The Firing Squad welcomes Sean Punch

I had the opportunity to sit down once again with GURPS Line Editor Sean Punch for a 90-minute interview concerning the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set.

The Kickstarter is ongoing – and to back the Kickstarter is to vote for more physically printed GURPS products.

The interview is fairly clear, though Sean and I both talk fast, and there will be some interruptions in the flow.

This is the first Firing Squad video in over a year . . . sorry for making you wait so long!

If you don’t have time for the full 90-minute show (but you should make time for it, because Sean’s an engaging speaker and I mostly just shut up and listen), at least listen to this seven minute long pitch about the DF boxed set, and what’s in it for you, and why it matters to the future of GURPS.

Seven Minute Summary


And for those with more time on your hands, here’s the full video:


Full 90-minute Interview

As always, as soon as I can make it happen, there will be an MP3 file and a transcript available.

Hey, and why not? Here’s the first interview I ever did, and also my first with Sean.


Thursday is GURPSDay, and much like Christmas time, I was gifted with the transcript that someone did of the conversation between Hunter Shelburne and +Rev. Pee Kitty (PK Levine, Jason Levine) regarding the GURPS worked-example series After the End.

For an absolutely shameless set of plugs, if you want some comprehensive reviews of each volume, check out After the End 1: Wastelanders (review) and After the End 2: The New World (review) that I did previously.

But what was the interview, you ask? It was part of SJGamesLive.

(I should note that these transcripts, whether it be this one or those on The Firing Squad, are pretty intense piece of work. As an example, the AtE transcript is just shy of 10,000 words long. That’d be about a 12-page Pyramid article, which is on the longer side of things. So there’s a lot of content here.) Continue reading “Transcript: Hunter and PK talk After the End”

Happy New Year, and happy GURPS-Day.

I was asked recently how I do my interviews. I answered this a while back from a logistics point of view, but I was asked a bit about the tech and tools, since the interviews go fairly well and people were curious.

First, check out the logistics part. There’s some important stuff there.

The Hardware

I use a Microsoft Lifecam Studio HD as my webcam. In truth, I recently updated drivers on my system, and now it still will capture video, but I can no longer control the camera zoom. This seems to be an issue MS has been told about but won’t/can’t/hasn’t fixed yet. It’s annoying but not crippling just yet. I’m considering upgrading, but I really don’t want to. Logitech stuff works flawlessly for me, so if I go, I’ll go that way unless research shows there’s a much better option. Continue reading “Firing Squad: Tech Talk”

Earlier this week I sat down with +Hans-Christian Vortisch , who has made a solid game writing presence being the go-to guy about firearms, especially makes, models, and usage.

We talk about his history in gaming and how he came to write about games, as well as an awful lot about firearms, both using them and modeling their use in RPGs.

Hans’ name has come up in many of the interviews I’ve done on the Firing Squad, and always in a way that gives a nod to his vast erudition regarding the subject.

I have been personally involved in playtesting two of his works, as Lead Playtester for High Tech (with +Shawn Fisher ) and Tactical Shooting.  Both experiences were positive and a heck of a lot of fun.

We speak for about 75 minutes and could easily have gone longer (I woke up at 5am to interview him – he’s 7 hours ahead of Minneapolis time). If the video looks a bit jerky at times, we experienced some communications lag, so I chopped out some weird silences.

So if you have a bit more than an hour to spare on this Thanksgiving Day, in between football and a tryptophan coma, give a listen!

MP3 File Audio Only (click to download)

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good morning and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. I am joined today by Hans-Christian Vortisch. Author of GURPS High-Tech and GURPS Tactical Shooting, as well as several supplements for Call of Cthulhu.

The interesting thing about this particular interview except for maybe my recent interview with Steve Jackson himself, your name came actually came up in every single interview that I’ve done. Especially with the Steve Jackson Games staff. You’re kind of legendary so to speak for your breadth and depth of experience and knowledge writing about firearms in role-playing games.

Before we get really into it, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about how you got into both role-playing games, and your personal interest in firearms.

Hans-Christian Vortisch (RPG Author, Epic Bearder, and General Badass): I really started playing in the early 1980s with a German game called Das Schwarze Auge. It’s pretty much like Dungeons & Dragons. Standard fantasy, pretty simple mechanics and all that.

Then we played everything that was available: Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Shadowrun, Star Frontiers, The Morrow Project, Twilight: 2000, Ninjas & Superspies, Rolemaster, MERP . . . everything. Star Wars; the original, the first edition.

And somehow I always gravitated to those games that featured firearms – they were more fun to me. Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, Star Frontiers, stuff like that.

It was just more fun to me, because I liked the fantasy genre and we played a lot of Middle-Earth Role Playing game . . . but somehow the modern or sci-fi settings were more interesting to me.

Well, I liked those most and started reading up on stuff. Somehow, I’ve got a vast collections of books. [both laugh] It just happened that way.

I didn’t really shoot when I was young – that was interesting. I had an air rifle and toy guns and stuff like that, of course, but I didn’t really get into the practical side of it until I was much, much older actually.

I always applied this sort of academic process to the whole thing. I always researched everything diligently without actually having … I hadn’t shot a machinegun or anything like that when I started working on this. But I read up on it. How it’s done. How people do things like that. It’s not just the technical specs, but everything. Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad welcomes Hans-Christian Vortisch”

Today the Firing Squad puts Nolan T Jones of Roll20 up against the wall, in a slightly-belated but much anticipated (at least by me) continuation of the Virtual TableTop  topic for the RPGBA Blog Carnival. We’ll be discussing the ideal features of VTTs, where Roll20’s strengths and weaknesses lie, support for major and minor games, and what’s currently enabled and what lies in the future.

Unlike the usual process, we’re uploading the video immediately, with the audio file and transcript to be made available as soon as possible.

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. Today we are joined by Nolan Jones from Roll20.

Very excited to have
Nolan with us today, as I believe Roll20
is the largest virtual tabletop on the market. If not it certainly seems to be
the best known. Nolan, thanks for joining us today.
Nolan Jones (Content Creator Roll20): Thanks for having me.
Doug: So am
I right? Is Roll20 the biggest, best kid on the block.
Nolan: By
everything we know, it is. There is no way to know that for sure, but looking
at Google Traffic, we are actually coming to the assumption that now, if you
added up all virtual tabletops over time together, we are bigger than all of
them, by what we’ve seen just in terms of Google Traffic. We’ll hit a half
million users in about a month and a half, if things keep on pace, and that’s
way more than anybody else has had.

Continue reading “Firing Squad welcomes Nolan T Jones of Roll20”

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +Benjamin Loomes, lead developer of Syrinscape, a program that enables playing thematic background sounds and music to enhance the tabletop roleplaying experience. We spoke for a bit less than an hour, and he gave me a pretty detailed walk-through of the program. We spoke about Pathfinder-native content, as well as more generic sounds.

In any case, here’s the interview!
Text Transcript
Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. This evening we welcome Benjamin Loomes – who is from Syrinscape – which
was designed to create background sound and music for in-person tabletop
That being said, this is
part of a continuing series of interviews for the March Roleplaying Game Blog
Association Blog Carnival. Whose topic is virtual tabletops, online gaming, or
computer enhanced role-playing.
So Benjamin thanks for
joining us this evening.
Benjamin Loomes (Syrinscape Creator): It’s a pleasure. It’s fun. It’s the middle of the day
in sunny Sydney here.
Doug: And
coming on 10 o’clock PM here in Minnesota, where it freaking snowed again here
today! Come on, really?! This is just uncalled for, even for Minnesota.
So just broadly, before we
get deeply into Syrinscape, talk a little bit about how you got into
role-playing. Clearly your interest in music stuff for the game comes from love
of the game.
What got you into
role-playing and what current games do you play?

Yes. Cool. So in about 1980 or something – it must have been a bit later than
that – when I was about 10, yeah it must have been later than that. It’s back
in the distant past.
I was 10 years old on a
camping holiday on Smith’s lake, which is above Sydney, and my parents gave me
the red box, the original red box, with the crayon that colored in the numbers
on the dice (and you wiped it off).  And
you went on a little self adventure with the cleric, who you got friends with,
and she healed you, and she died and all that stuff.
So I read that red box and
it totally blew my mind. I just really fell in love with the whole fantasy
genre obviously. I read lots of stuff, I read lord of the rings when I was
young. I’m still a bit of a sci-fi and fantasy tragic: Star Trek or Lord of the
Rings or Star Wars obviously, anything, just give it to me!
So I started playing when
I was about ten, I played as teenager, not a lot of incredibly immerse
role-playing when I was a teenager, lots of dice rolling and collecting massive
amounts of gold pieces off dragons and stuff.
And then I probably took a
bit of a break from role-playing while life took over, and Uni and all that
stuff. Maybe from 16 or 17.
Late 20s I got back into
it, just when 3.5 starting coming out – which is really great, and I fell in
love with that.
Since then we built up my
gaming group with a bunch of really creative people. I’m a composer and
classical singer and musician, so I’m surrounded by actors and directors and
writers – so we got a fantastic gaming group.
Now we play incredibly
emotional and story-driven epic role-playing games, whether it be Star Wars or
Pathfinder – we play lots of Pathfinder – Call of Cthulhu, all that stuff.
Amazing activity.
I love role-playing
because of the social aspects, sitting around the table, looking at each other,
laughing at each other, being stupid, telling those big epic stories.
Does that answer your
Doug: It
It’s funny you mention. .
. I had forgotten about the crayon – because I have a similar role-playing
history to you. I started with Dungeons and Dragons, actually, technically it
was probably Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, because I played with a friend.
Again, it was 1980 or 1981,
I was ten, I asked for it for Christmas. I think my parents got me the red box
and the blue box, the basic and expert set.
I remember sitting down
with my father, the one time he ever
played. “Here’s all the characters you can do and you got this. . . ” and he
goes “I want to be elf.” And I didn’t know that he was fairly voracious
consumer of the Tolkien books. I think that they got thrown away, but I had a really early edition of Hobbit and Lord
of the Rings paperback. Probably you know one of the first couple with the very
odd sketchy cover that was really interesting.
From what I read I remember a brownie cover which was very cool.
Doug: yes.
Exactly. So I played and whatever, but it sounds like you got a interesting
game going.
I also heard of this thing
called “The Dicestormers” to bring role-playing games to anyone who wants to
watch. Tell me a little bit about Dicestormers.
Yeah, so about 18 months ago, our gaming group – who are pretty much stagey
people whether we are salesmen or composers or directors or whatever. We just
grabbed a couple of cameras for a lark and filmed our games.
The first one we filmed was
Star Wars d6 and put it up on YouTube. It just got heaps of views, and then
straight away they started commenting and demanding more content.
And we’ve just stick the
cameras up whenever we play now, we got more cool stuff, we have four cameras
generally and a really good audio recorder, and we edit the games after.
I have a fantastic set up
at home where I have a projector that projects – a normal theater projector –
but we stick a mirror up on the roof, and it bounces the maps back on the
table. And we’ve now got 3D maps, because we have little white blocks built up
on the table, because it actually projects the cover on the top of this 3D
Doug: Oh,
And yes, we’ve been videoing. . . and it’s just gone bananas there are so many
people watching, there is about 10x people watching as minutes that go past.
For every minute that goes past this interview, 10 people are watching a minute’s
worth of video.
And we’re getting about
30,000 views a month now, and what’s fantastic about the game community is real
connectedness right across the world, people are always commenting on a videos,
and encouraging us, and picking up rules violations, and asking for more stuff.
This incredible community
has grown around us. Dicestormers, all one word if you search on YouTube, you
can’t miss us.
We’re coming up really
high: if you search for Pathfinder RPG, I think we’re like the second hit from
the top or something.
As you said it’s. . . we
almost feel like you’re modeling one of the ways you can role-play. Quite
cinematic. Quite epic. Really storytelling focused. Lots of dice and all that
stuff. Lots of stuff happens, and lots big successes and epic fails.
I feel like a lot of young
players are looking at us and saying “Wow, I’m really learning from you. Which
is really cool, and quite humbling as well. It’s such an amazing hobby,
anything we can do to make it stronger and better is good for us.
Doug: I
agree. It’s not just good for the hobby, and the more people that play and more
immersive and – popular is the wrong word – but the more people play, the more
easier it’s going to be to have the market base to have innovation within it.
If there s enough market
out there so that someone can try something, and do well enough to encourage
them to try again, you can get enough failures to get the real successes out
there. You got to try stuff: very few people are going to walk into the first game
mastering experience – sometimes even their first roleplaying experience – and
are going to go “I am a natural game master and everything I do is soaked in
awesome, all the time.”
[Benjamin laughs] You have
to have the epic fail out there as the game master, where you have six people out
there looking at you like this [mimes disbelieving look]. “What just happened?
You really want us to do that? No?”
Benjamin: We
get those on our channel, people get to see us making actual genuine mistakes.
There is a classic moment
in one of our games recently – where we actually played four games in a row on
the international tabletop roleplaying game day theme and I was GMing at like 12:30 am in the middle of the night – and
I had this remorhaz miniature, and I was like “You come over the hill, and
there’s a remorhaz there . . . and it attacks you.”
And I’m like “Oh, that
wasn’t very a. . . maybe it wasn’t there . . . can I take it off the table?”
Everyone was laughing and
laughing, it was the worst set-up for a non-dramatic battle that you could have
possibly have wanted.
So people get to see us
play, warts and all which is really cool as well.
Doug: Tell
me a little bit about. . . so you’ve got your projector, and you flash it up,
and you got this really cool set up, and that’s neat for a face to face game – but
to what extent do you use computer aids to enhance your tabletop games?
Obviously, you’re
broadcasting over the Internet, so there is something going around there with
computers – even if it’s just a proxy for a pair of eyeballs, or a audience.
What. . . do you think
that’s going to be core to the future gaming experience or do you think it’s just
kind of temporary?
Benjamin: I
think. . . apart from Syrinscape, which we’ll talk about, with the whole audio
thing which is totally computer-based.
For me, sitting at the
table, the ability to search rules and . . .  let’s go back a step actually.
In preparation I’m using a
computer lots. I’m brewing up an individual description of a monster, or had a
template applied to it. I can print out individual sheets of all my counters
all ready to go from the computer. I can bring up a rule clarification really
really fast, and that makes a big difference.
One of the things that filming
our games for the public has done is those dead spots, flat spots. I’ll look
through the book a while, and try and find the rule – no one is going to want
to watch that. The ability to do text searches on games is really fantastic,
and that’s totally computer-based, Internet-based.
The sharing of ideas
across a social media community helps us. People are pushing for what they
think might be cool, or they’re suggesting things, and it’s actually – our
gaming group has become a worldwide interaction, with everyone out there
contributing in their own way, which is really cool, and that’s totally
dependent on computers as well.
Doug: More
broadly, what do you think that that means for the roleplaying game industry –
the content creators, the marketing, or dice manufacturers? I don’t know.
As far as an industry, you
got the game guys, but do you think there is a lot of room for a healthy cloud
– to use an overused word – or peripheral support pieces, as a part of the
gaming industry?
From the very top, for a starter, it was Paizo who really got into the whole
beta test online, actually directly starting a conversation with users, rather
than delivering what the user was supposed to like, and it would be the next
thing for them to take.
Paizo really asked the
users, and extended beta test on that Pathfinder game, and developed a
community around themselves – and they basically do that every time they
release a book. They’re not just doing a pretend beta test – it certainly
appears genuine, and the ideas of the users and the community get incorporated
into their new books.
Then going to the actual
question, the thing with PDF you can publish a book or gaming content
incredibly cheaply. I’ve bought and paid for cards, printed out, of all the
monsters you can summon.
Which is fantastic,
because I barely used to summon things because it’s a pain in the butt.
Especially if you’re playing a celestial template, or augmented template, or
whatever, and I can support a tiny little publisher who went and set all of
that out correctly using the OGL – and I can give them money for the work
they’ve done.
Then you’ve got publishers
publishing physical gaming aids, like spell cards, which are fantastic, and I
used for a long time . . . plus you got apps. Most of my guys, now, when they
are casters, they got a little app on their phone that brings up all the spell
Yeah, there is a whole big
set of companies that now can survive. From the very top ones, who are using
all those online things, and smaller and smaller companies who are able to do
it on a hobby basis to support it on the costs they got.
And I think that’s really
exciting and it gives us more great stuff to play with.
Doug: It
does seem a little bit that the key to that is some kind of – whether its open
gaming or a system resource dictionary – it’s some amount of content that’s out
there for anybody to use, reuse, repackage and make some money of off it in a
unique way, without bringing the holy wrath of Paizo or Wizards of the Coast,
or someone, down on them.
Benjamin: And
that was the genius of the d20 system and that whole open gaming license, which
just happened to be when I came back to gaming, and I think that’s lucky for me
and wonderful – and that’s what Paizo, obviously forced into the situation, had
to then develop a game within that system.
There is obviously a big
crossover from people who had the concept of the OGL originally, and those
people who were in Paizo when they lost the magazines and all that stuff, so
it’s a logical continuum for them, and a gaming industry philosophy for them.
But I think it really is
the way of the future, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with D&D
Next. They’ve tried to do public trials of their rules and everything, and got
some big decisions from what they do then release-wise. That’ll be really
interesting to watch and how they sort of structure their business.
Doug: Yeah,
I was impressed. I’ve obviously been playtest leader for a couple of GURPS
books, and those playtests are like . . . my book was I think twelve people.
Tactical Shooting was twelve or fifteen. High-Tech was maybe a few more. I’ve
been participating in other Steve Jackson Games playtests where you got about a
dozen or maybe two dozen in the past playtests, but not many, and I guess that D&D
Next or 5th edition – which is “Dungeons and Dragons” I guess is
what they’ll call it – had a quarter million people or something like that.
I’d be very interested to
hear their impressions, afterwards, of the signal-to-noise ratio for a playtest
that was that broad.
[laughs] Yeah. We say on our website that Syrinscape is developed as part of a
community, the only reason it exists is because people demanded it, and
demonstrated a desire for it to go from the next level as the little thing that
it was that I had – that was a homebrew kind of thing.
The market created its own
market research, and its own clear stats about how many people were probably
interested in using it, and that helped me get the funding and financial
backing to develop Syrinscape to the next level.
It really is a user-demanded
system, and because people are so engaged in this community, they will
criticize, or complain, or write, or encourage – especially encourage. I’ve
found 95% of incredibly positive, encouraging, thankful, and grateful comments.
Every single day I’m waking up to more people thanking me for making Syrinscape,
and what it does and what I’m adding to people’s table, and it basically
Doug: I was
going to say that’s a perfect segue: what is Syrinscape? What’s it do, and why
would you write it?
That’s right, as I said earlier, I’m a musician and composer, and I love
computer games with their big thundering scores, and all their roars and sounds
like that.
We all know that if you to
a movie and turn off the sound, then the noodle kind of drains out of the
I’ve seen things where you
put different soundtracks behind the same footage, and you can completely
change the interpretation. Someone is cutting up carrots in the kitchen, and
there is nice happy music, then you think “It’s nice happy carrot cutting
music” or if you put a spooky sound behind you, the imagination immediately
paints this monster creeping up behind them, or stab them, or eat their ankles,
or something like that.
I was playing this tabletop
roleplaying game, sitting at the table, and there is no soundtrack at all,
obviously. And lots of people have done what I did, which was to start to use
computer game soundtracks that I was stealing, ripping off the games I own, or
using movie soundtracks.
And they’re pretty good,
but a lot of these soundtracks have really strong associations with particular
plot points, and I was finding the wrong music coming at the wrong time, or it
was evoking. . .  You can’t be putting on
Lord of the Rings soundtracks without being there in Hobbiton with the actual
hobbits. Are we Aragorn or are we something else?
Movie soundtracks are
written specifically, and they have rises and falls. That was working
reasonably well, so what I started doing was making 10 minute audio tracks,
which actually a lot of people are doing on Kickstarter now, where you got ten
minutes of environmental noise sort of going on, maybe with a wind loop behind
it or maybe a music track.
We found really quickly,
because you might spend an hour in a particular environment discussing the way
you’re going to skin the goblin you just killed, or whatever. You start to
notice patterns really quickly, and I was actually surprised, but if you get a
sort of [mimes bird and monster noises]. Once you’ve heard that five times in a
row you start to notice it and it starts to pull away from the table.
That’s what we are
designed to do. Human beings are designed to notice patterns. That’s really
important for our survival, and we’re really good at it.
So I sort of extended the
passages, and I was mixing them out on a sequencer, Q-bass, so I made them 20
minutes. But that becomes a lot of work, and then you still notice the patterns
pretty much.
So I started looking
around for something that would do generative sound playback of samples. There
were a few products, some of them written in the past, but a lot of them were
abandoned, or weren’t flexible enough, the sound was dodgy, a lot of them were
too dense.
You put in a wolf and it
pretty much goes “Woof! [pause] Woof! [pause] Woof!” and you’re like “Ah!
Not being able to find
anything else, I’d done a bit of programming in the past, and I found a
programming language that seemed appropriate, and programmed my dodgy, home
version that would do something like what it did.
So of course, because it
was an online world, and I lived in a community, I just shared it. And the
reaction was just amazing, and so strong, and people really really liked it.
I haven’t really explained
how it works. The reason why Syrinscape works well is, what it does . . . take an
element, okay. In fact, should I show you this on the actual interface?
Doug: Sure!
Go ahead. Yeah.
Benjamin: This
is Syrinscape in a bar fight, and I need to turn the volume up so I can hear

A lot of the way this
works is that things are subtle: I’ll use this one, [the sound of breaking
glass can be heard].
What it will do, this
smashing glass element, will just play a sound every now and then, it picks up.
I’ve got a whole lot of samples in there of various different smashes, you need
kind of about 10 or 20 [laughs, more smashing noises], and as it plays back
it’ll actually pick up one of those sounds, it’ll pick up one of those sounds,
put it out in the 3D spectrum in surround sound, at a randomized distance that
I can set up, and it will play that sound.
That little element will
sit there playing, and you can turn on grunts and shouts as well, and it will
just sit there playing. All of these elements add up, eventually, to what you’d
have in a movie as sound design.
If there is a bar fight
going on: You might have someone whimpering under a table, you might have the
sound of people chatting, so that’s all the elements of the sound design. They
are all completely dynamic. All completely randomized, you’ll never hear the
same sound twice and it will just keep going and going and going.
Now you don’t have to turn
those on and set all those. So over here, on the second panel, are presets, and
it will set up this mixer where sliders are moving.
The music will start in a
certain place, and it will just play the fantastic sound of a bar fight in the
background, until you are satisfied.
On the right hand side
you’ve got one shot sounds, which sounds you can actually set off on a sound
board, like this sound [makes a dull thump], which are all punches sounds. Or
this one, which I like of course: The Wilhelm Scream, which every game
absolutely needs.
There are a lot of spells
here. But the main point of Syrinscape is. . . let’s say you’re in the
Witchwood . . . you just click that,
that’s all the clicking you have to do. Syrinscape will just slowly transition
though, and everyone can try this. It’s free to download and everyone can play
with the top two sound sets.
It’ll just sit there and
keep playing, and every now and then a distant roar or growl or whatever. It
won’t fill up the whole room with lots and lots of sounds, but just be really
really subtle.
So we’re about to have a
bugbear battle, so we click on the bugbear battle sound set. And then suddenly
we’re in a battle and the music will play, there we go, that’s a bit louder.
It’ll just sit there as well, you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to
touch it. I really don’t want to take any attention away from the games or the
Let’s say we’re in a
spaceship, we’re bringing out [space lasers and ships can be heard in the
background]. That’s cool. I don’t know how that’s coming through the speakers,
but it’s coming through over here.
Doug: It
sounds vaguely Star Wars-y.
You can have thunderstorms, all sorts of stuff like that. Does that make sense?
Doug: It
does. It’s something where you’ll do a couple of presets, or pick some presets
that someone has done for you, and it creates some background ambiance to help
set the mood.
That’s right. It just runs in the background, and is putting on that movie
The music that you get,
which plays every now and then, and all the background wind, which is kind of a
continuous bed of sound, and also those individual events that occur every now
and again like distant roars, or wolf howls, or crash of thunder, or goblins in
the distance, smashing stuff up, or whatever you need.
So that’s it. That’s
Syrinscape, it’s available on PC, Mac, and Android tablets and iPads as well,
so people can try it out on all those devices.
Doug: That’s
pretty cool. So I was wondering, in terms of the overall theme of what we’re
talking about this month, do you see a web-based or client-based version of
this in the future?
Benjamin: So
yes, we built it in the unity engine – it can work in a whole lot of different
contexts, there is a web-browser version, we’ve had a lot of people telling us
lately that we should be integrating it with the online gaming systems, because
there are some solutions. . . Roll20 for instance you can play tracks off Soundcloud
and stuff like that.
They’ve sort of got a free
player kind of thing, with integration of premium content in their business
model. This is the same sort of thing.
You download the player
for free to run within a few games, and if you want to buy more stuff on top of
that, you can do that. Integration into one of these devices makes a lot of
sense in the future.
At the moment it is built
primarily for my tabletop game, but it makes absolute sense online. You have it
on a tablet and you can feed it through a mixer.
Doug: Sure.
It just seems like it would be almost a perfect – and we’re talking in Google
Hangouts on Air, and Roll20 integrates perfectly with Google Hangouts, and it
seems like this would be a fairly straight forward inclusion into a Hangout
Yeah, definitely. That’s something we need to get on to.
What we’re working on at
the moment with Syrinscape is we’ve got the Fantasy player – all that content
is all set up and being built. At the moment we’re concentrating on getting our
Sci-Fi player out, which has some of those sounds that you heard there that I
And we’re looking at
getting an editor, because in my original version of Syrinscape, everyone could
build their own stuff. It’s very important on getting the community involved,
and building stuff again in this version.
That’s. . . hopefully
we’ve got a beta of that in April. Once again, we can get that whole community.
. . they can build what they want, and be contributing, and they can make it
grow as a community.
Doug: Are
you going to publish a set of Syrinscape standards? Your noise level has to be
this. You have to have this clean.
I’m just trying to figure
out how you can make sure the sound quality. . . for example, you were talking
about. . . let me finish that sentence actually.
I have a tendency to go
from one thought to another, and it makes the transcriptions really odd.
You want to make sure that
the content that is being community provided is at least at certain standard of
quality, because otherwise – fair or not – Syrinscape gets the knock for not
providing an immersive environment because somebody is doing something with
sound effects and flushes the toilet in the background or something.
Do you envision some sort
of standards set?
Yeah, totally, yeah. I think what we’ll do is we’ll greenlight.
The current concept is –
and this is open to discussion and argument amongst us – that we would probably
let you build anything you want, and that automatically syncs with your server
home online, and that means you can have it on all your devices when you log in
as you.
Then probably what we’ll
do is to be able to propose the addition of what they built to the community,
and then I think we would have people vetting them.
We also have copyright
concerns as well you know. We need to make sure people don’t just go in and . .
. people can use community commons sounds, as long as they credit them correctly
if there is an attribution license, and that’s so great to be able to pass on
that credit.
So as long as all the
sounds are edited, as you say, if the quality is good enough as you said. I
think that’s really important.
Doug: Yeah,
because otherwise I could see where:
“Doesn’t that sound a lot
like the Avengers soundtrack?”
“Yes. . . yes it does. Yes.
. . that’s going to be a problem.”
The safeguarding of IP in
digitally distributed world is difficult; especially . . . Some people don’t
get too exercised when a fifty billion dollar corporation has a song go public.
It’s a different story when having that song go public is one of 15 songs in an
artist’s repertoire, and “Oh, I’ve downloaded this great song!” Well
congratulations, that person is now eating twice a day instead of three times a
As a writer of a book that
has maybe sold 300 or 400 copies, having a few free downloads done at a couple
bucks a pop is a –  relatively speaking –
a big deal.
Technical Grappling
will never
have me quitting my day job, but for those who might wish to make a career out
of the gaming industry – although I think many gaming industry professionals
will give a word of advice, which is: “DON’T.”
It’s like joint ventures:
just don’t. You still want to? DON’T. You still want to? It’s like converting
to Judaism – you have to be convinced three times. [Benjamin laughs].
Once you get into that you
want to make sure that, yes, you want people to enjoy your product, but you
also want to make sure the artists are getting compensated both intellectually
and monetarily for the work that they put in.
Benjamin: Absolutely.
The thing is, the community on the whole is really really keen to support
innovation and things that are going to make the game better, and they want to
have a mechanism to do it.
And that’s what
Kickstarters have shown if nothing else. Once there is an idea that catches the
imagination, this community is really keen to put their money behind it. Which
is great.
I think what we’re going
to do is build a subscription model, where they become a supporter and they get
access to absolutely everything that they can possibly get access to. And we
get to have a steady stream, and know how big our base is, and adjust our
business model on the basis of that.
I think that makes sense,
and people are asking for that. People don’t want to have to go to a shop and
buy all the different bits and that sort of stuff. They just want to go “Yep. I
believe in that product and I want to make sure it still exists and we can all
keep using it.”
Doug: Right.
I see where that would go, and it’s somewhere between Kickstarter and . . . Patreon
is the other one where you’re just basically funneling money. . . it’s like
buying a subscription to a content creator.
It’s. . . .instead of
saying I’m going to buy Pyramid magazine, and I’ll buy that issue or this issue,
or that issue or Dungeon Magazine or Dragon.
I’m going to throw $10 a
month to Bob the Game Designer, and if enough people do that he’s got a secure
living doing good content. And if that content starts to be not-good, then the
subscriptions go away, and it’s a very active . . .  “Yay Capitalism! Yay!”
(If you’re an Austin
Powers fan. “Oh, we won. Yay! Hey comrades.” I need to rewatch that movie. The
first time I saw that I nearly busted a gut. I was a huge Ian Fleming James
Bond fan, and he [Mike Meyers] did such a great job of doing a homage to both
the books and the movies that . . . the first one was wonderful to watch from
that perspective. Anyways, I digress; see I told you I digress.)
So you’ve mentioned Paizo
a little bit, you’ve got some great fantasy bar fight going on. I hear that
there is something in the works, and I hear that because you sent me an email
saying “something is in the works.”
So why don’t you tell me
about that?
Yeah, so I’m a really strong believer in the Paizo model, the community base,
and the OGL concept and everything like that. I really love what’s been done
with Pathfinder, and I love the game world, and love the quality of their art.
Some sort of licensing relationship
with some of the big companies has always been obvious for Syrinscape, the big
one for us was Pathfinder and Paizo, because we feel a real connection with
their business model and philosophies.
We just approached them
and said “We have this fantastic product, we think that people need to have it
on the table and we’d really love to be able to build content for your game and
directly support Golarion, or just directly support all the monsters in the OGL
which is the Dungeons and Dragons-cum-Pathfinder monsters.”
They liked the product – any
digital product that actually turns up
and is done is a bit of a massive
achievement in this industry. There have been many attempts to produce physical
products some of which have never emerged and yeah, I basically went to PaizoCon
and asked for a meeting. Give me 10 or 15 minutes of your time.
And we set down with the
guys and said “Look at this” and they were like “Oh! That’s so cool.” They were
pushing the buttons, and making the roars, and we entered into a conversation
with them, and have agreed to build licensed content for Paizo – and that’s all
official and signed up.
So the last couple of
months have been building whole other content – which I can’t mention what it
is – but once we’re ready for release, we’re doing the final polishing for all
that stuff. Then it’ll start rolling out, and as I said, it’ll be a
subscription base, you’ll be able to get to the ever widening support for every
tabletop experience you want to get going.
Doug: I can
easily see – you can smile mysteriously, because I know you’re probably under
nondisclosure – but I can easily see areas of Golarion each having their own
theme song.
I can see starting with
the most popular monsters, whether it’s a beholder, or a remorhaz, or a dragon,
or a troll, or goblins, those guys have a certain theme song or certain noises:
the goblins getting angsty or getting angry would have a certain background
noise. You can have a troll thump thump thump.
You could really easily
see where something like a . . . you’d load in. . . I just did an interview
with the gentleman from Fantasy Grounds – Doug Davison – you could see, for
example, when you load in these monsters: a bear, 3 dire bats, and a troll, that
it brings in the bear, dire bats, and the troll sounds. And starts playing some
background music.
Yeah, integration with some of these products is really good.
Syrinscape is running as an
API at the moment. We’re just building the native interfaces, so the skin that
you saw before is just a surface controller, and there is no reason that any
other program or web device or whatever can’t control that API. Yeah.
That’s something certainly
that . . .  there have been a few chats
with a few people about it about that sort of stuff and once we find the right
match then I think that’s definitely something that should happen for sure. And
it’s really easy to do as well. The elements are there; you just need any
device that turns on the element that’s the goblin noises, and any sort of player
interacting with clicks, or automatically attached to an icon you put down on
the table, are all possibilities for the programming.
Doug: Another
fun thing that would leverage the power of automatic searching as well as some
of the speech-to-text capabilities that are found on iPhones or whatever would
be something where you’re actually at a tabletop (or online) and it’s listening
to what you’re saying. “Yes, and there are three trolls” and it hears the word
trolls and goes out to the database, comes back with crunching sounds or [makes
growling noises] or something.
Benjamin: These
are the “stupid” ideas that people come up with, and people say “oh, it’ll
probably go wrong and play the wrong thing at the wrong time” and somebody
makes the thing, and it works, and it’s like “Way cool, why didn’t I think of
Lots of people thought of
it, but only one idiot went and did
Doug: Right.
So with that in mind, let me ask: For your tabletop-enhancement environment,
what are you satisfied that exists that enhances your tabletop experience? Can
be Syrinscape, can be anything, but just as someone who is creating content to
make a better tabletop experience and by extension, a better online experience.
What’s good that you like
that’s out there already? What needs to be out there to enhance the experience,
and how do you see that evolving over time?
Mmmm. So I think I’m satisfied audio-wise because I built exactly what I
wanted. I really want Syrinscape to be a community with shared content, so we
get really great content instead of relying on one central team building stuff,
though as long as you control the quality that’s going to work really well.
What’s still lacking for
me at my table is a really useful, easy way to control the maps at the table. A
lot of the mapping programs are focused for online play which is cool. . . but
if people go and check out the Dicestormers on YouTube you’ll see that what
we’re doing at the moment with maps – and I’ve actually been using PowerPoint
to do my maps to control position and the scale, to apply grids and un-apply
grids, and then to be able to show and hide various different areas in an
effective way.
I was using MapTool, which
is amazingly, fantastically powerful, and to be able to move your digital
miniatures around so that it automatically does lighting and all that sort of stuff,
it’s really cool.
But when you’re using
physical miniatures, that doesn’t really work very well, because you’ve got to
move the digital miniature to match the physical miniature.
It takes a really long
time to do all the walls and everything in it in a program like MapTools. So
there is a lot of prep time, so whether there is a better way of sharing maps once
their built – getting excited now.
So also, when I’m taking a
map from a digital product that I own, say a module and then wanting to import
it into any program projector, the resolution is always a problem.
I absolutely love what Paizo
has done recently, where you can turn off the room numbers and hide the secret
doors. So you have a player version of the map, which I can easily project on
the table, but the resolution is nowhere near what it needs to be, it’s just
because they put in a PDF and they want to keep the PDF size down, so they lack
a higher resolution.
But the really big thing
for me, that I haven’t been able to find online at all, is animated elements to
put on my maps.
I would love to be able to
place down easily on my digital map, on my table, a fire element and just draw
an area and have it sort of burning. That’d be so coo-ool! And also a flowing
river just to designate. . . just draw right across the map and automatically
flow, that would be fantastic. Or to be able to have it snowing and wind.
I’m sort of doing things
like that at the moment, just cobbling together things, but I’d love that to be
there in the future, hopefully I’ll get fed up enough and do it.
Doug: So I
was taking a look at the Battlegrounds demo, and it has some of that. It has dynamic
lighting where you have a fire, and it flickers, and you actually see a flickering
light in two zones. The bright zone and the dim zone.
I’m fairly sure it’s got a
robust dynamic lighting module to it, it seems to be a little bit ahead of some
of the other dynamic lightning introductions.
I do know that Roll20 – I’m
not experienced with it yet – but I think it’s part of their rugged reroll
upgrade, they’ve done some neat things with dynamic lightning.
They’ve been talking about animated icons for a while. The last time I looked
was maybe a month ago and everyone saying “Well, yes, we don’t do it yet, and
it’s difficult for this reason.”
I totally understand that,
it can take a lot. . . sometimes when you have to reengineer the whole way the
graphic system works in order to incorporate something like a animated gif or
whatever, it can be really major.
I just want one of these
people to do it, and soon as they do, they’re going to go off, if I can just
chuck down fire and burns my players are going to salivate all over the table.
Doug: The
other thing that would be kind of neat, just thinking out loud: They have these
things all over the place in malls, and in our Minnesota Zoo. It’s a projector
that not just projects, it senses, so if you go [mimes a hand swipe] like this
over a projector screen, and it interacts with the images.
It would be interesting to
have such, if you’re doing it on the surface, or if you put an actual miniature
on there it can sense that. . . there is a barcode on there or something, and
if you move it, it moves the map or scales to the map.
You could have an
interactive system, you’re moving your miniatures on the table, the projector
receiver is finding out where they are, and giving it back to the GM’s screen,
so you can have hidden things or put a river here and you actually draw on the
computer screen touch screen and it shows on the map.
The Microsoft Table Surface thing did that really well, didn’t it? But there
like $20,000 or something. I want that, to take an icon or miniature with a barcode
and draw on a table and say “That’s a shadowed area or whatever.” That would be
so cool.
Doug: It
seems that the capability to not drive it. . . you’d need that special
projector. . .
Maybe you wouldn’t need a [special]
projector, you’d need a webcam, you’d need a [dumb] projector, and you’d need a
tablet that you could receive it to. You’d probably want a full computer with a
touchscreen like some of the new Dell’s. What was it? A 27” touch screen, the
Dell XPS or whatever, and you can do all that and interact with it, viscerally,
and have that experience.
I think we’re coming down
to the end – if nothing else because of the conference call I have in the
Unfortunately I can’t keep
chatting, although you’re really fun to talk to, but I always give my guests
the last word, so I’m giving you the last word:
What do you want to leave
anyone who’s watching this about Syrinscape or the future or the community or .
. . what do you want to let them know?
Benjamin: Yeah,
look: Just get involved in the community. “Make your voice heard.” It is what
drives us I think, and if any of the stuff we’ve been talking about catches
your imagination, talking about it will make it happen. Workshopping these
ideas online.
So go download Syrinscape,
it’s free, you can try it out, so jump on Facebook or Twitter and hammer me
until you get it looking the way you want it to. And we can enter a discussion
and we can argue about things.
Definitely check out the
Dicestormers, people are always saying “You guys should be known more, because
you’re heaps funny and embarrassing.” Just go on Dicestormers on YouTube and
search that out. Then yeah, make comments and pick up all our rule errors and
make jokes about us. We had someone make a special cut of one of our
Dicestormer videos the other day, because Murray’s character was chopping ears
off things and giggling in a slightly maniacal way. They made a video of just
that one slightly scary moment and we totally love that stuff. Community,
community, community.
Most of all: just game!
Get out there and game more! Because it’s good stuff, and it’s fun, that’s me.
[laughs] Fair enough.
Alright, I want to thank
you for your time.
This, just so you know, we’ll
be transcribing this and will show up in a couple of days. I want it to come
out before the end of March, so it’s in time for the Blog Carnival.
Everyone who is watching,
get out there and write posts about this stuff, because it’s part of the “community”
piece: The more people talk, and the more it’s shared, and all the different
videos. . .  You yourself should stop by
the firing squad if you haven’t already, because some of the features you’ve
just talked about, John Lammers talk about some of the things Epic Table can do
and Doug Davison walked me through Fantasy Grounds.
If you’re really into
immersive, deep, epic storytelling, Liz Theis walked me through Realm Works
which is by the same company, Lone Wolf Development, that did Hero Lab. Realm Works
is this huge, scripting, story-driven, mind-map, relationship web. You can do
mapping, you got all this stuff you click on it to share with players. It’s
really neat and for people who do big stories, it’s actually technology that –
and I said this in my post about it – I expected to be unimpressed. It totally
impressed me. When I do my campaigns, I want to do it in this so it’s there and
easy and don’t have to do your prep twice. It was really kind of neat.
Syrinscape is another
capability that you’ve developed to add to the immersion experience for either
people at a table, and hopefully, eventually, people online as well. Thank you
for your time!
Thank you for having me!

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +Doug Davison , President of SmiteWorks, the company that owns and develops Fantasy Grounds.  We spoke for a bit more than an hour, and he gave me a pretty detailed walk-through of the program. We spoke a lot about Pathfinder, which seems darn near fully implemented in Fantasy Grounds, but talked a lot about GURPS support – and in between this interview and its publication, I received and accepted an invite to play with a group for six hours, using Fantasy Grounds to play a GURPS Banestorm campaign.

In any case, here’s the interview!

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening, and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s
Firing Squad. This is a continuation of a series of interviews that we are
doing for the Roleplaying Game Blog Association March Blog Carnival. The topic for
this month is virtual tabletops and online gaming, and I am pleased to welcome
to the firing squad Doug Davison from Fantasy Grounds. Thank you for joining us
this evening.
Doug Davison (Content Creator of Fantasy Grounds): Thanks for having me, Doug.
Douglas Cole:
So what is your position and role in Fantasy Grounds? You’re the Lead Developer I believe?
Doug Davison:
I’m actually the President, we’re a two-person company, basically. We both do a
little bit of development, John Gregor is the other developer, and he’s been
kind  of taking over the lead development
role lately, and I’ve been managing the contracting – getting new contracts in
and taking over the web. And some development. Whenever time permits.

Douglas Cole:
Excellent. So how long has Fantasy Grounds been a thing? When did it first go
Doug Davison:
It first went live in 2005, if I remember correctly. It was developed
originally by three gentlemen out in Finland. We purchased the company from
them in 2009. I acquired the company, and then brought John in, and we were
both community members at that point in time.
We were users of the
software in a sense, and we were both developers of software by trade, so we
found how easy it was to extend the product, and to make it customized and we
saw what it needed to be. And John had actually written a Dungeons and Dragons
4th edition rule set for it and I had written some Star Wars Saga
edition rules set for it.
We just kind of on a whim
made a offer to them, and acquired the company and we’ve had it sense.
Douglas Cole:
Excellent. The question that I was going to sort of ask was what lead you to
developing VTT, but since it was already sort of extent, what was so compelling
about it that you wanted to form a company and acquire it yourself?
Doug Davison:
I think it was the extensibility of it. To see how powerful the setup was, to
get in and make our own content.
John had come in and he
had done a lot of work from other virtual tabletops. There is one called
Kludgeworks, I think it’s still out there. We had both looked at Maptools and
the other tools that were out there, and just from a user perspective we both
gravitated towards Fantasy Grounds at some time. I think it was the look and
feel, it was very well polished, I think it was well-designed, and well-planned
from a architecture point of view. As a software developer it just fit very
well for me.
Douglas Cole:
It’s the extension of the rules, you mentioned that your partner had done
Dungeons and Dragons, and you had done Star Wars. Is this something that you
really have to be a coder to extend, or can Joe Blow get in there and make a
rules set?
Doug Davison:
To make a rule set you absolutely do have to be a coder to do much substantial.
If you’re going to take a basic rule set that basically only needs a few tweaks
here and there and add some extra functionality or customize one aspect, you
can kind of go out there and see how those things were done in the past. Lots
of trial and error basically.
I would say to do one from
scratch you would absolutely have to be a coder. XML is kind of used to lay out
the graphics. So a lot of times people will reskin it and they won’t have any
coding background. They’re just able to open up the XML files, see how things
are laid out – we have a lot of documentation and a lot of support for other developers
and artists to go in and modify it.
Douglas Cole:
Okay. Talking broadly about virtual tabletops and gaming aids, what do you
think that the most important features are in
general for
…so what are the best and worst features of a virtual tabletops?
Doug Davison:
I think different people look for different things in virtual tabletops. We
even see that from one rule set to the next rule set.
Some systems really focus
heavily on movement on a tactical grid or combat, it’s all about the automation
or knowing where your character is in relation to the other characters,
monsters, NPCs, and so forth. Some systems, like Call of Cthulhu, are more
story driven, so you want a better focus on being able to do handouts for the players
to set the mood, see the tone with them within the game so that kind of drives.
So that’s one of the
things I really like about Fantasy Grounds. I saw it had the capability to do
most of those things for a each player.
Setup is really important,
you have to be able to setup and run quickly. Ideally you should be able to run
it from the seat of your pants if you want to.
Or, if you are the type of
GM that prepares long things in advance you should be able to prepare those
I think it kind of caters
to Fantasy Grounds specifically because it caters to lots of those different
audiences. There are other virtual tabletops that do one or more of those
aspects and it may be better than Fantasy Grounds. But I think collectively,
that Fantasy Grounds brings a lot of those functions to the table.
Douglas Cole:
So why don’t we take the opportunity to bring up a view of Fantasy Grounds, so
you can walk us through some of the coolest features.
Doug Davison:
I’m going to start off with a view of the players’ screen, from there we can
expand out.
If we were to look from
the…so this is what a player would see within the Pathfinder-compatible rule
set. So the D&D ones will look very similar, even GURPS has the kind of
same basic feel, though with different attributes and skills, maybe the
automation is different depending on what it is.
In a sense, almost every
game system you’re going to play it’s going to have a form of a character
sheet. That’s one of the things that Fantasy Grounds does very well,
especially in rules designs. There are about 25 or so rule sets out there that
are supported.
Here’s an example of where
you got your Strength, and stats or whatever and you can kind of just come in
and fill out your character values. You’ll see that it does have a little bit
of automation with the modifiers. Your modifiers change and you can kind of
change those on the fly.
You see this little dice
box here, you can actually pick it up and when you roll that dice into the chat
window this shares that dice roll with every other connected player. So here it
has the portrait of the player who rolled it, the d20 with the modifier and the
total results and you can kind of double-click on those as well and they will
roll and share it.
There are a couple of
things going on here. One is the chat window which is shared, so as multiple
players are logging in they can say things like “Let’s go” and attack and so
forth. So I think this kind of gives you a running log.
One of our community
members built a chat log scrubber.  So
this is saved to disc after each session and you can post it up at the
conclusion of their games so if someone had to bail out of the game early they
can see what happened. You can edit that out and determine if you want to share
the dice rolls so you only get the story portion is there.
Douglas Cole:
Huh. That’s really neat. One of the things that I like to do, I’ve played
Pathfinder, Swords and Wizardry, some GURPS, even some Trail of Cthulhu once or
twice, while I’m not running the game I like to transcribe. I’ll actually frequently
throw up a blog post almost within minutes of the game being over, and one of
the things that I’ll do is pull from the chat logs because sometimes people put
things in chats that are just cool, or hysterical, or whatever. That ability to
do the chat is pretty cool.
Is there a capability for
multiple chat windows?
Doug Davison:
There is not. But there is some basic support. Like if I was to go through…we
have some general kind of help commands, there is some generic commands.
You can whisper to each
other, to another character, to the GM, to both. You can do a vote, for
instance: The GM can launch and say “Are we ready to continue on?” then it
would basically prop that to each player. So if you had four or five players connected,
you could check and say “We’re all ready to proceed” after your bathroom breaks
and that sort of thing.
You can do those basic
functions that you would see in a MMO or something like that.
Then you also have a chat
window, an action window, depending on what you do you can hold a key – a shift
or alt key – and change the mode. Are you going to emote something or be out of
character and say “I need a break” then you can hold down and go out of
character as it colors it differently.
Douglas Cole:
So effectively, you’ve got multiple chat windows within the same window.
Doug Davison:
Exactly. They all go under the same window.
There is also all of your
dice rolls drop in there.
You can also see a dice
tower here in the corner. Let’s say you got some combat and some skills, if the
GM were to whisper to you and say “I want you to…” you’re trying to sneak past
a goblin, maybe you have to roll a Stealth roll, but he doesn’t want you to
know if you’re successful or not.
Let me give him some
actual ability here. So he’s got a +2 Stealth, he would drop that in the box.
It’ll say I’ve rolled a hidden roll, and I had a +2 to that and then the GM
will see he actually got a seven and he can choose to share that later on if he
wants, or let the story unfold and play out accordingly.
So as the player sneaks
past the goblin or thinks he successful at the last second the goblin swings
out with his hammer and hits him on the toe, or whatever the case may be.
Douglas Cole:
Neat. So you mentioned that it’s got multiple support: Pathfinder is a good one
to support, and you could end there, but it sounds like you have 20 or 25
systems that you could also do.
You sent me a link to a
neat demo on how to export from GURPS character sheet to Fantasy Grounds and I
will link that later. I haven’t seen the full capability of the GURPS rules
support, but it exists, so from my perspective it’s one up on many sets, which
is kind of neat.
Doug Davison:
The installs on these custom rules sets . . . whenever we’ve had a rules set that’s
been out in the community and it’s been vetted to a certain extent, doesn’t
have…it obviously can’t have any propriety content owned by publishers.
We kind of review that
before we post it up on our system. We do have a wiki linked directly on our
webpage with a list of every rule set we have supported. You click through to
that and each entry will have directions to install it and it’s seriously like
a five minute install. You download the files, put it in the right folder, and
click new campaign and you have the option to create a GURPS campaign or D&D
4th edition campaign or whatever.
Douglas Cole:
So as you do campaign creation as a game master, I happen to be working up a
campaign right now “GURPS Alien Menace,” which is going to be a mash-up of X-COM,
Monster Hunters, little bit of the second Aliens movie, kind of Dungeon Fantasy
in space: go to the alien planet, kill them, and take their stuff.
As I’m working the
campaign up, let’s say I import the GURPS rule set, as a game master how do I
do maps or NPCs or bring in…or lets going to pretend I’m going to do all of
that in Pathfinder, because you’ve got that up and it’s easy.
So how do I walk through
campaign locations or maps or whatever?
Doug Davison:
Let me switch right back to the screen share real quick, this time I’m going to
show you the GM’s view, basically.
So this one…if I can
follow that. I don’t know…I think I’m showing you the player one.
Douglas Cole:
Do you have multiple instances of the program open?
Doug Davison:
I do, actually, and that’s one of the things that’s nice for budding GMs or
people who are new to Fantasy Guards. Sometimes it takes a little bit to see what
is a player going to see when I do this operation of the game?
So here, as a example, you
can pull up any of the characters that are logged in. The players…I can see all
sort of stuff that they can. If they have a question about their character I
can see their skills and abilities and here’s examples of having content linked
that is clickable. It pulls up more information about what that skill or feat
I can create my own
character, say I want to play a playable character for a while. I would just go
in and create a new character here. Add a character. Fill out a new character sheet
and when a new player logs in, or an existing player, they can take control of
this character and then run that character.
The nice thing that you
can do from building your campaigns you can build a set of stories. I’m going
to show you a example of one of our stories which is actually a product you can
We try to support a lot of
different content publishers. Here is a example of a OGL product – Crypt of the
Sun Lord – this one is actually by the Adventure a Week folks. I don’t know if
you’ve talked to them in the past.
Douglas Cole:
I haven’t talked to them, but Liz Theis from Realm Works (from Lone Wolf Development)
mentioned them several times as really cool content creators.
Doug Davison:
They just did a Kickstarter for Rise of the Drow, and they’re working on
converting that to Fantasy Grounds as well.
But all of these screens
here are really just text. You can type whatever you want. I can come through
and edit this kind of like you would a word documents. You can add document and
say “This is a tomb” so if you’re a big prepper of if you wanted to share this
adventure later, or if you’re a content creator, you can come in and say…you
can make it look professional.
Someone else can come in
later and read all the content. You can organize your GMs notes…let’s see if
there is a adventure hub, all of these are linked to other sections of the…let
me see if I can get to…okay, here is a example of some boxed text.
So they could if they were
on Skype or Google Hangout they could read this when they got to that part – or
a combination where they click this little button and share it with the window.
It writes it out in the chat window so all the logged in players will see that.
And then you can branching
scripts and that sort of thing. If the PCs make a successful Sense Motive roll,
I’ll share this information or that information, and then with your images you
can click and pull up a image…let me shrink this down.
So here you could just
right click and share that image, and now the players will see that. I’m only
showing the one screen on my share…but that basically pops up instantly on the
players’ window. Then you can also choose to share with just individual players
by dragging the image to that player’s portrait.
For instance, if the part
was to split up and go multiple directions and the one guy walks in on a
beholder you can just share that with him.
Douglas Cole:
Surely, no one would ever split the party…
Doug Davison:
No one ever does that, but we support it if they do.
So here’s some examples,
this one is really nicely organized. If you wanted to add more content after
this section, say a image after this image, you can just type and say “I want a
new image.” Image two or whatever, give it a probably nicer name, then you go
to a list of all your images, and here is a link to the folder, so you could
just store a image you downloaded from the internet. I guess the screen share
is not going to show that one. It just pops up in there. The image instantly
becomes available. Then you just drag it, and it makes that linkable.
Douglas Cole:
Very cool.
Doug Davison:
Then when you’re ready to launch that image, you just click it, and it shows
up. And that one is…I guess it’s just a big burlap sack. I don’t know what that
particular image is.
Douglas Cole:
The inside of a bag of holding.
Doug Davison:
So here is a example, you
have a GM map. The other nice thing is you can link story entries to the map.
So here is area 6 for
instance, if you were to link area 6 to where it says six you could just hold
down the shift key and it’ll make a pushpin. I’ve got that. I’ve got seven.
I’ve got five.
Very quickly, if you
develop all your content in advance when you develop your map you can say “I’m
going to go down this hallway.” You click on it, and this is your room
description and any combats that might occur in that room. Here is an encounter
with a black bear, so in this case if you were developing this, you would
create a new encounter – a blank one – and enter in any monsters you might
You could pull that from
like a library. Here’s the list of d20 monsters that are available. It comes
with a bestiary of d20 SRD content available.
So maybe I want to do a
dire bat, so you drag that into your encounter. If your encounter is not tough
enough by default and you just assign a token…let me show you where…if I can
find a bat. This will work. That will probably look like a bat.
Drop it in there, and say
I’ve got three of those for instance, and you’re ready to have your combat
encounter. Here’s all of your stats for your NPCs, and again you can just
unlock this and type in some new…this is read-only. I’m in a module right now,
but these are clickable so your bite attack adds your modifier with a bite.
You can actually roll this
on the player directly as well. So the combat tab is where a lot of the
times…once you have your NPCs…I’m sorry, I’m hopping around a lot here. Let’s
say they had this encounter with a black bear…
Douglas Cole:
And three bats…
Doug Davison:
Then you just…when you’re ready to run that encounter you click on this button
that says “Add to Combat Tracker” it adds them in, rolls their initiative, if
you have prep and set and then you’re off and ready to go.
On the maps…let me see if
I have a map here too. I need an encounter map. Let’s see. The same thing. You
would basically position them where they are on the map…part this. And then you
could say this … he’s big.
Douglas Cole:
[laughs] This is one of those cases where it’s “How did the dragon get into a
20×20 ft room?”
Doug Davison:
Exactly. Then you’ll see here it’s kind of greyed out – that’s because he’s
invisible. As soon as he becomes visible to the players you can make him as
The same sort of thing if
you mask it, and as they move in and out of your masked area, you can reveal
parts of the map as you explore. That’s kind of the guys moving around on a
Let me put the player so I
can show you what we consider some of the coolest features. So you’ve got your
player here and here. And then when you’re ready to do this bat’s attack…I
think it’s actually…I’m going to throw out some of these goblins since we don’t
have goblins in this particular encounter.
Douglas Cole:
I love the little dead guy icon.
Doug Davison:
Yeah [laughs]. So we have basically…we’ve scaled it down a bit: there is one
Yeah. So it’s this guys
turn. Jonah’s turn. As a player I’ll show you in a second. As the GM when it
becomes the bats turn…here is a quick list of the most common things you might
do. He’s really only got a bite attack. If I wanted to see his full stats I go
here. Did he have a perception? Does he success noticing the guy in the
background. Normally I have my screen a little bit larger…
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, he rolled a 29, I think he saw people.
Doug Davison:
He saw them I guess. If you want to share that with players they can see that
in the chat window. When you’re ready to do your attack you just drag your bite
attack, drop it on the target and it’ll come back and tell you you missed or
your hit or whatever.
Let me expand this a
little more. Hopefully it’s viewable for you guys.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, you’ve got a couple more inches on either side of my screen.
Doug Davison:
Let me make it larger than this. I’m not quite using as much real estate as I
normally do. I normally run it across two monitors is what I traditionally do.
I find that gives me lots of room.
You’ll see that the attack
was just a 12 and it automatically rolled against his Dexterity. In something
like fourth edition, this thing is a God-send for combat. Because they have all
sorts of attacks and sometimes they affect your Reflex or your AC, and the
attack is actually coded for what it’s rolling against on the target. So again
in this situation, you missed and you move on. Had you hit…let me get rid of
some more screens here.
Had you hit you hover over
the damage portion…a 1d8+4, you drop it on the character, see it increased the
damage and now he’s got 18 points of damage on him. It added 11 and I guess he
had 7 before. It allows you to automate combat very quickly.
Let me just move this guy,
I assume he can make it all that movement. As the bear moves down to this guy,
you got your claw attack or a bite attack. You can see as a hover over each one
I can pick up and roll it separately. That can be your one claw attack for
instance, or your bite attack and it’s really as you type it in.
So if I wanted to give him
a new attack, let’s say he’s got a tail attack maybe some spell that gives him
a tentacle tail or whatever. Say tentacle and use the same format – so it’s
1d6+8 and it’s actually tentacle +9.
Now as I hover over I got
a tentacle attack. I can drop that and it shares that I got a tentacle attack.
Another thing that is nice
from a GM perspective is you got your modifiers. So if for some reason it’s a
+2 modifier on the next roll for whatever reason, that same attack it’ll roll
it and share I got a tentacle attack +2, if gave me a total of +11.
Those things will add up
and it’ll give a whole series of different things you might add on for
different things. Especially like 4th edition D&D and Pathfinder
there are all kinds of things…say I’m Power Attacking and let’s say give him
another modifier or combat advantage or whatever.
It’ll give a +2 to that,
so as I add these things in he’s got a -1 from that, but a +2 from flanking so
he has a net +1. So let’s say he’s also blessed, so I’m going to add a bless in
there. Because typically you’ve got wizards in the party throwing…
Douglas Cole:
Oh sure…[crosstalk]
Doug Davison:
[crosstalk] Buffs and debuffs and all those things add up so this kind of gives
you a running total of all the modifiers on your next attack roll.
Douglas Cole:
And it looks like each little dot is an individual modifier you can look at.
Doug Davison:
And you can remove them the same way too. I load all of these up, and the GM is
looking at the same screen and he’s saying “You got all these things, you need
to take off your flank attack” or whatever and I remove it and now I have
blessed offset by my Power Attack which is a -1. So if you want to add it back
in you add your flank and when you roll your attack it should demonstrate…so
here is the attack roll. It’s basically a Power Attack, you have a -1 from
Power Attack…
Douglas Cole:
Oh, it labels it all. That’s neat.
Doug Davison:
So everybody knows how you got to your magic number. Sometimes we all
know..we’ve gamed with players who’s math doesn’t quite add up to the same
result you have.
So that kind of alleviates
that and it does it all on the fly.
The other thing that’s
nice, it looks for the keyword “And” so here is the full attack option for this
character. So it has 2 claw attacks and a bite each with a modifier and stuff
going on there.
So as you can see it’ll
pick up 3 dice and as it roll them it’ll tell me which ones hit or miss. In
this case it was a critical hit. It rolled automatically. I don’t have my
critical hit table turned on. That’s a table you can customize. It
automatically  roll on that and tell you
what the result is.
Douglas Cole:
I wonder if the GURPS rules set automated the critical hit table or not.
Doug Davison:
They do actually, I saw that there is a extension for that. So if you go to our
wiki and go to our GURPS page there is a extension with a table.
So what that will
typically look like will…to activate a module. These are the various modules I
have loaded already. You just come in and this will show you all the things
that you have installed that are compatible with this rules set.
One of the things about
Fantasy Grounds is that we had several hundred add-ons that are various
products. Some of them are supplements or settings, some of them are different
monsters, it might be a adventure that is pre-done like from Adventure a Week. Or
expedition free press has one of these in here – I think I have a default
critical hit tables I’m going to load that in.
Now you will see it added
a new little section basically within my table list. So now I got my critical
hit. Here if they roll a one through four it’ll say “Yes it is a critical hit”
or a 5 or 6 will make you roll on subsequent tables. You can have like change
tables…let me see if I can get a 5 or 6 it should roll automatically on my next
one…it’s rolling lots of ones.
Okay, here we go. I
finally got a five or six and it rolled on the subsequent table and it told me
the critical effect was a parry which occurred. You get an automatically parry
on the next attack. Here you can customize that the same way. You can make your
own list basically, any kind of table you want.
Here’s a example where I
put in Dungeon Low Level CR2 creatures, if you’re just trying to figure out
here is a random encounter table. You can just put in that you want to roll
d100, and if you roll one to six makes it 1d6 dire rats so you can make all the
tables in your game of choice, that’s functionality that’s built into every
rules set.
Douglas Cole:
So if I wanted to do that is that something that’s more graphical or something
you’ll have to code XML yourself?
Doug Davison:
No, thankfully this is something you can do directly from in the system. So if
I wanted to add a new table you just come in and “Add” and here I can say “How
many rows do you want?” I want a four row table for instance. I want a
By default it says d8, so
you can come through and say “It’s windy outside” or “It’s raining” or
“Snowing” whatever the case may be. And when you’re ready you can just say
“Roll it.” You can put in a name and call it “Weather, Randomized” a
description or whatever you want to make. This determines if you want the
result to be hidden, so as a GM if you want to roll things and not share the
result with the players. Then the GM will see it in the chat window. All the
other players won’t see that in the share window. And it’ll let you share it
out which you can always do.
Douglas Cole:
How can you change the dice? So let’s say that for example, just
hypothetically, wanted 3d6.
Doug Davison:
That’s a good question actually, 3d6…now you’re testing my ability to remember
If you keep adding
rows…let’s make this a 12. I think this is a single dice roll unfortunately. To
do a 3d6 you could do your regular 3d6, by just picking up the dice and rolling
them here. AS far as having a nice look up table that’s something that this one
is really just focusing on a single dice roll. Yeah, I think that is. That is a
good extension, I’m sure that there would be…there are a lot of game systems
now that I think about it there are a lot of game systems where you are rolling
2d6 or 3d6 or whatever.
I know we have some rule sets where you roll dice and drag it to a table lookup so that would be fairly easy for us to do as well.
Note: After the interview, Doug Davison sent me an email:

I’ve been filling out a bunch of tables for a Castle & Crusades add-on today and one of the tables is a 2D12 with a lookup instead of a straight d8, d10, d20, etc. This is actually supported in our table roller and I just didn’t realize it during our presentation. You simply add the lookup for values 3 through 18 and then include a description or note to drop 3d6 onto the dice icon. It will write the lookup result to chat log.

Here is a screenshot of dropping a 2d12 roll onto the table I referenced.

Douglas Cole:
Right. For example, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the d30 Sandbox
Companion. That is something by New Big Dragon games where you could
create…it’s almost like you can automate a entire hex crawl with d30 rolls.
I actually, automated in
Excel, very very quickly, an adventure generator. There are I think ten columns
or something like that. What’s the key NPC, what’s the trigger, what’s the plot
line, blah blah blah, it’s something like five hundred trillion combinations at
the touch of a F9 key, so it seems like maybe this would be something where,
depending on how sophisticated the die-rolling could get, you could have an
encounter generator which is a series of…it just seems like especially for on
the fly stuff, it would be possible to automate something like that. “Generate
me a encounter” and bam it would go through a series of die rolls and give you
want you need.
Could it even do that and
then automatically populate in the combat tracker the creatures that it rolls
Doug Davison:
It could. It’s really just how much automation you want to put in ultimately.
One of the things I’ve
been recently coding on is with Green Ronin has an advanced bestiary and they
just had there Kickstarter on as well. One of the things is really cool about
it is that it has templates. You have a NPC or series of NPCs and a series of
template you might want to apply to them. Like a skeletal version of a goblin
or a lich dog or whatever the case may be.
So that’s something that
there is a need for. You ‘re going to have to go through this series of rules
and steps to modify the base creature to a new creature, the way I coded up in
my own mindset, was to have one section where you drag and drop your templates
on one side, and drag and drop your NPCs in the other, and hit this button and
it spits out the new version on the bottom. So it’s creating new characters,
new NPCs, and all of that stuff on the fly.
Here you have your
encounters, here is your NPCs, here is an encounter, so the same thing, there
is a list of all these encounters.
This is something that at
one point in time we wanted to be able to have a list of this type of object
stored in here and when we hit this button, it’s going to do all of these
automatically. I’m just going to drop them all into the combat tracker.
All of these things could
be combined into one, the code is probably there it’s just calling the code.
From a programmer’s
prospective, you just create a extension in a certain format, and stick it in
the right folder, and it will load that extension in addition to the base rule
set, and you can have multiple extensions loaded too.
Douglas Cole:
One more GURPS question, do your program support hexes, or just squares?
Doug Davison:
It does, it supports hexes and squares.
Let me see if I have any
other maps here. So I’m going to pull up…this one is obviously…this is a GM
map. Let me grab a higher resolution. So this one is a higher resolution.
This is obviously square
grids, so first I’ll show you really quickly the square grids, you come into a
map you download from the internet: it obviously has a grid, but our program
doesn’t know anything about what size the square grid is, so you apply a layer
on top and there is a set grid layer.
So typically you go from
the top of one corner down to the bottom of another one, and it rolls our grid
over top of it. It’s really that simple, and then when you have your NPCs
moving around, then they scale and fit just perfectly.
The other thing you can do
too, if you want to make them larger or bigger on a curved token…
Douglas Cole:
That’s what those numbers are. One point seven grid squares.
Doug Davison:
Yeah, exactly. So can do all that sort of function pretty easily.
And then you can also
clear that grid off and you can set a different type of grid. Change grid to
hex grid. And this is going to look a little silly, so set the hex grid, maybe
it’s still 75 pixels if you can get to there. And then it rolls out and now you
got hex grids so as you’re moving around you’re inside the hex system.
Douglas Cole:
I think I saw you set facing on the bear earlier.
Doug Davison:
Yeah, I did actually. It comes with a lot of tokens built in. Like our
character tokens. If I were to use a top down token instead…let me get rid of
Jonah and replace him with the top down version of him, Jonah is going to be a
human female spellcaster all of a sudden.
Douglas Cole:
She got hit with with a polymorph.
Doug Davison:
So now, Jonah will…I drag Jonah to the map, as I mouse wheel, Jonah moves. And
you can zoom in our out. She’ll scale with it, now that I zoom in and out.
That’s called a locking token scale, and you can zoom in and out, and as I
zoom, if I want her to fit perfectly in one of those hex grids I can make her
bigger or smaller, and once I lock it, then all tokens of that size will shrink
or grow in relation to the map. So that makes it real easy to move around.
Douglas Cole:
So one thing that’s with GURPS at least, because it’s typically a one-yard hex
– and this is not all GURPS all the time. It just happens to be the system that
I think in. One of the deals though, is I wrote a book about grappling, I take
Jonah and throw him down, all of a sudden he’s two hexes long.
Is there a facility for
multiple tokens depending on posture or anything like that? Without going
through all the different choices that you just did.
Doug Davison:
I’m not familiar with one, other than you could shrink them or grow them a
little bit. So you could switch out the token, if you had two versions of the
token, and had one of them with him prone.
Douglas Cole:
Exactly! I was wondering if you could have Jonah with your top down token, your
prone token, your kneeling token, and you could just toggle between them
without having to do click drag, switch, whatever. That would be kind of
Doug Davison:
Yeah. Definitely, from a programmer’s perspective, what you would probably do
is you would make – instead of just having one token spot where Jonah is. You
see he has a single token option?
I would imagine you could
probably add a tab with all the different lists of tokens and you’d link that
to a script. You can do various things, I want the main option, to go prone,
stand, kneel, all that sort of thing. You could play around with those and link
that code up. And say, go back to the base character that token is used, switch
what graphic is rendered.
Douglas Cole:
Okay, so that would be something where if you wanted to have a table of four or
five different . . . you’d have the top down token that’s standing, got a prone
one with blood in the background or something, which would be unconscious or
dead, right click the token, pull up the token menu and boom, click click done.
Doug Davison:
Douglas Cole:
You’d obviously need to script it. That’s really neat. Honestly, this has
been…Fog of War or vision blocking or illumination or any of the classic…
Doug Davison:
What we typically have is…
Douglas Cole:
You mentioned masking earlier.
Doug Davison:
Here you go in and you’ve got your layers, it’s a layer on top. You see where
it says ‘enable mask.’ From a GM’s perspective you drop a map on it, then mask
on it, the GM can see where everything is. It’s kind of like a fogged-out
version of it. The player won’t see anything until you cut it away. As you cut
away portions, it’ll expose that part for the player.
They don’t see the same
level of detail, in the background that’s the GM’s version. In the background
they have a bit more information.
As I expose more…that was
the wrong idea to do. It takes just a second and it cuts away that part of the
map. You can also free-form cut too. We figured most of the time you’re going
to be drawing nice kind of squares, but you can hold down your shift key and do
circles or whatever the case may be, and you can expand out that way.
One of the features that
is one wish list, I know that some other virtual tabletops have, is the
lightning linked to the specific characters. So if they’re carrying torches, or
maybe they rely on knowledge about if the character has dark vision or whatever
and locked sight on doors.
We’ve opted for…what we
think is a simpler set up, you just load a map, the same as if you were playing
tabletop. There is a wall there, you character from where they are located
can’t see through that wall.
Douglas Cole:
Right. So there is a certain amount of player agency to it.
But you could also probably
link an unmasking 20 ft circle that was linked to a token.
And that would be a
cheesy, but effective way of doing a circle of light.
Cheesy is the wrong word,
it would be simplistic, but effective. You’ve got good vision up to this point,
and that would be kind of neat. Another thing that you could probably wind up
doing because I see that you got a opacity feature built into the GM map, is if
you had perfect vision for 10 or 20 ft and decent vision for 30 or 40 ft you
could probably scale down the opacity to represent penalties and stuff.
Doug Davison:
Absolutely. Let me show you real quick this is another one of the GM features
that is pretty nice.
As an example if you’re
going to set up a encounter in advance…let’s shrink this a little bit more.
Let’s say as they enter this room you want to have that famous encounter with a
dire bat and two black bears this time.
You can see on the fly I
change how many tokens there are. I’m going to preplace these in advance. Here
is where the dire bat would start in that combat encounter, and maybe in the
next room I’m picking up and dragging the token to start. So that would allow
me to load them, and preload them in, and when I come back out and delete all
my foes.
Again, when you enter that
room, it knows that this is pre-linked with that map, and that will save
between sessions. So I close off, I’ve done it the day before or whatever, I
just hit this add to the combat tracker and it automatically places them for me
where they start out on the map.
Douglas Cole:
And they are invisible.
Doug Davison:
They are invisible. What I can do in the background, again, he’s in the same
room, I can share them out and make them visible on a per-…let me see if I can
make both screens work, I’m going to make the dire bat visible so you just
click on that and it shares it. Zoom out a little bit.
Douglas Cole:
I just realized how big that dire bat was…that is a ginormous bat.
Doug Davison:
You can do it individually by turning them on or off. You can make everything
visible, or invisible.
Then the player, the nice
thing about that. Sorry, it’s a little bit more toggling when your showing the
player and GM view. The thing that the player can do is say “I want to do a
cone attack” so they’re going to do a cone…
Douglas Cole:
Ahh, built-in cone attack.
Doug Davison:
Yeah. You do that sort of stuff. You’ve got…
Douglas Cole:
Can you do different angles, I’m sorry I didn’t see.
Doug Davison:
So to start over you, say corners, you can do a cone, a circle, or a square, there
is definitely one of the cooler features, but it does it in your dice color. I
have a character with blue dice so if you had three or four players connected
it, it’ll do their effects it in their own colors.
Douglas Cole:
Cool. That is a 90 degree cone, can you do a 45 degree cone?
Doug Davison:
Right now, this is a Pathfinder one and the cones are always set…
Douglas Cole:
Always quarters. Okay.
Doug Davison:
If you have, like in Savage Worlds it has different shapes of cones in
different format. That would have to be something built into that specific rule
set to support it.
This one here, you got
those, and squares, if you’ve got something that emanates, you can set it, pick
it up and move it around where it is on the map. So if it’s a fog that drifts
or whatever, you can move it as time goes on. It’ll tell you the size in that
game system.
So the nice things, are
that you got this character, which let’s see if I have someone who has a attack
here, normally you’d use a spell, but I’ve got a fighter loaded unfortunately.
So let say they wanted to
target these three creatures. So I’m holding down control and then just
clicking on the target. Let’s say I do an acid arrow against each of those. So
it rolled an attack against each target that I had targeted, and tell me which
ones hit or missed or whatever.
When I roll my damage it
does the same thing and applies it.
If I were to look on the
GMs perspective now, there should be some damage applied. The black bear was
damaged for 6 and the dire bat was damaged for 6. But the other black bear was
missed, so no damage was applied.
So when you’re doing your
fireballs or that sort of thing, it’s very easy to target everything that
you’re going to shot at. It’ll automatically deselect the ones you missed and
you’ll just roll your damage.
The spell functionality is
something we invested a decent amount of time to. Again, to go back to your
player, Jonah, I think, is a wizard, so here you got a fireball attack, so you
do that same thing, but it’s going to do 5d6 damage and it’s a reflex save of
DC 17. I’ll do it one more time here, if I target each of those three
characters. The first thing is to make sure you’ll hit ‘em all, then you target
them – let me move those out of the way – when you roll your attack, it rolled
the dice, and it’s behind the window, but that middle bear is no longer
targeted, it made its reflex save. As I roll my 5d6 damage, it’s going to be
fire damage, so it’ll also check resistances. So if the creature had resistance
to fire, it’ll automatically deduct that for you. It takes a lot of those
minutiae out of the game and allows you to play faster. The characters are at a
different level.
Douglas Cole:
I see that your little power bar has dropped to half and the color coding.
Doug Davison:
That is an option you can turn on or off, and if you want to share it with your
players. As an option, you can come in your preferences and you can say what
level of detail do you want.
Here’s the tokens for the
GM. Do you want to show effects (you can turn them on or off)? That’s another
thing, if a spell has a sleep or dazed effect or whatever, it’ll automatically
place that as an indicator telling you that the creature is dazed or whatever.
You want to share that
with the players, you want to share the health.
Here is a tool tip, now it
will only show the health when I however over it. Here is a example, you can
just show a dot, it’ll change colors to orange or red or whatever and then off
or a tool tip. As you hover over it it’ll say “I’m healthy.” This person is an
enemy, you can change it to a bar or dot or tool tip. Heavy damage, light
damage, moderate damage.
Douglas Cole:
Cool. That’s certainly neat. I guess that’s…is there anything else kicking
around on the game that you really want to show us?
Doug Davison:
One other thing that’s really pretty neat. That gives you the basics, there is
a ton of functionally that I can talk about for hours and hours and bore
everybody to death.
But the library is one of
the things that we really think is critical.
As your building
characters – let close down a bunch of stuff here to make our screen a little
One of the things that’s
really nice is when you are building your encounters in advance, or one of your
characters gets a new level, and you want to add a new ability for instance.
I came come over here, is
it a feat? Yeah, it’s a feat. I can right-click and say “Create Item” and I can
say “Fancy Dance Move” that I just learned and describe what Fancy Dance Move
there. You can put the game description there or your notes there.
If there isn’t support in
the system already within Fantasy Grounds, that’s not a limitation, you can key
in stuff as needed, drag and drop from outside sources.
But . . . if it’s
something that’s in from the Pathfinder SRD you go to your basic rules section
and pull up your feats. There is a list of various feats, you can scroll
through, and each one of these has got the description from the SRD, what that
specific feat does and what it means when you have or don’t have it.
But you can also search,
“I’ve got a power something” as you type the first couple of characters it
narrows the list down so now I’ve got Empower Spell. Now the character has it
so in game time if they want to use it they just click on it.
That’s your basically
functionality. On equipment, it’s the same sort of thing, if you have a inventory
item and you use it.
I want to pull up a new
weapon I just bought here you can look and see different types of weapons, or I
can pull up a search and say it’s a spear so type the first couple of
characters and now…is it a long spear, short spear, or whatever. You drag it
over, it’s a lot of drag and drop functionality.
Here it has your
encumbrance, it’ll update your encumbrance for you automatically. Your basic
stats and critical modifier.
When you’re ready, if you
look on the actions, he now has two versions of a spear attack that they can
use. They can do a generic attack where it just uses there melee modifiers, or
they can do a thrown version, so you can toggle it so it’ll determine what
it’ll use. It’ll use the DEX modifier or Strength modifier.
Spells are the same thing,
you can drag and drop spells over from the library. You’ve got some of the
nicer things I think are the bestiaries, which I think help. All of your
demons. All of your dragons, giants, whatever. You have them kind of at your
fingertips with all their attacks preloaded.
Whenever you have an
encounter, like Adventure a Week guys, what they did on theirs, it’ll put a new
tab. This is my custom campaign, there are the monsters I’m running, but if I
want to see the monsters in this module, here is all the monsters that are pre-statted
out when they bought that module.
It’s the same thing if you
were to buy the PDF, they’re all pre-keyed in and this has all the same content
and save you the time for entry of having to go in and do those. Here you got
extra descriptions, here they have a strategy of what that creature is going to
do when you fight it. That’s a skeletal wolf for instances and the token,
they’ve linked it in with our tokens.
Douglas Cole:
Neat. That ties into…before I go to that last kind of question . . . so what
are you working on right now that you think is something that is future feature
(as opposed to a creature feature or maybe they are the same thing). That your
program is going to be implementing when you successfully code it?
Doug Davison:
We’ve got few things in the works and the biggest thing right now…we just made
it through a really big push that put in a ton of new features to manage your
entire party at a glance, party inventory funds, sharing experience, that sort
of automation for running a entire party of characters, in addition to the
individual character awards and so forth.
We’ve reached a good
stopping point, we’ve done a lot of consolidation of our older rule sets. We
have what we call a core RPG that’s a very basic vanilla system that you can
use to roll dice, share maps, images, tokens, that sort of thing. It’s kind of
in a game agnostic fashion, but the nice thing about it is we’ve also recoded a
number of the rule sets to build off of that one, so now we can look at adding
a special feature or function, we can add to that core rule set and it’ll
automatically roll out to each of those other game systems whenever that makes
So we don’t have to recode
it and say “What does that look like in Castles and Crusades, or what do that
look like in Pathfinder, or GURPS, or whatever.
If GURPS – and I believe
GURPS was built off of the core RPG, it was rebuilt basically to use the same
features – so if we add a town manager feature or a shop builder, or something
like that – and there are actually extensions that do that that a user has
As we add those it’ll roll
out to everything all at once.
The other thing that we’re
doing right now is we’re trying to get this all packaged up and ready to go on
Steam. So we think that…it took us about a year to go through their greenlight
process, and to get the necessary traction for them to approve it, so now it’s
been approved and greenlit.
We need to take a break from
doing enhancements just for a little while, and rack this up with Steam so we
can expand it out to the six million or so users that are always active on
Steam any time of day. Hopefully that will explode us from our user base now
that’s in the 20,000s – I think we have 27,000 thousand users – to really get
it in the living room. That’s what I’m really excited about. The Steam machines
have the option of running on your TV, and using consoles type remotes and wireless
mouse and keyboard, then people could really seriously be playing dungeons and
dragons around there living room with their old college buddies or whatever the
case may be.
Douglas Cole:
That’s actually a good point in a way, is one of the things that I really do
like about…for example, Roll20 on Hangouts, which is a system that you know we
play a lot, or Hangouts in general, is the video. You got people on the bottom
of the screen talking like you and I are talking. Is that a feature that is or
will be enabled on fantasy Grounds?
Doug Davison:
It’s one of the things that…we actually use Google Hangouts or Skype – Normally
I use Skype;  I think John uses Google
We use those same
features, it’s not integrated with the app it’s not a web application, but we
run it side by side.
I think for running
anything in virtual tabletop, any virtual tabletop you can look at, I highly
recommend getting just another monitor, if you’re running on your laptop, plug
a monitor in your laptop, so you got the extra screen real estate. I like to
keep Skype or something running on the side, and you can choose if you want
video, or don’t want video and keep Fantasy Grounds focused on the game
We felt like it would pull
us away from the automation and some of the other functions and features we
could be adding. To do something that frankly, it would come out worse than
what the professionals could do from Skype and Google. So we don’t want to
compete with them and those things are always going to be getting better, and
we don’t want to limit ourselves.
For example, let’s say we
want Google+, it’s really good right now, but who’s to say that another service
won’t come out a year later that’s better and faster and has more functions and
features and whatever else.
Right now, by having it
separate it allows people to choose what they are comfortable with.
Douglas Cole:
Sure. So you mentioned it exists on computers and is going to be available
through Steam, I assume it’s not going to be free, if I have myself and six
players, how much is it going to run me and them?
Doug Davison:
There are a couple of
different options, typically our older model was everyone needed a license, so
you would have GM licenses and Player licenses. The difference between those
two licenses were could you do content creation other than your character sheet?
If you only wanted to do
your character sheet, run your character in some combat, with some general
notes and track items that you have then the player version was your choice.
That today we have on sale
for $24, there is one license, there is no subscription. Every version that
we’ve come out with all the way to Fantasy Grounds 1 and even before John and I
took over the company, has free upgrades to the latest version that we have
available. We’ve done that since 2005, every edition, thousands and thousands of
hours of code have gone out to people who have bought it at any point in time.
The GM license allows you
to host a game, and have players connect to it. You get all the campaign
management functionality, you get the ability to create your own stories and NPCs,
pull in your own images and maps, build your own library of content. Those run
$39 right now and each person would buy one.
We do have some GMs who
have players who don’t…they don’t think their players would spring for a
service like this, or they choose to take the burden on themselves, they buy
something called an ultimate license and it’s $150, but then the players
connect for free and that way if they have…some people will do that if they
have multiple groups of players they’ll run or if they’re always inviting new
players to the game, they don’t have to worry about cost being a barrier entry
to their games.
But I will say that
regardless of whether you could talk your gaming group into playing on a VTT .
. . one of the things that when I first came to it, I couldn’t talk my local
group into playing, because I was moving from Champagne-Urbana (in Illinios)
back to Kentucky, where I grew up, and I had a fantastic gaming group in
Illinois’, but some of them just don’t have computers or they didn’t want to
play it online, so I bought Fantasy Grounds as a GM license myself, and I
connected and played with people I’ve never ever met in person – even to this
day I’ve never met them in person – and I’ll say I made the same lasting,
bonding friendships that I’ve made with people at the local gaming store.
There are a ton of users
out there, and a bunch of other players who have gamed at different times, and
all throughout the world. I’ve got people in the United Kingdom that are
playing, and Brazil, all over the world. I see people every once and a while
people from Timbuktu, that’s really a…there really is a Timbuktu, and people
really do game there.
It’s interesting to see,
and there’s tons of games out there, and Fantasy Grounds is one option, but any
virtual tabletop would be surprised to see to what degree you can really play
the game and have the same sort of experience and what better experience you’d
have in person.
Douglas Cole:
I think that brings us to the…I think you summarized it well, the future of
virtual tabletops and online gaming in general, is you’ve characterized it as
just broader. There are tons of people that are gaming. Lots of availability.
Link up to almost any game as long as you obey some basic social contract
And in a way I guess the
Fantasy Grounds has started it, but do you ever think that the publishing of
games and the gaming software will be more closely linked?
Obviously the Adventure a
Week module, where you can buy a digital adventure, and just pop right into
Fantasy Grounds, is the closest I’ve seen to that. It’s a fully implemented
Doug Davison:
That’s definitely something we see a lot of opportunity in the future.
We’ve had conversations
with the guys at Paizo and Wizards of the Coast as well. Adventures and
modulses. We’ve built a lot of those libraries of stuff ourselves. So it’s
definitely something we do with other publishers.
We’ve got 16 o 17
different publishers we do that with. So they could be something from a
adventure module or library modules are really nice. Call of Cthulhu have tons
of splatbooks type of thing, you can go through and read all about a specific
setting, maybe it’s a time or era or whatever and put it directly in the tools.
So people don’t have to have a PDF version and key it all in, or whatever,
because really keying in the data can become a barrier to playing online because
it takes a whole lot of time.
Douglas Cole:
That’s actually the next question, before I give you the last word.
It seems to me the real
barrier to entry for people who are not XML coders, would be some kind of
automated scripting tool or tools that would enable Joe User, like myself.
I’m 42 years old, I can do
some coding. I used to. But I don’t know XML. I think the last real coding
experience I had might have been visual basic.
I’m sure I could do
coding, learn how to do it, but I’ve got a little girl, and I’ve got other
things to do other than write programs.
I would love to be able to
go “Boom, Boom, Boom” and do monsters or do characters and upload maps, or have
some customized rules or I really like the new firearms rules that Hans-Christian
Vortisch published in Pyramid and wouldn’t it be nice to go “Click, click,
click, drag, go,” and remove that barrier to entry for the casual gamer.
Doug Davison:
Absolutely. That’s really got to be key, that’s where I think that Fantasy
Grounds really stands shoulders above a lot of the competition.
Especially in the areas
where we have game systems that are supported, either in the official rule sets
that we’ve developed, or with one that the community members have developed.
You get so much out of the box, where it has all that functionality. It might
not have every single feature of a game system implemented. But it will get you
up and running in no time.
If you look at that and
you look at what is it like to play that same game around a table, you don’t
need everything to be automated, and I would caution against that – especially
in the very beginning. You just need to be able to roll the dice. Even if you
were to game on a system there was no system to support for whatsoever, just
load up the core RPG and share your images and your maps and your stories, and
then the dice is still going to’re going to roll the dice just like you
would around the table.
That shouldn’t really
limit you from doing that. I wouldn’t 
encourage people to look at this and say “Well, it can do all these
things in Fantasy Grounds” and the very first thing they try to do is code?
No, that’s not the right
approach, and in fact I would recommend you get a system, you look at all the
ones out there, is there a system supported that I do want to play.
I would encourage you to
play in the game system for a while or play in that sandbox because that will
also show you how things are implemented. You don’t want to start developing
your own version until you see OK, well, this works really really well in this
system. Let’s see how they did it in Pathfinder and I can see how it would make
sense here. You don’t want to jump in the deep end from the very beginning, you
want to get your feet under you to begin with and using the features that are
there, and then look and see what do I really need to expand and ask yourself
those questions as you go forward.
Douglas Cole:
As I’m contemplating my
own campaign, what I’m going to want to be able to do is, either within Fantasy
Grounds, or some other program, I’m going to want to map.
And very clearly I can
bring in a map, I can darken it up with masking, I can put a hex grid on it.
Then I’ll have to import
characters, and I know that there is a GURPS Character Assistant to Fantasy
Grounds tool which I saw online, which is kind of awesome.
Doug Davison:
That other thing is it’ll give you a blank character sheet for a GURPS
character, and you just fill in your own stats, all of those are typeable
areas. And it looks like they coded them up so you could do your 3d6 dice rolls
Douglas Cole:
Yeah. I saw that. I actually got a note – that someone logged into the YouTube
feed and left a comment – saying that an upgrade for all the different features
that you and I have been discussing are in the works for the latest GURPS
Doug Davison:
Sometimes, you’ll be amazed – and I’m always amazed at what the community
members do today, a lot of them are professional programmers, or graphic
artists, or both. This is their hobby, the development of these automated
sophisticated systems, they get as much joy out of these as they do playing the
game sometimes.
Sometimes just getting on to
the forums and saying “Hey, this would be really cool if you did that.” If they
have a audience for it, it’s amazing what people will put together.
I’ve seen people write…one
guy wrote a extension which was very very clever, someone made a suggestion on
the forum and said “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could speak in the chat window
in different languages, and all the people that knew that language on their
character sheet could read it.”
So he made something so
you could speak in Elvish or Dwarven or whatever, and you change which language
you’re talking and it writes out Elvish-looking script into the chat window if
you don’t know Elvish. And if you do
know Elvish it puts a little tag so that you know that you’re speaking in
Elvish, but you can read the text clear.
How cool is that? My mind
is always boggled seeing what people do and how creative and how talented
members of our community are. And a lot of it comes into the tool.
A lot of times…one of our
users made all sorts of stuff, he actually skinned out our 4th
edition rules set and a lot of our graphics. He’s actually created stuff and
said “Hey, this is what I’ve done for my own personal use. If you guys like it,
feel free to use it.” And so we’ve said, “Okay” and we’ve integrated it with
our system and shared it out with all of our users and now it’s a option. They
can say I want the “stone” version with its skin.
That sort of thing gets rolled
up a lot, especially if they are going to invest time developing something like
that, they just want to see it used.
Douglas Cole:
Right. The amount of money I’ll get from any one Pyramid article or my
Technical Grappling book is fairly miniscule relative to the satisfaction of
getting a good play report.
Doug Davison:
Absolutely. We do have the option, if people want to sell something. We had one
player that built…we didn’t have templates implemented, so he wanted to have
all the summon monsters in the table, so he went through and entered all the
NPCs and statted them all out. “Hey, you guys, I use this for my game, do you
think that the users would like it.”
So I said “Yeah, sure.”
And helped him get it loaded up to our store and he sells and every quarter I
send him royalties on that. So we have that option if people choose to go that
route, or if people want to share them for free they can do that too. I think
we try to cater to both audiences.
Douglas Cole:
That’s really cool. So I always give my guest the last word, and I think it’s
about wrap-up time, we’ve been chatted for a bit and I’m very interested in the
Fantasy Grounds and I’m going to have to figure out which VTT I’m going to be
using, and I know I’m going to be using one because I don’t have a gaming group
As we wrap up here, what’s
the last word that you want to give people who are interested in Fantasy
Grounds or VTTing or if you want to talk about anything gaming related (just
not religion or politics).
Doug Davison:
[laughs] I’ll avoid the religion or politics, although sometimes gaming get’s just
as heated I suppose.
Douglas Cole:
I was thinking about the same thing, yeah.
Doug Davison:
I would ultimately say that a lot of the systems you can go in and download and
try them. I would urge people to try out Fantasy Grounds, I hope that they
would. Our demo is free, they can download it and run two instances of it and
connect to each other. It’ll give them a taste of if the application is good
for them.
We also have a ton of
YouTube videos, where they can go and follow along.
I would just encourage
people to . . . if they haven’t tried virtual tabletop gaming yet to give it a
And try multiple things.
Don’t just try one game system or one virtual tabletop and say “It’s not for
me” because the experience is significantly different from us or Roll20 or d20
Pro or MapTools, each one of those environments caters to a slightly
differently audience I think. Some of them are easier to get off the ground and
running, but others have more features and you need to find the one that fits
for you and I think it’s worth doing the investment if you take a week or two
and try all the different ones before you make a decision.
But if you do join Fantasy
Grounds you’ll find that there is a very friendly community and we would be
happy to have you.
Douglas Cole:
Okay, I want to thank you for your time and joining us and the detailed
walkthrough of Fantasy Grounds. I enjoyed it.
It was good to see the
GURPS support that’s out there, and I’ll link to that to both the wiki and to
the video that you showed me where the GCA export, because honestly for GURPS
making a character is a very front-loaded expedience.
Swords and Wizardry or the
old d6 Star Wars – 5 minutes and you’ve got a character and you’re ready to
With GURPS – you can do that, but often you’re buying,
and optimizing, and then you’ve got a pretty good character ready to go, and
then you can just play.
But to go through and do
GURPS character assistant and BOOM here is a import, and you can drag and roll
dice and all that stuff is very exciting capability for front-loaded systems.
Doug Davison:
Douglas Cole:
So it’s something that I certainly learned about Fantasy Grounds, and thank you
for walking me through it, but again, thank you for your time, and as new
features or anything come out, then the Firing Squad always has a spot on the
Doug Davison:

Douglas Cole:
Thanks a lot.

Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad was joined by +Liz Theis from +Lone Wolf Development to discuss their soon-to-be-released campaign management tool, Realm Works.

I was introduced to Liz and Lone Wolf through +Ed Healy and +Joey Turco of +Gamerati, who saw my notes about interviews for the RPGBA March Blog Carnival on VTTs and Computer Gaming aids.

I knew of Hero Lab, but honestly didn’t make the connection from Hero Lab to Realm Works to Lone Wolf Development until my interview with Liz was nearly over. Bad interviewer, bad!

Still, I will admit that I was skeptical of the value of the program going into the interview. After I was done, I think it’s worth more than a hard look for anyone who might be contemplating doing either fiction writing or any sort of game with many relationships to track. The way the system is laid out, your game prep, all the notes you take, can be revealed, or not, to the players line by line if you like. The same ability exists for maps.

But don’t take my word for it, watch the interview. I think you’ll be persuaded that this tool has a useful place in your gaming quiver.


MP3 Audio File

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic):
Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. This is the continuation of a series of interviews with virtual tabletop, online gaming computer aid, content creators, and boosters. Tonight, we are joined by Liz Theis, developer for Lone Wolf, and we will be talking about Realm Works: a campaign management and planning facilitation tool.

Which is not a virtual tabletop, but seems really neat for structuring, running, and remembering what the heck you are doing in any given campaign.

So Liz, thanks for joining us this evening.

Liz Theis (Lone Wolf Development):
No problem. I do want clear the record though: I’m not actually one of the developers, but I work closely with the developers to communicate what Realm Works has to offer – and I’m a game master myself so I think I have enough cred to share with you what Realm Works is all about.

Doug: Absolutely. You’re one of these evil marketing types.

Liz: Yeah. It’s true.

But like I said I am a GM, I’ve been playing role-playing games…I think I was three when I played my first game. I was a unicorn. I was awesome [laughs].

Doug: What is not to be awesome about being a unicorn since only yesterday my daughter told me that I was . . . Evil Darkside Moon or something. Something from My Little Pony.

Liz: Oh. Very nice.

Continue reading “Firing Squad Welcomes Liz Theis discussing Wolf Lair’s Realmworks”

About ten days ago, I sat down with +Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor. This month’s Blog Carnival interview-palooza has thrown a kink in my usual priority order (FIFO) for interviews, and so this one appears after several others. It also took me a bit to get to the final transcript, as I had a vacation in the middle, and one does not transcribe video at Disneyland at those prices.

In any case, a long last here is the video interview with Tim. Lots and lots of fun.

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. Today we
are joined by Tim Shorts, proprietor of Gothridge Manor. Content creator and
Canadian along with Sean Punch and David Pulver [both laugh]
Tim Shorts (Gothridge Manor): Almost Canadian.
Doug: Almost
Canadian. I decided today that you are actually four times Canadian than I was
since you were 70 miles from the border. Minneapolis, St. Paul is a surprising
300 [both laugh]. This. Is. Northwest! [mimes King Leonidas from Frank Miller’s
300; both laugh more]. So anyways, thanks for joining us this evening.
Tim: No,
great, I’m quite glad to be here actually.

Doug: Let’s
plunge right in. How did you get into role-playing games, way back when?
Tim: Oh boy.
I guess it was back in ’79, my friend Dwayne brought in B2 and we didn’t know
anything about the game. He just had it. Got it from a different friend.
So we sat down and tried
to figure it out. Well, we didn’t have any of the dice or the rulebooks, so we
raided the Monopoly game and the Yhatzee game and got a bunch of six-sided dice
and figured out our own system as we went.
If we rolled a 1 that was
a kill, if we rolled a 6 it was a wound, two wounds equal a kill. We kind of
worked that out. 
We were going through our
player characters so fast that we decided our Charisma score what we would do
is…since we knew that had something to do with following, we would make that
how many followers we would have. If we had a 16 score we could have sixteen
followers. So we would send in our followers first so we wouldn’t die so fast.
What I liked about it is, at
the time I was getting tired of boardgames, because it was so confined and this
game was something that wasn’t confined to a board, and I just thought that was
so cool and even though we kept playing the same thing over and over and over
Eventually we discovered
that there were other things that went along with it, like weird dice – it took
us about two months to figure out how to read the four-sided dice [both laugh].
Then we had this little
alliance –me and Dwayne – if you went out and bought a module or a book, then I
would try to buy a different one. That way we could, together . . . There has
been a big talk lately about the cost of the new books that are coming out?
Doug: I
remember seeing that, yep.
Tim: Well,
back then it wasn’t cheap either…
Doug: No, I
remember. It was a big deal on who had the books.
Tim: Right.
So what we did was we kind of split it up. He would get the DM’s Guide and I
would get the Player’s Handbook. Maybe this module or set of modules, and I’d
get the other, so between both of us we were able to get a few things.
So that formed a unholy
alliance there.
Doug: It’s
funny you mention this, and I’m just going to leap right off the study guide,
so to speak, because you’ve already said something that’s interesting.
I promised myself I wasn’t
going to say interesting  every five
minutes, like I did with Stacy because everything she said I said “Well that’s
Mayor Wilson Goode of
Philadelphia used to have a catch phrase “As a point in fact…” And my dad
explained it to me after I said “Dad, why does he always say that?” he said
“He’s just getting himself time to think, and come up with the next thing.” So
he says this thing over and over and over again so he can structure what he’s
going to say next. Or drop bombs on buildings, depending on where you were. Do
you remember that?
Tim: Oh
Doug: Were
you in Meadville at the time?
Tim: Oh
yeah, I’m a northwest PA boy pretty much all my life, except traveled around
quite a bit but I always ended up back here.
Doug: Okay.
Because I was actually in Northeast Philly at the time. I remember thinking
about it the same way someone…when the Challenger exploded – I was big into
space exploration and stuff – random people would come up to me ask stuff like
“How many people can fly in a space shuttle?” and I’d be like “Seven” and they’d
laugh at me, and I’d be like “Ask question, give answer, mock?” [Tim laughs]. I
didn’t know, whatever, fine.
Has there ever been a
game, maybe Ars Magica – I’ve never played it so I can’t be sure – where the
whole premise is you command a small group of soldiers or mercenaries – squad
leader is your moving guys on the guard.
Has there ever been a game
where you start off with a more advanced character? Where you start off with
five or six or eight followers and that’s how you play. Maybe a mini-Mass
Combat, but it’s really a roleplaying game, where each player commands a small
army of mercenaries or something?
Tim: Yeah.
Rob Conley, is a part of our trio of Unholy Alliance – he’s been running this
city-states, invincible overlord campaign. Everyone knows it as the Majestic Wilderlands.
He’s been running that for
years and every once and a while he feels like destroying it . . . so he has
this set up where he has these Vergians or demons and they get unleashed again
over the land and everything.
He set up this one
scenario, we were using the GURPS system, and there prison had gotten broken
up, what we did was play these kind of high-point characters. This was back in
3rd edition GURPS so we were playing 350 point characters and we
were like “Is he out of his mind? We’re not going to be beat by anything.”
But what it was was, we
had these overpowered creatures, but it was like a mini-Mass Combat that he had
set up for us. It was excellent. We had to defend a wall or city or something,
and we had just barely survived and
we did fantastic and we were all really happy with ourselves and then we found
out that was the scouting party [both
Doug: That’s
just mean.
Tim: Yeah,
so we spent the rest of the session figuring out which hole we could hide in
without dying. It was a lot of fun. It was really a good time.
I was trying to think if
there was anything where we controlled a lot of folks. We played Warhammer, but
that’s not quite the same thing. We weren’t kind of controlling a group or
role-playing so much.
Doug: Did
you play Warhammer Fantasy role-play or Warhammer armies? The miniatures.
Tim: The
miniatures. This group that’s here nearby, two of the guys that ran it were
carpenters so they actually had a mini city built. They actually rented a
apartment just to play. They had it rented the whole time, so they would build
cities in there so they wouldn’t have to mess up their own home with all those
things. And they would go in there and play these massive games and it was so
cool looking.
Doug: My
nerd phallus is small right now. That is amazing [both laugh].
Tim: It was.
I didn’t even know about them and I couldn’t believe…I was like “Holy crap,
this is fantastic, you know?!”
Doug: I
guess thinking about it, if someone said “Oh look, someone turned their
basement into this huge model train set.” You’d smile and nod and say “No
problem.” Or dioramas or all kinds of stuff. I guess having a big dedicated play
area like that, for a hobby you can drop a awful lot of money on really
shouldn’t surprise anybody.
Tim: Yeah, I
don’t know how much the neighbors liked it with all the screaming [laughs].
“I’ll kill you!”
I don’t know if I would
have wanted to be the next door neighbor to it. It was a really cool area in
Those are the only two instances
I can think of where we had a Mass Combat sort of thing. Rob always likes to
play army ones, but it’s been such a long time I don’t even remember what the
others ones might have been.
Doug: Sure.
So you’ve talked about some…you defniitely started in DnD, as most of us did,
and you’ve got some GURPS, and you’ve played Warhammer miniatures. What is it
about particular settings, or games, or styles of games that you like or don’t
Tim: I guess
the simplicity of the system. One thing I wrote about on my blog a little bit
ago about the GURPS system is when I was trying to find a little bit more
information. GURPS tends to have a little bit more . . . elitist kind of gamers
– you know if you didn’t do it “this way” – when we’d go on the forums, you’d
ask a honest question and we’d get attacked almost.
It was very hard to find a
real answer in there. It was just basically “No. You got do [X].”
They would pull out these
crazy equations or formulas and all I wanted to know was: If someone jumped out
of a building and they had a weapon would the weapon be able to survive the fall?
Would the AK-47 would bust into pieces? All I need to know is a round number. I
don’t need the physics of it. “They have to roll an 8 or under.” I’m good to
That’s pretty much what I
ended up doing anyways.
Doug: The
Steve Jackson Games forums are both wonderful and horrible thing. I’m a fairly
regular participant and even these days I’ll admit there is a certain crust of
frequent posters who are very aggressive in how they put forward how people
should play.
GURPS is not a large
system, and the forum members are self-selecting group of a self-selecting
group. And I don’t mean “we’re looking for a few good men” here. I mean you
need to be someone who enjoys the game and you need to care about reading and
participating on the forums and you need to be one of these people feels they
need to post almost everything and that tends unfortunately…not all those guys
represent the hobby as well as say Sean [Punch] would.
Tim: I saw
your interview with Sean and it was fantastic.
And I shouldn’t say it’s
just GURPS – I stay away from forums in general, because of a lot of the
similar stuff. That’s why I prefer the blog or even Google+.
I really enjoy the OSR
community as a whole, too, because they are very supportive. Every once and a
whole stuff will flare up, but most of the time they’re kind of there to share
their stuff. Oh, this is cool, and I gotta use this.
And “Oh, another Matt
Jackson map which is a perfect place for this.”
Everybody is making stuff
and probably sometimes is the trouble because you want to use it all, but you
got to edit yourself on what you can use and everything. It’s like every time I
think I got it edited down they just go and make a whole bunch of other cool
Doug: I know
that people have talked about this, but I would love to see it too.
I know that we’re going to
see some of it, but you’ve got GURPS Lite, and it’s almost not enough.  And you’ve got the core rules and everything
else. And . . . in order to really play you often have to flip switches.
You can use guns – Gaming
Ballistic, right? – you can use Gun-Fu, Hans Christian Vorticsh’s Gun Fu or you
can use Hans-Christian Vorticsh’s Tactical Shooting [Tim laughs].
There are a couple of
overlaps, but either it’s like crazy rules-lite bullet in your head John Woo
stuff, or it’s the Delta Force TV show that I loved…I’m totally blanking [The
Unit! The Unit!] and … [both laugh]. It had a great theme song. It’ll come back
to me later.
It was a show about the
Delta Force guys and it was totally tactical and it was based on Eric Haney’s
book “Inside Delta Force.”
So you can go either way,
but you can’t do both…easily. Unless . . . it’s like the super-heroes use
Gun-Fu, the normal guys use Tactical Shooting and that would be a cool
juxtaposition of both rules.
But as a GM and a player
you have to know what that means.
Tim: And for
the GM that’s a whole lot of stuff to be juggling at the same time. Trying to
set up a game for that would be kind of tough just because it’s like back in
college when I used to write MLA papers and APA papers for psychology and
you’re still juggling that.
But GURPS, if there is a
system that you can do that with it’s definitely GURPS. It’s why I played it
for so long, I did it for years and years.
Doug: It can be very modular. I was playing a
Black Ops game that I was running.
One of the players was
like “Hey, do you want to play?” and I’m like “Yes. Yes I do.”
And I’ll run one, and not only
was I a rules-guy…I think I would be less of a rules-guy with ten-years (and
much less time) under my belt. Just roll dice and tell me what the answer is.
But back then, that’s exactly what he did.
“Oh, there is a toolbox
coming at you. Roll something.”
 “What skill should I roll?”
“Just roll some dice.”
[makes pained face]. “Ok.
OK. I can do this”
He [the GM] looked at the
dice and said “Oh, it bashes you in the face.”
“Oh. Good. It bashes me in
the face.” It does this much damage and we moved on.
And that was one things
where I had great fun playing in Erik Tenkar’s Swords and Wizardy B-Team games.
Absolutely. Yeah.
Doug: He just
made stuff up. There was no worrying about it . . . me and Peter Dell’Orto are
going to form a front line of two people against the orcs. Oh. Okay. That’s a
narrow ledge, you can do that. And we just went with it. It worked.
And everyone was…it wasn’t
a story game. We weren’t feeling the angst as Stacy would say [Tim laughs].
But it was definitely a
consensual environment where as long stuff more or less didn’t break plausible
verisimilitude, to borrow a GURPS term, we were cool with it. We rolled some
dice and killed some orcs and that was really what was important.
Tim: yeah,
that’s old school hard core right there. I love that stuff.
When I run a game I rarely
use a battleboard. I will on occasion, but for the most part I find that for me
anyways, when I use a battleboard, setting up the pogs, organzing the thing, it
kind of slows down the game and a lot of the time I want to keep it rolling.
We’ll just kind of
mentally link up and try to tell people “Just tell me what you want to do.” Can
I sneak around and stab him in the back? Sure, go ahead and roll.
Doug: Roll
something, yeah, sure.
Tim: Roll.
That’s pretty much it. Let’s see what you got.
You failed so I’ll making
up something else. That’s the beauty of it. That’s what makes it so much fun.
Doug: So
here is a deep irony, I was actually asking you all the questions that I had
been asking Stacy. I pulled up the wrong list [both laugh].
Tim: Well
that was a really good interview with Stacy [laugh].
[garbled audio]. I’m about to ask him a question about ConTessa…that doesn’t
make any sense. Oh…this is something else. Oops.
Tim: I like
ConTessa, if that’s a question.
Doug: Yeah!
No..yeah, and it was . . . and it was a fun interview and everyone should go
watch it, or read it because you can really hear what difference the headset makes.
But it was a good
interview and one of the things I thought was just neat about…and it’ll be fun
to see and I haven’t gotten many comments on it. I guess that’s because it’s a
hour and some change and you have to read it and make time for it.
I haven’t heard much
about, but I sort of expect maybe people will let it lie.
I [pauses]…the ConTessa
event went off twice and to run an online gaming event with 40 or 50 events . .
. twice…there is a certain amount of chops there.
I have no idea
how…[laughs] there is no way I could do that. No way.
I just find it amazing.
That’s why I think it’s such a great idea, and to me ConTessa is just part of
that old school mentality. It’s make something up and let’s run with it and let’s
see what happens with it.
That she can get so many
women to support it and guys to support it at all and to run those events…I
think it’s fantastic.
I wish I could have been…I
got to watch a few of their panel discussions. That was really interesting, but
unfortunately because of the way the schedule was I couldn’t do more and I’d
like to do more online. but I don’t get to do that as much as I’d like.
Doug: Right.
That was actually something, believe it or not, the biggest impediment to my
gaming online has been daylight savings time or lack thereof. I can never
remember what.
This week, all of my
conference calls for work shift to Oh-Dark-Thirty which means I can come home,
have dinner, sit down, and game.
So from now until whenever
Daylight Savings time comes again in October or November, my evenings are
more-or-less free because my conference call with my counterpart in Malaysia is
in the morning ,and the Process Transfer Call is hour and a half in the
morning, and the engineering call is still Thursday nights which will probably
never move.
But in any case I have
anywhere from three to four transpacific conference calls per week, but they
were all at night. I couldn’t do my martial arts, I couldn’t game, so I just
had to drop almost everything. But now with the Daylight Savings, time I’m
really looking forward to gaming again.
Tim: That’s
Doug: So let
me ask you about Gothridge Manor, believe it or not, it’s funny, because in our
email exchange setting this up. It was like “Interview and stuff, blah.”
When I first started
blogging I went on your site and went “Dear God in Heaven this is intimidating.” Because you have this
huge blogroll, and it was always updating and maps and whatever.
So when did you start and
when did you feel like you hit your stride?
Tim: Oh boy,
I don’t know if I’ve ever hit my stride…
Doug: How
about a stride. A hobble? A limp? A
zombie-like shamble [mimes Thriller-zombie movements and sounds].
Tim: That’s
probably more like it [laughs], yeah. It’s going to be five years ago this
April I think. Yeah.
Doug: So
you’re aspiring to blog longer than the Civil War? [both laugh] You need to do
a post called “Across Five Aprils.”
Tim: That’s
actually a nice title.
Doug: It’s
not mine: It’s a book.
Tim: Oh
well. Then I won’t take it.
Rob Connelly is actually
the one who got me into it. He was doing his Bat in the Attic like a year
before. I would get on it, and I’d look at it, and I was still playing GURPS
more I hadn’t really gotten involved with the old school stuff. [Dungeons and
Dragons] 4th edition hadn’t really come out yet, and eventually I read
a few more things and I thought it was interesting.
But the funny thing…I’m
not trying to do a edition war here though…4th edition came out and
I looked at it and Rob and I’ll do something for it. He’d already been writing
for Goodman Games previously doing his “Points of Light,” and he did a rehash
of a “Judge’s Guild” one for Necromancer Games.
Anyways, I got the books
and I read it, and I really did not like it. I didn’t like how it was set up.
It just felt like a video game to me. It just wasn’t for me.
And then I got a copy of
Castles and Crusades, and I started getting involved…I thought “I get to roll
my d20 again!”
I think that was the
biggest thing that got me. I get to roll my old dice again that were getting
dusty in there.
Did  [Dungeons and Dragons] 4th
edition not use a d20 as much?
Tim: Well, I
didn’t like the game so I wasn’t interested in rolling a d20 [Doug laughs].
I got the core books and I
really wanted to try to…you know the edition wars started flaring up there and
I didn’t want to get involved with that. It’s like music, some people country,
some people like rap, it doesn’t mean it’s bad it’s just not your flavor or
Doug: To
jump in there for a second, there is a difference between . . . and you’re
making the distinction . . . between “this game is not for me” and “this game
is objectively bad.”
Tim: Well…
Doug: You
can like it! Which is cool, I’ve just never played it.
Tim: I have
played it. I’ve played with some guys who are very good DMs like Rob or any of
my other guys because I don’t care. I just want to roll dice and have some fun
and laugh and say stupid stuff, and whatever.
I guess it kind of got me
interested in getting my old dice out and rolling them. I don’t really like
this game, and I kind of found Castles & Crusades and I found OSRIC or
Swords & Wizardry and then Fight On! came out.
And I started seeing all
this cool stuff come out and that’s what kind of got me on doing blogging and
do get into this. It’s stuff I’ve been doing for ever and why not? It looks
like fun. I’ll give it a try. That’s pretty much what got me into it.
Doug: Cool.
So one of the things that I thought was really cool when I logged onto
Gothridge Manner was your blog roll was extraordinarily extensive. It just went
on and on and on. So how did you start building that? It was so big, and it
rotates A-Z and…
Tim: Google+
only lets you put something like a 166 or 167 on your blog roll, and I’ve been
doing it for so long I keep building them up. They fall off or whatever and you
can only keep five, ten, or twenty…I really wanted to see more blogs when I go
down my roll so I don’t miss as much, because I used to miss blogs all the
I got it divided up a bit
better so I can see newer stuff coming out, I can see the A-blogs, plus it’s
just for having the amount of good blogs out there too.
And I like to try to
support as many as I can that I like. If somebody comes on my blog and they hookup
with somebody else’s blog through there, that’s fantastic. That’s what I hope
So it’s nice.
My blog is nowhere as
extensive as some of the peoples that are out there. If I find one or if I
don’t know about it I try to go get it and get it hooked up with my blogroll so
I can follow them and see what they are doing.
Charles Akins over at Dyvers has set the new standard.
Tim: Yeah.
And he commented on each one too! Not only did he list it, he had a comment and
how often they posted and I was like “Oh my gosh, that’s just amazing.”
It’s another one those
things where it’s just like there is no way I’d be able to do something like
Doug: Yeah,
that was a real effort.
One question that I have:
So I’ve seen it. I’ve seen that Peter Dell’Orto has one, and I live in endless
jealousy of his Newbie Blogger Award. So what is that? How do you decide to do
Tim: I don’t
remember, I have no idea, I just thought it would be fun and I just thought I’d
make up this silly…you know what it was? Ivy started blogging, my wife. She was
always getting these flowery awards they give each other for whatever reason.
And I thought I’d make a
OSR award like that for shits ‘n giggles. And I wanted to make sure it was a hex,
and then I found that goofy picture with a knight on it and I thought it was
funny and I just thought “Well, I’ll make some arbitrary rules that I can
change at any time if I wanted to,” which I did.
Doug: Which
is appropriately OSR.
[laughs] Exactly. And I just gave it to guys which I thought were good. And the
other thing was by then I was kind of getting a little bit known, nowhere near as
well known as a lot of those guys out there, but a little bit.
So if I posted my Newbie
Aware winner they would drive traffic to their blog, and maybe get a little
extra support, getting them noticed or whatever, get’ em some extra followers, get
that charisma up there [laughs].
Exactly. It’s kind of funny because I’m trying to remember…it was very clear
the first time Erik mentioned me on his blog. That was a very distinct point in
my blog traffic [Tim nods, agreeing].
A little spike there, just
a little bit. I think I started getting a bit more traffic after I posted
Sean’s interview, then the Pyramid Panel. The Pyramid Author Panel discussion
has gotten like 3,500 views since it went up which is the most looked-at post
I’ve ever had.
Tim: That’s
the only one I haven’t watched yet. That’s the one I’ve queued up to watch later,
but yeah, I’m really interested in that one.
Doug: That
one was pretty good . . . you can see like three levels of my blog views.
There was the “Oh, gee,
most of the hits are me.” There is a little bit of blogsturbation there [Tim
laughs harder, wheezing slightly].
Tim: Wow.
That’s a good word. That’s not bad.
Doug: Two
parents were English majors. That’s what happens to me I guess.
Probably one of the times I got a lot of hits on, was really early on when Chicago
Whiz was still around and everything like that. I did this blog on
“uber-monsters,” monsters that created monsters, and were like a plague or a pest.
We got into a discussion
like that and it became a sort of mini-thing that involved other people who
were riffing off it.
So I kind of flared there
for a little bit and then calmed back down and then did another blog where
people got interested in it like that. If you do it long enough they’re going
to see it just because you’ve been around for so long. “He’s been around a
Doug: Right.
For a while I had a rotating schedule. I was playing in a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy
game, and a Pathfinder game once a week. Interesting enough, the GURPS Dungeon
Fantasy campaign was using a Pathfinder Adventure Path.
Tim: Oh, I
can see that. Absolutely.
Doug: Yeah.
It was cool, so that would give me a couple of play report stuffs, because Erik
and the [B-]Team mocked me because I transcribed the game as it happened [Tim
It was all in character,
this guy hit this guy and this guy hit this guy. And Peter made a funny joke
and he told me I needed to do something else.
So I’ll do these play
reports, but it’s like the game was over, and five minutes later, because I’ll
do screenshots and stuff like that, it’s one of the reasons that – to segue way
into something actually about the interviewee, not about me – that’s how I
really got to know The Manor zine. Because Erik run us through the Cave complex
from Manor #3.
Tim: The
Mine of Rotten Disease. I did read that. It’s great. It’s good to see that
because I hadn’t seen anybody run that. I’ve always liked that one, because Ivy
did the artwork for that one, it’s kind of one of my favorite ones.
Doug: And
we’ll get into this a little bit, later I think, not that much later because
we’re not here forever.
I think that you really
hit a sweet spot for a mini-module or one-shot that you can play in two to four
hours and be done.
Tim: That’s
what I try to do with a lot of my adventures. I like to have, call it Knoweldge
Illuminats, a one-shot adventure. I try to bring in different elements to it
and not just make it a one-level adventure.
A lot of them will have
some role-playing in a village or a mini-hex crawl before you go in. I try to
add different textures or depths to it.
There you go [Doug holds
up several copies of the Gothridge manor books]. Probably almost every one I
have, one of my favorite things to do is write adventures, I really enjoy doing
that it’s a lot of fun for me.
Doug: And
the thing about the way that you do it, with OSR and the more or less open
license gives you, is that someone who’s good at writing adventures can write adventures and put them out there
or sell them or not sell them. Some of the other online policies make that tough.
Tim: Right.
Doug: Steve
Jackson Games is…
Tim: Steve
Jackson Games is…I think I was going to do that with GURPS. Especially when
they came out with what was it, e23?
Doug: Yes.
Tim: And I
thought that would be really cool just to do a PDF adventure  and I looked at their guidelines and their
guidelines are like 56 pages long or something like that?
Doug: The
Style Guide is a little intense.
Tim: I was
My adventure…if the thing
has to be 56 pages long, no, I’m not doing that.
I was like unfortunately
this is not going to happen [laughs].
I think that’s what keeps
it . . . Rob and I talk about this once and a while, it keeps GURPS from
getting the support it needs, the adventure support it needs to maybe get to
people who don’t know it as much.
Even if you’re writing for
a lot of different…I have a fiction background too.
Guidelines are two pages
at most a lot of times. They are like one to two pages at most.
So when I saw the 56
pages…they don’t have guidelines, this is the whole formatting thing which they
want you to format the thing. Which I can understand in a way.
The one thing they have
about GURPS is they have excellent products. Between Harn and GURPS they have
some of the best products out there. They’re educational, for crying out loud
you can open any of their things and get a really good history lesson on any
culture from just about anywhere from one of their supplements [Doug laughs].
But it’s really hard to
crack in there for a everyday person to write a adventure. If I wanted to write
a adventure about Vikings or 1800’s Russia or whatever, making it available to
someone else is kind of tough when you have that kind of barrier in front of
Doug: It is
a bit of a challenge. One of the people who has done it the best is Matt
Tim: Yes he
Doug: He’s
got a couple of adventures in Pyramid and he’s got Mirror of the Fire Demon
which is one of the very few, published full-on-adventure adventures.
Tim: We
bought it right away. Soon as it came out I snagged it. It’s great. It’s a very
good adventure.
Doug: I
tried to write one. It was actually going to be my first e23 release. It got
caught in editing hell. There was a period of time in e23 where they went
through four different chiefs and I got caught in that so I still have hope for
it because I think it was a fun game I actually ran it twice. It was a sort of
special ops kind of thing.
But because of the
difficulty they talk about in getting over, as a dork I would refer to it as
activation energy. You have to get over this energy barrier.
And if you noticed, my
blog is written mostly in Steve Jackson Games house style . . . as practice.
Tim: I did
notice that, yeah.
Doug: And I
do that deliberately, so I have practice with the formatting guide, although I
don’t always follow it slavishly. But during the Pyramid panel, I can’t
remember if it was Steven or Sean mentioned the formatting guide, and then
Christopher Rice said “Well, what about a writer’s support group?” and that
wasn’t actively supported because
they can’t, but Christopher started it anyway.
Tim: Great.
Doug: It’s
been going on for a couple of months, and I think, we’re approaching a dozen or
so articles, many of which are by authors who have never been published before.
Tim: That’s
fantastic. Good.
Doug: We
call it “Pyramid Write Club” but the first rule of Write Club “Is we do not
talk about Write Club.”
Tim: Of
Doug: Of
course, and it’s good. Christopher is really helpful and really positive and
he’ll lay it out for you like he’s flaying you, but in a totally nice way . . .
because there is a right way to do it
for Steve Jackson Games.
Absolutely there is.
Doug: And it
is a energy barrier to do it and to get that help and to understand how to
write the formats, and turn off your automatic formatting, and you don’t ever
use a certain kind of dash, and you do a find and replace every single double
space, because you should never have two spaces together in a Steve Jackson
Games document. And all the little tricks.
That really helps get it
But tell me more about the
manor, blogging came first, the manor came second.
Tim: The
manor didn’t come out until…the first one came out two years ago now. I don’t
remember. I’m bad with that stuff. It kind of all blurs together. It basically
came because Christian Walkers Lovatar. Without that it would never have came
He came out with his…I had
seen like zines in the past, but they were all like fiction. There was a big
horror zine movement in Jersey, even though I was a northwest PA boy I was kind
of able to get in on that scene and get in on the zines. Because where I live
there is nothing [laughs].
There is nothing. There is
not to much around here.
So I was able to tap into
that and I always thought it was really cool. I had no knowledge on how to make
them or anything like that and it wasn’t until Christian started doing his, and
I found the magic of the long-arm stapler, and it all changed from there.
I got that puppy and it
was just sort of like “All right. I’m going to do this.”
It was a little scary at
first because I didn’t want to be treading or stepping on Christians toes and
he was just so helpful with anything questions I had. I had a real nice
response from everybody with it and I was like “Alright, I’m just going to keep
with it until I get tired of it. Or I run out of ink.” Which I do often [both
I do it all in house, it’s
all printed here, it’s all stapled here, I fight with my printer all the time,
but it’s fun to do and that’s why I like doing it.
Doug: So
what common themes…and it looks like you typically have an adventure, a bunch
of NPCs, some poetry…
Tim: Ken’s
poetry. I love that stuff.
I don’t know if there is a
common theme I guess. It’s just whatever I’m finding interesting.
I usually have adventures
and everything. The funny thing is in the first Manor I have a real short
adventure called the “Salt Pit” it’s got one monster in it. And I just wanted
to do like a intro thing and people have been using that adventure a ton as a
introduction thing which is really cool.
Doug: Is
that the one with the monster that’s from beyond the universe, and he’s
underneath the village?
Tim: That’s
from issue four. This is from the very first one. It’s the one with the
troglodyte in front. [garbled audio] I just love that cover. He’s sort of like
how a Dragon has its red dragon as its first cover? I’ve got my red troglodyte
as my first cover. That’s what I kind of put down there and they use that one
quite a bit. It’s cool to see when other people are using your adventures.
Doug: Oh,
Tim: I get a
kick out of it. I love reading about people using that stuff.
Doug: Every
now and then I stumble onto somebody who’s like “Oh yeah, I found this ruleset
for grappling in GURPS and blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like “Huh! People
actually do read my crap.”
[laughs] Exactly. Absolutely. Somebody found it useful. Holy crap.
Doug: The
thing that I think gets me the most is the bow and arrow thing that I did.
Tim: I
remember that one…yeah.
Doug: That
was the thing that Jeffro Johnson…I still have his review of that article on my
sig file because he described it as “What will probably be the most infamous
Pyramid article of all time.”
[laughs] Wow. Not bad.
Doug: I was
like “Yeah.” And he and I have interacted before and it’s all cool, but he
accurately described it as “Everything that is both wrong and right..” he
didn’t use word for word, but he felt that it was everything that was both
wrong and right with GURPS. It was literally a physics paper.
Tim: Yeah,
that’s what I remember about it. I think that was one, too, one of the first
things I read on your blog I believe. And I was doing this whole thing on bows
and arrows actually, I think it was around the same time or I found it by sheer
chance. I was like “Oh, this is really cool.” Yeah, I do remember that.
Doug: So
that was fun. A little side note on that one was the interaction I had…there is
a great scholarly article called “The Defense Academy Warbow Trials.” Anyone
who wants to know about medieval bows used in war, obviously, needs to read
this. It tells you about penetration, draw force, everything. It was by
somebody from Cambridge and somebody else from Oxford (or something like that) and
it was a scholarly paper on this stuff, and I referenced it along with several
other books. And I’m a engineering writer and I’ve published in Physical Review
Letters and stuff . . . and I cite my sources as appropriate.
The article that I had
seemed like it was hacked, it was linked somewhere, but it didn’t seem legit.
So I dropped a email to
the authors and said “I’m doing this thing do you have a legit link where I can
credit you properly.” And I got into
this email exchange with one of the others, “Hey send me your stuff” and so I
sent him a draft, and he thought it was neat and I was like “Hey, are you ever
going to do a sequel?” and he said “Well, I was going to, but me and my
co-author are currently working on IEDs in Iraq.” You know IED penetration, and
how to help the British army defend against this kind of thing.
Okay. Priorities. Yeah. I
get that.
[laughs] Yeah.
Doug: It was
just a fun little exchange because it was this unholy mix of scholarly article
and gaming thing.
Tim: You
know those scholars are probably out there dressed in chainmail out there
shooting those bows and arrows, shooting that stuff too. They probably loving
doing that. [laughs]
Doug: So do
you just kind of write what comes to mind when filling up a manor? Do you have
a theme?
Tim: No. I
don’t usually have a theme other than having fun. Hopefully it’s fun and it’s
useful. Sometimes the fun brings out 
more than is useful. But not usually. I’ve been…the last one I had
was…one of my gaming guys, Chris, he does the clash on Spear and Shield…
Doug: I’ve
read that blog [nodding].
Tim: …he did
those cursed concoctions which I absolutely loved. He wrote data for me and
then Sean Robson did a generator for me for Tavern names and this next one,
Manor #6, Matt Jackson did a brothel, a very interesting one [chuckles]. I
can’t wait to get the artwork back on that one.
Doug: I
suppose if you’re like “this is the most boring brother ever,” that’s wrong on
so many levels.
Tim: He’s
got a twist to his so it’ll be cool to see what the reception is. Jason Sholtis
is working on some artwork for that and it’ll be really cool, he always does
incredible artwork. And Ken from the rusty battleaxe blog – we game and it’s so
much fun to game with those guys. He did puzzle rooms for me. This series of
three puzzle rooms. He’s excellent at that kind of stuff.
Doug: Speaking
of puzzle rooms, did you see, I think it was in Google+ someone created this
moveable dungeon with these nested circles which would reform themselves. It
was like a circle within a circle within a circle. Did you see that?
Tim: I don’t
think I did.
Doug: It was
bad ass. I try to keep this PG-13, and I think “bad ass” qualifies. But
everything moved, you could make it rotate this one four times or this one five
times and different…
Tim: Sounds
Doug: It was
Tim: Kind of
like a giant puzzle dungeon.
Doug: You
could move it or rotate it and all of sudden you were trapped. The way in and the way out were the same door, but at
different places.
Tim: That’s
really cool. Unfortunately I missed that one.
Doug: I’ll
see if I can dig it up and link to it because it was really neat. Can you tease
us for Manor #6?
Tim: I kind
of already did. I told you there was going to be a brothel in there with Matt
Jackson, there will be a map of course with it. Excellent maps.
Ken’s puzzle rooms.
I did a thing on guards in
there, kind of made my own class, called the guard. Poor guards they always get
beat up. I made them their own class [Doug laughs], so when I have guards they
now have guard stuff.
They have their own little
things that they can do. They have…I don’t have it here. But they have their
own little special abilities that they can do.
So I’m giving some love to
the guards because they’re just redshirts, you know? I’m giving them a
name.  I think it’s important.
Doug: You
have to represent.
Tim: Yeah, there
is no crewman number thirty-four.
Doug: [Imitates
Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) from Galaxy Quest] I’m just crewman six! I don’t
even have a name [both laugh].
Tim: That’s
exactly right! And then I’m writing a small adventure because I can’t help
Adventures and maps seem to be your trademark.
Tim: Yeah, I
was trying to actually build a hex-crawl. Almost building an article on how to
do a hex-crawl, and of course while I was doing that, I found a place that
needed a dungeon, and I started making a dungeon. I got distracted of course,
which is not hard for me to do.
So Manor #6 is about 80%
done, everybody else has their stuff
done. The only one who doesn’t have their stuff done is me, of course.
One of the cool things,
and I’ll lead into this and I’ll kind of announce it here. I’ve been kind of
tip-toeing around the thing.
I’m working on the final
edits of this thing called “Starter Adventures.” It’s something I’ve released a
long time ago.
But Jason Schultz along
with John Larrey, I’m going to mispronounce peoples’ names and I apologize for
that on my blog already.
They did so much excellent
artwork and so helpful.
What this is a series of
adventures for beginning people. I basically wrote it because of one night
after I gamed with my wife, I needed some very short, very simple adventures
that people could learn how to use the dice. Maybe how combat works, maybe the role-playing
adventures in certain situations.
And what I did was I broke
them down into the four basic classes, and there are four different scenarios
for a fighter, a thief, a magic-user, and a cleric. So there are four different
And also in there, because
you can’t start anywhere without a tavern. What did I call it? The Red Bear
Tavern or whatever in the middle and at the end of it, after they maybe get
used to the stuff there is a small short adventure in the back.
That’ll be my first POD
release, I’ve been printing it all myself. I’ll put it on Lulu or RPGNow and
let them do the work and print it out. That is just something beyond my means.
I’m really looking forward
to getting that completed. Tim Schneider was really helpful in doing the
editing and everything like that.
I have no excuse for it
not to be good, I’ve had so much help. So if it sucks it’s on me [laughs].
Doug: One of
the things that I’m sort of doing is I joined, or follow, the RPGBlog
Association and this month’s topic is virtual table tops and online games. I’m
using these interviews that I’m doing to help plug that a little bit. So far
it’s been one of my posts and one other.
So I’m trying to score a
little love for VTTs and stuff.
Do you play your games
online or do you play face to face or a little of both.
Tim: I wish
we could play face to face, we pretty much all live in different states except
for me and Rob, and we live fairly close together. We’ve been playing Fantasy
Grounds 2 for many many years, but in the past few months we’ve migrated over
to Roll20.
And that’s the one that we
use now, and it’s fun, it works.
They have that marketplace
and I’ve just kind of submitted my maps just to throw a few in there. That way
if people wanted some of my weird maps they can download them through there.
Doug: Is it
something that they pay for or is it there for free?
Tim: You can
do for free or pay for it. I’ll more than likely just give them away, because I
give them away on my blog and I know some people who just…I’ve had one guy
contact me and ask me if it were okay if he could use it. If I put it on my
blog, it’s free. And anyone can use it.
And that’s why I do it. If
someone wants to use it, I don’t care, that’s what it’s there for. If you used
it I sometimes like to see what you used it for. And I don’t require…
Doug: Yeah,
the only thing you really want is feedback.
Tim: “Yeah,
I used your map for this adventure.” That’s all I need, that’s cool.
Doug: So
what do you like? You played Fantasy Grounds which I’ve never experienced,
you’ve played Roll20, which I have.
What do you like in a
virtual tabletop? What you don’t like? What’s your wish list?
Tim: I guess
the least amount of technical difficulties you can possibly…And that was
something we were running into with Fantasy Grounds. We had people having
trouble logging onto it, where we didn’t have too much trouble with Roll20. We
seem to have less problems with that.
I like the real ease of
being able to download my material and have some sort of organization.
The ability to have like a
ruleset download, sometimes, on there, of some kind? It’s nice.
Doug: A
little bit of dedicated support within the rules that you’re playing.
Tim: Yeah,
like that.
Roll20 has what I think is
fantastic – it’s just a little thing. The dynamic lighting, I love that. I
think it’s so cool.
I like their marketplace,
“Oh, I need some more pogs or whatever” they’ll be there. You can go get them.
Devin Night does a ton of that stuff, he does such good work. We’ve been
grabbing his stuff for years and years. That’s pretty much it.
The ease of use is the
main important thing. Really, a virtual tabletop for me, is basically just a
place where everybody can see you roll your dice. Once in a while I can share a
map. I don’t use the pogs all that much or battlemaps, once and a while I do.
When you roll a critical failure I want everybody else to see it [both laugh].
Doug: The
only thing you care about is relative position and mortification.
Tim: Yes.
It’s very important.
I was going to have a game
where I was going to have a people roll dice and “No, we got to be able to see
everybody’s rolls.” And I was like, “yeah, we do.”
And sure enough, our group
has the amazing ability to roll critical failures at the most important times.
It’s probably our funnest time we have just laughing.
Doug: That
was actually something we noticed in Tenkar’s game. Peter and I both commented
on it. The frequency that 1s or 20s came up was definitely not five percent
Tim: There
are some nights where those 1s come up pretty heavy handed on me. But the
virtual…I think that their dice are lopsided, virtually.
Doug: There
random number generator is skewed towards awesome and relative doom.
Tim: Exactly.
It does make for a fun game some nights.
Doug: One of
the things I found the most jarring about the Pathfinder games – until I sort
of embraced it, and I really need to do a blogpost about this – embracing . . .
don’t fight the rules. That was the thing that I need to do a post on that.
But don’t fight the rules.
The 3d6 GURPS distribution is centered at 10, you get one sigma of three…two
times out of three, you’re going to be between 7 and 13 on the dice, so almost
all your rolls are in there.
For d20, I was always frustrated,  because sometimes you roll 1, sometimes you
roll 20, one time it’s a 2. You really had no…I didn’t, for a while, have a
inherent feel to it. All right, a +5 or whatever means you’re going to be 75%
successful against a 10. It’s just a different kind of probability distribution,
and once I stopped fighting the rules I had a lot more fun.
Tim: Right.
That’s one of the…I see that on some of the GURPS players I play with. They
don’t like the dice distribution and the scores. You go from a linear type of
chance from a bell curve type of chance it’s…
Doug: It’s very,
very different.
Tim: Yes.
It’s a huge difference. The probabilities or whatever are so different between
the two games, that it makes it completely different. Some people just don’t
like that.
Doug: There
was a great flamewar somewhere on . . . which is always a great place
for flamewars.
Tim: I’ve
heard that. Can’t say I’ve ever been there. I think I’ve been there once or
Doug: Tread
It’s one of these things:
someone offered up that a +2 modifier should be the same . . .but a +2 modifier
is different depending on your skill in GURPS. Let’s say a negative modifier.
Something that’s a
reasonably hard task, like a -5, for someone with a skill of 10 or 12, a -5 is a
crushing penalty.
For someone with a 3, 4,
or 5 in a skill like you are defaulting on it. You suck, no matter what. It’s
hard to suck less than you already do. The relative percent different in that
huge penalty isn’t much.
If you’ve got a skill of
25 or 20 you’re still rolling success 90% or 95% of the time. And people are
like “That is inherently wrong! That
-5 penalty should be -5 no matter what your skill is!” And it’s real gasoline
on the fire.
Tim: Our
group even got into that discussion. Not like a heated fight. And I might not
be remembering this right.
There is a rule in GURPS
where the magic, the “Rule of 16” or something like that.
Doug: There are a couple
different rules, I think there are two different rules. One is for Willpower
which is the one I think you’re talking about.
Tim: It kind of nerfs the
high-powered people at that point because now we can’t go higher than that. And
I’m like “Hey, if I got a 20 skill, then I got a 20 skill.” I don’t want to
roll around missing with a 16 and I could misinterpret it, it’s been a while
since we used that.
Doug: If
it’s what I think I remember, it was resistance
to a spell never got could always critically fail. A 17 or 18
always failed. If you had a Will 16 or 26 you could always F’ it up.
Tim: Okay.
Yeah. There are a whole bunch of different…there are steps in the rules. I
think accepting the game itself, or whatever is going on with like the DMs
presenting, that’s almost more important than that. If you can do that then the
rules will come along I think.
I was at a convention over
in Ohio not too long ago. So much fun. But then you always have this one guy
who comes in and he’s kind of like…we were playing Savage Worlds, and I’d never
played Savage Worlds before.
Doug: Me
Tim: It’s
one of those games where I have the rulebook and I can read through it, but I
don’t…I can read through rulesbooks three times, but I don’t understand it till
I play them.
So these guys are real
helpful, but there was one guy who was sort of versed in Savage Worlds and I
guess he had written something for it, but every time the DM would make a call
he question it.
Or “No, the rules says
this.” “The rules says that.” And that’s when I want to kind of grab him by the
collar and say “Shut the F’ up, play the game, and roll the dice. He’s the GM,
when you’re the GM we’ll listen to whatever you have to say, but he’s the GM
just roll your dice and have fun with it. Don’t worry about that.”
Doug: For a
one-time thing, like a convention, you almost want to have the GM who’s done
the work who’s for you and he’s helping you play or whatever. He’s got a set of
yellow and red cards like a soccer game.
Here’s a yellow card for
you – that’s starting to get to the point where you are not being helpful rules
guy. You’re just being contentious. One more…the famous blue bolts from above?
Yeah. The trebuchet full of d4s is going to descend upon you.
[laughs] There you go.
Luckily I haven’t hit on
too many of those lately, but once and a while they remind me.
I remember just a year ago
I had this whole newbie group, and they moved to a new GM from me to continue
playing and that new GM wouldn’t even let them use their own dice [laughs].
They had to use…I wrote a
blog about it and got a pretty good response. I think I called it called it
Gamer Goob or something like that.          
Doug: I’ll
make sure I link to that when we get this transcribed.
Tim: I just
couldn’t believe it. He just didn’t want anybody else to use different dice.
Because I had all these newbie guys come in and I had a really good time with
them and we were using Swords & Wizardry and I think that’s when Barrowmaze
came out and I was using the pieces of that. I was pulling stuff from my own
stuff and as part of the game, I bought them all a set of dice.
Doug: Oh,
yeah, sure. Like a souvenir.
Tim: Yeah,
so they cold have it. And eventually the game ended and it was a short run
adventure and they told me about the guy they got hooked up with and I was just
like, oh, God. Sorry to hear that guys.
Doug: You
got to figure that that’s the rough equivalent of stuff that led Stacy…
[crashing sound].
Tim: There
goes my dice box.
Doug: It
could have been a while. Have you ever seen the movie “Twins” with Danny DaVito
and Arnold Schwarzenegger? The chain that kept going and going and going, some
dice collections could be like that,
Tim: Yeah.
It stayed intact fairly.
Doug: You
got to think when you run into game like that when you run into a total control
freak that wouldn’t let me use my own dice, is sort of the rules-lawyer
equivalent of the obnoxious person who is really patronizing to a newbie or a
female or a female newbie that I’ve seen. That’s the thing: I’m not usually one
for, statements I guess.
But I’ve seen…my wife is a
martial art’s instructor, she can weld pipes better than me, she’s a PhD. in
Environmental Engineering, and when she took her car into repair and I happened
to walk in after her, because I was meeting here there to drive her home, and
the dude’s talking to me and I’m like
“I don’t own the car.”
I’ve seen stuff like that
and that’s the kind of thing that’s going to be like “Yeah, these role-playing
people . . . deserve their reputation.”
[laughs]. It seems like when I was a kid that would happen a lot because a lot
of the young kids were trying to establish themselves in a group. I haven’t
seen it as much, but I haven’t been out that much either.
I’m probably in a way your
anti-social gamer. I wish I was more out there playing games, but
unfortunately, I just don’t get out as much as I could. I like doing my
writing. I have a wife too, and responsibilities like everybody else, and those
sort of suck my energy up sometimes like when work does.
Doug: And
you have to be careful, because occasionally, apparently, your wife vandalizes
your blog with no reason or warning.
[laughs] This is true. That’s the danger of a wife who knows HTML and I don’t
even know if I’m saying it right. I’m like, ah man! [laughs]
She’ll make sure…then I’ll
just get a phone call at work, and she won’t say anything, she’ll just be
cackling on the other end.
[laughs] The Evil Queen.
Tim: Pretty
much. She does it every once and a while.
Doug: Dub
her face into the new Malificent trailer.
Tim: It’s
fun to watch her, she’s learned so much. On her blog, most of her followers are
gamers, so they really appreciate the cooking. There are a lot of gamers who
have all different interests. And they go on and support her which is a lot of
fun and everything. It’s fun to watch.
Doug: Cool!
Okay, well, as always on the Firing Squad after I’ve shot my questions at you,
I give you the last world. Is there anything you want to part with?
Tim: No, I’m
just glad that you’re doing these interviews, some of these people, like when
you did with Tenkar and Stacy, it’s really cool to see the people that you
interview and get to know a little bit more about them than you would on the
So I appreciate the
interviews. It’s really cool.
Doug: I
appreciate that, thanks.
Tim: That’s
about it, I just hope that everybody enjoys…if they ever want to shoot me a
email about the Manors, I’m more than happy to. I give them away too, so if
somebody doesn’t have enough money, or just short on stuff . . . they are there
to have.
Doug: Let me
ask just one question: Have you ever thought of doing something…you got
Gothridge Manor, have you ever thought of having like “The Manorhouse,” or
something: pose a theme and see who wants to contribute to it?
Or something where you got
this kind of adjunct 12 or 16 pages or three or four things you can fold
together and do a short booklet and it’s just like the same way you’d run a
game for newbies. You have a zine for newbies.
Tim: It
would be kind of cool. The one time I kind of did that recently, was for a
fiction version. I wanted too…but there was no way. I’d had helped out with
zine, starting with other things. Sean Robson took it over – I’m going to mess
it up, it’s Mysterum Librum?
Mysterum Librum?
Tim: Yeah, I
was close. Something like that. And it’s out now, and it’s like gamers who
wrote additional stuff for the Appendix N version. Short stories in that theme.
That’s something I did,
and I put it out there and I got a good response for it. And I’m like “Oh
crap…now I got..”
Doug: Now I
got to do it again.
Tim: I’m
thinking now…and then Sean said, “Hey, do you mind if I run with this?” and I
was like “Oh, please do.”
Doug: “Thank
Tim: Please,
run as fast as you can.
And he’s such a good
editor. I didn’t realize that about Sean, and he’s just grade A with that
stuff. He’s actually a glutton for punishment, and now he wants to do a second
one and I’m like “Please do!” he loves do it. He’s done a excellent job so if
anybody please go take a look at it. He’s done a lot of work and it’s
Doug: If I
can’t find a link I’ll email you and make sure that it’s there.
Tim: Yeah. I
think I’ve linked to it before but definitely, if you need anything please let
me know and I’ll definitely hook you up with it. I’d love to see that kind of
thing succeed. It’s really cool.
Doug: You
bet. Thanks for your time and if anything comes up again, we’ll do another one.
I’ve got like three or four, or five, that are kind of nascent all about
virtual tabletops. I reached out to Fantasy Ground, Hero Labs, Roll20, and
Maptool and I got at least one nailed.
Excellent! Good! I love to see/hear those.
Doug: Yeah,
I want them to be short, like 30 minutes, short and sweet largely because, I do
okay, but I can’t afford [laughs] ten transcribed interviews in a month.
Tim: I’ll
bring this up: Tenkar said he was going to pay for this one so you hold him to
Doug: There
is a reason why I’ve been doing the Minnesota goodbye here – over and over and
over. He’s a officer of the law, I don’t want to put too much on him, he’ll
harass me or something [Tim laughs]. I guess I’m out of his jurisdiction but he
could always kill my character.
Tim: Yeah,
you are in his game so he could do horrible things to you there. I’m pretty
sure that’s not going to stop him either way.
Doug: Yeah,
no kidding. Thanks for your time.
Tim: Thanks
again, Doug, that was a lot of fun.
Doug: Okay.

There’s a lot of really good stuff that has been covered on the Firing Squad. Have you seen them all? There are transcripts, thanks to +Christopher R. Rice‘s excellent efforts – and if you have transcription to be done for gaming, you need to contact him – for all the interviews. MP3 audio files are available for most of them.
We’ve got +Sean Punch talking about GURPS, and +Steven Marsh and Sean and very prolific Pyramid authors talking about writing, plus a very active Pyramid Write Club promotional video. We’ve got a couple features from bloggers and writers, and a whole bunch of new stuff about gaming online.
And more to come. I’ve got no fewer than three more interviews, maybe four, in the pipeline (many of which are part of the Blog Carnival for March). 
After that, who knows. Maybe we can con/persuade/convince Joss, Nathan, Zachary, Wil, or Felicia to grace these pages if we’re nice . . .