Inside Pulse 12

Book Review: The Festival at Glenelg (Accursed)

The Festival at Glenelg (Accursed)
Publisher: Melior Via
Pace Count: Special (see Below)
Cost: $4.99
Release Date: 1/10/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

The Festival at Glenelg is a new piece of fiction for the brand new Savage Worlds setting, Accursed. Like many RPG of this era, Accursed was a successfully funded Kickstarter project. Unfortunately for the game, it came out the same time as Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle, four different Werewolf: The Apocalypse releases, two Shadowrun supplements and a Numenera piece so I don’t know anyone who has really given the game a lot of attention. In flipping through it I have found it to be interesting, but not especially compelling. It feels rushed and disjointed but I do like the mix of White Wolf’s “You play as the monster” with a dash of Ravenloft‘s mood an atmosphere and a hearty dose of various monsters from across folklore. You have a world where at some point the Black Cauldron style undead of the UK met up with Russia’s Baba Yaga, for example. Maybe my opinion will change once I’ve spent more time with Accursed. However, this is a review of the novella not the game, so let’s get on with it.

The Festival at Glenelg is by Richard Lee Byers who is best known for his Dungeons & Dragons novels. He’s one of my favorite fantasy authors and I mainly picked this up because I had another month until his Sundering novel, The Reaver comes out, I needed something to tide me over. I should point out that unlike most RPG novels purchases that you pick up from DriveThruRPG, The Festival at Glenelg only comes in .epub and .mobi formats rather than offering a third version via PDF as well. This isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things, although because of the formatting, you can’t tell how many pages long the novella actually is. It took about 100 “clicks” on my Kindle to read through it, but since everyone sets up their e-reader differently saying “100 pages long” is far from accurate. I can however say that this is very long for a short story/novella, especially compared to a lot of Savage Worlds that I pick up like the Weird Wars Rome or Deadlands Noir dime novels. So although the price tag for this novella might seem rather high, you’re not just getting one to two dozen pages here. It’s a full on read in and of itself.

The Festival at Glenelg focused on a small corner of the world Accursed takes place in. It’s very similar to a Scottish town in our own world, using similar names, styles of clothing and jargon. Our main character is one Erik Nygaard. He is attending a highland games festival in the town of Glenelg, although he has not revealed his real name, nor his true nature to the locals. Interestingly enough, while we learn early on that Erik is a dhampir (although neither one according to folkloric tradition nor those akin to say Vampire Hunter D), we never are told the name the townsfolk of Glenelg know him by. The festival is off to a fine start until a band of undead in service to The Morrigan (the leader of this part of the world. Think a Darklord in Ravenloft) comes to town to join in the celebration. By joining in, I of course mean turn the games into an unwilling tryout for new members of their deathless legion, horribly scarring the brains of children for the rest of their mortal lives and at least one rape. It’s not pleasant by any means, but this is the world of the Accursed however, so you had to have seen that coming. I would like to read at least one story where a band of undead does indeed come to town simply to partake in the festivities. This is not that story though.

Erik, due to his quasi-vampiric nature has an opportunity to get out of Dodge before the dead realize what he actually is. Erik is not a hero by nature but as he is both a bard and a not quite vampire, he does have powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortal men. He also doesn’t feel like being fully undead either. By happenstance, Erik runs into a shadowy band of other like minded monsters with hearts of gold that call themselves the Penitents. It’s kind of like the Howling Commandos remake Marvel did a few years back or the Creature Commandos (most recently seen in DC Comics highly underrated: Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.). This team of characters just HAPPENS to highlight several of the different character options for you in Accursed, even if some of the choices seem more than a little out of sorts for the Scottish type setting of the story. You’ll mean Glynis the Scarecrow (a golem), Niels the Revenant, Yakov the Vargr (lycanthrope) and Sitamun the mummy. Sitamun quickly became my favorite character in the story and I’d love to get a full novella detailing her back story and how a mummy ended up in this part of the world. Sadly, the mummy is generally considered the least fleshed out of the classes in Accursed so it’s odd that the class Byers made me love the most is the one that needs the most touching up in the core setting.

I really liked how Byers was able to take the setting and make the inclusion of particular vernacular for the game feel natural instead of “LOOK I AM INSERTING GAME TERMS INTO THIS STORY SO YOU KNOW IT IS ABOUT A GAME. BUY THE GAME.” Like we saw with Devin Grayson’s recent train wreck in Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II. One of the reasons I love Byers’ writing is at no time do you feel you are reading a piece of licensed fiction. I could hand say, The Haunted Lands Trilogy over to my wife whose only exposure to Dungeons & Dragons are the Dragonlance novels and she wouldn’t have to ask me a single question about the Forgotten Realms setting. The same is true about The Festival at Glenelg. The story sells you on the game, or at least makes you curious about picking it up – even if you’re not a Savage Worlds fan. At the same time, you can read this story without ever feeling the story is doing a hard sell of the game. It’s a fine balance that a lot licensed fiction authors simply can’t pull off.

It was interesting to read a story by Byers where the entire tale is told from a single character’s point of view. I’m so used to him have a ensemble cast where the story goes back and forth between the characters that this was a bit jarring. I kept expecting the tale to go off to another character, especially when the Penitents came into play, but it never happened. It’s neither bad nor good that the story was written this way – merely a head’s up to other people who read (and possibly review) a lot of Byers’ tabletop based fiction.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Festival at Glenelg. It was a fine introduction to Accursed and it hits all the tropes and core aspects of the game setting. The story dragged a little bit at times, but for the most part it was a fun read and I found both the Penitents and the antagonists well written. I’d love to see more stories set in the world of Accursed by Richard Lee Byers, but then I also would love to see him writing something for Chill, Vampire: The Masquerade and Spelljammer, but those things aren’t likely to happen. Come on, you know you want to see Aoth Fezim on a Giant Space Hamster. Is this Byers’ best work? Well, no. Of course not. It’s his first time writing for this new Savage Worlds setting and so it’ll take time to get his bearings. Heck, Accursed is so new, that would be a problem for anyone taking on the same challenge. What I can safely say is that The Festival at Glenelg is very well written, a lot of fun to read and worth the cover price. Am I going to run or play a game of Accursed any time soon? No, probably not. Will I pick up more Accursed fiction? Probably, especially if Byers is the author.

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