Burst of Insight—Five Reading Recommendations

Recently, I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions about what to read and it occurred to me that it’s been quite a while since I posted any recommendations. So let’s get to it, these are some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy books. A few are series I read (or started to read) some time ago while others have only recently caught my attention.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
With the Extinction Curse Adventure Path already underway this excellent fantasy novel of a mysterious and magical circus is rather timely. The Night Circus is the tale of two rival magicians and the apprentices they set against one another in a challenge to see whose tradition is best. The venue of the challenge is the titular Night Circus.

Beautifully told, The Night Circus is an unusual and spellbinding fantasy novel that may not be perfectly suited to a typical Pathfinder campaign but players and GMs may all find something to add depth and wonder to an Extinction Curse campaign.

The Egil and Nix series by Paul S. Kemp
Inspiration for any adventurer. Paul S. Kemp’s buddy adventurer duo raid tombs for fun and profit. Egil the sturdy and dependable priest of the Momentary God and Nix is the wise cracking rogue with just enough magic to dangerous.

With all the fantasy properties that have been snapped up by Hollywood for film and TV I’m surprised this fun series hasn’t been optioned already. It’s a heroes are classic fantasy in the style of Lieber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser with better dialog. From a GM’s point of view it’s an interesting look at deadly high-level campaign design. At the risk of spoiling the opening scene we start with the pair facing a demon and advance from there.

The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski
Speaking of fantasy properties that have been turned into TV shows. Let’s talk about The Witcher. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’m so late to this party. I knew there was a video game (that looked both amazing and sadly outside of my skill set) It never occurred to me to see if there were books until in the lead up to the Netflix series it was mentioned in an article. I pretty much immediately picked up the first book of the short stories that introduce us to Geralt of Rivia.

The series has a gloriously grim take on famous faerie tales, legends, and monster stories and for tabletop gamers it offers an interesting look at the knowledge skill checks player should be making whenever they encounter a monster while adventuring.

The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan
This unique fantasy series takes place in a world similar to probably our Napoleonic era. Powder mages get their magic from gun powder making the especially deadly on a battlefield. The trilogy begins with a coup and is rife with politics, action, and tension through to the end.

This IS a great example of a “guns everywhere” setting for first edition Pathfinder. If you enjoy gunslingers and firearms in your games this trilogy may give you all sorts of new ideas. Never mind, that there is a lot more to love in this series. All of the primary and major secondary characters are believable and relatable. Incredible world building from the use of three different and well-conceived magic traditions to the interplay between nations and men. This is top-notch storytelling even if you’re not a hundred percent sold on firearms in your game.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
This is the story of the young torturer Severian who begins a mythic quest across a science fantasy future. The world has fallen into a new dark age but the wondrous relics of the past have almost magical significance. The world and the people are at once relatable and familiar and yet also very different from what you may have experienced before.

This series was one of the major inspirations for the Numenera Roleplaying game and in a similar vein it could provide a lot of inspiration for GMs running games in Golarion’s own science fantasy nation of Numeria.


If you have books you’d like to suggest I (or anyone else in the Know Direction community) read drop us a line in the comments. There are many more books I’d like to cover myself and may yet do so in the near future.

Burst of Insight

Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.