Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shape's Gold by Bernard Cornwell

I've quickly become a fan of Bernard Cornwell's material. It is easy to read and makes good popcorn fiction light yet satisfying, leaving the reader wanting more, and when we get it, devouring it eagerly. I haven't read many of Sharpe's books in the series but thanks to the destruction of Border's Book Store by modern science and market forces, I did manage to pick up a few of them on the cheap.

Sharpe's Gold stands as a great potential adventure for any Game Master that wants to rip it apart.

1. Sharpe: He's a rogue. Well, not really. He's a damn hell of a warrior who uses a sword that he's not supposed to and has an Irish ally that uses a seven barrel gun that he's not supposed to. But he gets the job done and gets the girl. These elements make him prime character material.  How many Dungeon Master's have seen the player who picks the Whip Sword or some other obscure weapon that looks cool? That's Shapre. Getting the girl? Well, we could look at various heroes who get the job done ranging from Conan to Bond, but that's also Sharpe.

2. The Gold is Gone. Regardless of how awesome the task or how mighty the reward, Sharpe is sure not to keep enough gold to do anything other than continue to serve. Why you might ask? What's the motivation if he doesn't? Sure, he receives acknowledgement on some occasions from those who are his 'superior' but the real thrill for Sharpe is in doing the job and having some reward for those who are with him. If he's got all the money and happiness he needs, why would he ever adventure again? The loves of his life are temporary either through his own transient nature or through their own untimely death. His riches go to fill the armies coffers, pay for his friend's expenses, or to win women some freedom.

3. The Action is Fast: Sharpe is not a patient man. Sharpe is not invincible. Shapre is often captured and thrown into prison or into a state that most players would blanch at. These failures only serve to hone Sharpe to an even more dangerous weapon whose vengeance is terrible to suffer yet entertaining to read.

In Sharpe's Gold, the mission Shapre is given is to retrieve Spanish gold.

In theory, it's to give to the Spanish government, but well, at the time of this book's writing, the little guy of France has managed to beat Spain so badly that there really isn't much of a government so what is all that gold for? None of Sharpe's business but by England he'll get it. So it starts off with much the same bravo that many an adventure has. Sharpe being told by his patron "hey, go get this."

The villains are not all obvious and indeed, are named men. This is a common theme through the Shapre books that his foes are greatly skilled, intelligent, and often, well connected men. This works well as we don't want Sharpe to face a bunch of weak willed fools to whet his blade on.

But here, the enemies are the sometimes the ones he's supposed to be giving the gold to. This provides a bit of contrast in that his 'official' yet unofficial orders are to get the gold, but to return it to his patron regardless of who steps in front of him.

In some instance, imagine a group of adventures that has the gold. They have enough to set themselves up as powerful agents in this fallen country. They have enough that should they choose to support one faction or another, that the person they provide the gold with, will become powerful in and of themselves, perhaps a robber baron or border prince. Here the fun is seeing what the players will do with the opportunity. In some ways, this element of the unknown is missing from most adventurers simply because most authors don't have the intestinal fortitude to give the players those options anymore. Part of it is probably related to the whole Adventure Path or Mega-Dungeon madness. If the players take option A, then the rest of the series is fairly useless so we don't want that to happen now eh?

Sacrifices have to be made. Sharpe isn't willing to forgo friends or country, but pretty much everything else is fit to be sacrificed in the name of completing the mission. This makes Sharpe a dangerous man and if most adventurer's don't follow that motto, well, I've been playing a very stranger version of Dungeons and Dragons for years where players are ready to wheel and deal to make sure that their own goals come into the light.

Sharpe's Gold is a short read and filled with beautiful women, swing swords, and a series of small victories and defeats that can inspire some serious gold hunting, regardless of the campaign.