David Gemmell Reread!

It’s that happy time of year again, where I get to reread and revisit the works of my favorite fiction author, David Gemmell!

Every August, I dive into a massive reread of all of Gemmell’s fiction works, and this year, I’ve decided to review and talk about each book as it goes on (this blog needs some serious love, so here’s something to start with). I read each of his books in their respective groupings/series, and for clarity’s sake, here is my reading order.

If you wanna read along, or discuss the work, I’d love that. I don’t get to rave or talk about the themes in Gemmell’s work enough.


505352Rigante series – Flintlock Fantasy before “Flintlock Fantasy” was really a genre, this book series is probably my absolute favorite work of his. I love the take on cultures from across the sea, the detailed worldbuilding, and the century spanning timeline.

  • Sword in the Storm
  • Midnight Falcon
  • Ravenheart (my personal favorite in the series)
  • Stormrider

 

 

 


Drenai Series – Second favorite, because it’s a classic. You can’t go 618177wrong with the best Heroic Fantasy on the market. Or ever.

  • Legend (it’s a classic, and it’s my favorite book of his).
  • The King Beyond the Gate
  • Waylander
  • Quest for Lost Heroes
  • Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf
  • The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend
  • The Legend of Deathwalker
  • Winter Warriors
  • Hero in the Shadows
  • White Wolf (The Damned Series Book 1)
  • The Swords of Night and Day (The Damned Series Book 2)

 

last-guardianStones of Power – This one is a little weird, so I just copied the Wikipedia description. It reads like two vaguely connected series.

“This series is known by several names. The entire series deals with the Stones of Power, also known as the Sipstrassi. The first two books contain a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend. The last three novels involve the protagonist Jon Shannow.”

  •  Ghost King
  • Last Sword of Power
  • Wolf in Shadow
  • The Last Guardian
  • Bloodstone

 


Hawk Queen  – Dimension hopping fantasy. Love it.

  • Ironhand’s Daughter
  • The Hawk Eternal

 


Standalone Novels

  • Knights of Dark Renown
  • Morningstar
  • Dark Moon
  • Echoes of the Great Song

Troy series – Historical Fantasy!

  • Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow
  • Troy: Shield of Thunder
  • Troy: Fall of Kings

Greek series – More Historical Fantasy!

  • Lion of Macedon
  • Dark Prince

 

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Alan Watches Star Trek: The Next Generation

TNG_headSo, horrible geek confession, but I’ve never watched all any Star Trek other than The Original Series in series chronological order. Not to mention movies or other tie-in media.  But hey, The Next Generation is on Netflix, and I have always have a hankering for science fiction, especially Star Trek.

So I decided to chronicle my feeble attempts to dig into a show older than I am, and see what I get. I will try to watch a chunk and post them as large blog-posts with my thoughts and impressions, and see what we get from that. Expect several episodes a blog-post.

bdbd12a07a0e022966f4cdbb864076f12a632d36Season 1, Episode 1 & 2: “Encounter at Farpoint”

Wow. Long episode. I was not prepared for this. Also, maybe it’s cuz I’m 30+ years behind the airing date, but there feels like there’s very little character development. I mea, I see this Geordi La Forge character wearing a visor thingy, and it seems to let him see other wavelengths? Also, Data is an android (ok, sure, I knew that), but why is he here? Why does he exist on this ship? Who the crap built him?

Also, Q shows up and just randomly decides he wants to mess with The Enterprise. Ok. Omnipotent being is swayed by Picard. Yeeah.

Oh. SPACE JELLY FISH! That can poop out a space station. Why isn’t this two episodes? I mean it basically could be split down the middle into two. No problem. But hey, Q, shows up to book end the episode, so I guess it’s one!

Rating: Meh. This wasn’t mindblowingly good in any way. Maybe a 2 of 5 stars. Turns out it’s two episodes when I check the episode guide. Whoops. There’s almost no real character here, you just kinda…crash headlong into behavior and tropes. It’s…kinda confusing.

Season 1, Episode 3: “The Naked Now”

Ah! Here we go. This feels like an episode of classic Trek. Collapsing stars, trapped science vessels, boldly going. Frozen people. Hey! It’s the helmsman with the visor. He caught a frozen person.

Oh. People are being weird, and there is a tie in to the original series now. But the tie-in is really only fan service. Cute.

Oh, awkward security chief and android romance scene.

Hey! Young Wil Wheton got infected. He’s like some techno-genius, and made a…tractor beam? That seems REALLY dangerous to let someone have in a ship. Especially a kid. I mean, what if he starts shoving people into bulkheads or throwing them around the ship.

Oh. Everyone is gonna die unless Super-Android, and Genius Boy can save the day, which they do. With (gasp), a tractor beam. And everyone is really cured.

Rating: Wtf. I literally have no idea what I watched. We met the chief engineer, and I feel like there was actual character development, which was sorely needed, but I suspect all the character development I saw is…false? Everyone was forced to act out of character, and I just don’t know.

Season 1, Episode 4: “Code of Honor”

Alright. So, we fly to a planet where they base their culture on customs similar to ancient Africa. This culture has a needed vaccine, and after we all meet, the leader decides to kidnap the impressive Chief of Security for the Enterprise…who…gets kidnapped. Thus not being very impressive as the chief of security. Hm.

Oh, now the chief wants to marry Tasha Yar, for some political shenanigans. Fight with poisoned weapons, and stuff, death, and legal jiggery-pokery. Picard goes full Kirk and does generic Starfleet captain trickery.

Rating: I don’t know what to think, but this episode felt crazy racist. Maybe I missed something key? But hey, we get more La Forge and Data character development. Which is far more than everyone else is getting.

Summary

Well, I’m only four episodes in, and there’s…22 more to go. Ok, how did this show MAKE it? Was it simply carrying on through nostalgia? Was there a dearth or good television at the time? Also, what the crap? Is character development not a thing on 80s TV? Do they not believe in establishing dialogue?

Oh man. I actually find myself dreading the rest of the show (I mean, I’ve seen it before out of order, so I know there’s good there, but I have to get there).

RPG Review: Gods of the Fall by Monte Cook Games

Gods-of-the-Fall-CoverIt’s time for an RPG review! Trying to get back into the swing of things, while fulfilling two Kickstarters, planning three more, and handling regular life.

I feel busy. But this week was a good week. I received fulfillment rewards for 5 Kickstarters in the last month, and I’m slowly working my way through them for review.

First up, Gods of the Fall by Monte Cook Games. Gods of the Fall is the first book in the new line of settings for MCG’s Cypher System, a generic ruleset identical to the one that powers the wildly successful Numenera and The Strange games.

Gods of the Fall was a Kickstarter reward, and the game does require the generic ruleset in the Cypher System Rulebook to play the game (think along the lines of the new White Wolf World of Darkess/Chronicles of Darkness line of games).

Players take on the role of adventures who discover they have a divine spark, 40 years after Heaven fell and crashed through the Earth, killing all the Gods. It’s a post-divine, post-apocalyptic fantasy game.


1.) Size and Production Quality.

A nice 188 page hardcover, full color book. Like all MCG productions, the book is a mixture of gloss and matte on the cover, and feels sturdy and durable. It feels solid, and fits nicely along the rest of the MCG games on the shelf. It’s a little thin for $45 USD, but RPG pricing is a hard line to nail down, and I certainly don’t feel like my money was wasted.

8/10


2.) Art

This might be the single most beautiful RPG book I’ve ever owned. Every piece of art in the game is brimming with beauty, evocation and talent. Seriously. I just flipped through the book looking at what might be the most amazing fantasy art I’ve ever seen compiled in a single RPG rulebook.

The graphic design is the normal MCG layout (sidebars with page references and tips, multi-colored chapters), and it holds and contains the art and words in a truly stunning manner.  Can’t rave enough.

It frankly reminds me of the beautiful 4th Edition Legend of the Five Rings books.

11/10


3.) Content / Rules

Ok. So. The Cypher system seems to be a bit polarizing. I haven’t made up my mind about the ruleset in a final decision.

It’s the usual “I’m a _adjective_ _noun_ who _verbs_” but with the addition of a new type, called a domain, that adds on the the end of the Character descriptor and says “and is the _God of _________”.

Ok, that works, and it’s a solid way to get into that. I approve fully, and as always, I like the “adj/noun/verb” char-gen set up. The Domain powers are pretty slick, and there’s wonderfully generic so you can let your imagination run wild. Domains can be as specific as you want, from “God of Winter” to “God of the Morning Frost” to “The Snowflake God of the North” and mechanically the same ruleset will completely cover all the aspects.

The rules for Divine Shifts are a simple variation of the superhero rules in the Cypher corebook (makes sense, and fits), and here’s where the game gets awesome.

You have to complete legendary labors (a la Hercules), fulfill a 7 part prophecy (which is excellent written), gain servants, and help restore the (or create a new) kingdom of Heaven with some semblance of Glory.

It’s amazing. The list of legendary deeds the setting has prebuilt is extensive. Aside for my (admittedly undecided) reservations about the ruleset, this whole section is great game design, evocative setting integration, and exceptionally well dome.

9/10


4.) Game Master Section

The GM section here is designed to be appended to the GM section in the corebook, so it’s a little sparse. It talks about how to run an “epic” game and deal with questions of divinity, god-hood, and integrating some of the fiddly bits of the Cypher System into Gods of the Fall.

7/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

There’s one here, designed to get you started on your path to Godhood. It’s pretty fun, but as always, all pre-mades suffer from a need to cram all the little bits you need to learn about the game into this book. Wasn’t for me, something with a little more epic (like the GM section advises) around the pre-made would have felt better.

7/10


Total Score: 42/50

That’s a pretty high score, and it reflects my impressions of the game. I am exceptionally impressed and glad I got in on this. I’m already planning a full campaign and how I’d run that, and my head is full of cool visuals, ideas, and plot threads.

This game is awesome. Full stop.

Movie Review: The Nice Guys

nice-guys-movie-poster-2016This weekend, I took some relaxation time, and the wife and I went to see a film. I’m a bit of a Shane Black fan, loving Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, and lots of his other work (he basically write perfect neo-noir, and I love me all the types of noir).

So The Nice Guys was right up my alley. And boy. It was literally camping in my alley, wanting to hang out and be my best friend.

The plot is delightfully simple, yet convoluted in the right timing (I’ll get to that in a second), the acting is top notch, and the action is shaky cam free!

For me, thrillers or mysteries live or die by the timing of plot reveals. I’m a pretty sharp guy, and my wife can attest, that I figure out plots pretty quickly and are pretty accurate in my predictions.  The trick is not revealing too much too early, and that’s a hard craft for most movies. Which is ok. I’m a limited sub-set of an audience, and I don’t expect every movie to match me.

The Nice Guys nailed the timing issue of their reveals (as Shane Black often does), delivered a lot of delightfully dark humor around those reveals, but kept the plot simple enough that it didn’t feel preachy or in your face with its twists. It felt natural, and you felt swept along on the journey as these two very broken men face down crime-ridden 70s LA (which, by the way, felt absolutely perfect. The clothes, the music, the theme. It was everything I wanted to see about 70s LA).

It was perfect noir. Absolutely perfect.

Also, read this article if you need further convincing.

 

RPG Review: Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition from Green Ronin

GRR5510e_MutantsAndMastermindsThirdEditionDeluxeHeroesHandbook_1_1024x1024Wow, two RPG reviews in a week. Aren’t you lucky?

I have a soft spot in my RPG heart for Mutants and Masterminds, as both my favorite superhero RPG, and one of my best campaign memories (an online play-by-post) with some of my best friends at the time.

I’ve only tried to run it a handful of times since then, but I still carry very fond memories of it. So I finally took the dive and obtained the 3rd edition corebook, several years after it had already been out.

So here I am, to review Mutants and Masterminds Third Edition!


1.) Size and Production Quality

A 288 page full color hardback book. Regular sized, and expertly laid out, the quality of this book is also very reminiscent of the graphic design/layout of the previous 2e edition I fell in love with. It’s a well made book, and very easy on the eyes to read. The quick references pages at the end are fantastic, and very useful in the heat of game play.

10/10


2.) Art

In my previous review, I complained about art being reused from previous editions, and M&M 3e commits some of the same sins. However, they go out of their way to also include new art, which is fantastic. Some of the new “iconic” heroes, are amazing, and the art that covers them is equally amazing. There’s a few weak points in the art throughout the book, but very few books have gorgeous perfect art all the way through.

8/10


3.) Content/Rules

So. One of the big struggles with M&M 2e was it’s mired beginnings in 3rd edition D&D’s OGL. There was a lot of holdover baggage there, and the game suffered in actual play for it.

I’m pleased to find that 3e doesn’t commit those errors. The design team did a fantastic job of stripping the game down to it’s core and basic play mechanics and rebuilding from there. Multiple tables have been condensed into a single quick reference table. Powers have been streamlined, and problematic powers have been completely redefined into newer versions with better mechanics, or removed completely. There were a few old powers I missed in the new book as their own powers (gravity control, etc), but Green Ronin did the stellar job of publishing a very in-depth and useful conversion guide (here) that will cover your needs and help you find the new equivalent to those old powers.

The changes to abilities, advantages, skills, and effects really bring the game into a simpler design space, while retaining the “complexity” of custom builds that helped to allow a player to truly define what they wanted.

10/10


4.) Game Master Section

As always, I normally loathe game master sections. But, Green Ronin knocked it out of the park here, with indepth examples of the more complex rules, detailed analysis of comic book and superhero genre, (in movies, comic, novel or other formats).

I was actually quite impressed. My only real complaint is the lack of easily accessible PDF print outs of some of the charts and tables they want you to use. I understand the lack (buy the GM screen), but as a player who doesn’t like GM screens, I really don’t want to buy one. I’d rather just have a reference sheet I can use as needed.

8/10


5.) Pre-Made Adventure

Wow. 2 pre-made adventures that are distinct, different, and very well written. As a bonus, there’s a partial 3e update to Freedom City (their old 2e default setting), and their new setting Emerald City (which actually seems really cool).

Well done Green Ronin. Well done.

10/10


Total Score: 46/50

Wow. Not a bad score (actually really high, I think only Pendragon books have beaten this one out). I love this edition, and I’m intending to make time for it after my next campaign wraps up (whenever that is).

A great book, and one I’ll avidly recommend, especially if you love the genre like I do.

RPG Review: Cypher System from Monte Cook Games

CSR-NormalToday I’m reviewing the Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games.

It’s a generic RPG system, designed to make storytelling both faster, easier on the GM, and flexible enough to do anything.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

So, Cypher System Rulebook is large. 400+ pages, with full-color illustrations, layout and more. The sidebars contain call-outs, page references and more, that make using the game exceptionally easy. Big win, and a beautiful book.

10/10


2.) Art

The art is pretty good throughout the book for the most part, but there are a few pieces that just aren’t very good. It’s a little disappointing, but, in the end, the majority is pretty good, and evokes the feeling each particular section is going for.

The cover is fantastic, and I really like how it shows the main 4 types of campaigns the CSR is pointed towards.

7/10


3.) Content and Rules

The “Cypher” system is based on the same ruleset that powers Numenera, The Strange and in a diluted way, No Thank You, Evil!. It’s a system that has been discussed extensively in other places, so I won’t get into details, but I find the character creation to be a joy compared to other games.

The idea of “I’m a [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]” is easily accessible to a majority of players, and makes the character creation fly by. It’s easy to explain and understand, and helps to guide players through the system.

The dice system is probably my least favorite component of the game. It’s a little too unwieldy and hard to explain to new players when they’re playing. The idea of “the difficulty times 3 is what you need to exceed on a d20, but effort/edge can lower the difficulty, so you have to roll X” leads to the GM constantly re-explaining that portion of the rules to new players. For the simplicity the rest of the game follows admirably, this particular mechanic bothers me. It’s not a bad mechanic, but I think it is a little too difficult to use.

The items and flexiblity of the system in running/playing other games is apparently, and the several chapters dedicated to emulating particular genres are very well done.

7/10


4.) Game Master Section

 

Each particular genre section contains information about running the Cypher system inside that genre, and custom rules for that genre. The Game Master section also includes a “bestiary” that covers all the genres, rules for setting tone, theme, and guidance on how to deliver the expectations of each genre. It’s fairly complete but lacks in a few sections.

9/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

There is no pre-made adventure in this game, so instead, we’ll look at the “Campaign Worksheet” add-on. It’s an excellent page, devoted to helping you determine exactly what the game is you’re running, what’s allowed, and what particular rules you’re using, then giving them to players to allow them to have the full campaign in mind. It’s very well done, and necessary to the game.

10/10


Total Score: 43/50

 

Hey, that’s a pretty solid score. It’s beat out all the FFG games, and only falls behind Pendragon and Keltia (theme is my winner there). It’s a good book, and a good generic system, and one I’d recommend to newer RPGers or players who are wanting a fast paced, cinematic, and storytelling focused system. The rules rarely get in the way of the game, and it’s a pretty fun ride on the read through.

I’d purchase this game again, and the fact that I keep trying to come up with campaigns to use this game for is an indicator of how it’s caught my attention.

RPG Review: Angakkuit from AbstractNova

166565-thumb140.jpgAlright. It’s time to review another RPG! This time, it’s Angakkuit, the RPG of Inuit myth and legend from AbstractNova

As a disclaimer: I was granted a free PDF of this RPG to review.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

Angakkuit is a smaller RPG, clocking in at 72 full-color pages. The book is 8 by 11, well laid out (truly, it was a gift of layout, so easy to read), and concisely written. No complaints, and I think the price point lands just about right.

10/10


2.) Art

I’m a reasonable guy, and as a guy who’s worked in RPGs and games, I understand art is expensive. But I also know it’s not something you skimp on. The art in Angakkuit is great, but exceptionally sparse. There’s maybe a half-dozen to a dozen pieces in the whole book. That wasn’t nearly enough for me, and I could have used more to understand the setting.

5/10


3.) Content and Rules

So, Angakkuit uses a deck of cards for resolution. It has a mechanic, where based on your skill, what certain cards mean for your success. It’s not too hard to understand, although a bit hard to keep track of.

The mechanics are…workmanlike, in that they service the needs of the game, but certainly aren’t terribly evocative or latched into the game setting.

The bits of setting fluff were great, and really did an excellent job educating me regarding a culture and mythos I’m not personally familiar with. It was enough to inspire extra reading and research and I found everything I read interesting and new. It was a good feeling, and well presented.

7/10


4.) Game Master Section

The GM section is essential in this game, and they sell it well. It covers a myriad of topics, from character death, how to use dreams as storytelling, monsters to fight, and what sort of adventures to run. There were a few parts that either were too short, or too long, or didn’t present all the information you’d think you’d want. Overall though, well done.

7/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The premade adventure conveys the themes and elements of the game in an excellent manner, and is concise but still interesting. They divide it into several “scenes” and they flow naturally from one to another. Very well done.

10/10


Total Score: 39/50

I love RPGs that explore cultures, mythos, settings or worlds unfamiliar to me. I love learning, and I love learning through a game (even though it’s never accurate, it works for me). Angakkuit hits all those notes for, with it’s carefully attention to detaiul, setting and theme. Hence the high score.

I’m unsure I’ll run it with it’s base mechanics again, but I can easily see myself adapting it to Savage Worlds (my favorite generic system).

Angakkuit is a game I’m happy to have in my PDF library, and I’ll be picking up an extra copy in PoD from DriveThruRPG very soon to put on my physical shelf. I’d recommend it to anyone.