Post on demand: Horror Gaming with Fritz Leiber

15ac97d0fc05444a9f38a021e3a2d4c6A post on request!
I was asked about Fritz Leiber.
My favorite author, incidentally.
Leiber’s influence on roleplaying games is enormous – a whole class of characters in D&D was inspired by his writings.
No Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories, no Rogue class.

And of course we all know that the Lankhmar or Nehwon universe was brought to the gaming table a few times, most recently as a Savage Setting.

But, the request goes, what about the rest of Leiber’s production?
And considering that Leiber wrote in all the fields of imaginative fiction, of course his bibliography is a huge reservoir of ideas.
So huge, I’ll actually do two posts on Leiber gaming.
The next will be about time travel and the Change War.
Today, I’d like to talk about horror.

Leiber’s horror is always up close and personal, and is always set in the present day.
You can steal from Leiber and plug the ideas in any contemporary gaming setting.
So, what to steal, and where to steal it from?

The-Girl-With-the-Hungry-EyesLet’s start small, with a modern twist on classic monsters.
Stories like Smoke Ghost and The Girl with the Hungry Eyes update the concepts of ghosts and vampires respectively.

I mean a ghost from the world today, with the soot of the factories on its face and the pounding of machinery in its soul. The kind that would haunt coal yards and slip around at night through deserted office buildings like this one. A real ghost. Not something out of books.

Leiber moves the ghost from old abandoned mansions and crumbling Victorian lodges, and places them in the urban landscapes.
And Leiber’s “Girl with the Hungry Eyes” is a vampire that feeds on memories and dreams and emotions, and that gets a job in advertising because, let’s admit it, advertising is the business of appropriating people’s dreams and turning them into stuff to be consumed.

102270And yet, were I to plunder Leiber’s work to outline a new horror setting, my first stop would be Our Lady of Darkness.
This Call of Cthulhu-friendly novel provides us with three great building blocks

a . Thibault de Castries’ “Megalopolismancy”, a King in Yellow-ish tome describing the cities of the modern world as the tombs of our civilizations, the pyramids in which our society is entombing itself alive.
The book also introduces us to…

b . paramentals, a malignant, logical evolution of the above-mentioned smoke-ghosts. They are the living denizens of the city-tombs in which we have buried ourselves, you see, and they are out to get us… starting with those that find out about them.

c . the idea of music as magic, and the power of names… as long as you use the right ones.
And if the paramentals are lay, modern ghosts haunting our charnel-like metropolises, why should we confide in holy symbols and names?
The order represented by music can confront the chaos of the paramentals, while the names of scientists, progressive thinkers and famous materialists can act as an amulet and push back the forces of darkness.
After all, is there a brighter light than the one cast by reason?

We can then take a look at Conjure Wife – and the idea that all women are actualli witchess.
And I mean all women.
But once again, what’s interesting – from a gaming point of view – is the idea that magic works according to a system, and the system can be updated substituting classical spell components with their modern equivalent.
What about playing a very malignant song, from a pristine LP, using a virgin needle on the record player, to evoke the dead?

So yes, to me, Leiber’s major contribution would be to modern horror or tough, adult urban fantasy, providing us with a world filled with new monsters, ready to occupy the empty niches left behind by older, quainter creatures, and arming our heroes with a magic rooted in the modern world – with spell components available in high street shops, and where calling upon the help of Carl Sagan might keep the darkness away.

Leiber’s ideas have to be read to be appreciated in action, but really fit any contemporary horror game.
Like most works of genius, they are universal.

Categories: post-on-demand | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Post on demand: Horror Gaming with Fritz Leiber

  1. Thanks Davide! I began yesterday Our Lady of Darkness. I am looking forward to read the secondo post!


  2. Thanks Davide, great article. Fritz was a wonderful horror / dark fantasy writer.

    Liked by 1 person


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