In preparation for writing this, I had to ask myself, “Can you do a book review for a player’s handbook?” The answer is, yes, especially when said player’s handbook is Dungeons and Dragons© 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. I know what you’re thinking, “I didn’t even know they made a second edition.” Well, they did…and a 3rd, so there.
The thing that makes the 4th edition so special is that it changed the basic game play. There are some new races, like Dragonborn and Tiefling and classes, which is typical of new editions of the game, but there are also a few new racial traits and a new class path called Paragon Path as well as Epic Destiny, which will eventually let you become an Archmage, a Deadly Trickster, a Demigod (my favorite) or an Eternal seeker. The change in game play is so overwhelming that I won’t even be able to explain what I’ve played so far let alone the whole thing
I started a new campaign with a group of friends that I have been gaming with since Edition 3.5 came out. We gathered after work the first Wednesday after the new edition was released and built our characters. I decided to play a Dragonborn, which is one of the new races. I could have gone with one I was more familiar with, but what’s the point in playing the new edition unless you try out the new stuff. It’s like starting a new character in the second expansion of World of Warcraft and not using a Blood Elf. I chose the fighter class because I’m not a fan of hiding behind rocks and throwing magic missiles all the time.
Looking at the new character sheet was like playing for the first time. I didn’t even have the old character sheet down too well as it was. The skill list has been condensed and the character’s ability to use them has changed. There is all this gobbly-gook about passive insight and perception that still doesn’t make any sense to me. The big one though, is the power index. You have these extra moves that you can use either at-will, each encounter, or daily (game-time, not real-time). These powers help keep the game moving and allow your character to fight compatibly with your foes. That means, as you level, you get stronger, and you can kick dragon ass better. If you’ve ever played a campaign with seven people, you know how boring fights can be because it can take a half an hour to get your next turn (bring on the Mountain Dew!).
For those of you who have never played Dungeons and Dragons©, fear not. There is a detailed guide in the beginning of the book on how to play, including a point-by-point how-to on page 30. Throw caution to the wind and dive into the make believe world that Gary Gygax (R.I.P.) created for us. Just don’t do it with a bunch of noobs. You need at least one patient person to guide you through the complicated stuff (the Dungeon Master, or Game Master) D & D is not just for geeks, its for the geek in all of us, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours with good friends and good beer, so stop making fun of me, at least I have friends.]]>
The first novel I stumbled upon by Jim Thompson was Pop. 1280. Widely considered to be one of Thompson’s finest works it was published later in his career and like the bulk of his novels later re issued by Black Lizard (the vintage crime offshoot of Random House). Pop. 1280 is written in the first person perspective of Nick Corey who happens to be the sheriff of Pottsville County. At the onset of the story Thompson sets up Corey as a bit of a dullard and a lazy buffoon who seems to spend little time focused on his job as sheriff and more time trying to avoid the seemingly ruthless characters around him. As the story progresses however, Thompson masterfully and seamlessly reveals Corey’s true nature. It seems as if we were incorrect in our original assumptions of our dear sheriff. The fact of the matter is that he is wickedly intelligent and far more ruthless than any of those around him. Soon Corey is acting on dark impulses which often permeate the characters of Thompson’s novels.
Part of what makes the books of Jim Thompson such a joy to read is his uncanny ability to naturally write in many different voices. Another effective trick in Thompson’s arsenal was the unreliable narrator. It is commonplace in his books to find that your guide through the story has been lying to you or perhaps lying to themselves. While Thompson often used a few of his tricks multiple times in different novels he always managed to make it seem fresh and elegantly effective. In A Hell Of A Woman the main character actually suffers a breakdown in the middle of the book. At which point his personality splits and each personality takes turns narrating the story from that point. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be a ham-fisted train wreck of a gimmick but Thompson presents it masterfully which makes it almost impossible to put down.
Later in his career Thompson did some work in Hollywood where he helped to pen the scripts for Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and Path’s Of Glory. A few of Thompson’s books have been adapted for film but were almost invariably castrated due to the thought that viewers would not be able to handle humanity being presented in as dark a fashion as Thompson did in his novels. Both versions of The Getaway end on an up note before things really turn to shit as it does in the book. The Grifters came as close as any American did to being faithfull yet they still managed to find a way to soften the blow which the end of the story delivers. I have yet to see the French adaptation of Pop. 1280 Coup de Torchon but I have been told that is far and away the most faithful adaptation of a Thompson novel to date. Needless to say that one is at the top of my Netflix queue.
At the time of this writing I have read all but four of Jim Thompson’s novels and I have yet to be let down in the slightest. He was an incredibly talented and intelligent writer who skillfully dredged the darkest reaches of the human mind to create some of the most exciting and readable fiction ever committed to paper. If you ever find yourself in a decent book store seek out the Jim Thompson section, close your eyes and pull something off the shelf. You will not be disappointed.