Some folks were talking about their fantasy influences for when they create RPG adventures for D&D or whatever they are playing. I decided to write up my own list.
I was learning how to read, when I was given my first D&D box set, Holmes Basic D&D. My early interests in reading and D&D grew side by side. TV shows and films however defined my initial expectations for the game.
- The Dollars Trilogy, Sergio Leone. The Man With No Name was the first archetype I tried to emulate. My first character was a thief with a crossbow and a horse riding from town to town.
- Tarzan - Lord of the Jungle, 1970's cartoon which was basically a pastiche of pulp elements - ancient cities, jungles, dinosaurs.
- The Land of the Lost, Sid and Marty Croft TV Show with dinosaurs. Manipulating gems to open secret doors in golden pylons built by lizard people was a feature of my fantasy gaming.
- Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, 1977 Harryhausen film. The tiger eyes and sorceress, robot minotaur, giant ape and sabre tooth tiger, Petra, and all that fueled me for years.
READING AGE 6-12
These books are those that were inspired by my interest in D&D, influenced how I played D&D, or both.
- Apotheosis, Marcus Parr. :: My father's first novel, sci-fi, never published. Amnesiac narrator exploring a cave with a genesis kind of device that when switched on creates a world which unfolds in stages: people grown in vats, massive computers and machines filling an underworld, pungent gardens and towns arising overnight, robot caretaker-priests. Narrator turns out to be the mastermind behind the whole thing and comes to the conclusion that he's an asshole when he realizes what he's done. A bunch of this stuff set a lot of ground for me because my dad used to tell me the story when I was really little and so it made a big impression when I was a child, and then I later read it, and then my dad illustrated it. In a way he was my first DM and this was the world I explored before I ever played D&D.
- The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, Norton Juster. :: The abstract illustrations lead to daydreams of escher like spaces composed of lines, dots and squiggles and inspired me to try to draw the maps I imagined.
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carrol :: A big hardbacked book with Teniel's illustrations. I would browse through it and fall asleep on the floor to dream about size altering food, and talking animals running around mazes of endlessly intertwining stair cases and bottomless pits.
- The Boy Who Drew Cats and other stories, Lafcadio Hearn :: A translation and retelling of Japanese ghost stories. I was terrified by the demon in the titular story, but it made such a strong impression that it formed the structure for the first session I DM'd. (I almost exclusively ran one shots at that age because we never planned anything. we just sat down and played when we felt like it rolling up characters on the spot.)
- The Gnome King of Oz, Ruth Plumly Thompson :: Scissor, spool and needle people, people made of patchy quilts, the gnome king and the Blundaroo pirate ship. I incorporated these characters into many games.
- Farmer Giles of Ham and The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. :: Old farmer hunting giants and dragons with a blunderbuss. At the time I really liked how authentic and yet lighthearted the story felt. I wanted my games to feel like that. (No need to talk about The Hobbit as it was a rite of passage for everyone.)
- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin. :: Everything about these stories from the mythic, iron age vibe, to the wizard school, the map, the islands, salty mists, barbarian raids, witches, crossing the seas in a tiny boat, ancient texts filled with true names, nameless gods that will devour you in the darkness, the shadow half of your soul, dragons primal, elemental, embodying the secrets of the world's creation, the place where land and sea and sky lose all definition.
- Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis :: More sea adventures. Eustace turning into a dragon due to his greed. The tower with the book of spells. (Magician's Apprentice and Silver Chair also were inspirational, but I didn't feel them as deeply as the Dawn Treader.)
- Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander :: An oracular pig. The sword that wounded the main character just because he drew it. Gurgi and the magic wallet full of food. Horned King.
- Sign of the Labrys, Margaret St Clair :: The plague. The underworld, fungus and rats. Ancient magic in the depths known by women who know all.
- The Chessmen of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs :: Live action chess game fights on mars. Weird crab head people with separate bodies that they mounted like horses.
- Pillars of Pentegarn, Rose Estes :: Mostly because an older cousin brought it over while she stayed with us for a few weeks one summer, we bonded over the book and the rainbow dragons one, and then we played D&D almost every day.
- Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny :: Endless universe of alternate worlds and reflections conjured out of your imagination as you wander closer and closer to pure chaos. The dreamy city in the clouds revealed by moonlight and the reflected city in the sea.
- Elfstones of Shannara, Terry Brooks :: The witches with their wicker people in a tangled hollow of ancient trees. The folksy old hunter in the woods with his dog. A demon-death chasing you through the wilderness.
- City of Thieves, Ian Livingstone :: Urban pulp fantasy choose your own adventure. A city full of weird monsters and thieves was right up my alley (like the Cantina in Starwars), and something I recreated over and over and over again.
- The Junior Classics, Collier Publishing. :: A series of books, each an anthology. I was bored during two summers when my parents each time went backpacking without me for weeks, leaving me with my grandparents so I read these books to pass the time. They are filled with fairy tales, Greek myths, Chinese folk tales, King Arthur, American Indian Stories, Indian Stories, Norse Saga stuff and so on. I more recently dug these books up and realized they are not as awesome as I had remembered. Nevertheless these were a big inspiration back in childhood.
- Odyssey, Homer :: Odysseus replaced The Man with No Name as the hero I wanted to emulate immediately after I read the section with the cyclops and the cave.
- Castle, David Macaulay :: awesome illustrations for when you are 9 and have no idea what a real castle is supposed to look like or function.
- Art of Ancient Egypt, :: I wish I could remember the author. It was a cool book. The maps of the pyramid, and the temples inspired me to make my own tombs filled with animated russian doll cat statues with wings.
- Faeries, Brian Froud and Alan Lee :: I really like this book with its snippets of folk tales and illustrations. Still use it for inspiration.
- A Spell for Chameleon, Piers Anthony :: Pun magic pastiches with the hint of adolescent male fantasies around every corner.
Once I hit junior high the social pressure to hide your D&D habit or suffer social death was too strong for me, and I didn't play RPGs again until college. So what follows are two lists of books that still have some inspiration today when I am working on an RPG.
- 20,001 Names for Baby
- Hargreaves New Illustrated Beastiary
- A Gardener's Handbook of Plant Names Their Meanings and Origins, A.W. Smith
- The Complete Dream Dictionary, Pamela Ball
- Tao Teh Ching
- Architecture Without Architects, Bernard Rudofsky
- Art Nouveau Paintings, Berghaus
- Design of Cities, Edmund N. Bacon
- Japanese Garden Design, Marc P. Keane
- Natural History, Pliny the Elder
- Hesiod and Theogenis,
- Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
- The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore
- Guns Germs and Steel
- National Geographic
- Dungeon Master's Guide, Gygax
- everything by, Ursula K. LeGuin
- Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, Rebecca West :: out of place here because its a non-fiction travelog with historical commentary, but a masterpiece that everyone should read. I draw inspiration from this book all the time, my favorite.
- Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin
- Neuromancer, William Gibson
- Magician, Raymond E Feist
- October Country, Ray Bradbury
- Candide, Voltaire
- Dying Earth1 series, Jack Vance
- Tower of Myriad Mirrors, Tung Yueh
- Bridge of Birds, Barry Hughart
- Narcissus and Goldmund and The Complete Fairy Tales, Hesse
- Tales of Averoigne, Clark Ashton Smith
- The Wizard of Oz, Baum with Evan Dahm's illustrations
- Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz :: This guy is a master of story structure. Any of his books can be drawn upon, but only Arabian Nights and Days is fantasy.
- Grendel and Freddy's Book, Gardner
- The Trial and The Castle, Kafka
- Dark Tower, King
- Musashi, Eiji Yoshikawa
- Paradise Lost, Milton
- The Dream Hunters, Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano
- The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Bryan Talbot
- Vattu and Order of Tales, Evan Dahm
Cover image: photo of Dungeon Master's Guide Appendix N.
The Cugel stories in the Dying Earth series are great examples of introducing a modern American con game sensibility to the trickster archetype of fantasy. I haven't delved into this subject beyond a book on magic and some pamphlets on magic tricks, but thinking about Cugel recently inspired me to make a list of books about cons, grifts and swindles I would like to read which includes: The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, David Maurer; The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con, Amy Reading; The Telephone Booth Indian, AJ Liebling. ↩