Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy

Now that I've finished moving, I've been able to start reading the old books again. With some back pain I've been having thanks to the move, I've actually been home a few days and have had time to finish off not only the Karren Miller duology, but also the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks.

I didn't know anything about either author when I initially purchased the books. Based on the back cover, they sounded interesting and these were new authors. While I still enjoy the occassional Raymond Feist book, it's like watching a movie in an old series, you know where everything is going to go and how its going to play out. With new authors, you get to see if theres anything that brings a different yet exciting persepctive to the type of fiction you enjoy.

So let's start.

1. Background. One of the main characters of the book, Azoth, starts off as a guild rat, almost of a guild that's a combination of beggar and thieves guild, more than latter than the former. At a young age, Azoth already knows how difficult the world can be and wants out. It's his motivation for seeking out one of the 'wetboys', a magical assassin, to serve under him. Background can be many things and in this case, it's the initial starting point for Azoth.

For other characters though, the NPCs have a rich background revealed over the trilogy. Everyone has a background. From the lowest farmer to the mighest king. Mind you, that background information isn't something that's going to just spill onto the game. If there's no point in bringing up various events that have occured to the NPCs, even the important ones, then don't. But if there are areas where the history of the NPCs can be useful in illustrating something from the campaign, something that players need to fight, something that they need to know, or background information that their characters would know, then interject it.

One of the characters introduced by Brent Weeks is Mamma K and at the last book, the readers are still discovering information about her background. Sometimes this may seem jarring if the background is introduced in one big slide, as happens one with Mamma K, but often it can be used to further illustrate the NPCs motivations and to showcase their strengths.

2. Naming Conventions: At the end of 3.5, with all of the Prestige Classes and gaming novels, you couldn't swing a dead cat and hit two words that weren't some type of PrC or organization. Here, Wetboy is a term for assassin. A deader is the assassin's target. Various organizations have different names and it gives the setting a concrete feeling of being inhabited and a deeper immersion for the reader. While providing names for your own campaign, you have to determine how much of that the players will take in. In addition, the scope of the campaign may limit the utility of the names. For example, if the playes are world trotting around, they may not care that the subtle differences between the Grey Lords of M'ohav and the Black Inquisitor Paladins of Kee'this. The longer the players stay in one location, the more of a home it is for them.

In my experience, the Shackled City, despite some of the problems many have with it, benefitted tremendously from having a core city, Cauldron, that had many NPCs and locations for the players to explore. Certain NPCs would provide bargins and discounts in exchange for hearing the players deeds and valor, so that in and of itself gave the players opportunity to disccuss themselves to others and to set their own mark on the setting.

3. Escalading Challenges: Azoth, prior to becoming a wetboy, is tasked with killing the sadistic leader of his group if he wishes to join the trade. By the end of the trilogy, he's killing what is essentially a goddess. 4e is broken down into three tiers to help the GM go this route. While not every campaign needs to end in some grand all struggle like the Lords of the Ring's final battle route in The Return of the King, if the players are allowed to glory in their powers, they should have appropriate opponents. This doesn't necessarily mean an equal challenge but appropriate in terms of what they've striven to be. If they want to be the protectors of a city state, have that site be on land that is necessary for some evil deity to launch itself into the world and have plots and manipulations lead the players from fighting one type of foe to another.

4. Failure is an option: While the players shouldn't be put into situations that they will automatically lose, there may be times when they are either not around to prevent something from happening or when they are beaten through the roll of the dice. If possible, use those elements that the players have given you in their background, or through game play, to try and enhance the defeat in terms of moving the campaign forward. If there is defeat, provide opportunity for latter salvation.

5. Artifacts: While not for everyone's campaign, Brent Weeks scattered a number of powerful magical items through his writing and they are capable of world changing deeds. While not every artifact is necessary for every game, don't forget that these items bring their own background and potential problems with them as well. They can add flavor to the campaign by adding another NPC in the case of intelligent items. They can add new enemies to the campaign if there are those who seek to destory or possess the artifact. They can bring allies if there are those sworn to uphold and assist the user of the artifact.

6. Rivals: Azoth's master is the best Wetboy but he is not without rivals. When Azoth takes over the trade, he too has rivals. Sometimes these are professional rivals, sometimes personal. Don't be afraid to look at what the players are bringing to the table and use it to augment the game and expand the setting. If there is a player with a priest character, have an NPC priest of the same god working to advance in the church heirarchy. On the other hand, have that NPC belong to a different church and be frequently seen doing good deeds for the poor and unfortunate. Players often have different priorities than leading those who may need it because of their adventuring life but it gives the players another perspective of the class.

7. History: Brent Weeks does a nice job of tying everything together that he's introduced in the trilogy by the end of it all. If the GM can make the elements in the first arc of the game match the elements of the last arc of the game, it will give the campaign a greater cohesion. Wizards of the Coast's 3.0/3.5 adventure path involving the old dreaded red dragon, and it's 4e adventure path involving Orcus, are what I'd call noble efforts in this direction, but essentially fail to be tight enough without a lot of rework to match this level of expertise.

8. Pacing: One of the things I didnt' like about Karren Miller's work was that it lacked action. No fear of that in the Night Angel trilogy Here we get enough action scenes and so many beautiful people, I thought I was read1ing a Michael Bay production. Vivid descrptions of combat can help make long term players who are bored of a game systems mechanic stand up a take notice. Provide opportunities for players to use their abilities in ways not normally encouraged can get players engaged with the system. Don't overwhelm the campaign with combat, but don't be afraid to put in those essential brakes for bringing in more information and connections to the setting.

If you're lookining for a world changing trilogy, then Brent Weeks Night Angel may be for you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Changing Nature of Characters

I just finished off the duo books making up the Kingmaker and Kingbreaker by Karren Miller. Skillfully written as they were, I didn't find a lot of inspiration.

The setting is small and there are only a handful of characters. It has its own take of magic and uses a lot of character development to move the story along. Like many fantasy stories of a certain genre, it uses the Farmboy saves the World plot.

So why am I mentioning it?

Asher, the main character of the series, has a bit of a rival for Prince Gar's patronage. This character, Darren, is at first, highly against Asher. He finds Asher a proud fool who knows nothing and takes no time in making his feelings known to all.

However, over the period of the two books, while the two don't necessarily become friends, they do become allies. They move from being hostile to at least being tolerable to one another as well as understanding one another.

A change of character, brought on logically and through game play, can make a nice chance of pace. It shows the characters that their actions do have an effect on the game. It shows the players that by role playing and taking part of the role playing aspects of it, or by good deeds and alliances, the players may effect change.