Thursday, November 22, 2012

Conan: Cimmeria Volume 7

So we get Timothy Truman, Tomas Giorello, Richard Corben and Jose Villarrubia this time around for the collection from Dark Horse Comics, Conan: Cimmeria Volume 7.  There's some great art this time around as Conan learns, as others before him have, that you can't go home again.This volume felt... cleaner than previous ones. While there is some callback to other events and events here do become incorporated into the ongoing bit in their own way, the whole felt more accessible and stood on its own.

The art is top notch as well. Richard Corben does a bang up job of bringing the adventures of Conan's grand father, the one who in many ways set him on his path, to fantastic light with great coloring to provide some differences between the 'current' story and the flash backs.

In terms of adventure seeds, alas, much of it is old ground.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished versus Rewarding Good Behavior. On the one hand, you don't want a campaign to become stagnant and only have elements flow in one direction. The world is larger than the characters, larger than the current backgrounds. Those who adventure forth without bothering to learn legend and lore may find themselves stepping into deep waters.

In this instance, Conan's grandfather interrupts a ritual where a mother is slain and her two children are about to be. Turns out those kids were werewolves but the twist is that one of them is 'good' and the other bad. The further twist? Turns out that it's not the wolf that makes the one rogue, but his humanity. O the irony eh?

The other one, the 'good' one, winds up saving Conan and relates that tale to him, even coming back later to provide further assistance.

Giving the game layers and multiple options, allowing it to evolve based on the player's actions, even when their good intentions have bad results, should effect different parts of the campaign differently. Those that are pragmatic and suffer thanks to the players actions may think of them as foolish do gooders who aren't ready for the world. Those that are always on the side of right and righteous may want to take them under their own wing, may want to provide them their own tales and background of how decisions they themselves made went wrong and how they are seeking to undo those negative effects now. Not only does that provide the players an option to bond with some non--player characters, but it also allows the Game Master to sprinkle campaign lore and legend through the use of the NPCs.

I mentioned that this book isn't heavy with ties to previous material. On the other hand, Conan comes across Caollan, his first lover, in chronological order, introduced in the collection Conan 0 although I think printing wise that comes later. The ability for writers of all material to invent the past is one that can be useful when adding details to NPCs and cities and other elements of a campaign. Tread carefully when doing so with the players though. It doesn't hurt to ask a player if they mind you doing X and adding it to the campaign. Many will look forward to seeing what you do but some are very protective of every aspect of their character.

In addition to Caollan though, she is being hunted by Horsa, one of the Aesir who Conan claims to know. Now on one hand, this provides a bit of deeper context to the fighting Conan does and Conan, while I won't say goes out of his way NOT to kill Horsa, it does provide some interesting things to consider when running a campaign. For instance, if two friends come across each other at opposite ends, how far will they go? Will one drop the job? Will they both try to finish it without getting in each other's way? Will they go straight for each other's throat? The impact shouldn't be limited to just that incident though.

For example, if the players are known for being ruthless to former allies, what will future allies think of that? Some may find it appropriate and be prepared for future eventualities including meeting the players again. Allow things to evolve organically.

For the environment, Conan winds us using some weakened ice to escape some pursuit on a narrow ledge. In another instance, to prevent himself from being surrounded, Conan retreats into a cave and the cave ends in a massive cavern that is covered in pitch. Pitch and torch against monstrous flesh? For Connacht, Conan's grandfather, when travelling the passes to his home of Cimmeria, he was almost killed by an avalanche that buried him in snow and broke his legs.

Where are the players? How stable is their footing? How stable is the ceiling? Can things be set afire? Will they have to climb? Will they have to hold their breath?

In terms of switching the visuals around, of using old stats with at least new looking monsters, we have the Skrae. I saw that because while they look impressive and they are excellent trackers, they, like pretty much everything, gets cut down like wheat. They are terror inducing and unique in appearance, but man, Conan's already at this stage met a few relics of ancient eras and killed worse so... Yeah. If your players are looking for some interesting twists, you don't have to reinvent the wheel each and every time you want to throw some 'new' monsters at them.

Conan Volume 7 showcases the old adage you can't go home again quite well and its end throws Conan somber and weary of soul back onto the road.