FAE or FATE Core?

Over on my personal site, I have had a number of posts in recent weeks on the two recently released versions of the FATE game system from Evil Hat Productions: the detailed FATE Core version and the FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) version. Let’s talk about the changes and why I love them.


Dragonflight 2013 convention program

coverI’ve finished preparing the program for the 2013 edition of Seattle’s Dragonflight game convention. It will be the 34th edition of the convention, and you can expect lots of board gaming, wargames, role-playing, miniatures games, etc.

In addition to the print version which will of course be available at the door that weekend (August 9-11, 2013), you can download it as an e-book in three different formats: .PDF (good for viewing onscreen on PC, iPad, etc.), .ePub (for Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, etc.) and .mobi (for Kindle, etc.)

The files should be posted shortly to the official convention site, but you can also get them from:

  • ISSUU: Viewable online in magazine format; to download as PDF, click on “Share” in the bottom left area, then on “Download.
  • Google Drive: Here is the PDF version; and here are the .ePub and .mobi versions, zipped together including cover and metadata.

Mapping Your World: Brush Packs

Edit: There are also commercial options available, but I only review free brush packs in this article. 

Edit 2: Here is a nice, huge new set of 200 Photoshop Map Brushes. Some sub-sets are reviewed in this article.

If you wish to use a tool like Gimp, Photoshop, or PaintShop Pro to create maps for your game, it’s nice to have some ready-made symbols for mountains, trees, cities, etc.  You can have those by using (or creating) appropriate “brush packs.” Today, we’re going to look at some ready-made brush packs you can use, and we’re going to talk about how to convert from one software to the other.


A brush in this type of software is essentially a little image file that provides the shape your cursor will leave on the image, accompanied by a series of instructions for the software telling it what to do with with parameters such as speed, pressure, transparency, rotation, etc.  Note that some of those parameters only matter if you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet.

Most brushes are created by editing a PNG image and saving it as a brush in the software of choice.  Alternately, the software’s brush editor function allows you to create brushes based solely on specified parameters.

A brush pack is a collection of several of these brushes, usually assembled by theme by its creator and saved as one single file.  Here are some common file extensions you will see:

  • .abr: Photoshop brush format, also usable without conversion by Gimp.
  • .gbr: Gimp brush format, for ordinary and colour brushes.
  • .jbr: older PaintShop Pro brush format
  • .PSPbrush: more recent PaintShop Pro brush format
  • .vbr: Gimp parametric brush format, i. e., brushes created using the Brush Editor.

There are also some animated brush formats, like .gih for Gimp; we will not discuss them here, since they are not typically used for map-making.

Ready-Made Map Symbol Brush Packs

Some people have made nice, useful brush packs that will probably cover most game mapping needs.  Here are some of my favourites:

hexGIMP_samplehexGIMP brushes by Thorfinn Tait.  Thorfinn’s original brushes were created for Adobe Illustrator, but were converted to Gimp format by The Isomage for use with his hexGIMP plugin for Gimp.  If you only want the brushes, you can extract the Gimp .gbr files from the Brushes folder inside this .zip file (the other files are for the script itself, which I recommend if you are using Gimp.)  If you have Adobe Illustrator, you can download Thorfinn Tait’s cartography resources, including the brushes, in this other .zip file.  The brushes are copyrighted by Thorfinn, used with permission.

MapSymbols_sampleMap Symbols by Crimson Vermilion.  A very nice Photoshop map symbol pack created in a hand-drawn style, including mountains, rivers, city markers, marsh, prairie, forests, hills, farmland, compass symbol, etc.  Particularly good for fantasy maps but can work for an Old West game, for example.

OldMaps_sampleOld Maps from WebTreatETC.  A bit different: the “brushes” are entire old maps which have been turned into Photoshop brushes so you can stamp an image with them.  Great to create props for your players.  The stamps thus created are large enough and have enough resolution that you could print them as just one map each.  Or you can clip and edit sections to fit your fancy.  The “brushes” are monochrome, but you can add colour to produce a richer result, as shown here.

SketchyCartography_sampleSketchy Cartography by ~StarRaven.  This is an extensive collection of symbols, once again in a hand-drawn fantasy style, including various types of terrain, symbols for cities, castles and other man-made structures, “magical” glyphs, and more, for Photoshop.  I particularly like that some icons look European and some look Asian, so the set can be used for different flavours of maps.

TolkienMapIcons_sampleTolkien-Style Fantasy Map Icons by calthyechild.  This brush set explicitly tries to replicate the feel of J.R.R. Tolkien’s hand-drawn maps and is available in both Photoshop and Gimp formats.  The brushes are larger and drawn thicker, and can be made to look like they were made with a wide-nib quill or with charcoal.

Converting Formats

Gimp, Photoshop, or PaintShop Pro?  I have used all three and was happy with results in all three, so it’s really up to you.  Photoshop is the most expensive of the three, PaintShop Pro is actually fairly modestly priced, and Gimp is free and open-source.  PaintShop Pro has the advantage that it can handle both raster and vector formats and even mix layers of both types in the same image.  Gimp can be used on Mac, Windows, and Linux.  You can exchange most brush files between the three fairly cleanly.

Photoshop to Gimp: The easiest.  Files with the .abr extension can be used directly in Gimp (version 2.6.10 and forward) without conversion.  Here is a tutorial on installing brushes in Gimp on any OS.  For older versions of Gimp, see this tutorial.

Photoshop to PaintShop Pro: You need to essentially export the .png files that are inside the .abr brush file, then convert them to a .jbr or .PSPbrush file as normal.  Follow the instructions found here.  However, some sources say that you can simply rename the file by changing the extension from .abr to .jbr/.PSPbrush; I don’t know if it always works.

Gimp to Photoshop: Open the .gbr file using Gimp, save the image as .png format.  Next, open the .png file using Photoshop and create an .abr brush file as normal (tutorial here).

Gimp to PaintShop Pro: Open the .gbr file using Gimp, save the image as .png format.  Next, open the .png file using PaintShop Pro and create a .jbr or .PSPbrush file as normal

Paintshop Pro to Photoshop: This source indicates that .jbr and .PSPbrush files can be merely renamed with the .abr extension.

PaintShop Pro to Gimp: Since the .jbr and .abr are interchangeable by simply renaming, all you need to do is rename the .jbr file to .abr and open it in Gimp as normal.  For the newer format, open the .PSPbrush file in PaintShop Pro and export it as a .png; then open this .png in Gimp, and create a brush file as normal (tutorial here).  (Alas, you cannot simply rename the .PSPbrush files and have Gimp directly recognize them.)

Making Brush Packs

There are many good tutorials out there for making brushes in Photoshop, in Gimp, and in PaintShop Pro.  Look for animated ones on YouTube as well.

You can use these to create your own map symbols.  For example, I collected images from Dr. Seuss books and used them to create this map for my friend Mark’s “Savage Lorax” game.


Review: Misspent Youth

Note: This review was also published on RPG.net.

Misspent Youth coverMisspent Youth is a game firmly anchored in the subgenre of story games. The players (the Young Offenders, or YO) and gamemaster (the Authority) work together to answer a series of questions about the setting and characters to create the setting, then play out episodes in which the Young Offenders fight off an oppressive, corrupt, or abusive Authority and generally stick it to The Man. What will they sacrifice for their ideals?

Disclaimer: I received free print and PDF copies of the book so I could playtest and review it.

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Creating Impressive Dungeon Maps in Minutes

Example of resultI promise you, reading this tutorial takes longer than creating a nice map with it once you have figured out how it works. The first day I downloaded the scripts, I was able to make a very nice map in five minutes, and I do mean that clock minutes. The tutorial is simply meant to give you a step-by-step flow for your first try; after that you’ll find it right quick.

This tutorial uses GIMP 2.6, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, which comes in versions compatible with a plethora of OS versions for Mac, Windows and Linux. Figuring out how to install and configure it on your particular system goes beyond the reach of this article, but the official site offers a lot of of support, and there are a multitude of other help sites set up by the community of users.

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Writing For Games: Creating Your Own Scenario

Would you like to learn about how to write (computer) game scenarios?  Check out this meeting of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) – Puget Sound.  Some of the information may be transferable to tabletop.

Writing For Games: Creating Your Own Scenario

Date: October 18

Game scenario writing is more than a game; it can also be a great career. The next STC Puget Sound meeting will help turn your interest in gaming into a career writing game scenarios. Local game scenario writers Mark Schuldt, John Sutherland and Hal Milton will explain how to create narratives, game mechanics and scenarios. They will also discuss how to make the mental switch from technical writing to game writing and the state of the video game industry.
To register, http://stcoct2011.eventbrite.com/

Game Convention Blurbs

On his blog, Ryan Macklin — game writer, podcaster, and producer — has some very good thoughts about how to write a good game “blurb”  for advertising at a convention and, I would add, for weekly games too.

I’m not going to repeat his ideas here, I’d rather you read it from him, but I also want to point quickly to some thoughts I jotted down here some time ago on running a con game, including writing game blurbs.

Having recently prepared the convention for Dragonflight for the fourth year in a row, I can tell you that most GMs don’t put enough effort into their game pitch.  It’s often unclear, too long and verbose, or merely grabbed from an online review (like those from RPG Geek and Board Game Geek).  When you scroll through the list of games, it doesn’t make your eye and brain stop on the description.

Despite what Ryan describes, I get most of my convention players from people who liked the game description (and friends, of course.)  I always make sure my game blurb doesn’t look like “second verse, same as the first!”

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