Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pulp Mexico

NOTE: I'm sick today, so this post may be a little rambling and indirect. Sorry.

If you watch The Zahi Hawass Cha-- uh, The History Channel, you're likely to forget that there was ever an ancient pyramid-building civilization anywhere besides Egypt.

Look, no offense to Egypt and its rich culture, but...okay, okay, we get it. Nice pyramids. Mummies, gold artifacts, kings, tribute, engineering, advances.

All of these things happened in Central America, and they, too, are ripe fodder for adventure gaming.

A while back, Steve Jackson Games published GURPS Aztecs. It was written by Aurelio Locsin III, a gamer and Aztec culture buff. It's very well-researched and has a neat tool for simulating the Aztec calendar, which is the only time-keeping device I've ever heard of which has a blood-thirsty sun god on it. It's a neat book, but it's out of print -- you can buy a .pdf, though.

It reveals Aztec culture, civilization, beliefs, science, religion, magic and even food, talks about the Spanish conquest, and covers a lot of essential ground.

But we're gamers, and here's what we want to hear about: Weird-ass deities, lost temples, cannibals and gold. Aztecs? Check, check, check and checkcheckcheck. (Let me add in the words "Jaguar Warriors", and if you stop reading here because you've suddenly got an adventure to write, I'll totally understand.) But definitely, they had a lot of gold.

In fact...let me tell you a cool story about Aztec gold. It's an adventure seed, too!

Back in 1986 or 1987, a friend of my Dad's invited us to his house in the state of Puebla. Nice guy, and though I forget his name, I remember that he was very welcoming, fed us a lot, had a lot of kids and let me look at all his old Duda ("Doubt") Magazines -- think Mexican Fortean Times. He was into that kind of thing, and he had a motorcycle. (He also had a daughter whom, I think, he and my Dad were trying to steer my attention towards, but I'm not sure.)

Anyway, he took us for a picnic atop a volcano, the name of which I naturally forget (twenty years ago, man!). The volcano's long since dead, and the caldera's full of cold water. We went up there anyway, because we were crazy. I took this picture, so it's blurry, sorry.

While we were up there, our host related to us a cool anecdote. You see, every Mexican schoolchild knows that the Aztec emperor Cuauhtémoc had a team of runners -- literally, guys who ran all over the empire, delivering messages or sometimes just getting him fresh fish for dinner, from the coast (it's good to be the huey tlatoani!). They also know that when the Spanish came into the city of Tenochtitlan (we call it Mexico City now), they were itchin' for some of the sweet, sweet Aztec gold that was lying around. Also well known is that the Spanish captured and tortured Cuauhtemoc, burning his feet, demanding to know where his treasury was. Famously, The Big C kept mum and the Spanish...well...took everything anyway. (Thank goodness for pirates! Yarrr!)

Anyway. What most people don't know, said our host, was that Cuauhtemoc figured the Spanish were going to want just that as they marched on Tenochtitlan, and so he gathered up his runners and instructed them to get as much gold as they could out of the treasury, run it up the very volcano upon which we then stood, and dump it in the lake. Sploosh! Ice-cold and dangerous, it'd guard the gold forever.

The topper? Supposedly, a small expedition followed up on that story in the 20th century, and divers went into the lake. It was too deep, cold, and dangerous to plumb safely, so they abandoned the search...

...but not before finding a piece or two of Aztec gold.

Truth? Rumor? Outright lie? I'm not sure I care. All I see is an opportunity for adventure.

How 'bout you?