5e PHB and Starter Set

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.)

The Stars My Destination and Wetware

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.

5e Resources and Rob Donghue’s great PHB review

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.

The Best of All Possible Worlds

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.

Hereville: How Mirka Met A Meteorite by Barry Deutsch and Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

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.

Sharp and Marked by Alex Hughes

Sharp and Marked follow Clean, a book about a recovering drug addict/telepath who works with the police in a dystopian future.

Sharp does a good job of presenting normal appearing cases in the foreground. They almost feel like a day-in-the-life, but it’s clear that good police and interrogation work aren’t the only dimension for Adam. The world of the police and politics gets further defined, as Adam and Cheribino (and now Michael) tackle a few apparently unrelated cases… and we, the readers, learn a bit more about tech control in this world.

Kara and the guild loom in the background; well, they come to the fore when Adam is investigated as a consequence of the first book’s events. We learn a bit about the Guild Enforcers and their absolute and looming authority… but the development is more on the mundane side. We get a better feel for everyday life in this post-crash work; the budget and political priorities feels like they’d ring true even today. Adam’s addiction remains a major theme that’s handled well–it’s ever present but rarely takes over the story.

The end feels a little artificial with the way the strings all come together so thoroughly, but it’s not that great a stretch. Throughout, though, Adam really does feel like a guy with so many things going on that he’s not going to be able to keep all of those plates spinning. Stress, frustration–and in this book particularly, lingering consequences, all add up to a guy who can’t please everyone but does an amazing job given how many ways he’s pulled.

In Marked, Adam has more of his telepathy, which is nice–it makes it feel more like the suggested high level concept (psychic investigator). This book delves much deeper into the telepath side of things; while Alex is juggling police commitments, a call from Kara near the start of the book plunges him into the Guild and its struggles.

There’s good world building, as we encounter the various guild factions and learn how they interact in their own spaces. The guild/tech theme from other books remains a strong current in this one, though we also learn about contagious madness and other unique threats to telepaths.

Over the course of the book, several true things change, leaving Adam in a very different position at the end then at the beginning. It’s a nice progression; book 2 kicked off with a lot of consequences from book 1, and Alex at the end of book 3 is in a very different place for finances and romance than he’s been before. There’s no sense of episodic writing or of a story not fitting in a very specific time in his life. It seems like the last few years were a bit of stasis, but everything is changing now. I am looking forward to book 4, Vacant, due out in December.

Two recent books: 17 & Gone and Mistwood

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. This book is supernatural from the start; a van stalling out at an intersection leads to Lauren picking up a missing girl flyer… and being haunted by her ghost. It’s a tricky look at school, relationships and understanding, finding a quest (or tilting at windmills)… a very baseline real world with challenges, and school in the backdrop. There’s a twist that amplifies the book and encourages you to look back on the events from other characters’ perspectives. I recommend it to Jennifer, and anyone else who is looking for good YA fiction. (Though you need to be able to handle some depressing/concerning elements–among other things, teenage runaways and abduction are a very strong theme.)

Mistwood by Leah Cypress is set in a fantasy world, and thrives there. Our protagonist is The Shifter, who comes to protect the prince and struggles to recover her memories. Isabel, the shifter, emerges to find that her reputation precedes her, which her memories come only when prompted. The alienness of the shifter, the bubbling conflict that lurks behind the scenes until Isabel gains enough skill to start unraveling the secret that no one is talking about, and the conflict in loyalties all resonated. The pacing is non-standard, but the book is plenty short to keep its drive throughout. (This book also has a twist that flows from those lost memories. It’s pretty well handled.) For a first novel, I thought it was great and look forward to reading her next book. [Though, honestly, this story is told and told well… I’d rather read about a new situation than continue a short time after the book ends.]