Category Archives: Advice/Tools

Creating Maps with Office Suite

I found this article over at Grumbling Grognard, that describes how he made the map, using MS Office, for his take on Monte Cook’s Chordille Keep. GG started with Excel to create the squares, then drew the lines and squares. Then saved it as a bitmap and imported into PowerPoint to add numbers and color. GG says that he used a similar technique for his entry in the one-page dungeon contest.

I am sure one could use Open Office to do the same, Calc instead of Excel, Presenter instead of  PowerPoint, or possibly Draw. One could also use GIMP with its layer capability to do variations with and without a grid, such as for the player’s map.

While there are specialty tools to make maps and dungeons, I find it interesting how one can use tools that one is already familiar and avoid the learning curve and expense of a new tool. (Here expense is not just monetary cost, but cost in time, disk space, etc.)

Total Chaos

Another time I was a DM, I had an adventure planned and had 6 or 7 players. I had the obligatory, “you meet in a bar…”

Rather than joining forces, each player went off in a different direction out of town. This so totally blew me away, that I had no clue how to handle it. I just rolled for random encounters hoping something would come up.

This was so totally unexpected that I doubt a group of players could so overwhelm me into a flabbergasted state again. What I should have done was come up with something totally unexpected to draw them back together.

The thought has crossed my mind that they all went in on this, just to mess with me. I tended to be a good target for that sort of thing in high school.

This is where plot hooks fail. If the players do not take the bait, you have to be ready with a plan. Not to force them into something, but encourage them to make choices that will allow the game to be fun for all. I guess with a big enough sandbox, one could let the players run around independently. Look at it like a dungeon on a huge scale, just like when a party gets separated, they each get their own opportunity to do their own thing.

As Moltke said, “No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy.” In the realm of RPGs no module or other adventure planned by the GM plays out as planned.”

What examples of total chaos have you experienced as a player or GM?

Music To Enhance Play

Long ago, we used music from movies and TV shows to serve as the soundtrack to our gaming sessions. We had cassette tapes we bought, and then put together our “favorite songs to game by”. Fast forward to 2009 and CDs and MP3 players and Computers make it easier to mix the songs together. Someone with more time on their hands could add the sound effects of wind, rain, lightning, charging hoards of monsters, etc. for the DM to kick off at the appropriate time.While that would be nice, to me that is just more prep time for the DM. If there was a standard “library” with an easy to use program to key it off at the right time so game play is not interrupted, it would work for me. Just setting the scene with the appropriate music and letting the group’s imagination take over works wonders.

We just set the music and let it run, as we do not want to spend time juggling tapes/CDs to interrupt the flow of the game. It is amazing how we seem to end up in a fight when the music is appropriate. Sometimes the DM picks more ominous music than the players want to listen to, so we players would have our own tapes/CDs to raise our spirits a bit.

Favorites for us then and now are many of the Star Trek songs used in the original TV series, the “Planet Eater” music was used in many of the original episodes, but it does server to build tension. “Wrath of Khan” has a good soundtrack. “Aliens” is good too. “Star Wars”, and most things by John Williams can fit the bill. Classical music also fits the bill such as “Mars” from “The Planets” by Holst, “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, “Night on Bald Mountain”, etc.

What music or other mood enhancers do you use in your games?

Enhance Your Story With Other Fields: Biology

Exchange of Realities has an interesting article on enhancing story with other fields, with the focus on biology. This is something we all practice by our nature, often unconsciously.

One of the best things about writing and gaming is that they take skill synergy like almost nothing else in
the world does. No matter what you do or learn, odds are that some part of it can apply to the writing desk
or the game table. Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes it’s obvious when you’re willing to think twisty, and
sometimes it’s entirely unexpected.

Medieval Population Density

This informative article about population density of medieval based worlds and number of cities, towns, and villages and numbers of a give occupation relative to population.

There are links to websites to run the formula and build a kingdom quickly. One can also use Excel to build the formula into a spreadsheet, of which there are links to some examples .

I recommend saving it as a PDF so that it is available for off line use.

[Edit] Corrected link to website to use current URL. 09 February 2014.