Friday, June 14, 2019

Printer's Proofs Are In!

Prepress versions of #Calidar's new gazetteer "On Wings of Darkness" have come in, along with its players' guide. Check out the short video presentation below (or for a sharper fullscreen version, head over to YouTube.)


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Seven Poster Maps

I completed a YouTube presentation video of the seven poster maps for use with the upcoming #Calidar gazetteer CAL2 "On Wings of Darkness," due for public release late June/early July 2019 at DTRPG.

CAL2 "On Wings of Darkness" is part of the #Calidar fantasy game world. All seven poster maps are shown in this video: 
  1. The players' map of Caldwen (stylized hexes), 
  2. The game masters' topographic version of the same,
  3. The Valley of Arafor near the capital city,
  4. The Upper District of the flying city,
  5. The Middle District,
  6. The Lower District,
  7. Port Arcana slums at ground level beneath the flying city or Arcanial, great capital of the wizards of Caldwen.
The core gazetteer is due for release at the same time, along with its players' Guide, PG2 "A Players' Guide to Caldwen." An adventure book is in the works, with an expected completion date circa Christmas 2019.

EDIT -- I found out that the blog's version of the video is blurred when enlarged to fullscreen scale. The original on YouTube is much sharper.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Calidar's Big Plan

As the number of Calidar titles is starting to grow, time has come for a show-and-tell exercise. The idea is to clarify which titles go together. Most of what was produced for Calidar was released either as a Kickstarter fulfillment or to the general public via DTRPG does not support a way to organize all the titles in a convenient, intuitive manner, at least as far as the author would wish. Fold-up maps cannot be sold as part of their related gazetteers either, which compounds the issue of Calidar's somewhat organic growth. This article helps understand how Calidar is structured, and how future releases are likely to be organized, upcoming Kickstarter successes permitting.

To begin with, we have three core products. The very first that any prospective fan should consider is CAL1 "In Stranger Skies." It introduces readers to the Calidar universe as a whole. It provides the first episode of the Star Phoenix story: a skyship traveling the world. CAL1 also offers a gazetteer describing the the Star Phoenix's home base: the Kingdom of Meryath, a land of adventurers and glory seekers.
CAL1 "In Stranger Skies" was published in 2014. With 132 pages, it is available as a PDF, as a softcover book printed on standard color paper stock, and as a hardcover book printed on premium color paper stock. All Calidar books above 100 pages are offered in the same formats. Booklets with shorter page counts are only available as softcover books, either perfect bound or saddle stitched, printed on standard color paper stock. A number of supplements have followed which connect directly with CAL1; those will be detailed later in this article.

CC1 "Beyond the Skies" was published in 2016. Adding up to 248 pages, this compendium is packed with information about Calidar's cults. Settlers came from different worlds involving multiple races and cultures, each with its own divine pantheon. That's a lot of gods! At the threshold between mythology and ancient Calidaran history, CC1 goes on to tell the story of each deity, describing the politics between gods, and the powers granted to their mortal followers. A look at the outer planes and their denizens is also included, as well as shamanism in the Dread Lands and its relation with seitha.

CAL2 "On Wings of Darkness" is the second 132-pg. gazetteer, due to be released to the public around late June/early July 2019 via DTRPG. It describes the magiocracy of Caldwen, focusing on the relation between wizards and demons. It also provides the second episode of the Star Phoenix story started in CAL1. The initial concept behind these ongoing tales originated in the author's earlier works known as the Voyage of the Princess Ark, originally published in the Dragon Magazine in the 80s and 90s, each issue providing a new episode followed by the description of a new setting.
Published in 2017, CA1 "Dreams of Aerie" is a 132-pg. adventure taking place on a flying circus. Although this sandbox adventure can be run in any game world, it is connected by default with CAL1 since it travels the whole of Calidar. The flying circus includes three decks described in great detail in the book, along with the residents. Three fold-up maps, 12"x18" (30x45 cm) display these decks; labeled and unlabeled, the printed sheets are available on DTRPG as a bundle (digital files are not offered).

Calidar does not use any specific RPG. Nonetheless, a simple system helps express game stats that should be easy to convert into mainstream roleplaying games. The Game Mechanics Guidebook defines the method behind Calidar game stats. This 12-pg. booklet also gives a short overview of Calidar and a map of Meryath. It is a pay-what-you-want item on DTRPG available to anyone.

CST1 "Under the Great Vault" and CST2 "Skies of Fury" provide "prequels" to the Star Phoenix story, along with adventures and other background material. These two 60-pg. booklets are offered exclusively to past and upcoming Kickstarter backers.

Two poster maps, GC1 "Great Caldera" and KM1 "Kingdom of Meryath," had been printed at the same time CAL1 was released. The Great Caldera is rendered in the magnificent topographical art style created by Thorfinn Tait.  Kingdom of Meryath uses a hex grid and stylized symbols in the style of the D&D Mystara maps of the 1980s and 1990s.  Both are 22"x28" (55x71 cm), printed on non-gloss paper and folded. Unavailable through DTRPG, they are, however, listed on Calidar's alternate shop page, on Facebook. Otherwise, contact the author directly to acquire these posters. Unlike print-on-demand titles, they are limited print runs which will run out of stock at some point.

PG1 "A Players' Guide to Meryath" does not yet exist!  The opportunity to field players' guides came up in the wake of the brilliant performance of CAL2's Kickstarter in the fall of 2018. As a result, there is now a PG2 supplement and, therefore, a PG1 should follow some time in the future. Blame it on organic game world development.

CM1 "D&D Conversion Manual to Meryath" is a tentative idea that came up after CA1's release--thus, not yet in existence. The goal is to provide a listing of game stats from CAL1 converted to the present D&D Game specifically. This will involve an OGL agreement. The question remains on whether this could also cover the Basic D&D Game (BECMI) and other versions. CM1 would  be offered in the same manner as the Game Mechanics Guide described earlier, either a free PDF or an inexpensive print.
Provided upcoming Kickstarters prove as successful as the latest one, the supplements shown above should become the standard fare for core Calidar gazetteers: 1. a players' guide, 2. a book of adventures, 3. a bundle of fold-up maps, and possibly 4. a conversion guide.

PG2 "A Players' Guide to Caldwen" is an 18-pg. booklet, saddle stitched. It is scheduled for release in late June/July 2019 along with the core CAL2 gazetteer and the bundle of fold-up maps.  It provides an overview of the land and its people, what people say about the magiocracy, a travel guide, a summary of Caldwen cults, a new PC race, a new character class, an overview of the schools of magic, and a quirky glance at PC ancestries and their astrology.

CA2 "Adventures in Caldwen" (how creative, right?) is a 64-pg. booklet, perfect-bound, that offers various adventures in the magiocracy. At the time this article is posted, yours truly is writing the first adventure: How to Train Your Wizard, focusing on Caldwen's school of Necromancy. Release date: officially "some time in the future," unofficially late 2019 or early 2020.

CAL2 Map Bundle: includes seven fold-up maps, 12"x18" (30x45 cm). These will be available when the core gazetteer is released to the pubic. These maps include the following: a referees' map to Caldwen in the beautiful topographical art style created by Thorfinn Tait, a players' map using a hex grid and stylized symbols in the style of the D&D Mystara maps (10 miles per hex), the "Valley of Arafor" which is close-up view of the area surrounding the capital city (about 2 miles per hex), a street map of Port Arcana (a slum beneath the flying city of Arcanial), and top views of Arcanial's three districts. Where space permitted it, additional floor plans were included as well as a side view of the flying city. Though not indispensable, the bundle of maps is nonetheless priceless when running a game or trying to describe any of the contents to players. The printed sheets will be available on DTRPG (digital files are not offered).

CM2 "D&D Conversion Manual to Caldwen," as described earlier for CM1, is not yet scheduled for release. It is a tentative idea for a listing of converted game stats from the core gazetteer, for use with the present version of the D&D game and possibly others. It would be a free or low-cost title listed on DTRPG.

What Else? Other potential items on the author's "to-do" list: game mechanics for skyship construction and combat. Ideally, release could be coordinated with a miniatures manufacturer. The next Calidar gazetteer could focus on the elves of  Alfdaín, with a glance at their homeworld of Alorea; another option concerns the dwarves of Araldûr, with a glance at their homeworld of Kragdûr (no big surprise here!) Another contender is the Empire of Ellyrion, with a glance at their ancestral moon, Munaan, and Nicarea. Farther in the future, there could be a gazetteer for Lao-Kwei, its moon Kumoshima, and the mysterious Kahuulkin race. Somewhere beyond the horizon lies a Ghülean gazetteer, with a closer look at... what no one should ever gaze upon. I'm still hoping at this time that DTRPG will come through with the ability to produce larger poster maps; there's no clear outcome on this as of yet.

These are all big projects. Thanks for your patience and support all these years since CAL1's release. If you want the latest news about Calidar and regular sneak peeks, join the Calidar chat group on Facebook. Your feedback is always appreciated.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Of Map Design

It's been a while now since I started drafting floor plans and skyship deck maps for Calidar. Looking back several years, I shudder at my earlier efforts, but then everyone has to start somewhere and learn the tools of the trade, right? Though I wouldn't compare my work to truly professional endeavors, I'm going to show some of the steps I go through to create floor plans these days. Hopefully, this might give some ideas on how to proceed, or spark a discussion from which I might learn new useful bits.

People have been asking me what software I use. Though the answer seems easy, it is misleading. I use, a freeware application that's been growing over the past several years. I gave up on Photoshop way back after being overwhelmed by its complexity. Since then, I got used to Paint.Net and remain leery of the learning curve to switch to Photoshop or anything else. There are specialized "dungeon" mapping programs out there. I found them either too limited or in some cases unmanageable. I know people out there will disagree with me on this, but that's just my opinion.

That being said, the answer above hardly covers the subject. In order to draft the sort of floor plans I've been coming up with lately, there are two other key components: years of hands-on user experience, plus lots of stock art and background textures purchased from specialized sites. I rely mostly on Dreamstime as a source of illos and graphic textures. Costwise, over the years, this does add up. Another factor is the amount of time needed to draft a snazzy map. The one I'll talk about in this article took me about 3 days (more than full time), from concept doodles to final corrections, and this does not include "stocking the dungeon"  (adding furniture and other details aside from doors and windows). From a technical aspect, the final document includes 20-30 layers showing the various elements of the map. I usually work at 300 or 600 dpi resolution. Oh yes, and a fast computer with lots of memory will also help prevent long waits for every step of the way.

The first step is the concept work. Basically, grab a sheet of paper and sketch out a very rough layout. As you can see on the adjacent shot, lots of things cross my mind as I throw in various shapes, erase others, and append new details. One generally leads to another, and pretty soon, space on that sheet comes at a premium. Of course, I could think of lots of things to include. Just to make sure I wasn't missing anything important, I turned to social media and probed the friendly hive mind there for other ideas. And, whoa... I got lots more. So, thank you everyone for your help. I promptly turned around and made a complete list of what had come up on social media, and split all these entries according to which floor each should be located on. That's just so I don't forget anything, since the entire project is likely to take weeks, from the dungeon level to the tippity-top of the highest tower. Occasionally and well after the brain-storming has effectively ended, someone surreptitiously adds an idea I can't possibly resist including somewhere, somehow... Click on the adjacent shot to get a closer look.

Now the "real" work begins. I find it easier to draw simple lines to render the general ideas depicted on the hand-drawn sketch. Many corrections and redesigns occur at this stage. (You can trust me when I say there will be many more, kicking yourself repeatedly for not having foreseen them earlier; those will require a lot more work). That's already five layers--from front to back: 1. page frame which isn't shown here, 2. labels, 3. outlines, 4. grid, 5. white background. The page frame is to make sure nothing sticks out in the margins which may be chopped off during printing; this won't matter if you are designing a map for yourself. That's when you realize everything needs to be recentered, including the grid, something that you complete very, very carefully, right down to the single pixel, as an error at this stage will be tough and time consuming to fix later. Patience is a virtue here.

Simple lines may be okay for your personal use. For something a bit more involved, the lines need to be turned into something that actually looks like walls. For this, the original line art needs to be thickened. Depending on the application, this may be a trivial issue. On Paint.Net, this entails adding extra outlines to the original drawing, which takes just a few seconds.

The game plan is to eventually add a black edge around the white outline, but before this can be done correctly, the walls need spaces added for doors and windows. The easiest way I found to make sure these spaces are all exactly the same sizes involves a temporary layer on which I cut/paste blue blocks. Once done, it's easy to select all the blue elements, move down to the white outlines layer, and hit delete.

Once done, remove the layer with the blue blocks, since it's of no further use. Then add the black edges to the white outlines (1). I'm assuming most graphic programs can switch off white, which leaves just the black lines (2). That's a useful trick, because now I can select the inside of the black lines, move down to a new layer (3), and paste/fill the selected space with a stone texture of some kind.

 And there you have it: walls that looks like walls. Many more steps will follow, such as adding windows, doors, and wall shadows (do the latter on a separate layer, because otherwise corrections at a later time will become problematic). Fancy tiles come next to cover the indoor floors, plus ground textures outside the buildings. With a bit of testing, resize the tiles so they match the original grid exactly. Move up the tiles layer "above" the grid, so as to mask it within indoors areas. The original grid can still be seen outside the building. I often hide the grid beneath trees.

I like to erase wall shadows where windows are likely letting light in. A gray layer can be inserted above indoor areas to darken the rooms; then, erase the part of the gray layer in the general vicinity of these windows, which enhances the impression of light. Set the eraser at its maximum softness so the effect is barely perceptible. The result shows in this near final version of the floor plan (see just above).

Stairs can be pretty snarly. The first challenge is to scale them correctly, assuming each step measures 7"-8" high -- therefore, figure approx. how many steps are needed to reach the next floor. The other problem is their width: on the map above, normal steps are intended to be about a foot across, and thus they look tiny (1 grid square = 10ft.) Yes, I can be OCD about this kind of detail. Each step in the stairs at the bottom of the map, by the open terrace, would therefore be several feet across, producing a very gentle rise.

Compare with the stairways straddling the courtyard (rising at a 35- to 45-degree angle). In a modern house, stairs might require around 18 steps to reach the next floor -- in a palace, there could be twice as many, especially if the angle of the stairs is more gentle. There are various ways to represent stairs. Most folks will stylize them and not worry one bit about accuracy. After all, what's really needed in a game is just the information that "there be stairs here, up or down." I place an arrow showing which way is up. Being detail oriented, I also place shadows to help visualize the steps. It's actually pretty easy. I just recopy onto another layer the lines marking the edges of the stairs, shift them just a tad, and then blur these lines so they look like shadows; reducing the layer's opacity a bit can help here. A gradient darkening the bottom of the stairs is another useful tool.

I guess I'm done rambling along. Hope you found something useful. Have a nice weekend!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

50 Shades of Wight

Necromancer by WhendellIn my endeavor to write adventures for my present Calidar project, I came upon the task of putting together the plot for a party of juvenile sorcerers up to no good in the middle of the night in their college of necromancy. The assumption quickly became that each should naturally know a few spells taught specifically by their school: all of a necromantic nature, but of course. I didn't find a whole lot of spells fitting the bill in the various RPGs I looked up. I wanted a wide array of spells the referee could choose from. Seizing the undead monster by its unholy horns, I thus decided to add a bunch of new spells.

So here we go...

Featured Illustration: Necromancerby Whendell (on Deviant Art)

©2015-2019 Whendell

First Circle Necromantic Spells
The list below offers ideas for spells in the young heroes’ spellbooks. Though all necromantic, some of these spell may also qualify as other schools of magic. A roll of 1d4 plus any Intellect modifiers indicate how many of these spells each hero should possess. Roll 1d% on the list below or select these spells as needed, avoiding duplicate scores. Replace spells with similar ones already existing in the chosen RPG, if any.

Note re. Caldwen's game mechanics: Being non-game specific, the language used below may cause some raised eyebrows. In most cases, the context will make the meaning rather obvious. Damage ratings go as follows: VL (for Very Low) relates to the sort of damage a dagger would inflict, Lo (for Low) relates to a short sword, M (for Medium) to a normal sword, Hi (for High) to a large weapon, and VH (for Very High) to an oversized weapon. Referees can assign appropriate damage in their chosen RPGs accordingly. LF stands for Life Force (a way of referring to experience levels or HD). More about this can be found in Calidar's Game Mechanics guidelines. Circles of Magic refer to the general spellcasting abilities of students enrolled in colleges of magic (this will be defined in great detail in the gazetteer CAL2 "On Wings of Darkness" due for release this summer.) The First Circle concerns the least experienced spellcasters. The Fourth Circle accommodates the most experienced, to give you a rough idea.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Calidar Mages vs. D&D & Pathfinder

While looking into describing a character class in a manner usable with different RPGs, I ran into a challenge, as the scales each game system uses to measure experience are widely different. Calidar, which is meant to be system neutral, relies on a simple percentile scale to express the “Life Forces” of both monsters and characters. It is a tricky feature because this rating does not always convert accurately into all RPGs. There is a bit more to this than just how far up an experience progression table a character rises.

the fiveby Sindacollo  /  / ©2008-2019 Sindacollo

Since my goal is to describe a magic-user variant for my current project, Calidar “On Wings of Darkness,” I decided to look up the experience levels characters need to earn before acquiring the ability to cast at least one Level 9 spell in various game systems. From this point onward, this threshold is referred to as “top level” in this article. It seemed to be the common denominator for magic-users across the board (I used the median XP progression chart for Pathfinder). As expected, results vary with each game system, as follows:
D&D 5e & Pathfinder: Level 17
AD&D (1e, 2e): Level 18
D&D BECMI: Level 21

The good news is that these experience increments aren’t that far apart. A more problematic challenge concerns exactly how many actual experience points each system involves. The rates at which experience is accrued in each game vary hugely at various points in the magic-users’ progression charts, especially as regards how quickly lowest levels can be attained vs. highest levels.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Bye Bye G+

Hi all. By now, most of you may have learned of G+'s impending doom. This is certainly no good news as regards blog traffic and other features.  Here is the message I got from G+:

Following the announcement of Google+ API deprecation scheduled for March 2019, a number of changes will be made to Blogger’s Google+ integration on 4 February 2019. 

Google+ widgets: Support for the “+1 Button”, “Google+ Followers” and “Google+ Badge” widgets in Layout will no longer be available. All instances of these widgets will be removed from your blog. 

+1 buttons: The +1/G+ buttons and Google+ share links below blog posts and in the navigation bar will be removed. 

Please note that if you have a custom template that includes Google+ features, you may need to update your template. Please contact your template supplier for advice. 

Google+ Comments: Support for Google+ comments will be turned down, and all blogs using Google+ comments will be reverted back to using Blogger comments. Unfortunately, comments posted as Google+ comments cannot be migrated to Blogger and will no longer appear on your blog. 

In short, if you need to make comments on any of my blog stories, do make sure you post them on the blog directly, since all those on G+ will get deleted. I launched several chat groups on MeWe for those of you who stay away from Facebook:

Stay tuned...