Drasmyr Week Begins! (Part 1: A Review)

I’d followed Matt Ryan’s blog for some time, so it was really a shame that it took so long (and winning a contest) to get around to reading his novel, Drasmyr. So, as a partial disclaimer, while I read the book because I got a free copy for winning a contest, I’m featuring it here because it’s really good, not because I got a free copy. There will be some spoilers in this review, but you’ll probably have these spoilers and more after reading the back-of-book summary of the sequel, Children of Lubrochius.

Initially, I was slightly wary of Drasmyr. I’m not a huge fan of most modern vampire stories, which are overrun with long-toothed poofs or wangsty rebels with an attitude problem. I can assure you, neither are the sort to be found in Drasmyr.

I’ve written on occasion that the one place where vampires aren’t played out is in the realm of high fantasy. And you don’t get more high fantasy than a conflict between a mages guild and the greater undead.

Drasmyr begins like one of those police procedural dramas where you see who committed the crime and how before the opening credits runs. The audience knows the who and the what, and maybe some of the why, while the good guys play catch up until the remainder of the story involves catching the culpret. Drasmyr begins with the titular Lucial Val Drasmyr kicking off a string of brutal murders at the mages guild, starting with the Archmage who ‘vanishes’ after a ‘mysterious’ fire in his chamber that leaves two others dead. The guild calls in a team of intrepid-but-disillusioned bounty hunters, reluctant to work for nobility but also short on coin, to investigate the fire and disappearance of the archmage.

Originally, I felt that there may have been a lost opportunity here to have a straight-forward mystery with a shocking reveal, because Ryan is very good at writing the who-dunnit sifting through clues part. The readers know Lucian killed the Archmage and that the culprit is a vampire long before the heroes do, but Ryan keeps it an enjoyable enough ride. After finishing the book, I realize that the who-dunnit is to distract from the real mystery of what the heck that one girl is up to. I mean, she’s OBVIOUSLY evil and OBVIOUSLY up to something, but WHAT COULD IT BE!?

Drasmyr is very much a Dungeons & Dragons like vampire tale, more Ravenloft than Rice. I hope that you readers here take that to mean a positive thing, because (to me, at least) in terms of Vampire stories, this is a good thing. Ryan’s writing is also well above average, able to juggle a fairly large ensemble of characters and perspectives without ever sacrificing pacing. There are several minor critiques I could make, but this is far and away one of the most polished self/indie published fantasy titles I’ve read. There are no glaring typos or grammatical errors that are going to jar you out of your reading groove. I wouldn’t even bother to note this, but I know that many people (myself included) are always wary of self-published titles. This is me saying “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” (Well, be afraid of 1000 year old vampires, just not this book about them.)

One of the things I liked was the inclusion of a short glossary of a few of the various things in the world of Drasmyr that are mentioned briefly, such as a few of the non-human races who, while not present in the story, are mentioned in passing. My only complaint was that it was not more extensive. Additionally, I would’ve enjoyed having a map of Drisdak and the surrounding areas, but that’s a personal nit-picky thing; I love maps and love for my high-fantasy books to have them.

One of the main reasons I wanted to highlight Drasmyr was to bring it to the attention of folks in the rpg gaming blog community.  There’s a lot of really great stuff here for inspiration, whether it’s setting, systems of magic, or simply taking the Vampire from the monster manual and fleshing out its strengths and weaknesses  to make it an adversary in your game.  Drasmyr is a great model for how a short undead scenario could play out at your game table: mystery, journey to dungeon, dungeon crawl, retreat from dungeon, penultimate town encounter, final town encounter.  A lot of times, ‘mystery’ doesn’t work well in table-top rpgs, especially D&D.  Drasmyr really helps illustrate how to successfully setup a short vampire scenario that unfolds from a mystery where the breadcrumbs are in place.  How well your players piece together the clues could well determine how prepared they are for that first dreadful encounter with your recurring villain.

Drasmyr’s a fairly quick, easy, well-written and enjoyable read that I highly recommend for anyone who likes filling their games with high level undead.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of other folks would enjoy it too.

There are a lot of ways you can get Drasmyr to check out for yourself.

You can download it FOR FREE (so, seriously, there is NO REASON AT ALL why you can’t at least download this)
From Smashwords
From Barnes and Noble
From Amazon

or you can buy a really nice hardcover edition (which I highly recommend; it’s very shiny!)
From Lulu

That is maybe the Mages Guild or Lucian's castle.

Drasmyr’s sequel, the Children of Lubrochius, will be available on April 2nd in both e-book and dead tree format:
From Amazon
From Lulu
From Barnes & Noble
From Smashwords

I imagined Korina wearing less revealing clothing given the Guild's dress code.  Don't let stock-art dissuade you, gentle reader!

(Don’t let this cover fool you, these books are pretty PG, and would make for good YA reading.)

He also has a collection of short stories that I might be checking out soon that you can find here at Smashwords.

Drasmyr week will continue on Wednesday, when Author Matt D. Ryan will be joining us to talk about his book and answer questions.

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Mechanics for a board game: tactical level D&D minus the D&D

This started as a comment left over at Rumors of War, but I feel it bears saving and posting here for posterity, as well, with some additions and (a little) polish.

As anyone who follows here knows, I’m a big fan of the old hex & chit wargames.  And Dither was pondering over the idea of characters as the stats of a party.  So I got to thinking about how each chit in a wargame breaks down the necessary values of a unit into the simplest bits of information that can be plugged into a combat resolution engine.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with:

All parties can be represented by a piece with the following values: (w)X-Y-Z

w = Skirmish/archery value
X = Melee value
Y = Magic value
Z = Defense/Morale value

w = number of rogues/archers in the party; attacks and damage resolved in a skirmish round
X = number of Fighters; Melee attack rating
Y = number of mages & clerics; Magic attack/defense rating
Z = number of fighters + 1/2 number of non-fighters; defensive/morale value.

So, each party member would act as a component of the unit, adding to the whole it’s value as follows:

Melee Fighter = (0)1-0-1
Ranged Fighter = (1)0-0-1
Thief/Rogue = (1)0-0-1/2
Cleric = 0-1-1/2
Mage = 0-1-1/2

Now, this is HIGHLY simplified, but that’s kind of the point.

A party with a Fighter, a Ranger, a Magic User, and a Cleric would be
(1)1 – 2 – 3.  Originally, I’d considered having a ranger add to both skirmish and melee, but I decided that would kind of ‘break’ the ranger, making the ranged fighter the most powerful single individual.  He does, however, add more to the Defense/Morale value than a rogue/thief would.

Combat:
Combat would occur after the movement step and in 4 phases.  Phase 1 is the attacker skirmish phase. Phase 2 is attacker melee phase. Phase 3 is the optional defender counterattack phase.  Phase 4 is resolution, where units retreat and are assigned negative (-) markers.

The following negative markers can be assigned (-1) -0 -0 -1, (-0)-1, -0, -1, and (-0) -0, -1, -1.

Attacker:
Skirmish – roll 1d8; if the roll is equal to or lower than the attacker’s skirmish value, the attack is considered successful

Melee – roll 1d8; if the roll is equal to or lower than the attacker’s melee value, the attack is considered successful

Magic – If attacker’s magic is higher than defenders, subtract the difference from EITHER the Melee or Skirmish roll. If the defender’s magic is higher than the attacker’s, add the difference to both the Melee and Skirmish roll.

Defender:
If no attack was successful – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the defender may make a counter-attack using it’s skirmish value.
If a skirmish attack was successful, but no melee attack was made or successful against defending unit – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the unit may retreat or stand its ground. If the roll is equal to or above the defending unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and you must choose and place (-) marker on the unit.
If a melee attack was successful, but no skirmish attack was made or successful against defending unit – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the unit may retreat or it may stand its ground and you must  place a (-0) -1 -0 -1 marker on the unit. If the roll is equal to or greater than the defending unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and you must choose and place a (-)  marker on the unit.
If both a skirmish and a melee attack are successful – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and you must choose to place  a (-) marker on the unit. If the roll is equal to or greater than the defending unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and the attacking player may choose place two (-) markers on the unit.

A (-1) -0 -0 -1 marker may only be placed on a unit whose skirmish value is greater than 0.

A (-0)-1 -0 -1 marker may only be placed on a unit whose melee value is greater than 0.

A (-0)-0 -1 -1 marker may only be placed on a unit whose magic value is greater than 0.

A unit whose defense score is 0 is eliminated.

If a unit is not threatened by an adjacent unit, and has a magic value greater than 0, it may recover on its owner’s turn by removing a single (-) marker.

No hex may have a combined unit defense value greater than 8. No unit may be formed with a defense value greater than 8.

Scaling combat for Dungeons & Dragons. Scores are fixed for Heroes while monsters are scaled against the heroes’ average level.

Level 1, 1-0-1 would represent a single 1HD monster. 5-0-5 would represent 5HD worth of monsters

Level 2, 1-0-1 would represent a single 2HD monster or 2 1HD monsters. 5-0-5 would represent 5 2HD monsters or 10 1HD monsters.

Level 5, 1-0-1 would represent a single 5HD monster, a 1HD monster and a 4HD monster, a 2HD and a 3HD monster, 2 2HD and 1 1HD monster.

I know it’s a lot to ask to cram your HD worth of monsters into the ascribed value(s), but it’s a small sacrifice to make for doing some heavy-duty tactical stuff using a simplified combat system.

Actual monster deaths and character injuries can be adjudicated based on remaining defense values after the tactical scenario has concluded.