Monday, November 16, 2009

Swords & Sorcery

One of my favorite authors of all time is David Gemmell, who died in 2006. I started reading his books with Legend, and after that I was driven; I managed to collect every book he published in one form or another, and I read through most, if not all, of them about once a year. I'm currently in the middle of this year's read-through.

I think one of the things that attracts me to his books is that they tend to take place in fantasy worlds, but they are generally fantasy worlds that don't have the overwhelming amount of magic that some other fantasy worlds have. There are no super-powerful wizards or direct channels to deities in most of his books; there are a few mystics and psychics, and a couple shamans, and maybe a couple wizards or sorcerors, but these are magic-users who have to prepare to use their magic, and using their magic costs them personally. They don't lob fireballs at all their problems; mostly, they pay mercenaries or assassins to take care of things. Mostly, magic is treated as somethign the other guys, or the bad guys, have, and is something to be avoided or overcome.

then there are the characters. Sometimes they aren't very deep, but I find the way he describes them fascinating. The grizzled old legend wielding his famous two-handed axe; the eagle-eyed bowman; the soldier who will throw himself into combat in a berserk rage; the deadly weaponsmaster who moves like a dancer; the practical fighter who has no problems with dirty tricks if they help him win; the heavily armored warrior who takes blows so his companions will not. These are people whose problems aren't often solved by magic, and they have to fight to make their way in the world. They live in a world that is constantly struggling, and even if one nation declares peace, another will start a war.

I know these books and stories aren't the deepest literature around. I know that some of them owe a great deal to previous characters like Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Something about them calls to me, though; maybe it is the way in which the mqin characters have to solve their problems, or the fact that many of the best characters live by a simple, ironclad code to do no evil, and stick to this code in the face of everythign they must fight. It would be fun to try and run a game in a setting like this, where magic is rare or a thing for the bad guys; I wonder how players would handle it, and I'd love to play in something like this.

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