Oct 12, 2017

Teaser Chapter for Midnite's Daughter

MIDNITE'S DAUGHTER, a manga-inspired fantasy adventure here!

Check out a small sample chapter below....

A Child of Two Worlds - Belonging to Neither, Dangerous to Both.

All Kisaki really wants is to belong *somewhere*, but there are few places half demons can safely call home. Raised in isolation within the celestial palace, she longs to escape and explore the strange planet below - Earth.  So when an opportunity presents itself, she takes it, inadvertently stealing her mother’s greatest treasure in the process – the Blade of Heaven.

Exploring a whole new world is terrifying enough, but hot on her heels is her so-called guardian, the tiger-spirit Shitoro. If he catches her, he'll drag her straight back home. She thinks it’s to punish her. But in actuality it’s to save her.

She doesn’t know it yet, but there’s a very good reason Kisaki has been kept hidden away.  Half-breeds such as her are not tolerated by the demons lords.  If they find her, they’ll stop at nothing to take the blade and erase Kisaki, her mother, and everyone she cares about from existence.

Kisaki's head rocked to the side from the blow and she tasted blood.

She staggered back several steps but managed not to fall.

All at once, the world seemed to be moving in slow motion. Pain from the hit, the coppery taste of her own blood, her friend screaming her name, and the huffing laughter of the human who had dared lay a hand upon her – all of it happening simultaneously.

It was the first time Kisaki had ever been struck. She'd often read about such punishments, and much worse, in her studies, but had never experienced it herself. She'd expected it to hurt, and it did. What she didn't expect, however, was the cold logic that descended upon her mind, nor how the world seemed to grey out around her.

He didn't hit me that hard, did he?

Before her eyes, the world seemed to change. The sounds around her faded away and she was suddenly no longer in an alleyway. Instead, she stood in a large room. A man was there with her. He was wearing drab green clothes and seemed to be yelling at her for some reason. For a moment, she feared that she'd somehow accidentally activated her last crystal, abandoning the brown-haired boy as well as Tamiko and Shitoro. But then she realized something was wrong about what she was seeing. The man's lips were moving, but she couldn't hear his words. In fact, she couldn't hear anything.

Her body raced forward, seemingly with a mind all its own. Kisaki could only watch as her fist shot out, but it was all wrong. The hand and arm attached to her was much larger and coarser than her own.

None of this mattered to the yelling man, though. He grabbed hold of her and then she was airborne, flying over his shoulder to land roughly on the wooden floor where she...

Just as quickly as the vision had come, it faded away and Kisaki was back where she'd been, tasting her own blood as color returned to the world and sounds started up again.

The world was still moving way too slowly, but that cold logic in her mind demanded that she use the time to study the foes around her. She became acutely aware of everything about them – their size, their weight, the way they moved, how quickly they did so. All of it registered in her senses within the space of a split second, locking itself into her memory with perfect clarity as if she'd spent months, maybe years, studying nothing but these humans.

With that clarity came understanding. She realized how sloppy the attack against her had been. It was a miracle she'd been struck at all, probably more a result of her outrage than any real attempt on his part. If anything, she didn't feel anger against him so much as embarrassment for herself. Such a blow was easily countered. Everything that these men...

No. Warriors were men. These were boys, peasants, children – warriors in their minds only.

It was time to teach them the error of their ways.

Time sped up again to its normal pace, but still that cold logic remained. She stepped forward again. The male who slapped her saw her coming. He looked surprised for a moment before covering it up with a veneer of arrogance.

"Want some more, bitch? Good, because I'm serving it up all day."

This time, he balled his fists, but it didn't matter. Kisaki somehow understood what he was going to do, perhaps even before he did.

She raised an arm and easily blocked the punch. Her attacker's eyes opened wide in surprise. Then, just as quickly, she threw a blow of her own, an open-handed shot to his throat. It caught him dead on, as she knew it would, and he doubled over, gasping for breath.

As he did, she brought a knee up into his jaw. She heard teeth crack and then he dropped to the ground. Unlike when he'd shoved her, though, it didn't appear he would be getting back to his feet nearly as quickly.

Kisaki had barely a moment to be amazed at what she'd done. She'd never been allowed to study fighting or weaponry, no matter how much she had begged. Her mother had forbidden it, and Shitoro wasn't the type to go against her wishes.

But then the moment was over, as the other boy next to Robbie rushed at her. This one was short, but thickly built. He moved as one who knew what he was doing. Not a warrior, but perhaps one in training.

None of that mattered. Kisaki analyzed his moves in the time it took him to pass Robbie and came up with a counter strategy.

She feinted to the right, but he seemed to anticipate that, which was precisely what she expected him to do. She cut hard left, sidestepping him. As he passed by, she shoved him from behind, using his own momentum to propel him into a pile of refuse along the side of the alleyway.

Rough hands grabbed her from behind in a bear hug, lifting her from the ground. Blast! She'd forgotten about the pony-tailed one, Jack. Perhaps sensing she was a greater threat than her friends, he'd come up from behind her unawares as she battled the other two.

"The hell?" he cried. "You some kind of ninja?"

Kisaki allowed herself the ghost of a smile. Ninja had been mentioned in her studies. They were said to be masters of stealth and combat arts. It was something she'd never considered herself to be, but she was currently too distracted to disagree with him at that moment. Instead, as way of response, she threw her head back, catching him on the nose with a satisfying crunch.

He screamed and let go, allowing her to throw a kick back into his leg, which dropped him to one knee.

She immediately realized that these three had been little more than the warmup. The real fight lay before her. Robbie and his two remaining friends had disengaged from the brown-haired boy. She now had their undivided attention. The first two, mere minions, wore uncertain looks upon their faces. Their leader Robbie, however, looked sure of himself, a fact attested to by his wide grin.

He had a confidence about him that suggested he didn't expect to lose. Robbie had the look of one who was used to having the advantage. Indeed, he was larger than most of the humans she'd met, including fully grown males such as Mr. Yoshida. For all intents and purposes, Kisaki should have been terrified of him. But she wasn't. She didn't know what was happening to her, but whatever it was, she reveled in it.

Available now for:
Amazon Kindle / Kindle Unlimited

Sep 14, 2017

Making The Orville funnier ... one comedy writer's conceit.

The ship is nice looking ... but not funny
I watched the premiere of The Orville last night, Fox's attempt at a comedic Star Trek take off - not dissimilar to what Galaxy Quest did, but in TV form.

It was pretty good. I'll definitely be tuning in again. However, I can't help but feel they missed a ton of opportunity to make what was a good show into a great one.

I think the biggest miss there was in the rather light sprinkling of comedy, which was amusing at times but never even close to what I'd consider hilarious.

Now, Seth MacFarlane's resume is a shitload longer than mine, so it's probably arrogant of me to say this, but I can't help but think their biggest mistake is in trying to give The Orville a heart. The problem is, for me at least, feel-good comedies more often than not lose sight of the comedy part in favor of making us root for the heroes. That's a shame, because this isn't serious sci-fi. There's no reason for us to root for anyone.

Consider Spaceballs, Mel Brooks' spoof of the Star Wars franchise. The thing is, is works, and often works well. Why? Because it's not afraid to embrace its absurdity. It doesn't care if we love Lone Star or are hissing at Dark Helmet, because they're both equally inept. The thing that matters is they're making us laugh, which they do often.

The Orville instead tries to give us a serious universe with some quirky characters. There's definitely potential there but, if the premiere was any indication, they were far more focused on making us like the cast than making us laugh ... and in what is essentially a spoof of a well-established genre, I'm not sure that's good enough.

Being I allegedly know a thing or two about comedy myself, I thought I'd take a stab at fixing this.

That said, here are some missteps and/or changes I would make to the characters of The Orville which I think would up the funny considerably, while still leaving it safe for prime time TV.


Captain Mercer: I think the show's number one mistake was in making him a competent officer going through a bad stretch. That right there makes it far too easy for him to reach down inside and ultimately do the right thing / find the right path. Can't say that works for me. Instead, make this guy a total fuck-up and an irredeemable one at that. Either Peter Griffin in space or a live action Zap Brannigan. Have him win the day by dumb luck, barely learning a damn thing as his crewmen get vaporized around him yet he collects the accolades.

Commander Grayson: The cheating ex-wife. Sadly, the way they're playing it here makes me think they have two choices plot-wise: either she and her husband eventually get back together after a series of Friends-like blunders or they merely stay friends and learn to work with each other. Unfortunately, the first is cliche and the second simply isn't funny. Go 100% Married With Children here, I say. Make these two loathe each other, yet be forced to work together. Heck, maybe the reason she's even on the ship is she has a huge life insurance policy out on him and is doing her damnedest to get him killed in a way that lets her collect. 

LT. Malloy: The mistake here is that both he and the Captain are both super competent, but a bit screwed up. Again, that allows them to fix things because ultimately they're both capable officers. I'd say, of the two, let him stay competent, but make it so that he's loyal to a fault to his friend. His entire career has been killed because he's constantly covering for Mercer and suffering the consequences as a result.

Bortus: Interestingly enough, I wouldn't change him too much. He played straight man in episode 1. Keep him that way. Make him the equivalent of Alan Rickman's character from Galaxy Quest. In fact, make him far more competent than either the Capt or 1st officer, yet they always get the credit. Deep down he hates them both, since he's more fit for command, but he believes in duty too much to do anything about it ... save hope they both die horribly in a way in which he can't save them.

Currently in no danger of being dethroned
Lt Lamarr: If they made the changes I suggested to Malloy, then I'd keep him as is. One jackass at the navigation station is cool, but not two. His snark was amusing, just don't turn him into a stereotype in space. That'll quickly tire.

Isaac: Talk about the biggest wasted potential of the premiere. Me, I'd go full-on Marvin the paranoid android's arrogant brother with him. Everything he says and does would be a dig at how much the others suck. Heck, maybe I'd make him the big bad enemy of the season, constantly reporting back to his superiors so they can invade the Union ... but ultimately sending them shitty info since the people he's reporting on are all inept. 

Dr. Finn: I would make her as she appears in the premiere, but to the Nth degree. Have her be writing a research paper on why the Union needs better screening and this crew are the main subjects. Make her always studying them, even when they're injured, but treating them more like lab rats than people.

Alana Kitan: The first thing I'd do is have her be a LOT more ignorant in the ways of how other species work. Her strength should cause more problems than it solves. She's always hurting people, smashing equipment, or crushing her laser gun at the wrong moment. It's a bit cliche, but maybe have her eventually discover the joys of sex and go all overboard, ensuring that half the crew are in sickbay at all times because of her voracious appetite.

The Krill: They had zero personality in the premiere - generic bad guys, who stopped long enough to have one civil conversation, which was supposed to be funny, but wasn't.  Rewrite them so that they're hyper violent. Make them Klingons on steroids.  Everything about their culture is violent. Their solution to every problem is to shoot, stab, or punch it. The captain's answer about marriage would have been far more hilarious had he explained, how he blew up his first wife, shoved his second out an airlock, and is currently fending off multiple assassination attempts from his kids.

Those are just my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts. Hopefully subsequent episodes can kick the tires a bit and find a better pace for the humor.  As I said, I'll be continuing to watch it, but as of right now it's with an eye more toward hoping they don't miss as many opportunities than actually laughing out loud.

Jul 29, 2017

Teaser Chapter for Lycan Moon

I'm pleased to announce that LYCAN MOON, a new dark fantasy adventure by yours truly and Ruby Cruz, is almost here!

Coming Aug 11th. Available for Pre-Order from now. Check out a small sample chapter below....

Rowan Sinclair has trained for a life in the shadows. As a member of the Guild, she's vowed to mercilessly hunt werewolves or die trying. But when one approaches her, claiming to know her missing father's fate, she decides to do the unthinkable - work with one of the very monsters she’s sworn to destroy.

Dean Mason is a man living with a curse, doing whatever he can to keep the beast inside from sating its bloodlust under the light of the full moon. When a chance meeting offers a tantalizing glimpse of a potential cure, he’ll do anything to end the nightmare.

Now destiny has united these two predators, each possessing the key to something the other desperately needs. Their partnership will lead to either their salvation or mutual destruction in this urban fairy tale where there's no such thing as happily ever after.

Ro stopped moving as she heard what sounded like multiple soft footsteps padding through the underbrush. As she ceased her movement, so did they, mirroring her. She’d been right. These wolves seemed much smarter than the average packs she and her father had hunted in the past.

“Hello?” she called out timidly. “Is anybody there?” She almost had to stifle a chuckle at the horror movie cliché.

Before entering the park, she’d purloined an oversized coat and hat from a nearby Goodwill box. She figured her best bet for blending in would be to either appear as a jogger out for a late night run or as a homeless person in the wrong place at the wrong time. She’d decided on the latter, as it made her appear weaker, not to mention offered plenty of camouflage for her weaponry.

Though she had her tracker on her, she didn’t dare look at it. To do so now would give away that she was more than she appeared. Besides, with her senses on edge as they were, she didn’t need it.

She took a step, then another, when the hairs on the back of her neck stood up straight and a corresponding spike of adrenaline hit her brain.

Ro sidestepped, more out of instinct than having heard the actual attack. The wolf was both smart and fast. Had she been anything less than she was, it would have taken her and carried her off into the bushes before she’d even had a chance to scream.

Pity for it that, smart as it was, luck wasn’t on its side this night.

She spun as it leapt at the spot she’d been a mere moment before and brought her fist up, slamming it into the back of the beast’s thick skull. Normally such a blow would be laughable in the face of a monster wolf, but she’d used its momentum against it. Off balance as it was, her hit sent it staggering to its knees as it tried to cease its own forward motion.

Ro jumped on its back, simultaneously drawing her knife. She was sticking to her personal promise. Besides, it was too soon for the gun. She could sense this wolf wasn’t alone. Though double-tapping it in the back of the head with nine millimeters of silver was by far the safer course of action, she didn’t want to prematurely scare off the pack-mate she was certain was close by. She wanted it to think this was a fluke – that she’d gotten lucky.

After everything she’d gone through the past few weeks, one kill was not going to suffice for this moon.

Before the first wolf could regain its feet, she slammed the weapon into the base of its skull. Despite the toughness of its skin, the silvered blade sank into it like a hot knife through butter. With a quick twist of the grip, she severed its spinal cord, killing it instantly.

It hadn’t even had time to whimper.

Ro pulled out the blade and palmed it, drawing it into the oversized sleeve of the coat. She backed away from the downed wolf and started trembling. Though she knew it was likely that whatever else was out here with her wouldn’t be taken in by the ruse, she had to try. If another wolf was close by and truly in the grip of its beast form, it might not possess the higher brain functions to put two and two together.

She didn’t think that likely, though. Everything she knew about these Los Colmillos wolves told her they weren’t animals, at least not in their thinking. The first one had been sloppy, overconfident, but there was little chance of another being so reckless in the face of the obvious – that she was still standing while its pack-mate lay dead on the path.

Still, Ro kept up the illusion. She backed away from the monster, staring at it wide-eyed, a feigned look of horror upon her face as if she was too terrified to even scream.

Several moments passed when suddenly the hairs on her neck stood up again and she sensed movement from ahead.

That’s it. Come to mama.

She’d purposely backed herself up against a rocky outcropping. It served to protect her backside, even if it boxed her in. That was fine, however. She had no intention of running.

The wolf stepped from the brush on the opposite side of its dead companion. It was huge, considerably larger than the one she’d just dispatched.

She took a quick look at the dead wolf, taking note of its smaller size and lighter coloring. Probably a female. The one before her now was most definitely a male which, for some reason, made the coming fight even more exciting.

The beast lowered itself to all fours and approached the downed wolf slowly, its eyes never leaving her. Its stance suggested it was ready to spring into action at any moment. Ro stared back at it wide-eyed, as if in disbelief, but in actuality waiting for it to be in a position where she was unlikely to miss her shot.

Slowly, she reached down with her free hand and slid it beneath the hem of the coat to where her holster lay.

Just a little more, you son of a bitch.

The wolf nudged the other with its nose, as if checking to see if it were merely stunned.

Good luck with that.

Even as the male continued to sniff its companion, the dead wolf began to change. The hair retreated from its body. Its stature began to shorten, and its features began to take on a human-like form. Within moments, Ro’s instincts were confirmed as the body of a naked woman lay where the wolf had been a moment earlier.

The other beast lifted its head and bared its teeth at her.

“Come on,” she whispered. “Here I am. So tasty and helpless.”

Rather than charge her, though, the wolf looked around as if considering its options.

Damnit! “Not fooling you for a second, am I?” she asked aloud. “Fine. The hard way it is.”

Ro flung the coat off her, revealing her lithe form. In the same movement, she drew her gun. When the dead wolf had shrunk back to human size, it had greatly diminished the cover it provided its companion. She didn’t think she was going to get a clearer shot.

This wolf proved to be much smarter than its companion, however. It reared up to its full height and kicked out, sending the dead woman flying toward Ro just as she pulled the trigger.

Ro dove out of the way, her shot missing by a mile. She rolled and came up to her feet just as the wolf lunged for her. There was no hesitation from it as there had been that night with Dean. This one meant to have its pound of flesh.

That was fine by her. She likewise felt absolutely no sympathy in this fight, either for herself or the creature.

Only one of them would walk away from this.

There was no time to aim properly. She pulled the trigger as she sidestepped, catching a hairy elbow in her midsection, hard enough to almost knock the wind out of her.

She staggered and backpedaled, putting some distance between her and it. Clear shot or not, it was suicide to stay within arm’s reach of a monster like this.

As she did, she saw the creature stumble into the tree line. It put one of its paws over its thigh and let out a brief whimper. She’d winged it.

The male wolf turned toward her wide-eyed, the anger in its eyes replaced by a look of pain and, although she couldn’t be certain, she was convinced she saw fear, too.

It had just enough cover to potentially ruin her shot. She had to finish it off before it could bolt. If it ran, it was unlikely she’d be able to find it again before it could hole up somewhere.

“So, that other mutt?” she asked, hoping this thing was smart enough to understand her. “She your mate, or just your fuck puppy?”

Its eyes narrowed and its lips pulled back from its teeth.

Pride before a fall, motherfucker.

“Sorry to break it to you, Fido, but I’m pretty sure all dogs don’t go to heaven.”

Available now for:
Amazon Kindle / Kindle Unlimited
Amazon UK


Jun 8, 2017

What's YOUR Tome of Bill Vampire Name?

So, you want to be "recruited" into Village Coven so you can hang with Bill, Sally, and all of their friends?  Well, there's two problems.

1) You're alive.
2) You need a cool coven name.

Assuming some vampire decides to take pity on your blood-filled self and relieve you of that first part, you still gotta work on number 2.

But, fortunately for you, here's your handy dandy guide to solving that dilemma for all of eternity.

May 26, 2017

Con Carolinas ... here I come!

It's about time for me to crawl out of my cave and be social again and I have a pretty good venue coming up to do it at.

I'll be at Con Carolinas next week.  It's being held June 2 - 4 at the Hilton Charlotte University Place (their spelling not mine).

Because who wouldn't want to buy stuff from this guy?
In addition to hawking my books along with my near illegible autograph in the vendor area for the entire weekend, I'll be participating in several panels and events. 

Here's where you can find me:

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Dreaded Synopsis (moderating)
4-5 PM

Official blurb: Almost as bad as the query letter is the synopsis. Our authors will go through the process they follow when writing a synopsis, including differences in techniques used when writing the synopsis before the manuscript versus after the manuscript. 

My take: Join me as I try to figure out exactly what a moderator does at these things ... err that is, as I lead a panel comprised of: Quincy J Allen, Samantha Bryant, David B. Coe, Jason T. Graves, and Grey Rineheart in discussing book blurbs and stuff.

Saturday, June 3 2017

Going for the Laughs (with most of the Authors and Dragons crew)
10-11 AM

Official blurb: Writing humor isn't easy. How do you create funny stories without completely bombing?

My take: Yeah, we're gonna bomb. I mean, heck it's me and the majority of my Authors and Dragons cast mates making a fuckery of things along with one non-A&D author who is almost guaranteed to hate us by the end of things. 

Literary Malpractice
12-1 PM

Official blurb:  The movies get medicine wrong all the time, and so do books. Let’s talk about some of the most egregious mistakes you've read, and ways to avoid them yourself.

My take: "Hey, Rick, did you know you got your guns wrong on page...?"  This is what we in the author world call delicious irony.

Author Dating Game
1-2:30 PM

Official blurb:  Can't decide what to read next?  Join our game and make a date with a character from the works of some of our celebrated author guests!

My take: You wish to talk to Rick, you stay away. You wish to talk to mighty Turd then come and have your head smashed!  

Sexual Identity in Speculative Fiction7-8 PM

Official Blurb:  Have we finally reached an era when the protagonist's sexual identity has no affect on the book's readability? Or do queer characters still run the risk of marginalizing the book into a "niche" shelf?

My Take: Having a character's defining trait be "gay" makes no more fucking sense to me than having a character who's entire personality is "black" or "likes spaghetti-o's", aside from sloppy writing. If they're not a fully fleshed out person, like any other character, then the author has failed IMHO. Now to see if I can express this in a way that doesn't piss off an entire room of people.

Authors & Dragons Live Podcast
10 - 11:30 PM

Official Blurb: A Podcast Where A Party Of Fantasy Authors Try To Make It Through A Game Of Pathfinder Without Dying. Will They Succeed? Probably Not!

My Take: A live Podcast where a party of fantasy authors will probably embarrass the shit out of their drunken selves, probably culminating in us all passing out in a mass pool of vomit. And fun was had for all!

Self Censorship, something I excel at
Sunday, June 4, 2017

12 - 1 PM

Official Blurb: Have you ever written something and realized there is no way you could possibly publish it? Should you censor yourself? Are there subjects that are simply too taboo? Should emotional triggers be avoided at all cost?

My Take: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This should be a ton of fun. 

Star Trek: Which Generation is This?
1 - 2 PM

Official Blurb: Star Trek Discovery is currently in production. Discussion of the latest film and the newest television show and the alternate movie universe.

My Take: Fuck CBS and their All Access bullshit!  Oh wait, did I give away my stance on this? Oops. Spoilers.  :)

I hope you can make it! Pop by. Say hi! Grab one of my not-so-patented cursed dice. It's bound to be a blast. 

Apr 9, 2017

Back in the Dungeon Master Saddle Again!

Fellow author and all around cool dude, Robert Bevan, recently posted a blog entry on exactly why those wondering what kind of Dungeon Master he is would have to keep on wondering.

Interestingly enough, his post on the subject pretty much coincided with my return to the other side of the gaming screen after over two decades of life as a mere player.

Why the long absence of allowing my ego to run wild as god of my own world, surrounded by minions put there for no other reason than my torturous amusement? Simple. With maybe one or two exceptions, the last group I DM'd kinda sucked giant hairy capybara scrotum. Sorry if any of them are reading this, but it's the truth. You guys made me wish for a TPK to the point where when the lone competent player left you to be executed while he watched, I was secretly cheering him on.

Now, I'd be lying if I said a few crappy players sent me running screaming from the game master seat. The truth of the matter is running a game takes a lot of time and even more commitment. I'm the type who's more than happy to let someone else shoulder that burden, even if it's just to use those free hours staring slack-jawed at the TV.  Then, following college, life stepped in, and those hours became even more precious. But now, at long last, I'm back.

The mighty game master at work
So what's changed? Simple. I'm older, potentially wiser, but most importantly I'm a full-time author now, working for myself, and setting my own hours. This allows me a bit of flexibility, especially since, at the very least, this frees up roughly five hours a week that I would have otherwise spent in my car commuting.  Secondly, I'm only running a game every other week.  Tough as it is to run a campaign, I find those ten extra hours are enough to prep for it ... mostly.

All that said, I thought I'd give my observations on my grand return to game mastering after all this time and what's changed between the days of yesteryear and now.

This is perhaps the biggest change from my college days. I'm no longer playing with a group of twenty year old assholes. No. Now I'm playing with a bunch of forty year old assholes. However, twenty years of experience is sometimes enough for a person to develop the ability to switch off asshole mode if needed. We can have tons of laughs around the table, but everyone there knows it's a commitment, shows up, and contributes ... and if they're doing dumbass things, it's purposeful, usually with some end point in mind ... even if it's just to piss me off. Gotta have goals, I say.

Perhaps the most striking difference between now and then is free time, or lack thereof. Back in college, players showed up maybe because they had nothing better to do. Fast forward twenty years and people have lives, families, places they need to be. If there is one advantage to running a game with adults, it's that you know they want to be there (or really want to get away from their families).

I write fantasy books for a living. That means I make my money coming up with fun scenarios of life and death for heroes, monsters, and misfits. I'm capable of both plotting and pantsing, meaning I can work off an outline, but sometimes I just make shit up as I go. That latter is key for dungeon mastering, because the players are more cats than lemmings. Good luck trying to herd them toward that nice friendly tavern when they're hellbent on exploring the Cavern of Fiery Suffering.

My job as a writer is to also create atmosphere, something that is absolutely essential to a night around the game table. Trust me on this. I've played with people who thought a bad Monty Python accent equaled atmosphere. My goal is to not be them.

Is writing a book vs. running a game vastly different? Of course. Thinking on the fly doesn't always give you the luxury of knowing where you're taking something. There's also the fact that I'm a shit note-taker, meaning that random name I just made up for that drunk at the bar is probably forgotten when you ask me what it was ten minutes later. But sometimes that random thing that gets made up in a panic when the character asks "So, what's your favorite food, nameless NPC?" can pay itself back tenfold in a plot point that otherwise didn't exist five minutes prior.

There's also the opposite to take into account ... paying attention and mining what my gamers do, for potential story ideas down the road. Sure, this could be considered shameless dickery on my part, but playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder is a social experience. And, much as I love to shunt myself away from the world most days, social experiences are fodder for story ideas.

Galinga, god of fumbles, frowns upon your dice
I'll be the first to admit, I was never into collecting D&D minis. I'm that leech at the table who borrows your box of figurines to find one for my character. Conversely, at least I'm not going to sit there and whine because my elven archer has blond hair and all the figures are brunettes. That's only a small part of old school game prep, though. The rest is in building your world ... i.e. drawing dungeons. Hours upon upon hours of tracing fucking rooms on graph paper, only for the characters to walk right the fuck past the entrance when they blow their perception roll.  Truth be told, if we were still playing this way, I would almost certainly not be dungeon mastering right now. I have a little free time, but fuck that noise.

Fortunately, my group has been moving away from that and toward the virtual tabletop that services like offer. Don't get me wrong, it's still a time commitment, but it's amazing how much a little technology can help with game prep.  As for minis, a virtual game world like this also allows the players to upload their own avatars, so that Craig's fucking elf can have his fucking blond hair and he can finally shut the fuck up.

There's also the added advantage of distance not being an issue. One of my players Skypes in from a thousand miles away. While he's at the mercy of my kids not picking that moment to stream forty different movies at once, it's definitely cool to have him back at the table, despite the distance. 

Yeah, I'm stealing this one straight from Bevan's post. The truth of the matter is yes, there's a lot of pressure to be entertaining for 5 or 6 hours around a game table where you're proctoring the action. There's also the responsibility of being ready for game day. Screw it up and you've screwed up the game.

That said, it's a freaking game and the guys playing it are adults. If they're not enjoying things, they'll tell me. If I'm not ready in time for that week, I'll tell them and we'll cancel until the next week. And if the game truly sucks, I'll nod, take my lumps, and end the campaign. We'll survive.

I have a full time job, a house, bills and taxes to pay, 3 kids - 2 of whom are special needs - etc etc. Those are responsibilities. Spending a few hours debating between having the group torn apart by a dragon or a pack of gnolls is a relative cakewalk comparatively.

Speaking of which, there's the added stress release associated with said bloodbaths. Having a bad week? Oops, sorry. Rolled a double zero on the random monster table. A passing green dragon is hungry and you fuckers look like appetizers. Truly a victimless crime if ever there was one.

So let me get this straight. you're arguing with God?
This is the part where I probably struggle most. There's no debating that RPGs are more complex now than they were back in the 90's.  We've gone through multiple editions of D&D, a shit-ton of new source books, and even more rules errata.  Gone are the days when you had a Player's Handbook, a Dungeon Master's Guide, and 1 Monster Manual.  I'll be the first to admit, I was never a rules whore. I always enjoyed the role playing aspects of running Gorm, the barely literate Orc cannibal, rather than memorizing the finer nuances of the perpetual Feeblemind spell affecting him.

If there's one area where I think I might get the crap kicked out of me around the table it's this, especially since I play with a couple of power gamers (including one who's a lawyer). This is potentially daunting, but I look at it as just another challenge to overcome.  There's also something to be said about knowing what battles to fight.  Am I going to stop game play for an hour every time one of the PCs wants to argue that the price for an ale at the pub is 1 copper piece instead of 2? No, not really.

There's also fairness take into account, as well as comeuppance. When a rule is agreed upon, that rule forevermore goes both ways ... however that might play itself out. Payback, as they say, is a bitch with six arms, multiple Vorpal swords, and that Stunning Strike decision you argued me to a standstill over six weeks back. 

That all said, so far it's been fun. Two game sessions in and I've made some mistakes, but I believe the story I'm trying to unfold is coming along nicely, which is what I'm focusing on.  At the very least, the players all haven't quit on me ... yet.

Your life might not be truly complete until you've had a chance to be eviscerated by an orc party in one of my games, but until then you can fill that hole in your life with the complete Tome of Bill Series. Available now!

Bill The Vampire Night Stalker Scary Dead Things The Mourning Woods
Holier Than Thou Sunset Strip Goddamned Freaky Monsters Half A Prayer
The Wicked Dead Shining Fury The Last Coven

Mar 20, 2017

Rating the Marvel Netflix Universe (so far)

I just finished watching the first season of Iron Fist on Netflix, aka another lost weekend spent staring slack-jawed at my TV.  That brings me up to speed with all 4 shows and 5 seasons of the Marvel Netflix Universe.  Yeah yeah, technically these, the movies, and Agents of Shield all exist in the same universe, but let's face facts, that's on paper only as there seems to be little chance of either of the two others acknowledging any of these shows whatsoever.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a quick Iron Man or Captain America cameo in the Defenders, but I'm pretty sure I have a better chance of seeing these characters have a crossover with Supergirl.

Anyway, just to recap, the MNU so far is:
Daredevil (seasons 1 & 2)
Jessica Jones
Luke Cage
Iron Fist

Now, I'll get this out of the way first. I don't think there are any stinkers in the bunch. All of them are fine shows and very watchable. All of them are also quite different, which is nice. There's something there for everyone ... everyone who likes super hero shows anyway. Even the least of the bunch is well worth watching.

That said, I wanted to rate each show according to several metrics, and then talk about where the Netflix shows in general win and where they still need some work, IMHO.

Note: there may be spoilers ahead...

My Costume isn't red, I just bleed...A LOT
DAREDEVIL: The first of the MNU shows and the one that set the bar for the rest. The adventures of Matt Murdock - blind attorney by day, radar-sense equipped badass by night.
  • Plot: 3 stars. Pretty general superhero origin. A man gets frustrated by the evil pervading his town, so he begins to fight back ... a lot ... which ultimately brings him into contact with bigger and badder players, who he then also tries to kick the shit out of.  Season 2 expands upon this with more heroes and more villains as the quest to clean up Hell's Kitchen continues, along with doubts as to the main hero's state of mind, in that he's not certain who he prefers to be: Batman or ... err Daredevil that is, or Matt Murdock.
  • Action: 5 stars. Easily the most brutal of the MNU. This show doesn't hold back any punches ... or kicks, or bullets etc etc. Daredevil gets into tons of fights and they are ugly fights, definitely not the *pew pew* lasers and lightning of the MCU.  It all looks like it hurts. If there is any nit, however minor, it's that fight scenes are just that - fights between normal powered people. Sue me for being a super-power whore, but that's what I'm here to see.
  • Costume: 4 stars. The only issue I have is they wait until the very end of season 1 to put DD into his familiar costume. And yes, I realize he ran around dressed as a ninja in the comics too, but damnit, man, when I watch a superhero, I want that hero in a costume!  That said, once it's introduced, it is nice and he does wear it all throughout season 2.  Bonus, we get the Punisher's costume near the end of season 2 as well.
  • Villains: 4 stars. Vincent D'onofrio's Kingpin is pretty much spot on. No issues there. Also, Madame Gao is creepy as all fuck.  Both present a nice threat to Daredevil, but in different ways. The rest ... minor bosses who exist to be beaten up.
  • Superpower stuff: 1 star.  We get 1, *ONE* shot of how Matt Murdock "sees" the world and it's a brief shot of his then-girlfriend Claire.  Sometimes less is more, but they could have at least thrown us a few bones of DD vision now and then. It might be a petty concern, but again ... superhero show.

JESSICA JONES: Jessica Jones has superpowers, but they weren't enough to save her from months of psychological torture at the hands of the Purple Man. Now she just wants to survive, drink her troubles away, and occasionally touch Luke Cage's pecs.
  • Plot: 5 stars. An excellent, and often uncomfortable, portrayal of a woman who is one of the most powerful beings on the planet, yet is still haunted by PTSD following psychological and physical abuse at the hands of a man who's capable of dominating others with but a word.
  • Action: 3 stars. Jessica is often reluctant to throw down. She doesn't want to be a superhero. She doesn't want to be bothered with anyone else's shit. She just wants to forget her own past. There are some notable fight scenes, though, especially when she goes up against Luke Cage, but this is definitely one of those reluctant hero tales.
  • I'm a PI, not a stripper, perv!
  • Costume: 2 stars. Jessica Jones doesn't often wear a costume in the comics these days, probably with good reason. Her original comic costume is little more than skin-tight lingerie. Considering her powers of flight, she'd either have to use really strong glue to hold it in place or end up flashing NYC every time she fought crime ... which would probably make this a completely different type of show. There is a fun scene where this is addressed, though, so an extra point for that.
  • Villains: 5 stars. David Tennant's Purple Man / Killgrave is just fucking awesome. He is equal parts uber-creepy and sympathetic. But he absolutely dominates every scene he's in. Almost loses a point for a subplot involving a character named Nuke, who is ultimately not much more than filler, but Killgrave is one of the best marvel villains so far in any of their properties. Hell, give me a movie where he teams up with Hugo Weaving's Red Skull and I'd watch the shit out of that.
  • Superpower Stuff: 3 stars. Jessica Jones is super strong and they don't shy away from that. However, they kind of gloss over her flight abilities, mostly with 1 or 2 cheap cutaways. But again, this is a reluctant hero. She doesn't want to use her powers (unlike a person like me, who'd spend the entire series punching out bulldozers).

Not a man you want turning the other cheek
LUKE CAGE: A man with steel skin and super strength who just wants to be left alone ... to sweep hair in a barber shop. Hey, I don't judge.
  • Plot: 2 stars. Starts off fairly strong, as a small story of a man just trying to keep his neighborhood safe while staying under the radar. Then kind of goes off the rails, and finally introduces us to the main villain late in the game.
  • Action: 4 stars. Features probably the only true "superhero" fight in the MNU as Cage and Diamondback (in a super-suit) face off, trading super-powered punches and not trying to hide it in the least. Also, it never gets dull watching Cage kick the crap out of people. There's a lot of broken bones by the end of this one.
  • Costume: 2 stars. Modern Luke Cage doesn't really wear a costume either. That's fine. We do get a little fan wank in the form of his earlier Power Man costume, with Cage basically making fun of how he stupid looks in it. 
  • Villain: 2 stars.  Alfre Woodard is quite good as Mariah. However, she's never actually a physical threat to cage. Cottonmouth is so-so at best. Honestly, it was hard for me to figure out what his motivation was at all ... and then he dies halfway through the series. Diamondback exists to give Cage a physical challenge, however, he shows up very late in the series and his reasons for hating cage end up being kind of lame.
  • Superpower Stuff: 4 stars. It's a show about a guy who is super strong and nearly indestructible and Netflix seems to understand that you can't hide that and make it effective at the same time. I never got the sense that MNU Luke Cage is as powerful as comic Cage, but they do an effective job of getting it across that this is a guy who can step into a room with a dozen pissed off enemies and still be the only one to walk out again.

IRON FIST: Danny Rand returns to NYC after 15 years of being stranded in the Himalayas, where he was raised by kung-fu monks and defeated a dragon to gain super chi powers ... and a title that I'm sure some pornos are dying to use. Eh, whatever. Works for me.
  • Plot: 3 stars. Another pretty general superhero plot. Danny returns home to reclaim his identity, only to find that his life has been a lie and those who he thought were his friends were mostly not ... all while he's kinda too dumb to notice it until the very end. Speaking of the end, IF loses at least a half point for episode 13 which both felt tacked on and offered an opponent for Danny who had about as much chance of winning as a toddler ... and was about as convincing.
  • Action: 4 stars. Lots of kung-fu action and a touch from Marvel's mystical side. Mind you, not all of the kung-fu is convincing, and it is never as brutal as Daredevil's action, but it's mostly fun to watch. Jessica Henwick's Colleen Wing is pretty much pure awesomeness, though.
  • I'm a Billionaire, I'll wear whatever the fuck I want
  • Costume: 1 star.  Yes, he has the dragon tattoo, but of all the costumes to put together for a superhero show, you'd think his would be the easiest. Christ, just run out to Target and buy Finn Jones some PJs.  We do get a tease of an earlier Iron Fist wearing the traditional costume, but it's in the form of a grainy film - boo!
  • Villain: 3 stars.  Madam Gao continues to be creepy as fuck, but the rest are a mismatch who are either two dimensional or not really a threat unless the hero is dumb as shit.  Oddly enough, despite the Hand being a major threat in this series, there are far fewer ninja for Iron Fist to fight than there were in Daredevil. Maybe the Punisher killed them all?
  • Superpower Stuff: 5 stars. Danny's hand lights up and pulverizes pretty much anything it hits. It's definitely cool to watch. Yeah, they do the lame "he loses his powers" thing that every hero show does and then, later on, how he gets them back isn't entirely clear. Still, it probably has the best effects scene of any of the MNU shows when he uses it to utterly obliterate the floor of a building. Yeah, show me the money, baby!

My favorites in order:
Iron Fist
Jessica Jones
Luke Cage

Probably a controversial choice for that top spot, and a tough one. DD might be a better show, but ultimately Iron Fist is more fun and makes with the powers more often. As such, I gotta rank it the better superhero show (Mind you, it's a very close call, especially considering episode 13 of IF).  Jessica Jones is a powerful show with an A+ bad guy, but at times it can be rough to watch.  As for Luke Cage, it gets the superhero part right, but seemed to waffle with everything else.

What they all do well:  These are all fairly gritty shows that try to be grounded in our world. While they never stray too far into R-territory, the action and language tends to be much saltier than the MCU movies, lending some good realism and some really nice scenes. 10+ episodes gives us a lot of screen time to get to know these characters, which is doubly cool (except for those characters who suck).

What they all need to work on:  I think we need more diversity. And no, I don't mean in casting choices. I mean heroes and their powers. While I've greatly enjoyed the MNU, their four main heroes all have powers that are essentially minor variations on "punching stuff".  Considering Agents of Shield features Quake and had a half season of a passable Ghost Rider, I don't think this is beyond Netflix's capabilities or budget. Marvel has a rich cast of characters with some quirky powers. Pick one or two who do different things.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, realism is good to a degree, but these are freaking superhero shows, which means I want to see more superhero'ing.  Let's face facts, you have The Flash on the CW devoting entire shows to talking gorillas or giant man-sharks, yet Netflix seems reluctant to even put their heroes into a freaking costume.  At times it's almost like they're embarrassed of the source material.  Yes, that's fine that they want these to be character pieces, but when I turn on a show like Luke Cage, you can bet I'm not going to be happy until he throws a truck at someone.

Seriously, Netflix!  The Defenders is up next. So work on that shit!