Game Fiction

reviewed by David Dunham

As I see it, fiction set in game worlds serves three purposes: it introduces the reader to the world, it should be useful to those who play in the world, and it should be an entertaining story in its own right.

The Fifth Horseman
by Ed Stark
published by West End Books

I wasn't at all familiar with the Bloodshadows background, and unfortunately after reading The Fifth Horseman I still can't say that I am. The novel is set in the city of Guildsport, where supposedly technology is replacing magic; I just found it a mishmash of steam cars, demons, modern police forces, and spells. (I confess that I'm a hard sell for such a background, since I prefer a fantasy where the magic is integrated into the world and not just anachronistically slapped on top.)

The story concerns two police detectives and a street bum caught up in saving the world against an invasion from a shadow world, in part by tracking down a murderer. Nothing terribly memorable, and marred by clunky writing.

I liked the magical bailiff's badge which not only serves as a passkey, but generates light, and there were some interesting tidbits about Guildsport, like the annual Ship Day. There are appendices of background information on the city, and game stats for the three main characters, making this book of more direct use to gamers than most.

The Bloodshadows background claims to be Fantasy Noir; if that's what you want, Glen Cook's Garrett stories would be a better bet.

City of Pain
by John Terra
published by West End Books

City of Pain is set in the Berlin of the Torg game, a place where two of the alternate cosms overlap. Storm Knights from different cosms are sent to retrieve a renegade cyberpriest. The mix of fantasy, high tech, and pulp heroes is just as hard for me to swallow, but at least it's treated with the respect it deserves -- the novel repeatedly reminded me of a comic book or B movie, complete with gratuitous explosions and instantaneous mutations. Unfortunately, the portrayal of the evil alien invaders made it a cross between horror (demons torturing people until their pain could be captured as art) and slapstick (a hero whose attack is to run into things head first), which didn't work very well.

A team of heroes is assigned to save the world, and various bad guys with their own agendas try to stop them. City of Pain had too many characters for a novel its length -- a team of over a dozen heroes, a band of seven villains, and numerous other characters. The author managed to give some characters enough motivation that their actions made sense, but most of them remained just names.

I never got a clear picture of what it meant to be a Storm Knight, the player character of Torg. Although the novel showed how the rules of different cosms interact (fantasy dwellers can still cast spells, but are less powerful outside their realm), it didn't seem to offer a whole lot of background information. It did provide a map of Berlin under alien occupation.

If you're interested in Torg, City of Pain could be adapted as a scenario. Otherwise, it isn't very compelling.

This review was written for The Gamer's Connection.

Copyright ©1996 David Dunham. Last updated 18 Jun 96

Info Plaza David Dunham Page