Friday, March 24, 2017
Indoctrinating the Noob - Books for the Beginner
A short time ago I was asked a rather intriguing and difficult question. "If you had to pick three books that paint a picture of the Fantasy Genre for someone, which would they be?" It was asked in the context of gaming/role-playing, and what books might best introduce a potential FRPG gamer with no experience with any facet of fantasy.
If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that my history with gaming really begins with books I loved as a kid. Early on I fell in love with fantasy fiction, and works like The Chronicles of Prydain and Below the Root were the bridges to more adult fantasy fiction from the earlier books I had been reading in grade school (like The Furious Flycicle by Jan Wahl and my addiction to Encyclopedia Brown books).
So I get asked this question, and it sounds simple. The Hobbit is there, right? Ummm...well...no. OK, what about Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time? No, definitely not. Not in the top three. Amber by Zelazny? Nope. Elric by Moorcock? I don't think so. What, do you have something against the classics? Shouldn't a newcomer start at the beginning?
This is hard, because I'm not just introducing someone to fantasy fiction, but I've been asked to pick books that introduce the genre in a way that helps shine a light on what the best of playing D&D might be like. This is a different animal altogether. Sure, I'd like to give a noob my entire fantasy library and have them start at Abercrobie and end on Zelazny, but we ain't got time for that! I've gotta pick a few books that give that 'New Character', 'Dungeon Crawl', 'Level up' kinda feeling. I want the reader to experience some of the places they might visit, and some of the people (NPC's) they might encounter.
Later on, if they enjoy the reading and the playing, I have a ton of cool books to turn them on to. For now, we gotta get on with the gettin' on!
So where do I start? With Gygax of Course, and Gord the Rogue in The Saga of Old City.
It's not the best fantasy novel ever written, not by a lot, but it has all the facets of person, place, and plot that will give the reader a good idea what it means to inhabit the character of, well, a character! Gord has an interesting background story that is easily digested in the beginning of the book, and moves on to become a near-master thief by the end. He faces challenges both mundane and monsterous, and if the end goal is to familiarize the reader with aspects of D&D, you could do worse. (In place of this book I might sub The Crystal Shard, if you are a Realms vs. Greyhawk sorta person)
OK, where next?
Well, I want the potential new player to get a feel for the game, really sink themselves into their character, and for this I'd pass them a copy of Joel Rosenberg's book, Guardians of the Flame - The Sleeping Dragon! Again, I realize that this book was not a tour de force of fantasy fiction, but the plot device of taking the main characters (college students playing a game much like D&D) and transporting them to the fictional world of the game will really help the new gamer understand the fiction they will be playing. Sure, some might argue that this book will only teach them the bad habit of meta-gaming, but this is an argument for another time.
Gotta pick a third book. Where is he gonna go with this? Well, I'm going to stick with my plan here and drop Andre Norton's Quag Keep into the mix. This book does essentially the same thing as Guardians of the Flame, but we have Andre Norton's voice behind it and it's not at all the same sort of story. Having played her first RPG with no other than E. Gary Gygax himself, the book was inspired by her game session(s)! In this short novel, Norton manages to distill some of the best of what it means to be playing a game for the very first time.
I know. You're probably cringing right now. What about Conan?? Where the hell is Elric? Hell, even Kvothe would be better than this crap! Really? I think what you want here is easily digestible material that leads almost directly into play. These books offer fantasy realms directly connected to gaming, and even offer up a glimpse into game mechanics like character sheets and dice rolling. They are like gaming guides in fantasy fiction format.
These are all books I read AFTER I started playing D&D, and I enjoyed them because they managed to integrate some of the stuff I already loved, but I often wonder how it would have gone down if I had read them BEFORE my first game? There were no actual-play videocasts or podcasts in 1981. There was no internet to do a hard target search on Playing D&D. Books paved the way for how I approached my first game, and every session after that.
If you had to list three books for the new gamer, what would they be?