Dev blog #67 – Demo on the way

Woohoo! It’s Level 3 in Auckland now, so with that slight easing of restrictions comes the bonus for me of having some time freed up to work on Her Jentle Hi-ness more. I have just posted up a build of the demo for Her Jentle Hi-ness on Steam, where it is awaiting approval, so hopefully very soon that will be available for you all to try out and share with friends. This is basically all I posted about in my update here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/skybeargames/her-jentle-hi-ness-a-linguistically-twisted-visual-novel/posts/3308316

Here is this week’s character promo:

I imagine in my next update I will have a lot more of substance to be able to tell you 🙂 I am so excited!!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Darkness & Light, by Paul B. Thompson and Tonya R. Carter

First Impressions: Back to novels again, and it’s time to start a new trilogy! The two Preludes trilogies cover the stories of the Heroes of the Lance in the five years that they were separated immediately before the original Chronicles trilogy. Darkness and Light (1989) is the first book, about Sturm and Kitiara. I remember this series being fairly mediocre, and this one particularly so. I did like Thompson and Carter’s later work, though. I showed Claire the covers; here’s our thoughts.

Darkness and Light (Dragonlance Preludes #1) by Paul B Thompson, Tonya R.  Carter | eBay

Original Jeff Easley cover: It’s Evil Bonnie Tyler and Ringo Starr! This cover looks so drab. Medieval people’s clothes would never be so dull looking. Kitiara needs to put on some pants if she’s going to run around this brambly forest or her legs are going to get scratched up something fierce. While she’s at it, she should probably get a bra too. It’s very typically impractical clothing.

No description available.

2003 Matt Stawicki cover: Kitiara has gone from Evil Bonnie Tyler to Evil Soccer Mum! Her armour is much better now, and looks a lot like her Dragon Highlord armour. Sturm still looks a bit like Ringo Starr, but he’s almost lost in the background. This cover is too busy!

Plot Summary: Sturm decides to head home to Solamnia to find out what happened to his father (when Sturm was young, there was a peasant revolt; his father sent Sturm and his mother away for safety, and then vanished.) Kitiara tags along, since her own father was also Solamnic. They have some minor adventures on the road before they encounter the Cloudmaster, an experimental gnomish flying ship. They hitch a ride and are carried away to the red moon Lunitari. Their ship crashes and goes missing while they are exploring. Sturm, Kitiara and the gnomes travel through a forest that magically grows and vanishes every day. They develop superpowers based on their desires: Kitiara becomes extremely strong, while Sturm starts seeing visions of his father. They encounter the local tree-men and their insane king Rapaldo, who was blown to the moon on a waterspout. Then they meet Cupelix, a brass dragon imprisoned in an obelisk, and his crystal ant servitors. Cupelix stole the Cloudmaster to get the gnomes to help him escape; they are able to destroy the obelisk and repair the Cloudmaster. However, Cupelix is unable to fly from the moon to Krynn, and is forced to remain on Lunitari while the others escape. After returning to Krynn, Sturm and Kitiara have more minor adventures, but decide to part company due to their different ideas about honour and expedience. Sturm goes to the ruins of his family’s estate, where he encounters dragonarmy forces preparing for the upcoming war, and Kitiara returns to save his butt one last time.

The Good: I didn’t enjoy this book at all, so I struggled to come up with something to say here! Even if I felt it was done in a ham-fisted manner, I liked how Sturm and Kitiara were contrasted with one another. I also liked the imagination of the moon sequences. Sometimes I feel that fantasy gets stuck in a post-Tolkien rut and loses sight of being fantastical, so having this Lucian of Samosata-esque sequence was quite different, even if it felt atonal for Dragonlance. And that’s about all that I liked.

The Bad: Where do I start? Let’s start with Sturm, who’s our ostensible protagonist. In trying to portray Sturm as honour-bound, he comes across as intensely unlikeable. He’s variously judgemental towards Kitiara, sexist to Kitiara and later Tervy (a bandit girl that he captures at one point), racist to dragonkind and to Tervy when he tries to ‘civilise’ her, and dogmatic in his condemnation of magic. It doesn’t help that he’s demonstrably wrong these things – any D&D player knows that dragons are colour coded to let you know if you can trust them or not. He undergoes no character development during the book. The closest is when he eventually uses a magic item to save Kitiara’s life, but he regrets it so vocally that he drives Kitiara away. The events of the book are equally pointless: his time on the moon has no lasting consequences. Sturm and Kitiara developing magical powers also has no consequences, and could be removed from the story without changing it at all. It really feels like Thompson and Carter were given an extremely brief outline of what they had to include (Sturm, Kitiara, Sturm finds his armour and sword) and complete freedom about how to do it, so the moon episode is forced into the book, and the rest is just an afterthought. Darkness & Light is also plagued with continuity errors. Never mind that Sturm never told anyone that he went to the freaking moon: he also meets dragons and draconians, despite being unaware of them in Chronicles. Lots of characters reference or invoke the forgotten true gods. Many of the references to places seem like they were randomly chosen from a map. At one point, Kitiara talks about the siege of Silvamori, a city of elvish refugees that won’t be founded for another five years. The actual craft of the writing of the book is also lackluster. It’s an episodic book, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s very little connection between the episodes, which can range from a chapter or two (the haunted boat, Sturm becoming a cattle drover) to the lunar episodes, which are hundreds of pages. I also felt like the chapters on the moon dragged in places, especially during the initial exploration and while figuring out how to rescue Cupelix the dragon. Finally, the prose is quite poor. The gnomes of the Cloudmaster are introduced in list form. In some sections, the point of view shifts dizzyingly from one character to another. In others, the authorial voice will tell us rather than show us things about the characters. This section serves as a good example:

Cutwood was dazzled by his colleague’s understanding of human behaviour. “Where did you learn so much about humans?” he asked. 

“I listen and learn,” said Sighter, very ungnomishly. Though he didn’t yet realise it, that was the change wrought in Sighter by the magic of Lunitari. From an intuitive, impetuous gnome, he had become a logical, thoughtful, deductive gnome, a creature that had never before existed.

I also realised while reading this book that none of the characters in Dragonlance actually feel like they’re living in a medieval society. Instead, they feel like they’re ren-faire actors living in the American West. The casual attitude towards weaponry and horses, the prevalence of bars, the lack of civic authority figures, the ‘barbarians’ on the outskirts of society… Did everyone else realise this long ago?  It’s perfectly valid idea for a fantasy world, but I don’t like the anachronism. 

The Neutral: This book is set in 346 A.C., five years before Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I’m not sure if it counts as canon, since a different story about Sturm and Kitiara’s travels together would later appear in The Second Generation (1994). For a long time, the whole plot about going to the moon was never talked about again, but I think it may be referenced in an RPG adventure that I haven’t read. The elvish ship-captain Tirolan Ambrodel’s ancestors appear in the Elven Nations Trilogy (1991), and I believe that family members reappear throughout Thompson and Carter’s work. The Cloudmaster has a cameo appearance in Destiny (2007), also by Thompson and Carter. 

Overall Summary: The major redeeming feature of Darkness & Light is that it’s not actively bad, just… passively bad. Aggressively mediocre, perhaps? I know there’s worse coming. Darkness & Light wins one Disk of Mishakal, the worst score so far. Next time I’ll be reading Kendermore by Mary Kirchoff. It’s about Tasslehoff, so it’s got to be more fun than this one… right?

Dev blog #65 – Carrying on as best we can

Hello! Just a short one this week because things are very busy at home.

Want an update on the state of Her Jentle Hi-ness: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/skybeargames/her-jentle-hi-ness-a-linguistically-twisted-visual-novel/posts/3295729

Want a spoiler for a secret character in the game, which Sean just drafted up this week? : https://www.skybeargames.com/hjhspoiler

Last month before all this madness started, I contributed to a free gaming zine called ChoiceBeat! It just released yesterday, check it out here: https://choicebeat.wordpress.com/issues/

We’re doing what we can to stay sane and move forward with our projects. Bring on Level 3!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Dragonlance Comics, Issues 26-34, by Dan Mishkin and Ron Randall

First Impressions: The end of the Dragonlance comics is here! I’m not sure why this run wasn’t collected like the first four, but maybe it has something to do with the ever-changing writers on this final stretch. Mishkin, who wrote the entire series bar the one filler issue last time, only has one more story here in issue 28; the others are done by Charles and Lisa Moore (issues 26, 27 and 29), Maddie Blaustein (issues 30, 31 and 32) and Paul Kupperberg (issues 33 and 34). I also found that Maddie Blaustein is the voice actor of Meowth from Pokemon, which Claire and I have been watching for her review series. Small world! 

Since there’s so many stories this time around, I’m going to give my thoughts on each one individually, as if it were a short story anthology. 

The Gathering (2 issues): Riva‘s bronze dragon friend Ktarrh flies off. The companions hire a boat to follow him over the Glass Sea. However, they themselves are being pursued by Karranus of the Minotaur League and his soldiers, who wants to capture Griffin and Skrum as deserters. To escape Karranus, Riva’s ship sails into mysterious glass caves. They find mysterious writing inside and are attacked by strange illusions. When they leave the cave, Karranus’s ship is waiting for them. At that moment a deadly shardstorm blows up. Far away, in the lands of Thenol, the Dark Bishop Trandamere talks to his god Hith (better known in Ansalon as Hiddukel, the god of greed and lies.) He’s found a nest of silver dragon eggs and intends to corrupt them to make more draconians to help Hith conquer Taladas. Meanwhile, Riva wakes up back inside the cave to find Ktarrh there! He, and other good dragons, were summoned to defend the dragon eggs, but returned to rescue Riva’s ship from the shardstorm. Karranus survived as well, and he followed the others; a battle breaks out. Hester, a minotaur sailor on the glass rider ship, challenges Karranus to single combat and kills him. Meanwhile, ogres attack the silver dragon eggs, and the dragons fight them off, but the eggs are shattered. I found this story pretty forgettable. Our main characters don’t have a lot to do – they’re sidelined in favour of showing us impressive things. I liked the glass sea, but it’s all pretty pointless to the actual story being told: the shardstorm particularly is thrown in just to be a cliffhanger between issues, and then it’s gone with no consequences whatsoever! This story also starts a trend in this run of failure: our main characters escape from the minotaurs, but fail to save the dragon eggs. The stakes being the dragon eggs also ends up with no one winning, so there’s no lasting results there either. I found the hints of a greater story about the struggle between Hith and Erestem’s followers for Taladas interesting; it’s a pity that this never got developed further.

The Path to Power (1/2 issue): Cantavian the minotaur gladiator and cousin of Axantheas from the Landfall story arc wants the power of Erestem (better known as Takhisis back on Ansalon.) He bullies his way into a temple of Erestem and communes directly with a five-headed dragon statue, and it kills him. What a loser. Well, you can’t expect much from these filler stories.

The Perilous Power of Feh (1/2 issue): Feh, a stupid hobgoblin in a tribe of stupid hobgoblins, makes a deal with Erestem (a.k.a. Takhisis) to become leader of his tribe. He gets magic powers and a magic ring, but doesn’t bother learning the last part of the bargain. After years of being leader and getting with the lovely and desirable Olob (it’s funny because she’s neither of these things. No, wait. It’s not funny.)  Erestem demands that Feh goes and kills Riva Silvercrown. When he’s gone, the other hobgoblins promptly overthrow him for their former leader. They also learn the last part of the deal – his powers only work on things in front of him. Feh never learns this, and he’s eaten in the swamp by a monster. This story is actively awful and I hated it. It’s a ‘comedy’ relying on laughing at how ugly and dumb all the hobgoblins are, and I hate that sort of race-essentialist, eugenics-based thinking. 

A Sort of Homecoming (1 issue): Riva, her companions and their ship arrive at the Glass Sailor keep during a shardstorm. The doors nearly don’t open for them, and they’re saved only by the magic of the two elves in the party. The other Glass Sailors, especially their mage Krey, are unhappy about the presence of outsiders, when suddenly horax (big angry bugs) attack their fields! Riva and co. go fight the horax. Krey uses fire magic against them which defeats the horax but sets the whole field ablaze, and he’s exiled by the other glass sailors. Riva is upset and rescues him on Ktarrh, then fights her way back into the keep. Krey is killed in the fighting, and Riva decides to leave the Glass Sailors. Another filler story! I guess that there was some chaos behind the scenes getting a writer after Mishkin left, and this story feels like spinning wheels until a permanent writer can be chosen. This story is actually about Riva’s destiny as the emissary of Paladine in Taladas, as she tries to influence the Glass Sailors to show mercy. However, it’s mostly about how she’s not very good at doing her job! She’s not listened to as she tries to get people to change their customs, she winds up attacking them and gets into a sword fight with her only friend in the Glass Sailors, and ultimately she fails and decides to leave. 

Sword of the Kinslayer (3 issues): Flashback time! Just before the War of the Lance (the comic actually says after, but it’s clearly meant to be beforehand), Lord Silvercrown is holding his annual Yuletime tournament. After Riva’s not allowed to take part, she decides to go find a missing shipment of dwarven weaponry. The hill dwarves have been ambushed by Uurthrym Thane of the Wolf Clan, a mountain dwarf who believes in old dwarven tribalism and poor oral hygiene. He also has a mysterious mountain mentor who is obsessed with Silvercrown. Uurthrym delivers the weapons to Lord Silvercrown so he can show him his cursed magic sword, the Sword of the Kinslayer, with which Lord Silvercrown becomes magically obsessed. Riva finds the dead dwarves and Andvari, the caravan guard, who’s still alive. Riva takes Andvari back to the hill dwarf villages, where she learns about Uurthrym. Meanwhile, Uurthrym’s sponsor is upset because he wanted Riva, not her father. Uurthrym attacks the hill dwarf village to find her and captures Riva and Andvari. Andvari is sacrificed to the patron, while Riva escapes. Uurthrym manages to catch her and bring her back but refuses to hand her over – he’s fallen in love with her – so his patron kills him.  Just then, Lord Silvercrown shows up and claims the sword for himself. The patron is revealed as a white dragon (no surprise – it’s been using its ice breath this whole time!) Riva falls into the dragon’s lair, where she discovers its nest of eggs, all about to hatch. Theolin, the priest of the hill dwarves, is there too, with a magic Horn of Blasting which he uses to destroy the nest. The dragon tries to rescue the eggs but is buried too. Meanwhile, Riva rejects the enchantments of the Sword of the Kinslayer herself. Her bewitched father tries to kill her, but loses the sword saving her from a white dragon hatchling. The white dragon itself emerges, not dead. It knows about Riva’s destiny, and wants to corrupt or kill her before she can accomplish it. Riva faces it down, and it dies of its wounds. All the knights are impressed with her valour, and Lord Silvercrown says he’ll reconsider her becoming a knight. It’s really hard not to interpret this story as a metaphor when I learned that the writer was transsexual. It’s all about how Riva wants to be accepted as a knight, rather than follow traditional female gender roles. She’s pretty brash and inexperienced, and consistently gets called out for making stupid idealistic choices. At the same time, she’s the only person who can resist the Sword, even when it offers her everything she wants. I also liked young Riva’s costume way more than her modern one. She’s in bright colours and armour and looks way more like a knight than adult Riva does, in her drab low-cut leather. That said, there’s a few problems that I have with the story. When isn’t there? I really don’t like how the white dragon babies were innately evil and had to be killed. This alignment essentialism is a big topic at the moment, of course! There’s the problem that I’ve spoken about before of having stories set before the War of the Lance, in that none of the iconic Dragonlance elements exist, and so everyone has to break canon by having dragons show up too early, like this one does. I’m also not sure that this one fits well with Riva’s introduction, where she’s back to being chastised for wanting to be a knight. She faced down a dragon! Which also means she should have been less surprised when they showed up again in the first story arc. Also, her initial interactions with her father are pretty negative, but they don’t seem to reflect on how he tried to kill her! This family needs therapy! Still, continuity aside, it’s a pretty good story, and the big money shots of the white dragon are awesome. It’s the best story this time around.

The Legend of the Blackgem (2 issues): Back in Taladas, Griffin’s been wounded by a minotaur attack. Riva and company find a ruined village with only Tykel, a mysterious old healer of Mislaxa (better known as Mishakal). Tykel tells them the story of Miisia Genyei, the founder of the Mislaxan healers. Miisia grew up in a farming community shortly after the Cataclysm. One day, she met a dying traveller and found that she could feel the pain of others and cure them. His name was Marsval Solarzz, and his family had been protecting the Blackgem. Now it was in the hands of the warlord Bylarr, who wanted to use it to conquer Taladas. Miisia wanted to be rid of the healing powers, which brought her such pain, so she and Marsval travelled up to a hidden temple in the mountains. Bylarr went there with his followers too. At the top, Bylarr summoned an elemental of the temple to kill Miisia and Marsval, but she was able to heal it – killing Bylarr and purifying the Blackgem in the process. As a result, she learned how to control her powers and decided to keep them, and inspired others to follow in her footsteps. This final story really ends the Dragonlance comic not with a bang but a whimper. It’s a pretty tiresome story, since Miisia spends the whole time in pain or complaining about her powers. The wider conflict between Bylarr and Solarzz doesn’t have time to develop, so our villain is never more than a lame Warduke knock-off. It doesn’t really have much payoff for Riva either: she’s interested because she’s also the chosen of a god, but she doesn’t really learn anything from it, and it doesn’t really relate to her situation greatly.

Overall Summary: That’s the end of the Dragonlance comics! I wish they’d had more time to develop. The early stories were too closely tied to the novels, but the later half of Dan Mishkin’s stories were pretty good – High Sorcery, A Winter’s Knight, and Landfall. I feel like the story was in an interesting place: it had changed from an anthology story to following a main character, their companions, and their ongoing adventures. There were a range of interesting antagonists: the League of Minotaurs, and then the developing conflict between the followers of Hith and Erestem. However, once Mishkin left, no one seemed to want to continue this story, so we’ll never know what happened next. Until their recent reprinting by IDW, these stories were pretty obscure. Riva Silvercrown returned in Dragonlance: Fifth Age, the roleplaying game, where she was the veteran commander of a garrison of Solamnic Knights in Southern Ergoth. She finally dies of old age – I think in the adventure The Price of Courage, which I haven’t read. Anyway, this final collection of stories is pretty lackluster. I’d label this one ‘for completionists only,’ and give it a rating of 1.5 Disks of Mishakal, just like the first collection. 

Next time, I’m done with the comics at last! Calloo callay! It was fascinating to read them for the first time, but I am well and truly ready to return to the novels. So I’m starting the first book of the Preludes trilogy: Darkness and Light! See you then!

Dev blog #64 – Progress report on Her Jentle Hi-ness

Last week the Her Jentle Hi-ness ended with 127% funding achieved. I’ll link my updates to the game here every week, starting today: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/skybeargames/her-jentle-hi-ness-a-linguistically-twisted-visual-novel/posts/3289183

But for now, it would be a great help if you could put the game on your wishlist on Steam here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1732310/Her_Jentle_Hiness/

I’m afraid there will be no podcast this fortnight, as James and I are very, very busy trying to entertain our toddler while I work a full-time job from home in lockdown. Last podcast was actually really stressful to edit, so I’ve made the executive decision to go on hiatus until we can fob the toddler off to my mother. James has been trying really hard to get work done on his zines, but he’s been bearing the brunt of the childcare. So I ask, please be patient with us!

Wishing you a safe and happy time, til next we speak!

Dragons of Tirenia: Player Agency in Tirenia

Today on the Tirenia blog James is talking about player agency. It’s always an interesting topic to me, as my personal tastes trend more towards players having a greater level of agency and inventive power. I come from a theatre background, so my improv skills play a big part in this. But it’s also something children engage in when it comes to imaginative play. What’s your preferred level of agency? Do you like it on the rails, or are you a railroad breaker like me?

Check out the post here: https://tirenia.blogspot.com/2021/08/player-agency-in-tirenia.html

Image: ‘The Creation of Adam.’ Michelangelo Buonarroti, c. 1512.

Dev blog #63 – 24 hours to go!

Yes, it is 24 hours to go until the KickStarter ends, and as usual I have the Ramones stuck in my head, and yes I do want to be sedated 😀 Here is the link to the campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/skybeargames/her-jentle-hi-ness-a-linguistically-twisted-visual-novel

There are still some spaces left for faces in the game, so get in quickly to grab those up!

It’s been a bit of a time in the house here, but we’re doing our best to cope. Still, I am hoping that by next week I’ll be able to turn the situation around a bit and have more dev to actually talk about in this whole dev blog of mine.

I don’t want to hang around talking about it too much because I have a kid to look after and I’ve been working all day, so let me just suffice to say that I am really looking forward to my weekend and even more looking forward to the end of lockdown… whenever that might be!

Dragons of Tirenia: What’s a Renaissance?

At my request, this week James has done a little digression into his academic opinion on the Renaissance and whether it existed or not. So many of the things that happen in any roleplaying setting are based on assumptions of how things are/were/should be, and the idea of Renaissance Italy is no exception to that. So I asked him to address this little contradiction in a blog post. Let us know what you think! https://tirenia.blogspot.com/2021/08/whats-renaissance-historical-digression.html

Image: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’ Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, 1987.


Podcast episode: Interview with composer Michaela Cornelius of Mikatte Music

Today we interview the composer of the music for the next Sky Bear Games major release, Her Jentle Hi-ness, who is Michaela Cornelius of mikattemusic.com . We ask her about her background, creative process, favourite game soundtracks, and talk generally about games she enjoys. Also featured are short clips of three of her songs from Her Jentle Hi-ness, in order: Royal, Tavern, and Quiet ambience.

Unfortunately we did have to cut a fair bit of stuff towards the end as our mic started to cut in and out. Such are the woes of recording while our sleeping child is in the house, and we’re stuck with him full time in lockdown!

Check it out here: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/46215728