Books I read in 2021 (part 1)

stack of books and text that reads "books I read in 2021"

I thought it would be fun to share some book recommendations, so here are some mini reviews of 7 books I read in 2021. It’s a mix of science-fiction and non-fiction, with lots of essay collections. This is only one third of the books I read, you can check out the entire list here

Too Like the Lightning 

Ada Palmer 

Book 1 of the Terra Ignota series. It imagines a future in which everyone has access to flying cars that let you get anywhere in 2 hours or less. With the breakdown of borders, people are no longer bound to the government in which they are born . Instead they can choose from 7 Hives, each with different ideologies and interests. But that’s just the barest description of the world building, there is much more to this series. 

The book is framed as a piece of in-world history, told by an unreliable narrator. So, it’s pretty difficult to get into. I actually hated it when I first read it, but I also couldn’t stop thinking about it. So January 2021 I picked up where I left off in 2020 (turns out I only had 1 chapter to go), and was hooked on the series for the rest of the year.[4.5/5]

The Etched City: A Novel

K.J. Bishop     

I don’t remember much about this book, other than I really liked it. I’m tempted to describe it as a weird fantasy slice of life, but that doesn’t feel right. The setting is pretty vague, in a way your imagination fills in the rest of the details. Good characters who spend a lot of time talking about life and philosophy.  [4.5/5]

Savage Gods     

Paul Kingsnorth 

In December 2020 I purchased a bunch of essay collections from a local publisher, this is one of those.This one feels like a very good writer’s diary. Lots of random thoughts about writing, life, and Ireland. Honestly, not the most interesting premise, but I enjoyed the book. Made me want to check out some of his other work (haven’t done that yet, as of writing this). I may re-read this one. Reading about someone else’s struggles with writing (or any creative work really) is inspiring. It’s nice knowing that we all feel those ways sometimes.  [3/5]

Frequencies: Volume 1 & 2 

Various contributors

Lumping these two together. Another set of essay collections from the local publisher. All 4 volumes were very cheap, and after reading them, it’s easy to see why. I really hated just about all of these. Not a single essay in volume 1 was memorable, and I recall really liking one in volume 2 about someone traveling to a small town in South America. Never bothered to read volumes 3 & 4 after this. Vol 1: [1/5] Vol 2: [2/5]

A History of My Brief Body

Billy-Ray Belcourt 

Last of the Two Dollar Radio essay collections I read this year. The author writes about his life as a young queer, indgenous writer, in Canada. This one was the most difficult to read. The intro actually even makes a point of calling out that the language would be dense and difficult. Maybe it’s the way I read books (in bed before sleeping), but I had a tough time reading this one. Made me feel kinda stupid. That said, I did find it very memorable. Many of the essays had a lasting impression on me. I would like to revisit this one in the future and give it a closer read. [3/5]

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Haruki Murakami 

I’ve read quite a few Murakami novels*, but this one made me start to lose interest in him. It’s about a guy who’s cat goes missing, then his wife leaves him. This is a long one, with many scenes of people sitting in holes. After looking at a plot synopsis, there are parts I liked, but I mostly forgot about them. To be honest, a lot of my feelings regarding this book are related to how I feel about 1Q84, so I will elaborate more when I get to that book. Overall I thought this book was just OK. [2.5/5]

*Kafka on the Shore is my favorite Murakami novel. Great piece of magical realism. If you want a more grounded book I’d recommend Norwegian Wood. I also like the short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

Exploring Sports TTRPGs: Fight with Spirit

Sports TTRPGs

As a kid I tried out many different sports, and was terrible at all of them. It led me to dislike sports as a whole for most of my life. Through a combination of sports anime, professional wrestling and Jon Bois’s youtube essays, I’ve learned to appreciate sports as a storytelling medium. This got me thinking ,how are sports handled in tabletop role playing games? I decided to check some out. First up, the only one I’ve played, Fight with Spirit by Storybrewers Roleplaying.

Fight With Spirit (FWS) uses an original system where a facilitator and up to 4 players create and act out their own sports anime through highly structured systems. It includes cards for character creation and to play out sports matches. FWS is broken down into sessions, and within those sessions, different phases. The first session is made up of collaboration, backstory, opening credits and event.

In the collaboration phase everyone decides on the tone, depth of sports knowledge required, and decides between high school or college. FWS always takes place in a school setting. In fact, the game has an assumed setting of ‘Harbour City’. There is no assumed sport though, you’ll have to decide as a group which team based game you’ll be acting out. When we played we went with basketball, since we were all mildly familiar with it.

During the background phase you’ll choose a team and create characters. For the quickstart there is only one option, Dockside Demons, the “fallen champs”. It’s a team that had great success in past, but has been lackluster recently*. This includes info on your team colors, rivals, and special rules. One of those is a “match game” card unique to this team that can be unlocked and used during the match phase.

Next you define Major Characters, equivalent to player characters in other games. This is done by having everyone draft trait cards. These have a drive your character can achieve for “spirit points”, and a question to define your relationship with another major character, or a “connection”. In other games a connection would be called an NPC, but here each player controls one connection that is not related to their major character. Each player also creates two connections, at least one of which must be from a rival team. The facilitator controls the remaining connections.

Once set up is complete you can get into role playing scenes. Major characters pursue “drives” from their traits to, well, drive the story. Players can cause drama for each other by spending “setback tokens”.  These let you create a complication for another player’s character, and requires a negotiation process to take effect. Accepting a setback gives you ‘fight’ tokens, which are helpful during the match phase.

FWS starts with a sports anime styled opening credits, each player offering brief glimpses into their major character’s life and play-style. Then each character gets a daily life scene, culminating in an event attended by all characters. These let everyone flesh out their characters and pursue drives outside matches. Eventually you get to my favorite part of FWS, matches!

Matches are made up of many smaller games, outlined on cards. Each one represents a moment in the match. Examples include highlighting teamwork through “Team Combo” or trying to impress someone through “Look at me now!”. To play these games you use the match deck.  Instead of traditional suits it uses ENERGY, CONNECTION, PROWESS, and FOCUS, plus ranks 1 to 6. Match cards also have headway (good) and setback (bad) questions that match games will prompt you to answer depending on the outcome of the game.

We ended up playing our game differently than was laid out in the quick start. I was Facilitator. During our initial session I also made a major character and some connections. During match play we alternated who controlled the rival team. This was not difficult to adjust to. Because FWS is so procedure heavy, I feel that a facilitator is unnecessary. I actually had more fun with GM-less FWS, than most other GM-less games.

FWS is a unique system. It’s procedure heavy, guiding you through every step of the game. In play this gave the game very good pacing. We were rarely stumped for things to say. It did a great job of capturing the feeling of making your own sports anime.

The quickstart is pretty great, and I’m excited to check out the full version. Team games are the only ones supported by the quickstart, the full version will also have 1 on 1 games like Tennis. I’m hoping to see more rules to flesh out individual sports, perhaps unique match cards? I feel like making a game about games, and not including some aspects of the specific games rules is a missed opportunity.

Thanks for reading and checking out my new blog. If you enjoyed this follow me on twitter. Let me know of any other sports TTRPGs I should check out. Next in this series I’ll be taking a look at the Tournament Arc quickstart by Biscuit Fund Games.

*Reminds me of the main characters’ school in Haikyuu!, the show that got me into Sports anime.

Interesting & Useful Twitter Posts for RPG enthusiasts.


This is a compilation of twitter posts/threads that I’ve found to be interesting or useful for writing, playing, and talking about tabletop RPGs. I will try to keep this updated as I find more posts.

If there is a thread you’d like to see on this list, send it to me @JonathanDersch

Continue reading “Interesting & Useful Twitter Posts for RPG enthusiasts.”

Gunblade weapon for OSR RPGs and D&D


Just for fun I decided to write up a gunblade for use in OSR/SWORDDREAM style tabletop RPGs. Initially I thought it would be pretty simple, just a regular sword with bonus damage. But after looking into the new Gunbreaker class in Final Fantasy XIV, I realized through specialized ammunition it could be much more interesting.

The rules below are mostly system neutral (leaning towards Knave.) I’m sure it will not be difficult to adjust things to fit into your game.

Continue reading “Gunblade weapon for OSR RPGs and D&D”

I made an RPG Adventure! (OSR D&D)

my adventure

I finally decided to dip my toes into the worlds of RPG writing and game jams through the Pamphlet Dungeon Jam on My entry is The Library Beneath the Sands. It’s focused on exploration and discovery. While its intended to be ran with Knave (my favorite RPG system) you could easily run it with any version of D&D by replacing the monsters with some from the Monster Manual.

I’m really proud of this adventure so if you check it out let me know what you think!

Three New PuzzleScript TrashGames by Me.

Before the end of the year I uploaded a bunch of new games to my page. These games represent the early stages of my getting back into PuzzleScript and game development in general. They’re pretty poor games, in all honesty, but the ideas behind them are OK. I also see them as a stepping stone to much better games. After working on these mediocre releases I’ve already got better games ready to launch and in development.

But whatever, here are some notes on the design of each game.

Continue reading “Three New PuzzleScript TrashGames by Me.”

Trigger Happy – Weapon Gimmicks in Video Games

With this post I want to take a look at weapons in video games that are mechanically unusual. They can’t just look weird, they need to to do something different than they would in other, similar games. The question is, what do these unusual behaviors add to the game play experience? Let’s take a look at a few different examples to see.

Continue reading “Trigger Happy – Weapon Gimmicks in Video Games”

Fun on Your Phone – Hidden Gem Mobile Games

Mobile gaming is the future of gaming. It’s by far the most prolific and intuitive gaming platform available. Despite its potential, mobile gaming is often misused by developers. But it doesn’t have to be. Below is a brief list of some of my most favorite mobile games. These are going to be less well known offerings that I feel highlight the strengths of the platform.


Continue reading “Fun on Your Phone – Hidden Gem Mobile Games”

Making Fun – Game Development for Absolute Beginners

Creating your own video game is a very daunting task. It’s a craft that incorporates coding, graphics, sound, game design, and basically everything else under the sun. There are many different pieces of software to help you along: Game Maker Studio, Unity, Construct, plus others. I’ve tried out the three mentioned in the previous sentence. They’re all good, and are a good choice to start out. But recently I decided to try a new program that I feel is the best for absolute beginners: Pico-8.

cover image

Continue reading “Making Fun – Game Development for Absolute Beginners”

Buddy Systems – AI partners in Video Games

AI partners in games have changed a lot over the years. Sometimes these end up as the dreaded “escort mission” where it’s your job to protect the partner. Other times they can be invaluable assets to your cause. Let’s look at a select few examples to explore different ways this mechanic is handled.


Continue reading “Buddy Systems – AI partners in Video Games”