Wednesday, January 31, 2024

January 2024 Reading Progress

I started off 2024 by reading Murtagh by Christopher Paolini.  This is the fifth book written in the world of Alagaesia but not the fifth book of the series.  I've read and enjoyed the original four books in The Inheritance Cycle and was looking forward to reading this book as well.  My daughter bought it for me at Christmas, so I began reading it a few days after the holiday.

I enjoyed this fantasy tale quite a bit.  I welcomed the change in focus from Eragon and Saphira to Murtagh and Thorn.  I have no doubt there will be more books focused on Eragon but it's nice to see the series feature other characters.  Although Eragon and Murtagh are both Dragon Riders - and half-brothers as well - there are plenty of differences between the two.  They approach situations and obstacles differently.  Murtagh is a little bit rougher in execution and a bit of a darker hero.  Just as this book changes the central character, this book is also about change.  Murtagh and Thorn are fighting to change by overcoming their enslavement by Galbatorix and the reputation that followed.  

I find Paolini works to be a smooth read.  I don't mean that in a negative manner at all.  I mean that it's easy to follow and easy to read large chunks at one time.  There is world building and lore sprinkled throughout the book, but it's not labor intensive to keep the facts straight.  There are also several illustrations, a small section on Runes, and another brief appendix or two.

Rating: I gave the book a 5-star rating on Goodreads.  The site only allows full star ratings so that somewhat limits how accurately you can rate your experience. I definitely thought it was better than a flat 4 and somewhere closer to 5 so a 5 seemed closer than rating it lower.  I'm not a professional reviewer by any means so when I rate a book, I'm just looking at stuff such as "did I struggle with staying interested" or "would I read more books in the series" and similar topics.  

Progress: I have completed 1 out of 8 books on my planned reading list this year.

Next: My second book is People of the Dark by Robert E. Howard.  I'm ending January with completely 24% of this book.  Let's see what next month brings...

Monday, January 22, 2024

Crafting a Moon Gate

I'm a big fan of the Ultima series of computer role-playing games.  I spent many hours playing them on various platforms over the years.  One of the most memorable things about the older releases was the lore and the extras included in the boxes.  They used to have small rulebooks reminiscent of the OD&D little brown books, cloth world maps, and maybe other stuff like coins.  Of course, this type of stuff would influence my fantasy gaming and I would include similar items in my worlds.  

The screenshot here shows a moon gate that has manifested in an open area of the game world. The idea behind the moon gates is simple.  You can enter a moon gate when it appears to be instantly transported to another location.  A simple form of fast travel that has appeared in many other games up to the modern day. The scroll of town portal from the Diablo series is one such example. I've used something similar in my games but it a very limited form; I didn't want an automatic get out of jail card for the players.  I did, however, want some sort of magical gate that would show up in some locations depending on "if the stars were right" or some other arcane reason.  

I got into miniatures a few years ago.  You can clearly tell from my paint jobs that I am focused on utility and function rather than winning any competitions.  I also downloaded the complete Ultima series from Good Old Games some time ago.  Between these two events, I decided to try some crafting with some cheap clay so I would have a moon gate miniature to use in my games.  I was going to do the entire thing in this clay, but I found some small wooden circles for just about a dollar that could serve as the base.  I also stumbled across some cheap grass, sand, and rock at a local hobby shop, so I decided to go ahead and add those to the mix.  

My results are pictured here.  I'm not disappointed with the results as a first attempt.  I'm going to do another one in the future and there are things I would do differently.  First, the boulders with the runes and the moon gate were glued down first.  On the next one, the first thing will be the moon gate, but the boulders will be glued down after the base terrain. I think that will help with the few small voids that can be seen.  The small yellow spots were added to show a "magical effect" but I don't like how it turned out.  I used several coats of gloss varnish to give it a gleaming appearance and I will do that again rather than using the yellow paint spots. I may try some more expensive clay on the next moon gate as well.  I'm pretty pleased with this first attempt but I see areas to improve.  I will add more stuff inspired by Ultima in the future.  I'm not entirely sure what it will be but I think the runes might be on that list.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Chance Cards

I've owned Champions of ZED and Dragons at Dawn for a while now.  I enjoy pulling them out and reading through them both for inspiration. Both of these games have sections discussing chance cards and how to use them. The idea behind chance cards is pretty simple.  The DM and the players use a stack of index cards to write down events that could take place in their campaign. At certain points in the campaign - the start of every game month, every 90 days in game, etc. - the DM will draw one of these cards and apply it to the campaign. The group could also use these cards to generate a background history for the campaign world as well.  For example, the DM could want to use two events per year for the last 12 years of game time to develop a history for the campaign world. 16 cards would be drawn from the cards available and then the DM would string them together and get the history they wanted.

I know I could do this with some simple brainstorming, rolling on tables, or some other method but I want to do something different. I've become really interested in using the chance cards in my game for the physical aspect of it. I think that comes from two influences.  First, I watch a lot of the videos put out by Game Methuselah on his YouTube channel.  He mentioned writing the monster information on index cards and using them in game; basically, a map, notes, and a box of index cards to run his game.  Second, since I began painting miniatures a few years ago I really want to start using them in my game as well.  I never used them back in the day, but I've gotten the itch to use them now.

Do you use chance cards or something similar in your game?

Monday, January 8, 2024

2024 Reading Plans

After the disappointing low number of books read last year, I got motivated to do better this year. I typically read 12 or more books in a year, but I set a goal of 8 for 2024 because several of these novels are epic length fantasy over 1,000 pages.  I am keeping a reading journal to help with this goal.  If I can read more, I will. Without further delay, here are the novels I plan on reading this year.

Poul Anderson (Three Hearts and Three Lions): I've always wanted to read this for two reasons. I remember it being referred to as a fantasy classic by many readers and - I hope I'm recalling correctly here - it seems that many claim this has the best representation of a Paladin. This book was read in 2023 and will be replaced by Murtagh by Christopher Paolini to keep my reading plan at 8 books for the year. 

Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles): I remember seeing this book on the shelves of my middle school library and I also caught some of the PBS television mini-series.  I've always intended to read it so 2024 will be the year I do so.

Brian Lee Durfee (The Forgetting Moon): I stumbled upon his YouTube Channel while browsing the various "booktubers" looking for reviews of fantasy novels.  This guy reads a ton of books, has an impressive home library, and has completed a trilogy of novels.  His videos are funny because he doesn't hold back about how passionate he is about books, and he doesn't take things so seriously that he does a hundred takes to "get it right".  

Frank Herbert (Heretics of Dunge and Chapterhouse Dune): I enjoyed the first four books so I'm going to complete the original six books.  Maybe I'll give the expanded Dune universe novels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson at some time.

Robert E. Howard (People of the Dark): Howards' Conan tales are amazing!  I enjoyed Shadow Kingdoms so I'm sure this collection will be excellent as well.

Christopher Paolini (Murtagh): I got this as a Christmas gift from my daughter, so I added it to the list of books for 2024.  I've read the entire Inheritance Cycle so I might as well continue on.  They have always proven to be smooth reading that doesn't require a stack of notes to keep up so that's a bonus.

Brandon Sanderson (Oathbringer and Rhythm of War): I really enjoyed the first two novels in The Stormlight Archives, and I need to get caught up with the series.  The series is planned to be ten books at completion so it's a good time to not fall behind any further.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Happy New Year!

It's a new year and I've been doing some reflection to see what I want to change in 2024.  I have a short list spread over several areas that I could explain in this post.  I'm not going to do that because it all boils down to just one change that will help me achieve the changes I want to make.  I am striving for a better work/life balance in 2024.  

I allowed work to become all-encompassing last year and this blog, my reading, and my creative endeavors suffered because of that decision.  Don't get me wrong, work is important and there will be times that I have to completely focus on it at that time but working 55 to 65 hours a week for months at a time will burn you out. 

Having the last three weeks off work recovering from having my gall bladder removed let that lesson really sink in.  I had planned to bring my laptop home and be available "just in case" but my backup told me to "...relax and not do that.  We got this while you're gone.  I can always ask one of the other guys for help if I need it.".  I did take my laptop home, but I didn't turn it on even just once.  I didn't receive any texts saying the plant had to close down and I didn't see any stories on the news about my absence causing undue hardships to production.  

The point? Take your time off and enjoy it.  You can't be replaced at home, you can and will be replaced at work. I hope everyone has a great year!  I'm looking forward to being more active.