Game of Thrones, thoughts

I’d heard the line that George R R Martin hates his characters, and looked forward to reading the books. Now that I’m starting Feast of Crows (book 4) I really understand why that sentence is true. If you’re expecting to understand that approach and you’ve only read or watched the first book, then you’ve not seen what it is like when an author loves his stories more than the characters within them.

Note: I’ll keep the post free of any Game of Thrones spoilers.

gameof thrones logoAs a series it is darn fascinating in both style and presentation. The books do not actually end at all. I read the books so far back to back, and I think that had I taken a break between them then the plot would have lost resolution for me. If you like a story that concludes between the covers, then you’ll have to consider Game of Thrones completed when Martin says he’s done. I think we’ll see at least seven in the series, although I’m not sure which characters will be left by the end.

Each chapter is from a different perspective, and there is no rhyme or rule to say which character will be written about, except to say that a few of the surviving characters get chapters regularly. Peripheral characters are raised to be main protagonists, and our heroes are brutally killed in the name of the story.

If its not blindingly obvious I am really enjoying the series. Several characters I liked have died, many others have escaped death where I thought they were due. It keeps me reading. Thankfully there have been no events that felt like Deus Ex Machina; which is a strength of Martin’s writing. If the story demands resolution, he gives it.

How does this translate into RPG games? Bluntly, brutally, and well – just like the books.

The overarching story is one of a fight against a dark evil, with the forward story of controlling an empire. The characters have almost no vision to the overall plight or story, and there is no dependance on a particular hero to provide the tempo or path forward. These are personalities in a world where loft goals often go unrewarded.

There are a few characters though who might stand apart soon to understand the need of the story, but I have faith and exposure to Martin to know that they will get little protection from their in-character enemies just because they might see a glimmer of the true fight.

For RPGs this is a world that you play in, but you’d not be saving it. An RPG setting would need to have the players as side characters, suffering the same toils as everyone else. There can be no “mission from the gods”, or “holy path” to provide a clear cut motivator – as for every character who thinks they are on a holy mission, there would be another with a different god giving alternate advice. It is less about black and white, and more about surviving a fight the characters do not even know they are in.

The setting lends itself to combat systems that are unforgiving, but also leverage skill well above base arms. It is common for a NPC soldier type to out think as much as fight a battle, and an RPG game would need to have some scope for that. Likewise some duels have been resolved with the lightly armored combatant dancing around the tank type, until the tank is too tired to survive.

The setting also needs a low amount of magic, but magic (real magic) is darn powerful. Some major characters are removed from the story with the use of magic, and there is little the characters around it can do about it. For magic lore there is also a huge range of skills considered magical, and almost all are trivial, but sometimes useful.

This means the setting is not one of fireballs and flying castles; but it is one of dragons and magic swords. It’s bloody interesting. Dark fantasy comes to mind, but the setting is almost fantasy-noir.

So what system? I have no idea. GURPS might serve, WH Fantasy is a good solution, and suits the high rate of death. Certainly DnD and d20 have no place here. Nobody in the story (so far) has soaked up a hit by a two handed sword and lived.

I can’t wait to keep reading, but I’m also keen to try the Game of Thrones-ish RPGs. Perhaps it is best done in a setting as a prologue to the books, where the ancient lore can be re-cast by the players. The events of the books are the future, and not likely to be needed or impacted.

A story about the Iron Isles becoming a kingdom, or the first men fighting against the Dragon King, or perhaps even a small game set beyond the wall in the first time of cold. All would be good settings, already full of lore, monsters, and nasty double edged swords.

Happy gaming.