Monthly Archives: June 2010

Plot-a-Day: The Lizard People of Los Angeles

In an Article in the Los Angeles Times, dated January 29, 1934,  reporters tell of G. Warren Shufelt, an engineer who was attempting to penetrate secret tunnels under the city in which Lizard People were supposed to live. The tunnels, supposedly located by “X-Ray” (which is just a word they threw in the article I guess), were said to be one of three lost cities on the pacific coast in which the lizards lived after a “great catastrophe” some five thousand years ago.

Lizard People Tunnels Under Los Angeles

Naturally, the story isn’t actually plausible. pulls it apart quite nicely. Of course we are not interested in the cold, boring reality; we are interested in how this could be turned into an exciting story. And that’s just very easy.

  • The basic plot here is that the characters are hired to expose Shufelt’s attempt to defraud investors in the lizard man treasure hunt.
  • The lizard man caves could be literally real; the lizards could hide treasures there or there could just be natural riches (gold or other precious metals). The characters could attempt to do what Shufelt did, or if you set the story in 1934, they could join forces with him or work against him in trying to secure the treasure.
  • The lizards could actually have evil intentions, and are perhaps behind a series of missing people in Los Angeles. In the course of the investigation, the players come across these tunnels. It’s very Lovecraftian, and may be an ideal first adventure that pulls the characters into investigating Mythos activities in the first place.
  • In a more modern approach, the secret tunnels could be an alien outpost; after all reptilian aliens are a staple of the UFO myth.
  • The tunnels could be part of a greater underworld realm. This could lead to the Hollow Earth, there could be Atlantean refugees or ruins down there, and so on. Cave exploration has captivated audiences in role-playing games and adventure stories for ages.
  • The city project to build Los Angeles’ subway hits these tunnels and the characters are called in to investigate them.
  • Do a bait-and-switch. The monsters turn out not to be real, but the tunnels are used by Pirates, the Mafia and smugglers, revolutionaries against the American Theocracy, illegal immigrants, or other outcasts from society.
  • One word: Morlocks.

(Via Strange Maps: Secret Caves of the Lizard People.)

The Price of Flying

World of Warcraft, still the dominant MMORPG, lets players purchase mounts – riding animals like horses and so on – in order to speed up travel across its virtual world. As such, they are a greatly appreciated convenience. With Burning Crusade, the first expansion to the game, Blizzard added an improvement over the classic mounts: Flying mounts. Since the world featured in The Burning Crusade, the Outlands, is a ragged, torn-apart world with many mountains, valleys, and even outright gaps between areas, this addition made perfect sense. Flying mounts were also usable in the second expansion’s new continent, Northrend (with the purchase of an additional skill at a higher level). And since you can’t take something like this away from players again, Flying is going to be available all over Azeroth with the next expansion, Cataclysm.

One of the many flying mounts in World of Warcraft

There’s no question that using these flying mounts makes travel much faster, much more convenient, and lets one progress through the game much faster. In the old days, you had to travel to wherever your quest took you, often fighting unrelated enemies on the way, and now you can swoop in on the back of your griffin, complete your quest, and fly again on out and into the sunset.

But there’s also a price for this convenience. And it’s actually one that is much higher than most people realize.

These days, there’s the Midsummer festival in Azeroth, and with it came a lot of festival specific quests. As I was completing them with my mage, I kept coming across other high level players in places that are usually completely deserted. In one case we even grouped up for mutual defense against our enemies, the Horde, and at the end I teleported everybody to a safe city.

Memories came back to me, of my early characters. When I had to ride through the same landscapes to complete quests. Back then, I’d meet many people, and oftentimes, we’d join forces to complete the quests, role-playing and chatting along the way.

Once flying mounts become available, though, what would have happened is the same thing that happens in Outlands and Northrend now: People swoop in, take their quest objective, and leave again. They have a much smaller chance to meet each other, and even when they do see each other, they never form groups, except for the hardest of quests – and in those cases, it’s not usually by chance, but by out of character chat.

So the price of flying mounts is reduced interaction, reduced socializing, and reduced role-playing. I know some people couldn’t care less, but personally I think this is sad. Not only does it take away opportunities to meet new people, it also lessens the immersion in the game world.

Naturally this does not mean that Blizzard should remove the flying mounts, or even limit them. It’s too late for that anyway. But I know if I were to ever design an MMO, I’d think long and hard about adding such freedom of movement – and err on the side of caution.