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SlyFlourish.com and Web Publishing

Mike Shea, 10 April 2009

Merlin Mann and Jonathan Gruber gave a talk at SXSW that inspired me into action. They said some things that I'd been kicking around in the cobwebs of my brain for some time about web publishing. These ideas boiled down by me into the following:

First, people don't really give a damn about what I say. They give a damn about what I SAY. It isn't the author that's important, its the topic. Most blogs are based on a person, the TOPIC is the person. Thus, a weblog on Mike Shea will end up appealing only to those interested in Mike Shea like some friends and family. That means I'm not likely to ever get many regular readers. Instead, certain articles might end up getting some readers when I happen onto a topic so obscure that it pops up high on some google queries. Fountain pen reviews, for example, or even more deep, fountain pen reviews of Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pens.

This isn't satisfying. It was different for me when I wrote for Mobhunter because the topic was Everquest, not just me. Even then, though, I focused on articles based on my point of view as the "casual gamer" which was mostly a load of crap. I just didn't think the top .0001% of the game's population should get 60% of the resources spent on the game.

Merlin made a statement I really liked in that talk. He said something like "Don't make a website about Star Wars or even about Jawas, but what about that ONE Jawa in that one scene! Become the go-to guy on that Jawa."

There are probably a million reviews of Battlestar Galactica on the web and I probably had about four people read mine. They could have read any of them and probably got what they wanted. That's not really useful.

So I started a new project. I wanted to build a focused site on a topic I'm really passionate about. I wanted it really focused so that there were maybe only ten other websites that did something similar to me. I wanted to brand it right and clearly define the goals of the site for myself and the readers.

What I came up with was SlyFlourish.com, a weblog with a single goal: Building the better Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Dungeon Master. There are a lot of other game-master sites out there and a lot of RPG blogs that talk about 4th edition, but this one will really refine it down. I'll post a new article every Monday morning (so I can waste boss-time instead of reader time) and each article will be designed to make a 4th edition dungeon master's game better.

I also finally found a good use for Twitter. Sure, I've been posting tweets for about three years now but, like many, they had little value to people's lives. Sure, it might be good if you're interested in the life of Mike Shea (hi mom!) but that's a pretty narrow field.

Instead I started a new twitter account http://twitter.com/slyflourish with a likewise limited scope and topic: "D&D 4th Edition DM Tips Twice Daily". Now I have a reason to tweet. Thanks to the RPG Blogger's Network, I found a nice wide circle of fellow gamers on the web and on Twitter - friends I hope to meet in person at Gencon this year.

For both the website and the twitter feed, I made some general rules I hoped to follow. First, be consistent. Two, be brief. Three, be useful. I plan to avoid the politics and business discussions of D&D (yep, there are politics - see PDFGate) instead focusing on the game itself. Unlike Everquest, each DM has control over their own game. This new site would focus on making those games better.

So I'm pretty excited about the whole thing. I went from 15 hits to 100 hits a day in the first week, found fifty great people to follow on Twitter, joined the RPG Blogger's Network thanks to the fellow son-of-an-author, The Game, and have so far kept up with one article a week and two useful Tweets a day!

My only problem seems to be keeping up with the Twitter chatter. There are a whole pile of tweets every day and keeping up with them is quite daunting. I hear that "dipping into the stream" is better than trying to guzzle from the firehose, but if I expect anyone to read any of my little nuggets, I have to be reading the rest. Anyway, figuring out Twitter is still a challenge.

So if you've reached the end of this post and you're one of the folks who came to this blog for your fix of D&D talk, please check out http://slyflourish.com and http://twitter.com/slyflourish and make your game better.

Sly Flourish

D&D Dungeon Tile Tips

With the recent release of Dungeon Delve and the strong push to table top combat in D&D 4th Edition, D&D Dungeon Tiles are becoming more and more important in people’s games. While the truly insane gamers use the excellent (and expensive) Dwarven Forge 3D terrain, Dungeon Tiles are far more affordable. How do you use these tricky things? Just laying them out on a table doesn’t always work, and how do you store the stupid things when you’re done? This week we look at three tips to making the most from your D&D Dungeon Tiles.

1. Use Blue Poster Tack & Black poster board

A big problem with the Dungeon Tiles is that they don’t stay together very well when you’ve built a room. You can try just laying them out but any jostle of the table will send them flying. The best way I’ve found to keep your rooms together is to use blue sticky tack, the sticky putty used to tack posters to walls without thumb tacks, to fasten the pieces to black sheets of poster board.

There are a lot of advantages to this. First, you can build out all your rooms well before you need to use them at the game. They also store well when stuck together so you can carry them around pretty easily. Second, they won’t move around when you’re actually playing. The rooms are all very solid. Third, the black poster board doesn’t distract the eye away from the dungeon room itself.

One additional tip: don’t leave your tiles stuck to the board for very long. If they stick together too long, you may tear the tile when you tear it away from the board.

The poster tack runs about $5 a pack, but that pack should last you a long long time. It’s well worth the investment.

The black sheets of poster board can get expensive. I recommend the 11 x 17 sheets for about $4 a sheet. A larger sheet can build out an entire dungeon floor for those huge Gygaxian old-school dungeons. You’ll need a lot of tiles for these, however.

2. Store Dungeon Tiles in Large Zip-Loc Bags

The best way I’ve found to store Dungeon Tiles is in large one-gallon or two-gallon zip lock bags. Store each set of Dungeon Tiles in its own bag to make it easy to find the piece you need. I prefer the bags with the actual plastic zippers on them - they’re far easier to close. In a large transparent zip-loc bag, you can quickly look for a particular piece without opening the bag. Once you have a good collection of Dungeon Tiles, stick all of your zip-loc bags into one of your Twyla Tharp Banker Boxes.

3. Buy two copies of each set.

One of the big complaints with the Dungeon Delve was the heavy use of the Hall of the Giant Kings tile set which was out of print before the book’s release. I was lucky enough to find two sets of the tiles for $6 a piece on Ebay, but many others weren’t so lucky and the price is now as high as $50 a set.

The lesson we can learn from this is to buy two copies of each set when they’re still in print. At $10 a set, they’re affordable and we can’t be sure which sets we’ll need for future sourcebooks. The nice thing about Dungeon Tiles is that every set improves the value of your overall collection. You can build bigger and richer dungeons with every set you add.

So there’s your Sly Flourish Tip of the Week. When using D&D Dungeon Tiles, use sticky tack, black poster boards, and zip-loc bags to make the most of your collection and buy two copies of every set to ensure you always have what you need.

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Free as in "Me"

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Why Do I Like Going to Cons?

From: http://kotgl.blogspot.com/2009/04/why-do-i-like-going-to-cons.html


Because I like meeting fans, of course.

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An Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast

From: http://www.encounteraday.com/2009/04/06/an-open-letter-to-wizards-of-the-coast/


Earlier this evening, RPGNow pulled all of their Wizards of the Coast product, at WotCs request. This includes the ability for people who had already purchased PDFs to download them. Paizo will be removing them tonight at midnight.

Their stated reason is an attempt to fight piracy. This is at best misguided.

Piracy is. It will always be. Every form of media can be pirated, and anything which can be pirated will be pirated. Its not really even a matter of when; for the most part, pirated versions of movies, books, songs and games will be available as soon if not sooner than their legitimate commercial counterparts.

There is nothing you can do to stop piracy. There is nothing anyone can do to stop piracy. Many have tried, all have failed. Many will still try, and they, too, will fail. The problem is, people expect to be able to consume their media. If media can be consumed, the consumer must be able to access it. If the consumer can access it, then it can be copied. Maybe not easily, maybe only by people with specialized skills and software, but it only takes one. Once one unencumbered copy has been made, it can and will be quickly propagated throughout the internet.

Removing your PDFs from RPGNow and other retailers will have one effect, and only one effect: it will now be impossible for people to legally acquire PDFs of your material. Anyone who would have purchased your PDFs will now have two options: pirate them (in which case you get no money) or dont get them at all (in which case you get no money and the user base for your game suffers as well). Neither of those help WotC at all.

As for the pirates? Theyll just go and download the PDFs, same as always.

Wizards of the Coast, please take back this terrible decision. You are hurting yourselves and you are hurting your customers, but you are not even providing so much as a minor inconvenience to pirates. This policy will be completely invisible for them, except perhaps their PDFs will be a few megabytes larger because theyre scanned and OCRed.

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