30 July 2017

[Fiction] Awaken Online: Catharsis

What follows is a mini-review of author Travis Bagwell's "Awaken Online: Catharsis" (AOC) which is available on Amazon as both softcover and ebook. This review is written primarily from the standpoint of a reader and gamer and not as an editor.

Why? Well, speaking as an editor I must say this is definitely a first novel. The writing lacks polish and Bagwell makes some freshman errors in grammar and usage. So if one is a grammar pedant it may be wise to avoid this work for now. For the rest of us? I recommend you give the book a read.

A few days ago I was approached by a friends of Bagwell's, who enthusiastically recommended AOC to me. Right away her description of the books put me off:
It's about a virtual reality game that becomes almost like real life to its participants and eventually starts having an effect on the real world!
It's been done! And done, and done, and done ... She kept after me, eventually bringing me her personal copies of both books and again urging me to read them. Well? One simply cannot beat a free read so I decided to humor her and at least give the books a try.

What I found what a delightfully fresh take on the whole players confuse virtual reality with real life and an AI wants to rule the world scenario. The story revolves around a brilliant but limited by its creators artificial intelligence (AI) and details the AI's struggles to meet the goals assigned by its programmers. A second story line involves a player in the games, which is known as Awaken Online, who is an underdog in the real world but becomes a major player in the virtual.

Yes, there are Mary Sue elements to the story but the entire novel skews toward YA Fiction and is thus in good company (Eragon, Hunger Games, Twilight). This does not detract from some fresh ideas and rather entertaining story telling, both in the virtual game reality and weaving in real life elements and how the whole thing might actually work if the concept actually existed for us.

Further, one could really see the format used in this book as an excellent basis for a true D&D big screen film. It deftly weaves elements of the player's workaday world and artificial reality, with short interludes for dealing with game mechanics such as assigning attribute bonuses and increasing abilities when leveling up.

Bottom Line: Awaken Online: Catharsis and Awaken Online: Precipice are a refreshing take on a time-honored science fiction theme. Author Travis Bagwell is apparently set on writing a series of novel based upon this idea and has, so far, presented some very entertaining tales. Keep on eye on this author and I recommend this book to sci-fi readers, RPG'ers, and computer gamers.

29 July 2017

There Are No Bad Magic Items!

I was listening to three 2nd generation referees of D&D* discussing the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh editions of Basic D&D and Expert D&D (B/X) when a certain magic item came under discussion. The Helm of Telepathy description from the Basic rules is cited here (emphasis added):
Helm of Telepathy: This item looks like a fancy helmet. The wearer of this helm may read the thoughts of any creature within 90' by concentrating on that creature. To make the helm work, the wearer must concentrate on the creature and not move. The wearer will understand the creature's thoughts, and may "send" thoughts to the creature; however, the creature may refuse to respond.
For reference Holmes' Blue Book, an edition with which all three claimed to be familiar, states creature or characters. Going even further back, OD&D's Book II reads any creature. So the ridiculed part about any creatures is nothing new, though it is held up as such. Additionally, the jokes about how useless this was as a magic item went on for a full couple of minutes and included jokes about convincing a herd of docile bovines to wander off the road and stop blocking traffic.

Really? Let's set aside the observation sapient beings are creatures too. So making an attacking pack of wild dogs see their pack leader as a wounded deer or a bloody raw steak with your powers of telepathy doesn't sound useful? Making a hungry owlbear see an empty hallway as he searches for the hapless PC who disturbed his rest doesn't sound like a great idea?


I'd tell them the same thing I told a player who wished to play a thief-acrobat in my campaign. Yes, you absolutely can play an acrobat but understand something right up front. I do not write specifically to your tight-rope walking or tumbling skills. Finding a use for those is up to you. I set up the situation and you figure out how to get around it and get your thieving hands on the nice, shiny gold-pieces and gemstones at the end.

Your players will surprise you every time. Throw the gear you can't figure a use for into your dungeon anyway ... because they can! They will! As a referee I like creative play and I'll reward it accordingly. Don't allow your limited thinking to limit your players. You're only one person and there's a whole team of them.

*meaning they started playing with Holmes or B/X but before 2nd edition.