Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Pirates! Session #4: Smuggler's Song


  • T.A. playing Isaiah Kestrel, former captain of the Lady Faire

  • E.A. playing Alice Pettigrew

  • M.A. playing Captain (Scarred) Jack

  • L.B. playing Phelicity Gujon


Last time out the kids had lost their ship, lost the treasure, and deposed their captain. They'd had to build themselves a new boat to escape the once-cursed island.

Actual Play

This time out I decided that they'd forced by their dismal economic situation into working for another pirate delivering smuggled goods, and ran them through the Pirates of the Spanish Main one-sheet Smuggler's Song.

They did pretty well, though they did end up running from the watch several times. And they mostly got paid.

Amusingly, my sister was not happy when they told her they'd been fighting in a bar, so I've promised to steer closer to a “G” rating next time…

Emacs and Cygwin python

If you happen to be using Windows Emacs and Cygwin Python there's an annoying interaction where “M-x run-python” hangs. The easiest way to fix it is to mount the directory where you have your emacs installation into the Cygwin file name structure. For instance, I have my emacs installation in C:\emacs\emacs-22.2, and in a cygwin shell I did mount -b ‘C:\emacs' /emacs, and now running the Cygwin python works.

The emacs function run-python adds the emacs data-directory to the PYTHONPATH in the emacs process-environment before running python; unfortunately, since this is the MS Windows emacs, its data-directory starts with a drive letter and a colon. When the Cygwin python initializes sys.path it splits PYTHONPATH at the colons, which means sys.path ends up with the drive letter as one component (usually interpreted as a relative path) and everything after the colon as another component. It that's a valid Cygwin pathname for the Emacs data directory (which is what the above mount command did), things work (accidentally).

Mousing in Emacs under Screen

It turns out that if you execute the command xterm-mouse-mode (or evaluate (xterm-mouse-mode 1) in your initialization file) when running Emacs under Screen it allows “non-modified single clicks” to work. Normal mouse functionality is still available by holding the Shift key while clicking. I use the PuTTY ssh client for remote access to various servers, and this works well Emacs in Screen under PuTTY, too.

µstr - Micro String API - for C

I was very pleased to discover large parts of µstr compile and seem to work under VMS v5.5-2 with GCC 2.7.1, which is almost the only compiler available to me on that machine. The other is VAX BASIC, which has adequate simple string handling, but lacks advanced string handling and has only very painful facilities for dynamically allocating complex data structures and working with them.

[2019-11-09: I was writing a program to get e-mails from VMS Mail using the callable interface, then parse the body of the email into a form that could be further processed by POISE DMS programs.]

Recent Reading: Robert E. Howard

  • Kull: Exile of Alantis, by Robert E. Howard, copyright 2006 Kull Productions, LLC; illustrations copyright 2006 Justin Sweet; Del Rey Books/The Random House Publishing Group/Random House, Inc.; first printing; ISBN 0-345-49017-7.

    Well worth reading, and not just as a precursor to Conan. The essay “Atlantean Genesis” by Patrice Louinet, included in the book, argues on p. 288 that with the three Kull tales that were published during Howard's life, Howard had invented a new literary subgenre: “Heroic Fantasy”, “Epic Fantasy”, or “Sword & Sorcery” by modernizing fantasy through eliminating “…the chivalrous aspects, the flowery language, and stilted personalities, writing violent tales in a realistic style…” and that seems reasonable.

Actual Play: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Part 3

I finally got to finish the Pirates of the Spanish Main one-sheet “Dead Men Tell No Tales” that I've been running for the kids.

E.A. and L.B. were both here for this one, so the roster was:

  • T.A. playing Isaiah Kestrel, Captain of the Lady Faire

  • E.A. playing Alice Pettigrew

  • M.A. playing Scarred Jack

  • L.B. playing Phelicity Gujon

Because we've had to split the adventure up over three sessions, and they'd finished the last one the skeletons, and I wanted a big start to this session, I told the kids their PCs had been arguing about what to do with the treasure and hanged lady for about an hour. They spent a few minutes talking about it, and then I had them make Notice rolls to avoid being surprised by the skeletons, reanimated after an hour. They picked up a few wounds in the fight, but managed to finish the skeletons off. T.A.'s bad luck with initiative cards and low rolls continued, though not as badly as before.

They then tried to figure out how they could free themselves of the curse and the skeletons, and decided the lady needed buried, which they proceeded to do, right outside the mine entrance. I had them make Strength roles to avoid becoming Fatigued, which a couple of the characters failed. And that finished out another hour, and a few minutes later the skeletons attacked again. M.A. failed Scarred Jack's Notice roll, so he didn't get dealt in the round, and got hit by the one of the skeletons. T.A. forgot to have Isaiah boast the first round, and ended up owing me a bennie. Eventually they killed the skeletons again, and decided, since the curse obviously hadn't been lifted, that they needed to bury the hanged lady in a cemetery at the church in town. Meanwhile, the weather was working up to a storm.

So, they dug the lady up, but in doing so T.A. and L.B. failed enough Strength rolls to fall unconscious (remember that the curse has been aging them rapidly), and they knew if they left the unconscious characters there they would be killed when the skeletons reanimated, so M.A. and E.A. had Jack and Alice pile the hanged lady's body on Isaiah and dragged them to the town. Unfortunately, part way through digging the new grave, E.A. failed Alice's Strength roll and fell unconscious. Jack was able to get her most of the way out of the grave, and finished burying the hanged lady with the six skeletons only 20 yards away and the zombie pirate captain only 60 yards away. (Apparently, the zombie pirate captain had been chasing them for days across the bottom of the sea). Unfortunately for our heroes, the rest of the crew, who'd been left on the sloop offshore, picked this moment to come ashore. Upon seeing the sorry state of their captain and officers (and failing their Spirit rolls, they were overcome by greed, whacked Jack on the head with the shovels, stole the map from their unconscious captain, and set off for the treasure.

The PCs awoke to a hurricane (which I'd earlier rolled using my weather die from Flying Buffalo), and found shelter in the church crypts. I actually wanted to end the adventure there, but the kids insisted we continue.

After a few days the weather finally subsided and they immediately headed back to the mine to look for the treasure. It was gone, except for a bent half-farthing piece that had been overlooked in a crack in the floor. At this point they were all suffering from Fatigue from not eating or drinking for days, and so they went back to the town to search for water. When T.A. failed a roll to avoid Fatigue, I ruled he'd gone delirious, wandered out on the dock, and falling into the water, to be washed out into the bay. L.B. had Phelicity swim out to save him, but by the time she reached him T.A. had failed his swimming roll and was drowning. Phelicity swam down and brought him to the surface and back to shore, but he had died. Luckily, M.A. tried to resuscitate, and failing the first roll spent a bennie (the last bennie among the group) to reroll, and aced well enough to overcome the –4 penalty from drowning and the –2 penalty from being untrained in Healing, and saved Isaiah.

At this point I pointed out Isaiah's consistent bad luck, loosing the treasure, loosing his ship, and Jack's comparative good luck, and like proper little pirates they voted Isaiah out as captain and Jack in. After that Jack climbed some palm trees and found some weird fruit so they could eat. I decided that the island had no living creatures at all, due to the curse, but that they could find enough edible plants so they wouldn't starve for the weeks it would take while they built a small boat (with both oars and a sail) from timber scavenged from the houses in the village to take them off the island to begin their search for their traitorous crew and their treasure.

And that's were we left them.

Since this actually ran pretty long, once all sessions were considered, I gave them all 5 XP. Not wanting T.A. to be too discouraged, I let him trade his “Captain” edge in for something else. I didn't let him buy off his “Cocky” Hindrance, though. (:-) Judging by everybody's reactions, I've got a Pirates of the Spanish Main campaign to run now. I can already see how to work the “Smuggler's Song” one-sheet in as the next adventure.


Add Wound Penalties to Fatigue Penalties and things really start getting grim fast.