Saturday, 19 February 2022

Online character sheets for Dragon Warriors - Fiches de Personnages online pour Dragon Warriors

When playing online, I generally use Owlbear Rodeo (actually the very best online VTT) , using paper and pens for any information that I want to keep on hand. Some players seem to prefer to have their character sheet on the screen, so, I have made some for the different classes of characters in Dragon Warriors.

Lorsque je joue en ligne, j'utilise généralement Owlbear Rodeo (qui est actuellement et de loin le meilleur VTT) , et, j'utilise du papier et un bic pour les notes que je veux garder sous la main. Certains joueurs préfèrent cependant avoir leur fiche de personnage affichée sur leur écran, aussi, j'en ai réalisé pour les différentes classes de personnage de Dragon Warriors.

There are two ways to use those files:
- open the pdf file directly in your browser (I use Chrome) 
- if you want to replace the illustration by the portrait of the character, you just have to open the odt file with LibreOffice or OpenOffice and modify the image before exporting the pdf.

Il est possible de les utiliser de deux façons:
- ouvrir le fichier en pdf directement dans un browser (j'utilise Chrome) 
- si vous désirez personnaliser l'illustration avec un portrait du personnage, il suffit d'ouvrir le fichier odt avec LibreOffice ou OpenOffice et de modifier l'image avant d'exporter la fiche en pdf.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Using Custom Online Character Sheets

There is, of course, no obligation to use digital character sheets whilst playing online.

A simple sheet of paper on your desk can easily do the trick. It is certainly enough for my notes and for tracking PCs, NPCs, scenario info... but some players prefer to have their character's info on the screen, alongside the VTT display. So, why not?

Some of the most used online VTTs provide sheets that you can use within the program, more or less customizable, more or less limited and more or less available, depending on the VTT and the game played.

There are two BIG problems with those embedded sheets. The first one is that you have to fill lots of stuff on those sheets, because peoples designing them never think there is enough information on them.

The second one is that if you play one of the games for which no charsheets are provided, you are out of luck. You'll have to setup one yourself in a programming language that is generally not intuitive, and with almost no control on the look and usability of the sheet.

It can be quite frustrating, but, you don't have to use those. 

There is a far easier way to have online charsheets and in a very simple way: using simple PDF forms that you can generally find online for your favorite game, or that you can produce yourself by making a form in Open Office or Libre Office (in odt format) and export as a PDF form.

Making PDF forms is really easy: you make an image of the form you want to design. Set it as background in Open Office or Libre Office. And then place the fields you want onto it (bullets, check boxes, text, images...). Let's have a look at the result.

Here is the exemple of the charsheet I have made for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. As you can see, the page setup is in landscape format to be in the same orientation as a screen.

And there is a space for an illustration of the character, which means that there is an image field in the odt form (obviously).

To fill it, open the odt file (sample files are found at the end of this post to let you try it). Note that if you make charsheets where there is no illustrations to place, you can directly use the PDF in your browser without going through the odt first, but it is less funny...).

- odt file of the charsheet in Libre Office -

Check that you are not in design mode.


Double click on the illustration field and choose an illustration, ideally more or less square (to avoid black areas padding the image, but it will work with any proportions of image).

Export as pdf form (check that form is active).

And that's it. If you open the pdf form in a tab alongside your VTT page (on Owlbear Rodeo, preferably, it is the best one available -and free- at the moment), you have a charsheet as accessible as those imbedded in other online VTTs, but much more flexible, easier to produce, and adapted to YOUR game and tastes. And if you need special sheets to add for certain class of characters (sheets with lists of spells, for exemple...), you can always make one that the player can open in another tab.

Indeed, any information that a player may want to have available can be turned into a pdf, fillable or not, that can be opened in a different tab. The difference here, with the sheets offered by VTTs like Roll20 or Foundry, or .... is that here you only have what you want, in the way you want, and each player can have his own setting without having to use a predefined one.

CAVEAT: When you have finished using the form in your browser, don't forget to save it WITH the changes. If you just close it, they will be lost. It is probably a good idea to save regularly your progresses (yes, we all know that and still...).

If you don't want to go through Open Office or Libre Office to export PDF forms customized with an illustration of the character, you can just do it once and place the logo or the cover of the game as an illustration. And then use directly copies of the same pdf for every player.

But, above all, remember: it is not because something can be turned into a digital format that it must be, and papers and pencils are still the most versatile way to record information. But, of course, YMMV....

If you want to experiment a little, here are the LotFP sheets (english and french) in odt, and the samples in pdf that you can open directly and fill in your browser.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Portraits Tokens and attachments

I am generally using topdown tokens in VTTs, because they are not only accurate when seen on a battlemap, but also quite easily available those days, and some of them are absolutely gorgeous (my favorites ones, those from Greg Bruni and Devin Night for exemple).

I have been playing with the attachment tool in Owlbear Rodeo since its beta release. 

One of the use I have experimented is one I had used in Maptool in the past (with portraits as states, as there is no attachment in Maptool). 

Not sure if I'll use this frequently because I am mostly a topdown tokens GM, but maybe if I need to prepare a game in a pinch.

For the record, I imagined this because I need tokens that show orientation (I don't play D&D and derivatives) and because I hate when portraits tokens are jumbled with faces in any orientation.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Owlbear Rodeo, OMG....

Since last weeks, I have been experimenting with  Owlbear Rodeo, a VTT that I had not encountered before... and it is the most amazing one I have used so far. Fulfilling almost (more on this later) all my needs from a VTT, in the most easy, fast and user friendly way. 

At the same time I have bought and tried Foundry VTT and I did found the result absolutely atrocious. Probably not because it is a bad VTT (its success and the comments about it are proof that I am in a minority of one on the subject), but simply because it is the complete antithesis of what I want in a VTT and more importantly because it is full of things I don't want...

There is no real reason to compare those two VTTs except that, side by side, they both showcase what I like and what I dislike in VTTs. Which should explain more clearly why I like Owlbear Rodeo.

Why do I like Owlbear Rodeo so far?

Because of what it does:

Owlbear Rodeo is a very simple and intuitive. You just open the a page on its website . Launch a game.

Input a password (or not). Invite players. It shall give you a link for your player.Give that link to your players. Done.

From there, you can already play with the default content by sketching your maps.

But, of course, you can import your own maps and tokens. Dices are already included to roll on a "drawer".

Reduced window to show the controls

Everything is saved on your computer, no hassle, no fuss.

At any time, you can export the maps (which means the whole scenes) and the tokens. And re-import them later. So you can prepare a session or save the situation at the end of a game.

Of course all VTTs do this, but never as easily. Connection: one click (no port opening or technical stuff), joining the game: one click, no account to set. Saving stuff: one click (no fee).

Owlbear Rodeo is tablet ready (and usable), I experimented on my iPad and there is no reason a player could not play this way. You don't have to wait until an app is released. Just join at the webpage.

It is easy, super fast to prepare, connect and play, and stable.

As it plays in a browser, I can open any document I want (fillable PDFs mostly) in another tab and save them at the end of the game. Easy, neat and convenient.

With it, using a VTT doesn't become an activity or a hobby in itself. What I really like is that the use of Owlbear Rodeo is unobstusive. You don't need to spend more time readying your session on your VTT than preparing the scenario.

But also because of what it doesn't:

That's where the comparison with Foundry VTT should make what I mean clearer.

I mostly need a VTT that takes care of just the visual part. Preparing the maps, saving them and having them ready when playing. 

Admittedly, I have not always worked that way. I did made some Maptool framewoks in the past (for Savage Worlds or MSPE, for exemple). But my conclusion was that this not only increased tremendously the preparation time, but also that it didn't speeded play at all during the sessions, which led me to more minimalistic frameworks

But, even those proved, in the end, too cumbersome and ultimately, not only useless, but completely counterproductives. I am speaking here, about PCs and NPCs management macros, graphic macros are something else.

Conclusion: It is not because something can be automated that it should be! (which is something that should be branded with a hot iron on every programmer forehead, alongside with "if it ain't broken, don't fix it").

I certainly understand that other peoples have other needs for their games.

Mind you, I think that anything, in a VTT, that is optional and on the side is fine for me. But with Foundry I found that to simply use it, I had to go the whole way, using, or rather coding a template (because I don't use D&D).

And then, I was expected to fill a form for any and every NPC, spell, weapon, whatever...

But... the data needed during games is in my notes, in the rules, on paper or in pdf, and I don't need to have a copy of it inside a program before being able to play.

If my hobby was forms filling, I would collect tax returns.

Here again, I don't have a problem with the fact that you can do it, only with the fact that you need to do it (or at least that it is completely geared that way, and that you are expected to do it).

The little things that I could want to have access directly during play can easily be made into a pdf and opened in another tab alongside the Owlbear Rodeo tab, or, simply kept on my notes. Online info is generally limited to character sheets sent to players before session.

What I prefer is a VTT where you can play from scratch if you want (import a map, a few tokens and go...) not one where you must prepare  for hours (hours which would better be used preparing your scenario).

This is, of course, completely subjective. But that's my opinion and I completely agree with it...

What I would like to see in Owlbear Rodeo

Mostly, and more importantly, I hope they won't change the idea behind the program, and stay with the visual representation only. Complicating the program or having a features bloat would make it just like all the other VTTs. This is certainly a case of "Less is More'.

My only regret, is that Owlbear Rodeo is not optimized for isometric gaming (meaning that there is not built in way to swap tokens to change their facing). After asking on Reddit, it seems that there is no intention to change that in the future. Which I can understand because only a very small minority of gamers use isometric views. But, well, there are workarounds, which, whilst not perfect, solve the problem.

And, that's all, which is not much new features needed for a new program. Almost perfect for me from the start... I hope the natural tendency of programmers to never stop adding features won't ruin it.

Anyway, Owlbear Rodeo is free, easy to use and fast to master. So, have a try, and, if after trying it, you still prefer forms filling to roleplaying, Foundry will be there.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Easy isometric figures

If you would like to play on a virtual tabletop using isometric figures, you'll need a program that enables you to swap tokens. Maptool, Roll20, Tabletop Simulator and Foundry can do it... I'll try to make a more comprehensive list one day (if you know which other VTTs let you swap figures, let me know in the comments).

And you need four illustrations representing four facings for any figure you want to use. There are different ways to make them.

But, here, our ressource of choice for making iso figures will be the cardboard figures easily available on the web.

Because they are plentiful and cover most gaming periods, they can easily give you all you need to populate your virtual tables.

Caveat: It is of course possible to simply draw or paint the four facings (or at least two with mirroring), but it is a quite obvious task and nobody needs directions for that.

The four illustrations, four directions isometric figure

The first style of iso figures is the easiest one, but that one doesn't use cardboard figures. It is simply making a 3D figure on HeroForge and export its four isometric views. I have already covered it in a previous post, so, if you are interested, it is here.

The only thing that was not covered, is that I resize the images by comparing them to an iso figure drawing that I use as my standard for size. Nothing fancy here, on photoshop, I just paste the images from HeroForge on a page with my standard figure and then resize them until they look the same scale (yes, good old eyeballing...). I note the percentage of scaling and apply it to the HeroForge images.

I finally place the images on bases, but more about it later.

The two illustrations, four directions isometric figure

This one is the typical situation where you turn a paper miniature (with front and back, like those from Okumarts, who by himself already covers most rpg settings) into an isometric figure.

It is quite easy to transform the 2D figure into an isometric one:

First, you skew the two faces of the figure 22,5°, once to the left and one to the right. And resize them at 90% in height (mathematically it should be a little more, but I think that 90% looks better).

Resize the figure just as for the four illustrations figures above. With the added benefit that when working from figures placed on a page, it is enough to "eyeball scale" one of them, the same scaling can be applied to all of them (or even better to all of the figures from the same designer).

Secondly, you give those 4 images some depth by adding some white border, but not everywhere. You use "drop shadow" on them. But a white shadow (I know, it only makes sense in a graphic program).

 Here are the settings (for left and right).

You must choose which one of the two possibilities depending on the orientation of the image.

And then, I place the images on bases, more about it later.

The one illustration, four directions isometric figure

For that one, you'll need one illustration, but seen from the side (as my older paper figures or those from some designers).

You can also make this kind of figure from any other illustration, on the condition that it goes from head to toe and is mostly seen from a side. Illustrations with lines drawn work better for that, rather than painted ones.

And those figures are made using the same method as those with two images above.

The only difference is that after you have skewed your image 22,5° (once to the left and once to the right), you duplicate them and flip them.

And, of course, give them some depth... Now, I put them on bases....

That was easy enough... No?

But you could ask why I put those figures on bases? Here is why:

Basing the isometric figure

As you could read from the explanations above, I place the isometric figures on bases. There are three reasons for that.

The first is that, as I use very different types of figures, it gives them an unifying appearance, they look more as a part of the same game.

The second one is that I can use an indication of the direction the figure is facing on the base. With some drawings, the facing could be unclear without it.

Worse, in some isometric figures available on the web, there is only one orientation available and no base for indicating it. In a situation like the one depicted here under, you would have a complete mess, with figure fighting one another being depicted back to back and no idea of who is going where or seeing what. Top down figures on map give clear indication of these things. Isometric view is a huge visual improvement, but it would be a big step backward if without orientation. So, please, if you make isometric figures, please, make a rear view...

The last reason is that because I am using mostly "flat" maps (meaning maps made from top down ones instead of those drawn isometrically), there is no elevation elements on the maps.

Using bases gives a "pawn on board" look that seems more natural to the eye than a 3D rendered character on what is a topdown flattened view. This is, of course, completely subjective and YMMV... widely.