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Do you like card games? What about cute dragons like me? You should check out Havok & Hijinks!

 

About Us

Epic Slant Press is a small publishing company based in North Carolina that currently focuses on books and games. Positivity is the driving force that guides each and every project that the company takes on. The team strongly believes that with a positive outlook anyone can achieve great things. Epic Slant Press strives to support small and local businesses, aid fellow entrepreneurs, and donate a portion of all profits to charities and good causes.


Why Positivity?

Think of a time when you went back to a store or restaurant and an employee there remembered your name. That simple act probably gave you warm feelings (and might help retain your business!). How about a day when all of your customers were angry or just apathetic, and then you had that one customer that was cheerful and grateful for your help? Positive encounters like these make lasting impressions and it is our mission to better serve the community by creating as many of them as possible.

Converting D&D 4e to Pathfinder

The Return

When I had the itch to start running a new RPG campaign I went with what I knew: Dungeons & Dragons. I picked up a few of the latest edition books and immediately set to writing a new version of my classic Vallhyn campaign. I was quickly surprised at how much D&D 4e was like an MMORPG and less like… well, D&D.

I don’t mean that in a negative light. It was just a very different experience and the classes truly were like the classes you’d find in an MMO. There were powers that a player could “click often” (At Will) and powers on longer cooldowns (Encounter and Daily). The large amount of skills from previous editions had also been distilled down into only a few major categories.

The Issues

The Vallhyn campaign and, honestly, any campaign I run is very story and roleplay driven. Combat occurs but it isn’t the centerpiece of the story. D&D 4e excels at combat and makes it the focus. It also has a ton of rules about experience and monetary progression. Characters are just constantly thrown items that by older edition standards seem very powerful. This all seemed to run counter to some of the basic tenants of my campaign. I see D&D 4e like this:

  • Magic items are no longer super special
  • If you’re good in a few skills you can do everything
  • Combat is king
  • It is basically an MMORPG in pen-and-paper format
  • The traditional way spells are handled has been uprooted

The Winds of Change

I knew pretty early on that I’d want to eventually change back to the 3.5 edition of D&D but I was worried my players wouldn’t be able to have the characters they currently had. It would be somewhat of a struggle so I just continued to soldier on as things were. When something didn’t make sense I just ignored it.

I also found myself creating far more combat encounters than I normally would. D&D is all about running your players out of their resources to make fights challenging. I just didn’t enjoy that and it slowed down the game. It also made for a lot of throw away fights. I knew I had to finally change our system.

Converting

In all truth converting wasn’t that difficult. The rules at the basic level are very similar. One character had to pick a new race and we’re just “pretending” he’s the same to keep the story consistent. Two others had to pick different classes that are close to the 4e class but not perfect. Thankfully nothing seemed to be outright broken by the conversion.  We haven’t really started playing yet though! Hopefully all will go well.

At the end of the day you should consider what is best for your setting when selecting a ruleset. If something isn’t working out try making a change. You can always go back.

 



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Penny Arcade’s Podcast isn’t right for Kickstarter

Penny Arcade has recently announced a second Kickstarter project as a follow up to their original one last year. This particular Kickstarter is for the Downloadable Content podcast (readers may note that this was a stretch goal of the original project that was funded). This move has been both wildly popular and extremely criticized.

There is a big sentiment that Kickstarter is for people that cannot afford to do their project without the help of others. I would certainly agree that that is what it seems the site was originally created for. I don’t intend to get into the philosophical arguments on who can and cannot use Kickstater today. I wanted to look more specifically at the way the project is being framed and how I feel it violates the spirit of Kickstarter.

One of the aspects that sets Kickstarter apart from other funding platforms is that it is all or nothing. The team had this to say about it:

All-or-nothing funding is a core part of Kickstarter and it has a number of advantages:

It’s less risk for everyone. If you need $5,000, it’s tough having $1,000 and a bunch of people expecting you to complete a $5,000 project.”

The intent here is clearly for a project creator to ask for what they need to get a project done. Kickstarter would seemingly frown on the idea of a project that needed $6000 only asking for $1000 just to be successful. After all, once you’re successful, you are now obligated to fullfil. That is where I find myself in an interesting conundrum with this newest Penny Arcade project.

The initial ask for this project is $10. By setting the goal so low it is possible to read and implied message of “we don’t actually need any money, we’d just like it” and/or that “podcasts are basically free.” This also seems to violate the spirit of what Kickstarter is. I don’t feel that this addresses the all-or-nothing “core part” of the site. It is more let’s-see-what-we-can-get which is better served on a site like Indiegogo or doing their own donation drive at Penny Arcade itself.

I think this is partially why people have been so upset by the idea of this project. If the ask had been higher I think a lot of people wouldn’t mind as much. Of course you still have the “they have plenty of money” crowd but again, I’m not getting into that.

As a podcaster and successful Kickstarter project owner I’m perplexed by the strategy behind this. Podcasts DO cost money. I’ve been doing them for years and I’ve never tried to monetize them but rest assured that while they’re free to my listeners (and always will be) they are not free for me. Consider all of these items that go into podcasts:

  • Hosting space
  • Bandwidth
  • Equipment
  • Software
  • Time to record
  • Time to edit

These things all have associated costs. Some of those costs can be quite expensive too depending on the popularity of a show. I also consider my time valuable and, in the case of the Penny Arcade folks, they are paid and will be using work time to do these podcasts. Why wasn’t all of this explained and broken out? I can’t say but again this is why I take issue not with Penny Arcade running the project but in their implementation of it.

It just doesn’t seem to follow the spirit of what Kickstarter represents as a core value. I fear that because a big name was allowed to proceed in this manner other creators will assume that this activity has become acceptable. I also couldn’t blame them for thinking so. At this point what is to stop any other project from running with an exceedingly low goal just to be successful? Yes they may then fail on the backend but anyone that has tried to get a refund on Kickstarter will know it is exceedingly difficult. There IS risk when you back and I think this project has just increased that risk for backers.

Ultimately it isn’t good for future project creators and it isn’t good for the backers that support them.



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Ticket To Ride Europe: From iOS to my Living Room

Recently Days of Wonder made a calculated play for the hearts and minds of iOS gamers: they gave Ticket To Ride Europe for iPhone away for free. I’ve been curious about the (board) game for a long time and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to pick it up and decide if I liked it. It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone that I loved it! I loved it so much, in fact, that I immediately went and bought the actual board game.

An iOS app is usually a couple of dollars at the max. I “saved” $1.99 on it and then immediately went out and spent over $40. I would say that Days of Wonder did very well in this particular regard. It also solidified my belief that if you give someone something to try and they like it they’ll probably go out and buy it. Some people won’t but I have to ask if those people would have ever bought it in the first place?

I also think the app is a gateway to the full game. Ticket To Ride Europe is pretty entertaining on the iPhone. The AI is decent enough. I certainly win the vast majority of times at this point but it is entertaining regardless. There is support for multiplayer but I rarely have enough time to sit and play through a whole game with five remote people. When I do have time to do so I’d rather play the board game with my friends and family. Thus I picked up the physical copy.

The iOS app is an amazing approximation of what the actual game is and by automating everything it makes an already low time investment game go a bit quicker (when you’re not trying to play with a bunch of people sneaking in turns at work). You do lose some of the grandeur, however, of the giant map.

Neither version is that complicated of a game. You can pretty much have all the rules memorized in five to ten minutes and gameplay goes smoothly after a round or two. The goal is to collect tickets that link two cities around Europe and build connections between them on the map with train cars.

The depth of the game comes in how you plan your routes and how you compete with the other players. Once a route is claimed it is gone forever! Nobody knows exactly where you’re trying to get but they can guess and try to box you out. This leads to a game that changes every time you play and doesn’t get stale. My wife might suggest that it suffers “Mario Party” syndrome, however, in the sense that once you’re done you’ll hate all your friends! I’m not so sure about that but I did block her final route last night.

If you’ve never really been into board games, consider picking up the game on iOS and giving it a try. You might discover that it actually is your sort of thing. Then you can buy the board game and get on the path of converting from a digital gamer to an analog one!



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Podcasting Gear – Plantronics GameCom Commander

When it came to voice communication over the internet I was a bit late to the party. I am pretty sure I was still typing things out long after Skype, Team Speak, and Ventrilo became commonplace. Since I’ve made the jump into more modern times I’ve always been looking for the best tools for leading my guild and running a podcast. Over time I’ve come to rely on Plantronics to deliver those tools. There are plenty of articles about how those products stand up in a gaming environment but I thought I would take a look at them from the perspective of a podcast producer.

Most podcasters seem to have certain sets of gear that they like. I’ve seen some recommendations for “must-have” setups that seemed to make sense. I even went so far as to go out, buy a condenser microphone, a stand, and a pop filter. The irony in that purchase is that the quality of my work suffered immediately. I don’t blame the equipment. It is mostly related to the acoustics of my office and how condenser microphones work. There was simply too much echo, too much outside nose, and the fact I had to be pretty close to be heard. I’m sure I could make it work but then sometimes the path of least resistance is best.

I switched from the expensive “professional podcaster” set to a Plantronics GameCom 780. Now the 780 isn’t exactly an inexpensive set up as headsets go but, by comparison, I thought it was pretty solid. I immediately noticed an improvement in the quality of my work. My co-host Chris even praised the quality of my audio. The microphone picked up a bit of outside noise but, in general, a simple noise removal took care of everything. It is a solid option for the podcaster that is looking for an “all in one” solution. It was the success that I had with the 780 that moved me on to the GameCom Commander.

Unboxing The Commander

To say that Commander comes in a nice box is like saying that David Bowie is a handsome man. It just doesn’t do anyone justice. Both the box and David Bowie are beautiful. The headset comes with a solid carrying case to hold it (it may even prevent the TSA from breaking the materials), a climbing carabiner, and a few interchangeable Velcro labels for the top (I chose Aperture Science). You also get the option of connecting the device via USB or standard microphone pins. The whole package was stunning really. It exuded completeness and quality. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t impressed. To sweeten the deal further it comes in a cardboard box that just slides up instead of a terrible blister pack. Props to Plantronix for that!

The Feel

The Commander is a solid, heavy headset. It is made of formed plastic, leather, and metal. The microphone has a far greater level of mobility than the 780 and can easily be positioned close to the mouth but not where you’ll hear the sound of my breath brushing past it. The ear cups are made of leather and actually have sound dampening. That was a bit of a shocker at first as I was accustomed to hearing myself talk. I would imagine the noise canceling to be at a level equal to some lower cost ear protection. It certainly does more than the old ear plugs I used during my days working in the slaughter house. I was pleased with that.

My only gripe with the Commander versus the 780 is the feel on my ears and head over a duration. The Commander grips me pretty tightly and the leather gets hot. After about 30 minutes of extended use I start to get uncomfortable. After an hour things are pretty painful. I never experienced this with the 780 and I’m working to adjust the Commander a bit to relieve this. I’m not sure if everyone would experience this or if it is just me. For a 30 minute podcast it isn’t a deal-breaker.

Sound Quality

When I look at sound quality I look at two things. The first has to be how I actually sound through my speakers. I truly feel that from a subjective prospect I sound louder and clearer when using the Commander headset. You can listen to a recent episode of Game On to confirm that. You can also compare it against an earlier episode of MMO Radio to see the difference. It isn’t huge but it is there. Both blow away the quality from the Multiverse. There is simply far less noise on my microphone and I love it.

I am also huge on how audio looks visually during editing. For all of the perks of the 780 there is a lot of noise on the line even when I’m not speaking. It doesn’t cancel sound as well. It also picks up things I don’t necessarily want it to. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in the waveform during editing. So much so that even though I don’t find the Commander to be as comfortable I will still continue to use it.

Overall

The Plantronix GameCom Commander is an expensive headset. There is no doubt about it. As a gamer I’m not sure I can say with absolutely certainty it is far superior to less expensive competing devices. As a podcaster, however, I can absolutely endorse the Commander to the fullest extent. Podcasting gear is expensive and can run a lot more than this headset. I look at the two options as in the same ball park. At this point I simply won’t be picking anything else up. I have no reason to even look. I get everything I need and want out of the Commander and look forward to many years of podcasting with it!



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A DnD Session Post-mortem

The weekend of the 5th my friends came to visit from their far off lands (Georgia, across the street, etc.) to sit down for our latest session of Dungeons and Dragons. In our last session I had given them a slight cliffhanger. They had just escaped from a prison after being wrongly accused of grave robbing. It seemed that the regent of the local principality (Barrons) wanted them dead and was willing to do whatever it took to make that outcome look legal.
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Hitting High Notes in Table Top RPGs

Portal 2 TurretI’ve been investing a lot of time into Vallhyn lately. For those who aren’t familiar Vallhyn is a fantasy world of my creation. It is the setting for my D&D game, Havok & Hijinks, and a novella I’m co-writing. It is a world that I started building as a teenager and, every so often, I run a D&D game in the setting to let a new cast of characters add to the fabric that makes the world special. I generally run a similar plot line around what I consider to be one of the most interesting parts of the world’s history. I then delight in the fact that each time the players go through the outcome is different.
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Puzzles Over Combat – Portal 2

Portal 2 TurretIt is fair to say that I am always behind on digital gaming. I pretty much won’t buy a PC title until it is $15-$30 on Steam. Anything more than that and I don’t feel like I’d get my money back out of it. As such, I just recently picked up Portal 2 and played through it. I have not genuinely enjoyed a game so much in a long time. I now get why people are so obsessed with the game! It really is masterfully done and, interestingly enough, it isn’t a game about fighting and/or killing.
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Back in Blue

Ferrel Male Knight AvatarWhen I wrote my blog retirement post I pretty much figured that was it. My creativity seemed like it had all been used up. I just didn’t feel like writing anymore and I had not done so in a while. I had not put together a book concept, a blog post, or even very many tweets. Now, I can’t even imagine feeling that way. I’ve dumped a lot of stress in my real life and started getting back into shape. That has done wonders for my creativity and now I’m back. Things are going to be a little different, however. There is no doubt about that!

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The Guild Leader’s Companion 2e – Franchise Members

Ferrel Wears PlateOver the course of your tenure as a leader you will discover that not every role or duty requires an officer’s touch. In some instances, you may even learn that it is best to let certain members handle a few things for you. Normally these members are long serving and don’t minding picking up an extra duty or two just to keep the organization running smoothly. I’ve taken to referring to these players as franchise members. Usually they are not officially recognized as anything but a member. Despite that fact, everyone generally feels that these members are important. In some organizations, they’re simply senior members, founding members, or something else along those lines. Regardless of what they’re called, franchise members will crop up the longer your team remains active. Continue reading



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The Guild Leader’s Companion 2e – Team Leaders

Ferrel Wears PlateIn organizations there are going to be certain roles that must be filled by someone with a little authority and also depend on a specific set of skills. In some cases, these roles may be simply too small to be filled by an officer. You and your officers may also lack the specific set of abilities necessary to complete the role’s requirements. Here, you need to look into finding a team leader.
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