Tobold's Blog
Sunday, May 13, 2018
 
Rage of Demons: Session 5

In the previous session the group left Gracklstugh and traveled to Neverlight Grove. As they had spent two sessions in Gracklstugh, I thought I could at the very least fill one full session with the events in Neverlight Grove. Unfortunately I was wrong, and and we had a short session due to me running out of prepared material. My bad!

The myconids of Neverlight Grove are a peaceful people, organized into circles. Even their "hunter circle" doesn't actually kill things, but just collects corpses of anything that dies close to the village and uses them as fertilizer. So the group's first encounter with the myconids (other than their travel companions Stool and Rumpadump) was after they killed a Shambling Mound near the village, and the "hunters" turned up and asked politely if they could collect it. That got the group a friendly welcome to the village, and a quest to kill another monster which was attacking myconids outside the village.

I had some commercial poster battlemaps of Underdark caves, and used one of them for this fight against a Grick alpha. What I hadn't noticed was that on the map there was a pond with treasure chests visible at the bottom. So after the fight the group wanted to lift those chests, and I didn't want to spoil their fun and say there weren't any. So I let them roll on the appropriate treasure table in the DM's Guide, and they ended up with a Figurine of Wondrous Power (Ebony Fly). Nice, but not overpowered.

Back in the village the group interacted with the myconids and learned that they were split in two factions. The "normal" ones were a bit naive, friendly, and not very emotional. The others were overly enthusiastic, dancing around, and awaiting a great event for tomorrow in the Garden of Welcome. They were asked not to go to the garden so as to not spoil the surprise, so of course they went.

That resulted in several fights against infected myconids and other creatures. Ultimately the group discovered yet another demon lord, Zuggtmoy, who apparently is preparing her wedding to the "Great Body". Various infected plant creatures serve as chamberlains and bridesmaids in some sort of perverted wedding ceremony. But it is rather obvious that the group can't stop the wedding without fighting the "bride", and they aren't strong enough to tackle demon lords yet. While the un-infected myconids flee, the group decides that they should do the same, and travel on towards Blingdenstone.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018
 
Zortrax M200 Plus print examples

I am getting the hang of my new 3D printer. So I'm posting the photos I promised. First is a comparison: The darker green wererat on the left is with the new printer, compared to the neon green on the right with the old printer. So, yes, for my miniatures the new printer is working fine, and better than the old one.
Next is an example of something my old printer frequently refused to do: Print half a dozen miniatures at the same time. The new one did these 6 bandits in one go without problems. I assume it has to do with the ABS printing hotter, so it still sticks to the previous layer even that layer has been printed a while ago.
The other advantage of ABS is that you can treat it with acetone vapors, which makes the surface glossy and hides imperfections. As an example the 3DBenchy model printed twice identically, with the right one being treated with acetone vapors for 1 hour. Note that for miniatures you better just use 15 minutes, after 1 hour fine parts like arms or swords tend to melt.
Finally I used a model of a bard with a lot of detail to see how it comes out. This is with 15 minutes acetone treatment. Looking closely you can still see the layers and imperfections. But remember that this is just 3 cm tall, so for this size this is as good as it gets. You can see the lute, the rapier, and even the jester's hat is printing out fine.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2018
 
Masters and Servants

If you watch a film or TV series like Downton Abbey, you can learn about how the class structure of society worked a century ago. Many of those concepts of hereditary masters and servants are now completely outdated. But while class borders have become a lot more flexible today, classes still do exist. In today's economy there are still masters, who are the customers paying for a service, and servants, who then get money for providing those services. Of course the guy who is a servant all day, for example an Uber driver, can come home and become the master by ordering a pizza delivered. But the rich are more likely to receive services, and the poor are more likely to provide those services; we aren't really much more equal than back in the days of Downton Abbey.

This class divide has also reached games. If you can afford to buy $60 games or spend money in Free2Play games, you get services provided to you. If you play those Free2Play games for free, you end up being the content for other players. It is as if you were paid for providing a service as opponent for another player, only that you don't get paid in cash but in access to the game.

I don't like being a servant to a game company. Game companies, like most other companies, treat their customers like royalty, and their employees like garbage. So I don't want to work for the game company, be the content, provide a service as a cheap replacement of an artificial intelligence. In particular I hate games where even if you pay money, you never can escape from that role as servant, because you always are content for other players.

I just can't play the new Magic Arena, because it only has a PvP mode. Not only don't I like serving as content for other players. I also don't like the content that other players provide to me: Playing against random humans means total unpredictability, you can end up against a complete pushover or the guy who spent hundreds of dollars and hours on the game and is a complete pro. On the one side I feel bad if I play against a human and have to quit early because real life intervenes (which makes the game rather unsuitable for mobile platforms), but on the other side I hate it when my opponent quits early. I much prefer playing against an AI, where there is no social contract, and my opponent plays in a more predictable manner. Previous electronic versions of Magic the Gathering have proven that an AI can be created that plays the game reasonably well. So making a version of Magic without AI to me feels like simple exploitation of players as content, and I'm not willing to be exploited like that.

Monday, May 07, 2018
 
First impressions Zortrax M200 Plus 3D Printer

I am going to post a full review with comparison of things I printed later, but I already wanted to write about my first impressions with my new 3D printer. Unboxing the printer, installing, calibration, and starting to print took me about 1 hour, which is about a "plug & play" as it gets in 3D printing. Most of the printer is pre-assembled, but you need to assemble the cable to the print head and the cable to the heated bed yourself, as well as the spool holder and the guide tube from the spool to the print head. Then you need to install the latest firmware via an USB key, and calibrate the bed to be even. That is done with the help of 3 screws, with the printer telling you which one to turn by how much. Apart from a ridiculous degree of precision in the instructions ("turn the screw by 86.02°"), that went smoothly.

The printer comes with one model for a test print on the provided USB key. In a disappointing display of lack of professionalism Zortrax managed to forget to include supports in that test print model, which results in it being actually impossible to print. Of course I didn't know that and went back to the shop to ask why after installation the test print wasn't working, and it was just by chance that there was a technician present who was aware of that issue and told me not to worry and print something else instead.

Both the firmware and the Z-Suite 3D printing software can only be downloaded after entering the serial number of the printer, but then the software worked on the first try. So I printed a 3D Benchy as test print, and it came out very nice. Much better detail on the fine parts, and smoother walls. However after printing some other models I have to say that not everything is perfect, and some prints that I succeeded with on the old printer failed to print on the new one; right now it is hard to say how much of that is due to the change in material from PLA to ABS, how much is related to finding the best settings, and how much is due to the printer.

What I really disliked about my old XYZ printer was that he would only take spools of PLA from the company that made the printer, with an RFID chip in the spool making sure you didn't use other material. That system also resulted in the spool physically still having several meters of material on it at the end, while the RFID chip claimed the spool was empty and refused to use it any more. The new Zortrax printer is better in that respect, you can print with spools from any supplier. However the software has the optimum parameters for the Zortrax spools, while for external materials you need to find the best settings yourself. That curiously means that if you want to print the Zortrax ABS at a different temperature for some reason, you need to unload it, and reload it as external material, claiming it was ABS from a different supplier.

I notice a real change printing in ABS rather than in PLA. I will need to explore that further, and for example try to print PLA on the new printer. The previous model Zortrax M200 was famous for not doing PLA well, but the M200 Plus has an additional cooling fan on the print head and is supposed to have solved that problem. From a scientific point of view, PLA is more crystalline, which makes it more shiny, but also more brittle. ABS is more matte, more flexible, and sturdier. Lego bricks are made from ABS, and those usually don't break easily. However when printed with a 3D printer, the layers create a preferred axis of breakage, so if I would print a Lego brick it would be less sturdy than the original. And it would be less glossy and smooth on the surface. However ABS, unlike PLA, is soluble in acetone, so there are methods of making ABS printed parts smooth and glossy by exposing them to acetone vapors. I haven't tried that yet. The disadvantage I noticed with ABS is that you need to print it at higher temperature to make it stick to the previous layer, and then there is a bit of possible "sagging", making the printed part a bit broader than the model. I had some prints of figurines with supports where the side of the support stuck to the side of the model, and then left a mark when I removed it. That can probably be fixed by the settings of the software making the supports.

Talking of supports, I still have the same problem with the supports generated by the Z-Suite software than I had with the supports generated by the XYZWare software: The supports are far too massive for small 28mm scale figurines. You can't use them to print a support for something which is only a millimeter or two thick, like a weapon or arm of a miniature. They seem to be designed for large objects. Having said that, the Z-Suite software has at least some degree of manual editing of support structures, so that is good. Just for my main application I'll keep using Meshmixer for building support structures for small figurines.

Finally there is one point where the new Zortrax printer is far worse than the old XYZ printer: The XYZ printer automatically shut down the light after a few minutes, and shut down the fans when the print head was cold. Thus I could start a print in the morning and go to work, or in the evening and go to bed, and when I came back the XYZ printer was on standby. The Zortrax printer doesn't have that, when you come back hours later the light is still on (presumably to allow the internal camera to work) and the fans are still blowing, although the machine is cold. That adds unnecessary wear and tear to the fans, and also consumes more electricity when not in use. I think I will have to buy an electronic time switch or something.

Overall I am happy with the new printer, and I'll show some photos of the improved results in a future post. But there remains a lot of fiddling and optimizing to be done, and the new printer didn't miraculously and immediately solve all my printing problems. But then that would have been boring anyway! :) 

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Saturday, May 05, 2018
 
Destiny 2 for $12

Some time ago I subscribed to the Humble Bundle Monthly to get Civ VI for $12. After one three-month subscription I unsubscribed, because I didn't like the other games I got in the bundles. But if you subscribe now, you get Destiny 2 for $12 plus whatever other games will be in the bundle in June, so I subscribed again. For just one month this time. In short, I still don't like the bundles, but I'm willing to buy one of them here and there if the headline game it has is well worth $12.

I got Destiny 1 for free on the PS3 and liked it. It is shooter meets Diablo with a bit of MMORPG mixed in. On the PC Destiny 2 isn't on Steam, but only available via the Blizzard / Activision Battle.net. Where it costs $60, although you can get it a lot cheaper from various key resellers. For a game that was only released last October and got a 83 Metacritic score, $12 is good value for money.

Monday, April 30, 2018
 
World of Warcraft today

I got a "gift" from Blizzard, 7 days of free subscription to WoW. Not that I would have needed it, I still have several tokens I could exchange for game time. But it did what it was supposed to do, prompt me to update the client and play World of Warcraft for an hour or so. Unfortunately for Blizzard that didn't get me hooked again. Instead I got rather bored with running errands, aka quests, and logged out again.

One major difficulty I have with World of Warcraft is that the buttons I have for each character have changed so often over the life of this game. Which means that even on my main character which I have played literally for thousands of hours I can't remember the optimum sequence of button presses after a year and a half of not playing the game. That doesn't appear to matter for quests, I can do those with just randomly mashing buttons, but it is a serious barrier to re-entry if I wanted to play again.

The next thing that hit me was getting billions of artifact points thrown at me for doing not much. It basically made all the effort I had previously put into artifact weapons seem pointless. On the other hand, I had stopped playing with only part 1 of the achievement necessary for flying done, and it turns out that part 2 still needs weeks of grinding to get to. No thanks!

In summary, World of Warcraft has changed the details frequently (which makes it hard to remember how to play well), while not changing the basic structure of the game enough (which makes it hard to find a renewed interest in playing). I still don't think I will buy the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth.

Saturday, April 28, 2018
 
Ordered a new 3D printer

I've been using my XYZ da Vinci Junior 1.0w 3D printer for a year now. It is still working. However I have learned a lot during that year, I'm printing more complicated models now, and I'm reaching the limits of what the machine can do. I still think it is a great printer for a beginner, but now I want something much better. So I ordered a Zortrax M200 Plus. The "Plus" is important, as this is the brand-new and improved model of the M200, which is highly regarded but now 5 years old.

The first difference between the two printers is the price. The da Vinci Junior was 471€, the Zortrax M200 Plus is 2,369€. Obviously not the same league. The da Vinci Junior uses PLA, the Zortrax can use PLA, ABS, and some other materials. The old M200 was really best used with ABS, but the new Plus version has better cooling fans, so PLA should come out fine now as well. The main difference is that the XYZ printer was only able to use proprietary XYZ filaments, while the new Zortrax also works with filaments from other suppliers. That was a major point of annoyance for the old printer for me; the spools came with an RFID chip, and if the chip said your spool was empty, the printer refused to use the spool. As the chip counted loading, unloading, and failed prints as lost material even if there was no actual material lost, I always ended up having to throw away the last meters of the spool. And the material was far more expensive than it should have been. However at the start I'll use Zortrax ABS, just because the software knows the best settings for that material.

Where the difference between the two printers is likely to be biggest is in the quality of the prints. At the shop where I ordered the printer they had sample prints of little miniatures similar to those I often make, and the quality was *much* better. On the best setting you don't even see the layers any more with the Zortrax M200 Plus. Of course it remains to be seen how good it will work with my prints. But the experimenting and fiddling around is all part of the hobby, the resulting miniatures are more of a secondary benefit. :)

From what I see in reviews the main issue with the Zortrax is that the software is very slow. I saw a YouTube video of a guy using the old Zortrax M200 to print a Harry Potter wand, and the software took 25 minutes to slice that model. That has probably to do with the print being with rafts (mandatory with the Zortrax) and supports. I suspect the supports use a lot of slicing time, I'll have to try with and without it. But from the video it appears that the supports are easy to remove, which could be a plus. Now I finally understand the models of Miguel Zavala: Many of them can't be printed without those automatically generated supports, and the supports generated by the XYZ software are very bad. So up to now I had to fiddle around with the models a lot, disassemble them digitally, reassemble them digitally, and generate functional supports with Meshmixer. I might be able to just hit a print button in the future, which will be faster even if the slicing is slow.

I'll let you know how the new printer works out once it is delivered and installed.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
 
Dungeons & Dragons today

Dungeons & Dragons is over 40 years old, and I have been playing it for over 35 years. So what is the most surprising aspect of D&D today for me is how popular the game has become suddenly. A streamlined 5th edition and good use of social media, including celebrity support, has moved D&D into the main stream. People now actually watch other people play D&D on Twitch, and not just when it is Vin Diesel or Wil Wheaton. “D&D player on Twitch / YouTube” is now actually a method to become “internet famous”.

I liked 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. It is a great combination of role-playing game with a balanced tactical combat game for experienced players. But it is not a suitable game for a mass market, it is far too complicated for that. The much less balanced, much quicker, much easier 5th edition is far more suitable for mass popularity.

It also helped that the makers of Dungeons & Dragons stopped shooting themselves in the foot with their internet policy. In the early days of the internet, TSR was notorious for going after fans putting D&D-related materials on the internet. It took a change of owner in 1997 to Wizards of the Coast and then Hasbro in 1999 to get the company to realize that fans on the internet are free advertising. With a game that is hard to explain to somebody who has never played it, a Twitch / Youtube video of interesting people like Chris Perkins running a game with Acquisitions Incorporated at PAX might actually be superior advertising to anything else.

The only people somewhat unhappy by the current popularity of D&D are the makers and fans of Pathfinder. Pathfinder had shoved D&D off the throne of top pen & paper roleplaying game for several years during 4th edition, only to be left in the dust by 5th edition. Now they are planning a comeback with Pathfinder second edition, with a playtest starting in August.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018
 
Elemental Evil: Sessions 17

In the previous session the group entered the Temple of Howling Hatred, trying to stop the prophets of elemental evil from summoning their princes. This session started with a long discussion on the merits of retreating to safety, which I tried to hurry along to stop wasting time. After resting the group returned to the Temple, where I had put 8 fresh Kenku at the gate. On the first run, played as written, the Kenku were just making noises to scare the adventurers; this time they use the defense mechanism of the gate house, firing at the group through arrow slits. Although the Kenku were rather low level, that occupied the group for quite a while.

Finally they made it back to the step pyramid where they were before. Inside they found a bunch of cultists and stairs up. After killing the cultists they went up the stairs and met the prophetess of elemental evil air, Aerisi Kalinoth. Despite being a level 12 spellcaster, the prophetess was a pushover. She relied on concentration spells like Fly or Cloudkill, and that just doesn't work. The group just ignored her henchmen and broke her concentration immediately after she cast anything, making her not very effective. I find the 5th edition D&D spell system rather boring, as it really encourages you to use only instant damage spells, because anything a bit more interesting is based on concentration and has little effect. For example Cloudkill used to be a very powerful spell in previous editions, but now it affected only the first character starting his turn in the cloud, who then broke the concentration of Aerisi and dispelled the cloud before it damaged anybody else.

The bard who was with Aerisi was even weaker, also due to concentration spells, and so the only serious monster in the encounter was an invisible stalker, who had more health than the other two together, was much harder to damage, and didn't use concentration spells. Having finally killed that one as well, the group found a lot of monetary treasure and Windvane, the magical spear of Aerisi. However I had had to nerf that one on the request of the future DM of our group, in whose campaign the original wouldn't have fit. So now it was just a +2 lance that opened the magical portals to the temples of elemental evil. At that point we stopped the session.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018
 
Gardmore Abbey 5E rerun - End

I think I forgot to report one or two sessions of my Gardmore Abbey 5th edition rerun. The campaign suffered from something very typical of campaigns in my local role-playing club: Player attrition. You start with 5 players, all very enthusiastic, and then over the months real life intervenes, or enthusiasm fades, and in the end it is hard to get a quorum together.

Today we finished the campaign. The players were level 7, but they had never fought the orcs who were the main force holding the abbey. So for the grand finale I strung together two encounters: The defense of the watchtower against attacking orcs (who had brought a hill giant and dire wolf cavalry), followed by the group attacking the keep with the orc chieftain. As there were only 3 players left, these were tough fight, especially with some lucky dice rolls on my side, like the hill giant scoring a critical hit.

But in the end the group prevailed and, having done all the quests in the abbey, returned to Lord Padraig. Having previously found out how the abbey fell through the use of the Deck of Many Things, they were able to persuade the lord to give them the last remaining cards. That assembled the deck, and allowed them to draw from it.

Ander the ranger drew just one card, but it was the Talons, which destroyed all his magical items. Ouch! Raymond the librarian barbarian drew two cards, but ended up drawing cards that gave him more draws. In the end he lost 10,000 xp, got permanently cursed, and gained a rare magical weapon. Kaze the monk drew 3 cards: The first lost him 5 points of intelligence (and he had only 10). The second gave him 50,000 xp and a rare wondrous item. And the third allowed him to erase the effect of the first card. Which meant that he was the only one who got really lucky, gaining 3 levels and some nice magic boots.

The Deck of Many Things is by itself frequently a campaign-ending item, and thus not recommended unless you don't plan to continue anyway. But with the dwindling player-base this was the good opportunity to end the campaign on a high note.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018
 
Rage of Demons: Session 4

In the previous session the players had reached the duergar city of Gracklstugh, and had started to explore the Whorlstone Tunnels. Unfortunately their companion who had told them that they could find a way to the surface had turned out to be a mad serial killer who had just wanted to get to the tunnels for his own reasons. But they continued to search the tunnels, having been asked to find out about the Grey Ghosts, a thieves guild of renegade duergar and derro.

After some exploration they found an alchemist of the Grey Ghosts and some duergar, which they captured. Having also found a shortcut back to the city, they brought the prisoners to the Keepers of the Flame. There they found out that the Keepers suspected the Grey Ghosts of having stolen a red dragon egg from Themberchaud, the dragon of the city, and were told to go back and look for it.

This time the group collected some of the mushrooms that could grow or shrink people, and used them to explore the narrower tunnels. That way they managed to sneak up on a group of enemies they hadn't really been looking for: Cultists of Demogorgon, who were doing a ritual that apparently was responsible for the curse that made the giants sprout a second head and go rampant. They killed the cultists and reversed the ritual.

Finally they found the dragon egg with the leader of the Grey Ghosts near a strange obelisk, guarded by a spectator. The Grey Ghost turned out to be annoying due to his Blink spell. But in the end they killed him and his pet spectator, and got the red dragon egg. They found that the obelisk was a teleport out of the city, so if they had wanted they could have kept the egg and raised a dragon baby. But instead they brought the egg to the dragon (and not his keepers), who promptly destroyed the egg, as he suspected his keepers to use it to replace him.

So they left the city and traveled north towards Neverlight Grove. They only had two NPC companions left, who were myconids and wanted to go home. And Blingdenstone, the deep gnome city north of Neverlight Grove, was their best hope of finding a way back to the surface.

[Note that this journal entry is somewhat abbreviated, as there was a lot of dungeon exploring and fighting going on, which I didn't want to recount in detail.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2018
 
Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms on iOS

When an alpha test comes with specific instructions not to share screen shots and videos, I read the absence of specific instructions on other forms of communication as them being allowed. So I think I can reveal that since yesterday I am in an alpha test of Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms for mobile devices, which in my case specifically is on an iPad.

I got into that alpha via a link that appeared while I was playing the game on my PC. That is a pretty safe way to select your alpha testers, as existing players will be able to concentrate on bugs or differences to the PC version. Up to now I only found one minor issue, and when I reported it I got a non-automated mail back within minutes. Nice! I'm not a huge fan of the "stress test" type of beta tests where the input of the testers isn't even wanted.

The good news is that the game on the iPad runs as smoothly as on the PC, and appears to be a straight port of the current PC version. The bad news is that the game on the iPad thus has exactly the same rules as the PC version. And those rules push people to let the game run 24/7, because you farm much more gold online than offline. That helped Codename Entertainment get their game in the "top 100 most played Steam games" category, which is somewhat misleading because you can't compare an idle game left running with a game that only does something when you are at the controls. And while letting your PC run 24/7 is still feasible (I just turn the screen off), it is a lot more difficult to do that on a tablet. You need to connect the tablet to a charger, for one thing. And while on the PC the game runs perfectly in the background while you do something else in the foreground, the mobile version only works when it is the foreground, thus prohibiting other use for your tablet.

I would be okay if the "auto progress ON" function only worked when online. But I think that while not progressing, the game should gather gold online and offline at a comparable rate. Apparently there is a change coming in some future patch, but I do think the game needs that change to be viable on a mobile platform.

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