Author Archives: Peter Newman

Good Things: The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams

IronGhost_v2-jpg-jpg-196x300Here’s a quick relatively spoiler free part review / part enthuse about the Iron Ghost by Jen Williams.

Around this time last year I wrote one of these for The Copper Promise. If you haven’t read that yet, do so immediately.

In short, I loved this book, and I’ve been trying to think about why. There are loads of fun fantasy monsters, fights and all the magical shenanigans that you might expect. The characters are fun and well-drawn and definitely one of the major appeals of the book for me. They’re still human (aside from the ones that aren’t) and they still screw up often. Sometimes they do wonderful and cool things though I did spend much of my time shaking my head at Sebastian, a lesser amount of time shaking my head at Frith and surprisingly little time shaking my head at Wydrin (which is worrying) but only because I’ve grown fond of them.

The villains are great too. In a really, really nasty kind of way. And maybe I’ve just got a poor memory but I don’t recall having so many moments of horror or exclaiming: “Euw!” when I read The Copper Promise.

But the thing about The Iron Ghost, the thing that recommends it most highly for me is that it is just so damn readable. The book is a good size and weight, ideal for blocking draughts or beating zombies to death, but I tore through it as if it were a thing half the size.

It’s fun, compelling, and just a little bit saucy. What’s not to love?

Also: BEST TAG LINE EVER!

Tea and Jeopardy 32 – A chat with Catherynne Valente

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300The thirty-second episode of Tea and Jeopardy is now live and you can listen to it on Geek Planet Online.

In this episode the award winning, best-selling, writer-poet, Catherynne M Valente comes to the tea lair to talk about living on an island and words she’d love to remove from reality.

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

Enjoy!

 

Dungeons and Dragons 5e: Classes!

WARNING: If you do not like Dungeons & Dragons and are turned off by words like ‘system’, ‘hit dice’ and ‘spell slots’… RUN AWAY NOW! And don’t look back.

Okay, to the few who remain, I recently wrote a post about the 5th edition (or 5e as it’s known to the cool kids) Players Handbook, in which I sung its praises. Since then I’ve had the joy of actually playing in a game up to 6th level and wanted to take the time to talk about the classes in a bit more detail. I’ve only seen a few of them in play though I’ve now seen enough of the system to be able to make educated guesses about the good and the bad features of the others.

Ready? Here we go…

Barbarian

Big hit dice and the ability to add your con to your AC, the barbarian seems stronger to me than in 3rd edition. You won’t be able to match the AC of fighter in armour (unless you got really lucky rolling stats) but you won’t be far off. Also bouncing sword blades with only the power of your mighty muscles is just plain cool and allows you to totally go into battle Conan style. Rage abilities are also lots of fun and allow you to berserk your way to victory.

There are two variants as you get to higher levels. The EVEN MORE BERSERK version and the totem animal version. Both get some neat tricks.

Barbarian is also good for players new to the system as they have a fairly small set of options to consider in combat.

Bard

In 5e, Bards get a pretty sweet deal. Up to 9th level casting, generous spell slots and better hit points and armour than a wizard, plus bard specials. So we’re talking a full caster that can also fight and gets healing magic. Sounds kind of broken to me. I still don’t want to play one mind you because I don’t like bards very much. But if I did, this would be the edition I’d go for.

You can choose to be a bardy bard, in which case you get to nick spells from other spell lists (sings songs and casts fireball*) or a fighty bard, in which case you get medium armour, an extra attack and the ability to cast and attack in the same turn.

So Bards are looking pretty good in 5e. If you like that sort of thing.

Cleric

Clerics are pretty much as they’ve always been. Also up to 9th level casting and better armour than a bard, assumedly to compensate for the fact the rest of the party will want healing from time to time (though this is less of an issue in 5e as characters can recover hit dice during rests). So healing and buffing with a bit of zapping as you might expect.

Each cleric chooses a divine domain that gives them bonus spells for their lists, along with specials. There are too many to list here  but sample specials include: being able to wear heavy armour, channelling divine knowledge to temporarily use skills, and maxing the damage of an attack spell.

Clerics remain a strong class with good utility both in and out of combat.

Druid

I seem to remember a time when Druids were not as good as clerics. That time has passed. Druids still get good casting, d8 hits and medium armour which is pretty good off the bat. But wait. Wait there. We need to talk about Wild Shape. Wild Shape is wonderful. It lets you turn into an animal (which is always cool). At low levels you can’t become a flying animal but you can still be a something small for scouting or something tough for fighting. You get the animals physical stats and attacks and their hit points ADD ON to yours. It’s amazing!

You can be a druidy druid where you get some (yawn) bonus spells and some nice nature style tricks (yawn) OR YOU CAN BE A BADASS SHAPESHIFTER DRUID AND BECOME A DEATHDEALING BEAR AT 2ND LEVEL!!!!!!!!!!!!! But completely your choice, they’ve both got merits.

Fighter

Fighters are pretty solid (that’s not a pun). As you’d expect they get better hit points than everyone except the Barbarian, and the best armour and weapons choices. They also get more ability upgrades (which is even more potent if your DM is using the FEATS system).

They get some interesting choices to make too. You can be the (relatively dull) Champion which gives you better crits and things. Or you can be the Battle Master which gives you special tactics you can use to change the flow of combat. I’d love to see how one of these plays. Lastly you can be an Eldritch Knight (the title alone sells me) where you get to summon magic weapons and cast spells and teleport! Bad. Ass.

Monk

I love the 5e monk. They’ve got a nice feel to them. Good attack rate, not bad AC considering they don’t wear armour and some lovely abilities powered off Ki that allows them to dodge super-fast or leap like they do in the martial arts movies. Also: They can catch arrows!

You can choose to be a martial arts monk, a badass shadow ninja monk or a cool elemental bending monk. It’s a win/win/win.

Paladin

Paladins rock. They just do, it’s a fact of life. Excellent hit points, AC and loads of cool abilities like protective auras, lay on hands (that’s healing for the newcomers) and a good spell selection that gives really interesting tactical choices. A lot of their spells can be cast as bonus actions too so you don’t even lose an attack to use them. And they get smite. Smite allows you to burn spell slots for lots of extra damage. Rolling lots of damage dice is one of life’s special pleasures. You should try it.

You can be a traditional heroic paladin (awesome), a nature paladin (not so awesome), or a vengeance paladin (awesome and has great emo potential).

Ranger

I’ve always felt that Rangers have lacked something. In 5e they get a good range of flavourful abilities, medium armour, d10 hit points. If you’re in their favoured terrain they seem awesome. If you’re not… well they don’t seem as good. Still, they can heal (but then so can a paladin) and they have some cool buffs (almost as good as a paladin’s). So, if you want to be a dynamic fighter type and don’t fancy playing a fighter or a paladin then Ranger is for you. Alternatively if you want to play a quick agile fighter and don’t like Rouges or Monks it’s also a good choice. For some though it’s about the flavour. And if you really want a character who is at home in the wild places and you don’t like Druids, then I heartily recommend Ranger.

You can choose to be a tough fighty ranger that gets some neat tricks or you can have an animal companion which fights at your side (but only at the cost of your actions). Or you could choose another class. Just sayin.

Rogue

Ah, I remember when the Rogue could only sneak attack humanoids that had organs in the regular places. If you up came against undead, demons, hell, most of the monster manual, the rogue was about as much use as the wizard when they’d run out of spells. No longer! Now rogues can sneak attack everything.

But I digress. The Rogue is your stealthy scout with strong skills, light armour, d8 hits and of course, sneak attack. They work pretty well and have several tricks to stop you getting mashed by the first fireball or giant with an axe that you encounter.

You can choose to be a Roguey Rogue, and get bonuses to climbing and sneaking. Or you can be an Assassin where you get to kill things really effectively (I doubt many folk will go for that one!) or the Arcane Trickster where you get some nice spells and a special version of Mage Hand or as I like to call it, the hand of infinite sneak attacks.

Depending on the specialty you go for, rogue’s are another good bet for new players.

Sorcerer

I never touched 4th Edition D&D but I can tell you that Sorcerer’s are waaaay better in 5e than they were in 3rd or 3.5. D6 hit points, no armour (but this isn’t new), and of course 9th level casting. Sorcerer’s have smaller spell lists than the other classes but can always cast what they need when they need it and, thanks to a really nice metamagic system, can either trade sorcery points to get extra spell slots or use points to enhance spells to make them more subtle, last longer, be more damaging etc. It’s a simple system that gives them a lot of flexibility. Also, cantrips (your lowest level spells) can be cast infinitely now so you never run out of spells and attack cantrips scale as you level so they never become obsolete. Woo hoo!

You can choose to be a Draconic sorcerer and get natural armour, wings and elemental bonuses or you can choose the other one**. Don’t choose the other one.

Warlock

Oh god I love the Warlock concept. You’re a spellcaster that gets your powers through a deal with a supernatural entity. Warlocks get a mix of spells, invocations (special abilities granted by the patron) and other specials depending on which road you take. All ablilites are not created equal and I think Warlocks work best with people who have a good understanding of the system. D8 HP and light armour are just good enough to make you think you can fight but unless you get the right abilities behind you, things will end quickly and badly. At first glance the spell slots may seem punishingly low but unlike other casters, warlocks regain spells after any short rest, which makes it much less painful.

You can choose to be a fighty warlock (which is full of style but hard to pull off effectively), a magicy warlock (which has the potential to be very strong) or get a powerful familiar (also very strong).

As I said, Warlocks are full of flavour but need careful planning.

Wizard

Wizards rock. Like Sorcerers and Warlocks they benefit from infinite cantrips. They have a much broader number of spells than their counterparts but have to prepare them in advance. They also get ritual casting (and I should add, so do Bards and Clerics), which allows them to infinitely cast any ritual spell, though such castings take 10x as long as normal. All the classic spells are in (you can fly, teleport, shoot fire, change shape, use illusions, raise the dead, etc).

There are lots of different spell schools you can choose to specialise in and they all have some really nice tricks, even divination.  Especially divination.

So there you go. All the classes have things going for them and deserve playing. Go play them! Seriously, if you like D&D, there has never been a better time.

 

*A bard with fireball? WTAF! This breaks my world on a fundamental level.

**Where your spells have the chance to have random effects, like turn you into a mushroom.  No. Just no.

RIP Uncle David

Uncle DavidMy Uncle David passed away just before Christmas. His funeral was last week.

He and I didn’t have a lot in common. To me, he was a traditional manly man. He liked his beer and his sports, was very practical, good with machines and gardens. And let me tell you, Star Trek never got a look in when the football was on.

But it was hard not to warm to him. He was always generous and upbeat and good company, the kind of guy you want at a dinner or a party. Most of my memories are of him laughing or making those around him laugh.

He was also passionate about people and wasn’t afraid to say hard things if they needed saying. He made a difference in the lives of those around him, supporting work mates (as friend, union rep and latterly, as a father figure to some) and actively investing in the local community, especially the Branston Home Guard Club (where he could often be found enjoying a pint).

He loved his family, especially his grandchildren who never tired of playing with him, hugging him and using him as an epic climbing frame.

His roast dinners were also legendary.

When my Aunt Mary was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis he was incredible. I don’t doubt there were tears but it seemed to me that they both made the most of their time together. As her condition worsened he became her full time carer. To my knowledge he never complained or succumbed to despair. He just got on and did the best he could.

And that’s the thing about Uncle David. He took life head on, no matter what. He was a good man, larger than life, and irrepressible right till the end.

Goodbye Uncle David.

Tea and Jeopardy 31 – A chat with Kieron Gillen

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300Although I wasn’t around last week, episode 31 of Tea and Jeopardy was! Kieron Gillen comes to the Tea Lair to share something only visible through a microscope and to talk comics, creativity and favourite body parts.

You can listen to the episode on Geek Planet Online here.

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

Enjoy!

Good things: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Royal AssassinHere’s a spoiler free part review, part enthuse about Royal Assassin.

You probably don’t need me to tell you how great this book is but I'm going to have a go anyway just in case. Royal Assassin is the sequel to Assassin’s Apprentice which I also rather liked.

There’s always a fear when reading the next part of a series you love, that the writer has already peaked and that it won’t be quite as good. No worries here though, Royal Assassin is an incredible work, in fact I enjoyed it even more than the previous book.

So why is it so good? It’s not like there are things here that have never been done before. It’s just that they’re rarely done so well. I loved the characters (except for the ones I hated but that was with such a passion it was its own kind of enjoyment). I worried for them (a lot). I delighted in their successes and felt sad for their losses.

The villains in the book are also a standout, terrifying and mysterious in one case and wonderfully despicable in the other.

I admired the rhythm of the book too, the sprinkling of humour and happier moments, both giving relief from the constant threat but also heightening it.

And that’s it really. Brilliant characters, incredible storytelling and a good degree of twists and turns.

Like its predecessor, I didn’t find it an easy read. The book is tense and a lot of bad things happen to good people everybody. I also found that even when I wasn’t reading it, a part of the book refused to let me go until I’d finished it.

If you haven’t read it please do so that the next time I see you we can jump up and down together about how great it is.

Thanks!

Tea and Jeopardy 30 – A chat with Francesca Haig

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300

The first episode of 2015 sees the brilliant Francesca Haig coming to the Tea Lair to discuss post apocalyptic ficiton, medicinal uses of P.G. Wodehouse and why a certain giraffe is going straight to hell.

Listen to the episode on Geek Planet Online here.

 

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

Enjoy!

The Vagrant has its own page!

The Vagrant has its own page on the blog! Go look!*

And it is now available for pre-order. Many thanks to those of you who have already signed up for a copy. I love you all.

 

*Please.

BristolCon Fringe Reading

On Monday the 19th of January, Emma and I are doing a reading at the BristolCon Fringe. It starts at 7.30 and includes bits from both of our new books* and a (hopefully!) nice relaxed Q and A session afterwards.

The event takes place at: The Shakespeare Tavern, 68 Prince Street, Bristol, BS1 4QD

There’s a facebook event page for it here if you like to sign up to things in advance.

It’d be lovely to see you!

 

*THE VAGRANT (Me) & PLANETFALL (Em)

Good Things – D&D 5th Edition PHB

Don't judge this book by its cover.

Don't judge this book by its cover.

Back in October I had a visit from the D&D fairy. He came, bearded and majestic into my house and presented me with a copy of the 5th Edition Players Handbook. I said thank you.

Then I read it.

Then I read it some more.

Then, well, then there was the Tea and Jeopardy Advent Calendar and Christmas, New Year etc. But now, now it’s time to talk about the book. Is 5th Edition any good? Does it work? Does it look like fun?

Quick answer: Yes.

The longer answer is going to spread over a couple of posts. This one is going to talk about the races and classes, the artwork, that kind of thing and the next post will focus on how things work in play. So, here we go…

General

The book feels nice and solid and well able to survive the rigours of adventuring on the train, bus or back of a car. The cover art is dubious but the general art quality is good and it was nice to see an effort has been made in terms of male / female representation. There’s a clear index and it was easy to plunge in. It’s also nice to see the recommended reading list in there as well. The 5th Edition world presented here is very generic but they give plenty of places to go for inspiration if you fancy a world off the beaten fantasy track.

Races

All the standard races are there: elves, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, half-orcs and of course, those pesky humans as well as tieflings (half-demons) and dragonborn (half-gerbils*). I’m possibly showing my ignorance here but I always wondered why you didn’t get half-dwarves or half-gnomes or crosses between those races or, for that matter, orcs rather than half-orcs. But I digress. Each race has a set of unique benefits. Unlike previous additions the focus is positive, races getting bonuses and specials rather than negative modifiers, which I like.

Classes

Here we’re getting to the serious business and I have to say 5th edition excels. You can choose between: Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, Rogue, Paladin, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard. Each class has a cool trick or two up its sleeve and there are built in options for customisation. Most of the classes have three different types you can choose when you hit third level.

For example, the Paladin can become a Devotion Paladin (ie standard, chivalric sort), swear an oath of the ancients (nature paladin) or become a vengeance paladin (badass vigilante paladin).

Perhaps the most noticeable shift is with spellcasters. 5th ed makes them cool. No longer are they an extra bag to carried by the party until they hit fifth level, spellcasters are now capable from the start and, thanks to having infinite castings of their cantrips, always able to do something.

System

The system is solid and streamlined. Compared to 3rd edition it looks positively joyous to run. Numbers are much smaller (base attack bonuses go up to +6 at 20th level rather than +20) and multiple attacks use the same modifiers unlike previous versions where each attack had a different bonus to calculate with.

Stats are therefore more important and armour class much more significant, even at the higher levels.

Attacks, skills and saves all run off the same proficiency bonus and the system has a very neat advantage or disadvantage method for most issues so instead of dealing with lots of numbers, if your character ‘has advantage’, they roll two d20 and take the best result. If they ‘have disadvantage’, they roll two d20 and take the worst. Simple but widely applicable.

There’s also insight points, awarded for good roleplay that players can spend to get advantage when they really need it.

If I’m sounding overwhelmingly positive about this, it’s because I am. I think it captures the nostalgia of earlier editions but ditches a lot of the clunkiness.

I still think a Ranger is fundamentally not as interesting or potent as the other classes but that’s probably as much down to my personal preference as it is to the system.

If you’ve played D&D years ago and fancy getting back in, I think you’ll absolutely love 5th Edition. If you haven’t played before, this is the most accessible version of the game I’ve seen.

 

*just checking you're awake