Saturday, September 15, 2012

Real Life Awesome: Polar Expedition

A while back, I had the good fortune to attend a lecture by a man with an awesome name, Thorleif Thorleifsson. Thorleifsson is a Norwegian sailor, captain, and explorer, who along with Børge Ousland made an amazing trip around the North Pole. Part of what made it remarkable is that the entire expedition was completed in a single season. The Arctic Ocean only thaws enough for ships to travel its waters for a few weeks each year. That the thaw lasted long enough for Thorleifsson and Ousland to do the whole trip in one go is a scary sign of the changing climate. Anyhow...

This is the route they took, sailing out of Norway (top right) and heading east (counterclockwise on this map).

Some of the challenges they faced in real life offer great fodder for plot hooks and/or complications for adventures. These aren't necessarily unique, but it's cool to see these dynamics in action in real life.

Local Bureaucracy - Local bureaucrats exist even north of the Arctic Circle. The difficulty dealing with Russian customs in the east of the country required that they travel on a West-East route. In a game, local authorities can be used to deliver all manner of plot hooks: delays, extortions, pleads for assistance, obstacles to be avoided, etc.

Weight Restrictions - Backpackers will be familiar with the kind of economizing they had to do to maintain speed. Severe restrictions on weight meant that even small gifts (vodka, books) they were given along the way had to be tossed overboard. The trick is to be consistent. You can't one day out of the blue make everyone tally up their encumbrance... unless they had to head out on a small boat or cross a little bridge or squeeze through the needle's eye.

Workin' for the Man - One of the expedition sponsors wanted to tag along for a while. Not only was he not an experienced sailor, they had to budget for his weight, the weight of his food and water, etc. But sometimes pandering to your patron requires sacrifices. Imagine if a local spoiled prince wanted to accompany a party on a dungeon crawl.

Water - Water, water all around and not a drop to drink... I don't imagine that most players are looking to play a logistics game on game night, but periodically challenging the PCs with scarce resources can lead to interesting decisions. As with weight restrictions, the key is coming up with a particular circumstance in which the scarcity of food and/or water is an issue.

Time Constraints - Thorleifsson had to race against time to make sure that the sea did freeze up again. They had a window of about three weeks during which the entire sea is navigable, then it begins to refreeze. This hearkens back to an age-old trope, but it's a good one at any level. Rescuing the princess before her wedding to a horrible suitor, outrunning a bolder, or climbing the mountain before the baddies - they're all good, race against the clock plots.

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