Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Home made 3D glasses.

I loves me some 3D.

Today, while pressing the stumble button, I found a website with a ton of 3D pictures and videos. While I still have my eDimensional shutter glasses, the videos on the site were the old school red and blue glasses type.

I do not own a pair of red and blue 3D specs.

The website has a tutorial for making your own glasses that essentially boils down to printing out some frames onto card stock, coloring in some cellophane with red and blue felt tips, then gluing them onto the frames.

This gave me an idea.

Recently, for my DnD campaign, I purchased a pack of wet-erase pens. I also have an old pair of glasses in my drawer.

So I dug out my old glasses (my prescription has changed since I got them, so it was no biggie if I ruined them), and colored the lenses with the red and blue wet erase markers. The ink coverage wasn’t great, but coloring both sides of the lenses fixed that problem.

They worked…well.

Better yet, I expected to have to work to get the ink off the lenses, but cleaning them was as simple as running them under cold water for five seconds.

Ok, so I take absolutely no responsibility if this doesn’t work for you and you completely ruin your glasses…but it worked for me, and as someone who wears glasses anyway, it was awesome not having to wear two pairs at once or go without my regular specs to see.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gaming Paper

Today, I was made aware of through a Twitter competition to win two cases of DnD minis. Obviously, I retweeted immediately…but shortly after, I decided to go check out the website I was helping advertise.

I have to admit, I am almost completely baffled by this product.

When it comes to running a Role Playing Game, you have a lot of options and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.

On the high end you have things like Dwarven Forge sets that look absolutely spectacular, but are massively expensive… in the middle ground you have Dungeon Tiles which look nice but limit your options.

My particular favorite has always been vinyl wet-erase battle mats. You have to hand-draw your terrain, but they’re relatively cheap (around $25), give you total flexibility and, if properly cared for, will last for years.

Gaming paper, which is exactly what it sounds like, left me scratching my head. I just don’t see the value in it.

To be honest, my biggest problem was how it was marketed. The website claims gaming paper is the ‘reusable, cost-effective alternative to expensive battle mats’.

Well, the first thing I didn’t like was the ‘reusable’ part. Quite simply, it’s only reusable if you plan on running the same campaign multiple times, or re-using dungeons. They make it sound like you can erase and re-use the paper multiple times, which simply isn’t true.

The marketing blurb says you can make the paper reusable by putting it under a sheet of plexiglass and using dry erase pens on top of that, but if you think about that for a second, you realize how ridiculous the idea is.

They market this paper on how big it is (30 inches wide by 12 feet long), so unless you’re planning on carrying a twelve foot sheet of plexiglass with you, the size means nothing. Secondly, if you’re going to go that route with a more reasonably sized sheet of glass, why bother at all?

You can either spend around $40 on a 30x30 sheet of plexiglass, $4 for the paper, go through the trouble of fixing them together and backing the thing…or you can spend around twenty bucks of a battle mat that weighs a lot less, is much easier to store and can be rolled up and put in a backpack to take to a friend’s house.

Secondly, and more importantly, it’s hardly cost effective. Sure, a roll of this paper is roughly four times the size of a medium sized battle mat and only costs $4 to the battle mat’s $25…but you only pay that $25 once.

I’ve run two relatively short dungeon delves over the past two weeks which ‘filled’ my battle mat four or five times. If I keep going at this rate, I would be buying about two rolls of paper a month.

I can expect to get four or five years use out of my battle mat, so when you work out the cost over those five years, my battle mat costs me $25, total. Two rolls of paper per month for five years comes to $480.

$25 versus $480… Cost effective? Hardly.

Lastly, I don’t have to worry about my dungeon turning into a soggy mess when someone inevitably spills a soda, or tearing in half when someone leans on it. In all fairness, this gaming paper looks like it’s good quality, but saying ‘strong paper’ is like saying ‘aerodynamic brick’. The world’s strongest gaming paper is still going to be more fragile than the world’s flimsiest battle mat

The only real use I can see for this paper is if you want to have a really huge (well, really long) dungeon in your game and don’t want to have to erase and draw the next part during the session. Fellow blogger Kato also pointed out that it’s handy if you want to draw your dungeon ahead of time, because ink stains battlemats if left on for too long (over 24 hours in my experience).

So, in conclusion, if you’re running a convention game and will be running multiple groups through the same adventure, a roll of gaming paper may be a wise investment.

For anything else, use a battle mat or dungeon tiles.

Edit - Wow, huge response on this...and I'd just like to point out that I covered most of the points you guys are raising. Gaming Paper certainly has its uses, as I pointed out above, and you guys pointed out in the comments, it's useful for areas you use often, getting ready ahead of time or if you want to keep your dungeon for whatever reason.

Gaming Paper is a good addition to any GM's overall toolkit...but I don't see it as a battle mat replacement.

So let me re-state the whole point of this post. Gaming Paper is useful, but it's marketed as a cheap, reusable alternative for battle mats... but it's not truly reusable and costs more in the long run. Good to use in addition to your mat, but it certainly doesn't replace it.

This is my opinion. As gamers, you know we can argue about just about anything from which is the 'superior' gaming system to how you roll your dice. I'm not saying I'm right, so if you disagree, just continue doing what works for you. For my particular needs gaming paper causes more problems than it solves. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sick of DnD Posts Yet?

So, Sunny and I played our dungeon delve…

We both had fun, but I left the game feeling like I really needed to sit down for a couple of hours with an experienced DM for some advice.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s pretty difficult to take a Dungeon Crawl designed for five players and make it work for two people. First of all, you take an encounter that has three or four fairly tough enemies and eight or more minions that’s meant to be a pitched battle, and after adjusting ‘by the book’, you’re left with a choice of just two standard bad guys, or one bad guy and three or four minions.

So, as it was just a one shot, I min-maxed two characters (basically making an overpowered damage dealer and heal-o-matic), and gave them both magic armor and weapons way beyond their level.

It worked, in theory. The healer character I was playing took a few big hits and was down to the wire a few times, but Sunny’s fighter was just about unstoppable.

It was only after the game that I re-did the math and worked out that while everything was technically balanced, I realized that for the majority of the enemies, Sunny only had to roll a three or higher to hit, and the bad guys had to roll a 16 or above to hit her. In other words, she had a 90% chance of landing a blow, while the bad guys missed her around 75% of the time.

The encounter was ‘balanced’ on paper, but far from balanced in actual play.

Well, no big deal. The whole point of the game was so Sunny could learn the ropes, so to speak…and she’s got a lot better with combat, and actually learned to listen at the door before kicking it in.

In fact, there was one point where she honestly impressed me. At the very start of the Delve, we approached a fenced-off dig site. The fence was about 10 feet tall, and to be completely honest, the only real choice was to climb over the fence, or try to clamber over a pile of rubble that was difficult terrain.

Instead, Sunny asked to roll a perception check, aced the roll and I told her she could hear multiple voices and the sound of moving on the other side. Then she asked if she could roll a stealth check and get my character to give her a boost so she could peek over the top of the fence to see how they were positioned.

Unfortunately, she failed the roll badly, and as I was Placing the bad-guy tokens she said “Holy shit, there’s a ton of them!” So, for giggles, I folded that into the story:

“You ask the cleric to give you a boost so you can see over the fence, just as you peek over the top, you’re so surprised that you find yourself shouting “HOLY SHIT! THERE’S A TON OF THEM!”…As you stand on the Cleric’s choulders, you see seven separate heads turn in your direction. One of them shouts something, and while you can’t understand the actual words, the tone and body language tells you he’s shouting something a lot like “INTRUDERS! GET THEM!” From underneath you, you hear a muffled curse from the Cleric in Elvish. This you can understand, but wouldn’t like to repeat.”

To be honest, I think that’s just about my one and only actual talent as a DM. I like to give very detailed descriptions (especially of spectacular critical hits and failures) and I think it’s much more interesting for the players. I think the above is a lot more fun than. “You failed the roll and they see you.”

In fact, I couldn’t help but smile a little when Sunny said, in the middle of a battle “It’s weird, these are just minis and bits of paper, but it’s like I can actually see the battle going on.”

So, if I can give any hints to novice DMS (or completely out of practice DM’s like me), it’s this: “Your sword cleaves the Kobold’s head straight from his shoulders, and you swing so hard that momentum carries it directly into the other Kobold’s jugular. They both sway for a moment, and collapse to the ground in unison.” Is a lot more interesting than: “Okay, you hit the first Kobold for ten damage, which kills it, and your cleave hits the other for five, killing it as well.”

Anyway, other than the balance issues, the only other problem is that it’s really hard to play a character neutrally when you’re controlling all the bad guys as well. I’s like playing chess against yourself. When your character only has three hitpoints left, and the other is at full health…it’s really difficult to make a bad guy choose to hit your own character instead of the other.

The worst part, however, is exploration and traps.

I tried to play my character as a ‘silent sidekick’ to Sunny’s character to let her take the lead…but situations come up where it’s really hard to separate my own knowledge as the DM from my character’s knowledge of what’s going on.

For example, in one part of the dungeon, there was a large statue that I knew had been fixed by the Kobolds to be easily tipped over, and it said right there on the page that if any character gets within one square of it, the two minions hiding behind it will tip it on them.

So we’d killed two or three minions, and the next ones where on the other side of the room, past the statue, and the most direct path came within one square. So…yes…I walked straight past the statue and took the hit, but it was really hard not to skirt around it.

In an actual game, there’s a good chance I’d figure something wasn’t quite right about the statue, especially as two Kobolds where staying right behind it and not attacking…but to be fair you have to assume you wouldn’t notice it…especially as Sunny got caught under a falling tapestry two turns later. Better to take the hit than face the wrath of my wife: “Oh, so you magically know there’s something odd about the statue and skirt around it…but I just walk straight into another trap?

Anyway, it was fun, and I’m sure we’ll sort the balance issue as we go, even if I have to write my own adventure from scratch.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

This Should Be Interesting

Well, earlier this week, I promised Sunny I’d run another DnD Dungeon Crawl tonight.

Figuring I’d make it easy on myself, I thought I’d just run an ‘official’ Dungeon Delve for first level characters instead of making one from scratch again. The Dungeon Master’s Guide has a handy little formula for adjusting Encounters to fit your player’s group size and level.

Well, it turns out that it doesn’t really work for two-player parties. First of all, following the rules exactly means something that started out as an epic ‘Helm’s Deep’ style encounter on the page becomes something closer to a minor barfight. Seriously, in one encounter we go from 10 bad guys to three, and secondly, it assumes you have all the bases covered class wise…I won’t go into detail, but basically, an encounter that’s really easy if you have an artillery character or a healer become much, much harder if you don’t.

I obviously didn’t want to make fights easier by all but removing them, so I’ve tried to finesse it a bit by keeping most of the bad guys in and buffing the player characters by giving them a couple of extra hit points and loaning them a few magic items with nice bonuses.

Sure, technically, they’re not ‘legal’ characters, and I don’t know where a 1st level character would get some +3 magic armor and a +5 sword…but this is just a one shot to help get Sunny properly accustomed to the game…so who cares?

I should be interesting. To be completely honest, after going over everything for the third time, I don’t know if we’ll go through this dungeon crawl like a hot knife through butter or we’ll get completely wiped out in the first encounter…but it’ll definitely be interesting.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I've Created A Monster : Part 2

So, my plan for today was to get up and go back to the gaming store with Sunny so she could get her dice, then maybe a battlemat and a couple of minis.

Turns out Sunny had other plans and left for work early yesterday, specifically so she could stop by Cornermagic because she absolutely, positively had to have that particular set of pink and black dice and she was afraid they’d get sold.

I guess she missed that the guy opened a single box from a stack of about fifty to show all the different sets he had available.

You know, I could laugh at her for running to the store in case the last fifty or so sets of pink and black dice got sold in 24 hours…but you know that scene in at the very end of Star Wars Episode 3 where Anakin completely flips out because he thinks he’s killed Padme, and the Emperor does that really evil grin behind his back because he knows he’s finally got him?

Welcome to the Dark Side. I sense much potential in this one.

She has just crossed the line from being one of the ‘mundanes’, to ‘Geek Apprentice’ at the very least.

Sure, she likes a lot of geeky stuff, from Magic: The Gathering to Doctor Who …but this was her first truly geek moment. Everything else, I’ve had to talk her into and ease her in gently. This is the first time she’s shown some true geek obsessiveness. One 30 minute dungeon crawl, and she ran out, on her own, because she had to have that set of dice…and not just any dice, but this exact set.

But the thing about Sunny’s latest blog post (where I learned about her trip to the gaming store, she’s still sleeping after working last night), was her questions about dice superstitions. She said:

“I know you told me that you rolled your die first because if I had rolled them first and rolled a natural 1 it would have been a bad thing.......but- if I picked up MY OWN d20 and rolled a 1 first thing.....would that have been a bad thing too?”

Welcome to the wonderful world of gamer superstition.

Like most people, when I played my first game of DnD, I thought the other players were insane about their dice. They’re dice! That D20 has as much chance to come up on 20 as it does on a 1 no matter what.

…then your favorite die, that never lets you down, gets 4 natural 1s in a row, and even though you know it’s just a statistical anomaly and there are no such things as curses, you just have to swap it out…and then you find you don’t want to put it back in your dice bag in case it ‘contaminates’ your other dice.

There are various schools of thought on this, for example, some people will roll a string of bad numbers before the game and count this as a good thing because they’re getting the bad rolls used up before the game…others will roll a string of bad numbers and decide the dice is ‘depleted’ and all the good rolls are used up, so it needs to be retired.

For example, rather than buy sets, I used to buy loose dice…and you can bet your ass I gave them a test drive before buying them. I’d take a die out of the case, roll it on the counter, and if it came up on a natural 20, it was a definite buy, even if I was on the fence previously about the way it looked. If I got a middle-of-the-road roll, it was a ‘normal’ die and I’d buy it if I liked it. If it came up on a natural 1…it was cursed and went back in the box.

Heh. It’s like Harry Potter buying a wand: “The die chooses the gamer, Mr. Potter.

Like I said, there are various schools of thought and levels of insanity, from players who don’t care to players who will throw a shit-fit if you so much as touch their dice. I once played a one-shot at a gaming store where a guy completely flipped out because someone touched the DM’s dice and theirs at the same time.

He seriously held up the game while he went to the front of the store to buy new dice, and then argued that the other guy owed him for them, because he’d cursed his old ones.

Anyway, here are some basic rules that will put you in good stead:

1) Don’t touch another player’s dice unless he/she deliberately hands them to you, even if you’re touching it to stop it rolling off the table.

2) NEVER touch the DM’s dice, no matter what.

3) Gamers be crazy.

4) Everyone thinks this is nuts, right up until someone else handles your dice and you have a run of bad luck.

5) You can never have too many dice.