Archive for July, 2012
The first dungeon I ever made. There’s a good 30 or 40 pages of this, from roughly when I was in second grade.
Full Disclosure: I received this product for free, in exchange for the review. I have done my best to honestly represent its quality here.
Like all good game masters, fantasy cartography is dear to my heart. I’ve been making maps of worlds and dungeons since I was a small child. Not good maps, mind you. I lack any semblance of artistic ability, but I always enjoy seeing an environment grow and come to life. Role playing games have given that little hobby of mine new dimension, as I actually get to see others explore my worlds, interact with them, and provide them with a depth and context that I could never create on my own. Often, as my worlds take on more epic proportions, I wish I had some way to immortalize them. I once spent a month re-drawing an entire world by hand, then laminating it, just for that purpose.
So a little over a month ago, when I was approached by a company called Banners on the Cheap to evaluate their products for mapmaking purposes, I jumped at the chance. There’s a lot to like about the idea. Not only do you get to see your world laid out on a huge surface, but vinyl has a nice weightiness to it as a material. It’s certainly not as cool as having your map painted on leather or something more reminiscent of a fantasy setting, but being more durable than paper is a huge plus in my eyes.
Based on my conversations with BotC prior to agreeing to the deal, we did hit upon one snag. There was some concern that the printing process they use might not be rated for cartography. Maps have details which are much finer than those found on a typical banner image. Truth be told, one I learned that, I didn’t expect to be happy with the product. I even spent a few idle moments drafting a disappointed review in my head. None the less I spent some time in Hexographer expanding my current game world. I then uploaded the map to their website and waited for it to arrive. A couple days ago, this is what I received:
Wow. Just…wow. I’m still feeling a little bit of shock over how cool this looks. That’s my game world, and it’s huge! 3′x3′ didn’t sound quite so large in my head. I could hang it on a wall if I wanted, or lay it out on a table for my players to move around on during gameplay.
Here’s another photograph, with the Pathfinder Core Rulebook used as a reference, just to give you an idea of how massive this thing is:
I chose to use a map made with Hexographer for a few reasons. Firstly, it would be the most personally useful to me–so I had some selfish motivation there. As I mentioned above, this is my current game world. Having a nice big version of the map will be an interesting tool to use as I plan adventures. Rather than examining landscapes on a computer monitor, I can do it on a table. Which is how I like to plan my games anyway.
My biggest reason for choosing a Hexographer map, however, is that it was easy to scale. I could have uploaded my Negune world map (which is far more sentimental than the map I ended up using) but I doubt it would have printed well. My pencil scratches look alright on an 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper, but I doubt they’d look quite so good when blown up to this size. On top of that, Hexographer takes my (lack of) artistic talents out of the equation. Many GMs are familiar with Hexographer, and what maps produced with it look like. My hope is that having a ‘baseline’ for the art, which everyone is familiar with, will help my clumsy photographs convey the quality of the printing.
Regarding that quality, there is some fuzziness which may not be apparent in the larger shots above. Personally it doesn’t bother me. The lines are crisp, the icons and text are easily legible, and unless I look closely I don’t really even notice it. However, the more artistically inclined might find the grainy texture disappointing. I’ve done my best to capture it in these two pictures. Please forgive my amateurish lighting in the second photo:
Now, for myself, I tend to stick to large scale maps like this one. Maps which cover miles upon miles of terrain. However, I know that others like mats which represent a single battlefield. So in their interest, I tested the mat with wet-erase markers. It worked just as well as my blank battle mats do, so that’s a huge bonus:
Drawing a cute lil’ ship in the water. Sail, little ship! Sail!
This ship is immune to even the most diligent of finger rubbing!
Oh no! Water! The ship’s one weakness! Which, in retrospect, is a terrible weakness for a ship to have!
For those same people, I also placed a mini on the map to give them an idea of what the scale is like. For the record, this map’s hexagons are set to 200px by 200px in Hexographer.
“By Vecna’s Balls! With the ship gone, I will surely drown in all of this armor!”
Regarding the service itself, I really only have nice things to say. Uploading my map was extremely simple. I just selected the size of the banner I wanted, and uploaded an image. I was then shown how the image would be positioned on the banner, and fiddled with my image until it looked the way I wanted on the preview. I received the product over a week earlier than they estimated. And the price is easily affordable. With the mounting grommets (which are an extra I tacked on) the map above cost less than $25. More than you’d probably want to spend on every gaming session, but not so much as to be unreasonable if you were planning something special, or hoping to immortalize your game world. And there are smaller sizes than 3′ by 3′ too. A 2′ by 2′ banner is priced at about $10!
Normally, when I review something, I tend to be pretty harsh. I’ve sometimes even worried that I’m too harsh, since I doubt Robin D. Laws would like me very much if he and I ever met. But I don’t see much to dislike here. This is a cool service which fills a niche within the role playing community. The company itself is actively reaching out to us as potential clients by asking tabletop bloggers to review their products. And it’s pretty damned cheap. I do most of my printing at Office Depot, and I’ve occasionally had simple paper printings which cost more than $10 just because the paper was larger than 8.5″ x 11″.
So, yeah, in conclusion, I hereby give my recommendation to Banners on the Cheap as a resource for printing maps. And if anyone ends up using it for a more artistic map, let me know! I could add the picture to this post to give people a better idea of what to expect.
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Posted by LS on Monday, July 30th, 2012 at 5:45 am
Categories: System Independant
Tags: Mapping, Product Review
During my recent Google+ game of OD&D with Brendan, one of my biggest surprises was how little the system surprised me. Prior to that game, the oldest form of Dungeons and Dragons I’d ever played was 3rd edition. So when I logged in to Google+, I thought I was about to encounter something unlike anything I’d ever played before. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last year reading OSR blogs, but the truth is, the game worked pretty much how I suspected it would. The mechanics were simpler than Pathfinder’s, but in exchange the game got off of the ground quickly and still had a lot of depth and action.
None the less, I have some things to consider. I’ve already mentioned how I was taken aback by the elegance of the initiative system we were using (which, as it turns out, is actually from Chainmail, not the OD&D booklets themselves). Today I’d like to briefly discuss something else which surprised me: how entertaining it can be to move at a snail’s pace.
If someone had told me a month ago that they’d played a 3-hour game where the party only investigated 5-ish rooms of a dungeon, I would have assumed the game was very boring. Unless those 5 rooms had an immense amount of things to do in them, I couldn’t have imagined enjoying an average of 36 minutes in each room. I was familiar with Game Masters who expected their players to treat every little thing as potentially lethal, and in fact I have a lot of respect for some of those game masters, I just didn’t think it was something I could enjoy myself.
Yet that’s exactly what we did, and I loved every minute of it. I not only prodded things that looked dangerous with my 10ft pole, I also detailed how I prodded them. When I opened the door, I didn’t say “I open the door with my 10ft pole.” I said “The door opens into this room, right? Alright, I stand 10ft away from the door, against the wall on the side with the hinges. Then I use the hook on my 10ft pole to latch onto the door handle and pull the door open.” I played that way because I was easy to hit, had 1hp, and didn’t want to die. And when I didn’t die, it felt like a god damned accomplishment.
I’ve been puzzling over why something which sounds so boring was so much fun, and I think the serious lethality of the game was a major factor. Most of the party had more survivability than I did*, but for my own part, any damage whatsoever would cause my death.** Finding ways to participate while still keeping myself relatively safe was a real challenge, and one I enjoyed. And as I said above, when the adventure was over and I had actually survived it, I felt special.
Another reason I think this style of play worked is that there were very few die rolls to speak of. The last time I ran a dungeon for my Pathfinder group, the rogue commented that he found checking for traps to be tedious. Rolling a D20, adding his modifier, comparing it to a number, over and over again. I talked about this and the problems with it way back in my skills overview. However, the other day was the first time I really saw the alternative in action, and it was beautiful. We only encountered a single trap—a pressure plate which activated a hidden crossbow—but we didn’t find it by rolling any dice. We found it because we said we walked around the room carefully, testing the ground with our 10ft poles as we went. Had I not done that, and found the body on the floor, I fully suspect Brendan would have shot me dead right there.
I also wonder if the simple process of character creation has anything to do with it. The characters were created almost entirely by rolling on tables, and my character sheet was literally written on an index card. Perhaps we were able to enjoy the lethality which necessitated our slow movement because we knew that even if we failed, and died, we could have our next character ready to go within minuets. In a game of Pathfinder, players have already invested so much in even level 1 characters, that a dungeon lethal enough to kill them in a single blow seems like an insane place to enter until much higher level.
It’s funny how something can sound extremely unpleasant until you actually give it a try. I don’t think this is something I could implement in a Pathfinder game. Player characters are too durable for a spike trap to terrify a Pathfinder Wizard anywhere near as much as it would terrify my OD&D Magic User. Still, I wonder if my players would enjoy this as much as I have. I may need to run an OD&D session or two sometime in the future!
*By ‘more survivability,’ I don’t mean much. Everybody started out by rolling 1d6 for their HP, with no bonuses to it based on constitution. On top of that, all weapons dealt 1d6 damage. So yes, any damage at all would kill me for sure. But any damage they took still had a potential to kill them as well. It’s not as though the fighter could be confident that he would be able to survive a few hits.
**I should note that my constitution is high enough that I am allowed to roll a saving throw to be unconscious, rather than dead. But that’s not exactly a safety net I want to rely on.
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Posted by LS on Sunday, July 29th, 2012 at 8:45 am
Categories: Old School Dungeons and Dragons
Tags: Player Perspective
Laril Kraul spent his early years in a small village on the Venusian coast. For generations his family–along with most other families in the village–had been fishermen. Laril was taught to use a net and spear from a young age, and proved adept in their use. During his teen years, he even created and popularized a form of gladiatorial jousting within his village which used the tools (the spears were blunted, of course). As he grew older, however, he became increasingly aware of the fact that he was different from the others in the village. The responsibilities he was expected to shoulder were awkward for him, and he often fantasized about what it would be like to be other people within his village. To experience their lives, and everything that went with that.
When Laril reached manhood, he took his leave of the village. He had always been strong, and the call of adventure gave him ample opportunity to explore his feelings of discontentment. Mastery of his unusual weapons proved beneficial to adventuring life. After a handful of minor successes on his own, Laril was approached by a small band of dungeon delvers who were impressed with his deeds. They asked if he would like to join them as they hunted for treasures hidden in crypts beneath the earth, and Laril was happy to accept. Adventuring life was dangerous, and he’d been hoping to find some companions to mitigate some of that danger.
The group traveled together for several months, and their excursions were largely profitable. Laril took pleasure in the excitement of the hunt. The fact that he’d recovered more gold to than anyone in his village had ever seen before didn’t hurt either. Yet his discontentment remained. Even in the life he’d made for himself, he felt out of place.
About a year after joining the group, Laril and his companions were exploring a particularly dank cavern. They’d slain the troll who lived there, and were beginning to worry that the treasure the beast had supposedly hoarded was fake. It took them nearly an hour to find the chest, modestly sized, hidden under a pile of rocks. Its contents were hardly worth their trouble. A measly few bags of silver coins, a pair of jewels, and a jade-studded leather belt with a silver buckle. Everyone agreed the belt must be the greatest prize, and they rolled bones to see who would get it.
Laril won, and immediately began putting the belt on while his companions set about dividing the rest of the loot between themselves. He was surprised by how comfortable it felt. In fact it affected his comfort much more than he would have imagined a belt could. He began to comment to his companions that the belt seemed to be magical, only to have his thoughts interrupted by the sudden and hysterical laughter of his friends. He asked what was funny, and noticed that his voice sounded strange in his ears. Worried, he went to his pack and began to fumble around for the steel mirror he kept there. As he rummaged through his bag, he noticed something else:
He had breasts.
“It’s a belt of gender changing!” the group’s wizard called to him, having finally regained his breath. “A cursed item. You won’t be able to take it off without a spell ofRemove Curse.” Laril was silent for a long moment as he pondered this development. Despite a change which should have upset him, he still felt strangely…comfortable. More comfortable than she’d ever felt in her life. The nagging discontentment which had pestered her in otherwise quiet moments was nowhere to be found. She felt whole.
Laril remained silent for the moment, unsure of how to broach this issue with her fellows. But when the morning came and the wizard had prepared his spell, she knew she couldn’t go back. She refused to allow the Remove Curse spell to be cast upon her, stating that she was happier this way. The party was confused, and concluded that the belt must have additional magical properties they were unaware of–some manner of mind control. They took hold of her and held her in place while the wizard performed his spell. Laril protested, but the others were certain they were doing her a favor, and held fast.
The spell was completed, and the belt destroyed. Laril again found herself in a male body, once again disconcerted, once again less than whole. She was so overwhelmed by rage and loss that all she could do was sit and weep over the ruined remains of the belt that had changed her life. Her companions were concerned for her, and opted to remain another night without traveling, to allow her some time to work out whatever was wrong. The following morning, she informed them that she had come to two decisions.
The first was that she would no longer remain with them. Now that she’d found what she’d been looking for, she intended to waste no time in figuring out how to get it back.
“And the second thing?” they asked.
“My name is Laura.” she answered. Then left.
Laura Kraul (CR 5)
Female Human Fighter 6
Init +8; Senses Perception -1
AC 20, Flat Footed 14, Touch 16 [10 + Dex(4) + Armor(5) + Dodge(1)]
hp 53 (6d10 + 24)
Fort +7 Ref +6 Will + 1
Melee Shocking Burst Longspear + 9 (1d8 + 3 + 1d6 Electricity/x3 + 2d10 Electricity)
Melee Net +10 (Causes the Entangled condition)(Ranged Touch Attack)(10ft)
Str 16 (+3) Dex 19 (+4) Con 14 (+2) Int 11 (+1) Wis 9 (-1) Cha 13 (+1)
Base Atk +6/1; CMB +9; CMD 23
Feats Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (Spear), Weapon Specialization (Spear), Dodge, Weapon Focus(Net), Quick Draw, Lunge, Toughness
Skills Craft (Boatswain)(+11), Knowledge (Engineering)(+11), Ride (+10), Survival (+5)
Languages Common, Dwarven
–Lunge: Can increase the reach of your melee attacks by 5ft in exchange for a -2 AC penalty.
Gear Slick Lightly Fortified Hide Armor; Mithril Shocking Burst Longspear; 3 Silk Nets; Backpack; 842 GP, Dagger, Bedroll, 10′ pole, steel mirror, 3 weeks rations, 1 lantern, 3 flasks of lantern oil, small jar of salt, fishing line, 3 hooks.
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