Friday, October 2, 2009

Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling


S. M. Stirling's Dies the Fire is a novel where certain chemical reactions stop working and this pits the world back into a dark time. I read it because my mother and I don't share a lot of reading material so I thought it'd be fun. I know she's read the Stand and Swanswong so thought she'd enjoy these books. She's already read the first three and I'm way behind here.
In addition though, I thought, "Hell, it's not almost a thousand pages like Kate's books were." Lastly, I was in the mood for something a little different. While many of the main characters note that a lot of the themes and living styles of the old ways are coming back, they are still 'modern' people and know a lot more than their ancestors ever did. Something by an author I'd never read before on a series that looked interested and well supported? Sign me up.
Below I'll be taking a couple of direct quotes out of the paperback version so if you'd like to avoid spoilers, beware below.
"Well, what was it, then?" her mother said.
"I don't have fucking one clue about what it was," Dennis said. "But I've got this horrible feeling about what whatever-it-was did." (p.17)
To me, one of the worst things about the 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons version of the Forgotten Realms was, is that they took several massive events and put them in the past and spelled out how they all happened. Sometimes in novels, other times directly in the campaign guide. This doesn't leave a lot of mystery.
When something big happens, the players may have no clue as to what it all means. However, they'll quickly learn what it will mean to them in the future. For example, if you're running a campaign that uses various forms of magic, such as arcane, divine, psionic, what happens if one of those power types stops working?
If you're running a more modern campaign, such as Champions or Mutants and Masterminds, what happens if you follow the ideas in Dies the Fire? Instead of individuals running around trying to rework their own little worlds, you could have super heroes in a post apocalypse setting. Some of those heroes own abilities and powers may be vastly effected. For example, in a setting where high technology shuts down, what happens to characters like Iron Man and the Punisher? No more guns for mister skull face.
"These weren't bad peoplpe; probably none of them had so much as hit anyone since junior high. But they were desperate." (p.85)
One of the nice things about Dungeons and Dragons is that an orc is evil. Now sure, we could all hunt down and find examples of those noble orcs who aren't but for the most part, the black knight is evil, the goblins are evil, and all of those evil things are around to be killed.
But what happens when the enemy isn't so clearly evil? What happens if the enemy is your brother or sister? What happens if it's your fellow country men and they are merely reacting to disaster themselves? How do you handle the outcome?
"It's Yersinia pestis. The Plague. The Black Death. Those camps were filthy and swarming with rats, and plague's a speceis-jumper endemic among ground squirrels here in the West." (p. 337)
I've mentioned this a few times before, but finding things other than monsters to challenge the players can provide a lot of opportunity to grow the campaign in manners the stretch pass a dungeon crawl. Indeed, most dungeons are often depicted as damp and dirty anyway. What better place to pick up diesease? In 4th edition, if you want to challenge the players in this manner, there's a supplement for it.
"I never thought there would be any child but Eilir, she thought. But it seems You had other ideas..." (p.362)
When one of the characters discover that she's pregnant by, well, not a 'random' encounter, but by a short encounter, it leads to a life long complication. Characters in many fantasy games are often seen about the taverns seducing the wenches. If the campaign is a long plotted out one, what are the effects on such a character's reputation as a sire of many bastards? Does he take them in? Does he train them? Deny them?
On the female side of the table, I'd be very careful about making any female player's character pregnant. First off, it potentially takes the character out of an active adventuring life. Second off, it may be something that the female character is very uncomfortable with. In such cases, it never hurts to ask.
If done properly and the players are all for it, it can be something that creates family lines in the game. Some fantasy games, like Green Ronin's A Game of Thrones, are based off of novels where these details are very important.
"We didn't plan it that way, not at first, but it turned out that about all we've done since the Change is fight, train to fight, and work on our gear." (p. 492).
If that's not an explanation of what happens in games with defined goals like level advancement, I'm not sure what would. Game Masters who hate such games, should probably stay away from them. Whle they can be worked on and turned into other types of games with careful game mastery and with a group of willing players, why not find a game that suits the style of the game you want to play better? If it's all about killing things and levelling up, and that's what the players are there for, give it to them or get out of the way.