Thursday, July 19, 2012

Let’s Talk “Of Unknown Provenance”

I had a revelation this week: I suck at self-promotion. I’ll talk your ear off about whatever cool widget or book that’s coming down the pike that has my attention, but when it comes to plugging my own work, I need a PR guy. A media assassin. Harry Allen, I gotta ask him.

This satori luckily coincided with the fact that I did an interview for Jennisodes to help plug “Of Unknown Provenance” and the rest of my upcoming projects. I’ll provide a helpful link once it goes live, but, in the meantime, let’s take a closer look at “Of Unknown Provenance” and the madness behind the method. Maybe once you see what’s going on in my head, you might be willing to help turn it from a flight of phantastical whimsy to an actual dead tree thing.

First of all: provenance. It’s not a word that gets tossed around a lot, so a definition is in order. In short, provenance is the chain of ownership behind an item. In the art, archival, and collecting worlds, knowing the provenance of something is extremely invaluable when determining its worth. Was that painting owned by a dear friend of the artist? Was is purchased through legitimate channels or did it just appear one day on the market without documented ownership? Establishing a clear provenance is very important in legitimate dealings and collecting, so already you have an idea that this adventure concerns people, places, and things not at all concerned with how they got their paws on the items in question.

When James approached me to participate on the project, his orders were pretty loose. In fact, they boiled down to “do whatever the hell you want if it’s cool.” Now, that’s a constraint I can work with! So with that direction in mind, I started brainstorming. Do a dungeon crawl? No thanks, been doing too much of that with Stonehell and I need to expand my horizons. Hex crawl? Extraplanar adventures across time and space? Again, not really that exciting for me at the moment.

The hackneyed old phrase in writing is “Write what you know.” As some of you are aware, I’m an archivist by trade when not churning out RPG books and it’s a career and institution that doesn’t get a lot of play. I think that outside of the Nick Cage “National Treasure” film, I can’t recall the last time either archivists or archives got a fair shake in popular entertainment. And so, I decided to correct that.

Archives, like museums, are repositories of items and documents with “intrinsic historical value.” They’re places to stash stuff you want to preserve, but don’t necessarily want to lock away forever. A place to keep the grubby hands of the everyman away the good stuff and let those qualified to handle and appreciate it do so under controlled conditions. As John Constantine once said about the British Museum, “It’s where they keep the loot.”

As we all know, loot and adventurers go together like gin and tonic, so the concept of introducing such a store house—combined with my own experience in the trade—seemed like a natural fit. Riffing off that idea, I started thinking about the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the GURPS supplement Warehouse 23, and the Sci-fi series Warehouse 13. What red-blooded, greedy adventurer wouldn’t want a chance at prying open some of those crates and seeing what might be worth taking? OK, I think we’re on to something here.

James Raggi has also been charting a different course for Lamentation of the Flame Princess as of late, setting-wise. From my view, he’s been moving away from your standard pseudo-medieval fantasy setting and looking towards the 15th and 16th centuries, a time when rampant imperialism and the subjugation of anyone unfortunate enough to live in an area possessing value to those empires was commonplace. That tied into the concept of a storehouse of esoteric loot. After all, once the caretakers of such cultural artifacts have been exterminated, who’s left to keep their “quirks” under control? Best to stick those things somewhere safe until somebody can puzzle that out. I’ll also now break a cardinal rule of writing and design that states you should always obscure your sources by saying that Blue Oyster Cult’s Imaginos album, specifically “Magna of Illusion” plays an important role in defining my course for “Of Unknown Provenance.”

Those of you familiar with my Stonehell know that I’m very big on modular design, and not what one usually means when referring to “game modules.” I enjoy telling a big story, but I also realize that not everyone wants to listen to the whole tale, preferring only to take the chapters that interest them instead. “Of Unknown Provenance” will reflect that same design philosophy.  To accommodate that goal, I found myself drifting back to the old horror/sci-fi anthologies of my youth: Tales from the Dark Side, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, Friday the 13th: the Series, and even Freddy’s Nightmares. “Of Unknown Provenance” is an homage to those shows, featuring a central adventure “plot” (for lack of a better word) comprised of several smaller vignettes that twine together to give the players multiple views of what’s happening at the Night Archive. So, if you’re the referee and have no interest in the big picture, there’s going to be lots to loot from this adventure. I’ll even provide the dotted lines for you to cut along when you take out your mental scissors.

I’m still not settled on an “appropriate for PCs of levesl X through X” for the adventure and won’t be until the fingers hit the keys and start exploring the Archive, but likely this one’s going to end up in the “PC sweet spot” of 6th-8th level.

You can hear me talk some more about “Of Unknown Provenance” once the Jennisodes podcast goes live, but in the meanwhile, I hope I’ve given you all a little peek at what to expect from the adventure. If this helps you decide you want to make “Of Unknown Provenance” a reality, hop over to IndieGoGo and make a contribution. My thanks go out to everyone who’s already contributed based solely on my name and the thumbnail description I provided. Hopefully you and the rest of the gaming world will get a crack at the Night Archive and discovering why it’s the uncertain things that make life so interesting.

9 comments:

R.J. Thompson said...

Thanks Michael. Now with my limited funds I need to fund you and Jeff. Both modules sound awesome.

Kelvin Green said...

I hope it makes its funding, as I'd like to see this concept in action. I like the archive idea, and the modular aspect is fascinating.

Roger said...

If you haven't yet, you should definitely watch the movie The Librarian.

Justin S. Davis said...

You already got my money, but I'm really glad at the peek behind the DM's screen.

Michael Curtis said...

@ R.J. Thompson: Thanks! OUP doesn't have shark-riding giants, but I still hope to please!

Michael Curtis said...

@ Kelvin Green: Good luck to your project as well, sir! I'm very excited about the modular approach. Even if this one doesn't make the funding, it's an idea I'll use in the future on another work.

Michael Curtis said...

@ Roger: I did see it, but it's been awhile and I don't remember much of the plot. But I think they had some sort of the same "let's keep this stuff under wraps" vibe the Night Archive works with.

Michael Curtis said...

@ Justin S. Davis: Thank you for your contribution, Justin. I'm glad you enjoyed the look inside my feverish brow.

Ed Dove said...

Your campaign is one of the few that looks like it could make it. Almost a quarter of the way there already. Just needs a good strong push now at the end!