Monday, February 16, 2015

Strange Inspiration: Atrocity Archives

The Strange core rulebook includes a set of readings that can serve as inspiration for games.  Some of the readings are inspirational for specific recursions.  A rare set are inspirational for the nature of the recursions and the game as a whole.  I ran across a book that serves just that role.

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross tells a story mixing elements of office politics and Lovecraftian horror.  Most surprisingly, the emphasis is squarely on the former.  You can think of it as Office Space (in a government setting) meets Hellboy.

I won't provide serious spoilers -- but it is hard to provide a compelling review (even one, like this, intended solely to connect the book to a game setting) without out revealing a little about the setting and plot.  Consider this a soft spoiler warning.

The Atrocity Archives tells the story of a junior employee brought into a secret organization (The Laundry) that works to suppress knowledge that humans should not know -- and the various "things" attracted to this knowledge.  The junior employee -- who goes by Bob Howard, because names have power -- was picked up when his work in computer hacking gets him a little too close to dangerous knowledge.  Now he works in IT updating computers for The Laundry.  

I won't go into details of the plot but there are several reasons why this can be useful for developing your own Strange campaign.

1]  The plot centers on the notion that there are multiple worlds.   Key elements of the plot involve terrorist plots that require moving between worlds.  This can provide some models of how to include plots of competing organizations with the ability to slip between worlds.

2] The basis for moving between worlds -- and all magic in the setting -- is advanced mathematics.  The role of information as the basis for all magic is very close to the notion of the The Strange as an ancient computer.  Reading through the novel provides several examples of rhetoric and descriptions of information-based magic that one could translate into the fractal-heavy theme of The Strange.

3] The emphasis on office politics might also be useful to your game.  If you are running a campaign based on The Estate, you will find some inspiration for inter-office politics and the structure of a bureaucratized organization as the setting for your work.  Consider for a moment the combination of tedium and terror that would accompany being the IT person for The Estate.  You may not want to emphasize office politics as much as the novel does, but it can still be inspirational.

It so happens that the novel is also a great read.  Most versions are bundled with the related novella (a semi-sequel) won a Hugo Award -- which is a pretty good sign of quality.

It is pretty heavy with the Lovecraftian threats (so if that is not your thing, you may want to pass).  It is also focused more on the office side (so skip it if you want tentacles on every page).  If you like the idea of the mix of the two, this is a great start.  Jump in and enjoy the story that involves the line "I fuzzed his eigenvector."

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