Friday, January 13, 2012

The Folding Knife by K. J. Parker

The Folding Knife is a powerful story well told. The thing is, while I enjoyed it immensely, I can't really point out too much that works in a standard Dungeons and Dragons game.

And that's a problem with Dungeons and Dragons. Make no mistake, I love D&D, but 3rd and 4th edition did really one thing very well and that's allow heroes to explore dungeons and battle monsters. While I'm not advocating that earlier editions were all about controlling the fate of nations via finances or that leadership was more that a feat, it was a 'name' level bit and that you had to work with hirelings, mercenaries and more, there is some truth to that. Sure, it was a bloody free for all in many ways and it didn't really work in many aspects but it allowed a GM who had players that wanted a different sort of end game, to not worry about killing Orcus to save the multiverse, but to pave roads and place more catapults onto the castle in order to protect it from the invading orcs.

Others have spoken more eloquently than I have on the 'end game' of the editions and I believe that while looking at opportunities for 5th edition, a hard look needs to be determined in what types of games people can play with it. If it stays focused on the slaying of monsters and the gathering of treasures, it needs to work damn hard to make sure those treasures are magical again. 3rd and 4th edition did a fantastic job of breaking things down into their numeric components but on the way, held firmly to the road by game balance, lost a lot of the magic of the game. Things like getting a Ring of Wishes or Blackrazor at 6th level, as it's old 1st ed stats were, unless you had a GM who loved to wing game balance, were not happening in 3rd and 4th. And maybe they need to.

Another benefit of the non-Epic fight game ending, is that like in the Folding Knife or hell, even in say Beowulf, it allows for some time gaps to fill in the years. Some of the Paizo adventure paths in Dragon magazine felt extremely rushed in terms of what the players were supposed to do, when they were supposed to do it, etc... Mind you, they always offered things that players could do to fill time, to fatten out any levels they needed due to missing a sequence of a dungeon, etc... but I remember reading one of them where the characters are out and about and as they return home, their home base is literally burning! Yeah, not a lot of downtime there.

Another aspect of the Folding Knife that is fairly not D&D, is that the main character, Basso, is a lot like a GURPS character or a Champions character. While he certainly has many numerous positive traits, he has several negative ones, including an inability to use his left hand, which suffered serious injury in an attempt on his life. These negatives and positives might be 'role played' and indeed, 2nd edition was famous, or perhaps infamous, for using role playing penalties to counter real game mechanic bonuses. I'm not certain how 5th ed could get around such an issue, but the fact that so many games build them into the core system should provide some insight as to how it can be workable.

While not a short story or one of my favored popcorn reads like those books in a Forgotten Realms or Warhammer series, The Folding Knife is a done in one which means I can now move onto another book or perhaps one of those epic series. If you're looking for something that is gripping, well written and shows how another end game style might look, then The Folding Knife is for you.