The Value of a Good Book
By Aaron T. Huss
I’m going to be honest; I’m a fan of settings that incorporate horror in a way that causes some amount of terror in the PCs, and possibly the players. Dark fantasy, Gothic sci-fi, epic fantasy horror, historical fantasy horror, modern fantasy horror, sci-fi horror, and pulp action horror are my favorites (yes I know that’s not a very short list). I’m not really big on the vanilla fantasy settings; too many of them “feel” a lot like each other. This love has drawn me to the novel series Mistborn.
For those who are not familiar with Mistborn, or the RPG published by Crafty Games, I will give a brief introduction. Mistborn is a trilogy written by Brandon Sanderson, set in the lands known as The Final Empire. In the first book, this land is lorded over by a powerful, tyrant god-like being who oppresses the peasants and manipulates the nobles. However, there are many people in these lands fed-up with the oppression and are moving to rebel. So what makes it dark fantasy? Oppression, extreme danger, odds being stacked against the protagonists, and the fact that the protagonists are not heroes; they are thieves. It’s not as horrific as the chaos from Warhammer Fantasy, but it is definitely dark fantasy.
And I absolutely love it!
After reading the first book, actually, before I even finished it, I ran out to get the second and third. I often had a hard time putting that second book down until I reached the end. During the second book, we get to see how the new rulers are managing and how the rest of The Final Empire has decided to move against them. I won’t tell you about the meaning of the word “mistborn,” because it’s so awesome and difficult to fully explain that you really just need to read the novel. But I digress… Upon finishing the second book two days ago, I couldn’t wait to dig into the third one. This trilogy really fills that itch I’ve been having to read a good, solid dark fantasy offering that doesn’t come off as simple, vanilla epic fantasy with a “dark theme” or with so much horror that the protagonists don’t have a glimmer of hope.
But what does this all do for the RPG industry? Outside of playing the Mistborn Roleplaying Game, finding a good book that matches the genre or subgenre YOU enjoy the most is a great way to focus your design efforts.
When you’re a new writer, or even illustrator, who is either breaking into the industry for the first time, recently got their feet wet, or is looking to put their newest ideas to paper, it can be difficult to imagine what it is you’re attempting to recreate. You have a description, you have a marketing pitch, you may even have a couple influential illustrations where you said “That’s what I want to create!” However, when it comes time to actually write this book, how are you going to transfer this idea from your head to the computer in a way that embraces that theme the way it’s meant to be. In other words, you don’t want to create a dark fantasy setting that comes off feeling too much like vanilla epic fantasy or even epic fantasy horror. You want that happy medium! (Of course, you can apply this concept to whatever theme you enjoy the most. This can be increasingly tricky if you’re attempting to create an alternate history setting or one that is based on someone else’s fictional setting.)
So what do you do? Hit the bookstore or library and pick up a good book! Drink in the concepts that other authors have already established and feed off them to make your ideas a reality. For instance, if you want to create a true pirate setting, you may want to read about the pirates of old from a historical aspect and then grab a couple novels with deep pirate themes and “experience” what it was like to spend your life on a pirate ship.
When you’re in the tabletop role-playing industry, as an author, illustrator, editor, or publisher, you always want your products to stand out from the rest. You also want them to be what you truly envisioned. When you’re done, if you sit back and think “This isn’t really want I wanted it to be,” then why would anyone else want it? Or maybe you’re happy with what you’ve done, but you know you can do it better. Then you have the chance to deliver a product, let the fans soak it up, consume their feedback with glee, find some books that provide you with even more inspiration, and then make it kick ass in the second edition!
I myself have written and published a dark fantasy setting, Ancient World for Savage Worlds. I love how the setting turned out and had lots of ideas for it going forward. However, as I read the Mistborn trilogy, my eyes have opened up to other possibilities and how to approach the dark fantasy theme. With that in mind, I’ve also picked up, but haven’t read yet, the first novel of The Black Company to continue soaking up as much dark fantasy as I can.
I definitely have some things to think about for Ancient World 2.0, and all of this has come from reading the right books and allowing them to let my mind start racing with new ideas.