Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Inspiration

A few months ago, I decided to start up a roleplaying campaign with my girlfriend and some friends of hers. I had been running another game in another city, but the sci-fi system I'd been using was a turn-off to my prospective gamers - and the "urban fantasy" model I'd used another time was also not for them. So - high fantasy it was to be. I replied with one caveat: this was not going to be Dungeons & Dragons. I've played in plenty of D&D games, and, frankly, I've grown tired of it. Too many dour dwarves, too many squishy wizards, too many orcs and goblins and all the old tropes that haven't been interesting or original since Tolkien first laid them down in the forties. I wanted something grander, something stranger, something I could call mine.

So I sat back and thought about old half-finished projects: the crashed spaceship turned fantasy world (abandoned once I learned just how much a cliche that was); the D&D-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off, distinguished only by a variety of anthropomorphic animals that, once again, seemed much more original back when I first conceived it; the RPG treatment of the War in Heaven (still on my list, but with both an atheist and a fervent believer among my prospective players, I decided against that one)... and then I hit upon a half-finished short story that had come tumbling from me a few months previously. It had everything I needed: a world without boundaries; an unusual setting, as close to unique as you can get in this day and age; and only a few details laid out, with immense room to grow.

This story, and the matching campaign setting that began to spill slowly out of my head, has more than a few inspirations. First and foremost are several works by Neil Gaiman (who is as a god to me): The Sandman -- specifically, the arc collected as Worlds' End. The inn known as Worlds' End is a place where people from a variety of times and places and realities can meet and tell stories. The meeting of innumerable worlds represented there -- and, most specifically, the stories "Cluracan's Tale" and "Cerements," made me want to make a city where anyone from anywhere could come and meet. Another work by Gaiman, the obscure short story "How to Sell the Ponti Bridge," was of surprising influence -- it showed another cross-dimensional world, and an off-handed line of dialogue mentions "Dead-Blooded," which proved to be... well, I'll get to that later.

Another significant influence was another worlds-spanning work, the latest volume of House of Mystery for DC Comics, written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges. In that work, the titular House of Mystery holds doors to an infinitude of worlds and settings, from pulp sci-fi to sword and sorcery to Lovecraftian horror -- and every character who walks in one of those doors tells a story from their corner of the multiverse. It's worth noting that all of these works I've mentioned so far share two facets: they feature a locale that can be reached from anywhere, and the travelers tell stories of their own strange reality to the others (and thus, by extension, to the reader).

A variety of other works of fiction have conspired in my mind to create this campaign setting, mostly distinguished by the meeting of multiple worlds and/or a large, important city that is as much a character as any individual in the story. And so, drawing on these multitude of sources, I began to create:

The City of Lives

Next time: Bloodlines

Inspirational Bibliography:

* The Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny, 1970-1991 The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10 (Chronicles of Amber)
* The Discworld series, Terry Pratchett, 1983-present (depictions of the city of Ankh-Morkpork) Terry Pratchett Discworld Collection 7 Books Set (Unseen Academicals, the Colour ofMagic, GoingPostal, Making Money, the Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Mort)
* "How to Sell the Ponti Bridge," Neil Gaiman, found in M is for Magic, 2007 M Is for Magic
* "How To Talk To Girls At Parties," Neil Gaiman, found in Fragile Things, 2006 and M is for Magic, 2007 M Is for Magic
* The MythAdventures series, Robert Asprin (and later Jody Lynn Nye), 1978-present Another Fine Myth/Myth Conceptions 2-in1 (Myth 2-in-1)

* House of Mystery, Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, 2008-present House of Mystery Vol. 1: Room and Boredom
* Lucifer, Mike Carey, 2000-2006 (particularly the stories featuring Christopher Rudd and the nobility of Hell) Lucifer Vol. 1: Devil in the Gateway
* The Sandman, Neil Gaiman, 1989-1996 (especially stories found in vol. 8, Worlds' End) The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

* The Dresden Files RPG, Evil Hat Dresden Files Rpg Volume One; Your Story
* Mage: The Ascension, White Wolf Mage: The Ascension (Revised Edition)
* Planescape, TSR Planescape Campaign Setting (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons)
* Spirit of the Century, Evil Hat Spirit of the Century RPG