Bill Heron: Gaming in Edinburgh and other RPG stuff
  
  
  
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RPG Retrospective 2014

Another “Year in Gaming” post! This time it’s the RPG Retrospective 2014! Almost as traditional as turkey, but possibly not as dry. This is my annual look at my gaming experiences over the year. As always, these views are my own and may be the result of my own warped perceptions. This year was very much one of highs and lows for me, both in gaming and in my personal life. I’m not going Emo, so I’ll focus on the gaming 🙂

Edinburgh Gaming in General

In general, gaming in Edinburgh is going from strength to strength. We have a lot going on in this city. Where possible I try and keep my Edinburgh Gaming page up to date. Conpulsion is still running although I’ve heard that there’s fewer of the local RPGers going there each year. Hopefully, when I’m there (see below) I can rekindle some interest.

6s2Hit moved out of the Games Hub basement to their own premises on Bread Street nearby. Although there’s no RPGs, they’ve a substantial number of gaming tables in the venue. They’re also selling miniatures and scenery etc. which I know was always hard to find when I used to play WH40K. I’ve not been there yet though.

The Games Hub continues to be popular among many ORC GMs and for boardgames like X-Wing and Star Trek: Attack Wing. 6s2Hit‘s departure meant they’ve got their own shop now which also stocks RPGs and boardgames. The place has also been refurbished to a certain extent, and the place looks better for it.

Black Lion continues to provide a quality service to gamers, and hopefully the distribution problems that have plagued Europe and the UK will cease to be an issue for them. As always they’re happy to help RPGers and still remain one of the friendliest shops I know.

ORC Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Open Roleplaying Community (ORC Edinburgh) had something of a turbulent year. We used to run games in the Meadow Bar, but we discovered in the New Year it was closed indefinitely. It also came as a bit of a surprise to us that we accounted for most of their custom on the Saturday afternoons. It does go to show that having gamers in does not hurt your profits, especially if you’re serving food!

This was a bit of a blow to those of us running games there (and also the FAQ Boardgame society, who are now at the Southsider pub, I believe). Fortunately the wonderful staff at Peartree House gave us a new venue (big thanks to both Marc F and George F for this) and made us welcome. We also began gaming at the Kilderkin pub in the Royal Mile, which is also a good thing. Since then we’ve asked the Meadow Bar if we could use the room, but apparently they decided to show football there instead. Their loss.

We also had a large number of GMs step up and begin their own games. Some fell by the wayside, some are still going. My own games are still going strong, although I’ve hit a few hiccups with the D&D 5e game (see below!). I’m given to understand that a few more new games will be starting soon. Pathfinder is still popular, as is the new D&D 5th Ed, and the games are often over-subscribed as a result.

We also held a few more successful pub meets, and I’m pretty sure that people enjoyed themselves. Pub meets can be tricky to organise but I think they do encourage us gamers to be more sociable. A couple of my players are now in a relationship after meeting during one of my games.

As well as the obvious issues with venues, managing the ORC website itself was something of trial (and continues to be), although this is no one’s fault. I’ve managed to update and patch nearly the entire site. I’ve decided to make use of a system template rather than a generated one for when we have to move to Joomla 3 (the CMS). There’s also going to be an issue with Mediawiki when we move to the next version. There’s a software Bridge needed to link the Joomla user database to allow authentication, but it’s now outdated. I’ll deal with those issues later in 2015!

Over the years, ORC has attracted a lot of interest locally. Although we had a large number of old accounts I’ve since cleaned out, the site now has 300+ members, although it seems that a handful (maybe 50 or more folk) check the site regularly. This is no bad thing, but it sometimes feels like herding cats…

Personal Achievements

I’ve had a pretty busy year, all things considered.

I’ve actually managed to get to a couple of conventions this year. I actually managed to run three different RPG sessions at Q-CON on the same day (three 3-hour sessions), so I think I’ve passed the “Iron Man” GM test. You can read of my convention experiences of Q-CON and Dragonmeet. At both conventions I ran my Achtung! Cthulhu scenario, “A Prayer for St. Nazaire”. Looking back on it, if I run the game again, I’ll use Savage Worlds next time as a rule-set. It’s more accessible. Certainly it’s the impression I got from the games I ran – Call of Cthulhu is better for slow-burn (or creeping sense of menace) games. Plus the whole A!C world inspires PCs to sock Hitler on the jaw, very much in keeping with pulp – or Captain America/Agents of SHIELD! 🙂

Speaking of demo games, I ran two very fun sessions at Black Lion to demo the new 5th Ed. D&D game, using the “Lost Mines of Phandelver“. It may have brought a couple of new people into the hobby, but I suspect there were more people interested in the 5e ruleset! Unfortunately, the European distributors had underestimated the demand for D&D (seriously? They must be the same team that cancelled Babylon 5: Crusade and Firefly) so there still aren’t enough Player’s Handbook available to FLGS.

Lost Mines of Phandelver” is actually a pretty good module in itself and worth getting. Not only is it an introduction to D&D 5e, but the adventure is actually pretty good. It’s non-linear and allows both GM and players a certain amount of freedom. You also get some decent characters, dice and a few handouts. Pretty much all you need to play. For less than twenty quid, it’s pretty good value. I actually rate it better than “Tyranny of Dragons“.

I’m also a Modiphius Silvershield, a gaming “evangelist” for their products. This has allowed me to run games for credit in their store. Achtung! Cthulhu is the game I’ve focussed on for now, and The Mutant Chronicles may be next. I’m not sure if this scheme will work out as I got in on both Kickstarters! Either way, it was good to meet the Modiphius team (briefly!) and volunteers at Dragonmeet. I do have a spiffy Modiphius T-shirt as a result. And I’m grateful 🙂

Flowing seamlessly from one topic to the next, here comes the Kickstarter bit. For various reason, I cut back on my Kickstarter backings over the year, but that didn’t stop the previous KS stuff coming in. Deadzone from Mantic Games delivered, as did Adventure-a-Week‘s Rise of the Drow. Modiphius consistently delivered on the Acthung! Cthulhu Line, as did Evil Hat with FATE Core. Hopefully I’ll be getting Chaosium‘s “Horror on the Orient Express” and Frontier‘s “Elite: Dangerous” soon as well.

Special mention goes to the Shadows of Esteren team. Not only did they go above and beyond for their Kickstarters, they’re great to chat to at conventions like Dragonmeet. Their latest KS, for SoE is here. The art is great, and I’ve even been able to play a few games. It’s really worth a look.

On a campaign note, I finished my AD&D Temple of Elemental Evil” game. Sadly, illness meant I could give folks the proper send-off they deserved. Ahem. I had some fun times and so did the players…

What’s the one thing we know about bugbears? They’re dicks! – Euan R

It also lead to some PCs being nibbled to death by rats (sorry, Max!). The only reason I ended it was because of the fact that I realised I was running old systems and it wasn’t really engaging folk new to the hobby.

My WFRP (Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay) game has been a huge amount of fun to run (despite the system feeling a bit antiquated on occasion). We’ve managed to move from Death on the Reik to Power Behind the Throne and I hope my players are enjoying it as much as I am. I think it’s safe to say that both my players and I will remember a lot of scenes from this game – whether it’s the Merry Bande, or the bat-crap crazy stuff players come out with that I, as GM, choose to act upon. There’s a fair bit of improv required but it is fun!

Oh, and I started my novel as part of NaNoWriMo. It didn’t go well. I looked at the 3,000 words I’d written and thought it was drivel. So I’m my own worst critic. Still, I’ve got the ideas…

Plans for next year

I’ve a fair bit planned for 2014.

At some point in the new year I’d like to run the “Knights in Shining Armani” RPG, Corporia – I’ve been lax in getting around to it and I need to apologise for it.

I REALLY want to get this novel started, as well as the Cthulhu-based short stories. I’ve also got plans to try and get into the Black Library as a writer. I’ve a lot of ideas, and I’m somewhat hopeful that I can bring some personality to the often one-dimensional Space Marines of WH40K. It’s a challenge!

In a similar vein, I’m also looking at creating (or possibly revising) a Cthulhutech-inspired Battletech game pitting mechs against the forces of the Cthulhu mythos. If there’s one KS I regret missing out on, it’s the Cthulhu Wars one, which has some great miniatures. I’m personally starting to develop an antipathy towards miniature-based games, as they’re usually expensive. If all else fails, I should be able to use counters.

As a result of this, I’m also looking at trying to get more involved in the wargaming side of things. [elg] is just around the corner from me when it is on, so I may be considering that. As well as Battletech, I may also look at playing Deadzone, although I don’t like the miniatures (they do remind me of the old Airfix soldiers!). I know I said this last year but: Hey! Time is a commodity!

I’ve also decided that as a Modiphius Silvershield and local “Z-list gaming personality” (said ironically!) that I’m going to try and get to more conventions. I’ve not been to Conpulsion yet (seriously!), despite it being hosted in Edinburgh. I plan to remedy that this year. I had a great time playing Marc Farrimond’s Cliché RPG where I had a huge amount of fun as a deranged psychopath known as the Artist. This should probably worry me.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Let’s find out… <snik> – The Artist

Either way, I’ll be back at Q-CON this year. It was an amazing experience, although social anxiety on my part didn’t help. I’ve since beaten that as a result, and all I can say is this – if you were there, you’ll know what I mean! I’m also planning to go to Dragonmeet again, although I hope to play in some games this time, and maybe actually go to the pub meet this time! I’m also considering going to the UK Games Expo as well. And I’m planning on maybe going to Gaelcon as well.

Games-wise, I plan to try and finish the WFRP: Enemy Within Campaign and also start Achtung Cthulhu’s Shadows of Atlantis when it comes out. I’m also running a 5th Ed. Dungeons & Dragons game using the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. I’ve never run a game in the Forgotten Realms before so it should be interesting. There’s also Horror on the Orient Express for Call of Cthulhu

Summary

So that’s my year. It’s been busy and I don’t think I’ve achieved anything close to what I’d planned last year. I’ll be at those conventions I reckon, as a GM or player. I definitely should try and get a few games in as a player at the Cons. Ultimately, though, I need to get better at either the writing or the proof-reading. I’m not the Jedi I could be…


Games referenced in this post.

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Upgrading Joomla from 1.5 to 2.5

Joomla 2.5 has been out for a while and I’ve been waiting for it to stabilise. I’ve been putting it off for some time, but with Joomla 1.5 support being withdrawn and many of the extensions becoming obsolete, it looks like it’s going to be time to upgrade the ORC website. I’m planning to use the Joomla jUpgrade extension to do this but I reckon it will require some tweaking afterwards!

ORC has around 200 members, as I’ve taken the steps of removing any accounts that haven’t logged in for over a year. This should reduce the number of profiles to copy over that may have issues. For obvious reasons, I want to keep the user data, the forum posts, events, downloads, and functionality.

Current Joomla Configuration

The site currently runs Joomla 1.5 on PHP 5 and MySQL. It  also links to a Mediawiki 1.18 install. The template is JS Optimus Free (customised) by JoomlaShack, that will likely need some alteration again.

Modules installed

  • Admin Tasks (mod_comprofilermoderator – sys admins/mods only)
  • ORC Info (mod_cb_login)
  • Shout Box (Batjo’s mod_shoutbox)
  • Latest Posts (mod_kunenalatest)
  • Main Menu (mod_MainMenu)
  • ORC Calendar (mod_eventlistcal15q which won’t exist any more)
  • Upcoming Events (mod_eventlist)
  • Who’s Online (mod_whosonline)

Components

I’ll have to reinstall any component marked with an asterisk (*), as a version for Joomla! 2.5 exists. Those marked in bold shouldn’t need migrated as they are supposed to be migrated by jUpgrade (however I suspect they will need checked or reinstalled).

  • Akeeba Admintools*
  • Akeeba Backup*
  • Community Builder – it does work but may need reinstalled.
  • Eventlist*
  • jUpgrade
  • Kunena – doesn’t migrate rankings cleanly and you may need to reset category permissions.
  • Newsfeeds
  • Remository*
  • UddeIM*
  • Weblinks
  • XMap*

Plugins

  • CBCaptcha for Community Builder
  • User – Mediawiki login (Harold Prins‘ mediawiki plugin)

Preparation

Right, first I put the site into maintenance mode. I’ve also done some basic housekeeping, cleaning out old messages, checking the database, and making sure that everything is as up to date as I can make it. I’ve also emptied the caches and trash for the forum, menus, and modules. I’ve made a full backup of both the database and file structure (as well as using Akeeba Backup to create a JPA download), and also moved the folder structure to a test folder. The phpMyAdmin Synchronize facility works well for creating a quick and easy backup of the databases.

I’ve created a place-holder index.htm  for the site which says it is undergoing an upgrade – for some reason, the default option for putting a site off-line in Joomla still allows logins (which is why I’ve moved folder to a test environment as well). It is pretty easy to do –  create a blank index.htm folder then create the following text within it:

<head>Site Offline<head>
<body><h1>THE SITE IS CURRENTLY OFFLINE</h1>
<p>It is being upgraded.</p></body>

That at least lets people know what going on.

I have also created a test sub-domain and database (which uses the same login criteria). So the “production” site is off-line, and the test site is now the one I’ll be working upon.

Phase 1: Using jUpgrade

I’ve copied the necessary folder structure to the test site, but haven’t made any modifications yet to the config files or database. If you’ve used Akeeba Admin Tools to create a customised htaccess file, rename .htaccess in the root of your website folder to .htaccess.live (or similar). If you don’t, jUpgrade will stall.

Change paths to test server.

Make sure configuration.php is writeable (CHMOD 644) and open it in a  text editor. There are two variables you need to change for the full path to the test folder

var $log_path = ‘/path to test/logs’;
var $tmp_path = ‘/path to test/tmp’;

Note that we’ll also need to change the path to the database at some point but leave it as it is right now. We’ll come back to it later. Righto

“Whichever way you look at it, it’s brown trousers time” – Holly, Red Dwarf

Performing the jUpgrade

Backup your site AGAIN just to be safe. If you haven’t already install the jUpgrade module from RedComponent. Note this requires registration to download so create a throw-away password rather than you own sysadmin one (but you knew that already, right?) .

The defaults are usually OK, but you can check the parameters to see what you can do with them. I’m leaving them to the defaults as I’m not expecting problems, but three are worth looking at ( you might also like to make sure that the template positions are set to be saved as well!):

  • Target Directory is usually the path to your test server/jupgrade
  • Prefix for old database – by default is “jos_”. If you’ve changed this (which is a smart move – it is a security risk), make sure the correct prefix is set here.
  • Prefix for new database – by default is “j25_”. We’ll be changing this later on so you can leave it as is.

First of all make sure you’re connected to the internet. Once you’ve saved these parameters, run the jUpgrade. It took a few minutes, but downloaded Joomla 2.5 and installed it to the jupgrade folder. If successful you should see

Joomla 2.5 Upgrade Finished!

You can check your new site here:
Site and Administrator.

If the upgrade fails for any reason, you can run a clean update by switching on the “Delete Previous Migration” parameter and trying again. Remember to rename the .htaccess file and reset the permissions on configuration.php.

Phase 2: Moving to the new site

Righto. We’ve now got a working Joomla 2.5 installation, in a folder called jupgrade. The database has also migrated to a new set of j25_ prefix tables. This isn’t ideal for me, so I’m moving them to a new folder at the root of the web-server and will also move the database as well. I’ve renamed the older folder and migration on the test server. I’ll have to clean these up later, but they are there if I need them.

I’ve opened the configuration.php site and altered the following variables:

var $log_path = ‘/path to new test/logs’;
var $tmp_path = ‘/path to new test/tmp’;

As I’m also using a new database I’ll also need to redo the following paths:

public $user = ‘database username‘;
public $password = ‘new db password‘;
public $db = ‘new db‘;

Phase 3: Tweaking the Joomla install

Now the screaming starts! I’m now ready to go in as the administrator, as there’s a few steps I need to do there.

Global Configuration – Site

  • Site Offline – Yes
  • Offline Message – “Use Site Language Default Message” selected
  • Use URL rewriting set to “Yes” (rename htaccess.txt. to .htaccess afterwards)
  • Include Site Name in Page Titles set to “After”

Global Configuration – System

Nothing needs tweaked here by me.

Global Configuration – System

  • Gzip Page Compression set to “Yes”
  • Server Time Zone set to “London”

Run Joomla! Update from the control panel and make sure it has been applied. Right! So far, so good…

Phase 4: Templating, Modules, & Menus

This could be a bit of a sod. I have a 2.5 version of JS Optimus Free, but can’t install it as the old template is still there 🙁 . I’ve made a backup and gone into website path/templates and deleted the old template from there. This has allowed me to install the new template, but I now have two styles for js_optimus_free within the  Template Manager styles. Neither are ideal as I want a new setting to use a fluid look of 90%, so I’ve had to tweak the template a little, as well as copying the logo and modifying the style sheet. I’ve had to reassign the menu positions again in the template, but that’s easy to sort out.

Phase 5: Modules and Plugins

Kunena

The ranks didn’t copy across so I’ve had to truncate the j25_kunena tables and import them in using a SQL dump from the original database.

TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_announcement`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_attachments`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_categories`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_config`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_config_backup`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_favorites`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_groups`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_messages`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_messages_text`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_moderation`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_polls`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_polls_options`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_polls_users`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_ranks`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_sessions`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_smileys`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_subscriptions`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_subscriptions_categories`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_thankyou`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_users`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_users_banned`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_version`;
TRUNCATE `j25_kunena_whoisonline`;

I’ve installed the plugin/modules for Kunena Latest (and enabled a Latest Posts module) and Kunena Statistics as well. I also had to reset the permissions on the forums, so jUpgrade doesn’t seem to work properly with Kunena.

Community Builder

CBseems to have worked, but I’ve taken the opportunity to reinstall it as it doesn’t seem quite right (the icons didn’t show correctly).

XMap

I installed the new version and enabled the Xmap – Content, Xmap – Kunena and Xmap – Weblinks Plugins. I had to create a new sitemap and also recreate the Menu link.

Remository

I migrated the data from the old database creating the j25_eventlist_xxxx database entries, then installed the component. Aside from recreating the Menu link and also the uploads directories in the Remository config, all migrated OK.

Shoutbox

I reinstalled this – I’ll need to redo the CSS from a backup.

Eventlist

I migrated the data from the old database creating the j25_eventlist_xxxx database entries, then installed the component. I had to set the date manually to use a UK date format in the Eventlist Basic settings (Format date set to %A %d-%b-%Y). I also had to recreate the ORC Events module.

uddeIM

This is the one module that had me worried as it had many of the PMs for the site members. However, I migrated the xxxx_uddeim data across to j25_uddeim_xxxx tables, then I reinstalled the components, and rebuilt the Menu item.

Mediawiki

Although the Mediaiwki bridge works, there appears to be an undocumented bug with Joomla! 2.5 within the AuthJoomla section of the Local Settings file for Mediawiki. The index.php?option=com_user link will generate a 404 error as Joomla 2.5 uses com_users (see below). I’ve changed them as follows:

$wgAuthJoomla_LoginURL = $wgAuthJoomla_domain .'index.php?option=com_users&view=login&return=' . $wgAuthJoomla_LoginLink;
$wgAuthJoomla_LogoutURL = $wgAuthJoomla_domain . 'index.php?option=com_users&task=logout&return=' . $wgAuthJoomla_LogoutLink;

Web Links

The Web Links menu needed rebuilt and there are no Categories. A bit time-consuming but not too much of a hassle.

Conclusion

I definitely don’t want to do this again. jUpgrade works to a certain extent, but isn’t quite the solution to move the Kunena Forum, nor did it move the categories successfully – as it’s the only product out there that’s free to use, I guess there’s nothing else to migrate users. Upgrading to 2.5 took me over a day, with fairly intensive work required. If I were to do a similar upgrade again, I’d likely un-install the Kunena Forum software and reinstall it after I’d run jUpgrade.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy” – Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (trans.)

Also it’s taught me that no matter how prepared you are, something always goes wrong. Despite testing everything out upon a new test site initially, I still needed to rely on backups. Also, although I’m not much of coder I’ve learnt quite a bit about the Joomla backend and MySQL as a result!

RSS feeds and blog publishing for RPG bloggers

RSS feeds like the one on the site here are probably one of the more useful tools for websites – they provide streams of articles and information, and are usually automatically updated when you publish an article. WordPress provides one straight out of the box and also filters it down by category if needed. For example, if I only want to publish and RSS feed for the RPG category I would use http://themandragora.com/category/rpgs/feed/ rather than http://themandragora.com/feed/. It is pretty basic, but it works!

These category feeds make it quite useful for displaying specific information. For example, the ORC website uses a number of feeds: one outputs events from the calendar, another tracks recent changes in the wiki. Both are provided by different Joomla modules or applications, but they provide a similar output.

I’ve put together some brief suggestions below for tools you might like to use with RSS feeds and RPG blogs.

  • An on-line service called TwitterFeed allows the parsing of RSS feeds to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (although I hardly use the last). It’s quite useful in that its very simple to setup and automatically add articles or events from an RSS feed to appear in your twitter and Facebook streams/time-lines. Unfortunately, Google+ does not allow any third-party access of its API right now, so I’m afraid its still a manual link you’d need to do in your stream.
  • WP to Twitter is a useful WordPress plug-in allowing you to choose any or all posts to output to a Twitter account. You can also use it to hash tag  your posts, so if you tag a WordPress post with “RPG”, WP to Twitter tags it with #RPG.
  • Wordbooker allows your WP articles to be automatically published to your Facebook time-line/wall. There’s a lot of options that you can use with this, and if you have a Facebook fan or group page, you can also choose to publish to these as well.

If you’re blogging about RPGs, there’s a number of blog networks you can use that cater specifically for RPGs, notably the ones below. Note that you will need to blogging about RPGs regularly and your content should reflect that, plus you’ll need to provide an RSS feed so that they can publish your articles. They are also worth a visit as an RPGer, as they’re a lot easier to search than combing the internet for materials or information.

RPGBA LogoThe RPGBA is “a collection of Pencil and Paper Role Playing Game related websites that opt-in to be aggregated. Members benefit from having a relationship to each other and by having a unified place for people to look for RPG material. The RPGBA does not include the entire source material but rather includes the first 100 words and links back to the original source. In this way members get traffic to their respective sites while still getting the benefit of belonging to the Alliance.”

RPG Bloggers Network LogoThe RPG Bloggers Network provides a similar service but is slightly more basic (being older). Note that you will need to  “make sure you’ve been posting regularly for at least three months. I know this seems like a pain, especially if you are just starting out. But we need to see that you are a regular updater before we consider accepting your blog.”

If you’re planning to blog about RPGs, you might also find it useful to make sure that your site is using a proper Meta Description for each of your posts or pages. Bear in mind that RPG is a very common search term on the ‘net so make sure you are as descriptive as possible! At the very list, tag your post with the proper RPG system, rules-set, or setting. It can be difficult to find stuff to write about at first but once you get into the flow of it, then it becomes far easier.

September break!

I’ve been a busy guy over the last fortnight, both at work and at home. Work has been mad, but I’ve found some time to complete the following at long last.

Secret Fire Games – website

I’ve built a new website for Secret Fire Games, using WordPress and also phpBB3 for the forum. I created the theme with Artisteer. I’m hoping that this will help highlight the Secret Fire RPG, and Secret Fire Games as a “micropress”. Like microbreweries, a micropress is to my thinking, to paraphrase the microbrewery definition from Wikipedia, something that  “produces a limited amount [of product], and is associated by consumers with innovation and uniqueness,” which is pretty much how I’d describe what we did with The Secret Fire RPG. I’d love to hear peoples reactions to the game (and the site!).

I don’t consider TSF to be a fantasy heartbreaker – mentioned here –  despite it having its roots in OD&D (Original D&D) and other FRPGs. What I’m finding interesting is just how polarised reactions can be to a game like The Secret Fire. Some old school gamers love it, some hate it – new gamers love it, some hate it too; but its the level of polarisation that interests me: it gets a very strong reaction often with no middle ground. I’m glad that the name was changed from Legends & Labyrinths and became non-OGL: it instantly become its own game as a result rather than sounding like yet another d20 system  fantasy heartbreaker. Some online reviews have even said it outweirds LotFP  (Lamentations of the Flame Princess): I consider that a job well done.

ORC website update

Again on the web front: I’ve updated the ORC website, but I’ve still to make the move to the next version of Joomla (1.7). I’m worried what happen with the Kunena forum and some of the modules when I do. I upgraded the Community Builder and UddeIM PM software though. I got rid of the Gallery and Mobile version as the latter knackered the site logins and the the Gallery was hugely out of date (and not really seeing much use), so that’s two less things to upgrade.

Ashes of Freedom D&D3.5 Campaign

Again at ORC, my Ashes of Freedom game concluded on Saturday, with a certain amount of sturm und drang: pitched battles featuring undead and Mandragora, Red Mandragora flying the PCs off a cliff, a Red Dragon taking on a Lich, plot revelations galore, and Demogorgon nearly fully manifesting on the Prime Material plane. And a doomsday device beginning to count down…

I’m a little sad that its over, but the game has had a good innings and there’s a lot of material I’m very happy with. It may be that I return to Volkrania again some day as a setting, but for now it is at peace. I think that no matter how you feel about D&D, if you have a good campaign vibe like that, who cares? I’ve left it open to begin another chapter at some point – always a good idea to leave ’em wanting more.

Deathwatch Campaign

Our GrimDark 40k RPG gaming group are reaching the end of their sessions of the Deathwatch game. I’m not used to being in a position of command, but as Squad Leader Sammeal, I’m not doing too bad: patching wounds and leading a bunch of Adeptus Astartes (40k Space Marines) against a Genestealer threat is quite rewarding. I’ve never really thought of myself as having leadership skills – I’m always hero #2 in an RPG – but this has given me a chance to shine for once in a leadership role (or at least glow dully).

So that’s the end of what I’ve been up to.

As it stands, I’m kinda amazed that I have free time to do anything else these days. However, I’m taking September off: ORC can manage without me for a month, and I’m not running/playing anything (yet); we have multiple venues; plenty of folk running games, and the website is updated as much as I can (see above). The Secret Fire RPG is out and the website has been updated. I’ve still got some tweaking to do with the theme – for different screen sizes (a right damn pain, let me tell you), but that’s a minor issue. I’ve not yet begun proper work on my part of the first TSF supplement: Fragment 1: Way of Tree, Sword, and Flame, but I’ve a lot of ideas that I’ll put down later, not to mention an adventure for TSF.

LSD and I are away to the Caribbean, Antigua to be precise, for a week and we’ll be going off-grid. No mobile, email, ‘net, nothing. I’m loading my Kindle as I fully intend to relax: I’m not going running around the island. The accommodation is all-inclusive, and I intend to avail myself of this!

COMING UP!

The Dresden Files RPG

The Wednesday night sessions I play will switch to a fortnightly one. I’ve only recently got into the Dresden Files and love the whole idea – especially a certain scene in Dead Beat which is just… so… mind-blowingly… cool. Anyway, I’m looking forward to playing the RPG!

Arunstoun & Cthulhutech

I’m finally going to get this Call of Cthulhu setting created. With Cthulhu Brittanica: Shadows over Scotland out, I definitely need to run at least one game of Call of Cthulhu in that setting. Even if Shadows over Scotland is set in the 1920s, I may use the events to foreshadow another episode of Through the Looking Glass, my Cthulhutech setting (part of Dark Edinburgh).

Against the Odds

I’m still weighing up this setting for use with The Secret Fire RPG. There’ll need to be some changes to it, but I’m glad to report that at least one of the players from the original 4e game is using some of the events in the game to spur the plot for his own novella.

The Secret Fire

Well, I’ll contributing to Fragment 1: The Way of Tree, Sword, and Flame.

So that’s what I have been, and will be, up to!

Building a Community Website

A recent query got me thinking. Over the years I’ve done quite a bit on the website here and on the ORC community website recently, and it has given me a bit of an insight into website creation and the technologies involved.

Most universities allow their societies some web space that they can use to create a web presence, as do some ISPs and some search engines like Yahoo. There’s good news and bad news with this: the good news is that much of the technology and software required (as well as the security) is already taken care of.  The bad news is that you are unlikely to be able to do much other than create HTML pages and upload them via FTP or online. You probably won’t be able to create a lot of fancy bells and whistles for the site but you may not need them. Sites like this usually only need a page of information including a contact email address, and are easy to maintain. Straight HTML pages can be easily created without needing software such as Dreamweaver – software like Kompozer is free and easy to use.

However, there’s a lot more you can do with a website on a server that has PHP and MySQL installed. It is unlikely that you will have access to these on a shared server, such as a university one. To install them takes root/admin access and requires a fair amount of knowledge to maintain. Commercial providers such as Ariotek often provide these as standard, along with a fairly robust support architecture and security. And that’s another point – the more advanced the site, the more you need to make sure that you keep things secure. Create strong passwords when you can: upper and lowercase letters, with numbers and symbols as well. Resist the urge to write them down, or save them in a browser.

Most sites these days use a Content Management System or CMS, and usually requires PHP and MySQL. This provides a basic framework without any specific coding skills and can essentially give you a website off the peg. You will still need to tweak quite a lot of the site and create your content, but the tweaking won’t require a lot of PHP or HTML knowledge in all likelihood. You will need to make sure that the CMS software is patched and kept up to date, as exploits and hacks are discovered.

If you want a simple website, it’s very easy to pick up HTML and create a basic page or pages – it’s only when you want to have something more complicated in mind that it can become tricky.

Here’s a few “case studies” (two require PHP and MySQL), based upon my experiences:

The Nova Games website

Back when I was part of a PBM games partnership, we used MS Publisher 97 to create a very simple website, a group of pages that described our games and who we were. It took a morning and we were live from that point on. We couldn’t do anything fancy like user forums or use a CMS, or anything similar, but at that time we didn’t need much: just a presence on the web.

It is very easy to create HTML pages now: so for a simple site that doesn’t require users to login or generate lots of dynamic content, stick with simple HTML pages. They’re straightforward to maintain and don’t require to much work to create.

The Mandragora website 2.0

The Mandragora website runs in WordPress, a popular open-source CMS, mainly used for blogging, but which can also be used for websites. A large number of plug-ins exist for WordPress – for instance, a plug-in allows publishing to Facebook or Livejournal, another allows you to create a Downloads page. There’s anti-spam plug-ins and other security utilities, some better than others, but all work together rather well. It has an also update facility and has a relatively small size upon a server. The template it uses was designed by a commercial product called Artisteer. I had to tweak a number of WordPress default settings to make it secure, and that’s an ongoing process.

The wiki part of the ORC Edinburgh site uses the same software as Wikipedia, MediaWiki. This also has a number of plug-ins (or extensions as they are known in Mediawki, but I had to lock it down quite considerably as I didn’t want the content edited or vandalised. I also added a few extensions that improved social bookmarking and search engine optimisation, as well as adding a few admin tools.

Access is locked down to a few usernames only as I’m only the one who would make any changes. I could easily create a number of static pages, but they take longer to update individually should I make a change.

ORC Edinburgh – the community website

The ORC website is far more complicated, using Joomla as a CMS. Joomla also uses plugins and modules. As it is a community site theres a number of security tweaks I had to make to keep things secure. Kunena replaced the Fireboard forum module, UddeIM runs the Personal Messaging System, and Community Builder links the lot together in Joomla.  A another module provides a secure CAPTCHA login, and another bridges the authentication to the ORC wiki (Mediawiki again, heavily tweaked).

As it is a community site, it requires a little more flexibility and increased security – the user details have to be kept private, along with their messages. Also, we don’t spammers flooding the forum (Kunena) with their crap, so the registration process needs a secure two-factor process – a captcha image and a confirmation email take care of this (courtesy of Community Builder). We also only want authenticated users to be able to edit the wiki, so I had to use a special module called a bridge to link Joomla and Mediawiki together. Other modules such as the Events calendar or Gallery, enable the registered users to submit events or photos.

At the end of the day, running a CMS website can be hard work. It needs regular patching for security and vulnerabilities, updating of the software components or plug-ins, as well as backups just in case something does go wrong. You can never have too many backups.

Following on from my previous article, I thought I’d give some basic thoughts into how you would build a community website similar to the one used at ORC Edinburgh. Note that it can take some time to build the site, so only advertise it when you’re good and ready.

Installation

Here’s what we’ll need to begin:

  • An FTP client, such as WinSCP.
  • A download of the recent stable version of Joomla (not a development release!). Note: some hosts may provide software like cPanel and Fantastico that simplify this, allowing you to install Joomla with a click.
  • MySQL and PHP5 running on the server that wish to setup the community on
  • FTP logins and MySQL logins for the server – contact your host for these.
  • MySQL database information – again, contact your host for this.

If you’ve got all that, you’ll need to unpack and install Joomla through FTP, if you’re unable to use cPanel or Fantastico. The installation is fairly straightforward and is detailed on the Joomla site. I tend not to use the FTP option in Joomla’s setup.

I suggest you use a strong password: letters (BOTH upper and lower case), numbers and no “proper” words like r00t – preferably at least 10 characters for the admin username.

After deleting the installation directory as required (using your FTP client), login with the admin user at http://yoursite.com/administrator. Now use the Joomla User Manager and rename admin to something different – I would suggest that you don’t your own name: choose a simple yet descriptive name for it. Make sure that you can log back in with this username, and put the site into “Offline for maintenance” for now.

Okay – your basic site is there now you need to think about what modules you’ll need to install.

Adding modules/plug-ins/components

Here’s what I’d recommend if you’re building a site similar to ORC Edinburgh. You can download these from the Joomla Extensions directory at Joomla.org.

  • Kunena forum software  is used for the ORC forums, using the Community Builder (see below) info for profiles and the like.
  • UddeIM allows users to send personal messages to each other – the full premium version is only available if you make a donation – it allows you to send attachments.
  • EventList is the calendar software used to list the ORC Events – the calendar view is an additional download.
  • Community Builder from Joompolis – note that the captcha used on the registration login at ORC requires a subscription from Joomopolis. It also links into Kunena. There’s also an openID facility that allows users to use their Facebook logins to access a site (unused on the ORC site)
  • JPFchat can be used to create a virtual chatroom.
  • Remository can be used for downloads.
  • Mobile Joomla! can also be used to create pages visible via mobile phones and PDA devices.
  • JoomGallery can be used to add image galleries and pictures to your site.
  • TagMeta can be used to create Meta tags for your site content.
  • Xmap can be used to create a sitemap of your site for users and search engines.

I’ve not included the Mediawiki software bridge here as it was a bit of faff to install. There’s also a few plugins that may be of use:

  • Bigshot Google Analytics allows you to embed a Google Analytics ID so that you can profile the site in Google Webmaster Tools.
  • HttpBL checks an IP address against a blacklist from Project Honeypot, and will stop spammers and malicious bots from messing up your site.

Good Practices

  • Don’t use your own name for admin.
  • You can help reduce forum/site spam by either moderating user registrations or using a captcha for registration.
  • Change the admin password regularly.
  • You can set some modules to be for Registered users, e.g. the UddeIM module.
  • Kunena allows you restrict the views of the forum.

Installing WordPress

I thought I’d add another bit, this time about WordPress. I’m talking about the software that you download and install on the server, not a hosted blog on WordPress.org. The following instructions will allow you to create a website that you can also use as a CMS (Content Management Server), not just as a blog.

Installation

You’ll need FTP access and the usernames and passwords for your MySQL database, which I would advise you create beforehand. You will also need a an FTP client such as WinSCP, and program that deals with .zip and .tar files (e.g 7-Zip). Download the WordPress software and un-tar/unzip using Winzip or 7-zip.

Upload the unzipped files to root of your website. By default, WordPress extracts to a “wordpress” folder, so unless you want to have a website that points to , you only want to FTP the contents of the wordpress folder.

Now you’re ready to begin the install. Go to http://yourdomain.co.uk/wp-admin  and begin the install (see the documentation – it’s pretty simple and is detailed here). When asked for a new administrator user, don’t use the default admin one – create a different one – hackers always go for the “admin” username first, and you’re making it easy for them using a default one.

Once the install has completed you’re ready to login and create your first post/page. Again I’m not going to tell you how to use WordPress, but I would advise the following (later I’ll give you a list of suggested plugins):

  • Keep your site off the grid until you have your content ready. In Settings -> Privacy, check the box for ““. You can change this later – it means that most search engines won’t spider your site.
  • Set your comments to be moderated (see Settings -> Discussion): this will help stop you getting spam in your comments.
  • If the site is only for your own use then remove the tick from “anyone can register” tick-box in Settings -> General. otherwise anyone can register and use the site.
  • If you want to use your site as a CMS, you’ll need to create two empty static Pages e.g Home and Blog. Once you’ve done this, go to Settings -> Reading. Select “Front page displays a static page” and choose the Home Page you created previously for the Front Page: this will be the first page that anyone going to http://yourdomain.co.uk will see. For the second “Posts” pages, select the Blog Page you created previously. You may also want to edit the Home page to put in some content at this stage.
  • It’s also worth reading the following blog article on ways to improve security for your WordPress install. Some of these like SSL can’t easily implemented without your hosts help. More recent versions of WordPress have better security and have some of these implemented; also by choosing a different “admin” username you’ve already implemented one of their suggestions.

A list of useful Plugins

A lot of plugins are available for WordPress. Some are useful, some are a dead loss. Here’s some I recommend – those marked with an * require a little bit of configuration and I wouldn’t recommend them for those new to web publishing. Those plugins marked in green are ones that I would definitely install!

  • html on PAGES: Adds .html to pages.
  • AddToAny: Share/Bookmark/Email Button: Help people share, bookmark, and email your posts & pages using any service, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, Digg and many more.
  • Akismet: Akismet checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not. You need an API key to use it. You can review the spam it catches under “Comments.” To show off your Akismet stats just put <?php akismet_counter(); ?> in your template.
  • Amazon Product In a Post Plugin:* Quickly add a formatted Amazon Product (image, pricing and buy button, etc.) to a post by using just the Amazon product ASIN (ISBN-10). Great for writing product reviews or descriptions to help monetize your posts and add content that is relevant to your site. You can also customize the styles for the product data. Remember to add your Amazon Affiliate ID on the options page or all sales credit will go to the plugin creator by default.
  • Amazon Widgets Shortcodes:* Easy management of Amazon Links & Widgets on your blog. Preserve your post consistency, use copy/paste Amazon code or build your links with an easy to use interface.
  • Anthologize: Use the power of WordPress to transform your content into a book.
  • Auto XFN-ify: This Plugin automatically adda XFN rel attributes to links (based on the XFN data stored for links in your blogroll admin section) in all posts which link to someone in your blogroll. This way you don’t have to add them manualy each time you link to someone, and as you update/add/remove links and XFN data in your wp-admin blogroll area, all links on your site are automatically updated with appropriate XFN attributes. The plug can optional (when theme supported) include XFN icons next to links in your posts.
  • Bad Behavior: Deny automated spambots access to your PHP-based Web site.
  • Block Bad Queries (BBQ)
  • Broken Link Checker: Checks your blog for broken links and missing images and notifies you on the dashboard if any are found.
  • Categories to Tags Converter Importer: Convert existing categories to tags or tags to categories, selectively.
  • Events: Enables you to show a list of events with a static countdown to date. Sidebar widget and page template options.
  • Fast Secure Contact Form: Fast Secure Contact Form for WordPress. The contact form lets your visitors send you a quick E-mail message. Blocks all common spammer tactics. Spam is no longer a problem. Includes a CAPTCHA and Akismet support. Does not require JavaScript.
  • Fotobook: Fotobook allows you to import Facebook photo galleries directly into WordPress.
  • GeoURL: GeoURL plugin allows you to configure your real-world location in order to find other websites nearby to you.
  • Google Integration Toolkit: Integrate Google services (Analytics, Webmaster Tools, etc.) with Your Blog.
  • Google XML Sitemaps: This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog.
  • HTML Page Sitemap: HTML Page Sitemap Adds an HTML (Not XML) sitemap of your blog pages (not posts) by entering a shortcode. A plugin from Plugins: The WordPress Plugins Podcast.
  • Link Library:* Display links on pages with a variety of options.
  • LiveJournal Crossposter Remix: Automatically copies all posts to a LiveJournal or other LiveJournal-based blog (exclude text in shortcode [nocrosspost]smth[/nocrosspost] – buttons for it added in visual&html editors). Editing or deleting a post will be replicated as well.
  • Meta SEO Pack: Fine tune your WordPress blog for SEO: title rewriting, meta descriptions, tags, robots, canonical links and more. Out-of-the-box settings are a good starting point for blogs.
  • No More Frames: Many web sites try to load your content into their own frame, to help sell ads on their sites. This simple plugin ensure your site is protect from this using a simple piece of code in your document header.
  • Print Friendly & PDF: Adds a Print Friendly & PDF button for your pages. Help your users save paper and ink, and engage with your content.
  • Search Everything: Adds search functionality without modifying any template pages: Activate, Configure and Search. Options Include: search highlight, search pages, excerpts, attachments, drafts, comments, tags and custom fields (metadata). Also offers the ability to exclude specific pages and posts. Does not search password-protected content.
  • SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam: Adds CAPTCHA anti-spam methods to WordPress on the comment form, registration form, login, or all. This prevents spam from automated bots. Also is WPMU and BuddyPress compatible.
  • Simple Tags: Extended Tagging for WordPress 3.0 ! Suggested Tags, Mass edit tags, Autocompletion, Tag Cloud Widgets, Related Posts, Related Tags, etc!
  • StatPress Reloaded: Improved real time stats for your blog.
  • TinyMCE Advanced: Enables advanced features and plugins in TinyMCE, the visual editor in WordPress.
  • Wordbooker: Provides integration between your blog and your Facebook account. Navigate to Settings ? Wordbooker for configuration.
  • WP-Click-Tracker: Tracks all links in posts.
  • WP-Filebase: A powerful download manager supporting file categories, thumbnails, traffic/bit rate limits and more.
  • WP-Optimize: This plugin helps you to keep your database clean by removing post revisions and spams in a blaze. allows you to rename your admin name also. Additionally it allows you to run optimize command on your wordpress core tables (use with caution).
  • WP-RSSImport: Import and display Feeds in your blog, use the function RSSImport(), a Widget or Shortcode.
  • WP Existing Tags: This simple plugin adds a list of existing (already used) tags into “Tags” box on new/edit post form. No more hard time remembering your hundreds of tags – simply click the one you need to add it to the post. No tuning and customizing needed – it just works as it is.
  • WP Maintenance Mode: The plugin adds a splash page to your blog that lets visitors know your blog is down for maintenance. Logged in users get full access to the blog including the front-end, depends of the settings.
  • WP Section Index: WP Section Index detects the various sections of a page or blog post, based on headings, and creates a widgetized list for navigating the content.
  • WP Security Scan: Perform security scan of WordPress installation.
  • WP Super Cache*: Very fast caching plugin for WordPress.
  • WPtouch: A plugin which formats your site with a mobile theme for visitors on Apple iPhone / iPod touch, Google Android, Blackberry Storm and Torch, Palm Pre and other touch-based smartphones.
  • WP Widget Cache: Cache the output of your blog widgets. Usually it will significantly reduce the sql queries to your database and speed up your site.
  • Yet Another Related Posts Plugin: Returns a list of related entries based on a unique algorithm for display on your blog and RSS feeds. A templating feature allows customization of the display.
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