“The keeper of the city keys
Put shutters on the dreams
I wait outside the pilgrim’s door
With insufficient schemes
The black queen chants
The funeral march,
The cracked brass bells will ring;
To summon back the fire witch
To the court of the crimson king”
“What IS this?!” I remember saying when I first listened to these words. These lyrics, the organ, and those weird praying guitars were something deeply familiar to me. The worlds they revealed really deserved a new form of interaction. I wanted to hide in honeycombed temples suspended like box lanterns between rainbow hued cliff walls. I wanted to witness the serpentine celestials unlock humanity from the bonds of its own becoming. To create a place in which that very same being could unlock mysteries of light and spirit that gives them the secrets that destroy beauty and power like the crashing waves and bottomless pools of emptiness themselves. This music. This music was a gateway.
The genre of music known as “prog-rock” is a wide and varied category with a much disputed definition. So rather than dive into the precise attributes of progressive rock, we’ll instead delve into how it inspired a role-playing game I wrote with my co-author Paul Alexander Butler. The game is called Overlight and it was very much inspired by the music and images conjured by bands such as Yes, Hawkwind, King Crimson, and others.
Paul briefly goes over the origins of the game of Overlight in the core book. He touches on our mutual love and appreciation of the work of such artists as Roger Dean and Moebius. These works functioned as aesthetic touchstones that allowed us to maintain a tonal harmony that often seemed like telepathy or some kind of preternatural empathy. It allowed us to avoid debates and disputes concerning the feel and look of the game throughout the entire process. The music, on the other hand, was more of a writing companion as it maintained an atmosphere from which we took ceaseless inspiration.
So what were these images and words?
If I had to put my finger on the exact seed moment I felt strongly about developing the idea of Overlight I believe I could.
One boring, boring day I was sitting in my living room surrounded by stacks of fantasy RPG books. I was attempting to arrive at some charming homebrew of the year that would keep my RPG crew entertained throughout the cold months and very likely the boiling mid-Atlantic summer as well. Having no desire to page through rule books all day, I laid on the floor and decided to just listen to the record I had put on – Yes’s “Relayer”. With the arrival of the track “Soon”, I decided I could flip through the liner notes and that’s the moment I discovered Roger Dean’s unearthly painting that graced the gatefold of Yes’s 1974 masterpiece. Ivory knights marching in file through a cavernous, alabaster landscape. A magical snake looming in the foreground. The wide, panning format that denied the shape of a real sky. This is where I wanted to escape to. THIS was where I wanted to go with my friends.
So it was that I explored more and more of the sci-fantasy art of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Between the on-line galleries of the well-known artists and the new artists I found in the pages of Heavy Metal Magazine, I had so much material to explore, narrate, and animate that the project quickly became overwhelming. Overlight became the shape of the collection I created from the imaginal fantasies I wove while listening to songs like “In the Court of the Crimson King” and Hawkwind’s album “Chronicles of the Black Blade” (a record that ceaselessly inspired me throughout the project). In some cases the music took me places that existed entirely within the songs themselves and in other cases – such as with much of Hawkwind’s music, it took me to familiar alien landscapes and fictional fantasies with which I had been well acquainted my entire life.
For example, Hawkwind’s “The Dreaming City”:
“Gleaming towers that touch the sky
Ancient turrets catch the eye
You stand so proud
Coloured walls that shine so bright
A monument to truth and light
You carry on
Yet fate is working so to bring you down
Peopled by a master race
But living lives so cruel, so base
Their master knows not how to rule
Dark forces use him as their tool
He carries on
And fate is working fast to bring him down
Dreaming City your light is fading
Amidst the chaos that now is reigning
Uncaring beings come soon to raze
Your tall, fair towers to set ablaze
So fate is working fast to bring you down”
This song carries the same title as the very first novella featuring Michael Moorcock’s beloved anti-hero Elric of Melniboné.
The good reason for this is that the fantasy author Michael Moorcock, was also a musician that seemingly enjoyed cooking up insane sounds with Hawkwind themselves.
So the overlap of weird fantasy and prog-rock is certainly not a new thing.
It’s a tradition and one that I really wanted to pay homage to with Overlight.
The folk and lands of Overlight were built on this music and these images. It got to the point where each shard had its own soundtrack and the folk moved to the rhythm of specific songs. I can’t even tell you how many times I saw Pyroi riding on the backs of shoveltusks to the tune of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” or envisioned a pilgrimage of Novapendra wandering white sands to Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”.
These are just a few examples of the stuff I personally found inspiring. My exposure to progressive rock is really that of a novice. I like a few bands and artists a whole lot and I use them over and over again to inspire myself and my continued work on Overlight.
I strongly encourage fans of the game to explore some of this music and the visual art that adorns it. It is some spectacularly beautiful and intricate stuff. Having come from the metal school of grimdark as a lot of us did in the 90s, it has been a truly liberating experience to work with the triplet fantasies of hope, wonder, and joy and watch them dance in the colors of Overlight.
You can find out more about Overlight, HERE!