Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Numenera Session 1: How Baztak, Django and Arms crashed a giant invisible spaceship

This is the write up for the first session of my Numenera RPG campaign. You can find out more about Numenera here.  

The elevator pitch is this: A billion years into the future, the world has seen vast technological advances, including space travel, terraforming, extradimensional travel and nanobot technology. The details of how those technologies work however, has been forgotten. The remnants remain. The world has reverted to medieval technology, but each society has found a way to incorporate the ancient technology into their lives. Some call it magic. Most call it Numenera...

*    *    *    * 

Our protagonists (referred to by their character names):

Baztak the Graceful Nano who Rides the Lightning

Arms the Mutant Glaive who Rages

Django the Mechanical Nano who Talks to Machines

Numenera has a really great option in character building, in which each of the three character options you choose at the beginning have different suggestions as to how you might tie your character to the world, the story and the other PCs. One such option led to the beginning of the adventure.

It all begins with a vision. Django, experimenting in his lab, crosses two components that shouldn't touch. A spark, a puff of smoke, and his mind drifts to the datasphere:

A burning village. The feeling of eight miles. A horde of marching abhumans, with strange features - horns; long white furred faces; hooves. And a giant floating ship, the shape of a seed on its end.

And with that the vision is over. Django is not much of talker. His strange obsession with wires, ports and automatons puts others off. 'He talks to machines,' they say, and they'd be right. But few of them know that the machines sometimes talks back.

Something was wrong, he knew. Visions often meant the datasphere, and things you saw on the datasphere were often true, if usually incomprehensible. So he tells his only true friend in the village: Arms.

Arms is a big man, and sturdy. Quick enough to make friends, but also quick to lose them. For he's possessed of a fierce rage that gets him out of trouble as often as it gets him into it. Perhaps it was his secret that made him so. For he is not completely a man - he is a mutant, with an inhuman resilience to pain that serves him well in battle. But mutants are often reviled in the steadfast, so he must take special care not to reveal this fact - or the horns on his head that he conceals always with a wide brimmed hat.

Arms and Django quickly realise that there was a village almost exactly eight miles away. They pause to gather up their weapons and cyphers, and set off at once. They know the threat abhumans can pose, and Arms thinks they might be Margr, brutish tribal creatures that kill and destroy for pleasure.

When they close on the village, they see a black smoke rising from the area. A man approaches them. He introduces himself as Baztak, and he has a steady balance to his step that betrays him as a warrior. But there's something else there, a sharp intelligence and an ability to understand Django instantly as he speaks of the datasphere. He was traveling when he saw the smoke, and agreed that if Margr were involved, the village may need their help.

The fires are dying out when they arrive, and the bodies of the dead and dying are everywhere.

Baztak, Django and Arms rush into action, giving succor to those who need it, asking questions of those still lucid.

"The Margr," says one man. "They took Larus... our nano,"

Conveniently, a traveling group of Aeon priests arrives, pledging to help the wounded, and freeing our protagonists to follow the Margr.

The tracks are easy to follow, with both a recent rainfall assisting, and the shear number of hoof and footprints. After several miles the prints scatter around in a large area, as if the Margr stopped there. But no sign of any other party can be found, so they continue to follow.


After several more miles they happen upon a huge circular pit, extending downwards at least fifty feet. A clear walkway spirals downward around the edge, stopping around ten feet above the ground and leading across to the other side of the pit horizontally. In the center of the pit it forms a circular loop, with pathways down to the floor on either side.

On the floor of the pit, they see what they are looking for. Several rough tents arranged underneath the walkways on the edge, with torches planted to ward off the dim light of the night, and a scant few Margr gathered around a meager fire.

Slowly they sneak down the walkway, being careful not to slip on the rain-slicked synth, lest they fall and break their bodies on the hard floor.  

Baztak slips! His legs fall from underneath him, but his arms shoot out to catch the ledge. Careful not to disturb the sleeping Margr below, Arms slowly pulls him up. A quick nod of thanks, then back down the walkway they go.

With the number of tents on the ground, they quickly realise they're outnumbered, and will need to even the odds. They quietly discuss their options when they reach the horizontal section of the walkway. Django uses abilities gifted to him by mechnaical implants to make an illusionary fire appear on the biggest tent of all. When the Margr guards notice and investigate, Baztak reaches out and channels an unknown force at one of the Margr, flinging it into the tent and sending the whole lot into a mass of tangle. Not wanting to be left out Arms flings a sonic detonation into the mass, deafening all within the area.

Arms pulls out his swordstaff, Django his buzzer, and Baztak reaches into his powers to electrify the hidden blade strapped to his arm. Two of the Margr charge up the ramp. Django fires a serrated disk at the leading Margr, slicing a gash against its shoulder, then Baztak follows up with an electrified blow that cuts straight across the abhuman's neck. As it topples to the floor, the next Margr wastes no time, but is intercepted by a brutal thrust from Arms which pierces through its chest and out the other side.

More Margr come, staggered as they wake to the sounds of fighting, from both sides of the platform now, and Arms moves to cover the other ramp. Django misses a point blank shot at one of the Margr, and leaves himself open to attack, but Arms intercepts, skewering another one.

As the fighting ensues, and more and more Margr fall, the party is beginning to lose some steam. It is now that the chieftain, twice as large as any of the other Margr, finally emerges from the tangled tent. By now the party have bunched up in an attempt to prevent themselves from being surrounded. Django fires a disk at the thing, but it shrugs it off, barely wounded by the blow. It forces its way to the front of the fray and roars a challenge at Arms. With incredible swiftness, Arms draws into his pouch and pulls out a cypher. He grabs hold of the leader and thrusts the cypher onto his chest, activating it at the same time.


The Margr chieftain falls through the platform, collapsing the section he was on and collapsing heavily on the floor. He tries to rise up, but cannot push himself up past his knees. He now weighs ten times what he did before. Baztak finishes off another Margr, and the two left in front of him surrender. A third runs, but before it can get halfway up the walkway, Baztak pulls it back with invisible force. It falls to the ground, broken and dead.

As they wipe the blood from their weapons and consider the surrendered Margr, the trio realise that the chieftain has a strange numenera device around its horned head. When they question it, it merely rages at them, trying to force its way up. Another Margr gives into their threats much more easily. It tells them of the 'sky man' who placed the device on their leader's head, and ordered them to find and take a man from the village. The leader had a compass too, to find the 'sky man'.

That was all they could get from the creatures. With little remorse, they killed all three of them. They remember the way the Margr left the village. No creatures that gleefully violent should be allowed to live, they think. After a fruitful search of the bodies and camp, they leave a few cyphers and an oddity heavier, with the oddity in particular drawing Baztak's eye. Small and hemispherical, a black liquid swirls inside. A bead of white clings to the inside edge of the device, and the group reason that this may be the compass the Margr was talking of.


They followed the compass, and now the bead lies dead in the centre. They look around. They are in a completely unremarkable place, which in itself is slightly strange, in the ninth world. All they can see is grassland, with only the occasional small fauna for company. They look up, but see nothing. They try scanning the ground, but all they see is basic drit and flora. They look at the compass again - the bead has moved!

Before it was dead centre, but now it's lying noticeably off-centre. So they follow the compass a short distance and check it again. Dead centre. But as they watch it, it is slowly drifting in one direction, moving northwest, they think.

It is in this moment of confusion that a two foot long insectoid creature falls onto Baztak's head. When the others look up, another similar creature appears in midair and lands next to them. The creatures are dispatched in short order, and the trio realise that they're looking for the ship in Django's vision, and that it invisible.

With seemingly no way up, Baztak checks the compass again to find that it compresses in. As he does that, a pole extends down out from nowhere - more specifically from the nowhere about a hundred feet up in the sky.

"Well," says one of them. "I guess we'd better climb it."

It is rough, and with some effort they all manage to climb the long way up the slowly moving pole. Suddenly they are inside a huge metal room with a hole in the centre where they ascended. A short distance away from the hole stand imposing turrets with wide curved plates facing inwards. They are almost regularly distributed around the hole, with a couple of spaces notably missing one. Dim synth lights line the wall, and there are three doorways, left, right and middle.

The leftmost doorway is blocked by a door, the middle has no door at all. The rightmost is the biggest by far, and its door had at some point been smashed inwards. Above the doorways is engraved writing in some unknown language.

Baztak and Django attempt to read the writing. It holds similarities to the truth and other languages they have seen that they are able to make out a basic meaning of the words. Above the left door, it says 'living' or perhaps 'main' something. Above the middle, it says something akin to 'control'. Above the broken right, it says 'holding' or 'prevention'. It is hard to tell.

They decide to check out the left door first. It is locked. No mechanism or method they attempt will open the door. Django activates the ring he had placed upon his left hand. It alters the phase of his entire body, allowing him to pass through the door. On the other side, he sees a long ascending corridor, with several others leading off it at different intervals. With little time, he looks for a way to unlock the door from that side, but finds none. He passes back through the door, and lets the others know that for now, that way is barred to them.

Next they try the middle doorway. It quickly leads to a metal staircase that doubles back upon itself. Suddenly, all three of them experience the same vision. A flash of red, an emotion of panic, then a simplified vision of the ship they are surely on, crashing violently into the ground. After shaking off the shock, they continue.

 After a climb that has surely taken them just above the high roof of the entrance chamber, they emerge into another round room. This one is still large, but smaller than the one below. Blinking panels line the walls, and in one place a mass of coiled synth wires and tubes are exposed leading up to a swirling mass of coloured threads that hovers high above the centre of the room. The mass gives off light, but above it the high ceiling is slowly plunged into darkness. On a circular platform stands a twin to the turrets on the lower floor.

After all this, the party's eyes are drawn to the dead body on the floor, and the tall, strange-looking man standing next to him.

His eyes are sunken, and his skin seems stretched and strained. When he moves it is methodical, but not necessarily weary. His mouth is pulled back into a subtle, manic smile. He wears robes of long faded green that are near grey, and carries a long metal staff.

"Do you know, about gravity?" he says, his voice reedy and soft. His accent is unplaceable. Fluent in the truth, yes, but clearly not native to it.

Maybe, the trio reply.

"You are nano's, yes. You can help me. The gravity device is failing."

Wait. What happened to him? they ask, pointing to the dead body. He was probably the nano they were trying to find.

"He wouldn't help me," said the creepy man. "So I disposed of him."

After a quick discussion the party politely tell the man that they were going to help, just that they have to go somewhere else first. They need more information.

"No. You cannot leave. There is no time. I need more gravity."

The group have no wish to anger the strange man, not unless they have no other option. After several minutes of stressed discussion, Baztak gets an idea. He can use his electrical abilities to supercharge the gravity device. He walks over and puts his hands on the wires that lead to the swirling sphere and funnels electricity into them at an alarming rate. His mind is almost completely exhausted, the effort of powering such a complex device.

It worked! They feel the ship raise upwards, almost exuberantly.

Then a new warning flashes through their heads, this one sharper and stronger than before. And the ship lurches. He'd only given it enough charge for one last lift!

The man hisses and jumps onto the turret platform, swinging it round to aim at Baztak. Sonic energy propels out from the metal plate, hitting only Baztak, and reducing his legs to jelly. So distracted from the effort before, the new attack stuns him momentarily.

Django reaches out with his mind and tells the turret to stop, and it switches off instantly. Arms then falls into a controlled rage, charging at the strange man. They exchange blows, both hitting each other hard enough to wound but not kill. Django tries to fire a buzzer round at the man, but his weapon jams!

Before Baztak can gain his footing, a large segmented beast scuttles down from the wall, eight glass legs and teeth of sharp metal. It stabs at him with a sharp glass foreleg and impales his shoulder. Its teeth smash together in anticipation of the kill. Baztak can't help but notice the device on its head, which looks incredibly similar to the one found on the Margr chieftain. Then he charges up his blade with lightning and slashes down hard at the impaling limb. It shatters into a thousand pieces, and he drops back to the floor with grace.

Arms puts all of his might into an incredible swing that cuts right through the midsection of their opponent, killing the man, and his secrets with him.

The vision of the crashing ship has been flashing in the back of their minds every few seconds now, and they could feel the thing going down. Screw this, thinks Baztak, as he activates a teleport cypher, landing him at the top of the stairs. Arms follows too, scooping up the body of their fallen adversary on the way, with Django behind him. They rush down the stairs, hoping that the centicreature isn't following them, while knowing that it almost certainly has.

Baztak makes the pole first, climbing down it at speed and dropping to a rooftop. The ship was now above a city! Arms gets there next, chucks the body down, then starts climbing down the pole, which is now leaning as the ship starts to tilt. Django is last, and he has no time at all, sliding down the pole to land near Arms mere seconds before it catches on the next building, crashing through it, and the invisible ship falls just over a hundred feet away from them, with a groaning powerful thud.

Buildings are destroyed, and the streets are full of chaos. Still, no one can see the ship, merely the damage and destruction beneath it. Baztak takes what he feels might be handy from the dead man's corpse, planning to study it later. He activates a cube shaped cypher, causing himself to become invisible for a few minutes, so that no one will see him near the body of the man at such an inopportune time.

It takes little time for him to find the others, and they quickly realise that they are in Ishlav.

Ishlav. The entire city was destroyed twenty years ago, though all organic matter was spared. Now they were responsible for a new disaster. They head off to find an inn run by an old friend of Baztak's, so that they can rest, recuperate, and prepare for what might lie ahead.


Thanks for reading! This was a lot longer than I'd intended, but I wanted to try and fit as much of what happened in as possible, since so much of it was a blast to play. Images were drawn by Arm's player whilst playing. While they're not a completely accurate depiction, I think it adds to the story.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

An Update: My Writing, Comics, Books and Other News

As the title suggests, this post is just a quick update on what's going on with my writing, and perhaps some other things.

The Talent Trilogy

Firstly, I've recently realised that the links to the first draft of Of Darkness and Thieves were to a copy that had large sections of bold text, a remnant from before I decided to do a full rewrite for the second draft. Those links have now been replaced by a more reader friendly version.

The second draft of the novel is coming along nicely, with five chapters and ten thousand words being posted on the FictionPress website here:

Of Darkness and Thieves - Second Draft

And there's another chapter almost ready to be posted as well. So far the redraft has been not too dissimilar from the first draft, in terms of general story beats, although that will likely change as the ripples from the differences start to come into effect. 

The major difference between the two so far has been the situation surrounding Arterus, Sera and Delgard. In the first draft I had two issues. The 'magic school' was cliched, and underdeveloped for what should be a prominent structure in the city. The second was that Delgard was a second rate Snarrel, personality-wise, which made the character more of a plot point than anything else. 

So to fix both points, I decided to make it so that Arterus and Sera are apprenticed to Delgard, rather than just in his class. This allows me to develop the character of Delgard more, and has the added benefit of making it less convenient that they stumble upon his involvement in the conspiracy. Delgard is now less of a cackling villain, holding a more nuanced personality, and at the risk of spoiling things, may not go down so easily as in the first draft.

Another thing I've added in is a new scene between Talent and the Big Throat, an underused character in the first draft. I think I'll talk more about that in a new post to come later this week.

A Sword, A Song and A Dream

Slowly developing on this one. The current manuscript stands at 53,500 words, so there's plenty left to write. But some of the road blocks that I've been having with the book have been cleared up in my mind, so I should hopefully be back on it soon. I think in maybe three or four chapters I'll have finished Part Two, which should be approximately 2/3 of the book, but then again, Part Two has been relatively short compared to Part One, and there's still a heck of a lot of story left to tell.

All I know is that the story is going to be heavily gutted on the rewrite, but I'm still proud of the overall thing. It feels fresh to me, which is important when you're writing fantasy. I don't want to do a retread of what comes before. That's not to say that every, or indeed any, single element is wholly original, but I think I've put things together in a way that people will find interesting.

I'm looking forward to sharing it and seeing what people think


I've been consuming a lot of my old marvel comics lately (by old, I mean anything I bought before the Marvel Now initiative, which occured around three years ago). I've gone from Secret Invasion to the Age of Heroes so far, and I thought I'd share some of my musings from what I've been reading

-Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four/FF is excellent. As is his run on Secret Warriors. I suppose my only problem is that the endings to the big storylines got resolved a little two quickly, which is an issue I've had with some of his Image work. It's these books that prove that the man can write both his complex and lofty plots, and touching, heartfelt or just plain fun character bits. It's a shame that he doesn't bring that second element as much to his current Avengers series, but I consume that stuff voraciously just the same. Oh, and I'm reaaaally wanting to finish that damn S.H.I.E.L.D. series of his. Supposedly the last two issues are almost done. I've been waiting something like six years!

-Bendis should not be binge read. I'm a fan of his Dark Reign Avengers stuff, but man does his trademark banter wear thin after half a dozen issues. Also I feel like he ran out of good ideas after Siege and was spinning his wheels for the year or two afterwards. It was kind of disappointing, since the post-siege comics would have been a satisfying ending to his New Avengers run. I'm yet to form a verdict on his recent X-men stuff yet, other than it seems to take forever for anything at all to happen in Uncanny X-men.

-The Dark Reign Thunderbolts was awesome. A very different take on the book, but it worked for me. Great interplay between the characters, mistrust of Osbourn, and some interesting twists along the way.

-I read all of the Siege tie-ins less than a month ago, and can barely remember what happened in them, other than the main event, and the Frontline tie-in. That probably says a lot about how disappointing the event was.

Stuff I'm Reading...Sort Of

I've become a little audio-centric recently, probably due to the fact that I find it much easier to listen to a book whilst cooking, doing chores, walking from one place to another, or riding the bus (I get ill doing the latter). So I have an audible subscription, which is very reasonable if you take advantage of deals, only use your credits to buy books of a reasonable length, and listen to A LOT of audiobooks. 

I listened to Joe Abercrombie's Half a King, which has a follow up now called Half the World. I love Abercrombie's other work, and this young adult oriented outing does not disappoint. Perhaps a little slow to start, after the initial twist (which I believe is spoilt in the blurb I didn't read) it becomes difficult to put down...or turn off, as the case may be. Yarvi is an excellent protagonist, and the themes of revenge and friendship are explored throughout the book. If you want to get young readers into good fantasy, this is a great gateway book. Of course, as with all good young adult novels, any fantasy loving adult should enjoy this too.

Legion by Brandon Sanderson is a fun novella, starring a brilliant but potentially insane man whose hallucinations are all experts in their fields (and generally quite talkative) helping him to solve a brief but interesting mystery. His other novella Mitosis is a nice filler taking place after Steelheart, and it makes me look forward to Firefight, the next novel in the series, which I have downloaded to my account.

Other Stuff

I'm still working on that Numenera session report. I'm finding it difficult to write it up in a way that will be entertaining to read. It's on hold for the foreseeable future.

Thank you for reading, and as usual, if you have anything to add, post a comment below!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Sword, a Song and a Dream: An Introduction

I've mentioned on this blog before my new novel, currently entitled 'A Sword, a Song and a Dream'. I thought I'd take a few minutes to jot down some details about what that's all about.

So firstly, I'm currently half way through the first draft, having taken a slight break for various reasons. I completed 50,000 words last month for NaNoWriMo, and while happy with my progress, it was not something I could sustain over this month as well. I'll also not be revealing overly much of the details of the novel, as I do hope that eventually it might be published, and publishers may frown upon the minutiae of the plot having been broadcast over the internet. Regardless, it's best to avoid shooting myself in the foot before I begin.

So the seeds for this novel were planted in my head over a year ago, with a few ideas that came together into one interesting story. However, this story is not the one I'm writing now. What happened was that as the story developed in my head, I realised that so many elements relied on history. And while it would certainly be possible to allow the history to come forth in the writing, I decided it would be far more interesting to actually go back and write it first. That way I could adapt better to possible changes. If I ever make it back to that original story, it will likely be far removed from my original vision.

So I wanted to go faaaar back, about a thousand years. As close to the birth of civilisation in this world as possible without drawing me too far outside my comfort zone. The original plan was to have three separate novels, following three separate protagonists. I had decided upon two so far: the young dreamwalker learning to use his powers; and the bodyguard/warrior. The idea was that the three stories would intertwine, eventually leading to a fourth book in which they all 'teamed up'. It took me a few months to realise that plan was a little farfetched, and decided instead to put them all in one book simultaneously.

With that, I let the ideas stew in my head for a few months, until a few days before NaNoWriMo, at which point I realised that I had a story to tell. So I scrambled to put together enough detail in my head to start writing. Here's the blurb I came up with before I started writing:

Phael Tenred, a mercenary with a bloody past, hoping to make a new beginning for herself. But after everything she's done, does she deserve it?

Callaran, a grey man, player of songs and folklore bard. Searching for a legend of a new age to cement his name.

Den-For-Aru, of the murdered Fenswill clan, dreamwalker, thief. Biding his time to get revenge on the ones who killed his tribe.

All tied into the fate of Orinne Mearri, the young exiled queen of Verdbar, who's quest to retake her throne is the culmination of everything she's trained for.


As you might be able to tell, it's a far more serious novel than one of the Talent trilogy, though I try to keep some humour in where I can. The character of Callaran, for instance, relies a lot of humour in his interactions with others.

Hopefully, I'll have the bulk of the first draft done by the end of February, though certain engagements may prevent me from writing as much as I'd like. After that I'll send it to a bunch of people I trust to help me get an idea of what works and what doesn't.

Thank you for reading, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, there's a little box where you can write them down below!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

My Top Ten Favourite Books (Of All Time) #5 - #1

 This is a continuation of my previous post Top Ten Favourites #10 - #6. I'm going to dive straight into the final five!

5. The Hero of Ages (Mistborn Series Book 3) Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is a relatively new author, who I am convinced must be part machine, to write as many quality books as he does each year. While I've enjoyed every book of his I've read so far, his Mistborn series is still my favourite, and the culmination of the first trilogy occurs in The Hero of Ages. Sanderson's strength comes from his incredible magic systems, which are so different when compared to the usual fare. He also excels at mysteries.

I've never had as many aha! moments reading any other book. Each revelation explains so much. What seemed like a plot hole - why a particular character could use a particular form of magic better than anyone else - turns out to be incredibly important to the story's mysteries, and make perfect sense in context. The Hero of Ages explains everything, and it all seems so obvious that you wonder why you didn't realise it, and has many epic moments besides.

4. Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next Series Book 2) Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde has a breadth of wit surpassed only by Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in the genre world, though his books are typically found in the vaugley titled 'Fiction' section. What Fforde beats them at is his fast and fun crime-fiction style plots, which weave in and out in a delightful fashion. You see, the Thursday Next series takes place in an alternate 1980s, in which George Fornby is the president of Britain, the Crimean War is still being fought, the true identity of William Shakespeare is hotly argued in place of who'll win the next X-factor, and genetically recovered Dodos make a great designer pet. That's barely breaking the surface of the crazy but always interesting world of Thursday Next (which is the name of the main character).

Thursday is a great heroine, and many of her exploits take her jumping into the Book World, which would take several blog posts to explain in full. Suffice to say she butts heads with her mentor Miss Havisham, resists the charms of Heathcliffe, and interacts with many more real and made up literary characters (the latter being made up likely only for copyright reasons). If this all doesn't appeal to you, it's unlikely I'll be able to convince you otherwise. Thursday Next feels real, despite the bizarre nature of her world, and Lost in a Good Book is merely my favourite example in a crazy tapestry of time travel, murderous demons, fictional doppelgangers and nefarious megacorporations.   

3. Guards Guards (Discworld Series) Terry Pratchett  

Terry Pratchett is my absolute favourite author of all time. So why is this book third on the list? Well it's for one reason only - Terry Pratchett has written around 50 books, ranging from good, to great. But I'm not sure if any one book of his has quite captivated me as much as the top two books on the list. For those not familiar, Pratchett deals in fantasy and humour. His books hold a mirror up to our world, albeit with horns and a silly moustache drawn on in red pen. There's something so familiar about Pratchett novels, that doesn't just come from the fact that I've read most of them several times.

Guards Guards is my favourite of his books, my a very minor margin. Some day for my own amusement, I'll rank the Discworld novels from favourite to least favourite. Maybe after reading them all again. But anyway, Guards Guards introduces us to the City Watch, who became my favourite group of characters in Pratchett's stable of interesting and amusing people. Vimes, Carrot, Nobby Nobbs, Colon. All brilliant in their own right. There are so many hilarious character moments in this book, which is probably why it ranks among my favourites. This book is also an excellent jumping on point for new readers of Pratchett.

2. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 3) George R. R. Martin

This is the only book on the list I'm confident I don't have to explain. I must admit, I hopped on to the series after The Game of Thrones phenomena started taking off. I watched the entire first season in a week, then instantly bought the first four books, reading them all within a month. Then the fifth book came out, and I consumed it in about a week. There's something so compelling about the novels, about the characters and the politics. Very few other books inspire the same level of theorising that people have done for this series. I read entire essays predicting events, seeking to explain characters motivations or accusing others of being involved in secret plots - the sort that Martin clearly likes to work in to the series.

A Storm of Swords remains my favourite simply because of the wealth of things that happen in the book. I'm keeping it spoiler free for those luddites who have not yet read the books or watched the series, but damn, some crazy things happen. I also think this is when many characters plotlines were at their prime. Things have started to drag down a bit after this book, and I, like many others, are hoping that the next novel is going to bring down the hammer with all the running plotlines, and force things to move forward again. But it still remains that A Storm of Swords is an incredibly tense, fun, heartbreaking, fist pumping and altogether entertaining read, with twists that only the most pessimistic of readers could have predicted.

1. Skin Game (Dresden Files Book 15) Jim Butcher

For those not in the know, Dresden Files is series of fantasy novels set in the modern day, revolving around a private investigator/wizard called Harry Dresden, operating in Chicago. These books cannot really be read by themselves - well, they can, and they come off as pretty good pulpy novels. But read them in order, and you see the grander scheme of things. Mysteries within mysteries. Recurring villains, allies and others in-between. The series is made by the main character. Harry Dresden is an excellent POV character, noble but flawed, wisecracking and continually tempted by his darker impulses. Magic in this world has laws, but is not quite a science, and terrible creatures hide in the dark places, kept in check only by the accords, and the threat of retribution by the Wizards Council.

Skin Game is the latest novel in the series, and has some of the best parts of the previous novels. It has the best villain: Nicodemus, a man who holds a pact with a fallen angel, and who's lived at least a thousand years (so he's been around a bit). Also many of my favourite supporting characters are present: Karen Murphy, Dresden's faithful cop friend; Michael Carpenter, former knight of the cross, frequent foe of the fallen angels and Butters, the medical examiner who's becoming an unlikely hero. Add to that a heist plot where Harry has to assist Nicodemus in retrieving something from the hidden vaults of Hades himself...
Weeelll, let me just say that things get incredibly interesting.

The Dresden Files works best when Dresden is working in an area of murky morality, and this has that in spades. The book manages to make the series feel fresh by playing into new territory. The heist angle is brilliantly entertaining, and getting to see more of Nicodemus is both interesting and disturbing. Plenty of twists abound, and the ending is one of my favourite endings I've read so far. If you do read this series, I recommend trying to speed through the first two books, as the second can drag a fair bit. Also, the audiobook version is excellent - James Marsters (aka Spike from Buffy) turns in a great performance. In particular, his voices for Dresden, Murphy and several other of the main 'good' characters are very well nuanced. 

In short, Skin Game is an awesome book, made more so by the books that came before it.

Want to talk about the books on my list? Got your own list of favourite books? Feel free to share and discuss below.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

My Top Ten Favourite Books (Of All Time) #10 - #6

Since it's Christmas, or at least the time at which supermarkets and television ads would like us to believe is Christmas, I figured I'd take the time out to look back at some of the books I've read this year as well as all those I've read further back. Sticking to fiction here, and you'll notice they're mostly fantasy novels.

The main rule that I'm enforcing here is one book per author, since otherwise this would just be a list of Pratchett novels...whiiich actually sounds like a fun idea.... I'll leave that for a later list. It may sound like a top ten authors list, but I'm ranking by book quality, so my top ten favourite authors could probably make a different list.

Anyway, let's get on with the list.

10. The Sword in the Storm (Rigante Series Book 1)  David Gemmel

I think The Sword in the Storm was the first adult fantasy book I picked up as a child, bar the less traditional Discworld Series. I must admit, Gemmel's books don't seem to have the same pull to me as they used to, but the ideas and stories in the book still resonate with me till this day. As far as I remember, it's a story about a honourable boy named Connovar, overcoming vast challenges to become leader of the Rigante. It is notable perhaps for it's clear Celtic tones and strong characterisation.

Many of Gemmel's other books are excellent reads, including most of his Drenai series, and the Troy series. He tends to create these noble, yet troubled heroes, often faced with overwhelming loss.

9. The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles Book 2) Patrick Rothfuss

Rothfuss has an excellent talent for words - specifically how to craft them into uniquely enchanting sentences. He also has a clear love of storytelling in all its forms. Several times, I have been drawn into a story told within the novel, forgetting that it was being told by one of the characters, rather than the narrator - who is also telling his own story within the context of the novel. The main character at first seems a little cliched - the talented, recently orphaned boy who seems to be good at anything he tries his hand at - but it quickly becomes clear that Kvothe is an incredibly interesting individual. Many traditional fantasy elements are included, but approached in unique and nuanced ways.

The reason why this book is so low is that despite Rothfuss' clear talent, I have not yet invested myself into the world - I find the move from the present to the past a little jarring for one thing. The fact that we know fairly well where Kvothe's life is heading by the end of this book makes me almost reticent to read the next one, since in the past he had finally found himself in a place where he was content. I will read the next book though, and you should read these.

8. Mostly Harmless (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Book 5) Douglas Adams

 I'll not bother explaining much about the series, since you likely know enough about it already. (If you don't, I highly advise you leave my blog, buy an ebook edition of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, read it, then come back to me to agree how great it is). Mostly Harmless is probably my personal favourite, for reasons difficult to explain. Perhaps it's because Arthur Dent set himself up on a planet as the official sandwich maker for a small simple village. Or maybe it's my favourite because it's the one that I least associate with any tv or film version of the books.

What I do know is that it doesn't contain my favourite part from all the novels, the Cathedral of Hate, in which an unfortunate creature named Agrajag reveals that Arthur Dent had killed him many times, each time Agrajag reincarnating to a new body that Dent kills.

7. The Lone Drow (Hunter's Blades Trilogy Book 2) R. A. Salvatore

R.A. Salvatore's books have been extremely hit and miss to me, but I managed to read some of his best fare first of all. The Hunter's Blades trilogy has some of Salvatore's best character work to date. Set in the Forgotten Realms, the main setting for Dungeons and Dragons, and starring Drizzt Do'Urden, the dark elf that spawned a thousand online handles, as well as his friends.

The Lone Drow stands out for two reasons. First is it's excellent examination of the pain of loss. At the end of the previous novel, Drizzt thought he witnessed the death of all his friends in one swoop by the hands of an army of orcs and frost giants. They survived, of course, but Drizzt spends much of his time behind enemy lines, trying to find meaning and revenge. The second reason is the epic cliffside battle that Drizzt's friends face. One of my favourite setpieces in any novel I've read.

6. Last Will of Kings (First Law Trilogy Book 3) Joe Abercrombie

If you know me very well at all, you've probably heard me sing the praise of this series at least once before. It contains so many elements of traditional fantasy - the hidden heir to the throne, the wise old wizard, the noble barbarian. And yet, all are subverted before the end, in completely organic ways. Seemingly all the characters are assholes, perhaps more cynically flawed than in reality, but yet when it comes to the POV characters, I can't help but like them. Glokta, the crippled inquisitor is a particular favourite - cynical, darkly witted, almost enjoying torturing others, but still holding a vulnerability about him.

If you're looking for optimistic, happy-go-lucky fantasy, Abercrombie is a bad choice. But other than that, I barely have a bad word to say about this book, which makes my top 5 even more special.

#5-1 will come within a couple of days. Speculate as you will as to what will turn up in the top 5. Here's a list of some books that narrowly missed the top ten:
Conan the Barbarian Series by Robert E. Howard
J-Pod by Douglas Coupland
The Portable Door by Tom Holt
The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker
Magician by Raymond E. Feist
Gardens of the Moon by Stephen Erikson
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Friday, 5 December 2014

Numenera RPG: A Review

If you've read my first blog post, you may remember me mentioning a little something called the Numenera RPG. If you don't know what an RPG is, go here. However, I'm going to assume some familiarity with RPGs for the remainder of this post, so if you have any further questions, feel free to pose them in the comments below, or send me a personal message.

This is going to be a review/overview of the Numenera RPG core book, and I'll be taking a look at some of the supplements in a later post.

Numenera Core Book

I like Numenera. A lot. It's not without its flaws, but it's an incredibly charming system.

Let's start with the setting. They'll be able to describe it better than I:

There Have Been Eight Previous Worlds
Each world stretched across vast millennia of time. Each played host to a race whose civilizations rose to supremacy but eventually died or scattered, disappeared or transcended. During the time each world flourished, those that ruled it spoke to the stars, reengineered their physical bodies, and mastered form and essence, all in their own unique ways.
Each left behind remnants.
The people of the new world—the Ninth World—sometimes call these remnants magic, and who are we to say they’re wrong? But most give a unique name to the legacies of the nigh-unimaginable past. They call them…


Bio-engineered creatures, dangerous nanotechnology, a pervasive datasphere, and many more wondrous and powerful devices exist within the ninth world, and the people who live in it are affected by these remnants in their daily lives.

It's an excellent way to make a world that actually feels familiar, in the sense of traditional fantasy worlds, and the hierarchies that exist there, but also unfathomably strange.Weird things abound in the ninth world.

This all means that as GM, you have free reign to do as you like in terms of creatures and setting - since everything can be explained as being, well, unexplainable. It's remarkably freeing.

The core book itself has a huge chapter on the background of the ninth world. In fact, and I'll go into more detail later, the core book for Numenera is especially great in that it contains absolutely everything you'd need to run as many adventures and campaigns as you'd like. The background setting gives a picture of a world forever in flux. There's a huge map, to go with it, and each area on the map, from the countries of the relatively safe Steadfast (where you are only mostly likely to get attacked while traveling at night) to the dangerous Beyond and even furthur. Each major location and every city are given just enough detail to be uniquely interesting, but not so much that it stifles your own creativity as a GM. There are also two locations that are incredibly detailed, if you want more structure.

Everything just oozes potential - any kind of adventure could be played in the setting given the right location. Added to this for each section of the map (of which there are about twenty or so) there are several vague ideas for plot hooks and weird happenings - as if I needed any more inspiration! I would recommend this book to people based upon the background chapter alone, if not for the fact that the price tag matches the size of the thing.

It would be prudent to talk about the system next.

It's very simple. I believe that people's preferences for RPGs often depend upon that balance between rules and improvisation. There are many systems that rely almost solely on the rules to create a vast simulation of events. Others are more interested in giving a framework for creativity. I won't discuss that too much here, only to say that I believe that Numenera hits the perfect balance, for my own preference at least, between rules and creativity.

Everything in Numenera has a level - enemies, tasks, artifacts. In order to do something, you must roll a d20, and achieve the target number - that is, 3x the level. So if an enemy is level 5, you must roll a 15 to hit them. If it is a level 2 task to recall a useful piece of information, you need to roll a 6 to remember it. Simple, right? It gets even simpler. Almost any bonus or detriment merely lowers or raises the level of the task respectively. See that level 5 enemy? Maybe his arm is broken. Now it's a level 4 task to hit him (roll a 12). Or maybe you're trying to recall the information while being bombarded with noise. Put it up to a level 3 (roll a 9). If the level gets to 0 or less, you complete the task automatically. Brilliant.

And the players roll all the dice. If that level 5 enemy attacks the player, the player rolls a defence roll with a target number of 15. As a GM I found it rather odd to not roll dice, but it freed me up to think more about what was going to happen next.

I have had one problem with the rules in their basic form. To add more tension to the dice rolls, the players can use something called effort, which decreases the level of the task, but depletes points from the relevant pool (more on that later). Combined with something called edge, the concept can be a tad confusing, and tricky for players to learn. I do like it in practice, but it's one of those things that feels rather unintuitive, and can take you out of the game a little.

Character creation is just plain fun. You build your character up as a sentence: [Name] is an [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]. For example, Baztak is a Graceful Nano who Rides the Lightning. Each forms an element of your character. 

The noun is about as close as you come to the idea of a character class. The three types - Glaive, Nano, Jack - correspond roughly to the classic trio of fighter, wizard, thief. Glaives have a focus on combat, nanos have a lot of spell-like 'estories' and jacks have a mixture of both and some other tricks up their sleeves. There's a lot of room for different playstyles in each type, without resorting to putting players down different tracks like in Dungeons and Dragons (I'll likely reference DnD some more in this review, as it is my most played system).

The adjective, or descriptor, helps with this customisation, giving the player a decent list of different options to choose from, each giving several benefits, and occasionally a drawback or two. For example 'Rugged' gives you skills in most outdoor activities, but gives an inability in social interactions.

In my mind, the most interesting area of character creation is the verb, or foci. There are 29 of these in the core book, and they've clearly put a lot of thought and care into all of them. The foci can be thought of as the one unique thing your character can do and give new benefits at each tier. They can be power based: Rides the Lightning, Employs Magnetism, Talks to Machines - combat oriented: Wields Two Weapons at Once, Carries a Quiver, Fights With Panache - or more RP based; Crafts Unique Objects, Explores Dark Places, Works the Back Alleys.

One particular favourite of mine is Howls at the Moon, which turns your character into a lycanthrope, who has increasingly more control over his powers the higher his tier. Recently I've been of the opinion that the core book of an RPG should let you make your character awesome and interesting. Numenera has that in spades. I should note that there are plenty of other interesting choices you get during character development, including being able to add roleplaying elements for each of the three steps. The foci for example, strengthens your link to other player characters. 

The bulk of the characters are the three pools - Might, Speed and Intellect, which double as health, and the stats you draw from when you use abilites or spend effort. As such all tasks revolve around those three pools. 

So now you're thinking, 'that's cool, plenty of powers for the players to use'. Well think again! Wait, no, keep on thinking that. But be prepared to think it more.

Cyphers. In Numenera, these are not ways to break a code, but instead is a general term for any one use item in the game. Players are encouraged to use pretty much as many as they can carry each game (2 or 3 each). In practice, this means that at any one time, a player could have almost any ability imaginable, from teleportation, to walking through walls, to a really big explosion, to any other even more imaginative effects. One cypher turns the body of the user into a chemical factory, where after a certain amount of time they sweat out a potentially useful drug.

And dear lord, do those players come up with imaginative uses for those cyphers. It means that as the GM, you always need to be able to give an answer. Numenera is not for those who answer no. It rewards the GMs who answer yes. Yes, you can attach that gravity module to the big enemy, so they can no longer move or fight. Yes, you can walk through that wall, even though I haven't quite decided what was there yet. 

Thankfully, the core framework of Numenera makes it ridiculously easy to come up with encounters. So long as your imagination is up to the task. Creatures tend just to be levels with a couple of strengths, a couple of flaws, a couple of tricks and a behaviour. They don't need to make sense. In the core book, there's a race of abhumans who have a tentacle for a head. And a bog monster that has heads on tentacles for that matter. 

So you can probably tell by now what I think of Numenera. It's great. An imaginative, stimulating setting and ruleset, that helped me create great adventures with only a few hours real preparation.  But the core book itself has its flaws. The rules sections are not particularly well laid out - I've spent ten minutes searching for a paragraph I knew existed but could not find. This is fairly frustrating when the rest of the game is so simple.

Certain elements of the game are tricky to understand on the first read through. I've had this problem with a lot of RPGs, but again, it's more obvious in the context. 

The suggested character sheet is good, but a little graphically busy, and there is no where near enough room in the equipment section.

So taking that all into account, do I think the Numenera Core Book is worth your money? For £40, it seems like a hefty investment. But when you compare it to something like DnD, for which realistically you could end up spending £25 per book, where at least two of them are necessary for a GM, it's not all that bad. The sheer wealth of content in the Core Book is insane. Character creation, core rules, a huge background section, creatures, cyphers, artifacts, oddities and loads of gm advice. Added to that are optional rules, and FOUR pre-made adventures in the back of the book (which I have not run, but intend to steal from mercilessly).

I wholeheartedly recommend Numenera, and the Numenera Core Book. The positives far outweigh the negatives, and I've had so much fun running adventures in the setting.

Please comment below if you agree or disagree with my review. Watch out for my post detailing the first adventure in my Numenera campaign, coming soon. Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Talent Trilogy

The Talent trilogy has played a major part in my life for some time now. 

I like to think of it as my first mature attempt at writing a novel. And indeed it includes the first novel I ever finished. First draft, anyway.

The truth is I've developed somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the series. 
On the one hand, I love writing many of the characters, and the city of Daragoth. 
On the other, I've been wrestling with other elements, trying to make them work.

The series involves the titular character, a street juggler named Talent, being caught up in a war between the thieves gangs in a city called Daragoth. And soon after, learning of a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the realm. Nothing groundbreaking, I realise, but I feel I inject elements of fun and intrigue that overshadow the more traditional plot.

I love the book, but every time I try to continue writing, I'm brought down by my inability to craft it into something I feel truly proud to show to others.

But I think with more feedback, and some brutal editing, I can bring the series back on track. 

My real concern here are the characters and the plotting. Motivation is something I've been struggling with, and bringing extra dimensions to some of the side characters has also been tricky. So any ideas on how I can improve the characters, plot and setting will be well appreciated.

Since my final intention with this series is to self publish at least the first book for free online, I have no qualms with linking you to the book here in several formats:


The RTF is probably best for reading on the computer or printing out.
The MOBI file should work on kindle, and I believe EPUB works on kindle and other devices too. Just copy them onto your devices in the relevant folder and they should come up.
The PDF version has a tad large font, so I'd recommend using it only if the others don't work. It should also work on any e-reader.

Feel free to send it to your friends, pass it round, so long as you send them back to this blog, or get them to e-mail me at: ade625@hotmail.com 

My biggest concern right now is building a group of intelligent, discerning beta readers who can give me some good quality feedback on my book - or any feedback at all! I hope that might be you.

You can also catch my early redrafted chapters right here.

My first attempts were focused around trying to make the character of Arterus less irritating, improving the magic system (i.e. actually create a magic system, rather than just making it up as I went along) and making the various side characters less one dimensional.

So that's it for today - remember to check out the links above to read my novel!