Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Inspiration is everywhere: Day 1

Inspired by James Olchak, who has been designing Pathfinder (or similar d20 system) monsters based on old episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I have decided to look around me to find inspiration for game material. Thus, each day for a bit I'm going to be looking around my house to see what sort of gaming inspiration I can find. 

I begin with one of the bookcases in the living room: 

My actual gaming books are behind the couch there, but above them are comics, comic history, occultism, science fiction scholarship and ... er ... "other."

I picked a book at random off the shelf and came up with: 

I don't know if you've read a lot of Silver Age Lois Lane and/or Jimmy Olsen stories, but they are absolutely demented. They're full of bizarre inventions, mean-spirited pranks, and Superman using her powers to teach Jimmy complicated lessons. Also the stories are typically only 8 pages long, so if you're looking to swipe individual ideas they're pretty good. And they're full of panels like this one: 

So here is a page of notes I jotted after just reading the first half or so of this phone book. 

  • Superman shouts loud enough to shatter a glacier. 
  • A gangster is called "Lab" Logan (another is called "Swag" Swanson). 
  • A wealthy person will go to any lengths to protect a dog "worth a million dollars."
  • A "glowing space-jewel" reverses people's attitudes, making Jimmy hate Superman. 
  • "The Dutch Devil," a wrestler. 
  • A doltish strongman interprets any positive treatment as an expression of love. 
  • A remote tribe identifies Lois as their queen because of her costume party outfit. 
  • Roughly 5% of the population looks exactly like Lois, Clark or Jimmy. 
  • Some jagoff pays a debt -- an enormous amount of gold -- in a single giant gold block. 
  • The most beautiful maiden in the land will only wed the man who impresses her with his outlandish boasting. 
  • An eccentric professor advertises for volunteers to test his device. 
  • A painting in an art gallery resembles a character. 
OK, let's zoom in on that last one. The story in question is "Lois Lane's Romeo!" from Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #10, by an unknown writer and artist Kurt Schaffenberger. The plot is dizzyingly complicated for an 8-page story. Here goes: 

  • Lois catches the bride's bouquet at a friend's wedding, but is sad because Superman will never marry her. 
  • She is assigned to cover a film festival in Rome with Clark, at which Superman will be guest of honour.
  • Glamorous actress Gina Loretti is hosting. Lois gets jealous and doesn't go, instead sitting around the Trevi fountain with her tour guide Julio and looking at her own sad reflection in the water. It is the least crowded the Trevi has ever been. 
  • Shortly after, she sees her own face in a painting in the window of an art gallery. She buys the picture and goes to meet the artist, led by Julio. 
  • The artist exclaims that Lois is his dream girl, about whom he has been dreaming every night for years. 
  • Lois and Dino (the artist) tour Italy as part of their whirlwind romance, with Superman following them. 
  • Superman de-straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa after an earthquake has straightened it, fights a lion and (as Clark) dresses up as a Roman. 
  • Lois passes by the art gallery and sees Julio giving the same spiel about an uncanny portrait to a completely different woman. 
  • It turns out Dino and Julio are ginning up fake portraits of women coming off the plane, then running a scam on them until they find a rich one. Once they identify a rich girl, Dino will marry her to get her money and an American passport. 
  • The other woman turns out to be Gina Loretti in disguise, because Clark set the whole thing up, having smelled fresh paint in Dino's studio using his super sense of smell. 
  • Superman paints a portrait. 
And the bottom of the last page is ad space, too, so that is 7.5 pages. Things were different in the Silver Age. 

I think the core of the story in terms of what's worth swiping for a game is the art forgery thing. The hook of a PC turning up to a new location only to see their face in a painting is a good one. 

This has value in a fantasy setting (although a civilised one that has famous painters and so on would be best), especially because you can use it to play on the stereotype of the fantasy quest and the chosen one. "Oh, our temple paintings say that you are the one who will slay the Beast of Uzod Kroll," say the natives, who are 100% too chickenshit to do it themselves. If you don't want to convey to the players that following quests is for suckers, you could also have someone else be the mark; a dependent, or someone the players are supposed to protect. A patron could even be motivated to hire the PCs to do something dopey because this shyster is taking advantage of them via the old art switcheroo. 

In a modern game, it's probably more likely that some of the PCs will have the skills necessary to examine an art forgery, so the scam works a little better when the painting is somehow inaccessible, like in a museum, which in turn poses its own problems. In a game like Call of Cthulhu the painting should have an added sinister element -- say, the PC sees himself being murdered. 

In fact, you could set up a phony psychic angle, a la Heroes. The painter tells the person that they just paint their visions, thereby drawing them into some kind of scam where they can be robbed? 

I think the single shocking moment of seeing your own face in a painting is a good scenario hook. I'd use it in my D&D game except that I already have a mistaken-identity plot. 

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