Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brunner the Bounty Hunter by C. L. Werner

Brunner the Bounty Hunter is a collection of a trilogy of books; Blood & Steel, Blood Money and Blood of the Dragon. I'm not quite sure what the actual break down is in each book as most of the tales are short stores, framed by an author in the fantasy Warhammer setting who knows Brunner and sells tales that Brunner tells him.

C. L. Werner's work is solid here but may suffer a little from the length of the stories. With most of the contents being short, there isn't a lot of room for character development, and while the overall story continues to build and change and evolve and we see everything in previous tales move forward, it's a much different feel than reading a standard trilogy where there might be dozens of characters with their own goals and motivations.

On one hand, this allows C. L. Werner to put Brunner into a lot of situations and brings a lot of action to the reader. In many ways Brunner would be perfect for a weekly cliff hanger style show where Brunner continues to hunt down bounties and we continue to learn a little more about him.

On the other hand, there's not a lot of supporting cast and well, I can only read about how fierce Brunner looks a dozen times before yawning at his bad assery so to speak.

I think overall I enjoyed C. L. Werner's Witch Hunter series a little more but know that in many ways, Brunner is far more appropriate for gaming inspiration thanks to its shorter tales providing more material to a potential GM.

I've often mentioned that bounty hunters are my favorite type of character in games. They have a quick and easy hook that the GM can use to bait the campaign with a variety of bounties, rival hunters, and organizations that make use of such individuals. The ring of details that can be included varies from informants, bars to gather information in, and the law men who sit back and allow the hunters to do the leg work.

These law men may vary tremendously in terms of their authority and their need. In the standard, Brunner receives many of his 'quests' from a judge. On some of his travels while getting those bounties though, Brunner comes across situations that are tasked of him that come from a different authority. In one instance, he's invited by a noble to kill a were wolf. Normally a man of Brunner's status wouldn't even be allowed near the man, but due to the noble's need of seeing the creature captured or killed, Brunner is allowed into the inner circle.

A short job like this allow the character to brush up against society he might not normally be involved with. Unlike the manga Berserk, where initially Griffin is able to rise in rank and ascend to the highest political levels, the jobs Brunner does are so quick that he's not around long enough to necessarily rise or want to. Staying in one place limits the type of jobs he could take after all.

One of the things that Werner does well, is provides a larger backdrop to the setting. For example, when discussing Brunner. "It was said that the bounty hunter had spirited a buccaneer captain from the sanctuary of the pirate stronghold of Sartosa, that he had brought down a traitor to the King of Bretonnia in the court of an Arabyan sheik, and that he had pursued one notorious smuggler to the depths of Black Crag and returned with his prey from the bowels of the goblin fortress."

In that bit alone we get a brief flare of how large the setting is, and how fierce Brunner is. It's a nice bit of reputation and the GM should allow players to craft their own reputations and incorporate things they've down, as well as things that might sound like things they've done. Exaggeration is always a useful tool to have.

Another bit to consider when running characters who thirst for bounties, is that they will be spending a lot of their time in places knights, nobles, and other aristrocrat races, like elves, would probably avoid. They would need to do this in order to gather information, and it allows the GM to occasionally throw them a small bone in that they may recognize a bandit, a mugger, or a smuggler with a bounty on his head. Of course the players need to be secure in their own prowess least they fall prey to ambush or trap themselves...

When looking at where the enemy might flee to, try to incorporate already existing bits of the setting into it. For example, in one story, Brunner has to hunt down a man known as Bertolucci. Turns out their family, like many, owned villas in the country, but waves of beastmen and orcs drove the nobles out of those homes. But sometimes better the unknown then the sure death that waits if you stay... These little bits allow the players, especially those who are already familiar with a setting with a large fan base, such as Warhammer, Greyhawk, or the Forgotten Realms, a chance to enjoy it.

Collecting bounties may provide some challenges to characters. For one thing, if they are employed as more than just assassins, a lot of their victims may have to come back alive. This is something the GM can play on the characters with by providing bounties of various costs that may be worth less than half, or even a fourth dead. Keeping the characters on their toes, and actually providing them with a sound reason for keeping an enemy they've defeated alive.

Another benefit of having a setting like Warhammer, is that little things can be done to customize it further that incorporate the already existing elements. For example, "Farmers in Bretonnia would train hogs to hunt truffles and they held that the noses of their hogs were sharper than any hound. He was counting that the snouts of the Empire's swine were no less keen. If there was one thing a pig enjoyed eating more than a truffle it was a snotling."

Snotlings are a race of goblinoid in the Warhammer setting and by putting that little touch of character there, it provides just a touch more of being somewhere that isn't Earth in a dark ages setting.

Another benefit of running a bounty hunter style campaign, is that the players should be on the alert for the unusual. Brunner is often noted for having a great memory and always examining his surroundings. "I have both three-toe and the one with the clubbed foot here. There can't be two orcs with feet like that rampaging about in your father's domain.'.

A fine example of knowing what to look for and where to look for it.

In terms of these unique elements though, Werner doesn't pause when detailing out monsters, bandits, dragons, vampires, or others. His vivid imagery showcases an interesting bit though when compared to gaming. There are several enemies Brunner quickly bowls through thanks to the use of his crossbow pistols, his actual pistol, and other weapons he's mastered. But from a quick read, you might not know which foe was supposed to be which. Treat every enemy the players face as if it was the preordained winner in the fight when describing it. The players won't know who is a minion and who is the real deal.

Werner is also entertaining. The Warhammer setting is strange in its use of fire arms and dueling and knights and wizards. There are often unspoken honorable agreements about how such things are to be used. But he does manage to capture what I'd call an Indiana Jones moment here when a famous duelist challenges Brunner, the bounty hunter goes outside and shots the man. It's entertaining but also gets the point across that most often, unless restricted by some limitation, Brunner, like many players, will do what he needs to win.

Keep that in mind when coming up with adversaries and foe men. The players might not be bound by the same rules of honor. They might be so slipper on the morale chart that those around them keep a wide distance.

But at the same time, unless you've completely changed the fantasy setting you're running, this should have the occasional benefit allowing them to get the drop on a knight, on a noble, on an elf, or another variant whose honor is held in such high regard that they would never think the players would sink to some dastardly level.

At the same time, the players, engaged in bounty hunting, may be involved in locations that only the most vile murderers and scum may call home. For example, "Will you be needing more salt, master?' the boy asked, a tone of eagerness in his voice. Even at his tender age, he had witnessed death often enough, and heads of criminals adorning pikes set before the town's main gate were commonplace." Remember that no matter how shinny the armor of a knight, that knight is still probably ruling over peasants and dispensing harsh justice that may take the form of entertainment for the common folk. No television, no radio, and no form of instant communication with people around the world makes for some people who in their limited experience have already seen a lot of things that others would consider truly horrid but to them is mild entertainment.

There are some more bits I'll pull from Brunner, but I'll leave off with the recommendation to pick it up in trade paperback as the individual books run quite a bit higher.