Mapping your World, Part 1: Getting Started

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgAlong with my renewed interest in campaign creation has come an interest in making good maps. My map-making skills are okay, at least when it comes to dungeon mapping. But I’ve always felt my terrain mapping skills were a bit…well, bad, if I’m being honest. Since I’m in the process of creating a new campaign world for my players I want to show them the world I can see clearly in my mind. To do that, I’ve been searching the web for help, and practicing the techniques that appeal to me. If you’ve got an interest in developing your mapping skills, I’ve collected a few of my favourite resources in this post to help get you started. This post centers on mapping by hand, without the computer. Later on I’ll post about getting started with computer-aided mapping, but since I’m currently mapping by hand that’s what I’m touching on.

First I wanted to say something, something I think is important to realize. When you start, your maps are not going to look great. You won’t be happy with them, and that’s fine. Don’t stop. The important thing is to keep drawing maps and keep practicing. The artist Bob Ross had a saying, “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.” If you keep going, I promise you’ll get to a point where you’re making maps you’re happy to show your players.

Materials – How you map is going to depend a lot on how you’re using your maps. For reference mapping, you’ll be fine with a pad of graph paper (4 or 5 squares per inch is ideal) and a regular pencil. If the scale isn’t important, or you intend to start with area maps and not dungeon maps, you don’t even need the graph paper. Grab any empty sheet and start drawing. In fact, I often start with a blank sheet of paper even when I’m drawing a dungeon layout, because I find the graph paper can be restrictive during the planning stage.

When you’re happy with what you’re drawing, and you want your maps to look a little tidier so your players can read them, it may be time to use pens. You still draw the initial map using pencil, but then go over the lines with a coloured pen, usually black. I use Pilot™ pens for my map making, in four main colours: black for the line work, green for forests, swamps and the like, blue for water features, and red for location icons and to add highlights to other features. If you want to get fancier with the colour you can pick up a box of coloured pencils and use as many colours as you like. Just be careful of making the map too “muddy” with excessive colour use.

If you are running a game which uses a lot of miniatures, you can pick up flip-chart paper with 1”-squares marked on it from any stationary store, making it perfect for transferring your reference maps to the table. Gaming Paper also makes a variety of papers for the tabletop, in a wide range of colours and sizes. The paper quality is also excellent, so you can make some great reusable maps. As with your reference maps, start with pencil, then work your way to felt markers, either black or in as many colours as you prefer.

Cartographer’s Guild – Honestly, I think this should be the first stop for anyone interested in fantasy and sci-fi maps, for any reason, not just gaming. You’ll get inspired by thousands of examples, and the forums and blogs cover a wide range of topics for all skill levels. You can learn a bunch just by looking at a particular map and trying to copy its style, and you’ll never run out of examples here. Plus, it’s just a beautiful site. I’ve become lost down the rabbit hole of looking through page after page of maps, never regretting a second of it.

WASD20 – Inspiration is great, but when I’m ready to make my own maps I need to see the process happening in front of me. Besides being a great general-purpose gaming channel, WASD20 has an entire series of helpful videos on fantasy mapping, collected in their own playlist. He even breaks the process down by terrain types, and offers different style suggestions for your mapping so you can choose a style which works for your skill level. If you’re like me and need to see it happening to do it yourself, I’d definitely recommend these videos. Need a second opinion? Check out the Questing Beast channel for their take on map making.

Those are some of my favourite resources to get started; what are some of yours? What tips would you share with a new cartographer? Let me know in the comments.

 

It’s Time to Pick Up Childish Things!

NTYE-03-Cathy-WilkinsThere are many reasons to get kids in to the role-playing games hobby. Table-top gaming has been shown to have positive benefits for its participants, like improved problem solving and social skills. But it’s also a healthy thing for the hobby itself to encourage. If table-top gaming is to continue to flourish we need young people to discover a love of this hobby just as we did. And it’s easier than ever to find the resources to introduce kids to RPGs, certainly a lot easier than it was when I started gaming. I’m not saying I had to walk 20km through snow, rolling my d20 uphill both ways just to find a game, but looking back it sure felt that way.

These days, not only are there a number of resources available to get your kids into gaming, but there are a number of RPGs created specifically for kids. These games are designed to make their first sessions fun and exciting and take into account things specific to running a game for kids, like a shorter attention span. In support of this, Drive Thru RPG is running a sale event called Teach Your Kids to Game Week, encouraging gamers with kids to bring them into the hobby. You can get a plethora of games designed for young players, like Monte Cook Games’ No Thank You, Evil! And Arc Dream Publishing’s Monsters and Other Childish Things.

Why do we need games designed just for kids? Look, I love D&D. It was my first RPG and it will always have a place in my heart because of that, especially with the resurgence due to 5e. But as good as the current edition is I would never start a 7-year-old off with Dungeons & Dragons. Of course I could run a heavily simplified version of D&D, but given the choice I’d rather use a game written for their age. And if it turns out they aren’t interested in playing RPGs (I know, I KNOW, but it could happen), then you’ve only lost a minimal investment of time and money.

If you are going to run an RPG for kids, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep it Short – Under the age of 10, attention spans are not terribly long. Try to keep your sessions in the two hour range, but don’t be surprised if your players can only go for shorter spans at first. Over time, as they get more invested in the game, they’ll be able to pay attention longer.
  • Keep it Fun – Since you’re generally dealing with a shorter time span anyway, get straight to the good stuff. No kid (and few adults, for that matter) want their session to be all about the minutiae of character creation or a forensic accounting of their encumbrance. If you’re running a fantasy RPG, get to killing monsters and finding treasure. If it’s more sci-fi slanted, start zapping aliens. Whatever the fun bit of your chosen game is, get to it! You can slip in the boring-but-necessary stuff in small chunks later on.
  • Keep it Clean – This one is important, especially if you’ve never run for young kids before. It’s easy to slip into many of the habits you developed while running for your peers. Those habits may include innuendo, graphic descriptions of the fight scenes, and so on. But these are kids, so clean it up! Especially if you’re running the game for kids who aren’t yours, you want to keep anything potentially distressing or “dirty” out of the session. After all, their parents have the final say on whether they get to come back and game again; if they’re running home with certain new words in their vocabulary or having nightmares about goblin decapitations you likely won’t see them again.

Do you have any advice for someone running RPGs for kids? Drop it in the comments.

Extra Life 2016 is Nigh!

extra-life_blueExtra Life is nigh! This Saturday I’ll take part in 24 hours (actually 25 hours, due to Daylight Savings) of gaming, all to support the Stollery Children’s Hospital. With my team mates from Team #Knifeshoes, I’ll be playing a mix of computer games, board games, and RPGs throughout the day. I’ll be live tweeting all day long, and possible live-streaming sections of the day as the mood strikes.

Extra Life is a fundraiser near to my heart. Of course the gaming aspect of it appeals to me, and I’m glad to have something that allows me to use nerdery for good. But I know first-hand how much it sucks to be sick, really sick, as a kid. When I was 14 I came down with pneumonia and was laid up for months at home. Under doctor’s orders I couldn’t leave the house, so I didn’t get to do much of anything except read and occasionally have the gang over for RPGs. I spent a lot of hours alone in my room, sick and bored out of my mind.

All of that is to say, if I can raise money that helps keep a child’s stay in hospital shorter, or at the very least help buy things to keep them entertained while they’re going through a stressful and/or boring hospital stay, I’m on board.

I hope you’ll support my Extra Life fundraising by donating. Or donate to a person or group near you, there are thousands taking part and likely one of them is close by. Donations of any size help, and every donation is appreciated. Maybe this is the time you go back through all those pre-paid Visa/MC gift cards and donate the dregs that have been sitting there unused. It all adds up.

But if you aren’t able to help by donating, you can still help by getting the word out. I’m going to be posting and tweeting through the day, and I know others will do the same. When you see those tweets and posts, consider RTing or Sharing to help us spread the word. Your reach can be a great boost to our Extra Life fundraising efforts and help whoever you’re boosting reach or surpass their funding goal.

Thanks in advance for any donations or boosting that comes my way, and stay tuned on November 5th for more Extra Life fun!

Kickstarter Picks for September

kickstarter-logo-lightStandard disclaimer that I can quit Kickstarter anytime. Generic assurance that it is not an addiction, and that I don’t have a problem. Boisterous invitation to peruse the latest offerings.

Invisible Sun – Okay, this is the big one, and it has turned out to be surprisingly divisive. It seems that many folks were not only dismayed at the $197 buy-in, but were actively angry about it. Angry to the point of posting long screeds and the like. And I sort of get it. The game is so very beautiful looking (and beautiful sounding, based on the backer updates) that I can understand some gamers being upset that they can’t afford its price point. But as I pointed out to a friend the day it came out, being a gamer is a lot like being a scotch drinker; you can be quite happy drinking $30-50 bottles of scotch, but if you want the really good stuff you have to be prepared to pay. That doesn’t make the less expensive scotch (games) worse in any way, but special costs. And as Monte Cook himself has pointed out in numerous posts and interviews, this is a game which could be bought by a gaming group as a whole. Given the average group is 4-5 people, that drops the cost down to $40-50 per person, which is what each person would pay if your group were getting the books for a new game anyway. And this is not a game you want to buy and not play, so knowing you’ve got a literally invested group of players is a good thing.

Villains & Vigilantes 3.0: The Mighty Protectors – After a tedious legal battle to regain the rights to the game they created, Jeff Dee and Jack Herman are Kickstarting to launch the third edition of the iconic superhero game. V&V was hands-down my favourite superhero game in the Eighties, and I’ve owned several copies of the 2nd edition over the years (each mysteriously going missing after lending it out). I’m excited to see what the third edition will bring, and get a look at the Mighty Protectors Universe, one of the early settings for the game. It’s already blown through a bunch of stretch goals as well, so there’s a bunch of additional material coming with the main rules.

Dragonlock 2: Fantasy Village Terrain for 3D Printers – I don’t yet own a 3D printer, but with the price coming down and quality going up on consumer models, I likely will in the next year. Against that day, I am excited to get my hands on a bunch of files for printing 3D terrain for my tabletop gaming. I see this as an investment in where I think 3D terrain building is going to go. And besides all that, the terrain looks gorgeous and well-designed. I know, I shouldn’t be distracted by pretty. But damn it’s pretty! And I don’t even have to wait for a printer of my own for this stuff; my local library has 3D printers available for public use for a very nominal fee. If you have a similar resource where you are, or own a 3D printer of your own, you want to get on-board with this now.

Those are my Kickstarter picks for September. What have you got your eye on these days? Let me know in the comments below.

Trail Rations: Healthy Dips

Replacing junk food at the gaming table with healthy, home-cooked options is a big part of my group’s attempt to game healthier. But let’s face it, sometimes you want chips and nothing else will do. When that craving strikes you can still make your chips a little healthier by making the dips and salsa yourself. Heck, if you have the time you can even make the chips yourself.

Below I have three recipes for healthier snack alternatives you can make at home. Two of them don’t even require cooking! And if you know how to turn on your oven the third will be a snap.

Basic Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups seeded, chopped tomatoes (6-7 medium tomatoes)
  • Leaves from one bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped*
  • 6 cloves fresh chopped garlic
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Juice from ½ a lime

*You can leave out the cilantro if you aren’t a fan; substitute parsley instead.

Directions: Mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor. If you want a cooler salsa, remove the seeds from the jalapeno before chopping. If you want a hotter salsa, add more jalapeno to taste.

Simple Garlic and Chive Yogurt Dip**

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions: In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, minced garlic clove, chopped chives, salt, pepper, dried dill, and lemon juice. Mix well and chill for at least an hour; overnight for the best flavor.

**Feel free to experiment with flavors for this dip; you can substitute other herb/spice combinations for other flavors quite easily.

Homemade Baked Potato Chips

Ingredients:

  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes, washed and unpeeled
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush 2 large baking sheets lightly with oil. Use a mandoline or hand held slicing machine to cut the potatoes lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices in 1 flat layer on the baking sheets. Brush the slices lightly with oil and bake until golden throughout, 15 to 20 minutes, checking often since they brown at different rates. Transfer to paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper while hot.

For a little extra crunch, add the sliced potatoes to a pot of boiling water for about 5-7 minutes, then brush with oil and put in the oven.

*     *     *

And that’s it! Three recipes to sate your group’s junk-food lust while keeping it healthier than store-bought. These basic recipes have plenty of room for experimentation, so you can play around with flavours to suit your table. Try sprinkling your chips with garlic powder, for instance, or substitute capers and black pepper for the garlic and chives in the yogurt dip. Have fun with it, and let me know in the comments what combinations you come up with.

D&D Release Dates Leaked

In a move which is either a “Whoops!” from on-line seller Barnes & Noble or a calculated testing of the waters by the Hasbro marketing team, the release dates and prices have been posted for the first new Dungeons & Dragons products in over a year (sorry, I don’t count reprints and trips back to the well). Looks like some sort of Starter Set will be available on July 15th for $19.99, with the Player’s Handbook following up about a month later for $49.95. No images, or in fact any useful information, are provided beyond book title, release date, and MSRP.

I have some thoughts about the newest Dungeons & Dragons iteration. Many thoughts, in fact, which this news has stirred up. So let me give you a few in no particular order:

* $49.95 for a Player’s Handbook!? In this age of game systems printing all-in-one core books, and even Pathfinder giving us a core book with player/GM info combined, I’m both surprised and dismayed at Wizards for hanging on to this publishing tactic. I get the D&D books have traditionally been broken down this way; I can see my 1st, 2nd, and 3.5ed books sitting comfortably on my shelf. But with all the talk of D&D Next (so glad they seemed to have dumped that moniker, by the way) being a new direction for the game, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect them to at least follow Pathfinder’s model and combine player and GM books together. Especially for a hefty half a C-note.

And assuming the other two books in the D&D triumvirate are priced the same, that’s a price tag of $150. $170, really, because as the release dates now stand there is no talk of a Dungeon Master’s Guide or Monster Manual, so if you want to play right away you’ll need to grab that Starter Kit. A prospect which, based on the quality of the 4e Red Box, underwhelms me. So $170 for the “core set”…Wizards, you are asking me to take a big leap of faith here.

* No confirmation yet, in either this  newly leaked info or in previous mentions from WotC, on whether digital downloads will be available at time of release. Or at all, actually. Again, not something you can really afford to skimp or skip these days. Given how WotC dropped the digital ball when 4e released, silence on this front could be good. But it’s debatable whether it’s worse to promise the moon and fail to deliver, or promise nothing and turn off potential pre-sales. But like many folks anxiously awaiting D&D’s return, I’m hoping they handle their digital offerings right this time.

* I am excited for a new D&D! Yeah, I know I started with a couple of negatives, but I am honestly excited to see new Dungeons & Dragons material on store shelves. D&D started me down the path of table-top gaming, lo those many decades ago. Like many first loves I’m always going to have an attraction to it, even if I’ve moved on in my heart. I want it to do well, I really do. It’s going to take something fairly extraordinary to make it my primary game again; Pathfinder has pretty well taken that spot. And with games like Numenera and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, it may even have a running battle as my second favourite.  But even with my misgivings, I know I’ll pick up the books at Gen Con and I know I’ll at least try to like the new game.

* While I hope it does well, I’m not of the same mind as a lot of folks who put a direct connection between the health of the table-top gaming industry and a new, healthy D&D. Yes, healthy gaming companies are good for the industry as a whole; if the new edition does well, WotC gets stronger, is in a position to employ freelancers, supplemental products can be produced, and so on. But I’d argue two things: 1) The gaming industry, for all intents and purposes, has lived without D&D for close to 2 years at this point. While I wouldn’t argue it’s at its strongest, it certainly isn’t weak. And, 2) When I hear most people talk about the new Age of Prosperity which will follow the newest D&D, they use the d20 release as an example. But much of what strengthened the gaming industry when 3rd/3.5 hit the market was the Open Gaming License (it could also be argued that it later weakened it, but that’s another article). So far there doesn’t seem to be any sign of anything similar coming with this edition, so I don’t think the effect will be as monumental as some hope.

Okay, those are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts about the new D&D. What do you think? Are you excited, meh, or somewhere in between? Drop a note in comments.

More Canadian Kickstarters!

I wrote a post a while back when Kickstarter opened itself to Canadian creators, so I figured it was about time to look in and see what’s new. First off, there are a lot more nerdy projects coming from the Strong and Free and it makes me happy. I’m glad Canadian creators are getting the chance to use this funding tool to its full potential. It has meant a slew of great projects, especially for tabletop games. And it’s nice to have projects I can look at that don’t have huge shipping fees; I know it is necessary, but if I have the option to avoid it so much the better.

Here are three Canadian tabletop gaming Kickstarters that caught my eye:

1) Backstab (Funding Deadline: January 11, 2014) – A very cool looking card/role-playing game out of Montreal, Backstab is very much in the vein of games like Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. It promises to be a game of strategy and political intrigue, and will be available in both French and English.  Jumping in at the $25 level gets you the game when it releases, which is pretty reasonable. Higher funding levels allow you to help design cards and/or characters in the game, and even have your game delivered by Backstab’s creator. I’m a little concerned that they’ve rolled shipping into each pledge level instead of making it a separate cost, because I’m not certain they understand how pricey that can be. That aside, if you like the Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow style of game and want something with a more political intrigue bent, Backstab would be in your wheelhouse.

2) Labyrinths: Customized Modular Dungeon Terrain (Funding Deadline: December 19, 2013) – Missed out on the Dwarven Forge terrainpocalypse on Kickstarter? Here’s your chance to jump on some sweet looking modular terrain produced by Iron Ring Games out of Halifax. What I’m seeing looks every bit as good as the much touted Dwarven Forge terrain, and at a more affordable price point for most gamers. You also have the option of getting one of nine custom paint jobs on your tiles, plus additional design choices, accessory sets, and so on. They have exceeded their funding goal and have some cool stretch goals on offer. If you missed the DF Kickstarter, or just need more terrain (and who doesn’t), give Labyrinths a good look. But do it fast, you have only three days!

3) Master Plan Board Game (Funding Deadline: January 1. 2014) – A new board game out of Calgary, Master Plan pits you as the Hero against a plethora of villains bent on destroying or conquering your city. This game is in its final Alpha stage right now, before they begin Beta testing the game with new players. While just about everything about this game at this stage seems up in the air, I’d argue that this type of project is exactly what Kickstarter was designed to help. I am a little dismayed that the funding level to get you a copy of the game is $80; that seems a little high, especially with no near-final artwork to show off and entice me. However, if you want to take a chance  on what could be a great new game, then take the plunge and support Master Plan.

Any Canadian Kickstarters you’ve found that you’d like to share? Drop a link in the comments; if I get enough I’ll write another post.