Welcome to the Highlander Studios blog.

I won't promise any earth shattering revelations here. What I will be trying to do is post some new products as I release them, share some thoughts on gaming and show some pics of games and other stuff that I enjoy. So come in and make yourselves at home.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Brigade Bashing

     This is an adjunct post to the previous one about my experiences with roll20 for running RPGs. While I was getting my Forbidden Lands game up and running I was working on two parallel projects for more traditional table top wargames with miniatures. One friend was just starting to get into Burrows and Badgers before the isolation order came down. And I had been painting a Napoleonic Penninsular army for Black Powder. When I'm learning a new skill I become somewhat obsessed. I like to push limits and try things that stretch or break the systems involved. Naturally I decided to try adapting roll20 to both the aforementioned games. It's a virtual table top, right?

     I'll focus this post on the Black Powder Battles development since it's the one that, while still rough, is fully functional as a wargame with live opponents. My first step was to start counter design. I didn't even create a new came at this point. I simply started grabbing some blank top downs from Junior General and colorized them.

     To give some direction to the project, I chose a specific battle to build. Working with some judicious cut and paste and Inkscape, I developed the textures and terrain layout for a 4' x 6' board. I like that I can keep notes about terrain effects and any other information directly on or near the map area where it is available at a glance. At this point I was also starting to develop the look and feel of the units and the flexibility I wanted to build in.

     I styled them after the bases I use in the physical game. They are discrete stands of 4 figures that can be moved as a group or individually selected to affect formation changes. The tokens in roll20 have Aura settings that I'm using for different conditions; red for disordered and yellow for shaken. These can be turned on at the same time to represent both conditions at once with a resulting orange color. I have since set the shape of the disordered to square so it is easier still to see when both are present.

     I wrote a simple dice roller macro and added it to the macro bar and also the token action bar. This one will ask for the number of dice with a preset value of 3 and then ask for the number to get a hit. Again, I used a preset, 4, for the number needed. This will troll dice and report the number of successes. I still need to write one for command rolls and a few other things. But right now the roller can be set to 2 dice and the results added manually to see if your orders are received.

    There is a built in measurement function for checking distances with a slightly different function to measure moves as you are manipulation units.

     Here is the Rolica set up with all of the infantry added. I still have to design the cavalry, artillery and leader tokens.

     I wanted to get a trial game in with a friend this weekend so I took some time to develop a character sheet that would show relevant information for each brigade. It's been about 20 years since I've done any work with HTML and CSS code. Man, have things changed, but I must say for the better. Using a couple example sheets and watching an hour or two of training videos, I was able to pur this together. It lacks polish but it does the job. It has an expandable section where battalions can be added or removed as needed. That was a pretty clever bit of code that I blatantly ripped from another sheet.

     Rolica is not ready to roll yet so I made a simple map with some brigades and stunt double leaders for the game tonight. It took about 45 minutes to teach the interface to my buddy, but things wen't fairly smoothly once a unit or two was moved. In typical fashion my troops (British) don't seem to be interested in joining the fray. All in all, this has been time well spent and I plan to use this with distant friends even when the lock down is over. I can see being able to use it for multiple players since that's pretty much what the platform was designed to do.

     If you have any questions about specifics or thughts about VTT in general, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Sign of theTimes

     For years I have been avoiding virtual gaming with friends. There have been a few excursions into MMORGs, but nothing by the way of table top RPGs or miniatures games. I simply prefer the social aspects of gathering together to play, share a meal, and generally catch up with each other. The last few months has really put a damper on those activities. So I took the plunge and set up a virtual game session for a few of my friends using Roll20.

     I've had a Roll20 account since 2012. I looked at the interface once or twice and was disappointed in the overall functionality at the time. Boy, have things progressed in the past 8 years. I started playing around about 3 weeks ago when a few friends agreed to test it out with me. I had a free account, so I knew there were some things I just wouldn't be able to do within the game. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are a ton of workarounds for things if you use the tools cleverly.

     I started with some simple map making and token creation. The tokens were assigned stats and I started writing macros to automate several functions that would be used repeatedly. I was truly delighted to learn that the rollable tables can hold graphical images for values. The dice workaround in the picture above uses rollable tables with images of each face. These tables can be dragged to the table top where a right click opens a menu for options. There is a choose side option slider that allows the selection of any of the images in the table. But... the most fun option is the random selection that acts like a dice roller. This gives a result and displays the image from that result.

     By taking this a step farther, I input several different images of specific monster races into tables. The token gets dragged to the mat and I randomly roll or choose the images I want. I add a couple dead images at the end of each table so as the monsters are defeated I can choose to display that side. Pretty handy.

     My next step was to start uploading tile sets and playing with lighting and fog of war settings. These really increase the immersion visually; something that is hard to do on a physical table top. To help with that I have a discord server set up with different audio channels for when the party is split or I need to speak with a select group of players privately. Switching back and for takes a click of a button.

     Here are views of the same scene from the GM perspective and that of the player. You can start to see how this can be effective.

     Maps can be made interactive by assigning macros to value fields in the token editor. All of the numbered ares and the large circle at the bottom can be clicked on to run a macro that opens the relevant player information. These handouts include a section visible only to the GM.

     Put it all together and you start building adventures one scene at a time. You can build several map pages and easily switch players from one scene to the next with a slider book mark. Players can be sent to separate maps if needed and background audio can be added for atmosphere.

     This is all available on free accounts and I'm sure I'm barely scratching the surface of roll20's potential. I have switched to a pro account to try out some additional functions. I'm enjoying the upgrade, but the free stuff is really enough to make most of what a GM wants happen.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Apocalypse Tips

     As we self isolate I find myself very aware of how I spend my days. There has been a lot of similarity between now and before isolation for me, but there is a renewed sense of urgency about certain things. Getting enough exercise, home security, food security, and rationing scarce items have floated to the top of my priority list. Along with the physical needs being met, our emotional and mental well being really need to be buttressed.

     My list of apocalypse tips started as a tongue-in-cheek reaction to food rationing. The list continued to grow over the last two weeks as I found myself doing things to strengthen our current position. It is not numbered sequentially as it was never intended to be complete; more an exercise to order my thinking. lift my spirits, and process some of the crazy shit going on in the world.

     Apocalypse tips:

          1) Eat the foods you don't like first. This is an approach I've take to eating the food on my plate ever since I was a child. I hate finishing a meal with a food that lacks interest. I figure in a tough situation, having some of the foods you enjoy later on will be a bit of a morale boost. You powered through that quinoa for weeks, now it's time for pancakes.

          7) Keep your tools sharp and your wits sharper still. Well kept tools will serve you well now and even in the most mundane times. Sharp wits will allow for the judicious use of those tools. And honestly, I just like to sharpen stuff.

          10) Exercise. Sound body, sound mind. It also helps me burn off a lot of nervous energy. I am fortunate that I have about a cord of wood to split and 2000 sq ft of bamboo to tend. It's probably enough exercise to last until I'm 65.

          12) Know your local edible plants. This one is born more of curiosity than necessity. I read a post about ramps and decided I wanted to try some. There are about 10 varieties of edible plant on our property that I can identify and harvest. I highly recommend trying them out before times get tough so you know which ones you want to eat. Some of them taste so bad that starvation seems like a reasonable option.

          13) Develop new skills. Not only will this keep your hands and mind busy, but you could add vital resources. I was planning to add bees this year anyway. Covid 19 has provided the push to get it done.

     This list is not meant to make anyone a prepper or survivalist. But it has helped me pass the time and make some sense out of things. I hope this finds you all well where you are and I wish you all peace and health. Stay safe. Stay strong. I'll see you on the flip side.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My Coronavirus Staycation...

     Some of you may have heard that we're in the midst of a pandemic. I kid you not; a full blown, world wide (hence the name) pandemic. Precautions include stay at home orders for non essential workers. Hmmmm... OK. I can do that. In fact it's not much different from most days here. I'd like to share some photos from my shelter in place isolation.

     This is the year I wanted to get bees. I've been planning them for a couple of years, but last year was a bit hectic with some health issues. So this is the year. I want to use natural methods with local swarms so I started building a swarm trap. This is basically a box with a few frames in it for bees to set up a temporary home. These frames then get transferred to the permanent hive 2-3 weeks after a swarm moves in.

     I still need to build the lid, paint it, and finish the frames, but I got a lot done yesterday. While the trap is out I'll build the hive and another 20 frames. If you have any interest in natural beekeeping, check out Horizontal Hives. Dr. Leo Sharashkin is a good speaker and provides simple instruction and plans for natural beekeeping. You can also purchase most of the products from his site if you don't want to build it all yourself.

     Doc says I need to lose weight. Exercise is a must. The gym is closed so it's time to be splitting all of that wood I had seasoning. There is also another 1000sq ft of bamboo to clear, quail pens to build, and two gardens to prep for planting.

     Water purification has been on my mind a lot. If things get really weird out there, I want to be able to distill my own water and other products. You know I have to use that corn and rye I grew last year somehow. The simplest method is a pot still. I also tapped a few walnut trees. Making syrup requires removing the water. Next year I'll try distilling the sap. Water vapor should boil off, condense, and leave me with syrup in the pot and distilled water at the drip end. Two birds, one stone, and all that jazz.

     Right before the virus stuff, I started reading Steven Erikson's Malazan series. This has been fulfilling my relaxation reading time. It's about 18,000 pages of fiction by two authors in 22+ books. They're some of my favorite fantasy fiction novels of all time. It's not easy reading but toothsome and satisfying.

     I've also made some tome for painting and sculpting. I'm working on some Burrows and Badgers warbands and a British Penninsular army for Black Powder. There are also a couple of French commanders that were sitting on my shelf.

     Another fantasy series that I've always loved is Glen Cook's Black Company. I started sculpting some 15mm miniatures for that. The Taken are on the table now. Finishing these will probably coincide nicely with the when businesses are open again.

     Well... most of the other stuff going on is of the standard daily living variety. Routine chores are keeping me grounded. The occasional distant chat with a neighbor across the street and conversations via text, phone and email help keep me emotionally connected. All in all, things are well and Dude abides.

     Feel free to share your personal projects and thoughts about all of this in the comments. Take care, stay well, and be kind to each other.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Some things I've learned from a heart attack

     Some of you are aware that one year ago today I survived what my health coach calls a major heath event. The physical recovery has been fairly straightforward. The mental and emotional part has been a little more tricky. I'd like to share the following thoughts as a reminder to myself and anyone else dealing with similar issues.

     Some things I've learned from a heart attack...

1) Even in the midst of a life altering event, remaining positive, pleasant, and polite can greatly reduce or eliminate misery.

2) Beating yourself up over past mistakes will not heal you. Learn from them, make changes, and move forward.

3) Never underestimate the healing power and comfort of a few kind words, a call, or a visit to someone dealing with a crisis.

4) Listen to your body. It's smarter than your brain.

5) I've known this all my life but it's worth mentioning again. Gratitude is key.

     I wish you all health, wealth and joy in this new year.