When it comes to reading (or roleplaying or anything I get to participate in as a viewer, reader, spectator and what not) I tend to like fantastical things:
Books: Wayne Barlowe’s ‘God’s Demon’ springs to mind; a meld of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ portion of ‘the Divine Comedy’ and a more modern ‘out-there’ sensibility, if that makes sense. Souls fashioned into behemoth-mounts, and used as currency and literally as building block; demons casting sigils of power, hellish landscapes. If you haven’t read this book I suggest it. I also suggest looking through Barlowe’s art-books ‘Brushfire’, ‘Barlowe’s Inferno’, and ‘Agares’, which just add so much life to his already-evocative world. Amazing stuff.
Game settings: Planescape, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Warhammer 40k, Deadlands. I think with the D&D settings, my choices are probably the most extreme ones. I love the concept and the infinite potential of Planescape – the character of the outer planes, how the land itself has its personality, how Arcadia is (without even looking to its inhabitants) intrinsically different to the Abyss or Mechanus. I was in love with Planescape for a around 10-years, with most of the games of D&D I DMed being in this setting. Favourite planes? Pandemonium, Carceri, (keep those two in mind, if you know what they are, when reading the story below) and the Abyss. Dark Sun is a setting I never had the pleasure of playing (blame my conservative RP group for that). I loved the concept of the dying world, of a place that had reached the end of history, and the sadness of a world in which all great events and leaders had come and gone and were so far in the past that they were not even myth any more. Perhaps the source of my love of deserts? Deadlands is another setting I love, that have never played in. I’m not, in any way shape or form, a fan of westerns, but weird west, as a genre, has always interested me, with Deadlands first and foremost amongst them. Finally, 40k. I’ve been a GW ‘fanboy’ for some years (though their pricing trends recently leave much to be desired…) I haven’t played a game in years, though still keep an eye on their models and fluff, and greatly enjoy the Horus Heresy series. The dystopian setting of 40k is something that I have always loved; the gothic atmosphere and general sense of desperation, the debilitating bureaucracy of it all. Great stuff.
Art: Hieronymous Bosch. ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. ‘Terrestrial Paradise, Ascent of the Blessed, Fall of the Damned, Hell’. ‘Allegory of Gluttony and Lust’. I remember these painting from when I was a very young child and they left a big impression on me. Also, Giovanni Piranesi's Carceri Della Invenzione plays a big role here too :)
Movies: where do I start? There’s many to choose from, though for the purposes of this I’ll mention things like ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, ‘Dark Crystal’, ‘the Fountain’, ‘the Cell’, ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’, amongst many many others.
Something all these things have in common – they are fantastical to the extreme, often to the point of being completely unrealistic. Doorways to alternate planes. A hierarchal evolutionary history of demons. A psychic lighthouse that consume the souls of thousands of psychics every day just to keep navigators going in the right direction. An unending realm of caverns and howling wind. Literal representations of judgement and the apocalypse. On and on it goes.
Elyden, though a fantasy setting, tends to be pretty realistic. There are very few alien races (and I have often toyed with removing the non-human mortal races entirely, leaving only the otherworlders and halfbloods). Magic is very subtle, and more of a resource for use in archaic technologies (the so-called technarcana) and it is also something I am heavily leaning towards leaving entirely in the realm of a material resource, discarding the more traditional magicy stuff (hand gestures, arcane words etc., which I always hated), using it only as fuel for biomechanical implants and orthoses. No dragons, with most fantastical creatures just alternate version of earths fauna or, in the case of the aurochs and indricothere, extinct fauna. Thew closest thing to a dragon is a ‘wyvern’ which is about the size of a quetzalcoatlus, or a t-rex-sized raptor with large feathers (balaurs) or giant upright crocodile-like beasts (monitors). Undead I have always had a problem with and the closest I got is the penumbrally afflicted Sathep the Risen – ruler of Sarastro – a singular character.
On the other hand my love of the mind-bogglingly strange is present, more-so than anywhere else in the Prison Carceri; greatest (some might say most deranged) construct of the Demiurge Vorropohaiah; inspired as much by Dante’s ‘Inferno’ as it is by Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s ‘Carceri D’invenzione’ and D&D’s Planescape plane of Pandemonium.
An anomaly in another-wise realistic world? Perhaps. An indulgence amongst nations I’ve strived to ground in reality? Almost certainly. Hopefully it’s things like the Demiurges, Hetepheres the Sphinx-queen, the Archpotentate Malichar; and places like the Palace of Steam and Rust, Daekyn and, hopefully, the Prison Carceri that set this world apart from others.