Adventure Co. Rides Again #dnd #dnd5e

The Adventure Co. is proud to announce the release of Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company, Version 2.0 (formerly known by the code name Asbestos).

This season, we have a full roster of five intrepid souls who will be gathering before venturing forth for parts unknown, seeking adventure where it hides, and making their own when things are a little slow at the office.

The barreling freight train that is Dungeons & Dragons V, or the “5E” as it’s known on the street, is difficult to avoid. Although I was leaning towards Pathfinder originally, several factors contributed to the fact that we’ll be using the spankin’ new D&D:

  1. It’s new
  2. I bought the PHB, so I need to justify that purchase
  3. Just kidding, because the basic rules are free, and that covers most of the meat of the game, such as how to play, and character creation.
  4. It’s a hell of a lot more streamlined than Pathfinder
  5. I bought the initial adventure module, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which should take about a year to complete.

In response to my previous post in which I asked a lot of questions (and thanks, folks, for taking the time to answer them here and elsewhere), here’s the game plan going forward:

  1. D&D 5E it is. Although I’d recommend buying the PHB (I found mine at Barnes & Nobel for 20% with their membership card) due to the completeness of it’s material for a player, the quick start rules (linked above) will allow you to create a character and get a general feel for the new systems in the game, like Advantage/Disadvantage and other cool stuff.
  2. We’ll be using the Hoard of the Dragon Queen because it’s designed for levels 1-8, and removes the ramp-up time needed to create something from scratch. It should be well balanced and fun to play, with all the typical D&D-y type stuff we know and love.
  3. Because 5E is decidedly untactical, I believe the only features we need in an online space are voice and a way to share images. That makes Roll20.net the Official Virtual Tabletop of Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company, Version 2.0 (formerly know by the code name Asbestos). R20 has VoIP and webcam support (cam is really optional, and I think you can turn it off individually) as well as the ability to load in images like maps. The maps will be mostly for informational purposes, and not for tactical gameplay, although there might be times when tokens are used just to provide info.
  4. It seems that weekly, Thursday nights around 9PM Eastern is the best time for folks, so we’ll aim for that. As before, we can close the night by ensuring that the next Thursday is good for everyone, and if not, finding an alternative night for the next week that might work better (Thursday will be the “home” night that we’ll default to, in any case).
  5. I’d like to have an online version of the character sheets, simply because of the way passive abilities work (a flat 10 + applicable bonuses). As the DM would be rolling those passives and handing out info, having people’s sheets handy would be massively beneficial. However, I haven’t found a decent online sheet.
  6. In AC1.0, the group’s scribe (Tipa) kept a log of the adventure on her blog, which was both informative and entertaining. I floated the option of using Obsidian Portal for a similar purpose, as it has space for player logs (recaps), very rudimentary character sheets, document library (for storing images), and also a forum. In order to facilitate between-game communications when necessary, I like the idea of using OP’s forums, although any ideas for alternatives are welcome. We also used G+, but I don’t know if everyone is/willing to be there.

I think that’s it for now. In the meanwhile, study up on the PHB or the basic rules PDF. If desired, we can convene for an initial online meeting on an upcoming Thursday to work on character creation. I’d really like to have people go the distance when creating characters, especially with the new focus on “creating the character” over “assigning numbers”, because the RP elements assigned to the character, and the Inspiration system, will help make the game more personal for each player.

So You Want To RP-A-G? A Few Questions For Those Interested

I’ve been cooking up a small intro adventure that a new group can stumble through. It’s literally a stumble-through adventure: short, light on story, but serves two important purposes. First, it gets people together to hash out characters and back stories and to learn the ropes of the game system and how to play together. Second, although the adventure isn’t really anything to scribe home about, I’ve got a really decent idea of how it’ll open doors for further adventures.

The Call To Arms

Want to play? Many do! Sadly, I think the limit for participation will have to be capped at 5 people, max. Maybe six, if that was all who expressed interest, but as of right now, I have three pretty sure buy-ins, one fringe interest, and some other rubbernecks who have responded to a general shout-out this afternoon, and that’s only on one social network that’s been kind of slow today.

In the interest of getting on the same page (and helping folks decide, and helping me help you, etc), I wanted to put forth what I have been thinking about, and collect info on what works for people.

1. System

I’ve been leaning towards Pathfinder because A) a lot of people like it, and B) it’s free! But the setting doesn’t really much matter to me, personally. I know some people love/hate D&D 4E. The 5E PHB was just released (don’t have it yet, myself), but lacks DM and monster info.

There are other systems as well. My current idea is rather high-fantasy focused, but if people had a burning desire to really play another system, concessions could be made. It’d have to be back-to-the-drawing-board time, however, to come up with new materials.

If you’re interested in playing, what system would you like to use? Which system would you NOT like to use?

2. Venue

The “how” is probably the second first most important question.

We’ve played with Fantasy Grounds and R0ll20. Both are great tools. FG is normally pay-to-play, but I have the Ultimate License which allows the “demo” version to connect to my server and play like a paid version, so folks would just need to download and install it. Roll20 is, of course, web-based, with built in VoIP and webcam support. Both systems allow for handout sharing and drawing. Roll20 is pretty free-wheeling while FG has some pretty robust tools that help streamline the numbers game.

I personally prefer to play this round as non-tactical as possible, returning to the days of “making shit up” and not worrying so much about drawing out encounters by worrying about where you are exactly on the map. Maps will be used, but primarily to give folks an idea of what a room looks like, or as something that can be pointed to when saying “I move here”, or to give really vague ideas of how many things remain to be killed.

I’m also looking at Obsidian Portal as the “official” record-keeper of the game. Having a player log and an institutionalized recap is pretty new to me, but I’ve looked through stuff that people have done on the site, and it’s pretty intriguing. OP allows players to keep their own notes and recaps, enter their characters, and to have discussions during, before, and after the game. And it allows the DM to load up the wiki with lore and important information that “fleshes out” the game world.

What “venues” would you prefer/be willing to use? Which venues would you like to avoid?

3. Scheduling

Plain and simple: What kind of schedule can people pull off? We had previously played one night per week, but we’re adults and have lives and responsibilities and sometimes even once a week is asking a lot. We should, however, make a decent effort to not commit to a “seat of the pants” style game, in order to maintain momentum and to keep last session’s knowledge somewhat fresh in our minds.

What would work for you in terms of scheduling, days and times?

If you’re interested in joining the Adventure Co., Brand Adventuring Company, please shout out in the comments, ping me on Twittah, or leave a comment in the vile cesspool that is Google Plus. Ideally, you’d comment here and answer the above questions, so we can get a good idea of what people are looking for, where, and when we can find it.

Questions For the DM Community #RPG

Some Background

I’m an organization freak when it comes to working on my RPG stuff. As much as I like the old school method of pen and paper, the convenience of electronic formats really can’t be beat. There’s a few tools out there that I’ve used from a DM perspective, like Fantasy Grounds and Obsidian Portal, but they were either installable apps or didn’t cater specifically to the DM planning process.

This project is a website which will focus on allowing DMs to plan and write up their campaigns and adventures, to run them from the site, and to share them with the community.

Where It’s At Right Now

I’ve got the user registration/login/logout/profile stuff working, although there’s some gaps. It’s got enough to get people into the system, although it’s not pretty. The next step in this rapid-fire development scheme is to allow users to create their campaigns, modules, and pages so I have more data to work with.

Thing is, I know what I think I should have when working on these elements in a finished product, but that’s not necessarily what others would consider necessary when working with these elements. So I’ve got some questions for the DM community (regardless of whether or not you see value in a project like this) that will help in creating this tool.

Right now, I’m looking for input on defining the campaign, module, and page.

Planned Organization Scheme

The current plan for the tool is to organize data in a Campaign > Module > Page hierarchy. A Campaign is like an overarching event, or even a game world. Modules are individual adventures that take place within that arc or world. Pages are the “scenes” within an adventure (Kobold cave, chase through the market square, etc).

Ancillary to that will be data buckets, created at the campaign level, for Handouts, NPCs, Maps, Treasure Parcels, and Encounters. Once these ancillary items are defined, they can be assigned to the Pages where they are used. They can be re-used on as many pages as needed.

Questions for DMs

Since the idea for this DM tool is to put it out there for people to use, I figure that the best way to pique folk’s interest is to get feedback from folks whom I hope will consider using the tool when it’s launched. If you’re a DM (of any game system), please take a few minutes to drop a line in the comments about these questions:

  1. If you had to summarize an original Campaign you were creating, what info would you expect to provide (Title, synopsis, etc)?
  2. What kind of info would you use to define a Module?
  3. What kind of info would you need when working on a “scene” or “area” Page?

In Other News: Finding a Home

To be honest, I thought the “code name” I’ve been working under would be pretty good for the site, which means I would be almost guaranteed that the domain name would be taken.

Turns out, it’s not! But I’m not going to reveal it until I can get the cash to buy it, so some random jerk doesn’t swoop in an snag it before I get there.

In the meanwhile, I’m considering setting up a dedicated site for this project, since it’s moving at a pace that provides me a lot of things to talk about, and because this is technically a video game blog. If I opt for this route, I’ll register the domain, then create a new site under that URL for the time being, until the site is ready for public testing.

Bonus Round: Virtual Audio And OBS

Last night I jumped into TeamSpeak to find Blamefulgecko hanging out in the lobby. I warned him that I was going to start streaming some Final Fantasy XIV, and that any conversations we might have would end up being broadcast to the world (and by world I mean myself, as my monitoring of the channel was the only registered viewer).

Turns out my voice was just fine on the recording, but Blame’s was almost inaudible. Technically, this was a “good thing”, as it kind of means that I can be in a channel with someone and they can yell all they want and they won’t be heard in the stream. But on another hand, it might be cool to hear what other people are talking about. Come for the game, stay for the colorful commentary, as it were.

This was a dark path to turn to, because it involves installing…virtual audio cables. Let’s discuss.

What the F**k is a Virtual Audio Cable?

It’s what it sounds like: a virtual audio cable. Normally, your sound is routed from it’s source — a game, or TeamSpeak — to a destination — your desktop speakers, or OBS — via Windows Audio or dedicated drivers. The source usually just uses whatever is marked as “default output” in your audio properties, although TS allows you to route output to any qualified device driver. OBS, in turn, can pick up any qualified device driver to receive.

The problem is that you, the user, have very limited control over this. You can pick an output path from one side, and an input path from another, and that’s about it.

A virtual audio cable is just another path, but it allows you to circumvent the usual path. Why, you ask? This will allow you to free up the usual path for other audio, and gives you more control.

The Free And Easy Path Of VoiceMeeter

VoiceMeeter

VoiceMeeter

In looking at VAC’s, I happened across an app called VoiceMeeter. This gem is a virtual mixing board, which turned out to be almost exactly what I wanted.

VM has three inputs, and two outputs. Two of the inputs are physical, like two headsets or a headset and a webcam mic, connected to the same PC. The third input is virtual, which means “software”. This would be your desktop audio player or TeamSpeak. The outputs consist of one physical, like a headset or desktop speakers, and one virtual, which is a source that an app like OBS can use for its input stream.

I mean, that pretty much sums it up right there.

Testing…1…2…3

After installing VM, I rebooted all audio using apps. In VM, I set the first physical input to be my Pysko headset mic (aka High Definition Device). I didn’t want a second physical input, so that was blank. The virtual input was set to the ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) option, which is just a general sound card driver, and the only option I had.

VoiceMeeter_Teamspeak

Teamspeak settings

Next, I set the A channel output to be Creative ASIO, which is kind of a default, and the source of contention which we’ll get to later. I set the B channel to use the Psyko headset.

In TeamSpeak, I set the Playback Playback Device to use the new VoiceMeeter Input, which tells TS to send it’s output to VM’s virtual channel.

VoiceMeeter_OBS

OBS settings

In OBS, I set the Microphone/Auxilary Audio Device to use the VoiceMeeter Output, which tells OBS to receive it’s audio from VM’s virtual channel.

The idea, then, is that TS’s audio — other people — will mix with my headset mic through VM, which outputs the audio through a virtual channel and into OBS’s microphone input channel. Ideally, everyone who talks on TS will have their voices merged with my microphone voice, and that mix will be broadcast to the world.

We Do Not Welcome Your Feedback

The thing is, it worked great! The setup achieved everything that I had hoped to achieve. But there was a slight — yet still annoying — issue.

I like to have my chat audio in the headset, and my game audio through the desktop speakers. I couldn’t achieve this. Now, my own voice was piped through the headset, and the TS audio was piped through the headset and the desktop. When playing a game, that would mix the game audio with voice chat, which is unacceptable.

believe the issue is with the ASIO driver. From what I can gather, this is a generic driver that is used by many things. When selecting ASIO as a physical output, it outputs to all ASIO-using devices. For me, this is the headset and the desktop system. So when everything is routed to the ASIO output, it’ll ooze out of any ASIO connected device. I’ve found that I can mute my own headset so I don’t have to listen to myself, but I can’t stop the TeamSpeak audio from broadcasting through two devices.

 

I don’t know if what I’m trying to do here is actually worth the issues. For one, it’s simply to give stream viewers something additional to listen to, which takes the burden off of me to provide a running commentary. On the other hand, it’s not always a given that folks in TS are going to want to be part of the stream. Another alternative, I suppose, is to have one physical mic for TS (the headset), and one physical mic for the stream (a webcam). This would sound strange to viewers of the stream, since they’d hear me responding to people that they can’t hear, but it would provide maximum anonymity for TS users who don’t want to be heard on screen.

Guardians of the Blockbuster

So back when Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced via trailer, I looked at it and said to myself: “What the fuck is this?” I’m admittedly not a back-catalog comic person; my specialization is in video games, which means most of my comic book franchise knowledge comes from games and any movies that get decent recommendations. That put GotG way out of my sphere of knowledge.

The movie looked a bit too weird. It had a sentient tree, a talking raccoon, and was way more sci-fi than the general public is used to. Most of what passes for sci-fi these days is mostly a technological veneer slapped over a heavy allegory for trials and tribulations of humanity, but this movie was 200% pure unadulterated science fucking fiction. I thought that it might be too out there for general consumption.

Holy shit was I wrong. I’m not a pop-culture barometer by any stretch, but it seems to me that the biggest hurdle to the movie’s success would be convincing the general public that it was totally within their wheelhouse to see, and that it wouldn’t go over their heads, confuse them, or insult them with…you know…talking vermin. The marketing blitz for the movie started way back with the post-credits teaser from Thor 2, and simply gained steam over time with increasingly frequent commercials and reveals. Suffice to say, Disney is one part content producer, three parts marketing savant. When the movie premiered, people were ready for it. Some probably wanted to see it for the source material, some because they like and trust Marvel franchises, and some because it was a summer tent-pole movie and they simply couldn’t refuse.

This is a fun movie, which I think comes through in the commercials. What doesn’t come through is how dense the movie is. I don’t mean dense in terms of intelligence; I mean that I don’t think there was a scene which didn’t matter to the movie. There were no “bathroom moments”.

The only gripe I might levy is that the movie is too well constructed for this Internet age of “been there, done that”. Wisecracking anti-hero? Check. Strong but chilly female? Check. Assorted misfits? Check. Generic rage-container big bad buy? Check. There were moments of deviation, though, especially when the talking raccoon has an emotional breakdown after we got used to him being a total douche-bag. For me, the highlight of the movie was Karen Gillan, better known around these parts as Amy Pond from Doctor Who, who did a total 180 to play a psychotic killer cyborg. She didn’t get a lot of screen time, but when she did, you knew it.

There aren’t too many movies these days that I think deserve repeated viewings, especially not at theater prices, but I think GotG qualifies easily. Kudos to James “Who?” Gunn for out-blockbustering Joss Whedon (Oh yes I did!) in the Marvel space. Super kudos to the FX team. This is one of the most FX intense movies I’ve seen in a while, and the effects meshed so well with the movie that there was never a point where they overwhelmed the actors, or underwhelmed when they were needed the most. And mega kudos to the cast. At the end of the day, there wasn’t a meh-character in the bunch. Everyone got sufficient screen time (except Gillan, IMO) which set up their presence and ingrained them into our pop-culture consciousness in preparation for the sequel, and the inevitable theater-destroying Marvel implosion that brings all characters from all of these movies together in one, massive finale.

Cartogo…Cargro…Making Maps; GM Tool; Wolves At The Gate

Cartogo…Cargro…Making Maps

I started working on a relatively small, intro adventure for Pathfinder because several folks in the ‘Sphere expressed an interest in possibly doing another online RPG session. This time, the game will be significantly different from our last Adventure Co. excursions. First, it’s a different system. Pathfinder can be had for free, so no one has an excuse not to join (although time is still way overpriced). Second, no fucking tactical crap. Eh…That came out wrong: there will be no tactical combat this time around. It’s not a style from my heritage, and while it’s kind of a breather from having to think on my feet, it’s got a lot of baggage involved that just doesn’t do it for me. Other folks who expressed interest seemed to feel the same.

However, maps still have a place in the game. Maps and handouts are as old as dirt in these games (considering the amount of time the party spends in caves and crypts, that’s saying a lot) and help give the players a sense of perspective and scale. They’re also good reference materials for the players and the GM. Although tactical combat uses maps for things like distance and positioning and cover, some of those things need to be taken into consideration in the more free-flowing conceptual combat style. Cover especially. Knowing where on the map something is to hide behind — or if there’s anything at all — is important. Plus, having overland maps, and maps for exploration and back-tracking purposes is important. Maybe there’s a way I could get players to draw a map on-screen as they progress…Hmmm…It would have to persist through sessions, though. I’ll have to look into that.

I’ve been trying to create some maps, but if there’s one thing I’m not all that good at, it’s balancing spinning plates. Making maps is a close second. Making maps that look decent and won’t embarrass my lineage for the next thousand years is right up there as well. I’ve joined a map making group on G+ (shut up) and some of the work people can do is absolutely stunning. I could get a five year old a box of crayons and it would probably be better than what I could come up with. I’ve tried using tools like Campaign Cartographer and any number of others that are out there, but stuff usually ends up looking like ass, and I end up fighting the program’s learning curve most of the time. I figured that I could just hand-draw some stuff, scan it, or maybe use my dusty old Wacom Bamboo tablet to create stuff in Photoshop. I’ve got some online resources to help me learn how to make stuff suck less, but I also don’t want this to become a full time job.

GM Tool

Work on my GM tool project is coming along…slowly. I decided to go with a technology that I wasn’t fully familiar with, and that’s proven to be tedious in the face of the ideas that are getting backed up like the line at your local DMV. After some frustration, however, I had an epiphany that allowed me to plow through the difficulty and make decent progress.

Right now, the administration of one’s own profile is complete, with the exception of managing a subscription. This includes viewing your profile, changing the changeable information, and resetting your password (if you opt to use local authentication and not a third party, which isn’t going in any time soon).

The next part is the actual local registration, log-in, and user persistence functionality. The user is the root of the whole process, as campaigns, modules, pages, and all of the little stuff it ultimately tied to individual user records, so being able to get noticed by the site is kind of important.

Wolves at the Gate

In non-gaming news, my daughter is obsessed with wolves. She has it in her head that she wants to run or at least work at a wolf sanctuary when she is old enough. She also wants to be a veterinarian.

This weekend, we went down to Ipswitch, MA to visit the Wolf Hollow Wolf Sanctuary. It’s a small place, run from someone’s home but fully up to code and legal. They have 8.5 wolves on the premises, with the 0.5 wolf being a hybrid wolf-dog that was taken from a three room apartment, and which is illegal to have as a pet in MA. This is not a rehabilitation operation; it’s a non-profit educational and care facility. The presentation that the owner gave was excellent, and focused a lot on conservation and on dispelling the the myths that surround the wolf.

Waving From The Shore #VanguardSoH

I knew it was happening, but it still managed to silently creep up behind me and wander past in the night, board the last ship at the dock, and sail off into the sunset for the distant shore where MMOs reside when the servers are shut down.

I always counted Vanguard as one of my personal top 10 MMOs. It filled the niche that was left with the closing of Star War Galaxies, with it’s non-instanced housing and in-depth crafting. The diplomacy system was unique and never replicated in another MMO, but which was treated as a first class citizen alongside the RPG staple of combat. The world was beautiful, with realistic weather that you could see coming from a mile away.

Yes, it was always troubled. I played the game in beta, and it was damn near impossible to do anything. Aside from the bugs, the game was just a total pig, even on high end systems, and it never ran smoothly. It earned a bad reputation as a broken piece of junk, and although it improved mightily over the years, it never reached it’s full potential.

It was that never reaching it’s potential which was it’s most damning sin, though. I believe that this game broke Brad McQuaid, forcing him underground for many, many years. His exuberance about the potential of Vanguard was contagious, but problems with the business side of Sigil, and the technology of the times, meant that the game would never realize the promises and promotions that preceded it.

I’ve played a lot of MMOs, some of which I recall, but most of which I’ve long since forgotten. Vanguard has the distinction of being one of the few online games that has provided me with tangible memories, and has helped to change the way I play MMOs. A long time soloist, it wasn’t until Vanguard that I decided to join a guild not of my own retinue. Ascension claimed — as many guilds do — to be a “family”. Most guilds fail horribly at living up to that claim, but Ascension nailed it. From the initial in-character interview, to the group harvesting nights, to the time the guild leaders entrusted me with their phone numbers and log-in information to reclaim housing plots while they were on vacation, the guild changed my perspective on how MMOs could be played, with the right people. Sadly, Ascension disbanded slowly as the principles fell away due to real-life issues, and I was the only one left who logged in regularly, until I stopped.

MMOs are unique in that they keep going and going and we complain about their mechanics and their patches and ongoing design decisions. We argue about play styles and philosophies. We create and consume guides and videos to help us get the most from the game. We do all of this around the game, like the game itself is some kind of fixture that can withstand the elements from now until the sun burns out. We forget — or conveniently ignore — that these are services run by corporations, and even the most successful MMOs have a lifespan, and will some day go dark. Vanguard was a minor player in the MMO revue, but it had gravitas and meaning that’s missing from a lot of cookie-cutter games that get to live on.

Shortly after the announcement that Vanguard would be shutting down, I found that Amazon had copies of the collector’s edition for sale. It sits on my shelf with my other CE’s, front and center, where it should be, among the other games that I’ve played. I’ll probably steal more glances towards it now that the game has been shut down.