I talked about my scenario writing methods, and I figure now is as good a time as any to deep-dive. In the interview I said I go to my research library, dig out a likely-looking tome, and see what I can borrow from it. Some of you may wonder how to build a library like that. Well, the answer's simple enough. In any library there are going to be some core texts and some useful but not vital ones, and the core texts will vary depending on what you want to achieve.
A lot of my work delves into the fantastic and mystical, so my core texts are:
Standard Dictionary of Folklore and Legend, Funk & Wagnalls. It's a little on the dusty side. My copy's the 1984 version, but it was originally compiled in the 40s and 50s and some of its language choices reflect that. However there's nothing else quite like it out there, so until someone does a better job I'll stick with it.
New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, 1989, Hamlyn Publishing. Again, a little on the dusty side but thankfully much better organized than Funk & Wagnalls.
The Lore of the Land, a Guide to England's Legends, Westwood & Simpson, Penguin, 2006. Much less dusty, and reasonably well organized.
Past Worlds, the Times Atlas of Archaeology, 1993 Times Books. Again, a little dusty but there's so much here for the amateur, and it's explained clearly.
That provides a decent basis. What follows next depends on what I'm working on. I tend to do a lot of work in settings closely aligned to the UK and US circa 1920, so I've got things like Jimmy Durante's book on Nighclubs cheek by jowl with Mayhew's compendium of London Underworld lore. If I had a good research library close by I'd rely on that, but I don't, so I collect the things I need whenever I can get them.
This involves a lot of second-hand bookshopping, as well as regular visits to the National Trust jumble sale.
A quick word about our local National Trust. It looks after historic sites, maintaining them as best it can. To do this it needs a constant influx of money, and one of its charitable exercises is its yearly auction & jumble sale, which includes a decent book collection. The Trust takes in donations, and sells them to whoever will buy. Anything not sold is thrown away, so I try to rescue what I can. Yes, I said thrown away. It's a small island. Nobody has warehouse space, least of all the National Trust.
You can sometimes find some very odd things in those sales. I'm going to base the rest of this post on an item found in the last rummage: Bohemian and Social Life in Paris (Salons, Cafes, Studios) by Sisley Huddleston, Harrap & Co, 1928. It talks about Paris in the 1920s, with a heavy dash of pre-war and 1890s Paris to leaven the loaf. Huddleston first went to France to edit a British army newspaper, later settling in Paris and eventually Normandy. He's also written a book about Normandy which I wouldn't mind getting hold of; it sounds interesting. He turned Vichy during the Second World War and was briefly imprisoned by the Free French.
Point being with this and many of the books I pick up: it's a period piece. Sisley talks about things that were important to him and his at the time, because he was there at the time. It's the closest thing to a primary source that I'm going to get.
The pieces I'll quote now come from the opening chapters:
Or that other Chicago merchant who not only collected pictures by old masters, but dabbled himself in painting. (I have known a number of men and women who have come to Paris after a strenuous life of business and who in a spirit of emulation have suddenly decided to become artists.) My friend was looking at his collection. He was attracted by a certain picture.
"That," said he, "is almost like a Corot. Why, it must be a Corot. And yet it cannot be a Corot. How curious! There is much in it that reminds me of Corot, but then again - no, it cannot be."
"You are right," was the response. "it is a Corot. Only, I have just touched up the sky a little."
Or this piece about nightly entertainments.
Again, at Montmartre the party is shown a 'cabaret' which is also the 'private property of _________.' Needless to say the cabaret is not open except for the express purpose of this visit. The chansonniers are specially hired. The men wear long, flaxen wigs, baggy trousers, flowing neckties; and the girls wear red aprons, and their false hair is arranged in a golden casque. These things are expected, and they are supplied.
Still, it was just as bad before the War, when the Tournee des Grand-Ducs was in vogue. The Russians - whether Grand Dukes or not - and the rest were conducted to faked apache dens. There were red-aproned, golden-casqued girls, and the sinister looking Apache with caps drawn over their eyes. In the course of the dancing a quarrel would break out. A duel with knives would be fought. The Grand Dukes had their money's worth of thrills, and then the girls took off their aprons and the men donned respectable hats and went quietly home to bed.
The obvious use for these snippets is a Paris-based game, so Dreamhounds of Paris, or perhaps King In Yellow. If I was working on either of these settings I'd probably turn to a source like Sisley for inspiration. However there's no reason why I should restrict myself to Paris. These are ideas; ideas can be used anywhere.
So what's at the core of both these ideas?
- An overweening rich man with artistic ambitions ruins an original by touching it up, pretending to more skill than he actually has.
- Imagine being the expert who has to judge whether that really is a Corot, a question that could mean millions. A genuine masterpiece - or a fake?
- A fake Paris is more valuable than the real thing, at least to tourists. 'These things are expected, and they are supplied' - now there's a sentence!
Swords of the Serpentine is a fantasy setting in which the glittering jewel that is the city of Eversink is everyone's goal. If you're rich, that's where you want to be - to flaunt your wealth. Tourists flock there every year, eager to see the latest, the best, the craziest thing Eversink has to offer.
So let's talk story ideas.
A Caprian trader whose wealth comes from alchemical supplies sales (though she doesn't practice alchemy herself) comes to Eversink and, within months, establishes herself as a society doyenne. She has money to burn and wants above all else to acquire that veneer of sophistication that can only come with being a big noise in Eversink.
As part of this self-improvement scheme she dabbles in art and purchases several great works, prizing above all else the landscapes painted by Leonine D'Quinto, a renowned painter of Eversink's glories as they were several hundred years ago. As the trader fancies herself a genius in her own right, she touches up her purchases to better fit her own artistic vision.
This angers the ghost of the great D'Quinto, who goes looking for someone to help him take revenge on this philistine trader. Enter the heroes.
Twist - ghost of D'Quinto? Not hardly. D'Quinto's statue still graces the mansion it was placed in, though that long-abandoned manse is sinking away. No, the ghost is actually forger Gino Boniface who took great pride in his ability to capture D'Quinto's style. The last thing Gino wants is for some sniveling parvenu to ruin the forgeries he took such care to make.
[Either one of the heroes possesses the necessary ability/reputation to value art, or they are hired as bodyguards by one who does.]
A Caprian trader and collector of D'Quinto masterpieces wishes to show off her collection in a specially built gallery, but there is some question as to the art's provenance. In order to bolster her collection's reputation she brings in a proven D'Quinto expert to show Eversink that her collection is not only genuine but the most magnificent collection of D'Quintos ever established in one place.
Problems arise when the expert discovers that the trader has been adding her own personal touches to the D'Quintos. Specifically, she has been adding herself to each crowd scene. It's moderately subtle, but it's there, and each time she does it she drastically devalues the D'Quintos.
The expert ought by rights to expose this fraud. However the trader is backed by the Thieves' Guild and is too valuable to them to be insulted by an art expert. If the expert is to speak freely, he will need protection. Enter the heroes.
Mysteries of Temple Market
Temple Market is known for its high-end restaurants and its mysterious mansions. One daring entrepreneur intends to capitalize on both, and operates the latest sensation: The Lady.
The Lady offers a dining experience. Located in the basement of one of the Market's more obscure mansions, it capitalizes on a near-forgotten murder that took place there two generations prior. Each night at the Lady they recreate the fateful night, and ask patrons to decide who, of the pool of suspects, murdered Eliana Vespacci, newly wedded bride of the Vespacci heir. The family bitterly object to this ruthless monetization of their tragedy, but lack the resources to oppose the Lady directly.
Indirectly, though ... perhaps some money-grubbing heroes could be persuaded to break up the Lady.