Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The King of the Crags by Stephen Deas

While roaming about at Half Price Books a few weeks ago, I stumbled across The King of the Crags. Looking at the Kindle Price of $7.99, that's not outrageous but not more attractive than having the hardcover for about half that price.

The first book, The Adamantine Palace, was one that had a lot of good set up. I enjoyed it enough that I bought the second book in The Memory of Flames, and if I see the third and fourth books in the series for a good price, will purchase them as well.

Stephen Deas provides a very large cast of characters for the reader. Much like Mark Lawrence, Stephen has a way of quickly moving characters around in importance. Perhaps its best to acknowledge the father of the main character killers, George R. R. Martain while I'm at it.

The book continues to build the setting in history and mythology. Characters continue to evolve or well, not, and act in manners contrary to their best interest. This isn't unbelievable behavior mind you. I myself just went to the Cubs game and it was like... thirty degrees out so not in my own best interest eh?

I'll be discussing some spoilers below. The short of it is that if you want a fantasy with dragons, with a wide variety of characters, with a slowly unveiling tapestry of events, this is a good series for you.

Now onwards!

1. Kill your idols. I've mentioned this a few times and as authors continue to work with the idea, it can be more an more realistically applied to role playing games with the ability for the GM to point out examples of where it happens. Mind you, when I say kill your idols, I'm not saying the GM has to go out and slaughter the PCs. It's easier to kill NPC's. You can introduce NPCs who have complex plots, various duties, detailed back story, give the players a taste of it, and then horribly butcher them. The NPCs can be of a more simple nature. They can be allies that may not offer the players anything except a mirror to show them how they might have been. To give them a sense of camaraderie. And then you kill them. This happens in different ways in the book. Some of them you can see coming, others of them you get taken by surprise. If you can keep your players on their toes, this isn't a bad thing.

2. False History: This is another field that gets hit often. In the 'real world', Obama, at least in some parts of America, is hailed as bringing gas prices to unheard of heights. That's funny because I remember paying similar, if not higher prices when the previous persistant happened to invade an oil producing country. People quickly rewirte history to showcase their thoughts and believes. The victors do make the books. Having said that, there are often people who know the truth of the situaton. The GM should have a few 'record keepers' in his campaign that have 'hidden knowledge' that may not change what happened, but may have changed the how it happened. Imagine if drow are invading the surface world and doing their usual thing of slavery, murder, and sacrifice, but imagine they were invited to the city by the king in order to eliminate some rivals. Or that the king's recent mine collapsed and crushed a drow city in its fall. Or that the dwarves come to the players for assistance and only later on find out the dwarves tried to open a volcano on the drow. The whole "nothing behind the curtain" trick can be used for all manner of reasons.

3. Reskinning: The idea of taking one monster's game abilities and making it another monster, is an oldie but goodie. There are times though, when it goes beyond skinning. For example, the dragons in this series are beasts of burden. However, they are only such creatures while they are under alchemical influence and power. When free of that, they are almost elemental forces of nature that have few equals. When looking at what role monsters play in the campaign, don't forget to take into account the abilities that may be non-combat in nature. Dragons that are dumb beasts aren't that rare for example but dungeons and dragons versions are often hyper intelligent spell casting ancient beasts of power and lore. Drakes and other variants often fill that beast role. But it is something that can be hammered out if the GM is interested in that.

In Rolemaster, they had a variant of the High Man that was even older and more physically powerful. Great Men or something? It's been a while. Anyway, in Dungeons and Dragons, what if Ogres are the remnants of these former empire rulers? In the various Robert E. Howard stories of fantasy, the old rulers have often become degenerate imitations of their former glory. Having ogres be the former rulers of the world whose glory only rarely pokes to the surface in some exceptional individual can make for a whole different type of campaign.

4. Heavy Is the Head That Wears the Crown. In The King of The Crags, there are many princes, nobles, rulers, advisers, and other individuals of importance. One of them is the leader of the Adamantine Guard. These soldiers are a powerful force that owes allegiance to no one king and are there to keep the peace. But they have a leader themselves and that leader is not often a wise, kind, or just person. What happens if that one person who is between the rank and file and that ruler decides, "Yeah, we're not doing that?" The weight of responsibility is an important one and players who, in older editions or OSR style games, may find themselves in command of armies or organizations, may have to take responsibility a tad further than leading dungeon crawls.

5. The Evolution of Magic: In the series, the Alchemist are the ones who keep the dragons docile. They learn much of their craft from the Blood Mages. The Blood Mages are the originators of the styles, but their resources were different. Turns out when you need sacrifice to power your sorcery, well, when there are perhaps less powerful versions that require less sacrifice, your time may be up. In your own campaign, are these family tress of magic? In Rolemaster, the Arcane was a style of magic that was more raw and primal than Essence. In further volumes, Elementalism allowed users to tap into another type of magic. Knowing how things interact, where they come from, and why they work the way they do, at least in terms of how they came about, can give the spell casters more role playing opportunities much like Dark Sun took advantage of with Defilers and their opposite.

The King of the Crags provides a good read and builds up the characters while tearing down others.