I’ll admit that I didn’t come by the Old School Renaissance honestly; I was not around for the halcyon days of the Red Box and its brethren. However, I found myself feeling a strange sensation, a nostalgia for a time that I never experienced. Something about the OSR was very compelling to me, and I wanted to experience it for myself. To prepare myself for running a couple of one-shots of Peril on the Purple Planet for Gauntlet Con 2017 (using World of Dungeons), I did three things: purchase some fuzzy velvet psychedelic posters, marinate myself in the “Appendix N,” and listen to as much Black Sabbath as humanly possible.
One song in particular resonated with me while reading Peril: “War Pigs” from the fan-favorite “Paranoid” album. The song equates politicians and generals with scheming sorcerers, turning the impoverished into cogs for their war machine. I saw a lot of parallels with the Purple Planet’s Ascended Masters: mad tyrants who have twisted the inhabitants of the doomed planet into mindless barbarians to fight an endless war. It’s hard to say if author Harley Stroh was directly inspired by Sabbath’s work, but I’m certain that many of the early players of Dungeons and Dragons were fans of those fellow victims of the Satanic Panic, and it’s quite possible that there was some cross-pollination.
More and more I’ve begun to view the Purple Planet (or at least the one that exists in my head) as a post-Conservative apocalypse; one possible doomed future should those that hold power continue to succeed in consolidating and hoarding it, and resisting progress. When an ill-fated bunch of fantasy adventurers are transported to the planet, they find themselves in a hopeless place and are not afforded opportunities to try to make things better for its inhabitants; at the very least, nothing can be done to forestall the demise of the weirdling sun and its destructive death knell. All they can hope to do is survive long enough to escape from the cursed world, and maybe learn something from the experience.
So how can a GM inject those themes into a game without shoving a morality play down the players throats? Paint the Scene is an excellent technique for both creating player buy-in and reinforcing narrative themes in a game. Peril has several engaging set-pieces that we can leverage to write some great scene-painting questions. Here are some examples:
Scene: Traveling through a psychedelic interdimensional tunnel before landing on a hard surface. Dazzling colors swirl around you. Your ears are filled with a cacophony of noises ranging from laughing children, screeching cats, and cries of pain and ecstasy.
Paint the scene/introductory questions: What is the last thing you remember before finding yourself in this predicament? What vision do you see in the tunnel that leaves you filled with regret?
Scene: Seeing the vista of the planet for the first time: Purple sand dunes, multi-colored forests, a mountain peak struck by green lightning, a plume of smoke in the distance, a dim red sun.
Paint the scene/establishing questions based on class:
- Cleric, what do you see that lets you know this planet is doomed?
- Fighter, you see two groups of mutants engaged in a skirmish. What is so savage about their method of battle?
- Ranger, why is the shelter provided by the Mushroom Forest “the lesser of two evils”?
- Thief, you see a group of scavengers picking amongst the remains of a battle. What are they looking for in particular?
- Wizard, why are the rays of the weirdling sun slowly killing the inhabitants of this planet?
Scene: Entering a Kith encampment. The Kith are barbaric mutant humanoids with pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes.
- Question: What evidence do you see that suggests that the Kith have been unwittingly manipulated by their sinister masters?
Scene: Spying an Ascended Master true form for the first time; a giant robot topped with a human head in a jar. They are terrible and beautiful.
- Question: What else do you see in this room that tells you this being is utterly mad and depraved?
Scene: The shifting halls of a castle made entirely of smoke. Everything from the floors to the decor are formed completely from the thick, black smoke.
- Question: “How can you tell that the inhabitants of this castle are forever stuck in the past?”