Alfheim non-update, current and future reading

Alfheim was postponed this week, due to the absence of two players. My guess is despite the lousy weather, wrist-band night at the state fair may have taken priority.

So, a handful of us got together and threw down at some Wii U Smash Bros and Mario Kart. I miss gamecube controllers. The movements on the Wii control stick was kind of, well… sticky? I refuse to believe that I was just that rusty! As for Mario Kart, I’ve always sucked on tracks where I can fall off the edge, and I always do, without fail. Goblin/halfling/ranger’s girlfriend wiped the floor with fighter and me using Dry Bones.  I managed to eke out a close second place overall in one of the piddly cups, but she took 1st every other cup we ran.

Anyway, I was given a chance to ask my players about my game in a slightly more casual setting, as we were doing other things. I was happy to find that most of the players seem to be really enjoying it; one seemed a bit dismayed that I was considering wrapping up soon (“we just really were getting into the swing of things, the meat!”), and my player for whom this is his first table-top experience ever told me privately that he has been absolutely loving the game, and his friend who invited him to our group has confirmed that he has been digging it and talking about it regularly. So that has definitely helped with my ‘DM fatigue’. What it doesn’t change, though, is that I want to play as a player in someone else’s game and that my situation makes it next to impossible to game multiple nights a week. Maybe I can change that situation, but it’ll be kind of painful. We’ll see.

One thing I may have overestimated was how quickly the party would level up. I want my group to be around level 5-6 by the time I decide for the scheduled story climax to occur, but that will involve clearing out at least one more big dungeon before I run Deathcrypt of Khaldun (or Caelden, as it will be in this case) followed by a showdown with the vampiric elven king.

Speaking of Vampires, I’ve just about finished Children of Lubrochius. It’s a bit slower than Drasmyr, but it’s a slow burn into the bigger 4 book story, whereas Drasmyr could (sort of) stand alone. I’m calling it now that Gaelan is probably the reincarnate of Morgulan. Which has some interesting implications regarding Zarina the Black’s role in the great war 1000 years ago…

Until Sceptre of Morgulan comes out, I’ll probably be reading the several sequels to Clan of the Cavebear. Not sure what happened, but my town’s second-hand marked came to be flooded with Jean Auel books, and I managed to snag several of the hardcovers (with the dust jackets in tact, even!) while I was still mid-way through Clan.

Children of Lubrochius

So, with my own vampire campaign really ratcheting up, it’s been the perfect time to start reading the second Drasmyr book. I know, it’s Ashes of Ruins book 1, but I can’t help but think of it as Drasmyr 2.

I think I’m encountering some strangeness with it early on, as I’m not sure if the exposition is meant to allow it to stand on its own without having read Drasmyr. From what I’ve gathered, Drasmyr was originally meant to be a prequel to the Ashes of Ruins series, but it got finished and published first, making it a prelude instead. I’m not certain about the order in which some of the writing was done, so it might make sense for the early chapters of Children of Lubrochius to recap previous events a bit more thoroughly than if it were a straight-up sequel to Drasmyr. I guess it lets you jump into the story without having read Drasmyr, but I don’t know why you’d want to, especially considering how good it was by itself.

Right now Korina seems a bit more petty and junior league than she did in Drasmyr, but at the same time it makes sense given the reveal at the end about just how petty and small minded her evil plan had been (extra creepy, given the brutal lengths she went to accomplish it).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the trio of bounty-hunters imminent dungeon crawl back in Drasmyr’s castle to hunt down the Sceptre of Morgulan and the showdown between whatever rival forces are looking for it. Given that it’s the first book in a trilogy and the second book is called “The Sceptre of Morgulan”, my guess is that the good guys aren’t going to find it first, or, if they do, the mages guild is not going to be prepared for what will happen when they find it. Or they find it and end up accidentally bringing it to Korina just like they ended up bringing her an ancient vampire thrall which she can barely control.

Maybe after I finish it, I can get Matt D. Ryan back here for another interview.

Drasmyr Week Concludes! (Part 3: Interview with Matthew D. Ryan Cont.)

We conclude our weeklong spotlight on Drasmyr with the second part of our interview with Author Matthew D. Ryan.

Cirsova – The world, history and setting in Drasmyr seem pretty developed, with the first book just scratching the surface. How much more of the world are we going to be seeing as the ‘From the Ashes of Ruin’ series unfolds?
Matthew D. Ryan – Most of the action of the series is going to remain focused in Drisdak and its immediate surroundings. At least for the first two books. Then there will be a lot of action in a kind of pocket dimension, and in the last book everyone is going to Hell. As for the world of Athron, it is fairly well developed; I have far more material than I’ll ever actually use because it was originally intended as a setting for a gaming campaign. I may write a few books that take place in other parts of the world once I’m done with From the Ashes of Ruin, but for now, staying around Drisdak will likely suffice.

C – This may be an author’s secret, but how far along do you have your stories planned in advance?

I only have a vague idea on how the series ends and I’m writing toward that end. The original draft of Drasmyr was written (almost 20 years ago now) stream of consciousness. For The Children of Lubrochius I plotted things out in advance for the whole book, then wrote accordingly, though I did give myself permission to remain flexible. I’m working on The Sceptre of Morgulan now and I’m using an outline for that as well.

C – You mention that part of your inspiration comes from years of AD&D; were there any published modules or specific homebrew campaigns that were particularly influential on your work as a writer and game designer?

R – That’s a really tough question. I think they all had some influence to a certain extent. If I had to pick out a single one, I ran a vampire campaign for some friends back when I was in college. It was a female vampire with powers more similar to Drasmyr than the powers listed in AD&D (it actually had to bite to drain; claws wouldn’t do it). But that was so long ago, I’m not really sure which came first, the campaign or Drasmyr.

C – After your experience releasing and promoting Drasmyr and The Children of Lubrochius, which came out this week, what is some advice you might like to give any aspiring fantasy authors?

R – Write as much as you can. And don’t give up. With the way the Internet is now, it’s easy to get feedback on your writing and even self-publish on Smashwords or wherever when you’re ready. But make sure you are ready before you self-publish. I’ve read a number of less-than-stellar books that I’ve downloaded. I would advise seeing if you could at least get one short story published on an ezine as a kind of measure of your writing ability before you start cranking out self-published novels. Then, let your muses sing.

C – Any final thoughts?

R – The plan for the series, From the Ashes of Ruin, is for one prequel, plus four additional books. Just figured I’d throw that out there. Final thoughts, well I hope you and your readers enjoy my books and become steady fans. And I want to thank you for doing this interview and giving me an opportunity to connect with your readers. I think that about sums it up.

Thanks again to Mr. Ryan for taking the time to talk with us about his book here at Cirsova.  You can follow him over at his own blog, A Toast to Dragons (it’s over on my link list), and check out his books at all of those great online sellers I listed monday.

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

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

Drasmyr Week Continues! (Part 2: An Interview with Matthew D. Ryan)

I’m very excited to have Matthew D. Ryan, the author of Drasmyr, with us at Cirsova today to answer some questions about Drasmyr and it’s sequel, The Children of Lubrochius, which is being released today.

Cirsova -The market is undeniably glutted with Vampire books, but there are very few  like yours.  Tell us a little about how Drasmyr is different from all of those.

Matthew D. Ryan – The vampire of old has evolved considerably since Bram Stoker first entertained us with Dracula. Nowadays, the vampires in many vampire stories serve as love interests for mortals. Gone is any connection to the diabolical or nefarious. Most modern day vampires are kind of like superhumans who have an odd quirk that they survive on human blood. Drasmyr is quite different; it takes us back to vampire of yesteryear: an evil, cold-blooded killer who cares little for his victims and foes. It is a gothic Dracula-esque vampire set in a Middle-Earth-like world. My vampire is thoroughly evil with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Although the reader may enjoy his personality as a kind of alluring evil, the reader is not supposed to root for the vampire. He is a compelling character that drives the story, but he is most definitely in the role of antagonist.

C -What was the original idea or concept that you wanted to explore or put forward with Drasmyr?

R – I wrote the original draft a couple years before vampires became the big thing that they are. I’ve always been interested in vampires, both in literature and in gaming. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge a creature so powerful yet capable of blending into a human population provided. I wanted to write a fantasy story that kept true to the powers of the vampire as delineated in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As it turned out, I did tweak the vampire’s powers somewhat, but I used Dracula as a kind of a source book. So, I think the idea can best be summed up as Dracula in Middle-Earth, or perhaps, the Forgotten Realms.

C – What can you tell us about the city of Drisdak its environs?  Were there particular real world locations or architecture that provided inspiration for Drasmyr’s setting, particularly Lucian’s castle and the Mage’s Guild?

R – The city, the guild, and the castle are strictly the products of my own imagination. What inspiration there was came from many long hours spent playing AD&D. As such, it’s hard to pinpoint a particular gaming experience that influenced me the most. All gamers have, at one time or other, been sent on a dungeon crawl in an old abandoned castle and likewise have been hired by a mage’s guild at some point. So, Drisdak and its environs evolved from the gaming mush that is circulating within my brain.

C – Your characters have some pretty unusual names (Lucian and Korina are probably the most ‘normal’ sounding names in Drasmyr).  Can you tell us some about where the names for your characters come from?

R – Again, it is imagination stemming from many long years of AD&D experience. When you play those games long enough, you develop a certain feel for how a name in such a world should sound: Coragan, Galladrin, etc… They all seemed to flow and fit the story. Although I will relate that one minor character was renamed after a typo. The watch captain, Mathagarr, was originally named Mathagar. I mistyped it once and one of my beta-readers commented that that looked cooler with the extra ‘r.’ I agreed, so I changed it.

C – There’s a lot more here than meets the eye, especially for RPG fans looking for inspiration in the form of settings, NPCs and adventure hooks.  As the Ashes of Ruin setting gets more fleshed out, can we expect some maps and a more expanded glossary?

R – I would like to, but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to it. I might wind up putting the maps on my web-site instead of in one of the books, but that is a project for a later day. The maps are pretty much ready: They just have to be scanned in and uploaded. As for the glossary, I have a lot of information I could use (it was originally going to be an entire gaming setting, after all), but I’m just not sure what pieces of information are the most relevant. But I’ll keep it in mind. If inspiration should strike me at some time, perhaps I’ll set both things up. But as of yet, it’s still up in the air.

Matt will be back on Friday for the second part of our interview.  In the meantime, you can visit his site and check out the book blast he is doing today for the release of The Children of Lubrochius.

^^^^Out today!^^^^

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.

One Page Dungeon! The Revelry at Pickett Castle.

I decided to put together a One Page Dungeon for the One Page Dungeon contest at Campaign Wiki.

You can check out a system neutral version here: Pickett Castle Sys Neutral.

I’ve also got a B/X version of it that I’ll post soon.  The only difference is I’ve included monster stats, but i guess if you’re playing seriously enough to need monster stats, maybe you’re missing the point of this module. 🙂

 

Update: B/X version Pickett Castle W/Stats