Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Show Your Work: Scarabae's Influences

I did a post about the world-building influences that helped shape Krevborna here, so it's probably time to do a similar post on the world-building influences and inspiration for Scarabae.

TSR, Planescape
It's a little paradoxical that Planescape is probably the biggest influence on Scarabae. Planescape was coming out just as my high school D&D days were winding down, so I never picked up any of its setting books or adventures at the time. But I liked the idea of Planescape, particularly of Sigil--a city that acts as a melting pot for all of D&D's wacky possibilities. The thing is, I don't know all that much about Sigil; most of what I've read about it has come from 4e D&D books. So essentially Planescape is a big influence on my setting in that Scarabae is a bit like what I imagine Sigil to be about without really knowing much about Sigil. Scarabae is what I'd want Sigil to be if I opened up the Planescape boxed set and started reading. It's a hypothetical that looms large instead of being a direct influence.
Similar Inspirations: William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch; Aurelio Voltaire, Chi-Chian; K. J. Bishop, The Etched City

Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee is, without question, my favorite fantasy author. I find her fiction to feel authentically fantastical; she isn't indebted to or burdened by any sort of tradition--there's no glaring anxiety of influence in her works. I also admire the range of fantasy found in Tanith Lee's bibliography. As far as influences on Scarabae go, the books to look at are her Secret Books of Paradys series, Secret Books of Venus series, Reigning Cats and Dogs, and A Different City. All of those are her takes on urban fantasy; each takes the basis of real world metropolitan life and turns it into the stuff of dreams. Oh, and the name Scarabae was taken directly from her Blood Opera sequence, so consider the setting to be something of a tribute to my late fave.
Similar Influences: Felix Gilman, Half-Made World; China Mieville, The City and the City; M. John Harrison, the Viriconum stories; Michael Moorcock, the Eternal Champion novels (in various ways)

Like Planescape and Tanith Lee's city-based fantasy novels, Dishonored gave me another blueprint for what a gritty urban setting could be like; certainly, aspects of Dishonored's Dunwall crept into Scarabae, such as outbreaks of disease, infestations of vermin, and political intrigue. More importantly, though, what Dishonored gave me was a sense of what adventures in the setting could be like. The gathering of information (far more valuable than currency), the sneaking about in a city, the striking with surgical precision, the feeling of getting in over your head, and the skulduggery in general are what I hope to capture in games set in Scarabae. Influences that define what a setting is are great, but you've got to balance those with influences that show you what happens in that setting.
Similar Influences: Eidos, Thief; Brandan Graham et al, Prophet; Cherie Priest, Boneshaker

Terry Pratchett, the Discworld novels
I think it's really difficult to make a setting humorous in a way that doesn't seem obvious or forced. If you want to see how to add humor to fantasy, though, you need to read Pratchett's Discworld books. Pratchett is the master at mixing humor with heart. I knew I didn't want Scarabae to be all dour, all bleak, all grot. I wanted the dour, bleak, grot, cut with absurdity, so Discworld's Ankh-Morpork became my go-to source for techniques that would let me add some silliness into Scarabae's mix. So far, I think it has earned its place; one of the biggest compliments I've gotten so far from a player in the campaign has been "I'm surprised at how funny this game is."
Similar Influences: Alistair Rennie, BleakWarrior; Jeffrey Ford, The Physionomy; Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Clive Barker, the Abarat series
Clive Barker's Abarat series, like the other novels on this list, is fantasy--but it is young adult fantasy. Strangely, despite it being intended for a younger audience, what I got from Barker's Abarat books was a way to add a touch of horror to the other weird, urban fantasy elements I already had brewing. I don't want Scarabae to be a horror setting, especially not in the way that Krevborna often is, but a touch of darkness was crucial. But it had to be a tempered touch of darkness. Abarat showed me how to get the horror/fantasy admixture just right. Also, the islands in Barker's novels were the direct inspiration for Scarabae being an island spread over a number of isles.
Similar Influences: Laird Barron, The Light is the Darkness; Kathe Koja, Cipher; Jay Lake, Mainspring; R. S. Belcher, The Six-Gun Tarot