Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Fantasy RPGs and what I learned from them
A recent post on New Adventures in Fantasy Fiction made me think about fantasy role-playing games. They didn’t start my interest in fantasy – that’s due to The Lord of the Rings - but they made me realize just how far the boundaries of fantasy can be stretched. So this post is dedicated to three of my favorite such games or gamebooks (and to all the gamers out there!).
The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, were wildly popular in their day. Most of the books in this series are set in the cityports, forests, deserts and mountains of Allansia, but a few take place on futuristic or alien worlds. My favorite, House of Hell, is set right here on Earth, and the player starts the book driving to a job interview through a fierce storm. One car wreck later, the only building nearby is a large decrepit mansion.
What’s in the mansion is all the more horrifying compared to the normalcy at the start. Many of the other gamebooks have fascinating elements too, and because there’s no plot to get in the way, such elements always jump out at me and inspire me when I read the books to get ideas for my own work. Dinosaurs rub shoulders with druids, ant symbiotes lie in wait for compassionate travelers and secrets are hidden in mazes (and pretty much everywhere else). Some of the FF books have been reprinted, and I’d recommend them for anyone who wants an introduction to fantasy at its easiest to grasp.
The Blood Sword books, by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, were written to accommodate multiple gamers, but for me their major appeal was their ability to translate real-world places and concepts, such as the Middle East and Christianity, into the fantasy world of Legend. I’d love to do something similar in my own work.
And the Blood Sword world has its own bestiary of fantastic creatures –skiapyrs, dirges, greedy and spiteful faltyns. If you’d like to check out the books, a PDF of the first one, The Battlepits of Krarth, is here.
I stumbled into the Land of Mists through the netbooks maintained on the Kargatane’s website. This is no longer being updated, but it gave me an unforgettable glimpse into a dark world, a place with few if any happy endings. It’s the perfect combination of fantasy and horror. Madness and misery, technology and terror, cabals and cannibalism, Ravenloft has it all. If you’re looking for the tried-and-true monsters like werewolves along with newer grotesques like Broken Ones and Caleb Wicks, you’ll find it here.
Ravenloft borrows shamelessly and well from both fictional and real-life sources to weave its fantastic patchwork of domains and creatures. I haven’t read any of the novels set in this grim, elegant world, but if I get the chance I won’t pass it up.