We really got a deep dive into the mind and actions of Rhys as a character as well and he opens up to the reader in a very touching way, and I really felt connected to him and his motivations. I can see how it would be hard for Feyre or pretty much anyone who knows him, not to love him.
I really only have a couple of real critiques of this book.
We left off our last session with our party opening a secret door only to find themselves confront with five orcs in a lit room. The interaction devolved into combat and resulted in two of the Orcs going down and the remaining three running out of the room into the hallway to the ast. Our party, who took a decent amount of damage decided to backoff and re-group.
They piled the two dead bodies in front of the east door to provided a bit of a barricade and they then took a quick ten-minute rest. After considering their options our party decided to head back down the secret entrance and they investigated the previously unexplored tunnel to the west towards.
This Brough them to Room 16, which exhibited a new exit from the dungeon that is partially collapsed and veered with dirt. They once again found themselves face with a potential wolf den to get past to get to the entrance. The party decided to chop off the arm from one of the dead Orc bodies and threw that to the wolves as a distraction. The wolves ended up fighting over the arm and the party was able to exit the first level of the dungeon.
They took this opportunity to head back to the farmer's house to spend a night and rest since Cybil was in very poor shape. With an additional piece of gold the farmer allowed Cybil to sleep in his bed and she was able to regain here Strength, while the rest of the party slept outside.
There was consideration if the group should take the half day journey back to the Morgansfort and restock, but the fact that some of the old fort is now cleared out and people from the fort know that the were headed there, it became apparent that other treasure seekers may try to take advantage of our party's hard work and they instead decided to dive back in.
The next morning our party once again headed back to the dungeon main entrance and this time decided to head south (whereas they previously headed west). They found a pit trap in this southern hallway and discovered a switch on the far side of the trap. They disabled it with a crack crossbow shot and continued their exploration to the south.
It was at this same time that the party decided to wonder whether they should've offloaded some of their treasure either with the farmer or back at the cave entrance. They decided to continue on.
As the group continued they came across another room filled with the sound of buzzing. They discovered a nest of giant bees in this room. While the bees were clearly aggressive the party decided to sprint past this room and continue further down the hallway and found that the bees did not pursue them past 60'.
Continuing on our party discovered the Kobold Lair. Because of their positive interaction earlier with the Kobold patrol earlier they were met with a generally positive attitude. They were able to continue to convince the Kobolds that they were here to hunt Goblins and were given a scroll of "knock" and informed that the Goblin lair was located in the northwest area of the current dungeon level.
And that is where we ended session 3.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Last Dance is a pretty solid hard sci-fi book, that takes a primary scientific concept and applies it to the story without bogging the narrative down too much with the technical details. The book takes place on the Earth to Mars orbital vessel known as the Aldrin. The premise of the story is focused around the concept of the Mars Cycler or Aldrin Cycler, which is a physics concept developed by Buzz Aldrin to allow a spacecraft to cycle around two gravitational objects (i.e. Earth and Mars) while utilizing almost no fuel. It's a fascinating concept and sets the premise and location of the entire story.
While the story does hinge on this concept and a pivotal event focused around this concept, the story that is being told is done in a interesting way. Almost the entire book is told through interviews conducted with the crew through flashbacks with Captain Aames. It is a fascinating way to set the tone of the crew and setting, and the character basis of the Captain.
The method of storytelling however is hard to digest though as the book progresses. While the concept was novel for the first couple of chapters it began to wear thin as the book progressed and it made it hard for me to grow attached to any particular character. Especially since the Captain is portrayed as a wholly unlikable character.
I personally struggled to stay with the book at times since I had no idea what the crime the Captain was charged with was until the last couple of chapters when the investigator finally interviewed the Captain himself.
I think the author was trying to setup a narrative arc where the Captain was supposed to be put in a nearly impossible position (view spoiler)[and then making a decision that brought him up for court-martial. (hide spoiler)]
I like that the flashbacks were supposed to lead the reader to a position of understanding why the Captain made that tough decision, but the setup didn't payoff if for the fact that the decision made by the Captain didn't seem to be all that controversial. I feel nearly any reader when presented with the decision and the even minor context provided through the First Mate's interview, would have sided with the Captain. The story's antagonist was plainly vilified and laid plain from the outset of the story that when the final reveal was made near the end of the book, there was no surprise.
That being said the book is worth the read if you like a solid sci-fi story. The storytelling structure is interesting with the flashbacks and does accomplish the goal of telling the reader who Captain Aames is.
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Our Friday group completed our second session of playing Cairn and we had an opportunity to finally get into some dungeon delving and some combat.
Observations and Changes to the Morgransfort Module
- Since Morgansfort was designed for the Basic Fantasy RPG, I had to make a few changes on the fly to the gold and treasure settings. In general I reduced the amount of gold found by a factor of ten and also completely disregarded silver and copper pieces. So for example, if the module stated that the characters found 126 GP, I reduced that down to 12. I quickly observed in just the first few rooms of the dungeon that the amount of gold being dished out was a lot and I wanted a part of this campaign to reflect that gold and treasure really do matter a lot.
- Word of note regarding scale in the map. The dungeon map on page 31 of the module does not make it clear that the grid is a 10' scale, so the first few rooms I ran assuming 5' squares. This would've changed the encounter with the first floor trap in the west hallway, so something to keep in mind.
- A fascinating observation was pointed out to me from my play group while dealing with combat when it was our party vs.1 enemy, which was outlined in a couple of instances in the dungeon in smaller rooms thus far. Since Cairn's "Multiple Attacker's rule has all of the PC's roll and just the single highest dice being taken, my PC's observed they were able to "game" the system a bit if they had at least one PC fail the initiative, since they would be able to act/attack separately after the enemy, giving the PC's essentially "two opportunities to hit" in a single round instead of just one if they all succeeded or failed. Not a huge deal, but just an interesting observation that they immediately latched onto. Perhaps this isn't the intent of the combat system.
- Overall combat though went really smoothly and fast and I really liked how it didn't grind the rest of the game to a halt as D&D 5e does. We encountered combat, accomplished it for a few minutes and then were immediately able to move on. Most of the combat in this session was done via theatre of the mind, which is not my group's favorite way to play, but it worked out well for these quick encounters in various dungeon rooms.
- I also really enjoy the formatting of the monster stat blocks in the Morgransfort module. The stat blocks are very tightly organized with the monsters in place and with small check boxes to track their HP. Converting on the fly was painless and tracking the combat encounters with the initiative system was also extremely fast and effortless. Screenshot example below.
- My players had some fun playing with character names a bit. Since the surname table in the handbook is so small we had a few duplicate names. Wenlan Candlewick, whom I outlined in the previous post, shares a surname with our PC Ysln Candlewick. We are playing out the situation where Wenlan is eyeing Ysln, thinking he knows her from somewhere, but he is not quite sure from where.
- We also had a hireling roll up with the name of Canhoreal, which is the same as one of the players. That turned into Can2, and then finally resulted in the party calling the hireling Twocan.
- Finally, and this is my favorite, the young acolyte who joined the group at the end of Session 1 was given a name by the group. Cybil kept calling him "Cannon Fodder", which someone put into an english to french translator on Google which resulted in his name becoming Chair à Canon.
- For the module I am trying to run the exploration in 10 minute dungeon movements and I have assigned each of my players different roles to track such as overland travel, dungeon cartographer, dungeon turn tracker, banker/quartermaster, etc. It is working out OK so far and my players are getting used to having to track this information themselves, but it is really nice to get off my plate. I think it is something I'll try to incorporate into other RPG systems. I've adapted a few of the sheets from OSE and made some of my own to handout to my players, so I'll try and share those in another blogpost.
Fire light danced across the oak and marble walls of the Eluvian temple as Lireal set the candles for the evening. She has been repeating this same ritual for nearly four centuries, each evening pointedly lighting each of the one hundred and thirty-one candles in the main hall in a succinct procession. This evening however was different when there came a rapping on the front door. The other stewards in the room all paused, surprised at the sound, looks glancing from one to another. Putting down her long match Lireal glided toward the front door, the gaze of each of the stewards following her across the hall. She lifted the iron handle, pulling open the large wooden door, which lurched under its own weight.
Peering out into the town of Eglarest, Lireal’s gaze surveyed the square outside the temple. The evening air was soft and quiet. The warmth of the late summer day still clung to the white limestone buildings and the cool air from the Lavalling forest swayed through the oaks outside the city wall. The sound of the rustling wind whispered across Eglarest and Lireal saw a few men across the square finishing closing off the gate for the evening. Besides those elven men though, there was no one else to be seen.
Stepping outside Lireal looked again, confused about the knock she heard, when a weak voice caught her attention to her right.
The voice was delicate, but unmistakable. Lireal’s breath caught at the sound and her hand trembled as she brought it up to her mouth.
“No, it couldn’t be. It simply cannot be," she thought to herself. The simple desire in and of itself was almost heartbreaking enough as she turned toward the voice.
Standing to the right of the door was a young elven woman with blonde hair and striking ice blue eyes. Her hair and clothes were a mess, torn and burned. The skin around her eyes held a distinct tattoo, drawn in white ink following the contours of her cheek bones up to her ears and her brow in the design of dragon scales. Her right eye was bruised and blue and dried blood ran from a fat lip which she nursed with the tip of her tongue.
Lireal’s heart skipped and then sank and the sight of her daughter Adalina. “My child!”, she exclaimed and rushed over to Adalina taking her into her arms. Adalina’s weight pressed into her as Lireal brought her hand up to brush the hair out of her daughter’s face.
“What has happened to you?”
“Mother, please I didn’t know where else to turn.”
“Quiet child, let me tend to your wounds”, replied Lireal, her instincts taking over as she directed stewards to grab water and fresh linens
“Mother, please. They are coming. I am sorry, I didn’t mean to bring them here, but they are coming,” said Adalina before she lost consciousness.
It was not until several hours later that Adalina finally awoke. Lireal was sitting at her side. In the course of a few hours Adalina’s wounds had healed remarkably fast. Her lip had reduced in swelling and the bruises across her body had all but disappeared. As she came to, she bolted up in the bed.
“No, I must leave. I must be gone before they come”.
“Ada, please. What are you talking about?”, asked Lireal. Concern and longing in her voice for the daughter she has not seen in two centuries.
Before Adalina could respond the ringing of the guard bell from the front gate chimed four times and shouts came from outside the temple. Both women arose at the sound, Lireal surprised at her daughter’s swiftness considering her injuries.
Before they could reach the front door of the temple a crash rippled through the building as the front gate to the city exploded into splinters of wood and fire. Lireal threw open the door and ran out into the square. Bodies of elven men and women of the town’s guard lay scattered across the square. An orange glow throbbed like a heartbeat from beyond the city walls as the Oak forest of Lavalling was burning. Through the gate strode Men, borne in iron armor and carrying the magic of fire in their hands. One man in particular stepped forward into the empty square.
“I am the most holy emissary of the White Cloth, come to bless and baptize this town in the name of his lord. My name is Eringas and we have tracked to this place an abomination of the rightful order. Come, bless yourselves in the name of the White Cloth.”
Lireal stepped forward raising her hand in a gesture of calming, but before she could take more than two steps, the whistle of an arrow sang through the night finding purchase. Lireal didn’t even realize what had happened before the dull punch in her chest was followed by the pooling of warm blood across her white dress. She stumbled forward another step, before falling to her knees and the hands of two stewards closed around her shoulders.
Time slowed, the sound of the world dulled to a muffle in Adalina’s ears as she watched the arrow loose from the archer’s bow across the square. With her perception of time and speed she watched in horror as the arrow stretched across the town square and bury into her mother’s chest. The weight of the impact rippled through all her senses as she darted from the door of the temple to where her mother stood, and now began to fall. With each step she took she could hear the weakening beat of her mother’s heart and could smell the fresh blood pouring from the wound.
Silver tears streaked her face as she collapsed over her mother’s body, cradling it in her arms. Each weakening heartbeat reverberated in her mind in slow agony as she listened to the final moments of her mother’s life pass before her. Centuries of time that could have been spent together lost in moments with each beat.
Lireal looked up into her daughter’s face, raising her hand to caress her daughter’s hair.
“I always hoped I would get to see you again.”
And she was gone. The last heartbeat died away in Adalina’s mind leaving behind a void of silence that would never be filled again. It was replaced with the beating of her own heart, of her own rage which she had spent so many years culling and learning to control. It rose deep from within her chest, at first only in her mind, but beat after beat growing and bursting forth in a rage and sorrow that would consume the town of Eglarest.
“Men. Men will pay. Mankind will pay for what they have done.”
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have a very mixed relationship with the Witcher properties. I love the world and the characters in this series. I can't say I am a huge fan of the video games. I loved The Last Wish, and I fell in love with the Netflix series, so coming into this book I had pretty high expectations, knowing that I just sort of finished up the Netflix show.
Now, don't get me wrong. This is a fine book within the Witcher series, but it doesn't exactly come across as the type of book that is #1 in the series and would hook a new reader in. If you are already a fan, then this kicks off right where you want it to. My major issues are that not a lot seems to really happen narratively. The main crux of what I presume we are shown is mostly what Ciri has been up to since she finally found Geralt and was taken in by the Witchers. Having read the Last Wish, seen the Netflix show and then jumped into this book in that order, the three properties all worked well together. The Netflix show's first season sort of ended right where this book apparently would pickup. Perhaps in fact, that is where season 2 of the show will go. As a standalone book however, I can see a lot of readers quickly falling off the series right after this.
I just hope that we get to see more of the actual plot line develop in the second book, because we basically only caught vertical slices of Ciri with Geralt, and Ciri with Yennifer to show some of her training and development.
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Quarantine time has led to me being able to play some video games and catch up on a bit of my backlog. This past week I finally had a chance to get back into Gears 5 and finish off the single player. I have never been a huge Gears fan. I played both 1 & 2 and finished neither of them. They felt a bit too "dude bro" for my tastes. This past fall I decided to give Gears 4 a shot, as it was on Xbox Gamepass and I had a pretty decent time with it. The gameplay seemed fine enough and it wasn't too long, so I played through the story and was at least engaged with it to give Gears 5 a shot.
I started playing Gears 5 when it was released this past winter, but only got about three hours into it before I fell off. Oddly enough, I did put quite a bit of time into the multi-player. game, namely the Horde mode. It has a nice, mindless element too it, but I didn't realize right away the the 50 rounds of horde mode can take upwards of almost two hours. That is quite a commitment to one game with teammates.
I jumped back into Gears last week to see if it would hook me again, and I have to say that I enjoyed it about as much as I did with Gears 4. It was a fun romp, but it didn't really spark any passion for me. There was one really nice emotional moment that came near the end of the game, that was a bit of a surprise. So much so in fact that I actually played through that section, completed another hour or so of the game and then decided to go back and play that section over again to change my decision.
The ending of the game seemed fine, but it did give a nice sense of "hopelessness to the story that I wasn't expecting. Will I played Gears 6 to finish off this section part of the trilogy? Yeah, probably, but only because I am a Gamepass subscriber.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am not quite sure how to review the book, because I am not entirely sure what I read. I enjoyed, immensely the five stories that were written by Denis Johnson, but having now finished the book, I have trouble recalling exactly what those stories were.
The five stories featured in this book all focus on the fairly mundane lives of the different protagonists. The topics covered cover drugs, lives, obsessions and other such topics. That being said none of the stories come across as dark as you might initially think. Instead they seem banal and the events that occur are told in a sort of matter of fact, "this is the way life is", sort of delivery. In a lot of ways, nothing happens in any of these stories. The characters tell us of these interludes in their lives, almost in a confessional way, and then that is it, the story is over.
For some reason though I was completely drawn into the stories. It was like a look behind the curtain in these people's lives, and the writing was so well done, that I felt like all of the stories were truly believable.
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Keeping in the theme of music, my latest jam comes from a random album from Amazon Music. Cigarettes After Sex is a sort of downtempo, ambient rock group? Yeah, I think so. I like to think that this is the perfect sound for a rainy day. It just so happened to be a rainy March afternoon in the office when I put this on and the mood could not have been more perfect.
The album's opening song "K", immediately brings you into an almost dreamlike state. Is it possible to have a feeling of "happy" depression, because that is what I get when listening to this album. The guitar sounds share a lot in common with "Tycho", but where Tycho is pure pop bliss, Sex After Cigarettes is the immediate counter point.
The album does get a bit "same" sounding throughout, but that melancholy vibe does satisfy.