Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Sword and Sorcery versus Fanatasy part 3

In part 3 we are going to talk about the second Trope of generic Fantasy Role playing.

Adventuring leads to an increase in power
Classic role playing game rules usually dole out some form of experience for either completing a quest successfully, beating your enemies, and sometimes even for gathering up treasure and and other valuables.
This is usually because the role playing aspects of increasing power are usually abstracted, there is some sort of abstract reward for success which eventually translates into some abstract bonus for the character in time.

In Sword and Sorcery however we are usually presented a fully formed hero, who quickly goes about their quest and the story ends with their victory or defeat.

If they do return in further stories usually something will have happened in between the stories, say spending a few years with a band of mercenaries. In Sword and Sorcery usually "power" does not equate to how many people you can kill.  It is usually measured in actual knowledge and skills.  Travelling the world allows you to know more about the people and places in it.

A successful thief does not necessarily have a great skill in climbing, or shooting, or walking silently, but are more likely to have powerful friends contacts and allies.
Simply knowing when a valuable item will be moving from one stronghold to another is far more valuable than being able to pick someones pocket. Having a well placed friend in a stronghold who will leave the right door unlocked at just the right time is far more likely to be successful than simply a magical like ability to climb up walls.

In Sword and Sorcery you do not gain fighting ability simply by clashing swords with alot of enemies, you will be far better served in using your fame to secure you another great swordsman as a teacher (gold works just as well as fame in these situations).
Indeed in fine Heroic tradition the weapons master teaching an unskilled student is the first step on many quests.

Fine Armour and weapons are good but knowing how to use them is far more important. Many games will merely hand wave experience gain as this type of training, suggesting possibilities for including them in Role play but people rarely take advantage of them.

In Sword and Sorcery a famous hero is often sought out by those who need something done.  They do not hang around bars waiting for a job. Fame, and the favor of your lord are just as valuable as a +1 to your to hit roll all with the benefit of not being mysterious and magical.

Too often players will think of their characters as merely a collection of bonuses to attack which are useful only in ensuring that they gain more levels for more bonus to gain more levels.

The problem with generic fantasy is that once you introduce magic as being fairly available and relatively safe to use, the character will soon come to the conclusion that if everything goes truly wrong then the other high level characters working for the King will be able to step in and take care of things.

In Sword and Sorcery the Heroes are the people that are stepping in to do something, But without magic they must rely on good old muscle power to get things done, if there is an opposing army marching on them they have no magical abilities weapons or spells to wipe them all off the map.  The only thing that will stop them is another army, or killing the person who has sent them.

Since that person also has no infinite sources of magical power or fighting ability it means that the heroes will have to depend on their connections, favors, information and natural human abilities to take care of the threat.

The funny thing is that these favors and plans are far more dependable than magic.  If an upstart sorcerer has chosen the heroes to vent his anger on, and the local lord owes them a favor they can quickly pick up a battalion of men to march on the sorcerers tower. Human talent and resources are just as interesting as magic.

If you wish a kingdom of your own you must earn it, it will not be given to your hero just because he has risen to a high enough level, it will be won when he has amassed enough influence in the world to thwart those who would take it from him.

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