Combat Manager: Everything a DM could ever need

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Our group has been playing Pathfinder consistently for about two years. In that time I've changed the way I DM quite a bit. Our long running 4th edition D&D campaign was built with meticulous notes and hand drawn maps, custom rule sets and even home recorded sound/dialog.

When we shifted solidly to Pathfinder, the calculations and necessary notes became vast and unwieldy. Around this time I switched to using Excel sheets and PDF's of the books for our games. My pile of papers and bookmarked core books were consolidated and replaced by my laptop. Still, switching to different PDF's and spreadsheets was damn near impossible to do quickly. A simple ruling on a condition or spell effect became an ordeal. Tracking damage and initiative was wonky and often prone to mistakes.

I've looked into programs like Hero Lab before, but the ridiculous expense that comes along with it left me feeling a touch exploited. And even with the regular updates from Paizo, there were still features that I found to be wholly lacking.

About a month ago, I came across something while browsing the scholarly r/pathfinder. A few people had posted about their experiences with Combat Manager. From their posts I gathered that it was extensive, intuitive, customize-able and free. Convinced that this was too good to be true, I followed the first link provided in the comments and downloaded it for myself.

I am happy to report that Combat Manager is everything it was touted to be and more. This program has made our game so much easier to play and manage. When first exploring the interface, I thought that as well laid out as the combat screen was, it was a shame I couldn't track conditions like fatigue or poison. Then I found the condition tracker and discovered that not only could I assign conditions to any PC or NPC, but it would also track how many rounds it remained in effect.

My next wish was for a rules reference. Again, I found it even more complete that I had hoped for the rules reference is searchable and capable of setting bookmarks for quick reference.

The overall program is a godsend for any new or experienced DM. Combat manager is constantly evolving to include new info and more complete tools. What I thought would be a decent way to track initiative has become my favorite game tool, taking the place of spreadsheets, lengthy notes and stacks of books. Now I'm just waiting for an android compatible version.

I Like to Think That I Look Cool... And I'm Probably Right

Thursday, March 28, 2013
I've been holding off on writing this review for FAR too long, but I must share a small bit of last PAX's haul with you.  I splurged and purchased a pair of GUNNAR Paralex in gloss onyx.  Let me say, totally worth it!

For those who are unaware, I spend more than a considerable amount of time staring at computer screens per day and am very migraine prone.  As you can imagine, the two things do NOT mix very well and I usually end up going to bed with a headache.  Plus, what basement dwelling cyber warrior would be complete without an excellently sci fi looking pair of glasses?  Answer: NONE.

How do they work?  Magic, absolute glass-cutting magic, and pixie-dust.  I know nothing about glasses really, but here's what I know about the effects.  The most noticeable thing about these glasses is that the lenses are tinted amber.  You'd think that that would interrupt seeing normal colors, but unless you're a graphic designer (they make clear lenses for those), it really isn't noticeable at all!  What this does is warms the contrast from the blue light coming from the screen, which in high doses becomes harmful to the eyes.

The second most noticeable thing, they are wider than normal glasses and possess a certain curve in the lens and frame.  This tricks your eyes into thinking that you are viewing the screen from farther away, brings more clarity to text and lines, and simultaneously contains more moisture for those intense periods of time when you refuse to blink.  Plus, the lenses are pretty tough and seem to tolerate mild abuse fairly well.

Overall effect is that when I use them I have fewer computer headaches and less dry eyes!  They were a fantastic impulse buy, although I feel a little bad for those who require prescription glasses as the prices increase DRASTICALLY due to the making of custom lenses.

Anywho, I have worn these for work, play, right this second, and even a cyber defense competition, they always seem to have a positive reception and are just an overall useful tool for someone who is on their computer very often!

The Ol' Cardboard Crack

Friday, March 15, 2013

So, I recently quit playing Magic: The Gathering. For about a month before jumping right back in. I don't know what it is about that game that keeps drawing me back in. Maybe it's something deep-seated and all together nerdy inside of me. That part of me that wants to beat people with math while girded about with the trappings of fantasy, like some kind of LARPer re-enacting the final scene of Flight of Dragons. Maybe I just love the art.

The funny thing about it is, I've only been playing Magic off and on for a couple of years. My beautiful fiancee has  been playing the game for well over a decade, and those of my other friends who play have, by and large, been playing longer than I have. But none of them seem to be infected by the same drive to build new decks, try unique combos, and challenge friends, strangers, basically anyone who will play to a match.

Maybe it's because of the fact that I'm more recently introduced to the game that I can't seem to break away from it just yet. I know many of the reasons my friends have given as to their disillusionment with the game; the primary one being that, like many games that combine collectibility with competition, the person who throws the most money at the hobby tends to have a powerful edge. I think I'm still in a rose-tinted haze where somewhere inside I've convinced myself that the "true" challenge to the game is in taking the meager resources that an "average" player can afford and delving for that mystical synergy one occasionally finds in those overlooked commons and uncommons that somehow come together to forge a weapon a clever player can wield against even the most vicious of Devils or overpowering of Angels....
Maybe I just like playing with cards

Backseat Gaming

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Confession, at 4 years old, I began my gaming career as a backseat gamer.  Mostly it consisted for about of year of watching and making suggestions to a person I grew up with and consider my brother, but would never let me have the controller.  I passed many days of being babysat with his younger brother doing this, and one day their mom told him to let me have a turn on Super Mario 64.  It was the lava level, I had no idea what to do!  Oftentimes I still don't know what to do when a world is too expansive (such as Skyrim).  I enjoy the storyline, but lose track of way too many things, so I usually prefer to watch these games.

Recently, Ssalarn has been replaying through KotOR, KotOR II and playing through Ni No Kuni, all of which are incredibly immersive games with massive playability and far too many things to keep track of.  I've been having an absolute blast watching him play and trying to solve the puzzles with him!  I suppose the feeling is reminiscent of a relay race, it's good to feel helpful, but you also don't have to shoulder everything.

Of course there are disagreements on how different tasks should be accomplished, in this case it tends to be in the best interests of everyone involved to let the pilot make the final decision.  That's why co-op games are awesome, then you can do what you want!

Regardless, I enjoy being a backseat gamer more than I probably should, it's just kind of fun that we have a relaxing activity to do together, where most people would probably be frustrated about the other person being immersed in the game.  I don't think they fully understand how cool it is to be so involved in the story and to make the characters' destinies.