Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Game of Cat and Mouse - and More

Cold Light demon illustration by Les Edwards

This weekend, I completed two more of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories, as collected in Death Angel's Shadow.  In the novella "Cold Light", Kane plays a deadly game of cat and mouse in a mostly-abandoned city long ago devastated by plague. It felt like a desert ghost town from a Western. The crusaders who hunt Kane soon become the hunted, and their pretensions of killing Kane in the cold light of "good" only serve to expose their dark deeds. Watch out for paladins... and for their retainers, especially the ones who summon demons. But really all of them. This novella was about 108 pages long, but well-paced for its length.

I'm not sure how you'd make "Cold Light" gameable. To do so, you'd have to structure the adventure so that the PCs gradually reveal themselves to be murderhobos. Some of that could be accomplished using storygame mechanics such as flashbacks, or by PbtA style mechanics in which things go wrong more often than they go right.

The second story was "Mirage". There is an essay called "The Once and Future Kane" in the back of the Centipede Press edition of Death Angel's Shadow, in which Wagner describes his other Kane anthology, Night Winds approvingly as "pure acid gothic". This short story is entirely in that vein. It's a worthy Weird Tale, indeed. I won't spoil it, other than to say that Kane grows from the experience, and learns that undeath is even more boring that immortality.

This story is no more gameable than most of C.L. Moore's Weird Tales. But very enjoyable nevertheless.

Since I am reading the Kane stories in the order of Kane's life, it is time to close Death Angel's Shadow for the moment, and begin reading the third and final Kane novel, Darkness Weaves.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reflections on the Winter of My Soul

Cover art by Frank Frazetta

Wolves, werewolves, madness. A bard, a visitor, deep snow, and a baron's family. On New Year's Day, I finished the Kane novella, "Reflections on the Winter of My Soul" by Karl Edward Wagner. The story evokes Beowulf, with its great hall under siege by a great beast. But unlike Beowulf, the siege also contains a mystery or two: the household slaughter may be an inside job.

As with my previous Kane readings, I am using the recent five volume collection of Kane novels and short stories published by Centipede Press. This novella is in Death Angel's Shadow, which in its Centipede edition collects both early and late Kane stories. Since I am reading the Kane stories in the approximate order of Kane's life, I will be reading two more stories in this collection, and then switching to the third and final Kane novel, Darkness Weaves.

But back to the story. "Reflections" builds a bit slowly, although perhaps I am just distracted by other things I'm reading, and having a bit of reader's fatigue from having already read around 1,000 pages of Kane content (two novels, numerous short stories) over the last month. But that being said, around page 80, the novella really takes off, and maintains that pace for the last 30+ pages.

The story involves both investigation and combat, and could easily be adopted as a scenario for an RPG set in a far northern lands with isolated manors. I can already think of a way to use it with Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea.