Around the Jones household the winter is usually prime time for solitaire wargaming. It’s been so ever since John O’Neill and E.E. Knight got me hooked on board games again. And the last two winters the first game I pull out is DVG’s Hornet Leader.
It’s a bit of an odd fit for me, because I’m more of an ancient history guy, and Hornet Leader is all about modern(ish) planes. A lot of its setup is concerned with the differences between types of armaments, which I’ve never been remotely curious about.
Yet the game had such rave reviews from sources I respect that I finally got over the hurdle of disinterest in the subject matter, picked up a copy, and sat down to play. After some trial and error I discovered a grand game. If you like puzzles with a war or tactical theme you’re liable to find yourself captivated. And if you’re one of those who’s already interested in modern planes and the weapons they carry, you may be in heaven. (If this all sounds of interest but you’re more of a speculative fiction person, you might be curious about its expansion, which I’ll introduce at the end of the review.)
At this point there have been scads of manuals with monsters for Dungeons & Dragons, going all the way back to the ’70s and that little booklet titled Monsters and Treasure. But last month a new kind of Monster Manual for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons crept onto the scene, and it’s different from any official D&D monster book that I’ve ever held.
You don’t often see the word “innovative” anywhere close to the word “monster” but I think I might just have to try it: this is an innovative look at how to use monsters in a D&D game. And if 5e isn’t your thing, it could be of use in most retro-clones and related D&D-like games as well. It could help your local DM bring the game’s monsters to more terrifying life.
It’s not just about monsters as stat blocks. It even begins with a framing story, in that it’s purportedly a lore book from a scholar of the fantastic and bearer of unlikely names, Volothamp Geddarm. Some reviewers seem to have been disappointed that Volo’s own comments (as well of those of a dissenting scholar) are only peppered through the manual, having seemingly missed that a manual written entirely by a biased and unreliable narrator might render all its information questionable while in game.
The book is divided into six broad sections, and, unlike the 5e Monster Manualitself, is well-indexed. Not only is there an index of monster stat blocks, there’s a list of the lairs in the book, and Appendix C provides listings of creature by type, by challenge rating, and by environment. Hopefully somewhere online there’s an official listing of ALL 5e monsters listed by these categories, for the ones in this book cover only the creatures included within.
The Goodman Games site is one of my regular stopping points on the web. The company’s well known as an imagination factory that produces some of the most innovative and entertaining game supplements in print today. It’s also home of the popular Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.
What it’s never been until now is a purveyor of Weird Tales, so I was intrigued when I discovered five facsimile issues of the famous magazine were available for purchase on the site.
I wrote publisher Joseph Goodman and asked him what this availability signified. As I should have guessed, it involved Appendix N, Gary Gygax’s famed recommended reading list printed at the back of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide (from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, if you’re not a gamer).
For those not in the know, that appendix launched a generation into the exploration of fantasy fiction, from Anderson to Zelazny. It was an immense influence on gamers and future writers alike and something Joseph Goodman has used as a touchstone for both the creation of adventures and the design of the Dungeon Crawl Classics game itself. Here’s what he had to say.
As John O’Neill wrote in November, the last book in Ian Tregillis’ new trilogy comes out this month. I’m a big fan of Tregillis, and was fortunate enough to read The Liberation in manuscript. It was a blast, and you should buy it it. Seriously. Go buy the trilogy, and if you already have the first two, go buy the third.
Alright. Now that you’ve done that, Ian and I kicked back last week and talked about his trilogy. Here’s what he had to say:
Howard: You’re on an elevator with your new book when Ringo Starr enters, sees the cover and says how fab it looks. He wants to know what the book’s about – what do you tell him?
Ian: OK. First of all, I’d probably be hard pressed not to lose my composure the moment he stepped into the elevator. I mean, there I’d be sharing an elevator with A BEATLE. I discovered their albums at just the right age, and I swear I listened to that music practically nonstop during high school. So keeping it cool would be a challenge, *especially* if Ringo asked about the book.
But assuming I could recover my composure enough to speak coherently without babbling, and assuming he wanted the long version, I’d tell him it’s an adventure story about a clockpunk Terminator apocalypse in a world where the industrial revolution never happened, disguised as a story about slave rebellion and Free Will.
If he wanted the short version, I’d tell him it’s basically Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots but with more swearing and stabbing.
When assembling the first round of Black Gate bloggers one of the few rules I laid down was that we keep our personal politics and religion out of our posts. John and I both wanted to create a safe and welcoming space where people of all stripes could come together to discuss the genres we love.
Over the last week I’ve never found that admonition more of a challenge. You see, I’ve been grieving. Not for any one person’s loss, or even because the side I backed lost, but because it feels to me that an ideal has vanished. That ideal may not have been flawless, but I shudder at the manner in which the leading proponent of a replacement movement conducts himself. And for the first time in my life I’m not just disheartened by an election result contrary to my own wishes, I’m a little frightened.
I believe I’m in the letter of my own law still because I’m not here to proselytize. The preceding paragraph is solely for context so you’ll understand what it is that’s upset me. If, like me, the depth of your own grief and your anger and fear surprise you, you’ve probably been wondering how to cope. I wish I could give you a good answer. I can tell you that one of the things I’ve done is distract myself with the genres I love. The other was to create some art. That is one (and not the only) way I mean to act.
To my shame, the first time I ever caught sight of the Castles & Crusades game I simply walked right past its GenCon booth, wondering why anyone needed another version of Dungeons & Dragons. Pathfinder had launched recently, and D&D 3.5 was still going strong, and I just didn’t see the point. As a matter of fact, not knowing about the mechanical innovations of the system or its connection to Gary Gygax, I assumed C&C was a blatant rip-off.
Man, did I miss the boat. I didn’t know that soon other people would be just as tired as I was of bloated skill lists, feats, and rules for every conceivable situation under the sun. I had no idea I’d soon be wishing for an end to the long skill lists and would be longing for the archetypal “simple” way that old school systems had done it. C&C pretty much predated the entire Old School Renaissance, or at least was out at the forefront when the OSR movement was just getting started.
The old school game movement mostly involves repackaging original D&D systems rather than simply encouraging play from the original versions of D&D because, let’s face it, in a lot of the original D&D books it was hard to find things, there were scads of charts, some of the rules were fairly arbitrary, and some of the classes weren’t all that well balanced. The game was still loads of fun, but you started noticing those things after you played awhile. And, of course, until recently, you couldn’t lay hands on versions of the originals without paying for used copies, sometimes through the nose.
A few weeks ago I read, nay, inhaled Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call. Peadar and I are friends and fans of each other’s work, but I went into this one not having a clue about what it was. I knew the manuscript was YA, and had elements of horror.
What I discovered was a novel absolutely deserving of the hype it has received — a dystopian YA story about a fractured society, with heroic teenaged protagonists who are realistic AND don’t whine. There are moments of chilling otherworldly horror owing to the frequent presence of the fae folk, the force behind the terrible situation facing these Irish children. And there’s excellent pacing and characterization, and growth…
But this isn’t a review, it’s an interview. After devouring the novel I naturally had questions about how it was composed, and since I knew Peadar I asked him if I could take those questions and his answers public. I did my best to avoid spoilers, although there might be mild ones ahead.
After the launch of his newest book a few weeks ago I asked writer Michael J. Sullivan if he could spare some time to talk about his writing process. In addition to being talented, Michael also happens to be one of the humblest and kindest writers it’s been my pleasure to meet. It’s my pleasure to turn the blog over to him.
I recently released Age of Myth, the first novel in my new series. It’s the one with the big tree on the cover. Since people ignore advice, and nearly everyone actually does judge books by their covers, it’s a good thing for me that trees appear to be popular (no pun on poplar intended… okay maybe it was).
My first series The Riyria Revelations is six books long. This new series was supposed to be a trilogy. You’ll note I used the word supposed in that sentence. When I write a novel it almost always tops off around the 100,000-130,000 word mark (around 375-450 pages). I don’t plan it that way — just happens. It’s the length I need to tell a self-contained tale. Apparently I also have a set number when it comes to how many books it takes to write a series. You guessed it, my trilogy grew to six books long (okay, you had help from the post’s title). No, the publisher didn’t make me expand it, and Peter Jackson had nothing to do with it. The story takes place during a great war, but the story stopped before all the conflicts were over. I had a suspicion readers weren’t going to like that. I didn’t either. Quitting before the war was 100% resolved felt unfinished.
More and more I think John O’Neill is right — we’re in a golden age of boardgames. And not just the familiar sort where it takes a room full of friends to play, but solitaire wargames, such as those produced by Victory Point Games, White Dog Games, and Dan Verssen Games, or DVG. Given the dearth of nearby board gamers, it was these solitaire games that most interested me, and I’ve played and reviewed a number over the years. Eventually I began to loiter on the periphery of some boardgame sites, most regularly Board Game Geek, where I noticed that there were some great game tweaks to DVG’s U-Boat Leader game by a fellow named Dean Brown.
We struck up a friendship, and when I saw he was developing his own game for DVG, I signed on as a playtester. I wasn’t actually that curious about B-17 bombers, or airplanes in general, but it didn’t matter: the game’s turned out to be a blast. Tuesday it launched as a Kickstarter, so I sat down yesterday and talked with Dean a little about it and his history with gaming.
If you’re a fan of the original Star Trek television show, you owe it to yourself to go watch these loving recreations made by extremely talented volunteers. You’ll swear that these are the same sets, and you’ll swear that most of these scripts were found in the file cabinet of D.C. Fontana or Gene L. Coon.
Last year’s fund raiser (or KIRKstarter, heh) got the funds for a few more episodes AND an engineering room set, which is now complete (you can see a virtual tour on this page). The new fundraiser will help pay for more episodes, rent at the facility where they’re filming the episodes, and pay for some expensive post production on one of the episodes they’ve just finished filming.
If this sounds up your alley (or in your sector) don’t delay. There are only a few days left to help out.