Monday, July 25, 2011

Vampire Wars by Steven Savile

Onto some rambling now about the actual book as opposed to the evolution of the beasts in the Warhammer setting eh? Spoilers will follow so those who aren't interested in Steven Savile being spoiled for them, read no further.

There were monsters. Real monsters. he had grown numb to fear. A life of seclusion in the temple, of births and naming days, marriages and funeral rites, such mundane things they somehow combined to turn the monsters into lesser evils and eventually into nothing more than stories. He had forgotten that the stories were real.

One of the themes of many fantasy books is an old evil returning. Something that showcases the old adage about those who forget history being doomed to repeat it. And often, it is the shorter lived races, such as humans, that are the cause of this conflict. When you have races that can live for hundreds, if not thousands of years, if not in fact, effectively immortal, the burden of being the most populous race also seems to come with the tag of being the most ignorant. Try to switch things up every now and again. Have it be the elves who long for a return to their former glory. Have it be the dragons who decide that they've given humans long enough to get their act together and are unimpressed with them. Don't have it be humans being stupid doing stupid things unleash the great evil. More to a different venue to unleash it.

Would that it was otherwise, but I am not the law-maker. By accident of birth you came out... female. With no sons your father's line ends, and mine, as eldest surviving male begins. With your betrothed coming to such an... untimely end... well, that is just the way it is. You can't tamper with tradition, after all it becomes tradition for a reason.

The above statement may be true for the background characters. It may be true for the characters who've come before. But say in this instance the character being spoken to was a female player who was a character of no small power herself? Yeah, be prepared for players to do things that go against tradition and roll with it. If the characters are high charisma, good looking engines of social marvel in addition to being powerful figures in their own right, or at least have numerous friends who are powerful figures, their ability to directly impact a setting should be much higher than some traditional princess.

Isabella joined him at the broken window, linking her fingers with his, slick with her uncle's blood. But for the blood the gesture might have been mistaken for an intimate one. Instead it hinted at the darkness inside her: by taking his hand she was claiming him and the life he offered every bit as much as he was claiming her and the power her heritage represented.

Adventurers are a funny lot. I've mentioned it a few times, but in essence, many adventurers are like the main characters from the movie, "Hobo With a Shotgun.", dangerous, homeless wanderers out to set what they see wrongs to right. Individuals with few hesitations about using their physical power to effect the world about them, even if the higher social powers aren't too crazy about that.

But what happens if they marriage into politics? Into the higher social realms? Do they change their ways or use that as a stepping stone?

"The loss of anyone so young is a tragedy we can ill afford to bear. It was only a token, and it cost me nothing."
"Truly, but few would have taken the time to pay their respects to a stranger. It is the way of the world, I fear. We forget the suffering of others all too easily, especially those left behind."

By providing the players some set scenes, encounters where the things going on around them do not involve combat, you can see how they react to more mundane conditions. This allows you to customize further encounters more suited for their behaviors and attitudes. What do they do when they see a wedding? What do they do when they come across a funeral? What do they do when it's a holy day and celebration is full on? These events don't have to have thieves or strange events at them to see the stuff the characters are made of, they just need to present them opportunities to flex their roleplaying muscles should they chose to do so.

The pair had been in Leicheberg for a week. They had rented a small room in a seedy tavern off the central square called The Traitor's Head. The name more than suited the establishment. It was a den filled with iniquities galore making it the perfect place to gather rumors. People's lips loosened when they drank. They talked out of turn. Spilled secrets. Skellan was not about listening to the drunken ramblings of braggarts and the pillow talk of prostitutes.

One of the standards of most fantasy games is the bar as a place to gather information and to gain work. The above passage shows why even in a setting like Warhammer, where the streets run with rats and grime, the tavern is still a useful place of employment. While some struggle mightily against the tavern as a gathering ground for adventurers, don't be afraid to embrace it when its useful. When the players are in a new town and need to know what's going on. When the players are looking for a place to get out of the rain. When the players are looking to lay low in the seedier parts of town. These are opportunities for the tavern to shine with its host of myriad characters.

'Always...too late...' Fischer spat bitterly. He was trembling as the adrenaline fled from his body.
'Not always,' Skellan

The old one too punch relies on the setup that the players have done their absolute best to save someone, but have failed. And then the second punch is that even though they may have failed at what they thought they were doing, they have helped others, perhaps others not as fortunate, out. It sets up the down beat, and then follows it with an up beat.

The further north they travelled the worse the condition of the roads became.

It's a simple sentence, but it carriers weight. Roads and other public concerns, like waystations or road markers, are kept up by taxes. If the taxes are not being used to keep the roads in standard fare, what then are happening to the taxes?

There are more bits I'll quote later but that's a good start. Vampire Wars starts off with a viewpoint of normal characters who are striving to avenge an old wound done to their families by seeking that vengance but in doing so, move onto something far worse. If you're looking for some light popcorn reading about Vampires in the Old World, Vampire Wars is a good palce to start.