Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Anarchist League of Scientists

How's that for an adventure-inspiring title?

Here's a short premise you can use for an adventure style RPG. In just a few paragraphs, I give you a "premise," some character types, setting ideas, and an adventure hook.

The premise: A group of maverick scientists (let's call them the "Anarchist League of Scientists") have worked tirelessly to create a machine that can punch through the barriers of reality. The complete ramifications of the discovery are not fully understood at first, but it's discovered that the machine makes possible the travel to other universes and other realities.

The personalities: Good stories rely on how relatable and fully developed the characters are. Let's create some characters for this story, both PCs and NPCs. To make it a bit fun and not just a standard science-fiction time travel story, let's add some color to our team of scientists by including stuff like the corporate financiers who aren't entirely sure what the anarchist scientists are up to. And, let's make our lead character a bit flawed. He's having an affair with one of his scientist colleagues. Lots of "late nights at the office" type of stuff. And he's a family man, so let's throw some kids in there. Yeah, this is a bit of a 1950s or 1960s pulp throw-back story, so we're got some adventuring kids along for the ride. But, after all, this is the "modern age" so they aren't your goody-two-shoes type of kids from "Lost in Space," 1970's "Battlestar Galactica," or "Star Trek: TNG." No, these kids are a bit worldly (one of them might actually be aware of her dad's indiscretions but is keeping it bottled up inside). And just for the sake of some cool role-playing opportunities, let's throw in a traitor. A guy who wants to destroy the machine, for his own personal reasons. Fill out the adventuring party with a selection of solider-types and more scientists.

The setting: This is the beauty of a campaign like this. Due to the universe-bending nature of the machine, we can create any kind of planets and settings we want. Let's go a bit crazy and think of some really strange and fun alternate worlds. How about a planet of crazy monkey shamans who worship some kind of strange ghost plants who have the ability to inhabit and control sentient life forms? And the entire world looks like a pulp-stylized world of the Himelayas with snow-capped mountains and ancient Buddhist-type temples. Let's do another world that is in a state of battle that's vaguely reminiscent of World War I trench warfare, but the Allies are actually technologically advanced Native Americans who are fighting against the Germans. Just some thought starters - we can add more worlds as we go along.

The challenge: No good story or game is going to be any good without some challenges. So, let's decide that the machine (how about we call it "The Pillar" - that's a fun name that's reminiscent of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and gives all sorts of different ideas about what it is and how it works) is broken. Maybe it's sabotage? But it zaps our team of Anarchist Scientists (including the two kids) to another world and then malfunctions. Our team has to stay alive in hostile environments while attempting to fix the Pillar before it zaps them somewhere else. They all have to be close to the Pillar before it transports them next. Otherwise, anybody not nearby is going to be left-behind forever.

Sound like a fun campaign? Want to develop it a bit more? If so, you can read about it in the pages of Black Science: How to Fall Forever, a comic book published by Image Comics, by Rick Remender and artist Matteo Scalera.

Yup. A comic book. What - no capes? No superpowers? Nope, this is a straight-up old-school style Science Fiction story and it's one of my favorites of 2014. But I suspect that had I put "New Comics Wednesday: Black Science" as the title of my post, many people who don't read comics might have skipped it, thinking it "wasn't for them."

My point is that we can find inspiration for our RPGs from a variety of sources, as well as that there are a ton of really great, well-written and well-illustrated comic book stories out there that don't involve "guys in capes." 

You can read my full review of the first trade paperback of Black Science, which collects the first six issues of the story and is available for the bargain price of $9.99 (or probably less if you decide to buy it from somewhere like Amazon). I reviewed the title recently for ComicAttack. Here's a link to read more.

Hope you enjoyed this bit of comic-book gaming inspiration. Please let me know what you think in the comments.

  • Format: Trade paperback collecting six full-color issues
  • Where to Buy: As always, I strongly encourage you to buy this at your local comic book store. You can find one close to you by using the Comic Shop Locator. If you don't have one close by, you can buy a print version online at places like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or you can buy a digital version to read on your desktop, tablet, or smartphone at Comixology. That link takes you to the trade paperback of the first six issues, but if you just want to dip your toe into the series, the first issue is available for only $0.99.
  • Price: This is a real bargain for only $9.99 (cover price)
  • Rated: This is for more mature people - the Age Rating on Comixology is 17+.
  • More Information: Here's the official page on Black Science at Image Comics.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Last night I made a "Corzo Holly" which has tequila, muddled strawberries and basil, simple syrup, and balsamic vinegar. It was fantastic.
Listening: "Tighten Up, Part 1" by Archie Bell & the Drells


  1. I've heard good things about Black Science but I haven't read it. Thanks for the detailed review!

    1. It's really great - one of my current favorite comics.

  2. I thought this was a great post so I added a link to it in my Best Reads of the Week! series. I hope you don't mind!

    1. That's very cool! Thanks so much! I checked out the link and actually found a few blogs I haven't been reading, so I added to my list.



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