Saturday, November 24, 2018

Island Map

I made a map for a new Nine Powers campaign with my family.

Creating the image involved only a few steps.

Red Blob Games has an island maker.  My settings were these.  (Uncheck the box for "icons".)

GIMP is the free version of PhotoShop.  I made three adjustments.

1. Filters -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur -> Radius 2
2. Filters -> Artistic -> Clothify -> Blur 9, Azimuth 100, Elevation 45
3. Colors -> Levels -> Upper Input Level from 1 to 1.6

Inkscape is the free version of Illustrator.  I used it to add the rectangles and text.

UPDATE: The settings for my Arlinac Island map are these.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Elementary School Spooky Posters

Want to decorate your elementary school for a haunted house fundraiser, or Halloween?

Here is a simple creative writing activity.

Make one list with all the types of places in your school.  For example, there is the main office, principal's office, gym, cafeteria, a hallway, etc.

Make a second list with all the kinds of traditional spooky monsters.  For example, a zombie, mummy, werewolf, ghost, etc.

Then match up items from the two lists to make silly and spooky posters.  Ideally the sentences you make are very short (to fit on the poster) and not too gory (to not scare the kindergartners).

Here are my examples, which should not be provided to a classroom of kids actually doing the activity.

Zombified? See school nurse for a cure.

Please report haunted toilets to the school secretary.

Please do not dig up skeletons in the playground.

Ghosts also must keep right in breezeways.

This quad is peanut and garlic free.

Be safe. Be kind. Be responsible. Be plump and juicy.

Is it the real Principal Moore?

Do not take candy from the witch.

The teachers lounge fridge needs a new jar of eyeballs.

Today at 3pm is werewolf howling choir practice.

Tired? Energize with new Van der Graaf gym routine.

Fifth grade embalming class postponed to Monday.

Can't find your phylactery? Check the new Lost and Found.

Respect our rodents! Only bullies command rat hordes.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Abathur for Heroes of the Storm QM

This is a summary of my longer Abathur Guide appropriate for players using Quick Match to get used to the hero.

Macro Goals

Playing Abathur in Quick Match is a great way to improve your macro skills.  Everyone knows you are mostly enjoying the pajamas and little toy trains, but you can also learn macro.

Use the mini-map to monitor hero positions, lane pressure, and minion soaking.  Learn to intuit where the opposing team is likely to be.

Learn the maps, especially which bushes/smoke players use to hide.

Use the top panel to monitor ally health bars.

If you play Abathur well, opponents will be slowed, while your allies get shielding, experience, and healing.


Here is a set of generally useful talents appropriate for the chaos of Quick Match.

Start with Regenerative Microbes for healing.  The spike burst talent would helps a dive team more, but at the start of a Quick Match game you cannot know if your team dives well.  The locust talent would help more if the enemies lack waveclear, but in Quick Match players may not rotate lanes normally anyway.

At level 4 get Sustained Carapace.  In Quick Match your team always needs more healing.

At level 7 get Vile Nests for slowing the opposing heroes.  Your team can benefit from slowed opponents without careful teamwork.

At level 10 get Ultimate Evolution and have fun with it.

None of the level 13 or 20 talents are especially appropriate for Quick Match.  Pick appropriately for structure damage, sniping, or healing.

At level 16 the normal choice is Envenomed Spikes, again because your team can benefit from slowed opponents without careful teamwork.  However, if no ally is taking mercenary camps getting Locust Brood will allow you to claim camps by yourself.  See my longer guide for details.

Abathur's Positioning

The locusts you emit only pressure lanes without opposing heroes.  Use Deep Tunnel accordingly.  Ask allies to destroy walls since this lowers opponents' vision of locusts.

In early game only body soak when opponents clump for objectives, by positioning yourself safely in farthest lane.  In late game both teams clump for team fighting, so you can body soak more safely.

Also use Deep Tunnel to travel to unguarded objectives, including Pirate Coin Camps and dropped Spider Queen gems.


Minions should never die to your towers unsoaked: use Symbiote on those towers.  Similarly, use Symbiote to soak minions fighting in the middle of a lane without heroes.

Make cooldowns efficient by using Symbiote+E+W+Q then leave Symbiote.

Toxic Nests

Place toxic nests to provide vision in bushes near the next team fight (objectives, boss, etc).  Also place toxic nests on opponents' side of map in vertical paths along their rotation routes.

If you hover the mouse cursor over the toxic nest button, its range is faintly visible on the mini-map.

You can also place toxic nests in center of clumped enemy minions in lanes without heroes.  (If the toxic nest deals the final damage to an enemy minion, your team soaks the experience.  Try placing two, one at a time.)

If you have time, you can use place toxic nests to distract fort/keep shots away from allies.

Ultimate Evolution

Use Ultimate Evolution as team fights start, or the fight will end before Symbiote becomes available.  Pick the ally for Ultimate Evolution based on position and mobility (often a global hero ally is best).

You can also use Ultimate Evolution to zone opponents away from objective without a full team fight.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

I have always wanted to run urban adventures, but always had trouble doing so until I recently developed a system for organizing my preparatory work.

The first step was to brainstorm factions. I knew that each faction needed both public and secret goals, and that the goals of different factions should sometimes cause strife and other times encourage alliances. Because of the Nine Powers setting I made sure the factions represented a variety of races and Powers.

After much experimentation I realized each faction only needed four descriptors: key person, summary overview, typical encounter, and connections.

As an example, within Industry District the Builders Guild is led by a Dweorg names Lachary the Solid. The guild espouses that Frosty Kostkey has indeed mended his ways and promotes selling utilitarian machinery to improve the district's reputation. Typical encounters could be testing or protecting new machinery for the city, or dealing with an over-zealous machinist who is creating dangerous machinery. The guild opposes people who harm the district's reputation by remaining loyal to Frosty Kostkey's historic plans of conquest and Winter bleakness.

The second step was to brainstorm a half-dozen wrinkles. This is my terminology for a new issue affecting Arlinac Town. The issue provokes responses by most factions. These responses need the same four descriptors.

As an example, poor people have been disappearing from the slums. A kobalt named Railey the Sweet wants to help, and bring public gratitude to the Builders Guild and the Industry District. She is a local expert at constructing sentry cameras, and has teamed up with a Bergtroll named Viczoria who crafts magical lenses to construct several cameras that will make time-stamps when they see Ogres or Undead. Railey needs clueless adventurers to discreetly hide a camera on a rooftop, stay somewhat nearby for several hours to guard it, and then bring it back to her so she can analyze the time-stamps it produced. But what else might the magical lenses be able to see or record? Unrelated to the missing poor people, the cameras might notice that a vampire pirate has started shipping ghouls into town. Also, Viczoria is a prominent member of a troublesome faction based in the Illuminated District that believes beautifully made things only count as "artistic" if they are magical and popular: her politics might cause trouble for adventurers working with her. 

A wrinkle could be a policy change, holiday, notable visitor, or crisis that affects the city broadly. Because not all wrinkles are tied to a specific location in the city, the useful physical "map" if the city is the vague layout of wrinkles. But a worthy wrinkle does (eventually, if not initially) involve something tangible: a person, item, or location that is causing all the fuss. So I visually imagine this tangible layer as pins on a wall map. Each pin denotes the person, item, or location creating a center of gravity that pulls factions to action. Yet pins might need to be relocated on the wall map as events unfold.

In the above example, the PCs eventually discover a secret sect of Ogre Toxophilites has been having new recruits hunting poor people as part of their initiation tests. The wrinkle's "pin" is an Ogre named Phloe who is the current recruiter for that sect. The GM has no need to determine her initial location in Arlinac Town. Let the PCs can investigate however they want. Various wrinkles will all be unfolding simultaneously. When the PCs make appropriate decisions, the GM can improvise clues about Ogres and Phloe. The eventual encounter with the Ogre Toxophilites will be most meaningful if it develops organically. 

The "true map" of the city is abstract and three-dimensional. Each faction has its own layer: a network of nodes floating above the more tangible pins. In the above examples I described the wrinkle "poor people have been disappearing" with the pin "Phloe the recruiter for the Ogre Toxophilites" and one of many nodes above it in the Builders Guild layer.

Not every faction will have a node above every layer. That is okay. The followers of Frosty Kostkey who still want to conquer in his name might not care about missing poor people or a small group of murderous Ogres. Plenty of connections are made as the different wrinkles interact, and the factions clash in the ways they are interested in the wrinkles.

I now have a general structure for urban adventures.

I owe a debt to Justin Alexander's writing about structural issues in fantasy role-playing games.  He wrote about how a dungeon crawl has a standard location for player choices (a room) and default player choices (explore the room, move to the next room). Most fantasy role-playing games thus have game mechanics specifically designed to deal with these. There are rules the GM uses to randomly put enemies or puzzles in a room to make an encounter. There are rules the PCs use about combat and skills to fight the enemies or solve the puzzles. And there are rules about locked doors, secret doors, portcullises, and other complications to add variety about moving to the next room.

These structures and game mechanics do not apply in an urban adventure. Justin Alexander proposed his alternative, from which I took the insight of a three-dimensional network of faction nodes above a more tangible layer. But his structure remained location-based without my distinction between wrinkles, pins, and locations.

My urban adventure structure has standard issues for player choices (the wrinkles) and default player choices (investigate a wrinkle, move to the next wrinkle). Stories now have a natural flow towards depth of problem-solving. Investigation and exploration lead from wrinkles to pins and nodes. More investigation leads from pins and nodes to locations. Entering these locations leads to encounters.

Unlike the classic dungeon crawl, there are no game mechanics to push the story along. There are no random tables for creating wrinkles or pins. There are no rules for moving to investigate the next wrinkle. There are no rules dictating when to finally encounter the wrinkle's tangible pin. It is even true that because players use creative methods of investigation it will be player choice more than game mechanics that determines the most obvious or appropriate skill used when investigating or exploring.

Now I have words for why I always wanted to run urban adventures. I like when the story itself, rather than game mechanics, pushes the story along. It feels right when the story itself takes over and handles its own flow.