Category Archives: Tabletop Gaming

Coral Palace of the Marid—Published!

GPH2: Coral Palace of the Marid is now available on DM’s Guild!

Finally, after five years, I’ve completed and published the sequel to GPH1: Alabaster Palace of the Dao. This new adventure is the second in a series of short adventures or heists that take place in a genie palace, this time, in the coral-covered basilica of the pelagic marid.

I created the series of four adventures to test for myself and my group how D&D 5e plays at mid to high levels (11-15). The long delay between publishing this next adventure was because the adventures were created and run in a theater-of-the-mind mode, with flowcharts instead of maps and scant written details.

Two down, two to go! On to GPH3: The Marble Palace of the Djinni!

Palace Map

Page 14: Palace Map

Pages 3-4: Table of Contents and Introduction

Pages 3-4: Table of Contents and Introduction

Homebrewing an Investigative Horror RPG, Part 2

Thule

original photo credit: Martin Schmieder, Stuttgart

Aside from the system, for the setting of this investigative horror RPG, I use an alternate Earth history as the basis of past events, peoples, and locations that lead up to a different present. Robert W. Chambers used this technique in his collected short stories, The King In Yellow, to produce a subtly unsettling effect on the reader. Alternate history also serves as protection for the lazy gamemaster from history buffs.

The alternate pivotal moments of history in this setting include the following:

  • Scandinavian explorers successfully settled the northeastern parts of North America in the 10th century.
  • The Yellowstone Cauldera erupted in the 15th century, plunging the world into a little ice age, delaying further European exploration, expansion, and the so-called “Enlightenment” by centuries.

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Homebrewing an Investigative Horror RPG, Part 1

142857 Dice

[This post may seem arcane for the uninitiated; it is on the topic of roleplaying games.]

For a long time, I have wanted to gamemaster an investigative horror roleplaying game that involved the Cthulhu mythos. The problem was finding a game system and setting that balanced my players’ expectations with my own. I’ll focus here on system, and detail setting in subsequent posts.

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Gurdjieff and Games, Part 1

Gurdjieff said “there is everything” in his book Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.1 In addition, this book is subtitled “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man” and has the stated purpose of the merciless destruction of all our long-rooted beliefs and views about everything.

Putting these statements to a small test, I ask a few questions of narrow interest to myself (and I hope others): “What does Beelzebub’s Tales have to say about games? What objective and impartial criticism is offered about games? What ‘merciless destruction’ must our beliefs and views on the subject of games undergo?”

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Alabaster Palace of the Dao—Published!

I was pleased to hear the news that Wizards of the Coast was opening up an avenue to self-publish Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition content, called Dungeon Masters Guild, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do when I heard the news—publish the Genie Palace Heist adventures.

So after a few weeks of illustrating, editing, and formatting, I have finally published my first in a series of adventures: Alabaster Palace of the Dao. Here are screenshots of the first few pages.

Palace Map

Page 9: Palace Map

Table of Contents and Introduction

Page 3-4: Table of Contents and Introduction

Tabletop Gaming Setup

This was my tabletop gaming setup from 2011.

It was assembled with the following components:

Background

For 30 years, I used the traditional approach to running tabletop RPGs: drawing maps with washable markers on a vinyl grid mat. Frequently, game play was interrupted by the need for me to erase and redraw the map. So I decided to devise a technological solution.

I considered the original version of the Microsoft Surface (now rebranded as PixelSense), which was a touch screen computer with the form factor of a table. But at $10,000, it was outside of my budget.

Then I considered using an all-in-one touchscreen computer oriented horizontally to display pre-drawn maps. This did have the advantage of a self-contained solution. But the largest touchscreen computer at that time was 27 inches. And I was also concerned the computer might overheat or its components might not work in a different orientation that it was designed.

I decided instead to use a flat screen TV connected to a computer. Since the TV component should also serve its original purpose, I also needed to find a way to tilt the TV to any desired orientation.

Typically, flat screen TVs do use wall mounts; some allow a small degree of tilt, but none of them could tilt 90 degrees. I search for a long time until I found POS monitor stands that could tilt, swivel, and lock in any position I needed. The POS monitor stand could only support a certain amount of weight, so this influenced my selection of TVs. The largest and lightest flat screen I could find was a LG 37 inch. The screen is guarded against scratches and fingerprints by a transparent acrylic anti-glare TV protector. The anti-glare aspect of the protector was an exaggeration on the part of its manufacturer, but its 1/4″ thickness completely protects the screen from flying dice or dropped metal miniatures.

Tabletop Setup 2013

Since last December, I have improved the portability of the setup significantly. I replaced the Mac Mini and Apple Display with a MacBook Air. This required the addition of a Thunderbolt-to-DVI adapter, since the MacBook Air does not have a DVI port. And I use a mid-2012 Mac Pro Server to host to serve all of the content I need for a gaming session (maps, reference books, character sheets, pictures, music) to the MacBook Air.

Now rather than erase and redraw the map, I simply open a new map on my laptop and drag it onto the screen for the other players to see. I also use iTunes to queue up and play music through the TV speakers to set the mood.

What’s next?

Before a gaming session, I use Photoshop to draw maps of the various dungeon, city, and wilderness environments the player characters will experience. Like traditional maps, they are 2 dimensional representations of a 3 dimensional environment. I want to take the maps to the next level, and make them 3 dimensional. I am considering two approaches.

  1. Draw the maps in Blender, or
  2. Build the maps using 3DML.

Blender has the advantage of being a current technology. And it is also free. But to create maps in Blender, I would be required to learn how to use it. While I see knowledge of Blender as a valuable addition to my toolset, it will take time. And speaking of time, I have no idea how long it would take me to build maps in Blender on a regular basis.

3DML has the advantage of its ease of use. It is something I already understand how to use. I could create new maps rapidly and easily with it. It has the disadvantage of being an unsupported technology, which I hope to see revived as a supported and thriving technology.