Review: The Paper Magician

Can magic bound to paper overcome the twisted magic bound to blood? Can a budding romance between an apprentice and a master not be awkward or creepy?

Alternate Victorian London is running low on the number of paper magicians have been in decline. To help their numbers, a magical academy forces one of its graduates (Ceony Twill) to become an apprentice of paper magician (Mg. Emery Thane).

That’s the premise of the first book, The Paper Magician, in this trilogy.

Why I Picked It Up

First off, Amazon had a deal on the first three books of the series, both in ebook and audio formats. Second, the covers (someone in marketing is getting their wings) drew me in and sparked my curiosity. And finally, I was at home for a week’s staycation and I figured I could knock the trilogy out before I had to go back to work.

Things I Liked (spoilery)

Simply put, I like the parts of the book that are off the wall bonkers. There is a part in the book when a villain, who had not been mentioned previously, appears and attacks Mg. Thane. The attack is nearly fatal, and all of the formal magicians are bummed because aparently saving him is out of the question. They decide to make him as comfortable as possible, and then most of them leave. But Ceony, doesn’t give up and for a large part of the book travels through the four chambers of his heart. Yes. She travels into his heart. Certainly not mind blowing, but (as I said before) it is bonkers.

It is through this adventure that we learn about the villain and she is legitimately bad.

The magic system itself is interesting, and in the second book we learn that it may not be as strict as we were once lead to believe.

Surprisingly, this is not a portal story. We learn about the magical system through Ceony. Since she did not really pay attention to paper magic in school (because who wants to be a paper magician?) she doesn’t really know what one can do.

On the more technicaly side, I’m usually very critical of flashbacks in any type of story telling. The first book clears the high bar I have for flashbacks and I don’t remember any in the second. The third book, well… is a different story for me (see the next section).

And finally, the author was courteous enough to keep all three books in series are roughly the same length. (Wondering why this important? Read my post about life as a Slow Reader).

Things I Didn’t Like (again spoilery)

There are way too many scenes involving food. I just don’t get it. Very few writers pull it off well, and everyone else just doesn’t and I really wish authors would stop including this.

The second book in the series is less bonkers. Which was disappointing for me because that was what I enjoyed most about the first book.

We are introduced to new characters in the second book. I found these additions to be clunky and it would have been helpful to have at least heard some of them mentioned in the first book.

The third book (The Master Magician) was too much of a romance for my tastes and I stopped reading it rather quickly. There is a fourth book (The Plastic Magician) and I think at least 2 more to follow, but it is really unlikely that I will pick them up.

GoodReads and BookTube

About 11% of the 48,620 ratings on goodreads are 1 or 2 stars. This surprised me. The reviewers that elaborated on why they gave a low rating centered on 2 themes. I’ve summarized them below and offer my opinion as well.

1) The dialogue is too modern for historical fiction. I don’t pretend to understand this frustration. I can easily suspend disbelief for the existence of magic in early 1900 London, I don’t see how a few contemporary phrases takes a person out of the moment. But clearly it does.

2) It felt rushed. I felt it was appropriately paced for novel that is around 200 pages. The author tells a complete story where a lot happens. It’s different and sometimes challenging. But that is pretty standard for a fantasy novel of that length. It will be different reading experience compared to a 400 page fantasy, which is different from a 700 page novel.

I gave both The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician 3 stars on goodreads (which translates to “I liked it”).

Here are what BookTubers are saying

Reviewers who liked it (focus on romance, no mentioned of bonkerishness):

A reviewer that didn’t like it (Pretty much didn’t like the part that was bonkers):

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Confusing Sci-Fi/Fantasy

I just finished Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (my review). When I said I had lots to say on it, I wasn’t joking. Many reviewers and BookTubers categorized it as hard sci-fi and then concluded that was the reason the book was so confusing.

There are 3 things to unpack in that sentiment. First: what is hard sci-fi? My understanding is that hard sci-fi is includes elaborating on of the obstacles engineers will have to solve (or wish they could solve) and the fictional technological solutions.

Second, does Ninefox align with that definition? Not really. The book itself is light on details and only explains the effect of technology. However, somewhere online I think there are technical details describing the reality where Ninefox is set. The most convincing evidence to me is that some people refer to a magic system in the book.

Finally, If it is not hard sci-fi, why is it so confusing? Because of the way the author reveals the setting. For starters, this isn’t a portal story. We don’t constantly have Ron and Hermoine explaining the setting to Harry.  It also doesn’t have an omniscient narrator who kindly explains everything that is unfamiliar to the reader. The story is told through the point of view of characters who have lived there all there lives and would struggle to understand our reality, much less be able to explain their to us.

So ya, its confusing. And confusing settings are not limited to Sci-Fi. Fantasy has plenty of books to rival the most confusing Sci-Fi settings.

Here are three qualities of confusing books that can tell good stories.

  1. The confusion starts early and eases up after a little while
  2. The book is short(er)
  3. Each chapter or subsection has an objective

Finally, here are some tips to help you get through reading a book with a complex and confusing setting.

  1. Accept that you won’t understand everything in the chapter, even if you reread it.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Avoid obsessing of all the weird details.
  4. Focus on discovering the objective (or broad theme of the chapter). I find writing down a sentence or two about each chapter is helpful.

What about you, any tips for reading confusing Fantasy and Sci-Fi novels?

 

Review: Ninefox Gambit

Star Wars meets Star Trek meets Silence of the Lambs.

Ever wonder what would happen if a Star Trek engineer was able to channel the force into technology and come up with exotic weapons like amputation guns?  Ever imagine a Star Fleet captain being advised by the force ghost of the most hated war criminal of all time?

Let’s be real. I haven’t. You haven’t (unless you’re Yoon Ha Lee and then I’ll put you down as a maybe). So the real question is can something like this actually work as a story?

The answer is Yes and it is titled Ninefox Gambit. But fair warning, every page will have something you don’t fully understand about this universe. This starts on page 1. My advise is don’t rush through it. Or if you do, make sure you reread it immediately.

This is going to be a longer review, because I’ve got a lot to say about it and frankly I am not alone.

Why I Picked it Up

I picked this up because someone on the internet included it in a list of sci-fi books that pulls you in from the first page and you can’t escape it until the last one.

It’s a good book, but I’ll be honest it shouldn’t be on a list like that. It is too confusing to carry that level of suspense on the first read.

Things I liked

Most characters have a distinct voice. Also, there are several characters, but since each of the 6 factions has it’s own identity. You don’t need to use up the mind space trying to memorize character details as long as you knew what faction they belonged to.

Also, this book is light on romance. Which was welcome, because many of the books I’ve read recently have been big on character hook ups, and that doesn’t really intrigue me.

Finally, this story is not cinematic. It leverages its medium extremely well and didn’t strike me as a not-so-subtle pitch to move studios. That said I mentally cast Scarlet Johansen as Cheris and Tommy Lee Jones (circa The Fugitive) as General Jedao.

Wait. One more thing. The cover! I mean did you see it? I know right!

Things I didn’t like

Some of the best parts of the story aren’t in the book. Meaning, if you want to understand the book while you are reading it, you have to go online and read what people posted.

The most interesting thing I read was a recent article on The Quill to Live

Is it a Space Opera?

Ninefox Gambit appears on a lot of Space Opera lists. Frankly, I don’t get it. It is a military sci-fi novel, but there is a bunch of weird math. I don’t know any operas (space or otherwise) that involve so much math.

A Spoilery Summary of the First Few Chapters

The story begins in the middle of a battle. We follow a commander who, due to technical issues, joins the battle late. She quickly assesses the situation and determines that if they fight the way they have been trained they will all die. But if she orders her troops to fight like the enemy fights, they may live and achieve the mission objective. This second option, is considered disgraceful and she knows it. The consequence for herself and all of her troops will be to have their mind wiped (or some sort of brainwashing punishment).

The fact that she is able to come up with this battle plan on the fly is remarkable in two ways. First, it involves crazy weird math and math is not the domain of her military order. Second, her military order, brainwashes soldiers to the extent that it becomes instinct. So the fact that she found a window within that instinct to commit a disgraceful act is truly out of the ordinary.

After she issues the command one group begins to question the order and the commander cuts them out of the company without hesitation. Shortly after that company is wiped out. The others obey the command and accomplish their objective. Which is eventually abandoned by her commanding officers.

That’s the first chapter. I’m going to pause from the summary and just mention that I always appreciate an ethical dilemma. The fact that the book opens with one so pressing and consequential really gripped me.

Shortly after she has to inform her soldiers that they are all to be brainwashed / mindwiped because of her orders. Everyone, except for herself. She has been tapped to advise a military council on a critical situation.

She doesn’t know it yet, but she is being manipulated into volunteering to merge her mind with the greatest general and traitor of all time (who has been dead for several hundred years).

At the time of his treachery, the general’s battle record posed the government with a conundrum. How do they keep his ability to win battles but punish the treachery. The treachery is frequently described as that the general went mad. So the government decided to preserve his consciousness so that it could be consulted for critical military operations, while they try to figure out either what drove him mad or what made him such a remarkable general.

We learn that the general has been used before and this is an important detail in the book. Since the book is intentionally confusing it is easy to miss the detail.

The fact that this is not the first time the general has been ‘anchored’ to someone suggests that this time will be significantly different in some way for the general. Which makes the story about the military campaign and about what happens to the general.

To me this is the more understandable part of the book. I don’t really understand the importance of the fortress, nor all the different parts of the seige.

But I can understand that the general’s fate is completely unknown. Will he go mad again? Will he find a way to escape the black cradle (his undead prison)? Will he experience his first military defeat? Or will he become irrelevant?’

These were the questions that kept me reading this book.

What do BookTubers think?

Like I said before, there are a lot of opinions about Ninefox Gambit. Pretty much everyone says that there is nothing wrong with dropping the book if you aren’t enjoying it.

Reviewers who liked it:

 

A reviewer who didn’t like it:

Anyone else read it? What do you think?

Review: The Palace Job

A magical heist where no one is who they first appear to be. Except Pyvic.

The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes [GoodReads] is a detailed story with a large talented cast, a floating city and a heavy dose of magic. There are a lot of plot lines that get introduced midway through the book. This confused me as I lost track of the central plot. But I was enjoying myself too much to irritated by the confusion.

It is an approachable story for people who enjoy Fantasy. It is heavier on the magic side. Pretty much every convenience is the result of magic and not technology. And the book has plenty of humorous scenes and dialogue to make life a little brighter.

Why I Picked it Up

I was trying out Kindle Unlimited and this was appeared in the Fantasy genre. Plus, it offered read along audio as well.

That got it on my kindle, but what got me to read it was a review on GoodReads (also available on her blog) that mentioned this more what they had in mind when they read Lies of Locke Lamora.

Favorite Characters

My favorite character is the narrator and that is only because of the amazing job Justine Eyre did on the audio version.

Otherwise, I think every character on the crew was unique and really engaging. If I could tweet at them this is what I’d say (not limiting myself to character limits because that is stupid, unlike tweeting at fictional characters on wordpress which is totally cool).

@Loch – You are filled with secrets and knowledge. Can anything take you by surprise? Not that I want it to. Your ability to out maneuver your opponent is captivating. Remind me to stay on your good side.

@Kail – Any other person and the “Your Mother” jokes would get old.

@Tern – I’ve noticed you seldom work by yourself and don’t shy away from a confrontation with your colleagues. Ever pulled any solo jobs?

@Icy – You execute inconceivable physical feats effortlessly. Have you considered becoming a fitness trainer? Hope I learn more about your circumstances in the sequels.

@Ululenia – Your motives are humorous, but they make me a little uncomfortable. I never thought I’d read about a unicorn that had problem with self control.

@Desidora – You are the one I look forward to the most in the sequels. Part mischief. Part death. And all heart. Don’t tell anyone else, but I’d totally dig a standalone novel where you are the main character.

@Ghylspwr – The character I would most like to hang out with.

@Hessler – You’re talented, but I feel like there is more you can be capable of achieving. Don’t let getting thrown out of the university derail your studies!

@Diary – You are fooling no one!

Things I Didn’t really Enjoy

Romances. I’m becoming aware that “shipping” is a big appeal for a lot of readers, but it doesn’t interest me.

BookTubers and Other Reviewers

There weren’t any reviews from BookTubers, but I found this gem on YouTube. It’s an online bookclub of 4 people who were broadcasting live at the time. People were sending messages during the broadcast. Check out how stunned they are when Patrick Weekes starts sending them messages after one of them calls it “A poor man’s Disc World”.

YouTube: Literally Geeky Book Club

While I didn’t get a chance to see their whole discussion, it convinced me to read the next book in the Rogues of the Republic series sooner rather than later.

Life as a Slow Reader

I’ve been watching a lot of BookTube videos lately (Don’t know what that is? Check this out.) One of the things that clearly stands out is that these people read way faster than I do. That’s not surprising, because almost everyone I know reads faster than I do. Some of the BookTubers I’ve seen read something like 10-15 books a month! That’s like a stretch goal for me… for the year.

Out of all of my friends (including the ones that don’t enjoy reading on a regular basis), I am the slowest reader I know. And it has impacted my life in a few ways that are worth mentioning.

 

For starters, I catch things that other people don’t. It isn’t something that brings great insight or enjoyment. It is almost always a weakness with a book’s plot. If there is a weak link to a plot, I will probably find it. And trust me no author’s work, no matter how highly celebrated, is safe. At one point I asked a friend about a plot flaw in a series and he basically said, “You know what, you’re right. But that’s only a plot flaw you would catch.” In other words, flaws that only I could catch (regardless of how logical they are) didn’t count.

I keep these flaws to myself now because people don’t like hearing or talking about them. People get attached to a series, reread it several times and fall in love with it more each time. And then I come along and start asking questions that makes the book senseless. True fact: Pointing out plot flaws can be worse than sharing spoilers.

Another quirk of my slow reading is I tend to remember more details over a longer period of time. Watching some BookTubers forget basic details of a book they finished last week is painful for me to watch, since I remember some of the details I read in books more than 20 years ago.

When it comes to reading a series there are some barriers.

First reading a series, regardless of how fast or slow you read, is a time commitment. But let’s be clear, it is a longer time commitment for slow readers.

One of the most frustrating things about reading a series is the overly generous page space authors use in sequels to retrace the events of the previous books. This generally, does not benefit me and instead eats up my time. I’ve come to accept that certain minimum levels of retracing are necessary, but my patience for them is short.

There is also a genuine sense of betrayal for a series when the first installment in a series is 300 pages and the next one is 400 to 500 pages. That extra 100 to 200 pages had better justify itself or else suffer the consequences (via my review on goodreads).

When a series follows the same plot formula, it’s annoying on a level that I don’t think most people comprehend. Some fast readers share this frustration, but they lose a couple of days. For me, the author is asking me to go through the same plot line for 2 months. Maybe more. Think about that. Two months to read something that you’ve effectively read before. The effect is that reading becomes a chore and then it takes longer than 2 months to finish the book. It’s annoying and insulting to me as a reader.

The three previous paragraphs call out just how much the publishing industry is geared towards fast readers. I get it. I mean if someone is going to read 10-15 novels a month (and I bet they are buying more than that) versus 10-15 for the year they’d better be catering to the tastes of the individual that purchase the most books.

 

A few more quirks:

  • It’s next to impossible for me to read a book in a single day. Even a Novella.
  • Reading with a group of friends is next to impossible because I can’t keep up.
  • Rereading a book is not something I normally do, and the decision to reread one is not made lightly.

By far the largest impact being a slow reader had on me was my education. My school district assigned students to reading classes based on timed reading comprehension tests. Those tests presented a no win situation for me. In order to complete the test in time I had to race through the text at a pace I wasn’t comfortable with and get a bunch of questions wrong, or read at my pace to get more questions right and inevitably leave a bunch of questions unanswered. Either option I chose, the results indicated that I should be in the lowest reading level possible for my class. There were ripple effects that this had, but I’m electing not to share those. Let’s just leave it at, I disagreed with the assessment.

So there you have it: Some of the quirks and impacts from my life as a slow reader.

Are the Last Jedi Reviews Over-hyped?

Note: This review was a review I wrote last year, but never got around publishing. This isn’t the first time that this has happened on this blog and it won’t be the last. 

Episode 8 was released this past week, and plenty of professional critics love it. But what about the rest of us?

Well in my household, my oldest son and my wife loved it. I can’t stress the latter enough. She has seen all the movies, but doesn’t really count herself a fan. The Last Jedi may have changed that.

Then there is me. Who became a fan during the 90’s Star Wars Renaissance. And by fan, I mean that for at least one year (probably more) there was not a single weekend, where I did not watch at least one of the movies in the original trilogy. What did I think? It was alright. There were parts I liked, parts that were different and parts that I could have done with out.

The Parts I liked:

  • It leaves Episode 9 open to being an unknown. The Force Awaken, retraced themes from A New Hope. It makes sense that the Last Jedi would trace Empire Strikes Back. But it also traces Return of the Jedi. So what will Episode 9 retrace? Nothing. It is free to be it’s own thing.
  • Flight scene through the mine.
  • Luke’s comment, “What’s that all about?”
  • Luke becoming one with the force
  • Yoda knocking Luke on the head
  • Visually impressive
  • The scenes connecting Rey and Ben
  • The fact that it doesn’t matter who Rey’s parents are
  • The cast is split up, and it is largely a chase movie.
  • Lots of plot points to keep the story going.

The Parts that were different:

  • A lack of monsters. The original trilogy had many, many monsters. My wife specifically stated that this was one of the reasons she loved the movie.
  • The humor, was different. Granted, humor is woven throughout the original trilogy, so it would be weird if there weren’t jokes. But the pace, snarkiness and punchlines were different

The Parts I could have done without

  • The multiple scenes focusing on animal exploitation. Instead of monsters, we get all sorts of animals in scenes where they are clearly exploited. From watching Luke milk one animal and sloppily drink it. To Chewbacca trying to enjoy a meal while animals look on in horror as he is about to eat one of their own. To the creatures that have almost human heads being forced to run races for the ultra wealthy. Never would I have thought that there would be a Star Wars film that could be used as a recruitment tool for PETA.
  • The lack of explanation of the First Order, who Snoke was, or why he has force powers greater than Darth Sidious. It’s been rumored that Disney learned from Episodes I – III to avoid political stories. Avoid is not strong enough of a word. This is like a zero tolerance policy. In other words, I didn’t get what I was looking for from the movie.
  • Spelling out something, when it would have been better to leave it as a theme. “We don’t win by destroying what we hate. We win by saving what we love.” Nice sentiment. Important to the plot, but I found the delivery awkward.
  • Ninjas dressed in red.
  • The fact that all of the antagonists are jokes to be laughed at. Eventually, their fear wears off.
  • The complete lack of explanation of why R2D2 suddenly woke up at the end of TFA.
  • The code breaker knowing plans that Fin and Rose didn’t.
  • Ultimately, it breaks from what I love about Empire Strikes Back. That once the action starts, it does not pause. Ever.

Wow, thats an awful lot of stuff that I could have done with out. Does that mean I thought it was bad? No. But I probably won’t be watching it as frequently as the original trilogy.

 

BookTube. It’s a Thing.

As I’ve started to shift gears to reading more books than comic books, I’ve come across something (a phenomenon?) called BookTube.

BookTube is not a separate site. From what I can tell it’s all on YouTube. Unsurprisingly, the people apart of this digital subculture refer to themselves as BookTubers.

So what does a BookTuber do? This is what I’ve witnessed:

  • They talk about the books that they have read
    • Sometimes this all the books they have read for the month
    • Sometimes one post is dedicated to a single book
    • Sometimes its a themes like: Great Sci-Fi Novels, or My Least Favorite Popular Books
  • They create and participate in Tags
    • It’s basically a questionnaire that they respond to in a video.
  • They do bookshelf tours
  • They review their book hauls
  • They offer advise for new BookTubers
  • They spend a lot of time editing (ok, I haven’t witnessed this, but it seems like a safe deduction)
  • In between all of that, they read an inconceivable amount of books
    • Some say they’ve read an entire series in a weekend

My other observation is that the most popular ones, review a disproportionate number of YA titles. From what I understand, YA is a format that fits between Mid-Grade and Adult. It primarily features characters who are at least 13 and generally younger than 18. My hypothesis is that youtube is the first place that teens go for reviews/testimonials. And since book publishers offer some compensation for really popular BookTubers, reviewing YA titles is the probably the fastest way to get views and subscribers that publishers are willing to pay for some sort of access.

Also, some people just love YA. (Personally, I prefer Mid-Grade)

So if you start watching BookTubers in general, be ready for lots of content centering on teen drama. However, if you search for reviews of a particular non-YA title, the chances are good that you’ll find something good.

A quick warning to everyone, if you are watching a BookTube review a book that you are currently reading, assume it has spoilers unless it says spoiler free review. I saw one that was kind enough to say, “Mute the video now until I put the book down to avoid spoilers”, but there were others that offered no warning and blabbed a bunch of spoilers.

I’ll confess, for a brief instance I considered trying it. This was tied to my revelation that I’ve basically been treating the World As My Book Club and needed a healthy outlet (in addition to random people). But then I realized three things that discouraged me from posting videos to youtube.

  • I don’t know anything about editing videos
  • I’m lucky if I read 1 book in 1 month (this is partly because I’m a slow reader) and BookTubers try to post 2-3 times a week.
  • I have this blog where I write about random things related to fiction at random times. Why not just return to that?

So here I am. Also, I’ll probably start posting relevant BookTube videos when I actually get around to writing book reviews.

The World is My Book Club

My comic book reading has slowed down considerably over the past year. In that time I have been able to read more books. Which is awesome.

Recently, I caught myself treating the world as my bookclub.  Here’s what I mean: Not  many of my friends read the same things that I do but I really want to talk about the book I’m reading. So I’ll be in the middle of a conversation with someone and would bring up that I’m reading a book. It wouldn’t matter how long I’ve known this person, or how well I know them. I then ask if they’ve read this specific book. Most of the times they have not.

If it stopped there, it would probably be normal, but I go on. to describe the story and what I think of it. Then I ask them what they think of it. Which is really just asking them what they think about what I think about the book I’m reading.

I don’t think this behavior is awkward or problematic, but it’s not normal. And I’m comfortable not being normal.

Still, it would probably be a good use of my time to at least write some thoughts down on Issue 47 (it has been like a year since the last post) about the books I’ve recently read. Now, I just need to find the time to write down those thoughts (so many thoughts).

The Caverns of Chaos Part 1

This is an adaptation of a Dungeon World gaming session I ran with my two older children (9 & 6) and wife. It isn’t a perfect accounting of the events, but it definitely is in the spirit of the adventure. I don’t pretend that this is well written or even well conceived. I’m not aiming for positive reviews or a career in writing speculative fiction. Just attempting to capture some of the essence of our antics.

Up to this point Hawke, July and Raven had been seeking adventure with absolutely nothing to show for it. All other attempts had been fruitless and no one in their right mind would hire adventures that didn’t have any experience. That is until they found someone who may not have been in their right mind. He hired them to retrieve a stolen item of his which he believed was held in the Caverns of Chaos. Their employer only described the item as “You’ll know it when you’ll see it.”

But before they made there way the Caverns of Chaos they managed to become surrounded by 5 Ekeks, which is a type of creepy Bird/Human hybrid.

Hawke, a human fighter, and July, a dwarven fighter, charged with their shields knocking aside the Ekeks. In the scuffle Hawke dropped his shield, but held onto his ancient sword. Raven, a ranger with an eagle companion named Ellie said, “Seriously, I always have to pick up your stuff.” Although, she didn’t actually pick up the shield. Instead she used the room the two fighters cleared for her, to loose an arrow at their attackers. But in the panic of the attack she missed. Close by she could see something enormous beneath the surface of the water. Something that seemed much more dangerous than their attackers.

Hawke and July continued their battles. Each slayed and an Ekek. But in the process the monster Raven had glimpsed started coming out of the water, one giant leg at a time, before the head of the beast emerged. Raven recognized it as a Dragon Turtle.

The three adventurers abandoned their struggle with the Ekek’s and turned their attention to this monster. Raven successfully struck the beast with an arrow. It slowed the beasts progress but it started breathing fire. Hawke, braved the flames to get into close proximity to strike with his sword, but he slipped and only struck the beasts toes.

One of the Ekeks went for reinforcements. Raven remembered hearing a rumor that the troll clans were meeting in the swamps to unite. At the time she had dismissed it but she felt more certain of it now.

Another Ekek attacked Hawke, who successfully injured the feathered monster but dropped his sword in the process.

Then it came to July, who unlike every other dwarf in the realm valued keeping his armor and weapons shiny. He charged the Dragon Turtle with his bright shiny sword and struck a deathblow to the terrible creature.

Hawke once again attacked an Ekek, but didn’t have any success. July learned the hard way that the swamp’s ground was not to be trusted as he fell waste deep into mud screaming , “Not my shiny armor!”

This distraction gave Raven and Ellie a chance to attack one of the Ekek’s together. Their attack wasn’t enough to stop him, but certainly it was enough to slow him down.

The odds were more even now. 2 Ekeks (one injured) against 3 adventurers. On reflection, Raven knew her fighters were not going to be as effective. One was practically immobile and the other hadn’t even picked up his sword or shield yet. It was up to her. But she needed some time to think.

Thanks for reading. Future installments of this adventure will be posted under the “Caverns of Chaos” tag. Well, we’ll see. My track record for doing anything consistent on this blog is not great. But you know what life is inconsistent, so I’m good with it.

 

 

 

First Dungeon World Gaming Session

Last post covered my interest in introducing my older children (ages 9 and 6) to role playing games as a way to gain a window into their imaginative play. After researching the RPG options (so many options) I landed on Dungeon World.

After two gaming sessions the results are in, and they are impressive. One of the primary reasons I chased this idea was to gain a window into my children’s “solitary imaginative play”. Not only did I get that window, but I also got to see their problem solving skills and for about 30 – 40 minutes there was no arguing, tears, whining… just smiles and laughing. Smiles and Laughter people!

One factor for this success is the game itself, which focuses more on collaborative storytelling by reducing the complexity of game mechanics of the more complicated RPGs. Most outcomes are on decided by a player rolling 2 six sided dice, or 2d6 in rpg terms. The outcomes are adjusted by a modifier which corresponds to an ability. The modified rolls are segmented into 3 categories describing the outcome:

  • Complete Success (10 or higher)
  • Partial Success (7 -9)
  • Failure (6 or lower)

That’s pretty much the game, everything else is there to guide the Game Master to setting the foundation of a good collaborative story…

…which is harder than it sounds.

Which became another motivator for me to research the art of being a Game Master and the potential anxiety that surrounds it. It really wasn’t anxious for me, worst case my kids would have been bored and I was out the $10 for the pdf of the rule book.

But there is some good advice out there, and the absolute best advice was to find out each player’s expectations. Here’s what I learned from my wife and 2 boys.

  • One wanted to fight trolls
  • Another wanted to be ‘a little man’
  • The third did not want any of the player characters to die

There is a lot more useful advise for new GM’s on the interwebs, but there is next to none for new GM’s running a game for young families. So here are a couple of things I found useful.

Have an Adult Player

I worked with everyone individually to build their character before our first gaming session. Both my boys also wanted to be fighters, and they loaded up their abilities on strength and constitution. Which you would expect for a fighter. So I advised my wife to play a ranger and be the brains of the group.

This was not the last time I would ask her to participate in a specific way. Like identifying other solutions rather than just hacking and slashing.

Every family is different. Some don’t have two adults and those that do might not be able to have them play. But I strongly encourage including an adult.

Early Challenges To Learn Game Mechanics

Originally, I had intended to create plotless scenarios to teach them game mechanics. My thought was to do this individually with each player.

But, one of the players really wanted to jump into a full game. So we didn’t get to do this, but I included it anyway because it’s an idea worth trying.

Set Ground Rules for Character Creation

The rules I implemented were:

  1. No magical characters.
  2. Characters must at least have a neutral alignment, and preferably aligned to good.

The game was going to be challenging enough for me to run, I didn’t want a wizard casting spells I wasn’t prepared for.

The alignment thing is really a way for me to remind the boys about their character’s inherent motivation. And so that their characters won’t fight each other.

Roll the Dice

A lot of the imaginative fun does not involve dice rolling. And in my family’s second session, we had a lot of fun with very little dice rolling. When it ended, my 6 year old went from having been all smiles to practically being in tears. All because he didn’t get to roll the dice. It was quickly resolved by promising  him he could ‘go first’ next time.

The lesson for me is that the kids need to roll the dice at least once a session. It might seem weird, but consider that our sessions are shorter than most. More on that later.

Let Them Be Silly

This one is important for me, because my motive is to see their imagination in action. If it doesn’t fit with my setup, so what. I’ll try to adapt it for next time.

Short Sessions

An RPG gaming session can be somewhere in the ballpark of 4 hours. That doesn’t work for our family. Our first one was 40 minutes and the second one was 30. We clearly communicated the amount of time we would have to play at the start. Shorter sessions allowed me to be on the spot less as GM.

It also allowed me to do a soft unnoticeable reset to the game early on. This is similar to how a sequel will retrace an earlier installment and add in a few details that weren’t there originally. Had we gone on for several hours, I don’t know if it would be as engaging without those extra details that I was able to come up with inbetween sessions.

My advice would be sessions from 40 to 60 minutes. 30 minutes resulted in one of the characters not rolling the dice.

You Will Miss Something…

…so make it right when you start the next game/session. I managed to miss that they were not marking experience points for all their failure rolls. When the second session started I granted everyone 2 experience points.

They Will Miss Something Too…

…so mention it when you start the next game/session. The first game has so much going on and new information that they are bound to forget a character move or special ability.

A Few More Tips, But Not Related To Children…

Print Character Sheets & Info Sheets on Card Stock

This was really useful in a subtle way. While playing the game the players are trying to think quickly. Thin copy paper can distract in a number of ways: having to find something to write on, reading bent over on the table, or hold it up carefully without creasing the paper.

That might not be how we consciously think, but some portion of the brain is dedicated to thinking that way. And that slows down the part that is trying to think about what ‘Leverage’ they may have to successfully ‘Parley’ with a Non Player Character.

You Only Think You Have a Plot

Maybe not a plot, but an objective with obstacles for the party engage in. Here’s the thing, I was unprepared for how few times the players rolled a complete success and how many times they rolled a failure. That lead to the large monster appearing before I had intended. Now as GM, my intentions aren’t really important, but my preparation is. And since I hadn’t intended for the big monster to appear so early, I was unprepared for what happened next. They started rolling complete success on their attacks against it, while still struggling with partial success or failure with the other creatures.

To be clear, the fact that they were able to slay such a huge monster early on was huge for them, and a worthwhile part of the experience. It just made it more challenging for me, since a big portion of what I had prepared was annihilated in the first 10 minutes of the game.

In the second session I created what I would call a ‘wider’ set up. Meaning, more Non Player Characters, locations and dynamics. It was broad enough that the players could interact with these story elements in any order and under favorable or unfavorable circumstances to advance towards their end goal.

Just like the first session, the characters behaved and had outcomes different from what I had expected. But I felt that I handled it better, because there wasn’t a sequential order that events needed to happen in for the game to ‘make sense’ as a story.

I’m still learning though, so I’m sure there is advice here that is less than optimal. But if I don’t write it down now, I may never get around to it.