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Montreal, your random table is ready. Also, strange ships for your saltbox.

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The Canadian Center for Architecture asks: How would you build an underwater chicken farm? Or a flying beauty salon?

And then invites you to answer by building miniatures.

Zak, I think this just might be the parent-and-child workshop activity for you. I sense they have some kind of simple sentence constructor at work there for generating projects.

Meanwhile, eaglespeak suggests a wargamey saltbox campaign: you play would-be pirates, outfitted with some cheap and unreliable skiffs and jetskis, hoping to make your first big score. Arrayed against you are flying drones, occasional naval patrols, blockades, shoreline surveillance and speedy coastguard cutters. Can you run literally under their radar and heist your way up to name level?

…sorry for the lazy post: been busy here the past few months. More substance when I can. In the meantime, what capers could you pull with the world’s biggest ship-carrying ship? It doesn’t even look like a ship – especially when semi-submerged – more like a loose collection of small tower blocks, at sea. Apparently it will be able to do 14 knots – fast enough to waterski off the back – but the PCs should probably handle it cautiously: its 4 predecessors in the “world’s biggest semi-submersible” category all turned over and sank.

Are semi-submersibles too modern for your campaign? Are you sure? The Dutch had them in 1690, and no doubt the Chinese had them one to two thousand years before that (since that always seems to be the case with anything you thought was “modern”).

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Answering Jeff’s questions in a southeast Asian pirates game

October 2, 2011 2 comments

I’ve been futzing about with an idea for a southeast Asian pirates game for just years. In the simplest iteration, it is about 1610*, and you are either (1) bold English or Dutch adventurers trying to break the Portuguese spice monopoly, or (2) harrassed Moluccan natives trying to survive the incursions of English and Dutch adventurers. I could see either one working, with the question of motivation and sandbox play being harder for the natives.

So, given that I have fewer ideas for the natives right now, I think I should answer Jeff’s famous 20 questions for them and see where that takes me.

1. What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?
– I might not have a divide between clerics and magic users. Buddhism’s nice, but the Power is in nature spirits and ancestors. You go into a trance and can Do Stuff, but the exact effect of what you asked for may not be what you imagined. Also there are nature spirits everywhere and they can be quite interfering. And when people come up with new natures, those have spirits too, so the East India Companies probably have their own Spirits of Capitalism (or are developing them), ships have their own spirits, or try to co-opt pre-existing totems, wars and massacres have spirits. The Portuguese, of course, deployed their saints. You could worship any of these for questionable rewards.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
– you can get a lot of stuff from your village/tribe, for debt/favours, rather than money. If you have cash money take it to a big town like Malacca or Surabaya and be careful not to flash it around.

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
– no plate mail. If there are inhuman monsters, they don’t wear plate mail. But you could get stuff made out of iron by Portuguese renegadoes or Indian smiths or Formosan traditionalists. Find a big urban centre.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
– that’s a matter for wild rumours and speculation. Some say he lives on a lonely island, some say he’s the mafia boss on Hainan. Or Phaulkon the Farang who has hypnotized the king of Siam.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
– prince Nauri the Timawa. Either work for him or keep well away from him.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?
– some fat Chinese Hong in Malacca. But there are many kinds of riches and power.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
– the medium woman who keeps a garden in the high palm groves/cliff cave/surrounded by her kin’s boats. But she’s not focused on binding up wounds, she’s much more focused on…
8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
– yeah, the wise woman. Or, depending on the nature of your little problem, the transvestite priests.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
– there’s the transvestite priests. A lot of magic is “wild talent,” though. Having a healthy list of enemies and controversies is par for the course for any self-respecting magician.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
– wise woman? Priests? Alchemists are mostly Chinese, you may not want to trust them. It’s said that high up on Borneo there are hillmen who bind up the heavens. They should be able to do anything – and therefore probably don’t need anything from you. Otherwise there are always people in the ports willing to take your money and spin you a yarn.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
– your village. You can get the Bugis involved but they’re a mafia, and might turn into your biggest problem. Ditto the Mappilas of south India – pretty soon you’re fighting their wars rather than the other way around. Chinese mafia are worse. Depending on the problem you need help with, you might be able to call on far-flung kinfolk, or form a council of the tribes.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
– yes, all the respectable courts on the mainland. That’s one reason you laugh at those clodhopping mainlander fools.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
– we have barrels of Arak right here. The beach is a good place for drunken revels. Or far inland where you can’t be seen. The Portuguese towns have Chinese towns on the sides, and between the two you can get a lot of wine, trouble and smuggling.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
– the English, Dutch and Portuguese. The Chinese mafia. Individual pirate captains. Spirits that drive people to do terrible things. Whales. And most of all, the Timawa.

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
– always, everywhere. It’s seasonal. The hard thing is to interrupt the wars long enough to face novel threats.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
– like cock fights? Men mostly don’t do that themselves, but the Chinese will bet on anything if you suggest it to them. Some tribes accept applications from men who prove themselves in battle, so you might not get a cash prize but you could get a boat, a wife, followers or allies.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
– the Chinese have a ton, and some of them will even treat you as an equal. The red hairs (ferengi – Dutch and English) are always looking for spies (and man, everyone would despise you if they found out). Assassins are common, millennial cults can be quite respectable in some quarters… the main thing is to continue to show loyalty to your kin, tribe, prince and priests and ancestors. Right now, at least, nobody knows of a religious-type Evil Big Bad, and they’d probably take a tolerant stance toward it until it actually posed a physical threat. Like, for instance, everyone already suspects that the Sama are half Fishmen, and although they may not be willing to intermarry with them, they’ll happily trade with them for seaweed snacks.

18. What is there to eat around here?
– tripang, fish, shellfish, seaweed, bananas and other fruits, Arak, Chinese wine, tea, coffee, rice, stews.

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
– there are various magical artifacts of the ancestors (which are as likely to be spirit-coffins or shrines as they are to be krises or boats or talismans). Otherwise, most of the treasure is to be had by heist, rather than quest. The Chinese and Indian merchants, the Sultan of Aceh, hajj ships will all have lots of the shiny stuff, if you can take them on. There are rumours about the queen of the sea and her court, but how are you going to survive underwater? Do you even speak their language?

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
– Malacca. It’s called a Treasure Junk and it breathes fire and bristles with a hundred spear points.

…and for the European adventurers?

1. What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?
he’s a lay preacher, knows little about theology, but has lots of practice calling on God and/or the saints for mercy, better weather, navigational assistance or strength.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
The ship’s equipment chest. If that’s exhausted, Portuguese ports in India, the European quarter of Malacca, Macao. ‘course, they are your enemies, so it might take some footwork.

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
kill a Portuguese professional noble and teach your buddy how to maintain his new armor.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
Either the Great Moghul in Agra or the Great Khan of China. Try to avoid them.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
We are, of course.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?
See mightiest wizard. That might not be coincidental.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
The locals around here have some devilry they work, but will they work it for you?

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
First try the lay preacher. Then maybe the books in the captain’s cabin. Last resort, those local shamans.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
Sorry, no witches. The Priesthood, though, does say it trafficks in miracles. or that might just be a Prod rumour to stir up hatred against the Catholic.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
The lay preacher? A Portuguese port town? Maybe one of the big Chinese towns – Macao, Amoy, Fukien. Occasionally head office will send a curious sage to catalogue the local wildlife and test out its properties on slaves and the sick. The factory at Ambon is a good bet.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
Any big town. Aceh, Colombo, Ayutthaya, Malacca, Edo, Amoy. Careful not to tread on the Company’s toes, though.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Ahahahaha. Well, sure: China. But then you’re mostly illegal in China.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
Brandy time is 8am, noon and 8pm. And if there’s something to celebrate. Also if someone’s sneaked some out of the stores. Apart from that, there’s always drinking in the Chinesetowns by the Factories.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
Chinese pirates, the Portuguese, the Dutch/English, the Timawa, depending on who you ask.

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
You’re already fighting them, but it’s a sign of a good captain to discover a couple more that nobody knew about. Usually through looting.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
You can challenge your shipmates, or people from other ships, or especially Portuguese grandees ashore, but it’s generally not arena-type fighting.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
The Jesuits? Chinese mafias? The Timawa? You could go renegade and work for some non-Christians.

18. What is there to eat around here?
Pea soup with pork, salt cod, salted meats, cheese, brandy, French and Spanish wine, hard tack.

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
Legends abound, sure – fountains of youth, cures for syphilis, the treasures of the Mughals or Ming. But you’re here first and foremost to get the gold of the Moluccas – cloves, nutmeg, mace and pepper. Those will make you rich, if you can get back to Europe with them.

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
It’s called the Portuguese Trading Post Empire, and you’re sailing right through the middle of it. Capture a silver ship – or fleet – and you’ll be not only made for life, but a national hero such as people will sing about for centuries to come.

* not really, because I want Bugis pirates, so it’s kinda 1610 and kinda 1660 and kinda 1760 and all that. What I mean is, it’s right at the start of English and Dutch incursion to the East Indies, before they have towns established, in the early, piratical phase.