29 November 2007

The Scourge of God by William Dietrich

Good historical adventure, about a Roman who gets involved in the machinations in the final big war with Attila the Hun.

28 November 2007

Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley

This book is a discussion of theatrical improvisation techniques and how they can be applied to roleplaying games.

It's a fairly short book, but densely packed with techniques and tips.

It feels like I will need a bit of time to digest the advice, and probably many months of trying it out before I can tell how useful they are. On the other hand, everything reads like it ought to improve play.

So, provisionally it is very good, and I'll try and post again later with an update on how well the advice helps in play.

27 November 2007

Actual Play: Duty and Honour

Last night we played a playtest of Neil Gow's Duty and Honour (aka "the Sharpe roleplaying game"). It was good. Discussion is happening 0n the Collective Endeavour.

26 November 2007

The Whale Road by Robert Low

A very strong debut novel (although from the author blurb, Low had a career as a journalist) in the historical adventure genre.

The story follows Orm Ruriksson, a young Norseman who has to flee his foster home and join his father on a viking ship. It turns out that the leader has a plan to hunt down a fabled treasure horde. This takes the band a long way and through various stresses, betrayals and fights.

The characters are strong - Low paints very effective pictures of their personalities with few words. Orm narrates, and remembers being essentially carried on a flood for most of the story. It pretty much is a coming of age story for him, framed as a great quest for the treasure.

24 November 2007

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

An odd, but interesting novel. It's about a 14th century village in Germany who have some aliens crash land nearby. The events occur on the eve of the plague ravaging that part of the world, which is how Flynn fits in events that might otherwise have had massive effects on history.

There's a framing story about a couple in the present piecing together the story of what happened there, but this is largely irrelevant (it appears that he built the novel from a shorter work in which this was the main story).

The core of the novel is the way that the village priest - previously a scholarly monk and heretic rebel - deals with the aliens and observes the rest of the village dealing with them. Flynn has made a real effort to get into the medieval mindsets (and there are several distinct mindsets you meet) and fill the story with the day to day things that did (or would have) occurred. There's also a great deal of ethical and theological speculation, as this is one of the priest's concerns about the visitors. One slightly annoying side note is that Flynn has this character almost instantly grasp concepts that the aliens explain to him, often in modern terms and making up the modern terms for them (or close analogs). That doesn't affect the story, but it did seem kind of silly to me.

A good novel, but really mostly as an exploration of some ideas about modernity and religion in the context of the situation. The plot - in terms of things that happen - is really just setting to hang the rest on.

20 November 2007

Island of Exiles by I J Parker

A new Sugarwara Akitada novel! It is good.

I was initially skeptical, as the setup is that he has to disguise himself as a convict to infiltrate an island penal colony and solve a mystery there. Now, Parker hasn't written enough books that she has any justification to be running out of ideas. Also, it's hard to see why any of the characters thought it was a good idea. On the one hand, the mystery involves some important political exiles. On the other hand, disguised as a convict, Akitada has exactly none of his authority as an official and is forced into unlikely sneaking around.

In any case, once things get properly underway, the story is as good as any of the others.

17 November 2007

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian

A re-read. This is not one of the highlights of the Aubrey/Maturin books, but it still has plenty of good stuff (O'Brian's worst is better than most authors).

No Quarter by Broos Campbell

Another naval adventure series, this one about an American. This novel is set in 1799/1800 and has Mr Graves as a midshipman, dealing with pirates and French plots in the Caribbean. Good. Seeing the events of the Napoleonic wars from a different perspective than the usual British one is interesting.

13 November 2007

Hero's Banner: Freedom for Uran!

We kicked off our second generation last night. The characters were generally lower powered - a bastard son of one previous character, the other two not even blood relations of their heroes.

The game began slower. This was partly because the characters' scope of action was smaller, and partly because it took me a little while as GM to begin hammering on the influences.

That said, about halfway in it took off and we got some great play out of the game this time too. We had armies raised and a the capital of Uran was burnt to the ground by anti-Tuceascan rebels (the kingdom remained occupied after the previous game).

The epilogues were interesting too. We had one character run off with his lover to an idyllic life as a woodsman. Another chose to look after his two (now blind) adopted daughters as a beggar (he was also blind by this point). And the third character, twisted by the things that had happened to him, decided to reject a happy ending and take up the reins of the spy network his hero had set up (after killing that hero).

I am having more fun with this game than anything I have played for a long while.

11 November 2007

Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

Fourth in the Alfred the Great series, this one continues as you might expect. Very good stuff.

The Generals by Simon Scarrow

This novel continues Scarrow's fictionalized version of the lives of Napoleon and Wellington. It follows Napoleon's time as a general in Italy and Egypt and his rise to become first Consul. For Wellington, it covers his time in India. The book is more military focussed than the first.

One odd feature is that the story covers ground here that has been in the Sharpe novels. A couple of scenes felt slightly out, because I "know" that this was the place that Sharpe first met Wellington, or that he was present at that event, and so on.

The Indian Mutiny by Saul David

A good history of the events. It suffers a little from being predominantly from the British point of view, but I got the feeling that this was due to few Indian accounts existing.

03 November 2007

Dark Rain by Conor Corderoy

This felt kind of like the film Children of Men, except this was good. A similar setup - with endless rain in Britain, the rich live in luxurious domes and the poor out in the rain and mud - but in this case it turns out that the conspiracies exist for a reason, not just because the story requires it.

The hero is a cop who stumbles onto something he shouldn't, and he's a classic action movie hero. Specifically, he's from the 'take continual beatings and keep going' mold (e.g. John McClane).

01 November 2007

An Ocean of Air by Gabrielle Walker

A history of our understanding of the atmosphere. It's told from the ground up, with a chapter on each major discovery and the people involved. Plenty of good anecdotes, on top of the science.