Monday, December 24, 2012

Thief in the Night by David Chandler

Thief in the Night is the second book in the Ancient Blade Trilogy by David Chandler. I see over on David's website that when I found the first book for $2.99, that was a temporary sale. Man, dude needs to update that blog some more or have some links to his more modern work or more complete work. Last updated on 2011? And I thought I was bad.

Anyway, Thief in the Night continues the tale of Malden and Croy and the woman who they both love as well as dwarfs, dungeon ruin exploration, barbarian introductions and all manner of other interesting bits that would feel right at home in most role playing games. I'll be talking about specific spoilers below so if you would rather avoid that, read no further.

1. Racial Changes: I've mentioned before that in various settings, one way to make things stand out a bit is to change the 'core' fantasy races around.  In the Riyria series by Michael J. Sullivan, the elves were vastly powerful and held at bay only through honorable agreements with their ancient pacts. Here, the elves were wiped out. Well, apparently not all wiped out as Malden and his friends discover in this novel as the elves have changed to more suit an underground civilization. This includes breeding large beetles for meat, fungus farms, and using the 'ancient's, which appears to be a thing that resembles an old Shoggoth by a Erol Otus from the old Deities and Demigods book.
Yeah, all eyes, and teeth, and hands, and strange bits to it.

When the elves die, they 'feed' themselves to it and their knowledge is then absorbed by it. This allows the elves to draw forth on knowledge that is ancient and rare and powerful. And in the case here, to survive their imprisonment in these ancient dwarven halls.

The dwarfs continue to be fleshed out a piece at a time. Slag showcases his vulgarity with vast amounts of swearing. It's entertaining to a point mind you. He also illustrates how dwarfs have changed. They have taken to some human vices such as gambling and this has lead some, like Slag himself, to do things that lead to exile. Their numbers are also on the decline. So some of the same old same old and some new.

2. Historical Nonsense. Again, the Riyria series covered similar ground. The humans have told themselves some pretty lies about how the war against the elves went but as Malden and his comrades explore the ancient ruins, which no dwarf in modern times could ever recreate, they learn that the elves weren't beaten by the humans, but betrayed by their allies, the dwarfs at a time when they didn't necessarily want to even fight anymore in the first place. This taking huge chunks of history and reworking them can also work in a RPG but care needs to be taken so that it actually works. Here, Croy and Malden are young enough that they wouldn't know the truth. In RPGs some long lived races, like elves, or even some immortal races, would know would actually happened. Not necessarily a problem for all games, but as Dungeons and Dragons tries to throw more and more material against the wall to see what sticks, its not entirely unusual to see such a player character pop up.

3. Expanding Setting. The first volume dealt mainly with the free city of Ness. This volume, by its nature of exploration of a ruined dwarf city outside Ness, expands upon that some. We see for example, Morget, a barbarian from the opposite side of the mountains, is seeking out Croy because his destiny is to kill a demon that looks like a strange slithering thing of arms, eyes and teeth. Morget is also a wielder of one of the ancient blades, one that explodes with light. This light is painful to undead and would make a good substitute for a Mace of Disruption with an area effect were the GM wanting to incorporate something like it into their own game.

In many ways, this is a natural in role playing games. You first dungeon leads to your second dungeon. Your first exploration in the sandbox leads to the second exploration in the sandbox. Your first departure from Sigil or the Rock of Bral leads to further exploration. Don't try to cram the whole campaign into one setting. Let it develop from the actions of the players.

4. Big Changes. One of the things I've been guilty of myself, is trying to keep things, to a certain point, at a status quo. To not have any huge effects happen to the setting. David doesn't have that problem. By the end of the novel, the characters have collapsed the mountain on the elves. This leaves a pass open from Morget's people, barbarians who have a lot in common with say, vikings and crossbreed with Mongolians. So that opens up a whole new vista for them to say attack the kingdom.

5. Character Optimization: One of the things that role playing games tend to suffer from, especially when they get pregnant with rules, is that there are 'builds' and abilities that almost become mandatory to take. Malden, while perhaps one of the best 'thieves' in the setting, one of the most agile, one of the most able, is still a terrible fighter. In 3rd edition and 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, its almost impossible to play such a character as so much of the setting focuses on their tremendous back stab damage and 4th ed kicking that up even more of a notch with special abilities that put them right into the fighter's arena. 

The Game Master and player should have an understanding of what type of campaign is happening and the players should try to work with the Game Master to build characters that will thrive within it. In Malden, we have a character that is charismatic, works well with a party, and is a master thief. If the campaign requires only martial powered characters that can dish out damage, Malden would be useless. Check with the GM and hope you have one that's willing to work your abilities into the campaign.