Sunday, April 8, 2012

Falcons of Narabedla by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The dollar spinner at Half Priced books is filled with many items of antiquity and modern masterpieces as well as assorted garbage. I'm not the type to shy away from reading a genre or an author because they've had one dog. I recognize Marion Zimmer Bradley's name from the old school of doing things. An author who put out a few single books that were not thousands of pages long. So when I saw the Falcons of Narabedla for a dollar, I snagged it.

Interestingly enough, it's available as an e-book for $2.99. I read the book and enjoyed it so I spent another $2.99 on it. Why? Because I want to support that price point and I want to show case that even older material is worth bringing to this format.  My cover notes that the price was $1.75 from 1979. Not bad that it managed to get a total of $3.99 from me, some of that even going to the author.

The book has more in common with John Carpenter of Mars than a standard sword and sorcery tale. The main hero, Mike, has an accident and that accident takes him from our world of Earth to Narabedla where he winds up in the body of a former tyrant. In many ways, the initial set up reminds me of the old manga Cobra or the movie Total Recall in that Mike is a stranger in this foreign body but has some of the memories, including the muscle skills, to not only be a capable swordsman, but also a master of horse and the unique weapons of this setting.

One interesting though for seeding a campaign, is that almost all of the original inhabitants were drawn from our modern times. I can't be the only person who gets tired of seeing this dark and gritty settings that have ultra-modern and politically correct attitudes strewn throughout them. Why not give them an actual reason to exist? Sure, those equal rights for everyone may fade in the wake of might makes right, but if the ideas and teachings are wide spread enough, it can at least provide the germ of the rational as to why slavery isn't completely wide spread and why people have one common tongue.

It also acts as a good way to bring in a temporary character for someone stopping by for a one shot. Much like Erekose the Eternal Champion, for some reason he is summoned and must do his duty and afterwards, may return to his home. This allows you to pop characters in and out in an unsteady group without having too much worry about the internal consistency or the why of it all.

In addition, where most old sword and sorcery style magic tends to be ritualistic, depending on illusions, necromancy, or summoning with little flash, the 'magic' here is that of the mind caused by mutations in individuals known as Dreamers.

The setting that Mike finds himself in also has another bit. Much like Planet of the Apes, it's actually the Earth but one that Thundar the Barbarian would be comfortable in. A few people live in near absolute power while the rest suffer horribly. In this two-sun world, the tyrant that Mike has taken over was trying to change that but perhaps had other plans within plans as he did so?

The name of the book does come into play because the falcons are artificial creatures. In the book they have blood are are organic, but the concept of bio-technology was probably a little ahead of when the book was written. This semi-science lends the book a slightly different feel that a standard fantasy but it works well.

In terms of these falcons though, one of the things I thought interesting as a side, was that the use of the falcons to hunt is something done in ancient Japan as well as in other societies. The act of hunting is done even by chimps and other animals as a group activity to build alliances and bonds. In the manga Berserk, in the 'Golden Age' arc, Griffen is a member of the knights who is on the hunt with the king and the other nobility, a great honor in and of itself.

These social activities are necessary in an era where there's no interent, no television, no phones and no instant gratification through instant communication. Hunting serves as both a social activity and a means of showing skill either through social interaction or through actual hunting ability.

When looking at your own game, don't forget the little things like hunting. While the players may not be seeing through the eyes of bio-engineered falcons that hunt men, they can still show off their abilities, especially when something unexpected crops up either the dreaded assassination attempt or the wandering encounter. Such events allow the players to really showcase how adventurers do it.

Falcons of Narabedla is more sword and sandal than sorcery but is a done in one that is well worth the $2.99 Amazon is asking for it.