When I first started my blog way back in late December of 2011, I was approached by James Hutchings asking if I would post a review of his book The New Death and Others on my blog. I thought about it and said "sure!" Keep in mind that I am far from a book critic, but James assured me that it would be just fine if I'd review it from a standpoint of "gaming inspiration." Now that is something I can get my arms around.
Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble. Now, on to the contents!
I focused primarily on the short stories that centered around fantasy themes. And many of these are quite good. In particular, he has a series of stories that center around the fantasy city of Telelee. This is an ancient city that appears to have an Arabian or Persian theme and it is stocked with some serious flavor and amazing characters. One example is the powerful sorceress Abi-simti, who if unerringly cruel and sadistically relentless. At one point, she makes a gruesome living harp whose every played note causes unbearable pain for its victims. Of course, she gets her come-uppance in very ironic fashion. There are also the Snake-Wearers, horribly powerful witches who drive themselves into a frenzy with wine and dance, and then bare their necks to the fangs on venomous snakes!
Another example is the city of Mayajat, over which a moon god reigns supreme. In this city, all the citizens have a wild, perhaps orgiastic, celebration every full moon. And each month at the conclusion of this celebration the moon god imbues the people with a different temperament for the month. So in any given month, the entire citizenry may be angry, or sad, or lustful. Mr. Hutchings also has a real flair for describing the whimsical nature of Mayajat, such as his extra-dimensional gatherings of rooftop denizens that are invisible to normal citizens. On the rooftops of the city, gargoyles in their finest clothes cavort with bird of prey and annoying imps. A council of Wise Owls dispenses judgement using a set of fair, consistent rules. Very fun.
Suffice it to say that the cities of Telelee and Mayajat, and their inhabitants, are ripe for inspiring your city-based D&D adventures!
The poems are quite fun to read and really are more like mini-sagas. For example, "Diamanda and the Isle of Wives" is an elaborate poem describing the interactions of a number of religious orders and two central "Romeo and Juliet" type figures. The poem goes into great, dramatic detail about the twists and turns of their lives. Its ending is fun and very ironic. And it's compelling reading. And much of it can be "mined" for campaign ideas. There is, for example, a religious order of elephants! And cruel temples which contain small holding cells into which people are dumped and left to die - with their wailing cries as a reminder to the religous flock to toe the line.
Irony is a central theme of TND. Mr. Hutchings obviously enjoys going to great lengths to devise ironic twists of fate for the central figures. Typically, characters demonstrate some kind of extreme flaw or obsessive thinking that drives them towards their goals - only to have that same trait come back and be the cause of their doom. So many of these stories are clearly cautionary tales, or fables. I really enjoyed this aspect of TND.
A couple of the stories I read weren't quite to my taste. One example is the short story "The New Death." To me, it tries a little too hard to be constantly cute and clever with its dialogue and ends up falling a bit flat.
But in my estimation, the vast majority of the stories and poems were fun to read, whimisical, ironic, and ripe for gaming inspiration.