GURPS Thaumatology: Alchemical Baroque

Designer's (Bibliographic) Notes

GURPS Thaumatology: Alchemical Baroque doesn't have a bibliography, partly because it started life as a chapter in GURPS All-Star Jam back in 2004, and that was written to a specific word count limit and I had other priorities, but also because it's not really that sort of book. That is to say, it's about a specific setting, and while it attempts to capture a flavor of a particular type of story - the traditional European fairy tale - and a particular period - the early 18th century - it's not a game version of any specific story or book or whatever, licensed or thinly disguised.

However, that said, I had a few things in mind when I was originally writing it, which I recalled to mind when I was preparing the expanded update. First off are, of course, those fairy stories - or rather, in truth, a modern idea of those stories. It's easy enough to track down the classic collections of stories from Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm; many translations are out of copyright these days, and can be found for free online, in places like The Fairy Tale Archive, but to be honest, I didn't spend much time there; I was more interested in the image that I had of those stories in my mind, which I hoped would resonate with many readers. In fact, one of the biggest influences on the setting design may have been some modern TV adaptations of those tales, especially Jim Henson and company's wonderful The Storyteller from 1987. That's how I'd like Alchemical Baroque games to look.

But I also wanted to catch some of the feel of the historical period - an age of muskets and tricorn hats, which was inventing many modern ideas about fantasy while also inventing the modern world. I wanted a change from the idea of plate-armoured, axe-swinging fantasy heroes, and reverting to the peasant lads and soldier-boys of that age seemed like an interesting alternative. But this was also an era that produced more realistic stories of wandering adventurers in war and peace; for example, I remembered Stanley Kubrick's movie of Barry Lyndon (1975), which is a little slow-moving and sombre for gamer use, but which certainly suggests a model for an adventurer's career. (For those who'd prefer something a bit more roistering, there are other options, such as the movie or TV adaptations of Fielding's Tom Jones.)

Then I moved outwards. I'd studied Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels at school many years ago, and much of it had stuck; if anyone only knows this from the movie versions, I really do suggest going to the text (ideally in a version with a decent introduction and footnotes, although I'm sure that you can find that sort of information online if necessary) - and so that became the not-very-hidden inspiration for Alchemical Baroque's ideas about lands beyond the seas. Equally, I had a soft spot for Peter Greenaway's movie The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), with its heightened treatment of historical social reality, and that became a key inspiration for the society of the Green Archipelago.

And so on. There's plenty more from the period that anyone might mine for inspiration - Robinson Crusoe, Joseph Andrews, the works of Voltaire, more recent movies such as Ridicule, any good history of the reign of Louis XIV or the Seven Years War - but the really important thing is that most of us already know this stuff. We grew up on bits and pieces of the legacy of that period and its stories; the idea with Alchemical Baroque is to twist it all around and make up a game world in which what we might know about what those people thought fits the reality, more or less.

- Phil Masters