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.–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!


Game Mastering Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds logo

As a GM, deciding to use a new game system is not something that you undertake lightly.  Beyond taking the time to learn the new ruleset, you also only have one chance to make a good first impression on your players – you are also ‘selling’ the system to other gamers.  As a result, your first game needs to run smoothly while hopefully showing enough of the positives of the game’s core rules to win over at least a second look.

Converting an adventure to VTT is also a sure way to learn it forwards and backwards

So I prepared a one-shot Halloween game, converting a Savage Worlds adventure from an older 2003 title called ‘Last Rites of the Black Guard’ over to Fantasy Grounds.  Converting an adventure to VTT is also a sure way to learn it forwards and backwards – so my confidence in running the adventure was as high.  I also spent 14 hours as a player in games hosted by other GMs and a goodly amount of time reading and re-reading rules, again building more confidence through knowledge.

To top it all off, I put my own spin on the adventure.  I constructed a team of pre-built player characters with crisp, well-defined roles. They were all part of a video production crew trying to film enough of the occult and creepy settings to get a TV deal.  They had electronic devices and gadgets to help them investigate any hauntings or dark happenings.  So they had an over-arching goal of selling their show to the networks and then a host of immediate goals for the client whose children were in occult danger.  They would have contracts and release paper-work, lighting and power considerations, and gobs of smaller details to worry about that would hopefully help invest them in the story.

Defining team roles worked really, really well

Last night I GMed my first Savage Worlds game and because I was exceedingly well prepared, it went very smoothly.  Defining team roles worked really, really well and it gave everyone some of the limelight.  Everyone contributed to the collective story and the rules quickly faded into background noise once everyone got familiar with how to make skill checks.  I drove the adventure where it needed to go by making it increasingly spooky and by adding enough tension at certain points to steer the players where they needed to go.

For instance, they ‘knew’ early on that the source of their problems was coming from an adjacent house, but they had been paid to help their client and she really needed them and her distress got them back to helping her kids.  They rightly believed that they were treating the symptoms, and it weighed heavily on them for a while, but they were soon getting clues about the nature of the haunting and started to see value in helping their client.  A seance allowed them to learn a great deal about the haunting and was TV gold!  It was nice, from a GMs perspective, to have a plot device that actually provided a logical reason to dig deeper even when you had an intuitive reason to skip to the end.  They are filming the story and they wanted a good record for their viewers.

A one-shot one-kill affair really stunned them

As far as the game system goes, there were only 2 combat encounters.  The first one was a one-shot one-kill affair that really stunned them.  They’ve been use to D&D 5e combat were opponents generally tend to get worn down gradually.  But here – BANG – and they killed a zombie creature with single shot!

The next combat came on the heels of the first and it was a lot different from D&D.  All but two of the players were hiding and dreading combat because they saw that it could be deadly.  And it was deadly – they stabbed and shot a pair of murderous attackers and the combat was over after 2 rounds.  Combat isn’t really that deadly for wild cards – but there is no reason to tell them.  It role plays better this way – and it is going to lend a sense of danger to future combats.

Everyone seemed happy with the adventure and with the game system.  Combat was exactly what I wanted – impactful to the plot, but not the key element of play.  I already have a good mental picture of how to layout the next two or three episodes – and I will be channeling my inner Carl Kolchak if we decide to proceed.


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 World of Solomon Kane event

Way, way back in the 70’s when I was a youth, I was introduced to Solomon Kane via comic books.  Eventually I found my way to the Robert E. Howard pulp classics and read them – and Solomon Kane took me to Conan.  So when I signed up for the Solomon Kane event at FG Con 9, I was more than curious to see how a puritanical adventure against evil and deviltry would play out inside the Savage Worlds RPG.

Jingo, one of the founders of the Society of Extraordinary Gamers, hosted a gaming session for myself and two other lucky gamers.  Everyone was fairly new to Savage Worlds and one hadn’t used Fantasy Grounds before, so we were a bit slow to get started but Jingo kept things smooth and orderly without getting frustrated.

Everyone was fairly new to Savage Worlds

My fellow gamers were also a bit less gamed jaded than myself, with one of the two being very new to RPG gaming, so I merely suggested solutions or actions and otherwise followed their leads.  I tried to push a little here and there, but generally wanted to just do my job.

After playing a supporting character the night before, I wanted more of a main-line role, and took a Swordsman/Duelist that I named Theo (Tay-o) who was an arrogant, jingoistic Frenchman that had a skill set that did indeed make him rather dangerous.  The other players took an English Captain with a range of leadership skills and an Italian Courtesan that carried a brace of daggers that she could toss with respectable accuracy.  We made for a rather odd group,  with little to no investigative or arcane knowledge but we could do pretty well in straight-up fight.

Theo's character sheet
Theo’s character sheet

We didn’t really get a straight-up fight!

I don’t want to ruin Jingo’s tournament module by saying much about the adventure specifically.  I will say that we didn’t really get a straight-up fight! Almost immediately it looked like we were going to go down under a wave of axe-wielding foes!  The good Captain had a knack for dramatic last-minute timing and played an adventure card that saved us from the immediate peril and we quickly retreated to a safe location.

Ghostly viking raiders?!
Ghostly viking raiders?!

The numerous raiders – whom were only visible in moonlight – and naturally they didn’t tend to stay in pools of soft moonlight, instead preferring to go indoors and attack the villagers.

The Captain’s moral compass wouldn’t let him ignore the cries of the villagers

We responded to the attack on the villagers even though my inner voice told me to do something else.  The Captain’s moral compass wouldn’t let him ignore the cries of the villagers and splitting a party of 3 is rarely going to have a good outcome.  So we rescued the threatened villagers and then followed the other route – which did indeed prove to be the solution.

What did I learn here about Savage Worlds?  Well, I sort of thought that ranged attackers have it fairly easy in terms of getting hits.  I was having a fairly rough time of it at first with melee with just a 6 parry – which negated me done to around a 40% hit rate and was watching ranged attacks hit on 4’s which is closer to a 60% hit rate.

I also learned that doing enough damage to punch through armor and the like can also complicate things.  My fighting combo – a rapier and a main guache – are fine for lightly armored opponents, but these guys were right on the edge between medium and hard difficulty and I stayed a bit on edge through out the session.

The session itself was very well managed by Jingo who was clearly an experienced and patient GM with many years of experience.  When something happened that wasn’t clear, he would take the time to explain it, and this happened with some frequency given our newness to Savage Worlds.  Since we had some fairly green players, he also made some more overt hints or suggestions and pulled at least one punch.  When he made a mistake (like once – when he moved 20 villagers individually instead of enmasse), he’d point it out which, for me, is a learning moment.

Savage Worlds can deliver combat that doesn’t bog down an entire evening

All in all, I came away having gained some more valuable Savage Worlds experience and I am still liking what I am seeing in the game system.  The upbeat tempo of the game is as good as I was hoping to see – only taking 15 minutes to resolve combat vs 90+ minutes in other systems is really, really appealing to me.  My games currently tend to be a battle night or an role playing night and I’d rather have a better balance and more regular rhythm between action and role play.  It looks like Savage Worlds can deliver combat that doesn’t bog down an entire evening which in turn is going really help in the pacing of gaming sessions.  I will be able to do things like start a combat 30 minutes before the the session should end – and be reasonably certain that the combat will conclude and not need to end the session with combat in progress (or stop early in order to avoid doing that).


FG Con 9 – Fire in the Darkness event

Last night I was able to game well past my bed time in a Savage World’s Shaintar adventure hosted by Stephen Dragonspawn called “Fire in the Darkness.”  It was my first experience with a live Savage Worlds game and, while the gods of RNGiness did make it a little weird, it was a long enough session for me to get a really good first look – along with very good GM explanations – at the core ruleset.  Beyond these goals, I also had a good time and enjoyed Stephen’s adventure a great deal.

I know that Stephen is running this again, so I will not post any spoilers.  Please don’t misinterpret this as a casual disregard for the nuances of the adventure – it was nicely done and plenty of fun – and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else.

I mentioned the gods of RNG and they reared their multiplicative heads early and often.  On the second round of combat – what was perhaps 10 minutes into the game – a gargoyle hit the party’s Orc Druid with an outrageously lethal amount of damage.  The druid played an adventure card which negated all combat damage thus far and walked away without a scratch, and dryly commented that he had never had to play an adventure card so early.  I looked at my adventure cards and nary a one would have saved me, so RNG cut both directions here – which as pretty cool.

My character Robar's first attack was effective!
My character Robar’s first attack was effective!

As the night went on, we had the good fortune of drawing a lot of Jokers during combat, so we had a fairly strong (a bit short of outrageous) influx of bennys.  Because we knew the timeline (4 hour game session), we were able to be fairly free with how and when we spent them, so we moved along fairly quickly.

By the end of the evening, I certainly had noticed how quick and deadly combat encounters were compared to D&D 5e.  Ganging up bonuses combined with well-timed uses of bennys illustrated the effectiveness of team-play.  The Wild Die helps give combat the proper sense of the chaotic unpredictability of battle – and maybe happy rush of adrenaline or happiness or fear that one should have when something unexpectedly good or bad happens.

When the Wild Die went off and a combatant was cut down with a mighty blow, Stephen urged the players to describe the blow.  I thought this a little strange at first, but came to recognize that he was prompted for some role playing and doing it at a good time, when the player was flush with a bit of excitement or elation.  There is often a discussion about what happened after a crit in D&D with the players expanding the narrative details, so asking for an explanation from the player is rather clever.  I may have to steal that :).

Party making the final push
Party making the final push

All in all, my first impressions of Savage Worlds are very good indeed and I am starting to get excited about the prospect of running a campaign with the ruleset.  Thank you, Stephen, for an excellent introduction to Savage Worlds!

I have another adventure, this time in the puritan’s world of Solomon Kane, in a few minutes.  So anticipate another FG Con 9 session report…



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.