Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Ten Books that Can Change the Way You Game

I’ve written ten posts over at Castalia House now, each one covering a different book. It’s about 20,000 words in total… and though I tend to write about whatever happens to be the biggest gobsmacker I come across with each installment, I’ve still managed to fit in a massive amount of gaming stuff over there.

It’s starting to get hard to keep up with all the material there now, so I’ve made this guide for gamers. I list each post in order based of how significant it is for gaming and then briefly detail what the work specifically brings to the table. If you love gaming and haven’t spent a lot of time with Gary Gygax’s famous “Appendix N” book list, then you owe to yourself to at least check out at least a couple of the top books I delve into below.

RETROSPECTIVE: The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance — Some books will inspire a new character concept or house rule. Some provide great ideas for adventure design. This one will make you want to overhaul the magic rules of whatever game you play. It’s epic. (But read The Dying Earth first, of course.)

RETROSPECTIVE: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson — This is the only take on alignment that has ever made sense to me– the concept behind it got completely butchered in the translation to gaming. If the situation in B2 Keep on the Borderlands seems weird to you, then you need to read this book! (Your problem is you’re thinking in terms of derivative Tolkien rather than in old school fantasy.)

RETROSPECTIVE: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs — A good role playing game should be able to alternate between individual dueling, small scale skirmishes, massive battles, sieges, and epic air wars. AD&D’s domain-level play is in there for a reason; embrace it!

RETROSPECTIVE: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance — Vancian magic is fundamentally apocalyptic. Every magic-user should be living in a state of acute paranoia, forcing people to go adventures for them, and trying to raid other wizards for their spells.

RETROSPECTIVE: The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubb — Many of Traveller’s more obscure elements have been passed over by gamers. With this book, you can see huge chunks of the game portayed in their original context. It all makes so much more sense now!

RETROSPECTIVE: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson — Medieval people are different from us… but that doesn’t mean they were stupid. After reading this book, I can see group of “primitive” Englishmen having a better chance at toppling the Ziru Sirka than some kind of analog to The United Nations!

RETROSPECTIVE: Derai by E. C. Tubb — A patron encounter, a great “hand-to-mouth” scenario, and even an fairly comprehensive take on The Hunger Games schtick. If your Traveller game tends to focus on just one or two worlds, this second novel in the Dumarest series will demonstrate the sort of attitude you’ll need to expand that out to a dozen or so.

REVIEW: Shadow of the Storm by Martin J. Dougherty — A look at what a naval career on the Solomoni side of the border would look like. This is a more sympathetic look at the inheritors of Terra’s legacy: their racism is quietly omitted, their paranoia is justified, and their institutions are shown to work more or less even if they’re technically not the “good guys” of the Official Traveller Universe.

RETROSPECTIVE: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny — This is a solid resource if you’d like the classic thief class to have a bit more of an epic magic feel. Bonus: a good overview of the consequences of implementing “extra lives” and an explicit re-spawning mechanism in a fantasy world.

REVIEW: Fate of the Kinunir by Robert E. Vardeman — This is not entirely consistent with “real” Traveller, but it should give you a number of ideas for running an iconic adventure that leverages an iconic ship.

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8 responses to “Ten Books that Can Change the Way You Game

  1. dgarsys August 13, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Thank you – read those, and great to have them indexed to look through again

    • jeffro August 13, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks for the support. There’s still a lot of work to do here… just a massive number of books, really. Sometimes I feel like I couldn’t handle having my mind blown one more time! Heh.

  2. Alex August 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Huzzah! Are you, by any chance, going to be looking at any of the early Hainish novels by LeGuin? I just finished reading the first three and one of the more recent ones earlier this month, and it has me hankering to game in a galactic fallen empire setting as a griffo-cat riding ethnolinguist.

    • Alex August 13, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Or maybe as an ethnoliguist riding griffo-cat…

    • jeffro August 13, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      I hadn’t heard of that one. Surprisingly, Le Guin is not actionly an Appendix N author, though her first three Earthsea books show up in Moldvay’s Basic D&D “Inspirational Reading” list.

      She looks like another example of how the big name writers did both science fiction and fantasy in the sixties.

      • Alex August 13, 2014 at 3:14 pm

        They are… strange. With them she probably created a subgenre of Sword & Planet that, with some obvious influences of first run Star Trek, explored the consequences of both violating and adhering to the Prime Directive from an anthropological, rather than a purely heroic fantasy, perspective. The big questions explored in them are “What happens to a world that joins the federation then loses contact?” and “What happens when you have a galactic federation that has instantaneous communications but physical travel is limited by the speed of light?”

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