Saturday, May 26, 2012

Let's Talk About Kickstarters

I've back a few kickstarters so figure I'd pop out and talk about why, my impressions, and a few random rants.

It Came From The Stars:  This was the first one I did. I just asked if it's going to meet its initial completion date. Answer? No. Here's another kicker, I backed at at a level that's supposed to provide me with everything the company does this year. Uh... they haven't done anything. They're working on 'making it right' but this one sets off the 'vibes' detector. Still, it looks cool which is why I backed it in the first place and I've got some hope. The updates they have provided feature some great art and I like Pathfinder so here's hoping.

King For A Day: Jim has done a lot of great stuff. Toolbox is one of the best supplements out there period. He did a lot of good stuff in terms of what you get from the actual pledges. However, "I've been busy finishing freelance projects for clients who actually pay me (weird, I know) and as soon as those are put to bed (around end of this month), you'll get more updates from me, here." Uh... here's me being an ass on the internet. If you're going to treat a kickstarter like some part time get to it when you have time thing, then you really need to make that as clear as possible. Now mind you, it could just be Jim saying that he's working on some material and he doesn't mean it to sound like "that pay him" as opposed to the people on the kick who are you know, paying him but it just sounded off to me. This is part of the problem with the dreaded 'internets' where language isn't as clear as it could be. But again, Jim's done some great things and the hope is high again. Hell, he increased it from 200 to 300 pages!

Blackwater Gulch: Not the first miniature game I backed, which I'll get to in a minute but let me point out what seems to be a very 'real' thing to me. The guys doing the miniature games are doing a lot of communication with the crowds. They are showing 'real' progress of models, of painted models and have a lot of stuff going on. This one added a ton of things as they went through their levels and I'm impressed with what I've seen so far.

Bushido, The Ito: Okay, not a kickstarter and still in process but again, the miniature guys are showing a lot of movement very quickly. Lots of art and models being shown off here and the rewards have some quickly visible tangible effects. Good stuff so far.

Deepwars: The first miniature project I backed. I like a lot of the concepts and figure there are a lot of figures here that can pull double duty. One of the things that was impressive, is how well the company appears to be taking care of the backers from the initial pledge. Mine started off with three factions and got kicked up to another starter set when they hit one of their goals. In addition, like with the other miniature companies, a lot of previews, a lot of material coming out. Pretty sure this is going to be awesome.

Dwimmermount :I like a lot of stuff going into the product in terms of maps and play aids. Their bonus for various stretch goals were incredibly stingy in my opinion and the stretch goals were like double and triple the initial funding goals. Updates have not been frequent but they've been doing other stuff on Google + and I really haven't been paying too much attention.

Midgard Tales: This is just me but I wish there were more options for getting involved in Open Design without some of these levels charging you to ask for your ideas. I'm not into the whole scene as far as that goes. The product looks interesting and I'd like to buy it but working and having a real live keeps me out of deep involvement in these things. The guy behind this has been doing these before Kickstarter showed up so I'm sure that of all the RPG ones, this one is as close to a done deal as you can possibly get.

Tectonic Craft Studios: Another one of the early miniature supplements I backed. Lots of updates, lots of information, lots of visuals. Looks to be a good bang for the buck assuming it comes out. Pretty happy about this one again.

Order of the Stick: I backed this one for the unique PDFs as I already own most of the books with the exception being the collection from the days of Dragon magazine. One of the most successful kickstarters around.

Steampunk Musha:More Samurai but this time with some Steam Punk and hey, it's for Pathfinder. Looks like it's going to hit some impressive goals. It's another one on the 'good' side of stretch goals and rewarding those who back it. Too soon to see which way the wind is blowing here in terms of updates.

Adventurer, Conqueror, King Player's Companion:  I missed out on the initial book but heard a lot of good things about it so went in for the Companion level where I got the first book. Which I did. So hey, one of the first things I've gotten out of the Kickstarter projects eh? Looking forward to the book.

Recreating My Melnibonean Art: I'll be honest and that I supported this one out of pure nostalgia as I actually own the original Deities and Demigods. 'Nuff said.

Zombicide: Some fantastic perks for the buyers, blew through a ton of its stretch goals, is by a well known miniature shop, has had a ton of reviews and information. Again though, miniature based. I'm seeing a pattern here.

Overall most of the kickstarters were willing to cough up some decent wards. The Dwimmermount seems the least useful for that venue.

Miniature companies seem to provide a lot of updates of actual stuff getting done. I suppose with other written material its not as easy.

Updates after the kick starter tend to wind down. Companies should really work on reversing that trend cause it's much harder to get buy in and go, "Me sorry" then "Hey, remember how awesome I was at updating things around last time? I've learned a lot and its going to be better this time around!" People want to know where they're money went. They want to know what your doing. They want to know whats going on.

A sponsor should NEVER have to ask, "So... uh... where's the project" when the due date is going to hit. Rather, even if it's late, you need to be front and center and revise and update and offer people a refund right there and then.

Gee, it's not wonder I'm working ten hour days, six days a week eh? Damn you kickstarter!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Art of Gerald Mendez

When looking at sources outside the European feel, one of the things that some people may feel are a trap in art, is the popular subjects. For example, there are many Mexican resteraunts that features artwork with Mayans and Aztecs on them. I've linked to a few of them on my Facebook page because they are great pieces, some of them actually having a Frank Fazzeta look to them.

This may mean though, that traditional fantasy is missing artist who have different heritage. To that I ponder why that matters though. If there are artists of various nationalities doing their things and making a living at it, why do they need to draw elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings? Why can't they enjoy their medium?

When looking at someone like Gerald Medez , you may find yourself thinking that he's already an artist doing work for Wizards of the Coast or other players. Some of his work would look right at home in the Player's Handbook or other resources.

But... and this gets back to my comments about keeping the recent Kickstarter for the Prismatic Art collection.... just because Gerald Mendez has a Hispanic background, does not make him an artist that doesn't practice cheesecake style art.

Which circles around to my opinion that having one art collection of non-sexualized women done by women is a great project and having another project of various art, not necessarily of Mexican Elves and African Dwarves, but art created by people of various ethnicity, is another project. Combining the two doesn't have to be an 'issue' but keeping the mission purpose, the focus, and the value of each type of art can be made more useful to those different applications.

Anyway, Gerald does some great illustration and if you're looking for some great pictures of various fantasy and modern and some interesting mash ups, you should check his web site out. Popeye says so!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Does Not Thinking Prismatc Art Collection Has a Purpose Make Me Racist?

I've backed several kickstarter projects. I'm always interested in seeing what's happening. So when I saw mention of Prismatic Art Collection by several people whose opinions I respect, I checked it out.

Hmmm.... it rubs me the wrong way. Mind you its already funded and it looks like there will be some great art that comes out of it but...

"In geek culture, there are plenty of Lukes, but not enough Landos or Leias. "

I'm not saying its an incorrect assumption. However, is it necessary to tackle both racism and sexism in one product? Maybe hitting one then the other with the appropriate group of artist might be the way?

Even more off to me though, is that when you look at the list of illustrators, while there are a lot of de womens, I'm not seeing a lot of diversity in other avenues. Sure, I see some that have the traditional Oriental Adventure styling art there with that Eastern Dragon sample and other bits but really, Samurai and other elements of the east are missing in geek culture? Uh... no. Let me be clear here, there are a lot of solid artist on that list. For example, Amy Houser. Kick ass artist. My concern isn't with the talent present.

But when you've got people who are not native to the culture telling you that there needs to be more of it, I raise an eyebrow.

And it could just be that I didn't page through each and every artist bio. It could be that 99.9% of the rest of the individuals aren't white.

But me? I get... annoyed when white people tell me how they're expanding the horizons. I remember some hub about DC comics and their portrayal of women and minorities. I recall some Internet backlash. I also don't recall anything being really done about it. Hell, I believe some of those heated titles are some of the best sellers. Still, it's something that I've discussed with blog masters like the lord of the Crom blog site who loves him some Red Sonja when talking about many of the visuals for Jirel, one of the first woman warriors of fantasy. She usually winds up in the cheese cake variety despite her armor and weapons as described. But it sells right? Ugh.

I remember 3rd edition had some buzz about trying to integrate more ethnicity into the character portraits and because it failed they took revenge on the fighter. Heaven forbid that say take Shango, whose an African god that's even made comic appearances (yeah Firestorm!) and make him part of the core pantheon. Perhaps even make the dreaded African Throwing Knives into something in the Player's Handbook as an Exotic Weapon? Perhaps a licensed Imaro setting? Nah, we'll just kill the fighter. That'll show 'em.

Comics and art about minorities and minorities as illustrated aren't going to solve the problem if the minorities themselves aren't the ones doing the production. I live in Chicago. If you want a city contract, regardless of ethnicity, creed, or ethos, you better have some pull and you better be ready to pull out all the stops. If that means calling racism into question then that's what happens. But it's keeping people working.

Anyone can draw minorities and women. If you want such art, and now maybe it doesn't meet this kick starter designers goals of what is already out there but I'd start with stuff like Imaro by Charles Saunders and with some of the links he has on Facebook, go from there.

Minority creators are more important than minority artwork.

Or am I out of my element here?

On another note, is it just Internet buzz? I had Aeshiba, Greek Africa, way back in the 80's. It was one of Gary Gygax's Greek Africa bits that was generic fantasy. I also had those Dragon magazines that had kits and monsters for 2nd edition. Hell, I own Nyambe.

But see, when you talk about stuff like Nyambe and all the 'good' of the setting, and it is a good setting, it's not such a seller that it could be supported. Last time I looked I don't even remember seeing a Pathfinder version. Is it more Internet noise? Where are the buyers?

Ditto for fantasy. Night Shade Books reprinted the first two books of Imaro and Charles went the Lulu route for the last two and some others besides. Good stuff but so different than the earlier material... it went from sword and sorcery to epic... anyway, I've already talked about those books on this blog so I'll refrain.

And I apologize for my terrible artwork but it's been about ten... maybe fifteen years since I took up a pencil in anything resembling art style and I have no Photoshop or other decent software to do the touch ups that this needs but I'm just saying, anyone can draw anything.

Meet AZUBUIKE or at 20000 Names would say, "An African name, meaning "he has much strength," from Ibo azu "many; very much," (a)bu "be, happen," and íke "strength." (Anthropological Report on the Ibo-speaking Peoples of Nigeria: English-Ibo, Ibo-English Dictionary, Thomas, 1914).
Azubuike Oliseh, a Nigerian soccer player. (Wiki)

Prince of the North by Harry Turtledove

One of the few good things about having a bad back is that it gives me time to catch up on the old reading. One of the bad things about it being material from Half Price Books, is that despite the awesome dollar deals on the spinner racks, sometimes that means reading books out of order.

In this instance, it's Prince of the North by Harry Turtledove. I'd already read King of the North and enjoyed it so when I saw this earlier book by the same author for the same setting in the same series, I picked it up. It's been sitting around for a little while but I managed to finally finish it off.

If you want some quick background on the publication process and a great cover gallery of the material in this series, check out this site.  Has a nice map of the setting and some of those older covers are great throw backs. Ditto for the various foreign editions.

I'll be discussing some material from the book below so if you wish to avoid spoilers read no further.

1. Time Flies. From Prince of the North to King of the North, there's a hefty chunk of time that has lapsed. From my reading here, from Prince of the North from the previous book, there has also been a fair heft of time that's moved by. In many instances of adventure paths by Paizo or Wizards of the Coast, there is little time to do anything but race against the clock. In some instances, you'll be hard pressed to come up with reasons how you have time for a mage say, to study his tomes or opportunity to spend hard earned coin. If possible, discuss the options of time lapses with the group.

When doing such though, you need to be aware of how its going to work out. Will characters advance in power, wealth, prestige? Is there a chance that they can die? Will they have children? Some of these elements should be discussed with the players ahead of time to see what they expect out of it. Doing so though allows you to bring in different elements that don't necessarily feel like monster of the week.

2. Repetition. Yeah, I've mentioned this one before but Harry Turtledove uses it to great effect here in several instances. By enforcing material mentioned before, it allows you to sticky items that might be useful for the players or to hammer in character traits that might be useful later on if those characters are replaced with imposter's.

3. Fallen Empires. Just as in King of the North, the main character here, Gerin the Fox, is trying to keep alive civilization in a land that doesn't really want it. He wants to arm the peasants against unleashed monsters but the other barons and nobles are worried about what happens when the monsters are gone. He wants to introduce literacy to all, but then the other nobles fear what happens when the peasants realize that their lot in life is not good. He wants to increase trade but the roads are all in ruin. Trade has fallen by the wayside. Inns are no longer as prosperous as they once were and the beaten paths are dangerous places for a few travelers as even villagers are hard hit by the times.

4. Fire is a bitch. In this pseudo bronze age-Roman style setting, when a lot of things are made of wood and a lot of crops are ripe, good old fire is a great weapon of war. Mind you its not necessarily something to use in casual combat as burning down a village may have some big repercussions down the road but in war time? Burn baby burn.

5. Cliche Works. The main thrust of the book is that there are monsters unleashed in the north that have broken through ancient barriers. They are unleashed by an earthquake that shatters those barriers as well as the temple that housed those barriers. To modern gamers, that's not really an original tale but as with other things, its more in the telling of the tale. Too much jaded longing for the new can take away from stories that are well told even if they're not bringing a lot to the table in terms of originality.

6. Throw The Characters a Bone. Fairly early in the story, Gerin's son is kidnapped. He can't find the boy and other events force the problem from him. However, instead of being butchered and fed to the dogs or abused and turning into some sick parody of himself, Gerin's son is returned to him hale and hearty no worse for the wear. In gaming though, you have to be careful about which buttons you push. For example, in some games, the players might decide to let everything else rot to rescue the child of their comrade. In some games, the players may not even be the ones who lost the child, but are instead, like the movie Spartan, hired to find the youth and return him. Dangerous consequences if they fail in such a heady mission. Rulers are not known for their mercy.

7. Setting Elements. Part of the problem with the North that Gerin inhabits, is that every night there are ghosts. These ghosts don't seem to do much but they do make it difficult to sleep outside. They are placated by blood and held at bay with fire. As Gerin moves about the land, they always have to have chickens or other animals for sacrifice and the size of the sacrifice determines how useful it was. The ghost never seem to make direct attacks, but they could easily ruin a night's sleep. For spellcasters that need a solid eight hours of sleep, that could be very problematic. For crueler Dungeon Masters, that may mean some penalties to hit and skill checks as the lack of sleep impedes the characters.

8. Continuity. Events from the previous books are mentioned here and events from that book still have consequences that haunt down this book and further on. Having ties to previous adventurers or nods to them when possible can provide the setting with more more elements of stability not necessarily in making it safe, but in making it real. Events that players have partaken of in past campaigns for example, may be references or known by the current group, even if they are not directly involved in those affairs.

Prince of the North is a good novel that manages to stand on its own but works better when read as part of the series.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire; Iron Eclipse

Not too long ago, Dark Horse Digital had a sale on their Star Wars titles. Having some extra funds after pulling mucho overtime, I plunked down the cash and downloaded my comics.

Among the sale items, was Agent of the Empire. In short, 007 meets Star Wars. Done well too mind you.

The main character, Jahan Cross, is a graduate from the same academy as Han Solo who makes a few appearance that quite aren't cameos but don't fall into full fledged team up status either. It works for the most part and brings the new in with the old.

One of the fun things about the Star Wars setting, when done right, is that the area that the setting encompasses is huge. In a science fiction setting like Star Wars, or others of that nature, this allows the action to take place in areas that aren't formally controlled by only one faction. It puts Cross outside the boundaries of the Empire and relies on other bits of history in the long line of Star Wars history to get more of the connection to the setting inherent in.

Another thing done well is the threat. One can only have so many Death Stars, Planet Bursters, and other overpowered Star Killers around before you have to wonder why the Empire could ever lose.

In this instance, it's a virus that will override all droids and make them dance to one tune. This is a viable threat in a Star Wars setting where droids are basically smart tech everywhere. Your toaster could be a droid in the Star Wars setting.

While it would be hard to translate such a direct threat to most fantasy campaigns, those that have machine men, like Eberon and the War Forged, could be in for some potential issues. Otherwise the standard virus threat is pretty handy.

In terms of Jahan himself though, he is right up there with Bourne or other super spies. If trying to run such a campaign, the Game Master should insure that the characters are highly proficient in their field compared to about 90% of the people around them with only some real big threats having some similar fire power.

The characters need to have access to fancy goods. This could range from unique items to one shot items or items that don't necessarily work unless the user has a certain skill set. By making this items one shot or consumable, the Game Master can provide some more powerful items then he might normally slip into his campaign. Even better if these items come for a specific person who doubts the characters worthiness to use them.

On a tangent that I find most interesting though, is how Jahan perceives the universe around him. He works for the Empire because the Empire represents order. During the various assaults at the end of the old Clone Wars, he lost his sister due to the rioting and chaos and confusion. And he blames that on the Jedi.

Here, to an outside reader whose more familiar with the Star Wars setting and knows how everything turns out, it showcases how perception can be warped and how things can be viewed through a narrow focus.

In a super hero setting, some factions may work for what others perceive as an evil power but those who work for it perceive as a stabilizing force. Pitting these types of viewpoints against the players as opposed to the standard 'evil' ones can make for some more challenging encounters.

On the other hand, if the series continues for a while, I am curious as to how Dark Horse will handle the long term effects of the character against the setting. For one thing, Jahan doesn't hate aliens. Such entities generally don't have the good life in the Empire. For another, he respects droids. For another, he doesn't tolerate corruption and well, the Empire is rife with it.

If you've never thought of using the Star Wars setting to run something like a Spycraft game, Agent of the Empire provides a lot of direct inspiration drawn from other sources that shows how to stir, not shake, it all together.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Tribune by Patrick Larkin

Another book from the Half Price Books dollar rack. Either I've read it before or something very similar to it. Told in first person, it takes a bit of a long journey through 'Ancient Rome' and brings our hero Lucius into contact with all sorts of corruption and other issues that go against his own believes and standards.

I enjoyed reading (rereading?) it because it moves quickly. I've read some complaints that the characters takes are too modern and that the writing is wooden but it was accessible and moved quick enough for me so I didn't find either of those a big issue.

I'll be discussing some of the potential role playing bits from the novel below so if you want to avoid any specific spoilers, read no further.

1. Competing Interest: Lucius finds himself at odds with many powerful individuals but one of the things that keeps things moving and happening is that many of those powerful individuals are at odds with one another causing all manner of conflict that Lucius is able to navigate to a bit more safety than he might otherwise have.

2. Look In The Unexpected: During the second half of the book, a Senator and his guards are murdered. The Tribune must find their killers which means finding their armor, silks, vast sums of wealth, and other tell tale bits. While they are reluctant to look in the tombs, it does come up as a point of unexpected treasure hiding. Another place that might, but wasn't mentioned here, is latrines. Back in the day, digging out your latrines would at the very least, provide you a hole in the ground if nothing else.

3. Friends in High Places:  During their seeking out of clues, Lucius and his friends meet a noble woman whose elderly husband has died, leaving her a widow. Lucius and her strike out quite well which works in Lucius advantage later when he is in need of assistance. Letting the party gather allies and friends, in some games, like Hero, by spending resources is well and good, but good role playing should result in both new enemies and new allies. If the players are paladins and stand for truth and honor, then those who despite those things will become their adversaries easily enough, but those who also stand for those things should be providing information and alliance to the players on the grounds that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Or something along those lines.

4. Outlaw Wizards: One of the interesting things is that an astrologer here provides a bit of trouble. At this time, Rome has outlawed wizards and others of their magic ilk. This astrologer though operates under a special license so to speak from the Emperor himself. But when looking at how and why magic isn't everywhere and anywhere, the outlawing of magic is a quick way to turn players into refuges.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kell's Legend by Andy Remic

Another victory from the dollar rack at Half Price Books. I'd never heard of Andy Remic before, or of the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles but on the other hand, I like the cover. Small wonder there, it's by Adrian Smith, an illustrator with a ton of talent whose own web page is here: On the dollar rack for a fairly large book with a great cover? I'll give it a whirl.

Mind you, that's one of the reasons I prefer to test out the lower priced ebooks when I buy them. There are more authors out there that I haven't heard of then I have. Those I have enjoyed, well, many of them are dead and won't be producing any more work. Those that are alive are producing work that is not often in the same vein as their earlier work. Much like music or any other type of art when the artist change and move on. Sometimes the fans of the earlier work enjoy it, sometimes they don't.

Speaking of ebooks, I was pleased to see that the kindle versions of this puppy are fairly reasonable in price, $2.99 for the first one, and was shocked that the omnibus collection was under $10. I'll probably be picking it up after I catch up on some of the other physical stuff I have around the apartment so that I can have some more free space.

Anyway, Kell's Legend is a bit too on the 'adult' side for some of my basic reader preferences. A bit too graphic in some of the details that Andy pops out there. Mind you, it didn't stop me from enjoying the book or anything like that. It's not a consistent thing either but Andy doesn't back away from any field in terms of the heroes wading through the shit, literally and figuratively so to speak.

The only thing I wasn't too keen on is the ending. I prefer my books, part of a series or not, to stand on their own. This book doesn't really do that. Much like a good gaming session, it ends right in the middle of a conflict. Just when the dice are getting ready to hit the table and the Game Master goes, "Oh gee, is it that late? We'll have to pick it up next week." I get why people do it, and as a Game Master, it's an effective tool at keeping the player engaged with the game as they now have a vested interest in getting back to the game.

I'll be prattling a bit about some specifics of the book below so if you'd rather avoid spoilers, read no further.

1. The Random Encounter: During a boat escape while Kell and his comrades are trying to make a getaway, they come under attack by a clanker. This is essentially a lion like man-machine warped by its failure to take its machinery. Anyway, as Kell dives into the water to save his comrade, they are saved by an outside encounter as a giant ell some fifty feet long decides it doesn't like the disturbance to its peace and takes care of the issue. When planning random encounters and show casing the dangers, mix it up a little by having two of the random encounters meet. Perhaps the players stumble upon a group of ogres but in turn the ogres become attacked by trolls. In the Paizo setting, this is actually fairly common as the two races don't get along.

2. Don't overuse it. While it was great to see an element of the unknown pop up in that one encounter, Andy then does it several more times so that after a while as a reader I was just like, uh, let's avoid having some weird crap come out of left field to save and or frighten the main characters? You can add some spice to the soup but too much ruins the soup.

3. Named Weapons. Yeah, it's an old cliche and all that mind you but even though Kell's weapon is magical and it does have purpose and it does communicate with him, that still makes it more interesting than pretty much every other weapon in the game. Intelligent weapons in particular though, can be daunting for some Game Masters to run because it is often like adding another NPC to the group and in many ways, that's exactly what it is. Such a character, if you will, can do things for the party outside of being a named weapon. They can be a source of information and a knowledge base that players may need to tap into.

4. Not everyone gets out alive. I've played in some games where the Game Master was determined not to kill any of the characters and would go out of the way to insure that they didn't die. Those games for me at least, weren't as fun as the ones where I knew as a player that there was a chance of having my character killed. It made playing intelligently more rewarding as those who did not were often cut down and died thanks to their stupidity. On the other hand, as a player, it also showcased that there were some players I just wouldn't play with because they would wind up putting the whole party in danger time and time again. It's one thing to die because the dice were against you, it's another to die because some members of your party drag a host of monsters back to your camp or aren't using their own abilities with anything resembling competence.

5. Keep it Moving. There is a brief pause in the action here as Kell and his comrades take a breather after escaping from a city that has fallen. Their rest doesn't last long as that town too comes under attack. The Game Master needs to be able to read the mood so to speak. If things are slowing down too much, keep things moving. This can be a random encounter, a planned encounter, or some other weirdness. Keep a deck of things that you use to keep the party moving.

Kell's Legend doesn't shy away from blood shed or from making things difficult for the heroes and in those veins, you can find rich ore to tap in a reading.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Duty Calls by Sandy Mitchell

Duty Calls by Sandy Mitchell is yet another book from the mighty dollar spinner rack at Half Price Books. Fortunately for me, its another winner. Like several books I've bought from the spinner rack though, this one takes place in the middle of a larger series. Unlike some series though, I didn't feel at a loss or that I was missing vital background or details.

Duty Calls uses first person for most of its tale through the viewpoint of Ciaphas Cain, a commissar with quite an interesting outlook for the grim future of 40K. There are a few breaks between chapters that help fill in the blanks though as these are told almost in a memoir style. Overall it works very effectively in providing a broader view of the setting and the events that take place there.

The book is well written in that it flows quickly, was easy to read, and easy to enjoy. It ends in a logical spot even though there are vast potential other bits that could be tackled and probably have been in the series. At this point though there was no Kindle version and the Black Library  ebooks tend to be higher than I enjoy paying for so I'll keep looking at the Half Price Books and its mighty dollar spinner rack.

In terms of gaming though, there were some things that nudged their way into my brain. Note, there will be specific spoilers for some parts of the book so if those aren't up your alley, read no further.

1. The five senses. Cain is a man whose aide is a man of intensely odorous smells and manners. This repetition helps enforce it. In doing so, the author brings up a great use of smell. The description for how the Tyranids move and how it sounds is another good example of the senses. When describing enemies or the landscape or the locals, don't forget that while the sights are important, the other senses can be just as useful in conveying mood and tone.  Is the floor even? Does the room stink of old meat? Is there the buzzing of insects? In terms of smell, sometimes it can be so powerful that people can taste it.

2. Repetition. Sandy Mitchell makes excellent use of variance in repetition on several factors including the smell of Cain's aide, as noted above. When trying to enforce something, the Dungeon Master's tools include repetition. It also serves as as reminder of the familiar when the reposition brings home the things the players enjoy.

3. Reputation. One of the most interesting things about Cain is that he's not quite the typical hero of such a story. He knows his weak points. He knows his issues. He does not claim to be brave or a leader, but because his history has placed him with a reputation, he has to maintain it in order to keep the benefits that it brings him including troops morale, trust, and cooperation. Everyone wants to keep on the good side of a competent and dangerous Commissar.

4. Allies. One of the interesting things that Sandy does here, is weaves the Inquisition of 40K into the more militant guard duty and makes it all fit. Cain's ally, or boss, or part time comrade or however you want to look at it, opens up different venues that Cain has to follow. This prevents all of the tale from being only about hunting down the bugs and makes it part investigative as well. In Role Playing Games, there are often organizations, factions, guilds, and other elements, that specialize in a venue of the setting that the players may not normally be involved in. Having some cross over with those organizations allow the Dungeon Master to pull the players in directions that they may not normally have went into. This is particularly useful if the game tends to have a narrow focus and you don't want the players to grow too bored or comfortable in their familiar environments.

5. Multi-Layered Issues: While Cain is doing his work for the Inquisition on one side, others in that faction are trying to assassinate him. While that is going on, the planet he is stationed on is under attack by Tyranids. While that is going on, the local population has to be watched because that are agents of Chaos within it and oh yeah, the Tyranids have GeneStealers and other methods of infiltrating the planet. Sandy brings all of these elements together in a manner that makes sense at the end with a villain whose presence has been felt, but not revealed until the end.  As a Game Master, trying to keep track of multiple elements can be challenging, but tools like Flow Charts can be helpful in determining which route the players take and what may happen if they take another path.

6. Bio-Mass: One of the things interesting to me about the Warhammer 40K setting is how they do the Tyranids. While they are a biological murder machine, they need bio-mass to keep creating more monsters to keep accumulating more bio-mass to.... yeah, it's pretty circular. One of the things about taking all that matter though, is that means there are generally no corpses left behind from such an attack. In a fantasy campaign, while I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to create fantasy equals of these monsters, if you already have something like the Undead, would you need to? When remote forts, towns, villages, and throps start winding up empty, the Undead would be an easy hook to explain it. All those who are killed become part of the enemy. The consequences of the battle don't necessarily stop with the cleaning of the weapons.

I enjoyed Duty Calls and hope that I can keep finding the gems in the old Half Price dollar rack as I work my way through the library.