Do I Role Play? Ask Rather, Do Ever I Stop? — Part One (Roling and Writing)

A reader asks if I still play Role Playing games. Indeed I do.

Let me count the ways. This will take more than one post. Let me here mention the rpg’s I have played in the past which influenced my writing; then I can talk about games I am running or playing in now.

AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND was written because while I was still in school in the 1980s I had moderated a role playing game I invented based on Roger Zelazny’s JACK OF SHADOWS. Because I thought the Dung Pits of Glyve were not sufficiently horrific as a place to go when you die, I decided to place the Last Redoubt from William Hope Hodgson’s THE NIGHT LAND at the West Pole of the tide-locked and unrotating world inhabited by the Jack of Shadows magicians. I decided that Origob, the evil god from the planet Tekumel invented by MAR Barker and Cthulhu were one and the same, and that they were behind the Great Watching Things besieging the pyramid, and that the psychic vibrations of the Last Redoubt created the citadel of Kadath from H.P. Lovecraft’s DREAM QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH in the mass subconsciousness of the humans living nearer the Terminator, the lands of eternal twilight nearer to the sunlight. Consequently, I had an enormous amount of material invented about the people of the Last Redoubt, but after the game ended, I put the thick folder away sadly.

Years later, my wife brought to my attention a tiny notice in a trade magazine asking for stories in the Hodgson’s Night Land. An editor named Andy Robertson was soliciting work. I had met Mr. James Stoddard at a Science Fiction convention at about that time, whose book, THE HIGH HOUSE, by pure coincidence, I happened to have found and read that week before. It turned out that he knew Andy Robertson, and was able to introduce us, and inspiration struck, and I wrote my first short story for him. The rest is history, but it started with a role playing game.

THE GOLDEN AGE started as an idea for a role playing game that I never ended up running. I wanted to have a situation where the player characters to own the only interstellar ship the human civilization has ever produced. I set myself the limit that it had to be a slower-than-light ship in a universe where there was no hyperdrive, no way of cheating Einstein; and, second, the player character had to own the ship outright, in fee simple.

Logic and a modicum of inspiration enrolled the implications of those two limits. The only kind of society where private individuals would be allowed to own the only interstellar ship in existence would have to be a ferociously libertarian one, a society so strictly moral and just that the government would not and could not expropriate the ship. But if interstellar flight is feasible, there has to be a strong, even an overwhelming, reason why the technology has never before been used.

With a slower-than-light drive, the human lifespan is simply not long enough for travelers to go and return from even a nearby star, and expect to find relatives left at home alive. But if some method exists to increase human lifespan, perhaps a method of transmitting brain information to serial bodies, similar to that described in A.E. van Vogt’s WORLD OF NULL A or Jack Vance’s TO LIVE FOREVER, then not only is star travel possible, but the overwhelming reason why nearly everyone would be unwilling to attempt it is clear — the Earth is inhabited by immortals, who have grown cowardly over the millennia, and dare not venture beyond the range of their reincarnation circuits. To travel outside the solar system makes one into a mortal.

Anyone who has been kind or bored enough to read my trilogy can see from this seed how the novel grew out of this soil.

ORPHANS OF CHAOS was based on a role playing game my wife ran in the Diceless Amber system. However, she did not tell us what game we were in. The players were told only that they were inmates in an orphanage run by Nuns, and we were asked to specify how much percent of our time we spent doing one or another of a list of activities, athletics, chess club, music, scholarly study, fencing club, and so on we did. Unknown to us, based on those percentages, she assigns our stats in the four areas of warfare, endurance, strength and psychics. (In that game, all psychics was based on musical talent  — you had to sing to enchant someone).

The game started when the orphans set free as adults, stepping for the first time off the orphanage grounds. We soon found that anything — anything at all — we looked to find in the nearly town or surrounding countryside, we could find. We soon began to find that there was things we found which could not possibly be from Earth. And we found someone was trying to kill us.

Unbeknownst to us, we were all the children of the Princes in Amber, who had been taken as hostages by Oberon, now dead, and hidden in an orphanage in shadow. One particular idea the moderator took from HIGHLANDER was the notion that the shadow-walking power, and other magical powers, did not work on holy ground, which included the nunnery where the orphans were raised. The reason why one cannot walk through shadow until one is far from Mount Kolvir in the center of the universe is that Kolvir is a holy mountain, like Olympus or Meru.

All I did was switch the characters from children of Amber to children of Chaos. I never liked Zelazny’s Courts of Chaos, so I used the Chaos from ancient Greek myth as the basis for my story, and I disguised the quarreling and Machiavellian immortal Princes of Mount Kolvir as the quarreling and Machiavellian immortal gods of Mount Olympus.

Some day I shall return to that series and finish the story.

LAST GUARDIAN OF EVERNESS was not itself based on a role playing game, but the two main characters, Raven son of Raven and Wendy Pendragon, were from a game my wife ran. That game was based on Alan Garner’s WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and every other ‘English Schoolchildren in Trouble’ style fantasy book.

Meanwhile, my wife’s trilogy, PROSPERO LOST, PROSPERO IN HELL, and PROSPERO REGAINED was based on characters I had invented for my Amber-meets-Tanelorn-meets-Middle-earth role playing game. My idea there was that the first thing the Princes of Amber would do, if the could walk to any dimension or shadow imaginable, would be to imagine other magical powers: so I invented six or seven ‘brothers’ to Oberon, each with a power as potent and central as the shadow-walking power. Hyperion was the father of all Jedi and psionicists; Rassilon was the father of all Time Lords; Ar Elon was the father of all mages of Roke; Prometheus was the father of the Creators, who could draw patterns; Promachus was the father of the Gathering, of all mighty men and suyerheroes; Prospero was the father of Trump Artists, and any craftsman able to make magic wands, or bind spirits into wood; and so on. In this version, the Courts of Chaos were ruled by Nyarlathotep.

Meanwhile, her current ongoing series, THE UNEXPECTED ENLIGHTENMENT OF RACHEL GRIFFIN, which I strongly recommend, sort of a Harry Potter meets Aslan in Amber magical-girl Cthulhu mystery novel, was originally based on a role playing game run by a friend of ours.

So, yes indeed, I still play. I do indeed.

What am I running now?

What am I playing now?