Category Archives: Maps

Castles and More Castles!

I joined the Amazing Castles community on G+ a couple weeks ago. Every day I get multiple pictures of new castles. Many of them are castles I have heard of, but never seen a photograph of them. There are also several that have angles that I have never seen of them before.

I like castles and wish I could afford to go to Europe and see them all.

Someday, when I grow up, maybe I can own one….

I plan to view them on my tablet and use some tracing paper, to see if I can make my own castles from the bits and pieces. Perhaps figure out how to map them on graph paper too.

The Challenges Of Game Prep And Game Design

Both preparing for a major area of a campaign, or parts of an adventure, or developing something to publish, or as part of a collaborative project, can encounter a lot of inertia.

Getting the initial ideas together, whether bullet points, semi-detailed notes, sketches, or miscellaneous bits and pieces can often be the easy part. Yet, for me at least, finding a big enough block of time to make sense of it and compile all the pieces into an easily usable whole is challenging.

I can wing stuff in a game, but some things take just a bit more time to plan out. For example, I placed an NPC in my campaign that sells treasure maps. His caveat to customers is that they are real maps to real treasures, but he can’t guarantee that any treasure is still there. He goes to markets and bazaars far and wide and generates a collection. He then disappears to rebuild it, when it gets thinned out. I made the brilliant decision to let him have 39 maps (a randomly generated number), most for the general area when the players are running around with a few for the ruins of the ancient city nearby. The rest being scattered far away, and a couple for Ogre Island, the home of a famous archmage who really only wants adventurers coming there if they have slain ogres. The players bought all the area and ancient city maps, and the couple to locations on Ogre Island.

I then had to figure out details about these maps they bought. I made them pay quite a bit for them, but not so much to stop them from buying A LOT of maps. I like the d30 Sandbox Companion, and a couple other resources I tracked down for this. I came up with the size and condition of the maps, the landmarks around the treasure, whether the treasure in whole or in part was there, or if it was buried nearby, and the skill of the cartographer and the language it was written in. That was not too difficult. I then had to figure out where to place all the maps. Finally, I had to sketch out the maps.

I spent several hours on this and ended up with extremely rough sketches of maps. I figure that I could just describe them and go from there. I still have some ruins and a couple dungeons to plan.

After all that work, the players were focused on other things and haven’t tried to find one treasure.

Another example is the ancient city. I had a name and a vague idea of a layout in my mind. I dissuaded the players from going to the ancient city by having a trusted NPC tell them that it is very dangerous. I would have been fine if they went there, but they realized they needed a bit more experience. Especially when random undead traveled north along the ancient road to the large town/small city with their base of operations. So I took time to plan out some details of the city and figure out which locations where described by the treasure maps of the ruined city.

Again, after all that work, not near as much as for all the treasure maps, we have not played.

The good news, I have a lot planned and can deal with most situations, and have several ideas if the players decide to do something else.

I know that I shouldn’t plan too far ahead of my players to avoid burnout, but I like the design. It is fun to figure out certain details, however, it is the most fun to watch the interactions of my players with the ideas I present to them.

Working on a collaborative effort in cooperative sandbox design, I want to do my best so that my part is not the weak link in the whole.

As with general preparation as a DM, finding enough time in a large enough block to do more than nibble around the edges can be a challenge.

The lessons I have from this are manifold:

DM prep for my own game can be snippets that I can wing as needed. Often only a name for an NPC, a location name, and perhaps details of spells they have are usually enough. Many details can be generated on the fly.

Tables to help fill in the gaps. Good, bad, or indifferent – you can wait until they discover a treasure with gems and jewelry to roll what it is. It can make the players wait a bit, and can result in some enormous gems – if you let the results stand.

Maps only need to be good enough for me to know what is going on. If you play old school with theater of the mind, you don’t need miniatures and terrain maps. I haven’t made the players do mapping, and so far they have not been in a scenario where it makes sense for them to be lost. They have yet to find a ruin big enough to be a classic dungeon.

Players tend to want to know names of people, locations, taverns, businesses, and stories behind magic items. In addition, personalities of NPCs and monsters are needed so they are not all the same. More effort in these things can avoid delays at the table coming up with a new name. NOTE: I generate several NPC names and cross them off when I use them in game. I haven’t generated enough names to feel like I should re-use them. Tables and online generators can help with this.

I have a few memorable NPCs that the players most encounter. I have different city guard personas, some are matter of fact about their job, “just the facts”, ma’am types. Others are more laid back and just make sure things are not too far off from the rules. There is one who points at people with his spear and swings it around when pointing at the next person he talks to. I haven’t named all the town guards, just the captain and lieutenant. The players haven’t asked for lots of names, I just say, this guard acts thus and so, and if they need a description, I give it. The guard that waves his spear was a fun twist I came up with on the fly, and the players loved that twist. I rotate them, and understandably, the other guards don’t want to have to work with the spear swinger.

All of the things that work well to make a campaign that I can run effectively and give enjoyment to the players are usually far less detailed than required for either an online game, where time is usually more limited than an in-person game; and obviously not what is required for something that is part of something to be published for use by others. While game prep can be done in a pinch, preparation of something to share for others as a basis for an adventure or add-on area in their campaign requires enough detail that the DM only needs to tweak it for use in his game, and not spend hours trying to figure out what you mean or what pieces were left out.

As with a school paper, or other similar project, a collaborative OSR project or something you wish to publish can be done in smaller snippets of time, unless there is a hard and fast deadline.

I think we might all have dreams of making and publishing our own materials and selling to the world of fellow gamers. Many of us know we don’t have the skills, some know that we have the skills but not the drive to finish what we start. While one can use their campaign as a basis for a published project, one should make sure anything they publish is polished.

After reading about failed or terribly botched and nearly totally failed Kickstarters related to RPGs, this has come to mind. Who wouldn’t want all the money that goes with a hugely successful Kickstarter? Most don’t realize the true level of detail involved. In addition, the tax implications and record keeping required are far beyond what the average person expects.

If you want to do a Kickstarter, get your feet wet and participate in a collaborative effort and see how well that goes. Dare to publish some tables or a module and make it available for free. If it is done well and hits the target market, then maybe you have the knack to share something to sell. I’m no expert on the how to do it, as I have not done these things, but I have seen what other people have done. Some obviously have a knack for cranking out good stuff consistently. However, I have also seen a lot that I could do better slapping it together, some of it for sale. I also would be hesitant to risk negative criticism that comes with such things, so thick skin is probably helpful.

So I dabble and continue to share my thoughts on my little blog. It is nice when others recognize my small contributions, but I get more out of it as I get in my writing, and crystallize my own ideas. That is more valuable than money, but  if anyone wants to send me a Dieties & Demigods with Cthulhu and Elric, et. al., I’ll let you. Cash also is the perfect gift, since it always fits. 😉




Collaborative Sandbox Design

I am a participant in the Tenkar’s Landing Crowdsourced Sandbox Setting. It is an interesting concept and it is cool to see all the ideas and how people consult their neighbors to sync up features like rivers and roads and adjust maps to flow with the ideas of others.

I picked a swamp hex. In my campaign I don’t have players running around near a swamp, so my ideas are limited in application to my game. However, other’s hexes have ideas and terrain more in line with where my players are running around, so I can glean ideas.

I see this growing and becoming a very thick book, even a series of modules.

I can’t wait to see how it all plays out and fits together.

Tenkar’s Landing – OSR Crowdsourced Island

I took the plunge and signed up for a hex in the Tenkar’s Landing Crowdsourced Island. There is a G+ community for the endeavor.

It will be interesting to see how this all comes together.

So far, it is decided to use 6 mile hexes, any flavor of the Swords & Wizardry Rules, but keeping it light on the “crunch” for easier use by any rules set.

Erik has given the general background of the island and will provide some other information.

One person has already done a map of their hex with fishing villages.

There are still several hexes left.

I claimed a swamp hex, so it will be interesting how the whole thing meshes with the rest of the island and map.

Using Game Boards from Boardgames for Other Games

I ran across this post today that reminded me that my brother, Robert, and I used the game board from Avalon Hill’s Waterloo as a star map for a science fiction space combat exploration game we made up in the 80’s.

My planet/system had the brilliant name of Erloowat, I don’t recall what Robert named his.

There were two or three games we made up back then. A Science Fiction/Space RPG we called Scout, and a space pirate game centered around ship capture/combat. I don’t recall now if our space combat game built on the rules from our space pirate game. The rules for all of them were pretty broad. The space/interplanetary war game was actually more like an RPG without a GM. We didn’t have enough rules to cover certain scenarios to make it truly playable the way we intended. I think we just played at it for an afternoon or two and it faded away.

The problem with making your own game is defining the parameters and limitations of it so that there is an agreed upon framework to make it playable without a GM or the creators on standby to deal with scenarios as they develop.

The benefit of RPGs is that you only need enough rules to build enough framework to be able to have fun, and as play develops, the players and GM work together to fill in the gaps, thus the prevalence of house rules and homebrew games that are a freankensteinian combination of multiple ideas from other RPGs and the experience of actual play and house rules. Our Scout game was just such a one. We took ideas from Traveller, Star Frontiers, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, and probably others I don’t recall to get mechanics/rules for things we had trouble fleshing out ourselves. Robert also wrote great short stories that tied into Scout. We passed them around in high school and kept asking for more. (I wish he would publish his writings, he could even do the artwork for the book covers.)

As I was writing this I recalled another RPG we had was based on Androids, I think that was more of what would be a LARP. However, we did not run around in costume, it was more a sit around and talk about things our characters did. We drew ships and different kinds of androids and robots and wrote little scenarios and stories. I don’t recall if this preceded our discovery of Blue Box Holmes Basic D&D or not. I know one guy involved moved away at some point, and I don’t recall what grade. It was spring of 7th grade we discovered D&D, I don’t recall when David moved away.

My First Session of Google+ Hangouts and Roll20

I had my first session of playing an RPG using Google+ Hangouts and Roll20.

Google+ Hangouts are a way to do group conference calls online. They can be just voice, or mix the use of video and voice.

Roll20 is a Virtual Table Top (VTT). It works in your web browser, so it can work on a computer, laptop, tablet, or even a phone. From my experience, I prefer a larger screen. The display has an area that is the “table-top”. It can hold fancy maps of terrain, buildings, dungeons, etc, or just a grid to keep track of marching order or positions of objects, players, and monsters. Roll20 has integration with Google+ Hangouts. You accept the invitation to the G+ Hangout and sign in when it starts. You also sign into Roll20 when it is time. I signed into Roll20 early, so I don’t know if joining the hangout would take me to Roll20 or not.

I have seen YouTube videos of past Google+ Hangouts, and have had invitations to them before, but never had the time to get involved in one. It does not require the use of video. That it only useful if you want to see the other players. If you don’t have a webcam or don’t want to be on video, you just need a microphone so others can hear you, and decent speakers so you can hear them. A headset with a microphone would work, as it appears some other players were using. The nice things about using G+ Hangouts is that it showed who was speaking, either by the video of the speaker going to the center of the screen, or showing the picture displayed by those not using video. Having the hangout window open covers part of the screen. It is not required for it to be open, but I found it helpful to have a window just big enough open to see who was speaking. That made it more like a face-to-face session. If you have two monitors, it would work better to have it on one screen and the VTT on the other.

I have a Roll20 account, it is free to use, but for a fee, you can get some more bells and whistles. Those are not necessary to run or join a game. I have the basic, free account. I have gone through the Roll20 tutorial about how to do things. You can display different maps, with a grid. You can use tokens for players, monsters, and items. There is a library of free tokens and maps, and you can upload your own. For a fee, you can get specialized tokens and maps that give you more options. It also features a dice roller that just says what dice was rolled, pus any modifiers and gives the result. It has an option to show 3-D dice that roll across the VTT, but it is slow and slows down the game. To roll, you either have to type a command in the chat window, or set up a macro with frequently used rolls. For example, “/r d20” rolls a d20. As a GM, you can have multiple Roll20 campaigns/games, and as a player, you can participate in multiple games. There are multiple layers that can be displayed and the GM can see things on the GM only layer

The game I participated was Vault of Time hosted by the founder of the Friday Night D&D: Next Google+ Community. As the name says, it is Friday night. The game was slated to start at 9:00 PM. To play, you roll up a 10th level character using the D&D Next beta play test rules. I had signed up to the D&D Next beta at Wizards of the Coast, so I had the latest rules. D&D Next is D&D 5.0 and is slated for release this summer. This was the more challenging part of the whole thing. I rolled up a character using real dice, then I had to read through a PDF on character creations, then classes, then races, then equipment. I started about 6:30 PM and was “done” with my character about 8:30. I am old school, so I know how to roll up a character and get started in short order. D&D Next can be played that way, but it has been influence by all version s of D&D. I have played D&D Basic and 1st Edition, and had minor exposure to 2nd edition. I have no exposure to D&D 3.0, 3.5, or 4.0. As I understand it, the later versions of D&D, i.e. 3.0 and later, have all the feats, skills, and abilities that are not part of D&D or AD&D. I did not have time to read and understand what choices to make for feats, etc. so I had as close to an AD&D dwarven fighter as imaginable.

Playing the game.

I signed in to Roll20 early and there were only two other players. One invited me to play poker. Roll20 can simulate a deck of cards for situations that require use of cards. The actual game session started about ten minutes late. The GM had been sick last week and cancelled last week’s session. For this week, he had not had time to get maps, etc. uploaded to Roll20, so we just used a grid over a graphic of a stone floor. We have tokens with the names of each player to show marching order, etc. The VTT has a whiteboard type feature, so the GM could draw the rooms and doors we encountered. This game is just a group of players who get together and play through the same dungeon, and my character was just there, no explanation, etc. (I don’t have a problem with this, as the idea was for me to learn and have fun.) The regulars in this game may have started at tenth level, but had over 100 hit points, I only had 71. They were like 20th level or something. The all male group of players were in the 30 to 50 age range, give or take. There were several wizards in the group, and they had all kinds of spells going all over the place. My understanding is that you can play D&D Next with a subset of the rules to be closer to D&D/AD&D, or have all the bells and whistles and make a first level character that is a demi-god. I definitely see why later versions of D&D have been described as emulating video games like WOW or LOTRO. As a basic fighter, my character was only good for taking up space, moving, and fighting. I ended up being the only character in the session to take a hit, and lost 16 hit points, but was healed at the end of the damage inducing encounter of 15 hit points.

I deferred to other players a lot as I was there to learn how this online role playing format worked. I found a group of guys that reminded me a lot of other groups of gamers I have played with over the years. There was a lot of non play related banter, and meta-gaming. The players spent a lot of time trying to decide what to do in some situations, sort of like my ex and I got into when we were trying to decide what restaurant to go to. I kept expecting the DM to have a random encounter come and give us trouble for dawdling. There were no random encounters. We could have done a lot more exploration of the dungeon/caverns we were in, but were caught up in lots of back and forth over what should have been quick decisions. There was no elected leader, and the DM did not enforce order or keep us focused on the game. There was very little role playing of people speaking as their characters. That’s ok, I can play either way. I did try to roll play my dwarf in a way to move things along.

Our first obstacle was a slow moving underground stream about five feet deep and twenty feet wide. We spent 20 or so minutes trying to decide/figure out what to do. The next obstacle was a magic archway with an ominous inscription that could be interpreted as something good or bad. No one wanted to go through it, but we spent 20+ minutes with the wizards arguing about how to dispel a permanent magic item they had no clue what it did. Finally, we went the other way and the next ominous sign only delayed us for about five minutes. We went to a room with a brass door and opened it to find a room with two doors on the north, east, and west walls, total 6 doors. We started working out way around the room and two rooms had two wights we easily slew in two or three rounds, two more rooms had four juju zombies that took a little longer. The DM said that he levelled up the zombies so they would challenge us. I was hit in the second of those rooms. The next to last door had a passage. We decided to check out the other room and it had a wight. We slew the wight and ended the session about 1:30 PM. The DM said we each got 28,775 experience points. That is enough to put me to 11th level. The DM said he did not divide the XP. In earlier rooms we did find a +1 sword and a ring of levitation and one pair of wights was guarding a potion of flying. Not dripping with magic or treasure, but XP wise seemed pretty easy. What is odd is that I needed less than 28,000 XP to go from 10th level to 11th level. All classes use the same experience point advancement chart. The DM rolled actual dice and was on video, so we saw him look down to roll. It reminded me of DMs rolling their dice behind the screen.

My Take:

I had fun learning about the online role playing tools and playing and laughing with a group of gamers. D&D Next is not my thing, at least not all the feats, etc. The players tell the DM what they can or can’t do and what they need to roll to do things. I think the DM should set the parameters. There are so many options for a simple fighter, that it felt like I was playing a spellcaster in AD&D. A fighter should not be so difficult to create or play, but that’s because I learned how over 30 years ago.

As for the tools of online roleplaying I like what I see. Google+ is just the means of gathering together, and Roll20 is the table where we gather round. Roll20 is flexible enough to allow just a blank grid to show marching order, terrain/dungeon, objects, and monsters. You don’t need miniatures or a fancy map to play, but if you want fancy, you can do it. For the harried DM who is short of preparation time, I can see the value of using it to show basic positions and for rolling dice.

I have an AD&D/OSRIC game I plan to participate in on Wednesday to see how another DM does it.

I will do a few more sessions to get familiar with things before I dip my toes in the water to run my own game(s).

Here is a picture of what we saw when fighting the wight in the last room before play ceased.I forgot to mention that one of the wizards created a zombie from the remains of one of the juju zombies. No one seemed to have an issue with that, so alignment did not make a big difference in this game.


Friday Night D&D Next
Friday Night D&D Next

[EDIT] I forgot to mention sound. Roll20 has a feature to allow you to play background music and sounds. There is a collection of royalty free music, and you can upload your own. There are also other music/sounds available if you join their fee plan.

During our play another player was playing music. I don’t have a problem with music during play if it complements what is going on. I found that in the environment of a Google+ Hangout it was distracting from play. It was not my kind of music, I’m not sure what it was, and to me, did not fit. Also it was louder than it should have been at times. A way to put it in the background would have helped.

The other issue was on my end. I live across the street from the house next to the train tracks going through town. We have about five or six streets from one end of town to the other that cross the tracks. The Federal law requires the horn to be blown at each crossing. I am used to it and tune it out, so I was then conscious of it and muted the sound when there was a train. I will have to use a microphone that I can limit what it picks up so I don’t blast out the others and have to mute my microphone to avoid interfering with play. This is a drawback to running a game of my own.

Dungeon of Lost Coppers – My Submission

My pitiful entry for the Dungeon of Lost Coppers contest is finally up, here.

Looking at all the other entries, my attempt was hampered by three things for better quality.

  1. I was under the effects of a confuse spell and thought the deadline for submissions was the same as that for the OSR Superstar contest. I was rushed in my error in the deadline, so I submitted a sub-par map. My only hope of winning is that the winner is picked randomly.
  2. My printer was on the fritz so I could not print it out and work by hand. I have two scanners and multiple means of taking pictures, so that would not have been an issue.
  3. I had trouble getting GIMP to cooperate and do what I wanted, so I went with MS-Paint. I was able to cut and past and rotate some lines, but Paint is not the quickest for that.

I started using the random dungeon generating tables in the 1st edition DMG, but ended up with lots of tunnels and small rooms, so I started just making stuff up. Those tables are weighted in such a way as to require a lot of time and input from a DM to get a workable dungeon.

So I learned a lot from this contest. Don’t get the submission date wrong, and don’t rush is you don’t have time or cooperating computer/printer/equipment to do a good job.

The Dungeons of Lost Coppers Cartographic Contest

Dyson’s Dodecahedron is hosting a cartography contest where you take one of his maps and finish it with your own twist.

The deadline is fast approaching:  “23:59 Eastern Standard Time of Sunday, February 23rd, 2014.”

I’m not the best at maps, but I may see what I can devise. It has the same deadline for the OSR Superstar Contest. If I focus, I know I can meet both deadlines.

Dyson has several interesting tables, and of course lots of maps. He even has a few short tutorials that explain how he does his style of maps. I tried a little doodling on graph paper to do it. I can see with practice it can be done fairly easily, but it requires scanning and then processing the image in Gimp or other graphics software. I get so sidetracked looking at all the goodies all the different RPG sites have to offer that I take lots of notes and download/use Print Friendly to add to my ideas for my own campaigns.

Cartography Contest
Cartography Contest

Ravenloft – Cool Maps!

I saw this post on RPG Bloggers about Ravenloft today on The Geek Life Project  and I had to make a comment here.

This is only one of two modules from the glory days that I own, the other is Village of Hommlet.

I bought Ravenloft because the maps are cool. When I got back into planning my own campaign a few years ago, when I found a copy of the Dungeoneers Survival Guide and it has a section on how to do those kinds of maps, I bought it.

I think one of our gaming group from the 80’s had his own copy of Ravenloft and ran it. I know that I never ran it. I did read it, but the maps are what got me.

I love maps. I could get into trouble buying maps. When I was in college, I was too poor to take advantage of a USGS office in town. I love all kinds of maps, just to look at them. I can draw OK maps by hand and modern graphics programs make it easy to do decent maps, but I am addicted to well done maps done by others.

I think we played Ravenloft and maybe the sequel. I don’t recall when it came out. Maybe we did our own return to Ravenloft, it has been too long to recall for sure.

I have downloaded several free modules from various places across the internet and like the ideas I get and the maps I can use from the OPDC.

I also prefer the “classic” vampire to what many modern authors and movies have done. See my article on playing 1st level vampire hunters for a laugh.