So sometimes the inspiration for a good game just falls out of the sky. And then, of course, it crashes into Russia with the force of a nuclear explosion. In case it’s not completely clear, I’m talking about the exploding meteoroid that caused massive amounts of damage in and around the Siberian town of Chelyabinsk, ending in an explosion that, according to the New York Times, “…was equivalent to 300 kilotons of TNT, making it the largest recorded since the 1908 Tunguska explosion.” The impact was either caused by an asteroid, a UFO, a quantum rip in space-time, the return of Azathoth, or some combination of the above depending on who you ask, but any conspiracy-minded gamer will know there are dozens of options to choose from.
The apparent explanations for the Chelyabinsk impact (meteoroid) have been much more staid, though only fools would discount the possibility that the explosion was a secret American super-weapon (maybe fired from Area 51) or a UFO.
Regardless, the 15 February impact was particularly useful because I was still struggling to outline a Night’s Black Agents one-shot over Google+ for a variety of friends from the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand. A busy couple of weeks of work had left me short on time to craft the raison d’etre for this particular plot’s sinister vampires, and so — and I say this carefully but deliberately — the devastating Russian explosion was a welcome assist.
One of the nice things about a game with an explicitly contemporary setting like Night’s Black Agents is that you can easily grab game ideas by connecting apparently unrelated current headlines — or news hacking, if I can coin the term. I had already decided to set the game around a container ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, but had only loosely defined paranormal elements about Babylonian artifacts and awakened angry Djinn when the Chelyabinsk meteoroid dropped into my lap. Now I had a current touchstone that everyone in the game would be instantly familiar with, and a potential extraterrestrial source for my paranormal threat, and I didn’t even have to bring in the famous Gulf of Aden stargate (though if I had known about it before the game, I might have included it anyway): the pirates had encountered a secret container transporting samples of the (entirely fictional) alien life forms recovered from the Chelyabinsk impact, which of course ended up infecting the pirates and threatening the fate of the world. There was also something in there about a UFO cargo cult led by a disgraced Libyan astronomer, but the PCs (literally) killed that plot point before it could be fully introduced.
Regardless, as any student of the conspiratorial world can tell you, news hacking can also broadly hint at the sinister hidden hands guiding world events: after all, if seemingly unrelated happenings are indeed linked, there must be someone (or something) pulling the strings.
Inspiration for Improvisation
Of course, news hacking need not only be used for modern or contemporary games. Just looking at the Chelyabinsk case, a more traditional fantasy might still look to a meteorite impact as a vehicle to introduce alien, cosmic, or even divine plot elements (or heck, characters) into a game, or even just as a reminder of the presence of powerful forces beyond the ken of mere mortals. It might be a delivery vehicle, of sorts, for a weapon or artifact of incredible power, or the first evidence of an angel’s fall from heaven.
You don’t have to look too far for inspiration on how to use something like this for a horror or science fiction game, since similar impacts underpin everything from the Andromeda Strain to the War of the Worlds.
You, of course, probably don’t even need those touch-stones. You’ve probably already linked the murder charges against Oscar Pistorius to the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI via a cabal of Luciferian Thule Society sorcerers hoping to hasten the apocalypse as predicted by the Prophecy of St. Malachy.
I’m so proud of all of you.