Monthly Archives: February 2010

How to make money on the Internet

I have had  conversations with various people in the last couple of years about making money on the Internet. Usually my response is simple, “The same way you make money in meatspace, you work hard and hope life does not crap on you.”. That ends about 75% of the conversations, but a few people push me for specific ideas for a business run exclusively online. I can see why this is attractive, start up costs is less than $100 and the idea of making money without changing out of your pajamas is every slackers dream. So here is a business plan that may or may not work for you, but has worked for others. If you doubt me  google Gawker Media.

Step #1: You need an idea, you need a subject matter you want to discuss, at length, for years on end. Politics, games, cars, porn, whatever, it does not matter as long you are interested in the subject and you like talking about it. If you are an aspiring fiction writer or poet this is a great way to express yourself, perhaps gain a following and get noticed.

Step #2: Register your domain and procure hosting. I use Godaddy, I have heard excellent things about Laughing Squid. The only thing I would stipulate here is the cost, anything over $75 for the first year is too much, go find a different service provider. Don’t let anyone sell you unnecessary extras, all you are doing setting up a low traffic blog site. Later on if you start getting 10,000 hits a day, you can start thinking about dedicated server hosting. Lastly, be sure you read the end user license agreement, this is especially true if you plan to host adult content, some service providers also have rules about ads on sites they host.

Step #3: Decide on your blog software and customize your site. Depending on who you talk to, the advent of the blog was either the single greatest innovation of the Internet age or it is the greatest blight since the black plague wiped out 1/3 of Europe. Regardless of what critics think, blog software is a great way create, present and organize content. I use WordPress, its reasonably easy to use and has a lot of options for customising your site. When configuring your blog software make absolutely sure it is set up for accepting comments, you definitely want an on going dialogue with your customers and besides, some of them will be funny and insightful, I view them as contributing writers who work for free. When choosing your theme, avoid dark colours, emo teenagers like it, but no one else does. Instead go for subtle tones and easy to look at colors, if you are not sure, visit several of the afore mentioned Gawker sites to see what I mean.

Step #4: sign up for Google Adsense and Paypal merchant services. This is going to be your source of income. Use Adsense to put topical ads on your site, get enough people reading your stuff, a few of them will click on the Ad links and a couple penny’s will be deposited in your account. Use Paypal to collect donations from  people who appreciate your service. Later, you can even offer premium content to those who donate. If your site ever gets big, you will be able to sell space on your site to advertisers, this is the holy grail of for profit websites.

Step #5: Start writing content. This is the single most important thing you have to do. This is were the work comes in. If you spend an hour a week throwing crap on your site, your site will be filled with crap and will go no where. View this as a part time job and work on it at least 20 hours per week, be prepared to post a minimum of three times a week and seven or even ten times a week is better. Even when you are not writing, you should be researching your chosen subject matter looking for interesting new information to serve up to your readers.

Step #6: Advertise, advertise advertise. You will spend almost as much time doing this as you do researching and writing new content. You will want to visit similar sites, post comments on blogs and participate in forum discussions, all the with purpose of subtly driving people to your site without irritating them. In every post you make, be sure you place a link to your site as part of your signature. Remember when posting on other sites you are selling yourself and your site. You want to avoid trolling and flame wars. It is also a good idea to look into blogging networks like the RPG Bloggers Network, they are a great way to advertise your blog to like minded persons. Another good way to spread the word is through FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter. When you post something new to your blog, goto your FaceBook account and post a link to your latest blog post, do the same thing with MySpace and Twitter. This is what the Web 2.0 is all about.

Step #7: Profit. If all goes well, money will start to trickle in, probably not much at first, but if you are providing a good service, people will come to your site and they will keep coming back. If it never makes a dime, you are really not out much in the way of real cash and who knows, you might just keep doing it because you like it.

If you have never done any serious blogging before and you are not sure you can hack it, go sign up for one the free blog sites like Blogspot and try writing there for a while. Then if you do find you can consistently blog and maybe even develop a following, you can always carry out my business plan, transfer all of what you have written to your new site and open your doors with content already available. If on the other hand if you get bored and decide I am full of crap, you are not out any cash at all.

Finally, for those of you who are saying to yourselves, “If its so easy, why aren’t you doing it ?”. The answer is simple, its not easy, its a hell of a lot of work, and I am a lazy bastard. No where in these 1000+ words, did I say this was easy, only that you could do it in your pajamas.

HackMaster Basic

Product Summery:
Name: HackMaster Basic
Publisher: Kenzer and Company
Author: Jolly Blackburn and Dave Kenzer
Line: HackMaster 5th Edition
Cost: $19.99
Pages: 192
Webpage: http://www.kenzerco.com/hackmaster/

I was a bit torn where HackMaster 5th edition (HM5) in general and HackMaster Basic (HMb) specifically, on how to approach this review, whether I wanted to review it as a stand alone game or if I wanted to review it in the shadow of what came before. I suspect Jolly Blackburn and Dave Kenzer would prefer I looked at HMb as a stand alone product and reviewed it on its own merits. After discussing this with PezWitch over tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, I decided instead of writing a lot about one view or the other, I would write a little about both.

As a stand alone product, HMb is a fine game. The appearance and layout are good, the book is well written and the game mechanics are sound. There is nothing revolutionary here, but K&C still managed to put together a perfectly serviceable game which should require little house ruling. The best part of the book is Dave and Jolly’s usual amusing writing style. I liked the book and as a stand alone game, I would give HMb a solid 3.

The real problem here is comparing HMb to the previous edition. HM4 was based on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st and 2nd editions (AD&D). We play HackMaster 4th edition (HM4) specifically because of this, if HM4 didn’t exist, we would be playing AD&D1E. HM4 makes us feel like we are 16 again, exploring for the first time, the very edges of our imaginations. It allows us to game like its 1979 again. HMb is frankly a shadow of its predecessor. It definitely has some things in common with HM4, it adds some interesting twists and the Erol Otis cover definitely makes me want to like this product, but it just never quite gets me where I want to go. Standing in the shadow of HM4 and AD&D, I have to give HMb a 2, it simply does not stand up. Perhaps when Advanced HackMaster (AHM) comes out later this year, I will like it better.

Playing pen and paper RPG online

This is cross posted from The Hermits Hut:

I have been playing a regular game of HackMaster every week since June of 2002. All of my players are spread across the western half of the United States. I have players in Portland Oregon, Billings Montana, and various places in Texas. In playing this weekly game, I have never left my house and neither have any of my players. We play over the Internet using a program called OpenRPG. The program, OpenRPG is specifically designed for providing a game group with a virtual table top to play their RPG on. It provides a whiteboard to draw maps on, chat, die roller and nodes which can be used to build things like interactive character sheets. I have found this mode of play to be very satisfying and sometimes I can’t imagine playing any other way. Playing online has many advantages over playing Face to Face (F2F).

  • It is easy to get a pickup game going even at 3 AM and none of your friends will answer their phones or everyone is out of town for Christmas. Simply log into one of the high traffic servers and announce you will run a game of whatever and will take the first 4 people to reply.
  • You are not limited to your geographic location. If all the games in your local area are Vampire LARPs or 4E games and you hate both games, it should be easy to find other players in other locations who want to play your game.
  • If all the game groups in your area are comprised of people who smell like cat piss and you miss your old game group, you can still play like its 1979.
  • No lugging game books across town, all my books are within easy reach of your computer.
  • No after game cleanup.
  • Angry spouses and crying children only affects one player, not the whole group.
  • I only have to buy munchies for myself, no mooches.
  • It is much easier to accept the cute elf ninja chic if I can not see the 300 pound bearded man playing her.
  • It is easy to get rid of annoying players, simply boot them out off the server and change the password.

To be fair there are some disadvantages to playing online as well and it is definitely not for everyone.

  • Progress is slow, it takes an online group 4 hours to accomplish what a F2F group could do in 2-2.5 hours.
  • As with any online communications, sometimes it is difficult to know what people mean when you do not have body language and facial expressions to help judge, misunderstandings do happen and are more common in online games, especially among people who do not know each other off line.
  • It is easy for players to get distracted. Unfortunately it is easy to multi task with a computer and players can and will entertain themselves during the slow times of the game. They will watch TV, play Nintendo, surf the web and I have even been known to play in two online games simultaneously.
  • Computer hardware and software are not perfect and sometimes things just don’t work right. The server you are using might go down in the middle of a game or one of your players may have a hard drive crash and loose all of his characters, macros and game settings.
  • Cheating is much easier. I have not found an online client yet where die rolls could not be faked with some creative use of HTML or ASCII codes.

Running a successful game group, Part 2

Last Friday night was one of the most brutal RPG sessions I have played in a good long time. Three things converged to bring about this situation. First, I could not roll to save my life. My 7th level Thief, Zymmer, has a 75% chance of finding traps. I failed to make four consecutive Find Trap rolls in a row. I then went on to roll two fumbles in two consecutive rounds of combat. The second thing, was Kirby, who is playing Gon, a 5th level Half-Ogre fighter, literally breaks everything he touches and for some reason he could not keep his hands off anything. Third and finally Bruce, the GM was in a mood. He decided tormenting us as we fumbled around in the dungeon like 12 year kids playing their first characters, was a grand source of entertainment. You know what, it was one hell of a fun game.

Let me repeat that, in spite of everything going wrong and being reduced to 10% of my full hit points, not once, but three times, this was one fucking fun ass game. In Fact, our failures made the game that much more fun. About three quarters of the way through the game, we came to a locked door and Brother Hahmez (Thor’s Half-Orc Fighter/Cleric) asks me if I am going to search for traps and my response was simply a deadpan, “Your kidding right ?”, which produced a number of LOL and ROFLOL from the other players. It was probably the defining moment of the game.

The reason I told this story is because fun is why we play the game, it is the ultimate goal and nothing will kill a game group faster than not having any fun. I have been playing with this group for eight years and I keep coming back because these guys are an incredibly fun group of guys to game with. In the four successful groups I have been involved with, I kept going back because the GM knew how to run a fun game, the other players where fun people to be around and I made a concerted effort to be part of the fun.

Of the three factors, GM, Other Players and Me, I really only have control over one of those and that is me. On the RPGNet forums there is a saying, “No gaming is better than bad gaming.”. If a group is not working out for you, don’t try to make everyone as miserable as you are, just leave. Politely thank the GM for his hospitality and move on. In the previous installment I mentioned I had been in involved in seven or eight unsuccessful game groups. When it came time to stop playing, I simply stopped showing up. I didn’t try to go out with a bang, go all drama queen or take everyone else out with me. I simply left quietly and in most cases, the group was sick anyway and broke up shortly after my exit. The rule here is simple, “Don’t be a dick.”.

I want a dash mounted hookah

I mostly quit cigarettes 5 or 6 years ago, I quit them completely last year. However, I can not give up the hookah. If you have never smoked a hookah, I recommend it, even if you don’t smoke at all. It is a smooth, nice tasting experience, not at all like smoking cigarettes or cigars. I mostly smoke by myself, but I truly love the experience when I have friends around to share. I like this picture because this s obviously a man who knows how to enjoy himself and the idea of an in dash hookah intrigues me. After the failed in dash MP3 player fiasco of 1998, PezWitch has banned me from making modifications to our cars, however, I can always dream.

Death Dealer: Shadows of Mirahan

Product Summery:
Name: Death Dealer: Shadows of Mirahan
Publisher: Goodman Games
Author: Harly Stroh
Line: Dungoens & Dragons 4E
Cost: $9.99
Pages: 96
Webpage: http://www.goodman-games.com/5371preview.html

Frank Frazetta is an iconic fantasy artist and I like many of my generation, remember his work from the 70′s on album covers, posters and Heavy Metal Magazine. The Death Dealer painting being one of his most widely recognized. In 2007 Image comics published a comic book based on the Death Dealer character, although he was not really a character in the book, he was more a force of nature. Just recently Goodman Games published a Death Dealer adventure module based on the 2007 comic. The cover of this book is what really pulled me in.  I am not a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition player, but the draw of Frazetta’s art was too powerful for me to resist. I can always convert it to HackMaster and use it to torment PezWitch and the interns. I figured, what was another Total Party Kill (TPK) one way or another.

I really like the art in this book, how could I not like a book filled with Frazetta inspired pictures. My biggest complaint about the book besides it being D&D4E, is the dark gray background with black fonts. Mongoose Games is doing this with their Elric and Lankhmar books as well. This might be cool to the kids, but for us old guys, this is a bad idea. It is hard to read and the otherwise great art, fades against this gray wash on every page. This greatly annoys me and detracts from an otherwise good product.

The game mechanics are standard D&D4E fare. The monsters and NPC’s are clearly stated in the book, so you don’t need to refer to the Monster Manual. There are five pregenerated characters ready to play, these are actually the characters from the comic books, so fans will appreciate it. The Death Dealer himself is stated in the book. This is a two edged sword for Goodman games. On the one hand, stating him was a brave move and adds a cool factor to the book. On the other, they will now be plagued with stories at GenCon about how some guys 12th level Rogue named Binky was actually able to kill the Death Dealer with a double ninja strike backstab attack on the first turn of combat.

The adventure itself is a race against time, with the characters often finding themselves out numbered and out gunned. I can see where a stubborn group of players who refuse to retreat when necessary, could end up with a TPK. Smartly played characters should be able to win the day. The background material on the lands of Iparsia is just enough to get the game going, I think probably it be a good idea to find a copy of the source comic book and read that, if the GM wants to continue running the game in this setting. This adventure, however, would work just fine in any setting that tended towards dark fantasy. In fact, when I run it, I will be adapting for use with my own Caldoom setting.

There are two things about this product that really push it over the edge for me. First, it is $9.99. In this day and age of $50 hardback games, it is a relief to see at least one game company trying to go the other way. The Dungeon Alphabet, also by Goodman Games,  is $9.99 as well and it is a Hardback book. Additionally, there is a coupon code on page two, good for downloading the PDF version of Death Dealer for free, normally $7.99 from goodmangames.rpgnow.com. One of the options for download is the low ink version, which actually fixes my complaint about the gray background.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 2
Game Mechanic: 3
Setting: 4
Overall: 3/5

I gave Setting a 4 in spite of the lack of substantial background material because I really liked the adventure itself and the very idea of the Death Dealer works for me. At $9.99 plus the free PDF download, make this is a real bargain for any GM looking for something in the dark fantasy category.

Random Dungeon Generator

There is this really fantastic tool on the Internet, it is the donjon Random Dungeon Generator. I use it when I am in need of a quick and dirty adventure to run. The Carnifex.org labs, extensively tested this tool, by playing nothing but random dungeons for 36 hours straight. We would have went longer, but the interns started complaining that I was a killer GM. I personally don’t see what the problem was, the three Total Party Kills did not happen until the last two hours of play.  Below is a small undead themed dungeon I adapted to HackMaster 4th Edition.

Room 1, 90×70: North Entry- Wooden Door,Locked : West Entry- Archway : East Entry- Wooden Door,Locked : South Entry- Wooden Door,Unlocked.
Ghoul(1)-Size: M, HF 4, AC 6, HD 2 (HP 29), #ATT 3, DMG/ATT 1D4-1/1D4-1/1d6, MV 9, Paralyzation.

Treasure: 6000 cp, 3000 sp, 800 gp, 5 gems (5x hematite, 10gp each), Cleric Scroll with Cure Light Wounds, Know Alignment, Cure Disease and Glyph of Warding.


Room 2, 110×50: North Entry #1- Wooden Door, Unlocked : North Entry #2- Wooden Door , Unlocked : West Entry #1- Wooden Door,  Locked : West Entry #2- Stone Door, Unlocked, Pit Trap (30ft deep) : East Entry- Wooden Door, Locked

Skeleton(2)-Size: M, HF 2, AC 7, HD 1 (HP 23,24), #ATT 1, DMG/ATT  1d6, MV 12, Non Blunt weapon do half damage.

Treasure: None


Room 3, 30×50: East Entry- Wooden Door, Locked : South Entry- Wooden Door, Locked.

Locked chest against wall. Chest is trapped with poison needle (1d4 Damage, Type C Poison)

Treasure: 1000cp inside the chest.


Room 4, 50×50: South Entry- Wooden Door, Unlocked.

Empty


Room 5, 50×50- North Entry, Archway

Empty


Room 6, 90×30:  East Entry, Wooden Door, Locked, Pit Trap (30 Ft Deep) : South Entry, Wooden Door, Unlocked.

Skeleton, Giant (1)-Size: L, HF 12, AC 4, HD 4+4 (HP 38), #ATT 1, DMG/ATT  1d12, MV 12, Non Blunt weapon do half damage.

Treasure: None


Room 7, 50×70: North Entry, Wooden Porticullis : West Entry, Secret door, Magic Flame Trap (4d4 damage, save for half) : South Entry, Iron Door (Str-4 to open door).

Skeleton(5)-Size: M, HF 2, AC 7, HD 1 (HP 21,21,23,24,25), #ATT 1, DMG/ATT  1d6, MV 12, Non Blunt weapon do half damage.

Treasure: None


Room 8, 50×50: North Entry #1, Wooden Door, unlocked : North Entry #2 Wooden Door, Locked :  East Entry Archway : South Entry #1, Wooden Door, Unlocked : South Entry #2 Archway.

Collapsed wall, chains, tongs, scorch marks.


Room 9, 90×30: West Entry, Wooden Door, locked. East Entry- Stone Door, locked.

Bottle, corroded chains, old tobacco pipe, wax blob.


Room 10, 30×50: North Entry, Wooden Door, Locked. South Entry, Archway.

Ghoul(1)-Size: M, HF 4, AC 6, HD 2 (HP 29), #ATT 3, DMG/ATT 1D4-1/1D4-1/1d6, MV 9, Paralyzation.

Treasure: 2000 sp, Scroll of Protection – Water

FaceBook: The Two Edged Sword

Facebook provides an amazing service, it allows me (and everyone else) to stay in touch with people whose company I have enjoyed in the past and allows me to build a cross linking community of friends. Over the last year or so, I have enjoyed a great many posts ranging from trival to life changing, from cute and irreverent to serious and sad. When my own father died, the primary mode of communication between myself and my family was Facebook. My sister Holly, notified me through the private message system, she did this, because she knew I would not answer my cell phone while I was at work, but I do periodic scans of Facebook throughout the day. It was with this conversation that I felt the most connected with Holly in at least two decades.

There is also Leigh, whose life has taken at least one wild turn, is one of the more interesting posters on Facebook. It was a discussion started by Leigh about gay marriage that prompted me to my first Facebook defriending (discussed later) and solidified our friendship. He attends Burning Man every year, something I have wanted to do for years, at some point I will and I am glad I will have someone to show me the ropes.

The flip side to Facebook is for each person whose presence on Facebook I have enjoyed, there are two people with whom I no longer have anything in common with. In the case of Kirby C, this was a definitely a bad thing. For whatever reason Kirby C has become a bitter old man, a bigot and a misogynist. he is the only person I have defriended and for good measure, I blocked his ass as well. This was not a decision I made lightly or even quickly, the more I interacted with him the more repulsed I was by what he had become and I refuse to be associated with someone like that.

There are also those people with whom I really have no connection with. These people range from barely knew in High School to some of my best friends. It is really no surprise that if I barely remember someone and I can not think a single significant interaction, Then I would have nothing in common with them now and by extension, I would have no grounding for a perspective on their current life.

Karl was probably my biggest surprise. Karl and I were partners in crime at one time, but today, our paths are so divergent, we simply have no common ground anymore. It is a bit sad really, to paraphrase a Meatloaf song, objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer then they are. When you actually get out of the car and try to walk back, you realize two decades is too far.

Running a successful game group, Part 1

Last week I posted a note on FaceBook about maintenance of a game group. I pointed to consistency as the primary quality of any successful game group. There are other qualities and I plan on writing about those in later posts. For the purposes of this series, I am going to reprint my FaceBook note as a starting point.

From FaceBook:

I have been reading on various RPG forums about the difficulties people have maintaining a game group. It seems keeping a game group together is very difficult and they breakup with frightening regularity. Personally, I have been involved with 4 long term game groups and probably twice that many failed groups. On reflection, each of the successful groups had one quality in common and the failed groups all lacked this quality. The quality was consistency.

Game Time: This might be the most important aspect of a game. Play on the same day and at the same time each and every week. Once you have chosen a day, run with it, if everyone wants to play, they will come, if they don’t want to play, they won’t. You will also find it much easier to find players if you can tell them, we play on Sunday nights come hell or high water.

The Chosen Game: Always have a base game you play, its okay to try out other games and do one offs, but every group needs a core game they prefer above all others, once you find it, stick with it. If you are changing games every three months, you are going to find people wandering away.

House Rules: Every GM should make his game his own, but lets be real, if you have four binders full of house rules, your players are going to hate you. Keep it simple, only change rules that absolutely must be changed and make sure the players have access to a list of changes. My rule of thumb is four printed single spaced readable pages, anything more and you are probably playing the wrong game.

Setting: Like systems, you should always play in the same setting, whether its your own home brew or a commercial setting. Either way, find one you like and stick with it. Also, let the Characters matter in the setting, let their actions effect their environment. If they kill Elminster in the Forgotten Realms, then so be it.

Game Master: Every group needs a one, rotating GM’s is almost as bad as rotating game systems. Its okay for the GM to take a break occasionally and play, but at the end of it all, there should be one guy who is THE MAN.

Campaigns: Players should be allowed to play their characters long term, if they are rolling up new characters every three months, they are going to loose interest. When running games, I try to stick to a one year plot cycle. When we start a new campaign, the players can expect to be playing the same characters for at least one year. Sometimes we start brand new characters, sometimes we revisit old characters, depending on the level requirements of the campaign. Some characters have played through as many as three cycles, although not back to back.

The digital world is getting smaller

Yesterday as I was perusing Facebook reading about all the exciting things happening in my friends lives, you know, things like the viscosity of their children’s bowel movement. I came across a post by a fellow named Mark, who was not on my friend list, but ended up in my newsfeed because they have their privacy settings so friends of friends can read their posts and my wifes friend CJ happen to be the friend of Marks. What was interesting about this particular post was my boss from work commented on the post and is apparently a friend of Marks as well.

Me –> My Wife –> CJ –> Mark –> My Boss –> Me

This is a case of my online life bleeding into my meatspace life. I have never friended my boss on Facebook and I have no intention of doing so, not because I dislike him, quite the opposite in fact. However, I like to give my professional life and my personal life some space and having my boss as a Facebook friend would be too big of an intrusion. I have 48 Facebook friends at this time, some of these people have as many as 400 friends. It would be really interesting to map this out and see how many more instances of this there are.