The Tools I Use

2023-05-31

I haven't written a blogpost going over the different tools I'm using in a while so lets go over my toolbox, both for my map making as well as my gaming,

Map Making Tools

World Machine

https://www.world-machine.com

Cost: Indie $119, Professional $299

World Machine is my main tool for terrain creation for a decade now, and despite its shortcomings and the arrival of new cool tools in the field, World Machine are still ahead in certain key aspects.  The ability to work on really large maps and the way it handles river systems are still the best in the business. This doesn't means it is perfect, but it works, and this is too often the case when it coms to 3D terrain tools. The biggest use for tools like world Machine are for the video game industry and so far their need for large terrains and realism have been very limited, so far, but there are lots of signs that this ai about to change which makes me somewhat hopeful for improvements in the future.

World Machine is based around a visual programming interface, and understanding how data flows and being processed are the key aspect for using it. This is not for everyone, but great for me, gives me the power of programming and procedural data processing combined with visual presentation. World Machine is a VERY powerful tool but it has a steep initial learning curve.

World Machine has a free, very limited version, which is a good way to see if you like work with this kind of tool.

Free Alternatives:

Wilbur
http://www.fracterra.com/wilbur.html

A great tool for randomly creating whole worlds with heightmaps rivers and more. Old clunky UI and of limited use if you want to make maps recreating a specific terrain.

Blender
https://www.blender.org

Have some of the basic features creating and editing terrain data

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Gaea

https://quadspinner.com

Cost: Indie $99 (one time), Professional $199 (one time)

The new kid on the bloc and a very capable and promising terrain creation tool. Gaea's fractal, erosion and vegetation are by far the best I've seen and it comes with a sleek, easy on the eye, dark, modern UI. It still lacks a bit when it comes to tiling and rivers, but it is catching up, and might very well earn the place as my go to terrain application soon.

Free Alternatives: Same as World Machine

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Photoshop

https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html

Adobe Creative Subscription $21/month (Photoshop only), $55/month for all Adobe Creative Apps

The industry standard image editor with more features than you can throw lots of sticks at. It is the best tool if you need to handle huge images and have the hardware to run it.  I use it for texture editing, combining and touching up all the renders from world Machine and Gaea, adding things like roads building etc. It is the only tool that can reliably handle images larger than 32K which is sometimes needed for me.

Free Alternatives:

GIMP
https://www.gimp.org

It used to be a clunky and difficult tool, but the lates versions have modernized the UI and brought it up to modern standards. Very capable and has almost the features a map maker might need as long as you don't try to work on images that are too big. Great tool for the price.

Krita
https://krita.org

A free tool that focus on the creative side of things, with a ton of smart nifty tools that rivals even Photoshop. A tool every fantasy cartographer should have in their toolbox.

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Illustrator

https://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator.html

Adobe Creative Subscription $21/month (Illustrator only), $55/month for all Adobe Creative Apps

Adobes workhorse for vector art and Illustration. I use it for map labels, symbols, font creation and more. A little bit clunky and inconsistent with Photoshop, but overall the best tool in its field by far.

Free Alternatives:

Inkscape
https://inkscape.org

A feature rich alternative to Illustrator, but lacks the ability to work on large cartography.

Blender

https://www.blender.org

A 3D creation tool that is growing and expanding into a fully featured workhorse in the 3D creation world. I'm new to it and still learning the basics and so far it seems to be both capable and reasonable to work with.

Filter Forge

https://www.filterforge.com/

A toll to create and render textures. It comes with a huge library of textures which is what I use. You create textures using a visual procedural workflow, very similar to World Machine which have made me realized that you can create all of it using WM, I use it to get access to all the cool textures that other users have uploaded to the Filter Forge library.

Free Alternatives:

There are several free alternatives that seems to have most of the features, except a well organized library of textures. One of the best are https://neotextureedit.sourceforge.net

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QGIS

https://qgis.org
Free

It is the open source standard of the GIS world, used by lots of professionals and enthusiasts all over the world. A bit clunky but very capable. It is my GIS tool of choice for learning GIS and to try and keep the maps editable without having to use expensive tools.

Gaming Tools

Obsidian

https://obsidian.md
Free

This is my Campaign and Rules manager, and a tool I love. It is an open source general information management tool based on markdown and locally stored files. This means that all the work I put into my lore, rules and adventure are kept locally on my computer in a standard, and human readable, format. This is critical for for me, I don't want to loose my format because a company stops developing a tool, fold or decide to shut down their webservice. Obsidian plays well with cloud backups like DropBox and One Drive, so by keeping my data in my DropBox I both get it backed up and can use Obsidian on my laptop, phone and tablet.

A ecosystem of RPG plugins (all free) gives Obsidian an impressive range features for us tabletop roleplayers. Statblocks with rollable dice, initiative trackers, maps functions and more. Add in world class data management functions and it is, in my humble opinion, the best tool for the job. The UI is the ebst I've ever seen and it you can style it to suit your needs.

Javalent Plugins

https://plugins.javalent.com/home

Javalent have created a set of plugins for Obsidian that are fantastic, and they are free.

Josh Plunkett Tutorials

https://www.patreon.com/JPlunkett/posts

https://www.youtube.com/@JoshPlunkett

Free

Josh teaches how to use Obsidian for RPG's

Tables Generator

https://www.tablesgenerator.com/markdown_tables

Free

A great tool for markdown table generation and data conversion

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Owlbear Rodeo

https://www.owlbear.app
Free (very limited) $4/month or $7/month for more storage

A simple and easy to use Virtual Tabletop Tool that concentrate on the essential functions, displaying maps, tokens and fog of war. It has a dice roller and a simple initiative tool, but no other automation and rules integration.  The killer feature for me is the "endless canvas" that lets you place maps next to each other to cover large areas, perfect for my style of play. The only VTT I've found, so far, that can easily do this.

The lack of rules integration and automation is a plus for me, I use Obsidian for that. Having to manage rules, lore ad all my other notes in a single place is a must when you run complex long term campaigns. I might look into foundry VTT (or another VTT) if they have a solid markdown integration and can handle huge maps, but I don't see that happen anytime soon.

VTT Token Maker

https://thefatefulforce.com/battle-resources/token-creator/

Free

A simple to se way of creating tokens for VTT's

These are the tools I regularly use and that give me the ability to create maps, run games and have fun at a level I could believe would come true until a few years ago. I hope they can be of use to you as well!

May 2023 Update and Outlook

2023-05-23

Preparations

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.

BlueBox and the Awakening Book 2

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.

WM4

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.

Shield Lands, City maps and GIS

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

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.

Heraldry

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

Rules

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.

Banners and Flags

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!!

House Rules - Levels and XP

2023-05-14

Classless

Getting rid of classes have become one of my main House Rules conversions for several reasons, the first is to emphasize the "setting view". Meaning people in Greyhawk would not think or talk about themselves as having a "class" as in the rules, people would describe their jobs, position and what they can do. You can be a warrior, a knight or the Order, or fight for something, but that is not something that should be constrained in game mechanics.

The other reason to abandon classes are players and stories. When you start playing a character and you want to be able to cast arcane magic, so you start playing a Wizard. Twenty sessions later your interest in arcane magic might have vaned, the story taken new turns, and you want your character to develop in new directions to follow along, or to thwart a villain using other means.

The premise is that characters can learn anything, they just need to devote themselves to it and overcome the hurdles of learning, use there inherent talent, learn from experience, find a tutor or rely on luck. Trying to make this into game mechanics is not easy but I'll have a go at it.

XP Cost

The first is to limit access and force the player to choose, creating a budget for how much the character can learn. Thankfully D&D comes with one already built in, XP, which I will try and use as the "currency" used to acquire feats, skills and other things characters learns as they advances.

In a classless system you can't be sure when in an adventuring career a player decides for his character to try and get a certain skill or feat. This means that XP's need to be valued the same across the levels, and not used as a balancing mechanism it was used as in early editions. So a level progression with equal steps between all levels seems to be the way to go. This is nothing new, it's been around since 3rd edition, then to facilitate easier multiclassing. My idea is to take it a few step further.

The next part is to set the price for the things to learn. Part of the price need to reflect the benefit of the feat, skill etc. Each category, like feats for example, are designed to be reasonably equal in power level or usefulness. Balancing between categories will be harder, and require looking at how things are gained by various classes. For this I will look mainly at the base classes, cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard, which covers almost all rules aspects.

Prerequisites

An important part of the equation for advancing a character are to set prerequisites . What prior knowledge, skills and/or other things are needed before you can even try to learn something. In the standard class based rules class level are the most common prerequisite, I need to come up with replacements. There are several to choose from: Character Level, Proficiency Bonus or Hit Dice are obvious ones. Character Level and Proficiency Bonus stand out to me as the most interesting candidates. They are both increasing with advancement, the difference are their granularity - Level going from 1 to 20 and Proficiency Bonus only going from 2 to 6.  Level seems to be way too granular to be practical. So many things have to be assigned a prerequisite and to choose at which of the 20 levels to allow it would be unnecessary complicated. Proficiency Bonus is the one I will start out using for my first version of House Rules.

Prerequisites will create feat-tree like progression, which is by design. In order to be able to cast arcane spells you need to have grasped Knowledge Arcana, and in order to cast 2nd level spells you need to have mastered 1st level spellcasting. This makes things logical and as long as it relies, at least to a large degree, on a "setting perspective" when determining the prerequisites. This will be most seen when it comes to religious matters and things like languages, certain academic pursuits and special types of weapons. If you know modern day Baklunish only then might you master the ancient variety.

Difficulty and Time

The next key aspects of  the way your character learn new things are, how hard is it, and how long does it take? This can be tricky and I'm less sure of how to try and implement this aspect. Lets start with the first bit, how hard is it for your character to learn things. My instinct tells me that it depends on several factors, how talented is the character, how experienced is he in the matter, and what it the influence of luck.  There are other factors to that might be important to factor in, like the circumstances, can you learn during adventures in harms way, at a campfire or do you need to be in a safe haven away from the stresses of adventuring life.

The first part with talent is quite straight forward from a mechanical perspective, add the appropriate ability, skill or other modifier from what the character already know and base a bonus on them. This ties in to prerequisites as well, like proficiency bonus, ability bonus etc.

The next bit with experience is crucial but maybe not as straight forward. I can see this as a fluctuating modifier on the ability to learn. for example to learn Arcana without having anyone to teach you ought be be a daunting task indeed. Having seen and interacted with magic should make it a bit easier. Having a skilled tutor should make the process almost guaranteed. I'm toying with a d20 Learning Roll ranging from DC 15 to DC 30 or even more for really difficult things.

One way of implementing the Learning Roll is to have the player stating what he or she what their character to learn, make a Learning Roll each day they have at least 8 hours of Downtime and are not affected by a debilitating condition, curse or similar ailment. This way you let luck play a significant role, making a few bad rolls severely affect  character advancement. A way around that is to just look at the odds and say it takes a day for each difference between the target DC and 10 + modifiers the character have on its rolls. You can also add a +1 for each day the character tries, they are learning from their efforts. Subtract 1 if they roll a natural 1  can also be used.  Another way it sot simply state how long it takes to learn certain things, which can be based on the XP cost.  A combination of the above, is also possible. A character can always learn by taking the time measured by the DC modifier difference, but at the same time make a Learning roll attempt each day to see if you can do it faster.

Certain things should be really difficult and take time, like becoming an expert  (and gaining an large expert die) in something esoteric or dangerous like the Abyss or liches.  Adventuring knowledge should be a key experience in acquiring certain knowledge, like having been to the Abyss or dealt personally with liches. Some things should be straight forward to learn, other should take way more effort. This can, and should be handled as part of adventuring. If your character takes part in lots of combat, she will have an easier time to learn combat related things. To go with the flow here can save time and effort, but you still need to spend the XP, so there are still a choice to be made.

Level Progression

5E introduced Proficiency Bonus as a way to handle skill (and other) progression, and made it go from +2 to +6. Proficiency Bonuses was tied to the different Tiers (+2 level 1-4, +3 level 5-8, +4 level 9-12, +5 level 13-16 and +6 level 17-20).  This gave even low level characters and tangible edge in the things it was proficient in. My classless approach is a bit less rigid so I'm going to try and skip the tiers and try be more gradual by staring my Proficiency Bonus with a modest +1 at first level and then add one more per three levels.  Below is my level progression table.

Base HP at level 0 are based on size plus con modifier. A medium sized character will start with 8 + con bonus HP, a small one with 6 and a large with 12. These extra hit points given at the start of an adventuring career means a lot in the beginning, but doesn't add much to the power of a high level character, and will hopefully not unbalance play too much. Characters are also proficient in using Simple Weapons.

This progression kind of creates a 0 level tier where a character toughen up, gain ability points and basic skills, and then at 3rd level is more ready to take on bigger tasks. The XP numbers are set to be evenly distributed but the numbers can be lower or higher and be adjusted in the rewards.  The key bit here is the balance between Proficiency Bonus and Hit Dice, with my version is more front loaded when it comes to Hit Dice, proficiency comes a bit later. With this I hope to extend the sweet spot a bit by making the characters able to take a bit more of a beating before they get ridiculously proficient. Extending the low level play a bit longer with added survivability, without introducing too much power creep.

Background

I'm trying my best to move away from the term race, and I will instead use the terms Ancestry and Culture taken from Advanced 5E - Level Up. Ancestry is your Biology and Culture reflects the conditions your character grew up under. Together they give the character certain abilities and other aspects, like senses and innate magic.

The way I'm going to try and implement this is to give them XP cost as well. If the player what the character to have them spend the XP and no time or Learning Roll required, it was something your character was born with or have enough experience to learn. This also include things like languages and skills. If you grew up among the Wegwuir, you know Survival if you spend the XP on it.

This way I hope different characters can have a reasonably level playing field given the same XP budget.

XP Rewards

I want to reward exploration, creative game play, and have a system that feels fair. My initial rules will have both group and and individual XP rewards. Group rewards are for adventuring and dealing with hardship and encounters, and dealing with can mean a lot more than combat. Avoiding a fight with a dragon should be awarded, as well as killing it, even talking to it should be awarded.

Each day adventuring should be awarded depending on the danger involved, safe areas only a few XP and deadly areas  (like the Abyss) can earn you 100 XP or more. Encounters and other challenges I treat the same way, easy ones only a few XP and near TPK ones 100 or so. Everyone in the party gets the same amount of XP for this part.

Individual XP can be given for good ideas, inspiring gameplay, and fumbles. Rolling a natural 1 in combat or on a vital skill check will teach a character more that a success, they are given an inspiration point that  can be used to reroll or converted to XP.

End notes

This was a first look at my ideas around character progression. More details on individual skills, feats abilities etc will come soon. That is something I will spend time with on my laptop when I go to Europe in early June. I will spend 5 weeks visiting family and friends in Sweden, Norway and maybe more places, my plans are not final yet. This means I will rely mainly on my laptop, and only have access to my desktop remotely. This means more light work and less heavy lifting in World Machine. So more rules, heraldry and light Photoshop editing.

Future post in this series will be about combat, spells and faith, monsters and more..

Thank you so much for all your support.

Banners - a first sneak peak..

2023-05-05

Flags, Banners and Battle Standard have been on my to do list for a long time, and here is first test sketch of a Shield Lands battle standard. This are fairly easy to do with some Photoshop work.

I'm fairly happy with how this first test turned out. Took me about an hour, which means I can do follow up ones much faster, when I know how to do them. The idea is for them to be somewhat unique and reflect who made it.

What do you guys think?

GIS: First Step - Georeferencing

2023-05-05

Its been in my todo list to convert my current Greyhawk map to use GIS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographic_information_system)  instead of Adobe Illustrator. Now after several years of getting up to speed on using QGIS and other GIS tools, I'm happy to report that the milestone is reached, all of the terrain is geo-referenced!

This means that I have placed Flanaess and Hepmonaland on my model of Oerth, with reasonable precision  needs to be added. The current map is only accurate to about a mile, so that is the current data accuracy I'm working with. This is more than enough to create maps covering the whole of the Flanaess Hepmonaland down to maps of individual countries. The beauty of GIS is that now I can do the map in various scales and sizes with proper grids as needed.

Properly projected maps are another big plus, and here is the Flanaess seen from the city of Greyhawk using and "Oerthographic Projection", which means map looks look it is seen from space. This is my preferred type of projection for fantasy maps, it has very good area accuracy and gives you an great understanding of the size and proportion of things even over large areas. The main reason against the use of orthographic projections are the fact that they are ill suited for navigational calculations for real world sea- and air-farers. But fantasy adventurers rarely needs to calculate bearing to true north, magnetic deviation and similar tasks using maps. We want to know how long the road is between two towns, how large a square mile is, and what the land looks like. These are all things that an ortho based map can tell you.

Polar maps are well suited for ortho based maps, with the wealth of geography of Oerth that are situated above the northern polar circle.

To get a realistic view of how things are related across oceans as well as landmasses even closer to polar regions are a requirement for Oerth's northern geography.

For map covering the whole world of Greyhawk there might be  best to use one of the many global projections, like ESRI: 54078 Natural Earth II.

This is is only the first step in my effort to create a good set of reference maps for the World of Greyhawk using modern day tools, but even at this stage things are really interesting and shows great promise.

Thank you so much for making it possible to making this project coming true!

MeyerHawk - Critwall defenses overview

2023-04-27

Time for a first look at what it takes to keep the forces of the Old One at bay. The background map is a work in progress, so please forgive things like colors are not matching and features like forest are missing. Several of the lakes, especially in the north east, will be converted to bogs, wetlands, moorland or flat grassy areas. Veng and other major waterways are not edited much either, so expect lots of more detail coming.

There are enough work done of the map of this area to start detailing the defenses of Critwall. My campaign is now at the very end of 598CY and it is over 15 years since major fighting ended, and the Order of the Shield have reclaimed around a quarter of its former holdings. Critwall is, and always have been the center point for power in this region. From the Flan over a thousand years ago who built the first hillfort on the highpoint of the peninsula on the eastern banks of the mighty Veng.  The white defensive line are the Flan hillfort. When the first Oeridian raiders  took over the peninsula, they reinforced and improved the hillfort's defenses. From this moment forward there would be a fortress, in stone, on top of the low hill.

After the creation of the Great Kingdom Aerdy appetite for expansion grew and Critwall became a major staging point for a young, expansive empire. Not only the need to protect, now came the need to project power. No one in the region should doubt the strength, capabilities and determination of the Great Kingdom. In rapid succession a city wall (red) was built to expand the the old hillfort. A second major keep was built both to house more troops but also to serve as a temple.

The Flan had started to protect the tip of the peninsula with a earth and stone wall across (black), which also should serve as a way to protect the ports. This idea was realized and expanded on with a port district on the side facing the Veng to be able to handle river and lake traffic even under threat. Even back then the major threat came from the north and east.

When the Great Kingdom peaked around 200 CY or so, the inner defenses (white), the main city wall (red) was improved and a new ward was walled in (orange) covering the rest of the mesa. This gave the city the ability to house, and feed, a population of over 20,000 inside the walls.

The Flan who lived here in earlier times also saw the defensive nature of the peninsula and built a primitive barrier across at the most narrow point (yellow). The Aerdy used and improved this barrier, as much for tax and control purposes as for defensive needs.  In my campaign this is where the Horned Society's invasion was stopped, but Iuz forces who came after where much stronger and the old mound was easily overrun.

The hordes of the Old One lay siege to Critwall itself, but the city defenses held. Sound sturdy engineering by the Great Kingdom builders, harassment from ships on the Veng which the Shield Landers and Furyondians dominated, and sheer determination of its defenders kept the city out of reach for Iuz.

As the reconstituted Order of the Shield under Katarina Walworth took over and started to claw back the invading hordes, the need for a much improved set of defensed was realized.  First they used a small river valley which was given barriers to stop cavalry (green), the river banks was dug out on the western side to make it hard to crawl up it, chains, sharp poles and other nasties on top of that. A road made it easy to both control and reinforce sections in case of attacks.  The main purpose of this barrier was not to stop an enemy, it was instead to delay him, buying time to secure the city in case of a major attack.

After several years of successful reconquest the area along the Veng's eastern bank all they way to the bridge across to the Veng (pink).  A line formed by natural features such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and a canyon in the south was chosen as the new (provisionary) border. A number of small fortresses was built along this territory, all with access from the Veng. They served as garrisons, fall back positions that could be reinforced and resupplied from the Veng. They also served as secure shelter for the population who are now encouraged to resettle the (for this region) fertile eastern Veng bank. This line is patrolled day and night and have roads and trails to facilitate this.

Plans to take back more land from the Iuzian occupiers are under way. A new "line of interest and defense" (light blue) have been established as an outer perimeter. This is not a line to be held at all costs, it has few if any installations and is instead used to set the area the Shield Landers now want to keep a close eye on with daytime patrols along its entire length.   This patrols primary purpose is reconnaissance, to make sure that any Iuzian forces big enough to be a threat are detected before they reach the purple line. Semi permanent camps and a few permanent bases are to be found in the area between the pink and light blue lines.

The dark blue lines are natural defense lines in the form on rivers and wetlands that can be used if need, something the Shield Landers are well aware of and trin for.

Katarina is building up the strength and morale of the Order, and raids into occupied territory are both more frequent and successful. The defenses of Critwall who was once a desperate necessity, are now becoming more of a reassurance.

You can download a higher resolution map here, both with and without the line marked out:

https://annabmeyer.com/Downloads/other/Critwall%20area%4025%25.jpg

https://annabmeyer.com/Downloads/other/Critwall%20area%4025%25-%20with%20defenses.jpg

and a small version:

https://annabmeyer.com/Downloads/other/Critwall%20area%401500px-%20with%20defenses.jpg

Managing 4.2 billion pixels...

2023-04-26

In my previous post "The Big Bite" I wrote about working with 64K, meaning huge chunks of terrain in one go. I wrote that I decided to work using "floating" progression, start with a single tile. Enlarge the image to cover the next tile and work on it to match the first area, then save the first area as a separate file, enlarge again and repeat.  That was in February, now a few months and hundreds of hours later I know better. To effectively manage 4.2 billion pixels takes organization and persistence. To reshuffle pixels was OK to do once or twice, but to rely on in as a method was not a good idea with the same area being edited in to different places and lots of copping, copying mask and other hassles.

Back to the drawing board trying to come up with a better way of trying to edit 65,536 x 65,536 (which equals 4,294,967,296) pixels.  I decided to group four 8K areas into group that I name and keep in the same file all the time to make sure that each area is only edited in a single place. Below is an overview map of my Shield Land 1-64K area with the Groups in white and the XY of each 8K cell in yellow. I haven't named the top row yet, will get to them soon.

Next step was to develop a 16K (16,384 x 16,384 pixels) template, and come up with a way to include a bit of the surrounding areas to make sure that transition was seamless.  To get enough of information to make sure borders where seamless without too much overhead I decided to use 500 pixel wide border areas. I created a Photoshop file that had a 500 pixels extra in every direction. Guides both at the centers to accurately place the 8K textures and masks from World Machine, and guides both at the 16K marks and 500 pixels inside.

On the image below I have colored the surrounding area part yellow, and the 500 pixel margins from this 16K area pink. I can easily select, copy and paste this information between files. Take a look at the layers panel on the right and you can see that I placed all the layers I'm working on under Group 1, and given it a mask to make sure I don't edit outside of this 16K area. The surrounding areas pated in are above this group.

This is technical, I know, but to to set up your workflow is crucial when you work with lots of huge files and more data than you can keep track of. Naming conventions and storage strategies (including backup plans) are vital, sometimes it takes weeks, months or even years between the times you access a file. It would be hard to near impossible to find and know hot it is set up without a plan and organization. Writing blog posts like this also helps me remember how I was thinking, and then rethinking things when things needed improvement. That is a whole other topic, constant improvement.

Each 64K area are 4.2 billion pixels and the Flanaess alone with require a hundred or so areas...

You can download my Photoshop 16K template here (PSB format  17GB) https://www.dropbox.com/s/alxkb5069gwi899/Shield%20Lands%201%20-%2064K%20-%20South%20Keep%20-%201.psb?dl=0

Or you can opt for a scaled down 25% size version (PSD format 1.29GB) here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/8ejlwxzz98wplbi/Shield%20Lands%201%20-%2064K%20-%20South%20Keep%20-%201%4025%25.psd?dl=0

I'll write a detailed guide to how the file is structured soon.

Gulf of Ghayar Gazetteer

2023-04-19

A group of skilled and dedicated Greyhawk fans have put together a fan made Gazetteer detailing the Gulf of Ghayar and the surrounding lands. It is a 96-page free PDF that you can download here:
https://annabmeyer.com/Downloads/other/Gulf-of-Ghayar-hr.pdf

Oerth v2.0 - in the works

2023-04-14

I've been gaming in Greyhawk for 40 years now, and been very interested in the geography of the setting from the time I first opened the box and saw the Darlene map. Strangely my interested of the geography beyond the Flanaess was very limited  for the most of these four decades. The main reasons are lack of information and the few tidbits I've come across so far have been underwhelming, from bad maps to  un-creative names (to say it diplomatically).

As my Greyhawk mapping project have grown in detail and scope the need to place the Flanaess on the globe, if the world of Greyhawk is set on a planet which most of the lore seems to suggest, have grown more and more. When I started my foray into trying to understand the planet Oerth better it was with this limited goal of placing the Flanaess, the rest I was keen on staying away from. The lore and the tension around it I felt an urge to stay out of. Now after about 5 years of cautiously and at first reluctantly trying to build an understanding of the Oerth, it have drawn me into a whole new level of fantasy worldbuilding that I have come to love.

In 2021 I presented my first generation of Oerth maps, that you can find here: https://www.annabmeyer.com/oerth-test/. Now it is time go learn from that initial attempt and create something more useful, more detailed and to try and better inspire Greyhawk gamers to venture outside of the Flanaess.

At Virtual Greyhawk Con last year I presented the map above with the areas I wanted to focus on and improve in the next generation of my  Oerth Project. Fireland, Blackmoor, west of Sea of Dust, western Dramidj ocean, central Oerik, and the large isle at the NW edge of Oerik. Fireland was included on this list anticipating a Fireland source book from CASL Entertainment. Blackmoor with the goal of making it more compatible with Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign and generally more interesting and appealing (in a geographic sense, still cold and uninviting!) The lands west of the Sea of Dust had some issues with mountain ranges and layout I felt waw too ad-hoc and needed some tlc. The western Dramidj and central Oerik  needed attention both for it being an area great to include geography matching other settings (more on that later) and also to adjust it as part of my findings when working on Hot and Cold Oerth variants. The far western "triangle" need some more work to make it less of a triangular extension.

Fireland I haven't touched yet, i want to leave it as a placeholder until CASL publish the sourcebook for it to not create a competing geography. Blackmoor has more of an interesting coast and more of the rivers now flow into it. Western Dramidj has been more altered to include both the geography from Lankhmar  and the Gaxx Worx setting of Okkorim. This is not product placement. I'm doing it both as a way to show how large the Oerth is and it can include multiple settings of various nature, and also as a way to make the planet more interesting and useful. Further west there is also a rectangle marking an area in the central Oerik, that is where I placed the terrain of the Dark Sun setting. Our Flanaess are huge compared to these other settings that cover only a fraction of the size.

Still a lot of work to do before I feel my model is good enough but this is a significant step in the right direction, and it fulfilled my initial goal, placing the Flanaess on Oerth.  The map below shows both summer and winter versions with polar views as well. Orthographic projections (as seen from space) are in my opinion the way to go as they show a realistic view of areas. Real world maps have often navigation needs with requires other projections, that are angular correct for example, or focus on a particular region. There might be a need to establish a Flanaess Projection as a standard for my Greyhawk mapping centered on that region of Oerth. That would be useful for hex and other overlays, with the drawback that they would be regional. Ortho  based projections are global in nature and might be the best option for using a standard that can be used globally. That is something we have to test and very in the coming year or so.

Global climate is interesting and important not only in the real world, it is equally of great interest for me in my fantasy worldbuilding. It adds a crucial layer of understanding when it comes to who and what lives (or dies) in a region, what an area looks like and as an input for history and scenario planning.

MeyerHawk: House Rules - Goals

2023-04-05

Since the OGL debacle started it seems very fashionable to create your own rule system, and I'm one of them. To my defense I did start my "MeyerHawk House Rules" project before the rumors came out from WotC HQ.  My ambitions in the field of game design are modest. Designing rules are not my speciality, so making a rule system for general use are way beyond my intent.

What I want to create are a set of rules that works for me running my games for players who likes to play in my campaign. Not a new set of rules, but build on an existing rule system. Before the OGL debacle started my intent was to base it on A5E - Level Up from EN Publishing. Then came the uncertainty with the OGL turmoil and I put my project on hold. My goals for this projects are to share my rules with you, without running into licencing issues.  Thankfully it is probably safer to do so now than ever before.

Goals

Time to list the goals for my house rules

Keep the D&D "feel"

I want to mess around with some aspects of the rules, but it need to "feel" like D&D. Based on the D20, use AC, the same six abilities, hit points and the other terms familiar to all D&D players.

5E compatible

5E rules have become a new standard for D&D games, with many more or less compatible systems available or in development, so to be compatible with this ecosystem is the best way forward. With compatibility my plans are not to make my own 5E clone, but to be able to use 5E monsters, spells and items with very little tweaking. Also for the same type of content I create for my campaign to be useful in any other 5E based game without much conversion.

Not for Beginners

When you make a RPG system for publication you make it for an audience large enough to make it a profitable endeavor. My goal is to tweak 5E to suit me and my players playing in my Greyhawk campaign. This will remove a lot of the constraints, opening up for a system of rules for more advanced magic, divine workings and planar interaction.

Classes

The biggest change I'm working on is to abandon classes. Why the heck get rid of one of the pillars of the game you probably ask?

Two main reasons, the first is to emphasize the "setting view". Meaning people in Greyhawk would not think or talk about themselves as having a "class" as in the rules, people would describe their jobs, position and what they can do. You can be a warrior, a knight or the Order, or fight for something, but that is not something that should be constrained in game mechanics.

The other reason to abandon classes are players and stories. When you start playing a character and you want to be able to cast arcane magic, so you start playing a Wizard. Twenty sessions later your interest in arcane magic might have vaned, the story taken new turns, and you want your character to develop in new directions to follow along, or to thwart a villain using other means.

I want the desire of players and the story to guide the development of characters, not a course of advancement set by the rule book. Character will be able to learn new things by spending XP and making a Learning Check. Learning things your character have experienced or can find a teacher for will be easy, other things harder and will require time or adventuring.

More Action for Players

Another side of things are the GM - Player work load, and I intend to place a bit more of the work on the player. Having players roll more of the dice and doing a bit more of the math. This will both speed up the game and keeping the players more invested and engaged, I hope!

Numenera introduced some of this, and that inspired me. I intend to keep the math the same but to shift the "burden" on to the player. For example: use a Defensive Roll instead of enemies making Attack Rolls. A character who has an AC of 16 makes a d20+6 Defense Roll against a DC 15 Monster attack, for a monster that has +5 to hit.

This way of doing things opens up for options geared towards this way of playing, and I'm more and more open to players making almost all the rolls, like perception. It is cool when players know they screwed up a perception roll, or are sure they made a good check. I have enough to do during games anyway, and to spread the workload more evenly is a good thing I think.

Power Curve

This is more subtle but a very important part of any RPG, keep it playable and fun all through long term campaign where the characters advance. The various D&D editions have had built in "sweet spots" or ranges where play was fun and not bogged down with too much crunch. Usually that have meant that play from around 3rd level to 10th or so have been great. Lower level play have had characters too feeble and higher level have meant way too many die rolls and complications.

5E have done a good job with this already but I think there are a bit more to do in this area, like giving low level character more hit points, introducing a +1 Proficiency Bonus to extend low level play. For high level play I want to see if it possible to create a formula to emulate multiple attacks using only a single attack and damage roll.

A more advanced system of rules for how magic, divine and planar aspects work in the world will add depth and new challenges for high level play. The important bit for these rules are that they have to work more on a "story level" and less on the mechanical level. Die rolls and things to keep track of should be kept to a minimum, like aspects to spellcasting only coming into effect when you go to strange places or angry you god for example.

GM Rules

Giving players more to do during sessions give me more room for rules and principles for how the world works that I can use both for world building, adventure creation and during the sessions. How gods and magic works are two examples of this. I' will present more as it gets developed.

Creative Commons

I think we are all ready to move on after the "OGL troubles" having learned a lot about the importance of openness and licensing. I've used Creative Commons for my Greyhawk related stuff for many years, it is great to see it is now being used more broadly even by WotC. I intend for all my house rules to be released under CC -by 4.0, meaning it can be used for anything including commercial use. Only mention me as a source for it and you're good.

Format

I'm using Obsidian.md for my games, to manage both my rules and all the other campaign notes. It is using markdown, and can easily export to PDF and HTML. I'll present my rules tweaks in blog form and as single article PDF's at first. Bigger compilations of rules requires more work, both in the form of editing and play testing so they will take more time. House rules are by nature in more or less constant development, but after an initial period of playtest will hopefully be shareable.

Hopefully some of my rules will appeal to you and be useful in your games!