Vanity Presses: Don’t.

I recently finished a book that took all my willpower to get through. I won’t name the author or book, because this isn’t about shaming him and his work.

This is about shaming vanity publishers, and in this case specifically FriesenPress. What’s a vanity publisher? They’re publishers you pay to bring out your books. They don’t really care if you sell any books, because they make their money off the authors. You pay them for services… and I’m not talking about a small amount of money. From people I’ve talked to,  it’s $5000 and up. Way up.

I met an author at Saskatchewan Entertainment Expo last year, and when he talked about his books, they sounded really cool. Lots of action and adventure, in a future-Earth setting. Aliens. War. Listening to him pitch his book over and over again to potential readers never got old, and I wound up trading my first book for his.

First I had to finish getting through A Song of Ice and Fire’s fifth book, but after that, I dove into this one, ready for adventure.

He had told me that he’d gone with a vanity press, and I’ve heard plenty of bad things about those, but I wondered how bad could it really be?

The answer is bad. Very bad.

I wasn’t far into the book before I started stumbling over errors. And I don’t mean, “I would’ve done this differently.” I mean mistakes that any real editor would’ve caught. I got so distracted in the prologue that I would stop reading to make specific notes about the kinds of errors I was finding, and I would guess that EVERY kind of error that could be made was.

Here’s a list of just some of the errors I found… but honestly, I don’t think I got through a single page without finding something wrong, and I’m not an editor.

“Reports of the local Air Force base had secured the site but held the perimeter only seemed to solidify those suspicions as they boarded the V-22 Osprey that was readied for their transport.”


Oof. So awkward. Is it saying the reports had secured the site? This whole sentence needs to be chopped up.

“massive crater.” 

This is something I learned from my editor who caught my own misuse of the word ‘massive’ – something massive needs mass. It can’t be used to describe a cave, or crater. Also, this author LOVED the word massive. I mean, I found it (mis)used 3 times on one page. It was littered through the book carelessly, and an editor should have caught that and encouraged diverse word use. Mine did.

“Taylor noted he could feel the heat from the ground through his boots; this was something he had never experience before. The guards posted here looked nervous and unusually tense; he wondered what carnage lay beyond the crater wall that had shaken them so.” 

I had already noticed more semicolons than I’m used to seeing in a book, but the one-two punch of back-to-back semicolons really struck me. It feels really clunky when overused. 

“At last, he reached the third level door and opened it, emerging into the concrete maze that housed various vehicles housed throughout the day.” 

ANY editor should catch the same word showing up twice in one sentence. This next sentence drove me nuts:

“He was indeed struggling to resist the cold, saddening comfort of sadness and loosing himself in the exploration of the ancient Lyarran ark would help loosen its grip on his soul.”

There are also sections of the story where the POV shifts suddenly. One of the worst offenders went from following a General’s thoughts, to a Major’s, and then to “the troops” in a general sort of way, telling the reader what they all thought of the current situation. That kind of thing really breaks the rhythm of the story. 

A more minor detail is that when an apostrophe starts a word, you need to make sure it’s curling the right way (if you’re using a font that gives it a curl). A larger problem with the punctuation was the random explanation points all over the place. 

“It was (as) if he was actually there with them.” 

Missing words were confusing…

“Aaron moved his extended his arms out to his side and put his hands around the pegs.”

There were also plenty of extra words, like the example above, which made me have to reread a lot.

“…as the gurney was stopped by a large machine.”

Passive voice was not uncommon.

“This was new; they never had done this while he was awake.” or “screwing the best of plans up”

Misplaced modifiers were EVERYWHERE and frustrated me a lot. Should read “they had never done this…” and “screwing up the best of plans.”

“She weekly lifted her arm up for a  salute as her eyes began to close by themselves.”

Technically,  there are a few problems with this sentence,  but I’ve covered the others earlier. The new one is what my editor friend Karen Conlin likes to call “Spellcheck Cannot Save You.” This happened regularly throughout the story as well, with wrong words used all over the place. “Then” instead of “Than,” “Moral” used instead of “Morale,” and on and on. Weekly instead of weakly is pretty glaring. The same adjective is used again in the next paragraph,  and it makes the writing feel weak. 

Another example: Her excitement was “palatable.” The word is palpable. I don’t think he was going to eat his daughter because she was excited. 

It wasn’t until page 109 that I had a total “WTF?” moment. There was an ambush where a hybrid alien attacked and threatened a group of soldiers,  and at no point did the hybrid speak of his human family,  yet when the report came in, the General lost his mind and ordered surveillance on the hybrid’s family because he “obviously has full cognitive memory of his former life and may try to reach out to them.” This was so jarring that I had to go back to reread the entire interaction… at no point did the hybrid say anything that would have warranted this response.  

At this point,  1/4 of the way in,  I was questioning my resolve to get through the whole book.

The conflicts between the hybrid and the soldiers was drawn out unnecessarily. The hybrid would get into a battle, kill a couple soldiers, then leave. I expected some sort of reason for it, or a battle of wits or exposition between the General and the hybrid at the end, but it just fell flat. The whole battle felt anticlimactic.

And this speaks to a trope I’m totally over… the protagonist who can do everything, exactly when he needs to. I got tired of this with Richard Rahl in the Sword of Truth series. He walks into an insane problem, but conveniently discovers the power to deal with it, even if he didn’t know he could beforehand. At no point is there any tension at all regarding the main character. He’s going to make it, and will succeed at everything he does. You just know it.

The grammar errors never used to bother me, but I find them often (even in traditionally published books) since I started working with a good editor. 

By page 250, I knew this book was going to get tossed in my recycling bin as soon as I finished it, and I never do that with books. My wife was shocked when I told her I threw it out, but I said I just couldn’t donate that book and subject other people to it.

As a ship travels to Earth,  the computer calculates that there’s 150 days left. They’ll have to pause to calculate navigation routes through the solar system when they arrive,  which will take a couple of hours.  The captain thinks the Earth might need those couple of hours,  so commands the computer to analyze data about the solar system to compute a route in advance… which it does in a couple of minutes.  A task that was supposed to require a couple of hours of downtime? What? Why? And how long will the trip take now, with the saving of a couple of hours? 80 days! Somehow shaving off a couple hours instead shaved off more than a couple of MONTHS! Ridiculous. Absolutely ludicrous. I’d put up with a lot of errors and inconsistencies up to this point… a lot of minor and major irritations… but this is a colossal error. At this point,  with less than 200 pages to go,  I decided to finish it just to leave a review to tear apart FriesenPress. It is absolutely unconscionable to take someone’s money, because they have a dream of being an author, and not giving them the services they paid for.

Also,  that new timeline would’ve had reinforcements arriving to Earth long before the alien threat got there. But later,  they’re still on their way,  after the invasion begins. It’s sloppy, and a developmental editor – or even beta readers – would’ve caught it.

There are other timeline inconsistencies. At one point (2 hours after arrival) the AI tells the protagonist that the aliens will touch down in 40 minutes. The next scene (4 hours after arrival) is elsewhere,  then the next scene (10 hours after arrival) finally shows the invasion… 7 hours late! Why the discrepancy? It’s never addressed. 

I found another part of the story hard to believe… the “love interest.” It’s more than love at first sight. It’s absolute crippling infatuation at first sight. The protagonist and alien lock eyes across a holographic display involving untold countless aliens in a council chamber, and they literally can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s the sole focus of both points of view for scenes and scenes, with the protagonist unable to function because “she’s so beautiful.” I wish I was kidding. It was painful to read, over and over and over again. They literally don’t know anything about each other, and they’re certain they’re destined to be together, willing to sacrifice their lives for each other. It feels insanely forced, and the plot could’ve gone on without it. Also, the leader of the aliens is constantly described as oozing raw sexuality, every time she appears, and it’s exhausting reading about it.

And the repeated mentioning of how beautiful the alien is wasn’t the only repetitive aspect of the story. There were chapters where the same event was described from 4+ points of view, and almost nothing was added by including them. It felt like the book was being padded.

Things that were made out to be near-impossible odds early in the book were, in actual fact, of little consequence. The future-ally aliens were all like, “Oh no! Those invading aliens are far too powerful! We’re not sending our ships to help!” so the rogue, love-struck alien goes it alone, and it’s fine. Because the other alien reinforcements show up days earlier than expected because … the plot needed them there? There were so many mentions of how this lone ship was going to need to fight for days before anyone else showed up, but they literally got there, a couple salvos were fired, and the others showed up. The timing throughout the story was absolute horse shit (pardon my language. If you know me, you know how I feel about swearing, but this feels necessary).

The ending was… lacking. The alien leader who is always ALWAYS described as stunningly beautiful shows that she’s an idiot,  saying that only one human has been forged and tempered by the events of the book.  That character did almost nothing worthy of the role given at the end,  and to say that a better qualified person wasn’t shaped by the events is ludicrous.  The leader also ignores safety protocol, putting her life at risk for no reason whatsoever. She just needs to attend an event in person because … she wants to. In all honesty, she doesn’t think or act like a being whose life is measured in millennia and is the head of a galactic civilization.

Some of this is issues with the writing/plot, for sure. I can see why a traditional publisher wouldn’t touch it, because it needs a LOT of work to make the interesting aspects of the story shine (and there are some good things in there). But the fact that there are these vanity publishers who prey on writers who are desperate to publish their work for the world to see… it’s absolutely despicable. If they actually offered any kind of real services, maybe they would have merit, but it’s the fact that they did maybe $400 worth of work to format the text and slap a generic cover on it, and charged $10,000 that’s heartbreaking.

In short, don’t pay someone else to publish your book. If you want to hire editors and artists, that’s one thing. That’s part of self-publishing. But these companies that offer to do all the work for you, and charge thousands … they just don’t care if your book sells. They make their money from the writers, packing their garages with hundreds of copies of books that will likely never sell.

2019 wrap-up

I’ll try to keep this brief, although… y’know… writer…

This year has been a good one. It’s our first full year in Saskatchewan, and things are going well. We’ve all settled in and have new friends, work and school are great, and I have no complaints!

In terms of creative work, it’s been busy! Sales through Amazon have been reasonably steady throughout the year, with normal months being 2-digit profit months. That might not sound like a lot, but $20 is way more than $2! So at least I’m headed in the right direction, and the only person I’m competing with is me.

I’m only attending one convention per year now, instead of 2-3, but the one here is much bigger than the ones back in Ontario. The table price is about the same, but there’s WAY more foot traffic, and big name celebrities (My kids and I got to get our picture taken with Billy Dee Williams!).

Artist Alley table layout, SEE 2019

I’ve had short stories published, one with Dark Helix Press in the Futuristic Canada anthology, and another has been picked up for publication in 2020. A Queen’s Edict, book 1 in the Strongblade Siblings series (which follows 400+ years after the Empire’s Foundation trilogy), is being edited, and I’ve made progress on the first draft of A Prophet’s Request, book 2.

My Patreon has more than doubled in monthly donations, and that’s in large part because of the amazing people I play Dungeons and Dragons with. When I first thought about running a game on Discord, I figured I might get a Patron or two, but I’m up to 5 now, with two groups of players! It’s amazing how it’s grown, and if you’d like to check out the podcast, I have three playlists: the full playlist, in chronological order of when the groups played, and separate lists for Group 1 and Group 2, if you want to listen to the same party in order. Currently, that’s over 13 hours of content! Plus I commissioned some art by the amazing Harvey Bunda, to commemorate one of the play sessions, where a half-orc barbarian “wrestled” a merchant’s champion for a discount on mules… in front of a cheering crowd of thousands. Seriously. That happened.

Tempas teaches everyone about orcish wrestling…

I’m looking forward to 2020. Unless something goes terribly wrong, A Queen’s Edict will be coming out, kicking off a new series. I really hope people enjoy it. The cast of characters is fun and interesting, flipping typical fantasy on its head with the majority of characters you meet being female, none of that “she’s really exceptional!” to be an adventurer kind of junk. You see through their actions that they’re all awesome, yet “human.” Their skills and powers aren’t questioned by men. Representation matters, and I feel that women deserve the same treatment that men have had all along, without question.

Grace Strongblade, mercenary

I’m also going to work hard on finishing the first draft of A Prophet’s Request. D&D has been taking up a lot of my creative time and energy, but I want to have the second book coming along nicely, just in case the first book surprises me and does well right out of the gate.

Wishing you a happy holidays, and a great 2020!

Amazing month

September 2019 was one for the record books.

Saskatchewan Entertainment Expo (SEE)

Artist Alley table layout, SEE 2019

I had a great time at SEE this month, selling 16 books, which might be a record! On top of that, I got my picture taken with my kids and Billy Dee Williams, which was amazing! You don’t really get a chance to talk to the celebrity when you’re doing the photos, but just saying a few words, and hearing his voice was like a soothing balm for the soul.

Can’t wait to go again next year!

Amazon sales

A local friend of mine read through my book series on Kindle Unlimited, finishing A Noble’s Quest last month, and then pounding through A Wizard’s Gambit and A Hero’s Birth this month. Add those pages read to the sale of the ebook trilogy to someone in the UK, and two paperback books through Amazon, and that’s a good month!

Patreon

I doubled the number of patrons this month, thanks to some generous D&D players! We ran two groups through a Prologue session to give them a sense of scale for the world and threats to come, which was a lot of fun, and you can read about that in a previous post on this blog. I’m working on the audio for a podcast for the second group’s experience with the prologue, and it’s taking me a while to get through. But it’ll happen! I learned a lot from this first one, so future files should be much cleaner and faster to check.

Dowreth’s Return: Prologue

 

As you may or may not know, I’ve been running a D&D game through Discord, based on the universe I write about in the majority of my stories.

The game begins with a prologue, where players pick a pre-made level 15 hero of the realm. I created a fighter, paladin, rogue, ranger, cleric, wizard, bard, or sorcerer for players to choose from. The prologue is a bit more “rail road” than I normally like my campaigns to be. Usually I’ll have an idea for a campaign, and if players go with it, great, if not, I adapt. It’s funny how often players wind up going with the story idea, but it’s fantastic when it goes completely off the rails, too!

I originally had 6 players who signed up for the Discord server to play, and they picked everything but the wizard and fighter. But when game day came, two of the players who had just moved the day before were a no show. I figured they were probably exhausted from the move, so we played with 4 players: ranger, rogue, cleric, and sorcerer.

I was then contacted by other people who wanted to play at my table, too, and it quickly filled up with the two people who missed the first session, and three new people. So we had a paladin, bard, cleric, rogue, and ranger.

Additionally, someone contacted me through Discord saying he wanted to support me through Patreon and join a group! It was after group 1 finished the prologue, so I told him if he joined, he would have to miss that and go right into the main campaign, which he was fine with.

And we’ve all had an awesome time playing through the prologue! I was going to record the audio for the first session, but didn’t have the right permissions. The session was longer than I thought it would be, mostly because of some impressive role playing, so we wrapped up the prologue on a second session with Group 1. We then ran Group 2 through the prologue in a single sitting, although it was quite the heroic session, taking until 12:30am EST. And I got an audio recording for that session, which I will post to YouTube when it’s done being put together.

What was most fascinating for me was seeing how the two groups played differently. I want to highlight some of those differences, so I’ll go through each section of the prologue, and show how each group handled the challenges.

Before I get to that, if you’d like a spot at my virtual table, Patrons are guaranteed a spot, so if you’ve got a need to play, donate today!

Lordship of Invenny

The players were informed that they were to head to the Lordship of Invenny and help Sir Petrick Mythos with an issue for which he required immediate aid. If they were successful, they would receive 5000 gold pieces each, and their choice of a magical item from the royal treasury. They then traveled 10 days from the Kingdom of the Sun (capital) to the Lordship of Invenny with a brief description of the travel, until they reached a pavilion tent where they met with Sir Petrick.

Group 1

After discovering that there was something wrong with the forest, (the rogue performed an insight check to ensure Sir Petrick was being honest – he was) they split the party. The cleric and sorcerer went to speak with Father Starson, who told them there was nothing magical or evil about the woods. It was naturally foul, with the bleeding trees, and they would be best off getting their wood from a forest further west. Sir Petrick didn’t like that plan, because it would slow down production, and he wanted the outpost built as quickly as possible, so it was ready for trade with the southern kingdoms.

The rogue and ranger went to the woods, where they discovered proof of the bleeding trees, and Sir Petrick’s son Kyln, who was skulking around the edge of the woods. He joined their group “to carry the bags.” (Ain’t that rogue a stinker?)

The cleric and sorcerer spoke with Harriette the carpenter, who discussed how the bleeding trees had spooked the workers two months ago, and also learned that the stone was “wrong” near the town. But the bleeding trees, one drained and dried, made for excellent wood. She told them that she had chopped down one of the trees herself, and the stump was still oozing blood, long after the tree was removed.

Kyln told the ranger and rogue about how Father Starson had gone the furthest into the woods. The ranger found Father Starson’s trail into the woods, but decided not to investigate without the rest of the party.

Together once more, they headed to the inn to rest. There, they found the lead stonemason, Kurtis, complaining about how Sir Petrick wouldn’t let him leave. He figured there was no way they could build the outpost without good stone, stating that all three of their pit mines south of town had come up with shattered rock beneath the surface. They had first discovered the problem 8 months ago, 6 months earlier than the bleeding trees.

The party slept that night (the rogue stole into Sir Petrick’s tent to tell Kyln that the plan for the morning had changed), and met up with Kurtis in the morning. They found the pit mines were exactly as described, with shards of stone, and decided it was time to find the source of the corruption. They entered the woods…

Group 2

After learning about the bleeding trees, the party went to speak to Father Starson together. After hearing the spiel about how the woods weren’t evil or magical, they performed an insight check and discovered that Father Starson wasn’t being exactly honest with them… (dun dun dun!)

He told them that there was certainly something unsettling about the woods, and they would be best off getting wood from the forest farther to the west. When pressed about what was so unsettling, he said he had found a hidden road half an hour into the woods and they should investigate for themselves. (They didn’t do another insight check… so perhaps he withheld a bit more information…?) If they wanted more information about the woods, they could speak with Harriette. The cleric asked what religious symbol was on the temple, and was told it was just a pavilion tent with no religious symbol hanging over the door.

They talked to Harriette and got the same information as Group 1, although they pressed her further and discovered that Kyln Mythos often spent time around the woods. So when they went to the woods, they called out to Kyln and he came out immediately to talk to them. He told them about how Father Starson had gone the furthest into the woods, and Kyln was too scared to go deeper on his own.

The cleric used Cure Wounds on the bleeding tree stump and discovered that the stump withered at his touch. They left Kyln and headed into the woods on their own…

The Forest of Woes

Both groups went into the woods and discovered the cobblestone road, buried under a layer of dead leaves and dirt. The entire time, there were no signs of life… not even insects. The forest was eerily quiet, and both parties had at least one character who detected an unpleasant odour of rot on their journey.

Group 1

At this point, they tried stabbing a tree to see what happened, and instead of oozing blood, it spurted at them. The party tried to close the wound with a Cure Wounds spell, which caused the tree to not only stop bleeding, but wither. Turn Undead was used, and the trees in the area shook in reaction. But the trees gave off no signs of being evil or magical, so the party didn’t know what to make of that.

After a day of following the road, the party came to a white marble tower. While the sorcerer and cleric set up camp in the road, the ranger and rogue explored the outer area around the tower.

They found an outer yard that was surrounded by a broken down grey stone wall. Inside the outer wall was an old fountain in similar disrepair. Digging through the dirt that had built up in the fountain over the years, the rogue discovered a golden key. Satisfied with the find, he and the ranger went back to camp. The next day they discovered runes around the base of the building for a Protection from Evil spell. They wondered if the tower was to keep out evil, or if there was something inside that was being kept from escaping. With what intelligence they had gathered, they sent Kyln back to town. They decided to enter, the outer wooden door collapsing at their touch…

Group 2

When they saw the tower in the distance, they immediately set up camp and went to sleep, not wanting to risk anything during the night. In the morning they also found the golden key in the fountain, and the paladin discovered the Protection from Evil runes using her Divine Sense. Upon further inspection, they determined that the runes were indeed set to keep evil out of the tower (they rolled better). What was more, the bard had done his homework and immediately recognized that the white marble was from far to the south, and not native to the area. It made him think of ancient history, which discussed the War of Light and Dark, where the Knights of Light built buildings to keep out the darkness (this is a hint that I reward parties who have high history scores, because there’s always lore behind everything, and knowing it will add flavour to the game). 

They knocked on the front door and it collapsed, so they entered…

Tower: Main Floor

The room had three walls with doors to the left, straight ahead, and right. The door to the left was wood in good condition, straight ahead was a crumbling wooden door like the one they had just knocked down, and the third to the right was made of stone. In the middle of the room was a stone desk.

Group 1

They ignored the desk, and inspected the doors. The rogue found the left wooden door had runes engraved into it, which they determined was a Firestorm spell. They left that door alone.

The door straight ahead they knocked down to discover a room full of thick dust. There were pads where bedding might have once been, and when the rogue investigated the room, the dust stirred and blinded him. Lesser restoration fixed his vision, and he went back in after Detect Magic showed something necromantic glowing on one of the pads, under dust. The rogue tried to get it, but again went blind. The ranger used her bow to hook the object, but before she could slide it off, a clump of dust fell and blinded her. This went on for a hilariously long amount of time, before they finally managed to get the object out, covered in a blanket, and left it there on the floor while they continued adventuring.

The stone door had runes engraved in Celestial that said, “those who live in the light are welcome.” Through the door they found stairs leading up and down. They decided to go up…

Group 2

The cleric immediately headed to the stone desk, and the paladin went straight for the wooden door that was in good condition. She knocked, which pushed the door just enough to set off the Firestorm spell. Boom! The bard quipped, “Those were my favourite eyebrows” which was awesome. With the door blown off, they discovered a shelving unit with a charred garment and nothing else.

The cleric discovered 5 drawers with nothing but dust and broken glass inside them.

The door straight ahead was destroyed by the Firestorm, and they didn’t bother investigating what had been through it. They went straight to the stone door and decided to go up…

Tower: Top Floor

At the top of the stairs, they found a room with rows of stone desks and a lectern at the front. There were broken windows all around the outer wall behind the lectern with the remains of stained glass windows.

Group 1

After letting the others look and fail to find anything, the rogue went in and scoured the room, discovering an ancient holy text, a robe with a white key, and a secret door to a room with a loom, skein of jet-black fabric, and another tome. They took the fabric and the tome and decided to check out the basement, next…

Group 2

They didn’t do so great on their investigation rolls, only finding the holy text in the lectern. But the paladin used her Divine Sense, and felt goodness coming from behind the wall that shared the door they had come into the room through. After several attempts, they found the switch that opened the secret door. They took the fabric and tome and decided to check out the basement, next…

Tower: Basement

The door at the bottom opened with the white key, which both parties had, and inside they found another room with more of the jet-black cloth covering a huge 10 foot by 10 foot object in the middle of the room.

Group 1

The rogue got hurt as soon as he went into the room, so he left. The cleric wanted to pull off the jet-black fabric immediately, but the party begged her to reconsider. They had used up a fair number of cleric spells, and wanted to head out to examine their loot more thoroughly, so they left…

Group 2

The paladin, cleric, and bard entered the room without issue and started to look around. When the rogue and ranger went in, they both got splitting headaches and left the room. By deduction, they learned that Chaotic characters who entered the room were being injured.

They examined the cloth closely, finding that it radiated goodness. The paladin peeked under the cloth and when she couldn’t figure out what was there, the bard discovered that it was a magic portal. After much deliberation, they decided to go through the portal…

Group 1

Group 1 had taken a lot more time going through the town, so it was late by the time they made camp, and we broke off after they checked out the items, discovering that the holy text from the lectern was a 1000 year old tome that discussed how everything came into being, telling about a Lord of Light (Sharrow) even older than Pholtus, the god of light that the cleric worshiped. Thinking it might be of incalculable value, she stored it in a hole in a tree, where she could find it later when they were done with the tower.

The other text was an instruction manual for how to imbue cloth with magic, specifically the jet-black fabric with spells that would repel and burn any undead who touched it. They hung the skein of fabric from the broken front door, so nothing evil could come out in the night and get them.

The necromantic object they took out of the room filled with dust turned out to be a heavily pitted dagger. The ranger stabbed it into a tree, but the blade snapped off.

That night they all had nightmares (except the rogue). The cleric dreamed of Pholtus emerging from the holy text, a warm being of light. Then a much, much larger being came out of the book, swallowing up the smaller one. When it wept a golden tear from above, it fell on the cleric and smothered her.

The ranger dreamed of the white tower pushing away evil trees that grew around the outside. A vision that proved true, when she woke, for the trees grew in such a way that they did not touch the tower at all.

The sorcerer dreamed of Conflar, the dragon from whence his family’s power came from, attacking the tower, but being dragged away by the twisted trees, where he disappeared.

The next morning they decided to brave the Firestorm door. The rogue and sorcerer went into the main room, while the cleric and ranger stood outside the main door to the building. The sorcerer then case Mage Hand to open the door, which triggered the Firestorm spell. Boom! Even just outside the door wasn’t safe, and everyone took damage (except the rogue). Inside the closet they found nothing but charred fabric. No magic robe for either group!

To the basement they went, where they discussed their options. Once the portal was revealed, the rogue leapt into action and bounded through. The others had to follow…

(I will point out at this point that nobody thought to inspect the portal, or they would have found runes that described the function of the portal, and where it went… although there was a good chance they wouldn’t have understood where “Oos” was)

Through the Portal

On the other side of the portal was a small stone room, 20 feet by 20 feet. On the far side of the room, a gleaming great sword sat propped against the wall, and they found a hatch in the ceiling with no hinges and no lock.

Group 1

The great sword radiated evil and necromancy, but had the words “Sharrow’s Law” etched into it. Believing the ancient Lord of Light could not have a weapon that was all that bad, the ranger took it. They then boosted the rogue up to the hatch, who successfully pushed open the door and he rolled out of the way to avoid harm as stone and earth cascaded down.

Using the rogues rope of climbing, they climbed up to discover a ring of white stones around them. Upon further inspection, they determined it was probably a similar tower to the one they had left behind, but it had collapsed ages ago. All around them was a familiar scene, with old, twisted trees. And in the distance, a faint light bobbed up and down, illuminating a cloaked figure that walked away from them…

Group 2

Detect Magic showed the sword was necromantic, and an identify spell let them know it had a +2 enchantment. When no one else said they would use it, the ranger offered to take it.

The rogue and cleric failed to open the hatch, so the cleric and ranger boosted the paladin up, who successfully pushed the hatch open. They all took damage from falling debris. The rogue used the rope of climbing, an they all went up to see the light in the distance, moving away from them…

The Clearing

Both groups followed the light, and the cloaked figure who held it, until the figure sat down on a tree stump inside a clearing.

Group 1

The sorcerer cast Dancing Lights to get a better look at the figure. When they saw it was undead, they decided they had no interest in speaking to such an evil abomination and leapt into action. But the lich was ready for them and the lantern exploded, revealing a demilich! The floating skull rose up and screamed a bloodcurdling howl that dropped the cleric and rogue to zero hit points. The lich then pointed at the sorcerer and said, “Die,” and he did. The ranger, all alone, said out of character, “I hope you guys don’t think I’m a jerk, but…” They yelled, “RUN! Get out of here! Warn everyone on the other side! Cover the portal with the anti-evil cloth!”

And she ran. As she fled, she saw countless undead moving in the trees. She evaded them with her quick movement speed, made it back to the fallen tower, through the hatch…

To discover the lich had cast Dimension Door to beat her there. It dominated her, and she went back out of the tower and walked alongside the lich, who asked her questions about G’lothor, “the greatest of us” but she had never heard of such a figure. When she returned to the clearing, she found her old companions raised as undead monsters, and the scene faded to black…

Group 2

This is where things were WILDLY different. Group 2 spoke to the figure, not knowing it was a lich. It mentioned how it alone had stayed sane over the 1000 years since G’lothor had fallen. The bard, against all odds, knew of G’lothor, an ancient lich that had felled cities and civilizations in its attempt to cover the world in darkness. The party decided that they didn’t want anything to do with anyone who had a friend like that…

The lich picked up the lantern and threw it with the aim of it dropping in front of the party. The cleric ran forward, fumbled the catch, and the paladin – right beside the cleric – caught it. The cleric peered at the lantern to see what was so special about it, and the demilich stared back. The lantern exploded, and the demilich howled. The rogue and ranger were reduced to zero hit points.

And this is why the fight was so wildly different. With a paladin (boosting saving throws), a cleric (giving advantage on saving throws), and a bard (extra healing), it was REALLY hard to get the players down and keep them down. A Mass Healing Word got the rogue and ranger back up, but the lich used Power Word Kill to kill the rogue. The demilich took damage regularly, but also managed to heal through its Life Drain ability (until they started getting advantage on their saves from the cleric’s spell). The cleric, bard, and paladin held their own through five rounds of combat, surviving a second howl from the demilich.

But then the undead army swarmed through the woods into the clearing, and the last thing they heard was the lich laughing…

Because it was 12:30am at that point for the players out east, and I knew they needed to get some sleep.

What’s next?

Both parties will be starting in different locations. Group 1 is far to the north, 5 months travel for regular folk. It’ll be deep into winter when their adventure begins.

Group 2 will be in the desert city of Khor’thun, not so far from the Forest of Woes, so they will be experiencing the first wave of trouble in the late fall, long before the threat reaches the far north.

I can’t wait to dig into it. Group 1 has already generated their characters, and Group 2 has started discussions. I’m hoping the other two players in Group 2 can get their sound working and will be able to join us for next time!

Review: A Feast of Crows

A Feast for Crows, Book 4 in A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Marin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

This one was definitely my least favourite so far in the series. The explanation at the end made sense, that there were simply too many characters, and too much going on, to be able to fit it all in one book. But not seeing most of the characters that I actually liked in the series for a whole book was… aggravating. I missed Bran, Jon, Dany, The Onion Knight (although we did get to hear about him briefly – which really made me angry), Tyrion… and I really didn’t care about following the other Lannisters, or any of the Dorne stuff, which effectively had no impact on the story whatsoever.

And that’s how I felt about this book in general. I could have lived without knowing most of it. Cersei is extremely annoying. Even Jaime’s last scene, as good as his response was, did not make up for a whole book of following those two as the primary characters.

Arya and Sam had no agency in the story. I wasn’t sure why I was supposed to care about what they were doing. While the Iron Born started out as an interesting arc, they just sort of got dropped part way through the book, being relegated to everyone just saying how much trouble they’re causing.

And this is a problem I’ve been having with the series in general… when there’s interesting conflict afoot, it’s glossed over. The first time I had this feeling was back when we were with Catelyn’s POV and her son was off fighting Jaime’s forces, and she could hear it happening. I like a good fight scene, and they’re generally lacking/avoided in these books.

For the first time in the series, I’m starting to find Sansa’s character interesting. She’s finally grown beyond a starry-eyed, whiny princess. And Littlefinger is always interesting to see. I really don’t trust him at all, but the way he manipulates circumstances is intriguing.

Brienne… I think about her arc and just throw my hands up in the air. So much nothing. Wandering aimlessly. She killed a few bad guys, who I think I was supposed to remember, but there are so many characters that I don’t actually remember them or care that she’s killed them.

If I hadn’t bought all five books in one boxed set, I probably wouldn’t even bother reading the 5th one. But I have it, and I hope that seeing most of my favourites back again will rekindle my enjoyment of the series. If not, I’ll just forget the rest of the books and start watching the show. See if it makes for better TV than reading experience.

Review: A Storm of Swords, by GRRM

A Storm of Swords, Book 3 in A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

Four weddings is too many weddings for one book. 

Granted, interesting things that completely changed the trajectory of the story happened at a couple of them, and important relationships were created that paid off later in the book at the last one, but I just found myself weary of it by the time the third wedding came along. I glossed over so many details, because I just didn’t care about 77 courses. The payoff at the end was amazing, but the lead up was as dry as you get, with lists of food for each course. 

Other than that, I loved the intrigue throughout. There were times I audibly gasped, laughed, and cheered throughout the story because I care about so many of the characters, even as I loathe others. There were some wonderful surprises at the end of the book, so even though this book at times felt long, it was worth the read. Because GRRM kills major characters along the way, the tension any time one of your favourite characters is in danger really gripped me. 

It’s no wonder there have been avid fans of this series, right from the start. As I crack open book 4, I am both excited to see where the story goes, but also frustrated with myself for starting this series before it’s finished, because I know I’ll soon be in good company with a host of fans who can’t wait to see what happens next. I suppose I’ll have to start watching the show at that point, to get some kind of closure (even though I hear many fans didn’t like the conclusion, but that’s life… we don’t always get what we want, and this series has been setting that up again and again!).

Dungeons & Dragons on Discord!

I think I have officially thrown in the towel on board game design. With work days being longer than they were in Guelph, and not having my Guelph game design friends here in Saskatoon, I just don’t feel up to it anymore.

And I’ve found a really great group of people to play Dungeons and Dragons with, so we get together 1-2 times per month. I’ve been playing a gnomish wizard and enjoying the experience quite a bit! I don’t normally play spell casters, but had a fun idea for a cowardly wizard who only wants to have a store to sell magical items that he makes. He’s grown more brazen as he gains power, but still prefers it if other people do the heavy lifting. That said, one of the players called him the MVP of one of our previous games because he dished out serious amounts of pain with a lot of burning hands spells!

But I miss DMing. Our DM here in Saskatoon is good, but his game is pretty old-school. It’s been 100% dungeon crawls up to 4th level, and we got rail-roaded into staying there longer than we would have liked.

So I got to thinking that I want to run something as well. As often happens, it started with a map…

Kingdom of the Sun

Nothing fancy, just a small slice of a world, as is my usual way of starting out. When I thought about actually running the game, I got an idea for a split campaign… starting players out with level 15 heroes of the realm who are investigating something peculiar. The Forest of Woes sounded like a nice place to start, and I began generating ideas for NPCs in the Lordship of Invenny, and a kernel of a quest popped in my brain.

Here we are, a few weeks later, and this map is just one of several. The entire first adventure for the level 15 characters is planned out, and I’m happy with how it came along. The plan is that they’ll play one session as the heroes to learn about the setting and back story, and then think about what they want to do to create their own level 1 characters who will start off far to the north of this location. I’ve even got some ideas of how that second session will start out, but it will be much more free form. I prefer it when the players help me discover the world, rather than having a campaign on rails that they need to follow.

I popped the idea online, with the added idea that Patrons who support me at $3/month would get a guaranteed spot at the virtual table. I didn’t get any bites on that, but that’s okay. I’m just looking forward to DMing again! But if anyone ever does decide to back me, the funds will go back into my book writing.

There’s some debate about the DM-for-hire model, but I figure people used to pay $5 every two weeks to sit at my table when I ran a game in Guelph, so $3/month for a game wouldn’t be too much of an ask. Could be some people will decide to donate later, but even if no one does, I’m feeling energized and happy, forging another world in my universe! I’m going to ask the players if they’d be okay with recording the session as a podcast, so you might just be hearing about this some more later!

Review: Born a Crime

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoire

Rating: 5 stars

This might just be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I’m about the same age as Trevor Noah, but never knew anything about apartheid, growing up in Canada. It ended before I became aware of politics, and it must have been too recent to learn about in history classes. I had heard of Nelson Mandela, of course, but didn’t know much beyond his name.

This book gave me a real understanding of life, on the ground. Trevor’s experiences are harrowing, and it’s amazing he’s a) still with us, and b) a comedian. Given the difficulties he faced, it’s amazing to me that he maintained his sense of humour through it all… it’s all too easy to see how others who lived through those times did not fare so well.

The book bounces around a bit through time. It will feel like you’ve moved on, and then the next chapter goes back to revisit something important. And each time, you’ve learned something from a previous chapter that helps you understand something in the later ones. It’s amazing the way the story unfolds.

Having seen Trevor Noah on TV for a while now, it’s easy to hear his voice in my mind while I’m reading through it. You can feel the incredulity in his voice as he describes some of the situations he lived through.

I encourage everyone to check out this book.

Review: Clash of Kings, by GRRM

Clash of Kings, by George RR Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 stars

After the events of the first book, I like how GRRM played with my expectations by shocking me when characters DIDN’T die. I was full of righteous fury when I heard about some deaths, and then to find out that events hadn’t gone the way everyone thought, I felt a great sense of relief.

And that’s how this book goes. There are so many battles, with the seven kingdoms being torn apart from within, and there are hints of serious outside threats coming along in the near future, too.

I think my only complaint (and the reason for 0.5 stars being knocked off) is that a lot of the battles, and even some that are vital to the story, are merely alluded to. We hear about them after the fact, as characters recount what happened, but I really wanted the chance to see what happened first hand. Sure, the book is already huge, and I can’t think of anything that could have been cut, but seeing the battle at the river beyond Tyrion’s PoV would have been great.

That said, I’m excited to see what happens next!

Beta Readers

I have completed three passes on A Queen’s Edict, and now feel comfortable having beta readers take a look at it, before sending the manuscript out for editing. The story currently stands at 100,000 words, and I would like feedback in a month, if possible.

If you are interested in reading it, please get in touch with me ASAP. I already have one beta reader lined up, but could use feedback from another one or two people.

When reading, I would ask you to keep track of things that worked for you, and things that didn’t. Don’t worry, I’m under no delusions that it’s a perfect story, and this is the best time to find things that need tweaking, before it heads off to the editor. Honesty is the best policy, so I’m not looking for someone who will read it and just say, “It’s great!”

If it had a movie rating, I’d probably say it’s PG-13, same as my other books. Some violence, sexual stuff is alluded to and not shown, LGBTQ+ themes. You don’t have to have read my first series to jump into this one. It’s 400 years in the future, so almost everything’s fresh.

You can either get in touch with me through social media (MeWe…I’m no longer on Facebook or Twitter), or with a comment on this post (unless I have to close it due to spam bots, like all my other posts).