Sunday, 25 January 2015


I have to mention the Loch Ness Monster when talking about games set in Scotland, don’t I?

There have been a few examples in popular culture, ranging from passing mentions to full-on appearances.

Doctor Who explained it via Zygons.

Primeval mentioned it but did an episode about a different legendary lake monster. (I put it in an adventure pitch to Cubicle 7. As well as giving it a guest spot in Hollow Earth Expedition.)

Buffy and Star Trek don’t appear to have had a go at it. Can this be right?

Glasgow in gaming

Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow is plenty to offer as a setting, with its share of hauntings (not least around the Necropolis) as well as a popular museum with a heavy side of Weird, and a storied history of industry and creativity.

As an Edinburgh native I must admit bias about Glasgow - mostly about having to go there to see lots of bands.

A follow-up observation

I’ve never set a game in Scotland in the long term. I’ve based the odd adventure here, often for conventions as they might have players visiting from elsewhere, but no series. I would generally set a real-world game in the US, somewhere else for specific history or ambience, or at least as far away as London. Modern action games need taller buildings than we have so you can leap from roof to roof and throw other people off them, and distance also lets me mess with geography without the players pointing out that the museum is five minutes walk away.

It might also make the fantastical elements stick out too much, I suspect. I know how weird Edinburgh can be, but it doesn’t seem all that weird on a daily basis.

(And in the classic World Of Darkness we also have no cities capable of supporting more than four vampires by Camarilla rules. LARPs routinely divide this by ten or so for obvious reasons. And for that matter, the local werewolves are the Black Spiral Dancers.)

A lot of my fantasy game ideas look like Scotland, though. When they don’t look like New Zealand, of course.

Do you set real-world games where you come from, or actively avoid it?

Scotland as a setting

In honour of Burns Night (because it was this or eat haggis, ha ha) what does Scotland have to recommend it as a location for a game? Plenty of history, for one thing. Much of it pretty weird.

When asked about Edinburgh for Chill, I came up with this guide to the city for horror and urban fantasy:

We’re contenders with York for most haunted city in Europe, starting with Edinburgh Castle and including Mary King’s Close (a 17th century alley/tenement which wasn’t actually walled up with plague victims still alive inside but that's how the story goes) and the Vaults, with no particular legends attached but lots of reports. We also have a big cemetery at the edge of the Old Town, which is best known for the story of a dog but is apparently a hotspot for poltergeist activity nowadays.

There are a few local monsters, though none call Edinburgh home by default.

Major Weir recently made the cover of the Fortean Times, a puritanical Covenanter who suddenly and spontaneously confessed to sorcery, backed up by his sister.  His house has been identified in the last year if you need a cursed location.

Body Snatchers
With Edinburgh a major centre of anatomical study and the dissection of bodies almost totally illegal, some enterprising citizens took to feeding the demand by stealing fresh corpses. The most famous examples, Burke and Hare, rarely bothered with the trouble of digging bodies up so they just killed people themselves. Dr. Knox’s house could be a site of “pilgrimage” for a mad scientist.

SAVE and other hunters
My first thought here would be the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University.

General lurking
The Vaults would make a good hiding place for physical monsters as well as ghosts, being large, centrally located and handy for grabbing tourists. The little-used areas around Waverley Station would be a good bet too. Things preferring open spaces might like the Meadows, or the park around Arthur’s Seat, as these are still near the human population and especially all those students heading home after late nights. Also near the university and Greyfriar’s is the National Museum of Scotland, home to a variety of artefacts if you need something cursed. (One example: tiny coffins.) Further out there’s a port, low ominous hills, disused churches from various smallish religions some of which are now clubs and some of which are still empty, and plenty of narrow alleys...

... And that’s just Edinburgh, for a specific genre.

Sword fight anatomy masterclass

Via sixty-fight supercut.

First, the bit where you walk around measuring each other up...

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Predictions and prophecies

To make that last alarming post more game-relevant, how do you use something like the Doomsday Clock in a game?

The threat of nuclear extinction and environmental collapse don’t inform every game, any more than every story made or set in the 80s had the Doomsday Clock on the news - while Watchmen did, because the countdown to a potential and seemingly inevitable apocalypse was a key part of the story and something the characters directly affected. It’s part of the ticking clock motif that runs through the story.

More generally, what about accurate predictions, or warnings meant to prevent some catastrophe? And this is before you get to magical predictions. One very useful trick here is to have more than one legitimate reading, in case the players smash one of them. (I stumbled on that by accident in The Watch House, when the same specifics could apply to Milli or Victoria.)

The Doomsday Clock

... has been moved forward. This is never good.

I try not to be preachy about real issues that concern me in games, but it can be hard to avoid at times.

While you’re here, do a little good.

Friday, 23 January 2015

A game set on a warship

Setting advice for a modern warship. Or a submarine, effectively... IN SPACE.

Another subgenre I’ve never tried (real-world military) and one I’ve just played a little (practical military SF) but which could be interesting. See also historical sailing, whether World War, Napoleonic or, this being RPGs, pirates.

Star Trek is mostly set on Starfleet ships, but those seem pretty casual and are definitely less cramped than modern subs. I’ve been in less roomy three-star hotels.

I included a bit of this (cramped minimal bunks, shift rotation, terrible food, playing cards as you wait to reach systems and fight) in my grimy military SF game The Stars On Fire, influenced by Battlestar Galactica 2004. Like the recent prison example, it let me build a smallish recurring cast... who might die at any time.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Other subgenres

Spurred on by the World Of Darkness prison thread, some other subgenres I’ve seen in the setting:

I was also involved in the New Bremen chat’s Central Hospital group, which is even more niche - World Of Darkness medical drama, with just a bit of medical horror now and then. Worrying injured PCs from other parts of the setting by shouting lots of ER style jargon while making rolls to perform CPR on them never got old. Neither did calling in security when a vampire tried to eat me.

Other locations that led to non-monster games included a police station, courts, a high school and City Hall. (One of the volunteer Storytellers had the first initials DA, and when I first saw him I assumed he was playing an NPC District Attorney.)

Adding monsters to just about any drama genre can create interesting results...

Prison in games

An RPGnet thread on setting a World Of Darkness game in prison.

Some games have small restrictive locations, but prison is a pretty extreme example. I’ve seen enough prison drama and genre stories to consider it.

There are prison adventures for a number of games where the PCs have to escape, which generally run like the captured-and-unarmed levels in action games or involve a lot of planning depending on the game in question. These prisons are usually hellholes with scary gangs, some mean or corrupt wardens, a good person somewhere in the chain of command, some dangerous passages one has to crawl through, a riot at a convenient or inconvenient moment, and so on. They tend to be more Prison Break than Porridge, if they’re not full-on Gladiator. Stealing a prosthetic leg as part of the plan is strictly optional.

Checklist and ideas from roleplayingtips.

Fantasy prison adventures including some specific examples. See also the first adventure for Cybergeneration, an Unknown Armies one-shot, a prison planet in the adventure in WEG’s Star Wars Rules Companion, how everyone starts in Fallen London...