Saturday, October 12, 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

After having finished the Shining, also by Stephen King, it wasn't going to be long before I picked up and read Doctor Sleep. This sequel is like thirty years in the making. The short review? It's good but... The long review will be following and will have a few spoilers but I'll try not to get into any specifics yet.

The 'problem' if you will, with Doctor Sleep, is the same that many people had with Riddick. In it, we have characters that are powerful, competent, and able to plan against enemies that while fearsome looking, really aren't that terrible in terms of their overall abilities. In a joking way, it's like Dragon Ball Z. "Hey guys, remember how powerful Goku was when he was a kid? Look! His son is even more powerful!"

This is the difference when contrasting the Shining to Doctor Sleep. The former is terror. The later? Not quite Buffy the psychic vampire slayer but...

The good news though is that it's still an entertaining, and a fast read. I was only slightly annoyed at how modern the book reads in that there are references not only to A Game of Thrones, but also to Harry Potter. Way to hit all the pop notes there. There are a few surprises here and there and a lot of nods to the Shining as well as several parallels in it.

In short, it's a good novel, just not necessarily a good horror novel eh?

In terms of RPG notes, I'll be pointing out the obvious use here and that's the enemy, the True Knot. Some spoilers of a more specific nature coming so read no further if you want to avoid that type of thing.

The True Knot are psychic vampires. They generally stick with children and woman because I guess they struggle less? Anyway, they go after those that have, what they call 'steam' or what Danny boy calls 'The Shining'. In doing so they are not quite immortal, but watch the years melt away.

In a RPG, they could make a good change of pace from the standard vampires. The real problem though, is depending on the genre of the RPG, they might not be that unusual. For example, in a fantasy RPG, one that has actual vampires, ghosts, and other horrors that are long lived, or even long lived races like elves, would anyone look twice at them?

Mind you, their feeding habits might bring them to the character's attention but... and this is the strange thing to say, in some genres, like say Cyber Punk, their utility might even be more useful to the corporations. Who wouldn't want to have some specials on hand that they can keep in line by feeding some 'death' to? See, not only do they feed on 'steam' from high powered individuals, they can feed if it's a high casualty rate.  In most post modern cyber games, death would be common enough that it shouldn't be a problem to keep them feed.

The problem, again in my opinion, is that they don't really have the traditional invulnerabilities of the things they emulate. They have some psychic gifts. Not many as a matter of fact and invulnerability to anything, like say, getting shot, beaten, or falling off a roof are not among them. This makes them kind of boring compared to the horrors of the Overlook or those things in a RPG that may be more standard fare.

The good news though, is like many good characters, if the GM is willing to invest background and detail into them, as Stephen King does here, they can make excellent antagonist. They would be loathe to combat players directly and have many middlemen. Players might not know who their foes were for a long time. In a D&D game for example, especially one that uses psionics or say, incarnum, something might be hunting such characters down but the signs are slow in their maturation.

When looking to add foes to the campaign, it doesn't always require the GM to reinvent the wheel. Taking the idea of the True Knot and how they hunt and what they hunt, may be something the GM does with existing creatures like Vampires in a campaign.

Doctor Sleep should provide some inspiration and if not for the GM, then for the characters that might challenge such monsters.