Feb 21

MNG: Diablo III

This week’s Monday Night Gaming / MNG: Diablo III

Since we have some friends we play with online (via Discord), we’re always looking for multiplayer games to play. My husband played (and greatly enjoyed) the first two games in the Diablo series, so it when it was mentioned as a possible game to play on Saturday nights, we hopped in, myself included.

Image copyright Blizzard Entertainment & used under CCL.

Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

# of Players: 1-4. (Multiplayer caps at 4)

# of Expansions: 1, Reaper of Souls

While I’ve not played Diablo 1 or 2, I’ve watched my husband play them so I walked into Diablo III with some idea of what to expect gameplay wise, plot wise, and so on.

PLOT: As with most multiplayer Blizzard games, the plot line in Diablo III is predictable and a bit ham-fisted, but the plot is entertaining enough to be enjoyable in a multiplayer scenario. As a writer, I’m a bit pickier about my character and plot development so it’s not a plot line that would keep my interest in a solo run. I can see why many players click past most of it to get to Adventure Mode. That said, it’s a better plot arc than the latest Paper Mario game.

CHARACTERS: The whole “she’s a girl so therefore she must be evil” trope is getting pretty old, game designers. Find a new shtick.

LORE: One of my biggest complaints about some of the newer games coming out (cough, cough, I’m looking at you, Destiny), is either a lack of lore or sticking the lore off on a wiki somewhere, expecting players to stop playing in order to go read it. You can go overboard with the world building and lore, but I feel like Diablo III gets it correct here. Lore is scattered throughout the game via books and scrolls (and plot). You can choose to listen to them as you play or skip them if lore isn’t your thing. The lore inserted into the game is relevant and often funny. It added depth to the plot without overloading the player.

GAME PLAY: I haven’t played it solo (with the support characters), but instead have played it 100% multiplayer–keep that in mind in regards to my review. The keyboard controls are nice and simple, relying on a mouse and a few keys to fight your way through the game. The game consists of cut-scenes and dialogue in-between a lot of dungeon crawling and creature/boss fighting, as is typical for hack and slash action RPG games. There are several levels of difficulty, so no matter what level of gamer you are, you’ll probably find a difficulty to your liking. The graphics are clean and like most Diablo games, the music is well composed and fitting to what’s happening in the plot or scene. Very dynamic.

What I like about the game is how fun it is to fight enemies and bosses in hopes of getting good loot and equipment. I also really like crafting items via the blacksmith or gem guy. The user interface system is very intuitive and the leveling system feels natural. Organic.

What I don’t like is how much Blizzard neutered the game after its initial release. People were selling items for real world money and other such shenanigans, and as a result, Blizzard removed players’ abilities to trade gemstones at all or certain items after a time limit. Even worse, rather than just remove the options, some of the play options were “disabled” rather than removed, making it appear as if one might be able to do things they can’t. It gives false hope to a new player (I know it did to me!).

While I understand why Blizzard felt the need to remove some of the game mechanics to ensure that people weren’t doing unethical things with their game, but sheesh. The way it was handled wasn’t the smoothest or best way to go about it. There’s a bit of sloppiness all the way around in this game beyond these edits. They decided post-game to add in a new character in the Reaper of Souls expansion. When folks loved the fortune teller character, they decided to make her accessible earlier in the game. Problem is, they didn’t do anything to smooth over the plot, so when the player gets to Act V, this character we’ve been getting to know through acts I-IV suddenly doesn’t know us. She acts like we’re strangers and the plot doesn’t make sense.

There’s also the issue with the multiplayer cap. Four players in a group That’s it. If you wanted to game in a larger party, tough shit. This was a big problem for our group since there are six of us. We had to split into two groups of three, which only marginally works.


Overall Rating/Impression: My least favorite of the Diablo series. If you can get it on sale, it’s worth the play, but be aware of the bugs. 6/10

Monday Night Gaming is a bi-weekly series reviewing tabletop and video games. Articles are posted on the 1st & 3rd Monday.

Read other game reviews in the Monday Night Gaming series by clicking here.

Feb 14

Love wins

For all that I don’t write romance novels or even fiction with heavy romantic themes, I’ve always thought of myself as a romantic in the goofy, sappy, cry-too-much-at-cheesy-commercials sort of way–especially when it comes to my husband, my kitties, and my friends and family. In the political climate of late, it’s hard for some to think about love. For those who see Valentine’s Day as nothing more than a commercially motivated Hallmark invented holiday, even more so. But love comes in many forms and from many different people, making today one of the holidays I love. Especially since it’s my anniversary. (See? Hopeless romantic, I told ya!)

Raven Oak and Erik Carson GHS Prom

Us, high school prom


It feels like a lifetime ago, and yet I remember with perfect clarity the people in our lives who told us we’d never make it. Some worried that high-school sweethearts wouldn’t last by definition–as if such a cliché was found only in rom-coms made by Hollywood. Many worried that at so young an age, we couldn’t know who we were as people enough to possibly know what we wanted in life. A few worried that depression would destroy us because it destroys so many.

They spoke damning words about our future with such…gumption, as if they knew these things for fact, but Erik and I have never been normal. We’ve never been average or mundane or boring. And we’ve never let others tell us (or anyone else for that matter) what to do or who to be.

1996 was a long time ago. 21 years in fact.

Just saying that feels insane. Mostly because we were so young–young enough that in some ways, we were different people–but not so young that we didn’t walk into our relationship with more knowledge than most. Like I said, we aren’t normal people. Both of us grew up with challenging and unusual childhoods–the kind that ages someone. Events that would crush some children made us strong. Made us flexible and capable. Traits that are necessary in a successful relationship.

Medieval Times, Raven Oak and Erik

Us at Medieval Times, circa 2011

People who were high school sweethearts like to say that they are still together because growing up together gave them special insight or that somehow the universe just made it work. I like to believe that if two people can survive high school together, they can survive anything, because let’s face it–people are at their worst in middle and high school. The stress of hurrying up to become who everyone wants you to be–to instantly know what you want to do with your life so you can get into a good college–coupled with trying to figure out what you want to be, is chaotic enough without all the hormones. Society wants children to be both children and life-changing decision makers within a span of 2-3 years.

That’s not to say that the years after high school didn’t carry their own challenges because they did, but to have been through what we had before the age of 18…well, it puts things into perspective. I knew who I was as a person long before I met Erik, and while we’ve both grown up together, we were pretty solid people by the time we’d met.

Oddly enough, we’re one of three sets of high-school sweethearts in our circle of friends from high school–all of which are still together 20+ years later. Through money struggles, job-loss, health issues, deaths, and children (furry or human), we’ve all persisted through the nay-sayers and folks determined to trample love.

Us, on Election Day 2016

I don’t write these words to say we’re better than anyone else, because we’re not. Some days depression does turn us into grumpy people who snap at each other. Other days stress and lack of sleep make for one of us being oblivious to the other’s needs. We’re not perfect, nor do we claim to be.

I write this because right now more than ever, I’m seeing so many of my friends struggle. My friends are afraid. They’re unsure. They’re cycling in a loop of anxiety and depression. And they’re not alone. The world watches us as this roller-coaster ride shoots us toward a future that could end badly for so many.

But in all the darkness, I believe in love. I believe in our ability to hold on to one another and boost each other up. I don’t just believe this because I’m a hopeless romantic, but because it’s true. It’s why Erik and I work. It’s how we’ve survived so much. It’s how we’ll continue to survive whatever the future brings. Our belief in each other, in our love and our future, is what keeps us this happy 21 years later.

So my wish for you all today–whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not–is that you find someone you love, be it a friend, a family member, a pet, your child, or your spouse. Find them and hold on to them. Love them, because this is how we win.

LOVE WINS. Always.

Us, being our goofy selves, circa 2015

P.S. Erik, I love you more than life. Always will. <3

Feb 13

Women in Speculative Fiction

The fabulous G. G. Silverman (author of Vegan Teenage Zombie Huntress) is running a series this month on Women in Speculative Fiction. She kicked off with author Nisi Shawl and today, she interviewed me about Amaskan’s Blood,  Amaskan’s War, and other goodies like Class-M Exile, the upcoming Daughters of Destiny box set, and more.

Go check out the interview at the link below:


Women in Speculative Fiction Interview

Feb 07


Apparently I was tired enough this morning that instead of saying schizophrenic to my husband, I said, “schizophrantic.”

Why isn’t this a word yet?

Schizophrantic Sunshine Kitty Riley


Feb 02


Hey folks!

Been a crazy busy January (now February). Planning to get back to normal weekly updates on the site as I move forward with 2017 projects.

I’ll be at FOOLSCAP this weekend (Feb. 3-5) with Books & Chains! Maybe I’ll even jump in on a panel or three.

Come stop by and say hello! Buy some books and chainmaille jewelry! Elise is going to have some new pretties, and author Jesikah Sundin will be joining us as well! Come check out what she has to offer as well!

Hope to see you there!


Jan 20


For many of us, today is a pretty depressing and dark day. Tomorrow, millions of women and men will march in protest and for equality. Millions will raise their voices and speak out against oppression and hatred. All day I’ve had a set of songs running circles in my head–songs of resistance, of change, and of love. I’ll be tweeting about them all day but for those who want to just jump into the music, I’ve created a playlist on YouTube called Fight the Power.

We’re talking everything from Billy Joel to Bob Marley and The White Stripes (“Why don’t you kick yourself out? You’re an immigrant too!”). Lots of eras of music.  You can also see the list of songs below the video in no particular order.

The playlist, which will auto-play through all 52 songs, is HERE, or you can hit play in the video below and stream the entire list without leaving my site.

1. For What It’s Worth — Buffalo Springfield

2. Fight the Power — Public Enemy

3. My City was Gone — The Pretenders

4. Icky Thump — The White Stripes

5. We Didn’t Start the Fire — Billy Joel

6. Blowin’ in the Wind — Bob Dylan

7. Sunday Bloody Sunday — U2

8. Aenemia — Tool

9. London Calling — The Clash

10. The End is the Beginning is the End — Smashing Pumpkins

11. What’s Goin’ On — Marvin Gaye

12. Beds are Burning — Midnight Oil

13. Fortunate Son — Creedence Clearwater Revival

14. I’m Afraid of Americans — Trent Reznor and David Bowie

15. Pancake — Tori Amos

16. Rise Above — Black Flag

17. It’s the End of the World — R.E.M.

18. Apocalypse Please — Muse

19. Here Comes the Flood — Peter Gabriel

20. Killing in the Name — Rage Against the Machine

21. Earth Died Screaming — Tom Waits

22. Gimme Shelter — The Rolling Stones

23. 99 Luftballoons — Nena

24. Strange Fruit — Billie Holiday

25. Black Hole Sun — Soundgarden

26. All Along the Watchtower — Cover by Jimi Hendrix

27. Blackstar — David Bowie

28. American Idiot — Greenday

29. Mercy, Mercy Me — Marvin Gaye

30. Red Skies — The Fixx

31. Well Thought Out Twinkles — Silversun Pickups

32. We Will Become Silhouettes — The Postal Service

33. Gimme Some Truth — John Lennon

34. Respect — Aretha Franklin

35. Born in the U.S.A. — Bruce Springsteen

36. Pink Houses — John Mellencamp

37. War — Bob Marley and the Wailers

38. Hallelujah Money — Gorillaz

39. The Arsonist — Puscifer

40. Same Love — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Mary Lambert)

41. One Love — Bob Marley

42. One Day — Matisyahu

43. A Change is Gonna Come — Sam Cooke

44. Imagine — A Perfect Circle (Cover)

45. Mississippi Goddam — Nina Simone

46. Brown Girl — Aaradhna

47. Down Rodeo — Rage Against the Machine

48. Free Your Mind — En Vogue

49. Your Racist Friend — They Might Be Giants

50. U.N.I.T.Y. — Queen Latifah

51. W. M. A. — Pearl Jam

52. I Will Survive — Gloria Gaynor

Jan 03

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Board Game (MNG Review)

This week Monday Night Gaming reviews Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Board Game!

Ludo friend!Publisher: River Horse

# of Players: 1-5

Best with: 4 players

Playing Time:  60-90 minutes

We backed this and were very excited to receive this game once they (finally!) started shipping the games to the backers. We sat down recently to play it and found ourselves very easily submerged in the land of Jim Henson.

The game itself is beautiful. The board’s art is detailed and colorful, and the miniatures are detailed as well. Ludo, Sir Didymus, and Hoggle are perfect, while Sarah and Jareth’s faces need some work. The nostalgia effect is strong with this game. (Several folks have painted their miniatures, which then look amazing. We’ve yet to do that!)

Labyrinth Board Game

Jareth and SarahGeneral Mechanics: Each player plays as one of the miniatures: Ludo, Sir Didymus, Hoggle, or Sarah (Jareth is who you’re playing against). Even if you don’t have players to fill all the rolls, you will still play with all the miniatures and take turns for each of the five.

Each game is a little bit different in that the board is controlled by cards that determine what effects occur when a non-Jareth character lands on them. Because these cards are different each game, there is the potential for variation in each game.

Each player will roll dice to determine how far into or out of the labyrinth they will go. Once they land on a spot, either they will follow the directions on the card present or they will turn over and place a card to determine what action is taken. Some actions may require the player to face Jareth, move spaces, or fight creatures in the labyrinth. Other dice are rolled to determine if your character succeeds at their tasks, whatever those might be.

Each character has a character sheet depicting his/her speed, wit, and brawn dice. For example, Ludo up above rolls a D6 to determine his Wit (he’s not the smartest character). When going up against Jareth, who might roll a D20 in Wit, he will struggle to win that battle.

Players gain and lose willpower as they progress through the labyrinth. If they lose a battle (like the one mentioned up top), there are consequences, which could be losing willpower or moving further away from the Goblin City. Players can use willpower to reroll dice and win battles against the foes of the Labyrinth. If your willpower dips too low, you’re sent to the oubliette where you fall asleep for a bit. Players also get one-time-use boons they can use to reroll a die or to change the outcome of a round. All this mentioning dice…should make it pretty obvious that this is a dice-heavy game.

The game has two stages to it:

  1. The group travels through the labyrinth towards Jareth’s castle (aka The Goblin City) while trying to keep their willpower as high as possible (you’ll need your willpower for stage 2).
  2. Players in stage 2 fight their way into the castle where Sarah must say the magical words to free her brother. (And yes, the game really expects you to say the words and remember them! But you do, don’t you?)

Fighting your way to Jareth does involve battles with several creatures that are much harder than those faced previously. Too bad the designers didn’t shell out for miniatures of the boss creatures. The 2-dimensional cardboard pieces look weird against such a nice game.

Both stages of the game must be completed before the clock strikes 13. The clock advances every turn (once all characters have gone) or if a card says to advance it.

How to Win/Lose: The way to win is to travel to the Goblin City and defeat Jareth before the clock strikes 13. If you don’t, you lose. The game is set up to be a cooperative game as it’s all the characters vs. Jareth, but the game doesn’t quite work as expected. More on that below.

What I Liked: The art. The nostalgia. Totally Jim Henson.

What I Didn’t Like: This game is totally worth playing once or twice for the nostalgia effect but for more serious tabletop players, it falls short. Despite being a co-op game, there isn’t a lot of cooperation necessary beyond, “Hey, I’m going to move towards you.” Too much of the game depends on the luck of the dice instead of actual strategy.

Overall Rating/Impression: 5.5/10. I really want to like this more, but I can’t. Not even for Jim Henson.

Monday Night Gaming is a bi-weekly series reviewing tabletop and video games. Articles are posted on the 1st & 3rd Monday.

Read other game reviews in the Monday Night Gaming series by clicking here.

Jan 01

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Today dawns a whole new year! A new chance to change things or resolve to better ourselves. I’m not a fan of making promises I can’t keep. I tend to make achievable goals rather than resolutions.


Raven Oak 2017

I hereby declare myself too cool for 2016. Onward to 2017!


  1. Get back to writing daily, so that I can:
    1. Finish all revisions on my two overdue books & get them out there!
    2. Write 100K on a new novel
    3. Write 3 short stories
  2. Submit 3 short stories to paying markets


  1. Read 30 books for enjoyment
  2. Enjoy the neighborhood more via walking it at least once a week.
  3. Have at least three awesome shindigs full of games & laughter at the house

What goals do you have for 2017?

Dec 31

2016 In Review

In terms of life and writing, 2016 had a lot of ups and downs for me. It’s hard to remember some of those ups when the downs are swinging at you, but they’re there and worth remembering. So here goes my 2016 In Review.


  • I had two short stories published in anthologies (“Q-Be” in Untethered: A Magic iPhone Anthology and “Mirror Me” in Magic Unveiled)
  • I got to autograph books at the 2016 Locus Awards
  • Amaskan’s Blood got an amazing new cover. Amaskan’s War had a cover reveal with an equally amazing new cover.
  • I was a panelist, guest, and/or moderator at 6 conventions
  • I vended as myself or with Books & Chains at 5 conventions
  • I was a guest at 10 additional events (book signings, workshops, etc.)
  • I was interviewed 3 times and was a guest on 1 podcast
  • I watched Class-M Exile be acted out on the stage
  • I wrote five short stories and several drafts of a novel
  • I submitted 6 short stories to paying markets
  • I’ve been invited to be a panelist at an out-of-state convention in 2018
  • I was invited to do a reading with Nisi Shawl, G. G. Silverman, and Janine A. Southard in January 2017. More on that soon!
  • I’ve been named a panelist at two conventions in 2017 (so far)
  • I’ll be a vendor with Books & Chains at five conventions in 2017 (so far)


  1. Book Cover Throwback: The Giver
  2. Y is for Yoshitaka Amano
  3. Facts about Ravens
  4. Monday Night Gaming Reviews Champions of Midgard
  5. Book Cover Throwback: Grinch
  6. Depression Lies, But It Is Real
  7. Scrivener Saturday: A Case for Scapple
  8. Flashback Friday: A New Year
  9. Flashforward Friday: Vulcan Mind-Meld
  10. Separating Authors from Their Works


  • I had 36,765 unique visitors to my site this year, which is down from last year (though my social media is up)
  • January 2016 saw the largest number of visitors. The lowest was May 2016.
  • Most visitors used Google’s search engine to get here.
  • Most people used Facebook as their social media means of getting to this site (56%). After that, 40% of visitors were from Twitter, 3% from Google+, and 1% from misc. social media platforms.
  • Most people left here and went directly to Amazon.com. The #2 jump was going to BoardGameGeek.
  • Most people found this site by searching for these terms:
    • Raven
    • Clones
    • Raven Oak
    • Yoshitaka Amano
    • Norwescon 39


  • The Conspiracy, my official mailing list, saw a 500% increase in membership
  • Facebook likes saw a 200% increase
  • Twitter follows saw a 340% increase
  • Total number of words written this year went way, way down, at 124,206 words. (I promise to do better in 2017. This year was brutal for a lot of reasons.)
  • Total number of books read: 28 (also way too low)
  • Total number of books released: 0
  • Total number of books delayed: 2
  • Total number of short stories sold: 2
  • Number of times moved: 1 (well, two if you count we moved once more within 3 months of this)
  • Total number of hairs turned grey from the stresses of this year: way too many to count, which is why I dye my hair 😉
  • Number of friends lost to depression: 1, which is 1 too many

Many people died in 2016–many who suffered from mental illnesses and struggled on a day-to-day basis. I struggled this year myself, and while I endeavor to do better in 2017, I know that I do so with the support of friends and readers.

I hope your 2016 was a good one, but if it wasn’t, find your friends. Hug them. Laugh with them. And remember that this, too, shall pass.

Happy New Year folks.

Dec 30

Upcoming Reading!

Hey folks!

I’ve got an upcoming reading! I’ll be reading at the Inkwell Seattle: Women in Speculative Fiction coming up! Details below:

WHO: Nisi Shawl, Raven Oak, G. G. Silverman, and Janine A. Southard

WHAT: Reading amazing spec-fic works!

WHEN: January 10, 2017 from 7-10 PM

WHERE: Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar – 1508 11th Ave, Seattle, Washington 98122

Further Details:

As a tumultuous year comes to a close, it’s time to look towards the possibilities of the future. A future that will hopefully be more inclusive, with a literature that is more representative of the entire human population. To this end, please join us to hear the Speculative Fiction of four talented women. Our reading will end with an open mic.

NISI SHAWL’s widely praised novel Everfair came out from Tor in September 2016. Her story collection Filter House co-won a James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2009, and she’s co-author of the acclaimed instructional handbook Writing the Other: A Practical Approach. She helped found the Carl Brandon Society, a nonprofit supporting the presence of marginalized races in the fantastic genres, and is a Clarion West Writers Workshop board member. Shawl’s fairly active on Twitter and Facebook and maintains a website at www.nisishawl.com; in real life she ambles around Seattle at a feline pace with her cat, Minnie, and her mother, June.

Bestselling science fiction & fantasy author RAVEN OAK is best known for Amaskan’s Blood (Epic Awards 2016 Finalist), Class-M Exile, and the collection Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays (Foreword Reviews 2016 Book of the Year Finalist). She also has several short stories published in anthologies such as Untethered: A Magic iPhone Anthology and Magic Unveiled. Raven spent most of her K-12 education doodling stories and 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet. When she’s not writing, she’s getting her game on with tabletop games, indulging in cartography, or staring at the ocean. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, and their three kitties who enjoy lounging across the keyboard when writing deadlines approach.

G.G. SILVERMAN is the author of the comedic YA horror “Redvale Zombie Prom” series, including VEGAN TEENAGE ZOMBIE HUNTRESS (North Street Book Prize finalist) and STONERS VS. MOANERS, both of which have been Amazon Kindle Top 10 Bestsellers. Her short fiction & poetry have won awards, and her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Molotov Cocktail, Grinning Skull Press, Pulp Modern, Iconoclast, The Seventh Wave, scissors + spackle, and more. She lives north of Seattle with her husband and dog, enjoys teaching others to write when she can, and trains with a compound bow in her spare time because #TheZombieApocalypse. To connect with G.G., please visit http://www.ggsilverman.com/

Janine A. Southard is the Cygnus Award-winning author of Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story and the IPPY Award-winning author of Queen & Commander (and other books in The Hive Queen Saga). She lives in Seattle, WA, where she writes speculative fiction novels, novellas, and short stories… and reads them aloud to her cat. Find her online at www.janinesouthard.com.


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