Pearl farming and the secret society of diviners is an interesting look at how when you mix real world limits with the abstraction of fantasy rules, you get something baroque and cool.

There are several related posts, which adapt guild dynamics, medieval foreign and domestic policy, and similar constraints to build up a sordid world. The first article tackles adventuring’s horrific disruption of local society, and is followed by how guilds and vested interests push your magic items out of town, and a darkly conceived little war.

They’re all excellent from a twisted GM’s perspective–they’re tremendous world building. But man they’d be frustrating to experience as a player. They’re a great read, even if it’s not right to actually use this twisted and wonderful logic in your worlds.

The Summer Prince by Alana Dawn Johnson is a great YA novel. It’s an interesting coming of age tale, told from a first person girl artist’s perspective. Despite the distance from me in age, outlook, and world view, the author does a great job of building my empathy with June.

It’s an interesting arcology style setting, in a post-apocalypse Brazil. The culture of the arcology is interesting, as is the caste system made express in the levels of the arcology. As the story continues, the world building elements come clear, explaining the Aunties system of governance, the changes in climate and relative prosperity in the world. The girly-crush elements were well written (though thoroughly alien to me) and the passion for art was well handled and identifiable. (I certainly remember deciding that some things about myself were true, then feeling bound to my self conception, and found kinship to June when her own self conception traps her.) Similarly, the exoticism of race had me nodding along, and the backroom maneuverings filtered through our inexperienced heroine’s eyes felt plausible and well handled.

The book’s final quarter shakes things up impressively, we learn a lot about June and her Summer King. The very ending was a sharp break from our June’s point of view, even though we could see (in retrospect) Enki’s evaluation and setting up the final scene. I was left satisfied with a solid tale and felt it was complete. I don’t really want the story to continue into a sequel.

One of the very well handled elements was the lifelong friendship of June and Gil. I like that the friendship weathered the changes, included elements where their minds wouldn’t meet and they had to give each other space, and Gil’s steadfastness. (Gil’s mom rocked too, even trapped in the background.)

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell. Set in a low fantasy world, our heroic trio (of Brasti, Kest, and Falcio) feel very derring do; they’re not three musketeers, but they’re not far from it. I read this in one tremendous gulp (due mostly to weekend circumstances); it fared well, holding my interest steady for hours.

There’s a lot of politics and scheming, handled very well–it both felt authentic, and the complexities were introduced at a steady pace. The novel sticks to Falcio’s point of view and handles it very well. The story blossoms when he’s away from his companions, but the reunion feels earned and marks a difference.

Falcio goes through the wringer, repeatedly. That, like some Dresden books, feels a bit overdone–but he earns the ending by the book’s close. We’ve got several interesting elements to investigate hanging at the end–Tailor, “the friend in the dark hour” what’s her deal?, and the whole fated plan for restoration. Their rivals are well positioned too. I am very much looking forward to the sequel–evidently it’s in copy editing as we speak.

Links: A Collection of Short Stories
by Kaylia M. Metcalfe. I picked this book up at a local event last year; a friend of ours had partnered with two other authors to have a reading in a local coffee shop. The short stories are literary (or close to it); all but one are set in the world today, in various American cities. The stories are thematically similar–about bonds, connections, and contact in the modern world–but aren’t related other than their subject matter. The nine short stories vary interestingly.

The first story, Angel, was a dramatic, gripping kickoff to the collection. It starts off as a story of a place, focused on a panhandler, whose past and context we learn about in asides. Then the story takes a 90-degree turn… and it’s well done. A great taste of how a moment can change you (and others).

Aside is a dip into a complex moment of a life. Night Scape handles an older woman protagonist with grace; the age and humdrum elements feel twinklingly familiar, though no one would mistake my soul as an artist’s. Coffee Date is one evening that feels so normal, with our heroine well sketched and great to identify with. Her moment of breakthrough feels earned, and the background mystery keeps you puzzling and noting timelines.

The Unnamed Princess was a brief kid’s view story; it grabbed me least. Reflection is a well done sliding doors scenario, an intimate look at the emotions of obligation and workings of abuse. The Season is brief, horrific, and unsympathetic to the adults around the main character. Surface Dweller was a short, sharp cautionary tale… and not about hooking up, as you might think from its beginning. Goals was a quick bite about two people I’d despise; the end, driving off, demonstrates change (and an escape from the purgatory of accompanying the well drawn Brett), but the waitress is only a moment’s boost out of a stable orbit–not the mutual change I’d hoped. Wife ends the series; it’s a weird future story, well told. While it feels mostly about her, her husband is sketched solidly, and grows as the story continues.

All in all, it was a great collection of stories. A few really stuck, and all were well crafted. Most of my disappointments came from wanting another character or two tackled more deeply… which is a good sign.

13. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: DnD, Game Group, Roleplaying · Tags: , ,

After a summer of hard work, exploring the terrain between their township and the Brevoy (in particular Oleg’s Trading Post) and the founding of Hillsdale, our heroes were in a town meeting when a local tanner approached the council and told of goblins–and their kidnapping of his son.

We return to the action already in progress. Our heroes are:

Bryan is our fearless GM
Marc plays our warrior Stannis, skilled with a bow. Did you see that shot?
Hudson plays Sonja, who fights with savage fury, hewing foes with a greatsword
Brian plays Ambario, whose mastery of armor cements his bold advances
I play Arndor, a sorcerer with a fey talent for hypnosis
Paul played Egg Shen, a monk of unusual disposition from distant eastern lands. He’s taking a break for now.

As the game resumed, the PCs told the tanner that they’d investigate his son’s disappearance. As he’d reached us late in the day, we decided to set off in the morning. That night we gathered gear and arranged for the council to handle matters while we were away. Egg Shen decided to remain behind and continue keeping the town free from spies.

We set off first thing in the morning, shortly before dawn. We rode with the tanner to his rough cottage at the forest’s edge, stabled the horses, and continued on to the clearing where his son had been taken. Time had ravaged the site; it took hours of searching to find a trail that didn’t immediately fade into a game trail. Finally, Stannis found painted rocks marked with goblin runes. We followed the faint trail that led from that point; as we expected, it headed south. We followed the trail for what little daylight remained, then set up camp.
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08. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: DnD, Game Group, Roleplaying · Tags: , ,

For our original setup, we spent the points as follows:
2 – Clear Hill
3 – Houses x3
6 – Mill x1
8 – Shop x1
10 – Inn x1
14* – Garrison x1 [was 28, cost halved for using the castle rubble]
6 – Smith x1
49 BP
1 – Road x 1 hex
50 BP – 50 BP granted => 0 remain
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29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books, DnD, Roleplaying

I’ve read them both and like them. Today’s Gnome Stew article was about the various 5e products that are out and how they interact.

Long story short: I’ve read Lost Mines of Phandelver (the Starter Set adventure) and Hoard of the Dragon Queen (the adventure that’s being run this season for D&D Encounters). I like them both and am eager to see the system in action.

The system feels very familiar right away; it really does have a “best of” feel, with extensive borrowing from 3rd edition, some stealthy borrowing from 4th edition, and the gritty feel of 2nd edition. At least, on the page and as reported by others. I may join a game or two this weekend down at Strategicon to get some play experience.

Edited to add: I did get a chance to play at the con, and it worked mostly as imagined. It’s new, so there’s lots to master, but the biggest issue as a GM is largely the same as Fate–keeping track of the cool background stuff to play to and reward is much like Aspects from a GM overhead POV.

(Sidenote: 1. Random short plot with a dungeon generator
2. 3D printable minis, mostly modern era.)

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: ,

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I disliked this story, mostly due to POV choice (I really didn’t like the main character and the portrayal of his madness.) It also suffers due to a very different depiction of women’s roles; the reduction of women to bit parts and supporting characters is noted by the author (he mentions a revival of the sergalio, to “protect” women’s virtue).

The fun bits, like jaunteing, drove a lot of the action, but I’m not sure how much they added. In the end, I felt sorry for the main character’s experience, but viscerally disliked the man he became, most of the people he interacted with, and the overall society. Despite those dislikes, I could see that it was well written and thought out; if you don’t dislike the character in the first fifty pages, you’ll probably enjoy the book. [The partial redemption at the end also rung hollow... maybe because it didn't feel earned?]

Anyway, it’s a classic, but like many classics, I enjoy modern writing more. I recognize some of the aspects that were magnified later in cyberpunk, and appreciate that it may have made a good starting place for future writers to explore from.

Wetware by Craig Nova. Maybe I’m just grouchy; this book didn’t quite hit for me either. Part of the issue was the date (a few iterations of artificial life have passed by 2029), but most of it was the POV. The story was often written with access to the POV character’s mind–but their thoughts were abstracted to the point that they didn’t feel like thoughts.

The main character’s fugue/addiction and the later callbacks to it are done pretty well, but in the end I didn’t care about the characters beyond a vague sympathy. It’s not that they’re repulsive in a Game of Thrones sense… it’s more that they’re flat and blindered, despite their genius.

In the end, it’s not terrible, but not one I’ll recommend.

22. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: DnD, Roleplaying · Tags:

Rob has a thorough, interesting review of the 5e Player’s Handbook, section by section. He caught some interesting things and made me pay attention more when reading through it myself. His summary post with links to the twelve individual posts is 5e PHB Roundup

On the subject of 5e, I prepared for the first D&D Encounters session last Wednesday. We decided not to split the table of 7, but I wouldn’t be surprised if next week requires a second GM.

Useful links for public play and 5e generally:
5e Basic Rules PDFs, Adventurer’s League Resources
D&D Adventurers League Organizers, on Wizard’s website.
On G+ Adventurer’s League and Adventurer’s League: Far West

Spell Sorter (google doc)

Other cool stuff for 5e:
Table Tents for 5e Pregens, Generic Table Tents, Form Fillable Adventurer’s Logsheet,
Adventurer’s League Player’s Guide.

Dungeonscape looks like a 5e Hero Lab, designed for tablets.

Merrick’s Musings, a well written Australian blog with good 5e articles.
Frank Foulis for general 5e, especially play. Mike Schley, for cartography. Ultanya for monster conversions.

16. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , ,

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. This book reminded me strongly and favorably of LeGuin’s Ekumen novels. Karen Lord does an excellent job of developing interesting cultures, and getting deep into them.

The novel is told from two point of view; one the local, the other the refugee. Delarua is the guide, but she has discoveries to make–including about herself and her past. Dllenahkh is the refugee; he comes across as grounded and experienced–it never feels false. You can feel his concern under the surface (in Delarua’s chapters); his doubt and concern are constant but don’t become one dimensional.

This is not action adventure; there are a few tense moments, but most of the book’s pleasure is exploring interesting people, on an interesting planet, and seeing how they’ll learn to share and evolve. I understand her first book, Redemption in Indigo, is quite different. I look forward to reading it soon.

16. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: , , ,

Hereville: How Mirka Met A Meteorite by Barry Deutsch. This is the second Hereville book. It’s a quick, fun adventure. It felt more unified but “less deep” than the first, but that may have been due to familiarity with the characters. Well, and Mirka’s relationship with her step mom is much less fraught.

If you liked Hereville, this is a nice continuation. I’d read the original first.

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. The end notes mention that this book was originally self published–it has a very professional feel and few obvious errors.

The book is mostly what it says on the spine; it’s about a group that hunts supernatural creatures. The book starts off strong, with a mild mannered accountant who has a very unusual and terrifying day.

The second phase of the book is also solid; here Owen goes through training and learns how to hunt monsters. The romantic interest seemed strained at this point… and it kind of wobbles at the same level of not quite right throughout. The basic training is handled well; we get to know the whole incoming class, which ups the stakes when they risk being monster food.

During basic training, the major flaw that develops is that Owen loves guns. He is an expert (important to the book), but also rattles off extensive details about every gun he touches or witnesses. Over the course of the book, it’s a lot of pages of enthusiasm that I don’t really share. It felt very like creating characters for Shadowrun, and listening to the people who love guns discuss sights, gas vents, trigger modifications and the like. In some ways, it’s a little like Harry Dresden explaining magic… and, like Harry and his magic, Owen’s gun obsession defines him.

Once they hit the field, it becomes an action movie–and, actually, I could see this being more to my taste as a movie. The critters are bad to super bad, Owen is destined, and you know how Dresden gets mangled near the end of each of the first few books? Owen gets mangled a lot too… but magical healing lets him get mangled in many different ways. When he recounts the wounds he suffers four days straight, I signposts just how often “hurt the main character” is used in the toolkit.

In the end, it wasn’t a bad book. If the sequels were on hand and I didn’t have more desired books ahead of it in my queue, I’d be interested in seeing how the author develops. Given a stack of great books, though… this series is unlikely to get checked out of the library.