Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. I liked this book; it felt very LeGuin, in that our heroine is an anthropologist. Interestingly, she dives into the local culture, which happens to destabilize the overall situation (inadvertently). It’s a richly realized world, filled with interesting cultures.

Lock In by John Scalzi. It’s a good book; a thriller with a strong corruption/ politics/ wealth angle that feels very like today–or even more like a future today imagined by Piketty. At times it feels very like an extrapolation of today, and when it deviates (as it does dramatically with regards to remote operation) it’s a big deal. It was enjoyable, though I wanted a chance to get a little deeper with the characters. Chris has a lot of nuance by the end (as does his father, surprisingly), and Vann has some explanation, but most of the other characters aren’t on screen enough to reveal lots of depth.

It’s a good police procedural, made better with threeps and sci-fi generally.

05. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Roleplaying · Tags: ,

Last night Patrick, Tracy, Josh, and I played a “quick” game of My Life with Master. (Unfortunately, Jeff’s schedule and Josh’s prevented us from saving Lady Blackbird once again. We’ll save her one day soon.)

A villainous, nameless Master haunted a dark woods in lower Moldovia; often coalescing into the form of billowing mist or a dark cloaked figure with tendrils of fog snaking.

He was loyally served by Killian, who could seep through walls when not observed. Unfortunately, Killian was crippled by a fear of the illness in buildings and refused to breathe while inside one.

Darva maintained a house and baked cookies like a normal resident of the benighted town… but her words were incomprehensible to those grounded by work. She was supernaturally persuasive to children and the elderly… she racked up quite a body count in her service.

Alexi was traumatized by the death of his religious parents; he giggled whenever he read christian texts. He had the power to read anything, though… and he stuttered uncontrollably unless he was reading.

Let’s just say that they were horrible, horrible people.

Alexi attempted to corrupt Father Plankovich with a dark grimoire, and brought a dear librarian, Tilly, with him to the Vicscount’s home, where he punched the butler and dashed up the stairs, stole a book, and crashed through the windows to the unforgiving ground below. When he returned to the Master, he read out bloody and complicated rituals that set all of the minions on grisly tasks.

Killian began by terrorizing the men in a local fort, setting the barracks of fire with guardsmen inside, and throwing a guard walking the wall through the burning roof. Later he led a group of town elders to lurk behind trees and fire on a patrol of soldiers as they crossed the bridge into the woods; cloaking the soldiers in dank fog as he rushed forward and plunged his hatchet into their skulls.

Darva began by convincing her “sister”, Agnes, to wait until her parents were asleep, then take her clothes down to the living room and throw hot coals on the drapes, furniture, and her own heaped clothes. Later she had the children in the town’s orphanage join her at the side of the river; the largest bashed in a child’s head, then ran to attack approaching adults while she snapped the necks of the remaining younglings. The evening ended with her trying to acquire a platter of fear; two dozen prisoners for their waithlike master and his brethren to devour deep in the woods.

In the end, Alexi’s love for Tilly led him to resist a final fiendish command by the master, and brought peace to the land. Alexi and Darva integrated into the town. Killian “died” during an exorcism in the church, but a cloud of dank mist fled from his lungs out the windows… a new master in the making.

03. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: DnD, Roleplaying · Tags: ,

5e fan Resources from ENWorld.

Fresno Adventurer’s League: FB page, Warhorn

10 Gaming Blogs for 5e

Harbinger of Doom, and his Sorcery of Royal Bloodlines

From Detect Magic: Structure for making a story out of your personality. The example of showing the flaw through play is excellent, and easily expanded to cover all of your background elements.

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

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.

21. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: ,

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.

21. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags:

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.
More »

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
More »

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

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.