Thursday, September 27, 2012

Beyond The High Road by Troy Denning

Because I have several Half-Price Bookstores within driving distance, I’m rarely at a loss for reading material. Time on the other hand… but reading material? Inexpensive reading material? The Half Price store on Touhy has a nice dollar spinner rack and I buy a book or ten from it every now and again. It’s one of the reasons I have a hard time paying some of the prices that Kindle books are marked at when not on the Daily Deal or the monthly deal.

In this case, Troy Denning brings us Beyond the High Road, a Forgotten Realms novel set in the Forest Kingdom known as Cormyr. This is one of those that I believe is set firmly during the 3rd edition era and while it has a lot of bells and whistles and some efforts at political materials, is really a good quick popcorn read. I finished it in a few hours and enjoyed it for what it was.

When I look over at Amazon, it is available as a Kindle Book , a little over $5 bones. Not a bad price but I’m more happy with the $1 paid from the ole rack.

The novel does bring up a few interesting threads that can be fun when throwing them into a campaign.

1.       The Old Evil. Yeah, overplayed extremely but if it’s a well known old evil, that usually works out better in my opinion that some whack job monster that is some ancient evil that no one has heard of or bothered with before. In those cases I wish the author would just go to a “NEW” thing. “Yes, I have brought about never before seen enemies and powers to deal with you. Forget Orcus. You’re my bitch now.” Or something along those lines.

2.       Politics. While the book is certainly no Game Of Thrones, Troy does bring in the problems of having a Royal Church, one approved by the royal family, when the setting is home not to one faith, but home to many deities, some of which have actually walked in the country before. It adds a nice touch when the idea of having a royal church is first introduced and then the feedback, both from other religious organizations wondering when they can get their official royal church and from organizations already well established that quickly seek to hold onto their current power by shutting out any competition.

3.       Old Friends: While Cat and her man Grigori aren’t the main stars or even really anything other than a cameo here, it’s always nice to see a character well known in another series in the same setting make a pop up here and there without taking over the story. If you have some NPCs that the party knows are in the area, don’t go out of your way to hide or not-use them but make it clear that those individuals are not there for the story, just there to keep the continuity of the setting alive.

4.       Magic Items. If you’re playing in a high magic game, use it. There are several individuals here who use the Cormyr armory to armor themselves in magic. It makes sense in the context of the story because the Forgotten Realms is a high magic setting and the Forest Kingdom is known for its war wizards.

5.       Slap Magic Down. On the other hand, when magic becomes too easy, there are often things in the game that are designed to get around those limitations. Sometimes it’s a well placed Dispel Magic spell or an Anti-Magic Shell or a monster with immunities to various common spells or a monster that has a high magical resistance or a mirror like ability to reflect attacks. In this instance, the monsters can absorb magic. It’s a good trick that doesn’t make them exactly completely immune and doesn’t take place instantly but does bring up the limits of magic.

6.       Magic Commonality: One of the problems with magic follows the old saying if all you have is a hammer, all of your problems become nails. In this instance, the head war wizard finds himself, while not helpless, at least far less able then he should be given the resources at his disposal. In a society where magic has replaced technology, imagine what happens when it fails. It’s a similar theme we see in modern takes when electricity or physics fail and man is forced to a more primitive life style. Whatever is making you too comfortable then becomes a crutch you must endure all to save.

7.       It’s a Dangerous World Out There. One of the things that draws the characters out, is blighted farms. Initially its thought that the orcs, often a dark and cave dwelling race, have brought some type of fungus based blight to the lands they raid due to the various locals they inhabit. In other venues, the characters come under attack by goblins. Most Dungeons and Dragons settings are not for the faint of heart and a good reminder of that every now and again with ‘random violence!’ is a good way to remind the characters.

Troy Denning made Beyond the High Road a quick read and while the Royal Family does come across as a bit spoiled and out of their element in a market where A Game of Thrones and other novels try to emulate a deeper and richer complexity, the magic and relationships of the characters in the book to each other make it worth a read.