Monday, March 3, 2014

Working Vacations

Sometimes you find inspiration in the weirdest of places.

Okay, maybe not “weird”.  Let me explain; I’m currently steaming north westward in the middle of the ocean on the last day of a much needed vacation, and all I can think about right now is putting some of my thoughts and observations down for the blog. Don’t worry; I’ve been doing everything but this before now.  Dammit, I’m on a cruise ship with my wife, writing for this blog hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind until my last day at sea.

Sometimes it’s hard for a GM to be inspired.  Sometimes a GM finds inspiration when he’s not looking for it.  But you can find ideas for your game everywhere and anywhere if you want to find them.  Whenever I go away on vacation, I look for and try to find at least one thing in every location that I can build on for a game.  It could be a location, a particular photograph, an interesting tale; something that I can work into a game and give it a unique texture and feel.  I’m currently on a cruise hitting three island nations; Cayman, Jamaica, and Haiti.  With two additional days purely at sea, Even if I only come up with one thing for each day, that’s five potential subjects for my games.

Sometimes, I found more than one.

I don't know why this picture was hanging in one of the stairwell landings, but it was...

Day One: Boarding

Even something as banal and benign as boarding your ship can give you ideas for your game.  In this case, it’s the layout of the pre-boarding process with their security checkpoints and general lay-out for boarding the cruise ship.  Lots of good ideas on how security on a station or in a starport could work, or to give me interesting complications for my players to encounter if they suddenly find themselves in conflict within such a location.  Imagine the players chasing someone through a starport when the target crashes into a throng of several hundred people, waiting in line to have their boarding passes processed at one of fifteen kiosks.  Or a gun-battle erupts amidst the throng of people waiting to get on-board their pleasure cruiser.  Or a drunken, unruly passenger crosses paths with the PC and punches them, their significant other, and/or a photographer who just wanted to take a picture to commemorate their trip and is wheeled off by security even before the cruise gets underway…

Not that this happened…okay, it did and I’m really glad such a penultimate example of an aggressive drunk never made it only my cruise.  But that’s what I’m talking about; inspiration.  Drunken McAngrydrunk who’s had three too many beers and has decided that your PC who just rolled a Despair looked at his girlfriend wrong, and determines that the correct course of action is to punch your PC in the face is one heck of a complication to the chase scene through the starport.

Day Two: At Sea

Gotta admit; I didn’t really come up with much of anything here.  I’m sure I could find some person to mold an NPC after, but honestly for my first full day of vacation all I wanted to do was sit and let the brain go into idle-mode.  Can you blame me?

EDIT: Check that, I just remembered something while writing about Day Three below.  There’s a Game Room on-board and like any child of the 80s I went and played a bit.  The game Afterburner Climax has a zone called “Volcanic Islands” where you battle in the skies over a series of volcanoes, erupting into the air.  If that’s not an exciting backdrop for a speeder chase or a dogfight, you need to get your pulse checked.

Day Three: Cayman Islands

Ah, the Cayman Islands.  Fun Fact; 40 of the world’s 50 largest banks have branches in the Cayman Islands.  The tiny island is flat.  Very flat.  I could see completely across it from the upper decks of the ship, which also should give you an idea how small the island is.  Real Estate in this paradise is $4,000 per square foot.  It’s “Seven Mile Beach” is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.  Yet as we traveled from one location to another on the island, we pass homes and sometimes hovels for the natives of the island, just trying to get by on what scraps the rich, elite, and the not-always-rich-or-elite tourists would leave them.  Cayman gave me the idea and feel of how an Outer Rim town feels; hints and images of galactic civilization mixed in with sub-standard construction methods, massive dichotomy between rich and poor, and populated by people doing everything to just survive no matter what social strata they fall into.

Devil's Rock, Hell, Cayman Islands

I went to two places of note on Cayman; Hell and the Turtle Farm.  In the Cayman Islands is a stretch known as “The Devil’s Rock” in a town called Hell (and yes, they sell postcards saying “I went to Hell!” and other such things).  It’s an area of the island where the Cayman’s volcanic origins can be seen.  The area has these vast fields of jagged, volcanic formed rock deposits.  Now, these deposits and strata only come up to your knees, or maybe your chest in some areas, but if I enlarge the size of these formations I suddenly have a maze of canyons and caves that complicate a scene, and provides shelter, hazards, and resources to use in a game.  PCs find themselves in a blasted canyon, surrounded by lava-formed spires.  Having just escaped a secret Imperial facility they run through the maze-like formation desperately trying to return to the crater where their ship was stored while being chased by stormtroopers on foot, scout troopers on speeder bikes, and TIEs or airspeeders flying recon and cover from above.  Perhaps it’s a long trek back to the ship, and they need to find cover in the upper-levels of the formations in shallow caves because at night the rains come and flood the canyon in rushing white-water.

"Will look cute for NOMS!"

The second area I went was the Cayman Island Turtle Farm; a place where they breed giant sea turtles.  I love turtles.  I have a turtle (who’s old enough to buy alcohol and may have to be willed to a descendant).  These beasties were adorable.  Giant monsters of the sea swimming around and growing to be breeders, released into the oceans, or as food for the locals.  Swimming over each other for turtle-chow provided by the tourists.  I know I can come up with ideas for a location or scene from this; a similar facility for some critter on some planet, but honestly I just want an excuse to put sea turtles in my blog.

"If we can figure out this 'stairs' thing, we're golden..."

Day Four: Jamaica


Ship pulls into port and "BOOM!", instant skyline!

I didn’t really do much in Jamaica.  We docked right at the shopping district, and while excursions went out to various adventure zones and sight-seeing locations I really didn’t have the cash to do any of that.  

I did discover that there’s a figure more revered than Jesus in Jamaica, and that’s Bob Marley.  He was everywhere, and on everything.  I kinda wonder how he would feel about all this, to be up there with the commercialized images of Che Guevara, Elvis, and Jesus.  As recognized as Coca-Cola and as loved as the Pope.  

Bob Marley’s got a weird following, man.   It’s surreal.

As I mentioned, I didn’t have the cash or interest really to go on any shore excursions in Jamaica, so I went to the Diamond’s International building to abuse their free wifi and apparently open bar.  That is where I met Anthony.  

Anthony is a 6’2” Jamaican, possibly 150 pounds with giant hands, a strong grip, and a boat-load of charisma and charm.  Dark skin, a broad nose, and teeth that are cared for as best as possible in a region where kids grow up without much dental coverage.  Anthony is a mixologist; the third best on the island (according to him).  In a mixology competition of 120 bartenders, the only two people to beat him; the one that could juggle four bottles at once while pouring the perfect mixed drink without spilling a drop won first place, and the one that could do the same with three bottles won second.  Anthony could only juggle two bottles while mixing the perfect drink, but he still beat out 117 others to “stand on the podium with a bronze”.  

He was hired by Diamonds International to keep their guests happy and well intoxicated, presumably keeping the husbands upstairs drunk with the free wifi and open bar while the wives run up the credit cards in the rest of the establishment (or vice-versa, it’s a world of attempted equality).  Anthony mixes drinks, has manly talks with the folks who come into his area, and has a tip jar that is for “respect”.  Whatever you get is free of charge.  He simply instructs you to tip what you feel his service is worth.  He’ll serve you water, a Coke, a Red Stripe, or a delightful rum-and-coke (“Jamaican style or American style?” “…American, I eventually have to walk again.”)  His favorite concoction is Absolut Apple, coconut rum, and a dash of peach schnapps over ice where you sip it, then just before or after you swallow inhale the fumes rising off your tongue.  Gets you buzzed nice and fast, and goes down SMOOTH for something composed entirely of alcohol and ice.

"Gungan Smuggler" by StuCunningham
Anthony has been doing this job for ten years, and he loves it.  “Where else can you come ta work, meet people from all over da world, and drink?  I get to make people happy.  It da best job in da world, mon, and I would not trade fo’ any-ting.”  He hasn’t had a vacation in as long as he can remember (“What do ya do when you take a vacation from a job like dis?”).   If he does go on one he might like to try skiing, but he hates being cold (So basically, he’s screwed).  He flirts with his co-workers.  He street races on Sundays.  And more than anything in the world, he dreams of the day when someone walks into his bar and makes the pronouncement “Anthony, I want to get DRUNK.”  He lives for the day when someone walks up to his bar and says that they want to drink until they have to be carried out of there.  It will make him the happiest mixologist on the island.

If that doesn’t scream “Flavorful NPC” or “PC Backstory” to you…well, turn in your dice now and go back to playing MMOs.  

I could do the stereotype and make such a character Gungan, or maybe Duros, or Neimoidian, or keep them human.  Lose the accent.  Keep the accent.  Whichever!  See?  Inspiration wherever you go, and from whoever you meet.

It’s all good, mon.

Day Five: Labadie, Haiti

More volcanic rocks...
The private enclave for Royal Caribbean, Labadie is isolated from much of Haiti.  Few excursions leave the area.  The resort-port is walled off, with armed boats patrolling just outside of view of most beach-goers to keep natives from approaching the beach to sell wares or to try and sneak onto the cruise-ship. 

But aside from that, the place was a paradise!

Joking aside, I did get a few ideas from Labadie.  The first is some of the views and terrain.  Unlike the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Hispaniola has many mountains, and also has the similar volcanic rock formations as Hell.  More fuel for my maze-chase scene.  You know what else is fuel for games?  The attractions.  Labadie has a 2000+ foot zip-line called The Dragon’s Breath that drops you 300 feet and goes out over the swimmer’s lagoon.  It’s the longest zip-line in the world to go over open water (my brother rode the longest one, currently.  Alaska.  Just about a mile long).  Riding this line was craaaaaazzy fun, and the view was unbelievable.  Couple that with the Dragon Coaster, an alpine one-or-two person coaster ride on a track that zips you back and forth through the jungle canopy.  You control the break, and the speed.  Supposedly you can ride it without needing to use the break, but wow is it a rough ride and one that really makes you question “how well are the safety systems on this thing?”  I used the brakes, not only because I didn’t want to see if I could fly off the track car-and-all but because the view from the coaster is almost as good as the one from the zip-line.
"Zip-line" indeed...

Now; imagine using these in a game.  The heroes need to infiltrate a secure base, and there are communication lines running from within their compound up to a relay station on a hill.  Or while escaping a mining camp there are several carts that carry workers from the mine entrance at the top of a mountain to the base camp below.  Carts that are gravity driven with only a brake and a prayer to the Force to keep folks on the track.

Yeah.  That’ll do.  That’ll do nicely.

Day Six and Beyond

I won’t do another talk about ideas gained at sea (partially because this post is kinda long already), but I will say this; game ideas come from anywhere.  As I write this, I find out that there’s trouble in the Ukraine, and that all the good-will from the Sochi Olympics is dissolving into a return to Cold War feelings.  That California, which suffered weeks of drought, now has so much rain it can’t handle the floods and mudslides.  They’re evening forecasting tornadoes in the Golden State.  The news is another good source of ideas for your games.  I’ve got a post-it note on my monitor to have a raging brushfire in one of my game sessions at some point; a reminder of how dangerous nature can be as part of a story or as the main antagonist.
Photo: Nicole Benavides
So yeah, get out there and get inspiration for your games wherever you go.

Oh, and if you ever do find yourself Falmouth, Jamaica, go upstairs at Diamonds International and ask for Anthony. 

Tell him you want to GET DRUNK. 

You will see the happiest Jamaican on the island, mon.

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