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I’ve been away on vacation, so I haven’t had much time to update–in fact, I’ve been backpacking, so I’ve been away from wifi or 3G range for days at a time. Naturally, as soon as I got back to civilization, I dove into a sea of emails, texts, and Google searches to answer random questions that had popped up during our hikes that we hadn’t been able to solve immediately. (Makes you realize how dependent you are on the internet to answer your “idle questions.”) Once I’d finished with my first internetting frenzy, I decided to grab some new reading material for the last few days away. Just out of curiosity, I typed “Black Library” into the iBookstore to see if there was any Warhammer content.

Quite awhile back, when iBooks were relatively new, I’d looked for BL content on the bookstore, and there hadn’t been much. I went over to the official BL website and ordered some etexts there, and while it wasn’t a terrible pain to import the etexts to my iPad, it was just enough of a hassle that I hadn’t bothered to go back. All that’s changed–significantly. Now there are over thirty-three screens of English BL content on the iBookstore and several more of French language content! Delightful. Now I can satisfy my need for trashy Warhammer reading and expend as little effort as possible.

I also notice that Games Workshop has put up the Codex: Necrons; it does look as though they’re going to make an effort to put all of the Codices onto iBooks. As I said here, I do think the format’s promising, and I’m glad to see they’re continuing. I just hope other RPG publishers decide to go the same route!

Overall, I’m glad to see more of this type of content on the iBookstore. I tend only to buy books I need for work as physical copies. I already have such a huge library from grad school and for work that I don’t need to fill it out with tons of other texts that I’m unlikely to annotate. It’s nice, then, to pick up a few Warhammer books in ebook format, and if it’s easy to do at 2am when I’m already on my iPad, all the better.

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Awesome! I talked awhile back about how RPG scenario writers might put iBooks Author to good use, so I was excited to see the announcement on Twitter today that Games Workshop plans to release a line of iBooks supplements for its wargame. GW plans to release a handful of texts each month, and the company has obviously dumped some real money into making their initial offerings both useful and beautiful. The official video shows some of the etexts’ innovations. 3D images of their models that readers can rotate to view from all sides seem like a good way to get a sense of whether or not you really want a particular miniature, and videos and slideshows that explain how to paint models so that they look like the ones shown in particular scenarios will help those who want to learn good painting techniques. The video also goes out of its to point out that the search functions and the notation functions of iBooks will make using rules from these texts easy mid-game.

I’m really glad to see some gaming companies jumping onto iBooks and using the Author tools. I do wonder how much crossover there is between the GW crowd and the Apple crowd; they wouldn’t have struck me as quite the same people, for the most part, but I’m glad to see gaming companies make use of this technology. I’m going to wait until the Codex: Space Marines hits the virtual shelves, and then I’ll do a review of it. I can’t wait to see what it’s like! In the future, I hope that companies like GW expand their use of the functions of iBooks to some of their fiction offerings, and I’d love to see Fantasy Flight jump on the bandwagon and release some of their WFRP3e materials in this format, too.

It’s road race season, which means that my posts may become slightly more sporadic as I try to keep up with the demands of the end of my training. Luckily, my half marathon is on the 20th, so things will calm down a bit after that. In the meantime, though, I’m putting in some longer-than-usual (for me) workouts and getting together a costume for my upcoming race. I’ve never run in a costume before, so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I spent some time this weekend recovering my aching muscles and playing with Ortelius, a mapping software package for the Mac. I have both a Mac and a PC, so Campaign Cartographer has been my go-to software for creating RPG maps. CC’s software is unparalleled; it’s powerful and designed specifically for use by GMs, so it has whole libraries of graphics that a GM might need to make, say, a crypt full of coffins spiced up with a few zombies here and there. Unfortunately, as a full CAD program with a great deal of power, CC has a steep learning curve and can be a real pain in the ass to use. Since I don’t make maps for every game, I tend to have to relearn to use CC again every time I pull it out. That’s great when I have mounds of free time, but not so great if I just need to make a quick map. Further, CC runs only on my PC, and I tend to think of PCs as gaming space, not as serious work space–and I do tend to view GMing as closer to serious work than play. (That might sound horrible, but since I love my work, there’s no real dichotomy between work and fun in my world.) I write all of my scenarios on my Mac, combine all of my sound files on my Mac, create preview videos on my Mac, and keep all of my finished graphics files and notes on my Mac. It would be easier if I could do my maps on my Mac, too.

I noticed Ortelius in the Mac App store not too long ago, and I downloaded a free trial, but didn’t really get around to messing with it until this weekend. It’s a beautiful program for serious cartographers. Like CC, its features can be a bit unintuitive, as it encourages the user to combine and/or cut preexisting shapes to make objects. Most of the advanced features are buried in menus, which kept me away from many of them, although in just poking around the menus, I realized that there’s a whole slew of stuff ‘under the hood’ that would be useful if I put the time into learning it well. The trial program has a great set of simple tutorials to get you started with the basic tools, so you can get up and running quickly.

All that being said, Ortelius is very much designed for the modern mapmaker; its real strength lies in having a whole set of map symbols for the labeling of routes that wouldn’t exist for a GM. (I can’t think of the last time I ran a game in which players needed to locate the snowmobile route.) Since it works heavily on Stamps (the equivalent of symbols in CC,) the lack of fantasy-themed content hamstrings the product a bit for GMs. I haven’t looked into whether or not you could import CC’s objects (or Dungeon Designer’s, or Fantasy Floorplans’, etc.) into Ortelius, partly because I’m not sure I’m going to buy Ortelius; if someone ended up confirming that you could use the CC symbols in Ortelius–even if it took some doing to import them–I’d probably buy and use it for mapmaking from here on out because it makes slightly more sense to me than CC does. Until then, I think I’ll stick with the demon I know, because, well, I’ve already paid for him. Although it occurs to me that I haven’t paid for the third iteration of the demon; I’m still stuck with CC2, I think.

Hmm…in going to the CC website, I just noticed this. Uh-oh. I may need that.

Still working on the Skaven game; I’m playing around with writing it in iBooks Author, just to see how that goes. It’s amazing how using a particular piece of software for the creative process can really change your approach. Generally, when I’m designing my own adventure, I start with a core idea or mechanic–usually some story element that cracks me up. (One of my early Warhammer adventures centered on an illegal pig fighting ring, for instance, and was designed to give the characters a chance to get a pet attack pig.) From there, I think about how the players might interact with the whatever-it-is, and then I build a story to get them there, give them a reason to get involved, and then give them an open-ended resolution that can lead into something else. This tended to involve (at the early stages) pencil and paper and random notes; at the middle stage, a trip to my computer to use Campaign Cartographer to make some maps; and at the end, several trips to Photoshop to make adjustments to player handouts or aids like the pet pig sheet. With the exception of the player handouts and maps, everything I made was designed for my eyes only, and things that didn’t interest me much just never made it into the adventure notes or into my head.

Notes from an early Warhammer adventure with the player aid for the pet pig.

My sketch of the area and its Campaign Cartographer version.

This time around, though, I’m working directly in iBooks Author. The tool itself is designed to market an idea attractively, so I’m reminded of my audience, both fellow GMs and participating PCs, at every turn. The constant reminder that I have an audience forces me to clarify everything much more carefully. For instance, how much do I really know–and how much do I need to know–about the setting in which this Skaven adventure will take place? Once I’ve figured out the core of my adventure, I tend to get a little bored with the details, so I have a tendency to think “well, it’s just something roughly like X, and I’ll figure it out on the fly if the PCs ask about it.” In this adventure, for instance, I found myself deeply uninterested in why the Skaven would want to meddle in the town’s business; I just want to get onward to the Skaven causing a bunch of mayhem! The rats’ motivation is actually a key question, though, and I know my PCs will end up asking it in some form. Once I’d decided to dedicate a section of the iBook to the Skavens’ mission, I forced myself to define the background behind their meddling, rather than just tell myself I’d BS it when it came up.

I’m also having to think more carefully about other alternatives as I write out the adventure. In Mouse Guard, a “mission” is made up of a mix of four kinds of hazards (weather, wilderness, animals, and mice.) The game recommends that the GM choose two of these to start the mission, then hold the others in reserve for plot twists. If I were making my own pen-and-paper notes, I’d probably just jot down the main two and figure (again) that I’d BS the others when the time came. Yet the act of making neat charts of the hazards in my iBook made me want to be completist, so all four hazards went on the page. I know I’ll only focus on two to start, but I now have the others defined for reference.

Some background on the setting and a map.

The glossary feature of iBooks Author.

The glossary feature in iBooks has also made me particularly careful. I’m making each NPC his own glossary entry, which means it’s easy for me to go back and forth and make sure I’m getting all of the pieces connected solidly. (It’s also making sure I use the same name for the same NPC if I write two different parts of the adventure at different times. I’ve been known to switch them around a bit. Heh.)

It’s hard to say whether or not the change in preparation will make my game better or worse, especially for a Mouse Guard session. MG relies on the GM being open and able to bend; on the other hand, my PCs like fleshed-out stories and deep development of the world’s background. I hope that the additional background information won’t make it harder for me to bend the story in the directions they want to go. On the other hand, I do think that knowing more about the story I mean to tell may end up helping me make those plot twists seem more in tune with the rest of the story and seem more realistic. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing more important than realism when you’re dealing with talking rats with warpstone guns.

I have some very strong opinions about what Apple’s textbook announcement means for schools, but I won’t go into them here for fear of alienating my readership. (Short version: the tool is great, the public schools are irreparably broken.) We’ll use the iBooks Author tool at my workplace, though, and as one of the local Apple Fanatics, I knew I’d be asked right away for my opinion about the program, so I wasted no time in downloading it. (Translation: I wanted to play with it, and I justified spending the day messing with it by convincing myself it was “work-related.”) I spent some time considering all the professional things I could do with it, but at the same time, I kept thinking, “This would be great for presenting RPG scenarios!”

As with most Apple software, the iBooks Author program allows you to create content from templates that ensure your work will look professional and attractive. If you know Apple software well, the tools work roughly the same as those in Keynote or Pages, so you won’t have a huge learning curve. Best of all, though, the multimedia options in the new iBooks Author app make it easy to include the kind of sound and interactive images that make a GM’s job much easier. Literally all relevant information–including sound effects, background noises, notes, charts and tables, slide shows to present to the players, and maps with GM notes–can now easily fit into a single package to distribute to other GMs. I spent a little time this morning with my camera, GarageBand, and the iBooks Author tool to get a sense of the kinds of things this might do for RPGs. Here are some screenshots from both my iMac and my iPad that give you a sense of what it’s like to create and distribute content through this program.

The first thing that struck me was that the program allows you to make an image that has clickable call-outs. It occurred to me immediately that those would be a great way for a GM to see a map and notes; she can click when information’s necessary or just see the image if she needs to see the overall terrain. Making an image with a call-out is as easy as dragging an image into the box, clicking the + in the Inspector to create a new call-out, assigning a place for the text and the pointer, and then entering the text:

Want to add an image or sound so that you can show it or play it for the PCs? Again, you’ve got drag-and-drop functionality for most types of files, and you can turn the title/notes on or off for each piece of media you add. Comment if the GM needs the info, or leave it simple if not:

Editing and adding text to the map call-outs is a snap:

Here’s the authoring tool showing a page that features a map with call-outs,  a sound file, and a chart:

But how does it look on the iPad, you’ll ask? Great, of course!

In this image, the GM has clicked on the chest to get more information about what’s inside:

Want to add notes about things you’re likely to forget while running the scenario? iBook’s got you covered:

You can also view and search your notes all in one place for convenience. (For those of you who are actually students, the iPad will automatically turn your notes into flash cards to help you study!)

Overall, I think this tool will work wonderfully for schools and GMs alike. I’m considering writing a Skaven adventure soon-ish, and I may distribute it in this form just to see how it works. In the meantime, check out the iBooks Author tool for yourself, since it’s free!

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