Current Reading List

I change my reading list about once every two weeks because my interests and needs for reading material change over time.  My list at the start of May was six books.  I cut it to three because there were three books I wasn’t bothering to read:

Space Opera

The Lord of the Rings

Bethorm:  The Plane of Tekumel

Space Opera is by Catherynne M. Valente, who I follow on Twitter.  The book and its contents kept popping up on my feed during April, so I downloaded a sample from the Nook store.  The blazing wordplay in it is astounding.  So I bought a copy as soon as I could.  Social satire on a galactic scale.

The Lord of the Rings is by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I am reading my third copy.  My father gave me my first copy circa 1979.  He had read it and set it aside.  I still own that copy, yellowed and worn with age.  More recently I bought and read the fiftieth anniversary edition.  I just finished reading that copy last year.  My third copy is the e-book in one volume.  I bought it because I kept losing track of where my second copy was in my personal library.  Also, it was on sale.  I am re-reading it now on the impulse to bookmark the pages with meaning for me.

Bethorm:  The Plane of Tekumel is a tabletop RPG source book.  It describes the science fantasy world of Tekumel.  Generic fantasy settings with happy birds and singing elves have lost their savor for me.  How my taste in settings shifted is a subject for another blog post.  My first step away from generic settings was Trollworld, the established setting for Tunnels & Trolls, which has Teutonic and Celtic elements and is thoroughly lethal to player characters.  Tekumel is another step away from generic fantasy, a savage world set in the far future.  Full disclosure:  I know one of the co-creators of Bethorm via Facebook.  Jeff Dee, artist and tabletop RPG creator.

#amreading #ttrpg



Reviews of Omission

I have some more thoughts about what I am willing to read and review.  I am generally not indifferent to what I read.  Reading is one of the few engaging activities I have where I can safely indulge a feeling of passion.  I either truly like something or I develop a loathing for it, after I have read it.  That sometimes applies to content creators as well.  I do not separate the art from the artist.  It has been my experience and observation for the past thirty-five years that if a content creator is unethical, or worse, morally corrupt, their work reflects that.  I have decided that I won’t post a negative review of a creative effort here unless I have some informational or educational point to make.  I also refuse to engage in analysis of the sundry content creators I have learned of over the decades since the early Eighties whose behavior available in the public record is of the clearly morally repugnant sort.  That kind of analysis would be a hit piece or character assassination at best or an actionable ad hominum attack at worst.  That is not the purpose of this blog.  I have fewer limitations when reviewing a book on Goodreads, but I am still constrained by policy from posting a personal attack on an author.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.  If you fail to see a review of a work by a content creator who had been or has been active since the early Eighties, then the conditions outline above mostly likely apply.  The exceptions to this are a whole laundry list of authors and their works available on my Goodreads “to read” list.  I am insatiably curious and am willing to give a content creator a shot if I can’t find a review of their work which warns me off.

That reminds me.  It might be useful or even helpful if I make my Goodreads lists available to the general public.  I might have to tinker with the permission on my Goodreads profile, too.  Ah well, I don’t have anything else better to do this morning after I publish this piece.  😉

Review: The Four Horsemen Present Young Character Options

I am doing this review at the suggestion of BJ Hensley.  Ms. Hensley is the designer of Young Character Options and it was a recent conversation I had with her via Facebook which suggested to me that I ought to do reviews on this blog.

Young Character Options is a fifteen page PDF.  One page is the cover, one page is the credits and one page is the OGL.  That leaves twelve pages of content.

The first bit of content which stood out for me was a sidebar on page five entitled “Young Characters”.  The sly references to young characters in popular fiction had me laughing out loud, which is a rare event for me when reading Pathfinder content.

The introduction includes advice on how to integrate young characters into your fantasy setting, making the point of talking it over with your players about whether or not young characters would be appropriate in your campaign.  The introduction continues with a description of how each of the core Pathfinder races raises children.

The next major section is “life paths”, concepts for how a young character could possess abilities beyond their years, starting with “Old Souls” and ending with the “Orphan-Rogue”, aka “Street Rat”.

The next section is a one-page listing of Young Character Traits, including advice on dumping the Ultimate Campaign rules for young characters in favor of the guidelines presented in this supplement.

The next two pages present Young Character Feats, or how to model the abilities of an exceptional child adventurer.

The supplement wraps up with six pages of Young Character Archetypes.  I have less to say about this because I have never played the classes in Pathfinder for these Archetypes.  On the other hand, three years of study of Pathfinder rules suggests to me there is nothing mechanically out of whack with this section.

All in all, this is a useful and fun supplement for those who want to add exceptional young characters to their campaigns and explore the potential such characters have.  There are no technical flaws in the PDF I downloaded.  The text is written in clear, easy-to-understand language.  The crunch, given my relative inexperience with Pathfinder, does not display any kind of error that I could spot.

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On Reviewing Influences

I have three reviewers who have influenced my technique for reviewing creative material.  The first is Roger Ebert, the late movie critic.  I used to watch his televised reviews and the way he got into how a movie worked or didn’t work got me interested in movies in general.  He would praise movies with effective or entertaining elements and he wouldn’t hold back if a movie blew chunks.

The second reviewer who influenced my technique was Harlan Ellison, from his column “Harlan Ellison’s Watching” in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Again, he was a movie reviewer, but he had things to say about broader creative currents in American pop culture, too.  The column that stuck with me was his description of going to a juvenile hall with copies of one of his books for the inmates to read and discuss with him.  The boys in juvie were so educationally impoverished they couldn’t comprehend that Ellison had the books they were holding published.  In their dim minds, they thought he had physically written them.  When asked what kind of media they liked, they responded by starting to describe scenes of extreme violence from movies, getting increasing excited as their descriptions became more vivid.  This was an eye opener for me.  It was the first sign to me that a notable number of parents and Hollywood both were screwing up ethically, being indifferent to the effect of what minors were viewing and finding entertaining.

The third and final reviewer is Endzeitgeist, the RPG content reviewer.  He is my go-to reviewer when I want to find out whether a Pathfinder supplement is cool or sucks hot volcanic rocks.  He goes into detail about what the good content in a supplement is, if any or if there are flaws in the product and exactly what those flaws are.

I’m nowhere as skilled, talented or experienced as these three people, but their work serves as models for my own.


Review Schedule and Policy Update

I have recently been reading some good books, but I haven’t finished them yet.  I do intend to review them.  My Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone review wasn’t all that positive.  I find it easier to write a review which points out the flaws in a work than write a positive review.  My positive reviews can be summed up as:  It had cool stuff in it.  When I write a negative review, I am more engaged in the material and more engaged in how it is flawed than I am with a review of a book I liked.

Also, a fairly common response of mine to reading a book which I actively loathed is the desire to write a savagely satirical pastiche of the piece.  I feel it is the least I can do in response to an author committing a written atrocity.

Of the books I have read all the way through this year, a dozen of them, I haven’t read one bad book.  I hope to review them all eventually.

Review Policy and RPG Material Reviews

I’ll try to state my review policy.  My reviews are not fair and balanced.  If I like something, I usually really like it.  If I don’t like something, I really don’t like and will be blunt about why.  If I’m somewhere in-between on a text, I won’t have much to say about it either way.

As for RPG materials, my current collection dates from 1994.  I had a collection from April 1980 through June 1994, but lost it to a personal disaster.  Most of the material in the collection is systems that were in print as of 1994 and onward.  I do have some out of print material, thanks to a FLGS which I’ve been going to for just shy of thirty years.  They have shelf on shelf of out of print books, supplements and whatnot.

So here’s my first RPG review, which is based on the one I posted at the Paizo Web site, for the Pathfinder Core Rulebook:

After years of seeing the Pathfinder rule books on the shelves of my FLGS, I took the plunge in December of 2012. I bought the Core Rulebook and began skimming it immediately. My first discovery was the character creation rules. They were fun! Characters were cool in a way that I hadn’t seen in previous editions of the world’s oldest role-playing game. Within three months, I was up and running my first Pathfinder adventure. That was three years ago and I have no regrets getting involved with the Pathfinder system.

The rule book is thick, but don’t let that deter you.  The core rules are simple and are the focus of the first half of the book is on character creation and development.  The Pathfinder system is about options and this rule book gives you options.  Seven player character races with fresh twists on the approach to the standards from the world’s oldest role-playing game system.  Eleven character classes, with options for everything from martial characters, through divine and arcane casters through strikers (what MMO players call “DPS characters”).   The skill is system is clean and robust enough to support a variety of interactions with the environment, creatures and other characters.  The Feat system allows for a lot of customization for a character.  There is enough variety in the equipment chapter that a player can find nearly any bit of mundane gear they want or need.  The spell description section is a hundred and thirty-three pages long and offers a huge variety of arcane and divine spell choices.  The first chapter which gets a meh response from me is the Prestige classes.  I haven’t had the use for them in three years of refereeing.  I’m still exploring the options in the core classes.  Gamemastering and adventure design are covered in one chapter each, with enough information to get you started.  One caveat about adventure design.  Using the adventure design as written will create outlines which support “dangerous” adventures, just as described on the back of the rule book.  While Pathfinder characters have a fair amount of resiliency, it is not difficult to design an adventure which will challenge, injure and possibly easily kill first level characters.  The chapter on creating NPC’s is robust and offers a detailed, useful system for creating characters with class levels.  The chapter on magic items is a hundred and eleven pages long and includes rules for magic item creation.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This is the first book listed on my “read” bookshelf on Goodreads.  I don’t know how I managed that.  When I signed up at the site, it had me select twenty books I was interested so it could get an idea of what to automatically generate for recommendations.

I only read this book when the first movie adaptation was coming out.  I was curious about what the fuss was.  At the time, young readers on AOL constantly asked “Who here likes Harry Potter?”

The prose of the book itself is not bad, relatively well-written and accessible to younger readers.  The main character is a seemingly-ordinary waif with some truly horrible relatives he’s forced to live with.  That was the first thing that put me off enjoying the book.  The author, Rowling, calls them “Muggles”.  I recognize them as “Mundanes” and have had bad experiences with people like that for five decades.

Things get a bit better for the title character, Harry Potter, when he gets invited to and goes to a magical boarding school, Hogwarts Academy.  There other people his age and even adults interact with him in a non-obnoxious fashion.

The plot of the book, once it gets to Hogwarts involves the title maguffin, a philosopher’s stone, renamed sorcerer’s stone, for the unwashed American masses of children.  Harry gets mixed up in finding the blasted thing and preventing it from being stolen by the ultimate villain of the piece, a mostly-dead dark wizard named Voldemort.  A confrontation between the two forms the climax of the book, with Voldemort melting from his attempt to touch the sorcerer’s stone.  I think.  It’s been nearly ten years since I read the book.