Dev blog #48 – Live from the plaguehouse

I had a moment where I was like… what have I done this week that I can talk about? And then I remembered, oh yeah! In the few times where I haven’t felt too sick, I have been able to get some bug fixing and testing in for the re-release of Nine Lives! It’s actually going really well. Have I said this before… I dunno, I’m too drugged up on cold medication, but I have got permission to release the Simplified Chinese translation myself, and so I will be QAing that seperately from the voice acting release with some help and releasing it when it’s ready. But the voice acting release… I still feel too sick and unsure of my availability to promise when it will come out 😦 I wanna say…. one more month at the latest. I haven’t finished writing the full test plan yet but we’re talking at least 32 more playthroughs before I can fully sign off on this! At least those playthroughs take 30-40 minutes each 🙂

Ooh, a different language menu screen ^_^

By golly I am ready for Nine Lives to be done! I can’t wait to work on Her Jentle Hi-ness instead.

Before I lost my voice a couple of days ago James and I managed to pre-record some podcast episodes, so those are ready to go for the rest of May, which should help me focus on Nine Lives I hope!

While we are recovering from our colds, we’ve been trying to relax with a bit of Pokemon Shield for me, and Zelda Ocarina of Time for James, or sometimes he flicks through his Legend of the Five Rings card collection and thinks about making a new cube. Hasn’t been the most relaxing time though while our child has been sick at the same time!

Remember to check out my pokemon blog over here: https://pokemontimecapsule.wordpress.com/2021/05/10/pokemon-4000-season-1-episode-1/

Dev blog #47 – White Rabbit is a Finalist again!

Hey all, so the news has actually quietly been out for a couple of weeks now, but I only realised the other day that I was allowed to announce publically, Wonderland Nights: White Rabbit’s Diary has been shortlisted for another award! It is the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Professional Publication/Production and you can find out more about the award and my fellow finalists here: https://sffanz.nz/the-sir-julius-vogel-awards/sir-julius-vogel-award-finalists-2021/ . Super stoked to be amongst this amazing group working in diverse fields!

So what else has been on my plate this week? Well, we are unfortunately a sick household this week. But James has been using his time well. Before he fell ill he attended an amazing event at a marae. I wish I could have been there! The event was Te Reo o te Rēhia and it was all about Maori gaming, be that a historical perspective, or an invitation to new cultural perspectives, or using gaming to celebrate Te Reo. He took a lot of inspiration away and met new people who are keen to collaborate and share knowledge. We’ll definitely be going next time they run an event!

James has also been working on our next board game idea, which I will keep under wraps for now 😉

I have been working on this: https://pokemontimecapsule.wordpress.com/ which I hope you will consider following if you are interested in Pokemon at all. James has been taking some amazing photos in Pokemon Snap, which has been very entertaining for us over this past week. And I get the sneaking suspicion that I am getting Pokemon Shield for Mother’s Day ヾ(=`ω´=)ノ”

I have also been working on White Rabbit again, specifically in regards to the Ratalaika Games release. German and Japanese have been regression tested, and I have made a bunch of improvements there. I still need some more files before Spanish is complete. But one day soon hopefully I’ll be testing the Switch release! Eeee!!!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Kender, Gully Dwarves and Gnomes, edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: Here we are in the second book of the Tales trilogy, first published in August 1987, with more short stories! There’s not much to say here that I didn’t say last time – I remember this being of mixed quality, with some good ‘uns and some right stinkers. The Magic of Krynn didn’t hold up too favourably when I revisited it – will this one be better? One thing’s for sure – the covers aren’t better. Here’s what Claire had to say:

Original Cover: What the @#$%? Can we not get a fully dressed woman around here? I love that dwarf though. I’m not sure why, but the colours are reminding me of 80s movie posters.

Reprint Cover: The other cover was bad; this one is boring. Too much going on in this symbol compared to the cover of the last one with its sick dragon icon.

Once again, because this is a short story anthology, I’ll discuss each story one by one!

Snowsong by Nancy Varian Berberick: Tanis, Flint, Sturm and Tasslehoff are caught in a snowstorm. Tanis and Sturm go out to get firewood, are attacked by wolves, and then get lost in the blizzard and almost freeze to death. Tasslehoff, meanwhile, has been playing with a flute that he insists is magic, although all he can do with it is make a din. Suddenly, he’s able to use it to summon everyone caught in the snowstorm to safety – Tanis, Sturm, and all the animals that were caught out in the storm. In the morning, no one believes what happened except Tasslehoff, who leaves the flute behind for the next person who might need it. This was a simple and sweet story, but I am a sucker for animal stories. Berberick has a very good grasp on the characters, and they all rang very true, which can be difficult for shared-author characters. I liked the younger and more inexperienced Sturm, and Tasslehoff was balanced wonderfully between irritating and caring. The storm itself was also well-written: I could really feel the bitter cold and the isolation of being lost in the storm. I don’t remember Berberick being one of my favourite authors back in the day, but now I’m going to be looking forward to reading her novels!

The Wizard’s Spectacles by Morris Simon: In the days before he becomes Raistlin’s apprentice, Dalamar is on the run, and takes shelter with Nugold, a dwarf hermit. Dalamar gives Nugold some magic glasses in thanks (the ones that Tasslehoff later winds up with), and Nugold uses them and some of Dalamar’s scrolls to build a reputation for himself as a powerful wizard, but he meddles with the wrong sorts of magic and dies. I didn’t like this one that much. Even when Nugold is just getting tormented by the townspeople, I still didn’t find him very likeable. He doesn’t really learn anything, and there isn’t any twist or point to the story – he’s just an idiot who dies. It’s a rather mean-spirited story, now that I think about it.

The Storyteller by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel: Spinner Kenro is a storyteller who’s inspiring the dwarves, gnomes and kender of Flotsam too much, so the Dragon Highlord (clearly Kitiara, complete with a reference to the Heroes of the Lance escaping Flotsam at the same time) has him arrested and sentenced to death. In his absence, the dwarves, gnomes and kender unite to rescue him, and successfully spring him from jail… or do they? I found the characterisation of the demihumans very race-essentialist (one of Dragonlance’s ongoing problems); all the dwarves are just Flint, and all the kenders are less nuanced Tasslehoffs. The continuity tying it in to Dragons of Spring Dawning is also rather gratuitous. However, I did like the theme of the power of stories, so we’ll call this one a wash.

A Shaggy Dog’s Tail by Danny Peary: In this story which is being told by Tasslehoff, Gorath the dragonarmy officer chases after an escaped slave into the Wayreth Forest and falls under the spell of Zorna the black-robed witch. This story feels like a morality piece: Gorath is brought low when he breaks his promise to live with Zorna. However, Gorath is such a horrible character even at the beginning, and Zorna extracts the promise from him under duress… it all feels very squicky, even if it’s no more than Gorath deserves.

Lord Toede’s Disastrous Hunt by Harold Bakst: In Chronicles, the minor recurring villain Toede’s off-stage death was reported at the end of the trilogy. This is the story of how he died, trying to re-enact ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ by hunting two kender who are constantly outwitting him. I quite liked this one. It’s got a simple but effective structure with one of the two kender supplying the framing narrative, a series of clever kender ploys ultimately leading to Toede’s demise, and then a very minor twist at the end of the story. It’s amusing, and it fleshes out a part of the world further. This story leads into the events of Lord Toede (1994).

Definitions of Honour by Richard A. Knaak: Sir Torbin, a knight of Solamnia, goes to fight a minotaur that’s menacing a small village. He discovers that the minotaur is doing nothing of the kind; he’s an exile who’s preparing for his imminent death-by-combat, and invites Sir Torbin to be his second. This is a well-written, thoughtful story in which we see the differences between Torbin’s naïve ideas about honour, the exiled minotaur’s more realistic viewpoint, and the other minotaurs’ very exacting and bloodthirsty code. A good, simple standalone story. Knaak returns to these themes in his later stories, in particular The Legend of Huma (1988) which has a friendship between a Knight of Solamnia and a minotaur. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Hearth Cat and Winter Wren by Nancy Varian Berberick: Rieve the wizard has captured two lovers and turned them into a cat and a bird when the woman, Wren, spurned him. Wren escaped and got Tasslehoff’s help, but now he’s a squirrel, and the cat is getting hungry. Wren escapes and tells the other companions, and Raistlin figures out a plan to defeat Rieve by turning everyone into an animal for… reasons? This is my least favourite of Berberick’s short stories so far; it just seems like an excuse to say what animals everyone would be. (For reference: Tanis is a fox, Flint’s a sheepdog, Sturm’s a falcon, Caramon is a panther, Tasslehoff is a squirrel, and Raistlin gets to stay a human). The supporting cast don’t have much to do and have very little characterisation. I expected more from Rieve after how excellent Gadar was in The Magic of Krynn. Still, I guess it’s cute to know everyone’s fursonas? 

“Wanna Bet?” by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: This is the big marquee story in this anthology. It serves as a direct sequel to The Legacy from the previous collection, with Palin’s first adventure with his brothers Tanin and Sturm. The three boys are shanghaied by Dougan Redhammer, a flamboyant dwarf gambler, into joining the crew of his gnomish ship to find the legendary Greygem of Gargath, the magical stone responsible for the creation of the demihuman races. (Which ones? The canon’s a bit tangled here, folks! It definitely made all the weird hybrid monsters like chimera and manticores, and it may have been responsible for dwarves, gnomes and/or kender, depending on who you ask.) After some misadventures, they find the fabled stone, but Dougan, now revealed as the dwarf god and creator of the Greygem Reorx, gambles it away again. This story has dated really, really badly. It’s meant to be a comedy piece, but we have more gnome race-essentialism, we have (subverted, thankfully) jungle savages who are emasculated by being stay-at-home dads, we have the sexy amazons who guard the Greygem and want to take our heroes for sex slaves who eventually get persuaded to go back to their families and look after their children… none of this stuff has aged well!  This story was later included in the 1994 anthology The Second Generation. The Greygem will be back in The Gates of Thorbardin (1990) and Kindred Spirit (1991), before making a very importance appearance in Dragons of Summer Flame (1995).

Into the Heart of the Story by Michael Williams: This is a strange one! Written in the form of an academic article, this is the story of Armavir (stealth Virgil joke? Love it!), the ‘missing’ gnomish Hero of the Lance, and the elvish conspiracy which led to his role in the war being deliberately erased. He gives a commentary on the ‘Song of the Nine Heroes’ poem, which he claims to have written, and gives his impressions of the other Heroes of the Lance. I found this a pretty funny alternate history, and I liked the alternate takes on the main characters – Tanis as a Hamlet-esque figure, and Tasslehoff as a devious mastermind were particularly funny. I didn’t enjoy how the female characters were handled. Goldmoon and Laurana are portrayed as whining valley girls, while Armavir voyeuristically spies on Tika and Kitiara while they take baths.  A sign of how times have changed, I guess. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Dagger-Flight by Nick O’Donohoe: The last story was strange, but this one I think is even stranger! In Chronicles, Tasslehoff steals Flint’s dagger and then uses it to kill a hobgoblin in the very first fight scene. This story is from the point of view of that dagger! Except it’s not a dagger; it’s actually a dagger-shaped monster called a Feeder, which flies around after the heroes trying to kill them, before it’s inadvertently shattered when Riverwind uses it to stab a draconian. I found the premise of this story preposterous, frankly. It reminded me of an old Star Wars short story, where the second Death Star turns out to have been possessed by the spirit of the robot bounty hunter from Empire Strikes Back. Doing these sorts of alternate-perspective stories ought to increase or change our understanding of the story, but I feel like this one detracts from the original narrative, rather than adding, by being so far-fetched. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Final Rating: I notice that there were no gully dwarf stories in this one! This is an omission for which I’m grateful, since I’m not a big fan of them. Lots of kender, and a fair few gnomes. Overall, this anthology is much like the last one: some wonderful stories by Nancy Berberick, some promising but disappointing stories by Weis and Hickman, and a mixed bag of others, some amazing (Knaak!) and some terrible (most everyone else). I’m going to stick with 2 Disks of Mishakal out of 5 again. 

Next time, I’m reading Love and War, the final volume of the Tales trilogy! See you then!

Pavstream! 5pm NZ time tonight

Hey all, we’re going to do a stream of games from the Pavs/NZ Games Awards tonight on our channel www.twitch.tv/skybeargames

If you don’t know the games already, here is an article with the list of them: https://www.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/digital/jini-maxwell/nz-games-festival-the-pavs-awards-winners-and-nominees-2021-262423

We’ll definitely play the winners that are digital and are released to the public, and if we have time we may play a few of the finalists who interested us.

Podcast Episode 23: Our recap of the NZ Games Festival

Today we break down Claire’s experience at the NZ Games Festival, with all the workshops and talks, and how it felt to win the Pav for Excellence in Narrative! Listen to the episode here: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/44594024

Note: I forgot to say one name in the podcast because I launched too quickly into the content of the talk, which was Tana Tanoi whose talk was Life in Three Dimensions, about spaces being lived in through the actions players could take.

Also I refer to Rose as the artist and Dave as the proofreader when I mention them at the Pavs, but to clarify, those were their roles on Wonderland Nights. They are even more talented in their full careers! Rose Northey is an illustrator and poet amongst many other things, and Dave Agnew is an editor as well as being a great roleplayer.

Dev blog #46 – Winner Winner!

I sorta can’t believe it’s real, but yes, Wonderland Nights: White Rabbit’s Diary won the Poetic Serving – Excellence in Narrative prize at the Pavs!

Hoo boy, there is so much to write about this week! I’ll try and get through it in a sort of summary fashion, as the bulk of my reflections on the NZ Games Festival are coming up in our podcast episode which will be out on Monday.

I started off the conference part of the festival last Thursday with a 3-hour workshop on marketing with Tim Ponting. I had to keep constantly reminding myself that it was ok, I wasn’t an impostor! I had released two games, while maybe 80% of the people in the room hadn’t released any yet, and we were all allowed to be there, we were all valid. But yeah, the impostor syndrome was real!

The second workshop of my first day was Jess Woodward on leadership and communication strategies. I’ve actually known Jess for maybe a decade now, and it is super cool to see how she’s an integral part of this whole festival! I learnt a lot from her session, though a lot of my brain was taken up on relfecting on misleadership and miscommunication I’ve experienced in the past, since Jess was finally giving me the language I needed to give voice to my feelings about my past experiences. It hit pretty deep… again, more on this in the podcast episode!

I’m only going to touch on each of the rest of the talks very briefly, but stay tuned for a full breakdown coming next Monday.

Day One:

  • The Opening Keynote: Bigger Than We Know by Amber Taylor – Got me really excited to know more about her company ARA Journeys who are doing amazing things with AR and Te Ao Maori
  • Good Goods for your Game by Steven Thompson – Definitely a few things for me to think about there… do I keep doing middleman merch, or do I try and find a third party to work with?
  • The Long Life-cycle of a Game by Philip Buchanan – I felt this one in my bones. Philip gave a pretty bracing account of everything that actually goes into developing and releasing a game as a solo dev
  • My Players Won’t Stop Romancing the Bartender: An NPC Design Primer by Andy Astruc – this was fun! Like the marketing workshop the day before, got me thinking about are my stories and NPCs grabbing your attention enough from the get go?
  • Swiss Army Producer by Calliope Ryder – I could really relate to Calliope’s talk, as someone who has to be a bit of a Swiss Army knife herself. And also as someone who just left an industry…
  • Applied Immersive Games are Bigger than you think! by Heide Lukosch – big opportunities here! Going to bookmark these ideas to look into in the future
  • Navigating Networking for Neurodiverse Folks by Cameron Hopkinson – This was the one I needed to hear the most at that particular moment. It’s ok for me to feel anxious in social situations!
  • Beyond D&D: RPGs as Skills and Growth by Josh Kamau and Rick Stemm – At first, I thought I knew what they were saying, because I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a player, I’ve been a dungeon master… but then they blew my mind with the fourth dimension that roleplaying can aid in… you’d better listen to the episode if you want to know!
  • Be your best you by critiquing everything your workmates do by Hannah Mackintosh – so this talk actually ended up being way less dickish than the title sounds, and in fact was a really good look into iterative processes that I will no doubt end up using myself
  • Show me your passions! by Juan Alejandro Morais – the perfect way to end day 1! Juan was super charming and had us all laughing and feeling hopeful, and turning and chatting to each other which is a hard ask in a room full of game devs!

Day Two:

  • Putting the Noble Savage to Bed by Timothy Russell – This was great, just straight up bringing the facts to the table about things I am really done with seeing in representations of Maori. Gave me some useful strategies for if I want to include Maori themes in my future work.
  • Burnout and me by Gabriela Roque Lopez – I needed to hear this one too. It’s really important we all look after ourselves!
  • The Power of Content Creators and their Communities by Lorien Gugich – Dang, this one honestly is probably going to change a lot about the way I advertise.
  • A Programmer’s Swansong to Designers in UE4 by Ben Carnall – This is the one talk that maybe James would have struggled with, every other talk was so general and less techy. For me, I was able to take away ideas about organising game data where it has ballooned out to huge proportions
  • A Short Introduction to Video Game Sex by Robert Yang – Hands-down the funniest talk of the weekend, and yes part of me wants to go and play Robert’s games now… but a really good theme throughout here was that games are actually more than we just programme them to be! There is a metagame level where games can transcend what the developer originally saw them to be.
  • Rolling the Dice: The Game of Life as a Gamedev by Ben Tuhoe-Kenobi and Rich Durham – this was a pretty bracing look at the randomness or whims-of-fate sort of feeling that comes with seeking funding in the games industry.
  • Life in Three Dimensions by Tana Tanoi – a lovely reflective, philosophically-grounded look at how spaces in games feel to be in
  • Art for Small Teams with Big Ideas by Brianna Fromont – so apart from the usefulness of the talk this was like a huge ad for Best Friend Forever and I WANT TO PLAY IT SO BAD RIGHT NOW
  • The Real Secret of Mana: Māori Representation in Video Games by Lisa Blakie – this was such a good place to end, looking again at appropriation in games and how we can truly get past that. Sure there was overlap with the first talk of the day but it approached it at a much different angle, so the two felt complimentary to each other rather than repetitive.

For a more in-depth overview join James and me on Monday when the podcast drops!

Then it was time for the Pavs with our mates Rose and Dave, the artist and the proofreader of White Rabbit’s Diary respectively. I knew I missed them but I had no idea how much I missed them until I actually saw them and felt my heart at rest to be with them again. We had a great night, did a bunch of networking, and then of course there was the surprise of winning the narrative category! And then, to bring the whole weekend to a complete narrative arc for me, when Tim Ponting won the Te Maunga Kai Kapua (Tuakana) award for being a pillar of the industry, he said in his speech that HE HAD IMPOSTOR SYNDROME! So like… that finally made it hit home for me that these dumb feelings we have all the time about not belonging never ever go away, and we just have to try our best!

A huge congratulations to all the winners and finalists! It was a massive honour to be counted amongst you all. Thank you so much to all the speakers and organizers. I hope I get to go every year from now on!

So just to quickly wrap up everything else… oh yeah, god, I completely forgot one other major thing that happened in the rush of all of this. Yes, James did hit his 100k word goal just before we left Auckland. Yay!!! So that’s Dragons of Tirenia Draft #… ok so he’s saying this is Draft Zero now, he has so much more work to do before he’s happy! Fair enough really.

Now that life is maybe finally settling down again… knock on wood… I have a few fixes to White Rabbit in Japanese that have just come through in the last week. Since that’s nearly all done I had better give it a quick regression test! And then once that’s out of the way it’s back to the voice acting release regression test for the Nine Lives re-release. So close and yet so far! I actually have the draft version of a kickstarter page planned for the next project… but it is NOT going live until Nine Lives voice and Nine Lives Chinese are released! End of story!! Who would have thought I would be spending so much time on maintenance of past releases (well, Philip Buchanan would know!)…

Thanks for reading ^_^

Dev blog #45 – A Short One

Hey folks, just a short one today as I am writing from my phone and I hate doing that. I always told people I wanted to stick to the big chunky number buttons on phones for writing, even if it meant more key presses. Now I’m stuck in the age of smartphones with my fat fingers and way less control over my spelling mistakes. Progress!

I’ve been having an absolutely lovely time with my family on this mini holiday, but today was just the start of the conference, so I will have way more to say next week. Today I attended two workshops at the NZ Games Festival. The first was How to not Suck at Selling Games with Tim Ponting which was a real eye opener and perhaps too confronting for a first session for someone like me with massive impostor syndrome? But seriously no, it was great and has given me lots to think about. I haven’t digested it all yet. The second was Boost your Leadership Skill Tree with Jess Woodward who is an old friend of mine, and it was great to see her in her element. I learnt a lot of new frameworks for communication and thinking about working relationships from her, and it really helped me actually sort through a lot of lingering concerns I’ve had over things I have seen in the workplace in my various careers! Again, more in detail on that next week!

And I got the NZGF pins to add to my funky businesswoman jacket

Podcast Episode 22 – Ravenloft Again!

With a new 5th edition Ravenloft book coming out next month, we thought it was high time we did another Ravenloft episode. This time we go deep on the metaplot of Ravenloft during it’s main run in 2nd edition, and give our Top 5 adventures/supplements that can still be found on DriveThruRPG, though the Top 5 sort of turns into a Top 20, sorta. SPOILERS, like ALLLLLL the way through the episode! If you think you’re going to be a player in any of these 2nd edition metaplot events ever, maybe skip this episode.

Also sorry about the recording quality. I really messed up with the recording this time, but with some Audacity magic I was able to make it somewhat listenable. Sorry for it being a bit sub-quality though.

Here is the episode!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Magic of Krynn, edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: After the success of the Chronicles and Legends trilogy, the next trilogy was Tales, the first of many short story anthologies. Back in the day, I considered these books to be the third core trilogy, but that was just because of how widely available these nine books were here in New Zealand, and the fact that all three were published in a three-in-one Collector’s Edition by Penguin Books, who had the distribution rights here. I have the Collector’s Edition of Tales, actually, a huge white paperback, well-worn. I think it’s the oldest Dragonlance book I own. I got the Chronicles trilogy first, but my copies wore out over time and I replaced them with the Annotated Chronicles, which is an excellent book. I remember these stories being of wildly varying quality – some really amazing ones; others shockingly bad ones; some covering very important stories; others barely in continuity. 

The first collection, then, is The Magic of Krynn, which was published in 1987. Each of its ten stories based on the theme of ‘magic’. They also tend to tie into existing characters or locations from the earlier books. For once, Penguin Books decided to use the cover art from the US releases, so there’s only two covers this time around. Here they are!

No description available.

Original cover: Claire says, “It’s easy to love and hate those old covers. I’ve grown to love that high contrast block colour style of depicting light and shape in the old covers, even though it is pretty jarring to our modern sensibilities. It’s got a nostalgic quality to it. Another reason why I love/hate it is the composition of the bodies. It makes me feel like it’s an awkward encounter in a bar.”

No description available.

Reprint cover: “Besides the overall cringe at how outdated the second cover’s design and layout are, I really like the five headed dragon symbol, it’s damn cool.”

Because this is a short story collection, I’ll be talking about each story individually.

Riverwind and the Crystal Staff by Michael Douglas: Michael Douglas wrote the poetry in the earlier Dragonlance books. Here, he gets to do a much longer semi-narrative poem about the origins of Riverwind. Raised by cheetahs on the plains, Riverwind undergoes a quest for the crystal staff to win the hand of Goldmoon, the chieftain’s daughter. I don’t like Michael William’s poetry. I feel like it was only included because of all the songs and poems in The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien is a much better poet than Douglas. Douglas’s style is too abstract and metaphorical for my tastes, and lines which are meant to sound profound just sound pretentious or ridiculous to my ears. If you like it, more strength to you. Anyway, this poem gets overwritten by the short story “Heart of Goldmoon,” which is in the third book of this trilogy, and by the 1990 novel Riverwind the Plainsman. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Blood Sea Monster by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel: Duder the elf (Duder? Really?) stows away on the boat of a Captain Ahab-esque old sailor, Six-Finger Fiske. Old Fiske is on the hunt for the mythical Blood Sea Monster. He catches a talking fish, which tells him where to find the monster. The monster eats (?) Fiske and then Duder too. This was a strange and slightly pointless story. It feels barely connected to Dragonlance, with its talking fish and sea monster which are never referenced again or since. Duder and Fiske see the wreckage of the Perechon, the ship that the Heroes of the Lance sail on in Dragons of Winter Night, but that’s about it for its ties to the wider world. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the story, and it’s strangely ambiguous (although for my money, I’m guessing the Monster is an aboleth; their psychic nature would explain some of the weirdness.) The two main characters never felt very engaging or interesting to me. This story didn’t offend me, it just didn’t justify its existence. In the end, maybe that’s an even worse crime.

A Stone’s Throw Away by Roger E. Moore: Before the release of the Dragonlance novels and RPG adventures, two preview short stories appeared in Dragon Magazine to showcase some of the new characters. This is one of these, introducing Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Tas has acquired a magic ring that teleports him into the castle of a demon-summoning Magus. What is the secret of the ring? It’s a very simple story, featuring an appearance by none other than Demogorgon, Prince of Demons (although he’s uncredited here). It’s a very simple story, and it doesn’t really showcase anything unique about Dragonlance except for kender, but his innocent kleptomania, happy-go-lucky nature, and fearless wanderlust is on display here. It succeeds at its goal of introducing Tas, but it’s a strangely light-hearted way to sell your new epic multimedia franchise. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Dreams of Darkness, Dreams of Light by Warren B. Smith: ‘Pig’ William Sweetwater, a barkeep in Port Balifor who once met the companions, has strange dreams which may be the result of a coin that Raistlin gave him. He and his friends break into the Dragon Highlord’s jail to free some prisoners. When he gets home, he passes it off as a dream, but then the Dragonarmies come knocking on his door. I didn’t like this story. William’s opening dream, which was supposed to be like something from a horror movie, came across as either baffling or inadvertently hilarious. Why was Takhisis (implicitly) in it? It didn’t connect to anything later on, or have any payoff. The jailbreak was quite run-of-the-mill, and the final twist didn’t work at all. Everything that happened was actually just a dream, except it actually wasn’t a dream? Unimpressed.

Love and Ale by Nick O’Donohoe: Otik Sandath, the innkeeper of the Inn of the Last Home in Solace, and his foster daughter Tika Waylan have a night to remember when a kender accidentally puts a love potion into the night’s barrel of ale, and shenanigans ensue. I really enjoyed the first half of the story, which is just a slice-of-life with Otik and Tika working around the Inn while it’s closed, and it does a great job at establishing their relationship. Once other characters appear, it falls apart a bit. Moonwick the kender and the other bar patrons don’t have enough time to become more than the most quickly sketched caricatures, and while it’s amusing when the love potion leads to mayhem, it’s all a bit pointless. Otik also faces a very small crisis of conscience at the end, when he decides what to do with the last remnants of the love potion ale, and resolves it in a sweet way. An inconsequential story, but pleasant; I liked it. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Wayward Children by Richard A. Knaak: The first appearance of Richard A. Knaak, but far from the last! Towards the end of the War of the Lance, a patrol of draconians encounters a village of very old elves. The elves are unusually helpful and caring towards them, but why are there no children present? This is a story that lives and dies on the twist at the end. It’s not particularly well-written apart from that, and the characters aren’t particularly engaging, but the twist engages well with one of the original core mysteries of Dragonlance (the nature of the Draconians), so it was one of the better stories. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Test of the Twins by Margaret Weis: This is the second of the short stories from Dragon Magazine that acted as previews for the Dragonlance Saga. Raistlin and Caramon go to the Tower of High Sorcery so that Raistlin can take his Test, his potentially lethal magical graduation exam. He succeeds, but at a cost to his relationship with his twin. I was actually slightly disappointed by this one. In Chronicles, we get to see Caramon and Raistlin interacting, and the details of what happened during the Test are slowly teased out. Here, however, the restricted word count means that everything is dropped on us with all the haste and subtlety of a ton of bricks, and Raistlin’s final decision just hasn’t had the build up it needs to really land. It may have been more interesting if it had been read before anything else had been released, but reading it after the fact, it really doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said. I can see why Margaret Weis decided to later retell this story at greater length in The Soulforge in 1998. It’s also covered in The Soulforge by Terry Phillips from 1985, the gamebook I missed when I reviewed the other three. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Harvests by Nancy Varian Berberick: A younger Tanis and Flint do a side quest. They meet a woman called Riana wandering in the forest, who’s looking for her brother and boyfriend. They were captured by the wizard Gadar for nefarious purposes. After defeating Gadar, they discover the wizard’s heart-breaking secret. This is the most classic D&D adventure of the group, and it’s not a bad story either. Tanis and Flint don’t really have any personal stakes in what’s going on, but they’re well characterised. Riana and Gadar are much simpler characters, but that’s okay: the ending is affecting, and the theme of how love can drive people to do extreme things is effective. Next time you need a one-session adventure, throw this one at your players. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Finding the Faith by Mary Kirchoff: Raggart Knug, ice barbarian cleric, tells the story of how he met the Heroes of the Lance and helped them recover the Dragon Orb from Icewall Castle. More centrally, it’s the story of how Raggart becomes a cleric of Paladine. I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, I liked the plot of Raggart’s gradual conversion. He’s been waiting all his life for the moment when a true cleric would arrive, but when one does he’s afraid and disbelieving. He wants it to be true, and at the same time he doesn’t, because it’d be easier to be disappointed. I also liked the hints at the wider adventure, such as Laurana’s polar bear friend and the battle of Ice Reach. At the same time, I found the characters quite annoying here. Derek was even more of an asshole, Tasslehoff even more of a nuisance, Laurana and Elistan even more perfect… I guess this is the pitfall of having so many characters to write about. I also found Feal-Thas a cardboard villain and his sexual advances towards Laurana were just disgusting. This story elaborates on one of the missing adventures from Dragons of Winter Night, though in time it was overwritten by Dragons of the Highlord Skies in 2007. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Legacy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: Twenty-five years have passed since Raistlin’s death at the end of Test of the Twins, and Caramon’s son Palin now wants to be a wizard like his infamous uncle. Caramon and Palin travel to the Tower of High Sorcery, because the wizards are concerned that Raistlin is going to try to possess Palin, the same way that he himself was possessed by Fistandantilus. Palin winds up meeting Raistlin, and having to face his uncle’s legacy. It turns out the whole thing was just an illusion created by the wizards as Palin’s Test, and that Raistlin was never there… or was he? Palin gets given his uncle’s famous magic staff and leaves as a full wizard. I remember liking this story back in the day, but it didn’t hold up well. The prose isn’t great (the description of the sun shining on the Tower of High Sorcery at Palanthas is particularly purple), but what struck me the most was the amount of unnecessary repetition. Dunbar Mastersmate, the swole sailor wizard, gets a full description twice in short order as different characters meet him. Characters constantly repeat key information, such as how much Caramon has suffered, or how Caramon doesn’t want Palin to be a wizard and doesn’t want him to take the Test. It just felt padded. It’s also very melodramatic. Dalamar is ready to take his top off to show the wounds Raistlin gave him repeatedly. Caramon is constantly crying, and Raistlin gets a big old monologue to an empty room at the end of the story. Even when Weis and Hickman kill their darlings, they can’t let go of them. And there’s a lot more post-death returns to Raistlin (and, latter, Tasslehoff) to go! This story was later included in the 1994 anthology The Second Generation.

Final Rating: 2 Disks of Mishakal out of 5. It’s not that it’s (entirely) a bad collection of stories, just a little pointless. With the most important stories here being overwritten by later stories (Riverwind and the Crystal Staff, The Test of the Twins, Finding the Faith) or being collected in other anthologies (The Legacy) there’s very little of substance left to recommend this one.

Dev blog #44 – Good news and excitement!

So the good news, following up on last week’s blog, is that Grand Vision have given me permission to release the Simplified Chinese translation of Nine Lives by myself! So I am speaking with some translators here in NZ for the last few bits of translation needed, and later this year I’ll be able to get that out in the world, and completely under my wing. Yay!

Other than that, I am naturally getting very hyped for next week and going down to Wellington to attend the NZ Games Festival! I’ve got my workshops booked, I’ve seen what the talks are going to be at the conference, it’s all very exciting. Also I get to catch up with numerous friends and family members down there, and also just have a break from the daily grind – not thinking so much of my job which has actualy been somewhat of a refuge, but more of the daily chores at home and the sometimes insane pressure I put on myself in terms of Sky Bear work I do in my free time! And it’s time spent with James, our toddler, and my Mum, which is excellent quality time. And besides, we love road trips. Can’t wait!

At the moment, it looks like James is going to miss his 100k word count goal for Dragons of Tirenia Draft One before we go to Wellington, but given some of the unforeseen situations we’ve been in this week (such as a growth spurt causing our toddler to stay up til 10pm the other night – no adulting time at all!!!) we’ve been super busy actually. But I am trying to contribute some words myself in the form of myths and theories. We’ll see how far we get before Sunday morning, but wish us luck!

I did actually manage to edit the ‘Ravenloft Again’ podcast episode to a mostly listenable thing so while not feeling all that proud of it, I am at least relieved, I guess is the best way of putting it. It’s done, it has a warning/apology before the episode about the recording quality and the spoilerific content, so yeah, I think we might be good!

Anyway, there’s been lots of little things happening here and there, preparation for future games and stuff… lots of little plates spinning! But as always, I’ll tell you more when I feel more certain of things getting finished. This nearly a year of blogging sure has been a learning process for me, especially in terms of deadlines and overpromising!

New Zealand Games Festival postponed to 2021 - Gameplanet New Zealand
See you there, Wellington!