#RPGaDay, Day 11: Favourite RPG Writer

I completely missed the start of this for this year, so today I’ll be catching up, working back from today’s topic. If you want to see my answers to the previous day’s questions, keep scrolling down.

 Day 11: Favourite RPG Writer

This may be one of the hardest questions for me to answer. And no, no tired “Sophie’s Choice” comparison; no one is going to execute the writers I don’t pick. Are they? No, that would be awful. They wouldn’t…no, I’m sure it’s fine.

I’m going to fudge this a little bit, and give my gaming material and fiction answers. So for gaming material, and limiting myself only to stuff I’ve read this year lest I go mad, I’m going with Kenneth Hite. I picked up a tentacle-load of Trail of Cthulhu books from a friend this past spring, and I love everything about the system and the source books. The GUMSHOE System lends itself particularly well to Cthulhu Mythos gaming, by cleverly removing the possibility of NOT finding necessary clues; you will always find an answer, but you may have to put in a bit of extra effort (and/or stability and sanity) to make that clue really pay off. It is such an elegant and simple mechanic, and made all the more clever because, used properly, it heightens the role-playing experience. If you haven’t looked at the system, do yourself a favour and check it out.

My favourite RPG fiction writer is Dave Gross. I’ve been a fan of Dave’s work for…*looks at calendar, shudders at the math*…a long time. But the work which cemented me as a life-long Dave Gross Fan Club Member was the Radovan and the Count stories found in the Pathfinder Adventure Path Council of Thieves, and the ensuing five novels.  Dave gives us, in the relationship and adventures of these two characters, a story which is at one and the same time immensely personal and intimate, and grandly heroic and sometimes tragic. That isn’t to say these elements weren’t present in earlier works, or aren’t present in his other current works. But in the Radovan and the Count stories they come together so well, the books are a joy to read and re-read. (Nerd Confession: Every time a new book in the series comes out, I go back and re-read the novels before reading the newest one. I’ve never regretted it.) If you want to read an exciting, fun story with characters you’ll love, find yourself a copy of Prince of Wolves and read yourself through the series up to the latest, Lord of Runes. You’re welcome.

Day 10: Favourite RPG Publisher

Overall, Paizo is still my favourite RPG publisher. I’m still continually impressed with how open and inclusive they are with their world-building, and their customer service and customer contact are second to none. There aren’t many companies where you can comment in the forums and get and answer directly from the lead designer on a game, never mind the CEO of the company. I often wonder when (if) they sleep, what with an already busy publishing schedule.

Since the publication of D&D 5th, though, WotC is getting better. The new edition is good, and I’m starting to like interacting with the company’s site, something that was not true for years. So they’re worth keeping an eye on.

Day 9: Favourite Media You Wish was an RPG

I’m watching some new sci-fi shows right now, and my current fav could so easily become an RPG campaign. Killjoys is all about the gritty world of reclamation agents (bounty hunters) navigating their pasts, relationships, and the twisty world of sector politics. Reclamation agents even have levels; depending on what skills and personality you bring with you to the evaluation when you sign-up, you are assigned as Level 1 (small-time courier and transport work only) up to Level 5 (Kill Warrants). It would be fun to pick a system like Fate or even AGE, and then assign each character their level based on what they develop during character creation. Hmmm…

A close second, Dark Matter is a great, slow-burning story about six people who wake up from stasis aboard a busted starship, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. Sounds like the classic start to a space-based RPG campaign to me.

Day 8: Favourite Appearance of RPGs in the Media

There are more and more of these all the time, but the line from the X-Files, “I didn’t play Dungeons and Dragons all these years and not learn a little something about courage.” remains my favourite. And yes, I do like the Community Episodes where they play D&D. Even though the first time they play, Abed is clearly not using the right map; that was obviously the map from Q1: Queen of the Demon Web Pits, so I don’t know what…ahem. Sorry. No, I’m good, it was good. All good.

Day 7: Favourite Free RPG

They’ve supplied it for the last few years of Free RPG Day, but I really like Cosmic Patrol from Catalyst Game Labs. It is a very rules light game, and delivers exactly what it promises. It definitely requires players who will jump in to the spirit of the game with both feet, but if you have those players you are going to go from picking up the book to a rollicking good time in about 10-15 minutes.

Day 6: Most Recent RPG Played

Pathfinder. My regular Thursday night group has started the Jade Regent Adventure Path, and at our last session we got stuck in to some good old goblin killing action and mayhem. Good times!

Day 5: Most Recent RPG Purchase

My most recent purchase was Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management from DriveThruRPG. It’s a really good primer on how to organically organize your campaign. Even if you think you’re an old hand at running an RPG campaign, it’s worth a read. I’ve been doing this hobby for over thirty years, and there are some things I found useful.

Day 4: Most Surprising Game

I’m maybe expanding the spirit of this question, but my most surprising game recently was playing D&D 5th edition for the first time. I was surprised at how much it felt like playing the game I had played as a kid, but at the same time was very grown up and with a lot of the sharp edges I remember from back then smoothed off. If you haven’t played it yet, put aside your partisan feeling and give it a try.

Day 3: Favourite New Game of the Last 12 Months

I don’t really have a new game of the last 12 months. This past year I’ve spent a bunch of time delving back in to my gaming roots, so my focus has been backwards, not forwards. But as I said above, the GUMSHOE System, and Trail of Cthulhu in particular are great. I’ve already got a campaign idea in the works.

Day 2: Kickstarted Game Most Pleased I Backed

I’ve backed Ernest Gary Gygax Jr.’s Marmoreal Tomb Campaign Starter, and I’m excited about that. It’s already passed a bunch of stretch goals, so it looks like it’s going to be gorgeous. As I said earlier, I’ve been looking back at my gaming roots a lot lately, and this came along at the perfect time. If you want to get your hands on a campaign setting with old-school feel, check them out.

Day 1: Forthcoming Game I’m Most Looking Forward To

Again, I think I’m interpreting the question broadly, but I’m really looking forward to the first game two of my friends, Scott and Stanley, are setting up. Each of them is GMing a different Pathfinder Adventure Path, and then playing in the other, with four of us playing in both. I think it will be a ton of fun; I really like playing RPGs with these guys, and as long as we can keep the momentum going I think it will be great.

RPGaDay Roundup, Part 1

I had such great plans, gentle readers. I had intended to blog all through my trip to Gen Con, and every day of the con, and all the way back home. The capricious powers which oversee internet access, however, had other ideas. So today I am playing catch-up so I can go back to a post a day starting tomorrow.

In the interest of not casting wall of text, I have broken up my round-up into three manageable parts. Look for Parts 2 and 3 later today, but let’s jump into Part 1:

Day 7: Most “Intellectual” RPG Owned

Personally I consider every RPG I own to be intellectual, at least compared to many other types of games. But not all games are the same; I know Kobolds Ate My Baby does not occupy the same intellectual realm as, say, Dogs in the Vineyard.

Looking at the RPGs I currently own, I’d have to say Microscope stands out as particularly intellectual, though with a large helping of imagination and creativity thrown in. For those who have never played, Microscope is a cooperative history/world-building game, in which you work with the other players to weave the history and stories of your shared time period. It’s perfect for those evenings when you want something fun and rules light.

Day 8: Favourite Character

I’ve had several characters I’ve enjoyed playing over many, many years. But hands down my absolute favourite was my first Living Greyhawk character, Argent. Argent was a gnome bard who made his way from adventure to adventure atop his trusty riding dog Coda. Normally, a bard, never mind a gnome, would be considered a waste of space at most LG tables. But for some reason, no one in our area was playing clerics, which meant a dearth of healers. Suddenly Argent, with his cure light wounds (and later a wand of the same), was a friend to all. And I played it up; Argent was never afraid to get in the thick of things to heal other characters in combat, trusting in his abilities and the sure-footed Coda to carry him through. Always cheerful and charming regardless of the odds, other players came to love the little guy almost as much as I did. As a result, a character which could have had a very short life expectancy ended up reaching retirement age.

Favourite moment with Argent: Killing an erinyes with a jam tart. Okay, okay, more specifically: Argent cast uncontrollable laughter (the material component of which is a jam tart) on the poor flying devil, and she died from the fall. But hey, she died happy!

Day 9: Favourite Die/Dice Set

I have a lot of dice, so picking a favourite is hard. But I have a d4 which I made from a rock I found on a hike when I was twelve. In no way did

A battered reminder of good times.

A battered reminder of good times.

I carve this rock, it just happens to be in the almost perfect shape for a d4. I obviously don’t use it for gaming these days because there is no way it rolls true. But for a while, every magic-user I ever played got a lot of mileage out of magic missile with that die.

As for favourite set…whichever set I’m currently playing with is my favourite; if I’m using it it means I’m playing.

Day 10: Favourite Tie-in Novel/Game Fiction

My answers to this one are a little broader. My favourite tie in novels are Prince of Wolves, Master of Devils, Queen of Thorns, and King of Chaos, written by Dave Gross for the Pathfinder Tales line at Paizo. Each is set in a different region of Golarion, following the adventurers of Chelaxian noble and Pathfinder Varian Jaggere and his bodyguard Radovan. Dave has a knack for telling an engaging story while bringing his environment to life. None of the novels seem shoe-horned in to their region, instead they present a very natural and entertaining look at what makes each area special. Plus they’re just great adventure stories with interesting and layered characters. If you haven’t read them yet I highly recommend you pick them up. I also suggest subscribing to Dave’s website, you won’t be sorry.

For game fiction in general, I really like the entire run of short-fiction Paizo posts for free on there blog every Wednesday. Sometimes it’s a chapter preview from an upcoming novel in the Pathfinder Tales line. More often it’s a wonderful piece of short fiction, spread out over four posts. Again, I highly recommend checking it out.

Day 11: Weirdest RPG Owned

I don’t own anything truly weird at the moment, with the bulk of my collection given over to Pathfinder and the like. But once upon a time I owned a copy of an RPG, the name of which escapes me, that used the I Ching as its main resolution mechanic. Players, or player and GM, would cast their fortune, compare them, then after some discussion come to an agreement on which fortune trumped the other. I picked it up at a convention as someone’s home-brewed game system, and only played it once. The thing that made it especially weird was that the game had nothing to do with Chinese mythology other than the use of the I Ching. It was just a straight-up fantasy game. If anyone knows the game I’m talking about and can point me to it, I’d love to read it again.

 Day 12: Old RPG You Still Play/Read

Until fairly recently I was involved in an ongoing Boot Hill RPG play-by-email. Boot Hill was sort of a sleeper hit for TSR back in the day. While it never had the following D&D, Gamma World, or Star Frontiers had, it still had its devout players. And it was a tight little game which did what it advertised: let you role-play in the Old West. The rules were simple, game play was pretty smooth, and you could immerse yourself in the table-top version of a Spaghetti Western with relative ease. If you liked that genre, it was everything you could want. If you didn’t, you likely never knew it existed.

Nerd Events Around Edmonton

You might think, with summer winding down and the leaves turning, that geek-friendly events would dwindle as well.  Well, my friend, you couldn’t be more wrong.  There is plenty of geekery happening in our fair city, if you know where to look.  Luckily, I’m the nerd version of the kid from Sixth Sense: I see dork people!  Want to get your nerd-on?  Then you need to check out these fine events:

Master of Devils Reading and Signing

Come on down to Audrey’s Books (10702 Jasper Ave) from 3-6pm and hear author Dave Gross read from Master of Devils, his latest novel for Pathfinder Tales.  He’ll be signing that book, as well as copies of Prince of Wolves and Winter Witch (co-written with NYT Bestselling author Elaine Cunningham).  If you loved this book like I did, this is the perfect chance to let Dave know that.  If you haven’t read it yet, now is the time to get your copy!

Social Media Breakfast

Whether you are a social media pro or a complete newbie, the Social Media Breakfasts are the place for you!  Held the last Friday morning of every month, @SMBYEG provides Edmontonians a chance to meet, eat and discuss social media all in a relaxed atmosphere.  September’s SMBYEG is happening on Friday, Sept. 30 from 8:30am-10:30am, at CBC Centre Stage (123 Edmonton City Centre Mall East) D’lish Urban Kitchen & Winebar (10418 124 Street).  The events are sponsored by McQ Design Strategies and organized by the SMBYEG Committee members.  There is no cost to attend, so come on out and swap social media stories over breakfast.

Pure Spec BBQ and Tri-Game Nerdament Sign-up

Happening down at Coronation Park (behind Telus World of Science) on October 1, don’t miss this fun, relaxed fund-raising event for the Pure Speculation Festival.  From 5-8pm, join Pure Spec for hotdogs, hamburgers, salad, pop, hot chocolate, and other treats.  Relax with your fellow nerds, enjoy the great conversations, and if the skies are clear there may be a trip to the Observatory to look at the moon and stars.  As well, sign up for the Tri-Game Nerdament, a multi-game team event that will take place over the next couple of months, with the final showdown at Pure Spec.  The BBQ costs just $12, paid in cash on-site; the conversation and stargazing are free!

Board Game Night

The first Tuesday of every month, The Edmonton Science Fiction Appreciation Society holds their Board Game Night.  Join them Tuesday, October 4th at 6:30pm at 10575 114 Street (Edmonton New Technology Society) for a fun night of games and conversation.  Try out games you’ve never played and meet some new gaming buddies.  Bring snacks to share, and if there is enough interest (ie, $5 placed in the kitty) pizza will be ordered.  I’ve been, and it is a relaxed good time!

Zombie Walk: Zombies in Space!

The River City Zombie Commitee has set their next zombie walk for October 7 at 7:00 PM.  This time the theme is Zombies in Space!  The walk will start off in Gazebo Park around 7:30, and head towards the Legislature Grounds.  It will take off again from the Legislature grounds at 9:00, ending up at Churchill Square.  Don’t worry if you don’t have a themed costume, all zombies will be welcomed!  And if you don’t want to be a zombie, then bring your camera, take some pictures and protect your brains!  No cost to take part.

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So there you are, five nerdy events for you to enjoy with your fellow geeks.  What are you waiting for, get on out there and nerd it up!  Maybe I’ll see you there…

Did I miss any events?  Let me know below and I’ll slip it into the post!

Master of Devils: Spoiler-free Review

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start with two facts: Dave Gross is a pal of mine, and he gave me a copy of Master of Devils (first copy in Canada!) for my birthday.  If you know me you can decide whether that would colour my review; if you don’t know me you’ll just have to accept my word that it wouldn’t.  I can be a bastard that way.

Since reading the serial fiction that Dave included with the Council of Thieves Adventure Path for the Pathfinder RPG, I was a huge fan of Radovan & Jeggare.  Dave’s first novel featuring the intrepid pair, Prince of Wolves, cemented that for me.  So I was excited to hear so soon after it came out that Dave was confirmed to write another “R&J” novel.  When I learned that it was to be set in Tian Xia, Golarion’s analogue for the Orient, I was practically giddy.  Many movie nights in Dave’s basement have demonstrated the depth of his knowledge and love of martial arts films.  If anyone was going to make the Tian Xia setting come alive, it was him.

In other words I had very high expectations going into Master of Devils; even a friendly relationship with Dave was not going to protect him if he didn’t deliver.

You (and Dave especially, I’m sure) will be happy to know our burgeoning friendship is perfectly safe.  With Master of Devils Dave has proven himself First Brother (yeah, you’ll have to read it to get the reference).

As I sit here prepping the spoiler-free version, I know I’m going to write a more in-depth, spoiler-ridden look at the novel.  I’ll have to, there is so much more I want to say.  But spoiler-free first, as promised.

So, first impressions.  I have long been a fan of Hong Kong cinema and wu xia films, and while I don’t consider myself any kind of expert I would have to say that Dave’s Tian Xia captured that feel for me perfectly.  Many familiar tropes and themes are present: martial arts masters (of course), justice and righteousness, beautiful maidens, magic and spirits (kami).  Even The Faithful Servant, a character present in many wuxia tales, was present; the chapters from that character’s point of view were some of the most delightful and funny in the book.

And at no point did the setting overshadow the story or our “heroes”, which can be a danger when dealing with such a strong, definite setting.  While Tian Xia was always there it was never the focus.  That focus was always firmly on the story and the characters, with Tian Xia as a vibrant backdrop.

I mentioned points of view earlier.  In a style familiar to readers of Prince of Wolves, each chapter in the book is told from the POV of Radovan or Jeggare (or a third character that I won’t ruin for you).  I really enjoy this technique, because in any given chapter I know something that character doesn’t, and it builds tension for me as they make decisions they might not have made if they knew what I know.  Dave is one of the best writers I know at this technique, and he uses it to great effect.

In tone, while the novel does have some light moments it is overall much darker than previous “R&J” offerings.  The stakes for our heroes, personal and otherwise, are so much higher in Master of Devils, and they go to some very dark places in trying to win those stakes.  Suffice to say, if you thought you knew Radovan and Jeggare before this novel, you might want to prepare yourself for how wrong you were.

Okay, before the urge to just spout spoilers like a fountain gets too much I’ll put a cap on this by saying: buy this book.  If you love a really good story, buy this book.  If you love wu xia and Hong Kong cinema, buy this book.  If you are a Pathfinder player/GM and you plan to run or play in Tian Xia, buy this book.  Heck, I’m going to go out and buy this book, and I got a copy for my birthday!

Some days it is good to be a geek.  The day I read this, that was a great day.

Master of Devils, everyone.  You’ll thank me.  But thank Dave Gross first.