Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Crooked Way by James Enge

Since I already own the first three books by James Enge that feature his character Morlock, I figure I'd delve right into the next one; This Crooked Way.

Unlike the first book, this one isn't told from a single viewpoint by a single character. We get several first personal views of what Morlock is like, as wel las numerous interludes and a few of the standard third person chapters. Overall it works but doesn't work as well as I've seen in other places including Usagi Yojimbo.

Below I'll be pulling some quotes out of the book and there will probably be spoilers. Read no further if you'd care to avoid that sort of thing.

"My name is Vost. I was Lord Urdhven's right-hand man. His cloest friend. You killed him. Destroyed him. And now you come here." pg. 17

When players are fighting the good fight, their foes may be more than just the ones that are immediately in front of them. In a military based battle, there are numerous chains of command and if the players are focused on one level, the highest level, those below the military commanders the players slay, could one day seek vengance.

"They called it the winterwood. The trees stood on high rocky ground; it was cold there, even in summer. the trees there, of a kind that grew nowhere else, flowered in fall and faded in spring. They resembled dark oaks, except their leaves were a dim blue and their bark had a bluish cast." pg .54

Providing the local forest with some unique color goes a long way in establishing the players need to pay attention to things going on around them. Providing unique elements to the campaign severs to provide some unique game play options to the setting. The standard of classic fantasy are that way for a reason, but that very ample soil leaves plenty of room for customization.

"Yet you wander from place to place... like some kind of magical tinker, when you might command fear and respect the way a general commands an army."
Morlock shrugged irritably. "Why?" pg. 71

One of the things that's interesting about Morlock is that his ability as a maker allows him to manufacture a wide vareity of devices. If he so choose, he could set up shop in a major city and become a world reknown power. But those things doen't interest him. He's an adventurer you see.

When you have players who are interested in the actual adventuring process, of going forward for the experience itself as opposed to the gold and glory, you're able to throw a little more into the campaign. Gold and glory are great motivators in and of themselves and can be useful carrot and stick approaches, but when the players want to adventure on their own in the first place, this makes the GM's job easier.

"That's the one law the Riders carry with them through the lawless hours: bring the bodies out. For every body left in the woods after dark became the subject and sustenance of our enemy, the Boneless One, the Whisperer in the woods." pg 109

When possible, think about the long term effects of the magical and other unnatural elements of the campaign. For example, if there are undead in the campaign, either zombies or skeletons, those that can be crafted from the dead, or ghouls or those that feast on the dead, why are there corpses?

"The crowd's horror burst into panic. I wasn't the first person to rush for the door, but i wasn't thel ast one either." pg. 131

This one is a simple one. Not everyone in the setting is hard core ready to fight to the death and ready to kill for whoever tells them to. When things from beyond creep into the game, try to recall that the players are a step above most of those they encounter and that whats normal for them, may seem especially strange to the 'normal' people in the setting.

"A shape flew between Besk and me- a darkly luminous green bird whose form would not quite come into focus as if it were wrapped in a dark mist. It flew around Besk's head three times. With the first pass his eyes closed; with the second his head slumped; after the thrid he fell to the ground. The green bird flew back to where it came from: the door of the smith. Morlock, standing there, caught it in a glass bottle and closed the bottle with a stopper.
"What is that?" I asked.
"Sleep," Morlock said. Pg. 138

One of the things I like about 4th ed is that it's all about 'reskinning'. Its all about providing your own flavor and your own description to abilities. I've seen this done in the past as well where Dragon articles would encourage you to customize your character by describing special effects that your spells had about them. For example, elves using magic missles that were living wood or frost mages using frost missles. The problem happens when players try to take the extra step and throw in some other abilities that the core ability they're reskinning doesn't have. Allow description to run free but don't allow it to provide additional game mechanics unless you're doing some stunting like found in Exalted.

Morlock shook his head. "You go on," he said. "I have to find Tyrfing." pg. 153

A character with a unique signature weapon isn't going to leave it behind unless he absolutely has to. On the other hand, as Morlock revoers his weapon less than a page latter, he shouldn't have too do that too often. It's an abuse of the character concept and if the GM is dead set against that type of character with that type of weapon, he shouldn't allow it in the first place.

There are few thing more angry than a player told he can use X, Y, and Z and watching as X, Y, and Z are nerfed to whatever the GM prefers. Take the high road and just disallow it in the first place.

"May I offer you something, my boy? A glass of wine, or perhaps something stronger?" pg. 288

One of the thigns I haven't really touched on is that Morlock is the son of Merlin. And they're not really on good friendly terms with his father trying to kill him and all. Family can provide many a useful plot hook to the campaign and is of far greater use to the GM than some loner with no family and a mysterious past.

In this case though, the father is pushing the envelope by offering Morlock wine. One thing I may not have mentioned is that Morlock is an alcoholic. While it doesn't feature prominently in this book and didn't overall effect the previous book in the series, it's part of Morlock's character. Unless you're using a point system that has the characters roll to resist vices or be rewarded for falling into them, in games like Dungeons and Dragons and Rolemaster, this should be trapping or surface flavor.

"Morlock walled away quickly. He had the feeling that Trannon was intent on doing something that would wreck everything Morlock had done." pg. 352

One of the things about the real world is that you can't save everyone. Some people don't want to be saved. Depending on how the GM introduces such concepts to the game, this could involve alcohol like Morlock himself, drug use, or enuii. People may struggle to overcome their base instincts but cannot do so. In some instances, if the players are heroes higher than Morlock whose involvement is almost more of an honor thing, such as good friends of such a character down in the dark, they may be able to acheive a true intervention. But as Hollywood celeberties prove time and time again, having all the money, wealth, and adoration of millions might not be enough and the dark roads may be calling.

This Crooked Way continues the adventurers of Morlock with James Enge providing some solid humor and a stoic character that is at once heroic and self contained. His unique weapon and James take on the magic of that setting provide solid twist and turns along with a unique bestiary.

Those looking for fantasy entertainment that's not too high strung and isn't thousands of pages long with dozens of carefully created NPCs will enjoy it.