Saturday, September 5, 2009

Prince of Dogs by Kate Elliot Part 1

Prince of Dogs is book two in the Crown of Stars series. Like the first book, it is packed with characters far too numerous to list and detail. That in and of itself, like many series of this nature, continues to illustrate the benefits of having a rich cast of characters that the Game Master can use to draw the players into the setting.

"A Lion who is unfit to serve because of a wound in battle can expect a handsome reward from the king, a plot of land in the marchcountry or fenland."
"Aren't those dangerous and difficult places to farm?"
"In some ways, but you're free of service to the lordlings who demand tithes and labor. The king only demands service from you to man the marchcountry watchforts." (p. 46 SFBC)

Many fantasy settings in games, are filled with characters who are not mere merchants or bartenders. This book at least gives a passing possibility to why that might be. In a standard fantasy campaign, why would anyone go to frontier lands that are difficult to hold and keep? In a place with no king or emperor, who holds the law?

In such dark places, retired military men, or in the case of a fantasy campaign, adventurers, might make their way. Perhaps one of the reasons why so many heroes are called forth from the standard farming operation, is that their parents or grandparents fought hard for that freedom from service but now dark tidings have come again.

In addition, it also lays the foundation down for where players may wish to put characters that may not have died, but have lost something essential. In such a place, the Game Master can always bring such a character out of retirement to bring news of far away lands or simply to reunite with old comrades.

"They never scout with their dogs, and its just as well for us. I swear the dogs are harder to kill than the damned savages." (p. 51)

Outside of a few old stand bys, such as goblins and dire wolves, many humanoid menaces aren't fleshed out enough to have anything beyond further variants of the humanoid monsters themselves. In the 4th edition, this is no longer quite true with drakes and other monster filling in certain roles and in addition, they have numerous use as mounts that give special abilities.

When introducing monsters, think of what exactly you're introducing to the campaign. Do they have specific mounts? Do they have pets? What type of deity do they worpship? Do they have allies? Do they have ancient enemies that they fled from long ago that the players may seek help from? By adding details to the campaign that fill in these holes, the Game Master is doing more than merely providing sword fodder to the players.

"But it would heal. It always did, cleanly and without infection." (p. 94).

Some characters have remarkable abilities. Powers that don't necessarily let them die like standard characters. What happens when such a character is captured by an entity that doesn't necessarily have to kill them right away? What punishment might they suffer?

In most cases, it's best to have the player make a new character while the old one lingers in prison. The Game Master can provide the player with brief snippets that describe what the old chraacter is going through and can provide updates that might eventually allow the old character to escape, but in most circumstances, if the character is in such a situation that he needs saving, the players should have a back up character ready and able to go.

"He, Ivar, son of Harl and Herlinda, must be the one to kill Hugh or, preferably, to humilate him." (p. 103).

When the players are no longer on the field of battle, no longer using sword, shield, and spell to fight for their live, what happens when they have enmies at court? What happens when they have fellows in their guild or in the halls of their deity that wish them harm? It's best to have ways for the characters, either through skill challenges or through adventurers set up to prove their ability, ready in the wings.

For example, if one of the players is a cleric and he is loud and outspoken, perhaps another cleric makes it his duty to embarrass or insult said character? Instead of a duel of spells, the Game Master could call upon the player to make a series of skill checks which can represent the two verbally dueling. Or he could let the cleric player know of an ancient and lost lore that the church has been striving to retrieve. Doing so would quickly put the Non-Player Cleric in the negative and showcase how valuable the players are.