Tuesday, January 21, 2014

City of Sorcery by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Rare is the time when I’ve read a book with more titles and subtitles. I think this is just ‘City of Sorcery’, written by Marion Zimmer Bradely, but it’s also got the Darkover trade dress and under that The Renunciates (Free Amazons).
This copy is from 1984 and comes in at $5.99. I’m sure most paperbacks these days easily hit the $9.99 mark. I bought it from Half-Priced books, off of the dollar spinner racks. It was well worth the dollar. Looking over Amazon, it’s only available from third party sellers at this time, with no Kindle version. Now that’s a shame as one of the things I’d love to see e-books used for, is the restoration of so much of the ‘lost’ fantasy books that fail to stay in print.             
If you’re looking for a fantasy book with some science fiction elements, the Darkover book should hold your attention. If you’re looking for a fantasy book with a lot of strong female characters, City ofSorcery again has you covered.
I haven’t read any of the Darkover books in easily twenty years. I was never a huge fan to begin with but do remember reading a few of them and just never getting into it or keeping up with it. For its time I assume it was successful due to the sheer number of books in the series.
The majority of the novel tackles exploration of the ‘Hellers’, an unexplored region of Darkover. This exploration takes the form of fighting the elements, fighting against fatigue, fighting against altitude, fighting against a village where strangers are welcomed, and then drugged to make the murder of them easier.
Depending on the game system you’re playing, this could be a fun thing or a terrible thing. One of the things I loved about 3rd edition, and the OLG, is that it allowed settings like Midnight from FFG, to flourish. There were a lot of fantastic elements in the dark fantasy game, and fighting against the elements just for survival was high on the list.
But that was my least favorite aspect of the game. I didn’t want to take subdual damage or have to keep track of it or have to keep making saving throws or customize my character just to survive the wilds.
On the other hand, games like The One Ring, do a fantastic job of providing some penalties for failure to make a ‘travel’ skill check. It uses a few roles that have to be filled and these checks can be complicated by failure or rolling the ‘eye’ on the d12. The results of failure vary but can include losing health to encountering monsters to added travel time.
This matches well with the movies where the journey is often one of the more dangerous aspects of the characters trails. In City of Sorcery, there is a ‘big bad’ at the end, but her powers and abilities rely on having those around her to carry out her will in addition to her own knowledge base and powers. While she’s a danger to the characters, she’s not necessarily as terrible as the trials that got the characters to the location to begin with.
I find that 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, with its skill check system, also allows a great deal of ability to customize the travel times as well as the meetings between characters and leaders of towns.  This is another strength of The One Ring where important meetings between the characters and NPCs to gather information is easy to play out.
 City of Sorcery is not heavy on action, is not heavy on sword and sorcery, but is heavy on character and exploration.