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Rakshasa

Tokoz's page

RPG Superstar 2014 Marathon Voter. Pathfinder Society Member. 177 posts (189 including aliases). 8 reviews. 1 list. 1 wishlist. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 1 alias.



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Great for the Money!

*****

I tend to be kind of jaded by anything that anyone "recommends" as a good tool for GMs. By this point, it's not that the advice out there is bad, it's that odds keep getting better and better that I've heard it before.

That doesn't stop me from looking though and in this case, I'm really happy about what I stumbled over.

I'd thought of this idea before... *snort* No, not really. I just wish I had. And that's what makes this pdf so worth the money. Sean Reynolds does a great job of presenting his idea simply and quickly. You're bound to read the first few paragraphs and think to yourself, "Self, why hadn't I thought of this before."

Every improv style GM out there has had those moments when she wants to be able to create a memorable encounter on the fly. Up until reading this, what that meant was having an index in my head of available monsters that I could easily mix and match to form a good encounter.

That's worked for me for time out of mind, but it turns out that is a very two dimensional approach. Filing off the serial numbers adds a third dimension to the mix by letting you take the index in your mind and merge cards.

And for the less improv GMs there's even more to think over. If you usually painstakingly plan out your encounters, the possibilities are even greater.

It's definitely worth the two bucks to add another good tool to your GM toolbox.


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Go Go Goblin Hats!

*****

My whole family has these. They are the ONLY hats our 18 month old twins will allow on their heads.

Nice and soft! Great for keeping for warm and standing out at PaizoCon and other conventions.


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Dave "Action" Gross

****( )

Dave Gross is back in his third (out of five) Pathfinder Tales novels with him on a byline. This one leaves nothing wanting other than more work from him in the future. Master of Devils has plenty of action and action is what Dave Gross does best.

The current book brings Chelaxian Count Varian Jeggare and his devil-spawn body-guard Radovan on a journey to Tian Xia in order to recover the husk of a wishing pearl that is left every twelve years by the Celestial Dragon. The journey is sponsored by the Pathfinder Society, but mostly seems to be an excuse to get their Venture-Captain/Count away from Absolam for a while.

The pair barely arrives at their destination and are immediately separated from each other by bandits. Varian ends up as a disciple at the Dragon Temple, where he begins a series of training that he never wanted. The situation places him in a most distressing subservient position as “First Brother of the Kitchen.” While he originally tries to get out of his un-agreeable discipleship, he eventually realizes that more can be done from his current position that he originally supposed.

Radovan also ends up serving an unwanted master. Burning Cloud Devil traps him in his diabolic form and uses the deadly “quivering palm” technique to force him to train in the ways of the martial artist in preparation for destroying the Celestial Dragon.

I’ve already mentioned that Dave Gross is a master of action scenes and that this book has lots of them. While I’m not an expert at all on martial arts or oriental culture, the flavor of the story is consistent with what I do know. I particularly liked the nine-tailed fox and the hopper. For small minor character that had maybe a page of lines total (none for the hopper) they were brilliantly three dimensional. Using Jeggare’s dog Arnisant as a periodic narrator was also a welcome surprise and pleasure.

There is nothing in this book not to like.

That said, I do try and leave little tidbits of the technical in my reviews and this book barely gave me anything to go on. There are three first person narrative points of view used in the novel. In the beginning, it is very clear stylistically who is speaking, but as the story progresses it becomes less clear. While I’m sure that part of this is because of how the different characters are progressing, not all of the change could be easily accounted by that.

Spoiler:
It was easy to envision a dog that could see color, but some of the intellectual leaps made by Arnisant seemed a little more than just character progression. While I’m sure that some of Radovan’s “New York” gangster style of presentation would lose its edge in a foreign country, I’m not convinced that he’d lose that much of it. Jeggare’s change seemed the most fluid and predictable as he went from haughty and arrogant, to someone less abrupt.

My second nit picky (and yes, I’m very much admitting that neither of these are problems that should discourage people from reading the book) problem I blame more on the editor than the writer. It is difficult for a writer to gauge exactly how a novel is paced when forced to read it again and again from the start to where he left off. Often it is left to the editor, as the first to read the novel from beginning to end just once to see the places where time is taken and the story is not advanced. Not only does this save the publisher money, but it also subtly increases the value of the product.

While not as bad as what was seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, this book could have benefited from a little bit of editing. Not much. Just a little. Less than 2 chapter worth, I’m sure.

To summarize: 4 out of 5 stars. Very good stuff. I’d expect that most people that enjoy fantasy in one form or another will find this an enjoyable book.

**edit**
I take back the first part of my spoiler.

Spoiler:
After thinking back over the ending with Arnisant, I really should have realized the parallel with Flowers for Algernon. The change in voice is warranted, it adds a lot to the novel.
I leave the review as it stands though so that people will know I'm not on such a high horse that I don't think I can possibly be wrong.


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Over-hard

***( )( )

I can write a whole review in bold in an attempt to emphasize a point, but the truth is that the longer I hold the reader in that situation, the less emphasis my text has until at last, at a slightly different point for each person, the reader is no longer even seeing the bold typeface, she is only seeing it as she would anything else written without the emphasis.

And although it doesn't apply to this book, the same is true of the use of profanity, graphic sexual content and violence. The point of over-used emphasis is well demonstrated in the wrong direction in Robin D. Law’s book, The Worldwound Gambit, the fourth of Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of books. All 415 pages are written in present tense, instead of the usual past tense common among story tellers and generally agreed to be the way that most human beings think even when witnessing current events.

The use of this gimmick is so overwhelming that it effectively douses the fire that is the book’s greatest strength—its epic story about the nature of good and evil, law and chaos. Coupled with the fact that it apparently made it very difficult for both the author and the editor to keep consistent point of view throughout the scenes, it goes quickly from being what it should have been—a book that I could regrettably only give five stars—to a book that I’d feel guilty for giving more than three stars.

The Worldwound Gambit is the story of a bold and eloquent con man by the name of Gad, who likes to do business near the Worldwound because a healthy amount of fear makes it easier for him to con people. But when a new power from the Abyss, a demon named Yath, begins to move his troops past the guarding stones that usually protect the border, Gad quickly realizes that his way of life is being upset. If he wants to stay in business and keep his current contacts and lifestyle intact, he’s going to need to do something about Yath.

More a lover than a fighter, he quickly gathers his old adventuring companions and sets out to face the demon in the center of the Worldwound and Yath’s power. While getting in to the demon’s tower isn’t easy, getting himself and all his friends out is more than likely impossible.

I loved this book. I recommend it to anyone that can get past the present tense and enjoy the story that is hidden within the constant bombardment of unintentional emphasis. If you enjoyed the movie

Spoiler:
Ocean’s Eleven
than you’ll enjoy the exploits of a group of thieves trying to save the people they love to rob.

Robin Law demonstrates that he knows what plot and character development are and how they are used. While there’s little change in the characters from beginning to end: that’s the point. His group of adventurers is not trying to change things so much as trying to keep things the same. Rather than change, each must confront a task that they particularly abhor and in the process of doing that, fight to keep their morals (such as they are among thieves) the same. I have to admit, I was particularly impressed with how moderate the sex and violence were in a book that is mostly about consorting with demons. The places where those things do take place are just often enough to give emphasis without over-doing and dulling the edge of what the author was trying to accomplish.

The Worldwound Gambit does nothing to shake my faith in the Pathfinder Tales line, Robin Laws, or James Sutter. It does however, make a definite mark as to how low I’ll want to see that limbo pole in the future.


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First Mis-step

*( )( )( )( )

A Big Mistep

My apologies to Dave Gross and Elaine Cunningham.

I had high hopes for Winter Witch after reading Dave Gross’s Prince of Wolves. Those hopes didn’t happen. The difficulty one often finds in reading and writing fantasy novels is that the more exposure you and your audience have to the fantastic, the less fantastic it seems. There’re certain elements that get over-used in particular and it’s impossible to write a whole flowing story without hitting on some clichés. It’s important though, to not chain too many together. Seventy-five percent (roughly) of this book, follows a path too well trodden, only to break it when it’s confusing and/or irritating to the reader.

I try to always mention a novel’s strengths when I write a review, so I will do that now. Dave Gross and Elaine Cunningham are both good writers and storytellers. The book does not suffer from inappropriate ambiguity, overly graphic or offensive material that has nothing to do with the story, or poor wording of important points.

While the story has a plot, well developed characters, and a central theme, it lacks elements that the reader can easily care about. The story follows the adventure of Ellasif, starting on a dark and stormy night when her barbarian village is under attack, and her sister (a chosen one) is born. We meet Ellasif at the age of ten, but her behavior and attitudes don’t change at all between that age and fifteen years later when the story picks back up again. At that time, her sister has been kidnapped by the witches of the north.

Next we go to Schmendrick… I mean Declan—a reluctant wizard/cartographer who is trying to save a woman he might love (her name is Silvana and no, I’m not kidding. It really is.) She and Declan’s boss (an astronomer) have also been kidnapped by the witches. Oh, and he has a dragon familiar, but doesn’t want to admit the dragon is his familiar. The familiar would be the most likable of the characters if he had more than ten lines in the whole novel. Declan has an odd magic ability intertwined with his artistic mapmaking skills.

Spoiler:
Ellasif and Declan eventually decide to go north together after some coercion on Ellasif’s part. That’s the first half of the book, and honestly, doesn’t leave out much important. The trip to Whitethrone to confront the witches is adventurous and fast paced. It reads like most of Prince of Wolves. Unfortunately, that’s only the next quarter of the book. It’s almost possible to like Ellasif by that point. Declan manages to become heroic enough that you have high hopes for him.

In most novels, when the hero reaches his destination, the resolution of the main conflict occurs. For Winter Witch, this means two things. First it means a two paragraph soliloquy by Declan that magically (but not fantastically) resolves the issue with rescuing Ellasif’s sister. Secondly, it means that Declan doesn’t want to rescue Silvana anymore. There’s the standard relationship issue between Declan and Ellasif, but that too receives a quick resolution in the form of two words: “it’s complicated.”

If you’ve read this far and haven’t noticed any sarcastic comments on my part, there’s a good chance you’ll find the book new and interesting. Even if you do understand the sarcasm, you might still enjoy the book as just a light read. With the plethora of fantasy fiction out there, chances are, you can find something better with more likeable characters by the same authors. I didn’t think it was worth the time to check it out of the library, let alone the money to buy it.


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