Friday, April 2, 2021

(Earthdawn 1e) Legends of Earthdawn, Volume 1

 This was such a cute book! I'm not sure "cute" was what they were going for, but I've pondered my word choice and I'm sticking with it.

So why "cute" and not "fascinating" or "ambitious" or any of the other usual fantasy fiction words? It's a gut feeling, but I think it's because the individual legends are so short - 30 crammed into 60 pages, often with full-page art. Because of their short length, the stories tend to end on a punchline. Like "The King Who Ruled The Passions" - a myth about a king who persecuted the Questors (priests) until the Passions (gods) themselves came down and submitted to his rule. Only they were too effective at their specialized jobs, so the Passion of Justice ran a court system that was so fair it bankrupted the kingdom and the Passion of Nature grew a garden that swallowed the king's castle, and so on. It ended with:

Passions rule Nam-givers, not the reverse;
This truth refus'd invites Vestrial's curse.

Oh, yeah, this particular legend was a poem, but more relevant is that it was a fable. It wrapped up with a tidy little moral. A lot of the legends were like that. Sometimes the moral was "if you run into a Horror, you'll die," but the point is that most were vaguely instructive, teaching us about the values and beliefs of the people of Barsaive.

So in addition to being cute, it was also a pretty good setting book. It's also interesting as an rpg supplement, because it accompanies the 30 legends with a similar number of adventure ideas, monsters, or magic items. That's not something I think I've seen before. Usually, an adventure is an adventure, and span the course of the whole book. Sometimes, there will be more than one, but they'll be linked by a theme or a location or be a series that shares the same overarching plot. This "here's 30 things about our setting, and they're accompanying adventure pitches" thing might actually be a more fruitful approach, depending on how much work you're willing to do as a GM. Certainly, using this book's plots requires a lot more preparation than running Against the Giants.

However, I think I prefer it. Legends of Earthdawn is a book that is dense with value, both as a setting guide and a GM resource. And I'm kind of embarrassed that I don't have more to say about it. It was a fast read, and entertaining, but aside from breaking down the stories one by one (I especially liked the one that demonstrated the death curse mechanic), there's not a lot for me to say. I guess, now that I've started dipping my toe into the fiction anthology game (Tales of Clickbait: Volume 1, coming soon!), I have a greater appreciation for the book's firm editorial direction. Despite 10 credited authors and the occasional bout of poetry, everything in this book feels like Earthdawn - humanist, mostly-vanilla fantasy with attention to detail and the occasional dip into horror - which is pretty impressive, given how specific that is.

Ovearll, I'd call this book a success. It's stacked a lot towards flavor, and is probably closer to gaming fiction than a lot of people would prefer, but it doesn't forget that its fiction is meant to be used, and what can I say, I'm a sucker for world-building.

Ukss Contribution: There's a story here about a greedy man who falls under the sway of a Horror and kills his whole village in order to steal its horde of silver. He is thwarted by the village's last survivor and sealed in with monster and the treasure he so recklessly lusted after, but one single coin rolled out of the vault as the door shut for the final time - a silver coin that bled whenever it was held by one who had made a bargain with the Horrors.

The actual game mechanics of this proved a bit weaker than the story implied, presumably because no responsible GM is going to hand the PCs a skeleton key to many of the setting's most important mysteries, but I like the fictional version. It felt very mythological to me, and I am far from a responsible GM.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like a really neat book. I love the idea.