Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hotz Mats gaming mats

Since I was sorta on a terrain kick making asteroids for Firestorm Armada, I wanted to get a better gaming surface than a black cloth. For a while I heard about Hotz Mats which make a variety of felt gaming mats that can serve for some really nice space tables. They are screen printed and have a variety of options with printed hexes or grids, or even mats that are double-sided with an option for one side being gridless. The mats come in a variety of dimensions with 4’ x 8’ being the largest.

So I went ahead and ordered two mats at 45” x 72’ with one being an earth green mat for my WWII and SAGA stuff, and another deep space mat for my Firestorm Armada games. The mats are felt. However they are supposed to be treated with a fabric binder that reduces the wear and tear of the surface, lessening the pilling you typically see with felt.

The mats are a decent thickness (if just a tad thin) and can get a bit creased. However really deep folds can be carefully ironed out. The surface of the painted side is somewhat stiff which I assume is the fabric binding material that is sprayed over the surface. This does keep models from snagging up as much compared to regular soft felt. I could push my ship model stands around without having them get caught up on the material.

The deep space mat is pretty nice for a generic background. A little color is thrown in aside from the star background which is nice. I think if I were to get another I might splurge for the enhanced deep space mat.

I am a little disappointed with the earth green mat. I was hoping maybe a little extra paint to add some texture to it. However it’s really just a bolt of green felt yet still has the fabric binder coated on it. This gives it a decent surface and likely a hex printed version would serve great. Overall the one I picked up is a plain, muted surface for wargaming.

Now to go a bit on the customer service of Hotz Mats. Bluntly, I found it lacking. I do know they pretty much make the mats custom order. And I would put money on a lot of the mats being done in one go, and maybe needing some time to dry out in the open. Coming from Canada, this might mean delays due to poor weather (humidity) mucking up the production.

It took my order an extra two months to arrive. Email responses from the company were also sporadic and I didn’t get any indication my order was shipped. So I will give a huge caveat for buying their mats directly. It’s going to be delayed. Don’t expect a prompt (or any) response to emails. I can understand production delays, but I’m a little less understanding with the lack of communication. Consider the 3-5 weeks deliver to only be valid if you live within the province.

Now I understand they are moving to a new studio. This might alleviate some production delays. If you order from them, I think you need to take a zen-like approach and just accept that after several months you’ll get what you ordered in the mail.
When they are delivered, you'll get some decent game mats. The mats seem like they can take a little punishment, and can easily be stored away. While the earth green game mat is plain, I have to say the space mat I ordered looks really nice. Hotz Mats are not bad products. Just expect a few more grey hairs from stress if you are needing them in a hurry.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Starting a Savage Worlds Cthulhu campaign

My weird west campaign is still chugging along. However I found myself dragging a bit with it. While I was gung ho at the onset, I found myself getting a little uninspired thinking up adventures. My players seem to be having a good time, but sometimes I’ve been struggling to keep up the enthusiasm for the setting. I’m convinced now I’ve been approaching it all wrong.

I wanted a spooky western. Yet I found keeping that suspense going has been a chore. There have been plenty of ‘Oh sh*t!’ moments my players have had. However maintaining that tension is just too hard to keep up. I simply don’t have the GM chops to run a longer horror-themed game.

I realized I didn’t need to though. I’ve recognized the player’s aren’t quite the investigator types with their characters. Running it as a Savage Worlds game, they are much more heroic. I needed to drop off emphasis of the supernatural and shoot for a western game with horror trappings instead. It’s a better fit now and I think I can keep a more even tone with the game.

It still leaves me with the adventure-planning burnout though. I certainly need to shake up the setting some and run something else. I took a poll of potential settings and decided to lump a 1930s Cthulhu game in with potential choices. Seems horror is popular as the group wanted to take a stab at a Lovecraft supernatural game.

It’s still horror, but I can certainly run it as a different type of game. The weird west campaign is one where the PCs run around as larger than life heroes, blowing holes in zombies with a trusty peacemaker. This other campaign the players will be wary investigators, needing to be prepared to flee, their mind cracked and sanity waning due to the terrifying knowledge of the Great Old Ones they encounter. More importantly, I can run this as episodic sessions. Just a short break from the weird west game that will let me recharge my GM batteries and craft some fun ideas when we all flip back to a western setting.

Savage Worlds is pretty flexible as genres go. However, I am super lazy and having some pre-made setting rules makes the task of running a new game much easier. I picked up Realms of Cthulhu and found the book a great purchase. It has a lot of options for different ranges of lethality and think the sanity system works pretty well. There are plenty of NPC templates and critters, not to mention a random adventure generator I can use in a pinch if needed.

I’m trying a different way of running this campaign, with a lot of story ideas up front leaving the PCs to decide what to check out. To pique their interest in potential story lines, I’m working on getting some props together. Likely that is something to warrant another post but I want to see it in action before talking about it.

As resources go, I’ve found a ton of wonderful online stuff including sites with lots of cool photos. Definitely looking forward to getting a creepy Cthulhu game going soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Asteroid terrain for Firestorm Armada

Living in a Korean city I have an exceedingly hard time getting DIY materials. There just aren't huge outlet stores like you see in the west (Lowes, Home Depot, etc.). So getting my hands on construction material is a bit of a chore. Also, living in a city means that landscaping material is pretty much impossible to get too. Folks live in apartments so there is literally no customer base here for that type of stuff, hence it's difficult to pick up gardening supplies.

I think it would be exceedingly easy to pick up pumice rocks or wooden chips as landscaping material, give it a base coat, drybrush highlight, and get a set of great looking asteroid terrain pieces for Firestorm Armada. However I'm sort of stuck with not being able to get material like that easily (or cheaply). So I started looking for alternatives.

Fortunately, I was able to find an art supply store that had nice supply of styrofoam balls of various sizes. With a bit of compressing and a paint brush handle, I was able to add a bit of texture to the balls once I cut them in half. After quick base coat and wash, I have a nice supply of asteroids to put down on the table.

I also picked up some larger balls that I'll use for some planetoids. They are a somewhat smaller than the typical planet terrain listed in the FA rule book. You can see one of the larger styrofoam balls in the background for this image. I'll likely give them a very simple paint job, and despite the smaller size I think they give a neat 3d look compared to a cutout template.

One thing you'll notice is that I have my asteroids on black felt. As with many of my war games, I am a huge fan of felt. I really like using them to mark roads, woods, fields, rough terrain, etc. I like having very clear boundaries and with FA it's the same. I can easily layer the felt to create as big a field as needed and have a few smaller sections to make more odd shapes. What really works for this is that I can freely move the asteroid terrain bits around on a set base, allowing models to maneuver where they want, without worrying about altering the perimeter of the field.

Still thinking of possibly adding a few dabs of paint to the felt to give it that star field look. I'm planning on picking up some other colors like a nice purple for nebulas. Now I've got some terrain completed, it's been calling me to get some fleet battles going.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Travel for Savage Worlds

My weird west campaign has my players spending a lot of time in the saddle. Quite a few of the PCs opted to get survival and tracking as skills. It's something they thought would be helpful and envisioned their characters as more hearty, pioneer folk rather than a bunch of gunhands wanting to stick around the saloons all the time. Because of this, I wanted to try and incorporate some type of events for overland travel which might use these skills, rather than just handwaving it all the time.

I was sort of stumped though. I wanted to try adding some structure to travel, but also have the opportunity for random encounters. I wanted players to be able to use skills to impact how efficiently they conducted their expedition. I also wanted provisions and keeping on course another factor.

Digging around, I found this wonderful set of random encounters for a fantasy SW setting. I really liked how these were laid out. However, it was still a bit clunky for me. So I opted to work on it a little more and make up my own version.

I kept everything related to using cards and had no dice rolling. I also tweaked it some related to expanded events in particular terrain. Really hazardous lands might incur more usage of provisions (which would relate back to fatigue). I wanted to keep this open ended and not get down to too many specifics, in order to allow the rules to be used for a variety of settings. You can draw a single card every day, or instead decide to draw only for each important milestone.

Likewise some of the events are sketched out. Inclement weather could mean the players might suffer exposure and need to make vigor rolls to avoid fatigue. Possibly another check might need to be made to avoid a wound. Say some heavy rains have made riding along a mountainous path dangerous. So failed riding skill checks could have the player's mount be injured (or themselves taking damage from a fall).

One big change is the number of provisions needed. If you are planning an expedition, you're going to take enough food to get you there and back again. At key points you'll be going through food, water, and other items needed during your journey. I wanted to reduce the overhead of excessive bookkeeping and avoid the need to keep track of various 'legs' of a journey. So I opted to just have set points where players exhaust a level of provisions. Be mindful that if you are drawing a card every day, but a trip might take 10 days to complete, players will likely quickly run out of provision markers early. It might be better to draw a card every 3 days or so instead.

So here are my travel rules for Savage Worlds. They allow for a variety of events where player abilities can help in reducing misfortune. I think they are also relatively generic enough to work in a variety of settings. Hope people get some use out of them around the game table.