D&D Player’s Handbook 5th Edition

D&D Player's Handbook Cover

I finally got round to buying this book. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. Words fail me when trying to express just how disappointed I’ve been with every iteration of D&D since Second Edition. This was partly because I was so used to it that even the foibles were either loved or replaced with house rules. I took part in the beta for Fifth edition and I thought the mechanics worked really well. In short I was looking forward to reading this book but at the same time in my head I was repeating the mantra “Please don’t be crap”.

I may have grinned liked a super-villain as I read this book. I remember when I read Pathfinder that they seemed to have taken the essence of D&D and improved the system. This game feels like they looked at what Pathfinder did to improve D&D and they improved on that. The system works. Combat is fast and brutal. The spell system works. There are a lot less similar spells to choose from and the ability to cast spells at a higher level made perfect sense especially for healers.

What’s new? Tieflings for one. The infernal race don’t just look fun but there are built in plot hooks too. Family feuds are nasty but imagine the fun you could have dragging mortals in to an infernal civil war. The same with Dragonkin. What could possibly go wrong with looking like a dragon? Probably the biggest change for me is that there are now multiple reasons to have charisma as a double digit stat. There are plenty more fun new things but they are for you to discover.

Probably the biggest change for me was the book itself. Character creation seem to flow nicely. I had issues with the backgrounds section but that was trivial. The look and feel of the book is very different from previous offerings. D&D books have always had some cool artwork but always in isolation. This book feels more like a work of art rather than a list of rules with some artwork added to break up the text. I found myself turning a page and looking at the entire vista before I started to read. This edition is by far the most visually appealing D&D so far and hopefully it has inspired me to find some fun new ways to try and kill my players.

Still not sure? Here’s the really awesome thing – Wizards have a FREE downloadable basic version of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. There is enough information to learn the mechanics and see if you will enjoy the game. It was like meth for geeks. How could we resist buying the holy trinity (PHB, DMG and MM) after trying it out. We couldn’t and neither should you.

 

Hard Wired by J.B. Turner

Hard Wired by J B Turner

John Reznick is a former Delta Force black ops  government sanctioned assassin acting for the greater good. Turner does a good job of showing us that there are consequences to every action and that just about everybody that sees active service in the military is damaged in some way. I found it very easy to relate this to my own family.

The story starts with the murder of an ex-Delta friend of Reznick. Remote assassination using a vulnerability in a car doesn’t seem realistic at first but on the same day I started reading this book I also read a technical article about wi-fi hacking new cars and taking control of everything from the air conditioning to the transmission. Really scary stuff.  It gets worse. The ease with which the Iranian Quds cell runs rings around the intelligence services is both believable and terrifying at the same time.

The plot is simply a case of revenge. There are no huge surprises in this book but it was very easy to get wrapped up in the characters and the pace was such that I got so absorbed in reading this book that I didn’t go to bed until 2am. I hadn’t planned that. There was very little wastage in this book, everything flowed together really well. I was surprised at just how quickly I was able to read this book and that for me was a sign of enjoyment. This is a fast-paced thriller that will have you looking for more books by J.B. Turner.

 

Hawk by Steven Brust – More Than Just A Review

I haven’t been reading for a couple of months now. This is very odd for me. It only happens when I get really stressed and am unable to concentrate properly. I had to break out of not just the stress but the inevitable downer that always hangs around nearby stress. I tried about a dozen books by various authors but I just couldn’t commit to them and stopped reading after a couple of pages. I should have known better and started with this one.

I love the Taltos books. They are my favourite fantasy books. Brust has a style that makes me feel less like I’m reading and more like the story has been implanted in my head. I’ve no idea how this is done but it is like his books were written specifically for me.

Vlad Taltos is an Assassin and former crime boss of a small area. The plots and schemes of Taltos are convoluted and yet elegant. The first person narrative works really well and manages to make the reader forget that they can’t rely on the narrative. That is important as there are things deliberately left out or remain vague. Each plot unfolds like a lotus bloom and leaves the reader grinning. Like most of the Taltos books it can be read alone but there are a lot of things that are improved by understanding the relationships built up in previous books.

This book re-ignited my passion and I’m now reading again. I may have just gone back and read all the previous Taltos books back to back. Don’t judge me. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anybody that enjoys fast-paced, action-packed fantasy.

Nystagmus Network Open Day 2015

Raffle draw

My son has congenital Nystagmus. In simple terms he has an eye condition that results in lateral eye movement. Wobbly eyes if you prefer. The severity and impact of this condition can vary. Like all parents we worry about the impact Nystagmus will have on our son as he grows. Neither of us are keen on meeting new people or socializing. So with no small amount of trepidation we drove up the spine of the country to Newcastle to spend a day listening and learning from other people that are going through or have experienced some of the same things as we will face.

The first thing I noticed walking in to the conference was a  man in glasses  with his chin to his chest and his tablet angled away from him. This made me smile as my little one does exactly the same thing. I’ve never seen so many small children wearing glasses before. We didn’t go for the creche option so we were worried about a seven year old sitting through all the talks. He got bored at points but as usual he surprised us with his fortitude.

There were talks by researchers, experts in navigating the education system, a parents group and even a talk about the challenges adults face. I’m not going to go in to the details of each session as much of the day was recorded and will probably be available to watch soon. What I will say is that we know we are not alone and more importantly our son knows that he’s not alone. There are many people going through exactly what he is and more usefully there are plenty of people that have had great lives and careers regardless of any disability.

There was a point in the parents group session where every single one of us was either in tears or nearly  in tears. There had been a few parents clearly frustrated with the lack of support they had been receiving when out of nowhere a young man called Michael from Belgium started talking about his experience. He had clearly railed against life and was only just growing into himself (we’ve all been there). He talked about his love of football and not being able to follow the fast moving ball and his being the only one of his friends not driving away in a car when he was eighteen. This upset us all but then he said something I’ll always remember (I am paraphrasing here though). He said that us as parents need to be there. Our children will fall, and fall hard many times. We just need to be there to help them up and point them at the next challenge. For me this has made me more determined to ensure that my son has hobbies and skills that he will not be disadvantaged in, but more importantly I have been reminded how it important it is to always be there for my children.

I’d like to thank everyone at the Nystagmus Network for their hard work and welcoming atmosphere. The open day was thoroughly enjoyable and highly informative and I’d recommend it to anybody wanting to learn more more about Nystagmus. Oh and I’m really sorry that my son who was chosen to pick out the winning raffle ticket chose mine. My wife could have died with embarrassment.

Dark Apostle by Anthony Reynolds

Dark Apostle by Anthony Reynolds

A little while ago I decided to go back and read some Chaos Marine fiction to inspire me to start painting my army again. What better place to start than the first Traitor Legion. As a Warhammer 40k player it is really easy to see the universe in terms of good versus evil or to add in a pinch of politics by viewing armies as either authoritarian or libertarian. As with just about everything worthwhile there is a lot more to it than that. The most inspiring and fascinating thing about this book for me was how the author managed to portray the devotions and fervour of the Word Bearers in way that was eerily similar to those of the loyalist chapters worshipping the rotten corpse atop the golden high chair. Sorry I may have got a little caught up and paraphrased one of my favourite lines from this book.

There is only war! That means every 40k novel has to have battles. This book deals with battles on two levels. The overt and frankly huge pitched battle between the Imperial Guard and Scions of Mars and the Chaos Legion of the Word Bearers. The brutal and attritional nature of warfare was hammered home like an orbital bombardment but that wholesale slaughter is just a means to an end. There is a secret buried within the heart of Tanakreg. The Magos is determined to keep the Wordbearers away from the secret he thought forgotten two millenia ago. The warp fueled visions of the Dark Apostle on the other hand have driven him to sacrifice an entire warhost for the opportunity to retrieve the prize he has glimpsed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have already bought the second and third parts of the story. Unfortunately I’m now going to be to busy reading to start my painting yet. Oh and I just ordered a couple of codexes too.

Shadows by Joan De La Haye

Shadows by Joan De La Haye

I’ve read a few stories by this author and was surprised to find this one lurking at the bottom of my reading pile. At the start of this book I was asking myself whether the demon was real or in the heads of the victims. By the end of the story I wondering if the victims were real or there purely as a punishment for the demon. Looking back after a couple of days I’m not sure I could definitively tell what if anything was supposed to be real. I might be having an existential crisis of sorts right now.

This book review is real. I’m sure of that (I think). As you probably gathered from my ramblings above this is a psychological horror. There was a nice balance of how much information was provided and how much was left to the reader. There was a slight negative for me though, there was a raw and unrefined quality to this book that left me thinking it could have been even better. If I was to read only one story by Joan De La Haye it would be Requiem in E# but Shadows was still an enjoyable read that put me in the mind of The Scarecrow from the DC Universe.

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test by Jon RonsonI don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction books. When I do it is usually by an intelligent, insightful and witty journalist. This author hits the mark on all counts. I bought this book after attending a talk by the author. He is a funny and engaging man that manages to come across as humble and approachable. Even the way he sat on the table as he signed books afterwards invited us to chat and not just sign and run. I liked that.

This book is unsurprisingly about psychopaths. How to spot them and more important what it means for our society. Until I read this book the words psychopath and sociopath were words heard only on the screen or banter. A psycho kills means. That’s it. If thought that if you were a psychopath you murdered people. I was wrong. In an unscientific way I went through the PCL-R checklist on people I know. I was surprised to find that some people I know would have in my opinion scored highly. Oh crap!

Not all psychopaths are stone cold killers. It turns out that at the upper levels of corporate management there are a higher percentage of psychopaths than in maximum security mental health wards. I was blown away. My brain is still trying to process what a psychopath is and what the presence of them in my daily life means. That is the genius of Jon Ronson. After reading this book I will never look at people in the same way again. I have found myself looking up some of the references in the back of the book to find out more.

This book is a dark yet funny read that will make you think about yourself and everybody you know.