Habits Change

I realized that I haven’t read that many novels this year and I was thinking “man, I really don’t read any more,” and I was planning a blog post exploring that.

So I thought about it. And, yes, I haven’t read that many novels. But not reading any longer? I read on average 3 to 4 hours a day at work. I do some reading at home – mostly history stuff or articles on the internet – but mostly at home I am listening. I’m listening to podcasts, to the radio, and to recorded lectures.

What I’m not reading or listening to is fiction. Not sure why that is. I do still read some short fiction or novel excerpts, but I rarely read novels. When I do read them, they tend to last for a while because my reading tends to be 20 minutes on the bus in the morning going to work. On the way home? I’ve been reading all day, so I rarely read on the way home.

I guess the big question is: is this a problem? Considering that I read for enjoyment, no. No it is not a problem. Now, were I to get back into writing regularly and for submission, it might be a problem. The only way to know the clichés and tropes of your genre is to read in your genre. An effective way to improve your genre writing is to read outside your genre. Were I writing to submit, not reading would be a problem.

But I’m not. So it’s not.

It is, however, extremely weird.

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Numbers Without Value

I’ve been looking at numbers of visitors to the site after working through Sword’s Edge Publishing’s numbers. Like SEP, the numbers at SE seems pretty consistent, however there is more noticeable variation. For example, in August the site had 163 unique visitors while in July it had 222. An interesting data point is that August had 10 posts while July had 9. Following this through, June had 147 unique visitors and 11 posts.

Like SEP, the data that I have doesn’t really seem to point to consistent posting leading to higher visitor numbers. Also like SEP, I have no idea what draws people here. On a more personal note, other than my egotistical need to prove I’m interesting, what purpose does SE serve?

The intent has always been for SE and SEP to support money-making ventures – whether through RPGs or fiction. Yes, it is a product as much as it is a personal site. Were it simply a personal site, I doubt I would post as often, maybe doing just reviews and such.

What the numbers tell me is that attendance at SE is very similar to patterns at SEP, but that while SEP gets around 250 visitors, SE gets around 175. I’m pretty sure that vast majority of those 175 are included in SEP’s 250.

Right now this is all just interesting rather than applicable. And I think it is probably interesting pretty much just to me.

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The Lost City of the Numalo: After Action Report

Kevin Sack, Lord Blackstock (or is it Zantar?)

Friday night, the Ottawa crew embarked on further pulp adventures using A Team of Losers. The team includes the archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Hollows; the martial artist and occult seeker Johnny Cargen; the gunslinger Gertrude Blaze, a trick-shot artist with a background in circuses/travelling carnivals; Zantar, Lord of the Jungle; and Lenny Something, non-descript comic-relief and remorseless killer.

Gertrude Blaze was not in attendance for this game.

 A Team of Losers is based on the Untitled Game System. You can find out more here.

You can read more about A Team of Losers here and here.

When last we left our intrepid band of adventurers, they had uncovered a fragment of the Pithos of Pandora and has used the inscription on it to ward off two white witches. Overcoming the forces of the Priests of Thoth and the minions of Thethei, they finally faced and defeated Thethei himself.

Zantar, Lord of the Jungle, recognized inscriptions in the temple complex as similar to those he knew from ruins in Africa. Those ruins were in the territory of the Numalo, a tribe of tool-using great apes/hominids with a basic vocal-somatic language. These are the apes that raised Zantar and of whom he is lord. The group flew to Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa, where Zantar was wanted as a revolutionary – how dare he try to stop the rape of his homeland and the murder of his adopted tribe?

Linking up with Zantar’s old contacts and totally deceiving the local police, the group hired a river boat to take them to Mossaka, from which they would need to hike six days along the Likouala River to reach the territory of the Numalo.

During the trip up, the first mate of the river boat snuck off and met a group of Bambuti (aka Mbuti or Pygmies), and he was overheard telling the Bambuti that the PCs were seeking “broken clay thing.” Spotting the PCs, the Bambuti attacked. The PCs captured the first mate and the Bambuti, and the Bambuti said they had been visited by a representative of their god and told to guard the “broken clay thing.” The first mate says he was hired by a corrupt cop back in Brazzaville to report in on the PCs to the Bambuti.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but upon reaching Mossaka, they found a ghost town. Tracks suggested the Bambuti had attacked the village (really just a depot with a few buildings no more than a dozen residents) but among them was a giant – based on footprints – who walked toe-heel rather than heel-toe, which Dr. Zarkov identified as a behaviour linked to the mythical Sasquatch of North America (but also a behaviour of apes with mid-tarsal break).

Travelling in land, the PCs identified a German Heinkel He 59 float plane flying south along the river, and then four days in, north along the river. Since the group were near German Cameroon and rivers were generally used for navigation, this aroused only moderate suspicion. On the fourth night in, Johnny felt a thrill of something akin to fear – obviously, something Johnny had almost forgotten existed – and saw shadows moving on the ground, but could not discern any actual figures. The feeling dissipated and the group could find no evidence of intruders that night or the morning after. The next night the same occurred during Zantar’s watch.

On the sixth day the group came across a clearing in Numalo territory, newly cleared and surrounded by poles on which were affixed the skulls of twelve Numalo. A raised mound in the centre of the circle proved a burial pit, with bones seemingly boiled clean. Racing to the site of the ruins, the group encountered the bodies of the rest of the Nuamlo tribe, shot or pierced by darts (which was incorrect – the Bambuti use poisoned arrows, not blowgun darts – my bad). The finally body, on the outskirts of the ruins, was Zantar’s adoptive mother, an aged she-ape.

The ruins themselves had been cleared of vegetation and one of the buildings apparently rebuilt with a copper roof and bronze doors. The only tracks were those of sandaled feet. There was no evidence of how the stones to rebuild could have arrived at the ruins. Opening the bronze doors, the PCs found the bodies of a dozen Bambuti and two German Wehrmacht officers, totally stiff and stacked like cordwood.

Moving the bodies, the PCs found script similar to the one in Momun which referenced Pandora. At night, they encountered a spectral form of a cobra-headed man claiming to be Arebati, King of Niankukla and claiming to be the guardian of a fragment of the pithos. He says he has defeated Thethei and his minions (he referenced Negoogunogumbar and Obrigwabibikwa) and has no fear of them while he remains in Niankukla.

In a silent jungle, lacking even the sound of birds or insects, the PCs parley with Arebati, uncertain how to deal with this mysterious figure.

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The Last Synn

If you are hanging out here, I’m going to assume you like speculative fiction. If so, you might want to check out James McCormick’s The Last Synn. You can find it at Amazon, and you can learn more about James here.

From the Amazon blurb:

A mysterious Lupine race, the Krall, descend on Avlan, destroying the historical peace between two kingdoms. Only one force stands in their way, the Synn warriors. Tashir is the last to fall, dying beneath the sword of the Krall prince himself.

Yet death fails to claim the young warrior. He wakes in a far off land, thousands of miles across the sea, an undead filled with a dark magic which grants him inhuman powers. With no recollection of what happened or the fate of his people, his thoughts return to his homeland.

The odyssey back sees him battling demons, vampyres, elementals, sorcerers and ghouls. As he finally confronts the Krall Prince he realises they have all been victims, merely pawns of malign and otherworldly powers. Tashir, the last Synn, must now prepare for his greatest battle of all, one with an ancient god itself.

Check out the reviews at Amazon. The look inside feature allows you to read the opening of the book, so that should give you a good idea if this is up your alley.

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Excessive Vengeance

In the fiction on which I am working – it needs a name, doesn’t it? Let’s call it Pandora Excess for now, both it and the RPG of the same working title will need name changes, but it’s fine for now – I was planning on having it as a quest story, much like the Borderlands games and the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I find, though, that I am a fan of revenge dramas. Not all of them, but one of my favourite hardboiled action novels is the Hunter by Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark. It’s the basis for the fantastic movie Point Blank and the pretty good movie Payback.

The Hunter is about a criminal who gets double-crossed and goes looking for vengeance. The thing is, in this case, the revenge is about justice – in a weird way. This isn’t unlike the plots of movies like Silverado, Yojimbo, or the Limey, all movies which I love. In Silverado and Yojimbo, the events in the movie lead to the revenge-justice. In the Limey, the crime sets the movie in motion, but is only seen in flashback.

To me, this quest for justice outside of societal norms is very visceral. I like the idea of being able to deal out justice while at the same time getting the catharsis of revenge. Having never taken vengeance, it may leave one as cold as we have been told in many, many morality tales, but I still like to see it in fiction.

As such, Pandora Excess will now be about a crew of mercenaries who got betrayed, and the boss is getting them back together to take a crack at the person who betrayed them. Like the Limey, the betrayal which sets the action in motion will be discussed, but won’t actually be part of the story. Much like in the Hunter, woe betide anyone who gets in their way.

You can learn more about Pandora Excess here and here.

You can learn more about the Hunter at Wikipedia.

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47 Ronin: A Review

So I saw 47 Ronin. I don’t hate it. That’s all you need to know. Move along.

You’re still here? Okay, let’s get into this: the movie is a pretty good sword & sorcery story, not as good as the recent Conan reboot but on par with the Scorpion King. The actors are all top notch. Even Keanu Reeves pulls off his role with aplomb.

Sure the story is clichéd and this yet another white man saves the natives movie – they call him a half-breed, but c’mon, the guy’s as white as John Blackthorne! – but I can push through that for the pretty good action (which becomes great action because no shaky-cam) and some decent SFX. I would actually recommend this movie to fans of fantasy and for ideas mining by RPGers.

I still consider the decision to name this “47 Ronin” because while it uses the basic concept of that heroic epic/legend/history, it has none of the specifics. Sergio Leone did not call it Yojimbo, he called it Fistful of Dollars and even Roger Corman had the decency not to call his movie the Seven Samurai and called it Battle Beyond the Stars. I actually think that “13 Ronin” would have been a better title – the number of ronin we can actually recognize is probably around that number and other good ’13’ actioners precede it, like the 13th Warrior or 13 Assassins.

Confession time: in my second year of university I worked on a novel based on the 47 ronin legend but based on a fantasy analogue of 17th century Scotland. Guess what? I didn’t call it 47 Ronin because it wasn’t 47 ronin. I honestly don’t remember what I called it. The point is, if you are going to twist a story so that it bears little to no resemblance to the original, why keep the name? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep became Blade Runner, why couldn’t this be “13 Ronin” or “Oishi and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”?

Sorry. Too much rantiness.

47 Ronin is a pretty good fantasy actioner, and I give it 3.5 Pacific Rim Witches out of 5.

Postscript: this movie has another linkage to the 13th Warrior. According to Wikipedia, it is “the second most expensive box office bomb ever behind The 13th Warrior” Apparently, I enjoy box office bombs. Who knew?

You can read about 47 Ronin at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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Pandora Excess: Chapter One

I finished the first chapter of the Pandora Excess fiction on which I’m working. I thought I had finished it earlier, but then I decided I wanted at least 2,500 words per chapter . . . for reasons. In filling the chapter out I both elongated the action scenes and added some character growth.

Character growth? In fiction inspired by Borderlands? What heresy is this?

Well, remember those SPOILER ALERT! Echo recordings found during the course of Borderlands 2? What would you call those? Character growth, I’d say. Now, that growth had happened before the events of Borderlands 2, but the chapter I’ve finished is also past tense, so all’s fair.

Right?

On to chapter 2.

In case you were wondering, chapter 1 is titled “Lodgings.”

You can read more about Pandora Excess here and here.

You can read a very short snippet of Pandora Excess fiction here.

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