Review: Jump/Drive by Rich Griffith

Jump/Drive, by Rich Griffith

Genre: YA coming of age set in a suspense/action mix

Rating: 4 stars

Some teenagers find themselves in a great deal of trouble when strange things start happening in their town. Something’s wrong with the water, and their habit of drinking Dr. Pepper saves them from the ill effects. They travel about, trying to figure out what’s going on.

The dialogue is strong, and the story unfolds in such a way that I had a hard time putting the book down. The friendships feel real. I had flashbacks to my own teenage years, the way young boys talk to each other with playful mockery.

In fact, it was such an interesting story that I almost missed the fact that there were errors throughout. Extra/missing words and some other small things tripped me up a few times. Sometimes it got a bit repetitive… like a character would say the same thing twice in a row, as though Griffith changed the way it was said, and forgot to remove one of the lines.

The weakest part of the book was in the descriptions. There were moments of clarity where I could envision where the characters were, but also sometimes where I was kind of drawing a blank. I liked how parkour was used throughout, although at first I found it strange reading about parkour, because it’s such a visual sort of thing.

And something that just always bugs me about books set in modern times is all the pop culture references. Some of them I got, others I didn’t. It always feels to me like if you don’t have all the same interests as the author, you’ll miss stuff that might be funny. But it’s the way a lot of people talk, so it also added to the strength of the authenticity of the dialogue, even if I didn’t get what they were talking about!

But at the heart of this story, there’s a lot of internal and group conflict. These boys have been through a lot in their young lives, and nothing’s neat and tidy for any of them. It’s a book that will challenge your beliefs on victim-hood and survival. For that alone, I highly recommend reading it.

Review: R.A. Salvatore’s Transitions trilogy

The Orc King, The Pirate King, and The Ghost King

by R.A. Salvatore

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5 stars

For fans of the Forgotten Realms, and fans of Drizzt Do’Urden specifically, this may be a difficult series to read. We find alliances with old enemies, heroes who fail, and old friends who face destinies that aren’t fair.

In those ways, it mimics life perhaps too closely. Well, perhaps not the alliances with old enemies. In this world, we see a deepening divide that is impossible to imagine ever becoming whole.

But in terms of failure and death, these things don’t always make sense. Sometimes there are other forces, and sometimes you can just do everything right and still fail.

The final line of The Ghost King wrecked me. I’d already had my emotions breaking with the previous scenes, and then the last line hit me and I sobbed.

I don’t know how many years I’ve known Drizzt and his friends. It’s been years since I read through all those books that are still on my shelf. I’m happy to add these ones to my collection, but I think it’ll be a little while before I seek out the next series. An ending to a trilogy like this requires a bit of time to reflect.

So many projects, so little time

In some ways, I made great strides this month. In others, I feel like I haven’t done enough. Why? Let’s take a look at the list!

Fan Fic to Anthology

As I’ve mentioned before, I started volunteering as a Dungeon Master (DM) at The Round Table (TRT). The world that we play in was created by Tom Gofton, the owner of TRT and Lynnvander Studios. As such, I have no rights to the IP, and thought I’d just write a little story summary of the games I ran, so I could share it with the players.

Then there was some question as to whether fan fic is actually legal (it’s not. Written works are covered by copyright laws). However, after the good folks at Lynnvander Studios discussed the situation, Tom was more than happy to have fan fic for his world. I just need to sign a legal agreement, which will be done soon. Moreover, Tyler – also from Lynnvander – requested that I hurry up and polish the story as much as possible and submit it for an anthology he’s helping put out. So this 19000 word novella is off to a good home, and I couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out!

If you’d like an exclusive sneak peek at the first scene in the story, get ye to Patreon and select the $2/month donation option. You’ll see it there on October 1st!

DMing

How much work is it to create ideas for campaigns every two weeks? A lot. On our return from Quebec at the end of August, I spent a couple hours of the drive with my nose buried in a notebook, creating maps and descriptions for a dungeon crawl. The next session early this month followed up on that dungeon crawl, and led to the exciting conclusion where the party fled the mountain complex just before it exploded in fiery doom, a dracolich rising from the lava. (Dracolich: Dragon that defeats death by returning as an undead abomination that can use powerful magic)

Later in the month we were low on DM’s for our regular sessions, so I decided to try something new and run a campaign in my own world, with my own unique spin on the D&D system (more on that later). I churned out 7 first level characters for players to choose from, with the idea that I’d have around 5 players at my table, so a couple characters would go unused. This worked well, because it meant people could choose classes that were interesting to them, and everyone seemed happy with what they got.

And then I pretty much winged it, in terms of coming up with the game session. I mean, I knew the inciting event, but I had no idea what the players would do with it. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and instead of it being a “one-off,” I hope to run another session some day when we can’t run the normal campaign.

Editing A Hero’s Birth

I’ve made this project my primary priority, so it’s been swimming along just fine. No issues here. Promise! I’ve been keeping up with my editor as she sends chapters to me, and we’re 2/3rds complete!

Writing A Queen’s Decree

This … oh, this … Work on my fourth novel has pretty much ground to a halt. Why? So many other projects. I mean, I’m about 3/4 of the way through writing the first draft, and my third book isn’t even out yet. So I feel like I’m way ahead of the game. Also, I’m not sure I’ll have the finances to publish it when it IS complete, so … not high on my priority list. If the Empire’s Foundation trilogy takes off with the release of the final novel, that would bump this up the list of priorities again. However, with slow sales on existing books, and just not getting reviews from people who do buy books, I’m feeling discouraged on this front. The last short story I released had a grand total of one sale on Amazon. I hope the book will do better.

I’ll still write stories, but depending on how other things come along, it might just be at a slower pace, with no intention of publishing them unless something drastic changes. With each book costing so much to bring out, I just can’t keep sinking money into it without seeing some promise of return on investment. That sucks. I love writing, and if money wasn’t an issue, I’d keep doing it forever. But at some point you have to evaluate what you’re doing and figure out if it’s a good use of your time.

Creating board game prototype 3.0

Perhaps you remember the frantic pace I set in whipping out prototypes v1.0 and v2.0? I was like an unstoppable juggernaut of efficiency.

This, too, has slowed. There’s been a disruption with the board game developer nights, with the man who ran them looking for greener pastures. Since then, finding answers to questions has been much, much slower. I’ve still had some game testing and minor tweaks. I’ve been putting together a component list for things I need to make the game. I’ve been arranging game board and punch boards so they’re in a format fit to print. But the urgency behind it all has evaporated. This latest version has taken weeks to put together, instead of days.

That said, I’m planning on showcasing the game at my artist table at SkyCon at the end of October. So that at least gives me a deadline to have everything ready to go. I’m hoping the convention will help generate some interest in the game, which will in turn help with raising funds to make the game with a Kickstarter campaign. With the positive response I’ve had to Wizards’ War, I feel like it can do well. The trick will be getting enough people interested in it to get it funded. When you run a Kickstarter, you’re trying to generate enough funds to make a LOT of copies of the game – somewhere around 1,000.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know 1,000 people. So it’s intimidating. But I love doing it. So even if the Kickstarter isn’t successful, at least I’ll have a game I created and enjoy to play with people I know. It’ll just be the most expensive game I’ve ever owned, with over $300 already invested into prototypes!

Creating RPG based on D&D 5e

When I started writing, the first thing I did was create a bare-bones role playing game (RPG) system. Now, the games we played that inspired the writing were set in the D&D rule set, but I wanted something that was uniquely mine. So I created classes and powers with vague descriptions that I could reference while I was writing. “Okay, the party is about due to level up after all that fun stuff. What new things can they do?”

When I DM’d in my world this month (as mentioned earlier), I decided to work with the D&D 5e rules in order to flesh out my ideas. I have several standard class options to choose from: Hunter, Druid (splits later into Mending or Wrathful subtypes), Protector, Aggressor, Stealth, Fast Talker, Wizard (splits later into Air, Water, Fire, or Earth subtypes), and Priest. But the system doesn’t stop there! There are hybrid classes for every conceivable combination of classes, and the ORDER that you take them in matters, giving you different classes. For instance, a Stealth that takes a level of Wizard can create the hybrid Shadow class. But a Wizard who takes a level of Stealth can create the hybrid Illusionist class.

And then there are what I’ve coined the Ultimate hybrids, which are effectively triple-class characters. The Hero, for instance, is Protector + Wizard + Priest. The Sieger is Hunter + Wizard + Druid. And there are more. PLUS unique classes for other races. That’s right. All that stuff I’ve mentioned so far? That’s just humans.

So when I say I created 7 characters for them to play, that was a LOT of work, figuring out what all those vague powers actually DO in terms of D&D 5e mechanics. So that was a major time sink this month, but oh so worth it. If you’d like to read more about that, I posted on Facebook about the game session:

Conventions

This hasn’t taken up much of my time at all, but it’s worth noting. Tyler (mentioned earlier) attended the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival and was kind enough to bring along my books. He even sold a copy of A Noble’s Quest! So that was a nice surprise. EMWF is more of a literary event, so I wasn’t expecting anything from that one. My wife predicted that maybe someone there would have a relative who liked reading fantasy and pick up a book for that other person, and that’s exactly what happened!

I’ve also signed on for two upcoming conventions. The first is SkyCon, which is a gaming convention in Kitchener at the end of October. They’re having Ed Greenwood as a guest. If you haven’t heard of him, he created this little thing called the Forgotten Realms. It only has something like 300 novels associated with it, a chunk of those written by my favourite author, R.A. Salvatore.

I’m going to get to meet Ed Greenwood. I’m so excited. As my wife would say, “NERD ALERT!” I can’t help it. This guy’s a living legend.

Now, it’s the con’s first year, so I don’t expect big crowds, but the table prices are pretty reasonable.

Coming back for its second year (after a hiatus) is GenreCon, right here in Guelph! Last year’s event was … quiet. They kind of threw it together without much notice, they had no celebrity draw, and so it had some problems. But they’ve been working hard at it all year, because they want it to be better. No, awesome! So this year there’s rumour of some star power hitting the con. I don’t see any official posts about it up yet, so I won’t post anything more … but you’ll want to keep an eye on this one.

What’s next?

Great question!

This month I’m going to continue editing as fast as my aunt gets chapters to me, I’ve got DMing at The Round Table, game design nights (with a new one at The Dragon’s south end location), I’m volunteering at Guelph Book Bash on Sunday the 15th, I’m running a Genre Fiction Writers meeting at The Red Papaya on Sunday the 22nd at 2pm, and that should be about it.

Y’know… plus all my normal duties as a husband, father, and researcher.

Onwards!

August Recap

This month I started something new.

I know, I know, I have so much going on, how can I possibly do something ELSE?

Well, I’ve found a way. Somehow.

I started as a game master (GM) at The Round Table for Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition (D&D 5e) and had a blast! It was so much fun that I decided to write out the adventure as a story. However, as I don’t have the rights to the world, I’ll just be sharing it with the players in the campaign.

The group consisted of a human fighter, a gnome druid, a deep elf rogue, and a squirrelley rogue. The second session added a tiefling warlock. The third I had two returning characters, and four new ones. So consistency isn’t really a thing, but it’s fun!

“Wait a minute, Ryan. What’s a squirrelley?”

Great question! To learn more, you can pre-order a copy of the Legacy of Mana! Basically, the squirrelley is a halfling with arm flaps that let it glide, and they have some pretty funny quirks.

The story begins with a quick teaser, introducing the ursine chieftain Grodurs Whiteskull and vulpine Petey Furnax. It then starts into the adventure, following the point of view of Jebeddo Raulner, the gnome druid. So many crazy things happened, some planned, others not, but that’s the great thing about playing these sorts of creative games. It gets your brain working in new and exciting ways, as you have to figure out how to tell a coherent story with players who are making their own decisions about how to make their way through the story.

But – probably not surprisingly – it takes up a lot of my creative time. So I think I’ll just write up the first three sessions, and leave it at that. After all, I don’t want to fall TOO far behind on my other stuff!


Work continues on prototype v3.0 for Wizards’ War. Remaking everything pretty much from scratch is a long slog, but I’m almost done. Just need to get a quote for parts and see how much this thing’s going to cost to produce. Then I’ll start putting the wheels in motion to plan out a Kickstarter campaign.

I’ve also requested some art for the game from Harvey Bunda. After reworking … well, everything! … I don’t need as much art anymore. Thank goodness. But one thing I do need is character art for the four wizards and their units. So that’ll be finished soon. I’ve already received some, too, which I’ll share now!

Sample unit cards for Wizards’ War (Click for larger image)

But this version of the prototype is taking me a lot longer to make because I’ve really spread myself thin. There was a steep learning curve with the D&D 5e, a lot of time and effort put into creating the foundation for that story, plus with my decision to start writing about the adventures, and editing A Hero’s Birth… well, I have almost no free time anymore. It’s a bit stressful. I think once I finish my story arc with the characters in D&D 5e I might take a session off to focus on other stuff. But I’m just having so much fun with the game I don’t want to stop!

So I’ll probably just keep doing everything until I collapse.


Whoaaa, we’re half way there!

Speaking of editing, I’m half way through A Hero’s Birth! If you’re planning on re-reading the series, we’re probably getting close to the time to start. My aunt is e-mailing me a chapter every day or two, which is really intense. I’ve been hammering through them, trying to keep up with her, and it’s AWESOME! I totally feed off this sort of thing, and the faster people throw stuff at me, the more energized I get. I’ve had quite a few nights where I’ve been up past midnight lately, which isn’t a good thing in the respect that I function poorly with less than 7 hours of sleep. But whatever. I’m pumped for everything and I hope other people are excited about what’s coming down the pipe, too!


And I saved the best for last. I took two weeks of holidays, as I often do at the end of the summer. We went to Quebec City! We haven’t gone anywhere in a long time, and we’ve been talking about going to see our aunt (my editor) for a while now. The kids had never been out of province, so it was fun going somewhere completely different. Quebec City is gorgeous, and they had a lot of fun attractions for us touristy types, like Old Quebec, the aquarium, and Montmorency falls.

I remember hearing people saying that people in QC were snooty about French, but that’s the opposite experience we had. Everyone was so friendly, and many employees automatically spoke to us in English if they overheard us talking to each other as we approached. A parking attendant at the aquarium saw our Ontario license plate and spoke to us in English straight away. We only ran into a couple people who didn’t speak English, but they were really friendly about us not understanding French.

That said, we did get a chance to practice speaking French a lot while we were there. We bombarded our poor aunt with question after question, as we failed to remember French words we had learned way back in grade school.

The whole trip was great, and I look forward to visiting again!

July recap

New release!

In case you haven’t heard, my latest short story called Dark Ones has been released!

The story takes place 1250 years Before Gods’ War, making it the furthest back I’ve gone in Illuma’s history. I loved how this story tied several different elements together, so there are easter eggs for fans, and it’s just a fun story if you’re new to my writing.

Eshe awakens from a meditative trance when she feels a psychic force. Barbarian hordes, led by mysterious Dark Ones, approach the city and it is up to her, an order of monks, and the city guard to protect the citizens of Bisoro.

There might be more coming after this story. I ran a D&D campaign at The Round Table that started off shortly after some of the events in this story. We had a blast, and I’m tempted to explore this vast region more, either in D&D games and/or in stories. The more I think about it, the more interesting this whole region and time becomes. Of course I have my main novel series to worry about, and my slow writing schedule means I probably shouldn’t branch off to any large scale work. Maybe one day I’ll get back to this region and flesh it out.


I did a lot of editing this month, and am now up to chapter 20 complete in A Hero’s Birth. For book 4, the working title has changed to A Queen’s Edict, and I’ve decided to use a prologue/epilogue structure with the next series, too. I’d thought about changing it up, and doing letters between some of the characters, but it felt flat to me. So now I’ll be looking at the Emperor’s 6th Son, as he attempts to discover the ancient strength of Murgaphyie. Instead of going back in time, like I did with the Empire’s Foundation series looking at Matthew, these snippets will be happening at the same time as the story, with a parallel arc. It should work a lot better in building up the tension over the course of the series.


I’ve started work on Wizards’ War prototype v3.0. There are so many changes coming down the pipe!

  1. Miniaturization – the game pieces from v2.0 were too large to produce the game in a cost efficient manner. I’m shrinking everything!
  2. Tokens to counters – punch board tokens are expensive. I’m looking at ways to reduce the number of tokens and replacing them with wooden disks, painted with symbols. They’re dirt cheap in comparison, and still look awesome!
  3. Resources to counters – Tommy told me that the small resource cards I had with the game would cost a lot more than standard playing cards, because it means they need to change the formatting on the machines to make the cards. A less expensive way to do things is coloured acrylic cubes. They look great, and I can get different sizes to denote 1 or 5 resources of a certain type.

So I’m redesigning the boards, and putting together an itemized list of everything I will need to order to make 1000 copies of Wizards’ War (gulp!). It’s terrifying to look at the sheet with everything I need. No way is this happening without a successful Kickstarter, that’s for sure!


Because I don’t have enough to do already, I signed up to be a dungeon master at The Round Table. Every second Sunday, I’ll be dragging players, kicking and screaming, through my own story set in the Legacy of Mana world. It’s pretty exciting, and we’ll have our first session tomorrow! I wrote up a little introduction and showed it to Nat and he laughed. A lot. That evil, “everyone’s going to hate you so much” kind of DM laugh. Can’t wait!


Last but not least, July was a pretty good month! I don’t remember the last time I had three people read A Noble’s Quest (The Empire’s Foundation Book 1) through Kindle Unlimited in a 30-day span. Plus a few sales for A Noble’s Quest from the multi-author promotion I joined, and the rather lackluster launch of Dark Ones. Well, that just seems to be how short stories go. Can’t wait to launch A Hero’s Birth and have finished the Empire’s Foundation trilogy!

June Recap

Happy Canada Day!

You remember that comic strip I made with Matthew Strongblade back at the start of the year, because it wouldn’t get out of my head?

It’s baaaa-aaaack! I was sitting at The Round Table with Nat at the end of May and he was talking about how he was editing a comic book. I made the mistake of mentioning how I’d love to do a comic some day, and told him the details of my “community voting choose your own adventure” comic. He LOVED it. Talked about ways of monetizing it to keep it running. He said basically what I’d already been thinking… run it for a year with one character. I’d start off with Matthew, then go to Hendricus Wyrmstriker. Then who knows after that? Pellin? Marcus? Ramar? Arus? Others I haven’t even dreamed of yet? Adventure after adventure, all leading up to the exciting conclusion shown in the prologue of A Noble’s Quest (The Empire’s Foundation Book 1)!

Anyway, I’ve been talking with my friend about how to make that sort of setup work, in terms of my website. Since it won’t be a simple linear story (yes, you might cause Matthew to die, and have to go back!) I’d have to have some sort of map laid out so people can see where the story goes, or is currently, so they can vote. Probably not an issue to have a “current panel” button that links to the latest one, but mapping out the previous panels so people can navigate them to catch up on the story might prove tricky. We’ll see.

Another issue is how to do the “Pay to vote” thing. I already know it’d be dirt cheap – 50 cents or something like that for a vote. The problem is implementing a system where someone pays to vote. Is it a constant stream of micro transactions? Do we let people have a tab, so they can charge up 10 weeks all at once for $5 and take out 50 cents each time they vote? I don’t know. I’m thinking it might be better just to crowd fund it to pay for the whole project in one shot, and then reveal it slowly to people as they vote. Patrons would then get bonus votes, so they could vote twice and have a larger say in the direction the story takes, and start saving up for the second comic that follows Hendricus.

Does the comic sit on this site, or do we create a new one?  I’ve implemented social media logins to limit problems with bot spam. As it was, I had to turn off comments on this blog, because I got a steady stream of spam messages for drugs, porn, etc. I’m going to try leaving comments on for this post, and sharing it to Twitter (where most of the bot spam seems to come from) and see what happens.

I’ve found an artist I’m excited to work with: Sal, aka TheDarkCloak. His stuff looks amazing, and his idea for pricing is right around where I thought it would be. We’ve talked about doing a “simple” art form like Table Titans, and if we get a bigger following, we can do more. That right there is a good reason to go with Kickstarter, I think, so we know how much we have, and what kind of quality we’ll be working with.

Anyway, it’ll still be a while before this becomes a reality. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, with the new novel being edited, and a board game under development, but maybe late this year we can get this ball rolling!


Another blast from the past, the interview I did for the We Got The Geek podcast aired this month! It was the first time I’d been interviewed at a convention, so I was excited about it!


Game design for Wizards’ War has been going swimmingly. June started off with a lot of play testing and a meeting with Nat from Lynnvander Studios to go over the rule book. A couple clarifications were requested, but otherwise he sounded quite pleased with how the game is coming along.

Mid-month we had another game board design night. Lynnvander Studios was off to a convention, so I think my game was the only one there. Mike finally got a chance to play, which was great! Dave had some interesting ideas for expanding the game to include the ability to destroy buildings. So we brainstormed it, and decided to not only let you destroy other people’s buildings, but also let you tear down your own buildings. It means one of your Workers is busy for a while, and you’ve lost your resources that you put into the building, as well as any future use of the building. But it allows you to change your mind after you’ve filled up your city. Additionally, siege engines and Pellin’s fireball have been tweaked to give them more functionality.

We squeaked in another 3-player game at the end of the month and had a lot of fun with it. It was a “fast mode” game with double resource gathering, and I think I need a couple minor tweaks to it, but otherwise it went pretty well.

I have holidays, and I’m hoping to get a bunch more play testing done while I’m off work!


The first 12 chapters of A Hero’s Birth are edited! My aunt has been blazing through the second pass. By my best guess, the book should be ready to release into the wild in October or November. I think that might be too late to submit it for the Campus Authors event and Guelph Book Bash, which is a shame. I’ve got three plaques on my wall, one for each year since 2013. It’d be nice to get the 2017 one, but I doubt it’ll happen. C’est la vie!

While waiting on editing notes, I’ve started working again on book 4 (or book 1 of the Strongblade Siblings series, I never know how to refer to it). The siblings are fighting again. Surprise, surprise. But Sardo has Wizard Runner now, which is an exciting development. Why does a holy rogue need a war horse? You’ll just have to wait to find out!

Review: Parralax, by LJ Cohen

Parallax: Halcyone Space, book 4, by LJ Cohen

Genre: Space Opera

Rating: 5 stars

As soon as I started reading this, the fourth book in the Halcyone Space series, I felt like I’d come home. Even though the characters were still suffering from the events at the end of the third book, catching up with them again was effortless. I’m so impressed with Cohen’s ability to bring out books quickly, and maintain the high quality I’ve come to expect.

The galactic conspiracies grow by leaps and bounds. The protagonists have no idea who to trust, or the depth of deception that underlies everything they know. The build up to the final scenes is not fast paced, but not slow: deliberate. After every scene I would curse Cohen for switching to a different character, because I wanted to stay with who I was reading about, but then I would quickly be immersed in the new story line. There were too many twists and turns for me to be able to see where the story was going, and after finishing it, I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book!

May Recap

I sold a fair number of books this month through Amazon (7) across three countries (Canada, US, and UK).

Best month in a while

Additionally, copies of A Noble’s Quest (The Empire’s Foundation Book 1) sold out at The Round Table in the span of two days, which was exciting!

“Ryan, what did you do differently?”

I didn’t get to play, but it was still a lot of fun to watch!

Games. It might not make intuitive sense, but this month I ran a D&D 5e game at The Round Table, and one of the players picked up three titles all at once (that’s the spike on the picture above).

Also, play testing for my board game, Wizards’ War, has continued, and during one game I had a couple unexpected players. One of them was Brad (from Artisan Maille), who I met at KW Tri-Con this year. He picked up A Noble’s Quest at that time, and then when I ran into him again a couple months later at GenreCon, he picked up both A Wizard’s Gambit (Empire’s Foundation Book 2) and Demon Invasion.

So when we ran into each other at The Round Table, Brad sat down to try out Wizards’ War. During the game, he talked about the cool powers the wizards had in the books, and strongly encouraged everyone else to pick up the books. At the end of the game he said it was awesome, and that my series is quickly becoming one of his favourites.

I’m not sure I can convey how powerfully that affected me. But that night Nat, who was playing, and Mike, who was watching, both picked up the first book in the series. The next day I got a message on Facebook from Dave, letting me know he got the last copy at The Round Table.

So getting out and playing games with people and showcasing my world the way it started-games around the table-has generated interest. That sense of community is astounding.

When I brought Wizards’ War back in for play testing on Sunday, Dave was there for another game, and he scared the bejeezus out of me when he said, “I have a big problem with your book!”

In case you don’t know what it’s like to have Impostor Syndrome, here’s a taste for you…

For 7 years I’ve been writing. With my first book, I brought it out with my own cover art and hand-drawn map, only as an e-book because I wasn’t sure what people would think about it. It’s written as a stand alone story, because I didn’t want to leave it open to a sequel that might never come. I’ve had anything from neutral to positive responses to my writing, with the exception of one stranger who won a copy through a Goodreads giveaway and left a 1-star rating on Goodreads with no review. It was probably my fault for not clearly indicating what the book was about in the giveaway description… then again, I think some people just click on every single giveaway in hopes of winning something. But I’m always waiting for that person who hates what I write. It happens to everyone. There’s no such thing as a perfect book, and you can’t please everyone.

So when Dave said that, I immediately wondered what was wrong with the book. Maybe there was a fatal flaw in the story that I and others had missed. I was about to be outed as some sort of hack. A fraud. Everyone there would think my stories were garbage, and I’d never sell a book again. It was over. I was about to wake up from the dream.

“It’s too f’ing addicting!”

Right back in dream land. I don’t remember the last time I took such a huge sigh of relief. A day later he was 1/3rd of the way through book 2. He says he slept, but I’m not sure I believe him.

James (as Pellin) appears pensive as he marches across the table to assault my city.

After that I played a 2-player game with James, and he had some great suggestions for improvements, both to Pellin’s board, and the aesthetics in general.

I’ve revamped the items you can create with the smithy, glued on the new Ruins tile for Pellin, and made notes for things that I need to do for the final version of the game (like using a sepia map background, instead of the “depressing” muted colours).

The dwarves are hunkered down and set for an undead invasion.

I even squeezed in one more game at the end of the month with Dave and Jon at The Round Table. Jon had people interested in playing his games, so he left part way through, and we had a two-way match-up with just me (Arus) and Dave (Thrak). It was a close fight at the start, with a ton of dice tossed in those first couple rounds.

I made some more notes of things I need to tweak, reducing Arus’ powers somewhat (raise max of one zombie per turn from fallen enemy units, tinker with the speed bonus from the Skeletal Knight) and give Thrak a new power (his ice axe will immobilize any unit(s) it hits for a turn).


I received the first six chapters of A Hero’s Birth from my editor! It’s been a couple months since I’ve done anything writing-related, but after the good month I had in terms of sales, I felt energized and wanted to get it done as soon as I could. If you’re interested in a sneak peek, I shared the prologue over on Google Plus. From now on the game should require just small tweaks (I feel like I keep saying that, and then bigger stuff comes up), so I should have time to write again after finishing up the editing.

The first thing I want to work on is my secret project – digital bonus material for those who finish reading book 3. I won’t post any more about it here, but there’s some sneak peek material coming up for my Patrons at the $2/month level. If you’d like to see that, plus several other exclusive posts, you can be one of my Patrons, too! Just head over to Patreon and sign up.

Review: The Pain of Compassion

The Pain of Compassion (Eyes of the Deluti Book 1), by Roland Boykin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5 stars

In ages past, immortal beings called Deluti battled for dominance. However, when it came down to it, the good brother could not kill the evil one, and both went into hiding. Time passed, and the ancient beings became myth and the age of humanity came into being.

But now the Deluti are coming back, merging somehow with the humans (not explained in this book), to battle the evil brother’s sinister forces once more.

The story splits between three main arcs, for Navon, Sophia, and Emma/Sebastion, with the odd minor scene thrown in. There were a lot of characters, and I found myself completely forgetting some of them, especially Navon’s family. When we caught up with them later in the book, I drew a blank on the names. The switch to referring to the Duke by his first name late in the book threw me for a loop, and it was several paragraphs before I realized whose head I was in.

While there was a lot of time spent with the main characters, most of the others felt completely unimportant to the story – like they were put there to have a line or two of dialogue to tell the main character something, and then move on. And that’s what the conversations were, most of the time – a few sparse lines to tell you what you needed to know, making the direction of the story obvious before it moved forward. Even at climactic points, I found myself wishing they’d get into more of a discussion, but when a main character spoke, others acquiesced without challenge. It happened several times where a character would glean a piece of information in one scene, and then in the next it was used, limiting the suspense and making things feel a little too convenient. Even when something bad happened, it was reversed almost immediately, to the point that it all felt too easy. The, “I’m enraged and break things with magic! Oh, everything’s okay now, so I’ll just fix it with magic.” theme got a little tired.

I loved the world, the setting, the ideas, and the pacing (for the most part – sometimes it felt too fast, and I’m a fan of a faster pace!). But I felt like the characters could have come to life more with deeper conversations, more meaningful interactions, and real challenges. That said, I’m sure I’ll read the sequel when it comes out, to see what happens with the Deluti-humans next! With how powerful they are at the end of this book, I expect they’ll break the world in the next story (and then probably immediately fix it). Honestly, unless some Deluti-humans show up who are on the other side of the conflict, I expect this will be a cake walk for the main characters, since even untrained they’re far more powerful than anyone else. Still, it was a fun, relaxing read.

April Recap

I took the month off writing.

And I feel pretty good about that. Why?

Pull up a seat and have a listen…

Some of my earliest memories involved rolls of paper my dad would bring home from work at the pulp and paper mill. See, sometimes something would go wrong with a roll, or there’d be a bit left over at the end, and once in a while he’d bring one home and I loved that.

You know how sometimes you question why you buy your kids toys, when they take so much joy in garbage, like cardboard boxes? Well, this was exactly that. I loved unrolling the paper and scribbling. Those scribbles often took the form of simple little games. I remember one where I drew some lines on the paper, and then drew little balls of colour that “hopped” along the page, moving further and further right. This wasn’t a game to play with others… just a little something to pass the time and get those creative juices flowing.

But as I got older, the games became more advanced. I made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game out of a big sheet of paper that I made a grid on. I think I’d just played Dragon Warrior on the NES recently, and so the game had a similar style. You played as a turtle, and had to run around. There were random encounters, and bosses on bridges to new areas. It wasn’t much. I don’t even remember if my sister liked it. Probably not. There was a LOT of open space in that game.

When I was a little older I played something called Dungeons and Dragons (2nd edition) with some friends from school. I think I made up a dwarf named Khar, if memory serves (this was 25 years ago, please be patient). They’d already been playing the campaign for a while, so I joined in as a high level fighter. One player was a powerful wizard, I believe another was a rogue, maybe. And another. Anyway, we faced off against the fiercest foe D&D could throw at an adventuring party – a Tarrasque. My dwarf lost an arm and a leg in the battle, but the party managed to bring the foul beast down. Back then you had to do something remarkably difficult to really kill the Tarrasque… wish spells or something? Anyway, we killed it completely, boiled it or whatever to get a ton of gems, and went off to create our own cities. Khar got some magical metal limbs to replace his lost ones, and named his city – none-too-creatively – Bay of Thunder (or something like that… close enough to Thunder Bay, where we grew up, that I wasn’t too proud of it. Worse, the Dungeon Master (DM) later forgot that it was my city, and made an offhand comment years later about how one of the other players had been stupid when they named that city).

Anyway, I didn’t have any books, but I really enjoyed the game. So I went home and tried to create a reasonable facsimile from memory, and not fully understanding what all the rules even were. I mixed what I knew of the game with Lego pieces and my love of the Dragonlance book series to create a poor man’s version of D&D. My sister, cousin, and I played it quite a bit, and I remember thinking how great it was, despite obvious pitfalls (I had NO idea what “Constitution” meant, and thought it was how closely you followed the law, thinking of the American Constitution).

I took over another D&D campaign from another DM set in my favourite world at the time: Krynn. In hindsight, I think the DM must have been sick of running it because the characters were “Chaotic Stupid” and he’d made the mistake of giving them Crystal Revolvers that never jammed. They ran around killing whoever got in their way, whether they were monsters or innocent townsfolk. What a mess.

But I continued to play D&D for a long time. The group of players changed over the years, but I almost always had fun role playing (we eventually tried some other systems, like the Star Wars RPG, Shadowrun, Vampire Masquerade, and Mage). But nothing held my love like D&D did.

Around the time I was finishing high school or starting university, I don’t remember which, I started playing Neverwinter Nights on the computer. This marvelous game had not only a fun campaign, but allowed users to delve into the toolbox to build their own fantastic creations. I’d been running campaigns for a few years (must’ve been university, then) which will eventually be written as the Strongblade Siblings series (books 4-7), and I decided to take a crack at creating my world digitally.

I have no idea how many hours of my life disappeared into that game. In the end, there were 600 maps, and the story still wasn’t complete up to the end of what will be book 5. Creating that game taught me a lot about story, balance, cheating, and what keeps people’s attention. I was really hands-on with the players, allowing them to exchange extra gold for unique things like building their own houses (which I would make for them, according to their desires).

Neverwinter Nights 2 was announced, and the developers said the toolset would be backwards compatible, so we could keep all the hundreds and thousands of hours of work the community put into their games. But that did not come to pass. The tool set was deemed to be too different, and there was nothing they could do. I was heartbroken at the realization that I’d spent so much time working on my game, only to have it die.

I tried to start over with a new story idea and setting with NWN2, but the toolbox was really glitchy. You needed to find workarounds to make basic ideas work, like allowing characters to walk onto a trigger and go to another map. It was so, so, so disappointing. The new toolbox showed a lot of promise, with a ton of customization available, but it was a mess and I gave up.

To get my creative fix, I continued playing D&D with my friends, but we were getting to the age where people were going their separate ways. Thunder Bay … well, there just isn’t a lot there. The city is really isolated, decent jobs are few, and one of our friends headed out of town for work. Down to three people, we kicked around with a bit of role playing. I created a campaign where I told them to make peasants. We’d start off REALLY slow, with a few adventures where they’d get points at the end to invest in their base stats and skills. Thomas was a reckless maniac, getting into a fatal fight at work in the first session. He threw his axe at someone and scored a critical hit. Sarentha turned out to be more roguish, which helped a bit when they were given a job by a mysterious nobleman to enter a tomb.

After those first few sessions, my friend’s wife had been watching us play and said she wanted to give it a go, so she made Eliza, a spirited noblewoman (rogue) with a crossbow. Together the three of them adventured far and wide, discovering part way through the story that they were playing a historical campaign as the ancestors of their previous characters who will be in the Strongblade Siblings series. It was a lot of fun, and I won’t spoil the end of the campaign for you, since the ending of A Hero’s Birth (book 3) is pretty close to how the game ended!

Then I moved to Guelph to be with the woman who is now my wife, and the mother of our two darling children. It’s been a few years since I role played last around a table, but discovered a huge 5th edition campaign going on at a local game cafe called The Round Table. It’s huge with 20+ players split into several groups, each with their own DM, but the DM’s are in constant contact with each other, and what one group does can change what happens to another group. I’ve never seen anything like it. Absolutely wild, and so much fun! It’s kind of weird not being the DM sometimes, but not in a bad way. The DM’s for the event are amazing, and it’s fun to explore this new world.

Standing room only, as at least 12 players battle the enemy commander who refuses to give up until the bitter end.

And all of that is back story for what I’m doing now!

You see, the people at The Round Table also have a game design company called Lynnvander. This D&D campaign we’re playing is their world, with their own unique races and classes. They also do board games, and recently started up a “Game Design Night” event, which happens every couple weeks.

I’ve always had it in my mind that I want to do more than just books. I want to build an empire. Books, board games, computer games, comic books – with the grandest dream being an enormous themed hotel/convention centre. At that point I’ll have “made it.” So when I heard about the chance to pick the brains behind Lynnvander about making games, I took the leap with a little outside encouragement.

That first night we played a game that Lynnvander is developing, but Thomas, the owner, stated that he didn’t want the game development nights to be “the Lynnvander show.” He wanted other people to bring in prototypes and play test their own ideas, too. I had a rough idea of what I wanted my own game to look like, so I took the challenge and created a proof of concept to see what people thought of it.

First night of cutting – this is going to take a while!

And of course I had some help!

“Short help’s better than no help at all.” – Han Solo. Was he ever right!

Proof of concept revealed.

People said it looked interesting, and it reminded them a bit of Warcraft.

I talked with Nat for a long time that night, and at the end he said, “I’m giving you a deadline! Bring in a prototype next time (in two weeks)!” I said I didn’t think that would be possible, but I could probably get it done in a month, so he said that was fine. I just needed a deadline to keep me working on it.

First I needed some supplies. I’d thought about using cardboard, but the foam board looked nicer, so I grabbed a 2-pack of that in black. Also, Nat suggested using a spray adhesive in a well-ventilated room because it would be fast.

It doesn’t get better ventilated than an open garage!

So much cutting.

And I got the prototype done in 2 weeks. Yes, I suffered a horribly cramped index finger from cutting so many pieces of foam board with a utility knife, but I did it.

And Nat and Jon played it (I forgot to take pictures), enjoyed it, and gave me some great feedback. I incorporated a lot of their suggestions, and have made some tweaks of my own as well. The game will look completely different when I bring it in on Tuesday. I’m hoping the new system will help reduce the number of pieces that need to be cut out in the future, and will help stabilize the board to reduce the problems of pieces shifting around the table and needing to be readjusted.

The big reveal…

Reduce, reuse, and recycle!

This is my plan! I figured I already have the ENORMOUS map that Harvey made me for my books… why not use it as the backdrop for game mats for all the players? This isn’t the map I want to use… I’m going to see if Harvey can give me a copy with no text, so I can doctor it a bit to add Stowenguard, Lanton’s Hope, Templus Refuge, and Thrak’s Fortress. But for now, as a place holder, it’ll do.

So by using that, and some public domain art, I created new boards for each player that look great.

They’re pretty large, and my wife said, “They’ll need a big table to play!” but I pointed out that the boards could be close together, and the game is still playable. They don’t HAVE to be spread across a big surface. The printing on foam core was expensive, ringing up at $150 for two boards, but not only were they put on sturdy stock, Staples laminates them, so they’ll last me a long, long time.

I have one more night of cutting ahead of me, and it’ll be the most difficult. Those tiny wound tokens with the red stars are going to be difficult to cut. I’ve found with the smaller tokens, the thumb on my non-cutting hand gets sore from trying to hold the pieces still. IF I need to make another prototype at some point, like a final version for a publisher or something, I’ll make sure to go through a laser cutting service to make it all nice and easy. But for one copy of the game, it’s not so bad.

The next play test is in two days, and I’m looking forward to trying out a larger game, or having a couple games going at once! I’ll try to remember to snap a photo or two this time around. 🙂