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