Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dissolution: More historical mystery

Dissolution by C. J. Sansom is the first book in the Shardlake historical series. After I read Dark Fire, I managed to score a copy of the first book at Half Priced, the old british version published by Panmillan.

Quotes will be taken from that version.

In the book, one of the most important aspects of the historical setting of England is religion. This takes all manner of aspects in the book. This ranges from the personal, introspection of the main character Shardlake, a man who once wished to be a member of the clergy and was denied due to his hunchback, to churches owning land, trying to pass laws, selling beer, and having vast sums of treasure that make them a target for others.

“The skull of St. Barbara,” Cromwell said, slapping the casket with his palm. ‘A young virgin murdered by her pagan father in Roman times. Form the Cluniac Priority of Leeds . A most holy relic. ‘ He bent over and picked up a silver casket set with what looked like opals. “And here- the skull of St. Barbara., from Boxgrove nunnery in Lancashie.’ He gave a harsh laugh. ‘They say there are two-headed dragons in the Indies. Well we have two headed saints.’

Human remains of the famous and the holy were often assumed to have power that could be granted to those that would go and see them. Fakery of such objects were not uncommon during the Dark Ages and in other eras. The Game Master could easily give such items minor powers for a campaign that only work for those who are of the same religion or could easily send the characters on a hunt for ‘true’ relics as opposed to those that are fake.

The real trick would be to discover which ones are real and which ones are fake. Depending on how robust the skill system is, for example, 3rd edition had a few skills that might work with some different skill checks. 4e might make it into a skill challenge or even a minor ritual, “Divine the Relic” or something of that nature. Other editions can be hit or miss, but the fun in those cases is in having the players hunt down the information when they can’t solve things with just a skill roll.

In terms of the main character’s lack of acceptance by the church, his deformity is noted as a restriction. If all men are made in God’s Image, having one who is not a whole specimen stands against that theory and none who suffer any physical deformity were allowed into that church where Shardlake studied.

“To the left , against the far wall, stood the usual outbuildings- stables, mason’s workshop, brewery.” Pg 40

A church, especially a monastery that may not be inside of a city, is not necessarily one building nor it is necessarily only occupied with those of the church. In this example, the church actually sells beer by exclusive contract to the town. They have more employees than actual church members. These little touches can add a lot to a campaign when dealing with the role of religion.

For example, a fighter may not actually be a member of the church, but may still believe. A rogue may have done work for a church in past, selling their liquors and perhaps developing a taste for their special brand of liquor.

Like the sequel Dark Fire, I strongly suspect that Dissolution will contain more strong writing invocative of the era.