Monday, December 28, 2009

Interactive Fiction Review: Dragon Age: Origins

There are plenty of reviews of the computer role playing game Dragon Age: Origins, but I wanted to take a look at the software as a piece of interactive fiction.

5/5

The main story arc of a fantasy hero or heroine facing down a world threatening evil is the spine of any story you can experience in Dragon Age: Origins. It is the personalities, relationships, and the details that are under the player's control. Your choices determine what kind of person the hero is, good or evil, pure or corrupt, innocent or hedonistic rake hell. And what kind of hero you have brings out different qualities in the supporting cast of the story.

Conversation is by "pick a line." The screen shows a close up of the person you are talking to. You click on what to say at the bottom of your screen. If the game designers don't provide an option, you can't create your own. Most of the time there is a "cut to the chase" option, where you focus on the main story problem, a few probing questions that can give you deeper understanding of the situation, and a snarky insult or two.

Once you say something, the supporting character replies in smooth animation, and you hear it spoken by a voice actor and see the text at the top of your screen. It can be as short as a "No." or as long as a song.

Sometimes your options include actions, such as "Kiss her" instead of dialog. When she deflects your kiss with a joke, you have the option of laughing it off or showing her how serious you are. It's amazing how easy it is to flirt if your dialog is all chosen from a menu. There is no problem telling in advance which response is going to piss her off when you see it in text, juxtaposed with some serious heart-felt sentiments. If real life were like this, my dating days would have been much less stressful.

The graphics are very good, and can show a lot of emotion. Morrigan appears cold and callus almost all of the time, but every once in a while her face registers a deep sadness and regret if what you tell
her pierces her defenses.

Most of the time, the choices that you have made in the past are reflected in how people treat you and what your current choices are. You get so used to that, that when it doesn't happen, you are thrown out of the illusion and are slapped in the face that you are just dealing with a piece of software. The worst example of that I ran into was in the elven ghetto called the alienage. I had just defeated a secret conspiracy, came out a back door, and ran into a blind man who wanted to give me a quest to look for a secret conspiracy. I wanted to say "I just did it!" but that was not an option.

As the supporting cast reacts to you, their attitude changes. If they like you a lot, it might lead to romance depending on the person and your reactions. Anyone who likes and trusts you more becomes more powerful in the action scenes. You can find or buy gift items and then give them to your friends to further improve their mood. Different characters respond to different gifts in unique ways. Their dialog will often include throw away lines that are clues to what items would please them most.

At it's heart, Dragon Age: Origins, is a game. You can't not save the world, except by putting the game down. You can't just do the interactive fiction bits and not play the game. But if you like the game anyway, the story will drag you into the interaction. Which is done well enough to make you forget you are playing a game.

My wife walked by while I was conversing with a character, saw them speaking, and asked "Are you watching a movie?"

No, I was in the movie.

Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like urban fantasy, but it's dominated by women writers and after a while the girly-girl and lady-porn aspects can distance me. Well, at least the girly-girl scenes. :)

I picked this up because Jim Butcher is the best selling male author of urban fantasy, and he has a male protagonist. I'm writing an urban fantasy, and I have a male protagonist, so there is my motivation.

Great, book, with powerful, muscular writing. Not a girly-girl scene in sight, and plenty of great fantasy-noir action. The magical action choreography was riveting, and there were parts where I found myself unable to sit and read -- I was so pumped up I had to stand and pace while reading.

The protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a Wizard/Private Eye in Chicago, and people are turning up dead in gruesome ways and it looks like Harry better find and stop the killer or he will be next.

The world building is well done, if a little inconsistent. Vampires, fairies, wizards and more exist in the shadows of our modern world. Magic and technology do not mix well, and Harry's mere presence causes machines to fry. In this world, most people do not believe in magic, but there is plenty of proof and plenty of believers, so I had to shut down the part of my mind that insisted this magic stuff would be on CNN 24x7.

While some of the initial character motivations were lost to me in the world building of the first few chapters, once the plot was rolling, I couldn't put the book down. Lots of quirky minor characters, including a horny spirit who lives in a skull in Harry's basement, gave the book a wise guy fantasy feel. Harry's cluelessness with the ladies was ladled on a bit too strong, but I have the feeling Harry will be working on this problem in the rest of the series.

Quibbles aside, I loved this book. I read it on my Kindle, and wanted to read faster and faster, so I was alway pressing the next page button before I finished the current page. I need to stop doing that.

If you like noir and fantasy, check out Harry Dresden.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Game Book Review: The Radical's Handbook

Dark Heresy RPG: The Radical's Handbook Dark Heresy RPG: The Radical's Handbook by Fantasy Flight Games


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This supplement to the Dark Heresy role playing game covers radicals. A radical, in this game-world, is someone in the Inquisition who uses the tools of the enemy to get things done. Deamon weapons, xenos tech, anything proscribed, as long as it gets the job done.

The book includes game mechanics for players who wish to stray down the radical path, and for game masters who wish to use radicals against their players. There are alternate career ranks like Sin Eater and Tainted Psyker, and elite advance packages including Deamon Vessel and The Exorcised. And plenty of radical toys for players or adversaries.

Also covered are many different radical cults: including those that believe they can enslave chaos to do the Emperor's work, those that believe have damned themselves by using chaos, and there is no salvation, and radicals who believe that the Imperium is stagnating to death and must be forced into radical change.

A topic that is not covered, but I wish is were, is what happens to an Adepta Soritas who goes radical?

There is some repetition of material between this and Disciples of the Dark Gods, such as deamon weapons. While the book is useful to players who wish to be radicals, it has many spoilers. A GM who is worried about this might want to change a few names, and not to protect the innocent.

This book would be useful for an Dark Heresy GM. Radicals make great opponents, even to other radicals. For those who want to run a radical campaign, this is indispensable. Plenty of great artwork, and a fun read for any Dark Heresy player or Games Master.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Review: Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk

Magic to the Bone (Allie Beckstrom, #1) Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I met Devon Monk at Orycon last weekend. She was on an Urban Fantasy panel, and she's sharp and sounded like she knew what she was about. And she sets her Urban Fantasy in Portland. I'm writing an Urban Fantasy set in Portland.

So out came my Kindle and 42 seconds later I had Magic to the Bone.

It's a fun, fast read. Allie Beckstrom is a Hound, a person who uses magic to track down other magic users, like the person who almost kills a young boy in Johns Landing. She runs into Zayvion Jones, a close lipped man who has been hired by her father to watch her.

Violence, romance, and some very intense magic ensues as Allie tries to stay alive. And when she uses magic, she often looses memories. Large parts of her life are gone, and the more she uses, the less she can recall. A serious price to magic.

The book is in first person, from Allie's point of view, except for a few scenes in third person that center around a strange prisoner called Cody. Since it's in Allie's PoV, it's very jarring when she can't remember what happened a few pages ago. The reader feels the price she pays.

I would give this four stars, except for the ending. I enjoyed the entire book, but the ending did not grab me. Will the other books have endings more to my liking? I liked this enough to want to find out.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book Review: Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. I loved reading this book.

It concerns a man called Cheradenine Zakalwe, a warrior who is hired by a seemingly benign organization, called the Culture, to push wars the Culture can't stop one way or the other. He acts as a warrior, general, spy, and commando as needed.

He is wanted for a major mission, but he has vanished. Sma, a woman who is his handler goes out to find him for this critical mission.

The structure of the book is part of the reading pleasure. There are two alternating sets of chapters that thread together. One chapter thread is in the book's present and each chapter moves forward in chronological order. These chapters are titled "One," "Two," and so on. The intervening chapters are exploring Zakalwe's past, and they are moving backwards in time with each chapter. These are titled "XIII," "XII," counting down as they go further into the past.

And Zakalwe has a deeply troubled past.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book Review: Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett

Eisenhorn (A Warhammer 40,000 Omnibus) Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally published as three novels, this is well written fiction set in a game world: the gothic science fiction game setting known as Warhammer 40k. I hate the idea of game world novels, but this book is surprisingly enjoyable. The author added two short stories between the novels, and I have to say, the first short story blew me away. The second was very good as well.

While the novels are SF thrillers, the short stories are mystery/horror, and my favorite parts of the collection.

The taught pacing kept me turning pages and staying up late. My main criticism: I found the ending a bit underwelming. It made sense, wrapped up the main threads, and was well written. But after a wild train ride with plenty of high points, it was just one more. I wanted something bigger.

That said, quite an enjoyable read. The emotional highs and lows were well done and carried me along. The action scenes were fast and furious.

If you like gothic space opera, you'll like it. If you have any interest in the Warhammer 40k world, read this book. If you play Dark Heresy, you *must* read this book.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Game Book Review: Rogue Trader RPG: Core Rulebook

Rogue Trader RPG: Core Rulebook Rogue Trader RPG: Core Rulebook by Fantasy Flight Games


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the new Warhammer 40,000 role playing game from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). I'm looking at the collector's edition, but aside from the binding, the paper, and the case it comes in, it's the same content as the normal edition.

I can think of two types of people who may be interested in this book, and I'll try to address each of them. Number one, people who are interested in playing the game, either as a player or a Games Master (GM). Second, since this is an offshoot of Dark Heresy, another game set in the same grim future, would Rogue Trader be useful as a source book for that game?

What's special about this game? The players start out with their own starship, and in charge of a crew that numbers in the tens of thousands. They have so much money, they don't bother to count it. They are outside the Empire of Man, and a law unto themselves (mostly). There is starship combat, exploration, black market dealing, and buying and selling of entire worlds. Big scope.

All the rules for playing the game are here in this one book. This core book is for both the GM and the players. You can count on plenty of supplements being published in the future, but they are not required. You can buy this book, some dice, and play for years.

The rule set is based on the same rules used in Dark Heresy. And the Dark Heresy rules were based on the rules from the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. Which is interesting, because FFG just abandoned those rules for Warhammer Fantasy Role play and are coming out with a total redesign for a third edition.

In any case, players familiar with Dark Heresy will feel right at home in Rogue Trader. In fact you can bring your Dark Heresy characters right in and they will work in Rogue Trader adventures. Combat works the same way, the skills and talents overlap considerably, and equipment is interchangeable. Psychic power has gotten a makeover, and is more similar to the rules for everything else, abandoning the dice pool for the same percentile dice roll used for navigating a starship, shooting a bolt gun, or charming an ambassador. There are conversions from Rogue Trader psychic powers to those in Dark Heresy and back again.

Rogue Trader is a fine sourcebook for Dark Heresy GMs. They could use almost everything in this book. Not the profit and commerce rules, but pretty much everything else. Dark Heresy characters at the end of rank five are about as powerful as starting Rogue Trader characters. A heretic Rogue Trader would be an interesting and powerful high level challenge for a group of Dark Heresy acolytes near their top ranks.

For people unfamiliar to Dark Heresy, the basic rules are simple: roll percentile dice to do anything, trying to roll you skill or under. If you roll well under or well over, special things happen, either for or against you. Complexity comes from what skills you have, how they are modified, and what toys (more on that later) you get to use. Like most role playing games, the complexity is layered on, and the game starts out with a limited number of choices and then grows more interesting as new avenues open up. Note that anything Warhammer 40,000 is not realistic science fiction simulation. Over the top cool beats realism 100% of the time in this Gothic future.

What if you know nothing about the Warhammer 40,000 world? Unlike the new fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, this book is fun to read. It is drenched in deep background. I think you could pick up the main thrusts of this grim and Gothic future with just this book. If you want more, there are plenty of books, games (computer and tabletop), and websites full of 40K backstory. Certainly for a player, this is all you need. GM's will probably be drawn to finding out more. I'm sure FFG will be cranking out supplements for some time full of information.

I am impressed with the starship combat rules. Every player character has important work to do, every round. The rules cover ramming and boarding action. The rules are abstract, cinematic, and evocative. But if you get a direct hit on your opponent's warp drives? Try not to be too close and get sucked into the warp, perhaps forever.

But is it pretty? The art is fine, about on the level of a good graphic novel. Sometimes a very good graphic novel. Which is about par with most of art in Dark Heresy. However, it doesn't have the truly great art found mostly at Chapter Heads of Dark Heresy.

Problems:
There is no way to land on a planet. The players can design their own starship, but the book doesn't mention shuttles.
The rules cover how skilled the starship crew is, but not how that skill could be improved.
They mention retainers, which sound like high level crew members, but there are no rules to cover them.
There are suggestions on what to do if no one wants to play the Rogue Trader, but not the other top crew positions. What if there is no player navigator? And the crew is fairly unskilled? The ship might never go to its intended destination. That's when I think a high level NPC would be hired, but the GM will have to wing this.

Role Playing Game Checklist
  • Character Creation: Yes, including a varied background that allows characters to share past history with each other.
    • Character Origins cover Home World, Birthright (childhood), Lure of the Void (why they are driven to leave the Empire), Trials and Travails (past history), Motivation, and Career.
    • The career paths are: Rogue Trader, the captain; Arch-militant, the combat monster; Astropath Transcendent, the blind telepath; Explorator, the bionic engineer; Missionary, the fanatic priest; Navigator, the three eyed mutant who can guide the ship through the warp; Seneschal, the expert who can uncover the secrets; and Void-master, the pilot. There is plenty of room to customize each career, and all of them are useful in personal and ship to ship combat.
  • Cool Toys: Oh, just starships and chainswords (chainsaw-swords) and power armor. And alien artifacts, and, and, and...
  • Cool Powers: Every career has it's own shtick, a way to do something cool no one else can. Both the Astropath and the Navigator have psychic abilities.
  • GM Bits: A chapter on how to GM, three chapters on background, a chapter on bad guys and aliens, and a starting adventure (players should not read!)
  • Player Controlled Storytelling: Not much, not required, but some. Players are encouraged to come up with descriptions of their home world. Players can take the initiative and help create endeavors to increase their wealth, power and prestige. On a scale of 1 (4E) to 10 (Burning Wheel), I'd give Rogue Trader a 3 or a 4, depending on how it's played.
  • World Background: Well, Galaxy background. Three chapters devoted to it, and the rest of the book is drenched in world building. The game assumes the players will be exploring the Koronus Expanse, a sector of the galaxy that gets it's own chapter.
  • Monsters and Bad Guys: 36 pages of Adversaries and Aliens. You can also bring in any from Dark Heresy.
  • Sample Adventure: Yes, which introduces the players to the Koronus Expanse and touches on a some of the high points of the game. It looks like a fun one.

Overall: Great game. I'm still having fun with my Dark Heresy game, and will use this as a sourcebook until I, and my players, are ready to move over. I'm looking forward to it.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the Yiddish Policeman's Union first, and I really didn't want to like Kavalier & Clay better. Because I loved the Yiddish Policeman's Union, and because people said I had to. I'm so contrarian. They tie. For first place.

Both books deal with the Holocaust from an American perspective. This one deals with two Jewish wiseguys who help start the comic book business from offices in the Empire State Building. One wiseguy, Clay, is American, the other, Kavalier, a Czech refugee from Nazi occupied Prague.

The book is about many things. Secrets, love, the Holocaust, the Empire State Building, magic, Jews, Harry Houdini, the Golem of Prague, sex, and Comics. It is written as history, with fake footnotes and all. As if the Escapist, the comic book the characters create, was real and has fans and collectors today.

After the Yiddish Policeman's Union came out, much was made of Chabon writing genre fiction. After being awarded a Pulitzer for Kavalier and Clay and everything! Some people were upset. They obviously didn't read Kavalier & Clay closely. It drips with love of comics, magic, science fiction, and their fans. There are a few brief moments of magical realism in Kavalier and Clay, and references to Lovecraft pop up in the oddest of places.

Wonderful.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

RPG: Mouse Guard Impressions

I GM'd Mouse Guard for my old Seattle RPG group this past weekend. On the whole it was a great success. It took about an hour for all of us to get into it, and understand the rules.

When GMing, the rules tell you to find two challenges for the party, and just go for it. What they don't mention is what if the party succeeds? On failures, you can add all sorts of fun twists, but successes just succeed. Keeping the GM turn rolling for two hours could require a lot more than two encounters.

I used the sample mission "Find the Grain Merchant," and the sample characters. I used two others from other missions as I had six players. I added a lot more complications, as the game would have been over (the GM part) in about 30 minutes otherwise.

The Player Turn was interesting. Using the examples in the book, I could see that the players could keep the adventure going by spending points, but I'm still unsure how many points they would need to go and get into trouble and find the conspirators. The rules are very clear on how to spend points to heal. They need work on how the players can go off and create story.

All six players enjoyed the game and wanted to play more. Always a good sign. I suspect a rereading of the rules and some searches on forums will be in order before I play again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Review: Light by M. John Harrison

Light Light by M. John Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Good: M. John Harrison's descriptions are so evocative, so immediate, they thrust me headlong into the scene. The pacing continually picked up as I read the novel, by the end I found myself hitting the next page button on my kindle before I finished the last line or two on the page. Pacing was relentless. The ending was a knockout, and brought revelations that astounded me. Wow.

The Bad: If I hadn't read this for my book club (Other Worlds Book Group, in Lake Oswego, Oregon), I probably would have put it down and never finished it. It's an ensemble book, and of all the point of view characters, I found it a slog to read all but one: Seria Mau Genlicher. A serious anti-hero, she grabbed my attention from the start. The others made my eyes blur, and wonder why I wasn't doing something productive, like playing World of Warcraft. Thank god for Harrison's stunning descriptions, that's all I had to hang on to. About a fifth of the way through the book, the slog stopped and real enjoyment took over. Rebeca, from my book group, didn't get to that point until midway through the book.

The Ugly: What could be more boring than sex or serial killing? In this book, not much. An alien race that looks like Irish junkies who masturbate every 20 minutes sounds like a set-up for some edgier version of Douglas Addams, but in Light it's just more evidence of how dreary everything is. We get a serial killer who claims he's driven to kill, but really seems unconnected.
Do women exist who don't greet men with an offer/demand of instant sex? It's hard to find them in this book, and given how distant, gray, and emotionless almost all the sex is depicted as, you have to wonder why they bother.

And Yet: I ended up loving this book. The ensemble starts to work, often by the introduction of minor characters, like Anna, who bring focus and insight into characters who failed to grab me at the start.
The structure of the book is a real strength, with jumps from the present day to 400 years in the future, that tie together seemlessly.
The cloud of despair lifts as the pace throttles up to full tilt, and by the end the book is awash in a gonzo intensity.

If you start this book and find yourself wavering, keep going. If you're going to go into Light, go deep.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: Bullies Bastards, & Bitches by Jessica Page Morrell

Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction by Jessica Morrell


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have antagonist problems, this is a great book covering techniques to build compelling bad guys & gals & monsters. I took two workshops with Jessica Morrell at Willamette Writers, but not one on antagonists. But this book was there! I enjoyed her so much I picked up two of her books, and this is the on I read first, because my novel needed bad-guy help, STAT!

Well done, and covers a variety of baddies, including anti-heroes, bad-boys, bad-girls, serial killers, sociopaths, and more. There is a chapter on how to match a hero to a villain. The last chapter covers writing bad-guys for young adult or younger markets. Plenty of good advice and techniques to create a believable and frightening antagonist.

Friday, August 21, 2009

RPG review: Mouse Guard

Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game by Luke Crane


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I was a fan of the comic (I've never seen it), I might give this five stars. I didn't really buy this rpg for the game world, I bought it because I had read that it was a simple introduction to Luke Crane's game design. He has rabid fans, and many people consider his Burning Wheel game the best roleplaying game ever designed. Mouse Guard is a simpler version of the Burning Wheel system.

So, as long as I was at Guardian Games, shelling out the big bucks to get on the waiting list for Space Hulk, I picked up a copy of Mouse Guard.

Wow. I can see what makes people crazy for this.

The mechanics of the game demand real roleplaying on the part of the players. They encourage things like using your character's trait, such as Fearless, *against* yourself. As in I'm so fearless, I'm going to race across the raging river, not even trying to keep myself from being swept away. Which gives you a bigger chance of being swept away. And that's a good thing in this game. You get rewarded for making things harder on yourself by playing true to your character's persona.

To really stand things on their head, the Games Master (GM) only runs the adventure for the first half of the game session. Then he turns it over to the Player Characters (PCs) who get to drive the story, repair the damage done to them by the GM, pick fights, and finish player goals they didn't complete during the GM's turn. The more times you used your own personality traits to hurt yourself during the GM turn, the more things you get to do in the Player's Turn.

You also get rewarded for roleplaying your characters core beliefs and instincts. Cool stuff.

There is a lot of player involvement in the action and story telling. This is as a far cry from a game focused only on combat min/maxing as I've ever seen in playable game.

Mouse Guard won't be for everyone. If you want hard and fast non-negotiable rules to test yourself against, this is not your game. Often table discussion is required. Does everyone agree that my mouse's use of fearless really can harm my chances of crossing the river safely?

If games like Nobilis are based on GM-Fiat, Mouse Guard has a lot of Group-Fiat. The GM can lay the law down now and again, but for the most part, everyone gets a say.

Oh, and you're a mouse with a sword. Not everyone will like that. I read a bunch of the Redwall books when my son was a lad, and it reminds me of that world. You are a tiny mouse, not a man sized mouse. Tree roots are big obstacles. Owls are ten times your size. You grab your sword, and defend the mouse territories. It's not what you fight. It's what you fight for.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TS Luikart shows the love

In my last blog I talked about modding one of TS Luikart's adventures from Purge the Unclean. On the FFG forums, he made my day:

I think your mods are excellent John. I'm likely to recommend them. I'm afraid Baron Hopes ended up getting a bit more... muddled than I would have liked. I hope in the fullness of time to, let us say, "set the record straight" and fill in the full scope of the story.

At any rate, I suggest any GM that intends to run PtU should check out John's ideas. I'm especially fond of the "blood-flamethrowers".

There is some subtext there, I expect the editors and he clashed a bit.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

RPG: Scenario Modding on Baron Hopes for Dark Heresy

A bit of background:

When I'm Games Mastering, I love published adventures. They have pretty pictures, nice maps, game stats all done up, and, hopefully, great settings, plots, and characters. I take these works, and then I put them on the operating table and modify them.

Yes, I also love crafting my own adventures. But that takes time. It can take 5 - 10 hours of design time for 1 hour of play time. And it can be fun. So I do it, just not all the time.

Modding an adventure lets you keep what you like and fix what you don't.

Baron Hopes is the last of three adventures for Dark Heresy in the Purge the Unclean book, by T. S. Luikhart. I really enjoyed the first two, and the slight mods I did on them were personalizations, where I brought in back stories of my players and tied them to the game. I like T. S. Luikhart's work, but no one is perfect.

WARNING: Spoilers for Baron Hopes, don't read this if you are going to be a player in this adventure.

These earlier adventures had the players going head to head against a criminal heresy called The Serrated Query. Baron Hopes, as written, had the players going against an ex-ally of the Serrated Query. With a leader who was invulnerable to harm unless the players somehow figured out the one thing that could harm him. No clues were provided for the players. So the GM either had to tell them, let them die, or have some non-player character (NPC) solve the adventure for them.

The Serrated Query hook in Baron Hopes just fades away, and there is no arc to to that long standing feud. There is also a zombie apocalypse, and I had recently run one of my own design (Scrivner's Star), and didn't think we needed another so soon.

The Mod: I brought back the Serrated Query, big time. They did not take kindly to Morirr, the villain in Baron Hopes, and after years of study found his weekness: The blood of his arch enemy, Barron Ulbrexis. So they found tissue samples of the Barron, and cloned him. They have a four year old boy they are pumping for blood. Ick! They have modified flamers that inject the boy's blood into the flame.

The Serated Query also did not take kindly to what the players had done to them in previous adventures, so they have been working in the shadows. Their plan is to get the players and Morirr to tear each other up. Then kill any survivors. They have no idea that Barron Ulbrexis is still alive, and working with the players.

I have the party trailed by a SQ agent with a "blood-flamer" who is also an old enemy of a party member. Eventually, they capture the agent and get some ideas on what's going on, and get the "blood-flamer." This shifts Morirr to a secondary threat, as the SQ come in force at the climatic battle.

The Serrated Query are lead by a major leader, and backed by elite troops. They also bring in help from Dark Eldar Corsairs whom the players had tangled with before. This helped create a sense of resolution.

The Serrated Query also had a floating space helmet that opened like a clam shell. It floated over to the Psyker player character, where he saw the two mono blades at neck level. The helmet's mission was to cut off the Psyker's Head, affix it to in-helmet life support, and float away as he screamed. It took the player a burned Fate Point to get out of that one.

I still used the nice maps, the cool characters, and the subplots of the adventure. One of the cool characters is very obnoxious and loathsome, so I had his boss have a vendeta against one of the player's families. He gave orders to shoot off the player character's legs, and when that was impossible, he told his men to just kill the player. Killing this side-show boss seemed to please my players emensely.

So, if you are a GM, and have a published adventure, don't let what is written railroad you into a game not to your liking. Take scalpel, hacksaw, and chainsword, and release your inner Frankenstein.

(Any Dark Heresy GMs who want the crunchy details, let me know.)

Edit: I put the crunchy bits up on the FFG forums: http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_foros_discusion.asp?efid=101&efcid=3&efidt=178159
Scroll down to my second post.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

Lavinia Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This retelling of Virgil's Aeneid from Lavina's point of very is blissfully mythic. I prefer ancient world to medieval fantasy, because people in the ancient world experienced life through a mythic mindset, more so than in the middle ages, or so it seems. You could say the Australian aboriginal dreamtime was real, because those people used it to navigate their world, and the mythic world of Vesta, Juno, and Mars was real because the Latins' mental model of the world revolved around them.

Ursula Le Guin really worked at her research, and made pre-Roman Italy come alive through the eyes of Lavina, a king's daughter. When young Lavina gets a message from a dying poet of the future (Virgil), she realizes she is part of an epic fate. Her older, wiser, voice as a narrator comes from not from an old woman, but from her story. This is a story narrated by the story itself.

The reader need not know the epic poem, everything needed by the novel is layered into the tale. The writing is powerful, the story incredible, and the characters both exotic and approachable.

I can see why this won the Locus award for the best fantasy novel of the year.

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Writer's Point of View: This is way too impressive. Choosing to have the story tell itself is such a great concept. While the pacing is slow, it feels prefect for this world where even kings walk from town to town. Since the Aeneid didn't go into detail on Lavina's life, there is plenty of room for tension. Yet the foreshadowing is upfront and inescapable. Lavinia learns of the poem of her life before she becomes part of the poem. Le Guin brings the ancient world to life by illuminating the differences of the pre-Roman Latins with the Greek influenced Virgil. By showing us the rituals used to great the new day. By showing us how sacred a thing fire was in those times. Showing, not telling.

The phrase "associate with your betters" comes to mind when reading such a well crafted book. I can only hope for a little osmosis.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Willamette Writers Conference 09

I am exhausted and energized, the mark of a great conference. Had a great time with Oregon City poet and illustrator Anne Paris and Portland science fiction writer Garth Upshaw. Mary Rosenblum was there, but was running around like a speed demon from talk to talk. We kept waving to her as she passed the bar.

Workshops of note were Jessica Morrell: The Sizzle: Tension and Suspense in Fiction and Blood, Roses, & Mosquitoes: Writing with Details. Eric Witchey's Short Fiction for Fun, Money, & Skill, The ABC's of Saleable Fiction, and The Mystery of Voice. Mark Schorr's Criminal Thinking for Writers. Jessica was a one-woman grad school for writers, Eric embodied the evil genius of writing, and Mark showed you what makes an evil genius tick.

I picked up a few craft books, and am looking forward to cranking out more and better writing each day.

And Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown asked me to see the first 50 pages of my novel.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this now, prior to seeing the movie. I was not captivated by the series enough to gobble them all up as they came into print, but I enjoy them enough to read them before seeing the movies.

One plus to reading this now, is that I knew Dumbeldor is gay. Which Rowlings never says in the books, but has said in interviews since the series ended. So I got to see the little clues.

The plot carries the story. Harry, for me, is still just the sum of his dire problems. I feel like I know the character of many of the supporting cast better than the protagonist's. I was disappointed that the tragic aspect of Luna has faded and she's just a joke again. The plot, however is strong and kept me turning the pages.

Even at 650 pages, it's a two day read. Now I can see the movie.


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Book Review: Arthus by Christie Golden

World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Arthas, the central, defining bad guy in the World of Warcraft on line roleplaying game, and the good guy gone bad from Warcraft III is one of the strongest characters ever introduced in a computer game. He sets out to save his family, protect his lover, and serve his people as their prince. He ends up destroying everything he touches or is touched by.

This novel of his life is about as good as you could get and stick to the very convoluted script already set down in the game, and memorized by the gamers.

As a straight fantasy novel, there are too many characters, too many details that divert from the story, and little to no tension.

However, the central story is a great one, and Christie Golden does a great job of putting the reader in Arthas's head. Arthas is the main point of view character, but there are some scenes in other PoVs, such is Jaina Proudmore's.

If you have played either of the games, it's great to live though the life of one of video games best loved and loathed anti-hero. If you play WoW, read this book. It's a quick read, and loads of fun.

If you are a parent thinking about this book for your child, the Arthas / Jaina love story is very PG, and all the fun stuff happens off camera. The readability level is in the Y/A zone, albeit with a lot of (game driven) minutia. But your kid probably knows that minutia already.

If you just want a good fantasy novel, there are many better ones.



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Friday, July 17, 2009

Apollo in Slow Mo?


Now that we just had the 40th anniversary of the first time humans ever landed on another world, it made me think. Reading the stories of that era, one thing that struck me was how fast moving it was. Apollo 11 in 1969 to Apollo 17 in 1972.

Only the last mission, Apollo 17 carried a scientist. While amazing science was done on earth with the moon rocks returned by Apollo missions, there really wasn't a lot of time to maximize the scientific discoveries between missions. We are now fairly certain that the Moon was formed when a Mars sized planetoid smashed into the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. When we study the moon rocks, we also study the earth. Cool stuff.

My thought experiment. What if we had spaced out the missions, to study the science and technology between missions? Say every five years, back to the moon? And after the first mission, always bring a scientist?

I'm sure there were economies of scale pumping out a mission every few months, but that was also a problem. The mission was to get to the moon. NASA did that. But when you rush, you miss things.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Book Review: Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler

Ten Second Staircase (Bryant & May Mysteries) Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is my first Bryant & May mystery, but it won't be my last. So funny.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) is assigned case of a woman who was dunked into a vat of formaldehyde filled with floating fetuses. This was her provocative art piece, and provoke it did. The PCU is in danger of being closed down, but if they can solve this case, they can stave off closure. Their only witness, a young boy who was at the museum on a school trip, describes the killer as a 19th century highwayman on a horse. Which makes no sense.

But the highwayman keeps striking minor celebrities throughout a section of London . This patch of London has history that goes back to the Knights Templar, and was where they brought back a jar of Chirst's blood from the holy land.

There is nothing to do but enlist the powers of logic, white witches, cat burglers, police sergeants with a fetish for dressing like 1950s pinups, hackers, and every other loony they can find to stop the highwayman before he can kill again.

I did find some of the social commentary overly pessimistic, but it worked well with the plot.

Bryant & May are both well beyond the normal age for retirement, and are dedicated eccentrics. Bryant is haunted by his past over-reliance on mystics and mumbo jumbo. And toothbrushes. May is haunted by the loss of his daughter, used as bait to capture a vampire (as described by the press). Both have to get beyond their pasts and solve the case before it's too late.


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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Memory Error is in the current Print edition of Golden Visions

You can find my story Memory Error on page five. There is some debate on the position of my story as the first story in the magazine. Did the editor want to start of the magazine with the best, so you keep reading? Or did she want the stories to just keep getting better as you go? You decide.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Book Review: The City & the City, by China Miėville

The City & the City The City & the City by China Miéville


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you get when you take a hard-bitten detective plot and set it in two cities that share the same geography, but the populations of each city ignore, or "unsee" each other? This novel.

The people of both cities don't see the trains, cars, pedestrians, houses, businesses which are "other" even though they share the same space. A "crosshatched" street might be teaming with people and buildings of both cities, but no one notices. Like when people "unsee" the homeless.

And if they do see, then they are in Breach, and the forces of Breach move in. People disappear in Breach, never to be seen again.

Detective Borlu of Beszel finds the body of a young woman. The clues however, indicate her murder was in the other city, Ul Qoma. Shadowy forces are at work. Could there even be a third city, hidden from both?

A great read. I guessed some of the mystery ahead its revelation, but not most.

In some ways this is the most accessible and least weird of China Mieville's adult fiction. But if this is your first Mieville, it could very well be the strangest book you've ever read. Read it, you'll be glad you did.


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Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Wintersmith (Discworld) Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fun Y/A Tiffany Aching book, the third so far. I haven't read the second one yet, but this book is a stand alone story, and that didn't matter. In this book Tiffany is 13, and boys are starting to be an issue. When one of the boys interested in her is the elemental force of Winter, things get a little strange for her.

The story is very much a coming of age tale, where Tiffany is surrounded by adults with their own visions for who and what Tiffany should become. Most of those adults are rather odd witches or hard drinking wee free men. Amid all the insanity, the things that Tiffany cares about, her village and sheep mostly, are threatened, and she has to come up with her own solutions as she grows from girl to young woman. Or young witch.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review: Brasyl

Brasyl Brasyl by Ian McDonald


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars

An amazing and mind blowing book.

This book comes at you with a three braided plot, with one braid in Brazil's colonial past, one in it's urban present, and the other in a strange future. The past follows a Jesuit priest set on a Heart of Darkness quest to stop a renegade Jesuit who has carved out an empire in the Amazon. The present Point of View character is a reality TV show producer who comes up with the idea to have a Reality TV trail of the goalie who lost the 1950 world cup for Brazil and cost the nation decades of self-doubt. The future gives us the world of a high tech bisexual businessman/hustler who falls in love with a beautiful quantum computer hacker.

All of the characters are well drawn and when the braid switches, you get immediately caught up in the life of the next character.

What the reader doesn't get at the start of the book, is how these threads could ever meet up. But meet up they do, so pay attention to the weird stuff, because that's where the tie-in comes from.

Some SF/F books are so subtle in their fantastic elements, you can recommend them to your friends outside the genre. Not Brasyl. This is why you read science fiction. I imagine that readers of literary fiction must feel the same way, "this is such a life altering book, but no one outside of our tribe will understand it. Poor simpletons." This is such a book for the Science Fiction reader. It is truly sad that outsiders couldn't begin to understand. Simpletons....

It's an amazing ride, but I was slightly put off by one of the ideas in the ending. Perhaps only because I had read Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson years ago. I don't want to include any spoilers, so I'll leave it at that. Not enough of a problem for me to take off a star.

The ending was emotionally satisfying and my major disappointment what that it came to an end. If you read Science Fiction, you don't want to miss this. Ian McDonald's best work, and I like Ian McDonald.


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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

You are what you pay attention to.

Winifred Gallagher was a mother of two young girls when she was diagnosed with a cancer that had a great chance of ending her life. Understandably, her mind was full of dread and terror that she would leave her girls motherless. Since she might be living her final days, she decided to focus on, and pay attention to, the things that gave her joy. Her children, a sunset, her family....

Her life changed. While she dealt with bad news on the medical front, she enjoyed the rest of her life. She recovered, and looked back in wonder at what had been a pretty good year.

So she began her research that led to this book. She interviewed neuro-scientists, psychiatric researchers, and others who study the mind and attention. The book covers what it means to focus on something, how it affects your brain, relationships, well being, productivity, and creativity. She covers the effects of drugs and meditation on the brain and its ability to focus. She looks at problems with focus, such as ADHD. And how focus can give life meaning.

Recommended.


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Monday, May 18, 2009

Preorder Memory Error now and Save Money

Golden Visions Magazine is taking preorders for their July edition.

http://www.goldenvisionsmagazine.biz/homepageinformation.html

Scroll down to where you see Our July print issue promises to be one of our best ever!

My story is Memory Error, a story about product testing a new memory enhancing device by implanting it into your own brain....





Game Book Review: Tattered Fates, Part I of the Haarlock's Legacy Trilogy

Dark Heresy RPG: Haarlock's Legacy Volume 1: Tattered Fates Dark Heresy RPG: Haarlock's Legacy Volume 1: Tattered Fates by Fantasy Flight Games


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILER ALERT! This review contains spoilers. Players should turn back now.

Tattered Fates, an adventure book for the Dark Heresy role playing game, will bring many hours of white knuckle gaming to your kitchen table (or wherever you game). The players will have to fight for their lives and sanity from the opening scene, where they wake up groggy and naked in fighting pit as howling beasts approach.

The action then shifts to decadent opulence as the players find themselves in a city given over a masked carnival set in a luxurious pleasure city.

As they uncover more clues about where they are, who sent them there, and what is about to happen when the clock strikes thirteen, they'll be up to their necks in intrigue and insanity.

Sidebars go over scaling the adventure to different party levels, but as written this is for a party of four players from rank four to rank six. However, the scaling suggestions are rather vague, and it is up to the individual games master to be ready. I'd like to see something from Fantasy Flight Games on how to keep adventures challenging yet survivable. I plan on having antagonist reinforcements available for every fight, in case things ever get easy for the players.

I would not recommend this for new Game Masters. Once out of the fighting pits, there is a lot of free form urban role playing. Their are many non-player characters to role play, and they all have an agenda. Experienced GM's should have no problem.

Game Masters who like to personalize published adventures will love this. Tattered Fates provides deep support for customization. The adventure works fine as is, but the framework makes it easy to add on your own subplots.

The adventure has a strong conclusion, but is intended as the first part of a trilogy. I'm hoping the rest of the trilogy lives up to the opener. The meta-arc concerns the Rogue Trader Haarlock, and this adventure works well as a follow on to The House of Dust and Ash adventure from Discipies of the Dark Gods.

The book is published as a 72 page hardback, which is an odd choice for an adventure. I paid $24.95 at my friendly local gaming store. However, it does look good on my shelves, and collectors will appreciate it.

I do.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones

Bold as Love (Gollancz) Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book knocked my socks off. It's not what I expected. Looking at the back of the book, I figured "Rock Stars take over England, it'll be a romp." No. This is an often brutal and savage book, with many scenes of tenderness as well. This is a strong, character driven novel with plenty of plot twists and political turmoil.

There are three protagonists , although Fioridna gets the most Point of View time, especially at the start. She is a singer at war with the founder of her own band, but that's nothing compared to her other problems. Sage is the leader of a band of serious lunatics (they all were hologram "masks" of skulls over their heads). Ax is a guitar hero who has been thinking of leading England for a long time. As Great Britain falls apart, they find themselves riding a wave of counterculture dissent into political power. But who is really in charge, and can any good come of this?

The near future world building is very cool. More cool than realistic, which makes a great story, but not a probable future. The tech is very interesting, but low key. This is a story of characters in an exciting and exceptional setting.

The only science fiction readers I wouldn't recommend this to is anyone struggling with addition. There is a ton of drug use, and even though it's been decades, it made me think "ooh, that sounds fun." Except for the hurling scenes.

This is the first book in a series, but it does stand alone fairly well. I thought it was a stand alone book until very near the end, when Gwyneth Jones kept reminding me of the plot threads that hadn't been tied up yet.

I look forward to reading more.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Game Book Review: Dungeon Master's Guide, 4th Edition

Dungeon Master's Guide: A 4th Edition Core Rulebook (D&D Core Rulebook) Dungeon Master's Guide: A 4th Edition Core Rulebook by Wizards RPG Team


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

Odd as it may seem, I often read game books for pleasure, even if I may never get to play the game. My wife reads cookbooks the same way. She can taste the food through the text. I can feel the adventure (or not) while reading.

I am playing in a 4E campaign, but not Dungeon Mastering. So I figured I could save the money and just buy the Player's Handbook(s). I have to say the 4E Player's Handbooks are mind numbing to read. They work great as a reference book, but they are all numbers and powers, there is no sense of adventure beyond the art.

The new Dungeon Master's Guide is quite different. I picked it up because I was interested in one rule my DM kept springing on us: the skill challenge. I wondered if I could convert that for use in my Dark Heresy game.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this a very good read, and full of very good advice for taking on the role of a Dungeon Master. In fact, most of the techniques can be used with any role playing system. I'll be raiding this book for ideas for some time to come.

And yes, there is plenty to transfer over to my Dark Heresy game, including skill challenges.



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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Review: The Bone Key

The Bone Key The Bone Key by Sarah Monette


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
This collection of horror short stories filled a dark need I had forgotten I had. By the time I was finishing the second story I was in love. I first discovered Lovecraft almost forty years ago, and it was good. The lack of character and other weaknesses were no matter. Those were stories I was born to read.

Now, I'm older and so much more sophisticated. And along comes Sarah Monette who knows about character (including female characters!), sexuality, and style. But that is not what got me. What got me was that she recreated that feeling of first discovering Lovecraft, and it was perfect.

Like Lovecraft, Monette knows that the thing you can't see is so much more frightening than the thing you can. My two favorite stories are "The Venebretti Necklace" and "Elegy for a Demon Lover."

In her introduction, she cites a story by M. R. James that reduced her to "a quivering wreck. I like that in a guy."

This guy enjoys a woman who can do the same. I hope she writes sixteen more volumes.




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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
This YA novel is the story of a child who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard after his family is murdered. The murderer knows he missed a little child, and continues to hunt the child. It’s a coming of age tale, where the boy is only safe in the graveyard, but safe is a relative term. The ghosts give him the name “Nob”, short for “Nobody.” The world of the living has no idea there is a child growing up in an urban graveyard.

Nob has many adventures, meets many interesting people, including a normal girl, but he knows his parents killer is still out there and wants to kill him. Nob gets into all sorts of trouble, makes some great friends as well as enemies, and needs to use every scrap of knowledge he's learned if he is to avoid his family's fate.

The characters fascinate, and not only Nob, but a cast of characters take on life and help shape the curious lad who lives in a crypt.

A great read.


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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Book Review: Nation

Nation Nation by Terry Pratchett


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one great book. It's a YA coming of age story, and it's the story of our civilization. Or what our civilization would be like if it wanted to be more interesting.

Survivors of a Tsunami gather on a ruined isle, devastated by the loss of everything they have known, in an alternate version of what we call the Pacific Ocean. An English girl who could become Queen of England should the 137 people ahead of her in the line of succession suddenly die gets shipwrecked by the storm. There she meets a boy who grew up on the island and is it's only survivor.

From this bleak sounding premise comes a warm and funny story of how these two restart their lives and the island. They find amazing discoveries of the past, and confront piracy and colonialism while growing into indomitable young adults. The magical powers of trousers, rude birds, and tree climbing squid are all touched upon.

The sad thing about this book is how wonderful it is. Terry Prachet is suffering from early onset Alzheimers. He makes it all look so effortless, but each word is a gem. And it does it all within the constraints of a YA novel.


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Book Review: Case Histories

Case Histories: A Novel Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novel is built out of a collection on mysteries, all of which are braided together as one British private investigator takes all three cases simultaneously. The characters are captivating, as are the red herrings. When Jackson's life gets threatened, the reader cannot be sure which plot the treat might be coming from.

There are many points of view, but private investigator Jackson Brodie is the bridge between them. Besides the mysteries, you get to know Jackson's broken family life, including a changeling ex-wife, and a young daughter caught in the middle.

As the chapters switch points of view, they stutter-step in time. Mostly they are going forward, but often the next scene backtracks a day or so to let you see the same events from the other point of view.

The descriptions, the dialog, and the different points of view were so well done as to be invisible. You are just there, and these intense, and sometimes frightening, people are very real.

Even if you don't normally pick up mysteries, this is a great read.


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Monday, March 30, 2009

Book review: An Evil Guest

An Evil Guest An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
I would never have guessed Gene Wolfe would do a madcap Cthulhu caper, but he did. Fast, funny, and crazy. It has a 1920s feel but is set in a future where the laws of physics are found to be decidedly non-universal. The point of view character, an actress who romances some rather scary men, is way over her head, and is carried on a sea of mythos mischief.
Not one of Wolfe's deeper works, but great fun.


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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Memory Error: New Story coming out in July's Golden Visions (Print)

Memory Error will come out in the July print edition of Golden Visions. I just signed the contract. It's a story about a future where people live so long they can't remember everything. So a wise medical company comes up with a solution. And a wiser neurological researcher helps them work out the kinks. With all that wisdom, what could go wrong?

The site is www.goldenvisionsmagazine.biz for the online edition- with information on how to obtain print (and soon) pdf versions.

The April online edition - came out. Print issues for April should be ready by the end of next week.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Economic Recovery House Meeting

We had an Economic Recovery House Meeting at our house yesterday. People came over to share their stories and brainstorm on how to help President Obama get the recovery rolling. Some people were unemployed, many were underemployed. Small business owners spoke of cutting back and putting off expansion plans. A professor talked of his students who are about to graduate, and are finding they are competing with 700 or 900 applicants for a single job.

Even so, the mood was upbeat. The Republican attack machine couldn't stop Obama the candidate, and we don't believe it will stop President Obama. And we want to help.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Scrivner's Star: Dark Heresy Contest Finalist

My scenario for Dark Heresy is a finalist in their adventure design contest.

Check it out here!

For those who don't know, Dark Hersey is a Gothic Science Fiction roll playing game where the players are members of the Inquisition, and the galaxy is full of rather frightful stuff.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. King Day Book Review: Lion's Blood

Lion's Blood: A Novel of Slavery and Freedom in an Alternate America Lion's Blood: A Novel of Slavery and Freedom in an Alternate America by Steven Barnes


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lion's Blood is perhaps the best book about slavery and race in America I have read, told in an alternate world where Europe is the failed continent and Africa is dominant. That Steven's Barnes is an African American makes the scenes of the "middle passage" all the more powerful.

In the very brief overview of the slave trade I was taught as school, one fact was always mentioned: African slaves were captured and sold to whites by Africans. Somehow this made the slave trade not just the European's fault, it spread the blame around. Well, in this alternate world, European (Irish) slaves as sold to blacks by Europeans (Vikings). This twist helps illuminate what should have been clear: if it weren't for the buyers, the slave trade would not exist.

I won't give away how history changed to put Africa on top, and Europe on the bottom, but it is well thought out and interesting. The bulk of the book takes place on a plantation in Bilalistan, which is where Texas is in our world. The technology level is a little different than in our history, but the year the story stars is 1863 AD, or 1279 in the Islamic calendar.

This story concerns two boys who grow into men together. Aiden, the Irish slave, and Kai, the plantation owners son. Can friendship exist between owner and slave? Can honor?

Aiden sees slavery destroy his family, and becomes involved in the politics surrounding Kai's family. Kai is Muslim, and Aiden a Christian. Kai learns there are truths not told in his schools, and finds a mentor in a visiting Sufi scholar. Not only is Africa dominant, but so is Islam, with poor slaves converting to curry favor with their masters. The slaves mix the religions of their former homes, Christianity and Druid based paganism in much the same way as African religions were mixed to create Voodoo.

The book is told through many points of view, not just the two boys, but it is really their tale. I couldn't put it down.


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Friday, January 16, 2009

Game Book Review: Realm of the Ice Queen: A Guide to Kislev

Realm of the Ice Queen: A Guide to Kislev Realm of the Ice Queen: A Guide to Kislev by Green Ronin


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a well done country book for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying. You'll want the core rulebook to make use of this supplement.

The nation of Kislev is stuck between Chaos and the Empire. The culture is an uneasy blending of Russian and Mongolian.

There are many new professions, including new magical ones, such as "Ice Witch."

The art is well done, mostly Gothic pen and ink.

The country, government (or lack thereof), and major cities are well described. New creatures that roam the steppes go along with new backgrounds.

The adventure in the back is very quick, two sessions at most. There are rules for handling either a group of characters from Kislev or the Empire. However, it was too brief for my tastes. It did give examples of some fine Kislev challenges, and I think it's worth more for mining ideas than anything else.

However, if you are the Games Master of a WFRP game, this book will only be useful as background if you ever plan on sending your players to Kislev. Or let the players come from Kislev. Or just want to read up on Kislev. Otherwise, it won't impact your play.

As a player, you might want this book if you want to be from Kislev, or your GM has placed you there and you want to try some of the new professions. "Hag" and "Ice Witch" are my favorites.

If you are running The Thousand Thrones campaign, this will be very useful, as that campaign concludes deep in the Kislevian wilderness.




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