Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Classic Horrors Revisited

Paizo have made a nice name for themselves with their "XYZ Revisited" series, which includes Dragons Revisited, Classic Monsters Revisited, Dungeon Denizens Revisited, Classic Treasures Revisited, and the upcoming (slightly differently titled) Misfit Monsters Redeemed. As well, of course, as the subject of this review, which for anyone who's been paying attention to my tastes over time (Hi, Mom!) would guess would be my strongest interest in the series, and in fact, possibly the only one of the series to really call my name.

The book is formatted such that the 60 some odd pages of the book detail ten classic horror monsters, and each monster has about six pages dedicated to it. There is a sidebar (for each) explaining what about the creature touches some primal fear in mankind, and/or perhaps the history of the monster in folklore and popular fiction. Each monster has an introduction, an ecology (or necrology for the undead), some known examples of the monster in the Golarion setting, some extra rules or options for customizing the monster with new feats, abilities or equipment, and a custom statblock and illustration of a single advanced version of the monster.

The format works very well to ensure that each creature gets enough treatment that you can do something with it; if gives you loads of ideas on how to integrate one into a campaign, and make it work.

Sadly, of course, the system is Pathfinder, which as a variant of D&D 3.5, is one that is in many ways poorly suited to horror gaming. Granted, a lot of that can be overcome with metagame considerations, but it was also clear from reading through these entries that they were struggling at times to work around the obvious, "the cleric easily turns this monster" or what-have-you. Because it's a particular interest of mine, horror roleplaying, even in systems like D&D (or Pathfinder, which I consider a variant of D&D, despite the name) is something that I've given a lot of thought to, and I think that it's a struggle to work against the system in many ways. That said, this book had some pretty good advice on how to make these monsters come "alive" in the campaign, and not just be disposible encounters, which is exactly the wrong thing to do if you want to retain any semblance of a horror vibe at all.

So, I give the book two thumbs up. It takes a difficult subject; making standard, classic, well-known and probably (honestly) overexposed monsters and making them horrible again, and does a pretty good job with it, in spite of a system that isn't really conducive to that particular role. So... good job, guys. The focus was more on using the existing rules instead of really "revisiting" them, i.e., providing more options that diverged more from the standard SRD rules for the creature as originally written, but that's OK. Although I would have liked to see the latter, maybe my desires there wouldn't be reasonable in relation to what the standard buyer of this book would probably want to have seen.

The monsters included are pretty much what you'd expect, with perhaps the exception of the first one, the derro, who's inclusion as "classic" is perhaps suspect (they referred to the infamous Shaver Mystery stuff from Astounding Stories in the 50s, as well as making a more difficult link between derro and the gray alien mass hysteria phenomena.) In order, the monsters are derro, flesh golems (i.e., Frankenstein's monster), gargoyles, ghosts, ghouls, hags (lots of wicked old witch folklore here), mummies, vampires, walking dead (skeletons and zombies) and werewolves.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Heart of the Jungle

I finished the first of the five-book spree of Paizo setting material that I picked up, Heart of the Jungle, which I presume is titled as an homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness which was the mother of all jungle adventure stories, and wildly influential (along with H. Rider Haggard) on the developing pulp aesthetic jungle stories by guys like Robert E. Howard (Conan and others), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan and others), Talbot Mundy, and even George Lucas (Indiana Jones).

As expected, Heart of the Jungle is primarily about adventuring in the jungle in general, and the jungles of the Mwangi Expanse in the Pathfinder setting in particular. There is an interesting discussion about the hazards of jungle travel, including lots of new diseases, parasites, predators, and more. There is a bunch of setting stuff about the locations and cultures in the Mwangi jungles. Perhaps a bit surprisingly (or perhaps not, if you really think about it) there are even more references to lost civilizations deep in the jungle... ruined cities, temples, and degenerate descendents of once noble imperialists.

This isn't discussed in any great detail (this is, after all, only a 60 some odd page book, and the Mwangi Expanse is the equivalent of many nations in terms of size and diversity) but there's enough here to get you going for quite awhile, including, to use a few examples, the Aspis Consortium's corrupt trading city, a city ruled by an undead child-god who wants to drive all foreign elements from the land, a city ruled by a demonic gorilla and his demon-tainted apes, a crashed flying city, a number of cities that appear to possibly harbor unknown Lovecraftian entities buried beneath their depths, and more. In fact, anyone who was even a little familiar with my wildly successful Demons in the Mist Pbp game will know that I stole the idea of the gorilla nation wholesale from the Paizo campaign setting (although at the time, there wasn't any detail around it at all except that there was this gorilla kingdom deep in the jungle that exterminated any human(oids) who wandered into its territory.)

Paizo included a number of partial page maps of a number of cities, but only a few of them were actually professional cartographic representations of the kind they normally use, while the rest were, they claimed, designed to represent the kinds of hearsay and dubious maps you might find from hucksters and would be guides at some of the outpost towns here and there in the area; stuff that would prompt you to go to the jungle, but give you dubious benefit once you're there. They were designed to be player handouts and aides, although in that task, I'm a little curious how well they'd really work, especially since some of them straddle the spine of the book. Curious and potentially neat idea; I'm not sure if they have yet perfected the execution of it here, though.

An inordinate amount of text was given early in the book to promulgating the Avatar myth, i.e., the idea that anyone from a vaguely Europeanesque civilization can only be there to exploit, pillage and ultimately destroy the native lands. (This idea is much older than Avatar, the James Cameron movie, of course, but I call it that because it's the most prominent purveyor of that myth most recently.) This strong emphasis early on seems fundamentally at odds with much of the rest of the book which characterizes the jungle as ultimately untamed and untameable, a raw force of nature that will ultimately triumph over the pathetic attempts of mankind to conquer it. I suppose this can possibly be chalked up to having more than one writer, probably working independently on different parts of the book. In any case, once you get past several pages of that vibe, it tends to fade away, and the book becomes much more useful again. In fact, I found much of the book very interesting indeed, and while it offers much more in the way of capsule ideas that will then still need an awful lot of GM development to be workable, I find that's OK. Many of the Pathfinder Modules will give you more specifics on certain areas, and otherwise, I like making stuff up on my own anyway. But, I also like having idea minefields that I can scour for the kernels of ideas to develop, and this book certainly is that.

I was tempted to turn next to the Sargava book as a companion piece, what with Sargava being the neighboring region in the setting, and presumably a nice companion to this one. And I will eventually, but first I picked up Classic Horrors Revisited, so that'll be on my gaming reading cycle for the next little while.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pathfinder New Classes Final

I went and downloaded the (free) "final" Beta testing document for the six new Pathfinder classes that are set to appear in the Advanced Players Guide for the Pathfinder RPG today. I've had the earlier Beta versions for some time, but I couldn't tell at a glance how different these new Beta versions were, and of course, I have no idea how different the true final versions will be once they're out there. But, I thought I'd comment on them, since I'm a fan of 1) much of what Pathfinder has done to the 3.5 SRD in general to update and clean it up, and 2) new class options.

Sadly, however, these six classes are not the ones I would have chosen, and although I think some of their ideas were good ones, they highlight to me much of my dissatisfaction.

Most of the D&D (and therefore Pathfinder) basic core classes use some kind of magic. In fact, of the eleven core classes, only four of them do not have a spellcasting progression of some kind, and of those four, one of them (the monk) still has a buttload of supernatural abilities anyway. For low magic options (or just for people who don't want to mess with spellcasting in their character), then, that only leaves a bare three classes: the barbarian, the fighter, and the rogue. It's no wonder, then, that I'm a big fan of using some alternate classes. The Scout, the spell-less rangers and paladins, the Swashbuckler, various ninja or assassin alternate classes, non-supernatural alt.monks; these are all some of my favorite alternate classes to integrate into my games.

It's perhaps not too surprising, then, although disappointing, that the alternate Pathfinder classes are also almost exclusively magic-using classes, and the only one that isn't, really, is one that's not really up my alley at all either. The six classes are the Alchemist, the Cavalier, the Inquisitor, the Oracle, the Summoner and the Witch. The Alchemist technically isn't a spellcaster (although his impact in game is very similar to a spellcaster) and the Cavalier is obviously the same concept (if not exactly the same execution) as the 3.5 PHB2 Knight. The Oracle is a more shamanistic like divine spellcaster, the Witch is an arcane caster that borrows heavily from fairy tales (I actually quite like the Witch as a spellcaster, to be honest with you) and the Inquisitor is kinda like a darker, grimmer version of the paladin, except with slightly lesser combat stats and slightly better spellcasting stats.

The summoner is also (obviously) a spellcaster, but surprisingly, he gives up some spellcasting ability to be able to bond with a strange extraterrestrial entity called his eidolon, which can take many forms and fight (or whatever) in his behalf.

The mechanics for all of them seem solid enough, but conceptually, I was just disappointed in what they decided to follow. The Pathfinder setting mentioned psionics (briefly) yet we still have no Paizo psionics. These classes continue to ramp up the presence and ubiquity of magic (sadly... at least to my sensibilities), and we are still lacking some really basic core archetypes (I think a good swashbuckler is a more core archetype than many of the ones we do have, and it always disappoints me to see it neglected.)

Of the new classes (again, Beta 2 version, not final) the summoner, the alchemist and the witch are the ones that interest me the most, because they seem like stronger concepts that have some more notable differences to what's already in the game, and are strongly rooted in folklore and fantasy fiction.

The image, by the way, is one of Wayne Reynolds for the new core classes, the Oracle. Although its the only one to be released digitally so far (on the Paizo blog), we've seen pencil sketches of all of them, and there are new, small, images of all six in color in the backs of the latest Paizo books.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gentlemen of the Road

In addition to the unusual circumstances that allowed me to finish The Plane Below before going into work, a completely different set of unusual circumstances allowed me to read most of Michael Chabon's relatively short novel Gentlemen of the Road today too, while sitting and waiting in a tire shop, sadly. Because I was only about 35 pages away from finishing it after that, I took the time to read it all the way through before looking at my shiny new Pathfinder books.

Gentlemen is an unusual book in many ways. Chabon said in the afterword that his working title was Jews With Swords for a long time. Chabon is not a genre writer, but rather a "literary" writer and a reasonably successful one at that (a Pullitzer Prize at a young age tends to do that to a writer). Despite that, he's also notoriously a defender of genre and plot-driven fiction, as opposed to the plotless character studies that make up much of the literary fiction market.

That doesn't necessarily mean that he's a genre writer himself, of course. In fact, in his afterword, it was difficult to tell if this book was pretentious slumming, or simple self-deprecation of sorts. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. His style, however, was very literary rather than genre. I'd say an integral feature of most genre fiction is that the prose disappears. Clever turns of phrase and elaborate metaphors take the reader out of the story and away from the plots and characters. Granted, they can be appreciated in their own right, sometimes, but their applicability in what is supposed to be a historical fiction swashbuckling romance with vague hints of Conan and D'Artagnan (according to the author) and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (obvious from the characterizations of Zelikman and Amram) is somewhat more dubious.

Chabon's interest in the two characters as atypical Jews, as well as the Khazar state as one of the only states of the Middle Ages to support Judaism as a state religion is kinda interesting, but borders on an annoying affectation after a time. He made too much of a point of talking about how Jewish everyone was, which got distracting after a while, as well as begging the question of how historically accurate this whole thing was meant to be as opposed to a specifically Jewish swashbuckling romance (actually, that's rather easily answered given that he features the khagan Zachariah, who actually ruled about a hundred years earlier than this novel is purportedly set. In fact, the book is set no more than ten years before the entire Khazar state was destroyed by Sviatoslav of the Rus.) His characterization of Christians, Muslims, and the Rus themselves also border on uncomfortable at times, although they fall shy of being completely insulting or overtly offensive, and from the point of view of his characters is probably reasonably historically accurate anyway.

The biggest problem I had with it was that for a swashbuckling romance, it was surprisingly somewhat light on the swashbuckling action. Chabon obviously liked his characters, and made a point of making them interesting and intriguing to read about, but the plot was more of a talking heads plot than I would have expected going into it. I suppose that's not unsurprising, given a genre novel written by a "literary" writer.

My end result, I suppose, is that the novel was interesting, quick and dirty and easy to read, and a great idea with great characters, but somehow less than the sum of all its parts, at the end of the day. I'd recommend it, but if it were much longer than it is, I'd do so much more hesitantly.

The Plane Below

I managed to finish the fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons book The Plane Below earlier this morning due to an unusual circumstance (i.e., I didn't have to be at work quite as early as normal.) As a non-player of 4e, I found the book pretty interesting, if a bit sparse. Of course, if I could have used any of the mechanics in the book, maybe I wouldn't have thought it quite so sparse. But probably somewhat; it's relatively thin compared to the themed books from the third and third and a half edition eras.

One thing that the book did for me was put to bed any lingering notions I may have harbored about 4e being just a miniatures game. I mean, I didn't necessarily hold to that opinion, but I heard it expressed frequently on the internet. This book, at least, was primarily a setting book, and while it had some mechanics in it, it was mostly a book that could be used regardless of system. It is a book that I could use fairly easily in a 3.5 game, or for that matter, in any fantasy game using any system from FATE to Savage Worlds to HERO or whatever else you'd want to use.

It was chock full of D&Disms, though. In spite of the fact that many 4e detractors have complained about how the 4e implicit setting is erasing years of history and D&Diana, I found this material extremely "D&Dish." Most of my homebrew settings, even while cleaving faithfully to the concept of the D&D game (something that I frequently don't make a point of doing) are much more divergent from the creaky old Great Wheel cosmology than this is.

That said, some of the most iconic D&D settings, including those published by WotC for 3rd edition, didn't use the Great Wheel either (I'm thinking of Forgotten Realms and Eberron here) and the 4e implied setting isn't really any more divergent from the Great Wheel than Forgotten Realms "Tree of Worlds" or whatever it's called is, and it's probably a good deal less divergent than Eberron's orbiting planes cosmology.

The gist of the Plane Below is that it's a combination of what were a few completely different planes in the 3rd edition Manual of the Planes and before. Much of the Elemental Chaos is like Limbo, but it also manages to be all of the four iconic Elemental Planes as needed as well, and the Abyss is buried deep within the Elemental Chaos as both a part of that plane, and yet also a plane unto itself. The thinking here, according to the WotC designers, was to make some of these planes more useful and attractive as actual adventure settings, rather than theoretical places that you couldn't figure out what to do with in game. In this goal, I think they were successful.

In others, perhaps less so. Personally, I think they didn't got far enough, and the D&D outsiders is still full of a lot of overlap in concept. While they did take some efforts to distinguish the slaad, for example, from the demons, it was a bit too little. Why aren't the slaad just some group or tribe of demons? Because of lingering sacred cows, that's why. What's the difference between a demon lord and a primordial? Especially an obyrith demon lord? Nothing substantial. At least not that's spelled out here. Pretty much all of the primordials could be called new demon lords and nobody would know the difference.

That said, the actual ideas that this book had are pretty good. Many of them are older ideas that are just restated for the fourth edition, but some of them I didn't recognize. Granted, my D&D lore may not be up to snuff, but I think they went to some pains to actually create some new material, not just represent older ideas from planar adventures.

This book certainly didn't convert me to 4e, nor did it do anything with the cosmology that was so intriguing that I'd look at adopting it (except a handful of extremely discreet units of setting design that'd be fun to borrow from time to time) but I did find it an interesting read nonetheless. Not the equivalent to the excellent Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss, but interesting nonetheless.

For my next RPG reading trick, I've got some Pathfinder material up my sleeve. I had picked up the Absalom sourcebook off my shelf, not with the intention of rereading it word for word necessarily, but to do some research for the short story competition I mentioned last time. That got me in the mood for more Pathfinder, and on a trip to my local gaming store, I ended up five books heavier, including Heart of the Jungle, Classic Horrors Revisited, Sargava: The Lost Colony, Faction Guide and City of Strangers. These books aren't very long, and I can often read them pretty quick. In fact, it's possible that I'll read them quick enough that they may not even end up on my What I'm Reading list at all before going straight to the reviews. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A few quick things...

In a no doubt ill-advised move, I recently picked up five books from the library. Ill-advised, you say?

Well, I still have close to fifty books that I own and haven't yet read, so yeah... probably so. I've almost finished The Plane Below, which counts on my gamebook reading slot. But... which still takes up potential reading time nonetheless. I've also picked up the first Ultimate Galactus graphic novel, which will be a quick and dirty read of about an hour or an hour and a half tops. Then I got Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, a historical fiction that's heavily influenced by Fritz Leiber'a Fafhrd and Gray Mouser characters. And I've got book four of the Vampire Earth series (I read books one, two and three earlier). And the first Star Wars Legacy novel.

Am I really going to finish all these novels? I'm not sure. And what about my short story Forgotten Realms anthology? Yeah, I'll get around to that eventually too.

Speaking of short stories, here's an interesting thing. Paizo, in conjunction with their semi-official fanzine Wayfinder, are sponsoring a short-story contest. There's actually a cash prize at the end of that one. Well, a gift certificate prize, anyway. For 3,000-4,500 words of work, $100 of gift certificates, and small-pond fame of being published in Wayfinder ain't a bad deal. I'll be coming up with something.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Weapons of Legacy

After an extremely long period of time, I finally finished reading Weapons of Legacy. Honestly, that may be a bit of an exaggeration; I skimmed the last fifty pages kinda quickly.

Weapons of Legacy reads very much like some of the driest, most difficult textbooks I had to wrestle with in college. While the idea is sound, and I actually think I quite like it, it doesn't make for interesting reading at all, and I finally decided that I really didn't need to read all of the menu entries in detail for how to build one from scratch.

The core conceit of the book is that magic items don't need to continually be replaced and updgraded through your career if you can get a "signature" one that grows with your character as he increases in level. In concept, this is a great idea, and one that certainly feels more natural to anyone who's ever read any fantasy fiction.

The bulk of the book was made up of a bunch of sample items, each of which took between two and four pages to describe, including a history, and a sample encounter on where a character might find the item. And, of course, all the rules for powers and abilities that will be unlocked over time.

At first I dove into this happily, but this is where I bogged down. This is probably best seen as a dictionary or encyclopedia; you go to the entry you want to read about, you don't try to read it cover to cover. I quickly found this difficult going and bogged down for months. Don't get me wrong; there are a lot of good ideas here. But maybe too many, almost.

After that there are rules for creating your own weapon of legacy, and this is done in menu fashion. In other words, you pick abilities from a menu and add them as appropriate. There are a number of menus that all are slightly differently balanced, so that you can choose which menu you work off of, but there are different costs and other balance considerations based on which one you use.

Not at all a bad system, but dry, dry, dry.

To be honest with you, I didn't really expect to enjoy this book very much. When I bought it, quite a while ago, I bought it from Amazon with a gift card. I picked two other RPG books, but I had a couple of bucks left, and this was the only book I could find that was priced low enough that I could get it without exceeding my gift card limit. Given the fact that the price had plummetted, and my disdain for magic item catalogs in general, my expectations were very low. I thought the concept (and the execution too) was much better than I expected, and my review of this book and its contents is therefore positive.

However, I don't really recommend just reading it from cover to cover.

I was going to pick up either Stormwrack or Complete Psionic for the next book on my gamebook reading list, but I was browsing at the library last night and on a whim I picked up The Plane Below. Now, this is a Fourth Edition book, and I don't play 4e, nor do I even know very much at all about the rules for 4e. But, I grabbed this book because it looks like it's mostly a fluff book, that explains some of the cosmology and setting associated with the "points of light" game, and I'm interested in it from that perspective. When I review it, I obviously won't be able to comment on the mechanics, and in fact, it's certainly my intention to skip past any mechanical sections of the book entirely and not even look at them.


A few days ago, I finished the last book of the Twilight War trilogy, Paul S. Kemp's Shadowrealm. As I've already reviewed both Shadowbred and Shadowstorm, I feel that in a way, there's not a lot to add just because another volume to the series. It obviously follows in much the same vein as it's predecessors, and has many of the same strengths and weaknesses. If you haven't already seen them, I'll refer you to linked reviews I wrote for the earlier two volumes.

In Shadowrealm, Kemp manages to give us a suitably epic and exciting conclusion. The action is pretty fast and furious, the amount of time that takes place over the same pagecount as the previous volumes is really compressed. There's some really great action/battle scenes that take place, and the redemption of some interesting characters who were fallen or falling, as well as the suitable comeuppance for some(but not all) of the villains of the piece. Overall, I'd definitely say that the end result was a dark one. If it was a victory, it was a Pyrrhic one in many ways. As a self-professed fan of grimmer sword & sorcery and dark fantasy stories, that certainly didn't bother me, and in fact I found it a pleasant and completely unexpected surprise for a book series set in the Forgotten Realms, which was infamous not too many years ago for pushing so hard the other way that the villainous characters and organizations were almost a joke; a mockery. Wizards of the Coast (or maybe it was late-era TSR back then) were so concerned that if "bad guy" characters had any successes, or looked at all competent, that they would be promoting evil or something.

Certainly, that's not something Paul Kemp's worried about.

Unfortunately, this book continues the trend of the last few of being probably a bit incomprehensible to anyone who isn't familiar with Dungeons & Dragons conventions, rules, and details. Since it's a D&D tie-in novel, that may not be the worst thing in the world, but it certainly isn't a great one either, and it limits the potential appeal of the novel. Since, for the most part, the audience probably can deal with that without any problem... well, I won't make a big deal out of it.

The thing that did start to bug me after a while was the emo nature of the some of the characters. A good emotional backdrop for your characters is a good thing to have. You want to see them struggle with things that are difficult, or else the story probably gets really boring. However, it can go too far and start to sound whiny and unlikeable. Also, if it's obvious (and has been for a long time) what needs to be done and the characters are just being stubborn about it because they don't want to, that starts to be less attractive a trait in a protagonist character too. I think Kemp drew the emotional baggage out too long, or just didn't handle it very deftly, or something. I didn't really like that angle of the story (and it applied in variations to several different characters simultaneously, too) and it became more frustrating and annoying rather than interesting after a while.

Dialogue still stank, too, but I won't rehash that.

All in all, I think it was a satisfying conclusion to a satisfying trilogy. It's somewhat disposible, and won't go down as a classic anytime soon, but it's still pretty good stuff, and I don't feel at all like my time was wasted reading it, or that my money was wasted buying it. And although I don't think I'll be rereading it anytime soon, when my kids get a little bit older, if they still like reading fantasy, I'll let them read it too. (As an aside, I'm trying to get my oldest son interested in reading my original Weis and Hickman Dragonlance trilogy, or the original R. A. Salvatore Forgotten Realms trilogy. Those aren't great books either, but at his age, he should love them. If only he'll get off his butt and finish reading the Inkheart trilogy already...)

Anyway, there was an anthology that came with the trilogy. It's called Realms of War and it says it's a Twilight War anthology. The first story is a Paul S. Kemp story that fills in a few blanks around the trilogy. From the looks of it, though, the rest of the stories in the anthology have nothing whatsosever to do with the Twilight War, so... yeah, WotC. That sucks. Bait and switch is bad. Anyway, I'll dutifully report on that when I'm done too...

Friday, July 09, 2010

Wildman houserules

I've blogged before about how I really like the concept of shifters (from Eberron) and other "wildmen" archetypes. And while the rules for shifters work quite well, they have two problems in being adapted to my homebrew. 1) They're not open content, and 2) They're a bit too long, complex and involved for easy retyping and representing anyway.

So, I decided to create some new rules for shifters. Since my setting doesn't have half-orcs, I decided to use the half-orc stats as a baseline, and then modify from there. Thanks to "The Orc Within" (from ENWorld) for the baseline concept and the text of the Feral Form special ability. Now, the half-orc racial stats were frequently criticized as being too harsh, especially the ability adjustments, where a +2 to Strength was frequently not judged equivalent to a -2 to both Intelligence and Charisma. The design notes on the half-orc purported that since Strength makes them better at combat, and combat is so important to the game, that it was balanced despite the obvious... well, imbalance. That, of course, depends on the game.

I've played many half-orcs in my day (in fact, I am doing so currently), but I don't particularly like the stat block for them.

Anyway, here's the entire ruleset for my vucari, or wildmen. Obviously based on the same idea as shifters. I've used D&D linguistics, just for completion; I, of course, use a completely different linguistics rule for my homebrew.

Wildman (Vucari)
• +2 Str, -2 Int
Lowlight vision
• Survival is always a class skill for wildmen, regardless of what class they actually take.
• Wildmen gain the Scent ability
• Feral Form (Su) - Once per day a wildman can take on brutish form that lasts a number of rounds equal to 3 + the character's Constitution modifer, granting him +2 Str, +2 Dex, +10 ft land speed, and two claw attacks (1d4 +1/5HD damage). The character may use manufactured weapons while in his Feral Form, if desired. While in his Feral Form, a wildman also gains the benefit of the Pounce ability. This benefit only lasts while in the Feral Form, however. The wildman gains one additional use per day of his Feral Nature at every 5th character level he attains.
• Automatic languages: Sylvan
• Bonus languages: Common, Elven, Goblin, Orc

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


I finished the second book in the Twilight War trilogy this weekend, Paul S. Kemp's Shadowstorm. Right away, I picked up the third and final book, Shadowrealm, and hopefully I can finish it a bit more quickly. This book took me a long time to read, but that shouldn't be seen as an indication of its quality, really. I was distracted by a number of other things going on at home, and I just didn't pick anything up to read.

Well, if I were loving it so much that I couldn't put it down, I'm sure that I wouldn't have put it down. So I guess it says something about its quality there, but not much. Overall, my review of Shadowstorm is positive, and that it is even better than its predecessor, Shadowbred, to which I also gave a mostly positive review. I clearly didn't love it that much, but I did like it, and it had much more of what made the first book in the series work. It also allowed Kemp to stretch his wings a bit and do some other stuff as well. This book featured apocalyptic magical disasters, exciting battle scenes that incorporated D&D settings elements in a way that made sense, several "D&D adventurer combats" including one with a dragon, some great scenes of betrayal and the culmination of political manipulation, a squeeky clean character that falls out of his cliche to be a more troubled individual, and a few other scenes that really out-do what's come before.

It also had some of the weaknesses of the prior novel. Dialogue was still often trite or unnatural. References given with no context to stuff happening before the trilogy started to taper off, and there were fewer of them. And the game mechanics still showed a fair amount, but either Kemp improved his ability to hide them, he did it less than in Shadowbred, or it just worked better. I'm not sure which of the three it was, but it was less of a problem than in the first book.

One of these days, I'll also figure out how to write reviews for multiple volumes in the same series that aren't repetitive. This one isn't it, though. I'm not sure what the solution is; Shadowstorm had most of the same strengths and weaknesses that Shadowbred had (and I'd be surprised to find out that Shadowrealm does not as well).

After finishing this series, I also got an adjunct short story collection, Realms of War that I'll read, before putting aside the Forgotten Realms for a time (a long time, I don't have anything else from that series on my dockett at all) and looking for something else to read. I might pick up some of my still unread Robert E. Howard collections--maybe the second Conan collection or the Solomon Kane one--but I might read a novel concurrently, since I find that short story collections are often hard to read and I'll just be off one. There's little incentive to keep going after finishing one, it seems, so I often put it down and forget to pick it up again for long stretches at a time. I also would really like to finish the Weapons of Legacy book that I've been reading on my gamebook queue for months and months. I don't want to preview the review too much, but clearly I haven't really enjoyed reading it. Not that the idea and implementation isn't an interesting one, just that... it doesn't lend itself it just being read about very well.