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What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Weekend R&R: Under The Blood Red Moon (Free RPG Day)

In past years, where I get asked to demo stuff from Troll Lord Games for Free RPG Day, there is an attempt to get a hold of me a bit earlier.  That way, I can check out and better prepare to run the current years adventure they put out to promote Castles & Crusades.  This year was a bit different for two reasons.

1) Communication with the store was terrible and badly organised this year.  I did not get a copy a day or two in advance.  Despite my efforts, the information and confirmation on how the store was running events this year just came too late.  I was only able to confirm that I would participate about 16 hours ahead of time and there was no opportunity to pick up the adventure early.

2) This years release was showcasing both Castles & Crusades and Amazing Adventures.

A release showcasing both systems with one adventure sounds cool and I knew this is what they were doing for this year.  But I just didn't know HOW exactly this would take form.  This is best described as an 'Open & Play' or 'Fast Play' module.  A very short info blurb on the general mechanics of the game, some pre-gens, and the module basically explains how to play the game as you are basically going through it.  It is a pretty good approach and a great way to start and learn to play a role-playing game -- especially if you are new to RPGs altogether.  

There is something to be said about the brevity of some of these Free releases.  Most are quite short though, thankfully, there tends to be enough in them to make it worthwhile.  On occasion, you will get a release that is quite large for something being released for free.  Depending on the level of support for Free RPG Day, this could amount to quite a bit of money in free product being given away so you won't always see smaller game publishers doing this.  If you get something 'more', than the publisher has something to prove or they are really trying to make an impression and gain a lot of exposure.  Troll Lord Games has been participating since the very first year and their releases have always been decent.  However, I do feel that the ones from the past couple of years really stand out.  While they were a shorter page count than a standard module release, it had enough content to make it an interesting item to pick up.

With that in mind, I was a bit disappointed with this years offering.  Don't get me wrong, it is well written and a fun little romp with the same sort of page count as previous years.  The problem is that this isn't a single adventure but rather two adventures that are basically the same.  It is highly doubtful that you will run this thing back to back with the same group of players to play both C&C and AA.  As a result, some may just view this as a missed opportunity.

Under the Blood Red Moon is an adventure that takes place 'Across the Gulf of Space & Time' and while there are elements of that are, the adventure itself really isn't.  Essentially, an old man hires a party of adventurers to bury a scroll as an offering to a god and, the other adventure has the reincarnation of this man hire a party of adventures to retrieve it.  Same temple with four keyed locations.  Because of the similarities of the systems, both will play about the same mechanically speaking though there are a few differences between the two systems.

Honestly, what I would have like to see is a bit of 'back and forth'.  Actions in one affecting things in the other and actions in the other having effects felt in the former.  Each critical to the success of the other and critical for the ultimate goal and final objective.  That would have been cool and a bit confusing maybe.

It would also be beyond the scope of a short release.  I think the only other way to do this is if you happen to be playing both games at one point or another with the same group of people.  It might be interesting to do one of them only to revisit months later and play the other one in the other system.

Quibbles aside, it's nice to see that Troll Lord Games continues to support Free RPG Day and that both major games they publish is getting some support.  Amazing Adventures is a great resource even if a pulp type game isn't your thing and I look forward to seeing more of it in the future.  I still think this year's free offering was worth picking up but a bit more variation between the two would have been nice.

M

Monday, June 20, 2016

Weekend R&R: SLUGS!

For the past few years, there has been one release that I have always looked forward to and sought out if possible -- the one from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, courtesy of James Edward Raggi. While not intended for children, the LotFP offerings have always been a bit darker, twisted, and imaginative. They are always presented in an evocative style and, at times, a bit perverse. As a small publisher, the publications for the past few years measure up very well and often surpass the quality of some of the larger and more mainstream companies putting out quality gaming material.  The first two years to see free LotFP products were a couple of wicked adventures titled 'Better Than Any Man' and 'The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children'.  In 2015, there was no release for the event but, this year's release made up for it.

Not everyone likes James Raggi and the stuff he publishes.  Some go as far as consider him and his line successful only because of the 'shock value'.  Ignore those people.  A considerable amount of consideration and care goes into putting out every title and some titles to vary quite a bit in terms of tone.  Slugs! takes things a step further as a free-product though and, instead of a quick set of rules and a couple of dressed up encounters, Slugs! is a bestiary of sorts.  Not counting the the couple pages in the back dedicated to the LotFP catalogue, the accessory clocks in at 34 pages (albeit digest-sized).

And, with tongue thoroughly implanted in cheek, James decides to had fun with it and take the piss out of a few things.

If you are looking for some dark and twisted work with critters to devastate your group's characters, this might not be what you are looking for.  If you want something a bit off the wall and something that might provoke a few chuckles... read on.

The introduction itself really sets the tone for the rest of the book.  At first it almost sounds like a manifesto with a criticism of the Washington gaming establishment.  It didn't take me long to figure out what he was doing.  Part way through the introduction you have a paragraph that starts thusly:

And we're going to win. Believe me, we are going to win so much it's going to make their heads spin. It's going to be like we've build a wall to keep all the bad gaming out, and it's people like Fred Hicks that will end up paying, believe me. We can make gaming great again.

Frankly, this material is GOLD and we're just at the introduction. The entire bestiary is basically about having fun the way that gaming should be. If you read between the lines when you read the introduction, there is something of a critique as well and he makes a valid point. As a free product, the LotFP ones have always been incredibly impressive and useful -- not at all disposable.

So, the meat of the book itself are write-ups and illustrations of 16 different and weird giant slugs. If you never use the material for gaming, it should nonetheless be able to crack a smile on your face.  At the very least, some of the stuff will give you ideas. Other things might just make you groan.

The illustrations are black and white line art which works for the book and the cover looks great and, almost festive!  But I have one MAJOR issue with the book and many others will probably agree with me here.

With the first two LotFP releases, there is an Explicit Content warning on the cover (Ages 18+).  I'm not offended by the content and, for those that know me, my language is often colourfully-laced.  I love the illustrations and the illustration on the front inside cover was fantastic!  However, the image on the back inside cover alone should have should have warranted an Explicit Content warning on the cover.  There are a couple of other things that could similarly warrant such a warning as well.  So, unless there was a warning in the shrink packaging about the nature of this content and the game store was irresponsible with the access of this particular title, I just don't know why this cover didn't get the same treatment the last two from previous years did.

Honestly, that's my only complaint over this book.  It's fantastic and I'm personally not offended by any of it. I don't know if I'll ever use something like 'Slugatron' but the 'Ocular Slug' and the 'Rock Slug' are pretty awesome.  'Acid Slug' just rocks.

If you managed to score a copy of Slugs! then, rejoice!  There were 3750 copies printed for this year's Free RPG Day.  If you missed out, than I assume it's only a matter of time before it's made available online in PDF form as well and you can grab it then.  It is worth it and a nice little supplement that manages to remain distinct from the rest of the event's offerings this year.

M

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gaming Triple Threat!


Or rather.... a gaming triple treat!  :)

I have seen more gaming in the past 24 hours than I have seen in a long time -- with the exception of maybe my GenCon experience last year of course.  That said, aside from the two last Free RPG Days, I haven't even run much else.  Those reasons have varied between too busy, schedule changes, and even disinterest.

However, last Friday at the invitation and general encouragement of a friend, I got roped in to playing a character in a D&D Fifth Edition campaign.  It's been fun and I played again last night.  I also was requested to run a demo or two at my local game store for Free RPG day.  It was VERY last minute but I did some prep and got everything together to do just that earlier this morning.  Things don't always work as planned though and, despite completely setting up, I and about 3 other GMs were all waiting for players to show up. This year, there just wasn't that big a turnout at the store and most likely this is because of the store undergoing major changes with a major renovation and a move as they prepare to open a second larger location.  So, instead I got to play in a Call of Cthulhu game (newest edition).

I had a blast, lost some sanity, but survived to fight another day!

It also helped me to understand a couple of the newer features in this new version of the game because, as luck would have it, I was kicking off my own Call of Cthulhu game this evening.  The adventure we played was a scenario by the name of 'Deadlight' -- a great, short scenario.  As a player, it impressed me enough that I opted to run this instead of the original adventure I had planned to run.  Great fun all around!  The stars were truly right for me this weekend!

Now, while I didn't end up running a game due to lack of players, I was still able to introduce a few people to Castles & Crusades and answer a variety of questions about the game, as well as Amazing Adventures. There were no more Free RPG Day offerings from Troll Lord Games this year after I talked up the system.  There were other free products getting some love... the offering from LotFP was another favourite but interestingly, Paizo's Pathfinder didn't get the same sort of love this year at my game store compared to previous years.  This year, highlights of what was being played was 5th Edition, Fantasy Flight Game's Edge of the Empire (Star Wars), and Call of Cthulhu.  At least C&C and AA got an honourable mention.  ;)

I picked up some swag but not much of it.  I've grown a bit more particular with what I grab.  There were some great looking products but ultimately there was only three items I truly wanted.  I got two of them but only because Chaosium included only one product per box as opposed to multiples.  Generally, the store raffles other single and special items off to those who actively participate (running or playing in games run on this day).  I was lucky enough to get a dice tower, though, I find a meeple shaped dice tower to be mildly disturbing.

I'll be sure to review and post my thoughts on what I did grab in the next day or so.

Happy gaming!

M

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Melted Plastic & Broken Dreams - Part 2


If you missed out on Part 1, you can find it HERE.  Otherwise, welcome and read on!

So after a couple of tragic experiences with the first two failed printers, I now had in my hands a third printer.  This printer was extensively tested and calibrated prior to being sent to me and I took the time I needed to ask and clarify various things about the printer to make the most of the experience and hopefully avoid any more pitfalls.  Sadly, nothing in life worth having is necessarily easy.

Printing proved to be challenging with this third printer.  Most of my prints were failing and there still a fair bit of shifting with my prints on this much like the last one.  I also had to increase the temperature about 25-30 degrees higher than the last two in order to get comparable results. Then I saw another instance of compression on one of my prints.

WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON?!

With all the cursing I was uttering, I'm surprised that I didn't end up summoning some foul demon from the underworld but the good news at this point is that I already established a dialogue with a manager.

I contacted him and outlined all the issues with the new printer and got a prompt reply.  He suggested I stop using the printer immediately and had a theory that could correct the Z-Compression issues, other shifting, temperature, and even instances of the nozzle crashing into the bed.  Power, or rather, brief interruptions of power may be the cause.  One of the fundamental flaws with the printer is a lack of power; there is already barely enough to power everything.  Between the temperature settings, fan, motor, there doesn't seem to be a lot of overhead left from what the adaptor supplies the printer.  The theory is that, in some cases, if the power flow isn't constant enough for whatever reason, it can cause unpredictable results which include instructions not being correctly received by the printer or greater temperature fluctuations and fan issues.  It was an interesting theory and a high buffer power adaptor was sent to me to try out.

This actually resolved MOST of my issues.  The shifting on the X and Y axis had already been largely corrected by placing my external fed filament above the printer instead of on the printer's side.  Once again, the motor isn't a very strong one and is pretty much getting barely what it needs to if there is the slightest pull or resistance from the filament, it could well result in the print shifting towards where it is pulling from.

I still noticed random shifts that would occur for no reason though.  Imagine a the print head randomly moving beyond where it was printing from by at least an inch and attempt to continue printing over thin air.  It makes quite a mess.  The manager was also at a loss but, when I mentioned I was trying to print at 100 microns, he recommended that I don't try to print above 200 microns.

There is a problem with that statement.  Mainly, the printer is advertised as being able to print in the 50 - 350 micron range.  One reason I bought this printer was because I wanted to print at 100 microns.  It was, to me, an important requirement.  As it was put to me, the specs on the website are 'a bit overstated'.  The hardware is theoretically able to do it but the software isn't optimized for it yet (despite being available there).  I started printing at no more than 200 microns and I started to have plenty of success now and no more random shifting.  Suffice to say that the software is still in BETA and still needs work.

So, at this point, all of my issues seem to have been resolved with the exception of one: Temperature.

After confirming if there was something wrong with the PLA (there wasn't and the problems were consistently present regardless of brand I used).  From there , I thought maybe it was a temperature sensor issue but I was compensating by raising the temperature setting.  As it turns out it wasn't a sensor issue.  The temperature problems persisted and got worse.  I was prompted by support to remove the cover from the print head to examine the wiring and, sure enough, this was the cause of the problem.  Apparently, the heater works on a closed circuit and, during transport, it looks like one of the connections started to slip proving that sometimes, it's the simplest solution that works.  I pushed the wire back in and heat has been working as it should.

All this was over well over a month ago now.

I have had a few more hiccups but, everything was manageable and I have many successes and very few failures since.  There was one problem which I quickly was able to figure out involving my extruder motor which had stopped working properly.  Support was able to get me a replacement part and I swapped the bad one out with no issues.

All of this has been a great and rigorous learning experience.  It took the entire length of my warranty period and three printers to sort everything out.  At the same time, 3D printing remains wonderful and still fascinating.  Despite my problems and moments of doubts, I ultimately do not regret my relatively small investment.  At a price of $350, it's still a hell of a bargain though I wasn't quite expecting as big as an investment when it came to the time to get everything in proper working order.  Having said that, I'm certain there are probably some more headaches just around the corner with my printer but, I'm much more prepared to do what maintenance and upkeep to get things going again because of everything I've gone through.

So... my final thoughts on M3D (both company and the Micro 3D Printer):

The support I was able to get was solid and customer support has gotten better during the past few months. If it wasn't for the support I got, I would have tossed in the towel and arranged for a partial refund (80% of the cost of the printer).  It is the support and willingness to back their product that stands out and, in my case, this was demonstrated many times.

The printer design itself is flawed and there are a few things that can be done to improve upon it.  Now that many kinks have been sorted out, some of the components have been changed and upgraded on the design, so anyone getting an M3D Micro now is getting a slightly better printer.  The biggest change has been in the a recent software release for the machine.  While it is still in BETA, it is a significant improvement over the version I had been using myself.  I now routinely print higher than I had before with no issues and the print speed has also improved.  Things are actually looking up in the software department as well.  That said, the internal feed and bay will cause nothing but issues if one attempts to use it.  The heater unit for the printer also has to be calibrated before going out to the buyer and, as such, there is no way to get a replacement heater should problems occur.  Apparently this is something that might also be changing down the line though I don't know if this will be for the current incarnation of the printer or a hardware refresh down the line. If they do a refresh, hopefully they will do something about the power demands of the printer and consider a heated bed option as well.

With competition growing as more and more economical printer options present themselves, M3D and any small 3D printer company developing their own designs, will need to work hard to stay in the game.  For the consumer and the advance of the technology, things continue to look bright for 3D printing in general.

I am a fairly early adopter to this technology and, I was expecting an uphill battle (to an extent) as began my experiences with it.  Despite my issues, I will still (cautiously) recommend this particular printer but there are others on the market I would easily recommend as well.  Next to buying a kit or simply the components to build your own, a 3D printer currently will not be much less this Micro 3D's offering.  But buyer beware and be sure you understand what you are getting into.

M

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Two Months...


It's been two months.  Well, two months and a few days.

That's a long time not to be writing and updating my readers over here.

But all this time away has not been for nothing.  Back in March, I wrote something about how I intended to get things moving again.  I've been putting a lot of effort in getting things going again from the ground up.  I've been streamlining my gaming collection and putting the extra money earned there to good use.  I've re-arranged my office space to be a lot more conducive to creativity and various projects.  I am currently editing a book (with most of it in layout) and, while it isn't gaming, it is hopefully a new direction that some people will enjoy reading.  Everything going well, I will some news about that particular release in later in July.

Otherwise, I have been keeping myself busy.  I'm been enjoying various creative endeavours thanks to a problematic 3D printer that seems to be finally working the way it should (I have Part 2 mostly written as a followup to my April post on my experiences thus far).

Perhaps more importantly, I am gaming and I am starting off a new campaign of my own.  Sadly, it isn't Castles & Crusades -- there seems to be a continued and overwhelming desire for a lot of 5E D&D so I decided to finally start and run a Call of Cthulhu campaign.  I don't know how long or short lived it will be but I really don't care.  I'm just eager to do it.

I'm also painting again.  One of the recent games I just joined was a friends Ravenloft game for 5E and I decided to paint up a miniature for the occasion.  I'm very pleased with it.

It's the little things but that creative fire is now burning and I'm just eager to share so much with those interested in reading and checking out what I have to offer.

Happy Gaming!

M