Review: The City of Carse from Midkemia Press

I recently started a discussion asking about suggestions for prepared towns that were complete enough to be useful while being generic enough to see use in most situations.  A few hours into the responses and someone suggested Carse.

Wow, I could remember CARSE!  I remember seeing it on game store shelves – it has a cream or yellowish cover and always came in a plastic bag.  I never bought it, though I considered it many times.  Anyhow, it made me wonder what had become of Midkemia Press (the company that produced it) so I started searching with Google.

Ah yeah, the DIGITAL 3rd Edition

And I was surprised to see Midkemia Press still in existence!  Wow, they were converting their products over to digital (i.e. PDF with JPG images) and Carse was available for $5.  Heck yes!  I ponied up $9 and got Carse bundled with their CITIES ENCOUNTERS source book.

The products were mailed to me and I was a bit surprised – Steve Abrams, one of the original authors, had taken the high-road in conversions and had really cleaned up the source.  As a result, the text is super crisp and clearly more than just an OCR attempt.

Click on the text to see how clear and readable it is

The PDF is 94 pages long, with the first 66 pages being dedicated to the City of Carse.  Every building on the map – and there are lots of them – has a note or entry.  Some are undetailed (i.e. RESIDENCE with no further information), but most have several sentences of descriptive text.

There are gobs of loosely hinted at adventure hooks, taverns to carouse, things to buy and discover, and in general it is a comfortable, well-considered fantasy burg that should be easy and effective to add to any adventure or campaign.  It also has a sizable portion of the community living outside the the city walls, another nod towards realistic design which I like.

The product comes with a large image that once was the map which was placed out where players could see it.  It is not annotated.  The descriptive text also contains portions of the map and so the GM can navigate the town privately.  With electronic products, this perhaps makes a bit less sense these days, but it does lead to the town being neatly segmented in pieces that make finding an indexed item fairly quick.

The map is clean and easy to navigate

I’ll eventually be converting Carse over to Fantasy Grounds and, for me at least, this will completely flatten out the problem of locating the text for a building.  Because I will be doing this, it makes me doubly appreciative of the cleaned up text since it will copy and paste without the typical OCR errors.

Did Carse survive the test of time?  Absolutely!  For $5, it is a steal – adding a town to a campaign for the price of a Big Mac is a crazy good deal.


Card Hunter has a familiar look and feel

Card Hunter is a web-based card game that has very, very strong ties to D&D and fantasy role playing.  If you want to check it out, just head over to their web site and have a look around – the game will play out of a modern web browser.  Optionally, if you use Steam, it is can be added to your Steam account and involves a ~200mb download and you get Steam achievements and updates.

Raid on Ommlet - sounds tasty
Raid on Ommlet – sounds tasty

The game is actually kind of nice in the sense that it wants you to play a little bit each day, with dungeons and encounters awarding less each time you return to them – it encourages you to come back the next day after the 20-some-odd-hour play timer has reset.  The game is a grinder, to be sure, but it also doesn’t demand overly much of your time.

The challenge of the game appears to be simple risk management.  I pressed  into a difficulty level 2 tomb with my 1st and two 2nd level characters and came close to losing a character.  I elected to back out and will go back through the starter dungeons in order to get my 1st level character caught up.

When you are playing, you are encouraged to subscribe by each treasure chest opened offering two treasures to anyone, and a third treasure to subscribers.  Seems fair enough to me – 33% more loot for supporting the game does not seem excessive.  At the end of a month, who is going to be better geared?  Probably the paying customer.

The art work in the game often time reminds me of some of Erol Otis’s classic stuff and that is very high praise indeed.  The game itself plays nothing like D&D, but the vibe is faithful to OD&D and it is well worth a look.

As far as the game goes, I’ve scantly explored it, only having a group of three 1st to 2nd level characters.  It seems very gear dependent which is understandable as different pieces of loot provide different cards for you to utilize.  It can be played cooperatively online, too.

Anyhow, if you like casual card games and D&D, take a peek!

Mapping with Mischief

A company called The Foundry is based around a piece of drawing software named Mischief.  I found Mischief while casting about for sketching software to use with a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and was enamored with the promise and potential of the software.  In a nutshell, Mischief promises infinite zoom, digital paper with no borders, an endless level of detail, an unlimited range of choices unhindered by anything even marginally resembling planning.

Simple sketch made with Mischief
Simple sketch made with Mischief

Originally, I was only interested in being able to sketch and play with line and color.  The pen is extremely accurate and responsive – a joy to use!  I sketched and played happily with the new tools – both the tablet and the software being almost equally unknown to me.

As I played around with the software, I discovered that it had a wide range of background ‘paper’ that you can use and that some of the paper was graph paper which made sense because you needed something to gauge scale against.  Well, for a guy like me, a piece of graph paper is meant that perhaps I could use this software for mapping.

Simply drawn structure outlines waiting to be painted
Simply drawn structure outlines waiting to be painted

I started very plain-jane, with simple overhead line-art for village mapping.  No need for a lot of detail – I would place the buildings, rotate them as needed, and then color in the shadow.  So I started creating a wide range of what would be copy and paste structures – the more the merrier.  After a few hours I had a goodly selection of structures and had even put together some fences and rounded buildings.  I put together a test page and started placing buildings and then tried coloring and toning them but discovered a missing tool.

When you have infinite zoom, it evidently is impossible or impractical to have a paint bucket tool.  It would fill the page…infinitely – or when memory ran out which would happen quickly.  I had intended to fill the buildings using a paint bucket tool, and that was not possible.

When you have infinite zoom, it evidently is impossible or impractical to have a paint bucket tool.

Instead, the buildings became rather cumbersome.  I would have to use layers and start by putting a white layer under the building, then I would have to apply color in tones based on how the light was falling.  All in all, it was going to be so clunky that I felt that I might as well render isometric structures rather than overhead.

Going 3d with isometric structures
Going 3d with isometric structures

Well, the first problem is that none of the graph paper is designed for isometric drawing.  I was able to download an image of that type of paper and you can then set the entire Mischief application to be transparent – it allowed me to sketch the linework loosely and to roughly get the effect that I was hoping to accomplish.  It wasn’t perfect, but it seems to show what is possible.  It again became evident that layered approach with an opaque white layer was going to be mandatory.

Proof of concept image for isometric mapping
Proof of concept image for isometric mapping

So I put it all together and created a single building and then placed it firmly on the ground.  To this point, I had been working lightly, not really trying to achieve a finished look.  To this point, I had been experimenting, looking for the best path to take.

The opaque white was colored in such a way as to suggest lighting and form – shadows were made on the grass to give the building some solidity and the hint of a path to the door to ignite the imagination.  My only unhappiness being that it was more than a little labor intensive, but once I had created several dozen structures, they could be copied and pasted with ease.

Copying and pasting mountains is dangerous business
Copying and pasting mountains is dangerous business

It occurred to me that campaign mapping icons were far less detailed than the buildings it would take to make a village or town.  So I started out with mountains.  Lots and lots of different mountains since variety is mandatory when you intend to copy and paste (and still look good).

These were all three layer creations.  The highest layer being the dark work, the middle layer being color (largely gray), and the bottom layer being pure white, drawing neatly inside the lines and blocked in with a large pen.  Each one took a while – say 10 or 15 minutes, perhaps a little more.  They are also faded via transparency at the base so that they will sit rather than float.

Then I turned my attention to the hills, drawing them exactly as I had the mountains.  Three layers each, with the bases being gently feathered.  Green with a hint of earthy brown, each hill was shaded to have shadow just as the mountains.

As I had worked, I compressed the layers.  Mischief can only have 24 or 25 layers.  As I made each hill or mountain, I was forced to merge it down until the item was all on one layer – then I placed it and compressed it into the larger store of items.

I started dropping mountains and hills like a mythic god of old

Campaign mapping test
Campaign mapping test

Finally I put enough of it together to play!  I painted out a huge patch of green – the green, green ground – and then I started dropping mountains and hills like a mythic god of old.  In a short time I had a range of mountains surrounded by hillocks and valleys.  With a bit of sketching, I added rivers, road, and trail and the demo map was very much suggesting some epic old-world-that-never-was sense of fantasy adventure.

It was at this point that Mischief decided to be…mischievous.  It blasted an error message onto the screen and refuses to work with the image beyond loading it.  It will not export it as a jpg, will not allow me to add to it, to zoom, or to do much of anything.

So I sent the people at The Foundry my work so they can perhaps correct the error, fix the thing that is wrecking my document and perhaps restore some of the trust lost when I watched more than a few hours of work become unusable.  Then I ordered real isometric and graph paper – I’ve got things to do and trust my scanner.

I am not abandoning Mischief – not yet, anyhow – but I am unwilling to invest further time into mapping with the software.  Sketching, yes, still doing that and love it.  But mapping – no, it doesn’t seem stable enough but the potential still leaves me starry-eyed and hopeful.  Being able to draw an epic-scale campaign map in my own hand is just too much to give up on.