Saturday, October 10, 2015

Custom RPG Table

Hey folks,

So while this isn't technically RPG Story related i figured i'd post it here just in case there are any other crafty RPG connoisseurs who would be interested in doing a similar project to mine. So cutting to the story, i recently moved out of a one bedroom apartment with hardly any space and into a four bedroom house with way more space than i needed. And with my deep seated passion for RPG'ing and playing board games, i wanted to upgrade my dining table to something that was more multi-use and less 2-person pub hightop table.

After many weeks of procrastination i finally hit the drawing board and came up with the table in the following images:

3 feet tall from floor to top, 8 inch drop onto a leaf on each of the four sides which would support roughly 30 pounds on each leaf. I did coloration on this design and this design only so it would be easier to explain to some woodshop guys at work. They gave me some feedback, spoke to a very close friend who is also a player in one of my games to get a player's perspective and he provided some equally useful info. I went home and revised the design that night.

 changed the drop from 8 inches to 3 and a half and added some lateral movement support to the frame which would also double as support for the center piece I started to buy the supplies, get everything cut to length and then got to work, after the first day i realized that there was a way i could provide even more stability so i revised the table design one last time.

This last revision ended up adding further stability to the leaf supports as well as preventing lateral movement of the table further. With the design finalized, it was time to go to construction. Day 1 I got the legs and frame assembled. 20-20 hindsight would have built it slightly different, but that's the learning process and this is the first table i've ever built so keep that in mind as we move forward.

Day 2 saw the first leaf supports in place, wasn't really a big day production wise, but discovering how i wanted to attach everything together to make it stable was a rewarding experience itself. Lateral supports inside the frame also went in.

Day 3 comes around and i've got the rest of the primary leaf supports in a well as a couple of the secondary supports.

Day 4 the exploratory stuff was done, milling was done and it was time to buckle down and finish the frame, assembled the rest of the table's frame in a single marathon session after work that went from around 4pm to around 9pm. It was raining that day which is why i moved it back into the car port.

Day 5 was a short day, put the leafs in, added the above leaf center support which was the lynchpin of support for the center of each leaf. and added the first table center which is a 3.5 foot square piece of half-inch plywood. lacquered the whole thing like there's no tomorrow and resolve that the piece de resistance would be a coating of whiteboard paint (not pictured).

Wait 3 days for the whiteboard paint, brought it inside as the monsoons had kicked into full gear and the whiteboard paint has cured and my table is officially complete!

You're probably wondering, why do a crappy piece of plywood as the table center. Well i'll tell you why: it's not permanent. i designed the table to be self supportive without a center in it. This way, if i want to RPG with a projector throwing a reversed image on the center of the table (from beneath that is) i can swap out the center for a piece of stretched white cloth (just an example) and tada you have and cheap projector screen. If you're playing  board games, put in the plywood, tada you have a board game table. if you want to eat in luxury, one could feasibly buy a nice piece of padauk and make a 42'x42'x.5' insert and you have an elegant-ish table. the goal was functionality over appearance, and i think i achieved that pretty well. Each player now has a roughly 21'x12'x1.5' cubby to call their own and everyone is equidistant from the center of the table so there's no asking someone to move your things or standing up and reaching across a rectangular table.

The best part about the table is that i was able to construct it for a whopping 30 bucks because i had most of the materials already, but for those who were building from a starting point of nothing, 80-110 will get you all the wood and screws and paint you need to make one for yourself. Very cost effective table considering my rinky-dink bartop that i bought at Target was about 400 out the door.

Tell me what you think? I'm excited to hear feedback. I'll post more pictures on request of the table in action once i get a chance to use it!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Setting up your Traveling GM Bag

Recently i've been on a bit of a personal quest. Not a quest to defeat any monsters and reap the riches that the princess in the highest tower of the tallest castle has to give to me. A quest to improve my Game Mastering. The First step I've wanted to take in doing this is to refine my Game Masters Kit. To give you a sense of an idea of what i currently have as a launching point, take a look at this picture:

This is my current Game Mastering setup. A laptop for quick reference and on the fly GMing (it's preloaded with PDF's of all the pathfinder books), a fish and tackle box which i use to store my modest collection of miniatures painted and not so much, my GM tools which include some cheap pencils, dry erase markers, pens, initiative tents, spare sheets of 3x5 notecards, a dck of cards, three different colors of jewel shaped tokens and my personal dice. In addition, i carry around a red folder which contains all of the characters i roll up for social interaction with my players, a collection of 1-2 sheet RPG rule sets for quick pickup games. "the lazy GM's" cheat sheet, a sketch pad, and my GM Screen of course.

The biggest Emphasis, for me, on my GM bag is being cost efficient with it. Everything except for the small laptop, has been extremely cheap and that's what i wanted to share with you today:

1. Miniatures
While my miniatures are mostly bones miniatures from reaper miniatures which span from 2-75 dollars per model. There are, however, cheaper options for the money tight Game master. A short trip to your local Walmart and you can find yourself buckets of 101 miniature models for 6 dollars a piece in the kids toys isle. These buckets come pre-themed based off the environment the animals grow in. Grabbing yourself a safari animal pack and a dinosaur animal pack will cover your bases for 99% of animal companions as well as give you over 200 models to incorporate into your games. this isn't just animals either. Each kit comes with fence pieces that are modular and are perfect for creating area of effect counters as well as a collection of rocks and trees for quick outdoor scene fabrication that is visually appealing to the player.

Just as an example, the Safari set comes with the following animals:
  • adult Kangaroo
  • baby Kangaroo
  • Elephant
  • Panther
  • Lion
  • Alligator/Crocodile
  • Gazelle/Elk
  • Pelican/large bird
  • Chimpanzee
  • Puma
  • Bear cub standing on hind legs
  • Gorilla
  • Giraffe
  • Coyote/Wolf
  • Spider Monkey/small Monkey
  • Rhinoceros
  • Horse
  • Bear
Not to mention that there's duplicates of most of not all of those.

2. Writing Utilities
When it comes to keeping notes, having an abundance of different writing surfaces and utensils is crucial. It's an axiom of Roleplaying Games, the players will never bring a pencil. As such you always need to bring extras for the whole class. While this might seem like an expensive endeavor it's really not. Here are a few options for cheap solutions:
  • Pencils - Local Dollar Store -8ct /$1
  • Small sketch pads - Local Dollar Store - 2-5/$1
  • Unruled 3x5 notecards - Local Dollar Store - 100-300/$1
  • Small composition books - Walmart - 3x80pg wide ruled/$0.89
  • Pens - local dollar store - 8ct / $1
  • dry erase markers - Walmart - 4ct /~$5
  • small journals - Walmart - 1 / $0.10
With prices as low as those, you can definitely afford to get yourself outfitted with what you need in a pinch and for cheap. With things like pencils, pens and paper for your players to take notes on, i've found the more tailored towards the opposite sex it is, the more likely they are to remember their own utensils next game. If you've got a room full of guys, carry spare notebooks with frilly hearts and fairies on them. The dollar store pencils are good enough to work, but not much else. Crappy erasers, poor design and weak lead make them ideal for your players.

3. Tokens and Trackers
When it comes to helping your players keep track of their vital stats for their characters and things like inspiration as used in D&D 5, it is important that you have fun and semi-quality looking tokens to keep the players enjoying the props, Tokens can be anything from poker chips to glass beads. Personally, i've found packages of different colored plastic princess cut gems at my local crafts store. 30 for $1-$3 is totally easy to swallow.

As for trackers, keeping the flow of battle moving is critical in games. Everyone knows the larger the battle, the slower it moves. The slower battle moves the harder it is for players to keep their attention on the game. Using some of those 3x5 notecards, you can cut them into thirds horizontally, and make mini tent cards. Label these with things like Player 1-10 or if you have a repeating group, label some with their actual character names. make generic "Monster 1" thru "Monster 12" tent cards. Use these on the top edge of whatever you use as a GM screen to keep track of initiative. Make half-sized tent cards (6:1 on the full 3x5's) and label them with status effects like fatigued, bleed, fire, etc. so when someone gets poison 3 for 3 rounds, you just write 3 rds on the tent card or drop 3 tent cards on that person, then remove 1 each round till they're gone.

4. Dice
Dice are the most important part of almost any RPG. As such, a GM should come well equipped with them. Look for gaming stores that have sales on their used dice and buy them in bulk for a nickel to a quarter a piece. If you have a band saw, a sander, and a local wood shop, you can go in and buy a bag of Maple pen blanks for like 3-5 bucks. With a little practice and patience, you can make your own dice, 5-6 to a blank. Paint the numbers on, or get a punch set from your local discount hardware store and hammer them in. D6's are the worlds easiest dice to make and you can produce them en masse then have your players just use those whenever they fail bring their own dice. every other side count is extremely difficult to make by hand, but at least you'll have your D6's covered for centuries.

All in all it's pretty cheap to equip your own GM bag, and it's equally rewarding as you'll find your job much more interactive and rewarding for having done it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How to properly check the weight of your D20's and D12's

So a video has been running rampant on the internet in tabletop RPG circles where a man has a glass of salt water his dice float at the surface, then he simple gives 'em a few spins to see if they are weighted or not.

I've worked at getting this to work, and these are my findings:

  1. Not all salts are created equal. The guy in the video doesn't specify what type of salt he uses, but i did some further research on the "old golf trick" he claims to be using and the salt required is epsom salt. Why does this matter? Because Epsom Salt is only salt in name and appearance. Epsom Salt is actually Magnesium Sulfate which when mixed with the water increases it's density by .2 grams per cubic centimeter, this making the water more dense than most other dice.
  2. the quantity of salt is everything. Using a lot of water and not a whole lot of salt like it appears to be the case in the video will do nothing. your dice will sink and that will be the end of that.
  3. Opaque dice and solid dice make no difference on the balance of the die, it's simply the way the die was made. What i did find is dice that are multi-colored speckle like the one below are too heavy to float in the salt water solution, everything else is fine and equally likely to be balanced.
So how do you create the proper solution for checking the balance of your dice? Very simple:

  1. Get a small cup, i used a two ounce Styrofoam courtesy cup from a local fast food restaurant, and fill it about 3/4ths the way full with Epsom Salts.
  2. Add "faucet hot" water to the cup slowly until it's basically full should be about an inch gap between the top of the Epsom Salts pile and the top of the water.
  3. let sit for a minute or two.

Once it's done curing so to speak you can add your dice, 1 at a time, to the solution wait until the die has stopped rotating and found it's favorite side so to speak. From there just gently roll the die in the water so it spins freely for a little while, wait till it settles again. record the number it lands on. After about a half dozen spins you'll see a trend. either it lands on the same side repeatedly, lands on sides close or adjacent to each other or has no consistency at all.

If the die repeatedly lands on one or two sides that are close to each other, it is weighted to those sides. if it lands on five or so adjacent sides it's weighted the corner that intersects all of the faces. If it has no consistency what-so-ever, then the die is balanced.

To take it further, the slower a die turns to the weighted side, the more towards the center the weighting is. The faster a die turns to the weighted side, the closer to the surface of the die, the weight is.

Let us know in the comments what your experiences with this method are. We found that almost all of our D20's were biased for better or for worse. out of the entire group of five people, with a GM having almost a dozen D20's, there were only 5 that were perfectly unbiased.