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GW recently announced pre-orders for their new Chaos Space Marines army, and the items are selling fast, despite the usual griping about GW’s pricing model. (Apparently this is the most expensive Codex yet.) They’ve also released a handful of special miniatures which might work perfectly for your 40K game, especially if you’re playing Black Crusade. These include the cheerful Warpsmith, the happy little Apostle, and the delightfully welcoming Daemon Prince, not to mention the fun Forgefiend/Maulerfiend kit with its 67-components’ worth of choices. I could just see that last one as a recurring NPC. In fact, that last one is the only thing I’ve seen that might make me get out my Collector’s Edition Black Crusade and run it. I will call my NPC Maulerfiend Spot, and it will follow the PCs around ALWAYS.

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I stumbled across the link to iheartprintandplay tonight while surfing Twitter. Its owner, Derek Weller, creates charming printable standees in the style of the Order of the Stick for your D&D games. He’s got a whole host of mini beasties and PCs for D&D, and he’s also got plans for printable origami dice! He’s also created adorable character condition cards, too. Definitely worth a quick trip over, especially if you run a light-hearted game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I may just print these little guys out to put on my desk at work because they’re so awesome.

There’s also a great section of the blog dedicated to other free print and play games. There are only a couple of games listed now, but if you’ve got one of your own, you might want to contact Weller and tell him about it!

I know many of you have been out at GenCon, playing your fill of games and seeing more stuff to buy than you could possibly purchase in a lifetime. I just thought I’d mention a neat Kickstarter project that has some really great potential: Brass Monkey’s Dragons Gameboard.

This nifty little package would let you display a battle map on a TV or large computer monitor for your players to see during tabletop gaming. Each of them could, in turn, manipulate their own tokens on the map via smartphones or tablets.

I absolutely, positively LOVE this idea. Using individual handheld devices at the table would keep my players engaged (and would keep their phones on something game-centered instead of on Twitter or Facebook.) A system like this cuts down on prep time, too; I wouldn’t have to set up a table full of cardstock buildings and minis, spend the morning keeping the kitten off the table, and then switch out a million tiles and buildings mid-session when the PCs moved to a new area. On the other hand, I personally dislike the art style here–I’d like to see something that looks more like an actual hand-drawn map, something less griddy/pixelly. The games I tend to favor don’t focus on strategic battles, so I use maps flavor more than for tactical clarity, and a bunch of colored blocks don’t really add much flavor to a game. The project promises to remain open source, though, so DMs would have the opportunity to implement their own tilesets and could undoubtedly figure out how to make use of the system for other sorts of RPGs.

This project is definitely one to keep your eye on; Brass Monkey has a solid idea, and for those with limited table space, it might mean the difference between making your home a viable place to play and always having to tote your minis and chips to someone else’s house.

I was in a not-so-local but still friendly gaming store the other day where they had a table dedicated to Wyrd Miniatures/Worldworks Games Terraclips for Malifaux. These sets feature lovely, full-color building pieces in modular sheets on hefty punchboard (1.7mm thick, to be exact.) You can clip the sections of wall, flooring, and roof together with the little terraclips made of transparent plastic so that they don’t mar the overall look of the terrain. I only got a quick look, but they seem high-quality and versatile enough to fit multiple scenarios. Best of all, a disassembled and boxed set takes up about the same space as a couple of RPG rulebooks. The Malifaux set would work well for any dark-ish city setting, (general WFRP and Mordheim both leap to mind,) and Worldworks has several dungeon sets coming soon that includes lava pits, rooms full of gold, and sarcophagi. These strike me as a nice compromise between easy-to-damage cardstock buildings and difficult-to-store plastic or resin models. I hope they plan to keep expanding the line! In fact, if this product line keeps growing and the space in my apartment keeps shrinking, I might end up replacing my own shelves of cardstock scenery with these.

Unsurprisingly, I went ahead and coughed up the $42 for the Codex: Space Marines just to see how Games Workshop managed the iBooks format. My willingness to do so is entirely inexplicable, by the way; I don’t play 40K, and I don’t have a Space Marines army. I did enjoy the fluff in the book, though, and if I ever get around to running Rogue Trader, I suppose it will come in handy. Also, it’s almost my birthday, so why not? It’s not my intention to critique the book’s content; instead, I’d like to say a few words about Games Workshop’s use of the format itself.

If you go to iTunes and look up this book, you’ll see more than a hundred reviews that give the book one star. Many of these thoughtful, honest, ethical reviewers haven’t even bought the book–they’re just complaining about the price point. Apparently they feel as though an electronic version of a book shouldn’t cost the same as a print copy, and that’s enough for them to give the book one star. What we’ve learned here is that iTunes shouldn’t allow you to review a book you haven’t bought from them. After having spent some time with the text, I think GW’s implementation of the Codex is a wee bit flawed, but very promising as a whole; it’s not yet five stars, but it’s certainly not one star, either. Many complaints say that much of what the iBooks version accomplishes, a PDF also accomplishes, and that might be true. Still, as far as I can tell, the only PDF versions of the book available are illegal copies, so I’m not wholly swayed by comparing the functionality of a legal copy of an item to the functionality of an illegal copy.

Here’s the scoop on the details of the iBooks implementation:

PROS
Players will likely find the iBooks copy very useful during actual play, and the interactive visuals make it a delight to sit and read.

  • The hot-linked sections of the book will make it easy to find the information you need with a click. For instance, long fluff descriptions of individual units in the “Forces of the Space Marines” chapter link to the crunchy details in the “Army List” at the back of the book and vice versa, so you can get from fluff to crunch easily.
  • Standard iBooks navigation features allows for you to move from chapter to chapter easily, and GW has made the solid design choice to make each new chapter start with a visually distinctive page so you can quickly navigate to the section you need.
  • The searchable glossary has all the game terms you need. If you don’t play a particular army or unit all of the time, you might easily forget how to use a specific skill you’re seeking. It’s faster to do a search for it in a digital glossary than to look it up in a paper copy. I’ve found that it’s also much faster to search the iBooks glossary than to do a search in a whole PDF, but perhaps that’s just me. You can also click on individual special rules within an Army List entry and have the glossary entry for the rule pulled up automatically.
  • The iBooks built-in notes feature allows you to include house rules, refinements, and tactical information near the units and/or rules they modify right in your text without ruining the look of the book.
  • The high-resolution graphics and pictures of miniatures look great on a Retina screen. For once, I could actually get close enough to see that not every ‘Eavy Metal painter is flawless. That gave me a +15 bonus to my Self Confidence.
  • The Citadel 360 (or 360 Citadel?) models are kind of neat, and let you see how the painter has managed all of the details of a particular mini.
  • You can re-use the graphics. Games Workshop probably won’t be thrilled that I point this out, but of course, you can take a screen shot of anything you see in iBooks. That means that you can grab included graphics, put them in your own graphics program, and use them for your own scenarios, RPGs, etc. For a GM like me, this may be one of the most valuable things about the Codex.
  • You can’t lose or damage this book, since you can always re-download it once you’ve purchased it. Your iPad is also significantly smaller and lighter than an actual hardcover GW Codex.

CONS
GW has made a handful funky, bad, or just weird decisions that detract from the overall experience. I suspect that eventually these things will get ironed out as companies like GW come up with standards for publishing iBooks documents, but I was surprised that a company with such a solid design team would make some of these mistakes, even on their first try.

  • The designers use the slideshow function inconsistently throughout the book. It’s not a big problem–or a problem at all from a useability standpoint–but it’s rather offputting. Some galleries have thumbnails of included images at the bottom, while others simply have dots that indicate how many images are in the current slideshow. I found the differences distracting, as I ended up trying to figure out if the logic behind the choices.
  • Similarly inconsistent is GW’s use of the Citadel 360 feature; I couldn’t always figure out why they’d decided to allow me to see some of the models in 3D and not others. If, say, they’d done 360 models of every commander and flat images of lesser units, I’d get it, but their choices didn’t seem so straightforward.
  • While you can go to full-screen for some of the graphics, allowing you to see an individual item on a plain black background, you can’t zoom in to get a better look at the details of the images in the book. For a company that prides itself on detailed miniatures, I thought this was a weird decision. Some of that may be limited by iBooks; when I’ve played with it, I haven’t had many images that needed zoom functionality, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s possible within the iBooks structure itself.
  • GW didn’t use the change page-orientation feature. I realized when creating my own iBooks that it’s kind of a pain in the arse; the engine doesn’t let you look at certain page elements when you have your iPad in portrait orientation that you can see in landscape orientation. Still, it’s often more pleasant to read long blocks of text in portrait orientation, so it would be nice if GW had given readers the choice. On the other hand, perhaps they were thinking that you would primarily use your iPad propped up on its SmartCover in landscape orientation as you played the game itself.

FOR FUTURE TEXTS
Here are some things I’d like to see in future Codices and other RPG/miniatures rulebooks. I realize that these high-tech details can add quite a bit to the digital file size; perhaps companies could release both a bare-bones and a digital Collector’s Edition of their books.

  • Sound. I’m a sucker for gimmicks, so I’d like to hear some sound. Have one of the Black Library voice actors read us some of that fluff at the beginnings of chapters.
  • More color. Companies cut back on color when printing because it costs so darn much, but it doesn’t cost in a digital copy. Go ahead and color in those little details at the top of the pages. Make it look more like a Fantasy Flight or an old-school White Wolf book.
  • Video. Gameplay tactics, miniature painting tips, or fluff delivered as video would take digital manuals a significant step ahead of paper copies.

OVERALL VERDICT: LET’S SEE MORE!
Quite honestly, I’d repurchase most of my RPG/miniatures manuals if they were re-released in this format. I think the search, glossary, and notes functions alone would make them far more useful at the table than a printed copy of the book, and being able to yoink graphics from rulebooks for my own personal use fills me with joy. Further, I’d much rather carry one iPad to my local gaming store or to my friend’s house than a whole stack of hardbacks, especially if I’ve also got to carry a box filled with minis. Let’s face it; I’m probably going to take the iPad anyway, so why not cut back on other stuff I have to carry?

I will give all of the one-star reviewers the fact that there’s some sticker shock; it made my heart skip a beat to push the PURCHASE button on my iPad, since I’ve never bought any single item that expensive before. Yet I think we have to move beyond automatically valuing paper copies over digital copies. When I pay for a digital copy, I consider the unlimited downloads and the green factor, both of which are worth money to me; YMMV. In fact, if GW included video and sound not included in the paper copy, I’d highly support its costing the same as the paper book. At the moment, though, the former isn’t where we are in our cultural assessment of the value of etexts, and the latter isn’t where GW is in its iBooks production values, so they should probably offer a modest discount over the hardcover copy until digital copies become more commonplace.

I can’t tell you if you should purchase this item. If you’re a tech junkie who’s attached at the hip to your iPad like I am, then it’s a no-brainer. If you already own the paper copy of the Codex and happily lug it everywhere, then it might not make sense for you. I can say, though, that I hope other gaming companies leap on the bandwagon and use this technology, since I think it could really take gaming books to a whole new level of useful interactivity.

…and if that doesn’t prove my loyalty to Games Workshop the Emperor, I don’t know what will.

After poking around the Profantasy Software site the other day to look at something or other, I noticed the Dioramas Pro module for Campaign Cartographer 3 and picked it up. I’m not a master craftsman of cardstock scenery, by any means. After all, I started this blog by talking about my love-hate relationship with glue. Still, I like to make scenery for my campaigns, as I find that my PCs find it easier to tell the story at hand if they have a shared visual space on which to base the narrative. In my head, I was going to craft highly evocative Warhammery scenery to match the prewritten modules and/or strange and bewitching buildings to match my upcoming Skaven scenario. How cool would it be to have a building for the Garden of Morr that actually had little black rosebushes all around the building? How neat to have buildings that had been heavily “modified” by Skaven engineers (who, of course, don’t exist)?

For full disclosure’s sake, I should say that I only played with DP for one afternoon. Like everything else from Profantasy, DP has a steep learning curve, but it hardly seems impossible; I could easily figure out how to use the tools available, and the quickstart guide helped immensely. I could quickly make a series of different types of buildings that would stand up serviceably when I glued them together. It’s also very easy to change the scale of your building to accommodates different games. What’s less exciting, though, are the visual details provided within the program for decorating the buildings. Bleech. Simple line windows and doors–nothing like the buildings I would want to create. It’s possible to export the skeleton of your building and put it into Photoshop or Pixelmator so that you can do some graphic manipulation there. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll use DP to do. Still, it would be nice if it were easier to export the images, and even nicer still if the graphics sets in DP were a bit more elegant.

I’m not sure I’m pleased with this purchase. I like the flexibility of crafting any kind of structure I want, but honestly, I’m not sure how often I’ll use it. Part of me wishes I’d just bought some blank cardstock building skeleton files that I could manipulate in Pixelmator. (Those must exist, right?) Still, I think that’s more of a failing of my not really considering how the product was designed than a failing of the product itself. DP seems quite powerful if you’re into the “engineering” side of things. It’s just that I’m more on the “put funny visual jokes on the side of the buildings” side of things instead. Lesson learned about rampantly consuming things I don’t need, I guess. At least until the next intriguing thing I don’t really need comes along. šŸ™‚

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.

I have a soft spot for squigs. Squigs represent everything that is awesome about Warhammer, at least as far as I’m concerned: they’re nonsensically made out of fungus, they look silly, they hang out with other humorous monster-types, but they have huge, pointy teeth and can totally kick your ass. That’s why I was excited to see Warhammer Forge’s new Colossal Squig miniature while surfing the web…although I’m not sure you can rightly call that thing a ‘miniature.’

My internal monologue: “A gigantic squig miniature that I will never use in game?! SIGN ME UP! Ooh, plus, it’s big enough that my paint job might look fairly competent. Fifty-five pounds, though. Plus shipping. Steep. Hmm…well, I’d probably have to write an adventure around it.”

I haven’t ordered it yet, because I’m telling myself that I’ll wait until I at least have an adventure idea for it. Of course, what that really means is that I’ll wait until I’ve opened up a Pages document and typed “COLOSSAL SQUIG ADVENTURE” across the top.

I haven’t even gotten that far, though, because I’m getting ready to run a half marathon tomorrow–gotta go pack my special running socks and energy gels and such. Whenever I feel like slacking in my pace, I’m just going to imagine that squig right on my heels…or maybe I’ll imagine that I am that squig. He seems to have a good stride. Rawarr!

So, I’m relatively excited about Plaid Hat’s new Mice and Mystics game. It looks like more of a story-driven coop board game than a true RPG, but it might be just the ticket for gaming groups like ours, since we sometimes have months where we can’t commit a full Saturday to playing our RPG of choice. Plus, it’s got awesome mouse miniatures! What could possibly go wrong?

(Lots of things, actually. I know that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope it will be AWESOME.)

In other news, I finally got around to looking at the Roll20 videos this week. Everyone on the planet has already talked this thing to death, but it really does look as awesome as its hype. I hope they can live up to what they promise in these videos. The only downside I can see is the GM’s limited ability to download his own artwork, since games like Warhammer or Mouse Guard might require vastly different maps and minis than more traditional fantasy games. Still, for a decent online RPG delivery system that incorporates streaming sounds and music with video chat and is system neutral, that’s a small quibble.

I’m really not sure how this hasn’t been done to death yet, but I’ve decided that it’s high time for me to do it–the hilarity factor of juxtaposing such differing worldviews is just way too high for me to give it a miss:

It’s going to be the second in my “Monsterz” series of one-off games in which my Warhammer players RP as various monster races. (The unclever name of the ‘series’ just comes from the title of the folder on my Mac where I’m keeping all of the files. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I added that jaunty z, because now it just seems rather stupid.) I did the monster PC thing back with the Orcs, and the players had a good time, although I had some difficulty balancing out my interest in fleshing out their premade PCs (which I did) with developing the adventure (which I didn’t nearly enough.) I plan to remedy that this go around.

So far, it’s been a blast coming up with skills and wises for Skaven. Frankly, I think the original game needs “Warpstone-wise,” don’t you?

Most of all, though, because I’m me, I’ve had a great time photoshopping (or Pixelmating) the existing Mouse Guard character sheets and writing character histories. Of course, I don’t have any Skaven minis lying around, which necessitates the most dangerous thing of all in our house…painting minis. God help us all.

With the way work has been going, we can expect this little iteration to be finished sometime around November 2043. Or in a couple of weeks, if I stay this interested.

In the meantime, just remember:

It’s not what you fight for, it’s how many of those other mangy curs you can claw to bits on your way down!

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