Drivethrurpg products released

Today my first Drivethrurpg products went live.  Both are ‘pay what you want’ products, so I am not trying to hijack anyone’s wallet.

Maps of the American West for Fantasy Grounds
Death of a Tyrant – The Missing Maps

Both of these products are intended to provide consumers relatively high quality but low cost visual aids to their VTT sessions.

This would have happened quite a bit sooner, but my wife and I decided to wait for the new year before getting a small business license and matching tax EIN number that Drivethru wants to have.  Then it was just a matter of taking existing materials and polishing or organizing them.

I also invested heavily in the Campaign Cartographer 3+ lines of products since I plan on upping the quality of my output.  I will blog about CC3+ in the near future.


Beasts & Barbarians – A Savage Worlds Setting

I’ve now GMed a pair of sessions using GRAmel’s excellent Beasts & Barbarians setting.  I am planning on running the first two modules back to back and then possibly running a story arc with a different setting.

As far as how it has impacted my players, I cannot really see a huge difference in how the games are resolved except that combat plays out much more quickly (and with larger numbers involved) which in turn allows them to mix in more role-playing which is wonderful.  I am still quite green as a Savage Worlds GM and I am sure that we can make things even faster in future.

Unfortunately, this is going to create a crisis of sorts.  I like to have prepared battle maps and these modules are not very good about providing maps.  I think that I can get through the first two adventures without a problem, but I am already sort of stressing over it.  War of the Dead, which has excellent battle maps, might see some use as a secondary campaign whilst I prepare more Beasts & Barbarians materials.

I give Beasts & Barbarians and the first adventure, DEATH OF A TYRANT, very high marks for being true to the spirit of low-fantasy.  Adventure, women, and wine against a backdrop of strange creatures and dark magic!  The second adventure opens up with mass battles and hopefully comes off as well as the first is playing out.


2016 – First Year Back as a GM

A long, long time ago in the same year that Star Wars was released, I first started DMing OD&D.  I moved on to AD&D and finished with Metzer’s Basic / Expert set.  I stopped DMing in 1989 – by then all of my friends had young families and I was self-starting a career in computers.

I made my 2016 New Year’s resolution to get back to RPG’s by leaning on VTT technology in the form of Fantasy Grounds.  I spent most of the year running a D&D5e campaign and had a great time!  I got a couple of my old gaming buddies involved and made a handful of new gaming buddies along the way.

As I progressed through the year, one thing slowly became evident to me – VTT game play is just arriving.  Being a bit of newbie, I thought that it had already arrived and was old hat, when instead it is still just starting to get the attention of publishers who are just now starting to alter their production efforts to allow their products to be used online.

I was also wading through 25+ years of gaming history that I had largely missed.  What I see is an industry that is fractured into various segments so small that most publishers have to really be struggling.  The number of game systems and attendant settings is staggering.

By September, it was starting to become clear to me that while 5e was a great take on D&D, that means that it suffers from the same design problems.  In a nutshell, players attain strength and power and that in turn eliminates the excitement of danger while automatically lengthening any combat encounters.  It’s always been like this.


The year 2016 was a great success – I completely realized my New Year’s resolution and enjoyed all of the creative fires that we’re ignited over the course of the year.

2017 will be my Savage year!  I am moving over to Savage Worlds as my core game system and will start with GRAmel’s Beast & Barbarians which is a low fantasy setting.

Realm Works: First Impressions

I’ve used Realm Works for 12 hours or so.  It is a complex program, so 12 hours isn’t a lot of time with it, so season how well you care to trust my opinion accordingly.

Update: The font problem mentioned here is relatively recent in nature and it has been suggested that it was introduced via a 3rd party library.  I am certainly aware that bugs can come from the tools your rely upon and it appears that this may be one of those cases.

When I first got Realm Works, I quickly discovered that it cannot handle jpg images much over 4mb in size (it warns you – then it crashes) and it has memory issues when you have a lot of fonts installed.  Neither one of these things left me feeling very good about the software and honestly I considered just writing my $50 investment off and allowing the program to mature.  I can forgive the large image size problem, but the font problem – that is just bad coding.

Someone is doing it wrong at Lone Wolf

When I went to discard around 100mb of fonts, I still had Realm Works running.  I could not trash any of the fonts.  I shutdown Realm Works – now I could delete the fonts.  That means…. Realm Works had every font on the system open.  Now I am not much of a programmer, but maybe, just maybe, you might open only the fonts the software is actually using?  I have not had a font problem since the days of Windows 98, so clearly someone is doing it wrong at Lone Wolf and this is a scrub-level programming problem for which there is no good excuse.

Font warning text
Font warning greeting me when I start Realm Works

I am bit more forgiving of the image-size problem.  I mean, we are working with a program speaking about ‘fog of world’ as long it is a small world.  Otherwise, we just get ‘fog of a small part of the world’ which is far less impressive.  So, they need to fix it, but this is much more of a real programming dilemma than avoiding opening every font.  But if you cannot keep up with “Windows Photo Viewer,” the default app for viewing images and hence a fairly low bar for measurement, you might want to eventually invest a little bit of time in overcoming the problem.

My initial impression after 60 minutes was not at all favorable

So my initial impression after 60 minutes was not at all favorable.  A part of me just wanted to wait and check out the software after 3 or 4 months to see if it had improved.  But I had seen enough glimpses of what it offered that I decided to press on – and I am glad that I did.

I started by entering in the GM’s section on the ‘Dread Sea Dominions’ which is GRAmel’s campaign environment for Beasts & Barbarians.  I’d gotten the GM and Player’s guide for Fantasy Grounds.  I also had picked up 3 or 4 other books from DriveThruRPG – almost all of my Black Friday expenditures for gaming went to GRAmel.

The more you do, the better things get

One of the first things, and maybe the coolest in my opinion, is that the text in Realm Works starts to light-up with links.  As you enter more topics, the interconnections between topics start to appear.  Realm Works is a campaign content management system and what it can give you starts to become apparent.  It connects and interconnects everything so it can be at your finger tips at the click of a mouse button.  It is also addictive in the sense that the more you do, the better things get.  The reward for the effort is self-evident and that carrot of making additional links keeps you plugging in more and more topics and text.

History of the World
A section with custom headings that match GRAmel’s organization of the topic. The links in the body of the text were auto-created.

Let’s look at a campaign map…

Campaign map with linked pins – the map is fan made by the good people at

The map is contained in a ‘Geographical’ Region which contains multiple ‘Political’ regions.  It is also a ‘Smart’ map which means that I can utilize the ‘fog of world’ feature and reveal just the parts of the world that the players have visited.

You are able to place pins on the map which links back to the various map elements that I’ve created.  I am a long way from done here, but I am pretty happy with how it works.  I greatly prefer mapping systems which use a pin system to provide information and this is good stuff.

And that is about as far as I have gotten in 12 hours.

My assessment of Realm Works is that it is in-freaking-valuable if you are working with a large, very well developed setting.  The more material you have to plug in, the richer the experience will become.

Realm Works is in-freaking-valuable if you are working with a large, very well developed setting

And notice, that I am not addressing the player client or the cloud connectivity of it.  I personally don’t care about those features.  The campaign integration and central management are enough to recommend the software IF you have the time and energy to get it all organized.

Lone Wolf is also about to open their market and presumably you’ll be able to simply buy content if inputting it is not your thing.  I will almost certainly be onboard with getting the Savage Worlds game mechanics materials.

Realm Works is THE standard for campaign management.

Realm Works is in development and constantly improving.  If you really want to integrate a large, complex setting that spans multiple documents, I don’t think that there is a better tool for the job.  Realm Works is THE standard for campaign management – and it will only get better with time.  If you are working via VTT, you will have some duplication of effort, but I don’t see any way to avoid that.


Scapple: A light-weight planning tool

My wife is a big fan of Latte & Literature’s award-winning SCRIVENER which is a tool for writers of all sorts.  I’ve used it, but never have felt at home in it, with the software getting in my way as much as it helped me.  I admire what it can do, but I can get by with Notepad++ or Jarte.

They also make a tool called Scapple which I do really like and enjoy.  It basically is like having a big piece of cork-board and you can jam pictures and notes on it – and then connect them with different types of lines that can show flow, relationships, or both.

Click on this for a larger view
Click on this for a larger view

The image shows where I am currently at with adventure planning.  It is a horror mystery adventure, so it takes a lot more pre-planning work than a dungeon delve.  Horror and mystery both are about pacing – clues and dreadful knowledge need to arrive slowly at first and then in an increasing flow as your march towards the conclusion.  So knowing who knows what and determining how the players dig deeper is a big part of the authoring process.  Scapple does a superb job of allowing you to map out the flow of the adventure as well as the actors and the clues they have.

For $15 (or $12 for educators or students), I think Scapple is a very good deal on a very useful and handy organizational tool.  I was starting to bog down envisioning the flow of the adventure and using Scapple helped pop me out of the mire and has allowed me to get almost to mid-point of the adventure.  I think it will be all down hill from here!

Latte & Literature offers a free 30-day trial of Scapple which you can get at their website. Give it a try, you might like it!


Generic VTT Star Field Battle Map #05

I’ve been daydreaming about running a space opera campaign and finally started looking around for resources.  One of the most basic would be a star field map that I could use as a background for ship tactical battles, discovery missions to build some tension, or to just show the relative positions of potential combatants.

A couple hours of looking for “VTT space battle maps” and various other key word searches resulted in… not much.  Anything that I ran across was extremely distracting at best, or just plain hideous to view.  I finally gave up in disgust, having searched several sites that sell such things as well as using my Google-fu with no luck.

This should be a basic commodity and it not being readily available from a variety of sources is a bit disconcerting.  So I spent a part of my morning working in Photoshop and made 10 different battle maps for space combat.  He is one of the low-res maps that I created:

Background for conducting space combat and the like
Background for conducting space combat and the like (2500 x 1600 when clicked)

Clicking the map links off to the full-scale image, so if you are here looking for a map like this, feel free to use it.

Why stuff like this isn’t more widely available is a mystery.  My guess would be that most settle from some imagery from Hubble or something similar  – I was something less distracting but that still gets the ‘you are in space’ point across.

I will probably get around to selling stuff like this early next January.  There is no point in complicating my tax return at this point in the year and places like DriveThruRPG will send tax statements at the end of the year.


FG Con 9 & Savage Worlds

I am soon to participate in my first Fantasy Grounds game as a player and I am doing it with Savage Worlds since I want to gain some experience with that gaming system.  My first event “Fire in the Darkness” is tonight and it is graciously hosted by Stephen Dragonspawn.

I’ve been pressing on with my conversion of “Last Rites of the Black Guard.”  I am actually to the point where I am goofing around with art assets – I don’t have much in the lines of modern tokens and I find myself hand making at least a couple of them.  I’m about 85% done and should be in good shape for Halloween fun.

Prep work for Halloween

My gaming group’s normal night for adventure is Tuesday.  This year Halloween falls on a Monday night and I decided to see if my players were interested in having a special creepy gaming session and just about all of them are eager.

Earlier this week I had decided to become a dedicated Savage and start using Savage Worlds for much of my roleplaying needs.  As a result, I started looking around for a Savage Worlds one-off horror module.  The one that best fit my needs was “Last Rites of the Black Guard” which is also available for d20 system.

Unfortunately, it is not available for Fantasy Grounds and the screen shot below shows you where I am at in the conversion:

sw_last_ritesLast Rites starts with a request for help from a desperate single mother whose daughter has been touched by occult forces.  The players respond to the plea and start investigating at her home, but the trail will lead to far stranger places.

The module reads well and seems to be a good one – it started 12 to Midnight off and they eventually became an imprint under Pinnacle.  ETU (East Texas University) is an example of their work and they created the Pinebox, Texas, setting.  It isn’t on rails and provides a lot of information in a fairly open way.

If it has any flaws, it is perhaps the timeline.  The adventure starts at 7pm and none of the occult activity starts until midnight.  Five hours is a long time to hang out, so I will probably start it at 8pm and ‘steal’ 30 minutes while the woman helps her daughter to go to sleep.  Besides, getting people separated from one another is always a good ploy…

There is also a person that is going to break into a neighboring home and I don’t care for how it is handled.  There are notice rolls to see them drive by, another to see that the license plate is unusual.  Blah!  I am going to casually mention that they see a neighbor returning home and pull into the garage (they are breaking in by using a device to cause the door openers to start).  Later on, they’ll learn that the neighbor died and was rather notorious.  If they realize that the dead neighbor should not be driving, good for them, but there will be no rolling for clues.

Finally, I will take a pass on the provided quick-start characters.  There are only 4 and they seem to all link back to ETU – explaining ETU when I have 3 or 4 hours total is not going to happen.

I’ve got quite a few hours of work yet to finish the conversion – I’d better stop talking about it and get back to doing it!  The creepy part of this for me – when I run it, it will be my first time GMing Savage Worlds and hopefully my system knowledge is up to the task.



I’ve taken a few months of downtime, but I’m back and ready to keep on RPGing.

It is unfortunate and more than a little bit odd, but I just went through a lengthy run of deaths, wakes, and burials that involved grandparents, an aunt, a best friend which was entirely unexpected, and even a pet dog of 12 years.  My heart wasn’t in communications, so my updates here stopped for a bit.

On the role playing front, I am starting to look towards my next campaign as the current campaign should finish out by the end of November.  I’ve picked up Barbarians of Lemuria and Savage Worlds, both rule sets for Fantasy Grounds, and I am busy parsing the rules.  Savage Worlds is likely to get the nod since the appeal of a multi-genre spanning system is hard to resist.

As for D&D 5e, I still like it, but there are some cracks, big and small, that I’ve started to notice.  Some of these are probably true of any system.  Anyhow, I do not like how rest allows a party to load-up and smash down an encounter – then retreat back for a lovely nap to power back up.  I’ve utilized some consequences (like villains fleeing or preparing), but the problem is still there.  I am also generally unhappy with the formula approach to encounters – the average of hit points being used, the power level calculations, and the ratings of difficulty.  It all ends up a bit…bland.  Too over-thought and under-wrought, it does too much to cheat cruel fate and the spectre of death is more like the spectator of death, watching harmlessly, almost forgotten.

I can remember the first campaign I played in.  I was third level – and everyone else was first level because everyone else had died not once, but several times.  I had 9 hit points and ran like a craven coward from almost every fight because I would drop with 2 hits.  I was a thief and the group scout, leading the way deeper into the merciless dungeon – and running back to the party when I was detected.  That game seems very distant to what I am DMing now.  I understand that it is more fun not to have your character killed – but it certainly isn’t as thrilling or rewarding to level up.

Project Benchmark – Tarantis B&W line work concludes

I’ve now done about as much black and white line work as is needed and I feel pretty good about the project so far.  The goal was to use modern tools to give Tarantis a gentle facelift.  I am trying to honor the original authors and artists vision while using modern tools to do the things I feel like they would have done had they had access to the tools available 30+ years later.

Black and white vector line version of Tarantis – easy on the eyes

In terms of change, I’ve taken the time and made the effort to make the alignment of walls, buildings, and structures feel more humanized.  The original map is very much on a grid and I’ve done a lot to take this version off of the grid – while being close enough to the original to be easily recognizable.

The only place that I’ve take a great deal of liberties is in the dock area of the map.  I’ve replaced the massive sea-wall with towers that can raise chains to act as barriers and I’ve added a man-made island to shield the port.  The wharves themselves have been restructured to look more realistic and more functional.  I worry that I’ve overstepped a bit in this area, but the docks and the walls really enforced that clunky, blocky feeling that I was working to eliminate.

Along the way, I repaired a couple of errors that were probably caused by transport or storage.  One of the gates had fallen apart and was missing one side (which had landed in one of the nearby temples).  I repaired the gate and better aligned the palace so the entry chamber was aligned and balanced.  I also discovered a temple that was missing – I did not replace it, but I did remove the misplaced building from the map.

So What’s Next?

My intent is to move to color now, which probably means that I need to set the scale to about 200% of what will be actually be used, and then lay in the detail.  The line work is all in vector format, so scaling it almost any size is possible.

I will create a player map that will feature rooftops – in short, the bulk of the town will be concealed, with the inner-workings of buildings the realm of the GM.  It will try to render the town so the map is pleasing.  If I have time, I will also try to build ‘business signs’ for many of the places in Tarantis.

The GM’s map will be as per usual – with the revealed interiors.  I will color code it so the town can be navigated partially by color.  I realize that using color isn’t entirely wise since not everyone sees the world the same way, but it will not be the only method to navigate the maps – it will still have the text labels just like always.

Speaking of text labels, I will not post a large scale map with text.  This isn’t my intellectual property and once words get involved, it clearly enters the domain of copyright protection.  If you search around this blog, you will find that I am very respectful of the work of others and have paid for or self-created almost all of the art seen here. In so much that a labeled map might be all a given GM needs to use the material, I will not provide it because it isn’t mine to give.

Color is something that I am really picky about and it might take several starts and stops before I find the look that I am hoping to achieve.  I am more accomplished with color in real media (acrylic and pastel are my strengths), so getting happy with my new digital tools might take a bit of time.

I also will be creating a Fantasy Grounds module once I get a finished map (the player’s map is ideal for a digital key – the GM’s map will be keyed to show the signs I mentioned earlier).  I am very capable with Fantasy Grounds, and this will be a grind due to the sheer number of entries – but easy enough.

Once I am happy with Tarantis, I’ll be moving on to creating my own cities.  This has been a great learning opportunity – rebuilding Tarantis room by room, building by building, and street by street has been enlightening and has given me a lot of insight into the sheer amount of work and effort each one of Judge’s Guild’s city products were to create.