So, now that we've decided where we want to base our story, based on our time and energy levels-
Not to mention the story we wish to tell...
... we've got the first of two big buggers sitting right in front of us. Namely, the history, and what to do with it. If you want to make a good Necropolis, the more research you do into a city's history, the better. This time we'll talk about how to go about getting that history, and next time we'll talk about writing it up.
Oh yes. Now, if you were attentive in our last episode you will remember that it is best to produce a history that is deep enough to truly engage the reader, but not so long as to make him recall his collegiate history lessons. That does not, however, mean that you should be lackadaisical on your part while researching said history.
Unless, of course, you took the MSU option, and created the town out of nowhere. But even then, you've got a lot of work ahead of you if you want to do it right.
I suppose it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway because I'm a pedantic little bastard when I'm on a roll-
I see you've been learning, then?
From a master of the art. Anyway, as I was saying - you can always go with what's there now, take a look at the graveyards and haunted houses and just go from there, but you will miss out on so much else that it's not even funny.
Indeed. Sometimes the so-called 'dead tour' is as interesting as a grammar school poetry recital. "Man died there. Ghost seen here, Young lovers slain in car by madman..."
"Princess Di is wearing a new dress..."
Never mind. Anyway, he's absolutely right. The spookshow we know about's just the end product. The real question is "how did it get here?"
Exactly, my dear boy! What great chains of coincidence, consequence, success and disaster wrapped about one another to create the town we will now base our revels within?
What made people settle this place to begin with? Why did it stay on the map? What challenges did they face, and how did they face them? What did they know, and when did they know it?
All that is now your playground - you just have to dig it all up.
Now, let's start with a general warning before we go digging, and that's KISS. Keep It Short and Simple. You don't want to skimp on stuff, but on the other hand you don't want to overwhelm your reader, either.
In fact, it is often a good thing to keep complexity all to yourself, as we shall see later...
Now, where to start digging? I always recommend your local library. You'd be amazed at some of the stuff you can find if you spend an afternoon in one.
If you can find a book on the town's history, then you're golden. If you can find two, you're even more golden, but unless one's really small - or focusing on one era, or area, in particular - you might be asking for Term Paper headaches. When in doubt, KISS it off or just make stuff up.
But why should you be reduced to fiction when there is so much fact to be found? The truth is often both stranger and more compelling...?
Yes, but sometimes the truth lets us down, too. Sometimes a book doesn't explain things adequately, or leaves things unsaid. And sometimes... well, sometimes the truth is just boring.
Yes, I can see that. I might also agree that, if we are to put the mood of the story first, then some of the facts should be altered to suit it, if needs be. But I would be very careful to not change too much, were I you. It may create more problems than it solves.
That and you might get some smart-ass at the table who thinks you broke the law by making a few details up, here and there.
Well, there is no accounting for taste.
Agreed. Anyway, one good source for information is Lonely Planet. If they've got a cityguide for the town, get it. It not only gives you a thumbnail of the town's history, but also provides you with decent maps and lots of other, important information. And since it's aimed at low-budget travelers and backpackers, it's no trouble at all to take the warnings and grotty spots, increase the nastiness factor and present it to your players.
And you may wish to look at books on the local Architecture, if you can find any. These shall tell you what was built, and when it was built. Sometimes they may even explain what was there before, and when it was torn down to make way for the new. A Wraith Storyteller can find massive amounts of inspiration and information from these sources.
Not to mention visual aides. Never ever discount the power of a picture. They really do tell a thousand words. Especially if you can scan it in and photoshop the hell out of it...
*ahem* And let us remember that biographies of the town's founders, or favored sons, are often replete with useful information about certain periods of time? These may help to fill in gaps left by other, less personal histories. They may even present new story hooks...
As well as give you some ideas as to putting characters into your Necropolis. But, let's do this one step at a time...
Now, say we've got no books available, or say we've got a book, but we want more-
Oh, did I forget something?
I do believe there are a number of books that White Wolf has already put out on various cities, and their presence in the World of Darkness. Might these not also be a good place to start?
Er... well, maybe. Some of them are alright, and others are pretty decent, but some of them are pretty darn cheesy. Plus, they're kind of written up for other boojums, and the history is presented from that aspect.
If you want to have a city where there are other WOD types in significant numbers, then maybe a By Night or Rage book could be helpful. On the other hand, it might be more work than it's worth to retcon it. Plus, there's always the question of someone else having already read it, which takes some of the utility out if you want to use their plot hooks.
There are also the first and second editions of A World of Darkness, though those tend to present entire regions, rather than go in-depth with individual cities. Plus, they tend to tragically sell Wraith short.
Yeah, that's putting it gently. But, now that I think of it, other game companies have also put out guidebooks to cities. Call of Cthulhu has London and New Orleans out, for example. While they only stretch out to the 1920's-
Making them ideal for those running Wraith: the Great War.
... that's more than half your battle won, right there. Plus, Call of Cthulhu's interest in weird things long since buried, ancient mysteries and spooky goings-on dovetails very nicely with Wraith.
But, let's just say that you wanted to do some town that no one's written anything on, at least in your library, or everything you can find isn't very useful. That leaves us with one very important resource still available: the internet.
Great Heavens. Using the internet for research is nothing less than the blind leading the blind!
Hey now, be reasonable. We should never overlook the joy of the internet. I'll agree that there's a lot of poorly-written bullshit on it, but there's a lot of gems to be found as well.
Feh! Coprolite, the lot of it. I would no more trust the so-called information superhighway than I would trust a politician.
Oh, and in case you didn't notice, just about every major city has a web presence, either including at least a short history of the town or having a handy link to it, somewhere. Sometimes you're just spoiled for choice.
Well, something's rotten...
Well, okay... but that's webpages. How about online journal databases?
Online journal databases. The ones where they take texts from journals and magazines, reproduce the text - and sometimes the text and illustrations, too - and put them up online? This way, you can browse back issues of magazines without ever having to touch the actual magazine.
*cough* I must not have heard of that.
And, best of all, instead of having to read magazine after magazine, looking for a chance article on what you're doing, you can search by keyword. So if we wanted information on, say... Venice, we could ask it to find articles containing the phrase Venice and History, or Venice and Founders, or Venice and Architecture, and so on.
I see. Do they do the same for books as well?
Damn skippy. Check out the various electric libraries and see if they have anything. However, there is a catch: some of these databases might require you to be a subscriber. On the other hand, a good number of professional libraries already have a subscription. So if you're already there, looking for books, you might want to jump down to their internet lab and see what you can get.
Well... perhaps there are still some new tricks for this old dog to learn. All the same, I think we are missing one very useful tool. In fact, I would argue that it is a vital one.
What's that? Time travel?
Feh! And you a self-professed fan of Mr. Lovecraft. I say unto you that, if one is in the mood for more work after all that, there is one more resource we have not yet spoken of. A visit!
If we are, indeed, to look into a real place's history, then there can be no greater tool to use than that city, itself. Not only does just about every major city have an internet presence, but most of them have at least one historical society as well. Find out what their visiting hours are, take a few days off and go visit them.
For not only will you be able to talk to local experts on the town's history while you are looking for information, but you will have a chance to walk in the town itself. And we should never underestimate the power of first-hand experience. Things all come together if you can see the matter of which you write with your own eyes, hear it with your own ears and walk upon it with your own two feet.
If you can go there, then do so. You will never be sorry that you did.
Well, your pocketbook might suffer. You might not have noticed, but some of us have lives?
Some of you need to straighten our your lives' priorities.
Easy for you to say. You're dead.
Anyway - while you're looking at the history - there's a lot of neat stuff you should be looking at along with who, what, where, when and why. This is the sort of information that will come in handy while you're building the Necropolis.
* Disasters, fires, mudslides and other catastrophes. What came over when, and who might have taken it?
* Wars, battles, shoot-outs, massacres, plagues and the like. When did people come over en masse, and who probably took them?
* Famous People who might have worked there and/or died there are also important to note. Famous NPCs rock, especially if your players don't figure out who they are right away.
* Weird, freaky shit that was never fully explained, including haunted houses and the like.
Take all that and filter it through Stygian politics - or the workings of whatever Dark Kingdom you'd care to work inside of - and you may have half the battle done right then and there.
However, keep in mind what I said about keeping the players' history to less than a half an hour's read if you can. Some of what you find should be stuff that everyone could know, or would know, but there should also be a lot of stuff that no one need know but you. For now, anyway.
Exactly. Hence my earlier admonition to keep some of the more complex workings of history out of the essay, and all to yourself. The exact means by which the history proceeded forward, and the dark secrets that were obscured from the general history, are yours to hold back, and reveal as you will during the Chronicle.
Plus, if you KISS it then your players don't fall asleep while reading it all. So even if the big secret as to why the crazy lady built her mansion like that falls over will a dull thud, it'll fall over later, and not now when you're trying to make people interested in the whole story.
And with that, why don't we wrap it up for this month. Bottom line is, be sure to take advantage of all the good research opportunities you can get your hands on. Look for anything that might make a good story hook, but don't feel like you have to put it all down. However, we'll get to that next time around.
So long as we don't collapse into the punchbowl come New Years'.
Oh... so that's how you went out?
*hmmph* I shall never tell