jane austen as a D&D player

When I invent a time machine, the obvious first application is to play D&D with my favorite 19th century writers.

If I were to DM a game for, say, Jane Austen (and I would like to! In fact, Jane Austen, I hereby extend to you a CHALLENGE to play at my table! YOU WILL HAVE FUN) I wouldn’t try to cobble together some 19th-century setting involving dance halls and drawing rooms. I also wouldn’t run a straight D&D game either. I’d play Al-Qadim.

Tolkien revolutionized the fantasy imagination, giving us the dwarves and elves that we now associate with fantasy. But there was been fantasy literature for a long time before there were hobbits.

In the English-speaking world, at least, the Lord of the Rings of the 18th century – the book that directed literary fantasy, juvenile escapist power fantasy, and the hunger for the exotic and sublime – was the 1001 Nights. When 18th and 19th century Europeans thought about evil wizards and magic rings, they also thought about djinni, flying mechanical horses, and trees that grew jewels like fruit. They were so hungry for fantasy that 1001 nights weren’t enough nights for them. They wrote their own “arabesques” – original fantasy literature using 1001 Nights trappings, much of it worse than the original.

Nowadays, rich nerds with too much money build castles. Then, rich nerds, like William Beckford, built arabesque mansions. William Beckford also wrote Vathek, an arabesque copping its style and themes from the 1001 Nights. In a way, William Beckford is the Richard Garriott of his day.

Here’s Charles Dickens talking about 1001 Nights:

Oh, now all common things become uncommon and enchanted to me. All lamps are wonderful; all rings are talismans. Common flower-pots are full of treasure, with a little earth scattered on top; trees are for Ali Baba to hide in; beef-steaks are to throw down into the Valley of Diamonds, that the precious stones may stick to them, and be carried by eagles to their nests, whence the traders, with loud cries, will scare them.

That sounds to me like guy who is going to FREAK OUT the first time he plays D&D and the DM announces that he found a magic ring. OK, Charles, you’re in the group.

OK, so here are the guys I’d invite to my game table:

  • Charles Dickens (he’d be a player with a sense of wonder who’d get deeply invested in the story. He’d probably play a bard or something.)
  • C. S. Lewis (When he was a kid, he and his brother made up a pre-Narnia magical fantasy land for which they wrote complex histories. Later, he said, “Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country.” He’d probably want to DM.)
  • I’d fill up the table with as many Bronte sisters as possible (they also made up a fantasy land that they all wrote about, in which each sibling controlled a specific character. They even used minis. They’d probably be super dramatic and hog lots of time in the spotlight.)
  • Jane Austen (She’d play a chaotic neutral rogue and probably would steal from the Brontes.)

    What celebrities/historical figures/fictional figures would you guys play with?

  • 10 Responses to “jane austen as a D&D player”

    1. Legion says:

      Epic on all counts!

    2. Sean says:

      ‘Much of it worse then the original’ implies that some of these arabesques were actually better then the Arabian Nights! Or at least as good. Do you have any suggestions for Victorian arabesque novels to look out for?

      And Oscar Wilde, of course. He’d probably play a paladin. A seriously messed-up paladin.

    3. John says:

      Well H.G. Wells might be nice. He was a wargamer so he might be a bit of a rules lawyer. Maybe some of the authors off appendix N like Lord Dunsany?


    4. John says:

      Also Lewis Carroll.

    5. paul paul says:

      Just so I don’t have to play in a Lewis Carroll-DMed game. Math puzzles around every corner!

    6. Gilmoure says:

      I wonder if the Modernist authors (Hemingway, Woolf, Joyce, Maugham (?)) would play D&D? This could get interesting. Ooh! If I could get Beatonna to illustrate it!

    7. Sarah says:

      I would love to play a Ravenloft style setting game with Shelly, Byron, Poe and Lovecraft.

    8. Hoopster Levittown Claire says:

      Might as well throw in Mary Shelley & Polidori in there for a fun competitive-gothic edge!

      I think most of the modernists would turn up their noses at D&D; Hemingway definitely would! Woolf could be OK at role-playing but maybe nothing would happen. Joyce would be hilarious but also his ribaldry could make everyone else uncomfortable–maybe he has to stick to the all-modernists game. Even so, his saucy zaftig female bard’s tendency to pee on everything and exhibit her soiled petticoats would get old, maybe.

    9. Matt Kauko says:

      I think the 19th century writers I would choose to play with would have to be:

      Henrik Ibsen – He would really get into his characters!

      Goethe – Who might very well end up wanting to let his character turn evil in search of power.

      Emerson – I think he would be only interested in “story gaming”, and would keep trying to find a peaceful resolution to every conflict.

      Great post by the way, and I loved the quotes you found.

    10. […] really enjoyed this post over at blog of holding, Jane Austin as a D&D Player.  Really fun to think about which writers would be the most fun to game with.  I picked a couple […]

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