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The sheer mass of the existing canon can be intimidating, and finding for the tenth time that your nifty idea is inconsistent with some minor piece of precedent is. And for those of us writing books, licenses and contracts have something to say on the matter as well. Most of the tricks and techniques that I use fall into four categories: implication, connection, patterning, and intersection. You use it by examining any one element of the setting -- a monster, a character, a piece of history -- and asking what the natural consequences of that element must be.
Many of the best alternate histories begin this way. Given that a certain setting element exists, how does that change the way people live their lives? Do they deal with it directly, or does someone shield them from its implications? If the latter, who takes on that role? This type of implication work was essential to the Templates section. Thinking about how the people of the Weird West would deal with the monsters I was writing about helped generate a slew of ideas for character types.
Each major type of varmint spawned at least one template. I began with weird animals. When a steer-sized wolverine comes to town, something has to be done about it.
But who takes on the task? Regular law enforcement would be overwhelmed; they already have their hands full with the mundane lawlessness running amuck in the Weird West. So who do you call when a demon-possessed dog holes up in your basement? The town dogcatcher, presumably. It seems likely that when faced with an animal no one else has the time or inclination to wrangle with, citizens would turn to what animal control authority there is.
Now, if dogcatchers found themselves faced with magically enhanced critters, how would they deal with that? A template was on the make. The same process, applied to the undead, was equally fruitful. Who deals with corpse-related problems?
Probably the coroner. But the coroner ought to be an experienced doctor, and probably none too interested in patrolling the graveyard in the wee hours of the morning. Thus, a clever coroner hires assistants -- assistants with strong stomachs, a little medical experience, and a good touch with an axe-handle. Another excellent way to use implication is to scan the established canon for possibilities that are already explicit, but not developed.
For example, original Deadlands states that manitous cannot possess living people unless the manitou is invited in or unless the subject is extremely weak and infirm.
The "extremely weak and infirm" hook then gets no further attention. The only real way for implication to go awry is if you arrive at a conclusion that makes sense, but contradicts some other portion of the canon -- in which case you simply have to cast about for a line of reasoning which leads to an unoccupied niche.
Connection Connection is a slightly more complicated technique than implication; where implication uses a single element of the setting, connection requires at least two.
Connection entails picking out elements of a setting that ought to have a relationship but do not, and then creating that relationship. If you have two major NPCs who logically must have met at some point, figure out how they feel about each other. Varmints had more than its share of relationships waiting to be discovered.
Material from several different books, developed independently, went into Varmints; in a number of cases, issues appeared when different monsters were placed side by side for the first time. For example, the Deadlands canon mentions three different intelligent amphibious races, all of which live off the coast of California. No interactions between any of them are mentioned. Fortunately, I was also working on a section called Antagonistic Peoples, dedicated to monsters that were both intelligent and civilized well, organized, anyway.
Individually, all the aquatic races were questionable to include under that standard. The Law of the Ocean -- a loose alliance of undersea peoples dedicated to exploiting the bounty of the land -- was born. The great advantage to using connection is that it patches holes in existing material while it creates new material.
It requires you to ferret out the bits of a setting which are underdeveloped or even contradictory. As a result, it produces a setting that feels more seamless and organic; its component parts have strong relations to each other, and you can avoid the odd element which feels tacked on.
This can be difficult. The goal should be not merely to avoid contradicting canon, but to create material that flows naturally from what came before. Patterning To use patterning, you find patterns within the canon, and then complete them. Patterns can appear anywhere a setting has a set of linked elements.
However, those sorts of questions are precisely what gives patterning its value, and are usually well worth answering. Just in writing this, I find myself wondering whether there was once a Dragon of Atlantis, and what happened to it if there was.
However, one of my proofreaders commented that since Deadlands has ice zombies, fire zombies, and water zombies, the logic of computer RPGs would seem to demand a poison zombie. I thought it was a pretty clever idea, and the Noxious Dead -- a toxic, oozing zombie created by industrial accidents -- came out of it.
Thinking about it now, I realize that I missed the opportunity for a lightning zombie, which would have tied in well with mad science. Galvanic Dead Most mad science devices rely on steam and hydraulics to give them life, but mad science has also harnessed the power of the thunderstorm -- electricity.
And wherever there is new technology, there are new industrial accidents. Many a hapless worker has placed a hand wrong and died instantly, titanic forces surging through his flesh. After such an accident, a manitou may seize the opportunity to reanimate the electrified corpse. Galvanic dead are clearly identifiable by their rictus grins and jerky, spasmodic movements. These unpredictable convulsions, so unlike the usual sluggish undead, make it difficult to draw a bead on a galvanic dead.
Gurps Deadlands: Varmints
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