Chicago and Horror


Just for you, Zip. :)

Anyway, this is about Chicago and how best to run a game in Chicago, particularly a WoD game. While the WoD book on Chicago was great, it was also lacking in key areas, such as describing mortal politics, hospitals, etc. So any real world information on Chicago would be needed. I'm also looking for the right feel for the game, as always, and so any movies that particularly exemplify Chicago, or pieces of music, would be much appreciated. Seeing as how I cannot currently visit or live in Chicago, I'll have to do my best by gathering as much information as possible.

If we want, we can expand this to running modern games in any city, with the aim of keeping the city presented as realistically and true to life as possible. And on the best techniques and ways to run modern games.

I don't know if there's one of these books for Chicago...but the one on Portland was great.

Basically, they get a famous author to write a book about their home city. It's non-fiction and gives an occupants point of view on the city, right down to the things they liked to do and the types of people they met living there. Another thing you might look into is travel guides. When Monte Cook was writing Ptolus (a book I consider to be one of the single best examples of a properly written, laid out, and edited RPG book ever...period...uh...period) he didn't research style or format in other RPG books, he researched travel guides. And it shows through in the massive Ptolus book. It's easy to read, easy to reference, and just plain easy to use at the table despite being as huge as it is. So obviously travel guides have it where it's needed.

All too often people rely on roleplaying supplements for their roleplaying. If you're running in a real city, go to the library or bookstore and get some actual factual books on Chicago.

I've run games set in my own city (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) and even though I'm VERY familiar with the city, especially downtown as I live in the middle of the skyline, I still benefited from a trip to the store to buy some maps. I also know a few guys that worked for public works that used to be customers of mine when I worked for a cellphone company years back that were more than willing to snap me some pictures of (and eventually take me for a walk in...) the undercity. Yeah, that's right...the undercity. Every city has one...generally it extends about 10 stories or more below the city, and there are tunnels down there that are big enough to drive a Mack truck through.

Just never forget that even if you've never been to a city, if your players haven't either then you don't have to be bang-on exact. You can put a Starbucks anywhere and they'll believe it. You can make up any detail you please and not hurt anyones feelings.

One trick I've always used when running modern games is to set it one year plus a day in the future. Then I can do whatever I want and not run the risk of anyone calling foul on me because they have more familiarity with the place than I do. Alot can change in a year and a day.

That's pretty good advice, Scott.

Chicago actually has a very extensive undercity, and I'm pretty sure I've found a good site for pictures of it. Unfortunately, I can't go in it...but pictures will have to do.

I found a book like the one you referenced concerning Portland about modern day Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz. So I'll be checking that one out as well as a noir fiction I found set in Chicago that actually uses many real locations in the course of it's story, which should help ground me further. I've already read Division Street by Studs Terkel, a classic about Chicago and how it reflects greater America. It was a great book, and gave me a lot of insight into the city, but it was published in 1966 so something more modern would be useful. Though if you're looking for an interesting book that deals heavily with sociological themes, and has a strong Chicago feel, I'd definitely recommend Division Street. I loved it.

Maps are always good. It's just hard to find a good one, especially since I live no where near Chicago. Any suggestions?

It's true, while a couple of my players have been to that area and I haven't, they don't know the city well. But I still want it to be as accurate as possible, because I want the players to feel like they know the city as well as their characters, to feel like it's authentic and so be immersed further into the story. This is horror after all, and nothing is more important than immersion in fiction, but especially horror.

Do a Google image search for "map of chicago". Or use Google Maps. You'll get lots of them. Or go to a map store (the one near me is called MapTown and I'm sure you have something similar where you live, check the yellow pages), they should have a nice fold out map you can draw all over. I still think printing them from the net is better though, as you can get whatever size you want and print multiple copies. Stick them under glass, put them on your GMs screen, hand them out to players...etc.

(interesting aside; mapTown sells blank globes. They told me if I brought in any map i wanted they'd put it on the globe for a ridiculous fee. I almost took them my fantasy worlds map to get it globified, but then realized that money could be better spent elsewhere.)

Chicago and World of Darkness... lets see... I'll speak in broad terms first.

The dividing line between North and South, and the suburbs

The northside of Chicago is generally placid & friendly. Neighborhoods are engaged. There's a retail and dining node at virtually every El Train station. People tend to be extraverted, especially in the warm months. Most lifestyles, cultures are tolerated. Bohemia thrives. I think, attitudinally, the northside starts at Roosevelt Ave. and includes Downtown Chicago. And these days, it continues mostly unbroken as an idealic urban environment all the way to Evanston (the first suburb to the north) with only a few pockets of seediness (Humbolt Park, Uptown) both of which are fast gentrifying.

This has not always been the way. Like most cities in the 1960's and 70's, suburban flight caused a lot of the neighborhoods to become derelict and dangerous. Mayor Richard Daley gets a lot of credit for revitalizing the city, and so he gets a lot of leeway with regard to some of his less savory practices.

You'll likely find, if you ask the the average Chicago Northsider, that their biggest beef with the city is excessive parking enforcement. Many a student has gone backrupt trying to pay off literally thousands of dollars in parking tickets. It's a racket and has been exposed as such, but nobody has successfully fought the system.

The south side, which I say starts at Roosevelt, though many would say State Street, is like another city altogether. It should be said that the north side of Chicago is multicultural and predominently white. The south side of Chicago is predominantly black. This was also the area where the meat-packing industry used to be centered. Years of industry drove the wealth to the north, and left toxic land in it's wake. As such, there has been much less investment in the south side over the years.

The south side is sprawling and defined by wide open spaces (at least compared to the Northside, which is fully developed). Large big-box stores with parking lots consume blocks. Derelict buildings sit next to empty fields, the result of selective clearance. People from the northside still venture to the south side with trepidation, the southside is seen as the "hardened streets" of Chicago. Northsiders often live seemingly unaware of the existence of the city south of Roosevelt. The south side may very well be safe, but it doesn't -feel- safe. You don't want to walk around at night.

As a setting for WoD, I think the south side is far more interesting. It's the shadowy, mysterious part of the city. The stockyards and meat-packing plants are long gone, but the concrete foundations still remain, overgrown by weeds and trees which have inexplicably pushed themselves up through the cement.

The southside also has one very important feature: The University of Chicago. The University consumes the Hyde Park area of the southside, and is an island of advanced minds. I believe Hyde Park still maintains the highest number of Nobel Prize winners living within a single community. It's made headlines recently, being that Barack Obama and his pal William Ayers both reside there. It's arguably the best school in the nation (and the world) but it suffers for being on the southside, where many top students fear to tread. The university's 19th century gothic architecture is stunning, and makes a wonderful location for horror.

The suburbs of Chicago are largely populated by the people who fled Chicago in the 60s and 70s. They are a fearful bunch, conservative, many express open hatred for the city they haven't gone into in more than a decade. When you read an angry troll's comments about Chicago being a shitty city, 9 times out of 10 you're reading the comments of someone from the west suburbs. They are horrible people.

The north suburbs of Chicago, on the other hand, are some of the wealthiest communities in America. Evanston is home to Northwestern University, and feels like a college town. Wilmette and Lake Forest are filled with old-money (despite their affluence, these are towns in which John Hughes always sets his "middle-class" comedies.)

That's all I have time for right now. Hope this helps. More later.

Thank you very much. It all helps a lot. I just want this to be as true to the city as possible, and so building an image of it in my head helps quite a lot.

Scott, I actually found an interesting map of Chicago laying out it's various neighborhoods on the Chicago History Musuem website. I'd like to print out a big map of Chicago and use it as something like a table cover for the game, so it's in full view at all times. Then I could ostensibly use the smaller maps from the WoD book for personal notes, etc.

Based on the characters involved, there's definitely going to be a lot of the University of Chicago in the game. We'll probably start out more south-central Chicago, around the University. Any particular notes on Hyde Park? The more I think about it, the more I feel it's gonna have a strong presence in the game. And I love that name.

So any other advice and information on Chicago/urban games. Is always good. Thanks for what you've given me so far, though. It helps a lot. Particularly to hear a little more about Chicago from a Chicagoan.

Tz, you should pick up and read Devil in the White City asap, and by asap, I mean today. I promise you, it will have a huge influence on your campaign. It's quick and fun, and occasionally frightening book that's also very enlightening. I can't recommend it enough. It's the best sourcebook you'll ever find for your game.

If you're strapped for cash, go to Borders and read it over a cup of coffee. That's what I did. You can finish the book in a couple hours.

Reading Devil in the White City now :)
Do you know of any websites that would be great for information on the current politics of Chicago, covering all the movers and shakers, as it were?

Are you enjoying the book, Tz?