Hello dear readers, it’s that time again. Beta readers, assemble! Who among you will rise to the challenge and beta read Grim Curio before it’s submitted to contests, agents, and publishers? To become a beta reader, follow the link below and fill out the short form.
The beta reading period is quickly approaching, with a targeted date of Tuesday Jan 2nd for the first three chapters to be handed out. If you want to be a part of the process, sign up now! Beta readers will receive a free copy of Grim Curio upon release, and I’m going to try to come up with another way to thank you, maybe a t-shirt or something — I’m open to ideas.
About Grim Curio
The story of how the world ends begins on a near barren planet within the last and only city on earth, along a narrow empty street, dusk sunlight casting the toxic air in rainbow streaks of red, purple and green. This story begins and ends with James.
James is rogue veil researcher. He seeks evidence that will prove parallel realities exist, hoping to save humanity from the caustic, dying waste the earth has become. In order to make this discovery, he will cross paths with violent teenage nihilists, scientists attempting to cut a hole in the fabric of reality, a researcher hell bent on following the rules, a politician struggling to maintain order and stability, and many more strange and dangerous people.
When the fate of Refuge is at stake, can these disparate people with conflicting goals band together to survive or will their discord be their downfall?
What does a Beta Reader do?
A beta reader is one of the greatest people living on the face of the earth. They receive chapters from the Grim Curio manuscript, read it, answer questions and leave feedback, then return their notes to me. We’ll talk about the novel, about your opinions, and laugh at my stupid grammar mistakes. In the end, you’ll get a signed copy and another gift yet to be determined.
Do I have to read all of Grim Curio?
Nope. If life gets in the way, or if you just don’t want to keep on beta reading, you can drop out at any time. Beta reading is purely optional, but in order to receive any of the beta reader gifts, you must read and offer feedback for at least 85% of Grim Curio.
What if I’ve never edited anything before?
That’s fine! All you need to be is a passionate reader. If you live for science fiction and fantasy novels, then you’re the perfect candidate to become a beta reader.
How much feedback should beta readers give?
As much or as little as you’re willing to share. If you want to write a full-page critiquing each chapter, that’s great. If you only want to share a few sentences on how you feel about the material, that’s great too.
What is the process, in detail?
The process is pretty straight forward.
Receive 3 chapters starting with chapter 1
Read through, comment, and answer a few specific questions within a timely manner (3-5 days)
Return chapters and notes back
Receive next 3 chapters, etc.
Enjoy an occasional Skype call where I thank you profusely and we chat about the novel
Recently I took the plunge into playing Dungeons and Dragons for the first time since high school. What’s more, I decided to DM. DM, short for Dungeon Master, is the player who creates and dictates the Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) game to the other players, known as PC’s (or Player Characters). It takes a lot of work upfront, but it’s fun, rewarding, and well worth the time investment.
Now that I’ve gone through the learning process, I want to simplify becoming a DM for other hopeful game masters. So here is a resource just for you that will provide you with everything you need to get started. How to find inspiration, where to get free and legal resources, fun ways to learn the rules, and cool stuff to buy.
If you have any questions or would like to suggest an addition, feel free to let me know in the comments. Till then, best of luck in your DMing journey.
Before you DM for the first time, it’ll be worth your while to watch some people do it well. There are a ton of live streams out there, so there’s inspiration aplenty, but what follows worked for me.
This is a great one-shot to watch. A one shot is an adventure that lasts a single play session, rather than one that’s ongoing. D&Diesel is short, so you can get a quick taste, but also hugely fun. Pay attention to the players reactions to the narration by DM Matt Mercer. I try to emulate his use of voices, but I’m not very good. Even so, I think the effort adds to the atmosphere, so even if you can’t voice act, give it a shot.
I love Dan Harmon, but he seems to inspire love and annoyance from different people. If you’re squarely in the Harmon camp, as I am, then you’ll love Harmonquest whether you’re interested in DMing or not. Spencer Crittenden is the DM here, and he does a fantastic job. Bear in mind that this show edits out all of the slower moments, so it’s not representative of the entire play experience, but it’s hella fun and worth a watch. You can watch it on YouTube or Vrv.co. Either way, you’ll have to pay. Sorry bout it.
You can’t talk about live streamed DnD without mentioning Critical Role, which basically started the whole craze. It’s a great show to watch, but each episode is around 3+ hours in length. I sometimes watch while I code or do yoga. Pay attention to how Matt Mercer goes along with his players ideas. He has a very “yes and” attitude, which I’m trying to get better at. “Yes and” is an improve idea where when someone else (one of your players) suggests an idea, you go with it and build on it, rather than shooting it down.
Learn how to DM
Before you dive in to running your campaign, you’ll need to know the basic rules. Start by watching the many great videos on YouTube that delve into the core rules of D&D. You’ll still need a Players Handbook at some point, there’s no getting around that, but watching the videos is an entertaining way of absorbing all the basic knowledge you’ll need to get started. Here are some I particularly enjoyed.
How to Play Dungeons and Dragons
This animated guide is a great intro into the rules. Much more fun than reading through the Players Handbook. If you’re not sure yet if you want to invest in the books, this is a great place to start. However, you will need a copy to play for reference. You’ll want to watch all of the intro videos, and probably videos on classes of your PC’s, before starting.
GM Tips w/ Matt Mercer
This is my third mention of Matt Mercer, and that’s not a mistake. He’s not only a great voice actor and DM, he’s also great at bestowing his knowledge in quick and easy to understand and utilize chucks. I enjoy the brevity of these videos. It allows me to pick up a lot of skills and ideas without needing to wade through a 30 minute video, which seems to be the norm in the DnD YouTube world. Watch the playlist below, cherrypick whichever feel most relevant to your current issues, and you’ll receive lots great advice without a major time commitment.
Your First Adventure, Running the Game
Speaking of 30 min videos, author, game writer, and DM Matthew Coville is the more in-depth and long-winded type, but his information is clear, full of context, and usually entertaining to watch.
For my first adventure, I literally the exact campaign from his video below, and it went better than I could have hoped. From there I branched off into my own homebrewed campaign, which I highly recommend. If you want to see the process of creating a campaign in action, learn about the various features of an adventure, and get all of the materials for free, then this is a great place to start. I’ve also posted links to some of the materials below.
Things You Need Before You Play
There are a lot of things you’ll need eventually if you plan on playing regularly. However, you don’t need everything all at once. In fact, if you’re strapped for cash, there’s enough free material out there for you to get started with nothing more than a set of dice.
Below is a collection of everything I think you need before you dive into your first game. Skip the books, skip the plastic minis, right now you just want to dip your toe in and figure out if this whole DM thing is for you. After your first session, you can begin getting all that other stuff.
D&D has a lot of rules, and you’ll need to reference them from time to time. Lucky for us, Wizards of the Coast has a free starter rule book for new DM’s. So get the rules here.
Another helpful tool is the app Complete Reference 5e. I believe this app is on both Android and iPhone. I own an Android and it works well for looking up things quickly mid-play. You’ll have a hard time learning how to play if you only use this app, but you’ll save a lot of time referencing things when you download the Complete Reference 5e.
The Players Handbook is about $40, and learning how to build characters from scratch takes a lot of time. Instead, start with Wizards pre-made characters to take some of the load off your shoulders. I think there are 16 characters for your players to choose from. If you have a Players Handbook, make sure you’re players read through their class descriptions before your first game, otherwise have them look them up online. Get premade character sheets here.
Miniatures are one of the best things about DnD, in my opinion. They’re so damn cool, and add an extra dynamic to the game. However, like everything else in D&D, they’re expensive when you’re starting out. And even more expense when you dive in. Instead of dropping some serious coin on a bunch of figures, download and print them from Printable Heroes. There you’ll find high quality, printable minis that work just as well as actual figurines for a fraction of the cost. Find printable minis here.
After you’ve run your first adventure and decided it’s something you want to keep doing, there are several more things you’ll want, and some other resources you’ll want to dive into.
All the books – At this point, it’s time to start investing in the books. Buy them in this order:
The Players Handbook
The Dungeon Masters Guide
The Monster Manual
Any campaign of your choice
I included a campaign book there even though I’ve been playing with homebrew content. While I don’t run my games out of one of these pre-made adventures, before reading this I was spending too much time creating content that didn’t really matter. After, I read through one which greatly aided me in knowing how much content of what sort I needed to prepare.
The Home Brewery
Once you start writing your own adventures, you’ll want them to look pretty. Enter The Home Brewery which does an excellent job of making your home brew content feel legit.
You can buy battlemats which have grids and stuff on them, and they look great. I didn’t want to spend the extra money, so I found a whiteboard I had lying around and I use that to draw the environments on. It’s quick and liberating to layout something with ease.
Dungeons & Dragons Lore
These lore videos delve into the various aspects of a lot of D&D’s most iconic creatures, gods, realms, etc. I went through the entire series in a week. It’s a shame there’s not more, but what there is is really great. Lore adds depth to your campaign, and throwing in some little details here or there will make your world feel more real.
Fantasy Name Generators
Coming up with the ton of fantasy names you’ll need is a chore. Use Fantasy Name Generators to come up with names for Cities, Taverns, Wizards, Elves, Pirates, Rivers, Monsters, etc. Really they have just about everything in a very simple to use setup. Generate fantasy names here.
Who The Fuck is my DnD Character
If you’re players are having a hard time coming up with character ideas, this is a fantastic resource. I ran a one shot adventure featuring only characters inspired by this tool, and it was a lot of fun. Get character ideas here.
Fantasy World/Dungeon Generators
These procedurally generated worlds and dungeons work really well. Create a detailed world or encounter with very little effort. Not as customizable as I’d like, but great for what it is. Build worlds or dungeons here.
Short Run Posters
Now that you have a world map, you’ll want to print it out and start drawing all over it, creating countries, expanding on the features of different zones, laying out area’s of interest, etc. I printed my map through Short Run Posters, and it turned out great.
I love being able to show my players where they are in the world, and let the map inform some of their choices. I only layout the areas around my players though, and only draw in cities their characters would already know about, adding more as they discover places. Print your map here.
Finally, once you’ve dived in deep, it’s inevitable that the miniature craze will hit you. Enter Hero Forge, a fantastic 3d printing service where you can design custom characters. They run about $30 a piece, so they aren’t cheap, but they’re great for adding a bit of ownership to the PC’s minis. Trust me, if one of your players buys one, they all will. Check out hero forge here.
There you have it, a collection of all the things I found useful on my journey to becoming a decent DM. I still have a lot to learn, and there is so much more you can do beyond this. I’m thinking about releasing some of my homebrew content for you to play too very soon. Keep an eye out :).
I recently finished reading A Darker Shade of Magic and, as usual, I left my review on Goodreads (follow me). What I’ve been neglecting to do is share my reviews with you guys, readers of this blog. So I’m gonna start doing that now. Over the next few weeks, I’ll copy over some of my reviews so they live here as well and in the future I’ll post all my 3.5 stars and higher reviews here.
What was setup to be an interesting exploration of a setting that involves parallel worlds and follows a charming MC turned out to be a run-of-the-mill, fantasy action story where intrigue is paid off with cliché, and the stakes are artificially lowered through a dash of deus ex machina. So, there were good parts and bad parts.
I really loved the first third of A Darker Shade of Magic, written by V.E. Schwab. The slow pace let the author explore MC Kell and the parallel worlds he inhabits. I felt like his character was well fleshed out and the pace of reveals was perfect. Not to mention his awesome coat.
Then we get to Delilah, and the story goes south. Where Kell feels like a three-dimensional character, Delilah feels like a more violent, less intriguing, one-dimensional version of The Artful Dodger. Her motivations rarely go below surface level, her actions are often kind of dumb, and when she’s shown as a badass it feels contrived.
Speaking of unearned, let’s talk about the climax. Ok, so I didn’t hate it, but I expected way more given the setup. The second half devolves into a fairly basic chace sequence, followed by a standard “dramatic showdown” with the villains. Will good triumph? Of course, but will good actually earn their inevitable victory? Solid no.
What’s more, the villains are wholly uninteresting. They are bad, and because they are bad they want to take over the world. They do bad things to show how bad they are like drink blood, touch people in weird ways while they talk, have a floor made out of bones, etc. etc. If you’ve played any video game ever, you’ve seen these guys before.
Spoilery stuff follows
I think this was my greatest disappointment. We get to the end, and all of the baddies are defeated because their bad people. Literally, that’s it. The good guys might strike the final blow, but if the baddies weren’t so mean to their subjects, then they totally would have won.
If an editor had told the author, “we get that their villains, could you tone it down a smidge” the author would have been forced to find a new, more interesting demise. Too bad this didn’t happen, cause the end could’ve been so much better.
End of spoilers
As it was, the final chapters chalk full of deus ex machina (the hand of the author comes in to save the characters, not the actions of the characters themselves), which was very disappointing.
I enjoyed aspects of A Darker Shade of Magic. I like Kell and wish this would have been more of a character focused story around him. I’m told the sequels solve a lot of these issues, so I think I’ll pick them up in the near future, but to be honest, I’m not chomping at the bit to dive into them. However, the first third of the narrative gives me hope that from the ashes of this book a better story can rise.
3.5 out of 5
MY RATING SCALE
5 – Excellent. Either this book was incredibly enjoyable, or I learned something that will improve my own writing.
4 – Fine. The book was pretty good/fun, but was held down by several issues.
3 – Meh. The issues in this book hampered my enjoyment.
2 – Not for me. I didn’t like it, but I can see why other people might.
1 – Not for anyone. I hated it, probably didn’t finish reading, definitely didn’t take the time to write a review.
Note: I don’t write fully negative reviews. Books I don’t like will be given a star rating on Goodreads with no review. As a writer, I don’t want to add my voice to a conversation that might negatively affect another writers income.
It’s quarter past eleven at night — quarter til midnight at the time of publishing — and I’m still writing. About to head to bed when I realized I haven’t posted in a while. Got to throw you guys something before you forget about Grim Curio. I feel so great about this novel, better than I’ve felt for anything I’ve ever written. I feel it, this one is going to make a splash.
Anyway, here’s a few snippets from the novel. I hope you enjoy them.
In the dark of this hole, their faces are cloaked in hoods, disrupted but shadow, lenses, cloth. Only a green glint in their goggles, the reflection of the abused computer monitor, betrays their eyes. Even so, James reads their emotion in the constance of their stair, the stiffness in their shoulders, the way they contemplate the first words that might tidy this strange situation. He bristles when he see’s the sidearms strapped to their thighs, see’s the military precision in the packing gear.
‘There’s got to be an easier way to make a buck.’ The phrase springs to his mind, and he almost smiles. It’s not the buck’s he’s after. Anxiety runs down his back in a skittering of pinpricks, and suddenly the world is hyperreal. It’s moments like these — when the only thing between him and consequence is his tenacity — when he finally feels in control of his destiny. No system brought him here, no misguided ideology. He walked upstream, against the current like a boss, and now he’s ready to see how close he come’s to oblivion.
Then he’ll pull himself back out again. Cause that’s just how it goes.
Note: Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a piece of writing within the world of Grim Curio. These are emails, journal entries, propaganda, and in the following’s case, a poem.
Girlies an’ Boy’os, do not break a rule, Sit straight, listen, when ya go to school, Them cleary* bastards won’t stand none’ya fight, Mark ya in they ledger, ya stupid little fool.
Girlies an’ Boy’os, do not break a rule, Just ya wait’n listen, soon come the ghoul, Them cleary bastards’ll get’ya come the night, Dis’pear ya to nothin, ya stupid little fool.
Mind all ya manners ‘Member who they was When top ‘comes bottom and bottom the top Show ‘em then what we lil’ shit’s think of ‘em, Cut ‘em, gut ‘em, hang them from the rafters That is all.
– Untitled Poem from The Outlaw’s Book of Rhymes
*cleary is a derogatory term for people who live in the undercity. After hundreds of years below ground, their skin has gone opaque. The undercity residents tend to be the elites, politicians, artisans, scientists, teachers, students, and stability officers.
Note: Last bit. This is just a snippet of a conversation that is currently in chapter 6 between James and the student Gretchen. James is from the surface, Gretchen from the undercity. I’m trying to make their cultures very different and their confines tight. Ok, here it is:
Gretchen frowns thoughtfully. “There’s an empty hut up the hill, I’ll ask an elder if we can use it. If he says no, though, there’s nothing we can do. Fringes Protocol states we follow tribal rules.”
“Fine. Do what you can. Introduce me as a spiritual healer. Stress that I use natural methods to expel spirits and demons, lift curses, that sort of thing.”
“You mean lie?”
“I mean embellish. Just a bit.”
“I’m above protocol and I herby grant you permission to rise above the protocol with me and get shit done. Temporary leniency granted, congratulations. When you talk to whoever… who will you be talking to?”
Suddenly preoccupied, she says quietly, “Probably Elder Nevin.”
“Tell Elder Nevin that I’m not with associated with you. Call me weird or something, point to my skin, the way I talk and move, make sure he can see as clear as day that I’m an outsider here. That’s the only way I can build my own reputation at this point. Also, mention how strange it is that I don’t use tech.”
Gretchen studies the ground, contemplates the lies she’s been ordered to pass along.
“You alright?” asks James evenly.
“I know they’ve taught you’ to follow protocols your entire life, and what I’m asking you to do feels wrong, but you asked for me and now you’ve got me. Do you want to help this village? Their children?”
“Then what we’ve got to do is create a scenario with the greatest chance of success, and this is what I’ve got. If you’ve got a better idea, name it. How ‘bout you, at the computer. Any killer ideas?”
Ryan shakes his head.
Back to Gretchen, he says, “This is what I do every single day. Stick with me, and we’ll have you breaking protocol left and right, and trust me it’ll be the best you’ve ever felt. But if you don’t feel comfortable, I’ll manage.”
That’s all for now. Hope to be sharing more soon 🙂