Category Archives: Maps

Levels For Terrain

Edward Kann posted a map of an area in his Blueholme game he started with his sons. (Check out his G+ profile, he has some serious talent for maps and adventure design.) He has mapped the contents of a 20 mile hex using graph paper for the scale of 1 square per mile. One can debate the changing of scale for accuracy between hexes and squares ad nauseum. Forget that noise. The cool thing is the map key has a section for a TERRAIN KEY with LEVELS for each type of terrain.

Edward Kann's map of the contents of a 20 mile hex at 1 mile per square.
Edward Kann’s map of the contents of a 20 mile hex at 1 mile per square.

My Plan For This.

I like this idea for levels for terrain. I’ll modify that for my own use with a keep, town, or city within so many miles. Say a keep with a 20 mile radius zone of control would negate bad/evil/monstrous encounters. (This is basically the West Marches approach.)

However, wild animals would always be a possibility. Sick or wounded animals would be more likely to attack. Males of most species in mating season would be more likely to attack. Mothers protecting young would be more likely to attack. So lack of monsters does not mean “no danger.”

The deep forest being 3rd level is cool. I’ll add a dark wood more focused on the bad things in the forest. That is, a cark wood would have an encounter table focused on the bad/evil creatures found in forests.

For my purposes, I want a variation for the farms/structures. Have a special set of tables to determine if it is a farm or other structures, their condition – ruins, burnt out/smoldering, etc. And finally if occupied by farmers or otherwise the “correct” occupants or “something else.” Something else could be a hungry monster, goblin raiding party, house or barn fire, etc.  A large animal in mating season being belligerent, whether a wild animal or the bull got loose.

This is what I love about the OSR and sharing RPG ideas for any game online. All the different people with their unique take on how they do things spark ideas for how I can use and modify their ideas for my own use.

Hex Kit – Kickstarter & Sale

+Cecil Howe is running a Kickstarter to add more tiles to use with Hex Kit. Today, he pointed out that with a GM’s Day sale, one can pick up Hex Kit on DriveThruRPG for $6.99 and then back the Kickstarter at the $10 and get the same value as the Kickstarter at the $20 option. As of this writing, there are 26 hours to go.

This was good timing, as I had planned to back this Kickstarter at the $20 level, since I didn’t have the original Hex Kit.

I already have Hexographer, and I backed the soon to be released Worldographer update to Hexographer, but at that price, another option for maps is affordable.

If you like maps, this might be something for you.

I’ll post a review once I make the time this weekend to play with it.

NOTE: Affiliate links help fund the blog and other online efforts.

Here’s the info from Cecil’s G+ Post, with edits to the links:

Hex Kit has less than 30 hours left on Kickstarter!!! Because of the GM’s Day sale at DriveThru you can pick up Hex Kit Fantasyland for 6.99, then back the Hex Kit Kickstarter for 10 bucks. That will get you the desktop app, Fantasyland tiles, and 3,000+ more tiles for 16.99!!

Hex Kit is a multi-platform, map painting tool that comes with hand-illustrated tiles. It does lots of really cool stuff: you can paint hex maps with a huge variety of detail, export your maps to print or save them to share with yer Hex Kit usin’ buds, store information about your world in the map, and even run a player facing version of the map on an auxiliary display. You can import your own custom tiles, as well as generate random maps.

Check out the Hex Kit Kickstarter here:

Check out Hex Kit: Fantasyland here:

Thanks everyone who’s backed the project so far! You’ve made a few nerds into very productive people.

Archaeological Field Maps As Inspiration Or Actual Maps For Adventures

Every time I see an article online about an archaeological discovery, I always think, that map reminds me of RPG maps.

One can easily find them by googling the phrase “archaeological field maps.” Some are of buildings, fortifications, tombs, or entire cities. All of them are interesting and seem to give me ideas.

In addition to finding maps when searching that phrase, there are links for courses on how to draw those maps and specific projects and their maps.

The look of these old maps makes me wonder if the originators of D&D were inspired by these maps, or secondarily influenced by them through the use of similar maps in war gaming? I have not yet finished Jon Peterson’s tome to know if he touches on that, but it definitely makes me wonder.

Prepping and Running Games Saves Money

I have found that in the last few weeks as I prepare a Metamorphosis Alpha scenario to run at UCon, play test it online with two different groups, and end up with a weekly Saturday game and bi-weekly Sunday game, I don’t have as much time to read and browse forums and find more goodies to spend my money.

This is good. I’m not broke, and I’m not poor, I just prefer to pay cash for things, and I already have multiple game systems to choose from. Both the books and manuals I have, and many different PDFs. While I like collecting lots of different ideas for tables and how others do things, in the end, if all one does is collect bits and bobs and never runs a game, what’s the point? {I’m also going to attend ConOnTheCob in October, UCon in November, the company holiday party is in Orlando, FL in December – I finally get to go to Disney World!, Marmalade Dog in February, GaryCon in March, etc.]

Other than helping out the creators when I buy things, if I’m not running at least one game of one of the rules I already have, I’m not doing the one thing I have written so often that I want to do.

I struggle with having “enough” prepared to be comfortable. the key for me is determining what is the right “enough” to have. It doesn’t matter the game system.

By jumping in and running Metamorphosis Alpha and having a regular commitment to keep running it, my outlook has changed. The task seems much less daunting, and the myriad of excuses of why I’m not ready yet fade away.

My in person AD&D campaign with my oldest son and his girlfriend faded away when they moved in with me in the months before my granddaughter was born. Preparations for parenthood, and figuring out their new family dynamics have put that on the back burner. Thus the desire to move that campaign online and get it going that way. Starting up with a new group of people do not guarantee they would make the same choices and check out the same things as my face to face players. Once I get a bit more done with my MA online game(s), I will do more to get my AD&D game going online.

This doesn’t mean no preparation, and no ideas for suggestions for players, etc. There needs to be enough of a framework that it holds together. What this looks like will change and adapt, or it should, once players start interacting with the world. I have lots of ideas, but it is what the players do with my descriptions and starting conditions that is interesting. Watching players interact with the world I have presented and seeing them debate and struggle over courses of action, or regret actions taken, just makes the whole thing come alive. This is cooperative play/storytelling at its finest!

So I have dug in and started using all the pads, pens, dice, books, and miscellaneous notes I have gathered. The results are encouraging, and I find that I want more! I have enough ideas to keep things rolling, and the players have their own ideas, so I don’t see burnout with roleplaying as an issue. Burnout is only a threat based on how crazy busy work gets in December and January. [Oh the “joys” of being a support analyst for payroll and accounting software at year end/W-2 time, plus a new set of forms this year for the ACA.]

I don’t plan on participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I still need to write the last few chapters of my novel, so I can start on the second draft/revisions. I know I can do it, since I have over 60,000 words that I wrote last year in November. It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing the work. Like most things in life, the ad slogan, “Just Do It.” fits so well.

I have a lot of different irons in the fire, and without the distraction of all the different TV shows I watched last Fall, Winter, and Spring, I have gotten more done. It’s all about priorities, and making a decision to act on them, and following through.

Well, that’s enough stream of consciousness for now. I think I’ve convinced myself that I can do the running of games online, and that I can handle as much as I want to handle, with all the irons I have elected to have in so many fires. I can save up shows to binge watch on long weekends, or not worry about them at all. I can put as much effort into game preparation as I want, but choose to focus only on preparation that makes the most sense and has the best chance of being used in play. I can also deal with various projects around my 95 year old house, as well as down-sizing a bunch of non-gaming stuff. I like the idea of a simple life and being able to live out of a van. But I’d need most of a semi-trailer right now. My goal is to go through all my stuff and pare it down now, so in X years, when I’m gone, my sons won’t have to deal with it. I like my stuff, but gadgets and things become obsolete or lose their appeal.

NOTE: I wrote this late at night, and made one pass at it, and it shows in all my rambling and additional topics. I’m not going to go back and fix it. My point is in here. Find it if you can. LOL!

P.S. Don’t forget to talk like a pirate today, ye scurvy dogs!

I Ran My First Game Online

Friday night, from 8:00 to Midnight, EDT, I ran my first online game using Roll20 and Google Hangouts.

I have played over 330 hours using Roll20 and Hangouts. I have also run games of AD&D 1st Edition, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, and others. As with anything, the first time you encounter all the things you don’t know and try to make sense of it based on what you already know.

I am very much a visual learner. What is easy to pick up on with body language in a face to face game is lost online. While I used a Google Hangout, it was audio only. This was to minimize the number of windows on which I had to focus. This led to my biggest shortcoming as a GM online, missing the visual queues for player involvement. I realized after one player dropped out that I really need a player turn tracker that is implemented fairly and consistently so that each player has an equal share of time.

Two of my players in this session of six players were new to both RPG’s and online play of RPG’s. I was not as sensitive as I should be to their newness to the hobby and this method of play.

This session was a play test of a scenario that I developed for convention play for Metamorphosis Alpha at UCon in November, as I mentioned a few days ago. While I have pre-gens for the scenario, I did not enter them into Roll20. Instead, I let my players generate their characters to give them a sense of ownership. I had a short session with each player to generate their character, and make sure that the technical aspect of using Roll20 and Google Hangouts were worked out before the game. I think this helped with player buy-in, as well as helped us get a head start on building that initial acquaintance ahead of the session.

I learned from play that I crammed too much into the beginning of my scenario, and need to streamline things for the fast style of play that occurs in a convention game. I took a lot of short notes about different things to keep track of what worked or did not and what needs polish, revision, or removal.

At the end of the game, I solicited feedback, and there is interest in continuing the scenario.  In addition to Roll20, I created a private G+ Community for my Metamorphosis Alpha campaign. After the game, I created a poll, based on initial post game comments, to get an idea of when the group would like to play again. Most said that they would love to play next week. That is a great mood booster!

I had a blast! The players had buy-in to the scenario right away, and were engaged. I had a lot of hooks to get everyone involved from the start, with random rolls to mix things up, so that no two players would have the same story. I won’t go into detail, as I am running a second group through the scenario Saturday night. The second group are part of the gang from the Wednesday night AD&D Roll20 game I play in. It will be fun to interact with them in a different way and to see how our DM is as a player.

I was disappointed in myself for letting a couple of players sit quiet for a long time. It is the DM’s job to make sure each player is engaged. With an online game, it is especially important, since it is all too easy for one player to talk over other’s. It is the limit of the technology. I could set up one computer to display the hangout and watch which icons indicate who is speaking, but I find that I focus so much on the rolls, and my notes and maps, that I can’t even keep up with the chat comments players made.

I don’t feel too bad about missing side chats the players had going in chat right in front of me. It is that way in in-person games, but those more easily grab one’s attention. The solution is a system that allows each player a chance to speak. So whether I go by dexterity order, name order, order they show up on the screen, etc. It needs to be done fairly and consistently.

In addition to the poll for when to play again, I also put up a post on the campaign’s G+ community soliciting constructive criticism of my GMing of the session. I pointed out what I knew I needed to do better and what I felt I did well. I invited each player to contact me privately, if they so desired.

One player wrote publicly in response to my solicitation of feedback, “Well said! I can already tell that you are a GM/DM that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good old-school type of game. :)”

That comment alone is wonderful! I have a feeling of accomplishment.  I can’t help but compare myself to other DM.s/GM’s. There are some that I feel are so good that I feel I can never be that good. But when I actually get to play and get into a zone where things are happening in a good way, I know that I am at least a decent DM. I think I will dare to say I am a good one.

I stress too much on needing to be prepared. It does not take much to have enough for four hours of play. Once players are put in the middle of a situation, they go off in directions one could never anticipate.

I think I set the expectations clearly up front. I pointed out that this was my first time running an RPG online, and that this was the first game of Metamorphosis Alpha that I had ran in over 30 years. I did not mean it as an excuse, just to let them know I had a lot of new going on. In the end, other than the time allotment issues for each player, I think I did very well.

I used the theater of the mind style. I had a map of an area and players placed their tokens to indicate who was where. We also used it for marching order. There was another map I had to show them a big picture of the situation, but I did not use all the bells and whistles of working with maps and tokens that Roll20 has to offer. I am a free user, but if I end up with a regular game, I will definitely come up with the money for a subscription.

Some of my players run games on Roll20 and were able to help me get settings right. That was most appreciated!

I learned a lot about the online tools I chose, my scenario and where it needs improvement, myself and my abilities as a GM, and where I need to focus my energies to improve. I can’t wait for next week when the players and I tune in to see what happens next!

Old School Note Taking

When I write up my notes/design for an adventure by hand, I use standard letter size paper and black ink, along with red, blue, and green, to make different bits I want to remember stand out.

I don’t have a system of what each color means. I just know that in a given piece of my notes that I want to keep track of different things.

For many of these, I have written them out on graph paper. I have all kinds of graph paper, loose sheet with holes punched, pads with perforations for tearing off, journal sized books, lab sized notebooks, etc. This is in addition to various notepads, legal pads, and notebook paper.

I really like using graph paper. For some reason I really got into using graph paper for taking notes for the weekly Wednesday night AD&D game I play in on Roll 20. (We have session 73 tonight!) I started taking notes with a yellow legal pad, and got to making notes on graph paper, along with my attempts to map things. We now map directly in Roll20, since our DM has a theater of the mind style of play. I still have more notes than maps on graph paper.

When taking notes/writing up an adventure to run, I like how graph paper allows me to organize my notes a certain way; and I can fit in little maps and diagrams, if I want to.

I have a “pad” of loose hole punched graph paper, that has a cardboard “base”. I use a binder clip at the top, or put it on a clipboard so the sheets stay together. I tend to only use one side of the paper, especially for some of the light weight graph paper that you can see the writing on the other side. By using one side, it also helps me focus, and not have to keep flipping from one page to the next.

I also try to complete a room/area description on one page, so I don’t have to remember or make a note to flip to the next page.

I’m trying to be better about avoiding complex descriptions and long text to read aloud. I try to focus on bullet points of what a room is, and any actions a player or occupant of the room might take. Contents of the room, such as cabinets and other containers, and useful items, and hidden items, figure more prominently. I try to remember a few key adjectives for the room, and make it so I can run with it at the table.

My main goal is to avoid missing some relevant item, or detail that might matter later. The players can do what they want, but if I forget to tell them something I thought they needed to know when they got to that point, I may not have a way to work it in later. For example, the key to the secret door is in a different room. If I don’t tell the players they find a key, it doesn’t make sense to tell them about it after they have bashed down the door.

I also have some 1.5 x 2 inch post-its that I can make notes back to myself, if I want to add or change something, or something I need to remember to include in another area.

When I use a computer to type up these things, I type fast and end up with elaborate descriptions, etc. that are impractical for actual use. I don’t use more than a fraction of the information I type up, so it ends up being wasted effort. By writing out my notes long hand, it is easier to get a visual representation of how much I have, and know how long it will take to read it out to players.

I only need to worry about typing it up to have a backup for later or for sharing with others.

Old School Two Part Mapping

While preparing for my upcoming play test, I made a map of the level that I can show the players. Instead of re-drawing the whole thing by hand, or scanning and printing to make a GM copy, I used a sheet protector. I put the map in a sheet protector and I have pens with Red, Blue, and Green ink that I can make GM notes.

So at the table, I can take it out of the sheet protector to show the players, and put it back to see where things are for the GM.

I have to make sure and line it up correctly so I don’t enact a location base encounter at the wrong time. This is not hard to do.

Since the sheet protector is two-sided, I can put another area in, or draw it on the back of the same page as the other map, and get use of the entire thing.

The drawbacks are that I can’t use this sheet protector for anything else if I mark it with permanent ink. I’m not worried, this sheet protector is probably 25 years old. I bought a pack of 100 sheet protectors on sale for about $7.00 a couple months ago, so I’m not worried about running out.

This old sheet protector does not seem like it would work with a dry erase marker. It is different than my other old sheet protectors. Because it is so old, I didn’t even worry about making permanent marks on it.

Sharpies or other permanent markers could also be used.

So there you have an old school way of doing it. If you didn’t have easy access to a copy machine or nowadays if you don’t have easy access to a scanner, you can make one map do the work of two.

This came to mind as I was in my mapping groove. Not the quality of all the great cartographers online. But I didn’t want to have to get up, come in the office, and scan the map as I made various degrees of changes. I have a U-shaped configuration of tables set up with all the gaming materials, and the sheet protectors were right there, along with all my colored pens.

I still had to scan my maps so I can use them online. I can print out extra copies, or backup copies, or a physical copy I can mark up or modify.

All of the Axes

For some reason, I was doubting myself on the plural of axis. I confirmed my recollection via googling that axes is the spelling of the plural of ax, axe, and axis, although the pronunciation of the plural is different.

Oddly enough, my topic is including each axis, of X, Y, and Z, still three items. My brain makes connections most others don’t, but I think of an axis of axes, AKA using an ax to represent an axis.  But that is a rabbit trail distracting from the intent of this post.

Yesterday, I wrote a review of +Jason Paul McCartan’s The Graveyard at Lus, for White Star. In that PDF, he briefly mentions position in space. While reading about the graveyard creation concept, I had an idea for determining the X, Y, and Z axis of a ship in a hex in space. I’m not sure what the three dimensional hexagon would look like. For example, a square in three dimensions is a cube. From this site I googled, it appears that a soccer ball or buckminsterfullerene is the closest thing.

Anyone who has watched Wrath of Khan will know why the Z axis is important.

My idea is to use 3d6, one for each of the X, Y, and Z axes. Ideally, a different colored die, or based on their position when they land.

The X axis is left to right, the Y axis is top to bottom, and we have two dimensions on a page or screen covered. The Z axis adds the bit that raises above or sinks below the page, or the things that appear to fly out at you in a 3-D movie.

If using dice of different colors, specify which is which before the roll. If using position, for example the one most to the left is X, most to the top is Y, and the remaining is Z, or designate the position to your liking. A third alternative is to roll one die three times, specifying which die is which axis, but that slows things way down.

Since we will be using 2-D maps on paper or screen, X will be running right to left on the page, Y will run top to bottom, and Z will rise above the page or sink below it.

Each die will use 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6 for 3 options for each. There’s no mechanic in this for dead center, but say if all three die come up 3 it means dead center. Or if they do come up all 3’s, roll a control die and if it comes up 3, or the designated number, it means dead center. That would be more for placement of a single item in a hex. This mechanic would work better for relative positions of one ship encountering another.

For the X axis:

  • 1-2 = to the left (For example 1 could be far left, 2 middle left.)
  • 3-4 = to the center (For example 3 could be left of center and 4 right of center.)
  • 5-6 = to the right (For example 5 could be middle right and 6 could be far right.)

For the Y axis:

  • 1-2 = to the top
  • 3-4 = to the center
  • 5-6 = to the bottom

For the Z axis:

  • 1-2 = higher in the hex
  • 3-4 = to the center
  • 5-6 = lower in the hex

The above only allows for rough approximations, and is probably good enough for a fast-paced game. Use another roll to determine distance, etc.

If more precision is wanted for more exact placement of an item in a space hex, determine the size of the hex and divide it into increments and pick an appropriate die to roll. For example, figure out how to divide the size of the hex by 100 and roll three percentile dice, i.e. 3d%, one for each axis. You may narrow a million cubic miles down to 10,000 cubic miles of space, and then repeat the process to narrow down to the 100 cubic miles, and once again, for where in that 100 cubic miles is the one cubic mile of space with the object in question. If the item is large enough, perhaps you don’t need to keep rolling, but what if it is a lost wedding ring? You’ll be rolling a long time. I think it would be good to just have the approximate location with the 3d6 method and just use roleplay and skill checks/challenge rolls to find the item.

The cool thing about the 3d6 for three axes positioning works for air travel/combat, and for elevation above or below ground, or above or below water, etc.

One could also take the teleport spell from AD&D and the percentage change to teleport high or low, but that does not allow for X and Y.

How would this work? Let’s take the example of two ships in White Star one with the players, the other a random encounter. Roll 3d6 for relative position of each, and determine approximate distance that each detects the other. The Graveyard at Lus has suggestions for how to handle distance with scanners. Generally, the GM’s will have an idea of what scale they are using, and will have an idea of what dice to use to determine distance.

There are a lot of variables for determining distance, including damaged scanners, cloaking devices, etc. I think rules for encounters and pursuit and evasion of pursuit have enough ideas to cover determining distance, so I won’t come up with something new at this point.

This is a bit of crunchiness in RPG’s that you can use as desired; meaning use it, modify it, or don’t use at all.

If this was helpful to you, please comment!

READ AN RPG BOOK IN PUBLIC WEEK – 2015 – July 26th – August 1st, 2015

Just a little reminder that next week starting this Sunday, July 26th through August 1st, is the second of the three annual weeks for Read an RPG Book in Public Week.

This year, I have not managed to read an RPG book in public during an official week, but I have read part of the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook while in my hammock, between two big trees in my front yard. If the weather cooperates, I should be able to manage to actually meet this challenge.