Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition (D&D book review)

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition

I've been reading this over the course of the year, just after I started playing at a local gameshop. It's been a lot of fun, and a lot to read, which is also a lot of fun.

Disclaimer: While I read the handbook for D&D 3.5E, I never played it so I don't have much of a basis for comparison.

There appear to be rules to most situations a player could get into and actions they may take, and for what isn't explicitly covered there is guidance or just encouragement to make it up as the players and DM go. I've read briefly about the "rules vs rulings" debate and this edition seems a fair enough balance to me (as inexperienced as my viewpoint may be).

I've also read that the Charisma stat was often ignored in previous editions for being useless, and derided as "the talking stat". For this edition, it appears that the designers overcompensated. Charisma is now the spell-casting stat for four classes (Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer and Warlock) while also the saving throw of choice for nasty effects like ghostly possession and or a hostile Plane Shift.
On the other hand, this seems to have relegated Intelligence to the throne of uselessness. It's only used by wizards, and lore based abilities, and certain mental effects. So in a game without a wizard that doesn't have much lore, there isn't much reason to use it. That's a shame.

I regularly refer back to this book before, after, and during a session to check on class abilities, spell specifics or some detail about a piece of adventuring gear. I have a set of bookmarks to make to this easier and faster for myself.

The last thing I want to talk about is the art. It is fantastic. Nearly every page has something, big or small, to decorate the text. Some are full page depictions of combat, the working of magic, or some other scene. Sometimes as I'm flipping through, I stop to admire them.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (D&D review)

Click here for my previous book review: Volo's Guide to Monsters

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, December 28, 2019

Volo's Guide to Monsters (D&D book review)

Volo's Guide to Monsters.

This is a supplement for the core 5E books, providing lore within the frame narrative that Loremaster Volothamp Geddarm is the one who collected it and made it available to the reader. The Literary Agent Hypothesis is fun when it is done well, and it is done well here. Volo's comments provide extra insight, humor and a greater degree of immersion into the lore itself.

The lore is for certain monsters, such as mind flayers and orcs. It also has a list of new races for players but that is by far the shortest section. Third it has more monster-manual style monster entries, and finally an appendix for NPC humanoids with class levels, such as an abjuration wizard or an arch-druid, or some other non-class NPCs like apprentice wizard. So this is definitely something that is more useful to the Dungeon Master than the players, but players can also benefit (and not in a meta-gaming way either).

For those that want to play a paladin but don't like the "honor and justice" mold then Tritons provide an excellent template. They are typically lawful good but in a good-is-not-nice sort of way and gain racial bonuses to their STR, CON and CHA (+1 each) in addition to useful abilities, which set them apart from the paladins of other humanoid races.
Additionally, the communication methods and non-combat skills of the kenku sound like they would be fun to role-play. The curiosity of the tabaxi as well; there's a random table to simulate their mercurial curiosity.

For DMs, this is an extremely useful aid. The first chapter provides lore on cultures, history, social structure etc. for monsters, which can help with role-playing them, devising encounters that can lead into future events, and what their lairs can look like. Each section has maps, many of which are a full page, detailing a typical lair.

As a DM myself, these sections have already proven useful for me. I used the section on goblins to describe a war camp that was the centerpiece of a prior campaign, and the section on hags to devise and plan a future campaign.

The artwork looks great too. The focus monsters get several pictures showing them in action, like this one of an orc hunting party chasing down an elf, who is trying to hide, or a dissection of a mind flayer (Volov's own work, maybe? Or some researcher he interviewed?) Each monster and player race has their own depiction (warning: the spider-themed ones are creepy).

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Volvo's Guide to Monsters" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2

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, December 21, 2019

My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2 (read for fun)

I've been waiting for this to come out, specifically the manga version because I like the cute art. This one focuses on Katarina meeting the heroine of the game's setting, Maria Campbell.

This volume has five chapters and four of them focus on the newest character, Maria Campbell. In "Fortune's Lover", Maria was the player's character and the one everyone fell in love with.  Naturally, this is different due to Katarina's presence but Katarina herself doesn't realize this, and that is where this volume's humor comes from.

Our self-identified "villainess" has become wrong-genre-savvy, and the dissonance between what she thinks is going on and the reality that is apparent to others is as funny to the reader as it is baffling to her friends. One moment in particular has her thinking that Mary is tsundere to Alan when this could not be farther from the truth. It is a skillful use of Dramatic Irony. The running gag that is Katarina's farming hobby returns and is also good for laughs.
However, not all is humor.

Just because the villainess of "Fortune's Lover" wants to be Maria's friend that doesn't mean Maria isn't subject to bullying. Also, her home-life is implied to be rocky. Being the most special girl in this country has its drawbacks.
The student council president has a scene and a follow-up event which just screams "something wicked this way comes".

The other characters are a bit Out Of Focus due to Maria's introduction but I feel that is only for the introduction and things will even out later. The fifth chapter mitigates this by showing what Katarina does with each of them during summer break.

The art continues to be cute and funny.

Overall, it is a great follow-up to the first volume but it feels a little lesser in content. Everything basically boils down to "Katarina and Maria become friends" instead of the more expansive plot line of the previous.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2" a B+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Volo's Guide to Monsters

Click here for my previous book review (a request - maybe): The Princess and the Pea - a retelling

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, December 14, 2019

The Princess and the Pea - a retelling

The Princess and the Pea - a retelling by K.M. Shea. I think I was asked to review this in the Clean Indie Reads group, but I am not sure. It was something like that. 

 Anyway, this is a retelling of the fairytale "Princess and the Pea". Here, the princess is actually a renowned mercenary who has "warrior princess" as a nickname. She is hired to guard a gem known as "the Pea of Primeorder". I will examine plot, character, and polish and then determine a grade.


PLOT

The first thing I want to say is that this book is lean. It is 99 pages long in total, and even shorter when excluding front matter, back matter and the next-book-preview at the end. This means the narrative is tightly focused on events directly related to story itself. Only set piece events are included: the opening fight, the job offer, the first attempt at the gem's theft, etc. This gives the story a certain drive and energy, as well as preventing clutter that would distract from the two main plot threads, the gem's safety and the romance of the two leads.


This pre-empts any attempt at world building. There are great attempts at flavoring the world, such as tidbits about previous jobs Lisheva has taken, primary traits of nearby countries, and how mages are regulated. In fact, the musical specialty of the country that the story takes place in becomes a plot point. However, these are mostly confined to a single chapter.

The musical specialty is limited to the existence of several fine instruments in the library, and I don't recall a scene where anyone used them. I don't even know what the palace that the entire story takes place in looks like, save for structures that are necessary for the plot, such as the castle's gate and the existence of a garden.

On one hand, the story possesses laconic energy that prevents lulls. On the other hand, the appeal of the story rests entirely in character interaction. Fortunately, this is where it is shines (and the fights are pretty good as well).


One more thing about the plot is that it makes no attempt to hide the obvious. The identity of Apex the legendary/foolish thief is strongly hinted at immediately and shortly thereafter unmasked. Lisheva falling in love with and marrying Prince Channing is implicated by the king himself in the second chapter, before the job offer itself. This is not a story that relies on tension or suspense, which I find refreshing.

This story takes Happily Ever After and merges it with And The Adventure Continues for a delightful ending.



CHARACTERS


Our protagonist is the "princess" in question, Lisheva the Warrior Princess. She is a wandering mercenary who enjoys the challenges presented by her line of work. She is a challenge seeker but she is professional about it; no self-imposed handicaps to make it more interesting or whatever. Her first scene, and the first scene of the story, is her trouncing bandits due to her long honed combat skill. She doesn't kill anyone in this story despite her occupation but I'm not sure if this is a Pragmatic Hero thing or a Thou Shall Not Kill mentality. She has a reason/excuse for the former every time, which becomes suspect by the climax.

Fun fact: despite her profession, her seriousness, and the implication that "warrior" is an unusual job for a woman in her home country, she is not a stereotypical man-hater. That trait actually belongs to her mare.

Vorah is the sidekick, and she is a great sidekick. She serves as comedy relief by making jokes but is an excellent aid to Lis in combat, not a bumbling sort of comedy. The running gag of referring to Lisa as "master", "teacher" or "boss" when Lis doesn't like any of it is funny. She is a foil to underscore Lis's seriousness.

The third major character is Channing, the prince of country that the story takes place in. Shea has fun with his stoic nature and chiseled physique by saying he resembles a statue until he talks, while also expressing his thoughts and emotions without breaking this stoic demeanor. He is wise, including knowing when to seek wisdom from others. He is noble and polite, but also proud of his skills.


The king and queen, Channing's parents, are minor characters but still have distinctive personalities and characteristic scenes. The only character who falls flat is the ultimate villain of the piece. This is not a problem.

Other than providing the initial conflict to the start the story and the climax to end it, this villain doesn't have a role to play. Simply the fact that they exist is enough for the narrative. In fact, Lisheva lampshades how unnecessary a fully developed character is by saying that their motivation for their villainy doesn't matter; regardless of the reason, they did villainy. In fact, the villain's existence does more to illuminate the king's character traits than their own.

POLISH

This is a tight book, and so it reads well and quickly. I didn't see any errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Princess and the Pea" a B+


I don't remember if this was a review request or not, but either way it is an honest review.


Click here for my next book review (for fun):  My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2
Click here for my previous book review ( a review request): Crown Of Blood - Bloody Crown Trilogy part 3.html


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, December 4, 2019

Crown of Blood Bloody Crown Trilogy # 3 (Answering Review Request)

This is for the third book of the Blood Crown Trilogy, Crown of Blood. This is where Denland's civil war reaches its conclusion. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.
SPOILER!
SPOILER WARNING!
Beware of spoilers for the first two books. Given the wham line that occurred at the end of book #2 and the contents of this book, it is difficult to talk about the final book of the trilogy without spoiling things. So if you don't want to risk spoilers then don't read this review.
SPOILER!
SPOILER WARNING!

I also have reviews for the first and second books in this series. They have spoilers too, especially the second one, which is basically entirely spoilers.
Book 1 - Kingdom Asunder
Book 2 Traitor's Prize

SSSSPPPOOOOIIILLLLEEEERRRR!

PLOT


The narrative thrust here is the invasion of Denland by neighboring Falaria. This would be the second or third invasion during the civil war depending on how you view the Kurtrish that landed to the north and demanded to be hired as mercenaries. I wonder if John Esden anticipated that possibility when he opened this can of worms by opening Queen Anne's diary.

Anyway, the rival factions of Penmere and Esden have a conundrum. They have weakened each other so much that neither has a chance of defeating Falaria on their own but working together has its own mess of problems, the most pressing of which is, of course, what happens immediately after they remove their common enemy? This book charts the reaction to this invasion, the response to it, and then the aftermath to decide the war.

It really is an interesting turn of events, and Mr. White uses a rotating perspective narrative style to show them all. I am typically wary of this style because I have read the work of authors who have used it poorly (in my opinion). The result is an underdeveloped mess lacking development in all its parts. That is not the case here, where the style is used to create a proper kaleidoscope of contrasting and mutually reinforcing perspectives. It also works to provide relevant information that would be difficult to exposit on in any other way.


There is one twist in the latter part of the book that "appears" to come out of nowhere. It confused me. I had to re-read the scene to get a sense of what was happening. It truly turned the tables after a big event. At first I thought this was just that "every chapter has to end in disaster to maintain tension" advice that I saw being touted about as a rule on some blog, and so I was upset at what I thought was a lame diablous ex machina. Then I thought about it, and I reconsidered.

This particular twist was set up as far back as the first act of the first book. It was further hinted at in a line from a relevant character in book 2 and more foreshadowing appeared in this very book. It was not at a plot device simply to maintain tension. On the contrary, it was an integrated plot advancement that makes perfect sense in the framework of the narrative. The initial confusion that the reader might experience is the same that the characters on the receiving end of this twist would experience. The full details of the twist are explained by its engineer in a manner fully consistent with the character and the setting. It is a brilliant twist really, not at all contrived for some stale narrative "rule".

The ending is a satisfying one. The war has been won but the peace may or may not have been lost. Life goes on and it is a bitter-sweet experience for most, with one fortunate exception.

CHARACTERS

I did an interview with Mr.White on my blog when he did the book-release-promotion for this book. One of his responses was that nothing completes a character/character's arc like that character's own death. That is clearly represented here. There are a number of characters, big-name-important-characters, who face their death and it reflects or reveals big things about them.

One character who seemed only ambitious and using a pretext for grabbing power turned out to be more lawful and selfless than I thought they were. Another character who presented as cold and scheming turned out to value their family far more highly than I thought. A third character turned out to be a poisonous friend and a fourth, rather than loyalty to a friend, appeared to value their skill more than friendship.

I would like to name these characters and go into more detail about the skill of the author who wove their insightful and poignant final moments but these events were some of my favorite parts of the book. I do not want to spoil them by doing more than hint.

I would like to comment specifically on two people. The first is Stephen Penmore. He starts as a total scholar who seemed perfectly happy to wait the war out in a library and while he has gained some skill in war it is not a dramatic transformation. He's still not a warrior. It is always his knowledge that is the key point, in contrast to his cousins' brawny confidence and steel-like scheming, respectively.

The second is Stuart Esden, a man ruled by ambition and an utter lack of restraint in all matters. Even his one sympathetic moment in the whole trilogy can be read as his refusal to be mastered by anything or anyone. He is also revealed to be pettier and more spiteful than I thought. I figured him as the type who would do everything on his own terms, and never let anyone decide anything involving him for him. Yet he gives up control of something of lasting importance just to twist a metaphoric knife.


POLISH

I didn't any errors of grammar or spelling, so that's always nice.

I have just one question, what was with the Hykir fort that had that dragon statue? I don't see how it relates to the rest of the story, and so it feels like filler. It was a fun diversion but I don't know why it was included.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Crown of Blood - Bloody Crown Trilogy" an A+

This makes Thaddeus White the second author to be inducted into my blog's Hall of Fame. This means I granted "A"s to four of his books. "Journey to Altmortis", "The Adventures of Sir Edric", "Kingdom Asunder", and now "Crown of Blood" ("Traitor's Prize" was a B+). This means that I see Mr.White as achieving a consistently high level of quality in his novels across all categories.

Congratulations!


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

Click here for my next book review: The Princess and the Pea (a retelling)

Click here for my previous book review: The Lost Mines Of Phandelver

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.