Roy Thomas Syndrome
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Basic Information

Once upon a time there lived a boy named Roy who loved comic books. When he grew up, he got a job working in the writer's bullpen for the World's Greatest Comic Company and eventually became an editor. Roy loved writing about the heroes he grew up with, and most of all, he enjoyed connecting the stories he wrote with the stories of the past. He created new comics, like The Invaders, set in the era he loved the most: the Golden Age of the 1930s and '40s. When he moved over to the Distinguished Competion, he did the same with comics such as All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.

For much of the '70s and '80s, Roy acted as Keeper of the Flame for Golden Age Comics. He created intricate storylines, resolving old plot threads and giving new heroes backstories tied to the classic heroes of the past. He took the concept of interconnected continuity and turned it into thematic macrame, pulling plot points and characters from all directions — not just old comic books, but also works of literature and pop culture — and weaving them into a dense reality.

Although Roy's storytelling fell out of editorial favor in the grim and gritty '90s, later generations of writers adopted his style of creative plagiarism, cheerfully mining the past for plot ideas and bolting on bits of existing material.

Any storyteller worth his salt can recall a previous adventure or invoke a hero from a previous era, lift characters and stories from the public domain, tease the audience with in-jokes and indulge in a bit of Retroactive Continuity. When a writer does all of this — all at the same time — then what we have is a full-blown case of Roy Thomas Syndrome.

Notable examples of Roy Thomas Syndrome in action include Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe, an elaborate geneology connecting most of the notable heroes of adventure fiction of the 19th and early 20th Centuries; and Alan Moore's comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.


1. The Wold Newton Universe — A website exploring and building upon Philip José Farmer's genealogical speculations
2. Jess Nevin's Comic Book Annotations — contains extensive annotations of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Game and Story Use

  • Obviously, a GM is always looking for material and the best way to get it is to steal it.
  • Connecting your gameworld to outside elements the players have some familiarity with is a quick and easy way to give it more verisimilitude.
  • And it can be fun slipping in-jokes into the universe.
    • This isn't just a game for the GM. A player can base his character off an existing character in literature or popular culture, perhaps making him a descendant.
    • This can be overdone. This arcanist once played a grown-up version of Jonny Quest in a near-future SF campaign. As a throwaway gag, I said my character was dating Penny Gadget from the series Inspector Gadget. This inspired our GM to challenge us with the dreaded Dr. Zin / Dr. Claw team-up, which in turn led another player to declare "If Popeye the Sailor shows up, I'm walking!"
  • A more subtle technique, and one which the players will love, is to incorporate references from previous campaigns into the current one.
    • Another example: This arcanist once ran a Weird Western campaign in which one of the players decided he was going to try to get rich writing dime novels about the group's adventures. In a later campaign I ran, also set in the Victorian Era, I had the PC's come across a bunch of dime novels with familiar-sounding titles…
  • See also League of Extraordinary Whatevers
  • And be sure to mine the People section for possible NPCs!
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