The past few days I’ve been enjoying playing around with my two new pieces of mapmaking software. It’s been really fun to work directly on something that I can also use in my RPG sessions. I’ve tended to have general ideas of what I’d want in maps but I currently lack the drawing skills to realize those ideas. These pieces of software have allowed me to sidestep that part with nice results.
I’ve been working bit-by-bit on the map for my Burning Wheel campaign, slowly adding a thing here or there. The first version can be found in this post. However, since then, I’ve updated it, both based on what happened in Session 1 as well as just my growing understanding of the software.
It’s rather empty by design, as I want the players to have the freedom to create the world through play. I’m quite pleased with the coloring so far, and the mixing of foothills and mountains.
In Dungeondraft, I haven’t been creating things that I can use directly, as I’ve been making small vignettes to practice with the software. It would be interesting to see whether I can make use of them somewhere in the future, though. The second map I’ve made in this software gave me a chance to try a little environmental storytelling:
I’m fairly happy with the objects in this map; I feel like there are enough to make it varied, but not so many that it looks cluttered. Furthermore, I tried to make the scene as a whole suggestive of far more through the use of the objects themselves. What I think could use improvements is the muddy little courtyard – it’s quite plain so far, and next time I would like to improve it by adding more clutter in that part. Perhaps some differently colored sections, a splash of water on the ground suggesting recent rain, or some hoofprints would have been good.
Yesterday, I ran the first session of my Burning Wheel game, “Burning France” (traditionally, all Burning Wheel campaigns are named “Burning [noun]”). I was quite happy to get started after some unfortunate but unavoidable delays, though I have to admit I was also fairly nervous for the game. I haven’t GMed anything in years, and I hold my players in high regard for their RPG knowledge and experience. Fortunately, I think the session went reasonably well and helped set a tone and direction for the next session in two weeks.
Our setting is Occitania, a medieval France-like country, and the date is May 6th 1312—one day after the success of the glorious revolution of the people against the nobles. Each of our players (initial description in this post) had played a crucial role in one of the activist groups that have made this possible. Now, however, the time has come to settle into the new life, and we discover that while there’s been much talk of how to revolution should go, there’s not been as much talk of what the world looks like after and what the new power structures would be.
The characters, Bernard, Benoit, and Geoffrey, started off being called to oversee an unruly mob in a square of Sompteux, the capital city of Occitania. The activist group is concerned that if the revolution turns too bloody, they will lose the support of the people, leaving them weak to a counter-revolution or returning power to the ancien régime. The players approach to see a well-coiffed, powdered, and made-up dwarf, the compte d’chantilly, carried on the back of a mob to a makeshift gallows set up nearby. Scanning the mob, they see they’re heavily ambivalent about the affair: there are a minority of bloodthirsty insurrectionists at the head, surrounded by a significant group of people going along with the flow, along with a reasonable amount of people on the margins disgusted by the entire affair. The players are in prime position to swing this mob one way or another.
Our characters decide to interpose themselves in the affair, helped by Bertrand The Bastard’s reputation as the insurrection’s Golden Boy and Benoit’s imposing stature. Seeing the moment as a tool, Bertrand addresses the crowd to convince them of the justness of the revolution and to not murder the man in cold blood like animals but to execute him as a result of careful and cold calculation—the undertone clearly aimed at those hesitant in the back: work with us or meet a grisly fate. He manages to bring parts of the crowd to his side, and a gruesome scene folds out.
A few days after, the trio meets Gerard, the first-among-equals of the insurrectionist group. Gerard tells them of Avignon-sur-Chantre, a nearby farming village that supplies much of the food to Sompteux, that is causing some trouble. There too, the proletariat has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but now they have chosen to keep all their produce rather than ship some off to Sompteux. While the group agrees to this plan, they also eye Gerard with suspicion as he moves off from table-to-table, apparently giving out orders with the same type of power-moves he pulled on the group. A first character has gotten a target painted on their back.
The trio travel to Avignon-sur-Chantre, where they immediately march up to the manor house to find a local nobody, Eustice, living their, having proclaimed himself the new lord of the manner. After a brief and forceful discussion (“You’re a lord, huh? Do you know what we do to lords?”), they take over the place and decide that the solution to the problem of these uppity villagers is to make them understand what the new world is like. Geoffrey, the former conman and barkeep, sends out his husband and wife to carouse among the villagers, spreading the gospel of how good city life is and how it’s a precious ideal to be protected. Meanwhile, Benoit and Bernard extract a list of big players and local gossip from Eutstice. The next day, the trio visits the most troublesome villagers, and runs their protection racket: there’ll be rewards for those who ship food to Sompteux again and if they’re not interested, well, they know who’s had an affair with whom, and it’d just be a shame if that got out somehow, right?
At the end of the day, the trio settles in to the manor house (after all, it belongs to the people, and they’re people, right?) and broadly consider that it might be nice to settle down in this village for a while. While exploring whom they could thrust into a position of power here, they learn from Eustice that the villagers just banished all the bourgeoisie into the outlying forests, leaving mostly the workers in the village. A group of intelligent nobles, socially savvy, out near a place where mercenaries are known to rob trade-lines—what’s the worst that can happen?
I was quite nervous, as this was the first tabletop RPG I have GMed in what is probably years. Fortunately, the friends I’m running it for are quite understanding and kindly helped me along during the session as well. As is the general recommendation in Burning Wheel, I wanted to start with a conflict right off the bat. I was quite rusty in starting off sessions (I’ve only recently started playing again, and as a player you can at least hang back and be passive), but fortunately with some player questions I got my feet back under me. One of the players also is quite familiar with Burning Wheel, so he also fell quite naturally into the role that the game asks of players, which helped me along.
The player beliefs are starting to get a little more focused, now that we’re also narrowing down on an actual Situation. I’m also happy how quickly and naturally through play we’re creating a bunch of loose ends already that are now giving me much more to work with for the next session. It’s certainly a lesson for me that I should have been far more explicit about an actionable Situation in Session 0, so that we could hit the ground running. I’m sure as we move on we’ll start working on specifying and fine-tuning our beliefs as well.
I was happy that we managed to do a few different skill checks during the session. We started off with a simple Oratory, and worked on ForKs and helping dice, and seeing how that works in fiction. I made sure to get Intent and Task clear by asking onwards for each test, which really helped in making sure that failure was never a block but always a case of failing forward. Near the end of the session, in the large protection racket being run in the farming village, we tested out using an extended test, with two separate rolls and a lot of helping dice. I am very pleased with how Foundry VTT automates most of the work. That helped me focus on the narrative, and reduce the rules-referencing at the table.
We did run into some small rules questions, which I adjudicated on the spot with the intention of reading up more later. One was the question of whether a character with grift-wise could use that skill to actively grift. One player argued that while in Torchbearer you indeed cannot use wises actively, in Burning Wheel you can. I figured to just run with it at the time, though in looking it up afterwards I couldn’t find a clear statement either way in the book. The description of Wises in BWG p. 309 states that wises are “a skill through which a character can call upon the knowldge of various details of the game world”, which to me suggests it’s purely passive. This post on the blog Take On Rules references Mouse Guard RPG (a Burning Wheel-style game), which more strictly defines wises as a means to either supplement another skill or to call up knowledge. So, next time, I think I’ll have to disallow the active use of Wises and rather suggest that a grift is run through Haggling, Persuasion, or Falsehood.
The other question I was left with was what to do with player-created items for future skill tests. Specifically, Bertrand started writing down the first draft of his pamphlet manifesto. His intention is to mass produce these and hand them out. I would imagine that would add helping dice to future Persuasion or Oratory roles but I’ll have to research a bit to find out what would be reasonable. My current feeling is that it should probably be a 1D advantage to roles.
While I’ve run better sessions for sure, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I could get back into GM mode. I want to work a little more on my mood-setting descriptions, and particularly I want to remember to call on multiple senses to evoke the imagery. I still want to make sure to hold back and let players keep the reigns in their hands, but I want to be able to help their imaginations and initiative by providing them with enough information for them to imagine where they want the story to go. One player mentioned how he did enjoy the open nature of world exploration, as I figured he would, so hopefully I can encourage all of them to take ownership of more of this creation.
Lastly, it was also just good to hang out with friends again and play something like this together. Two of my players had run the first RPGs I’ve played in since a few years back, and I’m happy I got to run a first session for something for them (so they don’t have to be the Forever GM, either!). Oh, and it’s amazing that I now feel so inspired to create/write a load of things for the game again! Two weeks from now is the next session, and I’m already looking forward to it!
Yesterday, I went ahead and bought both Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft as well. I’ve mostly played around with Wonderdraft right now, because it will be more immediately useful to my Burning Wheel campaign. I can tell you, it is tremendous fun to be playing around with it! My first experiences are really positive, as just in the first ten minutes of figuring out what options and settings are, I already managed to make a map that looks fairly decent. And that’s just with ten minutes of messing around!
While I’m not running any battlemat-focused games right now, I was thinking of using Dungeondraft to make some set pieces to spark people’s imagination. After all, a general inn or a house image, or depiction of a wilderness scene can help spark as many roleplaying ideas as a solid description could. On top of that, the visual storytelling as well can serve to be evocative for players as well.
Installing the two made me fix some things I’d been sleeping on for a while too regarding my laptop; for a while now, my Bumblebee service was bugging out (pun intended), which means that my discrete videocard (an NVIDIA card) wasn’t being used and my laptop ran purely on the Intel integrated videocard. That meant that both Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft would not run well at all, so that gave me an impetus to finally fix that as well. Now, I have some flexibility on where I can start mapping!
The other day I went and purchased Foundry VTT, the virtual tabletop software I wrote about in my last post. I can tell you that already it’s as cool as I figured it would be. For one, its most frequently promoted advantage over Roll20.net is no exaggeration: I’m finding its interface much more accessible to use. That may just be an availability bias—after all, I haven’t GMed in Roll20.net much and I’m approaching Foundry VTT with the assumption that I need to learn how to use it—yet the entire interface is also just more modern, which makes it more comparable to other contemporary tools.
I’m finding quite a few features which are, understandably, focused on minis and battlemats, such as grids, tokens, stat trackers, and so on. But already for Burning Wheel the automation features in the Foundry VTT module are well worth it to me. The automatic tracking of rolls for advancement, the automatic filling of weaponry in character sheets after the item has been added, and features like that are wonderful. The big downside I’ve found is that the person who made the module has made the explicit choice not to include any of the skills, traits, and so on. They argue this is problematic because it’s an unofficial module, as well as being free. Well, fair enough—they made the effort to make the module, and I’m already grateful enough for that. So, I’ve spent quite some time this weekend entering in all the common skills, and I’m on to adding the other elements of Burning Wheel to the compendium (as those Foundry VTT databases are called).
The more I’ve been playing around with the features of Foundry VTT, the more I’m thinking about how to use even the more battlemat-focused ones for Burning Wheel experiences to help set the mood. I’m looking forward to experimenting with it!
Over the past weeks, with the repeated delays in starting up my Burning Wheel campaign due to personal situations of various people, I’ve been looking around more and more to prepping tools for tabletop RPG sessions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much has been developed in recent years, and the sheer quality of what’s been put out there. There are three products in particular that I’m looking forward to getting, once we have some spare disposable cash earmarked for hobby expenses.
The first is Wonderdraft, which is a mapmaking software package that is less complex and expensive than something like Campaign Cartographer 3+ but more full-featured than something like Inkarnate. I enjoy an evocative worldmap that helps focus players’ imaginations at the table. Or, alternatively, validates it retroactively by starting with an empty map that gets filled in as the players’ progress in a game. While I’ve been enjoying slowly learning to draw, for one my skills are nowhere near the point where I can confidently create handmade maps nor would it be possible at a pace that is practical even if I did have the ability to do so. This software looks like a great solution to more quickly create regional maps. I’ve seen some interesting examples of people using it to make maps of entire regions, such as this video:
And I’ve also seen somebody use the software to create a detailed village:
Relatively recently, the creator of Wonderdraft, Megasploot, has released a companion piece of software to Wonderdraft called Dungeondraft. Apparently, the software itself is reminiscent of Wonderdraft in operation but is focused on creation battlemaps or more localized, zoomed-in maps. For me, there were always two major blocks to running a Pathfinder style game, which were balancing encounters and providing the detailed maps needed for miniature battling. This software seems to make basic map creation almost trivial, and with practice could even allow for the creation of beautifully intricate maps. The creator’s trailer provides a lovely overview of some maps:
Lastly, as far as a Virtual Tabletop System goes, I discovered Foundry VTT recently. Roll20 has long-since been the staple of my online tabletop RPG experience, but it’s always felt very dated and clunky in its controls. Foundry is a much-needed update to this type of experience. However, what I appreciate more than anything is that it’s a self-hosted, one-time payment solution to tabletop hosting. On top of that, it’s modular, so it’s easily expandable; apparently, people have created many modules for the system, so there’s a lovely open market of expansions out there. To be honest, I’m just astounded by how many options there are:
I’m quite excited to get some of these pieces of software, but I’ll have to do this in steps for sure. Foundry VTT runs at $50; Wonderdraft at $30; and Dungeondraft at $20. So, all in all, it’s a $100 pricetag (or €87 for us). While that seems like a pretty reasonable price for everything included in each piece of software, I’m not willing to spend €87 on a hobby right now. So, I’ll have to see if we can pick up some extra money through our company that justifies such a luxury expenditure, so that I can start playing around with it. I figure it may make the most sense to purchase Foundry first, followed by Wonderdraft, and finally Dungeondraft. The latter two are great additions to a VTT experience, but you’d want to have a good VTT experience to begin with. While I could import Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft images into Roll20, of course, it does seem like putting the cart in front of the horse.
For a few weeks now, I’ve been absolutely absorbed in Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous on PC. I’d backed the Kickstarter, after having loved playing through their first game, Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Initially, I was a little frustrated, as originally there was a promise in the Kickstarter for a Linux version of the game, as there had been of the first, yet later on in the process they had to renege on that promise. By that time, I had already backed, so I was already committed. Even though, then, initially, I felt frustrated and reluctant to play it, I did decide that my money had already been spent even though in hindsight I wouldn’t have wanted to, so I may as well enjoy my purchased product. While I’m still displeased by the lack of a Linux version, I do have to say that the game was quite enjoyable.
As far as cRPGs go, they are usually of the kick-in-the-door adventure style (apparently, Disco Elysium is a rare exception, and I look forward to playing that one day), and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is no exception to that. However, to a greater degree than I’ve seen before, there are quite a few possible choices in the game that did make me feel as though I could play a character beyond a murderhobo. Many of the choices presented in the game fall under the main question of “what kind of person do you want to be?”. There is an interesting parallel between the public role the main character is thrust into as well as the personal choices about their own life that must be made. And while the ending credits may not have gone into as much depth as some other cRPGs have done in the past (even Kingmaker was more detailed), I did get the feeling that there were a variety of ways to solve most quests I was presented with. Even some things that I had viewed purely as little sidequests at times presented me with choices that would be impacting, even if just from an RP standpoint.
On a personal level as well, though, sometimes a game just comes by at just the right time. Tracy and I have been heavily hit by some illness the past weeks—multiple COVID-19 home tests were negative, and the symptoms didn’t really match COVID either, so we weren’t worried about that—to the point where in the first week we were both absolutely drained. The weeks after we’ve still been really low-energy and achy, and haven’t felt up to much. Wrath of the Righteous came by at just the right moment to be a real comfort game that allowed me to engage with something and yet still be wrapped in blankets with a cup of tea and not much else on my mind. Thankfully, both me and Tracy were pretty much on the same page at the time, and we both kind of huddled in our parallel comfort zones, and didn’t mind the other delving deep into our personal projects.
It’s been nice to have a game come by that can really be this engaging, as that doesn’t happen to often for me.