Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Farlander by Col Buchanan

Farlander is book one in the series, The Heart of the World, written by Col Buchanan.I can't remember how I came across it, but I'd recommend getting in in hardcover from Amazon, as it's now under $3.00. Yeah, the e-book is like $7, but the hardcover is $2.83. At that price it's a good buy.

Farlander is well written and engaging. It doesn't use a standard sword and sorcery menu or the standard characters like Conan people my age may have initial grew up reading. Instead we have Ash, a highly skilled assassin, a member of the Roshun, an order that uses seals that inform the order if the bearer of the seal is killed.

The book that initially looks like it's going to be a coming of age story has a lot of twists and turns in its pages and surprised me greatly at the end. I'm going to go look for book two as soon as some of my other backlog is finished but thought I'd toss this one out here before getting into the specifics of the book and any RPG applications they may have.

Warning, there will be spoilers below so read no further if you'd like to avoid them.

1. Assassins: Much like Jedi and adventurers in general, assassins are a popular bunch to write about. They take money for doing things that are pretty out of character for a general member of the population. It makes them good models for players looking for character ideas not necessarily because they're 'evil'. I'm sure I'm not the only one whose read several books where the whole idea of being an assassin is almost of a noble calling, or at least a career calling.

With assassin style characters, the set up can be fairly simple. The 'mission of the week' can be done instead of the dungeon crawl of the week. Players have to gather intelligence, fight through protections, fight the main target, etc...

2. Worthy villains: The only weakness I thought that Col Buchanan brought to the book, was Kirkus, the sole son of the high priestess. Early on he kills a wearer of the seal and so becomes the target for the assassins. The problem though is that while he is surrounded by numerous guards and has the whole country, including its top officials behind him, he himself is essentially a pest. When Ash gets to him, killing him is pitifully easy. It's a problem I've seen crop up a few times. Heck, when I've run some campaigns, I've had characters and monsters who on paper were utterly bad ass but some lucky rolls by the players took them down. In those cases I try to give the players their props. Maybe even make them local legends or heroes when discussing how 'easily' they took out so and so.

3. Technology: I don't have an absolute clear read on how advanced the people in The Heart of the World are. They have guns. They have airships. They have ocean, or at least water, trade. They have machines that operate with coin slots. If you've been running one style of campaign for a long time, don't be afraid to run another. The 'newness' of such a setting can inspire different actions and behaviors from players who may be used to only playing in one type of setting.

4. Players die. When we're first introduced to Nico, it seems that this book, like many others in the genre, is doomed to play the role of the hero's journey. That we're going to see Nico go from an unskilled fool to a master killer. Col Buchanan reverses that and well, Nico dies and Ash swears a vendetta against the one who killed him. Mind you, he goes out like a champion and is spared the pain of being burned alive, but die he does. Now I'm not saying he stays dead in future books in the series, but it was a pretty clear, pretty brutal death.

In a lot of ways, it makes sense though. I remember 'back in the day', when players of mixed levels would find that the newer characters who were lower level tended to have a higher fatality rate. Why wouldn't they? In a career as dangerous as adventuring, why wouldn't the old pros continue to prospect while only the best, or luckiest of the new breed survive?

5. Big Sandbox: Even as the characters are going about their mission, other elements are happening. One of the former members of the assassins guild turns out to be a double agent and leads a small army against the assassin's headquarters. Wars are fought. Alliances are made and broken. Having a 'news' sheet or a list of events that happen, like the spotting of a comet, regardless of what the players are doing, can be a good thing to remind them that not everything hinges on what they do and where they are. Everything that happens to them on the other hand...

Farlander is the first book I finished in 2014 and I hope it's an indication of good things to come.