An element I’ve been adding to many games I run lately is localization: trying to work in history, culture, and real locations from where I live into the game. This doesn’t really apply to every game, but when I can manage it it’s been rewarding. Here are a few examples:
I ran a game of Dread set in “The Walking Dead” universe, and set it near my home town. This had a couple of interesting effects. The characters were locals, so it would make sense that they had a general idea of the town’s layout. Some people had specific knowledge, and others learned things. If I were making up a food bank I’d have described it much differently than the real one, but since I’ve been there I know where it is, and how it’s set up. When the characters try to climb a nearby peak to get a look around, I’ve hiked that trail, and I know how dangerous it can be without maintenance which led to scenes I wouldn’t have thought to run if they were just hiking up a generic peak. And those that were familiar with landmarks had a kind of satisfaction of being able to use their knowledge.
I also ran Edge of the Empire set in a fringe colony, and based everything happening on local history. As a frontier town we started Union, but they left when the war heated up, leaving the town vulnerable to native attacks. The Confederates blew into town, ran off the local mayor, and then pulled out too. Replace those sides with the Republic and Separatists and you’ve got a hell of a plot happening for the locals. I was certain someone would recognize what I was doing (I didn’t even change the names of some of the famous city figures…I thought the old priest named Kino would be a dead giveaway) but nobody did until after we wrapped up and I told everyone. It felt familiar…but my players couldn’t quite tell which movie I was ripping off. It also led to some NPC’s I’d have never come up with on my own. We had a local gangster known as “Joey Bananas” who got converted into Banano the Hutt (of course), and that bright yellow bastard ended up really unique. Many of my players learned something about where we live, and I admit I learned quite a bit while I was brushing up too.
My latest has been a “Fallout” game, using Adventure Frameworks, and the conceit was that they came out of a vault in the foothills near town. I’ve had tons of fun ‘wastelanding’ the local landmarks, and they’ve had fun exploring them. We have caves, missile silos, junk yards, air bases, and hundreds of other unique sites just begging to have an adventure around. Their home base is a small walled settlement called “Traildust Town”, based on a local restaurant and shopping center. I would have never thought to drop a red-white-and-blue Cadillac with longhorn ornaments if the actual Traildust Town hadn’t had exactly that, and now the vault dwellers want that thing bad! To ape the collectibles of the video game the dwellers get XP’s when they find crushed penny tokens for locations. There are a surprising numbers of places in town where you can get those, and now in real life the players have their eyes peeled for them, so they can go there in game.
Localization adds tons of fun when you can fit it in. In part, the game starts extending out into your actual space. You start looking for things that would work in the game, or getting flashes of recognition when you visit those places later, or see street names and think “Wait a minute…didn’t we actually meet that guy?” And on the enriching side you end up learning the history and different cultural influences as a way of adding depth to your own stories. I’m sure your town has just as rich a history as mine does…try it!