Tag Archives: iPad

Tech Toys – SanDisk iXpand

I love my iPad.

I love using it to keep up with my blogs. I am surprised how much I enjoy watching movies and TV on it. I particularly enjoy reading on it. Which is a good thing since I have a large collection of ebooks and .PDF books. The iPad is my weapon of choice among tablets for a number of reasons: It’s reliable, sturdy, has a beautiful display, integrates with iTunes, and just works well. I highly recommend them for anyone interested in getting a tablet.

Yet despite my love for the device it is not without its flaws. Chief among them, for me, is space management. There’s no way around it, iPads are not cheap and getting one with a high capacity drive is a significant expense. However getting a more affordable model means you’ll frequently have to manage what you have installed on it. If you share the device with your family this becomes an even more significant problem.

There are ways around this issue to be sure. Aside from using your computer there are wireless hard drives and cloud storage options but those are only helpful if you have access to a WiFi connection, which may not be an option on trips. It has always been a point of annoyance that Apple is dead set against allowing direct connection storage devices while many Android tablets come with USB, SD, and MicroSD ports built in. An early model Android tablet that I own offers all three and I happily kept extra books on flash drives. I’ve been baffled that nobody has come up with a reliable solution to allow this with the iPad.

SanDisk to the rescue!

The new SanDisk iXpand line offers exactly what I’ve been looking for. These flash drives, only slightly larger than a regular drive, have both a USB and Lightning connection. By downloading an app to your iPad you can plug the iXpand into your device and get down to business. You can read, listen to music, watch videos, and look at images stored on the iXpand drive from the application and the performance is excellent. You can also transfer files to and from the iPad, which also allows for quick and easy backups. It also works flawlessly with your Windows desktop.

There are still some limitations to be aware of. First, there are only three sizes currently available; 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. They’re more expensive than regular flash drives, but not unreasonably so. The 32GB model retails for around $80 and is currently on sale for just under $50 at Best Buy. Also the drive is FAT32, which will limit the size of individual files to under 4GB. If you’re looking to store high definition movies on it you’re probably out of luck, but standard video files won’t be a problem and .PDF junkies like me will be just fine.

The position of the iPad’s Lightning connector can be a problem when you’re reading, since the disk sticks out from the bottom of the iPad, but you can always turn the tablet upside-down and get used to the various buttons being in different locations. Also, since the iPad uses the single Lightning port for everything, you can’t have the iPad plugged into a power source while using the iXpand drive. This might be a problem on the road, or in my case when I get home from work and my kids have drained the battery watching YouTube videos all afternoon.

With those limitations in mind I am still delighted and I spent last night dumping files onto my new 32GB drive and put it through its paces.

Image from

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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Reviews


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Quite a while ago I blogged about the tech demo for an iPad game called Framed.

The game did release but it wasn’t until recently that I picked it up. I am pleased to say that it lives up to all my hopes from the tech demo.

Framed puts you in control of a series of comic panel frames, where you help a noir story play out by moving the panels around to help the spies evade the police. For example, the default panels will have the spy run into a guard, but by changing the order or orientation of things the spy instead comes up behind the guards and knocks him out.

The story is told through the action, as you help the male spy escape with a briefcase, until eventually the female spy steals it from him and you switch to her. This goes back and forth for a while and all the time you are pursued by the mysterious inspector. The artwork is done in an evocative shadow puppet style, which is something I always enjoy, and the animation is crisp. The music adds to the ambiance and the story is clever and witty.

Best of all the interface is innovative. One of my complaints with iOS games is how few of them are designed specifically to take advantage of a touch screen to do something unique, something you can’t do on a PC or game console. Framed does this in spades.

Framed is $4.99 on iTunes.


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Sentinels of the iPad

They have shut up and taken my money.

I now have the Sentinels of the Multiverse app for my iPad and it is excellent. I don’t have a lot of experience with board-to-iPad conversions for games, but I have a great deal of experience with Sentinels of the Multiverse, and this conversion feels great.

The graphics are straight from the game, the music is good without being obtrusive and the sound effects are nice. The interface does a good job of keeping track of everything that happens in a Sentinels game and thankfully they made sure you can double tap cards at just about any time to review them. This is particularly handy because some cards put into play vanish from the screen a little too fast to read, so being able to review them is essential. One particularly clever addition is that with each phase of the game it reconfigures the screen by “turning the page” giving it even more of a comic book feel. Another nice touch is that the pictures of the heroes and villains show increasing amounts of battle damage as the game progresses.

Currently the game encompasses all the heroes, villains, and environments of the base game. The app also has an impressive encyclopedia of the characters which includes the ability to look at all the cards in their deck. Given the wide range of powers the heroes and villains have in Sentinels it’s impressive how well the application handles everything. It also has a randomizer allowing a mix-and-match of villains, heroes, and environments. Although for someone not familiar with the game this may provide unexpectedly difficult or exceptionally easy battles. For example, three heroes matched against Citizen Dawn have little hope, while six heroes vs Baron Blade will be overkill. However the randomizer isn’t locked in and you can modify the results before launching the game.

No word yet on if they will expand the game to include the expansion sets, though I would be surprised if we don’t see them coming down the pipe.

If you are a fan of Sentinels of the Multiverse and have either an iPad or Android tablet I can’t recommend the game highly enough. The only thing I can’t vouch for is how accessible the game is for people who aren’t already familiar with the card game. There is a tutorial and Sentinels isn’t a very complex game, but there are some nuances that are easier to understand when looking at a real manual. Someone new to the game will have a harder time picking up what is going on even with the tutorial.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more justice to dish out!

Or rather I will have justice to dish out, once my battery recharges.

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Posted by on October 16, 2014 in Computer Games, Gaming


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Free This Week – Sketchbook Pro

I have returned from Pennsic War!

It was my first Pennsic for a while and it was a ton of fun. I’m still getting my feet back on the ground at home and work from the time off, but should resume irregular updates shortly.

In the meantime, Sketchbook Pro is the iTunes free App of the Week!

I’ve talked about this app a few times in the past. It’s an inexpensive drawing program for your iPad that works well for drawing dungeon maps.

It’s worth a look, and this week you can do it for free.

Happy mapping!


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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Dungeon Design, Maps


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Proud Gamer Dad

It’s been a while since I last played with mapping on my iPad.

I had some time on my hands, so I pulled out my stylus and fired up Sketchbook Pro when up popped this:

KateDungeonMy daughter has been watching me create dungeons. At some point she fired up Sketchpad, figured it out, and this is the result.

I am so proud of my little Dungeon Master!

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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Dungeon Design, Maps


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Map Musings

I love maps.

It’s certainly one of the things that has always attracted me to Dungeons & Dragons.

I love dungeon maps. From the classic old blue grid maps like the Caves of Chaos, to the isometric maps of Ravenloft and Dragons of Dispair (for all the flaws with that module the map is solid gold), or the beautifully styled maps we see in Goodman Game’s modules for Dungeon Crawl Classics.

I love world maps. Darlene’s Greyhawk is still the gold standard, but the map of the Forgotten Realms from the grey box is also magnificent. Our local museum used to have a map of Middle Earth on the back of the door to their office. It was a straight forward line drawing, but not the one from the books and I’ve never seen that specific design again. I spent as much time looking at that map as some of the exhibits.

Years ago an individual used to make hand drawn maps of the Known World of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I have one on my wall, from way back in A.S. 22 (1988 for non SCAdians). It’s a marvelous piece of art on par with anything TSR put out. Duke Syr Merowald of the Midrealm is the artist.

I adore the cloth maps that came with the Ultima computer games. The map of Britannia from Ultima V is my favorite.

Maps represent possibilities. They let our imaginations explore as we dream of where we can go and what we can find. For me, role playing games are about exploration and maps represent that.

Every now and then I pull out my sketch book and make my own attempts at designing maps. Over the years I’ve found I have certain preferences. These are not “right or wrong” rules of map making, they’re just the things I like. For instance, with dungeon maps I prefer black-and-white (or blue-and-white) to full color and I don’t care for textures, especially on the dungeon floors. I find that these tend to distract the eye from the layout.

However, I do like simple graphics and icons in the map, such as summoning circles or wells drawn in the rooms. I like the occasional 3d element, like an archway or dolmen drawn as the gateway to a standard 2d hallway. I love artwork around the sides of the map, which can be simple filler art or the extravagant and intricate images worked into the Dungeon Crawl Classics maps.

While aesthetically I appreciate dungeon maps done without a grid, such as the wonderful maps Dyson Logos produces, for practical use I still prefer to have a grid. It’s the old school Dungeon Master in me, who wants to figure the blast radius of a fireball quickly. But I must admit, the work Dyson creates is winning me over.

If you’re not familiar with his blog, Dyson’s Dodecahedron, you really need to change that.

Like, now.

Go on, I’ll wait.

For world maps I like both color and black-and-white, but I still prefer simple styles. I don’t want my eyes spending too much time figuring out what something is, I want them to roam over the map with ease. This map from has captured my imagination with its style and my sketchbook is currently filling up with ideas based on it. The map was created using Campaign Cartographer, which is the name in map making software. It’s not cheap, but it’s amazing what you can produce with it.

For those of us on a budget, I recommend Hexographer. The free online version suits my regular needs and the pro version is not expensive.

I’ve also experimented with drawing on my iPad, described here and here, and for that I still recommend Sketchbook Pro. It’s a bit limited, but you can still whip out some decent maps in short order. Plus the cost of the app and a simple stylus will only put you out around $10, so it’s definitely worth giving a try.

Still, for the most part I like the Luddite method of pencils, pens, and paper. One of these days I’ll even learn to use my scanner correctly and then I’ll post some of my own maps.

What do you like in a good map? What maps in particular have captured your imagination? How do you make your own maps?


I made this map using Hexographer’s free online tool. I like the overall design, but if I were going to remake it I would drastically reduce the variety of icons I used. How many different forest icons do I really need? Still, it’s a good example of what the tool has to offer.


Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Gaming, Maps


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Bits & Bobs

Bits & Bobs, surprisingly not a new retro-clone!

It’s been a stream of consciousness day, so this post is going to ramble more than a little.  With apologies to The Rambling Roleplayer.

You’ve been warned.

I was looking for the source of an old Roger Raupp illustration that caught my fancy and it turned out to be from a story in Dragon magazine, issue #54.  The article’s title is “Ruins: Rotted & Risky – but Rewarding”.  I ended up reading it through.

I found the article to be quite good.  It discusses the similarities and differences between using surface ruins and underground dungeons as adventuring locals, a topic that has been on my mind off and on for several months.  There are some wonderful examples of doing this kind of adventure, certainly in the source literature.  Conan, Elric and their ilk spent more time in lost cities than subterranean vaults.  Module I1, Dwellers in the Forbidden City is an all time classic adventure that is almost entirely set in a lost city.  A more contemporary example would be found at the Dreams in the Lich House blog, where the author’s Black City campaign has combined an extensive alien ruined city over top of a vast underground complex.

Our own Google+ hangout game recently had our party encounter the ruins of the City of Gygaxia!


Back on topic, the article included a nice collection of tips for designing ruins, including tables for seeding monster lairs in the abandoned structures.  It’s quite a good article and worth a read.  My arsenal of DM’s design tools is pretty extensive at this point, but this fills a design niche I hadn’t given much thought to.

The result of this was that I finally revisited an idea that’s been rolling around in my head for a long time.  I love dungeons and some of my favorites are lost dwarven cities.  Give me a site where the dwarves delved too deeply and too greedily and I’m a happy gamer.  To that end I’ve been doodling with such a city off and on.

Taking cues from Moria, I envision this city as having once been a center of commerce and passage between realms on opposite sides of a mountain range.  Borrowing from Erebor and Dale, outside one of the city gates is a ruined city.    The article prompted me to pull out my sketch pad and start working up a rough draft of the city map.

This in turn reminded me of an app for my iPhone that I recently picked up.

I did warn you that this post was going to wander.

I have an extensive collection of materials, some of which I’d like to be able to scan in for online use, but much of it is in books that don’t easily fit on my little desktop scanner.  I also love to make maps, which I still prefer to draw by hand.  I’ve had some fun with mapping on the iPad, but I still prefer a good pencil and pad.  However, I have little practice scanning them in and cleaning them up.

Scanner Pro by Readdle aims to help me fix that by turning my iPhone into a handheld scanner.  The software has several features that set it above just taking pictures.  It has an auto-detect for the borders of your subject, saving the effort of cropping the image.  It takes images in color, grey scale, or high contrast black and white, which is good for line art.  You can adjust the contrast and brightness of the image on the fly, and you can save the file as either a .jpg or a .pdf.  The latter when combined with the multi-page feature allows you to make a multi-page .pdf file from your phone.  From there you can email it or upload it through a variety of means.

Below are examples of my city-in-progress, both in grey scale and contrast formats.  I need more practice holding my phone horizontally and the grey scale image has some shadows, but I decided to leave the flaws in.  Like the subject, using the software is a work in progress.

Click to see larger versions of the images:


All in all, not too bad.  The drawing is straight #2 pencil with no inking.  Considering that, I’m pleased with how well the software picked up the details.  The contrast version also completely removed the shadow. The only adjustments I made to the pictures were the built-in contrast and brightness settings.

It also allowed me to capture a digital image of one of my favorite illustrations from any game book.  This is a straight shot with no cropping using the contrast settings.


Scanner Pro shows promise and I’ll be playing around with it more.  Not to mention developing my adventure setting.

Thank you for taking this wander through my thoughts.  And hey, this is my 100th post!  I’ve had a great deal of fun since I started this weblog and look forward to the next 100.

Until next time, happy gaming!

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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Dungeon Design, Gaming, Maps


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More Tablet Mapping

I finally got back to playing around with mapping on my iPad.

Sketchbook Pro continues to satisfy me, though I’ve added to my wish list of features.  I would like to be able to better organize the files into sub-folders, as opposed to in order of file creation.  Also, I have a fine point stylus on my Christmas list.

My first foray into tablet mapping was back in this post.

Following that up, I did this map as a “level two” to the iDungeon of Doom.  One nice advantage of digital mapping is that I can take the previous finished map and use it as a transparent layer for my new map.  That makes it easy to match up the paths between floors.

A few notes:

Area 4 is a waterwheel fed from the whirlpool’s cascade in Area 12 on the first level.

Area 16 is a three-level chamber.  Each entry is at a different height.  I’d probably need to include an inset map of the room to convey it properly.  I’m playing around with trying to do an isometric map for the room, but so far it’s beyond my meager stylus skills.

Area 13 is an elevator.  When it rises up it uncovers the secret door.

The circular areas 18-22 have pools in their centers that act as teleportation devices.


And here’s the first level of a tower complex:


Eventually I may stock these maps with something like the one page dungeon format and see how it goes.  But for now I’m just enjoying the sketching.


Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Dungeon Design, Maps


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Tablet Mapping

I enjoy making dungeon maps.

I’ve enjoyed that since the time when I’d only heard about Dungeons & Dragons but hadn’t yet played.  One of the things that I love about the Old School Renaissance for gaming is the wealth of maps that fans are creating and sharing.

(And if you also like old school maps, make sure you’re reading Dyson’s Dodecahedron!)

I’ve been experimenting with using GIMP for my digital mapping needs and I enjoy it, but haven’t had enough time to really dig into it yet.  I love using a good old pad of graph paper, but I’m not fond of the results I’ve had scanning files in.

However I do have an iPad and I love playing around with it.  For the moment that’s going to be my playground for digital mapping.

I did some research on the web and hit up a few Google+ communities and Sketchbook Pro looked like a good tool.  The application and a cheap stylus cost me just under $10 and for the price it does the job nicely.

Sketchbook Pro has most of the standard drawing tools you’d expect, including plenty of pen styles with adjustable thickness and hardness, color and fill tools, and a built-in square grid template that’s perfect for dungeon mapping.  It also offers plenty of layers to work with, a must for digital dungeon design.  Numbering rooms is a snap too.  It didn’t take me very long to get the hang of it and knock out a basic layout.


Sketchbook Pro does the job nicely, but it does have limitations.  While it does have a line tool it doesn’t have a “snap to grid” feature, which accounts for some of my less-than-straight lines.  Drawing with the stylus takes practice and trying to get my lines just where I want them can take a few tries, the undo feature is my friend, but this could be alleviated with a finer quality stylus.

Sketchbook Pro does have a transformation tool for layers, but surprisingly it doesn’t have a selection tool.  So you can copy entire layers but not lasso and copy sections within a layer.  Also, while there are plenty of stamps built into the pen selection, there is no way to create your own stamps.  So any frequently used icons will have to be drawn each time.

However for a $10 total investment I’m more than satisfied with the results.  A basic dungeon can be created quickly and while a more complex design takes longer than good old graph paper, it’s still something you can accomplish.  Combined with the portability of an iPad and stylus over a desktop and this is a tool that’s going to be staying in my DM’s arsenal.

Here’s a level from a more ambitious dungeon design. I could easily add color or a background texture, but I prefer the simpler old school scheme both from an aesthetic and practical concern.  Colors and backgrounds tend to be distracting.  For a more printer friendly version a white color fill on the grey areas does the trick with a few clicks.

The iDungeon of iDoom!



Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Dungeon Design, Gaming, Maps


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I am not a big fan of puzzle games.

However I am a fan of sequential art, noir style, and imaginative game design, all of which show up in the tech demo for Framed, an upcoming game by Loveshack Entertainment.

The idea of the game is that you are presented with a series of panels.  Your protagonist is shown running through them like a comicbook character brought to life, but something happens to him before he reaches the end.  From the demo I’m guessing that this will usually be a horrible demise.

Then the player is given the opportunity to re-arrange the panels, so that when the protagonist runs through the page again he is able to turn the tables on his enemy or avoid whatever obstacle stopped him before.

I love the art style they’re using here.  I’m a sucker for the shadow-puppet characters and the watercolor look of the backgrounds sets it off nicely.  This game is just beautifully designed to take advantage of the iPad’s touch screen, but they’re not stopping there and the game will also be release for PC and Mac.  Throw in a good soundtrack and this game will be a winner.

I love to see innovative designs like this and look forward to seeing more indie-gems turn up.  Keep your eye on this one!


Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Computer Games


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