Thursday, April 23, 2009

Make your own glass RPG map top

I'm about to start a new D&D campaign.  I wanted to be prepared, and have a good solution to one of the problems of running the game: how to represent the game map.

Here are some of the issues I wanted to resolve:
  • work with pre-printed D&D maps
  • work with pre-printed D&D dungeon tiles
  • prevent tiles and maps from moving around and becoming misaligned
  • stop spills, snack related damage and enthusiastic play from damaging maps and tiles
  • mark up map details over those pre-printed items without damage
  • have a grid available for impromptu free-form maps and buildings
  • be able to "game off the edge" when tiles or maps run out
I had thought of laminating the maps, but the tiles don't suit that approach at all.

Glass seemed like a great idea, after seeing a friends glass kitchen table top with a map of the world underneath it.

But I knew the glass would need to be small enough to easily lift with one hand, and slide maps and tiles in and out during gaming.

Spec point one:  glass 800mm x 600mm or 24" x 32" in size.  

This is a good manageable size.  The glass should be 5mm thick float glass, with a beveled edge.

The bevel makes the edges of the glass a bit stronger and less likely to damage fingers and hands whilst in use.  If in doubt ask the glass supplier for "furniture glass", or "glass suitable for a coffee table top".

Such a bit of glass is likely to set you back $70AUD (around $50US at the time of writing) but you might be lucky and get an off-cut if you visit the factory.

The other issue was how to "game off the edge" - a standard D&D 1 x 1 inch grid was needed on the glass to extend over the whole surface of the glass.

I researched a number of ways to mark up the glass.  

Glass-workers use diamond and other hardened tools to cut fine scratches into glass, but the glass is weakened and much more likely to break.  In fact this is the idea of most of these tools.

Glass companies offer a range of decorative glass and can print a design onto the glass.  Also there are various types of printed film.  Most of these options looked far too expensive.

Spec point two: Sakura Solid Paint markers, ordered from Graffonline.  

I got two, just because the minimum for delivery was $10, all up it was $18AUD for two markers delivered and they turned up a few days later.

The markers are like a soft crayon made of paint: they make an instant line, and don't dry out like felt tips.  

One problem I hadn't anticipated is that the marker paint gets on the straight edge.

Apparently it can be easily removed with the alcohol based cleaner.

Like a crayon the line is hard to control, but I wasn't too worried about that for my first go-around.  I have plenty of marker left, so I plan to clean off the glass and do it over sometime with a practiced hand and a bit more time to spend.

I'm pretty happy with the results (top picture) even tho' the lines are pretty rough.  The painted lines are durable and dry enough after only 20 minutes that I can put the glass lines-side-down without the paint coming off. 

Marking up the glass with dry erase (whiteboard) markers is easy - that's the "house" that the miniatures in the bottom-right hand corner of the picture are in.  The dry-erase markers wipe off clean from the glass.

Since the paint is on the underside of the glass, marking and erasing does not affect the painted grid.

I think I hit most of my requirements, but I'll post back here with how it goes in the front line duty of my campaign.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amazon sea freight fail

I like Amazon.

Good service, generally a great company to deal with.

But somehow I managed to buy a some stuff recently and click the sea freight button.

Don't do that.

First off its painfully slow. But then theres the damage endured by the package.

Either the ship was attacked by pirates, or the shipboard soccer team kicked the package around the deck.

Miraculously - probably due to all the airbags the damage to the book inside was minimized - but it was far from unscathed - note the apparent moisture damage and dog-eared corner.


I doubt I will take advantage of Amazon's return policy - the book is readable, and I don't have the time to parcel it up and send it back.

But next time - air freight thanks.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cursed comment spam

From"I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. i thought i would leave my first comment. i don't know what to say except that i have enjoyed reading. nice blog. i will keep visiting this blog very often."

Sounds very genuine doesn't it. "My first comment". Makes you feel very - touched. How nice.

A search for this phrase on Google returns 249, 000 matches.

This. Exact. Phrase.

So despite the fact that it got past the Google comment anti-spammer check, it is not a real comment.

I don't know if this is a script, bot, virus or just a plain army of low paid turks. Whatever, it is very annoying.

I went looking at some of the 249,000 victim websites.

Many that I looked at had this exact "post" inline with many other actual real posts.

In some cases the website owners/original posters had responded back thanking "Elaina" or whoever for their thoughtful comment.

The author of the original article and the other commenters likely have no idea in all of those 249,000 cases.

The weird thing is that for a fairly sophisticated exploit, the website the URL's are pointing to are very plain - they seem to follow this pattern:
  • a basic looking wordpress site with 2-3 posts
  • no real obvious google-traps, or large collections of advertisements
  • commercial sort of angle, real-estate and so on - but no immediate money spinner
  • site purportedly run by a single person, with a personal profile
  • some javascript links all looking to have something to do with Wordpresses K2 sidebar
My current theory for what is going on is that the captcha's are being beaten by a "Turk" type setup.

It could work like this. I want to promote my dodgy website, and pay a service called "Evil Promotions" that promises to raise it up in Google rankings.

The service recruits a small army of low paid workers - or perhaps they are paid in kind with gambling credits or pornography. The workers log into a web interface on "Evil Promotions" website and click a button.

Behind the scenes Evil Promotions run a set of scripts that go around millions of websites, looking for ones that have a comment facility.

Then the automated script finds such "Victim" websites, in their hundreds-of-thousands and it "clicks" on the buttons and makes a post. The script drops the very human sounding text above into the comment field.

The "Victim Site" sends back a captcha - an image with some distorted text, which only a human could read - the script passes the captcha on to the workers via Evil Promotions website. The worker types the response to the captch and clicks a button.

The Evil Promotions script sends the captcha response back to the victim website, which faithfully logs it as a human comment.

The worker just types responses, and clicks, over and over again, never seeing the websites that the responses are going to. I don't know what they could get out of such mindless repetitive work, but I hope for their sakes its worth it.

To me, if I'm half right, the whole thing stinks.

A low act.

Now - I have had an idea - maybe I can fight back. I just left comments on two of the websites I found, explaining what I just found. I asked the authors to do two things:
  • delete the comment
  • contact two other sites that had been spammed and suggest they do the same
Lets see what happens.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lighting in D&D

black and white picture of a dragon over a castle - drawn ages ago

For ages the rules in Dungeons and Dragons about lighting and concealment have driven me mad.

Not only are the details around these critical elements of the classic pencil-and-paper roleplay game spread throughout the players handbook in sections on stealth, perception and combat - but also in the latest 4th edition rules new errata sections released by Wizards of the Coast have changed how the rules work.

Now I finally understand.

So I have written a lengthy and carefully detailed article about the subject.

It includes:
  • details on portable light sources and how they work in the game
  • explanations of how the 4th ed errata affect the rules (and where to find the errata)
  • an explanation of hiding and how it works in combat
  • tips for DM's on how to run games where light, concealment and combat are involved
Hopefully it sheds some light on this tricky area for those of you who were in the dark on it.

Roll a will save vs bad puns, or take 2d6 psychic damage...