Friday, October 22, 2021

Star Phoenix Revisited

What a difference several years make. When I embarked on the mission to publish my own books eight years ago my skill level was minimal. Most of what I learned during my 15 years at pre-WotC TSR in the 80s and 90s was still there, but much of it no longer matched the self-publishing realities of the 2010s or the kind of work required when operating independently from an established publisher with somewhere near 100 employees. In the distant wake of the Voyage of the Princess Ark that I authored in the 90s for Dragon Magazine, I wanted a series of skyship deck plans to be featured at the World of Calidar's core. At the time, I had no idea what to expect from a Kickstarter, and the price tag of having these maps drafted by professionals seemed well over what I might be able to afford. So, I drafted the maps the best way I could back then. Here's a "before" & "after" snapshot showing what the original maps looked like vs. what I'm doing now.

Before: a simple diagram published in CAL1 "In Stranger Skies" in 2013

After: a work-in-progress rendition of the revised main deck & superstructures

I use a freeware application called PaintNet. Though limited in its graphic abilities, its learning curve is fairly low. It does require a lot of add-ons, and I rely heavily on 3rd party textures and stock art for details. Those took years to accumulate. The result speaks for itself. Here are a few more sneak previews of the final work.

Main Deck, Stern Section

Outlines Layer by Itself

Work files are raster graphics, which presents a challenge when adding colors or textures within line art. To prevent badly pixilated edges resulting from a simple attempt to fill in colors, layered graphics become a must. The complexity of fully detailed renditions often requires 15-20 layers (such as outline layers above color or texture layers, or whatever lies on a table layered above table graphics, which lies above chair elements, carpet graphics come next, and that lies above floor textures, and so on). Add to this any number of temporary layers that get merged with permanent ones during the drafting process. Patience with this is key.

Filled-In Textures Layer

Good luck making corrections later if something doesn't look quite right. Every single layer will need to be looked at. A common mistake is adding something to the wrong layer, and then spending precious time later to find which layer it was put on. This is when the cats perk up at the sound of muttered French swearing as I switch layers off and back on, hoping I didn't mess up something else.

How about some shadows?

The texture for the floor or in this case a ship's wooden deck begs for some thinking as regards how it might blend in with a grid. Some trial and error is to be expected here until the graphics are scaled properly.

Grid vs. Texture Layers

You're getting the idea. Add to this the layers for what should show "above" the walls' texture, such as doors and windows. Way up higher, you'll position layers for map symbols (stairs directions, secret doors, etc.) and labels.

Upping the Ante: the Lower Deck with full details

Here's another view with everything and the kitchen sink. Oh, the joy of making sure stairs connect exactly with those on adjacent decks. I'm a stickler for this, although most players and DMs won't lose sleep over a few pixels. While in game, this won't matter. I made precisely this kind of error in my original diagram of 2013, much to my dismay. It's now fixed in the revised version. Ugh. How embarrassing.

Just for fun, I'm including a screenshot of the hold's forward section. The final work includes two 12"x18" sheets and the digital files rendered at 600 dpi (with and without labels). I'll see if I can include VTT files for use with Roll20 and such; that's new territory for me. Drafting the revised deck plans took exactly 2 weeks, working pretty much full time, using the old map version and the original sketch produced by the cover artist, Ben Wootten. The design was part of the last Kickstarter project I ran, July 2021. Backers receive this as part of their rewards. The deck plans will become available to the public on DriveThru probably before the end of this year. Ideally, I'd like to redo all of the deck plans in CAL1, but this will have to wait until I'm done with the current project. If you have questions, contact me via Facebook or Twitter. Hope you enjoy your weekend!
Happy Flying!

Monday, September 6, 2021

Local News in Alfdaín

Here I am, running out of space for the miscellaneous news and local rumors in the upcoming players' guide to Alfdaín. Ah, heck. Let's masquerade this section as a glimpse of a local newspaper. Just a bit of fuff today!

Try this link for the full-res image.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Updated Gnome Class (OSR D&D-BECMI)

The next character class on my update list is the gnome. The experimental version I'd posted back in March was a bit controversial. Some readers didn’t like the idea of a gnome illusionist, so I’ll split the class into a simple warrior and an illusionist version. If you want something else entirely, you have the tools to create a class option that meets your goals. Again, there’s plenty of room for options!

Art Credit: D&D Gnome fan art by Sam Rowan -- ImaginaryGnomes on Art Station

Background: This is part of an ongoing series of articles about level progression mechanics. It all started with experimental updates to the magic-user and cleric spellcasting tables posted last January. A number of updated or new character classes followed. Feedback on those was useful—thank you! Suggestions will be incorporated in later updates wherever practical. This led me to create a user-friendly Excel spreadsheet to help put numbers together quickly and easily. This spreadsheet is particularly useful in making sense of the math used when creating homebrew character classes, and in ensuring some degree of consistency across the board. Click here for info on updated saving throws.

The Updated Gnome

I compiled the various features and abilities given in the source article to obtain a simple warrior class, and another with the magical abilities described originally. You’ll have to go back and refresh your memory about the initial design.

1. Gnome Fighter: Chop up the magical skills and feed them to the wolves. Keep all the racial and fighter abilities, and you end up with a Base xp 1,800. The saving throws are the same for both gnome classes.

2. Gnome Illusionist: Keep all the racial abilities. Reduce the fighting skills and related combat abilities to those of a cleric. Weapons and armor permitted are those of a standard magic-user. The original article describes magical skills (abilities rather than traditional spells). The gnome illusionist ends up with a Base xp 1,700.

Resulting experience tracks based on the Excel spreadsheet are listed below. If you're looking for the author, he fled south of the border.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Alfdaín Ascendant

Calidar’s upcoming Series 3
project focuses on the elves. Barring unforeseen production changes, the author is pleased to announce the participation of Thorfinn Tait, master cartographer, and of Jeff Easley tentatively for the cover art. Joseph Garcia will provide internal illustration (b/w inks) and Janet Deaver-Pack line and text editing. Calidar gamebooks are intended for use with mainstream RPGs. As established in the two previous series, the new project will include:

  • A Gazetteer: 132 pages color, PDF format or printed (hardcover or softcover). This book is already written and most of its maps are in their final states as of mid-May 2021.
  • A Players’ Guide: About 24-28 pages, color, PDF format or softcover
  • An Adventure Book: 24-68 pages, color, PDF format or softcover. Final page count will depend on stretch goals during the crowdfunding event. The more backers, the greater the adventure for the same price.
  • Two Conversion Booklets: About 24 pages each, color, PDF format or softcover. They provide all game stats from the previous three titles specifically for use with Labyrinth Lordtm and Osrictm.
Click here for the preview page on Kickstarter, and select the "Remind Me" button near the upper right corner. The launch date will be June 9, at 09:00 am CST.  

The Cal3 Gazetteer

The Queen’s Gift: As with previous releases, this campaign book’s opening chapter is a novelette running 18 pages. It is the third episode of the Star Phoenix adventures, a skyship exploring the Great Caldera. The story is told in the style of the Voyage of the Princess Ark originally published in Dragon Magazine in the 1990s. The Queen’s Gift features a mysterious living skyship.

History: The Gazetteer’s main body goes on to unveil the history of the elves, covering events in their ancestral moon, Alorea, and in the Confederacy of Alfdaín on Calidar itself, a former colony of Alorea. The history tells of a bitter rivalry between the old elven empire and the younger, independent nation.

This chapter focuses on Alfdaín, describing the lay of the land, the people, the economy, and the region’s climates. More than 12 full-page maps are featured, including a monumental 9-page atlas based on Thorfinn Tait’s topographical artwork and an overview of Undersea, the world of the sea elves, along with a map of the marine floor.

Riddle of the Woods: A sinister event, care of the old empire’s nefarious machinations, corrupted some of the forests covering Alfdaín. The evil plot lies behind this magical plague, threatening to overtake the whole of the confederacy. Each tainted region’s effects receive a detailed description.

The Law and the Sword:
Alfdaín features an alliance of three sovereign realms. Who holds the power in each dominion, how they interact with each other, what armed forces they possess, how the traditional clans work, and what laws are in effect comes through in these pages.