Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Review: Hunger by S. A. Barton

I just finished up with S. A. Barton’s anthology “Hunger.” It’s quite good, but in the interest of complete disclosure I’d like to say a few things (I don’t want anyone reading this to think I’m shilling for him, because that is not the case). First, I’ve known S. A. Barton (or as I call him, “Stu” aka @Tao23) for a loonnngg time. In fact, this year makes it twenty years in a few days. I met Stu for the first time at what used to be my primary gaming shop: Campaign Headquarters. I was eleven at the time and he was running a Champions game that my eventual girlfriend (@SigynLocke), @Troythulu, and my eventual best friend (@Hermestoth) were playing in. My brother (@CurtisRJohnston) had brought me there a few times before, but we’d never been able to stay and play games. This time I’d permission from my mother and no school, so we’d come with the express intent to get involved in a game. Stu’s campaign was the best bet and I ended up creating the Unsinkable Bark Lee Brown (an anthropomorphic mutt with elemental water command). It was, and remains, one of the best nights of my life. I got into a lot of Stu’s games after that and for a while he became my mentor in some of the more esoteric game systems (Amber and Champions were the major ones). Eventually he disappeared off the radar for a while, but came into the shop every so often. One night when I was fifteen, a new patron began to put his hands on @SigynLocke, I lost it and threw the guy into the mirrored wall that joined the game store with the night club next door. The guy got up and his sailor buddies were about to get involved when Stu stood up and gave them a steely glare. I was ready to bust some heads (I’d no impulse control back then) and the sailors laughed at Stu. He is, let’s say “vertically challenged.” But something in his eyes must have told him you didn’t fuck with the little people, ‘cause they’re mean as shit when cornered. I still wanted to smash someone’s face in, but Stu pulled me aside and into the backroom while the shop’s clerk escorted the sailors out. In the back room, he said something to me that I’ll never forget as long as I live. Something that keeps my anger in check: “If you’re not in control, than it is.” I didn’t know what “it” was at the time, but decided that “it” must have been my anger. I also didn’t know at the time, but he was probably talking about his own battles with addiction. I still wonder sometimes if I could have helped him then. Maybe if I could have said some magic words, he wouldn’t have had to go through what he did. I don’t have many friends. Despite the fact that I haven’t actively hung out with Stu for years, he remains one of them. So that’s that. Onto his book.

Untitled

Hunger is fantastic. Way too short for me, but an excellent read. I realize that this is Stu’s preferred medium (he’s likes writing short stories and he’s good at it), but some of these narratives felt like dipping my toe in the ocean. I know there could be more, but I’ll never find out because the tide went out. All were equally good, but the first one, the Mask of Sisyphus left marks on me. It’s about a man who works at a fast food joint in the future whose boss makes him an offer he can’t refuse. I don’t know whether to call it fiction or a critique on modern society’s minimum wage slaves. Each paragraph is bursting with the author’s thoughts on the subject, but cleverly masked to read like fiction. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that the protagonist does what his boss wants, and things go topsy-turvy from there. I do have a small issue though: his style reads like a stream of consciousness making the narrative a little less tight than it could be. I found myself rereading several paragraphs over to try to get what he was telling me. Overall, the entire book is excellent and I highly recommend it. Stu’s writing reminds me of Philip K. Dick and I can see his work being optioned into Hollywood movies years down the line. It’s really that good.

I give Hunger a overall 4.5 pennies out of 5. The story is excellent, but is overridden by the writing style at times and jolts me out of the flow.

Go grab a copy, it’s reasonably priced and he’s in a gajillion book markets.

Amazon

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Barnes & Noble

Nook UK

iTunes

Smashwords

Sony Reader Store

Kobo

Disesel

!ndigo (Canada)

Side Note: Gamers always seem to make the best authors. Why is that I wonder? I'm pretty sure it stems from the act of role=playing itself - the game (i.e., story) requires a certain amount of structure as well as freedom. If it lacks too much or has too much of either it's not fun. Huh. Something to think about.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Triple Threat: Zanies

Zanie


Zanies or whitefaces (or more archaically allaharu or scurra) appear to look like clowns. They are not demons or ghosts, but in fact a cursed sub-race of humanity. Though most of them do live in other planes or dimensions using special portals that only they know about to drift in and out of the real world. They also require food and drink like every other living creature they are also psychic vampires that feed exclusively on fear. Though they hate everyone that is not them, they particularly hate children and have a special hate for psychic or especially sensitive, shy, or artistic  children. Other than the fact that they like to impersonate ‘real’ clowns and terrorize others not much is known of them.

For any game…

ST: 12                    HP: 12                   Speed: 6.00
DX: 12                   Will: 13                Move: 6
IQ: 11                   Per: 11                  Weight: 180 lbs.
HT: 12                   FP: 12                    SM: 0
Dodge: 9              Parry: 8               DR: 2 (Tough Skin)

But I’m harmless, Sir! (-): Despite their appearance and behavior, those around a zanie tend to be dismissed them as a minor threat. Roll a Quick Contest of skill vs. Will every turn, any targets who can hear the zanie. Those who fail will find the zanie no threat at all. It’s just a clown! This effect lasts for minutes equal to the margin of failure, or until the zanie uses his Maniacal Laughter, or attacks the target. This can be used with Cackle however. It does not affect prepubescent children!
Cackle (13):  As a free action, once per turn, the zanie can stare at someone and cackle maniacally. This is extremely disturbing. Roll a Quick Contest of skill vs. the targets Will, should the target lose, they are mentally stunned. Those who resist are immune for a day, but only against that specific zanie.
Improvised Weapon (7): Based on Damage 1d-1/1d+2.
Fear Itself (16): This requires a Quick Contest of skill vs. the target’s Will (at -1/yard), if the zanie wins the target loses 1 FP plus 1 additional point per point of their margin of failure on their last Fright Check. This attack ignores DR! This only affects victims who have failed a Fright Check in the Zanies presence.
Maniacal Laughter (-): The zanie can spend a turn laughing manically. While it does so, it cannot take any other actions, but it can still defend. Those who hear him must make a Fright Check at -5!
Punch (16): 1d-1 crushing; Reach C.

Traits:  Bully (12); Compelled to work a “day job” as a clown or a mime, preferably in a circus; Cruel, raw sense of humor; Dark Vision; Discriminatory Smell (Emotion Sense); Dislikes cuddly toys, such as teddy bears and dolls; Double-Jointed; Intolerance (Prepubescent children – especially quiet, intelligent, and creative ones); Longevity; Mimicry; Illusion (Independence; Ranged); Penetrating Voice (Laughter); Rapier Wit; Recovery; Sadism (12); Secret (Inhuman monster that delights in tormenting and murdering children); Smooth Operator 2; Terror 6 (Hearing; -5 to Fright Checks; Accessibility, Must laugh); Unnatural Features 5 (Chalk-white skin).
Skills:  Acrobatics-12; Artist (Illusion)-10; Brawling-12; Disguise-12; Performance-11; Psychology-12*; Sleight of Hand-13.
Notes: Cannot interbreed with own kind, must reproduce with humans who have been driven mad before puberty. Zanie clan leaders often have Gaudivore (Horror p. 12), other psychic vampirism or telepathic powers, and magic. If the GM is using Intrinsic Fright Check GURPS Horror, (p. 139) zanies have a modifier of -0.
* Add +3 for Discriminatory Smell within 2 yards of subject.


For Dungeon Fantasy

ST: 12                    HP: 12                   Speed: 6.00
DX: 12                   Will: 13                Move: 6
IQ: 11                    Per: 11                  Weight: 180 lbs.
HT: 12                   FP: 12                    SM: 0
Dodge: 9               Parry: 8                DR: 2 (Tough Skin)

But I’m harmless, Sir! (-): Despite their appearance and behavior, those around a zanie tend to be dismissed them as a minor threat. Roll a Quick Contest of skill vs. Will every turn, any targets who can hear the zanie. Those who fail will find the zanie no threat at all. It’s just a clown! This effect lasts for minutes equal to the margin of failure, or until the zanie uses his Maniacal Laughter, or attacks the target. This can be used with Cackle however. It does not affect prepubescent children!
Cackle (13):  As a free action, once per turn, the zanie can stare at someone and cackle maniacally. This is extremely disturbing. Roll a Quick Contest of skill vs. the targets Will, should the target lose, they are mentally stunned. Those who resist are immune for a day, but only against that specific zanie.
Improvised Weapon (7): Based on Damage 1d-1/1d+2.
Fear Itself (16): This requires a Quick Contest of skill vs. the target’s Will (at -1/yard), if the zanie wins the target loses 1 FP plus 1 additional point per point of their margin of failure on their last Fright Check. This attack ignores DR! This only affects victims who have failed a Fright Check in the Zanies presence.
Maniacal Laughter (-): The zanie can spend a turn laughing manically. While it does so, it cannot take any other actions, but it can still defend. Those who hear him must make a Fright Check at -5!
Punch (16): 1d-1 crushing; Reach C.

Traits:  Bully (12); Compelled to work a “day job” as a clown or a mime, preferably in a circus; Cruel, raw sense of humor; Dark Vision; Discriminatory Smell (Emotion Sense); Dislikes cuddly toys, such as teddy bears and dolls; Double-Jointed; Intolerance (Prepubescent children – especially quiet, intelligent, and creative ones); Longevity; Mimicry; Illusion (Independence; Ranged); Penetrating Voice (Laughter); Rapier Wit; Recovery; Sadism (12); Secret (Inhuman monster that delights in tormenting and murdering children); Smooth Operator 2; Terror 6 (Hearing; -5 to Fright Checks; Accessibility, Must laugh); Unnatural Features 5 (Chalk-white skin).
Skills:  Acrobatics-12; Artist (Illusion)-10; Brawling-12; Disguise-12; Performance-11; Psychology-12*; Sleight of Hand-13.
Classification: Mundane.
Notes: Cannot interbreed with own kind, must reproduce with humans who have been driven mad before puberty. Zanie clan leaders often have Gaudivore (Horror p. 12) and are bards.
* Add +3 for Discriminatory Smell within 2 yards of subject.


For Monster Hunters

ST: 14                    HP: 14                   Speed: 6.00
DX: 12                   Will: 13                Move: 6
IQ: 11                    Per: 11                  Weight: 180 lbs.
HT: 12                   FP: 12                    SM: 0
Dodge: 9               Parry: 8                DR: 4 (Tough Skin)

Fright Check: -2

But I’m harmless, Sir! (-): Despite their appearance and behavior, those around a zanie tend to be dismissed them as a minor threat. Roll a Quick Contest of skill vs. Will every turn, any targets who can hear the zanie. Those who fail will find the zanie no threat at all. It’s just a clown! This effect lasts for minutes equal to the margin of failure, or until the zanie uses his Maniacal Laughter, or attacks the target. This can be used with Cackle however. It does not affect prepubescent children!
Cackle (13):  As a free action, once per turn, the zanie can stare at someone and cackle maniacally. This is extremely disturbing. Roll a Quick Contest of skill vs. the targets Will, should the target lose, they are mentally stunned. Those who resist are immune for a day, but only against that specific zanie.
Improvised Weapon (7): Based on Damage 1d-1/1d+2.
Fear Itself (16): This requires a Quick Contest of skill vs. the target’s Will (at -1/yard), if the zanie wins the target loses 1 FP plus 1 additional point per point of their margin of failure on their last Fright Check. This attack ignores DR! This only affects victims who have failed a Fright Check in the Zanies presence.
Maniacal Laughter (-): The zanie can spend a turn laughing manically. While it does so, it cannot take any other actions, but it can still defend. Those who hear him must make a Fright Check at -5!
Punch (16): 1d-1 crushing; Reach C.

Traits:  Bully (12); Compelled to work a “day job” as a clown or a mime, preferably in a circus; Cruel, raw sense of humor; Dark Vision; Discriminatory Smell (Emotion Sense); Dislikes cuddly toys, such as teddy bears and dolls; Double-Jointed; Intolerance (Prepubescent children – especially quiet, intelligent, and creative ones); Longevity; Mimicry; Illusion (Independence; Ranged); Penetrating Voice (Laughter); Rapier Wit; Recovery; Sadism (12); Secret (Inhuman monster that delights in tormenting and murdering children); Smooth Operator 2; Terror 6 (Hearing; -5 to Fright Checks; Accessibility, Must laugh); Unnatural Features 5 (Chalk-white skin).
Skills:  Acrobatics-12; Artist (Illusion)-10; Brawling-12; Disguise-12; Performance-11; Psychology-12*; Sleight of Hand-13.
Notes: Cannot interbreed with own kind, must reproduce with humans who have been driven mad before puberty. Zanie clan leaders often have Gaudivore (Horror p. 12), other psychic vampirism or telepathic powers, and magical paths. Use the skills listed under Cryptids in the Know Thy Enemy box in Monster Hunters 1 (p. 16); they’re a form of magical mutant. One champion should be able to handle two zanies.
* Add +3 for Discriminatory Smell within 2 yards of subject.