Monday, September 30, 2013

The Many-Colored Land

One series of books that I think would make a really fun RPG, or a setting source book for an existing game, is the Saga of Pliocene Exile, aka The Many-Colored Land series by Julian May.  The blurb goes something like this:

There is a one way gate discovered that leads back in time from the early 22 century to the Pliocene epoch some 3 million years in the ago.  Naturally people go through it, it in fact becomes a social safety valve for the discontented and the criminal to escape the overly ordered society that earth has become.  And way back in the past there are strange, wondrous and terrible things afoot.  One group of misfits goes through the gate and finds themselves in the middle of it all.

These are an excellent read and manage to tie folklore into sci-fi in a way that is satisfying and consistent.  It's is almost the inverse of something like Shadow Run, instead of having magic mixing in with the near future world, it is near future science mixing in with historical fable.  I'd hate to spoil anything for you by revealing too much.  It's got fine characters, intrigue, humour and some pretty sweet battles.  It also has a pretty decent world that would be pretty easy to stage a campaign in.  I'm actually very surprised that there isn't a Gurps or Savage Worlds supplement for this setting simply because it is so robust and well designed and sometimes reads like someones very excellent extended RP campaign.  If I was going to run it I would have to figure out how the 'magic' and tech could work together which is why one of the generic systems might be easiest to use.  It would be a good setting for a more narrative game as well, Fate or Dungeon World maybe, perhaps even re-skin the Marvel Heroic Cortex system.

The whole series runs for 4 books, The Many-Colored Land, The Golden Torc, The Nonborn King and The Adversary.  It's a good read with an expansive cast of interesting characters and a satisfying conclusion.  The story also leads into a second trilogy about the future world called The Galactic Milieu series.  This series is pretty good as well and contains a lot of related material although it isn't required reading. The Galactic Milieu is not quite as strong as the Pliocene books in my opinion, but it is still a decent read and if you like the first books you can't go wrong reading both series really.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bode's story

I wanted to get this taken down and I hope that you write what I said because I’m going to have someone else read it to me and so it better be right.  
My name is Bode Pförtner which means porter or doorman and my family were fetch and carry men for the coach lines.  I grew up poor but not as bad as some folks. I would have been a porter too but my papi was a lucky man and once found a nobleman’s bag that had walked away on him.   It must have been an important bag because that man said now he owed Pa a debt and so Pa said you take my sons to the army to be soldiers, and not two penny men nor diggers neither.  And so my brother Cole and me we went off and became soldiers.
I had steady hands and was a real good shot, better than most, and so I went into the Crossbowmen and then the Handgunners.  My brother Cole was better than me even, and smarter too, and he made a scout and even got taught to read and do sums.  I caught on that he wasn't just a normal scout either because he knew things and the guys he ran with were not regular soldiers.  One time we were up in the Fallow Hills and Cole told me I should be sick that morning and when I told him no I’d stick by my crew he threw a punch or two and got us both in the stocks.  So in the morning I missed my post and sure enough there were gobs that had got past the lines and killed 9 guys in my unit.  Cole knew it was coming, but what makes me cold sometimes is that the brass must have knew too, and they sent us there anyhow.  Cole never said what he did and I never asked.  A soldier knows how to keep their mouth shut though and I’m saying too much, even if I’m not in the army anymore.
It was pretty good being a Handgunner and we got early mess and dry beds because the guns.  I’m glad I had good hand and eye because I never had to try to sleep squatting in a bog with my sword across my knees like I sometimes saw infantry doing.   Then again, I knew lots of infantry who’d rather kit out in a bog than sleep beside the powder.  We sometimes got overrun and had to get in with sword and board, or had to form up to break a charge, but mostly we were out of the boil and somewhere high up spotting and taking shots.  I think those were the best days of my life, back before the Third, making the Silvers and getting my Hochland.  I’d kill a man for a Hochland, but then most people would likely.  I wouldn't sell it though so that's different.
I don’t remember a lot of the actual war, just a flash here and there.  I know I was covering the Greatswords and it was going our way until they just left position.  I remember feeling that something wasn't going right and wondering where Baerfaust had gone and seeing the Mad Count’s banners flapping alone on an empty field.  Well not empty because there were suddenly gobs and squigs everywhere and we couldn't load fast enough or pull back before they hit us.  I took an axe to the head and that was all I remember until I woke up in the Shallyan temple and couldn't understand why couldn't talk or move my arms or legs.  So that’s how I found out had been knocked out for some eight months and so all my muscles were soft and also that I had a piece of brass in my head to keep my brain covered up.  Thats also how I found out I was out of the army and all my wages had gone for my care and to pay the chirurgeon and healers.  I likely would have wound up in a hole as well when the money ran out except for Gravin Clothhilde who kept a fund going for some of the more pitiful cases.  She came to the hospice too, she didn't just pay for our bread like she was buying off a lively past, she came to the temple and she helped bring us our meals and she helped us eat them.  She read books to us.
I got better fast once I woke up.  It took me another month to get my strength back after being in bed so long and I spent that helping feed and care for those ones worse off than me.  There was a man there who had lost both legs at the knees and an arm and he was the most cheerful fellow in the place and always said he was just happy he still had his prick and one good hand to hold it.   So I felt I was a lucky man like my papi. I had lost a lot of things though, and not just my trade and my money. Most of the Third was just a blur to me and I had a hard time with names of guys I used to know or remembering faces. I asked about Cole and someone said he’d been to see me while I was asleep. He had said he was doing a job down by the docks and I should look him up if I woke up. But I hadn't woke up and when I finally did he wasn't anywhere around the dock anymore.  At least I think he wasn't, I’m kind of worried that I don’t remember his face anymore either...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Belgariad (and other books)

Well worn these books
I am think I was 13-14 when I first read Pawn of Prophecy, the first book in David Edding's Belgariad series.   I don't remember exactly when it was, but I do remember that I had to wait six long months towards the end for the last book to come out in paperback which places it in that time range.  I remember plowing through these books in long gulping weekends of reading and I remember they were just great fun.   I've read them a number of times since then and I've also read the follow ups and spin offs to the series which were way more formulaic and less interesting. The original run though, it was something.
I never knew that David Eddings was like 60 when he wrote this, I never would have guessed it.  For me it was exactly what 14 was meant to be and  re-reading it now makes me feel that way again.  I suppose if I was 60 I would take offense to this, 60 is probably closer to 14 than I suspect.

The Belgariad itself is a pretty straight forward journey quest, but it's well executed and the characters are fun to be around for the while you spend with them.  The writing is approachable and the world seems to hang together quite nicely.  Even the second trilogy, the Mallorean, is not a terrible read - and if you miss the characters and don't mind seeing them pace through the same character arcs again, it's not a total waste of time to read them.  It's not until the prequels that things fall into that dreaded protagonist hellbore that causes good worlds to revolve tighter and tighter around the actions of a specific group of heroes or an author driven purpose - like Heinlein's multiverse madly striving to mate with itself.  I'd stay away from the prequels.

I've been trying to get my oldest daughter to read the Belgariad series because she has been reading lots of these new tween adventure fantasy series.  She's having a grand time reading all that crap and I thought she might get a kick out of these as well.  She had her Harry Potter moment already -that  common milestone these days for kids that manage to read books.  Now that she's hooked on reading, I figured that she might like to see some of the books that blew my mind when I was young.

It's a long planned out trap actually - there are so many good books that hit me full on in the gut between 13 and 20 that I want to get her to read, and all of them had what people might consider 'Harry Potter' or 'Game of Thrones' levels of impact on me growing up.  I can't imagine being in a head space where I'd say that a single series of books was as influential as the popular opinion attributes the Hunger Games or Harry Potter - because in my experience there was a never ending stream of them.  Joel Rosenberg's Sleeping Dragon (the Guardians of the Flame series), Steven Kings's The Stand, Frank Herbert's Dune series, Asimov's Foundation series or oh my lord -  The Gods Themselves,  Robert Heinlein's Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, Ursula La Guin's Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, Pohl's Heechee Saga, Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - oh just way way too many books and series to even list.  I have boxes of these books that I couldn't part with because they are associated with parts of my personality growing up.  These books defined me.  I have too many of these books. I had to take some and box them up for lack of shelf space.  So many of them come from those early years, and I have pull them out on occasion and re-read them - so I can remember who I am and who I wanted to be.

And people keep coming out with new ones.