Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Campaign Aspects For Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Alchemist"

Art by J.K. Drummond

I read Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Alchemist" this weekend, a novella set in a shared fantasy world that Bacigalupi co-created with Tobias Bucknell. The world is one in which every use of magic provokes the growth of an invasive, thorned and bushy weed called "bramble".

Imagine a world overtaken by hedges. Magic in this world doesn't go away, but arable land, clear urban space, and roads do disappear as bramble grows. Magic-using civilizations fall, choked by bramble. Refugees fill the cities that have not yet fallen to bramble. It's a world living on borrowed time, just like ours. Magic can't get rid of bramble - quite the opposite, in fact. When magic is used to clear bramble, the weed quickly comes back with a vengeance.

The novella begins when our protagonist, an alchemist, discovers a non-magical alchemical technique to eradicate bramble, seeds an all. All sorts of chaos ensues.  The setting and story can easily be framed using Fate Core's Game Creation Rules:
  1. Current Issue: "Magic brings bramble" (p. 79 of the novella)
  2. Impending Issue: An alchemist's discovery turns everything on its head.
Bacigalupi and Bucknell have created a very interesting and dangerous shared world.


  1. Interesting set-up. I've got a collection of his short stories that I really should get into.

    1. If they're like his novels, the stories are probably excellent, but aren't too chipper. ;)

    2. Yeah, I read one that was about a group of posthumans finding a siill-surviving dog among the dispoiled wastes, which would probably best be described as elegaic.

    3. Neat! I wish I were more of an SF short story reader. Periodically, as with your comment, I get a glimpse of what I'm missing.