What inspires your gaming? Where do you find the emotions, mental imagery, and words to design your games and/or write your rpg adventures? This question came about as my wife and I were discussing April being National Poetry Month. This month I am focusing my weekly posts on creative works that have inspired my gaming over the years. Last week was poetry, while this week we still focus on literature followed up by Music and Film.
I am an avid reader, have been since I was very young. On weekends and during the summer breaks, I loved going to the local library to fill my bag full of books. I vividly remember the first time my mom allowed me to ride my bike across town to the library all by myself. I felt so free from then on to access the world of books that I loved. Though much older and busier in life today, I still try to find time to read as many books as I can each year. Audiobooks were a great addition later in life for providing even more access to literature for me. So not surprising that there are some books that were truly impactful on my gaming hobby. Many impacted how it all started and others added to and altered my gaming over the years.
My grandfather loved to read the classics and often loaned me books to read like Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Around the World in 80 Days, and more. In many ways, he developed my passion for reading. The book that grabbed my interest the most and began my lifelong love of science fiction and shaped by views of steampunk was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. That book, and many others by Verne, pulled me into the adventure and science. I still every few years or so pull out Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to read it again. Later as I got more into gaming, it was interesting to see how I am much more a Vernian steampunk rather than Dickensian steampunk fan. Another science fiction book my grandfather introduced me to was Triplanetary by Doc E.E. Smith, which really solidified my love for high action science fiction and likely why I fell in love later with the likes of Flash Gordon, John Carter, Buck Rogers, and John Crichton. Now I am preparing to run a D&D 5e Spelljammer campaign that will be very much an over-the-top traveling adventure of fantasy meets science fiction.
In Junior High I was introduced to The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. As I mentioned in the last post, these had huge impacts on my life, especially as a roleplayer and game master. Their influence on my personal fantasy gaming cannot be understated. I read or listen to the audiobooks of these series almost every year, and have done so since. So many influences from these books that I cannot touch them all. In Narnia, I fell in love with fauns and satyrs as a race which show up in many campaigns, anthropomorphic animals became viable races (so many RPGs I have enjoyed over the years including TMNT, Ironclaw, and Mutant Genlab Alpha), Reepicheep taught me nobility and honor, encouraged me to think of the motives of my characters, and enlightened me to the power of old magic and history. The Hobbit kindled my passion for dwarves (still my favorite race to play), began my joy of hobbits/halflings, added riddles to my storytelling, encouraged me to fear and respect dragons, and taught me to tell epic stories. So much more, but those are some highlights.
High school brought two new tales that really impacted my gaming over the years. Reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare in English opened my mind to the world of the faerie courts and the dangers of faerie magic. Looking at the organization of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, the whimsy and/or vindictiveness of faerie magic, the way fae view humans, and the idea of a faerie realm exploded my mind with possibilities. Much of how I play the fae races was impacted by reading that story and seeing the play over the years. It had a huge impact on how I designed my own home brew fantasy world. Also in high school I read The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, which opened my heart to the joys of romance, swashbuckling, honor, court intrigue, camaraderie, and adventure. So many characters and npcs over the years have found their inspirations from these multifaceted characters.
My gaming was at its height in college, when I had the most time to devote to the hobby. I was also experimenting then with lots of different genres and systems of RPGs and playing lots of different board games as well. The first book to really have an impact during that time was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I fell deep into the rabbit hole of cyberpunk during my time in college, reading lots of novels, playing so many games in the genre, and watching all the cyberpunk movies I could. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? fascinated me with its philosophy and visuals of a future dystopian world ruled by corporations, and asking the question “what is human?”. Cyberspace was my RPG of choice then, and today I love playing Mainframe and Specter Ops. Then during a summer internship, I picked up The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice in a used bookstore. I read through those novels each day while listing to Rush songs on our long drive each day to our research location. The mix of Rush’s musical sounds and the supernatural world of the Chronicles had an emotional as well as mental impact. Plus, her view of vampires was so different than the monster movies I grew up on and the novel Dracula I read early on. This eventually led to interest in supernatural games like the World of Darkness. Likely this influenced my later love for urban fantasy novels like the Dresden series and such fondness for the Harry Potter books as well. A novel and movie I found soon after college was The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco which really impacted how I tell stories with priests, the Church, and religion. As I designed my own world, this book really had an impact on how I designed the Church and its denominations and sects. And the discussion on heretics still fascinates me historically and as an option for storytelling.
Here are some honorable mentions that I don’t want to overlook in my discussion of literature. I grew up loving comic books, especially JSA and JLA. My first RPG ever was Villains and Vigilantes, and that has led to a gaming life full of superhero rpgs and board games. Sentinels of the Multiverse is one of my family’s favorite games. Superheroes will always be a favorite genre of mine. Also, I cannot forget to discuss all the RPGs and board game manuals I have read over the years. Even games I have never actually played, but only read. Many have inspired and been used as references for other games I am running or playing.
The final book, really many books, that I need to mention here is the Holy Bible. As my faith has grown, I have read through the entire Bible entirely a few times and individual books over and over. My views of ethics, morality, fellowship, and religion most definitely have been molded by my faith and the reading of the Bible. The Bible is full of amazing stories along with its insights. It goes without saying that it has had a massive impact on my life, my family, my gaming, my freelancing, how I tell stories, and how I interact with my fellow gamers around the table and online. If you want to talk about the Bible and the words within it (even if you are not a Christian), I am open to the discussion.
What literature comes to mind when you think about your gaming hobby? Have any books or short stories had a significant influence on your games?