Learning How to Spell 11: Details, Details, Details

Hoard toilet paper!

May 21, 2012

The apocalypse has been a recurring topic in the office lately.

I’ve been doing research for an upcoming game. It’s set decades after a failed alien invasion, and though I wrote about it last year and we gamed for several weeks, my players asked me to restart it. I’ve been doing a little research because we’re going to do new characters and the setting will also be different in order to take the story and game to the next level.

That being said, I’ve been looking back at my notes and seeing the kinds of things this group of cryogenically-frozen would have been given before getting shunted into the future. I also need to familiarize myself with the kinds of things a post-apocalyptic society needs in order to run.

You know what? That’s a lot of stuff. Also, I know wish I had an NBC-proof bunker stocked with food and weapons.

Zombie Survival Kit 1 of 2 by ~tankmonkey2002 on deviantART

The research, though, has helped me flesh out the world as it exists decades after the invasion. I’ve looked at survival kits, bunker designs, and what cities would do without a hundred years of human maintenance. Not only am I seriously considering hoarding food and toilet paper now, but I’ve re-learned that society needs a LOT to keep functioning. The lists of supplies could easily fit in a book. The sheer number of medical supplies is enough to stock a hospital, even if you cut the list down to the things you could expect a well-stocked team to carry around. In a perfect world, I could use all this information to create a very rich, textured world full of possibilities.

I’m not going to do that, though.

Then why do all the research, you may ask? Why not use all this information?

I’m not going to use all of it because it would be a waste of notes. When my players ask me what they find when they raid a medical base or a hospital, for example, I’m going to give them a general idea and if they need something specific, we’ll just assume they have it. I’m not going to keep track of individual aspirins. The game is supposed to be fun and move along, not concern itself with the minutiae of inventory. The game should be about making it past the next flooded section of the city, finding that weapon stash before the bullets run out, or evading the aliens hunting them for food.

Post-Apocalyptic England town by ~indie-rec on deviantART

That same kind of research is also essential in writing. I have pages upon pages of research on Charcoal Streets, for example. The mythology is extensively written and based on two thousand years of Christian mythology and legend.

However, I’m not going to put everything I find on the page. For example, I refer to Carmen as one of the Fallen Sons (or daughters) because the nephilim, half-human, half-angels, are cited as having existed before Noah’s flood. I figured such a title would be indicative of a race of people who were shunned by Heaven. Likewise, Carmen usually uses Glock pistols. I chose these guns because earlier models had interchangeable parts and someone like Carmen could use this to her advantage. Likewise, Glock pistols have a slender profile an assassin could use to her advantage. Plus, I think they look cool and, since many government agencies use them, they evoke professionalism.

I know all this, but it’s not going to go on the page.

Research is a tool to figure out what kinds of details should go into your writing. It’s the thing that lets you know if there are mountains near your city and if they once had mines you can use as a location for your epic final confrontation. Research lets you know the kinds of supplies post-apocalyptic survivalists would hoard. You don’t NEED to show all this, though, but it’s important to know how and why.

Think of research as the practice before an athletic competition. You get all the kinks out and figure out what kinds of moves and warm-ups to do before the big game. Once game day rolls around, you just do it and it makes sense.

See you around the web, folks, and don’t forget to buy your copy of “Elves With Shotguns,” not on sale at RPGNow. Be sure to leave a review, too!

Let me leave you with one of the scariest videos I’ve ever seen. I don’t mind spiders, but even I got squicked by this.

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