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Gaming Has Changed My Media Expectations

Gaming media characters
Jon Heder, as the titular Napoleon Dynamite, and Aaron Ruell as Kip engage in a nerd battle in the independent film “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Arguing about media is a staple of the nerd subculture. We spend an inordinate amount of time going over our favorite shows, movies and books with a fine-toothed comb picking out small details and jabbing at each other with them, because as nerds it’s just what we do. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise, then, that my friend group is no exception to this.

I’m not going to lie, much of the time it’s my fault. I am a total killjoy to watch a movie or anime with, because I absolutely hate it when the main character does everything. Continue reading Gaming Has Changed My Media Expectations

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D&D Adventure Awaits with Tomb of Annihilation and More

Along with announcing the next storyline in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons family at June’s “Stream of Annihilation” live stream event, Wizards of the Coast revealed several new products set for release in Q3-4 2017 along with the Tomb of Annihilation adventure. Whether your bookshelf could use a few things to fill the space, you’re a D&D completionist or looking ahead to the holidays at gift ideas for the nerds in your life, here’s a rundown of D&D books and accessories headed your way.
Continue reading D&D Adventure Awaits with Tomb of Annihilation and More

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Nord Games unleashes Revenge of the Horde on your D&D game

Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde from Nord Games offers an awesome resource for incorporating a variety of monstrous races into your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game. At nearly 200 pages, the book presents creature options for bugbears, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, ogres, orcs and more. The book is available through Nord Games in PDF and hardcover options, for $15-45. In addition to the D&D version, there is a Pathfinder edition, too.

Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch backed the Kickstarter campaign, and you can watch their Nord Games-sponsored flip-through video above. In addition to the hardcover book, they received the reference deck, all five encounter builder decks and 258 pawns featuring the new creatures from the D&D book. Continue reading Nord Games unleashes Revenge of the Horde on your D&D game

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Blind characters not unknown in film, books, comics

On Last Monday’s “Nerdarchy: Live Chat,” the chat itself talked for more than a half hour about different kinds of blind characters. I figured I’d expand on the lore a bit more. Continue reading Blind characters not unknown in film, books, comics

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Once upon a time, book stores were like treasure maps

book storesIn today’s world, readers can find just about any book they want. If a particular book, fiction or non-fiction, is not available at one of your local book stores, you can always head online. The most obvious place online to find a book is Amazon, but there are plenty of other sites as well.

Then, of course, there are modern devices for reading e-books, one of the most popular being the Kindle. With these e-readers you can browse many online sites, then purchase and download books straight to your device for ease of reading, all without having to travel to a store and without having to purchase an actual, physical book. And lots of e-books are free, especially many of the older classics of literature and quite often new books by independent writers and/or publishers.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s all great. It’s perfect for the book-reading consumer.

But sometimes I have to wonder if something has been lost along the way.

Perusing stores for a book you really want is fun. And what’s just as fun is poring through boxes and over shelves to discover a gem you hadn’t expected, maybe even learning about an interesting book you hadn’t even known existed. It’s one of the reasons I still love to go to used book stores, and sometimes to a Barnes and Noble or Joseph-Beth.

Hunting for a book, and discovering unknown books, is like going on an adventure. It’s like journeying back a few hundred years and you are a pirate out there searching for lost treasures and secret gems. I’m exaggerating, of course, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Plunging your way through book store shelves and digging into stacks of books is often as fun as reading a good book. A book isn’t just another thing you purchase; it can be something you put some physical investment into, something you put some time into, and some thought.

Then, after you pay for your book, you take it home and open its pages to other worlds. Or you place it on a stack (or truckload) of other books you haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

bookI remember back in the 1970s when I was a kid that book stores weren’t always so easy to find. Sure, there were plenty of book stores in cities, but the big chain stores hadn’t come along yet and most book stores weren’t gigantic. Still, you could spend hours glancing over and digging into the shelves in these smaller stores. You might not find what you want. Often you didn’t. And if there was something you really, really wanted, you would have to ask a clerk to order it for you, which would usually include some extra charges and the book might not be available any time soon.

Sounds scary, right? No. It was actually a lot of fun. Back then a book store was like opening a wrapped present, a gift from a stranger and a gift of which you had no idea what was inside. Most times there would be something grand. Nearly always would there be something surprising. And yes, every once in a while you would walk away disappointed. But the possibilities, for good and ill, were part of the fun.

I miss that.

Oh, it can still be found, but that sense isn’t as strong as it used to be. Maybe I’m just enjoying reminiscing about “the good ole days.” Still, I often find that magical feeling whenever I hit a library, and I’m glad of it.

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In fiction, ‘darkness’ is in the eye of the beholder

kobalos trilogyAs a fiction writer, I tend to mostly work in the fields of fantasy and horror. I don’t consider my fantasy works especially dark, nor do I consider most of my horror to be overly gory.

But readers as individuals have different tastes and wants in their literature. Why, just recently I had a reader e-mail me asking me about the darkness in my fantasy series, The Kobalos Trilogy. I was not surprised, but as recently as a couple of years ago I would have been.

When I first set out to write The Kobalos Trilogy, I wasn’t planning on writing dark fantasy. I was thinking of writing epic fantasy, but I didn’t want it to be huge epic fantasy, if you know what I mean. Yes, there’s a bit of traveling and a dark mage and some of the tropes of epic fantasy, but I wanted the story to mostly focus upon a core group of individuals, a half dozen or so people, instead of spanning across nations and armies and whole populations. In the end, I believe I mostly accomplished what I set out to do in those regards, though there is a touch of a broader, world-spanning plot.

Also, something else I wanted to do was to make the violence in my fantasy to seem realistic, not to be overly bloody or gory, but to have some of the emotional impact that violence does in real life. When one of my characters kills someone, I want it to mean something, to have an emotional impact upon the reader. Which is one of the reasons I don’t use non-humans in my fantasy, because I feel such characters limit the emotional relevance to many readers. I see far too many fantasy novels filled with heroes who slash aside orcs or goblins or other meanies without there being anything real to it; the bad guys are just bad guys and stand-ins for any kind of bad guys (not that there isn’t a place for those stories as well, but they’re not what I wish to write). Violence has real-life repercussions, regardless of whether it’s committed by some sordid serial murderer or a patriotic hero waving a flag; there might be different levels of the violence, different reasons behind it and different repercussions, but they are there. Violence of any type by any person leaves no one without scars, often not even the perpetrator of the violence.

Darkness and horror

What brought this to mind, besides the one e-mail from a reader, was my own recent readings. Upon the recommendations of various friends of colleagues, I’ve read several fantasy novels lately that have been labeled as “dark.” Some of these novels are from traditional print authors, while some are from indie authors.

None of them have I found overly dark. Violent, perhaps. Bloody, sometimes. Dark? Nope.

horror
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the difference, at least for me? To me, “dark” literature is fiction that explores the debased side of humanity, our darker thoughts, ideas, etc., what some might call evil and/or the disturbed. To my way of thinking, blood and horror and gore and violence in and of themselves are not necessarily dark, sometimes being little more than titillation, what late author John Gardner said celebrates “the trifling.”

True dark literature, in my opinion, goes beyond the mere physical acts of violence and explores the emotional depths of the darker sides of humanity.

For example, despite the large numbers of murders and deaths, I wouldn’t consider the Friday the 13th series of movies to be overly dark. Gruesome at times, yes. Dark, not on your life.

Keeping with an example from film, Apocalypse Now I find to be a truly dark film. Yes, it has its blood and gore and its fair share of battle scenes, but it goes beyond this to explore the emotional effects of the Vietnam War on soldiers, the effects of violence and madness, the outgrowth into more violence and madness, etc.

horror
Stephen King, American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To that end, such novels as Fight Club and Moby Dick I consider “dark” literature, though they are not necessarily overly gore-filled. On the other hand, I don’t consider most horror novels as truly dark literature, though there are exceptions. Clive Barker writes dark fiction, sometimes so does Neil Gaiman, but honestly, despite my liking of his writing style, I don’t consider most of the works of Stephen King as overly dark, as horror-ific as some of them might be.

Now, I freely admit I’m simply offering my own opinion here. I’m not suggesting no other opinions are valid. This is just how I see things.

So what are your thoughts on dark fiction?

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Comic report: Saga, Volume One

Saga

Saga
Saga: Marko and Alana

Saga (written by Brian K. Vaughan with artwork by Fiona Staples) is just one of those comics you need to read. The perfect combination of action, romance, drama and inappropriateness is definitely what makes this a story to indulge in. It’s basically like an epic space odyssey of a couple, Alana and Marko, two separate alien races (both super hot, horned, winged aliens with attitude, peoples) escaping the life they lived as military personnel to two opposing racial forces in a war between the planet Landfall  (Alana’s home) and its satellite wreath (Marko’s native moon). In order to start anew with their newly-birthed (from forbidden love) child, Hazel, they are forced to flee in secret and hopefully escape the never-ending war between their two races, which they want nothing to do with.   This world, mind you, is full of magic and strange scientific advancements similar to recent Star Wars movies, so you see a lot of creepy and strange characters which makes it intriguing and makes you want to keep reading! Continue reading Comic report: Saga, Volume One

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Blast from the Past: Marvel Comics Pocket Books

ALL books
They’re looking a little rough around the edges, but I’ve had these Marvel Comics Pocket Books nearly 40 years.

FFLong before Civil Wars, Spider-Man clones, Infinity Gauntlets, Secret Wars and movie franchises, Marvel Comics drew in readers with what today would be considered relatively simple story telling, but story telling that packed a punch. Most issues of a comic book told a story that could stand on its own instead of branching out across multiple issues or even into other titles. The colors were bright, the good guys were easy to tell from the bad guys, and quite often a super hero’s private life was just as interesting as his or her time battling dastardly villains. All this and more in less than 30 pages, and only super special editions ever cost more than 50 cents.

However, one hurdle comics faced was drawing in new readers. In the 1960s and ’70s and to some extent the early 1980s, Marvel’s collection of super beings hadn’t quite reached beyond the scope of comics fans and into the wider, broader culture. This would change when super heroes began to appear more and more on television and in movies, and later in the ’80s when material deemed more adult or mature began to appear in comics pages, but early readers often had to pick up a title without knowing much about the title character.

Nowadays pretty much everyone knows Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider, and that Captain America received his powers from the Super Soldier Formula during World War II. Most people are aware of the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Thank you, Hollywood. But that was not always the case.

Marvel tries something new

spideyTo help ease readers into popular titles, in 1975 Marvel began to release paperback-sized editions which retold some of the earliest tales of many of its super heroes. Teaming up with Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Marvel released 10 such collections, the last one coming out in 1980. Each was sized roughly 4 ¼ inches by 7 inches, consisted of 132 pages or more, featured bright colors, and held six or seven issues from a comic book.

The first Pocket Book from Marvel was for Spider-Man, even then the best-known of all Marvel’s characters. All in all there would be three Spider-Man Pocket Books, following the young Peter Parker from his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 and then in issues 1 through 20 of The Amazing Spider-Man. Here could be found Spidey’s origin story as well as his first encounters with the likes of such infamous characters as Doctor Octopus, Doctor Doom, the Chameleon, the Green Goblin, the Scorpion, and the Vulture.

spiedy womanFollowing the success of that first Spider-Man Pocket Book, Marvel followed up with two collections for The Hulk, one for Captain America, one for the Fantastic Four, two for Doctor Strange, and one for Spider-Woman. Like the Spidey books, these told the earliest stories of these characters, showing how they gained their powers and their earliest foes.

My collection of Pocket Books from Marvel

Unfortunately, I only ever owned eight of these books, which I still have to this day. I was not yet a teenager when they were available at stores, and I never managed to find the second Doctor Strange book or the Spider-Woman book. Four of the books I was lucky enough to find in a boxed set, but the other four I picked up individually.

Over the years there have been other paperback-sized books from Marvel, including early tales in the Star Wars universe, but those first ones hold a special place in my heart and have become something of collectors’ items. The eight Pocket Books I owned provided backgrounds for characters which were already familiar to me, and allowed me to learn about characters I barely knew, such as Doctor Strange.

hulk1The earliest tales of a super hero, or any serialized character, can be quite important, letting the reader know about not only the hero’s past, but about his or her attitudes, their character, even their powers. I’m glad I had those early tales, for they brought to life for me the likes of The Thing, Bucky, Baron Mordo and many other Marvel characters, good and bad.

Plus, these were great stories that didn’t take a lot of time to read and didn’t cost a bunch of money. If you’ve never read the earliest stories of some of Marvel’s best known heroes, I suggest you look them up. I think it will be worth your time and effort.

Maybe you’ll even run across some of these old Pocket Books.

But until then, Stay Nerdy!

doc strange

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The Basics: Getting started in Western martial arts

sword

If you came here after reading the headline to this article, your mind is probably filled with images of longswords. While longswords are indeed a major component of the modern trend of Western martial arts, they are by no means the only weapon utilized within the art itself. Also, longswords come from one fairly narrow era of time, mainly from the 14th through 16th centuries, and Western martial arts covers a much broader period, going back at least several thousand years. You will find the study and practice of such weapons as the rapier, the Roman gladius, the bowie knife, and many, many other weapons, many bladed but not all.

Why Western martial arts?

Continue reading The Basics: Getting started in Western martial arts

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Codex Alera – Awesome Fantasy Setting – Great Source of Inspiration

codex aleraNerdarchist Ted here and today I am going to share one of my favorite book series with you.  Last week I opened up the Star Wars Beginner Box Force and Destiny.  You can read that one here.

Many of you may not be into novels, but I strongly recommend it.  Not only do you get to see a whole new world but you typically get to see plot and character development.  Whether you are a player or a DM it can help your role playing as well as keep you in the fantasy setting when you can’t get the group together.  It is also a great source of inspiration.

In case you are planning on reading this there will not be any major spoilers here but I will talk a little bit about the series and some of the minor things that happen over the course of the series so you can just go get your copy and stop reading or continue with this little warning.

Codex Alera – Awesome Fantasy Setting

Continue reading Codex Alera – Awesome Fantasy Setting – Great Source of Inspiration

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A Guide to the fantasy writings of Ty Johnston

As someone who writes fantasy fiction for a living, one of the questions I most often get asked is, “Where should I start reading your stuff?” In other words, which book should they read first?

This is not such an easy question to answer. It doesn’t help that all my fantasy novels and stories take place within the same world, Ursia, though often in different time periods, sometimes decades or even thousands of years apart.

The Kobalos Trilogy

city of rogues

Generally I suggest readers start with my novel, City of Rogues. It is not only the first book of this trilogy, but it is the first book featuring my Kron Darkbow character. Kron and his time period are sort of the center of my Ursian Chronicles, the books and stories that take place in my fantasy world, and to some extent all my other fantasy writings are related to Kron’s adventures.

Think you might be interested in City of Rogues? Here is the description for the novel:

“Kron Darkbow seeks vengeance, and he plans to have it no matter the costs. Returning to the city of his birth after 15 years, he hunts down the wizard responsible for the deaths of those he loved only to find out another was responsible for the murders. That other is Belgad the Liar, a former barbarian chieftain who is now boss of the city’s underworld.

Following his path for blood, Kron comes across the magical healer, Randall Tendbones, and accidentally reveals Randall’s darkest secret to the world. It’s a secret about the past, a Continue reading A Guide to the fantasy writings of Ty Johnston

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Fantastic Fantasy Art| Tony Diterlizzi

D&D, RPG, halfling, Hobbit, DragonMag2, Jim Henson, Brian Froud, diterlizzi
Dragon Magazine cover of a Diterlizzian halfling.

 

It’s time to walk the hallowed halls of my artist pantheon, this time with the imaginative work of Tony Diterlizzi.  I first knew Mr. Diterlizzi’s  work from his RPG artwork for 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, primarily in the Monstrous Manual… and then- Planescape!  How mind-blowing was that 2nd Edition boxed-set with it’s purple and brown tones and whimsical, yet with an aspect of danger, characters?  He has contributed his pencils and brushes to RPG artwork for the fore mentioned Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering, young adult book covers (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”), children’s books (“Ted” and “The Spider & The Fly”),  and even a full-length young adult novel series that he wrote himself (“The Search for Wondla” series)!
Continue reading Fantastic Fantasy Art| Tony Diterlizzi

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Books in review – Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher – Codex Alera

Furies of CalderonHello all and welcome to another week over here on Nerdarchy.  I am Nerdarchist Ted and today I want to share one of my favorite book series: Codex Alera.  This is a series written by Jim Butcher, my favorite author.

I had been reading his other series: The Dresden Files, look for a review on that in the near future, when I decided to check out his other works.  The first book in the Codex Alera series is called Furies of Calderon.

This story takes place in a place of high fantasy with many Roman undertones.  You will learn why as you get into the series.

The magic in this world is fun and unique and makes a gamer want to play in this very rich world.  Jim Butcher if you are reading this please make this a gaming system or world so that your fans can enjoy this world in a new way.

See that is one of the cool things about this author. Jim Butcher is a gamer.  He not only gets us, he is one of us.  If you live out in the mid west you might have teh ability to do Live Action Role Playing with him.  That would truly be awesome.  Continue reading Books in review – Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher – Codex Alera

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Books in review – Superpowered by James Schannep – Choose your own adventure

choose your own adventureHappy Memorial Day!  I hope this day finds you and yours well. Nerdarchist Ted here again.  Lets look back to the time we were kids.  Do you remember fondly watching and playing Super heroes?  Do you remember reading those choose your own adventure books?

Do you want to gain Super Powers?

Well I recently found that link to my childhood that covers both.  Superpowered by James Schannep  covers it quite awesomely.  It is a choose your own adventure book about an ordinary person who can get super powers and as you would guess there are loads of options.

Like any choose your own adventure book there are lots of options some the end the book quite quickly and others that can take you down the long reading road.  As an avid reader, one that has spent many an hour of reading these choose your way books, I knew the short roads early on and I experimented with those first to see where they would lead. Continue reading Books in review – Superpowered by James Schannep – Choose your own adventure

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How to DM- Cheat With The Lazy Dungeon Master

The Lazy Dungeon Master

The Lazy Dungeon MasterHello and welcome fellow nerdarchists. Dave here with a great way to up your RPG gaming skills. It’s called The Lazy Dungeon Master written by  Michael Shea.

Don’t worry which edition of Dungeons and Dragons you are playing this book will be useful. Matter of fact I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest you could use nearly all of the advice given for any tabletop RPG.

This book is short, sweet, and packed with valuable Dungeon Master Tips. If you are looking for a how to DM resource this one is at the top of my list.

It weighs in at an anemic 123 pages, but offers Storm Giant sized value. If I would of stumbled across this book there is no way I would of bought it, but because a friend recommended it I decided to give it go.

At 123 pages I was thinking what the hell is this Michael Shea guy going to tell me about how to DM. I mean I’ve been gaming for over 30 yrs at this point. Continue reading How to DM- Cheat With The Lazy Dungeon Master