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 | 3 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

13th Age Goodness

13thAgeAlthough I’ve just started my first 13th Age campaign, I’ve been following it for a while now, and I must say I’m really impressed with the quality of the products that are being released by Pelgrane Press for this game! Apart from the three ‘core’ books (Core rulebook, 13 True Ways expansion and the Bestiary) which are gorgeous hardcover products, lots other fun and exciting products have been flowing out the door. If you’re looking to get into this game, there is plenty of support for it!

At the end of the summer, Shadows of Eldolan came out. This is an introductory adventureShadows_of_Eldolan_cover_400 , and is what I’m using to start off my campaign. I’m going to do a full review of this product once we’ve played through it, but suffice to say for now that its looking really good. The gorgeous maps are by Pär Lindström, one of my favourite cartographers, who I’ve called out from this blog several times (e.g. here and here).

Then over the last few months there has been a small flurry of cool things. Pr13thAgeSoundtrackCoverobably one of the most interesting is the 13th Age Soundtrack. This an album of 30 tracks (yes 30!) by James Semple and other composers, keyed to 13th Age themes. Music isn’t something I have typically used in my gaming, but this product will change this! The music is awesome, and having something like this tied to the actual game is pretty special 🙂

Although it hasn’t made it out in full print glory yet, the PDF version of Eyes of the Stone 13a_stcover_oct2_v2Thief came out before Xmas for those that pre-ordered. This is a huge adventure, based on the 13th Age Living Dungeon concept. It is also  one of the most gorgeous modules I have seen – Pelgrane Press actually made a late decision to publish it in full-colour, and I certainly appreciate this. The art, the layout, the cartography (by Herwin Wienlink who created an isometric style for the Profantasy Annuals) are all stunning. The adventure covers most of the Champion Tier, and is a really original concept. Not sure how I could work this one into my current campaign, but it’ll keep!

Finally, Pelgrane Press have just launched the 13th Age Monthly, a subscription product which delive13thAgeMonthlyrs 4000+ words of 13th Age goodness every month, overseen by Rob Heinsoo and written by the top designers who have been responsible for most of the 13th Age products so far. The first issue was expansion rules for Dragon Riding, by Rob Heinsoo and Ash Law. Rules and story ideas are presented, and if you don’t find yourself dreaming up ways to fit dragon cavalry into your game after reading this, something is wrong 🙂

So there you have it, a whole slew of great additions to a great game – 13th Age is quickly becoming a really strong RPG with really strong support. Please keep it up! 🙂

Posted in 13th Age | Leave a comment

Start of a new Campaign!!

RPGKidsLogoPhew, can you see the cobwebs here …

Time for a broom! Things have been very slow of late on this site, but in the background I’ve been ticking along with a few things. On the role-playing front, as I mentioned a while back, I’ve been slowly prepping for a new 13th Age Roleplaying Game campaign set in the Havenscoast, and called:

Eyes of Watch Banner

Why has this taken so long? Well apart from the fact that I’m slow? 🙂

The first reason is that I wanted to produce a really good player’s guide to the campaign and the region. 13th Age places a lot of emphasis on immersion in the world and story via Icons, the character’s One Unique Thing, and backgrounds, so I wanted to give my players a lot of material to work  into their thoughts. As I mentioned in a previous post, I wanted a particular take on the Icons for my world (and region), and so far that has been working out well, both in terms of how I’m thinking about working them into my campaign, and also how they have resonated with the players. Here’s an example of the main heroic Icon in the campaign:


The second reason is more logistical. I decided that character creation in 13th Age would work best face-to-face … and one of the players in the campaign lives in Thailand! Well finally we got the opportunity last weekend while he was over on a business trip. The night he arrived I gave him and my son (the other player) a copy of the Player’s Guide each for bedtime reading, and the next day we sat down to create characters.

This turned out to be a huge amount of fun. For example, my son has generally been of the ‘when is the next battle’ attitude, but here he was coming up with some great backstory ideas. He announced (rolling up a Chaotic Neutral halfling rogue) his One Unique Thing to be that he was previously an assassin for the Conclave of Dark Amber (one of the campaigns ‘shady’ Icons) and had recently assassinated the father of the Prince of Camlan, but had now fallen out with the Conclave and was looking to build a new identity and life!

Wow! How’s that for some material to work on!! It was extremely rewarding as the GM to be able to collaboratively riff off the players’ ideas to embed them further into the campaign setting: despite the fact that I had no idea the Prince of Camlan’s father had been assassinated … a little while later we had constructed a tale that we were both happy with! After several hours we ended up with a dragonborn ‘Northern Reaver’ barbarian, a halfling rogue (both my son’s characters), a half-elf multi-class druid-commander and a high-elf wizard … and enough potential Icon and background plot ‘complications’ to fill the entire campaign.

The next day, I ran my first ever actual 13th Age RPG session … but I’ll tell you how that went in another post! In the meantime, as this is from now on going to be an online campaign, I’ve decided to run it using Obsidian Portal. Check out the (nascent) campaign site there.

Knights of Watch icon image used directly from under licence CC BY 3.0

Posted in 13th Age, Backgrounds, Columns, DM for Kids, Icons, The 'Eyes' of the Watch, The Havenscoast Project | 5 Comments

RPG Tech Talk: Realm Works – the Future?

RPGTechTalkLogoRealm Works, the new campaign and world management application by Lone Wolf Development (creator of the very popular HeroLab character creation software) was finally released out of a (very) long Beta/Early Access programme at the end of March 2014, about a year after their successful Kickstarter campaign.

As a backer of the Kickstarter (at the Dire Wolf level), I’ve had access to the program for sometime before that, so I’ve played with it for some time. So what do I think so far? There have been some positive reviews out there (e.g. from Anna Meyer, of Greyhawk mapping fame, and here, and here). However, although I certainly want to be a firm advocate, I have to admit that I am struggling to find the software a compelling addition to my RPG toolset.

Some of this impression is definitely tied up with the fact that LWD are a very long way from delivering the full set of rewards promised by the Kickstarter campaign. Most of these ‘extra’ rewards were in the form of content delivered via the Realm Works market place … which still seems to be a long way from being complete . According to LWD’s latest roadmap this will be started after the Player Edition has been delivered. Honestly, based on current progress, I would not expect this until well into next year.

LWD have been open and honest about the delays to their development programme, so I have no issues about this, I’m just realistic. I manage software projects as a career myself, so I’m pretty familiar with the type of timescales needed here. But it does mean that in usage terms, what we’ve got in our hands so far definitely doesn’t yet match with the vision of the Kickstarter.

So what’s to like?

There is a lot to like about the current Realm Works product. It’s fast (especially once your ‘Realm’ is loaded), well-written, and is relatively bug-free, at least major bugs. A number of features are really well implemented. Several of the best are:

  • RealmWorks-SmartMapsSmart Images – these are images of any sort which you can drop pins onto which link to other topics. This allows you to build for example a regional map with ‘hot-spot’ links to other maps or information (example shown on right)


  • Automatic Content Link detection – this is really well done! When you’rRealmWorks-ContentLinkse editing text in a topic, as soon as you hit the ‘Save’ button, Realm Works automatically scans your text to determine if any of the words you’ve used match other topics, and will ask you to confirm if you want to create links to these topics. I mean, why wouldn’t you! This is so much easier than specifically creating links yourself, and it works pretty fast as well – you’re certainly not sitting there twiddling your thumbs while it churns through your database looking for hits! Maybe this will slow down as the size of your world data increases, but in general this is very usable.
  • RealmWorks-StoryboardThe Storyboard functionality, which allows you to create flow charts of your plots, and link plot points to encounters, NPCs and other data, is another win. The interface is clean and simple, and linking to content is fast and effective: you simply associate a node in the storyboard with a topic, and this allows you to link directly.

So what’s the problem then?

Well, I think simply there is one word that sums it up: integration. Or rather, the lack of integration, because essentially there is none. If you build an encounter in Realm Works, there is no way to export the data into any other program (e.g. a combat manager), or in fact at the moment to even print the encounter. What if I want to create and layout a campaign handout (e.g. a player’s guide to a region in my world)? There is no way to achieve that without individually copying snippets of data over from Realm Works into your tool of choice. Of course, if you then make any updates in that tool, you’re out of sync with your ‘Realm’. What about syncing your data with an online wiki like Obsidian Portal? Or uploading content automatically to a virtual tabletop like Roll20?

It’s clear that the intention is to share content electronically using the RealmWorks tools – in fact Lone Wolf Development just released their Player Edition – a cheaper version of the application that supports only viewing content as revealed by the GameMaster (created using their more expensive version of course…). I’ve had a little play with this, and it seems pretty slick, but my point still stands: in this day and age you ought to be able use your data in multiple different tools, depending on the specific need you have at the time. Some of these features will come in time, and are on the to-do list for LWD. The bottom line at the moment though is that the functionality in this area is pretty limited.

Another area I would like to see improved in the future is the style of the user interface. Currently it looks and feels a bit like using an old-style Microsoft Access database. Now that may be fine when actually editing your ‘Realm’, but I’d certainly like it to have a bit more pizazz when simply viewing data i.e. some styling and layout options.

The Bottom Line…

I want to like Realm Works, I really do! But right now, with the current functionality, I just can’t see it being a useful tool in my campaign management toolbox. Before I would change my mind, it would need to go through several iterations of improvement. 

On the positive side, Lone Wolf Development seem very committed to the project, and from a technology perspective seem to have concentrated very carefully on the underlying building blocks of their product, so that they can develop significant new features in the future. If that remains the case, I’m quite happy to stay along for the ride!

Posted in Columns, RPG Tech Talk, RPG Technology | 2 Comments

Winter is coming …

Winter14It’s been a good summer, with plenty of sun and BBQs, but with 3 months of parents-in-law, holidays and then parent (Mum) staying, not much time for anything else!! As you can see from the fact that this blog has not been updated since June! I haven’t even downloaded the Cartographer’s Annual issues since then!!

One 4E session with the kids over the holidays on a rainy day in Wales was the only gaming that got a look in! In the meantime, DnD Next, or 5E, or just Dungeons and Dragons as it seems to be called, has launched, and I’ve pretty much missed it all! Pretty ambivalent to that at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll take a look in time …

So in a strange way I’m welcoming the fading days and colder nights, because role-playing seems to be a winter sport for me 🙂 Weekends tend to be a bit quieter, so there are more opportunities for a gaming session, and I don’t feel guilty spending evenings in front of the computer writing or mapping!

There is plenty going on in my spheres of gaming interest: 13th Age seems to be going really well with the release of the 13 True Ways expansion, the Book of Loot and a great starting adventure (Shadows of Eldolan). I’ve just supported the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter – not because I’m interested in that setting particularly, but because I’m very interested to see how the designers bring the classic elements of the game to another world!

In the land of the Kobolds (i.e the Midgard Campaign Setting), a Kickstarter expanding the setting to the vast southern lands is underway. Obviously I’m in for that; the stretch goals are being unlocked so fast that you have to keep checking your pledge to see that you haven’t missed out on something new!

Obviously I’m way behind (probably terminally so … ) in my Cartographers Annual Challenge, but just looking at the issues I’ve been missing gets my mapping juices going, so  we’ll see!

However, my main focus is to get back to my own campaigns!

The Amber Tower (by Alana)

The Amber Tower (by Alana)

In the kids’ 4E ‘Amber Tower’ campaign the party is 5th level and in the depths of Thunderspire Labyrinth. I’ve talked a bit about whether they want to convert the campaign to 13th Age, or even 5E, but they’re pretty adamant they want to stick with what they know!

So I guess I’ll still be DMing 4E for some time to come, which I certainly don’t mind, given the amount of material I have and the ease of preparation. The one thing I ask:  Wizards please do not decommission the online tools!! 

I’m also still prepping (slowly) for my 13th Age Havenscoast campaign, ‘the “Eyes” of the Watch’ . The Shadows of Eldolan adventure mentioned above is likely to become my initial adventure in this campaign – but more work is still required on the Icons and other 13th Age requirements of the setting.

Winter is definitely coming, but hopefully so is the Gaming …



Posted in 13th Age, Kickstarter, Midgard Campaign Setting, Miscellaneous, Roleplaying with Kids, The 'Eyes' of the Watch, The Amber Tower Campaign | 2 Comments

Map of the Month: Eldolan

MapoftheMonthLogoA real gem this month, from the Pelgrane Press website newsletter, combining two of my current favourite things: maps by Pär Lindström, and the 13th Age RPG. This fantastic town map, done in a classic style which Pär has developed (and written great tutorials on how to produce) is from the upcoming Shadows of Eldolan 13th Age introductory adventure. Awesome 🙂


Posted in 13th Age, Adventures, Cartography, Columns, Map of the Month | 1 Comment

Cartographer’s Annual Challenge: April 2014

Once again I’ve got a bit behind here, so I’m just posting my effort for the April Annual issue, which I highlighted here.

Going along with the ‘Volcanic Island’ vibe, this map depicts the Isle of Heldan (first shown in a couple of maps from last year, here and here), a seemingly idyllic realm, but with a dark secret at its heart …

Isle of Heldan

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge, Tolrendor Gazetter | Leave a comment