Showing posts with label Stephen King. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stephen King. Show all posts

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

After having finished the Shining, also by Stephen King, it wasn't going to be long before I picked up and read Doctor Sleep. This sequel is like thirty years in the making. The short review? It's good but... The long review will be following and will have a few spoilers but I'll try not to get into any specifics yet.

The 'problem' if you will, with Doctor Sleep, is the same that many people had with Riddick. In it, we have characters that are powerful, competent, and able to plan against enemies that while fearsome looking, really aren't that terrible in terms of their overall abilities. In a joking way, it's like Dragon Ball Z. "Hey guys, remember how powerful Goku was when he was a kid? Look! His son is even more powerful!"

This is the difference when contrasting the Shining to Doctor Sleep. The former is terror. The later? Not quite Buffy the psychic vampire slayer but...

The good news though is that it's still an entertaining, and a fast read. I was only slightly annoyed at how modern the book reads in that there are references not only to A Game of Thrones, but also to Harry Potter. Way to hit all the pop notes there. There are a few surprises here and there and a lot of nods to the Shining as well as several parallels in it.

In short, it's a good novel, just not necessarily a good horror novel eh?

In terms of RPG notes, I'll be pointing out the obvious use here and that's the enemy, the True Knot. Some spoilers of a more specific nature coming so read no further if you want to avoid that type of thing.

The True Knot are psychic vampires. They generally stick with children and woman because I guess they struggle less? Anyway, they go after those that have, what they call 'steam' or what Danny boy calls 'The Shining'. In doing so they are not quite immortal, but watch the years melt away.

In a RPG, they could make a good change of pace from the standard vampires. The real problem though, is depending on the genre of the RPG, they might not be that unusual. For example, in a fantasy RPG, one that has actual vampires, ghosts, and other horrors that are long lived, or even long lived races like elves, would anyone look twice at them?

Mind you, their feeding habits might bring them to the character's attention but... and this is the strange thing to say, in some genres, like say Cyber Punk, their utility might even be more useful to the corporations. Who wouldn't want to have some specials on hand that they can keep in line by feeding some 'death' to? See, not only do they feed on 'steam' from high powered individuals, they can feed if it's a high casualty rate.  In most post modern cyber games, death would be common enough that it shouldn't be a problem to keep them feed.

The problem, again in my opinion, is that they don't really have the traditional invulnerabilities of the things they emulate. They have some psychic gifts. Not many as a matter of fact and invulnerability to anything, like say, getting shot, beaten, or falling off a roof are not among them. This makes them kind of boring compared to the horrors of the Overlook or those things in a RPG that may be more standard fare.

The good news though, is like many good characters, if the GM is willing to invest background and detail into them, as Stephen King does here, they can make excellent antagonist. They would be loathe to combat players directly and have many middlemen. Players might not know who their foes were for a long time. In a D&D game for example, especially one that uses psionics or say, incarnum, something might be hunting such characters down but the signs are slow in their maturation.

When looking to add foes to the campaign, it doesn't always require the GM to reinvent the wheel. Taking the idea of the True Knot and how they hunt and what they hunt, may be something the GM does with existing creatures like Vampires in a campaign.

Doctor Sleep should provide some inspiration and if not for the GM, then for the characters that might challenge such monsters.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Shining by Stephen King

My mom has owned the Shining for decades. Yesterday I finally got around to reading it. Mind you I've seen the movie adaptation with Jack Nicolas and parts of the television version but never read the book.

Recently Stephen King decided to write a sequel to this book, a new novel called Doctor Sleep. That prompted my mom to get the Kindle edition while it was on sale and I figured I'd get the Kindle version of the Shining while it was on sale.

Wow. What a great book. I'll would say I'm throwing spoilers out left and right but there wasn't that much I'd take from the novel to a game in terms of the characters. There are some bits that are fantastic, but really it's the strength of King's writing to get us inside the heads of the characters, in a very small cast, that carries the novel forward. Now I'll be very curious to see how the sequel is. When we write things decades apart, they may not have the same flow, tone, or 'voice'. I'll be curious to see how Danny compares now to how Stephen first wrote him.

But there are some things I like about the novel that would make for great bits.

For example, how about the hedge monsters? In the hotel, there are several hedge animals, lions, dogs, and others, that at times seem to move, to encircle the watcher, to advance only when they are not watched. At the end of the novel, they are definitely on the attack and there is no assumption that the character in question is hallucinating.

The Overlook, the hotel that in and of itself is a character in the Shining, has a few parts that make great role playing tools or at least the inspiration for them.

For example, the hotel feeds on psychic energy. For most people, it's just a normal hotel. But when Danny, a powerful psychic enters it, the hotel comes to life and does things its never done before. This can be anything from say, having a user of arcane magic enter the hotel, to any type of energy, like a psionic or a divine spell user enter it.

The GM could also just pull a Castle Amber or the Vanishing Tower, where the Overlook only comes into contact with the real world at certain points and certain times and that those who enter rarely leave.

In addition, the hotel is able to pull things from the entirety of its history. It does this without problem with Jack is losing his mind and does so in such a powerful way, that Wendy and Danny are aware of what's happening. These ghosts are even able to influence the real world such as freeing Jack from the temporary location his wife has placed him.

Imagine that the characters need a clue, a bit of information from another time. They've spoken with the elves, dwarves, and other long lived races but the bit they need is said to be known only to a particular sadist who died in your version of the Overlook. Imagine that there are those who might have their own agendas that may wish to escape from the Overlook and offer assistance to the players in exchange for such assistance?

The GM may have to determine if these are just ghosts, echoes of the real people or if they are actually able to escape. Or perhaps there is a mix? Previous adventurers who have become trapped in the overlook, some of them gone mad and others desperate to escape from the insanity?

The Shining was well written. It allowed the reader to delve deep into the characters heads. If your players give you enough back ground information that you can tweak them, give them 'alternative' versions of the history they wrote down, things seen as they might be from a twisted point of view, you'll be able to get them shaking their fist at the evil GM in no time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Age is Not Just A Number

When creating characters, either as Game Master and breathing life into NPCs or as a player, think about the age of the character. What does it say about the character?

While reading Harold Lamb's Wolf of the Steppes, the age of the main character, Khilt the Cossack, made me ponder the value of age. In this case, Khilt is not quite the Old Man of the Mountaint, but is an older man. In some of the tales, he notes that these days, he survives more than the use of tactical genius rather than sheer brawn.

Those who encounter him often have one or two thoughts. One, he's an old Cossack and that makes him dangerous. Warriors don't live to a ripe old age on the steppes. Two, he's old. He's no longer a threat.

In a fantasy game, that might be a little more difficult to acheive because there are so many options in terms of what a character can do. However, if playing something like Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, making the character a martial class whose primary ability isn't in fighting, such as say a Warlord, may allow the character to speak openly and mour about his lost fighting prowess but at the same time inspire the youth of the next generation to take up arms.

On the opposite end of the specturm, we have Marvel Comic's graphic novel, The Gunslinger Born, in their line of The Dark Tower series. Here, Roland is a pup. Few take him seriously. While he manages to excel at his tasks, while his skill with the gun is not rivaled, his youth makes him brash and perhaps foolish. It allows other to prompt him to take action instead of thinking.

Roland manages to break records and strives to "remember the face of his father" but thanks to his youth, manages to fall victim to things an older individual, like Khilt, may have avoided.

In any game system, it's often easier to role play the brash youth. The trick thought is eventually showcasing some grwoth in the character based on events that happen to him.