I struggle with writing this… It almost feels like outing myself in some awkward way that leads to judging and confusion and angst of the “teen” variety. But then, I already admitted to liking professional wrestling and roleplaying games, so really, how big a deal can it be?
I mention that initial feeling of embarrassment because I was surprised by it. I was surprised by my reluctance to write about Romantic Fantasy as if it were something lesser. I’m not really sure where that feeling even came from — one of my first experiences with reading fantasy outside of the “well-known classics” was Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet. The first two books were given to me by a fantastic librarian and when we moved I tracked down the other two, convincing my new library to order copies of them. And just a week or so ago I finished the latest book in the setting created in that first set of books. And I think that first twinge of embarrassment set in at the register when buying the book… because I’d picked it up off a display next to a Twilight book. I was a Middle School teacher and I read that first Twilight book because, you know, some of my students were and it really is as bad as anyone tells you it is. So I guess I don’t want to be associated with that series and its spawn, even in the minds of total strangers.
Before I get comments telling me how much I suck for being a geek and being judgmental about Twilight, I admit it. I gave the first book a try and it was awful. I have not read the rest of the series. But it bothers me that poor little books like Twilight become massive cash cows and pop culture phenoms, and many books that are far more deserving, with much better messages (for girls and boys) are eclipsed and become guilty by association of Bella and Edwards’ sins. Argh.
Ultimately though, weird geek guilt aside, I like Romantic Fantasy. Not all of it, but as an idea and a general category of fantasy I’m drawn to it. And I realize that to classify something as RF is probably subjective. But the books I’d classify that way have had a profound impact on my perception of fantasy — probably as profound as my early exposure to D&D. And that strange combination of experiences may actually reconcile the tensions of my feelings about gaming. I have a wonderful and long-standing love for D&D, but when I run campaigns I want them to be more Tamora Pierce than Michael Moorcock. Honestly, for all the great things D&D does well, it does not lend itself to Romantic Fantasy easily.
I was surprised when Green Ronin released Blue Rose, the RPG of Romantic Fantasy as a True20 game, and disappointed. I think that Blue Rose demonstrates nicely the difficulty that “BaseD&D” systems have when it comes to running that style of game. It’s a fine game and it was fun to read. It just would not have been my choice for a RF style game experience. As I was exploring all my old maps and worlds the other night I tried to tie them to a specific type of experience in my mind and the type of stories I intended to tell in them.
And no matter how they started out? They are all, to a great extent, modeled with telling RF type stories in mind. From Ar to Harseburg, from the Cantrip Inn to Icehenge, and all points in between (including the way I actually run Amber and my “version” of the Courts of Chaos) I have always had these thoughts floating around at the core of my planning — whether I was aware of it or not.
So I’m going to try and embrace this revelation. In a subtle way, I’m going to shift my design focus with Ryllia and stop trying to craft a “Diceless D&D” and actively resist my natural design desires and just see what happens when I design honestly. Because really, that’s the source of my frustration I think. I’m writing something I just don’t want to write. Diceless D&D isn’t just stupid, it may be (practically) impossible. And with that, no more agonizing. I’m finishing this thing — and soon. That’s what the holidays are for, right?
As an add on, here are a few of my personal favorites in Romantic Fantasy (though you are welcome to argue with my label if you feel the need)…
By Tamora Pierce:
* Alanna, In the Hand of the Goddess, Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant
* Wild Magic, Wolf Speaker, Emperor Mage, In the Realm of the Gods
* First Test, Page, Squire, Knight
* Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Daughter
* Terrier, Bloodhound, Mastiff
Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman
Darkangel by Meredith Anne Pierce
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Arrows of the Queen, Arrows Flight and Arrows Fall by Mercedes Lackey
I have more, but these are a good place to start…
Thanks for reading.