Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review: Black & White


Black & White is a six-issue comic published by Kenzer from July 2002 through January 2003. (Interested readers may wish to glance through my review of another Kenzer series from around the same time, Tempest's Gate.) The six issues are entitled:
  • Once a Thief...
  • New Friends, Old Enemies
  • Woodwych
  • Lambs to the Slaughter
  • The Return
  • Coming Home
The series starts off in Rel Mord, capital of Nyrond, with no date specified. Lynwerd is king of Nyrond, though, so that places the action sometime after 586 CY. It focuses on Tinelith, a half-elf thief, Snibb, a gnome mage, and Benni, a half-orc, who are soon joined by Bernleough, a cleric of Fharlanghn.

The plot revolves around a scheme to overthrow Lynwerd as king of Nyrond. Our heroes get swept up in the action when Tinelith cuts the wrong purse containing some incriminating scrolls, and the three are forced to flee the city, heading into the Celadon forest, pursued by the captain of the castle guard, Grakin. Over the course of the adventure, characters are revealed to be not what they seem, the principles are captured, let go, recaptured, and so on, and the plot progresses to the inevitable showdown with the plotters, whose plan is to kill Tinelith and Benni in front of the king, framing them as assassins, thus proving the plotters' loyalty, allowing them to strike from a position of trust.

Naturally, the plot fails, and the plotters (if not backed by the Pale, at least deeply associated with the priests of Pholtus) are executed. Snibb dies as well, turned into some sort of undead creature by the plotters. Tinelith is officially recognized as the daughter of the Baroness of Woodwych (which we were told about earlier, but honestly I couldn't get worked up about the supposedly-grand revelation), and is shown grieving for her lost friends. 

What I find annoying about this particular series is the ending. It breaks the primary rule of game plotting (and, for that matter, plotting in general) - the principle characters are entirely superfluous. It's not Tinelith and Benni who foil the plot, it's the baroness. The king knew exactly what to expect, and as soon as the plotters' trap was sprung, it was foiled through no agency of the main characters. It I had been playing Tinelith, I would have been quite disappointed. The only thing they really did to actively move the plot along was to steal the scrolls by mistake and then flee westward. After that, the plot ran pretty much on auto-pilot.

The art is... capable but annoying, and done in, as one might tell from the title of the series, black and white rather than the full color of Tempest's Gate. Unfortunately they were forced to switch artists halfway through the first issue, and in so doing the design of the two main characters changed drastically. Tinelith, who is a redhead on the cover of issue 1, has black hair later on. Snibb, who starts off as an aged, portly gnome with a monocle and bulbous nose, has a chiseled chin and movie star looks in issue 2. (At the end of issue 1, Snibb is shown casting a spell on the group as they leave the town, but no mention is then made of why Tinelith and Benni revert back to their original forms, but not Snibb.)

There are several elements of interest to DMs running a game in the Nyrond/Celadon/Gnatmarsh region. We get a good look at Stalwart Pines, a ranger training school in the Celadon, which is mentioned briefly in other sources but never really developed. There's also a spell used by the clerics of Heironeous to hold the dying in some sort of floating stasis while their friends collect enough money to pay for full healing. It struck me as somewhat incongruous for a good-aligned temple do bleed the loved ones of the sick that way, but it works in a cynical sort of way.

One other interesting feature that could be of use to game masters is the use of quotes from books to set up scenes in several issues. We see snippets from The Travel Companion Guide, Chapter XXVI: Nyrond. and The Middle Flanaess on Ten Silver Pieces a Day. I wish they had expanded the practice with more names. Still, the excerpts give some interesting background on the region that would be directly applicable to games set in the period. There are no game stats presented in the books.


On the whole, the story itself doesn't really advance anything in the setting, and takes a long time to get to where its going, but Tinelith and Benni would be good NPCs to use in a game (most of the other surviving characters are pretty much just window dressing). There's some useful background to be had, and the art, while not great, is certainly not awful. You can get the back issues for less than cover price, which is nice. I give it two wizards out of five.

2 comments:

Ryan Moore said...

Man, I was hoping you were going to say they were good. Any recommendations for good Greyhawk comics?

Joseph Bloch said...

Well, if you can get your hands on it, Vecna: Hand of the Revenant is superb. I'm eventually going to cover all of the Greyhawk comics that have been done (next up is In the Shadow of Dragons); click on the "Greyhawk Comics" tag at the bottom of the post to see them all.