Tag Archives: D&D

Reading of Books #28

Another edition of my book bit, with a lot of new books read. R.A. Salvatore is very present with the last two trilogies of Drizzt, Paul Stanley from Kiss and Duff McKagan from Guns’n’Roses. Totally not geek + music geek edition.


R.A. Salvatore – The Companion Codex (Night of the Hunter, Rise of the King, Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf)

source: Goodreads.com

In this series of books, we pick up the dark road that the party of heroes seemed to have ahead of them in the inbetween book ‘The Companions’. Drizzt is reunited with his Catti-Bri, his friends Bruenor, Regis and Wulfgar. It seems however, that war is brewing everywhere and the Orcs are marching with support of the drow. The Silver Marches are besieged by the thousands and cities fall. The dwarves are locked in their underground citadels and no one seems to be able to push them forward. That changes when Bruenor Battlehammer picks up his plight as king among dwarfs. When he starts listening to the whispers of the old dwarven gods and the counsel of his friends and fellow Dwarf kings.

In the most desperate situations the united dwarfs of the Forgotten Realms find their brightest moment. They unearth their greatest treasures after millennia. It is not an easy fight though and much will be lot and much must be sacrificed to get there. In these novels, the world turns a bit more dark and grim and many mechanisms seem to be at work. The wheels are turning and Drizzt and the companions of the hall find themselves in the middle of it all, but also in the middle of their own turmoil and demons. Salvatore creates the profound story that looks at a world, where good and evil are not such simple concepts anymore. What is war if one loses all that holds value? What is a war if you forget the values that you fight for?

Paul Stanley – Face the Music: A Life Exposed

source: goodreads.com

Paul Stanley has always been the most mysterious member of Kiss. His biography is one of the most anticipated ones among fans of the band. The singer has always been a bit of a puzzle for most people, but in this biography he is very open about himself. Even though at times it isn’t pretty and some band experiences come out, he manages to touch his readers. Paul Stanley is the first Kiss member to write a biography that leaves him standing as a victor in the end. The book is also not as filled with spite and dislike. I can’t say that for the other ones by Kiss members and that is a pleasant thing to be sure.

Paul Stanley describes his life from his early days onward. Being born with only one ear intact (and working), turns out to be the source of most angst and insecurity in his life. It’s the red threat through his whole carreer and experiences. Reading this, it outshines even all the fame and fortune. Everything related to the ear problems seems to be key in his development. The surgery to reconstruct it, the way he positions himself on the stage and in the end how he starts working for a childrens organisation. Sure, there’s the necessary amount of rock’n’roll extravagance going on as well. You’ll get some good stories about the women, sustance abuse (of others, since Stanley never really was the crazy one on that front) and quite some Gene Simmons. Pauls story is touching and captivating, never free of a good critical look at himself, but at times blissfully unaware of his own being and impression. A joyful read for sure.

R.A. Salvatore – Homecoming (Archmage, Maestro, Hero)

That was the respons I got from mr. Salvatore himself about my earlier thoughts on the series. Now, I did get here and after 33 books I was fearful for quite a few pages that all would end horribly in tears. For the characters, but also for me since after all this time I had become quite attached to the figures in the book. This whole series has the vibe of an endgame. Things are getting serious in here and that makes for some really daunting reads. Some surprising developments and character innovations take place and we all somehow get them together for a final push.

source: goodreads.com

We find Mithril Hall at peace for once, but things are always stirring in the Forgotten Realms. The drow in Menzoberranzan have not finished with their prodigal son. Internal power struggles literally open the gates to hell and demons flood into the realm. They happen to be causing more havoc to the drow themselves than to their enemies. The primordial under Gauntlgrym stirs and Yvonnel the Eternal is reborn. Facing these great enemies are our heroes; Drizzt, Catti-bri and Bruenor. Their other two friends are on a quest of their own, where Regis and Wulfgar will find great challenges and old companions on their road. Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxl site with the heroes…  but things get really interesting when a runaway archmage joins them and a very important priestess of Lolth. But what if your real enemy is within your own mind?

There’s a promise of more to come though. This is good, because I love these books. Unfortunately, mister Salvatore has announced he will not answer any questions on the matter for now.

Duff McKagan – It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)

source: goodreads.com

I’ve never really been a fan of Guns’n’Roses, but when I heard their bass player talk on the Danko Jones podcast about his book. I knew I had to read it. Duff McKagan is the epitome of cool, the laid back voice, the self awareness and self depricating jokes… In his book he is telling the world his story including all the stupid decisions, bad choices and all about the rampant drug and alcohol abuse that brought him to his knees and made him rise up again a new man. The book starts with the McKagan of now. He is walking out of the backdoor of his house during his daughters birthday party and finding two kids making out. He goes through a mental checklist of drugs, sex, alcohol and other things… it’s a funny opener and shows how comfortable McKagan is in writing about himself. Then the good stuff starts.

Duff McKagan is a Seattle-born musician. People sometimes forget that he was in a bunch of bands in the past. It’s good to get some info on that too with his early bands. Also a near death experience at an early eage seems to have contributed to his personality. The writing style is casual, almost off handed as if things just emerge and happened, but sometimes we get back to the internal monologue from the start. Especially when bad things happen. A rock’n’roll book with drugs and alcohol has a lot of grief in it. McKagan never makes light of that. He is funny when he talks about himself, jovial when it concerns weird things that happened to a bunch of guys and cordial when he writes about problems in the band. He always seems  to have the right tone for all situations, never goes down avenues of boring thoughts and just keeps this easy to read. One of the best rock’n’roll bio’s I’ve seen this far.

The Reading of Books #23

Ah, books… I’ve been reading books on D&D and more, so I’ve had happy times. Michael Witwer wrote  a great biography of Gary Gygax,  Another bit of Drizzt reading by R.A. Salvatore, high fantasy by Weiss and Hickman and a treatise on bullshit by Frankfurt. Good times!

Michael Witwer – Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons

source: Goodreads.com

Gary Gygax is the undisputed king of the nerds (sorry Chris Hardwick), but who was this Emperor of Imagination? That must have been what Michael Witwer thought, before he embarked on his quest to write this book about the creator of Dungeons & Dragons. The book features episodes out of the life of Gygax. It starts with aregular kid falling in love with comic books, Conan and games. The chapters are usually started with a D&D referring intro, offering a teaser for the life experience discussed in the following chapter. It’s a pleasant book, with a strong feel good atmosphere. The rise of a new idea that no one believed in, a shady period of darkness and then the moment of redemption. Witwer doesn’t eschew the darker periods of Gygax’s life. He also adresses his marriage, his departure from TSR (his company, that he was booted out of) and his drug abuse while staying in California.

Thoug this book is largely written from a pro-Gary standpoint, it is not always as mercyful to the original Dungeons & Dragons game master. The figure of Dave Arneson is greatly trivialized and in this version of the story. His contribution is described as a rambling set of ideas and incoherent notes, which were pretty much useless. This for example is stuff that is left out. Gary remains the sympathetic guy, even though at some time he really must have een a complete ass. His business dealings with TSR were also not a highlight of his carreer. All in all, this is a great book though, demonstrating story telling without really chosing sides as much, more a perspective. A really cool way to learn more about the creation and originins of the great game of D&D and the man who made it happen.

R.A. Salvatore – Transitions (The Orc King, The Pirate King, The Ghost King)

source: goodreads.com

Another series of books by R.A. Salvatore I read as a part of the ‘Legend of Drizzt’. I have to admit that I read these with a heavy heart, having had a good look at the follow-up already and knowing fully well what doom and gloom awaited me. Fortunately I was happy to first read some great story telling, before the unfortune hits me. In these books the world around the heroes of the hall is changing significantly. The world is morphing into the chaotic realm of the later books ánd the world Drizzt will be facing.

It starts with ‘The Orc King’, which is an interesting tale about the tentative peace between the Dwarves and Orcs. A group of conspirators wish to destabilize the already difficult situation to perpetuate the war. In the Pirate King we meet Deudermont again, the heroic pirate hunter from Waterdeep. This time he intends to take on the corruption in Luskan and fight the Lych Arklem Greeth. Worse still is to come when in The Ghost King a creature emerges with the combined forces of various old enemies. We also meet Cadderly again, the human servant of Deneir and his family. Oh, this well known drow drops by too.

The stories are exceptionally dense and well written, but give less space to the characters. Most of them have been fully developed, but the enemies are really very flat. That is not so surprising, since this is really a series of transition stories. What else do you need to know after reading all previous books, one could argue. That would be right, the world is changing and that means you have to shift the players to that setting. Salvatore does that with three touching, great and magical books. I really enjoyed reading these.

Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman – The Magic of Krynn

source: wikipedia

As it is, I’m a Forgotten Realms fan. I’ve not learned much about the Dungeons & Dragons universe beyond the Sword Coast and I’m not very familiar with the past. Reading this masterpiece by Weiss & Hickman, two of the most appreciated writers in the scif-fi/fantasy. I’ve gotten my first taste of their work with the ‘Death Gate Cycle’, so their skill were known to me. I learned that they had started out as TSR writers, D&D’s company. This is the first Dragonlance book with short stories from the wildly popular Dragonlance setting, which probably helpt put D&D on the map even more firmly. The stories are sort of brief and vary between short and funny, fairytales with hidden wisdom and more complex stories that fit in with the bigger story arch.

The characters seem a bit flat at first, which makes them really pieces that help progress the story. It feels very typical for the more traditional fairy tales, where the characters are fairly simple. Soon you start recognizing them and reading their personalities through the stories. For example the character Tasslehoff Burrfoot is a continuous source of entertainment for the reader. There’s really the sense of dark forests and mystery of a world you barely know anything about here. I think that is part of the allure and probably the close connection to classical fantasy worlds, where figures embody deity like essences. Tasslehoff would be a bit of a trickster, a Loki if you will. Though it’s not my setting of preference, I look forward to revisiting it in future reading endeavours.

Harry Frankfurt – On Bullshit

source: Princeton press

Yes, there is a philosophical article about bullshit available, though much like the makers of ‘Idiocracy’, I doubt that Frankfurt thought he’d ever be known to publish something so particular to the current state of the world. Yes, Trump immediately comes to mind when we discuss the difference between lying, not saying something and speaking absolute bullshit. Bullshit is more than just talking out of your ass, it’s more than willingly mislead your audience, it supposes an almost non-caring attitude towards whatever story you’re spinnin.

On Bullshit is an essential bit of reading for the post-factual age that we live in.

Lessons Learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons

Not too long ago I started running a Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Though the game we play is just the starter set of the fifth edition, ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelvar’, you can gain some insights. Though they are crude, I’d like to share them with you.

See, role playing may seem like a fun activity for your free hours, but you can learn a lot and apply a lot of it to, so here’s five lessons I’ve learned from playing D&D. But let me preface that with the fact that D&D’s magic doesn’t lie in the characters or setting, it’s in the collaborative effort. That’s where the magic happens and how that comes to be is not so different to work situations.

1. Being a DM is much like managing

For those who don’t know, a DM is a dungeon master. Essentially you play the monsters, other characters that the players encounter and you judge whether things that the players try to do work out. Most importantly though, you run the story and try to make everyone enjoy the ride. As a DM, more often than you think, you’ll try to guide the players or direct them. However, you shouldn’t, as this is exactly the part that they need to do themselves. As a DM you have to rely on the qualities of the party. You can suggest or hint at things, or throw some extra stuff their way, but basically you’re managing a team of skilled individuals. Trusting them is a challenge.

2. Role playing only works when you are vulnerable

Role playing is collaboration. Collaboration between the DM and the players and between the players. This only works fully, if you manage to be open and trust each other. As a DM I sometimes have to voice certain characters. Since I’m not a voice actor, it can be tricky, so the willingness to engage with my meager acting skills is extremely important for the mutual fun we want to have. Similarly, if I laugh or mock another player for attempting things in the game or imitating a voice, I might cause a big decrease in expression and joy of that player. He or she will think twice before speaking up again.

Do you have one of those managers or bosses that are hyper-direct, blunt and pretty much always right (even when they clearly aren’t)? Pretty much everyone knows the kind of character I’m talking about. It’s that person who chokes the creativity out of any project group or team, the one that makes refrain from sharing ideas/suggesting things. That’s exactly the same thing. Feeling safe and being able to feel vulnerable are key ingredients in any collaboration.

source: Dungeonsmaster.com Click the image for a great article (even though its 4) on engaging your players.

3. Engaging your players is harder than you think.

Apart from that safe environment, there is another huge challenge if you want to get things done. Engaging with your players is vital to the success of a D&D campaign. If they don’t feel invested or attracted to the campaign, they won’t get into it. Even less chance that they do in the way you want them to. In fact, to get the interaction going and the story rolling, you need every single person around the table to be invested. To achieve such engagement, knowing their various strengths and interests is vital.

This, again, is very similar to a project. No one wants to be bothered with a project that doesn’t offer any challenge. Why? Because it’s boring and doesn’t give you those positive vibes of excitement that make you go out of your way to contribute your best/to do your best, etc.. Simply ‘challenging’ someone does not make for a good project. It’s a matter of constantly estimating their attitudes and interest and working that on a personal level. Challenges have to be tailored to the individual. Have you ever been in a project where everyone was agitated and nobody felt like it was really his or her project? That’s the absolute opposite of an engaged group. If you find that exact bit of the story in which the player can excel, it becomes her story. The same goes for work-like situations: if you don’t feel engaged, you’re not switched on.

4. Reward effort, even when it fails.

Your players will attempt stuff, that will be creative, weird or even utterly out of place. Also stuff that you were simply not prepared for. So… sometimes they fail. Sometimes players come up with elaborate schemes and actions, but they roll, you roll and they fail. However, that’s not the end of it: the creativity of the players should always should be rewarded. Just let them succeed or do some accidental good to the players. Why? Because speaking out is brave, trying things is daring. Creativity already is stomped upon way too often in this world of ours.

Again, let me compare this to the bad manager that sits you down at a table and asks for ideas, yet somehow every idea gets ridiculed and mocked. How many ideas would you like to share with this person? None. So it’s vital to reward people that share thoughts, give feedback, offer suggestions and so on, because once that flow of information stops, you might end up having to do all of the work by yourself. For a D&D game, that would suck. For any work endeavor… well, what do you think? Always show grattitude for the input of others and reward the courage to stand up and say whatever you have in your head.

5. You could treat any project like a dragon

Ok, so I kind of added this one for fun, but also to wrap it up. If you spark the interest, engage players and manage to provide that environment where people feel cool and feel that they can be creative, you can do anything. Seriously, ANYTHING! You’d be surprised by how often you see a D&D party beat the odds with daring ideas, out-of-the-box thinking and the creative madness that is born out of the excitement.

You might think: well, yeah, but they’re beating paper dragons… Well, isn’t most of the work we do all just paper dragons. Paper dragons are, at their core, problems that need to be solved. If you can make your team feel like they are facing a dragon and if they get as pumped and inspired as my D&D party, you’ll be surprised by what you can achieve. Really, they might just slay it in a way you had never thought of.