Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Battle Cat Wargaming Miniature — MM 52

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’re scratch building a Battle Cat wargaming miniature.

Psst, we have a secret coupon code for a new magus book for Pathfinder 1e, hidden in the text. You’ll need to read everything to find it.

Mini Monday Logo

Battle Cat is He-Man’s fearless feline friend, who transforms from the cowardly cat Cringer (erm, tiger) into a red-armored fighting fiend. Besides inspiring alliteration,  Battle Cat is He-Man’s inseparable companion, with whom he shares the secret of the Sword of Power and also benefits from its transformative powers.

I’m busy working on my own little D&D Masters of the Universe set, so Battle Cat’s an important miniature to have. It’s possible to find him online, but it’s also very easy to kitbash or scratch build your own, which is why you should give it a go. This project is the perfect beginner project for learning how to use green stuff or modeling epoxy, and you can use the same method for all kinds of original mounts too.

Step 1: Obtain Miniature Animal of the Plastic Variety

Find a suitably sized plastic animal, preferably one with a high enough level of detail that it’ll look like an animal when your primer has made it monochrome. I found a great lioness that was the perfect size and easy to convert into a tiger.

Step 2: Snip and Clip, then Putty and Paste

To make the armored saddle and helmet I used Tamiya Epoxy Putty, which is a two-part clay (white and beige) that you mix together before working. I’ve never used green stuff, which most people swear by, but this stuff certainly does the job.

Saddles are the easiest thing to make, but barding (plate for a mount), isn’t much harder. Find a good reference to work from and break down the full shape into its component shapes and you’ll do fine. The rest of the armor, including the helmet, is just an extension of the same process.

To bulk up the shape of Battle Cat’s beard and chest hair I used hairpieces from some third edition Dark Eldar.

Some of my Masters of the Universe minis, from left to right: Battle Cat, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, Prince Adam, and He-Man

Step 3: Paint and Play

I primed the mini white, then painted his fur orange and the saddle armor red. I then painted green over the fur, to leave exposed stripes. The stripes were a bit tricky, so decide on which direction you want them to run in before painting and you should be fine.

Finally, I dry brushed his beard white, painted his nose and eyes black, and his claws were brown, black, then white. Finally, I gave the fur a black wash and painted the base black. I didn’t texture the base so that other figures can stand on the base, to show they are riding him.

Battle Cat Wargaming Miniature

Unleash the Power of the Magus

One of the companies I work for is d20pfsrd.com Publishing, and we just released Art of Magic: Melee and Magic. The book has been doing amazingly well, reaching Copper Seller in under 24 hours. I guess it just proves how popular the magus is.

So, what’s in the book?

New magus archetypes, feats, magus arcana, and spells. Mark Thomas, the writer, did an excellent job of offering a wide variety of builds that should offer something for every magus player.

Melee and Magic

The book is compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (first edition) and is $2.99 for 24 pages.

 

Psst, we have 5 coupon codes for Melee and Magic, here, good till the end of the month.

TTRPG Design Mastery — The Impossible Road

Welcome to a guest post, here on Rising Phoenix Games. Kim Frandsen is here to talk about the difficult road TTRPG designers have to walk to becoming masters of the craft. Enjoy.

Hi everyone! Rodney asked me to share some thoughts that I’d been having recently about the TTRPG industry.

In most creative industries, such as tabletop roleplaying game publishing, there are — at least to me — seemingly three levels of “achievement” a creator can reach:

  1. Apprentice
  2. Journeyman
  3. Master

Cruel Trinkets

The Road to Mastering RPG Design

To give an example of what I mean, let’s compare the TTRPG industry to the film industry. Hollywood’s movie business is well known and has similar requirements to our own, in that it requires a lot of creative input and technical knowledge to achieve a coherent and appealing final product.

So an apprentice within the TTRPG world is someone who is just starting out. They may be self-publishing or they may have a few years of experience working as a freelancer for smaller publishers. In the film world, these are the folks putting out their first films, or who are just out of film school. They may have acquired some technical knowledge along the way, and they may have great creative ideas, but they still need a lot of help executing their ideas to a level where an audience can understand their work.

Masters are of course at the other end of the craft. They’re the ones who do the work that you always hear about. Within the gaming world, they’ll be people like Chris Perkins, Owens KC Stephens, Jason Buhlmann, and Skip Williams. They’re exceptionally capable and experienced designers who have had their hands in hundreds of projects. They not only have creative vision but also the technical know-how to realize that vision.
In the film world, these are people like Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola for direction. They may be the Chris Evanses, Ryan Reynolds, and Scarlett Johansson for actors. They could also be the “invisible” people like John Williams, known for the soundscapes that complete the film experience. These are the creators that everyone has heard of,  and who have staying power.

In between these two, you find the journeyman level. For films, these are the people who can live off their work but haven’t become famous. They might be the supporting actors on big-budget films, they may be the camera or sound crews, or they may be the director that does documentaries for the BBC — people that those in the business have potentially heard of, but who aren’t well known to the public.

And here comes the question: where is the journeyman level in the TTRPG Industry?

Making a living off your work in this business, even if you have multiple years of experience and projects behind you, is tough. In my case, I started in 2016 and at this point, I have more than 100 projects behind me as both author and editor, and I’ve started dabbling in layout, but I cannot make a living off what I do — even though I’d love to. (Editors Note: Kim has multiple credits for Paizo, including Pathfinder and Starfinder work. He was also an alternate in the top 32 for RPG Superstar, Season 9. Kim also wrote Heaven & Hell for Pathfinder Second Edition.)

DriveThruRPG.com

The figure that you need to take home to live (please note I said “live”, not “survive” — there is a difference) varies by where you live of course. Generally, if you live in the West, things cost more. That’s just how it is.

But how big does the RPG industry have to be to support the Journeyman level folks? Nobody knows how much money is in the business, and the few who have an insight into that are really not interested in sharing that information. The fact is though that there are only a few companies out there that are big enough to supply more than a handful (5) employees full-time. This includes the juggernaut Wizards of the Coast and all the way down to smaller companies with permanent staff. Even just finding out who belongs in that category is difficult. (Truth be told, the industry really isn’t doing itself any favors on this, by being so opaque, but I digress).
Unfortunately, until we know what the business is worth in total, and where it has been in the past, it’ll be difficult to say where the “break” point in size is for the RPG industry, but there is one factor that we can comment on.
We’d like to see more people make a living by making TTRPGs, wouldn’t we? After all, it allows us to see more people progress to the master level, so we’ll eventually enjoy the stuff they put out. And it’d allow others who have the skill and knowledge to live off their earnings from roleplaying games too.

Do I have a personal stake in this? Yes. Of course, I do, and I’m obviously one who’d like to reach the Journeyman level. But more than that: I’d like to see my friends remain in the business. I started at a time where I was connected with something like 20 or 30 other people. Today, only 2 of them are left, with a 3rd on hiatus and a 4th mostly being too busy with his day job to work away at game design. So many people have fallen by the wayside that I know had the ability to make it, if there had been a future for them. For all of us, it wears us down. And while those who survive the first 3-4 years tend to stick around, I’d really like to see more of the talented newcomers staying with us.

Thanks for listening to my rant.
Catch you on the flip side.
Kim Frandsen
You can find Kim on Beyond the Horizon.


Wanna be a Great GM? Get an Education!

So, you want to impress the boys at your local with your masterful storytelling? Figure you’ll show the ladies a good time with dice and an epic quest? Looking to put “Professional GM” on your CV? Well then, if you want to be a great GM (or DM, or Storyteller), then you need to get an education.

What kind of education? I’m not talking about school — stay in school kids — I’m talking about life experiences.

Cruel Trinkets of the Mad Gods

Why?

Rules are great. Acting skills are useful. Improv skills are even better. Knowing and understanding all the tools available to you, that’s the road to being really great.

But all of this isn’t very useful without some real experiences. Some fuel for the creative fire.

Go ride a horse. Practice martial arts. Write with a quill pen. Hike up a mountain. Go camping. Gut a fish. Travel.

Real experiences always beat book learning. What you’ve lived through becomes a part of you in a way clinical understanding never can.

Have you ever noticed that many writers, those brave souls who battle with pen and paper their whole lives, struggle to sell a good novel, while non-writers (usually sportspeople and explorers) seem to create best-selling books without much effort? There are exceptions, but I’ll bet that the key ingredient here is substance. Those with real experiences have something meaty to offer.

A poorly-researched example, as Exhibit A: Stephen King cited being hit by a car as inspiration for many of his books. I’m not sure which, but my Google-fu tells me it’s a bunch. Sorry, Stephen, you’re free to pipe up in the comments.

Your experiences are beautiful pigments for painting truly memorable images at the table. Your fantasy games will be so much more real when you embellish them with realistic details drawn from your experiences.

So look, listen, and learn. I promise it’ll be worth it.

Thanks to The Five Foot Square for hosting this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. Do go check them out and join in the fun.

While you’re here, please check out our store or our Drive-Thru RPG page. We have loads of publications for D&D 5e, Pathfinder, and unique systems we know you’ll love.

Dakka-Mart, our Gretchin Gun Shop — MM 49

It’s Mini Monday, with customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’re building Dakka-Mart, our Gretchin Gun Shop.

Mini Monday Logo

The trash speaks to me. It tells me to make things. Inconceivable things of waste and scrap.

It’s all very Orky.

The Gretchin Gun Shop uses a bit of hardboard for the base, some corrugated cardboard for the walls, bits of old pens and medicinal sprays for the turret, and spaghetti for the bullets.

That’s right, I chopped up dry spaghetti for the piles of bullet casings. Don’t worry if they’re not of equal length or if they break skew. This is terrain, so it’s not worth stressing over if it’s just going to sit on the tabletop. It’ll look fine when you paint it.

Gretchin Gun Shop - Dakka-Mart

In fact, you don’t want your terrain to outshine your models, so you have loads of leeway when crafting and painting something like this.

The guns and potato-mashers were made from bits of sprue and toy guns I had lying around. The knife was a bit of plastic card cut to shape, with cord glued to the handle. I twisted bits of thin wire around the weapons and then glued them to the walls.

Gretchin Gun Shop Side 2

Hold on though, I want to talk about effort more.

I knocked the main shape of this out in my lunch break, then spent another two hours or so on the details. Painting was quick too. I started this on Friday and was done by Sunday evening. It was a slap-dash paint job done in bad light, but I’m happy enough to have more Orky terrain. Which is the point: you don’t need to spend hours and hours on terrain pieces.

Heck, you don’t even need to spend loads of time on your miniatures.

A little effort is better than no effort. A little colour is better than grey plastic. The terrain you have is better than the terrain you don’t have.

So just go for it. Make stuff. Don’t let expectations of quality hold you back.

Gretchin Gun Shop Painted

Why RPG Settings are Built Like Theme Parks

Take a look at your favourite RPG setting and you’ll find odd similarities with theme parks. These settings can easily kill your group’s story if you’re not careful. Here’s why theme park settings are so popular,  their inherent pitfalls, and some ideas on how to fix them.

Raven on tombstone

Why RPG Settings Feel Like Theme Parks

RPG designers, by necessity, need to give players plenty to play with. That’s why Golarion, Faerûn, the Mortal Realms, and even the mega-city of Ravnica are so cleanly divided into areas. It’s as if they were designed by a theme park designer. There’s usually a hot place, a dry place, a wet place, a funny magic place. There’s also often some form of Steampunk City, Pirate Island, Monkey Kingdom, Dragon Mountain, Asia Land, Snake Jungle… and the list goes on, covering all the tropes.

This is a good thing. GMs need options, players want to explore their favourite tropes, and RPG writers don’t want either of them to go looking elsewhere for their fun.

Unfortunately, all these choices can destroy a coherent story.

How Theme Park Settings Destroy Stories

Image your party heads to Tian Xia, the East Asian themed lands of Pathfinder’s Golarion. On the way there they stop off in the Mwangi Expanse (lush jungles) and take a session to explore the deep oceans around the Isle of Kortos.

Have magical portals, can travel.

Finally, the party gets to Tian Xia and they’re off to see an important diplomat. The encounter, an important setup for the rest of the campaign, has little buildup. The party have been in their bikinis or deep in the jungle for a few sessions now, with no time to dip their feet into the deep culture Tian Xia represents. As a result, your carefully prepared roleplaying encounter falls flat with the players missing vital cultural and historic clues dropped by the diplomat.

Bummer.

How to Fix Theme Park RPG Settings

One thing I love about the Game of Thrones setting is that the fantasy elements are relatively limited. I’d argue the same about the Lord of the Rings: there are no drow, flumphs, owlbears, or beholders. You could fit the LotR bestiary into one book. Both settings still have their worlds, but they’re doing more with less.

Similarly, you can get more out of the many options modern RPG settings present by picking and choosing. It’s that simple. Give it a try.

Check out the Battle Zoo Bestiary

The Battle Zoo Bestiary, for Pathfinder 2e and 5e, is now on Kick Starter. The book features many new monsters, so you’re sure to find some great additions to your campaign world. Remember, you can always reskin a monster to turn it into a variant of something prevalent in your world, which is one neat trick for keeping things simple.

Don’t miss out on this one.

Battle Zoo Bestiary


Truly Modular Doors for the Tabletop! — MM 48

It’s Mini Monday, and this week we’re making truly modular doors for tabletop gaming!

Mini Monday Logo

Really Modular vs Almost Modular

There are plenty of great dungeon tile terrain sets out there that have “modular” written somewhere on the box, but which usually only fits with sets from the same manufacturer. Special clips and connectors become a problem if you enjoy making your own terrain or want to buy sets from another company and have it all sit seamlessly together on the tabletop. Turns out though that making modular terrain that’ll fit with any other terrain isn’t all that hard at all.

It just needs some planning.

My ideas about modular terrain changed when I saw Johnny Fraser-Allen’s tabletop terrain, which is modular because it stacks. Gravity, not pins, do all the work.

Take a look, Johnny’s work is very inspiring:

Truly Modular Doors

Here’s a hobbit door, a trapdoor, and a sewer grate:

Three Truly Modular Doors

I used plastic card, clay, and matchsticks to build these, with a small eye crew for the door handle of the hobbit door. There’s not really that much to them, and they only took a couple of hours to bang out and paint.

But check how useful they are:

Truly Modular Doors for Wells
“Well, this looks unsafe. What if little Timmy were around?”

Modular Doors Well Coverr
“… Much better!”
From inside the well: “Mwfff mff mmfff.”

Modular Doors Trapdoor
Any of these pieces of terrain could work here. The castle floor doesn’t have any features of its own.

Castle Greyhobbit
“Oi, hobbit, let me in! I know you’re in there.”

As you can see in this last picture, a bit of Prestik (Blu Tack) will get you a vertical door and some burglar bars. No special connectors needed.

The Perfect Fit, Anywhere

I really appreciate this sort of modularity when I’m building dungeons on the fly, such as when I’m playing with a dungeon to get inspired for a session or some module writing.

And if you think about it, you can apply this principle to so many other types of terrain too.

The Gear Heart of the Mechamancer

We recently released the Mechamancer, a cybernetic reimagining of the barbarian for fifth edition fantasy. You can check it out on Drive Thru RPG. If you already own the Grimdark Pamphlet then you’ll be getting the mechamancer, for free, in a future update of the pamphlet.

Mechamancer

Let’s Write Some Statistically Average Jokes

The AGBIC game jam is fast drawing to a close, and I need to put some statistically average fake band names into the game, because that’s the entirely optional theme for the year, which means we’re doing it! Time for some statistically average jokes!

Like our bad space-themed jokes, these band names will be connected to items you find on the red planet, and we’ll try our best to be funny.

Or at least punny.

Pun and Games

Here are the newest additions. The words in bold are the statistically average band names:

  • You pick up a bottle of lactate- concentrate. The label reads ‘Moo Gourd, rich in Calcium, the other Vitamine C’.
  • You discover a crumpled copy of Football Scoundrel. The cover story reads ‘Tottenbacon’s Runaway Season’.
  • You find a stash of rolled-up Flamboyant Lifer magazines. Rich humans sure know how to live.
  • You pick a thin cardboard sleeve out of the dirt. It appears to contain an audio recording of the Ferry Destroyers. By the picture on the cover, it seems they dislike barbers as much as crossing channels.
  • You find a dusty magazine entitled Apes Spanks. Thinking it better not to ask, you quickly atomize it for parts.
  • You find a jar of Nut Rebuild, but it’s empty.
  • You find a card depicting a gloomy castle. It has Strength 10, Vitality 12, and Endurance 17. Apparently, you’d need more of these to play Fortification Addict.

space rocket travel

    • You recover a copy of Dunk Racket from the dirt. This audio-visual ‘comedy phenomenon’ stars Wes Haroldson and Woopy Pipes.
    • You pull a small, hair-covered jacket from the dirt. It appears made for an Earth-pet and the label says Ensemble Basset in Earth-glyphs.
    • A newspaper clipping lies in the dirt. It reads ‘Naturalization Loan Rollout Begins’.
    • You find a pamphlet for ‘Safari Ski Holidays in South Africa’. The tigers really look like they’re enjoying the hot cocoa. The sales blurb promises ‘Extravagant Thrills‘.
    • You pick up a postcard depicting a human male and female riding in an expensive-looking air vehicle. It says ‘the all-new Clove Beamer is a ride of a lifetime.’
    • You pick up a well-worn issue of ‘Impostor Smut‘ from the dust. Humans are into some weird things.
    • You find a small plastic card labeled ‘Hedonist Credit, redeemable in stores nationwide’.

Well, that was utterly ridiculous. I hope you’ll join us for more, soon.


Is This the Best Way to Build RPG Dungeons?

There are tons of ways to build dungeons for your sessions of Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, from randomly generated maps to complicated computer software, but this method might just be the best way to build RPG dungeons you’ll ever find.

I’m a visual, hands-on kind of guy. I love playing with LEGO, painting miniatures, and kitbashing. It’s my meditative place, where I’m not deeply inside my head or thinking about anything particular, just enjoying the flow of the moment.

There’s a practical side to this too, one which overcomes the limitations of a computer.

I do my best writing on paper. Even though it takes time to type up my scrawl afterwards, I don’t see it as wasted time, because my writing is that much better when the first draft is analogue.

There’s something about the real feeling of things, about being able to scratch, tweak, modify, and scribble, without keys interfering.

That’s why I like building out my dungeons with bits of homemade scenery.

Prisoners
“Just what kind of dungeon is this?”

The Process

I’ve made lots of terrain for my wargaming, much of which I’ve shown in the Mini Monday archives. This took me a fairly long time to collect, but now that I have it I find that it inspires all sorts of ideas, just from playing with the pieces.

The dungeon, in effect, has become a toy, and building the dungeon is the game.

You can do the same thing with dungeon tiles, or with a pencil and post-it notes. You could even use LEGO, or use books to represent rooms, anything you can easily move around and change.

The physical, impermanent nature of your tool is important.

Things to Think About

What will make this dungeon, or this room, this trap, this encounter, more interesting? How do these rooms relate to each other? How else can the players achieve what they need to achieve here? What reasons do they have to go into this room, interact with this object, talk to this NPC?

Think about these things as you shift walls and doors, add furniture and traps, or put down monster minis for each encounter.

And then, when you’re finally happy with things, draw out your map, or go to the mapping software. I promise, you’ll have better ideas to work with than if you jumped straight into making the map.

RPG Blog Carnival

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is hosted by Plastic Polyhedra, who picked the theme “Let’s Build a Dungeon!” Be sure to check out their site and the linked post for more dungeon design ideas.

rpg blog carnival logo

Convert a String to a Variable Name in JavaScript

Is it possible to write code that doesn’t use its own variables, but still works? It is! You can convert a string to a variable name in JavaScript using eval, and here’s how it works.

Convert a string to a variable name

Our Usecase

Say we’re building a text-based game where we want the player to be able to interact with the resources they’ve collected. In Mars and Crafts, this means typing “atomize [resource name]” into Discord and hitting enter. For example: “atomize dirt” or “atomize concrete”.

There are potentially many variables we’ll need to access, but the user is giving us the name of the most important variable in their input string. So, rather than using many “if-else” statements, can’t we just use the input string to get the variable?

Convert a JS String into a Variable Name

This node.js code loads data from a JSON file into variables, then uses eval to access them with a string. This is useful because the user can type in the variable’s name and get its value, all we need to do is ensure their string is formatted correctly.
// Load Game
const fileSystem = require("fs");
const saveData = fileSystem.readFileSync("saveData.json", "utf-8");
const saveObj = JSON.parse(saveData);
console.log("Loaded save game.......");

//Resources
var iStone = saveObj.iStone;
var iWater = saveObj.iWater;
var iSludge = saveObj.iSludge;
var iParts = saveObj.iParts;
var iElectronics = saveObj.iElectronics;
var iFuel = saveObj.iFuel;
var iPower = saveObj.iPower;
var iMetal = saveObj.iMetal;
var iConcrete = saveObj.iConcrete;
var iDirt = saveObj.iDirt;

function atomize (arg) {
    // Convert arg string to resource variable name
    arg = arg.toLowerCase();
    var sResPrefix = "i" + arg.charAt(0).toUpperCase(); 
    var sResource =  sResPrefix + arg.substr(1, arg.length);
    console.log(arg + " => " + sResource + " = " + eval(sResource)); 
}

// Some tests
atomize ("dirt");
atomize ("Water");
atomize ("CONCRETE");
atomize ("Stone");
atomize ("sludge");
atomize ("FUEL");

We can figure out which variable the user wants with some educated guesses. In this case, we know our variables all start with “i” and a capital letter. We then do a fair bit of work with the strings, which we could skip if the variable names were simply the nouns (“sludge”, “water”, “stone”, etc.).

Here’s the saveData.json file:

{
"iStone":3,
"iDirt":2,
"iWater":0,
"iSludge":0,
"iParts":0,
"iElectronics":0,
"iFuel":0,
"iPower":0,
"iMetal":0,
"iConcrete":0
}

Some Security Considerations

Using eval is like opening a back door for all kinds of deviancy, which is why you’ll still need to restrict which variables are accessible and ensure that only those variables are accessible. Read and understand the eval docs, and let us know if you have a better way of doing this, in the comments below.



Why It’s Good to Suck (At Something)

I suck at skateboarding. I’m terrible at it. But you know what, it’s good to suck at something. Here’s why…

(And yes, there will be an RPG angle to my story.)

There are a bunch of things I can get cocky about. I’m not bragging though, because I still have far to go, but I’m a fairly competent writer and editor, I know a deal about design and layout, and my puns are perfection. When it comes to skateboarding though, I suck.

Just how bad am I?

I’m a fearful person, and I’ve got the coords of a drunken goat. I can’t jump, and I nearly killed myself for a stupid trick (that’s hyperbole, but it still hurt).

But all the suckage is a good thing. It keeps you humble. It teaches you. It gives you perspective.

Humility and Real Motivation

So we’re going to talk about game design a lot here, and we’re going to talk about motivation too. Motivation’s the fuel that gets game design done, that pulls game devs through the tough times.

Motivation fascinates me.

People say our minds are like a computer, so then understanding motivation is like learning to hack our brains. That’s tastily cyberpunk.

But the motivation I’m talking about isn’t the Tony Robbin’s flavored shlock you find in a lot of self-help books. I’m talking about understanding what makes your brain think like it does, then knowing how to deal with those thoughts.

In skateboarding, sometimes the most unnatural movements are the right ones. Take dropping in.

Credit: Tania Ferreira Lourenco

Dropping in is where you have your skateboard’s nose up, then lean forward so that you and your board’s nose come down, onto the ramp. Your body’s natural instinct is to pull back, but this always fouls up and could put you on your bum. Ultimately, you have to trust the physics and lean into it, fighting through the fear.

You quickly realize that fear’s keeping you back. The only way to hack your brain is to fight the fear. So how do you fight fear?

School of Hard Knocks

We all know how to run, but riding a plank, that’s odd. You might be lucky to have learned it as a kid, but otherwise it’s an alien activity. In this way, skateboarding is a perfect model for how we learn.

I see it when I compare mini painting to skateboarding. Both take practice, and practice pays off for both hobbies. The best synonym for practice is “baby steps”. You learn to master mini painting by focusing on one new step at a time.

Gamemastering? Same. Writing games? Same. Nobody ever learned all the rules of D&D before running their first game, they learn enough and add to that knowledge later.

Knowing you suck is the only way to improve.