What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Nothing Backed Right Now

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Melted Plastic & Broken Dreams - Part 1

I have had my mind set on getting a 3D Printer for several months now.  I have been constantly checking out various offerings available, kickstarters, and reading up on this relatively new and rapidly evolving technology.  As a hobbyist interested in miniatures, there was no end of what I could potentially do with one of these tools in my arsenal.  Of course, price was a bit of a barrier but things have been changing there too.

Knowing myself all to well, I figured that I would want a bigger, faster, better printer to suit my tastes and needs but since I was all too new at this, I figured that a much more economical and smaller option would serve me well as a 'starter printer'.  My choice and finances narrowed down the choice to two models and I opted to go with the M3D printer.

The best piece of advice I have seen (a video put out by the Printrbot people) was that, 3D printing is hard.  There is so much truth to this statement when you consider the multitude of variables that go into a successful print.  The technology is still a new thing after all and many refinements will be made as time goes on.  However, there comes a time when it seems like circumstances are stacked against you.  Given my experiences with the M3D, I have to say that I have either been extremely unlucky or, there are issues with this model that need to be rectified.  What follows are my experiences, impressions, and ultimately my review on the M3D, so get yourselves a nice beverage and settle in.

I ordered the M3D printer straight from their site and elected to go with the 'Standard Edition' for a mere $349 USD.  They also have a 'Retail Edition' for a $100 more but, make now mistake.  It's the exact same printer.  Any refinements made to the printer are available on all printers.  I believe one of the main changes was the print bed itself.  Honestly, he biggest different between the two packages is that the retail one comes with a roll of PLA filament and has a one year warranty compared to 90 days for the standard one. Shipping was quick and I had my unit within a few days ordering it from the US.

The printer itself is tiny and cube-shaped and will occupy a very small footprint on your desk near you computer.  There is a USB cable to connect the printer to the computer and an AC power adapter to supply the necessary power.  One of the interesting features of the design is an internal compartment located under the print bed for a roll of filament.  It is smaller than a typical roll so, unless you plan on buying their own filament, you'll likely have to feed it externally.  I bought one of their rolls to get me started.  The package itself was fairly bare-bones.  There was a couple pieces of paper included with the unit -- one instruction to remove clips before attempting to print anything and the other directing to an online address to get the software to start using the printer.

Here's the first problem that people will notice.  All the software available are BETA releases.  While it is nice that the software is being developed in-house and the software is being made to be user-friendly, there is no real clear indication on which version you should use as several are listed.  Ideally, stability is what you want but there is little to indicate what that might be.  Fortunately, installation is simple and each version will download the appropriate firmware update for your printer.  Everything went find and, tracking down the online manual, I followed the steps and began printing.

The whole process was painless and I was up and printing within 15-20 minutes.  My first print and the few that followed seemed to all work well enough.  After my fifth print (and not a single failure), I noticed the tendency of my raft to be almost impossible to remove my print.  It often broke up leaving bits on the bottom of my print and, some research led me to realize that my printer might need to be re-calibrated to alleviate this issue.

I should be clear here that, the manual got me up and running and didn't even mention calibrating the printer before my first print.  Kind of odd when you think about it but, if you don't know better, and they pretty much advertise that you can start printing right of of the box, you might not give it any thought at all.

So, looking up online because the manual was of no use, I was able to find a few tips on how to calibrate.  To make a long story short, I started to print a test border to see if everything was well, and instead of doing a border around the bed, it essentially 'carved' an inch square in one of the corners of my test bed.  That disaster led to another when I tried to calibrate the bed position.  The print head shook violently as it moved to the center, except that it kept going and moved to the front of the printer.  The nozzle came down, beyond the print bed, and plunged into the frame of the printer.

After this happened, I powered down the printer and submitted a ticket.  Tech support got to me pretty quickly and provided the instructions for an RMA.  I was using the internal filament feeder and was easily able to lift the print head (using the 'remove internal filament' option) to retrieve my roll of filament and waited for instructions.

A week and a half went by with no word so I chose to escalate to a manager.  Thankfully that got the ball rolling and a few apologies on top of that.  Instructions and shipping label in hand, my defective printer went back to the manufacturer and, they in turn, sent my my replacement.

All in all, the first printer lasted me less than 48 hours before hardware failure.

The second printer came to me not too long after that but the days since the original order happened were quickly going by.  Immediately, I was able to notice problems with the fan.  It was extremely and uncharacteristically loud but, at least it worked.  Gritting my teeth and knowing I would have to deal it with it, I set up my external spool holder (apparently there are problems with using the internal feeder) and began a series of test-prints after making sure I calibrated the bed location.  I was having a couple of problems compared to the prints I had gotten from the first printer and I noticed the weirdest of things on one of my prints (a trusty test-cube I had been using on and off for testing).  It was about a quarter of an inch shorter than the other test cubes I had printed.  The print was completed but it was like the height got compressed.  I was also experiencing a fair bit of shifting along the X and Y axis.  When I noticed these issues, I decided to calibrate the bed location again and, for whatever reason, it decided to plunge the nozzle into the print bed.  This was my second printer and the second time I have this issue and, also within a week of receiving it.

All I could think of at that point was that this printer was garbage.  Having already escalating an issue to a manager, I decide to start with that.  It didn't take long for a reply.  In short, I wanted my money back and wanted to know where I could ship this thing.  As one can expect, they weren't exactly eager with that and were quick to point out that I was past my 30 day money back guarantee.  By this point, between the original date I placed the original order, I've had a printer go back and forth from Maryland and Montreal twice with a 10 days delay in processing an RMA I had to escalate to get things going.  I was equally quick to point out that fact and, taking those 10 days into account, I fell WITHIN those 30 days.

The company was fairly reasonable at that point and presented me with two options: I could get a refund less a 20% restocking fee.  Or... I could get a third printer but, this printer would be 'extensively tested' before shipping it out to me.  I gave it some thought, and accepted the replacement but negotiated an extension of my warranty.  This ended up being an additional month (30 days) which basically covered the period that I lost with these two problem printers.

With all the testing, which mostly consisted of a few larger prints and a couple of smaller technical prints went well enough but it took the better part of a couple of weeks before I got the printer in my hands.  The manager who tested out the printer was very forthcoming with answers to the multitude of questions I had.  It took a bit longer to get this replacement but it would be all worth it in the end if the printer ended up working the way it should, right?

To Be Continued...


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Arcana Creations: From the Embers

At the start of this year, I wrote about the relatively slow start of the year.  Realistically, the past few years have been slow as far as my writing, projects, and even gaming was concerned.  I've managed to keep things going thanks to the Under Siege blog here as well as generally keeping in touch with a few members of the online gaming community as I continue pledging my support for the various project that Troll Lord Games put out as well as a few other independent creations here and there.

Things are changing on my end -- some good where as others, not so much.

I miss the enthusiasm I used to have when I was able to do more.  But the enthusiasm I still have helps to keep me going and dreaming.

As the first quarter of 2016 is coming to a close, I'm looking at my many incomplete projects be it old or new.  Part of the challenges have always been time and money to get various things done and sometimes, you need to make some hard choices.  I'm making some now.

My goal is to really get those fires burning again.

There WILL be releases this year but they will not be as I had originally envisioned.  However, they will be done one way or the other.  Time and money will continue being issues and while there are ways around being cash-strapped for certain things, time will always slip through one's grasp.  Of course, I've also had commitments from people willing to help but this never seems to materialize.  A one-man operation is hard to sustain with everything else but it can be done, even if it means making some changes to overcome certain challenges that keep blocking the way.

There will be more updates to follow as things become more concrete in the weeks ahead but they will be secondary to the work I feel matters most.

Suffice to say, I'm tired of waiting.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Weekend R&R: Empire of Imagination

For many gamers, March 4th will mean different things for them.  Since 2002, March the 4th is recognized as international GM's day, and since 2008, it also marked the a anniversary of Gary Gygax's passing.  GaryCon has become an event since then to remember him and honor his memory by rolling some dice with some friends and gaming in his memory and honor. This year, I chose to read 'Empire of Imagination' by Michael Witwer to commemorate this anniversary.

Much of what I read I have known for years but seldom have I read the account told in such an engaging way.  The book chronicles the birth of Dungeons & Dragons and the events that shaped the life of Gary Gygax.  It is by no means a 'heavy' read but certainly enjoyable.

The book itself seems to focus more on the earlier aspects of his life as opposed to his later years but it isn't an in-depth study nor do I feel it was ever meant to be.  The author presents the information more in the framework of a narrative then a collection of hard facts but, there are plenty of notes to back up the majority of what the book presents.  Above all, it did make me think, get a bit nostalgic about my introduction to the game, and reflect on my own gaming right now.

Honestly, I don't think there are many better ways to celebrate this anniversary save from actually gaming!

Out of everything that I read, the one thing that surprised me was the extent of description of the older first edition backstock that TSR still had on hand when they began to publish 2nd Edition.  A comment in the book likened 2nd Edition to how 4th Edition was viewed by fans of the previous edition and that 2nd Edition sold only half as well as original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons did.  Apparently skids of 1st Edition rulebooks were sitting in the warehouse as 2nd Edition was being pushed.

When I first was introduced to the game, I came to it while my father was stationed in Germany.  I made friends and a couple of them described to me this game which sounded fantastic.  This was D&D but what we all then collectively called D&D was truly a blending of D&D (Mentzer BECMI sets), AD&D 1st Edition and AD&D 2nd Edition.  Accessibility to gaming material, and above all dice, was challenging at times.  Ultimately, as 2nd Edition material became more available, this is what we played and I ran.  At the time I got into the game, I couldn't buy any of the 1st Edition core rulebooks (being the Player's Handbook, DM's Guide, and any of the Monster Manuals) but the all the other hardbacks could readily be found along with many of the classic AD&D and D&D adventure modules.  I also remember getting my hands the free TSR product catalog and was floored by all the stuff that was available.

But the passage of time also grants the gift of perspective.  I understand and view things differently now than I once did.  Ultimately, Witwer's 'Empire of Imagination' served to remind me of a couple simple truths...

While I think that pen and paper RPGs are still going strong today, the golden years were back in the 80's when it games to these type of games with TSR and D&D on top.  And, if it weren't for Gygax, we might not have any of this.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Charity and Castles & Crusades

For many of my gaming-savvy reader, the Humble Bundle and Bundle of Holding are two services you undoubtedly already know about.  I came across the Bundle of Holding some time ago after I already became a huge fan of the Humble Bundle.  The difference with the Bundle of Holding is that it is pretty much exclusively to do with putting together Table-Top RPG bundles benefiting charity.

I don't buy from the Bundle of Holding as much as I would like to since I tend to be a lot more discerning about what RPG products I do buy.  More often than not, stuff I would be interested in, I already have but it did help introduce me to some games I wouldn't have normally.  But this time around, Troll Lord Games have partnered with them and has up for grabs a whole bunch of Castles & Crusades stuff for a really great price!

With the Bundle of Holding, there are two tiers.  The entry tier at a fixed price and a higher tier of goods which you get when you beat the present threshold ($21.28 at present).

The starting tier gets you three books (retailing at $47):

  • The Players Handbook (full color, 6th printing)
  • Castellian's Guide to Arms & Armor
  • Rune Lore

Beating the threshold will get you another five books (retailing at $73):

  • The Castle Keepers Guide (full color, 2nd printing)
  • Classic Monsters
  • Engineering Dungeons
  • Engineering Castles
  • Lion in the Ropes

All in all, a decent haul of products for less than $22 and a great way to dive into Castles & Crusades.  In fact, the only 'key' book missing from this lineup would be the Monsters & Treasure book (also in full color) but, given the roots of this game, hardly needed if you have classic D&D books or even d20 monster books.  The Classic Monsters also has an index of monsters in the back that includes the basic stats for the monsters found in the original M&T book as well as a whole host of interesting critters as well!

Unlike the Humble Bundle, you can't set how much goes to charity.  The amount for charity is a fixed amount (and calculated after the gateway fees are paid) which means that 10% will be going to Heifer International.

While not garnering the same sort of numbers that Paizo is doing with the Humble Bundle right now, the amounts for the Bundle of Holding are steadily rising.  It would be REALLY nice to see it climb much higher though.  If I didn't have every single title listed, I wouldn't hesitate to participate.  Instead I'm doing what I can by passing this along.

You can find this particular Bundle of Holding deal over HERE.

However, if you are like me and already own all or most of this stuff, maybe you should check out Paizo's bundle benefiting charity which I talk about over HERE.

Happy Gaming!


Charity and Pathfinder

For many of my gaming-savvy reader, the Humble Bundle and Bundle of Holding are two services you undoubtedly already know about.  I came across Humble Bundle a few years back and I have bolstered my Steam collection of video games by an almost embarrassing amount during this time.  To my delight, and financial dismay, they started doing similar things with books of all sort as well as comics.

The way it typically works is simple, there are typically a few tiers with the first one often being a 'pay-what-you-want' though sometimes this will just be a set, but ridiculously low priced tier.  Then there are a couple other tiers available -- usually gotten by a 'beat the average' amount or higher fixed amount and, the highest tier which is fixed.  All of this is digital which is part of the reason they can do this for low prices to begin with.  With the growth and success of the Humble Bundle, they are now able to run multiple campaign bundles simultaneously and the really nice things about these bundles is that benefits go to charity.  With whatever amount you end up pledging, a percentage goes to the publisher who is offering these goodies, a percentage goes to the Humble Bundle group, and a percentage goes to a particular charity (which will vary depending on the bundle).  The splits for the money are predetermined by default buy you can customize who gets how much if you like (I often tend to bump up the charity amount compared to the other two but everybody gets something).

However, what took me by surprise is Paizo partnering up with Humble Bundle and offering a MASSIVE Pathfinder related bundle.  Don't get me wrong, it's not that I was surprised to see Paizo participating -- I have just never seen any table-top RPG offered up in that way on Humble Bundle before.  Frankly, this is fantastic and the offerings are impressive.

For a single $1 (or more -- this is for charity), you get the Core Book, GameMastery Guide, the Digital Beginner Box, Character Folio, Advanced Class Guide, GM Screen, and the first part of an adventure path.

If you pay $15 or more, you add on to that a copy of Ultimate Magic, Ultimate Campaign, Ultimate Combat, Bestiary 2, Inner See Post Map Folio, Year of the Sky Key Scenario Mega Pack (23 adventures), and another part of that aforementioned adventure path.

Paying more than the average (currently $17.19) gets you the Inner Sea World Guide, Strategy Guide, Bestiary, Ultimate Equipment, the Advanced Players Guide, and another couple of scenarios.

As it stands, for less than $18 -- you get a whole lot of Pathfinder.  And, for those of you who would like something a bit more tangible, a pledge of $25 or more will also get you a physical copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box.  Well, at least $25 plus shipping.

That said, unlike most other Humble Bundle transactions, this one did not run smoothly right out the gate.  Paizo greatly underestimated the demand when they decided to do this and in the past few days, over 40,000 bundles have been bought.  Paizo is hosting the files themselves and the demand on their servers with the watermarking process creating an interesting bottleneck has led to a lot of frustration for regular users as well as all these new users.  It has taken me the better part of a couple of days to get all my files and I had waited a couple days before that even trying.  Paizo apparently took steps after the problems arose to try and cope with the increased demand and I can say that this morning shows a vast improvement over the past couple of days.  The good news is, once they are bought, they are yours and there is no time limit to get them or if you need to re-download them.

However, had Paizo allowed Humble Bundle handle the hosting of these files, it might have allowed them to prevent these issues from even happening.  But that would mean skipping any watermarking (or personalizing) of the files in the first place.  Yes, it means forgoing any updates to the files (correcting typos or whatever), but that's hardly a deal breaker either.  It would also mean that people wouldn't have to create a Paizo account if they didn't already have one in order to get their PDFs.

Let's focus on the good though:

With over 40,000 purchases... over $690,000 has been raised so far.  Paizo is getting a nice boost as well as charity and there are still 10 days for these numbers to grow.  With tremendous value, this bundle is a great way to get into Pathfinder or grab them for reference.  I'm not a Pathfinder guy but I admire what Paizo has done and I had no qualms about doing my part.

You can find the bundle HERE.

But maybe you already are a huge Pathfinder fan and have most (if not all) of these already.  Up next, I will tell you about another tabletop RPG bundle benefiting charity.