Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Hammer and The Blade by Paul S Kemp

The Hammer & The Blade
An Egil & Nix Novel
Written by Paul S Kemp

Paul S. Kemp may be more familiar to fans of the Forgotten Realms through his characters of shade and shadow. Here Paul starts a new chapter in his writing career, one that launches a new world with new characters with some very old themes.

Cast in a similar vein as the ruin hunting adventures of Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Nix the Lucky or Nix the Swift, is the companion of Egil of Ebenor. Nix is clearly the 'rogue' of the pair. He does most of the sneaking, is quick, is known for his accuracy with thrown daggers, and like the Mouser is a dabbler in magic thanks to a year in a sorcerer college.

Egil is a bit different. While you couldn't tell from the cover, he's often described as being so hairy that he's mistaken for a bear or wearing a heavy winter coat in summer. Like having a mustache and beard even. Like having a ringlet around his scalp of hair.

In terms of being 'of Ebenor', that's the God who is of the Moment. In this case, an entity that was a god for a moment. And while Egil is referred to as a priest throughout the novel, he's not a spellcasting priest. He's a dual hammer wielder.

The novel starts with the duo doing some tomb raiding and that spirals out into the main body of the story. Paul keeps the cast small and the setting around the cast. He expands upon that setting through the use of historical murals, psychic visions, and playful banter back and forth between the characters.

Paul's work focuses on the 'adventuring' aspect with tombs to plunder and foes to battle. There's a lot of fighting going on in a setting that has sorcery and magical items but isn't awash in them like say the Forgotten Realms. Paul's descriptions of the numerous fights the duo get in are captivating and move along pulling the reader with them. Many of the foes the duo face, both magical and mundane, are able to be effected by normal steel and the dreaded forces of gravity. This gives it far more of a sword and sorcery pulp action feel than a setting where the main character is disintegrating individuals with power enough to destroy them from the timeline.

At this point, neither character bears an enchanted or named weapon and their competencies are tested over and over.

Despite the familiar ground, Paul walks, he brings his own twists to things. For example, the final 'fate' of the villain of the piece? Hinted at earlier but perhaps cruder than we'd have seen during the genre's top popularity.

If you're a fan of sword & sorcery, of high action, of good guys who aren't necessarily 'good guys', The Hammer and the Blade is a great place to introduce yourself to Nix and Egil.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Crossing the Streams: Civil War

When I talk about stealing ideas from any source, some may seem odder than others. How about Marvel Comic's Civil War for example?

If you look at the 5th Edition D&D Player's Handbook, you've got the following classes:

  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

So how many of those classes cast spells or use some type of magic? How easy would it be to incorporate the idea of 'registration' for anyone who could cast magic? Even if it's just limited to a portion of the setting, it could create complications with most parties.

Imagine in Waterdeep you are automatically tagged and put into a school and have to work for the city.

Imagine in Cormyr you HAVE to be in the War Wizards.

In some ways, the settings often work something similar if at a reduced structure into their settings. But when you push things to an extreme level? They can take on different shades, different meanings.

It can also provide automatic breaks for the campaign. Imagine that it's not ALL magic using classes, just those that are arcane. All of the sudden you're sorcerer and warlock who didn't have to study for their magic, outside of the usual bits, now have to deal with witch hunters from all over the campaign setting. Now they have to deal with clerical spellcasters armed with dispel magic scrolls and a great knowledge of arcane magic.

Imagine the competition so fierce that warlock patrons are being killed off in the campaign by the deities of the setting, forcing people who still wish to be spellcasters to turn to deities for their power.

Pushing the ideas further, imagine groups that were once considered 'good' working on these terms. The 'Harpers' all of the sudden becomes a group that advocates for all mages to be registered and trained specifically so that they don't do any wrongs and that they have to be kept tabs on at all times. They point out the 'rogue' wizards of places like Zhentil Keep and Thay as a perfect reason why these laws must be passed and other countries, like Cormyr, fully agree, on the insistence that while in their country, these wizards work for both the Harpers and the country.

Still further, and you can see anti-magic zones like those created during the Time of Troubles becoming hot spots where the martial classes would gather to plot their works against the wizards of the world.

Still further and you can see countries using mage sniffing demons, hounds, or other entities that could sense and eat/countermagic.

This might lead to mages that don't rely 100% on their magic, mages that are multi-classed or are in hiding by claiming to be clerics or druids.

Comics can be a fun way to see how plot lines and ideas play out. Don't hesitate to steal from them.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Of Truth and Beasts

Of Truth and Beasts
A Novel of the Noble Dead
Written by Barb & J.C. Hendee
Published by Roc

It's been a long time since I've read the Noble Dead series. Part of that was I don't like Wynn, Chane, and Shade as much as the original trio. They are pale reflections of the unique features that the original trio brought to the series.

It's not that they don't have their own charm.

Wynn is a scholar, a sage even, whose motivation in finding things out is to help save the world. In this her guild works against her because there are things that the guild thinks man is not meant to know and so it's a back and forth between her guild and the factions within it, including those that think, due to Wynn's tenacious nature, that she will find a way through to long-forgotten knowledge.

There's there's Chane. Spoiler alert folks, he's a vampire who was killed early in the series by the former star, Magiere. She even went so far as to cut his head off. It didn't take but the decapitation left him a nice scar and a raspy voice.

Oh, and he and Wynn have an 'unspoken thing' between them. You know, like Cheers. 

The last of the original trio is Shade, a fey hound of sorts that doesn't speak in words, but rather conveys things through memories. It works well in some points but also limits how the character can be used in terms of interaction with the others. 

Having said that, since I haven't read any of the books in a long time, it was a pleasant read focused mainly on exploration and character interaction not only between the new trio, but also Ore Locks, a dwarf seeking redemption for one of his ancestors. Important when that ancestor is known as The Lord of Slaughter and you're not a worshipper of Khrone.

Part of this back and forth involves trying to get permission to engage in the mission in the first place. The Sages aren't really keen on letting Wynn out of their sight but at the same time, if they banish her or try anything funky, well, there's the vampire dude and the dwarf and the fey dog... so many complications! Better to try and feed her a little information at a time and lead her in the direction they want her to go.

But Wynn is not one so easily lead and quickly slips the leash taking limited funds and spending them all in an effort to get ahead of her own guild, which to a certain point works.

The novel includes a few different factions that don't all get equal face time but it does give us a peak into the wraith, Sau'ilahk, a man who served the 'Enemy' because he thought he'd get to be young forever. Nope! Turns out they bound him after a long lived life and took his flesh so he's a formless, shapeless, black cape! He could be a super villain, "Fear the Wraith!"

He's kind of annoying. When a villain gets a good death scene, go with it. And in the last volume, Sau'ilahk got that death scene. Bringing him back and giving him some more background and motivation works to a point, but it's also a mirror of bringing back Chane in previous volumes. "Kill your darlings" as the old saying goes.

Having said that, the mix of exploration and character conflict comes to a nice climax in an ancient dwarf hold and the things in that old dwarf hold? Well, let's just say that fans of The Hobbit aren't going to be disappointed. The novel ends with an epilogue that sets up the next series in the Nobel Dead series.

If you're a fan of fantasy exploration and standard races with a bit of a twist on them, like Ore Locks and how the dwarves in this setting work, you'll enjoy it. If you're looking for high action thought and intense combat scenes like David Gemmell or R. A. Salvatore or known for bringing to their series? Not so much.

The Nobel Dead continues to move the plot forward with "the McGuffin" for at least another 'phase (3 even!) of five books so if you like your series long and epic, the Nobel Dead should hold you over.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Elantris Appendix N Musings

When you read a beefy tome like Elantris, many elements may start to swirl around your brain and demand a place at your gaming table.

1. Take the most popular city in your setting and destroy it. Forgotten Realms? Waterdeep sent into the plane of Shadow. Eberron? Sharn collapses and is surrounded by a psionic energy barrier that flares with runes similar to the various house marks. Greyhawk? Well, of course, Greyhawk city!

You can either have it happen right at the start of the campaign or as something that has happened in the recent past. No one knows how or why it happened but it gives the players the chance to explore the ruins of a freshly destroyed city. They can hunt for survivors. They can hunt for lost lore. They can try and return the city to its former glory. The options are almost limitless when you're dealing with a subject as big as a lost city in a magical setting.

Players may also get caught up in the changes that are wrought by a major city falling. For example, if Waterdeep itself falls, what about the various farms outside of Waterdeep? What about the various towns outside the city? Will they rise and take over the maintenance of the roads leading north? Will they be destroyed by raids from nearby towns looking for plunder?

What about the political situation? Waterdeep, as a large city, an old city, as a trading city, has many alliances and enemies. Will those in the South use this as an excuse to invade their northern neighbors and become the new "Gateway to the North"? Will those in the north use this as an excuse to start an extermination of evil in order to safeguard their own lands and ensure that the same thing that happened to Waterdeep does not happen to them?

2. NPC Motivations: Some characters aren't necessarily evil but they have a goal. That goal can range in time and tune with the evolution of the campaign. In Elantris, Roial and Ahan are merchants that compete with one another. Roial always getting the better of Ahan. Under the promise that Roial would be imprisioned, Ahan betrays Roail and their friends. Thing spin rapidly out of that as the one Ahan betrayed the group to decides not to imprison Roail and the others, but to kill them. An event completely against the wishes of Ahan but outside his control once the ball started rolling. Things move as motivation directs them for a character, but when that motivation encounters other character's motivation, it can spin in a completely different fashion.

Are there secrets that friends of the characters know? Are there things that might make others jealous? Have the players learned something that is of vital consequence to others in the region but they themselves don't see it that way?

And motivation doesn't have to be used against the players. One of the main characters of Elantris, Hrathen, is the high priest of Fjordell and is in Arelon to convert the people. This is his goal. To convert the people.

When he learns that his church never had that as an intention, he turns against them. This is the classic case of organized religion versus a man's own interpretation of that religion and the organization fell short.

3. Secrets. During the course of the novel, prince Raoden uses two different aliases in order to move forward with his own plans. During the course of the novel, we learn that Raoden's father was a member of a cult that engaged in ritual sacrifice. As the novel unfolds, we learn of a hidden cult of killers within the religion that Krathen seeks to bring to the people of Arelon. At the end of the novel, there are still mysteries left to ponder. Keep some things hidden from the characters. Keep enough elements of the campaign that the characters may choose to follow a few of them without ever knowing what the others lead to.

Now mind you in a multi-year campaign where the players are playing the same characters and growing in tune with the campaign itself, that's a little harder to do but in many campaigns, especially shorter-lived ones, it gives the players something to look forward to the next time they come back to the campaign.

4. Minor Characters: In a dungeon crawl that's packed with monsters, Non-Player Characters aren't necessarily that important. Oh sure there might be a 'Meepo' in the waiting or something of that nature, but mainly, it's about the crawl.

In a city-based campaign, in a campaign that interacts with civilization, it's in part about the people. A Game of Thrones, one of the most popular of novel series, has dozens of characters. While Elantris in one book does not boast quite so many, it does have numerous individuals. For example, Sarene is married to Raoden. Raoden and Sarene both have fathers. Sarene also has an uncle. That uncle has children. Some of those children are married. Many of these characters have their own little niches about them.

The depth and details of the campaign can shine much greater when the players have an actual attachment to the campaign. Some of these can serve as mentors, as friends, as allies, as rivals, as enemies. The amount of swordplay or violence directly in a mirror to what the player's do.

5. Social Combat: One of the most interesting aspects of Elantris to me, from a gaming point, is the lack of fighting.

Hrathen vs Sarene: As a high priest, Hrathen is out and about preaching. He is intent on bringing the people into the fold. Sarene has seen the works of the church in other countries, sometimes resulting in bloody revolutions and is determined to stop it. So when Hrathen is out preaching, Sarene is there asking questions that undermine the church.

Sarene vs King Iadon: The King has no use for women in the court. He feels them useless and out of place among the political games that go on. Sarene is having none of that and at first, plays off as if she were too dumb to understand the problems that Iadon has with her being in the court. She does this once by pretending to paint and claiming it's part of her own courtly duties.

Raoden vs Sarene: During part of the novel, Raoden is in exile in Elantris and Sarene is bringing food to the people of the city. Raoden is in many ways the default ruler of the city but doesnt' control all of it and seeks to keep things are while at the same time trying to get more supplies to improve the lot of the people of Elantris. This leads to a list of goods needed by Raoden while Sarene not trusting him, provides corrupted versions of them. For example, instead of blocks of iron, bent nails or near transparent sheets of metal.

The use of social combat and the gaining and losing of status is often underlooked in roleplaying games. Most of the rules in games like Dungeons and Dragons are for spells and combat but social combat can be a little more involved and allows the players to occassionally lose without dying on the spot.

Are there any other parts of Elantris that you'd bring to your campaign or thought would make for some interesting bits in a game?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Written by Brandon Sanderson
Published by Tor Fantasy
638 pages (paperback version)

Elantris is the first book written by Brandon Sanderson. In paperback at least, it's a weighty tome clocking in at over six hundred pages. Took me a little while to digest it.

The concept is a solid one. Elantris, the 'city of the gods', has fallen. Those who once did magic that could heal wounds and create light and energy for their people lost their abilities overnight and they were quickly slain.

This did not stop the 'gifting' of Elantris, where people outside the city would once become like those of Elantris, powerful and silvery skinned, but now, their bodies 'die' and they are cast into Elantris which is more akin to the city of Dis, a city of the damned.

The back cover brings us three main characters:

Raoden: He's the prince of the city outside Elantris proper. He works against his father's ways. In ma ways, Raoden is far too modern for the times he finds himself living in. One thing I appreciate about Raoden, is that he's an optimist. He's always searching for answers. He's always looking for the biggest reasons why. He's always trying to minimize violence and harm to others.

It's a refreshing chance of corse. In many tales, the hero is so grim, so gritty, that at times, I would love to see him killed off just so that someone more interesting can replace him. Being a bitter washed up old hero is played out.

Hrathen is a high priest of the country of Fjordell. He's been sent to Raoden's country of Arelon to convert the people. That didn't work out too well for the last country Hrathen converted. Turns out that when you turn the common folks against their rulers, a massacre when thousands, if not tens of thousands of people can happen.

I was pleasantly surprised by Hrathen several times. While he plays the 'villain' of the piece to a point, he's much more complex than merely a ranting religious figure that all the woes of humanity can be tied onto.

He's clever. He appreciates those who share this trait. He's not a devout fanatic and is even brought to the point where he has to consciously question his faith and how that faith interacts with the organized religion. In these things, Sanderson doesn't' paint any one character with too broad a brush save perhaps the actual zealots, but I found Hrathen very entertaining and interesting in his own right.

Sarene is another character born out of time. A tall woman whose height intimidates some, her willingness to wade deep into political matters that in Arelon at least, were only considered things for men to discuss.

She brings swordplay to the ladies of the court as a hobby to the women. She runs an alliance against the actual king of Arelon. She is a princess of Teod and now of Arelon and she is not to be ignored.

As a done in one novel, Sanderson brings the main body of the story to a close, but he leaves a lot of events open-ended. Looking at the book, I see there is now The Emperor's Soul, book 2 in the Elantris series.

When I get my reading queue a little more organized, it's one I'm going to have to check out. I enjoyed Mistborn. I found the ending of that series to be a neat switch on the whole 'one of prophecy bit' and I find that Elantris also does a good job of moving some of the troupes around.

Brandon's enjoyment of making magic systems with their own rules and rituals is clear in the series. His ability to work events and tie in different elements is solid. Stories from the start of the book come to have a greater impact towards the end. He's truly a believer of the whole gun from the first chapter getting used in later chapters.

If you're a fan of fantasy novels, especially high fantasy novels, Elantris is a solid read.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Abbot's Gibbet by Michael Jecks

The Abbot's Gibbet
Written by Michael Jecks
A Medieval West Country Mystery
A Knight's Templar Mystery

Michael Jecks continues the tale of former knight templar Sir Baldwin Furnshill and his ally and friend Simon Puttock in the fifth novel in the series.

The mystery around this time starts off with a headless corpse. In an era where modern forensics are unknown, to have a corpse with no head leads to difficulties beyond the standard whodunit mysteries.

Setting the murder during the fair of the 'dock' city of Tavistock, makes things more difficult. Michael Jecks initially hits us with so many characters, that the names and descriptions come fast and furious. It takes a while before we even get to Sir Baldwin and Simon!

As with other books in the series, Michael's enjoyment of the era comes through. This isn't blind devotion or thinking it a superior in terms of moral authority, but a knowledge of how things work. Take the title of the book itself, The Abbot's Gibbet. Sir Baldwin's order, the Templars, did not fare well under the agents of Gods mercies. When Sir Baldwin looks at that, the ultimate sign of authority over life and death, he is not a man pleased with his place in the world.

It does serve to steel his spine and ensure that he always works towards providing the justice he feels his brothers in the templars were denied.

Michael continues to expand the setting. This novel introduces us to Lady Jeanne, a widower who benefits from the generosity of the Abbot. Sir Baldwin, who is a single man of no small years, is smitten with her and her presence is hinted at being continued strongly through their courtship in the novel.

There are enough characters and possible motivations and possible rationales and red herrings, that if you catch the villain before the end piece, I salute you. Mind you, this is somewhat deliberately obstruction in some instances as bread crumbs leading in very specific directions are laid before pulled back. Too much of that can ruin a story but as more information comes to light, nothing from before is invalidated.

For me, it's enjoyable to read these books because it's fun to see where the characters are going. Who the characters are interacting with. How the setting itself as it involves the characters, is getting larger and more involved.

If you're interested in history or more information on Michael Jecks, check out his youtube channel.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Kickstarter Current Thoughts: 05-07-2017

Way back in the day, I backed many a Kickstarter projects.

Over the last say, two years, I've cut way back. Way back.

This is due to several factors.

Kickstarter is terrible at allowing a user to know what a vendor is about. There should be some type of dashboard that each vendor has where I can see customer satisfaction, how often they hit their marks, how late their product is, and other information. Things like posts before funding, posts after funding. It's always telling if you see that between the time a late project fulfilled and when it started the posts count goes way down.

Instead, we get what? Here's how many projects this company did. Wow. Thanks. That's not really useful information in telling me anything at a glance as I now have to delve into each project and see how they went.

It's 2017. Big data is a thing. This isn't some weird request to provide information that isn't instantly available with existing technology. Kickstarter, get your head into the game of providing better customer service!

Okay, so that's one.

Two, I've had trials and tribulations. Let's see, a few years ago, my formerly awesome mechanic just completely missed like $3,500 worth of repairs that my old Saturn needed. So it was new car time. New cars are expensive.

My mom's been hospitalized a few times. Life doesn't get easier when you have a chronic condition like diabetes.

I was hospitalized! Parking in an alley is awesome in most seasons but in the winter it's challenging. So challenging that I got caught on a huge snow mound and had to get underneath my car with a shovel to get out of it. The reward? A few slipped disks that prevented me from doing anything outside of laying down without being in excruciating pain. I was very lucky in that three months of physical therapy and a few shots to the spine were able to restore most of my mobility and make the pain manageable.

I was laid off! After 19 years at my last gig, they had decided, "You know, it makes more sense for us to have like, what, five job fairs and fire the people already working here" Corporate America for the win yeah?

That one worked out a bit better for me as I have a job making significantly more money and every time I talk to peeps from the old place they have some new issue to harp on.

Three, Kickstarter projects are often on sale. Anyone heard of Zombicide: Black Plague?

I didn't get the exclusives. I also didn't wait for it to be published. I also got it for 50% off. This doesn't count other board games that get deep discounts like The Others, another one I got for almost or 50% off. I ordered it and Amazon sent it to me the same day.

Anyone remember The Grand Temple of Jing? It was about this time I was starting to get leery of these games. I don't know if gamers are just terrible project managers or if they are a cursed lot of mankind because that project was massively late. two years or something late. I picked up my copy from The Miniature Market on some crazy blowout. Think I paid like $20 or $25 for it.  A Beautiful book by the way.

How about Razor Coast? Picked up the whole lot for more than 50% off.

So yeah, outside of some great exclusives or 'freebies' like giving you the PDF with the physical copy, I'm not seeing a lot of benefit for backing these Kickstarters when so many of them are just poorly managed and late.

Four, lack of accountability. Kickstarter continues to hide behind "it's not a preorder, it's funding a process" or some nonsense that if you took it to a bank and asked for a loan they'd laugh you out. As I alluded to above, way too many of the kick starters I've picked up have been the results of late or bad management. Heck, I didn't' even get started on Sedition Wars that decided for the good of the game to screw the initial backers in some obscure ways that didn't, by the way, make the good of the game viable.

On failures, I've backed? I was a backer of the Tome of Horrors, both of 'em. Should have known the warning signs on that one. Sigh. That doesn't count Drake.

That doesn't count some that are technically still going like Imbrian Art's where they're literally using new Kickstarter, sending out the goods to those people on the new Kickstarter first, and eventually will get to the original guys who sent them money. It's not that Jody isn't an awesome sculptor. It isn't that he hasn't had his own 'curses' but damn that's a shitty thing to do to people who originally believed in you.

 Another one that's long overdue is Assimilation Alien Host. It took in over $50 thousand and it's been bleeding out at a slow fraction. Thankfully the creator decided to actual start communicating with the backers again and on a regular basis and most people are happy with the communication skills and the slow but steady progress forward.

Five, there's awesome stuff out there right now! That isn't being Kickstarted! Don't get me wrong, I get that Kickstarter for many companies, like Goodman Games, is probably more of a marketing and preorder thing to engage with their potential customers than a vital necessity, but in the meantime, there are publications like Pathfinder Bestiary 6 out there.

You want it? You want it now? You simply go buy it. Done.

Sixth, I'm crazy. I have a problem just kind of backing a thing. Like there were some awesome awesome dwarf miniatures out recently, The Iron Crows!. My nature would've put me at a pretty high pledge level on that one.

Seventh, I'm not playing or painting! My new job is cool in that it's only four days a week, but it's four ten hour days, with an unpaid hour for lunch, and it's about an hour both ways so it's a thirteen hour day. Not complaining but it is a schedule that makes me pretty unavailable for anything during the week because I have to be up so early. And then on the weekend the dreaded adulting strikes! So even though I've bought the Other and Black Plague, I haven't done much more than look at them.

Why on earth would I back anything else?

Mind you there are a few I've backed just because they looked fun and were from companies that I trusted. In reality, I did not need to back Godoman Games and their new boxed set of the Duo but I like the Twain so even though I never used the Runequest stuff, I wanted to throw some support at them.

But overall? Yeah, my spending on Kickstarter, unless it gets serious about not only accountability, but customer friendliness in data sharing, is going to continue going down.

How about everyone else? How are you doing with Kickstarter? More? Less? The same? Am I way off my gourd here?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp

The Godborn
Written by Paul S. Kemp
The Sundering Book II
Dungeons & Dragons
Forgotten Realms

This book has more categories than it knows what to do with. It's Forgotten Realms, it's Dungeons and Dragons, it's the Sundering and it's the continuation of Paul S. Kemp's work of sun and shadow.

Hate to say it, but the initial chapters didn't win me over. It's not that Paul isn't a solid writer, but rather, that he's shackled by the setting. In this case, the 'Sundering'. See, it wasn't enough that the Forgotten Realms in Paul's last book was getting ready to undergo changes, and that oh, it's been about 100 years since the last book, well, 70 at the start, and you know, the whole 4th edition Spellplague and whatnot, but...

As I've gotten older, I've become less a fan of the dreaded 'women in refrigerators'. Paul does that to Vara, the mother of Vasen Cale. Some might argue that it's some weird necessary trial or tribulation but hey, he gets raised by a stepfather of sorts and that character dies off screen.

That's because by the time we're introduced to Vasen, he's thirty years old.

There was absolutely no reason why Vara couldn't have had the same kindly end. When something similar happens, later on, it's enough to get an eye roll from me.

I'm also not a fan of the whole time jump thing. In this book, in many ways,  it's even more obnoxious than in others.

Riven: One of the three who has the divine might of Mask in his shadowy blood. Waiting for Vasen to grow up. Oh, he's undergone many a change in the waiting time mind you and in that aspect, is probably one of the few who has.

Cale: Trapped under ice. In hell. So yeah, not a lot of character development for him eh?

Rivalen: He's one of the other three who has a shard of Mask's divinity. His name is also way too similar to Riven. He's one of Shar's Chosen and has sat for the last one hundred years looking at a tear in reality grow larger. Not a lot of development.

Magadon: The half devil literally spent the entire time in a bar waiting for something to happen. Anyone see a pattern here?

Mephistopheles: Been ducking a call from his boss for the last one hundred years until he could get some more divine energy.

Brennus: Brother of Rivalen, one of the Shadovar. A master of magic, a specialist in divination. He's spent the last one hundred years looking for a way to kill his brother Rivalen.

So all of the main characters from the previous series have been letting moss grow on them.

The new characters, or at least the main ones, keep things moving. Vasen Cale is a paladin, a dawnsword, a man whose spent his life in the shadows of Sembia. He's protected the Oracle his whole life. He's the one with the most seniority.

A strange being, Orsin, a deva, one whose lived many lives, befriends him. The duo makes a solid pairing. Paul has always had a solid grip on making characters move forward and take to the action.

And it's this ability of Paul's to move characters, even characters who've literally been sitting on their backside for one hundred years, to action, that makes this a solid read. One that I finished in a day.

When the pieces all line up, the action happens. There are those who, under the assumption that Mephistopheles is to be trusted in any shape, Zeeahad and Sayeed, two who have been cursed by the Spellplauge, are hunting the son of Cale. Mephisopheles believes that the son has the answers he needs.

In their hunting, we get to see what monstrous characters they are. They make a great evil duo to cast contrast against Orsin and Vasen.

We also have Paul's little nods to repetition that work well, especially when dealing with sayings that the faithful would have. For example, Rivalen notes on many occasions "Your bitterness is sweet to my lady." A great bit acknowledging Shar and her dark desires.

There's also the fact that for all the importance the Sundering is supposed to have, this story, this here very story, is in its own way, far more important. The hole in reality that Shar has started and that is growing, will eclipse all wars. Will eclipse all personal matters. Will devour the world itself and all those who are in it. Against this, the war of the Shades against the Dales, against The Forest Kingdom, those are all petty bit players in the grander scheme of things.

And Paul captures that epicness well.

Paul wraps up his chapter of the Sundering leaving the Forgotten Realms changed and a little more familiar. It allows those who hope to see Cale or who want to see more of his son in future adventures, to have that opportunity. Someday. Maybe. As you know, Wizards of the Coast may in some distant future decide to actually publish more fiction.

I know I've picked on Paul a bit for what I saw as weaknesses in the pulling together of the characters. But honestly, I don't know how much of that was on Paul. When you work in a shared setting, while it's great to have access to long known characters like Shar and Mask, the peril of having to work on 'event' bits like how the last series ended or the very necessity of this book itself, the 'Sundering', show that it has its own perils.

Glad to see that Paul's been doing his own work lately. with Egil and Nix. I've got the first book in my queue and it's just waiting for (more) free time to devour it.

Am I being too hard on the Forgotten Realms? Or the shared setting? Or the whole Spellplague and the whole Sundering? Or were these big events the death knell of the fiction line?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ms Marvel: Vol Three: Crushed

I've enjoyed the trade adventures of Ms Marvel. This volume keeps that going up to a point.

It starts with a great crossover with Loki, when Loki was doing his good guy bit. One of the problems with the Marvel setting is that so many of the characters go through so many changes, it's hard to know which version of a character you're dealing with at a time.

But I'm vaguely familiar with this 'Loki agent of Asgard' bit and his interactions with Ms Marvel are top notch. It combines a bit of fun, humor, and action like a good comic should. Oh, and teen angst. Don't forget the teen angst!

It leads to Loki warding the school itself against future villains which is a nice touch and a nice little plot device that can be used in future issues.

Oh, and to top it off, it takes place during a Valentine's Dance. The author hit all the cylinders here.

But onto the new story which starts in New Attilan, as Marvel is trying to make the Inhumans into the next big thing, we start with Ms Marvel training with the Inhumans. It's nice to see an occasional bit of training. It provides some actual context to how the characters learn how to use their powers. It's also not the first time Ms Marvel has been seen in training as in her earlier appearances, after a sound beating, she trained to overcome her adversaries.

The author continues to bring in the family and makes the Khan's very relatable. A mother worried about her daughter out jogging alone for example? That's a pretty standard concern no?

The 'problem' I have with this portion? It's not the introduction of Kamran, a young lad that Kamala is instantly smitten with. It's not the fact that he too is an Inhuman. I'm okay with that. It's not the introduction of Kaboom, another new super villain.

Spoiler alert!

It's not even the fact that he's the bad guy. I'm okay with that too. Star-crossed lovers and all that jazz right?

It's Lineage. He's apparently the king of the Inhumans from out of nowhere. It's disjoining.

I've often praised comics like Ms Marvel (Runaways, Young Avengers, etc...) that are self-contained. That you can read and understand them without knowing what's going on in the rest of the Marvel setting. It allows them to skip most of the big crossovers and instead of having their own flow ruined by the big events, allows them the build up the characters of their own book.

The introduction of Lineage from off stage as the new Inhuman boss? With no information on it happening in the actual book? Poorly done.

Next up is a crossover with SHIELD. I'm not a regular SHIELD reader so I'm pretty out of the loop on the characters but it's more of how seeing another author handles Ms Marvel and it's done well.  It's nice seeing another artist take a crack at her too. More traditional with the brighter colors.

Outside of the Lineage introduction, it's a solid collection and cements Ms Marvel's place in the greater Marvel Universe even if that means her own title gets the occasional goofy bit of continuity thrown in.

If you're looking for super hero comics that aren't all grim and angsty and have depth and plot to them without delving into death and destruction, Ms Marvel is a good pick.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Death of Promises: The Half Orcs Book III

Book Three of the Half-Orcs brings us up to The Death of Promises. Written by David Dalglish, this volume brings a lot of the Paladins work into the Half-Orcs in a much fuller manner than previously.

Before I ramble on too much though, let me just point out that the cover featuring one of the two paladins of Ashur left alive, whose divine power comes not through his sword, but through his shield, is facing off against the magic-wielding half-orc and his unnamed flaming whip. It's a fantastic piece. The necromantic presence of the undead behind the half-orc, the clash of contrast of the warm colors off the whip against the cool colors of the shield. It's a great piece.

The cast of characters and the world building continue to grow.Quarrah Tun and his insane lover Tessanna, who it turns out is essentially an avatar of the Earth Goddess of this setting, decide the best way to move onto their next steps, is to steal an ancient tome and learn it's secrets.

That tome is being held in a church of the 'good' god of the setting, Ashur. So doing what any good necromancer would, Quarrah raises the dead of that god and attacks the church leading to some epic combats between one of the last paladins of Ashur and the necromancer, as depicted on the cover. The nice thing about the Paladin here, Jerico? Despite his holy power being unique in that it powers his shield, he does have a magical mace, 'Bone Breaker', which would make a great magic item in any fantasy RPG. (Personally, I've used something similar in 1st and 2nd Edition D&D just used a Sword of Sharpness rules but instead of cutting the limb off, it breaks it.)

The second half of the book takes place in the siege of the city of Veldaren. Here the 'good' half-orc, Harrauq and his wife, along with their mercenary comrades, are still dealing with the aftermath of losing those dear to them from the last volume and finding new friends. Among these friends is another paladin of Ashur whose 'friend', Mira,  is another avatar of the Earth Goddess.

Turns out these avatars of the Earth Goddess are only supposed to show up once every blue moon and there have never been two around at the same time and it's usually not a good sign if there are two around at a time. An imbalance of sorts eh?

The brothers come back together in an epic clash as all the horrors of the world, various beast men ranging from birds and wolves to orcs and undead, assault the city. This isn't some random assault. It's not some attack against the city merely for the sake of bloodlust. Rather, the city is built upon the entrance point of the two gods to the world.

That's a clever bit of world building that leads back into how young the setting itself is.

Part of the problem the series suffers is that there are so many 'unique' and special characters. Jerico and his unique shield of faith. The Half-Orcs themselves being half-orc and half-elf pulling in massive amounts of power from somewhere. Velixar the reborn face changing creature who rises again and again. The two avatars of the Earth Goddess. I could go on but that small list in and of itself should be sufficient to note that we're not dealing with small matters here.

By the end of the novel, things are not looking up as a new, more powerful antagonist is introduced. It's a good way to end the novel and set up for the next book with the various forces in the setting that are waging war getting larger and the stakes themselves getting larger.

If you like quick moving high fantasy with high-powered heroes and villains, The Half-Orcs should scratch that itch.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Cost of Betrayal: The Half Orcs Book II by David Dalglish

David Dalglish's tale of the twin half-orcs, one muscular swordsman who wields two sabers, Salvation and Condemnation, and his punny, raspy-voiced spell casting brother with a flaming whip, continues in The Cost of Betrayal.

Unlike the first cover, I'm not a fan of this one. It's not the structure, but rather, the winged demon woman's feet. Their too elongated or too wide or just out of step with the rest of the illustration. Outside of that critique, it's a solid piece and another fine example of Peter Ortiz work.
Having lost their master, Velixar, an ancient nearly immortal being who serves a dark god in the last volume, the twins, now with the elf wizard Aurelia in tow, return to their home city. Valderen is a city that they were banished for originally because they had elf blood. Velixar managed to stir the pot between elf and human.

But with Aurelia with them, she's able to illusion them into the city. Where they are promptly attacked by a group of adventurers! This small guild of allies is known as the Eschaton, named so after the brother and sister duo's last name.

Folks, I'm telling you, if David Dalglish isn't a role playing or doesn't play role-playing games, or isn't a huge fan of fantasy, he's writing sure reads like it.  These mercenaries take the trio in and act as a patron, mentors, friends, and allies. During that time, Aurelia and Harruq declare their love for one another and even marry,

Qurrah on the other hand, well, he's not quite as happy. While he's glad to not be eating the lowest of the low foods, and he's pleased to have a roof over his head, and even more, to be with his twin again, he finds himself not quite as pleased as his brother.

This leads him to wander the city of Valderen and find Tessanna. If Aurelia and Velixar were powerful characters than Tessanna is literally on another level. She's a self-harmer with numerous psychotic breaks but thanks to her charm and her power, she easily wraps Qurrah around her finger.

Plots build up and more background of the setting comes forth. The different relationship between Harruq and Aurelia is played against that of Qurrah and Tessanna till eventually the brothers part on less than ideal terms.

I haven't read too many other books by David, but from rumblings, it seems that the thieves war bits in this volume run into another one of David's series, the Shadowdance series, which would make sense as Harruq's teacher is Haern the Watcher, another high-powered individual in a world of high-powered individuals.

If you're looking for a quick high action read, The Cost of Betrayal is better then the first volume and expands the setting considerably while setting up the third volume.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Weight of Blood: The Half-Orcs Book I

David Dalglish brings two new creations to fantasy with the Weight of Blood, Book One of the Half-Orcs.

Readers are introduced to street raised Harruq and Qurrah Tun. One of them is a warrior, healthy, strong, and blessed with a great endurance. The other is hunched, whispy, and weak with a croaking voice. Oh, and their twins.

Remind you of anyone?

But these twins story is a bit darker. They are individuals who live in poverty and misery set up their initial vile activities including murdering of children. They go to serve a dark priest-wizard who fought at the dawn of a great war between two deities who are also brothers, Velixar. Velixar is an interesting character in that he's old, he's scared, and while his red eyes remain constant, his face ever changes.

David shortcuts the quest for power in some ways. The twins are given items, iconic items, by their master. Harruq, the warrior, is given two red sabers, Salvation and Condemnation. His brother, Qarruh, a whip that can ignite into flame. 

The story is fast paced and moves quickly. The characters initially are roughly hewn and seem to come off as being deliberately stupid at times, especially Harruq's love interest, the elven wizard Aurelia. 

Love interest? Oh no man, is that going to test the ties of the brothers?


Things move quickly but by the end of the book, alliances are tested, trust is broken, and the setup for the next book is in play.

Things that the author nailed?

He got a good cover artist. Peter-Ortiz has his own section of Deviant Art and I suggest you take a look at his work. By giving the characters iconic weapons, he allows them to be easily identifiable. 

Giving the mage a flaming whip instead of a staff? Different enough to be notable.

Bad things? Well, look at his website and how he describes it "The first four books have been in the top 100 Kindle list for Epic Fantasy. No Mary-Sue characters. No long-winded descriptions or delusions of being the next Tolkien. Just a powerful, character driven story following two half-orc brothers, their descent into darkness, and their long, bloody road to redemption." 

The twins are Mary-Sue characters. In this world, the elves who sided with a faction in the original war became orcs. Some of the original weapons can only be used by someone who has both orc and elf blood.

These half-orcs? Oh yeah, their father is an elf. It's not enough to be a half-orc you see, you have to be a unique half-orc and half-elf. It's one of the reasons why Quarrah has such potential as a spellcaster despite being raised in poverty. This makes them... yup, Mary-Sue.

Velixar, their mentor? The guy from the original war that almost broke the planet? Mary-Sue.

The friend of Aurelia, an ancient elf protector who rides around on a magical pegasus and can actually fight Velixar? Mary-Sue.

Now there are no long-winded descriptions and I'll agree that their no delusions of being the next Tolkien. The setting is new, humanity is a race that's only been around for something like 500 years. The story is very character driven.

And the good news? It does get better as it goes along.

The Weight of Blood isn't a great start but it is a start and it gets better.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Adversary by Erin M. Evans

The Adversary is the first book I've read by Erin M. Evans. I went in with no expectations. I knew the 'Sundering' was one of those mega-events in the Forgotten Realms like the Avatar series and others but wasn't sure how they all tied in together or what the overall themes and arcs were.

The book is packed with numerous characters and factions that lends a bit of depth to the setting that can be confusing for newcomers, but most things are explained succinctly enough that readers shouldn't be too lost, even if this is their first Forgotten Realms novel. Mind you, the 'attachment' that long term Forgotten Realms readers will have will be missing from such as the novel does make use of many familiar organizations ranging from the Harpers and the Red Wizards of Thay, to the Netherese wizards and more.

The Adversary is also volume three in the Brimstone Angel Series.

After reading the Adversary though, I'll probably wind up hunting down the other books.

We have interesting heroes like Havilar and Fariden, twin tieflings. Tielflings are descendants of evil outsiders. Outsiders in this case being devils.

The girls were orphans, raised by Clanless Mehen, a dragonborn. It was great to see a dragonborn as this race gets little play. Dragonborn are reptilian humanoids from far away lands in the Forgotten Realms and having one inhuman raising two more inhumans of a different species was an interesting twist on things.

In the cast and parade of characters, we have Fariden's patron, a cambion, a half devil, who provided her initial set of powers. That character has sisters who are not fond of him. They all serve various patrons of their own and have various alliances that must be followed.

There are things I was not a fan of mind you. Perhaps because it's in 'the Sundering', there was a time skip although only of a few years. Richard Baker's character suffered such to get him to the new Forgotten Realms timeline, Paul S. Kemp's character had a son who was 'pushed' into the future, and other bits have happened that seemed forced in the Forgotten Realms. This bit was one of them.

Because it wasn't a huge push forward in time though and it wasn't a gate popping open or a magical trap, the twins, Fariden and Havilar, wind up in a bit of an off situation. The world has moved on without them in its own way. Mehen, their father, is pleased to see them. Havilar's prince is pleased to see her, but he is also engaged to be married. Such events as this provide nice complications to the characters so that they don't just get to step back into their lives.

The second bit I didn't enjoy was the 'Chosen' factor. Now mind you, the book has Fariden herself as the chosen of Asmodeus. I'm fine with that. She's one of the main characters of the book. The main thrust of the story though is that Fariden is among the Netherese to find the Chosen so that their divine energies can be harvested. On one side, the Netherse do this for Shar, on the other, those allied with the Netherse do this for their patron, Asmodeus, so that the king of devils can secure his place among the divine pantheons.

Having so many Chosen reduces what it means to be a Chosen. If Elminster and the Seven Sisters are some of the better known Chosen of the Forgotten Realms, what does it mean when dozens or more are similar? It reduces the unique factor, it reduces the whole point of being Chosen.

Given the scope of the book and the setting it takes place in though, these are minor complaints. The Forgotten Realms, much like Marvel Comics or DC comics, goes through upheveals often enough that either you get on for the ride or you stop reading them or you shake a fist in the air going "Damn you publishers!"

While the main plot of the book is wrapped up, the end leaves the reader prepared for the next novel in the series. While there are many questions answered, there are other elements set up for future novels.

Erin M. Evans wasn't a name I was familiar with before, but it's one I'll seek out again.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Logan Tries To Be Unforgiven Yet Falls Far Short

When I first heard about Logan and it being Hugh Jackman's last performance as Wolverine, I was intrigued. Numerous news bits indicated it might be going the way of the graphic novel, Old Man Logan.

I was dubious. It's not that Old Man Logan isn't worthy of screen adaptation, but if you've read it, it ties directly into the bones of the old Marvel Setting which the film company producing Logan have no access to.

I was hopeful and curious. When I saw the first trailer, I was impressed. The use of Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nails 'Hurt' as well as seeing the world tired and wasted and the characters tired and wasted, well, that looks like something I could get into.

The second trailer added to that hope.

And then I saw the movie.


So many of my movie friends were like, "It's the best super hero movie ever! It's way better than any other super hero movie that's come before!"

I wasn't impressed. It's not that the genre hasn't been done before. Unforgiven is one of my favorite movies and heck, it's not the only movie that Clint Eastwood himself has done featuring this type of tired old soldier whose got one last fight left. With the whole Expendables series, there's even a genre of sorts for it. Those who read fantasy fiction like the old David Gemmell's Legend, know it's an old series.

So there are some great stories of the old soldier, the old hero, with one last battle.

This isn't one of them.

I'll be hitting spoilers real quick and discussing some of the things I enjoyed and didn't enjoy so if you don't want to be spoiled on this movie, read no further.


First off, let's talk about the cultivated look.

It looks like it's run down not because it's a dark and broken down future. It's because those scenes that are shown are where Logan is hiding Professor X, which happens to be a rusted out junkyard in Mexico.

So that ambiance shown is a trick, a trap. It's there to create a false "bad times."

It's the year 2029 and Wolverine has not aged well. This is because his skeleton is bonded to the metal and it's poisoning him. The older he gets, the more his healing factor has to deal with the poisoning leaving less time to deal with, oh, say getting shot. 

And it's probably painful.

And this is something perhaps I take with experience as I know people who are in chronic pain and they drink not because they're bitter. They drink not because they hate everyone. They drink because they are self-medicating themselves to cover the pain. 

So that ambiance of Wolverine being all 'drunk' is another false flag.

The movie's R rating is earned. It's violent. There is swearing. There's even a brief bit of nudity. But mainly the rating is for the violence.

The theme of old and faded does have one actual point, and that's mutants aren't born anymore. This isn't a bad idea or a bad seed, but as the movie goes on, even that little bit of information has to be spoiled and spelled out. See, it's not some natural thing that happened, but bio-engineered!

Sigh. Lame.

And then there's the 'big bad.' 

From all the previews we've seen, Logan and friends are being hunted down by trained killers lead by an experienced soldier. Pierce and his Reavers. Pierce comes across as confident and sure-footed, but he is punk'd over and over. The first time being knocked out by a child from behind.

The actual 'nemesis'? The main foe that returns to hunt Wolverine and his prodigy?

It's a younger wild clone of Wolverine.

Go back and watch the videos. That's not really something that comes through right? 

They hide that because it's lame.

If someone is going to tell me how Hugh Jackman playing 'X-24' is the best movie ever when The Dark Knight gave us Health Ledger in an unforgettable performance as the Joker, I'd love to hear it.

I appreciate that memory is short. I understand that the 'now' is 'hawt.' But no, Logan, for all it's well-filmed action sequences, and it's earning of the 'R' rating, it is not better than Captain America Civil War or even Dr. Strange. 

But serious themes!

Okay folks, here's the serious theme.

From the background we get in the movie, Professor X as an older person, had some type of seizure and with vast power blew up the X-Men and killed I think they said six or seven of them. So Wolverine's big plan isn't to be a drunk and be edgy and be hateful and all alone as so many people latch onto.

It's to get Professor X to an uninhabited body of water and kill him and then blow his own brains out with an adamantium bullet.

Yea, that whole "don't show a gun in act one unless you're going to use it in the final act" are in full evidence here.

Because see for whatever reason, a bullet of adamantium can blow Wolverine's head off. Now aren't his claws made of the same metal? Wouldn't he be able to slice through the limbs of say, another Wolverine? Well, let's not go thinking that way...

There's also the problem of Wolverine being flat out stupid. To humor Charles Xavier, Logan allows Laura and Chuck to rest for the night at the home of a family who they help on the side of the road.

Which of course gives the bad guys time to catch up to Logan and wipe out the innocent family.. because, in all his years of being an X-Men, Wolverine would've never thought of that I guess?

There's also the unreliability of Professor X's own power in all situations. It's the same problem you have anytime you watch a movie where the character could easily escape if they did the most basic of things but hey, for whatever reason, they don't do it.

Using his power to communicate with the apparently 'mute' Laura? No problem. Using his power to actually do anything useful? Can't have that happen.

And then there's this weird part towards the end where it's like the film company is setting up the sequel. See, in my ramblings, while I've mentioned Laura's name a few times, I haven't actually talked about how she fits into things.

It seems instead of going with anything resembling Old Man Logan, the writers decided to make Logan old and use that to introduce X-23.

Now I like X-23. I liked the origin, I like the growth of the character, the mentorship with Logan in the comics, and the eventual replacement of Logan as the Wolverine.

This isn't a bad way to introduce a character to a series. 

But there are about another half dozen children who are clones of various characters I'll let interested readers Google.

It is these kids who help Wolverine, who in fact, wind up killing Pierce.

But apparently, all of their unique abilities are no match against X-24! Who by the way while being younger than Logan, is much older than Laura so forced growth or some other unexplained bits?

So, of course, Wolverine has to go all out against his evil younger self, and this gives Laura the opportunity to use the magical adamantium bullet because Wolverine's own claws or her own claws aren't made of the same material...

My ramblings don't even cover the theme of Cracked, and it's a bit about this being a poorly veiled rip off of Children of Men...

If Children of Men doesn't get some rentals out of Logan just to see the comparisons, I'd be surprised. It's a good movie on it's own rights and in my opinion, superior in many ways to Logan.

So do Logan have no redeeming qualities?

I know I'm hacking a lot at it here, but it's mainly in disbelieve over all the praise it's been getting. Wolverine being a loner and helping a young girl is almost literally the playbook of Logan's character growth in the very first X-Men movie with Rogue.... okay,  rambling again.

Positive bits.

Action sequences are all out and pull no punches. If you're the type who always wanted to see the Hulk punch through a man but were left hanging by the PG-13 ratings, well, limbs are severed, heads are decapitated, and action aplenty fills the film. If you're an action buff, there are several scenes to enjoy. Even the car chase scene is robust.

Professor X is played to great effect by Patrick Steward. I've loved Patrick Steward ever since seeing him in Excalibur and man, I'm not saying he's done no bad roles, but he nails it as a semi-lucid Professor X here. 
Mind you, half the time I think he's missing the point of not getting that Wolverine is literally dying with such brilliant phrases as "Logan, you still have time." but there are interactions between Professor X and X-23, as well as between Professor X and Logan that click and add much-needed humor to the film. The history between Logan and Professor X is so thick you could cut it with an adamantium knife. 

Some future bits that are coming up, seem well timed. There are trucks with no human drivers. There are drones in use. There are robotic limbs on active soldiers. I know some may feel that the last one is pushing it, but man, 3-D printing and the whole field of what can be done to replacing missing limbs has come a tremendous way since even the first X-Men movie came out.

Hugh Jackman's 'presence'. He plays an old dying Logan well. He's got a lot of gravitas in his interactions with others and comes across as someone waiting to die and does it well. In many instances, unlike some fiction works I've read, Logan is older. He's probably not a fit a fighter as Laura even. And he's sick. And he's bitter. And he's got a duty to kill one of his oldest friends before that brilliant brain goes off in a populated area and then to kill himself with his magic bullet. And he's ready for that.

But in his interactions with the world itself? Some are like, "He's a father figure! They are a family!" and I'm bliking wondering if they saw the same movie I did. Like the touching scene from the trailer where Logan violently shakes her hand off? Or where he continually tells her to get away from him? Or that he only originally helped because of money? That he knows he's dying and like a sick animal, wants to be away from others so muh that he's practially unbearable to be around and in that same vein, to be the main character of the movie?

Logan is a fun action flick that earns it's rating but all this talk of "best super hero movie" ever tells me that either the branch of best is a low held title or that Christian Bale's Dark Knight trilogy is already so out of modern memory that real villains with real actors need to make a come back.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Classic Reprints and Modern Sensibilities

Gary Con is an Old School Renaissance (OSR) convention.

It's not my thing but I've never been much of a convention goer anyway. I mainly hit the convention scene to either run games or to find out the latest news and of course, buy the latest and sometimes exclusive products.

At this Gary Con, Goodman Games made a few announcements.

One of them was Kickstarter for DCC Lankhmar. This news didn't strike me as particularly impressive because it's the worst kept secret ever. Goodman Games already has a few adventurers out for it and it's a known factor that it was going to be coming out anyway.

On the other hand, the announcement of Classic D&D Modules being reprinted and having original stats and 5th edition stats? That was interesting.

And for most, it was met with a cheer.

Some insisted it was needless and a cash grab.

Cash grab? The old joke that applies to so many hobbies also applies here. "How do you get a small fortune in role-playing games?"

"Start with a large fortune."

But are all of the complaints about the nature of reprinting the classics invalid?

1. It's a cash grab: Well, it's true that Goodman Games may find it more profitable than Wizards of the Coast to publish a book. Looking at Wizards of the Coast, they've only done the work on a handful of the 5th edition books. A small handful in a small handful of products. If it's a cash grab, it's a weirdly designed one.

2. Goodman Games boasted that 4th edition was the game that Gary would have developed! As a gamer, that sounds like nonsense. As a person who knows what marketing is? Why wouldn't he say it? And in actual Dungeon Crawl Classics? Here's where I challenge you. If you never played Sellswords of Punjar, you missed out on a great heavily Appendix N influenced adventure. Slums, beggar kings, hidden dangers, hidden treasures and more! Hell, I wish that we were getting a Kickstarter of Punjar as opposed to Lankhmar.

It's not that I don't love Lankhmar, but man, I'm a mature gamer. That means I've seen TSR's version, I've seen Mongoose Games version. I've read the books the material is based on a few times. I'm not sure how much "new" material that Goodman will be able to bring to the table.

3. How can they afford to do it? They can't do anything without a Kickstarter. Again, as a gamer and regular dude, I can see the 'questioning' here. But let's come to reality. Many companies aren't using Kickstarter JUST for the funding, they're using it as a marketing tool. As the fees and issues of Kickstarter rise and ebb, the utility of the device may change. But for now? It's 'hip, Kickstarter' and it's 'cool' and it acts, regardless of what Kickstarter or any publisher tells you, as a great preorder system so publishers can figure out how much to print and make. Does every game publisher NEED to acKickstarter? Probably not. Is using it right now still a good deal and a great way of advertising and building a community? Apparently so.

Now feeling that the whole system of Kickstarter is being abused as only a preorder system? Again, I can see where that line of thinking is coming from. But hey, actually DOING things is hard. You know, like coming out with a rival system to Kickstarter? Like putting your own skin in the game? Like having some system where you can't be an established player? And who's going to vet all that? Counter culture is weird to me sometimes. "OMG! I can't like the thing anymore! But I used to love the thing!"

4. These adventures don't need any conversion! What next? Conversion for the old coloring books and the hex maps? Some of these points were pretty funny when posted with the covers. There seems to be this weird bit where the fact that the product is covering multiple functions, a reprint with more than just a single thing in it, is getting mixed up with the 'need' for there to be any conversion. It's a matter of convenience and WoTC would be foolish not to take advantage of print medium having conversions for the game that's actually on the shelves right now.

5. Gary Con was ruined by these announcements! It stole all the air out of the room! Blinks. Man, I didn't go to the convention but if a product announcement messed up your convention you got problems. Having said that, several other people whose opinions I put pretty good stock on and would give them high ranks in terms of 'honesty' in keeping the spirit of OSR alive, had great times. Maybe it's a problem where commercial issues start meeting reality but man, that complaint is highly personal so more power to someone who earnestly believes it.

6. Goodman Games blah blah blah: Sometimes I see some complaints about character or validity or 'old school creed' and all I can think is shut up. It's not that you shouldn't have an opinion of what is old school and what isn't, but damn, role playing games are going to be split so fine down these self-made definitions that it's going to look like a record store right before they went out of business with ten thousand different music sections that just made things harder to find.

For me, Goodman Games has 'earned' it's old school creed not necessarily in game mechanics but in the spirit.

I've played numerous adventurers in the line. Some are old school death traps. Some are exploration. Some have a mix of both.

The design and art and other bits are often, I don't want to say slavish imitations of the older games, but pay a lot of homage to them.

Their own game, if you feel does not draw heavily on Appendix N, or worse, you feel that Appendix N in its original guide, isn't what the game should be based on, you are not playing with the same reference as every other player who is playing with that reference, which, may not even be old-school in its mechanics but is certainly old school in its feel and origins.

Good for Goodman Games and hopefully it brings MORE of the older stuff back.