grodog’s Song of Seven – The Mythic Worlds Builders
I selected my favorite seven worlds builders, each an architect of the imagination whose works span realms that I return to again and again—to read and rediscover them anew, and to lose myself within their lush, boundless vistas.
Gary Gygax, David L. Arneson, Robert J. Kuntz, and M. A. R. Barker – The Worlds of Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Kalibruhn, and Tékumel are the foundations upon which Dungeons & Dragons and modern fantasy literature are built. Each of these founding RPG campaigns acts as a distinct example, model, and framework that can teach us a different path through which we can realize the creation of our own fantasy worlds. Leading by example, teaching by doing, creating through play
J. Michael Stracyzinski – In Babylon 5, JMS created the best-realized science-fiction setting ever presented on screen (large or small). While Babylon 5 may lack the brand recognition and fan base of a Star Trek or Star Wars, its rich characters, cultures and histories, myths and technologies surpass genre convention and broke new ground in storytelling history through the 110 episodes’ five-year story arc. 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the series premiere, and some excellent retrospectives from www.B5books.com have celebrated the show’s history and legacy.
Roger Dean – The visual worlds that Roger Dean sculpted for Yes across the decades have demonstrated an artistic power driven through the visualization of Yes’ music through paintings, stage design, and logo/graphic design. Planetary and tectonic storylines that began in the 1970s with Fragile and Close to the Edge, continued through Yessongs, Yesshows, and Drama, and branched through the many later Yes and Yes-related worlds, and through them all, Roger Dean’s work has grounded them in a visual continuity that both encompasses and surpasses the membership of the band, the label, the individual song.
J. R. R. Tolkien – As much as I love The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in my estimation, Tolkien’s greatest achievement was the background and history he crafted for the First Age of Middle Earth, as presented in The Silmarillion and throughout the Tolkien Legendarium. His tales of the First Age encompass and surpass his more-popular works, in both their grandeur and magnificence, and ground the context and significance of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s quests within the overall arc of spanning from the creation of Middle Earth to its eventual fading into the present of our own world. That Tolkien created languages, alphabets, maps, illustrations, songs, poems, and more further emphasize the scope of his world-creating vision.
James H. Schmitz – Schmitz’ space opera universes of The Hub and The Confederacy of Vega are primarily defined through short stories and novellas. They reveal his vision for a humanity that is independently capable, diversely diasporic, and always rises to the trials before it. His science fictions are tales of hope, equality, perseverance, individuality, and victory against seemingly-insurmountable odds— a vision uniquely his own, filled with the many interleaving relationships between and across characters, organizations, planetary systems, and species. Most of his work was OOP and hard-to-find until Baen reprinted them in new collections edited by Eric Flint in the early- to mid-2000s; the first is Telzey Amberdon.
Erin Morgenstern – In 2011’s The Night Circus, Morgenstern showcases the magical Cirque des Rêves (Circus of Dreams), with its lush dreamscapes, revels, and enigmatic set-piece ficciones, through its cast of rêveurs who breathe life into it beyond the page, and in which the location itself is as much a character as the humans that people it. While Morgenstern’s circus is a world seemingly-smaller in scope compared to the sweeping realms of the other creators in this list, it remains no less boundless for its smaller footprint. Reading The Night Circus’ nigh-endless pockets of startling newness evoke the pacing of AD&D exploration, layered with the rich and scenic tapestry of a Dune.
Frank Herbert – Frank Herbert is of course best known for Dune and the many worlds of its Imperium. If Herbert had never written another word, Dune would firmly set him in my list. Fortunately, however, Arrakis is not the only noteworthy world Herbert created. In Destination: Void he created Ship and its environs (a messianic cross between The Computer from the Paranoia RPG and James Ward’s Metamorphosis Alpha RPG/Brian Aldiss’ novel Starship), and built that universe out in The Jesus Incident (and its sequels, written with the poet Bill Ransom) and its deadly planet Pandora. He also created the ConSentiency universe of secret agent Jorj X. McKie via the stories “A Matter of Traces” and “The Tactful Saboteur,” and his further adventures in the novels Whipping Star and The Dosadi Experiment. If you’ve never branched out beyond Dune, Herbert’s other worlds and characters offer the same well-crafted literary themes spanning unique worlds and philosophies.
Honorable mentions: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, Philip Jose Farmer’s World of Tiers and Riverworld novels, and Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycles that span his myriad Multiverses.
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Allan T. Grohe Jr. has been playing AD&D and other RPGs since 1977. Allan’s first professional gaming publication (“More for the Shadow Master”) appeared in White Wolf Magazine #11 in 1987; he has also contributed to The Unspeakable Oath, Pyramid, Polyhedron, and Dragon Magazine, among others. Allan has worked extensively with Biohazard Games (Blue Planet, Upwind), Pagan Publishing (Delta Green), Different Worlds Publications (Tadashi Ehara), and Pied Piper Publishing (Robert J. Kuntz). Allan co-founded Black Blade Publishing with Jon Hershberger in 2009 to publish top-quality old-school gaming products, including OSRIC, Monsters of Myth, and The Original Bottle City. Allan’s most-recent projects are Tales of Peril: The Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of John Eric Holmes, and The Twisting Stair, a gaming newsletter focused on dungeon design that Allan publishes with Tony Rosten.
Allan’s editorial, design, and development work has contributed to winning one Origins Award and securing four Origins Award nominations, winning one ENnie Award and two ENnie Award nominations.
Allan is known online as grodog, where he publishes a website featuring World of Greyhawk content, as well as his non-gaming writing (poetry, personal essays, and literary scholarship), and the usual fan ephemera. He lives in Wichita, Kansas, with his lovely wife Heather, their two wonderful sons Ethan and Henry, and their two pugs Tara and Gypsy.
Remember to visit Allan’s new blog!