Romantic Fantasy

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.


11 responses

  1. I think you’re finally on to something. Go for it.

  2. I can only echo Dominic but consider this an additional voice of support in this plan.

  3. To thine own self be true~

    Or so they say. 😉

    I am sure you will get farther and enjoy the ride more if you aren’t fighting yourself and heading in a direction you think other people might like to see. Trust your instincts and show them to the places you want to go. They can’t like or dislike it until they get to see it~

    As an aside, with your shameful interest in this sort of fiction, I bet you have some good things to say on this month’s RPG blog carnival theme.

  4. I’m trying. I think I get caught up in worrying more about “what will a player think?” instead of, “is this a game I’d actually want to run?”

    On the subject of the Blog Carnival: You know, I’ve wanted to participate in those before and I really do like the idea of this one, but I’ll admit, I don’t understand exactly what to do… how does one become a part of it?

    Thanks everyone.

  5. Participation is easy~

    Write a post on the current topic and then put a link in the comments section of the host blog’s introductory post for that month.

    In this case, I am hosting for December on the theme of Heroes – Living & Dead. To join, after you have written one of your thought-provoking posts, go to this page and leave a comment directing readers to it.

    At the end of the month, I will compile all the links into one post with a quick description for each so that readers can go over them all with ease at their leisure. I have found quite a few good blogs because of the carnival~

    1. Thank you. I’ll post one this week.

  6. If you could give a one-sentence definition of “Romantic fantasy” what would it be?

    I’m having trouble distinguishing exactly what you’re talking about.

  7. @GG

    This is a decent definition though I’d probably tweak it a little for my own perceptions…

    But my one sentence definition would be something like:

    Romantic fantasy stories are focused on characters and their relationships, with each other, with groups, with companions and often change up the dynamic of magic and the world but specifically, while they can be dark at times they are also inherently Hopeful.

    I actually intend to write about this specific topic some more — building my operational definition for designing around so… check back.

    Thanks for the question.

    1. That definition sounds remarkably like Tolkien.
      And I’d say that’s a good thing.

  8. I ran an RF campaign for a group of male players for approximately 10 years. They fondly referred to it as “Dungeon of Soap”. We were not able to meet too often, but our gatherings ran long when we were able to play. I estimate about 2,500 hours of play in the campaign, and it never fully concluded. (My husband and I moved, which put most of the US between us and the other players.)

    The players loved the not only the relationships, but they way the world evolved based on their interactions and exploits. Even the consequences of their choices – though often railed against – were a pivotal part of the campaign. RF made creating a living world not only possible but vital for our group.

    We frequently went hours and hours without touching the dice, but they were sometimes needed. I, too, think totally diceless D&D is a concept best left behind.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on RF.

  9. When I ran my long-running,multi-generational Amber RPG we had the same type of thing happen. We had complicated relationships, deep player interest in their characters’ personal lives, and we ran months of gaming without a combat. It was a wonderful time.

    PS — thanks for subscribing!

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