Fiction Review: Skin Game

I just fskingame_lginished reading Skin Game, the latest book in the Dresden Files series. Can I just say wow? Seriously.

I had an initial love hate relationship with the Dresden Files. I loved the humor and the concept, but it felt so much like a rip from the pages of Mage: The Awakening that I could hardly handle it. So I never got very far. I remember one night being out of books to read, so I powered through Storm Front and Fool Moon in one evening.

Didn’t look back after that. All I can say is that Skin Game is Butcher at the top tier of his writing abilities. After Proven Guilty, I felt like Butcher slacked off on maintaining his mythos. I know some other readers have agreed. The giant reset button he hit there was fairly irritating and made the later books less enjoyable for me. I mean, when was the last time the Black Council came up? Or the Grey Council?

Skin Game fixed that. I was elated to see old characters I’d missed returning to the fold. The return of Michael as a moral compass for Dresden was welcome. Michael has always been one of my favorite characters in the stories and I was elated to see him take an active role again though Skin Game. I would hate to spoil the book and so I won’t, but the last 100 pages of the story were fantastic, and really drove the conclusion home and reinvigorated the series after the slump I’d felt it was in. If you like the Dresden Files, you’ll love this book. If you haven’t read them yet, what are you waiting for? There’s 14 books for you to catch up with, and I bet you’ll love every one.

Film Review: Hercules

Last night, I went and saw Hercules. Hercules_(2014_film)

It was pretty good. I’m using pretty good loosely because if I’m being honest, I went in with little to no expectations. Generally speaking, I have a hard time with movies based around classic mythology because…let’s be honest…they’re usually really bad.

I was pleasantly surprised. This wasn’t Clash of the Titans where the Gods walk the mortal coil among their children. This wasn’t Troy where the Gods make a minimal character building experience. If it’s even a God in that film.

This was a movie where Hercules was a man or maybe more then a man. Certainly he was superhumanly strong. But Gods and magics and monsters weren’t the order of the day. This was a movie that showed you how legends and stories are based on kernels of truth.

Ian McShane completely stole the show as a cynical and sarcastic seer. The action sequences were good, and drove the plot forward. Seeing the Thracians fight in formation was fun, and the period clothing and armor (for the most part) was well delivered. Would I buy it? Probably not. Would I watch it again? Yeah. That I would. It was probably the best Greek mythology movie I’ve seen in recent history/memory.

Rating: 7/10

 

 

Why We Play: Steve Diamond

Why we play is an ongoing series of posts from guest authors regarding their love affair with roleplaying and games.

 

Steve Diamond is the brains behind the twice Hugo-nominated blog Elitist Book Review. Steve is also an avid boardgamer, occasional roleplayer and one of my close friends. This man knows his stories and fiction, and his mexican food. Seriously. He knows it. He can always find the perfect burrito.


From Steve:

I’m new to the gaming scene. Well, to the RPG aspect of it anyway. I used to stick mostly to board games. But I got roped into playing RPGs by a couple of buddies several years ago. I’ve attended a game group, monthly, ever since.

So what keeps me going? Surely the games must get stale after a while, right? For me, they never get stale. I’ll put out there that if your game is getting stale, you need to switch up your GM or the members of the group. Even the most awesome games can get dragged down by the people playing. And even the games with the most mediocre rule set can be a blast with a good group.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My first RPG was Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition. I had no idea what I was doing. But magic samurai? Yeah. Sign me up. My GM was Dan Wells, a dear friend and an amazing author. He, being the veteran of many an RPG, said, “Oh just pick a talky guy to keep it simple for your first time.”

Dan Wells is a jerk face.

If you’ve played L5R, you know that talky bits are just as lethal, and often times more stressful, than the actual combat. Oh, and my character was the leader of the group. Trial by fire, and all that. But here is the thing; Dan may have been a jerk face, but he managed to get me so involved in my character that I couldn’t wait to play every month.

There is something relaxing about gaming. Even when the situation is stressful, and your character is on the brink of being killed…there is just something about the act of sitting around, having a good time that really resonates with me. To me, that “something” is the creative aspect of it all.

I run Elitist Book Reviews, a Hugo Award Nominated website dedicated to book reviews. As such, I read a ton of novels. There is one thing in every story that I look for: character. I care about characters, and I want to have an attachment to them. If an author can make me care for the characters I’m reading about, then I can often overlook places where the author was deficient. This is where the creativity of RPGs really gets me. I’m in charge of my character. I get to make him/her just as I see fit. I come up with character flaws and huge backstories. I come up with interactions that I have off-screen (not in game session) with the other players in the game. I get involved with not only my character, but the group as a whole, and that drives more creativity.

There are two points in that above paragraph I want to expand on a smidge, and I hope you’ll indulge me.

First, off-screen interaction. I’m sure many RPG groups have GMs that reward the members of the group with extra XP for writing a game journal. After a few sessions in that game group run by Dan Wells, we added a player. Larry Correia. Again, he’s an extremely close friend and one of my favorite authors. He joined the group, and immediately was right at home. But he started something that got out-of-hand in the group. He started writing fiction based on the events of the game session. Whether that was for what actually happened, or backstories for NPCs we met along the way, he began writing it all up. Most of us caught the fever. As a guy who wants to become an author, this was a perfect opportunity for me to practice my writing in a safe environment. I probably wrote 60K words of fiction for that game. And I experimented. I wrote comedy, action, love, tragedy, and simple journal entries. All with the intent of becoming a better writer. It served me well. It can serve you just as well.

The second point I want to expand on is creating elaborate backstories for my characters. This, again, has more to do with the creative process that I just love about gaming. In my current game group for the Iron Kingdoms RPG (IKRPG), Alan Bahr is the GM. When he floated the idea of running a game in this setting, I was in. No questions asked, I was in. I wanted to play a Gun Mage based on Raylan Givens from Justified. What’s not to like? Two months before the game started, Alan and I would spend hours brainstorming about all the sordid details of my character’s past. Would they come up in the game? Probably not. Some might, but certainly not all of them. I wasn’t just creating a simple character—a cardboard cut-out—for me to play. I was making a character.

At the end of the day, I play games to have fun. We all do. But to me, having fun playing an RPG isn’t about a dungeon crawl for loot (though I really do love me some loot…), it’s about making a living, breathing character that I can’t wait to play more of. And it’s about integrating that character in a group of other characters to tell an interactive story.

So there you have it. That’s why I game. Why do you game?

–Steve Diamond