Dragon Tree SpellbookAfter some confusion, it turns out that today is Obscure RPG Appreciation Day (ORPGAD) as organized by Mesmerized By Sirens.  This has gotten me to thinking about my own origins in the hobby.

I was first introduced to the hobby sometime around 1984 or 1985. At the Waldenbooks in the mall, (I don’t remember what mall. There were none in town and we didn’t get there very often. Dothan, maybe?) I picked up a copy of the D&D boxed set. Accidentally, and without the experience to know better, I bought the Expert Set and not the Basic. It would be a few weeks before I was able to return the bookstore to buy the Red Box. This was, of course, back when you could still find RPGs on the shelves in non-specialty stores.

I didn’t fully understand the rules at the time. Even though the Mentzer edition is written with new players in mind, it can be difficult to comprehend when you have no reference point and no experienced players to act as mentors. There were no CRPGs at the time. No World of Warcraft or Baldur’s Gate to act as an introduction. The closest we had was Scott Adam’s Adventure. My brother and I soon went looking for other players. We found an older player locally (who last I heard owns a comic store)  and began to better understand RPGs.

Eventually we discovered that at the Ft. Rucker Rec Center players gathered in the game room on the weekends and played. After that, we spent nearly every weekend there. A number of players we met there, like Billy Cohen and Chris Weinrich, are still active gamers.

There were no organized groups or sessions at the Rec Center, you simply grabbed up your books and dice and headed over. There were always lots of players, often with multiple games going on simultaneously. While you might be running through a D&D dungeon at one table, another group might be playing Car Wars or Battletech. Because of this organization—or lack thereof—whenever someone bought a new game. we’d usually give it a run through.

This lead to a lot of exposure to different games: Champions, Top Secret, Paranoia, Twilight 2000, and so on. There were quite a few games, obscure and otherwise, that garnered a session: Star Wars, Gangbusters, Ghostbusters, Witch Hunt, etc. But these rarely got a second chance. So, while Witch Hunt is particularly obscure game, I can’t say that I appreciate it now or even then.

So my choice of an obscure RPG, isn’t really an RPG at all. It’s the Dragon Tree Spell Book. While it’s a “playing aid for all fantasy dungeon adventures,” it was clearly targeted at AD&D. The spells contained within are sometimes useful and often unusual, but there were a few things about it that I really appreciate.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Appearance – It’s slim, saddle-stitched paperback with only 80 pages. It appears to have been laid out using a typewriter, though there is a dedication to the Heath Kit H-89 so it may have been typed up on there. I don’t know if there was a daisy-wheel printer available for the H-89. It feels homemade.

House Rules – It was my first exposure to alternate magic systems and large-scale house rules. The book contains systems for spellcasting: memorization, personal magic, local mana, and impromptu spell casting. The impromptu was my favorite and something I haven’t seen duplicated since.

Cantrips – This was the first time I had seen zero-level spells.

History – Many of the spells have an attribution to the author of the spell and have proper names in the title. So, like Tenser’s Floating Disc, you’ll find Percival’s Phosphorescence or Ethelbert’s Elegant Explosions. This gives the player a sense of history, even though that history is not known.

Color – There is a lot of inserted text that are either quotations from some presumed, past campaign:

“You idiots would try to get nuts from a tree by shaking it wit a ‘fire blast,’ about as sensible as cracking an egg with onanger or using a catapult to plant corn.” – unknown sargent – 5th Thaumaturgical Corp, Confederate Army of Erewhon

Or, advice to the reader:

“Tom Bell tells experienced players entering his world ‘Use whatever system you normally use. Magic works in lots of ways.'”

Though almost all of my old RPG books and manuals are now lost to me, I remembered the Dragon Tree Spell Book so well that I recently bought a new copy.

Ben Rose on Google+ taught me a great new word skeumorphism when I discussed, in a previous post, the intended layout for the Character Editor. I hope I’ve found the right balance here. I like the tactile nature of representing parts of the gaming table with their real-world counterparts.

In this alpha version of the Character Editor, you can:

  • Load templates created in the Character Sheet Editor
  • Edit any unlocked fields, including images
  • Roll dice
  • Add custom player notes

Rolling up characters this way makes we want to gather up my friends and play.


Character Editor Alpha from C. Lewis Pinder on Vimeo.

Also available on YouTube.

The character sheet editor is finally at alpha. Most of the time was split between trying to maintain the “look and feel” of a physical character sheet and struggling with Unity’s UI system. I’ll talk more about Unity in a future post where I’ll discuss the things that have and haven’t work well with Unity. For now, let’s take a look at the editor.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Beginning with a blank page of any size (there are defaults for letter, legal, A4, and A5), you can add several different types of elements: text, whole numbers, decimal numbers, checkboxes, and images. Each of these elements is lockable, meaning that they can’t be modified by the player in the character editor. This essentially turns text into labels and images into graphic elements.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The text, number, and checkbox elements are assigned a name, as well as a default value and text size. This name will be used in dice and chat macros to access entries on the character sheet, e.g. “1d20 + strAdj” to roll 1d20 and add the value named “strAdj.”


Click to enlarge.

While the default is a sheet of notebook paper, any image can be used as the background. You can use a scanned image, character sheets off the web, or something custom you put together in Photoshop.

For the test run, I setup both the classic D&D character sheet and the handwritten sample from the Molday Basic edition.


Tabletop Connect Character Sheet Editor from C. Lewis Pinder on Vimeo.


Also available on, YouTube.

die-rolling-alpha-headerWhile doing some UI work, I fell down the rabbit hole of rolling dice and, as part of the push to alpha, stayed with it until it was complete.

New Features:

  • The user can now add an arbitrary number of dice and type to the dice pool.
  • The dice can either add to, subtract from, multiply, or divide the total.
  • Dice can be rolled by entering as text with supported math, e.g. “2d6 + 1d8”
  • Dice values and the total of the roll are displayed on screen.
  • Dice text fades after a set time (currently 5 seconds, which feels longer than it is).
  • Dice are cleared when new dice are rolled.

At the moment, the dice macros are not saved anywhere and only math operators on die rolls are supported. E.g. “1d6 + 1d10” works, but “1d6 + 3” doesn’t.

Also, the order of operations are the order in which the dice are added to the pool. There’s no support for parentheses.

Adding these additional features is not difficult, but it isn’t trivial. They’ll be coming along as more features reach the alpha stage.


Die Rolling at Alpha from C. Lewis Pinder on Vimeo.

tabletop-headerNot all of a game takes place on the map with miniatures. One would hope that much of a gaming session occurs outside the dungeon. There are the practical matters like rolling up characters, picking out minis, and waiting for all the players to arrive; and, of course, all the role-playing that happens before the swords start swinging.

ms-bobCall it a lobby or the table, it might well be the part that you are looking at most. Working on the networking necessitates that I pay attention to “the table.” I’ve kicked around a few ideas, but the one that I’m leaning toward most is extending the tabletop metaphor into a virtual tabletop. I remember, too well, efforts like Microsoft Bob that didn’t go over with the users. Having a folders and a trash can on the desktop works well enough as long as you can just double click to open a folder and don’t have to virtually mimic digging through a filing cabinet.

I did a quick 2D mock-up, but I think I might be pushing it a little too far. What would you like? How much verisimilitude is the right amount?

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Click to enlarge.

[poll id=”2″]

kickstart-stillWhile I haven’t kept it a secret that intend to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the project once I get to a solid alpha, I haven’t made much noise about it either. Given the availability of cast and crew, I took a break from development to shoot the Kickstarter video.

I’d like to take a moment to thank Aaron Carver, Cary Brown, Casey Ross, Emmanuel Plascencia, Jarod Caitlin, and Nicole Williams for all their time and effort.

It was good to step away from coding for a bit, but now I have to get my head out of editing mode and back to the software.

I think you’ll all enjoy the video when the campaign begins.