The Amber Pendant

A new fantasy artist on the block …

The Amber Pendant - blue - cropped

I’ve posted before about the 4E solo campaign I’m running occasionally (very occasionally as it happens…. doesn’t life just get in the way!!) for my son, called the Amber Pendant. His character has been called upon to embark on a quest for this relic of a bygone age, which has been stolen by agents of the Conclave of Dark Amber, one of the villainous Icons (yes this is 4E with 13th Age spice) of my Tolrendor setting.

So, a little while ago I commissioned (aka asked nicely…) my daughter, now 16 and studying A-level Fine Art, for a painting of the Amber Pendant … and here you have the result!!

I fully accept that I’m a bit biased, but I’m pretty chuffed with the outcome! This was produced using the Art Rage program on her iPad, and I hope this is the first of many further family collaborations – I may even have to start actually paying🙂

Love to hear your views in the comments.



Posted in 4E D&D, Amber Pendant campaign, DM for Kids, Roleplaying with Kids | 2 Comments

Map of the Month: CC3+ and Mike Schley Overland

MapoftheMonthLogoIt seems an age since I really got my teeth stuck into a proper map e.g. one which wasn’t just a quick CC3 hack to print out a scale battle-map.

For my ‘Amber Pendant‘ solo campaign with my son, I needed to start detailing the northern borderlands of the Kingdom of Norbaer, as his character would be travelling through this region on his quest. In Tolrendor, this area is just to the south of the Nentir Vale (where my ‘Amber Tower‘ campaign is taking place) from the 4E source-books.

I decided to use the ‘Mike Schley Overland‘ style, which comes with CC3+ Beta, the new version of Profantasy‘s premier map-making program. Although I’ve had this installed for some time, I’ve hardly touched it, so that was a good incentive as well.

CC3+ was great to use: much faster than its predecessor, and very able to cope with leaving sheet effects turned on the whole time, as promised! In CC3, doing this was usually a recipe for white screens and frequent crashes. I also really liked the tool prompts displayed with the cursor, so you weren’t continually looking to the bottom of the screen for options.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the results, and here I am also very pleased with this style; in fact it may just have got to the top of the list of my preferred styles for area maps. Nice soft colours with excellent blending and effects, great bitmap symbols, and especially, gorgeous forests combining the simplicity of drawing tools with symbol fills.

Here it is:


Posted in Cartography, Columns, Map of the Month | 1 Comment

Down the River

RPGKidsLogoA really fun encounter in my ‘solo’ campaign session with my son today. His character, with a few accomplices, is travelling down-river on a merchant’s barge in pursuit of some nefarious folk who have stolen an ancient artefact known only as the ‘Amber Pendant’.

Travelling down river … by barge …🙂

Sounds ripe for a bit of rip-roaring action on the water! After a couple of days of watching the riverbanks, it was time for some fun. The afore-mentioned nefarious folk were not about to let the pursuit continue without some sort of complication … which came in the form of some goblin war-canoes (brim full of feisty goblins of course):


A shout-out to Heroic Maps for some (slightly doctored) really great battle-maps. I printed these out in sections so that the river could ‘flow’ as the combat progressed and the barges and canoes travelled in the current…

We had to stop at this point, but there is lots more to come just downstream … beware hazards ahead …


Note that this is me bowing to the inevitable and going back to physical maps and figures at the table after my experiments with alternate technology solutions.

And yes, it was lots of fun😉

Posted in 4E D&D, Cartography, Columns, DM for Kids, Encounters | 1 Comment

Content Corner: Icon of the Week

Content Corner LogoAnother icon to (hopefully) whet the appetite for adventures in the Havenscoast, this one a powerful and ruthless pirate lord with some dark and dangerous secrets. Certainly when I started my 13th Age Campaign ‘Eyes of Watch’, this icon attracted a lot of interest in terms of both relationships and backstory.

Posted in 13th Age, Columns, Content Corner, Icons, The Havenscoast Project | Leave a comment

Content Corner: Icon of the Week

Content Corner LogoToday I hit 10,000 words out my 50k target, yay!!

In celebration I thought I’d share another Icon write-up. In fact, I’m going to try and share one every week, hence the post title🙂

This time it’s the Circle Arcanis of Mirin, a magical order hailing from a small city at the southern end of the Havenscoast. They’re definitely a regional Icon rather than a global one, but certainly not to be under-estimated … or trusted. Enjoy:


Posted in 13th Age, Content Corner, Icons, The Havenscoast Project, Tolrendor Gazetter | Leave a comment

Content Corner: The Havenscoast Project

Content Corner LogoA long time ago, I started ‘The Havenscoast Project‘, an attempt to bring my ancient game-notes from the ’80s forward into ‘modern’ D&D terms, and to publish them on this blog. At the time, I was using 4E D&D. Although I managed to publish a few maps and notes, this had rather faded away.

One of the key ‘hobby’ goals of my sabbatical leave was to kickstart this effort, although the project has now morphed into 13th Age, in line with the new campaign I recently started in the Havenscoast.

The target is to finish (at least) a draft of a complete ‘Havenscoast Gazetteer’, approximately 50k words/100 pages. Assembling all the work I had done already got me to about 4k words, so there’s plenty left to do!

Along the way, I’ll be sharing a few snippets. The first is shown below, another of the Icons of the setting: The Sea-Lord of Mirranor.


As an aside, owing to a recent post on Richard Green’s Parsantium blog, mentioning that he had his latest writing project set-up in Scrivener, I decided to check this tool out. I had heard of it before, but never really looked into it … now I have, and it’s really good (Thanks Richard!). I have my outline set-up in the app, and off I go:

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 11.36.36

I may well cover this app in a bit more detail in an RPG Tech Talk post, as it has some really great features!

Posted in 13th Age, Content Corner, Self-publishing, The Havenscoast Project | 1 Comment

Tech at the Table

RPGTechTalkLogoPrep time for sessions is always at a premium. Even right now, when I’m on sabbatical leave from work, it seems to take a big chunk of elapsed time to get myself ready for a new session. Of course, this could be due to the fact that I’m trying to make progress on 3 campaigns at the moment, but regardless, I’m always looking for tricks that make prep smoother and quicker.

One of my current campaigns has remote players, so we’ve been using for this. For my two ‘home’ campaigns, I thought this might be a valuable tool even for face-to-face gaming … so I tried it out…

AppleTVRoll20 The first attempt was in the 4E (with a 13th Age riff) solo campaign that I’m running for my son. Only two of us I thought, so why not use as our game board, to save me the work of printing out maps/tokens, mounting maps etc. I used my laptop (behind the DM screen of course…) for DM control, and my iPad ‘air-played’ to the TV for player control.

Did this work? Well, technically it worked fine, except for a few annoying instances where the AirPlay just dropped out. The monsters were easy to control from the DM’s laptop, and the lag (internet round-trip to roll20 and back) was pretty short. From a gaming perspective however my son was less than impressed. Basically, as I’ve mentioned before, he likes the physical props of the game, and the lack of a real map and tokens just didn’t work for him. He tends to pore over the map, looking at tactical options etc, and didn’t feel the ‘connection’ with the TV screen or iPad!

A bit of a disappointment to me, as it certainly had been a dream to prep solely in the digital domain! I also very much like the ‘fog-of-war’ functionality, where you can reveal rooms one-by-one as the party enter them. For example in the Amber Tower campaign, the party is currently running through Thunderspire Labyrinth, attacking the Duergar stronghold of Horned Hold. The whole complex is a lot larger than the areas where encounters take place, so printing and mounting a full map seemed out of the question, and in any case would lead to all sorts of issues with ‘covering up’ areas that had not yet been explored. Clearly however, I needed to provide a physical combat map!

As a second experiment, I went for a hybrid approach, as shown on the right. I Roll20atGameTableused a large screen computer at our normal gaming table to display a players’ view of This allowed me to control the entire dungeon map from my laptop, revealing areas as the party moved around, and was also great in being able to show images and handouts on screen (such as the view of the Horned Hold at the bottom right). When the party ran into some Duergar however, I brought out onto the table a printed scale map for the smaller area, and we ran with figures and tokens as normal. This approach worked really well, and was approved by the kids! We’ve used it successfully for two sessions, and it looks like becoming a regular style.

What it doesn’t solve of course, is the need for me to produce physical ‘assets’ for each game session. I’m not sure what the solution for this is, at least until gaming tables become affordable large flat horizontal touch screens with figure recognition😉 The tech for this clearly exists, but probably not yet at consumer prices!

I did recently come across a pretty impressive Dell all-in-one computer with a touch-screen that can tilt to horizontal … maybe that is the next experiment …


Posted in RPG Tech Talk, RPG Technology | 1 Comment

Hobby time ahead …

This site has been ‘dead’ for most of the year, with a ‘hell’ year so far at work and a lot of family stuff going on the main culprits. I’ve been pleased to see that my hit rate has stayed relatively constant despite the lack of posting, but I’m sure it will start to tail off soon. Also, there is a bit of site housework to do – I have completely missed the expiry of the RPG Bloggers Alliance – in fact I only noticed because the linked image on the page was gone! This is unfortunate as I used to get quite a few referrals from the site – can anyone recommend a good alternative?

But thankfully there is a pleasant twist in the tale … in June I passed 10 years at my current company, and have been able to make use of one of the company ‘perks’ – the opportunity to take a 3 month period of sabbatical leave! So that’s it, I’m done with work until early November … so what to do with all that spare time …

Of course, I do have a lot of family plans and projects that will take up a fair amount, but I’m certainly planning to get stuck into some gaming projects, and that means a bit more attention to this blog! Hopefully this will be driven by actual gaming activity and projects, along the lines of:

  • Kickstart my 13th Age Campaign (mentioned here). This was also a victim of the year so far – started with a bang and then straight into hiatus!
  • 13th Age Havenscoast Guide. I started this project several years ago for 4E, but it’s morphed into 13th Age. My target is to really make some strides on turning this into something real.
  • The Amber Tower‘, my 4E campaign with my kids, has also had a long break while my daughter went through her GCSE exams, so we’re trying to get back into that! There’s a solo campaign I’m trying to get going for my son as well, for the many times we don’t have a full quorum for the Amber Tower.
  • Mapping. After a couple of years of quite productive mapping work, this has really dried up. I haven’t even tried the new CC3+ version yet, or downloaded most of this year’s Annual. Needs to change🙂

I’m sure more things will come up, but these are the key projects that I fully hope will get some serious attention in the near future, with posts to follow I hope!


Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

4E Fun, 13th Age Spice







As is (I hope) obvious from this blog, 13th Age has definitely caught my fancy! It has definitely inspired a re-working and expansion of many aspects of the World of Tolrendor. I mean when one of the key aspects of the RPG is the story, and there are strong mechanical aspects that drive that (Icons, One Unique Thing, Backgrounds), you can’t help but get inspired🙂

However, I’m still very committed to my 4E campaign with my kids, the Amber Tower, and they have made it clear that they want to continue playing 4E. They enjoy it, and they’re happy with their characters. I have absolutely no problem with this; I still enjoy DMing 4E, I think it’s a great RPG which has effectively died well before it’s time. I love the ease of preparation, not only for the rule-set, but also because of the digital tools [WIZARDS, are you listening? PLEASE DO NOT withdraw support for the 4E tools – I will gladly pay the DDI subscriber fee ad infinitum as long as you commit to that!]. I also have so much 4E material that I’d love to use that there is years of role-playing left before that runs out.

But 13th Age is cool! So what’s a DM (GM?) to do? Simple really, just use the cool stuff in my 4E campaign. Icon relationships and relationship rolls are story drivers, so just use them! There is nothing in any RPG which doesn’t support the concept of powerful NPCs driving the story🙂 A character’s One Unique Thing is similar; it is non-mechanical and essentially an aid for the DM to build a campaign story around a character’s back-story. Again, not a concept that is going to break any ruleset.

If there is one thing that does frustrate me about 4E, it’s the time that combat takes. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy combat in 4E with it’s tactical options (I’m an old-time war-gamer at heart), it’s cool powers etc, but there does come a point in a battle when typically it becomes a grind, and seems to take up more of the precious session time than I’d like. Lots of people have suggested solutions to this, but 13th Age has a great one built in: the Escalation Die. This is a perfect rule for 4E; every round after the first, all player characters get an extra +1 (cumulative) to their attack rolls, representing the momentum and adrenalin that their heroism brings to the party. Suddenly the 4E grind is reduced, as the PCs cause damage more reliably compared the monsters. Does this unbalance the maths of 4E? Probably. Do I care? Absolutely not! I’m far more interested in having a fun combat and moving on with the story than I am in worrying about perfect balance …

So there you have it – the familiarity and enjoyment of 4E spiced with the key elements of the 13th Roleplaying Game. I ran my first session with it last weekend (a little solo campaign I’ve started with my son before introducing a new character to the Amber Tower party) and … well all I can say is that 13th Age condiments are here to stay🙂

Posted in 13th Age, 4E D&D, Roleplaying with Kids, The Amber Tower Campaign | 2 Comments

The First 13th Age Session

Eyes of Watch Banner

As highlighted in a previous post, a couple of weeks ago I ran my first ever session of the 13th Age Roleplaying Game. We’d had a blast creating new characters, with all the interaction and shared story creation promised by 13th Age, but now was the time to get into the action!

The campaign will take place in the Havenscoast region of Tolrendor, and the characters are (or will become) members of the ‘Eyes’ of the Watch, an elite clandestine group that patrols the borderlands of the city-state of Camlan, and undertakes scouting missions into the dangerous Barrens:


As a first adventure, I had decided to run the Shadows of Eldolan adventure published by Pelgrane Press as an introductory adventure for 13th Age. It is easily fitted into any campaign, as it is set within a single town – in my case this quickly became Shadows of Sarb, a Camlan border town which makes a great starting place.

The adventure starts by having the characters invited to a meeting with a representative of one of the Icons in Hawkers Square. In my case it was obvious that this should be Targrin ‘Shadowblade’, a sergeant in the ‘Eyes’ who will become one of their main contacts during the campaign.

To set the scene, I asked the players to narrate for each of their characters, using the ideas they had already generated with their One Unique Thing, Icon relationships and Backgrounds, where they had come from, and how they had ended up in Sarb. Just like when we created the characters, this worked really well. As the GM, I just pitched in to give their ideas context in the setting, suggesting names or places that would fit. For example, Samarak the dragonborn barbarian’s backstory was as follows:

After sailing from the northern lands through the maelstrom of Karag and into the calm waters of the Inner Sea, Samarak’s longship was attacked and captured by pirates out of the City of Corsairs (the base of an Icon which Samarak has a negative relationship with). At the insistence of his crew, Samarak escaped from the burning ship by jumping overboard and floating away clutching a broken spar. Later, he was rescued by a war-galley out of Mirranor, the city of the high-elven Sea Lords, and set ashore in Sarb. Then, getting in on the act, Kirin the high elf wizard, who has been sent by the Sea Lords on a secret mission to the Havenscoast (one which involves one of the other characters…), happened to be sailing towards Sarb on the same ship, so met Samarak enroute. 

In this short session of shared story-telling, the players gave me enough material to run multiple campaigns, not just one!

But enough talk🙂 Immediately after the characters meet Targrin, the adventure kicks off with an attack on Hawkers Square organised by the main (as yet unknown) villain, so it’s straight into Roll Initiative!

This was my first battle with the 13th Age rules, and I was very interested to see how it went. Overall it didn’t feel too much different from 4E combat, except for movement, which is much simpler. Combatants are either near the action, and can move to engage in one move, or far, which is where the spellcasters and ranged attackers like to hang🙂 When in melee combat, you are engaged, and are subject to opportunity attacks if you try and disengage. Obviously there are plenty of other differences, but of the two players at the table, one had only played 4E before (my son) and the other had mainly played back in the day of AD&D; neither had any trouble adjusting to the new rules.

Combat did take quite some time, but I’d put a lot of that down to us having to read the players’ power and spells every time we used something new, to make sure we understood all the implications. The players certainly seemed happy with their options: the dragonborn barbarian was soon in the middle of combat raging at Zombies; the halfling thief was bouncing all over the place spending momentum with his Swashbuckle talent, and debating hotly with the GM the limits of ‘you can spend your momentum to pull off a daring stunt the likes of which others could scarcely conceive’; the high elf wizard was spraying spells everywhere (from a distance of course), and the half-elf commander druid was … well, probably taking the longest as her player flipped between the two classes and the multi-class rules in 13 True Ways … but her ability to give out re-rolls for command points was pretty valuable!

The Escalation Die also played its part in speeding up the latter stages of combat. It is definitely noticeable that the characters are suddenly hitting more regularly, and quickly the monsters start to thin out. There were not too many cool examples of either character or monster powers triggering off the Die, although the wizard was making use of his cyclic Color Spray!

The session ended with all the Zombies dead, and the players rolling their Icon relationship dice to see what information and leads they could glean from the scene, and to set some story ideas for next time. A pile of 6s and 5s came up, so I’ve got my work cut out🙂

All-in-all, it was a totally enjoyable first session, and the promise of the 13th Age RPG seems to be realised – familiar yet different to play, and the shared storytelling angle is definitely something to build on! The next session will also be my first attempt at actually running a game over the internet (using, so that’ll be interesting …

Posted in 13th Age, Columns, DM for Kids, Roleplaying with Kids, The 'Eyes' of the Watch | Leave a comment