Gardmore Abbey 5E rerun – End

I think I forgot to report one or two sessions of my Gardmore Abbey 5th edition rerun. The campaign suffered from something very typical of campaigns in my local role-playing club: Player attrition. You start with 5 players, all very enthusiastic, and then over the months real life intervenes, or enthusiasm fades, and in the end it is hard to get a quorum together.

Today we finished the campaign. The players were level 7, but they had never fought the orcs who were the main force holding the abbey. So for the grand finale I strung together two encounters: The defense of the watchtower against attacking orcs (who had brought a hill giant and dire wolf cavalry), followed by the group attacking the keep with the orc chieftain. As there were only 3 players left, these were tough fight, especially with some lucky dice rolls on my side, like the hill giant scoring a critical hit.

But in the end the group prevailed and, having done all the quests in the abbey, returned to Lord Padraig. Having previously found out how the abbey fell through the use of the Deck of Many Things, they were able to persuade the lord to give them the last remaining cards. That assembled the deck, and allowed them to draw from it.

Ander the ranger drew just one card, but it was the Talons, which destroyed all his magical items. Ouch! Raymond the librarian barbarian drew two cards, but ended up drawing cards that gave him more draws. In the end he lost 10,000 xp, got permanently cursed, and gained a rare magical weapon. Kaze the monk drew 3 cards: The first lost him 5 points of intelligence (and he had only 10). The second gave him 50,000 xp and a rare wondrous item. And the third allowed him to erase the effect of the first card. Which meant that he was the only one who got really lucky, gaining 3 levels and some nice magic boots.

The Deck of Many Things is by itself frequently a campaign-ending item, and thus not recommended unless you don’t plan to continue anyway. But with the dwindling player-base this was the good opportunity to end the campaign on a high note.

How E-commerce Sites can Increase Sales with Pinterest?

Pinterest is basically a platform for users to visually share and discover exciting new interests by posting, or “pinning”, as it’s popularly called, videos or images to their own boards or that of others.

If you’re looking to drive more traffic and sales to your e-commerce site, Pinterest is one of the social networks you must add to your marketing arsenal.

People like to pin products on Pinterest and plan purchases. If used properly, your e-commerce site should be able to generate a high revenue with Pinterest.

Let’s see some of the best ways to harness the full potential of this social media platform:

1. Pick Your Pins Carefully

Quality over quantity – that’s one rule every business owner is aware of. And if you’re planning to boost your e-commerce sales using Pinterest, this rule applies even more to you.
Of course, volume is important but only to keep things consistent. Pin all your new items, engage users regularly, and keep things fresh. But, as Pinterest is an entirely visual medium, you need to be aware of which images attract the attention of the users the most.
There are two kinds of people you will come across on Pinterest, those who are ready to purchase from you right away and those who need some time.
You need to pin content that both these sets of audience will want to interact with.
As per the Yotpo guide to sell on Pinterest, brand images without faces receive 23% more sales than those with faces. So, your knowledge of product photography is definitely going to pay off here.
Other things that add to the effectiveness of yours pins include:
  • Color plays a key role, with a rich color scheme paying off more dividends than a single color pin. People also seem to prefer red images to blue ones.
  • Always consult analytics, like Pinterest business tools. This will help you figure out what works best for your target audience.
  • Your product pictures should have a minimum width of 600 pixels, with the ideal size being 736 pixels wide. Images that are taller will get Repinned more often.

2.Enable rich pins:

When you enable rich pins on your e-commerce website, some extra information like the real-time price and description of the product will appear on the pin. This can increase traffic and sales. So ensure you enable rich pins on your website.
You can also try using buyable pins. This will display the price of the product on Pinterest. People will also be able to directly buy the product on Pinterest like in this pin.

3. Create a Pinterest-Friendly Ambience on Your Website

Simplify the process of pinning images and articles from your business site. You can do so by adding a button to your website so that the process becomes faster. Because the higher the number of pins you get, the greater will be the exposure to your business.
It would be even better if you have another person pinning your product or web page as it raises your credibility factor even more than if it were you endorsing them by yourself.

4. Concentrate your efforts on promoting your brand lifestyle

Pinterest deals with more than just the sale of products; you can use the platform to influence your customer base and make them see how your brand integrates with their world.
Instead of creating boards consisting of your own products, it is a good idea to establish boards around brand values and lifestyle themes. A themed board should not be limited to your own goods; try to include other pins as well.
You need to understand that your buyers are coming to Pinterest for information and inspiration, rather than just buying stuff. Achieve the first objective, and the second one will follow on its own. And nothing works better in this regard than staying true to your brand.
If your company manufactures a unique sort of product, integrate your original pins with related pins. Basically, you will be weaving a story for your customers, with the moral being that your products are unique and something they need in their lives.

5. Use popular trends to your advantage

Being unique is good, but sometimes you just need to go with the flow. In the case of Pinterest, this means following the popular trends.
For example, seasonal content carries as much weight online as it does in traditional shops. Any pin that corresponds to major seasons, holidays, and events is bound to draw a crowd. All you need to do is understand your audience, and stay true to their interests.

6. Host contests to increase engagement

Raising engagement is always easier when you host a contest on Pinterest. However, you need to study the advertising guidelines for the platform carefully and never engage in spammy actions or any sort of content that is frowned upon.

7. Never underestimate the power of influencers:

Work with bloggers and influencers on Pinterest to improve the popularity of your products on the platform. When a Guest Pinner creates a board on your account, it draws a huge crowd. However, make sure you work with Pinterest users who cater to the same client as your business.

8. Draw the attention of the community

Bigger is better – at least when it comes the crowd size you involve to help raise engagement levels.
Make sure anybody can participate in the process. Ask customers to share pictures of themselves with your items. This is a great way to find accessible images of your photos worn by actual people.

9. Learn when to draw the line

Never pin too much on the same day. It’s understandable that you want your boards to be completely developed, but bombarding your customers with a barrage of pins is not the solution. After all, who wants to scroll through large numbers of your pins showcasing what is basically the same product in a different color.
Follow the points given above to create a professional level Pinterest strategy that excels at generating traffic, driving engagement, and above all, boosting your online sales.

Want to Learn Digital Marketing?

Civilization VI

I haven’t played Civilization VI yet. I am a fan of the series. But I have too many games and too little time, and I didn’t want to pay full price for yet another iteration of the same game. I was still waiting for the price to come down below $30 when I got the news that the full Civ 6 game has been ported to iOS. Yes, you need a newer iPad to play and it is battery-hungry, but it is the *full* Civ 6, not a toned down mobile version. That is pretty remarkable. So I downloaded the game for free, which lets you play 60 turns with the Chinese empire to see how it works. And then I balked at buying the full version for $60. I didn’t even want to pay that for the PC version, and for an iOS game that is very expensive.

So while I was still pondering what to do, I got another piece of news: You can this month get Civilization VI (PC version) plus 2 expansions plus a collection of other games in the Humble Bundle Monthly for $12. That is basically a subscription service where you pay $12 per month to get a bundle of games every month. But if you only want Civ 6 you can of course unsubscribe after 1 month. As this is the lowest I have ever seen Civ 6 go for, I ended up buying the game that way.

Not sure when I will get around to actually play it, I am still very busy with Zelda – Breath of the Wild. But as an opportunity to get Civ 6 cheap this is certainly worth mentioning. The offer is available until the end of the month.

How much are readers worth?

I received a mail from an MMO website that it was for sale. I didn’t even know that there were auction sites for websites. Probably because I never considered my site as a business. I feel honored that people come to my site to read my thoughts. The idea was never to attract a maximum number of readers and then somehow monetize them. (And if I had wanted to do that I should have cashed out a decade ago, when this was still a popular blog.)

The site on sale boasts 30,000 YouTube subscribers, 9,000 Facebook fans, and 4,000 Twitter followers. And you can “buy” all these fans for $1,000 or best offer. That suggests that one fan is worth between 20 and 30 cents. However the site hasn’t had much content in the past few weeks, and those “fans” might be long gone, never to return. Especially if the new owner of the site creates little new content, or somehow changes the scope. So at best buying an existing website is a starting boost that gets the word out faster than if you created the same new content on a brand new site. Websites are dynamic and the real number of readers / subscribers / fans / followers depends very much on the current quality and quantity of content created.

Not only is buying a web site possibly a bad deal for the buyer. I would also consider it somewhat dishonest towards the fans. Imagine buying tickets to a concert and on going there finding out that the band you liked sold their name to another band, whose music you don’t like!

In summary, this blog is unlikely to be sold. I’m sticking to an earlier promise that I can’t be bought for less than $100,000. And as this site was never worth this much, you can be pretty confident that as long as there is somebody writing here, it will be me.

The One Scenario in Which Trump Would Risk Impeachment and Fire Robert Mueller

The president reportedly expects to be exonerated soon.

President Donald Trump believes that special counsel Robert Mueller will soon send him a letter that completely exonerates him of any wrongdoing — but the president’s allies fear that such a letter will never come.

CNN reports that Trump has recently been boasting to allies that the Russia probe will be over very shortly, and that Mueller will personally exonerate him. The president believes this, CNN’s sources say, because his attorneys have tried to manage him by telling him that he faces no real danger from the probe.

However, some of the president’s allies believe this is delusional, wishful thinking — and they fear what Trump will do if that exoneration letter never comes.

One Trump ally tells CNN that the president will likely have a “meltdown” after months go by without an exoneration letter, after which “he’ll try and fire Mueller and then be impeached.”

Another Trump ally similarly warns that Trump’s lawyers are playing a dangerous game by buttering him up with happy talk about the Mueller probe ending shortly.

“I’ve known him long enough to know that disappointing him is a problem and they’ve built up a level of expectations for him that are unrealistic,” the source said. “[They’ve] lulled him into a false sense of security.”

 

 

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Deal: Razer throws in a free Leviathan Mini if you buy the Razer Phone

Available since November, Razer doesn’t appear ready to discount its flagship Razer Phone just yet. What the company is ready to do, however, is throw in one of its Bluetooth speakers for free if you buy its smartphone.

For 48 hours, if you pick up the $700 Razer Phone through the company’s website, you can get its Leviathan Mini Bluetooth speaker for free. Reported by PhoneArena, just make sure to use the promo code PHLVLUP (get it?) at checkout and you won’t pay a dime for the speaker.

I can’t personally attest to the quality of the Leviathan Mini. What I can say, however, is that it originally goes for $180 and was recently discounted to $100 for the holidays. The speaker also sports NFC for quick pairing and is roughly the same size as the popular UE Boom 2, though the Leviathan Mini doesn’t share the latter’s rugged protection. In other words, Razer’s speaker was not built to withstand water, dust, and drops — it’s a speaker meant for the table, not for the outside.

As for the Razer Phone itself, we thought it was a great first effort from Razer. It may not have adopted the near bezel-less design of some of its contemporaries, but the Razer Phone manages to still look unique, thanks to its dark aluminum build and dual speakers that crank out great sound.

Editor’s Pick

Also, we can’t talk about the Razer Phone without talking about its Quad HD display, which is capable of up to a 120 Hz refresh rate. This gives the phone a sense of fluidity and smoothness that only Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL can rival.

The Razer Phone isn’t without its hiccups, however. The display might lend the software a great amount of fluidity, but we found it a bit too dim for our liking. Also, even though our terrible photography experience has improved a bit with software updates, the images still aren’t that great. Finally, even though a dongle is included in the box, you will not find a headphone jack.

With that being said, we would not blame you if you pick up the Razer Phone, so why not do so while getting a Bluetooth speaker for free. You have until the end of tomorrow, December 19 to take advantage of the promotion at the link below.

Get the Razer Phone

YouTube TV app for Apple TV and Roku to launch Q1 2018

  • The YouTube TV app will be launching on Apple TV and Roku in Q1 2018.
  • The app was originally supposed to be out by the end of the year.
  • Older Samsung and Sony smart TVs will also see the app early next year.

One of the limiting factors when choosing an over-the-top streaming service is the ability to stream the content to your TV. Most services allow some sort of casting from your phone or tablet, but that’s not a perfect solution. To do this, you’re relying on multiple pieces of hardware that could fail at any time. Additionally, some programming like the NFL don’t currently allow mobile streams of their content.

That’s why, when YouTube TV started to roll out its standalone app, I started doing a happy dance. I can now use the app on my smart TV or Xbox, and the experience is great. It saves me on Sundays and allows me to watch my beloved (but terrible) Bengals.

Editor’s Pick

Unfortunately for some users, they’re still lacking the app. Users with Apple TV and Roku devices were slated to get the app before the end of the year. Now, with only 12 days left in 2017, we’re getting word the apps are being pushed back to Q1 2018. In addition to Apple TV and Roku, the YouTube TV app will also come to older smart TVs in the first quarter. These TVs include some Samsung sets from 2013 and 2014. Older Sony TV’s that use a Linux-based OS instead of Android TV will get the app too.

Most of YouTube TV’s competitors like Sling, Hulu, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue are all on numerous platforms. YouTube TV lags a bit behind the others as they’re all on Apple TV and Roku already. Where you won’t see YouTube TV is on Amazon’s Fire TV or the PlayStation 4. Google and Amazon have had very public battles (although things do appear to be getting better) and Sony refuses to let other streaming services on its gaming system while its pushing PlayStation Vue.

Despite all of that, YouTube TV is one of the popular options for cord-cutters right now. The lineup of channels is fantastic, and at just $35 a month, it’s very affordable. The service initially rolled out to only a few cities in the US when it first launched, but that number has recently pushed past 80.

What does a DM need to know?

I recently offered a young player of D&D who was interested in becoming a Dungeon Master to give him some pointers on how to be a good DM. But while I have been a DM for nearly 4 decades now, it isn’t actually all that easy to describe what makes a good DM. In some ways it is more an art than a science. And where it is a science, it is a badly documented one.

The basic role of a DM is easily described: He sets the scene, asks the players what they do, and then reacts to their answer by telling them the consequences of their actions, thus setting the next scene. Rinse, lather, repeat. What makes the description of a good DM so complicated is that different people are good DMs in very different ways. You ask a player what he specifically liked with a DM, and realize that whatever that was, it was probably something optional. For example when I ask for feedback from various players in different groups of mine, I frequently get told that they appreciate my preparation of visual playing aids: Battlemaps, 3D printed miniatures, handouts. But you can play with another good DM who doesn’t use any of those! Another DM might be appreciated for his creation of fantastic worlds, but you can play great games without those as well. Some DMs are great play-actors doing accents and voices for NPCs, but you don’t need that either. So what is the stuff that is actually essential?

Dungeons & Dragons, and any other pen & paper role-playing game, inherently always exists on two different levels: Horgar the barbarian swings his battleaxe and with a satisfying crunch decapitates the evil wizard. John the player of Horgar declares that he wants to attack the evil wizard and rolls a 20 on his attack. Horgar and John need each other. Without John, Horgar doesn’t exist. Without Horgar, John isn’t playing D&D. I believe that an awareness of those two levels, and a constant effort to keep the two levels in balance with each other, might well be the most important part of a DM’s job. Concentrate too much on the story, and the players get bored because they don’t get to roll dice any more. Concentrate too much on the dice, and you end up playing a board game.

Corollary to that is the need for balance between DM actions and player actions. D&D is a game of interactive story-telling. Take the interaction away, and it becomes a lot less interesting. No DM’s hour-long monologue beats Netflix in entertainment value. But letting the players role-play alone without feedback on the consequences from the DM only leads to people becoming lost and confused. Players need “agency”, the ability to influence the story and the outcome of situations. But that agency only makes sense in the context of there being a story and a situation to overcome. The DM needs to make sure that he tells the players enough for them to understand what is going on, so they can act, but also to leave enough room for different choices and original ideas from the players.

That gets us to another important point: The “never say no” rule. It isn’t an absolute rule, because it applies only to constructive input from the players. But the idea is that as long as the player proposes something constructive, the DM should accept the proposal and try to work with it. You can still judge that the idea is very unlikely to work, and require the player to succeed in a very difficult roll. But that is still far better than letting the players propose lots of things and always saying no until by chance they come upon the one solution you previously decided was the good one. Saying yes can change the whole campaign to something you hadn’t imagined, but that is the beauty of it. The goal is not to have the story proceed on predetermined rails, but to have everyone at the table contribute to the story and together create something greater than one man’s story. In my Zeitgeist campaign the players were a group of policemen working for the king; but it was up to the players whether they wanted to play those policemen as the Keystone Cops or the Gestapo or something in between.

While these rules certainly don’t cover everything a DM needs to do or needs to be, I do think that they are among the most important for success. What other advice would you give a new DM to help him become a good DM?

Uses and abuses of challenge

Once upon a time, in a past so long a go that few people remember it, computer games came with an options menu in which you could choose the difficulty and challenge of the game yourself. The idea was that all of us would like games to be both winnable and not a pushover, but because preferences on how easily winnable a game should be, as well as experience and skill in a game, vary from user to user, it would be best to have several options in order to please everybody. Now that was way back when games still came in a box. With games increasingly switching to a “game as a service” online experience, difficulty settings fell out of favor. Somehow it appeared to make more sense if the same orc in World of Warcraft held the same challenge for each player, with the only variable being the power level of the player himself. With less and less single-player games around, and PvE games being more and more replaced by PvP, difficulty setting have become increasingly rare.

I’ve been playing a bunch of pseudo-PvP games on my iPad lately. Pseudo because I don’t necessarily fight another player online at the same time, but my army fights his computer-controlled army. That usually was nice enough at the start of the game. But then with each win I gained some sort of trophies or ranking, so that later I was matched against more and more powerful players. Ultimately it was obvious that this was a no-win proposition: The better I did, the more likely it became that I would lose the next game. The only strategy that worked was to deliberately lose games, to drop down in rankings, to then win the now easier PvP games in order to achieve the quests and goals the game set me. But that sort of cheesy strategy isn’t exactly fun.

The other type of game I played recently is the one in which your performance doesn’t actually matter at all any more. I played Total War: Arena, but many team vs. team multiplayer games fall into the same category: The contribution of any single player to the outcome of a 10 vs. 10 battle is only 5%. That gets quite annoying if you come up with a brilliant move and outmaneuver another player and crush him, only to find that the 9 other players on the enemy team obliterated your 9 team mates, and you lost the battle. Especially since in Total War: Arena you end up with more rewards having done nothing much in a won battle than for a great performance in a lost battle.

Finally my wife was complaining about a problem with challenge levels in her iPad puzzle games: The games are free to play, they get harder and harder with each level until you can’t beat it any more, and then the game offers you a way out: Use some sort of booster, which of course you need to pay real money for, to make the too hard levels easy enough to win again.

Somehow I get the feeling we lost something important when difficulty sliders went out of fashion. However the discussion of difficulty and challenge is complicated by the fact that this is one of the issues where gamers are the most dishonest about. Gamers tend to say they want more challenge, but when you observe what they are doing, e.g. attacking the enemy castle in a PvP MMORPG at 3 am in the morning, it is clearly that they are mostly occupied with avoiding or circumventing any actual challenge. Pay2Win and loot boxes wouldn’t be such an issue if gamers weren’t actually spending their money on improving their chances to win. If most gamers were so interested in challenge, then why is there so much cheating and botting going on? People want to win, by any means, and by talking up the challenge they want to make their win look more impressive. Which is kind of sad, if you think about it, that their positive self-image depends on being a winner in a video game. Many a fragile gamer-ego can’t admit that they’d quite like a relaxing game that doesn’t constantly challenge them to the max. I do.

Google expands booking features for travelers with price tracking and deals

Google

We are a week and a half away from Christmas, but it’s still not too late to fly away for the holidays — it’ll just cost a pretty penny to do so. If you’re okay with that, Google updated its suite of travel applications and services to feature price tracking and deals.

Starting with Google Flights, the search giant is leveraging its machine learning chops to take a look at historical price data to let you when is the best time to book a flight. Once you let Google Flights know where you want to go, you can choose to have it send you tips like “prices won’t drop further” or “prices are less than normal.” That way, you can be better informed as to whether you should book your flight now or wait a bit longer.

Editor’s Pick

Moving right along, Google’s hotel search results offer similar information. Because you’re dealing with hotels, Google lets you know if rates for a specific room are higher or if the surrounding area is busier due to a local event. That way, you can better plan when to make a hotel room reservation, though you can opt for email alerts whenever prices fluctuate.

Finally, Google’s Trips app now features a “Discounts” section. As the name implies, the section nets you deals for things like tickets, tours, activities, and attractions. Discounts vary based on where you’re located, though the app also leverages Google’s travel-booking features.

Overall, the new features sound very familiar to what services like Kayak and Hopper already offer. The main difference is, since many folks are already deeply immersed in Google’s ecosystem, these are just more reasons why they shouldn’t leave that ecosystem.

The flight and hotel price tracking are currently rolling out worldwide, whereas the Discounts tab inside of the Trips app will be available in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.