Another Step Closer to Owning a House

Today we got the word from the house valuation—a crucial step in getting the mortgage approved. The maximum mortgage you can get in the Netherlands is not just determined by your own finances but also by the value of the house you’re intending to buy. If you bid over the market value of a house, you have to pay for that difference out of pocket. Alternatively, if you’ve underbid and the valuation shows the house was worth more, you can still only get a mortgage up to the actual bid. Apparently, the regulations are both to protect buyers, sellers, and the market in general as well as to combat money laundering through real estate.

So, today, we got the house valuation report which confirmed that our bid matched the value of the house; i.e. we should be able to get a mortgage that covers the buy. Another hurdle passed! The only thing left is to get the actual financing, and the rest is paperwork!

Improv Rules in RPGs

In a recent post, I made an argument for playing flawed or regular characters in RPGs, and when thinking back on it, I realized that I missed part of the process in that post. Specifically, I realized that, without consciously doing so, I’ve been using a “yes, and” rule from improvisational theatre (which, incidentally, I’ve never actually done myself, because I dislike performing). I listen to quite a few podcasts, and so many of the ones I listen to feature comedians who either explicitly discuss the “yes, and” rule or embody it during the prodcast. I surmise that purely by osmosis, some of that must have trickled through to my RPG experiences.

The essence of the “yes, and” rule in improv comedy is to go with the flow. Don’t contradict what the other person in the scene is doing, but rather go along and build on it. Hence, “yes” to affirm what is going on, as well as adding on to what was said by going “and”. Of course, there’s nothing to say you can’t use that to put an interesting twist on what’s happening, but that’s a whole different story.

I certainly don’t do this as much as I should do, though. A while back, I played in a playtest of a module that a friend of mine released, which was a lot of fun. However, between sessions, a friend of a friend was added to the roster of players, jumping in midway in the game. I don’t know her that well yet and after the session, I realized I didn’t support her the way I would have liked myself to have done. She were trying to portray a caring character who would de-escalate situations. Our two characters were in a situation where her character was doing exactly that, and I had my character committed to escalating things. Rather than have her character take the spotlight, which I think I should have done there, I threw my own character in the mix which essentially blocked her intention. A “no, but” rather than a “yes, and”, I’d say.

At other times, I do run with what I’m given by the other players. I realized that I use their statements as a randomizer, as it were, for my character development at times. I prefer to go into an RPG game without a character in mind–I’ll see where the character ends up through play. At times, I realize I’ll do this in a “yes, and” sense. If one of the other players assumes my character is a scaredy-cat then, sure, they’re a scaredy-cat. If they’ll ask me whether the character is a woman, then sure, she’s now female. Obviously, this only works when characteristics haven’t been set yet. Essentially, though, I’m trying not to play the same thing repeatedly, and using other people’s thoughts and ideas about my character is a great way to not following standard thought patterns.

As I mentioned, it’s not something that I’ve been doing very consciously, so perhaps it would be good to experiment with that a little more to see if I can avoid a situation like the one I described a little above. So far, I’ve always found that encouraging others to be awesome results in more awesome all around.

Torchbearer Skogenby Session 3

I want to start writing small summaries of the RPG sessions I’m involved with, even if just to keep a record and remind myself of them. For this session, that’ll be a little odd, since it’s the last of three sessions but there’s no better time to start than the present. A friend of mine was running a Torchbearer adventure for us, namely the demo adventure The Dread Crypt of Skogenby (that’s the full adventure, so beware of spoilers). It was mostly for us to experiment with the system. The DM and I had played the game before, around five years ago, in an adventure run by Eric Vulgaris. However, with the new edition coming out, the current DM felt motivated to run something again.

The Session

As I mentioned, this was actually the third of a series of short sessions, and actually also the last one we had planned as a regular session. At the point of starting this adventure, our group of adventurers found ourselves in an ossuary, after having delved a little ways into a crypt while looking for treasure. We had just fought off four animated skeletons in the previous session, so our characters were all somewhat put off and ready to head back to town. However, before then, some shenaniganry had to happen. Not only did Merrick, my Halfling character, rummage through a set of skeletons in search for loot but Fingala, the Elf, had decided to sort through all the bones available to reach an accurate count of how many bodies were actually interred here. All this to the consternation of Dillah, the Dwarf, who wanted to get out as swiftly as she could.

On our way back to Skogenby, having only mildly lost our way, the party ran into Jim, the peasant, who was stuck on the side of the road. Fortunately, helping him out with his cart netted us a kind invite to a stay over at his house, despite the condescending demeanor of the elf. Torchbearer has an interesting separation of the Adventure Phase and the Town Phase, each with their own (though parallel) systems to deal with game progression. Where in the Adventure Phase, your worry is the ever-ticking clock called The Grind, that burdens down your character with Conditions, the Town Phase turns this around by putting a monetary cost on all your actions: the more you do in town, the higher your eventual debts will be come time to leave town. So, having an invitation to stay somewhere for free for a night is an amazing offer.

While deciding how to move on from this town, now that our heroes had stolen some treasure off those animated skeletons, we happened to show one of the gilded torcs we’d taken and, surprisingly, our host recoiled in horror at the sight. Clearly, there was more to investigate here. After looking around for a while, the party found an elder of the village, the Priest Jesaiah, who informed us all that the fear evinced by Jim was caused by a spate of odd deaths that had occured recently. All this started after a young girl disappeared in the crypt, having been dragged in by an arm emerging from it when she and a young kid named Marius went exploring there. Given that family members everybody who went to the crypt to look were the ones suffering those mysterious deaths, the priest suspected there to be some manner of plage in the crypt. Hence, the villages were quite fearful of anything to do with it.

Merrick immediately decided that the girl needed help, as nothing is ever too broken to repair, and offered help. Fingala and Dillah, however, were more interested in hearing whether there was any money to be had in doing that, considering they already had treasure burning a hole in their pockets. Fortunately for the girl, the priest did offer some compensation, so the elf and the dwarf also decided that some services could be offered. With the priest offering the party an armring from the crypt that was recovered in some of the first visits, the party got ready to head back into the crypt.


Though all our sessions had been set up to be brief, because it’s hard to make our schedules match and we also wanted a low-barrier experience, this one felt a little shorter than usual to me. In part, though, It think it might also be that I was only now getting back into the swing of things again. I didn’t feel too good in the second session, and in the first session I was still finding my roleplaying groove again, so this was the first session I felt more comfortable playing again. Another reason would be that with the Town Phase, we were engaging with a new mechanic again, so we had to reference the rules a bit. All the Burning Wheel style games do ask for some system mastery, so when you start out it does take a bit of experience to get comfortable with the rules. As a result, exploring the Town Phase had a lot of breaks in it.

Overall, though, I liked it. My character, Merrick, is starting to develop some, well, character. As always, it takes me a few sessions to get a grip on what I want to do with a character, both to see what interests me in the game but also to see how the character meshes with the characters of the other players. I do feel like we’ll need a few more sessions before we really engage with the game fully as a party, though. We’ve explored the rules a little bit, we’ve explored the crypt in-game a little but, but it all feels like build-up to the actual game so far. Particularly given that we only now hear the story of the missing girl in-game, it seems like we’ve had the first hook to the story but only now to we get the hero’s call to move forward.

I’m not sure whether we’ll be continuining the game, though. As I mentioned, this is the last of the original scheduling that we had done, so there’s no particular moments scheduled after this. The other two players, as far as I am aware, were new to Torchbearer, so for them it was also a question to see if they liked the system. While, as I mentioned, I do believe we need more sessions to have a fair look at how it works, this is also a quite natural moment to step out if they just don’t like the system at all. So, we’ll see what comes of this.

A New Perspective on Typing

Now that I have more time on my hands thanks to the summer holiday, I’ve been looking into a thing that I’ve been interested in for a while: alternative keyboard layouts. A few years back, I learned touch typing, and it’s massively improved my ability to type. Already, I was a fairly quick typist with a manner of ‘hunt-and-peck’ typing, using three fingers per hand to reach around 110 words per minute. However, it was also somewhat error-prone, and caused undue strain for only a small set of fingers. So, a while back I learned how to properly use touch typing, which slowed my typing speed a bit but increased my accuracy while decreasing strain.

One thing that I learned while learning touch typing is the fact that the qwerty-layout of most English-language keyboards was designed to slow down typists to avoid typewriters jamming up because of people typing too swiftly. Computers, clearly, don’t have this concern anymore, though most English-language keyboards do still use the qwerty-layout. So, some people have worked on changing the layout to increase typing speed once more, resulting in layouts such as Dvorak and Colemak, which focus on putting more common letters right on the home-row (the central row where your fingers rest with touch-typing).

The past week or so, I’ve been learning about Colemak via and practicing with this new layout over on I was quite happy to discover that switching keyboard layouts is tremendously easy in Linux, requiring just a simple command:

setxkbmap -model pc104 -layout us -variant colemak

As you can imagine, switching back just involves the same command but without the listed variant. The only thing remaining is that the actual letters on the keys would then be incorrect. However, since touch typing involves learning all the keys through muscle-memory, there’s no point in looking at the keys in any case. In the long run, though, since I do have a Keychron K2 mechanical keyboard, I could just switch the keycaps over to a Coleman layout if I would be interested.

Still, it’ll take quite some daily practice before I’m comfortable enough to switch over like that. For the time being, I may end up using the following command to easily switch between three separate layouts:

setxkbmap -model pc104 -layout us,us,us -variant ,intl,colemak -option grp:alt_shift_toggle

Using this snippet in my i3wm configuration file, I can use alt+shift to on-the-fly change between standard qwerty-layout, an international “dead keys” layout that allows me to use punctuation to insert diacretics for typing in Dutch, and the Colemak keyboard layout.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this new layout will be treating me. In the meantime, I’ll keep on enjoying how easy things are to set up in Linux (never thought I’d be saying that, but here I am!).

Unexpected Learning

Lately, I’ve been playing a bit of Cities Skylines, a city-building simulation game where you are a mayor tasked with building up a city from scratch (so, really, you’re a city planner). It’s quite a complex game, even without all the DLC, so I went to YouTube to help find some more information on how to play properly. I was quite happy to find that a YouTuber named City Planner Plays has a set of tutorials up, and as you may expect: he’s a city planner giving his perspective on how to do this. The thing that’s really interesting about this is that it doesn’t just teach me how to play the game, but he also discusses some actual city planning every now and then, such as the key difference between arterial, collector, and local road networks.

I can highly recommend his tutorial to learn more about Cities: Skylines:

An Argument For Useless Characters in RPGs

Yesterday, I was playing in a game of Torchbearer being run by a friend of mine. I enjoy Torchbearer as an interesting critique of Dungeons & Dragons while at the same time being an homage to the older Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from the ’70s and ’80s. Roughly speaking, D&D tends to be an action-oriented tabletop tactical fighting game–most of the rules in D&D tend to be combat-orientated, and most rules for non-combat actions are often a little hand-wavy. Torchearer, on the other hand, is based off the game Burning Wheel, which places a much, much heavier weight on storytelling and narrative structure than it does combat. Torchbearer is a bit of a mix of the two: it shares the focus on resource-management that the old AD&D games had with a more narrative focus that BW espouses. It hits a sweet spot for me that is quite enjoyable.

Before I continue, I should acknowledge that the creator of BW and a co-creator of Torchearer, Luke Crane, is a problematic figure in the tabletop RPG scene. It’s a long and winding story involving the problematic Adam Koebel and how he transgressed against one of his players followed by Luke Crane’s involvement in a Kickstarter campaign where he deceptively included Koebel without the knowledge or consent of the other creators nor any transparency towards the backers of the project. I have little desire to financially encourage this person any further by buying his work, though at this point already own several copies of BW and had also already bought both editions of Torchbearer. So, I do have to admit to loving both systems but would like to make sure that anybody who would discover either via this post be aware of these issues.

With that said, back to the post at hand. Every time I play an RPG with people, I tend to get the same accusation from fellow players, which is a variation of “Ah, it’s one of your characters. One of those.” What is commonly meant there is that the characters I play tend to be flawed or damaged in crucial ways–nowadays, they’re my favorite type of character to portray in RPGs. To argue why, though, we’d have to go back a little ways to my first experiences with RPGs.

When I started with RPGs, it was, as for most others, with D&D. Baldur’s Gate had just been released (a computer game based on AD&D), and my father had bought a copy for me during a business trip in America. For the almost 25 years since then, I’ve replayed that game so frequently, even though the original 5-pack of CDs had since been replaced by a DVD, and later on just by a digital copy. Around the same time, me and some friends of mine discovered D&D 3rd edition, and met up to play that pretty much all the time. It was a great way to be social together.

As so many others at that time, I would min/max my characters–I’d design them to have the best numerical advantage in combat (the “max” part) by spending almost no in-game money or attention to the non-combat parts of the game (the “min”). The natural consequence is that there’s an excessive focus on combat in the game sessions and that actual roleplaying gets mostly ignored. A side-effect is that all characters start looking the same, in part due to the fact that there’s very little character to them, and in part because they all do the same thing: hit very hard. As you can imagine, that gets boring after a while. So, I switched over to building weird characters. I’d apply the same min-maxing zeal to bizarre characters, such as home-brewed four-armed demons that wield different whips in each hand, or a shapeshifting goo creature that has no real shape of its own but changes to fit whatever is necessary at the time. That was fun for a while, but it had the same essential problem of being a really strange fit for the story being told.

It was after all this experimenting, I stumbled across a much more interesting way to play RPGs: just make actual characters. Not characters for a game, or something equipped to solve the problem at hand, but make just an average person. An argument I often use is that a character in a horror movie doesn’t know they’re in a horror movie. That’s exactly why they go into that dark basement because they heard a funny noise down there; after all, if I hear a funny noise in the kitchen in the middle of the night, I also go stumbling out in the dark to see what my cats knocked over this time. Yet in tabletop RPGs, so many people have their character act like a SWAT-officer about to storm into a hostage situation–makeshift weapons are sought out, careful armor prepped, and tactical plans are written out.

It took me a while to figure out exactly why that bugged me, but I settled on the idea that when a person plays like that, they’re playing against the game. The game is an adversary that they’re trying to beat by circumventing and solving all the problems. That goes counter against against having an interesting story, and reminds me of that Community clip where the character of Abed tries to tell a scary story. Trying to solve the central problem efficiently doesn’t make for interesting stories. If Frodo was just put on a giant eagle to airdrop the ring into Mount Doom, Lord of the Rings would be the most boring two-page story around (and yes, it’s been discussed frequently before. See this page for one example). Rather, Lord of the Rings is made interesting, because a quartet of unusual characters, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, who are initially wholly unsuited for adventure get thrust into just that regardless. The actual adventurers involved, like Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are quite dull by comparison. I would argue that’s because LotR is inherently quite Marxist, and the latter three characters represent monarchies and old power structures, whereas the four hobbits represent a rather unusual political stance called anarcho-monarchism, but that’s a whole different blog post altogether.

In short, I shifted from making overpowered cardboard characters, to bizarre characters, finally settling on making just regular people. In a game where the party played low-level goblins who were part of a giant army from the Underdark swarming the surface world, I decided to play a barbarian who really just wanted to belong. So, at second level, he multi-classed a level of cleric, and he became something of a shaman-type figure, cooking food and sharing it around his immediate surrounding. He wasn’t a particularly good barbarian, nor was he a good cleric, but he sure was interesting. Playing him was so much fun that ever since then, I’ve made characters using that same methodology, like a reporter in a cyberpunk adventure that’s is desperate to look tough and move up in the world, an out-of-touch magistrate in a medieval setting that gets confronted with life for the average person, or a kobold that’s not evil at all but just really playful but has a hard time of communicating that to others.

RPGs have been much more fun to me since the characters I create are all just average people in odd situations. The crucial thing to then add to that is to focus not on the characters but on the story. It’s good when my character gets hurt really badly, because that gives them an opportunity to grow and change. The term for a character in a story that is the same going in as they’re coming out is flat. So, I make sure to have my characters make some mistakes every now and then. Instead of fighting off the entire band of muggers, I like to let one run away; now we have a chance at a returning nemesis! Speaking of that, why even fight that band of enemies right away? Is that really rational? I don’t know about you, but if I had four skeletons raising from the dead in front of me, I wouldn’t be fighting them, but I’d be running away–let somebody else deal with that noise. Plus, that creates a great opportunity to rush blindly into even bigger problems. After all, even Star Wars began when a bored farmboy chose to bring a malfunctioning droid to this old dude that he knew just to see if something interesting would come of it.

So, my current characters always share some larger characteristics. They’re not necessarily suited to adventures; I’ll figure out later how to use the skills they do have to help out in what’s happening. They have some essential flaw (or multiple); without a way to cause trouble, how are they ever going somewhere interesting? I want my characters to make realistic decisions; nobody is rational all the time, and sometimes people act in ways because they’re angry, hurt, afraid, or unsure. Along with that, I as a player want to make interesting decisions; I’m not necessarily motivated to keep my character alive, nor am I motivated to kill them–I’m motivated to make things happen. I want to be part of an interesting story.

To me, this is the best way to play RPGs and get a story happening. Having also led my share of RPG sessions, I can also say that, in my opinion, it helps the storyteller along. So yes, my character will stick their head into this dark room to see what’s going on. My character will reach out to touch that shiny treasure that we all know surely must be cursed. I’ll make sure that my character is thirsty enough to not care what’s in this gross water in the dungeon. It’ll help give them some scars, and scars have cool stories behind them.

FreeCAD Tutorial

Over the past week or so, I’ve been following a YouTube tutorial for FreeCAD by a YouTuber calling himself Adventures in Creation. It’s been an amazing set of videos so far that starts all the way from how to download the program to the latest video, dealing with making a small engine out of individual components. I’ve gotten all the way from not knowing how the program works to being able to set up a basic part, ready for 3D printing. If, you know, I had a 3D printer (someday, printer . . . someday).

In any case, I wanted to link to that tutorial here, for anybody who wants to have a great introduction to FreeCAD:

Mortgage Broker

Yesterday, we passed another milestone in the process of buying a house: we formally hired a mortgage broker to deal with the process from hereon out. We had signed the bill of sale last Friday, and earlier that week we had an engineer inspection done on the house, just to be sure. So, with all that done, it was time to formally hire our mortgage advisor and get into the final stages of buying this house.

The engineering inspection, fortunately, showed that the house was in pretty good state. Of course it had some wear and tear, as all older houses will, but overall it was in good stead. Basically, there were only three real points of concerned: firstly, the fuse box was one of those older ’50s models that has the individual fuses; secondly, a board on one of the windows in the back (the side that gets most of the weather) was rotten; and, lastly, there was some damage on the chimney stack that needed repairing before it could cause damage. All in all, pretty decent. There were some other minor things, such as some mortar that needed replacing, and some potential asbestos in the tiling inderneath the hallway floor, but that’s nothing too surprising or worrying.

Signing the bill of sale was nerve-wracking but banal at the same time. It was a nervous moment, because at that time you’re really solidly committing to seeing the process through. Technically, under Dutch law, we still have until the end of tomorrow to make use of a buyer’s remorse clause – an opportunity to cancel everything without any consequences. However, of course we want this house, and everything looks fine, so why would be? As nervous as the moment of signing was, it was also incredibly bureaucratic: we both had to initial every single page of the contract and sign at the end, doing everything in duplicate.

Both of those things allowed us to take the next step, and yesterday we spoke with our mortgage broker to start the financial part of the process. We really like the one we have – of all the people we called and mailed to ask about this, he was the only one that invited us over to the office, and spent as much time as we needed to explain everything in an orientation meeting (i.e. before we even committed to anything or paid him!). His indication is that, as long as the valuation of the house comes out to what they put it on the market for, everything looks good. It may be a little expensive, but what’s great about this office is that they will now take care of everything. Any mail, question, or thing that happens from hereon out, we forward to them to deal with.

Given how procedural, administrative, and legalized the process of buying a house is, I’m very happy we went with a mortgage broker. It feels like every little bit takes quite specialized knowledge so as not to be tripped up by anything problematic. It’s such a relief to know that now it’s pretty much out of our hands. We’ll sign some documents that are all prepared by other people, and at the end we’ll have a house.

There’s one last hurdle to overcome, though. As I mentioned, the mortgage broker is now sending somebody over to value the house. Our maximum mortgage is determined by that valuation – if it ends up as less than the asking price of the house, everything falls flat. Fortunately, we have a provision in the bill of sale that means if we cannot get a mortgage for the price, everything is off without consequences. So, sometime next week, by virtue of that valuation, we’ll essentially hear whether we’re getting the house or not. Fingers crossed!

The Process Of Buying A House Continues

We’ve now received the bill of sale (the koopovereenkomst in Dutch), that further solidifies the process. Before this process, I was vaguely aware of how buying a house worked but going through it now really drives home how ritualistic it all is. We first made the offer, which had to be accepted. Afterwards, we are communicated a formal message that an agreement has been reached. Next, the bill of sale is forwarded, which forms the basis of talks with a mortgage broker. The following steps are to acquire a mortgage, set up a meeting with a notary, and finally a final tour of the house with the broker before signing with the notary.

It’s a highly risk-avoidant procedure, where every step has multiple escape hatches to stop the process in case any little thing is wrong. However, every step we complete of this arcane incantation brings us closer to finalizing the ritual of consecrating the grounds. The next step will be the most precarious: securing the mortgage. From our talk with the mortgage broker, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Still, though, there’s a bit of doubt for me; what if – just what if? – some time thing that I wasn’t aware of becomes a bigger problem? I’m sture it’ll all be okay, but it’ll be nicer once we have the key in our hands, you know?

Nevertheless, we’ve started packing. Almost exactly a year after we packed to move to this apartment, we’re now packing up to move to our very own house. We’d never actually even fully settled into this apartment. We’d never gotten around to painting it yet and because of the COVID-19 restrictions, we hadn’t been able to buy a new couch yet, to name but two examples. Last year, we were in quite the rush to pack, as we were moving while I was still working, giving us very little time to pack together. This year, however, I have far more free time, as we should be moving right in the middle of my summer holiday. so, we’ve also decided to take things much easier and pack little by little.

It’ll be a tough move, and money will be extremely tight for a month or so, but it’s an exciting journey so far.