Douglas Adams: You may or may not recognize this name unless you have actually read more than one of his tales or read one a few times. At least some of you may be scratching your head saying, “I know this name.” Or probably not, if you’re reading this you probably recognize all the names. Douglas Adams is the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy trilogy. A trilogy with more than 3 books. Douglas Adams, as legend has it, came up with the idea during a night drinking while looking up at the stars atop a hill. He then completely forgot about it for a few years before ever writing it. Frankly I don’t care how much truth there is to the story, it just shows the kind of thing you should expect in his stories.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide books are a ton of fun. I don’t know how you couldn’t enjoy them. They are silly, weird, and sometimes just plain preposterous. They explore insane what-ifs about the universe in a very real and relate-able way, while being all-together ridiculous. Mattresses killed and harvested in swamps...really? Why not? The thing about Adams is that he addresses a very real concern of humanity amidst all that dry humor: are we really so unique and important. The answer, given by the books is 42. No wait, more specifically, the answer is no. There are dozen upon dozens of intelligent and powerful species out there and some of them quite willing to blow up the planet for the sake of a space freeway. But Douglas Adams reveals this in a funny, almost comforting way. In large part he says that everyone is the same, when you get down to it, and while being the last of your species sounds bad, it really happens all the time and unlikely events like finding another aren’t quite as unlikely as they should be. What he does is reveal how relate-able almost anything can be made to be, how useful the most ridiculous information is in certain moments, and how to have nothing but fun with a story that is full of seriousness.
H.P. Lovecraft: Inspiration is probably one of the last words you would use to describe anything written by H.P. Lovecraft. Long before you got to that word you would get to words like: horror, frightening, twisted, strange, etc. While Lovecraft may not tell an inspirational story, he and his works were and continue to be inspirations for writers and creators, especially those who love horror. He really was the pioneer in addressing our significance in the cosmos in a story. In this he created the foundation of what other authors would develop and add on to, to create the Cthulhu Mythos.
When I urge you to read Lovecraft, it isn’t just his Cthulhu style stories like Mountains of Madness. I want you to look into is other horror. In fact, if you haven’t already read it go find Rats in the Walls (is it Wall or Walls?). Despite my earlier introduction to the Mythos, this story is what really got me into Lovecraft and his works. It is frightening and visceral. You may even begin to jump at the tiny noises around you if you don’t take care when you read it. Let Lovecraft inspire the bleak, dark, worried aspects of your soul to create some very interesting stories at the table. You know, as long as you are into horror.
Ian Fleming: This is an author who wrote novels that are pretty much out of my general view. I stick to fantasy and science fiction pretty much all the time. It’s what I enjoy. However, I did eventually find the first few of the Bond set together for a good price and, always enjoying the movies, I decided to pick them up. I ate them up. I think a big reason I enjoyed them so much was that, despite being based in reality, everything was so over the top. So much of it was so unrealistic, while at the same time plausible. Combine that with the adventures 007 goes on, the danger he gets into, and the people he meets and it gets pretty wild.
Fleming is a very important author to look at if you want or need inspiration for spy thrillers. The novels are from a different generation, a different world really, but he created many of the tropes we see today. We have a ton of 007 movies set in contemporary times, we have spy games, and we get shows like Archer because of what Fleming wrote. For you GMs, the tropes involved in the spy thriller and the way Fleming weaves together secrets, organizations, politics, espionage, and adventure is something that could add to a lot of games!
Michael Crichton: This is an author that really did something I love: take science and make it science fiction. Or maybe he took science fiction and made it science. What it comes down to, is that his stories are those where the line between those two things is so unbelievably blurred its not funny. Ok sure, there are stories about shrinking and stories about living dinosaurs and so on, but if you read the work, it is frightening how simply such things might happen. Honestly, the science is so well founded, theorized, and explained that all you can do is ask yourself why not? What if we take that one step?
Some of his work seems likely quite far off, or even impossible. Time travel is one that is tough to work with in a real scientific sense, and shrinking is too. Of course, they were written earlier than you might expect some of them to have been written. Keep that in mind when you read them too, because some people laughed at the idea of Jurassic Park, but we’ve activated genes in chickens to give them teeth and tails. We are closer than you may realize to something like Jurassic Park. Then take modern genetics and micro-computing and take a look at Prey, but only if you want nightmares, because a biologically built, semi-organic, nano-bot swarm / hive mind? Hello apocalypse!
Jules Verne: I could not leave on of the pioneers of science fiction off this list, even if his works are a bit older than the other members of the list. The reason for this is that, Jules Verne is inspiring in his own right, and not just in the “give a GM ideas” sense. He helped instill an awe and wonder for possibility that lead to the creation of things he wrote about long before their time. The Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea? Incredible. He didn’t just seem to think it was possible, or even dream of what could be one day, he wrote as if it were a certainty. In that story alone we find that he goes on and on about the resources of the ocean and the number of fish in it, how much of it we haven’t seen. And all those things continue to be a topic of modern wonder and exploration. Add into that mixture of ideas before their time a heaping dose of modern fantasy where there are things like gnomes who create steam-powered feats of engineering regularly? Well, I think Jules Verne is the perfect inspiration. Have NPCs in your world that push the edge of what is possible and do so in ways unheard of, just like the characters in his books.
J.R.R. Tolkien: I know, I know, you are probably saying that this was too obvious a choice for the list and that is kind of why I saved him for last. To be honest, you cannot exclude Tolkien even if you wanted to. He had too much actual influence into the gaming world. We might not have Dungeons & Dragons, and everything that came from or because of it, without Tolkien. Mythology and lore abound in our world. From elves to dwarves to goblins there are many ways of seeing them. What Tolkien did though was create a new mythos from the pieces we had scattered through various other real-world ones. He set his world and the way it worked in stone, creating a very real fantasy world for readers.
Tolkien did this with linguistics, writing and creating language just for this world. He did it with history, deities, and tales within the tales. He had to have been a mythology buff at heart because of the way he writes his stories. The Hobbit, is a children’s tale and one that reads much like a fairy tale where the impossible happens and magic is found, full of lessons learned and warnings of danger. The Silmarillion is, if nothing else, epic. It has lists upon lists of names and events and can seem all muddled up, but it is essentially a grand oral tale of the history of Middle Earth like would be told around a campfire in spurts and pieces. The Lord of the Rings, though. That is an adventure and grand tale of adventurers and heroes saving the world. That is the kind of story that inspired D&D and continues to inspire people to play fantasy RPGs!