Monday, January 14, 2013

Carter's Appendix N


Inspired by Cyclopeatron, my new Upstate New York NEIGHBOR, I now offer my own Appendix N, which is kind of a deeper rethinking and synthesizing of some ideas I originally posted here and here:

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
As I have confessed beforeThe Hobbit and the LotR trilogy collectively constitute one of the strongest influences on how I view heroic fantasy and how I referee D&D. The Lands of Ara setting gets its single largest dose of "creative DNA" from Tolkien's Middle Earth. Like many Fantasy RPG'ers, when I picture a hobgoblin, it is The Hobbit’s hobgoblins I see. All of the action around Smaug's Lair -- the thrush knocking, Bilbo's sneaking in, etc. -- is totally iconic for me. And The Fellowship of the Ring's Mines of Moria are pretty much the scariest and most inspiring fantasy adventure locale I've ever read about -- note that Balrogs haunt my campaigns to this day. Thus, while I have always had a bit of gonzo in me -- especially where robots, dinosaurs, and inter-dimensional travel are concerned -- and also run things in a tonally lighter and more comedic vein than Tolkien does, I am forced to admit that The Professor's sense of his world, and the sense of history embodied by the races and setting of Middle-Earth, have been extraordinarily potent influences upon me as a sandbox-constructor.

Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles of Amber
Although I read these books awhile after my first early forays into sci-fi and fantasy, The Chronicles of Amber have exerted the second-strongest long-term influence upon me after The Lord of the Rings. Corwin of Amber is probably my all-time favorite fictional protagonist, and the first-person point of view and the gonzo setting of the Amber books simply can't be beat. These books deeply influence how I see magic and multiple dimensions working and interacting -- in fact, certain legendary Lands of Ara NPCs like Morag the Arch-Summoner* exist largely because of how captivating I find the concept of the princes of Amber and Chaos sneaking between dimensions via manipulation of Shadow. It rocks! And Zelazny's imaginative integration of mythical and folkloric beasts into the whole setting is damn memorable too. Hmm, perhaps it's time for a re-read?

Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars etc.
I read ERB's Barsoom books early, like in seventh grade or so, and I really loved them a lot. The world of Barsoom was so evocative for me; I can still see John Carter leaping around on those weird landscapes. Via ERB, I got into the whole science-fantasy mashup genre pretty early, though my D&D / LL campaigns favor an at least superficially Tolkienesque feel and look to them. Yet I nearly always throw a crashed spaceship or some aliens or some inter-dimensional travelers somewhere into my FRPG campaigns, and it's because I have always loved that blending of fantasy and sci-fi found in the Barsoom books (and in Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber).

T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Merlin is my third favorite wizard after Tolkien's Gandalf and Monty Python and the Holy Grail's Tim the Enchanter (see next entry). I enjoy Merlin a lot because he is often portrayed as quite Druid-y and pagan, as in The Once and Future King when he turns Arthur into lots of different animals (including an ant!). White's interpretation of the rise and fall of King Arthur is sufficiently epic but primarily human in scale; it is also very funny, as in the sequences involving King Pellinore. But what I like best about this novel, or consider most influential upon my gaming, is its conception of magic: Merlin, Morgan le Fay, and other arcane types in this book (and in the film Excalibur) show us that arcana is nature-based and way more powerful than any single individual's ability to control it. I like that. Magic should never be totally rational nor masterable, and I think I drew that idea largely from Tolkien and White.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, dir. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones)
Like it or not, I love humor in my RPG's. I love grotesque comedy in general, and have been particularly inspired by The Holy Grail's Black Knight fight scene. I love the extreme volume and distance of the blood spurts once the Black Knight starts getting dismembered by King Arthur, and have long attempted to emulate that feel when announcing the combat results in my campaigns: blood and internal organs spurt intensely and far, and a surprisingly large number of blows land in the genitals. As one former player put it, my campaigns seem to take place in a “high-pressure world” where everybody’s blood and internal organs are under a lot of pressure, so as to shoot out really far once pierced in combat. I attribute this trend to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Krull (1983, dir. Peter Yates)
Again, Krull's mix of sci-fi and fantasy always worked well for me; this movie was a particular favorite of mine when I was a young lad. It's very D&D ish actually, with its rag-tag party embarking upon a perilous mission across many strange lands. Great stuff! And that magical glaive thingy was bad-ass.

And to conclude, here are a few things I've read lately that I hope will influence my game:

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
Please see my review of this volume for more detailed comments, but in short, "HPL's command of written English is nothing short of dazzling. His prose manages to be just rich enough to paint a convincing picture of (creepy) set and (uncanny) setting without stepping over the line into overwrought "purple prose" a la many of Tolkien's descriptive passages or even our own beloved EGG. In short, I find HPL's language to be as evocative as Tolkien's but, at the same time, much more concise."

Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
I will defer to Cyclopeatron's description: "Style and language. Where fairy tales and dreams intersect. I want stars, moss, and woodsmoke at my table. Dunsany is peerless when it comes to fantasy imagery." Agreed!

P.S. Vance, here I come!

* As is briefly mentioned here, Morag the Arch-Summoner is a legendary Arandish wizard who has lived in total secrecy for the past hundred years. He may even be dead or residing permanently in another dimension for all anyone truly knows. Even before his disappearance from human society, Morag was thought to be quite insane. In more recent news, the party in my current Arandish Campaign have found and identified artifacts seemingly related to Morag's cryptic activities.


  1. Great list! It's a wonderful idea to include Monty Python. Humor is an incredibly important ingredient of a successful game. We don't talk about it enough...