Gaming the Books? The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers

(Found time for a more extended review…)

Review

For anyone who reads my Gaming the Movies column in Knights of the Dinner Table magazine, you know that I can watch a movie or a TV show and get pretty psyched about how I’d GM that property as a table-top RPG.  That same sort of excitement occurs with the best books as well.  The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers knocked it out of the park for me so I had to get some of the ideas down here.  Paul Westermeyer is the book reviewer for KODT so I’ll have to suggest this one for him.

First off, the book itself.  This is a steampunk masterpiece in my opinion, and I’m not someone who has ever delved that much into the steampunk realm.  I still love cyberpunk from the Gibson/Blade Runner era and perhaps there were enough similarities here to make it all the more interesting.  We are presented with a city once ruled by three gods.  These gods were brothers, mortal born who by the impact of their lives and deeds attracted power and divinity to themselves.  Humanity became dominant in the land, ruling over other races like the enigmatic Feyr, the scaly Rethari, and others.  But the Brothers Immortal turned out to be not named perfectly.  Decades before the book begins, one of the brothers,Amon, killed another brother, Morgan.  For his crime he was burned and drowned in the lake over which the City of Ash is built.

Our hero is Eva Forge, the last Paladin of Morgan, still following the ways of the ebbing Cult of Morgan, using invokations of Morgan’s deeds to give her magical powers: speed, endurance, armor, strength, and much more.  (The author even uses the term “buffing” at one point, revealing his own experience as a gamer of some type… and yes, this would make an awesome video game).  Her Cult is fading away in a city of wonders created by the enslaved followers of Amon, now called the Betrayer.  One god remains, Alexander, who rules the city as a god king.

But this is steampunk so Eva carries sword and a bullygun (revolver), the city supports an elevated train system, skyscrapers of steel and glass, wireless communications, and much more, all with a steampunk feel… the El is powered by massive Impellers that drive it forward along the track and the wireless communications are performed through gear that sits on a person’s head.

Each Cult has its own powers: Morgan’s give combat abilities mostly; Amon’s allows for magical Making and Unmaking of things (tearing down a brick building and building another structure with the bricks just with their thoughts); Alexander’s appears to be Healing and Mind powers.

On their way back from a library staffed by Amon’s cult, the head of Eva’s Cult is captured.  Strange “cold men” appear to do the deed.  Others attack her Cult as she tried to understand what is happening and like any good paladin, generally bulls her way through things.

I’ll not give away the mysteries, but the writing is very evocative.  I could picture everything clearly, the CGI of my mind working at peak performance.  Eva ends up moving through many areas of their society, giving you a good look at the world.  His use of language is of particular note, changing enough terms to keep what could be read as modern, dry technology feeling more fantastic.

I’d give the book 5 stars out of 5 and a Must Read for any steampunk fan.  If you like playing with Weird Science in Savage Worlds, it would also be excellent inspiration.

Gaming the Book

Now, on to some specifics I’d focus on if I wanted to run the City of Ash as an RPG.  This is a quick list to elaborate on later

Undead: The “Coldmen” are sewn up corpses whose innards have been replaced by leather and glass pistons (clockwork). They wear whole body suits with goggles sewn in that contain the icy cold air around their bodies.

Icons: The members of the three cults all wear icons.  Here is something about Eve’s icons: “We all wear icons, the scions of the three Cults of the Brothers Immortal.  My armor is an icon, as are my sword and revolver. Very practical icons.  But I wear others, noetic symbols of the power of Morgan.  An iron fist pendant at my neck, the bound copper wire around my wrist, tattoos on my chest and legs.  There is a holy symmetry to my symbols, brought to arcane life by the power of Morgan.”

The powers the scions have is based on tapping the power of their patron god through symbols of that god’s life and legendary deeds.  They may call out “Rite of the Stag Hunt” to give themselves added speed, referring to a feat in the past by Morgan.  These powers can be invoked and layered as fast as the scion can speak their names, loud or soft.  Silence a scion and they cannot engage their powers.  The harder the chant, the more powerful the invokation will be.

“Icons of the faith are powerful tools for channeling the invokations of Morgan.  My sword was an obsessively precise mimic of Morgan’s own blade, the Grimwield.”  At higher levels of power, icons are more obscure, referencing lesser known parts of the god’s life.  Powerful scions also wear a lot of fakes, to misdirect which ones are real.  “It was only the knowledge of these things that powered them, and that knowledge was carefully guarded by the ranks of the initiated.”

Healers: Scions of Alexander, put on rings and bracelets of silver as icons when they need to heal.  Touch the victim’s temples, wrists, and ankles.

“Names are part of the Song and should not be given away.” – a hint to names having power over people in the right hands.

Cool Quotes

“It was well past noon when I gave up being patient and kind, and decided to go ahead and be a Paladin of Morgan.  It was my nature.”

“If they come for you… swim.”

“Swim,” Owen said, “and pray to Alexander for deliverance.”

“As you like,” I said. “But mostly I would swim.”

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