Well the writing of my novel has slowed down again. I’ve only done around 7,500 words since my last blog post. It’s Netflix fault, particularly the new Marvel series, (though it was crap), Riverdale (which is very entertaining), and the first three seasons of Grimm which I never properly watched before but which I’m treating as an excellent piece of ahem ‘research work’ to help me with creating an Urban Fantasy setting. The Netflix Dirk Gently series was surprisingly good as well, despite their version of Dirk himself being pretty bland and forgettable.
Anyway, distractions aside I should have more creative energy to dedicate to Inari at the moment because I’ve mostly stopped running games at my local tabletop RPG Club for now. That’s because I’m taking part in a long running D&D campaign of the Curse of Strahd. I might talk more about that in later posts.
When I do GM I run Kerberos Club. If you like Victoriana or Steampunk or you enjoyed Penny Dreadful or any form of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman then you might want to check out Kerberos Club. It’s an RPG set in an alternative Victorian era filled with anachronistic technology, superpowers, faeries and magic. The version I use is based on the Fate RPG system.
Weird as the original setting is I tend to push its boundaries when I run games in it. When writing Inari I have to make my world-building internally consistent and serious enough that a willing reader can suspend their disbelief. I also don’t want to steal other people’s ideas!
When running a one-off game for role-players I can make the plot as mad-cap as I like and no one cares if I cut out parts of other novels or settings out and drop them wholesale into an adventure. It’s quite refreshing to know that I can base a story around an invasion by White Martians or a trip to Yharnam to fight Lovecraftian Werewolves. Since nothing is going to be published or even printed the only thing that matters is whether or not everyone has fun on the night.
Which does mean that these gaming sessions can really fall down the rabbit-hole into what kids these days would probably call #CrazyWeirdTown
One of my favourite moments so far has been when my players’ characters were trapped in Cowboy Hell and escaped by feeding the ghost of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown to an entity called The Soul Train.
But then I’d expected that that might happen.
I didn’t expect a different group of players to defeat Chun the Unavoidable by stealing the eyes from his cloak then confronting him with his own reflection in a pair of sunglasses. They were supposed to have run around Alternate Victorian London looking for allies against Chun and making deals with, (possibly literal), devils in order to survive.
Instead they jumped through the portal that he came from and ended up on the Dying Earth. So I had to imagine up a piece of the Dying Earth on the fly and help them find a way to defeat Chun on his home turf. Sunglasses were their solution and one player convinced me to let them get away with this by continuously doing jazz-hands until she almost fell off her chair.
The more I write about Inari the more she is developing her own ideas and motivations. There are things that she won’t do so I have to structure the plot of my novel around that. But she is still my own character and writing her does not prepare me for players who insist on buying sunglasses in a fantasy setting or ignoring vital plot points because they’re boring or agreeing to the demands of a vampire who is clearly evil and untrustworthy.
I don’t know whether being a writer makes me a better GM. But I think that dealing with the decisions that players have made in my games has made me a better writer. I believe that anyone who writes fiction and is struggling to bring life into their characters should try letting a few other people run around in their stories and wreak a little havoc. There is no substitute for having to make your narrative survive the random elements introduced by other human minds.
So thank you to everyone who has played in my games, for helping me to become a better story-teller.
That’s all very well. But if you’re like most of the people in my local RPG Club, (or most people period), then you will probably be wondering who the hell Chun the Unavoidable is and what exactly the Dying Earth is.
Let me explain.
The Dying Earth setting was created by Jack Vance, a titan of old-school Fantasy and Sci-fi fiction. He influenced countless SF&F writers and if you want to understand the DNA of either genre then you should try to track down his books.
Even if you aren’t worried about the history of fantastical fiction and just like reading a good adventure with pretty prose then the Dying Earth is a great world to get lost in. It’s colourful, grandiose, verbose and shot through with wry humour. It’s a world at the edge of time; when the sun is on the verge of going out and the nihilistic remnants of humanity are dwindling into extinction. For all that darkness it is still a fun place to visit.
There are no elves or dwarves or dark lords in the Dying Earth and the magic of its wizards may just be a more advanced kind of science than our own.
Instead of more recognisable fantasy tropes there are carnivorous monsters that will use cunning arguments to try to convince you that it is in your best interests to let them eat you. There are also little green men, they won’t try to abduct you though because they’re too busy riding around on dragonflies and trading secrets for salt.
The best characters of all are the humans of the Dying Earth however; arrogant wizards like Rhialto the Marvellous and amoral rogues like Cugel the Clever.
This might not sound like a precursor to modern fantasy but Vance’s legacy lives on in many ways beyond his own writing. Particularly in Fantasy Roleplaying games.
- Big name modern authors from George R. R. Martin to China Mieville cite him as an influence and/or rave about how much they love reading him if given the slightest provocation.
- The standard magic system in Dungeons and Dragons is based on the magic of the Dying Earth, including the names of some of the spells such as the Excellent Prismatic Spray.
- Roleplayers and Gamers alike may have heard of the wonderfully weird Numenera setting which has its own tabletop RPG system but was also featured in the recent indie computer game ‘Torment: Tides of Numenera’. Since it’s set in the Earth of the far future and features near magical technology and weird alien creatures; I would be very surprised if Vance’s books had not been an influence on Monte Cook’s creation of that world.
- Vance was also name-checked as a big influence on the highly successful and wonderfully weird and dangerously addictive browser game Fallen London by Failbetter Games, (which I might talk about in another post).
You should read Jack Vance basically.
In other writing and reading news I’ve started posting on SFF Chronicles as Inari Writer and would definitely recommend it as a place for reviews, genre discussions and writing advice. You might even see the odd extract from A Day in the Lies of Inari Meiwaku on there from time to time.
Next blog I’m not going to talk about my writing as such. Instead I’m going to put all of my time spent watching Superhero films and TV shows to good use and lay out a foolproof plan to fix the DCEU!