Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.


I've got a love-hate relationship with DocBook: I love the structured markup, and hate the various quirky toolchains and the difficulty of customizing both the DocBook markup format and the appearance of the output. Luckily, these things are slowly improving.

Plain Text Markup


This is unfinished.

I still like plain text. Almost none of the e-mail that I get that uses HTML formatting actually gains anything from the additional complexity.

Most of my writing doesn't require a 200 mebibyte word processor installation that still can't do reasonable intra-document linking, much less inter-document linking. Moreover, whenever I have to use such a beast, the conceptual overhead always gets in the way. I realize these may just be my own quirks, but they really make a difference to me.

So, I like to do my writing in plain (or very nearly plain) text. But I also like having nicely printed documents, plus some hope of being able to move from the plain text documents to something more sophisticated on those occasions where it is warranted. So, what do I do?

I use AsciiDoc and reStructuredText (aka ReST) for writing.

Why both? Well, they both have pluses and minuses.


Pros: I found reStructuredText first. It looks pretty good as plain text, and produces clean HTML and PDF. It can handle deeper structures off the bat than AsciiDoc, which is occasionally important to me. (Some document formats require absurdly deep levels of nested sections.) It can be turned into PDF using LaTeX fairly easily.

Cons: some of the systems I use regularly don't have good packages for docutils, the underlying toolset. This may be in part because although docutils has a long history and is pretty solid, it's still not considered version 1.0 material. I get the surface impression that there are still some things that the developers are thinking about. And there isn't a supported DocBook output format. That's a real shame.


Pros: AsciiDoc, just like reStructuredText, can go straight to HTML. And AsciiDoc's HTML looks nicer straight out of the box.

AsciiDoc is also explicitly a plain-text encoding of DocBook. This lets you be sure you can convert it to something widely used and well understood, which can then be converted by well-known tools into various other formats including PDF and HTML.

It has better package support amongst the environments I use.

Cons: not as pretty looking in source form as reStructuredText.


I wish it was easier to add special purpose structure to both AsciiDoc and reStructuredText that can easily added to all the output formats, for special purpose things like RPG stats or other complicated technical documentation.

So, what do I do when I need something more sophisticated? Use DocBook, of course.

The Kids

The kids I game with get mentioned a lot. Right now they're my daughter and niece and nephews. I'm really lucky to have such a great bunch of kids around to play games. (Some of the parents game occasionally, and I'm glad to include them in the games, any time.)


is my daughter.

My brother C.P.B. and his wife C.B. live about an hour away, so their kids get to play semi-regularly.


is the oldest of the bunch, which means I've been experimenting on him the longest. ((:-) I hope it hasn't hurt too much. (:-)) His first game was a FUDGE Bunnies and Burrows game; I think he was 5 years old then.

He's married and off to college now, so we don't get to game together as much any more, alas.


is the middle brother.


is the youngest child, and started playing well below reading age, so usually plays as part of a team with his dad or an older brother.

My sister C.I.A. and her husband J.W.A.II and their kids live on the family farm, next door to me, so I get to run games for the A. kids, along with my daughter, the most.


is the oldest boy.


is his younger sister.


is their younger brother and is the youngest of my regular gamers. He can read now, and lots of fun playing.


is the new baby boy, and he recently started playing in our games. He's very young yet, but seems to be having fun.

My brother N.A.B. and his wife K.B–B. live far out of state, and so their kids only get to play on summer and winter vacations when they come and visit the family farm, but I enjoy running games for them when they are available.


is N.A.B.'s oldest son.


is his younger brother, and started with Buggin', but now plays Savage Worlds

I'm going to try online gaming with a map tool and either a chat inteface or a voice interface when the kids are a little bit older, so the ones that are farther away can get to play more often.

I've run a lot of games for the kids; Fudge Bunnies and Burrows, BESM Dungeon, Toon, Buggin', D&D, Savage Worlds, and perhaps others.

Hack-n-Slash and Dungeon Crawling

I find, when I've got little time or energy, that it is very easy to fall back to hack-n-slash and dungeon crawling as the default types of adventures to present for my players. Admittedly, these days I'm running mostly for kids who are happy to play in the intersection of those styles. Actual “roleplaying” happens mostly as the result of serendipitous inspiration from in-game events (witness the cuirbouilli armor).

Minimizing Gaming Baggage

I generally carry way too much stuff around to games. I'm trying to minimize it all, and here are some ways I've found or will be trying.

If you are running a system that doesn't focus on battlemat-oriented tactical play, or the evening's adventure doesn't require that style of play, you don't probably don't have much to carry to the nights game: maybe just a single rulebook, your notes, and your dice.

If you are using a battlemat and miniatures, you can cut down on what you have to carry around.

  • Just the core rulebook.

    Just needing to carry one small rulebook makes things much easier. Savage Worlds: Explorer's Editon and Big Eyes, Small Mouth score high here, as does Rules Cyclopedia D&D and, given the pamphlet size and low page count of the three core books, Original D&D.

  • Use flat paper figures and separate bases.

    I've never been one for painting miniatures, unfortunately, but I have found that part of the fun of many roleplaying games is moving miniatures around on a battlemat. (The kids like them too.)

    Now that color printers that print on cardstock are cheap, paper miniatures are practical and good looking. But how do you transport them? It's great that they're way lighter than metal or plastic miniatures, but if you actually cut out and glue up the common triangle-from-the-top and triangle-from-the-side they still take up a good bit of space, too much to take on a business trip, for instance, and they're easily crushed. The “T”-from-the-side paper miniatures can sometimes be folded at the crossbar of the “T”, but they tend to get bent when carried together. If you don't glue the paper minatures you can carry them flat, but using paper clips to hold them in their triangular or “T” shapes it is just too fiddly and time consuming.

    So, what I recently started doing was cutting out and gluing together just the front and backs. This gives me flat, stiff standups that can be easily stored in an envelope, but that together with separate plastic bases provide nice good looking 3d miniatures. The plastic bases themselves are sturdy and can be transported in a small bag; even a hundred of them can fit in my computer bag without taking much space. And the flat standups in an envelope travel easily without being crushed or bent.

    • At some point I should try counters, like Fiery Dragon's Counter Collections, which have the complete D&D 3.5E SRD monsters covered.

  • Put all needed opponents/monsters on index cards.

    I recently got a printer that can print directly on cardstock and 3×5" cards, and I love being able to carry around the opponents and deal out just the ones I need for the current encounter. It greatly reduces papershuffling in the middle of encounters, too, and cuts down on the amount of junk on the table between you and the players. And you can carry them on in a shirt pocket on a pinch.

    • Don't forget stock opponents.

      Having a collection of stock opponents to fall back on really helps. Sometimes just shuffling the 3×5" cards gives me ideas.

  • Flip Mats and dry-erase markers for battlemats

    I got two of Steel Sqwire's original Flip-Mat™ battlemats. They've got 1 inch squares on one side and 1 inch hexes on the other side, and they fold up flat to 8×10 inches and unfolded are 24×30 inches. Two of these fit in my computer bag without bulking it up noticably, and work wonderfully with dry-erase pens. (No more stains from wet-erase remains!) The only problems is that since they fold, they have creases, and don't lay pefectly flat. However, I've used these with paper miniatures and unless someone slaps something down in the middle of mat or really jars the table things are pretty stable and the miniatures don't fall down.

  • Printed Cardstock Tile Terrain instead of battlemats

    I recently bought a bunch of PDF printable terrain tiles from Skeleton Key Games. They make nice looking terrain and they are all standardized shapes that I can print on cardstock on an inexpensive inkjet printer and cut out. Since they're all the same size and shape they stack flat and since they're cardstock you can easily carry them in a standard 6½x9½ manilla envelope, and two or three envelopes easily carry enough for an evening's play. The disadvantages are that tiles sometimes curve, which tends to lead to the tiles moving around more as they're laid and played on.

    As a side node, the various tile sets published by Wizards of the Coast for use with D&D, Star Wars, and the associated miniatures battle games have a great graphical appears and are very heavy, sturdy solid cardboard (not corragated), so they make a great battlemat. Unfortunately, they're all different sizes which makes it difficult to pack them compactly, and the thick cardboard which makes them so stable in play also makes them surprisingly bulky. (And I can never figure out easily if I've actually collected up all the pieces after the game.)

    2008-08-20 01:29:26: I'm still undecided as to whether these are slower and less convenient than the Flip-Mats. They do look neat, though.

Stones/bennies/chips/status chips, playing cards, etc.

Website Construction

I've been using the DocBook Website customization to build my website since the beginning.

First I used the DSSSL stylesheets to built it. They built the website as a single SGML (and later XML) document from multiple input files included into a main organizing file that produced multiple HTML output files, checking all the cross references and building a site map. Unfortunately, this method stopped working in my environment for some reason, and I never had time to figure out why.

I thought I'd see how the XSL stylesheets the DocBook Website customization worked. The architecture for the Website customization changed between the two: now the website was multiple documents, each built from an XML input file and producing an HTML output file, and using the DocBook XSL stylesheet olink cross-document linking for links between the different pages. This necessitated changing all the source files, but even more unfortunately the processing of cross document links consumed so much memory that rebuilding the site took forever, and eventually got to the point where it used more memory than was usually available on my server. (Admittedly, my setup was atypical for DocBook, and perhaps even pathological.)

In disgust, I let my site lie fallow, waiting for some better solution to present itself. Alas, nothing was immediately forthcoming. I really like DocBook for markup, and the “correct” solution would probably be to take Norm Walsh's route and custom-build some DocBook to website software, but frankly I haven't had the time or energy to do that, especially since, if I follow Norm's example, I'd have to take the time to figure out RDF and so forth.

Eventually I decided that I'd try something minimal: adding a new blog using pyBloxsom, which seemed simple enough to be comprehendable. It supported reStructuredText, one of the nicer plaintext markup systems, which was a definite bonus 1. After fiddling around about I got enough for a reasonably comfortable minimalist blog. So, give it a look-see.


I hate most WYSIWYG software, and am hoping that using reST regularly for the blog will be lightweight enough that I won't notice the burden.

New Blog: First Post

I've been increasing dissatisfied with the complex of software I use to create my web pages. Until I replace the whole thing with something better I'm going to be doing things on this new blog.

This, by the way, is the actual first post. Anything that is earlier is backdated to the date it actually happened, and will be (eventually) marked with the “timewarp” tag, and have a link to this post.

The Secret of Smuggler's Cove


Smuggler's Cove, PEG

Saturday after the 4th I ran another Savage Worlds game for the kids. This time it was “The Secret of Smuggler's Cove”, lightly adapted for the Savage Worlds: Explorer's Edition.


  • L.B., playing Amy and Josiah

  • T.A., playing Billy and David

  • E.A., playing Catherine

  • M.A., playing Devlin

Actual Play

The PCs in this adventure are all kids, and T.A. wasn't any too happy that none of the characters had any weapons more effective than a slingshot! Still, they all had fun with the first two sections of the adventure. In the first they raced small sailboats, and they managed to split the characters up so that all the characters run by the two boys were in one boat and all the characters run by the two girls were in the other boat, and each had fun taunting and distracting the others. I ran it as a chase and let good taunts and distractions affect the Boating rolls of the two captains, and I let every success and raise on the Boating roll move the boat one range increment forward 1, which may not be strictly by the book, but did allow for dramatic changes in position. The girls won on the last Boating roll, and then it was time to eat a picnic lunch. They observed the thug hide the map and papers, dug them up, figured out the notes were in German, reburied them, followed the man who picked them up back to Rydel Mount & figured out that he was the gardener, headed back home (very, very, late), saw the Gypsies cooking fire beyond the old Roman fort & traipsed over to see what was happening.


This is a timewarp post.


I think the actual rules move a range increment only for a success and the first raise.