Friday, September 9, 2011

Okko the Cycle of Earth by Hub

The second book in the Okko graphic novel series, Okko, the Cycle Of Earth, continues the travels of the demon hunter Okko and his motley band of allies.  The illustrations are strong, crisp whil still having tons of detail. The setting comes alive under the artist here and the feel of the setting is made clear through careful placement of little details.

The story line here works fantastic for a RPG and could be lifted whole cloth. In short, I highly recommend anyone running Oriental Adventurers, Legends of the Five Rings, or other manner of games where a little Samurai Sunday attitude is called for, look it over. This isn't to say that a standard fantasy game of Dungeons and Dragons couldn't swipe the plot by changing a few things.

The book starts off with an introduction to a city. The youngest of their group, Tikku, acts as our outsider. Because he is not well versed or travelled, his mentor must inform him, and through him, the audience of the importance of places and events going on around them.

For example, in the city they are at, it's a celebration for the first day of winter. Floats are carried on the streets, dragons manned by multiple people dance around, masks are worn and "every kind of outlandishness is allowed."  We discover that Bakuyaku's nicnmake is "Black Poweder City" because the seven monastery range has a lot of despotis of the stuff around them.

Okko himself becomes involved in greater events by having a man seek him out and die in front of him from an assassin's attack. His ally, Noburo, seeks to hunt down the assassin, but during the celebration, the tightly wound city with all of its masked inhabitants makes this a difficult task.

In looking at such a set up for your own campaigns, this is one of the reasons its good to have a calendar of the holidays and what those holidays mean. If people are all out celebrating in the streets and the streets are crowded with floats and other obsticales, it can make for a more challenging race against individuals that are seeking to escape. It also makes things more colorful and takes away some of the 'generic' that some settings can suffer from as they all seem so similiar.

Now on the hunt for the assassins and for the person that was identified by the slain courier, Okko begins wandering the Seven Monstary Range looking for the Raven Mon. This allows the characters to learn about the setting and details of background even as they suffer some random encounters.  It also provides some background on the senior monk as he used to be a student at one of the monastaries.

This is another useful trick when a player has information in his background about where he came from and what he did. Some players put it there for active use, some to just have a grounding part of their characters. the players will generally give you a good idea of what they'd like done with that information and pulling a little of it into the game when appropriate is never a back idea.

One of the things the monks encounter is an oracle who provides information, but that information relates to what they are seeking only on the very edges of that mission. This is a fairly standard method of providing some information, to not hand out the exact answers that are sought, but to provide perhaps more details to the overall scheme of what the players may be involved in.

Inthis instance, no search could be complete without visiting all seven monastary's, and only at the end, learning that "An eight exists, perched atop the roof of the world. There dwells an order of illuminators in their hands ap riceless collection of books! nly the powerful and the prvileged few have access to this immense source of knowledge... or even know of its existence..."

That bit right there does a few things. It takes the knowledge that is commonly known, that there are seven schools, and expands it. It then names the location, the location of which, is known to their guide as "oneo f the highest mountaints known to man! I know none fool enough to dare is heights. And I do not know the path." This bit of player knowledge is like having a player talk about a demon inhabited realm or a blasted wasteland. It may add a little more inherent danger in the trip, but overall, it's not going to stop the players from going there.

Here though, the author provides some hope in the form of the Sanctuary of the 47 Geysers. By placing these unlikely found but named locations throughout the book, the author is cementing the setting. By allowing the players to visit these locations that are few and out of the way, he is providing color and character to the landscape. This is a useful trick for any game master and not every encounter has to end in a fight. The wonder of the setting should also strike the characters as much as the monsters.

When Okko does meet the samurai that the courier died trying to name, the meeting is like oil and water. Okko, being considered a ronin and an outsider of the standard civilization of his time, is not necessarily respected in the manner that other Samurai are. This happens in role playing games all the time as adventurers are generally not land owners and only have themselves to be responsible to. This allows them to do and say things that might get say, a farmer a trip to the gallows but to which an adventurer might reply, "Do you really want me to kill the garrison and leave you vulnerable to the giants in the area?"

When the whole group comes under attack, the monk is taken out in the first volley of the assault. This is something to remember for the Game Master when playing monsters that have intelligence or tactics. In pre-4th edition games, the wisdom is go for the spellcasters.  Nothing like a group of fire balls or turning efforts on the undead to quickly undermine a horde of minions and monsters. To counter this, don't act like the monsters are stupid. If a lich, an undead spellcaster, is among the villains, he's going to know exactly how powerful an opposing spell caster is and want that creature dead.

Eventually, when they do find the forbidden libraries, they discover that they are there too late. The library has been ransacked and its men killed. What they learn though, is that their enemies started off as healers but seeing the land plunged into such deep war, decided that they should be the ones to rule as they could, using their forbidden studies, control the dead of all the clans. With the land in such a constant state of warefare, they are not left wanting for raw supplies.

This is part of the appeal of running a campaign during a time of trouble. If everything is normal and the characters are merely looters, then their overall impact on the setting, as great as it may be, is one of the outsider. If on the other hand, the setting is alive and thriving with its own series of conflicts, things that no one adventurer will be able to solve, then it allows them to gather into different places and impact the setting in different ways. They are not necessarily merely dungeon crawling, but choosing sides in a multi-angled war. If they choose to do so. After all, with so many dying on the battlefield, that just means more empty castles for looting right?

The whole thing comes to a conclussion as Okko and his allies hold down an old fort against the legions of undead and their spellcasting masters.  It has very much the feel of a Seven Samurai, a group of skilled individuals against a horde of nameless enemies. Okko and his allies are only able to claim victory though the use of a surgecial strike against the leaders of the undead.

Which is something that the Game Master has to look out for. Unless you're dealing with a group of brand new players, the characters will often go after the puppeter, not the puppets. You have to be ready with appropriate challenging counters if the villains are clver enough to have them. If your bad guys aren't expecting a scrying, teleportation, assassination attack, then you're not playing at mid-high levels of D&D with thinking villains. Prepare and defend appropriately, but don't provide everyone the exact same type of defense. Vary things up. Provide differences.

Okko the Cycle of Earth provides investigation, strained alliances, exploration, and combat against dark masters insistant that their rule would be better for the land then those currently ruling.