Monday, March 26, 2012

Next Project

Stepping away from Age of Bronze for a moment, I want to spill the beans on my next project, currently shaping up.

I'll be collaborating with Bret Gillan (The Final Girl, Cold Soldier, Gas Mask Games) on a game using Jared Sorenson's excellent InSpectres rules as a base.

The working title is Gonzo, but that's subject to change during the design process or when we run across a trademark conflict (surprisingly, we haven't and seem to be in the clear). So, what is Gonzo going to be?

In Gonzo, players will play the employees of a small newspaper or magazine working the political and pop culture beats. Rather than playing normal, boring journalists, though, you're going to be playing drug-addicted gonzo journalists in the mold of Hunter Thompson. An "adventure" will be a story, a story which could be anything the group thinks is cool; Thompson wrote about everything from the Kentucky Derby to 9/11 in his day, so you'll have pretty wide latitude in subject matter for individual sessions.

Now, this isn't a great game idea by itself. The hook for the game is when this intersects with the other main influence: 70s exploitation cinema.

The conceit of Gonzo is that all of the subject matter of the sleazy movies of the 70s is real. Hippies are drug running bikers who do nothing but kill squares and have orgies all day. The woods are filled with cannibal rednecks. Satanic cults are everywhere and Sammy Davis, Jr leads one. There's blood and sex and drugs and all too human monsters lurking anywhere you look, and that includes your news stories.

All of those elements come into play when the PCs write a story. Maybe the mayor has a taste for a particular strain of heroin which he can only get from the Hell's Angels. Maybe the local pro sports team aren't called The Devils for no reason. There's definitely some urban fantasy style stuff here but it's not going to be informed by real world myth; this is solely about the over the top world of Z grade cinema from the era. We completely take it at face value.

Drugs and Reality

For that matter, we're taking Thompson at face value, too. Take a look at this scene from Terry Gilliam's movie version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

You've got a heavy acid trip and Thompson/Raoul Duke seeing everyone turn into lizards. We, as the outside viewer, see it as just a bad acid trip. Gonzo assumes that it's a bad acid trip, sure, but it also assumes that those lizards are very likely real as can be. In Gonzo, everything Thompson wrote is as real as the grindhouse world.

Or, another example: in Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail '72, Thompson famously wrote that Maine Senator Edmund Muskie was hooked on ibogaine, a psychotropic drug. Which was 100% untrue, of course. In Gonzo, though, it is true. Or, at least, true enough to be real, which is more important.

So why would your PCs do drugs at all? As your PC does his job, Stress builds up (those familiar with InSpectres are acquainted with Jared's rules for this) and the only way to relieve it in Gonzo is to pop your favorite pill or snort your favorite powder. Your character basically must be high in order to succeed, but being high eventually culminates in mass insanity breaking out. We have a really cool mechanic for that mass insanity that I'm not ready to divulge just yet... soon!

But the 70s? Really?

Hell, yes, the 70s. There's a slowly growing body of scholarship which is revisiting the 70s as one of the pivotal decades in American history in a way that the 60s weren't. The 70s saw the rise of the Boomers as influential mainstream political actors, the death of the New Deal consensus, the complete loss of faith in government and community, the settling of race roles which didn't ease up until the '00s, the birth of mass gay rights movements and the Me Generation, all ending in the Carter-Reagan battle which was arguably the most important of the post-war era. It was almost oppressively political in a calcified way; as Thompson said, the bad guys won. That remade America, for good or ill.

Gonzo journalism and grindhouse cinema were both very different reactions to this almost oppressive political and cultural landscape, but they share a lot of parallels. There's a neurotic dread as subtext in both genres. It's that common thread, a pessimism about the world created in the 70s, which spawned hilarious articles, bizarre films, a fuck it all attitude liberating the free thinker to do some crazy stuff that creates the intersection which lets Gonzo run.

I'm stoked.


  1. That "do drugs to reduce stress" thing is maybe not how it's going to work! We'll see.

    But I am stoked too.

  2. Right, yes. I should stress that this is very mutable right now, as Bret's pointing out. There are things settled but even those things aren't final copy settled.

  3. This reminds me of an old movie I watched as well.

    I remember running some games like this where the characters where TV reporters from an occult Channel 1.