Psi World Reading List

The Psi World game from FGU checks all the boxes. Dystopian future with possible cyberpunk overtones? Check. Persecuted minorities with psychic powers who are feared and hated for no reason? Check. Adventures that involve running from government forces and nefarious corporate-types with secret agendas? Check.

While many of the books on this list are about aliens with psychic powers living among us, they have more in common with the psionic humans in other books than their alien heritage would suggest. On the other hand, I’ve omitted books where the powers are simply technological in nature, such as Ramez Naam’s Nexus Trilogy or Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker. Similarly, the X-Men graphic novel God Loves Man Kills fits the genre tonally, but veers into the realm of superheroes rather than focusing on individuals whose powers are primarily mental and who are often limited in the strength of those powers or in the variety available to them. These are the books that inspired me and from which I drew the inspirations for the games I’ve run in this genre.

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Mapping Monday: Man-made Features

Truth is always stranger than fiction and never more so than when looking at maps of places that have been touched by human hands. Filling swamps for warehouses and dredging of rivers for the passage of boats, as just one example, results in highly regular looking waterways and coastlines. Which is why a recent Twitter thread by James L. Sutter about New Orleans is so entertaining. The canal he points out particularly caught my attention because it’s such an absurd feature, but it’s part of a set of features that constitute the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and it joins up with the Industrial Canal and the Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet Canal, where all three waterways allow traffic between Lake Ponchartrain and different parts of the Gulf.

New Orleans canal – James L Sutter tweet

That’s neat and all, but not so relevant to a fantasy setting that posits a High Medieval level of technology, even with the addition of magic and perhaps some manner of gargantuan beasts to assist with engineering tasks like dredging. But features like this, all criticism about “realism” aside, make for some fascinating visual accents and the most efficient way of moving people and goods is in a straight line. So if justifying canals in a straight line covering many tens of miles seems problematic and your setting doesn’t have the remains of some sort of advanced empire or forerunner civilization, consider an application of what exists in the setting. A nation with advanced engineering know-how can overcome a great deal of obstacles to built impressive roads, particularly in areas that are relatively flat, such as the roads built by the Romans in southern England. A large population dedicated to a single task, either united by a cause or enslaved to a smaller group of overseers, might overcome their deficit of expertise by simple brute force. Think, for example of the underground highways of the dwarves or the similar passages carved by Drow thralls in a traditional fantasy setting.

No matter what you do, creativity is the key and don’t limit your maps through lack of imagination. Conversely, I’ve seen so many maps of allegedly fantastic places that look like they were laid out by robots, ignoring terrain features and the simple wherewithal of the inhabitants to construct these ruler-straight roads and waterways. It’s the reason I hate the map of the Beklan Empire from Shardik by Richard Adams where roads and rivers often run in straight lines including one road that inexplicably arc from north to east in order to cross a river three times for no readily-apparent reason. In fairness, it’s been some time since I read the book, so I can’t recall if any of the setting features or origins are logically explained.

Beklan Empire from Shardik

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Gamma World Watching List

A previous post, in the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons Appendix N, focused exclusively on books. However, on further reflection, I felt I would contribute a separate list on visual media that might also provide inspiration for a Gamma World game.

There are many movies I grew up with and some I watched much later. One particularly sadistic gamemaster was fond of A Boy and His Dog and the aesthetic from his games as a result of that movie found its way into my own games. It was only much later, after I’d acquired a taste for the fiction of Harlan Ellison that I watched the movie.

So while this list includes direct influences and influences that filtered through to me from others, not listed are dystopian future films like Alphaville or Divergent, nor are films like Twelve Monkeys or La Jetée, nor Doctor Strangelove or Whoops Apocalypse. There are a number of films of varying quality that may appeal, though the quality varies wildly (Yor, the Hunter from the Future, anyone?)

A Gamma World Watching List

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Mapping Monday: Underground Redoubts

Way back when, I drew more than a couple of maps of underground fortifications. They were undoubtedly heavily influenced by the original D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth adventure and the others in that series. In many cases, I conceived of guardposts like this being fortifications built by dwarves or humans, keeping in mind that this was long before the in-depth writings and background on the Underdark and on things like the architecture of Drow cities.

The first two maps are a completely underground set of fortifications with the upper levels excavated beyond the main tunnel blocked by the fortifications. The third map is a fortification at the mouth of a tunnel to the outside that could lead to a settlement that could either be completely underground or above ground and only reachable by a tunnel (such as within the caldera of an extinct volcano or atop a rocky tor).
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Mapping Monday: Redrawing Old Maps

Appleseed: The Promethean Challenge cover

Back in the day, I did a map for an adventure I had written and meticulously drew out the map by hand. At the time, I was reading the Appleseed manga and I was enchanted by the shading done with screentones that are cut to fit and applied to the drawing. So I went and duly acquired the sheets I needed from the University Bookstore. These days, with the advent of computers, a similar effect can be applied when creating or editing on the computer and there’s a variety of freely available screentone brushes available for that purpose. If I were to rework that map, I would definitely do those sorts of things digitally.

In a similar spirit, I took it on myself to try out some techniques using GIMP and redrew the maps from my Gamma World campaign, combining the two campaign maps. There’s some great information on creating digital maps and most techniques that apply to Photoshop work equally well for GIMP. In most cases, Photoshop brushes transfer well, which can be a lifesaver. In the case of my map, I was prepared to build my own and I’m still not entirely sure I like the aesthetics of what I used, though these mountain brushes are fantastic and come in three different flavors (outline, shaded, and patterned).

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Mapping Monday: Below the City

Between Top Secret and James Bond 007, I’ve played countless hours of espionage-themed roleplaying games. As with any roleplaying adventure, particularly one focused on thievery or espionage, characters often dwell in the seedy underbelly of various metropoli, often literally delving into the cellars and sewers.

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