Tag Archives: characters

Back-Up Characters, Yay or Nay?

We have all heard the horror stories of TPK–where the DM or the dice decided to just off the party. And sometimes it isn’t the whole party, just your character that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Depending on your level and how high the treasure is running, you may have no hopes of resurrection either. Even if you can afford it, you may not have someone able to cast it right away and what are you supposed to do in the meantime?

This is where it can be handy to have a back-up character. Thing of them as second-string, someone to run with the party until your main is brought back to life if they even can be. My group also uses them because sometimes, we get bored with our main or they aren’t the right fit with the party, or even because something story wise has come up that it makes more sense for them to leave the group (usually to settle down somewhere) because their goal has been accomplished or they have been thrust into a role of responsibility.

So this raises a question. What do you do for a back-up character?

I don’t like playing the exact same thing I’m replacing–it feels like cheating. But you have to think about your group dynamics. Do you need a tank, a healer, a damage per second, what? While there is a way around most gaps, it’s something to think about–you can have a party of entirely clerics, but you need to be different types of clerics. So keeping that in mind, then you need to decide what this character is going to be–a loner who is temporarily joining the group, either by their own will or being hired as a mercenary, a permanent addition. That will help you decide on backstory and class archetypes.

Whether or not I have a back-up character usually depends on the campaign. For example, Hekate is basically the linchpin for her campaign. If I lose her, I would need to consult with the DM on what exactly we could do. As a result, I haven’t built a back-up character and probably never will. But for Jadzia’s campaign, where death is a pretty constant threat? I’ve been contemplating a back up for a while, I just hadn’t settled on anything until the last couple of weeks. My new back-up in case of Jadzia retiring or dying is now Aurora, a Justice Archon Legate Paladin of Athena.

Now that I have a concept, the next question is how far should I go in building this character? There’s some schools of thought, such as waiting to build until you need them, but that could bring a session to a grinding halt if you die within the first hour of a planned four hour meeting with your group. (Or at least it would for me.) Sometimes the rest of the group can keep pushing on, sometimes they can’t and they have to wait for you to build. At the same time, your group is going to run into a lot of items that if your character dies, may be good to pass on to your new one. But if you’ve spent your gold on it already, it can become a headache to backtrack. Plus, gold for a new character scales with their level, more headaches.

My personal way is to get the backstory figured out. Race, name, age, family, home region, and class. Also go ahead and get my stats rolled up and assigned as needed. This lets me get my skills sorted, and I usually go ahead and pick out my feats. With all that figured out, I can level this character at the same time as my main, or at least close to it. That will make the needed character creation should something happen to my main limited to just buying items. (Which can also take forever, but once you get your basic kit, everything after that is just bonus.)

Like I said earlier, not all campaigns want or need a back-up character. And you should always talk to your DM if you want to retire your main, and give them plenty of warning. (I saw a tweet where someone had been setting up a character-centered arc for months, only for the player to change characters out of nowhere on them, I felt sooo bad…) If they know who your second string character is, they also know are prepared for what is coming with that new character and can keep in mind how to introduce them if needed.

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Review: Descendants 3

I know I live tweeted this during the premiere, but now that I’ve watched it multiple times, I still have feelings that I need to get out, plus the set needs to be complete. As a note, I am trying to be…less abrasive, I suppose?…of my reviews, even if I have issues with them. This is especially true for this movie, since it premiered so soon after the loss of Cameron Bryce (Carlos).

Descendants 3 picks up a bit after the second movie, bringing a fresh class of kids from the Isle of the Lost to Auradon for a chance at turning good. However, a clash with Hades at the gate puts the entire program in jeopardy, especially when a villain appears and begins to wreck havoc on all of Auradon using Maleficent’s scepter. Mal and the others must obtain Hades’s ember, the only force capable of countering the scepter, and bring an end to it…once and for all.

Okay, spoilers from here on out, ya’ll. Look away if you don’t want to see anymore.

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Review: Fast and Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw

Normally, I leave the action movies to Ginny. However, the Fast series has a small piece of my heart. I love Vin, and then they brought in the Rock for the first one I ever saw, and I was hooked. So when I saw that we were doing a film centered around Johnson’s character, I had to go see it. I’m even reviewing it while it’s still in theater!

Both Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw are complete opposites, as proven by the opening sequence! But when an artificially created virus is stolen, they are forced to team up, Hobbs because he is the leading tracker in the world and Shaw…because the last one seen with the virus was his younger sister, Hattie, and his mother has laid on a guilt trip. If they don’t kill each other in the process, they will have to face down the considerable might of the Eteon group, who are determined to save humanity from itself, by any means necessary. The lead soldier? An old acquaintance of Shaw’s named Brixton, who remembers the man who left him for dead.

Despite being “presented” by the Fast and the Furious, the only real members of the franchise that we see are Hobbs and Luke, which not only lets us flesh their characters out more, but also gives us new characters to play with that tie specifically to them instead of to the whole Fast gang/family. For example, we got to see more of Sam, Hobbs’s daughter, and of Shaw’s mother. I loved that we got more of Sam and single-dad Hobbs, not only because it’s an unconventional family dynamic in media but also because she is hysterical. And I love the way that they wrote Magdalene, so I’m always happy to see more of her and her interacting with her children.

But the story was very tight on Hobbs, Shaw, and the new addition of Shaw’s sister, Hattie. Hobbs was his usual self, though I saw a little more return to how he was in the first movie Johnson starred in rather than the last one. No complaints, but it was a nice meld of the two characterizations. I also liked how it delved into his back story for the back half of the film, since the front half is more focused on Shaw since it introduced his sister in that part. Speaking of Shaw, I thought he was his usual abrasive and yet suave self. (I don’t know how the actor pulls that off.) It took longer than I admitted to completely comprehend the joke to his prior work, but it still made me snort the half I immediately got. They overly played the combative nature between the characters for me, and I think that was because they didn’t want them getting along too much too soon.

Hattie gets her own special call out. She didn’t use her sex appeal as her only skill, nor was she limited to just a hand-gun. Instead, they gave her a wide range of skills, and didn’t go out of their way to over-sexualize her aside from occasional shots of she’s pretty, it’s going to look that way. She was the Plot Ball, but she was a competent Plot Ball that was doing just fine on her own before our heroes showed up. I like how she was ready to make whatever sacrifice that was needed in order to protect the world. Also, she gets bonus points because even though she had a flirt-mance going on with Hobbs, they didn’t let it take over the movie and it didn’t get hot and heavy, it was just a light little flirt and attraction. This gives me hope for them being a longer romance arc.

(If you want the sexpot thief/spy, there is Madame M and her whole group of girls in Russia, you get your fill, but she is also amusingly competent.)

This gets me talking about a plot a little. Now, I don’t have a high standard for story in action films. It has to be enough to keep me entertained, not necessarily enough to make me think. This one…was about at that level. They pushed jokes and the bad blood between Hobbs and Shaw until the plots broke, and then built them back up again. It was pretty straight forward with not a whole lot of surprises. That being said, it didn’t try to pull a surprise out of nowhere either. (Yes, that’s a GoT call out, no, I do not care.) I’m just happy that they didn’t make the Plot Ball a weeping damsel in distress who needed saved, and at the same time she wasn’t a robot-agent either. It took time to show that she was angry or scared or regretful, and it really focused on the family aspect. Some people may hate it, I for one liked it.

Setting, oh gosh, it was pure scenery porn at times. Samoa in particular was beautiful, and I loved how they changed the lighting depending on which part of the story was supposed to be the focus in terms of Hobbs’s expertise versus Shaw’s, or whose narrative we were following. We didn’t have the usual street racing or custom cars as we did last time, but I think there still some legit car chases and explosions that are very much the standard for a Fast film. It was just of a different type, which makes me wonder if they are trying to pull the “save the world” plots out of the main franchise and focus more on the street-level racing and crime, and then let Hobbs and Shaw deal with spy shenanigans. (But that’s just me guessing.)

Overall, not only was Hobbs and Shaw a fun romp, but while there was some second hand embarrassment from the very guy centric jokes, there wasn’t some of the blatant sexism that the other Fast films have despite their best efforts recently. That made it one of the more enjoyable films for me to watch. If you don’t like the other Fast films, I hesitate to say you’ll like this one, but if you have a couple of nitpicks with them but otherwise find them good, this is right up your ally.

Plus, they brought in Roman Reigns. I DIED.


Review: Serpent’s Smile

(Sick writer was sick, I’m back now though!)

Serpent’s Smile is the latest in the Heaven’s Heathens series, and this time we’re staying close to home. Charged by her grandfather to investigate rumors of another gang moving something through Jasper around their town’s Founders Day celebration, most of the action is centered around Savannah as she takes lead on an unofficial (but really, this is Jasper, it’s pretty official just not on the books) investigation into the other gangs’ around town and their activity. Meanwhile, Gideon is still feeling out his place in the pack, and gets exasperated pretty quickly with the new meat syndrome going on. Savannah proves to be a welcome distraction to all that, and a helpful instigator if needed. Whoever thought it was a good idea to try and move product under the Heathen’s noses obviously didn’t know who they were messing with. But then again, we’re talking about a motorcycle club of werewolves–they rarely do.

Character-wise, I think we see a lot of serious growth in this book. While the backstory of the prior two books gives it more emotional impact on the reader, without it there is still a payout as far as actions taken and the characters changing (the impact is just maybe not as strong). Most of the main protagonist characters are familiar to us at this point, not only Savannah and Gideon but also Frankie and the rest of the foursome, Eberon and Corey, Violet, and several others. We even see Boone from the prior book again! It made me snicker. While the core of these characters remains the same, so it wouldn’t matter in which order I read the three books, because I did read them, some things hit me harder, like Frankie and her love triangle, and we finally get some payoff with Gideon and Savannah. (Only a little, because what’s a little lighter fluid on a building inferno of a slow burn relationship, right?)

The world building and the new characters sort of dove-tail together in this one. We’ve got some expanding upon the conflict between Savannah and her people and Ashley and her group, which is all well and good. And likely leading to some huge stand-off later, sort of like Captain America vs. Iron Man in the Civil War arcs. Right now, we’re at the petty bickering and claiming of territory stage…sort of like in the first Avengers film. I can see the beginning elements and conflicts though that are going to lead to hell later. We also filled in some of who is going to be standing on either side of that conflict…as well as a few who are probably going to stay firmly in the middle rather than get drawn in unless they can help it.

But you’ve also got new characters in the forms of the rival gangs that Savannah is poking her wolfy nose into. The Indian reservation gang is ruled out pretty quickly, but we get two new ones: an Italian run gang and then a primarily black gang. This could easily fall into the trap of racial stereotyping and obviously some other things that should be avoided, right? But many of those stereotypes exist for a reason, and as long as they aren’t the only aspect to the characters, and those aren’t the only POC in the book, I am okay with it. Ginny has a wide variety of characters in her cast, so that isn’t a problem, and there is just enough added to the rival gangs that I don’t think they are completely problematic as they could be. I’m hopeful that this isn’t the last we see of these characters, because if they are built up even more, it will continue to waylay those concerns.

That leads me to the plot, which is a bit different than usual. Yes, there’s still lots of the great character moments that help drive the narrative and speed the reading of the book, but the action isn’t in segments set in particular stages. Rather, there is more of a build and escalation to it, much like what you see in more of a normal book than an action movie, or maybe a combination of both since there are some moments that I could see being shot more like an action scene than it reads. Either way, the flow is just different enough that if you read all three together, it shakes you up a bit so it still feels fresh for you, and yet if you are reading out of order, it still fits with the other books in the series. (Also, I love a lot of the events in the final act, I spent a lot of time giggling.)

There is a little bit crime procedural, a little bit action movie to this one, and I like the change of pace. I also liked that we were given at least a little tidbit to make the long wait to Gideon and Savannah figuring themselves out easier for us to handle, and the fleshing out of upcoming confrontation and existing characters. While there are areas that could be taken wrong, I think they were handled okay and shouldn’t detract from the story at all, especially if further expansion on those characters happens.


Review: Rodeo’s Run

Preface: Rodeo and his whole family is my fault…or at least his family is, I’m not 100% sure Rodeo himself is all my fault, but you know, probably. But otherwise, I am not responsible or biased more than normal, lol.

Rodeo’s Run takes our familiar friends Savannah and Gideon on a little bit of an unintended adventure. It was supposed to be a simple escort mission. Go down to the Panhandle charter, escort the caravan of horses through No Man’s Land. Unfortunately, bandits decided to get involved. And of course the girls insist that they save the stolen horses. Now Savannah’s “uncle” Rodeo has to keep an eye on several in love couples in various shades of denial, and he’s beginning to understand Brand a little too well. Now if only they could get safely home without bringing the mess home to his folks, he’d be happy.

Alright, where do I start? Well, we have some new characters in the form of Rodeo, his parents, and other people around Jasper, Colorado, as well as the people we already met in the first book. There’s also new characters in Hooker, Texas (…okay, that one is also  my fault). But what’s nice is because the plot is evenly split between locations, the new characters and interactions aren’t as overwhelming, so it’s easier to track names because you can associate them with a particular location. I also think the different personalities really play well in this book when they have the chance to show them. It helps associate the personality with the name strong enough that even if you don’t remember them right away, within a few paragraphs, you recall them.

Much like the last book, the plethora of characters keeps anyone from being the token anything, gender or race. I think my favorite of the new arrivals (besides Rodeo) are the siblings Jorja and Rascal. Not only are they fun because of their relationship with Savannah, but Rascal ends up having one of the strongest friendships with Gideon. (The other men are still getting there, relationships take time, ya’ll.) That lets us see parts of Giddy that we haven’t had a chance to see before, and it also adds new layers to his and Savannah’s relationship as a result. Even if they are still will-they-won’t-they, God, Ginny is going to kill me with the slow burn.

World building wise, this book really let Ginny expand on her world more than the first book did at least in terms of fine detail. While she painted a lot of the broad strokes in The Lone ProspectRodeo’s Run narrowed the focus down to what the environment was like for the people in this world and how the countries are structured. It also let her explain more about how new clubs are founded, and as someone who knows nothing about motorcycle clubs, I was glad for the info dump. There was time spent to research and it shows. It isn’t in your face about the future/sci-fi elements, either, just enough to remind you of what the setting is.

Like I mentioned earlier, the plot ends up splitting between two locations. You have the group that includes our two main protagonists that go on the journey, and then you will sometimes flashback to those who are waiting back at home, for lack of a better word. This helps interrupt tension as well as pass through time, and it honestly helps keep the reader moving through the pages. Like always, there’s a lot of what a traditional publisher would call filler and I call the fun stuff that we all want to see, so it’s easy to just keep going with the flow of the story. It also ends with a sense of satisfaction, so you feel like you got your emotional investment back rather than feeling still on the hooks.

Similar to the first book in the series, it isn’t super-tight in terms of pacing and drama and tension. But if it was, I wouldn’t find it as enjoyable? Drama for drama’s sake is just exasperating and gives me heartburn as I try to figure out how stupid the characters are. What drama there is in Rodeo’s Run and the tension is managed responsibly, with smart characters there to offer advice, and some surprising outside perspectives for those who can’t see past their own noses. And along the way, there’s a lot of fun.


Review: The Lone Prospect

Amazon may block me from reviewing, but I can spread the word to you all! I am doing a series of reviews on the first three books of Ginny’s Heaven’s Heathens series (and yes, that’s a link to all three in a bundle). We’re starting with the beginning which I hear could be a very good place to start… Okay, no more Sound of Music references, I just gave myself bad flashbacks. On to the review of The Lone Prospect!

Gideon is searching for a place to belong now that he has been discharged from the New York military. He can’t go back to his family farm, so he instead begins to wander the other surviving countries that carved themselves out after the Cascading Wars. There may be a place for him in Jasper, Colorado, though when he arrives, nothing is quite like he suspects. Enter one Savannah Barker. Savannah finds herself saddled with the new puppy when her grandfather Brand decides to test Gideon’s mettle by throwing him into hot water to see if he sinks. She’d be (more) annoyed, except for two things, not counting Gideon’s good looks that she isn’t going to think about too hard. One, her grandfather does these sorts of things far too often for his own amusement. And two, as a biker club of werewolves, their concept of dangerous is a little different from everyone else. Add in that they are mercenaries, and well, she has to hold on to her patience by her fingernails. Gideon’s smart mouth is not helping.

Believe it or not, I am capable of being impartial here. (Hell, Ginny’s and my relationship started because of a review, what do you all think of that?) And I can honestly say I love these characters. Everyone has a personality, everyone has a backstory, and everyone has their own goals. While normally in an ensemble writing type book, that could get ugly, Ginny not only keeps the story centered around Gideon and Savvy, she also takes the time to let the story breathe. Rather than worry about the book being too long, she gives us time to know the characters, to be invested in them, and then the plot comes second (it’s still a good plot, you just don’t worry about it as much, you are having too much fun watching Giddy get boggled). The characters, and the relations between them, make this book.

In particular, I love the fearsome foursome and the female-forward approach. There are so many female characters, none of them have to fit this pigeon hole of “every woman” that is impossible to do. Similarly, the men are there to balance them out to avoid the same problem of “every man.” As a result, you are able to pick your favorites and run with them. It also allows for different relationships to be shown–some healthy, some not. And it asks some uncomfortable questions, ones I think we should be asking that I don’t think have right or wrong answers, it just depends on the people. It’s hard, and it sucks, but they are important questions.

Speaking of plot again, its a fun action romp. Don’t look for super deep angst or drama or mystery here, think like a good action movie. I’m not saying there isn’t angst or any of the other flavors, I’m just saying it isn’t key to the story-arc. It does provide you a sense of completion while it continues to lay the ground work for more later. It may meander a bit, but it’s important meandering to help you understand the world that she’s built. Relying on it being similar to current standings will only get you so far, you have to have those bits of facts. Her werewolves are also different, since they rely on both old legends, old Hollywood, and real wolf facts rather than the false stuff they feed you in elementary school. (Even if Savannah is awful at explaining.)

I’ll admit it, the world building is where I get lost. Not because Ginny doesn’t do a good job, I don’t think, but because a) I don’t read sci fi, or even fantasy sci fi like this, regularly enough so my brain isn’t trained for it, and b) first book in the series and unreliable narrators. I understand enough to get through this book, and then it gets significantly better as it has a chance to build, but you do have to keep your mind open and be tracking it all as you go because otherwise you are going to catch yourself thinking it’s an urban fantasy instead of future dystopian and then you are sunk. (Because sometimes labels are important.) There are reminders, so you aren’t Alice in Wonderland with the path getting erased in front of you and behind you, but the book is long enough that if you are reading in sections over several days, I figured I’d give you the warning.

If you like a fast paced book with a tight plot…eh, go elsewhere. There’s plenty of those to read, and then you’ll have to go to fanfic to get any actual emotional weight out of them. (We like Harry Dresden, we don’t see enough of him outside of panic-mode to love him.) But, if like me, you will start a 600k fanfic at midnight and stay up all night reading it… Ginny writes for you. She pays attention to the things we really want out of a long read, and gives it to you. It’s fast, it carries on so quickly you wonder how you got to where you are, and it’s full of lovable characters. I definitely suggest checking it out if that type of book is your cup of tea.


Review: Closer to the Chest

The last in the Herald’s Spy reviews! (At least until I can afford to buy the Family of Spies series, which may be a while, yay happy homeowning and trying to get my life together over here, ugh.)

So where does the final book in this series take us? Someone is blackmailing and then threatening the noble women in Valdemar high court. While normally not too big of a bother and a part of the political game, this time there is a definite malicious edge to it that Amily can’t quite ignore. Meanwhile, Mags finds that businesses being run by women are facing an increasing level of hostility and sabotage. Both events correlate with the introduction of a new religion in Valdemar that is misogynist at its core. It will take approaching both sides of the problem, plus Mags putting himself into a dangerous situation, in order to unravel the truth for the protection of Valdemar!

First impressions, this was the story that Misty wanted to tell. Both of the prior books were just build up to it, allowing for her to introduce characters, skills, and concepts in prior books so she could get to this story. It’s the only explanation I have for the plot being that much tighter and everything being more in keeping with what I expect from a Valdemar book. This means it finishes on a high note, at least, though I fear most loyal readers are going to skip this series entirely as a result.

There were parts of the plot that worked for me, and parts that I just cringed my way through. I like the idea of the enemy being a religion that is preaching against women beyond bad stereotypical roles. I resent that it was Mags who got to go to the bottom of it, that the idea when Amily first presented it was scoffed at or seen as her making leaps in logic, and that despite it being a very female forwarded plot, it still felt like men were the main heroes of this story. Maybe I’m just too harsh of a reader, but when I figure out that these are the people who are doing something wrong, and then when a female character points it out and gets told to either wait as others investigate or until there is evidence of actual wrong doing… It just rubs me the wrong way.

On the plus side, I did find the church having two Gifted of their own among their ranks to be nice. Usually Heralds are either against normal people or people with regular magic, so seeing those with mind magic who aren’t Chosen by the Companions and how they can end up being used for nefarious purposes by a religion was cool. I also appreciated the emphasis on how expensive books were and how women were the best to copy those texts in the days before the printing press. It’s something I don’t think many people appreciate due to how prevalent the written word is in our lives, but Valdemar has always made a point of emphasizing how important the oral stories and thus the Bardic gifts are, and for good reason.

I like the idea of the Queen’s ladies, the group of handmaids, and I’ve seen similar concepts before, but ugh, I feel like there is so much wasted potential as a result. I don’t think enough was done with them besides making them a spy network that Amily has access to, and I feel like between Amily, these girls, and some of the resources they have, we could have written Mags out of the book entirely. I get the importance of male and female power balance, but come on. We don’t have nearly as many female Heralds as the focus of books as it is, being denied it yet again was just irksome.

For me, Closer to the Chest was the closest that this series has gotten to a traditional Heralds of Valdemar book. But overall, the series just felt tired. Like there were certain scenes that were what Misty actually wanted to write, or certain plots and subplots, and the rest of the book was just a vehicle to get to them. One of my writing professors once said that unless a scene excited you, you needed to edit it to death until you did like writing it or cut it entirely. I wonder if that could be applicable to this series for Misty…


Tabletop RP: Picking My Character Class

Okay, first of all, if you are a mechanic person who slaps a name, physical description (if that) and back story onto your character right before the session, turn your eyes away! The following post will horrify you!

Because I am a writer first, and damn it, I am going to pick my classes that way.

So what does that mean for me when I approach the table as a player? Well, I find what I want to emphasize. Whether that’s an interesting class, a racial variant, or if I have a personality type that I want to build, I have a “core part” that is my beginning. I’m going to use my newest character (who has yet to start her campaign) as an example. While I was browsing the races out of boredom, I stumbled upon the Vishkanya race for Pathfinder. They seemed pretty interesting, and then I saw they had a rogue archetype called a Deadly Courtesan. This class stayed in the back of my mind, and after Ginny went on a plunge into Indian mythology, I had to apply all of her babble that seeped into my brain somewhere, so I picked the Vishkanya Deadly Courtesan as my core beginning.

That being said, sometimes I’ll start with a concept I want to recreate. Hekate was actually me wanting to play a (sane) version of Diva from Blood + …she then spiraled off into her own thing, but that’s what I started with, and then she turned into this darkness specialist and I am now helplessly amused by her. Sometimes I have a personality or appearance first. I sketched out this emo-esque medieval character with some interesting jewelry, and eventually that person morphed into Jadzia as she was developed.

Alright, I have my core. Now I need to do a little fleshing out. If I don’t already have a class, this is where I figure out what class fits my core, what race, what variants do I want to apply? (This is where Hekate’s darkness specialty started.) I’m not building the character so much, because I’m not rolling stats or figuring out feats or buying items, but I’m getting a broad overview of my character. This will help me make the decisions later about skills and feats and everything else, so it’s a really important part of the character building process.

With my new rogue, I started by picking out where she was from, so I’d know what culture to do. Of the options at the time (which since shifted but my background survived), the one that made the most sense for what the heck I was doing so far from where my people would normally be, especially considering the core of a Deadly Courtesan, was for her to be a slave in a large empire. I started pulling every bit of culture I could find on the web for both the country and for her people, trying to get an idea of what her life would be like. And then I went digging for names that fit that culture. Danika. No last name.

With a name and her concept now firmly filled out in my head, I start with the mechanics. I start rolling stats, deciding what the key stats were going to be, and throwing in skill points to the skills that I think make the most sense. For a bit of random, I rolled some dice to establish her height and her weight, which ended up giving me a big clue as to her story. I mentioned to my DM that I wanted her to be literate only in her people’s language, though she can speak Common. I also decided she wasn’t just a slave, but a very recently escaped slave, based off of how underfed she was (her height and her weight were not in proportion at all), and as a result I gave her a bare minimum of supplies. I took a few Traits, just to make things interesting, and a racial variant. Since Deadly Courtesan is a bit odd, sort of a rogue/bard hybrid, I had to pick some performances. Thanks to mine and Ginny’s Lindsey Stirling obsession, those picks seemed obvious.

And then it was time for feats. Ya’ll, I suck with feats. Thankfully, because I was running Hekate around this time, I knew a bit about what I wanted to do to at least start with. I have no intention of making Danika a duplicate of a rogue I’m already running, but there are just some basics that it can’t hurt to take. I hate cross bows, so no point to the archery side of things. So Weapon Finesse and Two-Weapon Fighting it was. Planning the rest is going to have to wait until I see where the story took us, and which parts of her character I need to emphasize. (My fellow player is thinking we should take all the Teamwork Feats we can.)

So that’s the icky mechanic side done. Now I needed to decide how much fleshing out I wanted to do. Sometimes, I give my DMs a small book. Sometimes, I give them a few sentences. Danika ended up being pretty simple. She’s an escaped slave from Cheliax, very recent. I gave her parents information as well as some of her siblings (I rolled a dice for the number and sex of each, then found names). And that, I decided, was enough. In my head, her personality started to develop. She is very bitter and angry over her people being enslaved, and worse about the position she was pushed and trained into when she was a teenager. Now she’s determined to use those skills to earn her freedom, long enough for her to get her vengeance on all of Cheliax. So while she will dance and play for crowds to earn her dinner, any one stupid enough to grab her without her consent will find themselves stabbed with one of her poison kunai.

The last touch for me is a doll maker that lets me come up with a picture. Danika ended up with three, because I purchased two different head veils and a reversible cloak to help her hide from those who would turn her in as a runaway slave.

Danika Character Sheet

Danika All

Is this the only way to build a character? Not hardly. Is Vishkanya or Deadly Courtesan some favorite races and classes? Oh heck no. But for me, that’s not how I build my characters for a story, so why would I build them that way for the interactive, storytelling experience of DnD? Instead, I pick something that interests me, that I will enjoy playing.


Review: Tempests and Slaughter

I approached Tempests and Slaughter with a healthy amount of both caution and interest. On one hand, it was more of Numair and that always makes me happy. He and Daine are my OTP in Tortall. On the other hand, this is a prequel. I was going to have to put up with Valarie, guaranteed, and with one of the worst villains in Tortall history being viewed as an okay guy. Blegh. But I finally knuckled down and read it. While I don’t regret it, it definitely wasn’t what I expected either.

Not yet Numair Salmalin, Arram Draper is a young boy at the College of Mages in Carthak. Tempests and Slaughter tells of his late childhood/early adolescence, as he rises with the ranks of powerful mages with the growth of his Gift. As he grows farther away from his family and home in Tyra, he has to learn not only who he is and what he can tolerate, but also who his friends are becoming. In the end, plague hospitals and arenas decide for him where his limits are. Now if only he can bring his only two friends, Valarie and Ozorne, along with him.

So, let’s get it out of the way. I love Tamora Pierce’s writing. I’ve had my style compared to her a couple of times, and it always makes me squee because she has such a way with prose that it just flows, smooth and clear. Thankfully, she spared my overly imaginative butt too much medical in the hospitals, but the way she did it is very real to how people who are in those professions describe how they feel after it is over. I really valued her return to third person and in normal chapter format. It wasn’t so heavily cluttered with slang that I needed the dictionary in the back just to wade through until I adjusted to the dialect, but it was there enough to carry the culture of the world across. It was a little different, because the narrator is a boy for the first time for an entire book rather than a short story, but after a couple of chapters, I managed to fall in with it. I think it’s interesting how she keeps exploring new formats and narrators, rather than sticking to formula.

World building wise, she had some room to play and it shows. Carthak was barely hinted at beyond the capital during the Immortals quartet, and while some of the short stories have touched on other countries as part of the empire, we haven’t seen all of it. There’s a curious mixture of African cultures, and I use that term in relation the continent as a whole. At times, I see the south and the tribal influences, but further north it is reminiscent of Egypt and it’s interactions with Europe. I also saw bits of South Africa, if only because of the way the ruling class appears to be of light skin versus…everyone else. This is also the first time we saw how a mage was trained, from the ground up and without pesky fighting training to overlap, and while at times I felt a little like the magic systems were too muddled, that is more personal taste than anything, and it was interesting to see how magecraft is taught for the Gift when there aren’t deities involved.

Characters is really where this book could have made or break for me. I knew I was going to like Arram, because I liked him as an adult. It was curious to see how clumsy and unsure of himself he was as a boy, though, and how easily swayed he was by others around him until he found his backbone. I also wasn’t suspecting his healing magic to be at the forefront, but then, his entire history is so secretive, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Valarie… Ugh. All of my problems with Valarie still exist. I mean, her “kitchen witch” label aside, she really just irks me. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t like manipulation like I see her doing, even when it is for the sake of those she considers friends, at least without some sort of moral code behind it, which I know she’s lacking in. And then there was Ozorne. He could have gone wrong very quickly, but thankfully Tamora never forgot what he was going to become. The brief flashes alone were enough to sooth me, and then she dropped his ambitions, his goal to unite everything under one Empire, and at that point I knew he was the same person we knew, it was Arram who hadn’t realized it yet. That is going to be fascinating to see continue, and I’m beyond curious to see what the tipping point will be.

As for other characters, the teachers rotated around so much, I had a hard time nailing down a favorite. I did like Yaven and how he applied something most people would consider silly to help Arram concentrate, and how that evolved into other lessons. Sebo and her ties to the crocodile god were also interesting. Oh god, the crocodile god was hilarious, I was very amused by him and his interactions. My only complaint, if you could call it one, was Preet, if only because she seemed like a plot device more than a character. The lack of mention of her to Daine in prior books also makes no sense. But then, we don’t know how Preet’s plot is going to end, so I could end up being placated.

This definitely reads to me like there’s one more book, possibly two, in this series, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quartet and I’m leaning towards just one more like the Aly Cooper books. That seems about right to me, because really this is mostly bringing some light to a mysterious back story that I’m sure fans like me have been wondering about since the first books with Daine. I can’t wait for the next book and to see where this story is going and how it will dove-tail with where we first met Numair.


Review: Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal

And I’m back! This time with a continuation of a series that I enjoy, particularly when it continues a one-shot fanfic that I adored and was so excited to see continued.

Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal picks up a a few years after Tsumiko, following a new reaver. This time, it’s the daughter of modest shrine keepers, with some of the women having big ambitions…except Kimiko, who is content with her lot and finds her happiness in the little things. That is all turned on its head due to a series of circumstances that lead to her courting the Starmark Clan’s youngest tribute, Eloquence, as both of them attend a trial school that is meant to bridge the divides between reavers, Amaranthine, and the rest of us. But more is going on under the surface, particularly some familiar characters, and it looks like there is more trouble on the horizon.

According to one of my professors, the hardest thing you can do is write a sequel. I can usually see where she is coming from. You have to have an overarching story for your main characters, or cause new problems without making your first book pointless. One way to get around that problem is to completely skip around and have new protagonists and antagonists, just set in the same world. That is sort of what forthright did. The focus is definitely on the Starmark clan and the school in this book, but there is such a heavy callback to the earlier book, it isn’t as cleanly divorced as the idea would imply. So this is sort of almost a third way of handling it, because it isn’t following the exact same set of characters, though they make appearances and in some cases feature heavily in subplots, but they aren’t all brand new either.

There are pros and cons to this. On one hand, it’s great for characters who barely got a few chapters to get a little more attention, and Argent’s reappearance and the outside perception of him was fascinating, I always love those sorts of things. (True fact, best Christmas present to me from RP partners is points of view from other characters besides mine in key scenes.) It also gave us an idea of how tightly protected characters like Tsumiko are protected, versus Kimiko who is on the opposite end of the spectrum. But at the same time, it felt like there was a split focus between what was supposed to be our main story, which is that of Kimiko and Eloquence, and instead a lot of focus on what was going on with the side characters, such as Akira and Suuzu. This is what is called “ensemble writing,” and this is definitely more Ginny O.’s specialty than mine, so it’s hard for me to say if it was done well or not. It sometimes annoyed me, having to dig for Kimiko or Eloquence, but it never pushed me so far that I no longer enjoyed the book, so in that regard, it was a success.

Ugh, the characters though. I loved them. Like, as attached as I was to the first group, I love these even more. Kimiko in particular is my precious baby and I want to hug Eloquence. More than anything, I like that even if they find their families are embarrassing, none of the family groupings have been the “evil step-family” sort of situations yet. I feel like that sort of trope is a crutch that a lot of YA clings to, and so I’m excited that instead we’re seeing good examples in these stories without them all being nuclear families. Even the more “comedic” character, or at least more than we’d previously had, of the monkey half-Amaranthine, half-human hybrid just made me snicker and snort in amusement, especially his line drop at the end.

Also, FUCKING MIDORI. AHHHHHHHH!!! (I screamed in person too while reading. I want THAT story.)

World building, I felt like this helped explain a lot of the gaps that I had in the first book, which was excellent, while also adding elements that I hadn’t even thought about. That’s always a huge thing to do, especially as another writer reading it. It also created some cool layers and dimension, and I love how the information sometimes came from unexpected sources. (Like….Kimiko, she was really good at it, actually.) Nothing seemed overly contradictory to me, so that was thankfully balanced out to where if something did contradict the first book, it was so minor I missed it during multiple re-reads. There are also just enough gaps left that I am still left wanting more of this world.

So, out of all of this, what problems do I have? It comes down to Akira and Suuzu. I feel like they horned in big time on the story, taking a lot of the focus away from the “main” pairing, which is ironic since part of the point of this story is Kimiko coming under scrutiny and attention where she was previously considered unremarkable, and look what is happening to her in her own book! This is probably series set up, big time, which I totally respect. It just felt like the subplot started to take over, and I’m worried that this is going to be a reoccurring problem until Akira and Suuzu are resolved. Maybe it was because of the added subplot of the wolves and the dragon representative that just threw the balance off. I don’t know…

Overall, I loved this book even more than I did the first in the series. The first had the challenge of establishing a world and altering a story I already knew, which is hard, but because this second wasn’t hampered by more than a one-shot, it had a lot more breathing room. There was a little bit of a balance issue between the main plot, the subplots, and what was supposed to be our center focus, but overall, I think this is an excellent read, even without having read the prior book. (Which is about the highest praise you can give a sequel.)