What I’m Reading Now, May 2004 Edition

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian: Historical naval fiction set in the waning years of the 18th century, this novel follows the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his enlightened ship’s surgeon, Doctor Stephen Maturin as they wages war against foes of the British Empire.

This book inspired half of last year’s movie Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, and it shares much of that movie’s larger-than-life nature. Aubrey’s a hero with a huge heart and a tremendous, infectious sense of adventure, while Maturin is the prototypical Enlightened gentlemen. As an avid history buff, I loved this book — O’Brian expertly captures the minutia of 18th century life at sea, and the time period is utterly captivating. That said, it’s not for the weak-hearted. O’Brian recreates the past by recounting every aspect of that bygone era, throwing pages upon pages of naval jargon at the reader with very little explanation. That may turn off some readers, but I loved it.

Dragon #320 by Paizo Press: This edition celebrates the 30th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons with a retrospective of the game. In addition, it’s got an article on converting the races of Warcraft III to D&D, monster classes for dragons and shape-shifting spells for transforming PCs into D&D Miniatures monsters (like bulettes, displacer beasts and hound archons).

Dungeons & Dragon’s Players Handbook, 3.5 Edition: I finally broke down and bought the 3.5 PHB. My gaming group hasn’t converted to the revised edition, and I don’t play in any of the RPGA’s “Living” campaigns, so I didn’t have any reason to it. Now I do — a friend’s re-starting his campaign, and using the 3.5 rules. I like what the book did with the Barbarian class, giving it “trap sense” at a level where it makes a difference. I also like the revisions to the ranger class — which give players melee and ranged options, as well as an improved “species enemy” track — and the druid class — which allows the natural spell casters to channel their memorized spells into “animal summoning” spells. There were also a few spell revisions that were long overdue (particularly the powered-down versions of haste and harm) and welcome rule clarifications. But having looked over the book, I still don’t think the “3.5” PHB was needed. The game would have been better served by throwing these class revisions in Unearthed Arcana along with the revised spells and then simply re-printing the core books with the errata included.

Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition: It can’t be all play. This book by Eric Meyers explains how to use Cascading Style Sheets to separate a Web page’s presentation from its content. This second edition, released in March 2004, details every aspect of the CC2 specification, from units of measurements to text formatting to advanced, table-less layout. Good as an introduction to CSS, and as a reference after you’ve mastered the basic concepts.

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