Guest Blogging


I don’t think I’ve guest blogged for anyone before. I have written some opinion pieces for money before now, and a few of them have even been under my own name, but it isn’t quite the same. Being asked to contribute to someone else’s journey has a certain glow to it that is both flattering and a little bit scary, so of course I’ve leapt at the chance; wouldn’t you?

I know, a guest writing slot on my wife’s new blog is hardly a journalistic apotheosis, but I’ll tell you why this is such a big deal. The TWITT project is something that is very dear to Lady M’s heart. I haven’t seen her so simultaneously excited and daunted before, and her pride in getting this project started means that she is being very careful with her brand. My being asked to contribute speaks volumes about her expectations for the piece, and I can only hope that I can do as good a job as her previous guest writer.

So, there’s an item due for publication over on Lady M’s TWITT blog tomorrow that may amuse you. In it, I chew the fat about gender norms, as you do. I hope it fits the general tone of what she’s trying to do and sparks a few knowing nods if not a measure of debate. If nothing else it’ll pass a few minutes pleasantly for you, but I’ll be interested to hear what people think.

Of course there may just be resounding indifference, that’s always an option. I hope not, for my ego’s sake, but then I’m British, and we always like to start each sentence with an apology.

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 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!

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 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 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 and 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.

An Esoteric Content Censorship Primer

I don’t usually jump in on public debates like this, but I have a grave concern about the way that this legislation in the UK has been drafted and sold. In particular I believe that the use of the word esoteric by the people who drafted it has been used in a very different way than the spiritual use that many people are familiar with and this is causing considerable problems. This alone should be a warning sign that insufficient care has been put into being precise about the remit of the legislation, and that deliberate vagueness is once more being used to erode freedom of information.

Have a look and see what you think…

Original graphic published at

Infographic: UK Filter to Block ‘Esoteric Content’ - Worldwide Implications

Polyamory Tattoo

I’m sometimes deeply amused when I read the statistics for this website about the search engine queries that have led people here. For the most part they are searches for recipes, or for information on a game that I’ve beta tested and be able to talk about – all fairly innocuous, but every now and then I see something that makes me grin and wonder where its come from.

One that particular popped off the page yesterday was the one that I’ve adopted as the title

Polyamory Tattoo - A Heart Intertwined With An Infinity Symbol
A Polyamory Tattoo

of this post. I have to admit to something of a bemused reaction – somewhat akin to being outed by a random web search for something I wasn’t aware of; and so it sent me searching across the website to work out how on earth that search term had led to this blog.

Knowing that I’ve written about my tattoo here and posted a picture of it already, I guess I could see where a search for tattoos would come from – and given that I’ve labelled it as being based on Anglo Saxon runes, its perhaps not surprising that searches for Saxon tattoos seem to land here quite regularly.

My Anglo Saxon Rune Tattoo
Not A Polyamory Tattoo

The other part of the query had me stumped for a while. I know I’ve never written about polyamory here so it wouldn’t appear in any of the various tags and bits of metadata generally. And then it hit me – there’s a link in my sidebar to a website that I love reading called The Polyamorous Misanthrope, which – as the name suggests, is relationship advice for and by polyamorous relationships.

Why do I like it? Well the writing is spiky and fierce at times, but it is above all emotionally honest. The advice and intent demonstrated regularly on that site seems to speak to universal lessons on how to be the best you can in your relationships, whether you are mono, poly or something else entirely. Go have a read and be entertained, but above all given something to think about. Dare you.

Ahead of the Game

it makes me able to do the thing-where-I-do-the-words-in-sentences-thing
There may, in fact, actually be too much blood in my caffeine stream

So I seem to actually have managed to get ahead of myself for a brief moment, and this is obviously something to be cheered and admired and put up on pedestals for the viewing and adulation of the roaring crowds – especially given how stressed out I’ve been with some articles earlier this week that I may or may not have thought were going to give me an aneurism because they were on the topic of something that I have very little interest or experience of…


I may indeed also have to do some apologising to Jo when she gets home for being a grumpy git and being up until half-past stupid last night finishing for a deadline. Such are the joys of being a writer and working from home. On the plus side it looks like I’ve got a bit of a break now that I’ve rampaged through today’s short stack of emergency items so I’m going to enjoy some of that there sunlight I can see outside my window and go get a fresh loaf of bread and some salad to go with the quiche we’re having for supper tonight.

That’s the plan, anyway…

Oh – in other news I’m in the middle of going through some of the amazing blogs I currently follow to add them to the blogroll of links to the right of this page – have fun exploring them, you might even find your own there.