Gods & Monsters


Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Inspirational fantasy fiction

Jerry Stratton, February 21, 2010

Every game has its own soul, however ragged. Gods & Monsters and its adventures have been inspired by far too many books to list here, but there are a few that should help you, as player or adventure guide, find your way among the ruins of my rules.

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers.
Great stuff. Probably role-played, these guys do things only player characters get away with. And while there’s always a focus on d’Artagnan, it’s a very wide focus. The Three Musketeers also get a lot of screen time, and their screen time, like that of player characters, is usually when they’re together. This changes in later books; it becomes more like a PBEM or maybe even a Polaris-style game. If any one book will give you the feel of Gods & Monsters, it’s The Three Musketeers.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I know, it’s almost a cliché to put Tolkien on a list like this. But if you haven’t done it yet, go back and read Lord of the Rings from a gamer’s perspective. Watch how Tolkien builds the “game world”. He starts small; he regularly removes the NPCs from the narrative. The discussion about what to do with the ring in the Last Home? It’s a bunch of player characters bouncing ideas off of non-player characters. Any editor today would tell him it doesn’t belong in a novel. But it does belong in a game. The player characters have choices to make. The Hobbit is arguably a more beautiful novel. But it’s the prequel the game master wrote after Lord of the Rings went off the rails.
Stephen King, The Dark Tower
When I started on Highland back in 1986 and chose “medieval old west after a spiritual cataclysm in a world with weakened walls” as the base idea, I didn’t know that I was traveling a road King had already started or was about to start. I’ve long since given up trying to be completely different from the Dark Tower (as you can see if you read Helter Skelter). Dark Tower doesn’t contain King’s best writing. See Hearts in Atlantis for that. But it does contain his most compelling characters. Hearts in Atlantis is a modern novel; Dark Tower is an old-school serial.
John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost
The sorcerors of The Face in the Frost are very modern. You could see Elminster conversing and hobnobbing with each of them. Bellairs builds an amusing layer on the not-quite solid ground of Lovecraft and Dunsany. Like all wizards, he has a wall lined with books. His books include titles such as Six Centuries of English Spells, Nameless Horrors and What to Do About Them, An Answer for Night-Hags, and “the dreaded Krankenhammer of Stefan Schimpf, the mad cobbler of Mainz.” He has a magic mirror; it’s sarcastic and talks too much. Like player characters, when Prospero runs into trouble he tries spells he found years ago and has no idea what they do. And, like players, Bellairs chooses names like “Prospero” and “Roger Bacon” for his characters.
Lord Dunsany, The Charwoman’s Shadow
There is a magic in Dunsany’s writing that hasn’t been matched since. It is as if he sees the other world through a shadow, and is reporting his gauzy visions. These are not gaming books. But they are inspirational for ideas and mood. The King of Elfland’s Daughter is probably his best-known work, and it’s great. But it’s the Charwoman’s Shadow I keep seeing gaming ideas in. It’s The Charwoman’s Shadow that provides the quote on the title page of Arcane Lore. The Master wizard of this book is the perfect ancient wizard.
E.R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros, Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison
Eddison’s Zimiamvian trilogy is in many ways the opposite of Tolkien in everything except size. Eddison goes into excruciating detail about the furniture and the walls, pages and pages of marble and inlay and gold. He makes no attempt at a coherent, self-contained world. His Zimiamvia and Demonlands are a haphazard collection of names, cultures, and ideas. In other words… it’s a lot like the average old-school campaign.
M. John Harrison, The Pastel City
The Pastel City is an odd bird. The writing is occasionally reminiscent of Dunsany. The adventure is pure swords and sorcery in the old-school style. The theme is perfect Highland. I only discovered The Pastel City a few months ago when a local bookstore went out of business; I recommend looking into it, especially if you like the Swords and Science game style.
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland is the best book for the layman on game-mastering, but that’s because it’s the best book for the layman on anything. Carroll presents his PC with riddles, magic, magic riddles, strange beasts, strange characters, and unique situations to navigate. It’s full of dated puns, evil villains, and arcane encounters. It’s D&D on laughing gas.
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