Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition; so excited!

I started a draft of this post a few days ago and yesterday, when I went to post it, I discovered that I was thoroughly disgusted with that draft.  The previous version started as a quick run down on the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition Starter Set, and quickly devolved into a bitch-fest of epic proportions… and not about Dungeons & Dragons either.  Rather than subject you all to that unbridled whining, I scrapped the entire post to begin anew with a fresh mind on a fresh day: it’s Friday on Saturday, y’all!

I am so ridiculously excited about Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (hereafter, D&D 5E for brevity’s sake), and I should mention right off the major caveat: I have no insider knowledge whatsoever and I don’t want to represent myself or this blog as being anything other than the fervent ranting of a fanboy.  You can get all the insider knowledge and preview peeks by going to ENWorld, where they regularly reveal some great stuff for RPGs; or go to the source: Daily D&D, the Wizards of the Coast (WotC) Dungeons & Dragons news page.  This… this is going to be about me being a dork and loving this game.

I received my D&D 5E Starter Set on July 15th like most everyone else (WotC made some available to select Play Network retailers on July 3rd and some folks got them early… not me.  This ought to prove that I have zero insider kung-fu).  The set is pretty simple: a set of dice, two booklets (one 32 page Rulebook, one 64 page adventure book titled, “The Lost Mine of Phandelver”), five pre-generated characters (a human noble fighter, a human archer fighter, a dwarf cleric, an elf wizard, and a halfling rogue), and an ad sheet that has a blank D&D Encounters character sheet printed on the back.  The box set:

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and the contents of the box:

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Oh, yeah… and the dice:

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I was a little upset when I received the box, not because of the contents… but because I was leaving on a trip the very next day, I still needed to pack, and I just wasn’t going to have time to nerd out with the material… not “upset,” then… “disappointed.”  But I couldn’t wait; I tossed the rulebook aside because I’d already spent the preceding week absorbing the D&D 5E Basic Rules which WotC made available to everyone as a free PDF download on July 3rd… I had the rules, I wanted to see the adventure because it contains within its 64 pages the first glimpse of elements from the forthcoming Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide… due for release September 30th and November 18th, respectively.  That’s a long time to wait.  The Basic Rules PDF will tide me over until next month’s release of the Player’s Handbook, and you don’t really need anything other than what’s included in the Starter Set to get a game of D&D 5E going.  Basic Rules:

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I printed them out so we could hand the binder around the table during game play for ready reference.  The “Starter Set Rulebook” serves exactly the same purpose.  As an aside: the Basic Rules contains character creation rules — a slice of the forthcoming Player’s Handbook — four core classes and four core races: Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, and Wizard; Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling (with two subraces for each of the demihuman races: Hill Dwarf and Mountain Dwarf, High Elf and Wood Elf, and Lightfoot Halfling and Stout Halfling).  If you want to start a game using the Starter Set you can offer your players one of the pregenerated characters, or you can use the Basic Rules to let them build a character.  For totally new players, the pregens are probably the way to go.  I’m running a D&D Next game at a local library and I allowed my new (REALLY new) players to make characters… and that took a ridiculous amount of time… about an hour each for six players.  I should have just had them select a pregen.  Anyway… I digress.

The D&D 5E Starter Set is a complete D&D experience in a box.  The included adventure takes the characters from 1st to 5th level, does a very nice job of introducing the latest version of the game to both new players and new Dungeon Masters, and only sets you back $20.  I took “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” along with me to read during my trip, and I loved the adventure.  “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” won’t go down in history as one of the great adventures of D&D (it’s no “Keep on the Borderlands” or “The Village of Hommlet”), but it provides a nice backdrop for players to begin exploring the fantasy world of “The Forgotten Realms” (or any campaign setting really… the details can easily be modified by the DM for placement in any D&D world or home-brewed campaign world) and it’s got some nice challenges and surprises up its sleeve, both role-playing and tactical… “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” is not an easy adventure by any means.  More experienced players might not dig it the most, but they’ll certainly find it amusing… and challenging.

I’m planning on running the adventure for my library D&D group during our next “season,” and I’m further planning to run the adventure straight out of the box using the pregenerated characters so we can start playing right away.  I think it’ll be a hoot, and an easy way to introduce a new bunch of players to the latest version of the D&D rules.  Since I like using battle mats and minis (well, tokens… I use the 4E tokens for the library game), I went ahead and bought the new Icons of the Realms Starter Set Dungeons & Dragons minis by WizKids:

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There are your five pregenerated characters from the D&D 5E Starter Set… plus a bonus Drizzt Do’Urden figure just for shits and giggles, I guess…  I’m not a huge fan of vinyl minis, but these are nice enough and relatively inexpensive enough that I’ll probably go about and attempt to acquire the whole 51 figure, Icons of the Realms: The Tyranny of Dragons set… I think.  They come in blind box boosters… I hate blind boxes… but the enticement of a Tiamat or Bahamut figure is too much for me to blow off… I’m weak.

I’m happy to report back on the progress of the Starter Set game once we get rolling in September, and I plan on posting some feedback for the D&D 5E rulebooks as I receive and read them.  I participated in the D&D Next playtest, and I’ve been watching this edition grow… I even planted a few seeds myself with my feedback to the surveys WotC sent… so it’s nice to see this all bear fruit.  “One edition to rule them all?”  Nah, I don’t think so… I think folks are going to keep playing the edition they like best; and, honestly, next to the Pathfinder Beginner Box, the D&D 5E Starter Set is a bit weak in every respect except for the price.

I have an abiding affinity for Dungeons & Dragons, regardless of edition.  Sure, the game is nothing without the rules… but it’s even less without the people who play it, and I’ve said it before: it doesn’t matter what version you play, so long as you play.



No post today

I’m off on an adventure with the family this weekend and, as a consequence, I won’t have a new post today. I’ll return next week with my typical cantankerousness, and some words about the D & D 5th edition Starter Set. Cheers!

An Unexpected Twist…

A couple of nights ago I was paid one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received in my life.  Unsolicited and unbidden my friend, Tricia, sent me an email to inform me that a story stub I’d given her to read made an impression on her.  She went on to say that she kept thinking about the story, and that she was sad that there wasn’t, as of yet, more for her to read.

I’ve been writing, on and off, for sometime… since I was in my early teens.  Of course, most of the time, I’d never share my writing with others… for the most part, that’s still the case.  I shared my writing back in my poetry club days and during the comic book writing days… but then I just lapsed… first to not writing at all, and then to writing but not sharing.  A few years ago I started writing an Urban Fantasy novel just to the give the subgenre a try.  I’d read Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison, and I liked their blend of Fantasy, Noir, and wry humor.

That novel became the first I’ve ever completed, and the first I’ve ever shared.  I recruited three test readers: Mike, my brother; and Dolores, my “sister from another mister” — I mean, they were natural choices: they’re my life-bullshit filters.  I also recruited Tricia, a librarian at the library where I work and a good friend.  To me she was a perfect and important choice as representative of an omnivorous reader.  Mike and Dolores are both more particular in their reading tastes and they serve more no-holds-barred roles in my test reading circle.  Dolores, in particular, will roll me all over the mat and gleefully twist my arm if she deems it necessary… figuratively, of course… although she’s pretty strong and ornery.

Tricia is far more gentle, and far more immersed in genre reading.  Tricia is the “control” in the tripartite set of outsider eyes to whom I show my works in progress.  Dolores is the “yoke” and Mike is the “engineer.”  This dynamic worked well for the first novel which, now in retrospect, was really more of an experiment than an actual attempt at a novel… but it’s simultaneously the first and only novel I’ve ever finished… ever.  My NaNoWriMo stories are “finished” in the sense of the parameters of the challenge rules, but they all still need fine tuning, refinement, editing, rewriting.  The core of the story is done in those… for the most part.  They’re “stories in the raw…” that’s probably the best description of those…

The first noveling experiment was a challenge to me… from me to myself.  It was as much a test run as it was a fun story to tell.  My participation in NaNoWriMo is as much a challenge from me to myself… and it’s terrible, painful fun… rather like marathon running or mountain climbing.  Tricia took it to another level though…

I’ve been floundering because of the health bullshit…  Really, it ought not occupy as much of my brain space as it does… and it’s beginning to taper off… but the heap in my brain is volatile and likely to ignite due to the smallest spark.  The worst part: it’s interfering with my creativity.  Worse still: I’m allowing it to interfere with my creativity.  The more I read on the topics of health, nutrition, and diet the more confused I get and the more conflicting information I find.  And I know that no one is right — NO-FUCKING-ONE — I know this shit… but I can’t pry my eyes away from the bloody, flaming train wreck because that’s me in the wreckage… me, and millions of others.

I’m pissed and tired of being lied to… of being taken advantage of by fear tactics, spurious advice, quackery, and falsehoods in the name of profiteering.  I’m angry at myself for allowing myself to be scammed and for not acting sooner…  I knew where I was headed.  I knew my inactivity and shit diet were fucking me up.  Dr. Fucknutz from San Antonio Urology (I can’t, for the life of me, remember that dude’s name…) forewarned me.  He patted my belly and he told me where I was headed, and I listened to him… but, like every other dumb ass, I fell off the wagon because I’m stupid.  I knew I was going in the wrong direction and ignored it for no good reason.  I’m a tightly wound ball of anxiety because of it all… and then here comes Tricia.

Her statement to me wasn’t so much flattering — at least I don’t feel like I should take it as flattery — as much as it was a call and reminder to do something that I enjoy doing… something that makes me happy… something that, to me, is a lot of fun.  My friend wants me to tell her a story.  She likes the stories I tell and she wants me to tell her a story, and that’s more powerful than the “21st Century dread” I’m feeling.  You know, that fear we all feel: that everything is getting to big, too fast, too impersonal, too synthetic, too modified, too manipulated, too Orwellian, too Dickian… That dread is the forge from which my dietary anxieties are poured out and tempered.

Tricia sent me a clear signal; a loud, booming signal.  Tricia shot straight at the core and cut through all the noise buzzing, constantly buzzing, in my brain as of late.  My friend wants me to tell her a story, and I feel I ought to do it because it’s something I truly love to do… something I need to do… for Tricia… for me… for my wife and my kids, and my friends, and my family…  I owe it to all of them, as much as I owe it to myself, to do that thing that I enjoy doing so much… telling stories.

Thank you, all…

Happy Independence Day

I hope everyone is having a pleasant and safe Independence Day (if you’re not in the States, I hope you’re having a pleasant and safe day as well).  I’m spending my holiday weekend reading the D & D 5th edition Basic Rules which were made available yesterday on the D&D website as a free download.  What?!  You didn’t get the rules yet?  Get them here: D & D 5th Edition Basic Rules

I have to wait until July 15th to receive the D & D Starter Set I pre-ordered (someone I know already got his…

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Lucky duckie!)  If you’re not familiar with @graphicgeekis, aka @freddylopez, you should check out his webpage and get familiar, his artwork is amazing… Did I say “amazing?”  I meant, AMAZING!  And, he’s a super-nice dude.  Go here and tell him I sent you: Art of Freddy Lopez Jr.

I have a more robust post in the works, and I may or may not get that out tomorrow… it just depends on whether or not I can tear myself away from my reading.  Anyhoot… Enjoy the holiday weekend, eat some barbecue, drink some beer, blow something up (nothing major, now… let’s all play nice together), and have a good time with good people… but ultimately, give at least some thought to the importance of the freedom and the privilege we enjoy and celebrate today.


Don’t Take Your Guns to Town…

Composed by Johnny Cash, and released on The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1959), this song may well be the best advice that I can think of in light of all of the Open Carry Texas bullshit.  To be absolutely certain, Texas law does permit people to openly carry “long firearms” like rifles and shotguns.  Legally, there’s no problem… except when people take their guns to places where alcoholic beverages are sold, like Target, in which case it’s against the law.

Why am I, a guy who works in a library and who likes to write stories, weighing in on this controversial topic?  Well it started with an article forwarded to my department by one of my coworkers (who always regales us with fascinating and thought-provoking articles)… this one.  Reading this certainly did provoke some thought.  I have daughters… two of them… and perhaps I’m an idiot or just ridiculously naive, but I’ve never felt a need or desire to buy a gun to protect them… not a serious need/desire, anyway.  Jokingly, I’ve told my girls that I intend to meet their first boyfriends at the door wearing a tutu and holding a shotgun… but that’s just to alarm the kids… you know: dad humor.

This isn’t funny, it’s sad.  It smacks of victim hood… this is what happens when there’s too much fear-mongering — people get scared, and they turn to an easily misinterpreted passage in The Constitution to justify their “need” to arm themselves against an enemy that’s not coming… at least not in any way that an AK-47 used to hunt deer (???) will be meaningfully useful… but that’s the post-9/11 world we live in.  This isn’t funny either… in fact this is down right, motherfucking scary!  It’s no wonder organizations like Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are up in arms (no pun intended… seriously, I didn’t even think about that until after I read it back to myself… but I’m leaving it…).  According to the ABC article I linked to: “FBI data shows that firearms are responsible for 69 percent of homicides in the United States,” however, other stats you find roving around the old interwebs will tell you other stories… like the Guns And the Christian site which posts “Facts you can use,” and says, “it is instructive to compare the non-firearms murder rate in the U.S. to the total murder rates in those countries which have strict gun control; e.g., Japan, where the total murder rate of .6 per 100,000 is about one quarter of the non-firearms murder rate in the U.S.  This proves that the absence of firearms does not lead to lower murder rates.”

It’s hard to believe statistics because they can be skewed in any direction to make the issue appear to be in favor of one side or the other.  The media is notorious for headlines like: “Violence up 60% over last year’s stats.”  That sounds like a lot, unless you look at the data which may show that last year there were only four violent  crimes and this year there are ten… that’s up 60%, right (or something like that… I suck at math…).  It’s important to take all statistics with a grain of salt, especially if there’s a politician, activist, extremist, or other shithead waving them around.  Don’t believe them because — holy shit — they lie.  No, seriously… people lie to get their way; I know it’s a difficult concept to grasp.  I’m being partly facetious here, but we all suffer from confirmation bias; that is, we tend to gravitate toward the things which agree with our beliefs and ignore the stuff that contradicts them.

I don’t give a shit if people own guns.  I know many very responsible gun owners, and I know plenty of people who should be legally restricted from owning any sort of implement with which they can do harm to themselves or others.  Personally, I’d never own a firearm — I’m not interested.  I’ve fired a variety of firearms (handguns and long guns), mostly in my youth, and my take on the whole experience is, meh.  I’m not scared.  I’m not a pacifist, although I have a very strong leaning in the direction of peacefulness.  I don’t need a firearm to prove anything to anyone.  I appreciate the fact that I have a legal right to own a firearm, and that the state in which I reside gives me the legal right to carry around a long gun if I so choose, but the Open Carry movement is all twisted up over a “can/should” issue.  Can Texas folks carry their long guns openly?  Yes, legally they can.  Should Texas folks carry their long guns openly?  Well… I’m going to say, probably not… but that’s my opinion.

I hesitate to say, “it shouldn’t be done because seeing weapons carried openly like that upsets people,” because seeing public displays of affection between gay/bisexual/transgendered/trans-sexual/queer people upsets people (doesn’t bother me any… affection is a good thing) and it’s most definitely not in the same fucking ball park.  I think brandishing weapons and being “in your face” about it is irresponsible… doing that with weapons which are loaded is on an order of magnitude even more irresponsible, and in light of the mass shootings in recent history, it’s insensitive… and that makes Open Carry folks dicks.  Wheaton’s Law, folks: Don’t be a dick!

“Leave your guns at home, don’t take your guns to town…”

A Whole New World

No, I’m not going to break into song — crooning while riding a magic carpet over vast lands… but, then again…  I want to talk about world building.  As a fan of fiction the principal element which attracts and keeps my attention is “story.”  I can forgive all sorts of crap if the story is good; even more if the characters are well done, but underlying the whole experience is the world in which the story and the characters exist.  This is a little more than setting, a little deeper.  I’m talking about the foundational tapestry upon which all other elements of the story are woven.

I just started reading James S. A. Corey’s latest novel in The Expanse series, Cibola Burn, and the thing that got me immediately was the familiarity of the world in which the story takes place. Over the years I’ve visited the world of The Expanse a number of times; enough to know the trappings of this science fiction world immediately upon entering it. Corey’s done a fabulous job of dressing The Expanse universe in such a way that I find it immediately recognizable and (in spite of the in-world perils) comforting — that is to say: I know when I step into this universe that I’m going to recognize the laws of the world and the feel of the macro-setting (Can we call it that?  What the hell, this is my blog after all…), beyond the immediate setting like the helm of a space ship, or a colony on an asteroid, or whatever.  The world should be as familiar as my own.

This isn’t limited to fiction, of course, you can find this engrossing element of world building in may other entertainment sources like video games, TV series, feature films, and table top RPGs; to name just a few.  I immediately think of the Final Fantasy worlds and the Fallout world for video games; The Walking Dead for TV and comics (since I really don’t watch much TV and The Wil Wheaton Project doesn’t exist in its own universe… at least I don’t think so…); the Marvel Super Hero movies for feature films; the Forgotten Realms for table top RPGs.  The examples all have one thing in common: excruciating and exacting detail baked into the worlds from which these stories are told.  One of the most common gripes I hear about George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is that he spends too much time describing banquets and other minutiae about Westeros, but without that level of detail the series would be nothing but dicks and death.

One of the things that I absolutely love about Ed Greenwood’s The Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons & Dragons is the amount of careful detail Greenwood has crafted into his creation.  For me, excellent world building really demonstrates a creator’s love for his/her creation.  World building is a massive investment of imagination — there is no other way, I believe, to interact so intimately with the imagination of another.  This is magic in the real world, a conjuration that far outstrips any petty chicanery ever attempted by a magician.  Read any of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series novels and allow yourself to be steeped in a world so richly imagined you will swear you can smell the damned air and count the damn money (Rothfuss has created one of the most complex systems of currency ever!).

The source of this line of thinking comes from a book I borrowed from the library (and which I will soon own) called Wonderbook: The illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction by Jeff VanderMeer (who also wrote a ridiculously creepy book called, Annihilation — read it because it’s all kinds of good).  Wonderbook is a beast of a book.  Ever since my health bullshit got in the way of my writing, I’ve been looking for stuff that will help me reignite the pilot light in the old brain furnace.  The cover of this book alone totally grabbed me:


As did the book trailer:

I would be happier to report that my writing got immediately back on track, but alas it’s going to take a little more to turn my morbid fascination away from the stuff I’ve been shoveling into my brain lately… although the new James S. A. Corey book had just the sort of lure I needed to bring my attention back toward fiction.  This is a very good thing because I’ve been missing some good stuff… I’ve allowed some good books to slip through my fingers… books I’ve been dying to read.  My brain simply isn’t in it right now… but it’s getting better.

When I do write fiction, one of the big traps I have to work to avoid is getting too lost in the world building… I purposefully steer myself away from going too far into minute details because I can easily get completely lost in that aspect of the creative act.  Often this expresses itself in a very “mecha-fish” kind of way.  (What do you mean what am I talking about?  You watched the book trailer, right?  Right?)  That’s something I’m trying to beat which translates into a lot of work… but creative work is good work, and I really want to get back to it… soon… because I dislike intensely this much less desirable path upon which I find myself.  I was too filled with triumph when the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance grilled Dr. Mehmet Oz like a fucking fish over coals about his deceptive dietary recommendations.  It’s good to lambaste snake oil salespersons, and I’ve felt that this dude’s pants where on fire for some time now… but this shouldn’t give me this amount of pleasure.  Unfortunately it’s where my attention happens to be at the moment.

I’m subjecting myself to fiction therapy and I expect to make a full recovery.  Reading inspires me to write, and between Cibola Burn and Wonderbook, I think I have a pretty tasty recipe for inspiration in my hands right now.  All I want and need is to have the switch flipped to “on.”  I’m happy when I write, and I want to be writing a lot.  I guess this is what’s commonly referred to as “writer’s block.”  I think I’ll call it, “An unfortunate collision between reality and imagination.”  It sucks.  Too much reality ruins everything.