Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Anyone Else Read This?

So it wasn't more than a couple days ago that I googled "Blackrazor" and found that my blog had made it to the first page.  Sadly, today I see that I have once again fallen to page two, behind comic book police forces and cellular phone adds.

Obviously, I have been neglecting my own subject matter.

And so it is I return to the subject of returning to the adventure of our youth, White Plume Mountain.  Or to be more specific, one author's novelization of WPM: Paul Kidd.

Let me say right from the start, I was not a huge fan of this book.  In fact, I sold it to a used book store (sorry, was actually your book, I know) rather than keep it on the shelf (remember, I'm the guy that re-reads books multiple times?).  Just why I didn't like it, I'm trying hard to remember, so bear with me (I probably SHOULD re-read it, just for reference).

First off...well, strangely enough, I consider RPGs their own art form, different from such forms of artistic expression as literature, film, and comic books.  Similar to music or live theater, it is a collaborative art form. Like literature and film (and some types of music), RPGs tell stories. They're not always very good stories, but they are stories nevertheless.  The game rules which facilitate play, are much like musical instruments, or word processors, or the cameras used by a film crew.  Some RPGs better facilitate a "story-telling agenda" by directly addressing premise (see the Forge for some good examples). Some, like B/X D&D only tell stories by "putting together the pieces of what happened" AFTER game play. 

(some versions of D&D simply railroad players into the works of fiction of other authors...see Dragon Lance and Ravenloft modules for examples)

Anyway, RPGs tell a specific type of story.  There's back and forth banter between the players (including the DM) at the table, there's social contract issues, there's decision-making about how things go down...all of which make perfect sense IN PLAY, but not necessarily anything that makes sense from a "real world" perspective.  An epic battle that involves whittling down someone's hit points or a fortunate saving throw at just the right time doesn't translate well into screen or prose...the adrenaline rush for the players (again, including the DM as a "player") is not there for the audience.

Which is not to say I don't like ALL novels based on RPGs.  In fact, I thought both Dragons of a Winter Night and Dragons of a Spring Dawning were pretty good, though this was after Weis and Hickman stopped writing the novels like expanded adventure modules (see the first of the Chronicles series to see what I'm talking about).

The difference for me is this: the Dragon Lance novels are based on an RPG's themes and rules.  White Plume Mountain is based on an adventure module.  The module is designed to be played...not to be written (and read) as straight fiction.

Does this make sense to anyone besides me?  I'm having a hard time thinking of a proper analogy.  I suppose it would be one thing to watch a hockey movie (i.e. "a movie about hockey"), another thing to watch the film Miracle on Ice, and a totally different thing to watch Miracle on Ice if you had been an actual player in that historic game, and the cast of characters looked nothing like the team you played with, and the names had all been changed, and the score was different, and...etc., etc..

Except even then you might consider it to be good entertainment...but you know the game is more fun to play than to read about.

But I actually enjoy reading stories of other peoples' D&D adventures...hell, I read the various examples in both the Moldvay Basic set and the AD&D DMG with relish.  I wouldn't mind reading a write-up of one party's adventures in White Plume Mountain, even multiple party's stories actually (now THAT would be anthology of short stories that all showcase different adventure groups tackling the same module. HA!).

But that's not what's in Kidd's book.  It has a fairly dour, bald ranger who's as annoying as Keldern.  Rather than an adventurer looking for fame and fortune he's got some bullshit about righting wrongs and administering "justice;" he even has a stupid name like "Justicar."  He's so obnoxious that his only adventuring companion is a...skinned animal?  And not much of a conversationalist.

There is some kind of faerie that seems like a HackMaster "pixie-faerie" this some sort of 2nd edition race I'm not aware of?  There's some sort of weird sub-plot with an erinyes...I don't know, it's all kind of hazy.

I do remember that in the climactic battle beyond "the inverted ziggurat,", "Justicar" manages to take out the erinyes even though she has Blackrazor and the ranger dead to rights.  Or not (if this was based on an actual game,  the DM was a real pansy).

Basically, it's unlike the novel is paced and written like a novel with bites of WPM thrown in for flavor.  If I want to revisit old school Greyhawk adventures in a novel form, it needs to be more than Vin Diesel mopping up. I want to see a party of adventurers.  I want to see the opposition between the DM and players.  I want to see PCs sweating...or dying...and not because of some diabolic sub-plot.

There are some parts of the book that were enjoyable: the high level characters clad in all their accoutrements and entourages I found both believable and scathingly funny.  Same goes for the wagon driver and his dry commentary and Boy Scout "Be Prepared" attitude (gotta' have a rope...).  While I didn't like her characterization, I thought the simple inclusion of an erinyes was pretty cool...nothing says 1st edition to me like a lesser devil from the original Monster Manual. 'Course, I don't remember if she had the rope of entanglement or the venomous dagger that is the erinyes's signature weapons.

Um...I liked that it was set in White Plume Mountain...

...and that's about it.  If memory serves (and I admit, it is not as infallible as I wish it were), I was most disgusted by the poor treatment of Blackrazor itself.  Now, I am definitely considering finding a (used) copy of the book for research.  I'd like to run a mock combat between old Justy and the Lady E.  Even as a 6+6 Hit Dice monster she should have been able to take him...especially as she sucked the souls out of a couple critters before actual engagement.  This is Blackrazor, folks!

Sure, reading how a protagonist dies may not be good literature or cinema, but it's GREAT gaming drama (ask ol' Black Dougal about that...forever enshrined in the Sacred Halls of the Fallen Adventurer, a little demi-plane of Valhalla).  

Plus, Kidd's book can better serve as a cautionary tale for young D&D players: you don't split off from your party and head solo with naught but a dog-skin, a pixie, and a torchbearer as back-up! Sheesh!

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