Wednesday, May 20, 2020

3D Designs - How to Cut Out Shapes

I made a very rough tutorial on how to cut a circle out of a square. While this sounds simple it's a lot of steps.

Have a look here.

I'm using Tinkercad for almost everything I do. You can create a free account and do some pretty complex stuff using their tools and the shapes other people have shared.

But CAD has always been a sore point with me. Mostly I don't 'get it'. Having the 3D printers has changed my opinion of that. I needed stuff that wasn't out there or I wanted to modify stuff that was. So I had to learn some form of CAD.

Anyway. If you're looking for a tool that lets you build more mechanical things (organic is a whole different game) then by all means use Tinkercad. They even have a section of pre-built connectors. Just take your time and do a lot of Google searches when things seem weird.

Personally the part that gets me most is the need to make negatives in order to get the shapes I want. That one I'm still working on since I suck at it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

How I Roll - Session Notes

Session notes. The oh-so-necessary drudge work of taking session notes. It's the only way to remember who did what when where and why. And what is going to happen to them because they did this other thing.

I feel it's necessary as a GM to take session notes in sufficient detail that I can read back to get the flavor of what was going on as well as the facts. That's me. My games tend to be an equal mix of role play and combat. If yours lean more towards combat you can have fewer notes. Probably.

In my past games I've had a spiral bound notebook with notes in my rather unique handwriting that I would have to decipher later, paging through to try to remember when things happened. It worked well enough and I could keep up the with the game for the most part. I'm old school that way as I don't allow electronics at my table.

Honestly I don't know that I could GM and write notes on a laptop. The clicky clicky would be a huge distraction to me and the players. At least that's my opinion.

Mind you, these are my notes. They're never meant for the players. That's a different blog post.

The reason this post came into being is my newer way of taking notes. I use a Rocketbook (link goes to an unaffiliated Amazon product) which was recommended by some of the GMs I follow on Twitter. It gives me the best of both worlds - writing by hand but having the notes electronically.

OK. This isn't me plugging the product. I'm describing how it works so I can move past that into more about session notes.

A Rocketbook is a spiral bound notebook with plastic pages. You write using a particular kind of ballpoint pen that kind of works like a whiteboard marker. You can erase with the end of the pen or with a bit of water on a paper towel. Then when you're done you use the app to take pictures of the pages and send them to online storage. I use Google Drive because it saves the pages as a single PDF and it does an OCR transcription that isn't bad. In theory this is the best of both worlds.

I'm also addicted to notecards so I take pictures of those when I hand loot to players. I take pictures of the battle mat and maps drawn on it.

Since my session notes are made into a document via OCR I have to go back over them and not quite rewrite them but clean them up. Sometimes heavily. I end up with notes in my format and I can embed the pictures into the notes for the session, which is a great thing for me. It really helps me know what was given out and what it does. I also don't have to keep a physical copy of the card for myself since it has the magic effects on it.

I do wonder how much time I save, if any, by using this nifty new toy. I still have a printed copy of the notes in a folder for fast reference. I haven't tried searching the documents as a whole for words. I honestly don't know if a regular notebook and typing up the notes would save me any time over the technology toy.

I do know that transcribing them helps me with getting the flow of the game session in writing. I use these notes to make the campaign posts here. If I'm caught up I do both at once - clean up the notes and write the next chapter of the story. If I'm not caught up I get the notes transcribed because I need the space to write.

I don't know how I'll handle session notes when using Fantasy Grounds. I'll have to play with that in the sample game. I might be tapping away during game or writing it down and typing it in later. That's not really what this post is about.

Now that I'm past all that let's talk about what's in my notes. Don't tell my players.

I try to get a lot of information into as few sentences as possible. I summarize things. I jot down interesting turns of phrase. Notable interactions between players and with NPCs are documented. Anything that annoys me gets documented. Interesting future plot points they bring up as part of trying to figure out what's going on very much get documented. For me it's the playbook of the game. What happened, who did it, who didn't pick up on stuff, who went off into the weeds, who was on the mark, and what happened around them. It's actually a lot of information.

Having said that my notes are generally at most 4 typed pages in a bullet point format. I'm not writing narrative when I take these notes. I'm getting the high points and things I want to remember for later. The players will never read them.

Session notes are also good for doing a retrospective about where things went off the rails. And things do go off the rails. By having decent notes you can see what led up to the change and either get it back where it should be going or find out why it went the way it did. Or both. Without a decent set of notes you can't go back and learn from the mistakes that were made. You also can't snicker over some particularly fun piece of gaming that happened. Without notes you're stuck if a player insists something happened and you don't remember it that way.

Yes. These are also meant to keep the players honest. If you're not tracking the loot you give out then how can you be sure where they got that magic item? Or how many coins they got? Or who struck the final blow in a combat? All these are things that can't be left to memory. Well. Maybe the bandit thing but not if you're going to hang an story on the bandit's sibling tracking them down.

You can't write down everything. You could record the session but then you're in an even worse place for trying to find specific events. There's a signal to noise ratio that each GM has to find for themselves. Some don't care about the nitty gritty and want to know the big things. Some want every detail (not recommended). Most seem to fall somewhere in the middle of wanting to know enough that they can figure out what they had planned before the players screwed it all up. I mean, wanting to know how the group handled encounters and interactions.

Notes are also where you keep track of NPCs, which are yet another blog post in the future. But at least a precis of them - name, race, occupation, where they were - can be helpful along with the names of shops and inns. It's amazing how you can work them back into the narrative and it's also amazing how quickly the players pick up on you reusing names.

If you're running pure modules then you probably don't need very detailed notes. If you're running a long term game with a bunch of stuff strung together then you probably need a decent set of notes. It's a matter of what you feel you need as the GM to keep the game flowing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

How I Roll - Losing a Player

It happens. A player leaves the game for whatever reason and we have to deal with the aftermath.

They could be a member of a closed group. They could be a regular drop in player. They could be someone who never made it past Session Zero. But they're no longer a part of the game.

I've had this happen quite a bit and honestly it still hurts when it does. No matter what their reason I always feel - even if it's just a tiny bit - like it's my fault. Even when it totally is NOT my fault.

Losing a player means a shift in the group dynamic as well.

We just lost a player. I expected it to happen even if I did shift the game more in line with what he enjoyed more without sacrificing what the other players wanted. It showed in both player and PC attitude.

There's no one clue that lets you know you're going to lose them. Well. Saying they're moving out of the area for an in person game is a clue but in general I'm talking about losing one without that kind of concrete situation. It take some attention to detail to pick up on clues, if they're even given.

My players lost before and at Session Zero didn't like how I structure my games. I had one who didn't like not being able to choose their stats and completely control their character. I had a pair that didn't like that I wasn't able to be bullied into changing the parameters of the game. I had two who went through Session Zero and disappeared.

Those aren't as painful and are kind of a relief that they left before the game got started. Losing players before the game begins means that more players can be found and the game can start with them. Losing them and then not having enough players to keep a game running isn't fair to everyone else, especially if the players who left knew that my game wasn't what they wanted. Rude.

Losing a player to situations outside of their control hurts because you're losing a friend. But we get to say goodbye in at least one more gaming session before their character rides off into the sunset. Unless I have a reason I don't kill of characters that leave. They're still out there in the world and they tend to show up in the narrative later. It's a nice tribute.

Losing a player during the game because they choose to leave is the most difficult. This is the one that throws off everyone. Players aren't necessarily tuned in to when one of them is unhappy with the game itself so it can come as a nasty surprise when suddenly one decides to leave. There's no discussion, there's no closure. There's a hole.

As a GM this is the one that hurts. I know that games evolve and not everyone will like the direction it's going. Someone who prefers more dungeon crawling won't like a game where everyone else likes sessions that are pure role playing and visa versa. Some want the spotlight more than they're getting. Some just don't like the game. To me this always reflects back on me.

I soul search after they leave. I wonder if I could have caught it earlier and made the game more enjoyable so they wouldn't have left. I wonder if other players are unhappy and I haven't seen it. I question my decisions as to what encounters I brought to them. I wonder if I'm a good GM.

I won't discuss an unhappy player with the group while they're still involved. I'll try to talk to them privately to see what I can do to include things they want but honestly by that point they've made up their minds to leave. I haven't been able to persuade a player to stay and I don't know that I want to do it unless they've got some valid reason for it that doesn't make the rest of the players unhappy. A player that's going to leave is going to leave.

At this point I send out individual emails asking how each player is liking the game, what they feel could be done better, what they feel is missing, etc. I know groups that do that at the end of every session but I don't like that. It puts players on the spot so if they have concerns and everyone else has a different opinion there's a good chance I'll never hear it. By making it private they don't have to worry about being singled out.

Once the player is gone then the group can discuss what happened and the progress of the game. I can ask if they're unhappy with the specific things that caused the player to leave. I can be more honest at that point. The player is gone and there's no chance of making them uncomfortable. They did that to the group so I feel it's only fair to return the favor. I can be a little petty.

Losing a player doesn't mean you're a bad GM. It really isn't your fault. If the player didn't reach out to say they wanted something else you can't read minds. If you reach out and they don't tell you then you can't resolve it. Even if they do reach out that doesn't mean you can or will change the game to suit them.

Regardless there's a few things to do after it happens.

Decide how the character is going to leave the group. Keep it in the format the player was handling their character. Remove the PC from the game however you feel is appropriate but try to keep the spite to a minimum. You can always have something horrible happen to them "off camera" and let it filter back later.
Talk to the group about it. They can be more upset than you since it's a shock. Find out if they have the same concerns (if you know them) and let them talk it out.
Ask them how they want to proceed. Do they want to add another player? Do they know someone who they think would fit in the group? Do they want to end the game? They're all valid options.
Send an email thanking the player and wish them well. Don't burn bridges and don't vent on them.
Adjust any upcoming encounters to fill the hole. Losing the cleric means lots of undead probably aren't a great idea and add a lot of healing magic to the loot they find. Losing the tank means turning the combat to things they can handle without having someone go through and make kibble out of the opponents.
This is my person one but if you do decide to add another player don't expect them to "fill the hole". Let them choose a character type they want to play and adjust, adjust, adjust. If they really do enjoy playing all the classes they'll pick a character to replace the missing one on their own. Again this is my personal preference but if that's not yours then by all means do what works for you.

To finish up. Mourn the loss (if the player is worth it), talk it out, and move on. Make the game what the remaining players want it to be. You can't fix what one person thought was broken and isn't around anymore.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Forgotten Realms Campaign - Game Update

This is a post to let you know the campaign is still going after a hiatus while we waited to see if we could continue in person or if we had to go online.

We did go online using Discord and there's quite a few sessions I have to transcribe my notes and make them into posts here.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

How I Roll - That Other Player

I already talked about That One Player and how to work with them to make a decent game. Now I'm going to talk about That Other Player.

This is the player you can't read. Most of the time the players at the table open up and you get a feeling for what they want, what kind of person they are, if they're enjoying the game, etc. Then you get a player who isn't like that at all.

This player makes me feel insecure, personally. I'm not getting feedback to know if I'm running the game in a way that makes them happy. I start to second guess what I'm about to do and how I'm going to engage their character.

This is the one who doesn't want to help the villagers while the rest of the group does. This is the one who doesn't get excited about some kind of mystery they've tripped over. This is the one who does their part in the game but then you don't hear from them until the next game. This is the one who seems to enjoy the game but also seems to find it lacking.

It makes me want to throw a really big d20 at them and make them tell me what they're thinking.

Some things to try are flat out asking them what they think, trailing teasers across their path, paying close attention at various aspects of the game, and other frustrating ways to try to interpret their feelings. I know that flat out asking shouldn't be frustrating but it is if they won't give you a straight answer.

I'm not particularly subtle at times. Hence the "throw the really big d20" comment. I'll keep trying to find out what's in their head until I figure it out or I accept that I'll never figure it out. Other people with actual social skills will have a better chance at it than I do. When asking them if they're having fun gets no definitive answer I'll go with the option of doing what I do unless told otherwise.

This is another one where I don't have much of an answer. Doing the table check at the end of the game asking everyone what they liked and didn't like always feels weird to me since I don't know how honest any one person would be in front of everyone else. And asking separately can get slanted answers because they don't want to hurt my feelings or make me angry. I'm fine with hurt feelings and it would take a lot to make me angry. The d20 thing is frustration, not anger.

I can't draw a conclusion on this one. There's too much going on and it's specific to the group and GM. The game should be fun and a way to hang out as a group, either in person or online. When something feels off then address it and accept the answers given, I guess.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

How I Roll - Is It Me?

I like to think every GM asks themselves that question at some point during their games. I know I do.

What brought this to mind was how my group doesn't seem to connect the dots I'm laying out for them. Therefore I have to ask myself "is it me?" or are the players not good at connecting dots.

Taking a step back and looking at the dots is difficult since I know what they are and where they're going. Trying to pretend I don't and reading them as they were presented to the players is difficult but possible to a certain extent. This also falls back into the question of plot hook vs railroading.

In this specific situation I'm going to say my players aren't very good at connecting the dots for medium to long range results. For short term they seem to be on the money. But they don't look at the larger picture. That means it's on me to adjust what I'm doing.

I have three choices that I can see.

1 - Nibbles

I can break the puzzles down into smaller nibbles that build on each previous encounter. This approach means there's still a decent chance they won't make necessary connections but I have more options for letting them roll for what their characters would know.

2 - Bigger Dots

Maybe I stop being subtle, make the dots much bigger, and put flaming arrows in the direction they go. That one feels like it's getting into railroading territory and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

3 - Abandon the Dots

This group may be one that doesn't play the long game, as it were. They may not pick up on wider implications of what they're doing until they get smacked in the face with them. Of course I'd have to mitigate how much of a smacking they get if they don't have a chance to see it coming.

These are options for each group. They're not something the GM can decide ahead of time. Unless Session Zero had the players flat out stating they didn't want to deal with the consequences of their actions or solving mysteries then it's going to come out in game. Even if they do say that there's always a chance they change their minds as the game evolves.

As the GM it's frustrating to me to see them struggle with what I think are basic connections. Even stepping back to try to see it from their perspective it seems basic. Or at least not that hard. There's enough bits and pieces that they should have picked up on some pretty obvious stuff in our last game. They didn't.

So what happens when the players aren't seeing where a storyline is going and they flub every roll that would allow the GM to give them insight? Good question. I wish I had a definitive answer. It would certainly make my life easier.

What I'm going to do is try to use NPCs to fill in some of the gaps. Once they get to town there's always a way to get information to them. I'm lucky that they're heading to one now. Otherwise I would have to drop some more encounters on them to give them more dots to try to connect. Or I would have to abandon that completely and make it less of a cohesive story than a series of short stories or an anthology.

The conclusion here is to try not to be too clever as the GM. We're at a huge advantage because we're the ones who know the intended storyline. It's easy for us to see connections because we created them. Talking it over with someone not in the game but who knows gaming can help a lot. Telling them the basics of what you've given the players can show whether or not you've done enough. Make sure you're not assuming too much and that you're running a game the players expect.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Dead Game System

I'm not going to "name and shame" here although I feel it's a shame that the game was pretty much DOA when it was released.

Some history.

The game was developed by a miniatures company to go with models they were producing. This was not their first foray into that world and the games used very similar rule systems. But they were a miniatures company, not a game company. They said this explicitly.

The games had life while someone was willing to work on them and then stagnated when those people left. So people would get their hopes up only to be slowly disappointed as the interest waned. This happened many times.

The skirmish game rules are still out there and the models are available under different names. The line that was tied to the game has been retired but the models are still in production as general usage. If that makes any sense.

For the other game they sold the IP for the setting and the minis themselves to another company. Personally I think that company got a raw deal because of the history of the game itself but I wasn't the one buying it. I believe they get some of the proceeds from the miniature sales since it's their name on the bases but don't quote me on that.

The game didn't have a following at the time. The metal minis were necessarily expensive since they were heavy. Not many stores stocked them or the rulebook either. So most people didn't even know the game existed.

After the rights were purchased the miniature companies put together a Kickstarter campaign to start getting the models from metal to injection molded plastic. The miniature company had already done a couple of those and it made sense for the two companies to do this first one together. But ...

The miniatures company wanted the best sellers to go into production first. That makes sense from their perspective. If they sold well in metal they'd sell REALLY WELL in plastic. And there's another much more popular game that would benefit from cheap plastic robot minis. Those are the models they chose.

The game company had to deal with selling their new rulebook as part of this campaign. Here's where things continued to fall apart.

The popular minis were spread across the game factions. That made it a scattershot approach to starting the game.

The rulebook was an add-on purchase and not part of the campaign pledge. That confused a lot of people and caused some ill will later on.

Here's the thing that gave me the idea that the company that owns the game didn't know what they were doing. They didn't make any rules or force building information on the campaign. Halfway through they make a quick start document available but there was still no guidance on how many of what minis to buy. None. Ever. Even after the campaign was over and the pledge manager was open they gave no help for people who wanted to play the game.

That's when I realized the game was dead before it started. The right company could have jump started it back to life and gotten a following, much like other tabletop miniature games. This was not a company to do that. The game - miniatures and/or rulebook - aren't in the game stores I've visited. Everything seems to be online purchase only.

The game company has had at least two more Kickstarter campaigns since the first one and they were faction focused. I think each one had mostly two factions with a smattering of other minis. So it was what should have been done from the start. The game website has quick start rules and a force builder so you can figure out what to buy. Everything they should have done from the beginning is now available.

But they missed their window. I personally don't like the owner of the company. He's not the type of person I'd put into social situations to sell a game. He knows the rules but he doesn't have the personality to bring in people and get them excited. He's kind of a jerk. His booth tends to be set up with models and him sulking at the little counter or showing a very small demo for someone. With the transition of the game rules to him he lost the miniature company support to help out at conventions. It shows.

What brought this to mind was me going through my minis from the first and second campaigns. This is more of a chore than it sounds since the minis sent as rewards are multi part in little plastic bags with no identification as to what minis they are. Sorting them out is a challenge of trying to match bits to the pictures of the assembled minis online and going from there.

I found I have way, way, way too many minis from the first campaign. I overspent like crazy and have more faction minis than I will ever field. I'm sending a bunch of those off to be broken up into mercenary forces that someone else is going to paint for me in exchange for things I've 3D printed. They're going to make the forces, now that I think about it. I'm just sending a box full of minis and letting them figure it out. I checked - that's acceptable.

I don't know that I'll ever get to play this game. I honestly don't know. It would depend on me meeting people who would be willing to play and I don't see that happening in the near future. People here are very much 40k and some other games that small groups play. Bringing in a completely new game is difficult to impossible. Without being able to buy stuff in stores it lessens the desire to play. Sure they can order it like they do so many other things but that's an extra step for a niche game.

I know it sounds funny to be talking about a dead game and then talk about working with the minis. I'm not getting rid of any of them since I seem to collect armies. I also know there's no market for these if I did want to get rid of them. The new ones are cheap enough that trying to sell them wouldn't be worth the effort. They'll go into foam storage and the book will go on the shelf.

Both to gather dust, as it were.