Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review: The New Death and others

I’ve been working on a book review for a little while now as a special post for my blog.  I was asked if I would review this book and, after reading the first few pages, I immediately said yes, as much because I wanted to read the rest of the book as wanting to write a review!  And so I have now completed it, and would like to tell you about it.
image courtesy of James Hutchings

The New Death and others is a collection of short stories and poems by the very talented James Hutchings.  They have a rather cynical theme to them, and you will find few uplifting tales that make you feel like the world is full of Good-aligned people.  Maybe at best Lawful Neutral.  Certainly there are some serious D&D vibes throughout, and at least one direct reference to it.  They are frequently referencing worlds of other authors, including a bit of Lovecraft, although I have to admit you will have to judge those stories for yourself, as I haven’t read any of those authors.  Throughout the book, the Isle of Telelee is frequently feature as a location, and the world around that is particularly fascinating.  I’m probably going to go back through and read just those stories again, because I’d like to see how it all fits together a little better.  It’s rather cool.

To give a few general opinions here, I love this book, and I am very glad to have read it.  The contents vary from the thought provoking to the wry and clever to the haunting.  The stories in particular are where his craftsmanship really shows.   Quite a few of them made me laugh out loud (and that’s better than a lol any day of the week.  Lol has become so frequently used that a genuine laugh out loud moment nowadays is closer to a LMAO).  I’m particularly impressed with his use of humour and wit.  ‘Everlasting Fire’ is one of the short stories I got to preview before agreeing to read the whole thing and it remains one of my favourites for its brilliant build-up and spot-on delivery.

His use of metaphor is also very well done.  I’m sure an English graduate (I’m looking at no one here) could pick it apart, but as merely an avid reader I think his writing is elegant, engaging and paints a vivid and imaginative mental picture for the reader every time, especially in the longer works.  Tone, imagery, metaphor, diction – all of those words I still remember from high school are here in full force, and used to the benefit of the reader, rather than to clutter up the page.  Often in books, I will skip boring passages.  I didn’t here.  This is a thrill to read.

To give some criticism, I think the poetry, whilst good, generally make up the weaker entries in the book.  Possibly this is because they are more frequently referencing other works I am not familiar with.  I still enjoyed them, but I definitely feel the short works, particularly the funny ones, are Hutchings’ triumphs here.  ‘The New Death’, the story that gives its name to the book, is an example of this.

Basically, this book is excellent.  I recommend it to anyone looking for a good varied read that is well-crafted and highly entertaining, this is it.  Oh.  Important thing.  EBook.  It’s an eBook.  You can purchase it for £0.99 on

So yes, this is great.  I enjoyed reading it, reviewing it and everything about it.  I hope you do too!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Command and Conquer 3: Lupus, Cylons and Cinematics

 It’s fair to say that I am not a huge fan of RTS games.  I’m simply not a skilled enough micro-manager to effectively control all those units well enough to do really well at them.  I do well enough, but I’m not amazing.  Starcraft remains one of my favourite games, and Starcraft II one of the games I most want to play, but that’s for two things: the story and the custom maps.  I like the Starcraft series for the maps you can play that aren’t RTS.

Anyway, I play them, but it’s not my preferred genre.  I recently picked up a cheap copy of Command and Conquer 3 though, and I have to say I’ve been loving the campaigns.  The story is interesting, with this whole thing about Tiberium which has apparently been going on for the whole series.  The infighting within both sides of the conflict is fascinating.  The gameplay is relatively solid.  It functions like other RTSs of its ilk.  I feel it isn’t as balanced a game as Starcraft, but Blizzard set a pretty high standard there, and I haven’t had any major problems, though anti-air options seem a little limited if you’re not GDI.

What I love about this game though, and what got me hooked from the moment I started the campaign, is the briefings – the cinematics in between the levels which really drive the story forward.  For a start, they’re filmed, not CGI (mostly).  So they have actual actors serving as your commanding officers and briefing officers.  This is where a lot of C&C 3’s entertainment value comes in, and I think it is largely down to Jennifer Morrison, better known as Cameron from House.  I can take Boomer from Battlestar Galactica being in it; she’s in Hawaii 5-O too.  You see her around, although it does suddenly become incredibly bizarre when Caprica 6 is a Nod commander, when Nod has a distinctly Cylon air about them.  I even appreciate Lando’s appearance.  Good to see him; fair enough.  Cameron though, she’s totally unexpected, and I just can’t take her seriously.  Having Cameron staring straight at you and telling you how tough the next mission will be, sharing her feelings about the situation or congratulating you on a job well done all seems slightly unnerving to me.  I keep on laughing during GDI briefings, and I keep feeling that somewhere, one of the designers was just a massive House fan and decided to do some serious fanboyism.  Yes that’s a word.  I really like the cutscenes overall.  They work well, they’re dramatic, and it gives a definite sense of realism to the game.  Plus, having the characters interacting directly with you makes you feel far more immersed in the situation.  One wish? To be able to make decisions on your own.  The characters try to give you the opportunity to make decisions, to pick sides and to otherwise impact the game, but if you can actually make other decisions, I haven’t found a way to do them.

 around 7:50 Cameron's in there.

But my goodness.  Cameron makes me laugh every time.  Totally worth playing a game I’m only moderately good at for that.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Resurrection: Like Insurrection, Only With Less Violence

My goodness this has been far too long.  I apologise in the gap in posting.  I’ve been rather focused on trying to get a job for the last few months, and I let this slide as a result.  Let’s see if I can’t bring this back online.  Of course, I say this right before I’m off for the holidays, but we’ll take things one post at a time, shall we?

So, I think I’ll start this blog off and running again with a feature of another blog.  The last post I did for the 30 Days of D&D Challenge back in October was on my favourite DM, Rich.  Well, he has a blog too!  It’s dedicated to the creation of his D&D mod called Providence.  Providence is essentially a project aimed to combine the best of 3.5 and 4th edition into one grand system, without the weaknesses of either, though of course it is bound to have weaknesses of its own.  As for its successes, I’ve read everything he’s done so far and it is fantastic work.  The classes are works of art, the feats are fun and varied, and it is finally actually possible to craft magic items!  There’s a tutorial on it and everything!

It’s got to be one of the most thorough jobs I’ve seen since Pathfinder.  It is not just a string of variants and extras he’s thrown together.  This is a concerted, focused and well-structured project which is resulting in a truly comprehensive and solid game.  One of his key focuses has been to give every class two things: something interesting every level, and a highly variable class structure, to allow the widest possible array of characters.  He has completely altered and rebuilt all the major classes, as well as adding in a large number of his own.  The spell list hasn’t been written yet, but it looks to be several times the size of the 3.5 spell list, which terrifies me.  The various documents he has created for each section of this feat of geekery, when compiled into a single document, already reaches over 300 pages.  It’s a beautiful sight.

The blog is at  Check it out.  He is putting up fairly regularly updates of his latest addition to the world of Providence, mostly the classes he has created himself.  I’ve been helping to find the kinks in the classes, and so I’ve looked through all of this pretty thoroughly.  It’s really impressive.  Check out what he’s put up so far, and keep following his progress.  Providence is going to be a great game when finished.

Monday, October 31, 2011

LEGO Heroica: The Greatest D&D Children’s Toy Ever

Did D&D just become mainstream?  I was looking in Harrods a few weeks ago, and stumbled across this:

image from kaboodle.

Pelor’s beard! It’s a LEGO board game where each player chooses a class, each with different weapons and special abilities, and proceeds through a dungeon crawl where they fight monsters and collect treasure on the way towards a goal, either a defeating a boss monster or collecting an artifact.  More skills can be purchased over time, essentially leveling up your character. Does this all sound familiar?  I sincerely hope it does.  With classes like Barbarian, Druid, Knight, Mage, Ranger and Rogue, it all sounds an awful lot like our favourite game.  Wow.

You can rearrange the map tiles in each set to provide new dungeons.  You can buy multiple sets and connect them to make a series of adventures; dare I call it a campaign? (Brilliant marketing by the way!  I want them all!)  And as with all LEGO games, you are encouraged to change the rules, and take it from a simple children’s version of the game to require a rulebook to rival the Player’s Handbook.

I can’t recommend this enough.  It’s fantastic, and if you edit the rules a bit you can make this a really entertaining game, and it’s so good to see the basic principles of RPGs and so forth entering further into the mainstream children’s toys market.

Friday, October 21, 2011

30 Days of Dungeons and Dragons Day 30: Best DM You’ve Had

            Well, here we are.  It’s the last day and conclusion of the 30 Days of Dungeons and Dragons challenge.  And the question is an incredibly tricky one, and awkwardly personal.  Strictly in D&D, I have only ever had 5 DMs, to the best of my memory.  This is already a tough call, so I’m discounting those who ran games for me that were of a different system (and sorry to all of you.  You know who you are and you’ve all been fantastic).  I have to say, I’ve never had a bad DM.  I’ve never had a game which I didn’t enjoy at all.  Oh, actually, thinking about it, there were technically a few other DMs back when I tried play-by-forum D&D, but they don’t count at all.

            In that case, this comes down to a rather close call.  In fact, out of three in particular, I’m really not sure who to choose. 

            Rich, you’ve only DM’d a few games for me, but every single one has been phenomenal.  I’ve already listed your incredible achievement which was the Labyrinth of Madness, and the castle with shifting gravity was fantastic.  You’ve been absolutely consistent in delivering an engrossing, action-packed plot.  If I can give a single point of criticism, sometimes play stops for ten minutes because you’re explaining a minute point.  But it’s always interesting.  Thank you.

            A Dungeon Master is an incredibly complex role, much more complicated than even the craziest multi-class.  They have to deliver a comfortable location to play in, an intense atmosphere within the game, a story which is gripping but not restrictive or backstory-heavy, a flowing, simple gameplay, and so much more.  It is a very difficult task.  I have had a number of outstanding Dungeon Masters, both in D&D and in other systems.  Mastering this … masterdom myself is a bit of an ongoing quest for me, and I always struggle to run more serious games.  I can do silly very well, but moving, meaningful plot sometimes eludes me, though often I find the players are the best at creating meaning in a game.  Rich, you’re the best I’ve seen, though I won’t deny that several others come very close.  Well done.  You mark the end of the 30 Days of D&D Challenge quite appropriately, and I've even found a tribute:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

30DODND Day 29: What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20?

            Probability.  Everyone respects it to some degree.  Most game shows are based on it, all casinos, the economy and almost all aspects of international politics are predicated on our assessments of risks, chances and uncertainty.  It is everywhere.  We place so much importance in it.  On top of that, we have developed a thousand superstitions about luck and fortune, sometimes placing total confidence on something which has no real meaning.

I have never really believed in dice superstitions.  I’ll go along with a few things, like rolling a new d20 to see how it rolls, or switching dice if one is rolling poorly, but in general I don’t believe that any of it actually works.  Switching d8s is perhaps the only thing I really believe in, just because it rolls poorly, and changing which I use is a good way of getting different results.  I find them fun, but not useful.  I really don’t think I have number that comes up more than others, though I did once have a d20 which was flawed and weighted towards the number 2.  I didn’t like that die.

I could talk about probability for a long time, and I probably will at some point in the future.  It’s a fascinating concept, which dominates so much of our outlook on life.  In a world where the gambling industry is so massive, and where security consultancy and risk management are major career paths, it is important to think about exactly what probability is.  But that’s another story.  So no.  No number. Sorry.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

30DODND Day 28: A character you will never play ever again

Now this is hard.  I have really enjoyed every character I’ve played, as far as I can remember.  Johin, Mogo, Alarum, Martel, Kuraileon, Robin, Arken, William, Jonathan…. I’ve really enjoyed all of them.  As I think back though, there was one which was my least favourite.

Just like this guy... only not awesome.

It was back in a time when I tried forum-based RPGs, and played a few games which all failed quite quickly.  I don’t remember this character’s name, but for a very short lived campaign I created a Halfling Psion Pyrokineticist – so a flame wielding psion.  I took a bit of an overused trope though and made him have a split personality.  I’m currently in a party where three of the characters have another voice in their heads, but that’s from two psicrystals and a demon-possession.  So totally legitimate.  This guy had an arsonist inside, who would come out in battle and make him pretty nasty.  The character was flawed, annoying to use, and relied on a few too many tropes.  Not that I’m against references, but this guy was just a fiery little killing machine.  That can be fun, but it’s not really my style.  I don’t think I’d play him again, whatever his name was.