Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The World of Darkness... The Fantasy Age

Maybe it's just me....Yeah, it's probably just me...But once you get into the World of Darkness like I did, it just falls out that you start to see things differently. I can see the kind of down at the heels world that they (WWGS, I mean.) envision and I'm not heartened by the utter knowledge that it would take very little for this very real world of ours to toddle down that primrose path to Hell.

It kind of ruins me on other types of games. Call me a pessimist but I find it hard to play Space opera style, Four color super hero style games or even any type of fantasy games any more. There's something too "shiny happy people" about it. Even when the peasantry is being gobbled by the local dragon, well it's not like anybody important is dying. It's one of the reasons why I got out of fantasy games. Another reason is after you read a Jesus-load of fantasy novels and supplements you start to see the same things over and over.

( I could go on a separate rant here about that but I'll try to contain myself. How many times does David Eddings have to tell the same story? How many Conan novels does there have to be before there is enough?)

So, in the interest of more interesting games, I'm going to nail together a couple of things that have never been nailed together before. Darkness and Fantasy. (Actually they have, but I'm hoping I'll inspire some new stuff for it.) Take the WOD aesthetic and shove it into a fantasy world and see what horrors crawl out.

Drugs and Alcohol
One of the things that we can do is dispense with the notion that things in the old days were a lot more uncomplicated than they are today. That's crap. Leaving aside plot moving elements like exotic drugs that the rich develop expensive tastes for, What about all those pub and inns that are a staple of fantasy novels? It always seems that people in fantasy stories never develop drinking problems. Nor have I ever seen a character in books or games that ever played a mean drunk. What about the fairly serious elements of slowly destroying your nervous system, a bad case of Delirium Tremens, and Liver disease? You know it is possible to drink yourself to death. I defy you to find a game system that has a chart for that!

Addiction is a very serious problem and it can affect anybody at any time. It can lead to all sorts of serious unpleasantness. Once you've run through your personal fortune you might have to take to stealing to afford your fix. In America in the 1800's, they treated heroin, laudanum, and opium like us present-day folk treat aspirin. Who's to say that the patent medicine man traveling through your area isn't carrying such pernicious nostrums. Maybe he can talk a few of the townsfolk into shelling out a bit coin now to avoid a trip to the cleric later.

O.K. Maybe it's not you who's got the problem but maybe it's one of your NPC's with a secret drinking problem. Maybe he's wobbly on his feet one morning too many and somebody gets hurt because he was too slow. How are you going to deal with this problem? Especially if the NPC is a close friend.

Heck, even that pipe that the wizard is so fond of smoking is a crutch and a doorway to lung cancer. But why stop there? What about the student wizard who is haplessly hooked on stimulants to keep himself sharp for study? What about the holy man who is regularly tore up on some sort of hallucinogenic trip? Are there such things as Date-Rape drugs in the Dark Fantastic world?

You find out exactly how much people hate clerics and priest in times of plague. Invariably when a plague descends on the land it stretches the resources of even the most populoused and devout order of clerics. Naturally, people of means will find it easier to get treated and cured and the poor will find that exhortations of faith ring hollow in their ears when the clerics can't seem to get around to them. Crop blight and livestock plagues are almost as bad. Druids try to stay proactive on that sort of thing but even so. Mistakes can happen.

Plagues strike at the very fabric of society. Any person you meet is liable to be dying or a carrier of some horrific and terminal illness. Along with the horror of dealing with people dying in the streets you have to deal with the rising paranoia and hysteria, which if left unchecked will manifest in riots and large scale fires. No one mage or cleric can put these things right easily. It's not even as simple as paying a call on the local goddess of pestilence and laying some Smite on her ass. Plagues are a fearsomely natural phenomenon and they need to be addressed by the community as a whole to be overcome.

Except of course when they're not. In our own real world, there was serious foot dragging to cure Aids. It might just be because certain people think it's more politically expedient to allow it to run unchecked and wipe out people who aren't a part of their own group.(After all, homosexuals and drug users seldom vote Republican do they?) Hey, suppose that the Dwarvish community to the north is dealing with a serious plague that doesn't seem to affect the humans. Do the human politicians extend aid or do they allow it to decimate the dwarves so they can take over the land and the mines which they covet ?

Yeah. That's what I thought too.

Sex industry
People would like to think that porn and various forms of kink are a new invention of this modern age. Once again I'll have to say "Crap!" As a matter of fact, Erotica is almost as old as written language. It's a very real demand and for every real demand there is an industry to service it. It's a grungy sort of business but it exists. Granted, Strip bars and porno shops are hardly a common occurrence in the fantasy world. But every kind of kink that exists today existed back in those days.(which might lead to clubs and secret societies which had a very exclusive clientele) Prostitution was far more widespread and was hardly a high class profession. (I'm sure there were courtesans and such but they were for the nobility.) Here's another thing to worry about; Disease control wasn't exactly an exact science so maybe you'll catch something from that tavern wench...Something nasty. You might be better off following the shepherd's example and shagging the sheep. And then again you might not.

There's all sorts of nastiness that is bound up with the human desire for sex. Why not play a game where the players need to deal decisively with a serial rapist or even recycle Jack the Ripper from history and transplant him to the Forgotten Realm's Waterdeep. What is the party thief going to do when he discovers that the Thieves guild that he's a member of is involved with most if not all of the utter sleazery in town. (He might not get weirded out over the prostitution but he might go nuts when hears that they also run a sex slave ring that includes children.)

Oh, and if you think lesbians and gays have it tough now..

Wars and racism
Look at history and you will begin to see a pattern of human behavior. There is not a single war or similar atrocity that cannot be chalked up to human selfishness. In nearly every case it always came down to money,power, or real estate. You see wars being fought all the time in fantasy novels over such abstractions as right and wrong but it just never happens in the real world.

Let me s'plain what I mean. The Jews have had it rough in history. Being a traditionally fiscally responsible people they tend not to get along so good with their not so responsible neighbors. Add in the fact that they are ethnic, have strange customs, and supposedly killed Christ and you develop serious problems that have haunted the Jews for ages. Philip of Spain started the Spanish inquisition because he was in debt to Jewish bankers. ( He also destroyed the Templars for the same reason) and the cycle of history went on to repeat itself again in postwar Germany. The Weimar republic had collapsed, the German economy was in ruins, Socialist political groups were agitating for a bigger slice of the pie...Only trouble was, Who to take it from? Once again the Jews are made to suffer out of base greed. (racialist fear and hatred being incidental really.)

Now, you take the above paragraph and substitute the word "Dwarves" for "Jews." and you have the basis for a real interesting story.

Wars are not glamorous. They are long, tedious, affairs that show off all the worst in humanity. They may light up the sky a bit and be pretty from a distance but they also end lives and destroy families. Real Heroism in a war is impractical and liable to get you killed. People die not only from combat but also from conditions from exposure to malaria. Taking sword to enemies might have some glory in it, but nobody really wants to deal with a person who's been maimed by the magickal equivalent of a land mine. There is a sort of unspoken shame attached to it. The message the veteran receives upon return is " We're glad of your sacrifice but it makes us uncomfortable so it would have been better if you'd died."

You don't see too many fantasy wars with much in the way of real serious aftermath like say...Vietnam.

Here's something you virtually never see in a Fantasy world setting. Madness that is portrayed as being particularly accurate. You might get hints that a villain is particularly bent in some way but never enough to actually come out and call him a psychopath or a sociopath. Might it not be a cool game for players to be hired as helpers to the city watch while they search for a serial killer who has managed to elude them so far.

Madmen are usually portrayed as slightly bent but usually amusing types who are clearly out of their heads but not threatening in any way. This flies in the face of my experience of dealing with actually crazy people. Most of them seemed lucid most of the time...And I never ever thought, once I knew their true nature, that a single one of them couldn't be dangerous. Maybe there's a reason why they leave that old hermit on the mountain alone. Factor the possibility that he could have that crazy person strength or even some magickal ability and you've got big trouble if you don't approach him right.

* * *
With all this going on in the world of human beings, is it any wonder why the monsters are constantly trying to kill us? Heck, to the "Monsters" we're far more monstrous than they could ever be.

Sono Finito


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