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Since we have a lot of stuff, we tend to take a lot of stuff with us when we attend conventions. And when we go on vacation. And when we go away for the weekend. Actually, we end up hauling board games or RPGs pretty much everywhere we go. It’s not like that’s necessarily easy; board games are heavy, especially since we like Fantasy Flight games with tons of bits. RPGs can be as easy as a dice bag and a few books, but as you can tell from the blog, that’s not really how we roll; we go in for box sets and lots of props. That being said, we’ve perfected the art of carrying game stuff with us over the past few years. Here are some protips:

  • Useful Bag #1: the LL Bean XL Boat and Tote bag. I got one of these from my work a few years back, and it’s a lifesaver. The thick canvas ensures that it won’t break under the weight of your heaviest games, and the sides stay upright and sturdy to keep your boxes from sliding around in transit. These have a kind of uncool middle-aged mom-vibe which I don’t love, but if you can get your games to fit in them, they’re probably the safest way to go. Tuck a rain jacket in on top to make sure that nothing gets wet on the way into the building.
  • Useful Bag #2: the IKEA bag. Those big-box FFG games won’t fit in an LL Bean tote, but they’ll fit in one of those huge, tarp-material IKEA bags. (I learned while writing this post that they’re called FRAKTA bags. I will now insist on calling them “the FRAKTAS” in an annoying voice from here on out.) Since they’re designed to fold up after use, the IKEA bags have flimsy sides and won’t keep your stuff from sliding around in the car, so make sure you Tetris anything you put in these bags into the back of your car carefully so your stuff doesn’t go flying when you take a left turn.
  • Useful Tip #1: Keep your dice separate from everything else in a handy dice bag. I like the FFG bags, although many people I know swear by DragonChow bags. Little dice bags can get lost in the mess of everything else you’re carrying, so stash them in a smaller bag that you mean to take with you. Lots of games use standard sets of dice, so having a set handy means you’ll have your own handy.
  • Box it: Staples carries Really Useful Boxes, which are my favorite way of carrying little bits and organizing them at the table, but any crafting store will have an assortment of plastic boxes ideal for carrying bits in their beading section. If you store your things in crafting boxes when you put your games away, you’ll have a handy way to keep them tidy on the table, too.
  • Take the right equipment: I’m fond of my cardstock buildings, but they don’t travel well. Pulling out Paizo or D&D map tiles allow for a variety of quick scenery changes without taking up a ton of space.
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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.

This week, my husband and I are vacationing at my in-laws’ place. They live in an area of the Adirondacks that one might describe as “remote.” It’s not quite shack-in-the-woods remote, but the nearest townlet, about fifteen minutes away, consists of a bank, three or four stores, two gas stations, and lots of Burma Shave-style signs with religious slogans along the road. While I enjoy my time here spent hiking, swimming, and boating, it does always confirm that I’m a city girl. On the other hand, I always see some hilarious things that would make awesome adventure hooks. Today, I present you with four things I’ve seen so far that would make stellar Warhammer FRP adventure hooks:

  • A man burning the corpse of a horse in the front yard of his house. One of the horse’s legs sticks out of the flames at a jaunty angle.
  • A tiny shack with barely enough room for one man to sit suddenly appears in an unowned part of the woods where there was no shack just a few months ago. My husband and I happened upon a charming bench near a pond in a previously uninhabited part of the forest, and just when I was about to sit down, he suddenly whispered, “Stop! There’s a hut behind you.” I thought he was making a Star Wars joke, but the reality was much creepier.
  • A live dog strapped to the top of a car, (or in Warhammer, to the top of a carriage.) I could see my PCs stalled for half an hour of hilarious roleplay trying to figure out if they should save the dog, or if they should set the carriage on fire because the dog’s likely a demon and the people in the carriage follow some lord of Chaos.
  • A group of stern-looking children striding purposefully towards a stand of trees in the middle of nowhere carrying nothing but a long chain.

And really, there’s the real joy of vacationing: the stories you bring back. Most people want to tell those stories to their families and friends, but some of us twisted souls want to get together and retell slightly more violent versions of our vacation tales as we sit surrounded by piles of dice, stacks of cardboard scenery, and sets of miniatures.

 

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. 🙂

Well, my Black Crusade Collector’s Edition showed up today in the mail. I was tempted to take pictures of it during my lunch hour, but I decided to hold off until the end of the day. That was a good call, since I got some irritating news at the end of the day, but this awesome little trinket turned my bad mood around.

Typical unboxing pics:

The case is a lightweight yet substantive resin. It’s not at all flimsy or poorly made, but it doesn’t make the book hard to lift, either. Quite nicely done.

The detailing on the case is awesome! Just check out this chipper little worm crawling his way out of the filth on the cover:

The book itself is heavy, bound in a sturdy red leatherette with gilt edges and a big ribbon bookmark.

The interior of the book includes FFG’s trademark full-color and wonderful art direction. Here’s the inside cover:

I’m actually pleased that the Writ of Execution is firmly attached to the inside of the book. Now I don’t have to figure out what to do with it. Was I supposed to frame it? Give it to my mom to hang at her house? Put it on the wall at work? I’ll just leave it in the book, then.

All in all, it’s a delightful purchase. (Am I allowed to call something about the forces of Chaos “delightful”?) As I said before, I’m not sure we’ll play this system with the RAW, but I am interested in the fluff included in the book. They’ve done a great job with the detail on the slipcase, and the book itself is a step above FFG’s already high production value. This probably won’t go down in history as my most useful RPG purchase, but it looks pretty cool on our mantlepiece.

I’m going into week two of being terribly sick, so I’m grouchy today. Instead of fighting it, though, I thought I’d take advantage and talk about some of my pet peeves that I usually avoid because I’m in a good mood when I write about RPGs. I’ll be honest; I’ve been relatively lucky as a female gamer. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve come up through a very male-dominated branch of academia or whether it was something about my upbringing, but I don’t tend to get patronized at the table or treated badly when I post on boards (although I do tend to be relatively careful about which boards I choose to visit; Paizo, for instance, is absolutely a no-go for me.) Still, even for me, there are three assumptions that get made about me because of gender that I absolutely hate.

#1) Because you’re a woman, you’ll just LOVE the chance to babysit my kid at the gaming table!!

Okay, so…no. I work with (much, much) older children, but I’m not keen on the little ones. I know most normal humans find it adorable when little Tommy mispronounces his pasta as “basghetti,” but I’m not normal. My initial reaction is to wonder why mom didn’t correct him so he can become more facile with language at an earlier age. I don’t think it’s “just kids being kids” when tiny Amy spills on the character sheets; I wonder why dad let tiny Amy, with her limited motor skills, have juice at the gaming table filled with papers and minis–and yes, I’m pissed about having to redo my character sheet. (I’m equally pissed when a drunken adult does the same thing–I’m equal-opportunity grump when it comes to people Messing with My Stuff.)

For some reason, kids have a tendency to flock to me during gaming conventions. Here’s the thing, parents: just because I’m not openly hostile or rude to your kids doesn’t mean I don’t resent it if you don’t pull them off of me and redirect their attention to someone or something more appropriate. All too often, I’ve seen kids dragged to gaming conventions or taken to games in which they can’t participate or can’t participate fully because of their age. My heart goes out to kids whose parents didn’t bring them something to do, but just because I gave the child a sympathetic look, it doesn’t mean that I want to provide him with something to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve ended up with strangers’ kids glued to me for the duration of a convention day just because I wasn’t a chilly ass to the kid. You brought him, you pay attention to him. That’s what you signed on for when you became a parent. I just want to get back to concentrating on my game, and the only reason I’m not being a jerk about it is because I think the kid will take it more personally than the parent will.

#2) Because you’re a woman, you obviously put the sisterhood of women above all else and want my girlfriend/aunt/friend/cousin at your table because she’s a girl, too!! You can talk about shoes together!

Also no. Here’s the thing: I like having a relatively gender-balanced table. Right now, I’m really grateful that my game includes a vibrant, intelligent, witty, educated female player whose great social skills often pull the party out of tight situations. But while I like having another female at the table, what I like most about her are all those other descriptors; I like her as a person and as a player, and that person/player just happens to be female.

I think gender balance can open some opportunities for game play that might not otherwise exist. I know that there are bits of story I couldn’t have presented as easily without a female player; the men wouldn’t have made the same assumptions about the hook or have been as interested in it at least in part because their cultural programming is different from hers. On the other hand, I don’t just want any player in the world because she’s female. If you’re disruptive, easily distracted, uninterested in narrative, rude to the other players, or self-centered, you’re a nonstarter for me regardless of gender. If you think that because I’m a female GM that game day is the time to have girly talk, we have a problem, because I’m way more interested in getting my scenery on the table than chatting about nail polish. And while I’m more than happy to help ease women who haven’t had a solid background in fantasy or in gaming into the worlds and rules of RPG play, I’m not more than happy to act as a crutch for a player with crippling self-doubt because of her gender or who can’t be bothered to put in some of her own time to play catch-up if necessary. I’d expect the same of a male gamer who didn’t know anything about the rules or setting; I’m not patronizing enough to have different expectations for females.

#3) You must really be excited that WotC has Shelly Mazzanoble out there representing you! Isn’t it great to have high profile women in gaming?

Again, not so much. For various reasons, I have very little in common with many of the high profile women in the RPG industry and blogosphere. I’ve already posted about how I feel about Shelley Mazzanoble. In fact, since I’m grumpy, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about exactly the kind of move she makes that drives me crazy. Check out this quote from Dice Monkeys’ interview with her:

9.   There’s been a lot of talk recently around the blogosphere about women’s portrayal in the art of RPGs. They’re seen as eye-candy rather than as serious warriors like male characters are seen. What’s your opinion?

I think this is a very worthy discussion and one that our Art Director gets into every day. Not too long ago we were looking at art from 1st edition books and laughing hysterically. The women were not warriors. They looked like victims, complete with palms over forehead and looking upwards at their male counterparts to save them. Since when does being well-endowed imply weakness? But that was a product of the time and the times are a changing. In a good way. The art of D&D today will look very different from the art of D&D tomorrow. And it will look very different ten years from now. Art will continue to change and evolve as long as these discussions are happening. Why does the armor on a barbarian female leave her navel exposed while her male counterpart is fully covered? Why does the female wizard look like she stuck her dry-clean only robes in the dryer? First and foremost, your armor should protect you! It’s not an accessory you put on to go clubbing.

Personally I would never let my character go out in tight leather armor and a breastplate. I’d be like “Button up, young lady! You’re not going into the dungeon looking like that!” But that’s just me.

Instead of saying something meaningful here about how WotC’s art directors actually address the issue, she pretends that the problem with images of women in games an “old school” problem that we no longer have anymore. Golly gee, that problem’s so archaic that we can just laaaaugh at it! Please. If we take hobby books as a whole, you’ll still find more women without clothes than with–and don’t get me started on miniatures. It’s not “yesterday’s issue,” and it makes the problem worse when a prominent female in the hobby says it is, even if it’s in her company’s best interests to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

I respect Shelly’s right to describe her own experiences playing DnD and I respect the women who identify with her; what I dislike is the fact that she’s being held up by WotC as the face of female gaming. I find 99.999% of what she says profoundly alienating (and I have a feeling she’d say the same about my writing, to be fair.) Because we have such drastically different interests as gamers and as human beings, I wouldn’t invite her to my game, and if I were the sort of person who tended to think in terms of reductive social identifiers, I might be loathe invite any other woman to my game if her books represented the only sample I had of the intersection between “women” and “RPGs.” I get what WotC tries to do with her writing; they’re trying to claim a demographic that they haven’t had as purchasers before, but why not have several different kinds of women stand up and become the voice of female players? After all, we have a bevy of different kinds of male voices represented in WotC’s magazines and online sites; why not at least a handful of women, each with a different but equally strong perspectives?

To go feminism 101 for a second, Judith Butler and other post-structuralist feminists of the late 80s and early 90s worked tirelessly to undermine the assumption that there is “a female identity.” No single identity defines women’s needs and desires; for heaven’s sake, we’re 50% of the population. How could we possibly agree on anything? The only thing we have in common is the assumptions you (male or female) bring to bear when you sit down at the table about who we are. So, you know…don’t.

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’ve been too swamped at work this week to have thought about RPGs much, unfortunately. Here’s the news from my end of the earth:

#1: Like everyone in the whole world, I want one of these. The ePawn is just awesome, and I’m glad they’re keeping the price down so that it’s within reach of many gamers. If you haven’t seen the ePawn in action, do go look at the videos on their website; it’s definitely an interesting product.

I’m also hoping that the fact that they use Mansions of Madness in some of the promo materials means that they’re working out some deals with FFG.

#2: Speaking of FFG, I’m a little miffed that we haven’t heard anything about the release date for the Black Crusade Collector’s Edition. I ordered that thing, oh, I don’t know, about a bazillion years ago, and there’s been no word for months about its release date. I guess it turns out that it’s going to be “sometime in February,” but for such a pricey item, it’d be nice if they were a bit more forthcoming about how they’re calculating release date schedule. Oh, well. It’s FFG. I can stay mad at them until I go to their website, then I see their great art direction and end up forgetting what was making me mad in the first place.

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!

So, my husband is a Pathfinder junkie. Also, he loves his miniatures. In fact, he loves them so much that we have a whole bookshelf filled with those plastic D&D minis. So when he heard that there were going to be Paizo minis up for grabs, well, you’d better believe that we immediately pre-ordered a case of them.

They arrived today. I won’t go into too much detail here, but I’ll let you see for yourselves. These really are lovely. (I mean, they’re not Warhammer, which is a mark against them, but for a non-Warhammer product, they’re pretty keen.) The painting is much more precise and detailed than the old D&D minis; even the commons have lots of contrast colors and have been painted precisely. We ordered a case, and he was lucky enough to get a full set–every mini. Here are some pics of the whole shebang.

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If you’re dithering, definitely pick some up. They seem much sturdier to me than the old D&D minis, and they really do look quite nice!

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