Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blood Of Ambrose by James Enge

In between working like a slave for a company currently under sale, I also game, paint, and read numerous forums and blogs.

On one of ye old blogs, I stumbled across a book called This Crooked Way by James Enge.  Sounded right up my alley but didnt' sound like the first book in the series. After a trip to Half Priced books, as well as a visit to Borders with a 40% off coupon and Amazon, I was the proud owner of Blood of Ambrose, This Crooked Way and The Wolf Age by James Enge.

Good enough and time to start on the series.

Blood of Ambrose isn't as gritty as any of The First Law series or the books that come after it. It is not a ground breaking series like the Wheel of Time was thought at one point or A Game of Thrones currently is (thank you HBO).

However, that doesn't stop it from being a fun read. Taking some cues form Arthurian mythos and bits of fantasy, James Enge provides some interesting characters in interesting enough situations that Blood of Ambrose is well worth a read.

Below I'll be talking about some of the bits that I found interesting. If you wish to avoid spoilers, read no further.

"In all his life he had one friend, and now that friend was dead. What was an empire compared to that?" pg. 136.

Okay, a cheap start I know, but perhaps I'm reading too many blogs and forums where the basic question of why do characters fight and die for each other. It's not a question I gave much thought to when I first started gaming. My first role playing experiences were with Marvel Super Heroes. It was pretty much the standard that you'd rather die than abandon your friends in the middle of combat with the Red Skull or Thanos.

As I moved into fantasy games, that wasn't always the case. As I played with more and more people though, it seemed to fall into the category of 'dick players'. If everyone in the game but you dies, you're not a hero, you're a dick.

Sorry, but whose going to travel with you once its known that you've left other player's characters die, especially if the new characters are made by those same player's? Sure, you can say its the players being dicks in and of themselves, daring to use that foul meta-knowledge that your character values his own life so much that he'd abandoned them but hey, the other players are going to make their decisions based on what you've already done and meta-knowledge be damned.

I'm not saying that if you as a player had your character say, "Hey, this is crazy. We can't go in there and expect to live." and then stayed behind and didn't do everything in your power to help others out. But if you're the mage or other high level caster and your combat spells consist mainly of those which get you and you alone out of a tight situation? Yeah, good luck with that next group of adventurers wanting to travel with you.

"But no one knows him as well as I do. And I know not only that he's breakable, but that he's broken." pg. 145.

In making characters, one of the standards seems to be that everyone has feet of clay. Morlock ,one of the main characters of the novel, and the hero in many ways, has a lot of faults. But those days of being inactive and doing nothing are behind him. When players are designing their characters, I encourage the GM not only to point out the obvious faults with them, but to note how those might come back into the came to haunt her. If the player is dead set on making a drunk whose will is so weak that even in a game with no penalties for doing so, that they fall to alcoholism when drink is merely mentioned, they might be taking it too far. The clay should be something that the characters are working against as they start the game, not something that they are so rigidly defined by that any NPC with a roll of 15 or less on 3d6 knows that weakness.

"The sunkillers had taken an interest in our world and intended to conquer it." pg. 149

The whole thing here of another race deciding to take over the world is one that bears some mentioning not necessarily because you want to start the players off against such seemingly epic foes, but rather because it indicates that the width of the campaign is larger than the pond they're currently in. They should want to fight their own Sunkillers some day and to take their own steps "beyond their world" so to speak.

"When was the last time any of you guys heard any news from Invarna?" pg. 156

One of the hardest things for me to remember as a GM, and something I have to enforce with that same authority, is how little modern communications played in the settings we're often playing in. In order to enforce some of that feeling, it's good to have news come in from outside via caravans and other travelers. But sometimes, especially when the players are seeking to stir up trouble, they might ask, "Hey, when was the last time anyone heard anything about X." and because modern communication standards aren't in effect, they should get the benefit of the doubt. The opposite is also true of course...

"All that is left of that once was Urdhven is a slender thread of ego trapped inside that slab of meat." pg. 181.

The main villain at this point is the Protector to the king. He's a man obsessed with taking over the lands and ruling. He appears normal enough at first until his head is cut from his body and he still lives. When such things happen, well, there has to be something else behind it no? It's a good way to set up the otherness behind some of the villains in the campaign and to hint at things to come down the road.

In the same vein,

"He says there is a danger we aren't facing-"
"Yes, I know: the Protector's Shadow, Urdhven's magical patron." pg. 208.

When the players do manage to take out one villain, they may discover that he was just a puppet of a stronger villain. When you face cultist, their leader is a necromancer, who gains strength from demons, who gain strength from their patron Orcus, and in between the cultist and Orcus are numerous encounters and challenges ranging from champions and servants to unique monsters and environmental issues that require more than just brawn and power to overcome.

"...among the crystalline shards was one_ long, swordlike, and dark_ which fell into Morlock's outstretched hand. It was tyrfing, the accursed sword, its blade like dark basaltic glass glimmering in the fitful light of the stormy evening." pg. 182

Not every game models every genre or even every weapon within a particular genre well. The first thing I thought of when I read about the "veins of glowing white crystal within the dark blade" wasn't D&D, it was Rolemaster. The blade has more of a magical nature than a mere bonus and that made me think of an essence multiplier or addition to the power points a character would gain from holding it. Keep the game you're playing in mind as you read, but don't be afraid to let bits you read find their appropriate place among other game you might enjoy.

"this time I got there in time," pg. 190.

Players fail. It happens in almost every game and every genre. In fiction, the writer has the ability to give the characters a second chance at doing what they failed to do. When possible, take a nod from this and allow the players to enjoy success at something they failed at before.

"that satisfied some of the Protector's Men; others, who knew or had heard a truer version of the fight in the Great Market, quietly deserted." pg. 206.

You've got this awesome villain but he's such a scum bag that if people truly knew what a vile source of scum he is, they would quickly leave him but yet the players have found him out and proven his vileness! What to do. Depending on the nature of the outing, have some loss of power occur. If you don't you're taking away from the player's victory. Why bother exposing the villain if there's no effect of doing so?

"You don't sign peace treaties with your friends, Wyrth; you sing them with your enemies." pg. 212

Wow. What a piece of advice for a game that may have too many foes for a typical party to overcome. when dealing with things like war, as I mentioned in my ramblings of the Heroes, there may be too many foes for the players to overcome. In order to cut back on sheer bloodthirst and rampage, hinting that the players may want to capture enemies and resources so that they may barter with their foes for terms of peace may be a way around the death toil that could otherwise come around.

"It looks as if you're going to have to continue those lessons in the Sight." pg. 249

One of the things that always brings out my Internet fighting form, is talking about game design versus game play. I've seen Champions characters built with 350 points that look nothing like Champions characters that were played from 250 to that 350 point total. Game play in and of itself indicates a LOT of what will happen in the game. Worried that wizards and clerics and druids are just too damn powerful? Allow them in the campaign and see what happens through, you know, actual game play. Sure, they may want spell X, Y, and Z, but the campaign may call for them to use A, B, and C. The theory of game design and optimal choices may be vastly different that what's useful for your own campaign.

I'm not saying ignore advice and bits of wisdom you come across when seeing how people deal with a particular issue, but understand what your own campaign issues are prior to adapting someone else's solution. It may not be a problem in your campaign if Clerics are the most powerful class in your campaign and they don't need nerfing at all.

"Suppose that the magical adept is not, in fact, Urdhven's patron. Suppose that Urdhven is merely the dupe or pawn of this adept, who uses him to distract us from some under taking of the adept's own." pg. 250

There may be times when the foes of today's game are the allies of tomorrow's game. There may be times when the depth of the characters you've developed to interact with the players go beyond merely killing them. The motivations of some of the cast may clash against the motivations of others of the cast. In those times, allow the characters to grow through the actions of the player's characters and the world they inhabit.

There are a few others bits within Blood of Ambrose that are worth quoting and thinking about, but the Patron is flowing  strongly and it's well past the old sleepy time form me.