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Petri Wessman's weblog

Minireview: Help Fund My Robot Army!!!, edited by John Joseph Adams

Help Fund My Robot Army!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects is an anthology with some meta-levels involved: it’s about (improbable) fictional crowdfunding projects, and naturally enough it was funded via a Kickstarter. The basic premise is that each story is set in the same format as a Kickstarter pitch, with the same section organization (many of the tales are told via fictional “comments” or “updates” to the project). While there’s a bit of repetition in the themes, and while not all of the stories work well, there are some real gems here and overall it’s a very entertaining read.

The title story is about a mad scientist who is trying to fund a robot army (in order to take over the world, duh), and is dismayed that he doesn’t get the overwhelming support he expects. It’s a humorous tale, like are many others here, but not every tale ventures into humor. Some are quite creepy, some weird, and some are just great tales. My own favorite is Carmen Maria Machado’s “Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead”, which is an intense, small tale with some twists. There’s also a tale where Nosferatu tries to raise money in order to kill of all the sparkly vampires, which I approve of.

Good summer reading. It probably helps if you have backed at least one Kickstarter project before reading this, or at the very least are familiar with the concept and the service.

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Minireview: Children of the Revolution (Vampire: the Masquerade)

Children of the Revolution is the third Kickstarter-backed new book for Vampire: the Masquerade from Onyx Path. While not without its faults, it’s vastly superior to the V20 Companion book, in that it actually has interesting content. It’s modeled after the classic Kindred Most Wanted and Children of the Inquisition books – “coffee table” books which detail a number of Kindred (with a certain theme), with full-page artwork for each one, a reasonably detailed history, and game stats. Like the earlier books, this is mostly for background color in the game world, though some GMs may want to use some of these characters as-is.

So, since it’s a big catalog of NPCs (18 in all), it lives or dies based on the strength of the characters. On that basis, this book partly succeeds and partly fails; some of the characters are quite interesting and avoid easy stereotypes, while a few are particularly poor (including one fairly silly “Dread Pirate Roberts” wannabe). The characters are quite varied, which is a bonus. Some are young Neonates, while others are truly ancient creatures. The theme of “revolution” is used here as a basis for selecting the characters, and while it’s easy to see in some cases (a young ex-Occupy Wall Street protester), it’s vague to the point of invisibility in others.

The art is mostly high quality, and the layout is quite pleasant. While the characters themselves are of mixed quality, the writing itself is perfectly competent and usually engaging. In the end, this is a decent book; an interesting read if you’re into old WoD metaplot and back story or if you’re a GM looking for ready-to-use NPCs.

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Minireview: The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook (Conspiracy X 2.0)

The results of yet another successful Kickstarter, the long-delayed Extraterrestrials Sourcebook for Conspiracy X 2.0 has now finally seen the light, with more books for the game line incoming. As the title implies, it’s a sourcebook about aliens for use in the game.

The book contains descriptions of three alien species (though if we’re pedantic, two of the species have tight (pre)historic ties with Earth so it’s debatable if they really qualify as “alien”). The first of these are the Atlanteans, who aren’t really from Atlantis in this game, that’s just the name of one of their Earth cities and also a bastardization of their own name for themselves. Semi-immortal humanoids, they are secretly the original progenitors of humanity and now lurk in the fringes, mainly concerned with high-stakes deadly games versus each other. This section is a mixed bag, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here mixed with some details which I found somewhat dubious. The time spans involved seem overly huge for anything as cohesive as this as a culture, for example.

Next up we get the Greys, who represent your typical “UFO visitor” (including references and reasons for cow mutilation!). Here they are given the twist of being originally aquatic, which is a bit strange but at least gets points for originality. They are highly psionic, and have come to Earth to figure out why the planet is a source of psionic “static” which plays hell with Greys and indirectly caused a major disaster for the race. Again, lots of interesting stuff mixed with some dubious material; again, scale becomes a “huh?” factor, this time scale involving distance instead of time. So there’s some psionic interference coming from Earth, and it’s powerful enough to disrupt a race hundreds of light-years away? Sure, we’re talking about a supernatural effect, but it was still a bit of a “huh” moment for me.

Last there’s the Saurians, an aggressive reptilian race. I originally expected these to be the least interesting, but was proved totally wrong: this is the most interesting segment in the book, the race is much more multi-faceted than I expected, and the reason they went away (and are now coming back), is very cool. It involves physics, which the two earlier race history descriptions tend to skip as irrelevant.

I found the book a bit slow to read through, partly because the writing was only so-so. I can’t really place my finger on the problem; there are few actual spelling or grammar errors, it’s more a question of the text being a bit dry. I would have expected more readability from a book about alien races, to be honest.

In sum, it’s a decent book with three quite detailed and very different alien races. I had some minor problems with some of the details, but there’s nothing here than a GM can’t easily tweak to suit tastes. Naturally enough, Unisystem game stats are included for the example NPC aliens and their gear, so this book should be easy to incorporate into pretty much any (modern-day) Unisystem game.

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Minireview: Dinocalypse Now, by Chuck Wendig

Dinocalypse Now is the first part of a trilogy based on the Spirit of the Century roleplaying game and its iconic characters. It’s also based on a Kickstarter which way exceeded its goals. They asked for $5,000 and got over $42,000, so the original book expanded into a trilogy and some other books too (coming later).

It’s a fun classic pulp romp, on the weird end of the scale. Jetpacks! Zeppelins! Intelligent apes! Dinosaurs! Mysterious vanished cities! Invading cave men! Some more dinosaurs!

The action starts with one of the protagonists falling to his death while dinosaur assassins go for the President (or the United States), and doesn’t let up much from there. This is very lightweight stuff, ideal for summer reading, but the pacing is generally good and the characters, while (intentionally) pulp-stereotyped, and interesting enough to keep the story going. A couple of fun plot twists kept the plot from being too obvious, and in the end the book has laid the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy (including the introduction of an Evil Mastermind, gotta have one of those).

Well worth a read if slightly tongue-in-cheek classic pulp action is to your liking. Don’t expect much beyond that, though.

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New Delta Green novel ransom

Dennis Detwiller’s long-rumored new Delta Green novel “Throught a Glass, Darkly” is now up for ransom at Kickstarter. For us E.U. people, contributing $35 gets you both an ebook version of the book (once complete) and a limited-edition hardcover dead-tree copy, in addition to your name in the acknowledgements of the book. I’m in, naturally enough, Delta Green novels and short stories have all been very high in quality at least so far.

They’re trying to raise a fairly substantial sum ($26,000), which will cover both the limited-edition hardcover (for the Kickstarter supporters), the ebook version, and a mass-market paperback. The time limit is two months (up to June 19th). As always with these things, you only pay the “ransom” amount if the project succeeds, so it’s a no-risk proposition.

They (Arc Dream Publishing that is) have also opened up this ransom for retailers and distributors. For example, one of the ransom options is as follows:

PLEDGE $180 OR MORE (Qualified retailers or distributors in Canada or the E.U. only. Contact shane.ivey@gmail.com to confirm.) The ebook edition and 10 copies of the hardcover limited edition. For each additional $18 we’ll send another copy of the hardcover. This fundraiser is the only way retailers will be able to order the hardcover limited edition at a discount.

That means that game stores also have the option of getting some copies of the otherwise-unavailable hardcover edition (plus ebook edition), for $18 per copy ($15 for stores/distributors inside the US) including shipping. Might be a fun specialty item for some stores, perhaps, and in any case it’s a nice option.

And hey, there’s also the luxury support option: :)

PLEDGE $4,000 OR MORE LIMITED REWARD 1 of 1 remaining (Elsewhere.) Your name appears in a special dedication in ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’; you get the ebook edition and up to 50 copies of the hardcover limited edition shipped anywhere in the world; and author Dennis Detwiller will fly to your town to perform a live reading from ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ at the venue of your choice (some restrictions may apply) or run a game of Delta Green for you and your friends.

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