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Tomes of the Gnomes: What We’re Reading, 1st Edition

Posted By Martin Ralya On September 2, 2008 @ 6:43 pm In Crock Pot | 19 Comments

We’re trying something a little different with this post — the first in what might become a (highly irregular) series, Tomes of the Gnomes. It’s kinda, sorta, maybe in a roundabout way related to GMing, and we thought you might enjoy it.

Have you ever met a GM who isn’t also a reader — and probably a pretty voracious one, at that? I don’t think I have. And I don’t know about you, but I love giving and getting book recommendations.

That’s what Tomes of the Gnomes articles are all about: Hearing about what the gnomes are reading, maybe getting some inspiration for your campaign, and sharing what you’re reading with other folks who dig this site.

Patrick Benson:

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Fool Moon is the second book in Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files” series. This time Harry Dresden must investigate a series of bizarre murders that seem to have been committed by werewolves. But which kind of werewolf? Harry discovers of at least four different types, and each type could be responsible for the crimes. As if things weren’t bad enough Harry also has to deal with injured relationships between himself and what few friends that he has, the reputation that he is in a mob boss’ pocket due to rumors, and the FBI demanding that the werewolf investigation be left in their jurisdiction. Oh, and that the werewolves are trying to kill him as well once he gets involved with the case.

Fool Moon is a nice follow-up to Storm Front, the first book of “The Dresden Files”. Butcher improves with his second novel while still retaining what made the first novel a fun read. The mystery is a more complex, the action is a bit more intense, but the characters are still likable and interesting. Like a chef perfecting a recipe, Butcher did not alter what worked before but instead expanded upon what was best in the first book with a few new ingredients. If you liked Storm Front then Fool Moon will not disappoint you.

Scott Martin:

I most recently reread The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. It’s high fantasy– a quest through a world stitched together from myth and flights of fancy. It’s somewhat more than that, though– it’s also the tale of Bastian Balthazar Bux, an nonathletic kid who steals a book and hides out in the attic of the school to read it, shrinking away from the problems swamping his life. As he reads on, he notices strange things mentioned in the book, things that don’t fit the book but reflect his life…

I noticed several new things this time. The first is that many people recognized it– I was reading it at lunch and a worker taking a break from plastering the building next door stuck up a conversation– he fondly remembered seeing the movie. The reminded me that the movie covers only the first half of the book– and that the second half is where Bastian really blooms as a character. I missed the hardback version with the green and red text; the paperback I read used italics, which was clear but not as cool. I also finally noticed this time that each of the twenty six chapters begins with a full page illuminated capital– each letter in the alphabet in order.

I’ve just begun rereading the Fionavar Trilogy by Guy Gavriel Kay. I had forgotten how quickly he created such distinct, driven characters. I note that I’m enjoying Dave’s story the most this time… which is interesting, because I vaguely remember thinking that his side story was an annoying distraction last time. I recently finished reading through the 4e DMG; I say reading, but I found myself skimming through the advice– even though appreciated the advice that I did read. Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley alternated with the DMG; I enjoyed it, which surprised me given my dislike of Grapes of Wrath (which I’d been forced to read in high school.) I also reread the AT-43 core rulebook before a battle last week– it was good to have the rules fresh in my mind. The first time I’d had to hang on my opponent’s interpretations and recollection– it was nice to be able to coherently discuss the rules this time.

Adam Nave:

I just wrapped up Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I couldn’t put it down and ripped through it in half a day. It’s about a hard-boiled detective, who just happens to be a wizard. Think Harry Potter meets Mike Hammer. It hits a lot of the hard-boiled tropes but with a nice magical twist. It’s not deep stuff, but it is fun, and there’s several more books in the series.

I’m re-reading Watchmen by Alan Moore. The movie is coming out soon, so I wanted to get my head around it properly before the movie version messed it all up. This may just be one of the deepest graphic novels ever made. It’s less of a superhero comic than you’d expect and more about the characters. The Watchmen aren’t just glossy shallow superheroes – they are people, with real mental, emotional and moral problems. Watchmen is the only graphic novel to win a Hugo. The art and some of the references may seem dated, but it’s very much worth it. I suspect it will be readily available in book stores again soon, in time for the movie.

Martin Ralya:

I’m reading the second edition Fading Suns RPG core book right now. I don’t usually read gaming books cover to cover, but this one is exactly what I’m in the mood for: dramatic, White Wolf-style space opera with plenty of roleplaying-friendly cliches and just enough new ideas (like the fading suns themselves) to keep it interesting. I’m lukewarm on the system so far, but I’m not that far into it yet; the setting is great.

Before that, I read Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember, a young adult book about post-apocalyptic earth (and the inhabitants of a city who believe their city IS the world), which was slightly too young-reader oriented but still enjoyable; The Night of the Gun, the memoir of a crackhead who turned his life around and raised two daughters as a single dad, which was fantastic (and unlike the best-known example of the genre, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, not made up crap — the author, David Carr, is a reporter); and Matt Ruff’s Bad Monkeys, which I blazed through — it’s about a web of secret government agencies, the titular one of which is “Bad Monkeys,” the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons; it’s pretty trippy.

Kurt “Telas” Schneider:

With a baby, I don’t have much reading time, but these are on the nightstand:

The Republic of Pirates, Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down – This should be perfect campaign material for a Pirates of the Spanish Main campaign. Or maybe it’s just a good read.

The Collected What If? Eminent Historians Imagining What Might Have Been – I’ve had this idea for a “Temporal Troubleshooters” game, in which the characters are given the task of ensuring that the “close calls” in history actually happen the way they are supposed to. Or (again), maybe it’s just a good read.

I should add that I was wandering in a used book store while getting new tires, and picked up Legacy of Gird, the prequel to Deed of Paksennarion by Elizabeth Moon. Paks is most excellent; Gird is solid so far.

Troy Taylor:

I’m focused on reading gaming specific materials lately, so not much
fiction:

Kobold Quarterly 6. The latest issue of Wolfgang Baur’s magazine
dedicated to 3.5 gaming is packed, and I mean packed, with gaming
goodies. If you want to know (the truth) about tieflings, then who
better to learn from than their creator, David “Zeb” Cook? There are
book reviews, clockworks fun from the free city of Zobeck (a favorite
department of mine), an interview with Monte Cook, and an interesting
backdrop article on an alchemist’s lair by Darrin Drader and Sean
MacDonald. I think the article I’m looking forward to the most is
reading Richard Pett’s piece on realistic paladin codes. I really want
to take my time to read this issue at a leisurely pace.

Winter’s Heart, by Robert Jordan. This is a re-read, primarily to
get insights for a possible Wheel of Time rpg mini-campaign I’m
planning for the end of the year. This is not one of Jordan’s best
efforts, but he gives flavor to his world that is impossible to
ignore. I’m reading this with every intention of mining the best parts
for my game.

Serpent Kingdoms, by Ed Greenwood, Eric L. Boyd and Darrin Drader.
In my effort to bone up on the Forgotten Realms, I’m working my way
through some of the supplements that I recently acquired. I’m less
interested in the mechanical stuff (prestige classes, spells and
feats) as I am new monsters and the geography section. Of course it
all works together, but seeing how the authors approach making
serpents worthy villains has been really educational. I think the
Deifiled Temple of the World Serpent is an excellent example of a
snake lair.

Phil Vecchione:

I just finished the D&D 4e Players Handbook. I am preparing for playing in a new 4e campaign this fall. I thought the book was a good read, with some amazing artwork. The examples in the book are sound, and I was able to easily grasp the material. The book construction is solid, and I have to say, after a shelf full of 3.x books, I really like the clean white background for the pages.

Before that I read Thirteen by Richard Morgan. Morgan is becoming one of my favorite new Sci Fi authors. His first trilogy of books: Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies were outstanding. His newest book Thirteen breaks from the world he created his first Trilogy. Thirteen is an excellent story, with a well crafted exploration into the issues of genetics and racism. Don’t let the topic of racism put you off. Morgan handles it in a very mature and responsible way, and at the same time does not shy away from a number of tough topics. If you enjoy action, I find Morgan’s writing of actions scenes to be very engaging and exciting.

What with the holiday weekend, how fast some of us read and how many of us there are, this first edition of Tomes of the Gnomes isn’t exactly an accurate snapshot of what we’re reading right this hot minute — most of us have moved on a book or two (or more!).

We figured we’d give it a shot anyway — love it or hate it, let us know what you think in the comments, and tell us what you’re reading!

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Tomes of the Gnomes: What We’re Reading, 1st Edition"

#1 Comment By dylan.zimmerman On September 2, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

I’m reading the Gap Series by Stephen R. Donaldson.

Nobody really knows who’s good or evil to start in this disturbing look at a sci-fi future. People can be wedded to technology by choice, or welded against their will. The cops are owned by the all-powerful United Mining Companies, and some of the criminals are better people than the cops.

Definitely worth a read, one of my favourite science-fiction series ever.

#2 Comment By Rafe On September 2, 2008 @ 7:08 pm

Can’t stand Robert Jordan. When I read one of his books and nothing of note happened in 750+ pages, I gave up on him. The Neverending Story is awesome. The movie was accurate to the first 1/3 of it, and the rest is a great tale of the slippery slope of corruption.

I’m deep into a classic series: The Black Company (currently on She Is the Darkness with two more to go). For anyone looking to run a campaign involving mercenaries or large-scale combats and military campaigns, it’s fantastic for inspiration. … and The Black Company campaign guide for 3.5 is one of the greatest D&D campaign guides/rules books ever. If you’re looking for a gritty campaign with 3.5 edition, find it.

#3 Comment By Barlycorn On September 2, 2008 @ 7:28 pm

Kurt said, “The Collected What If? Eminent Historians Imagining What Might Have Been – I’ve had this idea for a “Temporal Troubleshooters” game, in which the characters are given the task of ensuring that the “close calls” in history actually happen the way they are supposed to. Or (again), maybe it’s just a good read.”

Kurt, have you read Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series? The “Chrono Guard” play a large part in most of the books. I would definately recommend them if you are planning that type of game. Besides, they are just a good read.

I’m reading “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart. It is the story of the Rush drummer trying to survive the year after both his daughter and his wife died. He decides to go on a huge trek across three countries on his motorcycle. It is well written and quite good. As for relating to DnD, well, he describes the lands that he rides through quite well so it could help with setting descriptions. Maybe.

#4 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 2, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

@Rafe: I love the Black Company series! I’ve only read the first three, but I almost bought the second trilogy (southern lands?) the other day — only the size of my to-read stack stopped me. ;)

If you like Cook and also dig sci-fi, I highly recommend Passage at Arms — it’s one of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read, bar none. It’s basically Das Boot in space, following the crew of a Climber — a spaceship that can slip outside normal space, emerge to launch a lightning attack, and slip back. He captures the claustrophobia and tension of life aboard perfectly, and makes it seem real. It’s awesome.

#5 Comment By jjman385 On September 2, 2008 @ 11:57 pm

I’m reading The Fountain Head which is great. Ayn Rand’s world of extreme archetypes is brilliant.

#6 Comment By Vampir On September 3, 2008 @ 1:18 am

Adam, I would call 2010 soon when it comes to movies, especially since it’s not even a certain date for the Watchmen movie.

I’m reading The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales. I heard a lot of hype about Lovecraft’s writing all over the RPG community but for now, I just don’t see what caused this fascination… maybe after I’m done I’ll get into it more…

#7 Comment By Rafe On September 3, 2008 @ 7:15 am

– If you like Cook and also dig sci-fi, I highly recommend Passage at Arms — it’s one of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read, bar none. –

Cool, I’ll definitely look into it. As for “best sci-fi”, I have to give my vote for that to Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

– I’m reading The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales. I heard a lot of hype about Lovecraft’s writing all over the RPG community but for now, I just don’t see what caused this fascination –

Remember, Lovecraft was writing in the ’20s and ’30s. There were few horror writers of that time; much of his writing is in first-person (a break from the norm); no one at the time had written “gore horror”, only suspense horror (Poe); no one had really dabbled with otherworldly/sci-fi horror, only occasionally supernatural horror; and the way he wrote made it sound like the characters were chronicling real events happening in the world. That made it immersive for his readers. I love his stuff. I think “The Whisperer In Darkness” is his best short story.

#8 Comment By Vampir On September 3, 2008 @ 8:36 am

I can understand the fascination at the time but people who keep having Lovecraft on their lips were born after he died… I’m not saying it’s bad, there’s some stories I liked (still reading, The Whisperer in Darkness is nearly at the end of the book I have) but I just don’t find it so awesomely cool as the hype kept implying…

#9 Comment By tman On September 3, 2008 @ 11:05 am

I’m also reading lots of gaming stuff to prep for new games, but there is some fiction in here to get inspirations going:

“The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” by Greg Keyes. Collects the Fool Wolf stories that appeared in Dragon magazine.

“Lankhmar Book 3: Swords in the Mist” by Fritz Leiber. Classic Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

“Night Shift” by Stephen King. Specifically the two short stories about vampires and Salem’s Lot (which I’ll probably reread soon). I got inspired by a blogger writing about children as villains in RPGs and thought of one of the short stories which features a 5 year old vampire.

I’m one of those people who loves reading Lovecraft. For me, he’s really able to capture the angle of the innocent in the middle of something horrible and lets you watch the dawning realization where what can’t possibly be true actually is. I also very much enjoy that most of what’s horrible is unwritten. Many writers today don’t seem to know how to build suspense – they just go for the shock. I can get that on the evening news, thankyouverymuch. Just my $0.02

#10 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 3, 2008 @ 12:53 pm

The bookshelf in the photo up top is one of mine — I love HPL. :)

I second Rafe’s recommendation of “The Whisperer in Darkness” — it’s my favorite Lovecraft story as well. My other favorites are The Mountains of Madness (actually a novella), “The Colour Out of Space,” “The Shadow Out of Time” and “Pickman’s Model.”

There are so many editions and collections of Lovecraft’s stories that it’s tough to know exactly which one The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales is, Vampir. ;) I highly recommend the Arkham House hardcover editions, although they can be pricey; four volumes gets you everything but his poetry, faithfully reproduced — a lot of the other versions are badly edited.

S.T. Joshi (the editor of the AH editions) has also done two collections of annotated stories, The Annotated HP Lovecraft and More Annotated HP Lovecraft, that are a lot of fun.

“The Call of Cthulhu,” while essential reading for running the RPG, is not one of his better stories.

#11 Comment By tman On September 3, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

For all the Lovecraft/Cthulhu fans, feast your eyes on this:
http://www.printfection.com/sagashirts/Ctheltic-Cthulhu-T-Shirt/_p_768866

I can’t wait to get one for myself!

#12 Comment By Scott Martin On September 3, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

Kurt: The Primetime Adventures game that I recently completed was a temporal troubleshooters game, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, given their free wills, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that your PCs don’t mind letting some of those historical changes stand…

My wife was a huge Thursday Next fan and introduced me to the books. They are much more about books than time travel, just as forewarning.

And that’s a lot of interesting books to add to my list– thanks for pointing me at so many of them and reminding me of old favorites. (I agree with Rafe: Hyperion and its sequel are excellent.)

#13 Comment By tallarn On September 4, 2008 @ 1:49 am

I just want to add a recommendation for the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy – I think they’re wonderful books!

#14 Comment By Ethalias On September 4, 2008 @ 5:50 am

I’ve just started reading “A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin; the first in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Early days yet but so far I’m liking it; warts and all grim fantasy, highly recommended by a couple of friends.

I’m yet to delve into Lovecraft though I’ve been meaning to since hearing it praised and referenced so much around RPG blogs etc..

Lastly, I approve of the “Tomes..” idea, keep it going :)

#15 Comment By LesInk On September 5, 2008 @ 8:00 am

I have been working alot of overtime lately, so I have not had the ability to read much. I’m a GM who actually is not a voracious reader, mostly due to my slower reading ability, but I do manage to get a few books in.

Currently, I’m slowly going through rereading the Myth Adventures by Robert Aspirin.

My wife and I recently read Elizabeth Peter’s Crocodile on the Bank (Ameila Peabody series). Its good to read a mystery once in a while to make you think about characters and flow of events for gaming.

@dylan.zimmerman – I especially liked the Into the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson, but I had to admit it was hard to swallow until I got to the end of his first book and read his notes on what was his overall design of the series. As a GM, it showed me how you can work a ‘thematic’ element into a game that not only casts the story in a particular light, but also can give each ‘character’ a chance to shine.

#16 Comment By peter On September 6, 2008 @ 11:48 am

I’m always reading tons of different things.

right now I’m reading
keith baker: the gates of night (an eberron novel; rpg fiction helps me in getting the feel and the tone of the world)
shadowrun 4th edition book
eberron: explorers handbook
iron kingdoms: 5 fingers
and tons of (european) comics and graphic novels.

On lovecraft: I have only read “the mountains of madness” but that one is one of the few books that had me really scared in my bed. Most horror (I read) does not do that. You feel fascinated and fear for the main characters life. But lovecraft made me feel afraid. maybe that is the appeal?

#17 Comment By Scott On September 14, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

I’d like to recommend Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Best damn cyberpunk novel ever.

I’m looking forward to his new one, Anathem, too.

#18 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 14, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

@Scott: Snow Crash is one of my favorite books, and Cryptonomicon is in the top five, along with Fellowship of the Rings — but Quicksilver bored me, to the point that I lost interest in that whole trilogy. It moved Stephenson from “Buy immediately, sight unseen” to “Check it out in the store first,” which is what I’ll be doing with Anathem.

I think it came out late last week or is about to come out this week — right?

#19 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 14, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

Thanks for the pointers… for some reason, I didn’t read the comments on this post. Stupid me.

Snow Crash is one of my faves as well, although I did like Quicksilver… it reminded me of English period films, which I never choose, but always leave running when they’re on.

Lovecraft can be spooky, or it can be really boring (from a modern perspective). The first person perspective may play a huge part in that.

Kudos to Fritz Lieber! One of the authors that D&D led me to, Lieber’s first five books of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are simply great fantasy. The sixth, not so good.

And heaven forbid that I write about books without mentioning my favorite author, Terry Pratchett! Everyone who games should read Troll Bridge.

Finally, Elizabeth Moon’s Legacy of Gird didn’t live up to The Deed of Paksennarion. Read Deed; it’s excellent fantasy. Ignore Gird; it’s mediocre, although it does answer a few questions in Deed.


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