Monday, July 4, 2011

Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

Sword Song is the 4th book in the Saxon Tales written by Bernard Cornwell. I don't know how, but originally when reading, I skipped past book three, Lords of the North and read this one. It didn't effect my enjoyment of it. I simply thought that the author had decided to move forward due to times of peace and went back and read book three latter.

In terms of pacing, action, characters, etc..., Bernard Cornwell continues the pace set by previous books in the series. Even as Uthred grows in age and as a character, his core remains the same. This is both good and bad and provides the readers with a hero is doesn't act heroic and often has his own best interest at heart but is bound by the vows and rules woven into the Danish society.

Much of the things that were brought to mind by previous books continue to do so in this book.

Player Motivation: Uthred is fairly selfish. While he often tries to do the right thing, he is often doing so because that's what he wants to do in the first place. There are several times though, when he could follow his heart in terms of leaving Alfred's service, but in the opportunity provided here, he would have to watch Father Pyrlig killed. And friendship is a huge motivation for Uthred. Players should insure that their characters have some bonds between each other and that betrayal is low on the list.

Atmosphere: Something that can be influenced regardless of the game system, a setting's atmosphere can relay a lot about how the players are supposed to have their character's act. In the times that Bernard Cornwell is writing about, slavery is just another harsh reality that the people have to deal with. Warriors are consumed with making reputation for themselves. Buildings are made of thatch and wood with those being of stone often older relics of the bygone Roman era. A cloud of doom hangs intent over most people because of the constant state of warfare.

Continuity: As the series progresses, things start to change. In order to defend his homeland, Alfred has fortresses build and employees levies of men to hold off the invaders until the professional armies can be summoned. This isn't something that springs up overnight, but is the logical result of having to deal with raiders for years and years and years.

Community: Many things make people come together. Sometimes it's religion, sometimes its simply proximity. But when communities flourish, then specialist can start to flourish. When people don't have to worry about fighting daily for mere survival, then bard and poets can start to flourish. Another example is an island called two-tree island, but there's only one tree there! Apparently that other tree died off some time ago but they're not going to rename the whole island right?

Spies: In an era where communication can be difficult, knowing what the other person is doing, especially in times of war, is vital. When dealing with this branch of historical fiction, it's not that bad. It's not like they're trying to sneak in the old devil whitey into darkest Africa as a spy. A similar benefit was had in WWI and WWII in that most of those Europeans look the same. But in a fantasy campaign where elves and orcs and halflings abound next to dragonborn and tielfling and goliaths? Magic and other forces might be called for.

Hostages: Not even talking about player's characters here, but rather, those that the character's value either due to bonds of friendship of mere utility. How will players react when their loved ones are held hostage? Will they pay and hope for the best? Arrange some type of stealth crew for a rescue mission?

Sword Song has a lot going on and does it in a quick pace. Those looking for Viking action could do far worse then read up on The Saxon Tales.