Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, passed away today at the age of 66, following a battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
For those of us who grew up reading his books, we might have known this day was coming, but there’s no way to really prepare for it. I can’t fully describe the impact his work had on me. His blend of fantasy, social commentary, wit, and most of all, flat out humor* was unique and affects nearly everything I do in fantasy. The repurposing of the real world to use in fantasy situations is something I can’t help but have soak in whenever I run a D&D campaign. The Discworld is a fantasy world where the most powerful characters aren’t the ones with access to the most magic, but the ones most aware of their role in the story.
One of the lessons of the Discworld for RPGs is that you can build a world, and show it from multiple angles. Embedded in the Discworld were multiple storylines, each with their own protagonists, who overlapped with the other stories, and each perspective brought something different. For example, the Guards books were noir mysteries from the perspectives of the guards, particularly Captain Vimes. In those books, you see from Vimes’s perspective, and how he’s doing what needs to be done. In the other series, like the books starring the con artist turned(?) government servant Moist von Lipwig, the guards were definitely not on the same side as the protagonists, even though they’re the same characters.
I often cite Night Watch as my favorite book of all time. It’s a real culmination of the books set in Ankh-Morpork, featuring the past of the city and many of the characters in it, while hinting at darker truths. It’s also a very trope-aware time travel book, which is hard to pull off, yet it’s managed expertly while providing plenty of twists. It’s not a good jumping-on point at all: you’ll at least want to read the other guards books first. But it pays off in so many satisfying ways.
Lords & Ladies is my favorite story about elves, hands down. They’re not the kind of elves you see in your typical D&D game, but they are the end result of the elves of Tolkien and Shakespeare who are utterly terrifying.
Sourcery, one of the big books to star the Discworld’s first unlikely protagonist Rincewind, features what happens when magic really goes wrong, yet can ultimately be defeated by a barbarian hairdresser and a sock with part of a brick.
There’s at least a dozen more that I could highly recommend. You’ll just have to experience them for yourself, if you haven’t already.
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.
* And many of the best jokes were in footnotes.