Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Titanic, disasters and more

A hundred years ago, the Titanic sank and became one of our legends.

Gaming (like fiction generally) tends to go for the big dramatic story. The Titanic is told and retold while other disasters are forgotten, because of the hubris of the "unsinkable" ship and details like the lack of lifeboats and the bungling of class-based evacuations and the band playing on.

It's far enough into history that it's unlikely to offend anyone at the gaming table if you drop in on it during a time travel game. Doing that tonight might seem crass, but it's probably fair game in general.

(The more recent an event is, the more risky it is to include it on grounds of taste. A now-notorious example is Greg Stolze's "Fly To Heaven" for Unknown Armies, an adventure about terrorists taking over a commercial flight and aiming it at a landmark skyscraper, published in 1999. It's a fine one-shot game that few want to play any more.)

However, I note that Doctor Who has looked in on the Titanic several times, but Voyage Of The Damned dodged the original and went with a saveable commemorative voyage (like the one happening right now) complete with a villain who was more talkative than an iceberg. That's more the sort of thing the Doctor deals with, and that applies to PCs in general.

Escaping a disaster and saving people can make a worthwhile evening's play, but we'd generally rather be able to avert a disaster entirely and/or confront those responsible, who caused it due to malice rather than incompetence. Gaming isn't always a power fantasy, but being completely powerless in the face of unstoppable catastrophe rarely makes for a fun evening.

Speaking more generally, a ship (or plane, or train, or spaceship, or...) is a good enclosed location, putting a smallish number of people with little in common into a plot like a disaster, or a mystery, or a smallish freeform. Fully mappable, controllable cast of NPCs, likely to attract attention from hostiles, smugglers wanting to transport something, people fleeing the country (or city or planet) and those pursuing them, and going a bit too fast and/or through hostile environments to easily get off.

This is why there are Call Of Cthulhu adventures set on the Orient Express and the Mauretania, GURPS Horror shares Flight 13 with GURPS Space, Star Wars has Riders Of The Maelstrom attack a luxury space liner the Rebels are travelling on in secret...

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