52 books in 52 weeks – July

79-82: The Hippopotamus Pool, Seeing a Large Cat, The Falcon in the Portal and He Shall Thunder in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

I’ve expressed misgivings about this series in previous monthly updates. Now that Rameses has grown up, though, this is a far superior series. Structurally it allows the author to swap between storylines, to break up the narrative. It also allows multiple viewpoints, so that the main character, Amelia, seems a bit more fallible and likeable.  Also, all of the precociousness seems to have been beaten out of Ramses with a whip made of hippopotamus leather. He’s evolved from Magic Genius Child to Dashing Master of Disguise (and romantic lead) so he’s a lot more interesting to watch. He doesn’t just stand around handing out plot points like the Voice of God.

The one misstep is that I think Sethos’s identity is just a bit silly.

To quote The Doctor “You’ve been watching too much television.”

83: The Tomb of Horrors, by E. Gary Gygax (3.5 edition revision)

This is a classic module for the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game. Now, in my opinion, it’s either terribly badly written, or it demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the ideology of the early game. Basically it’s designed as a meat grinder: the characters have virtually no hope of success.

Now, people may say that it is grimly realistic, in the sense that if there were necromancers and you tried to rob the tombs of said mancers of the necro, you’d wind up dead pretty quickly. My counter is that, were this true, then the adventurers you have created to run through said meat grinder would, in this world, not be so foolish as to choose their profession in the first place. The conceit of the game is that adventurers aren’t suicidal idiots. This game only has impact because it takes the standard difficulty of the setting, and winds it up past “fun” and “challengingly fun” to “let’s have fun watching your characters die pointlessly.”

I can’t see how playing casualties left over after you are sliced to pieces by the defences in a necromancer’s lair could be fun for anyone, and so, and I know this is a big call because he was the co-inventor of D&D and everything: this module is worse than broken, it’s deliberately and intentionally broken. It’s designed to achieve total party kill, while pretending to fairness because it is all written down in advance.

Since its available for free, roleplayers should check it out, just to see how far we’ve come in terms of collaborative storytelling technique.

84: The Primeval Roleplaying Game

Mechanically quite a simple game. It seems to model the show quite well, particularly given the fact that the show does not try to have a consistent continuity. It gets around the show’s high death rate (caused by slow real-world production) plausibly, without making combat deadly. I think I prefered it in Doctor Who flavour, but that’s not to say it’s bad, just that one franchise gets more warm fuzzies from me than the other.

The Library Service has a pretty complete run of Primeval DVDs, although for the moment I can’t seem to find their records. We also have two of the novels.






85: Grogs (for the Ars Magica Roleplaying Game)

I liked it. It’s about designing weaker characters for collaborative stories. I wrote part of it though, so I’m biased. The nun in the middle of the cover’s one of my characters.

86: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carlye, 87: How big is my dragon? by Amanda Enright, 88: How big is my dinosaur?, 89 Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton, 90 Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox

Sure, I’m cheating, but I’ve read them, haven’t I?  Eric Carle’s colours are beautiful, the sounds in Boyton are fun, and Mem Fox has pages you can explore with a tiny person intent on eating the book.

(A note on conflicts of interest: Cubicle 7, who publish the Primeval RPG, and Atlas Games, who publish Ars Magica, pay me to write various things for them at various times as a freelancer. When I mention their stuff, I need to say “Hey, I get money from these people occasionally”.)