Lists & The Basics of Sci Fi and Fantasy
I’ve been trying some list writing lately, a means of putting dozens of idle and fragmented ideas into some kind of order, and aiming for a nice round number gives me the drive to come up with something new. Things like:
- Ladder leading to a trap door, the mimic strikes when a creature is halfway up.
- Corpse with a gleaming sword in the back.
- Freestanding mirror that gives slightly inaccurate reflections.
- Chest in a shipwreck. Because who’s going to check while holding their breath? AHAHAHAHAHAA ~cough~
- Writing desk with locked pigeon holes, or possibly with a map spread across it.
- Vault door embedded in a stone wall.
- Table or shelf stocked with fresh food.
- Shovel stuck in a freshly turned over mound of soil.
- Music box with key, it chimes intermittently to coax creatures closer.
- Velvet upholstered throne occupying a low plinth.
You get the idea (and feel free to use those by the way). I’ve been spurred on by people like Raging Swan Press or the Hyper Halfling’s Book of Lists, as they’re immensely useful and a great inspiration for any fantasy based game. I’m also trying to write some for sci-fi based games as I can’t seem to find many free resources that aren’t bound to a particular universe – and I have a Borderlands RP under way – and here’s where I’m coming undone.
It’s actually amazingly easy to write for generic fantasy compared to how difficult it is to write for generic sci-fi because there is no generic sci-fi. Fantasy draws from various mythology and the Tolkein stereotypes wrought from old Norse mythology, elves and dwarves, dragons, giants, demons, the gothic horror classics like vampires and werewolves, mages and witches, knights and brigands. Science fiction is broadly missing these fundamentals to fall upon, with every new sci-fi writer bringing in their own interpretations and semi-original concepts.
We covered a few of the old sci-fi stereotypes a few years ago, and I can build upon this a little with the observations of other students of the genre. We tend towards a human-centric universe with common races either representing some aspect of human society, or being copies of fantasy stereotypes. Minbari, asari, vulcans, and eldar can all be accused of being space elves, narn, krogan, and klingons are space orcs, and Warhammer has abandoned pretence and given us actual Orkz. Fall-back phrases to use when creating generic sci-fi resources might include the use of robots, technology, the advanced aliens, the ancient aliens, the militaristic aliens, any form of descriptor that might set a species apart, but even then it leaves you with little to work with, a very narrow foundation on which to build.
For example, I’ve been attempting to write a fairly common list type, 100 trinkets. Now this can’t include anything that might give a character a major advantage, nothing that can be used as a weapon, but perhaps a curio that highlights some of their backstory, or carries its own story. Something that can easily be shoved into a pocket or doesn’t take up too much space in a backpack. Shouldn’t be too hard right? For fantasy it’s not a problem, there are thousands of items between the various lists on my computer or on my bookshelves:
8. A small sea conch with the words “From the beginning” painted on the lip. – Elemental Evil: Trinkets; Dragon+ Magazine, Wizards of the Coast
51. (Dr) Blood and Laughter, author’s name is an unintelligible symbol. A terrifying collection of scenes involving torture victims and gruesome deaths. It is difficult to tell whether the volume is historical or fictional. – Books; The Hyper Halfling’s book of Lists
6. The red flowers painted on this ceramic vase bloom, wilt and die over the course of a day. – 20 things to find in a bag of holding; Raging Swan Press
Well so far I have forty sci-fi trinkets. In the mean time my collected encounter tables, unique treasures, and cruel encounters all keep getting expanded upon. Despite a dearth of sci-fi properties to inspire and steal from I find myself falling back upon tiny single-purpose robots, holograms, galactic curios, and assorted technojunk. Still I persevere because little projects like this encourage creative thought and give me something geeky to moan about.