Monday, July 21, 2014

Dresden Files: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden's case files continue in Fool Moon, the second book of the Dresden Files series written by Jim Butcher. The idea is that Harry is a modern day wizard who is drawn into conflict because of his consulting job working for the police on matters that are 'supernatural' in nature.

Jim Butcher's prose flows easily and the use of first person narration makes the reading quick and easy. Those looking for depth and multiple layers of story might be a little disappointed, but in terms of popcorn fiction, I found it fast and easy to digest.

One of the things that Jim really knows how to do, is put the odds against Harry. +John Wick wrote a series of articles that was compiled into a book called Play Dirty. In it, one of the things John puts forward is that beating the hero to the point of death and allowing them to pull out all the stops to achieve victory, is what makes a good role playing game, or story worth becoming involved in. John' primary example in that is the good old movie Die Hard where our hero suffers beating upon beating but manages to claim victory at the end.

Fool Moon also continues to build the world of Dresden. The author lays out several seeds for future books with a casual mention here and a casual mention there. We get more information on the world in general and a lot of ideas on how werewolves work. There are several varieties of the creature presented here and the authors puts all the versions through the paces. In that aspect, it reminded me very much of a role playing game in which the end effect may be reached through several different means.

The fact that there are different versions, also helps explain why so many of the myths may appear to be wrong from one perspective. Those viking berserkers who have an animal spirit in them may be one type of animal soul, but the person whose invulnerable to everything but silver? That's an entirely different type of beast. Makes you want to think more about the different aspects of monster creation.

Mind you, as a Chicago native, I'm still not 'feeling' it so to speak. It may be that these are character focused novels with a relatively small cast, but I also don't get the modern feel of the city. With all of the speed cameras, camera lights, and other bits of surveilance and technology around, it's hard to believe how frequently Harry throws about 'big' magic without it becoming huge news. This problem continues in future volumes I see and its strains things a bit.

I'm also not 'getting' where Harry lives where he has a two story apartment but most of the people he deals with aren't people that would live in the type of area that Harry could afford. He's kind of semi-imposed against some generic city with no Mayor or named politicians. Still, can't blame Jim for that too much as having too many real world details can bog down the writing and Chicago, like many modern cities, is always in a state of transformation with one neighborhood becoming slum like and others rising to renovation and removal of 'undesirables'.

Like other works by Jim in the series, the book is available in a variety of formats and is a quick read for those wanting 'modern' magic.



For those who've played the Fate Game, are there any bits that you're stealing from the books or just going with information from the books themselves? I'm tempted a bit, but it's a two book series and even with the dreaded Amazon discount it's still over $40 bones. What's worse as I'm prepping some material for a Champions aka Hero 6th edition Sci-Fi campaign, I know that I'm not going to be using it for a long time.



Too many ideas, not enough time.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dresden File: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

One of my friends is a big fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. He also enjoys the role playing game powered by the Fate Engine. Not that long ago, Amazon was doing one of their $1.99 sales for books in the series. Right now, +comiXology is doing a sale on the Dresden Files comics. A fairly popular character with several books in the series? And written in an easy to read and quickly moving first person narrative?

Sign me up.

Jim has an easy command of the flow here. He introduces a lot of things but does so in a fairly... generic method. While Dresden is located in Chicago in the 'modern' world, and this could just be due to how quickly technology and everything else moves, it seems like he's actually in the 80's in some near generic scene. The second book brings more of Chicago to life but really, the series doesn't scream Chicago to me as much as it screams detective noir with a twist, and that's where the book shines.

Harry's background and abilities and indeed, his whole world as feed to the readers on a near as you need to know it basis. This allows the author to continue to provide information about Harry's strange world and throw hooks into the setting for future volumes. This continues well into the second book at least. It's additional information and provides a richer, more fuller world, such as when we meet Harry's 'magic computer', an old spirit that's inhabited by a lustful entity, but one that's been around for so long that it has a huge amount of magical information which Harry uses to say, brew potions or to do research.

Mind you, it's a good use and a good tool and that's because Harry can't use a computer. In what I imagine is a nod to some 'balance' equation or something of that nature, technology tends to fail around wizards and magic in general. This prevents Harry from owning and enjoying most of the things that we take for granted in the modern life. It's almost painful to see someone in the 'modern' world without a smart phone or tablet for reference and ease of use!

The other 'problem' I can see I'm going to have with the series, although it's not too bad in this book, is much like White Wolf's World of Darkness, people are 'ignorant' of the supernatural. It reminds me of the Warhammer World where the rat people, the Skaven, are said not to exist. "So Harry, you just engaged in a supernatural duel where a house was destroyed and magical scorpions and all sorts of other weirdness was abounding but hey, no one was around AGAIN eh? You lucky bastard."

You can, in my opinion of course, only push that mundanes know nothing bit so far before everything becomes too coincidental. "Man, another narrow escape where people didn't learn about all the weird things going on! Awesome!"

And Harry's world is weird. There's a mix of things ranging from Italian Mafia (which to me is VERY un-Chicago, this isn't the 1920's), to Vampire Countesses that run prostitution rings.

Nonetheless, it was a quick read and enjoyable enough that I'm already reading Fool Moon, the second book in the series. I tend to enjoy first person narration and when the author has the smoothness that Jim Butcher brings to the telling, it makes it a lot easier to read.

For those who have the Fate game, how did you find it? Would you be better off using the old World of Darkness and it's various Mage settings to try and capture this sort of setting or would you just go with the Fate version?

For those who've read the Dresden Files and didn't like them, was there a particular bit that stuck out or made you drop it? There is a portion where Harry is under attack by a demon and his newspaper female acquaintance drinks a 'love' potion and it seemed a little creepy to me, almost like a date rape drug and the skull spirit Harry uses also seems to 'bring out' inhibitions of people but Jim kind of waves that all away with, "Well, they'd have done it anyway with a few drinks in them."

On the other hand, I love this blog post: http://requireshate.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/changes-the-apex-of-jim-butchers-racism-and-misogyny/ . It's from the blog Requires Only That You Hate and there are often some very interesting posts over there. If I have some feelings of "ick" this author smashes the crap out of the things she doesn't like about the series and the book Changes in particular.

Storm Front is available on Amazon for under $8.00 bones right now, but is also available for sale in comic format and in a few other formats, including a hardcover graphic novel on Amazon.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Thousand Thrones: Against the Plague Cult!

Due to an ongoing gout flare up, I missed last week. At this point, I haven't had any alcohol for a month straight. God, how do people live like this on a regular basis? Ugh.

So this week, I find out one of my role playing friends, Mark Topic, native of the South Side of Chicago, passed on Sunday and services will be held on Wednesday. Mark was a min-maxer to the extreme and I was looking forward to seeing what he was going to do with 5th edition. Alas it was not meant to be. I and several of my friends will be there to pay our respects to the family.

A few of our other players knew Mark better and thought that the services were yesterday so were even later and were not pleased to have been so misinformed. They also missed last week, although their absence wasn't illness related.

Due to three of us missing, there was a ton of idle chatter and it took a while to get into the game. One of the amigos tried to steer us into the gaming because he's a sleep deprived bastich and worries that if the game isn't moving forward he's going to pass out.

It didn't help that I brought some chicharones, huge slabs of them freshly made in our local Mexican grocery store, as well as some of the dreaded Nutty Buddies, some real habanero hot sauce, and a host of other junk food. Normally I skip on the junk food and bring booze but gout.

Warhammer continues to be an interesting game. With the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons out, one of the things I hate about it, is random rolling for stats and hit points. The standard array and point buy systems don't seem up to the potential of a point buy and don't have any variety in them, it's one flat level.

I mention this because in Warhammer, I don't mind the random rolling for stats. Mind you though, you also randomly roll what you career WAS when you start playing. This can force you into more situations than just randomly rolling stats and hit points. For me, the difference is that if you want to play a fighter in Dungeons and Dragons and your stats are crap and you roll poorly on your hit points, it's not fun. If you want to play a fighter in Warhammer, even if you don't start as one, you'll get there and the stats are much lower to begin with so it's not as great a difference.

Mind you I haven't played yet, and I've seen people argue that due to the Dungeons and Dragons hard limit of 20 on stats that high stats aren't as important but at the same time, there's going to be a sweet spot in the game, and if one guy starts with a 20 in his prime stat and you start with a 14...

I have the starter set and well, looks like the guys I game with want me to give running Champions aka Hero 6th edition a shot. And of course Hero itself is out of print but the Champions book isn't outrageous. I think everyone's going PDF on this one though so we'll see how it goes.

Anyway, another thing that's funny in Warhammer is how the scenarios can sometimes be written. For example, in the basement of an abandonded building, we saw a seen of such bloodshed, that we had to make a save versus fear. I failed and due to seeing a bloody mess, fled the scene into an ambush. A giant slayer flees from blood? But it's one of the reasons you have rules for those things right?

In disgust, my character cut his orange mohawk off until he's shown that he's recovered his courage!

Another problem is that the ambush? Mutants who infected me with some weird disease so my stats keep dropping by 5% when I miss my Toughness roll. Down to -10% so far!

Also suffering a few more Insanity Points due to wounds and some horrific scenes that we've witnessed. As I think I'm now past six IP, I have to make a roll on the crazy table!

I'm also finding myself interested in how much information the group doesn't find. One of the things we found was a human with some weird plague beetle attached to his back. We killed him in like one round and the GM was showing us walls of text that could have been revealed to us. Mind you, during our exploration of a manor, we managed to find numerous books, journals, and other player hand out bits that revealed a lot of information, but it makes me wonder what ELSE we could learn by being more careful. Good thing my character is a 'humble' Giant Slayer though so I don't worry about those things.

Hopefully next week goes better in both real world and game time usage.

For those who don't game as often as they like, do you have any particular methods of madness to keep your fellow players focused on the game? I find that I'm pretty bad, as a player, at keeping things focused and on track. When I'm a GM though... man, the ruler comes down! I'm too busy playing catch up on everything and keep trying to focus on the game and what's been happening with people I only see at the game.

I suppose the solution is to hang out with the amigos more or get to the game before the game starts but that can be difficult too. Curse you real world!

Ah well...



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Goodman Games 4e Sale at DriveThruRPG

So I see that the sale that Goodman Games is having on their 4e material on Drivethrurpg is making the rounds.

Strangely enough, I have most of it, and reviewed a fair amount of it.

Now I'm thinking of the whole Punjar thing because I hear that it may be the next project that Goodman takes onto Kickstarter.

That's very interesting because I enjoyed Punjar. I thought it was very sword and sorcery feel, despite the 4e ruleset. My review of that can be found here.  

For those who've read over the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition stuff and found it wanting, will you be buying any of the Goodman Games 4th ed material?


Savage Sword of Conan Volume Six

This is the last of book of the Savage Sword of Conan that I own in physical print as well as digital copy. Dark Horse did a fantastic sale not too long ago on the Savage Sword of Conan where the whole bundle was a little under $90 bones for like sixteen volumes of black and white nostalgia.

This volume, like many in the series, is a massive tome that clocks in at well over five hundred pages. Roy Thomas, Michael Fleisher and Bruce Jones are the main writers this time around, and included the Conan gold standard of artists, John Buscema, as well as Gil Kane, Ernie COlon, and one of my favorites, Ernie Chan.

This volume collects issue #61-#71 and retails for $19.99, although Amazon has it for $14.04. Those who want to see a free preview of this collection, can check out the Dark Horse website.

This volume tends to be heavy of the 'solo' stories with done in one tales. These usually pit Conan against the wizardry or military might of someone who thinks they know better than the barbarian and well, they usually don't live to regreat it. Some of my favorite bits that come through the title, tend to overlap with material I'm looking at in terms of RPG gaming right now.

For example, in one of the tales, Conan is sent to seek out the secrets of the sorcerer Tamar-Shar Khun. He is sent there because the sorcerer is supposed to "devised a means of making both crops and beasts grow swiftly to sizes most wondrous." And that's needed because the king conan is serving is in a country where famine is upon the land. That whole bit could easily be from any Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

But in terms of gaming, I'm reading the sourcebook, Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, a sourcebook for Lamentations of the Flame Princes, and it's about wizard's domiciles. Kind of reminds me of the old bits from The Complete Wizard's Handbook back in the day. But it reminds me of it because of some of the things that Seclusium talks about, correspond to what happens in the lair of Tamar-Shar Khun. There are magic and mundane traps, guardians of supernatural and standard variety. It's a nice pace and it's done in one issue! Great stuff.

Similar but of more 'high magic' is when Conan is part of a caravan bringing gifts to the alien entity Giyune of the Three Eyes. Here is another ancient power with his own unique lair and unique aspects of the lair that can challenge even the most resourceful characters.

Another thing that occurs, is that the 'bit players' are there to essentially die in order to warn Conan of danger. For example, Zerbo is a giant of a man, but a terrible fighter. When he fails to kill Conan over jealousy, he warns Conan that the queen is after his life and shortly dies thereafter. Next up, Conan's love at the time, is also cruelly handled and dies of torture, but not before affirming what Conan already knows.

Slogans: This is one I've hit before. I've mentioned that a good battle cry is a signature for characters and is often used in super hero comics ranging from Avengers Assemble to It's Clobbering Time to the more simplistic Hulk Smash. Here though, it seems that the gods are the ones to call on. This ranges from Favors of Kilili, By The Holy Eyes of Mitra, Merciful Mother of Mitra, Loins of Ishtar, to.. well, let's just do a quick table:

1. In Crom's Name
2. Crom's Devils
3. Crom and Mitra!
4. By The bones of Crom!
5.By the bears of Crom!
6. By Crom!

Thee are probably a few more I could have grabbed but I thought those sufficient.

One of the most interesting things to me, is that the authors have no problem abandoning a storyline before it's conclusion. Conan, as a pirate leader, takes a merchant vessel's cargo, and one of the ladies of the ship, tells Conan that she knows where there is treasure to be found. Before that story goes anywhere, the crew mutinies and the ship is sunk and Conan, in the same tale, is off to an ancient tribe of immortal Amazon's. Perhaps that tale picks up later but I found it interesting. It was like the author said, "Are people enjoying this? Nah, let's move the action."

There are also some bits that Conan never learns, but that the author is kind enough to provide the reader. For example, Black Cloaks of Ophir, features two military groups, the Black Cloaks and the Iron Maiden Corps. They seeks to have power over the people like Thanus, the Hyborian who first founded Ophir. Turns out that Thanus was buried alive and became a huge ghoul, feeding off the family as they were buried in the same crypts that he was. A neat little twist to things that Conan never learns, but the reader is cued in on.

Some writers will also talk of 'killing your babies'. Find something in the setting and smashing it. Conan is responsible for the destruction of an Amazon society, and does damage to a group of man bat's society. Both are fantastic and fit into the 'weird' aspects of the sword and sorcery age, both isolated from the rest of the world by distance or special means. Both easily added to any game and just as easily destroyed.

Again, for the art and for the various bits that can easily be lifted for any role playing game, I highly recommend the Savage Sword of Conan.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Dragon King Saga by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Dragon King Saga by Stephen Lawhead is a collection of three individual books. I picked up the omnibus edition from Half Price and it's $1 spinner rack. I had never read any Stephen R. Lawhead, his personal website here, before, so didn't know what to expect.

It's standard heroic journey. Very much 'farm boy saves the world'. The hero goes from acolyte, to traveler, to adopted prince, to king. Through the three books, In The Hall of the Dragon King, The Warlords of Nin, and The Sword and the Flame, we have a rise, fall, and return to greatness. Much of the religion seems very psuedo Christian among the pagan gods as it were. For some reason, I continued to get vibes of the old movie, Excalibur from it.

But the problem? The movie Excalibur in it's length, seemed to have more depth than the entire series of the Dragon King Saga. Things are cast in very black and white terms. Good will win. The 'god' will throw out the old gods. The suffering will be temporary. The victories, well, I don't want to say easy, but without much loss.

Combat and long term situations are quickly resolved. For example, in the second book, the Warlords of Nin, the hero comes charging out with his new forged sword and essentially, scares away over fifty thousand villains and kills their leader in one blow. In one chapter. In part of one chapter. It might take Robert Jordan longer than that to discuss the iron shod shoes of the horses.

The good thing about this, is that I would easily recommend this for teens or younger who were looking to get into fantasy. Now if they're already reading the Wheel of Time or A Game of Thrones, then no, this will hold no attraction for them. But if they want to dip the toe into fantasy? Yes, this series, which is quick to read and has a relatively small cast, is the perfect starting point for such readers. In addition, I'd recommend it to someone looking for 'Christian' fantasy writing. While it's not called Christianity as such, the allusions and references to many Christian teachers are fairly easy to spot for those seeking them.

Which again, as an old bastard whose read way too many of these types of stories, makes it too easy for me to go, "story going to go this way, story going to go that way, X, Y, and Z are going to happen at point A, B, and C."

Now mind you, there is a nice twist in the third volume, The Sword and the Flame. The main hero, named Quentin, has a sword, which has a great name, Zhaligkeer, 'The Shining One', is much like Excalibur from the movie. When used wrongly, it loses it's vast power. Quentin strikes down a bandit in rage and well, sword loses it's power.

But that's not the 'twist'. Rather, in the first volume, In The Hall of the Dragon King, a necromaner, Nimrood, is struck down and loses all his power. Through words alone, he almost causes an entire kingdom to crash and it's a nice change of pace from when we usually see the bad guys come back, like Cell or something from Dragon Ball Z, more powerful than ever! Here the villain is reduced to the shadows and never gains vast power or abilities, but rather, uses the whole loss of power to be more careful than before.

In terms of gaming?

1. Named Weapons: Like I said, I dug the whole Zhaligkeer the Shining One as a weapon.

2. Tried and True doesn't mean useless: If you have new players who aren't necessarily readers of fantasy but are playing Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder or another fantasy, this is a good book to throw at them.

3. Quick: Pathfinder and other Dungeons and Dragons variants, like the OSR clones, aren't necessarily designed for court intrigue and combat. Of course you can do it, but outside of some skill checks, all of the role playing is done at the table and there isn't a lot of mechanical resources compared to it, as opposed to say, fighting or magic spells or items. Being quick may mean as little as moving from one ruin to the next as all good murder hobos do, to trying to cut through combat as quickly as possible to get back to the parts of the game that the players enjoy.

The Dragon King Saga isn't for everyone and I can see experienced readers dropping this one quickly. For those who've read other Stephen R. Lawhead books, are all of his works of this nature? Are there any that you'd recommend to read or skip? Any that are essential for the modern fantasy reader?


Monday, July 7, 2014

Deep Magic by Kobold Press: Round 1: Fight!

Deep Magic is a lengthy PDF that I've recently acquired. It's way too long and detailed to do it any sort of justice in one review unless the review itself was product length and that would just bore the crap out of any readers and me writing that review.

The PDF weights in at a mighty 378 pages. Mind you that does count the cover, rear cover, several pages of thanks from the Kickstarter, and other 'standard' things like table of contents. The art is full color and there is a lot of solid art in it. I've heard good things about the print version having full color, which is great because another book I own by Kobold Press physically looks to have had full color art that was turned black and white for the print version and to be honest, it was done poorly and took value away from the print product.

Anyway...

For me, magic is always a fun thing. Well, not always. There can be TOO much supplement suffering. But when I see something like this and read the background of it, funded from a Kickstarter by Kobold Press, it reminds me of 'the good times'.

I remember reading the original Tome of Magic and the Complete Wizard's Handbook and thinking they were filled with awesome options. I remember before that, Ed Greenwood's always excellent Pages From The Magics, and the old FR4 The Magister, magic items and spells and all sorts of other awesome things.

This product brings a lot of those good feelings back.

It's firmly a Pathfinder book mind you. I'm sure that someone with more time and effort could easily point out what might need to be dropped and changed for say, 3.5 or even 3.0, and some will yank some of the back ground text out for any campaign that uses magic but that will not be me! At least not today.

In terms of 'Appendix N' style inspiration, things that make me want to use it right away or steal it for another game, I didn't have to look past Chapter 1: New Magic Options. These are various schools, sub-schools and other options for magic using characters that often include spell books which lists out several new spells, which are in turn detailed in Chapter 2.

Of the ones that really perked my interested though? Fool's Summoining. From the book, "This little-known but horribly dangerous subschool of conjuration and transmutation magic draws upon a group of creatures called the Listeners. These creatures infest ordinary summoned creatures with a template that makes them more powerful. In essence, these Listeners pervert summoned creatures’ biology. Sometimes, affected summoned creatures go insane."

There are more details and information on how there are game mechanic and descriptive changes to various spells. This reminded me heavily of an old Dragon article detailing basic Dungeons and Dragons magic of all things. I believe that old example used an elf whose magic missiles were actual like green arrows to represent the nature bond that the elf had. It was well done then, and it's a fantastic example of seeing some of the professionals of the industry say, "Yeah, change the mechanics in minor ways to make things cool and interesting and intriguing again."

Another one I liked? Living Spellbooks. Sure, we have Stormbringer, and the homage Black Razor as intelligent blades, and intelligent magic items in general are not unknown, but the authors do a nice job of bringing out why Living Spellbooks are cool and why you should include them.

The last thing that really popped out to me? Vril Magic. If your familiar with old school Rolemaster, one of the first companions introduced 'Arcane Magic'. I know that sounds stupid to someone whose only played Dungeons and Dragons, but wait, hear me out!

Rolemaster magic was broken into three types: Channelling (from the gods), Essence (from the weaves of magic), and Mentalism (from the self). Arcane magic was more 'raw' and more powerful but almost more difficult to control and was very popular.

In various Hellboy and B.R.P.D. books, Vril is that ancient power that the prehumans used to fight against those ancient and terrible evils that currently infest the world. It's also used as power for a suit of armor during World War 2 in the Sledgehammer comic. Fantastic stuff in the setting Mike Mignola.

Anway, Vril in this incarnation, is 'raw' and more 'primitive' or 'primal' magic. There are feats and other things that make the caster more distinct and unique and it does a good job of it and I can easily see using it for players looking for methods to fight 'that damn ancient evil' because despite how overplayed and sometimes boring that can be, the quest to bring to light old magics in and of itself can be fun.

I hope to get back to this book soon but I still have a ton of other things I'd like to ramble about. The one thing I won't be throwing my two cents in, at least on the blog here, is the whole 'controversy' on the new 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I've seen two major bones of contention and well, others have gone over them in depth and in detail and at the end of the day, it's not my thing.

It brings to mind an old saying by Conan. Something like "Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.." Yup in a nutshell.

Deep Magic is available from DrivethruRPG.com for $24.99 in PDF format.