Pop Culture · RPGs

Ffinding Inspiration: The Works of Jasper Fforde (Part 1)

ThursdayWithCar

This time on Finding Inspiration, we’re taking a look at the works of Jasper Fforde and how they could be incorporated into your roleplaying diet.  This is the first of two articles, with this one dealing with Fforde’s longer, more developed Thursday Next series.

Thursday Next  

This series of books consists of 7 titles thus far, namely:

  • The Eyre Affair (2001)
  • Lost in a Good Book (2002)
  • The Well of Lost Plots (2003)
  • Something Rotten (2004)
  • First Among Sequels (2008)
  • One of our Thursdays is Missing (2011)
  • The Woman Who Died a Lot (2012)

The series focuses on the character of Thursday Next who, at the start of the series, is a “SpecOps” agent in Swindon in an alternative 1985.  The world that Thursday inhabits is quite different to our own and is compelling in many ways.

In examining the potential of this setting for use in an RPG, I intend to explore setting and character before musing on suitable game systems for this setting.

Setting and Characters

The series is set in an alternative version of England in 1985.  A review of The Eyre Affair over at the MuggleNet blog gives a brief summary of the key points:

In this world, or timeline, or whatever, the Germans won World War II, Wales is a People’s Republic, and England is a police state in which the Goliath Corporation wields a sinister amount of influence. Also, England has been at war with Russia for over 130 years over a muddy little Black Sea peninsula called the Crimea, and the war has not gone well. People take literature VERY seriously– violently, criminally, dangerously so. And among the bizarre things that are possible in this world are time travel, vampires, werewolves, cloning, and reverse extinction (everyone seems to have a pet dodo, for instance).

This concise summary gives you an idea of just how different things are in the England of Thursday Next, but although the series touches on all of these things, none are the real focus.  In the first book of the series Thursday’s uncle Mycroft creates an amazing device known as The Prose Portal.  It may be used to jump into any work of fiction.  The traveller can explore the world of their favourite book, talk to the characters, really experience their favourite stories from a whole new perspective.

In the first book, Thursday uses this to investigate a crime within the pages of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and the prose portal is the only way in and out of fiction.  Throughout the series, several organisations, such as the overbearing Goliath Corporation, try to get their hands on a prose portal.  That said, Thursday quickly learns to jump into books herself and no longer needs the prose portal.  Once inside the world of fiction, she can also jump from title to title using her trust travel book.

Back in the “real world”, Thursday works for SpecOps, a grouping of specialist police divisions, largely funded by the Goliath Corporation.  Each of the SpecOps divisions fulfils a unique purpose and some are quite secretive, with their purposes not known to the general public.

specops_big_title

Here is a list of known SpecOps departments:

  • SpecOps 1: The division that polices SpecOps itself.
  • SpecOps 2: Weirder Stuff (aliens according to an unpublished chapter of The Eyre Affair).
  • SpecOps 3: Office for Alternate Universe Travel (as opposed to time travel) a.k.a. Weird Stuff The Eyre Affair.
  • SpecOps 5: Search & Containment. SpecOps 5 is given a man to track until “found and contained” (a euphemism for killed), then is posted with another target. SpecOps 4 is “pretty much the same” but after a different target. SpecOps 5’s assignments have included Acheron Hades and his sister Aornis.
  • SpecOps 6: National Security, the department responsible for protecting the president and prime minister. It has also been responsible for protecting Mycroft Next, presumably from the Russians, as he is a scientific genius.
  • SpecOps 9: Antiterrorism.
  • SpecOps 12: The ChronoGuard, or the Office for Special Temporal Stability. Responsible for policing the timestream, dealing with Anomalous Time Ripplation and repairing paradoxes and timephoons.
  • SpecOps 13: Genetic detectives, responsible for the destruction of chimeras and the regulation of genetic engineered pets, including those formerly extinct. SpecOps 13 is also responsible for Neanderthal affairs.
  • SpecOps 14: Tactical support, known for its sharpshooters and trigger-happiness.
  • SpecOps 15: Drug Enforcement Agency.
  • SpecOps 17: Suckers & Biters, the Vampire and Werewolf Disposal Operation. Despite a three-point confirmation procedure, every so often one of its operatives stakes a goth by mistake. SpecOps 17 also deals with Supremely Evil Beings, thousands of which are contained and placed in plain glass jars at the Loathsome Id Containment Facility; and ghosts, zombies, demons, and other supernatural beings.
  • SpecOps 21: Transport Authority.
  • SpecOps 22: English Aviation Authority.
  • SpecOps 23: Food and Drugs administration.
  • SpecOps 24: Art crime.
  • SpecOps 25: Industrial Safeguards.
  • SpecOps 26: Pasta Police.
  • SpecOps 27: The Literary Detectives, the agency responsible for dealing with forged or stolen manuscripts and works of literature.
  • SpecOps 28: Inland Revenue Services, including assessing income taxes.
  • SpecOps 29: The Shakespeare division, granted its own wing of SpecOps rather than falling under the purview of SO-27.
  • SpecOps 30: Neighbourly Disputes. (Note: on Jasper Fforde’s official SpecOps website, SO-30 is given as the Public Services Enforcement Authority.)
  • SpecOps 31: Good Taste Re-education Authority. In First Among Sequels it is the Cheese Enforcement Agency.
  • SpecOps 32: Domestic Horticultural Enforcement Agency.
  • SpecOps 33: Entertainments Facilitation Department.
  • SpecOps 34: GlobalWebPolice.

Thursday works for SO27, investigating crimes to do with fiction, such as book theft, plagiarised manuscripts, fraudulent books and the like.  Each of the SpecOps divisions has a narrow and clearly-defined purpose, making them effective starting points for an RPG campaign.  My favourite division is SO12, aka the ChronoGuard, who police time.  Thursday’s father is a rogue member of the ChronoGuard, so it gets lot of attention in the books.

When he went rogue, he was technically erased from history as a ChronoGuard member appeared at his parents’ house on the night on conception and executed a well-timed knock on the door, thereby interrupting a key event and negating his existence.  He is still around because of his extensive work with the ChronoGuard seeding echoes of himself through time.  It does mean that most of Thursday’s interactions with her father are out of chronological order, but this is handled really well in the books!

A natural detective, Thursday ends up working a detective in both the real world and the book world when she joins the book world’s law enforcement agency, Jurisfiction.

As part of Jurisfiction, she travels from genre to genre and book to book dealing with crimes as varied as kidnapping, theft and bookrunning, as well settling disputes between fictional characters and ensuring that character maintain the plot of their books whenever they are read.  She also finds herself dealing with the sort of wierd and wonderful creatures that would be at home in any RPG campaign.  These include Verbisoids, Nounfish, Converbilators, Adjectivores and bookworms, as well as creatures from fictions such as the Minotaur or one of thousands of clones of Mrs Danvers from Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel, Rebecca.

For the avid RPG party, there is also a great range of cool, specialist equipment, including the portable FootNoterPhone, the handy Eject-O-Hat, the essential TestMarker, the lifesaving MV Mask and the fearsome, destructive Eraserhead ammunition which can reduce a fictional character to base text with a single shot with Boojum-tipped shells.

There’s loads more to the setting, but you can read the books yourself or click some of the links at the end of this article.

Systems

In terms of player characters and NPCs there are loads of options, both in the book world and in outland (the name that fictional characters use for the real world).  In the outland, the obvious way to go is to play as SpecOps agents with intrigue between different divisions and lots of opportunity for very specific detective work.  In the book world, the GM has massive freedom to bring in loads of characters from any published work of fiction.  Similarly, a player character could be heavily based on such a fictional character.

With the amount of detective work that can be done in this game, both in the outland and the book world, a detective-themed system such as the Gumshoe system would very appropriate.  This system can be found in titles such as Trail of CthulhuEsoterrorists and Night’s Black Agents.

There’s also the FATE Core system.  Honestly, I’d recommend FATE for any game as it simply wonderful, and it does work for another detective themed game in the form of The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game.

Fiasco is another option, particularly if you’d like to focus on the humour of the setting.  I think this would work particularly well in a game themed around Jurisfiction, with both human agents and fictional character interacting.  The relationships system in Fiasco would work well with such a scenario.

Links

Something really handy about this setting is that the author has produced a number of really cool, themed sites to help you immerse yourself in the world of Thursday Next.  Here are a few useful links:

Next Time

When I return to the topic of Mr Fforde, I will be taking a look at some of his other books.  I do love his work and really enjoyed revisiting some of it before posting here today.

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