The May Project: Canon Part 2

Yesterday we introduced my May Project for blogging and added the gaming sources I’m use for it. Today, we move on to inspirational fluff.

3) Now you need some fluff to hang all this stuff on. Pick exactly three sources of campaign inspiration. Two of these sources should be recognizable as fantasy material, like selecting your favorite Conan paperback and maybe Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Note that you are picking individual works, not entire bodies of work.

I’ve divided part three into two parts. The first is the easy part. I need to pick two recognizable pieces of fantasy literature (I guess movies, comics, ect. also count). I have shelves and shelves of material that qualify for this part. Selecting just two is the trick. Given the point of blogging is to highlight things you think are important or useful I’ll use that as a filter.

If there is one area the OSR dances around but I’ve yet to see someone directly address is the importance of short fiction. A large amount of what is considered primary source material for D&D, via Appendix N and other sources, is short fiction. The Dying Earth is an interlinked collection of short stories, for example. The Hour of the Dragon was Howard’s only novel about Conan and it comes in at 72,659 words making it short relative to the fantasy novels of today. Today the advice for a new writer is to aim for 100,000-120,000 words. With the complaints that most contemporary fantasy novels are badly redone Tolkien or RPG session reports (complaints I don’t agree with, btw…urban fantasy rules the roast with the lesser quest series in second) perhaps we should look to short fiction.

With that in mind I’m select my most recently purchased anthology, Sword and Sorceress VIII, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, the creator of Darkover. Admittedly this anthology is, itself, two decades old this year but the series remains popular. It has survived Bradley’s death twelve years ago with Diana Paxon and later Elisabeth Waters editing. Sword And Sorceress XXV was released last year and the next is due in November.

For my second work I’m also going back in time but to the period of Moldvay Basic. Robert Vardeman has written a lot of fantasy and science fiction novels. Although they are generally arranged in a variety of series the are all short and aren’t what I’d call world saving quests, although some have that element. I haven’t done a word count but looking at my book shelf they are similar in length to The Dying Earth. All are adventure story novels and are fairly quick reads. Vardeman is a work day writer in a prolific and simple style that I consider a direct descendant of the pulp tradition. Much to my surprise I have never seen him cited in any RPG literature although I remember a review of Cenotaph Road in Dragon.

I am going with City In The Glacier, the second book of his War of the Powers series. I haven’t read it in a couple of years, but it provides a strong inspiration for a dungeon setting as well as an interesting battle scenario between two primitive tribes that could be an interesting set-piece to add to a hex map. It also avoids one element of the series, a floating city, I’d prefer to avoid adding to the setting. Finally, one of the main characters is a dog sled driver in a grasslands region. The dog sleds are on rollers and I’ve always thought replacing horses and wagons with these sleds would be a fund twist for a fantasy world.

Your third fluff is meant to be the wild card. Pick something way out in la-la land for this one. Don’t even look at fantasy novels. That’d be too pedestrian. You want something like an issue of the Micronauts comic or the movie Krull or the Principia Discordia. Or a book like Barlow’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.

So now a wild card. Looking over at the DVD shelf Brotherhood of the Wolf is looking longingly at me, but gunpowder and horses don’t look like they’d mix well with some of the already selected fluff. While balancing the tensions is part of this exercise I’m not sure that’s one I want to balance.

Instead, let’s try comics. Science fiction or superheroes would be too much of an odd direction. However, how about some goths with a traveling show and monsters disguised as people? That could work very well and look, I have that. Gloom Cookie is exactly that and I have the first bound volume on the shelves. I think the crew could be an excellent core group in a city plus all the main characters except Lex could become rumors of evil tidings for the characters to hear. Plus, the Carnival Macabre will not only add a lot of flavor but can be a reoccurring source of information and oddity for the players to encounter.

So there we have it, three sources of fluff to go with my core rules and two supplements. Over May we’ll set what kind of sandbox I can build and have ready to go with just those items.

4 thoughts on “The May Project: Canon Part 2

  1. Can't believe these posts haven't garnered any comments. Must be the April A-Z hangover. Anyway, for what it's worth I'm following. It's a great idea. Jeff is definitely some sort of mad wizard when it comes to these things. I like his latest idea too, using a single issue of a gaming mag to come up with a campaign. If I weren't already doiing a ton of stuff they're ideas I'd like to play around with myself. As it I'll just take vicarious enjoyment from your work.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. I think you're onto something with the A-Z hang-over. And Jeff is a mad genius with this stuff.

  3. I'm also very much enjoying this series.

    If there is one area the OSR dances around but I've yet to see someone directly address is the importance of short fiction.

    I'm very curious about this comment, however. I've always seen the bedrock of the OSR being the short stories of Howard, Lovecraft, CA Smith, Leiber, Vance, etc. Or, at least, the D&D thrust of it. How do you think this has been ignored? How is a foundation based on the short-form significant?

    (Not disagreeing with you in any of this, but you clearly think there's some significance that hasn't been fully explored, and I'm curious what you're thinking. 🙂 )

  4. 've always seen the bedrock of the OSR being the short stories of Howard, Lovecraft, CA Smith, Leiber, Vance, etc.

    Co-sign. I'd say Gygax was influenced as much or more by the fruits of Argosy and other short fantasy fiction markets than novels. Some of the bedrocks rarely or never worked long, and others such as Dunsany did some of their best work in short form.

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