Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dresden Files: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher has apparently struck a cord among readers looking for something different than standard fantasy. Make no mistake, fantasy in many of its varieties makes a lot of appearances in Grave Peril, the third book in the Dresden Files series, but it's fantasy layered on top of a Harry Dresden living in the modern era.

Told in the first person narrative, Grave Peril builds on the previous volumes while continuing to expand the world and setting. For instance, Harry met vampires in the first novel, but here, they take a larger role. The name of the book, Gravel Peril, also plays off the other antagonist, a 'Nightmare' ghost that's able to push Dresden to near the breaking points.

Some of my complaints about earlier novels continue to shine through here. Magic is 'hidden' from the 'mundanes' and apparently it's only hidden because either, like the vampires, they have too much pull, or people are just so incredibly ignorant that they're willing to shrug it off. In a city like Chicago where there are literally millions of people, and most of them with cell phones that have cameras on them, not to mention all of the standard surveillance around the city, it remains almost laughable that things like Harry destroying part of a building with fire magic in two separate occasions aren't huge warning signs. This is especially true given hor paranoid America can be with things we don't know about.

Those things though, like secret ids in good old super hero comics, are part of the genre Jim's building though. Either it'll get better or it'll strain my credulity to the point where I stop reading. As I've already read the fourth volume, Summer Knight, I think it's got a while to go. Part of that is I don't take it too seriously. It's a quick read with a character that is often trying to do the best he can and getting his ass handed to him.

But mind you, it's that "Die Hard" ass beating he's suffering. Regardless of how often he's beaten down or how badly, it's rare to see him take any permanent damage. He hasn't like, lost a hand yet or anything. In addition, Jim paces the books so that they aren't flowing one against another and there are often months where Harry is essentially recovering and studying.

One of my friends did run a few games of the system but it didn't last too long. There's just too much competition in the gaming field for him to stick with any one particular game engine for that long when he's the one running it. Quite the opposite of say running a long term written campaign like the Thousand Thrones I'm playing in. One of the reasons I think that Wizards of the Coast better pick up a few more ques from Paizo and have more great adventurers out and you know, keep publishing them.

Anyway, one of the ways that the setting is built on here, include Harry's 'Godmother', an actual member of the fey courts who provided Harry with the power needed in his youth to survive his mentor's treachery. It seems to be setting up a point there as the introduction of the Godmother here leads into the next book that is heavily involved with the Fey and the Winter and Summer courts.

And as Jim builds the setting he also falls into another pattern of Harry using his enemy's abilities against him. In the previous volume, Harry used a wolf pelt to become a magical werewolf. In the volume before that, he used the villain's own monsters against him. Here he uses the whole 'ghostly disturbances' to essentially double his power and win.

These victories are interesting in that they really don't look like they are things that could be duplicated and they are often things that come with a heavy cost. When looking at your own games, try to put the players in situations that allow them to try different and even difficult things with victory over seemingly impossible odds as the rewards.

Another element of expanding the world is Harry has an ally, or I should say, another ally, whose if not on par with him due to the variety of things Harry can do, can at least hold his own against the supernatural. IN the previous volume, Harry encountered some werewolves who were 'good guys' and they continue to follow that path.

But here we are introduced to Michael Carpenter, a 'knight of the cross', a man who uses the sword Amoracchius, a sword that has on it one of the nails used to crucify Christ. In Harry's world, being a man of 'righteousness' a 'holy man', has real teeth when it comes to supernatural elements.  It's a nice way of expanding who Harry can travel with without bringing in more wizards and serves to expand the setting at the same time while raising questions that the author can handle in future volumes.

In a role playing game though, you'll need to have a lot of potential options open at the start of the campaign. It's one of the reasons why game books often have details on a setting that you'll never see, never need in the fiction or movie or television show of the same setting. A game's needs are far different than a reader's needs.

I'll try to have some random thoughts about Summer Knight up later on. I haven't started the fifth book yet and I only own six of them. However my buddy who ran the Dresden Files game? He has them all and has already assured me that I can borrow them whenever I want.

It's one of those things that when you're a fan of a series, you're glad to meet other fans of the series and to pass on the lore and discussions and ideas on what could and should have happened. It's part of having some shared references and those are, perhaps not vital to having a group that gels properly, but certainly don't hurt. If you're playing a game of Stormbringer or Elric, and everyone at the table but one guy has read the books, that guy is potentially missing out on a lot of undercurrents and references that could be made to the novels, if not the entirety of the campaign itself.

When you're gaming in a setting based on a novel, or inspired by one, do you point your players to the books and other media? For my upcoming Champions campaign, I've pointed out a few things to give the player's some reference points of what I'm tinkering with and it's allowed the players to throw some feedback my way with one player going all out on it and others being a little more conservative.

Anyway, the Dresden files continue to be a quick read and may not be to everyone's taste, but are certainly edible popcorn reading for a lazy afternoon.