Tuesday 4 February 2014

The City by Stella Gemmell

Yes, Gemmell as in David’s wife. She worked with him on some of his books and completed his Fall of Troy series after his death. This is her first solo novel and by heck, it’s a cracker. This is, for me, the equivalent for fantasy of what Hawk Quest was for historical fiction. I don’t think she put a foot wrong in this one – it’s so well written, inventive and plotted that it was a joy to read.

What’s it about?  Well, it describes the efforts of a motley assortment of characters to bring down an apparently immortal and thoroughly decadent emperor who rules over the eponymous City. Some of them are fighting in an incredibly long war between the City and its enemies, others are inhabitants of the gloriously intricate under-City which is like some kind of mega-dungeon, slowly flooding and causing the city above it to sink. They are tied together by some truly brilliant plotting that is immensely satisfying when you finally realise how it all falls together.

The prose is realistic, particularly the combat scenes, gritty without being nihilistic or bleak in any way, with characters that you really come to like and want to see succeed. One of the main characters, in my mind at least is the City itself. There’s no map but by the end of the book you feel you could probably draw one. It’s a huge, sprawling place, amazingly real, and – as I mentioned before – built on so many levels, it’s a bit like Gormenghast. The world-building is sans pareil, and could give many DMs a lesson in how to make something at the same time familiar and yet strikingly new in its exoticism.

It’s 560 pages long, so as fantasy epics go, it’s rather mid-length. I could have done with more pages, to be honest as at no point did I feel that the pace was flagging. I’d recommend it if you like David Gemmell’s work but I think Stella should be read on her own merits – of which, if this is anything to go by, she has plenty.

Sunday 2 February 2014

An Adventure for Every Monster - Devil, Pit Fiend

Frequency   Rare
No. appearing 1 or 1-3
Armour class  -3
Move  6”/15” 
Hit Dice  13
Percentage in lair 65%     
Treasure type J, R
No. of attacks 2
Damage per attack  5-8/7-12    
Special attack  See below
Special defences  +2 or better weapon to hit
Magic Resistance 65%
Intelligence Exceptional
Alignment Lawful Evil
Size   L (12‘ tall)
THAC0  9
XP value 7900 + 18/hp

The devil’s abilities include:

Produce Flame
Wall of Fire
Detect Magic
Detect Invisible
Polymorph Self
Hold Person
Gate in 1-3 barbed devils (60%) or another pit fiend (40%) (70% chance of success)
Once per day, the pit fiend can deploy a Symbol of Pain.
Shed Fear in a 20’ radius.
Charm Person
Teleportation (no error)
Know Alignment
Cause Fear
Animate Dead

Many years ago, a high-level party was adventuring when they came up against a particularly tough opponent. The magic user, high in intelligence but not quite as well-endowed in the Wisdom department, used a Polymorph Other on his trusted henchman to turn him into a Pit Fiend. The plan worked but the magic user got separated from his polymorphed henchman and was then killed elsewhere by another opponent.

Left on his own, the henchman struggled to come to terms with what had happened to him and what his fate would now be. He was horrified, particularly as he was a nice chap to begin with, but slowly his predicament and his isolation began to eat away at his sanity and he started to believe that he really was a Pit Fiend and that his human memories were just delusions.

Succumbing to his diabolical urges, he began to go on rampages, slaughtering parties of adventurers sent to finish him off. After each combat, he would remember his former self when looking at the bodies of adventurers and this drove him even more insane. His rampages grew worse, including atrocities more in line with demons than devils.

In time, this came to the attention of Asmodeus himself and he despatched a real Pit Fiend to destroy the impostor and restore the Lawful reputation of devildom.

Into this situation comes the luckless party, hired by a local nobleman to accompany his rather weedy son on his first mission as a member of a holy order of knights (he got the job through generous donations by his father). The party will get a bonus if they finish off the ‘pit fiend’ but the penalty if the son dies will more or less wipe out that bonus.

The party will get wind of the trail of destruction pretty quickly as the ‘pit fiend’ is not subtle about what he does. Only when the party are closing to engage will the real pit fiend show up and he’s not fussy about stuff like collateral damage. In fact, if he can garner some more souls for his diabolical master, he will do so.