Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Prince Valiant, RPG masterpiece

I was wandering around and ran across Sergio Mascarenhas's excellent review of Chaosium's 1989 roleplaying game PRINCE VALIANT, THE STORYTELLING GAME. I regard this game as one of the very best examples of how to write a game. Simple rules that are flexible and widely applicable, excellent presentation, and outstanding setting material all combine to make a wonderful game and one that is very good for introducing roleplaying games to new players. It's a pity it was unsuccessful commercially and will never be reprinted, but it's hard to know what to blame for that failure. Was it a failure of marketing? Limited distribution? Limited interest?

[2019-11-10: What do I know? It turns out a new edition was kickstarted in 2016, though they were still fulfilling things in 2019.]

Hard SF; new adventure SF vs. old adventure SF

John Clute said some interesting things about Hard SF in his November 2003 review of The Hard SF Renaissance (edited by David G .Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Tor Books).

He also has some interesting things to say about the new adventure SF and the old adventure SF.

Right. Modern space operas are kind of analogous to … operas. The old joke-formulation is, perhaps, more than just a joke. Both operas and space operas are absurd when described realistically; and both make sense only when they lunge and lurch after the sublime. And sometimes reach it. Operas and space operas are music: they are songs about the sublime. — John Clute, in his column Excessive Candor

Recent Reading; RPG

Recent Reading

  • The Lillyrian Adventure, by Lloyd Alexander, 1986, E.P. Dutton. This is an slight but enjoyable juvenile Ruritanian, somewhat marred by having an idiot narrator. Although it's not as good as his Westmark Trilogy (Westmark, The Kestrel, and The Beggar Queen), the Pyrdain Cycle, or The Marvellous Misadventures of Sebastian, it's still a fun read.

I hadn't realized that there were a significant number of people who do not like the second Amber series (I don't particularly follow fandom). I think they're being foolish, though: the second series, while quite different in tone, are very good books.

RPG: Storytelling vs. Gaming

I think there's a difference between 'caring about the story' and 'attempting to contrive the plot'. One can do the former without the latter. — happyelf, post 1770248.

There is an appearance of conflict between Storytelling gamers and Gamist game players. This is the old "Role- vs. Roll- players" argument. I think that several of Robin Laws games (including HeroQuest) are good arguments that there need be no actual conflict between the two.


Ken Hite reviews Heroquest in his December 21, 2003 Out of the Box, and approves. It's a short but good review.

Recent Reading & Gaming

  • The Element of Fire, by Martha Wells, Tor, 1993. After reading one of Wells' books about Ile-Rein I went search for others. It turns out that Wells has written a number of books about about Ile-Rein at various points during its history. The Element of Fire is set during Ile-Rein's era of muskets and swords, and is a very good mixture of swashbuckling and magic. I look forward to reading more of Wells' works.


There's a good but very short post on comparing WFRP and Stormbringer.

Recent Viewing

  • Return of the King, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's books, directed by Peter Jackson, screenplay by Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson. I was pleased with how this movie turned out; while it was not perfect, it was a very good attempt.

Recent Reading

  • King of the Wood, by John Maddox Roberts, Tor, 1986. This is one of the early, fantastic works of Roberts, who may be best known now for his SPQR mysteries featuring Roman Decius Cecilius Metellus. King of the Wood is an interesting alternate history where the pagan Norse colonized what we knows as easter North America and introduced the horse, followed by Christian Norse, and the Aztecs still flourish, mixed with straightforward adventure and an appealing mixture of cultures.

  • The Wizard Hunters, by Martha Wells, HarperCollins, 2003. Its good to see a fantasy that avoids the psuedo-medieval trappings of so much fantasy, and even better to find one that uses a setting that is more Edwardian, perhaps, though it is set in a world that is clearly not our own, despite some inklings of a common background. As this is labeled “Book One of The Fall of Ile-rein” I look forward to reading the rest.

  • Ode to a Banker, by Lindsey Davis, Mysterious Press, 2001. Another volume in Roman mystery series featuring wise-cracking private informer Marcus Didius Falco, this caries the series forward adequately. It is good to see that he has avoided monetary embarrassment for a while longer.

  • Crown of Slaves, by David Weber & Eric Flint, Baen, 2003. Billed as the start of a new series set in the universe of Honor Harrington, this book features Harrington only in a cameo appearance, focusing as it does on other characters, some introduced earlier, and does a good job. I recently read someone who had a very low opinion of the Honor Harrington series, and it once again brought to mind the fact that people are looking for different things in their entertainment, and that this can blind them to those things that other people are looking for in their entertainment. In an event, I think that this book, as with the other books set in Harrington's universe, does a very good job at what it sets out to, and is an enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys military/special ops/espionage science fiction.

Recent Reading

  • Ghost of the White Nights, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr; Tor, 2002. A sequel to Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost of the Revelator, this third book in the series of alternate history mysteries about Dr. Johan Eschbach continues the strenghts of the earlier books. Set in an version of Earth where ghosts are real and the United States never formed, these books use education, the arts, politics, ecology, and intrigue to show their setting and embroil the reader in Eschbach's adventures. The society Modesitt builds is interesting, and books are well written.