Initial Thoughts on HP Mini 311

My husband recently bought me an HP Mini 311 as a Christmas gift. I'd been wanting a netbook for quite awhile, especially since my laptop hard drive is pretty full and I didn't have a dedicated Windows machine. Besides a 15" MacBook Pro is a bit large for our gaming table and having a digital copy of my gaming notes will improve my DMing experience. After a fair bit of research and a few anxious moments, I decided on a HP Mini 311. The reasons I purchased it are pretty simple:

  • Larger display for a netbook at 11.6" on the diagonal.
  • NVIDIA ION Graphic Card
  • Decent size hard drive and ram (I got the 1025NR with 250GB hard drive and 2GB RAM
  • Pretty nice screen resolution at 1366x768
  • Windows 7
  • Decent battery life (I got at least 4 hours of constant use and pretty bright screen while at Starbucks the other day)
  • Decent size keyboard (92% of full)

I've been using the machine since Tuesday, and I have to admit I'm quite happy with it. One of the minor annoyances was quite easy to deal with. The touch pad can be quite sensitive, especially when tapping is turned on, so I turned off the touch pad tap capabilities. The other annoyances just have to do with getting used to Windows after a long voluntary absence. As for playing D&D with the machine, I believe this is going to make running games much easier. I already have the WoTC Character Builder and Adventure Tools installed as well as a number of other tools such as Softrope. Obsidian Portal, Dungeon Mastering Tools and D&D Minion are all bookmarked and ready to go. I can use them and Google wave and docs on any machine to prep my game and access it all easily on the mini during the game. And I'm pretty confident that the machine will handle most of what I throw at it given I play WoW on it as well.

Overall I think netbooks in general and this one in particular are going to become more and more prevalent at the gaming table. I'm excited to see where this all goes.

Blogs I love: Buccaneer's Guild

Iain Norman, @teknohippy, writes a great blog called Buccaneer's Guild. He writes a bunch about using Photoshop to improve your game through maps and handouts. In particular, he loves drawing maps, both with pen and paper and digital tools. I hope to sit down with some of his tutorials soon and learn how he crafts his great images.

Recent Posts

Softrope - Soundtrack for Your Games

In addition to the great blog he writes, Iain also works on Softrope, an RPG sound mixer for DMs. I've used an earlier version and I'm hoping that my netbook will be able to run it as well.

Softrope brings customisable organic soundscapes like rainstorms, battles and creepy dungeons as well as spot effects such as growls, screams and explosions to your tabletop RPG. Music tracks can also be added to any scene.

Softrope allows you to build a collection of sound-based scenes. You build each scene with simple single sound-effects, layered up to create a more complex soundscape.

Arete: Experience the Greek epic

Arete (pronounced are-E-tay) is a new role playing game from Expy Games based on greek mythology. The designer is Nick DiPetrillo, @DMingNicholas. Nick also wrote Zombie Murder Mystery, Sailing Stormy Waters, and many articles on the Dungeon Mastering blog.

Designed to be Greek

However, that description alone doesn't really do it justice. This product doesn't use the bolt-on approach similar games have used, instead it was designed from the ground up to be a focused on Greek mythology. The game design focused on four principles for creating a Greek feel:

  1. Greek heroes are defined by the size of their actions, not the morality.
  2. Combat in Greek epics is fast, visceral and bloody.
  3. Gods play a constant role in the lives of heroic figures, for better or worse.
  4. Greeks have a unique culture, including elements like blood guilt, guest friendship and proper ritual.

Players are Story-Tellers Too

In addition to designing the game specifically for greek mythology, Nick sought to create a game focused on more cooperative story telling. In fact, players attempt to win narration rights during conflicts. This means that players are given a lot of story telling opportunities. For instance, the player not only indicates that he wants to fib but also gets to create what that lie might be. This can help DMs who are short on time as well as help make the game as exciting for the DM as it is for the players since the DM will never know how the story is going to go. This cooperative element of the game is driven by four more design principles.

  1. The story should be driven by the players and goals of their characters.
  2. The players and game master establish the premise of the game together. From that point on it is the role of the game master to be reactionary to the players and introduce complication to their goals.
  3. Players should compete for glory but not seek to undermine or defeat each other. The characters are all working towards the game goal, they just want to be the most impressive in attaining it.
  4. Even failure should be fun, sending the story in an unexpected direction.

What You Get

When you purchase Arete, you will be able to download a zip file. Once unzipped, you will have 3 pdfs: a character sheet and two versions of the game information, one with artwork and a printer friendly version. The game information itself consists of the following bits:

Table of Contents
Introduction
- The Making of a Greek Hero?
Conflict Resolution
- The Essence of Arete
- Types of Conflict
- Narration Rights
Character Generation
- Overview
- Abilities
- Traits
- Magic Items
- Goals and Boons
Combat, Injury and Death
- Combat
- Wounds, Recovery and Death
The Culture of Arete
- Ariestea
- Blood Guilt
- Divine Favor
- Gender
Running Arete
- Role of the GM
- Campaign Building
- Setting Obstacles and Scores
Allies and Enemies
- Bestiary
- The Gods
References

In addition to the 40+ pages of Arete content, people who purchase the book will get lifetime updates, customer support via forums, email or toll-free phone number, and, if you don't like it, there is a 90 day money-back guarantee.

The Company

I haven't had the chance to play this game, but I have purchased other items from Dungeon Mastering and I've contacted Yax (@dmyax) before. I've found Yax to be a great guy and very easy to deal with. Recently I purchased the Dungeon Mastering Tools and realized after that there was a deal that I had missed. I contacted him and I was reimbursed the money I would have saved.

Quick Note and Excerpt

Being female, I often worry about how genders are treated in role-playing games, particularly historically-based ones. Nick dedicates a section of the rules to discussing his use of masculine pronouns in discussing Greek heroes and also gives suggestions one female heroes players might want to use. Finally, he states that if any of the social restrictions in the game would hinder enjoyment, the players should feel free to get rid of those portions of the game. This is often a thorny subject so I'm glad he decided to take it head on.

An excerpt of the first chapter can be found on the Arete game info page.

Spell Book iPhone App by Robertson Games

Basic Information

Stuart Robertson, @robertsongames, released a new iPhone app, Spell Book. More information can be found on his website, Robertson Games

Spell Book is a handy quick reference for all the spells you'll need for your game, organized by name, class and level. You can also save your favorite spells to your personalized spell book to find more easily during your game.

Game Systems

  • Swords & Wizardry
  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Original D&D

Screenshots

Title ScreenTitle ScreenMy SpellsMy SpellsIndividual SpellIndividual SpellSpells By Class and LevelSpells By Class and LevelSpell CategoriesSpell Categories

Initial Impressions

First, I need to admit that I don't play any of the games this app is aimed at. However, I'm an avid iPhone user and feel that I still have some insight to give. The current application offers cleric (levels 1-7) and wizard (levels 1-9) spells. It's pretty easy to find the spells you want, either by class and level or alphabetically. Once you find the spells you want, you can "save" them which adds them to the My Spells listing. A few features that I think would be pretty nice to have are:

  • The ability to have multiple spell profiles (set up by character).
  • The ability to save custom spells.

Overall, I think it's a nice reference for players.

D&D Minion - Combat Initiative and Conditions Tracker

@newbiedm recently tweeted about a great new combat initiative and conditions tracker built using Google Apps called D&D Minion. I've been wanting one of these myself so I dug right in.

When you first visit D&D Minion, the screen is pretty blank. For those who don't want to log in using a Google login, the options are pretty sparse. You can add and remove PCs and NPCs, set initiative order and conditions, pick random PCs and NPCs and roll a d20. Entering the initiative on the left reorders the entire list and right clicking under the status column allows you to set the current conditions. Great stuff all around, but not earth shattering.

View larger video

However, once you login, you can see how useful this application really is. Logged in users can create campaigns and encounters, permanently saving the PC and NPC groupings. When you sign in, the PCs for your currently active campaign will automatically appear and you can add NPCs by using the Actions > Add from encounter menu option.

View larger video

There are definitely some things about it that weren't obvious to me out of the box, such as right clicking on different areas bringing up menus. For instance, I didn't get right away that I could edit saved characters by right clicking on them. Those are little things and a quick screen cast or screen shots could help with that. I also wish it could easily work with my Dungeon Mastering Tools account.

Newham Shire Adventure Log: Time is Critical

Our band of adventurers heads back to Derby after convincing Aurora Darkmagic to come with them. Back at the Crown and Arrows, they run into Anka. In the processing of catching up, Birkalis says something that upsets Ralph and the chicken storms out. At Banna’s suggestion, the group figures it’s a good idea to go to the keep and let Lord Alric know that they have found Aurora and see if perhaps he can help them get rid of A Goblin’s body. When they approach the front door of the keep, it yells out its normal warning of “Guards! Guards!” Most of the group is used this this, although Anka has never been subjected to it before.

Although they ask mainly to speak with Lord Alric, Lady Margaret accompanies her husband. She doesn’t look too great although it’s hard to tell if it’s due to the festivities from the previous night. Anka is extremely interested in Lady Margaret’s state and she asks if she might be able to touch the pregnant woman’s stomach. Lady Margaret consents, but as Anka touches Margaret’s stomach, the lady collapses. Lord Alric asks Banna and Birkalis to assist in bringing Lady Margaret to their chambers and they quickly do so. The party makes some heal checks to see what might be ailing the poor lady, and determine that she is going into early labor. Finnan leaves on Chompers to get Cordelia and Banna looks around the chamber.

While he is inspecting a painting, Banna disappears and a human wizard appears in his place. This newcomer quickly identifies himself and while he and the rest of the party are talking and attempting to figure out what just happened, Cordelia arrives. Cordelia confirms the diagnosis of early labor and states that she has some medicine to help with this, but she has just enough for a day or two and needs Black haw to make more. The group asks if there is any place nearby where they can get some and Cordelia replies in the affirmative and shows them approximately where it is. The group quickly leaves to find this material.

On their way to the area where the Black haw grows, they stop to take a short rest. Out of nowhere, a wolf appears from behind some trees. Around the same time, a couple clouds of golden motes appears near the party. A few moments later, two panthers also appear. The group soon guesses that the wolf is no ordinary wolf, but rather a werewolf in disguise. Eventually, they are able to overpower and kill the wolf and panthers, but not before 3 of them contract moon frenzy.

Given their wearied state, the group takes a look at their map, and determines the best course is to head towards a local manor house. When they get there, they notice that it’s a pretty nice, well-kept house. They knock at the door and an Elven woman appears. They explain who they are and what has happened and ask for shelter for the night. She seems very keen on learning more about the animals that attacked the party but allows them to sleep in the guest quarters. She explains that they are in the process of moving in and that her master is not home at present as he is out hunting. The group heads up stairs to rest.

Around 5 am, the group is awoken by the sound of people downstairs. Rested, they go down to check it out. There they meet Lord Byron, master of the manor. Upon the mention of the killing of the werewolf and panthers, it’s obvious that Byron tenses a bit but he shows no other signs of being upset. There is a bit of a tense conversation between he and Finnan. In the end, he invites them back another night to go hunting.

After that, they go back to town and give the Black haw to Cordelia to make more potions for Lady Margaret, who is feeling a bit better. When they get back to the Crown & Arrows, they see Ralph there, sporting a new purple silk cloak and a dagger among other goodies. He is sitting at a table with a number of women, playing poker. It is obvious that the women aren’t doing well at the game. One of the women turns to the rest of the group and asks, “Are these the men you were telling us about?”

Cool Tools: Card Protectors, Dungeon Mastering Tools and GIMP

Card Protectors

A number of my players really love these card protectors. They cut out the cards provided as part of the character sheet from the Wizards of the Coast character generator and place them inside these protective sleeves. The colors allow them to easily distinguish between the at-will, encounter, daily and item power cards and a little scotch tape allows them to write on the protectors with pencil. Here are the colors my players tend to use and how the color code them. They use green for at-will powers, black for daily powers, red for encounter powers, and gold for item cards.

Dungeon Mastering Tools

Online DM Screen for 4e

I used this for the first time last night. Created by the great folks over at Dungeon Mastering, this set of DM tools allows you to quickly create and organize your monsters, hazards, magic items, encounters and other bits of your game. For my game, it was great having that information all in one place. In full-screen mode for the encounters, I can rearrange the stat blocks in initiative order and I didn't have to keep track of a bunch of little pieces of paper. Another really nice feature is that it's possible to copy the information from these tools into Obsidian Portal.

While I plan on using the tool in the future, there are a couple of downsides. The fullscreen mode doesn't save your changes if you have to close the browser or move to another page. It would be great if it could do that so I could have most of it set up before the game and just quickly reorder things once my players roll initiative. Additionally, it would be great if it could keep track of the monster hit points for me too. I had to grab a sheet of paper to keep track of that.

GIMP

I've never been a huge fan of the GIMP, but then again I find PhotoShop pretty hard to use as well (I'm a developer not a designer). However, it's pretty hard to beat free and the map drawing tutorial on NewbieDM has me itching to try it. Besides drawing maps, GIMP can help you with a number of your graphics needs, including creating your own tokens, creating fancy handouts and tweaking old maps.

Some GIMP Tutorials

Player, Character and Party Motivations

Dungeon Mastering has a great article on how to read the minds of your players. It couldn't come at a better time for me. That same day, before I saw the post, I had sent out an email to my players asking them to come up with some character and party motivations for our current campaign and to add them to the wave I had created (if they were ok with them being public to the rest of the party). The reason was, I had a ton of interesting ideas for the story, but I wasn't sure which ones they were going to like. I even gave them an example, from the point of view of one of the npcs, Ralph.

  • Become human again by proving that I can show courage.
  • For while I'm still a chicken, obtain a rich looking cloak and other adornments so people stop thinking of me as an average chicken.
  • Get enough gold to buy a hippogriff. Chompers is nice and all, but that was one nice ride and, when I go home, I want to go home in style.

Some quick backstory, Ralph is a prince from another land who was turned into a chicken by his pregnant girlfriend's mother when he wouldn't stand up to his father. The curse will end when he finally shows some cojones. So, he's got a few long term goals and a few shorter term ones.

While this approach has worked to a degree, it hasn't necessarily given me the kind of details I really need. Most of the goals my players put down are much broader in scale and very little in the way of short term goals. Their goals help me in a grand story arc way, but not in the week to week planning.

To find the bits to help me in the week to week planning, I need to folllow Nicholas' suggestions, especially the ones involving the character sheet. When it comes down to it, the character sheet tells me what they are most interested in and they most want to come up against. A party with few area effect spells might not appreciate an army of minions quite as much. A player character with glasses that allow him to read any language might, you know, want to come across items in lots of different languages. As a result of this post, I've now asked my players to send me their character sheets as well.

In the comments of the post, one of my players mentioned that he used to use questionnaires to get some information from his players. He also pointed to a pretty good player questionnaire from Newbie DM.

In addition to character motivations, I think it's also important to know about the player and party motivations, especially the types of motivations not covered by the DMG. For instance, some players have a particular scene they eventually want to play out in a game regardless of character. Likewise, to help keep a group together and make it a little less like herding cats, it would be great if you can get your party to set up some group motivations. If you've heard the Penny Arcade/PvP podcasts, it helps that they are all part of "Acquisitions Incorporated" and so, they are trying to increase their notoriety and are able to make a fair number of role playing opportunities around the tensions of individual and group goals.

How do you determine what your players are looking for from your game?

WoW: Jace Hall pre-Wrath Blizzard Interview (w/ Felicia Day!)

This is so funny! I also like the outtake of the conversation between Jace and Felicia. The missing eye remark is probably going to make it into my game some day.

Watch on YouTube

Blogs I love: Chatty DM

Musings of the Chatty DM is a blog written by Philippe-Antoine Ménard, an extroverted gamer geek with over 25 years of game master experience. He aims to capture that feeling many get when they enter their favorite gaming shop and are enveloped by conversations from people who love to talk about the games they are in and the ones they wish they were in. He is doing a lot of cool stuff and I enjoy reading his posts on his blog and on Twitter. In addition, I can't wait to hear more about a number of new projects he has in the works. If you need further endorsement, Wil Wheaton recently gave him a big thumbs up on Twitter.

@wilw: @ChattyDM Have I told you how much I love your blog? If I haven’t: I love your blog.

Some Recent Posts

Additional Writing

GM-fu: Session Prep
In addition to the great advice on his blog, you can get even more great advice from this free booklet.

Successful session planning requires inspiration and execution. We will help with both! Learn how to foster ideas, mine tropes from TV and movies, and tailor content to your players with this workbook from the GenCon 2008 workshop. We will also explain how to take those concepts and compose your session notes by creating a development cycle and packing your notes with the essential elements.

From Here to There: A Collection of Nine Traveling Adventures

From Here to There. Because no PC should ever relax.

Published by Goodman Games, this collection is aimed at giving game masters encounters to throw at the party during their travel to or from other locations, such as dungeons. They are meant to be challenging for parties while not taking away from the overall campaign.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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