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July 2024 Book Reviews


I'm grateful that a big part of my work has always involved reading as much as possible. And it's been a good summer for books. My batch for July includes graphic novels, magical technofutures, murder mysteries, and a very fun slasher pastiche. Thanks as always to the generous reviewers and publishers who send their advance copies my way!

(Candle is Garden Shed Library, the July scent of the month from Frostbeard Studio. Get book-inspired candles from their website!)


READY OR NOT
by Andi Porretta
Available now

It's Cassie's last summer before her close-knit friend group heads off to college. Everyone else, from the artistic Marcy to the musical Nico to future lawyer Aaron, seems to have their future sorted out. But Cassie can't seem to get her life together as quickly as the rest of the world would like. As she stares down adulthood, she only has two things on her mind: her seemingly unrequited crush on Nico, and making memories while she still can.

To that end, she suggests a summer-long game, based on one the four invented as kids. A travel cup carries slips of paper around, each inscribed with a dare. Some are simple, some are downright illegal. But they'll all be memorable. Failing your dare means you're out of the game. Winning carries with it a variety of forfeits for the losers, depending on who wins. But as the friend group navigates their game, cracks form. Nico appears to be invested in someone other than Cassie, and she can't hold her jealousy in. Meanwhile, Marcy and Aaron seem to be changing... or maybe Cassie just wasn't paying close enough attention to them. What began as forging precious memories is now threatening to tear the group apart, and Cassie can't help but feel she's to blame.

Ready or Not is a single-sitting graphic novel read, full of bright colors and vibrant art. Porretta's layouts are excellent, integrating group chats (a major part of the friend group's communication) in a way that's still visually interesting. Most of all, though, it's a relatable story of that time in our lives when we and the people we love change forever—and how to weather those changes.


LADYKILLER
by Katherine Wood
Available now

Gia and Abby have been best friends since childhood, separated by class and brought together by teenage tragedy. Years later, heiress Gia has made a snap decision to marry near-stranger Garrett in the wake of her father's death. Abby has been keeping her distance from this ill-advised match, foregoing the wedding and agreeing to meet up again only because Benny—Gia's brother and Abby's longtime crush—will also be along.

But things are becoming uncomfortable. Gia has failed to show up for the reunion, sending apology texts that sound nothing like her. Alongside these are threatening emails, calling Abby out for a long-buried lie. When Abby and Benny make it to Gia's home in Greece, all they find is her latest autobiographical manuscript: a terrifying story of betrayal, scandal, and infidelity. All signs point to Garrett, as well as the couple's two new friends, targeting Gia. But how much of Gia's manuscript is true? As the truth of Abby and Gia's shared trauma resurfaces, Abby and Benny scour the city for both the truth and absolution.

On the surface, Ladykiller is a slow-burn mystery. But dig deeper, and readers will discover that it is in fact a long-form character study. Gia's manuscript plays out alongside Abby's own narrative chapters. As we discover more about both ladies, we are cast as judge and jury: who is telling the truth? Is anyone telling the truth? Katherine Wood subverts expectations right in front of our noses, with the true convoluted mystery emerging in the final pages and sitting with us long after the book has been closed.


A MAGIC FIERCE AND BRIGHT
by Hemant Nayak
Available now

Four centuries ago, magic entered the world, bringing technology down with it. Now, in a rebuilt future, only technomancers can operate electronics and machines, speaking to their "souls" to bring them back to life. Adya is one of these rare practitioners, and she's putting all her energy into one goal: crossing the deadly spell wall that keeps her isolated and finding out if her twin sister Priya is still alive.

Her adventures unite her with unlikely friends: old frenemy Dsouza, a princess who can't control her magic, and an enthusiastic motorcycle who dreams of racing once again. But crossing the spell wall is just one challenge: petitioning the maharajah for help in finding Priya is an even bigger ask than anticipated, and uncovers unpleasant truths about the war raging between England and India. To survive, and to bring her family back together, Adya must reach out to new allies and embrace her trie potential.

A Magic Fierce and Bright is a fascinating techno-future vision, depicting magical castles built over the bones of skyscrapers and rusted vehicles with burning spirits. The little Yamaha in particular is one of the most compelling characters. The backdrop of Indian religion, legend, and culture makes this a stand-out entry in the genre, and the combat leaps off the page in epic fashion. This is truly gorgeous sci-fantasy.


THE PERFECT SISTER
by Stephanie DeCarolis
Available July 16

Despite being a year apart, sisters Maddie and Alex have always been as close as twins. But that changes after the death of their aspiring actress mother. Maddie disappears to the Hamptons, abandoning her sister and her medical school dreams in the wake of a fight. Desperate to reconnect, Alex follows her. But instead of Maddie, she finds the Blackwells.

The wealthy family is full of secrets, lies, and guilt. And it seems everyone around her has more information than they're letting on, and no intention of revealing it. The narrative changes hands throughout, from Alex to each Blackwell, and even to Maddie herself in flashback, as a web of deceit begins to form. Why did Maddie disappear into the Blackwells' home? What are Blackwell patriarch James's actual intentions for her. Will Alex make it out of the Hamptons alive?

The majority of The Perfect Sister is enticing and intriguing, with an undercurrent of untempered grief as the sisters struggle with their conflicting memories of their mother. However, the build-up of the story is a bit hampered by an eleventh-hour twist that feels a bit unsatisfying, coupled with an in-the-moment monologue to justify it. While the central mystery of the book—what happened to Maddie and why—is compelling and well handled, the final confrontation feels like it doesn't blend with the rest of the book. A decent enough summer read, but the finale may feel people leaving a bit turned around.


THE BLONDE DIES FIRST
by Joelle Wellington
Available July 30

Devon and Drew are twins, but they couldn't be more different. Drew is smart, driven, and goes to a high-end private school from which she's about to graduate a year early. Devon prides herself on her bleached blonde hair, vibrant makeup, and chill personality. But Devon is determined to have the Best Summer Ever™ before Drew goes off to take her genius to the next level. Unfortunately, the first stop on this summer sojourn involves taking their friend group to meet Drew's friends at a rich kid party, complete with a Ouija board—and the whole thing is flying scarily close to a recent horror movie.

Devon doesn't know how close until a coworker is killed by a literal demon: a demon that was coming after her first. As more people are targeted, the group realizes that the attempted kills and their surrogates are following the classic horror movie pattern. The bleached-blonde Devon nearly died first, only to be replaced by her natural blonde coworker. Now they have to use genre awareness to predict the kill order, save themselves, and stop the demon. That includes training up Yaya—a lovely ballerina and Devon's unrequited crush—to be the Final Girl and slay the demon. But along the way, Drew and Devon both discover that their preconceptions may be off.

This self-aware supernatural slasher is a perfect summer read. Beyond the surface-level fun and terror, it's also an insightful treatment of identity: how we view ourselves and others, the expectations that come with those assumptions, and how the roles we assign ourselves may hold us back from realizing our true potential. You can be a genius and an asshole; a love interest and a victim; and you might just have it within yourself to be the Final Girl.

TTRPG Review: Vaesen

 


I finally figured out why this game sounded so familiar: "vaesen" is the term Grimm used to refer to its monster-people. Remember Grimm? It was on around the same time as Once Upon a Time during that big wave of "dark fairy tale" stuff? Anyway, that's not important, just something that's been bugging me.

Now, Vaesen the tabletop game hails from Free League Publishing, who have done several other cool titles I like. The concept is "Nordic Victorian fae horror," which is four words I like smashed together in a very appealing way. James Bojaciuk of 18thWall invited me and several others to play a test campaign for review purposes. And we all sort of ended up liking it a lot. Look for his review, and reviews from other players in the campaign, down the line. But this one is mine.

As a system, I like the majority of it. And the peripherals are a bit like the little girl with a curl: when they're good they're very, very good; and when they're bad... well, I'll get into that.


The Core System


I've mentioned in other TTRPG reviews that I really appreciate any system that has characterization baked into the mechanics. For example, PBTA games will tie leveling/progressing to making difficult rolls, failing rolls, or addressing your character's backstory or class while playing. In that vein, a huge chunk of the Vaesen character sheet is given over to characterization—not just your own, but how your character interacts with everyone else.

Each character has a Trauma and a Dark Secret that guides their bit of the story. And, as you're solving spooky mysteries with your group, you're encouraged to air out the group's Dark Secrets as well. This is a great mechanic and also encourages at least some secrecy at the table (which is great for players like me who enjoy less inter-party pre-planning). The down side to this is that, when your Dark Secret is discovered, you're encouraged to take on a new one. That's fine for a short campaign, but it can start to feel like your character's backstory is back-heavy or fragmented for longer ones. Some of the suggested Traumas and Dark Secrets are also a little iffy, but most of us came up with our own anyway.

In terms of actual mechanics, you're building pools of d6es for your stats and have levels of physical and mental harm (affected by attack rolls and fear rolls, respectively) rather than hit points. 6's are successes and 1's are failures. The presence of a 6 cancels out any 1's, but the absence of either can be read either as a failure or as a success with complications at the DM's discretion. A relatively easy system to get used to, with minimal math.

Players also get a base that they can build out over time using resources and points from doing missions. I really loved this aspect of it, as it presented little bonuses that helped everyone while also creating a setting for character-centric roleplay.


Mythic Britain & Ireland


This is where our campaign actually started, and boy was it great. Maybe it's because our group was made up of people who are already interested in the mythology of the British Isles, but this was such a good fit for us.

The book contains three playable mysteries and lots of resources for various beasties and creatures. If you're an expert on this aspect of history and mythology, you might notice a few things that don't quite fit into place. Regardless, the mysteries were really enjoyable and a good way to get our feet wet at the beginning.

The one downside is that there are occasional dead ends and red herrings during the information-gathering phase. These are fine in non-interactive fiction like books and TV shows, where the path to the finish is already set in stone. But when you have a group of people chasing down leads in real time, it doesn't really add to the thrill of the hunt to find out that you've been hitting your head against a brick wall for half an hour. Fortunately, our DM agreed, and would tell us outright if something was engineered to be a dead end.

Overall, this was a great introduction to the world of Vaesen, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid introduction.

Now, though—woe, Lost Mountain Saga be upon ye.


Lost Mountain Saga


It should be very telling that, at one point, we ran a timer to see how long it took until our group went in a direction that the campaign book didn't account for. (15 minutes, by the way.) While the conceit of The Lost Mountain Saga is super intriguing, the execution does not live up to the promise. Most of the action relied on the player characters going along with whatever the story wanted, even if it went against all logic. Simply to keep the game entertaining, our DM had to retrofit a lot of things. He would, however, read to us what was supposed to happen.

Now, I am a big believer that it's on you as the player to figure out why your character is here, and not on the rest of the group to convince your character to be there. However, there's a difference between embracing the flow of the story and, say, following an obvious cult into a forest, accepting food from them, and watching them kill a horse. Especially in a game in which you play a supernatural investigator. There's only so much narrative causality one can endure before one starts to wonder why this wasn't just a book instead.

The actual mythos of the expansion, which involves an archaeological dig and ancient Norse god-giants, got me really excited. It also made a great setting for our characters' expanding stories. But so many of the mysteries just felt... off. A man of the cloth attempting to bring back witch-burning and going completely unopposed in the era in which this game was set felt strangely out of touch, and yet it was still not the most out of touch thing in this expansion.

From what I understand, this expansion was based on an actual play podcast, which I have not listened to, so I can't comment on how it was transferred. All I know is that our DM did the absolute most to bring it up to playable standards, and that's the opposite of what a ready-to-play campaign book should be.

To sum up: Vaesen is a fantastic, atmospheric, character-forward TTRPG. It's so good that our party is looking to play more in the near future, even though the review process is over. It's so good that it's inspired characters we still talk about in Discord DMs. Mythic Britain & Ireland is excellent, and will be catnip for enjoyers of British folk horror and lore. The Lost Mountain Saga... is, I'm afraid, simply not good.

At the very least, I would recommend picking up the core book and Mythic Britain & Ireland. There are two other books of mysteries that we've yet to try, but the concepts intrigue me. I'm hoping our little group will band back together again soon to investigate them.

TEA REVIEW: Summer Blends from Chapters

 


Thanks as always to Chapters Tea & Co. for having me on board as an affiliate! If you want to try any of their custom tea and coffee blends, be sure to use my code KARAD15 for 15% off your order!

I am a sucker for a special tea blend, and Chapters Tea & Co. always has me covered. This small business has been running for a year and is still my favorite purveyor of very good tea blends. As a bonus, they're all book themed!

For summer, Chapters has released a trio of fruit-flavored teas and tisanes. While many blends are inspired by specific books or authors, these encapsulate the joy of lazy summer days with a book. I've tried all three—and, once again, we have some winners.

The best part: these are not labeled as limited-edition teas, meaning you can enjoy them year-round!


Poetic Peach Refresher


Kicking off with a caffeine-free fruit tisane, Poetic Peach Refresher is pretty much made for iced tea. Inspired by summer picnics with a good book and a cool drink, this tea blends peach, apple, rosehip, orange, and hibiscus for a lovely pink brew.

Hibiscus is a bit of a touchy ingredient, in my experience. Use it right, and it adds nice color and flavor; go overboard, and you taste nothing but hibiscus. Fortunately, the peach is frontmost in this blend, and it's excellently balanced without being too sweet or too bitter. It's fine hot if you prefer, but the flavors are at their best iced. Personally, I'd recommend giving this a try cold-steeped in carbonated water for a nice soda summer alternative.


Porch Reads


Porch Reads is another peach-centric blend in the batch, but peach is great so there's nothing wrong with that. This black tea brings to mind lazy afternoons reading on your porch, and blends peach, apricot, and other natural flavors with black tea.

When served hot, this is a very subtle tea. The peach and apricot are more an aroma than a flavor, but that can be nice for a summer morning. Iced with some sugar, the flavors really pop. This is a great alternative to the Poetic Peach Refresher if you prefer black tea over fruit teas.


Summer Sunshine


All three new summer blends are great, but Summer Sunshine is (at least in my books) the MVP. This papaya and floral blend balances the fruit and tea flavors perfectly with the help of jasmine, marigold, and calendula. It's good hot or iced, but the fruit and floral balance is peak when it's served hot.

This one has the surprising smoothness of their Second Breakfast blend (a standard and one I regularly pick up) with that additional summery brightness. While I highly recommend you pick up all three to have your summer tea arsenal ready, if you only get one, make it this one.


Be sure to check out the whole catalogue of Chapters teas. And use code KARAD15 at checkout for 15% off your order!

June 2024 Book Reviews



Summer is a busy time work-wise, but I finally got a chance to get this month's books read, reviewed, and out to you! There's romance, enemies-to-lovers, ethics in journalism, and a story of political intrigue straight out of a summer movie.

Be sure to check these books out - all of them are available now!


BETTER MUST COME
by Desmond Hall
Available now

Deja lives in Jamaica. Her mother lives in New York and sends her children barrels of food and clothes. While Deja's friends consider her lucky to be a "barrel girl," things aren't easy for her family. At first, it was just a matter of missing her mother and wishing her brother and sister could grow up with their real mom. But now she's gotten word that her mother was mugged, and there's no barrel coming.

Just as things are looking grim, the impossible happens: Deja finds a wounded man, who gives her a briefcase of $500,000 US and a name to deliver it to. There's no way she can just make off with it—the wounded man is a DEA and the bills are allegedly marked. But if she could get a reward out of it, she could change everything for her family. There's just one problem: Gabriel, the cute boy she met the other night, is after the same briefcase. And for far less ethical reasons.

Besides its intriguing plot, Better Must Come is an educational look at life in Jamaica. Deja's journey to be rid of the half-mil is also a crash course in the country's social structure, lifestyle, geography, and economy. Chapters alternate between Deja and Gabriel, two characters both desperate for the money at the center of this caper in very different ways, both equally in love with their home and inhibited by their respective circumstances. The whole book is full of characters with depth and motivation, from a gang member-turned-priest to Deja's little brother.


LOVE, OFF THE RECORD
by Samantha Markum
Available now

Éowyn Evans (Wyn for short) doesn't mind her parents' obsession with all things Tolkien, Ren Faire, and otherwise nerdy. But she much prefers journalism. In fact, she's already kicked off her freshman year by aiming for a coveted position on the university newspaper's Campus Life section. But she's not the only one: Three (also not his real name) is aiming for the spot, too. And as far as she's concerned, the two are deadly rivals. If it weren't for all the hate, she might just have a crush on him.

Fortunately, Wyn's got Hayes to talk to. The anonymous confidant, whom she matched with on a campus-wide hookup app, seems perfect. And she's pretty sure that Hayes is actually Lincoln, a cute RA who has shown at least some interest in her. But in the midst of the rivalry and romance, something bigger drops: a drug scandal involving someone close to Wyn. Now, she and Three are together to crack a case bigger than both of them. And more secrets may fall out along the way...

If you are not a fan of enemies-to-lovers romances, Love, Off the Record will probably not change your mind. But if you are a fan, this book is made for you. Even if that's not your style, it's intriguing to see that both Wyn and Three's antagonistic ways stem from deeper-seated psychological issues that are addressed. And addressed well. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer degree of investigative reporting woven through the story, too. Overall, a fun read with a positive ending.


PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Available now

Especially for younger protagonists, many romance novels have a happily-for-now ending. The new lovebirds finally connect, start making plans for college, and things will probably be fine. That was how Today, Tonight, Tomorrow ended: with overachieving rivals Rowan Roth and Neil McNair realizing their feelings for each other over the course of a 24-hour graduation game. But, to quote Mystery Science Theater 3000, "College is gonna change everything."

Vowing to beat the odds and keep their long-distance relationship strong, Rowan and Neil set off for college at Emerson and NYU, respectively. But while their breaks together are a whirlwind of romance, everything else is a mess. Neil is second-guessing his major while also dealing with his imprisoned father wanting to come back into his life. Meanwhile, Rowan's dream of becoming a romance author seems to falter when nothing she writes pleases her creative writing professor—who also happens to be one of her favorite writers. Not having each other at hand to work through their problems with is hard enough. But as Neil's mental health slowly breaks down, even their time together begins to suffer.

Past, Present, Future is a shockingly accurate look at What's Next. As much as it addresses the changes that college brings, it doesn't necessarily destroy any hope that young couples might have. It's a story that champions communication, honesty, and grace... especially to oneself. Fellow writers of all levels will also appreciate Rowan's story arc as she battles perfect and lets herself simply write.

BOOK PREVIEW: The Black Archive #71 - The Aztecs by Doris V. Sutherland

 



Was a time when I would review books from Obverse's The Black Archive: a series of critical monographs focusing on individual Doctor Who stories. I've written one myself, am working on another, and already have a pitch in the works for a third. Having written in the line doesn't preclude reviewing them... but being one of the editors does. (Because yes, that's a thing now.) My love for this line and what it does is genuine, which is why I said yes to the editing gig. But I am aware that "This book is really good, trust me" doesn't come across as an especially objective review when you're part of the team helping to get it out there.

So call this one a book preview with my genuine feelings on it, irrespective of the fact that I am on the editing team and worked as a proofreader. Behold: Black Archive #71, written by Doris V. Sutherland and covering the 1964 serial The Aztecs.



If you've never read a Black Archive before... well, they're delightful. Each volume is written by a different author (although there are some recurring favorites), and encompass deep dives into the episode in question. This could be from literary, sociopolitical, psychological, historical, or industry angles... or a combination of several or all of these. At their best, these books don't seek to rate the episodes, but rather to understand them. Every Doctor Who story across its entire run will have some good and some bad, some earnest and some misguided—The Aztecs included.

This book is, in a word, thorough. It looks at a beloved pure historical (beloved of many of us at Obverse especially!) from every angle, including a few you likely haven't thought of. There's an examination of the tone of pure historicals in the Hartnell era, the changing role of Barbara (and Jacqueline Hill's portrayal of her), and discussions of how the mechanics of time travel have evolved across the series as a whole.

The bulk of the book, though, is taken up (as one might expect) with an examination of the serial's historical influences. It's not just a matter of how accurate the serial was, but how accurate the serial had the capacity to be—and the truth me surprised me. Sutherland goes deep into the history surrounding the story as compared to academic writings available at the time.

There's also an extended look at the veracity of Barbara's claims that are central to the action of the story. If you haven't seen The Aztecs, the main theme is that the history teacher, with her knowledge of how the Aztec Empire fell, wants to intervene to make changes to avoid that fall. The questions this raises are many, and Sutherland interrogates every last one of them... including, again, a few important questions none of us may have thought to ask.

To address all these points while still having an obvious love for the story is a wonderful thing. The ability to interrogate something this deeply without casting it aside is a talent we're losing in modern media literacy, and knowing The Black Archive is keeping it alive makes me very happy.

Pick up your copy of The Black Archive #71 - The Aztecs from Obverse Books

Important TTRPG Lessons from The Oxventurers Guild

 


Well, everyone, Oxventure has ended its first main campaign. It's not the first group of their characters we've seen to their end (Blades in the Dark and Deadlands have both run their course, as far as we know). And it's not the end of Oxventure proper, as the players and DM are coming back for a new campaign in a new setting soon.

But, short of potential live shows or hypothetical tie-in literature (which, you know, that's something I do for other franchises so call me), we're leaving the world of Geth behind. The final session felt like a fitting end for this adventure in more ways than one. So, even though I'm sad to see it go, I'm glad that it was here. And all that.

See, Oxventure popped up at a time in my life when I was kind of done with tabletop games—both playing them and watching actual plays. I felt like I'd never be quick enough to roleplay well, smart enough to remember every rule and roll, or emotionally stable enough to deal with aggressive players and DMs. But watching this campaign reset my standards for what D&D, and tabletop in general, should be. And I think they're important things.


You Don't Have to Play to Character Tropes

We've all heard the tropes. You gotta be a horny bard, a dumb barbarian, an edgy rogue. While that's funny in moderation and I'll probably never not laugh at a good old-fashioned horny bard joke, it does lead to the idea of "playing wrong." And characters from the Oxventurers Guild really challenged tropes.

Take Egbert the Dragonborn Paladin. He doesn't seem very Paladin-y. He rarely uses his spells, preferring to use bombs. (I respect this; I love playing Paladins, they're my second-favorite class, but it's hard to remember everything.) But the essence of Paladin-ness is still there. He's seeking atonement for something—and yes, we do eventually find out what. And he prays to a weird sun cow and generally seems attached to doing right thing.

And Corazón de Ballena the Human Pirate Rogue, my unapologetic fave. A Rogue/Rogue multiclass (no, that's not a typo), he presents himself as a heroic swashbuckling pirate. But he's actually a rich kid with daddy issues and probably a massive dose of impostor syndrome. Rather than being a rogue edgelord, he's attention seeking with moments of legitimately powerful character development.

As for the half-orc bard? Well, okay, Dob does have a huge crush on the BBEG, a drow named Liliana. But other than that, he's a lovable goofball who's maybe a little bit self-destructive.


Evil Doesn't Have to Mean Antagonistic

I've had problems in the past playing in parties of multiple alignments. Not recently, mind; in the past, before I came back to gaming. There's a mentality that there are only two ways to play an Evil-aligned character: in a party with other Evil characters in an Evil campaign, or antagonistically and destructively to any Good- or Neutral-aligned characters. But Prudence proves otherwise.

Prudence the Tiefling Warlock is evil. Her patron is Cthulhu, she dreams of ultimate power, she will absolutely simply murder people given the opportunity. But all of this is at odds with her affection for her party. She legitimately cares about them, and this is put to the test more than once. The way this is played is very sweet. In person, she'll use veiled threats as a love language; in private, you might catch her hugging an Egbert-shaped gargoyle because she misses him.

When it comes to the rest of the party, Prudence's evilness is treated as a trait that everyone just kind of lets slide because they like her. Kind of like your friend who's into something you hate, but you let it go because they're your friend. Sure, Prudence is capital-E evil. Sure, she craves ultimate power. Sure, she can summon portals to a void beyond worlds and make an entire cult's eyes bleed with cosmic horror. But she's our friend. Tabletop gaming is, after all, collaborative. Over the table, everyone is on the same side.



Flexibility Makes Things Fun

When Oxventure began, no one was really an expert. It was meant as a brief subscriber milestone bonus, but snowballed into the 6+ year series we have now. And because so many people came in kind of unversed in the world of Dungeons & Dragons, things were (and still are) pretty fast and loose.

Merilwen the Wood Elf Druid is a great example. She was given her Wild Shape ability a level early because, well, it's more fun that way. (Merilwen's chief Wild Shape form is a very specific cat, and I get the sense that turning into a cat was a big part of the Druid appeal.) It also took a bit before she handled spells the way Druids do—that is, preparing spells rather than learning a smaller set. As someone notoriously bad about remembering the whole Prepared Spells thing when I'm playing one of those classes, it was reassuring to see the learning curve handled that way.

In their adjacent Blades in the Dark game, certain mechanics were only added in once other mechanics had been learned. This not only allowed new players to get acclimated, but also made it easier for viewers to comprehend a new system.

One of my big hang-ups about gaming has been the fact that I am a slow learner and I learn by doing rather than memorizing in advance. Seeing the whole Oxventure table be patient with each other's learning experiences, in addition to being willing to be flexible when something outside the rules just works better, made me much more comfortable about expressing my own needs at the table.


Silliness Doesn't Preclude Seriousness

My first game back from my time away from gaming folded because half the players considered it "too silly." From what I could gather, "too silly" meant "not serious all the time." It was a shame, but the DM and other remaining player and I formed a really great group afterward. And, much like the Oxventurers, it proved that silly and serious can coexist.

Oxventure has been called "the rodeo clowns of D&D" and I don't fully disagree—though people forget that being a rodeo clown still requires you to know what you're doing. And their antics haven't stopped them from having some genuinely emotional moments. Dob is an absolute mess, but I did weep a little when he found his sister. Merilwen may kill NPCs with her puns, but she had one of the most powerful moments of the finale. Corazón may be... well, Corazón... but his character development is jaw-dropping when he shows it.

At my own tables, a fully serious character rarely gets away without some humor, and a fully joke character ends up becoming emotionally compelling at some point. The best games have some element of both... or, at least, don't fear leaning one way or the other.


I can't recommend Oxventure enough - their main D&D campaign, their Blades in the Dark and Deadlands campaigns, and their one-shots. I have no idea what's coming next, but I know it's gonna be amazing.