Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Now and Then, Here and There


Talking about the nihilism present in Dying Earth a while back got me thinking about other post-apocalyptic settings.  Actually, looking through my notes to find a quote from Dying Earth I found a poem that's presented at the start of each episode of a series called "Now and Then, Here and There"

Because ten billion
years' time is
so fragile,
so ephemeral...
it arouses such a
bittersweet,
almost heartbreaking
fondness.

I like to wax poetically when I first describe a setting to my players.  I think the above captures that feeling perfectly.  Of how insignificant civilization is, how in the grand scope of things what we build will never persist, what we exploit will not grow back, what we will have is a world spanning desert.

Now and Then, Here and There takes the standard boy travels into a fantasy world and turns it on its head.  Shu the protagonist is every bit the loveable idealist you're used to, the world however, is quite different.  Shu does not train with an old wise man, he does not exhibit any special powers, he's merely a boy who's been dropped into a hellscape of endless wastes in the middle of a wermacht of heartless soldiers in lockstep, many of them children.  All taking place in a giant doomsday nautilus aptly named Hellywood.


 

Brian, we're talking about boys so young they haven't got hair one between their legs.  
That's never been any qualification for a soldier.
Good Christ!
The final stage of any mobilization is the children, the seed corn.
What in God's name did they teach you in here? What did they turn you into?
A soldier. The only thing I ever wanted to be.

Children, some even younger than Shu, form a large part of Hellywood's armies and they are the focus of the show.  How something so fantastical as stepping through a portal into another world can be so perverted, so bastardized by the cruelty of men.  Children capturing other children to swell the ranks, with promises that after the war they go back to their homes.  No one ever tells them the war is never ending, most are too shocked to see their homes burning in the distance as the convoy returns to Hellywood.

Through it all we see Shu maintain his heroic veneer.  Refusing to fall in line, questioning and assailing the immoral acts of the army.  The kind hearted few question their beliefs, the others beat and imprison him.  Still we never see Shu give up hope, he remains a lightning rod of the worlds hatred but a tiny mote of light for us.  For what's to stop us from degenerating into barbarism without the selfless act of good men.  I won't spoil anymore but let's just say the main tension of the series is the lifelong belief's of Shu's and our own in modern society constantly being tested and potentially broken.

Now the people in Dying Earth are happily fatalistic, even in the face of the coming abyss.  They have untold wonders of the world to explore but instead settle for petty squabbles at best and outright superstitious barbarism at worst.  In Now and Then, Here and There, there are no wonders left.  The world is nothing but sand and the prevailing focus of all residents is the search for water.  Some band together, often times forcibly, but they all move towards one goal.  In Dying Earth the end is inevitable, in NT,HT the end can be staved off and people hunt and search, kill and steal in the name of water.  I think that's a very important dichotomy for when you create a post-apocalyptic setting, the motivations of the people depend entirely on the predicament they are in, and how they got there.