Arcane Game Lore

Shoot Straight, Conserve Ammo, and never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon.

Read an RPG Book in Public Week.

Somehow I’ve managed to miss this for the last 4 years but this week is first Read an RPG Book in Public Week for 2015.  Turns out there are three weeks each year set aside for this.  The article on the Escapist linked above provides a good FAQ on the idea.

Cover of the expanded game rules book for star frontiersI have to say that I think that this is a great idea and an easy non-intrusive way to spread our love of our hobby.  I’m definitely going to have to see if I can get in some public reading, I’m just trying to figure out where as I’m not usually in pubic places.  I may just have to take my lunch hour and go sit in one of the library common areas and read.

Most likely I’ll be reading Star Frontiers as my gaming life is pretty wrapped up in that game right now but maybe I’ll dust off one of my other games as well as a refresher.  What RPG books are you reading in public this week?  Feel free to share comments, experiences, and links to pictures below.


3D Modeling – The Assault Scout – part 2

This post is coming out a little later than usual as I left the thumb drive with all my model files at work over the weekend. I wanted to have pictures of the models to go along with the text and I couldn’t create them as I didn’t have the models proper as I was writing.  Sorry about the delay.

Now that I had my desk model (see part 1), it was time to make the miniature that was in scale with all the others for use in the game.  This post will cover that process.

As I mentioned in my Sathar Destroyer post, my goal was to try to create as many of these miniatures to the same scale as possible and that I had settled on 1/3000th scale.  That’s the scale I produced the sathar destroyer to.  Well, the Assault Scout is 50 meters tall/long in the game, so to scale the miniature would be 16 2/3 mm in size (just over 5/8 of an inch).  That was the goal but that’s pretty small and I may have to make it a bit bigger.

First Attempt

Printing path of the assault scout model showing the holes due to the small wings.

The MakerBot export model of Jay’s Assault Scout scaled down to 20mm

My first attempt was simply to shrink down Jay’s model that I had used for the big one.  I loved the shape and design and the model was already created.  Scaling it down was easy enough and could be done in the software that I used to actually print the model.  However, this turned out to be impossible to print.  Once scaled down, the wings were just too thin.  The fins vanished (which I expected) but even the wings themselves were so thin that the software decided that no plastic needed to be printed.  It was putting plastic in parts of the wing but not everywhere indicating that making it a little larger might work.  In the image to the right (click for full size) you can see the missing plastic, towards the bottom of the wings.

So I got out one of my old original lead miniatures and measured it.  It turns out that the original Assault Scout miniature was actually 20mm tall.  So I scaled Jay’s model to that size (which is actually 20% size increase) but still no luck.  The wings were just too thin.  I briefly considered trying to play with the Sketchup model to make the wings thicker but after a little bit of fiddling I realized that doing so would not be an easy proposition and that my Sketchup skill level simply wasn’t up to the task.

Back to the Drawing Board

Since I couldn’t use Jay’s model I was going to have to build my own.  So I had to make a couple of decisions.  The first was scale, was I going to try to stick to the 1/3000th scale as I planned or, like the original miniatures, make the Assault Scout a little bigger.  The second decision was whether or not to use Jay’s model as the basis for mine or go with something closer to the original model.

I knew I had a couple of constraints based on the nature of the 3D printing process.  First, I wanted the wings to be at least 1mm thick.  The print nozzle on my printer (and on most consumer class 3D printers) has a 0.4mm diameter.  Thus if the thickness was at least 0.8mm, I get two layers of plastic.  I could get away with one but two would make them stronger.  Second, the nozzle diameter, combined with the fact that I would be printing at 0.2mm vertical resolution, limited the amount of detail I could possibly achieve on the model, I needed to take those into account when detailing it.

In the end I decided that what I would do is try to recreate the original Assault Scout miniature as accurately as I could.  The wings on that model were about 1mm in thickness and there weren’t a lot of small details.  I should be able to reproduce it almost exactly.

Building the Model

There are really three main components to this model I’ll detail them each in turn.

The Engines

Probably the most detailed portion of the the model is the engines so I decided to tackle them first.  At first blush, they look pretty simple.  They are basically a squished cylinder with a cap on top.  However, there is a lot of detail on there.  There is the curved cut out, the ridge along the side, and the small indention in the top of the engine.  This was going to be trickier than I thought.

Looking at the original miniature, the upper part of the engines are actually kind of blocky. While there are curves to them, they have corners.  I did want to eliminate that and make them rounder.  (For a couple of reasons: one I liked the look better, and two, it was actually easier to model).  Also, I felt that the base of the engines in the original lead miniature were too small and wanted to make them a little bigger.

So I started simply with a cylinder for the base of the engine. On top of that I added an inverted cone (how to make a cone is detailed later) that had a 30 degree angle out to the diameter of the cap I wanted to add to the top of the engine.  This was for printing purposes.  The printer can print objects with a 30 degree slope but anything more than that an it wants to start adding supports which I wanted to avoid.  Next I added a short cylinder to give the engine some extension.

On top of that I used half of a stretched sphere for the cap.  Now, OpenSCAD only creates full shapes, either cubes, cylinders, or sphere.  If you only want a portion of something you have to use their difference() command.  Basically you give the full shape and then one or more shapes you want cut out of the first one.  So to make a half sphere, you use the following construct:

difference(){
     sphere(radius);
     translate([0,0,-radius]) cube(2xradius, center=true);
}

This creates a sphere, and then a cube centered on the sphere that is then shifted down to cut off the bottom half (the shifting is preformed by the translate() command.

This shows the basic shape described in the text.

Basic engine shape

To stretch the sphere, you preface the difference() command with the scale() command which looks like:

scale([x-scale,y-scale,z-scale])

if you want different stretches on the different axes or you can use just a single scale value if you want to just grow/shrink by the same amount in all 3 directions.  Putting it before the difference() command  stretches the entire construct.  You could put it on the individual commands inside the difference construct if you wanted to but then you’d need to adjust appropriately.  In my case I was only scaling in z so my command looked like: scale([1,1,6]).  You can see the basic shape of the engine to the right.

This image includes the rectangular extension along the bottom and circular cutouts at the top of the engine

The engine with the extension and circular cutouts

Adding the extension down the side of the engine was easy, that was just a cube that stretched through the entire lower cylinder.  I just had to make it the right size to match up with the overhanging cap.  Actually, it’s a little smaller than that to provide a small step but it was just a matter of sizing it appropriately.

Removing the little circular indentation at the top of the engine was easy as well.  I just had to use another difference() command to cut a cylinder out of the cap I created before.  I needed to do one cylinder for each side of the engine.

This is a representation of the bits that need to be cut away from the engine model.

The bit to cut away from the engine top to add the detailed desired

The hardest part was getting the curved cut outs with the cross bar.  To do this I created another cap identical in size to the original one.  From this I cut out the middle using a smaller cap so that the thickness was equal to the size of the cut out I wanted in the end.  I then added and cut various pieces out of this “cap” until it was exactly the shape I wanted to remove from the actual model.  I then used the difference() command to subtract this constructed shape from the main model.  You can see the bit to cut away in the image to the right.  This took a lot of trial and error to get right. I didn’t do a perfect job of this (you can see some floating bits in the image) but the engine is so small that you can barely see its detail anyway.  On the final model it looked pretty good.  Plus some of that is just from the way the program renders the image.

Once I had the engine model the way I liked it, I used the translate() command to shift it over into position.  I then wrapped the entire bit in a for() loop along with a rotate() command.  The rotate() command looks a lot like the scale() command:

rotate([x-rotation,y-rotation,z-rotation])

where the rotations are in degrees around the respective axes. In this case I was rotating around the Z-axis 180 degrees.  I used the for() loop to set the rotation values (0 & 180) and put the loop variable in the [z-rotation] section of the rotate command.  This gave me two engines, one on either side of the model as seen below.  I’ve added some color to highlight the details.

Two engines in their proper places

Adding the Wings

The wings were created using a combination of the polygon() command and the linear_extrude() commands.  The polygon() command allows you to draw arbitrary shapes.  It takes two lists, the first is a list of (x,y) points.  These points are the vertices of the polygon.  The second list is a list of point numbers (the first point is point zero).  This is the order you want the points connected.  It then draws the specified polygon but has no thickness.

To get a physical object, you then have to extrude the polygon so some thickness.  This is done with the linear_extrude() command.  In its simplest form, it just takes an extrusion height as its argument and then you include the shape you want to extrude in curly braces ({}) after the command.  It does more but I didn’t need that for this model, I discuss additional abilities in later models when the need for them come up.  In this case, I extruded the wing shape to be 1mm thick.

I now had a wing but it is laying flat on the drawing plane instead of standing up so we apply a rotate() command, rotating it 90 degrees around the x-axis.  I also added a cone to represent the wing fins and match the design of the original miniature.  Cones are made by using the cylinder() command but instead of just specifying the radius and height, you specify two radii (r1 & r2) which are the radius of the top and bottom of the cone respectively.  This cone was then moved into the proper position on the wing by use of the translate() command.

Once I had the wing done, I moved it into the proper place on the model and inserted it into the for() loop the engines were in to get it to be replicated on either side of the model.

The model with the wings added in as described in the text

The Fuselage

The fuselage caused me a bit of headache at first as I was trying to match the original mine exactly.  The lower part was easy, it was just a cylinder.  But I couldn’t match the upper bit as it wasn’t a cone or a rectangular pyramid shape (which I could have modeled with the linear_extrude() command) or a stretched sphere.  It was somewhere in the middle.  After looking at the different shapes, I decided to go with the stretched sphere as the simplest and best looking option.  This was created the same way I did for the engines but I stretched it out much more.

That formed the basic body.  Adding the little bit of detail to the fuselage also was a bit tricky as there is no way in OpenSCAD to make triangular pieces.  To pull this off I had to use the difference() command and some cubes.  I made a base cube and then using the rotate() command angled some other cubes to slice off forming the triangular shape I needed.  These shapes were then moved into proper position using a series of rotate() and translate() commands.

Here’s the finished model:

The full model as described.

Printing

The next step was to try to print the model.  I knew from the shape that it would need supports under the engines and because it was small, I’d want to print it on a raft to help hold it in place.

Fits and Starts

In the fuselage section above I made it sound easy.  However, in truth I actually printed several of these with the different fuselage shapes and in different sizes, trying to get a shape I was happy with.  Some were too small and didn’t print properly, some were too fat.  It was definitely a bit of a trial and error process to get the shape write.  Luckily, since the print is so small a single print job only took about 7 minutes.  Rapid prototyping at its best.

Once I got the shape I wanted, I added in the fuselage details and did a final “check print” to make sure all was well.  Here is the final model compared to the original metal miniature.  It doesn’t have all the detail as I simply can’t recreate that with the 3D printer but it looks pretty good.

The two models side by side.

Comparison of the plastic and metal miniatures. I’ve played with the contrast on the plastic piece to try to make the details a little more visible so it appears yellowish instead of the brilliant white of the actual piece.

One is the Loneliest Number

While the single print worked, I wasn’t completely happy with the quality of the nose of the ship.  At that point in the print, that is the only part of the model printing and the printer is moving so quickly that the plastic doesn’t really have time to cool enough so it is still soft.  That was tending to make the nose a bit wavy as the plastic was being slightly dragged around by the print head.  You can see this in the tip of the printed miniature above. I had noticed this in my destroyer print as well.

Four models being printed at once.So I decided to print four of the models at a time. The image at right was taken about three quarters of the way through that print job (click for full size) just as the engines were finished.  Since it would be printing four of them, it would be moving around much more and be longer before each individual layer was put down an a given model allowing the plastic time to cool.  The resulting print was much nicer than the single print.  Plus it had the added bonus of requiring slightly less plastic on the raft for the four models than it would have for four individual models making the print cost less.

Final thoughts

I was quite pleased with the print for this one.  I haven’t painted them completely yet as these little models are hard to paint.  But in doing this model  I definitely caught the 3D modeling and printing bug and decided that it would be fun to recreate all the miniatures.  More in future posts.

As always, leave questions, comments, and suggestions in the comment section.


Random Items on Public Transportation

The holiday weekend really threw my schedule out of whack so my second Assault Scout 3D modeling post has been delayed.  In the meantime, here’s a list of random items you might find on a bus, tram, or monorail left by previous passengers.  They may be nothing or maybe they are part of the plot or a hook for a new adventure.

Roll 2d10

  1. Gun/other ranged weapon – What’s this doing here?  Is it wiped clean or covered in prints?
  2. Grocery bag full of food – Anyone hungry?
  3. Glasses/sunglasses – maybe they’re just cheap reading glasses or they could be a designer pair of sunglasses
  4. An electric razor – Why was someone grooming on the subway?
  5. A book – Anything from a trashy romance to a great classic.  Does it have a name inside?  Is there something tucked into the pages?
  6. A receipt – A clue or just trash?
  7. A note – did it fall out of someone’s bag or was it left on purpose.  Maybe it’s just a grocery list or maybe it’s a love letter?
  8. Water or alcohol bottle – could be unopened, half full, or empty
  9. A newspaper – Today’s or yesterday’s?  Is something highlighted or is it folded to expose a certain article?  Or just laying there.  Maybe it’s covering something else or has something wrapped inside.
  10. Random trash
  11. A magazine – Recent or old?  Could be on any topic.  Maybe there is something tucked inside.
  12. Pen/pencil – Maybe it’s dead or maybe it still works.  Has it been sharpened down to a stub?  More maybe it’s an expensive monogrammed fountain pen?
  13. Comb/Brush – Maybe just leave that one be
  14. An envelope – Maybe it’s empty or maybe there is something inside.  A bill?  A note?  Cash?
  15. Ticket or ticket stub – is it for a concert, a play, or maybe just the bus you’re on?
  16. Food – carryout or fast food in a bag
  17. A plant/flowers – maybe there is a card with names?
  18. Ring/other jewelry – anything from cheep costume jewelry to valuable gemstones
  19. Purse/Wallet – is there cash inside? Identification?  Do you track down the owner and return it or keep it?

What other random things have you found or might you find left on public transportation?


3d Modeling – The Assault Scout – part 1

Assault scout over an alien world

Jay Thurman’s Assault Scout model. Image from his Deviant Art gallery

This particular modeling project started not with wanting to reproduce the miniature but rather because Jay Thurman made this absolutely amazing 3D model of the Assault Scout in Sketchup (pictured here).  In fact, I liked this model so much that we used it to create the cover for issue 9 of the Frontier Explorer.  I decided that I wanted a large version of this to sit on my desk.  So I started working on printing the model on the 3D printer at work.  My goal was to print a 4″ model.  The printer is capable of handing a 6″ version but that is much more costly and I wanted to make sure everything was working before I committed to that. (And some day I might actually print it.  But for now, I’m quite happy with how the 4″ one turned out.)

I actually looked at printing this model a couple of different ways.  Because of the shape at the back end of the ship and all the details that Jay included (you can see them on the model page linked above) I wasn’t sure that printing it tail down would actually work.  Also, those laser guns are really tiny and I knew from the experience of printing the Sathar Destroyer, that the printer would not be able to handle those small pieces printed vertically.

The other problem was that the vertical fins on the wings were just too small.  In looking at previews of the print there were lots and lots of gaps in the fins no matter what I did.  To fix this, I gave myself a crash course on Sketchup, which I had never used before, and went into the model and made them thicker so that they would print.

Printing Flat

Top half of the Assault Scout printed flat.

Top half of the Assault Scout printed flat.

So my first thought was to print this model in two pieces.  Slice it down the middle and print the top and bottom halves and glue them together.  So that’s what I did to start and printed out the top half of the model (the bit pictured in the image above).  As you can see in the image to the right, this worked fairly well.  The laser cannons even printed but they are really thin. In fact, by the time I got them home, the top half of the lasers had been all bent out of shape and one had broken off.  I cut the other one off before painting and it still looked really nice.  Also, the vertical fins on the wings printed but were still very thin.

However, in looking closely at this print, I didn’t really like the surface texture.  Since I was printing in 0.2mm vertical resolution, there were definite ridges that you can see on the surface, especially in the nose of the ship (click on the image to expand to full size and see it.  The image isn’t the best but that bit at least is in focus, just with very little contrast).  This could probably have been sanded out but I didn’t really like it so I decided to try printing standing up.

Printing Vertically

The vertically printed model.

The vertically printed model.

In this scenario, I knew I was going to lose the laser guns no matter what so to avoid any problem, I just went into sketchup and removed them.  They aren’t part of the “canon” design of the ship but were something Jay added so I didn’t feel too bad about them not being there.  I also thickened the fins a bit more as well.

To the right is a picture of the printed model.  The bits of material you see underneath the fuselage and engines are support material added to allow those parts to print, something avoided completely in the first printing.  This isn’t the best picture (I hadn’t planned on posting these when I took them) but you can see that the surface of the ship is much smoother in this orientation than in the other.  I was quite happy with this one.  There is support material to be removed but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  My biggest worry was what that support material would do to the back of the engines and body as there is printed detail back there.  So let’s remove it and see.

The bottom of the ship showing the print detail.

Back end of second attempt with the support material removed

Getting the support material off was mostly easy but gave me a bit of a hassle, especially where the supports were small or attached to small details.  This wasn’t completely cleaned up when I snapped the picture as you can see some small bits of support materials still attached.  Let’s see what we’ve got.

Well, those engines are supposed to have a honeycomb pattern on them which doesn’t show up too well.  I actually cleaned this up a little more before I painted it and it looks better but the detail was just too fine when printed in this orientation for it to show up completely.  The back of the main fuselage, however, looks pretty good.  Overall I’m quite happy with the outcome, especially since you won’t really see this part of the model.

A Third Print

Another view of the assaut scout, this time missing the tip of teh nose.

The higher resolution print with missing nose

After the 0.2mm print completed, I wanted to try printing it at 0.1mm resolution to see what the difference would be.  We were still printing at 0.1mm at the time (we stopped shortly after I made this print because the prints kept failing) so I got the job in the queue and got it started.  The 0.2 mm prints take about 2.5 hours and printing at 0.1 mm took even longer.

As you can see in the picture, it didn’t quite work.  It was almost done (about 4 hours in) and for some reason the printer just stopped extruding plastic leaving the upper 3/8″ of the nose uncompleted.

You also notice that there is much more support structure crawling up the side of the print on this one than there was on the 0.2mm print.  I’m not exactly sure why that is.  This print also required me to add a raft to the print job as the first few times we were printing, the print nozzle would catch on the little bits at the back of the wings and pop them off, ruining the print.  The raft held everything in place and prevented that from happening.

Overall, it turned out the detail wasn’t much better on this print than on the 0.2 mm print.  There are improvements but they are not that significant so when I printed several of these off for friends (including one for Jay) I used the 0.2 mm print resolution.

Because the failure in this case was so clean, I was able to save the print.  I simply went in and cut the model at the correct point and then printed out the tip of the nose.  I then sanded the model above to make the top flat and then superglued the two pieces together.  I miss judged the cut point slightly – the nose was a little bigger in diameter than where the failure occurred but a little sand paper and it’s all smooth.  I don’t have a picture of this one.  You can see the joint (as I was using a black sandpaper and some of the color rubbed off) but if you close your eyes and feel it, you can’t tell.  If I ever paint it, you’d never know the difference.

Time to Paint

With the printing done, it was time to paint.  I decided to paint the first and second prints and leave the third one unpainted.  My plan was to use the first half model as practice and then make the second, full model the final version.  I started by painting both with a gray primer and then painting the bodies all white.  You can see them side by side below, with the full model on the left.  Once painted you can really see the difference in surface texture.  It was really obvious with just the gray primer coat but that picture didn’t turn out very well so you get to see them with just the white body coat.  You can also see the trimmed laser guns on the half model.

Comparison of the two models with just a white coat of paint.

The two models with their white body coat. The full, vertically printed model is on the left

For the first, half model, I did all the painting completely freehand.  I wasn’t going for a real high quality paint job but rather to get a feel for the paint scheme I wanted and what it would take to do that.  I was modeling my paint scheme mostly on the colors used in Jay’s model but with a few variations based on some of the other assault scout images from the Star Frontiers materials.  Once the first model was painted and I had a plan for the final one, I set to work on that model.

On the final model, I wanted the lines to be as sharp as I could get them so I used making tape to mask of the regions I wanted to paint and then filled them in.  Here you can see the completed half model along with a start on the second final model.

Comparison of the two models partially painted.

The partially painted final model (left) along with the fully painted half model

Masking off the red line along the back of the ship was a pain.  There are all these changes of direction and surface features and you have to go up and back down the fins.  I got it done but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped.  I had to go back and very carefully touch up the lines with white paint over the bits that bled out of where I wanted it.

The other bit that was difficult was painting the bit down in the circular depression on the engines.  I actually think I did a better job on the half model then I achieved on the full model.  But getting the black and silver just right was hard due to the printed features.  It would probably have been easier to paint had it just been a flat surface.

I also changed the colors slightly and instead of using orange around the features on the upper fuselage, I used gold.  I think that looks even better.  I also considered going with a gold tip on the nose as well but in the end stayed with the red.  In the end, I was quite pleased with the result.  Especially since it is really only my second attempt ever at painting a small model.  It could use some improvement but that will come with practice.  Here is the final model, completely painted:

The final painted model

The final painted model

I think I touched it up just a little more after taking this picture as the edges in the end were a little sharper.

Putting the Prototype to Good Use

I hadn’t really planned on doing much with the half model once I was done but my 3-year-old had other plans.  He loves playing with my “rocket ship” and is always asking to play with it.  So it has become one of his favorite toys (nothing can replace his trains though).  If fact, he can get quite distressed when we can’t find it.  He plays with it so much that the paint has worn off a bit and I should probably touch it up.  He’s also managed to break off the laser guns and parts of the fins (I knew they were too skinny).

So even though it wasn’t a complete success from the printing and modeling point of view, it has been a great success for him.  When I let him play with some of my other miniature prints, he has rocket battles with them.  And he’s really good about returning the other models back to my table in my office where I’m working on painting them.

Making the miniature

The next step was to make a miniature in the scale of the other game minis.  I was going to cover that in this post as well but it’s long enough already so I’ll save that for next time.

As always, feel free to post question, comments, or suggestions below.  Especially if there are specific aspects of creating and printing the models you want me to talk about.


How I Write – February RPG Blog Carnival – part 2

This is the second half of my entry for this months RPG Blog Carnival covering “How I Write” (here’s  part 1: Where I Write).  However, before I dive into the topic of how, I realized as I’m writing this that I have one more where.

The fourth locationRPG Blog Carnival Logo

The last place that I write (and where I’m writing from right now) is my treadmill.  I built a standing desk that fits across the handle bars of the treadmill that I got for my wife about five years ago (at her request).  This desk is nothing fancy, it is literally just a shelf from an old book case that broke in our last move.  The top of the handle bars are horizontal so the piece of wood just lays across them forming a work space about three feet wide and one foot deep, just perfect to place my laptop, a mouse if I want one, and a few other things if I need them. I set the treadmill to 2-2.5 mph and just type while I walk.  This gives me the opportunity to get in some exercise at the same time as I’m doing my writing.  I’m probably not as efficient at either activity as I would be doing just one or the other but I’m not 50% effective either so it’s’ a net win for multi-tasking.  This setup is good when I’m just cranking on an existing idea and have a good feel for where the writing is going.  It’s definitely not good for doing sketching or diagramming of my ideas as I’m not quite that stable.  On to the main topic …

How I Write

The short answer to that is not very consistently.  Although as I said in part 1, I have a goal now to spend at least 15 minutes a day writing on “fun” stuff, which includes this blog, articles and editing for the Frontier Explorer, and the novels I’m working on.  Hopefully my consistency and my output will improve.

When

Most of my writing happens either very early in the morning or in the evenings.  Those are the times I can get away from my kids and avoid distractions.  With my wife’s and my work schedules, we are typically up at 4 or 5 am every weekday.  I’ve always been an early riser but that’s early even for me and it has taken some getting used to.  However, this gives me several hours each morning to get ready and work on my school work and personal writing before the kids get up (starting at 6:30) to get ready for school themselves.  I’ve found that I’m definitely more productive during these early hours than I am even during the day and especially more than late at night.

When I do write in the evening it is typically on my treadmill (like now) when my wife is also exercising or it is when my wife has other activities (like running the telescopes and observation deck in conjunction with the university planetarium shows on Friday nights) and I’ve had to stay home and take care of kids.  Once they’re in bed I have time to myself to focus on writing.

Tools

Typically, I’m either writing in Open Office (If I’m on my desktop machine at home which runs Linux) or in Microsoft Word on my other computers.  I don’t really do anything fancy here, just basic text documents. The exception to this is my blog posts which I typically compose directly in the text editor in my blogging software (WordPress).

When I’m working on graphics, my software of choice is Inkscape for my maps and deck plans, and GIMP for photo and image editing.  I do use Adobe Photoshop for composing the covers for the Frontier Explorer as  that allows me to create the cover images needed for the print editions of the magazine with the correct color profiles.  My skill with Photoshop is not very high, however.  I’m much more comfortable using GIMP.  For my 3D printing models, I’m currently using OpenSCAD, although I’m starting to play with Blender as a more powerful tool.

Just recently a friend pointed me at the tool yWriter.  This is a tool aimed at novelists that allows you to compose chapters and scenes (or section) of a book, associate locations and characters with each one, and plot out how your books is organized.  It also allows you to shuffle scenes and chapters around just by dragging them around in the outline.  No need to cut and paste to move things.  As I said, I’ve just started working with this tool but I’m quite excited to use it for my novels and possibly even for the game rules I’m working on.  I’ll probably do a follow up post on this tool at some point in the future after I’ve had more experience with it.

The Process

I’m an outliner.  I typically start with an idea and then brainstorm content.  Sometimes this happens in a document on the computer but just as often it happens on the pages of my Moleskin notebook.  Once that is done, I like to sit down and outline the document that I’m planning on writing, typically just putting in section headings and maybe a few notes.   For example this blog post started as:

  • Intro
  • 4th location
  • How I write
    • when
      • mornings mostly
      • sometimes evenings
      • why
    • tools
      • OpenOffice & Word
      • Inkscape
      • GIMP and PhotoShop
      • yWrite
    • process
      • Starting/outlining
      • Editing
  • Final Thoughts

As I get to sections, I flesh them out using the notes to remind myself of the content I want to include or referring back to the notes in my notebook or document.  Often as I’m writing something, I often think of something else that should go somewhere and I’ll go add it to the outline so I don’t forget.  This is one of the reasons I’m excited about using yWriter as it allow me to do this outlining with notes on a grand scale that also let me shift things around easily as needed.

Once I have the outline, I’ll typically work through the writing task front to back, especially if it is something small like this blog post or an article for the Frontier Explorer.  That just helps me maintain a consistent flow through the piece.  However, sometimes, and especially on larger pieces like large articles or books, I might jump around and do some of the later stuff earlier, especially if I have a clear idea for what I want there and the ideas are fresh or strong in my mind.  In those cases I just dive and and get the ideas out on “paper” before they fade away.

Once the initial writing is done, I spend time editing.  I’ll read through the piece start to end, and fix any glaring spelling, grammar, and structural errors I find.  When I’m doing this I typically sub-vocalize what I’m reading.  This has two effects.

First it slows me down so I’m actually reading every word and not skimming through it and filling in what I think I wrote instead of what I really did write.  I catch more errors that way as I’m looking directly at the words and not flying past them.

Second, it’s almost as good as reading out loud but not as noisy.  You are actually articulating what you wrote and can hear things that sound off, funny, or just downright weird.  This helps me pick up on even more errors.

It’s at this stage that I do my wordsmithing, fixing phrases, making things more clear, etc.  I also try to clean up transitions here as well.  When I’m running through my first pass, I typically am just typing and trying to get the words out of my brain and on to paper before they disappear.  It’s not stream-of-consiousness but it is definitely unedited beyond basic obvious spelling errors.

I had another thought I was going to include here but it slipped away while writing that last paragraph.  This happens often and is one of the reasons I try to update my outline as I think of things (which of course I didn’t do in this case).

Once I’ve finished my first editing pass, if I’m working on a blog post, it is typically done and I schedule it for publication (or publish immediately). Almost invariably, as soon as I hit publish I find more mistakes so I’ll go in quickly and fix them before anyone notices.

If I’m working on a piece for the Frontier Explorer, I’ll submit it and let the other editors pick it over.  For longer pieces, I’ll set it aside to work on other things and come back to it later.

And now after I wrote that last little bit the thing I forgot came back to me.  I think it was to mention that sometimes I have to interrupt my writing on a piece when I’m not planning on it and have to come back later as well.  And to talk about the process I use to get back into the flow (which I was going to do anyway). So …

Regardless of the reason I’ve set something unfinished aside, I’ll typically start back up by rereading the entire thing (if it is short) or the last couple of pages (if long).  That allows me to get back into the rhythm of the piece and remember what I was thinking.  I also do minor editing as I go back over it as well.  If it was “complete” and I’m picking it back up, I’ll be looking at it with fresh eyes and mind and so will start at the beginning and read through the entire thing, editing as a I go.  Without fail, no matter how many times I read through something, I’ll find errors I missed, things that are not quite right, or information that is missing.  Rereads always help.

When I’ve completed longer pieces, I typically try to hand them off to others to look at and provide feedback on.  For FE articles, that is the other editors.  For my one novella that I’ve finished, I sent it off to multiple people to read and critique, all of which was quite valuable for improving the story.

Final Thoughts

That how I do my writing in a nut shell.  There are probably other things related to my writing that I’m forgetting to mention (like sources of inspiration and organization of materials – topics which just came to mind) but this post is getting long enough.  I’m looking forward to reading in the other Blog Carnival posts about what others are doing and how they are writing.  I’m sure I’ll pick up some interesting ideas.  Hopefully my ideas provides some nugget of value to you as well.  As always, feel free to comment below and be sure to hit the main page for this month’s carnival to see what others are writing about.


Where I Write – February RPG Blog Carnival

RPG Blog Carnival logoI was going to try and knock out another 3D modeling post for today but I still haven’t caught up after finishing issue 11 of the Frontier Explorer.  Especially since school has started up and I’m knee deep into the two graduate classes I’m taking.  Luckily, the new topic for the monthly RPG Blog Carnival dropped into my mailbox yesterday and I realized that I could cover the topic of the carnival and kill about 3 birds with a single post.

The three birds in question are:

  1. Write a blog post every week.  As I referred to in my delayed New Years post, I’m attempting to post at least once a week.  This covers this weeks post.
  2. Participate more in the Blog Carnival.  While I didn’t state this in my new year’s post, I want to try to do a post each month on the blog carnival topic.  In addition to being fun, it gives me one more topic each month to cover and on a topic that I wouldn’t necessarily write about.  I really wanted to do a post for last month as I think my interest in sci-fi gaming really lends itself to the topic (which was New Year, New World), I just didn’t have the time to work on it.  Maybe I’ll make up for it with a late post at some point.  In any case, this post covers this months topic (with a bit of a long preamble).
  3. Write at least 15 minutes each day.  I just participated in a writing seminar at work aimed at encouraging and motivating faculty (I’m a university librarian now) to write at least 15 minutes a day, every day, to work on producing publications for scholarly journals.  I have a writing log I have to fill out and today (as I’m writing this) is the first day.  In addition to writing for work, I also need to be writing for school (I’m working on an Master of Library and Information Science degree, hence the graduate classes mentioned earlier), and I want to write for fun as well. So that’s really three 15-minute blocks.  This post covers the “fun” category time.

But that’s enough preamble.  Let’s get on to the topic, where and how I write.

My Workspace

I really have two workspaces for writing, my “work” location and my “home” location.  Until June of last year they were one and the same as I telecommuted full time and worked from home.  But since I started as a librarian, I now have my own office at work.

At Work

At work I have a brand new office (literally, it didn’t exist when I started and construction finished up just after Thanksgiving and I moved in mid December 2014).  So while clutter has already started to pile up on the desk, the walls are still bare and I’m not really buried under a mountain of stuff.  Here’s a panorama shot of part of my office.

Panorama view of my desk.

My office at the library

I have a nice dual monitor setup, a not too cluttered desk, and bare white walls.  I also have a nice big (currently unused) whiteboard that I can use for notes, sketches, or whatever else I need.  On my desk are a bunch of the 3D printed miniatures I’ve been working on.  They sit on my monitor stands right in front of me.

The room is a bit echoy as I don’t have much on the walls yet and that can sometimes be a bit disturbing but it’s not so bad.  The biggest distraction is that big window that looks out into the library stacks.  The path by my office isn’t a heavily used one but people are wandering by all the time and it can be a bit of a distraction as I see the motion out of the corner of my eye.  It’s like I’m on display for the world to see. (Here is a university librarian working in it’s native habitat.  Notice how …)  Supposedly blinds have been ordered but they sure are taking their time in getting here.

At Home

At home I actually have three different writing areas depending on my mood or inclination at the moment.

The first is my home office which is semi-private.  It’s my office but the family computer is in there in addition to my computer and so I often have one (or more) of my seven kids in with me.  I’m not posting a picture of that office.  I’ve been in it for 7 years and it has accumulated the mounds of material that you might expect which, no matter how often I try to clear my desk, just keeps piling up (I need to be better about putting things away once I use them and getting my kids to not just dump stuff on my desk). My computer setup here is similar to my one at work with two monitors (although my two home monitors are bigger than the ones I have a work) and a nice ergonomic keyboard.

Larry Elmore's Star Frontiers cover image

Larry Elmore’s Star Frontiers cover image

That room has one wall completely lined with bookshelves that are filled to overflowing with books, magazines, games, and other items.  I sit next to a large window (like the one in my work office) that looks out onto my front lawn (and which has blinds, yea!).  I also have a work table where I do my tinkering with computers and painting my miniatures.  I have two pictures hanging in my office to provide inspiration. One is a photo of my beautiful wife in her wedding dress and the other is a large signed print of Larry Elmore’s Star Frontiers cover that my wife bought me for my birthday a few years back.

The second place I work is lying on the floor in my living room in front of my fireplace.  Some times I like to stretch out here and enjoy the ambiance of the fire.  When I’m not working on my desktop in my office, I have a trusty Asus EEE PC netbook that I got many years ago that I use to do my writing on.  It has a decent screen and keyboard and is relatively light-weight.  The main drawback to this writing location is that whenever I’m lying on the floor, my kids think it’s wrestle time and make me their personal jungle gym.  Plus the baby of course loves to go after the laptop.  This location usually gets used when the kids are in bed to minimize distractions.

The final location is my bed.  Sometimes I just want a nice soft seat and my bed is the perfect place.  With some pillows propped up behind me I can relax and work.  Again my netbook is the computer of choice for this location.  Here I can work fairly distraction free.  I typically work here when the kids are up and about and I don’t want to be in my office as I can shut them out and minimize the disturbances.  Of course the family television is right outside my room so there is usually a kids show or the Wii going but the sound proofing in the walls is pretty good.

None of my home locations are ideal as there are always distractions (which is to be expected with 7 kids) but they all work well enough and each gives me a little bit different setting that I can use depending on my mood and what I’m looking to write to help get the creative juices flowing.

How I write

I’m well over my 15 minutes for the day and this post is ending up longer than I expected.  I’ll do a follow up post on the how I write part shortly.  Until then, visit the main post for this month’s carnival on Leicester’s Ramble and see what others are saying.  (Update:  Here’s a link to part 2 – How I Write).


Why My Ship Decks Have Three Meter Ceilings

I’ve been reviewing ship designs and deck plans for articles in the Frontier Explorer and this has had me thinking again about a topic I’ve pondered on before.  Namely the relative sizes of the various races/species in a game and how that affects things like construction and design of buildings and more specifically spacecraft.  If you want an excellent set of articles on how to develop and design species specific tools, furniture and whatnot, I strongly recommend this pair of articles over at Campaign Mastery: Ergonomics and the Non-human and its follow-on article By Popular Demand: The Ergonomics Of Dwarves.  They cover in detail how to think through the process.  In this article, I’m going to look specifically at why the deck heights in my ships are set to three meters (and a few comments on when they’re not).

Who are the ships for?

Generally, when I’m designing a ship, it is for the “core four” races in the Star Frontiers game, namely Humans, Dralasites, Vrusk, and Yazirians.  The problem is that all the species are of varying sizes.  According to the rules, they have average heights ranging from 1.2 meters up to 2.1 meters.  And one thing I’ve noticed about many of the images in the game (both official and fan created) is that they don’t represent this properly.  I’ve taken some images by Shell, plus a modified one from the original rules, to show the actual relative sizes of the races.  (The original images by Shell were collected from the various sub-pages found at this link and some have also been published in the Star Frontiersman.)

Image showing the relative average sizes of Dralisites(1.2m), Vrusk(1.5m), Humans(1.9m), and Yazirians(2.1m)

Relative average sizes of the “Core Four” Star Frontiers species.

The Dralisites have an average height of 1.2 meters.  The Vrusk average 1.5 meters in height.  Humans come in at 1.9 meters and the Yazirians top the chart at an average height of 2.1 meters. Thus we see that there is a range of species heights that need to be accommodated for in a ship designed for use by all of them.

So why three meters?

In many ways, when I think of ships in the Star Frontiers universe, I think very much about submarines.  However, one major difference is available space.  While ships will tend to be a bit cramped, there is a lot of volume available in the game’s ships and there is no real reason that those on board are banging their head against the ceiling or overhead equipment.  For some spacers, the ship is effectively their home so it should have at least a few concessions to comfort.  Not banging your head and having to walk hunched over should definitely be one of those. So I’ve designed my ships accordingly.

In the modern world, the average ceiling height is around 8-8.5 feet (or 2.44-2.59m).  And that’s for humans who have an average height of 1.9 meters (at least for men).  Yazirians, the tallest of the core four species, have an average height of 2.1 meters. So they will need at least a ceiling that is proportionally taller which works out to 2.7-2.85 meters.  But they also have arms that are longer, proportionally, compared to their bodies than humans which means if they stretch tall, they can reach higher.  And so I rounded up a bit more to account for this to 3 meters.

This gave the decks a bit of a feeling of openness to relieve the possible tension of being in a sealed, enclosed space and gave everyone room to move without hindrance.

On a side note it also gave the more serious Yazirians a chance to get back at the pesky, practical joke playing Dralasites by providing the opportunity for them to place things up high, out of the Drarasites’ reach if needed.

When is it not three meters?

There are times when I don’t do a three meter deck plan ship.  This is typically when I’m designing a ship for a specific race.  For example, in the Sathar Destroyer Technical Manual, the ship detailed is designed for use solely by the Sathar, a race that typically only moves with about one meter of its body raised.  They don’t need deck heights nearly as high and so the standard deck height on that ship is only 1.7 meters and in some areas only 1 meters.  There are places and passages on that ship where some of the PC races simply cannot go without being severely discomforted.

If I was designing a purely Dralasite or Vrusk ship, I’d probably lower the deck heights there as well as those smaller species don’t need the extra overhead room and it would be more efficient to have decks of the proper size.

Plus, the new species introduced in Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space were even taller with the Humma coming in at 2.5 meters and the Osakar at 3 meters.  (There was also a smaller race, the Ifshnit, that were only 1 meter tall on average.)  If I was designing a ship for these species, I’d make the deck heights even higher.  Although maybe not so much because the physiology of these species allow them work comfortably in the lower ceiling height decks (i.e. while they are that tall at full height, they typically don’t reach that height in their normal posture or are flexible enough that being lower isn’t inconvenient or a hindrance).

Final Thoughts

So in the end, it comes down to thinking about who the design is for, what there needs are, and what is optimal.  In the mixed species ships, I’ve opted to go with the 3 meter height as a good compromise.  Things on the top shelves might be hard for Dralasites or Vrusk to reach but the Vrusk torso is as long as it is tall and it can use its forelegs to lift itself up a bit higher and the Drasasites can always stretch out a longer set of limbs if really needed.  So it made sense to err on the large side instead of cramping the Humans and Yazirians.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to post in the comment section below.

Afterthoughts

Of course the reasons above are all well and good but every good adventure knows you should never leave home without your trusty ten foot pole.  And since a 10 ft. pole is 3.048m long, having a ceiling just over 3 meters gives you just enough room to stand it upright in the corner without it taking too much space or being canted at a funny angle or otherwise getting in the way while still being readily available.  That’s the real reason for 3 meter ceilings.


Sathar Laser Settings

The Story

I’ve been running my kids through the Volturnus modules in Star Frontiers.  We’ve been at it for years in fits and starts.  It’s not because they don’t want to play but rather that we can never find the time with all the things we’re doing (and them needing to get their chores done), but it is starting to become more regular.  In any case, they were exploring the Sathar Artifact (a complex left behind to signal if spaceflight was detected in the system) and acquired a couple of sathar designed laser pistols and a few sathar power clips to run them.

Being designed for sathar, the pistols were not easily usable by any race other than Dalasites who could mold their pseudopods to fit into the trigger assembly.  My youngest (age 8) is playing a Dralasite who happened to have a beam weapon skill so she decided to collect them and use them in future fights.  The problem was that they didn’t know how to adjust it.  All they had was a trigger and a little panel on the side of the weapon (pictured below).  It had a small control knob with five positions and four lights above it.

Control knob with five settings and a row of 4 lights above it (3 illuminated in the image)

They speculated a bit on what it could mean.  The first 4 positions (starting at lower left and going clockwise) each caused one of the lights to light up.  When moved to the 5th position, all the lights went out.  They correctly assessed that each light represented a different power level (although they don’t know what) but had mixed ideas about the fifth setting.  One of my twins (age 15) suggested that it was the off position and was close to the maximum power setting so that you could quickly get to max damage in a hurry if you needed it.  His twin suggested that that last setting was a self destruct setting and that if you pulled the trigger when in that position the gun will blow up.  The didn’t test it to see who was right but continued on the adventure.

My daughter playing the dralasite with the pistol decided to set the weapon to the 4th setting so that all lights were lit.  Shortly thereafter they ran into some cyborgs and proceeded to attack them.  She fired two shots at that setting which completely drained the power clip (there is another row of lights that had been fully lit but went completely dark after the two shots).  Her brother (age 10) was firing a standard laser pistol set at 5 power units (called SEU for standard energy units in Star Frontiers).  I told them that the blast from the sathar weapon looked brighter and more intense than his shots.  She managed to connect with one of the shots and did considerable damage to the cyborg she was shooting at.

How It Works

(If you are one of my kids reading this, stop here!)

In my game the sathar use an octal (base 8) numbering system.  Unlike standard UPF laser weapons which can be set anywhere from 1 to 10 SEU for pistols and 1 to 20 SEU for rifles, sathar weapons have 5 or 6 settings.  The first setting is 1 SEU and each successive setting doubles the amount of energy (and therefore damage) in the shot.  The only exception is the last setting which does something different.  So in the pistol you have 4 usable settings that use 1, 2, 4, or  8 energy units.  The rifle has a 5th setting that can use 16 energy units.

Also unlike the UPF power clips, which hold 20 SEU, the sathar clips only hold 16.  So my daughter who had the pistol set to use 8 SEU, drained the clip in 2 shots.  When they found it, it had been set as in the image above and would have only used 4 SEU giving 4 shots.

And that fifth setting (or 6th on a rifle), what does it do?  Well, the second twin was right.  It is a self-destruct setting that causes the weapon to short circuit, releasing all the energy left in the clip plus an additional 4 SEU (stored in the body of the weapon for that exact purpose) in a small explosion designed to destroy the weapon and hopefully kill the wielder.


Welcome to the New Year

Fireworks image by Anthony Cramp

This really should have been last week’s post but I was busy attending the American Astronomical Society Meeting last week (I was both attending talks and giving one myself, possibly more on this in future articles) and I didn’t have a chance to sit down and write it.  So the discussion of the artificial gravity trap that I had with my daughter and had already written up got posted instead.

With a new year it is somewhat traditional to make resolutions on things you want to improve on in the coming year.  I tend to be really bad at succeeding with those resolutions and so tend to shy away from them.  However, I do have one related to this blog and so I figured I should share it and you can all help hold me accountable.  And that is to post at least once a week.  So, by the end of the year, I should have at least 52 posts here on Arcane Game Lore.  So far so good, I’m 2 for 2.  We’ll see how I do at the end of the year.

In truth I actually made this resolution about two months ago.  And so I started in with the introduction my Designing Out Loud series.  The posts started out every 10 or so days but I’ve slowly worked down the interval to 7 days.  My goal is to publish one post every Tuesday as I have for the past month.  I suspect many of my posts over the coming year will be in either the Designing Out Loud series or my 3D Modeling series. I have at least 10 more 3D models to talk about and am working on others when I can.  And there are lots of topics to cover in the game design series.

However, I wear a bunch of hats (Physics and Math reference librarian at a university library, father of 7, managing editor of two fan magazines – Frontier Explorer and Star Frontiersman, plus more) and more often than not those other responsibilities take up a good chunk of my time.  Some times (like now while I’m trying to put together another issue of the Frontier Explorer), my posts will probably tend to be shorter.  When the time permits, I will dive into the longer posts on modeling and game design.

I’m excited for the new year and for getting better with my blogging.  With any luck my fellow bloggers will find more time to write as well and you’ll see several posts a week here on the blog.  But regardless, I have a bunch of ideas that I want to explore and look forward to your comments, suggestions, and encouragement.  It’s going to be a great year.


Artificial Gravity Trap

So I was talking with my daughter (18) the other day about a panel she had sat in on at the last ComicCon that featured among others Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman.  The panel talked about world building and specifically about magical effects.  The point the panel was making was that you need to think really hard about giving your characters (whether in a story or a game) a specific power or ability to allow them to solve a situation.  You have to consider the ramifications of introducing that power or ability into the world.  Because if they have it, you can pretty much be sure the bad guys have it too.  And as she pointed it, the bad guys are probably better with it or have a more powerful version.

This got us on to the general topic of ramifications of powers or technology in a setting and we started talking about artificial gravity and how often the ramifications of such technology isn’t always thought out.  I’m not going to go into that here, that’s possibly a post for another day.  What I do want to talk about is the great little artificial gravity trap/defensive measure she dreamed up.

If you want to keep someone out of an area (or trapped inside an area) and have technology that can create artificial gravity, just dial it up in the area by the entrance, say to 100g or higher.  Anyone or anything entering that area will be squished flat.  It creates an instant “no cross” zone.

This could be an anteroom that serves as the entrance to a high security area.  Present the correct credentials, the gravity is reduced to normal.  Otherwise entering the room is instant death.  A variation on this is to have the room normal until some sort of alarm goes off and then have the gravity dialed up.  If you only want to trap people and don’t want to absolutely prevent entrance no matter what or who, just set the gravity to 5 or 6 times normal.  They’ll collapse to the floor but probably won’t die.  You could get around this by blasting your way through walls but that kind of gives your intentions away.

This could also be used as a general perimeter defense as well.  Set of a ring of the gravity generating system around your complex and crank up the power.  Put as much or little warning information as you want.  Any wildlife will quickly learn to avoid the area (you might have some messy cleanups the first few weeks) and any intruders, be they on foot or in vehicles, will be stuck.  (You’ll have to use higher gravities to stop the vehicles themselves but the occupants won’t make it.)  Plus no one will get out.

If you have a setting with artificial gravity, what’s preventing this type of system from being used.  Do you understand your setting well enough to explain why or why not?  Have you even thought about it?  What other technologies or powers are in your game that could be used in ways you haven’t considered?