Friday, February 7, 2014

Challenging Influences

According to Dyvers, the legend goes that waaay back in 2008 (one year before I began this blog) James Raggi*, of Lamentations of the Flame Princess fame (or infamy, depending upon your perspective), suggested RPG bloggers ". . . name the primary influences in your personal game, so we get a flavor not of what set of rules you decide to use, but what kind of game people can expect to play with you! Minimum five. No maximum. Plus include what people might assume influences you that you actually reject . . ." (Media Influences). 

Honestly this sounds fun but it also gives me this strong feeling of deja vu. Since Raggi posted the original challenge prior to the existence of Barking Alien, I couldn't have completed this challenge already. Could I?

Cue Twilight Zone music...

Before I get started, I want to make one unclear thing perfectly clear...

Raggi calls the post 'Media Influences' and than goes on to say in his post:

"So much has been said about the literary influences of D&D.

Now that's all great for the theorists, historians, pundits, and commentators.

But what about the influences of the individual campaign?" these individual campaign influences not include literary ones? 'Cause among those listed by Mr. Raggi are Edgar Allen Poe, HP Lovecraft, Jules Verne and HG Wells. I believe those gentlemen, and correct me if I am wrong, are writers.
Perhaps what he means to say is, "What are the influences on your individual campaigns, and not the game systems used to run them, literary or otherwise."
Since the whole 'Media Influences' phrase just weirds my the hell out, I am going to go with those individuals you influence my gaming style and aren't novelists. Influences from non-written media if you will, even if some of these gentlemen were writers to some degree or other.

Hmmm...something of note:

I was an avid reader, even at the age of 8, when I first began playing RPGs. I was extremely advanced in my reading level and by 6th grade could easily read books meant for high school students. I read The Hobbit at 8, Lord of the Rings by 10 or 11 and Dune, Ringworld and Foundation all before I was 14.

That said, I think one of the reasons I differ so much in my thinking from most of my gaming hobby brethren is that none of the written works I have processed and enjoyed have as much to do with the way I game as what I learned from the people I am about to mention.

OK, whew...On to my list!
Mel Brooks and P. T. Barum

I pride myself on my timing and ability to not just weave a tale, but to entertain. I like to keep the players guessing, their minds (and mine) moving and the whole thing flowing like the best movies, plays and TV shows.

Aside from being a comedic genius, Mel Brooks in a great director in a technical sense, in my opinion. He paces his movies well, and he gives each of the characters moments to shine, even if they're inept, or rather minor to the story. The audience (that's us), are never distracted by this. It is simply woven into the whole of the film. We enjoy taking a breather for a moment here, and there. We have some laughs, and then get back to the meat of things a few beats later. I've not just watched Mel Brooks' films, I've studied them. Comedy or serious business, you can learn a lot about timing and atmosphere watching Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and the Producers.

P.T. Barnum was a master in the arts of business, entertainment and distraction. I look to him as a major influence on how to use preconceptions, confusion and general mayhem to my advantage. It is from Barnum that I developed my practice of giving players a lot of information, though certainly not everything they need, and not all of it true. Fascinating fellow, and far more talented than most people realize. He was a writer, a politician, a salesman, an actor, a teacher and an architect. Did you know he designed the graveyard where he was finally buried at the age of 81?

Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas

I started gaming with D&D at the age of 8 in 1977. While I instantly fell in love with the game, as I have mentioned many times in the past, traditional Medieval Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery were far from my favorite genres.

By the Summer of '77 I was already a both a Trekkie and a Star Wars fanatic. I loved both and my naturally nerdy noodle absorbed as much information on the ships, aliens, planets, items and what-have-you as I could. It was through this that I learned about world-building. The kind of world building I do is directly related to the type of world building these two men did. Key element; don't try to build a world, let one happen, but don't let it happen by mistake.

Fans of all sorts will tell you that Lucas had written parts of the episodes 1-3 and perhaps even 7-9 a long while before he filmed Star Wars: A New Hope. Poppycock and rubbish. He may have jotted down some notes and he may have had some ideas, but he did not map out his universe the way we like to think he did (or the way we the fans and those professionals who work on the expanded universe have). No, he added as he went, tried to be true to what he said already, unless he thought his new idea was better, and if he felt it was, came up with a reason the previous info was incorrect.

"Did I say killed your father? I did? I meant 'is'. 'Is' your father. I mean, he did metaphorically 'die' and a new persona took over who wasn't like his old self so I guess 'killed' does make sense. So, yeah, if you look at it that way I told you the truth from the very beginning."

-Obi Wan Kenobi, paraphrased by your truly.

A certain point of view indeed.

Roddenberry's universe worked much the same way, but he had to deal with different writers adding their own material in and a network that wanted to see certain things in order to justify the budget. Still and all, Roddenberry did an amazing job of keeping it all together. As time marched forward and the Next Generation was built on top of the foundation that the Original Series laid down, Gene tried very hard to maintain the continuity as best they could. He understood that there were fans already out there and that they cared about that sort of thing.

So do I. So do my players. The end result is that I try to follow a combination of the approaches above. Have a basic idea of what you're doing and what you want to do,  always add new material, a little at a time preferably, and always leave enough room for error. Should error occur, don't hide it and don't apologize for it. Come up with a reason for it to be a misconception, not an error.

Jim Henson

What do I even say about Jim Henson's influence? How do I put it into words? So many of the things I do, from the voices of NPCs to the way I see scenes unfold can be attributed back to this man and his incredible mind, heart and vision. For me he is the source of my 'controlled chaos' skills. Split the party? No problem. Crazy scheme to escape? No problem. Player character dogs, pigs, chickens and liquid life forms from the planet Koozbane? No problem. It's all good, thanks to Jim.

Other major influences I should mention but don't really have time to fully go into detail on include:

Comic Book Artists John Byrne, Adam Hughes, George Perez, Alex Ross, Adam Warren and the late Mike Wieringo.

Comic Book Writers Paul Dini, Paul Levitz, Dennis O'Neil, Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman.

Directors Francis Ford Coppola, Blake Edwards, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

Actors and Comedians Dan Aykroyd, William 'Bud' Abbott and Lou Costello, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Steve Martin, The Marx Brothers, Steve McQueen, Bill Murray, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Reeve, Burt Reynolds, Peter Sellers, Lily Tomlin, Gene Wilder and Robin Williams.

Musicians and Singers America, The Beatles, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Jethro Tull, Billy Joel, Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Queen,  The Monkees, Procol Harum, Three Dog Night and many others.
I could go on and on, but suffice to say, these are the major ones and those less prominent ones that popped into my head without having to think on them.

And not a one specifically a writer of genre fiction in book form.

Challenge Completed.

Barking Alien
*James Raggi is not a name you'll see a lot on this blog. I do not know him personally and have only crossed his path once or twice while commenting on some other blog. His products are well down and he certainly knows his stuff. That 'stuff' being a certain style and subject of story and gaming that I don't care for all that much. To each their own of course.

The only product of his I read through in its entirety was the module 'Death Frost Doom'. I found it to be largely unmemorable. Just could not get into it.

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