came up with an interesting character, and I'd been enjoying the game. Craig had this boxed set of 8.5"x11" Old West Town tiles, but they lacked any kind of reference grid to track movement on, so I offered to scan them in, add a grid, and print them out on cardstock. That way, we could use the printouts, and pretty much muck about with them however we liked, and still preserve the originals.

In the process of working on this, which I found to be an interesting project, I started looking into whether or not anyone out there in the ether had put together 3D models of an old west town. I was looking for plastic toys, basically, but this is when I stumbled upon Papercrafting.

This is, apparently, a big thing. There are many many sites out there with paper models, and there are even sites that gather together links to other sites with paper models on them. Buildings, monuments, cars, trains, planes, etc.

The page I originally found was on the "Rules with No Name" site, which gave link after link to Old West models, miniatures, and papercraft. Many of the papercraft items were free when that page was originally written, but times being what they are, most of those have disappeared or have gone commercial, as people realized they could sell the pdfs of the papercraft models. I don't fault them, but it's really a shame I didn't discover this sooner.

Anyway, I hadn't really done anything with the whole Papercraft idea until a few weeks ago. I'm running the Famine in Far-Go campaign for Gamma World, but I converted the Far-Go and East Dah-Koh-Tah setting to Full-Ton and the North Jee-Ore-Jah area. My group started off in LJ (Ellijay, GA), and traveled down to Marietta, GA to investigate why a shipment of food was late. This kicked off the campaign, as the group encountered herd zombies, obbs, and vegepygmies who were attacking a small area north of the town.

When they reached the town center, they beheld The Big Chicken, in all its glory...

Marring the sight was a bunch of zombies and vegepygmies chasing the unfortunate citizens of Marietta towards their save haven! The group dispatched the menace, albeit with some difficulty (Rad-Cat almost died!), and they met Sanders, the current Manager of the Church of Pesco, the Big Chicken.

Constructing the Big Chicken was an idea that came to me a few days before the game. I was trying to use Google Maps to download a satellite image of the area and convert that into gaming tiles to put down for the map, but the resolution was so bad that the tiles were coming out far too pixelated to be of use. In a google image search for any possibly-higher-resolution images, I saw picture after picture of the Big Chicken itself, and it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't need the overhead view... it would be MUCH more impressive to make a papercraft Big Chicken!

It didn't take me too long to work it out. I grabbed a side image of the Big Chicken, doctored it so that it was more "post-apocalyptic", and then grabbed images of the KFC it's attached to... the front, the north side and the south side. I made sure everything was to the 1"=5feet scale, and all the pieces were to scale with each other, and everything looked right. Then, it was a simple matter of printing it all out on cardstock, cutting it out, and slotting it all together. I had to apply some glue to the Big Chicken, gluing the front together so there wouldn't be a seam, and I cut slots in the front of the building to fit the sides of the Big Chicken down into. I even made sure that the doors lined up with the battlemat squares, and that there was a "passage" cut underneath the Big Chicken (since such a passage exists in the real thing). Then I drew the building perimeter, interior and parking lot onto my battlemat. I even created a roof out of foam, but it was too much of a hassle to use, so I just left it at home when it came time to head to Craig's for the game.

I think this has to be one of the best things I've created for a game so far. :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

More Fun with Tiles

Back in this post, you can see that I used a model of a Ford F-100 pickup truck for the pickup truck Jennifer's character started out with.

The model was very neat, and I think everyone enjoyed using it, however there is one problem with it... it is too small. I was hoping that I could play around with the model and make it possible for miniatures to fit in the cab and in the back, but it's just too small for that.

Craig has offered the tiles he has made using an old battlemat that got marked up, which he turned into various vehicle tiles (wagon, pickup truck, motorcycle, dump truck, etc), which are very neat, but I'm still keeping to my use of 3D terrain as much as I can.

So, in keeping with that, I turned this...

into this...

and here's a top view...

I used the same design as the cart tiles in the Desert of Athas tileset. In this version of the pickup truck, the back is 2x2 squares, and can now hold 4 miniatures, as it should be able to, and I'm designing the cab so that it can hold two miniatures inside. I'm just putting together the "seat" tile that will go directly underneath the roof, with enough vertical space to allow two miniatures to stand inside and still put the roof on. Once I've done that, I'll likely glue the truck together, to give it more stability, and only leave the roof tile as removable.

I'm really excited to put this into use in the next session, and I'm pretty sure that my players will like it.

Gaming whenever, wherever, however...

I have played rpgs over a variety of mediums.

I started off with tabletop, of course, because the internet didn't come around until 15 years after I started playing. I still played tabletop games, even after the internet was available, although that started me talking about roleplaying games with people online, introducing me to new people, sometimes a city away, sometimes a hemisphere of the planet away.

My first experience with online gaming, if I remember correctly, is when I moved to Ottawa, Ontario, in the fall of 1998. I had been running a Star Wars game for my friends up until that time, and I really saw no reason why that shouldn't continue. I had been chatting with people over IRC (Internet Relay Chat) for some time, and the mIRC program had some very nice features that would be useful for running a game. It even had a built-in die-rolling script. So, once a week, on Sunday nights, my friends from the Toronto area and I all got online, logged on to IRC (on the MagicStar server?).

After that, I got into Play-By-Post games, on internet forums. was one site, and was another one. I also played in some "freeform" roleplaying games, such as the Xavier Institute game that was based out of (which was at the time). Freeform was interesting. No rules set used, just a set of common rules of conduct. I guess they had their roots in the MUDs of the early days of the internet. I liked the storytelling aspect of the freeform games, but the D&D player in me always was a bit more interested in die-rolling mechanics to resolve things, rather than just a "whatever I think is best at the time". Too many players getting full of themselves and always wanting whatever was best for THEM, as opposed to what was best for the story.

I digress, though.

Play-by-post games are, by their very nature, slow. They are usually played by people in many different time-zones, sometimes on opposite sides of the planet, and sometimes people's lives get busy, and there can be times when days go by between posts. My ADHD compounded the problem at times, since if things slowed down at all, I'd usually lose interest fairly quickly, and I'd have to be prompted a few times before I got around to posting. In general, though, they usually went fairly well, but still slowly. I ran an experiment once, involving my D&D3.5e Dragonlance gaming group. I arranged for everyone, no matter where they lived, to sign on at a specific time one Sunday, and we all played together at the same time. There were some rules to keep things orderly, and it worked fairly well. In the end, we went through as many posts in that day... playing for about 4 hours... as we had gone through in the past 4 months of regular play-by-post gaming! That, unfortunately, was the death knell of that game. I was running them through the entire set of 16 Dragonlance modules, and they were in the middle of module #2 at the time. It had already taken us about a year and a half to get to that point, and I didn't want to still be playing this game 20 years from then, so I basically gave them an ultimatum. Either we continue to meet each week like this, with posting allowed in between, or the game was over. Noone could commit the time regularly, so that was that.

One thing I did like about play-by-post gaming was that it allowed me time to come up with good, well-thought-through posts. I could be rather impulsive when playing tabletop games, and it frequently got my characters into trouble, and sometimes caused some conflicts with other players as well. I didn't think very well "on my feet" either, so coming up with good plans wasn't exactly my strong suit. The story I wrote about Alron leading a band of elves to rescue prisoners from an army of orcs is a good example of that. I couldn't come up with anything right then, so I basically said "I'm sure I'll come up with something good when we get there". Steve's expression, showing the reaction of the elven leaders to that, is something I think I will always remember. heh. Playing in the Xavier Institute game held its challenges as well, since in that case, people usually were all online at the same time, so I had to think and post quickly. I caused some very angry reactions at times, because it took me awhile to write good responses, and I probably caused a couple of players to quit over it. I don't blame myself, honestly. I didn't know I had ADHD at the time, and they were pretty jerkish about it overall, so whatever.

I digress again, though. heh.

Okay, where am I leading to...

Last year, I started a D&D game. I was already playing in a weekly group on Saturday afternoons (run by my friend Craig), and running a 4eD&D conversion of the U-series "Saltmarsh" adventures on, but I had some ideas for a tabletop D&D game. Most of all, I wanted my wife, Caroline, to be able to play. So, I got a small group together (Craig, Jennifer and Caroline to start), and we started playing on Sunday evenings.

Unfortunately, things started getting complicated due to Caroline's schedule. She works night shifts, and gets off of her last shift of the week on Sunday at 5am. Her ability to participate in the game was highly dependent on whether or not she was able to get enough sleep Sunday morning/afternoon. In addition to that, playing at our place meant that our dog, who is not fond of men (other than me), especially those who come into her territory (our apartment), would spend much of the night barkhowling and trying to dominate the man in question (Craig) into leaving. Playing elsewhere would limit our time, and switching to another night, like Monday, would also limit our time (since we couldn't start until around 8pm), so we looked for a compromise. The solution I came up with, which would also allow me to add a few new players, was to play online.

I looked into the various gaming platforms... GameTable, MapTools, etc, and started building the necessary library of pictures and the like that I would need to run the game to my satisfaction. However, there was some disappointment with this idea, since it would not allow me to use the miniatures and tiles I had bought, nor the 3D terrain that I had spent time building. So, instead, I figured we would try playing with Skype and a webcamera, and if that didn't work, we'd switch to something else, like GameTable, and go from there.

This was a completely new way of playing for me, so I was excited. When the next session rolled around, I set up my tiles, terrain, and minis for the first encounter, and started up Skype and the webcamera from my laptop. The first snag we discovered is that you can't send video to multiple recipients using Skype. At least not with the older versions or even the Beta version we were using. A quick setup of a U-Stream account solved that problem, but it was a tad unsatisfactory, since the view was rather small, and the webcam was pretty old, so the view wasn't very good. Further still, switching between encounters took a long time. After the first encounter, the group took a completely different direction than I'd hoped, and I was basically scrambling to come up with an alternate encounter. In the end, I took too long, and by the time I had the encounter set up, it was time to call it a night.

We hit a further snag when, the week before the next session, Craig admitted to me that playing over the web wasn't for him. It caused too much of a disconnect from the game for him, and removed the more social aspect of the game as well. I totally understand his position on that. There is a definite disconnect, especially for someone who isn't used to playing online. I almost canceled the game then, since I was finding that running the game was very stressful, and I wasn't spending the proper amount of prep-time, but he convinced me to hold off on that.

Taking a step back to examine the situation, then moving forward again, I purchased a new webcam, got a few new players, and one of the players suggested using the Mikogo interface. It is a free desktop-sharing service, which allowed me to run the webcam software, giving me more options to adjust to get the best resolution and clarity possible, and we used Skype to talk. With this new group and setup, I started a Sunday night Encounters game, which also eliminated the need to switch between encounters, and we only play for 2 hours, so it keeps things from getting boring.

What my players see in their browser is this:

Now, I will say right now that image in the webcam view is not the real image they saw in the webcam view that night. It turns out I didn't take any images of that fight with the webcam, I only streamed video. That picture is from my Canon Powershot, copied and pasted into the image to give the proper view of that encounter.

The webcam view is still a little grainy for my tastes, as it sometimes makes it hard to see the map/tile grid, and there is some confusion at times about which miniature is which, but I think we're getting better. I think it is a lighting issue, so it's something I can work on for future sessions. I've been toying with the idea of using the zoom on the camera more too... perhaps zooming in on a particular character when it is their turn, zooming out to show the whole map when needed. I picked up some correction-fluid pens the other day and marked the miniatures with numbers, so they're more easily identified, and I'm going to make or get something to put around miniatures or miniature bases to denote them being marked, quarried, bloodied, etc. I have Post-It tags that might work for that, with different colors denoting different things (and writing on them any extra info, if needed). The only issue I can see with that is that some miniatures don't lend themselves easily to sticking tape to them. I'll give it a try tonight, and see how it works. If it doesn't, maybe something with different colored clay would work better...