Monday, September 26, 2011

Back on solid ground

Hullo all!  I have returned from my long vacation.  I want to thank everyone who checked out my auto-posts, and especially those who commented on them.  I got more traffic than I was expecting, considering that I was not around to promote them myself.

I'm going to give a brief recap of my awesome vacation here, but with a twist.  I'm going to offer up a few notes on some of the different places we went and things we did that could be inspirations for RPGs.

Our vacation was taking the Disney Magic cruise ship on its repositioning cruise from the Mediterranean back to its home port in Florida.  We flew out Wednesday night, got on the ship in Barcelona Saturday morning, and sailed for two weeks.  It was glorious.  Unlike our past several trips, I did not do a day-by-day recap of our adventures.  This was mostly because when we did this same trip last year, I noticed that the day-by-day was a little dull.  Given how smoothly everything went, this year's day-by-day was going to be even less interesting to read.  At some point, though, my wife will post our magnificent photos of the trip, and I'll come back and add the link here.

Barcelona - Barcelona is a beautiful city, full of gorgeous architecture.  If you're looking for a city for any setting after, say, 1900, you could do a lot worse.  It is also an interesting city to look at how it developed.  For centuries, it was basically a mid-sized fishing and shipping city.  In the early 20th century, there was a massive project to expand the city beyond its walls.  Entire neighborhoods were constructed, with the most famous architect of this revolution being Antoni Gaudi.  All of the rich moved into these new beautiful neighborhoods, leaving the seaside neighborhoods to become slums.  Barcelona gained a reputation as a city "with its back to the sea", certainly an unusual state for a port city.  However, when the city hosted the 1992 Olympic Games, it worked hard to clean up all of those highly visible slums.  As such, the area that is now most highly desirable is now again by the water.  There is a lot of really nifty food for thought when building a city for your campaign.

Gibraltar - We stopped at Gibraltar, and opted to do a tour of The Fortress.  As a note, this is not a building, per se.  Instead, in WWII, the British decided to undertake a massive project to protect the strategically vital point of Gibraltar from the Germans.  They expanded an existing set of tunnels within the Rock on a mind-boggling scale.  Currently, Gibraltar actually has more miles of road underground than above-ground.  These tunnels were designed to be a refuge from bombing runs, and included massive cannon that could hit any ship entering or leaving the Mediterranean.

The really amazing bit, though, was that the British seemed to feel that it was more-or-less inevitable that Gibraltar would fall.  After all, it was surrounded by Franco's Spain, and the Luftwaffe could easily lift off from Mussolini's Italy or Nazi-occupied southern France and northern Africa.  The British created a series of secret tunnels intertwined with the regular tunnels.  If it looked like the Rock was going to fall, a select group of volunteer soldiers were going to seal themselves up in these tunnels.  They had months worth of food and water stored in there, along with a bicycle-powered generator to keep the radio and similar critical equipment going (and provide much-needed exercise for the men).  These soldiers would spend months sealed up in these secret tunnels, spying on the Nazis that would be assumed to occupy the main tunnels.

I swear, WWII never actually happened.  There was just too much awesome packed into that time period to be real.

Madeira - Madeira is to Portugal as Hawaii is to the US.  It is a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic that is actually part of the country of Portugal.  It is a very popular tourist destination.  We didn't actually get off the ship here this year, but did last year.  I can tell you that the island is beautiful.  It features the impressive Cabo Girao, which has the distinction of being the tallest sea cliff in Europe, but only if you make a couple other specifications that I forget now.  (Yes, I made frequent "Cliffs of Insanity" references when we went to see it last year.)  It also, of course, is known for the famous Madeira wine.  That's, well, about it really.  Pretty as a postcard (due, in part, to some draconian requirements for house colors and styles), but not a lot of grist for the RPG mill.

Sea Days - In addition to a couple sea days at the beginning and end, there was a long stretch of five sea days in the middle of the cruise.  If you are looking to relax, there is simply nothing better.  The crew of the ship keep enough activities going that you can't get bored, but there is no pressure at all to do anything.

From an RPG standpoint, though, I considered how a cruise ship could be an interesting locale for an adventure.  Obviously, it would largely need to be a modern setting (or, with a bit of tweaking, a space setting).  If your PCs are passengers, it adds a lot of interesting elements.  If the adventure is some kind of zombie outbreak, the ship is basically a floating dungeon.  You can have a pirate attack, in which the PCs must make do with very limited weapons (I actually did this scenario once, and it was pretty cool).  If it is a mystery, you have the advantage of a very limited number of suspects, and the element of a hard time limit of when the ship makes port (think Murder on the Orient Express).  A cruise could be an excellent way for covert agents to meet for an extended period of time with a fairly large amount of privacy.

Of course, you also have the element that a lot of what goes on is out of the PCs control.  They can't operate the ship themselves.  It would require some pretty spectacular fast-talking or stealth to even gain access to the crew areas.  Weather is a major factor.  If you run a scenario like the ship falling through a wormhole, then the ship has a fairly limited set of supplies (few ships could manage to last more than a couple weeks, even with significant rationing of the food, due mostly to the fuel requirements for both the engines and the generators).

St. Maarten - We'd made it to the Caribbean, and to the rather unique island of St. Maarten.  This was our third trip to St. Maarten, so we didn't do much but wander through the shops in Phillipsburg.  We did discover one place I hadn't seen before.  I'm not sure what the actual name of the shop is, but you'd certainly find it by asking about That Yoda Guy.   The shop is run by a guy who did a lot of effects and make-up for the movies, including, obviously, Yoda.  As such, his shop contains a bunch of movie memorabilia, and a bunch of his original artwork.  It was neat, but not exactly awe-inspiring.  I was very disappointed, too, that he apparently did a lot of the work on the Kurgan from Highlander, but had no Highlander-related merchandise for sale.

One of the primary interests to St. Maarten from an RPG point of view is that it is that smallest landmass in the world to be split between two different countries.  Half the island is Dutch, and half is French.  And yet, the most common language is English, and the most common currency is the US dollar.  Traffic between the two halves is pretty frequent.  I don't know what it's like for the residents, but as a tourist I couldn't see any significant change in moving from one side of the island to the other.  If you could add just a bit of pressure to the situation, the set-up could make for a really dynamic setting for a political/social campaign.

Tortola - Sadly, this is not the famous pirate port of call.  That is Tortuga.  Instead, this is a terribly depressed also-ran among the Caribbean islands.  It is beautiful, as all the islands are.  That's pretty much what it has going for it.

It does have one fascinating local custom, though, that has some interesting RPG potential for the right kind of campaign.  There is a place on the island called The Bomba Shack, run by a guy named Bomba.  Most of the time, it's a rather ordinary run-down bar that mostly serves the locals.  On the full moon of every month, though, he throws a massive party/orgy.  Women can get free drinks and other perks for getting naked.  Local lore has it that Bomba adds some local potent female aphrodisiac to the drinks for the party.  Apparently, it is also a local custom that what happens at the party stays at the party, and little things like marriage vows of fidelity are suspended for the evening.

Castaway Cay - This was a Disney Cruise, so it of course ended with a stay at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.  If you haven't been on a Disney Cruise, I simply cannot recommend it enough.  And, for your first, I would highly recommend a Caribbean cruise (there are several options) so that you can experience Castaway Cay.  It has all of the glorious beaches and water activities of any of the islands, but none of the downsides of pushy salespeople and shady characters.  Also, hey, all the food is still included in your cruise package.

The idea of a privately owned island that exists solely to entertain two to four shiploads of tourists a week is fascinating.  Pretty much everyone on the ship wonders about what it's like for the people who live there.  It's apparently mostly a hell of a lot of work (all of the landscaping and everything must be kept up to Disney's standards), with not a lot to do during the downtime.  I can't pull much in the way of RPG inspiration out of it (aside from twisting it to dark corporate experiments in a hidden bay or something), but it's really cool.

Magic Kingdom - After the cruise, we did a day at the park to wind down.  I'm pretty sure most of you have some idea what Walt Disney World is like, even if you haven't been there.  It is, honestly, the most magical place on earth.  But, I won't bore you with the details.

(Oh, as a note to fellow Disney-philes, they've made a couple tweaks to Haunted Manor.  The new graveyard bit was kind of ho-hum, but the new hitchhiking ghosts were really cool.  They use some kind of trick to make it look like the ghosts are pulling out your souls, with your faces on them!  Also, they've replaced Davy Jones with Blackbeard on the Pirates ride, and the Tiki Room has been restored to its original program.)

I have always wanted to do an RPG scenario at Disney.  It would be amazing.  Heck, I could probably run a whole campaign there, doing something like the Kingdom Keepers books (but better).  If you're looking for a very different kind of Disney-located scenario, check out Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.  Could I make WDW a bastion of technology and "magic" in a post-apocalyptic wasteland?  What would it look like in Shadowrun?  The parks are a massive draw for tourists from all over the globe, making them an awesome locale for spies to meet without the international travel drawing attention.  What is Disney like in the Dresden-verse, or similar urban fantasy settings?

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