What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
After Winter Dark Campaign Setting

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Canada Long Weekend To Do List!

Well, aside from blogging a couple of times, the Domesday newsletter is being finished up this very weekend!  A few people commented on the nice front page look of the newsletter I posted a couple days ago and I want to thank all the kind words I have received concerning it.  Sure, it won't be long (a dozen pages or so) but it's a necessary first step in getting this back on track and, more importantly, to ensure that this particular ball doesn't get dropped again and that it adheres to a constant release schedule.  Once this one is out, we'll start looking towards the Fall issue.

The Arcana Creations website should finally get the attention it deserves and get a complete facelift.  Now a few people had expressed some concerns about the BHP forums being consigned to oblivion in early July and I do think forums have a place despite the predominance of social media.  Particularly when it comes to things like product questions and community support.  While I don't expect it to be used regularly, I have decided to pursue the creation of basic message boards under Arcana Creations.  The will be primarily focusing on products AC releases as well as some affiliate support for other BHP lines like X-Plorers.  Unfortunately, I won't be able to migrate any of the old material to the newer and smaller forums but people will be welcome just the same.  I'm looking at archiving some of the material from the old forums as a sort of PDF though... more on that on a later post.

Aside from these two things (Domesday and Website), the C&C module, 'Hide in Plain Sight' will see more attention as I push to get primary layout complete.  Artwork still hasn't been officially commissioned but only because primary layout and edits need to get done.  And I really need to get these done because Ballista and the line I'm building for it needs some serious focus.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Appendix N Kickstarter: 3 Days Left !!

Hey folks,

There are 3 days left to the popular 'Appendix N Adventure Toolkit' which Brave Halfling Publishing is putting out for the DCC RPG.  If you haven't checked it out yet, please do because some of the inherent value might be worth a look.  In short though... for $20 you get 6 printed adventure scenarios (soon to be 7 as the kickstarter closes in on the final bonus objective) *and* a box to keep them in.  These are digest sized products but shipping is included!  It's definitely a sweet spot!  Naturally there are other pledges that might be of interest... for $10 more, you basically double up what you get for $20.

Bottom line: This kickstarter has MET its objectives and several bonus goals.  It is approximately $1000 away from the final objective goal and I expect it to be hit sometime within the next couple of days. And, as cool as the Frog God Games kickstarter is, this one is a heck of a lot more affordable.




PS -- Comparing the Rappan Athuk Kickstarter with this one is truly like comparing apples and oranges and both are equally awesome for different reasons.  I've pledged to both.  ;)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Forums for Brave Halfling Publishing are Closing!

Just about three years ago, John asked me to setup a new message board for Brave Halfling Publishing and it was my pleasure to do so. Things got off to a good start there and things for BHP and AC were looking up. Of course, John and I have had to overcome a series of challenges over the course of the last 3 years and BHP is probably stronger than ever now.  Looking at the short history of BHP would certainly be fascinating but instead, I want to talk about those forums.

Talking to John last week, both he and I had come to similar conclusions about the relevancy of those forums today though he was the one that broached the subject.  Between our websites, blogs, google+ and facebook, was there a need to keep the message board going since there was hardly any activity there anymore?  I mean, there used to be, but there is so little of it now.

Personally, I like the idea of having them but I know I don't have the time I would like to have to turn my focus towards it.  Presently, I frequent a couple regularly and sometimes check into a third.  These are the C&C forums that TLG owns, an fan and support forum for my Android Tablet, and occasionally, I pop into Dragonsfoot.  Honestly, I only manage it because there isn't that much activity I'm interested in on any of those three either these days so I expect it's just a general trend.

Social Media is a prevalent force, and while I don't think it's always a good thing, it's going to be sticking around for a while.  For me, and Arcana Creations, blogging will continue but I know I'll have to set up my Facebook page for AC soon enough.  My website will be revised and streamlined first though.  Twitter, well, I've got less than 20 followers... so it's there but not being used effectively simply because there is no need for it.  The BHP forums and my little corner of it is simply not being used.  Nor do either John or I have the time to bother with it either.

Now, that isn't to say that I won't set something up down the line, even if it is to temporarily do some playtesting or offer product support amongst peers.  But if I do, it will be very small in scale.  I know John is looking at similar options and has done so in the past.  As for the old Brave Halfing Publishing forums, it is time to bid them farewell.

If there is anything people want to grab, please do so because by the weekend of July 7th, 2012, I am pulling the plug.  For those who frequent those forums every now and then, feel free to comment here or the BHP forums to suggest other places that people may want to check out for such things as X-Plorers and whatnot.

And to those who have participated in the past on those forums -- I do want to thank you for being part of that small community!



Monday, June 25, 2012

Weekend R&R: XXXI (Tell Qa)

With a recent discussion on the TLG forums concerning various properties some of the fans would love to see get the C&C treatment, the Wilderlands came up.  I smiled and, at the same time, was a bit dismayed when I saw this suggestion come up.  You see, I kind of like the Wilderlands.  Actually, I really like the Wilderlands.  However, I was never fortunate enough to find out about these products and the Judge's Guild till a few years ago.

Yes... I am really sorry about that.  I recognize it is a massive oversight but, when I started into the hobby, it was with a small group of friends I made when my family were posted over on a Canadian Military Base in Germany (my father was part of the RCAF).  In some ways, we were lucky, the small bookstore on the base carried some gaming material but 95% of it was AD&D and D&D.  To be honest, I don't recall gaming material that wasn't put out by TSR.  While I was able to get 1st and 2nd Edition books with relative ease, dice proved to be a bit of a challenge and other gaming publications were very rare.  In short, I was never really aware of Judge's Guild and, admittedly, I somehow got the idea in subsequent years that if it wasn't 'Officially produced by TSR', it was crap.

What can I say?  I was young and foolish all those years ago.

So, as it turns out, my first introduction to the Wilderlands was thanks to James Mishler -- a writer who I came to have a lot of respect for.  A few years back, he started up a small company called Adventure Games Publishing and back in 2007, he released his first release (not counting the Free RPG Day contribution) entitled simple 'XXXI'.  The title was in reference to the 31st anniversary of the founding of Judge's Guild.  His plan though was a subscription based model to present a vision of the Wilderlands termed simply, the Wilderlands of High Adventure.  Due to a variety of reasons, some of which I have discussed in the past, these plans simply didn't pan out.

Despite that, his enthusiasm and writing about the Wilderlands turned me onto the setting and caused me to seek out various Judge's Guild materials... I picked up the d20 adventure conversions by Goodman Games (there were 3), the material that Necromancer Games put out (one box set, one hardback, a softcover accessory, and an d20 conversion of an adventure).  I also tracked down a whole bunch of original Judge's Guild material.  I can't tell you how surprised I was when I saw how cheaply these would have been produced given the physical quality.  But I just didn't care.

Misher's 'XXXI' though remains simply fantastic!  It's jam packed detailing the town/outpost of Tell Qa which can easily be dumped in other campaign settings.  It's got some history, details locations, npcs, new races and a new class and a cool map... The material spans 48 pages and I just love it.  'XXXI' was my first Wilderlands-related product but it was far from the last.

AGP, was one of the first 3rd party publishers to support C&C.  The only other company at the time was Goodman Games who went on to do 5 modules (4 of them converted from the DCC line and 1 of them original).  Sometime afterwards, Green Ronin entered the fray and (aside from the Arcana Creations and Brave Halfling Publishing partnership), only now is there a new 3rd party publisher attempting to release a product for C&C -- a conversion of 'Bluffside: City on the Edge', a d20 product by Mystic Eye Games released in 2002.  AGP sadly is no longer around and it was closed down since its continued existence was not really financially viable.

The only good news is that the PDFs still are -- including 'XXXI' (direct link HERE) which can all be found under the Judge's Guild products up on RPGNow!  The PDF is $9.00 which some may think a bit pricey for it but, I still think it's worth it.

I can only wonder at times what could have happened had AGP gotten a bit more support, and had AGP did a few things differently.  I still don't think it was any singular issue but a few.  James Mishler has acknowledged the mistakes he made with AGP but I think the way the direction the market was going as well as the economy did it's fair share of collateral damage.


The Return of the Domesday Book

I spent the majority of the day Saturday working on issue 5 of the Domesday Book and I am happy to say that things are coming along quite nicely.  The Domesday Book is the title given to the periodical that the current Castles & Crusades Society puts out.  Actually it was also the name that the original C&CS gave to their newsletter a few decades ago.  Depending on how my day works out Monday (designated the Statutory holiday for June 24th in Quebec since it fell on a Sunday this year), I hope to have a lot more done.

Actually I would love to see it finished if I can at all help it.  Honestly, I don't expect that to happen but most of the tricky work is done now.  It's the layout and design which can be a bit time consuming when your are doing a particular project for the first time and a good chunk of the first day or work for this was figuring out exactly how I was going to go about it.  Now that most of that stuff is settled, I am free to really just plug in the various accepted submissions.  While I'm not certain if I'll realistically be able to wrap it up tomorrow, I can safely say that it shouldn't take more than a week to get it done and out.

I've also sent a 5-page preview to the this issue's Managing Editor and he basically gave it a thumbs up.  With that in mind, here's a preview of the first page of the Domesday newsletter.

Please note that this isn't exactly final but any additional changes at this point would be very minor.  Of course, the whole point is to get this newsletter going again and get it out regularly.  Ultimately, it *is* a newsletter so the page count is purposely going to be limited (the original intent was 10-12 pages).  Who knows though.  This is a community effort and if we get more contributions, we might be able to do longer editions of the newsletter as things progress.  We already have some material for issue 6 which will be the Fall edition of the Domesday Book.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Too Damned Hot

What does one do when it's too damn hot and this is compounded by a lot of humidity?  As little as possible.

I'm enjoying a long weekend here in Canada ... since I am a resident of the province of Quebec, the 24th of June is recognized as a National Holiday.  Because it falls on a Sunday but it is considered a statutory holiday, I get Monday off.  And being smarter than the average bear, I made sure I took today off in order to get me a 4 day weekend.

Sadly, it's a lot hotter than I anticipated it to be today which means I'm not doing much work on my computer.  I've got no A/C in the study and, it's a small room with not a lot of air circulation which only gets hotter when the computer is on for an extended period of time.  In short... 'ugh'.

But some stuff is getting done -- I've had to sort through a mess of miniatures and other gaming supplies and, with a tablet I can port with me to the only air conditioned room in the house, I can still blog, keep up to date with what's going on online, and jot down ideas and continue working on stuff in a notebook with a pen.

We should be getting a bit of storm activity between now and the next couple of days which should help to break the heat right now.  In the meantime, I do have  a game to look forward to tonight -- a friend is hosting and running the game and he's got the A/C on full blast.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Post-Contest Odds & Ends

Tonight, I sorted out a few things that I needed to attend to.

Last week, the contest that I attempted to hold wrapped up but sadly the number of participants wound up to be too few to go on to the next phase.  What that means is we actually got fewer entries that was needed to select six finalists from.  I reached out to those who did participate and I still am giving them something for their efforts.  Originally, each finalist was going to receive a physical copy of the Adventure Anthology that would have resulted from this.  Since that book is no longer happening, each participant instead will be getting a copy of the newest C&C module being developed entitled 'Hide in Plain Sight' as well as the planned module for the end of 2012.  I expect they may get an additional item or two along the way as well.  Since I beloved it would be unfair to select a winner in these circumstances, I have also decided to forgo the original prize for one individual and instead grant each participant a 25 dollar gift certificate for RPGNow.

At some point, I intend to try again though this won't be till sometime next year.  Thanks to all of those who expressed interest ans especially those who participated.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Weekend R&R: Septimus

Sorry if this edition of the R&R is a day late but it was a busy weekend.  I finally got a chance to see 'Prometheus' and I had a lot of fun with it.  I do love Sci-Fi and as any Sci-Fi fan knows, not all Sci-Fi is created equal.  Of course, I'm not talking about the ol' Star Trek vs Star Wars tropes either but, generally speaking, some of the best Science Fiction is just an exploration of the human condition.  Past, Present, and Future, regardless of the level of technology available, a person in that universe will still have to contend with challenges of everyday life.

As fun as the movie was (I won't go into reviews or comparisons), I did think to myself the kind of Sci Fi gaming I've done over the years.  I've always been generally more fond of a Fantasy type of RPG but I quickly realized that Sience Fiction is not a genre I have indulged in very often despite my love for it.  Of all the games I've played and hours devoted to any particular game, the longest (or rather most) I have played with any Sci-Fi game was simply, West End Games' Star Wars RPG.  It was fun and fast paced and I've enjoyed playing and running the game.  Traveller, a game which I would love to play, is sadly one that just sits on my shelf.  I'm almost ashamed to admit it took me MANY years before I picked up some Traveller but, at least it was an incarnation (a reprint) of the original game.  I can't consider my experience with Mechwarrior as counting much either since we pretty much just defaulted to Battletech and played at destroying each others mechs on a battlemap.  I have done some Star Trek... but little.  And, I just can't can't Shadowrun though it was a lot of fun.

So, given my experience with WEG's d6 system, I was extremely excited when Bill Coffin's 'Septimus' was announced.  Coincidentally, the Septimus Quickstart was also part of the first 'FreeRPG Day' that was held back in 2007.  Unfortunately, due to WEG practically imploding upon itself, we came close to not seeing ANYTHING further on Septimus.  When I first got my hands on the Quickstart, I genuinely thought that WEG might be able to start and turn things around.  It was an attempt to provide a alternative Sci Fi setting and pair it to the d6 system best know for Star Wars -- a license which WEG no longer possessed.  Some of the premise proved interesting.... Septimus itself as a Dyson sphere and a focal point and seat for an empire that was fading.  Personally, I saw great potential even though I had very little to go on.

Now the saga of WEG in the past few years is largely an interesting story of decline and it's a shame that this project was impacted.  At one point the project was even cancelled only to be revived and released through POD as WEG made the d6 system available under an Open Game License.

The Septimus project suffered, it's over 350 pages but there is hardly any art.  The setting material is fairly extensive but the underlying system is very familiar to those who have played the original Star Wars RPG.  I suppose that, for this reason alone, Septimus might have been worth considering had it not for the WEG decision to offer the various core d6 material also for free -- such as Space d6.  You can get a variety of the old WEG product line for free and Septimus is also included amongst these if you look for them on RPGNow.  If you want a POD copy, you can google to find a Lulu link for it though I would have difficulties recommending that course of action.

At the end of the day, Septimus is an interesting setting built on a tried and true system which, is not without it's limitations.  Septimus is a great resource to mine ideas from for the development of a Sci Fi universe that you want to explore and create.  At the same time, the setting can be tweaked to provide some interesting gaming experiences -- especially when you visit Septimus after the inhabitants have come and gone, perhaps only leaving a few mysteries.  I think this is why I still have a soft spot for the setting actually -- the potential for mystery if it is spun 'just right'.  Much like how the movie Promotheus presents a few mysteries for new comers to explore and contemplate.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Logo - Revised

I mentioned I played with tweaking around with the new logo just recently on Twitter.  I've repositioned the crescent moon to match the orientation of the old logo based on a couple of comments I had received.  I also made the lines used in the crescent moon a bit thinner while thickening the lines of the 'AC' symbol.  The size was also increased just a tad which was made possible by the re-orientation of the crescent moon.

Having received no negative comments, the logo is finalized which can be seen on the side of the blog here.  It links to the old site which STILL needs to be updated BADLY but it's a secondary concern at the moment.  A few more weeks to wrap up a couple of things will give me a chance to better address the website issue and possible give the blog a bit of a refresh as well.


Free RPG Day 2012: The Aftermath

This year, I was asked to demo the Castles & Crusades game once more at my FLGS, and fortunately I was in a good enough mood to oblige.  After a long day of work yesterday as well as a quick bite out and a bit of necessary shopping (needed some new shirts for work), I came home to a message on the machine.  It was from the store manager who was asking if I was interested in participating and running a game.  I took down the number and called the store back to inquire what kind of time slots they were looking at and ultimately agreed.  I went by yesterday evening to pick up a copy of the C&C Freebie in order to prep and run the game.  Since I was kind enough to accept the request made of me at the very last minute, they were also very accommodating and gave me a DCC  RPG Freebie.  Probably just as well that I got one that way since I didn't see any other of the freebies being busy setting up and running a C&C game.  I did find out why I was contacted by the store at such a late date prior to the event itself -- the store hadn't received their Free RPG bundle from the distributor before yesterday afternoon.  It looked like it was held up at the border.  I hope that other stores in Canada didn't have similar problems and that they all received theirs in time for the event.

I suppose I should be please that the store did contact me though... while true that it's not the first time I do this sort of thing for them, it's always nice to know that they want me to come back to do it again.  Last year, when I ran it, I have to say I got a really nice compliment when one of my players at the demo had compared me to Gygax with the manner I ran my game.  I didn't ask what he exactly meant by the comment since I am certain he never played in one of those games I have heard and read about over the years but it was clear the person had a good time.  I can only assume I had struck a good 'old school vibe' when I ran the game.

He came back and played in my game demo again this year.  Another player who played last year came back as well and, on top of it all, still had the copy of the pre-gen he used last year.  I was a bit taken aback when I saw that and was happy to allow him to play the same character again.  I had five players this year... I started early enough that I didn't have to contend with running a game with a larger group (a had a couple more players the previous year).

What was also nice was some of the people looking at C&C and also having participated in some of the D&D Next playtests.  They liked the direction that the new D&D was going but were more aware of what was going on with various OSR efforts.  They also liked what they saw with C&C.  Who knows, if D&D Next isn't quite the thing for them, maybe a couple of them will look towards C&C or even other games within the OSR.

As for the game itself -- it was a success again this year.  My session ran a tad longer than anticipated but no one seemed to mind.  We also didn't do all of it.  I modified the beginning and allowed the players to do some investigating to find out more about where they needed to go and provided some interesting role playing opportunities.  I had the encounter with the bandits and did the whole Halfling village arc with the Hanna's Grace objectives.  Since I kept the pre-gens as-is (4th level when the adventure actually called for characters of 1st or 2nd level), I scaled up the adventure by increasing the number of opponents and padding the hitpoints a bit more.  Since the final encounter consisted of an Ogre, I decided to have some fun and added a second one -- the Ogre's mate.  It was a brutally satisfying combat.  No characters died this session, though about half of them lost 2/3's of their hitpoints with the Rogue and Cleric almost perishing during the final battle.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Quick Rules: Initiative Options

Initiative.  This simple word uttered by a GM create an almost pavlovian-like response amongst most seasoned players evidenced by the reaching for some dice.

Way back in the day, I rolled initiative using a d6 for Dungeons & Dragons.  The higher the better.

At some point there was a realization that 2nd Edition used a d10 and that different things (optionally) affected initiative.  These would include such things as spell casting and weapon speed.  The lower the better.  Despite this, we ignored these options and continued with the classic d6 method for years.

With 3rd Edition, we switched to a d20 because everything used a d20.  The higher the better but this time you also added your Dexterity modifier to it.

Finally came C&C.  I've tried different things with it.  I've done the d6 things... and then I did the d20 thing (no modifiers).  The book details d10 initiative with higher being best (the roll does not get any modifiers.

What has worked best for me in the end?  I went back to d20 based initiative and allowed for Dexterity modifiers.  In the rare instances where a 20 or more is achieved?  The character is essentially given a second attack round.  This happens only after everyone else has had a chance to act.  It's a nice, simple little rule and, given that characters in C&C don't get a second attack (unless they are a 10th level fighter), works nicely but won't be something that happens regularly either.

Now I can't be credited with this idea.  It was just something that was introduced to me in another game that a friend ran but I liked it and tried it for my own games and found it worked out nicely.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Weekend R&R: The Crucible of Freya

With the recent news from Frog God Games regarding Necromancer Games, I couldn't help but recall some of the great products that Necromancer Games has put out over the years.  For those who still don't know, Frog God Games has acquired Necromancer Games and a press release was issued a few days ago.  Before forming Frog God Games, Bill Webb was one of the people being Necromancer Games which makes this great news if you've loved all their material.  Of all the 3rd party publishers supporting 3rd Edition by putting out d20 material, Necromancer Games is in my top three, alongside Goodman Games and Troll Lord Games.

My first exposure to a Necromancer Games product (I have already talked about a couple others in my Weekend R&R series), was 'The Crucible of Freya'.  This module was a fantastic, thought not at all complicated, adventure module.  It presents an adventure goal and introduces the objective by using action to engage the players.  A chase ensues and the party follows the raiders to an abandoned keep to secure an important relic that was taken.  If the party it diligent, they will also stumble upon a much older source of evil in the depths of the keep.  It's a simple, fun, and potentially deadly introductory adventure.

What was particularly nice was how the adventure module itself is set up.  The earliest part consists predictably of the introduction and adventure overview.  All Necromancer Games products provide great detail to things that can be used to link up with other adventures and campaigns that can tie in to others in their line though never anything which proves to be a necessity.  There was also a free adventure which ties in directly to this one which could be used to bring the party to the town which is detailed in this module.  Needless to say, a nice touch.

The next part talks about the area where the adventure takes place... it provides the usual fair such as a random encounter table but also provides lairs in the area which can be stumbled upon if the party is given to exploring. Small scenarios are provided for these lairs to give the players a better sense that encounters are well planned and prepared as opposed to just randomly rolled up.

This section then details the town and it's NPCs before moving on to detail the abandoned keep.  At this point, veteran GMs and old-school fans would have all they need to go on (along with the supplied maps) to run the adventure.  The overview and introduction paints the scenario and with the information provided for the town, people, and keep, not much more is needed.  However, some people prefer a 'guided approach' for their players and a bit more structure to their adventure to run it successfully.  This is why the next part provides boxed text for narrative purposes and a step by step guide to take the story from point 'A' to point 'Z'

The last bit of the module consists on providing suggestions for future adventuring possibilities and, given that this is a 3rd Edition product, more crunch.  As can be expected, you would save a few pages if this was done for a different system other that 3.x but it is what it is.

The adventure is a great module and the production values are quite nice.  It was also a product that at a MSRP below $10 when it was first released ($7.99 to be precise).  Of course, the best part is that it is still very much available and inexpensive today.  A used copy from Noble Knight Games will cost between $4.50 and $5 (depending on the condition).  A PDF copy from RPGNow is only $3.50 but a new physical copy (POD from RPGNow) will not cost more than the original MSRP and you can get the PDF with that as well.

But now that Frog God Games has unrestricted access to all this older material, maybe we'll see a 'revamp' for S&W.  :)


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekend R&R Delayed

Was kidnapped by the in-laws today.

Food was good but it completely undermined my previously planned day.

The week "Weekend R&R" won't make out tonight but will be posted tomorrow evening instead.

In other news, contest has come to end (see previous post) and the number of entries were well below what I hoped for.  More on that in the next week or so.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Contest Deadline Today!

A few months back, I announced a little contest (you can read about it HERE) and the goal was really to help stir up interest within the C&C community somewhat.  I posted on the TLG forums, Dragonsfoot, and mentioned it here but I've done little else to promote it outside of the TLG boards or my own blog.  Frankly there is a higher investment concerned with my other projects I've been working on such as the 'Hide In Plain Sight' adventure as well as Ballista related material.  The contest, while still important, just didn't need to occupy as much of my time.  The benefit of posting this on some forums is that it can still take a life of it's own as other people get to talking about it and inquiring about it directly to me via email of PM.

Perhaps predictably, submissions haven't exactly been flowing in at a steady pace and, despite assurances that people are working on stuff, the deadline is midnight tonight, EST.

After tonight, something will come of these submissions, and more work and investments will have to be poured into this newer project and I'm looking forward to it.

On a side note, I also got submissions turned over to me for the layout of the next issue of the (new) Domesday newsletter.  This will be released towards the end of the month.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tools of the Hobby Publisher - Pt.2

When it came time to do serious work on 'The Trick on the Tain' module, I knew that the equipment and software I had been using was just not up to the task despite having made a good go with it with the previous releases.  My computer was also about 5 years old and I was running into memory problems as I tried to manipulate larger images not to mention the time the processor needed to process some of the changes I made to a layer or additions I brought to images I was working on.  I also knew full well the countless time I lost and wasted by not using dedicated software for my layout work.  So, despite not quite having the cash I needed, I began to shop around and look at what Dell had to offer as far as hardware was concerned.

I have to be clear here, prior to this, all my previous PCs were dedicated gaming computers but the reality was that the additional money I would spend on video cards and a dedicated soundcard was no longer a priority.  While my last computer had a great SLI video card setup, a pair of video cards didn't make much of an impact if doing something OTHER than gaming on the PC.  On the other hand, more and more applications were taking advantage of multiple core systems and, in some cases, coded to take advantage of a 64 bit based OS.

It didn't take me long to zero in on the Studio XPS line from Dell.  Some people will consider the quality with Dell to be a bit of a hit or miss but in my experience, this line was always solidly and reliably built and still delivered a bit of a punch when performance was a concern.  The system I ended up picking up was an Intel i7 (quad) core and was loaded to bear with 12 gigs of ram.  The memory was more than I needed but I got it because of a special sale -- the same sale which landed me a 1 terrabyte harddrive and a blu-ray upgrade at no additional cost.  The actual cost of the system was good price but, since I had to go through Dell Financing, any savings I got were quickly eaten up by ridiculous interest rates.  Interest was to the tune of 27% and it was on a 36 month payment plan.  I paid it down in 2 years and saved a bit of money that way.  However, given the circumstances and what I got out of it, I would have done it again.  In subsequent months, to complement this purchase, I also invested in a new scanner as well as a monochrome laser printer.

So, with the hardware concerns out of the way, I turned my attention to my software needs.  For this, John and I looked at various options and we both thought it would be immensely practical if we both settled / invested in the same software since we were doing various projects together.  Neither of us could really afford to consider a Adobe suite of products either and I knew full well that such a program suite would cost me more than the new computer did -- even after the interest I knew I had to pay.  We eventually came across a company called Serif and decided to give their software a try and were both sufficiently impressed with a program called PagePlus X4.

PagePlus X4 was not resource heavy but enabled one to do layout work in a very easy and intuitive manner.  It had tools built in to do work on images and stuff you were porting in and had decent options to output straight to PDF as well as some really handy publishing options.  You could create templates and import other files easily enough and best of all... the price was right!  The regular price for the program is $100 which is a fraction of what you would end up paying if shopping from the Adobe catalog.  It should be stressed that this wasn't what I paid for the program.  Fortunately, there was a way I could try a feature-light version of the program but in order to do so, you need to register your email address with them.  About a week or so later, I get an email from the company offering the latest version of the program at a 50% discount.  I took the bait.

I have since bought other programs from them including DrawPlus (vector drawing program), PhotoPlus (photo editing), and WebPlus (as you may have guessed by the name theme... website design).  The great thing about PagePlus is that it will interface with the full versions of the program from within itself if accessing the context menu options -- such as editing and fixing up a photo you're putting into your layout.  If you don't have these extra programs, you have basic functionality to do rudimentary work without the need of additional programs as well.  These programs similarly retail around $100 each but I also got these at a discount.

That would be the one 'hassle' with dealing with the company... expect emails from them regularly with alternate offers and such.  If you also end up with the phone with them for one reason or another, they are also a company that does 'hard selling'.  New versions of their programs seem to show up around 18 month intervals and they will always have give offers and they do have upgrade pricing.  Each of the programs I've mentioned I have now all been upgraded at least once.  It isn't necessary and all the work I was able to do with earlier versions of the software I still do with newer versions.  However, they always seem to add in very nice features which make an upgrade something to consider -- at least for me.  Still, it is possible to buy the previous older version from them as well (though it tends to be a bit more buried on their site -- a good google search will help you secure this deal from them).  From what I've seen an older, discontinued version will sell for anywhere between $20 and $30.

If you are interesting in the slightly older version of PagePlus X5 ... follow this link HERE to for a chance to pick it up for $30

I have had great success using the Serif suite of software products and they are good value for the money.  With this software and the hardware, I can get all the work I need done.  I also have a few other tools here and there to help me out such as a PDF specific editor and a mapping tool to do the maps as the ones from the Ruins of Ramat and the Trick on the Tain  but these are minor compared to the ones I've already mentioned.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tools of the Hobby Publisher - Pt.1

Since I started working with John from Brave Halfling Publishing and got Arcana Creations started, a couple of people have asked me what I use or what I would recommend to manage some of the work I get done when I put out and have something published.  A fair question, and given that I have once more did a bit of software upgrading, it has again made this topic relevant.

First off, I had already been using Open Office for years and a direct output to PDF was always handy for personal use.  I liked previous versions of Microsoft Office but inherent costs with that package, particularly with some of the earlier versions, wasn't at all practical for someone on a tight budget (and no longer eligible for a student discount).  However, when I was first approached by John to edit and check the game mechanics of the first C&C module BHP was producing, Open Office was really the first tool I had to go with.  My responsibilities as for as production went was very limited -- once I finished with the text, John would get the file and lay it out along with the art.  I got a pre-published version in PDF to double check the text and make sure nothing was missed and it went through to the next production stage when I gave final approval.  From there, it got put in a PDF format for distribution as well as a physical digest of the module.  I also had input on the first covers of the module but didn't do any of that work either.  This was the digest release of 'The Secret of Ronan Skerry' and the digest was very well received when it was first released.

The success of this first release prompted us to do two things.  First, I formed up Arcana Creations -- a studio focused on developing material for RPGs.  Second, we decided to take the module and re-format it to a full-sized module in order to release this into retail distribution.  It was at this point I started demanding a lot more out of my existing computer system.

At the time, this was a dual core Athlon 64 X2 3800 with a mere 2 gigs of ram.  It was a great system and cutting edge when I first got it in 2005.  Software was a different issue.  I was still using Open Office and, you can do a good job doing rudimentary layout with most solid word processors now.  It's something that I wouldn't recommend though because as soon as you begin to try and put in artwork, you are bound to run into problems.  These aren't insurmountable issues but they will cause plenty of headaches and you can forget about trying to do anything fancy.  These are the reasons that earlier products are certainly 'no-thrills' and a bit simpler than later offerings.

As far as graphic oriented work was concerned, a favorite of mine for many years was a program called Paint Shop Pro put out by Jasc Software, the last great version of which was version 9 prior to the buyout by Corel in 2004.  It was a great little package and fast for what it was.  However, when I started working with 600 dpi layers and realized that my system just could barely handle it when trying to design the covers, I realized I needed to think about upgrading the equipment as well as the software to make my life easier.

Between Open Office, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, GIMP photoshop, and a lot of patience (and a bit of scotch), a revised version of the Secret of Ronan Skerry was finished and I went on to do a digest sized version of the Ruins of Ramat for C&C a few months later.  Once again, the files where passed on to John who took care of the physical production of the modules and final preparation for PDF distribution.

These three releases spanned from the summer of 2009 to the end of that year.  At that point, some work had already started on the Arcana Creations website and I started blogging as well.  The website was managed with a simple 'WYSIWYG' program but, like now, never a major concern since stuff was released through Brave Halfling Publishing anyway.

However, given that I was ready to undertake another C&C module and I had been planning for larger projects, I knew I needed a better set of tools and I began shopping...  The setup I had to start with was functional but not ideal.  It's probably not the worse way to start if unsure of what kind of investment you want to put into it.

To be concluded in Part 2.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Weekend R&R: Pirates Guide to Freeport

Back at towards the end of the 3rd Edition line, third party game companies began to prepare themselves for the inevitable and the very real possibility that they would need to adapt for the transition of a new edition for D&D.  Wizards of the Coast confirmed rumors in the summer of 2007 with a launch the following year.  Green Ronin, who enjoyed success as a third party publisher of d20 material was well underway to making some changes and released a wonderful campaign setting book entitled the "Pirates Guide to Freeport".  It was also released in the Fall of 2007 and was based on the numerous d20 adventures which took place in the same setting.

Freeport is a chance to do some good ol' fantasy swashbuckling with a hint of a Lovecraftian twist.  It isn't the pirate theme that makes this book stand out on it's own though.  What makes this book great is that it is entirely system free.  It doesn't even have a light 'sprinking' of game system crunch ... it is genuinely and 100% free of any of this sort of thing.  Green Ronin decided to start a line of campaign supplements with zero rules in order for people to feel free to pick them up and use them for whatever game system they preferred.  In order to fill in and supply what could arguably be deemed as 'necessary' to successfully run the setting as was detailed in the book, they released a series of companions to the books.  For this particular book, they released a d20 version, a True20 version, a Savage Worlds version, and a C&C version (though the C&C version was only released as a PDF).

The book itself is concise enough and provides more than ample information to successfully run an extended campaign in the city of Freeport.  It povides a history and details life in the city and gives information of the various 'movers and shakers' and places of interest you'll find.  The book also gives a rundown on the various areas around the city but given that this is largely centered on the one island which is part of a small chain of smaller islands, it makes dropping this city in most settings relatively easy.  Most chapters deal with different districts of the city though and peppered throughout the material are plenty of adventure ideas to spawn countless hours of fun and exploration.

The book itself is very nice though the majority is in black and white with the exception of Chapter 2 (which is an overview of the city) and the inside cover which features a color map of the city itself.  I have to say that it is a shame that the rest of the book isn't in color like the second chapter as I think the color really makes the art stand out amongst these pages when compared to the rest of the book.  Then again, doing it this way probably helped keep the price of the book lower than it would have been had it all been in color.

My own experiences running Freeport thus far has been a bit briefer than I would have liked.  After countless adventures and brushes with curious events surrounding the village of Hommlet and the various perils and loss of life during the Saga of the Witch Queen, my campaign led to Freeport for a change of pace.  The players genuinely loved their stay there and this is where one player remarked my GMing style shifting from a 'Michael Bay' approach to a 'Hitchcock' vibe.  Maybe it was the Yellow Sign.  ;)  It was fun and, if that campaign ever picks up again (it's been on hold for about 18 months now), the players will resume their investigations and adventures in the city of Freeport.

I really did enjoy looking through and reading the book... the writing, art, and overall themes are just plain fun.  Get the Companion Guide for it, and you get the crunch with some interesting critters and magic to go with it which is basically just the icing on a really tasty piece of cake!

The book is a 256 page hardback with a MSRP of $34.95 though the Green Ronin site lists it as $29.95.  It's possible that subsequent reprints were less expensive or Green Ronin is simply discounting the price on their site.  Noble Knight Games matches this pricing though they have a used copy discounted another $5 off.  The PDF of it is $19 and both PDF versions and physical copies are readily available if seeking a copy.

Since the release of this book, Green Ronin has done a couple other sourcebooks in a similar, stat-less style -- Cults of Freeport and Buccaneers of Freeport.  I don't actually have either of this though I was tempted to.  Unfortunately, instead of an attractive hardcover, Green Ronin opted to do a softcover edition instead and, given that my time in Freeport was never meant to be 'longterm', I felt I had more than enough to go on with the main book, the companion, and plenty other of material I have from other companies which could just as easily be sourced from if I needed some inspiration.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Season 2 Finale of Game of Thrones

Simply put... was awesome.  But between that, blogging on and off this weekend, doing editing, layout out, and designing the new logo, my Weekend R&R Post isn't done yet.

And I'm tired.

I think I'm going to bed now.

The good news is that it's started and should be up tomorrow evening (all going well).

In this week's R&R, I've decided to talk about Green Ronin's "The Pirate's Guide to Freeport".  In the meantime, have youselves a good evening and a good week ahead and I'll catch you all soon.

Signing off...


New Arcana Creations Logo

Since I'm looking at revising the tradedress I have been using (and also sorely need to revise the website), I decided to also revise the Arcana Creations logo.  The fruits of my labors today:

I'm happy with it -- I hope other people like it as well.


High Cost of Kickstarters

I know I've alluded to this yesterday and it is something I mentioned briefly in the past and while all these Kickstarter efforts are proving a boon to hobby publishing and a plausible and solid alternative to POD productions, there are some that give me second thoughts when I consider the costs to get in on some of these efforts.

While some can be arguable justifiable, one of the latest, albeit already successful efforts which just started is for Traveller 5th Edition.  Given the history of this game, fans have every reason to be ecstatic about the news and release of an 'ultimate edition'.  However, the least expensive way to get a copy of the game is on 'CD ROM' as well as some cool but relatively insignificant swag (the Traveller dice are pretty awesome).  But the cost?  You end up paying $51 for what is essentially PDF material.  A physical copy of the book is TWICE that!  And then there's the shipping.  Looking through the Kickstarter page (HERE), aside from the picture of the hardcover, I couldn't find an actual page count though, judging by the picture, it looks to be a dense book.  I'm not even suggesting that it isn't worth the price either -- especially at a high page count but efforts like these also seem a bit prohibitive and, given that this product doesn't exactly exist yet, there is a bit of faith involved when pledging this amount of cash!

How would you feel if you pledged a higher than average amount for a book only to receive this book but find out it was published via Lulu or some other POD service?  I know I would be annoyed though others may not really care.  To be clear here, I'm not suggesting that Mark Miller is doing this either and his project is one I having nothing but respect and admiration for.  Whether or not I end up scrounging $125 for a hardcover copy myself is a different issue entirely.

Of course, the Traveller 5 project is not the only high cost, yet highly successful Kickstarter.  Frog God Game's "Rappan Athuk" (details HERE) also has a $100 entry tag to benefit from a hardcover copy however, the amount of swag is quite nice.  Admittedly some of this swag was added after the launch since it has already raised 4 times the original goal with a month still to go!  On the other hand, a PDF copy is $40 and this project promises to be massive (having already seen versions of this before for 3rd Edition).

Other notable projects include the one recently ended by Lamentations of the Flame Princess which, while meeting it's most basic goals, fell short of the ambitious set of bonus goals which would have led to the funding and creation of a host of new modules.  It was an interesting effort on Indiegogo but, I believe it was a bit flawed from the outset.  At the most basic goal, the objective was to fund a hardcover version of the LofFP RPG (well, the Rules & Magic  books anyway) and huge stretch goals which would have seen production of a whole bunch of new adventure modules for the game.  One problem was the 'entry level' to be eligible for those goals.  At $110, you would get 4 copies of the book plus copies of all the bonus goal modules that would be funded -- shipping included.  Now that is fantastic value but a problem for people who just couldn't see the benefit of 4 copies of the rulebooks.  You need to keep in mind that many who would be interested in the project might already have a copy of the rules as part of the previously released box set and the draw here may have been the bonus goals anyway.  I certainly don't fault Jim for his decisions with the project and he's explained the rationale behind this well enough.  At the end of the day though, even if the cost breakdown per rulebook was below the $30 mark with no additional costs to concern oneself with, I think some people were just looking at the total price tag for something they may already had access to.  On the other hand, the entry level to get in on the rulebook itself was only $30 -- a fantastic deal and one I'm so very glad to have taken part in.  I've seen (and praised) the work LotFP has put out before given the quality hardcovers he has managed to put out in the past.  This is one book I will be very excited to receive and have on my shelf.  I think one other thing that may have caused some issues was the implementation, the discontinuation, and subsequent revival of what was called the Digital Faith Pack.  I agree that, since it was initially added after the fact, the benefit of this package would really be dependent on the success of the overall campaign and it made little sense to have it if only the rulebook was going to be funded.  However, given the way that Indiegogo functions and that payment is collected upfront, I have to wonder what might have happened if it was implemented a tad differently and never removed.  In any event, his primary goal was met but the bonus goals fell short (save for the first bonus module).  I am happy to say that his new July Grand Adventures Campaign initiative just announced on the forums (but not on the blog yet) sounds promising and a great way to get one (or more) LotFP adventures into your hands for those who may have been disappointed with the Hardcover campaign.

To date, I have backed over 25 campaigns in the past 6 months and I do think that it is a bit of a boon to our hobby but the higher pledge amounts to access some of the 'basic' material continues to give me pause.  Even so, there is no greater satisfaction of being able to accomplish one's vision and Kickstarter and similar efforts are a benefit to those who continue to dream.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

BHP Kickstarter Announced!

Since Arcana Creations is affiliated with Brave Halfling Publishing, there are many things I hear about weeks and, in some cases, months before they happen.  One of this things is the new line of 'Appendix N Adventures' line which BHP is doing for the DCC RPG by Goodman Games and the kickstarter that was being planned for it.  Now I love the DCC RPG and it's a gorgeous tome and I've always loved the DCC line of adventure modules, owning most of them with the exception of that 4th Edition phase.  I've seen a few things and I've talked to John about this new line and can't help but be exited about it.  If you've seen and love the look and 'feel' of the DCC RPG, I think it's safe to assume you'll like this new line as well.

The best things about this:

1) At a mere $5, you snag yourself a PDF of the first adventure, "The Ruins of Ramat" for the DCC Game.  Handy if you're the type already lugging around the large DCC RPG gamebook.  ;)
2) At $10, you get the a physical copy of the adventure plus a PDF copy, a Supporters Poster, and shipping is included (including international).
3) At $20, you get all the above PLUS a limited edition of a new adventure (never to be released electronically or retail distribution).  The best part is that anyone who pledges at this level gets every single bonus goal reached.

Now, you may be wondering why this is such a big thing and, despite my praises and scorn of various Kickstarter efforts, why I think this is a good Kickstarter.  It has nothing to do with my friendship and partnership with John and everything to do with the original goals and spirit of Kickstarter.  The goal of this particular Kickstarter is to help launch the line.  The line will be launched one way or the other but the reality is that it can be expensive to do.  A bunch of resources have already gone in to cover the artwork and other work that has already been put towards the project to make this a reality.  The first release has an extremely reasonable goal of a mere $1000 to help with publishing and production costs.  As of right now, a day into it, half the goal has been reached.  It is the bonus goals which may turn out to be extremely interesting.  Each bonus goal reached goes towards the production of a new module in the line.  At $20, you already get the first module plus the limited edition adventure and really, given shipping is included, you've easily covered your initial investment since I don't know how this kickstarter will not meet its basic goal.  But at a simple entry level of $20, you potentially get another 3 modules (all destined to be released in distribution) and a box to keep them in.

In short, these are very accessible goals and additional funds all go towards the product line and, at $20 -- all very achievable.  Naturally there are higher tiers, some which are clearly geared towards the collector while others are geared towards those looking for something more 'unique'.

I have to say that I really am happy to see how this Kickstarter is set up and, while I applaud other efforts, it's nice to see that this one is very accessible to those who want to support the project but can't afford to pledge too high an amount in order to get a physical copy of a product or, is otherwise, a bit impractical.

Anyway, check out the link to the Kickstarter found HERE if you're even remotely curious.

A couple of last points: Don't play the DCC RPG?  The material is easy enough to convert pretty much 'on-the-fly' and it shouldn't present any problems if you are using a different system.  Wasn't the 'Ruins of Ramat' already released for other systems?  In short, yes but the content is not the same from previous releases either.  The C&C version which Arcana Creations put out was much expanded from the 'Original Edition' and first version of the scenario.  This version is similarly changed as far as the dungeon layout is concerned and there are differences in the art as well (which looks absolutely awesome).  The main points are the same and given the nature of the adventure, it makes for a perfect 0-level adventure for the DCC RPG.