Friday, 27 June 2008


I don't normally do memes, but Jim has challenged the role playing blogosphere to write about at least five of the media influences that impact on the campaigns and adventures they run. And who can resist an offer like that to expound at length on stuff they like?

So here are my five, plus handy links:

Jared Diamond's books, particularly Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse. I know that realism and role playing games don't mix easily. And it really does depend on the campaign I'm running. But if that part of my brain which loves playing Civilization and did a degree in History is in charge, and I'm in the mood for creating a world in which things make sense, I draw on those books as inspiration.

2. The Viriconium books, by M. John Harrison. What can a person say about them? They're my favourite thing and I doubt that anybody will ever write anything half as good again. I won't be able to do them justice here so I won't even try, but just think on this: what is it like at the end of time, when even reality isn't sure what it is? Dark, surreal, baroque and incredibly moving stuff, and great inspiration for a role playing GM in their sheer ambition and imagination. Read them and never be satisfied with the old tropes in your games again.

3. Warhammer. I haven't played it in probably 10 years or more, but I love Warhammer and I love its unrestrained, madcap creativity. War machines containing demonic spirits which are constantly on the verge of a berserk frenzy. Goblins hepped-up on hallucinogenic mushrooms swinging ball-and-chains. Squigs. Orcs riding war-boars. Chaos Dwarf Bull Centaurs. Halflings flinging pots of boiling hot stew. Lizard-men carrying spaced out toad-like mage-kings on palanquins. What more can you say?

4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. I love the Chronicles of Narnia, and though The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is unjustly more popular, this one is the best. In fact I credit it with introducing me to the joys of the fantasy genre. The best thing about it is that it's at heart a road movie, and I love road movies. But what sets The Voyage of the Dawn Treader apart from all the other road movies is that this is set on a ship traveling across an ocean of undiscovered islands, heading for the edge of the world, and doing so for no better reason than why the hell not? Tell me that doesn't fire your imagination. I have an enduring love of long-distance journeys of exploration in RPGs, and it all stems from this book.

5. The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. These are what turned me on to the idea of role playing in the first place, in that they were the gateway drug for me and my generation. I still love the unashamed pulpiness of the titles: Space Assassin, Daggers of Darkness, Creature of Havoc, The Keep of the Lich-lord, Deathtrap Dungeon. I still love the world, Titan, that the creators came up with, and how it set off a spark in my 9-year-old mind that told me you can do this yourself. And I still love the delightfully understated art. The books don't affect my role playing these days in any sort of direct way, but they were the start of the whole thing and I suppose the reason why I like the games I like. It's thanks to those books that I'm still playing D&D, really, rather than Burning Empires or whatever - because it was they who set me off down the fantasy role playing path.

And finally, for something that is a non-influence, i.e. something that I try not to let influence my campaigns but which perhaps does anyway in some terrifying, inevitable way: the Dragonlance books. There is so much about them to hate. And yet...there's still a part of me that thinks, I would have loved to play in these books if they had been an AD&D campaign.


  1. Cool list. I love both those Jared Diamond books. Have you read another book of his, "Why Is Sex Fun?" It explores why human sexuality is so weird, compared to other animals. Also a good read.

    I want to do this influences thing, but I'm sort of stuck figuring out what to write. I keep thinking of things I've liked, and then wondering if they actually have had any influence on my game. There's very little I can actually point to.

  2. I may have to go back and give J. Diamond another chance. I read the intro to GG&S and decided he was never going to convince me that environment is more important than culture. Now I hear, in "Collapse" he points out that this isn't what he's saying? So maybe another look is in order.

    I'd never even heard of the Viriconium books, but I'm absolutely going to have to give them a look-see. Thanks for bringing them up.

    - Brian

  3. Oddysey: I'll give "Why is Sex Fun?" a look, but I always thought the answer was kinda obvious... ;)

    trollsmyth: You might hate the Viriconium books, because apparently some people do (just flicking through the amazon reviews). But if you like them, you'll really like them. (They're all available in one volume, nowadays, so it's not a great expenditure if it turns out they're not for you.)

    Jared Diamond...well, people say he's an environmental determinist, but I'm not sure that was ever what he was really saying. I think he was just pointing out that culture comes from somewhere, and the environment plays a big part in that. In "Collapse" he details why environment isn't the be-all and end-all, by comparing Haiti (poorest country in the Americas) with the Dominican Republic (not bad by third world standards). Same island, same environment, different leaders, different outcome.