Friday, August 15, 2014

GenCon Envy

So many posts about GenCon on Facebook that I thought I'd blogificate about it. This might help with any GenCon envy you might be experiencing too.

I liked my 1st GenCon, although it was of course too expensive. A coach flight alone for just one person is around $400-500. The hotel is the next most expensive thing followed by parking then food. Forget getting a nearby hotel unless you start booking next year right after GenCon.

My 2nd GenCon was just as expensive and it was downhill from the 1st. It was a walk-a-thon in the summer heat from faraway parking land. Don't wear wizard robes made from micro suede either. After this one, it became clear that going to GenCon is a bit like going to an amusement park where you wait in line at a ride for an hour for 5 minutes of actual fun.

The high point was getting to run an adventure I wrote for groups of fellow nerds and bringing my daughter along. And hey, the bonus is that there were no underground explosions. I wasn't at all surprised to see this bit of news about this year's GenCon.

I probably won't go again because Indianapolis is kind of a shit hole, which really surprised me. There are lots of abandoned buildings and churches every 50 feet. The city almost seemed apocalyptic. It reminded me of Half-Life 2. I kept looking for fast zombies to come scrambling over a rooftops. I figured the racing gig would help them build a better city. I've since watched a documentary on the Indianapolis homicide department and its detectives. Talented heroes. They have their work cut out for them, let me tell you. The city really does need the money though.

I plan to go to smaller cons in the future because, bang for the buck, GenCon just isn't worth the expence and aggravation. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kickstarter: Campaign Calendar Interfaces

I was just putting this blog together, pasting in the Kickstarter embed code at left and noticed that the pledge amount went up another $10! Yay! One more backer and I'll actually be able to see backer names on Kickstarter. Why they hide them until you get 10, I don't know.

Anyway I talked about my Kickstarter yesterday and since I still have 8 days left in the campaign, I thought I would further share my interface designs for the calendar portion here, rather than in Kickstarter form.

I say further share, because I've already put them out on Twitter and Facebook. I also tried Reddit but didn't have enough "karma points," so I have my work cut out for me there. Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of the Kickstarter platform is that updates are almost an afterthought. For example, you can tweet the short link from the project's main page, but you can't tweet the short link from an update page, which is important since Twitter has a short character limit.

Quite frankly, the updates for my project are actually where the juice for the project is located. In any case, below are the seven interface designs so far. I'll be working up the weather generator interfaces and trying to get the word out about those later on, so these aren't the only interface designs. I'm also including a link to update #15 from Kickstarter and some other links that will help tell my story as a gamer and as a guy that just wants to build cool apps for gamers.

Facebook: AWizardInDallas (Richard A. Hunt)
Facebook: Cartography Portfolio
Facebook: Bibliography (Stuff I designed and/or wrote)
Twitter: AWizardInDallas (Richard A. Hunt)
Kickstarter Update #15

The Months Interface

The Seasons Interface

The Moons Interface

The Calendar Interface

The Campaign Journal Interface

The Events Interface

The Moon Activity Interface

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why My Kickstarter is Tanking

Preface: I'm rebooting my blog. I had an encouraging visitor tonight and sometimes that's all you need to keep going...

I'm starting a new company called Chaotic Noodle, LLC. I've been a freelancer for a number of years and gaining talent recognition has been an exercise in futility.

I have a lot of diverse talents and I know my capabilities, even if others fail to recognize talent when they see it. Everyone wants a five-minute elevator sales pitch. No thanks. Hollywood business practice can go to hell.

Anyway very few people are capable of writing an adventure, doing page layout, monster stats, new magic items, and spells, as well as all of the cartography. You'd think that level of major talent working in harmony would be industry gold? Nope.

I have those skills. I'm a highly intelligent old school gamer and I've been trying in vain for a long time to get away from a dull career in IT.  Search this blog and you'll read about how I even interviewed with TSR back in the day. I know exactly what's holding me back and it's an unwillingness to compromise my standards and an old-fashioned belief in selling by the merits of a products over  pimping shoddy splat books no one will actually use. These appeal to game system collectors for some ungodly reason. I want to make art, not crap.

I have a BFA in English. There are things I wrote in print. I'm also definitely an idea man, but the sad fact of the matter is, the industry doesn't pay for talent. What's worse, is the willingness of some to waste time and energy on pimping, begging for good reviews, or stacking the deck under the table rather than producing a product that has natural merit, not to mention working on projects that die before they even get going yet you've already done the work.

I've also worked on projects for folks which will never see the light of day and on others where the proceeds of rather sizable Kickstarters go in their pockets rather than shared with the people doing the actual real, creative work. I can assure you that only a small percentage of money from a Kickstarter actually goes into the product. The rest is pure profit.

I'm tired of standing in the shadow of pimps. Most of all, I'm sick to death of "volunteering" my skills for peanuts. Those in the industry will tell you that this is just the way it is and that you should just keep plugging away until someday there's a ray of light. Well, fuck that. This is that day. I refuse to go to my grave waiting for others to pull their head out of their ass.

My company name came as the result of a verbal oops. I was explaining alignments to a group one night when chaotic neutral became Chaotic Noodle. One of my players even drew a cute picture of a noodle rock band, which I'll have to dig up at some point and post. I tried in vain to get help with a logo, but ended up doing it myself.

What was next? The next thing was to get some things ready for print, but I decided that it would take a really long time to build up speed that way. I also knew that someone else would scrape 20-30% of my work into their pockets. Homey don't play that either. So I was a bit stuck for time and money. I'm recently divorced from a lazy, dysfunctional family and adrift in financial hell and that doesn't help.

Then some dumbshit made potato salad. I figured maybe I should give it a try, as annoying as I had found Kickstarters in the past. So, I dusted off an idea I blogged about in 2008, a calendar app, and decided to see if I could get decent reception. I even charged $700 for help with crowd funding. I seriously doubt it made any difference.

I hate Twitter. I hate the short attention span nature of it, but I dusted of my evil account and started tweeting. If you want to find out what it's like to talk to a brick wall, try posting your good ideas on Kickstarter amongst the din of other Kickstarters to your Facebook friends and your followers on Twitter. In their defense, there is a massive glut of the stuff traveling the web.

My Kickstarter is tanking and after doing some reading I know exactly why. It is impossible to get anything funded without the help of your friends and their friends and so on, like the old shampoo commercial. One article I read described the process as sneezing on someone so they'll sneeze on someone else so that every one gets sick. I have a large number of friends on Facebook, but few willing to even just tell their friends much less kick in just a $1. As a matter of fact I remember thinking that there had to be 75,000 individuals who liked my idea and would kick in just $1? Oddly no. I read that people think just $1 is an insult.

My Kickstarter is tanking because I applied logic to the problem rather than emotion and all modern advertising is based on emotion. In other words, describing the merits of a product doesn't sell shit. My idea is really good, if a little niche. However, people are so screwed up in their thinking that you can point out features and benefits all day long and they'll still give it a pass. Tell them that the product will make them feel better about themselves and they eat it up like chum. So the pimps win this one and I'm sure they'll have a good laugh over my probable failure. I say probable because I still have 8 days left and I plan to use every damned one of them. Anyway no one ever died from being laughed at.

The good news is that I'm still winning. I got started and my logo is now out there. I'll also know how to launch a better Kickstarter next time. I'll eventually put up my shingle and start hawking my wares regardless, along side everyone else. I'll sell my products on their merit too, not by having "Christmas in July" sales and by begging reviewers for good reviews.

My Kickstarter would have made it easier of course, but then I've been trying for so long now that self publishing seems like the easier way now. Besides, I'll have the kind of customers I can feel good about.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

At Odds with the World

I think I'm at odds with the world in most things which of course extends to roleplaying games. I just don't seem to share the opinions of a lot of people in so many areas. I'm not sure if it's just a result of my age or for some other reason. I do know that I'm pretty conservative when it comes to what I will and will not allow in my games. I think opening the flood gates and allowing every possible character option, feat or even piece of equipment is sort of disastrous. Sometimes it's just as simple as making it more difficult to calculate challenge ratings while at others it just seems to break the theme or pattern of the campaign. A big example of this is the monk.

I generally prefer a campaign from the "pseudo-Western European" point of view. If I wanted to play with ninja, Bushido, or samurai, then I'd run a campaign set specifically in those cultures. I don't like them mixed up because to me it just creates a confusing goulash  The exception is if my own fantasy "Japan" just happens to be off the coast of my fantasy "France." Point is, it has to make some sort of definitive logical sense or I can't create the kind of campaign depth I prefer. I don't run "comic book" (in the sense that every superhero coexists in the same reality) or "pulp" campaigns. I don't want my Star Trek mixed with my Star Wars and I don't really even care for my Aliens to be mixed with my Predators (though at least both are from outer space). You might as well pull out all of the stops and have a spaceman, next to a cowboy, next to a dino-rider. You get the idea. All of that just isn't my cup of tea. I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I have to allow monks to run around with my paladins. Okay fine, but if you wanna play a ninja then let's either play in a setting that makes it even thinly plausible or let's run an Asian campaign entirely. Don't make me redesign my world or make up some lame excuse for why a samurai is running around "London." He isn't going to like the fish and chips...

This attitude pretty much extends into even the game rules. There are some pretty crappy supplements on the market, many of which I just wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole much less a D20. I won't name them because I don't want to hurt anyone's bottom line. There are also a precious few I actually wish existed, but probably never will. I love the concept of elementalists from the old 2E Tome of Magic, but they don't exists in Pathfinder. I've always wanted to make elementalism the "old way" of magic in a campaign world and make the schools of magic the "new way," but there just aren't any base classes or even any prestige classes (most of which are just filler you'll never use anyway) to support the idea. (Mongoose publishing has a few for D20, but they don't seem "pure" or aligned very well.) No one else gives two balls of dragon dung about the idea either, so it's up to me I guess. I also don't want it to come down to just a list of spells with the right elemental descriptor and finally I'd like there to be more than four elementalist types (ice would be... cool).

I've come to the conclusion that I should make no apologies for my preferences, age or no. It does get rather frustrating being told "you're wrong" all the time in one way shape or form though. I usually try to accommodate players who want to play a particular concept or make it fit, but really I've gotten to the point in my life where I really don't care whether I'm at odds with the world or not. I guess I don't care whether I fit in or not. It's liberating, but lonely. I find myself (perhaps arrogantly) wondering if the "old world" artists, musicians, and other geniuses felt this way...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

More on the Serpent's Skull

I had to add a kamadan to part two, just to liven things up...
The first adventure, "Souls for Smuggler's Shiv," is a perfect sandbox adventure. It's well written, well organized and it was a pleasure to run. I did make a pretty major mistake in running it though, because the temple and the weird stone that opens its front doors was a bit confusing. The party arrived earlier than the author intended because I tend to consider what can be heard in the distance. For example, in the city you can hear police car and fire truck sirens. You're not going to pick up and walk to them, but you can still hear them. Outside the temple is a big waterfall and I figured the party would be able to its roar from the jungle trail nearby. So, although the adventure's encounters were designed to be played in any order, my game went right to the intended end of the adventure. The party also managed to open the temple with just a DC 30 activation roll, which I found disappointing. So, the Serpentfolk temple, the supposed end of the adventure, was nothing to write home about.

The lighthouse where the cannibals live actually ended up becoming the high point. I used the situation to creep my players out at one point as they sneaked into the lighthouse, at night, past all of the tribal guards. As they headed up the stairs, I told the party they could hear a rhythmic thumping noise (no, not war drums). Waiting for a bit, they eventually determined from my description that the chieftain was having a good old time with his nude cannibalistic concubines. Yep, they broke into the room to find them in coitus. They fought the naked, red-headed chieftain and his three nude wives, all of whom had sharpened teeth and it became a session to remember.  We still refer to it now and again and it totally gives my players the willies to picture these weird cannibals bumping uglies at the top of the light house.

The second part of the AP was somewhat disappointing; it was dry and pretty dull and none of the events in it were all that memorable. I played up the only interesting NPC, but she and her dinosaur just didn't click much with the party. The only things the became memorable were those that I added because things were too "realistically" dull. I think the adventure goes too far in trying to be just like having an adventure in real world Africa. The author watched too much Discovery Channel I think.

Anyway I added a wyvern shadowing the party which attacked and was dealt with pretty easily, though in the end it got away. I added a kamadan which intrigued the players so much that they went to investigate its lair, which I made up on the spot. They found kamadan cubs which they couldn't bring themselves to kill, even though it was clear the party had just killed their mother and had orphaned them. I like interesting situations. This adventure just didn't fizz much without a lot of help and I had to liven things up. This part is pure filler and could be skipped entirely in favor of going right to the lost city of Savith-Yhi. Pity too, because I actually like overland adventure, but this one was just damned dull.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Serpent's Skull and Adventure Paths

"Temple of the Serpent" from the Serpent's Skull AP.
I really dislike this adventure path and for so many reasons that it might be worth it to me to delineate them so I can record my own dissatisfaction as a reminder of what to look for in the future. This also isn't a slam against Paizo, 3E, or the Pathfinder RPG. I'm a fan of all three, so put your swords and shields away please! It actually pains me to continue...

Before I go into more detail about my dissatisfaction with this AP, let me offer some key tips for anyone considering running any sort of adventure path-type product, whether authored by Paizo or a 3PP. First, check their forums to see what issues other people are having with the product from a practical stand point. Had I done this, I would have learned that *at least* the third part of the AP is considered unfinished (in general).

If you're still on board with the AP after checking the forums, I highly recommend reading the entire path before committing to it. This is something I've had difficulty doing because we're talking about reading 600 hundred pages, if you read all of the bonus material as well. Who has time for that these days? Anyway this also doesn't fit the "serialized" subscription model Paizo has set up, so if you're a subscriber (I'm not because I want to pick and chose), you'd either have to wait 6 months to review a brand new path (assuming there are 6 parts, which is the usual) or pick a path that's already complete. Otherwise you're trusting that the publisher's next issue is worth playing. Honestly, you can *usually* trust your favorite brand. The Serpent's Skull is an exception...

There's also another few good reasons to read ahead. Even though you're buying a product of this type to save time, you'll still have to prepare for each session and knowing what epic end the path has in store will allow you to decide if that's the direction you want your campaign to go. APs also seem to have a lot of "filler" encounters and by knowing ahead of time what those are you can trim out non-essential details or stuff you just flat out don't like. This also let's you know where to put in your own player-personalized campaign or plot material. Replacing a bad guy with a player's misguided cousin can make players feel more a part of their world, increasing the depth of play. They'll be more engaged if the campaign has that sort of depth. Finally, you'll know what the balance is between combat and roleplay encounters if you read ahead. If you prefer more roleplay, you can reduce or replace whatever encounters don't fit your vision or style of play.

Abandoned wealthy merchant's
mansion in the lost Azlanti city of Savith-Yhi.
Be aware that APs are usually designed for a certain advancement level, usually moderate, middle or whatever it's called (lol), and a certain number of characters, usually four (aside: which is sort of dumb because I don't think I've ever run a campaign with that small a party and older versions of "D&D" were meant to run larger groups. using a party of four as the base is a relatively recent idea. I've heard that Mr. Gygax, ran games with 20+ people and a lot of the older AD&D modules were typically designed for 6-8 player characters. Of course, we can't please everyone... my optimal party size is 6, including NPCs.). If you play the fast advancement track and/or have more players, again you'll want to trim away some of the fat from the AP or add some opponents. The CRs are precalculated for a party of four though so keep that in mind. By the way, this information is excluded from the pages of all APs because, the logic being, why print that same information over and over?

Finally, if you use dungeon tiles or other special effects, consider the maps in the AP and whether you have the materials you need to represent the maps they present. If you use a plain old vinyl mat or game paper, consider whether you can draw what the AP has in store. Very often I find that the flashy garbage around a lot of the maps in APs makes it harder to translate during play, but then I prefer function over form whereas most people seem to want more flash than function.

That's it for now... I'll decide whether to layout my dissatisfaction with this particular AP in blog form, if I get any responses...