- April 22nd, 2013
I'm doing some writing-my-thinking-process-out-loud kinds of posts about Wine-Dark Sea over on Facebook, where y'all are welcome to check me out. I'll round them up here from time to time as well.
Wine-Dark Sea: About the title
As people who've had to develop me in the past know, I have a regrettable tendency to get clever with allusions. Sometimes it's just sheer stunting, but sometimes it leads to something interesting. I think this is one of the latter kinds of moments.
I'm riffing on Homer's phrase two different ways for this project.
First, the default setting is literally dark: far below the surface of the sea, where natural light never descends. The only inorganic light at the bottom comes from below, where volcanic rifts are active, and from very occasional other chemical processes that make some light. Anything else was made by living beings, or by their tools.
Second, even when characters do ascend toward the light, a lot of the light they'll see is red rather than blue. This is a setting in which H.G. Wells' Martians have conquered the entire land surface of the Earth. In _The War of the Worlds_, land they conquered got seeded and/or infected with a vivid red weed, presumably responsible for a lot of the redness of that cosmos' version of Mars. In Wine-Dark Sea, the red weed or other plants like it has invaded much of the sea, spreading out from coastlines all over the world and accumulating in areas not disturbed by fast currents and storms. Only some areas of open sea remain to let the light of the sky come down and remain untinted by alien life.
And that's why "Wine-Dark Sea".
Wine-Dark Sea: your choice of possible pasts
I set myself up for an interesting technical challenge. The WDS setup includes things like "Long ago, the Martians..." Well, okay. But how long ago is "long ago", and what's this about Martians?
What I want to do is present two parallel kinds of advice to players and GMs tinkering up their particular campaign:
#1. You can leave this vague, and here are some thoughts about what happens if you do that.
#2. You can pin it down, and here are some thoughts about it matters if you do.
Take "long ago". (Please! _da-dum tish_) Sea creatures tend to go to one of two extremes, from a human point of view: they have lifespans much shorter than ours, or can last much, much longer than us. So if "long ago" is "several decades, a couple of human generations at least", then some characters and a significant number of NPCs will have grown up in the world before the Martians, while others have multiple generations of ancestors who are native to the world as it is. If "long ago" is "several centuries", then there will still be some NPC elders from the world before, but it's very unlikely that any PCs have that experience. If "long ago" is "millennia", then a single survivor or enclave of survivors is a major plot point.
And what's a good default value? Probably something like "it's mostly a matter of often-conflicting stories, propaganda campaigns, community legends, and such, unless you invest some efforts in pinning down reliable sources", but I'm still tinkering.
Same kind of deal with "Martians". Here I do know what the default is. It's not like many sea-bottom dwellers are astronomers, but "they came from Mars" is one part of the invasion and conquest history that the stories get right. The Martians themselves are the brilliant soft-bodied, tentacled things of Well's story, blood drinkers, builders of tripodal war machines, and so on. That's going to be entirely enough for a lot of campaigns.
But there's room for options. If, for instance, it can be known that the "Martians" are from a more alien environment, then maybe in addition to the terrestrial bacteria and/or virus that slowed (but did not stop) them at first, something could be tailored...if more "Martians could be captured and studied, prototypes field-tested, etc. There's a campaign. Or if the "Martians" are from even further afield, like the Lovecraftian realms beyond our understanding, then there may be rituals or psycho-technical means to close their openings into this reality. There's a campaign. Or if the "Martians" are from an alternate history of the solar system...and so on.
The goal here is to avoid the kind of sterile setup too easy to stumble into in gaming, where you can fight forever on forums, blogs, fanzines, etc., about the details but not very readily have any of them matter in play. It should be okay to be vague, and productive to be specific.