Monday, November 10, 2014

A Moorland Hanging by Michael Jecks


Book Three in the Knights Templar Mystery series, A Moorland Hanging, written by Michael Jecks, brings the reader  back to medieval times with Simon Puttock and Sir Baldwin Furnshill as they investigate a murder on the moors.

Michael Jecks is able to bring the reader into a situation that has two solid factions, the landowning nobles and the tin miners. Each with their own goals and motivations and each a thorn in the other's side, but forced to deal with one another as both serve the king.

Jecks does a solid job of providing information on the importance of the tin mining. The need the king had of vast wealth allows the tin miners many rights that superseded even those of the noble landowners This puts the landowners in a weak position when the tin miners come around and threaten to claim various parts of the land in order to find tin.

And yet at the same time, much like in Japan and their own falling caste of Samurai, the nobles here are arrogant and militant. They have a great deal of power thanks to their own ability to fight and while wars may not necessarily wage without end in the moors, there are always wars where some type of glory may be won.

The mystery itself has some parts that are stronger than others. This could be a deliberate choice. One of the big 'reveals' should be obvious to anyone who's paying attention, but I'll admit to having the completely wrong idea on the killer until nearly the end as vital pieces of information are brought into visibility.

A Moorland Hanging follows the strength of The Merchant's Partner and is a solid mystery novel for those looking for some background on how things might have been in this far away time.

Below I'll be hitting spoilers specific to the novel and discussing how I'll try to keep it in mind when running my ongoing Dungeons and Dragons campaign using the King Maker adventure path by Paizo.

1. Outsiders: While the tin miners have been present for years, there are those who've dwelt on the moor for much longer, generations. To those old inhabitants, the tin miners are a blight on the land. To those who've been here not as long as the old inhabitants, any new inhabitants, like those seeking to make a new life for himself, are another brand of outsider.

2. Isolation: There are old beliefs on the Moors. When you're cut for from civilization and don't travel, the old beliefs have no reason to die out. They've encountered no resistance. This is still true today. In areas that aren't major hubs or on water ways, the people do as they've always done, believe as they've always believed. This can be jarring for people who visit as first off, they're automatically labeled outsiders, and now their outsiders that don't share the same beliefs.

This isolation can take other forms too though. THere are several instances in the novel where the characters feel isolated and cut off from civilization. That they've entered another time and place and that they are gone from the standard realms of men.

3. Bandits: In all the novels thus far, the fall of knight hood as a way of earning a living is reflected on again and again. Those seeking to earn their way may have to travel afar to places such as Italy. Again there are parallels with the Samurai who become ronin, masterless men. The other bit though, that dovetails nicely into the River Kingdoms, is that people may come from other parts of the world to 'get away' from their past. Without an easy way to quickly check the background and history of someone new to the area, wolves may assume the guise of sheep.

4. Protected Interest: While the moors are isolated, the value of the tin miners is obvious to the king. Because of that, they have numerous rights. While this isn't necessarily anything like that in the River Kingdoms, the River Kingdoms does have it's own laws, it's own Six River Freedoms as they are known. Bring in reasons that the players can't just run roughshod over everything and everyone.

5. Visibility: This is one I've always had a problem with. There are numerous mentions that thanks to the even level of the ground and the lack of forests or hills, that people can spot each other for miles around. This can add a bit of suspense if the players know they are being hunted and can see the opposing party rushing and wearing them down. However, given the extreme range of some spells and missile weapons, this could easily backfire!

6. Depth: One of the things that's enjoyable about the series, is that many of the characters have aspects to their past that they would rather not come up. If anyone's seen the movie Snowpiercer, will know what I'm talking about. Having each major NPC have such a secret, have such a past, is something that can put the characters in a completely different frame of mind when they see that person again.

A Moorland Hanging brings the isolation to life and is a solid piece that should be able to inspire many a role playing session.