Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Broken Lance by Nathan Long

The Blackhearts Omnibus by Nathan Long contains a few short stories as well as three full length novels. The second novel in the series is The Broken Lance. Here we see the Suicide Squad of the Warhammer setting given a new mission. With this new mission comes new comrades to replace those that have fallen as well as to keep an eye on the soldiers. After all, these Blackhearts are not the standard soldiers. They are bound by magic to their lord to do his bidding all in the name of the Empire mind you.

The Broken Lance features a lot of the setting bits. This can be important in keeping the reader entertained. If you're reading a book in the Warhammer setting, there are certain expectations. For instance, you'd want to see the forces of Chaos, as were present last book. You'd want to see the failings of humanity in the form of say, bandits, which while not ever present, are here and there though the series. You'd also want to feature one of the other more iconic creatures in the series, and that would be Skaven which Nathan Long brings us in droves in this volume.

In short, the Broken Lance brings good writing and an entertaining story to the reader that fans of the Warhammer world will especially enjoy.

But what about gaming purposes?

More specific spoilers follow so for those who don't want more than an overlook, read no further.

One of the things I find interesting about the whole idea of the Blackhearts, is that due to their nature, that of a Thunderbolts or Dirty Dozen group, that some of them will die. Some of them will try to betray the group. Some of these betrayals aren't even intended to be specific to the idea of treachery, just that the group is saddled with psychopaths who aren't necessarily interested in killing the group, it's just they have no self control.

On one hand, this could be an excellent way to test out new players. You have the group have a collection of characters that are used for such suicide runs. These characters aren't the main characters but rather, characters that get broken out when a new player joins the group. This way you can see how the new players interacts with the characters. If it's a good fit, the group that never could gets another mission done successfully.

If the player is a flake? If the player doesn't work well with the others? If it's a play style that is obviously going to cause friction within the group? The potential for a good game is there but the penalty of having long term characters and possibly entire campaigns thrown off the tracks is minimized.

Now mind you that only works if the longer term players understand that this secondary group of characters is there specifically for this reason and could get snuffed at any time. Heck, they might play in ways and manners that they don't normally do.

In addition, because characters are going to die by the nature of the set up, it allows the GM to set up some spectacular death scenes. For instance, there is a mercenary here who hates the Skaven. His parents and indeed, his village was devoured by them. This is hard to get across to men of the Empire who "know" that there are no Skaven. Mind you that whole concept is entirely stupid and hard to believe even in the slightest now due to their  various interactions with numerous characters and events but anyway....

This character, Giano, sacrifices his life to set up an explosion. It kills a lot of the enemy and it makes sense for his character to do. In some game systems he may have had to do it if the restrictions or pulls on his character were strong enough. In a role playing session where say, you know player X is going to be leaving next week? Getting a new job or moving? It allows you to talk to the player before hand and find out how he would like his character to go. It allows you to set up a specific death scene that plays up the character's strengths and provide some resolution to that long running background element. In Giano's case, it's the desire to kill Skaven which he gets to fulfill.

If you can bring together the iconic elements of a campaign and do so in a manner that encourages the players to make bits and pieces of those elements part of their own background, you've got a magic formula for a solid game.