Reading about things I’d forgotten

While working through OSRIC, I can’t help but feel moments where I think, “Oh wow, this or that would be great to use for creating a quest.” This has happened a lot in the section on magic. In particular, the spell “Imprisonment”.

Basically, the spell allows the caster to imprison something in a stone. A cool spell and definitely the kind of thing that has made its way into may fantasy tales. What really attracted me to this was the idea of how the spell operated in reverse. Basically, the spell can free an imprisoned creature, but may also accidentally free other imprisoned creatures. And there it is, the plot hook. Someone botches a spell to liberate someone/thing that has been trapped in a stone, but botches the spell. The target is then freed, but so is something truly awful. The group must then track down the freed entity and subdue it, if they can. Brilliant! Is it reinventing the wheel? Yeah, actually it kind of is. Would it be a fun and completely playable quest? Absolutely! The only thing I had to do was read one spell description and I have a whole adventure planned out. Its amazing what a trip down memory lane can do.

It’s so easy to forget things, and then re-learn what you’d already known. I find gaming is really no different in this respect. There is so much material created for RPGs every year that stuff can slip through the cracks, or be forgotten on a dusty shelf (which is kind of poetic for table-top games right?). A little time going back to study the basic concepts can go a long way.

What influences authors

Genre fiction has been a staple of my literary diet for about 25 years now. Initially, it was just a passing fancy. I found books I liked, read them, and then moved on to the next thing. As I grew older though, I found that genre fiction carried with it a certain siren song of interest. I just can’t help being interested in it. No matter what the quality of writing is, I love it, and one of the things I like is to try to figure out, what’s driving the authors.

For example, I’m reading a book right now, and it is very pagan-y. The descriptions of the characters and their clothing, as well as the places are all reminiscent of what I’ve seen in neo-pagan literature. This leads me to believe that, regardless of what that individual author believes, there is a specific body of literature that fueled the world for the book I’m reading.

For me, being cognizant of this kind of thing is fun. I know that when I run games, what I am immersed works as fodder for my own games. I tend to read things that are oriented around tough moral choices. As a result, I have a hard time keeping this out of my games. I love throwing hard choices at my characters and seeing where they go with it. I’m rarely disappointed. Does the poverty-stricken character work for the unsavory NPC because they need the money, or do they try to uphold some kind of code to explain why they turn down a contact? I love this stuff.

What authors use to create their works is fueled by research. A question was asked, investigated, and bore fruit for a writer in the form of a story.  I suggest trying the same thing. Consider a topic you’re curious about, head on over to the library and see what they have on it, and then create. Likely, you won’t be disappointed.

One thing begets another

Gary Gygax insisted that Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings wasn’t the main inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons. Initially, I scoffed at Gygax’s position. (And for the record, I think it’s obvious Tolkein’s work was an influence.) As time passes though, I find myself grudgingly accepting that there was more to the evolution of what inspired Gygax, and that he may have a point.

Its only recently as I plumb the depths of genre fiction and read more about designing tabletop role-playing games that I see wider influences. When I first started to break down the game I had though it was the culmination of people who were really into Tolkein, medieval military history, and complex mathematical systems. I don’t even know if I think that’s incorrect. However, there there are a handful of writers who keep on find their way into “Suggested Reading” sections in various RPGs I find.

Jack Vance, and his Dying Earth novels are one of the things I’ve seen multiple times. Enough that I have to consider that Gygax would have read this. Its odd as well, but even the descriptions of casting magic in Vance’s novels sounds more like D&D than other texts. For example, I don’t know if I think Gygax would have taken the time to read actual occult works. Was he a fan of Aleister Crowley? I don’t know. It seems like it would be unrealistic.

Other names I’ve seen mention more than once are people like, Michael Moorcock, Poul Anderson, and the general selection of “pulp fantasy novels”. I have to say that, while Tolkein’s presence is undeniable, in my opinion, the rest of these names also have impacted D&D. It makes me want to dig further and see what other stuff I can find. Its fun to see what people were/are inspired by. Its also a convenient excuse to take a trip to the library, something I love.