Friday, February 3, 2012

Honor Bound by Elaine Cunningham

Book Two in the Tales of Sevrin series by Elaine Cunningham provides more action and revelations in the setting of Sevrin. For those who don't know, this is a novella sized book in a new setting that has some of the traditional elements of fantasy through dwarves, elves and magic, but puts the authors own spin on them through the use of different racial abilities for the dwarves, a deeper link for the elves to nature, and the mastery of magic on the downside but not gone, more like substituted for clock work and alchemy.

Book two is faster paced than the first one. I finished it rather quickly and it has a heavy feel of being 'the middle' part of the story. I suspect that when its all said and done it'll make a nice full sized novel but might not be for those who enjoy the massive super epics of Robert Jordan or others so keep that in mind. At the cost though, I was willing to make the reading for an author whose work I enjoy.

In terms of gaming though... let's take a look.

One of the things I failed to mention last time around about Elaine's previous book in the series, is the Thorn. This is an artifact level item in the shape of a dagger. Its power would be hard to put into game statistics and this is what makes it an interesting item. I've mentioned before that I think in its efforts to achieve 'game balance', that Dungeons and Dragons has wandered so far from the cool that magic items have been reduced to merely shopping components set about to min-max characters or worse yet, to keep characters only equal to the appropriate challenges they'll face for their level.

When running your own games, when possible and opportunity strikes, think about throwing in your own artifacts. These don't necessary have to be world breakers and their nature should be mutable to allow them to leave the players care and control when necessary, but as things to shake up a campaign, they can be quite useful. At some point, the players might even be afraid of the power these items wield. For example, Elric hangs Stormbringer up several times not because he doesn't like the power and freedom the black blade grants him, but because he knows that the blade has its own agenda and isn't afraid to kill any and everyone in order to achieve it. In the Wheel of Time series, Rand even puts away his own crystal sword because he's afraid of the vast power that it contains. These are good role playing elements and should be treated as such when you have players who can appreciate them.

Another thing in terms of world building, is the elves and their communion with nature. Here, their hair and eyes change color with the seasons. It's a minor thing and certainly not worth any 'disadvantage' points in most games, but in some like Hero or GURPS, it might be ranked into with say Distinctive Features. When you can tie the characters into the game in ways that don't necessarily result in higher bonuses to hit and damage or spells of attack and destruction, you have more opportunities to immerse characters and more importantly, the players, into the setting.

Elaine Cunningham sets up the story for a great finished in the next volume and I'll be curious to see where it goes.