Friday, February 10, 2012

No Quarter: A Roake Hesit by John Wick

I have not read any pure fiction from John Wick. I have read a lot of his gaming material though and it rarely fails to entertain or provide value for those funds. No Quarter reads a little like a Sin City novella at a premium price.

When I say premium, I mean for myself in comparison to other products of a similar nature. For example, those who've been reading my blog note that I often point out free ebooks, Amazon's little monthly $3.99 or less list and of course, the various books that go on sale on a daily basis, as well as other bits. Even throwing those out though, this isn't a full novel, but a novella. The PDF weights in a 82 well spaced pages. But electronic editions are tricky. I read mine on my Toshiba Thrive as an e-book on the Aldiko software and it was a little over fifty pages.

I recently made some notes on Elaine Cunningham's novellas featuring the elf Honor and the new setting she's working on with clock work and alchemy. Those novellas were $1.99. Here John's charging $5.00 even for a book that while it comes in either epub or PDF, is too short, in my opinion, to justify that price. The good news is that this isn't some book on a shelf. John can mess with the pricing or keep it exactly where it is if the sales meet his forecast and needs.

But how's the work itself? John uses a little bit of unique language to give the setting some feeling. This is important and can be overplayed if used too much. I've sat in games of Planescape where the GM was overdoing it with almost every word part of the setting speak. I've also seen some people use elements from say, Gary Gygax's Canting Crew to sprinkle their language with 'thug life style phrases.

John's description of the setting itself through the character's eyes is good in providing the reader with how things work in the city and how the characters should work in it. Magic is a known thing and is purchasable and can be used as a 'get out of jail' free card, but that's not something unusual in this type of story where some one knows someone who can do something or has some tech toy that the reader couldn't be expected to know ahead of time.

Now I'll be getting into spoilers in terms. If you don't want any spoilers, read no further. I'll be discussing what I think a Game Master might want to take away from the book and, like my rambling on Breaking Bad, it concerns the characters in the book and how Game Masters can take the characters in this book as cues.

In my blathering of the novel, Prince of Thorns, I mentioned how you treat the NPC's can have an impact on how the setting is perceived. One of those methods is making the setting dangerous. In this case, the main character is the only survivor of a job that has gone wrong. His partners are all dead. By the time the novel ends, his new partners are also already dead. This is a fairly good indicator that life is cheap and that people will come and go. Now the novel is too short and ends before we can see if there are any long term effects of the main character going through two crews so rapidly, but as you plot and pilot the world with characters for the players to interact with, don't get too attached to them.

If there is a reason for those characters to die, and this can range from the players being given a warning by another character in the setting, to that character not being prepared to take on the challenges they did, to that character getting killed because the player screwed up, then let those characters die.

NPC death can have a lot of consequences but in all ways, shapes, and forms, NPCs are very easily replaced and sometimes, it allows the GM to push the NPCs in a different direction. If other people GM anything like I do, when a new source book comes out, you might get that gamer ADD and want to use it right away. A shake up of NPC deaths' may allow you to showcase some of that material. For example, if you get a new source book on a Viking style land but the players are pretty comfortable where they're at, imagine if the village/town/etc... they're at comes under raid from some of these vikings who retreat back to their home. In their wake the vikings leave a lot of dead people and capture a lot of slaves. If the players are of the heroic sort, they'll probably go after those vikings and bam, you're rolling on the random encounter table for far north adventurers.

But GMs also make characters. If you get a book on rogues and it has all sorts of options and other interesting tweaks for rogue characters, you can have the current thieves guild crushed by some new upstarts. Of course this only becomes an issue if the players are allied with or know of the thieves guild. Perhaps they've used some of the thieves guild men for information, trading ill gotten wealth or other minor services like escort service through a maze like neighborhood. Using such tactics serves to put the players on alert.

In this short story, Roake has an ally who does everything on the up and up. Fair trade in magic and other bits is this individuals game and if you don't have the funds for it, you're not getting anything. If you do have the funds and more, you'll get treated well and more importantly, fairly. This type of character is often valued by all sides because no matter who you are, if you do right by such a character, they'll do right by you.

Outside of the character types, there are a lot of nods to the noir genre here. The characters are continually finding themselves thrust into new situations caused by other characters deciding to take things into their own hands. These double crosses happen frequently enough that it can be part of the genre and is another reason why having a 'steady' ally or patron or merchant to buy from can be so important.
No Quarter sets the stage for a fantasy Sin City and I'll be curious to see if the novellas will be collected, put into some type of RPG format or are going to only exist as a fiction line on ye old Drivethrurpg and RPGnow .