Thursday, June 2, 2016

Contemporary Fantasy Setting: Adventurers in the Modern Day

Real talk. When I saw the new trailer to Final Fantasy XV, it made my head spin in a good way. I am excited to play it, but what I thought was really captivating was the setting. Instead of doing something using fantasy, steam-punk, or science fiction, they are instead using a more contemporary setting with fantasy elements. There are cars, cafes, TVs, the internet, cellphones... while also with the monsters that inhabit a Final Fantasy universe, magic, swords, and flying battleships. It inspired me greatly to run a setting that is more of a contemporary fantasy, but where the magic is a big part of the world and not a hidden second world that you see often in books and movies (Harry Potter, Hellboy, etc.). Basically, I want to take something like Faerun or Greyhawk and advance the timeline to a more modern (or even near future) setting. No secret magic or hidden monsters. I want it to be front and center. Here are some things I've considered.

Adventurers

I think at first thought, adventurers as we know them would be more rare, especially in more stable, post-industrialized societies. Kind of hard to go killing orcs and taking their stuff when you have to contend with law enforcement. So adventures would have to take place in the frontiers or in lands of lawlessness. With advancements in both communication and travel, there probably aren't many unexplored areas on the planet (though below or above the planet is another story). That said, there are plenty of countries you could adventure in that would fit the bill for adventures. Third World countries would be perfect for adventurer, especially those still in the midst of some major changes (revolution, industrializing, political instability.). I feel that watching some modern adventure movies, cartoons, and video games are a great resource for these kinds of adventures. Johnny Quest, Uncharted, Indiana Jones, Far Cry, Tomb Raider. These are all great examples of adventuring in the modern day.

Probably the easiest start (but perhaps the hardest to execute) is a military campaign. Players out taking down an opposing army, or clearing out an area filled with monsters would be fairly easy to start. The problem is that with a military campaign comes the baggage of having to follow orders. Even if the commander is a PC, some players can still balk at the thought of following orders. One big idea to go with this is a paramilitary organization that acts as an agency to hunt down and destroy errant monsters that threaten their nation. Pretty much modern day dragon slayers, only replace their swords with M16s, tanks, and strafing runs.

If you don't want a very regimented military campaign, some ideas could include the party playing partisan freedom fighters. Less of a structure to it, and it allows for more freedom of choice. There's also playing as a PMC soldier or mercenaries. You'd have maximum freedom of choice, as long as you brought home money or other resources that your company needed, Playing as the A-Team or as Wade Wilson's group of mercs taking down despots and dragons has a good ring to it.

Parallel to a military campaign would be one in espionage. Playing James Bond, Michael Weston, or Sterling Archer would allow a different style of scenarios from the military campaign. Instead of war zones, you'd be going around the world to different cities, bases, and such. Would allow for more freedom, but much like the military campaign, you'd still be under orders from your intelligence agency. That said, there's a lot more wiggle room in a spy campaign for your players. so definitely look into that. Especially if you are going freelance spy, a la Michael Weston.

Law enforcement would be great for adventuring on the home front. Whether you are police, P.I., detectives, SWAT, or FBI/NSA, there's a great wealth of criminal activity in a stable (or unstable) country. Depending on the style, it could be by-the-book, or more loose-cannon and edgy. You still run into the same issues of having to follow orders, but at this point, I hope you have a group that is willing to handle that sort of thing in the game.

Stepping away from the law, there is always playing as the criminal element. Whether you are gangsters trading chimera blood in Compton or South Pacific pirates hunting for kraken eyes and slaves, there is plenty to do in this kind of adventure. Be a drug kingpin, or a professional stick up crew, or a human trafficker. This has the most freedom, but requires players that are comfortable being the bad guys. Also, the consequences for failure can be very dire, from the DEA gunning you down on the top of your mansion to a rival cartel putting your decapitated head on a turtle with an IED in it against your crew. Definitely things to consider with this high risk, but high freedom style of game.

There are other ideas I've been brainstorming for modern adventurers. A journalist like Lois Lane that roots out corruption. A modern day vigilante a la Batman that stops crime where few dare to tread. Even something as simple as modern day adventurers like Johnny Quest and Nathan Drake exploring monster infested rain forests and mountains would be cool. I really like FF15's warriors on a road trip. But there are also different types of adventures you can have in a modern setting. I think that will be a blog for another day. What other types of adventurers do you see in a contemporary setting, where magic is present and not hidden, but technology is similar to our own?