Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011 in Review

2012 is almost upon us and its time to set some goals, but first I have to review 2011.

2011 Resolutions Progress

Last year saw me start blogging in earnest and for the first time in ages I made some New Year Resolutions:

1.  Take More Notes (5/10) - I'm counting this as a partial success.  I created the Lands of Dual website to act as a repository for session reports and to store all my campaign notes and maps.  I also began using record cards to take notes, but still relied far too heavily on players notes than I would have liked.  This became particularly troublesome when calculating the XP earned by individual PCs so I must come up with a better solution.

2.  Weekly Blog Series (5/10) - Another partial success as I managed to create two of the weekly blog series ideas I spoke of in my original resolutions article.  Unfortunately they petered out within a few articles.
  • Monday Motivations - was an attempt to compile a list of mini-backgrounds for fantasy characters along class lines.  I managed to write 12 articles before the juices ran dry.  There's plenty of life left in this series though and I did promise to publish it as a collected series which will clearly need to be expanded upon.

  • Citymorphs - Following in the footsteps of the Geomorphing community I successfully created 29 citymorph tiles over the course of 7 articles.   In retrospect I should probably have reduced the number of morphs per article and eked it out over more posts as the pressure to create 4 morphs per week quickly exhausted my creative juices.  However, I did manage to get them added to Dave's Mapper so you can play with them to your heart's content. 

    The focus for Geomorphs seemed to shift towards the Dungeonmorph Dice project founded by Joe "Inkwell Ideas" Wetzel but there were casualties along the way and the inspirational Dyson Logos has apparently gone off line for the forseeable future.

    I liked the concept a lot and as my attention drifts away from Fantasy (in the form of my current OSR clone Castles and Crusades) towards Sci-Fi (namely Judge Dredd) I think there are options for this in the future.
This was not theend of the story and a couple of other series ideas sprang forth.
  • A to Z of 80s UK RPG - Was an attempt at nostalgically recording my gaming inspirations but stuttered at "I is for ....".  I intend to continue this series as I have written further articles along the line which have yet to see the light of day and it would be a shame to end it after only 8 articles.
  • Mapping Tools - Was a little 4 part series investigating the state of free cross platform mapping solutions at different scales.  I enjoyed making this series and it led to the discovery of the sweet little tool TILED which I have now used on a number of occasions to construct classic blue style dungeon maps such as The Ruined Tower of The Archmage.
3.  Blog in Advance (3/10) - I have come to the conclusion that scheduled blogging really only works if you have an ongoing series combined with enough inspiration to easily create articles for it in advance.  This lack of inspiration has really been my issue and I don't want to end up with quality suffering for the sake of quantity.

Other Achievements in 2011

Blog Performance

2011 has seen Roleplay-Geek hit the 20,000 pageviews mark (woot) and I've written 96 articles.  I've even tried mobile blogging with limited success, if anyone has any suggestions for free iOS apps for mobile let me know in the usual way. 

 The top 5 articles of the year (by pageviews) are:
  1. Minions My OSR take on the one hit wonder (697pv) - High interest in this article probably due to being picked up in Tracy Hurley's Festival of Lights article on the official D&D website.  I must namedrop 4e concepts a bit more...
  2. Make: 3D Dungeon Tiles Pt 1 - The Design (193pv) - Where I set out the design to produce a cheap as chips and, more importantly, a useable 3D dungeon set.
  3. Make: 3D Dungeon Tiles Pt 2 - The Build (189pv) - Building the rooms with foamcore.
  4. RPG Mapping Tools Part 1 - Battle Maps (183pv) - Part one of my 4 part series exploring free cross platform mapping tools.
  5. UPDATE: RPG Google mapping with MAPLib (159pv) - An update to my article on using MAPLib for your campaign map needs.
Top referrers are of course RPG Bloggers Network  and RPG Blog Alliance, thanks for all the visits guys.

Roleplay Geek Publishing

In April I became an RPG publisher and over the course of the year managed to create a total of 7 products which are currently available for download on RPG Now.  All the advice I gleaned from the various blogs I read forewarned me that this wasn't going to make me a millionaire, but I have enjoyed the experience so far and have been pleasantly surprised with the results so far.

Item Cards - Adventurer's Gear57$ 36.68
Item Cards - Potions44$ 26.18
Item Cards - Animals32$ 18.48
Paper Minis - Animals28$ 18.90
GM Aids - Decision Deck18$ 25.20
Item Cards - Free Sampler391$ 0.00
Paper Minis - Free Fungaloid Lurkers & Brain Vine130$ 0.00
Grand Totals627$ 124.44

RPG Now is a fantastic way to publish but consequently there are some 15,436 products available to download and standing out from the crowd is extremely difficult. Most of my sales occurred soon after products were added to RPG Now and so featured in the Latest Products list and I haven't worked out a marketing strategy yet.

PDF pricing seems to be a bit hit and miss, Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor recently wrote a neat article revealing his thoughts and research into pricing his own products.  It doesn't seem to be any easier for the DIY print publisher either, Chris Tregenza has started a new thread on his blog detailing his progress towards making a profit for the 6d6 RPG and I will be watching this with interest.

My philosophy with my PDFs is that I'm producing them for my own games anyway, so the personal effort involved isn't factored into the profit equation.  I'm under no illusion that I'm going to become rich as a result, but if I can gather up a few dollars along the way to buy the odd bit of swag then it's a success.

Miniature Painting

I returned to miniature painting and finally completed my Harlequin Giant Forest Troll and am part way through painting a Ral Partha Djinn and Efreet.  As I get older I have begun to have issues with painting under electric light (or it could be those god awful compact fluorescent bulbs we now have to use) so this restricts the time when I can comfortably paint to a small window on a Saturday morning.  I have a stack of minis which need a bit of colour so I need to ramp up production in 2012.

All in all a mixed year, stay tuned for the New Year Resolutions post.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Star Blazer Adventures Random Scenario Generator, or How I Wrote a One Session Scenario in 30 minutes.

I was scheduled to be playing a one session scenario last night when I received an e-mail that the GM had pulled out at short notice due to illness.  In a moment of madness with 3 hours till I had to jump in the car, I offered to GM the slot with a Star Blazer Adventures (SBA) game.  2 hours of random internet surfing later I decided I'd better write the scenario.

Fortunately chapter 25 of SBA's monster 627 page rulebook contains a plethora of random tables to help you generate ideas for your games.  The results of my rolls were:

Mission 1Mission 2
Mission Nature:CorporateMission Nature:Diplomatic
Objective:Industrial EspionageObjective:Hostage Negotiation
Complication:Military InterventionComplication:Travel Difficulties
Who:MobsterWho:Alien Race
Reason:Mistaken IdentityReason:Training

Nothing immediately flowed from this so I decided to break the scenario down into 4 scenes and roll randomly for each:

Scene 1Scene 2
Location:Town / VillageLocation:Stock Exchange
Bad Guy Encounter:Traitorous PoliticianBad Guy Encounter:Corrupt Soldier
Good Guy Encounter:Unexpected AllyGood Guy Encounter:Enemy of My Enemy
Reason:HeresyReason:Past Embarrassment
Scene 3Scene 4
Location:Hostile FleetLocation:Refinery
Bad Guy Encounter:War CriminalBad Guy Encounter:Murderer
Good Guy Encounter:JudgeGood Guy Encounter:War Criminal
Reason:Blood FeudReason:Recent Defeat

Putting Meat on the Bones

By now the creative juices had started to bubble now so I decided to select parts of the random generated scenes above and began to flesh out my scenario:

Scene 1 - The PCs are the crew of a Star Patrol cruiser currently stationed on Zorb 3 and investigating the disappearance of some medical supplies which have been misappropriated by the  corrupt Mayor of the town.  During the course of this first scene the PCs are alerted to an incident at the planetary stock exchange and immediately re-assigned to investigate.

Scene 2 - The PCs arrive at the stock exchange in the planetary capital only to find that an assault has taken place and a prominent corporate figure has been kidnapped.  A snatch squad has blown a huge hole in the side of the building and made their escape in a warp capable freighter.

Scene 3 - The PCs exit a warp corridor into the middle of the Mercenary Pirate fleet of Desiderous Black, disgraced Star Patrol Officer and War Criminal.  They are engaged and end up flying their crippled cruiser into a hanger of the pirate fleet's flagship The Medusa.

Scene 4 - The PCs land at a refinery on an uninhabited world where they attempt to rescue the corporate hostage in a final showdown and capture the terrorists with the aid of the War Criminal Desiderous Black.

Scene Transitions

Clearly these scenes needed fleshing out, which would occur during play, but more importantly, they needed transitions from one scene to another:

Scene 1 > Scene 2 - During their journey from the town to the stock exchange they narrowly avoid a collision with a blue and yellow freighter which is heading out of the capital.

Scene 2 > Scene 3 - The PCs hastily follow the jump coordinates of the fleeing freighter without knowing where the warp exit point is located.

Scene 3 > Scene 4 - Desiderous Black reveals that he is in fact still a loyal member of Star Patrol and has been on a deep cover mission to wrest control of the pirate fleet away from its rag tag band of mercenary captains and to use its immense power covertly in situations where Star Patrol cannot operate publicly for political reasons.  With the mission now complete he wishes to "come in from the cold" and going off on a wild goose chase following the promise of hostage treasure is a credible escapade which befits his reputation in the the eyes of the other pirate captains.

How it Played Out

The game began at 7:30pm and finished at 2:00am which is quite long for a one session scenario, but fair considering that I had no pre-gen PCs and the players are relatively unfamiliar with the slightly obtuse character generation process that the game requires.

Scene 1 - The PCs were in the town running computer checks on the batch numbers of the medical supplies with the assistance of a low level admin clerk who refused to give anything other than minor assistance as he was in fear of losing his job.  They successfully identified the serial numbers which had been tampered with and eventually the identity of the user involved.  However, they triggered some file alarms which resulted in the Mayor making a run for it in his hover-limousine.  The PCs gave chase and attempted to communicate with the occupant of the vehicle but in-advertantly caused it to lose control and crash.  Whilst they inspected the wreckage for the body of the Mayor, he slipped into the cargo bay of their cruiser unnoticed.  They were in the process of recovering the medical supplies from the wreck when the call came through to re-assign them to investigating the incident at the stock exchange.

Scene 2 - On their way to the scene, they narrowly avoid the freighter as they enter the emergency lane splitting the cities incoming and outgoing air-traffic.  When they review the external security footage they realise that the freighter used in the incident is the same one they encountered on their way to the stock exchange.  They use up some fate points to make plot declarations ensuring that they have access to the jump coordinates for the fleeing freighter.

Scene 3 - Coming out of warp they are attacked by five fighters and although they attempted to jump straight out of the situation, I frazzled their warp coils with some treknobabble about warp static.  They engage the fighters and without suitable heavy weapons themselves attempt to use the enemies own missiles to cripple the flagship.  They succeed in punching a hole inside the hull of the ship but resist the temptation to crash their vessel into the hole, seeking the safety of a conveniently located hanger on board.  With the warp coils frazzled they need to locate suitable replacements from onboard the enemy flagship and assemble an away team to go investigate.  During this mission the away team is captured and the star patrol ship boarded.  Desiderous Black reveals his secret to the Star Patrol Captain PC and offers to assist by accompanying them for the final leg of their mission on board the captured Star Patrol vessel Aggamemnon.

Scene 4 - This was a straight up dungeon bash inside the atmosphere refinery where I gradually whittled down the Pirate Captain's lackeys until only the PCs and Black were left.  The PCs located the corporate hostage who was tied up and swinging from the claw of an overhead crane whilst the kidnappers leader laughed maniacally from its controls.  Getting the tension just right was key and when the leader was killed there was a chance that the mission would go pear shaped resulting in the death of the hostage.  One of the PCs was playing a mysterious alien with a secret "fugitive time traveller" aspect and I allowed another PC to trade a fate point in order to tag this thereby saving the day.

Things I Would do Differently

Overall the exercise was a big success, but the bulk of time wasted during the session occurred during character generation and it's something I've seen players struggle with before.  The freeform concept of aspects and legends and the complex list of skills is a little daunting to first time players and not at all helpfull if you are putting on an impromptu game.  What would be useful is a set of archetypes with all the stat blocks filled in for a wide range of standard space opera types such as the crew of a star patrol ship, a bounty hunter, a law enforcement robot... etc... etc... (sounds like a project for the New Year...).

Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

20,000 Page Views

Some time today this blog hit 20,000 page views.  Thanks for all the support guys and girls.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Kicking off Campaigns by Keeping Players in the Dark

Joe Bloch's recent thought provoking article on Greyhawk Grognard suggests that the question facing DMs when starting a new campaign is one of information flow.  This may be true in sandbox campaigns but I often find that if PCs know too much about the campaign world it results in Analysis Paralysis rather than driving their decision making. 

Less information to begin with usually helps them to concentrate on the immediate choices to hand rather than worrying about the world at large.  The worst trait that players can exhibit is that of the "Setting Lawyer" where they bring their own knowledge of the world, gained by playing other scenarios, into play.  This can be a real problem for DMs who are not as familiar with the setting as some of their players and can be very disruptive or diverting for the rest of the group, particularly if conflict between player and DM arises as a result.

Chaucer's Pilgrims - The Canterbury Tales
Medieval history tells us that travel for peasants was fairly limited, many never having travelled more than 50 miles from their home village in their whole lives.  The pilgrims of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" took part in a round trip of some 120 miles from Southwark to Canterbury and back, which would be considered to be a considerable undertaking for anyone at the time.  However, Chaucer himself travelled widely, making trips to France, Spain Flanders and Italy in various roles as a civil servant and diplomat (and perhaps spy).  He even embarked on a Crusades, and like many English soldiers would have travelled unheard of distances, by comparison to their stay at home cousins.  I like to see my player's PCs as more like Chaucer and those Crusaders (ie: adventurous persons) rather than like his pilgrims who, to all intents and purposes, are really nothing more than NPCs.

Gary Gygax's sage advice on the subject (A&D Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 87), which is interesting to read nonetheless,  seems to be aimed at DM's running their first campaign and perhaps at novice players.  

I entirely agree with Joe that the first few sessions of any campaign are really spent getting to know one another and less about finding out where in the world they are or what their next move should be.  Starting of with a simple scenario to get them used to each other's company, traits and talents is a must.

When running my own campaign world my objective is as much about developing my world as it is about playing out interesting plot lines.  To help me achieve this goal I insist that the majority of players select lands other than the starting location as their PC birthplace.  This often requires them to come up with a convincing reason for embarking on some form of quest as part of their background, giving me the opportunity to weave parts of this into the arc plotline (clever, yes?).

I also recommend that DMs run short solo encounters, as prequels for each PC as a prelude to a campaign.  These do not need to be any more than 30 to 45 minutes each and can usually be done as part of the first session or offline if needs be.  Your players will thank you in the long run as it bridges the gap between character creation and provides believable reasons for turning up at that cliche of a  tavern looking for work.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

RPG Mapping Tools Part 4 - Planet and Star Maps

In this part I zoom out even further and take a look at planetary system maps and star maps.  Which conventionally use the hex grid I looked at in Part 3: Region Maps.

Regina Subsector Jump Map

The definitive starmap has to be a Traveller sector map, which has some particular conventions of its own, namely the positioning of features around the edges of each hex to denote the hexes contents (clockwise from top; Starport Type, Gas Giant, Allegiance, World Name, and Base Type.)  Stellar trade routes which are also the main lines of communication are denoted by solid lines from one planet to anotherand the hex center contains world information (water present / not present or if it has an asteroid belt).  The sample I'm using is the Regina Subsector Jump Map and the standard 1½ hour rule applies.

Hexographer (

Hexographer "Cosmic" output
If you've read Part 3: Region Maps, you'll know I rate this highly as an easy to use tool with great output.  "The Daddy" of free online hexmapping solutions has its own "Cosmic" menu which offers features such as planets, stars, and spacestations which can each have custom colours.  Hex features can also be placed at various clock positions around the hex, but these are not entirely traveller compliant and are time consuming to include and to be honest if you're running anything other than traveller you won't need them.  7/10 - "Not too Shabby"

The Traveller Map (

An awesome bit of interactive mapping which shows the full stellar map divided into it's individual sub-sectors.  Double clicking on the sectors zooms in and you can even print off the results in booklet form.  If you're GMing a game in the Traveller universe then this should be your first starport of call.  9/10 - "Why DIY when it's already done for you?"


The inherent problem of mapping a globe onto a flat plane has plagued cartographers ever since our view of the world changed from being flat to round and has resulted in a number of map projection techniques of which we are most familiar with the Mercator Projection.  However, Sci-Fi roleplayers will be most familiar with the icosahedral projection popularised by Traveller.

Icosahedral World Generator (
Joe over at Inkwell Ideas has pulled off an amazing planet generator which should keep most DMs more than happy.  Not only does the tool allow you to customise the random size, temperature and percentage of land, mountains and vegetation, it also includes a hex editor allowing you to replace terrain as you like.  There's no export to image function but you can export to hexographer for even more editing possibilities.

Inkwell Ideas Icosahedral World Generator

Other Notable Tools

Donjon's Sci-Fi World Generator (

This browser based tool will happily generate planets for you all day long.  You can customise the generator a little to make each planet a bit more useable, the output includes a map, physics (size and physical composition), gravimetry (gravity and esape velocity), rotation (length of 1 rotation and axial tilt),  hydrosphere (ratio of water/ice), atmosphere (chemical composition), climate (temerature ranges) and biosphere (chemistry and lifeforms).  If you want to create a whole star system Donjon also has a Traveller System Generator and a Star Wars D6 System Generator.  There are a lot of really useful tools on his tsite I particularly like the Sci-Fi Name Generator's Star Trek Technobabble option
9/10 - "Superb"

Other Posts in this Series:

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Legendary Locations: Cave of Crystals, Mexico

Nature has this unnerving way of making humanities greatest achievements sometimes seem seem really insignificant...

Crystal Caverns, Mexico - National Geographic
You can learn more about the expedition to the Cave of Crystals over at National Geographic.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Minions: my OSR take on the one hit wonder.

One of the 4e concepts that intrigued me most was the idea of minions, I thought it was very cinematic and was itching to see what it was like from a player perspective.  Earlier this year when I got a chance to play in a demo game I was quite dissapointed, there was no sense of fear or uncertainty about the whole combat and It left me quite unsatisfied.

despicable me minions
Geek Ken has some useful advice on how 4e DMs should use minions, particularly in the use of attack waves and Glimm's Workshop introduces the Resolve concept to make minions a little tougher but clearly something is not quite right with the rules for minions as they stand.

In OSR (or retroclones) a monster is generally ranked by its Hit Dice (HD) which in most cases equates to 1d8 of HP.  The DM can simply turn any monster into a 1 hit wonder by reducing the number of HP it has to a value below the minimum damage dealt by the majority of the party.  Even at 1st level this is usually around the 4HP mark and will increase slowly as the party's levels and damage bonuses increase. 


How the DM assigns this HP reduction is up to them, for me this depends on what type of monster I am stocking the encounter with.  If it's a creature with animal intelligence or lower with no social structure then I'll either randomly roll or just assign every creature the same value say 4HP per HD.  However, if it's a creature with higher than animal intelligence or an animal which has a clear social aspect then I like to use the following system:
  • ALPHA - (8HP per HD) - This is the pack leader or alpha, the toughest member of the encountered group and will be the one giving the orders.  There can never be more than one Alpha in a group regardless of its size.
  • BETA - (6HP per HD) - These are the Alpha's bullies, they do what the Alpha tells them to and will bully the norms into doing what the Alpha demands.  Their number depends largely on the size of the group but I like to use the ratio of 1 Beta to every 5 Norms.

  • NORM - (4 HP per HD ) - The rank and file version of the creature who will be goaded into action by the BETA or ALPHA.  In some cases I'll keep the actual value of Norm HP fluid just in case the PCs have excessively bad rolls, after all there's no point in them falling at the first hurdle and getting slaughtered by minions.

If players have the opportunity to observe a group before engaging they should be able to identify each ALPHA and BETA.  This may have a bearing on their plan of attack, particularly if they have ranged specialists which can target the ALPHA and BETA types and take them out provoking a morale check which may result in the norms fleeing or surrendering and giving the PCs the victory but morale for minions is another thing all together and maybe a subject for a future article.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Ruined Tower of The Archmage

Ruined Tower Prize
David over at the Tower of the Archmage is running a competition to win one of his scenic models, a ruined tower.  Unfortunately for me I'm based in the UK and am therefore ineligible (the postage to the UK would be ruinous) but I liked the model enough to knock up a quick map and the basics for an encounter.

The Ruined Tower of the Archmage

The ruins of this solitary tower sit atop an exposed moorland hill which is constantly blasted by the elements.  Anyone crossing the moor on a particularly stormy day or night will be glad to shelter inside the towers walls even just for 5 minutes.

1.  Ground Floor - Even in its ruined state, the ground floor of this 20ft wide tower offers a welcome respite from the storm.  If the PCs search the tower or try to light a fire they disturb 3 Wolves who have made a den under the spiral staircase.  They fight to the death.

2.  Spiral Stairs - The spiral stairs stop after 1 half revolution, anyone making a leap of faith whilst on the outer part of the staircase will pass through a dimensional portal onto another set of stairs which lead to the 1st floor.  The portal is invisible and can only be detected by magical means.

3.  The Library - This room is dedicated to learning and storing knowledge as evidenced by the many bookshelves which line the walls.  A staircase sweeps up to another floor above,

4.  The Storeroom - A small 10ft by 5ft room containing shelves stacked with a myriad assortment of magical and mundane ingredients.

5.  The Laboratory - An octagonal room whose walls are chalked with all manner of magical symbols and signs.  The floor is dominated by a pentacle and a cloud of oily black smoke writhe within in the shape of a column.  Sprawled face down on the floor just outside the pentacle is a white haired old man dressed in long robes clutching a book.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Fields of Battle: What's in the box?

During several recent trips to my FLGS (Orcs Nest in central London) I have found myself being drawn to Fields of Battle: Miniature Battle Rules for Castles and Crusades.  Unfortunately I like to know what's in the box (or book) before I buy it and scouring the internet for photos drew a blank.  Well here is a box content photo for those of you who may be thinking of making this purchase.

Fields of Battle Box Contents
Fields of Battle - Box Contents
As you can see the bulk of the content is made up from cardstock counters, wilderness battlemat sheets and the beautiful papercraft siege engines from Fat Dragon Games. The rules are contained in a slim 48 page book. Potential buyers may be turned off by this plethora of cardstock, particularly if they are intending to use this as a wargame with their own miniatures, but this would be an injustice.

I'll admit that this is probably a niche product, but I see it coming in veru handy as an adjunct to a regular RPG campaign session. I know that in my own games I have written storylines where PCs are involved in mass battle events, either as a group of fighters in a particular unit or in defending a castle from a siege assault.  RPG combat systems don't cope well with this scale of combat yet it is a quintessential part of almost every work in the genre which we use as our inspiration for our games.

The usual cludge is to focus purely on one or two encounters within the battle and your players will have no appreciation of the scale and in many cases will not have any impact on the battle as a whole.  Fields of battle attempts to bridge that gap by introducing a variant of the Siege Engine system which allows your Castles and Crusades PCs to get directly involved in the battle and their players can see the whole battle rather than just the tiny vignette you may have otherwise created for them.

In essence I just can't see myself carting around hundreds of heavy miniatures in order to stage a battle as part of my regular games session, whereas slipping this box into my backpack opens up a whole new scale of combat for my players.