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!).

Fighting Fantasy

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.

Blood Sword

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 This is no longer being updated, but it gave me an unforgettable glimpse into a dark world, a place with few if any happy endings.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.


smsarber said...

I never read any of these, my interest in my younger days would have went that way, but for some reason I just passed those books up. The closest thing to RPG (what a rip, by the way--I thought you were talking about 'rocket propelled grenades') I ever read was the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Not really what you would call masterpieces of literature, but they had their place in a young boys heart. Where else could you pick one path and save a beautiful girl, or choose another and fall off the Statue of Liberty?

Marian Perera said...

Fantasy rocket propelled grenades? Give me a few moments to think about how people in a medieval society might come up with the equivalent... :)

FF and its ilk are a bit more complex than the CYOA books - for instance, it's possible to lose battles if the monster's stats are better than yours. There's also a little more continuity through the books.

Not masterpieces either, but they were a great introduction to the genre - and most of all, they didn't seem as solemn and traditional as Tolkien's books. You could play around with them. If I was trying to get a kid interested in fantasy, I'd start with these.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Marian thanks for the Blood Sword link. Interesting. Kinda like a hybrid, half way between FF books and standard RPG's.


Marian Perera said...

No problem, Lee. After the first book in the Blood Sword series, the other four are part of the same story arc - you have to retrieve the hilt and blade of the Blood Sword, a weapon tempered in the Savior's blood and the only thing which can stop the True Magi upon their return to the world.

I thought that was way cool. :)