Book Reports

Ah, I’m back from two weeks of hanging out on the beach in Bulgaria.  Didn’t know there were good beaches in Bulgaria?  There are!

I got a lot of book reading in.  I read scarily fast, so I went through 11  books by my count. As with everything else in life, I mine the books I read for RPG related insights, so I thought I’d report in and give you some thoughts.

A Game of Thrones

First off, I read A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, books two and three in the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones, as you might know it).  I’d read the first book but hadn’t picked up the others till now. I was lucky to find them at Half Price Books, the HBO series has emptied the shelves pretty well.  Each one is 1000 pages of murder and betrayal.

Game of Thrones has some interesting similarities to RPG campaigns.  The resolutions of plotlines, and life or death of major characters, does seem like it’s at the whims of fate – some characters that seem like “made men” get murderized like the lesser men. Some people feel that character death in RPGs “ruins the story.”  These novels are an object lesson in that not being the case.

Also, the story does drag on like many a fantasy campaign I’ve been in (and run, to be honest).  Things do keep happening, but sometimes you want to say “Yes yes, could we progress a little bit more here please?” I’ve tried to take that to heart, because even though session after session might be engaging, there is such a thing as too slow of a pace at a high level.

The books also highlight how prudish the RPG community is. Every deviant behavior you can think of is in these books, from incest to dwarf sex to rape to torture to slavery. There’s not even a warning label on them, gasp.  But in the RPG realm, when people start talking about “should sex be in an RPG” or “how much is over the line and ‘squicky'” they seem to be using some kind of 1950’s neo-Victorian standard that other art forms aren’t subject to – these aren’t fringe works, this is the most popular fantasy series in the world and has spawned a TV series.  Get your head out of your ass, RPG community.

Dresden Files

I wanted to pick up some of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books and some of Charles Stross’ Laundry novels, but all I could get from three Half Price Books was Fool Moon, book 2 of the Dresden Files.

It was pretty good.  I assume you all know the general setup – Harry Dresden, modern day wizard/detective. I read some of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels recently and this definitely owes them a debt. This one had everything from werewolves to bikers to chronically naked chicks to dream sequences.

Anyway, these novels have good insight into how to run a supernatural-in-the-modern-world game (like any of the White Wolf oeuvre).It’s funny, most of those games stress the active hiding of the supernatural.  In Dresden’s world, he’s really open about being a wizard, just no one believes him. The supernatural is a small enough part of the world that it’s just not all that relevant to  Joe Sixpack.

The hard part is that Dresden (like Marlowe) spends large portions of the story totally beat to shit. But he rallies and does stuff.  This is hard to model in most RPGs, especially ones like the DFRPG where you get progressively large minuses to do anything when you’re hurt (the “death spiral”). Having Harry powerless for a bunch of the story is OK, but when it’s your character it tends to be less enjoyable. Heck, the couple times I had villains beat up on the heroes in a supers campaign I ran, even though it was genre appropriate, the players went into open rebellion.

Next time – Pathfinder Tales! And then, the wonderful world of travel writing.

10 responses to “Book Reports

  1. Welcome back~
    Nice to see you right back at it with your usual insight and timely topics.

    One of the best Vampire Chronicles I ever ran (set in Vancouver of all places) ended with the Coterie’s political machinations coming back to haunt them in a death spiral of sorts, and of the 8 players, only 1 was able to retain a place in the City once the tale came to an end. Two were driven out just before the end came, to live life on the run, and the rest were driven into Torpor or faced the Final Death.

    My games don’t normally get that extreme in terms of physical or political mortality, but the popularity of this particular Chronicle with the players did demonstrate pretty clearly that death is not a negative in gaming at all.

    My current A Time of War Campaign is going much the same way, although I will be surprised if ‘everybody dies.’ The moment when the players sensed that the intro was over and the gloves had come off, was also precisely the moment when the quality of play rose to match the quality of roleplay.

  2. Speak for yourself. My GM once ran a campaign with someone with a warhammer… Bashed someone in the chest, made a big hole. Next words…
    “I fuck the hole!”
    … GM starts to roll for boneshards…

    Same campaign involved an epic quest for a unicorn’s horn in order to remove disease from a PC prostitute…

  3. Glad you had a good time in Bulgaria.

    On the Victorianish prudish nature of gaming, I know one of the reasons my players avoid it to a certain extent is not prudishness, but instead because it’s awkward to act that way amongst friends. For example, two female characters in my cyberpunk campaign were married, but any sexuality between the two of them was basically done “off-camera” since one of the two was sitting beside her real-life husband and it would be weird. We’re friends, but that aspect of our lives doesn’t need to be highlighted.

    • Yes, I always go to R-rated movies alone too, to hide my embarrassment and shame. Not really.
      It’s just acting. Did no one ever take a high school drama class? It doesn’t take much to get over that initial “oh I’m so embarrassed by acting” curve really.

      • But to be honest, our storytelling often follows the framework of popular media, such as screen-wipes and characters going from point A to point B in a vehicle off-camera. Sexuality in our games fits the same methodology. We weren’t playing “two characters makes kissy-face at one another while everyone else sits back and watches”… we were plotting out heists and betrayals and while those did involve the relationships of the characters, intimate details of their sexual relationship weren’t pertinent in anyway. At least 3 of my 5 players have done extensive acting and are very sexually liberated individuals, but it just doesn’t fit for us to explore that in gaming. We’ve talked about it before and it wasn’t prudish or intolerant behaviour that nixed most of it, but just the attitude that they’re playing a game to be heroes or be villians or be explorers. Other than as a way to bond their characters together, sexuality enters into very little of their interactions and that’s mostly how they like it. As their DM, I kinda roll with their preferences.

  4. I’m glad you liked Fool Moon. The good news, is Fool Moon is widely considered the weakest book in the series. If you are interested in the series, I recommend reading them in order.

    • Good to hear, because I thought it was OK but not super duper. I think I may have read the first one from the library at some point. Though to be honest it’s easy to confuse that with a Hamilton or Harris novel.

  5. I first read Stormfront off the paperback rack at my local library and thought it was okay. A year or so later, I happened to see Fool Moon and read it as well. The same with Grave Peril. It wasn’t until Summer Knight that I really got into the series and wanted to read/buy everything in hardcover as soon as they come out.

  6. Also, the story does drag on like many a fantasy campaign I’ve been in (and run, to be honest). Things do keep happening, but sometimes you want to say “Yes yes, could we progress a little bit more here please?”

    I love the series, but trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet if you think books 2 and 3 are bad for this. Wait till you read the 4th and 5th.

    • Yeah, I just finished Book 4 last night and it seems like he really wants to milk this thing for 12 books. I hate that. Finish your story and then come up with another idea for a next one, lest you get wasted partway through like Robert Jordan.

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