The Islanders: End of Book Discussion Part 4 - Gaming


What is there here for RPGing?

Good question, and we ask this question of every book. Are all fictional books fodder for gaming, or is the gaming inspiration just a conceit that we all use to make our club look interesting?

So, what is there here for RPGing?

There are several things I look for in books that can be useful in gaming:

Does the book have an interesting theme or two, one that I might like to explore in gaming? I don't always use themes in gaming, but I don't think we can deny their use. Almost every story game is strongly theme based. We've identified several themes in The Islanders, some of which might be useful in gaming. Here are just a few,

Pairs of opposites - this could be a running theme in a campaign arc, with 'opposite' locations, 'opposite' people, dopplegangers, etc.
Unreliable Characters - I make use of this a lot - not so much as theme, but just as a tool. Not all characters are reliable, and they don't always thell the truth, nor do they always tell the same story twice. Their only human, afterall.
Art as Destruction - Seems like maybe an interesting one for a one-shot.
Longevity and Reinvention - Some characters can live forever, and in doing so are forced to reinvent themselves. This book gives us some ideas as to how and why this might happen.

Does the book have a setting I'd like to game in? If not the actual setting, can I take a page from this setting for my own use?

I actually think The Archipelago is a fine gaming setting. In many ways, it's actually ideal - the close enough to our world to make it familiar without needing a lot of explanation. but it has some really intriguing elements, like the immortality treatments and the vortices, that give it enough of a twist to make it compelling to gamers. The amount of setting delivered in this book is also pretty consistent with what you find in a lot of RPG books - not too heavy, and many things only lightly described.

Even if I don't use the actual setting, there are some things I can adopt from it. One is the very idea of playing a modern-age game on a setting that isn't actually earth. We see a lot of SF and Fantasy that's not set on earth - but how many 'contemporary' settings have you seen? I can't think of any, but I love the idea of it. I find it quite inspiring.

Another thing I quite like about this is the nature of the presentation. We have a setting presented in a 'list' format, and I quite like that. There are RPG products that do this, including the excellent Dictionary of Mu setting for Sorceror, which doesn't give an overview of the setting, just a number of alphabetical entries. As you read them, the picture of the setting builds as you go.

In my own book, Mythic Babylon, which is about to be published, we have a Gazetteer of Cities which describes 50+ cities all across the land. Each entry is different - some are very brief and only speak about inhabitants - others are very long and go into a lot of detail. No single entry can really tell you what a Babylonian city is like, but when you read all of them, these entries combine to give you the impression of a 'generic' Babylonian city in the way that no single entry can. The effect is synergistic.

I find the same to be true for The Islanders. I think the experience of the 'whole' is greater than the sum of the parts. And I find I really like that way of presenting information in both fiction and gaming, though I think it's inherently more useful in gaming (because RPGs are reference books) than in fiction (which are not).

In a strange way it reminded me a bit of how 13th Age seems to describe locations - especially in **13th Age Glorantha **- with a coy "maybe it's this, maybe it's that, it's up to you - here's what three people think of the king" that I find very much to my taste as a GM.

This is another thing about the presentation in The Islanders. It's telling you things that the people in the setting will tell you, rather than the things the author would tell you. It's a very immersive way of preventing a setting, and has been a staple way of presenting the setting of Glorantha for a very long time, now.

Sometimes I look for interesting characters in fiction to see if there's an NPC I'd like to introduce into a game. Or an NPC trait. I'm not sure any of these characters would make it into a game of mine, but maybe. Or maybe just some bits and pieces. For example, I find Chaster Kammeston to be compelling enough to borrow from - a character who purports (for authenticity reasons) to have never left his home, yet has been seen elsewhere. And he has a twin. And he may be covering something up. That seems useful.

I quite like the idea of the annoying Mime who can be defeated by playing his own mime game.

I think there's plenty of story potential in the lothario, Bathurst, but it's probably not the kind of thing I'd personally introduce into a game.

This is the element of novel I'm least likely to use, but sometimes I'll steal a situation from a book and plop my characters right into it in my own setting. I've done this with some Fritz Lieber and Conan stories, and even with an event Marco Polo described. I'm not sure there's much in the way of 'sitautions' I'd import into a game, but perhaps something to do with a doppleganger might be interesting, or the unwanted attentions of the angry mime encounter on the street.

What about you - did you find anything in here to port into gaming?


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    Art and artists is something I rarely include in my games, and I should include it sometimes for variety. It's an interesting motivation for a villain: they're not evil, just want to express themselves.

    For setting, this may make an interesting comparison to Over the Edge. OtE is also set on a contemporary island, but is more surreal and "gonzo" (in the original meaning) than Priest's work.

    The method of presenting information as a collection of parts, where the reader infers the overall structure: I can see the intent, but it's not a method I like. Why is the writer making me do extra work? If there is basic, factual information to convey, just convey it. If can work if you're only trying to convey a mood.

    Settings that would be interesting in a game? I'd like to see how the "vampire towers" could work in a game, where the change is dependent on the emotions of the victim. It reminds me of a CJ Cherryh short story where the protagonist makes a deal with the fey, trading away his morals for the life of his kidnapped brother. The writing shows how the upstanding hero of the beginning becomes the ruthless villain of the end. That kind of emotional, internal change is not one RPGs are typically strong.

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    Mostly here in this discussion just to see what others think. But I would have preferred a map, even one that I knew was only partially accurate and subject to change. After all, the authors/compilers of the gazetteer knew enough to tell us that things were north, south, east, west etc, and where they were in relationship to other islands, so some sort of map is clearly possible.

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    There is nothing here I would especially like to bring into my games. Some things you mentioned I have already had in my games for decades - for instance longitivity and reinvention, where long life and a finite cranial data capacity make changes in the way species deal with the past. The thrymes were a nasty monster, and fun to read about, but unleashing them on a game world would inevitably result in these unkillable killers eventually filling the world hip deep in thrymes. The vampiric towers were perhaps the closest to a gameable idea, yet I would have to use them in a world where the players were not so close to their characters - perhaps some story games. Whatever!

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