Monday 28 February 2011

UPDATE: RPG Google mapping with MAPLib

In an earlier article I wrote about How to make your own Fantasy Googlemap with MapLib without needing to be a code monkey, which has consistently proved to be the most popular article on my blog despite the lack of comments.  I always intended to replace the rather uninspiring "test images" I used to centre the maps with a demo map of my own creation.  Well, life has a nasty habit of getting in he way and I've been too busy with my current C&C campaign and other projects like Citymorphs.

So here at last is my demo map which I am actively using in my campaign.

Observations after 6 Months Use

1. ZOOM - As you can see the map zoom isn't perfect, the placemarker images don't scale with the zoom which means when you're zoomed out fully (as above) they don't "geolocate" anymore.  This is annoying but not a total disaster.

2. PLACE MARKERS - I've used the bog standard icons for everything but the Capital Cities (which is a shared marker) for fear that if an owner left the shared marker would disappear from the library.

3. PLACE NAMES - When you hover over a marker it displays the name associated with it, which is nice.  However it would be really useful to be able to set a display variable for each marker which would display the name alongside the marker.

4. REGIONS - Although you can draw regions, turning them into hotspots in a client side image map fashion, there are no options for just adding text to the map.

5. LINKING - I've managed to link some of the pop-up descriptions back to my campaign blog for "Read more" links (Try clicking on the Capital icon for Sankahar City), but this requires a bit of HTML knowledge to ensur that your link target is set correctly.  The editing interface is a little clunky for my tastes, for example if you don't submit an edit whilst still in HTML view it interprets and displays your HTML.

6. UPDATING YOUR IMAGE - The most annoying feature is that once you've done all the work and added your place markers, if you ever need to update your map image, you can't.  This does seem like a massive oversight on the part of the developers and could ultimately limit its usability as a tool, not just for RPG mapping but any mapping.  Maps have a tendency to be revised, in the real world political boundaries are redrawn on a regular basis and with regime change comes country name changing.

7. COLLABORATIVE MAPPING - I've not really explored the collaborative mapping functions but from some of the other collaborative mapping projects which feature in the MapLib gallery it seems that other users are getting on fine with them. 

8. SHARING YOUR MAP - The sharing options are standard fare but irritatingly if you choose to grab the link to a static image it doesn't show any of the place markers at all!!.  Again this seems like an oversight on the developers side (unless there's some overarching Intellectual Property Rights issue I'm not aware of) and this is where in RPG terms the text display of names next to markers feature would make this a KILLER APP.

Aside from the two big issues I've listed above it's still worth checking it out and I hope that any of you who've read this will drop me a comment and a link to your own maps.

Happy MAPLibing y'all

Monday Motivations #9

Article #9 in a regular series where I offer up some ideas for character backgrounds by class.  I aim to collect these ideas together for a future pdf publication.

What made your character decide to become a wizard? Why did they leave their home town? Did they leave family behind or are they looking for something? These are all questions players face when generating their characters, with the best will in the world it's tempting to rely on cliché.


Paladin by Katie De Sousa
3.  Lost Crusader - You were born into a noble family trained from birth to be a knight and to fight alongside other noble sons as a knight in the kings army.  The tales of honour, glory and valour which were taught to yiu as a child did not prepare you for the grim reality of war when as a young noble you were sent to fight in a foreign land on a holy crusade.  Your training didn't contain lessons on how to kill women and children, or how to burn down whole towns and villages as the army roamed agross the land like some savage beast.  Eventually the tides of war turned on the kings army, in one ferocious battle the defenders had the upper hand and the army was routed, you were lost far from home in a foreign land surrounded by a people that only days before you were trying to slaughter...

4.  A Squire's Chance - You'd followed your knight across hill and dale, tundra and desert, forest and ocean since father entrusted you into his care.  The days are long and the work never ending with never a thank you nor a coin to spend of your own.  When you woke one morning to find him slumped over the table after a night's gambling and drinking in the local tavern you cursed that you would soon suffer one of his beatings if you had not completed your chores.  By noon he still had not stirred, so you went to check on him, he was still slumped over the table.  Gingerly you prodded him with your wooden practice sword and his lifeless body rolled off the bench and onto the floor.  His face was purple and his eyes had rolled up into his skull, there was no doubt about it he was dead.  Your years of hoping for a chance like this had finally paid off, and you swung your plan that you had rehearsed so many times into action.  You swapped your clothes with him, packed the armour and weapons and loaded the horses.  By nightfall you were 20 leagues away from your past and well on the road to fame and fortune as a true knight...

5. Country Justice -  The Prelate of your monastery bestowed the honour of Marschall upon you three summers ago.  Since then you have roamed the five counties tracking down bandits and thieves, defending villages from ravenous beasts which raid their homes for food and rooting out the odd band of goblins or tribe of kobolds who seem intent on setting up home in your peaceful homeland.  The lifestyle suits you, and you've never been happier than when you're riding out into the wilderness to pursue some vagabond or villain intent on meting out justice from the saddle at swordpoint...


1.  An Old Code - You were just a regular soldier in a regular army sent by your lord to burn the library of some town you can't even remember the name of.  The only difference between you and the rest of your company was that you could read.  You knew that setting fire to the library was a bad thing and that the gods would likely punish you for doing so, so you grabbed the first book you came across and stuffed it inside your breastplate.  Back at the barracks that night you opened up the book to read what you had saved from the flames.  It was the life account of a holy warrior who fought evil and injustice wherever he found it.  He was noble in thought, deed and word because he lived by a holy code.  The code which you committed to memory and which you have vowed you will live by from now on...


4.  Slave Child - You were not born into a barbarian tribe, you were enslaved into one.  You were born in a land far away, when your parents were killed in one of the tribe's pillaging raids, you were taken back to their land across the sea with the other loot.  You were given to one of the barren wives cast off by the chieftain to raise as her own and look after her in her old age.  Your new mother was outwardly grateful for the kindness shown to her by the chieftain, but as you found out later, secretly harboured revenge against her husband and his new wife.  As you grew up in your new home you were schooled alongside the other children by the best teachers the tribe had to offer in how to fight, track, hunt, fish, sail and survive in the barabarian way and by night your surrogate mother taught you about the world, where you came from and  that you had been sent to her by the gods as a weapon to strike down the Chieftain.  At age 15 you took the rite of passage to manhood and became a fully fledged member of the tribe and at age 17 you took part in your first raid during which you used the confusion of battle to your advantage, slew the chieftain and faked your own death in a burning house.  You have since put many leagues and years between you and your barabrian upbringing and embarked on a new quest to find your true family and true heritage...

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Citymorphs #009 to #012

A big thanks to Risus for the plugging Citymorphs in the Geomorph Roundup.  Here's four more:

#009 - Parkland

Too many orderly streets makes the morphians walk in straight lines, they need to feel the wind in their hair and wet grass under their toes.

#010 - Citywall Bastion

Every old city will have seen it's fair share of war and it's ruler may have built some sort of defensive wall for the people to hide behind.  Notice the groundworks to elevate this section and the set of stairs to get those archers up high.

#011 - Citywall Straight

A straight section of citywall this time.  When laying this tile make sure you've built the stairs and earthworks on the same side otherwise the siege will be over in minutes.

#012 - Citywall Gatehouse

The wall needed some way of keeping the riffraff out but allowing the townsfolk in, so here's a useful gatehouse.

Monday 21 February 2011

Monday Motivations #8

Article #8 in a regular series where I offer up some ideas for character backgrounds by class.  I aim to collect these ideas together for a future pdf publication.

What made your character decide to become a wizard? Why did they leave their home town? Did they leave family behind or are they looking for something? These are all questions players face when generating their characters, with the best will in the world it's tempting to rely on cliché.


4.  The Collector's Curse - As a child, whenever you went missing you were always found in the inn at the feet of whoever was telling tales of Legend, Lore, Myth and Mystery.  And so it went on until the boy became a man.  Until on stormy winter's night a strange, sick old man came in from the rain and took up the place at the hearth.  He coughed and spluttered his way through many tales and even when most of the villagers had long since left for their beds you begged another.  The old man began to tell his own tale, when on a night much like this one a wizard cursed him to roam the lands gathering up tales for all to hear, and with one last wracking cough the old man died passing his curse onto you...

5.  The Greatest Song - As a child you heard many wandering minstrel's pass through the village but none were as strange as one particular elf who passed through.  He captivated everyone that day and a lot of coin was thrown into his hat.  Of all the songs you heard before and since non were as sweet and enchanting as the one he played that day.  As a budding amateur player you decided that you would hone your skills and track the elf down and get him to teach you the greatest song in the world...


Dwarven Barbarian by Gold-Seven
2. Dreamquest - The Gods visited you in your dreams last night and led you on a journey to find a desolate volcanic island.  As you followed through many different lands you faced many challenges, some tests of strength, some tests of endurance and some tests of the heart, you gathered around you seven heroes each with a special talent destined to help you in your final challenge.  After many years of travelling you search for the Isle was over and you confronted the great beast who spoke your name and challenged you to mortal combat.  The battle was fierce and long and one by one your comrades fell to the beast, your bravery undiminished you finally spotted a weakness in the beast's defences and struck. It was at this moment that you awoke, sweating.  After several nights of dreaming the same dream and waking at the same crucial moment you consulted the village wise woman who told you that the dream was a sign from the gods that you would not have peace until you could slay the beast and fulfill your destiny...


3.  New Official Religion - You take little notice of the political affairs of man, the rolling plains of your homeland bear the scars of countless Kings buried under their soil mounds and yet the forests encroach inexorably over them.  However, this new King has brought a religion with him from across the seas, he has proclaimed it to be the official religion and will not tolerate the old ways.  There's no alternative for you but to move on to a new home where you are free to dance naked in moonlight and talk to whatever animals you like be they chickens or men...


Field Marschall Kruger
4. Holy Child - Although your memory of the event is hazy, your parents began treating you differently when you healed your brother's broken arm when you accidentally pushed him out of a tree.  You said you were sorry and that you didn't mean it and like magic your brother's arm was mended.  Word got out that you had this gift and suddenly people you didn't know started turning up at the family farm wanting you to make them better.  Blind people, those with deformed limbs, even the occasional leper and they often gave your parents food or sometimes money.  You didn't mind helping, you would probably have done it anyway, but your parents made sure that any chores you might have had to do were done by your brothers and sisters.  Of course this didn't go down well with your brothers and sisters who hated you for being special and teased you mercilessly, but you never wished ill of them and always included them in your prayers each and every night.  A few years later a priest visited the farm and he had a retinue of soldiers with him.  You were examined by the priest and he watched as your father slashed his own wrist and you healed it closed.  They talked in private for what seemed like hours and when they emerged your parents fighting back tears told you that you had to go with this priest and he would take care of you...


1. Penniless Prince - Being a Knight isn't cheap these days, there's the cost of feeding your horse and serf, armour repaired and polished, weapons sharpened, the list goes on.  When the Prince asked you and your fellow Knights to bear with him during his latest cashflow crisis you made cut-backs and economies out of loyalty but after 3 months without pay you'd had enough and you paid off your serf and headed out on the road to find a new employer who would understand that your honourable profession requires respect of the silver and gold variety...


Because I screwed up in Article #4 and both duplicated a background and only posted 4 instead of the usual 5, here are 2 extra ones to make up:


2.  Tourney Pro - You abhor the idea of charging into a battle in your shiny armour to get it all scratched up not to mention the fact that you might die.  Which is why you've spent the last few years travelling from one tournament to another to earn a living.  You love the roar of the crowds the smell of the armour polish, the favours of a comely barons daughter or a serving wench when you're down on your luck.  When times are tough you might even partake in a spot of goblin hunting, but never when the odds are against you...


1.  National Service - Where you come from it is law that every first-born son enters the monastery and learns the fighting techniques that have been perfected by the countless generations that have gone before.  The Empire needs people to defend it's borders from marauders and people to ensure that the public remain compliant and law abiding.  Some do not survive the training to reach maturity, others do not master their chosen style, but you, and a handful of your class, have achieved mastery and will fulfill your destiny as servants of the empire wherever that may take you...

Sunday 20 February 2011

Papercraft: Ruined Columns

My regular Friday group began another chapter in their on-going campaign which called for them to explore an ancient ruined temple.  The scenario I'm DMing is lifted straight out of an issue of Dungeon Magazine and the map of the temple is dominated by a huge room with lots of toppled columns, some of which have crashed through walls exposing new routes and blocking off others.  I drew out the main room and was particularly unhappy with the result, it was hard to replicate the adhoc passageways and the columns just looked like giant frankfurters, so I decided to make some ruined columns of my own.

As I've found with my other papercraft projects like the Adventurer's Cart, a 3D element can be a real game changer when it comes to combat, so I quickly knocked up a design for a large 4" column and a short stubby 2" column using Google Sketchup and the Unfold Plug-in (See my Papercrafting article for more info) and then exported them as 2D artwork into Photoshop for resizing to the correct scale.

Once printed and cut out they're very easy to put together as they're simple tubes.  I inserted a large bolt into each column before sealing them up, it's not essential but it acts as a weight to keep them from toppling over when the player's get excited. 
Enjoy, and don't be afraid to drop me a comment with other papercraft suggestions.

    Wednesday 16 February 2011

    Citymorphs #005 to #008

    The first batch of Citymorphs taught me a few lessons (like making the jpgs 300 pixels square) and that if they are going to be used by a randomizer engine I'll have to incorporate some features like edge tunnels if I want another point of tesselation.  So here are four more...

    #005 - Harbour and Canal

    Another harbour tile, this time with a river or canal, adding a new middle edge feature, I'm still learning here... 

    #006 - Very Little Venice

    All towns and cities are going to have a river running throught them in some way, so here's a tile with a river bending through it's middle.  Of course to keep it tesselating I had to add in some bridges and edge tunnels which needed a bit of thought.

    #007 - Harbour and factory

    Enthused with the transparency experiments on the bridges of #006 Very Little Venice I decided to give the factory in this tile a bit of smoke for it's furnaces and of course some coal barges to keep those fires burning.  I have no idea what the factory makes but its location close to the harbour is ideal for exporting its products and importing its raw materials..

    #008 - The Chasm

    A few years ago a great chasm opened up in the ground and swallowed some buildings.  The river has greated a lake at the chasm's bottom but it must have found a tunnel to flow out of as it always seems to stay at a constant level.  The locals have recently built a bridge to keep some traffic moving through this area but some of the ruined buildings still rest precariously over the chasm edge.

    Monday 14 February 2011

    Monday Motivations #7

    Article #7 in a regular series where I offer up some ideas for character backgrounds by class.  I aim to collect these ideas together for a future pdf publication.

    What made your character decide to become a wizard? Why did they leave their home town? Did they leave family behind or are they looking for something? These are all questions players face when generating their characters, with the best will in the world it's tempting to rely on cliché.


    Bard by AIBryce

    1.  Every Bard Needs a Hero - You've made a respectable living up to now sing in the various inns and taverns of your homeland, but singing the same old songs and telling the same old tales has begun to wear thin.  It is said that a bard is only as good as the hero he follows, you must therefore strike out and find your own hero who you can immortalise in song...

    2.  The Great Bard's Instrument
    - When you needed to repair your instrument after a particulary rowdy evening in a local tavern you stumbled across a dusty tome of the Great Bard's work in the luther's workshop.  The tales and songs were familiar but it was the illustration of the Great Bard himself which captivated you.  You had never seen his image before or the instrument he played, so different from your own.  When you ask the luther if he can make such an instrument he tells you that the instrument was made long ago in a land far away and perhaps they have the skills and knowledge to recreate it.

    3.  The Masked Mariachi - The people are a sad and dispirited lot, their backs and spirits have been broken by the work party enforcers sent by their despotic ruler to harvest the crops and mine the ore needed to further his own ends.  The people need to rise up and overthrow him, but to do this they need hope, the kind of hope that can be spread through song.  You know that this won't be easy, you'll need to travel swiftly from village to village, be selective in where you play, and you'll need a disguise but the people need you.  The people need the Masked Mariachi...


    1.  Blight - A terrible blight has cursed the land and the desperate townsfolk turned to you to save their crops, there was nothing you could do.  Your grove has withered and in order to save it you have uprooted it's heart vine which now sits safely in a pot of earth in your backpack as you try to find a new home far from your blighted birthplace.  Perhaps the townfolk will forgive you for abandoning them if you could only find a cure...

    2.  Nature's Balance - You became aware of a shift in the natural order of things several months ago during a peyote ritual.  The visions you had showed a dark tide sweeping across the land and plants and animals alike withered and died in it's wake.  The visions grew stronger each time you performed the ritual and you became convinced that the only way you can stem the tide and regain the essential balance is to journey into the heart of darkness and cut out it's root...

    Wednesday 9 February 2011

    Citymorphs #001 to #004

    Inspired by Risus and Dyson, I've started geomorphing, but as I mostly enjoy DMing urban environments I thought I'd try something a bit different.  So here are the first in a series of Citymorphs:

    #001 Palace District

    Every city has to have a big cheese and they need a nice place to crash, of course the hangers on and other courtly types need somewhere to live close which makes for a similar architecture and style.

    #002 Colliseum

    The people have bread, so give them a circus.  Print off 2 of this tile and you have a whole colliseum for them to while away the hours watching chariot races.

    #003 Harbour

    Maybe your city is also a port, if so it'll need somewhere to land those ships and some warehouses to store goods and cargo.  It'll also need some sort of harbour master's buildings to control what comes in and what goes out.

    #004 Municipal Buildings

    With all this commerce going on there's got to be some sort of tax collection and administration going on.  Civil servants like nice buildings to make them feel important so grand architecture and domes are the order of the day.

    Monday 7 February 2011

    Monday Motivations #6

    Article #6 in a regular series where I offer up some ideas for character backgrounds by class.  I aim to collect these ideas together for a future pdf publication.

    What made your character decide to become a wizard? Why did they leave their home town? Did they leave family behind or are they looking for something? These are all questions players face when generating their characters, with the best will in the world it's tempting to rely on cliché.


    2.  The King's Deer
    - Your family were starving and even though you knew it was wrong you shot the King's deer to survive the harsh winter.  Your Father was livid when you returned with the carcass, you explained that you were careful to clean the spot where you gutted it and bury the entrails but he didn't speak to you for weeks.  When the King's Warden posted bounty you knew that in order to protect your family you would have to leave your home and go on the run...

    3.  Sacked - You were one of the Baron's huntsmen until the day the castle was sacked by a Goblin horde.  You had no love for the Baron, who was a blundering oaf when it came to tracking and stalking, but it was the beatings he personally administered to you as a stable boy which made you hate him.  You did little to help him when you chanced upon him in a clearing, soon after the castle had fallen, trapped under the weight of his dying prize charger.  The sounds of his screaming when the Goblin's found him still haunt you across the many leagues you have travelled since... 

    4.  Trophy Hunter - The old ranger to whom you were apprenticed taught you many things, the woodcraft necessary to stay alive in the wilderness, how to differentiate and track prey from their prints and stool, how to set traps and lure the prey to them and how to butcher your kill quickly so the meat does not taint.  These challenges would satisfy most rangers, but your lust for knowledge is insatiable.  The day came when the old ranger told you that he could teach you no more, with some swallowing of pride, he admitted that your skills had far surpassed his own and that he had been learning more from you than he had been teaching you for the last year or more.  His advice to you was to travel to distant lands and to find new prey to hunt and new teachers to learn from...

    5.  Big Fish
    - Your skill with the bow is legendary in the province where you were raised and your success in local tournaments earned you your freemanship.  However, in the last tournament you entered you were soundly beaten by a strange bowman with sun darkened skin from the desert lands.  His accuracy and speed drew gasps from the crowd and incredulity from you.  Your friends did little to help your dark demeanor that night in the inn, barracking you with taunts of "big fish, little pond".  To save face you brashly claimed that you would travel to the home of the black bowman and learn his secrets.  Their taunts echo in your mind as you pass through yet another backwater village on your long journey south...


    3. Missing Relic
    - Your order was founded in a time of war, its' first and most revered Abbot was killed on the battlefield in a distant land as part of a crusade to bring the word of your God to the unbeliever.  Your Abbot has decided that your final test as a novice is to retrieve the lost foot of the founding Abbot and return it to the reliquary where it belongs.  You have been furnished with a map showing the approximate whereabouts of the battlefield and a scroll which Scrollmaster Deach has created at great personal cost to help you located the missing remains...

    Saturday 5 February 2011

    The Lands of Dual - A Dirty Dungeon Bash

    After an introductory scenario my new campaign kicked off proper in Session 4 with a bit of light dungeoneering in the sewers.  The full session report can be read on my dedicated campaign site but my players seem to have enjoyed their first real taste of of Castles and Crusades.

    Part of the sewer network of the town of Ayfal
    I've been decorating at home recently and uncovered an abortive attempt to build a Worldworks style gaming board which promptly got canibalised for custom floorplans.  These seemed to go down well but the small rooms and even smaller corridors got the party stacked up in single file, resulted in two characters being involved in melee and blocking the entrance for others to assist.

    This may be symptomatic of the 5' square concept for floor plans which I've always thought that however "materially" necessary it does lead to very cramped dungeons.  It may also be as a result of my players being a bit rusty at dungeon bashing.

    Still I enjoyed DMing the scenario immensely (even though I hadn't spent too much time actually reading it) and can't wait for the next instalment.

    Tuesday 1 February 2011

    Monday Motivations #5

    Article #5 in a regular series where I offer up some ideas for character backgrounds by class.  I aim to collect these ideas together for a future pdf publication.

    What made your character decide to become a wizard? Why did they leave their home town? Did they leave family behind or are they looking for something? These are all questions players face when generating their characters, with the best will in the world it's tempting to rely on cliché.


    3.  New Sheriff in Town - When a new Sheriff arrived a few months back, things just started to take a turn for the worse.  He ferreted out some of your Assassin's Guild colleagues and the jobs started to dry up.  The final straw came when the Guild Master decided to close up shop.  You decide to strike out on your own, perhaps another town's Guild will have need of your skills...

    4.  Set-up - That last job you did went South pretty quickly, those bodyguards knew you were coming.  Someone in the Guild is either supplying false intelligence or someone's put out a contract on you, but who? and why?  One things for sure, you can't go back to the Guild a failure, they kill failures...


    3.  Magical Runt.  Being a wizard runs in your family your mother and father and your little sister are all wizards and they're far more accomplished than you will ever be.  Which is why you decided to run away and set up yourself up as a hedge wizard in a far flung corner of the world...

    4.  Army deserter!  - Around your twelfth birthday your powers manifested themselves.  You were promptly registered with the local magistrate and you forgot about it completely as you buried yourself into your new studies.  Nine years later you shouldn't have been surprised when the kings letter arrived drafting you into the Mage corps of his army.  It wasn't long before you couldn't take anymore of the endless drilling so one night you escaped the compound and made a break for enemy lines...


    3. A Legendary Blade - Whilst out hunting one day your prey darted into the relative safety of a small copse of trees and you hunter's instinct told you to follow.  The copse was deceptively dense and soon you needed to hack a path through the tightly knit trees.  You slash your way into a clearing and discover a pair of large boulders and lying at their foot a skeletal warrior holding a finely wrought blade.  The warrior has clearly been dead for many years, his disintegrating armour is of a strange design, the like of which you have never seen, however, the sword he carries is untarnished and as you slide it out of it's scabard you marvel at the keenness of the edge as it reflects the light.  After taking the blade back home your sleep is disturbed by strange dreams and a voice calling out to you.  Each morning as you strike out to catch the day's pray you feel compelled to keep walking and leave your dreary tribal hunter's life for that of adventure and distant lands...