Thursday, December 23, 2010

40K: Spreadsheet Template for Codex: Dark Eldar

Have you ever worked at something, and reworked it, and reworked it - only to suddenly have an idea that would have saved you a lot of time and effort if you'd thought of it before you started?

I think you can see where this is going.

All future versions of my spreadsheets will include every Universal Special Rule (USR) listed in the core rulebook, not just the ones that appear in the codex. This will prevent me from stumbling across one mention of USR that I missed and having to renumber all the references in the army list.

Additionally, I decided to get my screenshots done before entering in all the descriptions.

As with the Ork and Blood Angel Codices before, these templates are Open Office spreadsheets. Screenshots follow the link below:

DE_5th_2010_v_1-0_BLANK.ods (34 KB, Mediafire)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Misc: Obligitory 'What Have You Been Doing?' Post

I am currently:

  • Teaching myself 3DS Max 2011, using my Warhammer Goblin sketch as the base for my first model. I'm building it one polygon at a time, as opposed to the box method I was taught using Lightwave back in college.

  • Plotting out a campaign setting/adventure based around the Automated Antagonist articles I wrote for Nevermet Press. I'm shooting for a noir atmosphere and multiple narrative paths, each with their own combat encounters and skill challenges. I don't know when it will be done, but it's going to be big. Also have a couple of ideas for artwork, but no real progress on that yet.

  • Assembling a new Dark Eldar Ravager, with a second still in the box. These new models are SO much nicer than the old ones, but I'm not sure how to best store/transport them yet.

  • Added some details and texture to the Dice Tower. It still needs some sanding; After that's done, painting should go quickly. The increasingly cold weather is really killing any projects that require (spray) painting, though.

  • I haven't forgotten about the card game I was working on, but a recent crackdown on  how I spend my time at work has pretty much pushed that project far down the list. Ditto for the Dark Eldar spreadsheet, though filling out a spreadsheet takes less  a lot less time (for me) than getting designs polished in Illustrator.
One of the benefits of working for a university is an extended Christmas holiday. I'm really hoping to get a lot of progress done on each of these projects in the ten or so days that I have off.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Art: A Couple of Animations From My College Days

This is my senior project animation, which was the climax of an HTML-embedded, Flash-based presentation entitled "3-D Animation: From Concept to Completion." I got it done (along with the rest of the presentation) over the course of a single semester. Not only did I retain my job, marriage and sanity (the last of which is still being debated), but I snagged the Best Project and Best Presentation awards that year.

After graduating, I intended to make the animation bigger and better. I continued to (re)work on it for a while, until my career path took me into web design and programming. Here's a test clip showing some of the enhancements made to the hover bot:

Friday, November 12, 2010

40K: First Game With the 'New' Dark Eldar - 1500 pts vs. Sam Hain

It's been months since I've played, but the new Codex finally got me excited to bring some pain, True Kin-style. With so many new options and cool weapons, it took me FOREVER to pare things down to the standard 1500 points that we generally play at my FLGS that would require the smallest amount of proxying (I pride myself on having an army that is both attractive and accurate in its visual representation).

My List

Archon: Agonizer, Shadow Field, Combat Drugs, Ghostplate Armor, Phantasm Grenade Launcher
Haemonculus: Liquifier Gun
3 Incubi

Venom: 2nd Splinter Cannon, Night Field

Haemonculi: Liquifier Gun, Scissorhand
9 Wyches: Hekatrix w/Agonizer, Haywire Grenades
Raider: Flickerfield

2 x 9 Kabalite Warriors: Splinter Cannon, Shredder
2 x Raiders: Flickerfield, Splinter Racks

5 Scourges: 2 x Splinter Cannons

2 x Ravagers: 3 Dark Lances, Night Shields

1 x Talos: Ichor Injector, Chain Flail

Eldar Sam-Hain List (to the best of my understanding)

Autarch: Jetbike, Laser Lance

5 Fire Dragons: Exarch w/lance
Wave Serpent: Holofield, TL Brightlance

Dire Avengers (unknown # - they never disembarked)
Wave Serpent: Holofield, TL Brightlance

2 x 4 Jetbikes

4 x Vyper: Plasma Missile/Rocket (?)
2 x Fire Prism
1 x Night Spinner

Table Setup & Deployment - Sorry, no pictures this time :-(

I rolled up a Capture & Control scenario. My opponent won the deployment roll and opted to let me go first - usually not something you want to let Dark Eldar do, but I would realize in short order he chose to do this. The table was open plains, dominated in the middle by a Fortress of Redemption (sans guns) with simply-constructed Imperial ruins - approximately 12" x 12" - in each of the four corners.

I set up in the center of my DZ behind the Fortress with my Raiders and Talos lined up in front, Scourges to their right and Ravagers close behind.

My opponent did not put anything on the table.

Turn 1 - Dark Eldar: Charge?

Movement: The Raiders boosted to the opposite side of the Fortress, while the Ravagers circled 12" around the left side of the structure. Scourges jumped 12" around the right side. The Talos creeped onto the base
s vacant gun platform.

Shooting: Nothing to shoot.

Assault: Nothing to assault.

Turn 1 - Sam-Hain: I think not

His army couldn't do anything on the first turn, as it was held in reserve.

Turn 2 - Dark Eldar: Um, hello?

Movement: The Raiders drifted back towards the center of the table, putting about 6" between them, as did the Ravagers. The Talos stayed put and the Scourges moved towards the right corner of my opponent's DZ, where he'd placed his objective.

Shooting: Nothing to shoot.

Assault: Nothing to assault.

Turn 2 - Sam-Hain: Fashionably late

Movement: Using his Autarch ability to improve Reserve rolls, the Autarch appeared on the left edge of the table along with 4 jetbikes, all of whom turbo boosted into position. Following them 12" in was a Fire Prism. On the right flank, a Night Spinner appeared in the objective-bearing ruins along with a Vyper. Two more Vypers and a Wave Serpent appeared in the center of his DZ, drawing a bead on my Raiders, as did the Fire Dragons disembarking from it.

Shooting: The Frie Dragons made short work of the Wych Raider, taking out three Wyches in the process. The Night Spinner fired on the Talos, leaving it unharmed, but bogged down on it's perch on the Fortress. One of the Ravagers was Stunned by a Fire Prism. Other shots either missed or were turned aside by Flickerfields.

Assault: None

Turn 3 - Dark Eldar: Webway living is bad for your eyesight

Movement: The surviving Wyches passed their pinning & Ld. tests and moved towards the Fire Dragons, who suddenly looked very nervous. One of the Warrior Raiders moved a little closer towards the center, while the Scourges, realizing they could do nothing against the Night Spinner sitting on the Sam-Hain objective, headed back towards their objective in the center of their DZ. The unstunned Ravager moved 12" to gain line-of-sight on the Fire Prism. The Talos shook off the effects of the Spinner and crawled off the Fortress, headed for the jetbikes.

Shooting: The Wych Haemonculi unloaded his Liquifier Gun on the Dragons, killing all but the Exarch with an AP roll of 2. The Ravager managed to stun the Prism, while the Raiders lances failed to do anything to the Wave Serpent sitting right in front of them. One of the Warrior squads manged to take down a Vyper with their Shredder (the other Shredder shot having scattered off). The Talos managed to wound two of the bikers, but the saves were easily made. The remaining Warriors and Scourges could do nothing against the vehicles with their splinter armament.

Assault: Despite the Exarch breaking and running, he could not outrun the Wyches, who easily overtook him. The Talos was too far away to assault the jetbikes.

Turn 3 - Sam-Hain: Things turn ugly

Movement: More reserve rolls resulted in the remainder of the Eldar force arriving: a second Fire Prism, 4 more jetbikes, another Vyper and a Wave Serpent packed with Dire Avengers appeared on my right flank, headed for my objective. The first Fire Prism on my left flank moved across the ruins towards the Wyches. The left flanking jetbikes boosted strait towards my objective in the rear center of the table, while the Autarch took a postion directly in front of the nearest Ravager. One of the central Vypers moved up near the Talos, while the other Vyper and Wave Serpent milled about in near the Raiders.

Shooting: The Night Spinner unloaded on the Wyches, slaying all but three (and the Haemonculus), pinning the unit in the process. The Archon's Venom was immobilized and lost a Splinter Cannon, while one of the Raiders lost its Dark Lance to a Vyper. The Autarch immobilized a Ravager. Other shooting either missed or was turned aside by Flickerfields.

Assault: Despite taking advantage of an immobilized Ravager, the Autarch could not land a single blow with his lance!

Turn 4 - Dark Eldar: Payback time

Movement: The Scourges, finally having something squishy to shoot on their side of the table, stayed put in order to maximize their Splinter Cannon shots, while the two functional Warrior Raiders moved to flank the Avenger-bearing Serpent. The Talos stalked the passing jetbike squadron and the Archon and his gang abandoned their useless Venom to move onto the Fortress and run back towards the DE objective. They Wyches recovered and passed their Ld. test, moving against the nearby Fire Prism, haywire grenades in hand. The still-mobile Ravager moved back towards the DE table edge, keeping the Autarch, Fire Prism, jetbikes and home objective in his sights - he would be batting clean up.

Shooting: The Scourges layed an unholy amount of poisoned firepower on the fresh jetbikes, slaying all but two of them. What they left behind, the Raider-bourne Warriors finished off. Unfortunately, their Raider's Dark Lance was not as effective against the Wave Serpent, doing no damage. The Talos brought down one jetbike with it's twin-linked Splinter Cannon. The Autarch avoided the shots made by the downed Ravager, but was vaporized by the second Ravager behind it.

Assault: The Wyches charged the Fire Prism, but were unable to do anything with three grenades. The Talos, on the other claw, managed to roll a staggering seven attacks against the jetbikes and brought the unit crashing down in one fell swoop!

Turn 4 - Sam-Hain: Stay focused!

Movement: The Avenger Wave Serpent boosted over to the DE objective, spinning it's rear armor to the DE table edge. The assaulted Fire Prism moved up, away from the Wyches and the Vyper next to the Talos drew near to the Archon and his unit on the Fortress. The Vyper and Fire Prism on the right edge of the table moved up to provide support as well, bearing down on the Scourges standing between them and the DE DZ (say that ten times fast).

Shooting: The majority of the Eldar shooting was against the two Raiders, still carrying full squads of Kabalite Warriors, with some of the attention getting diverted to the backfield Ravager. The majority of the Eldar shooting was thwarted by Flickerfields, much to the consternation of the Eldar player and the delight of yours truly. The Scourges did take some casualties, but passed their Ld. test.

Assault: Despite the Archon's attempts to coax them out their armored shell, the Dire Avengers were not setting foot outside the Wave Serpent.

Turn 5 - Dark Eldar: Futile Fusillade

Movement: Anything mobile that still had a Dark Lance (one Ravager and one Raider at this point) made a 12" bee-line for the Wave Serpent. The Talos, still buzzing off its jetbike kill, turned to face the Vyper harassing the Archon (it was too far away to reach the WS). The Wyches tried to chase after the Fire Prism, but simply could not keep up.

Shooting: The Dire Avengers 'ooh'-ed and 'aah'-ed at the nice light show their enemies put on for them, safe and content within their floating, armored womb. No other Dark Eldar armament had a chance of putting a scratch on any of the tanks.

Assault: Channeling the frustration generated by the rest of the army, the Talos charged and landed two blows against the Vyper - immobilizing and stunning it.


Before taking his last turn, the Eldar player asked me to roll and see if the game would end on this turn. Unfortunately for me, it did. I had no models within 3" of the Wave Serpent and the Dire Avengers inside it. Additionally, his Night Spinner sat uncontested on his own objective in the distant corner ruins. The Sam-Hain had won. Had he taken his turn, his shooting would have likely taken out the remaining Dark Lances, leaving me completely unable to destroy the Wave Serpent.

Despite winning by objectives, the Sam-Hain had only completely destroyed one Raider; immobilized a Ravager and Venom; caused 3 casualties on my Scourges, 6 on my Wyches; and taken two guns off of vehicles - a Dark Lance off a Raider, Splinter Cannon off the Venom. For the Dark Eldar, that's pretty amazing.

In return, they suffered the loss of their Autarch, two squarons of jetbikes, a unit of Fire Dragons, and one Vyper. A second Vyper was immobilized.

Quick Thoughts About the Updated Dark Eldar
  • The Dark Eldar are going to masscre horde (infantry heavy) lists.
  • The Dark Eldar are going to struggle against mechanized lists, unless they are tailored to anti-mech - or happen to be consistently lucky with the Lances (I'm not).
  • Pain Tokens are pretty cool. I used red acrylic gem counters to keep track of them. ($5 at my FLGS)
  • It was nice to dust off the Scourges and use them again, but I'm dropping them for Reavers w/Caltrops in my next list. Maybe I'd feel different if I'd played against Orks or Tyranids.
  • If you take a Talos, the Chain Flail upgrade is a must.
  • Enemy ordinance has been, and will continue to be, a huge problem for Dark Eldar. Indirect, pinning pie plates that travel 70" are scary.
  • I can't imagine taking a named character at 1500 points. Of course, I don't like to take them anyway, so that may not mean much.
  • Flickerfields - don't leave home without them. They are the reason this game was so close.
Got any thoughts or advice on what I should do to improve my list? Let me know!

Friday, October 29, 2010

40K: Spreadsheet Template for Codex: Blood Angels

In the same vein as the Ork Spreadsheet, here is the Open Office template for the 2010 Blood Angels codex. It's got all the entries and rules referenced (that wouldn't get me sued) across four sheets - divided into the following sections: Codex, Equipment, Weapons, and Reference.

I tried my best to get a whole sheet on a single page. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pages print well in landscape format, while the 1st page best fits the portrait orientation.

Blood Angels Spreadsheet Template ver. 1.0 (30 Kb .ods file, Mediafire)

If you discover an error, PLEASE let me know ASAP. I also welcome any and all suggestions that would help me make this a more efficient, useful tool.

Up next: Dark Eldar!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Art, DnD: Cover Art for Brother Ptolemy and the Hidden Kingdom

Cover art for the upcoming Nevermet Press release Brother Ptolemy and the Hidden Kingdom by yours truly. The book - an actual printed book with pages and everything! - is expected to hit shelves in January. The e-book may become available earlier.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DnD, 40k: DIY Dice Tower Step-by-Step

Geek Chic has some awesome handcrafted gaming goodies - none of which I can afford. And even if I could, I don't have a regular gaming group to justify the expense. Still, after seeing the fancy wooden dice towers they have for sale (one even making a cameo in the 2010 PAX Celebrity game) and having had my fill of rolling terribly in my games of Warhammer 40,000, I decided to make one for myself.

After sketching out my plans and recording measurements on a sheet of graph paper (which I neglected to scan for this post), I gathered my materials:
  • 1 sheet of foamcore posterboard (only about 1/2 got used)
  • 1 sheet of posterboard (less than 1/4 was needed)
  • A fresh X-acto blade in my hobby knife
  • Elmer's white glue
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scissors

Step 1: I began by cutting the walls (two 3.5" wide and two 4" wide)of the tower and the base (4" wide) to which it would be glued. The picture for this step was actually taken after I had performed . . .

Step 2: One side of each tower wall was notched - that is, I cut away everything but a single layer of the posterboard covering. This was intended to allow the pieces to glue together in a way that forms a stronger bond than simply butting the corners up against each other.

Step 3: At this point, I selected the two short (3.5") sides of the tower and began measuring and marking where the various obstacles the dice would encounter would be. It was important to leave at least a 1" gap between each of the obstacles so any (average- or smaller-sized) dice would not get caught in the tower.

Step 4: Using some posterboard - or, in my case, part of a cereal box - I cut out patterns for the struts that would be supporting the ledges. This saved a LOT of time having to measure each of the pieces that needed to be cut out.

Step 5: I started by gluing the small corner pieces to one of the short sides of the tower. I also decided to glue the adjoining wall that shared the piece. I grabbed a couple of tissue boxes to hold the walls in places as they dried.

Step 6: Gluing continued until all the small pieces were in place. The third wall was glued in place, but not the final wall - as I would need to reach inside the tower to glue the posterboard shelves and struts.

Step 7: At this point I glued in the first posterboard shelf. Once it had dried, I added the struts. This was annoying because the posterboard wanted to pull away and had to be held in place until the glue dried. 

Step 8: Most of the ledges ran with the long wall of the tower. However, I wanted to include at least on ledge that sat perpendicular to the rest. It was quite a pain to hold the struts in place for this ledge. At this point, any poor measurements or sloppy cuts I made really started to come back to haunt me.

Step 9a: Finally having glued all the ledges and struts in place, I added the final wall of the tower. A 1" gap was included at the bottom.

Step 9b: Looking down into the tower from above, you can really see how working fast and tired leads to some shoddy results. Remember the golden rule of the craftsman: Measure twice, cut once.

Step 10: The tower is glued to the base.

Step 11: 1" walls are added to the base to catch the dice when the come tumbling out. At this point, the tower is perfectly functional, if a bit spare on detail.
Step 12: Some detail to spice things up a bit. When making cuts like this, the importance of a fresh blade cannot be overstated. I got a little too excited with how it was looking and took a picture before adding the final crenellation.

I have plans to add some more details and texture to the tower before painting to look like stone. I'll be happy to share pics of the final product if/when it happens.

Looking back over this project, the ledges were a huge pain. If I were to do this again, I would try to find a more efficient way to build them.  I was struck with an idea for making an even easier dice tower and hope to post about that in the near future. The cost will definitely be higher, but the frustration, time to build, and resultant mess will (I hope) be much lower.

If you have any question or comments, feel free to make them!

Friday, October 1, 2010

40k: New Dark Eldar - They are real and they are spectacular

This morning I happened across some pics (courtesy of BOLS) coming out of Games Workshop's German and Italian Games Day events, which included the first good look at the new Dark Eldar models.

Having played the True Kin as my primary 40k force for about 8 years now, I was all set to say something along the lines of "That's nice, they don't look good enough to replace what I have." Let's face it, the existing Dark Eldar line was widely known to be downright ugly. But factor in the fact that 1) I'm not rich and 2) it takes me FOREVER to get models painted due to a variety of reasons (no time, perfectionistic tendencies, procrastination, other hobbies) and one might understand why I'd be quick to adopt such a position.

But I was wrong. Very wrong. The new Dark Eldar range is beautiful:

Not only are the new models awesome, but the rules that have been glimpsed from the new codex (see the BOLS link above) sound awesome and very much in keeping with the army's theme of speed and fragile lethality.

It's obvious that I'm going to get the Codex as soon as I can. That's a given. But these new models . . . I have a wife and two kids, man! We just moved into a new house and I don't have a painting area set up yet! I'm not even halfway done with my Ork Horde! These people have NO idea what they're doing to me.

This November, one man's self-restraint will be pushed to its limit. Will he endure or succumb? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DnD, Art: Hidden Kingdom Teaser

The release of Nevermet Press' next Big Thing drifts ever closer, like an iceberg in the cold north Atlantic . . . or something like that.

I have spent a great deal of time on the encounter map for the adventure's climactic battle. Unfortunately, I fear posting it here would be a spoiler. As a mea culpa, here's a small bit of interior artwork I contributed to the project:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

DnD: Quick Review of the Essentials Rules Compendium

Last night I picked up a copy of the Essential Rules Compendium. Here's what you need to know about it:
  • You cannot use this book to make characters. The basics of character creation are spelled out, but the race- and class- specific information are in the  Heroes of the Fallen Lands (Clerics, Fighters, Rogues & Wizards / dwarves, eladrin, elves, halflings & humans) and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (Druids, Paladins, Rangers & Warlocks / dragonborn, drow, half-elves, half-orcs & tieflings) books.
  • The book is intended as a quick table reference. Find the rule you need in the detailed table of contents or index and flip to it. Granted, there are a few pages in the front that go over the history of D&D and the nature of roleplaying (wasted space, IMHO). The rest of the book, however, dumps almost all the fluff and pretty artwork to get to the point. As such, rules lawyers and DM's will benefit the most from having it at their side.
  • It's $20. Not a bad price for a compact, currently up-to-date set of rules. Certainly cheaper than the regular 4e hardcover PHB was. Of course, the (first) PHB had everything you needed to build and play a character. If you plan on getting this and one of the other books mentioned above, expect to shell out at least $40 in the store - a bit less online.
The bottom line is that this book is a replacement for the rules portion of your 4e PHB - just like the hero books are replacements for the character portions. If you want to jump on the Essentials bus, this is a great place to start. If you're happy with 4e the way it started out, there is nothing new here that you need to keep enjoying the game.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Misc: Another 'I don't have anything to say' Post.

If my life had a soundtrack, it would currently be playing the following (set to scenes from Red Dead Redemption for both your visual and auditory amusement):

Aside from having moved, trying to get settled in our new house, attempting to grow grass during a drought (as opposed to weeds), starting our oldest in kindergarten, freelance work and the start of a new semester at my 9-to-5, I am currently working on encounter maps for our forthcoming Nevermet Press adventure and will (hopefully) get some additional smaller drawings done as we do copious amounts of driving this weekend.

No rest for the wicked, indeed.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

DnD, Art: Corwyn Map for NMP

I've been so busy lately with moving that I haven't gotten much done. I'm not empty-handed, however:

This is the region in which the upcoming campaign from Nevermet Press will occur. I'm not going to elaborate, except to say that you may see some familiar faces in Corwyn.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Art: Ninja Octopus Speed Sketch

Details for this are pretty much the same as they were for the Giraffe on Steroids, only it didn't get as many votes. -_-"

For those of you eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Monomyth as a DM Tool series . . . I'm tying to keep it fresh in my mind, but it will be at least another week or so (once we're settled from the move) before I have time to actually sit down and write it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Art: Speed-Sketch - Giraffe on Steroids

Approximately 30 minutes
0.5 mechanical pencil
Submitted for the first stage of the Sketchoholic Marathon; got third. The theme given was "animals on steroids."

Messed up the date - August 10, not July 10. Ah well.

Posts are likely going to be few and far between for the next week or so; we are preparing to move. Just going across town, but things have been no less chaotic.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DnD, Art: Cave Sketch w/Color and Grid

It always brightens my day whenever crazyred over at D and D Doodles posts something. His art is vibrant, whimsical, charismatic, and sometimes gives me a whole new perspective on common fantasy tropes when all I was looking for was a little eye-candy.

On Monday, he posted a layout for a section of subterranean cave. I had been playing with isometric grids some and thought it might look nice over his sketch.

I got a little carried away.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Art, 40K: Space Marine Lineart

From the moment I gave my 4 year old son some of my old 2nd edition plastic Space Marines (painted up as Blood Angels), he's been obsessed with my 40K models. He also constantly begs me to draw pictures for him that he can color.

I finally caved in and decided to give him more than a quick sketch. This took roughly two hours, penciled & inked by hand (can't remember the size or brand of the pen I used - something from Michaels Arts & Crafts), with a few minor tweaks in Photoshop to clean it up (I suck at inking).

I put two images onto a single page and printed several pages for him; he's been on a coloring bender ever since.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Misc: Taking a Stand Against Time-Wasting Video Games

Do you remember the xkcd strip titled Cutting Edge? If not, go ahead and click on the link - I'll wait.

Ready to continue? Okay, good.

That strip defines me as a video gamer perfectly. A few years ago I realized that I could get older games - especially PC games - much cheaper from places like Big Lots and the bargain racks at Wal-Mart and Target for $10.00 or less and they would usually perform at or near the highest quality settings on whatever system I was currently running.

One game that has been sitting on my shelf for a while now is Homeworld 2. I really enjoyed the first Homeworld and had high hopes for the follow-up.  Those hopes were dashed to pieces this weekend. Despite being released in 2003, it still looked good and had a lot of the driving story and atmosphere that made the first one so compelling. So why am I so disappointed?

The game is TOO FRICKIN' HARD!

And you know what? I don't have the time to waste playing each mission over and over, ad nauseum, to beat it. In my younger days - heck, even earlier this year - I would've stuck with a game out of a sense of obligation. I spent a whole $5.00 on it, right? I need to beat it to justify the purchase and somehow validate myself as a gamer, a man, and/or possibly even a human being.

Let's say I stick with it. Let's say I forgo all my other time-sucking hobbies and interests to focus on this particular one. Let's say I obsess over it every waking second and get irritated when I spend time being a husband and father while that horrible, obsessive, irrational little nagging voice in my head keeps whispering that I really need to be saving the universe (I have issues, if you didn't know). What do I get for spending all that time beating such an incredibly frustrating game? A pre-rendered scene of variable quality, a list of credits, and - possibly - some message telling me that if I were to go back and play it again, I'd do better. That's it.

The reward is not worth the effort.

My free time is at a premium, and I want to spend it doing something I enjoy. Something that provides a sense of accomplishment, not frustration, and - ideally - will still be around in some persistent form when I move on to the next project. Video games are quite possibly the least meaningful, least rewarding hobby I have, and I will no longer sink hours and hours of my life into a game that is not fun.

If you are one of the few masochistic individuals who managed to unite the cores and defeat the Vaygr, good for you. I hope you feel like it was time well spent. As for me, I noticed yesterday that Wal-Mart had Assassin's Creed on the bargain rack for $10.00 . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool, Part 10 - Apotheosis

Apotheosis is defined as exultation or elevation of a person to the rank of god. Alternatively, it may be defined as an ideal or quintessential example of something. In the context of the Hero's Journey, Apotheosis is a period of rest and fulfillment. It is achieved only after the hero has died (literally or figuratively) to himself and has at least reached a point at which they are completely separated (physically, emotionally, spiritually, philosophically) from the life they once lived. In this new state of existence, they find themselves surrounded by divine knowledge, love, compassion and/or bliss.  They are given a glimpse of eternity - or one version of it, at any rate. But, as Don Cheadle's character so astutely states in the 2000 movie, The Family Man, "A glimpse, by definition, is a temporary thing." So, too, the Apotheosis.

Campbell: "Those who know, not only that the Everlasting lies in them, but that what they, and all things, really are is the Everlasting, dwell in the groves of the wish fulfilling trees, drink the brew of immortality, and listen everywhere to the unheard music of eternal concord."

Examples of Apotheosis
Frodo and his friends are harried and attacked by the Ringwraiths until they make it to Rivendell. Later, after surviving the hazards of Moria, the Fellowship finds a moment's peace in Lothlorien. In these elven refuges the hobbits and their companions are healed, rested and equipped for the next leg of their journey.

In many ways, the Pevensie childrens' visit(s) to Narnia is an apotheosis which contains within it a Heroic Journey (or several, if you consider each visit to Narnia a separate journey). In particular, during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the idyllic period of time, spanning from the White Witch's defeat to their eventual return through the wardrobe.

There is an apotheosis of sorts at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope (IV) after the Death Star is destroyed. A ceremony is held, celebrations ensue, medals are given, a wookie roars, etc. - presumably in a very public manner. By the time the next movie begins, however, happy-time is over and the rebels are hiding on a bleak, inhospitable ice world.

Vallhalla, in Scandinavian mythology, is a place where the spirits of slain heroes go in preparation to aid Odin in the coming end-of-time battle known as Ragnorok. Despite being existing to prepare for a coming apocalypse, its inhabitants are frequently described as feasting and engaging in various other physical and/or carnal pursuits. The Ellysian fields in Greco-Roman mythology are similar in nature, as is the Islamic Jannat (translated as 'garden' - a concept of paradise), where everything one longs for in this world will be until Yawm al-Qiyāmah ('the Day of Resurrection'). The varying beliefs of Christians in Paradise (as opposed to Heaven) might also fall into this category.

The important detail to note in each of these examples is that the apotheosis setting is not the ultimate final destination, but a brief (relatively speaking) period of rest.

Apotheosis as a DM Tool

Apotheosis occurs many times and at differing levels of abstraction in role playing. In 4e, PC's obtaining immortality after reaching level 30 and completing their destiny quest might be considered a kind of concluding Apotheosis, as the PC's story is considered finished at this point. However, it cannot be considered a true Apotheosis because it is not temporary. There are a multitude of smaller experiences that better fit the definition of an Apotheosis: the completion of a campaign or story arc where the heroes bask in the adulation of a grateful populace; leveling up and gaining new skills/powers/feats; even taking an extended rest and playing with a new ritual or magic item.  Any temporary location or period of time in which the PC's are not struggling, but are graduating into a greater version of themselves - be it though personal growth, or better equipment/armament - can serve as an Apotheosis.

The significance of the apotheosis experience to your players should not be missed. This temporary period of time gives the players a sense of accomplishment - they have survived the onslaught and emerged stronger and/or better equipped than they were before. A brief period of rest allows them the time to explore these changes and revel in their success. However, should the PC's spend too much time in this state, they run an ever increasing chance of becoming bored or complacent. The pace of a campaign can be ruined by a poorly-executed apotheosis, as well.

In Jesse Schell's excellent book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, the author discusses the challenges of keeping players in the 'flow channel' (Chapter 9, pgs. 119-122). The flow channel is a "repeating cycle of increasing challenge, followed by a reward, often of more power, which gives an easier period of less challenge. Soon enough, the challenge ramps up again."

Schell concludes his discussion on the Lens of Flow with:

This cycle of “tense and release, tense and release ” comes up again and again
in design. It seems to be inherent to human enjoyment. Too much tension, and we
wear out. Too much relaxation, and we grow bored. When we fluctuate between
the two, we enjoy both excitement and relaxation, and this oscillation also provides
both the pleasure of variety, and the pleasure of anticipation.

Having already touched on the importance of keeping an apotheosis temporary, there is one other important aspect to consider: Time does not stop just because your PC's do. Sure, the heroes may be reveling in the adoration and playing with treasure and new magic trinkets in a castle somewhere; but, caravans and ships still have schedules to keep, monstrous creatures still prowl the dark places seeking to fill their bellies, evil schemes continue to hatched and executed, and tyrannical despots continue their subjugation of peasants and farmers.

Pondering Apotheosis
  • Consider the following statement: Only boredom or a perceived threat will effectively rouse PC's from their apotheosis. Agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  • What, if any, are the possible risks of having several minor apotheoses (such as extended rests) occur in a short period of time?
  • Consider the following statement: An apotheosis should occur only when the PC's have earned it. Agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  • What is the (current or next) campaign's villain doing while your PC's are enjoying their current apotheosis? How will they find out - if they do at all?
  • Is it fair to end an opportunity while the PC's are in a state of apotheosis? Why or why not?
Earlier Entries in This Series
Stage I: Departure
Stage II: Initiation

Monday, July 12, 2010

Quick Update

I'm back from last week's vacation and hoping to finish up the next article (Part 10!) in the Monomyth series soon.

Also working with the Nevermet Press Guys to get our next PDF offering together - it will be based around the Brother Ptolemy character I wrote for them. Exciting!

Friday, June 25, 2010

DnD: Monster Manual 3 - Review & Impressions

My copy of Monster Manual 3 arrived yesterday!

Let's cut to the chase: It's the third title in the series. You should already know if you want more monsters to pick from. No one needs three Monster Manuals to run a game, but I enjoy having options - even if some of those options are rather unlikely to ever get picked.

Here are the notes I took as I read through the manual last night, paying more attention to fluff and background than stats:
  • Flavor text is now relies more on story material than game mechanics
  • New layout for the monster stat block:

    • Basic Info: HP, AC, speed, resistances, etc.
    • Traits: Characteristics that are not powers (auras, regeneration)
    • Actions (by type): Standard, Move, Minor, Free
    • Triggered Actions
    • Skills & Abilities
    • Alignment, Equipment, Language

  • I like the Banderhobb;seems like it should be a heroic tier monster, rather than paragon.
  • For those who don't already know: In DnD, behemoth = dinosaur
  • Names of monsters I do NOT look forward to saying out loud:

    • Catoblepas
    • Klurichir
    • Nalfeshnee
    • Ultrodemon (can't stop shaking my head)
    • Girallon (I may have been negatively influenced by the rock-star pose in the picture)
    • Imix (something that dangerous needs a better name)
    • Jackalwere (Werejackal wasn't good enough because . . . ?)
    • Meenloc (I'm meen, grr!)
    • Nagpa
    • Any type of Nerra
    • Norker (fear the . . . Norker?)
    • Xivort

  • I am looking forward to using Cave Fishers
  • Having trouble buying the Chitine as an established, organized race with a culture - based on their origin (They crawled out of a vat and overran the Drow)
  • Apparently, every race needs one (or more) tainted/fallen counterpart:

    • Elves/Eladrin :: Drow
    • Dwarves :: Duergar
    • Halflings :: Derro
    • Gnomes :: Spriggan/Xivort
    • Humans :: Tieflings
    • Dragons :: Primordial Dragons

  • I'm a little confused by the Drow fluff. Is there a difference between Drow, Abyssal Drow and Dark Elves - or are they all names for the same race? Perhaps the Underdark book holds the answer . . .
  • Some monsters, like the Forsaken, have so much backstory that it seems like you'd have to build a campaign around their fluff in order to justify using them. This is a potential downside to story-driven flavor-text.
  • Gremlins? Really? *sigh*
  • Glad Primordials are an option for a campaign-ending villains, now.
  • Which came first, the Nagpa or the Skeksis from Dark Crystal? Huge rip-off, either way.
  • The Nerra live in a giant disco ball. Seriously.
  • Conceptually speaking, how does one fight a shadow without using some form of light source?
  • Did Tanarukks and Tulgars really need to be two separate races? They seem kind of similar to me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

DnD: Chasm Bridge Battlemap

Houndin called my bluff and asked for a battlemap: a neglected stone bridge spanning an underground chasm.  It turned out a bit shinier than I'd intended - I'll just attribute that to the moisture and secretions of various underdark fauna.

Keep in mind that this is not scaled to print (1 inch squares). Like the Sailing Vessel battlemap, these squares are actually 0.46 inches.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

DnD: Sailing Vessel Battlemap

This is a pseudo-Dungeon Tile battlemap I made for my campaign on Google Wave since the Dungeon Tiles Mapper I normally use didn't have any good ship tiles.  It's too big to print out at 1:1 scale, but works quite nicely for the Fighty plug-in. It should work for GameTable or MapTools, as well.

Here are the environment rules I'm subjecting my PC's to this encounter:

  • The grate over the opening is difficult terrain (-1 movement per square)
  • Crates, barrels and sacks provide cover to those behind them but do not block ranged attacks; they are not stable enough to stand on
  • PC's and NPC's can be pushed over the side of the boat; DC 15 Acrobatics allows the PC to grab the railing before going completely over; PC grants combat advantage while in such a position
Whenever a PC moves, roll either an Acrobatics or Endurance check (DC 10) to account for the ship's movement; Success: the PC's are unaffected and can move and attack normally; Fail: PC feels queasy and/or loses his balance, moving at half speed and has a -2 penalty to hit for that turn.

If there is demand/interest, I may do more of these - though I'm not sure what sort of things people need (inns? more ships? lava-based environments?)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Art: Robot Speedpaint

1 hour speedpaint - no refs, though the head is strongly influenced by the bandit/mechs from the Samurai 7 anime. First digital art I've done in a month or so, and it shows.

Corel Painter X
Wacom Graphire4
Windows 7

Thursday, June 17, 2010

DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool - Part 9: Atonement with the Father

As fans of fantastic adventures, we typically think of the climax as being a final battle or showdown with a seemingly unbeatable antagonist who, up to that point, the hero was being pursued by - or perhaps had been pursuing himself. While this is certainly one of the most thrilling and overtly dangerous points of the Heroes' Journey, according to Campbell, it is not the showdown with 'the dragon' that is the true climax, but atonement with a father figure.

Atonement, in this context, seems like an odd term, as it is traditionally understood as a reconciliation or bringing together of two or more people who have been torn asunder. Campbell, though, is more interested in the hero's acceptance and initiation by whatever holds the ultimate power in the hero's life - often represented by a father figure who holds the power of life and death in mythology.  Perhaps it might be better phrased thusly: Nothing is as terrifying as the prospect of being rejected by those whose acceptance we most desire.

Campbell's synopsis of the Atonement also contains some interesting spiritual aspects to it:

"Atonement consists in no more that the abandonment of that self-generated double monster – the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult. One must have a faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. Therewith, the center of belief is transferred outside of the bedeviling god's tight scaly ring, and the dreadful ogres dissolve. It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic (pollen charms or power of intercession) he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father's ego-shattering initiation. For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one's faith must be centered elsewhere (Spider Woman, Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis – only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same. The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands – and the two are atoned."

Examples of Atonement with the Father

Up until the end of Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader had been a symbol of death and destruction in Luke Skywalker's journey among Rebellion fighters and Jedi knights. Suddenly, it is revealed that not only is his father alive, but is that very same figure responsible for so much suffering. In the final act of the original trilogy, Anakin finally breaks free of the grip Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious has over him and reconciles with his son. Luke is able to gain closure and learns that he is not alone in the universe, but has a sister.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the wayward younger son returns home after blowing his inheritance and living - quite literally- among pigs.  He expects to grovel before the father he has embarrassed and spurned and hopes to earn his way back into the household as a hired man.  The love of the father for his son is such that he runs out to him (something a patriarch would never do) and embraces him whole-heartedly, immediately reinstating him as a full member of the family, much to the consternation of his older brother.

In Gaiman's Stardust, Tristran Thorne grows up knowing nothing of his biological mother.  By the end of the novel, her identity - along with Tristran's heritage and destiny - are revealed in classic Shakespearean form.

Another Gaiman novel, American Gods, centers the plot in a more direct fashion around his protagonist, Shadow and his father - or rather, his lack of a father up to that point. To say more would dip into spoiler territory, I fear.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has a scene at the end where Harry is venting his frustrations to Dumbledore - the closest thing to a father figure he's had (yes, even more so than Sirius).  Finally, Dumbledore admits his mistakes in trying to protect Harry by putting distance between them and lets him in (for the most part) on what been going on in the escalating hidden war against Voldemort.

Atonement as a DM Tool

There seem to be two main approaches for implementing Atonement in a campaign. First, individual implementation for each PC, while requiring more history/backstory from each player and more effort from the DM to weave each player's details into the narrative tapestry, holds the potential for a meaningful personal experience for both the character and their player. Unfortunately, the other members of the group are at risk for becoming bored, alienated, or jealous when a player gets singled out for her time in the spotlight.

The other primary approach would be to provide an atonement-experience for the entire party.  While certainly easier to execute by involving everyone at once, it will likely be more difficult to set up a meaningful relationship involving every in the party that can be resolved in a single fell-swoop. A possible solution might lie in the group's motivation and/or reasons for adventuring together. Figuring out what brought them together and, more importantly, what has kept them together despite overwhelming resistance from an existence which, for all intents and purposes, seems out to get them at every opportunity.

Regardless of implementation strategy, the first thing a DM will need to know is what/who it is that holds ultimate power in a PC's - or possibly a group's - life. Find out what or who they desire to be accepted and respected by above all others, and you have the key to building a meaningful Atonement climax.

For those who enjoy an immersive experience with a rich supporting cast of NPC's, consider using the PC's to facilitate or enable an NPC in achieving an Atonement experience. Hack-n-Slash players - those generally less interested in plot than combat - are less likely to enjoy the experience, however. As always, a little insight into the personalities of your PC's will go a long way in crafting a meaningful experience for them.

Pondering Atonement
  • What is it that holds ultimate power in your PC's lives - Individually? As a group?
  • How might a PC's actions change when: They desperately want to be accepted? They've been devastated by rejection?
  • How might fellow PC's become an obstacle to achieving one's Atonement? What about NPC's?
  • What might happen if knowledge of these motivations were discovered by a villain?
  • Consider the opposite: What could your PC's do with knowledge of a villain's driving motivation?
Earlier Entries in This Series
Stage I: Departure
Stage II: Initiation

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Misc: Using Safety Glasses to Reduce Eye-Strain Caused by Monitors

    I work in front of two widescreen monitors for at least 40 hours a week (more, if you count the majority of lunch breaks I spend at my desk watching anime on hulu) in a poorly lit cubicle with no windows or natural light of any kind.

    Recently, I noticed that my eyes were hurting and I was getting headaches.  At first, I tried turning down the brightness on my monitors - which were, admittedly, a bit 'hot' - to 50%, but that only slightly lessened the discomfort I was experiencing.

    At some point in my surfing, I had run across a reference to Gunnar Optiks' digital performance eyewear.  I seriously began to consider purchasing a pair of their CRySTALLINE glasses, which are clear for people who work with color. Unfortunately, even their low end frames do not come cheap.

    I was on the verge of purchasing a pair, but then it occurred to me, what if a pair of polarized sunglasses worked just as well? That's all well and good, but the tinted lenses might throw off my color perception. That's when I had the bright idea to try out a cheap pair of UV-rated safety glasses.

    After three days' use, my eyes are not as strained and the headaches have gone away.

    I do not have any sort of scientific data or information to prove how or why this seems to be working, only the fact that it no longer hurts to look at my monitors. I'm certainly not wearing a pair of clear safety glasses at my desk to look cool.

    This is not to discredit Gunar Optiks in anyway - their glasses may even work better. But, if you're not rich (I'm not) or have a tendency to lose or break your sunglasses (I do), I would strongly encourage looking into something like this as an affordable, low-risk alternative.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    40K: Update to Spreadsheet Template for Codex: Orks

    Updated Spreadsheet Template for Codex: Orks (version 1.3)

    I went back through the Codex, cross-referencing it with the spreadsheet and found out that I had neglected to add in some wargear - mainly for the named characters.  The link on the original post has been updated, as well. 

    Thursday, May 27, 2010

    DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool - Part 8: The Temptress

    I must confess feeling a need to tread carefully, lest the discussion of this topic come off as sexist. However, the truth of the matter is (1) that the vast majority of cultures throughout the history of mankind have been patriarchal, and thus their heroes have tended to be male and (2) men, heroic or no, have done - and continue to do - some pretty stupid things in their pursuit/seduction/objectification of women.

    The Temptress embodies anything that might lure the hero away from his quest, possibly even abandoning it altogether. She is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, very similar to the Gnostic belief in dualism. Dualism states, at the risk of oversimplification, that there exists a physical material world that is bad, and a spiritual world which is good.  In order to live in this spiritual world, the physical one must be overcome; for the Gnostics, this 'salvation' came though the accumulation of knowledge. Similarly, the Temptress must be overcome by self-discipline and a dedication to the higher purpose of the journey to which the hero has been called.

    "The crux of the curious difficulty," Campbell writes, "lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else. But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion: life, the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul. The seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond (the woman), surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immaculate ether beyond."

    Examples of the Temptress

    Anakin Skywalker's embrace of the Dark Side was precipitated by the feelings he had for two women: His mother, whose death led him to slaughter a tribe of Tuskan Raiders; and Padme, for whom he sought a means of preventing death.

    One of my all-time favorite movies, Legend, has a scene where a faerie attempts to seduce Jack, the hero, by taking on the appearance of his love, Lily. Additionally, Lily is herself tempted by Darkness when he becomes infatuated with her innocence.

    In late Arthurian mythology (primarily the Lancelot-Grail accounts), Merlin was doomed by his desire for Niviane, the daughter of Northumberland's king. Fearing Merlin's power and how he might use it to control her, the huntress gets Merlin to agree to teach her everything he knows before she will love him. He does and she eventually puts a spell on him and places him in a magic tomb from which he cannot escape.

    There are a handful of examples scattered throughout the Bible, but the the most pertinent to this discussion appear as obvious metaphors in Proverbs 5-9 (personifications of Wisdom, Folly and 'the adulterous woman') and Revelations 17 and 18 (Babylon portrayed as a prostitute).

    The Greek hero Odysseus was advised by the minor goddess/witch Circe (herself a temptress) not only how to safely bypass the Sirens on his return to Ithaca from fighting in the Trojan War, but how he might manage to hear their irresistible song while doing so and live to tell about it.

    The Temptress as a DM Tool

    Heroes in role playing games are faced with many puzzles, trials and challenges on their journey, the vast majority of which are exterior in nature - that is, they appear as an obstructing and/or opposing force from without.  Monsters are easy to fight because they physically exist and can be interacted with, they generally have an exterior that reflects their alignment, and they are actively trying to rip the hero's face off; traps are unthinking and unfeeling and simply react to the PC's presence; riddles and puzzles, by their very nature, appeal to a competitive person's desire to 'win'.

    The Temptress, however, uses her wiles and words to assault from within. These are not merely physical attacks vs. Will, but serious challenges to the underlying motivation driving a PC. She understands that victory in the long term outweighs the immediate satisfaction of driving a dagger into her enemies' heart, and spends her time reshaping a PC's thought process rather than trying to lower their hit points. Then, when her web of deception is complete, it will be the PC's who bring about their own destruction. She is never perceived as a threat - at least, not until it's too late - because she does not use threatening behavior. Words, questions especially, are her favorite weapon; with them, she plants seeds of frustration and confusion and throws the party into turmoil.

    It is not easy to implement, but when done well, the inclusion of a Temptress in a campaign can provide a memorable gaming experience.

    Pondering the Temptress
    • Campbell states that the Temptress does not have to appear as a woman. Can you think of another form The Temptress could assume in your campaign?
    • Why might the Temptress want your PC's to fail in their quest? For personal gain, or does she serve the will of another?
    • If you were an adventurer on a quest, what sorts of fears or concerns might tempt you to stray from or abandon it entirely?
    • Can you think of a situation that might drive a wedge between your PC's? Is there any pre-existing tension or animosity you could draw upon?
    • Do your PC's keep secrets from each other? If not, can you think of a situation in which they might want to?
    Earlier Entries in This Series
    Stage I: Departure
    Stage II: Initiation

      Friday, May 21, 2010

      DnD, Art: Card Game Preview - Footsoldier

      Last minute blog post for the week: Here is the low-man on the totem pole - the Footsoldier, supporter of both the Knight and the King.

      I'd like to give him more detail, but I'm not sure what to add.