Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Grown Man Playing with Toys - miniatures as writing aides

When I was a child, I would stage battles with.my action figures. Heroes on one side and villains on the other for the "fight". I would speak for them and move them along my room's floor. My furniture was their landscape; a bedside table was a fort and my bed a mountain.

There were stories involved. Immature stories they have been but I planned them out. One such story was a grand villain alliance trying to over-run a hero base.

As I grew older I stopped using the figures to tell the stories. I started keeping everything in my head. This was less expensive for someone as young as I was; my allowance went mostly into batteries for my Gameboy, and such.  So the figures I already had watched me move myself around the room while I thought out the story.

Now, as an adult, I have come full circle. I am using toys to tell stories again. They may be D&D/pathfinder/etc minis instead of Transformers but the point is the same.

I use them to mark the positions of characters during battles.

It is a useful writing aide. In my newest story (after The Highest Power), I used them to keep track of six or so soldiers that fought my new protagonist. I moved them along the wall of a keep to flank her and then decided how she would respond. Without this aid, the scene would be less structured and clear. It most likely wouldn't have such a grand conclusion either.


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).

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Read for fun: The Lives of Confucius


The Lives of Confucius is another book from a college class that I didn't have time to fully read at the time. It catalogues the many kind of "Confucianism" through the ages, and the faces of this famous philosopher, along with charting how he became popular. This makes it a intriguing mixture of literary analysis, cultural examination and historical development.
 
In a nutshell, I found this book to be a concentration of knowledge about Confucius. It is a useful reference to the many ways he was portrayed and is still portrayed. While there is a lot of information packed into these pages, the Suggested Readings section at the end of each chapter demonstrates that there is plenty more to read, research and form an opinion on.

The majority of the chapters are straightforward. The "historical" Confucius, the opinions of his early critics, the use of his name by the Han Dynasty, the academic debates and all the stuff about the Imperial/Ancestral cult stuff, all of these (mostly)  read as the author passively transmitting information. I found all of that interesting.
 
The further towards the modern era the book goes, the more it becomes interaction with the other voices in the, for lack of a better phrase, Market of Confucius(es). This is basically the final chapter, which is appropriately called "A Confusion of Confusciuses". In this chapter, Michael Nylan (the author of this chapter in particular) basically critiques many modern writers of Confucius as deliberately misconstruing the classics for their own goals or accidentally getting the wrong idea through faulty translations. There are three that he praises but most of them get flak. There's even a joke that I find worth including here because it does a wonderful job of illustrating his point. He writes that no one has portrayed Confucius as a proto-feminist yet but he expects that there will be one eventually.

There might even be yet another Confucius in the end of this book. Yes, one of the authors throwing their own hat into the ring; a Confucius of international cooperation, advocate of learning, and a practitioner of humaneness (which may or may not be the same as "social justice").

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Lives of Confucius" a +

(I.e. I don't know how to grade this other than the fact that I enjoyed reading it because it is the only book on Confucius that I've read).

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): No Game No Life volume 5


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).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Read for fun: No Game No Life volume 5

No Game No Life is one of my current favorites. This one here is Volume 5. Like the review requests, I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

This story does not immediately resume Blank's conquest of the Siren. It actually opens with Feel, their opponent in volume 1, visiting another elven nobleman. Yes, this is a snapshot of Feel and Kurami's schemes in the elf's country, and it is impressive. It has the same sort of multi-layer game-plotting and deception as the primary plot, and a similar sense of style. After the first reading session, I had to make sure I only read it at night, when I had more free time, because I didn't want to stop. What follows is a tender-moment, with much character development. Then a scene shift for an immensely funny scene.

Suffice to say, Yuu Kamiya brought his A-Game right out of the gate. The primary plot exceeds it.

The meat of it is a game of tag with the Flügels, which includes a number of twists and additional rules to fit the setting. It was thrilling. Not just the battle itself, which was amazing enough, but the fact that this is the first game that Blank goes into blind. The game and its rules are suggested by Jibril, so Blank can't do their normal "win the game before it starts" methodology.

The game appears to have the lowest skates of any game so far, but the real stakes are much higher and more personal.

This particular arc has a great conclusion to it; a satisfying resolution and with an unexpected result.

CHARACTERS

Jibril gets a lot of development here. This book taking place in her hometown, we learn a lot about her; her past, her relationships, and how she differs from other Flügels. For instance, while all the Flugel love reading, she is the only one who cares about the books themselves.

We meet another Flügel, Azrael. She is the First Unit and one of the Flügel's leaders. This makes her the big sister of the Flugel, and she is quite proud of that fact. Thus the comedic contrast with her behavior matching that of a flaky and annoying younger sister. There are a lot of layers to this character. Saying anymore would be a spoiler.

 
There is also a side plot dedicated to Stephanie and Izuna. It is awfully cute, and relevant to the overarching plot of the series.

POLISH

It looks good. Yuu Kamiya has this tight and flowing prose style that works extremely well in high energy scenes such as the game of tag, but also highlights slower and emotional moments.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "No Game No Life Volume 5" an A+

Click here for my next book review: The Lives of Confucius


Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Monster Manual 3.5E

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).

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Read for fun: Dungeons and Dragons' Manster Manual for 3.5 Edition



I picked this one up to add to my understanding of D&D and combat in pen-and-paper RPGs in general. A base of knowledge about monsters, and mechanics and varieties; this is certainly the place for it.

There is SO much more to them than the capacity to inflict damage to a player's health. Indeed, death-in-battle is the least of an adventurer's worries when there are creatures that can convert them into monstrous thralls, use them as incubators for its young, or trap their souls. Imagining all these creatures inhabiting the same world gives one the idea that the adventurers live in a terribly dangerous place. Granted, not all of them are in the Material Plane, that is, the world most humans inhabit. Even so, they exist and can cross over to join the native horrors.

It makes me think that stories such as "Goblin Slayer" or "Berserk" have the right idea of things. An adventurer is just one or two bad die rolls away from a dreadful fate, and even a skilled and experienced one may not be equipped to face a particular foe. It would be easy to become a Killer-Game-Master, and not even deliberately. The kinds of monsters appropriate for new adventurers are obviously outnumbered by the ones that are not, and even the weak monsters can get lucky or overwhelm with numbers.  How scary must it be, to live as a non-adventurer (a commoner farmer, for instance) in such a world?

It was a fun exercise, to look at the challenge level of each monster and work out what precisely went into that decision, and then compare it to other monsters. There's a particular plant monster, completely immobile and without a strength stat, that is a challenge level of 2 because of special abilities. This means it should be as tough as SIX goblins (challenge rating of 1/3 each). I didn't figure that out one. Then I came across a shadow-like monster with a higher rating, and a similar condition.


 I was puzzled until I realized a few things: it can only do strength-stat damage, and at zero strength, the victim turns into the same sort of creature within the battle. Every character has a lot more HP than strength and a non-strength character would go down faster.  I have a dwarf paladin at level 2 which has a strength stat of 15. Given initiative and maximized dice rolls, this shadow creature could kill him in as little as three turns.  I thought "this is something I'll fight from a distance".

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons' Monster Manual for 3.5 Edition" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): No Game No Life volume 5

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


I also reviewed another useful author aide, the Dungeon Master's Manual.

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).

Monday, October 29, 2018

Excerpt of The Highest Power - Danger of Chaos/Hypocrisy of Order

Hello!

This is a sample of the first chapter of the final book in the Journey to Chaos series. Right now it is in the beta-reading phase. This here is kind of rough.

It has gone through Microsoft's spell check and the Grammarly program but, right as I was selecting the sample, I found another error. It was a simple one that both of them should have caught but neither did. Anyway, it is more correct than it was before.
_____________________________________________________



            "Good, because we're this close to becoming Lady Chaos' avatar. All we need to do is..." The air in front of her shimmered.

            It became a square and then it further developed into a door. It swung open to reveal a tall human man. His robe was dyed golden-brown, same as Annala's, and cinched at his waist with a rainbow cord. His hair was shaved into a tonsure. In his hand he carried staff crowned by a spear blade at one end and an infinity symbol at the other.

            "Omnias!" The four shouted. Annala brandished her staff. 

            "What are you doing here?" she demanded. He raised his own staff and declared,

            "Chauffeuring!"

            He sidestepped while drawing his staff low across the gate. A figure in a silver-grey tunic and same colored pants stepped forward. A hood concealed their head. Stepping between Kallen and the chaos cleric, the figure reached up and threw back their hood.

            Eric was floored. With her long and silky green hair, large eyes, flawless skin and heart-shaped face, her beauty rivaled Annala. However, it was a colder, sharper beauty. His girlfriend was full of warmth and friendliness. This girl, with her narrow grey eyes, monochrome robe, and tightly braided hair, called to mind polished obsidian at the tip of a spear.   He heard Kallen gulp.

            "Ariel? Is that...really you?" The other girl nodded.

            "It is good to see you again, big sister."

            As if from a spring, Kallen launched herself forward and latched around Ariel. The glomp made her take a step back. Kallen squeezed her, stroked her hair and babbled incoherently.

            "Wow! You're...You've... I've been working all...look at you! It's amazing, you're amazing and..." She pulled back and took another look. She just noticed the same thing that everyone else on the pillar already knew.

            Her sister was human again despite living in Latrot all these years. The outfit she wore was a field version of that worn by clerics of Order. Her posture was rigid. Her eyes were cold. Silver-grey streaked her green hair. "How are you like this?"

            "I appreciate the phrasing, dear sister." Ariel's eyes sharpened. "You didn't ask 'why'."

            "I know why! Order brainwashed you, but it's not a problem. We, that is, Dnnac Ledo, we're very good at deprogramming, especially lately so..." She trailed off when she saw the eldritch light radiating from Ariel's right hand.

            All forms of magical and spiritual ability gave off light because they were powered by mana. It was mana and its higher forms (kon-life energy, paku-spiritual energy, and chaos itself) that composed the world and everything in it. Depending on its nature, the mana's color would change but there was always a color. The only exception was Order.

             Standing in contrast to Lady Chaos and her creation, the power of Order had no color. Like a black hole, the best mortals could perceive was a bizarre non-color resembling silver-grey. For this reason it was eldritch and there was only reason it could be coming from Ariel's hand.

            "I, Ariel Selios,  swear by all things holy, both orderly and chaotic, that I am not brainwashed, blackmailed, or being overtly controlled in any other way other than which is typical of ordercrafters and that I began serving Lord Order of my own free will because it is the desire of my heart and mind to do so."

            "Order does not abide lies..." Kallen recited. She shook her head. " There must be something that    "

            "This has been a long time in coming," Ariel said, holding her hands together at her waist. "I sought Order's shelter long before the Siduban Chaos Explosion. Did you forget the Tale of the Two Sisters? "

            "Did you forget? Lunas caused that explosion! He killed our parents! He's the reason we mutated!" Just saying the word caused it to happen, and Kallen's true form leaked through her human guise. The following words were spoken through four mouths. "Thousands died because of him!"

            "Lunas saved the world that day," Ariel replied, calmly and firmly. "I came here to explain that to you so that you may see the Orderly Truth through the lies of Chaos."

            "What? But...you can't mean..."

            "Yes, dear sister, I have come to deprogram you." Kallen backed away and slipped back into her false human form. "Please listen, otherwise I'll have to enslave or kill you."

            Kallen looked back forth between Ariel and a random patch of ground. "This...This can't....can't...this... sister...this...can't...can't...can't can't CANT'!"

            Eric stepped forward and grasped her hand. At once the peace and tranquility of her soulmate flowed into her mind and soul, then spread through her body. It didn't dissolve her stress; not entirely. She looked into Eric's eyes and he saw her pure confusion and raw panic.

            "I'm sure we can talk this out," Eric said, soothingly for Kallen's benefit. "There's no reason for fighting."

            "Indeed, Mr.Watley," a second new voice said. A second figure stepped out of the teleportation door.

            He was dressed the same as Ariel and then he threw back his hood to reveal two differences. The first was his purple hair and its stripe of black, and the second was the silver-grey circle on his forehead. "I told you before that I would rather we be friends than enemies."

            "LUNAS!" Eric shouted with the voice of a grendel and his hand became metallic claws.

            "Ariel and myself were sent here to neutralize the threat you pose to this world," the prince of Latrot said. "It doesn't matter how we do it as long as it is done."

            "The threat we pose?" Eric asked. "You have some nerve saying that after the stunts you pulled in Roalt and Dnnac Ledo!"

            "I will direct your attention to Sueno as a counter-argument," Lunas said. His tone was as cold and piercing as Eric's claws. "My country's attempts at politics-through-violence is nothing compared your girlfriend's reality crash. She endangered this whole world fruit with her recklessness and willingness to use violence to get her way." Annala stared at him with venom in her eyes.

            "Book of Zatos Volume 1 1:1 'Woe to you princes and enforcers! Hypocrites all!' You know full well the damage you do to the fabric of reality. Your Grand Obelisk rips and tears it every second of every day. Sueno was a mistake, yes, and I deeply regret it but it was also an accident born of desperation." She pointed her finger at him. "Your damage is methodical and deliberate!"

            Her finger moved to Ariel at his side.

            "Even your claims of truth and lawfulness are shams and abominations. Your god's servants kidnapped the girl at your side and warped her mind."
______________________________________________________________________


The previous excerpt is from later in this book, and features a battle with a tree monster!

To learn more about the Journey to Chaos series, you can visit Tvtropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/JourneyToChaos.

The Journey to Chaos series is available for purchase at Amazon: http://amzn.to/10NsG2i
 
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).

Thursday, October 25, 2018

My first experience with D&D

Do you recall that blog post some time back when I mentioned finding a place to play Dungeons and Dragons? I realized I never said what happened. Here it is.

So I found this café that has a weekly D&D night. The full place fills up with players in their own campaigns. I started at what is basically "beginner hour", the hour before this happens. The Dungeon Masters were already there and hanging out, waiting for new players like me to drop by. One of them helped me create my creature.

I couldn't decide between a dwarf paladin or a gnome ranger so I asked the dice. It decided on the former. So I made a dwarf paladin, and specifically a Hill Dwarf paladin because it had better specs than the mountain one in regards to paladins. Then we got further into backstory and starting equipment. I decided on a War hammer as primary and a mace as a back up (I would come to regret not choosing the throwing spears). Then I choose metal working and leather working to be skills, because I wanted this dwarf to be able to maintain his equipment or make upgrades. This might have influenced my decision to chose Guild Artisan as his profession, which enabled me to choose a bonus language and some other stuff.
The DM I worked with talked up the fifth edition as one where the character's backstory contributed to game mechanics instead of just being fluff. He didn't ignore it entirely (referring to the skills as "what did dad do?" to justify my character having them) but I still noticed a distinction. For instance, there is the Character Traits and Flaws section which he seemed far less interested in than other aspects of character creation (specifically, I think he referred to them as being optional) but he was still helpful there. On a humorous note, we came to a part that he said was "the hardest part of all" and something that "the guide couldn't help me with", naming the character. I smiled because I already decided on Kagen Holystone.

It turned out to be a VERY full night. For a while, I was afraid I wouldn't get to play at all. See, there is a sign-up page on the cafe's website and they had little room for walk-ins like me. Ultimately, the DM that helped me with character creation got a table and pulled together four other players. One was a new player like me, a third was more experienced as was the fourth,  and I think the fifth might have been another DM.

We played what I think was a pre-built scenario. It involved goblins raiding a country farm. The DM set the stage and I was ready for roleplaying but there wasn't much there. I had to ask for clarification that all our characters had already met and were traveling together. He skipped over that so I only got one person's character name, and none of the player's names. I remember them by their classes: another paladin, two rangers, and a bard.

On the other hand, there was still a fun moment where the party stopped by the farm in question and heal those who were injured.  My character, Kagen, and a ranger did medicine rolls on two of the family members and I used Lay On Hands to make sure the second would survive.

Then we went into the forest. At the entrance, the other paladin did this "come out evil spirits!" challenge from his horse, which was cool. Then we ventured inside. One of the rangers had a favored territory of "forest" which meant he couldn't get lost. The DM was really mad/frustrated about this because it was an obstacle that was auto-removed, and thus unavailable.

At the first encounter I showed my noob-ness. We found goblins on the other side of a river. I ran across the bridge shouting "DIE GOBLINS!" It took all of my movement to get to them so I couldn't attack that turn. The others kept their distance with ranged attacks, and even the other new player made good use of Faerie Light to aid the others. I, on the other hand, got knocked out on a critical hit. Fortunately, our bard healed me before I died. The battle ended in our favor and we continued.

The next encounter was at an old campsite. We were attacked by plant creatures over night. I double-teamed with the DM ranger to hack one of them up ("You've got firewood" as the DM said). We rested the night and arrived at the final location in the morning.

It was more goblins and a hobgoblins. This was the climax and it was fun. There was an added element of danger in the poison the hobgoblin was cooking up because he would throw it at us. The DM ranger got poisoned immediately but I/Kagen used Lay On Hands to cure him just as quickly. The other paladin moved to attack, the bard used music magic to make some of the goblins flee and the ranger used more Faerie Light.

Learning from my previous mistake, I advanced cautiously. I moved only half the distance instead of all of it and ended my turn in a defense posture (the technical word is "dodge). This granted me Advantage against all attacks until my next turn. Caution rewarded me by seeing me through unscathed.
Oh yeah, I forget to mention that these goblins exploded when killed. Part of this scenario was the hobgoblin experimenting on the other goblins with the poison and it made them explode, which required a dexterity saving throw to avoid damage. I don't recall any of us dying from it; even Kagen made a saving throw. I was surprised because he is a dwarf, in mail, with dexterity as a dump stat.

The Café was closing soon so the DM had to cut the game short. By this time we had killed or routed all of the goblins (I killed the one that was hasted) and we were still in good shape so defeating the hobgoblin was likely. He skipped forward to the reward phase.

There were potions of healing and a magic item that granted a bonus on saving throws. We rolled for that and I think the other new player got it. I was given a potion of healing because I used one recovering from my initial stupidity. Kagen also levelled up, which means he can use 1st level spells in his next campaign.

I left the café at 10:00 PM or so. Because of "beginner hour", I was there all afternoon and evening. I wasn't expecting to be as noisy as it was. I had trouble hearing what the DM was saying at times. Regardless, I had fun.


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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Answering Review Request: Misaligned

Armen Pogharian asked me to read their novel "Misaligned". I previously reviewed his story "Poisoned Princess" but this is a different beast entirely. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

From a very high level view, this is an Alien Invasion plot, but the nuts and bolts are not that at all. The experience of the story is much closer to Slice of Life. I didn't place a premise in the introduction like I usually do because I can't decide upon this book's genre. Rather, I don't know if it can decide because it includes a lot.

On one hand, it is very much a Fantasy style book. The protagonist has special powers because her parents conceived her When The Stars Align (basically) and she is trained in how to use these powers by an old wise man and his raven familiar to fight supernatural monsters in defense of her town and world.

On the other hand, it is a Science Fiction book. The old wise man makes clear that these are not magical creatures but aliens from another dimension or misunderstandings between time-displaced humans. The magic powers are just application of physics that she happens to be able to personally manipulate. He even compares them to the research that the protagonist's parents do at the local science institution.

On a third hand, it is Slice of Life. Both the Fantasy/ Science Fiction/Scientifically-Understandable-Sorcery/etc. are concentrated into a small number of scenes. The bulk of the story is ordinary school life, such as Penny training for and then competing in a school swim race, or preparing for a class presentation about Babylonian law codes, or a holiday dinner. None of these are related to the plot. I think of them as filler.

There is a fourth genre here, cat-and-mouse style Crime fiction. See, the story takes a digression to focus on one of the story's two villains, who basically becomes a villain protagonist, complete with their own hero antagonist in a detective. This lasts several chapters and doesn't include any of the previous story elements.

There's even a little Urban Fantasy when Penny and Duncan go to a magician's performance and they realize that this magician has all the same powers and knowledge as Penny, and he uses them in his act.

The villain can only try to make their evil plan a success at certain times of the year, so the gaps between major action make sense. However, the heroes don't do much that is plot relevant between these times. Penny even takes a break from training after one of them. There is little sense of long-term urgency that can connect the scenes together. That is what leads to, in my personal opinion, a feeling of disjunction.

Aside from the plot, I like this setting's world building.  There is much lore about the druids of this verse and their history with the powers and aliens that the main characters deal with in the present day. There's also a brief overview of how the extra-dimensional beings became the gods and monsters of folklore and pagan religions, and why they disappeared.

Personally, Mr. Myrdin's backstory sounds like a more exciting story than what he is doing now with Penny.

Its ending has a good rising action and climax, leading to a satisfying ending.

CHARACTERS

Penny is our story's protagonist. She is "misaligned", which means she is slightly out of synch with her home dimension and thus capable of accessing higher and lower dimensions. Basically, this means she has such stock super powers as Teleportation, Thinking Up Portals and (in a sense) Super Speed.

She is a nice girl who can adapt quickly. After the plot triggering event, she had just enough skepticism to sound mature and rational but then she was on board with the supernatural conflict stuff. It is with a grounded and moderate attitude that she accepts her role as protector of Piper Falls against dimensional monsters. It is a remarkable attitude, I think.

She is neither overly enthusiastic (Jumped at the Call) nor does she bury her head in the ground and let the problem get worse (Refused the Call). She doesn't even complain or angst about her new duty and the new constraints on her time (Resigned to the Call). Her pair of mentors discuss how the news neither made her feel special nor cursed, just lonely.

Mr. Myrdin is an interesting case. He is definitely the wise old mentor in how he looks, acts etc. but he also still a student under Master Poe (who is a raven, by the way; yes, the joke is intentional). The double dynamic is what I find interesting. When it is time for Mentor Occupational Hazard, he is more devastated than Penny. I also like his sense of humor.

Simon is adorable, clever, and brave. After all, he is Cat Sith.

Duncan is a smaller and more monolithic presence. I don't see much to him other than "Penny's friend and self-appointed protector". Although, he does have this Big Eater tthing hat comes up a couple times.

Of the book's two villains, the human side one is better developed. She gets this minor digression to herself where the reader can see her thoughts and motivations. Her Evil Plan is quite sympathetic, or rather, it would be if didn't lack empathy for its aftermath.

POLISH

There is a glossary that the start of the book that translates the Welsh used in the book, as well as information for some things like Cat Sith.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Misaligned" a C+

This has been a free review request. The author asked for an honest one so I provided it.

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual 3.5E

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): The Sword and the Mind
 

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Read for fun: The Sword and the Mind

I picked this book up some time ago out of curiosity. It is about techniques and philosophy from the Shinkage school of swordsmanship. This book itself was translated by Hiroaki Sato; the original was
written by Yagyu Munenori in the 17th century.

It has three basic categories:
1. Historical context and introduction written by Hiroaki Sato (along with translation footnotes).
2. A list of techniques with instructions and illustrations created by the historical swordsmen.
3. Philosophy, school principles, mental techniques anecdotes to illustrate a point etc. also created by the historical swordsmen.

It's interesting stuff.

I enjoyed reading the historical context because I like reading about history, and having such context for the latter two categories is indeed helpful for understanding them.

The list of techniques and their illustrations are, obviously, most useful for those who will learn and practice them. Even then, this is not something that can teach swordsmanship on its own. Indeed, Yagyu Munenori frequently mentions how difficult it is just to describe the techniques, and also writes that something will "be transmitted verbally" because a teacher is necessary. Even then, the techniques themselves are only the first stage. Once the student has achieved the proper mindset through training with them, he no longer has any use for them.

The meat of the matter, from my perspective at least, is the third category, the philosophy behind the techniques that was crafted by the men in their historical context.

A summary would be misleading and insufficient but, in a nutshell, it advocates an empty mind. This does not one that is lacking anything but rather one that is not cluttered. A mind that is free to move around and indeed, does move around. This is the Zen influence, which both the author and the translator make note of.
It is frequently stated how important it is that a mind not "tarry" or become fixated on any given thing, including a desire not to be fixated. Interestingly, Yagyu Munenori states that Confucians are stuck at the beginner level because of their fixation on "kei", which Hiroaki Sato translates as "respect" or "reverence".

I enjoyed reading this and I found it useful but it is too far outside my usual grading rubric for a proper grade

Trickster Eric Novels gives " The Sword & the Mind: The Classic Japanese Treatise on Swordsmanship and Tactics" a +

Click here for my next book review ( a request): Misaligned

Click here for my previous book review (a request): The Tribute
 

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

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Answering review request: The Tribute

Matthew Ward asked me to read his story "The Tribute". This is the fourth story that I've reviewed for him (Shadow of the Raven, Light of the Radiant, A Matter of Belief). I rated all of them highly and so I was excited to read this one, and even then it surpassed my expectations.

PLOT

The conflict is simple: a Fae Lord is causing trouble in a village and the village's leader sends his daughter to appease him.

The opening for this story is so awesome, it has its own blog post (click here for that one). Here, I will simply say that it is effective for setting the tone of this story: spooky and atmospheric. Even the oatmeal in the following scene is effective for the warm-family-life thing.

It is very much a classic Hero's Journey, and I think that's why I like it so much. The Call to Adventure, Trials and Tribulations, The Abyss and the Return; all elements are presented in a professional manner. It is classic. Perhaps fairy-tale-ish is a better term.

I like the way it is structured. Something that looks like a coincidence is actually something set up in advance. Something that might be a literal deus ex machina, it actually foreshadowed at numerous points. There are staggered revelations up until the end.

It has a satisfying climax and the close of the story is....well, I don't want to say exactly but other than fitting. It is a perfect, in my opinion, thematic ending for a story hinging on Fair Folk and fairy tale gods.

CHARACTERS

I like Mira. She is a plucky girl with a sense of duty and responsibility. She is also a Daddy's Girl that is brave on her own. She has flaws that can be expected of a teenager, such as over-confidence or not thinking something all the way through.

Jaldor Jarn sounds like an archetypal knight errant or paladin. He is, but he has a deeper and more nuanced personality than For Great Justice. He also has really thick skin given that Mira is suspicious of him even as he rescues her. It's like, if Mira is Little Red Riding Hood, then he is the woodcutter who gracefully acknowledges that someone like himself could be just as dangerous as the wolf.

Jack or Jerrack, the Lord of Fellhallow, is the villain of this story. He is also one of the Great Powers and his domain is life in general and forests in particular. He is arrogant and sinister; a spooky villain for a spooky forest. He is also petty, which, in a strange way, warps back around into a form of kindness.

POLISH

It looks good.

This story definitely stands on its own, separate from the books in this 'verse while relating to them. However, readers will complete Light of the Radiant before this one will discover an extra treat.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Tribute" an A+, which means that Matthew Ward is the second author to be added to my Hall of Fame.


Click here for my next book review (for fun): The Sword and the Mind

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): The Medieval Siege

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

Read for Fun: The Medieval Siege

This is a textbook I kept from a college class because I thought it would be useful reference material. I didn't read a tenth of it at the time because there was enough time for it. Anyway, I finished it the other day.

This book traces a path in siege warfare in Europe and western Asia (the Middle East etc.) from the end of the Roman Period through the Reformation (around the end of the 1400s). It deals with tactics, equipment, and the social/political/religious stuff involved with sieges themselves.

I like the beginning and ending of this book; no that is not a backhanded compliment.

The first several chapters have great information pertaining to siege warfare. It talks about sieges in detail, and also generally. That is, the course of a typical siege. It compares between Roman, post-Roman and "barbarian" methods and equipment. There is a lot of information in particular about the Viking period. The background of sieges is explored: logistics, maintenance of fortifications, internal affairs and external relations etc.
There is a lot of stuff that I find useful and what I would expect to find in a book that deals exclusively with sieges.

The middle chapters are more about general history. To grossly oversimplify, it is a list of names and places and results. I imagine I could find similar information in any book about the crusading period or the Hundred Years War,  or even in an online thing like Wikipedia. The density of siege details is lower. They're still useful, but between the chapters before and the chapters later, they feel superfluous.

The later chapters reverse this trend. They are a chapter about siege equipment and a chapter about siege conduct and customs. It is compact stuff about throwing machines, mining, and "dirty tricks", that is followed by even more informative siege conduct, surrender terms, and the evolution in what was done and what was acceptable, as seen by chroniclers over time.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Medieval Siege" by Jim Bradbury a B+

Click here for my next book review (for review): The Tribute

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Dungeons and Dragons e3.5 Dungeon Master's Manual

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).

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Tribute has a FANTASTIC opening


"The Tribute" is a fantasy short story by Matthew Ward, and it has a FANTASTIC opening.

Right from the start it sets its mood. The opening of a story is difficult, because there is nothing to work from. By invoking the witching hour in an organic manner, the mood is set for supernatural creepiness.

It is a couple pages long, but several thing are accomplished without bumping into each other. The protagonist, her personality, her natural clairvoyance, her history of not being All of The other Reindeer, are smoothly established. Initial world building is set up to prepare for the coming adventure. All of this wraps around the immediate event and comes together in a spooky atmosphere.

It is quick, compact and powerful.

It is impressive.

As soon as I read it, as an author, I marveled at it. I wrote the above paragraphs immediately because I wanted to gush about it later.  It is only by trying (and failing) to write something this good that can truly appreciate just how good it is.
This book takes place in the same universe as other novels by Matthew Ward. I've reviewed three of them: Light of the Radiant,  Shadow of the Raven, and A Matter of Belief

For the full review of this book, Click 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).

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Read for fun: D&D Dungeon Master's Manual

I finished reading the Dungeon's Master Manual for D&D e3.5 recently. In addition for its stated purpose, the game itself, I find it is also tremendously helpful in for novel writing as well. For me, at least, it does double duty as one of those how-to-write books. It is particularly useful because D&D is the root of my favored genre.

It has extended lessons and quick tips for writing plots and handling multiple characters. It has numerous plot prompts and story hooks, as well as means for investing both characters and players (or in my case, readers) into the adventure. It covers both long-term arc plotting as well as improvisation. There's lots of help for quickly creating NPCs. It even has rules for things like daily weather, which I tend to forget to include. These rules inspired me to create my own system so that I remember to include these little, background, things. This alone does wonders for setting and scene.

Just the initial distinction of adventure is a big help. There is the "kick in the door" style of starting at the dungeon and fighting everything inside, or the more ease-into-adventure that has more role-playing and narrative. That is the primary distinction between Journey To Chaos and my next flagship series, currently untitled.

Journey To Chaos starts with Eric and establishes his character, his conflict, etc. before there is any action. My next protagonist will be introduced beating the shit out of enemies. Currently, (first draft material) she will quickly find a story hook and go straight into the unknown world for adventure and plunder.

If I ever started DMing, I feel like this book will give me all the necessary tools.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Master's Manual E3.5" an A+


Click here for my next book review The Medieval Siege

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Sword Art Online Volume 10

I have now read and reviewed the Monster Manual for this edition

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).

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Mini Excerpt - The Highest Power - Battle the Tront

Hello all,

This excerpt is from the chapter I am currently working on. It is chapter five of the third draft. Here we have a motely crew fighting a tree giant, which is called a "tront" in my 'verse. The wider context is full of spoilers.

Incidentally, I corrected one spelling error and one grammatical error while composing this excerpt. Please keep in mind that it hasn't seen a proof-reader yet.

______________________________________________


The ground shook. It shook again, and then a third time. It was foot falls. From within a ravine, a tront appeared. It walked on two sequioa legs whose branches intertwined to form a torso and chest before further branching out to form arms and fingers. Its head was a pair of glowing eyes within a leafy canopy on top of its chest. Even Nayr had to crane his neck back to see them.

            "These things are slow! We can outrun it."

            "Big Brother's Love: Mode Change: Better Safe Than Sorry."

            The bow in Annala's hands shimered. A secondary set of runes appeared next to the ruined primary set.  At its creator's command, it transformed into a different style. Then it displayed a holographic list of options. The ability to fire lethal arrows was gone; all of them debilitated enemies from a distance. Annala looked them over, choose one and said, "You are not older than me." Then she fired.

            As she expected, the arrow did not damage the tree giant. Instead, it released a cloud of darkness big enough to smother its leafy head. While it stumbled, the party ran in the other direction. A wall of thorns stopped them dead. Looking back, Annala saw a trio of slyphs hovering above the tront, blowing away the last of the darkness around it.

            "Hey Lawful Pirate! I'll hit him high if you hit him low."

            Hasina angled her staff and cast a simple earth spell. Amplified by her great spirit, a super barrage of pepples assaulted the slyph trio.  It stunned long enough for Tolv to banished them with fairy dust. This cleared a path for Nayr and Tiza to charge the tront. Annala fired another arrow over their heads.
            It exploded into more darkness. The tront staggered as Tiza dashed to its right leg. Her elven sword ignited as she swung it.
_____________________________________________

The last excerpt I posted was from chapter 20 and it was the second draft. You can find it here.

The next one is actually earlier in the story, the first chapter to be precise.

To learn more about the Journey to Chaos series, you can visit Tvtropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/JourneyToChaos.

The Journey to Chaos series is available for purchase at Amazon: http://amzn.to/10NsG2i

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).

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Using game rules to ease writing. (Journey to Chaos homebrewing)

Recently, I started homebrewing rules for a tapletop game set in my Journey to Chaos series. It came about when I was brainstorming the next flagship series for this....I guess it is (or is going to be) more of a franchise than a series.

I've been experimenting with dice to ease the creation of battles. I didn't use any classes, or stats, or skills, etc.  I thought creating all that would be too much trouble at this late stage in the series (book 5 out of 5). So battles were basically "two rolls, higher number wins" with situational modifiers if there were any. That worked out well. So I planned to expand the system.

I wanted to roll stats for my next main cast and I immediately hit snags. When you get down into the numbers, and balancing them all, it is overwhelming. I tip my hat to anyone who has crunched all the numbers for all the characters, and all the monsters and how they all progress in power etc. to create a tapletop dice game. For instance....

My book series, Journey to Chaos, has the power of the soul as a central element. The strength of it, the skill with using it, the intensity of it, etc. governs the entire setting: non-magical combat, both military and domestic magic, the threat of monsters, and the structure of society. If I were to add this stat to any given system, it would change everything about that system. Even if I were to create my own system from the ground up, it would dominate the other stats. In this particular setting that I plan to write, only a handful of people even know about spiritual power and fewer know how to use it effectively.  This would make battles a foregone conclusion; there would be no need to roll the dice, and if the stronger spirit lost the roll, how would I narrate that?

By now, I should say that this was never intended to be a homebrew that anyone could play. It was just for me to guide my writing, and as such, it was going to involve a LOT of Game Master/Author discretion. For instance, there would be no hit points.  Balancing hit points with the monsters I create and the characters I create and the level progression of all of them would be too much work.

As I write this post, I've been thinking about this homebrewing thing for a couple weeks now. The rules I made have come to sound....limiting. Even with my homebrewing, I don't want to be shackled to dice rolls. I don't want to be bound by stats or skill levels. It was fun thinking through all this stuff but I'll probably chuck it all and go back to writing without it.


Simplicity is the key. One die, perhaps a d6 such as ones that are used in board games, to determine everything with one or two rolls. I like that. No complicated rules. No percentages. No progression of stats or skill levels. This will be something quick and easy to add to the immediate setting and smoothly progress through battles and other events.

That would make all of this, and this blog post, a shaggy dog story. Huh...

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).

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Read for Fun: Sword Art Online volume 10

Sword Art Online volume 10 is the second part of the Alicization arc,  Alicization Running. Aside from Reki Kawahara's skill in general, I'm continuing to enjoy this arc because of how distinct it is from previous ones.

First of all, it is split in two segments, one for Asuna and one for Kazuto.

I like the first one because it has a genre shift to Mystery. Asuna has to put her head together with Silica, Suguha and Yui to find Kazuto so that they can rescue him. It can be seen as a flip of the alpha couple's situation at the start of volume 2, and, in fact, Yui points this out. She has a MUCH harder time of it than Kazuto.


He was forwarded a picture taken in a publicly available server. She has to search for clues, piece them together, and make logical deductions that drift rather far into conspiratorial speculation. Then she has to devise a way to enter a private, highly secured, area. It is not action-y but it is awesome. Really, that scene was my favorite part of the book.

The continuing development of the mechanics of Underworld fascinate me. It is a shame that SAO's haters don't read the light novels. Then they would see that Reki Kawahara's is not some hack terminally dependent on harem fanservice. There is a ton of thought and foresight and literary skill going into the science fiction here, and more goes into how it is set up and delivered through the narrative.

There is this one scene in particular where a human talks with his fluctlight clone, and the clone has a critical case of Cloning Blues. It is genuinely unsettling. It is an existential terror.

As for Kazuto's section, he is still inside Underworld where he goes by Kirito. This book is about the VR nerd part of him. He spends basically the whole of his section trying to figure out how the Underworld works, and he does it through experimentation. The OP Mary-Sue that haters insist that he is cannot be found here; he has three fights and two of them are against practioners with more experience than him. The later two are struggles and neither of them is a victory. Neither is the harem seeker his detractors deride him as present in this volume. On the contrary, he resolves to be a Celibate Hero out of faithfulness to Asuna.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Volume 11: Alicization Running" an A+


Click here for my next book review (also  for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Dungeon Master's Manual
Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Don't Know Much About History


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).