Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Onward to 2014!

2013 was not a good year.

My mom started the year off in the hospital. After two years of misdiagnosis from doctors, including specialists, and  hospital stays, for leg pain, turns out she had PAD or peripheral artery disease, which lead to the loss of half her left foot. It's one of the many reasons I hate doctors. Her recovery time was for the first quarter of the year, was in physical rehab. This required me to visit her almost every day due to her loathing of the food they served. I wound up cooking a LOT during that time and often multiple meals as she's a bit of a picky eater for 'good' food.

After getting out, she refused to wear the special boot they made her. The doctors were insistent she wear it. Doing so, there is a part where two pieces of the boot meet that rubbed her raw and lead to a huge blister which well, has been being worked on since April-May till now. And remember folks, these are all highly paid specialists involved here. Just ask them, they'll tell you.

This doesn't count a few infections she's had and a few more trips to the hospital. Boulders would weigh less.

While my painting hasn't been bad in terms of doing things, that's because it, like reading, is a solitary effort. I've made a few deliberate efforts to get out of my funk but haven't been very successful. My gaming time for example, has been almost nil. That is one of the things I'm going to strive to overcome in 2014. The funk.

But it's not just the funk. My job changed. Essentially it boiled down to keeping my job which had lots of overtime but going to salary so that would kill the overtime and result in a massive pay cut in take home pay, or go to another position in the same company for the same offer of money and well, not work as much. Bad news? It's earlier work so while the number of hours, in this case from 5:30 AM till 3:00 PM aren't overwhelming, the fact that it's 5:30 AM is killing me I say.

Add to that my new doctor decided to throw me on some medication for preventative treatment of high blood pressure. Guess what one of the side effects is? Dizziness. It gets real bad right around the end of the work day and that's only because I switched up when I was taking it. See, initially I took it in the morning when I first woke up, but around 9:00 AM, I'd be too dizzy to actually see straight and had to stop working. Now I take it at 5:00 PM and I'm pretty okay except for dozing out every now and again.

On one hand, the doctor has told me that weight loss could result in me being off the pill. The problem with his theory is I have two co-workers who are thin as rails and whose blood pressure is much worse than mine. They aren't on preventative treatment, their on the "This shit is going to kill you if you don't get it under control" phase. So could weight be something adding to it? Possible. Is it the only cause? Well, apparently I have to do the whole eliminating the obvious before looking at hereditary factors, but oh hey, my mom also has high blood pressure, but damn, she's also fat. Curse you logic!

But I do have a Planet Fitness membership, and I'm trying to work up the mental energy to force myself to go. You see part of mom's recovery right now, is taking her to the doctor. And her wound doctor is like an hour away form the house on a bad day. And the whole process is just messing with my head. It's so outside my direct control that it sucks the motivation to well, do anything out.

But I've still managed to catch up on some reading. Half-Priced books had some very good sales this year and I picked up a ton of stuff, both historical and in realm of fiction. If I didn't buy another book in 2014 I'd probably be more than set for the whole year.

In terms of Kickstarters... I'll save that for tomorrow's post. Suffice it to say I am deeply impressed by the commitment it takes a person to decide he's going to kick ass and take names. I am not so deeply impressed by the actual ability to get things done.

One thing I haven't talked about much here is 5th edition. If I'm not playing, what's the point of talking about it? I haven't kept up with the playtest packets for example. ON the other hand I did buy the limited edition book being sold not by WoTC, but by Gale Force 9 at Gen Con 2013. Which they then put in PDF. Awesome work WoTC. Has anyone checked to see if the rules have been updated to the latest playtest packet? There's no point in not updating them if it's a preview. After all, when the product came out, they told you right in the booklet that the rules were going to be wrong and to go download the latest batch.

I also think that a big part of 5e's future is in a combination of the OGL and digital initatives. For me, not being able to easily use my purchased products from say, Goodman Games with my DDI insured that I wouldn't be buying a lot of stuff although I'd let players use it that brought it to the table. The sheer lack of 4e third party stuff though? It was telling.

Paizo on the other hand, even though I haven't been playing, has been coming out with some great supplements. I've been buying the maps and cards and the Bestiary and a few other things here and there. They remain kick ass in those aspects. In addition, Paizo has continued to be... I don't know, "cool" towards those supporting it? They showcase 3rd party products all the time on their web page and store page.

I hope 2014 is a great year for everyone and I hope that you get more and better gaming in.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels: The Ways of Medieval Warfare by Antonio Santosuosso

I would love to be an armchair historian. It's too much work though. I tend to read the same thing over and over from different resources and have some vague sense of where and when things happened but never get those specifics unless I'm digging for them.

Despite that, I enjoy reading historical material. Having some ideas on how history actually went, or was recorded at least, provides me with some fuel for role playing games that I enjoy, especially those that tend to be based on themes or ideas of 'dark ages' or non-modern eras where war was the common treat of the day.

Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels fits that criteria perfectly. There is so much packed into this book that I could do several posts on it. The only problem with that is that I didn't mark it enough for that. But there were a few things I did mark down.

Kahina:I knew nothing about this Berber queen before reading this book. Reading it, and looking up further details though? She's almost mythical in terms of theme and stance and role in the fighting.

Or how about Alboin, a king who drank wine from a goblet made form the skull of a king killed by his hands in the lands of Pannonia?

There are also other bits I found interesting. For example, it talks about "Chinese salt" or gunpowder being used first in major battles by the Mongols, especially in their attempted invasion of Japan in 1274-1781, from whence it then passed to the Muslims, until finally landing in Roger Bacon's work.

Sadly, as much awesome as there is in this book, it was my 'car' book so I read it pretty much whenever I was waiting for my g/f or mom so while there is a ton of awesome in there, like how one group of conqueror's would allow a defeated army to leave unmolested, but kill the citizens of the lands that the conqueror's had already defeated because they were not loyal, or how knightly chivalry was image enhancing nonsense, my recollection of specifics is woefully weak and I've got a ton of other books to read over and forget.

The good news is that there are a ton of foot notes, and a ton of other books referenced here. If you are an actual armchair historian or someone who really digs into history, Antonio has a lot of reading planned for you.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Guillotines (2012)

So at Best Buy the other day looking over computers. My desktop has always been a piece of crap. Second Dell I've had that has been plagued by issues and well, it'll be the last Dell I have outside of those provided by corporate.

After deciding I'm too old and stupid to know what any of the new computers actually mean in terms of horsepower and monitor resolution, I wander over to the movie section. Man, it's been a while. The movie selection is terrible and takes up a small footprint in the store. Probably for the best though as people have Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, and Amazon Prime among other bits.

I saw this cover for the Guillotines and was like, "Man, that looks bad ass."

I then went home and watched it on Netflix.

Overall it has some nice scenery, a few good fight scenes, some fantastic costumes but what starts off with a tremendous high energy ass kicking winds up a morality tale about the Emperor of China. In that aspect it reminded me of Hero. Yes, I'm the Emperor and I've done all these terrible things but hell, it'll be worse without me so let me kill you now. Ugh.

If you enjoy movies for the fighting and other bits I've mentioned, enjoy the first say, thirty minutes and then take a nap or something. After seeing this, I want to see Rise of the Guillotines or something where we get two hours of awesome flying guillotine action!

Below I'll be discussing some of the things I enjoyed about the movie.

1. Style. When the Guillotines are first introduced, it's like a super hero team. They have unique weapons that launch flying weapons that resemble something between Krull's flying weapon and Xena's chakram. Their uniforms are also very stylishly designed. This gives them a unique and powerful look.

2. Obsolescence: Time marches on. The ability of the Guillotines to kill someone at ten paces is nothing compared to the new firearms that China has started using. In a role playing game, I would expect that the players would be some of the top notch users and that the average rifle user would be a mook. Here though, because it's about China and the Empire and it's rise to modernity, well, the Guillotines who were so viciously bad ass at the start of the movie are completely punk'd.

In a role playing game, playing against type, playing against the rise of technology, is a part and parcel of the game. For example, one Osprey book I'm reading, English Longbowman 1330-1515 put the decline, but still in use and still dangerous longbowman, in an era where guns are, if not common, at least on use alongside cannons. It's the skill set that the characters bring to the game that make it interesting. One of the more popular shows on television right now is Arrow and that's a guy with a fancy longbow in the modern era of automatic weapons showing he can make a difference.

There is also the role of the individual. Military is great for well, military action but not necessarily as useful in going into tombs and fighting against weird monsters. Specialists are useful for those types of things.

4. Specialized Group: The Guillotines are the fist of the emperor and his private assassins. The movie wavers a little in why they have to die. In most places you'd figure, "Hey, we've got these new weapons so we're going to upgrade you." or at the very least retire you. Giving the government the going to kill you to cover up your existence while sending out even better trained killers is a bit silly but sending them out because the players know something and are somehow dangerous to the government? Now that's something that can easily be done.

This can happen in a few ways. The players could be prophesied to kill the emperor. They could be local heroes and the emperor is jealous. They could have failed some subtle test that another power group that wants the character's spot put into place.

5. The Enemy of my enemy... When the movie starts, the Guillotines are hunting down a cult. They capture the leader by the name of 'Wolf'' but in a daring escape sequence that involves explosions and an excellent display of throwing knives, he escapes. The Guillotines are sent to recapture him, but during that same time frame, are written off as obsolete so as the Guillotines are punk'd by farmers and riflemen, the two that escape wind up working with Wolf. Roles can change rapidly when the tide moves against the characters.

6. Role Reversal: While I did not like the way the Guillotines were beaten down, I have no problem with the idea of it. Adventurers that have a guild or an actual social standing losing that standing is a long held part of story telling. Characters change roles and positions often. For example, Spider Man has gone from a solo hero who was essentially too broke to own a car to a top rated scientists and well, to other elements that might not be well appreciated but show the character and individual struggle against the elements arranged against him.

For example, when there is a reward put on the Guillotines and the common farming folk turn on them, well, I can't imagine a group of player characters getting butchered like sheep as the movie cast does. However, if there was say a Paladin or other good aligned character in the party, I can't imagine them just chopping and hacking their way free from the crowd either. The challenge of how characters deal with the change is what can propel the game forward.

A useful thing to keep in mind though, is what is the final result? In a role playing game, say in Baldur's Gate during 1st edition, if the players were members of the Flaming Fist and that group was outlawed, would the final goal be to restore the Flaming Fist to legitimacy in Baldur's Gate? To accept that their time there was ended? To fund a new organization somewhere far away and start anew? To tear down the city in a final blaze of glory?

The few action scenes we have, the awesome unique style of the weapons, the costumes and scenery along with the sets provide some great visual inspiration but the movie is not where I would have liked it to wind up in terms of type of movie. Check it out on Netflix and let me know what you think.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Wire: Season One

So HBO was kind enough to bring us the Wire and after many years, I've finally watched the first season. I kept waiting for it to come out in blu-ray so I didn't have to replace it when it did come out in that format but I've had season one forever and a day.

Not seeing any blu-ray releases on the horizon, I decided screw it and watched season one. As my dear mother would say, "It's a little slow." This isn't a bash against the show mind you. It relies on multiple episodes to provide some coverage to a wide cast of characters on both the sides of the angels and the devils. And it does a good job of that.

The Wire, like many 'cop' shows, is an interesting model to view from a gamer's perspective. Well, I should say a Game Master's perspective. Players can use anything as fodder and because a lot of movies and shows are focused on the solo character, like the Wolverine or others, it can be a little more difficult for the GM to get anything out of those. The Wire though, provides a whole crew to observe and enjoy.

In that vein, I'd like to point out a few things that might be useful for a role playing game.

Omar Little: Say you have a player who can only show up when the full moon is out. Say you have a game where he likes some of the concepts, but doesn't necessarily want to run directly with the crowd because you know, he feels that since he's only there once every blue moon to being with, he wants a little room to navigate. A character like Omar Little may be perfect for him.

Omar is a criminal who finds himself in alliance with the police in season one. This works perfectly with the old adage, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Omar robs the criminals that the police are actively pursuing and in turn finds himself under fire for it by that aspect of the underworld including losing allies and loved ones. The police provide a legitimate method of putting the heat back on his enemies by sharing information that they might not normally have access to.

In a different vein though, Omar is a competent character who is more than capable of inflicting his own 'street justice' on those he wages war against. In his initial appearance, he is observing what the money is flowing from those he is preparing to rob. His skill with a shot gun and his ability to whistle show tunes though, giving him a bit of a catch phrase, make him more than just a resource, they make him a very possible character.

Looking at the various deeds and bits attributed to him in later seasons, I can say that for those players who don't show up that often, but want to be in the midst of things when they do, providing them with a character who is competent, who has distinctive features, like Omar's facial scar, and whistling tunes, as well as his folk town hero status, is the way to go.

Bubbles: In contrast to the competency Omar shows in dealing physical violence as well as being able to plan and plot his own methods, Bubbles is a drug addict and informant for the police who has a heart of gold. His initial turn to the police, at least in season one, is when those he is actively trying to scam catch his prodigy at it and hospitalize him.

Bubbles has his own troubles, his own arc, his own efforts at redemption, but in a gaming context, I paint them all as description feed to the players, and different descriptions at that. In terms of utility, he would be the face and the name of a skill check or a face to face with someone on the street as opposed to a character level utility.

His knowledge of life on the streets is high mind you. He provides a bird's eye view of what it's like for those with addiction and no prospects. He provides advice on making an undercover cop look more believable. He provides officers with names and faces.

But such a character might not be appropriate to play. His interaction with the main cast is almost always as an outsider. His ability to hold his own, non-existent. This aren't bad characteristics in and of themselves, but could easily be frustrating for a player, as opposed to a NPC.

The Wire provides a whole host of characters and situations in season one, and looking at the HBO site, it looks like it covers a lot of ground between season one and five. Character development with characters that aren't saints? The lives of inner city inhabitants that isn't glorified? Showcasing friends turning into executioners? It's all there and I look forward to watching the rest of the Wire real soon.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Raymond E. Feist Kindle Daily Deal and Holiday Rambling

First off, I hope everyone had a few days off to catch their breath from the whirlwind that was 2013. My X-mas sucked, but last year's was worse so it's slowly moving into the win column for me. Huzza on that front.

I just finished watching the Wire season one and that was good television. I'll post some thoughts on that one later. Lots of great character moments.

I was pretty on in terms of Christmas presents. I bought my mom a Kitchen Aid with a few attachments. Ironically I'm the one whose using it more. She's had more than her fair share of drama this year, especially this December so it's not a bad thing brought on by laziness or anything of that nature, just life's continuing screw you Kushner thing going on.

My g/f I bought a digital camera, case, and memory card. She has tested it out and it works so she's happy.

Now the most important person in this, myself, was also much more wildly spoiled although some of the things I bought can be used and enjoyed by the family. For example, Zatoichi the complete series on blu-ray along with the Samurai trilogy can be enjoyed by everyone. The miniatures I bought on sale from Fanization, the Warstore, and Miniature Market on the other hand? Pure Kushner greed on that front.

Anyway, even though 2013 is almost over, a few companies are throwing some sales and other stuff out there. The initial inspiration for the post was that Raymod E. Feist has several books on sale in Kindle format over here:

While his work lacks the grim and gritty outlook, most of the time I'll amend, of things like George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones or Mark Lawrence's series on the Prince of Thorns or even Joe Abercrombie, I've found his work light enough to enjoy and with enough recurring themes and characters that it feels like watching an old television series that I enjoyed as a youth that still has enough interest in it for me to continue to enjoy it.

How did everyone else do? Anything really good? Any good sales?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Armies of Medieval Burgundy 1364-1477

Written by Nicholas Michael with color plates by G  A Embleton, the Armies of Medieval Burgundy 1364-1477 is a short 40 page look at a country in a time period that isn't necessarily associated with the guns and cannons that the book discusses in depth.

On one hand, the book says "look, it's a small kingdom that had a rapid rise and a rapid disintegration." Few things speak to me and say, "ah, player characters and their silly antics" as much as the rise and fall of nations.  For the time period, we have Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good, and Charles the Bold, known as the Valois Dukes.  The use of descriptive titles on personal names is something that most players would be familiar with although few would be so tame.

In the case of Burgundy, that is very apparent from the start as the author notes they are surrounded by enemies and split in four. I can see a group following a similar methodology as each player may have different ideas.

Another bit that may make this one an odd duck, is that this book has been in print on and off since 1983. The Osprey series has changed quite a bit in that time and often has more historical information to it.

On the other hand, the book discusses the use of cannons and guns a bit. In doing so, it continues to reinforce my feelings that guns are very underrepresented in most fantasy games that have a medieval basis as their core. If your setting has full plate, it probably needs cannons.

One of the key pieces of text amuses me a bit not because it's out of place, but because it showcases that things happen alongside each other until one is proven clearly the superior. In this instance, we have Philip the Bold commissioning the brothers Jacques and Roland of Majorca to cast large-caliber cannon from 1368-1390. During that time frame, other books in the series will point out say, English Lowbowmen and their utility even as in further days, those like Benjamin Franlkin bemoan the lack of such skilled troops in their own ranks.

The color plates by G A Embleton include the one on the cover. If you enjoy that picture of a knight, the other interior ones are well worth study. These illustrations include various men-at-arms of the time including a few members of Philip the Bold's army from 1363 on color plate A, or a mason, gunner, and archer under Jean de Vergy, the Marshal of Burgundy at the siege of Vellexon on plate B. This is an interesting picture because it shows the mason and gunner in close cooperation working to cast cannon balls while the archer looks on as defense.

On plate C, Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy looking much like a knight of Warhammer's Bretonnia. The gentleman of the court surrounding him, as well as the trumpeter though ,are all dressed in white, providing a nice contrast to the multiple colors that make up Philip's own coat of arms and armor.

Another picture that could almost come from a modern Warhammer book, but for the Empire, is on plate E, the Artillery of the 1470's, where a Bombard with a master gunner is preparing to fire as a gunner with serpentine works on various matters of paperwork with gun powder and boxes and cannons beneath him.

In contrast, plate G showcases the Men of the ordinances and includes... well, let's not call them mundane, but a crossbowman, a pikeman, a coustillier, and another crossbowman while on plate H we have more men of the ordinances, including a handgunner, mounted archer, and another longbowmen.

These illustrations serve to showcase the mundane and military use of men of arms of various weapons in military formation and use as opposed to the relatively rogue nature of player's characters who are often masters of various weapons. It's a good instance to showcase that while guns are in use, that those who are skilled with their ware, such as longbow men and mounted archers, are still in demand and still useful.

Such times can showcase that skilled characters, like those of the players, can still make huge changes. That they can challenge the status quota.  Long term mind you, those changes may be irrelevant but could belong to a group of specialist. This would make the characters similar to those who, in super hero settings, like Green Arrow or Hawkeye, continue to use long bows despite the rampant use of guns and other technology that makes the average bowman look silly in contrast.

In the end, I thought Armies of Medieval Burgundy benefited from the various pieces of art drawn from historical sources as well as G A Embleton's skilled hand but the writing seemed... I don't want to say off, but focused a bit too much on the weapons and artillery of the time as opposed to learning anything much of medieval Burgundy itself.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pirate: The Golden Age by A Konstam & D Rickman Illustrated By G Rava

Pirate: The Golden Age

Bringing a wide variety of visuals to the reader through historical paintings and illustrations to unique paintings done by Giuseppe Rava, Pirate: The Golden Age brings a very narrow focus on the time period of 1714 until 1724. Mind you, the authors note that this is not necessarily the 'official' Golden Age or that people always abide by it, as it is noted that some consider the era from 1690 to 1730.


One of the things the book touches on is how terrible life for people aboard a ship was. One of the problems with trying to bring this type of 'mentality' to a role playing game like Dungeons and Dragons, is that most settings have been so white washed that were circumstances for people so terrible, the players would probably wind up fighting against those establishments.

The book notes for example, that one of the problems faced by crews were the very basics of provisions. Being a pirate meant that if you needed to forage for food or take it from others, hey, no problem. In most fantasy games, due to the use of magic on a small level that even clerics tend to have, this might not be an issue. Provisions? No problem. Bam! Create food and water. Having such a grim and reality based setting would have other bleed into the campaign.

Another issue on a more fundamental level was the hatred of authority. Due to the harsh terms of life on ship, those who became pirates often had a shorter life span but many claimed they were happier for it as they were in charge of their own destiny at that point. This one might not be that hard to do depending on where in the setting the characters area. Native Thayian's who are fighting against their own country? Those or Amn or the other 'Old Kingdoms'? Not necessarily a problem. People in Waterdeep? What, do they need more holidays? The 'good' nature of the default settings work against such assumptions here.

There is also the perception of a pirate's life. Some were notorious and for the profession, 'long lived' and could easily attract crews. Who didn't want to sail with a legend?

Appearance: One of the weird things about the book is this divergent tangent on how the pirates looked. It essentially says everything that we know from popular medium for the last hundred years and more is nonsense. That it's all a manufactured look. It spends a lot of time talking about this aspect of things.

In a role playing game, historical accuracy isn't that important necessarily. The games often try to encompass what is popular and what is thematically and visually appealing. Historical accuracy though, can play a role in well, historical games and this section does a good job in talking about the 'real' clothes that pirates wore and how they appeared.

A Pirate's Life

The book hits a few interesting points that somewhat feed back into earlier bits that lead into recruitment. Because life was so terrible for those on a ship, being a pirate wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The common crews had voting rights and many a mutiny was carried out. Whose going to turn in a pirate when that happens? His fellow pirates?

One thing that book touched on I thought interesting was the idea of 'articles' or written documents that were a pirate code of conduct. It helped to keep the crew in line with a set of goals and ideas to follow. The other bit that provided authority was the vote by majority. These two things allowed the majority to rule whereas on land and on 'official' business, you did what you were told or else.

Another bit I never considered, is that according to this book at least, pirate crews tended to be higher than normal crews so that they could overwhelm their enemies. This leads to more mouths to feed and the potential for a lot of bored people to be on board a ship drinking and gambling.

For the attacks on other ships, pirates tried to pick their targets carefully and use overwhelming force. In a RPG this is much more difficult in dealing with any fantasy setting. There are so many variables in terms of what could be on any ship at any time it would almost seem pointless. A ship with a single spell caster may be more than a match for a ship with cannons and a full rowdy pirate crew of fighters. Many spells have a long reach and could quickly turn the tide of battle.

But on the other hand, it notes that one of the reasons the pirates use such overwhelming force is to avoid fights in the first place. In the historical context here, if you were injured, well, chances of recovery were not necessarily high. Infection and bad medicine could easily turn even minor injuries into death. This is something essentially hand waved away in role playing games because hey, who wants to play the guy who had a cut on his left arm that has to have the arm chopped off due to gangrene?

The book does a solid job of providing background information for this slice of time. It gives the reader enough information that they should be able to pluck details that lend life and a touch of historical context to the game.

The art by Rava is enjoyable. The style on the cover is similar to what's on the inside, but there are many better paintings that have a wide variety of uses. For example, he does an average pirate on page 19 with a cutlass style weapon in the center of the page and surrounding the pirate are the various articles of clothing with the identifiers on the previous page. This let's the reader see the different types of clothing that would be common and provides the reader with some terminology to add to the description. Knowing that pirates wore knitted gloves to keep the chill out while wearing wide-legged petticoat breeches and trousers that were ankle length or longer is good to know.

His image of the pirate captain on page 30 provides us with what I'd call the gentleman pirate. It's a great illustration that could be yanked out whole and used to introduce a specific NPC that the Game Master created or for those players who want to have that 'authentic' ring to their character and point out their player wearing a cloth cap trimmed with fine fur and a gentleman's short sash.

One of the things I know a lot of readers enjoy though, are the weapons of the time and Rava captures them well on page 39. We see a wide variety of axes, guns, and cannons in use along with the dreaded grenadoes that were made of cast iron and loaded with gunpowder and lit with wooden fuses. I was like "wooden fuses?" but yeah, that's what was used. Very solid illustrations. I particularly enjoyed the illustration of a pistol with a cloth sling to illustrate that such weapons were easy to lose but tying them up prevent that from happening.

Because of the 'generic' time frame of most fantasy settings, Pirate: The Golden Age should find a lot of use for any reader that wants to add that dash of detail they may feel is otherwise missing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Vampire Warlords by Andy Remic.

Vampire Warlords is book three in the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles. Written by Andy Remic, it follows the adventures of Kell, an old axeman who fights against a summoned trio of vampires whose true power eclipses the clockwork vampires or vacine, who conquered his homelands. Like the previous books in the series, I found the characters wandering all over the place in terms of temperament and personality but it was a quick action filled ride so I'll forgot those inconsistencies. The fact that I picked it up at Half Priced books for $3.99 doesn't hurt.

Having said that, there are a few things I took from the book. Those who want to avoid spoilers, read no further.

1. Dead Plot Lines: There's the old saying about the gun in scene one being used in scene six. One of the characters, Kell's grand daughter, Nienna, speaks to Kell's unique axe. It hints at big things to come for her. Then she gets killed by that axe and nothing happens. She doesn't inhabit it. She doesn't haunt Kell. It's just a gruesome death. Now mind you, Andy has mentioned that he may wind up doing another two trilogies but the impact of the axe talking to Nienna and telling her things is going to be lost in a new trilogy because the reader hasn't spent three books with the character. Even with exceptional flashback use, Nienna will at best be a secondary character in those novels and her impact on the axe also minimal.

2. Endgame: We are introduced to three vampire warlords. Kell defeats two of them and when going to defeat the third is told, "No, it's cool. We got that." Ugh. When putting  villains in the setting that are supposed to be the big bad endgame, do not take it out of the character's hands. "Well, I'm glad you guys managed to get to level 20 and all that but Ocrus kills Demogorgon so you guys don't have to worry about it." That would be a massively unsatisfying game.

3. Changing Origins: In previous books, we've seen Kell's axe gain it's bond with him. In this one, it goes "super sayian" and becomes even more powerful. In this case, it's not necessarily a terrible thing but it feels heavy handed. Working with the players when trying to update or incorporate their background elements can be difficult or easy depending on the nature of the campaign. In a high fantasy epic campaign or a silver age super hero one? No problem. In a historical fantasy or gothic? Might be a little more difficult.

4. The Set up. We learn that the vacinee or clockwork vampire civilization sacrificed to release the Vampire Warlords are merely the tip of the clockwork vampire society. This leads to a potential encounter further down the road. Kell, long poisoned, is feeling it more and more and is preparing to seek out a cure. This cure will lead him to another land where it's strongly hinted that werewolves or other wolf style creatures are waiting. When Kell's axe get's it's make over, it's hinted that Kell will have at least three issues, the vampires, the wolves, and even dragons. These things allow the setting to be expanded without forcing the issues to be dealt with at that very second.

5. Description versus game mechanics. Kell's advanced age is only there to give the writer something to talk about. When it comes to combat, heart attack, easily succumbing to disease, etc... Kell shrugs off such nonsense. When it comes to simple walking or eating though? Well, the aches and groans and moans come out. In a role playing game, those could be useful bits and catch phrases for a  character who wanted to play an older individual but doesn't want the mechanical penalties of such.

Vampire Warlords has a lot of rousing action scenes that are impaired a bit by the wanderings of the characters from one mood to the next.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Soul Stealers by Andy Remic

One of the things I love about Half Priced books is that you never know what you’ll find there. For example, I ran across Kell’s Legend by Andy Remic in the dollar spinner rack. I’d never heard of Any Remic before and didn’t know if I’d enjoy it, but for $1 I was willing to take the chance.

 The potential problem with the spinner rack though, is that you never know what you’ll find. This means that if you find a book in a series you enjoy there is no guarantee that they will have all of the books in the series, and if they do have more than one, they may not have them all in order.

So months after I read Kell’s Legend, I was pleased to see they had the second block in The Clockwork Vampire Chronicles, Soul Stealers. And this too was on the dollar spinner rack. I was glad to pick it up because after reading The Whiskey Rebels, I needed something a little lighter and easier on the brain. Andy Remic did not fail to deliver. It is a quick browsing popcorn style action read.

I enjoyed it enough that when I saw The Clockwork Vampires Chrnoicles Three, The Vampire Warlords I bought it from the actual shelf, instead of waiting to buy from the dollar spinner rack. For that book I paid the princely sum of $3.99.

In terms of gaming there are few things the book would have me keep in mind. These are actually not good things and are behaviors I would try to avoid.

When introducing antagonist that are meant to relay how powerful and devastating the opposition is it helps if that antagonist is actually dangerous. In this instance, the characters on the cover of at least my version, twin vampire sisters who directly serve the vampire general Graal, are supposed to be the fiercest and most dangerous assassins at Graal’s disposal. What winds up happening is that when we first see them in combat is that they are either dispatched in a most gratuitous manner or simply scared off. If there competence is not meant to showcase the strength of the enemy, it should be there to showcase the strength of the heroes.

The second thing I would try to avoid is the introduction of what appeared to me to be nonsense characters that don't know where. We are introduced to some child taken in by poisonous spiders and given background of how the child was maimed and how he recovered in these weird circumstances. Another child was apparently murdered. This happens with a few characters where we get this build up of background information and then they're just casually slaughtered. It's not the type of death that happens in say The Walking Dead or A Game of Thrones because these characters have too much time spent building up their unique powers that never come to play. It would be like watching The Man of Steel and then Lex Luthor shoots him through the head with a Kryptonite bullet at the start of the next movie and it the movie was over.

In terms of things I would try to add or remember to bring into the campaign, is the use of intelligent weapons. Such weapons have a long history in the game and are common themes in use with Michael Moorcock’s The Eternal Champion series. There are numerous articles that discuss in detail the many ways such a weapon can be a certain type of character for the game master.

One use of a weapon that is intelligent is the delivery of information that the players might not normally have access to. This allows the game master to pit challenges and obstacles in front of the characters that they might not normally be able to overcome. One of the issues  in doing this is that the players need to know what subjects and fields that the intelligent weapon might know.

Another use of intelligent weapon is that it can play off of the other characters or players, in having a different viewpoint or outlook that contrast with their own. For example a human, dwarf, elf, or gnome might all be the same to an intelligent weapon. They are all things of the flesh and are all classified as such. In a setting with artificial characters, such as Eberron or Midguard, an intelligent weapon might seek to be used by those more of its liking.

Lastly, an intelligent weapon might have its own agenda. Depending on the power and strength of the weapon it might be able to take over servants, common household pets, and even semi-important characters such as henchmen or hirelings and maneuver them into doing its unique will against their own better judgment. Depending upon how clever such a weapon is, the weapon might not need to outright control the people as much as manipulate them with its own knowledge of things. It could try to get these characters to do things for their “own good” because it knows things that the players or their allies do not.

Other elements of the book that I enjoyed, where the characters having weakness. Outside of his advanced age, Kell is an alcoholic with a preference for good whiskey. Kell also believes himself to be a bad man. This belief colors is outlook and how he approaches every obstacle. His traveling companion has a weakness for all things of comfort: good clothes, wine, women, and shelter. He craves the easy city life of a pampered noble.

Soul Stealers may have wandered around from place to place and brought in characters and complications whose appearance based solely on this novel would seem frivolous but it is a quick furious read that quickly escalates from self survival to survival of the nation. Well worth reading if you can find it at the right price

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Late Kickstarter: December Edition

I'm a little over a day early but tomorrow is Sunday so chances of anything arriving on that day are pretty narrow eh?

Tectonic Craft Studios. Terrible communication. Terrible overall service. To make a product like this with no instructions, few painted samples, and well, to be this late isn't doing the company any favors. We've been assured that things have been mailed but I haven't seen any tracking numbers and the people on the comments section aren't pipping up with their orders being delivered. This is a bitter pill in other ways because of the non-unique nature of the work, many other companies have stepped into the same space and a lot of them are doing business and using the Kickstarter method to fund which means more direct competition. They also appear to be doing a better job of communicating.

Dwimmermount. When James pulled Cartman from South Park and said screw you guys I'm going home, Tavis stepped up. It was a noble effort but really, looking back on it, seeing his own products late, perhaps, just perhaps mind you, he should have said "Guys I'm a small company and its too much to handle. I'm doing a full refund."

Steampunk Musha: Chances of me ever backing anything by this company or any of the individuals in it? Slim to none. It's not just the lateness factor. It's the lack of communication. It's seeing new products and bundles going up for the company and not getting any updates on it. And I wonder about the numerous stretch goals and what will happen with them. And I wonder about the people who really believed in the project and backed at the very high levels...

28mm Demons and Devils: Wow. I like Matt but his communication skills have been terrible. Let's take a personal example. "Matt, where's the Frog Demon that I preordered at Gen Con. Are you shipping it with the other figures?" "No, it's already been shipped by Valiant. That one is coming straight from the manufacturer so I can't combine it or anything of that nature." Weeks pass and I inquire again with no answer from the company so contact the casters directly and that gets a response with some more information and some assurances that for reals dog, I got you and it's on the way.  Again, Matt is a decent enough guy, nice to talk to, works a lot of hours at his 'real' job and all that. But people putting hundreds of dollars down on multiple occasions don't want to be lied to, because if you say X, and well, you know, it's Y, which is sorta like X but isn't? The currency of trust you have to fight tool and nail for is instantly devalued from gold to not even copper, but the lowly bronze piece. (4 bronze = 1 copper!)

Imbrian Arts Miniatures; Jody is active on Facebook. He's active in the comments section. He's got his miniature art and stuff around. These things make the lateness of the project far more acceptable than some of the others. I'm down for the 'year of' supplies but so far that's meant nothing and nothing. It's okay though as I know the stuff exists out there and that it's on the way.

Assimilation Alien Host: Communication hasn't been bad. Ed's been hit with some personal misfortune. My initial desire to use these as some weird type of Cthulhu monsters has fallen to the wayside because I've essentially stopped playing D&D and been doing more table top painting and that's been aimed at Warmachine so this basically becomes a 'useless' purchase that I wouldn't have made today.

Relic Knights. Yeah... I think I'm done with CMON except for possibly Confrontation. The communication here has been again, terrible. The promises of quality control remain to be seen. The whole effort seems to be that they're late to make it better, but you know, since you were late initially to make it better, where was the quality assurance group during that initial late time?

Cthulhu Mythos Foundry: Looking forward to the big C. Hell, by the time it's ready I may actually have a good handle on my air brush for it. It's not the latest, the communication has been m'eh and really, I'm just waiting to see what happens. At least the guy sent off the material that was ready so I'll give him points for that.

Drake the Dragon Wargame. Throw this up there with Alien Hosts. Thought a lot of the miniatures might be useful for RPG purposes. Maybe I'll be blown away by the game itself but I haven't seen a lot of people touting any miniature Kickstarter games as being the next Warmachine or Warhammer or what have you. This isn't to say people aren't playing say Freeblades, Carnivale, 1650, or the Delve System but they aren't movers and shakers.

Fractured Dimensions: Updates fairly regularly. My order in particular is being held up by the exclusive figures. So you offer up exclusive figures and don't have those done first? Yeah, that's not saying "Hey, if I run another KS, buy the exclusive figures!" Matter of fact, I'm pretty sure it's the opposite. "Hey, if you don't buy the exclusive figures, we'll ship you game out up to four, maybe six months early!"

I'm not going to say that I'm 'done' with Kickstarters but... Games Workshop game out with some new 'technical' paints. I went to the store and bought them. The War Store and Miniature Market have their Black Friday sale. I placed some orders and it's being shipped out already.

There are some companies, like Stonehaven, that I'm going to support. Others, well, if you or anyone associated with your project is already on this list and its crops up on something I'm interested in, chances are I'm NOT going to support it. It's not that you're a bad person or a terrible company but well, nothing says success like success and these companies below have not succeeded.

Who knows. Maybe it's the rush of being able to see something and buy it. Maybe it's the fact that so many companies are single man studios and well, it's too easy to get sick, to have a car accident, to have a loved one get sick, to have 'con crud', to have mechanical setbacks with your machines, to have a false understanding of how casting in America works, or what have you but the record speaks for itself and it says "Joe, show some damn restraint!"

Project Name Due Date Date Late Days Late Months
Tectonic Craft Studios 6/1/2012 12/1/2013 -548 -18
Dwimmermount 8/1/2012 12/1/2013 -487 -16
Steampunk Musha 10/1/2012 12/1/2013 -426 -14
28mm Demons & Devils 3/1/2013 12/1/2013 -275 -9
Imbrian Arts Miniatures 3/1/2013 12/1/2013 -275 -9
Assimilation Alien Host 5/1/2013 12/1/2013 -214 -7
Relic Knights 5/1/2013 12/1/2013 -214 -7
Cthulhu Mythos Foundy Style 7/1/2013 12/1/2013 -153 -5
Drake The Dragon Wargame 7/1/2013 12/1/2013 -153 -5
Fractured Dimensions 8/1/2013 12/1/2013 -122 -4

Black Friday Gaming Sales

In America, Black Friday is when retailers pop up massive discounts to get bodies into the stores. It was added by Cyber Monday when online shops decided to get into the action. Now? Now it's pretty much all week, if not all month.

But that's also good new for gamers as there tend to be a lot of sales around this holiday season now anyway.

Miniature Market has a ton of stuff on sale. I placed an order there for some various Warmachine stuff and if funds were no problem, would have ordered a lot more. They have numerous board games for great prices too. The service is usually very good, and if you order more than $99 worth of stuff, the shipping is free.

Fantization does numerous sales throughout the year. In this instance, they're 15% off everything, and 20% off if you spend more than $250. I've used them many times before and they have a wide selection of materials. It's one of the few places for example, you can get Scale75 paint.

Michigan Toy Soldier is a true hobby store with paints from companies I just don't see at other vendors including Life Color. Their doing 20% off if you're a preferred vendor. Shipping is relatively fast and the selection can't be beat, especially if you're trying to get hold of say, Andrea paints or figures.

CoolMinorNot is having a 15% off. Perhaps not the highest discount but they have a wide range of miniatures that you're not going to find in a lot of places.

The War Store, another place I've done business with on several occasions that delivers fairly fast and doesn't have crazy shipping prices, is also doing their sale. Some heavy discounts on a lot of different things.

There are numerous others out there. Goodman Games is doing a sale for example, where you can get the PDF at a discount or even some physical copies of the variant covers. Catalyst games is having some. Litko if you're ooking for dice towers. Military books more your think, Osprey has a ton of stuff in their online shop for 25% off.

I hit my $$$ limit pretty eary between Miniature Market and the War Store picking up a bunch of Convergance stuff for Warmachine that I don't even play, but at those prices figures I could start too.

Anyone have any particular deals they found too good to pass up?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss

I would not say with absolute certainty that The Whiskey Rebels is the best book I've read in 2013. After all, there is still another month to go and there is a lot of potential in that last month. Having said that, The Whiskey Rebels is the best book I've read in 2013. David Liss is always worth a read and this book, a done in one historical look at America right after the Revolutionary War, is a fascinating take on how to use historical fiction and fact to weave a fantastic story together.

There are so many things that make it useful to a person running a role playing game that it's an important reminder why people should regularly read outside of their genre, why they should stretch their mental muscle past its comfort zone.

I'll be discussing some specific things below from the book and how they might be useful in role
playing games.

Money. One of the biggest focuses of the book is in the accumulation of money. Anyone whose lived in America in the last, oh, say ten years, has seen the financial institutions take the economy to the brink and had to be saved from themselves only to eagerly go back to the very same behaviors that lead to the issues to begin with because they know that the government will back them up again should the need arise. This is something that doesn't necessarily get touched on often in role playing games because it can not only be boring, but can be more complex and less violent than a good old dungeon crawl.

In terms of money, no matter what the era, no matter when the time, there will be conflicts. there will be opportunities. There will be potential. As the book picks up right after the Revolutionary War, there are people attempting to control the new banks that are coming along. To fund them, or at least fund a specific one, there is a Whiskey Tax. This tax, on one side, seems harmless but to the people making the Whiskey?

Well, the whiskey in and of itself doesn't bring in funds. Instead, it's used as a bartering tool. An object of trade. There may be those who do make money off it, but those are not the people hurt by the tax.

Imagine Star Wars. The Emperor probably has those who are friends and allies and he could easily let slip that the Empire is going to build not one, but two death stars. Think of the manpower, the funding, the technology in terms of engineers and machines, needed to build that. Now we could go all, "Well, it's the Empire. No one is getting paid." Corruption pays off much better than tyranny. Look no further than China where it's not necessarily illegal to be bribed, merely illegal to be caught doing so eh?

Information is power. In a fantasy setting, if the players learn that a group of merchants is going to buy all of the land on the waterfront and sell it to the lords of the city in exchange for vast sums of wealth because they know that the lords of the city need that land for building defenses or something of that nature, what happens if the players decide to be the ones who buy the property? What happens if they already own it and are then put under 'scare' tactics? Hunting down such things would be an excellent use of the Gumshoe engine for example.

Character Change. Ethan Saunders starts the book as a near useless alcoholic. His talents in spying, in gathering information, are secondary to the notoriety he faces for rumors of him and his best friend Fleet, being British Spies who merely weren't brought up on charges because the war was ending and people had better things to do. Through the course of the novel, David builds the things that tore Ethan down into things that slowly build him up. Ethan missed out on so much of his life due to failed perceptions and not wanting to do anything to disgrace the memory of Fleet, because he secretly feared that Fleet was indeed a spy, that when the novel keeps bringing the 'truth' to the surface, Ethan has no choice but to change into something still flawed, but better than he was at the start of it.

The same is also true of Joan, who starts off wanting to be a writer, but whose apparent uncontested understanding of how the financial system works, makes her into a near unbeatable foe whose goal, the destruction of the government, seems almost within her power to be stopped by sleight of hand as opposed to straight out skill. The changes characters go through should influence the direction the game takes.

The Frontier. Joan starts off living in 'civilization' but poor. An opportunity comes up to seek out a new live on the Frontier in exchange for the script that shows the government owes her husband money. But after the Revolution the funds don't appear right away so are traded away for a 'better' life. This life is one of hardship. One where the simple comforts of the city, even the city of that era, are not present. Where one must be self sufficient to survive. Well, perhaps not entirely self sufficient for Joan's husband, despite his carpentry skills, and the skills he mastered in the war, isn't a full wilderness master like those already tricked, and already living there are. This brands them together being out in the wilderness against those who would further harm them. It makes them united against 'outsiders' even though Joan and her husband are still the 'new' people who must earn their way into the trust of the group.

Big Concepts: Joan and Ethan are both patriots. Ethan fought in the war to be free from English rule. Joan's husband did the same. Joan harbors thoughts on what a true free society is worth and what shape it must take while Ethan wouldn't see chaos and government failure run through the streets if he can help it. Some ideas can have multiple views that are both right but both must come across one another. When designing a setting, are there certain aspects of it that people might find distasteful but would rather have than absolute chaos? Are there some things that would make people change their minds about the country if only they knew?

The Unseen: Ethan has a slave, Leonidas. Ethan is able to use Leonidas status and his race as a useful tool for gathering information several times throughout the novel. In many settings, there are those who are looked down on. In modern societies, this could be as simple as the ignoring the cleaning people or the delivery people. In ancient societies, slaves were not often well thought of and things may have been spoken of freely in front of them. Another group in almost any setting could be children. Most settings have that 'underclass' that is always around and no one pays attention to. Using those resources can give characters and edge up against those who don't.

The Whoseitcalled. I was surprised to see reference to Jeffersonits. Those who followed Thomas Jefferson. And Hamiltonist. People who have followers will find those followers called by their specific name. While perhaps not in as much use today for personal names, Communist is a label still thrown about for example, but Putinists? Perhaps not so much. But in a setting where characters can be larger than life? Where you may have served, fought for, or directly assisted the person who liberated the whole of the country? Where those who take up stances against new methods and manners are on one side and those who take the opposing ideas on the other? Then indeed, it would seem nature that naming conventions might be s thing that use the giants of the era.

A Large Cast: When I was a younger and perhaps more apt game master, I had a huge three hold punch of characters. Whenever I added a character to the game, a throw away merchant, a named dragon, a hidden dungeon, or anything that had a name, I jotted it down into the book. I organized the book by region and was able to expand upon it and call upon it when characters where in a certain location. David Liss maintains a huge cast of characters here and it makes the world feel more alive. He mixes fictional and historical characters with the ease of a master juggler and the reader is never certain if who they are reading at the time is one or the other. Keep a list of potential names and descriptions for use at any time with the understanding that those names and characters may never be used, but that you have them if they are needed.

The Whiskey Rebels is a powerful historical novel that has a personal touch and focus and by having two viewpoints, brings the reader even deeper into the action.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Berserk 37 by Kentaro Miura

While Berserk by Kentaro Miura has not come to an end in the manga version, it has slowed considerably. This volume, afaik, is the last one we'll see in a while. Ironically enough, the movies have been moving forward. Hopefully we'll see more Berserk and of Guts in that field while the manga lays fallow.

This volume concludes the 'Sea God' story and brings in more magic and more visibility to the changes that have rocked the world since "the Wind" event where a strange wind blew through the land and heralded the age of magic and monsters returning to the world.

The art is up to Kentaro Miura's usual high standards. He, George Pereze and John Buscema all have a great timeless talent and I hope that if Berserk is on hold for a while that we'll be seeing his work in some other forms. Perhaps even an art book or something.

In terms of gaming?

1. Judge not by size. When Guts is 'fighting' the Sea God, he's fighting an island. Like several other similar situations where the character's size is of such insignificance, Guts is able to deal damage based on a weak point of the creature, in this case, it's heart. Designing such an opponent is like designing a dungeon. There are 'anti-bodies', various monsters that make their home there, there are parasites, there are creatures too small for the entity to notice. There are also natural hazards like stomach acid, drowning in blood and other unpleasant bits.

2. Red herrings: Guts is aided in this volume by Merrow and by a magical child. It's strongly been hinted, or at least argued online, that the child is Guts and Caska's child that is only able to reach the mortal world during the period of the full moon. This volume throws a wrench into that theory though as we're given two other options. The first is that the character seeking the elves to restore Caska, have been given a guide. The other is that the boy is a manifestation of King Hanafubuku. I'm sticking with it being Gut's and Caska's child.

3. Blow up the Outside World: Because Guts is at sea on a voyage, he doesn't know what's happened to the mainland. With all of the magic and monsters roaming freely through the land, man has retreated to shelter under Griffith's new country. Growing from outside the country are huge arcs of crystal called "Wing Stones" due to their appearance like wings. These keep out the 'wild' monsters and keep the humans and the Apostles, demonic creatures that serve Griffith, 'safe'. The real question is are the humans safe from the Apostles long term?

In addition to these Wing Stones, there is also the World Spiral Tree, an object so huge that it casts its branches over mountains and its visible against the moon when it first rises.

Lastly, we have the newly raised, in whole through magic and ritual, city of Falconia, a city where harvest season never ends, allowing people to continue to survive as well, people. Food and shelter are now not issues and they can continue to bring in outsiders.

These elements are a far cry from where the series has been prior to the Wind incident. In the past there were elements of ancient India and the Dark Ages of Europe. All that is potentially washed away but what it's replaced with is not certain. Only by effecting HUGE change can this be done.

Now I can hear some people saying, "I could swear that you didn't like it when WoTC blew up the Forgotten Realms." and yes, that is true but that's because of the manner in which it happened. There was no opportunity for the players to experience the events as they happened but rather, they get to play in the aftermath of that, and in many cases, the setting, at least in the novels I read, read much the same with a few nods to the vast changes. And when I say nods, that's what I mean. For example, Dragonborn? Not in the novels I read. Real effects to magic and the Spellplague? Again, nods to it, but effectively no. The whole point of putting the setting in that far reach having little impact on the characters.

Putting the characters IN the middle of that action however? Completely different beast.

Berserk 37 may be a temporary close to the story of Guts, but it's visual impact remains long after the last page is turned.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Percival and the Presence of God by Jim Hunter

I can't remember when, where, or for how much I bought Percival and the presence of God, but I know I bought several of the Arthurian novels at that time. I had never read anything written by Jim Hunter prior to this. It was a well written short first-person novel that took me an afternoon to finish off.

In many ways the novel  is timeless.  Well that's not quite true.  But it doesn't seem to be set in a specific  time frame outside of  being in a dark age or a middle-age  or a  medieval style setting .The author is free with a lot of description in terms of what the character is feeling  but not necessarily and say  what the characters wearing, what style armor the character has,  what manner of sword the characters using or other  bits and pieces that some modern authors  drown the reader with.

In short if you're looking for a quick  read  about  Percival  you could do worse  then this book  by  Jim  Hunter.

 In terms of gaming because the novel is short  and combat  is secondary, not even secondary  maybe fourth  or fifth  six place  in the scheme of things  there are still some bits  that can be yanked  for your home  campaigns .

For example  that many people  take  Percival's  quest  to be a worthy and in and of itself.. There is the question  of leaving  not just one home  but many homes  in the pursuit  of something that may not come  to fruition  but it is that characters  drive .  in looking at characters drive  it's important  that the player and GM understand it  but not necessarily important that the other characters  or the NPCs  agree with it.

Another thing to consider  is  the lack of light.  in the wintertime for example  there is not much time to be on the road.  indoors  there is not much light  to do anything  without candles  or torches or lanterns  and many of these things  produce smoke  and heat and fire.

Lastly there is the presence of ruin. Percival thinks he sees King Arthur's castle from afar. As he draws closer to it though, it is merely a ruin that he almost gets himself killed in. IN so doing, he learns deep despair. Ruins are full of potential 'traps' from rotting ceilings and stairwells to support beams and floors that can all fail when a character puts weight on them.

Percival and the Presence of God is not filled with combat and clashes but is an interesting character look at a knight's wanderings as they take him further and further form home.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Barnes & Noble Criterion Collection Sale

Barnes & Noble is having a 50% off their Criterion Collection of movies. Sadly, this often doesn't amount to 'huge' savings, but there are a few exceptions to that.

For example, there's a certain Blind Swordsman for $112.49 on the B&N site which compared to the $199 .99 they want for it say at Amazon, is a FANTASTIC deal.

There are a few other bits here and there you can hunt down, like the Samurai trilogy but the savings aren't as great. When you start getting to the single disk, the savings are still there when comparing B&N with Amazon, but not in the same level.

I know what I'm preordering myself for X-mas.

Good shopping!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon

After reading Swan Song and asking about opinions for further reading by   Robert R. McCammon, one novel that came up in a few posts was The Wolf's Hour.

The short review? Thumbs up.

Take one part James Bond, in high action mode, and add a dash of werewolf and you've got the basis of the story. Oh, it's also set during World War 2 and involves a vital plan to save the allies during D-Day.

The writing engaged me. Robert's use of flashbacks to break up the sections of the book worked well ranging from how young Russian Michael Gallatin first suffers the 'curse' and how he grows with it and eventually joins the 'civilized' world.

Some of the things that stood out to me, is that despite Michael's potent abilities, heightened sense of smell for example, great physical abilities, and apparently like catnip to the ladies, is that he rarely 'walks' through any conflict and suffers several set backs.  Some of these set backs take time to overcome and recover from. Some of them have deeper costs.

There is also a lot of internal turmoil the character endures as he seeks to divine what exactly he is and what his role in society is.

In terms of gaming? Yeah, there were several bits that would be useful. Spoilers for the novel will follow. If you'd rather not be spoiled on some odd twenty + year old book, read no further.

1. Not everyone is a bad guy. One of the strengths of characters like Elric and Drizzt is that they play against the archetype of a member typical of their race.  Here, just as in the Captain America movie recently, the author reminds the reader that not every German is a Nazi with the introduction of a character named Mouse.

2. The surreal. There are a few points in the novel where due to the excess of the Reich, that things that would be vastly out of place in the 'real' world are seen as normal. One example of this is a train that a big game hunter has set up as a death trap that keeps circling the city of Berlin while he hunts the people within it. Another is a exclusive Nazi club where atrocities are on display and excess is the standard.

3. Delayed combat. Robert has at least three villainous characters who get their comeuppance at a later date than their initial vile acts would lead the reader to hope for.

4. Mystery. A part of the story that takes a good chunk of time is the unraveling of the "Iron Fist" bit where Michael has to discover what a local German artist and an undercover spy have in common with stopping D-Day from happening. Pathfinder has a few supplements that can handle such additions to them like Lorefinder a bolt of the Gumshoe system straight onto the Pathfinder engine.

5. The exotic with the mundane. World War II has a TON of supernatural crossoever elements to it. Usually those elements though, are in putting the players against some type of horror from beyond. Cubicle 7 for example, recently did World War Cthulhu and one of the settings is World War II. But what if the players are the monsters? Imagine the monster of Frankenstein. "What did you say your name was again? Adam? What happened to you? You look horrible. What were you in some type of accident?" The monster's rictus grin was unnerving. "An accident? Yes. An accident of birth you might say..." There are many opportunities to take the standard super hero types from say the Invaders and put a little Mythos twist on it. Sub Mariner an American patriot first and foremost and a spawn of the deep ones secondary? Lots of potential there.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon

Amazon did one of their various author spotlight sales for the kindle e-books on Robert R. McCammon, a horror author. I'd heard of the author from friends over twenty years ago in high school when people who had read Swan Song complained to me of how terrible it was that Stephen King's novel, The Stand, seemed to be the only thing fans of the genre were talking about. My mother, a voracious reader of many genres, was also a big fan of Robert and of Swan Song in particular.

When I saw the sale, I figured at worse, mom would be able to refresh her recollection of the books. It had been quite a while since she had read them and well, the old gray mare ain't what she used to be.

Strangely enough then, months, if not years later, I wound up reading Swan Song. I think it was because after reading the Shining and Doctor Sleep, both by Stephen King, I wanted to read something that had been compared to King's works, but not by the author proper if that makes sense.

Swansong has a lot of great moments to it in terms of how it flows. It's also a very dated book. People think I'm cynical and pessimistic and well, a bit of a downer. I read this book and I see a lot of that still goes back to the 80's and the fear, the very real fear a lot of people had of the nukes flying at any time.

I know things todays are more strained it feels like, but I'm honestly not worried about Russia declaring nuclear war on us. One crazy holy roller taking out a city on the other hand? Yeah, real thing. Getting killed at random when seeing a movie on opening night by some nut job? Real thing. Being nuked back to the stone age? Not so much anymore.

Anyway, I've drifted off the topic. Swan Song is a good post apocalyptic novel in the ruins of earth after a nuclear war. Like many tales with a touch of the supernatural in it, there are no explanations for the 'weird' bits in it. Why is there a supernatural creature? Why is there a magical crown? Why is there a prodigy of the land that can cause vegetation to grow when it's dead. But if you have to have those things, you're reading the wrong book. I won't mind some more internal acknowledgement of it, some questioning of it by scientists, but that gets into that hard science and well, I'm a big fan of not pushing the genre.

By that I mean don't take something into a place it's not meant to go.  A good example of that would be "The Deal", a fan made Batman and Joker end all scenario. It's not that it's bad or I don't think it's good, but it's something that anyone could write if they want to break the standards. For example, it'd be easy to have Spider Man die with a few well placed grenades but it doesn't happen because that's against the genre. Ditto for most of the X-Men. Heck, most super heroes who actually aren't bullet proof. It's why Fury doesn't have a clone eye or a cybernetic eye or take that stupid amulet from Doctor Strange and put it in his skull. The genre works, and it doesn't even necessarily have to have internal consistency with itself, much less 'how' things might work out.

The same thing is true here. There are enough bits that make it a good read that you want to see what happens. Robert does a good job of planting story seeds early that have eventual payoffs even if those payoffs may be visible in their final revelation. For example, the whole 'Jacob's Mask' bit? That was pretty clear to people who were paying attention to the writing and tone of certain character voices aka foreshadowing at the time.

Swan Song is a good story for those looking for a post apocalyptic horror story. It's good in that unlike some stories, it's ending is open enough that Robert could write a sequel to it that would be able to pick up many of the threads and see where they go from that point.

But what about in gaming? Is there anything worth looking at there? I'll be hitting some specific spoilers next so if you'd rather avoid them, read no further.

Jacob's Mask: What starts off as a series of warts, apparently caused by radiation poisoning, forms into a harden bark like mask over the user's face that eventually cracks off revealing the person's inner character for the world to see. While this works great for people like Sister and Swan and Josh, those who haven't been so kind? Well, monster city. In a fantasy environment, such a disease could be caused by a variety of things ranging from strange spoors and fungus, to curses and hexes. In a fantasy game, instead of changing your face, it could change your race, perhaps your entire identity. It would be a quick way of adding new races to the campaign.

Sunlight: After the nuclear war, there's a long nuclear winter. No sunlight. In Chicago, when the winter hits, we have little sunlight, some days are gray. It's an oppressive feeling at time. If you can capture the long term effects of that, you've got at the very least, a campaign element to hit the players with every not and again.

Civilization's Fall: Robert does a fair job of showing how quickly everything goes to hell in a hand basket without the toys. Given the limits of technology at the time of the book's writing and when the war occurred, it'd be even worse given how interconnected things are today. The collapse might be quicker and harder as people long used to shopping at three or six grocery stores discover that variety doesn't mean anything without the means to produce and transport said goods. Even in fantasy settings that try to put the 'grim' into the setting, one of the ways this is done is with the destruction of the highways and byways of the land. Without roads, trade becomes a very dangerous and treacherous thing. Without fuel, vehicles become scenery. Without maintenance, buildings become deathtraps. Without upkeep, bridges collapse and cities burn.

Time Skip: While I'm not always fond of a time skip, especially one like between Forgotten Realms 3rd edition to Forgotten Realms 4th edition, some odd 100 years I believe, when doing smaller ones, like the 2 year skip in Girl Genius or the nearly ten year skip done here, it allows the author to keep a lot of the old toys intact while still keeping the majority of the setting in tune with what has gone before.

New Artifacts: One thing I've harped on time and time again is how boring it is for the 'old ways' to just completely dominate the new. Don't get me wrong, in my own fantasy writing I've done I've fallen into that trap in terms of ancient swords but Robert doesn't. He crafts a crown of class and gems and melted precious metals that has a unique power whose full extent is never showcased in the novel. Messing with a setting allows new things to come to the fore front as well as showcase old things failing.

Swan Song provides a lot of fuel for the imagination's fire.

In terms of other Robert R McCammon books, anyone have any recommendations? I have quite a few of them but the one I heard the most buzz outside of Swan Song was probably Boy's Life although I have Stinger and a few others as well. Recommend away!