Monday, February 20, 2017

Kickstarter Thoughts 2/20/2017

Recently someone attempted to kill themselves after facing the ire of the internet on a late project where the person interjecting came off as offensive. When I say this project was late, I'm not talking days, weeks, or months. It was also a large project with some people investing hundreds of dollars if not more.

This is a terrible thing. No one should feel so harangued that they attempt to take their own life because of it.

Someone whose works I've purchased and will continue to do so when they meet my own criteria, as a KS creator, suggested that Kickstarter put in a method to allow producers to block backers from backing their creations to avoid any drama.

Literally creating a 'safe space' for themselves.

Kickstarter has many things going for it. It's a great marketing tool. The event itself serves as a potential way to build community and brand awareness.

To cut part of that potential audience off because there are some bad eggs out there seems counter intuitive to what Kickstarter does. Let strangers give you money for ideas that may not pan out.

1. How are you going to know who to band? What would Kickstarter's criteria be? Some blank, "Prevent Funding?" Are creators going to get together and pass along lists of evil backers? Are they going to create a list of Republicans to keep them from engaging in the Kickstarter Process? States that voted for Trump? And what happens when that list goes public? Because on the internet, everything eventually goes public.

2. What happens the first time a gay person is blocked and doesn't sue the creator, but sues Kickstarter? We live in a very litigious society in America. Lawyers sue people all the time. But lawyers go after the money. The money is not in some dude's $20 grand RPG. It's on Kickstarter itself.

3. In some ways, you're rewarding 'rude' behavior because now the person, if they want to buy your product, doesn't have to deal with the whole uncertainty of Kickstarter. They just go into a store and buy it. Note there is no HIGH GROUND here when this happens. It's not that the creator doesn't want the money, they just don't want the 'potential' hassle of dealing with people who may be assholes.

4. People are complicated. From the conversation, "I have multiple Kickstarters under my belt. I've never had an issue dealing with them, and my comments have never been an issue." So comments on your Kickstarters have never been an issue? So there is literally no problem on your own Kickstarters. This is some sort of preemptive tool. And what if someone was a bastard on one of the threads because they spent $1,000, the creators of that KS have lied and delayed and taken off with the money? Not everyone is a saint all the time. What if this person who's a bastard in that Kickstarter has already backed several of your games with no problem? Do you block them on the 'idea' that everyone should be good and noble all the time? Cause remember it's not about getting that particular person's money which you'll gladly take at the retail or even direct sales level later. It's about not dealing with the hassle of bad customers. 

5. People Change: Now here's the thing. The person's already said they have no problems on their own projects. They still want the money even if it comes later on. So what happens when your project, your biggest project ever, is years late? And you've stopped providing updates? And those updates you have provided have turned out false? Your 'safe circle' will turn on you. The best way to avoid 'trolls' is to well, finish your projects ahead of time and go above and beyond what you were selling in the first place. As the creator here already noted, they have NOT had any problems.

6. People will Circumvent Your Protections: Joe is a bastard. I'm blocking him. Joe tells Frank, "Dude, hook me up." Gives Frank the money and Frank use his own credit card to back the Kickstarter. Kickstarter is late, lies, etc... If Joe would have been a bastard under his own id, the chance of Joe not using Frank's id to be a rude asshole, especially if it's a higher end item? Are very low. 

7.Unintended Consequences: You block person A because he's 'bad'. Person A is popular in Circle Y. Person A tells Circle Y. So now you've got fans of person A attacking you for blocking a supporter of the cause. This happens all the time. When you engage with the internet, you're never just engaging with the one person, the one idea, the one topic. You are engaging with the internet. 

8. Where does it stop? So person B has backed your kickstarter. It's late. Person B is stirring the pot. You don't like that. You block him. This automatically refunds his money and blocks him from posting any more. You don't need him anymore anyway right? Your idea, that you didn't take to the bank for funding, still managed to get more than enough so screw that particular backer. How dare he question you and your methods after all eh? 

There might be a germ of a good idea there but among the things I've love to see Kickstarter do, like more accountability form the creators including being able to you know, report a late project more than once, this idea of "blocking the people I'm petitioning for money" is way low on the list.

So how far off my rocker am I here? 

Monday, February 13, 2017

The City: Gaming Inspiration Points

The City  can easily be used as the source of bits that can be used for gaming.

1. Unique Weather Events: In my review, I mentioned that the countryside suffers a record-breaking deluge of rain. It kills thousands and displaces tens of thousands.

2. Elements Pertaining To Events: "In the Great Storm the rains had come down too hard and fast for the sewers and storm drains to cope, and the narrow streets of the Armoury had become raging rivers. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had died in the flash floods, drowned in the seething streets or trapped helpless in their homes. It was rumoured that the City's gravediggers could not respectfully lay to rest all the corpses, and that after dark for weeks afterwards carts rumbled through the night carrying the dead out to the Salient to be dropped in the sea."

"It was a battle such as she had never known before, a battle in slow motion. Both sides were handicapped by the water and thick sticky mud, but the Blues had somehow managed to get themselves armed and organized with astounding speed. the City warriors were groping around in the knee-deep water, trying to find swords, breastplates, spears and helms. Meanwhile they were being attacked by waves of Blueskin soldiers."

A huge weather event can change the landscape. It can make a one verdant forest a burned out plane. It can make a dirty road a knee-deep mud pit. Use the unique elements to throw some curves at the campaign.

3. Named Locations: "It was built more than five hundred years ago for a companion of the emperor. She loved all beasts and birds and creatures of the sea, and you will see many throughout the house. It is called the House of the Creatures of the Earth." That sounds like a place for an adventure.

There is also bringing the name of a location to it's purpose. "If the emperor's feasting hall as designed to impress, then the Serpent Room was intended to inspire unease. It was not a huge room, on the scale of the Red Palace. It was wide, but quite low. And everywhere, on ceilings, floors, walls and furniture, were snakes. Painted, carved, stuffed, and live slithering ones in glass tanks.... "I imagine that its designers, whoever they were, hoped to arouse fear in visitors, to put them at a disadvantage."

4. Tattoos As World Building. "He heft a large tome and read, "Cryptic Codes: Formal and Informal Insignia among Armed Men." This segway into "Over the course of the morning the old man tracked down three of the smaller tattoos he had remembered on the corpse's body, and found that the soldier had served with the 24th Vincerii, and the Emperor's Rangers, two decades before, who then called themselves the Lepers, and he had fought at the Second Battle of Edyw. A distinguished service, indeed, although there was little to stop any fool of an impostor having the tattoos insribed. But Bartellus remembered the many old wounds on the man and believed his tatooedd friend was an authentic soldier."

By having tattoos associated with specific events, people, places, and times, the world gains more depth and dimension.

Stella Gemmell's first solo novel, The City, is filled with various bits just waiting to be yanked for gaming purposes.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The City by Stella Gemmell

The City
Written by Stella Gemmell
Paperback $16.00
Kindle $9.99

Stella Gemmell may be known to some as the co-author of Troy: Fall of Kings, but most people who have read fantasy will recognize her as the wife of David Gemmell, an author known for his action packed sequences.

The good news is that Stella Gemmell is a solid writer in her own right. I had not read Troy. I had no interest in the story. I was always more of a fan of David's other series, the Drenai.

I didn't know what to expect from the City. The description makes it sound intriguing, however.  An immortal lord, the emperor, has ruled the city forever. The City is engaged in wars against all comers, and the lands around have suffered from it. Where forests used to be, now it is barren. Where grass grew, now rock.

So several factions seek to bring down this immortal emperor. In some ways, it reminds me of a cross between a fantasy version of Warhammer 40K and the Elric series as we have these rare beings who mingled with humans and their descendants have vast psychic powers that can destroy any opposition in the blink of an eye.

Stella brings out the rare natural events. "There had never been a storm like it, in all the City's ten-thousand-year history. It swept in from the north-east one bright sunny morning, and by the evening, when the deluge mercifully stopped, thousands had been drowned by the waters, and tens of thousands were homeless."

These powerful events propel the action forward in ways that might not have otherwise occurred. It may sound forced to some, but history is littered with such events including a molasses deluge in 1919.

Stella also brings out little details that make the city come alive.  "The white cats of Lindo did not like to get their paws wet and had migrated to the upper levels - the roofs and upper stories, the bridges and buttresses which supported the crumbling buildings. They abandoned the damp streets and waterlogged cellars to the black rats, only coming down at night to feet.

"Many of the cats were still pure white. Over the centuries they had often mated with lower feline orders but their bloodline was strong, and when a deviation occurred - brown paws or a ginger mask - it would disappear again in later generations. They mated often amongst themselves, and raised their kits in the nooks and crevices of the crumbling chimney stacks and rotting leaves of the north side of Blue Duck Alley."

In between the ancient city and the vast events happening, we are introduced to numerous characters including Shuskara, a former general, as well as those Shuskara comes to care for and raise as his own, such as Emly. We see those who struggle against the emperor, as well as those who fight for him. It's a vast tale and takes over 500 pages in hardcover to tell.

The City doesn't dabble in high fantasy. There are no battles where wizards riding dragons come in to save the day. There are tough tattooed soldiers fighting on the front lines. There are odds and ends of a chaotic battlefield. There are a few strange beasts in the land, such as the gulon, a feline creature.

It's not the same as David's work. We don't see the same type of indestructible soldiers we do in say, Legend, but we do have heroism and heroics aplenty.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Discoverers by Paul King

The Discoverers by Paul King is another of those books I snagged from Half Priced Books off of the dollar rack.

The novel starts with the fall of Constantinople, a famous event in 1453, that created crisis and opportunities. While some trading families lost their fortunes due to former trading shores being cut off, others took this opportunity to expand their own ventures.

In the era when religions waged war against another when crusades took men from their homes to across the seas, we see that not all who fight on one side or another are righteous. One of the main characters, Giovanni Ruggi, loses his love while defending Constantinople not to the invading Moors, but to Christians who betray the cause to loot and plunder.

The mix of nationalities and the strains of having so many different people ply the same trading routes comes through not only in how the characters interact with one another, but how they grow as characters. Judging individuals based on their own actions as opposed to where they come from.

The act of piracy itself is no stranger to some who take to the role with a 'gentleman' style, leaving those who ask for mercy alive, and by those who are merciless and kill all, leaving no survivors, claiming that their newfound wealth is from their skills as a merchant.

Paul King's writing is solid if a bit wandering. He takes a long time to bring his cast of characters together, and the wrap-up happens quickly when it occurs.

His style brings to life the ships of the era. The attacks of pirates, the uncertainty of nature itself. Will the winds blow today? Is the ship using oars? Can patience be rewarded?

If you're interested in seeing one take on how one writer handles sailing, exploration, merchants, and other bits from the era of exploration, the Discoverers has some enjoyable bits to it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Asian Spell Compendium

Asian Spell Compendium
Published by Legendary Games
For Pathfinder
36 Full-Color Pages

Over on Twitter, a discussion moved to products enjoyed for gaming, and one of my interactors mentioned Legendary Games did some solid Pathfinder compatible work.

Looking them over, I decided to pick up the Asian Spell Compendium from Amazon. With my Prime shipping, it arrived in no time.

So initial observations. It says it's 36 pages, but that's the PDF bit talking. It stops being numbered at 32 pages and includes a few white pages. Probably there for printing purposes as it's easier to print X number of pages than Y.

Next observation, is that it's a little "talky." The back cover gives a solid breakdown of what's in the book. I don't need another internal page dedicated to repeating the almost exact same information.

I also don't need the cover reproduced on the first page.

A full page for the credits.

Another page for the OGL.

A page talking about the idea of Adventure Path Plug-Ins. It's an interesting bit, take an adventure path and provide opportunities to expand upon it. I especially don't need to hear about the electronic bonus features that are obviously missing from the paper edition.

But it doesn't actually mention what Path this is for. Is it for the Jade Regent out some time ago or something else? Is it just an all-purpose book? If so, why waste a page on something that doesn't matter?

The breakdown by spell levels, spells by class, and spells by school, is necessary and useful.

The two pages of ads in the back? Perhaps not quite as useful or necessary.

So in a $14.99 '36' page book, you get from page 6 to page 30 of actual spells.

The aesthetics of the book?

Top notch.With the advances in graphics and design in terms of programs and access to talent with the web, not every company takes advantage of that. Legendary Games does. If you saw it on a shelf, while the pages aren't glossy, but are instead matte, the layout and design would stand right up there with Paizo and others.

Interior artists include William Hendershot, Michael Jaecks, James Krause, Matthew Manghi, Daniel  Robinett, and Steve Wood.  While you can go pages without seeing art, the art that is here is top notch. It's often very thematically appropriate to the book providing jade objects or characters that would have an 'Asian' theme to them in appearance.

The game mechanics? Like anything, including 'official' books, you've got some hits and misses. For example, Spirit Ward "This spell functions like protection from evil, but it wards against any of the following types of creatures. The protection of a spirit ward extends 5 feet in all directions from the target creature's space and moves with the target."

That's it. That's the spell. "wards against any of the following types of creatures... I know I'm dense sometimes but WHAT types of creatures exactly?

Many of the spells seem a bit underpowered in some instances, but the author attaches secondary effects which may either kick it up to the too powerful level or make it more paperwork than some appreciate.

For example, Lizard Scales. At first, you're like, "Oh man, a nifty first level spell that gives you a bonus to natural armor class. Up to +5 natural armor class at 12th level. Then the "Also" kicks in as the armor gives you spiny scales that inflict 1d3 points of slashing and piercing damage to anyone that grapples you... Not bad as it specifically calls out grapple as opposed to touch.

Another example would be Hail of Needles. Another first level spell, this one deals 1d4 per level, up to 5d4 to as many targets as you have dice, which cause bleed damage. This is one point per die for a number of rounds equal to your caster level. So a 5th level caster is going to cause up to 5 points of bleed damage to one target for 5 rounds so up to 25 points of damage, not counting the initial 5d4, with a 1st level spell?

Don't let what I'm saying throw you off, though. I get that everyone's game runs differently and that even the core spells have their winners and losers. With over one hundred spells, you may even find a favorite in there.

With top notch art and layout, I can see why Legendary Games has fans. I'll pick up a few more products before I make any final decisions about them, but the professional stylings definitely have my attention.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout

The Battle For Your Mind
By Al Ries and Jack Trout
Published by McGraw Hill
$20 ($10.08 at Amazon)

Normally I don't talk about the 'business' books I read. Mainly they don't often offer enough material that I'd be able to relate to gaming. Now that's often my weakness as opposed to the book, but Positioning is one where as I was reading it, I could see how it actually sometimes worked in how games are presented.

For example, Dungeons and Dragons is one of the oldest role playing games around. It's taken the title of "grandfather" of games and it's used that as a means of staying if not number one, easily number two in a field that is very crowded.

One of the rules of positioning? Get their first. Or at least make it seem like you're first. Get their first and stay viable? When ads sing "Coke is the Real Thing", well, that's a positioning bit talking about the age of it.

Another one that's good? Anyone remember the old Rolemaster Ads that had specific instances of criticals compared to "You hit and do 6 points of damage?" This would be the "against" position. In this case, the specifics of Rolemaster are being put directly against the genericness of Dungeons and Dragons. In relating itself specifically to the rules of another system, it 'positions' itself for those who want those specific rules and aren't getting them in Dungeons and Dragons.

Mind you, this whole trick was used against Rolemaster at a later time when Rolemaster jokingly became known as 'Chart Master'. What's good for the goose...

I don't know if the book's themes always pan out in role playing fields though. For example, it talks about the dangers of line expansion. About how if you're not first and not filling a specific niche, then if you take your brand and make it cover too much, you're brand doesn't stand for much of anything. On one hand, Dungeons and Dragons does this well.

Most of the other games that covered different genres had different names, even when they used the same rules. For DnD specifically, you have Greyhawk, Spelljammer, etc... When they didn't cover the same rules, you have Alternity, Star Frontiers , Gamma World, etc... But those often didn't do that well.

Part of that may have been the positoning in and of itself. For example, while Alternity did have a setting, there were parts that it branched outside of it. Weakening the brand?

On the other hand, what about generic game engines like GURPS and Hero? Did Star Hero weaken the brand while Champions, with it's unique and distinct history behind it, stay the pack leader? Or is it super heroes are more popular than generic science fiction?

Positioning is a fascinating look at how marketing can work and if you're and older gamer like me, a great way to look at how different advertisements work and don't work in the gaming field.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Bridge of Birds
A Novel of an Ancient China that Never Was
Barry Hughart
Book 1 of the Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox
Historical Fantasy

I pick up a lot of books with the intention to somedy read them. Bridge of Birds was one of those. With my enjoyment of martial art movies and samurai movies, I'm always on the lookout for fantastic fiction in that vein of genre.

Bridge of Birds is a novel of an Ancient China that never was, and while it has some supernatural elements to it, it is more of a detective story than anything.

The young and naive Number Ten Ox, the tenth son in his family, is strong as an Ox, but is not a great fighter nor a great swordsman.

Master Li on the other hand, is an enfeebled and ancient scholar who plays the role of detective and is also not a great fighter nor a great swordsman.

Despite that, these two get in a considerable amount of trouble.

In terms of writing style, Barry Hughart brings us the tale through the eyes of Number Ten Ox in first person view. It's a great method as Number Ten Ox has a great sense of observation and it makes the novel a fast read. It's also an entertaining novel that moves from one chapter to the next. Of the three books I've read this year, I've enjoyed this one the most.

The author uses repeition to bring home ideas and characters. If at the end of the novel you're not laughing at master Li Kao, a scholar wit ha slight flaw in his character, you're probably not going to enjoy the book as Hughart ties things together nicely with throw backs to earlier points.

The Ancient China that never was is filled with fantastical characters and monsters. There are mazes that flood, abandond cities surrounded by magma, guarded by an invisible mosnter of gigantic size known as the Unseen Hand. There are characters seeking redemption and unredeemable villains.

And in all this, the young and somewhat simple Number Ten Ox. A man on a mission to save the accidentally poisoned children of his small village. A man on the hunt for the Great Root of Power! The original Ginsing itself!

This also makes me smile as recently I had opportunity to go to a Korean resteraunt that specialized in all manner of foods that were prepared with Ginsing. Little bits of lore about the history of the plant as well as mythology of it were scattered throughout the novel.

In terms of it's telling, the book touches on a lot of genres and types. We have ancient myths that are sprinked with fairy tales. We have historical sounding bits added to ghost stories. We have pscyhological bits like racial memory added to deliberate attempts to destroy records of the past to ensure secrets are safekept.

I don't know how he does it, but Barry Hughart takes all these elements and blends them together into a story that's fun, fast paced, and makes you wonder not only how will this duo gete out of their current situation, but how will they get into the next one!

If you're interested in how the series sounds, I'd recommend the digital omnibus on the Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox. At $9.99 it's a little over $3 per e-book.