Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Heroes by Joe abercrombie


I've read the previous books written by Joe Abercrombie with much enjoyment. There is a lot of character building going on with a lot of emphasis on people as people as opposed to heroes or high morals. In some ways, much like the Black Company in its gritty take of standard high fantasy elements.

I'll be discussing some of the material below, so if you want to avoid spoilers, read no further.

Names: One of the characters in the book has a weapon called the Father of All Swords. Now this isn't the first time Joe's come up with some great naming conventions. His term for Death? The Great Leveller. I snagged that right away from my old character's fullblade as it fit him. Weapons don't have to be magical or unique one of a kind for it to have a name.

In addition, when you see the name of the book, The Heroes, it makes you think that its going to be about heroes right? Well, that's another nice trick. The name is the reference point for the actual circle/ring of stones that is called The Heroes because its supposed to have famous heroes buried under it. Another great use of the 'gotcha' by Joe.

History: The Father of All Swords had several names before it was the Father of all Swords. While the history isn't a significant part of the book nor does it take up much space in telling, the same is true for role playing games. Giving weapons a history gives them depth. Even if it's just another NPC telling the player that he heard of the Dreaded Black Wand of Agnash when it was called simply the Death Kiss of Korrus, before the dread lich Agnash had it.

Hoarding Resources: One of the things that gets a lot of talk on the internet is the '15 minute adventuring day' that is supposed to have been I guess, an everyday thing in older editions of Dungeons and Dragons. You know, go into the first few fights while expending all of your spells and abilities and some how finding your way back to territory safe enough that you can just rest and recover your abilities while the bad guys sit around wondering who just broke into their home and killed uncle Bob?

Since the Heroes is set during war time, there's no such thing really as 'break off' the engagement. You beat the first wave of soldiers? The next wave is up. You have a paladin in the party with super high AC? The archers are targeting dexterity. You have that great fire and poison resistance? Its force damage. The point being not that war is a great excuse to punish your players for their hoarding of resorces, but to get them to engage the system, to push them to the limits, to give them the Die-Hard experience.

It also helps break up the standard if that's what your players are actually like. Perhaps its just a reduction of wandering monsters in later editions. Perhaps its the GM not being forceful enough with the players to get more done in the alloted time. Perhaps its the diseased thinking that D&D is a online game where you can just retreat to the town at any time.

But its easy to break players out of the habbit by forcing them to actually fight beyond what they think they can handle. Minions and specialized forces in 4e with roles appropriate to test those defenses the party is lacking in can push the party. Forces that have a lot of hit points and ability to soak up damage to keep the party pinned up until the party finds that their enemies have reinforcements.

But this is only useful advice if you're not out to murder the characters. Don't get me wrong. My expectation as a GM is that if your character does something stupid, that's not a kid glove, it's a boxing glove with a horseshoe that I'm going to punch your character in the jaw with and as Drago said in Rock IV, "If he dies, he dies."

Part of this, for me, goes into building a world that's bigger than the character. If the party of first level adventurers thinks they can take out a family of hill giants and their cave bears because I mention the hills are thick with such monsters, then the party needs to adjust their thinking and try to focus on what their characters can and more importantly, cannot do with innate abilities. Some clever thinking, hiring of mass groups of henchemen, and control of the land could make it possible for a low level group to perhaps survive such an encounter, but the thinking that just because its there means its level appropriate? Out the window with that thinking.

The internet is full of great builds. Its full of useful advice for Max-Min play. It is sadly lacking in talking common sense as that seems to often fall under the umbrella "The GM's job is to take it." so to speak. To allow the players utter freedom to act without consequence. Perhaps I'm too old school in my GMing mentallity but if you charge a group of orcs thinking that they're all minions because if they were anything else they'd be too powerful, well, it's a good think that the DDI has a great online character generator cause chances are you'll need it.

Well, I seemed to have wandered off the deep end there away from the idea of using war as a method of mixing what players expect a standard encounter and resource measurement to be to a rant against some modern thinking in D&D I've seen.

Hang in for next post where I'll talk some more about the actual book!