Leather Dice Cup from The Dice Shop!

I won a prize!

The Dice Shop Online ran a Facebook promotion, asking us to mention any funny RPG names we had come across, with three Random winners receiving a Dice Cup and three Dice.

I mentioned an old D&D character from back when the Aliens were building pyramids to scare the dinosaurs: Gemini. I forget his original name, but after a Rodent of Unusual Size gnawed out one of his eyes, he had a precious stone implanted in the socket, and renamed himself “Gem-in-Eye”! ūüėÄ

I was picked as one of the lucky winners, and today received my prize!

Review

Dice Cup, with Hand for scale

The cup is made from a sturdy leather (ah, that new leather smell!), and laced together with leather thongs. Metal pins hold the cap in place, and the Dice Shop logo is embossed onto the side. Small enough to easily fit on my hand, it will comfortably hold a few dice, but may struggle with larger ones (My trusty plus-sized d20 almost fills the base of it!). The website notes that these Cups (which come in a variety of designs; obviously this promotional one features the Dice Shop logo!) are made by a small supplier who sells exclusively to The Dice Shop.

So, is it any good?

Dice Cup, and Dice

The leather, as mentioned is sturdy, a good 3mm thick, and held together with solid threads. The metal pins that  hold the cap seem very secure, with no wobble.

The embossing is nicely done; it looks like a patterned punch has been used to recess the areas around the logo, and then the leather dyed, leaving the shop’s name clearly displayed. The dragon logo they use is a simple affair, but this keeps it recognisable. It is also replicated on the “6” side of the dice.

Dice Cup, Open.

The underside of the lid features a rim to hold it in place, ensuring that it does not slip in transit, or during shaking! It also means that the flexible leather will hold its shape, as the open Cup does have a tendency to move under a heavy grip! With this rim in place, the Cup forms back to its original shape, and is difficult to malform when closed.

As the pins hold the lid secure, it will make a good travel-case for my dice, getting them used to the leathery environment, before the game. They can then be emptied out, and the Cup used as needed.

Three Little Dice

The three dice that came with the Cup are a good representation of The Dice Shop’s range. 15mm across, they are a mottled purple with gold pips (and Dragon logo on the “6”). I often do not like colourful dice, as they can be hard to read, but the colours chosen here are good, and the mottling is subtle enough not to break up the display. I would be happy to use these in a game!

As I’ve only just received it, I have not had chance to test the Dice Cup’s rolling ability, but I look forward to rolling¬† a lot more Critical Hits!

If you have enjoyed hearing about this Dice Cup, why not check out their other designs! Crowns, Stags, Dragons, Skulls and other images feature in their nearly-100-strong range!

Brew Two

Actually About Home Brew Rules this time!

It has been brought to my attention that my previous article was more about House Rules than Home Brew, so in an effort to redress the balance, I give you:

HOME BREW:

Home Brew
Home Brew

At its heart home brew is building your own system from scratch, rather than using a published system.

There are many reasons for doing this, including being unable to find a system that suits your needs, to wanting to try your hand at Game design.

Often Home Brew systems are the outcome of a long set of House Rules, gradually altering a system, bit by bit, until it no longer resembles the original. (Rolemaster by I.C.E. was originally presented as a modular system to replace parts of D&D, until they packaged it and sold it as a single, unified set!)

In other cases, people come up with a Game Setting that does not seem to fit with an existing set of Rules, and so write their own, customised to the needs of the Setting.

Pros:

A well-written Home Brew system will be custom-designed to the needs of the Setting it is meant for, and the players who are expected to be involved. It is quite common for the Writer to know (or at least have an idea) of who will be playing, and build the World and the Rules around this expectation.

The GM can feel much more in control of a System that they have written, with the rules reflecting the expected behaviour of the World. They are not beholden to some Tome of Rules that they have been presented with, but can write the Rues to reflect the stories, themes, and atmosphere that they wish to portray.

Cons:

You have to write your own rules! To some, this is not a great problem. Some people enjoy poring over rules, producing test-cases, creating characters and situations, and seeing how the rules handle them.

Leave it to the professionals! Published Game Designers, who do this for  a living, have access to time and resources that the hobbyist does not. Time and Players for play-testing, multiple other systems to compare and contrast against. Why re-invent the wheel, when decades of devout designers have refined Rule Systems to a pinnacle of perfection?

Case Studies:

The Chronicles of Ishar

The Chronicles of Ishar
The Chronicles of Ishar

Written and run by a friend of Lucretia, I joined this game in its mid-stage, with other players already familiar with the System, and the Setting, and had to find my feet quickly! Playing Mighty Heroes attempting to save The World from Imminent Destruction, we were encouraged to play high-powered, exciting characters.

The base system was similar to Savage Worlds, with higher Skill Ranks meaning rolling larger dice (d4 -> d6 -> d8 -> d10, etc), adding the relevant Statistic, to reach Target Numbers depending upon Difficulty (with some Tasks opposed by the Opponent’s roll).

My Seraphim Technomancer put all of their points into Tech and Lore, leaving irrelevant Stats such as Dex and Stamina (for the game used quite a traditional stat-line) at very low levels (I imagined this as being only semi-corporeal, being a Divine Being).

Each Class had a Web of Special Abilities, with each Node leading to bigger and better powers, giving us choices over which area to specialise in.

The game was run very loosely, with player skill being as relevant as Character abilities (We had several ‘Occasion’ Sessions, such as Hallowe’en and Xmas, where we had to solve word puzzles, play Charades, and other Parlour Games!).

Character Progression was handled in two ways:

  • We gained individual XP for completing tasks, and reaching milestones, with bonuses for good play. To avoid any one PC racing ahead, when anyone was 2 levels above anyone else, the lower level PC was automatically “dragged” up to one level below them! This still gave people incentive to gain XP, but made sure no-one was left behind.
  • Every time a Skill was rolled, it was logged by the GM, and after a certain number of uses (low levels requiring few, higher levels needing more), it automatically raised.

When an XP threshold was reached, you went up a level (as is traditional), and you gained a set of Points to spend freely, so frequently used skills would progress,and you could push these areas, but also had the option to broaden.

Balance was thrown to the winds, which was highlighted when some of our characters were possessed, and we attacked each other. Luckily, I faced off against our Healer, and we whiffed and wafted at each other, struggling to reach 5 points of damage, while the Amazon Warrior was calling Double Criticals on each attack, and could have killed me several times over in a single round (minimum of 50 damage!, probably treble that!)! Luckily, our Automaton could take this beating, and we survived the encounter.

Overall, the system did as required of it: gave us some rough numbers to work with, and moved out of the way when we wanted it to! This was partly down to the GM/Author using the System as he saw fit, and also off-loading a lot of the player-based side of things, for us to keep track of.

Fates Worse Than The Apocalypse

Fates Worse Than Death
Fates Worse Than Death

Apocalypse World has been hacked to more settings than I can count (at least 4!), so I jumped on the bandwagon, and found a way to convert it to my current favourite setting, Fates Worse Than Death.

Playbooks were easy to formalise: each gang gets their own, with Moves based upon the areas that they usually have low Skill Costs for.

‘Full’ details are available here, but to summarise, I found converting the base mechanics very easy. What I did struggle with was the “Ask the players, accept their answers” ethos, as both myself and my players are used to the GM designing the Setting, and the Players not being able to Define it.

This is always a problem with converting a System. You may be able to make parts of it work, but other parts need some serious effort to fit them in.

Heart Breakers

From the earliest days of D&D, through to the latest releases, people have tried to write their own games. Some have been very successful (in relative terms), such as the aforementioned RoleMaster, and also RuneQuest. Both are examples of how to write “Not D&D” properly. Many others have not been done as well …

Fantasy Heartbreakers” has become an accepted term for games that try to emulate D&D, but with their own special twist, or a “new take” on certain parts of the Rules. The pertinent point being that they never became successful (usually due to being too derivative), and broke their creator’s heart.

I posit that most Home Brew systems would fit into this category, if they were to be published in earnest. If your pitch (to the RPG industry) starts “It’s like D&D, but …” then unless you follow up with a VERY impressive idea, it will be a Heart Breaker.

Check out BoardGameGeek for some examples, including Fifth Cycle, Legendary Lives and NeverWorld.

Keeping it Real

LARP (Live Action Role play), or “dressing up and hitting each other with rubber swords”, has always been the red-headed step-child of TTRPG, but occasionally produces some interesting ideas.

Our local group produced its own Rules and Setting: “Dead Oasis“*. Set in an isolated City (the “Oasis”), it had an interesting Skill Progression system, that nods to the AD&D Monk and Druid ranks.

You could move through the main Ranks (Novice, Journeyman, Professional, Master) by spending your XP, but there was only ever ONE Grand Master of each Skill in the Oasis. To reach this Rank, you had to challenge the existing Grand Master, and defeat them (knocking them down to Master, and taking their place).

LARP is a difficult area to work with, as the constant conflict between “Staying in Character” and “adjudicating the Rules” can be major problem.

Summary

The main difference between Published Rules Systems and Home Brew¬†is the “Published” bit. 99% of Home Brew content never makes it as far as the local club, never mind wider access. And this is probably for the good. Those pieces that do make it out into the wild will rise or fall depending upon many factors, of which only one is Quality (although there is a lower-bar, that if it doesn’t reach, it will¬† never succeed).


*unfortunately, very little evidence survives of Dead Oasis. I believe my house-mate has a treeware version of the rules somewhere …

Do You Even ‘Brew, Bro?

Homebrew Rules

Brew Your Own Rules
Brew Your Own Rules

There is a lot of talk about running games “RAW” (Rules-as-Written), and while there is certainly a time and place for such things (the D&D Adventurers’ League, for example), there is also a time and place for taking a big red pen to the rulebook, and writing your own replacements.

For public clubs, where players may drop in and out, and there are people with varying experiences of games, it can be a good idea to be able to say “I’m running D&D 3.5”, or “Who’s up for some Shadowrun?” and people will know what to expect. But even then, there may be discussion over which supplements are being used, what extra publications are allowed, etc. Not all GMs are fully up to date with every expansion, and even if they are, they may not agree to use them (our club was split over the “Chrome Books” for Cyberpunk 2020. Some people loved the extra equipment, others saw it as rapidly-increasing power-creep).

Some campaigns call for limiting the beginning choices players have over what characters to play (our current game has everyone all be in the same Street gang, which is their Character Class). An early WHFRP scenario didn’t exactly outlaw Dwarves, but made it quite clear that they would not be very welcome!

From minor adjustments through to writing your own complete systems, there is a whole spectrum of house-rules/homebrew.

Why We ‘Brew

Rip Up The Rules
Rip Up The Rules

Sometimes, a rule-set is almost right, but doesn’t quite capture the flavour of the intended setting. One of our group used to use RoleMaster to run a game set in Middle Earth. Removing any Elemental spells seemed to work for the subtle magics that Tolkien seemed to favour.

Other times, a particular rule doesn’t gel with a particular group. Some people don’t like the fragility of 1st level D&D characters, and rule “Everyone gets Max HP at 1st level”, or replace the usual dice rolls for stats with one that gives a higher average (4d6, drop lowest, 2d6+6, roll 3 sets and choose, and many, many more!).

A player might pitch a character concept that the rules don’t currently cater for, and the Group can work to find a way of building some rules that can fit it into the game.

Oft times, the GM just doesn’t like some section of the rules, and replaces them with their own “better” version. One area that seems very prevalent is Order of Combat Actions (“Initiative”). Do you roll every turn? Do you roll at all, or does the PC with the highest DEX/AGY/SPD always go first? Do you go round the table, with no regard for Character abilities? Some tables prefer different ways of doing this, for “accuracy”, balance, ease of play, and other reasons. In some games, getting the 1st go is very important, others less so, so it can make a difference what style of game you want.

To try to avoid a classic situation of low level PCs specialising to a degree that they can out-do any NPC in their area, I ruled in our latest game that PCs could only start with Rank 3 in each skill (out of 5 Ranks), and only progress at 1 Rank per Level. While this has still allowed them to reach the heights, it has forced them to consider a longer term view, as they can’t suddenly buy 3 Ranks in a skill if they find it useful. I have seen games where the reverse is done, where PCs may not have more Ranks than their level, they may buy from Rank 0 to Rank 5 all at once, if they have the XP.

Undiscovered Country
The Undiscovered Country

Unexplored areas: Not the unmapped Dungeons, or uncharted star-systems that the Players will venture forth into, but rule concepts that the Designer did not include. How long will it take our party to build a trebuchet? Can we utilise our Media Contacts to set up a propaganda campaign? Some of this is termed “Rulings” rather than “Rules”,¬† but if it becomes a repeated action, it can become worth formalising a system for it.

A lot of games include what has been termed the “Rule Zero” section, essentially letting the reader know that the Rules are merely Guidelines, and should be altered to fit your own way of playing. This became epitomised in our early games, where the most-quoted section of the rulebook was the section saying “Do Not Quote The Rulebook”!

How to Brew

There are several factors to take into consideration when introducing House Rules. The first, and possibly most important is the very fact that you are departing from RAW. Once the precedent has been set that Rules are merely Guidelines, expect to face a tirade of players demanding that the “obviously unbalanced and unfair” sections of the rules that apply to their character should be changed to something “much more realistic and appropriate” (transl.: Moar Powah!).

This leads to the next consideration: Balance.

Usually, Games Designers have put a fair amount of work into their Systems, and tried to make sure that no single class out-shines any other (unless that is a conceit of the setting. See: Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard). Changing around even seemingly-innocuous rules can have unforeseen consequences on this delicate balance.

Effort/Reward:¬†Is it worth the hassle of poring over rule changes, judging how it will affect the game, who will benefit and who will lose out, when you could just say “No”? Some players are very good at skimming over things, with a “Whatever. Lets get to the good bit!” attitude, where others find their enjoyment reduced by apparent lack of verisimilitude.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One of the long-lasting house-rules we use is the Good/Bad/Ugly Contacts for Character Creation. Everyone notes 3 people that their PC knows. One is a “Good” Contact, generally friendly and amenable. Another is “Bad”. Hostile. A rival or enemy. The third is “Ugly”. Complicated. Not reliable. This seems to work in pretty much any game we run, to help keep the players, and their PCs, attached to the World.

My Table:

My Rules!

At our Game, we have a long-term group of players, and tend to play ongoing campaigns. The latest has just hit the 52-session mark (just over a year of Weekly play, with a few gaps).

Fates Worse Than Death
Fates Worse Than Death

As mentioned, I put a few restriction in place at character creation (All the same Gang/Class, no Skills over Rank 3),¬† and the stipulation that all PCs should be “rays of light in the darkness”, and at least try to get along together (D&D translation:¬†Good alignment). Being a gutterpunk/cyberpunk game, they WILL be using underhanded tactics, and they are part of a particularly nasty Street Gang who use their Blood-based Psionics to leverage power over people’s minds, but at least try to do things for the right reasons!

As the game has progressed, I have been asked to make several Rulings on things that the Rule Book does not make clear, and usually I come down on the side of the players.

One area that was always going to be needing House Rules was the fact that one of the Antagonists is a Voodoo Sect that I have invented new Psychic Powers for. The party is made up of two Powerful Psychers, a Psychic Researcher and a Lost Soul looking for direction. Obviously, they have all jumped on this as something to learn for themselves, and so I am tasked with producing not just some effects that NPCs can call in a narrative manner, but a fully-fledged, robust skill system for the players to interact with! The Psychic Researcher is also developing new Powers in areas I did not imagine, so I also need to figure these out.

The plus side is that I only have a small group, and do not need to worry about wider concerns. So long as it works for this campaign, it does not matter if there are knock-on effects outside the Groups purview.

“What if the Immortals get hold of these powers?”, “How will this interact with the Animalists’ situation?”¬† – Not a big part of this campaign. I’m not going to worry about it. And next campaign, I will probably rule that no-one can play a Bleeder, and so can’t have these powers!

I do need to keep some semblance of balance across the party. The powers developed by the Psychic Researcher should be better/easier-to-learn than the stuff knocked together by the Psychers, without overshadowing them. What we’re really talking about here is Spotlight Time. Do each of the Players think they are getting a fair deal, are their efforts paying off?

And this is the aim of all Home Brew, I feel. Keep the players interested. Adapt to their wants and needs, while preserving the World they are playing in. We very much play as “GM builds the World, Players play in it”, rather than some of the more player-based systems/styles out there, but player-input is still very important in what the GM builds.

Summary

There are several reasons to alter the Rules of your System, but it should be done towards one main Aim: Improving the Fun for Everyone!

Do you Home Brew/House Rule? Why? What are your favourites?

More Blood: What Have We Learnt?

We have hit Session 51 of our Weekly Game of Fates Worse Than Death, so here is a bit of a Summary. It will be a bit rambling, but bear with me:

The State of Play

As detailed in our Game Summaries on The Mute Point forum, the PCs are now quite powerful (Level Five! The book suggests that this is better than 90% of the populace).

Although Vinnie still struggles for cash, the group as a whole have enough folding money to live comfortably, and purchase any special equipment they need (Mack and Dr Watt spent their “big score” on a cryo-chamber, so that their Blood Samples do not decay).

The group have quite  few Minions at their disposal, Mack and Vinnie are carving out their own little sections of Turf, and Dr Watt has a Secret Laboratory! Grendel is building a Voodoo Temple behind her Martial Arts dojo.

Politically, the PCs have played a good game (mainly at Mack’s pushing), and are well placed to ask for favours from Masters. They are also in a position to have favours asked of them!

Voodoo-Power is building up. Mack and Vinnie are bastardising the Faith-Powers into Blood-Based powers, and Grendel is insinuating herself as Voodoo liaison.

External Relations are still a bit stilted.

Psionics/Blood-Magic

Blood Sampling skill, combined with Blood Memory, is VERY powerful.

Blood Sampling allows one to taste a person’s blood, and gain access to their higher-level skills (depending upon how good your Sampling skill is).

Normally, a Blood Sample can only be used to fuel a Psychic Power whilst it is being tasted (a round or two), but Blood Memory allows that to be boosted to an hour (Vinnie can only manage a few extra rounds, but still useful).

As the players have access to Blood Samples for most skills (either directly, through their Minions/Contacts, or buying from other Bleeders), they can be effective in any area they choose!

Belief Attacks are useful as they can implant a Belief in a subject, but only if there is an “attack vector”. What actually happens is that the subject believes what they are currently experiencing, so using during your own Preaching, or arranging for Tannoy Announcements, can be useful!

Emotion Attacks are unpredictable. Firstly, the Psycher must be experiencing the Emotion, to be able to transmit it (I have been generous with this, and Vinnie has played cautiously), and it does not determine Actions. If someone is “Very Sad”, will they attack, run away, hide, call for friends?

We have ruled that Psychic Sensory skills (Mind Reading) cannot be directly blocked. A target may notice the Psychic intrusion, but cannot “shunt them out of my head!”. But usually, only surface-thoughts can be read, so singing a popular tune, or reciting a Mantra can hide any important information. (There are other defences, such as the Math Addicts’ predilection for thinking in Equations. It can be read, but not understood, and ranking Humankalorie have learned Alien ways of thinking, rendering them immune)

Individuals

The premise of the game was “We are all individuals”. Everyone plays members of the same gang (which translates to the same Character Class in other systems), to see what would happen*.

We chose a Gang that has a Generic skill-base, not as focused as the Technophiles, or the Runners, or Roofers, allowing players to choose a few Merits in their specialised areas.

We have ended up with four VERY different characters (even though Vinnie and Mack overlap in certain key Skill areas). To be honest, I think we still would if they had all been given the same Character Sheet! My players see things in very different ways (Not so different that it makes the game untenable, thankfully).

Where Next?

Despite my natural instincts, I want the players to succeed, and they are in a position to do so.

I would like them to continue to combine Voodoo and Bleeder, and come up with the “Game-Changer” power that has been predicted.

This will, of course, lead to them being blocked, attacked, and otherwise hindered!

I would like to leave the City in a state that I could run more adventures there. If this new City is controlled by a small sect of Powerful Bleeders, who demand blood-tithes, I can work with that! There is still the matter of the Skin Borgs, though, who wear advanced armour that needles cannot pierce!

So, lots still to do!


*I would still like to see the game we considered playing: Bin Men! In a dystopian future, someone still needs to empty the trash!

The Android Invasion (Part Three)

Life gets complicated.

Building Random Lists turned out to be a simple procedure. Buttons to choose which Category. Pick Lists (and grammar). Display in Recycler View.

I added a few extras, such as One Button to choose “Furniture”, with a sub-menu for Kitchen, Lounge, Bedroom etc. Quests included a Reward built from the Treasure Lists. Shops called from the Names Lists.

For the Pay Versions, I added some extra Features:

NPCs. Names became clickable, and built a random Person, with Traits pulled from other Lists. Personality, Valued Possession (Treasure), Mundane Items (new List), etc.

Add Data. This was a tricky one. I added the capability to add to the existing Lists. This data is stored in Text Files on the user’s phone, and added to the Array when the App draws up the Lists. I had quite a job figuring out where these files are stored, how to call them, and how to add them to the Array. In the end it worked though.

But we’re just calling Lists, and combining results.

Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day

And neither were my Apps!

But I did build a City-Builder. Not, unfortunately, a map-creator, although I am working on that. This is another Random Lists app that call up traits and features for a Fantasy City, such as Government Type, Local Features, Main Export, etc.

A Random City
A Random City

Again, each Feature was called from a List (still working with XML String-Arrays). Some used combined-lists (such as Renown). The Export facility was also included, and as can be seen from this picture, Exporting also saves a screen-shot.

A new feature for this App was to allow the User to “re-roll” a Trait. Clicking on one of the results will call up a new Trait.

The City is an “Object” (or “Class”) that holds information about each Trait, and when a Trait is re-rolled, the Class is updated with the new information.¬† (Only one City is held at any time. Creating a new one over-writes the old one).

The City Names are created from two sections. One is a list of predetermined Names, and the other a prefix-suffix combo. Here we see “Pen” + “dale”.¬† It could have produced “Pen”+”wood”, “Pen”+”ford”, etc.¬† (As an aside, I am working on a Planet Creator, and those names can pull from an algorithm similar to the one used in Elite, that combines some syllables to form a real-sounding word. The Starport names draw from combos that include a “mixer” between the prefix and suffix. “Hadley’s Hope” might be “Hadley’s New Hope”, or Hadley’s Last Hope”).

Next …

I am reaching the limits of my imagination, and what can be done with Random Lists. While there are many more “skins” I could put on them (Dungeon, Modern City, Monsters, Furniture, you name it …), I need something to allow me to learn more about programming. One area I have been meaning to investigate is Databases. While I did some simple work on them for my RPG pages, I need to know how to fit them into Android!

An idea soon brews up: Random Loots! D&D has always included random Treasure Tables, so I could write something inspired by the latest version, saving all the raw data in in tables, and calling it as needed!

It turns out that the worst part of this is typing in all of the data! As with all of these apps, there is a lot of information that needs storing.

The main structure of the database was easy enough to build, using “DB Browser for SQLite“, although I did have to keep adding more columns as I realised what code I needed.

There are two types of Treasure: Individuals and Hoard. Individuals just carry Cash, which is easy to define the range (dependant upon Challenge Level) and roll some dice. Hoards can include Gems or Artworks, and the chance of Magical Items (OOooh!!). Roll on the Table to determine what sort of thing is in the Loot Pile, and then on each sub-table to find the details.

A section of the Random Treasure Tables from the Dungeon Master's Guide
A section of the Random Treasure Tables from the Dungeon Master’s Guide

There are sub-tables for each Value of Gems and Artworks, and (as noted) multiple Magic Item tables. These are all easy to produce.

More difficult was deciding how much detail to display! Do the players want to know the full details of each gemstone, its exact value (for I introduced a randomiser for that!), what cut it has, etc, or just a Total Value for selling? I decided to include both! The App presents a Total, and clicks to present a list of details (using the previously-mentioned Recycler View).

New addition for Magic Item details was the Pop-Up window. This does  not change what Activity you are in, but adds a new display over the top of it. Here I included Maker, Minor Power, and Quirks that the Item may have.

Loot!
Loot!

Finally the Export Code was added. Again, I used the Screenshot, but also looked at Formatting the Exported Text, so that it was easier to read. This mainly meant iterating the Treasure List and adding a few Line Breaks, with Section Titles.

With the addition of a few details to prettify the App (background Picture, Icons, nice buttons), it was ready to publish!

Finally

It may sound like a lot of this went smoothly, but I spent an inordinate amount of time struggling with sections of code, hunting typos, retyping functions and searching Google/StackOverflow for error-messages. Eventually, I have some workable Apps! You can download them here.

If you would like more detail about the actual Code I ended up with, or if you have ideas for new Apps you would like to see, ytou can contact me at:

admin@maddwarf.co.uk

Thank you.

 

 

More Inspirational Reading

If you copy from one book, that’s plagiarism; if you copy from many books, that’s research.

(Professor Wallace Notestein, 1929. Much re-quoted)

I’m often asked about sources of inspiration, and while my previous article mentioned some forms that I use, it still leaves out a lot of the details.

When I am hoping for a particular theme, I will research other literature and media from that theme. For example my previous Fates Worse Than Death game had a dark, gothic feel to it, and so I included characters named Patricia and Dr Avalanche.

Other names come from mangling themes. In this game, we had a Gang named the “Tea Drinkers” (after their predilection for Soma tea, that supposedly improved their Psychic Powers). Major Players included Cam(from chamomile), Tets (from Tetley), and Ty (from Typhoo).

In Mathematics, an “abelian group” is defined as “a¬†group¬†for which the elements¬†commute“. So¬† my group of Math Addicts, who lived outside of Gang Turf, took the name “The Abelians”. A subtle in-joke that only I got, but I used nonetheless ūüôā

Foreign Languages:

The first port of call here is Latin. I was recently asked about a name for a character that was a Butterfly. I instantly brought up a page of Biological Latin Names to choose from, and/or alter to suit.

In D&D, there are creatures called Illithids (or Mind Flayers) that have tentacled faces, making them look like an octopus or squid (similar to the Ood from Dr Who). My natural tendency when I got to play one of these monstrosities was to call him “Ceph“.

Lists of foreign names are plentiful across t’interwebs, so browsing for one with a particular meaning is quite fruitful. My “Spanish” ex-noble in a fantasy-based New World game was called Sancho (“sainted. holy”), to clash with his obviously-tainted appearance (albino).

Others:

Some of my favourite names have included:

  • Brian’s Little Brother. (We never knew who Brian was)
  • Billy-O¬†(he was run out of town)
  • Santiago¬†(From Alpha Centauri)
  • Hexametric Ice¬†(a group of Math Addicts. Considered to be “special snowflakes” by their peers)
Place Names

Several of my games are set in Urban areas, with large housing blocks. Often, I name these after politicians. A previous Cyberpunk game centred around Tebbit Block, with Lawson Towers, Lamont Park, Hurd Housing and Howe Block all playing their parts.

Pub names are usually randomly generated, but occasionally I manage to mangle something well enough for my needs. The latest is “The Happy Greeter”, where a gang of Bikers hang out. A mix of “Happy Eater” motorway services chain, and “The Salutation” (a biker bar in Nottingham, UK).

Summary

Overall, I take inspiration for any and every place I can get it! Mix it up, mangle it, twist it until it fits!

Take a favourite TV show, poem, song, and change it just enough that it is not instantly recognisable, but still traceable. Draw on your own hometown, or places you have visited (when I re-ran B2 – Keep on the Borderlands, I cribbed all the names from a local street-map!).

Do not be afraid of your players finding out where you got the ideas! It can be good to watch them look out for other references!

Where do you get your names from? What have you been pleased with?

The Android Invasion (Part Two)

Some details

Code: A Summary

I’m not going to publish my whole Code here, but I will present a short explanation of how my App is structured.

Main Files:

  • activity_main.xml – this displays a set of labelled Buttons, one for each Category of List.
  • Main Activity – this contains the control-code for the Buttons, chooses which Activity to launch, and what message to send to it.
  • Several Activities, for different types of List.
  • Several Adaptor (or “Helper”) files, for processing the Lists, and binding them to the Recycler view.
  • A “Class” file for each Category. These define an Object-Type, and show how each Object holds Data*.
  • activity_(category).xml files, with data about how to display each List type
  • (category)_list_row.xml files for showing how each Row of the List should display.

Why Multiple Category Files?

As this was my first real foray into Android Coding, I chose to split the Categories into two main types. Type The First were ones that could be express as “Names”. i.e. two pieces of Data. (Forename and Surname). This applied to Treasures (Type and Amount/Quality), Items (Alchemical, Mundane, Furniture all have Type and Material). Type The Second were ones that did not fit this structure, and each got it’s own set of Files/Classes/Activities/Helpers (Adaptors). e.g. Quests and Locations.

I could have piled up a single set of files with “IF <quest> then <do something different> else IF <Location> do <location code>”, but chose to separate them out for my ease of reading/maintaining.

What Objects Did You Use?

Each “category” was given it’s own Class (type of Object*).

<Deep breath …> Each time an item from a category was needed (each item on a list), I Instantiated a new Object of that Class:

To instantiate a new “Treasure” object:

Treasure thisTreasure = new Treasure();

This calls the Constructor of the Class, to create that instance of the Class (i.e. make that Object.)

e.g. Treasures are randomly chosen from “Coin”, “Art”, “Jewellery” and “Gem”. Each of these has a List of Types (Coins may be gold, silver or copper, Art may be a painting, a sculpture or a vase), and an Amount/Quality (Coins have a number, e.g. 20 Gold Crowns. A painting might be Elaborate or Exquisite, a Gem has a Cut).

Once instantiated, the Object has its set of Values, that can be called (e.g. by the Recycler Helper), to do something with (e.g. Display in a Recycler View).

Are you keeping up?

For the “Name”-type Objects (2 pieces of data each), they are all sent to the Name Adaptor to Display in the Name List (even if they are not names. It’s just what I called the 2-data section).

Quests and Locations got a little more complicated.

Each Quest Object holds several pieces of Data:

A Quest!
A Quest!

As you can see, each Quest is structured:

“You must <activity> the <descriptor> <item> before <time>. If you succeed, you will be rewarded with <reward>”

Each of these is called randomly from its String-Array. The Quest Adaptor must bind each part of this to the appropriate Recycler View.

As a complication, the Reward is called as a Treasure Object!

Locations were built in a similar manner.

Enough!

OK, that will do for today!

Let me know how much of that you understood, or if you would like some more explanations.

————-

*Java is an “Object Oriented Programming” (or “OOP”) language. Most things are “Objects”, that have “Methods” associated with them.

The Android Invasion!

(Or: How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Code)

How I Learnt to Write Apps (A Summary)

As my regular readers will know, I have been writing Apps for Android Smart Phones. Here is where I share some of my experiences, and technical details. Partly to bring my audience an informative, entertaining insight into my brain-space, and partly to clarify in my own head what is going on!

The Set-up

The first thing I need is an Environment in which to write Code. This can be done with a simple text-editor (such as Notepad, or its big brother Notepad++), but more useful is the Official IDE (Integrated Development Environment) Android Studio. A simple task to download and install.

Simple, but time-consuming. A 758MB download, which, on install, will update itself, and fetch a variety of libraries, the Java SDK, and other assorted extras.

I will also need some way of testing my code. Luckily I have a variety of old Android Phones, and a Tablet. I chose most recent phone that I am no longer using (Samsung J5). This needs drivers finding and installing, and setting some developer Options to allow me to write Apps directly to it, rather than downloading from the Google Play Store.

I could have relied up on the built-in Android Emulator,¬† but even on Lucretia‘s Power-House Gaming Rig, it is painfully slow to use (an hour to build and transfer a small app, rather than a couple of minutes to a real phone!)

The Inevitable “Hello World” App

Android Studio presents a default App: the ubiquitous “Hello World”. This gives me an opportunity to learn the very basics of what an Android App looks like:

  • A Main Activity file, that stores the main code (Java)
  • A Layout file, telling the App what to display on the screen (XML)
  • A set of Resource files (Pictures – known as “Drawables”, Values – constants for use in the app, codes for Colours and Styles, and many other options)
  • The IDE files – Manifest, Gradle, etc (Do not worry about these yet. Most are automatically created by the IDE)

There are a whole bunch of options when creating an App, such as which version of Android you wish to target, and what is the lowest you will be writing for, how much code you would like the IDE to start with (depending on which Template you choose), and names for your Project, App, and Files. These soon become second-nature.

To test that everything in installed and connected correctly, I hit the “Run” button, and wait for the “Gradle Build Running” message to clear …

The Initial Bug-Hunting

Obviously, things did  not go as smoothly as they should.

The IDE could not detect my phone, so I had to hunt down and install the correct drivers. I had failed to set the Developer Options correctly on my phone. The App was set to a newer version of Android than my phone used …

This was all relatively painless to fix, but put me in the mindset that I was to keep: There WILL be bugs!

But eventually, I had my App!

Hello World!
Hello World!

Writing My Own App

First, I fiddled about with some basics, to get my head around how the IDE worked, and learn the very simplest Java code.

Changing the text from “Hello World!” to “Hello Mad Dwarf!”. Using different colours. Adding a picture. Randomly choosing a Name to say “Hello” to. Inputting a name to be displayed.

None of this was without problems, but Google and Stack Overflow provided some solutions, and soon I was ready to build an actual, functional App!

Idea: an Inspirational App, providing a set of Randomly Generated Lists for use in Role-Playing Games.

Several choices needed to be made: What lists do I include? How complex? What data-structure do I use?

Reading up on data-structures, I chose to store all of my data in XML Arrays in my Resources/Strings file. This uses a very simple syntax:

<string-array name=”clothes”>

<item>Shirt</item>

<item>Trousers</item>

</string-array>

A little experimentation with layouts, and I could display a Button labelled Clothes, and have it react to being pressed.

Technical Notes

When defining the Text Label for the Button, the IDE complains if you enter the text directly. The preferred manner is to define a String, and then call that String as needed.

<string name =”clothes_button”>Clothes</string>

android:text=”@string/clothes_button”

Next, I need to “Start a new activity”, and pass it the chosen List title. To check this actually works, I make sure I have a couple more lists, and label them, and the Buttons need @ID codes, and an OnClickListener that will call the @ID of the pressed Button. So, new File. I already have “Main Activity”, so I create “Display List Activity” … and this is where the “fun” begins …

New Activities

These are launched by defining an Intent, which tells the App which activity you want to launch, and you can add “Extras” to this, which the new Activity can read. I add a “Message” that is the @ID of the button (“clothes”, “alchemy”, “monsters”, etc). This new Activity will¬† need its own XML Layout File (Advanced: You can define this in the Activity. For now, I don’t).

This new Activity can retrieve the “message” (“Extra”), and call the associated List (I made them the exact same name, for simplicity).

Recycling for Beginners

When I last took a foray into Java/Android, the recommended way of showing a List was to use “List View”. While checking online to remind myself how to build a List View, I found that it has been replaced by “Recycler View”, a way of “recycling” a view, to show lists … It is actually very similar to use, but more flexible (it can display in List, Grid, or Card format!)

I also need the screen to be able to Scroll, if the List goes off the bottom of the screen. Very simple. Define a Scroll View to contain the Recycler View.

I also need to use (according to Stack Overflow!) a Recycler Helper; a secondary file that does the heavy lifting of being sent a list of data. creating holders, binding the list of data to the holder and sending it back to the Activity to display.

Overall, quite a pain to learn, but very useful once done.

In Summary

  • Create several lists (String-Arrays) in Strings file.
  • Display Labelled Buttons
  • “Listen” for a button being pressed, and launch the next activity, telling it which button.
  • New Activity calls the appropriate List, and sends it to the Helper to process.
  • Display the processed List in a Scrolling Recycler View.
    Loot!
    Loot!
    Places!
    Places!

     

With a few added features (like randomising which random list to use: Cash, Jewellery, Gems or Art), I have an APP!

If you feel you’d like to write apps, but are put off by how complicated it looks, why not have a go! Yes, you will hear me screaming into the void about bugs, typos, stupid decisions (by me, the IDE developers, and Google/Android!), and generally pulling all of my hair out, but it is very rewarding!

Inspirational Tools

I get by, with a little help from my friends.

So say the Beatles, and who am I to say they are wrong.

We all need a little help now and then, and GMs writing story-lines are no exception. From the names of antagonists to the location of their lair, from Quests to Completion-Rewards, sometimes our creative juices run dry.

So where do we turn?

Dice.

One Standard Set of Dice
One Standard Set of Dice

Our go-to source of randomness. Mostly our “Standard Set” of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and d100. Very useful for creating numerical values. But what if you need something else?

The more resourceful of you may already own some Other Dice. Amongst my easily-to-hand collection, I found Emoji, Rock/Paper/Scissors,

Other Dice
Other Dice

Body Location, Dungeon Maps and more! There are a large range of dice, featuring Weather, Mood, Grammar, and much more!

But what about when you don’t have the right dice to hand? You need to check for Random Weather, but the only dice you have are Body Location and Who-Takes-First-Turn! This is where we turn to:

Tables!

Table of Magical Rings
Table of Magical Rings

Lists of possible outcomes, Tables can hold a huge amount more information than simple dice, and can be chained together to produce complex results. They can also shift the probabilities of results occurring. Usually they are designed to roll dice, and compare the result against the entries, or you can just choose an appropriate one.

The Internet is full of these tables, designed for each different Game System/Setting, and lots of Generic ones.

To make life simpler, and avoid having to hunt around for either dice or sheets of paper, or the right page of the Rule Book, we also have

Apps

A Random City
A Random City

Loaded on to a mobile phone, or tablet, these tend be be combinations of dice and tables. Tell the App what Feature you are wanting, and it will generate a random result, according to how it is programmed.

My current favourite App is (unsurprisingly) the one I wrote!

Combining Lists of Names, Places, Treasures, Quests and others Features, along with a Personality Generator, and lists of Features of a Fantasy City, The Mad Dwarf Inspirational Apps also allow you to add your own entries to the Lists, and save the results for use in later games.

There are Apps designed around most of the popular Games Systems, providing access to as much inspiration as you can handle!

Summary

Other ways of finding inspiration include reaching for a nearby book, and turning to a random page, loading a random Wikipedia page, or asking your Players to make a decision!

Most people will use a combination of methods to produce some interesting results, and the best way is often to interpret them in a way that fits your game.

 

When do you tend to run out of steam? What methods do you have for recharging your Creative Juices?

The State of The App

Now with added NPC details!

As you may have read, I did an App!

The free version is finalised, and will only be receiving security/stability updates.

EDIT: The Pro version is now available for UNDER ONE POUND! A mere 99 pence will get you access to expanded lists, and extra categories!

What it does:

Available Categories
Available Categories

The opening screen shows the different Categories available. This will hopefully grow as more data becomes available, and feedback is received.

I may choose use coloured Icons, but the basic format should be fine.

Currently the data-sets are based around Fantasy/Medieval styles. Treasures include Ornate Goblets and Lifelike Animal Statuettes, but not Smart-Phones, or Alien Artefacts! Quests involve Rescuing the Fairy-Queen, but not flying to other planets or destroying the Moon-Sized Space-Station!

Treasures Abound!
Treasures Abound!

Treasures are pulled from four separate lists:

  • Gems Will¬† have a Type (Diamond, Emerald etc), and a Cut-Style.
  • Jewellery/Clothing will have a Type (Ring, Earring, Belt), and a Style (Gem-Encrusted, Silver-Plated).
  • Art has a Type (Painting, Sculpture, etc) and a Style (Plain, Gaudy, Cubist, Baroque).
  • Coins have a Type (Gold, Silver) and a value (randomly generated between 1 and 1,000).

The app is clever enough to notice which Category the Treasure is in, and use the appropriate Icon.

Personality Traits
Personality Traits

Furniture is split into four categories: Bedroom, Bathroom, Kitchen and Lounge. Items will all have a Material (Stone, Wood, Tin), and are displayed the same as Treasures.

The new Alchemy section also follows this format, and includes Retorts, Flasks and Crucibles.

Personality takes a slightly more complex route, and calls three World Views and three Personal Ideals. One of each are Prime traits, and the others Secondary.

The (descriptor) (place) of (fate)
The (descriptor) (place) of (fate)

The Location section adds a little more, again, with each location having a descriptor, as well as guardians!

The long list of Guardians have various ways in which they protect the Location, either guarding, watching over, surrounding or holding sacred!

And now we come to the penultimate section: Quests! Different types of Quest are available, Find, Recover, Destroy, Document or even Authenticate! And Maguffins of all varieties! Flying Carpets, Dragon Shields, Saint’s Bones! Kittens! All need Hiding, Exposing, or even Protecting! Each Quest also has a Reward (taken from the Treasures list) associated with it, so our brave adventurers can assess the risk!

Greta Vernon, Adventurer, at your service!
Greta Vernon, Adventurer, at your service!

The last section begins quite simple, but then opens up a whole new area! Names are picked from an ever-growing list, with a 50/50 chance of Male/Female. This is simple enough. But click on any name, and you will be shown their Personality Traits, Prized Possession (Treasure), several Mundane possessions, and what Location they are seeking!

This section is currently unfinished, but should not take too much neatening up to make it Publishable, and I can add to it in later Editions! The Mundane Possessions list is already growing significantly!

From the Dessert Trolley
From the Dessert Trolley

EDIT: I have also added a section for Desserts! All of your favourite fruit (plus a few you may not have heard of!) in pies, cobblers, crumbles and fools! Infused, sprinkled, drizzled and layers with your favourite (mostly cream-based) toppings!

So, if you are ever stuck for inspiration, why not download the Random Lists app from the Play Store!  Who knows what Wonders await you?

Or even splash out on the Pro Version! Only 99p!

If you have any suggestions for new Lists, items that you would like included, or any other feedback, you can contact me on the regular channels!