Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gadgets and Games

With the release of the new iPad 2, many people are looking at unloading their old iPads in lieu of getting the latest and greatest iProduct. Let me say that I am not a fanboy of apple. I do believe that they make a quality product, but I do not think they are the best products for everyone. Each person has to assess their needs individually. That being said, my wife knew I was interested in the iPads and she managed to get me a used one for the fraction of the price. For the last week or so, I have been playing with my new iPad and not focusing on much else. Along with countless hours I have whittled away playing Angry Birds and searching for cool new apps, I have also rediscovered comic books with the official Marvel iPad app. I am very happy with the iPad's functionality and the purchase.

The next question I posed to myself is how to use the iPad to enhance the gaming experience. I would have liked to turn this into a a Top Ten list of useful iPad apps, but I could not find enough apps to honestly recommend. Part of the reason is many of the apps don't have a free version to try and part is many apps are geared towards D&D, a game I am not playing.

Of the apps that I can recommend, I would suggest getting the Dicenomicon by Gandreas. This is a really nice dice rolling app for both the iPhone and the iPad. The main selling point for me was that it allows custom configuration of dice mechanics which allowed me to program the dice to explode. This is a core mechanic in Earthdawn and dice rollers without this functionality are not useful. You can also color-code your dice so if you make the same rolls repetitively, you can simply roll them together and have dicenomicon add up the totals. I even include initiative in there so that I don't have to switch my dice selection every round. Of course, this becomes harder for game masters who switch between rolls more often than players, but when used in conjunction with normal dice, I found that the app makes the fight go much quicker. There are a number of pre-programed rolls in the app and even has dice programmed for the Fudge system (which is what the Dresden Files use). Finally, the iPad version comes with a built-in PDF viewer so you can have your character sheet side by side with the die roller. The app costs $4.99, but is well worth the investment; and this is coming from someone who highly dislikes electronic dice rollers.

The Dungeon Master Toolkit by Level 99 Games is the other app that looks promising. The DM Toolkit is an empty database, template system that allows you customize the app for your game. I was leery to purchase the app as it costs a hefty 12.99, but it looks promising. The more I use this app, the more its functionality becomes apparent. Those that purchase the DM Toolkit for a full-featured Dungeons & Dragon App will be sorely disappointed. The app is configured with D&D in mind, but the configuration is only for the templates. Actually rule information on items, monsters, etc. will need to be manually entered prior to the game. I also recommend getting a blue tooth keyboard as entering data with on-screen keyboard is time consuming. I have high hopes that this will help accelerate combat in my non-D&D games. You can see a youtube demo of the app by clicking the following link: DM Toolkit Demo.

In the future, I will try to review other apps that I find useful for the iPad or iPhone. I am not a fan of laptops at the gaming tabled, but I have a feeling that tablets will be more usable at the game as they are less obtrusive than even netbooks. If you have any suggestions on gaming apps, please pass them along.

Take what you like and leave the rest for the next weary traveler.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Game Master's Day

They'll create a day for anyone now. When is national Fry Station guy day? Seriously, I know how hard it can be to fashion an entertaining storyline that players want to come back to week after week. For those that have never game mastered, there is plenty of work to be prepared for single gaming session. While a GM learns early how to 'wing it', there is still a lot that goes on behind the scenes, from carefully selected battle scenes, to pre-prepared opponent stats, and even selecting which books you are going to need (if by chance the game is at some other location).

Often, I find myself missing a piece of the game that I had needed and there is break in the continuity as I hunt for the information I am positive I brought. Combine that with the less frequent gaming days (we had to postpone last weeks game), and every trying to remember what happened at the previous session, and you end up with a lot of discussion and less time actually playing. Even now am not as psyched for tonight as last week. I have full weekend planned, and I am sure I will be burned out by Monday morning. Last weekend I had a cleared schedule so a late night of gaming would not have been as taxing in the long run.

To all those GMs out there that spend countless hours behind the scenes for a few hours of enjoyment every week, may you smote down the daemons mundaneness and continue to keep our hobby, and imaginations, burning.

E. Gary Gygax Remembrance

There are defining moments in a persons life, some times big, some times small. It may be tangible, like the trophy you won because you scored the winning point. For others, it may be as innocuous as a game played as a kid. One that allowed you to be who you were and others took you seriously. People laughed your stupid comments because that is how you intended them and you were not jeered for your differences, because everyone's character was different.

I never thought I had any role-models while growing up. I did not take to sports, I was not socially out-going, I was not even the same ethnicity of most people. So I developed a thick skin and deep affinity for fantasy. Now when I say I had no role-models, I never thought of the authors of the books I read, nor the creators of role-playing games. I had never met them, I had no knowledge of what they even looked like. But in all honesty, it is those fine people who taught me the ways of chivalry and justice. It was through them I was able to hone my personal convictions every week at the gaming table.

I can't help but feel older since the passing of Gary Gygax. It was then I realized that he was one of my great mentors. Gary Gygax helped me break out of my introverted shell and I would like to take this time to roll a die for him.

1d20 = 17

E Gary Gygax 06/27/1938 - 03/04/2008

May he ride the backs of griffins, where eagles dare not soar.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Old Ionic Post

Do any recall the struggle of Homlet against the bandits hidden in the crumbling gatehouse of ages past? What ever happened to the simplicity of scenarios that did not revolve around the epic struggle of world shattering consequences? The epicity (not a real word) of common life is to the point that the word has lost its meaning to me. Please do not misunderstand my intention. I do not begrudge a game master who wants to have his players traverse his ballad of good versus evil in their timeless struggle for the fate of the world (it even sound cliche when you spell it out), but not everything is Epic in nature. And, not everything is related to an EpIc event. AND, not everyone likes to play with this EPIC conundrum looming over their heads.

I relate it to the show Supernatural. I found the first two seasons very interesting with their hunting of various monsters. The third season kept my interest as the demon theme took precedence over the show, and I manged to keep up to the end of the fourth season when Sam was tricked into raising Lucifer from Hell. Well, after that it started getting harder to watch as, wait for the epicness to unfold, Sam was destined to be the vessel of Lucifer and fight his brother Dean who is prophesied to be the vessel of the Arch-angel Michael. Some of my friends liked this story, but it felt painfully drawn out to me, and the story no longer had any of the 'lesser' creatures that I had started watching the show for.

I prefer stories that are rooted in the world with believable chance of occurring. Sure, you might have to fight an evil drow army to get to the gates leading one of Orcus' netherlairs so that you can shift the cosmic balance to the side of good again. But you can also do that fighting a tribe of gnolls that have over hunted their area and are turning towards the small village of Homlet for the next food source. I prefer to have little victories, hard fought battles, and well earned trophies. The group I am currently GMing is playing a group that is averaging 3rd/4th level after 3 years. Now, the group has not been playing non-stop for the last three years, and there have been some character deaths have set back the average party level, but everything their characters have, has been earned. No-one is tossing another '+1' sword in to their collection of magic items to be sold at the next town and the story of the group has begun to transcend into old ionic. And that sir, is how I feel it should be done.

On a side note, a scenario that I would truly consider old ionic is to run two groups, unbeknownst of each other, on an adventure, in parallel, with opposing goals. The adventure ends with the two groups meeting and 'battling' it out to see who is the victor.