COMIC REVIEW: Root & Branch

It’s Taff Screams time again. Long overdue, too.

Ever wanted to tag along with a beautiful, charming, and absolutely adorkable elf woman on a quest of exploration and discovery? Then Root & Branch by Pink Pitcher is exactly right for you. In it, we follow young Ariana on her search for the Tree of Life, a journey she sets out on all by her lonesome. On her way, she meets hu-mans. And what strange people those are, with strange customs and strange ideas; some friendly and welcoming, others not so much.

I admit I haven’t finished the entire series- there’s a lot to read! :3 -but Ariana charmed me quickly. She’s kind, with an innocent heart and almost naïve (deceptively so) approach to things. Which is why seeing what she’s capable of when the situation calls for it really hecking good, and I cannot wait to see how her journey pans out, how she grows with it, and how the world grows around her.

Yes, in this house we stan Ariana. There’s this particular moment that I passed only recently where she ditches a piece of clothing she’d been given, going back to her a little more revealing outfit. She says, aptly, that The wind misses touching me, and I think that was the moment I probably fell a wee bit in love.

The art style is also real gorgeous, full of unique charm and rich with warm and welcoming colours. Everything feels so lovingly crafted; down from the line art all the way to each panel and even the website frame.

So please, please, go give it a shot if you like something full of heart and adventure and a display of open kindness.

Find it here: Root & Branch
The creator: Pink

Worldbuilding: The Ward

An image of a sphere suspended in a circle by a set of chains.

Vigilance. Protection. Servitude. 

Between the Dawnfall and the Calamity, Trero’s population was left in shambles. 

Civil wars. Warlords. The culling of Sare. A constant fear of another Reaping. And, of course, the dread of the Rain of Fire ending everyone and everything. It wasn’t until a group of nobles and their knights decided to band together and turn the tide against the despair sweeping the lands, that Trero finally saw hope again. 

The (since then fallen) houses of vil Faer and vil Carne are credited to have been at the heart of the Ward’s creation. They’ve designed its crest and coloured its banners and wrote down its first charters. 

The Ward was formed for three reasons:

  • Regain control of the lands after the second recorded Reaping (the Calamity)
  • Prevent the next Reaping and find a way to stop the Rain of Fire
  • Turn the world away from culling the Sare and, instead, control them and put them to work. 

The colours

All of the Ward’s heraldry is designed around their sigil as well as three colours. 

Rich Red: Protection
Vivid Green: Vigilance
Gentle Ocher: Servitude 

If you ask Trindram (or any Sare, really), oppression and terror never received any colours, but remain a part of their creed. 

Organization and Governance

The Ward is an independent group of marshalls spread across every corner of Trero. Their word is law and they bow to no one. Not kings, nobles, or even the once in a while odd wanna-be emperor. 

Divided into chapters, each group has either a specific purpose or is assigned to a particular region. 

Such as:

Knights to the 1st chapter. Designated as the overseeing body of the entire Ward, including the prosecution of their own members who violate their laws.
Knights to the 2nd. Dedicated to preventing Reapings and the prophesized Rain of Fire
Knights to the 9th. The Range’s chapter in the north.

Ranks and how to tell them apart

The Ward has a relatively flat rank structure, beginning with its council made from envoys of each chapter and moving through knight captains, knights, and eventually ending with the Sare under their thumb. Every six years, a steward is elected from the currently acting envoys to take on a governing role.

  • Envoys and stewards wear two-shouldered, short capes. The colour and embroidery vary based on their chapters. Often, if the chapter belongs to a region, it will include the envoy’s home sigil. 
  • Knight Captains, the highest military rank, wear a short, single-shouldered red cape on their left. This is meant to represent their role as protectors and guardians of all. 
  • Knights, the most common rank, wear the same, except in green, representing the Ward’s constant vigilance.
  • Sare pressed into their service receive a simple, ocher cape which they wear on their right shoulder. Sare with a specific talent, such as Medica, are further identified with their designated colour stitched on the shoulder cape.

Taff Campaign Diaries: Tom and Sinvik

Art Credit: 
Character art by Deltastic and Saph-y.

Of course the campaign is still going! It’ll hopefully be going for a long while and continue to teach me all those exciting things around DnD, such as making maps, writing campaigns, reading rule books until my eyes bleed, and improvising when the players come up with amazing things. Those sorts of things.

In my next blog post I am probably going to be talking about where our lost souls are right now in their development, alongside of a module/adventure review that I’ve got coming up, but before I get to any of this I really, really, really want to talk about Tomakos and Sinvik a little more. Mostly because I just love talking about them and I love them. Individually and together.

Tomakos Drake belongs to Maegan, and he is the main protagonist in her original novel series, while Sinvik Shielding is mine. Together, we’ve been exploring them (and in my case discovering) over the past two years by playing them in various games, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, and Dungeons and Dragons Online. It was only a natural progression that they’d find their way into a DnD campaign.

So, what’s their deal in Homebound?

Tom arrives in Ved by ship, packing light. He’s got little more than his armour, his weapons, and his winning attitude on him. Oh, and a cat. Sinvik. His guiding light. His anchor.

She’s not always been a cat. It’s a recent thing. Very recent. And she’s certainly not a cat by choice. Though between an agonising death, her soul being pulled apart strand by strand by a curse, and walking the world on four soft paws? What choice did she really have? Better a cat than dead, even if she’s left with an urge to chase butterflies and to purr on occasion.

The curse is a curious thing. It would have tore her soul apart, if not for Tom’s crafty druid friend, who hid her soul by binding her together with a cat. As long as she stays like that, the curse can’t finish what it started.

But no one has got a clue on how to break it.

Thankfully, Tom will stop at nothing to find the warlock who’d cursed her. Heading to the ass end of everything? Psht. Easy. Not worth the mention. That’s what Ved is and no one argues against it. It’s a little known blob on any map and home to no one of import. Used to be it was at least a somewhat decently peaceful place, though that’s changed. What Tom finds as he disembarks, is a land ill at ease. Pirates nip at its heels. Monsters roam its wilds. People vanish into thin air. And those with means to, they pack up and leave for elsewhere.

Not a big deal though. It’s not like he’s here to settle.

Except he also doesn’t have much of a clue on what to do next, save for a vague signature on a half burnt piece of paper. That’s not a lot of a trail, even for someone as good as tracking as him, and so he seeks help from the local adventurer’s guild. Which is doing about as well as the rest of Ved: terribly. It’s fallen out of fashion years ago, its guild hall good as abandoned and empty, and the only member that it’s got left is an old half elf. Rorrik is his name. And even though he’s half blind, broke, and alone, he hasn’t given up tending the guild hall as best as one man possibly can.

The prospect of Tom coming to the guild, to give it some purpose, is enough to excite the old caretaker, and he quickly promises to help. In return, Tom offers his swords and is promptly sent to check on a long abandoned mine a few hours from the hall. One that, Rorrik says, is filled with kobolds that have been sending small parties to harass him most evenings.

But what Tom finds there aren’t kobolds at all. He’s attacked as he approaches, not by a kobold, but by a man. And once he cleared the only still passable mine shaft, he finds a man-made hideout, not a kobold borrow, buried deep into the hollowed out mountain. It’s far from empty, too, and he’s forced to fight a few more people dressed all in thick black robes.

Venturing deeper, and following a rhythmic, metallic GONG reverberating through the air, he eventually finds a large chamber. In that chamber stands a lit brazier, white smoke billowing out from it. Another man, also dressed in black, stands a little in front of it, striking a metal gong while he mutters words under his breath.

Around the brazier, stand a handful of dazed or unconscious figures. They are all dressed in perfectly white gowns. Spotless. Not a smudge on them. And as the man strikes the gong over and over again, whispered words falling from his lips, white tendrils begin to shape from the smoke and drift towards the people in white.

Tom, thinking he’s stepped into some unsavoury ritual, does what any other good adventuring hero does: he interrupts it all.

And something goes awfully wrong. After a blinding flash of light knocks him on his ass, the tendrils fall away from where they hooked themselves into the figures surrounding the brazier, and they all collapse into heaps on the floor. Which at first isn’t all too bad, since they’re all still breathing. A good thing, overall.

Except then a few of them wake up and hoo boy are they confused.

Tom, on some god’s whim, ended up interfering in a ritual (it’s purpose unknown) that caused a few lost souls to be yanked from their perfectly mundane world into a perfectly chaotic one. And just like that, he’s got more than just Sinvik’s curse to worry about, since what sort of hero would he be if he’d left those poor souls to fend for themselves.

And this, my dear readers, is how Tom and Vik got mixed up with the Homebound campaign.

Book Review: The Firemage’s Vengeance

This is the third book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

Image result for the firemages vengeance

Hoo boy.

The third book following Ebon and his friends through their exciting (too exciting) life, doesn’t waste any time. It throws us right back into the thick of a conflict that runs so much deeper than personal vendettas.

Haunted by the choices they’ve had to make at the end of The Mindmage’s Wrath, Ebon, Theren, and Kalem are now more than ever in need of a big hug. Seriously. Mages they may be (mages in training, at least – except Theren, she’s scary good) but they’re young still anyway, and yet shoulder a world of secrets and pain.

Which doesn’t get any easier when the Academy is once again under attack, and they’re back to solving riddles and chasing a villain. They take personal responsibility really serious, even with their own heads on the line this time around.

Luckily, they’re not alone. And no, I don’t just mean Mako. Though, yes, Mako is there. Of course he’s there, and IreallywanttoknowmoreaboutMako,okay?

By now, our young heroes gathered a comforting supporting cast around them, from a lover turned rival turned ally, all the way to nobility. And it doesn’t matter how brief their appearances might be, they are all compelling characters that help complete a picture that comes together from a complex set of puzzle pieces.

I suppose that highlights one of the things I’ve truly enjoyed about this series: How everything has consequences and how Ebon’s life, his struggles, are all really just a small part of something much greater.

Firemage’s Vengeance feels like a pot that’s just been about to boil over and really mess up your stove, but then you get there just in time and prevent disaster at the last second. Sort of. Some spilled out and now there’s a stinky crust under the pot, but the worst of it got contained. And also you’ve now got this really delicious mystery food ready to eat later, even if you have to scrape the stove.

… okay, I don’t know where I was going with this comparison. Something about how the book allows for Ebon and his friends to thwart a villain, to save lives, and yet it sets the stage for much greater things to come, things way past the academy’s walls – and so much closer to Ebon’s heart than before.

It’s a great book, okay.

It’s a great series.

If pressed to find something to nitpick, then maybe I’d whine a little about how Kalem didn’t grow nearly as much as Ebon or Theren did, remaining a relative constant voice of reason with a side of coward. Which isn’t a bad thing, to be fair. They needed him. And we needed him, in particular to show us how just far out some of their plans really were.

And that’s it. That’s how much of the Academy Journals we got right now, which makes me a relatively sad Taff, since I’d really like to see how this continues (AND MAKO) right away. But patience is a virtue and all that, so I’m going to try my hand at this and maybe go read some of the other books in the Underrealm setting.

Whiiich you should do, too.

Just saying.

Book Review: The Mindmage’s Wrath

This is the second book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

The Mindmage’s Wrath picks up right where the Transmuter’s Alchemist’s Touch left off, with our young goldbag Ebon and his friends ready to get into more trouble while the Seat around them is still recovering from the final events of the first book.

I liked Alchemist’s Touch well enough already. It was good, it really was, and you know what? This one is Gooder, with Ebon growing into more of himself page by page, and the world revealing itself to us in greater detail chapter by chapter. We meet his sister. See more of his family’s politics, and especially where his aunt fits into all of it.

But you know what’s best? Mako! MakoMakoMako! There is more Mako! I swear I was making little giddy noises every time he made an appearance, and by the end I was convinced he’s my favourite and I’ll be one sad Taff if something happens to him.

Except Mako is, of course, not what this story is about. He’s just someone that Taff gets incredibly excited about.

Instead, this time, Ebon and his friends are faced with a murder in the Academy, alongside with the thefts of dangerous artefacts that could threaten more than just the Academy, but the Seat and the entire world itself. It’s a delightful little whodunit with a healthy sprinkle of more political intrigue around the goldbag families of Underrealm.

The pacing in which the murder mystery unravels is great, and I liked how the reader is given a chance to piece things together themselves, which gives us a chance to scream at Ebon from outside the pages if we figure it out first.

Again, I’d love to recommend this book. It’s a great follow up to the first one, sets us up for great things to come, and please can I have more Mako?

Book Review: The Alchemist’s Touch

This is the first book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

The Alchemist's Touch: A Book of Underrealm (The Academy Journals 1) by [Robinson, Garrett]

Ebon is an (at times painfully) shy sixteen-year-old boy, who has lived a sheltered life under the thumb of his wealthy and cruel father. His family name carries a lot of baggage with it and seems to be universally feared, though we don’t quite find out why. Not yet, anyway.

Oh, and he’s an Alchemist. Errr, Transmuter, sorry. Except he never got to practice his magic, since that was just one of those things his father forbade him to do. Right along with growing a spine, apparently. Or speaking up. Or having an original thought. Really, his dad is a dick.

Poor Ebon. But hey! He gets his greatest wish, that one thing he’s dreamed of for so long and is allowed to attend the Academy, where he promptly tries to play catchup since he’s about six years late to the party. It’s okay though, ’cause for some reason the benches and stuff in the room made for ten year olds fit him, too. Or maybe he was just awkwardly squeezed into them and had to hunch the whole time. That’ll do a number on the posture.

Ebon is… a little inconsistent at times, though it sort of makes sense, considering how he’s so far behind on being allowed to be himself. Fortunately, he manages to make friends at the Academy relatively quickly. He also makes enemies though, naturally. In particular there’s one going by the name of Lillith, and I admit that their rivalry (if that is what we want to call it) is probably the only thing that I didn’t enjoy much. It came out of no-where and felt just a little too unreasonably cruel and “Ha ha, high school kids, amirght?

Are we really that horrible to each other? Wait. Don’t answer that.

His friendships, on the other hand, feel well deserved and organic, and I liked both Theren and Kalem reasonably well. Ebon, of course, needs them both, and it isn’t until long that he’s swept into a conspiracy hatched by his father. Or so we are led to believe, because there are still questions unanswered by the end. Even for Ebon, who decided to try and unravel the mystery, his two friends by his side.

It goes reasonably well. Sort of. Kind of.

Overall, I liked this book, though I am finding it a little hard to place? It’s not a story about a magical academy, for one. Even though it takes place in one. It’s also not really a coming of age sort of story since Ebon has still so much room to grow. It’s also not one entirely about personal growth in his craft, considering he barely manages two proper spells throughout the entire thing. Adventure? Kind of? Maybe? Mystery? Hmmm, getting there. A bit of political intrigue?

Alright, it’s probably all of the above. Plus, it’s just generally a really nice read. I’m glad I picked it up.

… and, just for the record, my favourite character in the whole thing is Mako and I want to know more about him. Which one of the reasons why I will keep reading through the series, hoping to uncover more.