Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Arthas Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden

Some may see a World of Warcraft title and moan at the cheese factor. Ironically enough though, many RPG elements, long standing ones, are present in the World of Warcraft. After all, it, despite the gloss and polish, is the spawn of old school RPGs no?
For example, it's a setting with a massive history, most of which is unknown to the people with vast swathes of time going by with important things seeming to happen only when important characters are about. Sounds a lot like the Forgotten Realms to me.
This is important to me for a few reasons. For example, when Arthus encounters the Nubians. These spider, insect humanoids are an unknown prior to the meeting. But right after that meeting? A valuable part of the army. So much like a role playing game. For example, who had to introduce a race of tielfings to the campaign or the dragonborn? Whole new races and cultures introduced at a snap of the fingers and in some cases, like in Blackmoor, always assumed to be there, just not known to the players.
For example, important characters abound in the fiction and setting itself, but may not always be encountered by the actual players. These characters tend to have magic items powerfully associated with them, if not more infamy. Sounds like Greyhawk, where spells and magic items are often named right after the original parties and put into many of the Player's Handbooks of long ago lore.
Anyway, enough of comparing RPGs to the WoW's setting. How can something like Arthas be useful in a role playing game?
First off, it's a compiled and brief history of Arthas from his youth to his latest actions in the north. For a role playing game, this could be something as simple as a guide to detailing out some portions of an important NPC, to giving a player some ideas on personality shaping events to crib and change for their own characters.
Or it could be used as a guide on making a reference work for the campaign's own big bad. Arthus, unlike many villains in the setting, is not some ancient legend come ten thousand years out of sleep. He's not some other worldly entity invading the land. He's a relatively young prince, corrupted and empowered by those energies. A slightly different perhaps to those fighting him, but an important one.
In your own campaign, are there any friends or allies, even friendly rivalries that may have a similar story? That they have been corrupted by power? That they may not even think themselves in the wrong but go about their own tasks with such ruthless efficiencies that those who know them best know that this is not the way to achieve progress and that the cost will be so tremendous that its best to find another way? Friends often disagree, but when those friends are at the head of an army and wielding rune blades, those disagrements may be more than mere words.
Besides the history lesson though, the book hits major points of the condensed timeline of the setting. Are there spots in your own campaign setting that the players can touch? Are there ancient cities that they could have learned at? Are there old mentors that might have taken an interest in the players? Are there rival houses that offered the players shelter during a time of need? These background elements are best used when you can bring them back into the campaign at a latter date. They can showcase the continuity of the setting.
The book also benefits from the setting. It has a list of further reading that numbers many books. Having numerous authors and various ways of interacting with the setting allows the setting to benefit, and suffer, in ways that a setting designed by a single person can't do. For example, the details. The cities. The various races and events. On the other hand, some of the writers tone and methodology is so different that the consistency of the setting may suffer. It's part of the problem of appealing to the largest crowd.
When dealing with players who want to know everything, a careful hand must be used. It's great to get players interested in the setting. Its terrible to get players who think they are the final authority of the setting. Remember, as soon as your players make characters, indeed, even before that, as soon as you decide to use that setting, it's not longer a setting of 'official' only materials. The players don't exist in those official written documents. Some of the characters, maybe all of the non-player characters you make, may not exist in those settings.
When using a setting, make it your own. For those players that insist on having the setting only use official material, you have a few options open to you. I always prefer the first, I tell that player that it's not going to work that way and if they want to play, drop the attitude. Of course others may not want to go that route. Some may want to find out the root cause of the devotion of the 'official' setting. Perhaps they have a character idea so deeply ingrained into the setting that some change invalides it. The degree to which you wish to placate your players will vary tremendously from Game Master to Game Master, and from situation to situation. Handle it in a way that leaves you as the Game Master and with a game you're willing to run.