Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Fantastic Medieval Campaigns

Fantastic Medieval Campaigns (FMC) by Marcia B. is a great retroclone and restatement of Original D&D: it's clearly written, well organized, contains a table of contents for the book and then a table of contents in each section, has a glossary and indices for monsters, spells, and tables, and uses the color backgrounds of the pages well to make finding the different sections easy. The art is charming and appropriate for a OD&D retroclone, and the layout is clean. It includes a retroclone of Chainmail, which is rare. I like it very much. And the PDF is free! I got the hardback color book and read it and want to run at least two campaigns with it, the first using its Chainmail retroclone, “Chain of Command”, and the next with the d20 based combat system.

But, but, but! The back cover text says “problematize our preconceptions of a text (or even a whole genre)” and mentions “falsehood”. And the contents of the last page of the text, which is labeled “This Page Intentionally Left Blank.”, are certainly not blank, and expresses opinions of D&D that must surely offend many D&D players. I'll quote it here:

Fantastic Medieval Campaigns is a recreation of what is at best a deeply reactionary work of art—if not a fascist one altogether. We recognize now that the authors, as well as some who were in their circle, thought quite badly of women, indigenous people, and others. However, we should let the text speak for itself because it speaks loudly. The book is a guide to fantastic war game campaigns, where the players take on the roles of sword-and-sorcery adventurers seeking greatness. They will begin in the Underworld simply slaying monsters and retrieving treasure in the form of gold, legal tender ready to be exchanged on the open market. As characters accumulate treasure, they acquire superhuman abilities and political power to boot. Heroes, Thaumaturgists, and Bishops emerge from their colonial katabasis conquering land by which to become Lords, Wizards, and Patriarchs. They will establish sanctuaries and, with their vast armies, turn the tide against the forces of evil chaos they have always ‘resisted' thus far. The setting in general is one where might makes right, where the violent extraction of resources is central to the protagonists activity, and where participation in these things is rewarded with not only political power bu the sort of physiological and supernatural power which colonizers and fascists imagined themselves to have. It is a mirror to the desires and fantasies of its original authors, a bunch of white, straight, cissexual men in the Midwest, just as it is a reflection of boys' pulp literature at the height of American culture about crushing one's enemies and driving them before oneself and hearing the lamentations of their women. All in all, this work was not written in a vacuum nor did it spring fully formed from the heads of its creators. You can use this book however you like or even attempt to play it with the mindset of a midcentury American man, but do not delude yourself with regards to its content or to the fantasy which it encodes. That being said, as the author, I offer up this work for analysis, critique, and reflection.

Well, that certainly put the coyote in the chicken house! It is definitely controversial in OSR circles. Honestly, though, I'm not sure that furor was worth following.

I just want to point out that, whatever the author's opinions of D&D, they wrote FMC so they could more easily understand the rules, so they could better play D&D with their friends, and according to a friend of theirs they spent over a year working on it.

Regardless of whether I agree with their views or not, FMC is a well written game and its author should be proud of it. It can be used to run some great games. If you don't agree with the author's views, just ignore them and play the game.

The Fantasy Trip

[I should have posted this a long time ago. Oh well. At least it's being posted now.]

Back in the Day

I really wish I'd gotten a copy of Steve Jackson's Melee in 1977 and Wizard in 1978 when they were published by Metagaming, and Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In the Labyrinth when those came out in 1980. Together those make up the game The Fantasy Trip (TFT). Melee and Wizard are the basic combat and magic rules, published as board games. Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard are the full combat rules. And In the Labyrinth adds all the other stuff necessary for a complete roleplaying game.

But I never saw them in any store in my area. I did meet one person who played The Fantasy Trip, probably in 1981 or so, but never got to talk to him about it; we were both quite busy with other things at the summer camp from hell. Wish he'd brought his rulebooks…

Modern Times

I picked up my copies of the original Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In the Labyrinth much more recently. Probably in 2018 or so. Thank goodness for Internet game stores.

Legacy Edition

In 2018 Steve Jackson Games kickstarted The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition, with new versions of Melee and Wizard and a new version of In the Labyrinth that contained everything from the original as well as the rules from Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard, and I backed it, and got a LOT of stuff. I liked the new edition of The Fantasy Trip a lot. But I didn't have a good chance to play it for a while.

There were some interesting changes from the Metagaming version of The Fantasy Trip to the Legacy edition.

And the PDF of Melee is available from Steve Jackson Games for free!

Playing Melee Online

I got to play Melee online in 2023 and had fun. It took a while for everybody to get used to the way combat works — it's a hex-based tactical combat system that strives for verisimilitude, and is quite different from anything that the others were used to. This group has been playing Mini Six from Antipaladin Games mostly before this, with some of Deep7's 1PGs thrown in; previously we've played a lot of Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games and Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and while Savage Worlds is played on a square grid battle map, it's still not tactical in the same way as TFT, DragonQuest from SPI, or GURPS from Steve Jackson Games. I played a lot of DragonQuest and GURPS (TFT's younger relative) in the 80s and 90s, which both have hex-grid based tactical combat, and enjoyed them a lot, so TFT's system wasn't such a shock to me.

Anyway, I backed Steve Jackson Games' TFT kickstarters as well as Gaming Ballistic's kickstarters, so I've got a lot of the stuff published for The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition. It's a pity I'm not playing face to face these days, because most of those kickstarters were loaded with neat stuff for face to face play — megahex tiles, cards of all kinds, neoprene battle maps, and more.

I continued playing Melee online, and added in Wizard. Eventually I plan to start running a TFT campaign using the many adventures released by Steve Jackson Games and Gaming Ballistic. And they've released a number of solo adventures, so I plan on playing those as well.

Right now I'm working on a hexcrawl using TFT, to be played somewhat in the West Marches style, with a long past apocalypse that destroyed a huge empire. The idea is the people are moving back into the areas left abandoned for centuries after the apocalypse due to inimical magic that has recently retreated.

Description of Melee

Melee is a person-to-person combat board game. A Melee character has two stats, Strength (ST) and Dexterity (DX), and a secondary stat, Movement Allowance (MA). ST determines what weapons you can use. DX determines how hard it is for you to hit your opponents: you roll 3d6 equal to or under your (adjusted) DX to hit (noted as a 3/DX roll). MA determines how fast you can move on the hex grid battlemap. Human characters start with 8 in ST and DX and have 8 more points to allocate however you want between the two, for a total of 24 points. There are NO dump stats, and every combination of stats, weapons, and armor results in quite differently performing characters, which interact with the combat system in interesting ways. Unarmored humans start with MA 10, but most armor reduces a characters MA. Armor also lowers your DX. When you are familiar with the system you and one or more friends can create characters and fight a battle in an hour or so, but when you are first starting out it will take a while to internalize the system so it runs quickly. Melee also has various nonhuman opponents: bears, wolves, giant snakes, giants, and gargoyles. It also has fantasy fighters: elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins, who start with different minimum ST and DX, sometimes with different maximum total points. Characters gain experience and when they have 100 they can trade it in for a point to increase ST or DX. Up to 8 points can be gained this way.

Description of Wizard

Wizard adds a third stat, Intelligence (IQ), and a lot of spells. You've still only got 8 points to spend between the three stats, so characters can have 32 points total. Wizards can know as many spells as they have IQ points. Spells are rated by the IQ necessary to learn them. Wizards roll 3/DX to see if they've cast their spells correctly. Each spell has a ST cost to cast; some spells can be continued with a different ST cost. Typically if a wizard fails the roll to cast the spell it still costs 1 ST. Wizard also adds a couple more monsters, Myrmidons, and two sizes of dragon: 4 hex and 7 hex. Wizard is scaled well to work beside Melee as a person to person combat board game.

Description of In the Labyrinth

In the Labyrinth (ITL) adds some elaborations to combat and magic, as well as all the things necessary to make The Fantasy Trip a complete roleplaying game. In particular, they add talents, non-magical abilities. Talents allow a character to try to do something, or makes something anybody can do easier. Talents are rated by the IQ necessary to learn them, and by how many points IQ points they cost to get at character creation. Talents cost twice as much (in IQ points at character creation and in XP after character creation) for wizards as they do regular “hero” characters. Regular heroes can learn spells, but they cost triple (in IQ points at character creation and in XP after character creation) what they cost wizards. ITL adds lots of spells, many of which have non-combat uses, as you'd expect from an RPG.

Finding out if your character succeeds is a matter of rolling dice equal to or lower than your stats. For easy things you roll 2 dice or even 1 die, normal things take 3 dice, while difficult things take 4, 5, even or more dice! Look at the chance to roll a 14 or less on 6d6! Yikes!


Random things I like about TFT

  • Melee and Wizard are relatively simple person to person combat board games that serve as an introduction to the full system.

  • Uses only six sided dice.

  • Tactical hex grid based combat with verisimilitude.

  • The RPG is a complete fantasy roleplaying game in one 176 page book.

  • ITL's one page Quick Character Generation lets you quickly roll up a new character with interesting features and personality.

  • The Table of Jobs.

  • Creating Magic Items.

  • ITL's mini setting of the Village of Bendwyn and Southern Elyntia.

  • Characters, even complicated ones, fit on a 3×5 card.

  • It's got a free app, TFT Helper, for iOS and Android!

D&D Retro-clones and Neo-clones

(See Retro-clone and Neo-clone for definitions.)

All of the retro-clones and neo-clones mentioned below are games with which I have some familiarity. Many of them I've played. The others I've read. All of them have something interesting to recommend them.

There was a time when Wizards of the Coast hadn't made old versions of D&D available easily, and the retro-clones were very important then. Even now some retro-clones or neo-clones have better presentation than the original rules (Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy) or present a simpler version of classic rules (Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition with Advanced Edition Companion for AD&D), or provide additional details and further development of a particular D&D version (Adventurer, Conqueror, King System).

And, of course, if you are playing with kids who might not have the money to buy PDFs of old versions of D&D, many of the retro-clones are available in PDF or online legally for free.

What do you want?

Want a simple, clear, exceptionally well organized and presented version of the classic Basic/Expert D&D (B/X) rules? See Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy.

Want races separate from classes and the most of the extra classes, races, and many spells from AD&D 1E, all on the 1 to 14 level scale of the classic Basic/Expert D&D (B/X)? See Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy.

Want to play classic AD&D 1E modules with all races, classes, and most spells from AD&D 1E, on a mostly 1 to 20 level scale, with 9th level magic user spells and 7th cleric spells, but with simpler mechanics? See Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition & Advanced Edition Companion, or Advanced Labyrinth Lord.

Want something almost like AD&D 1E? See OSRIC.

Want something that feels like Original D&D, just what was in the three original Little Brown Books? See Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, Labyrinth Lord's Original Edition Characters, Delving Deeper, or Fantastic Medieval Campaigns, especially if you want a Chainmail-style system for individual and mass combat. Do you also want the thief class? See Swords & Wizardry Core.

Want something that feels like Original D&D, just before AD&D 1E came out, with the races and classes (except for gnomes and illusionists) and spells familiar from AD&D 1E, but simpler, on a mostly 1 to 20+ level scale, with up to 9th level magic user spells and 7th level cleric spells? See Swords & Wizardry Complete.

Like the 1 to 14 level scale and the lower hit dice of Basic/Expert D&D, but want more detailed rules, especially magic research, economics, and domain play (the D&D end game, where the players build strongholds and rule), with rules for building campaign specific classes and races, and don't mind some slightly different mechanics? See the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System.

Want the 1 to 36 level scale of Frank Mentzer's BECMI rules or Aaron Allston's Rules Cyclopedia? See Dark Dungeons.

Basic Fantasy

I think I looked at Basic Fantasy first, but it wasn't what I was looking for at the time.

All its PDFs are free, and the print on demand books are very inexpensive.

I notice that the character class tables all go to level 20. I wonder if this is a residual artifact of the D&D 3E character classes going to level 20, since it doesn't match the B/X model that that is implied by the Basic Fantasy website with the statement “The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game is a rules-light game system modeled on the classic RPG rules of the early 1980's.” Compare that to Labyrinth Lord's rescaling of B/X to match AD&D.

Labyrinth Lord

Original Edition Characters

Original Edition Characters is a player's supplement for Labyrinth Lord that provides characters more like those of Original D&D. (OECPDF, OECPOD)

Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition & Advanced Edition Companion

While Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition (LLRE; PDF and POD) has been criticized for not being a completely faithful retro-clone of the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic/Expert D&D rules (B/X), I think it still holds a useful spot. The changes that were made in the revised version of Labyrinth Lord made it easier to be used with Advanced Edition Companion (AEC). It adapted the 1–14 level scale of B/X to the scale of AD&D 1E, generally about 20 levels, and with AEC it added the separate races and the additional classes, spells, monsters, and magic items of AD&D 1E.

There are versions of LLRE and AEC available for free: No-art LLRE and no-art AEC.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord

Advanced Labyrinth Lord compiles the information from Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition and Advanced Edition Companion into one convenient book (ALL, PDF and POD).

Swords & Wizardry

Swords & Wizardry is inspired by the original D&D booklets and associated magazine articles. It comes in various versions, depending on how much of the supplemental material you want.

I find the original D&D booklets very interesting from a historical standpoint, but find Swords & Wizardry easier to use at the table.

Swords & Wizardry White Box

This is inspired by the original three booklets of D&D, so it includes only the Fighter, Magic-User, and Cleric, so it strips away everything but the absolute essentials.

Swords & Wizardry Core

This adds the thief class.

Swords & Wizardry Complete

If you are looking to play something with the feel of AD&D 1E, but want something even simpler than Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition and Advanced Edition Companion, this is an excellent choice, as long as you don't need half-orcs, gnomes or illusionists.

I like how it discusses different ways to interpret the original rules, often giving more than option for use with S&WC.

Old-School Essentials

Old-School Essentials (OSE) is published by Necrotic Gnome in two flavors so far, Classic Fantasy and Advanced Fantasy.

In my opinion, OSE has improved the clarity, organization, and presentation of its rules over the already very good Basic/Expert D&D rules.[1] As well as clear wording it uses layout and typography to enhance its presentation of the rules, from the use of one and two page spreads that completely cover one subject to the careful use of bold and bullet points to call out important information, OSE really shines. The adventures that Necrotic Gnome have produced for it (The Hole in the Oak, Winter's Daughter, The Incandescent Grottoes, The Isle of the Plangent Mage, Halls of the Blood King, and Holy Mountain Shaker) continue this excellent use of layout, bold, and bullet points to present their information clearly and without the dreaded “wall of text” or “read aloud text”.

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy (OSECF) is the best organized and presented version of the classic rules from the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic/Expert D&D sets. This is the game that I wish had been around when I started playing. There is an SRD (OSESRD). I particularly like the Classic Fantasy Rules Tome, which collects everything into one substantial book, but there is also a version split into multiple books covering separate sections of the rules, so that the magic-user can look up his spells while the fighter is looking at the combat rules.

Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy is the best organized and presented version of the ideas of the classic rules from 1st edition AD&D, scaled to match the 1–14 level scope of the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic/Expert D&D sets. If I was starting a new D&D campaign these are the rules I'd use, all things being equal.

Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy is collected in the Player's Tome and Referee's Tome.

Adventurer, Conqueror, King System

The name of this system is usually abbreviated as ACKS. One of its explicit design goals for to supply more rules for the end of game of Original D&D, where the players built strongholds and ruled, hence the name. It also has a more detailed economic system. It is more complicated than OD&D or B/X, but in a completely different way than AD&D 1E.

It uses some different mechanics, especially for “to hit” roles, so it might be considered a Neo-Clone, but it is inspired by B/X D&D, and keeps to the same 1 to 14 level scale of B/X. I particularly like its rules for building your own campaign specific classes from the Player's Companion.


I looked at OSRIC (OSRICKnK), (a free OSRIC PDF is available, as well as a free PDF of the Usherwood Publishing OSRIC Pocket SRD version) but was more interested in Basic/Expert D&D retroclones at the time. I think it is a well written, organized, and presented restatement of AD&D 1E. The Black Blade Publishing print edition is a very nice offset printed volume with a sewn spine. The Usherwood Publishing OSRIC Pocket SRD (PDF, POD) is quite affordable. I just wish OSRIC wasn't missing some of the classes. (I miss the Monk in particular.) I was also surprised by how many of the little quirks and restrictions of AD&D 1E have been ironed out, although many remain. Usherwood Publishing has some supplements that add some of the missing classes, though I'm not sure I like all their versions.

Dark Dungeons

Dark Dungeons is available in a free PDF (DDFreePDF), a hardback (DDHardback), a paperback (DDPaperback), and a deluxe color edition (DDDeluxe). It has a home page.

This is a retro-clone of The D&D Rules Cyclopedia.

Dark Dungeons does have changes from the Rules Cyclopedia, integrating some optional rules, extrapolating, clarifying and adjusting other rules, and integrating rules for Immortals. It does not include the Mystara setting and cosmology elements. The monsters differ somewhat.

Delving Deeper

Delving Deeper (Delving Deeper Description, Delving Deeper PDFs) works very hard to be as faithful to the 3 Little Brown Books of Original D&D (along with the relevant partsof Chainmail, with which they were intended to be used) as possible. The Delving Deeper V4 Reference Rules Compendium is a Print-on-Demand version of the three booklets. There is also the Delving Deeper SRD. I was particularly interested in Version 5 of Delving Deeper, as that promised annotated versions of the three booklets, but only one of the annotated versions has been completed so far.

Fantastic Medieval Campaigns

Fantastic Medieval Campaigns (FMC) is a retro-clone of the three Little Brown Books of Original D&D and Chainmail, available for free in PDF and in print on demand. I gather it was something the author did just so they had something easier to follow when playing OD&D with friends. I'm glad they made it available.

Unlike a lot of clones of OD&D, FMC, as well as including the familiar d20-based combat system, also includes a clone of the Chainmail rules, which can be used either for individual combat or mass combat. FMC is very well organized, and could be used by someone new to D&D to play in a group where everybody else is using the OD&D rulebooks, or as the rules for a whole group.

Basically, FMC is a very well written and organized restatement of Chainmail and the three LBB. The layout and design are uncluttered; the art is charming, the organization is superb, and the writing is clear. The physical book is an excellent example of the possibilities of print-on-demand, with the different sections of the book printed on different colored backgrounds, making finding specific sections much easier. The table of the contents at the front of the book is reasonably detailed, and each section has its own table of contents as its first page, opposite the title page for the section. The book has a glossary and indexes for monsters, spells, and tables.

In the end this is an exceptional restatement and clarification of the original game.

See Also

If you want even more information, you could try Taxidermic Owlbear's D&D Retroclones (and downloads) and Wikipedia.

There are also retro-clones of games other than D&D, if you go looking.

Explicit Procedures in Old School Essentials and Swords & Wizardry

Nothing I'm saying in this post is new; I'm sure other people have pointed out these or similar things in the past. I'm just trying to get my observation down in concrete form.

Someone asked why Old School Essentials (OSE) gets so much attention in the OSR world, and why Swords & Wizardry (S&W) doesn’t get more. I like both games very much, and have pledged for Kickstarters for both systems, but I think that the reason that OSE gets more attention, especially from from those new to the OSR, is that OSE provides specific and explicit step by step procedures for running the game structures that are at the center of the game.

In the article from 6 September 2019, Game Structures — Addendum: System Matters, Justin Alexander talks about how the dungeon crawling structure that originates in Original D&D is completely missing from D&D 5E. (The rest of his series on Game Structures is also interesting.)

OSE preserves (as you’d expect as a faithful retroclone of the 1981 Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic/Expert edition of D&D) those procedures and presents them clearly. Much of the same information is available in Swords & Wizardry, but the reader has to synthesize most of it from paragraphs and pages of text, rather than having a step by step procedure to follow.

Old School Essentials.

Looking at OSE, there are at least 12 procedures, most of which have explicit lists of steps. (Page numbers are to the OSE Classic Fantasy Rules Tome.)

†  Indicates step by step procedures.

  1. Dungeon Adventuring†, p. 108.

  2. Wilderness Adventuring†, p. 110.

  3. Waterbourne Adventuring†, p. 112.

  4. Encounters†, p. 114.

  5. Evasion and Pursuit, p. 116.

  6. Combat†, p. 120.

  7. Strongholds, Construction†, p. 134.

  8. NPC Encounters, Adventuring Parties, p. 212. While not numbered this is sequence of bullet listed procedures for generating Basic and Expert NPC parties, and High Level NPCs.

  9. Designing a Dungeon†, p. 224.

  10. Designing a Wilderness†, p. 226.

  11. Designing a Base Town†, p. 227.

  12. Placing Treasure, p. 229.

    1. Rolling a Sentient Sword†, p. 272.

    2. Control Checks†, p. 273.

The fact that OSE has an online SRD is also an advantage; S&W used to, but it is not currently available.

Swords & Wizardry


In Swords & Wizardry there are only a couple of step-by-step procedures.

  1. Initiative and Order of Battle†, p. 35.

  2. Generating a Random Treasure Hoard†, p. 131.

Swords & Wizardry’s other procedures have to be extracted from one or more paragraphs of running text.

S&W tends to rely on examples and prose descriptions rather than explicitly numbered or bulleted lists.

“Monsters in the Dungeon”, p. 76, could easily have been part of a “Randomly Stoking the Dungeon” procedure.

Compare OSE's “Wilderness Adventuring” to S&W's “Wilderness Adventures” on p. 80. The OSE version is an explicit list of steps, while the S&W version is a wall of text.

Compare OSE‘s bulleted Morale procedure, p. 123, to S&W's, p. 39.

Compare OSE's “Rolling a Sentient Sword” to S&W's “Intelligent Weapons”, p. 138.

I'm sure that the designer of S&W and its ardent players use procedures much like OSE's to actually run the game published, internalized as good practice from the original games over the users, until they don't notice the lack of or more difficult presentation of these procedures in S&W.

Much of the credit for OSE's procedures goes to Moldvay, Cook, and Marsh, who designed the version of D&D it retroclones, but much also goes to the exceptionally clear presentation of those rules by Gavin Norman of Necrotic Gnome. The series of OSE adventures also published by Necro Gnome have also been excellently presented.

I have been pleased to see S&W's presentation improving over time (the use of two page spreads for most of the class presentations in the most recent S&W Revised was a great improvement), and I expect to see the presentation continue to improve.

OVA: Galactic Rangers — Session 1

Player Characters

  • Strazin Kostra, tigerman Galactic Ranger!

  • Yin, a shapechanging Galactic Ranger!

Strazin fights Gary from Accounting (who looks like a humanoid dragon), his boss, on his first day at work! {This was just a training exercise.} He defeats him in one blow! But Gary says “You may have beaten me, but Cheryl from HR is the real challenge…” (Dun dun dun!)

Gary sends us out after four criminal bosses: the Turtle does protection, the Tiger does gambling, the Bird does illegal information gathering and trading, and the Dragon does drugs.

We decide to go after the Bird later. We'd have go off planet to the satellite controlling space station around the planet of the bird people. On paper it is a telecommunication booster, but he uses it to steal data. Anyway, he's the hardest to approach, and we need somebody smart, which is not playing to either of our strengths.

We need to gather hard evidence of crimes, so they can be put away for ever.

We decide to go after the Tiger. We are going to a casino with associated brothel, Alpha Blue, under cover. We are offered a hit of a mild (and legal) drug at registration.

{Drugs are not illegal unless really special: moon sugar, super cocaine, etc. Crimes: illegal pit fighting where people die, contests where people are expected to die, etc.}

Yin goes straight to the tables, and breaks even, then gets the feeling there is a disturbance in the force.

Strazin gets a mental image of a guy going back and to the left through a secret passage to one of the arenas. Strazin tells Yin telepathically and they follow the guy to a death match. They've got five guys going over beams over a death drop, and they're betting on who survives. We end up in a lower box with the betters. We've got a martial arts guy, Fister, and Loud Strike, a wanted gun runner, who is also wanted. {We are wired with audio and video.} Fister and Loud Strike are talking about going to the private suite of the Tiger to get the winnings after the match.

The Contestants are: Red & Blue tied for first, then Green & Black tied, and trailing Yellow. Yin and then Strazin bets on Yellow; none of the betters can believe it. Then Strazin uses Psychic to assist Yellow, pushing twice then Green pushed black off in frustration and lost his balance and fell.

We win the jackpot, and Fister and the other guy take us up to the Tigers office, where we see a tiger (not The Tiger), who is very rotund, not at all fit, Fat Tony, who asks if we want blue bucks (the casino money) or to cash it out now. We keep the blue bucks, for later, and when he goes to pays recognizes Yin as infamous across the Galaxy, and a fight breaks out. It turns against us and we flee, Yin uses Shape-Shifter to go down through the vents in the floor and Strazin uses Psychic to read their weapon patterns and to jump out the window and time it to catch the elevator on the way down. Yin says “We will never talk about this!”

We got 2 XP each, and each get a bonus 1 XP, for meta reasons.

Overcoming reST's limited table control by including raw groff TBL

Last edited: 2024-01-21 15:55:09 EST

So. I have a CHICKEN Scheme program that converts Big Eyes Small Mouth 4E characters from a YAML definition into reStructuredText (reST).

Unfortunately, pandoc’s (and probably the orginal python docutils’), formatting of tables from reST is limited and doesn’t let me do what I need to do.[1]

Here’s an image of the BESM 4E character, Xeksil [2], I played Wednesday night:

Original charactersheet for Xeksil in :app:`reST` using grid tables

As you can see, it doesn’t fully fill the width of the page, and the first two columns are too wide for the information they contain.

I’m contemplating changing the program so that the actual tables are in groff tbl format directly, and insert them into the generated reST file in .. raw:: ms directives. That locks me into using pandoc’s groff ms macros output, but I could just write a new version that outputs ConTeXt (C1, C2) if I ever need one…

As a test, I converted a character and his mecha into raw groff ms with tbl output. Here’s an image of that:

Test character sheet for Enyon Boase in plain groff -ms with TBL.

As you can see, the tables fill the width of the text entirely and the first two columns are narrower and the third column expands to fill the width of the text. I was also able to put double lines before and after each entity, and put single lines after the headers and before the total lines.

I think this looks much better.

Note that the first example is on 5.5” by 8.5” page (which I use for things I’m going to look at on the screen a lot, because it takes up less space) and the second example is on 8.5” by 11” paper and in two columns. It was essentially impossible to have pandoc (and I’m sure docutils) produce 2 column output and have the reST versions of the tables adapt to the width of the columns. With the narrower widths of the first two table columns the third table column is wide enough that I can use pages with two columns.

CPB (who I talked about this with earlier) commented: The data is in YAML now right? Why not just generate troff?

Because when I write the actual text of things, I prefer reST. So, for instance, the description of the character or entity I write in reST. And I like reST for the main documents into which I include these generated files because then I can output to HTML too. (Or to ConTexT; I’ve got some documents where I needed features that ConTexT has and pandoc’s groff -ms output doesn’t have.)

I’ve already written the character formatting program (named besm-rst, originally enough) so that it can output the table version or a terse version where the different sections are in normal paragraphs, which is useful because it is much more compact. Adding a version that outputs reST with tables expressed as an reST .. raw:: ms block that contains the table sections as groff -ms tbl source would just be writing another version of the output routine, selectable with a command line option.

The original output routine to produce reST grid tables and its support procedures were 315 lines. The second output routine to paragraphs and its new support procedures (it uses some of the first output routine’s support procedures) was 158 lines.

It will be interesting to see how long the troff output will be.

Oh, here is Lieutenant Enyon Boase again, this time in paragraph format:


That’s also a 8.5” by 11” page, and as you can see, it’s much more compact, but harder for folks to find each individual item. This is basically the format that was used in the original BESM 1E and 2E books, and the table based version appeared in BESM 3E and was continued in 4E.

I think the table format is much easier to read.

Now, when I use the reST table output and generate HTML from it it looks kinda crude:

Character sheet for Enyon Boase using reST grid tables for HTML output.

However, I think I may be able to fix that with CSS.

The HTML is relatively clean. (It probably doesn't really need the width specifications in the colgroup element, but pandoc puts those in.)

That’s actually six tables. If I wrap them in one div with a particular class I think I can get them formatted right.

CPB commented: CSS supports printing.

Yes, there is actually at least one commercial document formatting system that uses CSS for sophisticated print output, much more elaborate than what the browsers support, I think. And there is at least one open source solution, weasyprint, that uses CSS to produce PDF.

But I know tbl better than CSS. 😉

I do have a need for good looking output html for the output of the program: so I can put it on my blog! It would be better than images in cases where I’m not actually comparing the PDF output of various things.

Well, it took me longer than I expected to write the new version of the output routines for embedded tbl in rst: 4¼ hours. After the first 2 hours I was fried (it had already been a long day): if I had stopped then I probably could have finished it the next day in an hour. Oh well. The new output routine and its new supporting routines were 208 lines long.

Here's an image of the page produced (probably from the same YAML file; I have a couple, since one of them was an early test file for besm-rst) using the new output routine, with reST output with tbl output in .. raw:: ms, pulled from the document with all the pregenerated characters:

Enyon Boase reST output with tbl in raw ms block

And for reference, here is the YAML version of Enyon Boase:

- name: Lieutenant Enyon Boase
  stats:                        # Average: (/ (+ 8 6 6) 3.0) 6.666666666666667
    - name: Body
      value: 8
      points: 16
    - name: Mind
      value: 6
      points: 12
    - name: Soul
      value: 6
      points: 12
    - name: ACV
      value: 9
    - name: DCV
      value: 7
    - name: DM
      value: 5
    - name: HP
      value: 70
    - name: EP
      value: 60
    - name: SV
      value: 14
    - name: Attack Mastery
      level: 3
      points: 3
    - name: Extra Actions
      level: 1
      points: 4
      details: +1 Extra Action
    - name: "Item: FV2021 Coleopteran"
      points: 35
    - name: Skills
      level: 2
      points: 2
      details: 20 Skill Points
    - name: "Unique Defect: Obsessed by Military History"
      rank: 1
      points: -1
    - name: Interrogation
      level: 1
      points: 2
    - name: Law
      level: 2
      points: 2
        - Military
    - name: Leadership
      level: 1
      points: 2
    - name: Military Sciences
      level: 2
      points: 4
    - name: Persuasion
      level: 1
      points: 3
    - name: Political Sciences
      level: 1
      points: 1
    - name: Stealth
      level: 2
      points: 4
    - name: Visual Arts
      level: 1
      points: 1
    - name: Writing
      level: 1
      points: 1
        - Reports

And here is the YAML version of his FV2021 Coleopteran:

- name: FV2021 Coleopteran
  page: BRCS, p. 94=95
  description: |
    A three-metre talk British-built humanoid combat walker used by
    the Canadians on Mars.  They use a new “mind-interface”
    neuro-helmet that makes the mecha very agile.  However, if a
    different pilot wants to use the mecha, the neuro-helmet must be
    “retuned” to their brain waves — this takes a full day; until
    then, halve the Defence Mastery and Combat Technique: Lightning
    Reflexes Attribute bonuses.  The mecha are painted standard
    colours: UN white, with sky-blue helmets.
    - name: Health Points
      value: 80
    - name: Features
      level: 1
      points: 1
      details: "Radio, Inertial Naviagion"
    - name: Ground Speed
      level: 3
      points: 3
      details: Up to 50 kph
    - name: Armour
      level: 3
      effective: 4
      points: 6
        - "Unique Limiter: Partial: Thin"
      details: |
        Hit thin area with called shot for half Armour Rating; 20 AR;
        20 Health Points
    - name: Combat Technique
      level: 2
      points: 2
      details: "Lightning Reflexes: major edge on Initiative rolls"
    - name: Defence Mastery
      level: 2
      points: 2
      details: +2 to Defense Combat Value
    - name: Resilient
      level: 6
      points: 12
      details: |
        Space: low pressure, high pressure, intense cold, intense
        heat, radiation, lack of air
    - name: Supersense
      level: 4
      points: 4
      details: Sensors, range 10 km
    - name: Superstrength
      level: 2
      points: 8
      details: |
        Lift 500 kg (a horse); +10 Unarmed Combat Damage;
        +2 Muscle Weapons Damage
    - name: Tough
      level: 6
      points: 6
      details: +60 Health Points
    - name: "Weapon: Railgun"
      level: 12
      effective: 9
      points: 24
      details: |
        Damage Modifier ×9; Range 10 km; fails and cannot be used
        again on natural 2 or 3
        - [Range, 5]
        - [Unreliable, 2]
    - name: "Weapon: Rocket Pod"
      level: 14
      effective: 9
      points: 14
      details: |
        Damage Modifier ×9; Autofire: 1 hit if attack exceeds defence
        by 0–3, 2 hits if it exceeds by 4–6, 3 hits if it exceeds by
        >7–9, etc.; Area 3m radius; Range 1 km; 3 shots; Can be
        deflected or destroyed for 1 round; Alternate attack: cost
        - [Autofire, 3]
        - Area
        - [Range, 4]
        - [Charges, 2]
        - Stoppable
    - name: "Weapon: Plasma Fist"
      level: 11
      effective: 12
      points: 11
      details: |
        Damage Modifier ×12; Muscle Weapon; 6 shots; Alternate attack:
        cost halved
        - Charges
    - name: Awkward Size
      rank: 2
      points: -4
      details: |
        Size 2: Medium: +2 to be hit for every size attacker is
        smaller, −2 to be hit for every size attack is larger, 1.5–8
        tonnes, big horse to bigger than an elephant
    - name: Conditional Ownership
      rank: 1
      points: -1
      details: UN Army ownership
    - name: "Special Requirement: Frequent maintenance"
      rank: 1
      points: -3

The git repo with this program and some test data is on github.

Enyon Boase is a pregenerated character that I came up for my BESM 2ER rewrite of the BESM 1E adventure “Red Planet, Blue Helmets”, from Big Robots, Cool Starships, which I'm now converting to BESM 4E. The FV2021 Coleopteran is also from that adventure.