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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