Looks like I may be psychic:
I’m willing to give an author a shot if the first novel in a series seems to be too caught up in laying out the greater story to the point that it can’t stand alone, if that same story looks compelling enough. The Precipice had enough promise to get me to read the second book, The Rock Rats, and I’m glad I did.
The Rock Rats had a few surprises, not the least of which is that the most interesting characters from the first novel, Pancho Lane, isn’t in this one (there’s a suggestion she’ll play a greater role in later books). The Rock Rats instead focusses on the relationship between Amanda “I need a personality” Cunningham, her husband Lars Fuchs, and the seminal villain Martin Humphries, aka Evil Corporate Guy. As other reviews have mentioned, Bova borrows heavily from classic tragic themes, even going so far as to citing both the Flying Dutchman and the Nautilus in association with Fuchs, who is fighting almost a one-man war against Humphries to keep him away from both the asteroids and his wife (who ironically wants nothing to do with Humphries, not that Fuchs notices). I quickly read through the book watching Fuchs rush blindly to his (possible) doom.
If The Precipice laid out an easy-to-copy universe for a gamer to use in a sci-fi RPG, then The Rock Rats definitely gives you the campaign premise. It isn’t easy to imagine players enjoying the boardroom-drama of Dan Randolph, but Lars Fuchs as the force of good in a lawless region threatened by corporate domination is tailor made (in fact, the whole thing sounds a lot like the Traveller sourcebook Belters, if my memory serves me correctly). As fellow “Rock Rats” PC’s could vacillate between trying to find their fortune in hostile space and fending off Humphries’ pirates and fellow miners. There’s a scene where two spaceships are locked in combat, both cumbersomely spinning around which people hang out of cargo hatches blasting away with cutting lasers that definitely belongs in the descriptive text of some sci-fi RPG shoot-out.
Finally, there’s two “Easter Eggs” in here. Throughout the book Bova drops out of the narrative to give the reader a glimpse at a “dossier” of two very minor characters in the book. Don’t stress about them–they are, at least at this point, totally irrelevant to the plot. But they could both make for good backstories of PC’s if you’re looking at a Rock Rats campaign.
First, as I like to say, the backstory:
For those who don’t like clicking links, the story is that Jade, the central female character in the webcomic PvP has decided to run her own all-girl game of Dungeons & Dragons with the other, secondary female characters. After getting the “girls are into shopping and cutesy stuff” joke out of his system, Kurtz then works his way through the female version of Knights of the Dinner Table. Samantha is the bad-girl-who-found-Jesus, Miranda is Jade’s sex-kitten sister, and Marcie is just there to fill out the table.
Now aside from the old “girls don’t belong at the gaming table” canard I can’t help but think that, like KotD, the real fool of this story is the DM, Jade. She’s hell-bent on doing her own story that she insists that the other players forego what would make the game fun or at least comfortable for them: the existence of pseudo-Christianity and roleplaying.
Samantha is willing to play in a game with the existence of other gods, divinely-powered magic, etc. She just wants her PC to worship the god she wants. Now I know that I’ve “outed” myself as being a Christian (and, as a colleague of mine jokes, a “professional Christian”) and really wouldn’t care to import my real faith into a fantasy one, but what’s the harm? Simon Green in his Hawk and Fisher series had the two main characters be Christians admidst an encyclopedia of gods. It was so he could do the punchline “that’s weird,” but it didn’t detract from the story. Let the kids play, that’s my motto.
And the “let’s squash roleplaying a vixen” bit? I can’t figure out if Kurtz really thinks that’s a bad idea or he’s just playing to the whole Jade/Miranda big-sister/little-sister vibe. If she really wanted to teach Miranda a moral lesson, she could just have the PC get pregnant or contract a venereal disease.
I know someone out there will say, “it’s not real, it’s just a story” but I am a little touchy about how gamers and gaming are portrayed in the public eye. Jade is the “Voice of Reason” character, the Wendy to the Lost Boys of the PvP storyline, and so her thought process is supposed to be the sympathetic one (just look at the last strip). And what we see here is that DM’s (or DT’s in this case) are supposed to be narrow-minded, railroading hacks.
I’ve built several modular dungeons using hirst arts molds over the years (you can use the search engine to find them). My first was straight out of Bruce Hirst’s manual: 3″ wide hallways with high gothic walls on one side and short ones on the other. I eventually went to fieldstone because I thought they looked more versatile, but realized that when I built rooms, I was “locked” into that room’s dimensions, doorwars, etc. In short, it wasn’t particularly modular.
So I went with a 3″ by 3″ modular layout, with each square having a corner, wall, hallway, or nothing at all. It was good in theory but also meant that every room had dimensions of units of 15 feet and took a long time to set up. I also started getting a little frustrated with the ideas of walls that made it hard for players to see the action and would occasionally chip the paint on minis with outflung swords.
My latest version was my Descent set, which didn’t have walls and could be set up fairly easily. If it hadn’t been for my move to 4E, which tends to have much larger rooms than earlier editions, I might still be using it. Instead, I now use a Chessex wipeable graph mat, which is quick but lacks something in terms of detail.
A few days ago “Caveman” on the Hirst Arts forum posted his thoughts on modular dungeon use. If you don’t want to click the link (and you should, because the photos are very good) he basically outlines his modus operandi.
- for wandering down hallways, he just describes the layout
- when the PC’s encounter something of note (a wandering monster, a door, a room, etc.) he lays out just the floor tiles, much like my own Descent set
- if the encounter will take longer than fifteen minutes (e.g. more than a giant rat) then one of the players, called the dungeon builder lays out the modular walls and corners while the DM collects his notes, asks for initiative rolls, etc.
The dungeon builder becomes another player role, like quartermaster or cartographer, and speeds along gameplay. Caveman does a nice job of showing the progression from description to walled-in room with photos, and it is worth a look.
It’s such a good idea that I’m strongly considering stealing it and bringing my Descent set back into the game.
Sometimes, I just sort of lay a turd when it comes to RPG sessions. Sunday’s session might qualify.
As I said earlier, it was a little disjointed: it was the “introductory” session, four players hadn’t made PC’s, and most of the people came an hour late. But Sunday’s session was also sadly uninspired: a dwarf mining consortium hires the PC’s to clean out an old mine. It’s the “Goblin Warren,” and I had just done a not-dissimilar thing with Blue Team in the Sunken Fort. The whole set-up was just stale, and suffered in ways that were distinctly a result of a lack of enthusiasm on my part.
If I had to ask myself why that was the case, I’d have to give some credit to my aforementioned “ugh, another bunch of goblins/kobolds/whatever.” Getting out of the Level 1 encounter range on Blue Team excites me greatly, and having to crank it back down to 1 again was discouraging.
But the other reason is that I’m having to sort of re-train my fantasy GM brain to think of “encounters” as not just “rooms.” The old hackneyed format of Fantasy RPG dungeon crawling is this room-to-room cleanout where monsters just hung around in rooms listening to their neighbors getting slaughtered and thought “well, if they come here, I’ll do something, but otherwise it isn’t my problem.” In short, the fantasy monster version of Connecticut (I keed).
That’s not even really fair, because in good OSG’s monsters could wander into a combat in which you’re already engaged (“bree yark!”). In 4E you are not statting out rooms but creating scenes like in a movie. If monsters from one encounter can move into another, then they probably ought to be included in that encounter in the first place.
As a result of not quite getting that Sunday, I have the players saying things like “this doesn’t look much like a mine” because mines don’t have lots of 40′ by 50′ rooms like your typical 4E encounter, and “hey, why didn’t those goblins come here when they heard the fight?” I ended up having to espouse some theory that goblins worshipped Ayn Rand and figured those guys in room 3 could take care of themselves.
Today was the first session with “Gold Team,” one of the two D&D parties playing in my Silverton sandbox campaign. I had one member from the other team (“Blue Team”) who was there because his wife, who should be in Blue, hadn’t had a chance to play yet and was playing with Gold.
If that is confusing think of it this way. Today’s session was four Gold Team members, one experienced Blue member, and one new Blue one.
We had a little trouble with the Blue Team member who had already been through the “intro” session wanting to rush things along so he could get into the action. I finally had to remind them that Gold Team hadn’t had the chance to ask lots of questions about the primary NPC, even if there wasn’t a lot of clues to uncover right off the bat.
Gold team only got through a couple of encounters, a result of starting an hour late, having to roll up no less than four PC’s (three and one renamed from a Blue Team PC), and of course having to retell the “introductory” scene.
At this point, I’m getting past the kobold/goblin stuff that, frankly, has been the staple of my D&D campaigns for the past six or seven years. First 3.0, then 3.5, then Castles & Crusades–having never gotten past third level in any of those games, I’ve been stuck seeding my adventures with 1 HD humanoids, skeletons, and the odd dire rat. Six years.
In a month of two, I’ll be past that and onto a whole manual of monsters to appear in my campaign, and I’ll be kicking all that off with the first major location in my Silverton campaign, the Shrine of the Red Prophet. I want the Shrine to be a place that’ll really pop, to be more than a tinker-toy flowchart of a dungeon, to have narrative and story and be something they will remember, maybe even come back to.
I rarely, if ever, talk about my life outside of my hobby on this blog. This is primarily because I didn’t want to clutter it up with stuff of nominal interest to people other than close friends and family like photos of my family’s latest trip to pick berries or whatnot.
But, for those who are interested in the person behind the blog, this is me. Or rather, this is the work end of my life. I’m an Episcopal priest, and as part of my parish’s weekly television program on local cable access I do a little segment where people can send in questions. Those segments are on Youtube, and you can find them here:
Do not fear, you’re not being Rickrolled.
Sometime I’ll be happy to broach the topic of religion and gaming or why can’t I turn undead like in D&D, but that’ll have to wait for another time.