Jun 23, 2010

DM Tools: The Screen's the Thing

It's been a while since I did a Tools article, but during the last game session, it struck me how often I rely on this simple, but very handy device for bits of data at my fingertips.

When I first started DMing, I only used the screen for it's most common function, to hide the adventure notes and roll dice. Now I find myself relying just as much for the information available on the screen as well.

And right now, my favorite screen is the 3.5 DM screen from Goodman Games. What I find more surprising is that while I'm running a Dragonlance Campaign, I rely more on the Goodman Games screen than I do on the official Dragonlance 3.5 Screen. I've even tried the 3.5 screen from a Paizo-produced Dragon magazine.

Interestingly, I never tried the office 3.5 screen from WotC, I never liked the idea of the panels being on their side, especially since I usually tilt the darn thing to read what's at the bottom on most screens. I actually wish screens were taller than their current height, not shorter as the WotC screen tried.

Maybe it's the layout, or how wide it can be--since it's actually two 4 panel screens, the whole thing can stretch wide enough to take over an entire end of a table (at least most tables I've played at), but I find that whatever info I'm looking for, I can easily find on this version of the screen. Not only does it list what actions are move or standard (and which can provide an attack of opportunity), but also what the penalties for various effects are. When the mage cast a spell that "dazzled" the hobgoblin, the Goodman Games screen detailed what that meant in game terms. That's mighty handy to me in the middle of a game, especially in the middle of a combat.

So, for all the DMs out there, are you just as devoted to one screen over another, or is this just another form of my OCD rearing it's head?

Jun 2, 2010

Dwarves, HammerTalk, and Morse Code in Your Game

One of the things I really like about the Dragonlance setting is the wealth of detail the various developers put into the setting from it's earliest 1e days, all the way through it's 3.5 days (and for all you 4e players, your PHB3 Minotaur character owes more than a nod to the Dragonlance version going all the back to the 1e Adventures book Weis and Hickman co-authored).

Case in point, when TSR created the War of the Lance sourcebox, the definitive 2e document for the Dragonlance setting, they added a lot of seemingly 'fluffy' details that had almost no game value. One thing along that line was a dwarven language called Hammertalk.

The idea of Hammertalk is that dwarves, in their mountain cities, can communicate by using their hammers to bang out messages that can be heard over great distances. For me (and I'm sure I'm not alone), the first analogy I thought of was Morse Code.

More recently, for my own campaign, I've been thinking of building a treasure map with a secret message embedded in the artistic border of the map. Since I don't want to build elaborate ciphers or cryptograms, the idea of leveraging Hammertalk (and Morse Code) popped into my head.

The next puzzle piece that made this even easier to implement was the fact that thanks plenty of enterprising people, there are a number of Morse Code translators available online. These pages allow you to enter a string of text and generate the Morse Code message for it (shown as dots and dashes).

The dot and dash output is really great because you can copy and paste the output into your favorite word processing program, and with a little search and replace use whatever symbols you want, like circles and triangles, or open circles and filled circles, or--you get the point!

I'll post some examples in a future update.