Influences for Bridewell and my work in general are often distant, vague and sparse. My brain works in impressions, absorbs the shape of a concept which is then brought to bear without reference to the concept itself. So the concept of an Appendix N for it feels odd, but may have value anyway.
Thematically, Bridewell is Gothic Horror. So, I read mainly gothic horror classics, although I’m influenced by other types of horror as well. I’ll mention the stuff that wasn’t well-known to me, rather than just talk about things everyone has read like Poe, Stoker and Shelley. I should also note: I’m not a great reader, so I listened to all of these in audiobook format. There were a bunch of books I wanted to read that I couldn’t because of audiobook availability, particularly gothic horror outside of Europe and North America.
- Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. Not only the first vampire novel but the first lesbian vampire novel, this is a vampire who is emotionally entwined in the other characters lives in a way Dracula was not. Obviously I named the main character of Bridewell, another lesbian vampire after her.
- The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. A well written, engaging tale, combines fantasy elements and horror elements in a compelling way. Directly inspired my leaning into the more fantastic elements of D&D in Bridewell.
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, honestly a terrible book to listen to as an audiobook, but whose structure directly informed the structure I used in Bridewell, where individual units of story could be nested into each other and seed future units. It’s well worth reading if you want something intricate and creepy.
- The Monk by Matthew Lewis is proper horror, and inspired the Bridewell-wide recreational activity of making deals with devils or other powers and regretting it in horrifying fashion, either through the devil’s actions, or through the slippery slope the devils requests put you on.
- Demiurge by Michael Shea and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff are two contemporary takes on the cosmic horror that Lovecraft looms over. That directly inspired me with engaging prose and varying personalities interacting with ineffable powers.
I never studied art or literature, but I am a giant nerd, so some non-fiction inspired me as well:
- My Words to Víctor Frankenstein Above The Village of Chamounix by Susan Stryker is the definitive comment on queer rage, and much of it is echoed throughout Bridewell, but most notably “a monster with a life and will of its own is a principal source of horror”. Also, I named a town after this essay.
- Shakespeare and the Gothic Strain by Linda Charnes, a long critique of book of Shakespeare scholarship that included such gems as “the gothic invokes it’s own special brand of dread: of something or someone already “in the house” as it were […] issuing audible but indecipherable commands”. It’s really broad in scope, and pointed me to a bunch of other fun literature, including the book it critiques (“night as a counterrealm that privileges imagination, irrationality, wildness and disobedience”; “there is still a strangeness that radiates from the gothic”, and a few other books (Terry Castle’s The Apparitional Lesbian and Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves).
Inspired by Haiku, Hyungga and Shijo, short-form Japanese and Korean poetry, rather than classic module writing or horror poetry, I adopted some of techniques used by them in my prose — things like shorter entries than typical modules, entry series, minimising articles and prepositions, local contrasts for humour, horror and memorability. I’m by no means well-read nor do I read in Korean or Japanese, but nevertheless the influence is there. Here are some examples if you want to see the connections more clearly:
- Haiku, Kobayashi Issa translated by Haas
- Hyungga, translates in A History of Korean Literature edited by P.H. Lee
- Shijo, The Crane in the Clouds by Sung-il Lee.
Art, Movies, Videogames and Music
I don’t know, mostly I was inspired by written texts, rather than audiovisual ones, but the sounds and images in my mind were influenced by these.
- The Wild Tarot by Kim Kranz. They’re just really good cards, and the accompanying book along with WTF is Tarot by Barbara Wintner really got me into tarot and how I might use them to run a sandbox.
- Hellboy by Mike Mignola. Really I wanted a Mike Mignola tarot for Bridewell, but I’m not sure anyone could afford that.
- The Deranged Cousins by Edward Gorey. But more generally his art is very creepy in the way I imagine a lot of my secondary characters like the gromlyms, penny dreadfuls, and adamant brood to be.
- Return of the Obra Dinn. Babes, you may not have noticed but Bridewell is in black and white, and it has a rocking classical soundtrack.
- Crimson Peak and The Wolfman have impeccable Victorian gothic vibes that informed my images of Dimmness, Raven’s Gate and Saint Angelus.
- The Witch and the Lighthouse have a meaningless, ineffable horror to them that are reflected in a number of the stories.
- Spirited Away, Totoro and Oni all present a romantic, complex picture of a particular type of Shintoism that inspired one family of gods that can be found in Bridewell.
- Dracula (1931). See if you can find the Hamlet-by-way-of-Renfield reference when you read Bridewell. There are a lot of low-key references to classic horror movies in here in the form of quotes and wordplays, it would be a fun game for a horror fan. Most of them are “sufficiently odd to be noticeable but insufficiently elaborated to be fully meaningful” as Peter Hutchins wrote disparagingly in “Theatres of Blood: Shakespeare and the Horror Film”.
- Philip Glass’ Dracula soundtrack feels like early to mid career Glass in the best way, and played a lot while I was writing. This really feels like the actual soundtrack for the valley itself, even though soundtracks for the above movies were looping as well.
- Sonatas & Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartok also has impeccable Brightcastle vibes, and I imagined a Bridgerton-esque transformation of pop songs into these styles for the parties there.
Oh ha ha Modules
Some are obvious, some are not. The three Ravenloft modules are obviously inspirations: Bridewell started and remains a response to how much the Curse of Strahd, like most Fifth Edition modules, sucks.
- The Dark Tower of Calibar by Michael Ashton and Lee Sperry from Dungeon Magazine #1, is simply the worst vampire adventure ever written, and really made me think about what a good vampire villain should be like. Then, I wrote Carmilla Teroare to subvert that.
- The Palace of the Silver Princess by Jean Wells is for me the prototypical dungeon and informs my writing and understanding more than other early dungeons like B2 do.
- Against the Cult of the Reptile God by Douglas Niles and Witchburner by Luka Rejec do villages well in two different styles, both of which influenced the social and geographical graphs in Bridewell.
- A Thousand, Thousand Islands by Zedeck Siew and Munkao and The Isle by Luke Gearing made me realise that I’m not the only person interested in innovative approaches to text in traditional fantasy adventure games, and that projects like Bridewell and Ludicrous Compendium weren’t a huge waste of time.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning that every single Bathtub Review and hence every single one of those adventures contributed to my approach to Bridewell, particularly with regards to consistency across the book and clarity for what the sections were meant to achieve. If you want to look at some great modules, read these reviews! They’re good (in my opinion)!
So, that’s my Appendix N more or less. I’ll no doubt add to it as I read more or remember things on conversation with people. I haven’t finished my reading for Bridewell, and I’ve only finished writing my first draft.
6th May, 2023