Monday, June 20, 2011

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell Part 2!

I still had a few notes running around on my copy of the Last Kingdom so I'll be pulling a few more quotes from the book out. Anyone looking to avoid spoilers read no further.

"I like bowmen. They can kill at a great distance and, even if their arrows do not kill, they make an enemy nervous...It looks easy, and every child has a bow and some arrows, but a man's bow, a bow capable of killing a stag at a hundred paces, is a huge thing, carved from yew and needing immense strength to haul and the arrows fly wild unless a man has practiced constantly, and so we neve3r had more than a handful of archers."

I can't speak for other people's games, but traditionally, the people I've played D&D with, especially it seems 4th edition, couldn't get the simple thought of at least owning a few ranged weapons to try and keep some benefit to themselves when caught at range.

Bernard Conrwell has written enough about archers to provide any long time readers of his work with an appreciation of their skill and in traditional D&D, there is usually some nod to the skill of the bowman. Back in earlier editions, we had the archer and the archer ranger, and in 3rd edition, there was a default fighting style for rangers as is 4th edition.

Its not that its impossible to have a skilled archer, it just seems in my experience that if that's not your specialty, few bother with it. Which has often been a mistake. A round or two of ranged fire against those who don't have it may not kill any of the targets but criticals are a wonderful thing and it beats waiting for the enemy to run out of ammunition on those times when the enemy has ranged weapons and your group doesn't.

"Kjartan and Sven had come to our valley with over a hundred men and now they attacked Ragnar by setting fire to the thatch of his hall."

There are a few other bits I could pull out about Kjartan and Sven. These two were not foes of Ragnar at the start, but due to circumstances, grew into them as time and tide changed their loyalties. They were men who waited and plotted.

In games based in a city, or those with larger ramifications than just what is in that dungeon, the ability to allow hostilities to grow allows the game to develop more character as the setting takes on more life.

In fantasy games, the opportunity for old grudges to flare are numerous. In Warhammer, elves and dwarves live far longer than humans. Throw in other inhumans like the undead, vampires and liches, and you can have grudges that go back personally, not clan based, for hundreds of years.

"They were pagans, some of the many English heretics left in the high hills, and they had no idea that the Danes were swarming over England. They lived far from any village, grunted prayers to Thor and Odin, and sheltered us for six weeks."

One of the things that can be difficult to bring forth in a role playing game, is the isolation of it all. With so much modern communication available to modern gamers, it can sometimes be hard to point out that we take too much of it for granted. That news travels fast is a modern thing.

When big things are happening in the campaign world, don't forget those isolated villages and hamlets. Don't forget to have those who have no idea whats going on in the world out there. And if occasionally some of those isolated places turn out to be like the Hills have Eyes, well then you've got another adventure on your hands already.

"There is one last thing," I said, and nodded at Brida who brought out the leather bag with its gold, jet, and silver. "It was your father's," I said,"and Kjartan never found it, and we did, and we have spent some of it, but what remains is yours." I pushed the bag toward him and made myself instantly poor.

Sometimes players are working on recovering items that aren't theirs in the first place. Sometimes they're doing this as part of the mission. Sometimes they're doing it because they've encountered the enemy before encountering the patron who would've hired them.

When the players have personal ties to the patrons, it might be easier to get them to do the 'right' thing. But when doing so, remember that there are often multiple ways to reward players. For example, 4th edition incorporated a quest mode into its xp factor when it first came out and this allowed the GM to provide a carrot to players looking for something more than just the opportunity to go into a dungeon and get killed. There are other benefits that don't rely on treasure, such as alliances and titles that have their use outside the killing floor.

"I suppose, if you are reading this, that you have learned your letters, which probably means that some damned monk of priest rapped your knuckles, cuffed you around the head, or worse."

One of the things that most role playing games embrace is literacy for everyone except the barbarian. But if you're not part of a wealthy house, one with access to books, where do you actually learn to read? Religion can play an important part in the upbringing of a community and here is another good example of such a service that can be provided to help explain why everyone in a setting can master their letters.

"Give me fifty men," I said, "and they will join my men and at dawn they will attack there." I pointed toward the ships. "We'll start by burning their ships."

The player characters are often a force to be feared in a game. As they rise in levels, their personal power borders on that of a full fledged super hero. When designing goals that you don't want to necessarily be a slaughter of low level opponents in a war field, provide them with solid targets that will damage the enemy more than merely the loss of men. The players have means and abilities well outside those of others in their rank and by providing them with goals that will test those abilities, you can stave off the potential boredom of wiping your way through hours of combat against minions.