Sunday, November 26, 2023

The state of Wayland on Linux

Is it just me or does Wayland piss everyone off? I am not a new Linux user, I have been at it since 1992. Every time I give Wayland a try, I find something that is broken. They have been at this for 15 years and it still feels like an early beta release. Maybe its time these guys gave it up and acknowledge this was not the way to go.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a Wayland hater. I am all for new technologies that genuinely improve our experiences on computers. If 10 years ago Wayland had been ready to go, I would have jumped on it, but back then it was barely demo code let alone a usable desktop environment and that was after 5 years of development.

I am also not saying that Xorg is the end all and be all of  windowing systems on Linux. Xorg has its problems and back in the 90's it was not fun to setup and get working. I remember needing to know mode lines for the monitor I was using and sometimes, even the manufactures didn't know what that was. Don't get me started on hardware acceleration.

My point is, Wayland was a solution looking for a problem. By the time Wayland came around Xorg was pretty much done, all of its major issues had been solved and it was a pretty good framework for building new extensions. Then a small group of developers working on Xorg, decided it was not any fun to work on anymore and started work on Wayland. At the time, no one wanted Wayland, but by god we were going to get it anyway. Now 15 years later, it is functional, but unless you have a setup exactly like the developers, you are probably not going to have a good experience.

I think it is time to call a pig a pig.

Saturday, November 25, 2023


Anybody concerned about A.I. taking everything over, please keep in mind that for A.I. to become a serious threat to humanity, computers must be able to;

  • never hallucinate
  • understand abstractions
  • form long term plans
  • understand causality
  • reliably maintain models of the world
  • reliably handle outliers

Currently computers cannot do any of these things.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Playing Shadowdark

 This last month, we played 4 games of Shadowdark. The point of this exercise was to test the game to see what we liked and what we didn't. This is in part due to over all dissatisfaction with Dungeons & Dragons 5E. Don't get me wrong, I like 5E, it is probably the best version of the game to date. However, it does have some problems that do need to be addressed. First and foremost being, combat is slow, and I mean really slow. We tend to play 2-3 hours, if there is a fight, that is about all we do that evening. Another issue is there are just so many choices and variations, that characters get encumbered with so many powers and abilities that it becomes difficult to know what do in any given situation. Over the last couple of years, I have noticed my players tend to play their character sheets rather than their characters.

I am going to start with the things I liked about Shadowdark and then I will move into the things I really didn't care for.

First, character generation was interesting, we have not used completely randomized ability scores for a very long time, so it was interesting to see what the dice gave every one. We rolled 3d6 in order, but I allowed each player to swap two attributes, to give them some flexibility. It was fun to see my players lean into the whole "Play what you roll" shtick. One player went so far as to roll his class randomly and ended up a Wizard with an Intelligence of 9. 

Second, combat was a breeze, there was no waiting for players to decide what they were going to do. The first session was getting characters rolled up and then a short introductory session starting in a tavern. There was a bar fight, but it went down fast and the rest of the session was all RP. The next three games, we managed to get through 2-3 encounters each session, something was basically impossible in 5E.

The torches burning in real time kept the players on task. It really makes a difference in how they play when there are resources that need to be managed and timers just waiting to hit zero. We have had sessions where they group moved 10 feet in 3 hours of play, there was none of that here, they kept moving.

Now for the things either I did not like or my players did not like.

Roll to cast magic, while an interesting idea on paper, did not play out well in game. There were two Clerics in the party and there were times when neither of them could cast Cure Wounds. This was very frustrating, not just for those players but everyone in the game. The problem was two fold, first the DC of 10 + Spell Tier is too high, all of the spell casters were failing 50% of their rolls, for the Clerics it was not terrible because they could still attack, but the Wizard was just done. This probably needs to be 7 + Spell Tier so a Tier 1 spell gets successfully cast 60-70% of the time. The second issue is once they failed a roll, they could not cast the spell again they rested, but because of the resource management issues, resting was difficult and even counter productive.

Encumbrance is never fun, it is a book keeping chore that no one really wants to do. I have to give credit to the game designer, they really did try to make it as simple as possible with the gear slot mechanic. Unfortunately, it was still not fun. I am not going to advocate for for letting the party carry whatever the fuck they want, but I do think a maximum of 18 slots and the average being more like 10 or 12 is too low. This basically encourages the players to do ridiculous things like bringing mules into dungeons, or exiting the dungeon every time they find even a little treasure. I think probably making gear slots 15 or Strength x 1.5, whichever is higher is probably good. I think I would also make items of negligible weight, basically anything that weighs less than a pound, should be 1/4 or 1/2 of a gear slot. A dagger should not take up the same number of gear slots as a longsword.

While there is something to be said about limiting choices players have for classes and ancestries, I think Shadowdark takes it too far back to just four classes and six ancestries. Fortunately there are enough 3rd party supplements out there that I can bring the game into parity with 5E. Players should be able to play interesting characters and the game should not be human centric, if the players and GM don't want it to be.

Over all, I enjoyed running the game and my players did enjoy trying it out. I think they especially liked the Gloaming setting from Cursed Scrolls #1. It is very different from my Caldoom setting or something like the Forgotten Realms. It is a darker fantasy world, but is not so grim and dark as there is no hope or happiness in the world. I am leaning towards using Shadowdark for my next campaign, however, I will be house ruling the things we didn't like.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

RE: Disposable Computers

 I got the Wyse 5470 today. I have to say, it really is not as bad as I thought it would be. The install of Debian 12 went very smoothly, especially since I was prepared for what needed to happen and pretty much scripted it. After all was said and done, the base install was 4.7 GB, this left me with 7.6 GB of free space, slightly less than I was expecting. What was unexpected, was sitting at idle, the operating system was consuming about 600 MB of RAM, a far cry from my daily driver that consumes 5 GB on a good day.

I am also not dissatisfied with the performance of the EMMc drive, I was expecting it to be bog slow, but it seems to be running just fine. However with just 7.6 GB of disk space, I am definitely going to need to install an NVMe drive into the system. While i think that is enough for this stripped down Debian install, it is really not enough room for any sort of personal data. I suppose I could use it as a sort of Chromebook, I do have a copy of most of my data stored in the cloud, so it would probably be trivial, but that is a risk, since it is not always a guarantee I will have access to a wireless connection. It really is best to have what you need on the system, even when travelling.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Disposable Computers

 The Dell refurbished site had Wyse 5470 mobile Thin Clients on sale for $79, this is a pretty good price, but early this week, that price dropped to $59 and I figured it was time to get one. The technical specifications are not all that good;

Dell WYSE 5470 Notebook:

  • 14-in FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Webcam
  • 1x Intel Celeron Quad Core (N4100) 1.10 GHz
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 16 GB SSD
  • Intel Integrated Graphics
  • Backlit Keyboard
The 16 GB SSD is probably the most worrying thing, especial since it is most likely an EMMC drive, which is really not much better than having a SD card as a boot drive. It does however have a NVMe slot that will handle up to a 128 GB drive. Putting the NVMe drive aside, I am kind of curious just what I can install on this decidedly small SSD. Windows 11 is never going to fit on it. There is no doubt I can fit Linux on it, but a normal install of Linux for me is right around 15 GB. I can whittle that down, but it means making sacrifices, like not being able to use a nice feature filled desktop environment and probably no LibreOffice.

The nice thing about modern technology is being able to build virtual machines to almost any spec. So before this machine arrived, I decided to see what I could do as a stripped down install of Debian 12. I built out a VM with 4 cores, 4 GB of RAM and a 16 GB drive. The goal was to get a reasonably functional install of Linux in under 5 GB and not have to give up too much in the process. To start with, I did a bare bones install of Debian 12, with no desktop environment at all, this came in at just over 1 GB of drive space. The easy part after that was installing the odd text mode applications I use, so when I logged in for the first time as root, I ran a quick;

apt install sudo mc links cmus htop neofetch tmux ffmpeg lame zsh ufw -y

I then edited the /etc/sudoers file and added my user account so I ssh in and finish what I was doing.

Now came where I needed to make some choices. First was a web browser, I use Google Chrome, so I went and downloaded that, I will install it later. I also made a list of the other GUI based applications I would likely need; audacious, flameshot, thunderbird, cheese, vlc, abiword, and gnumeric. These should cover most of what I need. I also would need some tools I am use to having; synaptic, tilix, and gdebi.

Before I can install these apps though, I need to figure out what desktop environment I am going to use. Gnome 3 and KDE are straight out, both are 5 GB by themselves. Mate is my usual choice, but even it is an easy 3 GB install. The next tier down is LXDE and its sister LXQt, both of these are better, but I was looking for something that would consume around 1 GB of drive space and that pretty much left me with Xfce. This one is not optimal, it is very lightweight, but is missing features and is not as polished as the others. The whole idea here is to test it out and see what happens, I can always remove it and install one of the heavier ones if I need to. So with my list gathered, I ran;

apt install xfce4 xfce4-goodies synaptic tilix audacious flameshot thunderbird cheese gdebi vlc network-manager-gnome abiword gnumeric -y

I added network-manager-gnome to the list, because I knew from experience that Xfce does not have a network app, so I needed to borrow one from Gnome. When it was all done and I rebooted, I installed Google Chrome and then did a bit of house cleaning. The entire install came in at 4.3 GB. I do have a bit of room in my 5 GB limit, so I may add VS Code as well.

The 16 GB drive I assigned to this VM actually turned out to be more like 15, once a chunk was taken out for swap space and I ended up with almost 10 GB of free space, just enough to spare for some MP3's and a movie or two.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

RE: Shadowdark RPG Review

Last night I ran my second game of Shadowdark. The first game was a pretty normal session zero, with the players rolling up characters and then introducing those characters to the setting. We did 3d6 in order, it had been a couple of decades since we last did that and we were apprehensive about it, but with the roll until you get a character with at least one 14, worked out pretty well, after Class Talents were rolled, we even had one 18 and no one ended up with a useless character. The second half of the game, I introduced a bunch of NPC's and conducted a typical bar fight, just so we could get use to combat and such.

Over all, it was a fun session, my players enjoyed it and said it was a nice diversion from 5E and they were surprised at how squishy they were compared to 5E. I think the only disappointment was the limited number of ancestry and class choices they had, so I think if I decide to run a full blown campaign, I will need to include some mix of rules from Unnatural Selection and Into the Shadowlands to bring the game into parity with D&D 5E.

The second game, was a rats in the cellar style game. It was designed to be a pretty easy scenario, the main purpose was to familiarize the players with the system, get them use to the 1 hour torch concept and the always on initiative mechanic. This scenario was not designed to be lethal, nor even especially challenging, it really just a test drive before diving into the deep end. Now I am glad I decided to run the game this way, rather than dumping them into a gauntlet or something similar.

The major problem that turned up was the roll to cast mechanic. When it came time for the priest to cast his cure wounds spell, he failed his role. No problem, they have two priests, number two charges into the fray and he fails his roll too. Now neither of them can cast cure wounds again until they have had a rest. The two other characters that were down to 1 or 2 hit points in the middle of a fight, were not especially amused. This did not cause excitement, it did not instill fear, what it made was frustrated players.

I know what some of you are thinking, well you guys are just Gen Z 5E players who have been coddled by the 5E no one ever dies style of play. Anyone who knows us, knows this is not true. The majority of us have been playing since AD&D 1E was a thing. We remember when Magic-Users were one and done. So now I am going to say one of the things we grognards are not suppose to say out loud. Having a character who was more or less useless after doing the one thing they are suppose to do, really sucked. It sucked back then and it sucks now.

So this for us is something that needs to be house ruled. When the problem became apparent, we stopped the game and had a discussion about it. We asked what was the base problem and what was the best way to address it. Now obviously, I don't want players spamming spells like 5th Edition cantrips, there does need to be some limit on what they can do and how often. Out of this conversation, three possible house rules emerged;

  • Idea 1: Give 1 free casting of each spell per rest, after that roll to cast is in effect.
  • Idea 2: If the roll is failed, they loose the ability to cast the spell for 10 rounds or perhaps just until the end of the combat.
  • Idea 3: If the roll is failed, reduce the numerical effects of the spell by half.

Personally, I think I am leaning towards #2. There does need to be a limiting factor, but #2 help mitigate the problem by allowing for a shorter recovery time. I think #3 goes against the one of the core tenants of the game and that is, magic is cruel and fickle mistress. There is nothing stopping a player from spamming half powered spells. #1 seems like a reasonable option, but also just seems like a band aide on the real problem.

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Question of Morality

I have given this a little bit of thought, no a lot, but a little. Here is what the real difference between Christian Morality and Secular Morality in stark contrast.

Lets assume for a moment that God truly reveals himself in such a way as no one can deny his existence. God has come to earth and shown beyond any reasonable doubt that he is in fact the God of the bible and he exists. He then promptly issues the following command;

“In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them, the Canadians, and Mexicans, as the Lord your God has commanded you.”

With no other information available, other than what I have provided, what do you do?

  • The Christian response should be, "Yes master, let me go get a baseball bat and a couple of guns.".
  • The Secular Humanist, Atheist if you will, should respond with; "Hold on a minute, what the fuck!, NO!"

Don't give me any bullshit about "God wouldn't do that!", the guy has a track record, he has done this in the past, since he is timeless and unchanging, there is no reason to believe he would not do it in the future. Lets be real, Revelations points to a very bad end for humanity. So the real question is, what is the truly moral thing to do here? Does faith and obedience justify the deaths of millions of people? Is defying the ultimate authority really a good idea?

My thought experiment for the day.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Shadowdark Home Brew

You are not what you appear to be, you are actually a small 3 pound brain with 4 legs who likes to consume the brains and inhabit the bodies of bi-pedals.

You know Common and Primordial.

Transient Mind. Upon death of your host body, you can escape and take over another body. You loose the ancestry feature of the host body and it is replaced with Transient Mind.

A small creature resembling a brain with four legs who likes to consume the brains and inhabit the bodies of bi-pedals. Brain-Eater’s love the experience’s provided by the host body such as eating, drinking, and adrenaline induced excitement, they tend to be hedonistic while inhabiting a host.

AC 12, HP 10, ATK 2 Claw +2 (1d4) and Mind Bite +2 (1d6),
MV near, S -2, D +2, C +1, I +2, W +0, Ch +0, AL L, LV 3

Empathy. 1/day the Brain-Eater can detect any living creature with an Intelligence of 3 or greater within double near distance for 3 rounds.

Mind Bite. The Brain-Eater can target a single creature within near distance with a mental attack, roll 1d20+2 with a DC of 12 to succeed. On a successful roll, the target takes 1d6 damage.

Transient Mind. The Brain-Eater may take control of the body of a corpse that has not been dead for longer than 10 minutes. The Brain-Eater consumes the brain of the corpse, crawling inside, taking its place and restoring the body to life with 1 HP. The Brain-Eater takes on attributes, memories and personality of the new host. The Brain-Eater looses the ancestry features of the host body and it is replaced with Transient Mind feature, but looses Empathy and Mind Bite while it inhabits the host.

“I am not your brother, I am the thing that killed him.” - Indrid Grimm

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Shadowdark House rule

One of the big complaints I have had with many old school style RPG's is wasted levels, where the character really only gets some extra hit points. In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, this has been dealt with very nicely. Unfortunately Shadowdark fell into the same hole these other RPG's fell into. In Shadowdark, on each odd level your character receives a class talent. So, in the name of getting a little something each level, on each even level your character receives a roll on the general talent table. The following table is my first draft of this table.

Nothing on this table particularly breaks the game and most of them are already on other tables. I think the biggest thing about this table, is it allows characters to gain abilities from other classes. If the campaign goes all the way to 10th level, the player will get 5 rolls on this table, with half the rolls being concentrated in the 8-12 range, a quarter of the rolls will be 3-7 and a quarter will be 13-18. Realistically that would translate to 3 rolls in the middle and 2 rolls either on the low or high side.

I was considering an alternate table based on 2d6 rather than 3d6, with 5 options rather than 16 options. This would be more akin to the class talent tables, but I think this gives a wider range of possibilities and therefore more interesting for the players.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Review: Shadowdark RPG

 Much like Deathbringer, Shadowdark is a variation on D&D 5E designed for players looking for a simple fast playing game. My problem with Deathbringer is it played very flat, meaning there did not seem to be any depth of play, much like the original version of D&D. A fighter was a fighter was a fighter, sure you could play them slightly differently and use different weapons, but at the end of the day, there was no real variance.  The author of Deathbringer is working on an expanded version, but I suspect this is a low priority for him and so it may be years before we see a real product.

While Deathbringer could be printed out on a single sheet of paper, Shadowdark is a full blown RPG with no dependencies on any other games. The Shadowdark book contains everything you need, ancestries, classes, spells, magic items, monsters, the whole 9 yards. So right off the bat, Shadowdark is the better game. The Quickstart rules for Shadowdark can be had at; 

The Shadowdark core rules contain 6 Ancestries, Dwarf, Elf, Goblin, Half-Orc, Halfling and Human. This sounds all good and well, pretty standard fantasy RPG races, except for one small thing. None of them have darkvision. In fact darkvision is not a thing in this game. The only defense against darkness is natural light, torches or lanterns. In either case, they only last 1 hour of real time, not game time, real time, and once the lights go out, no one can see anything. That is except for the monsters, who are all dark adapted and can see in the dark just fine. This builds an interesting resource management aspect to the game, because the characters can only carry so many torches or so many flasks of oil for the lantern. This means the players have to plan out their excursions. They cannot take a long rest after every combat, because a long rest costs the characters 8 torches, or they have to build an actual fire, which has its own problems, especially in dungeons where there is little or no air circulation.

The game has 4 base classes, Fighter, Priest, Thief and Wizard. There are plenty more available online and creating new classes is pretty easy, but honestly, I am not terrible sure that is necessary. I have always felt the 4 core classes are pretty much all that is needed. Although, something I would probably house is multi classing, because it does make character building more interesting and allows the players to make characters more like the movies and books. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is, as the characters level, rather than getting set in stone powers and abilities, they get a 2d6 roll on a talent table. Rolling a 2 gives you an extra powerful talent, rolling a 12 lets you choose any talent off the table or gives you a +2 to distribute to you attributes as you see fit. 3-6, 7-9 and 10-11, give you a mixed bag of talents. The player will only ever get a maximum of 5 rolls off the table, assuming the game goes to 10th level, enough to get an interesting mix I think.

Another interesting aspect of the game is no saving rolls of any kind. All spells are roll to cast, which means every time the character casts a spell, the player must make a spell casting check against a DC of 10 + Level of the spell. If they succeed, the spell goes off normally, if they fail, nothing happens and they cannot cast the spell again until they have completed a long rest. There are no spell points or spell slots, the character can cast the spell over and over, until they fail a roll. This helps keep the focus on lower level spells, because they are easy to cast and players will tend to save the high level spells for when they absolutely need them instead of wasting it on three kobolds because they think its funny.

Overall, I think this is a solid game. If you have played any of the modern itinerations of D&D, this will be familiar to you. However it has been stripped down for speed and ease of play. Combat should not be bogged down with endless choices and because the torch is burning and no one wants the torch going out in the middle of a fight, players are motivated to expedite their turns. I am giving this one an 8 out of 10. I really want to play it.