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Money Where Mouths Are: A Review of The Raider’s Companion

May 14, 2012

Dear Reader,

As you may remember from many months ago, I advocated for a modern return to patronage like we used to see  before the world became obsessed with ends, means, and more importantly, money.  I figured then as I do now that if you know someone, even from a digital distance like we all know each other, then there’s little reason not to sponsor the creative endeavors of one another.  That’s what Nanowrimo‘s all about from a support point of view, that’s what commenting on each others’ posts is about from a community point of view, and that’s what really what our community itself is all about from a “hobby” point of view (I was going to put “interest,” but it seemed to vague).

Months later, I received a package in the mail, which I mentioned here.  It’s been a busy time since then, what with PAX, guests visiting, getting a job, and now the end of the semester, but I still made sure to make time to read Adam (“Ferrel”) Trzonkowski’s The Raider’s Companion.  I made sure to be progressing through it for three reasons.  First, I had advocated for this gentleman and wanted to make sure my advocacy wasn’t ill spent.  Second, I like to read; I make sure to read a little every day.  Third, I was particularly interested in the topic of the book, raiding, and the approach that a different player would take towards it.

The best review I can give is this (though I’ll get into more detail in a moment): Ferrel is collecting again to revise and reprint a new edition his first book, A Guild Leader’s Companion.  I am again advocating for patronage of one of our own here.  I will again be donating $100 to the cause in a show of solidarity and hopefully to set an example to all of you dear readers.  In fact, he’s already reached his goal this time since it was so reasonable in size (for a new edition rather than a brand new book), but with a long list of stretch goals, I still would like to see each of you donate even a small amount.

It’s not about the money, you see, though of course the money is nice; it’s about validation.  It’s about saying to artists – in this case Ferrel and Holydust, his visual artist – that they’re worth something.  That you enjoy their work.  That you support their art.  The amount of the pledge doesn’t matter, then, just that you pledge at all.

Still, we should talk about the book in more specifics.  Clearly I feel very positively about it if I’m investing and advocating a second time, but I can understand that more concrete details generally help in a book review.  This kind of writing is unique for me and a bit off-putting, actually, as I’m used to grading papers, not reviewing books, and I’m not sure how to modify my approach beyond content, structure, grammar, tone, and citations.  I’ll do my best.

The book does an excellent job at many different things.  It acts as a narrative history of raiding, for one.  To be honest, this was what interested me the most during my first read through.  I found that the look backwards to where raiding started illuminated not only the rest of the book’s content but also some aspects about my own perspective in raiding.  While I never played EQ 1 or 2 and never got a chance to do a “bring everyone you can” raid, I wish I had.  I think that a return to that kind of raiding could begin to heal some of the ills of elitism.  It changes the shape of end game because it’s not just a contest to be the best, but instead opens up socialization as a way to progress successfully.  More on that another day.

After the historical view of raiding, the book gets into the nitty-gritty aspects of raiding.  The book does a good job dismantling and labeling the engine of raiding: the people involved, the roles, the motivations, the process, and the tools that many of us take for granted on a weekly basis.  Ferrel makes margins the mantra of the book, that every slim improvement, no matter how apparently miniscule, can turn a defeat into a victory.  Margins work as a very effective core for the book, a spine to which he attaches all the other disparate parts of raiding; lord knows we’ve all experienced a 1% wipe and had someone realize their flask had gone down.  Margins matter, and Ferrel comes back to that point repeatedly to drill it home.

I also particularly enjoyed the case study at the end of the book where Ferrel imagines a raid encounter and takes the reader through pull by pull to discuss how to identify mechanics, theorize how to avoid them, modify the strategy when necessary, and try, try again.  I thought it was a very effective end to the book where he pulled together all his major ideas into a single example.

For those of you who aren’t interested in reading a playing guide from cover to cover (which is understandable), the book is laid out in a straightforward manner with clearly marked chapters and subchapters.  It’s easy to flip through to find the point you were looking for or research the one section you though sounded interesting.

The art, too, should be mentioned.  Each chapter has a beautifully drawn portrait of a fantasy character.  I suspect (though I could be wrong) that Ferrel’s partner, Holydust, doesn’t get enough mentions in the reviews of the book, but I wanted to take a moment and say that while the text vastly outnumbers the illustrations, the illustrations do much to set the tone of the text.  Each chapter’s illustration (and perhaps I’m simply reading too much into them) shows a fantasy hero posing or postured in a way that seemed to me to subtly indicate the topic and tone of the next chapter.  I particularly enjoyed the “Yawning Worgen” who stood in front of a pile of treasure before the “Why do we Raid?” chapter on motivations, which very clearly acts as a visual indication of Ferrel’s opinion of loot.  If others have already given Amanda the proper time in their reviews, well, I’m sure I’ve not added too much to what they said, but if they haven’t, know that her art adds a lot to the book and was enjoyed by its readers.

The only constructive criticism I can offer has to do with some awkward wording that Ferrel and I have already spoken about.  The English language is notorious for being able to create deeply nested sentences (as is German, from which English mostly derives).  For example, The fireman caught the baby of the mother screaming to the priest of the local church which was burning loudly to catch her baby falling from the window right before it hit the ground.  Can you follow it?  Sure, but it’s not nearly as easy as a less nested sentence, and it’s totally grammatical.  While Ferrel never goes to such nested depths (sounds like a raid zone), there are times his sentences are a bit nested.  It’s no real trouble to sort them out, and he’s well aware of “Adam-speak,” as he calls it, but it bears noting only because I want to be a fair reviewer of the book and don’t want you, dear reader, to assume I’m shamelessly promoting people from a biased standpoint.

So overall, it was an excellent book.  Even though I consider myself somewhat of a “seasoned raider,” (though not nearly as much as the author), I found each section interesting and informative, and the book as a whole an excellent investment.  I encourage all of you to pick up a copy to both support your own interests (if raiding is one of them) and art as a whole, and I hope that you find some pocket money to donate to Ferrel’s new campaign.


Stubborn (and critical)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2012 1:27 pm

    This has to be one of the most humbling (in a very positive way) review of something I’ve done ever. You talk about validation and this really is it. It really means a lot to me that you put so much time and care into looking at what I’ve done and writing about it. Your attention to detail is also spot on. I did choose the art based on the chapter and that connection was very intentional! Loot is boring, bring on the next dragon!

    Amanda truly does not get all of the props that she deserves and she works so hard for me. She is a blessing of a partner in this. We work really well together and I hope she gets as much out of all of this as I do.

    I hope you know how much I truly appreciate your time, money, and effort to support my work. It is basically reviews like this that keep me motivated to keep going. It is important to write for yourself but knowing at least one other person is interested really does matter!

    Thank you sir! Thank you so kindly!

  2. May 14, 2012 2:43 pm

    Ought to be an intereting read. I’ll be interested in seeing this soon as I can get home where I don’t have work net nanny’s on me lol.

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