Sources of Inspiration

I was just at GP London and GP Prague (playing MtG, but this article is not about that) and since its my vacation time this year, I remained for a few more days in each city. Being a nerd, what did I do? I spent three days wondering through some of the museums and other places the towns so kindly offers.

Sidenote: Free museums are great. The commercial aspect is still there, because these places are full of shops, cafes and receptacles for donations. Still, they are in great condition and are clearly appreciated by the public, at least based on the number of visitors I saw in these places. Still, even if there is sort of an air of expectation of leaving some money behind, no one is forcing you to and you can enjoy the sights without paying anything.

… And I did. A total of something between 15 and 20 hours in London alone.

Another sidenote or more like a hint: There’s multiple entrances to these places and there’s plenty of difference between the queues. When entering both the V&A and Natural History Museum, you should avoid the Cromwell Road entrances and use the Exhibition Road ones. At least based on my experience.

What I wanted to talk about is how these places are a great source of inspiration.

The first museum I visited was the Natural History Museum. The friend I was with wanted to visit the dinosaur exhibit, but there was a very long line to it, so we decided to skip it. So, we just wandered around, pretty aimlessly, looking at stuff. And there’s plenty of stuff to look at.

Suppose you wish to build a fantasy or maybe a slipstream world. What better way to start with than all the strange creatures that have lived through the ages. Some are pretty much variations on animals and plants we are already familiar with, but others are something completely different (of course depending on how deep your understanding is). If you can’t get to the museum, I’d suggest Walking with Dinosaurs (the BBC TV series) and its follow-ups (Walking with Beasts, Walking with Cavemen and Walking with Monsters). The research on those series was largely done at this museum.

Another, more perhaps more sci-fi, section of the museum is dedicated to minerals. They mostly display all sorts of strange stuff with strange qualities, such as a rock which is opaque to us, but cmopletely transparent in infrared frequencies. How to use that? I don’t know, but there must be some ways.

There’s always some ingenius things in nature if you look closely enough. How about this? There’s a fish that can radiate red light. Why? Because it lives very deep and if you go deep enough, the sea filters out much of the light, especially red frequencies. Therefore, no creature that deep has evolved to see that color. Except for this particular fish. Its like its own personal flashlight, which can only been by itself. Nature is full of such wonders.

The second museums was Science Museum, which is conveniently located right next to the Natural History Museum.

My favorite exhibition was that about Churchill and his science advisor, Lindemann. A lot of interesting stuff there about how they approached the war differently, including a couple of scientists going away to test how much nutrition a person actually needs by rationing their own food very carefully and exercising constantly in harsh environments. I think there could be a boardgame here. Not about the two scientists hiking, but about the race to develop new technologies during the WWII.

The third museum was V&A or Victoria and Albert Museum. Its an art museum with sections for areas and eras. The layout is a bit strange and I couldn’t really navigate it, but its still interesting. They aren’t limited to paintings and sculptures, but instead they have all sorts of things that contain artistic impression, such as the gates of a church from somewhere in Spain. There was a temporary exhibition on shoes as well (although I’m not sure if it was open or whether it was going to be opened in the near future since I didn’t manage to find it).

The funny thing about art museums to me is that I tend to find humor in a lot of the exhibits, but I always feel I’m alone on this. I do have a feeling many of the artists themselves tried to have fun with their work as well (many probably were very serious, as well). However, the visitors don’t find them funny at all. Well, except for the kids who found all the male genitalia funny until they were told not to by their parents. How little do the adults know…

Anyhow, there’s plenty to be inspired here. For example, there was a set of four statues, all animals standing on two feet, bearing banners of some sort. Again, three of them had visible penises, but that’s not really the point. They were stylistically weird and their origin wasn’t really known. That should lead to something. Why were they made? Did they have special meaning? Just asking questions like these should bring interesting questions.

Then I moved on to Prague (actually going home for a couple of days, but still).

My first visit in Prague was the National Technical Museum. Can’t say it was that interesting after Science Museum in London (mostly because of common ground, not because the Prague one was necessarily inferior). There was an extensive exhibition on photography, which was kind of cool, as well as an exhibition on a society of Czech scientists.

What was interesting about the latter one, was that it was founded with money from an anonymous source. There must be a story in there, right? After all, this city was once a center of alchemy (there’s an alchemy museum in the city center, which I found about only too late), so maybe someone knew something and wanted to encourage that. Maybe some other sinister reason?

The next day I spent trying to find the castle, but ended up just chilling in a garden, which wasn’t all that bad. They had live music there, in fact the city orchestra playing music from Spielberg movies. There was also a wall of artificial rock, which was interesting. The creator wanted to leave impressions of caves and all sorts of animals in it, but I don’t think it was even necessary to try, because humans are very good at just finding shapes anyhow.

The thing that got me thinking was one pretty boring bronze statue, actually. The reason was that of the more than dozens bronze statues in the garden, it was the only original one. All the others were copies of originals now in a museum near Drottningholm in Sweden. The Swedes ransacked the area back in 1648. They took everything, including the fountains, except for this one statue.

So, what makes it special? Is it cursed and the Swedes knew it? Was it some sort of message? Was it defended more fiercely for some unknown reason? There should be an adventure hook or short story in there somewhere.

Then I went to the zoo. It was ranked number four in the world by TripAdvisor, so not really by experts or anything, but by visitors. The problem was that it was very hot outside. Most of the animals were just doing their best to get out of the sun. Still, some cool animals. Like the cassowary, that managed to surprise me by emerging from the darkness of its shelter.

Well, that’s something to draw some inspiration from. How scary these animals can be. Also, seeing the animals in this environment can give you some insight on their behavior. The young orangutan seemed to be quite playful, while the lone barbary ape seemed really depressed.

Then the GP started, and I missed a couple of days of exploring to play Magic, but I did go on a Ghost Tour on Sunday night before leaving on Monday morning. It was interesting in its own way. Any city with the population and age of Prague will probably have plenty of such stories, but they are still always interesting. The twists on these stories were quite predictable, but that’s what these stories are like. You can still probably find all sorts of uses for them.

We also went to the site of the first defenstration.

These are just some of the things that inspired me on my travels. There’s plenty more to talk about, but I try to keep these from going too long and I think I’ve already gone way above my usual maximum word count.

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