Recently Jeremy from the Stormin' Da Castle blog sent me an email. In it, he requested my advice for a project he was working on, updating some of the Planescape races for 4e. In particular, he wanted my opinions on updating the bariaur, a race that had different mechanics depending on gender.
Truthfully, I always get a little nervous when I get requests like this. I love D&D and want to be as respectful as possible to its rich traditions and heritage. However, I sometimes have a problem with how gender and biological sex were handled in the past. To me, this makes it a complex issue.
First, a little info on the bariaur. I don't have any information outside of what Jeremy provided in his email, so if I'm missing a critical bit of information, please let me know. My understanding is that they are a race of half ram, half human. Males were stronger and had a ram ability, apparently on the account of their horns. Females were smarter and had magic resistance. Below is my response, modified a bit to fit into a blog post rather than an email discussion.
So how would I approach this? On one hand, sexual dimorphism varies widely across species in the real world, and we might expect the same among races in a fantasy world. How cultures deal or don't deal with gender is a common theme for highlighting differences between them. And, for me, the big concern is how the overall product deals with gender rather than one particular race or culture. If the vast majority push all male or female characters in one particular direction, I start feeling constrained by the setting a way that's often uncomfortable for me.
On the other hand, some people are sensitive to gender differences that occur along the lines of men use brawn, women use brains and magic. Even if the work itself isn't sexist, it's a trigger for some people.
I know there is also the argument that why pick gender if it's not important in the mechanics. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of making gender part of mechanics because there is still a wide amount of variation within gender. I mean, when we discuss a gender, we're often talking about half of the population. And when we discuss PCs, we are talking about characters who break out of the expectations of their societies.
That said, I think there is a solid story reason here and it being one race out of a number (I'm assuming at least), I don't see a problem with carrying it through. Especially since a fair amount of the audience might really like that about the race (I don't know that for sure, just throwing out that there are always other concerns to balance against).
What I might do in this situation is find one common ability to bump up and then have strength or constitution and intelligence be the set players choose between. Then I would set up two main groups within the society. One group would get the charge racial ability and, in the fluff, I would describe the order of the ram. I wouldn't exclude women from the group, but make it clear that it's a mostly male group. Then I would have the other group that is typically formed from women. This way, if a player really wants to fight against the norms of the society, the rules don't forbid it, but I think we've respected the history of the race.
It turns out that Jeremy had already decided to do the ability bumps as I suggested. Check out his conversion of the bariaur. He is very kind to call me an expert, but I don't really see myself this way. I'm just passionate and willing to share my opinions.
Here there be ThunderCats spoilers.
In the episode "Journey to the Tower of Omens," the ThunderCats found the outer entrance to the temple where the ancients hid the Book of Omens. The Book of Omens is a powerful artifact in Thundera's mythology. In fact, the other animals often attacked Thundera trying to obtain it for themselves. The ancients took the book and built a temple to house it. In addition to secrecy, they protected the tower by providing a series of trials to test those seeking it.
The trials are a great example of providing opportunities for each character to shine (and sometimes to cause trouble).
- Snarf accidentally uncovers the outer opening by following his stomach.
- They are presented with a large locked door. Thousands of keys hang from the ceiling. When Cheetara tries the first key she finds, she triggers the trap. The bridge over the spike pit retracts. WilyKat saves them by picking the lock.
- They come to a long hallway and Panthro triggers a pressure plate by stepping on it. This triggers a blade attack that almost cuts him. Cheetara saves the day by using her incredible speed to race through the trap and hit the kill switch on the opposite end.
- Next they come to a room with a pool in the middle. In the bottom of the pool is gold. WilyKat and WilyKit go for it, being thieves after all, which triggers the water trap. They see a grate at the top of the room and try to tread water until they can reach it. Unfortunately, Panthro can't swim. He goes under. While Lion-o tries to save him, he needs to turn back when he runs out of air. When Panthro hits the bottom, he sees another way out and ends up saving all of them.
- When they get through the outer temple, they get to a doorway that opens to a cliff. Lion-o is finally able to use the Sword of Omens to see and it reveals the bridge trigger to him. However, he can't reach it. Tygra saves the day by using his whip.
One of the problems I often run into at my table is providing a way for each character to shine (and get into trouble). After years of having DMs use personality traits and "weaknesses" to screw over their characters, I've seen and heard a lot of players who are resistant to providing these. My players tend to prefer the same subset of skills so allowing them to differentiate along those lines is also difficult. And, I tend to forget to collect them information from them and keep it in one place, so my adventures aren't as tailored as they could be to the differences they do have.
One could argue that other systems are better about this because they either provide more skills or restrict a number of skills to particular classes. There are a few downsides to both of these. First, with longer skill lists, I think it's important to tell the players which skills are likely to be useful in the campaign. I'm not comfortable with having a player put a ton of points or ranks into a skill that is utterly useless in the campaign, such as something for sailing in a landlocked game or nature in a dungeon crawl. Once we limit the list, we are back to the same issue again.
Limiting by class forces some players to play a class they have no interest in to satisfy the needs of the party. Personally, that really bugs me. I know it has a long history in D&D, but it's just not my style and it adds a whole host of problems of its own. What happens when the shining moment for a particular character happens after he is unconscious? What if the thief dies in room 2 but the locked door is in room 5? Everyone needs to leave the dungeon and then hire or find a new thief? That's not my style.
If the group is ok with it, I think this is when group party creation can really shine. For skills, we can either set up one primary in the group or provide some background to the character to differentiate how each character uses that skill. We should still have good skill coverage even if one character goes down or her player isn't present. If two people really need to be trained in arcana, perhaps one is more of a knowledge person (like the wizard) and the other has an innate sense of how magic works and is able to create counter-spells on the spot (like a sorcerer). The exact specifics would come down to what the group negotiated.
Then it would be the DM's responsibility to make sure there are challenges tailored for each. If you are going ask them to roll to do it, it's important to ensure that failure won't stop the forward progress of the story. It could add or remove something from the story or force them to seek another alternative. Also, sometimes it makes sense to limit the test to only one character. Sometimes, even if the untrained fighter rolls a 20 on an arcana check, he shouldn't be able to close the portal to the abyss.
And then if the players are willing to provide weaknesses, adding elements to the story that would pull on them to decide between indulging their weakness or turning against it could be fun. If they indulge a weakness, I would add a complication to the story, such as triggering a trap, but provide a benefit. I'm not sure what benefits I would give yet, because some of them should be useful outside of combat. That means just offering action points doesn't exactly help.
In addition, I would make sure the challenges helped particular characters shine or make sure they all can shine in some way. In my experience from running Learn to Plays, a number of players are afraid to do things like stealth around to get an advantage before a battle because some of the characters have no stealth. The result is that a number of skills lie unused because the group thinks they all have to succeed on it to make it work. If the players preemptively decide to not use skills because they are useless in a party situation and we only present party situations, then what's the point? Perhaps the ranger can sneak up to a window before the battle to get a nice perch for ranged attacks? Or the rogue can sneak to the other side of the room to make gaining combat advantage easier?
These are just some quick thoughts. How do you give the characters a chance to shine in your game?
I've noted my dislike of fragile player characters before. For me, I just don't have the time and patience to get that level of system mastery. Overall, I'm personally much more interested in learning how to develop an interesting story. However, I know lots of people out there love them. In episode 5 of the Girl on Guy podcast by Aisha Tyler, Zachary Levi (of Chuck fame) gives one of the best explanations of what he loves about them. The conversation starts at around the 54 minute mark. He really misses Ghost Recon because the fragility of the character (one shot could kill you) forced you to depend on your teammates and work on strategy. His description of his first time playing Ghost Recon is really awesome.
Now I admit, I think he's right. When characters don't die easily and when they don't have to go beyond themselves to get things done, it's hard to get the players to do anything other than fight. When they do fight, it's generally in an overly bold manner. In D&D, unless the entire party is built around stealthy characters, this usually means the fighter kicks open the door and someone says something along the lines of "Let's do this." Now, this can be a lot of fun, but after game 10 of the same style I know I'm left craving something a little more.
I don't think you need to weaken the characters to change this. One reason why weakened characters push people towards strategic play is because there is a consequence to the bold style of play. It's likely to get your character killed. But we could provide other consequences instead, hopefully aligned to the sensibilities and goals of the players and their characters.
That's the hard part though. While, weakened characters work across games, genres, and settings, rewards for thoughtful play vary wildly, require player buy-in, and rely on GM skill. How do provide these consequences without creating a railroad or making them too arbitrary? How do you get player buy in? How do you get new players into the game without making them feel like sidekicks or n00bs? Lots of games have their own solutions for these and related questions, everything from cooperative world building before or during the game like Dresden Files to the beliefs system in Burning Wheel. It's this area of game design and play that has my attention right now. I don't have any answers yet, just questions.
Writing. I know I haven't done a ton of that on here for a bit. I had a super flurry of creativity freelancing and in my day job. It really cut into my desire and, in some ways, ability to write. Add on top of that my natural inclination to put ever more pressure on myself and this little text area became something to avoid. So I've spent some time thinking about that. Then I spent time thinking about anything but that. I saw some movies, lived a little, and just tried to be.
One of the things that has gotten to me lately has to do with issues of gender in gaming. Believe it or not, while the issue is very important to me, I don't define myself by it. I don't seek to be the gender in gaming person. But because I'm so passionate about the issue, it becomes hard to stay out of it. I will write about it here from time to time.
So why even write this? Because I just need to write. I need a space to be, well me. That's what I always tried to do with this site. And I hope you all are ok with that. If you've wondered why I've been quiet, it's a mixture of all these things. I'm putting those things behind me now and I'm just going to write. It won't all be wonderful. I guarantee it will suck at times. But it will be me.
So what has me excited? I'm so glad you asked:
I saw Tilt Factor at Gen Con. The person running it is a professor at my alma mater, Dartmouth College, which is freaking awesome. A few of the undergrads running the booth even knew people I know from the school which was an unexpected surprise. Tilt Factor's tagline is "game design for social change." Their game Pox is an excellent example of this. It's a board game where you attempt to isolate an infectious disease from the population while minimizing deaths. Most people die if they are surrounded by infected people, but there are some people on the board with compromised immune systems. If the infection spreads to them, they instantly die. Your tools are to cure 1 person or vaccinate 3. A deck of cards controls the other events in the game including which directions the disease spreads in and other events. I had a ton of fun playing the game and it definitely reinforced the lessons of cures versus vaccinations.
I know, I've decried canon before. I still look at it pretty warily, but I love the move in recent D&D books to include a more detailed world. This is especially true with the Neverwinter Campaign Setting. The accompanying Facebook game is pretty fun too and serves as a good introduction to me for the setting. I often have a hard time reading setting books because they try to pack so much information into too few pages. But slowly exploring the word and circling outward helps tremendously.
We picked up a number of Pathfinder books at GenCon. My husband started playing about 6 years before 4e came out so he has a certain nostalgia for 3/3.5 and Pathfinder brings that back for him. One of the books we got was Ultimate Combat which contains guns! I love the mechanics for the gunslinger class and I can't wait to run a Western themed game with him. He's a big fan of Westerns. I grew up reading lots of books set in the American West. I often daydreamed of being a cowboy or a Native American in a tribe. So I think this wil be so much fun.
Another Gen Con purchase, I'm enjoying this book so far. One thing I particularly like is the presentation of demo or sample scenarios and the accompanying, why this is important. The why is so important. Sure, I won't be world-class GM just from reading the book, I need to practice and refine my skills, but seeing the wide array of ideas and then put them to the test myself is awesome. I'm still think there's a lot of Burning Wheel that will interfere with my enjoyment of it, but the ideas in the Adventure Burner and the BW system are well worth the cost.
Well that's what I have so far. Don't worry, I have even more stuff from Gen Con to write about along with other stuff here and there.
Every convention I attend, I try to run games for people through the RPGA, especially Learn to Play. Given how few hours there are in a con and the number of directions I get pulled in at these things, that might seem like it's not the best use of my time. But I'm firmly committed to doing it for a number of reasons: giving back to the community, being an agent of change, and learning more about the game and its players so I can be a better gamer/DM/writer/wood nymph.
One of the things to know about cons is that a fair number of the attendees haven't played for years, if at all, and don't have a home game. This is particularly true at the Learn to Play tables. If no one runs a game for them at the con, they might go another year without rolling dice, especially if they don't have a FLGS or if it doesn't run public play events like Encounters. It becomes harder to overcome the fear and anxiety that newer players sometimes have. Will I be ok at this? Are the rules too hard for me? Will my friends laugh at me because I don't know who Vecna is? I know I worried about that stuff before I started playing and I've had a number of you confess that you do as well. In my opinion, the single most important thing I can do at a con then is to run games for others, help them have fun and hopefully get them to the point where they will play at home. It's my way of giving back to the awesome role-playing game community and a commitment that I take seriously.
Now, I could just sit here on this blog or on twitter and chat about how important these things are. I could lecture and chastise and basically make a bunch of people angry at me. I can say how the DMs in the RPGA aren't all the same and that we have a number of high quality DMs out there. But that's just not me. I want to be on the floor as much as possible showing people that there are many ways to play. When my group sits down at my table, I try to talk to them and figure out what sort of experience they are looking for. Do they take D&D very seriously? Great, it's not what I'm best at, but I'll do my damnedest to make it work. Do they want to have a beer and pretzels kind of game, even at 8 am on a Friday morning? Awesome! The dark, mysterious stranger flirts back with the naughty rogue (as long as the table seems ok with it of course). In my opinion, that's how we change opinions about our game and our DMs and get people seeing the game in the way that makes them happiest.
I learn so much from every game, even the ones I do really well or really poorly at. For example, one of my first tables had a number of older edition players who weren't incredibly happy with some elements of 4e. I think it was my first table of the con and it was really hard for me to translate between editions when they started asking me where cure light wounds was, where the spells were, and why the cleric didn't heal. Arcana and religion checks to do things like disable or activate runes didn't help either since to me, they are spells or prayers but that didn't make sense to them. In some ways, I think 4e was just too free-form for them. On one hand, I empathized and wished I could make it all make sense in a 2 hour game. But as someone who came in with 4e, it just makes sense to me and is so hard to translate. I gave them the best game I could with what I had (I'll have to write about my problems with the Red Box some other time), but it still saddens me that I couldn't do more for them. But you'll be sure that I'll keep this sort of thing in mind when I write or run in the future.
Beyond these reasons, it's just good to get outside of my comfort zone. I know my group pretty well and so as I game I get surprised less and less. For our game play, that's great. But as a writer and fledgling designer, that's really bad. I start making assumptions about my audience and don't always describe things as well as I could. I also get rusty at improv and quick DM rulings.
So those are some of the reasons I run at conventions. Do you run for strangers, maybe through organized play? If so, why?
My first ever Kobold Quarterly article came out in the huge Summer/GenCon issue, #18. My article focuses on minotaurs, and while I might be a tad biased, I think it's awesome. While it ties into their place in the Midgard setting, many of the ideas in the article can easily be used in other settings. Also, while it has the 4e designation attached, very little of the article is crunch, just a table of minotaur knowledge using 4e DCs and a few boons tied to professions.
I wrote this article back in March which was a crazy month for me. For some reason, my writing assignments tend to come in batches and almost always due right around a con. So that month I had PAX East (with the DM challenge), part of a fortune cards article for the Wizards of the Coast website, and this article. While that might not seem like a lot, with a full time job and a bunch of podcasts, it was a bit daunting. What made me even more nervous was that this 1) was an ecology article for Kobold Quarterly, 2) was about minotaurs a race that many people love and which has a long history in D&D, 3) would set some of the canon of Midgard and 4) that Wolfgang likes minotaurs so I knew he would be giving it an especially close look.
My first step was to spend some time familiarizing myself with minotaurs and what was written about them already. Sometimes this is a bit harder for me because I don't have a huge library of D&D sourcebooks. But between the Internet and talking to a couple of people, I found a fair bit of material to use as my base. I also searched through the Midgard forums for anything I thought would be useful for this article. Overall, I spent about 10 days on a combination of research and letting ideas grow. My husband was kind enough to serve as my sounding board and listen to me get excited about things like horn carvings (based off of military or gang tattoos) and ritualized combat.
Next came the writing. I'm not sure how others write, but I tend to write in layers. The first part is filling in the outline. Whatever comes to me that might be interesting goes in. For this article, that meant a lot of uses for mazes since they are one of the key characteristics of the minotaur. This meant everything from coming up with the first blood ritual (done when children turn into adolescents, based on a combination first communion and ritual combat from the Paksenarrion series) to a description of minotaur sailors seeing the ocean's winds as a large labyrinth to navigate. Not everything stayed in the article, but it was good to get it all out on the screen. Once I had a bunch of ideas on the page, it was time to organize and refine them, the first round of editing. Then for each cycle after that, it was about making the whole thing more coherent and tied together along with finer details, such as the colors for the First Blood maze and the minotaur librarian profession.
I also tried to make sure there was something for a broad array of players. I listen to a lot of the chatter about D&D on twitter and elsewhere and I know while there are lots of players who would never go against type, a fair number of people want some broader options. That's why I included the librarian profession and tried to include some non-combat focused options as well. I also tried to maintain a balance between pushing the boundaries from the past and respecting the legend and lore of the game.
So that's the background of the minotaur article. I hope you find it useful in your games, even if it's just to inspire you to do something of your own. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Finally, in case you haven't heard, SarahDarkmagic.com is up for an ENnie award for Best Blog. I'm really honored to be on the list with other great blogs such as Critical Hits, Gnome Stew, At-Will and Thistle Games. If you haven't voted yet, please go and do so.
Black Rock Bandits, my second 6-pack adventure, is out. The band of misfits have been plaguing the King's Road for years, collecting tolls from the caravans as they passed through the Black Rock Hills. This time, however, the caravan leader wouldn't pay and a fight broke out. Several guards were lost in the ensuing fight, along with one of the wagons. However, the remaining guards didn't walk away empty handed; they captured one of the bandits. Unfortunately, he seems a bit out of his mind at the moment. Can you put an end to the notorious Black Rock Bandits? Will you uncover the secrets of their hideout, an old ruin from a forgotten time?
6-Pack adventures provide everything you need to fill 2 to 4 hours of gaming. They come with battle maps, tokens and pre-generated characters. For this adventure, the maps on the front and back work side by side to create a complete mini-dungeon. Also, I limit the pre-generated characters to player options available in player's handbook 1 and 2 for easy reference.
I had a lot of fun working on this adventure. Trying to fit a dungeon on two 8"x11" maps was interesting to say the least. I added a few areas to explore outside of the encounter areas. Here's one.
F. Shrine to Yeenoghu – Long ago, worshippers of Yeenoghu fastened the bones of their victims to the wall in the form of the triple-headed flail. Thick, red water seeps from a crack in the wall above the flail, giving the appearance of blood dripping from the heads of the flail.
J. Hope’s Bedchamber – A feather bed, complete with four posts and bed curtains fills the southeast corner of the room. Across from it is a small dresser, with a silver brush and mirror set, inlaid with semi-precious stones (set worth 50 GP).
You can buy the adventure at RPGNow.
I want to thank all the people who helped me playtest and edit before it was sent to Postmortem Studios.
How could I forget to write about the chuul? I think out of everything I did for Lost City, they were the most fun. Whenever I worked on their section, I would turn to my husband and make claw motions with my hand. *Click-click*
When I was working on my chapter, one of the things I really wanted to do was to make sure everything had a purpose. This was important due to the limitations of designing for Lost City. There were only so many pages in the book and there wasn't enough room to detail every encounter, especially not in the tactical encounter format 4e is known for. Combined with the sandbox-style of the adventure, this meant the DM would have a fair bit of work to do to make things happen. I wanted to give the DMs as much as I could in hopes of making their job easier.
I added chuul to my pitch mainly because they were a vaguely level appropriate monster from the Monster Manual. This was important for a few reasons, but a big one was we weren't sure how much space we would have for monster stat blocks. I also liked the idea of these brutal fighters who could rise out of the water behind one of the PCs and maybe drag them under. I bet you didn't expect that in the middle of a desert.
So the first question I had to answer was why in the world there would be chuul wandering the depths of the Lost City. There aren't any major bodies of water around and the 4e Monster Manual entry didn't give me a whole lot to use. The earlier edition stuff that I could have really used was stripped from the 4e version so that was no good either. I started to get worried, telling myself, "Don't worry. They just are. People will be ok with that."
But that didn't really make me happy either. Then, while waiting for the bus home after one of my writing sessions, I had an idea. They are the Lost City's version of alligators in the sewers. The giants who lived in the Lost City were a brutal lot. It would make sense that they might raise chuul gladiators who would fight to the death. Over time, some of those chuul might find their way to the waterworks and set up their own home down there. As the waterworks became more and more neglected, they would be free to start their own colony and grow in numbers. The giants wouldn't really care, they would help keep any invaders out. To this day, the hatchlings from each batch of eggs fight themselves until only one of them survives.
As the Kadrana’s society grew, so did their hunger for brutal amusements. They created a large arena and held brutal death matches for the ravenous fans. Their favorite creatures were the chuul, a race they came across in their travels. The cannibalistic tendencies of the creatures appealed to the giants’ natural bloodlust, and many homes of the upper classes housed specially crafted aquariums for holding the egg sacs. When the eggs hatched, family and friends would gather around and watch as the siblings battled each other for supremacy. The winners would be raised and cared for by the families, trained to become gladiators in the ring. It was a high honor to raise a champion.
If you want to add some additional chuul encounters, I would suggest having at least one cage match with the creatures, maybe using the burrows idea from the hatchery encounter in Lost City.
This story totally made my Tuesday morning. It sounds like a group bickered in character about how to approach a temple and the youngest child of the DM decided to have some fun. She wandered over to the table, tapped one of them on the shoulder, and offered to sell him the key they needed. The group stayed in character for the bit and it was absolutely wonderful. Please check it out in the Wizards community forums.
"What if I just give you six thousand gold instead?"
"Okay, six thousand gold...and an ice cream cone."
"No. No. I meant six thousand gold and no ice cream."
"No ice cream, no key." she says with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.
I personally love these stories and it illustrates why I love playing with new players so much. They have a take on the world that I really enjoy. It doesn't matter that there wasn't a key in the DM's notes or that ice cream might not exist in the world. Now, I know it's not for everyone, but it is what I enjoy. Thanks to the author for sharing it, and to Mike Robles and TheAngryDM for sharing it on Twitter.
Recently I've been reading the book Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles. I have to admit up front that I love the book. It has some issues that I will address later, but overall I've found it interesting and inspiring. It has approximately 75 chapters of individuals and groups of women, spanning from the Amazons to 'Tammy' Duckworth. In addition to these, the book has a number of other stories in sidebars, increasing the overall number quite a bit.
This book is not a rigorous academic exploration of the topic of women in war. That's not to say that the research is bad or it's full of inaccuracies. But if accuracy is very important to you, you might want to at least peek at the book before buying it. It doesn't cite sources and lacks a bibliography. However, the authors seem to have decent credentials. Robin Cross was a Gulf War reporter and a military historian. Dr. Rosalind Miles is a bestselling writer, lecturer and BBC broadcaster. I cross referenced some of the stories in the book with Wikipedia. I didn't really see any obvious omissions, but the wikipedia entry was far more likely to call something out as a myth or legend than the book was.
In my mind, the book really shines as a source of inspiration for stories and games. After reading a chapter, I often thought of a number of adventure hooks and NPCs I wanted to create out of the 3 or so pages of text. In addition, there's just a wide variety of women in the book. Some are much more brash, they directly take up the sword and fight alongside men. Others are efficient leaders, using their social skills and sometimes even feminine wiles to get what they need and want.
Here are some interesting tidbits:
- Caterina Sforza was despatched to Rome in August 1484 to hold the Castel Sant'Angelo. Well-known for her beauty, she wore a gold satin gown and plumed hat. At the time, she was seven months' pregnant. She held it until October 1484, surrendering it on her husband's order.
- Grace O'Malley (c. 1530-1600) was born into a famous family of sea rovers. If you want a colorful character for a sea campaign, she's a great one. She was a constant troublemaker and excellent defender. After her first husband's death, a rival clan tried to recapture an island castle he had taken. She defended it not only against them, but against a later attack by the English. Legend has it that she melted lead taken from the roof and poured it down over the heads of the attackers. Sir Richard Bingham, Lord President of Connacht, call her the "rebellions in the province for this forty years." She even met with Queen Elizabeth I after sending her a petition which read in part "...to grant unto your said subject...free liberty during her life to invade with sword and fire all your highness' enemies."
- "Black Agnes" Randolph (c. 1312-69) was the countess of Dunbar in March through her marriage to Patrick Dunbar. He was away when their home came under attack by an English force. She refused to surrender even though she had few guards to mount a defense with. Still she held her own against the formidable Earl of Salisbury. After the first round of siege engine attacks, she and her maids appeared on the castle's outer walls, "dusting" away the damage. She then used one of the boulders shot by the siege engines to disable Salisbury's battering ram. Later the earl captured her brother and attempted to negotiate his life in exchange for the castle. Agnes's cool reply was to urge the earl to go ahead as her brother's earldom would then pass on to her.
Why is this better than Wikipedia?
So why buy the book over just visiting Wikipedia? For one, the writing is much better. I love Wikipedia for a lot of reasons but the quality of its prose is not one of them. It's often a bit dry and lacks color. This makes sense, it is more of an encyclopedia after all, but when I'm looking for inspiration, I prefer something that isn't as dry. In addition, the book's layout is just so much nicer. The accompanying illustrations are bigger, time and thought went into the layout and it's a great book to curl up with on the couch.
I definitely plan on using this book in my games and writing and I hope you will check it out. What non-gaming books do you use for inspiration?