Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts on Riverworld, Mad Max, and Other Such Things

So as I indicated in an earlier post, my recent revisiting of the Mad Max trilogy gave me some interesting food for thought.

Primarily, I hadn't realized what a profound effect those films (well, the last two really--I didn't see the original Mad Max until years later) had on my young psyche. I definitely robbed several set-piece scenes more-or-less wholesale in my later GMing, and without even realizing I was doing so!

One of the reasons the films struck such a chord with me is that they spoke to my love of anachronistic technology. As a student of history, I find myself most fascinated by those "transition periods," when new ways or technology are beginning to displace the old but haven't done so completely. The early Renaissance. Sengoku-era Japan. The First World War (my original obsession; I used to take a book on WWI out of my school library on a weekly basis and pore over the photos of lumbering tanks and biplanes and horses with gas masks on...and I was probably about six years old!).

So naturally, I love all things in a post-apocalyptic vein. Witness my retooling of Rifts to make it more overtly post-apocalyptic, getting it into that "sweet spot" of old, familiar tech existing alongside newer, devolved tech (for lack of a better term).

All of this got me thinking about GURPS Riverworld, one of the first GURPS setting books I ever bought (50% off at the Gamekeeper at the mall!) and still one of my favorites.

I was unfamiliar with the book property it was based on at the time (and indeed didn't read any of the Riverworld books until a few years ago), but the image of a steamboat being escorted by biplanes down a massive river valley was enough to hook me in right away.

The setting is like ambrosia for me, touching on my anachro-tech fetish while scratching my history nerd itch at the same time--you can cross flint swords with anyone who's ever lived!

Having said that, Riverworld was one of those campaign settings that I think I get more enjoyment out of thinking about than actually playing. One of my stumbling blocks was that I wanted to spring it on my unsuspecting players in the event of an inadvertent TPK in a historically-based campaign. Trouble was, we tended to not play those sorts of games at the time (hardly do now, come to think of it--even games set in the "real world" tend to have some level of urban fantasy vibe going to them.)

I tried running a pure Riverworld campaign back in high school, but it quickly devolved into silly adolescent hi-jinks. Another attempt shortly after fourth edition GURPS came out got off to a promising start (link to an actual play summation), but was unfortunately cut short when one of the two players moved away.

So it goes. After watching the Mad Max films, I dove back into my copy of GURPS Riverworld and had some quality hours with an old friend. At the very least it's a fun thought exercise to imagine how I'd want to run a campaign were I given another chance. (Of course, nowadays I'd run it using BRP.) At the very least, it's always there as a fall-back in case of inadvertent TPKs in a historically-based campaign....

Something else I was reminded of during my re-read was how much I like Larry MacDougall's art. According to the Pen & Paper Database, this was one of his first jobs as an RPG illustrator; presuming he was fresh out of art school, and the size of the project, I think the variable quality of the art can be forgiven. The rough, almost doodle-like quality, whether intentional or not, actually evokes in me a feeling that these are sketches executed in charcoal on treebark by a resident of the Riverworld working from life. And anyway, by the standards of GURPS illustrations at the time, the guy's practically Larry Elmore! I've called out my appreciation of his work in the original Rifts book in one of my art posts, and I thought I'd share some more of the love here with some selections of personal favorites from Riverworld.

Unfortunately, I read that GURPS Riverworld will not be seeing a release in PDF form thanks to the license lapsing. But if you're a fan of anachronistic post-apocalypse and you have the means of picking up an old copy, by all means do so!
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