Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Military Science Fiction Giveaway

My contest finalist novelette The Thorne Legacy is now in paperback, which means I can give it away on Goodreads.  So that's exactly what I'm doing!  All you have to do is click the right button on GR (assuming you have an account, or want to start one) between now and December 15th and you'll be entered for one of ten copies, FREE.

Check out the giveaway here:

Goodreads randomly selects the winners at the end of the giveaway sign-up period.  Good luck!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Twitter THIS!


...That's how that works, right?  With that little "at" symbol on the front there...?

So I'm finally on Twitter.  I've been avoiding it forever, even though it's been highly recommended to writers for years.  I can't promise I'll get on there very often, but I've at least accomplished Step One.  And I'm semi-sure that all my pessimistic, paranoid delusions about it will be proven wrong in time.

So let the cyber-ranting begin!  Twitter THIS mutha ------!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

5th Edition D&D: Cthulhu-Warlock

I've decided to reposted this to my new website because this is by far the most popular post on this site.  Apparently there's a lot of D&D gamers looking for a good warlock build, most likely of the dark and mysterious Cthulhu variety.   blackeye_cvr-mini
female elf with a bow in the forestThe 5eCC is a 45 page PDF.  Here's the description:
Fantasy author J. D. Brink first discovered Dungeons & Dragons more thirty years ago.  Finally, with the advent of the Dungeon Masters’ Guild, he can now share some of his own game innovations with fellow players of the world’s greatest roleplaying game.  
Contained herein are more than 40 pages featuring custom game rules, a new experience point system, and 16 new feats for players.  But that’s not all. 
A Cthulhu warlock, steampunk mage, Shinto samurai, and rogue spymaster: these are just 4 of 10 characters created from new takes on existing classes, complete with detailed backstories and decision descriptions.  Ten characters meant to provide players and DMs with new inspiration for developing their own worlds and the heroes to save them.     



“Kinda a funny looking feller, eh?  Don’t look dangerous, but something ‘bout him makes me skin crawl.  Better keep a distance.” – Constable’s Deputy, Dunwich

Warlock (3)
Alignment: CN


HP:  24
AC:  12
PROF:  +2
SAVES:  WIS (+4) CHAR (+5)
INIT:  +2

RACE:  Human

* Dragon chess gaming proficiency
* Life of Privilege
* Languages: Common, Elven

* Otherworldly Patron: Great Old One
* Awakened Mind
* Pact Boon: Book of Shadows
* Eldritch Invocations:
-- Beguiling Influence
-- Mask of Many Faces

* Spell DC (13)  Spell Attack Mod (+5)
* Warlock: 2 Cantrips, 4 Known Spells, 2 Spell Slots at 2nd Level
-- Cantrips: Eldritch Blast, Prestidigitation
-- 1st Level: Hex, Arms of Hadar
-- 2nd Level: Suggestion, Crown of Madness
* Eldritch Invocation: Disguise Self at will
* Books of Shadows: Druid (WIS)
-- Cantrips: Shillelagh, Produce Flame, Resistance
* Magic Initiate Feat: Bard (CHAR)
-- Cantrips: Mage Hand, Minor Illusion
-- Once per long rest: Dissonant Whispers
* Ritual Caster: Wizard (INT)
-- 1st Level: Find Familiar, Unseen Servant

FAMILIAR:  Lovecraft, the ferret (fiend)

* Intimidation (+5)
* Arcana (+4)
* Investigation (+4)
* History (+4)
* Insight (+4)
* Deception (+5)
* Persuasion (+5)
* Bonus Languages: Primordial, Abyssal

* Magic Initiate
* Ritual Caster

* Ornate cane (club), 2 daggers
* Studded leather armor
* Fine clothes, Scholar’s pack, scroll of pedigree, 2 signet rings – one of Fellcorr family, one unknown (arcane focus)
* His uncle’s estate in Dunwich


Jansen Fellcorr came from a family of minor nobility and had lived most of his life in abject boredom.  The life of privilege didn't disagree with him, per say, but there was very little about that easy, controlled life that held his interest.  He made study and observation ("people watching") his hobbies, sometimes following strangers all day, even back to their homes, to discover the secrets of their lives.  Jansen was an intelligent, polite, and rather creepy young man.

The death of Hadspen Fellcorr--Jansen's uncle--went largely unnoticed, as Hadspen had been the strange and estranged black sheep of the family.  Jansen, at twenty-six years of age, barely even remembered his uncle Hadspen.  But when he heard of the man's passing and saw how the rest of his noble family chose to ignore the black sheep's death from their flock, Jansen made it his business to find out more.  (He had nothing better to do, after all.)  It took him a week to travel to the city of Dunwich, where his uncle had lived and died.  The Dunwich mortician and Hadspen's landlord were only too happy to turn over the odd nobleman's personal effects and quarters to the nephew who had come to claim them.  Though he had lived there for years, no one in town seemed to know Hadspen very well, nor did they want to.  It was rumored that he dabbled in dark magic and secrets best left undiscovered.

It was in his dead uncle's home that Jansen uncovered new mysteries and a new purpose in life.  Hadspen's quarters were filled with books and rarities: drawings and journals, maps and star charts, ancient artifacts and dusty grimoires.  Jansen dove in eagerly and lived in Dunwich through the summer,  fall, and into winter.  And it was on the bitter cold evening of the winter solstice that he finally unlocked the same key that his uncle had years before.  It was on this cold, snowy night that he finally met Hadspen Fellcorr's other-worldly benefactor.

Jansen has taken his uncle's place as the servant and apprentice of a strange, extra-planar power.  He has, in fact, surpassed his uncle and become an actively mobile agent, taking on the title of Eye in the Shadow.  The motives of his patron are unclear, even to him, but he serves it with no less devotion.  Be it good or evil, Jansen's benefactor seems to be an entity of shadow, deception, knowledge, and madness.  Though his master speaks to him only rarely, Jansen continues to follow wherever his destiny seems to be leading.

As an adventurer, Jansen carries the same cane that his uncle had used in life.  This is a very ornate walking stick carved to resemble an alien tower on another plane of existence.  It is patterned after the very structure that is benefactor inhabits, be it a palace or a prison.  His loyal companion and familiar, Lovecraft the ferret, acts as his eyes and ears, sticky fingers, and only true friend.  Jansen wears two signet rings: the Fellcorr crest on his right hand, and, on his left, a ring bearing a symbol unknown to any court in this reality.  Jansen uses his family pedigree only when needed to infiltrate or influence others along his course, preferring to forget the worthless life of nobility he’d lived before.


I actually did quite a bit of dark research myself to see what options and spells I wanted to take with this character.  Warlocks have three paths they can follow, called Eldritch Invocations, and in a way I have managed to take all three here rather than settling for just one!

I wanted to favor spellcraft with this guy, partially because Warlocks have such a weird and limited magic-user mechanic.  (Though I do like that they work in a different way than the rest.)  I took the Book of Shadows, which lets me pick 3 cantrips from any class list.  I chose Druids and Shillelagh, a spell that lets me turn Jansen's fancy cane (club) into a magical weapon of moderate power.  Therefore, I kind of get the bonded weapon invocation.  I also tend to make human characters, so I started with two Feats.  For both I took more spells, which gave me access to Find Familiar, thus effectively giving me the Chain invocation too.

BAM!  All three Warlock paths in one character!  And I have an amazing number of spells for a 3rd level character, especially a warlock!

And while he is magicked up pretty darn well, he’s not going to dodge or take a hit very well.  But not all characters need to be combat powerhouses!  I like how Fifth Edition clearly states the three main aspects of game play: not just combat, but also exploration and social interaction.  Jansen is a brainy magic user who will excel at the second and third aspects far more that the first one.  As a player and DM—as I’ve said before—I like to make sure skills and non-combat spells are valuable in the game too.  This character will put his best ability score—Charisma—to good use, along with useful INT- and WIS-based skills.

His role as the Eye in the Shadow makes him a spy and a manipulator.  I chose many of his spells to specifically fit his shadowy and Cthulhu-like nature.  I also considered an owl and raven for his familiar, both of which seem very Cthulhu to me, but the ferret just seemed to fit more comfortably somehow.

I actually really like this character concept.  He’s just begging to be in a story/novel someday!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

D&D: the New 5th Edition

I can remember my first Dungeons and Dragons box set: the red soft-back books, the colorful, gem-like dice (the d20 was purple!), and the excitement of opening it as I sat in the car of the old Potter Village parking lot as my mom continued shopping.  She must have known it was the only way to shut me up so she could keep going about her hunting and gathering.  I was already somewhat aware of the game, thanks to the Girdners, who lived next door, and my cousins Mitch and Chad.

Now, a thousand years later, the Fifth Edition has come out.  I have been in and out of the game ever since I was seven or eight years old (maybe sooner), playing in junior high and high school, and then in college, and I even ran a game in the barracks when I was in the Navy the first time, which was the most fun campaign I'd ever been a part of.  That was 1999-2000 and the last time I've actually played, though being a old nerd, I wouldn't mind playing again.  When my son is old enough, I'll be corrupting his group of friends for sure!

My favorite version of the game, as I'm sure a lot of folks will agree, was 3.0 and 3.5, which was so good that when Wizards of the Coast (who conquered TSR quite some time ago -- actually, that's not fair, I should say rescued TSR, which was in dire straits)...  Where was I?  Oh yes, when WotC had a crisis of confidence and moved on to 4th edition, which resembled in every way possible the online game World of Warcraft, another company (Paizo) resurrected and improved upon the 3.0 system, creating their own version called Pathfinder, which I'm happy to see if still flourishing to this day.  (Wow, that was a long sentence!)

So after WotC broke down in a desperate attempt to attract WoW players, I had given up on them and the game of all games, the great grandfather of all role-playing and video games.  (That's right: without D&D, all you guys who think Xbox is cool but rolling dice is for dorks, you wouldn't have anything.)  BUT, this year, WotC came out with 5th edition, and I must say, I LIKE IT!

Allow me to hit some highlights as to why I think Wizards of the Coast has once again brought D&D back from near death.  I can sum it up nicely by saying that they've simplified game play while adding more depth to the characters.  The rules now get out of the way and allow you to just play.  In previous versions, there was a chart and table for every damned thing you could think of.  Rolling dice took precedence over having fun and telling your own stories.  Things would slow down so you could consult the appropriate charts and rules, which took ten minutes to find, and then calculate the new math.  In 5th edition, the math is simplified so you can pretty much keep track of everything in your head, which allows for the story to continue uninterrupted.  Character creation, meanwhile, has taken on more dimensions, allowing for a greater diversity of heroes with more customizable abilities.  It's win-win, people!

Some examples for you:
-- The general game-play rolling has been streamlined with advantage and disadvantage.  Instead of looking up modifiers on a chart, you might have one of these conditions applied to your rolls.  In either case you roll two d20s when you make your hit, skill check, or whatever.  If you have "advantage," you take the higher; "disadvantage," you take the lower.  Done.  Simple.  For example, if you are wearing noisy heavy armor, you have disadvantage on your stealth checks (rather than modifiers to your roll).
-- Proficiency.  While I do like the 3.0/Pathfinder system of putting points and levels into skills, this is way easier.  Every character has a Proficiency Bonus based on their level (and it's the same bonus across all classes).  You add this one number when determining bonuses to hit in combat (if you are proficient with the weapon), casting spells, using skills and tools you are proficient in, and making saving throws (that you're proficient in).  If you are not "proficient" in those areas, you don't get this bonus to the roll, you just roll it without.  When you get skill slots, you become "proficient" in those skills, add this bonus and your ability modifiers.  One number, so many easy uses.
-- Saving throws.  Branching off the above, all saving throws are now Ability-based.  So saving against poison is a Constitution save, while dodging a trap or dragon breath is a Dexterity save, and resisting a charm spell is a Wisdom save.  And some classes are better at dodging than enduring poison.
-- Critical hits.  No rerolling to see if it's really a critical hit, and no weird per-weapon multipliers.  Did you roll a 20?  Then roll twice as much damage.  Period.
-- Resistance and Vulnerability.  If a creature has resistance to a certain damage-type, it takes half damage.  If it is vulnerable to that type, it takes double damage.
-- Class features.  Every class has multiple paths it can take starting at 3rd level.  You could have two or three characters of the same class in your party that are all unique in how they play and where they are going. Each class also has its own mechanics in a way, which is cool but kind of counter to the "simplification" philosophy.  For example, the ways that Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks use and acquire spells are all slightly different, but in a good way.
-- Background.  Another nifty addition to character creation is that everyone picks a Background as well, which comes with its own bonus skills and special abilities, along with motivations and personality traits that help flesh-out the character.  Examples include Soldier, Criminal, Guild Artisan, Hermit, and Noble.

Now comes my favorite part: the naked women.

I mean, character creation!  I might enjoy making characters more than actually playing them.  I just like making up interesting characters with different traits, stories, and abilities, which also lends to my writing.  In fact, coming up with game characters has led to some story, even series, ideas.  And I expect this will as well.

I plan to make up a new character for each class in the new D&D system, maybe more than one.  Of course, this will take some time: months, maybe a full year!  I'll do it here and there as time and inspiration allows.  But it'll be fun along the way!  My intention is to take each class and make someone different than the norm, so we'll see how it goes.  I'll roll out Ability scores based on the 4d6 and discard one system, and I'll roll d3+2 to determine a random character level. At 3rd and 5th levels I'll give them a magic or special item.

The first one will be a Warlock, as inspired by my friend Josh, who is back in the Midwest and getting to actually play the game.  He made a Cthulhu-type Warlock, which made me want to make one!  So I did, bloggable sometime in the near future...