The Infernal Battalion (No Spoilers)

I’ve written briefly about Django Wexler’s series the Shadow Campaigns. It was a book I picked up one day in Powell’s because the cover looked dope. I poured through if over a couple days and was immediately hooked on the series.

Last week I finished the final book in the series: The Infernal Battalion. It was an excellent conclusion to an excellent series and you should absolutely pick up the first book.

The pitch: it’s a fantasy story set in the nineteenth century. Flintlock rifles and cannons dominate the theater of war. Our story begins in the country of Khandar where an army known as the Colonials have been stationed. The country of Khandar hides much beneath it’s great deserts, and a man shows up to take control of the army, and seek a dangerous relic—the Thousand Names.

Fuck—I just like, re-psyched myself up for the first book.

But instead, the last book, The Infernal Battalion.

What Django always does is set the tone and the direction of the book in a clear manner, and within the first couple chapters. This might sound obvious, books need these things, but his books never speak at length and they never stray away from the central premise.

Many of the books I read fancy themselves grand fantasies that plan on unraveling their many threads over the course of several books, and it leaves some of the middle books far weaker than others because they were a holdover—a book meant to connect threads and fill space. But not Django’s—he writes grand fantasies, but still remembers that each book needs to be a useful, interesting read. The Infernal Battalion was the conclusion to his grand fantasy, while being it’s own book on contrast to the others. It had it’s own story you followed along, but it also wrapped up threads from three or four books ago.

I love each individual character and I can tell you at length who they are and why. They feel real. I was deeply invested in their arcs! It was so weird to think back to the first book and see where they started. Winter Ihernglass in the deserts of Khandar, serving under captain Marcus d’Ivoire. They meet Janus bet Vhalnich, the strange but brilliant man sent to Khandar to bring the conflict to a close. From these three we rapidly meet an ever growing cast of characters, each important to the story and fleshed out in due time. And no single character goes to waste! As the last book progresses you see that nearly each character, no matter how small, ends up having a role to play in how it all comes to a close.

So many times I was just mouth agape as I realized that this nobody character isn’t even just useful but things would not have been the same without them. Django is a mastermind of story—he plots the courses for his books with the reader in mind as much as the story. He knows how to subtly let characters fall from your mind and then brings them back just as you were forgetting they were players.

This book stressed me out—and it’s so damn satisfying! Django knows not to let death and sacrifice become common place. Django knows a very dangerous secret: if he wants us to feel sad that someone is gone we need to love them first. The winding and dangerous journeys the characters go on left me guessing until very nearly the end. Nothing is sacred, and it makes the ups really powerful, and the downs really meaningful. You can’t help buy play into his hands as you desperately reach for the comforts of cliche, but then he wrenches it away from you with situations far more real than you were ready for.

The same feeling can be said about the story itself! Each book is it’s own book, but you begin to look back and it feels like the first book was a decade ago. You think to yourself, “this story used to be so much smaller,” but you realize that you never even noticed anything changed. It’s all one story, but deftly cut up into five, deeply satisfying books.

There isn’t a lot more I can say without talking about the plot of the book. But I’ll tell you now—if you enjoy military fantasy, demons and magic, and really deep, lovable characters (and their sex lives)—you need to read these books.



Avoiding a Reading Hangover

So we are three weeks into 2018 and I am currently on my fourth book of my fifty book goal. Needless to say, I have been reading a lot these past few weeks.

This isn’t anything new for me. When I was younger, I would read for hours and hours and hours and never get bored. I’m even considered an excessive read by my family’s standards and we come from a family of avid readers. Don’t you agree, Daniel? Am I not the craziest reader of our clan?

Anyway, there have only been a few times in my life when I’ve experienced reading burn out. Most of those instances were in college when I was required to read so many text books that by the time I was done with my homework, all I wanted to do was stare at the wall and not think. The latest instance of reading burn out I experienced was two days ago when I finished the second book in The Expanse science fiction series, Caliban’s War. I started the book on Friday and, after a few marathon reading sessions, finished it on Tuesday. That’s about 100 pages a day and apparently that was enough to leave me feeling pretty drained on Wednesday.

Wednesday night I pulled out It Devours, the newest Welcome to Nightvale novel, and had every intention of starring it, but just couldn’t find the energy. My brain just could not take it. I ended up playing a mindless phone game and watching Netflix, something simple and not requiring a whole lot of thought.

In retrospect, this past week I forgot to follow my rules for avoiding reading burn out, or what I like to call a reading hangover. I call it this because I basically use the same rules to avoid it that I use to avoid a real hangover.

Rule #1: Pace yourself

Five beers in one hour equals a massive hangover. Five beers over five hours not so much. Same rule applies for books. Don’t rush through and make sure to give yourself breaks. This isn’t a race.

This also means that, once I’ve finished a book, I’ll usually wait to start the next one until the next day. I usually need a night to relax and let my mind digest what it read, otherwise I burn myself out.

Rule #2: One kind at a time

When I drink, I try to stick to one type of alcohol. If I’m drinking beer, I try not to mix it with whiskey or wine or vodka because I know my system will get all jumbled and I’ll be sick the next day. When it comes to reading, I have the same philosophy. One book at a time otherwise I’ll get all jumbled.

Rule #3: Seek out some variety

Sometimes I’ll get used to a beer. If I’ve had the beer enough times, I’ll stop tasting the alcohol and will suddenly be able to drink a bunch and not feel drunk. Well, I may not feel drunk, but I’ll still get the hangover. When I read, I like to bring a little variety into my selections. If I’ve just read a horror novel, I’ll read a fantasy novel next. I need to make sure I’m still engaged with the content, otherwise it becomes easy to forget what I’m doing and burn out.

Well this week I forgot to follow my own rules and yesterday I paid for it. Hopefully this evening I’ll feel well enough to actually pick it up again.



Quest Writing

So I’m about to come out of hiatus for the Nemo crew and their DnD game. We took a break because during the holidays we couldn’t consistently have everyone there. It was a good time to take a break as well.

I used some of that time to talk to them about alignment and character motivation. A couple times now characters have used a version of the phrase, “Why are we doing this again?”

That’s fine if you are losing track, or your attendance hasn’t been perfect, but there was one line said that made me really start thinking about characters and quests. The tiefling cleric player said to the other players:

“I know Dan is trying to steer us towards this…”

I have been thinking about that line basically since she said it. I want my players to feel like they have choices, but more importantly that those changes matter and will affect the world around them.

Around the same time, my Rogue Trader players were busy trying to figure out where they belong in war on Port Footfall. Without any discussion, or even any questions, they sided with one merchant over the other. The decision made sense to them emotionally so I wasn’t too worried, but what I found interesting was that they sided with him without knowing what he was asking them to do.

It occurred to me (and was revealed to me by some more experienced GM’s online) was that I was doing this all wrong. I was writing grand scenarios and plot twists and stuff, when really that should be on the players. They were playing like they were actors in a play. There was a script, and they followed it.

Now— that’s not a bad way to play. But what was missing was character engagement. The players were doing what was asked of them, or picking from a limited number of choices instead of making their own.

Players making their own choices is what the core mechanic of RPG’s is. In my quests, I still put plenty of things in their path that they could choose to interact with and would change the course of events, but even more fundamentally, the players didn’t choose this quest for themselves. They didn’t say to themselves, “Hey! Let’s bring a Merchant Fleet to the Koronus Expanse and establish Battlefleet Koronus.” or “Hey! Let’s go bring down a rival merchant and steal a bunch of his assets.”

I had inadvertently made the choice for them. This gets tricky the more you think about it though, because the GM needs to prepare and the like. But what I missed was that I didn’t provide them options. I can still prepare quests, but it needs to be their choice to go on them.

It’s why my players went to Rain all died that one time. For the first time in the game I had let them loose and they chose an adventure to go on.

It’s why some of the greatest stories are simple. It’s why the heroes journey is so prevalent. There is a deed that could be done, and the hero wants to do it. Whether it’s taking down Darth Vader or riding eternal on the Fury Road; adventures need to be fun because someone wants to do it.

So I’m going to change the way I write quests. I will present issues and let the players decide what to do. I’ll still write all of my planned quests, but they will have to be the ones to choose to do them. I will instead present them with some primal reward, whether its rewards or revenge, but I think the possibilities will be a lot more satisfying to discover if the characters are finally in the story. So to speak.


Lowering the Bar for 2018


Let me just say that I’m super proud of you, Daniel. You did so many cool things this past year and listening to you talk about everything you achieved inspires me to do more with my time.

While you did achieve a lot of what you wanted to do this past year, I feel like I barely did anything. I had some lofty goals at the beginning of 2017, including running a half marathon and teaching myself calligraphy. Did any of that happen? Well, I did read forty books, which is pretty cool. Still feel like I could’ve done more, ya know?

This year I’m going to set goals for myself again, but instead of creating incredibly lofty goals, I think I’m going to keep mine simple. Some may call this lowering the bar, I call this celebrating the little steps I can take to help me reach my incredibly lofty goals.

Here are my incredibly simple, straightforward goals for 2018.

Read more books.

This past year I read a lot and I’ve told myself a couple times that, in 2018, I’ll push myself and read 60 books. Well, we’re only five days into 2018 and I already feel like that goal is too high. I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure by dedicating myself to five books a month.

So, instead, my goal is just to read more. I’d like to read 50 books, but as long as I match what I read last year, I’ll be happy.

I also want to read more horror novels by women and people of color. I realized over this last year that a lot of my favorite authors are white guys, which is just sad. I’m not saying Stephen King and Jack Ketchum and Joe Hill aren’t good writers, I just want there to be more diversity in the books I read. And the only way to make things more diverse is to actively try to make it so. I can’t just hope more women and people of color get popular, I need to work for it. If I just keep reading horror novels with great reviews, I’m going to read a lot of stuff by white guys. I want to give other people a chance.

Watch less Netflix.

Now when I say watch less Netflix, what I actually mean is I need to stop using streaming services to “fill time.” More often than not, I’ll spend a few hours on the couch watching something I’ve seen a million times just because it’s comfortable. It’s safe, in a way.

My goal for 2018 is to do that less. I don’t just want to fill time, I want to enjoy my time and I can do that by only using Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Youtube to watch things that I actually want to watch. Stop re-watching the same things over and over and broaden my viewing horizons a bit. There are thousands of horror movies I haven’t seen and yet I’m re-watching Roseanne. Sad. 

Save money.

This has literally been goal of mine since I graduated college. I just need to save more money so I don’t end up going into debt every time a big bill hits. To help me achieve this goal, I’m going to try to do less retail therapy. I need to stop spending money on things just because I can. Now, I can still buy things I want, but only if I really want them and not because I need to “treat myself.”

I also want to spend less money on beer that’s just for me. I like craft beer because it’s something I can share with my friends. It’s an experience! Well, it’s not an experience when I’m sitting at home watching a movie by myself and drinking a beer I’ve had millions of times before. Basically, I sometimes treat beer like I treat Netflix. I spend my money on beer I’ve had before because it’s safe, not because I’m enjoying it. Of course, I’ll still buy beer for myself once in a while, but I don’t need to be spending $60 a month on Black Butte Porter. I could be spending that on stuff I’ve never had before!

Write more.

Again, this is literally a goal I’ve had since the dawn of time. I just want to write more.

In middle school, I wrote every single day and I had notebooks full of fanfictions and funny stories and poetry. Nowadays, I write like once a week and it’s not because I’m passionate about something, it’s more because I feel obligated.

Well, guess what, if obligation is what gets me writing then I’m going to need more of it.

What I specifically want to do is set up a writing schedule for myself and stick to it. No more of this waiting for inspiration or to feel passionate about it bull crap. That doesn’t work anymore. I need to change up my tactics.

Now, my goal is to write a novella and maybe a book of poetry by the end of the year, but that goal comes later. Right now, my goal is just to write more than once a week and to start writing things for myself rather than for work.

Take time for education.

Like I said in my last post, I work at an institution that gives its employees access to college level courses for $5 and yet I’ve only taken advantage of that a couple of times.

Of course, I have big, lofty goals for my education like going back to grad school and becoming a certified cicerone, but for now I’m going to start simple. I just want to make more time for my education, take more time to learn new things because it’s fun.

There are so many free online resources I can take advantage of. Last year, I was enrolled in a introduction to law course and a course on HTML coding for free through Coursera. Did I finish either class? Nope!

That just means I need to make more time for it.

Do more things with my time.

And to wrap up my 2018 goals, I just want to do more things with my time. Right now my free time is taken up mostly by Netflix, reading, crocheting, and work, which means I’m incredibly boring. I want to change that. I want to do more.

Some things I’m planning to do more of this year, mostly because it will give me things to do during the time I’m usually re-watching Gilmore Girls, are play more video games, get back into drawing and painting, listen to more podcasts, and try out different types of exercise besides running. I want to be an interesting person and right now all I can list under the hobbies section are reading and crocheting.

So there you go, those are my goals for this coming year. Yep, I pulled the bar way down for this year, but it’s worth it if in January 2019 I can look back and feel like I accomplished something. Setting myself up for failure isn’t a good thing. 



The 2017 Takeaway

This was a pretty busy year for me since I kept starting projects that have no designated end point. I started two (almost three) different RPG campaigns as a Game Master.

I built my own DnD sandbox world called Nemoria and I’m brainstorming for it nearly every moment I’m awake. In Rogue Trader we recently finished our first arc and I’m preparing for the next one. It doesn’t feel like I achieved a ton this year until I read my post about 2017.

First up: read more. While I have by no means read a lot I have definitely read more this year than the last ten years combined.  For me it was quite a lot, but I read like 9 books. I probably would’ve made it through more but a Steven Erikson book tripped me up bad. I think I legitimately spent like four months slogging through it. It was rough.

Next on the list: run a Rogue Trader campaign. Judging by my crazy number of Rogue Trader posts I think we can say that’s going well. We’ve had hiccups and pacing issues but I think we finally have an understanding. It sounds like people are having fun and are wanting more.

Oh damn this is a good one: have my credit card number under $500. Well, I can’t claim that I did this all myself. Mom and dad stepped in for the final bit and my credit card is gone. That card has been paid completely off and closed.

Next one was “build one goddamn robot by 2018.” Technically that’s a check on the list. I built a kit that comes with all the instructions and parts needed to do some modular builds. I built it, but it wasn’t as in depth as I wanted. The really complicated one’s that will teach me about parts and programming cost thousands of dollars. But yes— I built a robot.

Listen to more podcasts and watch less YouTube. I would say I don’t watch less YouTube, but I watch YouTube more productively. I go on less re-watch binges, and I only watch new content. I do listen to more podcasts— I’m up to date on Welcome to Nightvale. I listen to Dear Hank and John as well as Unpopular Opinion. There are a handful of story podcasts I jam through.

Better eating habits. Debatable. I would say this one didn’t go well. I still snack and drink soda, but I did lose 20 lbs. So uh— sideways pass.

Total Party Failure on “I want to draw more.”

I have been walking a lot more this year. During the summer I was walking nearly ever day, at least thirty minutes. Mom gave me a fitbit and I was hiting 10,000 steps maybe every other day. As I mentioned previously, I lost 20 lbs— so something is going right. It’s much harder when its cold and rainy, but I was doing well when it was warm.

The last part of my Plan for 2017 was “do more.” I think I’ve succeeded. I probably wasn’t as productive as I wanted. I always fantasize about basically starting a Bauhaus of creativity with my friends. I started Rogue Trader, which spawned a bunch of campaigns within our group. Ellis is running a campaign, and so is my buddy Mikey. Basically everyone at my work wants to play now. We started a second blog, which is still going and that’s cool. I still want to try and have a novel/novella written by my birthday. I’m not feeling confident about that one but we’ll see.

So what is in store for 2018?

I can’t say I honestly know. I’m doing a lot now and I know what I’d like to try and do so I’ll list that now in no particular order:

  • Beat more of my video games.
  • Read my shelf full of “books I haven’t read yet.”
  • Finish my Nemoria module
  • Write a story. A finished one, not pieces.
  • Do at least one bit of freelance game dev writing
  • Publish something on GM Guild

Tall orders, but I surprised myself this year. Let’s see if I can go two for two!



My Reading List in 2017

I had big plans at the beginning of this year. I planned to go back to school, to teach myself calligraphy and knitting, to establish myself as a freelance writer.

Did any of this happen?


However, I did reach one goal. At the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to read more. When I was younger, I was a voracious reader. I basically read a book a day and it was magical. I lived at the bookstore and giddily marked book release dates on the calendar. Reading was my whole life! 

Well, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped reading as much. I would love to blame this on my new responsibilities, like my job, my home, and my bills, but it really comes down to the fact that I’m just not as interested in reading as I used to be. When I get home from work, I prefer to sit on the couch and watch Netflix or goof around on my phone to reading. Reading is just not as magical as it used to be for me.

So, in 2017, I decided to dedicate more of my spare time to reading. I didn’t want to overload myself, so I set a very reasonable goal of reading 40 books by December 31, 2017. That’s a little more than three books a month. I could do that.

And guess what. I did it!

In 2017, I read 40 books. It’s the only one of my 2017 New Years resolutions I kept and I’m incredibly proud of myself.

Now, I know fifteen-year-old Emily would scoff at such a low number.

“Only 40 books?” she would say. “I can read that may in half the time.”

Well, fuck off teenager Emily. I set myself a goal and I achieved it, so you can take your elitist bullshit and shove it up your ass. 

And, guess what! I still managed to binge all the Netflix shows on my list. Talk about good time management! I was able to be a responsible adult, read more, and still be a lazy bum and watch Netflix for ten hours straight. 

In 2017, here’s what I read:

  1. The Troop – Nick Cutter 
  2. The Wendigo – Algernon Blackwood
  3. Cannibals of Candyland – Carlton Mellick III
  4. Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman
  5. Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger – Stephen King
  6. Dark Tower II: The Drawing of Three – Stephen King
  7. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
  8. Gumption – Nick Offerman
  9. Midnight Crossroad – Charlaine Harris
  10. Day Shift – Charlaine Harris
  11. Hannibal Rising – Thomas Harris
  12. Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
  13. Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
  14. Hannibal – Thomas Harris
  15. Off Season – Jack Ketchum
  16. Offspring – Jack Ketchum
  17. Red – Jack Ketchum
  18. Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi
  19. Horns – Joe Hill
  20. 1984 – George Orwell
  21. It – Stephen King
  22. Treasure Island – robert Stevenson
  23. Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  24. Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  25. My Friend Dahmer – Derf Backderf
  26. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
  27. The Gothic – Nick Groom
  28. Supernatural Horror – H.P. Lovecraft
  29. Wicca: A Guide – Scott Cunningham
  30. Apt Pupil – Stephen King
  31. The Exorcist – William Blatty
  32. Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
  33. Welcome to Nightvale – Joseph Fink
  34. The Long Walk – Richard Bachman
  35. Stormfront – Jim Butcher
  36. Fool Moon – Jim Butcher
  37. Grave Peril – Jim Butcher
  38. The Beast Within – Edward Levy
  39. Thinner – Richard Bachman
  40. NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

In 2018, I’m thinking about aiming for 60.

Happy holidays, everyone!


My Collage Experience

Man I totally remember making collages. I remember making a bunch for various projects. Same as you, however, I threw them all away promptly because I half-assed them anyway.

As I’m getting older I’m learning that my memory isn’t supremely effective anymore. I now carry a notebook around everywhere I go specifically because I can no longer trust myself to remember things.  I started doing this about a year ago and its far more effective.

If you had asked about collages, pinterest, and vision boards a year ago I might have scoffed at you. Hell, even to this day my response to Pinterest is something like, “I don’t get it.”

Last month it occurred to me that I need to start being on Pinterest more. No because I believe in using it as a memory bank, but most of my good ideas come from viewing someone else’s cool ideas.

Most of my ideas aren’t even full thoughts as much as they are cool puzzle pieces I write down that need to be linked together later. I’ll have a cool idea for a Rogue Trader encounter, or a strange monster, or a weird side quest and I’ll jot down the idea.

The funny part is: when it comes time to write shit I always forget to look at my notebook. My written collage of ideas is gone mostly untapped because I’m a space cadet.

Anyway: collages. I wish I made more of them. I would love to have enough time to freakin’ collage and storyboard each and every quest I write. I would love to spend time really look-developing each planet, town, enemy, and NPC I create. I can’t really do my formal collage because my more cleverer players might figure out what’s going on inside my brain.

But here, in no particular order, is my vision board— not including RPG specific ideas.

  • Finish the Rogue Trader campaign
  • Finish the Nemoria campaign
  • Run a Numenera campaign
  • Run a Coriolis campaign
  • Anime
  • Christmas monsters
  • Not having college loans
  • Long weekends of playing video games
  • Dark Souls + Bloodborne
  • Music that gives me goosebumps
  • Not having college loans
  • The strange voices I talk to myself in
  • Learning various accents from around the world
  • Not having college loans
  • Writing a book
  • Working at a tabletop gaming company
  • Doing freelance writing
  • Not having college loans
  • Wishing I could draw
  • Wishing I could matte paint in photoshop
  • Robots
  • Cigars
  • Tül Pens

Now my faithful reader, do me the favor of imagining what that might look like.