Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Recent Reading and Viewing

Recent Reading

  • Werenight, by Harry Turtledove; Baen, 1994. Adequate fantasy; some elements of the setting were interesting, but not enough was made of them.

Recent Viewing

The Independent Film Channel has “Samurai Saturdays”, where they show one or more samurai movies. I recorded and watched a number of these over the last few months. Here are some of the ones that I've watched.

  • Shichinin no samurai, 1954. (Also known as Seven Samurai.) Directed by Akira Kurosawa, and starring (among others) Toshirô Mifune.

  • Tsubaki Sanjûrô, 1962. (Also known as Sanjûrô.) Directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshirô Mifune.

  • Yojimbo, 1961. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshirô Mifune.

  • Kakushi toride no san akunin, 1958. (Also known as The Hidden Fortress.) Directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshirô Mifune.

  • Hiroshi Inagaki's Miyamoto Musashi trilogy.

    • Miyamoto Musashi, 1954. (Also known as Samurai I.) Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, starring Toshirô Mifune.

    • Zoku Miyamoto Musashi: Ichijôji no kettô, 1955. (Also known as Samurai II.) Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, starring Toshirô Mifune.

    • Miyamoto Musashi kanketsuhen: kettô Ganryûjima, 1956. (Also known as Samurai III.) Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, starring Toshirô Mifune.

Recent Reading; OCaml and a Rare FreeBSD binary incompatibility

Recent Reading

  • Goddess of the Ice Realm, by David Drake; Tor, 2003. Adequate fantasy; the setting is mildly interesting, though.

  • Jupiter Myth, by Lindsey Davis; Mysterious Press, 2003. Another competent Marcus Didius Falco mystery. Falco, Helena, and entourage are still in Britian.

OCaml and a Rare FreeBSD binary incompatibility

In a rare fit of binary incompatibility between versions of FreeBSD, all my OCaml 3.07p2 programs that used the Unix library broke when I upgraded to 5.2 because gethostbyaddr_r disappeared:

$ increment
Fatal error: cannot load shared library dllunix
Reason: /sw/versions/ocaml/3.07/lib/ocaml/stublibs/dllunix.so: Undefined symbol "gethostbyaddr_r"

See this e-mail for more information.

Reconfiguring and re-installing ocaml seems to have fixed the problem, but once that was done I had to rebuild (almost) all my ocaml programs and unison, the file synchronization program that I use.

This is notable mainly because of how rarely this sort of thing happens to either FreeBSD or OCaml.

Looks like some other things have broken, too: gimp, for one.

I resolved all this by upgrading my ports using portupgrade.

Recent Reading

  • Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth, by John Garth; Houghton Miffllin, 2003. This meticulous new biography of J.R.R. Tolkien during the years of World War I lays the groundwork for Garth's eloquent argument that Tolkien's fiction, rather than being an escape from reality, is Tolkien's reflection on and reaction to his experiences as a combatant in World War II. Despite its very specialized nature it's quite interesting, and Garth argues convincingly. It its own specialized way, it is quite as good as Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth and J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, although I think that Shippey's books have wider appeal.

Recent Reading; RPGs Need Campaigns

Recent Reading

  • In the Forests of Serre, by Patricia A. McKillip; Ace Books (an imprint of the Berkley Publishing Group), 2003. This is another one of McKillip's delightful fantasies.

RPGs Need Campaigns

I think that the most important supplement for a a newly introduced roleplaying game setting (whether part of a dedicated RPG or as a supplement for a generic RPG) is a campaign. I'm thinking of things like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's The Enemy Within campaign, or any of several Call of Cthulhu campaigns, or Pendragon's The Boy King. You really need a good campaign to see extended examples of what a setting can do.

FILETAP

I had to do some maintenance on the FILETAP program today. I last worked on it in 1988, as far as I can tell. The last time it was compiled was in 1990 (going by the file dates) but I doubt that anybody had changed the code since 1988 when I last worked on it. It's written to use the POISE SPL API, the Support Procedure Library.

As it turned out, the only reason it needed recompiled now is that one of MPL's POISE users finally found a use for field-and-record level security and the enhanced security features only work if the program is linked against the shared library (.EXE) and not the statically linked library (.OLB). And the program required no code changes to get it to work.

So where's the maintenance? It turns out that there are actually two version of this program, TFILETAP and FILETAP, and it's not obvious why there are two versions. FILETAP is the version that appears to be used the most, but TFILETAP is slightly different (mostly because it opens the key file for exclusive access). Unfortunately, as I've lamented several times in the past, we weren't using any sort of revision control back then, much less configuration control, so there is no history of changes, much less an explicit reason for the changes. Oh well. I guess I'll have to look at it some more later.

Recent Reading

Recent Reading

  • The Death of the Necromancer, by Martha Wells; Avon, 1998. I've read two of her other books (Wizard Hunters and The Element of Fire) and this one, like the others, is very good. The setting is Ile-Rein again, but this time in a more psuedo-Victorian era, nicely adapted to the mostly subtle magic of Ile-Rein. I highly recommend these books, and am going to look for more of her work. (There is at least one of hers that I have not read yet: City of Bones.)

  • Sorcerer: An Intense Roleplaying Game, by Ron Edwards; Adept Press, 2001. This small, slim hardback volume (260mm by 175mm, 144 pages, counting the two pages of ads at the back) is the core rulebook for Edwards roleplaying game, Sorcerer. It has a crisp, clean black- and-white interior design and layout by Paul Mason with a modicum of black-and-white art by divers hands and a color jacket cover with creepy and effective art by Jeff Kromer. The writing is casual but not chatty and very clear. It can be ordered directly from the game's home page, http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com/ or bought at a good local games store. Most existing roleplaying games give a lot of attention to the rules of the game and some give a lot of attention to the setting of the game and a few give some attention to the atmosphere of the game, but few give much attention to the purpose of the game and how the setting and the rules contribute to the purpose, and this lack of attention can be a considerable source of dissatisfaction with the game, the gaming group, and the rules of the game. Ron Edwards' essay "System Does Matter", published on the web and as an appendix in Sorcerer, gives the gamer some good tools for considering what they want out of a roleplaying game and judging whether a particular set of rules will help them achieve that, and anyone who is interested in roleplaying games should read it: it's probably one of the simpliest coherent places to start if you are interested in the theory of roleplaying. 1 In Sorcerer Ron Edwards takes the theory that begins with that article and applies it (along with his ideals of creator-ownership of roleplaying games) and produces an innovative, focused roleplaying game with simple, clear rules that encourage flexibility and creativity while discarding many of the traditional trappings and constaints of roleplaying games. Sorcerer does this by concentrating on Narrativist play, where the desired outcome of a roleplaying session is a good story. This does not mean forcing the players along some pre-determined story, however; instead, Sorcerer concentrates on techniques for designing characters, adventures, and campaigns and tools for running games in such a way that good stories result from actual play.

  • Sorcerer & Sword, by Ron Edwards; Adept Press, 2001. In this first supplement for Sorcerer Ron Edwards adapts his roleplaying game for playing games based on 1920s and 30s pulp fantasy and its inheritors: the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard, the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories of Fritz Leiber, the Elric stories of Michael Moorcock, the Kane stories of Karl Edward Wagner, and many others. Like the original game, Sorcerer & Sword is a practical application of Ron Edwards' theory of roleplaying; in this case, to providing the tools for a gaming group to create their own sword and sorcery epic. In many ways it runs counter to most roleplaying games, eschewing complicated worldbuilding before play in favor of creating a world through play.

1

There's a great deal of insightful, worthwhile writing on the theory of roleplaying in the archives of the newsgroup rec.games.frp.advocacy, but it can be very difficult to excavate.