Make yourself useful, mage!

Yesterday Cirsova shared some thoughts on Twitter about a recent post over at Walker’s Retreat (which was in turn a reaction to a post at Dyvers blog).

This led to an interesting thread, if you’re of the sort who delights in this kind of raw nerdom.



A frequent criticism of D&D 3.5e, which is probably a middling version of the game in many senses (and yet like ice cream, each person has a favorite flavor), is that it’s too easy to get bogged down in rules and mechanics. Still, I think it gives a judicious and experienced DM the tools for a rather rich and dynamic game. A handyman may have a 50-piece ratchet/socket set in his toolbox; doesn’t mean he’s got to use it!

I must confess, I’ve never played a magic user. The only game I ever played in as a player gave me a taste of the charisma rogue, which I very much enjoyed.

The comparisons I can draw here are limited. A magic user may be standing in the doorway with his hands in his, uh, robe pockets as his party desperately fights off the goblin raiding party until he’s saved their bacon by expending a precious lightning bolt spell on the ogre boss that’s just rolled up on the exhausted heroes. As a silver-tongued rogue type, at least you’ve still got backstab, and hopefully enough HP and dexterity to help out on the front line for a round or two without getting insta-killed. You may not be a power-hitter, but you can at least do something useful most turns, whether it be culling a damaged bogie or firing off an arrow or two. Hey, at least I got you a flanking bonus!!

Anyway, when we consult our handy actuarial table of action types, we see that a magic user can…actually not really do much at all! My references above to aiding another or intimidating were actually useless advice in this context as they require melee range!

Unfortunately, without magical items or scrolls or maybe potions of some sort, a magic user’s not really got any recourse. Especially if he’s trying to sincerely roleplay his character.

What is one to do?

One branch of the conversation, which kind of circles back to Dyvers’ original post:


And I think that really may be the best solution – sprinkle in some magical goodies for your magic users to hold on to. But it’s up to the DM to anticipate and implement. If you return to some D&D’s source material, namely Dying Earth, you’ve got all manner of magical items for magic users to play around with between casting spells. Remember that in Vance’s stories, most wizards could only memorize a handful of incantations. While spells certainly accounted for an important portion of their overall power, perhaps equally important were the relics and magical artifacts that they were able to accumulate.

These gadgets can range in power, from extremely powerful to amusingly benign – think of Cugel’s “tube of blue concentrate,” which due to its mysterious nature elicited some degree of fear despite maybe just being a can of blue spray paint. These kinds of curios can be a real boon for a DM who doesn’t want to wantonly dish out wands of magic missile or other damage-dealing items, as they provide players with a great chance to get creative and do some quality roleplaying.


It’s also a thought for you fantasy writers. Instead of going with a vanilla wizard character who chants spells and draws runes, why not a codger with a bag full of doodads and magical junk?




PC Koshinbun: Beast Master, Conan, and Luke as Mary Sue

Another day, another roundup. Here’re some recent consumables for y’all:

  • Cirsova’s got a piece about Otto Skorzeny, a diabolical, brilliant, intriguing member of the SS upon whom some great villains could be based.







  • Clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson recently engaged in a “debate” with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News. Almost painful to watch in how one-sided this is.







The birth of Kaiju Comix

From the dark recesses of Kaiju‘s mind and the creative genius behind Cirsova comes…

Kaiju Comix








PC Koshinbun – Anime, Appendix N, and Strong Women

Cirsova reviews Cute Knight


Cute Knight, for PC, looks to be a quirky anime-style RPG with a number of tried and proven mechanics (e.g. dating sim style stat and money balancing activities). Alex shares his thoughts after three play-throughs, and though this particular one won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it does sound worth a look.

Getting to know the Man(ly)

In what looks to be a multi-part series, Oghma tells of how he became acquainted with the works of  Manly Wade Wellman – a great blend of personal anecdote and appreciation for another great writer we’d do well to check out. “Silver John” – what a cool-sounding character!

Sizzling hot princess, beef

In honor of Women’s Day, Jon M. decided to highlight one of SFF’s most underappreciated (and hottest) strong women – Dejah Thoris. *Trigger warning: this post contains a delicious steak sandwich recipe. You may not want to read if you’re hungry and have no steak on hand.


Get a’writing (via Seagull Rising)!

Indie publishing seems to have really taken off, especially among the Pulp Revolution crowd. But outlets like Cirsova can only fit so much. What’s an aspiring short fiction writer to do? Well, there are other outlets out there. Jon shared one recently – StoryHack Action & Adventure is currently accepting submissions, and it’s worth checking out if you’ve got something you can send in by April 1st!

(Japanese) picture of a good “strong female” character

Over at SupervisiveSF, Anthony looks at Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky and concludes that Sheeta is a much more attractive and effective strong female character than many in contemporary storytelling. As he points out, a well-done woman character can be brave, competent, and feminine. Humility is an attractive virtue, not a weakness, and a good woman should be complementary to a man, not overtly usurp his role or compete with him. Double thumbs up for the Rey-bashing.


Comparing Heinlein

I must confess I haven’t read either of these books, but HP does a commendable job looking at two Young Adult SF stories – one very recent, and one over half a century old. The bottom line seems to be that while there are many imitators, it’s hard to match Heinlein at his best. Lest you think that’s all there is to HP’s review, though:

“Have Space Suit—Will Travel and Martians Abroad couldn’t be more different.  The former is emphatically blue SF and the latter is emphatically pink SF.  They aren’t even in the same sub-genre.”

Princess Monomoke – BEST MOVIE EVER

I must confess I was a little skeptical at first; I’m a fan of Princess Mononoke, but it might not even be in my top 10 animated film picks. Still, Malcolm makes a great argument for the depth and supervisiveness that many viewers may miss. Game of Thrones grayness but hopeful instead of nihilistic? That’s actually some pretty potent stuff.



There’s a great post over at Tribality with twenty ghosts and spirits from various cultures that don’t get much play (literally). Some time ago Jeffro noted an observation by game designer James Raggi:  “Because monsters should be unnatural and hopefully a little terrifying, using stock examples goes against the purpose of using monsters to begin with.”

So why not spice up your game with some more obscure or unique demons and specters? Of course we’re most likely all familiar with the banshee, but personally I had never heard of most of these.

Potentially great inspiration for writers, too!

Getting fired up by Anderson

Poul Anderson is another awesome old SFF writer that I had never heard of before diving into the pulp scene. It’s great to see him getting some play! Jon Del Arroz recently read Fire Time, and shares his impressions.

Castalia House sweeps the scene

It’s hard to cover everything, so I don’t even try! Be sure to check out Jeffro’s latest sensor sweep over at the Castalia House blog for some more noteworthy articles. There may be one or two overlaps, so feel free to read those particular posts twice!

The Kaiju

Also if you’ve been following Kaiju’s sword and sorcery tale, be sure to check out his latest installment. Plenty of action and gore in this one!





As much as I may hand-wring about overaggressiveness from the Pulp Revolution crowd (I still prefer to think of myself as a moderating voice rather than a scold), I have to say that at least most of these folks conduct themselves with a level of decorum that seems to be absent in other quarters.

At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory about “my own side,” I’ve seen very little objectionable behavior from “us.” Sure, there’s some shitlording and sometimes you’ll see some bad language, it’s true. But I have yet to see anyone write off a good faith effort to engage. Dialogue and debate are welcome.

I bring this up because of an encounter Alex of Cirsova had yesterday. Summary:


(Updated – thanks for clarifying a point here, Alex)

– Dude writes a blog post about the Arthur C. Clark Award and his thoughts on the SFF genre.

– A commenter mentions Cirsova magazine’s contributions to the genre.

– Cirsova pops in to elaborate about his SFF magazine.

– Dude replies back observing that the Cirsova website has a Gamergate banner.

– Cirsova affirms this.

– Dude replies back accusing Cirsova and/or its fans of being misogynistic fascists. Unprovoked.

– Cirsova makes a graceful exit.

– Dude takes a parting shot.

– I drop a post mocking Dude’s lack of civility.

– Dude calls us self-serving Nazi pricks.

You can see the archived image here.

I think, in the long-run, this kind of thing can be good for us. The average observer, seeing this, is going to conclude that Dude is an asshole. It’s the same kind of poor behavior we see from the likes of Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street, or the Trump protesters. Sorry guys – setting cop cars on fire and smashing Starbucks windows is not going to win you any prizes, nor will it ingratiate you with the public.

This, I think, is part of the reason the pendulum swung to the right this election cycle. Bad behavior is not rewarded.

I mean, who comes out looking badly here?


From where I’m standing, it’s not Cirsova.

Even if it *were* ok to punch Nazis in the face, you can’t just declare everyone who disagrees with you to be a Nazi. Eventually you’re going to punch someone and either (a) get hauled off or (b) get the shit kicked out of you.






I’ve mentioned Alex’s Cirsova blog numerous times as one of the main inspirations for my foray into pulp/classic SFF. It’s been more than a few months now since the publication of the first volume of the titular retro SFF magazine. I was quick to buy but very slow to read, and I just this morning finished up. In my defense, since reading Jack Vance’s Gray Prince and ERB’s Mars books last spring, I don’t think I’ve cracked anything (save Cirsova) written since the late 70’s.

I just wanted to get down a few thoughts, then, to mark this occasion. First a minor disclosure – I’ve acknowledged that Alex has been an influence of mine. We’re on friendly terms online and travel within some of the same social media and blogging circles.

I really appreciate what Cirsova magazine is doing. That’s why I was quick to back the first volume on Kickstarter and didn’t hesitate to do the same for the next three volumes, despite having only had a consumed a small sample.

If you haven’t read H.P.’s review, I would direct you do to so. I think I largely agree with his takes on the individual stories.

Jeffro wrote a while ago about being a literary critic, and I commented that doing so requires some very particular skills, plus a certain kind of courage (or else lack of empathy, I suppose). I’ve never enjoyed panning other people’s work, except in the case of smug, bloviating arseholes, perhaps. As this pertains to Volume 1, let me just back up a moment and first say that overall I thought it achieved what it set out to do. I thought it had some solid entries, led by Hernstrom’s Gift of the Ob-Men and Burnett’s A Hill of Stars.

Although I must note here that while I enjoyed Hernstrom’s first Cirsova entry (I know there are more in successive volumes), I was nowhere near impressed enough to compare him to Jack Vance. That’s not a knock on the guy. For me to make that leap, I’d need to see a consistently top-notch level of output. Maybe that’ll be the case with Hernstrom. I haven’t read his short story collection or other Cirsova pieces yet, so I can’t say. Maybe I’ll jump on board with Jon Mollison at some point. For now I may be too enamored by the classics.

Jumping back to the topic at hand, I also enjoyed Jeffro’s piece (full disclosure that Jeffro is another blogging/reading influence of mine and another friendly). Though I’ve never played Traveller nor yet read any EC Tubb, Jeffro, true to form, delivers a thoughtful and fun exploration of Dumarest’s contribution to the popular pen and paper RPG. References to other nerd favorites like Daredevil and Firefly provide interesting tidbits and observations for most of the sort who would likely be reading this kind of a magazine.

I found most of the rest of the volume to be a little uneven. The John Carter tribute was appreciated, but I have a difficult time with long poems. So I think My Name is John Carter (Part 1) was a worthy addition to the publication, just not for me.

The other stories were, for the most part, forgettable for me. I didn’t think they were all bad, though there were a couple that had me scratching my head. Interesting ideas but somewhat flawed technical execution, it seemed to me. It’s my hope that all of the writers will continue to grow and improve, as will Cirsova. I’ll need to strive to broaden my reading queue a bit over the next half year and get to Volume 2 quicker this time.

You can buy Cirsova Volume 1 over at Amazon to support the cause, or read it for free online on its website.


I’m loving the Jabari Weathers cover art, by the way.






Shadows and dust of Amber

For the month of October, I mostly opted to play follow the leader – dashing through Nine Princes in Amber with the Puppy of the Month Club, and Frankenstein in solidarity with HP over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.

*Moderate spoilers ahead!*


There are already a number of great Amber posts up, so feel free to check those out if you’re familiar with the story already and looking for some analysis:

Hooc Ott laid down a fascinating look at Amber’s influence on a classic D&D campaign module.

Jon M’s overview is worth a read. He makes some astute observations about the tone and setting of the story, and I’m in full agreement on how it concludes. It doesn’t feel like a good place to end, and while I generally prefer novellas to lengthy tomes, had I been reading Amber as it was written I’d have been disappointed.

The Frisky Pagan also makes some good points. I found myself nodding along to his opinion about the highs and lows of the first Amber tale. The invasion of Amber did seem anticlimactic and relatively dull compared to the character-building periods like Corwin’s imprisonment.

As I read the story myself, I found myself thinking about an exchange I had with Alex of Cirsova on Twitter:


As to his distaste for Corwin, I didn’t share the feeling but I can definitely see where he’s coming from. As the book advances, Corwin demonstrates admirable feelings like remorse, pity, and guilt. He may be a narcissist, but I didn’t find him consistently unlikable.

Alex’s second grievance gave me more pause (incidentally he also observed at the PotM Club blog that Amber’s shadowstuff was one of the main inspirations for D&D’s illusionist class).  I haven’t read past the first book, so I could be completely off-base here and contradicted by the succeeding stories, but my impression was that the Shadows were more than illusions.

So far as the children of Oberon believe, Amber is the only Substance; all else is Shadow. However it also appears that the people of Amber do not know everything about their world or how their powers work. They seem to speculate and take for granted.

Furthermore, Corwin feels sympathy for his Shadows. When he and Bleys move against Eric, our protagonist notes his pity for their dying, suffering soldiers. When faced with his inevitable defeat at sea, Corwin even decides that though he would personally never choose to surrender, he would give himself up to save his men. If these devotees were mere dust, only illusion, then why would he do such a thing (especially seeing as he clearly values himself so highly)? Is this nothing more than the sympathy one might feel for a video game avatar or maybe even a pet? Possible, but doubtful to me. Feelings of human decency might compel me not to beat a hooker to death in GTA, but they would not make me sacrifice in real life for said digital prostitute.

Even if Corwin doesn’t consciously realize it, I think he knows that the people of the Shadows are more than nothing. Perhaps this is a result of having lived on our Earth for some centuries. That, too, raises an interesting point. If the Shadow worlds are just reflections of Amber, devoid of any substance, then we too are nothing.

Again, I could be completely off the mark here. I’ll pick Amber back up sometime and see what else is said of the Shadow. But I want to give Zelazny credit here and believe that #ShadowLivesMatter, too. Otherwise, as Alex says, there are some big elements rendered meaningless.