Thursday, October 17, 2019

Book Review: Shadowtide

ShadowtideJoseph D. Carriker. Jr.'s second novel, is set in Green Ronin's Blue Rose RPG setting. It tells the story of three members of the Sovereign's Finest who team up to discover what happened to two colleagues who disappeared in the Shadow-tainted Veran Marsh.

The Blue Rose setting debuted in 2005 using the True20 System (a d20 System derivative originally crafted for this setting), and was relaunched in 2017 using the Adventure Game Engine (AGE) rules set. Both versions belong solidly to the romantic fantasy genre, inspired by the character-driven fiction of Mercedes Lackey, Diane Duane, Tamora Pierce, and others. Blue Rose caused quite a stir upon its initial release due to its deliberate inclusion of gay, bisexual, transgender, and asexual characters, as well as its normalization of polyamorous and polygamous relationships. The new edition of the game goes even further to be welcoming and all-inclusive, with intelligent, sensitive discussion of characters with disabilities being one new addition to the spectrum of possibilities.

Much as he did in his first novel, Sacred Band (which I reviewed here recently), Carriker puts a great deal of thought into his characters and how they fit into the setting. His trio of protagonists are very representative of the kinds of heroes found in this setting, while being very distinctly their own unique selves. All three belong to the Sovereign's Finest, an organization of diverse special agents serving the enlightened nation of Aldis--the symbol of which, the Blue Rose, gives the setting its name. (In most Blue Rose campaigns, the PCs will belong to the Finest, or aspire to join them.)

  • Master Soot is a rhy-crow, one of the many varieties of rhydan, animals who have manifested sentience and psychic powers. All can use mindspeech (telepathy with other intelligent creatures), but Soot has also mastered healing magic and communication with normal animals. He recently returned to field work after some years in semi-retirement training other adepts.
  • Ydah is one of the night folk, a race originally created as servants to powerful sorcerer kings in ages past, but since freed to find their own place in the world. Ydah is a tough-as-nails warrior and a skilled ranger, but at the time of the novel's beginning, she is still grieving the loss of her bond-mate, a rhy-wolf who died protecting her.
  • Morjin Brightstar is the one human on the team. He is a Roamer (similar to our world's Romani) exiled from his family's caravan, who can tap into seer-like abilities when consulting the Royal Road (this setting's name for the Tarot deck). Most of the time, however, he relies on his good looks and quick wits to gather intelligence as a spy for the Crown--and when those fail, his skill with knives helps him to survive another day. 
Soot uses his contacts in the Finest to recruit Ydah and Morjin, who are already in the Veran Marsh and have some familiarity with the region, to help him trace their missing colleagues. Their investigation takes them to Serpent's Haven, a gang-ruled refuge for people who wish to avoid the rule of both Aldis and Jarzon (who border opposites sides of the marsh). Like many newly-formed adventuring parties, these three face some struggles in working together smoothly, but soon prove to be a very effective team. (And, quite naturally for both the genre and the RPG, that team is iconically composed of one adept, one warrior, and one expert--as well as one human, one near-human, and one rhydan.) 

The Veran Marsh was created by devastating Shadow magic ages ago, and is still something of a magnet for corruption. From the start, Soot suspects a Shadow cult to be responsible for whatever happened to his protege, but none of our heroes is truly prepared for just how dangerous and insidious the enemy proves to be...

Shadowtide is a very satisfying introduction to the world of Blue Rose, as well as a being a rousing adventure tale in its own right. I anticipate that it will leave many readers eager to try out the game for themselves--as well as hungry for more of Joe's excellent fiction. A sequel, the novella Pit of Vipers, was recently released in e-book format by Nisaba Press. There are also two free PDF tie-ins available:
  • A Guide to Shadowtide, in which Carriker provides more background information on Serpent's Haven for Blue Rose games, as well as stat blocks and histories for the novel's three heroes. 
  • Shadowtide: Recipes from Aldea, by Jess Hartley, which presents recipes for some of the novel's cuisine.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

TBT: Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa

A couple of decades ago, a friend of mine created a book review site, "Raven's Reviews," to which I contributed a number of pages. The format was a couple short paragraphs about the author, followed by a paragraph or two for each book that was reviewed. Avoiding spoilers was an important part of the site's philosophy, so only the first few chapters of any individual work would be described in any detail. Similarly, a series review would focus on the first book, and do little more than name the titles of later books in the series.

Last month I finished reading one of the books I reviewed for Raven's site. Sadly, her site was retired several years ago, but I still have copies of the text of my reviews, so here is my page for Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa.


Eiji Yoshikawa

Eiji Yoshikawa (1892-1962) was one of Japan’s most prolific and popular writers. His long novel Musashi was first published in serial form in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun (1935-1939). This work has become an important part of Japanese culture; it has been reprinted numerous times, adapted for stage, television and cinema, and translated into several other languages. It has been published in the US in a huge single-volume hardcover (Musashi: An Epic of the Samurai Era) and as a five-volume paperback series. I can’t vouch for the quality of Charles S. Terry’s translation, though I can tell that it is not an exact literal translation.

Yoshikawa’s novel is a work of fiction, but attempts to accurately depict important historical figures of the time, including the title character. Fans of both martial arts stories and Asian historical pieces should enjoy this work. Yoshikawa provides well-developed characters with the context needed for a modern reader. And for you anime-fiends who crave an element of frustrated romance in your samurai stories, there’s some of that, too (though you’ll probably be disappointed at the scarcity of strong female characters).


Musashi is set in the early 17th century, just after Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan, ending generations of constant warfare. With the land at peace (however uneasy at times), the samurai were forced to adapt to a new age which needed something more than mere warriors. Miyamoto Musashi (1584?-1645) was a product of this time, a man of samurai descent who strove to perfect his swordsmanship as a path to achieving his full human potential. He spent most of his life as a wanderer, perfecting the Art of the Sword by studying works on strategy, by challenging other swordsmen, and by more esoteric forms of enlightenment.

The Way of the Samurai (Book I of the Pocket Books paperback version) begins with the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara. Two youths from Miyamoto, Shimmen Takezo and Matahachi Hon’iden, had joined the army to earn names for themselves. However, they were nearly killed when their side lost, and are forced to go into hiding from Tokugawa’s soldiers. Matahachi falls afoul of a seductress and fails to return to his family--and to his fiancee, Otsu. Takezo tries to return to Miyamoto to let the Hon’idens know that Matahachi is still alive, but he gets blamed for his friend’s disappearance. His punishments at the hands of a Zen monk, Takuan Soho, begin his enlightenment, and kindle his desire to live and become a real human being, rather than dying as a brutal, ignorant beast. Reborn, he changes his name to Miyamoto Musashi, and sets out on his life-quest of becoming a master swordsman.

The paperback edition continues with The Art of War, The Way of the Sword, The Bushido Code, and The Way of Life and Death. These later sections continue Musashi’s early career, including his long feud with the Yoshioka School and his growing rivalry with another swordsman, Sasaki Kojiro. The fates of Matahachi and Otsu also play important parts in the novel. The story should be read in order from the beginning; the paperbacks provide short summaries of previous volumes, but the volume breaks are rather arbitrary and a reader will need the context of the previous sections to avoid being confused. Musashi has the episodic format typical of much Japanese storytelling, but it was written to be a single, long novel, not a series of stand-alone stories.

The novel ends while Musashi is still relatively young (28 or 29), but even by that age, he had earned a enduring place in Japanese legend. This swordsman continued to perfect his art, and near the end of his life, he composed The Book of Five Rings, a treatise on strategy. This work, which remains popular today with Japanese and gaijin alike, has a style and purpose similar to that of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, one of the works that Musashi revered.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tim's LEGO Reviews

I posted my twelfth LEGO Minifigures review today, so I decided it was time to give that series its own index page. Future reviews will just link here for access to past installments.

I have also listed the handful of reviews I've posted on other LEGO sets or themes, starting with the original "Studded Plate" columns that predated this blog, plus my one review of an off-brand product.

Tim's LEGO Reviews (this page)

Collectible Minifigures Reviews 

LEGO Minifigures Series 14: Monsters!
Series 15 Minifigures
Disney Minifigures
LEGO Minifigures Series 16
The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Ninjago Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Batman Movie Series 2
LEGO Minifigures Series 18: Party
LEGO Minifigures: Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts
The LEGO Movie 2 Minifigures
Disney Series 2 Minifigures
LEGO Minifigures Series 19

My Other LEGO Reviews

Studded Plate #1: LEGO Minifigures as RPG Miniatures (Lord of the Rings)
Studded Plate #2: Return of the Ring (The Hobbit and more Lord of the Rings)
Studded Plate #3: It's an Even Smaller World; Microfigures (LEGO Games: Heroica)
Thoughts about LEGO Friends (general assessment of the theme, not individual sets)

Non-LEGO Construction Toy Reviews

Action Figure Therapy's Godzilla Clones

LEGO Minifigures Series 19

Series 19 of the Minifigures theme was released September 1. This past weekend, I had a family trip that took us to a city with a LEGO Store, so we made time to stop there so that I could acquire as many of these figures as I wanted. This time around, I bought 12 out of 16 characters, with multiples of a few of them. The four I did not buy (and thus will not review here) are the Fire Fighter, Mountain Biker, Pizza Costume Guy, and Rugby Player. (I have limited use for sports minifigures, and the pizza costume reuses the large wedge piece from the watermelon costume in The LEGO Movie 2 Minifigures series.)

Bear Costume Guy: This figure's costume is a mix of white, turquoise, marigold, and coral pink, with a rainbow on its chest in the same colors. (Once again, my photo does not properly convey the intensity of the pink.) The accessories consist of a coral pink heart tile (most packs include an extra) and a rainbow tile with a couple more stripes than one on the body. Under the bear mask, the character's head is two-sided, with two rather adorable, cutesy expressions. The garish, patchwork palette will severely limit this figure's use as an RPG mini, but I foresee this character being popular among the LBGT+ community for its hearts and rainbows, as well as among teddy bear collectors of all kinds.

Dog Sitter: This woman wears overall shorts molded in two colors for the legs (as are the short sleeves on the arms), with printing on the front and sides of the legs and front and back of the torso. Her ball cap and ponytail are another two-color molded piece. She comes with two dogs, a dachshund (a new piece, with a stud on its back) and a French bulldog, and a shovel for scooping poop (also included).

Fox Costume Girl: This costume consists of an orange body with black feet (another two-color mold) and hands. The figure has white printing on the chest, tip of the tail, and neck part of the mask, and black-printed ears. The woman's head is two-sided, with a crooked smile on one side, and licking her lips on the other. She comes with a chicken and a sack. This figure would make a lovely kitsune or werefox, especially if the head is replaced by a blank white one to just leave the fox face. (I bought multiples for exactly this reason; everyone in my family has a kitsune character in their Pathfinder Society stable.)

Fright Knight: This knight has a typical breastplate and grille-fronted helm, but the legs and breastplate are printed with spiky, fluted flourishes with bits of rust around the edges. The torso is printed front and back with a very nice chain shirt, though this is completely covered when the breastplate is worn. The knight's shield is slightly longer than a classic shield, and bears the Fright Knights' bat emblem, with rusty patches around the edges. The head is a light seaform color, with large eyes and a fanged grin. (The face appears to have eyelashes at first glance, which usually means a female character, but they could also be seen as demonic eyebrows. I find this gender ambiguity, especially with the helmet on, to be a nice touch.) Finally, the knight has two transparent blue accessories, a helmet plume and a longsword; mine came with an extra of each. The sword makes an excellent ghost touch blade or other magic weapon.

Galactic Bounty Hunter: This character wears a black armored spacesuit, with shoulder plates and a helmet, with silver printing on the body and helmet. His chest armor bears the triple yellow triangle logo of Blacktron, one of the first enemy factions introduced in early Space sets. He wields a standard two-barreled pistol, and carries a red transparent datapad with a "wanted" poster. Under the helmet, his face is a weird pale blue, but it's unclear whether he is supposed to be an alien or have some kind of inner face shield. This mini won't be very useful in most fantasy games, but is perfect for a space opera game like Star Wars or Starfinder. (My daughter craved the armor for her Starfinder Society soldier.)

Gardener: This woman wears a purple floral print blouse (with two-color molded arms) that clashes loudly with her blue leopard-print pants. She also has lime-green hands (gloves), a lavender beehive hairdo, and shiny eye and lip makeup. She comes with a plant (a green stem with leaves) and a pink flamingo lawn ornament. The latter is a single piece, with a plastic leg pole and a hard rubber body. It would make a great accessory for the Disney Minifigures Alice to hold while playing croquet.

Jungle Explorer: This minifigure is based on the Johnny Thunder character from the old Adventurers theme, but with more intricate printing, a more recent style of wide-brimmed hat, and a fancier backpack molded in two colors. He holds a magnifying glass, through which he is studying a chameleon. This lizard is a new model, distinct from the chameleons from the Elves theme and Disney's Tangled sets, and somewhat more realistic-looking than either of those. It's a perfect mini for a lizard familiar.

Monkey King: The Monkey King is easily the most spectacular character in this series--as befits a supremely vain trickster spirit. His torso is printed with an elaborate red and gold jacket, and the arms are two-color molded to give him red sleeves with gold cuffs. He also wears wide red shoulder pads over a red cloth cape that forms two long, narrow tails. He has a monkey's tail and a headpiece that emphasizes his large ears and monkey-face hairline; a red plume fits into a hole in the wig. His head is two-sided, with one face sporting a toothy grin and the other looking more serious or determined. His weapon is a long, gold-capped staff. (My pack included an extra pole and lightsaber hilt, allowing for an even longer pole to be built.) This minifigure will be invaluable to anyone running an Asian-based fantasy campaign, as well as for anyone wishing to play a flamboyant vanara rogue, fighter, or monk. (I haven't bought multiples of the Monkey King--yet. He seems more fun as a single unique character rather than as a whole team of troublemakers. And if he needs minions, I already own a few Chima Gorilla Tribe minifigures.)

Mummy Queen: This mummy is wrapped in bandages, with a kilt, pectoral, and armbands. She wears a turquoise blue headdress with a printed jeweled band. Her head is two-sided: one side is a serene gold mask, the other an angry undead face. She comes with a standard scorpion in pearl-gold. This is quite a nice figure, with very detailed and extensive printing (including the arms and sides of the legs). Her torso is printed with the slight inward curves common to female minifigures' waists, and the gold mask has eyelashes and thin colored lips, but overall her gendering is more subtle than I would have expected from her title (and a far cry from the "girly pink" Lady Robot from Series 11!).

Programmer: This woman wears a black shirt covered with 1's and 0's ("LEGO" rendered in binary), gray pants, and a red flannel tied around her waist. The legs are molded in two colors, with printing that gives the illusion of the join being on a slant rather than a right angle; her short sleeves are also a two-color mold job. The programmer's head is double-sided, with one face smiling slightly and the other grinning openly; both wear large round glasses. Her hair is an interesting new piece, with many small braids tied up into a large, knobbly bun. (This hair would make a lovely, out-of-the-face style for a practical-minded adventurer.) She has two accessories: a laptop (now in white) and a small brick-built robot pet. The robot is built around an upside-down pistol-grip gun or tool, which promises to be a very versatile prop for SF games.

Shower Guy: This minifigure wears nothing but a shower cap and a cloth towel around his waist. Beneath the towel, the front of his hips and legs are printed with strategically placed bubbles--and the towel actually overlaps about 1 mm, avoiding the immodest gap that many past skirts and kilts suffered. The head is two-sided, with an huge grin on one side and a blushing, embarrassed face on the other. His accessories are a bath brush and a green rubber ducky. The duck is perfect for representing a tiny bird, and the man's bare chest will be useful for other characters found on the beach, in the tropics, or other comfortably warm places. If reversed to hide the duck print, the towel makes an excellent plain kilt or skirt.

Video Game Champ: This minifigure is a trove of callbacks to earlier LEGO themes and models. His jacket is covered in logos for LEGO Space, M-Tron, and Blacktron. (Perhaps the Galactic Bounty Hunter above is his in-game avatar?) His "Space Game" box depicts the Cyborg from Series 16, and the 1x1 "P|B" brick logo in the top corner reminds me of the LEGO Ideas Doctor Who logo. The gamer's green hair with black headset will be useful in SF games, while his double-sided head (with its tiny chin-beard and happy/annoyed faces) should be useful for characters in many genres.

Past Collectible Minifigures Reviews 

LEGO Minifigures Series 14: Monsters!
Series 15 Minifigures
Disney Minifigures
LEGO Minifigures Series 16
The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Ninjago Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Batman Movie Series 2
LEGO Minifigures Series 18: Party
LEGO Minifigures: Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts
The LEGO Movie 2 Minifigures
Disney Series 2 Minifigures

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 11: Artificer 4.0 plus Even More Subclasses

Welcome back to my ongoing series of capsule reviews of "Unearthed Arcana" with an eye for how to use them with the Freeport setting. This time, we'll take a look at articles released in May through September 2019.

Note that the publishing schedule for UA is far more irregular these days, with only one new article in 2019 before those below. That means that, going forward, these reviews will be fewer and far between, even if I only cover a couple at a time, as I did in Part 10. (The very recent introduction of some new subclasses only a month apart looks promising for a brief uptick in releases, however.)

For my past columns about using D&D Fifth Edition sourcebooks with Freeport: The City of Adventure, see the Freeport 5E Index.

Artificer [The Artificer Returns] (5/14/2019): This article is an expanded version of the new iteration of the class released in February, making it the fourth version of the class to appear in UA. Two new subclasses and a handful of new infusions have been added, and the spell list now includes spells from Xanathar's Guide to Everything. The two new subclasses are the Archivist, who specializes in spells involving thought and knowledge and creates an artificial intelligence as a helper, and the Battle Smith, who focuses on protective enchantments and crafts a defensive construct companion.

Barbarian and Monk (8/15/2019): This installment provides two new archetypes, for two very different classes: the barbarian and the monk. The Wild Soul is a barbarian who is saturated with powerful magic, over which they have little control until later levels. It's very much a martial sibling to the Wild Soul Sorcerer. (I'm not sure whether multiclassing between the two would be awesome or obnoxious--or both.)

The Way of the Astral Self provides a way for a monk to manifest their true form using their ki. This astral form is mastered a piece at a time, starting with arms that deal radiant or necrotic damage, then later a mask (visage) that enhances their senses. Later levels enhance both the astral self's offensive and defensive benefits. This subclass seems best suited for an exotic, possibly psionic-flavored, monastic order, perhaps one started by a planar-traveling race such as the githyanki or githzerai.

Sorcerer and Warlock (9/5/2019): This month's article introduces the Aberrant Mind origin for sorcerers, and The Lurker in the Deep, a new patron for warlocks. The Aberrant Mind sorcerer has had an alien experience that warped their mind and body. This subclass gives them limited telepathy, psionic-flavored additional spells known, and (at higher levels) resistance to psychic damage. The physical changes provide some armor at early levels, and the ability to gain new movement modes or senses later on by expending sorcery points.

The Lurker in the Deep is an evolution of the kraken patron warlock that was designed during the debut episode of The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour many moons ago. The concept has been expanded to apply to other powerful ocean or elemental entities. In addition to an expanding spell list with water and weather-themed spells, this patron grants the ability to create spectral tentacles to attack your enemies. At higher levels, these appendages can help defend the warlock, and she can conjure more deadly manifestations of her patron's power. The warlock eventually gains some class features that make it easier to move through and survive in her master's watery domain.

Finally, this installment offers a new offensive cantrip, mind sliver, for psionic-themed sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. Unsurprisingly, the entire article begs to be used in a Freeport campaign, where encounters with weird alien powers are distressingly common. The Lurker in the Deep is perfectly suited to Yarash and Dagon's cults, while an Aberrant Mind might have acquired her powers through an encounter with the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign or other eldritch horrors.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

My GM Pet Peeves, and How to Not be THAT Player

Earlier this week, the inestimable Owen K.C Stephens asked his Facebook followers, "What is ONE thing someone else in a game group you play with regularly, be they a GM or player, does that makes things less fun for you, but that for some reason you can't or won't mention to them?"

I immediately thought of several things that bother me during play, both as a player and a GM, but I tend to avoid confronting the other player about them. Doing so can potentially lead to a bigger disruption of the game than the bad behavior. However, not doing anything to curb those annoying habits might mean that your (and the other players') dissatisfaction and resentment continues to fester unchecked, which isn't healthy, either.

I've decided to present a handful of my personal pet peeves here, and--more importantly--try to give some advice for how to avoid being guilty of them yourself. I encounter these issues far more often in organized play than in home games. The latter gives more control over who you play with, so it's usually easier to avoid the players who set you off. But even in a group you've been with for some time, and are very comfortable with, you'll want to stay alert for these behaviors. 

The player who doesn't know what their character's go-to attack and skill modifiers are, or where to find them on the character sheet, even after playing the character for quite some time.

Your GM has many characters to keep track of, while you just have the one (and maybe a companion). Therefore, you, not your GM, should be responsible for being the expert on what your PC can do. At the very least, you need to know what your modifiers are for the activities your character will engage in most often--whether that's your signature attack, your best noncombat skill, or just what your Perception and Initiative modifiers are. 

Naturally, players who are new to the system, or to RPGs in general, should be cut some slack here. But once you've played a character for a while, you should be ready and able to answer the GM's most common questions about their stats. And yes, those numbers will constantly change as you advance in level and acquire better gear, but you still need to be able to find them quickly on your character sheet in order to keep the game moving along at a reasonable pace.

The player who has to be reminded of a basic rule that directly impacts their character's options, every single fight, week after week.

This peeve is very closely related to the last one, but involves more general knowledge and mastery of the rules. If your GM has to keep reminding you week after week that you can only attack once after moving more than 5 ft., or that you can't combine a standard action (like Vital Strike) with a charge, or that trying to shoot someone adjacent to you provokes attacks of opportunity, it will get old fast. Invest just a little more time in learning the rules, and everyone at the table will have more fun.

Ideally, everyone should possess their own copy of the rulebook and have a working knowledge of how to find a rule they need, even if they haven't read the entire text. (I don't hold other people to my own practice of reading RPG rulebooks from cover to much as I might sometimes wish they would.) Review the rules that affect your character most often until you start to internalize them. For example, Pathfinder's action economy of standard, move, swift, immediate, and full-round actions can be one of the more confusing parts of the game, but it's also one of the basic rules elements that everyone needs to learn in order to attain any degree of mastery of that system. 

The player who built their character around a single killer combo, but then can't explain clearly how it works, or how they calculated the bonuses they're claiming. 

It comes with the territory of a crunchy system like Pathfinder that part of the appeal is optimizing a character to do one or two things really, really well. Exploiting the rules to the fullest requires a broad knowledge of all the resources available for the game, which requires a significant investment of time and money to acquire those books, to study them, and to experiment with new combinations. Your awesome new build may be perfectly legal, by both the letter and the spirit of the rules, but if you can't clearly explain it works--or how in the heck you got such a surprisingly large attack or damage bonus--then the GM and other players will quickly lose patience with your shenanigans. 

I've found this to be a chronic problem in organized play, especially among players who rely too heavily on a program like Hero Lab to build their characters. Hero Lab is a wonderful tool--I use it all the time myself--but it's far too tempting to use it as a crutch for actually reading the rules. It doesn't contain the full text of every rule it employs, it doesn't always tell you where all the numbers come from, and it is far from error-free. Organized play campaigns usually have strict rules about owning a sourcebook in order to use its content, and a Hero Lab data package does not count  for that. In addition, not all players have the time, funds, or inclination to acquire a library as large as yours might be, so you will occasionally get a GM who has never read the book(s) your character relies on for their core concept. If you can't adequately and efficiently explain that unfamiliar content to them--or can't account for each part of that surprisingly large bonus you just claimed--your GM will get frustrated with your poor grasp of the rules. They may even suspect you of cheating. Pathfinder Society has an audit process that GMs can invoke if they suspect cheating, but they don't do this lightly because it wastes valuable play time, and ruins the fun for everyone at the table. But if one player is stopping play frequently to fumble over explaining how their bizarro character is supposed to work, that still wastes the other players' time, and their goodwill. 

The best way to avoid annoying GMs in this way is to carefully review the rules for your character until you can quickly and concisely explain how their abilities work. Be prepared to show the GM the original rules text if they request it, and to account for all your math in calculating your bonuses. If your character will be consistently creating effects that help allies or hinder enemies, be able to recite those effects quickly and clearly. Better yet, copy the pertinent details onto index cards that you and the other players can use for easy reference at the table. If you make a good-faith effort to keep your PC's unusual game mechanics from becoming a burden on the GM, they will be much happier about having you at the table! (Or, if those rules are overly burdensome on you, then you may wish to rethink whether you can actually play that character effectively.)

The player who doesn't pay attention to the game except when it's their turn, so the rest of us have to waste a lot of time telling them what's happened since their last turn. 

Almost nothing irritates a GM more than being ignored, yet players constantly engage in pointless table chatter, playing games or surfing social media on their phones, and many other distractions. The worst offenders have to be yanked back to attention when it's their turn, then have the entire past round since their last turn explained to them, and immediately lose interest again as soon as their turn is over. They also never look at the [bleep]ing map to see where their character is in relation to their allies or enemies, which means they waste even more time deciding what to do on their turn.

(I should pause here to confess that I'm as guilty of off-topic chatter as any of my players, but that's a very minor offense compared to the sheer stubborn obliviousness of some people I've played with.)

I've considered banning phone use entirely at my table, but I'm afraid that would ultimately hurt the game more than help. The internet is often the easiest and fastest way to look up a rule, and some players keep all their character sheets and rulebooks on their phones. I also like to take pictures of cool maps and miniatures during games that I play or run, and I appreciate others wanting to do the same. But lingering on social media for longer than it takes to post those game photos, or playing games completely unrelated to the one we've all gathered for, tends to erode my patience very quickly--especially if the player is distracting others with their antics.

I understand that some players focus better if they have something to do with their hands when they're not taking notes or rolling dice. I have many friends who cross-stitch, or knit, or draw during game. I don't have a problem with that, as long as they are paying enough attention to know when they need to pause their project to take their turn, or roll a save, or otherwise react to what's going on in game. But if your crafty thing is too noisy or takes up too much table space, or if it takes effort to get your attention when I need it, then we have a problem.

Ultimately, I see this as an issue of mutual respect and common courtesy. If spending time with these people and playing this game is important to you, then show that through your actions. Pay attention, and practice active listening. Use the other players' turns to think about your next turn, so that you'll need less time to deliberate over your actions then. If the group wanders off topic, help the GM nudge them back on target, rather than providing yet another tangent. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque: Another Hiatus (and the State of the Blog)

I've decided that I need to take a break from running my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign. One of my players recently started a new job that makes him unavailable at our traditional gaming time, and finding an alternate time that is good for everyone is proving elusive. I've also been feeling some GM burnout lately (this game takes a lot more effort to prep than, say, running an occasional Pathfinder Society scenario), and the last couple sessions have suffered for it. We hope to resume the game at some future date, but I can't say how long that will be at this time.

I've also decided to cut back on how often I post to this blog. I managed to keep up a rate of one post every week for over 4 years, but I missed a week or two this summer due to a shortage of free time. And with Tarrasque on hiatus, I won't have those session summaries to post for the duration (though I may occasionally report on other games that my group uses that time for). Instead, I'll be aiming for 1 or 2 posts per month, on whatever topics inspire me enough to write about them.

Needless to say, I won't be doing #RPGaDay this year. I only just now recalled that it happens every August, so I've already missed the first week. I did take a quick look at this year's list, but the format has changed from discreet questions to mere one-word prompts, which I find less inspiring than past years.

One project that I do plan to tackle here soon is a new "Building the Bestiary" installment (or two). (We [mostly] have our house back in order following the construction we did this spring, so we have some of our clean, flat work surfaces back again!) By design, that series sticks pretty close to the D&D Monster Manual and first Pathfinder Bestiary, but Tarrasque and PFS have also kept me busy building monsters from later sourcebooks. So I may need to start a sort of companion series showcasing the more interesting models that fall outside "Building the Bestiary's" current mandate.