I didn’t think I’d be writing something like this for Apophatic Games. And maybe I shouldn’t? I don’t know? But Gene Wolfe is the primary influece on Crescendo, nevermind my approach to design. Primary. So I figure it’s topical.
When I announced to the Gene Wolfe subreddit my intention to make a game based off of Gene Wolfe’s fantasy works, I was asked if I had read The Wizard Knight. I admitted I had not; I was told to get to immediately. So I got the book for Christmas. I finished my first read-through last night. For those of you who know, the first time you read a Wolfe almost doesn’t count; Wolfe layers his texts so thickly that it takes a bare minimum of two attempts to really start digging into the text. So take these more as “Do I want to reread this or not” notes.
It ain’t gatekeeping if you literally can’t pick up on major plot points until your second or third read-through, nevermind developing a theory about what’s going on that everyone else disagrees with!
What did I think?
Well, while I was reading the book I found myself going “Oh, Wolfe used this mechanic from Crescendo”. I’ve never read the book before, and I could fit my mechanics that well. Reading the book was like reading the session notes of my game. Challenges, Saves, Conflicts, Immortal Interference sessions, hell even Trait Actions, it was all inthere. That is eerie. I’m baby in the Wolfe community, but I found that I was rolling the dice in my head and following along on the two fronts almost seemlessly. And the stuff that didn’t fit I’m changing Crescendo to make sure it’s closer. Make of that what you will. But my God that was cool!
I think the last five pages of this book is one of the most heartbreaking, sincere, tragic, hopeful things I’ve ever read. There’s 900 pages of buildup to an ending that left heartbroken with its beauty. I’ve read hopeful endings, but none that hit like this. I felt that my heart was too small for what was going on at the end of The Wizard Knight…. and so my heart broke, trying to take it all in. I know I didn’t. I can’t. But I was better for failing in the attempt. I think Wolfe would approve of that.
There’s an aspirational feel to the entirety of The Wizard Knight that I’ve not read in the rest of Wolfe (at least so far). Everyone wants better. Everyone wants to be good. Everyone thinks they’re good. And I don’t mean in the modern cynical sense, where you watch a garbage show where everyone is deluded into thinking they’re good and you just watch a misery fest that is spiritually damaging. I mean these people can see the good in themselves and in others, and fail themselves… and know they do. And grieve that they’re not better. It’s just beautiful to read. There’s a lack of delusion here that could only be pre-modern; frequent brushes with death have that kind of an effect on people.
Of all Wolfe’s books I’ve read, this was the most life-affirming one I’ve read. It’s not the simplest one to get through the first time (that’s An Evil Guest, for me), but Wolfe isn’t trying to hide things the way he does when he was younger. I don’t know if that’s a positive or a negative, given that I’ve read the whole Solar Cycle and Wolfe’s earlier obfuscatory methods were part of the point to me. But just the sheer love of life in the face of darkness would be enough to make me consider recommending this book to people as an intro to Wolfe.
God, that ending though. Maybe other people won’t react to it like I did. But, for my money, that was healing. Not cathartic. Healing.
If you want to get the latest draft of Crescendo pop onto Apophatic Games’s Discord, which is here!