Surely not an uncommon problem: I have a crap ton of books to read! The list just keeps growing, too. I get home from work, tell myself that I’m going to read but simply end up sitting on the couch doing nothing that truly engages my mind or creativity. It’s a tragedy, really. When I was younger, I didn’t really read much. I appreciated R.L. Stein’s work on the Goosebumps series but other than that, I only read what I was forced to in school. Here and there I got some titles I ended up enjoying, just like The Island of Doctor Moreau or Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut really did a fantastic job on that one). The first time I was really engaged intellectually was when I read The Stranger by Albert Camus.
If you read that book and take it for what it is, it’s really quite a bore. What really sparked me was all of the underlying stuff we found within it. Yeah, that crazy existential stuff. It was the first time I had felt like someone understood a lot of the emotions I had felt as a troubled teenager, and now as a troubled adult. I always enjoyed fantasy and that book gave me the itch to read, and thus I found A Song of Ice and Fire from George R.R. Martin. I liked fantasy stuff. All my video games were fantasy, my favorite films were fantasy. This was only a little bit before I found tabletop and once I had found tabletop, I found it difficult to mimic something in novels like Tolkien’s or Martin’s. I got caught up in trying to preserve their stories and settings without expressing my own creativity within those realms.
Time and time again, every podcast or interview I listen to or watch, writers and designers talk about reading stuff outside of your preferred genre. To take a new angle on the same idea, how the setting makes a difference only on the surface but ultimately all stories talk about a lot of the same stuff. This is why my reading list has gotten so damn long. Looking back at books that I’ve read in the past certainly reinforce the advice that has been given. Small details within the book The Color of Water by James McBride can easily be plopped down into a sci-fi or fantasy setting. Sometimes one simple sentence, without explicitly saying, “They hate you because you’re a half-elf,” can really hammer home a very realistic situation and feeling. You wouldn’t get that from a fantasy novel, in most cases. You’d get that sentence!
Seeing things from other perspectives within a piece of literature can really be a gold mine of ideas that can be re-purposed in role playing situations. I honestly think that it’s important. In an age of upheaval, it’s good to have an indirect outlet to talk about very real problems in a non-threatening environment. That’s a rather sidebar statement to the point of this article, but it’s crucial none the less.
The overall point is that if you over saturate you mind with a lot of the same stuff, you’ll lack mental stimulation to create something entirely new. As Kenneth Hite definitely exploits, random events in history can be completely reskinned and morphed into something nearly unrecognizable, simply because you may have thought, “Hmm… This would be really cool to play through in tabletop.” The best part about that one is that the most clever of minds can make it so everybody thinks the idea was one hundred percent original.
Take a dive into some books you may otherwise not read, see what you can dig up and create some art, ya filthy animals!
Stay Metal! \m/