Burning Wheel: Foundry VTT Compendiums

I have been enjoying playing Burning Wheel on Foundry Virtual Tabletop tremendously. Not only because the game is going well and I enjoy hanging out with my friends but also because of the really useful features of Foundry VTT. A major component of running Burning Wheel on there has been StasTserk’s system plugin for Foundry, that automates quite a bit about running the game. However, a major feature that’s missing by design from his plugin is Foundry Compendiums that contain the Skills, Traits, Lifepaths, and so on needed to run Burning Wheel. He’s made the explicit choice not to include these, as his project is free and has unofficial status.

Some anonymous person at one point coded a whole set of these Compendiums into Foundry, and a zip file of this has been shared on the Burning Wheel Discord that had all the Common Skills and Common Traits and two of the Settings but lacked a set of other things. To me, getting the Skills and Traits in there would have been the bulk of the work and that was a main thing preventing me from doing it myself. However, with that wonderful start (thank you, unknown person!), I decided to take up the work from here and add the other Settings and missing features bit-by-bit. Given that it was also a little tricky to install initially, thanks to the help of a kind fellow who goes by Agolp on Github, we now have a module that can be installed via its Manifest URL!

You can find the files and installation instructions on the GitHub page, as well as a way to file issues in case you discover something that needs adding or changing. The project is only halfway through so far, but I’d say it’s in a workable state for average play. The things that are still missing now are more niche things, like Monstrous Lifepaths, Traits, and Skills, and so on. I hope this helps you get started with Burning Wheel on FoundryVTT!

The Foundry BW Compendium is available on FoundryVTT and can be updated from there as well! How cool is that?
The current list of compendiums available in FoundryVTT

Tablet for RPG Reading First Experiences

Yesterday, I got the tablet we ordered as my Christmas present. Tracy chose an awesome Kindle Oasis 2021 model, and I decided to get a Lenovo Tab M10 FHD Plus (2nd gen). Ironically, we were both looking for the same thing but for exactly different purposes: she wanted a tablet allowing her to read full books with a more calm light (and the Kindle Oasis has been great for that—she’s been glued to it for days!), whereas I wanted a tablet that I could use to read pdfs, news sites, and so on.

I spent some time reading reviews online to find out what rough pricerange and model types would work out, as tablets nowadays come anywhere from low-end budget versions costing around €50 to high-end monstrosities of over €1000. Tracy and I talked it out, and €200 seemed like a good ceiling for this kind of purchase—anything too budget would just lead to regret and wasted money, but anything more than €200 seemed excessive for what I needed. One of the issues I’d run into researching tablet choices is that much of the discussion online is centered around the American market, where the prices are radically different than in the Dutch or EU market. So, the advice there didn’t fully fit. For example, a frequently advised budget tablet in America is the Amazon Fire HD 10, which just isn’t available in the Netherlands. Another frequent suggestion is the Lenovo Tab P11, which starts at $189 in America (that’s around €168) but in the Netherlands costs around €260. I’m not sure what the exact cause of the price difference is but if I were to take a guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if partly it’s import taxes, but largely it’ll be the result of the global supply chain issues and the global microchip shortage.

So, I was left to having to interpret the discussions on tablet choice from a Dutch perspective. That’s how I ended up settling on the Lenovo M10 Plus (the FHD in the name seems to be optional). From my reading, there seemed to be two crucial considerations as far as pdf-reading on tablets is concerned: firstly, that the tablet has an HD screen, to ensure that the fonts are suitably legible; secondly, an appropriate screen ratio. For an EU audience, The A4 paper ratio is 1:1.414, though for US-based publications, letter size will be more common (1:1.294) followed by digest size (around 1:1.5, but it varies). Since publications come in such varied ratios, it’s always going to be an odd fit. It’s telling, though, that both the Pixelbook and the Surface Book come with a 1:1.5 screen ratio. I found an article that recommended 4:3 or 16:10 as decent alternatives to 1:1.5. As luck would have it, the Lenovo M10 happens to be one of the few lower-price tablets that has a 16:10 screen ratio (as 16:9, i.e. 1:1.778, is the most common ratio for budget screens). Restating 16:10 as 1:1.6 shows how close it is to that sweet spot 1:1.5. That ratio will reasonably fit A4 as well as digest-size US publications.

I’ve spent yesterday testing out the tablet with various RPG books, such as R. Talsorian Games’ The Witcher RPG and BWHQ’s Torchbearer, both of which were wonderfully legible on the Lenovo M10. I picked those two, because they seemed to represent two extremes: The Witcher RPG‘s full layout tends to have two to three columns per page with a quite busy layout (it does come with what they call a “phone” layout, incidentally, which is far simpler); Torchbearer, on the other hand, is a digest-sized publication with little extra fanfare. These two pdfs allowed me to test two extremes of pdf publications. I am quite happy that I found both easy to read on the Lenovo M10. For each, the font was indeed crisp and easy to distinguish. The screen ratio also seemed to fit the pages quite well, and I never felt like the page was crammed into the screen or that I had to zoom or pinch around to get a good overview. Interstingly enough, I found the Kindle app to give the best reading experience so far, though I’m still at the start of exploring the app spaces available for pdf reading.

All in all, I’m quite happy with this tablet, and I look forward to many evenings reading RPG books with a happy cat purring on my lap.

Tablet for Christmas

I bit the bullet and ended up ordering a tablet for Christmas, so that I can finally get around to more easily read all those tabletop RPGs that I have. It seemed like such a weird waste to read them at the PC, and reading on my mobile phone just was too small and fiddly to deal with. My laptop may have been a good compromise, but whenever I sit down downstairs, my lap gets colonized by a small herd of cats, preventing the use of any laptop. So, a tablet it is! I hope it’ll work nicely for me.

Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft

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!

Purchased Foundry VTT

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!

Cool Tools I Want To Get

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.

Wonderdraft

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:

The creator of this video recreates a 20-hour Photoshop map in Wonderdraft in the span of about two hours.

And I’ve also seen somebody use the software to create a detailed village:

This video is a little odd, as it’s an unedited, no-commentary example of using Wonderdraft to make a village map, but I’m impressed at how much the artist achieves in just one hour with the software.

Dungeondraft

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:

This is the trailer made by the creator of Dungeondraft

Foundry VTT

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:

The anniversary overview of Foundry VTT

Conclusion

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.

Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

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.

Advent of Code 2015

For the past week or so, I’ve been having fun going through the older Advent of Code challenges. Every day in December, Advent of Code publishes a new puzzle to solve using whatever programming language you want to use. I’ve been trying to solve the puzzles for a few years, and it’s been interesting to see progress.

When I just started, I hardly got anywhere with the challenges. I hardly knew how to program anything at that point, so the simplest puzzles were already syntactical challenges—how do you even code? What should it look like? How do I write conditional statements? As I grew in experience, though, I find myself much more able to solve these puzzles. Looking back, I see a moment where I start experimenting with object-orientated programming, and solving problems more easily than before. The last week, I find myself easily pushing through the first seven or so challenges, where they would have taken me ages initially.

What I run into these days are the puzzles that are really more orientated towards people with formal education in programming. The puzzles will involve certain algorithms that are commonly taught in computer science that I usually don’t even know to look for. Think things like modelling geometrical shapes in three-dimensional coordinate spaces, or algorithms to optimize seating arrangements, or recursive algorithms to sort through instructions that refer back to themselves, and so on.

I work on these problems, and sometimes get to decent (but incredibly slow) solutions, and feel quite proud of myself. When I get really stuck, I try to find help on Reddit, and usually the answer will be “Ah yes, you’d have to apply X’s theorem” or “Y’s algorithm is the best approach”, and referrals to read up on concepts that I have no idea what they mean. Essentially, it shows the gap between an amateur hobbyist like myself and a trained programmer.

It’s great to learn about these types of things, and I’m also more than happy to take some of these points and think “Ah, that’s too much bother” and leave it be. Either way, I’m quite grateful that so many people make all this type of content for free, and help me learn and enjoy these things.

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 learncolemak.com and practicing with this new layout over on keybr.com. 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!).

Learning About Debugging

I was reading a Reddit post on how Guido van Rossum stated he wanted to make Python work faster when I came across a comment chain where somebody joked that you can make any program faster by using fewer print() statements. A reply quipped “How else am I supposed to debug my programs?”. I’m assuming it was a joke for them, but this is certainly a weakness on my part. Since I’m self-taught, I find myself using standards that make sense to me, but would be bad practice for a formally taught individual. In this case, that’s using the print() statement to help me debug by running the program and seeing what I end up with, tweaking that, running it again, and so on.

The Reddit thread includes a comment chain where somebody jokes about using fewer print() statements.

Fortunately, though, somebody in the replies provided a serious answer to the quip: debuggers and logging. Because I use Linux, I’ve gotten quite familiar with log files – any time something doesn’t work, you have to check a log file to see where the problem lies. Without log files, you’re utterly confused; with log files, you’re a quick Internet search away from your answer. However, I never applied logging in my own programs. Firstly, they’re often so small that they’re easy to review without a log file; secondly, I just didn’t know how. It’s still bad practice, though.

Fortunately, one person linked to a really solid explanation of how debuggers work from last year’s PyCon:

A video by Nina Zakharenko explaining debugging in Python

It was so enlightening to watch – she described exactly how I muck around debugging my programs, using print() statements to analyze my output, adjusting it, and so on. Clearly, my bad habit was a common amateur move that happened often enough for her to be motivated to tell people about this debugger. Not only does it look like a good habit to build, the way she explains it makes it just so easy that I don’t see why I never bothered to use it in the first place.