GenCon 2013 - The Good Guys


I know I'm a bit late with this post-GenCon write up but... well... I don't have any excuse that you want to hear so I'll just get to it.

The DT crew hit GenCon this year and did much the same as we do every year: Spent a lot of money in the dealer hall and the auction, got all sorts of goodies (snagged a D&D White Box!) and did our best to network a bit.  Oh yeah, and we had a lot of fun drinking the GenCon beer (as you can see).

I was able to track down Sean Patrick Fannon of Shaintar fame and present him with a special DT shirt that I had made for him and his kickstarter crew.  In spite of being horribly tired from a very long evening out, Sean made time to talk with me and our lead developer about Shaintar, our app development methods and even pitched our app to a friend of his who happened to be walking by.  Sean is one of the good guys in the industry.  I'm very glad I had a chance to get that bear hug and tell him congrats in person.

Got to spend a little bit of time talking with Ed Healy of the Gamerati.  I tell you, Ed and the whole Gamerati team continue to be a valuable resource for getting the DT name out on the web.  I was able to get Ed a DT shirt and he even wore it to an event for me.  Another one for the Good Guy list!

I was also able to connect in person with a long time DT supporter Erik Frankhouse (Erik is already on the Good Guy list). Erik has the distinction for being the guy to connect DT with our first Gaming Industry contacts and for being the first DT fan to keep me up until 3:45am.  Spent hours with him and some of his friends and we talked about everything from a DT Kickstarter to gamer war stories to what sucked and what's good on Netflix.  I was one tired guy the next day but it was worth it.  Oh yeah, and I was also finally able to get Erik a DT shirt (2 actually) as well - I'd promised him a shirt a year ago and finally was able to make good on it.


One of the best parts of GenCon this year was the hotel.  The crew and I sprung for a room in the Crowne Plaza - Which made for an awesome location and an interesting story.

My buddy Zave and I were sharing a room and Thursday when we came back to the room to dump off our loot and get some dinner we found we were locked out.  Turns out the lock mechanism failed and they had to drill it out and replace the entire lock.  Took 'em a little over 2 hours.

To make it up to us the hotel manager sat Zave and I, along with our other two DT folks, in the hotel restaurant and said with a genuine smile, "I'll cover half of your dinner and all your drinks.  So if I were you I'd get top shelf."  Not ones to argue we dove in, ate our fill and drank (more than) our share.  Hell of a good time.

The DT crew also got an awesome surprise.  The folks at Gygax Magazine weren't sure if they could get our ad in issue #2 or if they'd have to wait for us to get in on #3.  As it turned out they were able to make it happen for us.  Right on the table of contents page too!  We're very proud to be a (small) part of Gygax Magazine history.

Well, that's the long and short of it. Can't wait for the next Con!


GenCon Fun and Reality Blurs!

Well, the Darktheatre crew made it to and from GenCon without any problems. Unless of course you count Bill breaking his foot less than a week before the trip and then having to hobble about GenCon on crutches or a cane the whole time. A down point for the crew was that this year we were without our Captain, Lenny (not pictured below), and the group was mighty sad about it.

Where's Lenny?BUT we are gamers and by Odin’s eye we would not let a missing teammate bring us down for long! So, as a tribute to Lenny we pushed forward with gusto! We bought games by the bag-load, talked to industry pros, met some cool artists, ran into old friends, laughed at foolishness and were awed by greatness. We never got lost for more than 15 min during our drive back to the hotel, and somehow we managed to cut the drive time to and from GenCon by over half an hour each way. Which makes no sense unless we figured out how to bend space and time. So, I assume we figured out how to bend space and time. As I said, it’s the only thing that makes sense (I also suggest signing up to be on our side now ‘cause we have some definite ideas on how to use these powers)

On a personal note I (Brett aka Fafhrd– the guy in the Guinness hat above) would like to point out that I was on the winning side of every board game we played during GenCon! Not that I’m trying to rub that in but I’m trying to rub that in. Just for. the. record. I Won. Me. Are you writing this down? That’s Brett with two t’s. Excellent.

In spite of my ruthlessly crushing all who opposed me at board games, the rest of the Darktheatre crew had a dang good time.  We witnessed first hand that our hobby is NOT DEAD! I don’t care what any industry expert has to say about it. Gamers surrounded us for 4 days – GenCon broke attendance records again this year as 40,000+ gamers descended on Indy to celebrate 45 years of GenCon. Seeing the crowds around the vendor hall, and watching the gamers eagerly buying, talking gaming, gaming in the halls and attending seminars and workshops tells me that there’s no school like the Old School when it comes to gaming. Of course technology has a place in our hobby (Character Folio!) but its can be forged into the tools that support and nourish the table top gaming soul. Yes. We are that passionate about this.

One of the highlights for Darktheatre this year at GenCon was attending the Pinnacle Seminar to not only hear what is coming up for Savage Worlds and other Pinnacle goodness but Shane of Pinnacle gave us a chance to talk about our Character Folio and we got to announce Darktheatre’s partnership with Reality Blurs!

As you know, we put out the Savage Worlds sheet for our Character Folio a couple of months ago and now we’ve an agreement with Sean Preston of Reality Blurs to capture their Savage Worlds settings in our app. We’re starting with their Realms of Cthulhu setting (anticipated to be out by Oct, 2012 – That’s next month people!) and we will be moving on to the rest of their settings after that. We’ll most likely get their Ennie Nominated Agents of Oblivion setting next.

The Darktheatre crew saw a lot of iPads at GenCon this year – more than we remember from last year. And I personally saw a number of folks with our app on their iPads (which kicks ass!) so I’d like to thank everyone out there who has our app, talks about it, uses it at your regular table top games and at places like GenCon and turns folks on to it.

I’ve said it before: Our customers are awesome. We get great feedback, good insight and true “battle tested” opinions from real gamers who use our app. We’re doing our best to keep our app on top and we’ve got a number of enhancements coming in the near future. All that feedback you send it is important to us so please keep it coming!

Now I’m off to buy a new bookshelf. I’ve apparently purchased enough stuff at the auction this year to require more shelf space. My wife is gonna kill me…


Limit Your Prep Time

limitpreptime As you may recall from my first This is Old School article I touched on some of the features that you can use your iPad for that will help enhance or simplify your tabletop RPG game.  What follows is a deeper look into the iPad as a gaming tool for both GM and player perspectives.

 However, before I go into the good stuff let me point something out: It's gonna take a bit of work to get things setup.  There's no magical way to put all the gaming data you want into your iPad without some manual setup.  You're going to need to sit down, organize things and load it up so you can locate the data you want quickly and easily. How much time?  Well, that will depend on how much data you have in soft copy form to start with and how much you need to transfer from paper to computer.  The important things to remember here are:

 1. You don't have to put EVERYTHING on your iPad at once.  Take it slow.  Go for the "big rocks" first (e.g. your current character, core rules and notes).  After that you can start to add more and more as time permits. And, for the most part, once data is loaded you’re ready to go – no need to re-load before each game.

 2. It’s supposed to be fun!  Seriously, when is it *not* fun to pour over game material, review your character's gear and sort through your adventure notes?  If you find you're "working" then you're not having fun and you need to scale your effort back. See #1.

Player’s Aid
As a player three of the best things you can use the iPad for are: Your character sheet (Character Folio!), soft copies of your game books and your notes.  When you've got the iPad backed up to the Cloud and/or your PC or Mac at home you've got a way to keep as permanent of a record of your character as you can get.  Keeping this stuff on your iPad means you can't lose the hard copy character sheet, misplace that red pocket folder you kept your character stuff in or realize you forgot your notepad at home when you sit down to the game 100+ miles from home (yes, this happened to me more than once).

If you keep the character and your notes on the iPad all you have to do is grab the iPad, a rulebook or two, your dice and you're ready to go.  Heck, you can even cut the "I forgot that book" problem by getting a PDF of the game system and loading that onto your iPad.
Fewer books to carry means less stuff to lug around. Yeah...I supposed you could even get a die roller app like Dicenomicon loaded up in case you forgot the dice at home.  Which might not be a bad idea as no one, at lest not in my group, likes lending their dice out at a game.

Let’s expand this thought for a minute and think beyond the game you're playing right now. Yes, it’s gonna rock having all that data ready when you need it for that big Pathfinder epic your playing in, but think about other RPG games you play. All those characters, notes, rulebooks and such that you’ve got stashed on a shelf or three at home.  Why not put that stuff on the iPad too?  The more paperwork that you can off-load to the iPad the easier it will be to keep things organized.  This way when your group decides to not play Pathfinder one night and instead play a bit of Savage Worlds, you’ll have the stuff you need waiting on your iPad.

Once you have things setup you've got a single source that you can manage your gaming from.  You are gonna still want some hard copy books, dice and notepaper at any game, but that stuff (apart from the dice - you always need dice) isn't as critical as the character and campaign notes that you've spent the last 6 months collecting and updating.

I know some folks hate typing notes during the game. They just want to make a quick scribble, a brief jotting down of a key NPC name or location and move on.  My advice is for you to find an app like Penultimate.  This is a notebook app that allows you to write via a stylus or a finger as you would with a pen on paper.  And, because it’s on the iPad, you get all these hand written notes saved and you can back ‘em up! How cool is that? So next time you ask yourself, “Where did I put that note about the kobold’s lair?” or “Where’s that list of my character’s spells?” you know EXACTLY where to look: On that single device you always take gaming that has your critical notes, books and characters in it.

GM’s Aid
As I’ve mentioned before, I bought my iPad as a GM tool.  At this point I’m sure you’ve already figured out how you can use your iPad to stash soft copies of your monster manuals (why drag around 5 books just so you can pull the stats for a couple of monsters from each book?), rulebooks and so on so I won’t bother talking through that.  Let’s talk about the interactive bits – The things you can do with the iPad that’ll help make your game come to life.

After I loaded up my iPad with PDFs I got started on my picture files.  I had tons of images of maps, monsters, symbols, handouts, etc that I used to print out as part of my pre-game prep.  All those things you like to hand out or show players.  Some of them you never use, and others you forget at home and still others you realize you should have printed out but didn’t think you’d need them and now you do… Your iPad changes that.  Load that baby up with folders that contain all your adventure handouts and images.  Any graphic you’d like to show the players should be on your iPad.  Even if you think “I might not need this…” you should still load it up.

If you have a few key handouts that you want to physically give the players but even that can be “fixed” if you can access a printer at the game, or if your player(s) have an iPad as well.  If the player(s) have an iPad you can just email them the handout and POW!  It’s right there for them to review and pass around to those folks who don’t have an iPad. I’ve used images of monsters as the inspiration for an encounter before and having that image on hand for the actual encounter has always been great.   Calling up the image and then flipping the iPad over to show the shambling Sons of Kyuss reaching out for them as
slime covered green worms wriggle from its mouth and eye sockets made the players smile and shudder all at once.  My description to the group had been good, but the shock of seeing the monster “for real” was the perfect compliment.

Graphics are a big part of a GM’s job.  We either use our verbal descriptive skills alone or we try and enhance them with props.  The iPad is a graphics display tool that can give you loads of wonderful image props that you can use to expand your descriptions and help set the stage for key encounters. When it comes to GM maps of things like dungeons and such you most likely won’t be giving these out or flashing them to players, but you’ll still want to all of your adventure maps in one place for easy reference.  Heck, if you do it right you’ll have extra maps loaded up just in case you need them. Maybe your players want to start a brawl in the tavern and you need to map it out?  They want to wander into that nearby abandoned silver mine and force you to improvise the entire thing? Done and done!  At least from a map perspective anyway.  If you spend some time searching the web for some generic dungeon, tower, overland and building maps and you’ll have a bunch of great images waiting for you when you need them.

The important thing with graphics is that you organize them.  I’ve got groups broken into: Undead, Goblins and Orcs, Trolls and Ogres, Treasure, NPCs, Towns and buildings, Dungeons, Iyrul’s Tower Adventure and so on.  If you’re going to use the iPad as an effective tool organize the graphics so that you can get to them quickly.  This way
when you need an image of a barbarian troll with a wicked looking sword or that map of the dungeon that lays beneath Iyrul’s Tower in the heart of the swamp you navigate to the right collection of images and pull up what you need. If you need to do a quick hand-drawn sketch of something like say the Elder Sign then you can pop open your copy of Penultimate (or other sketch app), draw it out and show the players.

The other thing I’d like you to think about is those other games you run or want to run. As I said in the Player’s Aid section above, why not load up on some non-current campaign goodies while you’re at it? Your game crew no doubt likes a bunch of different games and, every once in a while someone(s) will bring up the “Lets play something else” idea. It normally doesn’t go anywhere fast because you don’t have the rules or any source material along. And, normally, why would you want to bring three boxes of other games along every time you played Pathfinder just on the odd chance that you’ll play some other game some night? But, you’ve got yourself and iPad and that means you’ve already loaded it up with rules, source material, images and maps for a number of games. That way, when the “Lets play Savage Worlds ‘cause half the group bailed on us tonight” happens you, my well prepared GM, are ready to meet that challenge with a calm, almost rehearsed, “No problem, I’ve got the rules and the Deadlands setting with me.”

Not only is the evening’s game session saved but, with your skillful use of the iPad as a prep tool, you won’t need to interrupt the game.


Stall 'em

Written by Fafhrd Last Updated on Friday, 30 December 2011 00:49

StallRegardless of how well you think you know your group, stalling is often a necessary evil in RPGs. No GM can keep up with everything all the time and your players are going to pull something out of their hats and it’s going to shock you and throw you off track. Having some ideas and tricks in your GM bag that you can pull out when you need them at times like this can be very handy.

One of the ideas to simply take 10. You stop the game to get a short break and let folks talk about other stuff and wonder away from the table if they want, giving you time to mull over options. This is also a good time to order that pizza everyone’s been asking about. A real, physical break from the game is sometimes the best option but when you do it you need to decide if you’re ready to interrupt your game or not. Let’s face it, when you stop the game and let folks break off into whatever non-game activities they want to it can be a royal pain trying to drag them back into the game.

What do you do then when you want to slow things down in game? You know, take a “break” but don’t let the group dissolve into a pizza toppings argument? It’s not always easy to pull off but I’ve found a few tricks over the years that have helped me stall without a stopping the game. Some of these vary from game to game but I they should get you looking and planning in the right direction.

One of the things I do is to take a look at the game system I’m running. What powers, spells, natural events, etc exist that could let me change things up in a grand, show stopping sort of way? Does it allow for something crazy like tactic of killing off the PCs, or would that totally upset the entire game? In a game like Vampire you can force PCs into torpor (a deep, sometimes years long slumber) if you need to. A curse or other such magic can create a similar effect on non-immortal PCs. This would allow you to take some, or all, PCs out of the mix for a bit while you figure out what you need to do.

Another option, and less dramatic, is to look at rules like those for healing and raising the dead in your game. Does the party have raise dead spells readily/easily available? If they do you can kill off a couple of party members in a random or planned encounter and while the PCs are gathering the bodies and taking them to the temple to raise them you have them stalled. Do PCs heal up quickly or slowly with the rules you are using? If they heal slowly you can wound them until they retreat. If they can heal quickly you can pound them good and shock them into a retreat as they look for a place to rest and heal up. Anything that will take their actions away from their current plan and onto something else is helpful, and can be done in game without actually stopping play.

After you examine the game system rules and ways to exploit them for your stall tactics, you should look at the type of game you are running. Are your PCs banded together as a team, do they spend loads of time doing “mundane” skill checks or perhaps they like to break into different groups and have multiple plot threads going at once?

If the group is a solid unit that doesn’t like to wander too far from each other split them up for a bit. When a group like this is split up they will spend most of their energy trying to find each other. If your close knit D&D group always searches for traps on every door in the dungeon you can easily give them a trap. Even a simple trap will cause them to spring into “defeat the trap” mode. Taking their minds off other things and forcing them to focus on the problem at hand. Even in a non-dungeon environment you can produce simple “traps” that will stall them. If a NPCs approaches them and talks in riddles, if something strange and clue-like is overheard in the nightclub they are in will make them want to verify if it is or is not connected to the plot. Stalling in game like this allows you to pull out all your red herring ideas that you’ve had simmering in your GM brain. Remember: Anytime you throw a wrench into a group’s M.O. you stall them

Now, if your group is regularly split up and usually doing their own things I find it’s actually easier to stall them. When you are working with one of the smaller, sub-groups and they get to a point where you need to stall tell them that you’re going to put them on hold for a second as you have to get back with the other sub-group(s). Not only does this give you a chance to clear your mind and work out a solution, but it helps you keep a good GM relationship with each group. Large groups usually complain most if they don’t feel they are getting enough attention. If you regularly stall with each group you get to bounce from group to group and make sure everyone has enough to do. Doing this also keeps your GM mind sharp as you regularly change from sub-plot to sub-plot.

While that's good info for the GMs, what about the players side of things? Sometimes it’s a good idea to stall the GM. The GM is the NPCs, monsters and everything else in the world other than your PCs. Sometimes the plot’s pace is too fast, you need more time to recover from some event or you’re not exactly sure what your next steps should be. That’s when it’s time to tell the GM something like “We rest here for the day. We need to heal and rethink our plan.” Or you can head for another safe zone by saying “I think we should go back and talk to that old book seller again. We have some things we need to think through.”

While it may seem like you are messing with the GM’s plot or trying to be a thorn in his side you’re not. Your stall tactic isn’t designed to cause problems; you’re stalling because you need to. Sure, a GM could strong arm or railroad you and the other PCs out of your thinking time, but most GMs will let you relax for a bit as it gives them a chance to think and plot as well. Players need to recharge their creative batteries from time to time just like GMs do so it’s good for both sides of the screen get stall when they need it.


Start Slow

776103_com_465pxprintSo, you've got your tablet computer (most likely an iPad I'll wager) and you're excited to the point of bursting with the various ways you want to use this awesome tool at your game table. Then you start to think... Just how the hell do I actually *do* this?


I mean yeah, it's clearly a tech tool that will work well for your tabletop games but just how exactly are you supposed to actually implement it in play?


Should you replace all your hard copy books with PDF copies in your GoodReader app? Should you leave the dice bag at home and get set up with a kick ass die roller app like Dicenomicon? Do you load it up with images of monsters and NPCs so you can flash them for every encounter? Should you put together a playlist of mood music or sound effects for the adventure? What about all the dungeon and world maps that you could put on it? What about a character sheet? While the Character Folio from Darktheatre (a plug!) will no doubt fill the character sheet gap nicely what about all the other stuff?


Here’s what I did to implement the iPad into my games. It's not a "recipe" as much as a guide you figure out your own direction.

I'm a GM 99.99% of the time for my group and, as such, I figured my iPad would be just the thing to let me get away from lugging all my monster books with me to my next Pathfinder game I was running. It would also let me bring a ton of pictures, maps, music, etc, etc BUT - I wasn't totally sure if I really needed or would use all that stuff I could pack onto the iPad so I figured I'd slowly work it in and see where it really fit for me.


First thing I did was load up my GoodReader app with the PDFs I had of all my monster books that I normally take to the game. I then, as I was running Pathfinder, I put in the Pathfinder core rules PDF into it as well. That would take care of my basic book needs I figured.


After that, I organized some monster images I had and loaded them into it. I decided to only go for key critters that I planned to use in the upcoming game. I had some great pics of ghouls, kobolds, a nasty looking troll and this really cool mind flayer image (I couldn’t wait to pull that image out and scare the crap out of the players!). Got ‘em loaded into a nice picture folder and that bit was done.

Then I took the digital copy of the map I was using for the dungeon and loaded that up. I figured I could easily use the iPad image of the map in the same way that I used my normal map print outs.

Finally, I did something that may seem a bit odd: I packed up all my hard copy books and a copy of the map into my game bags and headed out to the game.


Why the heck did I double up on all that stuff?


Because I wanted a security blanket.


I wanted to know that if for any reason in the heat of combat or when a rule needed to be referenced quickly I wouldn't have to worry about me making a mistake with the iPad (i.e. user error) and then lose precious gaming time as I tried to find what I needed. I didn’t want to interrupt my game because, as you've already read, I HATE that.


So yeah, I brought my security blanket with me. Just in case. It turns out I needed it that first night too.


I felt like a techie GM wizard with the monster images (the players loved seeing those) and quick access to the maps I had loaded up saved me loads of time when I needed to flip from one to another. I was kicking ass with the iPad until I hit a snag. A rule question came up during combat.


I was fumbling with GoodReader trying to find the grapple rules in the PDF copy of the Pathfinder rules and I felt I was wasting time. I knew I could find it quickly if I had the book in my hand so I put the iPad down, scooped up the hard copy, found the rule, laid down the law like the omniscient god of the table that I am and we were gaming again in no time.


Was that the app's fault? Was it the iPad's fault? No. It was mine.

I got flustered and I panicked. I was worried that I was taking too long, that I was interrupting the game while I figured out what I was doing wrong with GoodReader. I went for my security blanket to keep things rolling.


Turns out the group didn’t even notice or feel like the game was interrupted by my use of the iPad for my grapple rules research. When I asked them about it after the game they just said “We thought you didn’t have that book in the iPad yet so you had to go hard copy.” So yeah… it was all in my head. And knowing that gave me confidence.


As I had great success where I used my iPad I then started to integrate it more into my games. At the next game I left certain hard copies at home (those monster books that only had one or two critters in them that I needed for example). I was a lot more familiar with my apps and how to use them quickly so I was confident I didn’t need the hard copy.


I also stopped bringing print outs of maps or pictures unless they were prop-style hand outs. The iPad is my main source for nearly all my gaming material when I’m playing. Heck, I even use the Penultimate app as my go-to format for anytime a quick sketch or bit of hand written scrawl I need to show the players.

So, in short, my advice is to take your time. Figure out what portion of your game you’d like to use your iPad for and go for it. Bring a safety blanket with you if you think you might need it – There’s no shame in that. Just work with the tool and find out what features/apps work best for you and if something doesn’t quite work out that’s fine. You can always try it again later if you want to.


Oh, and I still pack my die bag to every game because I love the sound a d20 makes when I roll a natural 20.


Don’t tell me it sounds the same no matter what number comes up.


It doesn’t.


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