Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Joe is another one of those 'modern' authors who I've wanted to get around to reading for a while. Since I first heard of him, he's published the remaining books in the first series and started a second series. Time flies I tell you. You never know when you'll be able to get around to things.

The Blade Itself has a series of characters who don't have feet made of clay. Rather, the clay stops at oh, say the neck. This can be solid reading for those who don't like their heroes to be perfect or for them to be prestine but in a role playing game, it has to work with the party.

For example, one of the characters, Glokta, is an inquisitor who used to be a great warrior until his capture and years of torture that broke his body down. The character suffers limitations on movement, eating, and other areas. In a game like Hero or GURPS where those limitations might come in as a reward somewhere else, it might be useful. In a level based game where such issues are not rewarded? Not so much. It's one of the primary reasons why D&D doesn't have a critical hit system that targets limbs.

Now if the GM and the player want to have the character role play out some issues, like talking about a limp or walking slow without it actually effecting the game mechanics, that works in many situations. Most often the other players will roll with it and perhaps even throw in their own jibs when the character has to put the run on. "No problem running from the dragon eh?" In other instances, it may not work and in those instances, you need to know why the player wants to run such a character in the first place. If it's just a role playing challenge, then there is no need to 'reward' them for it. If they want something in exchange, then it's not for the right reason.

But that wasn't why I wanted to post about the book. Rather,..

"This is better," said Logen. It was a simple, solid-looking sword, in a scabbard of weathered brown leathers. "Oh yes indeed. Much, much better. That blade is the work of Kanedias, the Master Maker himself."..."Consider it a gift. My thanks for your good manners. (pg. 151-152)

The idea of a character getting a powerful weapon as a gift is often frowned upon in many games. After all, if they didn't earn it, what good is it? But if you look at some famous examples, like King Arthur, pulling the sword from the stone didn't exactly require the squire to go and do battle.

Peter Morwood wrote a series, The Book of Years, that started off with the Horselord. The main character there is given a gift of a fine sword whose blade has to be continuously refitted to new hilts as the old ones wear away, the Widowmaker.

If you don't like the idea of powerful weapons and items just happening to be in a monsters lair, go the opposite route. Have these items become gifts to those that the ones already in power wish to befriend. Have them become gifts that are 'fated' to be used by the character. After all, owning a nifty magical weapon and mastering it are not quite one and the same as the Sword Bearer by Glen Cook finds out.