Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Olympian Breed a Savage Setting

Olympian Breed
Starter Game Reference
by Palewolf Publishing

Price: FREE
Pages: 8

1. Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition
2. Savage Worlds Super powers Companion
3. Savage Worlds Fantasy Compaion

Why Ancient Greece?: The kick butt ancients have been creeping back into our movie consciousness for a while. Good move on the part of Palewolf to recognize this. Zack Snyder's 300, lead by Gerald Butler's King Leonidas in 2007 was brutally amazing. The kid's movie Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and Clash of the Titan's remake in 2010 as well as the recent epic Immortals have all been great visual treats for the rpg minded. Then, this weekend, Time Bandits was on and Sean Connery's King Agamemnon got dinged and battered by the hokiest Minotaur seen on screen...ever (but you gotta love Terry Gilliam). So, last week when Pinnacle featured Olympian Breed by their latest licensee: Palewolf Publishing, I was interested. It might be fun to stir up the old Greek ancients genre.

Palewolf Publishing's Pitch: SAVE THE WORLD. IT'S YOUR BIRTHRIGHT.  Olympian Breed adventures take place in the age of heroes before Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. You are transported to a fantastic era when demigods roamed the world slaying horrifying titans and fulfilling ominous prophecies. Within these tales, you explore all the classic themes that are so prevalent in Greek mythology such as heroism, faith, love, tragedy, generosity, and sacrifice. This is an age of myth, before the beginning of recorded Greek history, where great heroes clashed against the darkest of terrors. Throughout the game, the players fight to overcome their own human trappings and prove to be more than just mere mortals. They also discover that their divine parents are far more human than they were lead to believe.

In this game, you play one of these great demigod heroes, born half human and half god. Do you know the truth about your blood? Was it your mother or father that imparted their divine heritage to you? Is your divine parent aware of you or are you just one of their many abandoned progeny? Maybe the gods do know about you and perhaps, worse yet, they “have a plan for you”. Will your demigod seek immortality through brave deeds or through guile? Will you choose to embrace your destiny or let the gods push you to your fate? And when your time is done, will you have left your mark on the world and risen above your mortal station? Will your name be remembered and as everlasting as the Olympians themselves?

What I liked:
The idea of 8 pages as an intro was enticing. You get a nice cover, an excellent map, a brief outline of the OB world and heroes, a new edge (Blessing of the Gods) and hindrance (Destiny), a page of equipment, a set of 11 questions to drive your character background and a 2 page Character Sheet.

Apart from the 8 pages, I also discovered that this is the culmination of a husband and wife's dream.  Their web site is up, they have a bare bones intro and a 1st adventure in the Drive Thru RPG store. Congrats!

Some Essentials Were Missing:
With the mental visuals of King Leonidas, Theseus, and even (Sam Worthington's) Perseus whirling in my head, I was looking for something to actually get me started. I didn't see enough to get that start without a lot of work on my part. I would expect something that gives you Act Zero: Archelaos first battle. Something that demonstrates a fully developed first character that has navigated using the SWD, SWFC, and SWSC in the unique way that Palewolf has discovered in their creation of this setting. Also, some example of how OB's game play would proceed, pre-generated characters & foes, and a simple but fun first adventure. My assumption is you need the Olympian Breed Act One: A Gathering of Heroes to actually do anything. It appears to be 6 pages and while $2.99 isn't much to quibble about, it doesn't seem that 6 pages would give me much for my money given what's missing from the freebie. I really appreciate keeping things brief but a good example of brief but complete would be Apathy Game's: Temporal Probability Agency. They have a free first adventure download that extensively covers the basics.

Last Words:
I encourage Palewolf to keep living the dream and continue to embrace the concise approach for "time crunched gamers" that we here at the Troll need.  Learn from others who have gone before and provide more of what will get people jumping into a Savaged Ancient Greece. I'm surprised that the Pinnacle staff didn't reccommend pre-gens, NPCs, and a simple adventure. My guess is all these things are coming and I look forward to them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Google Hangouts with Extras for RPG

Friday night I played Warrior, Rogue, and Mage from Stargazer Games. game with my longtime online gamers I met through MapTool. As always, we had a great time.

Matt Jackson - cartographer, book cover designer, and the master of 20,000 rules-light games - wanted to try a Google Hangout with Extras for maps, character sheets, and handouts. I'm a longtime MapTool fan and serve on the staff so I suspect I'm more than a little biased.

MapTool does all of those functions very well and was custom designed with gamers in mind. Still, I tried to go in with an open mind. I suspect the two glasses of wine I had beforehand helped. What follows are the Good, the Bad, and the Frustrating about Google Hangouts for RPGs.

The Good.

This is a web application and so needs no client software or special plug-ins to play. As long as you have a Google+ account you have access. I suppose some would consider forcing you to use Google+ is an overall minus but I suspect those people are still trying to figure out a way to get Facebook usable for RPGs.

Google Hangouts with Extras has great integration with Google Docs. You can store documents, spreadsheets, pdfs, etc. in Google docs and share them during the game. You can share only with certain members or open an entire folder up for the group to use.

Google Sketchpad integration is nice as well. Sketchpad is an drawing/image sharing program that lets everyone in the Hangout draw or drop images onto a common canvas. This was the way we shared maps and moved our tokens around the maps.

You can open both Sketchpad and Docs in a separate tab or window if you need multiple items open at once.

The new Hangouts has full text, voice, and video chat capabilities. You don't need a third party product. The picture and voice quality were both good. The text chat comes in handy for sharing AFKs and BRBs as well as typing out quips versus saying them.

The Bad

There is no built in die roller. I hear there are online sites that let players share dice rolls but I haven't found a good one yet. During the game we rolled actual dice and shared the result via the voice chat. While I trust the guys I game with, others may not be so lucky. Isn't it time all text chat programs came with built in die rollers? Let's start an occupy Google campaign (via hangouts) until we get it.

The Sketchpad functionality is fairly limited. It does OK and is good for getting a point across but it really isn't built for gaming. The objects you place on the screen don't have a way of annotating ownership. Sketchpad only tells you who has the object selected. One of the major problems is that the map is an object just like the tokens. So anyone can grab and move it around. Adding layers to Sketchpad would go a long way to making it more usable for Gaming. Player tokens could go on one layer and background objects on another. Let's start an occupy Google campaign (via hangouts) until we get it.

The Frustrating
  • It's not MapTool, a product designed for gaming. It's a presentation/discussion tool. I spent a lot of extra clicks doing what comes easy in MapTool.
  • There wasn't an easy way to zoom around the map.
  • The accidental map movement drove me nuts when people selected the map rather than their token.
  • Images could not be named and had no owner. It was hard telling who was who and what they were doing.
  • You quickly run out of screen real estate for viewing different documents and images.

A Google Hangout is what it is: a method of sharing documents with chat and whiteboard built in. You can make due if you don't expect a lot from it. I hope they someday publish an API for Hangouts that VTTs connect into so you can let VTTs do what they do well and Hangouts do what they do well.

Still, if your mapping needs aren't large and you do more storytelling than combat, Hangouts may be the right gaming tool for you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Space 1889 Ship Builder

As teased earlier, Savage Troll Publications is proud to present the SPACE:1889 - Red Sands Cloudship, Gunboat, and Ether Ship builder for the Savage Worlds rule system.

You can download the trial version and give it a try. The link is to a zip file which must be extracted to your PC or Mac. The zip contains two Excel spreadsheets, one containing macros the other does not, along with 21 ship images from the original SPACE:1889 material.

One word of warning, Excel will complain to high heaven that there are macros that might be harmful to your computer. This is a standard warning it gives for any spreadsheet you download from the Internet. The macros it complains about are buttons on the spreadsheet that reset the data, print the first page, take you to the Weapons page and back, and one that places a ship's image on the spreadsheet.

Instructions for the spreadsheet can be found on the new Savage Tools page on this blog.

Good luck and let us know if you find any errors.

Included in the download are the ships from Sky Galleons of Mars. It's a great supplement I recommend purchasing.

If you just want the ship images for Map Tool tokens, you can download them without the spreadsheet.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kindle Fire Apps for the Gamer

I use my Kindle Fire a great deal for gaming and writing research. It's handy form factor makes it extremely portable and the ability to load my PDFs onto the device means my gaming library is with me where ever I go. The long battery life allows me to use it for days between charging and my Verso leather(ish) cover that makes the Fire look like a leather-bound book. For some reason I like that a lot.  

Currently I'm wading through the new chase rules in the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition and making notes along the way for a future blog article. Along the way I decided it to document the Android applications I use daily so other gamers considering a Fire purchase could gain from my experience.

My first and foremost favorite application is ezPDF Reader Pro by Unidocs Inc. The program makes great use of screen real estate and navigation is a breeze. 

The File Management screen allows you to view a list of your PDFs you've sent to your Kindle, those you've downloaded, or you can open a PDF directly from the web. I use the 'Recently Viewed' option most often because I usually reference more than one PDF for research. 

Thus far, ezPDF does the best job of reading PDFs. The default Kindle viewer displays PDFs and that's about it. If you're going to make your Kindle into a gaming book reader, you need much more. The ezPDF view behaves like a standard Kindle reader when in full screen mode complete with page flipping animation. Full page is normally too small to read unless the Kindle is sidways.

When you double tap a text column, it zooms so the column fills the screen. After that, tapping either side of the screen scrolls to the next or previous text column. Touching the top or bottom of the screen scrolls to the top or bottom of the page. All this makes for a great navigation experience although it's a little frustrating at first.

Selecting text is easy. You simply hold down on a word and a selection highlighter appears allowing you to select all the text you want. Once your selection is complete, you can 
  • Copy - saves the selected text to clipboard to be used later
  • Search document for other occurrences of the selected passage
  • Web - sends the selected text to Google search
  • Send - sends the selected text to other applications like Facebook, Twitter, Email, or Evernote
  • ColorDict - sends the selected text to ColorDict application (not available on Kindle but should be there for other android devices)
  • Highlight, strike through, or underline text
  • Add sticky note
  • Draw figures, freehand, or text boxes on the document
The ezPDF menu appears with a single tap to the center of the screen. From the menu you can
  • Search
  • Bring up the outline for quick navigation between book sections
  • Goto or add a bookmark
  • Browser like navigation to visit previous pages if you're jumping around in the document
  • Jump to a page number
  • Set the zoom %
  • Export/Import/List Annotations
  • Voice reading to have your Kindle read to you
  • Auto flipping to have the Kindle automatically navigate through the PDF
  • Night/Day mode which inverts the colors light to dark or dark to light
  • Save As to save a copy of your PDF
Next on my Must Have list is Evernote. This free application makes note taking easy and puts notes on the cloud for access on all android devices and any web browser. I use Evernote as I'm reading game manuals to save off interesting tidbits for later. My current article involving chase rules has me back and forth between the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition and the Space:1889 - Red Sands setting rules trying to figure out the best way to handle Sky Galleons combat. Since the chase rules have changed, keeping track of all the information was becoming difficult. 

Evernote to the rescue. I cut and paste the relevant sections from ezPDF into Evernote giving me one place to absorb the information. What's more, you can share documents with other Evernote users and all your notes are automatically on all your Evernote devices. It comes in very handy. 

You can also embed media, such as photos and videos, into your notes. 

Another app from the Evernote folks is Skitch. The application lets you rapidly annotate photos and images the share them with others. It's simple functionality but incredibly useful for passing maps and other graphics back and forth. 

You can add arrows, boxes, text, and freehand drawings to your graphic and then share them via email, Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, or other apps. 

Skitch is easy, fun, and I spend too much time in it. 

Sketchbook Pro is last on my list Must Haves. Sketchbook is a great little drawing program for rapidly putting together maps or other graphics. It's something of a mini-GIMP or Photoshop with a wide variety of brushes and other tools to make drawing easy. 

You can confine drawing to squares, circles, lines, or use freehand. There are 45 brushes to choose from with variable radii and opacity. It has a mirroring mode so one side of the drawing duplicates the other. Best of all it has 6 layers which allow you to draw on different, overlaid canvases. The three transformation tools - rotate, move, and scale - are simple and intuitive. 

For a quick drawing, nothing beats Sketchbook. What's more, you can always save your drawing then annotate in Skitch and save in Evernote. It makes for a powerful combination. The image below took me less than five minutes to create and share. I drew the image in Sketchbook, annotated in Skitch, and saved to Evernote as well as shared to Twitter.

Please forgive the crudity of the model. I was in a hurry.

I don't edit Microsoft Office documents on my Kindle often but when I do I use QuickOffice Pro. It is your standard office suite with a word processor, spreadsheet, PowerPoint, and PDF viewer. The nice thing about QuickOffice is its ability to work from a variety of cloud sources such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Evernote, Catch, Egnyte, Huddle, Box, SugarSync, and MobileMe.

The product works with all  recent versions of Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.  While this probably doesn't fall into the Must Have category, I do use it often for game-related materials.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tools: Space 1889 Ship Builder

I'm creating some new campaigns with Cloud Ships for Space:1889 - Red Sands. Part of the effort involved porting over my old Cloud Ship designs to the new Savage Worlds format. Part way through I decided to create a tool to allow for the rapid creation of the ships. Of course, the development of the tool took longer than converting the four ships in question but at least now I have a tool for future efforts.

I decided to share this in case others wanted to build their own Ether Ships, Sky Galleons, or Cloud Ships. The tool is a spreadsheet originally developed in Open Office. I ported it to Excel but sometimes that causes problems. So far the worksheet seems to work fine.

The Spreadsheet is protected, meaning you can only change certain portions of the sheet (yellowish cells). There is a second sheet containing the weapons available for your ships. Only the 'Number' column is editable. The Sheet 1 is updated with the crew requirements, cost, and weight reflecting changes to Sheet 2.

I recieved permission from Shane Hensley and Frank Chadwick to release the spreadsheet. I'm putting the finishing touched on now add a few macro buttons for convenience.

Below I included a preview of the Blood Runner ported from Sky Galleons of Mars.

My only issue right now is the ability to allow the users to add their own image next to the ship description. I've had some initial luck but the formatting still isn't quite right. I should have it ready by Friday along with a BIG announcement for next Tuesday.

My SPACE:1889 efforts continue. Next up is the MapTool campaign file for aerial ship battles. I have a number of tokens done already. Here are a few samples. Soon the screw galley Pride of Texas will ply the skies of Mars again. Belgians beware!




Sky Runner