Greetings, fellow Illuminerdus!
Sit down, equip your tinfoil hat, and enlighten yourself. In this installment of Illuminerdy, we will delve deep into the tubes of the ‘net. Indeed, by utilizing the same well-tread paths of the interweb crazies, GMs can find often better storylines than even the strongest pre-written module. When in need, conspiracy theorists have done almost all of the work for you. All you need to do is appropriate their ramblings, correct their spelling (an unsurprising bit of synergy there among conspiracy theory websites…), add a bit of RPG story to it, and a fantastic game is already well on its way to blowing your players’ minds!
Why, exactly, does this happen? Probably because conspiracy theorists see connections (or make connections) where other people normally would not. In terms of an adventure plot, this insistence on “connecting the dots” helps create a surprisingly strong story and consistency within the design structure of the game. Naturally then, borrowing these plots, schemes, and machinations provides GMs a firm basis for their upcoming Saturday game session.
The way I usually start this process is to say “what if conspiracy theory X were true?” If you don’t think this particular method works, just ask Dan Brown, and the makers of National Treasure. People eat this shit up; we love hidden meanings.
To serve as an example for our conspiratorial game-work, consider a prime candidate. Perhaps no group is the subject of more conspiratorial conjecture than the Freemasons. Speculation about prominent members of the Masonic Fraternity focus not only on power holders in the present day, but also to the founding of the United States. Indeed, these conspiracies extend to some of the most fundamental parts of the U.S. While an entire website could be devoted to the conspiracies of the Freemasons (many are, in fact), I will limit this post to merely show a few choice examples for using Masonic conspiracies for gaming.
Masons have been blamed for everything from the JFK Assassination, to faking the moon landing. They have been mocked, and demonized, and even accused of being reptilians. Yet all of these conspiracies assume one thing: they have power. Considering just these options, it is relatively easy to link these into a cogent game story. Obviously, the Freemasons orchestrated the death of President Kennedy after he launched the Apollo program. Clearly, the alien reptoids feared the new space program would stumble upon the secret lunar tunnels and bases. I wonder what lengths they would go to in order to keep that a secret?
Perhaps one of the most common Masonic Conspiracy theories is that many of our Founding Fathers were members of the Freemasons. Members include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and numerous others. In fact, scholars have identified 9 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence have been identified as masons, while 13 of the 39 signers of the U.S. Constitution have been identified as Freemasons (in the next post, I will identify the significance of No. 13).
Some believe that the Freemasons infiltrated the Founding Fathers–perhaps even manipulated the Independence movement–and founded this country for their own purposes, specifically to accomplish a secret plot of world domination. The obvious question, then, is if/when their insidious plan was accomplished. If it hasn’t been accomplished, clearly the Brotherhood is planning their next moves. How do your PCs fit in with those plans?
In any case, let’s assume that the Masons were responsible for the founding of the U.S. Besides the obvious implications of having Masonic Founding Fathers (who really shaped the Constitution and the early years of the U.S. government?), what happened to the other 3 signers of the Declaration? Who designed the nation’s capital? Undoubtedly, Masonic symmetry would have demanded 13 Masonic signers, but something clearly prevented them from signing the document. Perhaps these Masons, who form a cadre of brothers known as “The Signers,” have descendants in institutions throughout the U.S. government, and the rest of the world. Combine this with any of the other hooks, and you have the beginnings of an opposition for the PC’s to unravel and discover.
Pointing out these conspiracies is great fun, but now we need an example of what I am talking about. How might we utilize all of this wonderful information? You may wish to simply replace the Masons with your desired cult, brotherhood, or order. While it depends on the type of game you are running, ultimately don’t be afraid to just use some of these ramblings wholesale. Crazy people wandering the street of your village/city/spacestation spouting off things like “It is imperative that we awake from our apathy and confront the fact that our country is being taken from us!” These types of people make interesting NPCs to interact with, but also spectacular ways to foreshadow events. What’s better than a crazy soothsayer? A crazy soothsayer with an agenda!
In your game, the utility of conspiracy theories is not just from the secret webs that connect the dots (and the malelovent organizations that do their damndest to keep those connections secret), but also from those that believe them. Perhaps that crazy soothsayer is so forthright in his convictions that he acts–by taking hostages, planting bombs, and causing general mayhem–to shock the populace into seeing his particular brand of truth. He may be trying to forestall the inevitable decline of mankind, or perhaps believes such dramatic actions are the only ways to truly break free of the oppressive regimes that dominate our lives. These aren’t fictional examples. They are totally real.
While we have peeled back a few layers of the conspiracy-laden onion, we must trudge deeper! However, our journey down the rabbit hole must wait until next week, where I show you how to take the ideas posited here, and embed them in a mundane object to really kickstart a campaign. See you next time with “the Conspiracies of the Dollar Bill!”