Archive for February 2010

Greatest game room ever

This has to be the greatest game room I’ve ever seen. From the builder:

I have been working on and off for about 2 years building our “D&D ROOM” to hold most of our collection and give us a cool place to play. I did 99.9% of the work myself with just a bit of help in the attic from my brother Shawn. All lighting is controlled by the DM via a dimmer/control box mounted under the table. When you walk in the lights automatically come on via a contactor mounted in the closet. There is also hidden strobe and fog machine for effects. I also mounted speakers in the beams and have a sound system in the closet. Here are a few photos…

Click here to see more…

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Limited edition Erol Otus print

Today, I logged into a forum I haven’t visited in quite a long time and received a nice surprise. The Acaeum, the comprehensive repository of information on Dungeons & Dragons collectibles, commissioned a work by famed artist Erol Otus and organized a limited print run for forum members. I put my name in many months ago, but I ended up on the waiting list. I forgot all about it until today. When I logged in, I found several private messages in my inbox informing me I made the list!

The print will be giclée and will measure 15 1/2 x 24 on paper that is 22 x 28. Each signed and numbered print will come with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by the artist. The organizers posted a shot of the final product. It looks great.

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Gaming around the globe

Newflash: RPG blogging generates negative income. To cover my hosting costs and pay the rent, I need to hold down a day job. My current job periodically requires me to travel overseas. During my last excursion, I learned there are countries outside of the United States where the people speak languages other than English. I went to the Google maps and discovered that searching for “game store” near me returned zero results.

At the time, I was in Luxembourg. I can speak and read a little french. My stylo is grand and all that business. I finally found the term I was looking for, “jeux de rôle.” It occurred to me that I should do some more research before my next trip so that I could get my proverbial “game on” if I should ever again find myself in a pastoral backwater, such as Luxembourg.

First off, go for the easiest terms first. Try searching for “RPG”, “D&D” or “Dungeons & Dragons”. You may get a hit on one of these terms depending on where you are. After that, try some of the terms below depending on the country you are in. Google may also come in handy to figure out what language is spoken in the region you are in.

Dutch – Rollenspel.

French – Jeux de Rôle.

German – Rollenspiele. Also, try Spielwaren which means toys/games in general.

Italian – Giochi di Ruolo.

Spanish – Juegos de Rol.

If you know terms for roleplaying games in other languages, please post them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Special thanks to Martijn, New Nick, Sebastian and Sirio for their language arts.

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Another D&D Surface demo

Not sure how I missed this awesome little article over at Kobold Quarterly from yesterday. Wolfgang Bauer got a chance to see the D&D on Surface demo in person. There’s even some video. Check it out if you haven’t already.

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Review: Softrope

Version Reviewed: Beta V0.2 Release 52
Website: http://softrope.net/
Price: Free

Softrope is yet another sound effects program geared towards use in tabletop roleplaying games. It was first released over seven months ago, but somehow I had not run across it until very recently. When I went to the website, I was impressed by the clean, simple of the look of the interface. A truly versatile program lies behind the unassuming exterior.

Pros

– Clean, button-centric interface
– Usage is very intuitive
– Decent level of programability

Cons

– No volume controls on main screen
– Bugs
– Lack of keyboard triggering

Once configured, Softrope’s layout is fairly intuitive.  The main interface is laid out like a soundboard. Each button is called a scene. A scene is a group of sounds you want to play together. The buttons are large enough to click while you are running a game. One click triggers the scene and a second click disables it. A highlight appears around active scenes so you know which ones are playing at a glance. You can even put a picture on the button. There are a couple knobs in the upper right hand corner that seem to control echo and some other value between 0 and 3000.

Nothing in life is free. While Softrope is freely downloadable, you will end up spending some time tinkering around with the program to figure out how it works. There is no documentation and the mouse over pop ups aren’t always helpful. For example, mousing over the unlabeled echo knob only shows the value.

The Scene Editor is easy to use. Each blue bar is a set of sounds you would like to play. Softrope calls them sound effects. Think of it as a layer. You can add multiple sound effects in a single scene and apply different settings to each one. You can loop and sequentially play sound files. The volume levels can be manipulated on each sound and sound effect so you can really make sure your levels sound okay.

However, not everything is rainbows and leprechauns in the land of Softrope.  There are a few missing features and significant bugs with the beta build I reviewed. The author of the program seems to be very active and communicative with users so I expect these issues will be resolved soon.

The biggest feature missing is a main volume control. When I run a game, I control my music playlists with Windows Media Player and run my sound effects program next to it. Depending on the action in the game, I raise and lower the volume of the music or sound effects. Since there is no master volume slider in Softrope, I have to go into each scene with the Scene Editor to change the scene master slider. This really limits the usefulness of the program.

There seem to be significant bugs in the build I used. If you loop a sound effect and change the random loop time sliders, the scenes work fine. If you save your scene, exit the program and try to load it again, all your loop timers go away. For some reason, my pictures were not loading either. But they did load for a module I created with an earlier version of the software. I’m sure the author will fix these issues, but this defect is bad enough to make the program unusable for all but the simplest purposes.

One nice to have feature would be a way to trigger sounds with the keyboard. Even though the buttons are easy to click and see, the flow of the program requires you to stop and start different scenes if you are trying to play a sequence of scenes that are tied to your narrative. It would be much easier to tap a key on my keyboard. My final issue is with the lack of documentation. The program is mostly straightforward, but there are a few things, like the mysterious knob on the main screen, that have no mouse over hints.

Softrope
OS Supportwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Supports 32 and 64bit Windows Operating Systems only.
Programabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Softrope has just enough fiddly knobs to allow the creation of complex sounding audio.
Usabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Softrope's great execution is marred by the lack of a master volume control and major bugs.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
I am very excited about this sound mixer and look forward to reviewing future releases. Softrope's look and functionality are wonderful. Unfortunately, the execution is marred by the lack of master volume control and show-stopping bugs.
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What is metagamemastering?

Everyone knows what metagaming is, but what the hell is metagamemastering? When I use the term, I am referring to the technical elements you employ to enhance the gaming experience outside of the rules. This could be custom handouts or maps, a prop, dimming the light or using a sound effects board. It is completely rules agnostic. Think of it as gaming with production values.

Since you are reading this site, I can make a few assumptions about you. You probably are a gamemaster. You probably have filled the role of gamemaster for many years. You enjoy playing your chosen game system(s) as a player, but you are not satisfied playing the part of a single character. You want to create a new player every time you sit down at the table. You are a player with big expectations. You have delusions of grandeur. You like to write, but most of all, you enjoy creating an experience for other people. You are an artist. Everyone should make art. Everyone should be an artist. Express yourself. Enjoy the the relationship you have with your players. Tabletop gaming allows you to collectively plumb the depths of your group’s imagination. Go there. And when you find the edge, push further.

I created this website with a goal. My aim is to further the immersion of tabletop gaming. Technology is emotionless. It can separate us into cubicles, allowing our only interaction to be dictated by the rules of the game and crushing our experience into an empty orchestra of synchronized keyboard tapping. Or it can be our servant, pushed to the edge of consciousness to highlight our experience of the moment. Whether you prefer to run your game with pen, paper and a handful of dice or a laptop, projector and surround sound speakers, the goal is the same. To create believable worlds.

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Review: SceneSound

Version Reviewed: 1.5 build 1020 32bit
Website:
http://scenesound.cyclobster.com/
Price: Free

I recently became aware of SceneSound when it was a featured on EN World. SceneSound is a new sound effects application specifically built for use in tabletop gaming. I’m always looking for new tools to complement my multimedia-heavy gamemastering style. The website was spartan, but I was intrigued enough by the screenshots to register an account and take this little sound program for a spin.

Pros

- Simple interface
– Scripting interface is easy to understand
– 32bit and 64bit Windows support

Cons

- Short on features
– Inconsistent interface
– No instructions at all

Upon launching SceneSound, I was immediately impressed by the simple interface. There’s no digging through layers of menus and dialogue boxes here. What you see is what you get when you launch the application.

The window is divided into five sections; Library, Environmental FX, Random FX, Sound FX and Scene Scripts. The Library pane allows you to load sound files on your computer. If you are like me, you have probably built up an extensive library of sound effects. The Library section will automatically import all the subdirectories of  any directory you add here. Once added, you can drag and drop sound files onto other panes to quickly load them.

The Environmental FX pane is where you put your background sounds. Click the circular loop button and your sound will loop endlessly. The Random FX pane will play a single sound at a random interval of all the sounds in the pane. Drag the sounds you want to trigger manually to the Sound FX pane.

If you right-click any sound, you can set a trigger key to make the sound play. It’s useful during the game to be able to just tap a key to play a sound rather than have to make sure you click in the right place. When I run combats, I often have a few sounds mapped to the keyboard, such as the sound of a person screaming or a dragon breathing fire. A well-timed sound effect can add humor or tension to your encounters.

The Scene Script pane is dead simple. For many people,  this is probably a plus. For me, its a bit thin. I like to program my sounds the night before the game and I make heavy use of RPG SoundMixer’s scripting and section features. The scripting interface in SceneSound doesn’t even support all the features in SceneSound, such as enabling and disabling the playing of random sounds. However, if you are building a single scene and have no programming experience, you may be happy with the scripting interface.

For me, the program is too simple. I’m not trying in any way to discourage the author. It’s a great start and a nice price (free), but I want more features and more configurability. One thing I would like to see is a simple way to load and trigger multiple scenes. If you want to create scenes for different encounters, you have to save each scene to a different file and manually load each one when your scene changes. For the harried DM trying to set a mood, this is a bit cumbersome. I’d really like to see a Scenes pane that lets you switch scenes with a click or key.

There are also a few inconsistencies in the interface. In most of the windows, you click the drop-down arrow in each pane to access a menu. The Scene Script pane has an arrow, but it doesn’t appear to do anything. I finally right-clicked the pane and discovered a menu where I could add a new script.

My last gripe is with the lack of documentation. The application is so simple that its use is mostly obvious, but there are a few mysterious buttons.  There is a small icon on each sound that looks a bit like a cell phone. I have to idea what it does. No instructions are included on the site. There’s not even a pop-up when you hover over the “cell phone” to give you an idea of its purpose. It seems like it wouldn’t take long to create decent documentation since the feature set is so small.

SceneSound
OS Supportwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Supports 32 and 64bit Windows Operating Systems only.
Programabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Scene Script has a very simplistic scripting interface. I prefer something with more meat but at least it has a scripting interface.
Usabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
SceneSound is easy to learn, but at the cost of features.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
If you want simple soundscapes and don't mind having to manually open and close your scenes, you will love this program.
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Taking Meta Gamemastery to modern worlds

My name is not important – what is important is that I’ve landed a guest spot on Meta Gamemastery. If you need to have a moniker for whatever purpose, call me Lord Sprug. Yes, there is a reason for that – and no, most of you won’t even want to try and fathom the purpose. In my series of articles I will write about some of the meta gaming techniques I’ve employed to turn a 1990’s obsolete game environment into a thrilling, challenging, and educational campaign for the modern era. Take it or leave it – but please do leave some feedback.

I use GURPS for the gaming system. Notice that I didn’t say that I chose GURPS because GURPS… well, it chose me. Destiny brought us together in a clash of mental ecstasy after a series of unmentionable experiences in a local bookstore. Months later, after reading through several source books (including Bunnies & Burrows), my mind ran rampant with extreme possibilities. I became determined to pull together a cyberpunk campaign that would leave the players wet and gasping for breath. I merged cheap modern day technology with a complete set of game world rules to fashion a fun and immersive experience.

I quickly realized that I knew nothing of “traditional cyberpunk” and consumed William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. After reading these I ascertained that our technology is still quite a throw from that fantastic technology of tomorrow.detective rankonne Cybernetics can be role played – but how do you role play a virtual world?

The gameplay originated with lush descriptive backgrounds and a clearly defined hook. The players easily ate the hook and were pulled into a twist that blew their freaking minds! Props and acting were the focus of the day. Hand cuffs – suit jackets – gold badges – bloody gore photos – wigs and an NPC partner. We separated the players into different rooms and went wild with interrogation, intimidation, and threats of physical harm. For the technical puzzles they rolled dice and a global difficulty was assigned (-5). They seemed to keep pausing and waiting for prompts but, as the GM, I would only role play the NPCs, describe the environments, and play out the results of their actions. I pressured them into giving me detailed explanations of their action plans. Instead of “I break the hand scanner” they were asked to provide more. Instead they say “I take a screwdriver from my toolbelt and pry at this edge” – [ROLL (dx-5).. success!] “The lid snaps open with an audible pop; you now see four wires colored blue, green, red and black” – “I clip the black wire with my snips” – [ROLL (dx-5).. fail!] – “An alarm sounds” [queue sound effect].

In my next article I will explain how I used modern programming languages to create a simple program that created secret messages for the players to decode. Thanks for reading and please make sure to write some feedback.

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