I am told haven’t got a fantastical bone in my body (just an opinion). I may have overdone it on the intrinsic world design. But honestly, world design makes a more practical subject matter – throw up a few maps, a few charts, describe how to organize an economic system, and the blog writes itself. I’ve been coasting on that these last two years, and I apologize. I just haven’t taken the time to write about unreal things.
Of course, a year ago for my online campaign I did have two dopplegangers gate in a demon using bard’s blood, devastating a German town in the process. But shit, that was a year ago. What have I done lately?
Nothing, really. I haven’t invented forty-five monsters for DMs to use. I haven’t invented forty-six spells to add to the various spellcasters’ canons. I haven’t written in detail the social customs of vampire-salamander halflings dwelling on the fringes of the Habertslinger Dynasty’s Eighth Kingdom. I have not drafted out a single dungeon level. I have not invented and blogged about a single complicated party-killing trap. I have produced no lengthy list of NPCs, no scale maps of Inns or Keeps, and not a single new magic item. I am amiss. I apologize for these glaring oversights.
How do I expect to keep gentle readers if I don’t make an effort? Obviously these are things I will apply myself towards immediately.
A fantastical imagination has a pedigree that is difficult to establish. How does anyone ‘prove’ the quality of their imagination? In life, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone at a party who asked if I had a good imagination that, ‘Hey, I’m a writer.’ Since it is something I do as a profession, I feel justified in pulling it out and presenting my work as credentials ... I invent stuff all the time. Nothing I publish professionally makes it to this blog however ... because, well, other people have paid for it and I don’t have the legal right to print it here. Obviously, I’m not anxious to give the name that is published under, certainly not on the Net. The gentle reader should understand that.
The fiction I write doesn’t happen to be fantasy fiction. That seems odd for a D&D fanboy, I know ... but I don’t actually read fantasy fiction, as I find most of it fits the quality of that jerkass Eddings. In a word, bleh. I once read Howard, Leiber, Anthony and Asprin ravenously, but now I find it all quite juvenile and unprovoking. The stuff I write tends to be either humour or violent (thrillers or erotic). At any rate, anything I do write that’s fiction I would hold back from this blog because I would hope to be paid for it. No one will buy if its already here. The only stuff I print on line is the stuff I’m sure will never get published.
Besides, fiction in a blog is deadly, deadly dull, is it not? I usually think so.
So tossing out the writer argument, what can I present here to prove that I have a ‘fantastical’ imagination? Well, hell. How is a fantastical DM supposed to play?
I play a sandbox campaign. To me, arguments that my campaign should be more fantastical suggests that it should be filled with creatures or elements that have astounding – that is, flat out unbelievable – qualities. The party should be walking along and suddenly have to hide because some Stephen King’s Mist-sized creature goes marching past and into the distance. Rivers should spontaneously flood or rise up to talk to the party, to obstruct or give precious clues about such and such a magical castle. The universe should be filled with magic mouths and clever pipe-smoking caterpillars, or possessed of weather where the rain falls upwards from the ground or where little girls in petticoats fall from the sky with witch-crushing frequency. Oh, yes, none of these are from my imagination. I don’t have any, remember?
To be honest, now and then I throw out such efforts. The last in my offline party occurred several months ago, where the party was convinced to leap from a high height by logic, to find themselves plunging, then transported into The One Tree - that in turn led to every geographical point on the Earth simultaneously. They then met a very old version of one party member (proving he couldn't die) in the process. Of course, that party member had once been trapped on an upper level of hell ... but that's another story. The proof is suspect, naturally. This is D&D.
My party speaks of this late adventure often, and I am happy that the way they speak of it suggests I ran the incident rather well. More than often, as any DM can tell you, getting that gonzo in a campaign can wind up being a very embarrassing experience ... as in, “Shit, this whole sequence is ridiculous – can we just go to an inn now?”
Thing is, anything extraordinarily fantastical will either be fluff in the extreme, or the representation of something so powerful that the party will be forced to adopt the only behavior that will enable them to live ... that is, agree with whatever the huge fantastical thing says. Basically, railroading. (Please don't argue the Star Trek V gambit).
But then there is this whole other fantastical thing that just pisses me off. That being what Asimov would call the Class A effect resulting from the Class F stimulus (not to disparage a brilliant story). An example would be the party tossing a jar of firewater at an enemy mook - and burning down the entire city in the process. Just because it was really, really cool that way. You know, the firewater just happened to be thrown at a really flammable building, just just happened to be full of lamp oil, that then exploded ...
Insert head banging here.
Now this is really what I hear when I’m accused of not being fantastical enough. That is, I don’t allow parties to spontaneously reorganize the whole fabric of my world just by existing and being player characters. Another example? The third-level party enters an alley to find three mooks beating a guy up. They destroy the mooks, and the guy turns out to be the King of France. What’s more, he is SO grateful that he gives the party five thousand square miles of personal fief and a thousand man army to guard it ... including twenty 9th level lords to order about. Yep. That’s pretty fantastical.
Like I say, I have no imagination. In my trite, vapid, grey, odourless, numbing, flacid and robotic way, I insist on parties living like people in a believable world. It’s a weakness.