Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

On TVs and Miniatures

Posted: April 7, 2015 in DM Tips, RPGs, Tech

I’m going to put my Gamist hat on for a bit. I love RPG mechanics, that is, the intersection of the rules, and the dice, and the tactical decision making. I love maps and miniatures and such. I’m talking about the mechanical elements of the RPGs – the crunch of the system.

My regular Changeling: The Lost campaign was postponed on Saturday, owing to a member being AWOL. We have a D&D 3.5 game that we have been playing in these off days, and the party had been left mid-dungeon, of Christopher Perkins’ excellent Life’s Bazaar, from a Dungeon magazine back in 2001. This was the first of the Shackled City Adventure Path. The party had previously cleared out the gnomish ruins of Jzadirune, and were ready to go down an elevator to the mysterious depths. What they didn’t know was that the final adventure would take place in an underground Dwarven stronghold called the Malachite Fortress, on the doorway to the Underdark.

So, dwarven fortress. I’ve previously mentioned that my gaming area isn’t super map and miniatures friendly, owing to the massive area that snacks take up on the central coffee table. I’ve also mentioned how I use tech to enhance ambiance. Here is what I did different this time:

  1. I bought a $20 Walmart whiteboard, lightweight, magnetic, and about 18″ by 24″.  I drew 1″ x 1″ grid on it lightly with a black pen and ruler and let it dry for a few hours.
  2. I downloaded a map of the Malachite Fortress using Google image search. I picked one that didn’t have secret doors and traps marked on it. I edited the file with Fresco Lite, a free android app. I chose it because it was free, and supported layers. I then added a layer to the image which I filled black. I then erased the black from the top layer above the entrance, exported the image, and Chromecast it to my LED TV. Fast and easy.

So the players went down the elevator and opened a door. I drew the room on the whiteboard and they fought a Stone Spike (from the MM2, me thinks). After the battle, I updated the map on the TV, which takes about 20 seconds. They opened a door, I drew the next room on the whiteboard, and they fought a size medium ogre (really an Otyugh who had been polymorphed by a magical trap). I updated the map on the TV.

All in all, the setup worked really well for me. The whiteboard was small enough to not get in the way of the snacks (cookies, chocolate cake, chips, Cadbury minieggs i.e. crack, …), the candles and the drinks. The TV map kept the record of where they had been and was quick to execute.

The players engage with the map and miniatures in an unique way that I miss when we just “Theatre of the Mind” D&D combat. To me, the minis and such really add to the “GAME” part of RPGs. I found that equally true playing SpaceMaster many years ago, so I know that it isn’t just a D&D sense-memory thing. Some games, like Changeling: The Lost, are more roleplaying heavy, and it doesn’t occur to us to use minis – combat is infrequent and usually strange.


Technology at the Table

Posted: March 20, 2015 in RPGs, Tech

I’m sure that we’ve all had the talk: “Dude, no smartphones at the table!”  “Bra, ya gotta check out this video of …”  “NEIN!”  Verbatim, right?  But kicked-in-the-nuts videos aside, there is an amazing place for technology in RPGs.

For example, when gaming, I use: an iPad, a droid smartphone, a 55″ LCD TV, a Dell PC, a Playstation 3, a Chromecast, and of course, wifi.  For software on my PC, I have a shared network drive and Winamp.  On my iPad, I have Google Drive (my diesel first-gen iPad won’t run Google Docs).  On my Galaxy S4 android phone, I have Google Docs, ES File Explorer, Playa Control for Winamp, and several Chromecast enabled media players.  Here’s how it works.

  • my gaming area consists of three couches arranged in a U, with the fourth side being the entertainment center.  A two-level Ikea coffee table fills the center for extra books and tons of tons of snacks.  Rarely, a miniatures map may be placed on the coffee table.  My computer is at a desk well away from the couches, but in the same large basement space.
  • I don’t use maps and miniatures, but instead, use digital maps which are stored on a shared drive on my PC so I can browse to them on my PS3.  Alternatively, when the PS3 is fighting with my router, I can, in real time, open the shared folder on my phone, copy the files I want, and Chromecast them to my TV.
  • all of my game notes are stored in Google Docs.  That way, I can edit them from my smartphone, my iPad, my PC, and my work PC.  Seamlessly.
  • I download pictures from Google Image searches for all of my major scenes and NPCs.  These are also projected to the TV as needed. Similarly, as the players are discussing strategy, I can download new pictures and cast those to the TV as needed.  Literally in seconds.
  • I use Winamp to manage playlists of appropriate background music which play from my computer at the otherside of the basement.  My droid phone can control Winamp remotely using Playa Control for Winamp.  That way, as the mood changes, I can switch playlists.

So we sit on our couches, eating ungodly amounts of tasty treats, and I have my iPad and my smartphone.  With a few taps, I can change the music, change the scenery or NPCs pics, or bring up maps.  To be clear, this doesn’t require me spending a bunch of gametime fiddling with devices, they just work when I need them.

I’ve mentioned how fast all of this works, and that is important.  Crucial, really.  If I had to spend a minute of gametime each time I wanted to bring up this or that, or I had to get up to change the playlist, then the organic flow of the game would be disrupted.  The ambiance that the music and the pictures add to the evening is what is desired, and only works if it occurs seamlessly.

O yeah, dice rollers, too, but I almost never use those.  Except when I need to roll like 20d6 or something, then it’s easier to use an app.  This is probably the most common use of tech at the table of course, but myself and my players are dice-rolling kinda people.