Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sharpe's Fury by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe's Fury continues the trend of Bernard Cornwell to throw Sharpe into all of the interesting parts of history that occur during this time. That in and of itself says a lot about characters and how they get to where they are going.

Looking at some settings like the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, one might wonder how they can use all of the coolest elements of the setting while keeping it consistent. It only has to be consistent to the characters. If the GM wants to run a certain part of the campaign world and then move on to another, it's up to the GM to get the characters moving, not expect the characters to decide on their own where they're going.

The GM can do this through a few methods, depending on what type of campaign the players are enjoying. In a campaign that focuses on dungeons, the easiest way to move the party, is to inform them of a famous dungeon or a ancient dungeon just found where people are either being killed in mass droves as they descend downwards, or are coming out with vast treasure and vast losses making it a combination of meat grinder and Monty haul. Of course what's actually going on may be far different than what people are talking about. Rumors after all, need to be validated.

In campaigns that take the form of the players having a patron, this one's pretty easy. The patron needs the players to leave their regular unit or army and move onto a different location for a different McMuffin of the week.

In games that are player drive, using elements of the character's own previous adventurers or backgrounds, the GM should be able to devise something that ties into the new local he wants to use and something that's in the character's history. For example, if there are undead hunters in the group, rumor of an outbreak of zombies or ghouls, or perhaps hints of a weapon that destroys such entities, can be thrown into the campaign. Those players seeking lost relatives, can hear tales of slavers and other similar themes that lead them to the new local.

Another interesting point in the book though, is night fighting. I know that I'm a child of the city and man, I've been out all hours of the night and because of all the so called night pollution, barely realize that it's night. On the other hand, I've got relatives in Indiana and when I drive out that way, the night driving is a thing of terror resembling something out of Stephen King's The Mist where the only way you know you're still on the road is the splat of massive bugs against the windshield and the occasional dip in the road.

RPG's can negate this somewhat by having races that see in the dark or having torches, magical light and other options, but its up to the GM to note the unusual aspects of night fighting. In some games, if all of the party has night vision, the GM show showcase that potential terror by having them stumble across enemies that don't have it. The benefits of fighting opponents who are effectively blind should be massive and should give the players a leg up.

Also in terms of giving players a leg up, is having them be on an 'inside joke'. Here, one of the wealthy officers, who doesn't like Sharpe, mainly because Sharpe's humble origins, falls for what is essentially a gold digger high class prostitute who passes herself off as a high end woman suffering from the times due to the war. While Sharpe and others know who she is, the officer doesn't. It's a good laugh for the players and a potential piece of information that Sharpe can use at a latter date.

In terms of player ingenuity, doesn't punish them when they use the tools they have at this disposal. Shapre is asked to help another man deliver funds for the blackmail. Shapre takes the imitative and goes to the drop point well ahead of time to scout it out and make plans in case there is a double cross since the last person who went there wound up dead. Its a good tactic. Encourage the players to be smart. Allow them to get the drop of the villains when appropriate.

Another nice touch Cornwell brings, is the city of Cadiz itself in the first few paragraphs talking about the stink of sewage and the direction the wind blows. If you can introduce a city with a few words and enforce that imagery later, the players, even if they only spent a short time there, will come away with memories of that place and a method of distinguishing it.

One of the things that I enjoyed about the book, is outside the war, there are various missions that Sharpe needs to be involved with. One of them involves blackmail as well as the messy business of unfinished business. When NPC's take actions against the characters and those actions are hidden by happenstance, dont' be afraid to let the player's find out later, even if it's years later in the campaign, what has happened. Friendships can grown between those who've been wronged and finding out latter that a man you've trusted with your live has killed a woman you loved or a man you respected can cast new light on such an individual.

In terms of religion, Cornwell shows little mercy to any faction. Here, we have divisions between Protestants and Catholic, using that difference as reason why, for a religious man, it's okay to commit the bloodiest of murders and the breaking of one's word. In most fantasy campaigns, pantheons are used so the opportunity to use a division within a church isn't always available, but that doesn't mean the GM can't use such a schism or break. The Forgotten Realms used one in the Church of Lathander for example.

Despite the year, 1811, the medical field is still way behind current times. For example, Sharpe suffers a glancing blow to his skull and is told in no uncertain terms that "We know almost nothing about head wounds." In most fantasy games, healing is built into the system through magical means. Those few that don't however, often have some harsh penalties. When looking at trying to make a game realistic or grim and gritty, don't forget that players will only put up with so much of that before they make a new character.

Sharpe's Fury, despite having nothing to do with fantasy warfare, provides a wealth of inspiration ranging from character focus and intrigue, to revenge and utility. Well worth a look.