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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. ūüôā

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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’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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