Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Spinning Fantasy Settings: Gene Wolfe's New Sun in RPGs

Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series, written around 30 years ago, is a great source of inspiration for anyone wanting to run a fantasy RPG campaign. I suppose that technically the series was sci-fi with a heavy dose of mythical elements, but it really feels like fantasy reading even with the futuristic setting. For anyone not familiar with these classic books, they revolve around the tale of Severian, an exile from the Guild of Torturers, who ascends the imperial throne ("through the backdoor") of Earth far in the future - so far in the future that the sun is dying. He lives in a world of where time/space travel, energy weapons, and aliens are the dominion of the most powerful aristocracy, but the great masses live in something akin to pre-industrial technology. The first book is The Shadow of the Torturer, followed by The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch.

The books have a great atmosphere and the reader always gets the feeling their is so much more going on in the world, but it is beyond the character's perspective to quite understand or experience it. This overwhelming disconnect should play a pivotal role in many role-playing games set in some kind of medieval world. The world is big and considering the limitations of accurate information and communication, it should seem even bigger - and dangerous. Even the rulers should be limited in their ability to enforce their will throughout their realms. 

Of course, there's also things like beastmen soldiers who were genetic experiments and neanderthal types of ape men who would fit well in a game. Alien creatures could play a more prominent role as well - dopplegrangers, mindflayers, and other kinds of intelligent aberrations (as classified in the D&D game) wouldn't necessarily have to play behind the scenes in secret plots of conquest. I'm just tossing out a few ideas here, but with a few tweaks to origin stories and place in the game world, a game master could give a vibrant new feel on fantasy game standards. 

And yes - I do know that Gene Wolfe's New Sun setting received the RPG treatment back in the late 90s. I never read the rules, although I did see a write up about it on Wikipedia. I think the setting is best used as inspiration instead of trying to recreate it as written.

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