The Fabled Appendix – James L. Sutter (Part 1)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Paizo's Appendix N returns! Now that the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook is out the door, things at the Paizo office have become just a little bit less hectic. Seizing the lull in the workload, Editor James L. Sutter generously took the time Friday morning to speak with me about his most important sources of inspiration. Just as James Jacobs's love of horror in literature and film differed greatly from Erik Mona's unquenchable thirst for pulp novels, Mr. Sutter's influences are unique within the office. Read on to find out the fantasy authors that most influenced James's game design, and learn why he enjoys mixing the peanut butter of science fiction with the chocolate of fantasy.

David: As the creator of Kaer-Maga, the notorious den of thieves, and the person most responsible for envisioning Golarion's solar system, it is clear that your influences are pretty diverse. What are your biggest sources of inspiration when creating the world of Pathfinder?

James: As far as fantasy authors go, I'd have to say that my biggest influences are China Miéville, Joel Rosenberg, and Richard Knaak. I really enjoyed Miéville's vision of a fantasy world—it's not steampunk, but more like industrial revolution fantasy. I was particularly inspired by Perdido Street Station, and how he seamlessly blended a mishmash of cultures and created a believable and vibrant city. In fact, New Crobuzon served as the primary influence for Kaer-Maga, the city I created for the module Seven Swords of Sin; it's a city of outcasts that have come together, a place where a lot of different cultures all intermingle but still manage to work.

Among other books, Joel Rosenberg wrote the "Guardians of the Flame" series, in which the main characters are literally pulled into the game world of the RPG they're playing. Those books were my first introduction to the concept of roleplaying, and as a result the world created by Rosenberg is pretty much the archetypal setting I envision for fantasy roleplaying games. Richard Knaak's "Dragonrealms" series was also very inspirational for me early on, as The Crystal Dragon was the first adult fantasy I picked up (mainly because it had a shiny holographic dragon on the cover).

More than fantasy, though, I'm primarily influenced by science and science fiction—possibly more so than anyone else at the Paizo. I think I've learned more about world building from Dan Simmons than any other author. I especially like blending magic and science, the line where one transitions into the other. When we were first creating Pathfinder, James Jacobs handed me a mostly blank outline for Varisia and told me to run with it. At first I included a lot more science fiction elements; Crystilian was originally the magical equivalent of a particle accelerator, Spindlehorn an ancient space elevator used by long-lost astronauts, and Mundatei was basically a forest of Tesla coils. We ended up working together to change most of that, which was of course the right decision, but some science fiction elements were still retained—Ember Lake, for instance, essentially functions as the place in Varisia where UFO sightings occur, with its phosphorescent, underwater bugs that form strange patterns which can only be seen from the sky.

This concludes Part 1 or my interview with James Sutter about the sources of inspiration he would include in Paizo's own Appendix N. Stay tuned for Part 2, where he discusses how hard science and science fiction continue to influence his fantasy game design, and explains how the nation code-named "Dragon Hitler" would eventually become the island of Hermea.

David Eitelbach
Editorial Intern

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