Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Recent Reading

Recent Reading

  • Tales from Watership Down, by Richard Adams. An enjoyable visit with friends.

  • Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, by T.F. Banks. T.F. Banks is a psuedonym of Sean Russell and Ian Dennis, two Canadian writers. Their earlier book, also about Henry Morton, was A Thief Taker.

Recent Reading: Morgan & Adams

  • Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan. Well written noir cyberpunk paramilitary science fiction.

  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams. Despite Michael Moorcock's low opinion of this book, it is a classic of fantasy literature. I've been listening to it on audio cassette in my car on the way to and from work for the last two weeks, and it's interesting how different an experience it is from reading it. Serendipitously, Blue was also reading Watership Down.

Recent Reading

  • Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat. In this amusing story inspired by the time Mowat spent in the Keewatin Barrens in the early middle twentieth century Mowat succeeds in arousing our interest in and sympathy for wolves in a way both entertaining and serious.

    Whenever and wherever men have engaged in the mindless slaughter of animals (including other men), they have often attempted to justify their acts by attributing the most vicious or revolting qualities to those they would destroy, and the less reason there is for the slaughter, the greater campaign of vilification.

    Regardless of how much of this book is fiction and how much is based on fact, it's well worth reading.


As a farmer whose land currently hosts coyotes and a bear that have killed calves I have some sympathy those who don't want them around.

Recent Reading

  • The Forge of the Titans, by Steve White. Adequate science fiction.

  • A Scattering of Jades, by Alexander C. Irvine. Enjoyable magical historical, somewhat in the Tim Powers mode, with an interesting Mesoamerican tone and pictures of early and mid 1800s New York and Mammoth Cave. (I actually read this last month, I think.)

  • A Thousand Words for Stranger, by Julie E. Czerneda. Competent space opera.

  • And No Birds Sang, by Farley Mowat. The horrors of war; a antidote to mindless jingoism.

  • The Tribune, by Patrick Larkin. Competent historical adventure during the early Roman Empire, with incidental cameos of a couple of famous people.

This Weblog

I've added crude previous and next links to these weblog pages.

The process of creating this weblog is very crude by current standards. Each of these weblog pages starts out as a XML template created by an Emacs function. The date, page id, and cross-link entity references are automatically inserted by when the XML file is created from the template. I then edit the XML file in Emacs and when I'm finished I run make in the top directory of my website hierarchy which rebuilds the web site. In the process it notices the new weblog entry and runs a few tools that actually create the entities necessary for cross linking and then runs jade or openjade (DSSSL processors) on the master XML file for my website to create the HTML pages. It has a very plain look and feel, and it's rather crude, but it works. It's primary advantage is that it was easy to put together from pieces I already had.

Sophisticated XML and XSL, etc.

If you want to see a nice looking web site built using XML and XSL in a sophisticated you should look at instead. He supplies the raw bits necessary to figure out how to put one together like it yourself, but hasn't packaged it up (for very good reasons). Sometime when I'm feeling ambitious I should try to set up a website using his methods.


I use to build my website, including these log entries, using Docbook XML. As a static website it was ok, but as a blog it lacked a lot of functionality.

Recent Reading

Recent Reading

  • Blind Justice, by Bruce Alexander. A Sir John Fielding mystery.

  • Biblioholism: The Literary Addition, by Tom Raahe. Full of interesting bits of information.

For some reason, I've always been amused by the accidental juxtiposition in the Dewey Decimal system that places near to each other computer books and books by Erich Von Däniken, author of Chariots of the Gods. And then when I figured out why some people refered to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as “Chariots of the Frogs” I was even more amused.

Recent Reading

  • They Found Him Dead, by Georgette Heyer. Light but entertaining.

  • Watery Grave, by Bruce Alexander. A Sir John Fielding mystery.

  • Nightseer, by Laurell K. Hamilton. You can see in this, her first novel, a few of the themes that Hamilton developed much further in her Anita Blake novels.

  • Dragon Blood, by Patricia Briggs. This novel and the first in this series, Dragon Bones, are enjoyable alternatives to the prolix sagas of Jordan and company. Interesting characters, interesting situations.

Gaming Fun; Recent Reading

Tri-Stat dX Core System Role-Playing Game

Guardians of Order have just published Tri-Stat dX, a synthesis of BESM and SAS (their superhero roleplaying game). It was written by Mark C. McKinnon and Adam Jury, Stephen Kenson, Jef Mackintosh, David L. Pulver, and Jesse Scoble, and is available in book form for 10$US and in PDF form for download for free. dX is slightly crunchier than BESM (it adopts SAS's Power Modifier Values (PMVs) and changes the scale of charater points), and it changes a few things, like Own a Big Mecha, but it seems to be pretty good. Visually, it has a very clean, spare look, from the black cover with the Tri-Stat dX logo on the front and the Guardians emblem on the back, to the layout and organization of the text inside. The only art in the book is on the few pages that are advertisments for other Guardian books or their Magnum Opus imprint: no anime-style art here to put off the anime-phobic. It ought to provide a useful datapoint in the discussions about art-filled, expensive (color, hardback, etc.) game books and plainer, more text- oriented game books. It will be interesting to see how this turns out for Guardians.

I was surprised to see (in the ads in the Tri-Stat dX book) how reasonable the license fees are for the use of dX and BESM through Guardian's Magnum Opus creator-owned roleplaying game publishing imprint, especially since Guardians handles all the printing and distribution of the game. This seems like it ought to be boon to game creators who are not ready to plunge into game publishing themselves, but have a good game they needed published.

Update: there is a Tri-Stat dX character sheet available from Guardian's web site.

BESM: Cold Hands, Dark Hearts

Guardians also recently published BESM Cold Hands, Dark Hearts (CHDH), a gothic horror setting viewed through an anime lens, reinterpreting western supernatural material in the light of the Japanese manga, anime, and games. It's written and illustrated by David Okum and, despite the (im)moderately cute gothic toddler on the front cover, it looks like it should support games ranging from the lighthearted to the downright serious, though throughout it concentrates on the action and adventure side of things.

CHDH opens with a manga (a welcome change from plain flavor text) that sets out a rather grim backstory. David Okum's art here is more spiky and less cute than some of his other illustrations in the book, and despite the unfortunate duplication of one page of the story and the resultant omission of another (but see below), it does a good job of laying out the backstore and setting the mood. (And all this before the actual title page!) This is especially important because we later learn that the story is explicitly intended to familiarize players with the setting. Guardians has made the whole story available on their website as a preview, including the missing page, so GMs can point players to it for an introduction to the game.

Once we get past the title page, we find a short introductory chapter covering CHDH's sources and looking at how Japanese culture combines with western supernatural traditions to produce new interpretations in manga, anime, and games, and how western media has been influenced in tern. It's a nice summary of large subject and touches a good number of the influential anime in passing.

The second chapter, the bulk of the book, covers character creation. It immediately lets us know that player characters are intended to be supernatural entities in a behind-the-scenes mystic struggle, and then lays out the character termplates for the suggested supernatural entities, along with brief descriptions of magic systems used by each type and some additional background material. There are ten different types of entities, ranging from shapeshifters and vampires to sorcerous humans to spirits of the dead and zombies, and a couple of the entity types have sub-types, so there's plenty of variety. I was pleased to see how well the BESM system specific rules fit in with the background material, completely avoiding the "overwhelming list of stats" syndrome. The chapter continues by briefly listing the schools of magic and spells availble to each school, followed by an alphabetical list of the spells themselves. Each school is specific to a type of supernatural entity, and mechanically the schools are represented by a default level of the Magic attribute for each type of entity. It's a good example of how to some flavor on top of the generic effects-based BESM attributes. The chapter concludes a some short bit of useful advice about character generation.

The third chapter covers playing in the CHDH world. It discusses what the players are likely to be doing and the daily lives of player characters and their interactions with the unsuspecting masses around them. It also describes some important places around the world, how magic works and lists some esoteric organizations and example Items of Power.

The fourth chapter is the GMs section. It gives some guidelines for setting up a campign, including some possiblities for why the player character would be working together. It lists some monster archetypes and describes the seven Daemon Lords who are major villians (or heros, to some) in the setting, along with suggestions for how to use them in play.

The fifth and last chapter is an example campaign. It includes three lightly detailed scenarios, a short discussion on how to expand the campaign, and five brief scenario ideas.

Finally, the book ends with the appendicies: a world map, a biography, and an index.

With CHDH Guardians of Order has continued with the BESM tradition, seen in Centauri Knights and Uresia: Grave of Heaven, of engaging settings in small packages. Like those earlier books CHDH is full of neat ideas and includes interesting system material as well and providing useful examples. I think it's a good example of minimalizst setting, and anyone feeling overwhelmed by the many super-detailed settings available would do well to look at CHDH. It's also worth a look for those seeking a less angst-filled horror setting than White Wolf's World of Darkness.

Recent Reading

  • A Mist of Prophecies by Steven Saylor. This, the nineth book in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series about the Roman detective Gordianus the Finder, takes up with Grodianus back in Rome after his travels in search of his supposed dead son, and fittly starts out just as depressingly as the last book ended. I hope things start looking up a bit for Gordianus and his family.