Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Devlin's Luck by Patricia Bray


Devlin's Luck
The Sword of Change: Book 1
Written by Patricia Bray
Published by Spectra
434 pages
$7.99 Kindle
$7.99 Paperback

A great thing about having a Half-Price Books close by is their random and changing selection of $1 books. It's a lot easier to take a chance on an author you've never heard of when you're only out $1. Same is true of the old Kindle books when they hit the various sweet spots on sale.

Devlin's Luck is a solid fantasy book for someone just starting the genre. It uses a small cast, small kingdom, and easy missions to get the reader involved. If you're looking for 'popcorn' reading, Devlin's Luck has you covered.

At the end, the book looks to expand in size and complexity allowing the setting and scope to grow with the series.

Devlin's Luck is a perfect 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons book in many ways. The 4th edition D&D default setting was a points of light setting. A generic kingdom where things used to be better and the world was more dangerous than it should be. Devlin's Luck takes place in 'The once mighty kingdom of Jorsk is in decline, its borders beset by enemies, both worldly and otherworldly. The king has retreated to the capital, abandoning the far-flung provinces."

That's not only a 'points of light' setting, it's a fairly standard low-level setting in most instances. There are things that need to be taken care of and the heroes are the ones to do it!

The hero of the story, Devlin Stonehand, is a former farmer and metalsmith from a rugged frontier part of Jorsk, recently conquered by the superior militia of Jorsk. He's come to the capital city to become 'the Chosen One', an old institution where a champion fights for the people of the country. It's been so dangerous lately that the kingdom pays the new Chosen One and binds them with magic to only work for the safety of the kingdom.

In the 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons, the idea of the Chosen One would have worked as a 'kit'. The profession initially doesn't seem to have a lot of character enhancing powers but does have a lot of social responsibility to it and does have a lot of social perks that go with it. The kits in 2nd edition were notorious for trying to use social issues in place of game balance.

For a small setting, the book throws the deities names out immediately. Part of being the Chosen is picking a patron deity. 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons introduced new deities in part by stealing them from other settings and by adding new ones like the Raven Queen.

Here we get:

Haakron, the Lord of Death.

Lady Geyra: Healers

Lady Sonja: The War Goddess.

Lady Tea: Mother Goddess. Patroness of those who worked the land.

Kanjti: The God of luck. A God with no temples or priests. Some called him the bastard god, the only one of the seven whose origin was a subject for hot debate. A god with no family. (pg 21-22)

Heavenly Pair: Father Teo and Mother Tea.

Another thing that Patricia Bray does, is not shy away from languages. Even though the setting is small, there are a variety of languages spoken by the people including older languages like High Jorsk. Even today in countries like China that are 'one country', there are multiple languages spoken. Never underestimate the value of languages in creating the setting that you're running.

Adventure Seeds:

One of the things I enjoyed about Devlin's Luck is it doesn't pretend that it's trying to rewrite and rework the fantasy genre or some of the simple things that can be done with it.

"There are reports of a band of marauders living in Astavard forest, who prey on travelers along the King's old highway." (pg 77)

"There was no invading army, no great battle in their future. Instead the Kingdom was dying for a thousand tiny pinpricks." (pg. 90).

Another example of how a potentially long campaign can be designed. It allows the players to pick and chose what incidents and events they will investigate and so move the campaign in a direction of their choosing.

How much more classic than bandit attack can you get?

Character Actions

If you want the players to be engaged with the setting, both in the dungeon and out, make sure that others are paying attention to what they do for both good and ill.

"His self-discipline was contagious, and she noticed that her own guards trained all the harder for his example." (pg. 249)

"As he tried to read t he mage's expression he realized that for the first time in their acquaintance Master Dreng's eyes w ere clear, and the hand that clasped his was steady. A remarkable change in one who was reputed to spend his entire life deep in his cups." (pg. 256)

Humans are social animals. We try to be like others, we try to make organizations and achievements with others. Seeing someone strive to be better may encourage us to be better. Seeing someone who needs us at our best may encourage us to be at our best.

If you show that the actions the players take off the battlefield have consequences in the setting, the players may decide to go with that. If you want to encourage that type of behavior and the player's don't normally do such, have the background be influenced by others. You can either act or be acted upon. When the players see people taking after X, Y, or Z instead of them, perhaps they'll be more motivated to be part of the setting as opposed to rogue loners. 

Culture:

"I trade with many, but always with Brigia deMor, daughter of Nesta of the Mountains. She has given me the blessing of her name," the woman said proudly.

A blessing was a powerful thing indeed. In the literal sense, it meant that Brigia deMore regarded this woman as a member of her family. It was rare for any outlander to receive such an honor." (pg. 35)

When designing an adventure, a setting, a character, or a quest, what role does the background of the people play in it? What are they known for? What are their codes of conduct? What makes one valued among them?

Culture doesn't have to be a whole society. It can be a part of the society.

'A copper armband lay on the workbench. Favored by soldiers as a luck token." (pg. 59) The history of an organization, of a society, or a group of individuals, can be telling in many ways. It can be tattoos, it can be slogans, it can be art. 


Points of Light


"Devlin's foot skidded across a slippery stone, and he flailed wildly before regaining his balance. At the start of his journey, this road had been paved with interlocking stones, with a raised crown that allowed water to run off into the ditches on the side. The farther he traveled from Kingsholm, the worse the road became. The stones showed signs of wear, than cracking, and then weeds had begun to appear. By now, nearly two weeks' journey from the capital, there were many places where the stones had vanished altogether. And the drainage ditches were choked with weeds and debris so that instead of draining the water, the roads were covered with mud washed won from the fields on either side. (pg. 95) 

That's a great example of how a point of light campaign can be described. What was one mighty has tumbled. What once was great, is not even standard. It shares themes with Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales where the Viking raiders are in awe of the Roman structures left behind in England. 

Taverns and Inns:

"The Singing Fish is in the old city, near the river. It's not fancy, but they have good food and a very fine cellar." (pg. 30).

Devlin is new to the city. He's new to this part of the country. Where better to hear how the common folk act that in a tavern in the old part of the city? Where the common folk mingle? It's an old trope to be sure but it's continued use showcases that it's still a viable way to gather information and to have a gathering place.

Weather:

'But then the rains had come. For the past three, days he had slogged on, ankle deep in muck.' (pg. 94)

Never forget that the sun may rise in the east but the players don't necessarily have to see it. Clouds, fog, mist, rain, humidity, the dew point! All of these things can make the setting seem more alive than just using standard sunny days when the characters are traveling from point A to point B.

Devlin's Luck by Patricia Bray is a solid fantasy story that contains many little nods to realism from numerous languages and social structures, to the evolution of Devlin Stonehand as the Chosen One. I look forward to eventually reading the next books in the series.