Saturday, October 20, 2012

Conan: The God In The Bowl by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord

Continuing to go through the old collection as I'm trying to organize things. Not easy as I tend to get distracted a bit too easily but nonetheless ongoing.

Conan continues his adventures in this collection of the single issues. Cary Nord does a fantastic job of illustrating the series and the colors are fantastic to view. This volume again presents stunning visuals if nothing else for any sword and sorcery campaign. Kurt provides some interesting interpretations of old stories and introduces new characters to the setting.

I'll be discussing specific spoilers below so if you'd rather not have any of that, read no further.

In terms of characters, the Bone Woman and her servant, Janissa are probably the 'big news' here. The Bone Woman was retroactively introduced in the zero volume and in many ways would be a GMNPC where the character is too powerful and can do no wrong. Thankfully her actual use is minimal here.

Janissa is... I don't want to say a poor substitution for Red Sonja, but... she's a red head warrior (and not in every illustration mind you, in some its brown hair) woman whose origin is tied into rape. More elements of the supernatural here? Yes. Similar enough to be a substitution? I'll let people more learned in the whole Conan mythos argue that one.

The thing I thought would fit with most campaigns though, is that the Bone Woman offers her services to those who seek her out. However she does make those who take her services work for her. This makes her a perfect patron for those campaigns that use an employer model. This can be anything from "Go kill this guy" to "retrieve this artifact." What do the players get out of it? Training, unique skill sets, magic items, spells, or other trinkets? Depends on the nature of the campaign.

Part of Conan's tales this volume involve a trip to Hanumar, "once a stronghold of learning and still a place of ancient power." It's necessary to go there because of the Eye of Tik-Pulonga, "Dark and tainted beyond measure." See, one of the few places that Eye can be destroyed is in Hanumar so off Conan and his new patron and allies go.

In standard campaigns, there is often little need to consider how to destroy magic items. Rather the opposite is often sough. But in looking to destroy magic items, it presents something of a different challenge not only in getting to the destination, but in keeping the item from those who would abuse its powers.

Are there items in the campaign that in the right hands would do vast harm and must be destroyed? Are there ancient powers out there that seek to use those powers for their own gain? A patron allows you to add those things in relatively simply.

For example, in older editions of AD&D, there were tables that broke spells down into their rarity. The more rare the spell, the harder to find, and the more to purchase, it cost. Having a patron allows you to sprinkle those things into the game with a ration for it.

In newer editions of the game, magic items became baked into the math that characters required to have. However, their accumulation then felt artificial since they HAD to have them. This mean you had to sprinkle them through the adventurers by 'chance' or allow magic shops on every corner. The patron is a somewhat mix of the two in that there is a source of magic but isn't one that the characters can necessarily just 'buy' things from.

There are other elements in The God In The Bowl worth reviewing but the main story itself is more about the build up of suspense. Its something that I've rarely been good at unless I'm 'on' so to speak. The building of good terror can be accomplished in a lot of ways, the peeling of the onion so to speak, but for most games these days, unless that is the genre you're playing in, such as Call of Cthulhu, which is excellent for this type of scenario, the pay off may take too long. There may be too much investigation. There may be too much questioning.

At the end of the day, Conan the God In The Bowl provides more fantastic visuals and some interesting monsters in the tales of Conan the barbarian.