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Friday, October 10, 2014

DnD Character Creation - Syris the Halfling Monk - Part 3

Welcome to the final part of my ongoing series discussing player creation in the new Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook.  Don't forget to see RedRaggedFiend's conclusion to his own character creation process here.

The final touches for creating a character in the PHB are Chapter 4: Personality and Background, and Chapter 5: Equipment.  The rest of the PHB discusses variant customization options (multiclassing, feats), play rules, and spell lists.

My focus for this final part in the series on chapter 4, where we flesh out the specific role playing aspects of the character.  This chapter includes discussion on the basics, like Name, Gender, physical characteristics, alignment, etc.

Personal Characteristics and Backgrounds

5th Edition D&D adds a detailed set of rules for "Personal Characteristics," broken down into four parts.

  • Personality Traits
  • Ideals
  • Bonds
  • Flaws
The PHB discusses each characteristic in detail, so a player can design his own.  It then discusses Backgrounds, which give additional proficiency, languages and equipment.  The chapter closes with a series of example Backgrounds you can choose from with tables of examples of the four personal characteristics that would fit the background.

Work With Your DM!

As a side note, do not do this part of character creation in a vacuum.  This should happen with the input of your Dungeon Master and even fellow players.

Perhaps you are like RedRaggedFiend, and your character is of some noble background.  If that piece of information is important and you want it to come up in game, your DM should know about it and can even help you with possible details based on the setting of the coming adventure.  Perhaps you have a bond to another player in the group.

In one game we had a human bard and her adopted dwarven sister out adventuring in the world together.  The time spent putting that relationship together during character creation and ahead of starting the game paid many dividends throughout that party's adventures.  As the DM, I was able to help fill in why that dwarf would be outcast and adopted by a human family.  

Syris has no game waiting for him, so I put him into the world of Ryndaria.

The Hermit

The Handbook provided a "Hermit" background that fit the needs of Syris' monastic life.  A player can roll d8 die in order to randomly select characteristics from these tables, but I decided to select them myself based on the vision I had for Syris.

A hermit is proficient in Medicine, Religion and the Herbalism Kit, has studied an additional language of the player's choice, and gets a small set of additional gear: a scroll case of random notes, a blanket, common clothes, an herbalism kit, and 5 gold pieces.

Personality trait: "I connect everything that happens to me to a grand, cosmic plan."  This just fits Syris.  He left his home after seeing visions of a coming calamity.  He believes a greater power calls him to save his people.  Everything that happens to him must be related to this call and his cause.

Ideal: "My gifts are meant to be shared with all, not used for my own benefit."  Syris believes he is called to save his people.  He must be here for a reason, and he does everything in order to help others.

Bond: "My isolation gave me great insight into a great evil that only I can destroy."  There is a person or power behind the coming destruction.  Syris sees himself as the avatar of the One who called him and he must find and defeat the evil he is now bound to.

Flaws: "I'd risk too much to uncover a lost bit of knowledge."  Any clues that lead him closer to his fate take precedence over all else.  His zeal has caused him to sacrifice relationships and hurt others.  He sees this as a necessary consequence of saving everyone.

Backgrounds and personal characteristics help me flesh out Syris in more concrete ways.  I started with a vague idea of who Syris is, but specific traits, bonds and flaws force me to create Syris' personality and style before I play him.  In the past, when my ideas stayed vague, the first few sessions of play could be awkward as I tried to find a character's voice.  Here, I put the effort in ahead of time, so I have a starting point for Syris.  I have plenty of room for him to evolve and grow as we play, but his background is a solid start.

With this complete, Syris is ready to adventure.  Will he find what he seeks?  Will he stop the coming storm?  Is he just delusional?  I can see myself having a lot of fun playing this character (or at least writing about him in the future).

I hope you found this series on creating characters useful.  While the focus is on 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, the basic approaches RedRaggedFiend and I outlined can be used in any role playing game.  

Are you usually a by the numbers player, or do you care about role playing first?  Let me know in the comments, and I encourage you to try a different approach in the future.  It will stretch you as a player and you might even enjoy it.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Friday, September 19, 2014

DnD Character Creation - Syris the Halfling Monk - Part 2

Welcome back to the ongoing series of posts on making a character based on the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Player's Handbook.

My friend RedRaggedFiend, one of the members of our group that plays Friday nights, has a parallel series over at his blog:  If you have not checked his first two posts out, please do.

In part one, I took a look at the motivations behind how I create characters for table top role playing games, picking a race and class, and took a brief look at ability scores in fleshing out who Syris, the halfling monk is.

If you read RedRaggedFiend's first post, you saw that we approach character generation from different points on the spectrum.  Red concerns himself with mechanics first and fleshes out a character around those mechanics once the bones are there.  I come to character creation with a role playing vision of who I expect the character to be and work the numbers to fit that character.

As you read our posts, I look forward to your comments on character creation.  Do you start with RP or the numbers?  Which works best for you?  Is there another approach we left out?

This week, I will continue into the mechanics of creating Syris and how I made him fit into the confines of a 5e character that I expect will still be fun to play.

Ability Scores Revisited

Last week, I mentioned Syris' ability scores:
  • 12 Strength
  • 17 Dexterity
  • 14 Constitution
  • 8 Intelligence
  • 14 Wisdom
  • 10 Charisma
When creating a character in DnD, it is important to build them consistent with the expectations of their class.  If a class is meant to be intelligent, like wizards, it does not make much sense to put a low score into intelligence.  There are times one might want to try and play a character with this sort of handicap to their rolls, but I find it makes the game less fun when the odds are stacked so heavily against you.

Monks are agile fighters that draw from their will power to channel "Ki magic."  They use smaller weapons (or no weapons at all!), but can spend a lot of their time up close and personal in combat.  For this reason, Dexterity should be the highest score, followed by Wisdom.  Dexterity helps the offensive and defensive capabilities of the monk, and wisdom helps the defenses and Ki of the monk.

I also worked to get my Constitution a little higher, as Con. is used in determining hit points.  At 14, Syris will gain an extra two hit points every level.  Since Syris spends a lot of time fighting up close, and he is a "sturdy" halfling, I imagine his Constitution is the next best ability score to focus on.  

Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma are not core stats for a monk, so they get the final three scores.  Here is where I like to put a little role play in.  I put my 12 into Strength, as Syris is already physically fit and active.  It made sense he would be somewhat strong.  I then chose the 8 for Intelligence.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I see Syris too focused on his physical nature and seeking enlightenment through his perception of the world to worry about book smarts.  That leaves 10 (an average score) for Charisma.  Syris won't persuade many to join his cause, but he won't turn them off too often either.

The Monk

I started creating Syris by picking the halfling race and monk class.  Why the monk?  What is it about this class that made me want to play one?

Before I do that, I want to take a moment to point out something many other reviewers point out about the Player's Handbook: most of the art is amazing.  You can see here the picture of the monk in the PHB.  I think it is wonderfully drawn, and fits the image of the monk, channeling her Ki through her hands.  I believe Wizards of the Coast commissioned art from many new artists.  I found the artist of this picture online, and think you should check out Craig Elliot's site.

Back to the monk.  The opening sentence in the PHB pulled me right in:

Her fists a blur as they deflect an incoming hail of arrows, a half-elf springs over a barricade and throws herself into the massed ranks of hobgoblins on the other side.  She whirls among them, knocking their blows aside and sending them reeling, until at last she stands alone.  (pg. 76)

The monk uses his quickness and keen perception to wade into battle.  Even with no weapons nor armor, the monk is a physical force to be reckoned with.  The monk is a fearless warrior in tune with his body and the energy of the world around him.  He wills his fists and feet to strike as hard as steel, and can dodge and deflect incoming attacks.

Many of the monk's powers come out as he adventures and gains experience.  At 1st level, a monk really only has two features available to him, but they set him up for the rest of his career: 
  • Unarmored Defense: a monk's AC rivals that of heavily armored knights as long as he is lightly clothed.  
    • His Dexterity and Wisdom bonuses both apply to AC
  • Martial Arts: Monks are able to master unique combat styles.  
    • Monks rely on Dexterity for combat rolls (instead of Strength).
    • Monks get extra unarmed attacks as long as they use weapons they are trained with.
    • Unarmed attacks do more damage than normal
As the monk gains levels, he gains all new powers that I think will help him shine.  By 2nd level, monks begin to use Ki magic.  At level three, a monk can deflect and catch missiles fired at him from afar.  In some cases, he can even throw the missile back at his assailant.  

Later, monks learn to fall without hurting themselves, power their fists with Ki magic, and even live without food and water!

As I read through all the features of the monk class for the first time, this epic, ageless monk began to form in my mind.  But why a halfling?

The Halfling

As I talked about in my last post, I needed a halfling ancestor for a story I am writing with my daughter.  That, coupled with the monk class described in the PHB worked.  A halfling monk is a unique combination.  It makes sense this many-great grandfather's story would stand out in the history of the family.  

Mechanically, it works as well.  Halflings get a dexterity bonus, which fits right in with the monk.  Some of their other traits also work well with the monk:
  • Lucky: reroll a 1 on any attack, ability, or saving throw roll.  This is useful for anyone, and a very powerful trait for halflings
  • Brave: advantage when saving against fear.  Monks don't run away. 
  • Halfling Nimbleness: halflings can move through the spaces of creatures larger than them.  For a monk, who wades into the thick of battle, I can see Syris taking advantage of this often.
Halflings are generally good-natured and lawful folk.  They don't typically leave home to devote themselves to a cause the way Syris did, which makes for an interesting story hook, that I hope to connect up with his character background, which I will discuss next week.

Next Steps

As you can see, we have the bones now for a character that should be fun to play in combat and role play.  Next week I will discuss selecting a background and putting the final touches on a character before taking him to the table.

Please leave a comment with any thoughts.  When you create characters, are you more concerned with role playing or mechanics?  Don't forget to check out RedRaggedFiend's parallel series (

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, September 12, 2014

DnD Character Creation - Syris the Halfling Monk - Part 1

This week, I will continue my look at the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  In my previous post (here), I unboxed the Starter Set for the edition.  Our group continues to enjoy our play through of the starter set adventure - The Lost Mines of Phandelver.

For the next set of posts, I will walk through character generation in 5th Edition.  I'm excited about this series of posts, as my good friend RedRaggedFiend (of is going to run a series of posts in parallel on the same topic!  Each blogger will discuss how he approaches character generation, and how he feels 5th Edition lives up to his expectations as we each create a new character.

RedRaggedFiend's post is even up already.  Go take a look:

Motivations - How I Approach the Game

When I go to play any role playing game, it's all about the story.  I love opportunity for stories, and no gaming experience is greater than spontaneously creating a story with a group of friends.  If you have not played table top RPGs (or have had a bad experience in the past), I encourage you to give it a (or another) try!

A lot of blogs I read focus on the necessary balance of a game like Dungeons and Dragons.  Players and DMs (like my friend RedRaggedFiend) will focus on the numbers, the probabilities, the ability to maximize their character's power, etc.  In gaming, we need people like this.  They make sure the game is balanced, they know the rules inside out, and they help find issues with the game that down the road can take our fun away.  I love to rely on them figuring all this out so I don't have to!

When I first read a Player's Handbook for any edition, I let myself dream.  I look for the "cool factor" in various classes and races.  I think about the types of characters that would match up with the various race/class combinations available in the game.  I think about the setting the character would play in and how he would fit into the world.

Step 1 - Race and Class

The new Player's Handbook fits well with my style of character creation.  In the PHB, step 1 is to choose a Race, and step 2 is to choose a Class.  This is different than old school editions, where you had to roll your ability scores up first.  In those days, certain classes required very high abilities to be played, and if you rolled 4d6 and kept the highest three numbers for each ability, you might not get that 17 in Charisma you needed to be a Paladin.  I'm looking at you 2nd Edition.

In later editions, this changed, and ability scores became step 3.  Class requirements were no longer as strong, and DnD introduced the idea of a "standard set" of ability scores.  With this, there is not requirement to actually roll any dice.  Instead, a player can distribute these numbers among her six ability scores:  15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.

For me, the PHB step 1 & 2 is really a combined "step 1."  The combination of these two defining traits of the character begin to automatically tell you who the character is.  Dwarf clerics make sense!  The dwarven people rely on their clerics in the worship of their Gods, and dwarf clerics are known to be battle hardened and ready for adventure.  But a half-orc bard?  This combination requires you to come up with a reason such an odd combination would exist.  

So, what did I want to play?  Why a halfling monk!

Who Is Syris?

When I read through the PHB race and class chapters, it struck me how much Wizards of the Coast added "cool factor" to everything.  From halflings' "Lucky" trait (reroll 1's) to fighters' three unique subclass builds, there are enough options and combinations in the PHB that I can see it lasting much longer than we are used to before the whole edition gets bogged down with massive amounts of new races, classes, and powers to confuse us all.

Syris came together for me in two parts.  First, as I read through the description of the monk class, I knew I would need to play a monk.  In 4th edition, I played a monk character for a time, and really enjoyed how he played.  Monks are lightning fast, able to move around as they fight, and can even stand toe to toe with a good number of monsters through their ability to dodge.

The new monk class shares some basics with his previous iteration, yet sounded fresh and different as I read through it.  (I will discuss more specifics in the next part of the series, but I'll say for now:  Deflect Missiles is going to be a fun power to play with!)

Part two of Syris came in parallel to another story I was working on.  In a previous blog post, I introduced a halfling character named Charis, based on a miniature figure I painted at the time.  I wrote a little back story, and modeled her after my daughter since the mini was for her.  More recently, my little girl and I started working on more stories about Charis, and we worked a monk ancestor into Charis' history.  The character of Syris was born.

Creating Syris - Background Basics and Ability Scores

After seeing a vision of a future calamity, Syris left his halfling homeland to join an order of hermit monks.  His mission is to find the source of his nightmares and understand his role in it all.  Perhaps he can even stop whatever is to happen.

For ability scores, I took the standard set:  15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.  I chose this route to simplify the process.  I'm not married to any one way of choosing ability scores, and believe all the options presented in the PHB (die roll, standard set, point buy) are valid and have their place.

Luckily, halflings get a +2 dexterity, which is good for monks, and "stout" halflings get an extra +1 constitution1, which will help keep him alive.  Finally, wisdom is important to monks and their "Ki Magic."

  • 15+2 = 17 dexterity
  • 13+1 = 14 constitution
  • 14 wisdom
  • 12 strength
  • 10 charisma
  • 8 intelligence.

The low intelligence made sense to me in this case, as Syris is more concerned with wisdom and purpose than he is in book learning.

Next week, I'll expand a little more on the halfling race and monk class and what about them specifically I like.  I'll also walk through backgrounds and how I selected Syris' to match the story I hope to tell with him.

Don't forget to go check out RedRaggedFiend's post as well.  I think you'll see you can approach character generation from many different angles!

Thanks for reading.


1 - stout halflings also get poison resistance while their lightfoot brothers and sisters get +1 charisma and some stealth bonuses.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Unboxing - D&D Starter Set

For you Dungeons and Dragons fans out there, you probably noticed the release of the new 5th edition rules this month.  There are plenty of posts reviewing the details of the rules and what they might mean for D&D going forward.  

I may have more thoughts on that in the future, but I'm saving most of my opinions for later.  I want to see how it plays with our group. 

There are some great posts out there that break down the content of the new rules and even the starter set.  
  • My good friend (@RedRaggedFiend) has his first thoughts on the new rules here
  • The Walking Mind is another great blog that discusses tabletop gaming.  His review of 5e is here
    • He also has a series of posts where he gives his thoughts about the starter set as he went through it, almost as a "live blog."
The Starter Set retails for $20, but Amazon has it on sale for $13 (here).  Here are some pictures of the set as I unboxed it tonight.  I have some initial thoughts about each piece below.  I'll say more over the coming weeks as our group dives in and tries the rules out.

The Box, still nicely wrapped.  I must say I am a sucker for dragon art!

Opening the Box, the set of dice is right on top along with the rule book.  Notice we can see more of the picture from the box cover on the rule book.

The dice quality is higher than I expected.  They are a nice pearlized blue.  I agree with other bloggers who would have liked to see multiple d6 or perhaps 2 d10.

The books.  Both are made of a heavy glossy paper, which is nice.  They are bound with staples, so I don't expect them to last through heavy use.  Look at that, the complete picture is on the adventure book.

The rule book is 32 pages long and contains the basics for getting to level five in the included adventure.

The adventure is a heftier 64 pages.  It includes a four part adventure of what looks like about 20 encounters.  It should take your party to level five.

Character sheets!  There are five pre-made characters, allowing for two fighter variants.  I suggest making copies if you are going to use them. 

The final piece of the set is an advertisement for D&D's Encounters.  The backside is a blank character sheet for an Encounters game.  While nice, the paper is glossy (no good for writing on).  Again, make a copy if you plan to use it.

I hope you found this unboxing of the D&D Starter Set useful.  Leave a comment on what else you would like to know or see from the set.

The official Player's Handbook releases next month, with the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guides following in the fall.  This starter box will help those of us who cannot wait get started now.  I expect the game will hit critical mass next year with all the additional content coming through the end of the year.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blog Tour - Richie Earl's Finndragon series

Today I am joining in on a blog tour for my friend Richie Earl by reposting my very first IndiePub review.  I met Mr. Earl last fall on Twitter and we got to know each other a bit after I wrote this review.  Since then, he invited me to cross-post my reviews on his excellent blog, One Thousand Worlds in One Thousand Words.  The blog showcases the works of independent authors as well as reviews of IndiePub work.

As a part of his blog tour, Mr. Earl discounted the two Finndragons books on Amazon.  He is also running a raffle to give away copies of the books.

You can find Finndragon's Curse here:

Return to Finndragon's Den here:

More information on Richie Earl and this Countdown Tour are on his website:

You can enter the raffle for a copy of his books after the review.  I hope you enjoy.

Finndragon's Curse

The Legend of Finndragon's Curse, by Richie Earl is Mr. Earl's first self published novel.  The young adult fantasy adventure is part one of a two part series.  I was introduced to Mr. Earl on Twitter, and found his book on Amazon here.  (note: I purchased the book)

After Emma, Megan, and Scott Davies' father disappeared, all they had left were memories and his tales of an ancient kingdom near their home in Wales.  The curse of the King's own wizard, Finndragon, caused the kingdom to disappear.  Legend says the lost castle and its people are locked in an eternal struggle against Finndragon and his demon horde.  After finding a clue to their father's whereabouts, the children set off to find Dad and unlock the mystery of Finndragon's Curse.

As I read Finndragon's Curse, the tale first reminded me of my own children.  As a father of three, I appreciated the individual personalities of each child.  Emma, the oldest, is strong willed and feels responsible for her sister and brother.  Megan is free spirited and quick to find joy and laughter in any situation.  Scott fears nothing, and is quick to attempt dangerous feats against his sisters' wishes.  Mr. Earl's experiences as a father are apparent in his writing.

The children drive the story forward, searching for their father.  Without spoiling too much of the story for you, they deal with magic, demons, and ancient knights as they unravel the legend behind the lost kingdom.

The book is the first of a two book series, with a satisfying ending that sets up the second concluding book of the series.  I am excited to find out what happens in the second story.

My criticisms to the book are mostly technical.  While I found no issue with the spelling, punctuation, and grammar, Mr. Earl's first book could use a professional edit to clean up the prose and pacing.  I really enjoyed the story, but at times became distracted. 

Reading a recent post of Mr. Earl's work in progress on his new blog here, it is obvious that the author is working to improve his writing style, and in my opinion he is having success.

One final nitpick is with the formatting of the eBook on Amazon Kindle.  There is no "table of contents" in the Kindle version, and I could not jump between chapters.  This is a feature I have become accustomed to as a Kindle reader, and I recommend any indie author try and implement this in their eBooks.

Nitpicks aside, the story is a fun read.  I expect Mr. Earl's writing will only continue to improve, and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.  If you have not checked it out yet, I highly recommend Mr. Earl's new website.  On it, he features the first 1000 words of books from independent fantasy and sci-fi authors, as well as reviews of independent works.  (Full disclosure, I will post reviews on his site in the future.)  If you want to "try out" some fantasy fiction before you buy, I suggest hitting up

Finndragon's Curse is an enjoyable tale of magic, courage, and family.  It suffers from some technical and pacing hiccups, but I look forward to reading the conclusion in book two!  I recommend The Legend of Finndragon's Curse for anyone looking for fantasy fiction from independent authors, and at 99 cents, the book is a great value.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014


My post frequency has dropped dramatically since January, as you may have noticed.  Other priorities required my time these last few months, which can be summed up with one word:  fatherhood.

Broken Leg

Back in January, my seven year old son broke his ankle, the poor kid.  Of course, this led to many sleepless nights, surgery, casts, and a boot.  The trampoline was not even two weeks old before it claimed its first victim!

The boy was a trooper throughout the whole ordeal.  The 36 hours before the surgery were the most difficult of my nine plus years as a father.  He dealt with intense pain, and we could not comfort him.  The medications we had on hand did not relieve the pain, and there was no time to find something stronger.  His mother and I each slept about 4 hours total those 2 nights, and he slept less.

After surgery, he shined.  He learned to use crutches within a couple hours and soon raced around on them.  By the time the cast came off he begged to get back out on the trampoline and is doing great.  I could not be more proud of him.  Even the boot is off now, and he's back to running around already.


In the midst of this, our nine year old son started a new baseball season, and guess who took the reigns as head coach?  Coaching 13 nine and ten year olds keeps me busy and rewards me in ways I never expected.  I helped coach both my boys' baseball teams most years since they started playing, but this age group is different than the past.  The boys understand the game and play at a whole new level.  It is fun watching them learn to excel at and love a sport I love and am passionate about.

New Addition

To top it all off, my wife and I welcomed our fourth child into the world at the end of March.  Our little girl is adorable, loud, alert, and beautiful.

Leading up to her birth, I worried.  I did not feel the same level of excitement I felt during the pregnancies of my first three children.  It's not that I did not want another child, I really did.  But the whole thing started to feel routine.  It didn't feel new, and I felt more relaxed than I thought I should.

I worried that I wouldn't feel the same way about her that I felt for the others.  It's a weird thought to have, but I felt nervous that I would not give her the same attention I gave the others as babies.  Then, of course, I got down on myself and berated myself for being such a terrible father (when nothing even happened yet!).

I'm not going to go into a detailed description of my wife's labor, though I think that would be a great test of my writing ability.  I will say that the moment I saw that slimy, crying, naked baby and cut her umbilical cord, I wept with joy.  I felt exactly the same about her that I felt when introduced to my other three children.  She is mine, and I will do everything in my power to love and raise her the way she deserves.

I wish I could better describe the feeling of meeting your child for the first time.  Throughout pregnancy, there's this surreal understanding of the life inside my wife's womb.  I saw sonogram pictures of her, talked to her, felt her kick and hiccup.  Yet in that moment that she burst onto the scene and announced her presence with a mighty cry, everything in my life changed. 

I could not breath.  I could not speak.  All the cares and stresses of the world faded away.  Our family became more complete in that moment than it had been before.  And the weirdest thing?  I can't remember or imagine life without her as a part of it, and she is only two weeks old.

I hope you'll excuse my ramblings.  I needed to write, as it has been too long since the last time (even my review of Fiona's book was nearly complete months ago before I could get around to finishing it and posting it).  Thank you for reading.  As our daughter let's us sleep again, I plan to fix my daily routine and get back to reading and writing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Indie Review - Faerie Tales

Hello again all.  It has been a crazy month here, but I'm getting back into the swing of things with another Indie Review.

Those who follow on Twitter may have noticed some of my reviews are available on 1000 Worlds in 1000 Words, a great blog that features the first 1000 words of #IndiePub books along with information on their authors.  It is a great site.  I recommend you check it out.

If you want to know more about today's #IndiePub author and Faerie Tales, visit 1000 Worlds  as author Fiona Skye and the book are featured there. (

Faerie Tales

Faerie Tales is the first book of the "Revelations" trilogy by Fiona Skye.  Ms. Skye can be found on Twitter (@FionaSkyeWriter), Google+ (+Fiona Skye) or at her blog (  I met her on Twitter and she gave me a copy of Faerie Tales for an honest review.  You can find the book on Amazon (

Riley O'Rourke is a werejaguar responsible for exposing the world of the Preternatural to the rest of Humanity. But not all the things that go bump in the night are happy with the new world order.

The Queen of the Winter Court, a cruel and vicious faerie, is determined to punish Riley for her role in the Night of Revelations and sends some of the nastiest storybook characters imaginable after her.

Salvation comes from the Summer Queen, who asks Riley to steal a magical artifact from the Winter Queen, a mirror that will determine the winner in the eternal war between the Fae Courts. Riley's reward for returning the mirror is the protection of the Summer Court.

Joining Riley on this quest are her mentor, a 3,000-year-old vampire, and Riley's lover, a federal law enforcement agent with a secret of his own.

Their successful completion of this quest has unexpected consequences that could doom the entire world.

Fiona Skye writes well in Faerie Tales.  She has a sharp command of language, and the book comes across well edited.  I was impressed with how Ms. Skye's prose flows throughout the book. 

As I read this book, I most enjoyed the way Ms. Skye intertwines several different types of modern fantasy details into the novel.  There are were-creatures (not just wolves either, but many animal types), vampires, faeries, and magicians.  Magic exists, both old and new.  Ms. Skye takes the time to mix various real life myths and superstitions into one universe, and I found it worked to move the story along.

The book is written in the first person, from Riley's point of view.  It makes sense then, when Riley transforms, so does the author's writing style.  The character changes to something more primal and instinctual, no longer concerned with telling a story.  The glimpses of "Jaguar's" motivations and understanding of the world added to Riley's own emotions about being a preternatural.

If there was one part of the book I had trouble connecting with, it is with Riley and her romantic relationships.  As a man married most of my adult life, I could not relate to Riley in this regard.  Riley struggles with her feelings toward a love interest throughout the book.  Still, Ms. Skye spends ample time explaining Riley's troubled past, which helps put Riley's struggles into perspective. 

I wonder if in the future Riley will come to realize some of her issues with relationships are actually based in how the character approaches relationships and sexuality in the first place.  It would be interesting to see her grow in this regard in future books, and not fall into some sort of "love conquers all" simple solution.

While the book is a little slow to build up to the action, I was satisfied in the end.  I felt the book successfully sets up the world in which Riley lives and builds the necessary tensions and antagonists that will take the trilogy forward into book two.

I am excited to see how Fiona Skye continues the Revelations Trilogy.  She most impressed me with her clean writing style and ability to intertwine a number of disparate elements into a cohesive world. 

I recommend Faerie Tales to anyone looking for a modern fantasy tale of magic and preternatural action with a little romance thrown in, and look forward to seeing more of Ms. Skye's work in the future.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Indie Review - Clarity

Clarity, is the first book in the "Epsilon" series of dystopian science fiction stories R. James Stevens is currently writing.  I met Mr. Stevens on twitter and he gifted a copy of Clarity to me for an honest review.  You can find the book on Amazon.  You can also view his blog here.
Discovery. Salvation. Redemption.
Three individuals; three separate paths. All will be irreversibly entwined as they search for the answers in an attempt to reassemble the pieces of their broken lives. But will they find what they seek, or will they stumble upon the devastating truth that lies just beyond their reach?
The Epsilon series explores the events seven years after the catastrophic death of a technological society.
The first installment, Clarity, begins in 2084 and focuses both forward and back on the raw, emotional journeys of former friends and partners. Will they band together to help right wrongs and restore order to the scattered remnants of the populace? Or will their quests for individual fulfillment tear apart an already worn bond?
While not their primary concern, Clarity is indeed what they will find. 
It was the right thing to do... one of the main characters in Clarity, Brigadier Stroud, says this to justify his actions throughout the book.  On the surface, I agreed with him.  Put in dark, unwinnable situations, he tried his best to let his conscience lead him.  He breaks protocol and shuns orders to save innocents.  Yet many times, doing "the right thing" led to unspeakable tragedy. 
This is the darkness of the world R. James Stevens created in his "Epsilon" series.  70 years from now, the URA (United Republic of Americas), a nation uniting both American continents, is gone.  Destroyed by a cataclysm the book only hints at, those still alive fend for themselves in a broken landscape, filled with the remnants of a past technological super power.  The world of Clarity is both dark and believable.  It is obvious Mr. Stevens put significant effort into building this world and has a lot of back story still to reveal in future books.

Mr. Stevens is unapologetic with his form of story telling in Clarity, which can be jarring at times.  I was reminded of the TV show "Lost", as the book jumps around often with numerous flashbacks, while leaving the reader guessing as to what is really going on.  I admit, this built up the suspense, but at times frustrated.  Many scenes left out the details of what a character saw or thought, even though the scene was written from that character's point of view, as a way to keep the reader guessing.

The book is much longer than the other IndiePub books I reviewed in the past, but at 500 pages, it is by no means overwhelming.

I was most impressed by the action scenes in the book.  The story is full of brawls, military engagements, and heists, and Mr. Stevens imaginatively choreographs each.  They kept me guessing, pulled me in and kept me wanting more throughout the story. 

In between the action, the book slows at times.  I feel like the author could have edited these scenes to tighten them up more.  I would suggest looking at a book like Rayne Hall's The Word Loss Diet to help these parts of the story flow better, and remove unneeded words that slow down the prose.

I commend Mr. Stevens for finishing and publishing Clarity, a dystopian sci-fi novel that looks at a world torn apart by the technology it trusted.  It is dark and gritty, and I believe gives a believable glimpse of the human condition.  The action is solid and pulls you in and keeps you guessing, even if at times the story telling can slow down and confuse.  I can tell Mr. Stevens has a lot more to say about the world of the "Epsilon" series, and I encourage him to continue. 

For anyone looking for science fiction in a dark dystopian future (one of my favorite genres), I recommend Clarity and the future stories of the "Epsilon" series.

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year's Reflections

I am not big on resolutions.  I'm terrible at them.  I'm more of a "do it now or you'll never do it" kind of person.  This is why I made so many blog changes back in September.  I figured there was no "right" time to start, so I just started!

That said, I do think the New Year is more than just an arbitrary day on a calendar.  I think it is a great time to look back on the last year that I can look forward and plan for this year!

With that, I'd like to discuss some of my successes, my stumbles, and what I learned from 2013 as I look forward to what I plan for 2014.



If I had one creative venture this last year I saw as a success, it would be the miniature painting I took up in the summer after I received my Reaper Bones from their first Kickstarter.  I never imagined how much fun I would have with this new hobby. 

If you look back through my various posts, you can see pictures of the various minis I painted.  I think it is also pretty evident how I improved as I went.  I learned a lot of new techniques, and I continue to learn as I go.   I never burned out on painting as I went, as I never forced myself to paint when I didn't want to.  It was a true hobby and it worked well!


I'm not sure where the idea first originated, but I think I did a good job of picking up steam reading and reviewing the works of #IndiePub authors.  I read a number of books I would never have found otherwise, and really enjoyed it.

I hope my reviews helped both authors with valuable feedback and readers with finding authors they might enjoy.  I have a number of books queued up to review early in the year, and I expect they will keep rolling in.



This one was really tough for me.  The whole reason I started this blog was to make progress on writing stories and giving life to the ideas in my head.  I feel like I made several positive strides in the right direction in improving my writing.  I wrote a number of character bios/stories to go with miniatures I painted.  I took a class on writing "flash fiction" and then wrote six flash fiction stories in six weeks. 

Looking at all this, I feel like I had some success in writing this year.  Why do I call it a stumble?  I have not written much of anything in over a month since finishing the previous flash fiction story.  I burned myself out.  I found that forcing myself to write at such a feverish pace just wasn't fun.  I ended up not enjoying what I was doing.  I wrote the last couple stories just to meet a deadline, and I believe their quality lacked because of that. 

If I want to write, I need to find a rhythm that keeps me writing while also still enjoying the process. 

Over Commitment

I think I put this on my personal list of stumbles every year!  I suffer from committing to way too many things.  I end up filling my "free time" with more things than I can handle.  Over time, the pressure builds, and I am forced to quit everything in order to "simplify my life."  Of course, within about 6 months, I repeat the process.

Looking Forward

So, what does this mean for 2014?  My first instinct is to focus on the successes and cut out the stumbles.  But as I think about it more, I wonder if that's exactly the right thing to do.  How can I grow if I only do what is fun and I feel I'm already good at?  How do I stretch myself?

Here's what I do know:  I have a number of personal commitments that must come before any work this year.  It's a big year for my family (did I mention child #4 will join us in March?), and I have a number of other commitments that must take priority over this dream, at least for the next six months.

Does that mean I'm quitting?  Oh no!  I just need to determine what I'm going to work on this year.  I have a number of things I want to try this year, and I will be announcing them over the next few weeks. 

I will continue to paint, continue to read and review, and continue to play D&D this year.  On the writing front, my goal is to continue writing and to rekindle my love for writing about the characters and places of Ryndaria.  I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Happy New Year, and thank you, as always, for reading.