Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review of Swords of Kos: Necropolis From Skirmisher Publishing For Your Old School Sword and Sorcery Campaigns

Grab It Right

So almost a week ago I received this book via email and I've been climbing through it. Not because its an awful read but because its kind of hard to do it justice. Sword of Kos Necropolis is a weird throw back in time to the days of yor. Namely the sword and sorcery fantasy novels of the early 80's which I chewed through like a thresher. Thank the gods above that I joined one of those science fiction and fantasy book clubs. Sword and sorcery fantasy novels were mini campaign resource books as well as entertainment for any DM.  This one is no exception. Sword of Kos Necropolis picks the action up right in the middle of the Kos campaign setting.
The plot goes something like this according to the Drivethrurpg blurb : 
“Paros could only venture a guess as to how many graves the forsaken burial ground in the little valley before him contained. North to south, it ran about a half mile and, from where he stood beside the wrought-iron fence that zigzagged along its eastern edge, it stretched about a quarter mile to the base of the hills that surrounded it. The rolling, broken ground of this unkempt area was heavily overgrown with grass, vines, copses of scrubby little oaks and brushy gray-green juniper, great clumps of flowers in every color, and probably every other sort of vegetation native to the island of Kos. Obelisks, statues of patron deities, and other stones marking the grave sites of families and individuals lay broken and tumbled amongst the rampant growth, and mausoleums of every size were interspersed throughout.
Paros did not know the extent to which this place had been looted over the century since it was last known to have been used but there were undoubtedly hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of graves that had not yet been pillaged. And they were not even the object of their quest, which was marked by the small, columned temple of black marble that he could see halfway up one of the hills at the other end of the cemetery. And there was no telling what else might be hidden within this wild, desolate place. ... “
The characters are well thought out and engaging but its the setting as well that I warmed to. A giant series of mega dungeon location set pieces that could be put down right into your old school sword and sorcery campaign. There are other nice little nods to the old school fantasy novel tradition. There are some lovely maps and images that are insert pieces like you might see in some of the higher end 70's and 80's sword and sorcery novels as well. According to the Drivethrurpg blurb this was done by design: 

Inspired by the works of classic swords-and-sorcery authors like Fritz Lieber, Jack Vance, and Robert E. Howard, Swords of Kos: Necropolis is the first entry in Skirmisher Publishing LLC’s new line of fantasy fiction. It is author Michael O. Varhola’s eleventh book and is illustrated with a series of beautiful images by veteran fantasy artist Amanda Kahl.

Using Swords of Kos Necropolis For Your
Old School Sword and Sorcery Campaign

The characters in Swords of Kos are perfect NPC foils for a tradition fantasy campaign as well as the setting but when playing around with sword and sorcery there are some tropes and traditions that are going to need some adjustment.
Let's look at the Drivethrurpg blurb once again:
"Swords of Kos: Necropolis follows the adventures of Paros, a streetwise rogue with a penchant for alchemy, Parthenia, a savage female Elf barbarian, and Selene, a priestess of the outlawed Titan moon goddess, as they brave the hazards of a long-abandoned cemetery and the catacombs that lie beneath it. Dangerous though the hazards and supernatural guardians of this place are, an even greater threat might be the Necropolis itself .."
The problem is '
Parthenia, the savage female Elf barbarian', in humancentric campaigns such Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea which relies on the Conan model as well as other traditional pulp sword and sorcery tropes. Elves can be a real pain. Well not really at all. Elves with some adjustment become one of the elder races of pre-humans.Those who come before mankind. The burden of letting them into your Sword and Sorcery game falls on me and you as the DM. Not really a big deal because there are a ton of examples of making these more into a pulp mold then the Peter Jackson Tolkien movie style. Sword of Kos's campaign setting actually addresses this as well. As far as fleshing out their backgrounds, don't. The histories of many of the sword and sorcery campaigns are sketchy at best. 
 Sword of Kos Necropolis does a nice job of rounding out their world. There are bits that can be solidly old school and other bits I noticed that are Pathfindery but those can easily be ignored. Unless that's the style of game edition your playing.
The characters are likable and well though out but here we come to the 'Star Wars' burden. Do your PC's meet up with the novel's characters? My advise is no, its not necessary. There are so many threads left in the wake of 
Paros,  Parthenia,  and Selene, that you could have your PC's doing clean up duty instead and cursing their names as they go from one mess to another at their passage.
 This is actually one of the strengths of the novel as sword and sorcery resource, the characters are heroes with a passion for adventuring and leaving some good hooks for adventures in their wake. By chance or design there are some really nice campaign starters throughout the novel. Not to spoil it but I have a feeling these were done on purpose by the author for further adventures down the line. That being said a clever DM could take full advantage make this setting his own with a bit of old school DYI. 
All in all this isn't a bad place to gain a foot hold into Kos and then jump into the deep end of the Sword of Kos campaign setting! I personally enjoyed my vacation into Kos and look forward to dragging some PC's there soon. 

No comments:

Post a Comment