Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Skystone by Jack Whyte: Appendix N Edition

Book One in the Camulod Chronicles
Written by Jack Whyte
Historical Fiction
I’ve already done my book review of the SkyStone, so now I’m going to talk about what I would think about in my own campaigns in relation to the book itself. Note this will include spoilers in the book.

1.       The Military: The viewpoint character, Publius Varrus, is former military. While he didn’t take an “arrow to the knee” as so popular in internet memes, he did suffer a wound that left him with a limp and unfit for military service.

But his time in the military did provide him with skills. It did provide him with access to a powerful organization. It did provide him with numerous contacts and friends.

When looking at your own campaigns, what role is the military playing in your campaign? Is it active? Is it at peak efficiency? Do they have new technologies? Are they known for their discipline? Are they known for a certain weapon style or fighting style?

Whose in the military? Varrus’ best friend, Caius Britannicus, is the soldier’s soldier in that there is nothing he asks of his men that he himself does not know how to do. When looking at your version of the military, whose running it? Are all branches run the same?

2.       Two Sides: In the SkyStone, Rome is at a dangerous time. There are those like Caius who represented what is finest in Rome. There are those who represent what Rome is now. Rome is seen by many as a parasite, a country unable to feed itself so it keeps conquest high on its list of priorities. The people suffer but the elite are wealthy beyond measure. Corruption runs rampant but in the “country” like say, Britain, life is cleaner somehow.

When looking at your own settings, are there places that have two sides to them? Most fantasy cities have a wealthy section and a poverty stricken section. This includes fantasy cities like Waterdeep as well as Mithril, the City of the Golem, from the Scarred Lands campaign. In the latter, Mithril, the city is run by paladins. They cannot eliminate poverty. There are paladins who are so involved in their “holy” and “righteous” aspects, that they  consider themselves above things in the lower wards.

3.       Trade: Towards the end of the Skystone, a wealthy duo find that they are finished not because of anything they have done wrong, but because the country is unable to safeguard the waterways. All of their ships suffer raids and capture from pirates. The land routes don’t fare much better.
While not often touched on in most campaigns, trade is an artery of the world. Without trade, how do things get done? Does famine happen? Do certain types of weapons go out of style as the expertise to make them is no longer known?

If you’re trying to incorporate such elements, have the players enjoy something from outside of the normal reach. It could be an exotic fruit at the market. “Ah, these mangos sure do hit the spot eh?”

And then as the campaign moves on, those mangos are nowhere to be found.

Now players being players, hey, they’ll often try to jump right in and fix things. And if you want to run your campaign around the characters selling their services as  caravan guards or military strength on boat escort duty, there have been many adventurers that start that way.

It gives the Game Master a great opportunity to create characters. For example, maybe someone on the  caravan is a traitor? They’ve already sold out the location and known stops of the caravan. Perhaps one of the player’s lost his character in a previous fight and this allows the Game Master to easily allow a new character from a variety of sources.

4.       Making Your Own Legends: While Excalibur is not forged in the SkyStone, the hunt for the SkyStone itself takes place over the course of years. Given that the next book is the Singing Sword, one can only imagine that the main character, Varrus, is going to forge Excalibur in that book.

One of the fun things about the old Forgotten Realms novel, The Crystal Shard, is that the dwarf fighter in the book, makes a magical hammer, Aegis Fang, that he gives to Wulfgar as a token of his respect and fatherly love.

Often players and non-player characters move around the game board hunting down old items. Centuries old, millennia old, eons old. So ancient it came from  beyond the creation of the universe.

Don’t hesitate to allow the players to make their mark on the campaign in other ways. Having them make a brand new item with it’s own legends and lore, the gathering of the components, the gathering of the knowledge required to forge the item, the places that have to be visited, the people that must be spoken to, those things can add a lot of depth to a campaign and in the end, give it a new legend that future players and characters will come to know as opposed to “hunt down this 10,000 year old sword.”

The SkyStone is brimming with ideas if you want to apply them to your own  campaign.