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04 August 2014 @ 07:39 pm
The tale of a ruined city  
One of the aspects of gaming I like best is emergent storytelling. I'm pretty sure I've told the story about the necromancer I was supposed to kill in Oblivion, where I busted into the tomb only to find several dead skeletons. I continued exploring and found some more dead zombies and skeletons...and a dead orc, and then further on I heard the sounds of combat. Following them past more formerly-undead corpses and the bodies of a couple more orcs and a khajiit, I burst into the necromancer's chamber just as the party of orc and khajiit adventurers killed him and then all turned to face me.

I wasn't the hero of that story, in the end, and the feeling of being part of a world that actually existed when the PC wasn't nearby and didn't just revolve around me was worth not completing the quest myself.

I have a preference for games that allow these kind of events, so there's plenty of other stories I could tell, like the Byzantine emperor who spent vast funds on educating his son only to live to be 97 and the throne pass to his great-grandson (his son having long since died) who ran the empire into the ground, or the Civilization game where the entire world was at war from ~990 AD until my spaceship reached Alpha Centauri sometime in the 2050s. But the reason I'm writing this post is because of this screenshot I took in in my heavily-modded Minecraft install:

Below is a mossy, overgrown road, leading to an abandoned walled city. On the left is a mausoleum filled with the unquiet dead. On the right, out of the shot, are two guard towers built between the city and a graveyard. On the north side of the city is another mausoleum, and the entire landscape around the city is riven with chasms, one of which is visible on the minimap to the south. There are two more to the north, and one to the northeast that cuts through the city gates. And underneath the city is a vast dungeon complex, parts of which are barely visible in some of the rifts around the cityscape.

So I had to wonder--what happened here? Why is there a graveyard and two mausoleums? Was this a city of necromancers, who found a secluded place to work their arts until a plague of the dead wiped them out? Was it a group of sorcerers with the same motivation, who angered the gods with their hubris until the earth shook, the sky burned, the dead clawed their way out of the grave, and the sun rose the next day on a smoking ruin?

Or maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way around. Maybe this was an archetypal B/X D&D city, built near a vast dungeon and surviving on treasure pulled out of the depths and the money spent by adventurers who came to the dungeon. The sheer number of graves nearby were built because dungeon-delving is a profession with an extremely high mortality rate, and those adventurers who couldn't afford resurrection at least gave their companions a good funeral. As for what happened, maybe it was a Death Frost Doom situation, where some adventurers with more courage than sense unleashed a plague of undead that wiped out the town. Or maybe a magical disaster brought on by conflict between two groups of adventurers. With adventurers all over town, there are hundreds of things that could have gone wrong. Adventurers are nothing but trouble.

There's one thing I haven't mentioned yet. When I went down and explored the city, I noticed that there were no lights anywhere, not even on the lamp posts. As any player of Minecraft knows, darkness lets the monsters in, so a city with no lights at all would be a deathtrap after dark. That implies sabotage. Maybe a group of vampires living in the dungeon who sent their thralls to douse the lights, wiping out the town? Or perhaps liches or other undead that aren't dependent on living humans for sustenance. There we go--the liches at the bottom of the dungeon got sick of all the adventurers delving into their research complex and decided to wipe out the city to prevent further incursions.

Huh. I'm pretty sure I could get hours of tabletop gaming out of that one screenshot.
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