The Unexpected AMA

We did a thing this weekend, quite unexpectedly, when Lady B messaged the polycule to ask if we’d be willing to gather on Discord and be part of an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on her Facebook stream.

As followers and supporters of her series of streams about her experiences of transition, we of course agreed. A couple of hours and some muffled stubbing of toes later, we were gathered round our respective devices for what was intended to be a quick half hour that turned into an hour and a half of us spinning off on tangents and laughing a lot.

I’ll add a link below to the streams recording – but I must add that the first five to ten minutes is completely silent due to a technical hitch known as “flicking the wrong switch” in Lady B’s kit.

Nevertheless, it was fun, and a good chance to talk a bit about who we are and how we relate, and our thoughts on being the oddballs that we are. So, enjoy the stream.

Cheering From The Sidelines

Lady M has been busy this week – just one way I can tell she’s on the heal at last. She’s been laying the groundwork for a little while for a project that is very close to her heart. It’s called Today’s Women In Tomorrow’s Technology, and as of this week the blog and twitter components have gone live.

At the heart of her project is a desire to inspire, guide, mentor and bring new and existing women together working in the Technology industry. She’s already gathering attention and support – and I think that in part it is a case of the right idea, at the right time, that is capturing people’s imaginations.

She’s asked me to write a guest spot on there in the near future – but don’t let that put you off. Go take a look, and engage if you like the ideas or want to be part of a wider discussion.

Maps and Mapping for Roll20

I’ve been using the pyromancers.com website to handmake the maps I’ve been using in the Wartorn Roll20 campaigns over the last year or so, but it’s not the only resource I’ve been making use of.

There’s a few more websites that have recently caught my eye, and I’ll probably start dipping in to using them from time to time. A few of the maps that my group have yet to encounter have been made up using graphics from these sites, so I’ve tested them for ease of importing the resulting graphics in to Roll20. So far, each has been useful in different ways.

simple map of connected roomsThe first – ANAMap – is a map generator that allows me to make old-school line drawing maps and export them as PNG graphics, which are fully supported by Roll20.

When you start up, you are presented with a blank sheet of graph paper-style unreal estate and a series of tools on the left hand side that allow you to carve your nascent dungeon with a few simple clicks. Each square on the “graph paper” is cleared as you click on it, and refilled if you click back on it again, making editing and changing your mind a simple task as you go along. The palette is simple, and the icons are rudimentary, but if you’re looking to generate something quickly with a clean set of lines, this is probably what I’d prefer to direct you towards at the moment. As an added bonus, the site does remember where you got up to, and so you will see your most recent edit when you go back.

You can save and reload maps as you need to revisit them, which is a nice touch and making the grid disappear is a matter of clicking on the Draft button. The Dark theme reverses the palette to make a neon dark blue and glowing walls effect, so that might prove useful if you want to do some mirror-world or dreamscape representations of maps.

Randomly Generated series of tiles that create a series of connected rooms and tunnelsThe other site I’ve started using has been more for inspiration or throwing together very quick locations, and I think I’m only really starting to scratch the surface. Dave’s Mapper uses tiled templates to randomly generate areas. It too allows you to export maps as PNG format graphics and these can be resized as required when you import them into Roll20.

There are all sorts of filters available to choose the style and design of the tiles used, and whether the maps are close edged to make a contained location, or open-edged (for generating a location within wider streets or tunnels, for example). By default though, the maps tend to resemble the example here, reminiscent of classic hand-drawn dungeons in original D&D products back in the days of yore. I really like it, and I might use it for generating treasure maps for handouts to players, using them as a template for a map put together with the pyromancers site instead.

Hopefully, one or more of these resources will be helpful to you too, let me know in the comments, or feel free to suggest other map making resources that you treasure.

One Of My Players Made A Thing

I’m all for encouraging people to write, after all I make things up for a living and like to share the misery. One of the players in my Monday night game has started an in-character diary blog, so I said I’d ramp up her anxiety levels and share it with you all here.

Her Blog is called RPG Storytelling – and I’ll add it to the list of links on the right in a bit – the specific bits about her experience in our campaign start here

Have fun!

Sunday Hooligans Group

As I might have mentioned before, I’m running two Dungeons and Dragons groups at the moment – with varying degrees of wanting to pull my own hair out as we get stuck in. The ever-pulchritudinous Lady M has stepped into the breach to try and document the adventures getting started over there in her blog, so pop over and show her some love if you’ve got a spare moment.

We’re basically running through an adaptation of material found in the classic Temple of Elemental Evil series, fused with extra material and the whimsy of my caffeine-addled brain. My personal favourite moment of the last few weeks was the adventurers being so panicked by the sight and sound of a swarm of bats that they preferred to run headlong into a room with an angry giant adder. Of such moments are low level adventuring gold crafted…

Celebratory Sidestep

We fought our way up into London yesterday evening, despite the best efforts of South West Trains, to join G+A for A’s birthday. It’s one of those culturally important birthdays involving a 3 and a zero, and A had resolved to confront this with the application of copious amounts of alcohol. By the time we got there, the assembled miscreants were several rounds of drinks in, so the atmosphere was convivial.

The journey itself was a bit grim. I tend to get a bit anxious about getting to places on time, so I was already a bit antsy before the train rerouted to avoid engineering works and it filled up with people also heading up into town. I had invited Lady P to come join us too, but she hadn’t felt up to it. Right then, I began to think she’d made the sensible decision.

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Bright young things mingled with drunken Scots men talking non-bloody-stop about football and hiring retired professionals to play in Sunday pub league games. There was the traditional idiot sharing his music with the train through his phone without the aid of headphones, and someone had opened a window somewhere to let the sub-zero night air in. Perhaps someone had farted. I found the sheer babble overwhelming and I was relieved when most of them buggered off at Clapham.

A very brisk ten minute walk got us to the pub on Blackfriars Bridge, and I remembered the last time I’d been there: my youngest brother’s legendary stag night pub crawl with him dressed as a dragon and the rest of us in full LARP armour as knights. I was pretty sure we didn’t get barred, and it was a good excuse to reminisce with G as we got drinks sorted. That event, nearly four years ago, had taken us from Waterloo on a meandering course towards the South Bank and Tower Hill and on to a mediaeval banquet. Tonight was far too cold outside, and the food and drink was good – particularly the Wadworths Chilli and Chocolate beer at 5.5%.

As we wound down the evening, there came the traditional moment where the emotional birthday girl got a bit scared of turning 30. The relative youngsters there commiserated with her, and then those of us who have been there, done that and worn the T-shirt so long it fell apart, told her to stop worrying and shared how much fun she was about to have now she was entering her prime – in particular the confidence to be who she was rather than how others may have defined her.

It’s advice I wish on some levels I’d had at her age, though given the depressive spiral I was in at the time I almost certainly wouldn’t have listened. It’s only really been the last four or five years that I’ve been well enough and comfortable enough in my own skin to take life on, so I do have empathy with her moment of existential horror. By way of contrast, I amused myself while waiting for a taxi by reading the Charleesi’s answers on Tumblr to a series of questions. They revealed a young lady who is far more self assured and confident than I ever was at her age

Chilling out pre-Christmas

I’m in our local Harris and Hoole with the Charleesi, drinks and snacks before us.

Through the window to my left is a packed Tesco carpark. It’s so full that people are driving round on the off-chance that one of the illegally parked cars on the carpark exits might move. To my right, I have a perfect view of the people running around, frantic to do their Christmas grocery shopping.

Okay, there’s a degree of smugness going on because I live within walking distance, and we’re being catered for this this year so I don’t need to grab parsnips or do battle with poultry carcasses for a change.

It’s rather a pleasant way to ease into the Christmas period, and given the meandering moods I have been having, it’s a much more pleasant alternative. Lady M will no doubt join us soon, once she’s finished sneaking one more spreadsheet in, and the distractions can continue in true holiday mood.

One of the quiet joys I’m observing is my daughter’s new photography blog, which she has begun to publicise and use for networking. Every now and then, there’s a little grin as another professional photographer links to her page or offers feedback. She aspires to a career in photojournalism, so every encouragement and affirmation is valuable. I’m enjoying seeing her talent and confidence unfurl. Go have a look if you have a moment.

Online D&D Tools

When I’m running my sessions – whether that’s in Roll20 or around the table – I’m increasingly finding that there are online D&D tools scattered around the web that just make my life easier. I’ve already talked about the mapping tools available through Pyromancers.com and how that saves me a ton of time in setting up for sessions; and I’ve mentioned the online references available through the D20SRD website and DndTools. So here’s a few more snippets I’ve found recently that have made my life easier.

The first one is actually based on the D20SRD site, but unless you go digging you probably wouldn’t notice it at first. One of the bits of admin work that I have to do after each session is the calculation of experience. I usually post it on our campaign forum on the Roll20 website a day or so after the game, and it generally involves me looking up tables in the Dungeon Master’s Rules and making snap decisions about the relative encounter strengths of the monsters and challenges that my players have defeated.

Or, as I noticed this week, I can plug the numbers into the form on the D20 Encounter Calculator and get an instant figure per player that I can post online. As it also draws on the tables published in the rulebooks to suggest treasure amounts, it looks to be a useful tool for impromptu encounters if I’m winging things so I’m sure I’ll be using it a lot.

Of somewhat less immediate use is the D20 Dicebag, also on the same site, which simulates dice rolls without my needing to open up the Roll20 website and using their built-in dice simulators. Or, you know, I could just use the physical dice that I’ve got stashed around the house in a variety of containers and bags. As a long-time table top player I have more than a few that I’ve accumulated over the years, but if I ever need to use a “bucket of dice resolution” – say 30d4 for some strange reason – then at least I’ve got this quick little tool to save me some time rolling and re-rolling and adding results up with a scratch pad by my side.

The rather unpromisingly named D20 Monster Filter seems to be a bit of an oddity, but like the Encounter Calculator really comes into its own when dealing with players’ ability to go haring off on complete tangents. I’ve lost track of the number of times over the years that players have decided to go somewhere quite different to where my carefully laid plans and pointers have been suggesting – and I’m loathe to try and railroad them straight back the way I want them – so having this tool which suggests potential opponents (and provides hyperlinks to statistics for them) based on a range of difficulties, terrain and desired moral and ethical approaches from the standard list of monsters is extremely useful. It saves me from having to flick through the small mountain of monster manuals, fiend folios and other creature listings for something appropriate, which is always a godsend.

The D20 Spell Filter performs a similar task, though at the moment I’m finding it of limited use – this may be of more use to players than the GM unless I were looking to script an encounter.

I know that several of my players are using Hero Forge to generate and maintain their characters, but the service is currently being migrated to new servers, so I’ll do a writeup and exploration of their service in a while. I’ll be interested to compare it to the hosted character sheets that have just been made available on the Roll20 site – so will have to do some digging to get into that while I have some time.

Anyway, hope you find these Online D&D Tools helpful – there’s a surprising number out there, and I’ll be focusing on the ones aimed at 3rd Edition for now as that’s the game rules revision we’re currently using. That said, any online tools that can be adapted or that seem useful regardless of rules revision will no doubt end up being discussed here at some point.

Running a Roll20 Session

Running a Roll20 session has become one of the regular highlights of my week, but it isn’t something that is easy to run without a little preparation.

By far the most important element from a visual point of view is making sure that any encounters are properly mapped. The free graphics available through the site are useful for tiling most terrains, but it can feel like a chore when setting up indoors encounters. What I prefer to do instead is employ a two-part process.

The first part is to use what I refer to as my map painter on the Pyromancers.com website. There’s enough flexibility to paint both regular and irregular shaped floorplans that can either snap to a grid, or be drawn freehand. I then export that from the website as a jpeg file and upload it as a graphic to Roll20.

The export process allows me to define the pixel values of the grid so that aligning and resizing the graphic as a background layer is relatively simple. I then dress the background with other elements and tokens. In painting terms, it’s like using one site to block out the colours and outlines befire using the second to do the detail work.

I tend not to do anything too complicated with the monster tokens beyond setting up metatags so that I can more easily search them by encounter key or common terms. Certain key npcs will have a full block of statistics to ease things through, but I’m lucky to have a lot of the physical reference books for v3.5 Dungeons & Dragons to hand.

As an alternative set of references, I also keep www.d20srd.org and dndtools.eu/rulebooks/ bookmarked. These allow me and my players to paste URLs referencing rules and references in the Roll20 chat sidebar through the session. Their use tends to be generally positive rather than being conducive to rules lawyering munchkinism, but if you have those issues with players these two sites can help level the playing field.

After that it’s down to you and your players. Getting the sound levels right between microphones and headsets is essential, but using Google Hangouts has eliminated a lot of the problems we’d had to overcome using the native chat client. With eight of us round the “table” it’s a relief to find it still basically stable, but there is still the occasional cutout when everyone tries to talk at once.

Getting into the habit of taking turns and letting people finish isn’t just good manners but an essential session management skill. Give it a go because running a roll20 session isn’t as complex as it first seems. Get out there and enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we are.