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. I started thinking about what poetry I enjoy then realized how much of it has been a part of my gaming hobby and inspired many of my rpg campaigns and adventures. So, this month I am going to focus my weekly posts on creative works that have inspired my gaming over the years. This week we still start off with poetry followed up by Music, Literature, and Film.
Poetry. Not something I usually think much about. I am more of a short story or novel fan when it comes to the written word. Yet, as I pondered this topic I realized there are so many poems that I have read (and reread) over the years that have impacted my understanding of storytelling, mood setting, word structure, and emotional context. So many of my favorite books have poetry found within them as part of the overall narrative, plus there are epic poems that are more literature than poetry to me.
Starting from an early age, Dr. Seuss likely began my foray into poetry in a serious manner (more so than early fairy tales or children’s rhymes). I loved Fox in Socks with its rhythm and humor. And as I grew older I fell in love with Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, and the depth that a children’s poem can tell an adult tale. As I look back, these whimsical yet profound, at times, stories had a huge impact on how I view characters like Tom Bombadil from The Fellowship of the Ring and other fairie folk in my rpg stories. It is not uncommon for me to build up witty and taunting rhymes for more malicious fairies or deep somber with hidden meaning poems as challenges to ancient riddles or entry into long forgotten ruins.
Later, as part of an assignment in late elementary, I remember my first time reading The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe and being overwhelmed by the impact of that poem. With just words, Poe invoked so much emotion and ambiance that I could “feel” the tale he was telling. Through words and their rhythm he slowly builds the emotions and ambiance in the reader. Whenever I desire to write a suspenseful story or want to slowly build to a shocking climax for an adventure, I think back and sometimes even reread The Raven seeking inspiration for the proper sequence of words and timing of revelation.
In high school, while in my early days as a young AD&D dungeon master, I was reading Beowulf and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in my English courses. Reading and discussing the pacing in those epic poems helped me learn the development of character arcs that lead to chapter arcs that lead to story arcs that lead to series arcs. No question that my understanding of rpg adventure, to rpg mini-series, to rpg campaign were highly influenced by my early reading of these epics.
Now we come to two book series that have had huge impacts on my life, especially as a roleplayer and game master. C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have influenced gamers from the beginning. Their influence on fantasy gaming, especially, cannot be understated. I read or listen to the audiobooks of these series almost every year, and have done so since my middle school years. These will come up again when we discuss literature, but for now I want to focus on the amazing poetry in these books.
My favorite character in the Narnia series is Reepicheep, especially in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In that book he revels in this poem as a hint to his future.
Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.
This defines Reepicheep’s quest in the novel and speaks to his character. When I was younger, I did not grasp the significance of this poem or its placement in the story. As a more mature reader, each time I read this in the story it impacts me emotionally for what it means to Reepicheep and what it means regarding his future. It encourages me when working with players to help them integrate their personal story arcs with the campaign arc. Players are more engaged and emotionally involved when their feel the backstories of their characters are an integral aspect of the greater storyline being revealed.
Tolkien’s use of poetry in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy provides history and life to the world, putting the current story in the context of a much older and epic history of the world. Each poem masterfully helps the reader step out of the moment and delve into the past, adding weight and purpose to the decisions and actions that will come next. My favorite of these is Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold, which you read fully in The Hobbit and here a beautiful and haunting shortened version in the film. That poem pulls the reader or the film goer into the greater history and tale of the dwarves and why the Lonely Mountain is so important to them. This is not just a treasure hunt, but a quest for redemption. When I design adventures and campaigns, I want them to have purpose beyond the instant gratification but have a significant impact on the the characters, the people, and perhaps even the world around them. The characters, and their players, should come away from a story I tell and feel the impact of their decisions and actions in the greater context of the world and its history.
As I wrote those post, I realized how much poetry has had an impact on my gaming, and on my personally. What poems come to mind when you think about your gaming hobby? Have any had a significant influence on your games?