Showing posts with label Appendix N. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Appendix N. Show all posts

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Raphael by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Raphael
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 240 pages
Rating: 1 of 5 stars

This review is, unfortunately, by the numbers. 

Who is this author? R. A. MacAvoy is a wonderful science fiction and fantasy author, who by 1984 had 4 books in print. She is careful researcher with excellent storytelling abilities. 

What is their idea? In this final chapter in the Damiano's Lute trilogy, we follow the plight of Raphael as he wars with his brother Lucifer. 

How effectively does that person tell a story? Raphael is yet again a wonderfully well researched historical fantasy novel set in 12th century Europe. This time, Raphael finds himself at Lucifer's mercy in Moorish Granada. Stripped of his angelic form and powers, he is sold in slavery where yet again, the growing cast of characters bring this story to a conclusion. 

What are the book's the strengths? The main strength of MacAvoy's writing is the careful research and blending of fantasy to bring her characters to life. The details of daily life in Granada are rich and engrossing while repellant as the main topic of this novel is slavery. Djoura was a fantastic addition to the story as both a powerful heroine and love interest to Raphael.  

What are the book's the weaknesses?  Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of structure, where the established protagonists from Damiano and Damiano's Lute were secondary characters offered with zero development between the last installment and this one. Gaspare stands out as a very bad evolution from his prior self in other chapters of the story. 

Back in June of '85, White Dwarf Magazine offered the pronouncement that Raphael would be a Disneyfication of the series. While they probably hadn't read this particular book at the time, they weren't wrong. Many of the ideas of the series were heavily subverted by this installment and Raphael would have been much stronger had it been divorced from the rest of the series. 

What was particular terrible was the Epilogue, which closed out the series perfectly. It was five star writing tacked on to the end of a very slapdash work and accounts for much of Raphael's one star rating. If the Epilogue had been tacked on either one of the prior books, on it's strength alone, those titles would have been perfect. Even if MacAvoy simply copy-pasted it in to each preceding piece. 

Sadly, the first 435 pages were not worthy of the last five page. 

What made this ending so strong was the growth of Gaspare and the introduction of his family to the wild mix of history and fantasy. Viewed through a historical lens, many of the defining exploits of Damiano and his friends were mistakenly attributed to historical figures, which was an eye opening insight into the depth of research and planning by MacAvoy. What should be a crowning achievement was twisted into a mere after though. 

One mourning star. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Damiano's Lute by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Damiano's Lute
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 254 pages
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

In the second of three books, R. A. MacAvoy's Damiano's Lute expands in the concepts from the first book and we find our hero being chased northwards and west by Plague and the Devil. As a sequel, it breaks the mold that follow ups are afterthoughts. It is a well crafted as the first book, rich in detail and peril of the 12th century. 

From 1983 to 1984, MacAvoy had 4 books published, an incredible achievement. 

Damiano's Lute shift the story's location west and north and elevates Damiano's love interest from an Italian fantasy woman to a much more mature woman of the North. As the story evolves, many historical details pop out and lock this work of fiction into the real world settings. In this edition, MacAvoy explores not just Damiano Delstrego, but his companions Gaspare and Saara, who expand from sidekick and antagonists to fully formed characters with their own purposes and drives to be twisted by The Devil. Every character presented has a purpose and drive within the story of Damiano's Lute. MacAvoy adds characters at a frantic pace, but never leaves them hanging. Each one is added to serve the story with a graceful economy. 

Damiano's Lute stands strong on it's own, a worthy second part to the story.

Damiano By R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Damiano
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1983
Pages: 243 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Damiano is R. A. MacAvoy's opening book in her well-researched fantasy novel series. The titular hero, begins his adventures in 12th century Italy. The author shows her craft by blending historical research with a coming of age story of the witch, Damiano Delstrego. 

Delstrego defends his beloved hometown of Partestrada with an unlikely crew: a dancing thief, Gaspare, Macchiata the talking dog, Festilligambe, a feral horse and Raphael, music teacher and Chief of Eagles. They stand with honor and distinction against fear, bigotry, war and The Devil himself. 

MacAvoy's detailed research allows magic to stand toe to toe with a her chosen historical era to create an engrossing tale of drama and strife. It is rare that a fantasy novel manages to use touches history to the advantage of storytelling rather than merely remind the reader of where and when the characters are. The Devil, saints and the Pope himself are in those details. 

Damiano is a powerful start to this three book series. 


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Star... er Space Viking Book Review

Title: Space Viking
Author: H. Beam Piper
Year: 1963
Pages: 191
Rating: ★★★

H. Beam Piper's Space Viking inspired many idea in science fiction gaming. There is a reference to it in Traveller, in the form of the Spinward Marches' Sword Worlds.

It is somewhat a post-apocalyptic genre, all action takes place in the Sword Worlds, colonies founded by the losing side in The Big War. In the aftermath, a Federation of planets has collapsed into barbarism and is under siege from the titular Space Vikings.

 Trask, the leader of the so-called Space Vikings starts a campaign of conquest and revenge for the murder of his wife.

Space Viking really doesn't break any new ground, but all of the pieces of a classic science fiction story are there. Space Battles, check. Technology hampered by resources, check. Intrigue and revenge, check.

It's a solid read, but doesn't really soar.

You can get the paperback at Amazon for a couple of bucks. The links below are paid ads and will take you to Amazon.com.



But the Kindle version is free.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

What is Dungeons and Dragons? Book Review

Title: What is Dungeons and Dragons?
Author: John Butterfield, Philip Parker and David Honigmann
Year: 1982
Pages: 231
Rating: ★★★★★

Way back when, my dad took me to The Tek Pharmacy and told me flat out, "I don't have any extra money to get you anything." As he shopped I made my way to the book section and was perusing the Choose Your Own Adventure Books. I didn't want another, I felt like I had "graduated" from those, even though they were always enjoyable.

Back then, things were not like they are today. Being a small pharmacy, the books on the shelves would be by today's standard very old. The books were perhaps as old as 5 year since their publication date being sold as new. This is why I can't nail down the exact year of this visit. But in all likelihood, I probably look like either one of the kids on the right.

After Dad picked up his script or whatever he was buying, he found me looking at a book called: What is Dungeons and Dragons? by John Butterfield, Philip Parker and David Honigmann.

As I put it back on the shelf to leave, my dad said, "Oh, a book. I have money for a book. As long as you read it." I was probably 10 or 11. Now I am almost 48. And I'll tell you, I read the hell out that book. The pages were falling out, the spine was shattered and the cover had gone missing a long time ago. Finally, the book met it's end when the basement flooded. It was a sad day because this book has been out of print probably for decades.

As you will note, this is my second 5 gold star review. My first was Nate Treme's The Moldy Unicorn. If I had it do over again, I would make What is Dungeons and Dragons? the first and The Moldy Unicorn second. My Mom is a publisher, my Dad writes game books and I write, too. I don't go forking out 5 gold stars for shits and giggles. (Normally, I don't cuss either, but it is what it is.) The content has to be not just superior, it has to be memorable.

I've read both over and over again and they both evoke the same feeling of nostalgia. Each was something wildly different than what I had encountered in the past.

Within Butterfield, Parker and Honigmann's book, you get a ground up approach to game play. The first 8 chapters cover a massive amount of ground. Back in 1982, this was the closest one could get to "The Internet". Chapter 1 is an introduction to D&D. Chapters 2-5 walk the reader through character generation, dungeon design, an adventure with examples, and the role of the Dungeon Master in the game. Each of these topics are presented in a solid and memorable framework, with the section on The Adventure standing out. The sample adventure is not a classic in the sense of many great modules, but is a model of what one could realistically expected to produce on one's own. And that is great!

The next several chapters cover more advance details, such as figures, accessories, computers and even AD&D with the same solid reporting of the first 5 chapters.

The final chapter addresses other game systems, in a rather cursory fashion when compared to the information now available to us now. At 231 pages, some of which are maps, diagrams, and indices, there is no way for this book to rival information available on even a couple of web pages, but this is all I had back then.

This book is a treasure. At this point I am going to throw an ad at you. If you love the history of the game, go purchase this book. My link is to Amazon, but seriously, shop around and try to get your hands on one by any means possible.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

H. M. Hoover's The Delikon Review

Title: The Delikon
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1977
Pages: 148 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten year old Atla, 12 year old Jason and 307 year old Varina are children in the palace at the time of the coup. H. M. Hoover likes hooks like that, and this hook is fabulous.

Not all that is described is as it is. Hoover weaves a tale of an alien teacher guarding her charges as the world turns upside-down. Her prose is sanitary, succinct as is the world these characters exist in. As a Young Adult book should be as it is meant for children.

The focus of the story is the many dilemmas faced by Varina as she tries to guide her charges to safety. Varina's people have reshaped Earth's society and reshaped Varina to navigate between these societies. This creates a number of problems as Varina protects her charges in a place between two worlds-gone-wild.

This book holds itself against progress as the technology described is either utterly fantastic or totally pedestrian, with solid plot and story reasoning for both.

The Delikon is a drama, pasted on top of a world that could be utterly violent. The reader, like Alta and Jason are effectively screened from the violence of the world, while still being touched by the urgency and import of such events.

The Delikon is a wonderful read, a quick page turner. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Book Review - Population of Loss

Title: Population of Loss
Author: Michael DiBaggio and  Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Illustrator: Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Year: 2014
Pages: 46
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

I hate big screen or small screen characters render in novel form. It's always horrible, little better than the second Star Wars book, Splinter in the Minds Eye. I want to tell future readers that this is a mashup of comic book characters set in the science fiction worlds of 1880s and 90s.

It is, but it really isn't. The prose reminds me of the classic adventure of The War of the Worlds, which it should because it is implicitly set with in that world. Each of the four short stories captures that time period perfectly, no accidental or intentional anachronistic parts at all. The Signalman does remind me of Iron Man, but he is not remotely a superhero in that vein. In fact, I know that he should be a comic book character because that is what he was designed to be, but somehow, he isn't. Nor are any of the other characters.

Its hard to describe what the Celestial Paladin is, but I can tell you where these characters came from. There are hints of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien fused with H. G. Wells. The story "In Hoc Signo" starts in Well's world of Tripod invaders and ends with a taste of Lewis's Out of a Silent Planet. The writing is more than strong, it is powerful. Reading older works is often difficult due to the changing of styles. But Mr. and Mrs. DiBaggio do not struggle with this. They capture the flavor of these works, but also give it a style all their own. The easy comparison is to the past, but the authors manage to infuse this style with a more modern frantic-ness, in the vein of Dagberto Glib ("Love in L.A.") or Louise Erdrich ("The Red Convertible"). Perhaps it is the vignette style of these 4 short pieces that capture a tiny bit of introspection by the authors, which echos through each piece.

Regarding the illustrations, they are from a very different artist from the Shell "Presto" DiBaggio, who engages with her audience on social media. They have tiny reflection of the work of Kahlil Gibran. What is most interesting about the images of the Signalman and The Cyclone Ranger, is that they show an evolution of style over 2 years. The second is more like Mrs. DiBaggio's current artwork, but still reflecting the style of that old era. Like the writing, the illustrations have a touch of modern, frantic energy, while still embodying the works of arts from the past. Instead of being caught in between eras, they are great enhancements to the stories told. They fit perfectly.

I was only vaguely aware that the book contained artwork, and I would suggest to the reader that they obtain a paper copy as paper will always render the artwork closest to what the artist intended. It is an inherent flaw in all ebook technology.

I will give this book one more read, maybe two before purchasing the next title. It was an excellent primer for the world of Ascension Epoch.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Stealing Monsters

Some of the best monsters are people. And some of the most intriguing people are villains.

Jon Wilson, of Appendix M put the bug in my head to steal a villain with his post on The Rival Party. These characters are decidedly different, with incredibly cool powers and abilities. I love the idea of a rival party as adversaries.

I immediately thought of a character I want to steal for a campaign. He is the Monomach from Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need series.



The Monomach is the villain's right hand man, the most skilled swordsman in the lands. As a villain, he is totally one dimensional. He's given a target and then the target dies. Or at least that is how he should work.

He is actually simple enough to build an AD&D character class with little adaption. First, he is a fightman so he has all of the abilities of a Fighter. Second, he has the disguise abilities of an Assassin. Third, he has some ability to heal himself like a Paladin. Finally, he will gain the damage bonus of a Monk. His prime requisites are Strength, Constitution and Intelligence. To get a +5% bonus to exp, he must have at least a 12 in each of those skills. To get a 10% bonus, he must have a 15 in each.

In framing the villain as a character with a class, he can scale with the Player Characters. He can start relatively weak with the PCs and grow from there.

Let's assign those abilities by level.

On creation - +1 to Strength or Constitution regardless of race.
Level 1 - Disguise as an equal level Assassin.
Level 3 - Laying has as Paladin of equal level.
Level 5 - Damage adjustment as per Monks +1 per 2 levels.

What is the Monomach characters limitations?

They are limited to two magic items plus one magic weapon and one magical piece of armor. They are limited to only equipment they can carry, even at home. They cannot backstab as Assassins do. They do not fight weaponless as Monks do. They do not have the variety of weapons of a fighter, they tend to stick to one main weapon and one back up. They don't often use bows. They can ride horses, but can not care for them. They work alone and are likely to strike a "friendlies" as they get in the way like a berserker. This berserker tendency is not a special skill or ability, it is just a ruthless and bloody methodology. They are relatively poor in day to day skills, unable to cook, care for animals or hunt making them reliant on their master's staff for self-care.

This lack of people and daily living skills prevents them from having followers, retainers or constructing a keep, tower or other base of operation. When assigned to retainers by their master, they tend to follow the retainer until a target presents itself.

What would make this type of character too overpowered? A crystal ball and a ring of teleportation. Yeah, I would totally give my evil Monomach a ring and crystal ball.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Unreview - The Gardens of Ynn

When I found this title, I fell in love with the concept of a procedurally produced adventure. I meant to write a review of The Gardens, but I never could capture the core idea. What struck me most was the author's (Emmy Allen) desire to break out of her writer's block. Wow. That was an amazing idea and the end result is spectacular.

Anyway, I have collected up 3 reviews of The Gardens of Ynn and added a bit of commentary on each review.

The Gauntlet Blog, called the book "evocative" and praises the use of all five senses in the area descriptions. The Gauntlet takes the point of view of White Hack players, which is a step removed from typical D&D. This perspective enhances the review as it leaves the typical D&D archetypes out. While I don't play White Hack,  Fraser Simons' review of The Gardens makes me wonder if I should.

Bryce over at Ten Foot Pole, stress the Gothic Horror aspect while digging right into the mechanics of how to use this setting. Bryce is right that this is a setting book as opposed to an adventure, which something that the reader could over look, something that Emmy Allen took a moment to confirm in Ten Foot Pole's comment section.

d4caltrops calls The Garden "elegant". d4 praises the binary aspect of "go deeper/go back" to control where the adventurers go in The Garden. Even better, he suggests easy ways to use this book as a means of transport for your characters. Talk about taking a great idea and making it better.

I was surprised to see that no one commented on the artwork of this piece, which I totally enjoyed. Its Gothic simplicity is wonderful. I love this style of art.

You can pick up The Gardens at DriveThruRPG for just a couple of bucks. You can also go an add the three blogs above for free. Why not do both?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Appendix N+ Opening Post

In the back of the Dungeon Master's Guide is Appendix N. These are a series of books which Mr. Gygax felt everyone should read. There have been endless debates on which is best, but these discussions miss the point. They are educational books, ones that broaden the scope of one's own internal story.

I have created my own Appendix, N+ if you will. This will be an ever expanding list of books and hopefully fuel to do some book reviews. Somehow, I envisioned hawking books for Amazon or something, but I don't think so. If the book is important enough to warrant it, I will post links to DriveThruRPG and other smaller, niche vendors.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Appendix N+ Michael Reaves' Shattered World

Michael Reaves' Shattered World

Wizards rise to battle the Necromancer and reforge the Shattered World or not. Follow the adventures of Pandrogas, the jerk-ass wizard, his girlfriend (?) Ardatha, Beorn the shapeshifter and the totally awesome, but impractical Cloakfighter as they wrestle the runestone of Darkhaven from the demon. Defective, hostile heroes make for an excellent story.

Also, who doesn't love floating island worlds.

ISBN: 0671559516
Publication Date: 1985

Appendix N+ Louise Cooper's Lord of No Time Series

Louise Cooper
The Initiate
ISBN: 1594260842
Publication Date: 1985

The Outcast
ISBN: 1594264155
Publication Date: 1986

The Master
ISBN: 1594261385
Publication Date: 1987

Louise Cooper's 1977 Lord of No Time was reworked into this trilogy. The story covers the epic battle of law vs. chaos, with Cyllan and Tarod as pawns of the gods.

Not only is the story captivating, I found the cover art to be fascinating.

Available at Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies.

Appendix N+ Terry Brook's Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold Series.

I have decided to reformat the Appendix N+, so the first 3 entries show a post date of July 1, 2019.

The first offering for Appendix N+ is the Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold Series.

Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold!
ISBN: 0-345-31758-0
Publication Date: 1986

Follow Ben Holiday on an adventure to an impossible magic kingdom where none is as they seem. The series includes 6 books spanning two generations of heroes.

The Black Unicorn
ISBN: 0-345-33528-7
Publication Date: 1987

Dirk the prism cat's introduction to the series, as unicorns race through Chicago! Seriously, the best damn non-sequitur ever!

Wizard at Large ISBN: 0-345-36227-6
Publication Date: 1988

If I had magic, I'd want it to be like powers of Questor Thews. Unsure, uncertain but always on the right side.

The Tangle Box ISBN: 0-345-38700-7
Publication Date: 1994

Squick results when The Tangle Box opens.

Witches' Brew ISBN: 0-345-38702-3
Publication Date: 1995

Brookes explores Fey magic with the introduction of Mistaya, Willow and Ben's daughter.

A Princess of Landover
ISBN: 0-345-45852-4
Publication Date: 2009

Mistaya is loaded with charm and magic, but being Ben's daughter means this story isn't going where you think. It's a horrible ending to a great series, but an excellent reason to write one more book.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Book Review - A Brief Study of TSR Book Design

Title: A Brief Study of TSR Book Design
Code: N/A
Author: Kevin Crawford
Rule Set: D&D
Year: 2015
Pages: 26
Number of characters: N/A
Levels: N/A
Rating: ★★★★★

A Brief Study of TSR Book Design is one of those excellent finds for any game master or would be B/X author. In just 26 pages, Mr. Crawford covers the design element of decades of publications for Dungeons and Dragons books. He covers the ins and outs of fonts, margins and styles used in games from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Get your game on!

Mr. Crawford also gives sage advice on direct copying of styles for a variety of reasons such as technological updates, copyright issues and creativity. This is a surprising and useful find for the would be module author and at its price of free is unbeatable. Easily a five star rating.