History + Gaming = Medieval guilds and cartels

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.

Traitor’s Blade and The Summer Prince

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 by Kaylia M. Metcalfe

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.

Session 2.1: Kingmaker, Lamashan (Harvest Season)

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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