JP On Gaming

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

[Kinda Book Review] Imperial Earth by Arthur C Clark

I picked this audiobook rather randomly. Being in a Sci-Fi mood, I picked this book because I wanted to space stuff. Arthur C Clark is one of the leaders in Sci-Fi as the man who wrote 2001, a movie that both intrigued, terrorized, and interested me all at once.

The science element is strong and interesting. The description of life on Titan and how the frozen volcanoes work and some of the unique elements of the planet and space travel. ACC really knows his stuff when it comes to the space race.

We see a lot of elements that we are just breaking today (cloning, holographic projections, space travel) and others that are well established (smart phones, internet). He spends a lot of time describing these devices. Unlike other writers who do this, ACC's devices ARE things that are useful, realistic, and that seriously help mankind.

The story is set on the 5th centennial (2276 AD) and a big celebration is coming with representatives from all over the Solar System: Earth, Moon, Mercury, Mars, and Titan. Each of these nations developed their own flavor and culture - even if the story mostly focuses on Earth and Titan. Duncan Mackenzie comes to Earth as the representative of Titan he also plans on getting himself cloned as he cannot have children (long story).

Duncan's trip to Earth is a trip to the Eastern USA locations viewed 300 years in the future. He visits locations and places that exist today but in the future.

As the story evolves, we are introduced to a series of characters... None of them are particularly engaging or endearing. Kalindi, his youthful love interest may be the only one that has some sort of realistic plot. Every character, including Duncan, is bland and flavorless. They have a short discussion. "Is that guy trustworthy" "Yes" And he is.

Whatever interest the start drew from me quickly gave way to boredom as the reader was terrible. It felt like a robot reading. Gah, it was painful. Very painful.

He approaches many social elements I do not share his views on, one of the biggest reason is that these changes happen within 300 years. Other elements he hints at but rather than completing his approach, he simply drops the situation rather than create a serious discussion. Topics include alien existence, cloning, people living underground, veganism/goo-eaters.

The one element I found myself seriously at odds with his views was in the subject of love relationships. In the future (300 years, not a million. three centuries), people live a mostly debauched lifestyle when young, having kids left and right then forming strong and tight families with a mom and dad.

No. Just no. Human nature is not that way. Strong families and super-promiscuity do not go hand in hand, particularly in frontier areas like Titan. My position on those is that in such situation, you would have tight families with a mother and father at the center. Should one become widowed, the surviving parent would remarry, forming a Brady Bunch.

BTW, there is nothing "imperial" about Earth in there. Earth is a decadent place where people only look at the past.

The best element of this story however, and the shining jewel of this dreary, boring story, is its conclusion when we get Duncan's address to the United Nations. That speech, not only ties the story together, but is also a view into the future. Even though mankind turned away from the stars to look at how we can screw up the Earth, the stars and future are where mankind eventually will end up.

So rating this book... Well overall, this is a solid 2/5 but a 5/5 if you only read Duncan's final address. I kept finding myself nodding at every one of his points.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

[Kinda Book Report] Batman Nightwalker by Marie Lu

I bought this book for the kids at Halloween Free Comic Book day. I am not a huge fan of modern comics, not enjoying the pace and politics in the stories.

This is not an origins story, which I like. Instead, we find a 17 year old Bruce Wayne who is about to turn 18 and take over the Wayne Fortune. An interesting take.

I won't spoil the story, which I found more interesting than I thought. In a vein similar to Joker, this is not a superhero comic but a sort of coming-of-age story. The events shown here will mold Bruce Wayne from a child into the billionaire-playboy/Batman of the future.

I really liked the story. It had interesting twists and characters that were more than one-dimensional (though many of the side characters are effectively just that, cardboard cutouts). The pace was extremely fast. The art top-notch, in a fake two-color "black and white" works amazingly to evoke Gotham.

Now if I have a ding to it: the pace was breakneck. I kept flipping the pages so fast that I caused a hurricane in the Caribbeans!

In the end, I will give this book a 4/5. I liked it much more than I expected but felt it went on too fast.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

[Old Pro Tip] Setting up a gaming group

I have been reading across the internet "I'm a GM and I can't get a campaign going."

I was lucky to be able to travel and form RPG groups in no less than four countries (Canada, France, Ireland, and the USA). When I reached all countries but my native Canada, I was able to get a gaming group going within a month. Here are some of the lessons I learned.

- Run Short Events I cannot stress this enough. Once we leave school/college, time comes at a premium. Spouses, jobs, children, video games, professional sports, or porn: RPGs require time and you are competing with people's own time. Many WANT to play but are not ready to put the time to actually play. Running short events is a great way to do this, by focusing on a 4h "one-shot", you bring the best of the story to the table, dropping the extra fluff. It allows you to showcase your GMing style by showing off your strengths. People are more willing to devote 2-4 hours than their every Saturdays to playing a game.

It took me YEARS to run a dungeoncrawl I'm comfortable with running and doing a good job of it. I'm typically not one who enjoys running them. But that's a rant for another day.

- Run in public This is one I learned over the many years of trying to organize games. I have been lucky enough to work with a number of great stores over the years: Le Griffon Feerique, Gamers Haven, Petrie's Family Games, and now Grand Adventure Comics. (Yes I forget a few)

This helps both sides of the equation. As a GM, I don't bring in a bunch of strangers into my house, where other family members keep interrupting. Similarly, I may not be interested in going to people's homes (I have pet allergies). There are some people you do not want in your home, to say nothing of the weirdos.

Yes, you cannot use your 100,000$ super-surround sound, 3D-projector, full wall of miniatures, and other convenience. There are on-lookers breaking the immersion, you have to keep it PG-13, you cannot act out every scene, and you may have a closing time impacting your game time.

So I ask you: what is your end game? Run a campaign. Or run a campaign at home, on your own time?

- Keep it simple This is a big issue I see a lot. Many GMs plan massive arcs that take the PCs from levels 1 to 135,000 and will run for three decades. I say do the opposite. Focus on short games, ones you can resolve in one to four sessions. Again, this allows you to focus on your best elements. By doing this, you can vet your players: who is good, who is offensive, who knows his stuff, who is a noob, and allows you to remedy situations: remove a player, train the crew, adjust your own style to the group, or change based on what they want to see.

Simple allows for expansion, saving you prep-time.

I would like to call this running the game as Columbo. Columbo was a series of made-for-TV movies starring Peter Falk as the detective. The movies were tied together only by the titular detective (hey! don't blame me, I am not a fan of the series). Perhaps this lends itself better to running a series of "I'm hiring you bum adventurers for this mission, " instead of a plot where the PCs are the chosen ones.

- Participate in Organized Play Organized Play campaigns: Adventure League, [Path/Star]finder Societies, Shadowrun Missions, Living Arcanis, or even my own Legacies, are always looking for GMs. This is a good way to meet people. Not only do they reach more people than you do by yourself but it allows you to showcase your skills. Having run a few games, you will be able to invite people you like to your own campaign.

- Fail All of the above lead to this one. You WILL fail. That's fine, just get back up and try again. You may luck out or you may fall flat on your face. Like everything in life, you get back up and try again.

LIFE!

Friday, November 1, 2019

[Kinda Book Review] City of God by St.Augustine

When I ordered this book from Amazon, a few years ago, I never expected the massive bible-size tome that came. Back in 2018, I decided to read it, see what this was about.

I was not quite sure what its content was either. I knew it would deal with early Christianity history, but I thought it was a particular gem when this book was written around 415AD following the first sacking of Rome by the Goths in 410. I expected - and was rewarded - with such insight.

What I got was a serious, complete, expansive, and very well-laid out explanation of Christianity. Explained in fairly simple terms are the relation between polytheism and Christianity; the relation of philosophies with Christianity; Hell; Heaven; angels; fallen angels; sin; the afterlife; the beginning and end of the universe. This is a complete exposé of it all.

Although his words are simple, the resulting content is complicated. Not the type of reading one does before going to sleep - as I did. This book is heavy and forces you to think about what is said, a book of philosophical theology. Each chapter requires some time to reflect on what was just read.

Because of the heaviness of this book, I took breaks to ready "lighter" material in-between.

As I completed reading of this book, I found myself saddened. This is one of those books that marked me and that will be with me forever. It confirmed many of my own thoughts while putting words and arguments into many others.

So, the review: 5/5 without a doubt or hesitation. If you are interested in Christianity, History, or Philosophy, you will find this book fascinating. Just be prepared to invest time into getting all you can from this.

Monday, October 28, 2019

[Kinda Book Report] Tarkin by James Luceno

With a new Star Wars movie coming, I decided to listen to a Star Wars Audiobook. I am a huge fan of Peter Cushing, his portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin, the man who destroyed Alderaan.

To keep this short, this book is the garbage I expect from Star Wars litterature. Tarkin is a Mary Sue who is never in true danger, always knowing more than his enemies. The story is predictable once you realize how invulnerable he is. I do not recall a moment he did not have the right training. In the end, I just could not wait for the end as the eye-rolling hurt my eyes.

The biggest problem is not the story but how it is written. None of the "now" events have any influence of impact on Tarkin. He experiences nothing that changes him or even confirms his beliefs. He has them from birth or teenage. Well, Mary Sue Tarkin...

Having said that, the audiobooks production was really high: the music and sounds - from the Star Wars soundtracks and movies. Whoever did that really did a great job of it. The voice work was absolutely fantastic, with Tarkin, Darth Vader and the Emperor standing out.

So... The rating? The story is worth 1/5. As I said before, I never felt he was in any danger and that he would always get the upper hand just... because. Now the production was one of the best, I would rate this as 5/5. The sounds added to the atmosphere and made the story tolerable from the cringe.

I will settle on a 2/5 for the whole package. Keep your money.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

[Kinda Book Report] Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

There are books you always wonder what they are about. This is one of these books.

To put this book into context, its author, Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD and is considered one of the "Five Good Emperors".

The book is a series of short thoughts, personal notes about the world and people. Very much organized as a modern days book of proverbs or maxims. They are not organized in any order, giving the impression of someone's personal note book being used and published.

However, it is a series of short reflexions that give us direct insight into stoic philosophy. Stoicism preaches a quiet living, and the ultimate futility of life, and the restraint of passions (in really short). I consider myself closer to epicurianism but found myself agreeing with many of his points.

One interesting point was the relation of the gods. The stoics were polytheistic but also understood and thought in a partially monotheistic way. That was an interesting side point.

So in the end... I would give this a 4/5. It was interesting but in the end, a little repetitive. It's a short one though.

Friday, October 11, 2019

[Ravenloft] The Vanishing Ziggurat released on DM's Guild

A few years back, I built a massive pyramid using girlscout cookie boxes that filled my garage. I did not have any specific idea what I wanted to do with it. I had an overall idea of what I wanted to do with it. Nothing overly fancy, a dungeon crawl with a few surprises.

Having play-tested it a few times each time adding new elements and making the dungeon more setting-neutral than the original version, I changed the target level band, some of the monsters and a few encounters completely to arrive at its final, current form.

This is an adventure nominally set in Ravenloft but really, it can be adapted to your setting quite easily. Because of the nature of the adventure you can literally set it anywhere...

This is the first pure dungeoncrawl adventure I ever written and I will say it was a refreshing and fun thing to write. Yet in spite of that, from the feedback, I managed to put in an interesting story line and an underlying plot. This adventure has new unique magic items and more than a few unique twists on known monsters.

Get it on the DM's Guild today!

[Kinda Book Review] The Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus

This is a book I had on my list for a very long time, and I listened to it as a free Audiobook from Librevox.org.

For those who do not know, Josephus was a Jew who chronicled the world during and around the Flavian Dynasty (Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian). First captured by Vespasian, he was freed and served him during the campaign. So this book is a report by someone who party to the events described therein, not someone far removed from them.

Josephus began as a rebel general who fought against Vespasian in Galilee before being captured, enslaved, and then freed by him. So we deal with someone who was there, dealt with the situation and had first-hand knowledge. A few times in the narrative, he is sent to speak with the Jews to ask them to surrender to Titus.

There are seven books with the narrative beginning around 200BC, through the period of the rise of Christianity, to the naming of Vespasian as commander of the army to punish the rebels by Nero, to the Year of the Four Emperors, to Titus' destruction of Jerusalem, and the destruction of Massada which ended the war.

The First few books presents the wars of the Seleucid kings in Judea and the many regime changes in Judea: the one king, then the tetrachy, and the Roman intervention. A veritable who's who of the late Roman Republic pass through: Pompey, Caesar, Octavian, Antony, and Cleopatra all appear influencing the region. I was fascinated.

Like many, I knew of the region around that time was from the Christmas story: King Herrod and Salome. They appear here but in the context of the wider world. In fact, they seem to be mere local despots with limited power overall with the kingdom of the Jews broken into four pieces and each king named tetrach (ruler over a fourth (roughly): Galilee, Judea, Samaria, and coastal regions).

Josephus describes the area as a hotbed for rebellious activity: under the Greek/Seleucids, then under the Romans with only limited periods of peace in-between. Religious fanatics, corrupt and avaricious governors and family squabbles contributed to the destabilization of the area.

So the wars begin and the Jews enjoy a fair amount of early successes, ejecting the Romans from their lands and continuing the administration in place.

Nero assigns Vespasian command of an army to conquer the territory.

This is the part where we must be wary and apply some common sense. As Vespasian was Josephus' patron, the book from here on does a fair a amount of what I think is propaganda as the Roman commanders (particularly Vespasian and Titus) are always portrayed as fair and generous. Still the narrative is interesting and pretty clear.

I never visited Jerusalem or Israel but after reading this book, I can say I have a pretty good idea what the city looked like.

Josephus provides us with ample stories anecdotes - many of them absolutely horrible of the famine in the besieged city. The worse is that of the woman who cooked and ate her own son.

...

Yeah. That was hard.

This book demonizes many of the players in the who affair, such as the leaders of the Zealots. It is clear that he regrets the whole war and its conducts but at the same time he admires and commends the Jews for their courage and spirit.

Another fun thing... The narrative definitely reminded me of terms and expressions taken from the Bible, particularly the most historical books - such as the Book of Kings.

So this book came in perfectly as I received a new war game: SPQR which I cannot wait but try with ActionMan. It's an ancients skirmish game of which I'll post more later.

Rating? Really? You ask me for a rating of a book that held my attention for over twenty hours??

FIVE EAGLES (out of five).

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Eyriss: Mage Hunter Commander of Ios

Anyone playing Mercenaries in Warmachine knows of Eyriss, this mage hunter character. This mage-slayer has been a terror to both main and backup casters.

Way back when, I painted this model and it has been a staple of any armies since. Well... at least when I played.

This version of Eyriss is no longer a member of the Mercenary faction, but has returned to her home among the elves of Ios and of the Retribution.

I must admit to preferring the earlier model rather than this newer plastic one. The dynamism is gone.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Stuffed Full of Pathfinder and playing turkey ???

Okay so Pathfinder v2 is now out and the universe has not ended. Neither has it taken aflame. I have NOT bought the book and as of yet do not plan on doing it. That is until I get to play a game or two and can have a good idea of how the game plays.

With that in mind, I have been looking for events here in the Nashville area and was not able to find anything.

Edit: As I write this, there is the first event for PF2 setup. I cannot attend that event so that will not be it.

I was speaking to my good friend Florent who will be coming to see us for Thanksgiving this year. While they are here, he offered to run something for us. I guess I will play something with ActionMan at that time.

I must say that I find myself excited at the prospect. See whether the things I heard are true: both the good and the bad - as there seems to be three tiers of people: those who like, those who hate, and those who just don't care (typically because they are playing something else).

So stuff me full of turkey before putting dice in my hands! That is a positive game experience.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Ethereal Scarabs: bringers of nothingness

A few years ago, I came up with a series of creatures that really freaked me out. The basic idea came to me as I was thinking about how to tie the FOEniverse together.

In the time since I created these horrors, they appeared in more than one adventure since then. Typically accompanied with a "OH CRAP!"

The book, Gostor: Ethereal Horrors, is available for sale right now on DrivethruRpg for both 5th Edition or Pathfinder v1.

These miniatures are from one of the Reaper Bones set.

Feel free to share your story of these great little things.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

[Kinda Book Review] Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman

Looking at my list of recommendations from Amazon, this book came up and as it was time for another audiobook to keep me company as I travel to and from work. I went for it.

Way back in the late 80s, I remember watching this movie called Gor (and its sequel "Outlaw of Gor"). It was a strange, a bad Conan the Barbarian redo. It was cheesy, with bad acting, bad decors, and minor nudity (which was always a nice bonus to my teenage mind). Come to think of it, I'm still in favor of nice nudity... Hmmm

The story has NOTHING to do with the movie. Just nothing.

Wait.

There are some scenes of nudity. Okay a lot. Female clothing does come off quite a lot. Not a bad thing...

Well the story is of an English professor who is taken to a counter-Earth (a planet that mirrors Earth on the other side of the Sun). There he trains as swordsman and a tarnsman (a tarn is like a big eagle). He goes around getting involved in the politics of this rather messed up world. He steals from a city, and that's where the action starts.

He captures the girl, she tries to kill him, they get captured, she is taken, he is placed to be killed. Now at the start, it is pretty cool and exciting but after a while, the death traps and escapes grow more and more unbelievable. I even began to roll my eyes when - again - Tarl was put in a death trap and escaped towards the end.

His complete refusal to surrender to the local customs got on my nerves. As an expat myself, it ground on me. I always tried to fit in wherever I went, not forgetting where I came from, but also never dismissing local customs. Towards the end, I wanted to slap him because he was just too goody-two-shoes

The ending clearly sets up that there will be a series.

Where the story was interesting was in the strange codes of honors of the castes - the warriors have their own, as do the merchants who need to turn a profit, as do the scribes, the assassins, and the initiates. The relations between freemen and slaves are odd, but "makes sense" within this universe. As I am currently working on expanding Tyrants of Saggakar, that part held interest.

The book done, I hit Wikipedia to learn more about the series. WOW! I had no idea this was a BDSM super series! I'm not into that and I did not get that vibe from the book. In retrospect, I can see it. Those currents are there, I just did not see them but they are there.

So what did I think about it. It was good but not great. I would give it 3.5 stars out of 5, which I must round out to a 4. Now would I read some more? I'm on the fence about it (one could say I'm not bound to an answer).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Retribution of Scyrah Forces

More long-painted models I put this here. I purchased these models and they were already converted at the time. When I bought them, I planned on using them for Starfinder or something like that. However, since I have yet to find something to play Sci-Fi games I like (I really need to dig into Esper Genesis), they merely gather dust under the TV...

I like these models and the "stormtrooper" pattern I did them in, which is the standard color scheme Privateer Press gives them.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

[Kinda Book Review] Battle For Rome by Ian Ross

Another audiobook. This one a historical fiction novel.

When I picked this up, I did not know it was book 3 of a series (Twilight of Empire). Gah. That's why I hate series.

I found this book with a moreless random search. I was intrigued by the premise. Most historical fiction is set in the late republic/early empire. However, this book is set at the dawn of the 4th century, covering the year 310-312.

Diocletian, the emperor who stabilized the Empire and set up the tetrarchy (where 4 co-emperors ruled part of the empire together). The tetrarchy failed almost immediately as Constantine who ruled out of Gaul and Maxentius who ruled out of Rome got to blows almost immediately.

The story follows Aurelis Castus an officer in Constantine's army and a down-to-earth soldier. The cast around him are interesting and colorful, presenting a fresco of the times, which is (un)surprisingly like today.

One of the high points are the battle scenes. They are clear. Concise. Fast-paced. Yet at the same time provide the reader with a taste of the chaos around Castus. Not only does Castus get involved in some of the large-scale battles, such as Verona or Milvian Bridge, but he also gets pulled into skirmished when he is not ready for battle. I was really engrossed in these scenes and could envision what happened all around me without issue.

The slower points move the story along well, focusing on relevant events, with an interesting overarching plot. He does not suddenly get into philosophical discussions. In fact, Castus doesn't really care for the Christian and when his secretary discusses with the bishop, he rolls his eyes and go off doing other things.

This book is aimed at those with an affinity for Roman history and the later Roman empire. I am a sucker for that period of history, so I'm a buyer.

I would've loved to get into the series at the start instead of in book 3, but from the first scene, I was hooked. That intro is very gripping and full of action. There are three more books for me to read on. The rest of the series has gone on my "Xmas Amazon List".

So how do I rate this book? I will give it a 4.5/5 (-.5 for the series thing), which I must round to a 5/5. I was really excited and wanted to keep going as I really enjoyed the plot and the approach to some of the characters.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

People of Akhamet

As usual, you can click on the image for a larger view of the characters.