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

Heroquest Battlemap #2: The Rescue of Sir Ragnar

I enjoyed making a Dungeondraft version of the first map of Heroquest so much that I figured I’d do the same to the second map. So, I dusted off my old manual once again, and went to prepare. Since the procedure I used making the last battlemap went so well, I figured to follow the same procedure this time around as well.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This time around, I wanted to not only reference the original Dutch version of the map from my manual, but I also found a map of the UK version to compare it to. Below you can find both for your reference.

Curiously enough, the UK version of the map contains more monsters than the Dutch version. I wonder what prompted that change? Fortunately, though, for our concerns, we’re not placing monsters on the map, so we can ignore that aspect of it, although we could have it inform our ideas of the room functions.

Speaking of that, there seems to be less of a cohesive concept in this map. For one, the UK version has a torture chamber in the staircase room, for some reason. Is that really where you’d put your prisoner: right next to their opportunity to escape? I suppose that is a torture all of its own, though! Five rooms on this map are just plain empty, which doesn’t help us much to interpret any other functionality from it. That little room right next to Sir Ragnar’s room is obvious enough: a small room with a person right next to a cell? That’d be the jailer. Apparently, though, he had to be hidden away; to me, that implies that they’re expecting somebody to come and get him. The other rooms are rather plain purpose: two rooms with a table, one with a bookcase. Not much to go on at all, really.

So, with the maps not giving us much to work with, let’s hope that the flavor text gives us some more clues!

Information from the flavor text

Much like last time, the flavor text varies a little between the two language versions. In case you can read Dutch, below you can find both versions side-by-side.

This time, the differences in flavor text are minor. The Dutch version changes “emperor” to “king”, and “captured” to “kidnapped”.

Given that it’s more likely that you don’t speak Dutch, however, below I’ve translated the Dutch version of the text:

The Rescue of Sir Ragnar,

One of the strongest King’s Knights, Sir Ragnar, has been kidnapped. He is being held prisoner by Ulag, the Orc General. Ye must find Sir Ragnar and bring him to safety. Prince Magnus will pay the rescuer 200 pieces of gold. The reward may be shared by various adventurers but if Sir Ragnar is killed during the escape, no reward will be paid.

My translation of the Dutch original flavor text.

There’s not too much crucial difference here. The Dutch version offers a little less money (probably to offset the lower number of monsters?), and makes Sir Ragnar a knight of the King rather than the Emperor—not much issue there at all. The most interesting difference here, really, is that the English version of the text states that Sir Ragnar has been “captured” whereas the Dutch version states he is “kidnapped”. A capture would happen during a battle situation; i.e. Sir Ragnar is a prisoner of war. If he’s “kidnapped”, that would mean some miscreants snuck up on him and took him in the most underhanded manner. Interestingly enough, the UK version also shows more uncertainty: there is “reason to believe” Ulag has him, whereas the Dutch version is far more firm, stating “he is held prisoner” by Ulag. I guess there must have been some kind of hostage note in the Dutch version?

A final interesting concept is that the Dutch version calls Ulag an “Ork-veldheer“. “Veldheer“, like so many Dutch words, is a compound of two words, “Veld“, meaning “field”, and “heer“, which means “gentleman”, “noble”, “lord”, and so on. “Veldheer” can mean both “General” as well as “Warlord”—the choice of translation is mostly spin, I suppose (like choosing between “terrorist” and “freedom fighter”). I chose to translate it as “general” just because I prefer to read against the grain here. Clearly, traditional fantasy encourages us to think of orcs as inherently violent and criminal, so I prefer to read it in a more noble light to see what that does to our interpretation.

Either way, to me the UK version of the story is far more interesting. Not only does a simple kidnapping job remove all agency from Sir Ragnar, it also once more paints whomever you’re fighting against in the darkest light possible. The Dutch version’s antagonist is called “Morcar” (as opposed to the UK version’s “Zargon”) but both version’s helpful narrator is called “Mentor”; now, given how the Dutch version keeps sending the players into such black-and-white situations that seem far more dubious on further consideration, I prefer to read the little “M.” signature on the bottom of the Dutch flavor text as though Morcar and Mentor are the same person here, and the player characters are the victims of a long con here.

Translation into a final map

So, taking my cues from the UK version of the flavor text, Sir Ragnar has been captured by an Orc general. That means that there must have been a recent battle, and given that this band of four heroes is sent to rescue him then he’s probably not underneath Mount Doom in the middle of enemy territory being tortured for his secrets. More liklely, he’ll be somewhere close to the field of battle before being sent onwards.

So, rather than interpret the map as being another dungeon mined out below the earth, I’ll choose to interpet it as a warcamp close to battle. Your average warcamp will just be army tents of various kinds and surrounded by piles of camp followers (merchants of various ilk that seek profit from the army). However, let’s assume that this war that’s been going on between the orcs and the Emperor’s forces has been going on for quite a while. That means that the camp will likely develop some more semi-permanent structures. A palisade, some wooden buildings, and so on. That gives us some more to work with!

As a secondary reason, I’ve made a few underground maps now and those usually end up being dark with torchlight flickering here and there, and that’s great to do but I also want to practice some more outside scenes as well. So, I chose to make this an open structure, in daylight, with some more natural views in sight. The only thing left at that point, then, is to give some more purpose to the individual rooms.

If this is some manner of prisoner facility for a high-ranking prisoner, we have some more prompts to work with. There will have to be guards, and they’ll have to sleep somewhere, so a guard barracks it is. Guard need to eat, so there’ll be a dining room, and there’ll be downtime, so as well a relaxing chamber. Given that this is some kind of high-priority prisoner that warrants being hidden in this space, there’ll be an additional guard chamber, and most likely this will house some other choice treasures. Lastly, you don’t just leave a high-placed prisoner alone—you’ll have a top person on-site to deal with him. So, the last room I wanted to reserve as an office for a high-ranking individual.

A tricky thing to consider was where to put the entrance, as the original map assumes everything to be an underground dungeon and placed the entrance right in the middle. Making this an outside area means that becomes impossible. So, I had to make the choice to shift that a little up and to the left, and making that a gap in a palisade. While I could also kept the central room as a full-on room, it seemed more interesting to me to make that a central courtyard. So, I made it a much more open space to reflect the more semi-permanent feeling I wanted to give the map.

The last intersting problem I had to deal with was how to handle the secret door entrance to the dungeon area in the bottom left. Dungeondraft doesn’t particularly have any secret door assets, though the Crosshead Studios assets I’m using does have one secret door for a stone environment. The standard option that gets recommended frequently is two make two versions of the same map, where one has just a regular wall and one is opened to show a passage. For example, this post on Reddit:

However, I wanted the map to tell the story in one go rather than have this. I considered potentially making a door in the wall and then layering over another wall with only very slight opacity. That way, there is a wall there, but if players look very carefully they could see the outline of a door in it. That would be kind of a metagame way for the players to discover. However, I ended up choosing a much more direct version: just literally put the door in and put something in front of it that would block vision. Then, when used in a tabletop enviroment, that would form its own logical secret door. On top of that, given that this is a semi-permanent structure, this also seems the most logical way of doing this.

Knowing these crucial points, I now translated the prompts from the manual into this final form:

The small version of my Dungeondraft map

A larger version of this map can be found on the Reddit post I made about this below:

Burning France: Session 2

Yesterday was the second session of my “Burning France” Burning Wheel game. The write-up on the previous session can be found here. It gave me a good chance to try out a new thing or two in Foundry VTT, such as using some ambient music for a scene and practising help and extended tests in the Burning Wheel game system for Foundry. I felt a little more comfortable running this time, and the awkward start to the session was a little shorter this time than last.

The Story

Our band of characters, Benoit the Farmer, Bertrand the Bastard, and Geoffrey the Barkeep, started off discussing what their next moves would be. Last session, they heard that the previously deposed nobles of Avignon-sur-Chantre had been exiled to the woods to the north of the village, which made them a looming threat to the post-revolution village. They gathered around a rough map of the village to plan out their next move.

A map of Avignon-sur-Chantre made in Wonderdraft using assets from 2-Minute Tabletop

Reviewing the map, the team wondered who was guarding the palisades and the gates, realizing that there was a group of guards of unknown affiliation—who were these people even loyal to? Benoit used his connections among the villagers to do a B2 Rumor-wise against Ob 2 (+2 FoRK, +1 help, passed with 3 successes) learning that the guard leadership had been brought in from outside, and since the revolution has been distant from the villagers. Despite no longer being paid, they nevertheless had enough money to spend in the tavern every night.

“We must find the deposed nobles and their sympathizers and make sure they don’t stage a counter-revolution

Benoit, Belief #3

Meanwhile, Bertrand desired to find a woodsman capable of scouting out the woods to the north to find trace of the hiding nobles. A quick B2 Circles against Ob 2 (+1 Affiliation Insurrectionists, +1 “Golden Boy” Reputation, passed with 2 successes) brought him to Léonce the Woodsman, a local trapper who was an appreciative follower of the revolution. He quickly agreed to take a day to scout out the forest.

“Benoit is a sincere follower and obviously looks to me for guidance; I will show him how a true revolutionary deals with these filthy nobles near Avignon.”

Bertrand, Belief #2

Meanwhile, Geoffrey spoke to Elise, the house servant of the previous lord of the manor of Avignon-sur-Chantre. The group had decided that Avignon needed new administration, and Elise was the most capable person around. Elise quickly agreed, and sent out for people in the village to turn her de-facto position into a fixture of the village.

Finally, the trio decided to confront Matthieu, the captain of the guard, and see whether he could be swayed to their side or whether he needed to be taken out. After some quick carousing with him, Benoit and Bertrand decided that the man could never be convinced and needed to be taken out then and there. Geoffrey made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Drinking vs test Ob 4 (+1 help, +2 FoRK, 3 successes) which even after a fate re-roll resulted in both Geoffrey and Matthieu being absolutely sloshed.

“Those who resent you are dangerous and should be scared into obedience or destroyed.”

Geoffrey, Belief #3

The group used this to their advantage, as Benoit made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Conspicuous against Ob 2 (+1 FoRK, +1 Advantage, 2 successes) which meant that Benoit and the drunken Geoffrey were the loud and obvious distraction to Bertrand and Matthieu slipping out quietly. Geoffrey was dumped in a small nearby alleyway, as Bertrand and Matthieu made their way to the docks to the north of the village.

The final step of their plan was to knock Matthieu on the back of the head with Bertrand’s mace, and dump the body into the river. Hopefully, everybody would assume he fell in it while drunk, hit his head, and that’d be the end of that. With Benoit rolling B3 Mace vs B3 Perception (+1 Help), it came out at 1 Success for Benoit versus 2 Successes for Matthieu, meaning the captain caught sight of what was happening just too late, crying out loudly as he now messily fell onto rocks below before being swept away in the river.

The session ended with clamoring and alarums raised in the nearby guard post. How will our team get out of this one?

The Session

The session went more smoothly than last time, to my feeling. The players had a more clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, and I was able to prepare a little more beforehand as well, so that I would have some knowledge of rules prepared. This time, the beliefs came out a little better as well, and I’m getting the sense that they’re starting to click more for the players as well, as newer beliefs have been more focused on practical.

There were two big errors that we made, though (which probably enraged those familiar with the rules in my description above). Firstly, FoRKs aren’t supposed to be used for Beginner’s Luck tests. We weren’t exactly sure in play, so we just went with it and figured to look it up later. Now, I’ve seen that BWG p.36 explicitly states that FoRKs apply only to skill tests, and BWG p.37 notes that Beginner’s Luck tests are stat tests. Luke Crane, the author of the game, also explains as much in a reddit reply.

By the way, the “You are a monster” comment jokingly refers to the original poster, who asked “If I allow players to FORK into beginners luck tests, am I a monster?”

The second big error that we made is that during the large extended test that was getting the captain drunk and disposing of him, we forgot to track the advantage/obstable modifiers. So, technically, the failed Drinking test should have increased the obstacle of the following Conspicuous test, which means it should have failed. Similarly, the mistakenly succeeded Conspicuous test should have added a +1D advantage to the Mace test. Well, either way, we’ll move forward with what we have, as this is pretty interesting too.

We had a minor struggle at the start, incidentally, as initially the group was exploring the manor to potentially find ledgers and figure out how the guards were being paid. One player wanted to point out that it seemed like the game was heading towards a middle-management simulator genre, which he wasn’t particularly interested in. Fortunately, nobody else at the table was interested in that either, so we abandoned that thread quickly. I can see where the player initiating that scene was going, though: he was attempting to get a test to determine that the guards were receiving outside money, and thereby have new information to act on. The difficulty was that none of the characters had the relevant skills to do this, so that ended up with a bit of fumbling.

Funnily enough, I was hoping to drive the players towards a Duel of Wits with the guard captain in the tavern, as each character had a Belief that involved him as a sympathizer of the nobles. To me, that made him a big enough character to deserve a spotlight in one of the more involved conflict mechanics. So, naturally, in the roleplaying at the tavern, I made him oppose the position of the players. However, the impression of one of the players was that this made him impossible to convince, hence opting for the murderous alternative. My assumption was that if I made him more amenable to dealing with them, such as dropping a line like “Well, for the right amount of money, anything is possible” then that would remove the need for a Duel of Wits in the first place. I’m not sure yet how I should set that up so that I more clearly communicate the distinction between the in-fiction opposition yet the narrative-level opportunities available.

Overall Impression

Overall, though, the story started flowing, and I got the impression that the characters started getting more aligned in their actions and intentions. While we struggled a bit with the mechanics of the extended test in both a game-mechanical sense (how are you supposed to factor learning new skills again?) and a technical sense (how to work out learning new skills in Foundry VTT), we had a clear and concise session that didn’t go for too long. Elements were set in motion, and the fiction was detailed a little more.

I think with more experience working with Beliefs and a little more comfort with the mechanics, we’ll have the story flowing more smoothly and start advancing. I was relatively happy with the pacing of the second half of the game, as we moved to important scenes right away, and we focused more directly on actionable Beliefs, which meant that we rolled more tests as well. I realized at times that I still needed to emphasize the consequences of test failure, so that’s a thing I have to keep in mind to do in a timely fashion.

Oh, and lastly, I’ve just been having a lot of fun using the sessions as inspiration for building some maps, so I updated the world map as well:

The map of Occitania, made in Wonderdraft. The trees are an asset called Tree Clumps

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!

RPGaDay2021 #4: Weapon

Today’s RPGaDay2021 prompt is “Weapon.” The first thing that popped into my head when I saw this word is “Oof, how about the other words?”; the second thing was “to a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

There are so many tabletop RPGs that have the characters carry around weaponry. When you think about that, isn’t that quite strange? Think about your daily life—how many people do you see actively carrying weaponry around? Unless you’re in the U.S.A., I would imagine hardly anybody beyond police officers. Around here, even then I don’t often see much beyond pepper spray. The closest I would come myself is a little swiss army knife I keep in a pocket in my backpack, which I would see as a tool that could potentially be used as a weapon, rather than the other way around. Yet, in our tabletop RPGs, quite often, our characters walk around in full battle gear constantly.

A setup like that predisposes players to think of violence as a reasonable solution to problems, which is something I don’t like. As I wrote yesterday, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a tactical combat game if that’s what you’re going for. Conan The Barbarian is still one of my guilty pleasures, both the novels and the movies (but not the 1997 show that was edited into a movie . . .), and sometimes it’s fun to play out a power fantasy like that. I’ve been meaning to look into it, but I suspect much of the enjoyment in that comes from the representation of a post-capitalist world: a world where you are beholden to no one but yourself where you can self-actualize and provide for yourself on your own terms. Incidentally, post-capitalist does not necessitate post-market economics, so there’d be no incongruency in buying and selling items and so on. Anyway, that’s an idea I’ve been meaning to work out properly, but I fear a project like that would turn into a whole PhD thesis!

Coming back around to the point of this post, I’m charmed by RPGs that don’t frontline physical violence, like Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, or Ryuutama. Physical violence may happen in the games, but it wouldn’t be the natural and unavoidable end-point of a situation. It’s similar to why I thoroughly enjoy Burning Wheel, as the main terms used there is “conflict” rather than “combat”. While physical altercations are more to be expected in Burning Wheel than the other examples, the game isn’t orientated towards it. Rather, it’s a game about passion, drive, and goals, and what people will do in pursuit of those goals. It acknowledges that words are also weapons whether they are wielded in a political arena or in a personal relationship. Much like that swiss army knife I carry, though, those words can be used either as a tool or a weapon.

What makes Burning Wheel so poignant to me is how all its various mechanics click together. Verbal conflict via its Duel of Wits system has little to no risk of direct physical harm (assuming the Dual of Wits is not your character’s defense during their murder trial, or somesuch thing). The Fight! mechanic, however, carries a high risk. While character death is relatively difficult to achieve (but not outlandish), severe injury is quite close by whenever swords are drawn. Any hit from any weapon can result in a severe wound that will drastically and dramatically change a character. So, as a result, Fight! mechanics are high-stakes affairs that players are encouraged to treat similarly to violence in real life. What makes this click so nicely is how it ties in with the Let It Ride principle in Burning Wheel: once the dice are rolled and a test is made, that’s it. No re-rolls. The matter has been decided. No testing again for the same thing. Of course, you don’t have to test for the same thing. If your character couldn’t win a debate in the pub, you could always resort to throwing fists. However, you’d be upping the stakes (and getting yourself thrown out of the pub).

Of course, you could do this narratively in most games but what Burning Wheel does well, in my opinion, is that it mechanically encourages these considerations. Character advancement in Burning Wheel comes from Artha, which are points awarded for acting on your Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs) (roughly said: statements made about what your character wants, does, and is). The host’s job is to challenge those BITs and confront the players with the question: “how far will you go for what you believe in?”. It’s always a question of what weapon your character will take up to fight for their beliefs, but it’s not a question of what physical violence they will enact on others. Rather, the question is what values weigh against each other, and how to navigate these safely.

I’m planning to host a game of Burning Wheel soon, and I hope I can show these amzing parts of the game to the players well enough. Burning Wheel is a tricky beast, but once it really clicks, it can be amazing.

#RPGaDay2020 14: Banner

When I was growing up, it was still considered a little weird to play RPG games. We’re now at the stage where playing videogames as an adult isn’t particularly weird (though it’s not fully mainstream either). Fortunately, the Netherlands never reached the Satanic Panic-levels of the US either. Basically, it’s a bit of an odd hobby, that people aren’t necessarily too familiar with unless they were already introduced to it.

I don’t think I’ve ever introduced anybody to gaming. Usually, I get into my groups as friends of friends bring along others, and so on. Most of them have played something or are familiar with it at least. I’ve played with the younger brother of another player before who wanted to give it a try, but then again he also already roughly knew what was going on.

Nevertheless, I think it’s good to hang out the nerd banner every once in a while. I’m not particularly running around the office with gaming shirts (I chair committees at a local uni, so gaming shirts are not really on-brand there), but if the conversation comes up with colleagues, I won’t shy away from it either. It is odd, though, having to consciously pick who to talk about it to. Most people in education, or at least the set of faculties I operate in, aren’t quite up with pop culture.Sometimes, I suspect that people in IT sectors might have an easier time with this sort of thing.

Either way, while I won’t hang out the RPG tabletop-gaming banner at work, I do my best to represent it as a normal hobby whenever I can.

#RPGaDay2020 13: Rest

Downtime moments in RPGs have been a thing I struggle with to depict properly. I wrote before about how I enjoy sessions where you deal with the things that matter directly to the plot. In my opinion, character development should happen during gameplay in response to interesting conflicts. However, sometimes those conflicts are between characters while they’re unwinding together. These scenes can be interesting, as well as good motivators for future action in the game. On the other hand, at times they are also massive wastes of time.

I find it hard to strike the balance there. I’ve had scenes where the players are just sitting around chatting in-character about random stuff. For my personal tastes, this leans too much into the simulation side of things. Sure, your characters would do that, but I’d much rather have a player tell me “Okay, my character and hers spent the night chatting away and bonding over childhood stories”. That lets me know the crucial points of what’s happening, while skipping over two people doing comedy improv for fifteen minutes.

To figure out where that perfect balance is between skipping over fluff and allowing for interesting character conflict is a tricky one that I’m still working on, and one that also depends on each group and each individual player. Some people just want more chatter while others want more storyline.

#RPGaDay2020 12: Message

I am convinced that every RPG and every individual RPG adventure has a central message. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that every author or GM explicitly creates a message in everything they do, but I would argue that whether or not we intend it, we imbue everything we do with meaning. That’s why I would argue to work consciously towards a message, and to be conscious of what unintended message ends up in your work.

An example of this is in the published early drafts of (edit: see his comment below) an adventure of a friend, entitled The Secret of Cedar Peak. I know this person to be accepting, progressive, peaceful, and considerate. Yet, unintentionally, due to the cultural structures all around us all, his module inherited some of the troublesome colonialist themes inherent to D&D:

Capybarbarian’s tweet from when he learned about the troublesome nature of D&D, and realized that his own adventure unintentionally inherited that same problematic theme.

This is what people mean when they say things like “The Patriarchy”—it’s not some secret group of men sitting around a table in a dark room, lit ethereally from above, as they plan out a system of oppression. It’s a massive construct of cultural products (movies, TV shows, novels, games) that all keep carrying the same message at the core. These messages aren’t the style where JD clearly voices the theme of this week’s Scrubs episode, but they are the messages that are hidden in plain sight. The type of messages of 90’s sitcoms, where the overweight, highly unsociable and outright unlikeable male character has a amazingly conventionally beautiful wife whom he treats terribly, yet she loves him terribly, accepts his faults, does all the work around the house while taking care of the kids. It’s so common to each product, that we don’t even see that the real message underlying these shows is “men don’t have to treat women well, and they all deserve a woman to serve their needs”.

The insidious nature of these messages, as my old uni prof would say about religion in the Middle Ages, is that they are so ubiquitous as to be invisible to the eye. He’d explain to us that for us largely secular group of students, the religiosity of medieval writing was Christianity slapped in our faces (insert “turn the other cheek” joke here), but a medieval reader wouldn’t even notice it. He then did something that stayed with me for all these years: he pointed out all the advertising in our room. I had never seen it before. Suddenly, I could see all the logos on shirts, backpacks, laptops, phones, the room’s projector, a poster on the wall. Everywhere there was a logo, a company name, or a slogan. And suddenly, there was capitalism all around me, with a message everywhere I looked trying to tell me to “buy, buy, buy”. There was a consistent set of messages all around me all the time that I had never seen before, because they were everywhere for as long as I could remember.

After two years of cultural analysis, you end up feeling like Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live. Although while he was still the hero of an action movie, powerful and totally in the right, we remain human—vulnerable to making the same mistakes over and over. Years after coming to understand feminism as a white man, I still realized that I was interrupting women more than men during meetings. Behaviors like these are ongoing struggles. They’re simple but not easy to consistently get right. I still remember fondly delving into postmodern theory. You’d read somebody’s analysis, and it’s so convincing and well thought out. It really seems like the author has solved the problem they were working on. And then you’d read a postmodern analysis, where a philosopher and cultural analyst succinctly and expertly illustrates how the first author completely undermines their own point not in words but in how and what they wrote.

That’s why the burden is on us, constantly and consistently, to be aware of the messages we put out there. It’s also on us all to accept that we’re learning and growing human beings. Messages can sneak into our work that we don’t intend to have in there at all. So, it’s up to us to take action when we see this in ourselves, and to accept it when it happens to others. It’s why I appreciate Capybarbarian for bringing out that message himself, and within the span of just a few weeks he worked on it and changed this: resolve the issue (edit: see his comment below for my inaccurate description of events).

Fortunately, Capybarbarian worked quickly to resolve some of these issues! Just under a couple of weeks’ work for somebody doing this on the side is really speedy.

I admire the work he’s put into it, and the guts it takes not only to just put himself out there to publish something but also to correct it when he sees something wrong with it change course when needed (edit: see his comment below for corrections on my earlier inaccurate depiction). It’s why I recommend having a look at his module The Secret of Cedar Peak.

#RPGaDay2020 11: Stack

I used to own a literal stack of RPG books. I’m not kidding, once when I moved apartments, I stacked them together and covered them in a blanket to create a makeshift chair until I got furniture. However, the more books I had, the fewer games I seemed to play. It was interesting having all these books, and referencing different ideas and genres to bring things into other games. However, most ended up being unused and just taking up space on my bookshelves.

So, somewhere last year, I did a purge. I looked at each of my RPG books and decided which one I actually wanted to play. I ended up with just a handful of RPGs that I kept, and the rest a friend of mine took over from me. It feels a bit Mari Kondo, but I have to say it does feel a lot better to have only those RPGs that I really click with.