Metagaming, Metagaming, Metagaming.

What is metagaming first off?
Metagaming is the use of information your character has not gained, and has not been exposed to, to alter the way you play your character. Of course much of that information is contextual depending on setting and your personal background. If your father was a career guardsman in a dwarven mining city, whom you spent your youth training under, you likely know some things. Trolls are vulnerable to acid or fire. Dragons attack from the sky. Skeletons break easier when you beat them with a mace than when you try to cut them with a sword. Zombies move clumsy. But you won’t know things like.. three tear drops in a purple triangle is the holy symbol of Talona. You won’t know about the great elven war that drove the Drow into exile. You won’t know the detailed truth about how tieflings are made. You won’t the home plane of Illithids.

Another form of toxic metagaming is when the rogue asks to make a spot check, then rolls a 2. The rogue doesn’t know he failed. You don’t know he failed. So it is toxic behavior for you to suddenly ask if you can make a roll. If the rogue doesn’t ask for help you have no reason to help. Similarly when a player asks to make a particular action and a bunch of others ask to make assist rolls. The answer should be no, unless the action was discussed in character before the player attempts the action.

So, a few days ago I asked my DMs to give me a PM telling me what they think is good metagaming, and what is bad metagaming. I have reviewed each of the lists I was given and here is what I would put forth that I agree with from each of these lists.

Limiting toxic language use while in character. If you end up with some players at the table with you that are to fragile for excessive profanity, but brash and harsh language is part of your character, fake it. Instead of using fake insults or just colorful combinations of words that would fit on the Shakespear list instead of the George Carlin list. This is metagaming to a degree because you are changing the character’s behavior to suit Billy sitting at your left. But you are not losing the point of the character’s language quirks.

Leveraging world lore for magical auto-convenience is a form of toxic metagaming. When you decide you want to play a barbarian that is borderline suicidal in her behavior, but suddenly decide to be a follower of Bahamut as well. Why? Because this city you are playing in has a temple of Bahamut so you expect you can get a cheap or free ressurection because you carry that holy symbol. You have no interest in playing to the religion, can’t name any of it’s tenants or teachings. But expect to be treated as a full member of the religion because of 7 letters at the top of your character sheet and a cheap hunk of wood you wear on a string around your neck.

Co-conspiring with the DM is a productive way to grow your character. Perhaps there is something you wish to do with your character that you can’t see a way to do, or you need the DM to lay out a bit of bait for your character to follow. In a living world like this with DMs juggling dozens of things, the DM can’t always put in the time to predict what you want or what you need. Drop a hint, a clue, a conversation. It will help you, and it will help them. This is not only good metagaming, it’s also a good way to build understanding. You may have taken actions recently that the DM didn’t quite understand or didn’t translate well with the game as a filter.

The Interference play is a popular and vulgar form of Metagaming. Similar to above where the party wants to all roll a check because the rogue failed his. This is where the players know there is a problem, perhaps because of a DM slip of words or because they saw a pattern in a series of NPC actions, or because they have played that scene out before in a different game. What ever the case may be, the players are now aware of a problem so they are conveniently taking irrational actions in character to try to discover the problem when there is no grounds for such an investigation to start. Bob gets poisoned. DM tells Bob that he should note on his sheet that he was poisoned and he will have to act on this next time he sleeps. Susan now suddenly wants to make a heal check, or to cast detect poison on Bob. Bob is showing no outward signs and Bob’s wounds were already tended and taken care of minutes ago. Now Susan is using out of character knowledge, to take actions she woudln’t otherwise, to gain in character knowledge, to solve a problem she knows about but her character doesn’t. Stop is Susan.

Being the DM’s Co-conspirator is another productive and helpful form of metagaming. This of course refers to letting the DM bounce ideas off you. To get your opinions on how something may be run. We have DMings of differing skills here with various knowledges of other games, other systems, and different literary backgrounds. Different ideas are going to come up and different methods of running the same encounter. A happy DM that is enjoying there time around here is going to begin to push themselves in new ways. Expose themselves to new ideas. Try new things. Sometimes these new things need a dry run to feel them out before they get put before the party officially. You may also notice the DM taking to long to respond to a question. Or may be stumbling for an answer. This is a good time to respectfully make a suggestion, or even ask the DM what they are trying to pull off. This does not ever include rules lawyering.

Playing your build/gimmick is a good way to make a DM tired of you showing up. If your primary motivation in your actions is your next spell in your spellbook, if your entire family history can be itemized by the feat they taught you or what class you take at which level, you are a waste of the DM’s time and an insult to the other players. You should be roleplaying a person. Who you are should effect what you do. If your future level ups are making your choices for you, then you really don’t understand the basics of who you are playing or even what D&D is about. You should think of D&D as improve acting, and your character sheet is your rules/guidelines. It’s not a scripted event and you should not let it be. This one comes off as hostile. I am not sorry. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine.

Building for the party you are joining is a good form of metagaming. If you are trying to join a player that has two fighters and two clerics it may be a good idea to ask them if they want something more utility like a rogue or a wizard before you actually join. In a community like ours where the players actually do have a say in who plays with them it’s a good idea to see what you can do to be useful to the party. It’s even fairly okay to ask them a bit about their back story. Maybe there is something in one of their stories you can use as a hook to meet up with the party. Maybe, just maybe, you are a childhood friend of one of them. You should try to keep yoru character partially independant though. Otherwise if you play the baby brother of that higher level fighter then it may result in the DM having a hard time building story hooks particularly for you that don’t include the older sibling. This will lead to you feeling like you are stuck in your older sister’s shadow without any means to separate yourself and become independant or shine on your own.

Emotional baggage is a burden on every aspect of life. It’s something that is just plain stupid to carry into other relationships or projects period. Don’t start carrying your emotional baggage into our games. Especially if it’s because you have a bitter relationship with someone here left over from another server or another game. It’s really pathetic. I would call it childish but it’s even uncommon in children. I would not want to insult the children. This should not really even be considered metagaming but instead should just be called a need to seek theraputic advice. Yet this was suggested to me as a bad example of metagaming, so here we are.

Not all games run smooth. Sometimes it takes some OOC communication to get the characters to work together. Toss some random half dozen people into a party and run it with no planning and there is going to be friction, if the players actually bothered to build a person before they played. Personalities don’t automagically meld together. Sometimes the solution for this is some OOC communication. Find some way to manufacture a situation where the characters can begin to work together or create a means to trust each other. That doesn’t mean one player complains to another about their improper use of elven slurs and the other just suddenly loves elves because it’s convenient. Create an in game situation to create character evolution. Characters change over time based on what they are exposed to. Sometimes, for the betterment of the game, you need to put the situation in that will redirect the character’s growth in the direction the players outside of the game need.

A sense of entitlement is toxic in any field of life. It is also toxic here. Just because you are here does not mean you automatically are entitled to a game. Just because you are made a character does not mean you are automatically entitled to show up at a game and play. Just because you are in a party doesn’t mean you are entitled to the loot or information the party gains. Now, it’s pretty obvious that the splitting of loot is expected. But that too needs to be roleplayed out. If a character has information you don’t, that’s part of the game. It doesn’t matter what that information is. If it’s the rogue keeping his spy network a secret or the barbarian giggling as he watches you walk right towards a pitfall trap. Each character it it’s own entity. It’s mind is not a public library. There are no membership cards and you can’t pay a subscription fee. Unless information is voluntered, you can’t have it. To disallow this is to strip away player agency. If you dislike this, and your character manages to find out that secrets are being kept through legit roleplay, you can simply opt out of playing with that person by what ever means you feel needed. If you can get others to agree to eject them from the party then that’s an option. If you can’t find a way to roleplay your way out of this situation, then you are legally allowed to leave the table.

There is a lot I can continue to do and say in this post, but I think this is plenty of information for people to go off of and learn from. Metagaming is a constant small nagging problem, but recently it had a sudden spike across multiple servers I am on. Funny how trends happen like that. My hope is not to use this post to bash anyone over the head. Yes I do tend to make posts on a subject right after the subject becomes a problem. It’s not to weaponize the blog, or to attack anyone. It’s to inspire a conversation and get people to engage in the subject.

The characters we loved, the characters we lost

Roleplaying games are a great deal of fun, are they not? All the power gaming, twinking, and gimmick builds that are so hilariously fun to think about, but end up dying out as soon as you get your next pack of Mountain Dew to fuel your ADHD thinking machine. But we don’t care about those when we lose them do we? No, we do not. Because having a character like that live past a few levels is a burden. It gets in the way of the next gimmick. They are not worth talking about or thinking about.

This is about the people we have lost along the way. The characters that seemed to have lives of their own. Those characters that end up having lovers, family, friends, rivals, enemies, and maybe even a couple children running around. Those ones where you actually get upset because you know there is a very bad choice to be made in this situation, but that’s the choice would make. When they have a living personality that conflicts even with your own or with what is right in the moment. Those characters that mean so much that when they die, you have to tear the sheet up in a moment of anger and rage. Then minutes later you come to the frantic anguish filled desire to try to tape the sheet back together again. But it doesn’t matter, it won’t matter. No amount of tape is going to bring back that adventure, that story, that life experience.

But, at least in my experience, it’s not the loss of my own characters that hurts the most. It’s the loss of the people we played with instead. Those sometimes irritating people you partied with, and went on those adventures with. Those people we have met, and while they may be fake, they last in your mind longer than the memories created by those so called real friends of yours. Those grand adventures that leave you feeling the suffering of loss as well.

There are some losses that linger for me many years later. Friends I will never get back, adventures I will never see again, worlds long lost.

It’s not just our games that do this. Sure, with D&D, Vampire, mage, Star Trek, Mass Effect, or what ever games you play can build some amazing things. It’s books and games too. If you are a lover of stories, and you actually consider it a hobby, then certainly there have been times when you come to the end of a book and you feel like an emotional wreck for a little while. Because the adventure is over. You have poured your soul and emotion into the story and the characters. Now the adventure is over, you will never be able to travel with them the same way ever again.

Stories end.
Characters are lost.
Players leave.
Moods die.
Sometimes it has nothing to do with the game, but it’s third party factors.
The loss of a family member outside of the game can kill your desire for a game.
Perhaps your favorite book series comes to an end becamse some jackass behind a desk up in an office decides the product line is turning 2% less of a profit than they would like, so they kill an entire product line and everything tied to it. P
erhaps a player leaves a game, and them being missing changes how everyone else behaves resulting in that chemistry dying off.
One of the contributors to a story just stops putting in any effort, and everyone else has to drag them alone pretending the story isn’t burning down around them until finally it does…

I was motivated to write this post while sitting and thinking about a couple games I have that are dying. There is no longer any passion for the characters. people are just going through the motions because it’s expected of them. We used to be really excited about our characters and we would get together an hour before the game to talk about our characters. We would spend many hours during the week talking about them. But these days for a couple of the games people show up at the last minute, go through the motions, try to rush towards success, and no longer care as much about the lives they live. I also recently had a Mask game that end under because one of the players could not be bothered to keep up with the schedule or show up on time.

Try not to let your characters die any sooner than they have to. But when they do, make sure it hurts you and everyone around you. Make them a person everyone will build connections with. Love, friendship, rivalries. Even hatred and frustration can be a powerful emotion that will create a vacuum when the target of those emotions are gone. Play the character that will be remembered years after the game is gone. Be that lingering smirk on someones face years later.

Goodbye, Jessie. You will be missed.


So you want to support the community but you are unsure how? Let’s provide a few options.

  1. First, and most obvious, is to recruit your friends. This obviously works best if you are in a party that has open slots, but with some luck and charm they may make new friends here and branch out into other groups and other parties as well.

Point table chances

When I first launched this world it was not ready to be launched. But I had lost a big ambitious game because during the time I was homeless for a few months a few of the players just up and disappeared..(lights a candle for Vasa.)

So, I launched M’kal largely unready to make it up to the players I felt I had failed. The point system and point tables were born as a result of the need for help in building the world, and the desire to get players interacting with the website. I do have some players that would build the entire world from the ground up for me if I let them (Thank you Sarah and Tracey) but I wanted this to be a shared project everyone would take some pride in and love. I of course also knew it would meant some people would vomit up ideas that need to go in a HAZMAT bucket not a D&D world. Evil cults with fireball wands will take care of some of that no doubt.

The point system has gone through several iterations, and several changes. Some for the better, some for the worse. But currently there is a nagging problem I need to address with the tables, and that is what this post is about.

Some time ago it was suggested to me to begin adding items to the tables. On the grounds that it would make the tables more exciting and get people more interested. That has backfired. Sure, it has lured some more people in, but it’s also chased others away. Additionally the tables as of the past couple months have become all about farming items. I think it’s safe to say that about 200 items come off the table for every piece of lore that is written now. Sometimes it feels like players are just trying to scalp as many items as fast as they can to vomit it up on a vendor for cash. Other times it feels like players are just getting stuff they don’t want, don’t need, and can’t use just to deprive others of having something they could use and enjoy.

There is a small temptation to remove the items from the tables. But I realize that would just be malicious and vindictive. I could remove the allowance for players to manually choose an option. But that was originally added so players could choose to name 5 taverns instead of ending up with 2 inns, a myth, a landmark and a bard when they are not interested in geology or mythology. So I am just going to have to make the item choices less attractive. At the same time I am going to have to make the lore writing options more attractive.

In order to make item choices less attractive, if you manually choose an item from the reward table you will no longer get the bonus points from it. Previously if you chose #17 on the copper table to get a Adamantine buckler, you got the buckler and 1 silver. Or if you chose 20 to get the dart of caltrops you got the dark and 1d4+1 silver as well. No more. If you roll 20 you get the item and the silver bonus.

Additionally I am going to begin evaluating lore items and giving points based on quality and how well it ties into the location. I am not going to say how I am going to do this because I know a few people will just cheese it instead of writing what they actually want.

All of these changes will go into effect after this coming platinum day, so the next round of rolls.

Encounter Building

Especially when dealing with a party of mixed levels as can occur with a West March style adventure, encounters are daunting for a GM. The Challenge Rating system assumes a balanced party of 4 players at the same level. Often, it seemingly does not fully account for special abilities, or specializations that the players may have taken. This can result in some strong encounters being overly simple, and some weaker encounters resulting in party death.

The first thing when designing encounters is to assess the objective. Is the aim to drain resources? Provide insight into what is occurring in their environment? Or a major plot point? Not to say an encounter can’t be all of the above, but for the purposes of this, we shall assume only one is desired at a time.

A good example of encounter process would be Left 4 Dead (1 or 2) when played on a high level of difficulty. The common infected slowly chip away at health, consuming ammo, temporary health. Sometimes stashes exist to resupply. Sporadically through the map, the special infected will attack, and cause much more ammo and health to be invested. Finally, a tank encounter may take almost all the bullets.

Resource chipping encounters are looking to get the players to spend one or three spells, maybe a X/day power, and take some hit point damage. This creates the need for the group to assess if they have the strength to keep forging forward. However, this is not to say the same group over and over again is the way to approach it.

In your average group, each player is likely to have things they excel at. Some may do incredible burst damage, while others do consistent but reliable damage through spells. To keep the players engaged, these methods need to be checked, and catered to. Yes, Catered To. If a character excels at something, but never gets to demonstrate that focus, the player becomes uninvested in the character and they will cast Sword (or equivalent) until all fights are resolved.

So, the wizard that specializes in using spells in combination to cause greater effects like grease and burning hands? An encounter should be designed where it is unlikely that the party’s martial characters can resolve, but have such abysmal reflex saves that the grease and fire will certainly resolve the issue.

Environmental difficulties can spruce up a low encounter fight. Rooms are not independant blocks of space and time. When allies are fighting nearby, the sounds are likely to attract others. Once verified that there are issues, why wouldn’t the new combatants try and circle around to press the party? Casters hide in the back for a reason. When the group suddenly has to split their focus, the encounter’s Challenge just increased. The players may retreat into a corner trying to draw both groups into a cone in front of them rather than the two fronted combat they have.

Sometimes its worth pointing out a flaw or issue in the group’s capabilities. If the group has a thing for will and fortitude saves, some undead will cause real problems for them. An overly strong character that faces a creature which slowly takes away their strength from a distance, while something else engages and blocks the strong tank can create quite a challenge for a group.

When using faceless enemies to fill an encounter out, the type and some of what is found with them can be just as plot relevant as the trusted LT of the evil overlord. If the relatively unknown manipulator behind a series of events that the players are following has gotten gnome rogues to attack the players this has a different meaning to some human street toughs even if as a GM you might use the same stats (minus weapon damage). The players might think to go investigate the gnome connection, and there is a political ploy that is present. With the human street toughs, one of them seemed to be stronger than the others (a leader of some description) who has a well faceted gemstone in his pouch, presumably as payment. When touched to blood, it shatters causing damage after a moment. The players now suspect advanced magic, and don’t trust gems.

A third option would be that two of the thugs look oddly similar. Asking around, leads to information about the twins. As known street toughs, their movements were more easily followed. Fourth option is for those who wish to upset their players. Players often take a ‘Keep what you kill’ attitude. Throw some items into the pouchs that could be heirlooms. Then have in a couple sessions the family of the deceased seeking vengeance.

Morrowind Multiplayer

Would you actually be interested in playing Multiplayer Morrowind? While talking to someone today they mentioned that the Morrowind Multiplayer mods have come far enough that it’s legit possible to run a server with dozens of players. This has gotten me far more excited than I have been about video games in many years. See? See? I smiled. Well.. Almost.

If there are enough people interested then I can get a server up and running within an hour of having the interest. We could play vanilla, we could play with a wide range of mod options. And we can begin building M’Kal in world slowly over time. This may or may not replace the minecraft server.

Would you actually be interested in playing Multiplayer Morrowind?
© Kama

Tracey’s Reading List

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom – This book describes how selfishness, deception, violence and other “evil” traits have a biological advantage, and then explores how those traits helped shape culture and history. Allows DMs to flesh out races and monsters with realistic/reasonable explanations for creatures and their motivations. For example, a DM may decide that the reason orcs are typically violent is that they are heavily muscled and require a lot of protein to develop, and so evolved to have high testosterone and adrenaline as a result to make them better hunters, and thus have also evolved an aggressive hunting culture to meet their biological needs for protein.

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – So many people in D&D talk about having power, but so rarely does anyone know how to gain or maintain it. The rules in this book should be memorized by every tyrant (or tyrant to be) that wants to rule by skill and not via DM fiat or plot immunity. Also adds depth and breadth to villains and their plans.

The Deathbird and Other Stories by Harlan Ellison – This anthology is included for the short stories “The Deathbird” (won both Hugo and Locus awards) and “The Slab.” The first story concerns a lone man fighting an insane and power-hungry god for control of a dead world, and what he must first learn to understand and accept if he is to win. This story is masterfully intercut with vignettes illustrating the roles of man, God, fate, and nature. The second tale, “The Slab,” reveals what happens when a modern day huckster unearths Prometheus, the actual ancient Titan who brought fire to mankind. This anthology (and these stories in particular) are included because they present excellent examples of how to combine meaningful depth with plot events.

The Cross-Time Engineer (Adventures of Conrad Stargard, Book 1) by Leo Frankowski – In this story a modern-day mechanical engineer named Conrad accidentally falls through a temporal portal in Poland back to the year 1231, a decade before the Mongols are destined to arrive and wipe out most of the population of Eastern Europe. Unable to return home, Conrad turns his engineering expertise towards modernizing Poland’s military before the Mongols arrive. Story continues through The High Tech Knight, The Radiant Warrior, and The Flying Warlord. The author, Frankowski, is actually a mechanical engineer so his explanations of the steps Conrad must take to evolve common crude medieval technology to modern era tech is both accurate and informative. This series is a must for any DM trying to contain an overly ambitious artificer.

The Long Walk by Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman – A group of 100 boys volunteer for a death march across – where else? – rural Maine in order to compete for the ultimate Prize. An interesting exploration of group dynamics under high stress that asks some surprisingly deep questions – just what is really important, if you know that you’re about to die? Also has some fascinating descriptions of mental breakdowns useful to borrow for extreme NPC behavior – especially ones broken due to high stress.

The Psychopath’s Bible: For the Extreme Individual by Christopher S. Hyatt – This book presents a refreshingly functional chaotic evil mindset – extremely useful for DMs and players that want to be something much more than a flat fantasy stereotype of evil (which usually just winds up as boring gorecore anyway.)

The History of Religious Ideas 1, 2 and 3 by Mircea Eliade – This modern professor of religion, history and philosophy wrote numerous books comparing and interpreting religious experiences that are foundational to the study of these subjects today. These three books by Dr. Eliade outline the basis for the evolution of religion throughout the world. Contains hundreds upon hundreds of examples of real world religious and cultural practices with highly accessible explanations of everything. This book is superb for fleshing out religions and their various sects, cultures, and the personal values of PCs and NPCs alike.

Aghora: At the Left Hand of God by Dr. Robert Svoboda – Dr. Svoboda is recognized as a world-wide expert on Ayurvedic medicine and classical Indian lore, being the first Westerner to ever receive his degree in same from the University of Poona in India in 1980. This book describes how a religious sect called the Aghoris attempt to achieve true understanding of their Selves and ultimate union with the Divine All via religious rites in charnel houses and among cremation fires. This book is excellent reading for DMs because it gives a wholly different perspective on what would be considered normally “evil” practices (such as drinking out of skulls while meditating atop corpses), describes how the touch of the sacred changes the soul of the aspirant – a must for realistic clerics – and gives beaucoup examples of how to dress up a necromantic cult without it being a bunch of hokey “dudes in black robes chanting… again.”

Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice for All Creation by Olivia Judson – This fascinating book gives a survey of some of the most interesting and bizarre reproductive practices in the natural world in the format of a parody advice column for critters having trouble attracting a suitable mate. I include this book for two reasons. First, we often forget that monsters in the world have an ecology, which means that they are looking to reproduce – and I wonder, just how do monsters reproduce, and what problems might they encounter? The fact that this is written as an advice column parody is useful for looking at things from the perspective of the animal/monster – if a sea urchin is willing to spill the beans about its problems finding a mate, would a sphinx? How do shocker lizards act during breeding season? This book is excellent for mining answers to those very questions.

Evil Overlord List by Peter Anspach – While not a book, this list is absolutely essential for any DM no matter how experienced they are. This list is given from the perspective of an Evil Overlord who is swearing to not commit a clichéd act and to act with common sense. Includes lots of useful advice such as “When I capture the hero, I will make sure I also get his dog, monkey, ferret, or whatever sickeningly cute little animal capable of untying ropes and filching keys happens to follow him around.” If your BBEG is violating any of these rules, he best have a darned good explanation, or you as the DM had best be revising them.

Helen’s Recommended Reading List

  1. Small Gods- Terry Pratchett
    1. Useful for its perspective on the nature of the relationship between man and god, which is a core part of many D&D stories. Also damned funny.
  2. Guards! Guards!- Terry Pratchett
    1. Full of analyses of the cliches and tropes of classic fantasy stories- and thus provides an engaging framework for how to avoid the old tropes.
  3. Hogfather- Terry Pratchett
    1. Seasonally appropriate exploration of Christmas, but more importantly on the nature of belief in gods and in ideals.
  4. The Princess Bride- William Goldman
    1. A very amusing satire of old fairy tale cliches, much less earnest than the film adapted from it.
  5. The Sandman- Neil Gaiman
    1. A long comic book series that you might not have the time or inclination to read, but I had to recommend it. This is one of the most deep and evocative comics ever written, that tells stories spanning time, space, and fantasy. It examines the nature of stories- and afterall what is D&D, but a living story?
  6. Goods Omens- Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
    1. Sarah basically outlined my reasons for recommending this, and she’s pretty sharp so you should take her word for it. To list what I think she left out is a story about how not necessarily doing anything to save the day doesn’t mean your story is irrelevant, and that a little irreverence goes a long way.
  7. The Dark is Rising- Susan Cooper
    1. Bit of a dark horse pick for this list. While intended as Children’s literature, like Neil Gaiman Cooper manages to create a tale of old folklore and eldritch imagery that is engaging even for an adult audience.
  8. The Witcher Series- Andrzej Sapkowski
    1. I have to recommend the entire series, though really you only need to read the first two books for a fun and exciting read and some clever (And transparent) deconstructions of classic fairy tales. The later books also have in my opinion one of the best demonstrations of the composition and dynamic an adventuring party should have- and the way they can all meet their ends. (Spoiler)
  9. The William Marshall Series- Elizabeth Chadwick
    1. Historical fiction, not fantasy. I recommend this series both out of my own love for the famed Earl of Pembroke (the title character) but also for its depiction of life in the High Middle Ages, showing how to tell a story in Medieval setting that is both accurate and relatable.
  10. The Children of Hurin- JRR Tolkien
    1. I had to work in some Tolkien in here. This story is a perfect guide for how to torment your players. It’s also quite good- I recommend the audiobook version read by the late, great Christopher Lee.

Book Suggestions by Sarah

Good Omens
What is the nature of those who follow the path of good and evil? How does prophecy actually play into the world around you? From a perspective of long ago, how might the future be seen? How can you as a GM write vague but useful prophecies. And some nature vs nurture and the ease of things going wrong. Whats not to like?

The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2
An engaging world it is not. And that rather is the problem. This book may make you reevaluate how you handle descriptions and game focus. How you try and push what the Character thinks for your player’s consideration compared to what the Player thinks. When they make feat decisions and what they should pick.

Rhapsody (E. Hayden)
A rich fantasy with an incredible interpretation of Truename magic. Truly painful loss, how to write and plot arcing sequences, world magic, and how “monsterous” characters may behave in normal society.
Black magician trilogy
An alternate perspective on magic. Some realities of dark magic, subtly, and intrigue. The early chapters also give some good examples of how a magician’s guild compared to the desires of street gangs could play out.
Night Angel trilogy
Another street gangs and magic series. This time with assassins and how they have a sense of legality within a lawful society. This one deals with Artifact magic items and how that changes the world around them.
Kingmaker kingbreaker series
When one race of people holds supremacy for having powerful magic, and the lesser race develops the same high magic, meanwhile the crown prince has none, what happens? Especially when the two are friends.
Chronicles Of The Necromancer Series
Politics and magic, Necromancy in this case is more spiritual/ghost magic. Yet another alternate perspective on magic, what evil can look like, and what Good can look like even if it is coated in some dust.
If on a Winters night (Calvino)
This book spoke to me specifically. We take in a portion of our environment at any time until we focus with intense focus on an object. Sitting at my desk, I am aware I have a keyboard. But as I focus more on it, I can notice that the S key I overuse or hit at a different angle based on how the paint is scrapped. That kind of evolution of description is demonstrated in exceptional skill with the first chapter. The following chapters can be seen as a linked continuity of characters in different situations. Like a West March quest chain.
Godspeaker Trilogy
Religion is powerful. Regardless of what your gods actually are. Evil spirits, divine beings, it matters not. The FAITH that the followers hold when bolstered by something with power can make a street girl an Empress, and in turn conquer the world…well almost.
Night Watch (Sergei Lukyanenko)
Couldn’t find a good name for the series. It has been a while since I read these and they certainly stuck less than the others. Modern magic, the horrors that can lurk as a result, and how you may or may not cope. The power of perspective. The fear around the Other and how it can be played. Let alone the descriptions of what I recall a World of Darkness-esque Russia.

Book Recommendations, by Camber

Book Recommendations, by Camber

Note, In most cases, I’ve recommended the first book in a series where I would recommend the entire series.

1. Sanderson, Brandon. The Way of Kings.
Epic in scope. The first of a series that promises to be one of the best of all time. One of the best examples of worldbuilding I’ve seen; Sanderson is a master of thinking through all the possible ripple effects of his choices as an author. I would rank Tolkien better because he came first, but Sanderson builds on the shoulders of giants and does not disappoint, making him slightly more accessible and satisfying for modern audiences. I’ve found that Sanderson is a rare gem – an author that writes at a very high rate of productivity (at least two books per year) but also at a very high mark of quality. My standard for quality is that the author makes me care about the characters and the story, takes care making a world, is smart enough that I can’t find any logic holes. Most importantly, that s/he depicts relationships, greatness of heart, sacrifice, and beauty convincingly enough that it moves me to tears at least once in the book. Most authors can’t do even one of these well, but so far I’ve never seen Sanderson not deliver on all of the above.

2. Tolkien, J.R.R. Fellowship of the Ring.
The more times I read Tolkien, the more impressed I am at his work. I’m always excited when I see his scholarly work in philology cited in some article I read. Recently I was doing genealogical research on ancient Saxon lines, and found that the definitive study of an obscure text on a historical figure was written by the Don himself. An amazing man. He launched the genre of modern fantasy writing, and D&D owes its existence to The Lord of the Rings.

3. Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea.
Le Guin is better known for some of her other works, such as The Left Hand of Darkness. But I loved her Earthsea trilogy when I was in middle school; when I found Tolkien a bit too complex for my young mind, Earthsea was just right. If you ever wanted to see what a Truenamer should really look like, this will excite you.

4. Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind.
If it weren’t for the fact that Rothfuss is taking forever to finish his series, this would rank higher on my list. He only makes a few unforgiveable mistakes with his characters (George R.R. Martin makes so many that I’ve banished him entirely from my list), and his writing is so good that I feel like

strangling him every year that he doesn’t add another book. If he continues to deliver, this could put him second or third on my list.

5. Jordan, Robert. The Eye of the World.
If it weren’t for the fact that Brandon Sanderson penned a perfect ending to his works, Jordan’s epic tale of Aes Sedai and the Dragon Reborn would just be a sad unfinished tale that started off with more promise than it was able to deliver. The first book in the series was very well written. Some of the later books start to drag. But overall, worth the time it takes to read them all.

6. Kurtz, Katherine. Deryni Rising.
I’m always surprised when I find that Kurtz’s work isn’t better known among fantasy readers. She does an excellent job of depicting an alternative low-magic medieval world, in which a psionic race (the Deryni) play a prominent role. It you want your fantasy to be less fantastic and more realistic, this is a good read. Unlike my other recommendations, I’ve named the first published book as the representative of the series. If you want to read them in timeline order,

start with Camber of Culdi. Yep. That’s where I take my username from. That’s how much I love it.

7. McClellan, Brian. Promise of Blood.
Gunpowder plus magic. Awesome. The setting is kind of Napoleonic in its cultural feel. So much later than what I’m used to in fantasy novels. But wow, very well-written, and very exciting. These are fairly recent, so they don’t have many fans yet. But they are gems.

8. Kowal, Mary Robinette. Shades of Milk and Honey.
When my wife saw me reading Kowal’s books, she thought I was reading some trashy romance novel. I can see how the cover art might suggest that. But these definitely aren’t silly romances. The side of me that enjoys classic literature like Jane Eyre, Lorna Doone, or Pride and Prejudice, really appreciated Kowal’s creation of a fantasy magic inserted into the time and culture of Jane Austen, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Where the powder mage trilogy of McClellan is filled with blood and action, Kowal’s novels appeal to my more feminine side. The magic is nearly 100% illusion-based, and the setting is mostly English high society. Be forewarned, this isn’t for everyone. But I look forward to each of her novels, and hope she continues writing for many decades.

9. Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three.
I’d liken this to LotR for younger audiences. If you ever watched The Black Cauldron, this is the first book in that series. Well-written and accessible for all ages 10 and up.

10. Brooks, Terry. Running with the Demon.
If you want to get into Terry Brooks’ immense body of work, I’d recommend starting chronologically, not by date of publication, but instead by timeline. I’m impressed at how he got from the modern world to the fantasy of Shannara. I’d also recommend Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold!

11. Modesitt, L.E. Jr. The Magic of Recluse.
Modesitt has several series, but this is the better of them. If you want to read them in chronological order, start with Fall of Angels. One thing I like about his works are that they pit order mages against chaos mages, but avoid painting one as good and the other evil. Each side believes they are the good guys, and he switches back and forth in showing us their perspectives (not within the same novel, thankfully). His Soprano Sorceress series is also quite good.

12. Hambly, Barbara. Dragonsbane.
Hambly is one of the better older fantasy authors. Between Tolkien and the 80’s, there was a lot of junk written. Hambly stands out as an exception. I’d also recommend her book The Ladies of Mandrigan for the same reason. Unlike most of my recommendations, I’d recommend both of these as standalone books (though Dragonsbane is part of a series called Winterlands).

13. Sanderson, Brandon. The Final Empire.
Several of Sanderson’s works deserve an honorable mention. The Mistborn series is particularly impressive for its inventive magic system. Warbreaker and Elantris also deserve mention for the same reason. The Mistborn series have more of a post-medieval feel, and they’re darker than what I usually enjoy, but very well written. There is a second trilogy in the series that takes place several hundred years later that’s Wild West fantasy. And a futuristic one is in the works. I also love the premise – a hero is destined to save the wold. But instead, he defies the prophesy and uses the ultimate power that would save the world, to instead conquer it and rule for 1000 years as its godlike overlord. Now, against all odds, a band of rogues attempts the ultimate heist – to rob him of his wealth and perhaps even overthrow the Lord Ruler.

14. Card, Orson Scott. Seventh Son.
I actually prefer Ender’s Game (it would rank 3rd on my list), but since this is a fantasy list, I would give Card’s first volume in the Tales of Alvin Maker an honorable mention. I hope he finishes the series, but since he’s already said that the main character will die in the end, I’m not too eager. It seems Card isn’t either. Also recommended by him: Enchantment, Pastwatch, The Folk of the Fringe, Pathfinder (no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the game), and The Gate Thief. Card is one of the few authors I would trust with my time no matter what he writes. I’ve read enough of his work to find that he’ll only write about characters that he cares about, and that he’ll quickly make you care about as a reader. He also understands what greatness of heart is, and is able to depict it well enough to move me to tears in nearly every one of his books.

15. Smith, Sherwood. Inda.
A tale of a nobleborn boy who excels in battle and gets caught up with pirates. There’s more to it, but hopefully that will get you interested enough to try out this series.

16.Lynch, Scott. The Lies of Locke Lamora.
This was recommended heavily to me as a fan of Patrick Rothfuss. It turned out to be more violent than I’d prefer, but I can see why people like Lynch’s work. Darker than my usual tastes. If you like rogues, you’ll like Locke Lamora.

17. Pierce, Tamora. Terrier.
This is the Beka Cooper series of the story of a young female rogue. The Alanna series, of a young female knight, is also satisfying. I thought they were good, but they are the all-time favorites of my eldest daughter, so they deserve mention.

18. McKillip, Patricia. Riddle-Master of Hed.
These deserve mention as a bardic epic tale. I actually preferred McKillip’s short story, The Throme of the Erril of Sherill, but that is almost impossible to find.

19. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
I suppose I shouldn’t leave Rowling out, even though she almost seems cliche. I enjoyed her work, but I wouldn’t return to it unless I was reading it with one of my children.

20. Mull, Brandon. A World Without Heroes.
Beyonders is a short trilogy that went well, kept me interested, and that was recommended by my kids. Not as overloved as Harry Potter, and you’ll feel less embarrassed admitting you’ve read it. Mull has other series, such as Fablehaven and The Five Kingdoms, that are also well-written (all for YA audiences).

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