Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Lincon Park Zoo

One of the nice things about living in Chicago, outside of having one of the most expensive set of taxes, parking tickets, public transportation, gas, and electricity, is there is a lot of free stuff to do and a lot of it is cool if you're willing to either take public transportation there or be gouged on 'public' parking.

I went with the later option knowing that I was going to be doing some further driving down the road and went to the Lincon Park Zoo. Turns out that after thirty years the zoo is going to be, in theory, temporarily removing the penguins due to the age of the machines in the park. They are some odd thirty years old.

Bad news? A few of the beasts were no where to be found. A lot of the cafes were closed. The price for a bottle of water or soda was $3.00. My girl friend smoked me in terms of walking. Sure, I've got a broken toe, but when we hit the gym I'm usually able to do the cardio far longer then her. The reality of walking up and down and moving in the outdoors came into play here. Embarrassing! I'm sure there are a few other petty annoyances I could think of but...

The good was that it was a fantastic day in Chicago. The crowd's weren't too bad. There were plenty of places to sit so that when my girlfriend was leaving me in the dust, I was able to gather my wits. My camera actually lasted most of the trip so I had opportunity to take a lot of pictures, or at least, my girlfriend did after I showed her how to work the thing and she stopped worrying about dropping it.

But why post this type of stuff here on Appendix N? What about it brought out any gaming inspiration?

Lots of things.

For one, despite it being a public and free zoo, it has a lot of variety there. Sure, you're typical fantasy campaign setting may not be appropriate to throw all of the animals that you can see gathered in one spot at a zoo, but it does allow you to get an idea of just how diverse animal life can be.

Differences in animals of the same type and the same breed can be vast. This one should be a no brainer. I'm six and a half feet tall and a fat bastich. I tower over a lot of my co workers and outweigh many of them. You'd think some of them were from pygmy tribes if you didn't know we were all human.

The same is true of animals but even more so. For example, one set of birds I saw had different lengths and colors of beaks. The sizes between male and female can be vast, and not always in the male's favor. The coloration of animals can vary by age. In one exhibit on fish, the smallest of the fist started off as yellow with blue stripes and grew to be blue as they grew larger. And the smallest of these fish were perhaps in the two to three inch range while the largest were over a foot in length and almost as wide.

Adding little details like that can either be boring or fascinating for your group, depending on the preference of the players. For example, knowing that an ape should be approximately so many pounds and knowing that whatever they're following appears to be an ape, but one much larger, is mostly background noise leading to a confrontation with a giant ape, but what if the nature sense people can tell that even at the giant size, it's still a young ape? Now you're setting up foreshadowing.

Animals also have their own needs and cares. One of the bears had surgery on its mouth so that its tongue slightly protruded. The animal would have died without it but thanks to modern science it was saved. These distinguishing marks can be the sign of a druid or other animal lover in the region or noticing issues with the animals in the first place, could be the start of a separate campaign dealing with plague.

The movie reviewer, Ebert, noted that the Hunted, wasn't some tricky fighting movie but that its characters looked like they had weight and that they felt ever blow and cut between each thrust and attack. When looking at some of the animals here, especially some of the lions or the rhino, its important to think about how weight can be an issue. A charging rhino may not have all that jazz of a demon or undead, but the sheer weight of it should be enough to ensure that all but the most heavily armed and armored character strive to remove themselves.

The important thing though, is that with all of the things animals can have going for them, in terms of superior senses, using the environment, pack tactics, and a host of other bits, that if the GM goes out of his way to make them 'realistic' and the players are feeling like they're in a slash fic remake of The Ghost and the Darkness, then what happens when the GM starts using supernatural elements like demons and devils or animals that are well, greater animals such as dire or legendary?

I'm not saying ditch all the cool elements that an animal can bring to the game, but don't become so bogged down in how much more dangerous hippos are than crocodiles that you make them tougher than stone giants. Respect the animals but in most fantasy games, know their place.