Tag Archives: Fiction

Book Review: The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding

Kobold-GuideToWorldbuilding-Cover_450px-199x300World building is one of the most fun and complicated parts of the job for the GM or author. God created the Earth in six days, but world designers don’t have the luxury of omnipotence and omniscience. Luckily, we have the essays written by game and fiction industry professionals collected in The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding.

I won my copy of the book in a contest on the Midgard Campaign Setting Facebook page, but I was planning on buying this one, anyway. The book isn’t lengthy, but that’s certainly not a strike against it. The essays flow together well, and for the most part, build on each other as you read through the book. It starts with the basics in the essay What is Setting Design by Wolfgang Baur. It has some helpful tips including (surprise!) keeping your PCs in the center of the action. Don’t get bogged down with stuff that doesn’t effect the story.

I don’t want to get too terribly gushy with my praise (Though, this tome is certainly worth gushily praising.), so I’ll just hit some of my personal favorite essays that helped me as both a GM and a writer.

Apocalypso: Gaming After the Fall
by Jeff Grubb

This essay helped me justify an accusation I often get from my players: that my campaigns often turn into a crapsack world. As Grubb is quick to point out, most RPG tropes are true, because the world was once a better place. In many campaign settings, the characters are looking backward to a better time that will never come again. (Heck, in most fantasy fiction, it’s the same way.) That’s why dungeons have awesome magical treasures and why monsters run rampant. Thanks, Jeff Grubb!

Here Be Dragons: On Mapmaking
by Jonathan Roberts

I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but the practical tips in Here Be Dragons really clicked with me. Roberts has drawn out lots of fantasy maps for properties like A Song of Ice and Fire and the Midgard campaign setting. If you want to draw awesome maps, his essay is a must-read.

Designing a Pantheon
by Wolfgang Baur

Baur makes some great points in this essay about how unrealistic religion tends to be in games. He suggests some alternate ways to design a pantheon and goes in-depth into the design of the pantheon of his Midgard Campaign setting. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you think that religion should be a major part of your game, this is worth perusing.

How to Write a World Bible
by Scott Hungerford

Hungerford has some really practical advice for organizing and building a bible, which is basically a collection of all the pertinent information about the world you have built. I’ve tried designing one in the past, but have never gotten very far, since I tend to be disorganized. His tips really encouraged me, and I can’t wait to start over again utilizing his advice.

KoboldI’ve been a fan of the kobolds at Kobold Press/Open Design since I first discovered the Kobold Quarterly publication last year (I’m disappointed in myself that  it took me so long to find that magazine. I’m sad that it’s gone.). Their commitment to excellence in what they publish really shows. The Midgard Campaign Setting they published is truly a work of art, so it was interesting to see a few essays by Baur outlining some of the design decisions that went into building Midgard.

I would highly recommend this book to any DM that wants to create a rich, vibrant world for his players to inhabit and muck about in. You can find The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding at DrivethruRPG, the Kobold’s website, and Amazon.

 

 

 

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The September 11th Attacks in Geek Fiction

Many of us remember where we were and what we were doing when the September 11th attacks happened.

I was a lowly freshman in college, and I was in Radio Fundamentals, my first class of the day on that Tuesday morning. My teacher walked into the room, and while  I don’t remember what was said, I’ll always remember the look on her face when she informed us of what was happening. Since we were in what amounted to a functional news studio, I was able to watch things unfold in mostly real time. I remember seeing the second plane as it hit the South Tower.

I don’t really remember that day very well beyond a profound sense of sadness. And of shock. For some reason, when I think of that day, I think of the color gray. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the metal of the buildings. Or the dust as the buildings crashed down.

Obviously, I was not the only one affected by the attacks; writers, artists, and actors were all deeply affected as well. I’m going to talk today specifically how geek culture dealt with attacks–dealing with every instance would take years to write, so this is a small sampling.

Comic Books

Comic companies love New York; Marvel and DC are headquartered there, after all, so it came as no surprise that they wanted to reference the attacks. These are just a few of those stories.

Spider-Man Volume 2 #36 — Also called “The Black Issue” due to its completely black cover. A lot of people took this issue the wrong way, I think. Many people pointed out that Doctor Doom probably wouldn’t actually be crying over an attack, or that there was no way that the other supervillains would care all that much (especially with all the destruction they bring about themselves!), but I think those critics probably missed the point. Those beloved characters (yes, even the villains) were surrogates for the writers and artists at Marvel Comics, and they were expressing themselves through the medium that they were a part of.

Altogether, it’s a little goofy, but it’s also genuine.

9-11 – There were two volumes of this, and both parts contained work by superstar comics writers and artists: Joe Kubert, Stan Lee, Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Dave Gibbons, etc. Some of the stories are simple (a woman reaching over and touching the empty side of her bed), some of the stories are overt (Stan Lee’s fable about mice wearing 666 shirts waking up a giant), but all of them deal with the real issues of revenge, justice, hope, and despair.

Big props to the creators of this, because ALL the proceeds went to charities.

Big props as well to Joe Kubert, who gives these last words of hope: “I’ve lived long enough to see the worst turn into something better.”

Ex Machina – While not a 9/11 story, it is affected by the events of that day. Ex Machina takes place in an alternate reality where a superhero called The Great Machine manages to stop only one of the planes. While his actions get him elected mayor of New York, he still lives with the guilt of being indirectly responsible for the death of thousands.

Books 

There weren’t really all that many books in the geek realm that dealt with 9/11 (that I remember anyway), but I would be remiss not to mention Stephen King’s short story The Things They Left Behind.

It’s the tale of a man whose inner voice tells him to call off work and enjoy the day. Yep, that that day is Sept. 11, 2001. After the attacks, he begins having problems with his survivor’s guilt, and objects that belonged to his co-workers begin appearing in his apartment. If he throws them away, they always return. If he gives them to someone else, they give the person nightmares.

Eventually, he begins returning these items to the families of the people they belong to and starts to finally deal with his guilt.

Television 

TV has a lot of references to 9/11. Law & Order, CSI: New York, The West Wing, and Rescue Me all have characters that have to deal with the aftermath of the attacks.

In geek TV, Fringe deals with the 9/11 attacks, including glimpses into an alternate universe where the WTC attacks were averted, only to bring other types of terrorism into the country. The money shot is at the end of season one, where Olivia and William Bell (played by Leonard Nimoy) are standing inside the World Trade Center south tower.

 

Conclusion 

I think the further we get away from the events, the more they will be referenced a little more dispassionately… and maybe with more clarity. For us that remember the day, it seems that the sight of the towers in fiction elicits certain types of responses: shock, sadness, anger, numbness.

How do you feel when you see the towers in movies or TV? Have your feelings changed at all with time? I’d be interested to know. As for me, I feel a certain amount of melancholy and numbness, not just thinking about the attacks, but the consequences of them as well.

Generally on 9/11, I try to remember the unity, the camaraderie.  I remember how everyone suddenly seemed ready to help everyone else out. Strangers were nicer to each other. It only last a couple of weeks, but that kind of unity was pretty nice. I’d love to see that again.

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