Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Of Dungeons and Travel

There was a girl who came to Amsterdam with Zak by the name of Katrine. We met briefly on platform 11a, and she seemed sweet. Then she remembered that she had forgotten her phone on the train and ran back in to retrieve it. When the train doors closed, there was some concern, but we figured since the train wasn’t moving she had time. Except, the doors didn’t open when she tried them, and the train left with her on it, and us left standing on the platform with her bags.

There wasn’t really anything for us to do but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and wait for her at the station. We met her mother a short time later, and I dare say she thought us a group of ruffians and punks; she insisted on taking the bags herself, despite our offers for help. I think she may have believed we’d somehow hurt her daughter, and were planning to hurt her. We never did find out what happened to her.

On Saturday, we discovered that, though our last night in the Hostel was the seventh of June, and our first night in Paris was the eighth of June, our train did not leave for Paris until the ninth of June. Obviously, this had us somewhat concerned. We went to the train station to clear the matter up, and the man at the help desk informed us we’d need to take care of it on the interwebs. Our access to the internet has been spotty at best in Amsterdam, with us camping at McDonalds to take advantage of their free WiFi while eating fries and McFlurries. There’s internet access at the hostel, but it costs two Euro and hour, and you don’t get fries.

So we sat down at the little internet kiosk thing they had at the train station and tried to figure out how to change our tickets. They gave us a phone number to try, which I did. It turns out that the service closed at 4:30pm on Saturdays, and I had tried calling at 4:40, and would have to wait until the next day. The problem with “the next day” was that it was the day before we planned to leave, and we weren’t sure we’d be able to exchange our tickets on that short of notice; there was some clause in the contract thing that said we could exchange until the day before our scheduled departure, but we weren’t sure if that meant the old departure date or the new departure date.

I woke up at eight in the morning to wait on a phone for twenty minutes, charging us €0.30 per minute, to talk to a guy for another five minutes and pay another €63 to get the ticket changed for tomorrow. Then we went to the Amsterdam Dungeon.

The Amsterdam Dungeon is a strange sort of experience. Having been to a real dungeon (the first tower we visited at Muiderslot), we were sort of expecting something similar, with actors playing out the parts of the people being tortured. I mean, there’s a long, bloody history of torture and violence in Europe, and it would be interesting to learn something more about that. I guess I’ll have to wait for the Tower of London, when we’re there.

The Amsterdam Dungeon is like nothing so much as a haunted house tour. We were dragged from room to room by actors in cute make-up and costumes, talking about various horrible things in a strange combination of English and Dutch. I still don’t speak Dutch, so about half of the experience was lost on me, though the first room provided me a bit more a thrill than some of the people who came with us. Having someone threaten you in a language you don’t speak is quite a bit more intimidating than having someone threaten you in your native tongue. You don’t have to imagine quite as much about what the person speaking your native language is offering to harm you with.

This first room promised what I had been hoping, a discussion of the torture methods and techniques used in Amsterdam and beyond in a dungeon-like setting. The actor presented us with tongue rippers and a hook, and gruesomely described what each was for. That much was fucking amazing, and I was hoping the tour would continue with the like.

Instead, we were given a brief history of the Soul Merchant trade, then treated with a discussion of the Black Plague that promised “you will be its next victim,” except that I’m pretty sure I’ve been immunized for the Black Plague and I’m less that concerned. There was also a roller-coaster. The whole thing was kitsch at its finest, but I was hoping for kitsch in a different direction. It probably would have been a bit more enjoyable had I understood the whole of what we were talking about, as well, but my inability to understand the Dutch language is a failing of mine, not of the Dungeon.

Then, we took a nap.

Game Stuff

You’ll notice, I’m sure, that my blog about Anne Frank did not have a Game Stuff section. That’s mostly because it’s tough to take an experience like that and make it spring out into the Shared Imagined Space. Anything a Game Master is going to create for his or her game, regardless of how well crafted, is going to sound hollow and thin next to Ms. Frank’s diaries.

Today, though, I want to talk about travel. It’s an integral part of any campaign; you cannot have an adventure in one place. You have to traverse the city, or the county, or the country or the continent to find the things you seek. The Lord of the Rings is a book about walking, and the fucked up things that happened while the protagonists walked. The Dragonlance books are mostly about going from place to place and talking to strange people. A Song of Ice and Fire is not an adventure, simply because there is not enough running around (with the exception of Dany, who is actually on an adventure).

Travel in role-playing games almost always goes the way that it’s supposed to. In much fiction, this is also true. It’s really not all that exciting to have to haggle with the camel guy because he wants more money for his camels than you originally thought he’d want. When it starts to get a little more intense is when you need to use his camels a day early, you don’t have any more money and you’re running out of time to deal with camel merchants and their stupidity.

Travel in real life almost never goes as planned. There are constantly complications. Either you’re too early or too late or your paperwork isn’t quite right or you’ve got the wrong paperwork entirely or you need to renew your identification papers because the new ones are different than these ones (“in six very small, but very significant ways…”). Travel is often a huge hassle, and making it run smoothly, while certainly not an adventure in itself, is a fantastic way to spice up an otherwise dull social encounter.

Roll 1d20

1) The mode of transportation is no longer available. The train blew up, or the camels all died.

2) The mode of transportation is going to be 1d6 days late. There’s a dust storm or a thing with a whale.

3) The mode of transportation stops working 1d4 days into travelling. Just enough camels die to make it impossible to continue.

4) The mode of transportation goes missing. The camels wander off, or the train leaves without you.

5) You go missing. The camel wanders off with you on it, or the train leaves while you’re getting your cell phone.

6) Your baggage has been misplaced. It’s been stolen by bandits, or mixed up with someone else’s bags, or replaced by a badger in a sack by some malevolent god.

7) Your baggage is exactly where it’s supposed to be, it’s just broke to shit.

8) The mode of transportation is going to cost 1.x times the amount previously quoted, where x is the result of a ten sided die. You have a history of dead camels, the merchant cannot trust you.

9) The mode of transportation is going to cost X times the amount previously quoted, where X is the result of a ten sided die. The merchant has mostly just decided he hates you.

10) The mode of transportation is ridiculously slow. It will take X more days to reach your destination, where X is the result of a six sided die. There are no more camels: I have turtles for you.

11) The mode of transportation is unreliable. It will take 1.X times as long to reach your destination. Donkeys are cantankerous little bastards who hate everyone.

12) The mode of transportation actively hates you. At the end of each extended rest you take while using this form of transportation, lose two healing surges.

13) You cannot sleep so long as you are using this mode of transportation. At the end of each extended rest you take while using this form of transportation, lose one healing surge. You are dazed at the beginning of each combat encounter (save ends).

14) You are sickened by the mode of transportation. Either motion sickness or the mode of travel itself is terrifying and ugly and evil and smells bad. Roll an Endurance check at the end of every extended rest. If you fail this check, you are weakened at the beginning of the next combat encounter (save ends).

15) Your paperwork is all wrong. Your friends can go, but you need to fill out these forms. It could take a few days before you catch up.

16) Your identification papers are fine, but they’re out of date. You will need to get new identification papers, which could take as long as two weeks.

17) Your identification papers are wrong. They say you’re from a place that doesn’t exist. Somewhere called a feywild? Huh... Anyway, this’ll need some clearing up.

18) The guards of the city/county/country would like to search your bags for contraband. Any magic items, potions and the like will be confiscated. Or, any non-magical weapons will be confiscated (as the city/county/country has some sort of protection against magic weapons).

19) The guards of the city/county/country would like to search your bags for contraband. They find a baby in one of your bags. It is going to be a strange day.

20) The mode of transportation is not actually going to the place you wanted to go. Instead, you are very lost, in a dark wood, when the mode of transportation suddenly stops. If it’s live, it dies. If it’s not, it breaks down irreparably. Now you have no idea where you are, and you’re stranded on the side of the rails, road, path.

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