Monday, January 29, 2018

Brandon Sanderson's WORDS OF RADIANCE Continues a Delightful Series

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brandon Sanderson's second volume in The Stormlight Archive adds some significant complexities to the plot, but it does so without introducing a laundry list of new characters. In many multi-volume door stopper epic fantasy series the authors substitute adding new characters and new plotlines for adding depth and conflicts to existing characters. This kind of writing is typically suggestive of an author who, while talented, doesn't have a clear map for the overall series. It's clear that Sanderson knows where this story is going and it looks like the story is going some interesting places.

Where the first volume introduced the major characters in the epic, WORDS OF RADIANCE introduces the major factions (similar to political parties) who are driving a great deal of the conflict in the narrative. Key characters are revealed to be members of these factions, each of which wants to "save" the world and each of which seeks to do so through different means. These factions include both Human and Eshonai factions, and less political factions among the Spren as well. There is politics a plenty in the world of Roshar, and WORDS OF RADIANCE is where we readers begin to dip our toes into the complex political interactions Sanderson has set up. In an effort to refrain from spoilers, I won't say what each faction wants but will say that each faction seeks a "better" world even if their actions are heinous.

In addition to the factions, Sanderson continues his exploration of the theology of Roshar in particular (with some about the Cosmere in general) as we find out more about the Knights Radiant, The All-Father, Honorspren, Crypticspren, and the nature of Shardblades. That last one would be a huge spoiler, but it demonstrates the real cost of the Recreance in an emotionally powerful way and conversations between Kaladin and Syl about Shardblades suggest future plot development.

There was an emergence of a potential love triangle in the book, and obvious one, and it's one that I hope Sanderson doesn't move forward with because it seems like a tangent that might lead to a repeat of the kind of betrayal committed in this book. A repeat of that betrayal, even if different in nature, would be staid in an otherwise fresh story. It's fine to have emotional dynamics and love triangles, but I pray that this one doesn't come to dominate the conflicts of the overall plot. There are plenty of factions and conspiracies, we don't need a repeat of Camelot here. Even if it's nice to see echoes of mythic tropes.

While I have my favorite characters, and those are shared by others, I was particularly impressed with the development of the Parshendi General Eshonai in WORDS OF RADIANCE. I want a lot more of her character as she, Rlain, and certain "wanderers" have created an opportunity for the series to end with a brighter tomorrow in a way that once again brings to mind David Gemmell's book DARK MOON. In fact, this series continues to have a Gemmell-esque feel even its volumes are much longer than a typical Gemmell tale.

I am eager to begin reading OATHBRINGER, the third in the series, and hope that it continues to develop the major conflicts of the series and lets us get to know even more about the wonderful characters (both virtuous and vicious) who inhabit Roshar.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Return to Shadow of the Krampus -- A Holiday Themed Shadow of the Demon Lord Adventure

I posted this last year, a little late, and am reposting it this year for those of you who want to add a little of the Season into your gaming.

I am a big fan of running seasonal adventures for my regular gaming group. Though my group hasn't played as regularly this year as they have in the past, I was inspired by Robert J. Schwalb's dark fantasy roleplaying game Shadow of the Demon Lord to write an adventure for this season. For the past few years, I've written and reshared adventures featuring Cthulhu Claus (based on my wife Jody Lindke's illustrations for an old Kickstarter) or the V'sori (evil aliens in the Necessary Evil setting for Savage Worlds), but this year I decided to feature Krampus -- that most devilish of Santa's helpers. While Krampus might be a bit played out for some, having gained mainstream notoriety, I'm still a big fan of the character and I have the pleasure of knowing an artist who has been participating in Krampuslaufen long before it was trendy to do so and Bill Rude's Krampus costume is amazing as is the fact that he can get even small children to pose with his horrifying costume.

Bill Rude is a talented artist and you can look at a variety of his projects over at his 7 Hells: The Retro Art of Bill Rude website.

Illustration Copyright Jody Lindke 2016
In this mini-adventure, the PCs are passing through the town of Nesbitt-Hill during one of their other adventures. You can use the map below to represent the portion of the foothills of the Iron Peaks immediately south of the Zauberspitz with Nesbitt-Hill being the northern-most community on the map and Tower number 3 representing the once great Beacon Fortress.

Shadow of the Krampus is a Novice (though not a "just now Novice") adventure for Shadow of the Demon Lord with a post-Christmas theme. 

The town of Nesbitt-Hill is a vital stop for wanderers and miners who brave the dangers of the Iron Peaks in search of adventure or riches. For years the town has been a peaceful refuge, seemingly immune from the spread of the Demon Lord's Shadow. For even as the Shadow has spread, the town of Nesbitt-Hill remains a spark of light an happiness in an otherwise dark and desperate world.

But that changed last night. Historically, the Winter Solstice has been a time of celebration when the townsfolk of Nesbitt-Hill memorialize the the Solstice King and his champion Krampus. For it is this duo who has protected the town since the Battle of Zauberspitz where the Solstice King and Krampus defeated a horde of the Demon Lord's servants, or at least that is what the stories say. The stories also say that Krampus steals children who misbehave and returns them at the Spring Equinox after the darkness has been purged from the children's souls. If it is true that Krampus takes children and eventually brings them back, why is it that Krampus has taken no children for twenty years? Why does Mistress Oetzel swear she saw Krampus take adults this Winter Solstice? And why were these adults among the most generous citizens of Nesbitt-Hill? Has Krampus returned, but as a servant of the Demon Lord? Or is something else afoot?

With the exception of the map depicting the area of the Iron Peaks I refer to as the Gronwald, an area that lies in the shadow of the Zauberspitz, all of the maps were drawn by Dyson Logos and were taken from his Commercial Maps webpage. According to the page, Dyson has released these images under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If I have used any images that are not covered by this license, I will be happy to remove them.

The cover image of "Shadow of the Krampus?" was illustrated by Bill Rude, who was kind enough to give me permission to use it. Please visit his website and consider purchasing some of his art.

The other image is the "survival map" from Robert J Schwalb's playing aids page for Shadow of the Demon Lord. I am using it with the intention of it being fair use, but if Mr. Schwalb deems my use inappropriate I will be happy to remove it. This adventure requires the use of the Shadow of the Demon Lord rule book since all monster statistics, with the exception of Krampus, are located within the pages of that "vile" tome. Krampus was designed using rules from the Of Monstrous Mien supplement. It is highly recommended that you also own Hunger in the Void and Terrible Beauty to add details around the edges of this adventure.

The cartoon illustrations in the module are the work of my talented wife Jody Lindke. I included "rpg humor" cartoons because they remind me of the cartoons in the old AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

I hope you enjoy the adventure.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Christmas Movie Advent Calendar Day 8.

It's that time of day again. Time for a Christmas movie recommendation. Today's selection is a delightful romantic comedy that features a narrative you'll be seeing again on the list. It's a tale of a sales clerk who is deeply in love with his pen pal and who discovers that in person relationships are both more challenging and more rewarding than anonymous ones.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is a truly classic film. It's seemingly simple narrative is filled with human complexities and the performances by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are to die for. They deliver their most scathing lines of dialogue with just the right tinge of remorse, especially Sullavan, and the supporting cast is quite strong. Of the films based on the play Parfumerie, this is the one that spends the most time in the Christmas Season, and for that reason I almost put the others on the calendar before it. That would have been a disservice though, because each telling of the story adds new twists that build upon the foundation of this Ernst Lubitsch classic. I watch this film at least twice a year, and it never fails to make my heart smile.


The List So Far...
  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. 3 Godfathers (1949) 
  4. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
  5. About a Boy (2002)
  6. Holiday Affair (1949)
  7. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Stop Freaking Out About the New Patreon Fee Structure

I love crowdfunding sources, but there is one thing that I don't love. I don't love my fellow crowdsourcers. When we aren't bullying the people we profess to be supporting, we are finding new things to complain about. The latest in a long list of ridiculous complaints is the recent outcry about Patreon's new fee structure. Patreon announced that the would be shifting the charging of fees away from the creators and putting the cost of the transactions onto the backers in order to maximize revenue to the creators. This was done in response to a number of complaints by creators that they were losing as much as 15% of the total pledged to them to fees and that the fees were fluctuating. To remedy this issue, Patreon decided to charge patrons a fee of $0.35 + 2.9% of their pledge instead of charging a variable fee that depended on type of transaction etc. to the creators.

In response to this, a bunch of backers have flipped out. This is ridiculous. Why? I've got a couple of reasons.

1) The fees are exactly the same fees that you would pay at an AM/PM Market. They charge you $0.35 to use your debit card and they add the percentage processing fee they are charged by the bank (usually between 2.5% and 4%) to the price tag of items in the store. I don't see people picketing AM/PM demanding the $0.35 back on their pack of gum, and I don't think it is fair to complain to Patreon or the creators either.

2) This is an extremely reasonable fee. If you look at the graph below, you can see how much this costs patrons.

At a level of $100, this fee doesn't even come to a total fee of $3.50 and yet it ensures that the creator will receive 95% of that $100 instead of losing an additional $3.25. 

3) It only really affects microbackers. It makes it so that the person pledging $1.00 is in reality pledging $1.38 and that the person backing at $5 is really backing at $5.50. Let me get this straight. You are losing your shit over $0.38 more money out of your pocket that allows more money to go into the pocket of someone you are supposed to be patronizing? Some patron you are. Microbackers might matter to creators in large numbers, they can help pay the bills after all, but in my experience they are more trouble than they are worth. We've all seen the concern troll $1.00 backers on Kickstarter. Look, $0.38 isn't going to break your bank and it allows more money to go to the creator that you supposedly believe in. Didn't know you were such a free rider. I thought you wanted to support a creator's efforts.

I personally never backed below $5 in any of the projects I backed anyway. Why? Because I knew fees were coming out and that I'd rather give $4.50 to a creator than $.75. I back within my budget and support projects I admire. I wish I could support more. I cannot, but I CAN afford to pay an extra $10 total on all my pledges combined. Does this prevent me from backing 1 more project at the $10 level? Sure.

It also means that when I increase my pledge to Saving Throw Show to $100, they'll be getting $95 instead of $85 and it will cost me less than they would have lost otherwise.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Christmas Movie Advent Calendar Day 4

The Christmas Season is a wonderful time for movie viewing. It's fun to cozy up on the couch with family, or put together movie marathons with friends. And there are so many fantastic films that feature the Holidays as a backdrop.

Today's selection is a personal favorite. It's a film that hits all of the right notes for a Christmas movie. It has snowfall, friendship, a Dickensian sensibility, romance, and fantasy. It's also a film I adored when I was growing up and it still holds an extremely warm place in my heart. I might even venture to say that it is one of my favorite, even with its canonical lapses, films featuring Sherlock Holmes.

Young Sherlock Holmes

Featuring a screenplay by Chris Columbus and direction by Barry Levinson, Young Sherlock Holmes creates a wonderfully lovable version of Holmes. As a demi-Holmsian, which is to say someone who is a fan and not a scholar of the Holmesverse, I am frequently taken aback by portrayals of Sherlock Holmes as a distant or harsh person. It's a depiction that is often used to capture his intelligence, and how quirky people find him, but it is one at odds with the fact that Holmes is skilled at disguise, friendly with children, and frequently laughs or is genial when meeting old friends. One of my favorite such moments is when he meets McMurdo, the boxer/bodyguard in "The Sign of the Four." He's a man of many friends and that doesn't match how he is frequently portrayed. The Sherlock of Young Sherlock Holmes doesn't suffer fools, but he is genuinely good-natured with his friends. He is well acted and shows emotions running from joy and excitement to despair. Nicholas Rowe is one of my favorite Sherlocks. 

The film also touches upon the importance of spending time with friends around the Holidays. It's a perennial film in our house.

The List So Far...
  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. 3 Godfathers (1949) 
  4. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Christmas Movie Advent Calendar Day 3

On December 1st, I send out a tweet with the hashtag #ChristmasMarathonAdvent that recommended watching Christmas in Connecticut starring the ever wonderful Barbara Stanwyck. While I love watching Christmas movies the year round, and count down the days until Hallmark channel starts running their marathon, I realize that most people wait until the Christmas season to watch films. I also realized the #ChristmasMarathonAdvent wasn't the pithiest hashtag. So, I decided to transform daily tweets into daily blog posts people can use to create their own Christmas Movie Advent Calendar to count down the days to Christmas Eve.

The wonderful thing about Christmas films is that they run the genre gamut from children's fare to noir mysteries and from romantic comedies to action films. While there are some who might argue that films like The Last Boy Scout don't belong as "Christmas" films because of their violence and profanity, I don't take that position. The Last Boy Scout is a problematic film on many levels, including how it resolves the family conflict underpinning the narrative, but it is in the end a film about overcoming cynicism and embracing family. That's the requirement that I hold Christmas films to because Christmas in America is about spending time with family. Since I used The Last Boy Scout as an example of A Christmas film, it will not be included in the Christmas Marathon Advent Calendar as the days move forward, but other "controversial" films might. The list will be filled with films I enjoy. Films from a catalog from which I pull the films I watch every holiday season as my family and I have our own Christmas Season Movie Marathon.

Today marks the 3rd day of December and today's selection is one of my favorite Christmas movies, and one of my favorite John Wayne movies.

3 Godfathers

3 Godfathers is an interesting adaptation of the 3 Kings story. In this film, three ruthless bandits give up freedom in order to save the life of a new born child. The film has been remade a number of times, and parts of it don't age well, but the underlying message of love and selflessness is wonderful. 

The List So Far...

  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. 3 Godfathers (1949) 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Firearms in D&D Mystara: Tinker, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy's Darokinian Musketeers

As I posted last week, my current D&D campaign "Tinker, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy" takes place in the "Known World" setting that was originally published in the Cook Expert Set of Dungeons & Dragons. The players are currently adventuring in northern Karameikos, but I have plans to have the players wander into Darokin and Glantri. For those who aren't familiar with the Known World, it is a hodge-podge setting that includes an anachronistic combination of cultures ranging from the Roman Empire to Renaissance tech societies. Karameikos, where the players' characters are based, is a high-medieval culture and thus is an ideal starting society for the "default fantasy" campaign.

As I mentioned above, even though the characters are based out of a default fantasy kingdom, they will be wandering into Darokin and Glantri which are countries inspired by renaissance level cultures. Darokin is based on renaissance Florence and Genoa with a strict plutocratic government. Glantri is based on renaissance Glantri with the country being a "mageocracy" rather than plutocracy. Because the players will likely be traveling into these two nations, I had to ask myself whether or not I wanted to include firearms in my D&D campaign. After some back and forth, I decided that I would indeed be introducing characters who use Muskets, Pistols, and Arquebuses, but limiting them to Darokinian society.

In preparation for this move, I purchased the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting by Green Ronin in the hopes that it included the rules for the Gunslinger archetype for the Fighter Class. It turns out that it wasn't necessary to purchase the full campaign guide, as Matthew Mercer has been kind enough to provide the Gunslinger rules as a Pay What You Want file. After reading the archetype, I found that it didn't fit exactly what I wanted to have in my games. The Tal'Dorei Gunslinger is closely based on the Pathfinder Gunslinger character class from the Pathfinder Ultimate Combat Guide and as cool as that class it, it comes with all of the "fiddliness" of the Pathfinder system. Matthew Mercer's Gunslinger kept that fiddliness and I wanted a class that fit with the simplicity of 5th edition.

In the end, I read through the existing archetypes and feats in 5th edition and realized that I didn't need to come up with an entirely new archetype or create new feats. All I needed to do was reskin some existing rules to fit the theme.

The first reskin I will be using in my game is the creation of a Blackpowder Marksman feat. The feat will be identical to the Crossbow Expert feat on page 165 of the 5th Edition Player's Handbook. That feat is pretty powerful and makes crossbow using Fighters extremely powerful options in 5e. A key element is the first benefit which lets those who possess the feat to "ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient." In other words, it allows crossbow using Fighters to attack more than once when using an Attack action. I thought that it was fair to have a feat that applies all of these benefits to a person who uses black powder weapons.

While I don't want to spend any real time getting into the weeds of the Arquebus > Crossbow > Longbow > Shortbow argument, I will share the reasons for why I am happy with this quick fix. First, as argued effectively by Richard Berg in his wargame Arquebus, while the longbow's effectiveness had been reduced by the innovation of plate armor, "crossbows took more time to wind and fire than an arquebus, which had similar penetrative abilities but a far lower rate of fire." Looking at the stats for the crossbow and comparing them to the longbow, we see that these attributes are taken into account in 5e.  The heavy crossbow does 1d10 damage and requires reloading while the longbow does 1d8 and doesn't. The Crossbow Expert feat allows a Fighter to use a crossbow with the same rate of fire as a longbow, something ahistorical but perfect for fantasy. In D&D a combat round is only 6 seconds long and a high level Fighter can shoot his longbow 8 times in a combat round (and thus a crossbow 8 times). That's not at all realistic, but it allows the damage curve to keep up with mages and hand to hand combatants. This is high fantasy after all and limiting arquebus/musket use to 4 shots per minute might be accurate, but it wouldn't be fun. So long as you keep the damage for the black powder weapons within reason (which the DMG does), game balance is retained.

Once I made this slight concession to fun over fact, I began looking to the character class archetypes to see how they fit the model of Musketeer. What I found was that two of the archetypes in the Player's Handbook reskinned nicely to be gun toting characters. I was especially impressed with how the Battle Master archetype fit for Musketeers. Since only a few of the maneuvers for the Battle Master specified "melee weapon," it meant that these abilities could be used with missile weapons with only minimum change. I quickly wrote up a page using The Homebrewery that included the Musketeer archetype based on the Battle Master. I haven't stated up the Eldritch Knight version, but if one limits the spell list properly it's easy to see spell as "magic ammunition."

Lastly, I created a background that would allow even non-Fighters to be proficient in "simple" black powder weapons and classified the arquebus as a simple weapon with the pistol and musket counting as martial weapons in Darokinian Society.