Finding History in My Hometowns

Michael O. Varhola

Ironically, my first step in undertaking the Hometown History Challenge on our most recent episode of “d-Infinity Live!” was just deciding which community I have lived in to focus on! 

“For the purposes of this challenge, our hosts can use history from any place they have lived long enough to need to change their mailing address,” our co-host/challenger Amanda Kahl specified. That left me with more than a dozen valid choices — some, to be sure, more interesting at a glance than others — to sort through. 

Erie, Pennsylvania, is where I was born. If I were to create a scenario set there it would likely tie in with the War of 1812, during which the community served as a mustering site for the little American fleet that won the Battle of Lake Erie. Alternately, I would consider creating a post-apocalyptic adventure inspired by the abandoned industrial sites throughout the city that I used to explore as a teenager. 

Athens, Greece, is where we moved to next! Obviously, the possibilities for adventures set here are almost endless. While we were there the monarchy was overthrown and the country was ruled by a military dictatorship for seven years thereafter, so there is ample inspiration there. Athens and the surrounding region of Attica exist in my Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting, of course, and I was therefore tempted to propose a swords-and-sorcery scenario tying in with it. That, however, seemed like a bit of a dodge for purposes of the challenge (and my co-host Brendan observed as much during the show!). 

Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is where my family lived for four years when I was in middle school. As it is the home of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, the Green Berets, and Delta Force, it would be an ideal springboard for any adventures involving military special operations, especially modern ones in the ongoing “War on Terror.” “Modern” is not really my period of choice for development, however, so I decided to move on to something else …

Other places I have lived and for which I had a bona fide mailing address include Monterey, California; Roswell, New Mexico (presumably suitable for a UFO-oriented scenario); Nuremburg (“the RPG of Battling Fascism Through Courtroom Procedural”), Bamberg, Munich, and Stuttgart, Germany; New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania (definitely something with Deliverance overtones); Chièvres, Belgium (for what it’s worth, I always felt there were werewolves around this village, the whole area was rumored to have had toxins dumped in it, and the CIA used to fly into the local airstrip once a week, so there are any number of elements to work with); Austin, Minnesota (has to involve Spam); and Washington, D.C.

San Antonio, Texas, with an emphasis on the wild and rugged Hill Country that lies to the north of it, which is currently where I make my home, is what I finally settled on. According to the guidelines for the challenge, I needed to create “a game scenario (or other piece of game content) that is based on historic events” that occurred in my place of choice. Certainly there are no shortages of scenario hooks in the history of the area that I could draw upon, and that might have been the easiest approach. Once I conceived of a setting for the sort of scenario I wanted to do, however, I decided to just go ahead and sketch out a treatment for the background overall, which draws upon my interest in a particular era of Texas history and the research I have done into the region’s folklore and paranormal traditions (e.g., for my books Texas Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder & Mayhem in the Lone Star State and Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin & Texas Hill Country). This led to my concept for “TexArcana.”

“‘TexArcana’ is a gritty Western-style roleplaying game set in the often-overlooked era of the chaotic and dangerous Republic of Texas, 1836-1846. Mexican forces continue to launch attacks across the border of the new nation in an attempt to undermine it, even as American warlords raise private filibuster armies and try to carve out states of their own in Mexico and Central America. All of this takes place against a backdrop of the escalating Indian Wars against the Apache and Comanche, the activities of bloodthirsty and greedy gangs of marauders, and the attempts of small bands of rangers to impose some semblance of order and justice on the unruly frontier.

To the perils of physical danger are added the supernatural traditions of the many people who have shared and struggled for control of this rich but unforgiving country. Along the banks of streams flowing through ancient Spanish towns lurk the vengeful spirits known as La Llorona, the shades of women who have been driven to kill their own children. Gold and silver mines lay scattered throughout the land, guarded by the ghosts of the Conquistadores who ordered them dug by enslaved natives. Curse-laden Indian graveyards inevitably lay across the paths adventurers must traverse, and shapeshifters of various sorts and other monsters, strangers to daylight and the communities of men, haunt the vast wild places between settlements.”

Artistic influences on this milieu include the classic country western song “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” the pre-apocalyptic novel Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), and the film Ravenous.

Full treatment or not aside, I have started my introductory scenario for "TexArcana," provisionally titled “Curse of the Conquistador’s Cave” and inspired by an actual site located virtually in my own backyard. I have not yet explored it sufficiently to know the extent to which any of the words in this title are accurate but, with the arrival of appropriate companions imminent, am planning to do so very soon …