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2012-08-03 Free French OCR for Mac

Once again I’ve decided I needed to work on the memoirs of my grandfather Roland Li-Marchetti. I had digitized 16 pages many years ago but his memoirs contain a total of 45 pages of typed text. The last time I worked on this, I was using the OCR software that came with my scanner (a cheap Canon LiDE 25) – but today the scanner was no longer recognized by the operating system. I faintly remember having experienced this before when I upgraded my system. Bit rot!

Anyway, I was in the mood to try something new. Free Software?

  1. Tesseract
  2. requires Leptonica
  3. and I needed to install GNU Libtool because I was getting an error: “Libtool library used but `LIBTOOL’ is undefined. The usual way to define `LIBTOOL’ is to add `AC_PROG_LIBTOOL’ to `configure.ac’ and run `aclocal’ and `autoconf’ again. If `AC_PROG_LIBTOOL’ is in `configure.ac’, make sure its definition is in aclocal’s search path.”

(While the stuff is compiling, I am in fact using a free online OCR service.)

Here is the original, taken with my Pentax K100D, loaded into Gimp, rotated, cropped, and auto-adjusted levels.


The tesseract output is pretty cool:

que mes vingt prochaines années soient aussi riches d'aventures
et de bonheur auprès des miens, main dans la main avec Agnès mon
inséparable complice qui a beaucoup sacrifié et que j'espère
pouvoir encore rendre heureuse.

(When I tried it on a direct photo of the page the result was far less pleasing.)


for ((i=20; i<=46; i++)); do
    tesseract IMGP$((5210+$i)).JPG "page-$i" -l fra


Comments on 2012-08-03 Free French OCR for Mac

Andreas Gohr
Nice, there are multiple ring binders of my grandfather’s memoirs as well. One day I should digitize them too.

BTW. you might want to have a look for other OCR solutions (I guess most of what I’ve written there would apply to Mac as well).

Andreas Gohr 2012-08-03 13:09 UTC

Excellent! Thank you very much. I feel relieved that I seem to have picked the best free option. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-03 14:09 UTC

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2012-08-10 Buying Modules


Brendan Strejcek wrote In Praise of Modules and argued that there are a number of positive aspects to modules.

On his Google+ post linking to the blog post, I left a comment that I’ve copied and edited somewhat.

Lately I find that modules take too damn long to read. Perhaps I’m spoilt by the One Page Dungeon Contest I’ve been trying to keep my own adventure notes very short, and when I wrote the Caverns of Slime for the upcoming issue of Fight On! I tried hard to keep things short.

When I ran the Paizo modules, the two or three I ran went just fine, but I always felt slightly confused. I was already stretched thin. When I ran the Paizo adventure paths, it was worse. I discovered that I didn’t really want to read the modules. It was too much, it took too long, it wasn’t the kind of reading I enjoy. When I ran the Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics for D&D 3.5, I also felt that they would have been great if they had been half as long. The two hard-cover collections of short adventures in the same line, on the other hand, seem perfect!

When modules are too long, I like to jokingly say that I could have written my own in the time it takes me to read it. That’s not true, obviously. Raggi’s argument is a valid one: to run adventures somebody else created is a challenge, a refreshing change of pace, maybe a learning experience. Lately, however, I’ve come to think that I don’t like it enough to spend money on modules. I didn’t invest in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess drive, for example, even though many of the authors caught my attention and many of the adventure blurbs seemed right up my alley.

Do you find your money is well spent when buying adventures? Perhaps my problem is that I didn’t read reviews before buying adventures. I was subscribed to the Paizo modules and the adventure paths both, and when there was a big sale of Dungeon Crawl Classic modules for D&D 3.5 I bought as many as I could get my hands on.

Do you feel the same tension? Some aspects you like – the enthusiasm, the ideas, the art, the change of pace – and some aspects you don’t like – spending money, investing the time, negative surprises.

How do you decide which modules to buy?


Comments on 2012-08-10 Buying Modules

My #1 criteria for a new module/adventure is that it must be around 30 pages or just a few more and less than 30 pages really catches my attention.

I like the One Page Dungeon Contest format quite a bit and pull a few every now and then to add to our game.

I do buy higher page count modules/adventures, Stonehell Dungeon immediately comes to mind. Its simple room format and very well laid out dungeon section by dungeon section format is perfect for me.

Crose87420 2012-08-11 02:57 UTC

Hehe, I just bought L1, L2 and N1 (again, don’t know where my original copies went), and these locales are already in my campaign world, ready to happen when or if the PCs go there, maybe even happening and getting changed to the worse if they don’t go there… Oh, and stonehell will find it’s place somewhere, too… I like lookng at modules and then extrapolate what happens when no pc got there in time. Adventure Path’s sites are used for plundering. This dungeon and that village etc. So, yes, I buy modules, but not to use them as written, but as inspiration. And running Pathfinder, for looting stat blocks… :P

Rorschachhamster 2012-08-11 07:34 UTC

I enjoy reading modules. They are like building blocks. You both have to figure out how the original person fit them together, and what you can do to make it interesting. It fills in detail in a way I wouldn’t.

That said, it certainly is possible to write a bad module. Gygax’s modules are fantastic. Many of the 2e ones are not. The adventures in fight on, as well as many of the Goodman Games 3.x modules are very very good. Some are not.

-C 2012-08-11 13:16 UTC

The one adventure that worked very well for me was the Vault of Larin Karr by Necromancer Games. I think this may have been because it was written such that every adventure location was very small (a small number of rooms or just a simple encounter) and independent of all the other locations in the sense that changes in one location practically never caused changes in another location. There were of course links between the various locations: the elves are pissed because somebody took their statue and this statue is now in the dragon’s hoard. But even if you killed the dragon, the elves are still pissed: you need to return the statue to them to appease them. This structure drastically reduced the awkward “looking for info” moments when I was running the adventure. It simply was not necessary. I often had those moments in the two adventure paths I ran because the locations and characters seemed more tightly bound.

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-11 21:32 UTC

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2012-08-14 Threat Level


I was reading Jim’s Threat Level and Masturbatory Dice Rolling which reminded me of something I once said to my players: “It’s called Dungeons and Dragons, not wanking with Alex.”

Back then I didn’t quite understand that we were having a systemic problem. I was running a D&D 3.5 game and these two players didn’t enjoy the threat level I usually enjoy. I’d rather die at the hands of a tough referee than live under the benevolent smile of a merciful game master.

This is the comment I left on Jim’s post, slightly edited:

I think the attitude that the game master is responsible for the players having fun at the table arose out of the fact that with newer editions of the game, the mechanical aspects of prep started to build up, and at the same time modules ended up very linear, and even if they were not obviously linear (like Red Hand of Doom) then the significant power increase from level to level and thus the increased difficulty of swerving off the planned track all led dungeon masters like me to believe that we were responsible for providing the right threat level.

It took some exposure to dungeon design, sandbox design, a return to threat levels chosen by players based on conventions (dungeon level) or information provided by the referee (rumors for the wilderness) before I understood that I could leave the decision about the threat level of the session up to the players. What a relief it was! Looking back, the technique is simple: increase player agency!

The games I like to run these days are easier to prepare for, they are easier to run, and thus all I need to remember is to provide adequate information the the players regarding the threat levels of locations or events. This will allow my players to pick the threat level they feel comfortable with – and I hope that these days I no longer feel tempted to insult my players.


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2012-08-14 Two-step verification

My websites have not been sending any email notifications out to people who had subscribed to page edits. The reason was that I had switched my Google account to use 2-step verification. Only today did I realize that the error messages were trying to tell me that I needed an application specific password for my script.

Everything should be back in working order. :)

I feel relieved. For a while I thought I’d have to dig around in the Perl SMTP libraries. Ugh!

And I feel much better with 2-step verification. The Mat Honan story was scary.

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2012-08-15 Unbalanced Encounters Are Fun

People use the word fun a lot when talking about role-playing games. What do we mean by that? Which elements of a game are responsible for people having fun? That is, which elements that we can find in the rules compared to the elements we can find at the table such as props, people, decoration, lighting, music. I’m going to assume that “having fun” results players in coming back session after session and I’m going to assume that this can be explained by behavioral psychology. It seems like a good starting point to me.

My starting island A long time ago, I was interested in a play by email game called Atlantis. I decided to learn how to program and translate the game into German. I ran German Atlantis for a long time. I learnt to code, I learnt about Free Software, Emacs, Geocities, HTML, web pages, mail servers, shell scripts and many other things.

Atlantis had regions, units, ranged weapons, melee weapons, a simple resource economy, and so on. It also suffered from a design flaw: as your faction kept growing, preparing your turn turned out to be a chore. It took hours if you had thousands of units!

Later, I wanted to write a new game. It’d be limited to a single person per player. It would have magic items such as swords. The swords would record all the owners that had ever owned it. Improving the sword would need ingredients. This would be the economic part. I thought about it, made some notes, and after a while I discovered that the resulting game turned out to be bland and boring.

What had I missed? To bring the topic back to role-playing games: what is it about the games I don’t like?

I don't like bennies. I don't like simple, predictable systems. I want changing gameplay over time.

I think the key here is that what brings me back to the gaming table is the same thing that makes slot machines addictive. It’s called the variable ratio reinforcement schedule: a reinforcement schedule in which the number of responses necessary to produce reinforcement varies from trial to trial, according to Wikipedia. Apparently, the variable ratio reinforcement schedule results in a high and stable rate of responding with the greatest activity of all schedules. I guess that also explains why I’ve been playing Pinball Arcade on my tablet for so many hours. It’s a simple two-button game. How can it be so addictive? It’s the variable ratio reinforcement schedule: sometimes, when you’re skilled and lucky, you amass incredible awards and it makes you want to come back.

In terms of role-playing games: some monsters are tough, some monsters are pushovers. Some treasure is great, sometimes no treasure can be found. Sometimes the lucky dice save your butt, sometimes treacherous dice kick your butt.

Every player wants to win fights, find loot, gain levels and all that. But for the players to experience maximum reinforcement, for the players to be into the game like addicts, for them to come back week after week, for them to exhibit the behavior we would describe as “they must be having fun” the referee should use a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. I’m claiming that unbalanced encounters and a high variance in treasure found result in a more addictive game.


Comments on 2012-08-15 Unbalanced Encounters Are Fun

I’m not convinced that unbalanced encounters and high variance in treasure are connected. Presumably you could have the second without the first, and it would be just as addictive as a slot machine (consider Diablo and World of Warcraft).

I also enjoy unbalanced encounters, but I think they scratch a different itch, which is the desire for a sense of wonder while exploring the campaign world.

Brendan 2012-08-15 18:16 UTC

I agree, the two don’t need to be connected. I was just considering “surprisingly weak monsters” and “surprisingly much gold” two different kinds of unexpected rewards that act as reinforcer.

It’s quite conceivable that the encounter difficulty is not viewed as a reward in this sense but rather as an indicator of a living and breathing world.

Based on what I’ve seen at my table, however, I suspect the two reinforce each other. If a small tribe of lizardmen ends up guarding a treasure worth many thousands, if two mind flayers are all that stand between the party and a spelljammer ship of their own, then that seems to be perceived as an extra bonus.

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-15 18:48 UTC

Ynas Midgard
If I understand your example correctly, it’s the obstacle/reward ratio that has to vary time to time, isn’t it?

– Ynas Midgard 2012-12-21 11:57 UTC

That seems like another way to phrase it.

AlexSchroeder 2012-12-21 13:14 UTC

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2012-08-16 Simple Burning Wheel

Burning Wheel Dice

I wrote this a while ago in a comment to a Google+ post by Harald.

I think Burning Wheel character creation takes way too long. The fiddly bits it generates are not important enough, I feel. You will get some skills you don’t want and you will miss some skills you do want. Cool, it adds in-game goals and role-play opportunities. I’m not convinced that the Mental and Physical pool points, the questions to arrive at the Steel points and all that are really necessary. Specially since the time spent has to compete against a simple alternative like this one:

  1. allow players to pick four skills from a list and roll for four extra random skills
  2. assign 5, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2 to those eight skills
  3. if your top skill is a combat skill Steel is 5
  4. if it is a knowledge skill, Steel is 3
  5. otherwise Steel is 4
  6. pick four appropriate traits
  7. write beliefs and instincts
  8. get starting artha as always

There might be some additional steps you might have to add. I have never tested this procedure. Let me know if you use it.

Given all that you could create characters in five minutes or less. How much less interesting would these characters be compared to ordinary Burning Wheel character creation?


Comments on 2012-08-16 Simple Burning Wheel

Using this right now and making it 2 Character Traits, one Die Trait and one Call-On Trait seems to be a reasonable split.

Harald 2012-08-23 20:00 UTC


AlexSchroeder 2012-08-23 23:48 UTC

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2012-08-18 Defending a Ship


Recently we played Crypts & Things and a giant kraken attacked our ship. The referee basically had various tentacles attack as separate monsters with the main body of the creature staying below the water. We had about 20 people on board, five player characters, the ship owner and his two kids and eleven henchmen, nineteen people in all.

The rule we used was simple: The target of each tentacle was determined by a d20. Every defender of the ship was assigned a target number. If an undefended target number came up the tentacle dealt automatic damage to our ship. As some of the crew died, more tentacles started damaging the ship. We determined that the ship had 10 hit dice. After the fight, we rolled for hit points to determine how broken our ship had been.

It worked very well.

The referee also had a system of determining how many tentacles were currently attacking. Incapacitated victims were thrown overboard and would drown. At one point a player character went down and I don’t exactly remember why he wasn’t thrown overboard. I think it was because another player character killed the tentacle before the end of the round.

After defeating half the tentacles, a morale check was made and the creature retreated. Lucky us! Our longboat was about 80% gone, if I remember correctly.


Comments on 2012-08-18 Defending a Ship

Simple rules and yet tense, I like it.

Jensan 2012-08-18 12:58 UTC

Jovial Priest
I am interested in ship rules currently. I like that a miss led to ship damage. I’ll use that – it’s hard to miss a ship. One could still use the hull points damage from B/X, where 5 hit points = 1 hull point damage (if I remember correctly), though I would be inclined to make 1d8 hit points damage = 1d8 hull points, if a large creature is attacking.

Jovial Priest 2012-08-18 13:50 UTC

Yeah, I remembered hull points existed but not much more and so I spontaneously proposed the system we ended up using. As I’m skimming the Spelljammer rules every now and then, it would have been cool to use the “real” rules. Oh well, the spontaneous rulings also worked and we felt a lot like defenders! :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-18 14:55 UTC

Sounds like a lot of fun!

Gavin 2012-08-19 05:54 UTC

It was. :)

The ship barely made it to the shore and we immediately formed a search party to find some natives…

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-19 10:02 UTC

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2012-08-24 On RPG Blogging

Recently Michael Gibbons asked on Google+ regarding gaming blogs:

What do you prefer: content or opinion?

I prefer opinion and insight with examples from actual play or things that I will immediately adopt for my own games.

My favorite example for this is the Ode to Black Dougal blog.

A blog in the same category I recently stumbled upon is Untimately.

I will download a lot of content, but it doesn’t get read carefully unless it gets used at the table and that happens rarely. I have huge folders on my hard disk full of PDFs: bears, hats, treasure maps, Vancian spell names and short spell descriptions, alternate classes, one page dungeons, character generation shortcuts… At the gaming table, I can barely remember to use one or two of these.

What kind of stuff cheeses you off enough to stop reading someone’s blog?

I think my reasons for unsubscribing from blogs usually involve one of the following:

  1. misanthropic ranting – there is enough negativity out there already; I’m also easily peeved by unpolite hosts
  2. excuses for not posting – not posting is ok, unwritten posts don’t show up in my feed reader, but excuses will show up in my feed reader; I’m interested in the authors’ lives, and thus posting about health or family issues every now and then is not a problem
  3. long posts – “TL;DR” aka. “too long; didn’t read” is a problem: I might skim long articles but often I don’t read them; as the unread articles accumulate, I start wondering whether I’d be happier unsubscribing since I would no longer feel bad for not reading the posts
  4. not my topic – if the author keeps writing about the design of a game that I won’t be playing, I feel that I’m better of reading somebody else’s posts: there are so many out there!


Comments on 2012-08-24 On RPG Blogging

I have written about this before on my blog. http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com/2011/05/on-why-your-blog-isnt-any-good.html

-C 2012-08-24 19:50 UTC

I’m kind of new to all this myself (being going for less than three months), so my points won’t be massively groundbreaking. I’m actually more interested in the results of this mini survey.

A lot of blogs I don’t read, or at least don’t read often, could be amazing, and well written, but they’re about games I don’t play, or styles of play that don’t suit me. As an example, I’m not really into the OSR thing, so if that’s all a blogger talks about, I get turned off. But if you’re an OSR blogger who talks about the hobby at large, and offers advice and insight, maybe even some content that doesn’t have to apply to OSR, then I’ll keep checking back.

I guess that what that means is I want something different every once in a while. Right now I’m on a horror RPG kick, so i wrote something about how to GM a horror game. Didn’t want to tread on old ground, so the next week it was a possible location for a game, that just happened to also work well in horror games. Next Monday comes a little discussion (that’s right, I’m talking about what I’m posting ;p) about role playing a child, something that is done more often in horror systems/settings than others, but can be applied to other games.

So, a general theme, but something different each time, that I hope appeals to more than a core of people, and to gamers as a whole.

shortymonster 2012-08-24 20:16 UTC

-C, that’s right, I remember reading it. I don’t agree with all your points. Do you still think the following points still are important?

“Provide some sort of resource on your blog on a regular basis (recipes, a picture, quiz, etc.) So that people will want to mark your blog as one to come back and check”

That sounds like a setup to trick authors into posting lesser quality posts because they need to follow a particular schedule.

“Schedule your posts to come out either around the morning or the evening, when people are going through their blog roll”

Maybe you are right. If you’re trying not to bias by timezone, however, this is difficult. Also it assumes that most people don’t use a feed reader. That may be true, but I have a hard time understanding such choices.

“Be consistent in your posting schedule”

This is similar to the point above regarding regular features.

“Write interesting titles that draw interest, like they teach in journalism”

I am not sure the web works the same way (see 2011-03-10 Headlines). I don’t like sensationalist and provocative news lines. Or at least I ink I don’t.

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-24 23:41 UTC

Shorty game, variety is a good goal if you want to appeal to a wide audience. If you’re trying to write a Warhammer Fantasy style game, however, I don’t think “more variety” is the answer. At least, I’m not sure. Should you try to pull in more people in the hopes of attracting and converting visitors or should you write for your target audience only? Currently I’m in the latter camp: I think it’s cool to specialize your blog—but at the same time me unsubscribing must be cool, too. Once I determined I am not in the target audience, keeping me tied to the site seems like a bad idea for all of us.

Probably both approaches can work, depending on your goals.

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-24 23:50 UTC

I disagree that blog schedule matters much. If people visit your site directly, they will always see the N most recent posts. If people read your site in a feed reader, it’s their schedule that matters, not yours, just like with TV and a DVR. The only exceptions I would give are very rarely posting (which may lead to people removing your site from blogrolls or whatever), and very frequently posting or posting in clumps (which may lead to people unsubscribing because of being flooded). I personally am more likely to subscribe to a lower-volume site that has articles of consistent quality (Swords of Minaria is a good example of this kind of site).

Brendan 2012-08-25 17:31 UTC

To be honest, when I open my feed reader, I also like to read the blogs that have one or two unread posts before tackling the blogs that have twenty or more unread posts (World War II Today, I’m looking at you…).

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-26 22:22 UTC

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2012-08-24 Ursomancy

Fight On! #13 will hopefully contain a dungeon level of mine. Hopefully it will get published soon. In the mean time, I’ve started to work on a new adventure called Susrael the Great. One of things you can learn is Bear Magic.

1st circle 2nd circle
astonishing growth of ursine hair grants AC 6 for two turns terrible staying power of mountain bears grants ⅓ of your max hit points for two turns
3rd circle 4th circle
glowing eyes of ursine hell grants laser beams for two turns: one target per round must save vs. wands or take 1d6 damage (this is a free action)treacherous abuse of ursine brotherhood forces an unwilling summoned armored polar bear soldier to join for a fight: HD 6; AC 5; 2 steel claws 1d6 bite 2d6; MV 9; ML 12
5th circle 6th circle
ursine bloodlust adds 1d6 to each claw and bite attack for two turns flying bar of bears summons 1d6+2 confused and angry flying bears: HD 8; AC 6; 2 claws 1d6 bite 2d6; MV 12 fly; ML 12

Laser Bears!


Comments on 2012-08-24 Ursomancy

Bears that shoot laser beams out of their eyes? Awesome!

Question, though: what is a bar of bears? I thought a group of bears was a sloth of bears (a sleuth of bears is apparently a variation).

– Adrian 2012-08-24 16:46 UTC

“Confused and angry” is of operative relevance here …

Harald 2012-08-24 16:49 UTC


-C 2012-08-24 19:40 UTC

Adrian, I must confess I didn’t know the collective noun for bears! Too bad sleuth lacks the alliteration.

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-24 22:40 UTC

Reading Harald’s comment again, I now imagine Planet of the Bears, 1d6+2 coal miners hanging out at the local pub drinking met—a lot of it—and suddenly they’re pulled into a fight with hairless monkeys and find themselves in the possession of ninja flight powers.

AlexSchroeder 2012-08-25 10:00 UTC

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2012-08 Book Club

What: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

When: 29 August, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’)

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

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