Thursday, 2 July 2015

Athanasius Kircher and quick setting design

On my last trip to London, I picked up a copy of a book on Athanasius Kircher from a discount bookshop for £1. It is engagingly bonkers -- I use that phrase a lot -- and I am very happy about that expenditure. Mostly that is because I like cool engravings and texts written by wacky Theosophists and 

One of the things that my campaign has so far lacked is a proper megadungeon, but after seeing Kircher's Egyptian labyrinth from Turris Babel, I am inspired. 

Now I just have to figure out some place to put it.

So, the labyrinth is themed around the 12 nomes of  Kircher's more-or-less imaginary Egypt (I have written in passing about bullshit Hermetic Egypt) and their patron deities, so each of those different sections has a different gimmick. I would probably deregularise some of the sections -- or maybe just add some later layers, like have something happen to the labyrinth that fucks up or rearranges the terrain or introduces some new element into it.

Anyway, my plan for a Kircher-themed megadungeon isn't really the point. What struck me about this one was how thematic and cool it already was, simply because we all have a certain set of expectations about Egypt -- mysterious animal-headed gods, mummies, cobras, mystical secrets. From the perspective of an Egyptologist, this is frustrating, but from the perspective of a hurried GM it's fantastic.

The really great thing about having some Egyptian deities or what have you in your game is that they don't mean only one thing. They're freighted with meaning, but they're not confined by it. And that means they provide lots of cross-cutting inspiration and they blend well with other things. Thor will blend well with other things in a way that Corellon Larethian never will; he goes from mythic adventure to sci-fi bizarro shit and yet still retains the impact of "Thor." You don't have to know a lot about Norse mythology for Thor to have some impact. In fact, it sort of helps if you don't.

That, I think, is why the basic concept behind Red and Pleasant Land works so well -- it mashes up Dracula, Alice in Wonderland, basic D&D tropes and even King Arthur, and because these things are so squishy and messy and have been reinterpreted so many times they work. 

Now, as better minds than I have observed, the best way to do that is to set your game in the real world, where everything has that murky, mushy character, but some people find that constraining. I'm about 50/50 on that one, but I recognise it as a flaw in my own thinking. 


  1. I read 'Turris Babe!' which didn't sound as authentic.

  2. That's the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in Santa Clara, CA in your second photo, by the way.

    1. I know -- I took the photo myself (although the museum is in San Jose, not Santa Clara). It's from my post (well, series of posts) about the museum on my other blog:

      It's among the posts linked above.

    2. Also, now I'm reading your series of posts on the history of gaming in California with fascination! I grew up in the Bay Area, although I live in the UK now.