Source Of Inspiration
This article is written for the June RPG Bloggers carnival; to see other people’s replies, you can go here.
The question is “What non-game media have most inspired your games and how?”.
I’ve got a couple of cheesy answers, like “Serious drugs, dude!”, or “What doesn’t?”, but the first is a lie, as I am, sadly, a lifelong tetotaler, and the second is just lame and pointless, and what would the Internet be if it consisted mostly of lame and pointless content?
So I’m going to attempt a serious answer. I hope both my readers forgive me.
Star Wars came out in 1977; I discovered D&D in 1978. Someone once said “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 13.” Well, I was 12 in May of 1977, and 14 in December of 1978, so two of biggest influences of my life hit me right square in the formative years. There’s a lot of things about Star Wars that makes it an obvious inspiration, but there’s one thing, one line, in particular which I can point to, time and again, as one of the most important lines spoken in a movie, at least in terms of how it has shaped and influenced me.
“You fought in the Clone Wars?”
Why does that simple line have so much resonance, so much meaning, to me? Especially since didn’t learn what the “Clone Wars” were until decades later, until I’d turned into the cantankerous, fossilized lump of grumpiness you all know and love so well?
Because we didn’t learn what the Clone Wars were!
Because Obi-Wan didn’t turn to Luke and says, “Yes, we fought in the Clone Wars, when Palaptine created armies of clones to fight against the Secessionist forces, though we didn’t know at the time he was manipulating both sides. Those clones became the Empire’s Stormtroopers, you know.”
Because with that simple line, and the equally important refusal to explain what it meant, the movie exploded outside the boundaries of the screen. This wasn’t simply a story; this was a peek into a world, the movie screen being simply a window through which we looked onto one part of that vast infinity which lay beyond. There were other stories there — a past, a thousand worlds, a tale that began before the opening credits and would continue afterwards.
I knew I needed to do that. I knew I needed to make worlds, worlds in which stories could happen, but the world was the important thing. A world would create stories to fill it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the tools I needed.
Then D&D came along. I was drawing my first dungeon within two days of learning to play. Never mind that I didn’t have any version of the rules, I drew the map on graph paper and drew little pictures for monsters — skeletons, blobs, dragons — and wrote down their hit points, making up numbers which “seemed right”. (And I hit the hit points for a large, adult, red dragon right on the button — 88 !) Dungeons quickly gave way to cities and continents and multiverses, and I could never keep a campaign running for more than a few weeks before I decided I had a better idea for a cooler world. I’ve lost only a little of that creative ADD since then, become slightly more focused, but I still have more ideas than I will ever be able to detail — or even sketch out — in a lifetime.
It took me a while to realize that while I thought I could say a major influence was “comic books”, the truth is that Jack Kirby is at the heart of those comics which have influenced and shaped me the most. He loved teams of iconic, clearly-defined and visually distinctive heroes battling equally iconic enemies. He built worlds by the dozens, too, but fortunately for him and his readers, he lacked some of my obsessions with crop yields and how many peasants could actually fit into a city of size “X”. He painted in broad strokes, with bright colors, and didn’t shy away from “cheesy” names like “Darkseid” or “Bernadeth“. If you’ve read Earth Delta, with its thermites (heat-generating termites) and squirkills (they’re squirrels.. that kill you!), you’ll see Jack’s influence at work. Even more than names, though, was the sense of style, pacing, and most importantly, wonder. Jack loved Big Dumb Objects. Jack loved world-shattering explosions. Jack loved massive armies of exotic warriors with ludicrously shaped swords fighting in glorious battle, surrounded by “Kirby Crackle”. He stole shamelessly and lovingly from mythology, folklore, religion, and himself. He didn’t care if he was telling the same story over and over in different costuming, as long as the costumes were really cool looking — and they were!