Nantes as Inspiration for RPGs: Dark Secrets and Bright Machines

My travels to the Nantes region gave me 2 concepts that could inspire my RPG games.

The Not So Dark Secret

Siting in the estuary of a large, ocean-bound river, Nantes is very much a port city.

As you may know, Nantes was one of the points of the triangular slave trade. It grew fat (probably not just metaphorically) on the Slave/Sugar trade. My point of interest here is not the actual slave trade, I find the subject too distasteful to add something like that to my campaigns. If I did, I’d make the plot based on abolitionists heroes and freed/escaped slaves. What I find interesting is that the city lives with that dark past, and it does so not by denying it but seemingly by accepting it. For example, the city has a memorial to abolition.

So that brings up an interesting concept for gaming. What if a City-State rose to power through means that are no longer socially acceptable? What does its leaders and citizen make of that heritage? Does it deny it, does it bear any degrees of shame/guilt that has transcended the ages? Has it accepted it as a historical fact and moved on?  Has it fallen because of it? An example of that is the Empire of Bael Turath in D&D 4e’s core setting, where citizens and fiends from hell commingled freely in a diabolic civilization. In that case, the empire fell eons ago, but many of its descendants, Tieflings, bear obvious signs of the forgotten lands’ past.

Of more interest to me would be to explore how a nation, having officially abandoned whatever disgraceful/evil activity that propelled it to economic splendor  continues it in secret. I like the idea of a nation openly accepting’s it shameful past yet never truly stopping whatever it was doing. This makes for adventure/campaign fodder.

Campaign Hook:

What if a city-state rose as an eminent power by having discovered how to harness tremendous power from the sacrifice of sentient beings? What if that power also brought corruption in some fashion. What if the costs of such sacrifice became so high that the leaders of the city put an end to it before it they thought it was too late? What if they were wrong about that assumption and the corruption continued unabated ? What if the sacrifices had started again, hidden? The heroes would come from the neighboring kingdoms to put a stop to this.

The Machines of the Island

To say that I was impressed by the hand-crafted machines I saw on the Isle of Nantes is an understatement of colossal proportion. Yes, steampunk is old-news in many RPG settings, but to see it up close, made of finely sculpted wood panels, advanced robotic controls and diesel engines makes one realize just how damn cool this all is. The mechanical elephant reminded me of the Youth Adult trilogy I read a few months ago about Steam Mecha fighting Biologically Engineered living constructs during WWI (The Behemoth, Goliath, Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield).

I love the concept of machines so much that I wrote magazine articles about them and based whole campaigns on them. Here’s some of my current ideas on the subject:

  • A fantasy world where sentient life has exterminated itself  and only sentient machines try to heal a broken world
  • The mechanoid forces of Law declare war on the imperfect and inefficient organics, with a slowly corrupting leader of Law based on Ultron
  • A City-State mounted on gigantic threads, moving around a blasted landscape, looking for the dwindling resources to sustain its increasingly non-nonsensical existence.
  • A party of mechanical PCs exploring a dungeon strictly made of organic structures and denizens… everything in the dungeon is part of a hive-mind.
  • Mechanical PCs, able to withstand the psychic onslaught of Lovecraftian horrors, sent into the outer-dimension of the Elder Ones to close a portal from the other side.

Or maybe like my Gears of Ruin campaign a few years ago:

Imagine a world where the gods won a Pyrrhic victory against the primordial Elemental princes at the dawn of time.   A world where magic is a shadow of what it was. The few struggling civilizations flourish around scattered lakes and inner seas. Elementally-fueled technology has taken the place that magic usually occupies in a generic fantasy world. The world is peppered with forges carved in semi-dormant volcanos, mechanized armies, flying engines powered… Semi-automatic weapons, steel armour, flying dreadnought… Necromancers building Mecha-Zombies troops…

More about that short-lived campaign can be found here and here.


  1. I read your post title quickly and thought you said “nanites,” and that made me think of the G.I. Joe live action movie – modern-day roleplaying using the D&D Monster Manual… but just the oozes (black pudding, gelatinous cube, and so on). Not at all what you meant, but all the same your blog did inspire an idea, right?

  2. Oh, jeez–I also read “nanites,” and got way more excited than I should have, being the Star Trek geek that I am. I’ve been enjoying the ideas you’ve been bringing up by examining these places you’ve visited; great food for thought for a campaign!

  3. Ha! I also thought I was reading about nanites!

    I like your campaign hook – I’ve had an idea for something similar (I might steal a few of your ideas!).

    I have yet to play in a steampunk setting, but every time I hear or read about it I get the itch. Do you (or anyone) have any suggestions as a “starter setting” for steampunk?


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