Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Classic Reprints and Modern Sensibilities

Gary Con is an Old School Renaissance (OSR) convention.

It's not my thing but I've never been much of a convention goer anyway. I mainly hit the convention scene to either run games or to find out the latest news and of course, buy the latest and sometimes exclusive products.

At this Gary Con, Goodman Games made a few announcements.

One of them was Kickstarter for DCC Lankhmar. This news didn't strike me as particularly impressive because it's the worst kept secret ever. Goodman Games already has a few adventurers out for it and it's a known factor that it was going to be coming out anyway.

On the other hand, the announcement of Classic D&D Modules being reprinted and having original stats and 5th edition stats? That was interesting.

And for most, it was met with a cheer.

Some insisted it was needless and a cash grab.

Cash grab? The old joke that applies to so many hobbies also applies here. "How do you get a small fortune in role-playing games?"

"Start with a large fortune."

But are all of the complaints about the nature of reprinting the classics invalid?

1. It's a cash grab: Well, it's true that Goodman Games may find it more profitable than Wizards of the Coast to publish a book. Looking at Wizards of the Coast, they've only done the work on a handful of the 5th edition books. A small handful in a small handful of products. If it's a cash grab, it's a weirdly designed one.

2. Goodman Games boasted that 4th edition was the game that Gary would have developed! As a gamer, that sounds like nonsense. As a person who knows what marketing is? Why wouldn't he say it? And in actual Dungeon Crawl Classics? Here's where I challenge you. If you never played Sellswords of Punjar, you missed out on a great heavily Appendix N influenced adventure. Slums, beggar kings, hidden dangers, hidden treasures and more! Hell, I wish that we were getting a Kickstarter of Punjar as opposed to Lankhmar.

It's not that I don't love Lankhmar, but man, I'm a mature gamer. That means I've seen TSR's version, I've seen Mongoose Games version. I've read the books the material is based on a few times. I'm not sure how much "new" material that Goodman will be able to bring to the table.

3. How can they afford to do it? They can't do anything without a Kickstarter. Again, as a gamer and regular dude, I can see the 'questioning' here. But let's come to reality. Many companies aren't using Kickstarter JUST for the funding, they're using it as a marketing tool. As the fees and issues of Kickstarter rise and ebb, the utility of the device may change. But for now? It's 'hip, Kickstarter' and it's 'cool' and it acts, regardless of what Kickstarter or any publisher tells you, as a great preorder system so publishers can figure out how much to print and make. Does every game publisher NEED to acKickstarter? Probably not. Is using it right now still a good deal and a great way of advertising and building a community? Apparently so.

Now feeling that the whole system of Kickstarter is being abused as only a preorder system? Again, I can see where that line of thinking is coming from. But hey, actually DOING things is hard. You know, like coming out with a rival system to Kickstarter? Like putting your own skin in the game? Like having some system where you can't be an established player? And who's going to vet all that? Counter culture is weird to me sometimes. "OMG! I can't like the thing anymore! But I used to love the thing!"

4. These adventures don't need any conversion! What next? Conversion for the old coloring books and the hex maps? Some of these points were pretty funny when posted with the covers. There seems to be this weird bit where the fact that the product is covering multiple functions, a reprint with more than just a single thing in it, is getting mixed up with the 'need' for there to be any conversion. It's a matter of convenience and WoTC would be foolish not to take advantage of print medium having conversions for the game that's actually on the shelves right now.

5. Gary Con was ruined by these announcements! It stole all the air out of the room! Blinks. Man, I didn't go to the convention but if a product announcement messed up your convention you got problems. Having said that, several other people whose opinions I put pretty good stock on and would give them high ranks in terms of 'honesty' in keeping the spirit of OSR alive, had great times. Maybe it's a problem where commercial issues start meeting reality but man, that complaint is highly personal so more power to someone who earnestly believes it.

6. Goodman Games blah blah blah: Sometimes I see some complaints about character or validity or 'old school creed' and all I can think is shut up. It's not that you shouldn't have an opinion of what is old school and what isn't, but damn, role playing games are going to be split so fine down these self-made definitions that it's going to look like a record store right before they went out of business with ten thousand different music sections that just made things harder to find.

For me, Goodman Games has 'earned' it's old school creed not necessarily in game mechanics but in the spirit.

I've played numerous adventurers in the line. Some are old school death traps. Some are exploration. Some have a mix of both.

The design and art and other bits are often, I don't want to say slavish imitations of the older games, but pay a lot of homage to them.

Their own game, if you feel does not draw heavily on Appendix N, or worse, you feel that Appendix N in its original guide, isn't what the game should be based on, you are not playing with the same reference as every other player who is playing with that reference, which, may not even be old-school in its mechanics but is certainly old school in its feel and origins.

Good for Goodman Games and hopefully it brings MORE of the older stuff back.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Flame Bearer (Saxon Tales Book 10) by Bernard Cornwell

The Flame Bearer
Saxon Tales Book 10
Written by Bernard Cornwell
$13.99 at Amazon (Hardcover)
304 pages

The Saxon Tales, also known as The Last Kingdom Series,  reaches its conclusion in a fast paced tale that I finished in a few hours of morning reading.

As with many books by Bernard Cornwell, he captures the period regarding plausible events, characters, and overall mood through the description of the people and places that our main viewpoint character, Uthred.

In this novel, seeds were sown so long ago, bear fruit as the main thrust of the tale is Uthred and his final battle against his cousin, also named Uthred.

If you enjoy books in this era of Viking savagery upon English shores, this will be a quick read.

But what can you pull from it for your games?

Religion Matters: Uthred is a pagan. He worships the gods of the Vikings. Most of those in England? The Saxons who themselves were once pagans? They worship the 'Nailed God'. The clashes between forces are not merely over land and titles but over religious strength and culture.

Stories Matter: The title of the book, The Flame Bearer, originates with one of Uthred's ancestors who came from across the sea and took over the castle that Uthred would, hundreds of years later, grows up in. The parallels between what has happened and what will happen, are clear and meant to inspire Uthred's men even as it demoralizes his enemies.

Languages Matter: Uthred is a man with friends all over the world and knowing a few languages helps him avoid situations he might not be able to otherwise. While some fantasy settings overcome this with 'Common Tongue', there are often options that are inherent in the game that players don't necessarily take advantage of. In the Forgotten Realms, for example, the Common in Kara-Tur is different than the common in Al-Qadim is different than the Common in the more common part of the realms. Old editions used to give special languages like alignment tongue as well as thieves cant among others. Players should never underestimate the power of having a unique or near unique style of communication including sign language.

On the other hand, the GM shouldn't hesitate to have NPC's have their own methods of communication. Drow have their own 'common' tongue and others from different planes may have their own manner of communication. Star Trek the Next Generation did a fantastic episode where the geist of merely trying to communicate lasted the whole episode.

Factions Matter: Uthred has made more than his fair share of enemies and allies through the ten books in the series. This sometimes involves his enemies coming together against him. The good news? Sometimes there are foes outside of that original circle who attack each other. Having factions that don't necessarily make their presence known every game session and every encounter make the world larger and more dangerous, more random than it normally is. Sometimes these elements should work in the players' favor and sometimes against them. The enemy of the enemy is not always your friend after all.

Time Moves On: Uthred has been fortunate to live through numerous enemies and unfortunate enough to watch allies and even dearly loved ones pass on. His religious upbringing gives him pause when a foe is about to die, to ensure that if a warrior, he dies with a weapon in his hand.

As time moves on, though, the world changes. If your campaigns consist of more than dungeon crawls, how is time moving on effecting the world? Uthred has children, one deceased, one married to a former enemy now an ally, and one about to be married to the daughter of an enemy.

England itself, once almost entirely overcome by the Danes, has struggled back from the brink of being overcome to being almost entirely run by the Saxons and uniting under one 'England' banner.

The players can be the center point of the campaign, but the world itself will continue to move on in ways outside their direct control, outside their direct influence. And they should want to be a part of that.

The Flame Bearer has a lot going for it and it is a fitting end to Uthred's sage. Now if only Benard will continue that with Uthred's son also named Uthred...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Written by Walter Isaacson
Published by Simon and Schuster Paperbacks
$19.99/$8.93 At Amazon

I don't delve too often into semi-modern historical bits on the blog as I mainly play Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, both settings firmly 'rooted' if you will, in the 'dark ages' although they often rise up to technology and living standards that surpass many modern parts of the world.

If anything, reading Benjamin Franklin increases that dissonance I have with most fantasy settings where full plate is a common thing but guns aren't. Where swashbucklers and pirates are a common theme but again, guns are verboten.

For example, as many 'lone wolf' characters as we often see in fiction and at the tabletop, they would stand out in direct contrast to many of their friends and families. Benjamin Franklin himself is one of twenty children his father had with two wives.

Twenty children. It's a large number for sure, and the kids range in age all over the place, but there are others who had numerous children at the time as well. Maybe it's not so unusual when a player says his name is whatever the 2nd!

Another terrible thing, even in Benjamin Franklin's time, was that for women, it still was not a safe time to be giving birth.  "It was not unusual for men in colonial New England to outlive two or three wives. Of the first eighteen women who came to Massachusetts in 1628 for example, fourteen died within a year." (pg. 13)

The other thing in having a family is it adds drama. Franklin fathered a few children himself. One died of Smallpox before he could be inoculated against the disease. At the time, even then, there were "anti-Vaxxers" who believed it was bad to be inoculated. Franklin was not one of them and made his positions clear on the subject often.

Among Franklin's brood was William, an illegitimate son, who in turn sired Template, another illegitimate child. William was a Loyalist to England who wound up on the wrong side of history and estranged from his father.

What was worse was that Template was with Benjamin Franklin instead of being with his own father. This gave Benjamin huge swathes of influence over the young man. The generational gaps would never be healed in their instances.

In games with long-lived races such as elves, who can bear half-elves, generational stories might not be that unusual. For his time, Franklin lived an enormously long time, dying at 84. In a game where characters can live hundreds of years?

Franklin was also a bit of a scientist. One of the things he invented, or at least is credited with, are bi-focal glasses. My mom long having used these, it's one thing I'd have to tip my at to him for.

But another thing is the lightning rod.

Reading this book, it quickly became apparently that lightning strikes inflicted much damage to property, setting fires and killing scores or people at a time. "For centuries, the devastating scourge of lightning had generally been considered a supernatural phenomenon or expression of God's will. At the approach of a storm, church bells were run to ward off the bolts. "The tones of the consecrated metal repel the demon and avert storm and lightning," declared St. Thomas Aquinas. But even the most religiously faithful were likely to have noticed this was not very effective. During one thirty-five-year period in Germany alone during the mid-1700s, 386 churches were struck and more than one hundred bell ringers killed. In Venice, some three thousand people were killed when tons of gunpowder stored in a church was hit." (pg 137)

And Benjamin Franklin solved that problem.

Which is probably just one of those things taken for granted in pretty much every fantasy setting. While still ignoring guns. Because you know, guns are bad?

I know I'm harping on it but it strikes me as strange, and I get that for other people who've grown up on just traditional fantasy that it's just the way things are.

Like most fantasy settings being one giant continent and travel being a matter of going from one place to another via horse. Whereas Franklin himself made some odd eight trips across the ocean. He traveled from his home in America to London. He traveled to Paris. He traveled all about in those places including Ireland and Scotland. Most fantasy settings have a hard time getting one period of England, so they tend to include all of them. And Vikings. And pirates. And various merchants boats that really have nowhere to go as even in the Forgotten Realms, their 'Jungels of Chult' is still on the mainland itself.

So the fantasy books fill their pages with these massive and impressive ships trying to capture the era and age of piracy and capture the look often, and some of the technical specs, but then, of course, leave out all of the cannons.

Mind you, I suspect part of this is that most game mechanics fail to get weapons right in the first place. The stats most weapons have isn't based on historical accuracy or leathalness, they are based on balancing game mechanics.

I've  read in some of the Cornwell research and elsewhere, including this book, that Franklin bemoaned the lack of trained archers in the colonies because archers could be so much more dangerous than the standard musket fire of the time. The speed, accuracy, and intimation factors were huge bonuses.

The amount of time Franklin lived, and his practical application of science to the working world, also allowed him to change it. This is something that most games seem reluctant to do. Oh sure, they'll make changes in a huge edition switch, move the timeline up, ignore players and their characters for a hundred years, and render numerous sourcebooks obsolete, but allow the players themselves to change the setting?

In a way, it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If you allow the players to make huge changes to the setting, future sourcebooks in the setting become less and less useful. Oh, these nations invented X finally? The players in your campaign invested and distributed X months ago in the real world and over a year ago in game time.

In addition to the inventions, Franklin lived in a world of shifting alliances. The French would use natives to attack the then British colonies. The colonies would have to form their own militias and also seek out help from Britan. Britan would send help, but there was always cost associated with that.

Later, when fighting against Britan, the Colonies would seek out help from the French, who themselves had to work with their allies, the Spanish, as both countries were against the British but had lost much face and strength against the British in previous wars.

There are also the numerous places Franklin goes and visits and the happenings around him. This is a man who formed the Junto, an organization of like minded thinkers to advance each other's social standing and financial standing. He's also a man so well loved that when he last left France, the party thrown for him aboard his departing boat lasted until four in the morning.

His home in America was changed to accommodate his larger family including a connection between the two houses. This could lead to some interesting designs if there were upper walkways as opposed to just two houses connected through a basement.

Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, is a well written and well researched tale. It gives you a taste of those in power, those rising in power, and the era that Franklin would help herald in. He was far from a perfect man, and his deism ways would cause friction with numerous parties including such famous individuals as Samuel Adams among others.

Walter Isaacson brings the time, the struggle, and the flaws of the great man, the so  called First American, to light in a way that few before or after have mached. Well worth  the reading if you want to get the old brain juices flowing.

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.

Ms Marvel Vol 2: Generation Why

Ms Marvel continues to integrate herself into the Marvel Universe in this volume. Volume two collects issues six through eleven.

The cover art continues to have a  different style than the interior.

The first two issues in this volume, where Ms Marvel meets Wolverine, are also different. I dig it though. Reminds me of Bruce Timm, Steve Rude, or Darwyn Cooke.

It starts off with a two issue team up special with everyone favorite mutant, Wolverine. This is at the time, the original Logan, not the Old Man Logan or his heir, X-23.

She makes a great impression on Logan and comes up with one of the best descriptions I've seen of Wolverine in a long time.

"So like now you're like a short angry man who punches stuff?."

Her being a fan of the heroes and getting to meet them in the larger sense of the Marvel Universe is one of the strengths of the series.

She also gets to meet Lockjaw of the Inhumans and it sets up her eventual meeting with the Inhumans and becoming aware that she isn't as Mutant as she might have thought when meeting Wolverine, but rather, an Inhuman.

This 'slow burn' of introducing her in such a manner allows Ms Marvel to enjoy being a part of the bigger setting without being overwhelmed by it.

In terms of writing? I love the humor. There's the humorous bits of writing that come through like when Ms Marvel describes her opponent, The Inventor.

This whole, "You're a bird" thing plays off a few times and every time it does, I don't know if it's the art style or the unique appearance of the Inventor or what but it cracks me up.

The ideas in the issue seem counter to me in terms of overall motive for the bad guy. If you've ever seen the Matrix, you'll know that people are used as living power cells. Here the bird, I mean, the Inventor, is using Millenials as power cells because hey, the youth of the world is useless.

As far as motivations go, it's... interesting at best. To have the technical know how to make all of those things to turn people into fuel cells and then to be so stupid to think that a whole generation is lost? Well, in the dreaded real world we've seen that knowledge, say specific knowledge, like how to be a brain surgeon, does not translate into knowing what you're talking about.

So it is here.

I enjoyed Ms Marvel's steps into the wider world and the introduction of her strange enemy the Inventor. The writer brings a lot of comedy to the series as well as a lot of family. Ms Marvel isn't some grim dark loner running around, she's part of a family, part of a community, and part of many 'tribes' if you will.

If you're tired of all of you super heroes being angst filled, Ms Marvel is right up your alley.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ms Marvel: Vol 1: No Normal

Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal
By Wilson and Alphona
Published by Marvel Comics
120 pages
$15.99/$12.16 at Amazon

So Ms Marvel has been out for a while already. I snagged the first few volumes when they went on sale in kindle format.

The art is handled by Adrian Alphona internally and Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor handle the cover art. In a way, this is a HUGE bait and switch.

The cover art is very 'standard' if you will of Super Hero styles. It's heavy on the colors and bright in the colors and standard definitions of what the character looks like.

The internal art is much more... interesting. I'm not saying interesting like bad, I'm saying it like it is interesting.

That's an example, taken from the main character's fan fiction of the Avengers. Yes, Kamala, Ms Marvel herself, is a teenage fangirl of super heroes.

It's not that it's bad but it's a different style. It grew on me as I read the series. It helps set a different tone than say a standard Jim Lee or John Bryne version.

I'd have loved it if the whole series was like the cover. The cover artist has a style I enjoy:

What about the writing? Rings true for me. The family, the friends, the 'evil' dialog from the bad guys all hit home. It doesn't suffer from the dreaded 'talking head' syndrome where you'd swear that the writers were just padding issue after issue to wait for the trade but rather moves the story and the characters forward so that the reader gets a better idea of how these characters act and what maks them tick.

The story?

Well, in many ways it's a standard young kid gains superpowers and uses them to help others. The nuts and bolts are a little different but let's look:

Kamala: The young woman who gains super powers. She's a Muslim but isn't a religious fanatic. As a young person, she gets into disagreements with her parents about what she should be allowed to do and what she can do. Her brother is a bit more on the religious side but isn't working yet and this causes tension with the parents as well. Poor parents. Trying hard to bring their kids a better life and they don't appreciate it eh?

Those are pretty standard things in most cultures. Staying out late? Heck, things have probably changed a bit as I'm 46 this year, but my mom didn't want me out late. Not to mention the whole curfew thing of which police did snag me a few times back in the day.

Kamala has family. I don't want to spoil it but the writers thus far have done a great job of keeping them relevant and insuring that the family love and struggles are a part of Ms Marvel's growth as a character.

Kamala has friends. One of those of the opposite sex, Bruno, from a different culture. The old starr crossed lovers bit in play.

Kamala also has ideas of what being a super hero is supposed to be about. She enjoys it. She enjoys the idea of it. She's energetic about it. When she first discovers her powers, she thinks of a saying from the Quran, "Whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of mankind and whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind."

That's what launches her to save someone whose unintentaionlly tried to humilate her several times at this point. To not argue about what makes a person good, but to DO good.

Maybe it's a push back from the gritty grim 90's w here everytime a new love interest or something was intorduced they'd 'frdige' them or something, but damn, it was pleasant to see a new character with a positive outlook on things.

Her super hero name of Ms Marvel? Remember when I mentioned that she loves the fan fiction of her heroes? Well, Ms Marvel's original outfit is one of her favorites.

Her origin? It's weak at best in that she's an Inhuman. Now it's not bad to use being an Inhuman as a launch point. Many years ago Dazzler came out and her origin was she's a mutant. It's similiar in that we have a 'generic' starting point, but then it's on the writer to make it interesting.

In the first volume, which collects issues 1-5 and the special Marvel Now Point one, we get a bit more background on Ms Marvel's family. How she interacts with her friends. How some of those f riends fall into traditional bully roles and potential friend roles.

We have the learning phase and the introduction of a new villain, the Inventor. We have the slow build up of foes starting with the simple gun totting robber to super science villains.

I was glad to see that her initial role and costume are home made.

That she doesn't just come out of the gate swining at 110% efficiency. That she has a learning curve. That she has to learn how to use her powers and actually has to taste defeat a time or two before getting better.

All in all, it's a solid start for the series. It acts as a good foundation. I've mentioned it for other series, and I'll say it again here.

Having Ms Marvel be a part of the Marvel Universe is great in that it allows her to interact with the history and events of it. In these first five issues, she's not dragged into crossover after crossover. She's not suddenly derailed from her own story to star in something else. Like the original Runaways or the original Young Avengers, this allows her some space to grow.

Personally, if I had space, I'd rather have bought the omnibus edition. It's a solid hardcover that collects the first eleven issues and the special. Sigh. Curse you lack of space.

If you're looking for your super heroes to be a little more upbeat and looking for something a little non-standard, then Ms Marvel is for you.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sung In Blood by Glen Cook

Sung In Blood
Written by Glen Cook
Published by Night Shade Books
$14.99 trade/$10.79 Amazon

I've enjoyed Glen Cook's writing for years. His Black Company themes or dark fantasy have been incorporated into my Dungeons and Dragons games many times.

Seeing Night Shade Books come out with his older works, has allowed me to read more than just his popular works.

Alas I wish I hadn't read a few of the reviews of this one. They definately slanted my reading of it, in no small part because I tend to agree with it.

The blurb is fascinating: 

For centuries, the legendary Protector, Jehrke Victorious, has kept safe the Crossroad of the World—Shasesserre. The City is kept guarded and blanketed from smaller-scale threats to dark magical anomalies. All was calm and peaceful for generations under the peaceful wizardry—until one day, a mysterious stranger brutally murders the Protector.

And so starts the tale of Rider and his men including such characters as Preacher and Soup among others. A motley crew who are good at things, but none as good as Rider, the son of Jehrke, a man raised to be the ultimate protector of the city.

His skills vast, his ability to cross human limitations, ignored! In many ways, he is the ultimate fantasy hero in both sword and magic. In these areas, the reviews that compare him to Doc Savage cross my mind.

Because I've read Doc Savage! Doc is often portrayed as well beyond a normal man. His inhuman stamina and strength allowing him to overcome odds that most normal people couldn't hope to challenge in the first place.

So how do you challenge a magic using fantasy setting Doc Savage?

Why with a fantasy version of Fu Manchu!A villanious mastermind of numerous trades back in the day by Sax Rohmer. Those who are fans of Marvel comics might know him better as Shang Chi's father from the series 

In many ways, it's a win-win. We get to see Doc Samson with the serial numbers filled off battle Fu Manchu with the serial numbers filled off.

But the tale is a bit short in the telling. We are introduced to what I'm assuming is Fu Manchu's daughter but that's never resolved. We are barely introduced to the city as an entity in and of itself, but that's not really handled.

Even Rider's own strengths and weaknessess are heavily glossed over because it's a short book and it keeps moving. 

Which would be fine if there were say twenty or so volumes of this to follow up on the initial action. It's like the set up of a great graphic novel and the small print company went out of business before they could follow up.

For example, Glen Cook apparently loves the idea of a 'web' as he's used it in Dragons Never Sleep as well. Here it's like a quick description of ley lines that surround the city that Rider can use to watch over the city when anyone uses magic. But what else can it do? What are it's limits? Can it be expanded? 

If you're looking for a dark grim fantasy, Sung In Blood will not hit the spot. If you're looking for Glen Cook's traditionally odd named heroes like Soup, Preacher, and even Rider himself, then this book has you covered.