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Monday, 8 March 2010

Horse sense

Role-playing gamers have a tendency to offend (and I speak as a sometime guilty party) against the laws of reality. Magic? Well, that, obviously. But I'm really thinking of the way players get their model of the world from movies and books. "I swing on the rope, let go and let momentum carry me onto the balcony." Actually, mate, you'd plummet like a sack of flour. The acrobatic skills you're envisaging belong to a cartoon mouse, not a human being.

But, okay, maybe that one gets a pass. Characters in RPGs are supposed to be adventurers with Olympic-level athletic prowess. But how about the gamers who think they can swim (or indeed do anything other than drown) in full plate armour? Or the guy in one of my games who put a warning shot over his opponent's head with a crossbow, the only effect being to alert him to the fact that the crossbow was no longer loaded?

Whether you care about such things in your games is up to you. I happen to think that one of the fun things about role-playing is the way a campaign can spur you to find out the facts about everything from economics to nutrition. And, just like in a novel, having to work around the constraints set by reality leads to the best story outcomes. This is why role-playing stimulates such full and interesting fan activity, with lots of people chipping in with their diverse expertise and helping to flesh out the world. And while I'm on the subject of fandom, incidentally, let me just point you in the direction of Ordo Draconis, the DW fanzine, issue #2 just out; and my own Eye of All-Seeing Wonder, the Tekumel fanzine, available here.

Tekumel is one of the very few fantasy worlds that doesn't have horses. And yet for all the importance of horses in most campaigns, gamers (who typically are more at home in an Aeron chair than a saddle) have little grasp of what the beasties are like. Most seem to think of a horse as being like a kind of all-terrain bike that runs on hay and answers to whistled commands like a sheepdog. My wife Roz, author of the Nail Your Novel creative writing blog, has a horse, and she loses no opportunity to set me and my gaming friends straight on all our equine misconceptions. And now she's gone as far as to write an article on the use of horses in role-playing games. It's over on the Dragon Warriors Wiki. Hi ho, Silver.


  1. One of my players, an Ervian (from Erevorn) noble, killed his horses and ate them (as there was a food shortage in his troup...)

  2. I think the typical Erewornian noble would more likely roast a peasant so that his horse didn't go hungry :) Certainly my Elleslandic knight Sir Lazarus would put the wellbeing of his horse, Yggdrasil, ahead of most of the other player-characters.

  3. Hi, Dave, its Mike again. I was wondering which role playing games you would recommend and/or would play yourself, as there is quite an array of various games and game systems. I have never actually played a multiplayer rpg and your blog has certainly piqued my interest. I would hope that you would go down in history of one of the greatest writers of my generation, i'm 22, by the way. One other thing, once you finish the Fabled Lands series of books, do you think you could republish Blood Sword, The Way Of The Ninja, and other series as well? I have never even seen any copies of those, although I missed my chance to purchase Over The Blood-Dark Sea.

  4. Hi Mike - well, don't you say the nicest things :) We certainly plan to get both Blood Sword and Way of the Tiger available again if we can. Also Jamie's Falcon books, of course, and the Virtual Reality and Golden Dragon books that I wrote with Mark Smith and Oliver Johnson respectively. Any news, we'll have it here first.

    I play a modified version of GURPS that we call 7URPS (because we have 7 attributes instead of the basic 4). I certainly recommend GURPS as the most versatile system. Others are good, but they're usually designed for one specific setting. And Jamie and I are at work on the Fabled Lands RPG system. That could be ready in ver1.0 later this year, hopefully, but it's always hard to know when we'll get the time to work on it.

  5. Do you have a link to GURPS material or maybe you could post it on the sidebar? What I said before is totally true. You and Jamie made Fabled Lands come to life with descriptions of the sights and sounds, the plant life/foliage, and things like that. I'd certain review any products you release in a magazine, as i'm working on become a freelance writer for a couple of magazines here in the US. It seems to me that many great products such as the Sorcery series which I have also never played but heard great things about, have only been released in the United Kingdom. I seem to be one of the few people I know who actually reads anything these days. You might call me a Fabled Lands addict :') I have found a couple of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels in my local thrift shop and was wondering what novels interest you.

  6. I'm a big fan of Jack Vance, especially the Dying Earth books. I also enjoy the work of Tim Powers - he wrote On Stranger Tides, which Disney have optioned for the next PotC movie, but his best is The Anubis Gates. Susanna Clarke's fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is brilliant but not to everybody's taste. Also Oliver Johnson's trilogy beginning with The Forging of the Shadows. And there's some great stuff written for kids that's worth checking out, like Marcus Sedgwick's Blood Red Snow White and The Kiss of Death.

    Outside fantasy I recommend: Robert Harris (Enigma, The Ghost), Donna Tartt (The Secret History), Iain Banks (The Wasp Factory).

    You can find pretty much everything for GURPS here including GURPS Lite as a free download. At some point I'll do a post about our 7URPS house rules too.