Saturday, October 5, 2013

Valnir's Bane by Nathan Long

The idea of the people on the wrong side of the law doing good things because they're forced into it, is not a new concept. The group I'm most familiar with in this regard is the Suicide Squad.That group of super villains, often C listers or not very important characters, are used in death defying missions that allow the writers to occasionally kill off a member or two. The Thunderbolts by Marvel did something similar for a while although I'm not sure of their current status. My first encounter with such a concept though, goes way back into my child hood with the movie, The Dirty Dozen and other similar concepts have crept into modern cinema with say Quentin Tarantino  doing the movie Inglorious Bastards.

Here the characters are a group of military men who for various reasons are sentenced to death and given a brand of 'The Hammer', a visual signifier to anyone in 'The Empire' that these are men sentenced to death. Most have their own story and in a short story included in the omnibus Blackhearts, Nathan Long provides a more detailed account of the leader, Reiner Hetzau's fall from grace.

Valnir's Bane could very easily be a standard adventure. It hits many bits and Nathan Long isn't short on the action. Because of the nature of the group, Nathan doesn't provide complete script immunity to the cast an author might in a more standard fantasy setting.

If you're looking for a good pulpy fantasy read, Valnir's Bane has you covered. Below I'll be discussing some specifics of the book, spoilers, and how I might snag something out of the novel for my own games.

In any game, why would convicted felons help out those who've damned them to die?

In war scenarios, it might be for patriotism. A thief or a murderer may still have a great deal of patriotism for their home country. They may not be able to stand the whole idea of another race, alien or monstrous, invading their country. This works pretty well in any setting that has multiple factions to it. Even Chaos may have its champions for a particular faction as opposed to unified.

Another problem may be loved ones held hostage to insure good behavior. This one only works if the players are going to work with you though. If the players are all 'lone wolf' types who care nothing for no one and no body, then this method is doomed to failure.

Branded. Depending on the level of technology, the characters may be branded and can't find social acceptance anywhere that civilization, or at least civilization that supports their home, is found. Only in certain confined spaces, perhaps with others of their ilk, can they enjoy all of the comforts of home.

They Like the new work. In some instances, it may simply be a matter that in their prior life, they were not putting their skills to the uses they would have enjoyed. A swordsman who starts brawls to collect money from another man for killing someone else may find that he enjoys the ability to cut lose on certain enemies of the stage.

An honest repentance. Even rarer, there may come a time when some characters decide that they've been doing the wrong thing prior to this point and that its time to turn over a new leaf. This one can be tied into other elements such as patriotism or love of someone else or just deciding to make the best of a terrible situation.

The honest spy. What if not everyone in the group is actually working under a death threat? What if one, or more of the individuals there, are there honestly and there to keep tabs on the others? In some cases this person may be known to everyone at the start. It could be a commanding leader who is well known and gives the characters some legitimacy among other factions.

The death trap. In high fantasy, super hero, cyber punk, or other advanced technology games, the characters are implanted or branded or geased or quested so that they must serve. There may be terms that allow them some freedom in terms of how they provide this service but overall? They must serve and do so again and again until the curse is broken.

The idea of running a Suicide Squad type of set up is one that can be applied to almost any genre depending on the set up and can provide some different assumptions about the characters. It can allow some odd 'evil' style characters to be played while still directing that style of game play against something other than the party.

Anyone ever run a game like that? How'd it go?