Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sword of State by Nigel Tranter

Sword of State
Written by Nigel Tranter
336 Pages

I'd never heard of Nigel Tranter before picking up Sword of State. It was one of my finds on the good old $1 rack in Half Price Books in Skokie.

I'm a sucker for historical fiction.

But it's really not historical fiction. It's like a history book that wants to be a fiction book.

Dialog? Minimal.

Story elements or descriptions of the times? Minimal.

Recording the events of the time as they happened? Dead on.

Not everyone has the ability of say Bernard Cornwell to put historical fiction into a rousing tale.

If you want a play by play of events as they happened, though, Sword of State is $3.99 on the kindle format right now, and even more affordable in hardcover format as it's well out of print and not rare.

Having said that, it's time to think how this could be useful for running a campaign.

Character Build. One problem I see in a lot of players is that they make their characters to be these weird self-sufficient bits that have no hooks into the campaign setting. This doesn't matter if it's a super hero setting or a fantasy setting. So many dark wolf loners that don't care about anything but vengeance.

That can be boring in that it doesn't lend itself to a campaign contribution.

What do I mean? Let's look at Patrick here.

Patrick has a father, Cospatrick. There can be only one Cospatrick at a time as a matter of tradition and culture. When Cospatrick dies, Patrick will take that mantle. This little bit of tradition is something that adds to the campaign.

There are things that happen in the setting that revolves around family.

For example, marriage.

And here's the thing, the marriage itself doesn't have to be between player characters, it can be NPC's in the background. The important thing is that it's creating a social event. This creates a gathering of characters around the event.

If it follows the ways of comics, this could be one of those times when the bad guys come around and aren't vile miscreants, but it could just as easily be a time when the villains think it's the perfect time to strike.

In a fantasy setting, the same is true. Perhaps the players need an introduction to some figure but don't have the social status to just up and approach them. Going to a wedding and doing so there could be a great time to make an impression.

Outside of marriage, we have children.

Again, in super hero comics, there are often quests to save the poor mother to be such as when Reed Richards has to delve into the Negative Zone to find a cure for his wife's ailment.

But it's also a great time to throw another social event. It's a time when rulers may provide gifts of land. It's a time when people who may be estranged come together for the sake of the children. Perhaps the characters have parents who never visit, but now with the birth of a granddaughter, they do!

And lastly, when it comes to family, there is death.

This is another social event. Depending on the nature of who died, it may be made a social holiday. It may be a time of celebration. It may be a time of celebration for some and mourning for others. Few men die perfect world round.

Even those who history tends to treat kindly such as Winston Churchill may not be fondly remembered by say, families of the French Navy.

But what else can be brought out into gaming from Sword of State?


In the manga Berserk, it uses the social event of hunting to great effect to allow the Band of the Hawk the seeming appearnace of saving the Princess Charlotte from assassination.

In George R. R. Martin's modern fantasy classic, A Game of Thrones, it is an off stage hunting accident that brings war to the kingdoms.

Hunting can have a social part and a combat encounter part.

Are the characters there to meet new individuals or to prove themselves?

Are the characters there as body guards?

Another element that can be brought into the campaign is that of trade.

There is a market crash of Scotland Wool that Patrick has to investigate. If this were told as it's own story, the levels of intrigue and corruption could be a book in and of itself.

Nigel Tranter treats it as "X happened, Y happened, Z happened."

But even in that, Patrick goes to find out why the price has dropped. He offers new ways of sorting out the costs, noting that not every country wool prices have fallen, he goes on to explore new markets for the wool and finds that other products, such as salted meat and stone, may be highly desirable in those other markets as well.

In a traditional campaign, the mere act of questioning why the wool was cheaper might have brought individuals out of the shadows who were seeking to create a monopoly on the product.

It might have brought out bribes and attempts at blackmail.

And that sounds crazy over wool, but man, in the real world we've seen some strange stuff involving what people want to control and regulate so no, it's not that off the wall.

I give Nigel Tranter kudos for his research into this era and the inspiration it brings forth when thinking of how these things can be taken for anyone's campaign. For those who've read other Tranter novels, are particular recommendations? I see he has a huge catalog and while I'm not impressed with his style, his substance is strong.