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Manage your RPG players with pc

Keep track of your role-playing games' character data with the pc (player character) command.
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Stacked dice with a red die showing the number 5

Image by dmkoch from Pixabay

For me, a good tabletop role-playing game (RPG), sometimes called a pen-and-paper RPG, is the perfect hobby for getting away from my computer. The classic editions of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), for example, were released well before PDFs and eBooks existed, so I bring hardcover books and paper character sheets to my gaming table.

In recent years, however, I've also started gaming online using Mumble voice chat. At first, I treated these games the same as my in-person games, but as more games started integrating online maps like Mythic Table, I found switching back and forth between keyboard-and-screen and pen-and-paper became a little frantic. When I'm running a player character (PC), most of what I need to refer to is on a character sheet, a document that lists my special abilities and powers. To get to that information quickly while managing a bunch of other applications, I use the pc command.

The pc command parses RPG character sheets written in the INI format. It works with any RPG game system, as long as that system's character sheet data can be expressed as basic INI (most of them can be).

Install the pc command

The pc command is written in Perl, so you must install Perl to use it. To install the pc command, you can just make it executable and move src/pc.pl to some location in your path. For example:

$ chmod +x src/pc.pl

$ sudo mv src/pc.pl /usr/local/bin/pc

You can alternately use cmake:

$ mkdir build

$ cd build

$ cmake ..

$ cmake --install .

Build characters in INI

For pc to be able to parse your character's stats, you must build or document your PC in the INI format. INI is a simple text format that consists of a heading in brackets and a group of key and value pairs. For example, here's a portion of a D&D character sheet:

[Character]
Name=Tristan
Ancestry=Human
Background=Urchin
Class=Paladin
Level=8

[Health]
HP=35
Max.HP=68
AC=19

[Stat]
STR=+2
DEX=0
CON=+2
INT=-1
WIS=+3
CHA=+4

All of this is for your own reference, so you don't have to adhere to anything but the general INI format. You can include stats that aren't on the paper version of your character sheet or even just write personal reminders to yourself as comments. Make your INI character sheet work for you, and let pc do the rest.

Once you've got your character sheet, save it, with the .ini extension, to ~/.local/share/pc.

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List your character sheets

Using pc, you can get a list of all the character sheets you have saved:

$ pc --list
Abbadon.ini
Dreadmax.ini
NPC_1076.ini
NPC_1077.ini
Tristan.ini
Zoe.ini

Get a stat

When you roll dice in an RPG, you often have to adjust your roll according to your character sheet. For instance, if you're attacking an evil orc, you might roll 10 on your 20-sided die and then add a number to represent your physical strength. To get your Strength value (often abbreviated as STR), provide the character name and the stat you want to see. Character names are case-sensitive, so if your character is saved as Tristan.ini, the character name is Tristan and not tristan or TRISTAN.

$ pc Tristan STR
STR=2

You now know that you must add two to your roll.

Unique and non-unique stats

As long as a stat is unique, you don't have to type out the whole string. For instance, if the only stat in your character sheet starting with Max is Max.HP, then you can just type Max or possibly even Ma, and pc can usually figure out what you want.

$ pc Tristan Ma
Max.HP=68

However, many game systems use the same stat for different attributes. For instance, in D&D, your Wisdom (WIS) may be significant for both Wisdom-based skills and Wisdom-based saving throws. In other systems, both armor and weapons could have a level assigned to them. Non-unique stats return ambiguous results:

$ pc Tristan WIS
WIS=3
WIS=5

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If a stat you need is non-unique, you can specify the category you want first to narrow down the result:

$ pc Tristan Save WIS
WIS=5

$ pc Tristan Stat WIS
WIS=3

View a whole category

If you want to see several related stats, you can view an entire category at once by just specifying it. As long as it's sufficiently unique, you don't have to type the whole word:

$ pc Tristan Hea
[Health]
HP=42
Max.HP=68
AC=19

To see a list of categories in your character sheet, use the --cat (-c for short) option:

[Character]
[Health]
[Stat]
[Save]
[Skills]
[Proficiencies]
[Immune]
[Lang]

You can omit all arguments to see the whole character sheet:

$ pc Tristan
[Character]
Name=Tristan
Ancestry=Human
Background=Urchin
Class=Paladin
Level=8

[Health]
HP=42
Max.HP=68
AC=19
[...]

Update a stat

Most role-playing games require that you track certain statistics as you play. For instance, when battling a group of baddies, your health or hit points (HP) probably go down as you take hits. In other systems, you might earn points in a skill as you utilize and gain experience with it.

While pc is by no means intended to be an editor, it can perform minor changes for you. To update a stat, use the --set (-s for short):

$ pc Tristan HP 
HP=68

$ pc Tristan HP --set 60
HP=68
HP updated to 60

$ pc Tristan HP
HP=60

Easy character management

There are many ways to manage a character for an RPG, including the open source character generator PCGen, the traditional pen and paper method, and specialized websites. The pc command is another way for you to keep track of data, and for me, it feels like a natural and convenient method that fits into how I manage most of the data in my real life. Give pc a try the next time you sign up for an online game, and if you're a Perl programmer, see what new features you might be able to add to it.

Check out these related articles on Enable Sysadmin

Topics:   Sysadmin culture   Programming  
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Seth Kenlon

Seth Kenlon is a UNIX geek and free software enthusiast. More about me

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