Using novels to spark imagination and develop questions for RPG world-building.
The most powerful tool a game master has at their disposal is their imagination, and novels are nourishment for creative thinking, whether listened to or read. There is nothing wrong with tossing in content during a gaming session that is directly inspired by works of fiction. Reading frequently can provide a multitude of references for improvisational scenes, whether or not it is even in the same genre as the game.
Seth Grahame-Smith has exploded onto the book scene with his two most recent novels: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which followed the hugely-successful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. These novels are great fun to read, if nothing else. Both novels are set in the 19th-century, but are very different in tone and central conflict, providing imaginative fodder for any fantasy, Cthulhu, or modern day games.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith
Delving into a darkly somber tone, this take on the “real” history of Abe Lincoln is a blend of historical events with vampire fiction. In this novel, humans are severely underpowered compared to the vampires. Abe trains for years to be able to hunt the powerful vampires, in the midst of struggling with his own losses, depression, and economic and political challenges. Flipping continually from a first-person perspective (Abe’s “lost” journal entries) into third-person storytelling could make for a jumbled story, but the transitions are smooth in this novel so the style works. In this horrific world, the lead characters could easily die during any encounter. Mortality is ever present and national politics are critical.
In a world where the PCs are skilled, but not super heroes, how do they cope and deal with such powerful adversaries? What decisions are different during a high-mortality game? How are characters affected when their companions are killed off? What sorts of politics and political systems drive the world of the game?
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith
Brilliantly executed, this mash-up with Jane Austin’s classic is down-right hilarious and wonderfully campy. The wealthy main characters are extremely powerful (classically trained in martial combat) compared to the herds of “unmentionables” that roam the countryside. This is an example of high-level PCs facing a world of less powerful adversaries. Yes, the zombies are a threat, but only when they swarm. The lead characters are therefore obsessed with their personal lives, proper civilities, gossip, and shallow dramas. It is the same way that the “ultra-rich” (in our world) live with such different sets of concerns than the other 90% of the population. This is a good thing to ponder for a game where the PCs are much more powerful (and/or wealthy) than the average person. One may think that when a character has been awarded power and prestige they would stay the same, unaffected, but that is just not the case for most.
In what way are the character’s concerns different then others in their community? How is their world-view distorted by their eventual increase in power and prestige (assuming they survive)? When a character levels up over time, in what ways do their concerns change?
[tags]review, Literature, Game Mastering, Gming, Role Playing Games, rpg[/tags]