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I suppose if I am going to be posting book reviews I should probably read some rpg books to review…

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Book Review 2: Chill

I finished reading Elizabeth Bear’s Chill, the second book in her Jacob’s Ladder Trilogy. I’ve said before that in some of her work she writes like Zelazny at his best. By which I mean “In among the things she does in her books, she does some of the things he did in his books, with at least as much craft as he did.” I happen to think her characterization is stronger, that her characters are more human than his were. Jacob’s Ladder is supposed to call Oberon’s brood to mind as you read it, though I think that it does so in a manner that is at least as much “Lord of Light” as “Chronicles of Amber” (and while Amber is comfort reading for me, Lord of Light is a better book) and I think she compares well in her handling of a group of ancient related near immortals to that second book.
So I bought Chill when it came out, but at the time I really lacked the focus to read much of anything, and eBear’s books need some of that focus to get the most out of the, so I squeed about some of the lines in the first fifty pages then I set it down. Well I ordered book three (grail) a couple of days ago and I figured that I would read Chill before it got here. Happily my focus is back and I managed to read and enjoy the book.
One of my favorite pieces of story telling/world building technology that eBear uses is causing the reader to come to a conclusion about part of the background of the setting just a few paragraphs before explicitly stating that conclusion in the text. It happens more in the early part of the book when the ratio of plot to worldbuilding is lower, though she never stops worldbuilding, it is just that the world building becomes more entwined with the action of the book. The best was the early parts about the Builders.

Obviously I’m not going to suggest you go out and buy Chill today. Go and buy the first book of Jacob’s Ladder “Dust” today, and in a couple of days when you have finished it, go ahead and get both Dust and Grail.
Or her self propelled Muppet doesn’t get to eat.

(As a disclaimer: yes I am a fan. eBear is one of my 3 or 4 favorite living authors. Even though I don’t love everything she writes. Add in dead authors and her placing stays very high, depending on the day, it may not move at all.)

A quick rule mod for 4th ed combats.

So, your players are taking forever to make decisions in combat because they are trying to make optimal use of their broad array of resources. I’ve seen suggestions from “build your combats differently” to “use essentials characters, they have fewer choices to make.” Now I for one like the tactical depth of the more complex characters in 4e core, and while I’m all in favor of developing combats to achieve your play style goals, I want to speed up this combat, not create a whole new combat.

One idea I’ve been batting around is sand timers.
Grab a 60 or 90 second sand timer and before your game starts. You’ll also want some sort of tokens you can hand out. I personally have a stack of poker chips I bought for gaming.

Explain to your players that you want to encourage quicker decision making in combat, and at the beginning of each character’s turn you are going to flip the timer. If they have chosen all their actions before the timer runs out, they receive a +2 on all dice rolls until their next turn. (1d20 becomes 1d20+2, 3d6 becomes 3d6+2) If they haven’t, they get a token. Any character who ends the combat without any tokens gets an action point. They can spend an action point to get the timer flipped back over if they really need more time but still want the bonus. (A player in this system can bank action points and spend more than one per round.)

This system encourages quick decision making without penalizing people for non-optimal tactical decisions without reducing the characters’s choices and without forcing them to never stop and think through a decision.

Book Review: Agatha H and the Airship City

I know this post isn’t really in theme for this blog, but this is the only place I’m actually actively blogging.

The first (which I hope implies more to come) of the novelizations of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius comic, written by Phil and Kaja. It is the first long form piece of fiction by them that I’ve read, and I was pleased that the writing was strong (writing for comics is a very different skill than writing for novels, since in one case being concise is king, and in the other, you are paid by the word (I know, not exactly but :P) )
Well, the writing was strong and consistently so, and while the novel is pretty much a note for note retelling of the first arc of Girl Genius, it does so in a way that is both complete, and that adds to the world building in the comics by focusing in on things that were not obvious in the comic. The slight change of focus was strongly additive to my enjoyment of the book, and pointed out bits of world building that didn’t carry through the artwork in the comics. The comics and the novel are very much complementary products. It is a fun story, and in both media it is well told. I’m in the middle of a period where I’ve had a lot of trouble focusing on reading things for one reason or another, and I read this book in one sitting. (The last book I did that with was Butcher’s “Changes”) So if you are interested in mad science themed steampunky (gaslight fantasy if you want to be picky) adventures, you could hardly do better than either the comic or the novel. Personally, I’d read the comic first so you get the rich imagery and deeply detailed background world building, but then read the novel. It gives a lot more of the internal world of the characters.
So go, read the comic at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/ then go to your flbs and order a copy of the book. (The first print run is already sold out and most of the second is already accounted for, but there are already murmurs of a third hard cover printing, so you should be able to get a copy. Especially since some of that sold out first printing was sold to distributors.)

Dragon Age RPG Point Buy

I’m reading the Dragon Age RPG basic set with the intention of reviewing it, but I came across something that I want to deal with right now. The character the way the modifiers fall, your characters will likely be above a statistical average, but I like having more control over the characters I build. I also like the idea of everyone starting on the same footing. So here is my point buy system. It isn’t mathematically identical to 3d6, but it is close enough.
Dragon Age Point Buy
Every Stat starts at zero.
you can sell a stat to -1 for 1 point or -2 for 2 points. (Given the distribution in the standard game, this undervalues a -2)
You may buy a 1 for 1 point.
You may buy a 2 for 3 points
You may buy a 3 for 5 points
You may buy a 4 for 7 points
You start with 17 points to distribute
That lets you start with a character with this array:
-1,0,1,1,1,2,2,3 which follows the distribution pretty well. In fact it would be reasonable to just use that array.
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Notice that buying a 4 is expensive. In the raw, a 4 will happen 1 in 216 times, giving a 3.64 percent chance of a 4 in any given character. A -2 has the same odds, but since the purpose of this system is to make playable characters who resemble rolled characters, I want to discourage characters with lots of penalties in order to buy a few big bonuses.