Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

The Spring Floods Have Arrived

Well, the spring floods have arrived. This morning when I went out to drive to work there was water over Jesse Run Road at the mouth of Clay Lick, a few hundred feet east from my driveway. As I drove west down Jesse Run Road, I could see water was over the Co Hwy 8/4, which leads to Stretch Run, another alternate route off Jesse Run. When I got to the end of Jesse Run Road, water was up over the road, at least a foot deep. I pulled off the road to turn around, but got too far off and got stuck in a little ditch. Luckily the folks who live at the end of Jesse Run, and a couple of other motorists came over and pushed me out. So, I'm back a home now, and it doesn't look like I'll be going anywhere for a while.

Keep on the Borderlands Session C4: Character Generation, part 4

L.B. was in town visiting the other side of her family, so I got to take her to dinner Sunday. Since she would be playing in the Labyrinth Lord game with the rest of the kids when she was here this summer, I thought we could create her characters during lunch. She thought that was a great idea. She did wonder if people would mind us playing D&D in the restaurant, but I told her nobody would mind — everybody in the restaurant would be talking anyway, and all we'd be doing is talking and rolling dice.

I was pretty scatterbrained that morning, and had managed to forget my dice, but we stopped at Dollar Tree on the way to the restaurant and picked up some cheap d6s. While we were waiting to be seated she started rolling up her characters, and finished rolling them up after we'd been seated and while we were waiting to be served. I'd also managed to forget a pencil, but did have a pen, so instead of writing directly on the character sheets we wrote on some 3×5 cards I had. She'd already decided she wanted one to be a sorceress and one to be a halfling, so we figured out which scores should go to which character 1 and then rolled 4d6 for the characters' starting money, since we didn't have d8s. After that we worked through buying equipment for her halfling, mostly while waiting for our food. Once the food arrived, though, not much else happened but eating. :-) She did have a name for her magic-user/sorceress, Alice the Sorceress, and we decided she'd pick a name for her halfling later, perhaps the next time she's at my house. (I‘ve got some books that would be useful for inspiration for halfling names.)

Anyway, after lunch when I dropped her off I gave her some character sheets and told her I'd e-mail her the information about the characters — that way we'd both have the information — and that we'd buy equipment for Alice the Sorceress later. After I dropped her off I stopped by the office and sent the e-mail.


Rather than the strict “Roll 3d6 in order for STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, and CHA” that Labyrinth Lord gives as the main way to generate abilities, I let the kids roll 3d6 and arrange the scores the way they liked them, and let them roll a couple of extra characters and take the highest set of scores.

Keep on the Borderlands, Play Session #2: Camping and Oops!


We're playing B2 — Keep on the Borderland, so if you haven't played that you might want to skip this entry.


Clockwise round the table, starting with the Labyrinth Lord:

  • T.K.B., the Labyrinth Lord.

  • M.A., playing James the Cleric and Jeffrey the Monk.

  • T.A., playing Glen the Strategist (a wizard) and Dooley the sly (a thief).

  • E.A., playing Curufin the Elf and Drusilla the Ranger.


Since everyone (pretty much) had been wounded, the characters spent 7 days camping and getting Cure Light Wounds cast on them by James. Drusilla spent the days hunting in the nearby forest, and kept them feed reasonably well, although there were a couple of hungry days.

By the 7th day the orcs started to stink, so they buried them, still in their leather armor. After they buried them they realized they could have sold the armor, but after several days of decomposition the armor was probably not salable any more.

They divided the coin up, with 10 sp each, with 4 left over for the party treasury. Glen paid his 10 sp immediately to Dooley, which after the interest left him still 12.5 sp in debt.


On the eight day they continued north along the road that lead into the borderlands. Before the valley closed in, they could see the outline of the hills under the trees curving in sharply on the west, while the east side continued straight and steep. As they walked along the narrow valley, Drusilla noticed some light tracks leading into the thick forest to the west, although she couldn't tell what had made the tracks. They decided to follow the tracks through the forest. After a lot of bending and crawling and scraping through the thick undergrowth they emerged in a small, partially forested valley. One of the first things that they saw was a cave opening on the south side of the valley. Whooping and hollering they headed straight for the cave. They'd only gotten 30 feet in and had noticed that the original cave had been turned into tunnels carved from the rock, when they ran into a group of goblins, who yelled “Bree-Yark!” and attacked. The characters, though several had been injured, were doing pretty well, having killed 5 of the 6 goblins, when two more groups of 6 goblins appeared, one in front and another behind, an they heard something big stopping its way down the corridor toward them. The new goblins all threw javelins, and by the end of the round Glen and Dooley were on the ground dying, and the rest of adventurers were severely wounded, though still standing. And that's when the ogre arrived, stomping down the corridor. With the goblins behind them blocking their way out, things were looking grim.

At this point I suggested to the kids that perhaps surrender would be a good idea, if the goblins thought the adventurers could be ransomed. Luckily, Curufin knew how to speak goblin, an quickly offered surrender and ransom, which the goblins accepted. They quickly stripped and tied the adventurers and negotiated a 10 gp ransom each, to be paid no later than 2 days from now.

The PCs picked Jeffry to go back to town and get the ransom, as he actually had enough to ransom everybody 1, and although he had a close call on the way back, having to hide from a group of orcs out looking for something, he managed to get back in time, and the goblins kept their word and released the adventurers, wearing nothing but breech-clouts.

The adventurers hurried back to the Keep to regroup. They expected the townsfolk to be mad that they'd stirred up the monsters, but the townsfolk said that the monsters had been killing people already, and at least the adventurers had killed some of the monsters. The townsfolk did suggest the adventurers should be a little more careful next time.

So, the adventurers are safe, but they've lost most of their money, all of their equipment, and somehow have to reequip. T.A. suggested they look for work around the Keep to help get money for new equipment. And that's where we left them.


I kindly told the players that they'd left any gold they had back in the Keep in a bank.

Recent Reading: Marc W. Miller

  • Double Adventure 1: Shadows & Annic Nova, by Marc W. Miller; copyright © 1980 by Game Designers' Workshop; 7th printing; Product #312. Art on page 19 by Liz Danforth.

    It is interesting to see how these adventures differ from current adventure design. Both of these adventures present a location with details about its contents, and give a way that a group of player characters might get involved. One of the adventures gives a page of historical background of the location for the GM, although the background doesn't directly affect play. The other gives no history at all, other than what can be gleaned from observing the location.

    The trend in commercial RPG adventure design has been to deliver more and more detail for the GM, culminating in the current D&D adventure format that attempts to provide, on a two-page spread, absolutely everything that a DM has to have to run a tactical encounter, from the tactical map to the exact details of each and every NPC involved, so that the DM doesn't have to look anything up. Moreover, in many modules, perhaps starting with the Dragonlance modules in the 1980s, there is a story supplied, which the player characters are expected, more or less, to follow and figure out, and some more-or-less obvious goal.

    Shadows & Annic Nova certainly don't supply a pre-built story — any story will be generated by the referee and players at the gaming table, with possibly some pre-game activity by the referee while reading the adventure beforehand. And there are no obvious goals, just situations to explore.

    I actually find this rather liberating, compared to the more detailed adventures that are more common today. There is something about the things that aren't there in Shadows & Annic Nova that fires up my imagination and draws me into the situation. It's probably the same sort of thing that makes me see the original Greyhawk folio as more interesting that the later Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.

    I mention Liz Danforth in the info about the book above because ever since I ran across her art in 5th edition Tunnels & Trolls I've enjoyed it immensely.

Classic Traveller: just the right size

I like the physical design of the Classic Traveller books. The 8½×5½ stapled booklet is just the right size, physically, to read easily and carry around, and it opens and lays flat, for easy reference. As far as the information content, the physical constraints of the format provides enough physical space to present a comprehensible amount of information, without enough the temptation to pad the content with irrelevancies.

I also like visual appearance of these books: the black covers of the original books — with white text for the book title and subtitle, and red text and a thick red line for the game title and publisher — were stark, attractive, and stand out even today.

I gather, from comments from Steve Jackson Games, on the comic-book sized booklets they printed for the GURPS Traveller line in the early 2000s, that books of these form factors aren't cost effective for traditional RPG publishers any more. That's a pity.

Recent Reading: Marc Miller and Game Designers' Workshop

  • Traveller, by Marc Miller & Game Designers' Workshop, copyright 1977, 1981 by Game Designer's Workshop. Books 1–3, The Basic Books, Classic Traveller Reprint Series, copyright 2001 by Far Future Enterprises; a joint publication of Far Future Enterprises and QuikLink Interactive, ISBN 1-55878-218-4. “The Olympia Incident” by Martin J. Dougherty.

    This is a reprint of the 1981 second edition of Traveller, along with a little bit about the publishing history of Traveller, and a short story, “The Olympia Incident”, set in the Traveller universe.

When I was first getting into gaming, I remember going on a trip to Morgantown, WV with my brother and some of his friends from high school who were in the gaming group that I'd recently joined. We visited a couple of places that sold gaming materials, and one of the group, R.S. if I remember correctly, bought a copy of Traveller. I remember reading the books in his basement rec room and trying to make characters. Unfortunately, at that point the only RPGs that our group had seen were variants of D&D (T&T and DQ were still a couple years away), and I, at least, never really figured out Traveller and what you could do with it, and, again if I remember correctly, our group never did much with Traveller.

Something must have struck a cord, however, because over the years I bought several editions of the game, from Megatraveller to Traveller: the New Era (also known as T:NE), to GURPS Traveller, to Marc Miller's Traveller (also known as T4), and even including 2300AD, which was originally published as Traveller: 2300, even though the mechanics and setting were in no way related to the Traveller mechanics or setting. Many of this I probably picked up during a long period where I wasn't doing any gaming, and just reading game books. (This would almost certainly have been before the explosion of RPG stores on the net.) I probably picked Megatraveller up after it was out of print; my copy seems to have the (infamous) errata fixed. I may have picked up T:NE when it first came out. I know I picked up almost all of the GURPS Traveller books as they came out. I'm sure I picked up 2300AD off the discount rack. I remember being saddened when GDW closed their doors, although that was in part due to really enjoying their Space: 1889 line and Frank Chadwick's Cadillacs & Dinosaurs RPG, based on Mark Schultz's comic books, which I had read and enjoyed. I never got a chance to play any of GDW's games while they were still in operation, but have always wanted to play a game with Space: 1889's background. I never figured out what to do with Traveller, though. I came closest with GURPS Traveller, having enjoyed playing GURPS before my gaming hiatus. I enjoyed reading all the GURPS Traveller books, but I had no gaming group at that time.

Anyway, years later, after I'd gotten back to gaming regularly, in 2007, I had been reading about a number of people who had been playing Classic Traveller, which is what folks called the original system, with or without the Traveller Universe. They praised the game for its simplicity and completeness and for its relatively small size. I had know about the Far Future Enterprises Classic Traveller reprint line, but couldn't afford them when they first came out. I did, however, find a an inexpensive reprint of just Books 1–3, published jointly by Far Future Enterprises and QuikLink Interactive (also know as QLI/RPGRealms), and I ordered it in October 2007. After some problems with QLI's order system, I finally received my copy in November, 2007. It was a reprint of the 1981 2nd edition of Traveller, which apparently cleaned up the rules a little bit. I read it quickly, and my reaction was: “Huh. Why didn't we play the heck out of this back in high school? I could see playing this today and having a blast!” I liked the basic simplicity of the system, having moved away from complex systems like GURPS to systems that were much simpler, like Savage Worlds.

Sometime later I got Mongoose Publishing's new edition of Traveller,and though it was a reasonable version. Certainly it was closest of any system to the original, definitely since Megatraveller, and possibly since the original itself. And the fact Mongoose released it with several licenses that allowed free use of the system, and some use of the background made it more attractive. It prompted me to go back and read most of my other versions of Traveller, including the FFE/QLI reprint of Books 1–3. After looking at them all, it was Classic Traveller I wanted to play. Since then I've gathered some of the original Traveller publications, and a couple volumes of the FFE reprint volumes. (I wish they were all still in print.)

I'm going to have to run a Classic Traveller game sometime soon.

PDF-XChange Viewer

I like to stick to Free/Libre (as in freedom) and Open Source Software as much as I can, but I haven't found a open source program that lets me add text on existing PDF documents yet, so I use a commercial but free (as in costs nothing for personal use) program PDF-XChange Viewer, which can be downloaded here.

Unlike most of the other commercial but free programs that allow you to add text to existing documents, PDF-XChange Viewer doesn't add any nagware watermarking to the document to indicate that it was produced with the free version, so you can use it fill out forms in PDF documents that don't have electric form fields, which is very useful on long forms.

It's not perfect — I've had trouble with it on a few PDFs that seemed to have pathological defects — but overall it works well.

I'd still rather have a Free/Libre or Open Source program, though.

Keep on the Borderlands, Play Session #1: Attack in the Dark

This very short session followed on directly from Character Generation 3.


We're playing B2 — Keep on the Borderland, so if you haven't played that you might want to skip this entry.


Clockwise round the table starting with the Labyrinth Lord.

  • T.K.B., the Labyrinth Lord.

  • M.A., playing James the Cleric and Jeffrey the Monk.

  • T.A., playing Glen the Strategist (a wizard) and Dooley the sly (a thief).

  • E.A., playing Curufin the Elf and Drusilla the Ranger.

Attack in the Dark

Once the kids had gotten their characters completed we only had about 30 minutes to play before I had to be elsewhere. 1 While they were finishing their characters, I finally decided to start with B2 — Keep on the Borderlands, so I started with them approaching the keep entryway. We spent a little time in the keep, talking to people and then left to find the monsters we'd heard were plaguing the area. The characters followed the road north where they'd heard merchants had been attacked, looking for trouble. They hadn't found any by the end of the day, so they camped in the bend of the road and set watches through the night, with no campfire or lights burning. During Jeffrey's watch he was surprised by a volley of javelins from the dark He couldn't really see what was going on, but he woke the others, and Curufin could see that they were being attacked by orcs. Jeffrey started lighting a torch for the humans to see by, Curufin started shooting his bow at the orcs, Dooley charged up to the orcs to fight them hand-to-hand, and Drusilla also headed up to the orcs to right. Despite the penalties for fighting in the dark they were able to score some hits, and once the torch was light things got easier. They finally killed all the orcs. Pretty much everybody had been injured, but nobody had been killed. They decided to start a campfire to finish out the night with some light.


There were 6 orcs, with 8 sp, 11 sp, 12 sp, 12 sp, 9 sp, and 12 sp, respectively. Each orc had 2 javelins, a short sword, and tatty leather armor.

[This is an after-the-fact entry; I could have sworn I'd written something about this already, but if so I've lost it. I'm not sure what date and time this actually happened. Sigh. I think it was nap time for the youngest kids.]


Setting posts on the strip job, I think.

Keep on the Borderlands, Session C3: Character Generation, part 3

In this short session T.A. finished his two characters, M.A. created his second character, Jeffrey, a monk, and E.A. created her characters, Drusilla (Dru), a ranger, and Curufin, an elf. I helped E.A. by quickly equipping her characters when time was running short, while T.A. helped M.A.

T.A. and M.A. were bickering, so I said that they had to roleplay being best friends. Glen needed to borrow some money, and I said he could borrow it from Dooley, but that Dooley would charge 25% interest, compounded weekly.


  • T.A., playing

    • Glen the Strategist (a wizard) and

    • Dooley the sly (a thief)

      We'd established that Dooley was on the run from the folks in his home town who'd burnt his hovel after they'd figured out that he was a thief.

  • E.A., playing + Curufin the Elf and + Drusilla the Ranger.

  • M.A., playing + James the Cleric and + Jeffrey the Monk.

[This is an after-the-fact entry; I could have sworn I'd written something about this already, but if so I've lost it. I'm not sure what date and time this actually happened. Sigh. I think it was nap time for the youngest kids.]