Saturday, September 21, 2019

Paladin as Party Healer

I've been playing Paladin recently in my regular D&D group. It's quite a change from my previous (and current, it's complicated) character of Fighter - Eldritch Knight. Both of them are primarily melee classes with limited magical ability but my experience with the former has been the opposite of a melee class. Due to the lack of a cleric, my paladin has become the party's heal bot.

In our first major battle, my paladin spent more time keeping our wizard alive then fighting. Likewise, his biggest contribution in the second (due to poor attack rolls) was again healing the wizard. In the third battle he was again on healing duty but this time it was the monk who fell unconscious because the wizard was elsewhere. It was initially frustrating but then I realized how perfectly it fell in line with my character's backstory.

See, he is a dwarf with the guild artisan background and a serious competitive drive. It drove him to sabotage the works of his fellow guild members in order to make his own wares appear superior. This mean-spirited cheating eventually got him into serious trouble with the guild and he became a paladin to atone for it, vowing to channel this competitiveness into doing good as a team player. Thus, a supporting role is perfect for him.

He started the first and third battles by casting Bless on himself and two other party members and the moved around performing Lay on Hands and Cure Wounds as needed. On one occasion, he helped the monk flank an enemy. On another he helped the druid use the Pack Tactics of her direwolf Wild-Shape. At fourth level, I'm planning on him taking the Menacing feat to boost his spell modifier and frighten foes out of attacking the party in the first place.

I've rolled terribly for attacks in all three sessions of this campaign so far. It got to the point where I changed dice. I still didn't hit anything but it doesn't matter. The party needs a dedicated healer more.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

How real life can influence the campaign (D&D stories)

What I like about Dungeons and Dragons is that it is communal story-telling. Everyone contributes to the story and how the campaign's narrative plays out. Usually this is through their characters, but the players themselves can also work interesting changes by just their presence or absence.

See, I'm one of those players that isn't satisfied with ignoring a character whose player didn't show up for the session. I want to know what happened to them; where did they go, what are they doing, etc. So the DM at the time provided good reason such as eating bad mushrooms or getting drunk after a victory. That sort of thing provided fun flavor. However, the truly interesting thing happened after I became the campaign's DM.

To set the stage, the party had been trying to free a large group of people who had been enslaved by a hobgoblin army. They were toiling away in a gold mine near the hobgoblin war camp. In the course of gathering allies for a raid on the camp, the party exited a Lost-World style plane through an arcane portal (long story) and decided to use this magical device to spirit the slaves away.

Two players dropped out at this time so we decided that their characters would stay on the other side and prepare a camp for the slaves to rest after their flight: preparing simple spears, gathering food, etc.

As it happened, the main army had departed the camp and the camp itself had fallen into decay, disorganized and lacking in discipline. This allowed the party to sneak into the mine because the goblin guards were sleeping. The bard decided to cast Leomond's Tiny Hut to block the entrance. We would use the portal device to free the slaves.

This is it. The Free-the-Slaves arc took five weeks and over each of those weeks a new player came by for that week only (with one exception). So each week the session would start with the party running into another adventurer who was trying to free the slaves by themselves. It started to get ridiculous at how poor the security for the mine was when so many people could independently sneak in. One character gave the impression that he had wandered in and had no idea where he was.

We all had a good laugh about this. One player even joked that the party had done a better job securing the mine than its hobgoblin owners. That was true.

The story was written so that security would be lax at this point in time. However, nothing I could have done would have underscored this plot point as thoroughly and hilariously as this string of new one-time players. Adding them as NPCs would have been pointless and lame. It was the real-life consequence that made it memorable.


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, August 31, 2019

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom" volume 1 (read for fun)

This is a series that I discovered on Tvtropes. I find a lot of fun stuff over there. We tropers like documenting things and this one is new (to me at least). I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish before assigning a grade. Also, I should mention that this review is specifically for the manga adaptation of the light novel.

PLOT

While the premise is simple enough, someone from contemporary real-life Japan inhabiting a role in another world, it becomes more complicated. Several twists are quickly introduced. One of these is that our protagonist finds herself in the role of a game's villain, Katarina Claes, and she realizes this seven years before the game's story beginning. As a result, she resolves to avoid the "doom" that awaits her (character), and in doing so, she sends the entire game's plot "off the rails" before it even starts.

I like this development. Not only does it have a clear and focus goal for the prime story and its heroine but it quickly moves away from this origin. Katarina is no longer following the game's script so any advantage she has of such knowledge is increasingly moot. It also provides a fitting and reasonable excuse for being Oblivious-To-Love as is common for leading characters in this genre. She truly believes, with sound justification, that no one is going to fall for her because she's not the game's heroine but an obstacle for said heroine.

There is no preamble to get this plot going. The manga devotes one page and four panels to Katarina's past life, and only to introduce the founding idea of this past life playing the dating game, Fortune's Lover. Then Katarina quickly realizes how much trouble she could be in and takes appropriate measures. No time is wasted making her appear "ordinary" or "relatable", aside, of course, from her desire to avoid death or exile, which is very relatable.

This volume is structured as encounters with the game's love interests/capture targets and the other two rivals. They may look like loosely connected short stories but they are linked by Katarina's desire to avoid doom. Besides, they take place over years so it doesn't feel rushed or contrived. It's basically slice-of-life otherwise.

This story is a lot of fun. Katarina's doom counter-measures make perfect sense to her and are fully explained to the reader but her family and noble peers are baffled by them. Thus, hilarity ensues when she starts farming as a hobby or throws a toy snake at people. The "Council of Katarinas" is my favorite running gag. Beyond comedy, there are sincerely touching moments such as Katarina's attempts at bonding with her adoptive younger brother, Keith, and finding a romance novel buddy in Sophia.

CHARACTERS

Our heroine and the in-universe game's villain is Katarina Claes. She is a delightful character. The mixing of her memories has made her a friendly and done-to-earth sort of person, considering social debuts to be a hassle and would rather make friends than climb the social ladder.
Her sense of self and identity is interestingly crafted. We don't get any picture or idea of what her past self (henceforth referred as "the monkey girl") is like except from Katarina herself (other than the video game thing, naturally). She thinks of herself as "Katarina Claes" with eight years of memories as such. Her previous memories function like a USB data drive in that they are extra memory but otherwise don't interact with the main computer, so to speak. She doesn't mourn her death or try to return to her life as "monkey girl"; this doesn't even occur to her. Why would it? She is Katarina Claes and that is not her life (anymore).
Another part of her that is fun and interesting is the balance between opposite traits. She is quite the tomboy, enjoying tree-climbing and farming as hobbies, but knows how to act lady-like when necessary, due to her mother's diligence in teaching her decorum. She has rational and pragmatic reasons for the things she does but she also has strange behaviors such as consulting a Council of Katarinas where one of them has a mustache.

 

I could write as much about the other characters but that would take too long. I will select Alan Stuart, the fourth prince of the setting as an example.

He has numerous traits but is not defined by any one of them, thus making him more than a two dimensional character. He suffers from an inferiority complex from comparisons with his twin brother, Jerod, which makes him weepy when they share a conversation, but is boastful and confident in situations that exclude him. He shows determination in his tree-climbing duels with Katarina but not so much stubbornness that he cannot become her friend in the process. His piano skills are magnificent (even if his brother is better).

POLISH

As this review is for the manga adaptation, I can only speak of the art work in this section. It is cute. It is soft and warm and perfectly suited for the light-hearted comedy of the story. Being as the cast are all nobles, they get some fancy clothes which the artist does a splendid job with as well.

Trickster Eric Novels gives ""My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom" volume 1 an A+

Click here for my previous book review: Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Friday, August 16, 2019

Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9 (volumes 25-27) Read for Fun

This is an exciting collection. Here we have the first full confrontation between the Negi Party and Fate Party (volume 25) Rakan finally bothering to tell everyone about the great pre-series war (volume 26) and the climax of the tournament arc with an epic volume finale (volume 27).

Pactio artifact vs Pacio Artifact! I must say I enjoyed seeing the Ministra Magi fight each other. It is a different form of combat then the slugfests/wizard duels between Negi and his opponents. Haruna's creation magic (Retreat-kun!) and Nodoka's mind-reading make a potent combination. We also get to see Rakan in action again in a scene that is comedic, silly and outrageous which serves as foreshadowing to how NOT silly Rakan truly is.

The man of a thousand blades comes with a thousand nicknames, among them "living computer virus" and "human nuclear warhead". He looms large here as a fighter, a storyteller and a mentor (and a clown).

The peak into the backstory was fun and interesting. With the war, and the investigation, and Nagi's contrasting personality, it was like a genre shift. Fate didn't like a child back then but age-changing magic is a thing here so it could mean nothing.

The final fight of the Ostia tournament (which, metaphysically, could be the only one given its detail) is incredible. Negi and Kotaro vs Rakan and Kagetaro is a skillful mix of fighting awesome, narrative awesome, pacing awesome, and artistic awesome.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9 an A+

Click here for my next book review: My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom" volume 1

Click here for my previous book review: Chuang Tzu

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chuang Tzu (read for fun)

Chuang Tzu is a book on Taoist philosophy. This particular translation is part of the Basic Writing series from Burton Watson.

The introduction written by him advises the reader against systematic analysis of the work itself because it is a mystic text. It is not to be analyzed and studied but reflected upon and understood. I agree with him.
Looking for meaning in each line, paragraph, page etc.  is bound to be frustrating. I don't see it as written that way. It's more of gestalt sort of thing. You have to read it with an open mind, without preconceptions, to get anything.

For me, personally, it resembles some of the martial art books that I've read. I see themes of the empty mind, value of intuition/muscle memory and the importance of detachment and focus.

It's been kind of hard to write this review because of the nature of the wisdom in this book. It frequently makes light of language itself by calling it "reckless" or otherwise insufficient in explaining The Way. At one point, Chuang Tzu even says that once you understand the meaning of his words you can and should forget the words themselves. So while I wrote this review I felt like I failed to really talk about the book at all. It's more like what I thought about the book which might be completely off-base.

I like this book but for some reason I don't feel like giving it an "A". Perhaps it is because some of the passages feel like nonsense. The introduction mentioned that some of the text was difficult to translate, corrupted, or something like that. It also mentioned how some of the historical text feels like it was written by a different person with less skill but that he tried to remove as much of that as possible. Although this particular copy has scribbled notes from its previous owner which function as a contrasting viewpoint, which is helpful.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Chaung Tzu" a B+

Click here for my next book review: Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9

Click here for my previous book review: Drinking Cultures

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Drinking Cultures (read for fun)

Drinking Cultures is an anthology of anthropology. It is yet another book that I was assigned to read in a college class but did not have time for. Seriously, there is too much reading in a full load even for a nerd like me who loves reading stuff like this. Anyway,  each chapter focuses on a specific drinking culture somewhere in the world,  from Japan to San Francisco to France to Germany to Malta to Hong Kong.

 The idea of "alcohol as community builder" takes on just as many varieties, each influenced by each area's differing attributes. The wine-tasting subculture within France has the characteristics it does because of the long historical connection between "France" and "wine", and even this has its nuances with those critiquing such a view (in discussions of national identity and such).

Most of the anthropologists acquired their information through direct and personal investigation of these drinking cultures. It sounds like going to pubs, fairs, bars, and other places where drinking occurs and then observing the clientele and talking with them. More formal interviews are explicitly used in more de-centralized cases, such as the young gangs in San Francisco with the aid of people who have good relations with them, like social workers.

This is an information dense book. Each article (excluding the notes/references/etc.) is about 15 pages in length and yet it goes deep into its respective drinking. The why, how, where and other angles are covered. It is interesting and engaging reading.

Each chapter stands alone and can be read in about 1.5 hours so in this respect it is a quick read. However, I noticed something of a pattern in the way the chapters are arranged. It is as though consecutive chapters are meant to contrast each other. The first drinking culture, in Japan, has as its theme a drinking party which reinforces social roles and hierarchy and even has rules for behavior when its celebrants are drunk. The second one, in Germany, instead speaks of how the locals use the idealized "Irish Pub" as a means of relaxing from social restraints into a more loose and friendly atmosphere. The third and fourth drinking cultures, in Czechoslovakia and Norway, respectively, contrast the attitudes of public drunkenness. The former, according to this article, drink an awful lot and excuse mistakes due to drunkenness, while the latter drink regularly but in a narrow window and views silly behavior due to intoxication in a similar manner.

I had fun reading this.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Drinking Cultures" an A+
 
 


Click here for my next book review: Chuang Tzu

Click here for my previous book review: Young Miss Holmes Casebook 5-7

 
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Heart of the Curiosity - Author Interview


This is part of my contribution to the Heart of the Curiosity blog tour, which took place earlier this month. I featured its blurb and author at this article here so click that for information on the book itself. This right here is an interview with the author that focuses on the setting of the story, the titular theater, The Curiosity.


What inspired the setting of this story?


I started out just interested in the idea of professional audience members, which led me to the idea of writing a story about show business folk, and I like contained settings, so I chose a theater. Once I knew I was going to write a story about a theater I also knew that I wanted it to be a treasure hunt and have Steampunk elements … it kind of just wrote itself from there. 





How did you design the theater? Did you have to draw it out?


I didn’t really design it so much as if the story took the characters somewhere, I went there with them. I had a few things that NEEDED to be in the theater for either plot reasons (certain tunnels/passages that went certain places) or because it wouldn’t make sense for a theater NOT to have them (a stage, a lobby, a ticket booth).


It wasn’t really necessary to draw it out.  The whole idea of the theater is that it is an impossible to fathom maze of passages and rooms that my main character finds a little confusing. If she didn’t know how it was laid out exactly it wouldn’t make sense for me to either. Also, I only ever bother to figure out parts of my world building that readers will actually experience/interact with, and there was a lot of the theater that simply didn’t matter from that perspective.  



How did you come up with the obstacles?


I honestly can’t remember. There was probably caffeine involved. Maybe some wine. 


To an extent each obstacle is supposed to represent an aspect of the theater (storytelling and invention, dance, lighting), but I also kept in mind what I needed my characters to feel in that moment, so there’s a mix of traps with high tension and a dire consequence if you don’t figure it quickly and more cerebral puzzles that force the characters to slow down and calmly think through something together--and maybe have a chance to talk when they aren’t in a panic. 



Tell us about the cafe. Did you base it on a certain cafe in real life?


No. I’ve been to multiple bakeries, and just kind of picked things I like about bakeries/cafes in general. It’s kind of a wish fulfillment bakery that always has something new and lots of coffee and baked goods. 




How did you come up with the desserts?


I googled “bakery display case,” pulled up images, picked the prettiest, most whimsical looking displays and described some of the things I saw inside them. (Writing is a lot less glamorous when you know how the sausage is made, huh?) The flavor combinations were a mix of wish fulfillment (who doesn’t want to know what sunshine tastes like?) and things I’ve read about in descriptions of wines that seem odd to think of as flavors but which do often come up and weirdly taste good (smoky, leathery, oaky).



______________________________________________________________________
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback
  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Young Miss Holmes casebook 5-7 (Read for fun)


This is the final casebook for "Young Miss Holmes" and it is appropriately set up as a finale. Christie's parents are finally coming home.

 There is more original content here, such as backstory information for the Hope family and what Christie's father has been doing in India while his daughter solves cases in London.

The author takes a different approach to each of these cases, which increases variety and furthers the original content/re-invention of the tales instead of simply adding Christie's group to them. For instance, the "the Dying Message" is framed as Christie relating the case to her grandmother. Holmes has already solved it and the grandmother wants to try solving it herself while spending an evening with Christie. "The Famous Trainer" has Christie and Holmes Working-The-Same-Case. She doesn't even know there is a case until a little ways in, being primarily interested in a suspicious canary seller who has started a trend among her fellow daughters of nobility.

 "The Giant Rat of Sumatra" is particular interesting. In this book, it is revealed to be an attempted assassination centered squarely on Christie, and is thus the most original of the entire series. It is also the least like a mystery and more like an action-y home-defense thing. It also introduces a foil for her. I wish I could see more those two working together.

 
The art continues to be great. It is cute and does a good job of both setting the scene and building tension across the panels.

I would like to continue reading with the "London Massive" sequel series but I can't find it in English (or at all, really).

 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Young Miss Holmes" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Drinking Cultures
 
Click here for my previous book review: Log Horizon v 11 Krusty Tycoon Lord
 
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Log Horizon v 11 - Krusty Tycoon Lord (read for fun)

This is another Kanami focus volume. It shows what she and her group have been doing while Shiroe did his The Chessmaster thing in Japan. It also reveals what happened to Krusty after he disappeared. It is excellent place to pick up the series after watching season 2 of the anime because it overlaps a bit.

It is heavy on introspective philosophical themes. Krusty reflects on his lack of in-game memories as well as his pre-Apacolypse past (interesting itself) and then applies this in an awesome way in the climax. Elias angsts about feeling useless due to his Thou-Shall-Not-Kill curse among other things. Leonardo is linked and contrasted with Elias and the pair also do something awesome in the climax.

The climax is a great pay off from the prior build up.

Also, there's world building for the Chinese server. The developers there found an efficient way to populate endless content over a wide area and this has produced unfortunate side-effects since the Apocalypse. I enjoyed reading about all that and how it compares to the domestic and inter-city troubles in Japan.

Hua Diao (a child-size martenfolk) and Krusty make both a charming moe couplet and a fun comedic duo.

Most of the combat takes place in two major stages and they are amazing. They are these focus bits of streaming action, story pay-off and character development.

Each chapter/section provides a character sheet for a present character. Their level, stats, and flavor text for their items, which are fun to read about.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Log Horizon v 11 - Krusty Tycoon Lord" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Young Miss Holmes casebook 5-7

Click here for my previous book review: War and Human Nature

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Heart of the Curiosity Blog Tour

 


Welcome to the Heart of the Curiosity Blog Tour, featuring the latest work by H. L. Burke. I found this on the Clean Indie Reads group. It sounds like a fun quest narrative mixed with a mystery. A boy with magical power, his agile sister and a friend of theirs descending through mazes and traps beneath a theater sounds like it could be the basis for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. 

Without further ado, I present to you the full blurb. 


_______________________________________________________________________________


The secret lies with the Heart.

Born with a magical knack for manipulating emotions, Leodora's only dream is to ensure her talented little sister dances on the biggest, brightest stage in the Republic: The Curiosity, a grand old theater of tradition and innovation. After escaping a cruel carnival, Leo secures her sister a place in the Curiosity’s chorus line, and herself a job as a professional audience member, swaying the crowd's mood with her magic. The girls have a home for the first time in their lives.

Then a tragic accident darkens the theater. A greedy businessman begins blackmailing Leo, and financial woes threaten to close the show forever. The Curiosity's sole hope lies in a mythical power source hidden beneath the maze-like passages and trapdoors of the theater—the Heart. And Leo’s only friend Paxton, nephew of the theater's stagemistress, is the key to finding it.

While Leo and Paxton hunt for the Heart, the blackmailer’s threats loom larger. Mysterious figures, cryptic clues, and deadly traps hinder the search at every turn. If the friends cannot recover the Heart in time, Leo and her sister will be cast out of the only home they’ve ever known, and the final curtain will fall on The Curiosity.

Enter a world reminiscent of The Greatest Showman, with a puzzle worthy of Sherlock Holmes and National Treasure, in this new Steampunk Fantasy from H. L. Burke.

___________________________________________



Interested? The full story is available at the following online locations. 
 










As for the author herself, her bio is as follows: 

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.


Social Media Links:






_______________________________________________

Interested in more? I have an author interview that focuses on the setting of the story, the titular theater, The Curiosity. You can reach it here.

 
______________________________________________________________________
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback
  

Thursday, July 4, 2019

War and Human Nature (read for fun)

What causes war? Why do humans commit acts of violence? Is world-wide peace possible and if so then how? War and Human Nature is a debate on questions like this.

This book is part of the Opposing Viewpoints series. It is divided into chapters headed by questions and composed of articles by different authors answering said question in their own way. They are structured to contrast each other and thereby provide a (hopefully) panoramic view of the debate on each question.
For instance, the first question is "Are Humans Aggressive by Nature" and the first answer is "Aggression is an Instinct" followed by "Aggression is Not an Instinct".

Overall, it is an interesting book. The opinions work together, challenging each other and answering each other's criticism even if not explicitly doing so. Some of them have stronger arguments than others in my opinion, and some feel incomplete. These are excerpts, after all. The full versions are elsewhere.

This makes it a quick read. Each chapter can be read and considered in less than one hour.

The problem with this book is that it is dated. Much of the war that is concerned with is either World War II or the Cold War. There are exceptions but the majority of the arguments and debate is centered around these two subjects which are closer in time to their authors than readers in 2019. Terrorism, domestic violence, and hates crimes are examples of aggression and violence which are either not mentioned or only sparingly in comparison to conventional war and nuclear weapons.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "War and Human Nature" a B+

Click here for my next book review: Log Horizon volume 11

Click here for my previous book review: The Handy History Answer Book


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback
  

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Usefulness of Grey Morality (D&D Experience)

Using grey morality injects ambiguity into a story. This ambiguity can then be used to drive conflicts and forge characters.

This happens a lot in my current Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Right now, there's this hobgoblin warlord that's building an army. He uses slave labor, gathers lots of weapons, and absorbs independent goblinoid communities into his army. Sounds bad, right? When the party infiltrated his camp as caravan guards to gather intel they didn't find something like the pits of Mordor. It was an organized war camp but there was nothing exceptionally cruel going on (that we noticed at least).

When he offered a banquet for the caravan to celebration the completion of the deal, we totally thought there was going to be poison. My character downed an antidote. There wasn't any poison. We later learned that this warlord was a repeat customer of the human city states and had never cheated any of them. In fact, we discovered that his army was not meant to attack any of the city-states (at the time, at least; on-going campaign and all) but a kraken worshiping cult that had been abducting sailors and transforming them into sea-spawn.

We weren't sure who we should side with, if either of them. It led to a lot of interesting discussions within the party. Some of us wanted to attack the warlord for being a slave-owner and some wanted to side with him because they saw the kraken cult as the bigger threat and/or greater rewards lay in working for the more lawful of the two. The roleplay of these debates was a lot of fun.

My own character was mostly interested in hunting and eating so he didn't care which side ended up filling his belly.

There was even a mysterious monk following us. We weren't sure (until the most recent session) if he worked for the hobgoblin warlord, the kraken cult or a third faction. Thus, we didn't know if he was an enemy or a possible ally. This also led to fun roleplaying.

If things had been more straight-forward then we won't have had the opportunity to have these fun moments. Discussing a course of action, in-character, was made possible by the ambiguity of the grey/unknown morality of the characters we met.

What do you think? If you'd like, please share with me such moments of your own campaigns.


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback
  

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Handy History Answer Book (read for fun)

I think this was a gift from several years back. It is a general history book that claims to provide answers to common questions.

The book is organized by subject: war, philosophy, discovery etc. These are the chapters. Within the chapters are sections that are a couple pages each in length. Each section is topped by a question such as "What is X" or "who was Y". As far as that goes, the book is fine.

Being a general history book, the answers are general. They are short and summarized, maybe to the point of being incomplete. This is not a problem. It was addressed in the introduction. Adding more specific answers to each question would make the book unwieldly in length. For introductory information, it is sufficient. The problems, as I seem them, are not with the answers themselves.

Rather, the problems are with the table of contents and the lack of recommended direction. The former is incomplete and the latter is stifling. These problems make the book less convenient to use and less useful overall.

The table of contents only lists the start of each chapter. So there is no easy means of paging within chapters, only between them. Next, the questions answered are not listed so the reader does know which are answered without going through the entire chapter. Making this worse, the table of contents only lists categories like "Ancient medicine" or "Trojan War" so one must make a guess in which section one's question is in. All this combines to make the book inconvenient at best as a reference book.

Each answer is limited in its information. This is excusable but there is no direction to find in-depth information. All that exists is a page of references at the end of the book. A couple titles as recommended reading for each answer would increase the book's value. Without such a feature, the book is far less "handy" than it could be.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Handy History Answer Book" a C-

Click here for my next book review: War and Human Nature

Click here for my previous book review: Mahou Sensei Negima - omnibus #7

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback
  

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Magister Negi Mage - Negima Omnibus #7 (Read for fun)


This is a transitional piece. The overall story is moving from the Mahorafest arc to the Magical World arc. In the meantime, lots of fun and interesting things happen.

 
First of all, there is more progress on Asuna's character arc. One of my favorite parts of this omnibus occurs early on, where she has this intriguing and mysterious dream. It's all serious until you turn the page and Asuna walks in on Konko and Setsuna starting a pactio. Mood whiplash for massive comedy.
Her intensive training under Evangeline to better manage Kanka furthers this arc in addition to the level of badass she takes. It has great emotional heft for both of them.

 
Second, there's the world building. Traveling naturally leads to world building. So far, the story has only spoken of the Magical World. Its society and its laws played a central role in the previous arc and now the story moves to its physical location. Just the connection between the two is interesting, let alone the geography, history, etc. that comes into play once the "Negima Club (temporary name)" arrives there.


Third, there's snippets of what everyone does around the main action such as Asuna's training or the beach vacation that Anya jumps into. These are amusing little diversions like Mana's attempts to get a student-discount for a movie ticket.


Most of all, what I like is the bridging of the gap. These events create a separation between the major arcs to keep them more distinct and provide a breather. It is filled it with meaningful events that develop characters and advance overall plot elements rather than immediate stories. Of course, there is also plenty of comedy. It's only recently that I've come to understand how important this is.

The way in which Ken Akamatsu creates the new story's arc levels is also impressive. It is not rushed but there is no narrative fat either. An immediate goal, a midterm goal and a long-term goal are established in concise terms and then acted upon.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Negima #7 omnibus" an A+

Click here for my previous book review Chronicles of the Crusades


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).


His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Chronicles of the Crusade - Read for Fun

This is another book I got while in College. It is a combination of two accounts, Geoffrey of Villehardouin's record of the Fourth Crusade and John of Joinville's record of the Sixth Crusade. It is unusual among my books for being primary sources. I will go into each one individually.

Geoffrey of Villehardouin's record of the Fourth Crusade.


The presentation here is interesting. There is no introduction written by Geoffrey of Villehardouin so his purpose in doing so can be debated. Personally, I think it is a morality tale.
The crusaders are presented as heroes and others, such as the Venetians building their boats, are enthusiastic about helping them. The economic angle is glossed over. He lays much blame on those that "go to other ports" instead of joining this particular crusader army. To leave it is a sin and punishment is swift and karmic.

He loves his hyperbole. The fleets and fortresses are all described as the best ever and everyone greets everyone else with great honor. Those who leave the main crusade army are the worst ever because there was never a more noble enterprise than this one here.

When I first learned of the Fourth Crusade and how it ended up attacking Constantinople instead of its target in Egypt, I was shocked. I thought "aren't all these guys supposed to be allies? Why are they attacking each other?" It puzzled me for years. This book, both its introduction by Caroline Smith and the account itself provides the answers. They are, basically, "No" and "because they have long-standing trust issues". Just because they practiced the same religion (I know, the Great Schism had already taken place), could speak one or more shared languages and had a common enemy did not make them friends.


John of Joinville's record of the Sixth Crusade

First thing, it's not really about the Sixth Crusade. It's actually about King Louis IX a.k.a. Saint Louis and why he deserved this special distinction. It takes some time for him to get to the crusade itself. The first section is about the king's virtues, such as his frugality and means of administering justice.

It is indeed a contrast with Geoffrey of Villehardouin's record. There is no hyperbole. While he praises King Louis he also criticizes  some of his actions, mainly the tactical ones. It feels more like a personal account.


Being first person historical accounts, I'm not sure how to rate them.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Chronicles of the Crusade" a +


Click here for my next book review (also for fun): Negima Omnibus #7

Click here for my previous book review (a request): SHOT DOWN 

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback