I will spend a bit over a month in Europe this summer, to reconnect with family and friends that I haven't seen for years. Leaving on June 6th so I have three weeks to get everything ready and get as much heavy desktop work done as possible. When I'm gone I will have my laptop, and when necessary remote into my desktop. Internet access are good where I will spend most of my time, so I expect to be able to stay in touch and do some things while I'm gone as well.
The last few weeks have been a concerted effort renewing my Green Card so I can get back to the U.S. again in July and getting a new Swedish Passport, mine had expired during covid. Even with good contacts and adequate language skills the bureaucracy can be daunting, which is by design. Most countries takes immigration and passport issues very seriously, both for control and also as a form of deterrence. This can be used in your next roleplaying campaign, make borders an encounter with traps, economic ruin and a chance to gain both foes and allies...
Getting my laptop up to speed also an undertaking, making sure all my applications work, USB hard drives with all essential files and as much as possible synced. The borders I aim to cross are friendly, no need to wipe my drives and make clean installs to make sure personal information stays safe. Installing QGIS and testing it out now, and it seems to work well.
Wrapping up the special "Sea of the Black Sun" map I'm doing for BlueBox RPG. It is an alternate version of the Sea of Death for the Greyhawk Awakening Campaign. My first desert scape since I did the Southlands for Kobold Press almost 10 years ago, and deserts are both easy and hard. Easy due to their lack of vegetation and water which makes their complexity much less, you have fewer features to play with which makes it harder to create interesting variation.
Overall I'm happy with this map, the variation, color and lighting are the best I've done so far which tells me my skills are improving. I'm also able to create a map of this size and scope much faster than I've been able to do before. This are also testament to the importance of having a powerful computer, the previews I can generate in mere seconds are better than the full renders I could do 5 - 6 years ago. This makes it possible to both experiment and advance much faster.
After more than 5 years of using World Machine 3 I have now moved my work over to World Machine 4. It is not an enormous difference, it is more like two steps forward and one step back. The killer feature that made me take the plunge was Ambient Occlusion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambient_occlusion) and other forms of material and texture rendering, much improved mesh export and slightly improved layout generation.
The main drawbacks are less support for real world units, which means more math to figure out things like snow line altitude, and elevation dependent texture distribution. Irritating but manageable. Now I need to go back and re-render both my Shield Lands and Altimira maps. Will take a few days but it will be worth it, the results are so much better.
I also have a idea of how to generate more realistic river systems even when using tiled terrains. Tiled renders are a big problem in World Machine, drainage gets calculated individually for each tile with sometimes bad results. I will try and us the river mask generated using a low resolution render of the same area as a drainage mask for the high resolution tiled render. It should work, in theory, which means it might work in reality. It would be great if it did, except that it would be almost impossible for me to resist the urge to go back and re-redo both the Shield Land and Altimira work I've done so far.
Altimira is only a small area that will be used for the TLG boxed set, so it will be good enough as it is. My Shield Lands campaign stuff was more experimental and could really benefit from a redo, and I will do that before finalizing it. Critwall and its immediate surroundings are, just like Altimira and for the same reason, good enough. It is the interior of Shield Lands that needs to be redone, so the rivers flow the right way, if my idea works that is. Sometimes having a good idea that works means a lot of extra work..lol.
My GIS mapping is starting to get underway, the first milestone reached when I georeferenced all existing Flanaess and Hepmonaland terrain. I'have installed and tested QGIS on my laptop, and it it can handle all the georeferenced terrain. This means I can spend time on entering stuff from the current maps into QGIS using only my laptop.
City maps, and detailed area maps are another big category going forward, and I'm working hard to have the Critwall terrain ready to bring with me to get up to speed on this type of maps as well. The terrain are not fully rendered yet, its only previews but they are accurate and at full resolution so they will work well to test out GIS mapping at a detailed level.
City mapping is surprisingly fun, I love to work on maps this detailed makes the world come alive for me in a way I haven't really experienced when working on continent scale maps. The downsides are the sheer amount of tedious work needed, and also the lack of detail in the published lore at this level. Almost all the settlements, buildings forest and almost all of the terrain features are things that I think should be there. Porta-Potty Scale demands detail and that means I need to use much more of a creative license in order to fill them. Having fully layered files means that features like roads, building etc can fairly easily edited to suit your campaign.
Local- and settlement maps needs to fit seamlessly with interior and dungeon maps, which have taken some trial and error. I would love to be able to use one of all the cool fantasy mapping tools to help out with this, but I haven't found any of them that works for me yet. Not giving up, will have another go with Inkarnate, haven't tested it in several years, and never used the full version of it. The feature I'm especially interested in are the ability to upload a high resolution image to use as a background/guide image. DungeonFog has this, in a way, but it is only as a guide and the background textures are repetitive and washed out . Stairs are another troublesome thing with it, I know I'm picky but finding a flow is very important for me.
Tools that gives me the pleasure to work in a kind of rhythm without hiccups and annoying interruptions are worth a lot to me. This is a surprising trait for me that can spend many hours doing visual programming, but that is an almost intellectual pursuit. When I'm working in Photoshop I want to doodle without using much intellect at all. Mixing the two are the most difficult bit, I really hope I will find GIS mapping as fun going forward as I have in the beginning. There are hope, I usually like things more and more as I master them. World Machine took me a year or two to get along with and QGIS seems to be a quicker love that that.
Altimira will get a Ambient Occlusion upgrade, which means I have to redo the World Machine Files a bit and re-render most of the files again. Then I'll bring the Photoshop files of the city and the immediate area with me to Sweden so I can work on roads, buildings and such during the summer. My Critwall work has been a rehearsal for this, and now I know way more what I'm doing. For example I have figured out how to mimic the leveling of the ground that often are done when you build houses and construct roads, at first I just added the height of buildings and painted roads on to the texture. Now I level the base of the buildings and can have roads that are dug into hillsides and run on built up fill on other places.
I've taken a bit of time off from heraldry to work on Altimira, Bluebox and GIS stuff. More heraldry is coming, and here is a teaser, the Malgari. An old knightly order from the Sheldomar Valley and the LG campaign
My House Rules Project is an attempt to create my own version of D&D to work well with my playstyle. I know, everyone and their pet imps are doing it now. To my defense I started this project two years ago, before the OGL and before it became fashionable. My problem is that I haven't really felt I have had a set of rules that I can rely on and work with properly since 3.5 and the early days of PF1. Part of it is my decision to go fully digital a decade ago, the other are related to Pathfinder becoming more Golarion oriented, and WotC locking in 5E in tools that are not for me.
I'm basing my rules on Level Up - Advanced 5E from EN Publishing. I have posted the goals and a first look at the basics for mid tier patreons. Next up are a look at how I intend to structure the abilities, feats, skills and other things characters can learn. The XP cost, options for learning like milestones instead of XP. I'll dive in a bit on combat proficiencies and actions in combat. This is something I can doo on my laptop so it will be a good thing to work on when I'm away from my desk.
My tweaks to magic and spells are another main part of my house rules, things like magic conduits, strains and fonts will enter alongside schools. Monster Types will be more inline with 3.5/PF1, and I'll add rules for how divinity works. Most of this are what I would label "GM Rules", meaning they mainly affects how I prep and run things, and affect very little for the player. Spellcasters can learn and cast spells as usual, in most instances, but if you go to another plane, enter a place under the influence of a demon lord, things might be a bit different, for some magic.
This is a pet project of mine, to try and depict what banners, flags, battle standards and other forms of insignia might look like across the Flanaess. I'm braking new ground here and moving out of my comfort zone a bit, but I really want to so I'm taking the risk. Below is first test I did trying to depict a Shield Land banner.
This is very much in early days, and I have a lot to learn, but I feel confident enough to start working on it. I know have the Photoshop skills to pull it off, and it is a lot of fun. Just like heraldry it is also a naturally bite sized type of project, well suited for a few hours of distraction in between bigger things.
Thank you all for your support!!