Sunday, May 25, 2014

Da Vinci: Undiscovered Treasures

One of the problems I have with most fantasy role playing games or settings, even including those I've worked on, is the tendency to glorify the past. Historically, there is some precedence for this. The great works of Rome for example, are often looked on by those who came after, hundreds of years, as magnificent and unable to be recreated. Some of the things designed then, still in use now.

But due to the exaggerated nature of role playing games, this tends to be exaggerated in terms of time scope and WHAT was lost. The arts were better. The magic was better. The societies were better. The weapons were better. The enemies were bigger. And most of these settings tend to have a very modern outlook that they white wash everything with. Slavery and other horrific issues are so glossed over that you have to wonder why there is ever conflict to begin with.

The other problem is the near instant communication most fantasy settings seem to have. People from the far north generally have no problem getting to any other region of the world. The fact that the majority of people decide to stay in their locals, especially when those locals are terrible to begin with, is always a head scratcher. "Hey, remember how that one dude became an adventurer and left all of this ice behind? What a fool he was eh?"

But in terms of discoveries and knowledge, knowing that there are things that even know are being uncovered that we didn't know before, in terms of documents, art, and even whole lost cities, the nature of making those discoveries over and over again in a fantasy game isn't that far off.

For example, Paul Strathern notes that Da Vinci had the following:

1. Fist comprehensive published description of anatomy. Not only does Leonardo do this before Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish physician, he does it better and includes more details and important information. Difficult to do since cutting up corpses was a big taboo. In a fantasy game, whose done this for giants? Dragons? Unique monsters that are difficult to kill and you need to know their weak points?

2.The author argues that Da Vinci noted, "The sun does not move" and that Galileo's own works would've went much further if he had Leonardo's notes and information. No access to the original telescope, it has to be developed again.

3. Blood flow: William Harvey discovers the circulation of the blood in 1628, something again, Leonardo notes.

The book notes other things throughout but the important bits are, that despite his current widespread "fame", in his own time, his ideas were not widely spread. His knowledge, and more importantly, his ways of looking at the world, were so radical, that instead of having a university or other wide spread information, most of what Da Vinci does, dies with him. Many of his original paintings and works of art and sculptures, lost to the cruelties of time.

Think about that. A man who dies in 1519, has little of his original works available to us in the year 2014. In role playing games, "Hey, X did this 3,000 years ago." Magic my friends. Lots of magic has to be involved there. Don't be afraid to play with those vast ages of things. One of my favorite bits in a Michael Moorcock Elric story, While the Gods Laugh, is when after searching for an ancient book that is supposed to have the truth of the universe contained within it, Elric fights through many sent assassins and guardians only to have the damn book crumble in his hands. Age is the ultimate enemy there.

In terms of adventure seeds, Da Vinci's works, or in a fantasy campaign, someone's works like him, would be of tremendous value. The author notes that despite his 'change of heart' from his time with Borgia, that Da Vinci continued to work on ideas on how to effectively wage war but since he knew that these devices would be put to evil uses, never published them.

In a role playing campaign, it's a simple matter to have someone know that the creator, perhaps a mage whose harnessed the energy needed to open summoning gates into grenade like weapons, has written these ideas and devices down on paper or tablet or rune staff, and send the players out to capture it.

This would pit the characters against a great thinker. One who may not wish to go out or allow his ideas out into the world to cause harm, but would probably not want himself to come under such harm. Such a thinker might have a wide vareity of traps and guardians of his own.

In a historical based campaign though, well, that might not be true. Imagine a world where someone knew that Da Vinci was still working on his weapons of war and captured those notes? How could Leonardo have fought them off? Mind you, the artist did use a special "mirror script" that would be difficult to translate. Even back then he knew the value of what he did and those ideas he had.

Historically, over half of what Da Vinci wrote was lost to history. His many books and efforts to capture his process into an even flow never having taken place.

Knowledge can indeed be lost but remember that it can often be lost forever if the means of preserving it aren't taken into account.