Saturday, October 20, 2012

Last Rest Setting: Grit and Inspiration

So in my GM Commentary for Episode Two, I mentioned Digetic thinking and needing to establish a "Grit Level" for my home brew Last Rest setting that I'm running my Reign campaign in, this post is my attempt to help set a "Grit Level" by going over some of my inspiration for the setting and the kind of grittiness I'm taking from those sources...

First on the list because it's probably what my players are most familiar with is Game of Thrones and the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I've only seen a few episodes of the television series , but I've read all of the published books, so that's what I'm drawing from.  Incredibly gritty, dark fantasy in a low magic world, very few pure motives and all the political scheming you can dream of.  The deadly machinations of A Song of Ice and Fire were definitely a big influence on my Last Rest setting.
Steven Brust is a front runner for my favorite fantasy author and one of my favorite authors over all.  He has a knack for switching writing styles and that is shown off to great effect in his Vlad Taltos series.  The biggest influence on Last Rest, though, are the dark urban fantasy found in some of the early Taltos books, namely Jhereg and Taltos, which are both collected in the Book of Jhereg omnibus here.  Jhereg deals with Vlad as an assassin and crime syndicate member trying to prevent a war by solving a mystery and Teckla has Vlad dealing with his wife joining a radical political movement.  In both Vlad is a sympathetic but often morally gray protagonist, and always the underdog.  I would highly recommend the Vlad Taltos books to anyone and as my favorite fantasy series I am certain that they shaped my Last Rest setting to a great extent.
It's hard to find a good collected volume or volumes of Fritz Lieber's classic sword and sorcery stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as they unfortunately seem to go in and out of print, but the Dark House graphic novel is a decent adaptation.  Morally ambiguous, the duo are a great pairing and I'm certain that some the strangeness of Lankhmar and Nehwon has snuck into Last Rest.
I could re-read Robert E Howard's classic Conan stories again and again (as well as the excellent ongoing graphic novel adaptation).  Perfect gritty fantasy where combat and magic are always deadly and darkness waits in every alley, temple, forest and cave.
Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays are wonderful explorations of the consequences of unbridled political machinations.  More than any of the inspirations here, the portrayal of the scheming nobles in Henry VI are what I based the scheming nobles of Last Rest on.
My absolute favorite play, Shakespearean or otherwise.  It would be a crime to leave this off.  The Bard's portrayal of Richard III may just been a dirty Tudor apology but it is a wonderful portrait of villainy delighting in itself.
A tiny little graphic novel from the estimable Warren Ellis, in Crecy, Warren depicts the famous battle where English (and Welsh) bowmen decimated the flower of French and European chivalry in a single battle.  A wonderful depiction of war from the lowly soldier's point of view, Crecy delights in its pro-English, anti-chivalry point of view.
Another of my favorite fantasy series, the Chronicles of the Black Company follows a mercenary company serving patrons they know to be evil and trying to do what they can to survive.  Not high fantasy at all, this is fantasy seen through the lens of the Vietnam war with participants who are painfully aware that they sometimes participate in atrocities.
What can I say, I am a sucker for medieval English Royalty, plus the Lion in Winter is not just scheming nobles, it's a tight knit family of scheming nobles.  Any dysfunctional noble families in Last Rest have a chance of being inspired by this as well as Shakespeare's English histories.
The Cathar Heresy and the Albigensian Crusade to wipe it from the Languedoc would be famous, if only for the phrase,  "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.)" but it is a fascinating period of internal and external political machinations intersecting with religious conflict as northern French nobility and royalty use the heresy to bring the south of France under the control of the North with the heresy often as no more than an excuse.
Lost to the West is a great summary of Byzantine History focusing on rehabilitating the Byzantine Empire and pulling it from the shadow of Rome.  The Byzantine period is one of my favorite historical periods (though I probably have more favorite historical periods than the average person) and I'm sure that much of the feel of the Ashen Kingdom comes from the idea of an Empire losing and re-gaining territory and political control as the Byzantines did.
"God save us always,' I said, 'from the innocent and the good." - That quote from The Quiet American could almost be a motto for the way I'm running Reign.  A wonderful exploration of both how idealism descends into fanaticism and the cost of using apathy as a defense.
Bleak and sun-burnt  this movie is a bloody exploration of family, loyalty, civilization and justice.  Everything is set into motion when a well-meaning lawman offers the middle brother in a trio of criminal siblings clemency for himself and his feeble-minded youngest brother if he kills his psychopathic older brother.

I would highly recommend any of these books and movies to anyone, but for my Reign players these sources will hopefully illuminate, at least a little, the dark and gritty fantasy I'm drawing on for my Last Rest setting.

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