Thursday, March 7, 2019

Appendix N: Andre Norton, Witch World, and My Campaign

  When I finished reading the Barsoom books when I was 9 (My father had the entire series from his own youth, including a first printing of Thuvia) I read Daybreak 2250 (also called Starman's Son) by Andre Norton. I loved it. I read Tarzan books for about a year then found Norton's Crystal Gryphon. Then I read Witch World.

  Shortly thereafter I started making Seaward, my own AD&D campaign.

  As I have mentioned elsewhere the way things can creep into a campaign are very interesting.  I remember that Witch World had an impact on Seaward, but it had been a long time since I re-read the books; I wanted to re-read them to remember the how part more clearly. I got the gift of Kindle Unlimited for my birthday and they are part of that, so....

Crystal Gryphon
  I was afraid that this book would be added to the pile of 'loved it when I was 10-12 but now not so much', but was pleasantly surprised. Norton's style was mature, she kept the pacing interesting, she gave great descriptions without being too wordy, the story was fun, and the characters were believable.
  Kerovan was well-written as strong, smart, tough, and yet green and too prone to consider himself an outsider. Obviously written to both resonate with teen readers, he subverts the lame Hero's Journey concept by readily being a warrior, leader, and lord because it is his duty.
  Joisan was a character that needs to be used as an example of 'how to write a female character that is strong as a woman': she's organized, she's hard-working, and she's dedicated to her people, being nurturing without being a sap or doormat; she wears armor and carries a sword and bow because war, but she can't beat a warrior and knows it, but is still helpful in fights because she's brave and resourceful; her dedication to tradition, modesty, honor, and culture are her strength, not her weakness; etc. Great stuff showing how in times of war a woman running a household is as critical to a nation as a man leading knights in the field.

  The story has good pacing with background, character establishment, etc. being well done. The threats are interesting and the worldbuilding is a ton of fun.

Witch World
  While you can tell that Norton had an extra decade of writing between Witch World and Crystal Gryphon, even this earlier book shows her skill at being a lean, effective writer. The world building is good, the plot interesting, and the villains great. With her core premise (interdimensional travel is possible and Witch World gets visitors) the mix of swords & sorcery, mercenary adventure, low fantasy, and essentially dieselpunk is very entertaining. She did an excellent job of Witch World not being modern Earth and not being 'Medieval Europe with magic'. Dart guns similar to pistols? Automata? Interesting, odd cultures? I can see why friends of mine thought Witch World was a post-apocalyptic Earth!

Impact on Seaward
  I think the most obvious impact was the technology; from the beginning (1979!) my campaign has had steam-powered steeds, automaton guards, self-cocking crossbows with a key for the clockwork, etc. even a self-propelled war galley. The mix of old and new, even in Skull Mountain (or especially in Skull Mountain!) shows that Seaward is very, very old with a vast history most of which is forgotten by all, which is important to the Witch World backstory, too.


  1. Glad to see you posting again!

  2. Nice, hope you'll be back to more regular posting!

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