Tracey’s Reading List

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom – This book describes how selfishness, deception, violence and other “evil” traits have a biological advantage, and then explores how those traits helped shape culture and history. Allows DMs to flesh out races and monsters with realistic/reasonable explanations for creatures and their motivations. For example, a DM may decide that the reason orcs are typically violent is that they are heavily muscled and require a lot of protein to develop, and so evolved to have high testosterone and adrenaline as a result to make them better hunters, and thus have also evolved an aggressive hunting culture to meet their biological needs for protein.

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – So many people in D&D talk about having power, but so rarely does anyone know how to gain or maintain it. The rules in this book should be memorized by every tyrant (or tyrant to be) that wants to rule by skill and not via DM fiat or plot immunity. Also adds depth and breadth to villains and their plans.

The Deathbird and Other Stories by Harlan Ellison – This anthology is included for the short stories “The Deathbird” (won both Hugo and Locus awards) and “The Slab.” The first story concerns a lone man fighting an insane and power-hungry god for control of a dead world, and what he must first learn to understand and accept if he is to win. This story is masterfully intercut with vignettes illustrating the roles of man, God, fate, and nature. The second tale, “The Slab,” reveals what happens when a modern day huckster unearths Prometheus, the actual ancient Titan who brought fire to mankind. This anthology (and these stories in particular) are included because they present excellent examples of how to combine meaningful depth with plot events.

The Cross-Time Engineer (Adventures of Conrad Stargard, Book 1) by Leo Frankowski – In this story a modern-day mechanical engineer named Conrad accidentally falls through a temporal portal in Poland back to the year 1231, a decade before the Mongols are destined to arrive and wipe out most of the population of Eastern Europe. Unable to return home, Conrad turns his engineering expertise towards modernizing Poland’s military before the Mongols arrive. Story continues through The High Tech Knight, The Radiant Warrior, and The Flying Warlord. The author, Frankowski, is actually a mechanical engineer so his explanations of the steps Conrad must take to evolve common crude medieval technology to modern era tech is both accurate and informative. This series is a must for any DM trying to contain an overly ambitious artificer.

The Long Walk by Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman – A group of 100 boys volunteer for a death march across – where else? – rural Maine in order to compete for the ultimate Prize. An interesting exploration of group dynamics under high stress that asks some surprisingly deep questions – just what is really important, if you know that you’re about to die? Also has some fascinating descriptions of mental breakdowns useful to borrow for extreme NPC behavior – especially ones broken due to high stress.

The Psychopath’s Bible: For the Extreme Individual by Christopher S. Hyatt – This book presents a refreshingly functional chaotic evil mindset – extremely useful for DMs and players that want to be something much more than a flat fantasy stereotype of evil (which usually just winds up as boring gorecore anyway.)

The History of Religious Ideas 1, 2 and 3 by Mircea Eliade – This modern professor of religion, history and philosophy wrote numerous books comparing and interpreting religious experiences that are foundational to the study of these subjects today. These three books by Dr. Eliade outline the basis for the evolution of religion throughout the world. Contains hundreds upon hundreds of examples of real world religious and cultural practices with highly accessible explanations of everything. This book is superb for fleshing out religions and their various sects, cultures, and the personal values of PCs and NPCs alike.

Aghora: At the Left Hand of God by Dr. Robert Svoboda – Dr. Svoboda is recognized as a world-wide expert on Ayurvedic medicine and classical Indian lore, being the first Westerner to ever receive his degree in same from the University of Poona in India in 1980. This book describes how a religious sect called the Aghoris attempt to achieve true understanding of their Selves and ultimate union with the Divine All via religious rites in charnel houses and among cremation fires. This book is excellent reading for DMs because it gives a wholly different perspective on what would be considered normally “evil” practices (such as drinking out of skulls while meditating atop corpses), describes how the touch of the sacred changes the soul of the aspirant – a must for realistic clerics – and gives beaucoup examples of how to dress up a necromantic cult without it being a bunch of hokey “dudes in black robes chanting… again.”

Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice for All Creation by Olivia Judson – This fascinating book gives a survey of some of the most interesting and bizarre reproductive practices in the natural world in the format of a parody advice column for critters having trouble attracting a suitable mate. I include this book for two reasons. First, we often forget that monsters in the world have an ecology, which means that they are looking to reproduce – and I wonder, just how do monsters reproduce, and what problems might they encounter? The fact that this is written as an advice column parody is useful for looking at things from the perspective of the animal/monster – if a sea urchin is willing to spill the beans about its problems finding a mate, would a sphinx? How do shocker lizards act during breeding season? This book is excellent for mining answers to those very questions.

Evil Overlord List by Peter Anspach – While not a book, this list is absolutely essential for any DM no matter how experienced they are. This list is given from the perspective of an Evil Overlord who is swearing to not commit a clichéd act and to act with common sense. Includes lots of useful advice such as “When I capture the hero, I will make sure I also get his dog, monkey, ferret, or whatever sickeningly cute little animal capable of untying ropes and filching keys happens to follow him around.” If your BBEG is violating any of these rules, he best have a darned good explanation, or you as the DM had best be revising them.

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