Thursday, April 18, 2013

Prince of Ravens by Richard Baker

I mentioned, some time ago, Amazon having a few Forgotten Realms novels for sale for $2.99. Prince of Ravens by Richard Baker was one of them. The same book in the same format is now $6.15. I wonder where Amazon comes up with these prices eh?

I finally managed to get around to reading it. It's not a bad yarn but I have some 'issues' with it if you will. Let me say that there will be spoilers.

In designing your campaign, there are many options. In resuming a campaign, there are many options. Prince of Ravens takes one of the heroes of the Forgotten Realms and puts him in the 'new' setting of the Forgotten Realms some one hundred years after his own timeline. The immense problems in terms of suspension of disbelief hit hard and fast for me.

For one thing, if I read a book by say Mark Twain or Harold Lamb, or something from an even older time, the language is different. Oh sure, it's still English but the way words are used, indeed, the very words used, are massively different in style and tone.

If I go to an old neighborhood, the buildings are different. The very designs are different. In some areas, the buildings may be so worn down and dilapidated that its a safety hazard even to be near them.

Food changes. The types of food popular now are not in any way, shape or form the foods that people even fifty years ago were eating.

Jack, the main hero who is time lost, basically comes into Ravensbluff going, "Man, it sucks that everything and everyone I ever loved is dead, but hey, some style changes to clothing and I'm good to go again man. Awesome."

The problem with a generic setting like the Forgotten Realms is fully showcased here in that it remains a generic setting for this tale as Jack is able to easily fit into the modern world with such little difficulty that its evident the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So what's my point? In a fantasy setting, all of this can be explained with a wave of the hand. Yeah, pretty much. But I guess my point is, in designing your campaign, you still wind up using all the static elements that were used so predominatnly before without bringing in the things that were supposed to make the setting what it is now, like Swordmages, like Dragonborn, like Spellplague, and other bits, that Richard has used in other novels, don't change the setting.  It may be strange to think it, but companies can still write stories about their characters in those 'olden' times. How many Batman, Spiderman, and even Conan origins have we been subject to? Learn from the properties some of your more fantastic elements seek to emulate.

One thing that Richard does well here, which is a tremendous paint in many role playing games that are detail intensive, is multiple parties of adventurers with the unexpected popping up. For example, Jack is looking for a book. They encounter some villains and battle. As they move forward, they encounter another group of adventurers. Plus some more villains and their leader! While not breaking out into a three way brawl, the battle in a role playing game, like Rolemaster or 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, could be a huge time sink as you now have multiple groups of characters to run as the GM and interact with the players.

There are also cases of characters 'breaking' the rules. One of the characters is the 'warlord' who is immune to all magic, both good and bad. At the end of the novel, Jack loses his own spellcasting ability and the 'warlord' gains access to magic. In a point based game like Hero or GURPS, that might be considered a 'radiation' accident via the old Marvel Super Heroes where there were in game reasons for why your character changed.

If players want to change their characters, see if you can build it into the game itself as opposed to bringing in a whole new character but only do so if it fits the feel and mood of the campaign proper. You don't want Spellplagues and Wildmagic and other nonsense popping up every other session because someone wants to play the latest and greatest class race combo.

Prince of Ravens is a very character driven story and provides a quick look as to how an out of time character might interact with the new setting and finds it same as it ever was.