Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

Volume Two of the Riyria Revelations, Rise of Empire by Micahel J. Sullivan, continues to build on the work of Theft of Swords. The duo Royce and Hadrian, continue to work their magic. Now no longer mere rogues, they find themselves working with Alric, the king of Melengar against a newly risen empire even as Royce seeks out more information on his friend's background.

Michael's writing continues to be a breeze to read. The world continues to develop one piece at a time through the use of characters and their stories and the way the world reacts to the characters and their influence on it.

I'll be discussing some spoilers from the book below so if you'd rather avoid them, know this; if you enjoyed the first book, you'll enjoy this one which is an omnibus edition of Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm.

1. Make Your Own God! This is something that will crop up again later but when the 'Empire' is rising to its prominence, in part that's thanks to the rise of the Emperess. She is the ordained one, the heir of Novron who slew the mythic monster that no one else could. Thing is though, its all bunk. The Empresses is a sickly youth whose victory over the monster in the previous volume was due to the efforts of the Riyria (aka the duo) who managed to secure the weapon that she used. In addition, the church is flexing all of its power in this effort and has been doing so for quite some time. These lies on top of lies allow the whole to almost seem like one true story. Which brings us to...

2. The Role of Religion. In so many stories, in so much history, religion is such a massive force that it can change the course of history. It is even now changing the course of history. Do not underplay its importance to the setting. Unlike some things in a campaign, even in fantasy campaigns that rely on massive pantheons and not a single deity, religions often cross countries, often cross continents. The methods and specifics of each may be different and at the end of the day, if there are no other enemies they may turn on each other for heresy and harboring heretics, but prior to that, they will band together against outside forces and threats. The church can have members in various militaries. They can have members in different guilds. They can have the heart and soul of the common people. Its often why some nations completely outlaw religion in an effort to remove that influence from their own rule. Think on how church and state vie for power. Think of where the heart of the church is. Ponder at what the roles within the church are. There's so much meat in religion that its a shame to just use it as a place where clerics come from.

3. Players Role: Good players are more than just a single set of stats. Even if they weren't though, as they rise in level, even the most mundane and martial of them, are often more than a match for a soldier or a patrol of soldiers or even an army of soldiers. When engaging the players in a setting where war is around the corner, try to have a shopping list of things that the players can do that can change the tide of war. Fighting in the front lines is one thing, and if you're not playing Rolemaster or Warhammer (at least the 1st and 2nd edition), where a good roll can kill even a high level character, then players butchering their way through low level soldiers can be quite boring after a while. Have dispatches that they need to intercept. Have secret labs that they need to raid. Have vehicles with coded languages that they need to break. Have power sources that need to be destroyed. Keep the players from being more than soldiers but do it with a good reason.

4. Character Growth: Depending on where in their lives players meet NPCs, such characters should change. Younger characters can take on traits of those PCs that they favor. On the other hand, they may take on the opposite traits of those they dislike. Characters may also grow in abilities as well. For example, in the series, Arista, a princess who initially sets the duo on their way in the first book, has grown in her own abilities not only in terms of her commanding and taking more royal responsibility, but also in terms of sheer power as she's essentially, the last human mage alive. Allowing the cast of characters around them to grow is one way of keeping the setting a bit 'stagnant' if you will but does allow the players to continue travelling with those they know. Think about it in Dragon Ball Z terms. Almost all of the characters gain powers at one point or another but Goku is still pretty much the man to beat.

5. The Good Bad Guy: I'm not talking about characters like Royce who are often painted with a black brush despite their numerous good deeds. Rather, I'm talking about characters like Regent Saldur. He's a player in many ways. He's able to talk about the woes of men and about the wonders of the old empire. He's able to claim sympathy for any worthy cause and friendship to one and all. But if you get in his way you better make sure you're ready to fight to the death and look over your back every second of the day. He comes across as a character devoted to the common man, but much like, say Marvel Comics Doctor Doom, he does so because he feels that he knows better than the common man what needs to be done in order to assure a better tomorrow. Yes, kings may need to die today, and friends may need to be betrayed, but in that 'big picture', it's all worth it. You see, tomorrow will be a better world under his guidance.

6. Destroy the Boat! The Emerald Storm is a boat that the duo wind up traveling along in the second volume here. Like most fantasy RPGs I've been in, it gets destroyed. All too often, that's the fate of the boat. Destroy it and move on with the action. There's nothing wrong with long term campaigns that revolve around boats. Master and Commander and the series by Patrick shows that. But most RPGs aren't going that route as there are often long stretches of boredom so that the only TIME you need to wake the players is when something, often something horrible, is happening.

7. New Lands. While the starting point of the book is somewhat familiar to readers of the previous books, the duo move to new areas here and find themselves fighting against new foes. Most campaign settings are huge in nature and scope. Don't hesitate to throw the players into new arenas when they've gotten too comfortable or familiar with their current landscapes.