|Mad, mad, mad, mad science-man by qione|
Human Slaves of An Insect Nation, Part 8-Bullshit Science and you!
Quick, what do the following types of sorcery have in common?
Clap-hands-twice-and-shit-appears (AKA Fullmetal) Alchemy?
SPOILER: They’re all full of shit.
|Trust me on this, I suck at math, see.|
The science of upholding the suspension of disbelief is a delicate one, which requires careful consideration of the presentation of a game. The suspension of disbelief is what enables the presence of magic, super-technology, superpowers or even just random horrible shit that might take place in a game that may or may not violate every law of physics fitting the purview of your (or your physics-nerd friend’s) knowledge.
|It’s a city. It floats in the middle of nothing and is supported bynothing. Also, nothing about its architecture makes a lick of sense. No Dave,you can’t question its logic. BECAUSE IT’S MAGIC, DUDE!|
We’re not talking about realism here, of course. We’re not referring to cross-referencing magic with theoretical physics and the laws of the Universe weep halfway through every session (and let’s not go into gun-nut territory, where I have actually seen a guy slap another dude across the table for not getting how sniper rifles work).
|“No, they DO NOT have infinite range!”|
Bullshit science is, instead, the art of making impossible things appear sensical within context, thus giving them that extra oomph to help your players immerse themselves further in the setting.
Unless they don’t because they came here to roll dice and chew bubblegum and they’ve been chewing dice instead of bubblegum.
Keep in mind that Bullshit Science is more a matter of flavor than mechanics. What you are trying to do is looking for a way to embellish your existing magical system and to provide your setting with a teensy bit of philosophical and historical (or cultural) depth, instead of making up new shit as you go. At no point should this type of fluff contrast with your crunch and there is no reason why your players should interpret your narration for an actual ruleset (which we all know probably sucks since you pulled it out of your ass last night).
Unless you’re running a Mage the Ascension campaign, wherein pulling stuff out of your rectum is not only a given, it’s also pretty much the only way you can get shit done.
With that in mind, let’s move on to…
THE SHAPESCAPES GUIDE TOWARD MAKING SHIT UP AND MAKING IT LOOK GOOD
|It’s a member of the genus chronometazoid polytronus. They taste like chicken and enable time travel.|
Step One: History’s filled with plenty of ready-made bullshit.
From the theory of Phlogiston (the made-up element that enables ignition of materials but does not work on liquids or maybe it does and disappears as impossibly as it appears), Orgone Radiation (the secret power that fuels the universe and is generated via masturbating in special metal boxes), 15th century Alchemical beliefs and the Druidic faith are but a tiny example of the many crackpot theories mankind busied itself with, in the time before Science.
We used to believe in a lot of shit that many exceedingly bright individuals spent their entire lifetimes trying to prove, giving us a metric fuckton of material ready for use. A proper and very useful example should be something in the lines of, say, Aleister Crowley’s Demonology.
The book written by the man who proved that Sex with prostitutes + Idiots =Magic (and possibly syphilis).
It is a book that sought to quantify and map the social hierarchy of Hell, as well as the exact number of its denizens and the pyramid structure of its workings. From Satan to the lowliest duke-sergeant, the whole gang of unspeakable assholes is listed (power and rank included).
Not feeling like you need to read into the horseshit written by a syphilitic fat guy? Then why not go Oriental and look into Hindu Cosmology and Sorcery. Feeling the burning need to make magic look like a horrible ordeal? The Aztecs are your go-to guys.
Mythologies and ancient belief systems are rife with ideas that you can borrow to generate a magical background that has much more than plain old flair: it will have pizzazz, razamatazz and, above all, character.
Quoting obscure mythological sources during the game will also help you get laid (WARNING: may not help you get laid if you have the personality of a cardboard cat)
Shamanistic magic is a bloody, visceral ordeal. Egyptians are into goth shit. I can go on and on before I start listing specifics on flavoring your magic fluff with the magical properties of precious stones, that is.
The Internet is chock-full of ready-made shit, which brings me to…
Step Two: Not all of it is necessary all the time.
By using historical superstistion, you save yourself a whole lot of trouble, but you should be aware that not all of it is entirely necessary. Like I said in Part 7, your players don’t need the infodump (and come to think of it, you don’t either).
The idea of re-working a Tibetan Sky Burial into a Wind-Devil binding ritual is that you are going to turn a series of rolls into something much greater: you are going to make it into a pretty cool scene that the players will talk over drinks after the game is over or brag about to their friends later.
|i.e: turn this “Did I beat its Willpower test yet?”|
Into: “YIELD, THOK-TAR! THE WIELDER OF THE WAND OF ROMOON-KA COMPLES THEE!”
Retailing existing lore can make everything fucking METAL, but if everything is metal the entire time, then nothing is. Building narrative spectacle takes into consideration that most times, things will be boring and linear and that’s a good thing.
Because it will make your next epic scene look all the cooler.
But there’s than just ritual and special effects to magic. I mean, where the hell would fantasy as a genre be without its impossible beasties and crawlies? Thus, we get to…
Step Three: Monsters Need Love, Too.
A dragon is more than just a dragon. It’s an elemental artillery tank with goddamn wings that give it virtual anti-gravitic flight capabilities. Undead beings are more than just shambling mounds of flesh and bone. They are dead flesh, animated by power that is the direct opposite of life itself. Golems aren’t just robots, only magic. They can be the results of failed magical experiments or impossibly patient hitmen, set to perform a task a thousand years after their creation date.
Monsters, for all their complexity, power and splendor can get boring. Even worse, they might get predictable (not so much to your players, but to you, above all). Dungeons and Dragons is a game that offers a truckload of monsters, but they didn’t start adding any variety until they went the extra mile and started explaining their habitats and cultures.
Of course, you don’t need essays that go on and on forever about Illithid cultures or explain the exact digestive cycles of Otyughs, but you can do the next best (and not boring) thing:
Make something look entirely different than it actually is.
Take for example, the humble, yet vomit-inducing Urgulstasta:
Motherfucker belongs on a Cannibal Corpse album cover.
The Urgulstrasta is in itself a pretty horrifying beastie, but it’s not exactly player-memorable. I mean, after they’re gone through fighting amorphous gibbering masses of ever-shifting flesh and living spells, they can’t exactly go back to giving a shit about worms, can they?
Unless you try something like this:
They’re screaming your name while you sleep.
The Urgulstrasta is supposed to be a necromantic automaton, created by the knitted flesh of the dead, held together by sheer death-magic. But how about we take this further?
How about we say that the beast was created in the times before history, in the years of pagan ritual and darkness, when man would shun the weak and the sick and the elderly to die in the millennium-long cold that blanketed the planet?
And those disenfranchised and suffering masses, they huddled together for warmth, impotent against the cold and the dark and the wildebeasts. They slept atop each other, the weakest pushed to the edges, the strongest dwelling in the center. So effective and useful was this method of survival that soon the massed men, women and children began to get tangled; their limbs twining, their spines and hair coming together until they became a great mass that moved in unison, each of its actions dictated by its one mind.
Their hiveminds a thing wholly alien (but above all, intelligent), the Ulgurstatas soon became the predators of the Ice Age, pushed into the Dark Below, lingering there and waiting and plotting, seeking to lure more hapless victims into their mass, into their eternal warmth…
Now wasn’t that interesting?
Giving monsters a brand new look and lore, you can turn them into points of interest or even adventures themselves. Changing up their immunities, capabilities and even some tiny changes in the way their special attacks work, also goes a long way.
Enter, for example, the Wyrd:
|Natives of the Nightmare Realm|
The Wyrd were a low-level antagonist I had introduced in a D&D campaign ages ago. They weren’t exceedingly tough, or powerful or even all that smart. But you know what made them such insufferable, hated (and above all feared) cunts?
They were invincible when exposed to moonlight.
These scrawny, spindly bastards who harvested the dreams of children and ate the hearts of adults that you could just smash into bits with a good swing of a baseball bat were tougher than goddamn Superman under a full moon. Now, I want you to imagine your players’ faces when they go the distance in researching the fuckers and then bust their asses looking for a way to lure them out on a starless night so they can kill every fucking last one of them.
Let me tell you, it’s the gift that keeps on giving…
But roleplaying games aren’t all about magic and monsters stomping shit into fine powder. Sometimes, they’re about science. Which brings us to…
Step Four: The Science of Sounding Scientific
It’s elementary, really: all you need to do is re-calibrate the flux of quasiputronic energy by manipulating the shape of the Tri-Capacitron via forceful application of goat’s blood into the mainframe and presto! You’ve just created life!
I suck at science. Perhaps you don’t, which is why this part of the article isn’t for you. But sometimes, just sometimes, games require some grasp of scientific knowledge that may go beyond a simple Wikipedia search. So how do you resolve this?
Well, I do it by not getting into detail, thus avoiding embarrassing myself any further. But when I just can’t fucking avoid it, then…
|I bust a move like a snake-oil salesman in need of a new kidney.|
Unless you are going for a downright serious hard science fiction setting, then your…’sciences’ can be a bit rubbery. Maybe you don’t have a full grasp of how gravity works. Wing it. Perhaps you fucked up in front of the party biologist and made a virus act like a bacteria. Wing it. Maybe you confused Venus for Mars. Granted, that’s pretty goddamn stupid on your part, but you know what?
Fucking wing it.
Rpgs aren’t there for you to flaunt your extensive knowledge on academia. They’re there for you to have fun and to mess up. Make up your own rules on instances of physics going awry and always be prepared for a flimsy explanation that will hold unless it finds itself under scrutiny.
This is, after all, the very way of thinking that made Dr. Who possible in the first place. And who the fuck are you to argue with Doctor Who?
“You looking to get yer teeth kicked in, ya little shite?”
And speaking of Doctor Who…
Step Five: Time Travel is never an option.
|To be honest, I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner.|
Do not attempt time travel in your campaign. Do not hint at it or allow your players to attempt it. Do not present it, speak of it or even imply it could be possible. Do not encourage or actively try to hinder a player for achieving it. If you are thinking how to implement it in your campaign even as you are reading this article, then smash the keyboard against your face until you have reconsidered.
TIME TRAVEL DOES NOT WORK IN TABLETOP ROLEPLAYING.
Wanna know why? Because by doing it, YOU ALLOW EVERY CHARACTER WITH ACCESS TO IT TO CHANGE EVERYTHING THAT’S TAKING PLACE AT ANY TIME EVERYWHERE.
In short, by allowing Time Travel, you are willingly shoving an unlubricated horse-dildo up your rectum while trying to keep a straight face.
With that out of the way…
Step Six: Dimensional and Outer Space Travel, however, is.
Gas giants, alternate histories, acidic deserts, war-worlds, cities made out of solid fire and wells filled with the very essence of unlife; oceans in eternal freefall, infinite vistas of suffering, cities of chrome and dust, toiling silently in the spaces between dimensions.
Players want to see weird shit, especially the weird shit that you made, so they can explore, map them and kill their inhabitants so they can take their stuff. Give them as much of those as you like and can take and they’re gonna love you for it.
Make them as mad (but at the same time as sane) as you can handle and they will worship you.
Build yourself a carnival of mad delights and let them run around in it. Give them a cosmology and a system of beliefs that simple for them to memorize, handle and consider special and the players will do your work for you.
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