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!).

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!

Review: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (Book 1 A Song of Ice and Fire), by GRRM

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5 stars

People are often shocked to hear that I haven’t read these books or seen the show. “But you write fantasy!” they say, voices laden with judgement. After not enjoying Wheel of Time (I got to book 4 and stopped) and worrying about the slow pace that GRRM writes, I figured there was no rush. The idea of starting an epic series with an older author who’s in no rush to finish his saga just wasn’t appealing to me.

“So what made you change your mind?” you ask.

Well, a Boxing Day sale, if I’m honest. The e-book was available through Amazon for a steal, so I thought, “Eh, might as well give it a shot.”

I’m glad I did.

This is not a story for the faint of heart. Truly terrible things happen throughout the course of the novel, often unexpected and sudden. The dialogue is strong, and characters come alive on the pages, each with their own unique personalities. The cast is large, but they’re introduced in such a way that I didn’t have any problem keeping track of the major characters… even most of the minor ones. After quitting WoT when the cast ballooned beyond my ability to care about, I thought the same would happen here, but it didn’t. Maybe it’s because the story started out with a host of characters, so I grow to enjoy them all at the same time, instead of feeling like I’m not getting to see the characters that I had grown to enjoy over the first couple WoT books, only to see less and less of them as more “distractions” were thrown into the mix. I don’t know, but this series handled the large cast expertly.

But my favourite part of the story is the tension. You never know who’s going to make it or not, because important characters die. It ups the ante every time there’s a conflict, because you never know who’s going to make it out alive.

Now, I had one of the major deaths spoiled for me ages ago, but even still, the way it happened was alarming, and my hatred of Joffrey is without equal. That kid had better die a terrible, awful death at some point, because if any of the characters in this book deserve it, he does.

And I have hope that justice will be served in the end. After the crowning of the dragon, I have high expectations that the truly vile people in these books will meet the most terrible ends.

I think I’ll need to pick up book 2 very soon.

Amazon Ads

With three novels out, and the next one getting closer, I figured it was time to start advertising the fact that these books exist.

I’ve heard good things about Amazon Ads, so figured I’d start there. How it works is, you determine how much you’re willing to spend per day, and how many days. You select a “bid” for your ad to show up. If your ad shows up on a page with lower priced ads, you don’t necessarily pay the full bid price. If someone clicks your ad, you pay.

Attempt #1

Not knowing anything about advertising, I went with a $5 daily limit, and a bid price of 15 cents. Amazon recommended 13 cents, so I figured I’d try slightly higher.

Over the next few days the ad made “200 impressions” – not entirely sure how it’s measured if someone looked at the ad. Maybe they just stopped scrolling on the page while my ad was visible. Who knows? Anyway, I received 1 click, and paid 6 cents.

Attempt #2

I added a couple words to the ad: Action & Adventure! The ads are limited for number of characters, so I wanted to draw attention to the theme of the book straight away. I kept the same daily limit of $5, but upped the bid to 20 cents to see if it made a difference in how often it would be seen.

I was surprised that the ad only had 145 impressions, but realized it might have been because fewer people were shopping the week after all the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. Also, no clicks meant I didn’t spend any money on it, so no harm done.

Attempt #3

I tried something completely different this time. I dropped the brief blurb and put in star rankings along with snippets of reviews left on Amazon. I did a combination of 5- and 4-star ratings, since A Noble’s Quest is rated 4 stars. Didn’t want to overdo it with all 5-star reviews.

Unfortunately, the ad was refused! Since the snippets I used were fragments (again, not a lot of space) they didn’t like that.

Attempt #4

Christmas is coming soon, so I thought I’d go for that angle. I’ve had some success at conventions selling to people who have a family member who enjoys fantasy, so why not point out there’s a new series out there? I also liked the “Christmas is coming!” line, because it calls back to Game of Thrones’ “Winter is coming.” I upped the bid again to 25 cents, hoping that might get more impressions.

Advertising success was found and there was much rejoicing! I got a click, and that person not only bought A Noble’s Quest, but hunted down the rest of the trilogy to get all three books in paperback! Best 15 cents I ever spent in my life!

Attempt #5

I took one more swing at the Christmas angle, hoping for some last minute shoppers. I increased the bid to 30 cents, and it didn’t change much.

There were 195 impressions, and 2 clicks that cost 15 cents total, with no sales. But that’s okay. With the outstanding month I’ve had, it’s all good!

Conclusion

There are services out there that cost a lot of money for questionable returns. From Book Bub, which costs hundreds of dollars, to less expensive mailing list builders that hemorrhage people over time. I tried a mailing list builder for $40+ early this year, and although I jumped from 152 subscribers to 563, that number has dropped to less than 472 now. I also don’t see an increase in sales above what I used to get when I announce new releases through the mailing list. The only thing it seems to help with is when I have free promotions, so I won’t be doing mailing list builders anymore. If people are actually interested in me as an author, they can hunt down my mailing list on this website.

Amazon’s system of paying per click seems pretty amazing in comparison. With four clicks over four ad campaigns, I sold three books. I don’t expect to continue seeing those sorts of rates, but even if I get a lot of clicks with no sales for a while, those three sales have made it worthwhile for a long, long time.

I’m going to try increasing my daily limit, since I’ve never gotten anywhere close to $5/day, and see if that increases the number of impressions, which have remained fairly stable over time, even with the increase in bidding price.

If you’re struggling with being seen, and bring in enough for a coffee or two per month like I was, I suggest trying Amazon Ads. It’s low risk, and if you get some bites, it pays for itself very quickly. Keep in mind, this was for my paperback books, which give a slightly higher return. Not sure I would try this with e-books, since A Noble’s Quest is priced fairly low, and I’m not ready to do sales of the full Empire’s Foundation trilogy, since it’s a bargain at under $10 for all three books in one e-book, and I don’t have anything else for people to bounce to after that. Maybe once I have a second series out, I could see myself promoting the omnibus version, but for now I’ll continue advertising book 1.

Review: All These Shiny Worlds

All These Shiny Worlds anthology, edited by Jefferson Smith

Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy

Rating: 4-stars

Anthologies are tricky to rate, because there are good stories and there are not so good stories.

This anthology proclaims to include the best of the best indie authors… first the authors have to survive the 40 minute Immerse or Die challenge, then they have to do well on a full read through, then authors are asked if they would like to submit a short story to the anthology, then the stories are judged by a panel of three judges. Also, authors who get invited are given the chance to invite one other author. The anthology is free, with the idea that after showcasing their work in the anthology, readers will find new readers to follow. I really like that, and overall this anthology was quite good. That said, I didn’t like every single story, and I had low hopes after reading the first one…

1 First Man in the World – 2 stars – People who like traditional sci-fi might enjoy this, but for me it lacked any sense of humanity or struggle. Just a vague how-to terraform a planet. Not my cup of tea.

2 Three Demon Gambit – 4 stars – I enjoyed the twists and turns in this story, even though I didn’t like the protagonist, a student in a school of magic. Dealing with demons and rival students was interesting.

3 Rolling the Bones – 4 stars – disturbing use of necromancy, found it difficult to parse the characters at first, but once I figured out the king and wizard were two different people, it flowed well and I enjoyed following the protagonist through his difficult choices surrounding the morality of using necromancy to preserve the peace.

4 All the Way – 4 stars – A future where dying people can upload themselves to robots and work in space. Quite a human story, however, and I felt quite bad for the robot’s ex-wife.

5 Scales Fall – 4 stars – I’m not even sure if I fully understood this story, with how it jumped around in time, but I enjoyed it a lot. It all felt so familiar, possibly because I read a lot of ancient Egyptian stuff as a kid.

6 The Ant Tower – 5 stars – Here was a story I didn’t want to end. The shifting in time with each scene took some getting used to, but the story was excellent. By far my favorite up to this point. With plenty of twists and turns, this trek through the desert didn’t end the way I thought it would. I want to read more from this author.

7 Heft – 3 stars – I found this spy story with a twist rough at first, and I’m not sure I fully got the ending. I think I did, but the uncertainty left me feeling unsure how to rate this one. I was left with the feeling that there was something clever that happened, but it wasn’t explained enough for me to understand in its entirety. Maybe if I read it a second time, but it wasn’t a story I enjoyed enough to do that with. The philosophy behind it was some next-level stuff that isn’t too hard to imagine actually happening, though.

8 The First Acolyte of the Upshan Berental – 5 stars – A story of being true to yourself, even in the face of disapproving authority. I enjoyed the theme, and also want to see all the worlds.

9 Bronwen’s Dowry – 5 stars – This story of a poor shearer and his wife going to a gathering of pipers was genuinely moving. I loved this one.

10 The Spider and the Darkness – 5 stars – This fantasy tale involving an abused girl seeking to escape her lot in life was fantastic.

11 The Dowager’s Largesse – 5 stars – I already bought the next story in this series because I loved it so much. Who doesn’t love the sound of a cursed bounty hunter with a belligerent llama companion?

12 Theriac – 4 stars – A woman who sees demons (maybe? The way others brush off her concerns makes me wonder…) is confronted with the not so difficult decision of what to do about some half-demon children. As written, it’s 3 stars, except that it had me thinking about it afterwards, wondering what the truth of the matter is, so it got an extra star.

13 The Red Flame of Death – 3 stars – This story about a holy man hunting a demon was okay. The pacing and writing were fine, but in the end I didn’t really care how it ended, because the characters were flat.

14 The Blue Breeze – 4 stars – While certainly the most imaginative of the bunch, creating a rich and dangerous world, the elements of the plot felt quite familiar. A forbidden love story, mingled with the thought, “There’s always a bigger fish.”

15 The Rakam – no rating – First person present tense? Ugh. I have other things I want to read, and after struggling through the first paragraph I said, “Forget it.” I won’t count this one toward the average rating, because I couldn’t give it a fair chance.

Review: Crimson & Cream, by C.M. Skiera

Crimson & Cream, by C.M. Skiera

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

This one had been on my TBR list for a while, and I’m glad I got to it. The writing is excellent, pacing quick, and characters interesting.

You’re in Jetsam’s head throughout most of the story, an orphan who has banded with other orphans to survive in the sewers. At night they come out and take what they need to survive.

This story starts out looking like a simple happy-go-lucky tale with a young protagonist, but quickly turns to a life-and-death struggle. With powerful monsters, an irate lord, and tenacious bounty hunter in his way, Jetsam has to use every ounce of cunning and speed he possesses to avoid a grisly death.

The twist near the end didn’t surprise me, but that’s okay. The story was still fun enough that I enjoyed it from cover-to-cover. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel!

Review: Weirdo Company volume 1 by Ben Guilfoy

Weirdo Company volume 1 by Ben Guilfoy

Genre: Modern day military fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

There are five short stories included in this collection, and they’re all a lot of fun! When it started out, it felt like your standard military story that dealt with stuff that was a little weird. But that weird got BIG AND CRAZY really fast! The stuff Weirdo Company deals with is amazing! I mean, the titles of the stories probably give that fact away… but actually following the characters through it all is something else.

I was hooked part way through the first story, with a line that I loved so much I had to make a meme for it…

And it felt like the stories were anticipating my questions, sometimes. I’d be reading, and thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder about X.” When that happened, it wasn’t long before the answer came. That built a lot of trust between me as a reader and the author early on, so I relaxed and enjoyed the stories more as the series continued.

The fifth story had a couple hiccups in it, with what I think was a missing word, and a couple words that I think were typos. I hadn’t noticed it enough to bother me in the other four stories, and I was enjoying it all so much by that point that it didn’t bug me too much.

I will definitely be checking out future volumes in this series, because this was a great read!

Review: Scoundrels anthology

Scoundrels anthology, published by Bushmead Publishing

Genre: A mix of sci-fi and fantasy

Rating: Average of 4 stars over 7 stories, ranging from 2 to 5 stars

 

Miniature You, poem by Linda G. Hill, 4 stars

I’m not usually much of a poetry fan, but I rather enjoyed this one. It starts off as a pleasant sort of thing, and turns pretty dark by the end.

Oceanitides, short story by Laura Johnson, 4 stars

This was written well enough. I liked the Greek feeling of the half-siblings competing for an ancient relic. The twist ending fell kind of flat for me, and nothing stood out to make me say “Wow! That was 5 stars!” But it was enjoyable.

Ties That Lie, novella by Tiffany Woodbeck, 2 stars

There was a lot I didn’t like in this one. There were at least three words used incorrectly (gilding refers to gold, not silver; massive usually refers to something with mass… so a royal garden doesn’t fit the bill; cacophony isn’t one person raising their voice to argue a point, it’s a lot of discordant noises mixing together. Massive I can let slide, because I’ve seen it used this way many times, but the other two really bugged me). The phrasing throughout was bizarre. For instance, at the start of the story every person was described by their hair… and that hair was given such a lifelike quality, I almost expected the various heads of hair to pop off the people and start having interactions of their own. Mien is a fine word maybe once or twice in a story this length, but was overused here. And the “smoothing of skirts” gave me PTSD flashbacks of The Wheel of Time series. Also, so many pursed lips.

In fact, the emotion was so wooden I was fairly certain the main character was a sociopath or psychopath (which would’ve been fine, because it’s a book about Scoundrels, after all). The way she “allowed” her tears to flow at some point made what should have been real sorrow feel like she was forcing it. And then I almost laughed when her betrothed said she was very emotional, because I had seen NO evidence of this. I was figuring at that point that she had somehow fooled him into believing she was emotional, despite the fact that she’s constantly stone-faced. It was all so at odds with itself that I felt baffled when she actually broke down crying later in the story… and just realized that the emotions were poorly written, earlier. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” and I hadn’t been shown that she was emotional. At all.

There were no real twists in the story to try to save it at the end. At least, none that I cared about, as a reader. And I think this calls back to the lack of emotion and caring about the character.

Cuthburt and Crowe, novella by Drew Carmody, 3 stars

I found this story distracting for a couple reason. 1) Run on sentences. I counted 4 “ands” tying together one sentence that just never seemed to end. 2) Incorrect punctuation. When a sentence is spoken, there’s a comma that connects what’s in the quotes with the tag if the tag is directly related to the speaking. For instance, from the fifth paragraph: “Oh, don’t be such a damn stick in the bog, Crowe.” Cuthbert said with a grin, “Yeah, I’d get the princess…”

That’s all backwards. There should be a comma after Crowe, and then a period after grin. This happened repeatedly through this story and bothered me every single time.

3) It was fairly common for words to be missing letters. 4) A super-minor formatting error on the first page made me check the previous story to see what the paragraph indents were, because they looked too large (and they were). But it was only on the first page, so I’m not sure what happened there. I noticed it before I started reading, so it’s not like it pulled me out of the story or anything. Just an oddity. 5) “Massive” was so overused I actually took a screenshot to show a friend when it appeared SEVEN TIMES on one page (and again, sometimes used not quite correctly). There are other words.

All together, it felt like maybe the wrong file was used for this story, because I haven’t seen anything this sloppy in the other stories. It was interesting enough that I still liked it. It felt like a disjointed D&D party (paladin, fighter, rogue, warlock [or necromancer?], mage, and monk), setting up for future adventures.  There were interesting ideas throughout that felt very compartmentalized, like parts of a D&D game. A sort of, “They go here, something interesting happens. They go here, something interesting happens.” etc.

One Last Payday, short story by P.A. Cornell, 5 stars

This sci-fi story was fantastic. A thief gets a job to transport some data from one person to another, and will pay enough for her to finally live her dream and get off world… but there’s a big catch. There’s twists and turns along the way that really captured my imagination. I’d look for more from this author.

From Love to Hatred Turned, short story by Isa Mclaren, 5 stars

Brand made me think of 007 as a roguish art dealer. Suave, intelligent, and one step ahead, he’s a master tactician who knows how to manipulate people. The story was fun and well paced.

The Bridgemaster’s Daughter, short story by John Ryers, 5 stars

I didn’t see the ending of this story coming. Perhaps I should have… the clues were there all along, but I missed putting them together. I love it when that sort of thing happens. With a headstrong female lead, and a charming rogue antagonist, there’s some great, believable banter, and good action.

Dangers of Tensire, novella by Ryan Toxopeus

Come on. I’m not going to review my own story. That’s worse than paying for reviews.

But honestly, I think this anthology is worth picking up just for the three 5-star stories. I plan on looking for more work from those authors.