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Monthly Archives: June 2012

App Store Round-Up

Things are still plugging along with the short adventure I’m writing, and that will be up as soon as I’ve had time to tweak the format and draft it properly. And, you know…finish the actual writing.

But so as not to leave you without any content this weekend I wanted to share my thoughts on a tiny smattering of tabletop gaming apps out there on the market right now. I hadn’t. Intended to use this blog for much commentary of this sort – wanting to focus on putting out raw game content for fast, easy utilization but as you know I have become a chronic “breaker of form” as of late. Besides, anything that might improve your game at all is a good thing. And by thing, in this case, I mean app.

I’ll preface by saying that as an iPad/iPhone user (flame war in the comments below) my experience is limited to what’s available on the Apple app store – but you’ll find that some of these apps have Android versions. This is by no means an extensive list and may not even be the best apps for their purpose; rather these are apps that I either use, intend to use, or merely have a crush on. By all means, if you have encyclopedic gamer app knowledge, or simply a favorite that I overlooked, share a link and your recommendation in the comments. Always be linking. Web hits are like points – and it’s all about the points, Brendan.

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DM Tools
Recommendation – Must have!

I really cannot stress enough how much I love this app. I’ve used it extensively in the past year or so and this well-supported app continues to improve with every version. It was built with 4th Edition in mind; tracking initiative (rolling it for you or taking the value of an initiative you roll yourself) tracking hit points, bloodied values, and status effects, as well as ongoing damage, prone status, and defenses (including temporary adjustments). It’s simple to heal or damage a creature on the fly and initiatives can easily be shifted around or grouped as need be. The newest version even allows you to change a creatures icon so you can easily spot the orc warchief from the orc grunt (hint: he has the fanciest hat). It even includes a virtual die-roller!
To help DMs plan ahead of time you can set up and pre-roll initiatives for encounters you have built, plugging creatures in as needed. The latest version has expanded to allow more information per creature (info like race, class, skill bonuses, etc.) though all that is purely secondary.
The latest edition has expanded the app’s functionality beyond just 4th edition D&D. With a little work you can set up DM Tools to serve a variety of games with varying initiative systems. The game library starts out with D&D 4th and Pathfinder pre-loaded, and though I haven’t toyed with the function enough to speak to it’s practicality you can even download additional modules (Maybe it will even support some zany phased initiative like in “Alternity.” I would wiggle with glee)!
In all I find this app flexible though not too busy, and very practical. Do yourself a favor and check DMTools out.

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DMDJ
Recommendation – A great addition if it’s your group’s “thing”

I feel a little bad reporting on an app that I’ve only used a couple times, but DMDJ is too cool a concept to ignore. The difficulty with introducing music or sound effects to a game is keeping them fresh, and not letting the requisite tinkering with the old jam box/iTunes/stereo get in the way of the game. Alas, most movie and video games soundtracks are intended for short scenes, not 45 minutes worth of roleplaying and 2 hours of combat (yes, yes, I admit, my encounters can get a little…busy). DM DJ seeks to alleviate that problem and provide the DM with a greater breadth of flexibility in their soundscape. It features ambient sound for a variety of environments (and caters to more than just the typical medieval fantasy by including the other two best RPG genres: horror and sci-fi) in addition to easily looped music tracks and one off sound effects.
It depends on the situation of your game, but you can use DMDJ to set a great mood, and keep everyone focused and in character. I even used it to spice up a night of Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator (A video game with a lot of table-top sensibilities that I highly recommend to any who want to “boldly go” and string six computers together) and found that the drone of a spaceship’s engines and some rhythmic techno made a great game all the more exciting.
Not everyone gets into the “bells and whistles” of a game and not every scene needs an ambient soundtrack, sure. But I stand firmly behind DMDJ as a solid addition to your game. Recommended that you have a player or a second device running it, since the music won’t keep playing if you open up another app.

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3D Virtual Tabletop
Recommendation: Good for long-distance games; a work in progress

When I first saw the link to this app I was all over it. I’m a real whore for miniatures – and battlemat-heavy combats have always been one of the trickier impediments to on-line tabletop gaming. The simplicity and ease of use that a 3D battle grid could provide would really help a lot of games to get off the ground. Right now there are desktop, iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android versions available – though in some cases the full list of features are not yet implemented. Still, I’m in love with a map that creates its own “fog of war” to keep the players guessing what might be down that next hallway without forcing me to slow down the flow of the adventure to draw it.
My biggest gripe with the 3D Virtual Tabletop is that there isn’t quite enough flexibility. Though I love the ability to tag miniatures with light sources, I’d also like to SET light sources in the environment. The ability to plug in your own maps is great, but being able to make custom miniatures would also be pretty awesome.
While I’d still stick with my stable of unpainted Reaper miniatures – I’d recommend giving the Virtual Tabletop a look-see. For gaming groups that can’t meet in person or for gaming in confined spaces (Road trips, plane rides, trains voyages!) it would be a cool and handy thing to have.

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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Announcements

 

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Deception at the Ancestral Shrine

This encounter is intended for five PCs of 3rd level

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Spoiler Alert: The old lady is a floating head, intestine tentacle (intestincle?) monster

A friend of mine and frequenter of “Save VS Weekend” recently mentioned that he was firing up a new campaign with an “Oriental Adventures” styled setting. He ALSO added that he’d be using some of my encounters to spice things up. Well it just so happens that flattery gets you everywhere with me, and in honor of his pending game, I decided to try my hand at an encounter that would capture the feel of the campaign.

In attempting this I recalled a time a few years ago (back in the 3.5 days) when I was beeseched to run an Oriental Adventures campaign. I never went through that “hardcore Japanophile” phase that a lot of my peers did in middle school/early high school (right around that time that you discovered anime and got serious about the martial art you were taking because it was a cool sport). As a result my chops on medieval Japanese culture and folklore are left wanting. Add to that lack of knowledge base the fact that an Oriental Adventures game will likely incorporate elements of mythology from China, Korea, India, Vietnam…Basically its a flavor of setting that’s just as deep, varied and anachronistic as the “traditional” grecco-western medieval european setting we tend to assume for D&D.

The DM needs to have the best working knowledge of the setting – even if he or she is just making it up as they go. A few Kurosawa movies and the occasional “Katana = Masterwork Bastard Sword NERD RAAAYGGGEEE111!!!!” forum discussion just wasn’t enough background for me to feel up to the task, and I scrapped the idea. I didn’t want to run “D&D with katanas,” I wanted to run a game that felt different and had different conflicts that reflected the kinds of tensions and archetypes you find in traditional Japanese fantasy fiction. I just wasn’t cut out for it.

But don’t get me wrong – when it’s all said and done, samurai and ninja fighting undead monsters and crazy demons is always awesome.

So in writing this encounter I wrestled with what easy to recognize, practical elements could be throw in to make this stand out as appropriate for a game in Rokugan or some similar setting. It’s a pretty big question and I didn’t even begin to dredge up most of the possible answers – but I played around with set dressing, architecture, monster choice, and player motivation. Even if my “Shinto-ish” shrine lacks some glaring oversights to the more informed, and ultimately this ends up feeling like “just another D&D” fight – I’m hoping that it’s at least a good one, and finds its way to your table.

Set-up
One of the PC’s has heard rumors of trouble at their family shrine. Situated on a rocky hill outside a nearby village, this particular holy place attracts a modest number of pilgrims each year, and is dedicated to the PC’s heroic ancestors, the mightiest of which are immortalized in 7 foot tall stone statues, each posed in full armor as though they were proudly guarding the shrine’s pavilion with naginata in hand. The shrine bears special significance to the PC as it is dedicated to those he or she hopes to make proud, and one day join in the afterlife. If these rumors are true – the defilement of the shrine stands as a great dishonor.

Unbeknownst to the players it has become a macabre pantry for a penanggalan – a horrific vampire that can detach head, lungs, stomach and entrails, and fly about seeking prey before returning to it’s body to resume appearing as a normal human. This particular penanggalan was a sorceress of some skill before she was turned into the horror she is today. Using what fraction of her arts remain in her twisted mind, the creature has animated the statues of the PC’s ancestors to facilitate her ruse and serve as guardians should someone attempt to investigate the shrine. When a pilgrim arrives, she greets them as a friend and fellow traveler until the poor soul gets close, then the creature springs out of her body and strangles the victim with her own flailing entrails. Thus far she is well fed, and the shrine is gaining a reputation as those pilgrims who seek it do not return.

Plot Text
This disgrace will not stand! Though the common folk are prone to wild rumors and baseless superstitions, too many have given similar account to all be fools. Someone, or perhaps worse, something, has been waylaying the pilgrims traveling to your family’s prized shrine. It is there that the spirits of your most ancient and honored ancestors are meditated upon. They would not be happy to know that those seeking their wisdom are coming to harm. Nor would they be pleased with you, should you let such dishonor stand.

Fury speeds you up the rocky slope to the shrine, your allies close at your heels. Beyond the bright and normally welcoming Torii gate is a startling sight. The statues of your four most famous ancestors are moving, their weapons now quite threatening. They menace a pilgrim who has collapsed near the altar, an older woman with hair as pure as snow and a lovely face that has weathered well the sixty or more years she must have spent walking this world. As her tear filled eyes lay on you she cries out for help, and the statues slowly shift their sightless gaze down hill at you.

Tactics
The nefarious penanggalan has seen the PC’s approaching from up high on her vantage point and adjusted her usual plan. Rather than luring them close to her within the shrine as she would a single or pair of pilgrims, she’ll play the role of damsel in distress. She commands the statues (slightly modified and “re-skinned” stats for Iron Defenders) to engage individual targets, locking most of the party down in melee combat. At first, the penangalan will maintain her ruse, taking her action to run to the arms of the nearest PC. Once she is adjacent, on her next turn she will detach from her body and attack, gaining combat advantage from the obvious surprise that all but the most cautious PCs would likely feel. Afterwards she engages the PCs as normal. If any one PC is dealing her significant damage, she flies off behind the roof to regroup and make a gliding charge back into the fray.

Map

Map Features
Trees: The trees can be climbed with an Athletics DC 12 check. Squares containing tree trunks are passable, and the trunks can be used as cover by those occupying their square.

Bush: This overgrowth provides partial concealment. In addition, a Perception DC 20 check reveals the hiding place where the penanggalan has stashed the bones and personal effects of its victims. Consider leaving a treasure parcel here composed of some coins, potions, and ritual scrolls/books.

Torii Arch: This gateway between the mortal and spirit worlds now serves as a faint warning of the corruption within (represented on the map by its two base pillars). Passing under the bright red arch, there is a vague sense of unease and wrongness beyond. The arch stands about 18 feet base to top. It looks something like this (Scroll down a bit). Squares containing the red pillars of the arch are impassable but provide cover.

Purified Water: This bowl contains the purified water one uses to wash themselves before entering the shrine to pray. It is sanctified, and will deal Ongoing 5 Radiant damage if splashed on the penanggalan, but has no effect on the animated statues.

Shrine: The shrine is elevated above the ground by 3 and a half feet – vaulting up requires and extra square of movement. The outer edge of each outside square contains the wooden beams supporting the shrine’s ceiling – it is otherwise open to the outside. The Shrine’s appearance is something along these lines – though with the corruption nearby, the shadows cling diligently to it, and no birds dare rest on it’s wooden roof.

Altar: During their struggles, ambushed pilgrims have knocked the contents of the altar to the floor – a sure sign that something in the shrine is amiss. Candles, figurines, and prayer parchments are sewn about the surface and floor nearby. Making a Religion DC 20 check as a move action to beseech the ancestor spirit’s aid will earn the PCs the favor of their otherworldly wrath; granting a +1 bonus to attack rolls for this encounter. This check is automatically made if a PC makes an attempt to tidy up the altar (also a move action).

Statue Bases: When the penanggalan animated the giant statues outside the shrine they smashed the stonework bases they once stood on as the magic giving them life struggled to take hold. This debris is now rough terrain.

Slope: The hill slopes downward towards the south. It does so gradually enough as to not effect movement rates, though you might consider having creatures undergoing appropriate types forced movement to also slide one square downhill

Cliff: The precarious cliff-side behind the shrine drops down 20 feet (2d10 fall damage). It would require an Athletics DC 15 check to climb.

Monsters
x4 Iron Defenders/animated ancestor statues (Monster Manual pg. 156) – SPECIAL NOTE: give the iron defender’s melee basic attack a reach of 2 squares and 1d10+5 damage. They are set to guard the penanggalan but will stick to their tactics unless she is bloodied, in which case they will move to intercede whatever PC is attacking their master.

x1 Penanggalan Bodiless Head (Monster Vault: Threats of the Nentir Vale pg. 82) – make the following adjustments and drop the monster’s level to 7 – HP 82 (bloodied 41) AC 21, Fort 18 Ref 20 Will 20 Melee attack bonus +12, Attack bonus vs other defenses + 10, decrease skill bonuses by 1, XP 300

 

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D&D Nex5 Playtest, One-Page Dungeon Contest, Summer Breaks

Greetings all! This week’s post is ready to go – and is holding on for some lovely artwork to really top it off. But to wet your beak here’s a hint: Samurai and Entrail Tentacles (what?! Gross!!) I also have a boatload of news and housekeeping items. Oh boy, logistics!

The winners of the One Page Dungeon Contest for this year were announced! The winning dungeons all look great! And so do some of the not-as-winning dungeons…mine included. That’s correct, I didn’t get my Dungeon-Bowl ring this year, but as my fellow Clevelanders are so good at pointing out “there’s always next year.” But no moping! This contest is a great challenge and generated some wonderful content that I highly encourage you to investigate.

A big thanks goes out to all those who organized, judged, wrote for, and supported the contest. It was a blast to participate and to enjoy everyone’s work! Because when we all game, everyone is a winner (just kidding, there are only 3d6 winners).

Over this past week I finally had an opportunity to try out the D&D Next/5th Edition playtest materials that were recently made available to everyone (who signs up…for free. So…still everyone). Thus far I like the direction things are going in. I think a big struggle with this edition will be to determine when being vague about rules helps gamemasters to better say “Yes, you can do that” and when leaving specificity out will only cause “needle-in-a-haystack” rules searches. Its a fine line but I think thus far the design team has done a great job.

Of particular note are the “Backgrounds” a character gets to choose. These describe your character’s origins in the world and grant a kind of “plot power” that gives him or her a tangible ability to use in roleplaying and/or exploration moments.

Because of restrictions in the playtest’s legal stipulations, I’m not really at liberty to mess around with writing encounters/adventures for the fledgling edition but I’ll say this: You can really play through an old school module or random dungeon just fine with the rules as they are now. Perhaps even a One Page Dungeon Contest dungeon would be easily adapted? (they totally would)

Last bit of news is that I’m currently writing up a brief but full adventure that I intend to post here! As a summer diversion I’m attending a large get-together of old friends who had interest in rolling the dice together again, and in anticipation am writing up a fast, very railroaded first level adventure very much along the lines of Wizard’s “D&D Encounters” sessions. The trick with gaming at a big gathering like this is that you don’t want to eat up the kind of time a good game will inevitably require – because here’s so much to try and do/so many people to see and reconnect with, that keeping six people sitting in a secluded are for five hours is just too much to ask. By doing several hour to two hour sessions over the course of the few days and using a drop-and-out pre-generated character setup; I become less of a time hog and permit a lot of people to enjoy the game.

It steps outside Save VS Weekends mandate but I’ll invoke “DM Privilege” and go ahead and do it anyway. To facilitate the writing I’m taking a short one or two weekend break from writing encounters, but fear not! This adventure will feature MORE than two encounters and will be posted at the end of my weekend trip for all to enjoy (in lovely pdf format). This break will also give my wonderful contributing artist time to whip up some snazzy images for future posts.

Exciting stuff! Roll them dice. Never stop rolling them.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Announcements

 

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