What’s the story with Action Pups?

We’re in the final two days of my latest Kickstarter and I’m still looking for some good dogs. But what IS this game? What it all about? What do I love about it?

In 2017 I made a game called Action Cats! as a labor of love. I never intended to release it; I just wanted to make a game with pictures of my friends’ cats. The structure is simple: the judge presents a picture of the cat and gives that cat a name. Everyone else combines two cards in their hand to create a sentence, and then tells that story. This is a critical point. You don’t just hand the cards in; you present the story, expanding and adding as much detail as you want. It was a simple side project, but once I started playing it with people, I discovered that it was a lot of fun. Collaborative storytelling is one of my favorite activities, and it’s the best part of Gloom. But… we’re living in very gloomy times, and as much as I love Gloom, it’s fun to have an excuse to tell HAPPY stories for a change.

We released Action Cats early in 2018. The next day, I woke up to find my pug staring at me as if to say “Dude, where’s MY game?” Scientific studies have determined that he’s 104.2% as cute as our cats (full disclosure, these are pug-funded studies), and we know a lot of other people with adorable dogs. So Action Pups! seems like the next logical step.

Gameplay

At a quick glance, Action Pups! looks like a lot of games you’ve likely already played. There’s a judge. People combine cards to make an answer. The judge makes a choice. It is a common design, and that’s a good thing about it; it’s a game I can play with any member of my family, and I can teach you how to play in 15 seconds. But the actual experience of playing it is quite different from, say, Apples 2 Apples. Let’s consider a round.

The judge sets a dog in the middle of the table and introduces them… in this case, the judge declares that this dog is Loudmouth Larry.

Each player has a hand of cards. One side of the card has a picture of a dog; the other has two story prompts—the beginning and the end of a sentence. Each player combines two cards to create a story; when everyone is done, they take turns pitching their stories.

Keith: At the end of the day, I think there’s one question we all ask ourselves. Who… think about it… Who’s a good dog? Is it you? Is it YOU? Every week, Loudmouth Larry examines another of the great dogs of popular culture. This week: Snoopy. Cultural icon, sure: but is he a good dog? Tune in to find out!

Jenn: I admit, “Who’s A Good Boy” is a compelling podcast. But Loudmouth Larry’s personal story is far more interesting. You may not have thought about this, but when people go into witness protection, they can’t take their dogs with them; it’s a dead giveaway for someone searching for them. Loudmouth Larry is a professional surrogate dog, providing people on the lam with temporary canine companionship until they can return to their own lives. His podcasting is the one thing that provides continuity in this nomadic life. 

Now, if you’re not feeling inspired, you can just read the text straight off the card. But like Gloom, what I love about the game is using the card text as a starting point for a more interesting story. If the dog is a superhero’s sidekick, who’s that hero? Does the dog have a super power and a secret identity, and if so, what are they? If they have a podcast, what’s its name? Who sponsors it?

One of the things I enjoy about this is that it adds variety. There’s over 28,000 possible card combinations. But someone can play the same combination of cards three games in a row and come up with a different take on it each time. This is further enhanced by the use of gray text. In the example about, the card says ‘This dog would like to know: who’s a “good dog?”‘ The fact that good dog is in gray means that you can change it when you present the story. So Loudmouth Larry wants to know who’s a SOMETHING. He might want to know “who’s a cat in disguise?” or “who’s addicted to podcasts?”

Ultimately, the goal of Action Pups! is to encourage people to tell stories… to give you a reason to think about what your pup’s podcast might be, or how this dog is going to save the world. It’s family friendly, and some of the best games I’ve played have been with three generations at the table. It’s not a game about winning; but it’s a fun tool to get people telling stories. And, of course, it’s a chance to…

Get Your Dog In The Game

Action Pups! will include 170 dogs. But we don’t just want any dogs in the game; we want YOUR dogs. Anyone who backs the game can submit pictures of their dogs, and our favorites will be in the game. In submitting pictures, there’s a few things we’re looking for.

  • Portrait Orientation. The picture needs to fit on the back of a card.
  • Pups, Not People. We want images of individual dogs with no people in the shot. It’s about the dog’s story.
  • Props. Poise, or Potential. We’re looking for dogs that inspire stories. They’re all good dogs, but we want pictures that make you say “What’s that Pug doing in front of a microphone?” or “Why is that Corgi wearing a crown?” Whether it’s an interesting location, funny costume or prop, an interesting pose or expression, we’re looking for pictures that will inspire stories.

That’s all there is to it. But there’s not much time left! If you think your dog is an action pup, back the Kickstarter campaign before it comes to a close!

Kickstarters to Check Out!

Crowdfunding is a great thing. I wouldn’t have been able to create Illimat or Phoenix: Dawn Command without Kickstarter. I’ve backed exactly one hundred projects on Kickstarter, and I wanted to share a few with you. Most of these are in their final 24 hours, so if they sound interesting, act fast!

abandonplanet

ABANDON PLANET

A new tabletop game from Donald Eskridge, creator of The Resistance and Avalon. While I don’t think it’s directly connected with The Resistance, the story makes sense to me: the dystopian future has gotten even worse, and now you need to get off planet before meteors destroy it all in a fiery death ball. Players need to form (and break) alliances to get their shoddy ships off the ground. Among other things, Abandon Planet includes 16 awesome plastic rockets. As I’m writing this it only has nineteen hours left, so if it looks interesting, check it out fast!

tales-from-the-loop

TALES FROM THE LOOP

While I haven’t actually played this game, or any of the games the engine is based on (Mutant: Year Zero or Coriolis), I love the art, I’m generally a fan of the concept (kids deal with strange things in the eighties!) and I’m willing to take a chance on anything that Matt Forbeck is involved with. So count me in for Tales From The Loop. This one has EVEN LESS TIME left than Abandon Planet does, so if you like surreal Eighties adventures – or Matt Forbeck – check it out now!

harlemunbound

HARLEM UNBOUND

I’ll let this Gumshoe/Call of Cthulhu sourcebook speak for itself: This sourcebook flips the standard Lovecraftian view of minorities on its head, putting them in the role of heroes who must struggle against cosmic horrors while also fighting for a chance at equality… The heart of the Renaissance was a revolution aimed at changing the world through art, ideas, and the written word. It was a uniquely powerful movement against the unjust status quo, a time in history that still inspires today. The history, people and stories in this book shine the spotlight on the people of Harlem, their successes and their struggles. There’s 28 days left in this campaign, so you’ve got a little time to check it out… but check it out!

lenore-kickstarter

LENORE: A DEBUT ALBUM

Switching from games to music, Lenore is a Portland-based folk band getting ready to launch their first album. I can’t tell you much that you can’t hear better with your own ears; if you got to the project page you can stream two tracks from the album and see what you think! I recommend taking a few minutes to watch the video, which is a touching retelling of the origins of the band (and features awesome cellist Jessie Dettwiler!). There’s ten days left in the campaign, but they’ve still working towards their funding goal, so if you back them spread the word!

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back tomorrow with a new Eberron Q&A.

 

Mister Pants

PantsBalloonsYesterday my wife Jennifer Ellis and I said farewell to our best friend and companion for more than a decade. I’ve never felt as close to a dog as I did to Mister Pants; he is a member of our family, and his loss is deeply felt.

We’ve posted a few of our favorite memories of Mister Pants here. If you ever met him, please take a moment to remember this wonderful pug – and feel free to share your thoughts below.

Recent Releases: Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding

While my next big thing is a long-term project, I’ve got a number of small things in the hopper. One hit shelves today: The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. This is an anthology of essays by a host of talented designers, including people I’ve worked with in the past and others whose work I’ve long admired. The topics range from very broad to quite narrow; some look at things from a high level, whereas others are more practical… how to design a cult, a guild, a tribe, a nation. I contributed two essays, “How to make a High-Magic World” and “Bringing History to Life.” I’ve only just received my other’s copy, so I’m still digesting the other essays in the book. So far I’m enjoying it, and as someone currently designing a new setting, it’s given me a lot of things to think about. Wolfgang Baur will have more to say about the Guide in this week’s Six Questions, but until then, take a look for yourself at Drivethru RPG, Createspace, or Amazon!

Beyond this, my most recent releases are all tied to my love of Lovecraft. Unpleasant Dreams is an expansion for Cthulhu Gloom, adding new Stories, Transformations, Guests, and more; I discuss it in more detail in this post. Earlier this year I released Cthulhu Fluxx, which brings a little much-needed madness to the chaos of Fluxx. While it keeps the overall structure of Fluxx – get the Keepers you need to meet the shifting goal, while dealing with the ever-changing rules – Cthulhu Fluxx adds a second layer. You’re trying to win for yourself, but you also need to work with the other players to keep everyone from losing. No one wins if Cthulhu rises… with the possible exception of the secret cultist, if one is out there! It was a fun challenge as a designer, and I’m happy with the results.

I’ll be talking about my next big thing soon; we’re still catching up from the chaos of the holidays, and I’m getting back into my work groove. I hope that 2013 is treating you well so far!

 

 

12/12: Books I’m Reading, Games I’m Playing

Clothes make the SpaceTeam.

I’m working on my post about my Next Big Thing, but in the meantime I thought I’d throw out a quick note about the things I’ve been enjoying over the past month. This isn’t a best of the year post; these are just the things I’m listening to, watching and reading RIGHT NOW, and my thoughts about them.

THINGS I’M READING

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

I’ve been enjoying Locke & Key for years now, but I had the good fortune to receive the special edition of Welcome to Lovecraft as a gift, and that’s got me reading the series through again. Locke & Key is certainly my favorite comic of recent years, and on the list with Sandman, Hellboy, and Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol for lifelong favorites. It’s best to discover it on your own, but I’ll describe it as a blend of Narnia and a good ghost story. A group of children return to an old family estate and stumble across its ancient and magical secrets… but the doors opened by the magical keys can lead to more gruesome dangers than Lucy or Edmund ever faced in Narnia. I like keys, and as such I’ll also give a nod to Skelton Crew, a studio that has produced replicas of the magical keys from the series. As comic collectibles go, these are fantastic. The keys are the critical visual element and tool from the stories, and Skelton’s replicas are a good size and weight; they’re fun things to carry around even without the story connection. So far they haven’t opened any doors for me, but who knows.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

In The Hobbit, the people of the Shire know relatively little about the world beyond their fields. Luckily, Gandalf shows up and provides us with detailed exposition about the history of the dwarves and that the dragon. Moving on to the Lord of the Rings, through Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel we are kept well-informed about the history of the conflict and its major players.

The Kingkiller Chronicles have some common threads with Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. There’s an ancient evil lord. He’s got a cabal of powerful minions, much like the Nazgul or the Forsaken. They’re all up to something. But unlike LOTR or Wheel of Time, we don’t know what it is. Imagine Lord of the Rings without Gandalf. Frodo has the ring. He actually knows that it’s bad and should be destroyed in Mount Doom. But he doesn’t know where Mount Doom IS. The stories about Sauron are full of conflicting details, and while some legends say that he lived in Mordor, there are no current maps that show the location of this long-forgotten kingdom. In The Kingkiller Chronicles, Kvothe has much the same problem. He’s had a disastrous encounter with the ancient evil, but he has trouble finding out exactly what it IS. As he learns magic and hones his other skills, he—and we, through his eyes—gets glimpses of the truth through folktales, songs, rumors, and religion. But there are conflicts in all of these, and the truth remains to be revealed. Rather than the story being about the goal—IE, the destruction of the Ring or the defeat of the Dark One—it’s more about the journey. For me, much of what I enjoy is the way that the mysteries of the world are slowly unfolded instead of being laid out from the start.

I’m still only partway through WMF. In some ways, it’s a blend of Harry Potter and Ender’s Game—a brilliant boy learning the secrets of magic, using his wits to deal with rivals at school and the other challenges of life. Yet there are constant patches of crabgrass foreshadowing great deeds and tragedies that lie ahead. It’s a very different sort of tale from the warring kings of A Song of Ice and Fire. But it’s certainly managed to hold my interest; I want to know more about the world, perhaps more than I want to know about Kvothe.

 

GAMES I’M PLAYING

I play a lot of games. In the last week I’ve played Cards Again Humanity, Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, Love Letters, Quirks, Cthulhu Fluxx and a few different flavors of Gloom. I’m very happy with Unpleasant Dreams, the first expansion for Cthulhu Gloom… if you have any questions about Unpleasant Dreams (or for that matter anything I’ve made), please ask here! Here’s some thoughts on a few of my favorite games I’ve played in the last month.

SpaceTeam

You’re flying a ship through a galaxy crowded with wormholes and asteroids. Your ship is barely holding together. Panels are falling off. Slime is leaking out from the cracks. There are an endless assortment of adjustments that need to be made. Punch the orbvalve! Set the microfluxer to 5! Deactivate the quantum valve! Consider purchasing upgrades! It’s more than one person can handle. Fortunately, you’re not alone. You’re part of a SpaceTeam.

SpaceTeam is a cooperative game for 2-4 people, played on iPads and iPhones. Each player has a piece of the ship’s control panel, covered with an assortment of bizarre and often hilarious controls. As the game unfolds, you receive instructions and have a limited time to complete them. But many of your instructions apply to the controls on the panels of other players. The result? A lot of panicked shouting, as you watch the timer counting down and hope that the command you’re shouting makes sense to one of your comrades. “Tighten the Ubercronk! Set the Hypermodulator to six! Tip the Waiter! Wormhole – EVERYONE FLIP!” Any given action is quite simple: push a button or turn a dial. However, the combination of time pressure, communication within your team, and console malfunctions that have to be fixed or simply ignored make it an extremely entertaining experience. I’m sad that they didn’t create a holiday version; I can imagine sitting around the living room with my family shouting “Deck the halls! Parum the Pum-Pum! Mistletoe – everybody kiss!”

In short, it’s a fun, quick cooperative experience, and a perfect way to pass time while standing in line or waiting for something to start. And it’s free. So what are you waiting for?

 

Geistes Blitz

A simple game that combines speed and pattern recognition. Five objects are placed in the center of the table. A card is drawn from the deck. Each card has four elements: two objects and two colors. If a color/object combination matches one of the objects on the table—for example, there is a picture of a white ghost—the first person to grab that object off the table gets the card and the point. However, in many cards, neither of the two objects shown are the proper color. In this case, you look for the object that isn’t represented on the card in any way. So if a card has a green rat and a red ghost, you are looking for an object that’s not a ghost or a rat, and isn’t red or green… which only leaves one possibility, the blue book. Grab the book and you get the point. If you grab the wrong object, you lose a point—so while speed is important, you don’t want to grab until you’re sure.

This basic game is a great deal of fun, and it’s good for people of all ages; I admit that I played about five rounds with an eight year old and lost every time. However, there are lots of ways to increase the complexity once your group is familiar with it. You can say that if there’s a ghost on the card, you need to shout the name of the proper object instead of grabbing it… or that if there’s a book, the correct answer is the object that’s the color of the book on the card, not whatever the normal answer would be. It’s fast and easily portable. The only problem is that it’s somewhat hard to find. I got my copy off the internet, and I’ve been recommending it to every brick & mortar store I’ve been to.

Always/Never/Now

Always/Never/Now is a cyberpunk adventure cycle created by brilliant designer Will Hindmarch, and I’d say that it’s something like a mash-up of Mission Impossible and The Usual Suspects as written by William Gibson. You’re a brilliant operative who’s been called out of retirement for one last job… a job that will span the course of many adventures and delve into a host of mysteries. The system is inspired by Lady Blackbird; it’s easy to use and encourages players to get into the mind of the character. As the group’s strategist, you don’t get experience for killing things; rather, you get experience when other people follow a plan that you’ve devised. As such, you are rewarded for being a leader. Pregenerated characters are provided, which means that you have a well-balanced team with a lot of interesting backstory built into the characters themselves. One element I found particularly engaging was the use of environmental tags. When our group was engaged in a tense car chase, Will provided us with a list of specific objects in the scene – high tension wires, a hapless motorcyclist, a tanker truck, a news helicopter, an overpass. Over the course of the scene, we could use each of these elements once in the description of an action in order to get a bonus to the roll. Now, nothing was stopping us from introducing these or other elements on our own; but by providing us with a list, Will really got me thinking about what we COULD do with those things. I might have simply tried to outrun the enemy; instead, I starting thinking about how the hapless motorcyclist could flip over their hood, causing them to crash into the tanker truck. It’s an idea I could easily see transporting to other settings and systems, such as Eberron. If you want someone to swing on a chandelier, let them know that the chandelier is right there waiting to be used!

Always/Never/Now was funded on Kickstarter early this year. At the moment, the only way to play it is to corner Will Hindmarch at a convention (and I suggest you do). However, it will soon be available as a PDF for download. I’ll be sure to mention it here when it is; it’s definitely worth a roll of the dice!

And finally, for those who missed my earlier post, here again is Gloomy Santa…

Have A Gloomy Holiday!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with 2012. We survived the Mayan Y2K+12 Bug with a fine bunker warming featuring Molly Lewis & the Doubleclicks. Looking back over the year, Jenn and returned to Portland after a brief stay in Austin, Texas. We sailed the seas on the second JoCoCrazyCruise. We acquired a pair of adorable kittens who have since quadrupled in size…

Our lives are one big adorable YouTube video.

In gaming news, I released Cthulhu Fluxx and the first expansion for Cthulhu Gloom, Unpleasant Dreams. Gloom was featured on the Geek & Sundry show Tabletop. I’ve expanded this site with Six Questions, which has helped me to get to know some of my friends a little better and answered such burning questions as “What three dice would Will Hindmarch take to a desert island?”

In gloomier news, the current issue of Dragon marks the final installment of the Eye on Eberron series. It is my hope that Eberron will continue to be supported in D&D Next, but I don’t have any news on that front. With that in mind, I am developing a new fantasy setting that I’ll be using as a foundation for games and fiction. Expect to see a more detailed discussion of this new world over the next few months!

I count myself lucky for all of the good things in my life. I’m grateful to be surrounded by good friends and family, and especially for my wonderful wife Jenn. And I consider myself blessed to have been able to share my creations with so many people. Working on Gloom and Eberron has been a wonderful experience. I always enjoy discussing my games and novels with people, and if there are things you’d like to know, use that contact button on the right!

Happy holidays to all of you, and I look forward to sharing stories in 2013!

 

I’m Backing… Boss Monster

It’s tough being the boss. The kobolds are on strike, the bottomless pit isn’t deep enough, and that bum King Croak just got a new princess in his dungeon… and you know those gallant knights can’t resist the ol’ princess in peril gag. Your stomach’s growling – how are you going to lure some tasty adventurers to your lair?
As a kid, I used to pump quarters into Ghosts’n GoblinsI slaughtered my way ever further into the dungeon, splattering minions in the quest to reach the next big boss. Boss Monster is a non-collectible card game that recaptures those eight-bit adventures… from the other side of the screen. As a boss monster, you need to build a dungeon that is dangerous enough to slay the most epic hero. But it won’t matter how deadly your dungeon is if you can’t lure heroes to your door… so you need to balance your firepower with the right combination of loot.

Boss Monster is a dungeon-building game. Every turn, a few heroes show up in town. You win the game by killing ten points worth of heroes; you lose if too many get through your defenses and wound you. Every hero can take a certain amount of damage and desires a certain type of loot; they will go to the dungeon of the player with the greatest amount of the loot they are looking for. So in the example above, the Thief wants gold (as shown in the upper right corner of the hero card); Gorgona’s dungeon has three bags of gold. She’s got a pair of holy relics for luring clerics. However, if fighters or wizards show up, she’s currently got nothing to offer. Meanwhile, her dungeon can inflict 5 points of damage… which means she doesn’t actually WANT that epic thief in the picture coming to visit, because she can’t kill it.

The basic action of the game is simple; each round, you have the opportunity to add a room to your dungeon. Heroes are drawn to the dungeon based on treasure, and then you see if those heroes can survive a dungeon and wound the boss or if they die in the process. The fun of the game comes in dungeon design. First there is the basic challenge of competing with your opponents to have a dungeon that can lure the heroes that are out there. But beyond that, there’s a lot of strategic options to room placement. Some rooms provide bonuses to adjacent rooms of a specific type; the Dizzygas Hallway bumps up the room that comes after it, if that room is a trap. Other rooms provide special benefits if a hero dies in that room. Setting up a effective dungeon the same fundamental thrill you get from putting together a killer combo in a deck-building game, but that combo is on the table and continues to evolve over time. In addition, spell cards and certain rooms (such as the Jackpot Stash in the image above) are one-shot resources that provide an instant effect, allowing additional strategic choices and twists in the action.

Boss Monster can be played by two to four players; it’s strongest with three or four, but works as a two player game. Once people know how to play, it’s reasonably fast; an average game takes about 20 minutes. The 8-bit art is entertaining and fits the theme. The wide range of options makes it very replayable, and it’s the sort of game where even when I lose, I just want to play again.

Boss Monster currently has a week left in its Kickstarter campaign. Backers at the $25 level get a host of extra cards and bonus goodies; at higher levels you can playtest future expansions and even get a copy of the playtest deck (which is what I’ve been using) right away. All I’ll say is that it’s quick, fun, and I’ve been playing it whenever I’ve been able to drum up opponents; I actually played a few rounds on Election Night, as we waited to see who would end up as our next boss monster. So check out the Kickstarter, and tell ’em Hellcow sent you!

 

 

A Few Of My Favorite Things: Novels

For the last few months I’ve been doing my best to post a weekly Eberron Q&A. I’m going to continue to write these Dragonmarks, but as I am developing a new fantasy setting, I’m going to mix Eberron posts up with discussion of the new world and more general topics. This question seems like a good bridge, as it applies both to Eberron and the work I’ll be doing in the future.

What are your all-time favorite novels, and have they significantly influenced your work?

I read a great deal as a kid. J.R.R. Tolkien and Edgar Rice Burroughs; Oz, Wonderland, and Narnia; Douglas Adams and Robert Anton Wilson; I loved them all. Narrowing it down to favorites is very difficult, because there’s so many stories that I love. It helps that you say “novels”, but I’ll note that something that has definitely influenced my work is mythology and folklore. As a child I read all the myths I could find. When other kids wanted to play Cops & Robbers, I convinced them to play Egyptian vs Greek Gods. From stories of Baba Yaga and the Brothers Grimm to The One Thousand and One Nights, I loved reading the stories that shaped beliefs and cultures, and I definitely think that this has affected my work. So I’m going to focus on novels—mostly—but if you don’t know your folklore, give it a try.

As for novels… in the interests of not having an infinite list, I’m picking ten. These are books I definitely want to have in whatever the media of the day is for the rest of my life.

Night’s Master by Tanith Lee

Take the lyrical style and interwoven stories of The Thousand and One Nights and set it in a world we’ve never seen. I don’t know if I can point to a specific place where the Tales from the Flat Earth have affected my work, but I love the flavor of her world; there’s certainly a touch of the demons of the Underearth in my portrayal of Quori and Daelkyr.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Honestly, I prefer the movie version of The Maltese Falcon to the book, but there’s no comparison when it comes to The Big Sleep. Looking for inspiration for a story set in Sharn? Make Eddie Mars a Boromar halfling, Phillip Marlowe a Tharashk excoriate, and you’re halfway there.

Last Call by Tim Powers

Tarot and the legend of the Fisher King meets Bugsy Siegel and the story of Las Vegas. As someone who loves both magic and games, I enjoy the way this story weaves poker and tarot together. Declarea cold war espionage novel that deals with radio telegraphy and djinni—comes as a close second.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I love the way that Martin creates a world that feels as though it could be real, and the degree to which most of his characters—albeit not all—feel human. Heroes have flaws, and villains at least have motivations we can understand. My interest has dropped a little over the last few books, and I wish Martin would take a page from Eddings or Tepper—end this story arc in a satisfying way, and then tell OTHER stories set in the world as opposed to having the single story that just refuses to come to any real conclusion. Nonetheless, it’s a fantastic series, and taken alone I love the first novel. If I were to point to an impact on Eberron, I suppose I’d say that it’s a world full of intrigues and one where good and evil aren’t always clear cut.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

It’s a classic and surprisingly fun and easy to read. If you like Stephen Brust’s Phoenix Guards stories, you really should read the original. And setting aside the fact that it’s a classic pulp adventure, change the Musketeers to the Knights of Thrane and Richelieu to Krozen and you have another Eberron campaign ready to go!

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I mentioned that I love mythology, right? Thus, it’s no surprise that I love Neil Gaiman’s exploration of gods lingering in the modern world. I don’t think there’s a particular impact from this in Eberron, but there are a few threads that are relevant to the new world I’m working on.

The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic

This is a story written in the form of not one, but three dictionaries whose entries describe a particular event. Aside from the novelty of the format, I love the flavor of the tales themselves—from Princess Ateh with her mirror that runs slow, to the chicken that laid a Tuesday. Again, not much impact on Eberron, really, but you’ll certainly see some of its influence in the new world.

The Tain, translated by Thomas Kinsella

The epic tale of Cuchulainn. The style is archaic, and you may find it awkward. Personally, I love the way that style captures the flavor of the culture; as one reviewer says, you can imagine a bard telling the tale in a smoky hall. If you enjoyed, say, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you might be surprised by the martial exploits of Cuchulainn and his Celtic comrades; the warriors of the tales can leap atop an opponent’s thrown javelin, or catch it midflight and fling it back at the enemy. Certainly if you’re looking for inspiration for using, say, The Book of Nine Swords, The Tain will give you a host of ideas.

Phillip K. Dick

While the question was “novels”, the fact of the matter is that Phillip K. Dick is one of my favorite authors of all time, yet I prefer his short stories to his novels. His ideas are brilliant, and I love the way he questions memory and identity, but often an idea can be captured perfectly well in a short piece. I also appreciate the fact that he’s not afraid to have a story end poorly for the protagonist—something the movies based on his work often forget. “Second Variety”, “Minority Report”, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, and “Imposter” are great places to start (in part to contrast them to the movies that they’ve spawned), but it’s hard to go wrong with his short stories. Lei, Thorn, and Pierce are perhaps characters that are especially influenced by Dick, but his fingerprints are all over my brain.

H.P. Lovecraft

Likewise, it’s not a novel, but if I’m talking about literary influences it would be ridiculous to leave Lovecraft off of it. Lovecraft is scattered throughout Eberron, from the cosmic threat of the Overlords and the decaying families of the Shadow Marches and the horrors of the Daelkyr. And The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” surely played some role in my love of dream adventuring and the appearance of the Quori. Other favorite stories include “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Whisperer in Darkness”… but again, it’s hard to go wrong here.

As I said, those are ten things I know I will read again tomorrow, and that I want to make sure stay on my shelf. But there’s so many other authors and stories that I’ve loved. Just for the swift honorable mention:

  • Michael Moorcock. As a latchkey kid, I grew up with Elric and Corum. I loved the stories of cursed swords and doomed heroes, and the battle between all-to-often distant order and sardonic chaos. If this affected my work in some way, I think it set in my mind that things don’t always have to end well for the heroes; even if they save the world, all too often there is a terrible price for power or victory.
  • Jack Vance. If you’ve heard the term “Vancian Magic” and don’t know what it means, you should read Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books just for that. Beyond that, though, I love the untraditional approach of Vance’s fantasy. His Cugel isn’t a fighter or a wizard, and the challenges he faces and the ways he overcomes them are as clever as they are often bizarre. The Cugel stories have a unique cadence and style, and if you don’t enjoy it they probably aren’t going to be good books for you—but you should definitely give them a try. While you’re at it, check out Robin D. Law’s Dying Earth RPG!
  • William Gibson. While his latest books haven’t really grabbed me, Neuromancer kicked off my love affair with the cyberpunk genre, and it still holds up for me today.
  • Neal Stephenson. I started with Snow Crash, and that’s still an awesome read. However, anything he writes is sure to be interesting.
  • Sherri S. Tepper. The True Game books have flaws. However, they are quick and easy to read, and I like the flavor and culture that she builds around the talents. It’s something that could easily go farther and deeper, but as a quick read, I enjoy it.
  • Stephen Brust. As with Tepper, I wouldn’t put Brust’s books on my all-time classics list. But they’re fun. What I also enjoy is the way that he shows the impact of magic on a civilization over time – with the Khaavren books showing a society where magic is just beginning to play a role, and the Taltos books taking things to a place where teleportation and resurrection are everyday things. Again, not the best books out there, but quick reading and fun to explore.
  • Fritz Lieber. I give you this line from Swords Against Death: “In the Cold Waste they sought for Fafhrd’s Snow Clan, only to discover that it had been last year overwhelmed by a lemming horde of Ice Gnomes, and according to best rumor, massacred to the last person…”
  • P.G. Wodehouse. I don’t think he’s had any impact on any of my work except possibly Gloom, but I love me some Bertie and Jeeves.

A few more honorable mentions: The Black Company by Glenn Cook; Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco; Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; The Princess Bride by William Goldman; Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. I just started rereading Good Omens at lunch, and I recently finished Redshirts. I’m sure I’ll think of another dozen books in an hour, but I think this will do for now.

How about all of you? What are some of your favorite novels, and what’s influenced your stories or adventures?

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