Friday, August 2, 2013

Conspiracy Theories & Fantasy

For the longest time, I have had a strange fascination with conspiracy theories. While I highly doubt any of them are actually true, I find most of the theories interesting because they suppose the world is not what it seems and there might be something dark and mysterious lurking in the shadows that would change our lives forever if we just knew about it.

My fascination with conspiracy theories is one of the reasons why I love Conspiracy X, Delta Green, and Unknown Armies so much (the latter being my favorite of the three). Taking real world conspiracies and giving them a more "supernatural" spin can be really fun, as well as making up your own conspiracies from scratch. 

While a good number of supernatural games that take place in a modern setting tend to take conspiracy theories into consideration and in some cases directly incorporate them into the game, most traditional games seem to ignore their existence. Usually, the reason I tend to run into when I ask why is that the world is already filled with magic and other weird things, therefore conspiracy theroes really wouldn't have that much of a punch and most characters wouldn't find the theories that strange because they've probably encountered stranger. 

However, I find that explanation lacking since both Delta Green and Unknown Armies tend to feature conspiracy theories in a world where eldritch horrors and powerful magic exist (albeit secretly) and the players know they exist (usually anyway). So, if conspiracy theories can work in those games, I think they can work in a traditional D&D/Pathfinder world. 

For an example of a conspiracy theory that could work in a fantasy world, you could have a NPC in a tavern tell one of the players that "gnomes aren't really from the Feywild. In fact, thousands of years ago, they were actually a clan of halflings that were enslaved by a powerful wizard. Wishing to have the perfect servants, the wizard experimented on them. However, the transmutation spells he used mutated the poor halflings and knocked a few screws loose in their brains. Mentally unstable, the halflings ended up killing the wizard with their new abilities when he least expected it and ran away. Centuries past and the gnomes mated like rabbits, and their mutated minds caused them to forget what created them. Don't believe me? Well, just think about it. Haven't you ever wondered why gnomes act so weird and look so strange?" 

When making a conspiracy theory for a fantasy world, you should try and take one of the more excepted elements in the game or world and subvert it. In the above example, most people believe gnomes are exiled fey from the Feywild (or whatever the Plane of Fey is called in your setting). However, this theory changes that and says they are actually the result on magical experiments on a group of halflings centuries ago. The fun part about this is it could be a total lie, but it could also be true or maybe partly true (they are the result of magical experiments, but maybe not for the reasons stated or maybe they weren't originally halflings. The limits are endless). 

Also, these theories that you create and drop into the world can lead to new adventures. Using the example above, let's say the party that hears this theory has a gnome in it. At first, he is reluctant to believe it begin a gnome himself. However, after a few more adventures, he finds a few hints and clues that actually make the theory more plausible and his world-view has been questioned. Because of this, the gnome decided to make it his goal to find out the truth about his race's origins and tell the world. 

Another thing you can do is allow players to create some weird theories of their own. Maybe the party's wizard believes clerics aren't actually getting their power from a god. Maybe he believes clerics are another kind of wizard who uses the image of a "holy man" to con people and make a living. It might not be true, but it would definitely add an interesting element to the game.

Adding some conspiracy and a few weird theories to your gaming world can be a whole lot of fun. The existence of these theories help show that not all the NPCs in the world believe the same things about magic, monsters, the other races, or even the deities. Also, they add a few strange secrets to the world that are waiting to be discovered and a few odd mysterious begging to be solved, which is a pretty good thing in my book.