Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shadowbreed: The Twilight War Book I by Paul S. Kemp

I'll be discussing things that I've found useful to think about in terms of role playing games, specifically, my own Dungeons and Dragons 4e Game set in the year 137X (haven't decided the final yet even though we're played several times.)

This time around it's book one of the Twilight War, Shadowbreed. Another book by Paul S. Kemp featuring Cale. As before, spoilers will be coming fast and furious with quotes and page references so reader beware.

"Nem said he heard you protect us because you had a friend who was a halfling and you...could not protect him." (p.14).

What happens when the players fail? If the players are not killed in the failure, how do they take something from it? What do they learn? Does it effect their behavior? Does it change how they approach situations and challenges? In my own game, I tend to run things at or a little lower for the characters because I'm still learning the rules. In running a set piece from Open Grave, one of the bits is a 3rd level lair of undead. One of the undead is not meant to be fought because the creature is far more powerful than the players.

One of the players decided to attack it and well, the party suffered a bit, begged for life, received it, but the player who attacked? Not him. The party wound up having him raised in the city of Silverymoon and I'm still working through some of the role playing elements I can bring to the game. When death isnt' that difficult to overcome, the GM should have fun with what it means to cheat death. Nightmares? Visions of the future where the character is killed over and over in horrible ways? Memories of salvation in the land of the characters forefathers? A yearning to return to oblivion?

"Be still." Rivalen commanded the creature, and it was. (p.28). I made mention of a huge kraken that Cale and his comrades fled. It was a creature too much for them. In this book in a manner of pages, a new enemy has conqurered the monster.

This is a common tactic used in movies, television and comics. Showcase how awesome and great the new villain is by easily trashing the old villain. It can work well if not used too much.

Note also the character's name here, Rivalen. One of the other main characters in the book is called Riven. For me as a reader, that was a little annoying. It was easy to tell each character apart by their actions, but the similiarity of names is too strong. When desinging your NPCs, always look at your list of names. This is more important for NPCs who are going to be sharing the stage a lot rather than minor players. You don't want the players to mistake the king wizard for the lord assassin at the wrong time.

"He would recover the coin when he recovered the city." (p.32) One of the things Paul S. Kemp does successfully, is to give the characters little things that make their personalities a little easier to keep in mind. He's done this for character in previous books and continues to do it here.

What do the players have their characters do, and NPCs do when they are not working on perfecting their lore?

Do they engage in drugs?

Do they have hobbies?

Are they obsessed with style?

Do they enjoy sports?

By knowing what the characters want out of life, the GM can arrange events to move in directions that act as natural hooks for them. If one of the players has a fighter that collects different types of weapons, hearing of a ruin where swords the like of which have never been seen before will be a quick way to grab his fancy. If running a character that has a weakness for sweets and candies, the GM can introduce far away locales that specialize in such.

Using elements like this allows the GM to showcase that the world isn't just a dungeon.

"There are some here you could have trusted. And we could have managed the rest." (p.69.)

In a fantasy game where the standard is often human, the GM can easily abuse the role that the rest of the world has in dealing with what choices the players make in terms of their characters. In this instance, Magadon is speaking with a caravan master who is assuring the mind mind with otherworldly blood that not all people judge another just by looks. While it can be fun to play the misunderstood hero for a while, in a long term campaign that can have it's own drawbacks if you're always the one left out of the ball, always the one being spit on, always the one under scrutiny. The GM shouldn't give players of races that are not part of the standard menu a free pass, but he should not penalize them to the point where its not worth playing. If the GM doesn't want a certain race, class, or other mechanic in his campaign, summon up the intestinal fortitude to say, "I'm not allowing that in my campaign."

Cutting things off at the pass is much better than wasting the players time and your time in trying to 'fit' something in that neither one will be happy with.

"She sensed her physical body, still asleep in her bedchamber, trembling with ecastacy and exquisite terror that accompanied contact with the divine. (p.49).

Why do certain NPCs worship evil deities? The afterlive of these deities is generally not a good one. The penalties for failure are server. Sometimes the penalties for success even more so as no deity wants to bring forth a potential challenger.

However, the deities of evil are still deities. They are still majestic. They are still beyond humanity's ability to dismiss. The warm of a deity of light is no more divine then the chill of a deity of shadow. The loyalty of a deity of paladins is no less demanding than the divine right to rule through tyranny from a master of discipline.

Evil deities have followers because they are divine. The mere act of contact with a deity, which in most games is a given for those who are generally healers or have a power source of divine or in say, Rolemaster, Channelling, the act of gathering power is in and of itself something worthy of worship.

If you have players who have divine powers, tell them what it feels like. Describe their powers in terms of what it looks like according to their own worship. Customize their faith and visuals without actually changing the way the powers work.

Shadowbreed is a quick moving book that has numerous things that a GM might pick up on. While the power level isn't necessarily two rogues fighting in an alley, there are bits and pieces that range from political playing in Sembia to ancient artifact recovery and manipulation.