Read Italo Calvino

Whenever I read inspiration lists or find the More Reading section of a game I like, I am disappointed that I never see Italo Calvino.

He writes deceptively simply. I don’t know if it’s because of translation but he mentions enormous ideas almost casually and as a matter of course.

If you like weird and fantastic, read Calvino. In order of my favourites:

  • Invisible Cities
  • Cosmicomics
  • Adam, One Afternoon, and Other Stories

For bonus points, check into his experimental literature (some of what we would call prescient because the concepts he deals with have become integrated into modern technology); and his relationship to the Oulipo movement.

Have you read any Calvino? Thoughts?


His Folktales are also a great source of inspiration. Witches and such, tales form Italy.


The Castle of Crossed Destinies is hugely germane to RPGs, particularly given the recent explosion of tarot-based solo games. It’s two variations on the same idea: A group of strangers meet and use a deck of cards to communicate their stories to one another. An exploration of the use of archetypes and programmatic storytelling and building narratives into matrices rather than strictly linear accounts. Along with Kawabata’s The Master of Go, it’s one of the biggest influences on my thinking about the intersection of games and art.


I read a few of the chapters from Invisible Cities for a drawing class in college. I seem to remember the phrase “a city where golden violins are made” and it absolutely shifted the way I wrote adventures and descriptions of places.

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I love Calvino’s work, and he writes so beautifully.

One of my favourite books of his is If on a winter’s night a traveler, which could well be the most railroad-y Choose Your Own Adventure book ever. :grinning:


I’ve only read Invisible Cities. It was great and felt very inspirational, and yet I don’t remember taking away much from it that I actually used. One of the coolest cities I remember is the one where they arrange the dead in tableaus under the city so that there is a whole other “scene” going on down there. The city above is drab by comparison.

I think that might be my only contention with Invisible Cities, sometimes they are so fantastic and so absurd that it would be too difficult to shoehorn a Calvino city into an existing setting/campaign.

That’s what Troika!'s for.


Generally I find reading lists for games tend to focus on materials that had a direct influence on the game itself. I get your disappointment (Italo Calvino fan) but I’m not sure I really see his influence in many commercial games, so his absence from “Appendix ****” is not really surprising!

I think a setting book with a similar format to Invisible Cities (explorer in dialogue with a ruler), maybe with a series of tables after would be a) a fun and inspirational read and b) a fun and inspirational project in which to participate!

I can understand that, maybe it’s the prose that makes it stand out extra to me, making it more memorable.

Maybe PCs have an audience with the ruler and they each describe a city they visited, then the GM chooses one to explore. Could be Beak, Feather, and Bone style, or anthropological vignettes, or uncovering the mystery of the city/debunking the legends, or…


I agree that I’m not disappointed to see the reference because I’m not really expecting it. I do also agree that people who haven’t read Calvino would probably enjoy it! I got a copy of Guy Pradel’s Archol recently and was pleased by the resemblance to Invisible Cities.