fantasy Lit- the discussion goes on


well, since it started such a discussion, let's keep it up in an on-topic style.

RG, I've enjoyed the Dark Elf trilogy (Homeland, Exile, Sojourn) most out of R.A.S's work, too.

Second, regarding Dragonlance Chronicles: the books were indeed developed at the same time as the campaign material, and actually played (or play-tested) by the writers and their group. I've read somewhere that the guy who played Raistlin started talking in a rasping voice and that really kick-started that character.

anyone else read the War of Souls Dragonlance trilogy? I enjoyed it immensly.

oh, and no discussion of Fantasy literature can be complete without mentioning Discworld.

so I mentioned it.

now Discuss.

I'd like to hear what people value in fantasy writers, not least because I'm so particular about the genre myself. These are the criteria I have:

  • World-building. Tolkien was the master at this; he set the bar so high that most others read like dismal failures, or worse, imitators, by comparison. Moorcock does one hell of a job at this, also, for all his other weaknesses. Aside: how many people know the names Tekumel or Jorune? Quality world-building is just as important to a fantasy RPG as it is to a good fantasy book, and most settings are sadly lacking in this regard.
  • Storytelling. This is the ability to keep you wanting to know what's happening in the story. Tolkien was...not very good at this. This quality is what makes J.K. Rowling one of my favorites; even when I've predicted what will happen next, she keeps me turning pages. Stephen King is also pretty good at this - I'm thinking of The Eyes of the Dragon here.
  • Inventiveness. For a fantasy, this ought to be the defining criterion: so why do so many works of fantasy seem alike? Tolkien invented very little at all: his world was mostly research-driven. My candidates here are Roger Zelazny (Amber has some mind-blowingly cool ideas) and the possibly insane David Lindsay, the writer of A Voyage to Arcturus.
  • Command of language. This is what keeps me from reading most "pulp" fantasy - bad writing just puts me off. A good writer writes so well that you don't notice anything about the writing at all, even if you happen to be a professional writer yourself. Unfortunately, no fantasy writers really spring to mind in this regard; I can't think of a fantasy author who's pushed the envelope between the debased genre and genuine literature. Ursula LeGuin comes pretty close, though, and I understand E.R. Eddison does as well (though I haven't read The Worm Ourobouros).
  • Verisimilitude. This is a combination between good research and a really thorough understanding of human nature. For all his world-building, Tolkien writes some relatively dull characters. Fortunately we have Kay, LeGuin, and Leiber. I maintain Rowling deserves more credit than she gets in this department, too.
  • Dash. Coming out of the theater where we saw The Return of the King, my stepmother said to me: "Wow, I loved it when Legolas climbed up that elephant creature! I wanted more of that!" Perhaps the most critical element of fantasy writing is the sense of being on a grand, exciting adventure. Leiber conveys this very well. So, though I wouldn't call him a great writer, does Robert E. Howard.

That's my list. Tell me what you think.

Also, thanks to lurkinggherkin for some very interesting-sounding recommendations. My bookshelf groans under the weight of unread joys...

A hearty list, aye.

I agree that REH isn't all that when it comes to actual talent. I enjoy his works and his best stories are full of "dash."

I think he should be credited with inventiveness as well. While not as strong at world building as Tolkien, REH came up with some pretty exotic locales and some pretty weird criters n' such.

I think maybe "legacy" should also be a factor. Lord of the Rings has legacy, so does Narnia...and, well, so does Conan.

I suppose, tho, everything you have listed would be factors that contribute to "legacy." And, I think REH had enough going for him that he should be thrown in. Some would argue that he invented the fantasy genre.

I'd add Frank Herbert's Dune stuff to the list of greats. I, personally, think that he excelled at each item on the list when writing Dune -- some of his other stuff ain't so grand.

Might also be fun to discuss which items on the list are most important.

RG, I'd hesitate calling Dune fantasy, although SF isn't entirely fitting, either.

What do you guys say of Stephen King's Gunslinger series?

My favourite Fantasy is Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, Thorn trilogy. It meets (and surpasses) all of your criteria Cocytus. A small note of warning though. Williams' work is very realistic in that characters who make the right choices (good over evil, selfless acts over selfish) still have bad things happen to them. In the Lord of the Rings, all the main characters, all the heroes lived. The only person who seemed scarred by the ordeal was Frodo. In Williams' work, everyone is scarred or dead. The characters make choices that make sense and very rarely, if ever, do dangerous missions or make choices just because it is the "right" thing to do.

Another Word of warning: The first book, "The Dragonbone Chair", starts off pretty slow. I have yet to know of anyone who has read it and not finished the trilogy though... It's that good.

Just FYI

"Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey."
Tad Williams

"We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger."
Tad Williams

That was one of my favorite trilogies, also. I feel Williams is still maturing as a writer, but at its best, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is really quite good.

The slow parts are a bit problematic. Simon does a bit too much wandering in ghost-filled passages for my taste (this problem is far, far worse in his Otherland series).

But I think the high points more than compensate for the weaker parts.

Welcome, Stranger. The paths are treacherous today.

So Boromir wasn't a main character?


{I do take your point; just being picky...}

I agree with the comments about Williams - especially Cocytus' take on Otherland. Have you taken a look at his "Tailchaser's Song" about a cat on a fantasy journey?

My favourite writer is GG Kay, although I didn't really get into the latest one.

David Gemmell is good a keeping up a level of entertainment, but gets a bit "pulpy."

Cecilia Dart Thorton does a really good job of world building, but I don't find that the plot moves well.

Ken Folett (although he doesn't quite fit into the genre) is good at world building and has interesting characters.

Recently I have drfited away from high fantasy to semi-historical fiction. Jean Auel is a good read too.

Glad to hear someone else chiming in on the G.G. Kay fandom. I have not yet read Last Light of the Sun, but my wife liked it.

If you're at all into historical fiction, I cannot recommend Patrick O'Brian strongly enough. But that's really not a subject for this board...

Oh come on ... It is only a minor transgression -- why do you reccommend O'Brian? BTW "The Last Light of the Sun" is pretty much historical fiction with very few, in any, fantasy elements.

Bernard Cornwell's "The Last Kingdom" covers the same topic and I found it to be a better read than "The Last Light of the Sun." Guy Gavriel Kay is still my favourite fantasy author though. "Tigana" is a modern masterpiece.

I am not a huge fan of Eddings or Donaldson and liked where Robert Jordan was going with his first two books and gave up on him by the third (or fourth). I would argue that McCaffery is a good world-builder and Andre Norton creates interesting situations. Katherine Kurtz had an interesting premise with the Deryni series, but I didn't become involved with the characters.

I have never read an R.A. Salvatore novel -- I guess I made an assumption about them. zipdrive likes him; anyone else?

I have read a lot of the works of Weis and Hickman and think that they do a good job of creating an environment with lots of potential for adventure and I typically enjoy the characters. They balance the emotional spectrum very well - humour, sorrow, excitment, despair.

What about humour as a criterion? Pith and mirth can really add flavour to a tale. In the case of Pratchett or Piers Anthony humour can become the driving force.

BTW - Tekumel and Jorune -- Yes these are wonderful settings!

As Kay matures, I find he incorporates less and less fantasy. And I find I still enjoy his work. The Lions of Al-Rassan is, of course, a thinly veiled retelling of El Cid. I really enjoyed The Sarantine Mosaic on almost every level: a marvelous read. And I certainly agree with you on Tigana: the magic system alone makes it one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read, and the Russian-inspired Ruselka is a very nice touch. But my favorite Kay book was A Song for Arbonne, so much so that I'm currently researching the County of Toulouse, Languedoc, and Narbonne/Galla Narbonensis in the 6th-10th centuries as the basis for my next campaign.

Humor should be a criterion...I suppose I omitted it because it seems to be strangely lacking among my favorite fantasy authors. I was a fan of the Xanth novels in my adolescence. I seem to recall the third book being particularly funny. Really, any good writer should command the entire spectrum of human emotions, and humor is an oft-overlooked bit of color. But I don't think it should be the driving force in an adventure story: too much levity deprives the adventure of some of its sense of peril and thrill. I can't think of too many fantasy books that employ humor to superior effect. Two of my favorite fantasy movies, however, Conan (the Milius-directed original, not the miserable sequel) and The Princess Bride use humor superbly. In the former, it's a seasoning; in the latter, it's a major element of the story. But in neither case, I think, do you forget that the major themes are love, death, and the triumph of heroism over villainy.

I haven't read RAS or any of the others recommended by zip. I didn't mean to slam his taste by sort of starting a different thread in his post, but I don't know enough about any of the authors he mentions to comment intelligently.

As for O'Brian, well: to put it simply, he's the best writer of adventure stories I've ever read. Now, I am something of a sailor, but I could never get into the Hornblower series, and the better part of Moby Dick bored me to tears; so the fact that O'Brian possesses a singular mastery of nautical knowlege and early 19th-century period detail actually counted against him when I started reading his Aubrey-and-Maturin series. But I was soon won over. His gift for storytelling is incredible; his command of language equals that of any writer I've read in any language, with the possible exceptions of Shakespeare and Ovid; he commands the entire range of human emotions, summoning pity, disgust, horrror, suspense, joy, admiration, romantic tension, and above all humor with equal ease; and most importantly to a guy such as myself, he spins a cracking good adventure story, where acts of heroism and intrigue combine in a way I've simply never encountered in any other writer. And all this should be underscored by the proviso that I don't even get all the jokes and references in his novels. I'm on my second pass through them, and I keep finding things I missed the first time, and reading (on the websites of other fans whose scholarship and devotion absolutely humble me) about the hundreds of little details that O'Brian never explains, but which continue to provide delight to the perceptive reader. Is he for everyone? No. But he has something for everyone, and if you have a heart that can be moved by a tale of heroics, I find it difficult to believe you would not like reading his stories.

The only comfortable analogy I can muster is the movie Casablanca, which I managed to live 33 years of my life without having seen. When I finally did see it, I found that all the great things I'd heard about it actually failed to do it justice: it's one of those works of art that I think deserves its title as a "Classic," and as such it is really immune to hype. In my opinion, O'Brian is much the same.

I'm with you on Jordan. I thought the first 2 books of Wheel of Time were pretty good (despite the obvious rip-off's, Dune being the most notable). It took me months to read the third book...and I gave up half-way through the 4th book.

I think the Killer Angles by Michael Sharra is the best historic-fiction book I've ever read. But, that classification might not be apt as it's about real people and real events. Anyway, for those of you who like Georege R. R. Martin, the writing style (characterization, pace, etc.) is very similar and it does a masterful job or realating the Battle of Gettysburg to those who know little about it (as was my case the first time I read it). Sharra does a great job of detailing things that most folks wouldn't be familiar with...and manages to keep the story fluid the whole time.

I don't dislike Salvatore, but I wouldn't call him "great." His characters aren't nearly as interesting as he would have us believe...and much more immortal than they have a right to be.

Though I've not read Shaara's Killer Angels, my father loves it and I mean to read it at some point. At any rate, I'll always love it, because it was after reading that book that Joss Whedon started to conceive of Firefly, which is some of the best damn television I've ever seen.

Yeah, I'm a fanboy. Sorry.

Ah...I didn't know that about Firefly. I've seen all the episodes, but haven't got around to any of the extras yet -- does he mention that there...or did you find that info elsewhere?

Guess this means you'll be off to see Serenity in about 2 weeks or so.

Jeff Shara seems to be okay too. I've read Gone For Soldiers and liked it -- tho, I'd say Killer Angles is better.

I can't remember where I heard that. I can dig up the reference, if you like.

Some of the extras are quite good. The cast interviews are all great, but the highlight is definitely Adam Baldwin singing "The Man They Call Jayne" wearing that absurd hat.

And yes, I'll be off to see Serenity. I had planned to lose more weight this year and go dressed as Captain Reynolds (when I'm close to my ideal weight, I bear a passing resemblance to Nathan Fillion). But I'm about 30 lbs. overweight again, so I must simply be content to be the average, cheering, popcorn-eating fan.

hey guys,

first, you all make me sound like some RAS groupie...I'm not, really. He's definitely not the best I've read, but I found him entertaining.

second, I'm now reading my way through the second Song of Ice and Fire book (GRR Martin) and I'm still amazed. Anyone else? No one can say the heroes all stay alive in his books :).

third, Cocytus, after such a reccomendation, I'll start looking for Patrick O'Brian's books (on Amazon, if all else fails).

...still no comments about The Gunslinger, though?

I hear great things about Martin from nearly everyone who's read him. I'll definitely have to check him out.

You shouldn't have to look as far as Amazon to find POB. I don't know what bookstores in Israel are like, but here in the 'States you can find the entire 20-volume series in any major bookstore. I'd recommend starting with the first one, Master and Commander. If you like that one, you'll like them all.

Though I've done it before, I'll throw another "aye-firmative" for Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books.

Terry Pratchett deserves a mention, I'd say. Cocytus was talking about humor in fantasy... well, there you go. Pratchett's a satiric genius.

I've often found that fantasy aimed towards a somewhat younger age group is often superior to adult fantasy. Harry Potter is an obvious example. Diana Wynn Jones has written some very clever fantasy short stories, and I enjoyed Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic books a great deal.

I'd definately say that the most important criteria in fantasy is originality. When you've got as much flexibility as the genre has - you can do anything you WANT, for heaven's sake! You can have snakes come out of the ceilings if you can come up with a reasonable reason! - then you really shouldn't be using the same tired story elements as the last five zillion authors have. I'm not saying there can't be repetiton, I'm just saying that there is far too much of it these days.

I'll chime in for the Gunslinger. The 1st book is pretty lame. Luckily, it's thin enough that it isn't a problem and it DOES set up the rest of the series better than the Phantom Menace did... I challenge you to finish the second book and NOT want to continue though. Each book is better than the one before it. I don't know if it's because Stephen King was growing and maturing as an author or because he just stepped up the pace in each book or both.

I do that most if not all of Stephen King's novels are influenced by or referred to in the Dark Tower series. Unlikely as it may seem, this actually pulls the reader in further rather than sounding like a marketing campaign.

As for world creation... King has made a universe that is multi-dimensional and believable. His command of english is befitting a former english teacher, and his characters are believable and interesting.

I highly recommend the Dark Tower series. If nothing else, it will give you good ideas for messing with your players during the game ;-)

"Anybody wanna peanut?"

Funny...I liked the first one and didn't like the second. Nearly all my friends agree I should've kept reading, though.

And I read the first story in Gunslinger and liked it, but got bored with The Way Station and, likewise, gave up.

And, likewise, all my friends tell me I should pick it back up.

For those George R. R. Martin fans out there, I just made a discovery at my local bookstore. There is a D20 gaming supplement for the Game of Thrones, the first of the Songs of Fire and Ice series. This book retails for $50 and only covers the 1st novel. It is hardback and looks pretty.

Here is the product description:

"This essential d20-based role-playing game details the first novel, A Game of Thrones, in George R. R. Martin's masterpiece of fantasy literature, "A Song of Ice and Fire." Now's your chance to explore the mysteries of the Seven Kingdoms and its noble houses -- Starks, Lannisters, Tullys, and more! This authorised full-colour reference guide and RPG features new classes, feats, weapons, and rules appropriate to the series -- along with noble house analyses, character profiles, setting details, gorgeous illustrations, and a pull-out map of Westeros. A fantasy RPG alternative for fans of "A Song of Ice and Fire" and OGL connoisseurs."

There is a $100 version as well, here's that product description:

"For the most dedicated fans of George R. R. Martin's masterpiece of fantasy literature, A Song of Ice and Fire, only the best will do -- and this Deluxe Limited Edition doesnít hold back! This full-colour book details the first novel in the series, A Game of Thrones, presenting a wealth of resource and reference material about the dynamic and mysterious lands of the Seven Kingdoms. Additionally, role-playing game rules for engaging the characters and plots of Westeros are included for both the d20 and Tri-Stat Systems. The book features: full-colour printing on premium quality paper, dozens of gorgeous images, a foil-stamped leatherette hardbound cover, an exquisite dust jacket, and cloth bookmark. An essential companion book for the serious Martin fan and role-playing game connoisseur. Supplies are limited."

These are both outta MY price range but I think that the world is cool enough and the books are good enough that those of you who want a great pregenerated world could do a lot worse. I didn't try pricing these out on Ebay or anything, so don't let the price tag discourage you.

Here is where I found these books:

I *am* a Martin fan...

...but, for $50...for a setting I'll never play

As a rule of thumb, I don't play games in other people's worlds. And what I mean by that is Middle Earth, Martin's Westeros, Jordan, Eddings, Brooks, Feist, etc.

Playing a Dark Sun or Spelljammer game is one thing...but running around in someplace like Middle Earth crosses into an extra layer of weirdness.

i never buy something that mentions "connoisseurs" :)

regarding pre-made worlds, do you guys think Eberron would make a good GURPS setting? I mean if it'd be an interesting, full experience and whether it'd be difficult to transport to another system.

note: I just checked out the GoO site, and the books are 496 and 576 pages long (normal and deluxe editions.) which might explain some of the high price.

in addition, there's a 64 page preview freely available for download on the site.

All D&D worlds can be translated to Gurps. Ignore the D&D stats, and keep the descriptions. Remake the character or creature based on the description.

For example (I don't have a monsters manual here, so bear with me):

A typical D&D Orc is described as a mansized bipedal creature with green, brown, or black skin, a piggish snout and tusks. They typically use low quality short swords, spear, xbows, shields, and are armoured with leather or chainmail armour.

They are described as strong and viscious, cunning but not too bright. They are tough and extremely aggressive.

In D&D they are given a certain number of hit dice which relates to the level of the characters. In Gurps they get stats just like the PCs and NPCs do. They are described as strong, but not massively, thus they'd get a +1 or 2 to strength. They aren't bright, but they are cunning and they're alert and notice things. I'd leave their Iq and raised their perception a level or 2. I'd give them the Orcish Martial art Smasha for their fighting skills (it includes broadsword) and a couple of missile weapons. A level of Toughness or two, High Pain Threshold, and Combat Reflexes account for Advantages and Bloodlust, Bad Temper, and Callous are their Racial Disadvantages.

Gurps Fantasy Races (3rd ed) will give you a good idea of Racial stats. I believe Fantasy (4th ed) will have Fantasy Race Creation Rules in it.

I hope that this helps...

how many points would you put in orcs? 100? 50? 1?
I'm thinking whether orcs should be the PCs equals in terms of power, or very much weaker, or somewhere in between. (regarding orcs traditional role as villains' sidekicks/ minor adversaries

In GURPS Magic (3d ed), "orc" is a -10 point racial disadvantage. You have to decide whether or not you want that profile to be the one you use.

For a guide to how to create your own GURPS races, refer to GURPS Bestiary (I used it for weres)...or just total the advantages, stat modifiers, etc. that you want to use. It's surprisingly easy, and unsurprisingly rather addictive.

As a general rule, "normal" folk in GURPS are meant to be built on 25 points. So I'd put 25 points in the average, generic fantasy, cannon fodder orc warrior. The chief of the tribe might get as many as 50 or even 75. 100+ points you want to save for really major NPCs, lethal fights, and so on.

I'm sure Calamar will come around to correct me here--he has a LOT more experience actually playing the sytem than I have (I've mainly just designed about three settings for it and then got bullied into running d20 games for my worthless...I mean, well-behaved, open-minded, brilliant players), but these are the guidelines I've used so far.

Cocytus, I'm not going to correct you. You are actually doing it the way that the book states that you should. I do it differently simply because I don't wanna spend that much time on faceless NPCs. I don't bother adding up points, I just have a stock set of NPC stats and skills. I'll show you...

I start the NPC's with stats and skills of 12. The book describes a stat of 12 as athletic (or bright) and a skill of 12 as a talented beginner and someone with a little training. I use this as my cannon fodder base. A private in the military or City Watch, for example.

The next level, a Corporal for example, would have stats that range from 12-14 (this is true of all the following as well) and 2 or more skills of 14 (the rest would be 12). This is an experienced warrior.

Next is a Seargeant. This person has at least 2 skills that are 15, the rest are still 12. This is the default skill level for merchants and craftsmen. For tradesmen, this is journeyman level status or assistant. For warriors this is a black belt in Karate.

A skill level of 16 is for experts. Swordmasters, Assassins, some Thieves, and the like. I use the optional rule that someone with a 16 or better weapon skill gets an extra attack with that weapon. This is a rare NPC and I usually flesh them out a bit.

Merchants and craftsmen who are masters have an 18 skill level in their area of expertise. They are the owners of their shop and do most of the haggling.

Non-human NPCs are the same except that I add in their Racial Stat Modifications. Thus an Orc gets a Racial +1 to St would have a 13 ST even as cannon fodder. Long lived races like Dwarves and Elves start off with a base skill level of 15 due to their age (gotta respect your elders!).

I hope that this helps.
"If you never try anything, then you will always succeed in doing nothing."