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<![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Q-man]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/8146-Q-man Pen and Paper Games hosts a very powerful, but easy to seach and join database of players and game masters in the United States and Canada. Our forums are also a great place to find the most recent news, product releases, tips, and rpg discussion. en Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:43:59 GMT vBulletin 60 http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/pnpg_style/misc/rss.jpg <![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Q-man]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/8146-Q-man Campaign Settings http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1639-Campaign-Settings Fri, 22 Jul 2011 17:09:56 GMT For almost all of my gaming Iíve played in the Forgotten Realms setting. The few times I was out of there it was in a custom world, which was... For almost all of my gaming Iíve played in the Forgotten Realms setting. The few times I was out of there it was in a custom world, which was thematically the same as Forgotten Realms. After 15 years of Forgotten Realms its starting to get to be about time to see something new. As luck would have it, D&D has had dozens of settings in the past, so thereís plenty of options out there to choose from. Now the real trouble is picking one to play in.

Scanning down the list I can quickly rule out a bunch of them. Grey Hawk, Dragonlance, Blackmoor, Birthright, Lankhmar, Mystara and a bunch of others sound like they all use a very similar take on high fantasy as Forgotten Realms. Each has their own twist to make them unique, but theyíd be similar enough that I donít think it would be much of a change. A few others I can rule out because of my gaming preferences; no spaceships rules out Spelljammer and I donít like bouncing between realms too much so Planescape might not be a good choice.
I do a bit of reading on each to see which ones grab a hold of my imagination and quickly whittle the list down to: Al-Qadim, Eberron, Iron Kingdoms, and Dark Sun. These are all still fantasy settings, but the themes and tropes they use seem to be fairly different that Forgotten Realms.

Al-Qadim, I think, was actually made to be a new area inside of Forgotten Realms, so the world doesnít change; but setting everything in Arabian mythology with djinns and genies roaming the lands would at least offer new descriptive text. Seeing as how all the Forgotten Realms tropes would likely creep in I might have to save this for another time.

Eberron changes things by having a new technology level. The fantasy setting gets a modern twist as magic has been proliferated enough that everyone has modern conveniences created from it. This is an interesting twist and campaigns set in cities would be pretty interesting because of it. Though I imagine the standard dungeon crawl wouldnít be changed much.

The Iron Kingdoms also increases the technology level, massive engines of warfare have been created in this setting. This has the same attraction as Eberron really, but the difference is that the feel I get from Eberron is that political scheming is more prevalent, where in the Iron Kingdoms all the nations are in the midst of a violent war so the confrontations are more direct and overt.

Finally thereís Dark Sun which throws out all of the themes and tropes that Tolkien created, and replaces them with new ones. Its difficult to draw many similarities between Dark Sun and Forgotten Realms which means that falling back on the old habits wonít be an option. The converse of that is that it will take significantly more reading to correctly handle the setting.

I think Iíll pass on Al-Qadim for now, its more of a new theme on Forgotten Realms rather than a change. Though it is a very valid option for a new direction to take the current campaign though. It would just be a matter of steering the party to this new land.

Eberron is a bit more than a theme, but its focus on political machinations isnít something Iím very good at handling in an adventure. Iím sure its something I can learn, but Iíd hate to ruin the game with a lackluster adventure and that makes me a little hesitant.

Iron Kingdoms and Eberron are about the same in my perspective. I actually keep wondering if perhaps some combination of those two might be fun. Take the level of magic from Eberron and toss in the direct warfare and powerful magic weapons from Iron Kingdoms and it really gets my imagination running. The trouble with them is that the Iron Kingdoms stuff is only written for 3rd Edition. Since my group really only plays 4th Edition Iíd have to do a pretty big chunk of conversion to make that work. I may getting started on that and see where it leads to, but right now this isnít a viable option.

Which leaves Dark Sun. This setting has actually been in the back of my head since the 4th Penny Arcade podcast. It seemed like it would be interesting to play in a setting where the land itself is out to kill you, making mere survival an achievement, let alone accomplishing quests. As it has already been converted to 4th Edition the only requirement on me and the players is to read through all the lore.

Iím not sure when exactly it will be, but Iím pretty sure the next campaign I start will be in the Dark Sun setting. Iíll still fool around with the Iron Kingdoms setting to see what can be done to get it 4E ready, but Iím sure that wonít be near ready for a long long time. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1639-Campaign-Settings
DM Self Evaluation http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1635-DM-Self-Evaluation Fri, 15 Jul 2011 19:25:54 GMT For about two years now I've been DMing a D&D 4E campaign in MapTools. In the interest of trying to improve as a DM I like to take a moment from time to time and take a look at how things have been going; what parts I've done well and which parts I need to improve. Normally I'd base a lot of this on table talk from the players, its pretty easy to figure out what portions they liked based on their commentary. Since we're playing online this source of information isn't as available, despite using ventrilo to talk there's less table talk when the players aren't face to face. Aside from sending them some sort of survey I'm not sure how I can get their opinions. I suppose the fact that the players are eager to come to the game every week says they aren't bored with it. There's no point in dwelling on details that I don't have, lets see what I can do with what I do have.

One of the main improvements I wanted for this campaign was to cut down on the amount of preparation I needed to do for each session. In the past it felt like I'd need to put in about an hour of prep work for each half hour of game time. Now I have twin boys that just turned 1 a week ago. If I have two hours total for prep time its a good week.

In general my approach to running a game is to let the players go where they feel is important. Along the way I'll drop in encounters and events. What I consider an event is typically some role play encounter where theyíll bump into an NPC or come across some puzzle, typically these events are there to give them some clue or plot hook to progress the story. In this way I can not only give them something to role play against, but it allows me to nudge them in the right directions.

This freeform style is where all that prep time would be spent. Since I tried my best not to railroad the players I was always guessing where they might choose to go. As a result I'd spend an exorbitant amount of time putting together contingency plans for every likely location they might explore. This became the obvious place to cut down the preparation, since everything I spent time on that wasn't explored was oobvious waste. What I've been trying now is to be more improvisational with the game, rather than trying to be prepared for everything.

On the positive side my prep work has gone down to perhaps 15 minutes for each half hour of game time, only 25% of what I needed before. Since the bulk of my planning is just writing down just the broad strokes (Major NPC goals and motivations, some regional detils like the government type and how the people react to adventurers, stuff like that), that material doesn't change much so I can put it together well in advance of when its needed. The bulk of my prep work goes to putting together a couple events or encounters that the party might come across. The trick I use there is to use the encounters no matter what; I'll pick out one set of abilities, then put together a few maps for the combat and different names and descriptions of the enemies so that they'd fit regardless of where the players are exploring. This ends up giving the players a lot more freedom to explore, since I don't have any need at all to coerce them into taking certain paths. Aside from that encounter work just about all of my prep work is all description and fluff I tend to get it done while walking my dog.

Unfortunately theres a down side to this method as well. Despite not specifically planning out areas; some of them will get more thought that others,even if I don't bother writing anything down. This makes the sessions a little inconsistent. In those areas everything is well described and nicely detailed with more talkative NPC's. Everywhere else descriptions are less vibrant and I'll toss in something that contradicts another portion of the story. I don't believe this is bad enough to break the immersion or flow of the story. As far as I know its not very obvious to the players, but that doesn't mean I don't notice it. The other major concern I have is that I have very little control on the game's pacing. Since I let teh players wander wherever they will, I can't always end the session at a good point, like a nice cliffhanger.

Thats all for individual sessions, the other area that gives DM's a bunch of work is adventure and campaign writing. Despite my intentions to improve my writing ability I haven't yet been able to do so. I think there are two main factors that make this difficult for me. First I've gutting my prep time, which cuts down my writign time since I don't have as much time dedicated to the game. The other problem is that I give the players a lot of control. Since they choose what quests and plot hooks to follow up on, I have a hard time figuring out how to squeeze in the details and events that comprise the larger story arcs of the campaign.

When I put together a campiagn I'll figure out what the villains are up too, then Iíll flip through the collection of modules I have for ideas on what sort of adventures the players will need to work through to thwart the evil doers. Then during the sessions I'll toss out various plot hooks until the one of them catches the player's attention. The idea is that once the players have set off to follow up on a plot hook I'll put them through one of the modules I picked.

The good part of this style is that the story is very malleable and easily adapts to the players perception of events and the actions that they take. If the players latch on to different ideas than I had in mind, I can quickly shift the story to suit them. That gives them a good amount of control over the story, and likely keeps them engaged with the narrative since their characters are important in whats going on.

The downside is that when I toss in a new plot hook or quest, I need it to lead to something. Which in turn means that I'm continually flipping through modules looking for something appropriate to use. In addition after about halfway through modules I tend to lose focus, and start cutting out sections to get the players to the finish quicker. The end result is that I churn through content extremely quickly. Since I don't use every module I pick out, or all of the modules that I do select, there's nothing stopping me from reusing them. I just have this mental hurlde that I can't use the same stuff twice in one campaign. Furthermore if my skills at writing interesting adventures were better, I wouldn't need to fool around with modules at all.

Something else that I've noticed is that all of my plots revolve around a single villain working almost in isolation. Thus far I've never had a plot where multiple factions are operating at the same time with overlapping goals. As a side effect none of my plots have ever really involved the politics of the nations they've been in. This keeps the stories fairly simple and straightforward, but I think they also end up being less interesting.

One last point that I've come to notice about myself, I seem to have certain biases that the players are able to draw information from. I have some deep set irrational antipathey toward elves. If the players come across one in the campaign, there's a safe bet they'll be working for Team Evil. Conversely I really like dwarves, so if you meet one of them you can be sure that he'll deal with you fairly and honestly. Its a minor thing since the majority of the NPC's I use are humans, so its not like they can get big spoilers from it. Definitely something I should try to mask a little better. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1635-DM-Self-Evaluation
Found a Module Format I Like http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1634-Found-a-Module-Format-I-Like Thu, 07 Jul 2011 13:19:58 GMT A while back, I complained about the lack of useful content in the D&DI subscription. Just recently I found a section that I really like, I donít know that it makes the subscription worthwhile, but its certainly a bright spot in it.

Most of the modules they offer are on the bland side, very little RP, then a dungeon crawl. This is probably a format that probably works for a some players. Myself, I prefer a story that is told throughout the adventure, there ought to be places between the combats where the plot is advanced. Something more than a pretext for getting into a bunch of encounters. For the most part I tear up their modules to get encounter ideas, occasionally Iíll come across some story idea that I like but its not too common.

Anyway, some time ago they started releasing new Domains of Dread; so far I think theyíve released 4 of them. Initially I had overlooked these, I wasnít playing in Ravenloft so it didnít seem worth reading at the time. Now though two things have changed; first the Shadowfell book is out, and second the Shadowfell apparently has absorbed Ravenloft. As my current campaign will eventually lead the players to the Shadowfell it gives me the opportunity to throw in some Ravenloft elements, so the domains of dread are viable choices.

The Domains of Dread that Wizards have put out are like the perfect module, in my opinion anyway. They describe the area that can be explored, the people and prominent NPCís, define a goal which allows the players to leave, and then offers a few thematic monsters to have them run into. There isnít a single encounter in the entire article.

What you end up with is this pristine sandbox that the players can explore and the DM has the freedom to put in whatever events are needed to tell the story. Finally, a non-linear module! Not only that, but some extremely clever players might even be able to solve the whole thing with role play alone.

The only real trouble I have is that all of these places are self contained. These Domains are all cut off from the rest of the Shadowfell, so the only way to get there is if the shadowmist brings you there. This seems like a minor complaint though, with a bit of creativity you can find ways to get the players there and make it pertinent to the larger story of the campaign. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1634-Found-a-Module-Format-I-Like
Using line of sight in Maptool (Part 2) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1610-Using-line-of-sight-in-Maptool-(Part-2) Mon, 09 May 2011 11:44:17 GMT Last time I promised that MapTool would hide and reveal enemies and sections of the map as the players moved around. Then I showed you how to get... Last time I promised that MapTool would hide and reveal enemies and sections of the map as the players moved around. Then I showed you how to get MapTool to draw white lines representing the vision. Which is just a tad short of the promise I made.

So lets play with more settings and see if we can't make that happen then. Choose Preferences from the Edit menu, go to the Application tab and look for the check box "Auto-expose fog on token movement" and be sure its checked. That setting will need to be made by yourself and each of your players. Next lets go to the menu, choose Map -> Vision -> Day and it should now show a check box next to that option. Then choose Map -> Fog-Of-War to check that setting too.

What this accomplishes is having MapTool hide tokens and draw a fog over areas that the character can't see. Making it far more clear to the players what is truly within their line of sight. When you're conencted to the game as a GM everything will be revealed to you, whereas from a player perspective if something doesn't fall within a player character's line of sight it won't be revealed. Have a look at this, here's how the GM would view the map:

He sees four tokens. The two on the left are the PC tokens that have vision, the two on the right are the NPC tokens without vision. The shaded area represents parts of the map that aren't within line of sight. Notice how that area entirely covers the blue wolf token and part of the red troll token. Because of that here's what the players see:

The palyers can see anything that falls within line of sight range. Because of that the wolf doesn't at all appear on their map, and the troll is partially concealed.

When you're working with the maps it might be worthwhile to flip between these vies by choosing View -> View as Player. That will change the map so that it shows the map exactly as the players would see it.

This is probably not ideal. Just because one player can see something, doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the players can see it. MapTools realizes this, and will tweak the map so that it only shows what that particular character can see. To do so, all you need to is select on of the tokens with vision, and voila! The map shades out what can't be seen, and even removes the tokens that are now out of sight. Here's that same map as seen from each of the PC characters:

You can enforce the vision limitations on the players when you start up a server. Just check the following settings: Strict token ownership, Players can reveal vision, and Use individual views.

Then when the players connect be sure that they have ownership of their respective tokens. If they don't have the onwership the map will stay entirely black.

It can certainly add to the immersion when the players can only see portions of the map. It will definitly make your surprise attacks much more interesting. Though I should mention that there are a few warnings that you should take into consideration when making use of these features in maptool.

  • Be sure the players are aware that they can't see everything. Vision isn't revealed while the token is being dragged, only when its released. So if you have some monsters flanking a doorway waiting to pounce on any PC that enters they might run straight into the room unaware, while you're cutting them to ribbons with attacks of opportunity. In reality the character would have approached the door and possible see the monsters, before going through. If not the PC definitely would have stopped when the blades struck them. To counter this I suggest the players stop their movements at all doorways and corners to let the map update, then continue their movement.
  • It is possible for the line of sight calculations to get a little CPU intensive. This doesn't happen often, but one of my players has a slower machine, and was exploring an extensive cavern. Because there wasn't straight walls I made heavy use of the polygon tool to set my vision blocking layer. Drawing that way puts the heaviest load on the CPU when figuring out whats in sight. If you can stick to the rectangle and circles since they are much easier. Keep in mind that the vision blocking stuff isn't visible to the players, so it doesn't need to be perfect. Having the edges sloppy and not quite in line with where the background images show the walls won't detract from its effect. Its not likely that this will be a problem, but I figured I'd mention it anyway.
  • If you use the fog of war on your maps, which indeed I suggested, it will not remove the fog where the vision blocking layer is. Which means that part of the artwork won't be revealed to the players. With the map that I made here's how the fog would effect it:

    The players can see there's an obstacle there, but with just that black square they've no idea what it is. For rocks and walls thats probably ok, but if you had a door there or something else they might want to interact with it might be a problem.
  • The map is only updated when a token moves. If you do have a vision blocking layer over a door, and when the players opene the door you then erase that bit of vision blocking, the players won't immediately be able to see whats beyond. Once a token with sight moves on the map it will update with what has newly been made visible. Its a little clunky, but its probably better than having it perpetually running those calculations.
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1610-Using-line-of-sight-in-Maptool-(Part-2)
Using line of sight in Maptool (Part 1) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1600-Using-line-of-sight-in-Maptool-(Part-1) Fri, 06 May 2011 13:27:42 GMT Some time ago I worked out how to make good use of the line of sight calculations in MapTool. Its pretty neat how it works. The players are shown... Some time ago I worked out how to make good use of the line of sight calculations in MapTool. Its pretty neat how it works. The players are shown an outline if what their characters can see; any tokens not within that shape are not shown to them. Which is really need for the Seeker in our group, he has a habit of hiding behind pillars and popping out to fire a few arrows on his turn before returning to cover. When he's behind the pillar he actually can't see whats going on in the melee, so every time he pokes his head out he's greeted with a new scene as the combatants shift and move.

Its been a while since I stood behind the podium and lectured on how the widgets in maptool work, and I've been reusing the same campaign file over and over because I didn't remember exactly how I made it work. Thats probably a clear indication that its about time to make some notes and store them somewhere.

I should start by saying that along with the line of sight work you can add lighting effects as well. Those are pretty complicated and trickier to get right. Possibly later I can be talked into discussing the lighting stuff, for now I'm going to ignore those and we'll just turn on the effects so that your players vision is limited to what their character can see.

First you'll need to make some settings in your campaign properties. So head into those properties, and specifically the Sight tab, which ought to look something like this:

MapTool allows you to define a bunch of different types of vision. This variety is more important if you mess with lighting, when you're just doing the line of sight having more than one is probably overkill. What you'll want to do for now is to make sure the normal vision line is the way you want it. By default the line looks like this:
Normal: circle distance=22.5
The formatting for it is as follows:
<Name>: <Shape> [arc=<Degrees>] distance=<Number> [<Options>]
The Name value is just an identifier for this vision, doesn't matter what you call it so long as you can pick it out of a list.
The Shape value can be Square, Circle, or Cone; this describes the shape of the characters vision. Either Square or Cricle should be fine for most cases; the only real consideration is that Square works better on a rectangular grid while Circle fits a hex grid better. The Arc value is only needed if you have coneshaped vision, it specifies the angle of the arc.
Distance specifies how far the vision reaches. Its important to know that the distance is not the number of cells on the map, its based on the distance each cell represents. When you create a new map you specify the distance per cell. If you set the distance to 5, then a vision distance of 20 will only reach across 4 squares; if you want the vision to reach 20 cells you have to increase it to a vision distance of 100.
The Options are used for tweaking how this vision deals with lighting. They aren't required, so its safe to just leave them blank.

Once you have your campaign setup properly, the next step is to edit your tokens. Head to the config tab of the token properties:

There are two settings of interest here, first the check box for Has Sight needs to be checked. Then the dropdown next to it lists all of the vision types defined in your campus, select one that you've prepared for the campaign. This really only needs to be done for the PC tokens, there's nothing stopping you from doing it for all the NPC's as well but its probably not really necessary.

Now create your map however you normally do. Dragging images to the background layer, creating monster tokens, whatever you normally do. Now head to the Vision Blocking Layer Tools on the toolbar, its the icon that looks like an eye in a circle:

These tools all work like the Drawing tools, what you do with them is to draw in the areas that the players aren't allowed to see through. You'll see that it marks the areas in blue, that represents objects that will block line of sight. Draw away until you've covered everthing that will block vision. Here's a quick example where there is a block of stone that will block vision:

In this example the mystic, on the left of the stone, won't be able to see through to the troll, on the right of the stone. When you are in the Vision Blocking Later Tools you won't be able to work with the tokens. Switching back to the interaction tools you can hold the mouse over the token with vision and MapTools will draw a white line showing the edges of that tokens vision:

These lines are only shown when the mouse is over that token. Once you move it the lines will go away. There you ahve it, MapTools is now able to show you what a character is able to see.

Its rather unimpressive. White lines? C'mon, I promised that it would hide and reveal things to the players! Yes I know, and I'll come through with that part soon. This is getting a bit longer that I expected so its going to be in two parts. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1600-Using-line-of-sight-in-Maptool-(Part-1)
In which I complain about my DDI subscription http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1607-In-which-I-complain-about-my-DDI-subscription Mon, 02 May 2011 12:46:53 GMT For a little over a year now I've had a subscription with WotC's DDI. This gets me their Dragon and Dungeon magazines, the 4E character builder, their monster editor, and access to the D&D compendium. Ostensibly it will give me access to the virtual tabletop they are working on, but as that isn't released yet I can't say much for certain.

On the surface I love the idea. A reasonable monthly fee gets me access to new D&D content as well as a suite of tools to help make the game easier to play. Whats not to like about that? Obviously the problem comes in when you see how the service works in reality. So much of the stuff they offer isn't useful to me, it really makes me wonder if its worth the cost anymore.

Lets start with looking at the service as a player. Dragon magazine is the one that seems to offer you the more useful articles. Most of what they give you is new feats and powers to use in your characters. Those are nice I guess, though with the scant bit or lore and fluff they offer its easier to just wait until it appears in the character builder instead of reading the articles.

When they added the assassin class through the magazine it seemed like they were going to have some real content in the magazine. Then they released the assassin class in one of their books. They've claimed that the assassin class in the book is different than the class in the magazine. If thats true why do they have the same name, is that confusion really necessary? If what they really did was create different builds for the assassin in each place, then they lied saying it was a DDI exclusive class. Its ok to just release new class options in the magazine, just be honest about it.

The assassin class was the most blatant place this happened, but not the only place. They did the same thing with the minotaur race as well. They also had a dhampyr race they added as well, which for some reason hasn't found its way into the character builder. Not that I'm keen on playing thatrace, but why short change it? They wrote it, apparently they thought someone would like it.

The character builder is pretty nice, its rare that I make characters without using it. I'm not sure if its silverlight or the way they built it, but the thing is painfully slow at times. I can deal with it being slow, it sucks but its tolerable. The real breaking point is that the thing will lock up from time to time. When it does I'm not sure if its just being slow, or if it died. So I sit there staring at an unchanging unresponsive screen for a few minutes before killing it and starting over. I had wondered why they had a feature to recover unsaved changes when you started the character builder, now I wonder if they realized it was something they quickly realized would be crucial.

How about content for DM's? Thats more of the Dungeon magazine's terrain. One they do adda lot of are short modules. Its nice to have the modules, but I'm not very impressed with many of them. Too many of them follow the mold of giving the players a premise to enter the dungeon, followed by a dungeon filled with combat. There are some they've released which had more story, but they are the exception not the rule. The value I get from them is the plot hooks and synopsis. I can take those and expand it into an adventure that I'd enjoy running my players through.

They have a number of articles from their research and design team which is nice at times. Every now and again I'll come across something and wonder what they were thinking, and these articles address that. However, thats not terribly useful for me during my game sessions. Instead of telling me why they did it, if they offered suggestions for how I might use it I'd be more interested.

By far my favorite series of articles are the ones by Chris Perkins, where he talks about things he's done as a DM that might help your game along. Not everything applies to me, but theres been quite a few that and I think I can use to help me improve my games.

They do give you access to the online compendium and the monster editor. Which are quicker ways to look up rules and creatures. Really though, when it comes to making a ruling during a session I'll just make something up instead of researching the actual rule. Its far better to keep the game going rather than to be sure you're obeying the rules. Being able to search for monsters is pretty useful though. When I need an Orcish Warcaster, I'll rarely look through orcs to find something the appropriate level. I just search for Artillery monsters of the right level, flip through them until I see powers I like and rename the powers.

Their latest project is the virtual table top, which sounds like a decent I dea. Except that its been done before, several times. The main hook they are able to put into it is that it can grab monster stat blocks and character sheets from their other tools for use in there, which I'll admit will be a great thing to have. I don't think thats reason enough for them to reinvent the wheel though. They could have saved a ton of time and effort by partnering with an existing virtual tabletop and built an add-on to include those new features.

When I really look at what I'm using from the subscription its not a whole lot. The character builder, the monster search in the compendium, and a rare article for DM tips or an adventure idea. I have a hard time seeing that as worth the $8 monthly fee. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1607-In-which-I-complain-about-my-DDI-subscription
A strange collection of side skills http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1599-A-strange-collection-of-side-skills Mon, 18 Apr 2011 13:50:31 GMT I'm not sure how it came up, but the other day I got to thinking about the many ways that playing tabletop role playing games has offered benefits elsewhere in life. I think its obvious how playing such games can increase your creativity and gives you another reason to be social, but it seems like the effect reach into a number of less obvious areas.

For example when pondering dastardly things to do yo players in my games, I tend to do best when engaged in some activity that needs enough focus to keep your mind from going into power save mode but not so much that it can wander onto other topics. Walking my dog has been the ideal time for this. She tends to get extra strolls around game sessions, and all the exercise she wants when I'm planning out the next module of the adventure.

Going through high school and college I can't even remember how many English and writing courses I had to take. During that time I'm pretty sure I knew that dictionaries and a thesauruses exists, and probably had a pretty good idea of what their purpose was; I never once opened them though. Now that I'm writing dialog for dozens of NPC's from a plethora of fictional cultures Chrome is telling me that thesaurus.com is one of the sites I visit the most, so I think its safe to say my vocabulary has improved.

Last week my wife had to make cookies for a baby shower, and amongst them there were bottles, rattles, and others that needed decorated with icing. Even though the piping bag isn't quite the same as paint brush, painting mini's really does preparing you for decorating cookies. The steady hand for doing lines, blending and layering colors, and being immune to the tediousness of painting 3 dozen cookies the exact same way. Though it should be noted, that while you combination teddy bear, rattle, and rocking horse cookies combined together and painted like a barbarian on a warhorse wielding a giant mace looks really cool, it is probably inappropriate for a baby shower, or so I was told. Several times.

As a player I'm sure you all know that amusing to write up stories and histories for your characters. Its just that being original and thinking up cool stories is hard. The best way to cut corners is to steal stories, and this has pushed me toward doing a lot of reading. In an effort to keep my book shelves from snapping under the weight of all the novels I've read, my wife got me a Nook for any future books. So RPG's have even gotten me new electronic toys! ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1599-A-strange-collection-of-side-skills
Call of Cthulhu http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1594-Call-of-Cthulhu Wed, 13 Apr 2011 13:21:03 GMT For some months now I've been reading through the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. His concept of humans as insignificant motes of dust, hardly worth the attention of the older and more powerful inhabitants of the universe is really appealing to me. In most books, TV shows, and movies humans are major forces in these sort of conflicts; and in fact win more often than not. Its quite refreshing to see an approach where thats not the case.

This doesn't mean that humanity is defenseless against them, there are a few ways the setting gives us a chance. Ancient cults have known about these creatures for years, and have been clued into the fact that there are ways of dealing with them. There are a number of secret and hidden tombs that seem like the ravings of lunatics which hold spells that can drive these creatures away. Researching the spells with gnaw away at your sanity, and actually learning them will likely test your mental breaking point. So its possible to fight back, but it does have a pretty hefty cost. It also means that the gibbering madman knows more about whats going on than the rest of the world. Good luck translating his ravings into useful information.

Not long after reading a few of these stories it occurred to me "This would be really awesome as a campaign setting!" Apparently I'm not alone in that thought, as I quickly discover that not only has this been made into a tabletop RPG, but there are at least three varieties out there. Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu, one based on the D20 system that I think is out of print, and Trail of Cthulhu based on the Gumshoe rules. I haven't read much of the Trail of Cthulhu rules, but the others I've spent a bit of time perusing.

Lets start with the D20 version of Call of Cthulhu. Its using the essentially same game rules that Wizards of the Coast used for D&D 3 and 3.5; and just like D&D this version of Call of Cthulhu seems to be fairly combat heavy. There's nothing wrong with that, except that the setting pits humankind (the players) against creatures and civilizations that consider us beneath their notice and could wipe us out easily if they so choose. With that in mind it should be apparent that toe to toe combat with them probably isn't the best plan. This isn't to say the rules deny you other ways to solve these problems, just like in D&D you can make use of your skills to defuse the situation. Regardless, it didn't feel like it would be a good fit for the world as I envisioned it when reading the books. In the books the heroes were ordinary people who knew they would likely sacrifice themselves to save others. The concept of leveling up and gaining new feats and such didn't really fit that.

The other one I read was Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu. This one is skill based, so character improvement is much slower and new abilities aren't added along the way, and thats a much better fit to how the books portrayed the heroes. Their rules do involve combat, there is a battle between humans and these otherworldly creatures so violent confrontations are inevitable; but the system seems skewed in favor of the creatures which again is in line with the setting. Players can win these fights, but it will require a lot of preparation and careful actions. The one thing that wasn't clear to me is how this would work in a campaign. Since your characters don't gain new spells, how are they to deal with the greater threats they'd be up against as the campaign progresses? I haven't found the answer to that yet, my assumption is that as you investigate further into these threats you'd gain more spells or knowledge of their weaknesses. I just can't back that up with examples from the rule book.

Since I'm coming from the novels and stories the Chaosium version is the clear winner, its right in line with how I envisioned the world. Now if you came from a different angle, like the Arkham Horror board game, you might enjoy the D20 version better.

Another point that, for me, is in favor of the Chaosium rules is that they put a huge emphasis on research and planning before you confront any of the monsters. Thats where the overwhelming majority of the role playing in these sort of games takes place. Since I enjoy role playing more than combat, this makes it seem like the game would be great for me.

The only problem I have in saying much more about these games is that I haven't yet played them. its on my to-do list, but I haven't yet been in a Cthulhu game yet. Once that happens I'll have to revisit my assumptions and statements about these game systems. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1594-Call-of-Cthulhu
Growing with the game or stagnation? http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1592-Growing-with-the-game-or-stagnation Tue, 12 Apr 2011 18:33:41 GMT Way way back in time, when I was in high school I started playing tabletop RPG's. It was just D&D at that point, unless you want count Magic the Gathering as well. That was pretty much it for quite a while, until college was nearly over and we finally branched out to try Shadow Run.

That was kind of a weird revelation. The hobby store we got our books from was Phantom of the Attic, and it was predominantly for comic books so only the most popular games would show up on its shelves. We were happily playing D&D without it ever occurring to us that there might be other options out there. We were happy with the game, so there was no desire for change. In the last year of college I ran into another gamer and he mentioned playing a futuristic campaign. I hadn't even heard of Spelljammer, so this was a crazy new concept for me.

Anyway, a lot of time has past and despite being clued in to the vast array of games I've never really tried to many of them. I pretty much played D&D exclusively; there were a few single session adventures in Shadowrun and one of the Star Wars games, but that was about as far as I went.

Oddly enough I find myself with more time for such games now than back then. This isn't a huge improvement mind you, I think I've gone from 8 hours to perhaps 9 hours of gaming time during the week. The problem now is that its not as easy for me to get out of the house to play. On the plus side the internet is popular now, so I don't always need to leave my house.

With this new availability to play games I should easily have been able to explore more of whats out there. So let's see, I've pretty much stopped playing Shadowrun and Star Wars now; though I have gotten sort of familiar with War Machine, and I could probably talk about Song of Blades and Heroes and Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle game without looking like an idiot. I guess I've tried a few tabletop strategy games, but have culled the RPG's down to just D&D. There is a Call of Cthulhu play by post game I've signed up for that I'm pretty excited about, that game looks like it has some huge potential.

I don't have any complaints about the limited set of games I play, its just that looking at it makes me feel like I'm stuck in a rut or refusing to leave my comfort zone or something. I've never stopped enjoying playing D&D despite the new additions and all the rule changes, it just seems like the trend is that the longer you play tabletop games your repertoire should increase. It just strikes me as odd that mine hasn't. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1592-Growing-with-the-game-or-stagnation
Sembian Merchant in Suzail (Part 3) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1553-Sembian-Merchant-in-Suzail-(Part-3) Tue, 22 Feb 2011 19:38:59 GMT Yes, I'm still babbling on about the adventures I put the party through. Take heart stalwart reader, this is the last post I have on that topic. Then I'll find something else to ramble on about. My party had already broken away from the full story I had written by this point. They decided some time ago that Deskyr was not to be trusted and saw too it that his plan could not come to pass. They still agreed to rescuing the paladin, so they were doing one last job for him. They had no intentions of returning to Suzail, and never intended to see Deskyr again. I had another short adventure in mind if they did overlook the trouble the magic items had caused and stick with Deksyr that I'll share even though I never used it during the game.

Off the party goes again, trying to rescue the paladin and find the mask. As they get on the trail of the Paladin they are directed to the fringe of civilization, up into the foothills of a nearby mountain range where some hardy folk are trying to settle. Unfortunately for the settlers a tribe of orcs has already laid claim to these mountains. For quite a while the settlers were able to drive off the orcs with little trouble, though lately the orcs have been getting bolder and much more fierce. Before the paladin arrived they were able to overrun the outlying farms and drive everyone into the more fortified cities.

The party hears tales in these cities of a team of knights lead by a Paladin who swore to drive back the orcs and help the settlers reclaim their farms. However, he's set off toward their main camp over a few weeks ago. Not long after he went off the orcs became more organized and a more deadly force, so apparently the paladin failed. The orcs have gone far enough to lay claim to several of the towns and settlements, and refugees are flooding the remaining towns. The refugees are terrified of the orcs, spreading tales that their attacks leave few survivors and many of them are taken captive.

The back story on this is that as the orcs were driven deeper into the mountains by the settlers, they came across the Mask of Blood deep in a previously unexplored cave. Drawing on its power they were able to strengthen their forces and push back on the settlers. Their disadvantage was that they were disorganized and all of their assaults fell apart when the bloodlust came on them during the combat. When the Paladin attacked the settlers assumed his defeat further bolstered them and made their raids more fearsome. The truth is that the Paladin attacked their camp and slew their leader, but when he grabbed the mask it dominated him and quickly turned him to evil. The paladin then took over the orc tribe and gave them organization and better martial training, coupled with their ferocious nature they are a formidable force.

The refugees and settlers have a general idea where the orcish raids are coming from, and can give the party good directions to their main camp. When the party arrives they are surprised to see the orcish camp is set up like a military camp. Amongst the orcs are some of the captive settlers, who are acting not just as servants but also seem to be in the rank and file of the orcish forces. They quickly discover that the Paladin has taken over the orcs and are forced to kill him to free him from the mask's hold. After he is killed the organization of the orcs begins to fall apart, and the power they gained from the mask quickly drains away. The party kills off a few more before the rest flee into the deep mountain caves.

My party had performed this task, and then turned their backs on Suzail and Deskyr. They had already ruined his plans and saw no reason to return. They kept the mask in the hopes of either destroying it or finding some other means of preventing it from causing problems. As I intended this story to get them up to about level 10, I had seeded the areas with quest hooks for other adventures and they set off to follow up on some of those.

Lets say that your party is less dedicated to seeing evil destroyed, and more interested in the gold Deskyr was paying them, and returns to Suzail with the Mask of Blood. I didn't want to get into a huge campaign against the Shadowvar, so I was going to keep the party in Suzail for the last adventure. What I intended to do was have Deskyr show his ignorance of what he's dealing with by storing the mask and the vessel in the same place. This releases the spirit of the ancient evil sorcerer in Deskyr's mansion. During the night it will sneak in and dominate several members of Deskyr's personal guards and use them to seek vengeance on the party for defeating him at the wizard academy. I figured since the sorcerer was just defeated and was trapped away for so long it'd take him a while to regain his strength, so if the party acts quickly they could take him down again.

I had planned to have the evil sorcerer kill Deskyr for thinking he could control and use him so easily, which gets him out of the campaign. The party once again should be victorious and return his spirit back into the vessel. At which point there was hopefully enough ruckus that the purple knights, the law enforcement in Cormyr, would step in and confiscate the evil artifacts. I figured that would wrap up the story pretty nicely. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1553-Sembian-Merchant-in-Suzail-(Part-3)
Sembian Merchant in Suzail (Part 2) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1544-Sembian-Merchant-in-Suzail-(Part-2) Fri, 18 Feb 2011 18:55:14 GMT Continuing on with the story I used for the campaign. One of the things I tried to do with the adventure was give the players clues about what the... Continuing on with the story I used for the campaign. One of the things I tried to do with the adventure was give the players clues about what the merchant, Deskyr, was using. As I said he was not meant to be an evil person, just naive and overconfident; but the items he was using were extremely evil. I wanted to see how the players would react to this, if they would simply accept the jobs and trust Deskyr, or if they would decide that no good could come of using such things and put a stop to his work. They had to decide if it was worth the risk of the evil artifacts getting out of control and killing innocent Sembians, worth the potential gains of driving out the Shadowvar who are the evil oppressors of those people?

The NPC that went along with the party had already informed Deskyr of the answer before they left the ruins. When the party returns Deskyr is elated that they were successful in finding the location of the Mask of Blood. He disregards their concerns over the oracle spirits warnings, assuring them that he's taken every precaution. He's already arranged for a paladin and his team of nights to fetch the mask, and they've already departed. With their divine will will they'll be more than able to ensure its evil doesn't escape. He also decides that the party is trustworthy and explains part of his plan to them, not all of it he still keeps a few secrets. He tells them that their are a few magical artifacts he can use to liberate Sembia from Shadowvar rule. Removing them and their deity Shar will be beneficial, not only to Sembia, but the entire region. With these items he can avoid a costly war, and save lives. How the items work and his intentions on using them he still withholds.

He felt that the party should get more than just gold for their efforts, so he made arrangements at the wizard academy to have their equipment further enchanted. He felt the value of the enchantments would have enough value, furthermore it will improve their effectiveness in the future jobs he has in mind for them. As it happens this is the same academy that he has researching the vessel containing the ancient evil sorcerer's soul. While the party is at the academy he asks if they could return with the vessel and the research report.

I threw in this reward because I had no ideas what items to give the party as a reward. I figured with this I could dump that responsibility on them. Besides I needed a quest hook to send them to the academy, so it was a win-win solution. For some reason they came to the conclusion that Deskyr was playing them for fools with this request. I'm not sure exactly where this came from, but since I wanted a few seeds of distrust between the party and Deskyr it served my purposes beautifully.

As the party arrives at the academy they quickly should discover that something has gone wrong. Many of the magical wards protecting the students have broken down. The magical constructs used for training are attacking and injuring the students and faculty. Being good hearted adventurers, and realizing that with things as they are they won't get their payment, they offer to help restore order to the academy. What they discover is that while the vessel was being researched it managed to dominate the wizard studying it. Slowly it was moving through the faculty until it reached the headmaster which gave it full authority and control over the academy, and it was using that to wreak havoc throughout the school.

After the party frees the headmaster from being liberated, the party is able to collect the report, the vessel, and get their enchantments. The faculty of the academy was livid with Deskyr because of the trouble his request caused, and despite the party gave them they are displeased with the party since they are acting as his agents. They don't immediately throw them out, but they aren't willing to fulfill any extra requests.

At this point my party had decided that Deskyr wasn't to be trusted, obviously he didn't have the ability to control these evil artifacts. What they decided to do was to have the wizards at the academy disenchant the vessel for them, this way the evil soul would be released and couldn't cause any more harm. This definitely destroyed Deskyr's plans.

The party again returns to Deskyr to tell him what happened at the academy. Before they arrive, he's already distraught about something. The paladin he sent down to fetch the Mask of Blood was sending him updates on the search, but abruptly all communication stopped. With what happened at the academy he's concerned that the same fate may have befallen the paladin and his knights. He beseeches the party to look into the matter and see if the paladin needs rescued, and if so to save him as well. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1544-Sembian-Merchant-in-Suzail-(Part-2)
Sembian Merchant in Suzail (Part 1) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1534-Sembian-Merchant-in-Suzail-(Part-1) Thu, 17 Feb 2011 14:49:27 GMT Some time ago I had my first attempt at DMing in the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms setting. I hadn't read through all of the lore, but in skimming over the details of the locations I latched onto the Netheril/Shadowvar occupation of Sembia. It sounded like a fun place to start an adventure. Flipping through a bunch of modules for quest hook ideas I put together a fairly decent story for my players to go through.

As I was typing up the story in case I wanted to reuse it later, I figured it might be something worth sharing. I also realized that there was a lot more to it than I initially suspected. So this will need to be done as multiple posts to prevent it from becoming an impenetrable wall of text.

The adventure starts in the city of Suzail in the kingdom of Cormyr. There lives a wealthy merchant named Deskyr, who was of Sembian descent. He despised the Shadowvar taking over his homeland and wishes to see them driven out so that he can return to his family's old estate.

Deskyr recently came into the posession of a magic item that reminded him of an old legend. This legend spoke of a pair of powerful magic items that combined to be supremely powerful. The items are the relics of an ancient and powerful sorcerer; the first was the mask that he used to channel all of his power through, the second was a vessel in which he stored his soul so that he could endure when his mortal body died. The legend tells of how these items can be brought together to return the sorcerer to life for a short time. This sorcerers power is still tremendous, and the legend includes tales of how he was unleashed to destroy entire armies or lay waste to entire cities.

Believing that what he's found is the vessel for the sorcerer's soul Deskyr quickly begins to think he's found a way to remove the Shadowvar from his homeland. If he's correct he could do it without furter ravaging the land with the death and destruction of a war.

I had it in mind that Deskyr wasn't evil, he was more naive about the forces he was meddling with. These two items were both sentient and definitely evil. Deskyr saw them merely as tools, and never considered that they'd try to act on their own and would balk at being controlled and used as he desired. He had reasonably good intentions, but was very far out of his depth in understanding magic and the nature of these two items.

Anyway, he needs additional information about these items before he can carry out his plan. He sends off the piece he has to be studied, he has some connections with a local wizard academy to have it researched. Which left the mask to be found, in his family's archives in their Sembian manor he was likely to find much more information about this legend. The trouble lies in reaching the vault. The part of Urmlaspyr where it is located is now haunted by shadow creatures and has been walled off to protect the rest of the city. Access to it is strictly denied, so Deskyr intends to hire a group of adventurers to sneak in and return with the information he needs.

Of course this is where the party comes in, they respond to his 'Help Wanted' ad and meet at his office where he explains the job. Deskyr does not reveal his plan, instead he say he wants his family's wealth returned to him and asks that they bring everything inside of the vault back. Deskyr promises them a share of all of the treasure that is found inside.

Presumably the party accepts the job and sets off for Urmlaspyr. They sneak into the vault without being caught by the guards that patrol the walls surrounding the haunted land, and battle through some of the shadow creatures to enter Deskyr's vault. Inside they find a few chests of gold and gems and several tomes and scrolls. They return to Deskyr with all that they recovered.

Deskyr praises them for recovering the wealth, but his true interest was the books they recovered. He asks that the party remain in town a few days, as he may have additional work for them soon.

After reading through the books Deskyr finds only some of the information he needs. He has a name for the mask, the Mask of Blood, but can't find anything on its location. What he finds instead is the legend of the oracle spirit in the ruins of Spellgard. If this spirit could be contacted it will answer one question for each person with the absolute truth.

Seeing this as a shorter route to finding the mask than weeks of researching the legends to find the location, he contacts the party and asks them to travel to the Spellgard ruins on his behalf. He tells them that he needs an answer that can be gotten there, but does not inform them the nature of his question. Instead he sends along one of his assistants who will ask the question for Deskyr. The party is responsible to protecting the assistant and helping him to contact the oracle spirit.

This is where I was running through the WotC module The Scepter Tower of Spellgard. Despite me giving up on typing the synopses, the adventure continued on for quite a while. I sent along the NPC assistant so that each of the player's could ask a question of the oracle, that and it allowed Deskyr to keep them in the dark about his true plans still. At the end I had the oracle give a warning about the dangers inherent in the mask, as well as give its location. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1534-Sembian-Merchant-in-Suzail-(Part-1)
Learning Warmachine http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1519-Learning-Warmachine Fri, 28 Jan 2011 13:48:06 GMT A couple of the friends that I play D&D with, are big on tabletop war games as well. Warhammer, Warmachine, Song of Blades and Heroes, that sort of stuff. For a while now, they've been trying to get the rest of the group to try out those games. Their main hurdle is that when all of us get together we'd rather progress the D&D campaign instead of try something new.

As I've recently had twin babies move in with me, my free time has been drastically cut short. Which means getting together for the regular D&D sessions doesn't happen so much now. I do occasionally get a few hours off here and there, and that seems to be the right amount of time to get a couple skirmish matches in. with that, they've finally talked me into playing with them. Now if only I knew what I was doing.

The first of these games I've gotten a chance to try is Warmachine. I still haven't read through the rulebook, so I was relying on them to explain the mechanics to me. They broke out the models from the starter sets and quickly set up a game. I think I had the Protectorate of Menoth and my buddy was playing the Cygnar army. They had these nice little cards that listed all of the powers and abilities each of the models could do, which seemed great since it was a great quick reference.

Two things I learned about teaching someone a new game, you should never use the phrase "What you should have done...". We kept running into situations where he would see a move that would give me a tactical advantage and keep quiet about it, not mention it to me that it was an option during my turn. Then on his turn, he'd point out the mistake and them proceed to destroy several of my units. I'm not saying he should let me win or anything but this sort of conversation:

My Buddy: "What you should have done there, was have your Warjack thrown my unit over here. Then it would have knocked my range units prone, and they wouldn't have been able to get in range to wipe out these two units of yours."

Me: "The card for that Warjack doesn't list a Throw power, must be a different model that can do that."

My Buddy: "Oh, no, all Warjacks can throw other units."

Me: "I see. Wish I'd have known that before."
is no fun at all when learning a game, in fact its really frustrating. Later on in the match he used some special attack that destroyed my Warjack's Cortex, what that means is that your Warcaster (essentially the leader of your force) can't boost the unit so a whole list of cool fun abilities are cut off. While this was probably a great strategy in a real match, and simplified the game by taking out a whole slew of rules I didn't understand, it did take out a lot of what makes Warmachine unique and different than other miniature games.

I don't think he meant to take advantage of my ignorance of the game and get an easy victory, I just don't think he was in the right mindset for teaching. It would be pretty boring to start off by listing off all the possible actions you can take. However, during the game it would have gone better had he mentioned the other choices available when I could use them, instead of when it was too late. Its probably also best to try to leave the new guy with all his options open to him, this way when he's ready to try some new things its there for him. The point of these instructional games isn't to win, but to let the new guy explore the game. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1519-Learning-Warmachine
Module Review: Scepter Tower of Spellgard http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1494-Module-Review-Scepter-Tower-of-Spellgard Tue, 04 Jan 2011 17:06:20 GMT So I thought it might be fun to post reviews of the various modules Iíve made use of recently. Perhaps itíll be useful to someone else to know about... So I thought it might be fun to post reviews of the various modules Iíve made use of recently. Perhaps itíll be useful to someone else to know about it before using it themselves, but more likely itíll serve as a reminder when Iím looking over titles for something to use next in my own campaigns.

These will all be modules that Iíve used as a DM, Iím not about to rate the experience from a player since far too much of the detail might not be used because of the choices the players took. At least as the DM you can read all the content, and then sigh resignedly as the players skip over vast sections of the material youíve been preparing.

Anyway, the first module that I attempted as a DM was the Scepter Tower of Spellgard. Thereís probably a few tucked in the D&DI subscription, but Iím not about to dig through the archives to check; but as far as I can tell this is the only module published for Forgotten Realms 4E. Not that this really seemed important to the author. Sure the location lines up with the realmís map, but its positioned in an out of the way place that avoids interaction with any of the cultures or lore the setting has to offer. I suppose this is one of those dual edged things; on one hand it makes the module incredibly easy to adapt into other settings so its more versatile. However, if youíre going to list it as a Forgotten Realms module it feels like a heck of a wast to not bother with any of the lore from the setting.

It might be worth mentioning that there are 3 Living Forgotten Realms modules that supposedly cover the same material as this module. Iím skeptical of this though. As the LFR modules are meant to be player in sessions of about 4 hours each, there is absolutely no way you can cram in enough to justify getting the players all the way to level 5 in that short amount of game play. So its a safe bet that they trimmed some things off.

The module is meant to bring players from level 2 to level 5. With all of the combat encounters detailed in the module, I have no doubt that the players will get more than enough experience points to go through all those levels. There is a small section on how you can quickly bring players up to level 2 in case this is where you were beginning the campaign. Thereís also a few potential plot hooks you can use to get your players on the path to this adventure. This makes it a pretty easy module to get started with.

The module comes in two booklets and also includes a two-sided map. The first book covers the story the players will work through and explains all the NPCís and locations they might explore. The second book includes the details for all the encounters that are part of the module. The map has some generic ruins you can use for any outdoor encounter the players run into. The other side is an unadorned circular tower map. The lack of detail on this map is intentional, they expect you to fill in the space with dungeon tiles and include some brief notes what to use.

One of my biggest complaints about the all Wizardís modules is that they never line up with their other products. For example there is a Dungeon Tile set named Arcane Towers, you might think that itíd be perfect to complete the maps for the tower encounters. Youíd then be surprised to find that in fact it does not line up with the encounter maps very well, it could be made to work but you wonít end up with the maps the book describes. The same problem exists with the D&D Miniís. There is a section where you fight several rooms full of were rats, 3 or 4 of them are named and can have a small part in the story. Except there are only two wererat models in the entire D&D Miniís line, so youíre in a pickle if you want to distinguish these named figures from the unimportant lackeys.

Well Iím good and cranky now, so lets carry on with the negative aspects, but Iíll try to keep this rant contained to the module itself.

  • Remember when I said there were two booklets included in the module? The one detailing the locations and the story was 31 pages long, the one that covers the encounters is 63 pages long. This module has unnecessarily long dungeon crawl sections. Not that I said section[b]s[/s], plural, there are three hefty chunks of encounters. It will take several sessions for your players to work through these portions of the module, depending on the rate of play this could turn into enough real world time that theyíll forget why they are chopping their way through all these creatures.
  • The module comes with a map of the ruins the module takes place in. Listed on the map are several markers that might be of interest to the players. The module provides only the bare minimum of detail for each of them, so as the DM youíre stuck having to make up the missing details.
  • The same can be said of many of the NPCís they have. Theyíll have quick backgrounds that sound like interesting people, but then relegate them to a random encounter chart for when the players explore the ruins. Those that arenít are mostly just fluff to the setting, none o them were given clues or bits of information to share with the players.

Thatís actually not a terrible list of complaints for the module. A bit of editing can fix all of them, but that depends on how much time you can spend on that sort of work. If youíre grabbing for a module you probably want something that can be used right off the shelf, not something that youíll need to spend a few nights adapting first.

I suppose that comes to the question of is there any point to putting in that time? Does the module have any qualities that redeem it? There are a few of things that the module does well.

  • The story told in the module has amazing potential. What you have is a benevolent spirit that will answer any question truthfully, and a plot where some group wants to enslave the spirit. Thatís the sort of thing any villain would want to have in their back pocket, you hardly have to try to see how to work this into a larger story.
  • While the NPCís are poorly used, there are a good number of them and they are all given some background to work with. Its easy to come up with personalities for them based on the information given. Its also entirely possible that they can just be ignored, so its not hard to adapt the module to fit your desired amount of role play.
  • The layout of the ruins gives freedom to the players. Youíre stuck filling in the gaps, but getting through the module doesnít require much railroading. As the players explore you can guide them to the correct destination. The module also discusses a secondary route the players can use to reach their goal, all the unused space can give you more possibilities for additional alternate solutions.

So there is some value in the module, your group's play style will likely dictate how useful it will be for you. If you're into a lot of combat encounters without being burdened by too much story and characters, you won't need to do a whole lot to the module to use it. If you do want more story then you'll find a good premise and enough detail to have interesting NPC's to work with; you'll just have to flesh out some of the locations and probably trim out a few of the encounters.

The bottom line is that its not a terrible module, I don't think its worth the full $25 price for it, though the Amazon rate of $16 isn't too bad for it. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1494-Module-Review-Scepter-Tower-of-Spellgard
Session preparation and quest hooks http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1477-Session-preparation-and-quest-hooks Fri, 17 Dec 2010 20:19:45 GMT A while back I discussed some concepts for creating adventures (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1211-Adventure-Design). These... A while back I discussed some concepts for creating adventures. These adventures are fairly short, I would equate them to a module in terms of game content. Which means, that it leaves you with some additional space in your campaign to fill up. Thereís nothing wrong with creating bunches and bunches of adventure modules for the players to go through. The next real problem I faced was getting them to go there.

Its easy enough to just have whoever they are working for send them to the next place. Its just that that doing so is a little drab and not very immersive. Thereís nothing wrong with having them get a few jobs from an NPC, but eventually youíll need to have something or someone else prompting them where to go.

Its really a question of the type of game you want to run. If its largely tactical, then thereís not a lot of incentive to get creative with the quest triggers. If you are building up big story, however, then youíll want a bit more variety. Your world will feel lot bigger if the players interact with different NPCís and get the impression that more is going on than what they are doing.

My general rule is to try and include at least one plot hook or clue leading to a new area in every session. Ideally Iíd like to put in one per hour of game play, but depending on what the players spend their time doing thatís not always possible.

This may sound like a lot of quests to be tossing around, particularly when each quest will need a module to support it. On the surface it looks like a ton of material to have to put together. What I tend to rely on is that, in general, players aren't very bright. That might be a little harsh, but its true enough.

The way this goes is that you throw out a quest hook; if its from dialog with an NPC you have to hope they catch the hint, if its some item theyíll see if it has magical properties and then stuff it in a backpack. Thereís only some percentage of your quest hooks that theyíll even recognize as being quest hooks, the rest just get lost. If you throw out enough of them, then eventually youíll have to find something that sticks with them.

So youíve offered enough ideas and they finally liked one of them. Theyíre in the middle of one quest already, so that other one goes on their To Do list. They can't very well rescue the princess from a warlocks tower, while emptying the dragon hoard in some cave. Several more sessions go by, which equates to several weeks of real world time, and they finish their current quest. You now have to contend with peopleís memories, what are the odds theyíll remember that detail all this time? Again with enough hooks one of them should stand out enough that theyíll remember to follow up on it.

Of course this still leaves you with the problem that youíve given them a couple dozen options to choose from, how do you prepare for the next session when they could potentially go to any one of them? The short answer is: you donít prepare any of them. Instead you wait to see where they go before doing your preparation.

You ought to be able to get some indication of where they intend to go next based on discussions around the table, both in and out of character. You should be able to weed out a bunch of quests that they wonít follow up on. Ideally youíd be able to figure out specifically where they are going before they complete the current adventure giving you some time to prepare. Even if you canít figure that out you still wonít have to improvise the beginning of the next module. You can cheat by stalling them a bit.

Iím not talking about asking them to end the session early or anything like that, thereís always tricks you can put within the story. If they are the least bit cautious you can make them have to track down the NPCís that have information theyíll need, the search and subsequent dialog should use up a chunk of time. If thatís not something that will hold your group up then combat can eat up a bunch of time; a couple random encounters on the road should get you through the rest of the current session.

On of the great things about being behind the DM screen is that youíre the only one that fully knows whats going on. All the players know is that thereís a new quest in their log, they might have some small details about the quest or where it will take them; but not nearly enough to predict much about it. This lets you cheat quite a bit. Thereís nothing stopping you from making every single quest lead to the exact same module. As the GM it looks a little forced, but the players have no idea. They saw a dozen different quest hooks, so far as they know thereís twelve new NPC factions to contend with. Their limited knowledge of your world makes each thing seem larger than it probably is.

The point here is that too many plot hooks isnít a bad thing, in fact it can be beneficial. It wonít increase the amount of work youíll need to do. No matter how many quests you offer they can only explore one at a time, so you never need more than that prepared. The benefits is that you donít need to worry about the players picking up on one or two clues, theyíll be bombarded with them so thereís no way they wonít have something to do. Furthermore it makes your world look large and full, theyíll keep running into something of interest that makes it seem like larger forces are at work all around them. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1477-Session-preparation-and-quest-hooks
Designing Skill challenges http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1475-Designing-Skill-challenges Tue, 14 Dec 2010 18:51:42 GMT Previously I rambled on about the ways in which I use skill challenges (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1085-Skill-Challenges), and... Previously I rambled on about the ways in which I use skill challenges, and a bit about what lead me to that opinion. Iím still not done wasting time going on and on about these challenges. Having them lumped in with combat means that careful design of the challenges is key. Just like you canít randomly grab monsters and drop them on the battlemat and expect the encounter to be any good, you canít just toss in a skill challenge and expect it to work well.

Obviously the first thing you need to do is pick the obstacles and the goal of the skill challenge. Those are the key points to describing the scenario to the player, and how it ties in with the encounter and the story the campaign is following. When I offer tips about considerations to make when designing the challenge, Iíll apply them to two challenges that Iíve used to help illustrate. The first is the players needing to close a portal or put an end to some other magical effect, the second is the players are in a maze like crypt or dungeon and need to find their way to safety. Iím sure you can figure out the monsters and other creatures the harass the players while they solve these challenges, so Iím going to ignore that aspect and just talk about the challenges themselves.

First you need to look at the skills your challenge will use. Its not crucial to the challenge that you have a diverse set of skills, but it does make things easier on the players if you do. Its something of a risk to have a narrow group of skills available, the most likely result is that not all of the players will be able to take part in the challenge. Granted thereís combat going on in the background so they should all have something to do. However, if the challenge calls for Intelligence and Charisma skills only and the player with those skills canít make it the party might have some real difficulty.

First thing you need to look at is methods by which several different skills can be used to solve the challenge. Now its important to mention that your players wonít have this list of options, and the solutions they try might be things you hadnít thought of, so on game day youíll likely have to improvise anyway. This makes it sound like the list is pointless; I say its not, having it means that the challenge has a plethora of solutions and gives you some directions to nudge the players if they canít find a solution on their own. You donít need to have an answer for every skill that D&D has, but you should have enough so that each ability is represented. That should ensure that every player can participate in some way; if nothing else they can use their high ability score with an untrained skill and likely succeed in the check.

1) Stopping a Magical effect
  • Strength: Runes engraved on the floor are made from weak stone which can be smashed.
  • Constitution: The flow of arcane energy can be interrupted by placing your body in the stream, you might use an Endurance check to see if you block the energy or if it rips through you dealing damage.
  • Dexterity: You can use Thievery checks to attempt to decipher the magical workings and take apart the mechanism supporting the spell.
  • Intelligence: Arcana checks might help you discern the workings of the spell and allow you to inject or redirect some arcane energy to destroy the spell.
  • Wisdom: Dungeoneering and Perception checks are good catch alls, you might have seem this before and be able to recognize how the spell functions and be able to stop it.
  • Char
    isma: Perhaps the cultists or wizards that created the effect are still around, you might be able to use Diplomacy or Intimidate to make them stop the spell.

2) Escaping the Maze
  • Strength: Occasional pits or crumbling floors might require Athletics checks to jump over them.
  • Constitution: There might be patches of noxious fumes that can be resisted with Endurance checks, or merely the strain of running such distances while fighting need these.
  • Dexterity: Its probably worthwhile to Stealth ahead to scout for other enemies in your path.
  • Intelligence: Perhaps the walls are marked with runes or other symbols that Arcana checks might be able to decipher.
  • Wisdom: Dungeoneering checks might be able to determine which direction youíre heading, to ensure you donít go in circles.
  • Charisma: This one is kind of tough, unless you can find a less than hostile NPC to wheedle directions out of.

Not all of these examples is particularly good, but you should see how you can give all of the abilities some method of assisting the party succeed in the challenge with a bit of creativity. Depending on the scenario you are building it might be tougher to get all the abilities to work, and thatís ok. The party shouldnít have an easy time with every encounter, just be sure that there is some method in your story for overcoming a failure in this challenge.

You might also be able to trim off some abilities by looking at what classes your party is comprised of. If none of the classes depend heavily on Intelligence, its a safe bet that they wonít be much good at those skills, therefore you donít need to include solutions that depend on Intelligence. If your party is well balanced this isnít likely, but you never know.

You may want to take this a step further and look at what skills the party has trained. Based on what they have trained think up solutions that make use of those skills. Doing this will make it even more likely that the players can contribute a successful check to the challenge. The downside is that you are definitely going to be more limited in what skills you can draw from making the design a lot more challenging.

Now that youíve outlined which skills can be used to solve the challenge, you might want to go through and give a general weight to each skill. The idea here is to determine exactly how that skill would effect the challenge. If its directly related to the solution it gives a success, if its in opposition to the solution its an automatic failure, if its only tangentially related to the solution then it can offers a bonus to the next check, things like that. This gives you a bit of a cheat sheet to help you determine the effects of things the players might try during the challenge. This might also be a good time to think about the DCís that are needed for the skill; success checks should have some difficulty, while skills that only offer bonuses ought to be pretty easy. Again depending on how much the skill relates to the solution should determine its DC, a check thats in line with the solution ought to be easier than a check thatís hardly related at all. Just be careful you arenít hampering creative thinking, ideas that are a little bizarre shouldnít be stifled, but you do want to keep the players bound by the reality of your world. Depending on how the players make use of the skill you might have to come up with a result on the fly, so its up to you whether its worthwhile to do this or not. Perhaps for the first couple challenges itíd be useful just to find the proper mindset, but once you get the hang of it just improvise it.

1) Stopping a Magical effect
  • Acrobatics: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Arcana: Can be used to redirect the spellís energies; DC is Hard, Success. Can be used to determine how the spell works; DC is Medium, offers a +2 bonus to the next check.
  • Athletics: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Bluff: The cultists/wizards already know the full strength of your party, they canít be fooled into thinking you have more forces on the way; automatic failure.
  • Diplomacy: You might be able to reason with them to stop the spell by explaining that it will deal far greater damage than they were lead to believe; DC is Very Hard, Success.
  • Dungeoneering: You can work out how the spell works, making future attempts to disrupt it easier; DC is medium, offers a +2 bonus to the next check.
  • Endurance: If you block the beams of energy inside the ritual to disrupt it; DC is Hard, Success. Failing the check isnít a failure, but rather the player takes medium damage.
  • Heal: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • History: You can work out how the spell works, making future attempts to disrupt it easier; DC is medium, offers a +2 bonus to the next check.
  • Insight:You infer the mental state of the cultists/wizards making it easier to debate with them; DC is medium, offers a +2 bonus to the next Charisma check.
  • Intimidate:You might be able to frighten the cultists/wizards into stopping the spell; DC is Very Hard, Success.
  • Nature: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Perception: You can work out how the spell works, making future attempts to disrupt it easier; DC is medium, offers a +2 bonus to the next check.
  • Religion: You can work out how the spell works, making future attempts to disrupt it easier; DC is medium, offers a +2 bonus to the next check.
  • Stealth: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Streetwise: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Thievery: You meddle with the reagents and devices the spell is using to disrupt it; DC is Hard, Success.

2) Escaping the Maze
  • Acrobatics: Can be used to traverse the holes in the crumbling floor; DC is Hard, Success. Failing the check doesnít count as a failure, instead if allows more monsters to catch the party.
  • Arcana: Can be used to read the runes on the walls to determine the correct path out; DC is Hard, Success.
  • Athletics: Can be used to traverse the holes in the crumbling floor; DC is Hard, Success. Failing the check doesnít count as a failure, instead if allows more monsters to catch the party.
  • Bluff: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Diplomacy: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Dungeoneering: Can be used to determine which direction the party is heading, keeping them on the correct path; DC is Hard, Success.
  • Endurance: The passages are full of noxious fumes the party must be able to hold their breath or endure the effects; DC is Hard, Success. Failure does not count as a failure in the challenge, instead the player takes medium damage.
  • Heal: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • History: Can be used to remember which paths youíve already taken; DC is Medium, offers a +2 bonus to the next check.
  • Insight: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Intimidate: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Nature: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Perception: Can be used to peer ahead at what is down the hallway; DC is Medium, offers a +2 bonus to overcoming terrain or avoiding monsters ahead.
  • Religion: Can be used to read the runes on the walls to determine the correct path out; DC is Hard, Success.
  • Stealth: Can be used to scout ahead to avoid encountering additional monsters in the maze; DC is Hard, Success.
  • Streetwise: Does not apply to the challenge.
  • Thievery: Does not apply to the challenge.

All of this work is relatively quick to do, and if nothing else should help you really pin down how the challenge should work in the game. Its not going to cover everything that the party might try during the game session, but it ought to give you some decent baselines for quick ways to handle what they do try. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1475-Designing-Skill-challenges
Skill Challenges http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1085-Skill-Challenges Mon, 13 Dec 2010 17:33:30 GMT In the D&D 4E games Iíve been running Iíve been trying to make use of Skill Challenges periodically. Reading about them I really love the way that game mechanic feels, since it gives you a direct way to engage the players with a purely role play scenario. The trouble is that thus far I havenít had much success incorporating them into the game sessions. I know thereís been a ton of stuff written about them already; but none of it was said by me, which I think means that still more needs to be said. Besides Iím a firm believer in cluttering the interwebs with extra information, and besides II need to store my notes some place.

Going by what the rule book said youíre supposed to introduce the skill challenge by getting Initiative Rolls from the players. This fell apart immediately. My players immediately thought Initiative meant combat, so they were all too ready to throw their combat powers around rather than try their skills. This was disastrous if there were any NPCís involved in the challenge.

Scrapping that I figured my players were smart enough to tackle problems on their own, lets just describe the situation and let them solve the puzzle on their own. Whatever they chose to do I could match to some skill and take them through the challenge that way. This worked somewhat better. They did approach the challenge in a Role Play method, having their characters explore the situation and work toward some solution. Where this method failed is with the DCís of the checks they attempted. I get the impression that the modules make the assumption that the PCís will be working together; either doing Group Checks or Aid Other attempts to boost their skill rolls. My playerís always tried to do things solo, so theyíd miss out on some bonuses and had trouble getting high enough rolls. Furthermore they didnít always work toward the same solution, so tracking successes and failures became complicated. Since I didnít want what one player did to wreck the completely unrelated actions of another player.

It seemed to me that the problem I was having was the fact that Skill Challenges were such a new concept. Neither the DM nor the Players knew quite how to approach them. It seemed that prompting the players that they are attempting a skill challenge was in order until they caught on to how things were meant to play out.

Before I could attempt this in my own game, I was a player in a game where the DM tried this. When we started a skill challenge he would announce that to the group, and then let us go from there. This worked better, but its still not exactly how I had envisioned them and wanted them to play out.

What happened was that the players treated the challenge as a form of combat. Theyíd choose the skills that had the biggest bonuses and attempt to apply those to the challenge. If none of their skills applied, they stay out of the challenge until they could offer to assist another player to give them a bonus. Not much thought was given to what their characters would do. Instead the players approached it from a purely tactical perspective, seeking out the best course to win the encounter.

After seeing all these styles of presenting the skill challenges, Iíve come to realize that the problem wasnít in how the DM or the Players handled them, its that they simply donít work as a stand alone encounter. At least, now in what I wanted them to be anyway. You canít have explicit rules and assign numerical values without someone figuring out how to tweak the numbers to ensure success. Essentially you need to leave the numbers outside of your role play, otherwise they will dominate the scene.

This does not mean that Iíve given up on skill challenges, just that once again Iím changing my approach to making use of them. They just need to be kept in a section of the game where the numbers are already dominant, meaning Combat. While its already amusing to the players to smash various monsters and take their stuff, it adds a new element to the encounter to have an additional puzzle built into it.

Take those same monsters and add in the skill challenge. Lets say youíve got a bunch of cultists defending some portal, I have the portal spew minions every round until the players manage to close it. Or have the monsters defending some animated statue, the statue is impervious to damage so they need to find some other way to shut it down. Or have the players lost in a maze like crypt chased by a horde of undead, now they need to defend themselves and find their way out. Things like that work perfectly for skill challenges; and they add to the encounter in two ways. First they give it an extra level of complexity since thereís the combat as well as this puzzle to overcome. Secondly they can give the combat larger implications in terms of the unfolding story, winning or losing the fight might be less important that solving the puzzle. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1085-Skill-Challenges
Adventure Design http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1211-Adventure-Design Thu, 09 Dec 2010 19:19:46 GMT Iíve recently started DMing quite a bit, its been several years and a couple editions of D&D since Iíve done so. I think the last time I ran a significant campaign was back with 2E. The rules have changed quite a bit, but the tasks that you need to do as a DM havenít really changed much. As Iím relearning those tricks I figured Iíd type up some of the notes so that if I take a lengthy break again I wonít forget quite as much.

One of the first problems that Iíve run into is that the modules I have for the current rules, meaning 4th Edition, arenít very good. They all tend to be fairly linear and very formulaic. The party is given some basic quest to fetch the MacGuffin or rescue some one and are promptly dropped into a dungeon crawl or lengthy stretch of encounters. If your group favors the tactical aspect of combat over the role playing, this probably works for you. However, if youíre like me you favor more of a story for the players to react to this doesnít work very well at all.

When I plan out an adventure I tend to view the area as a sandbox that the players are running around in. Iíll make a crude map with some points of interest, encounters, and other toys for the party to play with. The story should define what the players will run into at each location. The idea is that at each place the players will find some clue or object that helps them achieve the goal of the adventure.

Lets say the the party has tracked the bad guy to his tower in some ruins. Obviously their goal is to get into the tower, how they'll do it is anyone's guess. Players don't always do things rationally or logically so only having one option is likely to be problematic. There's obviously a front gate, but its heavily guarded; the players can take a huge risk with a frontal assault or attempt some trickery to fool the guards into letting them in. That's not much to play with in this sandbox, so toss in some wererats living in the sewers beneath the fortress. The party can either negotiate or kill them to get through the sewers and into the tower. Or perhaps somewhere else in the ruins is a collapsed wall revealing the catacombs below the tower that the party can use to get in. Maybe just for something extra some goblins or kobolds have claimed party of the lair, their portion might not connect with the bad guys fortress but it will give the players something else to do.

Looking at it it seems like this is a heck of a lot to plan for. Thereís four different areas that the players could potentially explore. That means youíll need maps, miniatures, and monster information for the first couple encounters in each area, thatís a lot to have to prepare for the first session. Instead of doing all that work, cheat. Create only one encounter but re-skin it for whichever path your players choose.

Change the descriptions from dark, moist, rock strewn goblin caves; to slimy wet filth encrusted wererat sewers; or dusty cobweb filled catacombs of undead. You can do the same with the enemies as well, goblin spearmen become skeletal swordmen, wererat slingers become goblin archers. The weapons they use might change, but there's no reason their stats and strategies need to change. Its unlikely that the players will explore everything in the sandbox, after all their goal is to get into the tower once they find a way in they don't have any reason to explore further.

So now you've lumped multiple possible exploration paths into a single bit of prep work. You could probably save a bit more time by just borrowing the terrain and enemies from some module, just change the descriptions of things to suit which ever path the players actually choose to explore. The only thing that needs special attention is that front door of the keep.

In the end you have to design 1 dungeon crawl and the tower's front door. To the players there are 4 different places to explore. Now its just a matter of dropping in a few clues to point the players at the option you'd prefer. As the characters are wandering through the ruins they come across a skirmish between the bad guys forces and some goblins, making them a possible ally. At the gate the guards might be complaining about having to plug up the sewers again, the wererats have gotten into the kitchens again. Possibly the kobolds have equipment adorned with the bad guyís seal on them, they've been stealing supplies from the tower to bolster their forces. These sort of clues also explain the relationship between the various pieces you've put into the sandbox. Which can be a big help if you need to improvise some dialog for them if the characters decide to talk with any of them, instead of just stab them.

One last thing to remember, save everything you create! Just because the players pounded their way through the front door and skipped the other stuff you put in place, is no reason to throw that stuff out. Eventually you'll be in a campaign where a small dungeon will be needed and you can recycle what you've made. Heck, even if they do explore the dungeon, what are the odds they'd remember the terrain enough to recognize it again later? ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1211-Adventure-Design
<![CDATA[Generic D&D 4E Power macro]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1300-Generic-D-amp-D-4E-Power-macro Wed, 18 Aug 2010 12:01:31 GMT Not long ago I was asked for help writing MapTool macros for a D&D 4E character. I came up with the idea that writing a single generic macro that could fit most of the powers would be the way to go. This way you could just copy the macro over and over for each power rather than create a new power for each one.

Since the macro would be loaded by a player and not the GM of the game I couldn't rely on there being anything built into the campaign properties, so the macro needed to be entirely self contained. Normally I would use little dialog boxes to fill in the details, but those require values on the token to work properly. The easiest workaround I could think of was to have a block of values at the start of the macro that could be quickly edited to customize each power.

Its more or less done now. I suppose there's probably a few little things that could be added to it still, but it works pretty well as it is. If you're interested in seeing, or using, such a thing here it is:
[h: Name = "Melee Basic"]
[h: PowerType = "AtWill"]
[h: Action = "Standard"]
[h: KeyWords = "Weapon"]
[h: Desc =  "A basic melee attack"]
[h: AttackRoll = 1d20]
[h: AttackBonus = 0]
[h: CritOn = 20]
[h: CritBonus = "0"]
[h: Defense = "AC"]
[h: DamageDiceNumber = 1]
[h: DamageDiceSides = 6]
[h: DamageBonus = "0"]
[h: DamageType = "Physical"]

<!-- Set the color of the frame based on the PowerType -->
[h: FrameColor = "Gray"]
[h,if (PowerType == "AtWill"),code:
	[h: FrameColor = "Green"]
[h,if (PowerType == "Encounter"),code:
	[h: FrameColor = "Red"]
[h,if (PowerType == "Daily"),code:
	[h: FrameColor = "Black"]

<!-- Calculate the damage differently if the attack scored a critical hit -->
[h,if(AttackRoll >= CritOn),Code:
	[h: DamageRoll = DamageDiceNumber * DamageDiceSides]
	[h: CritBonus = eval(CritBonus + "")]
	[h: DamageRoll = DamageRoll + CritBonus]
	[h: DamageRoll = eval(DamageDiceNumber + "d" + DamageDiceSides)]

<!-- Calculate the damage bonus -->
[h: DamageBonus = eval(DamageBonus + "")]

<!-- Write the power's output in an html table -->
<table style="width:100%;">
	<!-- Display the frame with the power name -->
	<tr style="background-color:[r: FrameColor]">
			<span style="color:white"><b>[r: Name]</b> <b> ē [r: Action]</b> <b> ē [r: KeyWords]</b>
	<!-- Display the description -->
		<td>[r: Desc]</td>

	<!-- Display the attack roll -->
			<b>Attack = [r: AttackRoll + AttackBonus] vs.  [r: Defense]</b> &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;
			Rolled: [r: AttackRoll] &nbsp; &nbsp; Bonuses: [r: AttackBonus]
	<!-- Display the damage roll -->
			<b>Damage = [r: DamageRoll + DamageBonus] &nbsp; [r: DamageType] </b> &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;
			Rolled: [r: DamageRoll] &nbsp; &nbsp; Bonuses: [r: DamageBonus]
I may as well go through and explain all the values that need adjusted per power as well. Those are all in the first 14 lines of the macro.

Name = "Melee Basic"
This sets the name of the power. Change the text between the double quotes, just be sure to keep both double quotes.

PowerType = "AtWill"
This sets the type of power that you're using. Change the text between the double quotes to AtWill, Encounter, or Daily.

Action = "Standard"
This sets the type of action the power will use. Change the text between the double quotes to whatever is appropriate; Minor, Immediate Reaction, etc.

KeyWords = "Weapon"
This sets the keywords that are applied to the power. Just list them all inside the double quotes.

Desc = "A basic melee attack"
This sets a brief and generic description for the power. A short summary of what the power does goes in the double quotes.

AttackRoll = 1d20
This sets the attack roll thats made when the power is used. I can't think of any reason why this would need changed, but its here just in case.

AttackBonus = 0
This sets the bonus that is applied to the attack roll. All of your attack roll bonuses get listed here; ability modifier, half your level, weapon proficiency, all of that stuff. Just put the total bonus here.

CritOn = 20
This sets the minimum die roll needed to score a critical hit. In most cases this should be 20, but there are some magic weapons and powers that give crits on lower rolls. Just put the minimum number here.

CritBonus = "0"
This sets any damage bonuses that would apply to critical hits. Whatever expression is needed goes between the double quotes. For example a +2 weapon gives +2d6 on crit, so you'd use CritBonus = "2d6".

Defense = "AC"
This sets the target defense of the power. Put AC, Willpower, Fortitude, or Reflex inside the double quotes.

DamageDiceNumber = 1
This sets the number of dice that are rolled for the attack's damage. If the power does 2d10 damage, you would set this to DamageDiceNumber = 2.

DamageDiceSides = 6
This sets the size of the dice that are rolled for the attack's damage. If the power does 2d10 damage, you would set tis to DamageDiceSides = 10.

DamageBonus = "0"
This sets the bonus that is applied to the damage roll. Any bonuses from feats, magic weapons, ability modifiers, or anything else is set here. Just put the total value inside the double quotes. You can also use dice expressions in there, so DamageBonus = "2d8+10" would work as well.

DamageType = "Physical"
This sets the type of damage done by the attack. Put the type of damage inside the double quotes; necrotic, fire, force, whatever. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1300-Generic-D-amp-D-4E-Power-macro
So you want to try a tabletop game online? http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1221-So-you-want-to-try-a-tabletop-game-online Mon, 07 Jun 2010 13:01:05 GMT So you want to play a table top game, but your job has you on the road a lot, or maybe your group all grew up can't meet every Saturday to continue the campaign. So you start thinking about using an online tabletop to keep things going. There's a number of different options that you can try in order to make this work, and it might be tough trying to figure out which one is the best choice for your game. You'll need two things to make this work: a way to show the encounters to the players so that they can keep track of the action and some method of communicating in character dialog.

The simplest solution would be to just use Skype. It provides you the ability to send audio and video between your players. This can be made to work, but its not without its problems. Basically you setup the battlemat and miniatures up on your table like always, point the video camera at them and play like you normally do except talking into the microphone. The first hurdle you'll come to is one of cost, the free version of Skype only allows you to video chat with a single person; which means that if you have two remote players you're out of luck. You'll also need to buy a webcam as well, there's tons of options you can go through for that and the price can be quite a bit. Then you have to figure out how to position the webcam so that it accurately shows everything to your players. This can be very tricky, the players won't be able to move their perspective around so if you use 3D terrain you have to make sure none of their view will be obscured. Which almost forces you to use a top down view and flat terrain, you can't let characters move underneath stairs or scaffolding otherwise they'll be hidden from the camera. Next you'll need consistent lighting, as shadows and glare can obscure the mini's as well.

Lets say you've bought your Skype account and have a web cam and can get a good feed to the users. What you end up with is one person in control of the miniatures and the rest of the players need to move their characters through him. This wouldn't be so bad if the characters moved in straight lines, but they don't. Characters need to go around traps and avoid attacks of opportunity, so each step needs described carefully. There's still the matter of rolling dice, most mature players can be trusted to not lie about their rolls, but you've got no way of telling if they are fudging the numbers a bit. Realistically the die rolls are likely the least of your concerns with making this whole setup work.

The final straw for the Skype only setup is communication in general. You're basically playing through a conference call, which means table talk pauses the game. Its not like sitting around the kitchen table where you can tune out one player else while listening to someone else, if two people are talking at once you can't make sense of what either are saying. So you have to constantly stop the side discussions while in character actions and dialog are being described. This tends to ruin the social aspect of the game.

Basically what I'm saying is that this method is very difficult to make work. If what you have is that the DM and all but one of the players can gather around the table, this is an option. The single remote user can play through the webcam without much difficulty. Once you have a second remote player this is going to start breaking down and you'll need to get a virtual tabletop (VTT).

You'll probably want to look into the free VTT's first. Things like OpenRPG and MapTools. There are others out there but those are the two I'm most familiar with, so my commentary is based on games through those. Basically any chat room that allows you to share images and drawings with the rest of the players could be made to work, but these tools are meant for gaming and have a load of features to make RPG's easier. There are a number of VTT's that aren't free that might be worth using as well; like d20Pro and Fantasy Grounds. I suggest the free ones because you've never done this before, there's no way to know if the limitations of the trial version will make the game unplayable or if its just that your group or game doesn't play well on a VTT. Once you've determined that your game can be played online, then by all means take a good look at all the options out there. When you're just seeing if this will work at all I don't see any reason to wast money buying software.

You'll still most likely want to get some voice software as well. Not everyone is a skilled typist, and using only text will slow the game down quite a bit. You'll still have the problem where multiple people can't all talk at once, but now you have the chat room to fall back on. Setting up a division between what goes in the chat versus what is said via voice can really alleviate this problem. Whatever you put in the chat you can probably save for later; so if its the in character discussion you can review it to make notes or send it to someone that missed the game so they know what the group did. Giving the in character discussion via voice will probably be quicker if your group is verbose, but you need to be sure everyone is taking turns when speaking.

Skype still works, but other voice software is valid as well; things like TeamSpeak and Ventrilo. Skype is a good free choice, but there is a limit on how many folks you can conference with in the free version. TeamSpeak and Ventrilo possibly mean renting a server or creating one of your own, this may not be free and might add quite a bit to the internet bandwidth necessary. One other significant difference between them is that Skype broadcasts everything the microphone picks up, where TeamSpeak and Ventrilo allow you to configure push to talk buttons (it only broadcasts when that button is pressed). This is only significant if one of your players is in a noisy place. Lets say they recently had a baby and can't leave the house every Friday for the game, the crying baby taking up your voice channel might be a problem. Having the push to talk button prevents it from overwhelming the channel.

You've got your software picked out, now what? You've spent a good chunk of money buying dungeon tiles and painting miniatures, and they aren't compatible with the VTT. You'll have to find some images to use in their place. I talked briefly about how to edit images for use in VTT's in a previous post; regardless of which VTT you use that doesn't change, so I'm not going to repeat all of that. I will say that some VTT's have different requirements for where the images are though. For example OpenRPG requires that all images be accessible online while MapTool will be able to share them from one player's hard drive. You'll just need to be sure that the images are stored in a place where the VTT can make use of them.

For the maps and terrain you can scan in any dungeon tiles or printed maps that you use in your game. Alternatively you can get a program like Dundjinni to make them in. There's a number of other online options for map images, like RPG Map Share, that you can make use of as well. You just need to resize the images so that they correctly fit in the grid your VTT uses. Both OpenRPG and MapTool allow you to resize images to get them to match your grid, so you shouldn't need to adjust the image file to make it work. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1221-So-you-want-to-try-a-tabletop-game-online
My MapTool macros http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1194-My-MapTool-macros Mon, 31 May 2010 01:27:24 GMT I did that short series on how to setup MapTool for a tabletop game, and creating some basic macros to handle the dice rolls for you. I figured I... I did that short series on how to setup MapTool for a tabletop game, and creating some basic macros to handle the dice rolls for you. I figured I ought to show the stuff that I ended up making for the game I'm playing. Its still being fix and added too, but its pretty functional. Its specifically for D&D 4th Edition, so unless you're playing that game it'll only be useful to see complete and allegedly working macros.

In the attached Zip file there are 5 files. Lets start by explaining what those are.

  • 4ECampaignBase.cmpgn : This is a saved campaign file with the campaign settings in place and the DataStore token showing. You can use this as a base and add in the other characters and scenery needed for the encounter.
  • 4eCampaignSettings.mtprops : This is the campaign settings exported. If you are starting a new campaign you can import these to get things set up quickly.
  • DataStore.rptok : This is the Data Store token save file. This token contains all of the macros that are used. All of the other tokens make use of these macros, which makes it the only place where corrections and updates need made.
  • DnD4E-NPCMacroSet.mtmacset : This is an export of all of the macros used on NPC tokens. Its probably only needed for enemies in combat encounters though.
  • DnD4E-PCMacroSet.mtmacset : This is an export of all of the macros that the player character tokens can use.

There's a heck of a lot more I should say about all the various parts. Explaining what each of the macros is used for would be pretty useful. Not to mention explaining what everything on the forms means and how they should be used.

I think I'd rather wait and see if any questions come in, and I'll type up any additional explanation that's needed. Its possible that everything is self explanatory, but I doubt it.

There's also a list of things that I want to build into this stuff that I haven't finished yet. The vision and lighting (which I'm still figuring out), special NPC macros that require less work to get set up, clean up the macro code so its easier to read and update, clean up the forms so they make more sense, and some other stuff. I suppose eventually I'll be putting up a new one of these posts with updated files.
Attached Files
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1194-My-MapTool-macros
Mini Painting http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/963-Mini-Painting Fri, 29 Jan 2010 15:41:38 GMT I've never been very artistic, any good drawings that I've done tending to be doodles comprised of basic shapes like circles and squares. So the thought of me painting miniatures just seemed like a prelude to failure, so I never tried. During all the tabletop games I've played I just used the prepainted mini's or borrowed some from another player. Recently though some of my friends have been explaining that its not nearly as hard as I thought it was, there's some simple tricks that you can use to make the mini's look good that don't require a lot of skill.

Either they've had enough of me borrowing miniatures, or its really not that hard. I figured what the heck why not give it a try, lets see just how horribly I could disfigure a mini. Looking around I found that Reaper Miniatures has some learn to paint kits that seemed like a good starting point. They come with paints, a pair of mini's, a brush, and some instructions. Sounds like everything you'll need to get started.

After looking through the instructions its close, but not quite everything. When the mini arrives you'll need to trim off some bits of metal hanging off the mini as a result of the molding process, so a pair of angle cutters and a file help. Then you'll need to prime the mini, the kit doesn't have any primer in it so you'll have to get that separately. The kits also will expect you to mix paint together to get the correct shades form time to time; you'll need some non-absorbant smooth surface for that, a bit of plastic works just fine (in fact the plastic packaging the kit comes in will suffice). Your fingers are likely pretty large compared to the mini, so there's a good chance they'll get in the way when painting; a pair of needle nose pliers work better for holding it. I'm none to skilled with paints so I figured some paint thinner would be a good idea as well. Some of that stuff probably isn't required, but as you probably can find most of it lying around the house anyway so its not a big deal.

Once you have all that stuff together you'll need to primer your miniature. You'll need to coat the whole thing so right off the bat you'll need to work out some way of getting paint all over the mini without getting paint all over your hands; I'm not sure its better to paint your needle nose pliers, but they'll smudge less at least. Its a little deceptive how this works, the primer paint is a lot thinner and will run all over the surface making your work seem very sloppy. When you use normal paints its much thicker and easier to control.

Primer colors for mini's seem to only come in black and white. I don't really think that it matters which color you pick, since you'll be covering the entire mini in other colors anyway. Allegedly whatever base color you use will have some effect on the next layer of paint you us. Either my eyes suck, or this effect is very slight and hard to notice.

I will say that you should still give some thought to the primer and base coat colors. They may not impact the paint colors that you apply on top of them, but they will impact any areas that you dont get paint onto. Thats a bit silly since I just said that you'll be covering the whole mini with some other paints. Lets say that your mini has a bedroll and a backpack on his back, there's going to a slight gap between them where it'll be tricky to get the brush to fit. To get any sort of paint coverage in there you'll need to thin your paints a bit so they'll run into that gap. Doing that with primer or a base coat is no big deal, if it ends up running all over you'll cover it when you do the rest of the painting. If you cover it with a dark color then you can ignore it later and it will just look like shadow. If you are doing shiny objects like polished armor, then perhaps having the light color might look better. You'll want your base coat colors to not stand out in a bad way in case you miss a spot.

What I found useful was the primer the mini in white, then apply a basecoat of black on top of that. This gave me a chance to practice a bit without worrying about ruining the appearance of the mini. Since you're going to cover the base coat anyway, its a good tiem to practice the detail work. I found it useful to figure out how to approach some areas of the mini, where there would need to be fine lines painted or where the position of the figure made it awkward to reach. It gave me a bit of a heads up on which areas would be tricky and try out a technique without risk of making a mess. You could probably do this when priming, assuming you aren't using a spray primer, but again its thinner and flows more easily than regular paint. This makes it tought to judge how well your approach worked.

Once you've got the mini primered and applied some base coat its time to start the real painting. You've got a whole figure there to paint, where you begin probably depends on your style. What I found was that most of the smudges and mistakes I made weren't from sloppy brush strokes, but rather from bumping some other part of the mini when getting my brush in position for a stroke. For example when reaching past the figures arm to paint his side I'd leave some mark on the hand or something. So for me it was best to work from the inside of the figure and work outwards, this way I could fix the mistakes as I went.

To help minimize the smudging I found that it was best to get the absolute minimum about of paint on the brush. Getting just the tip of the brush in the paint worked best. It meant I had to go back to get paint often, but with that small amount it was very easy to control where it went. It also ensured that I couldn't leave a large glob of paint anywhere. Keeping the layers of paint very thin made it easy to cover up mistakes. I could just let it dry then repaint the smudge with the correct color.

Eventually you'll learn what strokes and brush directions your comfortable with. Its very hepful to spin and flip the figure around so that you can always be using that stroke. Its not a bad thing to try new ways to use the brush, but if you have something that works well you should take advantage of it. It also gives you a chance to see the mini from all directions, which was very useful for me since it revealed many areas that I had entirely forgotten to paint.

Something else you might want to try is to extend your pinky or ring finger of the hand holding the brush so that its pressing against your mini. This anchors your brush hand to the mini and stabalizes it from wobbling which gives a bit more control in the brush stroke.

Be ready to spend a lot of time working on the small details in the mini's. I think I spent over half an hour on the boots for the dwarf mini. Painting the leather on the innermost part, then painting the metal armor plates over the leather, then adding detail colors to the straps holding the armor plates, going back to correct the smudges and mistakes, and finally dry brushing some highlight colors onto them. It didn't help that I'm not very good at this and needed to correct a lot of mistakes, but it did seem like some small areas like that could take a long time to get right.

I guess I should explain what dry brushing is, since it seems like a great technique for adding some texture to the mini. What you do when dry brushing is to get most of the paint of the brush before takign quick strokes on the mini. You'll get some paint on the brush, then paint it on a paper towel to get most of the paint off, then quickly run it over some part of the mini. The idea is that the bristles will still hold some paint even after painting the paper, when you then paint the mini it will only leave a small amount of paint on the very top of the surface. Generally you'll want to use a lighter color for the highlights; for example I painted the hair with a brown color, then I mixed some tan in with the brown to lighten it and used that the paint the highlights. Since the light color is only being applied on some of the surface you end up with a little texture.

Anyway, that's the stuff I learned from the first couple mini's I painted. If you interested in seeing how well/poorly I did you can have a look in here. They aren't the best, but I figure they'll look good enough on a battlemat surrounded by goblins and orcs. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/963-Mini-Painting
<![CDATA[Scepter Tower of SPellgard [Part 8]]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/739-Scepter-Tower-of-SPellgard-Part-8 Wed, 23 Sep 2009 18:42:25 GMT The party awoke in the monastery, not all of them had a restful night. Apparently consciences were heavy after what happened with the wererats. ... The party awoke in the monastery, not all of them had a restful night. Apparently consciences were heavy after what happened with the wererats.

Over a breakfast of bacon and eggs they discussed what they should do next. After a while they decided that they should return to the wererat warren under the ramparts. It still is their only lead, and perhaps there was still a chance they could make things right.

As they entered the ramparts it was quiet and empty. It appeared as if the wererats had cleared out. When they went down the stairs deeper in than they had explored before they came across a pack of guard dogs chained to a wall. They dogs appeared very hungry, and immediately tried to attack them, but the chains held fast and kept the party out of harm. Remembering their breakfast, they dashed back to the monastery to get some leftover bacon to feed the dogs, or at least distract them. It was exceptionally greasy and dripped all over Miabe and Thaddius' robes as they tossed it to distract the wolves.

As planned the dogs eagerly chased the bacon giving Fez an opening to dash across the room and through the doorway. Unfortunately several wererats were on guard in the next room, and well prepared afterign hearing the barking from the dogs. Without consulting the party Fez charged in and attacked the wererats.

With the smell of bacon on them Miabe and Thadius had a bit of trouble getting past the wolves. Once the whole party made it into the next room they were easily able to dispatch the wererats. One of them managed to escape further into their warren.

Not that DM's in general enjoy threatening the party, but there are times when its immensely enjoyable. Chasing the party's two casters wearing bacon flavored robes with hungry wolves definitely qualified for me. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/739-Scepter-Tower-of-SPellgard-Part-8
<![CDATA[Scepter Tower of Spellgard [Part 7]]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/712-Scepter-Tower-of-Spellgard-Part-7 Wed, 16 Sep 2009 11:59:22 GMT Thus far the party had always taken the direct approach to things. Decisions were quick and typically involved using weapons. For fun I decided to... Thus far the party had always taken the direct approach to things. Decisions were quick and typically involved using weapons. For fun I decided to guilt them a little bit about their rash actions by suggesting that the wererats might have been innocents they attacked and killed.

By the module they are in a hack and slash section of the adventure, so really they were supposed to kill the wererats. That doesn't mean I can't mess with them, besides it turned into some fun role play.

The party kept the wererat surrounded while it continued to beg to be spared. "So what are ye doin here?" asked Fez.

"We are cursed, can't you see? We came to find a cure.. be rats no longer." stammered the wererat.

Slightly surprised Miabe says "They started out as rats? Weird."

"No! not rats! Halflings, the curse makes us rats" explained the wererat. Then he concentrated a moment and the hair on his body receded and his features changed into those of a halfling. "Whole family, all cursed. We all came to be cured by the spirit. Kalmo gone crazy from the curse, had to lock him upstairs."

The party spoke with the rat for a bit longer about his family. The guard they ran into when they entered the ramparts was his brother, Malcolm. They'd been living in this part of the ruins for a while, repairing it and hoping to meet the spirit of Lady Saharel to find a cure for their curse. Kalmo used to tend their dogs, but lately he had been ignoring the live ones and favoring the dead ones. The wererats had to lock him up due to this strange obsession, for their own safetly. The wererat's father was exploring the crypts below the ramparts. It was a dangerous place that they'd been trying to seal off.

Fez suggested that they take the wererat with them, since they were all interested in finding the spirit perhaps they could help each other out. Before the wererat would leave he wanted to make sure his brother had some food, since he couldn't get to any while he was locked away. When he opened the door to give him some a pair of grave hounds burst through knocked the wererat down and lunging at the party.

When the commotion started the wererat they were talking to immediately ran away, down into the crypts. Kalmo and his dogs determinedly attacked the party. They tried in vain to get Kalmo to calm down and let them help him; but he was to far gone to the curse and wouldn't listen to reason. In the end they were forced to kill the undead hounds as well as Kalmo.

The party was confused about how to proceed. They still needed to get through to the crypts, but they didn't want to kill off the cursed halfling family. Instead they returned to the monastery to discuss how best to proceed.
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/712-Scepter-Tower-of-Spellgard-Part-7
<![CDATA[Scepter Tower of Spellgard [Part 6]]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/697-Scepter-Tower-of-Spellgard-Part-6 Mon, 14 Sep 2009 13:04:48 GMT After some difficulties with scheduling for the past couple of months, we're finally back to the adventure! In reality we've had two sessions, so we were back to it a while ago. I've just been lazy about typing up a synopsis.

Edric apparently caught some disease from fighting with the wererats, the following morning he refused to get out of bed. Alerat, Fez, and Miabe didn't feel like wasting the morning so they set off to the ramparts without him.

Edric had explained the night before that he heard rumors of an entrance to an underground network of crypts and tunnels that extended under the Spellgard ruins. He was tryign to get into them through the ramparts, but was driven out by the wererats. As the group was interested in a different entrance to the main tower they figured these tunnels would be worth investigating.

When they arrived they found a wooden door into the ramparts at the base of a tower. In the second floor of the tower they could see some flickering light, but were unable to determine its source. They were going to sneak into the door, but whoever was inside had stacked some light crates behind the door. Since there was no way to open it quietly they threw the door open making the crates clatter and bounce across the floor. A halfling was sitting inside and was quite startled at there hasty entrance. He shouted at them to get out and carried on yelling for quite a while.

Soon after several wererats entered the room from a spiral staircase to a lower room. One of them continued up the stairs to an upper room in the tower. The wererats had made extensive preparations after driving Edric out, including holding several fire beetles on the floor above. It was a long difficult fight to clear them all out and take control of the tower.

At the tail end of the fight Edric finally caught up with them. He was feeling better, good enough to help the party as they continued. They walked down the hallway through the wall of the rampart to the next tower. They found another group of guards waiting for them.

They killed all but a single wererat, who was attempting to hide in the shadows and avoid the combat. He begged for mercy after the party surrounded him. Alerat seemed intent on killing him, since the wererat would never offer them mercy. However, Edric and Miabe put a stop to that and started questioning the wererat.
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/697-Scepter-Tower-of-Spellgard-Part-6
Creating custom forms in MapTool http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/686-Creating-custom-forms-in-MapTool Wed, 09 Sep 2009 15:13:35 GMT Depending on how many macros you've made for you games in MapTool you're probably getting a pretty hefty list of properties for each token. This can make filling out those properties a little cumbersome since the way they are presented in the token properties isn't the easiest to work with. Also some of your macros might require several values to be entered, which is annoying since you get a new prompt for each one. A better solution might be for you to make your own forms where you could have to player fill in multiple values in a nicer way that the token properties permits. MapTool does provide a way to do this through the macros.

All of this is done in the function input(). The input() function takes as many parameters as you have controls you'd like to see on the form. Each control is described by values separated by |, pipe characters. They take this form:
"VariableName | Value | Label | ControlType | Options"
The VariableName is the name of a variable where the user's input from this control will be stored. The Value is the initial value that will be assigned for the control. Label is the text to show next to the control so that the user knows what information to put in there. ControlType defines what the control will be; a text box, check box, or whatever. Options are for tweaks to the appearance or contents of the control.

Each control's information will be set as a string value, so they'll all be inside of double quotes. When you have multiple controls you'll separate each string by commas. All of this is fed to the input() function to create the form.

When the form is closed is returns a status value. If the user clicks the "OK" button and wants the changes made, status will be a 1. If the user clicked the "Cancel" button and wants the changes discarded, status will be 0. You'll need to check that variable so your macro can quit if they cancel. The easiest way to handle it is to use the abort() function. If you pass it a zero value the macro will be stopped, any other value and the macro will continue. So it works perfectly if you just pass it the status value.

Back to creating the forms, how about an example. Lets start simple, we'll create the form to prompt the user for a variable. For that we'll need to display a text box on the form. Here's the code we'll need for that:
[h: Status = input("Var1 | 0 | Enter a value | TEXT |")]
[h: abort(Status)]
[r: "Var1 = " + Var1]
When that macro runs we'll see this form:

Lets go over what all was done in that macro. First we called the input() function to create the form. We gave it only 1 control string which was:
"Var1 | 0 | Enter a value | TEXT |"
What that meant was we'd like the input from the control stored in a variable named Var1, the initial value of the control should be 0, the text to display next to the control shoule be "Enter a value", we'd like it to be a text box, and no special options. The return value of the function was being stored in a variable named Status for later use.

Then we called the abort() function and passed it the Status variable. If the user clicked Cancel on the form then the macro would quit there. Otherwise it would continue on.

Finally we had an output line, which is only seen if the user clicked OK on the form. It just says what the user entered on the form, which was in turn stored in the Var1 variable.

Thats basically how macros using the forms will look. You'll add in additional controls in the input() function to cover all the information you need to collect, then afterward you'll make use of those values probably for some calculations. You can see all of the control types and their options on this MapTool wiki page. Before wrapping this up I wanted to quickly discuss a couple specific control types.

First is the Tab control. You can separate your form by tabs, the only limitation is that you can only have 1 set of tabs. You can't have one of the tabs have another tab control. Once you add a tab control all controls that follow it will be shown on that tab, until you add another tab control.

The second control is the property sheet control. This one took me a bit to figure out. What it does is take one of the property list variables (what I called arrays) and create text boxes for each item in the list. Using this control you can quickly and easily create a bunch of controls that are grouped together visually.

Talking about them doesn't really explain a lot, so I'll just use another example:
[h: Abilities = "Strength = 8; Constitution = 10; Dexterity = 12; Intelligence = 16; Wisdom = 14; Charisma = 13"]
[h: Status = input(
     "tab0 | Misc Controls | | TAB |", 
     "Var1 | 0 | Text Box | TEXT | width=20", 
     "Var2 | 0 | Text Box | TEXT | width=10", 
     "Var3 | 0 | Check Box | CHECK |", 
     "Var4 | Choice 1, Choice 2, Choice 3, Choice 4, Choice 5 | List Box | LIST |", 
     "tab0 | Props Control | | TAB |",
     "Abilities |" + Abilities + "| Ability scores | PROPS |"
[h: abort(Status)]
When we run that macro we'll get a for with tabs along the top and showing several controls, something like this:

When we switch to the second tab, we can see how the Props control created text boxes for each value we had in the Abilities property list:
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/686-Creating-custom-forms-in-MapTool
Interacting with the token http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/674-Interacting-with-the-token Thu, 03 Sep 2009 18:50:18 GMT We've got macros that are able to take properties from the characters, manipulate the values, and update the properties with changes. Thats all well and good, but it would be nice if the macros could update some things on the map, this way other players could tell whats going on.

The D&D 4th Edition rules include a state called Bloodied. Characters are considered Bloodied when they are below half of their maximum health. If you include properties for current and maximum health then its a pretty simple calculation for the macros to determine if the character is considered Bloodied or not.

To start we'll need to create a State in the Campaign Properties to represent the Bloodied condition, for this example lets assume the state has a Name of Bloodied. Then we'll need the two health properties, lets assume they are named CurrentHealth and MaxHealth. Once thats done we can use macros to manipulate the character's health and apply or remove the Bloodied state for us.

Lets start with the basics. We'll need a macro that will work with those Properties that will update the character's health. We can use this:
[h, if (HealthChange < 0), Code :
   Lost [r: HealthChange * -1] health!
   Gained [r: HealthChange] health!

[h: CurrentHealth = CurrentHealth + HealthChange]

[h, if (CurrentHealth > MaxHealth), Code:
   [h: CurrentHealth = MaxHealth]

Currently at [r: CurrentHealth] of [r: MaxHealth] health.
That will prompt the user for the HealthChange value when they run the macro, they are supposed to give it a positive number for health gained and a negative number for health lost. It checks to see if the value is positive or negative and shows a message with the health change. Then it updates the Token's CurrentHealth property, makes sure they aren't above their maximum. Finally it gives a message stating ho much health they have after the change.

We've got the macro updating the character's health, now we need it to check to see if they qualify as Bloodied or not based on the changes. We can use a simple If statement to determine that, but we'll need to manipulate the state based on the results.

All of the tokens have properties for each of the States defined in the Campaign Properties. Set this property to a 0 to remove the state, and a 1 to apply the state. These properties have the name state.StateName, where StateName is the name of the state according to the Campaign Properties. In our case we're using a state named Bloodied, so we'd work with the property state.Bloodied. So lets add in that If statement to apply the Bloodied state, and just for fun add in an Else clause to remove the state if they are healed above bloodied.

[h, if (HealthChange < 0), Code :
   Lost [r: HealthChange * -1] health!
   Gained [r: HealthChange] health!

[h: CurrentHealth = CurrentHealth + HealthChange]

[h, if (CurrentHealth > MaxHealth), Code:
   [h: CurrentHealth = MaxHealth]

Currently at [r: CurrentHealth] of [r: MaxHealth] health.

[h,if (CurrentHealth <= MaxHealth / 2), CODE:
   [h:state.Bloodied = 1]
   [h:state.Bloodied = 0]
Now when you use the macro it will update the health just as it did before, but will then attempt to set or remove the Bloodied state based on their current health.

MapTool also provides functionality for colored bars to be shown on each of the Tokens. An obvious choice would be to have a bar that shows the character's health level. Inside the Campaign Properties we'll have to create that bar. We'll set it to go from 0 to 100 and have a name of Health for this example. Since it goes from 0 to 100 it will be a percentage of their health, not exactly their health. This is easier to do since you don't need to adjust the scale everytime something changes their maximum health. As their health changes we'll need our macro to adjust the size of this bar as well as everything else its doing.

To do that we'll need to use the setBar() function. You'll need to pass it the name of the Bar as set in the Campaign Properties, as well as a decimal value for the percentage. For the decimal its the percentage divided by 100, so instead of 85% we'd give it 0.85. To get the percentage of our health we just divide the CurrentHealth value by the MaxHealth value, and this gets us the correct decimal for the function. So lets add that line to our macro:

[h, if (HealthChange < 0), Code :
    Lost [r: HealthChange * -1] health!
    Gained [r: HealthChange] health!
 [h: CurrentHealth = CurrentHealth + HealthChange]
 [h, if (CurrentHealth > MaxHealth), Code:
    [h: CurrentHealth = MaxHealth]
 Currently at [r: CurrentHealth] of [r: MaxHealth] health.

[h,if (CurrentHealth <= MaxHealth / 2), CODE:
   [h:state.Bloodied = 1]
   [h:state.Bloodied = 0]

[h: setBar("Health", CurrentHealth / MaxHealth)]
Now we've got a pretty good health macro to use in our games. It updates the values, but also interacts with the tokens on the map. This makes it a nice one stop shop for updating everything related to the character's health. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/674-Interacting-with-the-token
Conditionals and loops in macros http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/675-Conditionals-and-loops-in-macros Tue, 01 Sep 2009 17:29:49 GMT Sometimes you'll need a macro to react to whats going on or to repeat some steps multiple times. You can't always get everything right without the macro making a few decisions along the way. So lets include if statements and a couple of loops to cover those situations.

Lets start with a simple If statement. For those not down with the programmer lingo what we're telling the macro to do is check some condition, if its true do these lines, if the condition isn't true skip them. The condition is the tricky part, the simplest way to do is is to compare some variables and run or skip the code based on that comparison. For the comparison we can do basic stuff like see if they are equal with ==, if one is greater than the other with >, if its greater than or equal to the other with >=, less than the other with <, less than or equal to with <=, or if they just aren't equal with !=. For example if we want to see if the variable Var1 equals 5 then we'd use this conditional Var1 == 5. Lets wrap that into a full if statement:
[h, if (Var1 == 5),CODE:

Thats how it would look, just swap out the conditional to whatever test you need. In place of the blank line between the { and } is where you'd put the lines to do if the conditional was true, in this case if Var1 did equal 5. If Var1 doesn't equal 5 then it would skip over that and start running the macro from after the }.

There's one last thing we can add to if statements, and thats an else. Which means if the conditional is true do this, if the conditional is false do something else. That looks like this:
[h, if (Var1 == 5),CODE:
    [r: "Var1 does equal 5"]
    [r: "Var1 does Not equal 5"]
That will work for any point where you need to have the macro make a decision or treat some things in a different way.

What if you need the macro to do some action many times? You could just copy and paste the lines over and over again to have it repeat it; but that can lead to trouble if you need to change a line thats being repeated. An easier way is to use a loop.

There's a couple of varieties. The simplest is the count loop, so lets start there. Basically you tell it how many times to execute several lines of code and it does it:
[h, count(5), CODE:

Thats pretty much it. The number you put in the parenthesis after count tells it how many times to run the lines in between the { and }.

Lets say you don't know exactly how many times you'll need the code to repeat. There is some condition you're looking for that will indicate that its time to stop repeating. You can use a While loop to handle that for you. Instead of giving it a fixed number you give it a conditional, while that conditional is true the code will be repeated.
WHILE(Val1 < 5),Code:

The last loop type uses a counter variable that keeps track of how many times you've gone through the loop. You have to tell it the variable to use for the counter, what value to start with, what value to end on, and how many to add to it with each loop.

Lets say we want to use the variable Counter, have it start at 0, loop until it reaches 10, and add 2 to it every time. In that case our for loop looks like this:
[h, FOR(Counter, 0, 10, 2),code:
    [r: "Counter is at: " + Counter]
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/675-Conditionals-and-loops-in-macros
Using Arrays in macros http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/653-Using-Arrays-in-macros Thu, 27 Aug 2009 17:51:10 GMT As your creating your macros you probably have created a pretty hefty list of properties for each of your tokens. You might even have dozens of... As your creating your macros you probably have created a pretty hefty list of properties for each of your tokens. You might even have dozens of extra variables floating around in the macros as well. You may want to group some of those variables or properties together since they are all common values.

If you look at the D&D rules you'll find that all characters have 6 ability scores. You could create 6 variables to hold them, or you could put them all in an array. It really comes down to what you feel more comfortable with. Lets pretend that you want to put them in an array; not because they work best there, but because I need an example to show off arrays.

To create the array you have a string of Key and Value pairs separated by semicolons. Its easier just to look at it:
[h: ArrayVar = "Key1=Value1; Key2=Value2; Key3=Value3"]
ArrayVar is the name of the variable that will store the array. All of the keys and values are stored there as a string, which is why they are all inside of double quotes. From there you just repeat Key Name = Value separated by semicolons until you've listed all of the values.

I suppose technically its a property string, not really an array; but you can use it in the same way as an array. If we did it for the abilities it would look something like this:
[h: Abilities = "Strength = 8; Constitution = 10; Dexterity = 12; Intelligence = 16; Wisdom = 14; Charisma = 13"]
So now we have an array with a bunch of values in it. So now we need to get a value out of it. For that we use the getStrProp() function. We pass it the array variable, the key of the value we want, and it will return the value. Let say we need to get the Wisdom value from the Abilities array, we'll store it in a variable named VarWis. That looks like this:
[h: VarWis = getStrProp(Abilities, "Wisdom")]
And now VarWis has the value 14 that was assigned to the key Wisdom.

Udating a value in the array is a bit trickier. You use the function setStrProp(). You pass it the original array, the key name, and the new value and it will return the updated array. This means that you'll need to store the updated array thats returned in some variable, probably the same one you had it in originally. So if we need to change the Strength value in the Abilities array to 9 it would look like this:
[h: Abilities = setStrProp(Abilities, "Strength", 9)]
It doesn't look a whole lot different than retrieving the values, you just need to remember to put the returned value back into your array variable. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/653-Using-Arrays-in-macros
Writing Macros, part 2 http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/652-Writing-Macros-part-2 Wed, 19 Aug 2009 12:06:46 GMT We've got some basic dice roll macros, and they even look nice with the HTML surrounding them. Its not much fun editing them every time that your bonuses change; each new weapon, level, or whatever means you need to edit every single one of your macros to tweak the bonuses. There's a better way of dealing with that, which is what I'll be going on about here.

Lets start with a quick discussion of variables. MapTool macros allow you to save values in variables then reuse them later. You don't need to declare them, the variables will be created when they are first used. One thing to remember is that if the variable doesn't have a value assigned to it MapTool will prompt you for some value the first time its used. Lets take a look at that in an example, hopefully that will help clarify that.

Lets say we have this macro:
The variable equals: [SomeVar]
When you run that MapTool doesn't know whats in the variable SomeVar so it'll prompt you for it, like this:

Then the output will use whatever value you put in for the variable, and look something like this:

The variable equals: ę SomeVar = 0 Ľ

Sometimes you might want to have a prompt like that, perhaps asking for temporary bonuses. Other times you won't need to so you'll want to put some value in the variable so that the prompt is avoided. To do that we'll add this to the macro:
[h: SomeVar = 5]
The variable equals: [SomeVar]
Now MapTool knows what the variable should equal and won't prompt for a value. Notice that I used the h: output flag when setting the value in our variable. Thats not required, but since its not particularly useful to see I figured it would be better to keep it hidden.

You can use variables to make editing your code a little bit easier. Lets make an adjustment to the roller we used last time:
[h: AbilityBonus = 4]
[h: LevelBonus = 3]
[h: WeaponBonus = 2]
[h: ProficiencyBonus = 3]

<table style="width:100%;">
<tr style="background-color:Green">
<td><span style="color:white"><b>Longsword Swing</b></td></tr>
 [t: 1d20 + AbilityBonus + LevelBonus + WeaponBonus + ProficiencyBonus]
The output looks identical to what we used last time. The only difference is that all of the values that need updated are at the very beginning of the macro. This makes them easier to update, but you still need to manually update each macro every time one of those values change.

An even better way will be to take advantage of the token properties. Way back in another post I talked about how to set properties in the Campaign Settings, I used them just for displaying important information. Now we'll add a few values that aren't visible to the users, but will be accessible to the macros.

Lets change our Campaign Properties and add some Token Properties:

As you can see I've added the four bonuses that have been used in our attack macro. Since we're attaching the macros to the token, they'll be able to use any of those properties like variables inside the macro. Remember to set the values of the properties in the Edit window of the token. Just be careful with that, if you store a value in any of the Token Properties variables it will update the token and change the value for all other macros.

After you've made those changes you'll need to cut out the part of the macro thats setting the values for those variables. We want it to use whats stored on the token instead. So now it looks like this:
<table style="width:100%;">
<tr style="background-color:Green">
<td><span style="color:white"><b>Longsword Swing</b></td></tr>
 [t: 1d20 + AbilityBonus + LevelBonus + WeaponBonus + ProficiencyBonus]
The real advantage here is that when one of the bonuses change, we only update the properties on the token. Then those changes will immediately trickle down and all of your macros will be updated as well. ]]>
Q-man http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/652-Writing-Macros-part-2