Game Wish 26 Ginger’s Wish

Game Wish 26

Ginger’s Wish this week:

What three fantasy books/series would you recommend to other gamers? Why? What particularly makes them suitable for gamers to read? Would they be particularly good for novices or better for experienced gamers?

Lots and lots of possibilities and choices. I will exclude the obvious ones, Ginger already noted them anyway (although, Ginger, I don’t think The Black Company is obvious, I only came across them a couple of years ago myself, but then the balance of my fictional reading skews more toward SF than Fantasy than many of our coterie (that in itself could be a blog entry for me to talk about)). I will also restrict myself to ones in print, stuff that you, the readers can pick up in a store today, or grab on amazon right now.

The Dying Earth
, by Jack Vance

Before the Lord of the Rings, nearly before The Hobbit, certainly before fantasy was cool, there was Jack Vance. One of the first F/SF books to be published in hardcover, it has become a seminal work of the genre, and only in the last couple of years been in print again, so newer readers disinclined to the library might not have read it and might not have a copy.

Get it as soon as you can. If not for The Dying Earth, there might not be fantasy gaming, or at least not as we know it, Gary Gygax took much from Vance in his creation of D&D. The magic system, especially, but colorful characters, quests, adventures, Vance was as much an influence on Dungeons and Dragons as Tolkien was. Gamers will find ideas for spells, personalities for characters, and the belief that their creations can reach for lofty goals. The characters in the Dying Earth range in power levels, something reflected in the new Dying Earth RPG, and thus it shows that characters need not be static, and can grow and evolve in ability. For GMs, the Dying Earth is a baroque, ornate universe that they can mine for ideas for their own.

2.The Vlad Taltos Novels by Steven Brust

If a nonsensical and impossible statement as “The Heir to Zelazny” can be made, Steven Brust might be that Heir (although Steve better look at his rear view mirror, Gaiman’s been doing great work in Zelazny’s vein too lately). Draegera started its life as a role playing universe, so with that in mind, gamers especially fall in love with Brust’s universe and characters. Mobsters! Poisonous Jhereg! Sorcerers and Swashbucklers! Between the 17 Great Houses, the Easterners and others, Brust shows how a myriad templates of characters can get along and exist together, and work together, and scheme against each other. Gms can mine ideas for byzantine plots and twists and turns, too. There isn’t an official RPG per se, but there are Mushes and PBEMS based on this work, and rightly so. And the writing is just damn entertaining.

3.Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

Sorry Jordan fans, but the best Epic fantasy series being done today, in my opinion, is George R.R. Martin’s series, now up to its third volume with the fourth due in April.
Loosely based on a world reminiscent of the Wars of the Roses, the series revolves around that chestnut of many Amber games, a Throne War. Several scheming families and individuals try and take advantage of the power vacumn, with pyrotechnic results. There are even villains that, if you don’t actually like, you can sort of root for, their motivations and internal thoughts give them sympathy and character. (Tyrion Lannister, to name just one). And that is perhaps the greatest strength, and what gamers should look for–characters to care about. The idea that a “villain is a hero in his own mind” comes true here, everyone has shades of grey, and the villains themselves do things with the best of (their) intentions. There is not much magic about, by the standards of the genre anyway, and I even with disgust read a review which scolded Martin for using a fantasy universe rather than the “real thing”. Ignore that, and enjoy some of the best writing in the genre today. (The third book in the series was nominated for a Hugo, considering how rarely fantasy novels are nominated for the award, that is high praise indeed from the fans).

Movie Review Lord of the

Movie Review

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett

Directed by: Peter Jackson

“Gandalf didn’t mean for us to go this way.”

“Gandalf didn’t mean for a lot of things to happen, Sam”

–Frodo and Sam, lost on their journey toward Mordor

Middle books in trilogies (real trilogies, not the Interminable Fantasy Sequence) are hard to pull off. The author has to set up the seeds of the last book, continue the threads of the first, and still complete a story within the volume. Tolkien experts will point out that the three volume division of the LOTR is abitrary, I have seen versions where it is split into smaller volumes. And the “chapters” in Tolkien’s work are not called that, they are called books. So, Tolkien’s Two Towers is not strictly a middle book in a trilogy.

However, the movies are a different story. This is the second movie of three, and thus must follow those rules I outlined above. After the enormous box office and critical success of the Fellowship of the Ring, the anticipation for the second movie has been uniformly high. The thing to remember is that all three movies are already in the can, so to speak, the director has done most of the work already, his vision was already in place.

And thus on a Saturday where I was feeling unwell, I sat down in a theater to another three hour epic. The movie starts off with a controversial choice, there is absolutely no setup or prologue or “what has gone on before”. The information isn’t even really enfolded. The movie expects that you have just finished watching the first with picking up of the second. The hypothetical person coming in cold to this movie will wonder just how Merry and Pippin were captured by Orcs, for example. Later, with brief scenes involving Elrond and Galadriel, the names of the characters are not even mentioned.

Anyway, the movie is another long epic installment, with this movie both much more martial and more focused on Aragorn. The hobbits, whom many will argue are the real center of Tolkien’s universe, the viewpoint by which we see his world, frankly get less screen time than Aragorn’s story arc. But what a story arc! We see Aragorn do much in this movie, tracking the Orcs who are carrying off Pippin and Merry, doing a “CSI investigation” of a battle scene to determine that, yes, Merry and Pippin survived the massacre of those very same Orcs despite initial appearances to the contrary. Gimli and Legolas, however, stand in the shadow of Aragorn, and seem relegated to bit players with just a quirk or two to distinguish them.

And the battle scenes. In the book, the defense of Helm’s Deep is not really a big deal, Tolkien does not linger on it at all, describing the death of the orc horde in almost spartan terms. In the movie, it becomes the centerpiece and the main thrust of most of the movie–the evacuation of Theoden’s people to the redoubt, and the defense of that redoubt against a truly massive horde of Uruk-hai. I’ve never, ever seen a medieval battle executed and filmed better than this one. I was going in to the movie afraid it was just going to be a senseless, monochromatic slaughter without any real angst, or terror, or polish.

I was dead wrong. We see the orcs use siege weapons (including a secret weapon I will not reveal here) and attack the fortress intelligently. Likewise, the defenders do not merely stand and die, they scheme, plan and try to foil the plans of a force which outnumbers theirs by a factor of 10. I warn you now, if you don’t like watching this sort of thing, you will be disappointed in LOTR II, it dominates the movie.

It’s not the only thing in the movie, of course. There is Smeagol-Gollum, the best CGI character yet created (better than Nobby, far better than Jar-Jar). The scenes where he shows schizophrenic indecision over what to do with the hobbitses are some sorely needed comic relief. Frodo and Sam’s journey deviates from the book, however, purists will howl when they wind up making a detour into Gondor with Faramir. The meeting with the Ents by Merry and Pippin is very good, John Rhys-Davies gets some compensation for Gimli getting short shrift by doing the voice of Treebeard. The Ents’ march on Isengard is well imagined if again not quite according to the book.

The cinematography is excellent, the CGI is top notch. In many scenes, most of what we are seeing is computer-generated, but its believeable. I finally can, for example, envision Worg riders in a way I couldn’t quite before, seeing this movie. Middle Earth, as seen in New Zealand, once again looks like a real place you can visit, the landscape shots will once again blow you away.

The movie doesn’t quite merit 5 popcorn kernels, because I think a couple of the contextual changes to the books are somewhat dubious in nature, and the lessened characterization of every character but Aragorn and Gandalf also hurts the movie a bit. But see it? Go, go, go. See it again? Yes.

Rating: Four and a half popcorn kernels out of five

Feeling lousy I’ve been feeling

Feeling lousy

I’ve been feeling really rotten the last couple of days. I went to work sick on Friday, and Friday night into Saturday I spent a sleepless night in bed for 12 hours trying to get to sleep. That I didn’t have something like Nyquil or Tylenol PM on hand should come as no surprise to many of you, my dislike of using medicine or drugs except in extremis is pretty well known. I paid the price for it. I knew somehow that I wasn’t going to sleep, and tossed and turned from 8 PM to 8 AM.

Feverish dreams and weird quasi dreams even for me were just icing on the cake. I had some weird dreams last night, too, even if I felt a little better…I felt up to actually going to a movie yesterday, since I really wanted to see LOTR II. Review will be published shortly.

“When they came for the

“When they came for the socialists I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
When they came for the homosexuals I did not speak out because I was not a homosexual.
When they came for the Jews I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
When they came for me there was no one left to speak out.”
I can only hope I am being alarmist. But after reading this, I am getting concerned.

Arref’s Amberite Quiz Our Man

Arref’s Amberite Quiz

Our Man Arref (no relation to Our Man Flint) decided to go ahead and make his own quiz…this time, Which Royal of Amber is your Parent?

What did I get? Benedict. This is unusual because, come to think of it, I haven’t played many children of Benedict…in fact I can’t think of any off of the top of my head. I wonder just why that is, and what does that say about me and my RP of Amber. I didn’t give Benedict an NPC child, either…
Hadrian–Caine or Gerard (he varies)
Marcus–Deirdre (an alive version, in all instances)
Cadmus–unknown, but Benedict seems unlikely as the answer right now.
Pollux–Gerard (He is an NPC in SB but I’ve played him in a con game or two)
Archard, Laertes, Tannim, Barzun–N/a

Game WISH 25 How do

Game WISH 25

How do you introduce a new PC to an existing group? Is it best if the GM takes special measures of some kind to integrate the new and existing characters, or should the GM just allow them to meet and let the players put it all together? Does it matter whether the game is oriented towards character cooperation or character competition?

I have had a lot of experience with dealing with new PCs into existing groups, since in the six years of Strange Bedfellows, I have added quite a number of characters (not all of which sadly have remained). I prefer to allow the new PC to be drawn into the fabric of what other players are doing (or more specifically the poles of existence) in a gradual and slow fashion. Let the character start at a distance, and be drawn into what is happening by degrees. This allows the new player and PC to get acclimated to the pace of my game and the cadence of how I do turns, so when they go live and meet other players, they are already up to speed on how I handle matters. Also, sometimes, its very hard to retcon old relatioships into an old and established set of Player characters. Its easy to do in the early stages of a game where the relationships are fluid, but if, say, Jenn or Ginger were to want to join SB, I would start them at a distance.

I could cite numerous examples from SB. Nicole, playing in a PBEM for the first time, had her PC Dagny start in her home shadow (which was basically Earth) and was drawn into the web of things by her hitherto unknown father, Luke. Via Luke, Dagny got to meet Malachi, went to Amber and met many more PCs. A much more recent example is Deb’s PC Leigh. She has been doing her own thing, only recently coming to the Courts from her own shadow…and in the last couple of turns, she has met the signature NPC of Strange Bedfellows, Valerian, and I suspect that meeting some PCs will be forthcoming after that.

I also admit that starting new PCs a little apart from everyone else allows me, the GM to get to know the player and what they like to do with their characters. To cite one more example, I learned of Rob’s penchant for dialogue and active minor NPCs when I started William in a shadow that he had been ensconced in for some time. But he, too, eventually ran into other PCs, even though he was out of shadow. A PC practically handed me the tools to send him to where William was, and I took advantage to introduce them together.

I finished reading A Shadow

I finished reading A Shadow on the Glass.

It was, well, just above average for doorstopper fantasy series, or, more colorfully, “phat” fantasy. Some things annoyed me about the book, revelations came like lumps in oatmeal, unexpectedly and sometimes without much foreshadowing. It wasn’t bad, but I’ve read much better series (eg. George R.R. Martin). I might continue reading the series at some point, but its not a priority. And with so many books to read, it just might never happen. I’d rather continue reading, say, the Tyrants and Kings series, or the Rhapsody novels, to name two examples.
Next up? Hammerfall by the one and only C.J. Cherryh. It is NOT set in any of her previous universes and I’ve only started reading it, but it reminds me a bit, thus far of a cross between Martha Wells’ City of Bones and Modesitt’s Gravity Dreams.