Wednesday, April 8, 2020

What I've been working on

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, I haven't been able to get together with my gaming group and we've decided not to go the online play route. In the meantime, I wanted to keep my DM skills sharp, so I've released an in-browser solo adventure, The Saint's Tomb, using 5e Dungeons & Dragons rules. The game requires you to have a character sheet and keep up with HP and inventory, but runs enemies and the story for you. This is similar to the old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and other single-player books for RPGs.

If you've never played D&D or other table-top RPGs, don't worry. I made this game to help you learn how to play. Once you're out of lockdown, I highly recommend getting together with friends and playing, but until then, you can try The Saint's Tomb on your own.

Monday, March 18, 2019

New blog, different topic

I've started a new blog: Cheapskate D&D Minis. Like Free Listens, it focuses on having fun frugally, but this new blog uses homemade and inexpensive bought products to build miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop RPGs. Right now, I'm running through making budget miniatures for the Lost Mine of Phandelver starter game. If you liked Free Listens, check it out!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Epic of Gilgamesh, trans. by John Harris

Source: Epic of Gilgamesh podcast (iTunes, Podbay)
Length: About 4.5 hours
Reader: John Harris

The book: The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest pieces of literature ever discovered. The epic poem is a loosely joined series of stories about Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian king, and Enkidu, a savage man sent by the gods to distract Gilgamesh from his kingly excesses. Along the way, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends (or more than friends? There is a possible homosexual relationship, depending on how you interpret the words). Written before the Bible, the poem also includes the earliest account of the Great Flood story, known more familiarly as the Noah story.

I found this book to be a fascinating look at what life was like in the ancient world. From a literary standpoint, I was amazed to see Gilgamesh, the protagonist and a king, portrayed as a bad person that needed intervention from the gods. Long before the modern times, people were looking at the ruler as both a source of trouble and inspiration. As a story, however, the Epic of Gilgamesh can be tough reading (or listening). The writers of the time did not have the same sense of pacing that we have today, plus there are sections missing or partially damaged, leaving out some of parts of the story. Read it to find a different world, not to be entertained by plot and character development.

NOTE: This story contains explicit sexual and violent content. It is not recommended for children.

Rating: 7 /10

The reader: John Harris reads his own prose translation from Sumarian. He includes notes on the text, explaining both the state of the source text and the meaning or relevance of the story. His reading itself is a bit dry and academic, with the pacing a bit on the slow side of my preferences. I listened to the iTunes version, which includes some music between sections, so when I sped up his speech, the music became distorted. At normal speeds, though, the music helps lend some drama to the story and the recording itself of both music and text is clear and clean.

Purchase a text copy of The Epic of Gilgameshat Amazon

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Some great audiobooks for free

Today, three absolutely great audiobooks are being offered totally free, for a limited time. First off is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, available from I've reviewed a LibriVox reading of this classic novel before, but this is a professional audiobook. I highly recommend it if you've never read this story before. It's available for download until 10 am Friday.

Second are two books from Sync: Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Monster is a Michael L. Printz Award winner and National Book Award nominee about a teenage African-American boy on trial for murder. It's a full-cast unabridged recording and comes highly recommended. I can't wait to listen.

Lord of the Flies is another classic. It tells the story of a group of boys, stranded on an island, who have to establish their own society. Their decent into savagery is a compelling insight into the nature of civilization. This recording is a 1976 reading by the author. From the sample I heard, it's less polished than newer editions, but the chance to hear Golding's own voice narrating is a compelling reason to listen. Both Monster and Lord of the Flies will be available for download until next Thursday morning.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3's | iTunes)
Length: 6 hr, 55 min
Reader: Kristen Hughes

The book: Arriving at a friend's house in the English countryside a few minutes after a murder has taken place, Tony Gillingham is thrust into a classic-style locked room mystery. He takes on his role as amateur detective with enthusiasm, finding false identities, hidden passages and blown alibis as he delves deeper into the secrets of the Red House and its inhabitants.

The best mysteries are those that use the mystery as a backdrop for an additional layer of complexity: The mediation on guilt in And Then There Were None, the exploration of a corrupt town in Red Harvest , the fusion of magic and the modern world in the Dresden Files. This book is simply a fun mystery novel, not much more.  It's worthwhile as a few hours of entertainment or as an insight into Milne's writing outside his Winnie-the-Pooh series, but it's also not a must-read.

Rating: 7 /10

The reader: I've mentioned it before, but Hughes is an excellent amateur reader. She doesn't have the polish and voices that are the hallmarks of the pro's and some of the other great readers at LibriVox, but her narration is warm and pleasing. This style of reading is less of a dramatic performance and more of a friend reading to you at your bedside. The little quirks and imperfections make it more enjoyable knowing it's an ordinary person on the other side of the microphone.

Buy a paperback copy of The Red House Mystery

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Three free audiobooks available today

From Sync, there's two audiobooks that will be available for download the rest of the week. Anne Frank Remembered is the memoir of Meip Gies, the woman who helped hide the Frank family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.  The audiobook was a finalist for a 2010 Audies award, honoring the best audiobooks published that year.

The second book from Sync is Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wien.  This novel is about an American female pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary who is captured by the Germans and sent to a concentration camp. Last year, Sync offered another audiobook by Wien, Code Name Verity about a female pilot and a spy during World War II; it was one of my favorite listens of the year.

The third book being offered today is from, Nancy Drew Diaries: Curse of the Arctic Star. This one is available for one day only, so if you're a fan of the Girl Detective, download it now. A new audiobook will become available from the same website at 10:00 AM on Friday and Nancy Drew will be gone.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Source: Podiobooks (iTunes| individual mp3s)
Length: ~5.5 hr
Reader: Mark Douglas Nelson

The book: How great would it be to live in a world without death and without need? Would everyone be happy? Would everything be perfect? In his first novel, Cory Doctorow imagines a not-so-distant future in which people have the ability to upload their consciousness into a digital format, allowing them to "restore from backup" should anything go wrong with their physical bodies, such as death. Problems of food supply, basic needs, and pollution have been taken care of through technological advance, so there's no need for money as we think of it. Instead, people accumulate "whuffie," a digital currency based on social standing and creative accomplishments.

In this society, the protagonist Jules is living in Disney World and working on restoring the animatronics to the vision of the park's engineers. This puts him at odds with others who would like the attractions to be updated to the latest brain-immersive technology. If this doesn't seem like an incredibly important conflict, then we're in agreement. While the ideas and world expressed in this book are fascinating, the story and characters fall a bit flat.

Rating: 7 / 10

Reader: Mark Douglas Nelson has a radio announcer's voice that's clear and expressive. His declamatory style can seem a bit corny sometimes, but I've rather have his voice than someone who doesn't care. The recordings have a bit of music played over the beginning and end of each section, but the story itself is unaccompanied and clean.

Buy a paperback copy of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Friday, June 12, 2015

Free audiobooks galore!

Several free audiobooks are available today. First up are two from Sync, The Living by Matt de la Pena and The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. The Living is a YA novel about a teenage boy who works on a cruise ship. A massive earthquake and tsunami hit, and he has to find a way to survive. The Perfect Storm is based on a true story about a group of fishermen who face the combination of two storms in the Atlantic Ocean into one megastorm. The book was made into a hit film several years ago.

From, the free book of the day is Reckless by Maya Banks. From the description, it's a trashy romance novel, but I'm sure some people will be interested in that. Who am I to judge? If that's not your thing, the same website will have a different free audiobook every weekday this June.

Finally, if you've never joined Audible, you're missing out. You can try Audible and get two free audiobooks by using my link Plus, right now, there's a 2 for 1 sale, so you could get 4 audiobooks with 2 credits. If you cancel before your month's up, you'll still get to keep all your audiobooks, so there's really no risk, especially since Audible is an Amazon company. I've been a member of Audible in the past and it's a great deal.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015 is giving away free audiobooks is giving away a free audiobook as a download every day in June. I've missed the first few days, but today (June 9) is Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, read by Jim Dale, an excellent narrator. The book itself is a great adventure; I've reviewed a LibriVox version here.

To get your free audiobook, download the iOS or Android app. Then, go to Booklists and Bestsellers to find the free book of the day. Download it and it's yours to keep!

If you haven't tried out before, you can also take advantage of a 30 day trial membership and download a free book. I recommend The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, or the unabridged Simon Vance version of The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brien (the fourth book of the Aubrey-Maturin series, but a good starting point). I've listened to all of these as audiobooks and can confirm that they're great books and great performances.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

This week's free audiobooks

Another two free audiobooks are being offered by AudioSync. The YA book, A Corner of White, is a magic-portal fantasy about teenagers in two different worlds communicating by letter. The classic, Dracula, is about . . . Dracula. I've previously reviewed a free version here, but this is a multi-reader, professional version, so you may prefer it over the other. Happy reading!