Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Road trips are great for audiobooks and I was able to listen to this one in the span of a single day. I discovered Hercule Poirot about a year ago while reading Murder on the Orient Express. I was completely in love with that book and I am obviously a fan of the old detective novels like this and Sherlock Holmes.

This is a solid entry in the series and is the first Poirot adventure. The story follows the similar formula, or perhaps establishes the formula for the Poirot series. Half the fun of these novel in my opinion is to try and catch the clues throughout the book to try and identify the murderer using the same methodology as the detective. There is a bit of narrative stretch that occurs sometimes. They seemingly pull out pieces of information from the world that you are not privy too, but overall Christie does put the pieces there for you as a ready to draw upon.

I wasn't as enraptured as I was with Orient Express, but this was a solid and fun book in the series.

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Book Review: Sabriel


Sabriel by Garth Nix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This books certainly came out of nowhere and surprised me. I started listening to this book a few weeks ago and it didn't catch me at first. I left the library rental expire and then I decided to give it another go a few weeks ago. Once the story got going, it absolutely pulled me in.

This is labeled as a "Young Adult" book, but it is probably the most "adult" YA book I have read. The story is well put together. While it does cover many of the standard fantasy tropes, the world that Garth Nix has put together is incredibly well thought out. The magic system and world history is interesting. There are elements here the harken back to the John Carter or Narnia series in the way the world is constructed. It is tight and focused, keeping the world building isolated to the immediate land that the story is taking place in. We don't learn about the "whole planet", but that doesn't matter in the story telling.

I really liked the story arch that our main character, Sabriel went through. She was portrayed as a strong female lead character. She was capable where she needed to be, but knew that she was inexperienced. That inexperience was a primary plot device as it related to the Old Kingdom, but it was never used to victimize Sabriel. She also didn't fall into the traps that are so commonly used with YA or genre fiction where her decisions were driven by teenage emotions. Sure, she is a young adult in this book, but her character show the right amount of composure and emotion to make her believable. I really love that the other characters in the world held respect for her, for the Abhorsen, despite her age. It really showed a lot about the world.

Narratively I felt like this book was written as a result of Garth Nix playing D&D. Several of the plot points played out like D&D encounters in my opinion. They were satisfying though, nonetheless.

Overall, I loved the book. Any let me just put a final note in for that cover art. I absolutely love that artistic choice.



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Trying to Organize my D&D Notes

I have been DM'ing for almost three years now, playing the same campaign in Storm King's Thunder with my Friday night group. Through all of that period I have gone back and forth on trying to keep myself organized as the DM. I have admittedly struggled to keep a good track of my notes through the campaign and in general. 

I have wanted to approach D&D in as analog a way as possible. I spend so much time online and on the computer as it is, bringing that to the gaming table seems counter productive. That being said, there is an endless amount of functionality that a laptop or note taking software brings to the table, that it would be foolish to try to manage all of it in paper alone. I have finally over the past year or so begun to develop a system that works for me on keeping track of my notes, etc. 


Tracking the Game

Tūl Notebook

My first stop here is the use of a Tūl paper notebook. As I noted above I want to be as independent from the computer as possible at the gaming table and my quick reference notes during a gaming session are all being placed right into this paper notebook. I fund this Tūl system to be fascinating because of the ring bound sheets which allow you to remove pages and re-arrange them in any order. I have used spiral bound notebooks in the past and they have worked fine, but I have run into two primary limitations with them. 1) What to do when you have narrative or note changes that required you to re-arrange pages and 2) what do you do with the notebook if it is only partially filled and you are done with what you need with it? 

The Tūl notebook solved both of those problems for me and I picked up the smaller format size which works well for sitting at my side on the gaming table. The page size is exactly one half of a standard 11x8.5" page, so creating a few templates in Apple Pages is pretty easy and straight forward. 

Right now I have it divided into three basic sections. Story Summary, Current Adventure Notes, NPC's

I think I want to add some supplementary reference material to it as well, including some quick random tables along with a master index sheet for referencing back to the various books. 


Apple Notes

Apple Notes, and Evernote before that, are the cornerstone of where I keep track of all of my documents. In Notes, I have sub folders where I keep the text I write out along with .PDFs, images, and ideas for the campaign I am running. Up until recently, I was keeping a running campaign summary and NPC list in Notes, having that pinned to the top of my notes list. This worked well, but wasn't the best for quick reference during the middle of an active gaming session. 

I have moved more to a method of using Notes to capture my pre-session planning and ideas. What I have begun to do now is create a new note for each location or story plot and incorporate the relevant NPC's, and information needed for that section into that session.

 I am also using Apple notes to capture various D100 tables that I find online for adventure planning. 


Homebrew Planning

Over the next couple of months I hope to begin development on some home-brew adventure planning. I feel my Ebenere Nanowrimo story for a few years ago would make for an excellent setting to place a campaign in. 

Mind Maple

Mind mapping is one of those things that I can recognize the utility, but I haven't really taken full advantage of. I experimented with it a little bit for my current campaign, but I think it hasn't been successful because I didn't start using it from the beginning. The result is I haven't had a good amount of connecting ideas to develop with the narrative. You can see my poor mapping laid out below when I tried to pickup with our party in Gauntlgrym. 

When I begin a new home-brew campaign, I anticipate this will become critical for mapping out the overall story arc though

OmniOutliner

Omnioutliner is a great outlining and note taking app. I anticipate this will also become a core component for my future home-brew campaign as I chart out future NPCs, characters, etc. You can see below my failed attempt at trying to keep track of items in it for the SKT campaign.