Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Last Wish -- Being Helpful


Holy cow, every now and then there comes across a fun confluence of events.
In this case, the recent 2019 Netflix series The Witcher increased interest in the Sword & Sorcery series. Of course, I moderate the S&S group on Goodreads (all are welcome to join), and we do a lot of reviews to help future readers. Turns out my 2016 review of The Last Wish is the highest helpful rank, at >300 helpful clicks.  

Cool beans. It was ~2yrs ago when I captured a few rewarding feedback instances from my reviews (Good Feelings about HATE post). 




So... Toss a coin to your Witcher!

Death Dealers & Diabolists - Review by SE

Death Dealers & Diabolists by D.M. Ritzlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading anthologies enables readers to discover new voices and authors, and since short stories launched the Sword & Sorcery genre in the ~1920's, the Goodread's S&S Group has a 2-month groupread every Jan-Feb for this purpose. This is my first DMR anthology and I am impressed. This bodes well for many others in my to-read list (like Swords of Steel Omnibus, Warlords, Warlocks & Witches, and the The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories). DMR also hosts an outstanding blog that fans of S&S adore.

I only knew of Keith Taylor from this set. Three of the four that stick with me are ones that had less forward-momentum than I normally expect, but they ended strong and surprised me. I star my favorites below. The genre may have started in the 1920's, but anthologies like this demonstrate that it still lives strong a century later.

“Q’a the Librarian” by Buzz Dixon
Many others on Goodreads enjoyed this the most. It is true to the theme of “Death Dealers and Diabolists”. You can root for the anti-heroine Q'a since the other characters are eviler than she. Involves plenty of sacrifices and murdering children, and Q’a could not care less. However, her immorality wore off on me, so I wasn't as engaged with any of her antagonists/plight. This opening entry consumes 28% of the book too, which wasn't necessary. Would definitely appeal to Grimdark readers.

“The Man With the Evil Eye” by Keith Taylor
I adore Keith Taylor's work (i.e., Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis ). This one was ok. Three crusader buddies (Palamides, Chiron, Michael) save an alleged murderer, a runaway woman, from a bunch of thugs hired by an evil magician/collector. Was hooked up to the point when the merry men met Harmatius. The ending battle/climax ended abruptly and with less reader-engagement than expected.

* “The Vault of Geigar Varakas” by Kenneth R. Gower
The tale of the thief Kral Mazan starts slow and meandering, but it ramps up nicely. He's good at cards and doesn't like cheating (stealing is alright though), and a card match with the wealthy, cheating Varakas gets him tossed into a street. There, a conniving woman, Firien, hires him to break into Varakas' treasure trove to retrieve an heirloom item for her--and seek revenge for himself. An eruption of Lovecraftian-like horror explodes on the scene which made the build-up satisfying.

* “Lord of the Wood” by Geoff Blackwell
This tells of the hunter Ville returning to a ravaged home. He tracks the death-dealers of his family considering revenge. Not much sorcery/diabolists in here. Very, very grim. Beautiful wording drew me in:
“Cold azure glitter replaced warm red glow. Skies lay naked, the moon and stars shone like pinpricks in tough fabric. Trails of teal and rich violet whipped across the firmament. He whistled into the shimmering aurora as though to beckon it closer. The sky fox danced tonight. A beautiful night to start Ville’s last hunt.”

“Ranorax, Son of Tiger” by Mark Taverna
Haukan of the Tiger Clan is a real ass and hopes to lead his clan soon. A pesky prophecy from their shaman indicates the leader will instead be a strange boy emerging from the woods. An okay entry. Not sure if Death Dealing or Diabolism motivated it.

* “Intrigue in the Unassailable City” by Carl Walmsley
Menias returns to his island city/home after sailing abroad as a mercenary for over a decade. He has a slim hope of reuniting with Carwynn, a lady of higher class who had a crush on him before he trekked off. But to find her he has to climb up the strata of the island from the poor docks. Having been sailing with a bunch of pirates hasn't helped his network. Old "friends" slow his mission to his love interest. This is the second of three tales that were a slow brew, that delivered in a satisfying way. Nice milieu and characterization.

“Three Coins of Doom” by Bryan Dyke
This has humor in it, which many like. But I am more of a curmudgeon, enjoying the humor only if there is a deeper story. Mau-Keefe is a pirate on a cryptic quest to track down an acquaintance (Naravian), while his compatriot wizard-buddy Lucrutius drinks more than he helps. Levity was nice to include to break up the grimness of the other stories, but the purple pummich's silliness overshadowed any story arc.

* “The Age of Crows—The Return of the Swarm” by Jed J. Del Rosario
A slow start sets up the epic premise of Angel vs Demon warfare. For the first third, I wasn't sure about its direction. Duryodan is the protagonist, but he is driven by a higher power (which chimes in via first-person narrative) and was summoned by a fellow angel, Vidur, to tackle a big job. Another angelic immortal, Nakula, also meddles as they battle a corrupt Emperor. Weird corpse-possessing flies/insects play a dominant role. I’m a sucker for necromancy and angelic battles like this one.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Offutt's BS: The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle - Review by SE


The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle by Andrew J. Offutt
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle is Andrew J. Offutt's parody of Sword & Sorcery. The one I read has illustrations from Jim Pitts, introduction by Wayne Warfield (editor), and an afterword by andrew j. offutt (who seldom capitalized his name).

It is intentionally overwritten with excess adjectives, and offutt referred to this as "BS" (short for many things, Black Sorcerer included.) The story has the common tropes of a lone hero fighting ~3 representations of something evil capped with a final confrontation with a malicious wizard. Plenty of silly call-outs to the S&S crowd are within (i.e., the wizard is named Reh after Robert E Howard).

I heard about this via the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads. My goal was further to understand how the use of color was applied in pulp fiction (S&S especially).

The afterword reveals the story's evolution. More importantly, it showed how multiple readers/editors preferred a particular balance of humor and action. In fact, offutt confessed he learned via working with BS of his Great Discovery:
"pornography and heroic fantasy have something much in common: both quite for different reasons, need to create a mood and a spell, and to make it last --and neither, can be overwritten.




View all my reviews

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Anthology Groupread 2020 - Jan Feb on S&S - Goodreads

Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads


Happy Yuletide, Xmas, etc... and especially Happy New Year.

The next two months are slotted for Anthology reading, the foundation of the S&S genre is formed from short stories... and plenty of new collections are out there. Classic or new, grab one from your TBR pile and join in.

The Jan-Feb 2020 Anthology discussion folder (link)

"What anthologies are people reading?", a list (disguised as a Poll): Link to list/poll, feel welcome to add your vote (or write one in)

The inspirational Image Banner credits (L-R)

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Deep Madness Scenario Guide - Chronology

I just submitted an updated Word file(Version 3) in the BGG Files for Deep Madness (Dec 22, 2019) to accommodate the Faces of the Sphere expansion.

I assume it will be approved soon by the admins.I think Version #3 will appear in place of #2 will appear here: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/178525/deep-madness-scenario-guide

And the Deep Madness Facebook crew (thanks Phil) actually has a Files section (I just learned) and it has a similar guide: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DeepMadnessFans/


Chronology
Title
Chapter
Notes
Earliest
Rise of Dagon
1: Rite of Bile
Ward Phillips
2: Virulent Whispers
3: Dagon Rising
Pre Core Story
Profundum PDF
(and/or The Faces of the Sphere)
1: Drowning in the Depths

Core Story
Core Story of Deep Madness
1: Crawling Asphyxia

2: Last Shuttle to Hell
3: Bathphobia
4: Through the Looking Glass
5: Madness Within
6: Lost in the Mist
7: The Horror Beneath
8: The Substance of Terror
Middle of Core Story
Oracle’s Betrayal
1: Trimming Virtues
John Murdock
2: Collecting Tissue
3: Lobotomy
True Ending
to Core Story
Uncounted Horrors
1: Another Dawn

Post Core Story
Profundum PDF
(and/or The Faces of the Sphere)
1: Faces of the Sphere


?
Endless Nightmares
1: Fathoms Dark

2: Fevered Dreams
3: Expectant Terror

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dawn of Madness - Suggested Icon Changes

Dawn of Madness is complex, choose your own adventure/terror game by Diemension Games.

I was fortunate to check out a prototype at GenCon 2019.

The Kickstarter is going on now and draft rules posted.

This posts suggests two changes and enables image-URLs to refer to in the comments.

Since "Concepts" have gone away and many are confused by icons, I suggest the below changes:

1) Simplify Sentience Icons: Eliminate the icons-graphics sentience and just use the colors (no one in the play throughs says them by "name" and no one can read the icons when made tiny on the cards....). Best to eliminate the confusion.  Makes more sense to add a color (sentience) to a graphic to make a domain

2) Simplified Sentience Test Verbage: This can further help declutter the cards...for example the Sentience Testing. No reason to say "test x for y" …. just make the icon bigger (so you can read it) and sow the colored-domain