Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

TAS Form 2 Revised at Tales To Astonish

The Tales to Astonish blog has an article with a revised version of TAS Form 2, the character sheet for Traveller. The article includes a direct link to a fairly large JPG (in height and width, not data size) that thus can be printed. 1 It has places for each weapon to write the modifiers for each type of armor, each range, the required attribute and the Dice Modifier (DM) for if you are under the required level, the advantageous attribute and the DM for if you meet or are over the advantageous level, where it delivers a blow, a swing, or a shot, the weakened blow or swing DM, and the hits of damage a successful blow does. Having this information for each weapon on the character sheet so you don't have to look it up each combat is very useful.


He links to a blog post that seems to be the original source of that character sheet, which is on a blog only open to invited readers now, but the Internet Archive has the blog page saved, and on it there is a link to the PDF. The Internet Archive didn't have the PDF saved, but the original link itself still worked. I also added it to the Internet Archive, so hopefully it is saved forever.

Recent Reading: Under the Green Star

  • Under the Green Star, by Lin Carter, copyright 1972; DAW Books No. 30.

    This is a slight volume, with only 144 pages long, and is a member of the Sword & Planet genre. It is an enjoyable action tale, obviously influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars stories. While perhaps not the equal of the John Carter of Mars stories, it has attractions of its own.

While reading Flame & Crimson I was reminded of many Sword & Sorcery authors, and was introduced to many new ones. I decided that I needed to reread and read anew these authors. Along the way I broadened my ambit to include Sword & Planet authors, and have begun with this Lin Carter volume.

Making digest-sized pages with pandoc and ms output


After I wrote this post, I made a last minute check of the options to pandoc and found that the --pdf-engine-opt= option does exactly what I want. How embarrassing. So I changed this post, showing both the easy way and the hard way to do it.

I use pandoc to produce digest-sized pages (5½×8½ inches) in PDF documents from ReStructuredText. I have a ms output template, in ~/pandoc/templates that sets the page width and page height correctly. Unfortunately, there is no way to set the papersize properly in the template. 1

Luckily, pandoc has the --pdf-engine-opt= option to pass options to the PDF engine that pandoc is using, in this case pdfroff. In the case of ms output the thing to do is pass the argument --pdf-engine-opt=-P-p8.5i,5.5i 2, like below.

GNUmakefile.pandoc-digest-pdf-engine-opt (Source) : %.rst
        pandoc -s -r rst -w ms --template=digest2 $(VARIABLES) \
                --output=$@ --pdf-engine-opt=-P-p8.5i,5.5i $<

Unfortunately when I originally had this need for digest pages I hadn't realized that the --pdf-engine-opt= option existed.

So I used pandoc --verbose and found the pdfroff invocation pandoc uses, and made my pandoc invocation output ms instead of PDF, then passed it through a pdfroff command with the added -P-p8.5i,5.5i argument. Here's what I put in my GNUmakefile:

GNUmakefile.pandoc-digest-save-ms (Source) : %.rst
        pandoc -s -r rst -w ms -s --template=digest2 $(VARIABLES) \
               --output=$*.ms $<
        pdfroff -ms -mpdfmark -e -t -k -KUTF-8 --no-toc-relocation \
                -P-p8.5i,5.5i $*.ms > $@

Or, if you don't care about having the ms output for debugging, you could do it as a pipeline:

GNUmakefile.pandoc-digest-pipeline (Source) : %.rst
        pandoc -s -r rst -w ms -s --template=digest2 $(VARIABLES) \
               --output=- $< | \
        pdfroff -ms -mpdfmark -e -t -k -KUTF-8 --no-toc-relocation \
                -P-p8.5i,5.5i - >$@

There are still some instances where this technique of having pandoc output the ms source directly and pass it through pdfroff yourself. For instance, if you have to do some massaging of the ms source, like changing .RS/.RE to .QS/.QE to get around the problem with block quotes in ms output in the current pandoc release, discussed here.


Heirloom Troff (originally at H1, but now I think more up to date at H2 and H3) has the .mediasize and .papersize commands for that.


Amusingly, pandoc passes the --pdf-engine-opt=-P-p8.5i,5.5i argument to pdfroff, which passes the -P-p8.5i,5.5i part to groff, which passes the -p8.5i,5.5i part to the (final) post processor — I'm not sure if that is grops or gropdf.

Karl Edward Wagner's Horror Stories

I primarily know Karl Edward Wagner's work from his “heroic fantasy” 1 novels and stories of Kane which I picked up in paperback in the mid 1980s, but he was equally talented as a writer and editor of horror. I have read his British Fantasy Award-winning story Sticks and it had a considerable effect on me, but I don't remember every reading any of his other horror stories. The ISFDB has what seems a very complete page listing his writings.

I aim to fix that. I've now got copies of the Centipede Press collections Where the Summer Ends (2012) and Walk on the Wild Side (2012) and I'll be reading them soon.


A term he vastly preferred to “Sword & Sorcery”. Or maybe he preferred (note 1 at the bottom of the post) “epic fantasy” or “dark fantasy”.

Dale E. Rippke's Kane Timeline & Reflections on Planned but Unfinished Novels

Dale E. Rippke over at the The Darkstorm Files has a wonderful timeline, Lord of Chaos, of Kane's adventures.

He also has two interesting articles on the planned but unfinished Kane novels, Reflections of a Midnight Sun and Phantasmal Tomes, and another interesting article on the Kane/Elric crossover, Rethinking The Gothic Touch, and a world gazetteer of Kane, The Age of Shattered Empires.

There is a map of Kane's world (pinterest tells me that site is banned because it “leads to spam”) which I gather was drawn after Dale E. Rippke's original, which I can find no trace of on the Internet. I did find his original Kane page on, but sadly none of the linked pages was saved by

And I stumbled over the post Gaming Kane at From The Sorcerer's Skull which gives some information about Kane in Dragon Magazine #26 (June 1979) as a D&D character.

pandoc-discuss post: Can the .RS/.RE macros in ms output be replaced with .QS/.QE?

On March 9, 2020 I made a post on the pandoc-discuss mailing list that explains some changes to pandoc to better handle block quotes in ms output, and a workaround for it until the version with changes comes out, but I forgot to mention it here.

In short, use a pipeline like this:

GNUmakefile.change-RS-RE-to-QS-QE (Source) : %.rst
        pandoc --verbose -r rst -w ms $(PANDOCOPTS) \
                --output=- $< | gsed -e 's/^\.RS$$/.QS/' -e 's/^\.RE$$/.QE/' | \
        pdfroff -ms -mpdfmark -e -t -k -KUTF-8 -i --no-toc-relocation >$@

John D. Rateliff's Brief History of Tolkien RPGs

The Internet provides: John D. Rateliff's “Brief History of Tolkien RPGS” (Video, Commentary on the video, and the essay in four parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), linked here for reference.

Part 1 ends with:

Given the uncertain state of the Tolkien copyrights in the 1970s (which is another story I can come back to later it you like), it's almost certain that it was NOT the Tolkien Estate, but rather Zaentz's Tolkien Enterprises, that sent TSR their cease & desist back sometime in late 1977. Whereupon Gygax and Company at once filed the serial numbers off, except in a few odd cases such as "orc" (which they ludicrously began to claim came not from Tolkien but from an Irish word for pig, leading to the silly-looking pig-snouted orcs of the Monster Manual [page 76]) and 'mithral' (which they simply decided to misspell) and otherwise went on their merry way.

I'd never heard of this origin for pig-faced orcs!