Thursday, February 9, 2012

Calling All Pathfinders! Time to Suit Up for Space!

All of my friends know I'm a geek. And many of my friends are geeks to. In fact, many of them have outright participated in geekiness right alongside me. I've called on my geek friends to do something for me, and now I am calling on all fellow geeks to do themselves (and me) a HUGE favor, for which I will love you forever and ever, amen.

There's this really cool project I just signed onto. It's a fantasy roleplaying game book, called Sailing the Starlit Sea. This project is being produced by a really great guy, who just happens to
be the owner and sole proprietor of Clockwork Gnome Publishing. The book will bring the fun and adventure of space travel and exploration to Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder RPG.

Most of you probably remember the D&D setting, Spelljammer. If you liked that setting, you should definitely support Sailing the Starlit Sea. If you thought the idea behind Spelljammer was cool, but didn't like the setting, you should still support the project. If you've never heard of Spelljammer, I'd like you to consider supporting, anyway.

How can you support? I'm glad you asked.

Follow the link below to the Kickstarter page to learn more about and help fund this project. By helping to produce this product, you'll get some cool stuff for yourself or the gamer in your life. Even if you're not interested in contributing, please share the word about this project with folks who might be. It's definitely worthy of support. You'll also be helping a good friend of mine produce a product that will bring an awesome new dimension to Pathfinder campaigns everywhere...and you'll be helping me, too.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review Double Feature: Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils

Since I know this is going to be a long article, I will start by giving a “quick and dirty” assessment of the two books featured in this review:

- Prince of Wolves: 4 out of 5 Stars; Good Storytelling, Fun Characters, Naturally rooted in the Pathfinder setting

- Master of Devils: 4.5 out of 5 Stars; Wonderful Story, Great use of different viewpoints, Good way to introduce readers to Golarion’s Asian-themed regions

These two books are further indications that Paizo Publishing understands both the gaming market and the fantasy fiction market. I’m very pleased with where the Pathfinder Tales line is going.

Although this article is primarily about Dave Gross’s Master of Devils, I’m going to take a moment to discuss the Pathfinder Tales line’s first novel, Prince of Wolves, too. I’m doing this for two reasons: (1) the two novels are connected by their leading characters, and (2) it helps me balance an inequity that I created by posting my review of The Worldwound Gambit here before any of the books that have come before. (I did post my review of the second Pathfinder Tales novel, Winter Witch, on and, however. And I’ll be reviewing Plague of Shadows, here, soon.) Now, back to Dave Gross’s books...

Although Prince of Wolves introduces Count Varian Jeggare and his bodyguard Radovan to the wider world of fantasy novel readers, the characters first appeared in the serial novella “Hell’s Pawns” in issues 25 through 30 of the Pathfinder Adventure Path periodicals. We met them again in the web fiction serial “The Lost Pathfinder” which was a prelude to Prince of Wolves. A new story is currently unfolding in the pages of Pathfinder Adventure Path #49 through 54. Entitled “Husks,” this novella is a prelude to the events in Master of Devils.

For me, Count Jeggare and Radovan have become the Pathfinder equivalent of Holmes and Watson. After all, they are primarily solvers of mysteries. The Count is a Venture-Captain, a ranking official in the setting’s famous Pathfinder Society. His role is to uncover hidden secrets and explore the unknown of Golarion’s past and present. Radovan is not only the Count’s bodyguard, but also his friend, though Jeggare’s pride and position make it impossible for him to ignore their differences in station. But together they find their way into all sorts of troubling conundrums. Also like Doyle’s famous pair, the two characters are tied to each other by events that took place before their adventures in “Hell’s Pawns,” and their often-strained relationship continues to develop with each new story.

In Prince of Wolves, the duo travel to the nation of Ustalav to investigate the disappearance of one of Count Jeggare’s Pathfinder Society operatives. In the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Ustalav is a place of dark secrets and ancient evil. It is the home of vampires, gypsies and werewolves, once ruled by a powerful undead wizard known as Tar-Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant. Though the Whispering Tyrant has long been imprisoned, his influence still darkens the shadows in the places where he once reigned.

As the first of the Pathfinder Tales novels, the book sets the tone for the Pathfinder campaign setting, which strikes a wonderful balance between “traditional” fantasy and modern storytelling. Although I haven’t seen it explicitly stated, I get the sense that the current timeline of Golarion, the world where the Pathfinder stories take place, is more akin to Earth’s Early Modern period. This is different from the Middle Age-style settings that have been popular in the past. I personally love this development, because I think it’s easier for readers and players to understand what’s going on in such a setting.

Like all of Dave Gross’s “Jeggare and Radovan” stories, Prince of Wolves is told from a first-person perspective, with the two characters taking turns to tell their sides of the story. This gives the story a feel similar to Doyle’s use of Dr. Watson as the first-person narrator, but puts a twist on things by giving us perspectives from both characters and making it very clear that both characters possess their own skills and insights.

Prince of Wolves is really two stories intertwined. Dave Gross shows a talent for this kind of storytelling. Readers follow Count Jeggare through his investigations of sinister doings at a remote manor house, while Radovan has a more visceral adventure and learns about Varisian (i.e., Golarion gypsy) culture, werewolves and the magical powers and terrible curse imparted to those known as “oracles” in the Pathfinder setting. The characters are well-suited for their roles in each part of this tale and when they merge toward the end of the book, the result is very satisfying.

While playing off of traditional Gothic horror motifs, Mr. Gross introduces elements from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and even adds a few touches of his own, making the book fun to read, useful as a setting resource and helpful as a springboard for campaign ideas. Some of his ideas have already found their way into the roleplaying game rules.

One of the other things I like about this story is that it utilizes a few non-Western European horror elements, including one of my favorite monsters. This touch reveals a bit of the love Mr. Gross has for Asian-themed fantasy, which he indulges to a greater extent in his next novel. By weaving such details into the tapestry of Pathfinder’s already richly-developed setting, he enhances the story and manages keep readers guessing about the true nature of the tale’s villain.

One point for parents who might consider giving this novel to younger shouldn’t. Prince of Wolves firmly established the Pathfinder Tales as adult-oriented fiction in my mind. I mentioned this in my review of The Worldwound Gambit, but it bears repeating. Although many of the references to sex or certain unsavory topics are oblique, the references are there and clear enough that I wouldn’t want to be explaining some of the book’s situations to a child. This is not fiction for young readers. Although most of Paizo’s Pathfinder products are designed to fall within a PG-13 rating, this book really flirts with details that might put it in the R-rated category.

After their many adventures in Ustalav, Dave Gross transports the Count and his Hellspawn companion to the distant lands of Tian Xia. Tian Xia is the Pathfinder setting’s analogue for Asia, which has yet to be fully detailed in books published for the RPG setting. But Master of Devils is a perfect introduction to the region.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Gross a few times during PaizoCon 2011. During one of those conversations, he said that his intent with this novel was to portray the three major types of the Asian-themed adventure tale in one book.

The first of these types is wuxia, the martial arts adventure in which a hero, usually a strongly principled character from the lower classes, develops great martial arts skill and employs it in defense of his or someone else’s honor. These kinds of stories are exemplified by the high-flying, fast paced kung-fu movies in which ancient masters put their pupils through terrible and painful trials that eventually give warriors the ability to fly through the tops of bamboo forests and balance on the blades of swords.

Similar in some of the action, but slightly different in theme are the romance tales, of which Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the best example. Although they may draw on some elements of wuxia, the stories are instead focused on the love between major characters--love that is usually forbidden--and the complications of intrigue. These kinds of stories differ from Western romance tales in that the star-crossed lovers rarely get the happy ending for which they hope. Traditional culture enforces the idea that social barriers to their love affair are inviolate, so we do not find the happy ending in which the kitchen maid marries the prince. More often, the kitchen maid dies, while the prince fights to defend her honor and spends the rest of his life alone.

The third, and probably lesser known, genre is the full-blown fantasy story, which incorporates mythic figures and folkloric creatures, usually as part of a great quest. One good example of this genre is Sien nui yau wan (A Chinese Ghost Story). The spirit creatures and bizarre monsters of legend come to life and become a bane or boon for the main characters on their journey.

Master of Devils delivers on all three of these genres. Mr. Gross’s familiarity with and love of the “kung-fu movie” is so obvious. By using the voices of established characters, he is able to tell three kinds of stories within the same novel.

The story begins in the midst of an action scene, and we quickly find the main characters separated by fateful events. I was initially worried by this separation, since Mr. Gross used a similar setup in Prince of Wolves. It didn’t take too long for me to get over that concern. The way he wove the individual stories together in the final acts was worth it. However, it would be nice to see more direct interaction between the characters in the future.

In telling the three different types of story in this novel, Mr. Gross uses the voice of a main character for each one. This, of course, begs the question, “Who is the third character?” Count Jeggare and Radovan obviously tell one story each, but who tells the third? And which one?

There was much speculation prior to the book’s release about who that character would be. I’m reluctant to share the secret in this article, but suffice it to say that I found Mr. Gross’s choice both innovative and charming. Being able to hear him read the first chapter of this new character’s story at PaizoCon made it all the more enjoyable and convinced me that Mr. Gross knew exactly what he was doing.

In all, Master of Devils was a book I devoured quickly and thoroughly enjoyed. The imagery was excellent and the descriptions of the numerous locations in Tian Xia will bring that part of Golarion to life for anyone interested in the setting. The characters are consistent and well-developed, neither perfect nor excessively flawed. Mr. Gross’s descriptions of RPG rules-based concepts, like spellcasting and martial arts allow non-gamers to understand what’s happening while simultaneously giving us geeks the satisfaction of knowing “what’s really happening.”

I’m very happy with both Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils. In both cases, I think Paizo has gotten RPG-based fiction right. They started off well, and by my estimation, they are continuing down a very entertaining path.

Keep it up, Paizo! And please keep writing, Mr. Gross!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Robin D. Laws' "The Worldwound Gambit"

In The Worldwound Gambit, Robin D. Laws offers up a classic-style fantasy adventure with the twists and modern sensibilities that we've come to expect from Paizo Publishing.

Set in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting's world of Golarion, the Worldwound is a location where the chaotic and evil realm of the Abyss has encroached on the material world. In this land, demons have free reign, but their raids on the nearby people of Mendev have been limited by the wardstones, which weave a barrier of powerful magic to keep the Abyss in check.

Now, the great demon known as Yath, the Shimmering Putrescence, has established itself on Golarion and has the power to breach the wardstone barrier. From within the Worldwound, it stages a massive army of cultists and demons, preparing for an assault that might allow the Worldwound to overtake all of Golarion.

Gad, a charming rogue, sees that outcome as seriously bad for business, and he needs a team of companions to infiltrate Yath's tower and stop the minions of the Abyss. Fortunately for him, he knows just the right people: experts who are both talented and crazy enough to pull off a heist the likes of which two worlds have never seen.

The Worldwound Gambit is the fourth novel in the Pathfinder Tales line. While maintaining the level of quality for which Paizo is famous, the book adds new flavor to Pathfinder fiction. Laws' characters are as vibrant and enjoyable as previous books and fit comfortably within the world of Golarion. The locales provide us descriptions of places mentioned within the RPG books, with the Worldwound being the most obvious example, and add even more richness and depth to the already well-developed setting. Once again, we have a tale that draws on some of the best aspects of the Pathfinder world without recklessly announcing that it is a Pathfinder story at every turn.

I should point out that this book reiterates the fact that the Pathfinder Campaign Setting is not designed for younger people. The book deals with terrible, gruesome things and presents very adult concepts right from the beginning. If I had to give it a movie rating, I'd place it well within the R-rating. The material is not fits perfectly within the story and the setting, but it is not something you want to present to young readers.

The story is told in third person, present tense, which I initially found very jarring. Most modern fiction is written in third person, past tense, so readers become accustomed to the flow of ideas in that format. Because of that, I found it difficult to get through the first couple of chapters. However, I'm very glad I persevered. Once I got comfortable with that voice, I found that it was very appropriate for the story being told.

Back in May, the Paizo store blog (I think Liz Courts wrote the entry) described the book as "Like Oceans 11, but with More Demons." The description is fitting and helps explain why the present tense is so helpful. As a reader, you get to follow the action as it happens, rather than read a description of what happened "some time ago."

The descriptions of the Worldwound are excellent and will be invaluable to anyone who wants to run a campaign in that part of Golarion. Additionally, the scenes inside the tower of Yath are sure to inspire a plethora of fun adventure ideas.

The story's characters are an excellent match-up, each with a strong mix of good and bad qualities—revealed with enough clarity during the journey to and through the Worldwound that the final scenes have the juice they need to keep you guessing until the very end.

I'm pleased to say that the ending did surprise me in very good ways. I actually laughed out loud at some of the jokes and a few of the sudden reveals throughout the novel. I will, of course, share none of those details, because you really do need to read the book, yourself.

Overall, this was another win for the Pathfinder Tales line. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is a must-read for adult fans of fantasy fiction, whether or not you're familiar with the Pathfinder setting. Robin D. Laws has brought wonderful new characters and a wealth of descriptive talent to Pathfinder. I hope to see more Pathfinder novels from him in the future. (In the meantime, you can read more about Gad and his companions in The Ironroot Deception for free at

I look forward to reading and reviewing the next Pathfinder Tales novel, Master of Devils, scheduled for release in August 2011.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wait. I have a blog?

Sheesh. You'd think a writer would be able to do more, you know, writing on his blog. Here it is, all these months since my last entry and I really don't have a well-thought-out entry to post. I'll do my best to provide an update on the latest happenings in my writing, but the easiest thing for you to do would be to truck on over to Facebook and look up my "fan page" under Paris Crenshaw, Writer/Editor.

I've been working with the team at Paizo Fans United on the editing of Wayfinder #5, the fanzine for Paizo's Pathfinder Roleplaying Game setting. I even have a piece of fiction that will be in Wayfinder #5. I'm very pleased to have some writing work in this issue, since I wasn't able to get a piece written for Wayfinder #4.

I'm also working on a few non-Pathfinder-related fiction projects, which I hope will see publication elsewhere. All in due time, I suppose.

I'm working on a couple of other projects with some good writer friends, and you can expect to see announcements about those before the end of the year.

That's about it, for now. As I said, the best way to stay up to date, and get new information on the writing world is to check into my Facebook page.

Thanks and Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My First Editorial Job (and some other stuff)!

I've been delinquent in posting anything at all to this blog. I created it at the start of the year, with the intention of posting "important" information about myself and what I'm doing as a writer.

Here we are in March and I'm finally getting around to doing that.

The biggest news is that I recently had the opportunity to sit in the seat of a fiction editor, which is quite different from the cushy position of a fiction writer. (Well, it's kind of cushy by comparison...I write for fun; editing is almost like real work!)

My good friend, Angel Leigh McCoy, who founded the Wily Writers website in October 2008, came up with the awesome idea of theme months for 2010. Each month will have two stories featured that fit a particular theme. The themes will be chosen by guest editors, who will also select the two stories from the bank of submissions for that month.

I wanted to do more with the group, since my writing is nowhere near as prolific as I'd like it to be. (I'm working on that.) My response was to volunteer shortly after Angel announced the idea.

After some thinking, my wife came up with a really good suggestion. Even though the idea wasn't initially mine, I knew I had to do it. Thus, March's Wily theme is Twins!

The process of reading and selecting from a group of stories was eye-opening. We didn't get a huge number of submissions, perhaps because I chose one of the earlier months and what might be considered a strange theme. The small number allowed me to read every submission, rather than having to cull some of them based on first impressions alone. Still, the process showed me first-hand that it is impossible for an editor to actually read hundreds of submissions for publication. The lesson for us writers is, you have to work to both meet the submission guidelines and grab the editor from the very beginning. If they can find a reason to cut you before reading all of your story, they probably will. Ultimately, I had fun doing the work, and I hope the readers enjoy the stories I chose.

I was surprised at the many different interpretations of the Twins! theme. I chose the two stories that I could most directly engage as a father of twins. My girls surprised me daily with their antics and have demonstrated some interesting "twin" behavior, like the complex non-verbal communication they have shared since birth. Whether it's telepathy or something else, they each seem to know what the other is thinking. These days, they don't appear to care as much as they did when they were toddlers, but the connection is still there. In fact, they seem to use it as a weapon at times, because they know exactly what to say or do to get the biggest reactions from each other.

So, check out the newest story posted on the Wily Writers website. Written by Larry Lefkowitz, "Miriam's Song" is a haunting and mysterious tale about fraternal twins who share a close bond and the pain that comes when such a bond is severed.

If you're interested in submitting, there's still time left to submit for the current theme, Flash fiction (stories of 1000 words or less). The deadline for submissions is March 31st.

The next theme will be "End of School/Start of Summer", so start those creative engines! The deadline for that theme will be April 30th.

In other news, I've submitted another story for publication in the third installment of Wayfinder magazine. I'm a fan of Paizo Publishing, LLC's fantasy adventure setting, Pathfinder Chronicles. I was fortunate to learn about a fanzine that some folks were putting together for PaizoCon 2009, a small convention for fans of Paizo.

Though I couldn't attend the convention, I was proud to have a story included in the "PaizoCon 2009 Fanzine", which would later come to be known as Wayfinder #1. I submitted and was accepted for Wayfinder #2, as well. The story I started there will continue to be told at, if I can ever get my butt in gear.

When Liz "Lilith" Courts announced the deadline for Wayfinder #3 submissions, I despaired that I would not be able to submit to the magazine. Work and home life have been very busy, lately, and I wasn't sure if I would have time to write a story for this issue. However, my pride pushed me to get a submission together in the 11th hour (almost literally), and I'm proud to say that I've at least submitted a story to every issue of Wayfinder.

That's particularly important to me, this year, because I've made arrangements to attend PaizoCon 2010. I'm psyched about the chance to meet up with so many great people, with whom I've corresponded via e-mail and messageboard posts for years. Paizo's staff is made up of some amazingly talented and friendly people. I'm looking forward to meeting some of them in June.

Well, I think that brings everything up to date. I suspect my next post will be about my current writing projects. I do have a couple of irons in the fire...they're just heating up very slowly.