Category Archives: What I’m Reading

All the Faces of the Moon

Just a quick note here. A friend of mine has set out on a crazy mad quest. Over the course of 29 nights, he is telling an epic tale of modern magic — each night a new monologue. Working from an outline he performs a mostly extemporaneous story, and is giving shape to a narrative that is very Unknown Armies in its feel.

If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or American Gods, or enjoy the work of Tim Powers or Chuck Wendig, this should be right up your alley. Each show has been recorded and posted as a podcast so you can follow the whole thing.

Here’s a link to the podcast on itunes.

Check it out.

What I’m Reading: Shambling Guide and Blue Blazes

This past week was a two-fer of urban fantasy. Two great books that couldn’t be more different. I’m going to talk about both of them.

shamblingUp first was the debut novel from Mur Lafferty, The Shambling Guide to New York City. This novel is urban fantasy with a dash of chick-lit.  It is a breezy, funny tale with a great lead character, wonderful supporting cast, and cracking plot. It plays into many of the cliches of the urban fantasy genre, but has a few notable twists that set the story apart.

The story focuses on Zoe, a travel-guide editor who has fled to New York to escape a messy personal situation from her prior job. Her savings are running out, and there are few prospects on the horizon when she comes across an ad for a position with a new publishing company. Despite being told multiple times that she won’t fit in, she fights for the job and gets it. Soon after getting the job, she finds that she is the sole human, hired to edit a travel guide for monsters — or as they prefer to be called, “coterie”.

It is a “hidden world” setting. The vampires, zombies, fey, and more live alongside humanity but are publicly unknown. In one of the more interesting twists in the story, the city’s Public Works department acts as a kind of police force, protecting humanity from the darker coterie entities out there, and helping to maintain the secret of their existence.

Another interesting approach is the character of Zoe herself. She really is just a writer, looking to do her job and put together a good travel guide. She isn’t the born badass that identifies many of the protagonists in the genre. The dangers of dealing with coterie do require her to step up her game though, and as the story progresses she demonstrates a strong will and determination that carry her through despite the lack of ‘chosen one’ status.

On the other hand, Chuck Wendig’s The Blue Blazes is an urban fantasy crossed with gritty crime novel. It is a dark, brutal tale of organized crime and brings a new meaning to the term “criminal underworld”. The fantasy element here is lot more Lovecraftian, with forgotten gods, cults of bestial humanoids, forbidden magic, madness, and death.

blazesOur main character is Mookie Pearl, a brick house of a man who works for “The Organization”, a mafia-style crime ring in New York City. Mookie is an enforcer, and manages the harvesting of Cerulean, a drug that allows its users to see the truth of the supernatural world and also boost strength and stamina.

Mookie’s life is turned upside down when the Boss — the head of the Organization — announces he has terminal cancer, and his estranged daughter comes back into his life. This sparks a chain of events that leads to the discovery of a conspiracy that could change the face of New York — and likely the rest of the world.

Blue Blazes is brutal and violent. The cast is blue-collar, doing their best to get by in a difficult world. Choices are made, and prices are paid.

While in some respects they are very different, both books feature strong, well developed characters. Both books have excellent world-building and are well-paced. I strongly recommend both of them.

What I’m Reading: I Am Not A Serial Killer

What I’m Reading is going to be a semi-regular feature on the site. In it, I will write about a book I just finished, and see if there is anything applicable to tabletop gaming that I can pull out of it. There will likely be variants of this — What I’m Watching for TV and movies, or What I’m Playing for video games. These posts may contain spoilers, so be warned!

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan WellsI Am Not A Serial Killer is the first in a trilogy about John Wayne Cleaver, a teenage sociopath and how he deals with the arrival of an apparent serial killer in his sleepy middle-america town. Some people have compared it to a young-adult Dexter, and I’ll have to take their word for it (since I haven’t read any of the books or seen the TV series). John is aware of his predilections, and has a whole bunch of rules to keep him from sliding into dangerous behaviors. In order to defeat the evil in his town he has to break his rules and let loose his inner monster.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and found it a quick read. John is an engaging character and the story is told first-person from his perspective. The characterization is probably the book’s greatest strength, especially when we start getting into the tension of John trying to harness his sociopathic tendencies for good, without letting it hurt those closest to him.

If you’re looking for a straight serial-killer story, you may be disappointed by the supernatural element — the killer that has come to town is a “demon” (to use John’s term) that kills people and steals their body parts to heal itself. There is no distinctly religious aspect to the book, and no sense is given of a greater supernatural world hiding behind the “real world” like a lot of urban fantasy.

When it comes to gaming, the demon is perhaps most directly applicable — something like this creature could be taken more or less whole cloth for a World of Darkness (or other modern supernatural) game. You could also include it in many fantasy settings to one degree or another (it brings to mind the Horror Nebis from Earthdawn).

But a more interesting lesson can be taken from how John finds the creature’s weakness and manages to defeat it — personal and emotional ties.  There is a school of player thought in tabletop RPGs that tries to avoid any kind of connection that the gamemaster can use against them — epitomized by the “lone wolf” archetype represented by characters like Wolverine. These characters have no family, and their only “friends” are passing acquaintances. In extreme examples, these players even have their character avoid connections with other player characters.

While a ham-fisted GM can certainly abuse this, I think personal connections are important to a game — they give player characters (and their players) a connection to the world, and frequently a reason to do what they do. It can be a weakness, certainly, but can also be a source of strength — when something you value is threatened, there is a reason to push a little harder, dig a little deeper. Without that emotional connection, what is to stop the characters from walking away if things get tough?

So when making a character for a game, give some thought to their personal connections, not only with the other player characters, but NPCs in the setting as well. GMs, try and use recurring characters in supporting roles to build connections for your PCs, and don’t abuse the connections too much — otherwise you will breed a party of sociopathic lone wolves that have no connection to anyone beyond themselves.


Vacation’s all I ever wanted…

After several weeks of tough, tough life, I have a paid week to loaf around.

Well, not really. My lovely wife has plans to tear up and redo our front garden this week, as well as clean out from under the porch (no telling what we’ll find — we haven’t looked under there since we moved into the house nearly two years ago).

I also hope to get some work done on my Earthdawn adventure Pilgrimage, as well as a serious read-through/critique/edit of the current incarnation of the Earthdawn Player’s Compendium. (Coming later this year! Ask for it by name!) Actually, the priority on those two will probably be flipped — the EDC will be out later this year, while Pilgrimage won’t be out until ’05 sometime (depending on how soon I get the manuscript finished and the various publishing schedule).

Oh yeah, I want to catch up on some sleep as well… though somehow that always seems to slip my mind when I’m working for that next level in Final Fantasy XI.

I’ve been reading the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Seven books and counting (I just finished Burnt Offerings about five minutes ago). I don’t think I’ve ever encontered a series I could work through that quickly, without getting burnt out on it and needing a break (except perhaps Terry Pratchett).

If you haven’t read these books, and you’re a fan of dark action-adventure with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and a host of other preternatural beasites, this series rocks on toast. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer if it were on HBO or something.

These books are what I wish the new World of Darkness was going to be like… *sigh*.

Other stuff… hmm….

Visit Yes, Wil Wheaton. Wesley from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He’s got a great blog, and is a self-professed geek with a book out (and another on the way). He’s been a guest (or guest host) on Tech TV several times, and he’s been a joy to watch. Visit, enjoy.

While you’re at it, visit another blog, maintained by an acquaintance (I hesitate to call him a friend, even if we did game together and he ran the early stages of what was sure to be a kick ass Ars Magica saga). His name is Mike Daisey, and come to think of it, he’s been on Tech TV a couple times himself. He made a bit of a splash last year (or the year before — time blurs when you start pushing 30) for his one-man show (and accompanying book) 21 Dog Years — about his time working at

(I haven’t read the book yet, Mike, but I will, I swear!)

Anyhow, you can visit his blog at Read. Enjoy.

Final thought: Despite all the plans I have for this upcoming *paid* *week* *off* (Woot!) I’m probably going to spend most of it playing Final Fantasy XI.

There is more to tell, but I’ve been more verbose than usual, which is a sure sign that I need food and/or sleep. I need both in fact, and I’m not sure what order to tackle them in. So until next time…

Have you ever…?

Have you ever read a book that changed the way you felt? I recently finished reading Daughter of the Forest — it was sitting on my bedside table for a while, and I finally picked it back up and finished it the other night. I was in a crappy mood, and finishing this book changed that. I recommend it.

Next up is Kushiel’s Dart, and noticed that I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy novels set in dark ages Britain/Ireland — The Dragon Queen, Daughter of the Forest, and now Kushiel’s Dart. I’m not complaining, mind you, just making an observation.

The Dragon Queen, by the way, had a strong ending. If you can get through the dense, slow opening two-thirds, the last 100 or so pages really reward you. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in that series, but I can only take so much of Alice Borchardt’s prose at once.

In totally unrelated news…. take a moment and visit the online gallery of a cool young fantasy artist, Rita (SaDE) Marfoldi. Good stuff.

Anything else… oh yeah, as you may know, I’m a Questor for RedBrick Ltd., who is producing Earthdawn Classic under license from FASA. I’ve been in a bunch of late-night chat sessions with James Flowers, the line developer, and I have to say I’m excited about this product! Because of confidentiality agreements, I can’t really spill any details, but watch this space for future developments!

What are you reading?

I’m reading Alice Borchardt’s The Dragon Queen. Subtitled “The Tales of Guenivere” it’s an Arthurian tale set in dark ages Britain (as these stories usually are).

For the longest time, I couldn’t decide if I liked it, and I’m still not 100% sure. There are some things about it that bother me, but there are other things that I think are really interesting. First of all, the story not only changes point of view pretty regularly, it changes voice as well — large sections of it are in first-person, as Guenivere is telling the story of what happened to her. The other parts are told in third person — it makes for a little bit of a strange narrative flow.

Another thing that bothered me at first is the presence of Maeniel (the werewolf from her other series). Inserting him into this Arthurian tale struck me as a little bit gratuitious, but as the story has progressed his role has diminished. I appreciate that.

The novel does a couple of interesting things with the traditional Arthur canon. Merlin is made out to be a villain; he is interested in holding power over Arthur, and by extension, the high kingship of Britain. Uther is alive and well, knows Arthur is his son, and had him fostered by his aunt Morgane (aka Morgan LeFay). Guenivere, rather than being made out as a foolish Christian pawn (as she is in MZB’s Mists of Avalon), is a noble descendant of Boadiccea, the celtic queen who fought against the Roman invasion. She was raised by Maeniel and his wolves, and has a strong celtic, neo-pagan philosophy. She refuses to bow to the will of Merlin, and Merlin (rightly) fears the influence she will hold over Arthur.

There is so much juggling of the canon here, I’m not sure where the story is really going. Right now both Arthur and Guenivere are involved in separate quests to save the Flower Queen — a manifestation of the Goddess — in different times. Or something like that, I’m not really sure.

It’s an interesting book, but it’s a slow read. If you like new takes on classic stories, this one may suit you. If you’re a hard core Arthurian devotee, you may be insulted by the liberties this novel takes.