Monday, December 6, 2010

Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell

One of the comments in the old blog mentioned a trilogy of books by Bernard Cornwell that I would be well advised to seek out. Alas, Half Price books did not possess this Arthurian trilogy, but they did have a few other books by the author. I'm always out to see how different authors handle different things so I was eager to see how Bernard Cornwell wrote, even if it wasn't the choosen titles recommended to me.

Stonehenge as is, would be a great source of material for any game master that was going to add a 'lost world' style elements to his campaign. The author does a good job of making the reader feel the lack of technology, even 'Dark Ages' technology where weapons of bronze and enginnering tasks are vastly more difficult than they'd be today.

In addition, there is a whole pantheon of deities, war, solar, moon, and others, that the GM can easily add to the game.

In terms of broad themes, the use of family is powerful here. The main 'cast' of characters involves three brothers and their father and the relationship between them and how things change as each goes his own way and how these brothers and their influence over others works between not only each other, but the various tribes in the setting.

Superstition and prophecy are also used to good effect. Even when some of the propehcy is specific, it tends to come true, even when its influenced by those actually making the propehcy. The importance of superstition on the other hand, allows one man, even when he is not the epitome of physical perfection, even when he is not the best hunter, superiority over those who would kill him.

Parts of this superstition come in through the reading of omens. Of looking about at the world around and interpeting the events, often trying to do so in a method that's favorable to the omen reader. The fall of a leave, the flight of a bird, the degree in which winter falls. All of these things can possibly be considered signs. For a really heavy handed version of this, watch the movie Signs. Everything can possibly be fitted into a pattern if you have a big enough net.

Nemesis: One of the brothers, Lengar, creates a nemesis out of his younger brother's wife. The next brother, Camaban, continues that nemesis theme, making of Saban's wife a further nemesis. But what does that mean for a role playing game? When 'named' characters are given the shaft without killing them, there are consequences. In a super hero game, this may result in the creation of a new super villain. In a fantasy game, the results can be all over the place.

Is the slighted NPC one that has allies and friends in other places? Are those allies powerful? Even without going to war, those allies of the enemy can make things difficult for the players. This could result in a loss of trade, restrictions from those of the player's allies going through that territory, to outright war against the players and their allies. The theme of actions have consqeuences is powerful here and most of those within the novel get what they deserve.

On the other hand, Saban, the 'hero' if you will, is not a good role model for most player characters, or at least the situations he finds himself in, are not situations that players would endure in his manner. You see, while Saban has a few moments of brilliance, especially when bluffing his mad brother in terms of Saban's skill set, most players would go straight for the throat.

This gets back to knowing the players. In the novel, years pass. This is because of the low levels of technology and the sheer time needed to move stone, smooth stone, and arrange stone. Most players in 3rd and 4th edition, aren't going to want to wait for such events. I mention those editions specifically because older editions tended to have rules and a focus on higher level players having land and construction was often slow, even when assisted by magic items.

Still, the point, know your players and what they want out of the game, is important. If they are anxious and eager to fight and join battle with the primordials and as a GM you keep having them sit around for years running a kingdom, well, there is a clash of taste here. GM's shouldn't give up what they want to run, but if the player's arent' into it, then how long will the GM have players at all?

I have two more books by Bernard Cornwell to go through and while Half Price did not have the Arthurian trilogy, they did have a few more, especially in the Sharpe's series....