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! 🙂

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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:

KoWIconPage

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 game-icons.net 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 🙂

Eldolan

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

The Annual Challenge: April Issue

I didn’t quite get as far as I wanted on the March Challenge, having found that merging a Fractal Terrains full ‘world’ with an already created ‘world map’ in CC3 is not that easy 🙂 There are a number of tutorials and posts on the subject, but I didn’t get enough time to go through the whole process. Still, I did produce a couple of cool looking ‘Tolrendor’ projections with the help of FT3, shown here, so I’m happy that I met the requirements of my challenge! I do expect to update this over the coming months as a side-project.

The April issue is now out, and is a style based on the winner’s map from the recent Profantasy competition, which I posted about here. It’s a regional style well suited to islands and small regions, just like the subject of the competition! After a month spent ‘thinking big’ across the entire Tolrendor globe, it will be nice to drill down to the detail again!

Annual Volcanic Island

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge | 1 Comment

The Annual Challenge: Fractal Fun

The March Annual issue is all about Map Projections, which normally implies that you’re starting with a globe!!

In the last post on this topic I talked about how small and insignificant my Tolrendor ‘World Map’ was when placed on a ‘globe’ sized map. It covers an area of approximately 3500 by 2800 miles … when the full size world (when extrapolated out based on latitude etc.) has a circumference of almost 24000 miles!!

This means there is a huge proportion of Tolrendor that is currently completely uncharted … and therefore pretty boring for any sort of map projection. To fill in the blanks, I decided to have a play with Fractal Terrains, another product from Profantasy. By setting a few parameters, this software can generate realistic looking worlds in seconds. Once you get the hang of it, there are a bewildering array of options to play with. A simple click creates another of the infinite worlds!

The challenge here was to generate a large scale world map that suited my rough ideas for Tolrendor, but that also matched in reasonably with my existing maps. After many attempts, I have settled (for now…) on the below (shown as an Equirectangular Projection):

EquirectangularTolrendorWorld-2

This suits the concept that my main current campaign area (i.e the World Map area) is the western-most tip of the world’s main continent, and is largely European in inspiration, whilst leaving plenty of scope for more exotic lands to the south and east.

So what are the next steps? From Fractal Terrains, it is simple to export a CC3 file of the entire world, which can then obviously be edited to slot my own maps into it. However, one great feature of Fractal Terrains is its ability to generate map projections directly, such as this Orthograhic Projection seen from the north pole:

TolrendorOrthographicNorthern-2

The problem is, to be able to generate these correctly, with my ‘World Map’ integrated, requires me to get this data into Fractal Terrains, and from what I can see, this is not simple 😦  For now I might have to stick with the one-way export, but I would love to achieve this at some point …

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge, World Building | 1 Comment

Map of the Month: Profantasy Competition Winner!

MapoftheMonthLogoProfantasy recently had a competition to map an island, less than 3 miles across. The map could be drawn with any tools, as long as it met this basic requirement. There were a number of great entries (see here). Cartographer Mike Schley was asked to judge the competition, and he came up with the following winner, which is deservedly called out here as ‘Map of the Month’:

Contest_Cloister_Island

The lucky winner (username xianpryde on the forums) got a full Profantasy Patron Licence, which gives access to all their software! Wow, worth the effort I think! The winner later wrote an article on the Profantasy Blog about his work – very interesting that the main work was actually sketched on an iPad…

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

The Annual Challenge: March Issue

MarchIssueI’ve been looking forward to the March Issue!! Map projections are something I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking about in relation to fantasy maps. I have however, always admired the projection maps produced by Ralf Schemmann (of Profantasy) on his Jhendor site.

So a whole issue devoted to different types of projections looks like a great challenge to take up. A long time ago I did sketch some climate maps of the main campaign area of Tolrendor, and when I dug these out, I discovered these covered from about 35-60 degrees latitude, pretty much the same as the main part of continental Europe. I guess at one point I must have deliberately designed this, as when I calculate out the distances, Tolrendor ends up pretty much the same as our Earth!

However, that does mean when I place my main ‘world’ map onto a correctly sized projection … well it doesn’t cover much of the world (pretty much like Europe):

EquirectangularTolrendorWorldWhich means, if I am going to create a realistic map projection of Tolrendor for this month’s Challenge, I’ve got a lot of landmass to design!! Great, an excuse to play with another Profantasy application that I’ve had for quite a while, but never used: Fractal Terrains. This tool allows you to generate realistic looking ‘worlds’ using fractals, and then export them to CC3. My plan is to see if I can fuse my own hard-created landmasses with some generated ones to come up with a ‘globe’ map!

Sounds like a busy month 🙂

Of course, if you want to join in with the Challenge, please do: simply post and link to your work in the comments below. Happy Cartography!!

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge, World Building | 3 Comments