The history of Europe is a fascinating one and the 15th century is a particularly interesting time, what with the Voyages of Discovery, the development of gunpowder and the expansionist march of the Ottoman Empire. Yet it was still a time when superstition held sway, when the fastest thing man could use to travel was a horse, when great swathes of the continent were still uninhabited, littered with the ruins of fallen Empires.
A perfect time, you might think to use for a D&D campaign; It’s clear that Paul Kearney thinks so too, because Hawkwood’s Voyage reads very much as if he’s written such a thing up. He hasn’t, of course but he has done the next best thing and set this fantasy novel, the first of several, on the cusp of mediaevality and modernity, hurling two power blocs against each other and giving us the tales of the ordinary folk who are caught up in the middle of things.
I came across this via Amazon’s “People who have bought this book also bought…” and I’m very glad I did. It was written in 1995, a year before A Game of Thrones was published so Kearney was in at the forefront of the gritty, morally ambiguous, hard as nails combat genre. He’s also a keen sailor and that comes across in his chapters concerning the eponymous sea voyage.
A brief outline of the set-up – an abandoned ship is found, its crew dead or missing and something horrible in the hold. In the captain’s cabin is a rutter and log that hints at a western continent unknown by the civilisations known as the Monarchies of God. Meanwhile, the magic-using peoples, persecuted by the Church are seeking escape and a young, free-thinking King realises that he can kill two birds with one stone. Before you can say Columbus With Spells, two ships have been chartered and filled with mages, dweomer-folk and a shifter – this world’s version of a lycanthrope.
Meanwhile to the east, the vast armies of the Merduks, (resprayed Ottomans) are marching to crush the infidels, having already captured Aekir, the Constantinople of this world. Once they’ve got that under their belt, they’re heading west – unless the armies of the Monarchies of God can stop them. And they’re too busy trying to work out a way of getting the too-keen-on-burning-heretics Church off their backs.
I must admit that for the first 100 pages or so, I was getting used to Kearney’s chop-and-change style of switching viewpoints; there are quite a few different plot strands but they’re needed because, rather in the fashion of journalists being embedded with the US and UK armies, his characters are right there in the forefront of the action. And there’s a lot of action to cover. Even the politics, which can sometimes make my eyes glaze over in other works, don’t have that effect in this one. The battle scenes really come alive, with changes of focus from the strategic to the personal exactly when needed. He also knows precisely when to switch characters in a way that gives the reader just enough to make them want to get back to that strand again.
Constructed to cover several books, Kearney is taking his time in developing the plot strands but even though he has to break off at some point, he manages the suspense in such a way that my reaction at the end of this volume was definitely not “Meh”. I’ll be checking out the second book in the series “The Heretic Kings” soon.
Benbo, 3rd level Fighter/4th level Thief - he who dares.
Galzor, 4th level cleric - mysteriously disappeared along with the Third and his coffin.
Zanurax, 3rd level thief (recovering from being partly eaten by a lion and has now gone to join Merlin)
Olaf, 4th level dwarven fighter, now returning to his clan halls
Merlin, 3rd level thief (called away on the business of the Thieves' Guild)
Adthar, 4th level fighter - currently both an Ettin and a statue
Elador, nth level magic-user - called away on special assignments but will act as mentor and adviser to the team
Galadeus, 2nd level ranger - drowned and then eaten by a shark.....aaaaaand he's BACK! aaaaaaaaand he's dead again.
What I'm DMing for 6 new junior players
Old School Links to Wisdom
Give your d12...
...some Old School love
Call of Cthulhu - visit our wiki
That's what Old School means to me
"These rules are flexible and open to interpretation - designed not to cover all conceivable situations, but to allow good Referees and Players the freedom to create and play games of their own design."
from the Lulu download page for The White Box S&W from BHP
"This game is unlike chess in that the rules are not cut and dried. In many places, they are guidelines and suggested methods only. This is part of the attraction of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons"
Over halfway to 90, I started playing AD&D when the Police were a cool band and Punk was wild. I am a father to a ten-year-old Junior Grognard and have now managed to establish a five-strong gaming group made up of him and four of his friends, ages ranging from 10 to 11. Solidly Old-School.
High fives and natural 20s to you all!