Monday, March 14, 2011

The Wolf Age by James Enge

The third book featuring Morlock by James Enge, The Wolf Age is the best in the series so far. The cover is a powerful piece, featuring Morlock surrounded by werewolves with his magical sword and a flaming brand. I think the switch to darker colors for Morlock's clothing helps set the tone of the character better than the old red-blue on the previous covers.

I'll be discussing spoilers from the book below so if you wish to know no more, read no more.

"Sorry it's so heavy - can we change it for silver, somewhere?"

"Silver," said Hrutnefdhu faintly. "Are you still crazy?" pg. 144

"You should stay back. This hillside was a silver dump, I think. There may be some of the metal in these dust clouds." pg. 207

Morlock's capture by the werewolves has left him without funds and when he acquires some, in the form of copper, the fact that werewolves, indeed, a werewolf based society, would have absolutely no use for silver, comes to the forefront of things. When designing those alien societies and those monstrous societies, what standards would become the norm?

Would vampires outlaw the growing of garlic? Would they outlaw mirrors? Would they damn all streams and rivers to prevent running water?

On the other hand, such a scenario as the werewolves brings up a great opportunity for a heist style game. The werewolves don't want others to have the silver because its a weapon against them. Others, like the players, would want the silver because its worth money. The werewolves are allowing it to go to waste. In situations where silver may be slowly accumulating in a werewolf community, it probably all winds up in one spot. What happens if the players know of that spot? Ocean's fourteen?

Morlock's casual assumption that he would fight alongside Rokhlenu when the time came eased the werewolf's mind. pg. 172

Today your blood was shed for me and for these others. I will pay for that blood with the blood of your enemies. Blood for blood: that is the only law I know. Pg. 190

Rokhlenu, I will have blood for my friend's blood.
Is this what Hrutnefdhu would want?
I don't know. It doesn't matter, anyway. I am myself, not him. pg 330

This comes up several times. Morlock is the type of individual who when he befriends someone truly does so. His motives are that they are now his chosen family and blood is thicker than water. It makes him a great ally to have and a terrible enemy to betray.

In many ways, if the players can work out this type of alliance among themselves, it will help insure smoother game play while at the same time removing some of the potential fun game play of that nature involves itself with. The important thing though, is that everyone is on the same page. If you're bringing a new player into the game and he's unaware of the political alliances and ramifications the group has within its own dynamic and he assumes everyone is buddy buddy right from the get go, unless he is deliberately playing a naive character, the inevitable treachery such games encourage will not be seen as a good thing.

It's okay to have backstabbing and villains and morally gray ground in the campaign as long as everyone knows what the game is about. Rare are those who will week after week crawl into dark places to steal treasures of the ancients with people they can't trust at their back.

"Archers!' he thundered with what was nearly his last breath. "Sardhluun boat outside the fence! Kill all but the steersman. He's one of ours."

It was sheer bluff. pg. 180

In 3rd and 4th edition of D&D, skills came into their own a bit more than in previous editions where secondary skills and non-weapon proficiencies were the standard. Bluffing your enemies can be a skill check in the later editions and if the GM feels that the situation and role playing attempt deserves it, reward those actions in older editions. For those GMs of older systems, if you want to encourage this type of role playing effort, make sure that it works occasionally. Players will pick up their cues from what the NPCs do, how other NPCs react, what they do, and how the situation changes accordingly.

If they keep trying to use skills like bluff, intimidation and information gathering with little or no results, they'll stop doing it.

"I hate this place," she whispered, when they were fairly out of earshot. "I hate the stinking dirty water and the bugs in summer and the rickety lair towers and the mud and the wobbly boardwalks. But it is mine. It is mine. They gave it to me, after my last husband died; they made me First Wolf for life. I won't let anyone take it from me. You can go if you want." pg. 185

Possession and ownership of a thing provides responsibilities and loyalty to that thing, even if initially it wasn't something that was wanted. Give the players a run down keep that has to deal with raiders who used to use it in the winter, with orcs who used to stomp past it in the summer, and with politicians who seek to reclaim it once the players have put the hard work in or restoring it and see what the player reaction is.

"You don't want that swill," said Rokhlenu. "try this!" He cracked open the jar, poured a stream of purplish red wine into the bowl, and proudly handed it to Morlock. pg. 242

Character flaws are a great thing for a game master to use to further complicate the lives of players. Morlock, in addition to having a fiery blood, in addition to being a great swords master, in addition to having magic unlike most, in addition to have weapons of glass capable of cutting through armor, is a drunk. He didn't mention the drunk part to his friend, only that he had a preference for wine. So when its presented as a gift at a wedding, Morlock starts down the long downward spiral again.

Morlock opened his right hand and shrugged pg. 244

I know that seems like a weird thing to throw into the mix, but in terms of characters, both PC and NPC, having characters who not only have distinctive looks, like Morlock does, and distinctive catch phrases like Morlock does, goes even further when they have distinctive physical movements like Morlock does. This can be something done at that table.

In one game I ran, one of the players was a half-orc monk. Prior to every combat, the player would physically stand up and crack his knuckles loudly and smile. He didn't do that with his other characters and so it became something that character was known for.

He turned back and tried to find Iacomes' shop, but he lost his way in the twisting streets and finally had to give up.... "The streets shift. They say nothing is ever in the same place twice. All sorts of weird entities come and go." pg. 268

Towns and cities and forts should have their own distinctive ticks and tricks about them. The little things can make even the most boring village come to life.

"If he does, I'll buy him enough wine to stay drunk every day of his life, even if he lives to be a hundred." pg. 295

Morlock has not hidden his age, being hundreds of years old, but few believe him. In the old Kane novels by Karl Edgar Wagner, the same was often true. There may be rumors or hints of greater age and power behind the hero, in this cane Morlock and Kane, but the belief factor is low. This should make people underestimate them. Of course other ancient entities like outer planar creatures, ancient undead, and other near immortals won't make that mistake, but the standard folks in the setting? Why would they be expecting the middle aged man to actually be a powerful wizard?

There was a silence, and Wuinlendhono said with amusement, "Are you proposing that we eat fish?" pg. 216

When looking at different cultures, especially monstrous ones, what is the standard? For werewolves, apparently fist aren't even considered part of the menu despite the ease of access. This may be a cultural bias that has something to do with events in the far past. For example, several religions forbid the eating of Pork products. Ah, delicious pork products he said eating his ham steak and eggs..

Someone had crept into the den while Morlock was drunk, killed his friend, decapitated him, and escaped - not just unharmed but unchallenged. pg. 327

Morlock is far more dangerous than Hrutnefdhu so why would an assassin come in the middle of the night, kill Morlock's friend and make off with it?

What would happen to the book if indeed Morlock was killed? What would happen if the GM threw a skilled assassin that made all his rolls and killed all the party members through a combination of poison and stealth? The current game would end.

While that may be a fitting end, providing punishment to the heroes, in this case Morlock's friend's death, is more of a reminder of what can happen when vigilance isn't used. In a game, perhaps the players lose something of value? Perhaps one of their friends suffers retaliation for something the players did? Failure does not have to equal death unless the Game Master is set on having the players roll up new characters and to be frank, he could waste a lot less time by simply telling the players to roll up new characters.

Brum silently prayed to his gods in the dark, the Strange Gods. It was the Coranians who had first spread their worship through the north. Brum's people in the old time had persecuted and tortured and robbed and murdered the Coranian prophets. But the Coranians worked certain miracles that impressed the people deeply and led them to believe in the Strange Gods, even as they continued to rob and murder Coranians. pg. 344

So where do the religions in your world originate? In a setting like the Forgotten Realms, there are home grown deities, deities that arose from the ranks of modern man, deities from other setting, etc... Deities that are new to the setting should have a path that others can trace if they choose to. Such information might come in handy.

The manifestation of Death became disorganized and ceased to represent an individual identity.

Even in long ages, Death cannot die. Death continued to stand at the end of every road, the darkness framing the light of everything that lived until it lived no longer.

But Death who had been one of the strange Gods who had once been a woman, who had walked arm in arm with her sister Justice on the western edge of the world and talked of the way things were and the way things should be, that Death was gone.

In this limited sense, Death was dead. pg .447

In speaking of the gods a little more, what do the gods actually do in terms of the organization of the setting. In the 4e printed adventure path, Orcus seeks to take over for the Raven Queen. She is the god of death. Orcus the god of Undeath, well, demon prince of it at any rate. Does fighting the gods have unnatural effects on the setting?

Neil's the Sandman did a great job of illustrating some of the weird things that can happen when an aspect itself suffers as happened during the initial launch of the series where the Sandman, the master of dreams, is captured.

As the players continue to rise in level and the unthinkable becomes thinkable, in ever edition (yeah, Odin's tough but those 400 hit points in 1st ed ain't an infinite amount), think about what happens when the gods die.

The Wolf Age by James Enge is well worth a look to see how a standard adventurer may act in a supernatural setting where the werewolves aren't masters of horror, but just another civilization with its own ups and downs where the gods are interfering.