Review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series

Companions Series Review Cover Image

Welcome to another installment of Ogre’s Book Club. This time I’ve got a review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series for you. The First book in the series is The Companions, The Sundering, Book I which is the also the first book in the six book The Sundering series. The remaining three books in R.A. Salvatore’s storyline are oddly subtitled The Companions Codex I, II, and III. The books I’m reviewing in this article are:

R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series Clarification

Wizards of the Coast, publishers of the current, 5th Edition, of Dungeons & Dragons created The Sundering event timeline to explain changes in the game world/universe. This series consists of six books by six authors. The first book, by R. A. Salvatore begins the series and then spins off into The Companions Codex books.

Discovering R. A. Salvatore

I haven’t read any of Salvatore’s work in some years. I originally discovered his work in the late eighties when I found a copy of The Crystal Shard on my local bookstore’s shelves. This first discovery of Bruenor Battlehammer, Regis, Cattie-Brie, Wulfgar, and the now legendary Drizzt Do’Urden sucked me in right away. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it! Over the years, I drifted away from from Salvatore’s writing as my tastes changed and my interest in Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games flagged.

My recent discovery of the Critical Role Podcast and the resurgence (and unprecedented) popularity of D&D piqued my interest in the state of the game and the game world, in this case Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms. I’ve not kept up with the happenings in the game and the changing of editions and publishers and owners. So, I decided to read the The Sundering series to get caught up. At the end of the first book, I realized the storyline doesn’t continue in the second book of The Sundering series, instead spinning off into other books. So, I followed the storyline through Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf.

I should note that I’ve already bought the second book in The Sundering series, The Godborn, The Sundering Book II, by Paul S. Kemp. However, I haven’t read it yet because I got sidetracked with Salvatore’s novels (and a handful of other books). I previously enjoyed reading Paul S. Kemp’s Erevis Cale books (years ago) and hope this book lives up to those. I’ll publish a review in the future.

A Note About Spoilers

In this review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions series, I’ll do my best to avoid serious spoilers, but some detail will inevitably leak out when writing a review of a four book series. I will do my best to keep spoilers to a minimum an if in doubt, I’ll make it obvious so you can skip it.

The Companions, Sundering Book I Cover Image
Cover. Artwork subject to copyright.

The Companions, The Sundering, Book I

The Companions, The Sundering Book I is a refreshing dive back into R.A. Salvatore’s work. I hadn’t read any of his work in a while and enjoyed this book. This book takes place during the time where magic in the Forgotten Realms has gone haywire and after the death of Drizzt’s companions. For those folks that read earlier books where Bruenor Battlehammer makes peace with Obould Many Arrows orc tribes, this book takes place a century later.

I think what I liked best about this book is that it has little to do with Drizzt Do’Urden. Sure, he’s a very central character, but he’s not a big player in this book. Instead, his companions take center stage (for once) and their new lives are interesting and entertaining reading.

I can’t really spoil the book, so this will sound vague, but this book is about Drizzt’s companions, an offer from a god to be reborn and to return to aid their friend, Drizzt, in a time of need.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Nigh of the Hunter, Companions Codex I Cover

Night of the Hunter, Companions Codex I

Night of the Hunter picks up immediately after The Companions. For long-time fans of Drizzt Do’Urden, the fact that the Drow goddess Llolth is constantly plotting his demise and rules her domain by fostering chaos and intrigue won’t be any surprise. For new readers, this book will take you deep into the drow underworld and the plotting and scheming of arch wizards and and matron mothers.

Meanwhile, on the surface old companions reunited find new adventures and a few old enemies. This is a stage setting novel for the following two books.

Rise of the King, Companions Codex II Cover Image

Rise of the King, Companions Codex II

There is no interruption or gap between Night of the Hunter and Rise of the King. The story continues as skies darken and the plotting and scheming of drow, frost giants, orks, ogres and gods begins to take shape on the surface. The action picks up here and the drow intrigue is thick.

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf, Companions Codex III Cover

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf, Companions Codex III

Vengeance begins exactly where Rise of the King left off. The companions are separated and struggling. War and destruction are thick. Dwarves and other surface races are in disagreement and the evil armies are everywhere. This book is great fun and fans of Salvatore’s style of describing fighting won’t be disappointed. Without spoiling anything, this book wraps up this portion fo the story arc, but it doesn’t end the story. Salvatore has been writing Drizzt Do’Urden stories for 30 years, why stop now?

Conclusion: Review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series

Final thoughts on R. A. Salvatore’s Companions series. I’m glad I read these four books. It was nice to read about characters that I loved when I was much younger. I know that most folks that read Salvatore’s stuff really like his Drizzt Do’Urden character, but he’s never been my favorite–I’m at the point where I skip the short ‘journal entry’ chapters in Drizzt’s voice. I always appreciated Drizzt’s supporting cast much more. Regis, Wulfgar, Cattie-brie and Bruenor were fun to read about again. And in many ways, they’re the star of these recent books. That was a treat. Of course, you wouldn’t know it–all the covers feature Drizzt.

I am not a big fan of the Drow underworld in the Forgotten Realms. I think Salvatore has become the de facto expert in D&D Forgotten Realms Drow world building, but for me it’s just not that entertaining. For that reason, I’m skipping the next three books in the series. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick them up down the road, but right now it’s not on my list of things to do. If you’re curious what comes next, The Homecoming Series picks up where the Companions Codex Books leave off. The books in the series are:

What’s next?

I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels for the first time. After reading books based on a game world that are required to comply with game rules so fans can emulate the stories, it’s refreshing to read something unhampered by any of those concerns. Frankly, I’m not sure what’s taken me so long to pick up a Discworld novel, but I’m hooked. Pratchett is hilarious and inventive. I’ll post my impressions fo Pratchett’s richly imaginative and often hilarious stories in another blog post.

Oh, and I also read other things. When I’m not reading science fiction or fantasy, I do read other books. Here’s a short list of what I’ve ingested in the past couple of months:

Thanks for hanging in this far and reading this long review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series. I hope you enjoyed it. See you next time.

Ogre for Hyre is on Patreon

ogre for hyre patreon announcement picture
dwarf work in progress.

Hi Everyone. I set up a Patreon creator page. I’ll post finished art, sketches, process illustrations and info on how I got from rough to finished work. I’m sure it will be an interesting and exciting endeavor. Please check out my Patreon page. It’s super early in the process, but more will be added soon. Thanks!

Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook Gestures

Gesture Drawings in Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook

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Figure Drawing Friday Already?

Welcome back to another Figure Drawing Friday. Time seems to fly as these come around. I’m always surprised that it’s time to post another one. I’m reaching back into the archives for this one.

Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook Gestures

This week I’m sharing some Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook gestures of a male model. I like the Leuchtturm Sketchbook a lot. It is slightly larger than a larger 8.25 x 11.75″ sized Moleskine at approximately 9×12″ (A4) and the pages are bright white instead of the Moleskine’s cream color. Of course, you lose the whiteness of the pages given the effect on the image file. I posted this on a blog (an old one) some time ago and played with it in an app that I don’t recall. It might have been Snapseed.

Cram Your Gestures On One Page!

This series of drawings came from a quick succession of two-minute poses. The model was standing on a platform raised slightly above the artists. At the time, our practice was to do 5 or 10 quick one-to-three minute gestures. I enjoy cramming all of my gestures onto one page. It prevents me from getting too picky about a drawing and lets me get a little more loose. After cramming ten loose gestures on the page, you have something that actually looks pretty good. I will post a full gesture page in the future.

This series of three drawings came out okay. I’m not super thrilled with each drawing individually, but I do like the arrangement of them combined on the page.

I drew this with a Col-erase blue pencil in the sketchbook version of a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. Much like Moleskine Sketchbooks, the paper is much heavier than in the standard notebooks and takes ink well.

I Know I Said Don’t, but I Did.

I actually went to an open figure drawing studio again last week and drew some more Leuchtturm 1917 sketchbook gestures with a combination of Col-Erase red pencil and my Rotring 800 mechanical pencil. A couple of weeks ago, I posted that anything less than 18×24 feels cramped and that I wouldn’t advise anyone go figure drawing with mechanical pencil, but on that particular day I woke up late and was too lazy to drag my oak American Easel out, pack it into my truck, and take it to the drawing session. I will post drawings from that session soon.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for stopping by. Check out the rest of my Figure Drawing Friday posts.

Bloody Rose Book Review – Ogre’s Book Club

Kings of the Wyld Book Review Cover Image

Welcome back to the second installment of Ogre’s Book Club. This time I’m doing the Bloody Rose book review I promised when I published the review of Kings of the Wyld.

Here’s the note about spoilers: I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible in these reviews. I don’t want to ruin suspense or surprises for the readers. However, a bit of a plot summary is necessary and I’ll be honest, there are some spoilers in this review. I will start those paragraphs with a spoiler warning.

Bloody Rose is OK

I’ll get right to it. Bloody Rose is okay. Kings of the Wyld was much better. As with the previous book, it’s about 500 pages and an easy read. I finished it in a couple of days.

Richard Anderson’s Cover Art is Fantastic

Richard Anderson illustrated the covers for both Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose. As I mentioned in my previous article, his cover of Bloody Rose is what caught my eye at my local book store and the reason I wound up buying both books. Since this is an art focused blog, I would be remiss not to point you to his excellent portfolio.

Discovering Eames

If you haven’t read my review of Kings of the Wyld, you should read that post now. Kings of the Wyld is amazing and fun and precedes Bloody Rose.

What I liked about Bloody Rose

Here’s what I liked. Bloody Rose has the same fun, rollicking, non-standard fantasy thing going for it that Kings of the Wyld had. Mercenary and adventuring bands are patterned after rock stars. They “tour” when they go out and adventure. They “perform” in arenas, and they have groupies that follow them from venue to venue. The old “bands” are better than the new “bands” and old people and young people argue about it. There are lots of parties and other shenanigans that you might find backstage or at a music festival. It’s a very refreshing take on the fantasy novel.

What I didn’t like about Bloody Rose

I finished Bloody Rose a week ago and I’ve been sitting on this review for a few days now. I had to let it marinate because I want to be fair about the parts of the book that I didn’t like, or at least that didn’t live up to it’s predecessor, Kings of the Wyld. So, take this with a grain of salt. It’s just one person’s opinion, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t publish the bad as well as the good in a series of book reviews.

It felt hurried.

I didn’t find that any of Bloody Rose was as well developed as Kings of the Wyld was. It felt rushed and I had the impression that there might have been pressure to put out a sequel after the success that Kings had.

A lot of things take place in the first 200 pages of Bloody Rose, but nothing happens. Overall, I think this book should have been two books. The story has enough material for two books. There’s even a place where I felt the book should end and the remainder saved for another book. If you read it, I’m sure you’ll know exactly where that spot is. It would have allowed a similar level of development and depth as Kings of the Wyld. For me, Bloody Rose just skims the wavetops from start to finish and all the character development and world building and tension is missing. I might not notice it as much had the previous book not been so much better.

Everyone has daddy issues.

All of the characters in Bloody Rose’s band, Fable, have daddy issues. Each and every one of them is built on a series of cliches and tropes and none (except maybe Rose herself) have them addressed well enough in the story telling to make you feel for the characters.

Definitely not Wonder Women

Cura, the “ink witch” is perhaps the worst example of a character that could have been great, but isn’t. The concept of the character is absolutely bad ass. A summoner that breathes life into her tattoos and through them fights battles alongside her mates. Wow.

However, after reading the book you find that Eames has balled this great concept into a crumpled mess and basically thrown it away in favor of this cliche: Goth girl dresses in all black and hurts herself (tattoos) and is very sexually promiscuous because mommy didn’t pay enough attention to her and daddy sexually abused her. Really? What a missed opportunity.

I’m sure any female reader that might have been attracted to the book because the cover makes it look like it’s about powerful female characters with starring roles will be sorely disappointed. All of the female characters are written poorly and are paper thin caricatures of women. His character development in Bloody Rose is shockingly different from the predominantly male characters in Kings of the Wyld.

Spoiler: At the end of the book Cura suddenly lets go of her pain and fears and all her tattoos vanish, but you never learn why and nothing in the story builds to it. What a completely wasted opportunity.

Bloody Rose Book Review – In Conclusion

Well, that’s probably enough. I’m sure its obvious that I’m disappointed in Bloody Rose. It doesn’t live up to Kings of the Wyld at all. Should Eames write another book in the series, I will probably buy it and see if he can recapture that which made Kings of the Wyld special.

Thanks for reading my Bloody Rose book review. I’m churning my way through RA Salvatore’s Companion’s Codex and I’m also going to post the art book review of Frazetta: Icon soon.

Figure Drawing Friday – 22 March 19

Figure Drawing Friday 22 Mar 19

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Welcome back to Figure Drawing Friday

Welcome back to another Figure Drawing Friday. I’m still reaching into the archives this week and you’ve seen part of this image before in this previous post. Specifically, the butt of the figure on the left encroached on the previous crop of this week’s drawing and the seated figure is one you’ve seen before.

I didn’t draw these on the same day or on the same page. I combined the images digitally afterward. There was a time when I planned to combine a bunch of my figure drawings into a printed book, but I never got around to it. Perhaps I will resume the project in the future. I drew both illustrations with Col-Erase Carmine Red pencil in a Strathmore 11×14 hardcover sketchbook. At the time, I still drew smaller than I would today. For figure drawing any thing less than 18×24 feels cramped to me now.

The Seated Figure

As I said in the previous post that featured the seated figure, I’m really happy with that drawing. I should have drawn in the clavicles to further define the form in the front. I’m pretty sure at least some indication of the clavicles was present in the lighting at the time.

The Standing Figure

I drew the figure on the right in two or three minutes. It was a very short pose. Back then, I drew from life two or three times a week so I had a pretty good rhythm and my drawings came to me fairly quickly. It’s amazing what consistency can do for your work when you draw from life. Heck, consistency makes a big difference in all your drawings. I know it does for me and yet I still struggle with drawing often enough.

Back to the drawing… the standing figure came out pretty well. I like the realistic shape of the shoulder and the transition from the armpit to the breast and the foreshortening of the raised leg. I also feel like the tilt of the hip came out correctly.

If you enjoyed this installment of Figure Drawing Friday, check out my previous posts.

Figure Drawing Friday, March 15, 2019

Figure Drawing Friday Title Image

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Red Gesture

Welcome back to another Figure Drawing Friday. This week, I’m once again reaching into the archives because I haven’t drawn from life in a few months. I drew these images independently in my sketchbooks and composited them digitally. The red female figure is a quick gesture drawing that I did during a two-minute pose. I’m very pleased with this drawing. I drew it in red pen (Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine), so what you see is the first attempt with no wasted marks. I rarely get so lucky to get proportion and structure right so quickly and the first time I put a mark down.

Elderly Couple at Buffet

The elderly couple in the image came from a quick drawing session at a hotel in Washington D.C. a few years ago. I drew these people as they browsed the breakfast buffet. This is another ink drawing…if I recall I used a Copic F02 Drawing Pen, its razor point is great for fine lines, but terrible on paper with any kind of tooth because it scratches it.

Fifteen Minute Poses

The nude female in the remaining two drawings is a model I’ve drawn frequently. These poses we’re both approximately 15 minutes long. If you look at the drawings carefully, you’ll notice I completely blew it on the model’s likeness. If I didn’t point out that the drawings were of the same person, most viewers would not expect that they were the same person. Likeness is so critical to get right and so easy to get wrong. I drew these two illustrations with a mechanical pencil, probably an Alvin Draft-Matic .5mm. That was my go-to mechanical pencil before I got my Rotring 800.

In those days, I often drew from life with a mechanical pencil, but I would not recommend that to anyone today. With a mechanical pencil, you lose the ability to create line variation with a change of your wrist’s angle. Instead, I recommend you either use a traditional pencil or Col-Erase pencil with a long sharpened point, or better yet, a color pencil like a Prismacolor Black or blue, a china marker, or charcoal pencil. Sharpening a long point will give you more surface area for line variation and if you use a soft enough tool — I recommend 6B — you can get good variation in the darkness of your marks.

Thanks for checking out another Figure Drawing Friday. If you like this post, check out the others.

Kings of the Wyld Book Review – Ogre’s Book Club

Kings of the Wyld Book Review Cover Image

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I’ve decided to start Ogre’s Book Club, a series of book reviews of books I’m reading and would like to recommend (or tell you to avoid). I’m kicking this segment off with the Kings of the Wyld book review–and it’s definitely a recommendation.

First, a note about spoilers: I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible. I don’t want to ruin the suspense or the surprises for readers. However, a brief summary of some events, plot, or premise is necessary. I’ll do my best to make it less revealing than a modern movie trailer.

Kings of the Wyld is Pretty Great

I’ll get right to it. Kings of the Wyld is fantastic. I read it in a day and a half, including the epilogue and author interview at the back.

Discovering Kings of the Wyld

A week ago, I meandered through my local book store and a book cover, featuring a twin-sword-wielding red-head, caught my attention. I picked up Bloody Rose, by Nicholas Eames, read the back cover and some of the first few pages, and decided to buy it. However, just to make sure it wasn’t a sequel, I looked for other books by Eames and sure enough, his first book, Kings of the Wyld, was also on the shelf. I bought both.

Cover Art by Richard Anderson is Striking

Book covers are important. They are the single largest factor that converts people browsing books to people that buy a particular book. In this case, Richard Anderson did a great job capturing my attention with the cover art of both books. I particularly like the style of both illustrations. Richard Anderson has a sort of blotchy, or sloppy, style with broad brushstrokes and very little fine detail. However, the details he chooses to draw or paint in are well placed. I can say with certainty that the only reason I stopped to look at Bloody Rose on the shelf is because Anderson’s cover art caught my eye. Since this is an art blog, and I imagine you might be an artist interested in art processes and such, you can check out Anderson’s work at

Kings of the Wyld – Medieval Rock Stars

Nicholas Eames takes a huge departure from the typical fantasy novel. There are thousands of fantasy novels featuring adventurers and mercenaries and monsters, but after a while, many get very formulaic. That’s definitely not the case with Kings of the Wyld. First, Eames patterns mercenary bands after rock stars. The ‘bands’ act like bands. They ‘tour’ when out seeking glory or riches or both. Old ‘bands’ are better than new ‘bands’ and young people and old people argue which is better. It’s refreshing and hilarious.

This book is both serious and funny at the same time. The characters are serious, deep, and well developed. I found myself liking all of them, even the villains. In parts of the book, you’re really not sure who to root for. Would it be so terrible if the ‘bad guy’ won? For me, that’s the sign of a well done villain or antagonist.

And it’s funny. You will laugh out loud. Some of the shenanigans are exceptionally amusing, as is the dialogue.

The Wyld World

The world is also well realized. Eames paints a picture of a world dominated by human civilization but surrounded by a very wild Wyld. The beasts, monsters, and other characters the protagonists face throughout the story are also very well done. Nature itself is the adversary in many ways and as the characters traverse their many challenges, you feel the tension of the environment. You get a little on edge when the characters are plunged into an unpredictable wilderness. There were several ‘wild things’ that I wanted to read more about because I thought they were so cool, like the troll witch doctor.

Not everything is completely new. There are plenty of fantasy staples both in environments and monsters, but these are treated with a refreshing approach. I won’t spill any details here, but I promise you’ll really enjoy reading about Gregor and Dane.

I’m Looking Forward to Bloody Rose

I enjoyed reading Kings of the Wyld so much that I’m really excited to read Bloody Rose and I’m glad I bought both at the same time. If Bloody Rose lives up to its predecessor, I’m in for a treat. I will post another review when I finish the book.

Kings of the Wyld Book Review – In Closing

Thanks for sticking with me this far. If you enjoyed this Kings of the Wyld book review, take a look at some of my other book reviews. And if you think you might buy the books, please consider doing so through my Amazon links. It makes this site possible. Thanks!

Figure Drawing Friday, March 8th 2019

Female Figure Drawings

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It’s Figure Drawing Friday again! And, again, I’m reaching into the archives. This weeks drawings are among my favorites. I composited the sketches in this weeks image in Photoshop–I didn’t draw them on the same page or at that relative size. No, each drawing is about 8 inches square. I drew these in a Strathmore 400 series 11 x 14 hardbound sketchbook (the old black cover design) with Col-Erase Carmine Red pencil.

The drawing on the left has proportion issues, but I like it anyway. The drawing in the center, of the model sitting and leaning forward, is high on my list of favorites. It was one of those days where everything just worked.

I like the foreshortening challenge of the pose and am pleased with the rendering of the shoulders, hips, and legs. The angles of the shoulders and neck are realistic. However, I should have have drawn the clavicles to make it stronger.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the sketches.

Critical Role: The Best Thing To Happen To Dungeons & Dragons. Ever.

Critical Role Cast

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UPDATE: The campaign finished up at over $11.3M. Wow.

So, What’s This Then?

Unless you play Dungeons & Dragons or are a game geek, you probably haven’t heard or Matt Mercer and the gang that make up Critical Role–“a bunch of nerdy ass voice actors that play Dungeons and Dragons” (Matt’s words). For a lot of people, that changed this week when Critical Role’s Kickstarter campaign raised over five million dollars in less than 72 hours. At the time of this writing, the campaign is approaching six million dollars and still has 42 days of fundraising time remaining in the Kickstarter campaign. That’s incredible. On Monday, March 4th, Fortune magazine published an article (yes, Fortune published an article about a D&D Kickstarter …. whaaaat?) that said Critical Role’s campaign could possibly break the 2013 record set by the campaign to bring back Mystery Science Theater that raised $5,764,229. Guess what? That happened yesterday, March 6th. Right now, March 7th 2019 at 8:11 PST, Critical Role’s fundraising effort has brought in $5,880,802.

The Critical Role Cast. From left to right … Back Row: Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, Matthew Mercer – Front Row: Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham

So What?

If you’re still with me, and you’re unfamiliar with Critical Role, you’re probably asking “so what? What is it, why do I care, what are they raising money for?” I’m glad you asked.

Critical Role is a weekly broadcast show on Twitch of Matt Mercer and his cast, wait for it, playing Dungeons and Dragons. Yup. They play that nerdy ass pen and paper game that people made fun of us about when we were kids back in the day. Not only do they play a game and broadcast it, they record the broadcast and put in out on Youtube, they also publish it as a podcast. Right now, there are over 160 episodes spanning two campaigns and a whole slew of spin-off shows and segments you can watch, for free.

Here’s the kicker: Millions of people watch and listen to the show from all around the globe. These fans, some of them downright rabid, are affectionately known as “critters” and they have a hashtag to prove it. And nearly forty three thousand of them have ponied up between $10 and $25,000 in pledges to the Kickstarter campaign. That’s kind of a big deal.

It Didn’t Happen Overnight

Here’s how that happened–and it’s not an overnight success. Mercer and the cast have been playing weekly D&D sessions and broadcasting them for five years. In the early episodes, the Critical Role gang is happy to get to a handful of subscribers. When they hit a few thousand they are genuinely stoked. Their success took years of playing the game and broadcasting it weekly. When players are unavailable or on vacation they video call or conference call in. That’s dedication.

Since that early beginning, they’ve accumulated a massive fan base. This is due to Mercer’s creative Dungeon Mastering and the cast’s engaging characters and the performances that go with them. Let’s remember that “nerdy ass voice actor” part from the beginning of this article. Every one in the cast, including Mercer is an actor. So, they bring a whole other level of role-playing to the game. This level of performance engages the audience and coupled with the anticipation of a great or terrible roll of the dice, it makes for a lot of fun to watch.

There’s something special about not knowing what’s going to happen next and realizing that the people you’re watching don’t know either. It creates a level of excitement that is hard to duplicate. I also get the impression that unlike many gamers, the cast of the show isn’t (or at least wasn’t) super knowledgeable on the game. They hadn’t all read the Monster Manual cover to cover. They were still surprised, excited, and/or scared when Mercer presents them with a monster to fight or a villain to contend with.

Veteran gamers have often read all the books multiple times and the sense of fear, excitement, and wonder is gone. They know all the strengths, weaknesses, and tactics to dispatch the threat and the overall joy of game play suffers as a result.

So, the massive success of Critical Role’s Kickstarter campaign is built on five years of creativity and dedication. No small feat.

Critical Role is Expanding the D&D Audience

Why, you ask? Because those of us that grew up in the eighties remember a time where D&D was blamed for all sorts of outrageous things like suicides and satanic worship. Don’t believe me? Read the New York Times and BBC articles on that topic.

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in sixth grade. My friends and I would play at recess, next to the monkey bars. A few years later, I joined a gaming group and we played weekly, sometimes more. Back then, if you mentioned D&D to anyone, you were either weird, or satanic, or both.

I eventually moved on to other games and table top war-games , but over the years I’ve picked up and played a little D&D or it’s offshoot, Pathfinder, a few times over the years but not regularly or frequently.

I discovered Critical Role in a local newspaper. Imagine my surprise when I roll into my local coffee shop and see the free newszine that usually talks about local events with a cover page featuring D&D–and the headline isn’t about chaos, satan, or mayhem. Instead, it’s actually positive. What? In that article, theres’s a brief reference to a popular Youtube channel and podcast and that’s how I learned about Critical Role (Here’s that article by the way).

Over the next two months, I binged on the entire first campaign (115 episodes) in podcast form. I listened to it while washing dishes, on road trips, etc. I finished episode 115 on the Morning of March 4th and thought I’d write a blog post about it. I had no idea, how popular Critical Role is. Now I know. The first thing I ran across was the Kickstarter campaign. I had to read it several times to realize they’d cracked three million dollars in the first day.

So, I started digging around the Internet and found fan pages, a wiki site, and a tremendous amount of content based on Critical Role. Holy smokes!

And that got me thinking … (always dangerous) … Matt Mercer and his crew have contributed to something that has elevated the game and made it accessible to millions of people that wouldn’t ever go near it otherwise.

Before, if you wanted to learn about D&D and didn’t have a friend that played and could introduce you, you had to either stand at the Barnes & Noble game section (usually near the cafe where people can watch you be a nerd) and pick up books, self conscious about who was watching you because you might be scarred from the 80s hate the game got, or you had to wander into some dingy game store and see if people were playing in the back room.

Now, you can pull up a Youtube video on your phone or listen to a podcast wherever you are and satisfy your curiosity and find an immediate community of people as nerdy as you are. That’s wonderful. What’s more, is that the people on Critical Role are charismatic, they make the game seem cool. They knock off the stigma. That’s why I say that Critical Role is probably the best thing that’s happened to D&D, ever.

Mercer and the gang have succeeded in making the game at least a little cool. Don’t get me wrong, kids are probably still getting stuffed into lockers for being nerds and gamers aren’t suddenly transforming into charismatic, well-adjusted socialites, but the stereotypes are getting pushed aside. That’s always good.

How They Play The Game

Now, if you’re still with me, let’s talk about the way Mercer and the Critical Role gang play the game. The most important thing to me is that they don’t argue. There are moments where you thing a bit of rules-lawyering might creep in, but it rarely does. They laugh a lot. They are having fun. The players actually role-play (remember what I said about them being actors). They act out conversations and they breathe life into their character. Because it looks like so much fun, it makes people want to try it as well.

People certainly like the cast and treat them like celebrities, but they love the characters. They love the adventures and challenges the characters face and defeat, most of the time. When characters die, and they do, (sorry for the spoiler) people actually cry (cast and audience)–like they might in a movie with a sad ending.

For his part, Mercer comes across as an incredibly fair and creative Dungeon Master — the guy that plays the narrator, sets the story, and provides the environment for the characters to interact with. He also plays all the bad guys. He’s very talented and I didn’t realize for many episodes that the game world in which the campaign was taking place in wasn’t something published by Wizards of the Coast, publishers of D&D. Instead, it’s a world Mercer created. The world, Exandria, is incredibly well realized. So well, in fact, that he published a world guide that has hundreds of great reviews on Amazon.

So, that’s why I think the Critical Role team is probably the best thing to happen to D&D, ever.

The Campaigns

Vox Machina Screencapture from the Animated Series Trailer – Left to right: Vax, Vex, Scanlan, Grog, Keyleth (hidden by Grog’s axe), and Pike

In the five years that Critical Role has aired, the team has completed one campaign and is over fifty episodes into the second campaign. The first campaign chronicles the adventures of Vox Machina, a group of companions that get into an incredible amount of trouble (mostly of their own making) but also turn out to be heroes to the realm. The campaign has multiple story arcs and takes the group through fights with vampires, zombies, a lich (undead wizard), a conclave of evil dragons hell-bent on destruction, monsters and demons, and finally a confrontation between gods.

From left to right: Cacuceus, Nott, Caleb, Jester, Fjord, Beau, Yasha. This gorgeous piece of Mighty Nein fan art drawn by Max Dunbar

The second campaign chronicles the adventures of the Mighty Nein. For fans, this new campaign brings excitement through the players new characters. You get used to Sam Riegel being Scanlan in the first campaign. It’s fun to watch him play a completely different character. Laura Bailey, Vex the half-elven ranger in Vox Machina, shifts gears to play Jester, a Tiefling, in the Mighty Nein campaign. The versatility of the actors is fun to witness. And of course, Mercer brings his A-game to make it all happen.

Check it Out for Yourself

Books and Comics

The Animated Special/Series

You can check out the Kickstarter campaign of the Vox Machina animated series if you haven’t already. Right now, you have over a month to contribute if you want to. I’m excited for the Critical Role gang and with them much continued success.

And by the way, since I started writing this blog post, the Kickstarter campaign has raised another seventy grand–it’s at $5,951,451 and rapidly counting upward. Wow.

Figure Drawing Friday, March 1, 2019

Figure drawings

Time flies when you’re having fun. It’s already Figure Drawing Friday again. The drawings featured this week are from a few years ago. This was when I had a drawing venue that allowed opportunities for figure drawing from a model several times a week. The frequency with which you draw from life dramatically impacts your ability to do it well.

When I did these drawings, I was mostly drawing line art without a ton of value. My style and approach has changed a lot since then. However, I was able to drop lines and proportions and shapes onto the paper with good accuracy very quickly at the time.

I should also mention that these drawings aren’t very large. I drew them in an 11×14 hardcover sketchbook and used col-erase blue pencils. All four of the drawings are of the same model. You can see some variation in the likeness of her face. Likeness is always hard to capture consistently. Her figure, however, is fairly consistent in all the poses. You can see some of my construction lines in the drawings. At the time, I usually began a drawing with the rib cage (as a simple oval) and the hips (another oval) connected with a simple gesture line to approximate the spine and general energy of the pose. The poses for these drawings varied between 3 and 20 minutes.