Sunday, 10 August 2014

#RPGaDAY - Day 10: Favourite Tie-in Novel/Gaming fiction

This cover is, like all of the covers in the series,
entirely inaccurate and misleading as to the
nature of the character, and I love that.
In preparation for today's topic, James Holloway defined two types of game fiction: terrible fiction relating to the game, or good fiction only tangentially relating to the setting. I'm not sure he isn't missing fiction which is neither any good nor relevant to the game, but he also defines a single positive intersection and I'm keen to find out what that is.

I'm a fan of Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain series, but I accept that it probably falls into the second category somewhat, in particular in its depiction of a co-ed regiment in the Imperial Guard, a force with barely a female model to its ranks.

Ciaphas Cain is a commissar in the Imperial Guard, one of the grim-faced elite who enforce discipline with a las-blast to the back of the head of a fleeing officer. Only... he isn't. He is by his own admission a quick-witted slacker who would rather not give officers thinking of fleeing a reason to shoot him first, and by all the evidence an endlessly resourceful officer with a considerable understanding of morale and motivation He and his fellow officers and soldiers are, if not complex and three-dimensional, at least interesting and two-dimensional characters, which invests his adventures with a degree of involvement, but what really sells the series to me is the humour.

Loosely based on George Macdonald Fraser's Flashman series, Ciaphas Cain's self-narrated stories (footnoted for historical references by his inquisition biographer and sometime SO) are told with a dry, self-deprecating wit which offsets the overblown machismo of the Warhammer 40K setting. Perhaps this inhibits the story as 40K fiction, but it makes it readable in a way that other offerings, with their astonishingly po-faced approach to the almighty grimdark, are not; to me at least. I know a lot of people go for the 40K full Monty, but it doesn't work for me where Cain does.

Critically, however, Mitchell tells the story with humour, but even when Cain criticises aspects of the setting, he doesn't parody them. The tower of Gothic imagery and testosterone that is 40K is so close to self-parody that it simply can't weather the slightest attempt at external parody. It's not made to bear that sort of criticism; it would just fall down, and Mitchell doesn't succumb to the temptation to mine that vein for cheap laughs.

So, yeah; Ciaphas Cain. Despite some deviation from implicit canon, it doesn't turn the universe on its head (score over most White Wolf fiction), it doesn't wallow in the grimness of the setting, nor mock it. It's fun adventure fiction with decent characters, pacey plots and a song in its heart.

What's your game fic of choice? If you'd like to know what other people have gone for, look out the hashtag for more RPG a Day.

Check back tomorrow when I assay to discuss the weirdest RPG I own.