Tobold's Blog
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Warp speed

If you consult various sites with guides and videos on 3D printing, you will see a lot of advice on how to prevent warping: The first layers of your print curling up at the edges because of lack of adhesion, ruining your print. I have been 3D printing for over a year now, and today is the first time this actually happened to me. My XYZ printer came with squares of masking tape that self-adhered to the glass build plate and always provided perfect adhesion of my prints. The new Zortrax printer has a build plate with lots of little holes in it; the first layer enters little spikes into those holes and my main problem was that adhesion was too good.

Then this week the software gets an update to "improve adhesion", and I'm running into serious problems: The rafts stick so strongly to the build plate that I need a lot of force to remove it from the build plate, damaging the printed parts in the process. I need to decrease adhesion! In view of the bed being heated to 65°C, I can't exactly grease that build plate. So I apply a layer of candle wax by rubbing a candle over the hot build plate. The result is my first ever print with warping.

So now I know how to get too much adhesion, and I know how to get too little adhesion. Just a matter of finding the sweet spot in the middle.


Friday, June 15, 2018
Still not WoWed

My original plan was to simply ignore World of Warcraft's upcoming expansion, Battle for Azeroth. However Blizzard now sent me a beta invite. And so I thought that trying the expansion out for free would be worth doing. But after a couple of hours in the beta, I was even less excited about the expansion than before.

Because the beta is on another server, with another client program, starting up the game plays the trailer. But not of the Battle of Azeroth expansion (although I know there is one), but of the previous expansion, Legion. Now the theme of Legion was how Alliance and Horde have to work together against the Burning Legion, so the Legion trailer is full of King Varian Wrynn talking to his son about this need for collaboration between Alliance and Horde. And then you find yourself in the Battle for Azeroth expansion, with a first scenario about Alliance and Horde fighting each other as mortal enemies. Of course that transition will be somewhat smoother in the release version, but for me the episode was a poignant reminder of how arbitrary WoW lore is sometimes.

Just like in my previous short visit to WoW, I was just mashing buttons through the scenario. I don't like that due to constant changes and large number of buttons I can't remember the optimum control scheme. I like it even less that it doesn't really make a difference whether you master a complex control scheme or you randomly mash buttons. At least at the level of the scenarios and quests it doesn't appear to make a difference, and I haven't even distributed my talent points yet.

I will still play a few hours over the weekend, but I don't believe that will change my mind. Battle of Azeroth is still on course to be the first WoW expansion I don't buy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Dungeons & Dragons luxury

Between 3D printed miniatures, dungeon tiles or battle maps, and various handouts, one can spend a lot of time and money in preparation of a D&D adventure. And as I like this sort of material, I tend to do a lot of that sort of prep work. Of course you can play nearly as well without anything of this, but I find that the material helps with visualization, and I have fun crafting the stuff. Now of course not everybody has that sort of time, 3D printing is still not a technology for everybody, and not everybody enjoys crafting. So what if you could buy a D&D adventure complete with miniatures, battle maps, and handouts?

I turns out that you soon can do so. Beadle & Grimm's, a new company with a license from WotC, is offering you the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Platinum Edition for $499, coming November 2018. No, there is not a decimal point missing in that price tag somewhere, it's really five hundred bucks. "Coming next year" is a gold box and a silver box with less content for less money. Which I might actually be interested in buying, if the price is right. In their YouTube video they describe it as a "luxury item for geeks", and that is what it is.

Earlier this year I had 3 campaigns running in parallel for which I was the DM. It turned out that with all the prep work, that was too much for my available prep time. I cut down on it since, two campaigns still running, but at least one of them I'll switch from DM to player. So I can see the interest of having all the material prep work done for you, and just buying it. Not counting the cost of the 3D printer, I still have spent occasionally over a hundred dollars on a single adventure, e.g. by having battle maps printed as posters, or getting Hero Forge metal miniatures. While the platinum edition is a bit too rich for me, I could see myself paying for a less luxurious box with the maps and miniatures, but less artwork and handouts.

By the way, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is an upcoming D&D 5th edition adventure for characters level 1 - 5, which is mostly a city adventure. That will be followed by Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage for levels 5 - 20, which explores the vast Undermountain dungeon of 23 dungeon levels. Looks interesting, but my previous experience with WotC 5E adventures is that the quality is mixed, sometimes very good, sometimes not so much. Fortunately the silver/gold/platinum boxes come out months after the regular edition, so there is time to see how good it actually is before investing too much money in it.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Temple of the Crushing Wave in dungeon tiles

This is the first diorama I set up with the dungeon tiles I have printed over the last two weeks.
I put a copy of the original plan next to it for comparison. All the tiles were part of the True Tiles sets, except for the unholy symbol at the far end, which I designed myself based on the symbol of the water cult. The cultists, priest and shark are for decoration and aren't a spoiler of the content of the room. The 59 tiles took about a full week to print, and used about 1 spool of Z-ABS (800g) for €35, including the wasted material for rafts and supports. A cheaper material would probably also have worked, but I like the color of this one.

I've printed extra parts beyond this, and am now on my third spool of filament. That should give me enough of an assortment of tiles to reconstruct the whole Temple of the Crushing Wave from the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure. Not at the same time, mind you, but room after room in function of the movement of the group. And I can re-use the same tiles (except the water) for the other dungeons.

I was thinking of creating cave tiles to build the first dungeon of the Lost Mine of Phandelver in the 5th edition Starter Set, Cragmaw Hideout. Somebody did that with another tile system; but he needed to make the tunnels much wider (4 tiles instead of 1 tile) than on the original map to get there, and then needed polystyrene foam blocks as a support for the elevated rooms. I think I'll stick to dungeons with just one level, and simpler caverns. The tiles are easy enough to create quick battlegrounds in rectangular rooms, but for complicated irregular rooms with different levels a printed map might be better.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018
Earning rewards vs. owning them

Back in 2013 I blogged a lot about Card Hunter. I liked that game very much, and its icon remained on my desktop, but I haven't played it in years. The game is complex enough that you forget how to play it well if you stop playing for several years. And then it is hard to get back into the game when it is somewhere in the middle of the campaign. All those nice rewards you collected aren't doing you much good if you don't play.

So I made a decision and mailed the Card Hunter support and asked them to reset my game. They mailed me back, reminding me that I would lose all the items I had collected. I replied that I had more fun earning rewards than owning them. So they reset my game, I started the campaign again from the start, and I am enjoying the story of Gary and his brother Melvin a lot. I don't even remember all the epics I had previously, I'm having fun collecting common, uncommon, and rare items.

If I look back at the MMORPGs I played, I remember some of the rewards I got, but only because of the effort it took to get them. Camping the Mammoth Cloak in Everquest for 16 hours, or getting the Will of Arlokk in vanilla World of Warcraft. I'm sure I was happy when epics dropped for me, but most of them are long forgotten now. Getting the rewards was fun. Owning them not so much, especially when the next expansion made your previous set of rewards obsolete.

Friday, June 08, 2018
True freedom is always the freedom of others

Freedom is a very weird thing. We always want more freedom for ourselves. There aren't any official "anti freedom" political parties. But true freedom means that this freedom doesn't only apply to us, but also to everybody else. You can't have freedom of speech without giving freedom of speech to people whose speech you find offensive. You end up with total hypocrisy, in which media clamor for freedom of speech, while simultaneously censoring speech.

There used to be a time when games were too simple to contain much "speech" at all. Pac Man doesn't have a political message. But technology advanced, and today games can be as powerful, if not more so, in telling a story as a novel. And suddenly you end up with games telling stories that some other people don't like. It doesn't matter whether that is the game in which you can shoot JFK, the game about inclusion of handicapped people, or the game about sex. The thing is that games have gotten good enough to tell a message, and no message is universally welcome.

I write my opinions here on this blogging platform from Google, Blogger. I would be very much offended if Google started censoring my blog. I do sometimes write things that offend other people. And I provide them the opportunity to reply to me with comments. I don't censor comments unless they are just trolling or swearing. "You are an idiot" is not a valid comment, "you are wrong about ..., because ..." certainly is.

Steam just introduced pretty much the same policy. You can now publish any game you want on Steam, as long as it isn't illegal or just trolling. Steam isn't censoring developers any more. And Steam gives players the opportunity to reply to games they find offensive by writing reviews. There is also a system of curators, so if you have a specific opinion which results in you not wanting to see a certain type of game or hear a certain type of message, you can get all your recommendations from a curator who thinks like you.

And honestly I am a bit surprised how many people are against this new policy. I think that people saying "walking simulators about depression shouldn't be on Steam" are just trying to censor the freedom of speech of others. They use fake arguments like "quality assurance" to justify censorship. The only quality assurance Steam needs is the ability to return bad games and give them a bad review. I've heard people saying that Valve is a private company and doesn't have to allow free speech. But imagine Steam wouldn't allow shooter games any more because violence is bad; the same people would then protest about Steam censorship. Just because some organisation censors content in a way that suits you doesn't make censorship a good thing. Going for the free speech option is courageous by Valve, and in my opinion the right thing to do.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Many, many years ago I owned a Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP, and played a Pokemon RPG on it, I don't remember exactly which color. However I didn't buy any of the Nintendo DS or 3DS handhelds, so I haven't been able to play Pokemon RPGs for a while. There aren't many Pokemon games outside the Nintendo handheld consoles, and I didn't like Pokemon Go. But now there appears to be a change in strategy at Nintendo. The first Pokemon game for the Switch, Pokemon Quest, was just released, and several more Pokemon games, some more similar to the classics, have been announced.

I tried Pokemon Quest, and the first thing I saw was the start screen that said "Tap to start". Tap? It turned out that was an omen: Pokemon Quest plays horribly with a JoyCon controller, it is designed for touch screens. However the Switch isn't a great mobile handheld console, due to very limited battery life. So my first thought was "why don't they bring this out for my iPad instead". It turns out that this is exactly what they are going to do end of this month. I wonder if I can link my progress from the Switch to the iOS.

Pokemon Quest is very much designed like a mobile game: It is Free2Play and has the usual Gacha collection mechanic, as well as energy running out after a number of expeditions. However the game isn't overly pushy with its monetization, and can be played reasonably well without paying anything. The real time combat requires some getting used to, I prefer the classic turn-based combat. But I'll play this until the "Pokemon Let's Go" games come out, which are supposed to bring back the gameplay of Pokemon Yellow.

Sunday, June 03, 2018
True Tiles progress

As I mentioned recently, I decided to go for the True Tiles system for my 3D printed dungeon tiles.
Above you can see examples at three different print settings, from left to right: high (0.09 mm layer height), medium (0.14 mm layer height), and low (0.34 mm layer height). The high version needs 180 minutes to print, and is only slightly better than the medium version, which prints 40 minutes faster at 140 minutes total. The low version prints even faster, just 80 minutes, but looks quite ugly; you can clearly see the layers in the brick wall part, and the detail of the floor is lost. I will print out the rest of the tiles in medium setting. My Zortrax M200 Plus can print 9 of these tiles at once, and printing a batch in 21 hours (basically one per day) is far more convenient than printing it in 27 hours.

While I can't really sculpt tiles myself, I am able to modify the True Tiles .STL files I bought. I guess they don't mind as long as I don't redistribute my own creations. I already modified the stone bridge they offered to a shorter version, and I created a water tile with walls left and right. Speaking of water tiles, I bought water soluble acrylic blue paint and painted my water tiles blue. This will appear trivial to you, but it is the first time I paint anything I printed. I didn't even own a paint brush, and had to buy one with the paint. A simple uniform color coating is as far as my painting skill gets me, don't expect me to color the rest of the tiles. I bought this grey filament especially so that I didn't need to paint it.

As I won't be able to print much next week, I will still need a week or so before my first dungeon room will be finished. I'll post photos of the diorama then.


Saturday, June 02, 2018
Steam Dungeons & Dragons sale

Steam has a Dungeons & Dragons sale. Of the 12 games on the list, I own only 2: Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms, and Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation. The first is obviously an idle clicker game, the second a board game adaptation. I like both, but they obviously aren't really "Dungeons & Dragons" or even real role-playing games, they are just D&D themed. From the other games on the list, I played some, but before they were on Steam. Yes, games like Planescape Torment, Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale are great role-playing games; or rather they were great games at the time, 20 years ago, and now even the new versions feel a bit dated. The two MMORPGs on offer, D&D Online and Neverwinter, are mediocre MMORPGs at best, and don't really use D&D rule sets.

In short, I don't see any Dungeons & Dragons computer games around that are from this decade and that are good role-playing games that I would like to play. Somehow the video game industry completely missed out on the chance to turn 4th edition D&D (which has very tactical, "video-gamey" rules) into a video game. And I don't see any 5th edition-based games either. Which is a shame, and a missed opportunity for the industry, given the current popularity of D&D.


Thursday, May 31, 2018
More thoughts on 3D printed dungeon tiles

There is only so much you can learn about a subject by reading up on it or watching YouTube videos. So once I actually started 3D printing sample sets of Dragonlock and True Tiles, I learned a lot that these sources hadn't taught me.

First, the cost estimate I had for 20 to 40 cents per tile is a bit too optimistic. A simple Dragonlock tile with one wall weighs already 20 grams, at medium quality with just 10% infill. While you theoretically can get 3D printer filament for 1 cent per gram ($10 per kg), that would be very shitty material that I wouldn't recommend using. So the higher end of the estimate, 40 cents per tile, is actually the lower end of what I think printing tiles costs: 40 to 80 cents per tile for the Dragonlock system.

However I won't use Dragonlock. I don't like the thick, high walls. I can see how those look great on a photo of a large dungeon you assembled. But for actually playing the high walls block the view on the figurines. And they take up half a space, so you end up with a room lined with half spaces on which you can't really put figurines. I much prefer the True Tiles system, which has low walls, and squares of 1.25", of which the walls take only 0.25", so there is still room for a miniature next to the wall or even in the corners. That also makes the tiles lighter, which lowers both printing cost and time.

The locking system of the Dragonlock system also turned out to be not optimal: You need to print tiles with rectangular holes in the side. Which means that the top of the hole isn't supported, so it sagged and I needed to clear the holes manually to be able to fit a clip in. The True Tiles sample set prints tiles that are very flat, and can then be glued on a OpenLOCK compatible base. The holes on the base are open towards the top, so you don't get the sagging problem.

But then I bought several sets of True Tiles, and found out that the sample set isn't representative of the system: Not all the tiles in the sets are so thin that they can be glued on an OpenLOCK base. For example the tiles that have both floor and water use a height difference of a few millimeters to indicate which surface is the water. And so the tiles of that set already have a base which is as thick as a Dragonlock or OpenLOCK base. You could still glue another base under it, but then your tiles become very heavy.

So I wasn't really happy with any of the locking systems. But then I thought that maybe I don't need one: Those 2 x 2 squares (2.5" x 2.5" in the case of True Tiles) are solid enough to not move around a lot when assembled without locks. I'm too lazy to drill holes in all tiles to add a little magnet, which is a fancy method recommended on YouTube. So I think I'll just use them without any locking system at all. Which means having to transport a dungeon as a pile of tiles and assembling it on the spot, but that has advantages as well as disadvantages, so I am okay with that. And I will use the True Tiles with the thicker base, both for stability, and to enable me using the water tiles.

The one downside of that decision is that even a True Tile with the low wall gains some weight when printed with a thicker base. The thin tiles are just 8 grams, but the thick base tiles end up at twice that, 16 grams. Only 20% less than the Dragonlock tiles. And I am using a high end material which costs 4 cents per gram. It is the Z-ABS from Zortrax, the company that made my printer. Not cheap, but really nice quality, and there are standardized settings for the Zortrax material in the slicer software, so I don't need to fiddle around with the parameters. Also the thicker base and my not-so-ugly print settings mean that the print job of 4 single-wall tiles I started this morning takes 9 hours to print. In other words I can do two print jobs like that per day, one while I am at work, the other at night. It'll take me some weeks and some spools of material before I have a nice large collection.

My only remaining problem is color. I'm printing in "warm grey", which looks nice enough for stone floors and tiles. Doors don't look so well in grey, but they are clip-on, so I can print them in another color. Where it gets tricky is the water tiles, which have both stone and water on them. My 3D printer in mono-color, so they are going to be all grey. The obvious solution is to paint the water part blue with some acrylic paint. But that is something I will have to learn and acquire the materials for, I never painted miniatures before.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Pondering Tiles

I am not alone with my hobby of 3D printing things for tabletop games. It is the beauty of the internet that even with a “1 in a million” hobby or interest there are enough millions of people out there to find a like-minded community. There are YouTube channels and subreddits on printing miniatures for games. And looking at these one finds that besides miniatures, a lot of people are 3D printing scenery, and that there are multiple systems of printable dungeon tiles out there.

Even before 3D printing there was already a market for boxes of 3D plastic tiles, which unlike their 2D cardboard tile relatives have upright walls, doors, and similar features. I never bought any, because those 3D tiles are expensive, and then you always are short of the special tiles you wanted for your dungeon, like diagonal walls. 3D printing tiles thus makes a lot of sense, because if you only count the cost of the filament, you can print tiles for one tenth of the cost of the commercial ones. And you can print exactly the tiles you need for your dungeon. While I don’t paint my miniatures, I could easily get a spool of grey filament for $20 and print dozens of “stone” tiles that would look good even unpainted. So why don’t I?

I do actually own some boxes of cardboard tiles from back when Wizards of the Coast promoted those for 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. Some 4E adventures came with floor plans designed for those tiles. In the end I rarely used them: They made for boring grey scenery, and didn’t show most of the stuff that players were actually interested in, like chests and other furniture. The walls and floors are usually the least interesting parts of a dungeon. I got more colorful, better battle maps with more features by designing them in software like Cartographer / Dungeon Designer and then printing them on a color laser printer. Some I even had printed on posters, which made for great if expensive maps.

Currently I tend to use a tablet for dungeon maps. Using a standard paint program I load the map in the background layer, and create a black foreground layer hiding the map. As the players explore, I erase that part of the foreground, revealing the dungeon map behind. That way I can play through large dungeons with very little work. However when there is a battle, I still need to draw the room with wet erase marker on a Chessex battle map to place the figurines. So that part I could possibly replace with 3D printed dungeon tiles.

However the tiles are mostly good for the old school dungeons we used to draw on graph paper. There is even a system called True Tiles that specifically is made for dungeons in which a wall is just a line between two squares on a graph paper, which in reality would be unpractically thin. The system needs to fudge and make the squares 1.25 inch wide to have space for quarter-of-an-inch walls and still leave space for 1 inch base miniatures. Most tile systems use half-inch walls which only leave half spaces next to the wall, which then doesn’t correspond to the drawn map. Many of the dungeons in the adventures I am currently running are far more complex, like irregular cavern walls. While cavern tiles certainly exist, one would need a lot more different tiles to create caverns that feel organic and not just rectangular.

Even the first dungeon in the 5th edition starter kit is a cavern with clever use of elevation and irregular walls. I don’t even think the gently sloped tiles one would need for the main corridor even exist. As I am not skilled enough to sculpt the special features, I would be unable to even reproduce this introductory dungeon faithfully. The second dungeon has more rectangular features, but also has a crevasse that would be impossible to print. So dungeon tiles are not an universal solution to dungeon mapping and creating battle maps. They might have some use for more rectangular dungeons, of which there still are many in the published adventures.

One thing to consider is the time requirement. Home 3D printing is not a fast technology. At the highest quality a simple 2x2 squares tile with a straight wall takes 6 hours to print. If I want to print faster, I would need to compromise on the quality. My old printer wasn’t very good at printing several pieces at once, but on my new printer I could easily print four 2x2 tiles at once and just leave it running for a full day. Still it would take me a week or more to make a set big enough for a trial run. But maybe for floors and wall I don't need the highest quality, and the prints should be easy enough to succeed with not too many fine features.

So in the end I got myself a spool of "warm grey" Zortrax Z-ABS and will try out printing various tile systems like Dragonlock and True Tiles out. I'll just start printing the free sample sets first. Then when I decided on my favorite system I can still buy sets of files, a typical dungeon set costing just under $10. I promise that once I got a dungeon together, I'll post photos.


Monday, May 28, 2018
Copyright and 3D printing

I can't draw. That is to say that if I try to draw a face or a person or an animal, I can't get the proportions to look right. It is something I simply never learned. And as I can't draw in 2D, I can't sculpt in 3D either. I can use simple character editors like Hero Forge or Desktop Hero 3D, but I'm no good with software like Blender. Which means that predominantly I am using 3D models that have been sculpted by other people. Mostly Miguel Zavala, who pretty much sculpted every D&D monster from 5th edition (see here, here, and here), and made them freely available to the world. Thank you, Miguel! So because he allows us to use his files, there is no copyright problem in my production of D&D miniatures.

Now I met another DM from my role-playing club, and he asked me whether I could print him some figurines for his Star Wars campaign. As I was just testing my new printer, it was a good opportunity to try some stuff, so I produced an X-Wing, a TIE fighter, and a bunch of stormtroopers. I found the models for free on places like Thingiverse. However when I was finished I had some doubts about the legality of what I just did. We are all aware that there is a huge difference between the ability of getting a file for free on the internet, and that content actually being free of copyright.

I don't know where these Star Wars files on Thingiverse are coming from. Some had somewhat smudged surface features, which looked as if somebody had 3D-scanned a model released by some toy company and turned it into an .stl file. Others were probably using software like Blender, but clearly following images from the Star Wars universe, which are presumably copyrighted. Disney is unlikely to come after me if I print a few toy stormtroopers. But there are companies that make their money by producing figurines for games, e.g. Games Workshop or Reaper Miniatures. What if somebody scanned their miniatures and made those files public, or started to selling slightly lower quality miniatures for a fraction of the cost? A $2.99 Reaper miniature could be reproduced for less than 10% of that cost on a typical home 3D printer. After painting you'd barely see the difference. After knock-off Prada handbags, we could have knock-off tabletop miniatures. On the other hand the companies making miniatures could actually make money from producing the .stl files themselves and selling you the file for personal use instead of the miniature, if they weren't too afraid of the files getting copied.

I am not a lawyer. The kind of information I found on the internet suggests that copyright hasn't caught up with 3D printing technology yet. And just like with music and film piracy, the law will first deal with people trying to make money from copyright infringement, before they turn against the average use who pirated something for personal use. However as 3D printers become cheaper and more common, it is only a matter of time until the shit hits the fan and we will have lawyers all over the 3D model sites.



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