Game-ready people, places, events, and landscapes from history and current events. Read more
This project was successfully funded on September 8, 2012.
Exciting Developments and More Articles
To all our backers,
Um. Wow. Yesterday, we made over $500. We're 80% funded. This is amazing. We've got two more articles for you today, and we think you'll like them, but first, let's talk momentum. We can't hope for another $500 day.
Or can we?
Let's find out. Let's see if we can keep this trend going! With only a week left on this project, now is a great time to tell your friends, family, and gaming group about the GM's Real-World Reference! This will not only help the project get funded, it will boost us towards some of our awesome stretch goals, giving you a bigger, better product at the same cost to you. It's obvious you believe in this project enough to give it your money. Now give it something even easier – your voice.
We can do this, folks! Let's rock this project!
And, as ever, if there is anything WE can do for YOU, don't hesitate to ask.
-Joel Dalenberg and Tristan Zimmerman
Brilliant painter and murderous thug
The picture that will be on this page will be Caravaggio's 'Crucifixion of Saint Peter'
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (no relation to the other Michelangelo, and universally known as Caravaggio) was a brilliant Italian renaissance painter whose unparalleled skill with a brush was tempered only by his aptitude for making enemies and getting into deadly brawls. After a short lifetime producing some of the most beautiful and stirring religious art in the Western tradition, he died abruptly under mysterious circumstances.
Caravaggio's art was revolutionary, and was designed to make religion personable and accessible. While painting had been progressing towards greater realism for centuries, Caravaggio was the first painter with the skill and the inclination to paint human beings as they truly appeared: not as idealized beauties, but as wrinkled, scarred, or snub-nosed, with faces expressing real human emotion. Yet his lighting was dramatic, almost theatrical, with bright spotlights, deep shadows, and black backgrounds. Seeing one of Caravaggio's paintings can be a shocking experience, where you genuinely feel the extreme emotions of the people within.
These features of Caravaggio's work were greatly desired by his patrons in the Catholic Church. These were the days of the Protestant Reformation, and the Church was desperate to avoid losing more followers. The paintings of Caravaggio, then, were intended to awe and educate the Catholic masses, and keep them from joining the Protestants; they were the books of the illiterate.
Carravagio's life was full of controversy. Some saw the heightened realism of his paintings as vulgar and sacrilegious. He scandalized Rome by having prostitutes pose as models for his paintings of the Virgin Mary. Even his manner of painting (directly from life, without sketches) was untraditional and suspect. Most importantly, he loved street brawls, and seemed to be quite good at them. Caravaggio was repeatedly run out of cities for injuring or killing the wrong person in one of these fights.
At one point, he traveled to Malta to seek the patronage of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. He enjoyed considerable success on the island, even being inducted into the knighthood, until he was arrested for brawling with seven other knights, one of whom was severely injured. Imprisoned for a month, he managed to escape from prison, climb down the walls of the fortress, and flee Malta. For this, he was expelled from the knighthood and earned the enmity of his former patron, the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta.
Towards the end of his short life, Caravaggio's brilliance and violence became even more pronounced. Even as he produced some of his greatest masterpieces, he took to sleeping armed. He died under mysterious circumstances at age 38; historians are still unsure whether he was murdered by one of his many, many enemies.
Using Caravaggio in Your Games:
Caravaggio works well to mix 'types' of games. In a high-intrigue court game, he would be well-placed to introduce a violent element. Similarly, in a city-based hack 'n slash, the presence of Caravaggio would add connections to the city's upper crust. But in almost any city-based game, the addition of a character like Caravaggio will spice things up. Don't forget that while he has many powerful enemies, he also has many powerful friends. That may add whole new levels of complexity to how your PCs handle this mad genius.
Ciudad Del Este
Vast Bazaar of a Forgotten Country
Ciudad Del Este is the second largest city in Paraguay, with a population of approximately 320,000 people (about 700,000 in the metro area). It is located on the Parana River, near both the Brazillian and Argentine borders. It is well-known for four main reasons: the Itaipu Dam, the Igazu falls, counterfeit goods, and alleged Hezbollah activity. This strange mixture makes it a great place to set a modern-day one-shot or campaign!
The Itaipu Dam is about 9 miles north of Ciudad Del Este. It was built over 14 years, and is the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world, generating as much electricity as 21 US coal-fired power plants. It was built jointly by Brazil and Paraguay, originally with almost all the profit and electricity going to Brazil. Paraguay still uses only about 10% of the dam's output (which is 90% of the country's electricity consumption), but the Paraguayan government renegotiated a deal on revenues in 2009, allowing for a more equitable split of the profits. If the dam were ever to burst, Buenos Aires (and Ciudad Del Este) would be catastrophically flooded.
About 8 miles to the southeast of the city, on the Brazil-Argentina border, are the Iguazu Falls, a staple of waterfall scenes in action movies since Moonraker. The cascade is 2 miles wide and 260 feet tall, and has the second-greatest annual flow of any waterfall in the world.
Ciudad del Este itself, however, is famous as a vast clearinghouse for smuggled and counterfeit goods. The city's specialization is in knockoff electronics, but anything from AK-47s to cocaine to counterfeit cigarettes to model cars can be found and even delivered home across borders for customers with the cash. Brazilians looking for good deals have been the most common customers, though tourists going to Iguazu Falls from around the world have been important too.
Why is the place such a hub for illicit enterprises? For a start, it's at the intersection of three national borders – giving it three times the smuggling opportunities of the average border town. Argentina, for example, has very high taxes on imported electronics, which makes even a legally imported iPod worth smuggling in from Paraguay.
Historically, many of the goods for sale in Ciudad del Este have come from Taiwan, due to a long-established Taiwanese population and political ties between the two countries – the city hall in Ciudad del Este, in fact, was paid for by the Taiwanese government in return for Paraguayan support in the UN.
Ciudad del Este has a large Lebanese population as well, with a wave of migration in the 1950s and another wave in the 1980s during and after the Lebanese Civil War. Despite the distance from Lebanon, Hezbollah has tried to take advantage of this population, running smuggling networks and spreading propaganda. By most accounts, Hezbollah's operations in Paraguay have been mainly for fundraising purposes, though both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have recently raised concerns that this poses a "direct threat to the United States".
Using Ciudad del Este in Your Games:
Ciudad del Este seems almost ready-made for a modern or cyberpunk campaign, with the shops where all manner of illegal goods can be found, the giant hydroelectric dam, the classic action set-piece waterfall, and the (admittedly tenuous) connections to the War on Terror. In a fantasy campaign, it is useful as a classic example of the border town snatching its living from the tenuous grasp of the state on its frontier.