Saturday, March 31, 2012
Thunder God by Paul Watkins
The short review is that it's an entertaining first person tale of religion, exploration and many of the things that people still struggle with today such as trying to make the past fit the present, trying to live with the current realities and trying to strive for a better future. Paul's writing is crisp and flows quickly. If I see another book in this vein by him, I'll pick it up.
But what about for gaming purposes?
Exploration plays a bit of a theme here. Not necessarily the standard exploration of go to location X, meet person Y, and do action Z. But the different places that are visited by the main characters allow the reader a quick glimpse into some of these different venue.
For example, when starting off in the small village, you get an idea of the daily life. When the character's village comes under attack from raiders and he is kidnapped, the travel to the city of what is know Istanbul, when it was still the Holy Roman Empire, allows you to get a feel that in that time, the city of Constantinople, you get a feel that it's a huge city where people of different races, ethnicity, religions, and ways of way come to trade merchandise from all around the world.
Latter on, when the character travels back, you get a feel for the perils of travel. Still later, as the characters are on a different quest, they are thrown off by a huge storm and wind up in the Americas. Here's they run into the Mayans. It's not that they life there their whole lives, but they get to experience the differences between places. And in so doing, especially told in the first person, it allows the reader to get a peek into what life might have been like in these times and places.
Outside of that, the book, much like the last historical book I read, has a treasure and that treasure is guarded not by a ton of armored knights or by powerful warriors, but rather by its lack of prestige. A small church built into a spire so that its not visible to raiders and one would almost have to know exactly where it was prior to raiding it.
When designing defenses, it doesn't hurt to allow a 'win' for the characters every now and again by having places that no one would know about be unguarded. Well, perhaps unguarded for the most part with the most fantastic and powerful treasures having their own summoned guardians.
Another bit that crops up is coincidence. The main character has a habit of running into those he's befriended, or running into those related to those he knows. These by products of relationships should be useful in your own games as well.
If the players are part of an adventuring group for example and are known for their harsh treatment of their hirelings, this information may wind up coming back to haunt them. On the other hand, if the players have backgrounds that involve other bits, like a fighter who retired from a military unit, perhaps when out on the road and coming across other military units, they meet those who have relatives in their old unit and can trade stories and make a positive impression on those other guards.
Religion crops up another notch here as it does in several of Benard's series. In this case, a king pushes forth a religion and uses tax men, who in some ways, act as a connection between the kingdom to collect taxes and pass laws. In an era where there is no Internet and no method of passing information back and forth securely, safely, or even insuring that the information is passed, these collectors are an interesting option that might make for an interesting change of pace for players to take the roles of.
In the old Legend of the Five Rings, one of the assumptions was that the players can be Magisters. But what if the players are tax collectors or perhaps tax assessors? They are there to list the wealth of the town and make sure that information gets back to their lords and leaders? This can lead to all sorts of side deals being cut out as the players are bribed to look aside from certain wealth in the town in exchange for their own cut.
Thunder God isn't filled with external conflict, but it does press the characters and push the story forward and is filled with enough potential ideas to get a campaign well underway.