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But in-character justification for being off-brief is very much the “Bob doesn’t have to do P.E today because he is ill. Signed Bob’s Mum” of roleplaying design.

Words are hard. The Current Situation™ isn’t great for my head, and I’m finding it hard to write about anything else, and I really don’t think I need to add to the current covid chorus. So, here’s some stuff around how I put together an adventure for the Torg Eternity campaign I’m running.

Torg Eternity is a game where our world has been invaded by some other realities. Each new reality is overlayed on top of our existing world, and each one has slightly different narrative laws that change the mechanics of the game to encourage different styles of play. The Cyberpapacy is more of a Cyberpunky-Oppressed-Masses setting, The Living Land is high danger action world where you fight dinosaurs, but currently we’re playing in the Nile Empire, which basically Indiana Jones meets the original Stargate movie meets the golden age of comic books. High trope, high action, masks are magic and your identity is secure, the villain always gets his monologue off, etc.

DM Notes, Dice & Whiskey. The basic components of a session.

In this campaign, my players are looking for information about Terra, the original world of the Nile Empire that invaded this one, and they are finding the Mouseion, nine libraries based on the muses.

Today was the Terpsichorium, the library of dance. The dances of ancient Terra, recorded with Pulp Technology onto slates to be performed by enchanted mannequins, with special rooms to teach others how to perform them. Of course, when the player party tried to get into the service areas without permission, it activated the other programming of the mannequins, as is traditional.

And now, with mannequins pulling arms off themselves to batter the party with, the players hear the voice of the other thing Terpsichore is responsible for, traditionally. A Siren approaches.

I am, I admit, pushing at the edges of the Nile Empire’s pulp-ancient-egyptian setting. I’ve got some in-character justification for it, but in-character justification for being off-brief is very much the “Bob doesn’t have to do P.E today because he is ill. Signed Bob’s Mum” of roleplaying design.

In reality it’s because I spent a while mucking around with the more obscure edges of the ancient Middle Sea area when I was helping run Odyssey LRP. Stuff like the Mellified Man was the kind of left-field-yet-historical plot that left happy memories and weird google histories for years to come.

Duke Humfrey’s Library, Oxford. Bookspiration.

One Part Truth To Two Parts Lie

In this case, the Mouseion, or Musaeum, at Alexandria is the institution that the famous “Great Library” was said to have been part of. Now, it’s a thing that would be a university, a library, a museum (it’s where the word comes from) and a school of philosophy itself. It caught my imagination, the idea that the Great Library was only a part of something bigger, especially since the myth of the Great Library Of Alexandria Being Burned is so large a lie in our culture (in reality, it had been declining due to underfunding for a century before Julius Ceaser (accidentally) burnt part of it, and continued to drift apart until by the time it was burned down under papal decree, it was probably empty. It is an important lesson about the destruction of culture, just not the one it’s known for).

After that reality starts to be bent towards what I want to have happened in the invading reality of the Nile Empire. In this case, Alexander never invaded, so it’s still Rakote (A different transliteration of the more common Rhacotis), and the Mouseion is literally a set of Great Libraries dedicated to each one of the Muses.

In theoory, then there are nine of them. I don’t intend to use all of them, but it’s nice to have options. So I started with the Terpsichorium, the museum of dance. The idea is that each museum is specifically built by an ancient and technologically advanced (though in an ancient and magic way) civilisation to maintain their culture for what they hoped to be forever. How do you make sure the dance of your culture is kept alive.

This is where the mannequins came in. The dances are all stored in books and scrolls, with careful descriptions and diagrammed steps. But they couldn’t be sure the language would last, so they used a form of storage and enchanted mannequins that could perform the moves, and even teach humanoids how to perform them. Magic dance studios with walls that look like mirrors, with mannequins that know the moves and guide you from place to place.

In Which We Turn Lore Into Game

The Nile Empire symbol

The mannequins come to life idea was so tropey that it was irresistible – the Nile Empire setting in Torg is built for this kind of adventure – and moving faceless human bodies is so obvious even Doctor Who knocks on the fourth wall before it uses it these days. But this only happens if the characters try to get though into the “private” part of the museum, a door clearly labeled “Please Knock” which – in a complete afterthought on the designer’s part – is only in their language. Never did it really occour to them that there wouldn’t be someone there to run the place, to turn off the security system.

And, indeed, there is.

In this case, the mannequins just keep coming – new ones arriving from the basement to replenish the ones they kill, the song of the Siren gradually luring them somewhere they don’t know yet, until the one person who can read the ancient language sees the sign on the door:

“Please Knock”

So they do, and everything is still. Except for the siren’s song, which still pulls them towards the basement. Session ends.

So the adventure comes together, a collection of tropes based on something I half remembered from a LRP I helped run half a decade ago, plus some basic research for a framework, and some papier-mâché over that, all of which kicks heavily on the big Arc Themes of the campaign. But I’m not going to talk about those until the players get there, which might take a while.

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