Category Archives: Milieu/World/World Building

CAERKARA – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

In keeping with what I said over the weekend about beginning to once again post my own Works (as per this Post) here is my entry for Design of Things to Come, though it is one day early due to later work week scheduling conflicts.

Also I have now corrected all my former entries in The Other World so that they now properly show in that category, as they should. Later I will begin reposting my Essays on Gaming and Game Design.

So here you go, the Introduction to The Caerkara, or The Expeditionary Force

 

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Introduction to The Caerkara

When the Eldeven folk began to realize that monsters were being accidentally created through the use of Elturgy (Arcane Magic) they began to track down and capture many of these monsters and isolate them in various places where they could be studied and hopefully cured. However the alterations caused by exposure to (especially) high level Elturgy seemed irreversible.

Eventually the Eldevens also realized that Elturgy itself seemed to be “mutating” some of their own kind, as well as other creatures, into monsters, or the Caladeem. Many at the Court of Samarkand came to understand that some of these monsters were completely rogue and out of control and could not be held or captured, that once transformed certain monsters would have to be killed due to their new and vicious nature. The Eldevens in Samarkand formed secret teams of “monster hunters” that traveled throughout the Known World (and sometimes to places in their world beyond their explored knowledge) to capture or kill monsters. At the same time the Samareül began a project that lasted for many decades that attempted to “repair” elturgy so that it no longer created monsters. But the deterioration only seemed to increase and worsen and no means was discovered to return Elturgy to a reliably benign state of operation.

Some monster hunter teams soon discovered that monsters were disappearing right before capture. The reason was a mystery until it was discovered that these monsters were fleeing to another world, through means unknown. The Samareül put his best Sages and Elturgists upon the problem and eventually the Drüidect was discovered, which allowed travel between their world and Terra, though the means by which “the Weirding Road” operates is still a mystery.

The Samareül formed a secret and elite team of Monster Hunters to go to Terra and either recover or kill the monsters that had escaped to that world. While there agents of this team met human beings and discovered human ideas about religion as well as information about Miracles (Thaumaturgy). When this team returned home and reported on their findings the Samareül decided that these events were not coincidental at all but fated, and that Thaumaturgy, God, and religion might just be the long sought answer to either repairing or replacing the troubled nature of Elturgy.

Since then the Samareül has been carefully studying humans, their society, religion, thaumaturgy, God, and other related matters. He has sent his elite Expeditionary Team into Terra on numerous occasions. Ostensibly it is the job of this team to hunt down and capture or kill the escaped monsters from their world, but secretly this team also studies humans, religion, thaumaturgy, etc. and gather intelligence to return to the Samareül for further study and research. This secret team or Expeditionary Force is called the Caerkara. Over the course of their expeditions to Terra they have spent much time in the Byzantine Empire (where many of the odd events affecting both worlds, as well as the escaped monsters, seem to tend to congregate) and humans have become aware of their existence, though not their true nature and point of origin. They have also become uneasy allies on occasion with the Basilegate, and as a result of this interaction a relationship has developed between the Court at Constantinople and the Court at Samarkand.

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UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

Below are to be found descriptions and entries I have created regarding unusual ways to begin Adventures, Campaigns, and Quests for various kinds of Role Playing and Tabletop Games.

Though they could also be used as the basis and genesis of other types of games as well, for example LARPS and Alternative Reality games.

I intend to provide beginning scenarios for various types and genres of games: Contemporary, Detective, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Science Fiction, and Wargames. To name a few.

I will make such posts on every occasion I have the free time to develop them. Also these scenarios will be different from the scenarios I have developed specifically for my own Setting and World. Those will be listed separately under the Category – The Other World

Feel free to take the names of places and characters mentioned in these scenarios (or even the basic structures of the scenarios) and alter them to fit your own gaming worlds or situations. These are, of course, merely suggestions. I describe these scenarios to give DMs and GMs far better, more original and more unique methods of starting games than, “your party meets in a tavern,” or “you all hear a rumor.”

So modify and use these beginning scenarios as you will. They are meant to stimulate original situations and your imaginations, not to dictate terms and conditions.

Tonight I will begin with Four Fantasy Scenarios for beginning adventures or campaigns: Infiltration of the Fertilands, The Secret Missionaries, The Sky From Long Ago, and The Long Road to Disaster.

 

FANTASY

 

Infiltration of the Fertilands – The Senate of Alaria has decided to clear an area of land 7 and ½ leagues north of the city-state (an area called the Losharian fertilands) to provide timber and resources for a proclaimed public works building project, and to establish a new frontier’s garrison and outpost for the city to ward off raiding attacks by local barbarians. However three separate surveying teams and their armed recon in force escorts (at least for the second and third attempts) have disappeared when sent to the location.

The Senate has decided to send an expeditionary force of 1500 men to investigate and clear the area of potential hostiles, but before they can vote on the measure or dispatch the forces the chief architect in charge of the new building program approaches your party and asks you to undertake the task of infiltrating the target area in secret, to see if you can discover the cause of the disappearance of the previous teams. You are charged with secrecy in your mission (you can discuss it with no one) and if you are successful the architect not only promises that you will be richly rewarded in pay but that the Senate will award you tax free lands on which you may establish estates and villas of your own. He also hints at the possibility of awards (Champion of the City), public acclaim, and possibly even junior seats on the Senate.

However since the mission would be kept entirely confidential he can offer you no initial assistance other than to provide you with information on how to find the Losharian fertilands.

But he does offer you two pieces of advice. First, do not drink the waters of the fertiland even if it is rainwater which falls during a storm. And secondly, watch the rivers, creeks, waterways, and marshes at all times. They may hide dangerous enemies and hidden perils.

 

The Secret Missionaries – Your party is called to the Great Temple of the Sacred Hierophants after nightfall one evening. The Church of Adaltorn, the Last Hierophant, in the city of Ramara Passea has decided upon a missionary program of expansion Eastwards. They wish to convert the rich, independent merchant cities east of the river Venwaldros, which they feel would be very open to their doctrine. However to the south of the narrow strip of unclaimed no-man’s land of the Venwaldros lies the fierce (and some say cannibalistic) barbarian tribes of the Colmar Confederacy, and to the north of the river in this unclaimed area lies the Imperial outposts of the Srechalt. All of which are hostile to both the Church and to Ramara Passea. This narrow strip of land and the thin thread of the Venwaldros which passes through it is called Reedbrake (for its high and musical reeds, which go silent when anything passes through them)) and it is the only safe passage from Ramara Passea to the East.

The church has sent scouting teams of monks and priests along the river which have either had to turn back after being attacked or were simply lost, their true fates unknown.

The church is willing to produce an indulgence in the names of each of your party (meaning you will be free from both local taxes and tithes for a period of ten years), to pay you a stipend for three years, to Bless each member of your party, and to secure you Writs of Absolute Non-Hindrance from the city fathers if you can help them find a safe passage through the Reedbrake so that their monks and priests may travel securely and unmolested from Ramara Passea to the eastern merchant cities. They will also equip your expedition and provide you with river-craft, a barbarian scout (a recent convert) familiar with the Colmar, and three warrior monks as servants and men at arms to assist you.

 

The Sky From Long Ago – The retired Sage Geirwovan (rumored to have once been the famous Wizard Taleorstir) has sent every member of your party a formal and very decorative invitation to visit his mansion six miles from the outskirts of the Ulorian borderlands.

When you accept and reach your destination you are shown to the Sage’s Tower and observatory where the ancient and bent Geirwovan greets you warmly and feeds and shelters your entire party. After a late dinner and entertainment by a very talented female bard (whom Geirwovan identifies as his personal Bard, the Lady Yurliel) you are ushered back to the Sage’s Tower where Geirwovan accompanies you to the roof. Briefly after sunset (far too soon after sunset) the entire sky is afire with stars but of very unusual constellations that you have never before seen. Some of these constellations seem to come alive, take on weird and fantastical shapes of creatures you have never seen before, and to move about and even battle one another. Stars flare and flash, changing colors or becoming briefly too bright to look upon. The moon rings like a giant gong. The tower itself seems to shake. Comets flash across the sky and explode by impacting one another. Then the entire sky goes absolutely black and a few moments after that returns to normal, as it would appear on any other cloudless and moonless night shortly after nightfall.

Geirwovan then takes you back into the tower where each of you feels weird and uncanny, as if you have just witnessed something unnatural, supernatural, and/or very spectacular and unnerving.

Geirwovan makes no comment and ignores all questions to explain and instead spreads out a series of complex maps upon an antique drafting table and begins to explain how rewarding it would be and how much you would all benefit by reaching a particular destination. One he repeatedly shows on the different maps. (The maps are also all filled with odd glyphs and scripts and indicated locales you have never heard of or seen mentioned before.)

Then Geirwovan tells you of the fabulous riches, both mundane and magical, that can be found at that destination though he will not describe the particulars nor disclose any details about what else may lay at the destination. He tells you that if you will go to that location then you will understand what he means and that you will understand what you saw in the sky. He asks only two things: 1. that when you arrive you do what is appropriate, and 2. return to him all that you find so that he may examine it and then he will keep only one article, a small silver coin of unremarkable design. You may keep all else that you find and there will also be another reward awaiting you upon completion of your expedition. If you agree then he will hand you one of the maps which he says will guide you unerringly to your destination but that you must never venture from the route it dictates for the map is untrustworthy otherwise and you may find yourselves lost in such a way that you will be unable to return. He also offers to allow you to take his bard Yurliel with you if you so wish.

 

The Long Road to Disaster – The Lord of Merchants and Commander of the Merchants at Arms have called your party to the Tent of Foreign Prizes in the Agora of Kroipos to discuss an urgent matter. They explain to you that they have recently (within the past year) opened up a new trade route to the Far South, through the desert of Samorah, that they call the Elidian Road. (Elidia being what some rumors declare to be a semi-mythical and legendary city of peculiar and unique wealth located in the Far South.)

Within the past six months no fewer than four separate and well-armed caravan trains have been ambushed and destroyed or lost. By what the Commander describes as a well-organized, large, ruthless band of experienced brigands, raiders, and thieves.

Searchers and follow up teams have only recovered small bits of debris or valueless remains from the ambushed caravans and the losses to merchants in the area have been sunstantial and heavy indeed. Armed scouting parties sent by the city have discovered nothing and have been of almost no help.

Only three survivors have escaped thus far, two from one caravan (the first attacked) and one from the second caravan. No other survivors have surfaced or are accounted for.

Both the Lord of Merchants and the Commander of Arms ask if you will entertain shadowing the next caravan to be dispatched along the Elidian Road to see if you can discover who is responsible for these raids and possibly help save the caravan from being plundered and destroyed. If not can you then follow the attackers to discover their identities and base of operations so that a military force can be dispatched to kill them all.

Neither wants you to be part of the armed military and merchant force of the caravan so that if the attackers arrive in overwhelming force you may survive and bring back invaluable Intel on the parties responsible. They only want you shadowing the caravan unless it is obvious you could actually safely protect and rescue the caravan if it is attacked. Both Merchants promise you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Though neither will describe precisely how or in what form.

After the meeting the Commander of the Merchant at Arms leaves but the Lord of Merchants pulls your party aside in confidence and tells you that his nephew will be accompanying this caravan in order that he may be trained in commerce. As is the custom at his age. This being his Voyage of Initiation. The boy has instructions that if the caravan is attacked he is to flee to the safety of your group or if necessary you are to rescue him and flee after discovering what you can of the enemy. He promises to reward you separately for this action and he tells you that aside from his nephew and the head merchant of the caravan no one in the group will even know of your existence or that you shadow the train. So he says it is imperative that the caravan not discover your presence either. You must also never mention this side deal involving his nephew. Especially not to the Commander at Arms, who would consider such actions cowardly and dishonorable.

He also tells you that he has personally interviewed the three survivors of the previous attacks. One is now dead of unknown reasons, one is in a long sleep from which they will not awaken (coma), and one appears to be mad. But before these things happened the survivors described weird things occurring during the attacks and despite the Commander’s opinions to the contrary the Lord of Merchants is not at all convinced this is the work of brigands or caravan raiders. In fact he says that he does not believe any raiders are involved at all. But he will not elaborate on his suspicions.

He will only say that he once read a passage in a book in the Far South that said that long ago the skies were poisoned by an unknown creature so that ghosts and dead men rained upon the living.

 

Also, feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments below, or tell me if you’d like to see Beginning Scenarios for certain types of games,  particular subject matters, or for specific gaming genres.

HIGH CRAFT – LOST LIBRARY

HIGH CRAFT

This article on Viking clothing reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time now. In my games and in my writings, Craft (and by that I mean High Craft), often plays a large and beneficial role in both individual matters and even in larger events.

Using boots and shoes as an example characters have both found and had created for them (by master craftsmen) footwear that is not magical but rather so well crafted that it provides real benefits, such as resistance to extreme temperatures, resistance to wear and replacement, comfort befitting improved endurance or resistance to things like trench foot or blistering, and when they concentrate upon certain tasks (such as running, hiking, climbing, jumping, or stealth) they give definite though temporary advantages.(The characters must concentrate upon the task, for instance, and declare or show evidence that they are trying hard to sneak, or paying attention to their climb – but then such boots give temporary but definite advantages).Such boots or other items and gear (weapons, clothing, tools, etc.) are not magical at all but rather of such high quality and clever construction that they give measurable advantages over other items not constructed by master craftsmen.

(Though really well constructed items of High Craft might very easily be discovered far more susceptible to being enchanted at a later date than more mundane items. That is to say items of High Craft can be far more easily enchanted or ensorceled and such magics will far more easily affix and permanently secure themselves to objects of High Craft than to less well made implements.)

 

The same could be said to apply in a larger sense to whole groups of people. Nations with master craftsmen or smiths or even entire shops, foundries, and industrial operations devoted to High Craft (and invention and innovation) can produce gear and weapons and armor and equipment that gives a particular army a real and measurable advantage over another less well equipped force. Maybe even, en masse, a very large advantage. Again, not a magical advantage but a qualitative advantage of High Craftsmanship.

Though in a Tolkienesque sense it could easily be argued that High Craft is a form of “magic.” That High Craft is precisely what much magic really is.

With me however, at least in games, I usually use Magic as something “added to” or above and beyond even the Highest of Crafts. Though in my writings and novels High Craft and Magic are sometime synonymous and interchangeable or fungible, depending upon the particular circumstances of precisely what is being discussed.

I know that some use craft as a part of their game(s) and writings and some do not, but if you do, then what are some of the ways you use High Craft as an advantage on any level?

How do you use and employ High Craft in your own creations?

 

The Vikings Used Comfortable Shoes

Osberg Ship Viking Shoe One of the original boots found in the Oseberg Burial Mound dating back to 834 AD. (Photo:skinnblogg.blogspot.no)A number of complete Viking Age shoes found in Scandinavia and England have the same characteristics. They are flexible, soft and mostly made of cattle hide, but also other kinds of leather was used.There are complete shoes found in the Oseberg ship burial mound in Norway, Hedeby trading center in Denmark, and Coppergate (York, Viking Age Jorvik, Editor’s note) in England.

All three of these discoveries show a similar construction and form typical for the Middle Ages.

The shoes found in the Oseberg ship consists of two main parts, soles and uppers, and are so-called “turn shoes”.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Oseberg Viking Shoes

Reconstructed boots found in the Oseberg burial mound, by Bjørn Henrik Johansen. (Photo: Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no) 

The shoemaker stitched the shoe together inside out, and then turned right side out when finished. This hides the main seam, prolongs the life and prevents moisture from leaking in.

Viking Age shoes (793 – 1066AD) were well suited for use in wintertime by using thick, felted wool socks and fur inside.

Materials and Tools

Studies of the leather shows that mainly cattle hide was used from the 9th to mid-11th century and was typically 1 – 3 millimeter thick.

(Article continues)

Coppergate Viking Shoe York

Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England. (Photo: definedlearning.com via Pinterest)

A bristle or metal needle was used stitching flax, hemp, or a combination of the two. Shears or blades were used to cut the leather, and a simple awl to punch the holes.

At Coppergate twelve examples of iron shears were found.

Tanning and Color

Vegetable tan was the primary method for tanning, but also alum tans and oil tans were used in luxury leathers.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Coppergate York Viking Shoe

Reconstructed Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England by Bjørn Henrik Johansen.  (Photo: by Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no)

Modern vegetable tans are much stiffer due to industrialization and shortening of the process and are unsuited for turn shoes.

Like today, elaborately made clothing and shoes were visible proves of high social status.

Scientists have concluded that the better-quality shoes and boots had much more color than can be seen from archaeological discoveries.

A WORK OF GREAT SCIENCE FICTION?

Is GRR Martin’s ASOIF not every bit as much a work of Great Science Fiction as it is a work of High Fantasy?

(Though, perhaps given the numerous bloody, torturous, criminal, immoral, and amoral events of the story and books, perhaps Epic Fantasy is a far better term than High Fantasy. I should also say that I have read quite a bit of Martin’s science fiction so I do not make this observation in a vacuum.)

In any case look at the background, the events, and the milieu of the world itself. Even the very planet is apparently out of sync, ecologically and biologically. You have a world whose very orbit and rotation seems seasonally misaligned.

You have a past superculture (Valyria), apparently with a fairly highly developed technology, who were abruptly and almost instantly annihilated in what appears to be a self-induced immolation or act of self-destruction.

You have incredible acts of architecture, engineering, and materials control, such as with the Wall.

You have what is essentially a wholly alien race of creatures (the White Walkers) who can disappear into hibernation for untold aeons only to reappear in a mutated and far more dangerous form. You have other species of peculiar natures and seemingly bizarre backgrounds, such as the giants and the Children.

You have a very dangerous long-term degenerating disease which looks very much like some form of designed biological agent. Or yet another mutating agent.

You have a boy who cannot only “warg” himself backwards in time to gain critical information or historical events, he can actually influence people in the past. In other words you have visionary time travel with a built in ability to influence previous timelines.

And I could list many other such elements, including the dragons themselves, and their obviously native and possibly enhanced, not animalistic intelligence.

Now none of these things negate the obviously fantastical elements of the story (whichever you take as the source material for the real story and the truer events, the books or the Game of Thrones show) but they do point out that the frontier between fantasy and science fiction in this case is an extremely thin line of division.

Then again the exact same thing could be said of Tolkien’s work.

The frontier between science fiction and fantasy in the works of both men is an uncertain one indeed. At least when it comes to certain obvious elements.

 

 

 

 

ESSAY THIRTEEN: SCIENTIFICA MAGICA

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Thirteen: Scientifica Magica

Now before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, based only upon the title of this post, let me state clearly that I am not one of those gamers or writers who favor turning magic (in either game or fiction) into a mere exercise in science and technology under a different name. I am not for “scientificizing magic.

I am not in favor of turning either game magic or fictional magic into science by another name, nor am I one of those who favor making magic operate under closely regulated and studied rules of scientific function or with mathematical precision. I like my magic wild, uncontrolled to some degree, definitely unpredictable, prone to malfunction and misfire, and in most other ways outright dangerous.

 

image: http://d15osn4tlmtdxb.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2006/03/img-Burne-Jones.jpg

(You know, much like a woman. Now I say that half-jokingly, but only half jokingly. To me science and technology should operate like a man – with precision, with mathematical certainty, with rules, with predictability. Now am I saying all men are this way? God no, and I can only wish. I know real people as they truly are, you see, and that is merely a philosophical postulate of how male types would operate ideally, logically, and rationally. Sort of like saying all Vulcans should be like Spock.

On the other hand women should be unpredictable, without Newtonian mathematical precision, with emotional flare and passion, fuzzy and quantum at the edges, hard to pin down, and in more than one way, truly dangerous. Generalizations of course, and type generalizations as well, but they make the point. Magic to me should not be Science and science should not be magic despite all the modern Geekery in games and fiction that would have them be, in effect, merely interchangeable and fungible concepts for the same thing.)

Science should be amazing in what it can achieve but predictable in how it operates, Magic should be almost miraculous in what it achieves but largely unpredictable and untamed in both technical function and in its methods of operation. The very point of science is to be controlled and safe, reliable and commonplace, not dangerous, for a dangerous and rare science defeats the very purpose and function of being scientific. On the other hand the very essence of magic is to be rare, uncontrolled – especially in comparison to science and the mundane – and unreliable. For indeed if you have a magic that is too easy to control, utterly predictable, reliable, safe, and ubiquitous then you don’t really have Magic at all, you simply have science under the flimsy and inaccurate guise and faulty nomenclature of “magic.”)

Now all of that being said there is one way in which I favor the intersection of magic and science and that is in the analytical and detective capabilities of modern science, which often border closely upon the frontiers of what I would actually call magic. Or at least magical in effect.

Being an amateur scientist and having a near lifelong interest in physics, forensics, archaeology, medicine, chemistry and biochemistry I often keep up to date on new papers and techniques in those fields and have recently been studying several superb new and relatively new methods of analyzing, collating, detecting, examining, and understanding archaeological and forensic evidence. Such as the use of LIDAR, magnetic surface and subsurface scans, satellite imagery sweeps in the infrared, multiple data source computer modeling, etc.

In thinking on those things and what they can accomplish it has recently occurred to me that a new type of “magic” (of a kind rarely ever encountered in gaming and fiction) could easily be developed to mimic such scientific technologies without necessarily being limited to being scientific in operation.

For instance I have recently begun developing “spells” for both game and fictional use that mimic such new discovery techniques without presenting themselves in a scientific or predictable manner. I won’t specifically describe these “magics” in detail or enumerate the spells themselves as that would take too long and as one could easily develop multiple spells from these general categories in any case, but I will briefly describe a couple of these “spell types” for you to consider in developing your own magics in this regard.

1. REENLIVENING SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area or other target and can then present, in a complex still or even a moving image, the events that occurred long ago in a particular area, concerning certain bodily remains, etc. For instance the spell could take you back into time (figuratively speaking) to see events that had occurred long in the past, such as making you privy to a particular conversation, an event in the life of a person long dead, to witness a long forgotten or unrecorded (or even an historical) event so that you could view such things occurring for yourself. These would be very different spells from something like Speak with Dead because you would be an observer and witness, not a conversant, and such results would not be limited to mere third party descriptions but rather you would be a first hand, though passive, observer.

2. RECONSTRUCTION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area of building or object and that allows you to see that area or building or object as it looked at another period (of the past), say at the point of its making or shaping or construction. Via the use of such an enchantment you could see a building as it is designed and constructed, an object as it is manufactured, or perhaps even several different time periods (in sequence or simultaneously overlain against one another) and their interactions, tracing the construction or object through time to several different time-points to gain detailed information about its history.

3. REENACTMENT SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over a large area or maybe a specific person or set of remains that allows one to view, hear, feel, taste, smell, and magically touch the reenactment of a famous battle, an unknown war, the forging of a weapon, a day in the life or an individual, or even the vision, trance, or dream of another individual or creature. The emphasis here would not be merely upon the gathering of information or the witnessing of an event, but more directly upon a sort of shared (or in this case reenacted/relived) past experience. Perhaps such a spell would actually allow you to become another person, another creature, or even an inanimate (but magically aware) object for a certain period of time.

4. RECREATION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour upon a particular object, building, device, etc. that can recreate a visual, interactive image of the same. Higher levels spells of this type can actually recreate a physically real or similar mock-up of the original object based upon the information gathered from the object remains by the initial glamour. Still higher level spells can recreate usable approximations of even formerly magical objects (though the magic contained in the reconstructed objects may be limited) and the very highest level such recreation spells can even recreate working (though not necessarily magical in any way) models of previously lost artifacts and relics (assuming there are any remains left for the glamour to read).

5. PROJECTION SPELLS – One of the other types of spells would have to be enacted first, but, once that was done, and using the information or experiences gathered from that initial set of magics a spell caster could then seek to work a secondary set of spells that would allow one to project what would happen in the future regarding one’s chosen target or set of targets. For instance say you were in an existing castle, you could then use a projection spell to analyze and predict how it might fall to ruins, what part of the construction would be destroyed, what parts preserved, why, and by what agencies of destruction or even of renovation or preservation.

As I said above I will not enumerate the specific spells I have developed using these categories or ideas of magical effects because I don’t want to limit your imagination to my conceptions. I think every DM or player or writer ought to develop their own ideas regarding the specifics of this concept.

However I will say this, that when it comes to the operations of “magic” in my own milieus and worlds and writings every use of magic is at least tinged, and sometimes heavily tainted, with the possibility of danger, misdirection, and even failure and misfire. For instance considering the spell types above perhaps the information gleaned from such a spell will be entirely accurate, then again perhaps the work will be only partially accurate, or even mostly inaccurate. Perhaps the caster intends to see an image of one particular fortification or construction site and what he actually sees is an entirely different site. Perhaps the spell will fail entirely (with no discernable consequence or with great and dire consequence). Perhaps the spell will erroneously mix information from several different objects together and produce an amalgam of an object that does not really exist. Perhaps the spell will cause a “Rogue Projection” that will attempt to divine or even produce an unanticipated future rather than accurately display the past. Or perhaps the spell will draw the unwanted attention of some dangerous creature or being that is monitoring or warding the intended target.

The dangers surrounding the use of such magics, as with the use of any such game or fictional magic, could be nearly inexhaustible.

And I fully encourage such dangers, just as I encourage the dangers inherent in the use of any magic.

Magic is, after all, not science. And it should not operate like science. Even when it closely mimics the basic functions of science and technology (as in the case of the “spells” described above), it should be remain essentially separate and distinct in operational methods and in general nature.

For even if magic yields an essentially scientific purpose this does not mean that it should in any way reproduce a technological outcome or result.

It should always remain dangerous, rare, unpredictable, mysterious, and “magical.”

Otherwise it is mere science under another name

WORLD WAR ZERO – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME (AND PAST)

WORLD WAR ZERO?

Indeed, as I’ve been saying for decades, the First World War did not begin in the 20th century. Hell, the First World War of the modern era didn’t even begin in the 20th Century. That’s just a common, modern-era-minded conceit of modern people. A mere and entirely erroneous nomenclature. Historians are every bit as absorbed in their own prejudices and misguided assumptions as anyone else.

World Wars, depending on precisely how you define them at any given time may extend well back into pre-history. What the Zero-Point really is we may never know, but it extends well, well beyond our age.

Something to remember about Real Life, something to remember in constructing your fiction, and something to remember when constructing your milieus and game worlds as well.

Just because the events are long lost to time doesn’t mean the effects are…

 

Archaeologist Talks About A Bronze Age ‘World War Zero’ That Brought Down Three Ancient Civilizations

Back in March, we talked about a 3,200-year old massive battle that took place in the cultural ‘backwaters’ of Bronze Age northern Europe (circa 13th century BC), and how this mysterious encounter involved over 4,000 well-armed men from different regions, including Poland, Holland, Scandinavia and even Southern Europe. Intriguingly enough, there also seems to be a date-oriented significance relating to 13th century BC. Within a generation of these contemporary times, the increasing scale of warfare and over-arching political affairs seemed to have swept through many parts of the known world, including the eclipse of the Mycenaean Greeks, the invasion of Egypt by the ‘sea-people’ and the concurrent downfall of the Hittites. And furthermore, there is also the literary narrative of the Trojan War – a large scale conflict (and possibly the proverbial ‘last hurrah’ of the Mycenaeans) that pitted the Greeks against the mystifying Trojans. Considering all these ‘mega’ events of the ancient times, archaeologist Eberhard Zangger has alluded to what he calls ‘World War Zero’ – a seemingly cataclysmic scenario that severely affected and ultimately shattered the thriving nature of eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age civilizations.

According to Zangger, the so-called ‘World War Zero’ (or at least some parallel event) was possibly triggered by the emergence of a more powerful Bronze Age civilization in the proximate region. According to him, this faction – often overlooked by historians, probably pertains to the Luwians, who were based in ancient Anatolia. So who exactly were these Luwians? According to Britannica

Luwiya is mentioned as a foreign country in the Hittite laws (about 1500 bc). It probably coincided roughly with Arzawa, a large region composed of several principalities in western or southwestern Anatolia, and Kizzuwadna, a district occupying the Cilician Plain. Both Arzawa and Kizzuwadna were independent kingdoms during the Old Hittite period (c. 1700–c. 1500 bc) but later became vassals of the Hittite empire. Linguistic evidence testifies to the cultural penetration of the Hittite empire by Luwians.

As for this seemingly ‘wild’ conjecture put forth by Zangger, the archaeologist (who is also the head of international non-profit, Luwian Studies, based in Zurich, Switzerland), the Luwians were intrinsically powerful because of the availability of natural resources in western Anatolia, including the region’s rich minerals and metal ore deposits. Moreover, based on satellite imagery, it has been found that the proximate areas of Anatolia were quite densely populated by Bronze Age standards, with evidences of around 340 big settlements found in the region.

Now regarding literary evidences, as the last sentence of the Britannica excerpt confirms, Hittites were already aware of the rising power of the collective kingdoms of western Anatolia, many of which had the lingua franca of Luwian. In fact, historically some of these ‘Luwian’ factions did unite together (periodically) to make their forays, raids and even invasions of the nearby Hittite lands. One of such major incursions, along with pressure from the eastern Assyrians, might have brought about the ultimate downfall of the Hittite empire.

Zangger continues with his conjectural narrative about how these victorious Luwians then (perhaps) coveted the rich lands of the Egyptian realm. Thus come in the Egyptian texts that document the arrival of so-called ‘Sea People’ – who could have been the Luwians sailing across from ‘distant’ Anatolia to raid northern Egypt. Finally, threatened by the warmongering and other baleful international affairs, the Mycanaean Greeks braced up for an imminent invasion by the Luwians – by attacking the enemy first through their own large offensive, as described in Homer’sIliad. However on nullifying this external threat from Anatolia (aka Trojans), the Mycanaeans squabbled among themselves, and soon civil wars snuffed out their flourishing culture – as hinted at in Homer’s Odyssey.

But of course, from the historical perspective, this expansive (and world-changing) sequence of events of World War Zero is entirely hypothetical – with no exact clue pointing to Luwian dominance in contemporary political affairs. However from the archaeological context, researchers have come across ruins of many Anatolian settlements (circa late Bronze Age) that bore the destructive marks of warfare. Furthermore, since we brought up history, there are rare occurrences of ‘latent’ powers being ultimately responsible for toppling the more conventionally powerful empires, in spite of their relative unfamiliarity in global affairs. One pertinent example would obviously include the burgeoning Islamic realm (after Mohammed), circa 7th century AD, that managed to defeat two contemporary ‘superpowers’ of the time – the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and the Sassanian Persian Empire, to claim their subsequent Caliphate.

In any case, beyond conjectures and mirroring events, there is the whole science of extant evidences to consider. These evidences could include both textural works and architectural specimens. As Christoph Bachhuber at the University of Oxford, said –

Archaeologists will need to discover similar examples of monumental art and architecture across western Anatolia and ideally texts from the same sites to support Zangger’s claim of a civilization.

Sadly, the archaeological ambit is still lacking in regard to the machinations of the eastern Mediterranean theater in Bronze Age. But as always there is a silver lining to this academic scope. So while Zangger’s World War Zero mirrors the nigh universal narrative of warfare and destruction, it could also potentially redirect the attention of the experts in this field to ‘dig deeper’ into the mystery of the late Bronze Age. Bachhuber aptly put it forth –

He’s [Zangger] really getting the ball rolling to do larger holistic studies of the area,. I’m actually quite excited that he’s bringing attention to this region.

 

 

VALENTIA – LOST LIBRARY

VALENTIA

I have downloaded and begun examining this gaming system. Although in my own system I do retain some character class system, and have invented others, I also have a parallel system that is very similar to this one. As a matter of fact several things about this system are similar to my own, such as the Virtues.

So, overall, and initially, I have a very favorable opinion of this gaming system. It seems a little overly-complicated to me in sections but that may just be an initial presumption.

That being said, however, from what I can tell so far it is an extremely well thought out and well written gaming system and set of mechanics.

It’s in beta and free to download. I did so and recommend that you do so as well if you are interested and wish to examine the game and it’s design approach to Role Play.

You can simply follow the title link in this post or go here for the available downloads:

Valentia Downloads

 

turning-criticism-into-creation

By the way this sounds very much like the line of reasoning that was the basis for developing my own Role Play system of gaming. Though I also came out of a wargaming background (like Gygax, only I was younger) and had much interest in better representing combat on both the large (large group, strategic, wargaming) and small (small team, tactical, personal) scales.

JON SNOW AND CONSEQUENCES

THIS SNOW DON’T MELT, OR HOW THE RED WOMAN MAY HAVE GAINED A SOUL BY REALLY TRYING

Yeah, well Kit, it’s not like nobody saw through it. It was as transparent as transparent aluminum..

What interested me most was not the Resurrection, saw that coming the moment you were killed. What was really interesting was the way.

I was right about the Red Woman. She was obviously different than all the other followers of the Lord of Light.

But is she now? She was obviously remorseful about her “failure of vision and foresight” (though who else might be resurrected in some odd way – Stannis – were all her visions false, or all true just in unexpected ways) though is she remorseful about her pagan sorceries and human sacrifices? Maybe so. Has she now learned a lesson? Will the Resurrection move her to becoming a Priestess of Light and not just a man and child burner, and a demon-birther? We’ll see I reckon. If she is really changed, and if so, exactly how.

And how will that influence the Truth of her real mission, what she is hoping to accomplish, and everything else that lies underneath her shell? The shell of her necklace that is…

Game of Thrones: Kit Harington breaks his silence — Exclusive

This story contains a major revelation from Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode “Home.”

Jon Snow has returned to the land of the living.

As fans of HBO’s Emmy-winning hit Game of Thrones have now learned, Kit Harington’s murdered fan-favorite character Jon Snow was revived at the end of Sunday night’s episode. The Lord Commander was resurrected by the sorceress Melisandre, a reveal that caps 10 months of worldwide speculation following Snow’s death at the hands of his Night’s Watch brothers in last year’s finale.

During an in-depth interview exclusively with EW, Harington spoke about his incredible journey shouldering the show’s biggest secret. Actors typically only have to perform while in front of the camera. But to protect the Jon Snow twist, Harington was asked by the show’s producers to deliver an off-camera performance too — the role of an actor who departed a series that’s become a worldwide sensation.

The first thing Harington wants viewers to know after seeing his revival: “Sorry!” the 29-year-old says in the above video excerpt. “I’d like to say sorry for lying to everyone. I’m glad that people were upset that he died. I think my biggest fear was that people were not going to care. Or it would just be, ‘Fine, Jon Snow’s dead.’ But it seems like people had a, similar to the Red Wedding episode, kind of grief about it. Which means something I’m doing — or the show is doing — is right.”

RELATED: Game of Thrones: 17 Biggest Changes from Books to TV

For months EW has been working on a top-secret cover story on the extraordinary behind-the-scenes tale of Jon Snow’s death and resurrection — including an exclusive conversation with Harington.Subscribe to receive the issue in digital format and exclusive online access the moment the story is posted. Or buy the issue right now here. Follow @jameshibberd for updates – and check out our recap of “Home” now. More coming Monday on the shocking episode, including our Game of Thrones podcast, where we’ll break down “Home” — plus talk about our Harington interview.

Check out our exclusive cover below.

ARSOGINSERL’S APOTROEV: THE TERROR TROVE

ARSOGINSERL’S APOTROEV

So I’ve been working on some other things in my spare time while not working on my novel The Old Man for NaNoWriMo. One of those things is I have been continuing with design work upon The Perfect Dungeon (working title).

One of the ideas I had this week was for the Terror Trove. (That’s the working term – it is a sort of obverse image of the Treasure Hoard as I’ll explain in a moment.)

The Terror Trove originated as a secret mountainous cave area in the wet-desert just outside the main ancient city ruins around which the Perfect Dungeon story primarily revolves.

A man who was both a powerful Cleric and a powerful Wizard decided that he would take it upon himself to seek to discover and “hoard” every evil artefact and relic he could locate.

His original intention was to construct an “Apotroev” (a reverse treasure hoard – one that was magically and physically separated from our world and one that could never again be plundered) so powerful and so carefully hermetically sealed that the powerful items he placed there would be in effect forever cut off from and removed from the rest of the world. Thereby sealed away, never to be discovered or employed as a threat again these items were magically exiled from the world since the Cleric Wizard (named Arsoginserl, though also sometimes called Insarl the Illuminare) could find no method of destroying most of these things.

Arsoginserl’s Apotroev” worked very well for centuries after his death, but eventually, due to earthquakes and due to the fact that some of these artefacts and relics were so powerful they began to consume and absorb one another the Apotroev weakened. The evil and magic in them thus multiplied many times in power and force effectively “irradiating evil and magic out into the surrounding world” just as a shielded bunker designed to store radioactive waste might leak if damaged or overwhelmed.

Eventually this was one of the reasons that led to the demise of the original and ancient city of Pesharan.

Anyway Arsoginserl’s Apotroev will be one of the potential sandbox areas attached to the Perfect Dungeon (which is actually a campaign series) if the players want to seek to find and explore it.

However by this point, nearly a millennium after it was originally populated and sealed most of the items have been consumed by the more powerful artefacts and relics and the “survivors” are at war with each other. All of the survivors are by this time either artificially intelligent or sentient or inhabited by evil spirits, or all of the above. And all of these surviving “items” desire to escape back into the wider world. Making them incredibly cunning and dangerous and desperate. Even exposure to the still sealed Apotroev itself has powerful, malignant, and long lasting side effects upon anyone approaching it.

Also buried in the Apotroev, in a secret compartment never discovered by even the most powerful artefacts and relics trapped there, are a number of preserved relics from Arsoginserl himself, such as his robe, his mitre, his crooked staff, his Roseheart, a book of Arsoginserl’s prophecies, a book of his personally created spells (otherwise unknown), his Communion Rod, other valuables, and the Benegemm (an experimental gemstone Arsoginserl himself had created with the help of an angelic ally) with which he hoped to one day cure evil and nullify evil magic. No one knows how far Arsoginserl got in the development and perfection of the Benegemm but it was reputed to have many marvelous capabilities and properties (even if it was still unable to cure evil) by the one account that ever mentioned it. Such as soft-burying and freeing the souls of certain undead creatures. Or encouraging certain criminals to take up a monastic or religious life. Or even to become a Cleric.

The story of the Benegemm is supposedly indirectly related to the famous tale of the thief Tarand Moirloss who later converted from his life of crime and became the famous Cleric Larlfast Urlinger. Moirloss accidentally touched the Benegemm hoping to examine it for potential value and was immediately struck “dead” for seven days. Moirloss recovered in his tomb chamber and was able to dig his way around the setting stone of his tomb and escape his premature grave. Moirloss then sought out Arsoginserl who gave him the legendary Seven Penances of Supernal Peril to complete after which Moirloss converted and was renamed Larlfast Urlinger the Upright. Urlinger is the same cleric often credited with having created the “quill of the thrice inscribed god.”

Though some say that Urlinger became a wandering Cleric-Wizard like his mentor and abbot Arsoginserl, and that the quill was actually constructed by another, a Sage and Hermit named Ramonil the Righteous.

http://nanowrimo.org/forums/all-ages-coffee-house/threads/270499

TO BOLDLY GO… AGAIN? – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

If they just concentrate upon science and exploration, as the original did, and even to some extent as TNG did, then I’m in. Totally in.

Strangely enough, at least from this write-up, that seems like the way they might be going.

But I can’t stomach another “Enterprise” or yet another Jedi-wanna-be science fantasy or life-action anime series. I just can’t stomach that modern pseudo-science and amoral modern crap in my Star Trek anymore. That kinda stuff is for Star Wars, not Star Trek.

 

A totally new Star Trek television series is coming in January 2017! The new series will blast off with a special preview broadcast of the premiere episode on the CBS Television Network, and the premiere episode and all subsequent first-run episodes will then be available exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access.

The brand-new Star Trek will introduce new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring the dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise since its inception in 1966.

Alex Kurtzman will serve as executive producer for the series. Kurtzman co-wrote and produced the blockbuster films Star Trek (2009) with Roberto Orci, and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) with Orci and Damon Lindelof. Both films were produced and directed by J.J. Abrams.

The new series will be produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout. Kurtzman and Heather Kadin will serve as executive producers. Kurtzman is also an executive producer for the hit CBS television series Scorpion and Limitless, along with Kadin and Orci, and for Hawaii Five-0 with Orci.

The new program will be the first original series developed specifically for U.S. audiences for CBS All Access, a cross-platform streaming service that brings viewers thousands of episodes from CBS’s current and past seasons on demand, plus the ability to stream their local CBS Television stations live for $5.99 per month. CBS All Access already offers every episode of all previous Star Trek television series.

Sign up for a free trial of CBS All Access and prep for the new show with every episode of the classic Star Trek series available commercial-free!

Star Trek, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016, is one of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time. The original Star Trek spawned a dozen feature films and five successful television series. Almost half a century later, the Star Trek television series are licensed on a variety of different platforms in more than 190 countries, and the franchise still generates more than a billion social media impressions every month.

Born from the mind of Gene Roddenberry, the original Star Trek series debuted on Sept. 8, 1966 and aired for three seasons – a short run that belied the influence it would have for generations. The series also broke new ground in storytelling and cultural mores, providing a progressive look at topics including race relations, global politics and the environment.

“There is no better time to give Star Trek fans a new series than on the heels of the original show’s 50th anniversary celebration,” said David Stapf, President, CBS Television Studios. “Everyone here has great respect for this storied franchise, and we’re excited to launch its next television chapter in the creative mind and skilled hands of Alex Kurtzman, someone who knows this world and its audience intimately.”

“This new series will premiere to the national CBS audience, then boldly go where no first-run Star Trek series has gone before – directly to its millions of fans through CBS All Access,” said Marc DeBevoise, Executive Vice President/General Manager – CBS Digital Media. “We’ve experienced terrific growth for CBS All Access, expanding the service across affiliates and devices in a very short time. We now have an incredible opportunity to accelerate this growth with the iconic Star Trek, and its devoted and passionate fan base, as our first original series.”

The next chapter of the Star Trek franchise will also be distributed concurrently for television and multiple platforms around the world by CBS Studios International.

“Every day, an episode of the Star Trek franchise is seen in almost every country in the world,” said Armando Nuñez, President and CEO, CBS Global Distribution Group. “We can’t wait to introduce Star Trek’s next voyage on television to its vast global fan base.”

CBS All Access offers its customers more than 7,500 episodes from the current television season, previous seasons and classic shows on demand nationwide, as well as the ability to stream local CBS stations live in more than 110 markets. Subscribers can use the service online and across devices via CBS.com, the CBS App for iOS, Android and Windows 10, as well as on connected devices such as Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku players and Roku TV, with more connected devices to come.

The new television series is not related to the upcoming feature film Star Trek Beyond, which is scheduled to be distributed by Paramount Pictures in summer 2016.

GOING BLIND INTO THE DARK – RESURRECTED RELICS

GOING BLIND INTO THE DARK

If you ask me ancient archaeological sites like these make for superb adventure and dungeon and plot locales, though of a very different type than the standard dungeon or adventure site.

Very bizarre artefacts, relics, objects, events, rituals, and creatures could easily exist at such sites. I often use modified Real World archaeological sites and place them in my games and novels and stories because they are so ancient, rich, and full of odd and often unexplainable things. (As a matter of fact I have an entirely separate category of “adventure and plot locales” when it comes to ancient and prehistoric archaeological sites for my writings and designs, including the artefacts and events discovered/recovered there.)

It is very good to have odd and unexplainable things in your writings and in your games and milieus that the players and readers can try, like everyone else, to figure out, but can’t really understand, deduce, or explain.

Unknown or unexplained or recently discovered archaeological sites are superbly interesting because unlike many other sites they have already passed into pre-history (or out of history) or little to nothing is known about them until they are accidentally stumbled upon again (by completely different peoples and characters, etc.), and because, of course, they tend to be so ancient all memory of them has been subsequently lost. And of course many of these unknown and unrecorded sites tend to be megalithic and absolutely gargantuan in nature, consisting of many vanished layers of development. Entire campaigns and years and years of adventures, not to mention book sequels, can easily be written around such sites. And, of course, one site often bleeds into another.

That’s a superbly good state of affairs for the reader or player (going blind into the dark or going blind back into the far more ancient things), but it is an entirely excellent thing for the writer and the game designer/game master.

Because at such sites the entirely unexpected and the wholly forgotten should be the most common expectation and the most dangerous memory.

 

NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks

By RALPH BLUMENTHALOCT. 30, 2015

One of the enormous earthwork configurations photographed from space is known as the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village in Kazakhstan. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
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High in the skies over Kazakhstan, space-age technology has revealed an ancient mystery on the ground.
Satellite pictures of a remote and treeless northern steppe reveal colossal earthworks — geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football fields, recognizable only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old.

The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds, its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross, covering more terrain than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Another is a kind of three-limbed swastika, its arms ending in zigzags bent counterclockwise.

Described last year at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied, the earthworks, in the Turgai region of northern Kazakhstan, number at least 260 — mounds, trenches and ramparts — arrayed in five basic shapes.

 

The Bestamskoe Ring is among the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan — at least 260 earthwork shapes made up of mounds, trenches and ramparts, the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old, recognizable only from the air. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
Two weeks ago, in the biggest sign so far of official interest in investigating the sites, NASA released clear satellite photographs of some of the figures from about 430 miles up.

“I’ve never seen anything like this; I found it remarkable,” said Compton J. Tucker, a senior biospheric scientist for NASA in Washington who provided the archived images, taken by the satellite contractor DigitalGlobe, to Mr. Dey and The New York Times.

Ronald E. LaPorte, a University of Pittsburgh scientist who helped publicize the finds, called NASA’s involvement “hugely important” in mobilizing support for further research.

This week, NASA put space photography of the region on a task list for astronauts in the International Space Station. “It may take some time for the crew to take imagery of your site since we are under the mercy of sun elevation angles, weather constraints and crew schedule,” Melissa Higgins of Mission Operations emailed Dr. LaPorte.

The archived images from NASA add to the extensive research that Mr. Dey compiled this year in a PowerPoint lecture translated from Russian to English.

“I don’t think they were meant to be seen from the air,” Mr. Dey, 44, said in an interview from his hometown, Kostanay, dismissing outlandish speculations involving aliens and Nazis. (Long before Hitler, the swastika was an ancient and near-universal design element.) He theorizes that the figures built along straight lines on elevations were “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun.”

Kazakhstan, a vast, oil-rich former Soviet republic that shares a border with China, has moved slowly to investigate and protect the finds, scientists say, generating few news reports.

“I was worried this was a hoax,” said Dr. LaPorte, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at Pittsburgh who noticed a report on the finds last year while researching diseases in Kazakhstan.

With the help of James Jubilee, a former American arms control officer and now a senior science and technology coordinator for health issues in Kazakhstan, Dr. LaPorte tracked down Mr. Dey through the State Department, and his images and documentation quickly convinced them of the earthworks’ authenticity and importance. They sought photos from KazCosmos, the country’s space agency, and pressed local authorities to seek urgent Unesco protection for the sites — so far without luck.

The earthworks, including the Turgai Swastika, were spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by Dmitriy Dey, a Kazakh archaeology enthusiast. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
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In the Cretaceous Period 100 million years ago, Turgai was bisected by a strait from what is now the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean. The rich lands of the steppe were a destination for Stone Age tribes seeking hunting grounds, and Mr. Dey’s research suggests that the Mahandzhar culture, which flourished there from 7,000 B.C. to 5,000 B.C., could be linked to the older figures. But scientists marvel that a nomadic population would have stayed in place for the time required to fell and lay timber for ramparts, and to dig out lake bed sediments to construct the huge mounds, originally 6 to 10 feet high and now 3 feet high and nearly 40 feet across.

Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg who viewed some of Mr. Dey’s images, said these figures and similar ones in Peru and Chile were changing views about early nomads.

“The idea that foragers could amass the numbers of people necessary to undertake large-scale projects — like creating the Kazakhstan geoglyphs — has caused archaeologists to deeply rethink the nature and timing of sophisticated large-scale human organization as one that predates settled and civilized societies,” Dr. Clarkson wrote in an email.

“Enormous efforts” went into the structures, agreed Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, an archaeologist from Cambridge University and a lecturer at Vilnius University in Lithuania, who visited two of the sites last year. She said by email that she was dubious about calling the structures geoglyphs — a term applied to the enigmatic Nazca Lines in Peru that depict animals and plants — because geoglyphs “define art rather than objects with function.”

Dr. Matuzeviciute and two archaeologists from Kostanay University, Andrey Logvin and Irina Shevnina, discussed the figures at a meeting of European archaeologists in Istanbul last year.

With no genetic material to analyze — neither of the two mounds that have been dug into is a burial site — Dr. Matuzeviciute said she used optically stimulated luminescence, a method of measuring doses from ionizing radiation, to analyze the construction material, and came up with a date from one of the mounds of around 800 B.C. Other preliminary studies push the earliest date back more than 8,000 years, which could make them the oldest such creations ever found. Other materials yield dates in the Middle Ages.

Mr. Dey said some of the figures might have been solar observatories akin, according to some theories, to Stonehenge in England and the Chankillo towers in Peru.

“Everything is linked through the cult of the sun,” said Mr. Dey, who spoke in Russian via Skype through an interpreter, Shalkar Adambekov, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh.

The discovery was happenstance.

Researchers are hoping to marshal support for investigating the earthen mounds that make up figures like this one, the Big Ashutastinsky Cross. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
In March 2007, Mr. Dey was at home watching a program, “Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs,” on the Discovery Channel. “There are pyramids all over the earth,” he recalled thinking. “In Kazakhstan, there should be pyramids, too.”

Soon, he was searching Google Earth images of Kostanay and environs.

 

There were no pyramids. But, he said, about 200 miles to the south he saw something as intriguing — a giant square, more than 900 feet on each side, made up of dots, crisscrossed by a dotted X.

At first Mr. Dey thought it might be a leftover Soviet installation, perhaps one of Nikita S. Khrushchev’s experiments to cultivate virgin land for bread production. But the next day, Mr. Dey saw a second gigantic figure, the three-legged, swastikalike form with curlicue tips, about 300 feet in diameter.

Before the year was out, Mr. Dey had found eight more squares, circles and crosses. By 2012, there were 19. Now his log lists 260, including some odd mounds with two drooping lines called “whiskers” or “mustaches.”

Before setting out to look for the figures on the ground, Mr. Dey asked Kazakh archaeologists whether they knew of such things. The answer was no. In August 2007, he led Dr. Logvin and others to the largest figure, now called the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village.

“It was very, very hard to understand from the ground,” he recalled. “The lines are going to the horizon. You can’t figure out what the figure is.”

When they dug into one of the mounds, they found nothing. “It was not a cenotaph, where there are belongings,” he said. But nearby they found artifacts of a Neolithic settlement 6,000 to 10,000 years old, including spear points.

Now, Mr. Dey said, “the plan is to construct a base for operations.”

“We cannot dig up all the mounds. That would be counterproductive,” he said. “We need modern technologies, like they have in the West.”

Dr. LaPorte said he, Mr. Dey and their colleagues were also looking into using drones, as the Culture Ministry in Peru has been doing to map and protect ancient sites.

But time is an enemy, Mr. Dey said. One figure, called the Koga Cross, was substantially destroyed by road builders this year. And that, he said, “was after we notified officials.”

 

 

BAM! THE ANCIENTS WERE ANCIENT BUT HIGHLY DEVELOPED

Archaeologists Unearth Spectacular 3,500-Year-Old Warrior’s Grave in Pylos

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The Greek culture ministry announced that an international team of archaeologists led by the Department of Classics from the University of Cincinnati have uncovered a spectacular 3,500-year-old, treasure-filled grave of a warrior has been discovered near an ancient palace in southern Greece.

UC's Sharon Stocker with the 3,500 year-old skull found in the warrior's tomb (Photo Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

UC’s Sharon Stocker with the 3,500 year-old skull found in the warrior’s tomb (Photo Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

The Culture Ministry says the grave is the most spectacular discovery of its kind from the Mycenaean era in more than 65 years on continental Greece. The discovery has revealed about 1,400 artifacts, including gold and silver jewelry, cups, bronze vases, engraved gemstones and an ornate ivory-and gilt-hilted sword.

Gold ring with a Cretan bull-jumping scene was one of four solid-gold rings found in the tomb. (Photo: Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

The grave escaped plunderers who looted a monumental beehive tomb discovered decades ago in the area, near the palace of Pylos — one of the most important Mycenaean administrative centers.

The warrior’s remains were found with a yard-long bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.

Alex Zokos, a conservator, removed a bronze jug at the site. (Photo: Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

It said the dead warrior, aged 30-35, must have been a “leading member” of Pylos’ aristocracy. The tomb, which stands at 2.4 meters (7 feet 10 inches) long and 1.5 meters wide, was unearthed during excavations begun in May near Pylos, on the site of the palace of Nestor.

One of more than four dozen seal stones with intricate Minoan designs found in the tomb. Long-horned bulls and, sometimes, human bull jumpers soaring over their horns are a common motif in Minoan designs. (Photo: Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

“Probably not since the 1950s have we found such a rich tomb,” said James C. Wright, the director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

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Nicholas Wade wrote in The New York Times that the discovery could be a gateway to discovering unknown things about the relationships between the Minoan civilization on Crete and the Mycenaean civilization that flourished on the Greek mainland more than 3,000 years ago.

THINGS OF INTEREST AND USE – GAMEPLAY

THINGS OF INTEREST AND USE

I have a Pinterest account in which I have compiled things of interest and use for my writings, gaming, and inventions.

Some of you might find these things useful for designs, idea-generation, or mapping.

NORSE NICKNAMES – ALL-THING

Artist’s depiction of a Viking King

From Olafir Thick-Legged to Ragnar Fur-Pants, Viking nicknames were colorful, descriptive and fascinating

An American scholar did both his master’s thesis and his doctoral dissertation on old Norse nicknames as recorded in medieval literature to reveal a world of people with monikers like Wise of Dreams, Harm-Fart, Autumn Darkness, Toil-Skull, Grimacer and The Ridiculer. A nickname in Scandinavia during Viking times could be insulting or laudatory, derived from body parts or mythology, from places or accomplishments or from a number of other inspirations.

Aside from boxing’s Ray Boom Boom Mancini, Carl The Truth Williams, and Smokin Joe Frazier, modern nicknames such as Al or Annie seem prosaic compared to some of the monikers Vikings came up with to describe their contemporaries.

While modern people may use nicknames out of affection, in the Middle Ages in Scandinavia that wasn’t always the case. Take Eysteinn Harm-Fart, Hergils Button Ass Thrándarson, or Authun Coward, for example. One might wonder if Mr. Eysteinn, a settler in Iceland, was given to drinking copious amounts of beer.

A woodcut of Erik the Red from a 1688 book

A woodcut of Erik the Red from a 1688 book (Wikimedia Commons)

“Nicknames are universal, every human society has had or has them,” Paul Peterson, an expert on Scandinavia, wrote to Ancient Origins in e-mail. “Most other medieval societies had, or recorded, fewer nicknames, even though the practice of adopting family names or surnames is a bit late in the game (late medieval continental practice),” Dr. Peterson wrote. “Nicknames must have been everywhere, but only a tiny sample of them survives in writing.”

A table of Norse nickname sources from Dr. Peterson’s doctoral dissertation

A table of Norse nickname sources from Dr. Peterson’s doctoral dissertation

Though some nicknames were insulting, there are many examples of poetic or laudatory nicknames in old Norse literature. There are The Fair or The Handsome, Snowdrift, The Wise of Dreams or Dream Interpreter, Little Bear, The Learned and Autumn Darkness. Other poetic nicknames include Widow of the Heath, Traveler to Limerick, Sun of the Islands, The Quiet, The Amorous.

While world monarchs often had an informal appellation applied to them, such as “the Good,” “the Great,” “the Terrible” or “the Short,” some of the most expressive Norse nicknames were reserved for non-royalty.

Dr. Peterson did his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, which is available to read in its entirety here, specifically on old Norse nicknames. He received his doctorate in Medieval Germanic Studies from the University of Minnesota and is now a teaching fellow in Scandinavian and German at Augustana College in Illinois. He is a member of the International Council of Onomastic Sciences. Onomastics is the study of names.

In the 11th century, King Olaf II of Norway was known as The Holy; this image is from Trondheim Cathedral.

In the 11th century, King Olaf II of Norway was known as The Holy; this image is from Trondheim Cathedral. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Peterson wrote in his thesis:

Nicknames, which occur in all cultures and across all time periods, play a vital role in understanding and highlighting identity. They also provide a unique window into slang and popular culture less accessible through personal names alone. Their study encompasses wide-ranging interdisciplinary scholarship, including onomastics (name studies), historical linguistics, anthropology, history, and narratology. Old Norse nicknames themselves represent diverse forms of cultural expression from the lower levels of discourse, history, religion, and popular entertainment. They have left remnants across Northern Europe in place names, runic inscriptions, and the names of individuals in the saga corpus.

One of the best sources for Icelandic settlers’ nicknames is the 12th century Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements). Many of the nicknames listed in this article (but not all) are from this source.

Ivan the Terrible, an 1897 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov; other cultures had nicknames, but American scholar Paul Peterson says they are not as well-recorded as old Norse nicknames.

Ivan the Terrible, an 1897 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov; other cultures had nicknames, but American scholar Paul Peterson says they are not as well-recorded as old Norse nicknames. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nicknames that Dr. Peterson recorded in his master’s thesis and his doctoral dissertation include King Eirkr Blood-Ax, Olafir Thick-Legged, Ragnar Fur-Pants or Hairy Breeches and Bjorn the Wealthy. Still others include Thorbjorn Sour-Drink and Ketill the Silent or Ketill Creaking Noise.

Those nicknames were not necessarily insulting, but many old Norse nicknames were scathing.

“Negative nicknames are rather common, ranging from sexually-charged insults to unflattering physical characteristics, and several nicknames referring to private parts, perhaps the most sensitive areas in terms of insults and otherwise, are found in the corpus. Finnur Jónsson provides a list of these in the second section of his nickname list under the categories ‘penis, cunnus”’ and ‘anus,”’ Dr. Peterson wrote in this thesis. These nicknames include:

  • Arni Harm-Penis
  • Kolbeinn Butter-Penis
  • Herjolfr Shriveled-Testicle
  • Sperm Bjalfi
  • Butt-[Copulate] Bjarni
  • Helgi Seal’s Testicle
  • Ivarr Procreation Member
  • Jon Silky [Vulva]
  • Asni Ship Chest
  • Ass Bersi
  • Herjolfr Squatted Ass

Other nicknames that Dr. Peterson identified in his thesis that weren’t necessarily sexual but some of which were still insulting included:

  • Prince Fortress
  • Little Wolf
  • Little Blackbird
  • Halfdan Sigurdsonn Hook Nose
  • King Magnus Barefoot
  • Sigurd “Sow”
  • King Haraldr Sigurrdson Hard Rule
  • King Ólafr Tryggvason Thin-Legged (krakabein)

“The nickname krakabein, most famously held by King Ólafr Tryggvason, appears to have had some currency among earlier Scandinavians who raided and settled the British Isles where it is found in Old English as Cracabam, and it also appears in a 15th century Irish source called The Annals of Ulster as Graggabai. It is unlikely that the nickname refers to Óláfr Tryggvason,” Dr. Peterson wrote. Others include Iron-Knee, Wild Dog and Black Head.

“The use of the nicknames in the literature and how it shaped narratives or demonstrated medieval customs or values is also something that I am fascinated by,” Dr Peterson told Ancient Origins. “Quite a large number of the linguistic forms are rare and ‘frozen’ from older forms of the language, and that is interesting in and of itself, but the meaning of the words also gives modern people a window into the mindset of a medieval Scandinavian. Nicknames are often formed in a familiar context, that is, a small community of people who know each other well, so the references of nicknames are mostly local and personal. A huge number of them must go back to an inside joke or reference to an event lost to us, and because we cannot always know the origin of a nickname, it gives a modern reader room to speculate or guess the real origin.”

(These should be excellent for World-Building.)

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT – ALLTHING

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT: MUNDANE AND MAGICAL

A friend of mine and I were having a discussion last night and this morning on primitive bow-making and historical facts. She informed me that ancient men and later frontiersmen used their bow staves as primitive one stringed lyres (or musical bows) and their arrow shafts as primitive bows to play very basic music. See one reference below.

This idea only makes great sense and you can easily see how this would have led to to the development of primitive musical bows and lyres specifically for music.

Anyway this gave me both a gaming and literary idea. In gaming you would have a bow specifically designed for Bards (or that they create themselves as part of their unique gear – like a warrior who forges his own sword) that can easily serve as a modified musical instrument that would allow him to both enchant enemies and opponents and entertain or in some way heal or bless allies and companions. A magical version would then have both combat and Bardic advantages, and it is so very natural since such equipment could easily serve dual or even multiple functions (it might also serve as a 4 to 5 foot pole or as a climbing rod/tool when unbent or in stave form).

As a literary device for my novels it could serve the same basic functions but, of course, would not be described in that way. There is a Welsh bard in one of my novels who would naturally easily employ such a bow.

This is hardly the first device or weapon or piece of gear or equipment I’ve made use of for dual or multiple purposes (either in real life, games, or in literature or poetry) but it is a rather fascinating and new employment for me. Bow staves as musical instruments.

Now all of that being said what items do you use in your games or writings or even in real life as dual-use pieces of equipment or gear?

Further Reference: Work Songs, Plutarch, and the Scythians

INSPIRATION – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

Getting the Most Out of the Inspiration Mechanic

Inspiration is a way to leverage this system as a DM to reward behavior you want to see at the game table. It’s suggested in the rulebooks that the DM award inspiration for a player playing his characters flaws and negative personality traits well, but the DM can award inspiration for other reasons as well.

Inspiration is one of the more awesome innovations of fifth edition. If you’re not using it as DM, you’re missing out.

You can hear more about this topic in the companion episode of the Game Master’s Journey podcast.

How inspiration can enhance your game

You can use inspiration as a “carrot” to reward behavior and gameplay you want to see more of.

You can use inspiration as a buffer against unfriendly dice and unwanted character death. This works especially well if you use the variant rule that allows inspiration to be spent after the die roll but after the results are announced. This also works well if you use the variant allowing inspiration to be used multiple times on a roll.

Inspiration can be a great way to hedge against a TPK (total party kill). This is helpful if an encounter starts to go south due to no fault of the players—maybe you gave them an encounter that is too difficult, or maybe the players are just having a really unlucky night with the dice. In a situation like this, look for reasons to give PCs inspiration.

Don’t give out more than one inspiration per two PCs, and don’t give a PC more than two inspiration in a given game session. Allow players to learn from their mistakes. Let them suffer the consequences of bad decisions or foolish actions.

Inspiration increases player agency and gives players more of a feeling of control over what happens to their characters.

Additional guidelines for awarding inspiration

Award inspiration for outstanding background write-ups and character development at character creation. This allows a PC to begin play with inspiration, which can be very helpful to “squishy” first-level characters. This encourages players to put more thought into their character before the game starts, leading to a living, breathing character instead of just a collection of numbers on a piece of paper.

Award inspiration for in-character creations like journal entries, letters and sketches. These not only add depth to the characters, but add a lot to the immersion of the players. Make sure to judge such creations on effort and impact as opposed to talent. Not everyone is an artist. If a creation adds to the enjoyment of the players and GM, then it’s worthy of an award.

Award inspiration for anything a player or a PC does that goes above and beyond. Try to be consistent in the kinds of things you award inspiration for. However, also gradually expect more from your players as the campaign goes on. Just as a higher level character needs more xp to advance a level, you should expect more from higher level characters to earn inspiration.

Inspiration variants and optional rules

These are various ways to make inspiration more powerful and useful. Be careful using more than one of these. Some of them synergize well, but some combinations could get out of hand.

Consider using the optional rule that a PC can choose to use inspiration after the die is rolled but before the result is announced. In this variant, the PC rolls a d20. If she chooses to use inspiration, she then rolls a second d20 and takes the higher roll. This makes it easier to use inspiration without fear of “wasting” it and allows PCs to have it and use it when it really matters. This improves inspiration’s ability to buffer against bad die rolls and character death. This does make inspiration more powerful, but more importantly, it makes it more relevant.

Allow inspiration to stack with advantage. By default inspiration gives advantage, which makes it useless in when the PC already has advantage. Allowing inspiration to be used with advantage makes inspiration useful in more situations. This works best with the optional rule allowing inspiration use to be declared after the roll but before results are determined. The PC rolls with advantage as normal (rolls 2d20). If the player then chooses to use advantage, she rolls a third d20 and takes the highest of the three rolls. This makes inspiration more powerful. It’s especially useful to give an epic feel to the game or in campaigns that are very lethal and/or difficult.

Allow inspiration to be used multiple times on a roll. This requires the optional rule that inspiration can be used after the roll but before results are announced by the GM. If the player uses inspiration, but still rolls poorly, another player can give the first player his inspiration die, allowing the first player to roll another d20. This can be done as many times as the party has inspiration dice. This allows a PC to succeed at a very important roll by using all the party’s inspiration at once. This builds a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, as inspiration even more becomes a party resource as opposed to an individual PC resource. This won’t break the game because although the PC will very likely succeed at the important role, the party now has much fewer (or no) inspiration dice left to spend.

Spending inspiration allows you to automatically succeed at a death save. Or, a more powerful version, spending inspiration allows you to stabilize at 0 hit points. This is a great way to further buffer against PC death. This works great for a GM who wants a lower mortality rate and also rolls in the open (or doesn’t want to fudge rolls).

Use of inspiration during a short rest allows you to recover spell slots. You recover a number of spell levels equal to the maximum level spell you can cast divided by three. You can divide this among slots as you wish.

Example: Nikki’s character has access to sixth-level spells. She can spend her inspiration during a short rest to recover either one 2nd-level spell slot or two 1st-level spell slots.

This allows spell casters to use their spells a little more freely. Be aware that this slightly cheapens the wizard’s Arcane Recovery ability. The wizard’s ability is still better at most levels, but it becomes less unique.

Use of inspiration during a short rest allows you to recover some hit points. You can roll a number of hit dice equal to your tier.

Tier 1 is levels 1-4

Tier 2 is levels 5-10

Tier 3 is levels 11-16

Tier 4 is levels 17-20

Example: Jim’s character is a fifth level rogue with a constitution modifier of +1. He can spend his inspiration during a short rest to regain 2d8+2 hit points.

This might be a good option in a campaign with a lot of combats and few chances for long rests. This works well with the optional rule allowing multiple inspirations per PC.

Allow PCs to accumulate more than one inspiration during a session. Any inspiration in excess of one are lost at the end of the session. This makes inspiration (and any of the variants you use) much more powerful. You will want to limit the total number of inspiration the PC can accumulate. I suggest a limit equal to the PC’s tier.

Tier 1 (levels 1-4), 1 inspiration

Tier 2 (levels 5-10), 2 inspiration

Tier 3 (levels 11-16), 3 inspiration

Tier 4 (levels 17-20), 4 inspiration

Hero Points

Hero points can have many of the same advantages as inspiration, but they work differently. Hero points are overall less powerful than inspiration. If you decide to use hero points and inspiration, decide if you will allow both to be used on the same roll.

Hero point variants

Here are a couple ways to make hero points more powerful. This is especially useful if you’re using hero points as a replacement for inspiration.

Allow the hero point bonus die to scale as the Bardic Inspiration die does.

Levels 1-4, d6

Levels 5-9, d8

Levels 10-14, d10

Levels 15-20, d12

Allow more than one hero point to be spent on one roll.

OPEN CHOICE IN GAMING – THE FORGE

Today’s entry for The Forge is based upon a correspondence between me and an old friend over the idea of exactly how much of a game can and should be programmed (pre-designed), how much should be flexible and open to ad hoc manipulation, and what the consequences of these conflicting deign principles really mean.

Of course in tabletop and role play games (non-electronic versions) the ad hoc and “open” elements are much easier to develop and fully exploit in comparison to exactly how much of a computer or electronic or video game must be pre-programmed. But in my opinion the ultimate goal even of computer and video and even virtual reality games is not just to mimic or emulate open choice, but to actually develop program parameters than allow a sort of “open interface” with the gaming world in the same way that an individual can interact with the Real World. That is to say game should not merely simulate “open choice and open exploration” they should actually provide it.

And since today’s entry is for the Forge I also briefly discuss the Design and operational Tools I call the Terra Incognito and Esoteric Distribution Principles, as well as Hard and Soft Backgrounds/Milieus.

 

 

Since all games are programmed (to some extent) I think that it is very unusual for most game designers (who think in a programmed fashion- that is they try to project onto the game the same basic methods of thought which they themselves use for the logical design of the game) to attempt to program into the game the elements you described.

When maps are drawn and given to the player they are almost invariably accurate.

Why, most all game designers think, give a player an inaccurate map as that will only anger him and look shoddy, as if it were the fault of the game designer, as if it were a bug. Most players have become conditioned to think in exactly this same fashion as regards games. They see that something does not function properly and they automatically assume it is a bug. But much of life is exactly that- Terra Incognito, you get no real map to most things in life, especially things you have never encountered before and it is ridiculous to assume that any map you ever receive will be absolutely accurate. As a matter of fact much information we receive and much education is similarly either erroneous or at the least tainted by bias, or by ignorance or by mistake, intentional or unintentional.

Then you have to consider that often times things we receive as information from any particular source may also be purposely misleading.

Therefore if a game is to mimic life in many respects it has to incorporate this “unknown and unexpected” territory and it must also incorporate intentional deceit. For instance in many games i have played when one receives informant information it is just assumed to be accurate or truthful. This is not the way real informant information works. It is partially correct, partially misleading, purposely misleading, it is second or third hand information, it is misinterpreted, or disinformation, etc… Games should reflect this. As a matter of fact this puts me to the mind to create all sorts of intentional bug parameters that reflect real life, not randomness, but actual error. Error that is reflective of living error.

So I’m gonna incorporate both aspects into my game designs. The unknown, uncharted, unmapped or incorrectly mapped territories, of whatever kind I’m gonna call the Terra Incognito principal. The other, the misleading or incomplete information principle I think I’m gonna call
the Esoteric Distribution principle.

Both principles will function as a sort of basic background of functionality, that a game, like life itself is not just about the data but the quality and nature of that data and how accurately that data reflects upon the overall gaming environment. Then the player, like a living person, will have to determine not only the gaming parameters, but the functional parameters and whether any information received is of any actual value, whether it is valid or invalid.

I suspect that current principles only exist because they are reflective of the basically mathematical mindset of software and game designers.

That is perfectly appropriate for the development of a Hard Background, or environment in a game, but it is completely superficial and childlike in naivete as regards a Soft, or Human, Background. Soft Backgrounds are full of error, deceit, and ignorance. Unlike present games, soft backgrounds fail to function properly, or one could say function in error about as often as they function successfully and accurately. Soft Backgrounds are not just mere isolated plot devices, but should be a vital and ongoing principle of making any game or skill simulation function correctly.

D20 MODERN AND URBAN FANTASY – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

I’m a longtime D&D player, but I’m also a sucker for urban fantasy. With the Dungeon Master’s Guide and some tweaking, I’ve begun to use the fifth edition rules to explore the possibilities of gunplay in a modern fantasy setting.

When Wizards of the Coast released the d20 Modern roleplaying game in 2002, I was in heaven. Gnolls in crushed velvet! Ogres decked out in London Fog overcoats! Living dumpsters that ate people!

I was crazy about the Urban Arcana campaign setting in particular. The scenario was a familiar one, seemingly plucked from my own daydreams. D&D monsters and magic (called “Shadow” within the setting) are finding their way into our world. The vast majority of humankind remains largely ignorant of this development, thanks to our awesome capacity for denial. Only a small number of humans and friendly Shadowkind races can even perceive—much less combat—the threats that such an incursion brings.

I ran my Urban Arcana campaign for six years. By that point, other games had clamored for my attention, but I never forgot how interested I was in the marriage of D&D to urban fantasy. When the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was released last December, I knew without a doubt that my first homebrew setting using the new rules would be an updated take on Urban Arcana, adapting firearms and modern armor for use in an urban fantasy game.

Rules of Engagement

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides optional rules for firearms in D&D—including modern and even futuristic weapons. However, this left me in a quandary regarding character defenses. In a typical fantasy setting, adventurers, guards, and other possible combatants are fully expected to wear armor. There are no social penalties when characters are observed in full armor while going about their business. Modern settings are a different animal in this regard.

Using the old d20 Modern Core Rulebook as a guide, and tweaking the math for fifth edition, I created armor options for my “5e Modern” campaign. Because it can be assumed that most characters operate undercover, incognito, or simply in an unobtrusive manner for at least part of the time, I made sure that those options included concealable armor. More obvious armor—whether riot armor, flak jackets, or Land Warrior milspec armor—will likely have an affect on characters’ social ability checks and their ability to move freely in your campaign. By that same token, armor might afford bonuses to Charisma (Intimidation) checks.

Modern Armor
Armor Armor Class (AC) Strength Stealth Properties Weight
Light Armor
Heavy coat 11 + Dex modifier Disadvantage 6 lb.
Leather jacket 11 + Dex modifier 4 lb.
Light undercover shirt 11 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 2 lb.
Kevlar-lined coat 12 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 8 lb.
Undercover vest 13 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 3 lb.
Medium Armor
Concealable vest 13 + Dex modifier (max 2) DR/3 ballistic 4 lb.
Light-duty vest 14 + Dex modifier (max 3) DR/3 ballistic 8 lb.
Tactical vest 15 + Dex modifier (max 2) Str 10 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic 10 lb.
Heavy Armor
Special response vest 15 Str 10 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic 15 lb.
Land Warrior armor 17 Str 13 Disadvantage DR/5 ballistic/slashing 10 lb.
Forced entry unit 18 Str 13 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic/slashing 20 lb.

As you can see from the table, many of the heavier armors grant damage reduction (DR) or resistance to several damage types, including a new damage type: ballistic damage. In game terms, ballistic damage is the type of damage that firearms inflict, and is a subset of piercing damage. This means that all ballistic damage counts as piercing damage, but not all piercing damage counts as ballistic damage. Magical effects or creature properties that grant resistance to piercing damage also apply to ballistic damage, but effects or properties reducing ballistic damage do not automatically apply to piercing damage.

(Armor in my game currently has no price because my modern ruleset uses a wealth system for characters, similar to that used in d20 Modern. Characters gain equipment based on their wealth, rather than tracking income and expenses. I won’t get into the full system here, but it might make a good topic for a later installment of Behind the Screens.)

Who Gets What?

Because of the high potential damage granted to firearms, it was also necessary to introduce a complication or condition in order to balance their use with more traditional modes of attack. In my campaign, a character proficient with a firearm does not automatically add any proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Rather, proficiency with a firearm allows a character to use a bonus action to take the aim action, which adds the character’s proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Without taking the aim action (or if a character is using a firearm without proficiency), the shooter receives only the benefit of a Dexterity bonus on the attack roll.

When it came to weapon proficiencies, I decided that several classes would enjoy proficiency with firearms, while others would have to earn their proficiency with multiclassing or by training through the use of downtime days (see the Player’s Handbook). I divided firearms into two basic classes: sidearms (for anything up to a submachine gun) and long arms (for anything up to a light machine gun.) Anything heavier—such as a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or a flamethrower—is given special dispensation according to the in-game situation. In my own campaign, I created a feat called Heavy Weapon Specialist that allows proficiency in all modern weapons heavier than a medium machine gun wielded by an unassisted individual on foot. I also made this feat available as a fighting style for the fighter class.

Firearm Proficiencies by Class
Class Firearm Proficiency
Bard Sidearms
Barbarian Long arms
Cleric None (though possibly granted through domains such as City or War)
Druid None
Fighter Long arms and sidearms
Monk Sidearms
Paladin Long arms and sidearms
Ranger Long arms and sidearms
Rogue Long arms or sidearms (chosen at character creation)
Sorcerer None
Warlock None (though sidearms and long arms can be created through the Pact of the Blade class feature)
Wizard None (though sidearm proficiency might be granted through the School of Technomancy)

Hold up! City Domain? School of Technomancy? I’ll get into those next time!

About the Author

Daniel Helmick is a contractor attached to the Dungeons & Dragons R&D department, formerly of the D&D Insider studio at Wizards of the Coast. He has contributed numerous articles and adventures to Dungeon and Dragon magazines, as well as the Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil Adventurers League programs. He’s thinking about getting a cat, but he’s torn between the names Trapspringer and Dragonbait.

REVIEW OF THE CODEX MARTIALIS – GAMEPLAY

This is an older review I did for the Codex Martialis, a role-playing game supplement that heavily concentrates upon the way Real World weapons behave in actual combat. At least as closely as it is possible for imaginary games to truly emulate such weapon characteristics. That being said here is my review.

 

First of all, let me begin my review by saying that the Codex Martialis is simply one of the best-written gaming supplements I have ever read. It displays a high degree of professionalism in the effort.

As an example of this let me quote from the work itself:

Thanks to the unique weapon characteristics the choice of weapons becomes a major tactical consideration rather than a cosmetic adornment for a character. Weapons are not just rated for damage, but also for reach, defensive value, speed in follow-up attacks, effectiveness against armor and suitability for different types of attacks. The selection of weapons becomes another major aspect of the basic combat strategy.

I have now had the opportunity to read through the entire work and to play test it several times. What follows is my review.

One of the great advantages of the supplement, once you become familiar with the basic concepts involved, is fluidity. It creates a sort of underlying fluidity by imposing a substratum of combat techniques which, once mastered, allows fluidity by changing the outcomes of in-game combat scenarios from being merely an attrition play of hit points into a play of weapon mastery and combat employment techniques. This does take getting used to in comparison to standard D&D combat practices, but the outcome is well worth the effort. Once one becomes accustomed to the work then it is possible to use it to create and display a large variety of effective attack and counter-attack measures in rapid succession which gives the feel of an intense, hotly contested combat, rather than a mere stale exercise in die-rolling and numbers crunching “fight or flight of the calculators.” And I guess this is what I like best about the entire supplement, it is geared less to constricting combat into an imaginary “clash of the Geeky Die Titans,” where game combat is a boringly insipid mathematical exercise, and is instead designed to imply that combat is really about tactical skill, flexibility, fluidity (in the sense of moving fluidly from one applicable and effective technique or maneuver to another), training, and innovative use of resources, capabilities, and tactics. The supplement implies by both design and technique, that combat is far less about bonuses and more about training, thought, innovation, and adaptability. That combat is a matter of the mind as well of the body, of tactic as well as blind chance, and of skill in battle and not just habitual bonus accumulation. Or in other words even in a game in which certain elements are determined by mechanisms of tempered chance, by no better method than a “roll of the die” it is still skill, training, innovation, cleverness, and persistence that overcomes the seemingly impossible obstacles of a dangerous combat and wins the day before sunset. Die rolls may hinder, or assist, but they are no real match for skill and capability and brilliance in determining actual outcomes. A well trained man with a host of options and inherent capabilities will make his own luck, and he who relies merely upon the fickle grace of fortune would do well to learn that wisdom is a far greater god in combat than chance. Fortune favors the well-prepared man, and it is easy to be brave when you are sure of your own adaptability in any situation. The idea behind the Codex implies that the game combatant does not have to rely upon chance, luck, the die, or even magic to turn the tides of battle. The combatant may turn the tide of battle by skill, training, tactic, and cunning. And that is the way things are, and should be. Chance turns the tide of the moment, good tactics, on both the part of the group, and the part of the individual, turn the tide of the battle.

The degree of relative realism in the work is highly evolved given the natural limitations of role play gaming combat (which can be “only so-real”) and given the fact that most role play games resolve combat and tactical issues by emulating friction and chance through die roll. But one thing I really, really enjoy about this work is that given those natural limitations the Codex takes away much of the chance element and returns tactical skill to combat encounter as a measure of training, accomplishment, perseverance, and maneuver. In a manner of speaking the Codex is attempting to bring “Role-Play” to combat rather than saying it is just an exercise of chance, or a practice of powers.

The Codex Combat System can also be rather easily modified to fit most other gaming systems which rely upon die-rolling as a reflection of how to resolve combat practices, and the whole work interjects some very creative and interesting ideas for how to resolve the actual process of in-game combat elements. I refer to both the Martial Pool as a determination of how to enhance speed and flexibility to group combat, and to the various maneuver and practical engagement techniques such as the Martial Feats (I was particularly impressed by Feats such as Feint) that add a rich depth of combat possibilities. But to me the greatest strength of the entire work is that it takes combat away, whether this was the intention or not, from being merely an exercise in bootless chance and transforms combat into an interesting and varied practice in tactical choice, training, and personal player and character “fighting expression.”

The historical background presented within the work is also rather fascinating. A depth of historical material as well as pragmatic technique analogies are examined in detail, not as an historical work, but as reflective of how historical and real world elements of personal and tactical combat can be inter-woven into a fantasy game to create a far more rewarding experience than a mere combat re-enactment of, “magical boom-boom,” or “what power gives me the highest to-hit bonus.” In fact the supplement seems to purposely steer away from over reliance upon magic in game-combat fantasy tropes so as to intentionally explore the real potential of combat-fighters. It is not so much a work filled with trick maneuvers and rather unrealistic combat techniques that would be useless in an actual combat situation, but rather a thoughtful and measured examination of the “idea of real hand to hand combat as applied to a tactical wargaming paradigm.” A sort of well-imagined and cleverly constructed game interpretation of what really happens when men come to close quarters and grapple with each other, including aspects of why they move as they do, how they strike and defend as they do, why weapons behave as they do when yielded in such and such a manner, and so forth and so on. In short it is a well-conceived examination of both how to exploit trained character strengths and abilities, and of how to take advantage of built in limitations regarding the actualities of human (and by extension humanoid/non-human) weaponry and fighting capabilities in game combat situations.

To close my review let me briefly mention a few other points. Such as the Aescetics of the work. I especially liked the simple line drawings presented throughout the book. They matched the overall tone of the nature of the work, as well as allowing one to visualize basic points being discussed at issue. The illustrations matched the tone and atmosphere of the work as presenting realistic depictions of combat in game terms. They were “fitting” in my opinion. As were the historical references, which gave the work the feel of a more ancient text of advice about how to tactically overcome certain enemies. The references taken together with the various illustrations gave the entire Codex the feel of being “illuminated.”

Simplistically, but effectively.

The Appendixes were also valuable and useful, and much could be made of them in relation to the larger ideas presented in the Codex. The work even came with a Character Sheet specifically designed towards making good use of the various game combat advantages offered and described in the Codex.
As a suggestion for future works of this kind I would very much like to see the author and his team of co-designers develop a similar system for use in large-scale warfare, both on the tactical and strategic level. On the tactical level as an expression of maneuver and technique, similar in construction to the present work, but aimed more at small group combat and skirmishing encounters as applied to the battlefield. On the strategic level as a work that addresses matters of training, capability, and execution of large-scale group combat engagements. For instance in such a supplement geared to warfare-gaming, rather than to role play combat-gaming one might take the basic components and ideas of the Codex Martialis and expound upon them as they relate to issues such as logistics, technological advantage (due to armies possessing certain types of weapons, armor, and transport, and therefore possessing corresponding combat formations and techniques to accompany such advantages or disadvantages), tactical control of the battlefield (or lack thereof), terrain, unit and formation maneuver, espionage, morale, and so forth and so on. In other words I view the Codex Martialis as a sort of Gaming version of the Tacticon. I’d also suggest and would like to see a gaming version of the Strategicon.

If you would like more information on the Codex then I suggest purchasing the newest version of the work. There is also a good link on EN World where the author and others discuss various elements and implications of the work. That link can be found here: Martial Pool. I should also mention as a matter for those interested that the author has another brilliant thread dealing with historical matters and which can give one some idea of the research involved in developing the Codex. That other link can be found here: History, Mythology, Art.

I hope my review was useful to you.
Jack.

 

http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-rules-discussion/241602-martial-pool-new-combat-mechanic.html

http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/242110-history-mythology-art-rpgs.html

THE UNKNOWN RUINS

Nice. Extremely nice. Although I am familiar with some of these sites, some of these will also make good new research investigations for me and material/sites for my novels.

 

 

Done Pompeii, Ephesus and Angkor and still thirsting after archeological marvels? The founder of Timeless Travels magazine recommends 10 less well-known sites that can usually be savoured without the crowds

CE7J30 Ancient khmer pyramid in Koh Kher, Cambodia.
Ancient Khmer pyramid in Koh Kher, Cambodia. Photograph: Alamy

Koh Ker, Cambodia

Lost to forest and abandoned for over a thousand years, you’ll find this little-visited site in northern Cambodia. It’s less than two hours’ ride from its more famous cousin, Angkor Wat, and well worth a visit to see more than two dozen temples emerging from the jungle. A highlight is a seven-tiered pyramid, 40 metres high, which is thought to have been the state temple of Jayavarman IV and is often compared to Mayan temples. The site was the capital of the whole Khmer empire from 928-944AD.
A new road means day trips to Koh Ker are possible from Siem Reap, but there are also now a few basic guesthouses and an ecolodge for those who want to stay longer

Choquequirao, Peru

Choquequirao is a ruined Inca city in south Peru

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Photograph: Zachary Bennett/Corbis

Little sister to the better-known Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is one of the most-rewarding travel destinations in the Americas. Only a few hundred people visit during the dry season (May to October), compared with thousands each day at Machu Picchu. At 3,000m, the site sits on a cloud-forest ridge, 61 miles west of Cusco in the remote Vilcabamba range. The city was built by Topa Yupanqui, son of the man who built Machu Picchu, Pachacuti, some time in the 15th century. It’s a two-day trek to Choquequirao from the town of Cachora (though a cable car link is planned), and exploring it and the outlying sites of Capullyoc, Hurincancha and Casa de Cascada with a guide will take several days.
Buses run from Cusco to Ramal, close to Cachora, where guides and pack mules can easily be hired

Ani, Turkey

The ruined church of Saint Gregory in Ani, Turkey.

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The ruined church of Saint Gregory in Ani. Photograph: Alamy

There are some wonderful treasures in the far east of Turkey and one of them is the site of Ani. Capital of the Armenian Bagratid dynasty until the 11th century, and situated on key trade routes, it flourished for over 400 years and at its peak was larger than any contemporary European city, with a population of over 100,000. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1319, and today its ruins are spread over a wide area, with the remains of spectacular churches, a Zoroastrian fire temple, palaces and city walls. Take a picnic and spend a day exploring the site.
Ani can be reached by taxi or hire car from the town of Kars, 46km away and served by internal flights from Ankara or Istanbul

Conimbriga, Portugal

Roman ruins (House of fountains), Conimbriga

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Photograph: Getty Images

This is one of the largest Roman settlements in Portugal – roughly halfway between Lisbon and Porto, near the village of Condeixa-a-Nova. It was a prosperous town in Roman times and, while not the largest Roman city in Portugal, it is the best preserved. Although only a small section of the site has been excavated, there are baths, luxurious houses, an amphitheatre, a forum, shops, gardens with working fountains and city walls to explore, with many wonderful mosaics still in situ. In its centre is one of the largest houses discovered in the western Roman empire, the Casa de Cantaber, which is built around ornamental pools in superb colonnaded gardens and has its own bath complex and heating system. There is also a good museum, cafe and picnic site. Pick up a guidebook from the museum and have a few euro coins in your pocket to make the fountains work.
Easyjet and Ryanair fly to Porto and Lisbon from about £50 return

Han Yangling, China

Terracotta figures at Han Yang Ling Museum.

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Terracotta figures in the Han Yangling museum. Photograph: Alamy

A smaller version of the Xi’an terracotta warriors, this often-overlooked site is the the tomb of E mperor Jing Di , who died in 141BC, and his Empress Wang. The site, 20km north of Xi’an, is well laid-out, with glass panels over the burial pits so you can see everything in situ, and there is also an excellent museum. The warrior figures here have individual faces; their arms were made of wood and they wore clothes. Sadly, both have disintegrated now, though examples can be seen in the museum. The pits are filled with figurines of courtiers and animals, and you can see the fossilised remains of wooden chariots.
Han Yangling is easily reached by taxi, from Xi’an international airport (25 minutes)

Pella, Jordan

Ruins in Pella, Jordan

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Photograph: Corbis

Frequently bypassed for the larger sites of Jerash and Umm Qais , Pella, in the north Jordan valley, is a multi-period site, occupied since neolithic times. It has some stunning Roman/Byzantine remains, and recent excavations have unearthed a Canaanite temple dating from 1700BC and early-bronze-age city walls dating from 3200BC. Take the time to climb to the top of Tell Husn, the southern mound overlooking the dig house, and you will be rewarded with a fantastic view across the excavations and the Jordan valley.
The site is 45 minutes by road from the city of Irbid (two hours from Amman). Buses run from Irbid to the present-day village of Tabaqat Fahl

Vatican Necropolis, Italy

Roman necropolis in the Vatican.

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Photograph: AGF/Rex

Beneath the Vatican City lie the ancient streets of Rome and an ancient burial ground, the Vatican necropolis – originally a cemetery on the southern slope of Vatican Hill. Saint Peter is said to be buried here, after he was martyred in the nearby Circus of Nero. Emperor Constantine I built a basilica above the apostle’s grave in the fourth century AD, and excavations in the 1940s did find a number of mausoleums. To walk at ancient street levels through the necropolis is an exciting experience for those who love to step back in time.
Visits must be booked with the Vatican Excavations Office. Tours, in groups of about 12, last 90 minutes

Takht-e Soleyman, Iran

Takht Soleyman

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Photograph: /Getty Images

Takht-e Soleyman, meaning Throne of Solomon, is a breathtaking site built around a mineral-rich crater lake 30km north of Takab in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. The earliest remains date from the Sasanian period, from 224 to 651AD. Set in a vast, empty landscape 2,000 metres above sea level, the site includes the remains of a Zoroastrian fire temple complex and a 13th-century Mongol palace. It is surrounded by an oval wall with 34 towers and two gates. The lake is 60 metres deep and so filled with minerals that it contains no life and is undrinkable. Don’t miss the small museum, housed in an Ilkhanid (a 13th-century building), with fine examples of tile, ceramics and stucco decoration.
The site is about two hours by taxi from the city of Zanjan, which is served by buses and trains from Tehran

Fatehpur Sikri, India

Fatehpur Sikri, India

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Photograph: /Corbis

This surprisingly intact walled and fortified Mughal city is 40km west of Agra and the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh. Built by Emperor Akbar in 1571, it was the Mughal capital for 14 years before being abandoned for lack of water. A stunning royal complex of pavilions and palaces include a harem, a mosque, private quarters, gardens, ornamental pools, courtyards and intricate carvings. It is the best-preserved collection of Mughal architecture in India. Don’t miss the Rumi Sultana palace, the smallest but most-elegant structure in the complex, and the secret stone safes in the corner of the Treasury, which also houses a museum opened just last year.
The complex is an easy day trip from Agra: take a bus or train to Fatehpur station, 1km from the site

Pula, Croatia

Ancient Amphitheater Pula, Croatia

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Photograph: Getty Images

The amphitheatre of Pula is the only Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and all three levels preserved. Built between in 27BC and 68AD, it is one of the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world, and the best-preserved ancient monument in Croatia. Overlooking the harbour in the north-east of the town, it seated 20,000 spectators. In summer there are weekly re-enactments of gladiator fights, and it is also used for plays, concerts and the September Outlook festival. Look out for the slabs that used to secure the fabric canopies that sheltered spectators from the sun.
Ryanair flies to Pula from Stansted from £117 return

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