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Out of Character

"Has anyone seen my D20?"

Month

August 2013

New Podcasts

Some people might have noticed it has been a bit longer than usual since I recorded a new podcast for Out of Character. Jade and I are going to have some people over this weekend and we’ll be playing Dungeons and Dragons so there has been a lot to do to get ready for that. New episodes will come soon, depending on how long our play session is I’ll probably end up splitting that session up into multiple episodes.

A Treasure Trove of Dungeons and Dragons Books

So I was on Craiglist the other day checking to see if anyone had posted anything related to Dungeons and Dragons, I check there periodically because I’ve met some nice people that way in the past. I noticed that someone had posted an ad stating that they’d like to sell a few books. It turns out she was selling seventeen books for thirty dollars! Pretty much all of them are 3rd edition or 3.5 but they’re still great source material. Most of them were thirty dollars originally by themselves so this was a great deal. I’m especially excited about Deities and Demigods, Expedition to Greyhawk, and Sharn: City of Towers.

Pen and PDF Games

With more and more publications ceasing their traditional methods of printing in favor a digital approach it isn’t surprising to see many of those related to tabletop games following the same path. For example both Dungeon and Dragon Magazine as well as Kobold Quarterly have all gone entirely digital or ceased their publications along with countless others. There are a few new publications that are trying to fill the gap though, Gygax Magazine for one, which is now publishing it’s second issue along with several other longstanding publications. Clearly there is still a demand for traditional media in this genre so what happened to make so many others turn away from it? In my mind there’s room for both approaches to media in tabletop gaming but some seem to be arguing that it has to be one or the other.

While trying to acquire a physical copy of Gygax Magazine at my friendly local gaming store I briefly discussed the topic with a member of the staff. As he explained it to me the cost of keeping issues of the magazine on the shelves, and the demand from the people who came there, simply didn’t justify doing so. Despite a thriving number of miniature gamers who meet there regularly keeping White Dwarf on the shelf usually ends up costing the store money.

I’ve never enjoyed reading anything long than a few paragraphs on a computer screen. I enjoy the tactile experience of reading and I think that it loses something when it is reduced to a digital format, but that is only my preference and there are certainly good arguments for employing digital media.

There are some wonderful advantages to this new trend that I am glad to see some companies are starting to take advantage of though. Evil Hat Productions with their Bits and Mortar initiative is my favorite example of this by far though. In an effort support friendly local gaming stores this program gives the customers the best of both worlds. When you purchase one of their products at a local retailer they will provide you with a PDF copy free of charge, and it is sometimes even possible for the retailer to provide you with the digital copy in house. It’s like getting two copies of the book for the price of one and that is pretty hard to beat.

Wizards of the Coast has started publishing some of the adventure modules from older editions of Dungeons and Dragons which is a thrilling development too. It would be unfair to expect Wizards of the Coast to periodically republish hard copies of resources scattered throughout decades of production and various editions, but the PDF format does just that very well. Now people can play through an adventure that had been lost in a move, or just given out to the ravages of time. Others who have yet to experience these classics can purchase them as though they were brand new and carry them forward into a new generation, sharing in the fun that others had with them when they were first released.

With a digital publication there is also a demand for constant updates and content which gives emerging talents an opportunity to get their foot in the door. If a magazine published only 12 issues a year their going to be far more selective about their content than they will when they produce weekly or daily content for their readers.

There major issues that crop up with digital media in this format are also noteworthy however. Computers crash, or get lost or damaged and without constantly backing up your files they could take all of your gaming books with them. If you’re at all computer savvy, meaning you aren’t me, that is probably a minor concern since you’ll probably be able to recover the data with some clever trick.

When discussing the topic of digital media one cannot ignore the topics of ownership rights and piracy. When you buy a boo you own it forever, it is yours to do with as you wish. Would you like to loan it to your friend so that she can make a dwarf wizard to join in your campaign? Well if you only have a PDF publishers are pushing things in a direction which wouldn’t allow for that. Instead they seem to be taking a stance on ownership similar to those of the goblins in Harry Potter, you’re basically paying to lease the property from them and when you can’t use it anymore it reverts to their ownership. Piracy is also a big problem with digital media. If someone wants to share their book with a friend that should be acceptable, wanting to scan the thing and post it online where int can be downloaded an infinite number of times isn’t. This practice has done a great deal of harm to the industry, and it deprives those who make the games we love of their livelihood.

So what is the answer? I still think the best approach is to have digital and print media work together rather than choosing one over the other. I’d love to see more publisher’s take the approach that Evil Hat has and make PDFs of their work available to those who purchase hard copies for example. Also, a lot of magazines seem to be cutting the number of their issues to help reduce publishing costs in the face of decreased revenue. I don’t think that’s going about it the right way, but I’m not a publisher or any sort of expert on the matter. Still I don’t think producing far less content on quarterly basis than the competition is going to draw new readers to a publication. Reaching out to the people who are turning to digital media and showing them the value of printed works is the only way to survive.

Whatever happens I’ll still enjoy digging through the bins of used copies of Dungeon at my friendly local gaming store.

A Natural History of Dragons

A Natural History of Dragons is written by Marie Brennan and illustrated by Todd Lockwood, the book written as a memoir of the main character Isabella, Lady Trent. Lady Trent relates what lead her to begin studying dragons as a child, her courtship with the man who would become her partner in her lifelong endeavor, and her first scientific expedition to study the creatures that had fascinated her since her youth. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself caring about Isabella and her story within a few pages and Marie Brennan’s narrative is written in a way that describes individual setting and person so well you’ll find yourself standing right alongside of the characters.

As I was reading through the piece I found myself lingering on Lockwood’s illustrations, and occasionally flipping through the pages when I had a spare moment just to reexamine them once more. These illustrations are all captioned and according to the fiction they’re the original sketches of Lady Trent, who finds herself on an exciting scientific expedition related to dragons. Lockwood’s artwork is breathtaking, and yet it fits well with in the fiction. I found myself imagining Lady Trent perched atop a rock, her sketchpad resting on her lap, drawing out the outline of what she was seeing so she would be able to return to it and the fine details.

If you’re using dragons, or even if you intend to use them in the future, this book could definitely be of some use to you. Especially if you’re running a campaign which will place dragons in close proximity to a village, city, or any sort of established settlement. Reading about how the villages of Drustanev interact with the dragons after growing up around them is a fascinating. There’s also a great deal of insight into how a dragon’s body works, or might work, in a realistic setting. How do dragons manage to fly? How do they hunt? What is their behavior like in the wild? These are all questions which are answered in A Natural History of Dragons. Obviously I’m not going to give away anything her and spoil the book for you, just like Lady Trent you’ll have to do the work if you want to be rewarded with knowledge. I hope you’ll find as much enjoyment in reading this book as Lady Trent did in studying dragons.

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Episode 7 Get a Clue Nebin

Episode 7 of Out of Character is up on the Buzzsprout and available for people to listen to it. This time around we played Dungeons and Dragons Clue, which is actually a really fun adaptation of the classic board game with a few fun features I think many people would enjoy.

http://www.buzzsprout.com/admin/episodes/109559-episode-7-get-a-clue-nebin

Episode 6 Aprons Are Hard

Episode 6 of the podcast is finished and available on buzzsprout. You can hear Jade and I discuss our thoughts on painting miniatures, theorize how Mimics are created, and there’s a little bit of Tolkien chat sprinkled in here and there as well. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

http://outofcharacter.buzzsprout.com/13127/109296-episode-6-aprons-are-hard

As promised in today’s podcast here is a poll to choose the name for Jade’s bar maid mini.

Arts and Crafts

Jade and I went to Little House Big Art to paint our newly acquired minis, and I think the results were pretty good considering this was our first time painting miniatures. Jade painted her tavern maid, I painted a Mimic, and our new friend Lindsay who was working at LHBA painted a vampire. Jade and Lindsay also painted a couple of shields I had lying around.

I really wanted to take some nice pictures to show off our work, but the camera we own stinks so these will have to do. This was a really fun activity and we both want to continue doing it on a regular basis.

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A vampire, a mimic, and a bar maid. That’s got to be one of the weirdest parties ever.

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Jade spent a lot of time debating what colors to use for this figure. I think she chose pretty well in the end.

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I’m really pleased with my Mimic, I decided to name him Mike.

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There are some cool details on the back of the Mimic mini that I wanted to show off.

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Just another angle of Jade’s mini, again she did a very nice job with it.

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We’ve decided to name the vampire Vincent.

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Miniatures Part Two

Today Jade and I set out to Phantom Games and purchased everything we’ll need to make our first serious foray into the craft of miniature painting. We bought quite a few minis, primer, paints, brushes, tools, and some glue to stick limbs on. It was good fun digging through the minis trying to find ones that caught our eye. We both snagged a wide variety and we’re really excited about the new project.

I’ve just been applying the undercoat to our miniatures so we can get started on their actual paint in tomorrow. I’ll make sure to post some pictures of our work.

Just in case anyone is confused as to why we’re doing this…it’s because we’re huge nerds. Plus Jade has been wanting to give this a try as she mentioned in episode 4 March of the Miniatures. If you haven’t checked that one out yet now might be a good time to get caught up.

Monstrous Menagerie Presents the Gargoyle

Gargoyles

Gargoyles have been used as monstrous creatures in a number of roleplaying games and it isn’t hard to see why. One merely has to glance up into the fearsome visages carved into the stone grotesques and gargoyles that have decorated rooftops around the world for centuries. These stone creations have served a number of purposes aside from simple decoration for grand structures. They’re used to redirect rainwater, as a representation of evil that can be easily recognized, and to ward off evil spirits. What I present now is a version of gargoyle that could be easily adapted for use in almost any campaign for any roleplaying system.

All modern gargoyles are descended from bipedal reptiles that once laired in scattered caverns. Each cave usually contains a communal nesting group with the number of gargoyles ranging for eight to twenty. Their thick skin has the rough texture of stone, and acts as a natural camouflage allowing them to blend in perfectly with the rock. Each of their limbs ends in a five digit grasping appendage, sharp talons jut from their fingers and act as their primary form of attack. An egg laying species it is the males who build nests out of large stones and sticks, decorating them with whatever shiny objects they can find. Miners have discovered abandoned nests decorated with everything from seashells and bird feathers to stolen tools and uncut gems. Females choose their mates based on the attractiveness of these nests while the males watch in hiding. Gargoyles breed for life and when their mate dies the surviving counterpart will often starve to death.

These simple creatures are often the of victims large predators; humanoids also drive them out of their nesting caverns. However one of the most interesting threats to the gargoyle is the cockatrice. These creatures will often approach the caves where gargoyles dwell, lure the gargoyles away, and then double back to lay their own eggs in the unguarded nests. Taking no notice of the additional eggs the gargoyles continue to guard their nests until they hatch, at which point the immature cockatrice turns its guardians to stone and devours all of the other eggs in the nest. The discovery of stone gargoyles along with their natural camouflage has caused the misconception that they are actually living stone.

The gargoyles would almost certainly have died out were it not for the fact that most of their kind have migrated to ruins, abandoned fortresses, and cities. Ruins left in the wake of wars are ideally suited for gargoyles that nest among the crumbling stones and rotting timber. Many of the predators that threaten them avoid these places, having learned to fear the people that once dwelled within them. The abandoned treasures of a myriad of races now decorate the nests of the gargoyles that thrive where they once dwelled. Their keening wails have driven many passersby to hurry onward spreading stories of haunted ruins throughout the countryside.

Some gargoyles have even begun to nest in populated cities, and amazingly enough they’ve managed to thrive there. Lurking out of sight on rooftops they snatch up dogs, cats, chickens, and other small animals to feed their young. The males, who are larger and slower, will stay behind to guard their nests while the more agile females do most of the actual hunting. Incidents of gargoyles attacking humanoids are uncommon, and rarely result in any fatalities. Gargoyles are highly territorial, those that dwell in cities less so than the ones that live in the wild. These creatures avoid humanoid whenever possible, but there have been incidents of orphaned children being adopted by gargoyles.

Certain enterprising individuals have managed to capture gargoyles, breeding the creatures and selling the resulting offspring as guardians who dwell on the rooftops of manors, citadels, and great fortresses. Bred to be far more vicious than their untamed counterparts the guardgoyles act as savage protectors who show no mercy. Those who purchase these creatures will sometimes find they can no longer safely leave their front door with being set upon by them.

The leathery hides of gargoyles are highly prized, and given how difficult it is to force a gargoyle to part with their skin the cost for their hides is extraordinarily high. However they’re sometimes found in the possession of many of the thieves, spies, and assassins who ply their trade in cities in every corner of the world. The wearer of a cloak of gargoyle skin will be able to blend into stonework to the point of near invisibility, making it an invaluable tool for avoiding detection.

So when next you think you spot some movement on a rooftop overhead, and dismiss it as imagined or merely crumbling stonework, think of the gargoyle.

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