Saturday, August 7, 2010

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

I'll be pulling some quotes and ideas out of Joe Abercrombie's latest book below so if you're not interested in spoilers, go no further.

It seems like just yesterday I was talking about revenge as a motivator. Here, a woman, Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, who is apparently betrayed by her employer is left for dead but manages to survive the assassination attempt. But does not do so on her own.

Rather, she awakens looking a bit like ye old Frankenstein Monster with various surgeries performed on her near dead body. Nothing to augment, merely to pull the body back together. This is done by a benefactor who has his own reasons for doing so.

In that area, the GM can show some mercy to the players. If the players are facing certain death and it's not really through any fault of their own and only a few poor dice rolls or if the GM is feeling merceful, have outside sources save them at a high costs and for a price afterwards.
 but does not survive without being marked. This being Joe Abercrombie, the hero is scared and less than perfect.

But it does add an interesting point in the search for vengance. While Monza is saved, she then acts as a patron for a group of assassins who are to help her in acheiving her revenge.

In terms of player opportunities, one of the characters is named Friendly. He rarely talks and is obsessed with numbers, often expressed through his rolling of the bones. These are little hooks that can be used to hang a quick identifier on. It allows you to quickly get into the mind of the character.

For those seeking to change their player, look for the opportunities in the way the story evolves. In Best Served Cold, one of the characters, Shivers, is a norseman who left the north, forsaking a blood fued against the Bloody Nine. Here, he tries to be optimistic and positive and keep a positive spin on things. His employeer, Monza, has her own theories about the way the world works based on her own experiences, some of which are quite negative, but it isn't necessarily that which wins him over. Rather, it's being taken prisoner and having his eye put out by a hot brand that turns him from an optimistic sort to a pesimisstic sort whose anger at his own employeer at the end, casues him to betray her.

Speaking of Shivers, he also provides a nice constrast to the rest of the cast in that he is a non-native to Styria. This is many ways, is similiar to the standard adventurer who goes where the adventure is. It allows the GM to explain bits and pieces of his world to the other players who may actually be from that part of the setting, but may not be familiar with it as their characters could be. The GM can give those natives bits of background information in e-mail or typed form to provide to the non-native at their own lesiure.

In terms of battle environments, there is one scene where in seeking her vengance, Monza is battling in the court yard around a massive statue known as the Warrior. It becomes damaged in the fight and it is the statue, not Monza herself that winds up killing her foe. Think about adding things that at first may not seem like they can be used to be part of the scenery, but with a few skill checks or brute damage, can wind up being the method of victory.

In my own playing days, back in 2nd edition, I was playing a wizard and the party was fighting a dragon. The thing had such a massive Magic Resistance, that I was essentially useless until I asked the GM about the roof of the cavern that we were fighting in. He allowed me to use my damaging spells on the roof to knock forth the various long hanging stones which struck the dragon like daggers. That was well before all of this 'stunting' advice and environmental awareness was being talked about. He was just a good GM that would let you roll with the situation you were in. It may not be orthodox, but try not to box the players in with their options.

In terms of plot and letting the players in, Best Served Cold opens up the scale of the setting to Monza. She is approached by a man from the Union, a banker at that, who explains to her that there are forces at work and those forces on the standard field tend to be reresented through different factions and that if she does not ally with one of them, she will not survive. And yet here a third faction presents itself, allowing Monza to actually stay out of the 'game'. This allows the GM to provide the players with an idea on how large the scope of the campaign is without actually plunging them into if they do not wish to go. It pulls back the curtain a little.

Lastly, think about the names in the setting. Monza was the leader of the Thousand Swords. A pretty spiffy name. Thanks to the constrant stream of warfare in her land, the times were known as the Years of Blood, but then because of all the looting and burning, move on to the Years of Fire.  The Forgotten Realms does this with the naming of the years, each year having a different name. It can provide more context to the campaign setting.

Best Served Cold is a done in one that features several of the characters and themes and setting from Joe Abercrombie's first series, The First Law, and is well worth a read if you like your heroes dark and their enemies darker.