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THE TRIGGERING OF THE HUMAN IMAGINATION – LOST LIBRARY

Recently I have undertaken a new career (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, an additional career) as a fiction writer. My background as an author is as a non-fiction writer, primarily dealing with such subjects as business, science, and technical matters. Although on occasion, often for private clients and sometimes just to pursue my own interests, I write analytical, white, and theory papers on everything from military and law enforcement matters to educational techniques to religious subjects.

But, as I said, now I am embarking upon a new or supplementary career as a fiction writer. Last night, while reclining in bed, and reading a fiction story before sleeping, it occurred to me that the author was very good as describing some scenes (thereby easily provoking my imagination to work “independently” of the actual words used to construct the scene) and at other times the author did a very poor job of description and my imagination had to work very hard, or was confused as to exactly what the author was describing. (The author was Michael Moorcock.)

I went to sleep and later awoke about 0500 hours from a dream, and then an idea suddenly occurred to me about what had triggered the dream. (I didn’t connect my dream directly to the story Moorcock had written but it had triggered an “oblique set of imaginings” which I thought were related to some of the ideas expressed in the story.) After I was awake about fifteen minutes or so replaying the dream through my mind it occurred to me that many authors, as well as others, such as really good playwrights, poets, filmmakers, graphic or visual artists (I had recently taken my children to see one of the largest collections of Sacred and Italian and Spanish Gothic and Renaissance Art in the entire nation, and most all of the works were both highly symbolic, and fantastically beautiful), even inventors, scientists, and religious leaders often express their ideas in such a way as to have a great and lasting impact upon the imagination of the consumer. (I am using the term consumer here to represent any partaker or user of such services, products, information, or ideas as are being now discussed.)

And herein lies the seed of my theory. That there are certain techniques that writers, artists, inventors, etc. use that are capable of triggering the imagination of the listener, audience, or observer in such a way that the imagination of the consumer is expanded to such a degree that it becomes heavily provoked, and can then operate almost entirely independently on similar matters (if not indeed completely independently) of whatever the original trigger that had initially produced it.

Using a writer as an example of my intent, for instance, certain authors are so good at description, that they can create an image in the mind of many readers that even when the reader completes reading the description or has finished the work, there lingers a sort of lasting or almost semi-permanent impression of (and on) the imagination, that is not static and calcified, but is rather “alive,” flexible, and on-going. A sort of Living and On-Going After-Image that is not static, but is fluid and almost vital. The images and impressions made by the work do not die out with the reading of the last word, or by finishing the book, but rather they “carry on” almost as if they had created a sub-rosan or virtual reality within the mind and psyche of the consumer or the partaker. And this new and virtual mind-reality is likewise not limited to the breadth, depth, or scope of the original subject matter of the work, but rather one type of imagining or image activates numerous others in a long and continuing chain of triggered imaginary impulses, the limits of which are constrained only by the inventiveness, potentialities, and desires of the particular consumer in question.

As a side note I should also mention that I am not using the term Virtual to imply something that lacks reality, as much as to represent something that has not as of yet become imminently real, but could very well become empirically real when imagination is determinedly and ambitiously combined with actual work and concentrated effort. (Now of course a badly executed or ill-conceived effort of work, imagination, or description may leave the consumer either highly confused as to what exactly the author meant by virtue of his description, or may lead the consumer completely away from the actual intent of the author, or may simply provoke a feeling of disinterest or “dullness” on the part of the consumer, triggering within him not sustained and powerful imaginings, but rather impressions of distraction, or a shallowness that can only be indicative of a total lack of interest and respect for the work in question and what it produces.)

But my theory (and my theory is not new, I am sure, but I am seeking a sort of specialized or different application of it) is that while there are certainly defective techniques of the act of describing or envisioning a thing that lead to a failure to spur on the imagination of the consumer, that miscarry the attempt to create a “virtual reality” of the mind through the lacking exertion(s) of a peculiar creator, there are also techniques that rarely fail to produce the sort of positive effects that I am discussing here in respect to the imagination.

That is to say if there are techniques that fail in the cause of provoking and exciting and expanding upon the capabilities of the imagination of the consumer, then there are obviously other and more intense techniques, which will, more often than not, have the desired effect of expounding upon, elucidating, enlarging, edifying, and invigorating (perhaps permanently) the imagination of the consumer. Techniques that can help to create a sort of “perpetual inner motion” of the imagination, and that will have effects far beyond and far exceeding the actual individual triggers or spurs that were used in producing this state of affairs.

(Now, for purposes of this discussion, I am not going to really address the receptivity or state of internal agreement that any particular consumer feels toward the subject matter he is consuming. That is outside the bounds of what I am discussing, and in any case there is very little, practically speaking, that any creator can do to control the state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. The creator can use the best techniques possible, and undertake his or her work in the most crafty and acute manner by which he is able, but he cannot control the inner state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. That is almost entirely the duty or the affair of the individual consumer of information. If someone else wants to discuss this issue of information dispersal versus information receptivity, then feel free, but as for me, and at this moment, I intend to avoid the issue as a momentary distraction to the other more important points at hand.)

It also occurred to me this morning, after teaching my classes, that the same sort of thing happens in Role Play Gaming, and that moreover in such an environment such “triggering of the human imagination” is often a corporate act, as much as an act of the creator of the plot, storyline, and/or milieu being explored. (And if indeed it is an act of both the corporate and individual imagination, then this in itself might be an important clue towards the feasibility and dynamic nature of important methods of “imaginative triggering.”) That being the case it seemed to me that this website and blog would be the perfect place to solicit further ideas for this discussion. And that a discussion of role-play techniques and methods geared specifically towards the architecture of imagination might yield vital and important clues towards even larger issues of the mind and visionary invention.

Now there may indeed be, and I very much suspect that indeed there are, more or less Universal Techniques and Methods for the “triggering of the human imagination” in the way in which I am framing the issue. (Techniques that may vary in application according to media type, or in discipline or field of endeavor, but are still interchangeable in intent and basis of intended achievement.) However let’s put that possibility aside for the moment and work at the problem inductively.

Let me ask the question(s) very simply in this way: What techniques or methods do you employ as a DM (or even as a player), adventure writer, milieu creator, writer, songwriter, inventor, and so forth that seem to you to “trigger the human imagination” in a very intense and enduring fashion? So that your work takes on a “virtual life of its own in the mind of your consumers,” and/or so that it continues to excite your consumers long after the actual act of the game is concluded? And how do you go about employing such techniques on a consistent basis in order to repeat these effects in a systematic and continuing manner?

I’m looking forward to your answers, ideas, opinions, and speculations…

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

HANG SON SOONG

Amazing…

Can you imagine both the Real World and fictional adventure and exploration possibilities? I can.

see link to article for original video.

An Aerial Tour of ‘Hang Son Soong,’ the Largest Cave on Earth

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In this new 6-minute film, cave, adventure, and travel photographer Ryan Deboodt takes us on a breathtaking aerial tour of the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong, located in central Vietnam. Deboodt brought a drone and an array of cameras to help capture the cave system, the largest chamber of which is 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) long, 200 meters (660 ft) high and 150 meters (490 ft) wide. Despite its enormity, the cave was only discovered in 1991 by a local man, and it wasn’t even studied by scientists until about five years ago. One of the most disorienting thing about watching Deboodt’s film was my brain not comprehending the scale of what I was looking at. It’s only once you notice the ant-like people walking through some of the shots that you realize just how massive this place is. You can see more of Deboodt’s cave photography on Instagram. (via PetaPixel)

MEDIEVAL MISDIRECTION

Common misconceptions, and their associated tropes, but if you ask me the way the Real World existed was much more interesting. The fantasy is rarely as complex, fascinating, or interesting as the Reality.

And you have to keep in mind both the differences in the eras (time periods – 5th century life was very different from late Medieval period life), and, of course, the differences in locale.

The Medieval Byzantine Empire was a wholly different place, for the most part, from the Medieval Holy Roman Empire, or from Medieval Scotland, or Medieval Scandinavia, or Medieval Syria or Egypt.

Differences in time and place always matter.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You’d Get From Fantasy Books

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Some tropes are so ingrained in Medieval-inspired fantasy stories that it’s tempting to think that they represent real aspects of Medieval life. But often these stories are just reinforcing myths and misconceptions about life in the Middle Ages.

Top image from the Dragonlance series, which I love, but is steeped in pseudo-Medievalism.

One thing that it’s important to remember when talking about the Medieval period is that it spans a long time — from the 5th century CE to the 15th century CE — and involves a great number of European countries. You’ll notice that a great deal of the debunkery here involves 14th century England, thanks to works like The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer and the works of Joseph Gies and Frances Gies (although another source, Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, covers a bit more ground). But the point here is that the Middle Ages were, in fact, far richer than the Medieval-like settings of many swords and sorcery stories would lead you to believe.

Do fantasy novels need to be historically accurate? Certainly not. Part of the fun of worldbuilding is inventing new ideas, or combining elements of different cultures and time periods, and even integrating historical myths and misconceptions. But If you read a lot of books or watch a lot of movies with pseudo-Medieval settings, you may come away with a mistaken impression that you know what life in the Middle Ages was like. Plus, real history offers new ideas that you might want to incorporate into your own stories in the future.

And this is not to say that all Medieval-esque settings slip into these myths; only that many, many do.

This post was inspired by this fascinating thread on reddit’s r/AskHistorians, which we highlighted a while back. Here are the misconceptions, with debunkery below:

1. Peasants were a single class of people who were more or less equal to one another.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

It’s easy to think that people in the Middle Ages were easily divided into very broad classes: royals, nobles, knights, clergy, and toiling peasants at the very bottom. But just because you didn’t have “king,” “lord,” “sir,” “father,” or “brother” (or their female analogs) in front of your name doesn’t mean you weren’t concerned with your own social standing. There are vast classes of people whom, today, we might generally refer to as “peasants,” but there were actually various classes of people within that broad category.

Mortimer points out that, in 14th-century England, for example, you have your villeins, people bonded to a particular lord’s land. Villeins were not considered free folk, and they could be sold with the lord’s land. And free folk were of a variety of social and economic classes. A freeholder, for example, might become successful enough to rent a lord’s manor, essentially acting as a lord himself. And, in a village, a few families might hold the majority of the political power, supplying most of the local officers. We may tend to think of these people as “peasants,” but they had much more complicated ways of thinking of themselves, with all the class anxiety that goes with that.

2. Inns were public houses with big common halls below and rooms above.

There are few images as firmly rooted in pseudo-Medieval fantasy as the tavern inn. You and your party enjoy a few flagons of ale in the main room, hear all the local gossip, then go up to your private rented chamber where you’d sleep (alone or with a lover) on a lumpy mattress.

That image isn’t wholly fiction, but the truth is a bit more complicated — not to mention interesting. In Medieval England, if you combined a city inn with an alehouse, you’d probably get something resembling that fantasy inn. There were inns where you could rent a bed (or, more likely, a space in a bed), and these inns did have halls for eating and drinking. But these were not public houses; innkeepers were generally permitted to serve food and drink only to their guests. And, Mortimer points out, you would likely find a single room with several beds, beds that could fit up to three people. It was only in the most upscale inns that you’d find chambers with just one or two beds.

There were establishments for drinking in these cities as well: taverns for wine and alehouses for ale. Of the two, alehouses were the rowdier establishments, more likely to function as your Medieval Mos Eisley. But ale and cider were often made at home as well; a husband might expect his wife to be skilled in brewing. The Gieses note in Life in a Medieval Village that a tavern in an English village was often someone’s home. Once your neighbor opened up a fresh batch of ale, you might go to their house, pay a few pennies, and sit and drink with your fellow villagers.

There are other options for accommodations as well. Travelers could expect the hospitality of people of equal or lesser social class, enjoying their food and beds in exchange for tales from the road and a tip. (Mortimer says that, if you were lucky enough to stay with a 14-century merchant, the digs were much nicer than any inn.) Or you might go to a hospital, which was not just for healing, but also for hospitality.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

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3. You would never see a woman engaged in a trade such as armorer or merchant.

Certainly, some fantasy stories will cast women in equal (or relatively equal) positions to men, carrying out the same sorts of trades that men might carry out. But in many fictional stories, a woman who makes armor or sells good would seem out of place — although this does not universally reflect Medieval reality. In England, a widow could take up the trade of her dead husband — and Mortimer specifically cites tailor, armorer, and merchant as trades open to widows. Some female merchants were actually quite successful, managing international trading ventures with impressive capital.

Women engaged in criminal activity as well, including banditry. Many criminal gangs in Medieval England consisted of families, including wives with their husbands and sisters with their brothers.

Image from the Holkham Bible Picture Book, via the British Library Board.

4. People had horrible table manners, throwing bones and scraps on the floor.

Sorry, even in the Middle Ages, members of polite society, from kings to villeins, followed certain etiquette, and that etiquette involved good table manners. In fact, depending on when and where and with whom you were eating, you might have to follow very strict procedures for eating and drinking. Here’s a tip: If a lord passes you his cup at the dinner table, it’s a sign of his favor. Accept it, backwash and all, and pass it back to him after you’ve had a sip.

5. People distrusted all forms of magic and witches were frequently burned.

In some fantasy stories, magic is readily accepted by everyone as a fact of life. In others, magic is treated with suspicion at best or as blasphemy at worst. You might even hear the Biblical edict, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

But not all claims of magic in the Middle Ages were treated as heresy. In her essay “Witches and the Myth of the Medieval ‘Burning Time,'” from Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, Anita Obermeier tells us that during the 10th century, the Catholic Church wasn’t interested in trying witches for heresy; it was more interested in eradicating heretical superstitions about “night-flying creatures.”

And in 14th-century England, you might consult a magician or a witch for some minor “magical” task, such as finding a lost object. In Medieval England, at least, magic without any heretical components was tolerated. Eventually, the late 15th century would give rise to the Spanish Inquisition, and we do see witches hunted down.

Witch burnings weren’t unheard of in the Middle Ages, but they weren’t common, either. Obermeier explains that, in the 11th century, sorcery was treated as a secular crime, but the church would issue several reprimands before it would resort to burning. She puts the first burning for heresy at 1022 in Orleans and the second at 1028 in Monforte. It’s rare in the 11th and 12th centuries, but becomes a more common punishment in the 13th century for relapsed heretics. However, it depends where you are. In the 14th century, you probably won’t be burned as a witch in England, but you may very well get the stake in Ireland.

6. Men’s clothing was always practical and functional.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

Yes, Medieval people of various classes were interested in fashion, and sometimes fashion — particularly men’s fashion — got pretty absurd. Early clothing is more functional, but during the 14th century, men’s fashions in England were both body-bearing and rather experimental. Corsets and garters were common for men, and increasingly, popular fashions encouraged men to show off the shape of their hips and legs. Some aristocratic men wore gowns with sleeves so long they were in danger of tripping on the cuffs. It became fashionable to wear shoes with extraordinarily long toes — one such shoe, imported from Bohemia, had twenty-inch toes that needed to be tied to a man’s garters. There was even a fad of wearing one’s mantle so that the head went through the arm hole rather than the head hole, with the sleeves functioning as a voluminous collar.

Image: Selection of Medieval leather shoes from the Museum of London.

It’s also important to note that fashions would trickle down from royalty, through the aristocracy, and down to the common folk. In the seasons after a fashion appeared among the nobility, a less expensive version would appear among those of lesser stations. In fact, sumptuary laws were passed in London to prevent people from dressing above their stations. For example, a common woman in 1330s London was not permitted to line her hood with anything but lambskin or rabbit fur, or risk losing her hood.

7. Servants were all low-class people.

Actually, if you were a high-ranking individual, chances are that you had high-ranking servants. A lord might send his son to serve in another lord’s manor — perhaps that of his wife’s brother. The son would receive no income, but would still be treated as the son of a lord. A lord’s steward might actually be a lord himself. Your status in society isn’t just based on whether or not you were a servant, but also your familial status, whom you served, and what your particular job was.

Something you might not expect about servants in English households in the late Middle Ages: they were overwhelmingly male. Mortimer points to the earl of Devon’s household, which had 135 members, but only three women. With the exception of a washerwoman (who didn’t live in the household), the staffers were all men, even in households headed by women.

8. Medicine was based on pure superstition.

Admittedly, if you’re looking outside of Game of Thrones, a lot of healing in fantasy novels is just plain magical. You’ve got your cleric class who gets their healing from the gods, and otherwise you might have someone on hand who can dress a wound or make a poultice.

And yes, a lot of Medieval medicine was based on what we would consider today mystical bunk. A great deal of diagnosis involved astrology and humoral theory. Blood letting was a respected method of treatment, and many of the curatives were not only useless — they were downright dangerous. And while there were medical colleges, extraordinarily few physicians were able to attend.

Still, some aspects of Medieval medicine were logical even by modern standards. Wrapping smallpox in scarlet cloth, treating gout with colchicum, using camomile oil for an earache — these were all effective treatments. And while the notion of a barber-surgeon is a horrifying one to many of us, some of those surgeons were actually quite talented. John of Arderne employed anesthetics in his practice, and many surgeons were skilled in couching cataracts, sewing abscesses, and setting bones.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

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From John Arderne’s De arte phisicali et de cirurgia, via Wikimedia Commons.

9. The most powerful military force consisted of armored knights riding into battle.

James G. Patterson, in his essay “The Myth of the Mounted Knight” from Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, explains that while the image of the mounted knight might have been a popular one during Medieval times, it didn’t match the reality of warfare. Armored cavalry, he explains, can be incredibly useful — even devastating — against untrained revolutionaries, but they were far less useful against a trained foreign infantry. Rather, ground forces, including knights on foot who frequently served as officers, were invaluable in battle. Even during the Crusades, when the image of the mounted knight seemed synonymous with glory in battle, most the actual battles involved sieges.

In the 14th century, English warfare focused increasingly on archery. In fact, Edward III prohibited football in 1331 and then again in 1363 in part because people were spending too much time playing football and not enough time practicing their archery. The English archers were able to repel many a French cavalry force.

10. Only men’s sexual pleasure was important.

A common belief during the Middle Ages was that women were more lustful than men. A lot more lustful, in fact. Rape was a crime in 14th century Medieval England, but not between spouses. A wife could not legally refuse her husband’s advances, but a husband could not refuse his wife’s advances either. The popular belief was that women were always longing for sex, and that it was bad for their health not to have intercourse regularly. A woman’s orgasm was also important; another common belief was that a woman could not conceive without an orgasm. (Unfortunately, this also made rape impossible to prosecute if the victim became pregnant; Medieval English scholars believed women’s bodies had a way of, in the modern parlance, shutting things down.)

So what was an unmarried woman to do? Well, if she couldn’t find a husband, the English physician John of Gaddesden recommended that she find a midwife who could get the job done manually.

THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Fourteen: The Ability Hoard

THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to my own characters (be they fictional or gaming) and even the players and characters I DM I think of Skills, Capabilities, Abilities, Attributes, (innate personal and individual features) and so forth as much more important character elements and possessions than magic items, spells, money, and other types of what is normally thought of as “standard treasures.”

To me the single greatest types of treasures a character (or a real person) can possess are what they can actually do for themselves (and for others) in the world, devoid of all outside help, material/materiel, and extraneous accoutrements. So I’m going to call this idea and post the Ability-Hoard, or the Treasure of Personal Capacity. I think that this is where the true emphasis of “characterization” should be evident, and most brightly shine.

Let me, at this point, briefly define the Ability Hoard.

The Ability Hoard is that accumulated set of skills, talents, abilities, capabilities, extraordinary qualities (be they physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual), educational and individual merits, virtues, and sensory capacities that a character or person possesses which allows them to resolve difficult problems or to gain some beneficial advantage over others or over a particular set of circumstances.

Now I realize that this may be an entirely personal opinion, or at least very probably a minority opinion, but to me the Ability Hoard (similar to the poetic term Word-Hoard in this respect), be that in a fictional world, a gaming environment, or in Real Life is by far the greatest wealth a person may possess, and as such accumulating and developing and increasing your own Ability Hoard is of paramount importance to both your success in this world (or in any fictional world) and to your favorable development as an individual.

(At least in the gaming world, it has been my observation, and far too often in the Real World, possessions, especially powerful and valuable possessions seem to consume much of the emphasis and interest in any setting. However the Ability Hoard is not only a treasure and a possession in its own right, it is the one possession you own which actually allows you to grow and multiply all of your other possessions – be they physical, financial, material, mental, psychological, or otherwise.)

Thus in my opinion, whether you are speaking of gaming or Real Life a person’s Ability Hoard is their Chief and True Treasure, and the one source of wealth that is never subject to theft or plunder by another. (Unless, of course, you intentionally allow some particular element of your Ability Hoard to be stolen by another.)

I will return to the idea of the Ability Hoard in later posts, because for one thing, it constitutes a vital and fundamental part of my Games of Personal Advancement and Development series. For now, however, I just wish to introduce the concept.

In closing, what is your opinion – is a character’s or an individual’s Ability Hoard their single greatest source of treasure, or do you consider some other form of treasure a more valuable possession?

NEOLITHIC TOOLKIT

Very, very interesting…

Recreating The Neolithic Toolkit

Every spring since 2011, a group of archaeologists and craftsmen have gathered in a forest in southern Germany to bring back to life the tools and techniques of Stone Age carpenters. This video shows the team using the tools they made to fell trees and build a copy of a 7,000-year-old well.

From Archaeology TV (American Institute of America) https://www.youtube.com/user/ArchaeologyTV

LAYERED DISCOVERY

I’ve often wondered this myself. How many ancient monument/ritual sites actually lie atop, in the middle of, along the frontiers of far more ancient monument and ritual sites? Because such sites would already be the part of the nexus of such prior activity.

This is also an important point to remember when developing your own adventures and campaigns. When I create adventures and campaigns along such lines I call this type of thing “layered discovery.” This is also a very advantageous idea to consider when developing our fictional book and story plots.

Excellent article with many applications to both real life and to gaming.

 


(Photo by Henrik Knudsen, with thanks to English Heritage)

What Lies Beneath Stonehenge?

A groundbreaking survey of the site has turned up tantalizing new clues to what really went on there

Smithsonian Magazine |

We walked the Avenue, the ancient route along which the stones were first dragged from the River Avon. For centuries, this was the formal path to the great henge, but now the only hint of its existence was an indentation or two in the tall grass. It was a fine English summer’s day, with thin, fast clouds above, and as we passed through fields dotted with buttercups and daisies, cows and sheep, we could have been hikers anywhere, were it not for the ghostly monument in the near distance.

Faint as the Avenue was, Vince Gaffney hustled along as if it were illuminated by runway lights. A short, sprightly archaeologist of 56, from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, he knows this landscape as well as anyone alive: has walked it, breathed it, studied it for uncounted hours. He has not lost his sense of wonder. Stopping to fix the monument in his eyeline, and reaching out toward the stones on the horizon, he said, “Look, it becomes cathedralesque.”

Gaffney’s latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totaling more than four square miles. The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted….Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing…something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really…”

THE GAMES OF PERSONAL ADVANCEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT

The Games of Personal Advancement and Development (G-PADs)- What are the Games of Personal Advancement and Development?

 

The Games of Personal Advancement and Development (a.k.a. Games of Personal Achievement and Growth are games I have written or am writing which take the most useful aspects of various types of other games many people already play, such as alternative reality games, role-play games, and wargames, etc. and applies the methods and techniques of those types of games to solving Real World Problems or to advancing yourself in the Real World.

Of course not all gaming methods and techniques are useful for Real World Problem Solving or for advancing yourself in the Real World, but many such devices are very useful (with some modification) tools for personal achievement, advancement, growth, and development.

Therefore I have created several games which employ this general gaming model towards self-advancement in the Real World. The intention is to deliver to you, the individual, a model or models whereby you can turn your own personal life situation into a game with the intention not of advancing and developing an imaginary character in some imaginary world, but of advancing and developing yourself in the Real World.

The intent of these games is Self-Achievement and Self-Development. The difference between the Games of Personal Advancement and Development and imaginary games is that the intent is to turn your own life into an enjoyable game (though of course it would in no way be limited to being a “mere game” – the term “game” provides more of a developmental framework rather than a strict definition), to problem solve in the Real World (as opposed to an imaginary or gamed milieu), and to advance yourself, your own capabilities and fortunes, and your own real-life personal Character and Nature rather than advancing the fortunes and capabilities of some wholly imaginary character.

I will be talking more about the four Games of Personal Advancement and Development I am creating and writing in future blog posts, here on the Tome and Tomb, and on my other blogs and websites. When the games become completed and fully developed then I will seek funding to publish and market them, and will then offer the GPADs for sale to the general public.

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