Monday, October 12, 2009

Robert E. Howard's Almuric

One of the things I love about Paizo's Planet Stories line is that it brings back a lot of material that is often hard to find in today's modern shelves of the latest fads. One of those books is Almuric, Robert E. Howard's take on the whole Planetary Romance inspired by a certain hero who went to Mars...

Below will be some quotes with some ideas of how they'd fit into one of my games and how I try to keep some things in mind when I'm gaming. Page numbers come from the 1st printing Paizo edition. Spoilers may follow so beware!

"It was chance led him there, the blind instinct of the hunted thing to find a den wherein to turn at bay." (p.15)

Often, when one door closes, another opens. If the party finds themselves overmatched, the Game Master must have a plan outside of the party runs for their lives. In some instances, whole campaigns can be built in this fashion. For example, back in the day, Orcus or Necromancer Games mentioned how he'd like to start an "Iron Tower" adventure path with the characters battling gnolls in treacherous terrain that plunges both character and monster into new venues.

Having an out that is a lead in for future adventurers provides the Game Master an opportunity that he may not need, but always has ready.

"Boss Blaine could not understand that he was dealing with a man to whom his power and wealth meant nothing." (p. 17)

This one's a little close in page numbers to the previous one and also hits on a theme I've mentioned before.

Players tend to run their characters unlike how people of those times would act. They're not real living breathing characters save to the most dedicated role player and the players are often willing to take chances with a character that any normal person would find insane. The Game Master needs to be careful that when dealing plot lines and making NPCs that none of them so motivate the players to action, that the action the players take is straight out murder that thrusts the entire party into a situation that requires either a whole new group of characters of a quick change of setting.

"The tangible and material can never be as grisly as the unknown, however perilous." (p. 22)

One of the great things about H. P. Lovecraft's work is the whole theme of the unknown. That there are things man isn't meant to know. That man is at his best, ignorant of the lowly position he has in the universe.

One of the great things about older Ravenloft material is how it would remind the Game Master to use description and details but not labels. Speak of an ogre's massive height and powerful frame, the low gleam of intelligence in it's eyes, the size of it's mammoth fists and the cruel edges to it's teeth, but do not actually call it an ogre. Players love to label things because they gain an accuracy of the enemy's strength.

By providing description without naming something though, while the Game Master is giving the players something solid and tangible to face, they still have the potential fear of the unknown. 3rd edition and 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons take this a long way too. Not only could an ogre be an ogre, it could be an ogre with some type of template or an ogre that is no mere soldier, but an elite brute.

"I made out only a dim gigantic shape, which somehow seemed infinitely longer than it was broad- out of natural proportions, somehow. It passed away up the vallye, and with its going, it was as if the night audibly expelled a gusty sight of relief." (pg. 32-33)

In addition to describing things that are tangible threats, the Game Master should be sure to include those that are simply beyond the ability of the characters at the moment. In the Stephen King novel and movie the Mist, there is a scene where the group witnessess a massive creature whose size makes the term behemoth seem too little. Showcase the awe of the setting, showcase the scope of the campaign. Allow players to note the hights and the lows even when they are not directly interferring with them.

Robert E. Howard wrote with an energy that was almost tangible to the reader. Make the players your readers and entrance them with description, but make sure that description not only leads to action, but leads to opportunity.