Saturday, November 23, 2013

Skyrealms of Jorune

Skyrealms of Jorune (3rd Edition)Skyrealms of Jorune by Andrew Leker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful setting with overly-complex game mechanics, Skyrealms of Jorune works best as an incredible sourcebook for science-fantasy role-playing. The world of Jorune is unlike any other you've encountered in role-playing with rich cultural and historical details akin to those of MAR Barker's Tekumel.

Jorune has its own pseudo-magic system based on Isho, the energy that emanates from the planet itself. Character races are wide and varied, from one of three different human races to a trio of biologically-uplifted races, the woffen (uplifted wolves), crugar (uplifted cougars), and bronth (uplifted bears). The non-player character races are really the most fascinating of all. The cleash, a nasty insectoid race, the giant pseudo-reptilian corastin, the tall, exo-skeleton-armored ramian, and the mystical eyeless shantha are just a few of the intelligent races inhabiting Jorune. The non-intelligent races are even more bizarre and, one can argue, more dangerous than the intelligent races (who can sometimes be reasoned with - maybe - for a price).

Like Tekumel, Jorune's humans are descendants of colonists who have been cut off from their home planet (Earth, in this case). While ancient technologies (read hi-tech weapons, etc) do exist, they are very rare and very valuable. There are also some high-tech items native to Jorune, most notably those constructed by the shantha.

Skyrealms can be played on its own, but I find it best to borrow elements from it and shoehorn them into other systems, mostly OSR systems, such as Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or good old AD&D. Translations take a bit of effort on the DM's part, but everything but the usage of Isho (equivalent to "mana" in some magic systems) can be ported over effectively. If nothing else, Skyrealms of Jorune shows how a sourcebook ought to be done. The artwork throughout is beautiful, the anecdotal fictional sources are entertaining and teach the reader what it means to live on Jorune, and the depth and breadth of cultural information is truly amazing. Jorune has a bit of a cult following out there, small, but dedicated. Seek them out, and I promise that your campaigns, whether based in the Skyrealms or not, will be enriched.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Heraclix & Pomp "Clues Museum"

I've created a new Etsy treasury list containing several items related to my forthcoming novel, Heraclix & Pomp. Have a look at it and, if you're so inclined, buy something from the shop owner. Note that the purveyors of these goods have no connection with me outside of the fact that we both use Etsy. If you don't know what Etsy is, you're missing out on one of the primary things that makes the internet great: the entrepreneurial spirit! Take a while and browse around there - I've done some of my Christmas shopping on Etsy and have never been disappointed. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Creative Process, Exhibit A: Heraclix & Pomp

Writing is a joy. This is especially true when you have created characters that you love in a setting that fascinates you with ideas that challenge you. This is how I feel about my novel Heraclix & Pomp.

On the other hand, writing is a lot like real work. I wanted to show you what that work looks like to me, at least in the creation of Heraclix & Pomp. For those of you who either want to know what it's like to write a novel out of sheer curiosity or because you have a similar project planned, here is a 30,000 foot view of the process. You won't get any scholarly wisdom on how to write - for that I'd recommend Michael Moorcock's excellent book Death is No Obstacle and Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. These two books have helped me in my writing pursuits more than any others I've read. So this blog post isn't a "how to," it's more of a peek around the curtain.

I'll start . . . where I always start. By generating ideas. I've found that hindsight is anything but 20/20 when it comes to finishing a novel. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of threads that go into your novel, some picked up with intentional research, some subconscious, some gathered in a relaxed dinner conversation, some from listening to the radio . . . you get the point. But I cannot over-emphasize the need to read and read a LOT! I recommend reading primarily outside of your genre while you are writing, so you don't taint your ideas or inadvertently plagiarize someone else's work, thinking it was your own. Before or after writing the novel, go for it! I have a stack of fantasy novels that I need to read once this novel has gone out to the masses. So I'm reading primarily non-fiction and science fiction, for the time being.

For Heraclix & Pomp, I've looked back and seen, in the rear-view mirror, at least 20 books that inspired me before and while writing the novel. But three of them really stand out. Here they are:

These are the three that really got my thoughts going and planted the seeds in my brain for Heraclix & Pomp. The top two are pretty obvious, even with my poor camera work: Meyrink's The Golem and Schacter's Searching for Memory. I'm not telling what the third one is, the one that is opened up on top. Many of you will recognize it immediately, some of you won't have a clue. For those who don't know, start asking true geeks - it won't take long before you find One Who Knows! In fact, it this exercise should calibrate your geekometer's precision by a factor of 10.

After the rush of inspiration and pondering for a while, it's time to start writing.

Many of the younger generation will have forgotten about this very cool invention called "the pen". When a pen is applied to paper, ink comes out, allowing you to write words. There is no auto-correct feature. Sorry.

Seriously, I have to handwrite to get the creative juices flowing. I'm a kinesthetic and visual learner, so I really have to feel the story as I write it. In fact, I keep different sizes and weights of pens around so I can force myself to write faster or slower, more carefully or carefree, depending on the writing tool. I am a pen whore, I admit it. Keyboards are more for editing, in my view. Your mileage may vary. So, yes, I hand-wrote Heraclix & Pomp. The whole thing, start to finish. Here are a couple of pages, randomly selected from my notebooks, to prove it:

Now, I understand that my cell phone camera is not the best for taking pictures, but if I had used a high-resolution camera, it wouldn't have mattered. That's my handwriting. I'm one of the few people who can actually read it. Maybe I should have been a doctor.

After many months of writing at night or on lunch break at the day job or on my days off, I had my first completed draft of the novel. This is the result:

That's four notebooks worth. Truth be told, there are probably little snippets of stuff - character sketches and such - on any manner of note cards or post-it notes, too. Oh, and there's a map I drew in my drawing notebook of the Shadow Divan's sanctuary/laboratory/library. But that's something for a different day.

After handwriting the novel, I type. This allows me to edit and correct as I go. I usually do this a chapter at a time, rather than waiting for the entire novel to be done, so my process is: hand write chapter 1, enter chapter 1 in computer and edit as I go, hand write chapter 2, enter chapter 2 in computer and edit as I go, etc. ad nauseum.

When all my typing was done, I printed up the novel. Yes, the entire thing. Here's what it looks like:

That's a hardcover Roget's Thesaurus next to the stack, just to give some perspective on how many pages are there. It's a chore to carry that anywhere, so it usually stays in my writing area, unless I feel like I'm needing exercise. I actually took this stack to Mexico with me, when I went down there for The Day Job and tried to do some editing over dinner. Not the wisest choice. I'm still not sure it that's enchilada sauce or flan that made its way into the first page. Either way, it was delicious:

Now that I've printed the monstrosity, I go through the printed pages and do another editorial run-through. In fact, I just completed that last night. Here's an example of corrections made to the printed manuscript:

Hey, look at that! You can almost read it! Heh. I don't think the NSA could crack the code of my handwriting. Even though it's not a code . . . on purpose.

After making these corrections, I go back through, page by page, and make corrections in my electronic copy. This is a good time for me to make meaningful sentence and paragraph-level revisions, which I have done.

Now, I wait for my editor to get me the editorial letter outlining the issues he sees and how the book can be even better than it is. It's good to have an editor that you trust to tell you where you've done well and where you need to change things to improve the novel. I'm sure I'll have more on that in future days, but for now, there you have it. How I write a novel, in one neat little blog post. Keep in mind that my methods might not work for you. Each writer is different, which is pretty cool. Just remember: Your mileage may vary!
Addendum: The editorial letter has arrived! And now, the real work begins!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

LotFP Spell: Black Flame

Alright, fellow RPG geeks, I am working on a Lamentations of the Flame Princess supplement to accompany the release of my novel Heraclix & Pomp, which is due out from Resurrection House press next Fall. I chose LotFP because I think the novel's ouvre best fits with the weird fantasy system. More on that some other time.

I have created the following Magic User spell, which is used at a certain point by my main villain, and wanted to “throw it out there” to see what your collective thoughts are. Things like “is it the appropriate level?”, “Would it unbalance the game by being either too strong or too weak?”, and “Does the range, duration, etc make sense?”

Note that Heraclix & Pomp takes place in an alternate Eastern and Central Europe in the 1750s-60s. The setting is low magic, I just happened to write about heroes and villains who are deeply steeped in magic, despite their mundane surroundings.

Here's the spell. Any help would be appreciated:

Black Flame

Magic-User Level 7
Duration: 1 Round/Level
Range: 80'

This invocation creates a curtain of black flame 20' square per caster level. This curtain can be “wrapped” around the spellcaster, so long as the total square footage is not violated. The wall emits non-damaging, but palpable cold up to 10' from the wall on either side, though the caster is not affected by the cold. Touching the wall in any way causes 1d6 of damage for every 4 levels of the caster's experience. This is treated as cold damage. Fire-using creatures suffer double damage. Anyone walking through the wall suffers the same damage as touching the wall, but must also save against magic or suffer one of the following effects, determined randomly:

  1. Character permanently loses sense of smell.
  2. Character blinded for 1 day
  3. Character permanently loses 1 point of constitution
  4. If the character is a Magic-User, he or she loses ½ of memorized spells for the day, randomly determined. If the character is a non-Magic-User, the character falls asleep for 1d4 turns
  5. Character is badly burned and loses 2 points of Charisma, permanently
  6. Character loses 2d4 points of Dexterity for 1 day

Note that the caster must maintain concentration for the wall to remain up.

Material components are a bone from an undead creature and several fresh drops of the caster's blood.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Jetsons go to the Library

I've got some pretty smart and talented kids. One's studying Theater and Political Science, another is studying Aerospace Engineering, my third is a senior, so he's applying to some pretty high-octane schools to study biology on a pre-med track, while my youngest is only a sophomore in high school and isn't too concerned with what he'll study, though he's talked about becoming a writer (like his dear old dad – well, at least a part-time writer).

Needless to say, I've visited a few college campuses. Between my own visits when I was young and those of my kids, I've visited BYU, Humboldt State University, University ofCalifornia-Riverside, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Case WesternReserve, Purdue University, Northwestern University, Iowa StateUniversity, and University of Chicago, as well as a number of other small schools and reservations against Stanford and/or Princeton, should my son be accepted to one or both of these schools.

Each of these fine institutions has a large library. I think UW-Madison's is the largest, in terms of holdings, though BYU's and Northwestern's are pretty formidable. But the coolest library, by far, is one of those at the University of Chicago.

And there aren't even any books “on the floor”.

Let me explain. Like any other major University, University of Chicago has several libraries. Their flagship library is The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. On the outside, it is merely a strange looking building, something quite out of character with the rest of the campus (where most of the buildings are modeled after or direct replicas of the buildings of OxfordUniversity - think Hogwarts in Chicago). It's reminiscent of a futuristic Disney building or something from a science fiction movie:

Our tour guide called it her “personal snowglobe”. In the winter, she would stand in the middle of it and watch the snow falling onto it with an relatively unobstructed view of the snow storms that often hit Chicago.

Here's the strange part, though. Take a look at the interior and tell me what is missing?

Duh! No books! What the heck?

Well, things get even more science fictiony. You see those pillars rising up from the floor? Each of those is a kiosk with a terminal on it. When you key in the book you're looking for, an underground robot finds and retrieves your book or books out of the 3.5 million slots and sends it up the chute into a tray by the terminal.

It's The Jetsons come to life!

Is this the future of libraries? Are we seeing the seeds of a Terminator of librarians?

I doubt it. Libraries and librarians will adapt in new, creative ways that us civilians have never conceived.

 Long live our fortresses of books and those who keep watch from the towers! Librarians rule!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Heraclix & Pomp's Top 20

Every author has been influenced by the books they've read. Sometimes, this manifests itself in a work, whether in a blatant retelling of another story, or in more subtle ways, by inference. My novel Heraclix & Pomp (forthcoming from Resurrection House press) is no exception. So I wanted to acknowledge the books that influenced me while I wrote Heraclix & Pomp. Some of them are works that had a more subtle influence by way of atmosphere or structure,while others were more "up front," sometimes used as reference works. I won't parse out which is which, but when you read Heraclix & Pomp, you'll be able to tell that some of them by a direct reading of the test and others only after reading the novel, then reading the other books and pondering a bit on how they relate. I admit that some of these were largely subconscious influences, and it took me some time to meditate on them and draw out the connections. You might have to do the same. But, hey, the greatest rewards in reading come from these kinds of exercises. Here's the list, Heraclix & Pomp's Top 20:

  1. The Golem, Gustav Meryrink
  2. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
  3. Magic Prague, Angelo Maria Ripellino
  4. Searching for Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past, Daniel L. Schacter
  5. The Marquis: Inferno, Guy Davis
  6. Europe in the Eighteenth Century, 1713-1783, M.S. Anderson
  7. Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, Gary Gygax
  8. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  9. Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-De-Siecle Germany, Kevin McAleer
  10. By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions, Richard Cohen
  11. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Edward Raggi IV
  12. Die Leiden des jungen Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  13. The Bridge on the Drina, Ivo Andric
  14. Gustave Moreau: Between Epic and Dream, Genevieve Lacambre
  15. Islamic Art, Barbara Brend
  16. Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
  17. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  18. Traveler's Companion: A Collection From Harper's Magazine, Harper's Magazine
  19. Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories, Italo Calvino
  20. Burnham's Celestial Handbook, vol. 1, vol. 2, and vol.3, Robert Burnham, Jr.
OK, so the last one is three volumes, but it's really only one book.

I'm sure there are other influences I'm missing. In fact, you might know some, not even having read Heraclix & Pomp. What books do you associate with those in the list above? Let me know and I'll add to my infinitely long To Be Read list on both Goodreads and Booklikes!

Searching for Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past

Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The PastSearching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past by Daniel L. Schacter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was originally introduced to this book while in graduate school taking a graduate seminar on historiography. After reading and discussing it, I had a whole new view on history, perception, and life. It really changed me. I often refer to Schacter's work when doing research for my fiction writing. To say it informs my work is a gross understatement. Searching for Memory provides an underpinning from which most of my fiction arises. Questions of memory and perception are always in the forefront of my mind when developing characters and plot. Whenever I put a pen in my hand, the specter of Daniel L. Schacter is looking over my shoulder. The man haunts me, always asking: "Did your character really remember that correctly? Or did they even participate in the incident that led to the memory at all?" Thanks, Doctor Schacter. You make a man feel paranoid, and you probably don't even remember doing it. Or do you?

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