Sunday, August 29, 2010

What else is in Warehouse 13?

While they don't make a big point of it at first, it gradually becomes clear that in Warehouse 13 (the corny but fun SyFy [sic] television show) artifacts get formed by a person of surpassing talent and genius, and tend to reflect something about that person's genius. The oldest artifacts, which date to ancient times, usually have an unknown provenance; presumably some brilliant prelate, engineer, or whatever made them, and then they picked up the power of that brilliance by whatever typically-unintended process makes artifacts. For more recent ones we often know who made them, and the show writers have a lot of fun with this, making references to Escher, Carlos Santana, Man Ray, and other people they'd like to honor with a declaration of genius-level talent.

It occurred to me while stacking wood the other day that, somewhere in Warehouse 13, there has to be a pair of Neil Peart's drumsticks, and using them has to cause one to temporarily gain the ability to do six things at once with your arms and legs. Maybe that'll come up in the show one day, and wouldn't it be just so cool if Neil also had a brief cameo when it did? (Boy, would he be slumming to be on a show like this, but if it were funny and self-deprecating, he might do it. Remember Geddy Lee's appearance on the Bob & Doug Mackenzie single "Take Off"?)

Thinking this one thing alone made me wonder how good Warehouse 13 might be as a setting for a roleplaying game. Okay, now, I realize how around-the-loop I've gone on this. The show's premise clearly can be traced to that final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (the show even recently hung a hat on that fact with a reference to the location of the Ark of the Covenant), and that scene has had lots of impact on the world of roleplaying games (most obviously in the name of Steve Jackson's "Warehouse 23"), and one might even surmise that the creators of Warehouse 13 might have been influenced by those games. (It's not too crazy. The fact that the crew in Leverage seems so much like a roleplaying game group turns out to be because the creator plays them.)

But one could just rattle off ideas for things that should be in Warehouse 13 given its premise, by thinking of geniuses throughout history who might have had their genius "rub off" on something, and each one of these is a seed for an adventure. What does each artifact do? How can that turn out to go wrong -- either by working against the person using it in a way they don't immediately realize, or by being misused? How can that be brought to the attention of the warehouse staff? And bang, there's your adventure.

Probably the writers do this sometimes, but sometimes they clearly think of the story first, then figure out the artifact and associated genius to go with it (and sometimes they don't even talk about the genius or the artifact's provenance at all). And that's probably good -- it keeps the show from being too formulaic. A concern that probably wouldn't arise for running a roleplaying game, though.

The show's probably not popular enough to warrant a license being sold to Margaret Weis Productions, and if it ever were, there wouldn't be that much to be worth including in the book -- a few notes on how to come up with artifacts, some stats for the Tesla and Farnsworths, and the same old core rules system with a few things strapped on, and that's about it. No, this is the kind of game you could start playing tomorrow with any old system you liked. The whole setting is just the real world (which you hopefully already know) plus the artifact-of-the-week (which works precisely however you feel it has to -- there's really no need to design them with a "point buy" system or anything). So all I'd need is some time to do it and some players who wanted to do it.

Oh well, put that idea back on the shelf. I don't even have time and players to run the game I'm already running, let alone ten others.

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