Note: It’s getting late, so this is only part 1 of the city creation session write-up for the playtest. I’ll try to type the rest up tomorrow.
We had our city burning session last Thursday, and Milton Keynes has now entered the Dresdenverse. These notes are still a work in progress, as we’re all still researching elements, and they do need to be cleaned up and simplified. We also need to actually name the NPCs, as opposed to just saying who they are, but that will come later.
Before anything else, though, a small confession: the game calls for the creation of a city and, technically, Milton Keynes is only a town. Milton Keynes was originally designed to be a city, but was called a town when the project went live. We’ve applied for city status a number of times and have always been turned down. People refer to Milton Keynes as a city, and to the centre of town as the “city centre”. The population of the town is higher than many British cities. In our hearts we know it’s a city and, damn it, that’s good enough for this game. Anyone who disagrees can fight me for it, and be warned that I scratch and bite like a little girl.
The biggest challenge in the burning session turned out to be not falling into the trap of tying all the elements we discussed into the themes and background of Unknown Armies instead. The more we discussed and researched Milton Keynes, the more the elements of post-modern magic, tension caused by conflicting symbols, and cabals battling over control of the hidden meanings of life seemed to fit here. We think we’ve managed to avoid this trap for the moment, but we are sure as hell going to have a UA game after this to use all the leftover elements (hey, there’s a limited edition of Fabergé eggs to celebrate Bletchley Park, all of which have detail made from wiring from an Enigma machine – fish in a barrel!)!
As mentioned in an earlier post, Milton Keynes is a brand new town incorporating old villages which, in turn, were built on Saxon, Roman and neolithic settlements. It’s lots of places brought together into one. Almost all of its residents are originally from somewhere else. Again, as discussed earlier, Milton Keynes is the “city in the forest”, and is all about the amalgamation of nature and artifice. Everything is green and everything is concrete. The city is best known for concrete cows, after all!
Wolverton, in north Milton Keynes, was at the heart of Britain’s railway system. The Grand Union canal passes through the town, as does Watling Street, built over the Roman road known as Iter II. People who believe in ley lines think that a large number of them join in Milton Keynes. The various strange structures around MK (more on these later) are laid out in a straight line, deliberately joined together.
Milton Keynes is, per capita, the most surveilled town in the most surveilled country in the world. There are CCTV cameras everywhere, watching everything you do. Charles Stross used this fact to great effect in his novella, The Concrete Jungle.
Willen Park – Aspect: The old made new
At first glance, Willen Park is a pretty standard city park. Then you notice odd things: the buddhist monastery; the giant pagoda built to stave off nuclear war; the tree festooned with ribbons, prayers and offerings to the dead; a labyrinth carved in the soil, punctuated with bronze discs with ancient sun faces; a stone circle built only a few years ago, fusing Celtic and Native American designs and used as a living worship site by local neopagans. And, across the road there’s man-made wood with the trees laid out in the floor-plan of a cathedral, positioned so that it’s in a straight line with the other features mentioned and with the old neolithic sacred mound at Secklow and a beacon in Campbell park.
Everything in this place is about old traditions, some of them prehistoric, reinvented for the modern world. It’s the very essence of Milton Keynes.
Oh, and the monk who founded the peace pagoda died there in a bizarre lawnmower accident. We keep coming across stuff to do with lawnmowers, but that all really belongs in an Unknown Armies game.
Themes: rebirth, reinvention, peace, mysteries, lawnmowers.
NPC: The current head of the monastery, a mortal representative to the Concrete Council (more on them later).
A touch of magic: Well, all these weird features have to have a use, right?
The Estates – Aspect: Isolation
Milton Keynes isn’t all old villages. The majority of the accommodation is new, and it’s grouped together in cookie-cutter estates dotted all over the town. These estates are somewhere between crowded urban housing and suburban blandness. The houses in a given estate all tend to look similar, if not the same, and the estates themselves are hidden from the outside world by thick walls of trees. You can drive through Milton Keynes for hours and know no more of these estates than names on street signs.
Themes: Contained, man-made, surrounded by nature, mundane (possible protection from magic), exists that go nowhere (many are still under construction, and junctions that have exits ending in fields are a common sight), fiefdoms.
A touch of magic: these places are powder kegs of repressed emotions and desperation. The White Court use them as an all-you-can-eat buffet and manage them carefully.
NPC: A White Court vampire, shepherding the residents of Bradwell to give him the desperation he needs to sustenance.
Bletchley Park – Aspect: Revealing Secrets
Bletchley Park is a manor house in the south of Milton Keynes. It is best known as Station X, the centre of Britain’s code-breaking efforts in the second world war. It was here that Alan Turing’s team broke the Enigma code, providing the allies with vital intelligence. Also, vitally, this was the birthplace of the first electronic computer and, hence, of the information age.
Now, Bletchley Park is a museum, but one badly short of funding. It’s hanging on by its fingertips, a but shabby in places and in imminent danger of closure.
Themes: the manor house, decaying glory, old technology, birth of the information age, where it all changed, dangerous experiments.
A touch of magic: In our Dresdenified Milton Keynes, Bletchley Park has additional significance. The magical basis of Milton Keynes will be discussed a bit further on, but a part of it is that Bletchley Park was more than just the centre of the code-breaking effort; it was also central to Britain’s magical resources in the war. The mystical forces of Nazi Germany were fought here by British wizards, and in doing so they tapped into the forces dormant in this town, to potentially disastrous effect. Again, though, more on that later.
Also, from a magical perspective, this is where it all changed. Wizards have trouble with modern technology, and this is where it came from. Maybe in the old relays and valves of the Colossus machine and the Bombs there could be the genesis of a technology that wizards can actually use. For this reason alone, some wizards are very interested in what happened here.
NPC: The curator of the museum, a secret White Council wizard.
Wolverton – Aspect: Eating the past
Wolverton was the home of Wolverton Railway Works, where much of Britain’s rolling stock was built and maintained. It was such a driving force for the area that three towns, Wolverton, Stony Stratford and New Bradwell) were effectively built to house the workers (all three existed before, but in much, much smaller forms). It was a shining example of Victorian enterprise and engineering. Now, Wolverton works is partly derelict, and the rest of it is now a large Tesco supermarket. The town itself, while not too run down, is definitely a shadow of its former self.
Themes: The railway, decay, overcrowded, rich ethnic mix, canal, ancient history, lost town, starvation, the secret garden.
A touch of magic: Wolverton is built on the site of an ancient village whose residents were starved out by the local lord. There has to be some psychic residue from that! There are also a number of old festivals that are still followed to this day (like the lantern festival), a secret garden hidden down by the canal, with all sorts of odd features, including a stone spiral, and, outside the main shopping centre, a statue of a South American fertility god.
NPC: The secret gardener, who tends and grows this strange little site for his own purposes