Saturday, August 19, 2017

New Post-Apocalypse Game!

This is the little piece of pre-writing I did for a game I'm going to try and run in the next couple months:

"The year is 1997.
The world is in ruins.

In 1983, a Soviet false alarm was triggered by NATO's Able Archer 83 wargame exercise.
They responded by unleashing an R-36 ICBM on Washington, DC.
Within 48 hours, the modern world had been annihilated in nuclear fire.

You have lived most of your lives in the aftermath of a global nuclear war that brought the world to its knees.

You and your companions managed to escape the slaughter in your hometown of New Hope, PA with your lives and what little you could carry.
The truck you stole broke down on the edge of an unnamed town about 6 hours West of your starting point, but by then it was already running on fumes.

You were most likely followed by the masked men that burned your homes and killed your families.

This is the world you live in.
Survive. "

I'm gonna be using the fantastic Ruinations of the Dust Princess, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess deriviative I happen to like.

Hopefully it'll be great!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Real-Life Dungeon Crawling

Under the town of Provins, about 100km from Paris, there's a super rad network of underground tunnels.
See, the French like to build on top of quarries. They tend to build the important shit first, like castles and walls and walled castles, using locally-quarried stone.


Then they go "Oh, fuck, we need to build other things here now, like houses for normal people that aren't castles."

Anyway, this is why a lot of French towns have some kind of tunnel network under them, Paris has its catacombs, and Provins has its underground (souterrain, in French). Everyone knows about the Paris catacombs, though. They've been a pretty popular tourist attraction since the 1700s, when bones got moved out of Paris's giant death pits from the middle ages into the cool pre-existing spooky zone beneath the streets.

Provins's have been made into a tourist attraction as well, but for centuries they were much more than that. After a huge chunk of the town got built out over where the quarry tunnels were located, the spaces got used by townsfolk in lieu of formal cellars, which were impossible in some portions of the town due to the network of ridiculous tunnels that was there instead.

Anyway, visiting those tunnels was probably one of the neatest things I've ever done. Can you imagine living over a huge underground complex and having to deal with it to get to all the crap you could otherwise have in your basement? Even with modern lighting and a recently-refinished floor, it's hard enough to navigate the terrain in the tunnels today. It's also really cold.

As a bonus to hearing me ramble about underground stuff, here's an encounter table of disgruntled townsfolk going about their business in the local dungeon:

On a d4 roll:

  1. Karl the Candler: Selling discount lighting implements to anyone who wanders by. Is accompanied by his two sons, who look exactly like him but shorter and less greasy.
  2. Bert the Mushroom Collector: Using his 2HD truffle-hunting pig, Darlene, to find only the finest medicinal mushrooms. Very smelly, but incredibly friendly. Offers the party vouchers at his market stand, which tends to be open when he feels like it.
  3. d6 Child Adventurers. Will insist they're not in mortal peril. They know where the nearest source of treasure is but insist they're capable of nabbing it. They are most certainly not.
  4. A lost merchant trying to find his underground warehouse. He just took two wrong turns, but no one knows that. He'll pay the party handsomely (1d6x100SP) to help him find his stuff and get it to market.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Encounters in the Great City's Hillside Cemetery

Here are some encounter ideas had while visiting the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris today! They can either be flavor or actual encounters, I'm not sure how I'm going to use them yet. 
Use them in your home games!

On 1d6:
  1. A family of squatters shelters in their camp among the tombs. They grip their rusty daggers nervously as you approach.
  2. A gravedigger lectures his 1d4 apprentice(s) on proper technique. He offers the younger among the party a new line of work, and the older members a good deal on a gravesite.
  3. A group of young pranksters who are casting a ritual for fun but getting into much bigger trouble than they reckoned for.
  4. Very apologetic graverobbers. They offer the party a split of the earnings to go into the crypt first, as they pass.
  5. Graffiti artist debating technique with a headstone artist. They wave as the party pass, and offer a swig of hooch.
  6. Funeral procession for: (1d4 roll) 1. A philanthropic merchant, 2. a hated but necessary politician, 3. the leader of a noble family that recently fell from grace, 4. a folk hero among the squatters, his burial paid for by theft and pan-handling
I might add to this, so keep an eye out!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Libraries and also the Future

Paris is a city from the future, probably. Turns out all the cool stuff is exactly where I haven't been for the last week and a half, and I'm just a little spicy about that.

I mean, look at the middle of the National Library here-
I look wistfully into the Neo-Paris skyline as I wait for my hacker contact to hand off 3 megs of hot RAM
It's got a tiny evergreen forest in it, which is not only rad, but is totally the closest we've gotten to the robot pets from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in terms of creating artificial nature in our dystopian cities.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but it sorta makes sense, though, thinking about it. A lot of speculative fiction is about people dealing with the issues presented by emerging technology, but we've been doing the same thing without thinking about it for pretty much all of history.

A lot of urban design is dedicated to making cities not only functional, but livable. You've gotta have people be willing to exist in your city, once it's built. Libraries and other public spaces are part of that, and reflect what's important to both the designers of these spaces, and the people who end up using them. The forested courtyard here isn't only cool to look at, it's also greenspace, and provides a means for warm, natural light to enter the mostly subterranean library. Also, it deals with an important issue that comes along with a big underground courtyard- dealing with water. 
I'm pretty sure if there were just a patch of grass there, you'd have a swamp the first time it rained. Cool, but not everyone's idea of ideal greenspace. Also, pine trees are cool to look at.

The forest itself isn't accessible as far as I know, but it's still cool to look at, and it's a lot better than the Manila folder-yellow public library I grew up visiting. Good move, France.

Friday, July 7, 2017

I Got Abandoned in a Parisian Shopping Mall and This is What I Learned

I went to a mall today and was immediately abandoned in the men's department of the H&M. It was terrifying and I got left to make my own really great fashion decisions.
They call me the whiter Ryan Gosling.
Anyway, there's also some really cool stuff to learn from the Forum Les Halles, one of Paris's several partially submerged shopping centers. Here's a couple things I picked up:

1.Anything can be a Social Space if you Try Hard Enough:
 The Forum is super neat because it actively does a lot to try and make both a commercial space and an environment where people can sorta just hang out. There's a lot of indoor and outdoor seating various spaces throughout the mall, so it can be enjoyed in pretty much any weather.
The thing is, though, that seating eventually runs out if you're underground and it's a thousand degrees outside. I saw a lot of people sitting in spaces not meant for sitting just because it was cool and comfy and better than living on the surface where the Sun is your enemy. People have a way of finding places to hang, even when they shouldn't, and the Forum's design both intentionally and unintentionally facilitates that.
I saw a lot of people sitting on ledges under escalators, on the ground, and all over the damn place. A lot of them were busy looking at phones or reading or making calls, but they were doing it en masse in a public space, not just while on the train or in a waiting room. Plenty more were interacting with each other directly, or were working in the library that's also housed in the forum. Even the obnoxious skater kids were out in force, though I didn't get to witness their inevitable clash with mall security.
This also relates to the second lesson I learned, which is:

2.The Sun is the Enemy and the Earth is Your Air Conditioning:
 There is no air conditioning in Paris. The museums are lying and there's one cold air vent in the Louvre total and that's probably some kind of elaborate trick so they can sell tickets. 
Anyway, the Forum is built underground and has plenty of air circulation and natural light due to it being built around a giant glass hole in the ground, but the fact that most of the complex is completely submerged is a godsend in the heat. There's enough air moving in and out to make things bearable, and I never felt as horrid as I did outside or on the Metro. The surface is an awful wasteland, but I can see the promise of a future race of Parisian molemen living underground in abandoned malls.

Also, I had to bum half a Euro off a friend to use the bathroom. What's up with that?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Ideas for Games that I Stole from a French Museum

Being in places where history happened tends to fill you with a sense of awe. Today, I got to see the Musee de Cluny, which is a super rad museum full of incredibly ornate medieval French stuff. The basement houses an old Roman bath, and the entire place is filled with religious and cultural artifacts beyond the typical old swords and more old swords. There was a lot of ruined statuary and a room just marked "treasure", and pretty soon the place was being mapped out as a dungeon in my head.
Look at these guys and tell me they're not about to animate, Ray Harryhausen-style. 

The "abandoned fortress/castle/manor with a horrible secret underneath" is a pretty classic trope both in literature and in games, but there's no problem with the classics if they're done well. Every room had a unique encounter idea in it. This is probably the lamest response to seeing some of the coolest stuff in the world, but I think it's key to solving a big problem I have with role-playing games.

A lot of fantasy RPGs (I mostly play older editions of D&D, for reference, but I've bounced around enough to be roughly authoritative here) are tentatively set in faux-medieval settings. More modern games (3rd/4th edition D&D and Pathfinder, for example) tend to deviate off into something some people call "dungeon-punk" in aesthetic. Think too many belts and also manbuns and other awful renfair nonsense. It's terrible, but I'm kind of getting off-track here. Anyway, if we're going for faux-medievalism, and faux European medievalism at that, we've got sort of a concrete setting and set of social rules and aesthetics and all that fun stuff.

This one was pretty tiny!
My big issue is verisimilitude. It's an awful, awful word to use in conversation and in writing, and it's horrible to try and spell. BUT, it's super important to game design, especially in the tabletop world, where half the action is all in the theater of the mind. It's a term ol' Gygax himself loved, and it essentially means refers to internal consistency and how believable something is, at least in game terms. How do you describe what a space in a castle looks like? How much do you explain? We've all seen pictures of castles, interior and exterior, but what does the floorplan look like? Is it going to come up? I've seen a thousand abandoned chapels in published adventures, but what does an actual medieval chapel in a castle (or an underground dungeon) look like? But most of all, how do you make these spaces feel real, or lived in, or like you could really go there?

It's cool to know how architecture works that's actually used. It may never really come up in a game, but it's useful to help describe a place evocatively, so that people can imagine what it looks like themselves.

Also, what the hell does treasure actually look like? Besides coinage (which is occasionally an anachronism), what's actually in a giant treasure mound? The answer is, if we're still going for faux medievalism, a lot of Jesus stuff. Most wealth got split between the church and the nobility (who were closely tied to the church) in Medieval Europe, so most precious metals got made into crucifixes or reliquaries or statues or got used in books or tiny crucifixes or a million other tacky pieces of religious knickknackery.
To me, this Catholic bling is so much more interesting than another big ol' gem or another sack of coins. That's not to say those are bad, of course. but as a player, I've always felt more immersed when the treasure I get is specific and weird. What's the golden foot worth? Is it magic? What happens when Hegdus the dwarf puts it on his orc-induced leg stump?

This has been long and rambly, but there's a few key points here that I think are super important.
  1. Steal ideas from your surroundings. If you can picture it, you can describe it so that other people can.
  2. Make things interesting and specific in a way that draws people in. Don't get over-long unless people ask for details, because the exact dimensions of the golden foot don't matter until Hegdus has it stuck on his leg and it's become self-aware.

New Post-Apocalypse Game!

This is the little piece of pre-writing I did for a game I'm going to try and run in the next couple months: "The year is 1997. ...