Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mercadian Masques: Magic the Gathering

I may have mentioned before that I tend to hunt through the dollar spinner racks at Half Price Books on occasion. They tend to have a LOT of line fiction. I probably have ten or so books in the Magic series. Mind you it's usually not all of them or in the correct order but it's a shared fiction setting so how in depth and detailed can things be that I'll be like, "Oh noes! I iz lost! How will I ever catch up?"

Over at Amazon, I see that there is no current version in print. An odd thing considering how popular Magic still is. One of their regular hits as far as I understand things.

In terms of how the novel reads, it reads okay. When speaking of not worrying about where I'm at in the novels, it's a good thing because this one starts immediately after some previous major stuff happened in the other novels but that's okay. It provides enough background and detail that I sat back and enjoyed the read.

It's not going to compete with A Game of Thrones but it's not a bad shared world story. It has a few things going on that I truly hate but I suspect such things were well beyond the author's control. I'll be discussing some specifics below so if you need to avoid spoilers, read no further.

1. The MacGuffin. The book relies on gathering several MacGuffin's and does so by bringing the background of the setting heavily into focus. When getting ready to use such a plot device, decide ahead of time how much actual game time is going to be spent gathering these things. Is it a one shot deal? Is it a multiple game spanning quest? Is it a specific number? In D&D, there is already a long tradition through magic items such as the Rod of Seven Parts and other items that may be made up of multiple smaller items.

2. Kill Your Children. One of the villains here is killed twice in the last few chapters. The one time was enough but then to see the guy pull himself together after being almost cut in half and then get his ass handed to him again only to escape death again? This is one of the things I was betting that the author didn't have a lot of control over. Me? I would have rather seen the villain run away before the defining trouncing. It doesn't make the character more interesting. It doesn't define the villain more. It just makes the villains one of those, "Oh I guess we have to wait until that card set comes out for him to die." If the players beat the bad guy, hey, congrats to them. They've done their job. There are millions more when that guy game from. Heck, monster books are one of the most popular and consistent sellers for role playing games. What's Pathfinder up to know? Bestiary 4? And that's not counting the unique monsters per each adventure path and the little sourcebooks? Let that guy die. He's just not that cool.

3. Treachery! One of the things I did think well done was the use of a shapeshifter to try and drive a wedge between the heroes. It works when you don't see it coming and can work well. In one campaign I ran, I purloined an idea from a Dragonlance short story where a dragon shapechanges into a patron and hires "the best!" dragonslayers around only to lead them to their deaths. Worked well for my game when I used "Red Raven", a Red Sonja rip off in appearance that the players never bothered to check against until she used a breath weapon on the dwarf fighter and incinerated him leaving the others to flee for their lives after losing many resources.

4. Don't lie to the players. The Weatherlight is a flying ship that can travel the planes. It's a pretty powerful toy. It's broken in the very start of the novel and the characters spend the rest of the novel gathering the MacGuffin's to repair it. When they do so, the author goes on and on through hthe various heroes about how much more powerful the ship is. Only it turns out that it almost gets destroyed in its first outing. This is something that anime is famous for. For example, Dragonball Z is famous for the "Its Over 9000!!!" bit. It is something that seems to matter a lot until we get many episodes going on and on and Goku squeaks out a victory. If it was such a big deal, you'd think Goku would've just came over and whipped on those guys but that would make a boring episode. Don't overplay the character's power level.

This is especially true if you're playing with people who already know how the game works. You go up a level, the monsters go up a level. Sure, the scenery and stakes may get bigger, but unless the GM is kindly throwing some small fish your way, the math, outside of a terrible swing in most high level games, tends to stay the same. Don't beat them over the head with how awesome they are as chances are their going to have similar issues to the foes they face as they did in the past.

5. Myth weaving. One of the other good things the novel does, is bringing the storm of Ramos to live through different cultures and their mythology. Turns out all of the myths have some elements of true to them but are fundamentally flawed. Making your mythology like this allows you to move things about without having to completely rewrite them.

6. Multiple Settings. Another nifty thing about the setting is that there are multiple worlds and planes in play. We have Rath and the homeworld of the Magic setting itself alongside of this setting where the characters initially land and I'm sure many others in the setting. Providing several settings, as WoTC and others have done with Planescape and Spelljammer, allows the GM to switch up the menu without completely throwing out the core of the campaign.

Mercadian Masques is a good quick read and is the first book of another trilogy set in the Magic the Gathering settings.