Tuesday, 10 July 2012
The New Death and Others by James Hutchings.
So very caught-up at the moment by preparations for LARP, pagan summercamp and going to England! Even in the midst of all the chaos I have still found some time to read and follow up on a very old promise. So here follows a review of The New Death and Others by James Hutchings. This is his blog page. If you are not already following him I suggest that you do.
A while ago I was approached by James and asked if I would do a review of his new book (available on smashwords) possibly highlighting its suitability as a background for roleplaying games in the tabletop genre. As I already had a group starting up a new campaign I said yes and got to reading. I quickly found myself emerged in the fantastic world and characters of The New Death and found plenty of inspiration for my campaign.
The book itself:
As a person who usually steers far away from short-story collections (too many bad memories of University) I was pleasingly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The stories are short and sharp, but even for a fast reader like me there is many hours of relaxed enjoyment in the company of Gods, humans and all those in between. Most of the stories contain some kind of fantastical element in them, heavily influenced by myths and stories. A mix of Lovecraftian horror and One thousand and one nights makes this book a page-turner. Be advised though, that if you are a traditionalist in the fairy-tale department you will find this book very frustrating. I am more of the opposite as I love new interpretations of old stories. In my opinion this helps keep the craft of story telling alive and The New Death is an excellent representation of what happens when fairy-tales are viewed through the eyes of a more modern audience. As stated this is just a warning as I have done plenty of University courses with people who would instantly discard this as rubbish, new interpretations are not for everyone! The reader must be prepared to see their favorite childhood characters in new settings, like the story of Rumpelstiltskin (now popularized by the hit series Once upon a Time) who is bested by google in his search to find a poor girl who he can goat into spinning gold from bullshit. From this we are taught that if you can’t do anything else, get into politics.
I won’t go into details with all the stories as it would spoil the surprise, but if you are into quirky characters and fantastic backgrounds, then you will find stories in here for you.
Adaption into a table-top game.
For our campaign I chose the story of How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name as a lead-in to the setting of the game itself. The story goes like this. A sorceress named Abi-simti would sacrifice everything to gain new knowledge until the only magic she does not know comes directly from the gods. To gain an audience with the only god whos magic she does not know, she builds a harp which is powered by the sound of cats being prodded by nails. Unfortunately for her she has forgotten that the witches of said god are cat-lovers and they of course have their revenge.
In our campaign the character of Abi-simti was also a mighty sorcerer with the power to douse a whole town and make them oblivious to her activities in stealing every cat she could find. Except these were not really cats of course, but cat-people who she forced into staying in their cat form so she could torture and sacrifice them to gain the attention of evil goddess of death and lust. But to finish her contraption she needed the most pure item in town, a flagellant whip owned by the high priest of the Dungar, God of war. Of course the high priest was not exactly willing to give up something so holy. Enter the adventurers who were sold the story of the high priest being a heathen and sent to steal the whip from him. How they got the whip is a long story, which involved hiring a rent-boy and other such things.
Somehow they did manage to steal the whip and get away without being caught, only to discover that their good natured host was in the midst of a blood-rite in the local druid circle. In the end they did stop her evil rites just to be told by the poor captured cat people that this was only the beginning of their hardship and that she was in reality a part of a much larger conspiracy.
For any budding GM this book will offer a multitude of ideas and characters to use in various campaigns and game settings from the Dungeons and Dragons that we used to a Call of Cthulhu setting.