Saturday, August 11, 2018

Wolfheart by Richard A Knaak

Written by Richard A. Knaak
World of Warcraft
$7.99 in Kindle Format

I'm a fan of Richard A. Knaak from way back in the 80's. I read his Legend of Huma and Kaz the Minotaur as well as his numerous Dragonrealm series. In those days Dark Horse and the Gryphon were some unique characters although the Farmboy who saves the world cliche was in full bloom.

Since then Richard A. Knaak has done work for a variety of properties including Diablo and World of Warcraft.

The last time I knew anything about Warcraft, Thrall was warchief, Night Elves were an almost unknowable immortal force and there were many stories to yet to be told.

So licensed settings change quick yeah?

Thrall is apparently dead. There's a brand new warchief in play and he isn't a fan of "can't we all get along." Instead, he's an aggressor. He leads the Horde on a mission against the Night Elves and the Alliance.

The Night Elves? No longer immortal. They are aging and susceptible to disease. One of the characters introduced in the book, Jarod Shadowsong, is brought in trying to save his lover, Shalasyr, whose once immortal frame cannot resist the lure of death anymore.

Mind you, much like many older characters, the pains and aches of these Night Elves are for storytelling purposes only. Few of them are ever hindered by these aches. There's not a "Malfurion staggered and fell to the ground clutching his chest knowing that the foe would get away this time..." No, it's purely a storytelling device used here.

The Alliance? Well, it's got members I don't recall hearing about before, including some dark dwarves whose portrayal as being paranoid of others up to the point of bringing their own food to large gatherings, such as that of the alliance, is entertaining and gives us a different take of the dwarf.

The gnomes and goblins of the Warcraft setting, always playing with technology that is resource intensive and dangerous to both user and enemy, are in full force here as well.

In terms of readability, I enjoyed Richard's work even though so much had changed. If you like the World of Warcraft and are a regular reader, the changes might be normal for you or you might already be passed these. This is a done in one book that ties into the other books and history of the setting so it's a fixed point in time in a setting that keeps moving forward.

Made me glad that I wasn't playing a game in the setting. I get mad enough when events like the Spellplague happen and give us a massive time skip in a setting to 'shake it up'. All of the changes described in this volume would make me leery of ever playing in such a setting again.

In terms of gaming, if you're looking to shake things up, this novel has enough inspiration to last for numerous campaign settings:

1. The Old Order Changes: Take your pick. The orcs have a new leader. The Night Elves are no longer immortal. The spirit of one of the ancients chooses a new champion in the modern era. The landscape itself is shaken up. Forces that were once enemies are now potential allies.

2. Sowing Dissension: Being a long-lived race, the Night Elves have had a few splits. But what happens when some of those errant children wish to return home? What happens if during those negotiations some of those elves are murdered? There are always numerous factions within the factions. Just because some Night Elves rever the druids and priests doesn't mean they all do.

3. The Enemy of My Enemy: The wolfkin in this series, worgen, werewolves who have control over their own shapeshifting, are lead by a man who once quit the alliance. In doing so, he created a rift among the human kingdoms. That rift is not easily mended but under threat of destruction by the orcs, well, giving someone another chance as opposed to being wiped out? Let's take a roll of those dice eh?

4. Competent Enemies: One of the nice changes of pace here is that the Horde are dangerous. They are cunning. They are competent warriors in the field. They have strategies in place for dealing with things like scouts and reconnaissance. In some aspects, the orcs as portrayed by Richard A. Knaak should have wiped out all resistance in this book. With their numbers and abilities, they had too much of a head start against the opposition. Divine resistance indeed. Where Thrall might have been a sympathetic hero, Garrosh is strong, cunning, and has powerful alliances and allies on his own side. His failure to take a complete victory here is a hand waved situation.

5. Relationships: In a campaign that involves characters, and there's nothing wrong with beer and pretzels Dungeons and Dragons, but in one that involves the relationships between characters, there are lovers, friends, family and rivals and frienemies. Use them all. Some will be poisoned by the actions the characters take. Will they seek to make them better? Some will be cast aside as the characters experience their own growth and their own wants and needs change.

Wolfheart is a novel that thanks to it being done in one, is an interesting look at a setting in motion that has probably already left the actions and elements of this novel in the distant past. Richard's writing allows one to see how the various conflicts of the world happen as the battle for resources and the need to redeem ancient actions shapes the modern world.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The West is Dying: Book 1 Fall of the First World

The West is Dying
Book 1 Fall of the First World
Written by David C. Smith
$2,99 Kindle
$19.99 Paperback

I read a few of David C. Smith's books back in the 80's. I read one Oron book and the six volumes he penned for the Red Sonja series. I had never heard of The Fall Of the First World though.

I found this one in the clearance section of Half-Price Books Skokie. After looking it over, turns out Davids revisited it with a more modern cover and name. Originally it was The Master of Evil with some weird I don't even know if I'd call it an 80's cover, but the new one is kind of 'grimdark' generic so take your pick and poison.

The border around the book certainly reminds me of the 80's. "Don't let the art full bleed damn you!"

I remembered enjoying the books from back in the day but if you asked me why I don't remember. I think they were violent for the time. Maybe 'proto-grimdark' if you will. You know, before every genre was sliced and diced for advanced marketing.

The Fall of the First World harkens back to the likes of Kull and Conan. While Conan is well known to be in the Hyborian Age, Kull takes place well before Conan. In similar fashion, the 'First World' takes place before the modern eras.

The West is Dying sounds like it could have been written today. While I'm sure at the time it was probably based more on the collapse of the Roman Empire, due to things like being a vast empire with numerous other emerging empires rising and starting to nibble, due to corruption and devaluation of wealth, due to incompetent leaders and leaders who betray their people, I'm sure that some reading it in 2018 would think it was just written as opposed to being first publishing in 1983.

There are some things that David does that sit well with me. He introduces a large cast of characters and much like a well known 'modern' author, he kills some you think would be favorites with no warning. If the script says, well, telling the 'bad guy' you're going to try to fuck his plans now means you die, and you're stupid enough to tell the bad guy your plans... well, there is no mystery savior popping out of the shadows to save you.

David also has a good descriptive voice. I could easily use some of his descriptions in a role-playing game and players would know what I'm talking about. "Cyrodian the second prince of the empire, was indeed a man to inspire fear: Huge - taller by a head than the tallest soldier in the Khamar palace guard - he was broad-shouldered, buffalo chested, with arms and legs the size of oaks. His beard and mustache were coarse, and he wore his hair in a modified soldier's cut far from the forehead, unkempt at shoulders." (pg. 24 trade paperback)

David also described death in its many forms exceedingly well.  "On the floor, the fat man groaned and rolled back and forth, holding his hands over his belly. Long rolls of intestines moved out of him like fat brown worms, and he sobbed as he attempted to push his bowels back inside." (pg. 332 e-version)

The only place I'd offer a warning, is that because this is the first part of a trilogy, and because it has a wide scope, much like modern sagas, it has a lot of characters and a lot of locations and a lot of things going on that are barely touched on in this book. Wizards, for example, are low fantasy, but their might cannot be denied. And there are several of them and you're left wondering, "Well, how is that going to play out."

New kingdoms and their players are introduced quickly and their stance against 'Rome' made clear. New plots and perils come to fruition at the end, but the author leaves us on a cliffhanger.

The Kindle versions are affordable at $2.99. And their all done. If you're looking for low fantasy sword and sorcery stylings, David C. Smith is an author whose is probably very unrecognized by modern readers. Check him out and let me know what you think.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Stealing From Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom for your RPGs

Dinosaurs have been a part of the Dungeons and Dragons experience for decades. this wiki stub provides a brief breakdown but falls to include the new 5e product Tomb of Annihilation which features more dinos in the jungle.

But what does that have to do with the new summer blockbuster Fallen Kingdom? Let's see what you can easily steal from it:

1. Fallen Kingdom: Have the players or the people in the campaign run through an area that has now fallen into ruin? Did an old campaign fail with the players not saving Waterdeep? With Shadowdale being destroyed? Have the new players go through those ruins. Have them see the price of failure.

2. The environment as a challenge: While 4e may be hated for many reasons, it's skill challenge system had some potential. It allowed your characters to try and succeed at something with a certain number of successes needed before hitting a certain number of failures. Need to jump onto a crumbling spiral stairwell while lava burns through the roof? Need to dodge falling boulders while driving a carriage unto a boat that's leaving dock? Set some skill checks and devise some penalties for each failure. Maybe you get splashed with acid. Maybe you get jostled on the vehicle. Maybe a nearby monster gets to take a bite at you.

3. Minions: While it's great to give players equal opposition and sometimes even have them go against stronger foes, giving them numerous opportunities to knock out weaker foes gives them a chance to flex their own physical prowess.

4. New Enemies: In a game like Dungeons and Dragons, one of the most iconic monsters is the owlbear. Fallen Kingdom introduces the much cooler indoraptor, a super raptor.

In a game like dungeons and dragons where half-orcs, half-elves, half-dragons and more often hit the standards as a player race, well, seeing some new and unique type of dinosaurs is an almost assured thing. More importantly, though, it should serve as an example of making your own mark on a campaign. Has a new wizard decided to follow through with owlbear variants? Has a new dragon cult determined that dragons crossed with demons are stronger than those crossed with devils? Many many moons ago, Mongoose Publishing created a book dedicated to this type of monster creation, Crossbreeding. Well worth a look for ideas.

5. Random Events: The biggest failing for me of Fallen Kingdom is the surprise savior bit that keeps getting played out over and over. Hero comes to save kid! Blue comes to save hero! Love interest comes to save both! But from that idea, comes the idea that if the heroes and villains are fighting in a wilderness-based area, perhaps there are other things out there that will gladly take turns and bites out of both groups?

6. Unique Features: The inoraptor has a distinct feature, outside of its own unique look. It taps one of its talons on the ground. It's something that instantly gives it personality and character. The raptor blue has enough features that it's no longer 'just' a raptor, it's a character. The big old T-Rex that's been around forever? It's now scarred but still standing and still doing its iconic poses and roars. Try to remember when the party isn't fighting nightless hordes to give them something to remember about the encounter.

7. Feature Expansion: At the end of the movie, the 'genie' is out of the bottle. Even though, you know, as technology progressess it would've been out of the bottle years ago. Dinosaurs are hinted to be at a much more involved state of the world. What if in most fantasy setting with a demon infestation that infestation explodes outwards? Overall perhaps smaller but in more 'mundane' areas? What if that magical desert starts spiking out in odd growth patterns and intrudes in other rareas? What if an outer planar feature that was just a portal becomes a city or opens up for much longer? Some huge ramifications and some serious thought should be given to such an event.

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom isn't perfect but it's a fun summer film and can provide numerous opportunities to add fun elements to your own campaign.