Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Puerta Vallarta, Part Three

Yesterday, we tried to go out snorkeling and couldn’t. The only snorkeling crews around were full, and the earliest one the next day wouldn’t accept pregnant ladies. Given that my wife is really, really pregnant, we went with the company offering “light” snorkeling today, and were not at all disappointed.

The tour started off at 8:45 in the morning, and I was chronically afraid we were going to be late. N and Z both took their time getting breakfast down, while I paced around nervously hoping that the boat wouldn’t leave without us. I’d already paid $300 to be on that boat. Turns out, the boat took some time getting itself figured out, and rather than the sleek green sailboat number we were looking at, we got what looked like a bit of a clunker called the Isis. I noticed the Isis was hauling a smaller craft called the Osiris, and decided I liked this crew better for the Egyptian mythology references.

I’m a sucker for Egyptian mythology.

We took a slow, meandering ride out of the marina and into the bay, and were almost immediately confronted with the sight of humpback whales spouting, a wee cub and her mother. The cub was only a few days old, and tiny in comparison to her enormous mom, and they came to the surface a dozen times to breathe. The cub was a playful sort and breached for us briefly before diving down for a longer run.

We were another ten minutes before we saw our first breaching bull humpbacks, and they were incredible. A small group of three or four bulls were trying to impress a cow, and one particularly energetic fellow had tossed himself into the air to do it. The guide told us that it was very rare to see a breaching humpback, and that we were lucky to… Another one! And another! Right after we were told that we shouldn’t expect more, the same whale threw himself into the air a half dozen times, almost hitting a boat in the process. It was incredible.

The size of these animals is unfathomable. Look at all the scale pictures you want. Try and imagine what a whale must look like. It won’t make a lick of difference, because the real thing strikes a sense of awe into you like no other creature can. This is the second-largest animal to have ever lived on the planet. Seventeen meters seems like a lot, and then you actually see what seventeen meters MEANS, and it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

And then you realize that the monstrous creature before you is actually a size category smaller than a ancient red dragon – at sixteen meters and forty-five tonnes, it is only a “Huge” creature.

We were apparently very lucky to have seen any breaching at all, but we saw at least a dozen examples by the trip’s end, as well as a few infant whales, a sea turtle, and a flock of birds eating a school of fish near the surface of the ocean. All in all, we had a really lucky day for sight-seeing.

When we got to the Marieta Islands, a small archipelago off the coast of Nayarit, we donned our flippers and masks and dove into the water. Just below the surface of the water were hundreds of fish of all shapes, sizes and colors. We swam through a nearly-submerged cave to a hidden beach beneath the island, and while the rest of the tour went for a short cave-walk, I explored outside, marveling at the ridiculous amounts of life just below the water. I don’t have names for half the fish I saw, and of the ones I recognized, I’m willing to admit I only know of them because I’ve watched Finding Nemo. I don’t know nearly enough about the ocean – a sentiment I share with basically everyone, I think – and I always enjoy an opportunity to explore it. N, who suffers from some claustrophobia, was able to put on a mask and put her face underwater for the first time on this trip, and I’m really happy she was able to share that experience with me. I wish I’d gotten a picture of the cave, but I hadn’t the foresight to buy a waterproof camera prior to our tour, and I wasn’t about to get my iPad wet.

There is nothing scarier in the entire world than swimming through a cave while breathing through a tube. You have nothing but darkness and the sound of your own breathing to comfort you.

On the way back, we ate a delicious lunch that featured ham and cheese sandwiches, rice salad, guacamole, and some vegetables in a sauce that was apparently two and a half times spicier than jalapenos. It was delicious. Almost nothing happened on the way back, beyond the crew opening the sails and turning off the motor. That in itself was something of a treat, as I’ve never been on a sailing ship that was actually sailing; I’ve always been on ships that ran on motors. It was also a brilliant form of torture. N and I, having just dried off and warmed up from our excursions under water, were treated to blasts of cold sea-water as the ship lurched in the first swells, and though it evened out over the course of the trip, we never properly dried off again.

Then we came home and ate dinner. I ate seafood out of half a pineapple. It had too many pineapple chunks for my liking. Maybe I should have expected that.

Game Stuff

I tossed around a few ideas for Game Stuff on this blog post, and all of them were pretty okay. One was about phased quests and pacing, how you can have interesting stuff happen at a few set points over the course of your story and still keep it interesting, compact, and fun. Another was about sea monsters, because God. Damn. Giant. Whales. Another was a short adventure that uses diving and exploration as the main conflict points instead of Fight. Another was a cool location that was an island with a skull on it (for those in the know, the second island in the Marieta chain has an awesome skull on one of its faces). So I had some ideas.

What I think I’m going to talk about today, though, is a pretty common misconception, I feel.

Your character’s life doesn’t have to be constantly interesting.

This is maybe a Game Master problem than a player problem, but I think it’s one that could use addressing on both sides. I see this most often in sea travel, because sea travel is tough to pace properly. Rather than use sea travel as Just Another Form of Travel, the inclination is to use it as a sort of secondary dungeon, because the sea is treacherous or something, so you have to. And clearly this stems from an uneducated idea of water travel, because anyone who has done a lot of travel by water knows that there is nothing more treacherous about water travel than there is about air travel or car travel. It’s a little more uncomfortable most of the time, sure. But the ocean isn’t any more likely to treat you like an asshole than snow is. And snow is deeply, incredibly boring to anyone who knows how to deal with it.

I think part of the problem is that most people don’t travel by sea anymore. As an aside, I was in Las Vegas for GAMA last year, and one of the things I noticed was that the people there don’t know how to drive in the rain. For me, being a Canadian and having grown up with Canadian drivers, this seemed entirely ludicrous. There was barely a drizzle, and people were driving like it was Rainmageddon 2012. I saw one guy actually drive into a meridian because he couldn’t figure out how much hydroplaning he was going to do. The answer was none. Zero hydroplaning. Because it’s fucking drizzling out.

Like I said, I’m a Canadian. We drive in worse conditions all the time (well, I don’t, because I don’t drive, but that’s another blog post entirely). We know full well that you should drive a touch slower, give a bit more room in the front, and otherwise drive like normal, because rain is like a really mild case of snow.

Most people are to the ocean what Las Vegas drivers are to rain. They overblow it. They don’t understand it. They don’t realize that they can make the turn normally and they drive headfirst into sea serpents. Every goddamn time.

Traveling by sea is boring. Let me say this one more time to make sure I have everyone: SEA TRAVEL IS BORING. It takes hours and hours, you get nothing to look at really, it’s kind of cold, it rocks back and forth nauseatingly, a lot of people get proper sick, and then… Presto, you’re where you were trying to get. Even storms are more often a complication than a disaster. It rains on the ocean all the time, and most people get by okay. I’ve lived through two ocean storms with nothing worse than an upset stomach to show for it. I’ve only been visiting the ocean since 2008.

 There is an inclination to make your characters’ lives as interesting as possible, to fill every hour doing something you’ve never done with adventure and derring do. But seriously, that’s not the way the world works, and it can ruin the pacing of a good story if every moment you have is an exciting one. Get on a boat and have a few boring days during which nothing interesting happens. “You all board, the captain welcomes you, and you travel along the coast for a couple of days. There is a minor storm on the third, for which the captain steers the boat away from the coast – and rocks – and then sets back on course once it’s passed. You have arrived in the trading port of Alchazar, what do you do?” That’s fine. That’s everything you need it to be. Ask them what they’d like to do while they’re traveling if you like, but keep it simple. Two or three of these, and your players will stop expecting sea serpents and colossal tropical storms.

That’s when you give them both at once. 

No comments: