Ask Owen K.C. Stephens Anything


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Starfinder Superscriber

Hey Owen, did you expect someone to actually start this thread?


This isn't like one of those phone-things where you pay by the minute for real estate tips is it?


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What first made you decide to work on RPGs and did you ever expect it to become a full time career?

How did Alexander Augunas and yourself decide to partner up?

Scarab Sages Developer

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DragoDorn wrote:
Hey Owen, did you expect someone to actually start this thread?

Nope!

But I certainly have no objection to it.

Scarab Sages Developer

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BadBird wrote:
This isn't like one of those phone-things where you pay by the minute for real estate tips is it?

Why, would you pay me by the minute for real estate tips?

Scarab Sages Developer

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Insain Dragoon wrote:
What first made you decide to work on RPGs and did you ever expect it to become a full time career?

In the mid 1990s, my wife and I were on a very tight budget. I decided, with regret, I couldn't justify the cost of buying Dragon magazine. My wife, who had long felt I should try to make money as a writer of some kind, suggested I submit article proposals to the magazine, and see if I could earn enough money to afford a subscription.

My first article was What's In a Name: Elven name Generator, in issue 251.

Things spirals out of control from there.

I first thought maybe this could be a career in 2000, when Wizards of the Coast hired me to work on the Star Wars d20 RPG, and then the Wheel of Time RPG.

They laid me off in 2001, but the rpg-design bug had bitten, and I've been doing full-time rpg work in some capacity as my career ever since.


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Insain Dragoon wrote:
How did Alexander Augunas and yourself decide to partner up?

For the curious, Insain Dragoon is taking about the talks to merge Rogue Genius Games (my 3pp company) ("RGG")and Everyman Gaming (Alex Augunas' 3pp publishing company), as hinted at here.

That's not a "Paizo Developer" type question, but this IS "Ask Owen K.C. Stephens" anything. But it's more appropriate for me to not use my Paizo account to promote non-Paizo companies I am involved in.

To get to the question - I am available to nearly anyone who is interested in my opinion on game career, gaming, and game company questions, and Alex had some. And, my wife Lj (the bad-ass gamer chick who outgeeks me at nearly every turn) volunteered to help him with some layout issues, so they had a few long conversations. And, he's working on a couple of projects for RGG.

So we had some talks about game company things, and the possibility that working together might create a win-win came up. We tabled it, and then had a dedicated conversation later. While there aren't signed contracts yet, it looks very likely we'll be selling Everyman gaming products through our sales channels.

Alex has done some excellent work, so I am pleased as punch to be part of bringing those things to market.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

What was your favorite book to work on for wizards of the coast.

Also, have you seen Fargo?

Scarab Sages Developer

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captain yesterday wrote:
What was your favorite book to work on for wizards of the coast.

Definitely Star Wars Saga Edition.

captain yesterday wrote:
Also, have you seen Fargo?

The movie? Yes

The television show? No.
The city in North Dakota? Not that I recall.
The town in Ellis County, Oklahoma? Yes, but only because it's near Woodward.
The character from Bubblegum Crisis? Many times.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

The T.V. show. :-)

I highly recommend it. :-)


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What fantasy tropes/media do you pull from when you draw yourself a mental picture when you are designing?


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Ought one aspire in life to be a super genius or a rogue genius? What benefits does each receive?

Dark Archive

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When playing RPGs are you more a player or a game master?


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Loved the Black Company book, Owen.

No question here, just admiring your genius :)

Scarab Sages Developer

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captain yesterday wrote:

The T.V. show. :-)

I highly recommend it. :-)

Noted!

Scarab Sages Developer

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hiiamtom wrote:
What fantasy tropes/media do you pull from when you draw yourself a mental picture when you are designing?

That depends a lot on what I am designing.

My first go-to is almost always novels, because I am an avid reader and tabletop rpgs are a written medium. That can get recursive though, since a lot of modern fiction (though certainly not all of it) has been influenced by rpg tropes. You don't want a conceptual echo chamber, where games inform fiction which then shapes games, as the only form of inspiration.

Comics, movies, television, anime, manga, fairy tails, mythology, real life experiences, old game campaigns, history, sociology, and even internet memes can all offer ideas to draw from, as can brainstorms with other writers and fans of gaming and the genres it plays with.

Scarab Sages Developer

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Scythia wrote:
Ought one aspire in life to be a super genius or a rogue genius? What benefits does each receive?

Like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly, each has a useful role to play in the fullness of a rich life. Being a super genius offers significant insight into the workings of the world, but can be limiting. Being a rogue genius offers freedom, but is more demanding and not for the beginning mind.

Scarab Sages Developer

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ulgulanoth wrote:
When playing RPGs are you more a player or a game master?

I try to be zen about it. I want to be more a player when a player, and more a GM when a GM.

I have a nasty habit of answering questions as if I was a GM when playing, though. I'm a work in progress.


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Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
Scythia wrote:
Ought one aspire in life to be a super genius or a rogue genius? What benefits does each receive?
Like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly, each has a useful role to play in the fullness of a rich life. Being a super genius offers significant insight into the workings of the world, but can be limiting. Being a rogue genius offers freedom, but is more demanding and not for the beginning mind.

I would think one involves blowing oneself up with Acme products, whilst the other apparently involves being British and composing music. :P


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But which is which!

Besides, Acme is overrated.

Scarab Sages Developer

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Kryzbyn wrote:

Loved the Black Company book, Owen.

No question here, just admiring your genius :)

Thanks!

Funny story: When I was interviewed for the design job I eventually got at Wizards of the Coast, one of the questions was: If I could adapt anything at all into an RPG, as a dream project, what would that be?

My answer was The Black Company, which served me well because several of the WotC staff were fans. That said, Chris Pramas was not in the meeting.

Fast forward a few years. Green Ronin gets a rpg license for The Black Company, and Rob Schwalb invites me to be involved. I was thrilled, and it was a lot of fun.

That said, Rob's genius is much more on display in the RPG than mine. I was in a support-genius role, which I enjoyed greatly.

If you liked how Rob Schwalb handled The Black Company, you should absolutely check out his own RPG, Shadow of the Demon Lord, for a dark world full of darker heroes just trying to survive what appears to be growing chance of total disaster.

In addition to being a design genius he's good folk, so there's no reason not to throw some money his way!

Scarab Sages Developer

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Scythia wrote:
Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
Scythia wrote:
Ought one aspire in life to be a super genius or a rogue genius? What benefits does each receive?
Like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly, each has a useful role to play in the fullness of a rich life. Being a super genius offers significant insight into the workings of the world, but can be limiting. Being a rogue genius offers freedom, but is more demanding and not for the beginning mind.
I would think one involves blowing oneself up with Acme products, whilst the other apparently involves being British and composing music. :P

"Concussive transmutation" is indeed one of the ways to make the metamorphosis.

But British Music Composer is only ONE possible end state.

Scarab Sages Developer

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Wile E. Coyote wrote:
Besides, Acme is overrated.

Well, all the quality control lawsuits can't have helped...

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

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I have an idea for a Pathfinder-compatible product. How much of it should I write before I submit it to 3PPs to see if they want to work with me? How do I submit it to a variety of established 3PPs without worrying that they're going to use my idea before I can write enough of it to get paid for it? Without reading every single 3PP gaming product ever written, how do I make sure someone else hasn't already done it?

Contributor

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Owen KC Stephens wrote:
Insain Dragoon wrote:
How did Alexander Augunas and yourself decide to partner up?

For the curious, Insain Dragoon is taking about the talks to merge Rogue Genius Games (my 3pp company) ("RGG")and Everyman Gaming (Alex Augunas' 3pp publishing company), as hinted at here.

That's not a "Paizo Developer" type question, but this IS "Ask Owen K.C. Stephens" anything. But it's more appropriate for me to not use my Paizo account to promote non-Paizo companies I am involved in.

To get to the question - I am available to nearly anyone who is interested in my opinion on game career, gaming, and game company questions, and Alex had some. And, my wife Lj (the bad-ass gamer chick who outgeeks me at nearly every turn) volunteered to help him with some layout issues, so they had a few long conversations. And, he's working on a couple of projects for RGG.

So we had some talks about game company things, and the possibility that working together might create a win-win came up. We tabled it, and then had a dedicated conversation later. While there aren't signed contracts yet, it looks very likely we'll be selling Everyman gaming products through our sales channels.

Alex has done some excellent work, so I am pleased as punch to be part of bringing those things to market.

I'm flattered to be on the first page of your Ask Me Anything page! <3


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Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
Kryzbyn wrote:

Loved the Black Company book, Owen.

No question here, just admiring your genius :)

Thanks!

Funny story: When I was interviewed for the design job I eventually got at Wizards of the Coast, one of the questions was: If I could adapt anything at all into an RPG, as a dream project, what would that be?

My answer was The Black Company, which served me well because several of the WotC staff were fans. That said, Chris Pramas was not in the meeting.

Fast forward a few years. Green Ronin gets a rpg license for The Black Company, and Rob Schwalb invites me to be involved. I was thrilled, and it was a lot of fun.

That said, Rob's genius is much more on display in the RPG than mine. I was in a support-genius role, which I enjoyed greatly.

If you liked how Rob Schwalb handled The Black Company, you should absolutely check out his own RPG, Shadow of the Demon Lord, for a dark world full of darker heroes just trying to survive what appears to be growing chance of total disaster.

In addition to being a design genius he's good folk, so there's no reason not to throw some money his way!

I will give it a look. Thanks Owen!

Scarab Sages Developer

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Christopher Dudley wrote:
I have an idea for a Pathfinder-compatible product.

Awesome!

I'm going to tackle the rest of your questions out-of-order, to help organize my replies.

Christopher Dudley wrote:
Without reading every single 3PP gaming product ever written, how do I make sure someone else hasn't already done it?

Keyword searches, in several places.

Let's say you have an awesome idea for halfling war bakers. But if Rite Publishing has already done "In the Company of War Bakers," you want to know before you pen your 40,000 word magnum baked opus.

So, you do some combined keyword searches. At the very least "war + baker" and "halfling + baker," adding "Pathfinder" when not doing the search on a gaming site. Do them on Paizo (a lot of 3pp sell product on Paizo, and there are often discussion threads), OBS (RPGNow and DriveThruRPG are both part of OBS - OneBookShelf), d20pfsrd.com, archiveofnethys.com (in case Paizo has done in in a product you missed), and Google.

If the halfling way baker has some key mechanic you like (eldritch muffins, perhaps), you can try searching for those terms, or related game terms, as well.

Take an hour. Search for anything that feels relevant.

Christopher Dudley wrote:
How much of it should I write before I submit it to 3PPs to see if they want to work with me?

Almost none.

What you need initially is an elevator pitch - a 2-3 sentence short, exciting description of the idea you'd give Lisa Stevens if you found yourself in a elevator with her at PaizoCon. Just the highlights.

"I want to do a 40,000 word book on halfling war bakers. It would be like a bigger Player Companion in scope and style, but focus specially on who to make a halfling war baker, how to run one as a GM, and how to add them to your campaign, with a focus on combining the fun of cooking with making an effective Pathfinder character."

Even that might be too long.

THAT you can send to publishers, and it gives them just enough information to know if they want to know more. And you want them to ask questions - to begin a dialog with you that may prove useful to you even if you don't end up using that publisher for that project. Publishers may give you all kinds of useful information that will help you have a better idea what kinds of projects they are looking for. "We are more interested in smaller books - we'd do 15,000 words on war backers, but not 40,000." "We're moving away from rules crunch, and only do adventures now, but would be interest in a bakery-based adventure if you want to write one." "We don;t accept outside submissions unless you have been published by a game company that sells print books, like GreenR onion or Paizo or Wizards of the Coast."

Keep track of those replies, and build a "rolodex" of who wants what, and be polite in your replies. That's how you build contacts.

Christopher Dudley wrote:
How do I submit it to a variety of established 3PPs without worrying that they're going to use my idea before I can write enough of it to get paid for it?

So, here's a hard truth.

Ideas are easy, and 99.99% have no value by themselves. A publisher is never going to look at your elevator pitch and think it's so brilliant they must write it, and cut you out of the process.

No one will ever steal just an idea, or pay for just an idea.

Also, ideas are common. I've watched multiple people have the same idea, and call it the same thing, with no cross-pollination. We've all absorbing at least some of the same media, it's no surprise we often have overlapping, independent, identical idea creation.

EXECUTION is valuable. A completed manuscript has value. Even then, a publisher is very unlikely to take one you submit on spec ("on speculation" - submitting something with no promise it'll be published) and publish it without having a deal in place with you. It's illegal, it's bad business, and if the game is worth taking those risks over, it's worth paying the author (a flat fee or a royalty or both, depending on the contract agreed upon) to make sure a lawsuit doesn't follow.

If you have any other questions like this, don't be shy to unleash them. In my experience, for every person that asks about the industry, there are 100 more who want to know but aren't sure what to ask or where to ask it.

Silver Crusade

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Fist off, Thankies for responding to the questions being posted in your thread Owen ^w^

I've heard Black Company mentioned a lot over the years but I've yet to actually read any of the books. What is that you like about them, and/or what would you say about them in order to get someone else into reading them?

Scarab Sages Developer

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Rysky wrote:
Fist off, Thankies for responding to the questions being posted in your thread Owen ^w^

My pleasure. :)

Rysky wrote:
I've heard Black Company mentioned a lot over the years but I've yet to actually read any of the books. What is that you like about them, and/or what would you say about them in order to get someone else into reading them?

The Black Company is a wonderful mix of gritty, realistic fantasy (where infection is a major threat, armies are never nice guys, and even ancient prophecies have more to do with politics than a chosen one) and spectacular high fantasy (with ancient evils digging out of the Barrowlands, spells that can level cities, and the powerful Ten Who Were Taken, deathless sorcerers with evocative names like Soulcatcher and the Hanged Man... who are still spectacularly human in how they go about things).

And it's well-written, and full of ideas I don't see elsewhere.

And it's military fantasy fiction.

Told (mostly) from the point of view of a doctor and historian.

If that sounds awesome to you, I recommend you pick it up. If it *doesn't* (and I know LOTS of smart, fun, wise people who aren't fans of this series), I have LOTS of other books I can recommend.

Silver Crusade

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Okies, thanks! I might actually give them a look finally.

What else would you recommend?

Scarab Sages Developer

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Rysky wrote:

Okies, thanks! I might actually give them a look finally.

What else would you recommend?

Wow - that could be a BIG list.

I'll restrict myself to pre-modern-setting fantasy (because otherwise I get drowned in Dresden Files, and Honor Harrington, and Lensman, and... and... )

And this list is very, very non-complete. Just a sample of a few dozen of my favorite fantasy books.

Fantasy you may have been told to avoid -
Wishstones of Shannarah (Terry Brooks). Ignore the Sword of Shannarah, it's rightfully mocked for being a Tolkien pastiche. Also feel free to ignore the television series, since it's 60% stuff they made up for the series. This one, singular book is among my favorite fantasy stories as a stand-alone novel.

Vlad Taltos (Stephen Brust) -- Yes, it's about a witch-assassin named Vlad who has a dragon like familiar. It SOUNDS like a 13-year-olds Pathfinder game... but it's much cooler than that. Ancient empires, humans not at the top of the food chain, Ancient Weapons, soul-killing swords, psychic power, witchcraft, and sorcery as separate forms of magic, creatures that can kill gods -- and yet most of the stories are about heists and political maneuvering. Very personable, very relatable.

Fantasy You May Not Have Heard Of -
The Garret Files (Glen Cook). Hard-bitten pulp fantasy detective stories set (mostly) in a Giant Fantasy City that reminds me of Grayhawk and Absalom. The tenor is very much modern fantasy, but the setting is pre-firearm fantasy, and often takes a fun turn blending pulp tropes with pure fantasy rules.

The Sword of Knowledge (Cherryh, et al) Smart fantasy that begins a series that spans generations (or longer), where magic is crucial, but very, very limited. A fantasy series about the advance of technology and why the ability to preserve and expand knowledge can be crucial to the success of old empires... or rise of new ones.

Things I Read For a High fantasy Fix

The Belgariad, The Malloreon, The Elenium, The Tamuli (David and Leigh Eddings) As a teen and young adult, these four series were my jam. Pretty much a more modern light reading version of Tolkien-style high fantasy, and some of the alter books tread very much the same territory as earlier books. I don't care, this is like a distilled version of every fantasy campaign I ran for 20 years.

Riftwar Saga (Raymond E. Feist) A world with connections to an RPG campaign Feist was involved in, these have some of the clearest examples of what it looks like when 1st level characters hit 20th... and 30th level. Also pretty good high fantasy beyond the RPG connections.
And one of the few fantasy series with a book that made me cry...
and cry... and cry...

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

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If we're talking books, have you read any Brandon Sanderson? If so, favorite work?

Have you ever been teased for still using an AOL email address (I have been!)?

How do you think pen and paper gaming will look 10 years from now?

Scarab Sages Developer

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Petty Alchemy wrote:
If we're talking books, have you read any Brandon Sanderson? If so, favorite work?

I have not! Although Mistborn is on my "get to it soon" list.

...
And has been for a few years...

Petty Alchemy wrote:
Have you ever been teased for still using an AOL email address (I have been!)?

Ever? Sure. But not recently. And I use my gmail accounts (one personal, one for Green Ronin, one for Rogue Genius Games) and Paizo.com account more often anyway.

But the aol account is 19 years old, so a LOT of people have it, and I used it for a LOT of sign-ups. It's hard to get rid of.

Petty Alchemy wrote:
How do you think pen and paper gaming will look 10 years from now?

Very similar, but with more tablet aps, preprinted miniatures, a few 3d print-at-home miniatures, and more virtual tabletops.

Also, more people saying tabletop RPGS are dead and doomed, and will be gone in 10 years.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Thankies!

*writes down names*

Sovereign Court

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion Subscriber

Optimization is a frequent theme of discussions on these boards. So...

What question should I ask you to get the best possible answer?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Fishing, yay? Nay? Or not as fun as literature would have you believe (especially, with the United State's prohibition of whaling in Nebraska).


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Do you think this thread is awesome?!

(I do!)


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Rysky wrote:

Thankies!

*writes down names*

No problem.

When you're read or rules out all of those, I'll be happy to list more. :)


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Kalindlara wrote:

Optimization is a frequent theme of discussions on these boards. So...

What question should I ask you to get the best possible answer?

See, I don't think you really want to go down the rabbit hole of question optimization. Yes, that'll allow you to get more answer per post (app) than anyone else in this thread, but is that really more fun for you? wouldn't you rather get *interesting* answers, or answers that match your interests, rather than the biggest numeric answer advantage?

I mean sure, I understand you don't want to create ineffectual questions -- that's just frustrating. No one wants to spend time carefully crafting questions designed to get my social security number or atm pin, only to find those questions don't do what you want them to at all. So it makes sense to ask if a certain type of question works, or how certain queries work within this framework, so you can avoid concepts the venue isn't designed to handle.

And yes, I know there are people who think that if your question isn't a tier 1 or tier 2 question, you are wasting your time and increasing the chance the entire thread will devolve into no one asking anything as a tpk (total poll kill). But that's just not how the forum is set up. It isn't *designed* to require, or even encourage, people to ask the most optimized questions.

The combination of flexibility to ask a huge range of questions, and the human interface that allows for questions no one designing the forum anticipated, means a wide range of flexibility. That flexibility means that questions of different answer-values are not only possible, but necessary. The POINT of the forum is not to pressure anyone into asking the best question, but to ask questions they enjoy, for the sake of asking, hearing the answer, and thinking of a new question.

And anyway, question optimization is, as a concept, flawed. The at-the-forum interaction, and unpredictability of human response and other randomizers, means you never know what question might generate the best response.


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captain yesterday wrote:
Fishing, yay? Nay? Or not as fun as literature would have you believe (especially, with the United State's prohibition of whaling in Nebraska).

I have no moral issue with fishing, done legally and properly. I have fished, though not in a decade or more.

for myself, it'd be more fun to do everything people do when they go fishing... and skip the fishing. Sitting calmly in nature with friends having a drink and/or a picnic sounds great. Adding a task that may require me to gut something is not an upgrade, for me.

But it's nice to know I *can* fish, in case it's ever crucial... though if it is I have MUCH bigger problems.


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Tacticslion wrote:

Do you think this thread is awesome?!

(I do!)

To me it is awesome, BECAUSE other people find it awesome enough to participate. :)


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Have you read Malazan Book Of The Fallen series?

Scarab Sages Developer

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Drejk wrote:
Have you read Malazan Book Of The Fallen series?

I'm familiar with it, and I've tried to make it through Gardens of the Moon a couple of times. I always get bogged down (it's dense, and apparently as a style choice is intentionally not introduction-friendly), and then my schedule takes me away from it for weeks or months. Then when I want to pick it up again, I need to flip back several chapters.

It seems like it's right up my ally - if I can find the time to get past the learning curve of the world to know what's going on.


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The first book suffers from Early Installment Weirdness. Later books tend to be much better... Mostly.

Also, the second reading makes much more sense when you read the other books and lots of things fit (while others not so, because there were some cosmological redesigns in mean time).

Scarab Sages Developer

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Drejk wrote:

The first book suffers from Early Installment Weirdness. Later books tend to be much better... Mostly.

Also, the second reading makes much more sense when you read the other books and lots of things fit (while others not so, because there were some cosmological redesigns in mean time).

Yeah, I've had other fans of the series tell me that. I DO plan to get through it...

... when i have more free time.

Dark Archive

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Starfinder Superscriber

What Pathfinder Society characters do you have and what are your favorite ones?

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber
Owen KC Stephens wrote:
Rysky wrote:

Thankies!

*writes down names*

No problem.

When you're read or rules out all of those, I'll be happy to list more. :)

Cool, thankiesx2

I really need to get back into reading again, I've currently got a backlog...

*looks longingly at Bloodbound, Beyond the Pool of Stars, Pirate's Prophecy...*


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Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
Rysky wrote:

Okies, thanks! I might actually give them a look finally.

What else would you recommend?

Wow - that could be a BIG list.

I'll restrict myself to pre-modern-setting fantasy (because otherwise I get drowned in Dresden Files, and Honor Harrington, and Lensman, and... and... )

*Stares at own shelves*

Note to self: Don't ask Mr. Stephens about books, because you probably already have them. XD

What's the most creative thing you've seen someone do in a game? (Actually playing it, not producing material)

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