Archive for November, 2012

Streamlined Ars Magica hack combat for Tartary

November 20, 2012 4 comments

I’ve been re-reading Ars Magica 4e (available for free download! Thanks to Jeremy Duncan for telling me this) and it’s cool but too complicated (incompatible with gin, which is a deal breaker for me).

So here’s a simpler hack. This is a draft, stuff will change.

All combat is done with d10. You and the opponent roll, you want to beat their result. You do damage equal to the margin by which you beat them.
Roll of 1 = fumble. Reroll – if you get another 1 a BAD THING happened. Reroll: another 1 and it’s WORSE.
Roll of 10 = awesome! Reroll and add results together. Lather, rinse, repeat.

You and the opponent get to add modifiers to your roll: your skill (called “fight”) + any situational things you can persuade me of (surprise, range, smoke, gigantism etc).
After you’ve decided who hits, damage gets modifiers from the kind of weapon you’re using. Like a dagger has no mod but a sword gives +1 damage. In Tartary people often play with explosives, which add a whole +d10 to damage.

Sequence of combat and modifiers

1.  initiative: d10 + fight. Lowest result declares their actions first. Anyone with higher initiative can interrupt that action with their own action.

1a. exception: SURPRISE. To get surprise you (a) set up a surprising situation, (b) roll d10 + sneaky skills. The person (perhaps) being surprised has to beat your total with their d10 + Wis or Per. THIS OBVIOUSLY FAVOURS PEOPLE WITH SNEAKY SKILLS GO FIGURE.

1b. exception: missiles go after melee (if you want to hit anything – to interrupt meleers you have to suck up a -3 mod)

2. Attack! Roll off with opponent, see who wins and therefore gets to cause damage. You CAN defend against multiple attacks in one round but each extra defense is at cumulative -3. If you are not defending then the target number to hit you is 2.

Missile weapons are a bit different
1. they go after melee (see above)
2. Roll D10 + shoot skill to hit. The basic target number to hit someone at cop show handgun range is 9 – this is in lieu of them getting a defense roll.
3. If applicable, apply the following mods:
partial cover -3 (includes a big shield)
target thinks they have full cover but doesn’t quite -6
long range for your weapon -2
spend an extra round aiming +3
target not moving (and not behind cover) +3
shooter takes damage in round of shooting: -total amount of damage taken.

4. Damage = the amount the attack exceeded defense + damage mod of weapon -armour

Melee weapon damage mods
Unarmed: -1
bottle, spanner: +0
one-handed weapon like a sword +1
2-handed weapon like an Enoch hammer +2
special pleading for your badass weapon +d10, though I can’t right now think of a single melee weapon to give this to, lightsabers and chainsaws included.

Missile weapon damage mods
sling/discus -1
thrown knife/axe/spear +0
bow/pistol +1
fancy bow/rifle/jezzail +2
basass blunderbuss, elephant gun, radium rifle or grenade launcher +d10 (but generally these weapons takes multiple rounds to reload).

Armour damage mods
improvised shield (rolled cloak, bit of siding) -1
actual purpose-built Roman or Viking type shield -2
Holtzman shield generator out of Dune -7
These can stack with actual Armor:
leather 0
man-portable metal -2
improvised tank plate -3
battleship siding -6
overworld hypercrystal alloystuff -10 (basically counts as cover

What damage means

Hit points are the old Errol Flynn DnD “luck and grit and ability to avoid serious injury” until you get to 0, when suddenly it’s slow healing time (unless you have a talented/ultratech medic or grease monkeys nearby, in which case good on you and don’t come crying to me about the strange things that happened).

At 0 hp you roll on The Death and Dismemberment Table (via Trollsmyth and Carjacked Seraphim).
Roll 1d10. If you’re in negative HP territory, that negative is applied to the roll.

1 confirmed by rerolling 1: Instant death (decapitated or other grievous wound).
1 but unconfirmed: Incapacitated/maimed. Die in 1d6 minutes unless medics beat difficulty target 9. Medics will be working on you for hours. Weak for 2d6 weeks, some lasting impairment.
2: Severed limb (DM’s choice or roll randomly) will die in 3d6 minutes unless tourniquet applied, cauterized etc. Then will die in 3d6 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Out for min. 1 hour.
3: lose something fragile – an eye, an ear, a finger, your memory/sense of self-identity. You’ll die in 3d10 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Beat 6 on d10+Wis or be stunned for rest of combat
4-5: broken bones, punctured lungs: roll over blow-through damage to stay conscious. You need medical aid or you will never be the same again. Also will die in d10 hours if you don’t stop the bleeding. With proper care you can recover completely. Meanwhile beat 6 on D10+Wis every time you try to do something strenuous or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+CHA or roll again on this table.
6: Knocked out and concussed. At -3 to do everything for 2d12 hours. Also you’re still on 0 hp. Beat 6 on D10 or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+Cha or roll again on this table.
7: Beat 6 on d10+Wis of be knocked out for d10 minutes.
8: Stunned and confused until someone snaps you out of it.
9: drop weapon, stunned for 1 round.
10: Adrenaline Surge. get back 1d3 HP. These go away again at the end of combat, at which point reroll. Another 10? permanently get +1 hp.

Dealing with vehicles etc.
Most hand weapons just do 1 damage to vehicles. hand-holdable explosives still do d10.
Vehicle-type cannons do +d10 damage to people, but only get some numerical +1 or similar against other vehicles.
PPCs, giant cannons or earthquake guns might do +d10 or even +2d10 to vehicles.

Special fightin’ nonsense
“Double wielding”
(using 2 weapons) means you still only attack once but you get to roll to attack twice and use the higher result.

You can use Zak’s “called shots” mechanic to say that you are increasing the chance of an exploding result on the die. IE: usually you would only reroll a 10 but you can take extra risk and say you want to also reroll a 9, 8, 7 or 6. BUT then your chance of a fumble goes up equally – so if you go all out for a called shot (shot works/explodes on 6-10) and roll a 6 then you get to reroll and add as per usual exploding damage. After that first reroll you only reroll again if you get a 10 as usual. BUT if you roll a 5 in the same situation then it’s a fumble AND when you reroll a 5 or below confirms the fumble.

Climbing on things: smaller things may be able to climb up bigger  things to do more damage to their vulnerable bits. Zak’s hack of Scrap’s rule works directly here: “for every round spent climbing on (not attacking) a big monster without falling or being thrown off you get +2 to hit and damage for when you do attack while on it. You are also protected from many of the creature’s usual attacks depending on where you’re climbing and what part of it you’re on.” NB this can also be done to PCs.
Small rolls D10 + climb vs. a target number (6 for a Bollymech, 9 for an organic creature, 12 for a smooth-sided supertanker or similar) to improve their hold/location. If Big is resisting they roll d10 + fight to try to throw Small off – if Big beats Small’s climb roll then Small can’t advance/get more bonus. If Big beats Small by 5 they shake/scrape/fling Small off. Whether Small can use their 2-handed sword from atop Big should be obvious from the specific situation.

A note about encumbrance
I mostly don’t bother tracking it unless you’re carrying a piano/fallen companion/statue etc. If you are, and you refuse to drop that heavy thing for combat, then you get minuses to all actions. Although maybe partial cover in recompense.

On the proto-history of Mecha, or Golems for Genus

November 19, 2012 1 comment

Successive waves have washed back and forth over the line between sorcery and technology in Tartary. Right now the mood is decidedly technurgical – something unexplained may make the giant run, but its skeleton is almost certainly worked wood or metal, its eyes cameras or viewing screens. And inside there will be a pilot – tucked away, perhaps, like a baby bird in an egg, but altogether in command.

The lithomancer Epjabel demonstrates the proper use of the tripod


But things were not always thus. Some hints of how they might have been before can be seen in ancient statues, which show stunted, cat-like creatures perched atop strange bodies, steering them to terrible purpose

And then there are the writhing, tormented pits of Azoth under Dashoguz

Most such remnants are assumed once to have been clothed in metal plates, as they would be now. It is inconceivable that the world of power and subjugation should have been ruled by such soft-bodied things, no matter how strong their grip.

Still there are hints that the day of solid iron may be reaching its end. Rumours are circulating that strange, flowing forms have been seen issuing from the Archmage of Ashgabat’s cult-tower (that palace or tomb where the Great Bashi has sealed himself up these past fifty years).

And these fluid giants, the size of a fighting machine, appear to be thinking for themselves.

(BTW, some much better monster creation over here)

Ars Magica hack for Tartary (Chargen)

November 18, 2012 5 comments

So because I’m a lunatic I decided to try running Tartary in Ars Magica rather than the more obvious DnD route (also because I don’t want to deal with levels, at least for now). And then I hacked AM to look as much like DnD as possible.* Idiot.

Anyway: simplified Ars Magica chargen for Tartary.

1. roll characteristics,
2. choose a “class” – this is your major skill. Add 2 minor skills,
3. roll equipment.

Core Mechanic ie what you’re rolling against: 

D10 + relevant characteristic + situational modifiers against a target difficulty number. 1 is a botch (roll again – 1 confirms the botch, but there may be mods on that second roll depending on how risky the thing was you were doing). 0 is exploding – roll again, add to the previous result. (note this is the inverse of AM. Crazy huh?)

You can take “extra risk” and add +n to your die roll, but then you have to roll over n to avoid a botch.

AM has needlessly complex initiative and combat rolls. Here you just roll D10 + skill + sneaky roleplaying mods you fast talk me into, and try to get higher than the enemy. All combat is simultaneous except where there’s surprise.

Attributes (different from AM, sorry):
roll 1d6 -3 for each of these, yielding a range of -2 to +3. In order, natch.

Phy(sique = Str and Con combined), Dex, Int, Per(ception), Wis, Cha.

If you are not happy with your whole suite of rolls you can change the sign of all of them at once – all negatives become positives and vice versa. Attributes actually matter, so it might be worth it. Or just cheat completely: how would I know?

Hit Points

I do not use Ars Magica’s Body Levels. Instead there are hit points (which represent luck pure and simple and which recover after a night’s sleep) and a death and dismemberment table adapted from Trollsmyth, for when the hp run out.

To calculate HP: D6 + Wis + Phy + 4. Because wisdom is the art of doing what turned out to be the right thing after all (which sounds a lot like luck to me) and being big and beefy at least looks like it matters when you’re shrugging off minor damage.

If you take enough damage to reduce you to 0 hp, then roll on the The Death and Dismemberment Table (via Trollsmyth and Carjacked Seraphim). Roll 1d10 minus whatever negative hp you might be on.

1 confirmed by rerolling 1: Instant death (decapitated or other grievous wound).
1 but unconfirmed: Incapacitated/maimed. Die in 1d6 minutes unless medics beat difficulty target 9. Medics will be working on you for hours. Weak for 2d6 weeks, some lasting impairment.
2: Severed limb (DM’s choice or roll randomly) will die in 3d6 minutes unless tourniquet applied, cauterized etc. Then will die in 3d6 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Out for min. 1 hour.
3: lose something fragile – an eye, an ear, a finger, your memory/sense of self-identity. You’ll die in 3d10 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Beat 6 on d10+Wis or be stunned for rest of combat
4-5: broken bones, punctured lungs: roll over blow-through damage to stay conscious. You need medical aid or you will never be the same again. Also will die in d10 hours if you don’t stop the bleeding. With proper care you can recover completely. Meanwhile beat 6 on D10+Wis every time you try to do something strenuous or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+CHA or roll again on this table.
6: Knocked out and concussed. At -3 to do everything for 2d12 hours. Also you’re still on 0 hp. Beat 6 on D10 or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+Cha or roll again on this table.
7: Beat 6 on d10+Wis of be knocked out for d10 minutes.
8: Stunned and confused until someone snaps you out of it.
9: drop weapon, stunned for 1 round.
10: Adrenaline Surge. get back 1d3 HP. These go away again at the end of combat, at which point reroll. Another 10? permanently get +1 hp.

Abilities and Skills:

Everyone has 3 fields of ability: your class (a broad but ill-defined suite of skills, on which you get +6); your minor (a more limited skill area, like “bargain” or “athletics (ie run, jump, climb)” on which you get +4) and your hobby (same as minor but you only get +3).

If you want to specialise like crazy you can ditch your +4 minor and make ONE of your class’s core skills +7.
Everyone also gets Fight at +3 (unless they already have it at +6 because of their class, obviously. Sheesh.) – if you want you can trade this out for a different skill at +3 and be the one person around who can’t fight. Fight, by the way, covers all kinds of melee, brawling and dirty tricks bound up together.
Everyone can also at minimum ride a horse or camel well enough not to fall off on the trail, erect a tent, build a fire, climb easy rocky cliffs, walk quietly etc. without needing points in those things. BUT literacy, driving, repairing machines, swimming, medicine and shooting straight are not assumed.

Sample Classes (some extra class flavour here) – or suggest your own, natch.

Athletic/fighting classes – these guys all Fight, Shoot and Ride professionally (+5), but they have different societies, priorities and other skills.
Mamluk (Mamluk/pilot/ordnance officer) used to formal command systems, respectability and driving and field maintenance of heavy equipment, sapping etc.
Nomad (Turkmen horseclansman, pirate, steppe bandit, Mongol, barbarian) adds survival, tracking, animal handling and slaving contacts.
Green man (or Thark for the layman) unrivalled marksmen (automatically get +6 to shooting but no familiarity with bows), 4 arms allows multiple attacks, but almost universally outcast as rage-prone lunatics, stand out in a crowd, too big to usefully ride anything smaller than a thoat. May not have Wis above 0.

Sneaky, techie classes – in Tartary technology is always secret and academics need con-man skills, so there’s a large liaison between magic, tech and thief type skills.
Grease Monkey (hack-it-together mechanic, repairman and saboteur)
Scholar (or Apprentice Technomage/archaeologist – part Stalker, part Repo Man, and a large part knowledgable thief)
Merchant, Smuggler, Ambassador, Spy (same skillsets, reasons to keep moving on),

Charismatic classes – not clerics, but rabble-rousing talkers. Cha, obviously, but also Int, Dex, Phy can be important.
Lawgiver (respectable traveling Qadi or Mufti – eg ibn Battuta – more a Solomonic judge than a sheriff but both ideas are applicable)
Prophet, mystic or saint (shaggy-haired bushman or resplendently caparisoned spirit medium, the point is you have a strange hypnotic authority for some people)
Entertainer (be a bard if you like but you could be a veiled dancer, acrobat, or fakir)
Bollymecha Gladiator/Jockey (there are lots of ways you could’ve had a shot at the big time and fallen by the wayside. Now it’s comeback time. You have hands-on experience of surfing the dragon, but not necessarily any idea of what to do when it goes wrong. Somewhere you have a gaggle of die-hard fans. And sworn enemies. Note that to perform at the top you gotta be a triple threat – singing, dancing and whoopin’ ass in a giant fighting machine – but street brawling ain’t for stars)

NOTE: I am always interested in new classes that trade on Perception or Wisdom, or trades that favour less-traveled mixes of talents, like strong/wise or strong/charismatic: if you have an idea you’re excited about I’m unlikely to say no.

Sample minor skills. Where there’s a slash you get the combo: I just couldn’t think of an elegant name for it.

acrobatics/escapology (circus work, includes multi-person stunts)
athletics (parkour – climb, run, jump)
evaluate goods/bargain
etiquette/savoir faire
folk ken (applied psychology/empathy)
animal handling/whispering
direction sense (track, find your way in the dark etc)
radiation sense (aka detect magic)
concentration/iron will (useful for rocket surgeons, lookouts)
jimmy (pick locks, also fix machines with a kick or whisper)
read lips/gesture
weather sense
shoot – bow or guns or artillery
sleight of hand, 
law, beliefs
sail, drive, or fly vehicle

Experience and Character Advancement

is handed out at DM’s will and whim, but often comes down to 1xp per session of active participation, and sometimes an extra 1 if you do something awesome.

An xp is a skill point plain and simple. The cost to improve a skill by 1 point = the resulting bonus. SO to improve a skill of 3 to 4 costs 4 points. Then to improve that to 5 costs 5 points. In short, it’s a triangular number system.

Attributes can also be improved, but the cost is triple that for skills. So to improve DEXterity from 0 to 1 costs 3xp. From 1 to 2 costs 6xp, from 2 to 3 costs 9xp. It’s the same with negatives: -1 to 0 costs 3xp. -2 to -1 costs 6xp etc.

Equipment (reproduced from here)

First roll to see how desperate and starving you are – or talk me into agreeing to a specific social stratum via a really great character concept story.

Level of Destitution (d6)

1. naked and alone. You have exactly nothing. Save vs. INT or you’re also suffering from amnesia
2. where’d you get that? roll d6+14 twice on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
3. one good friend. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 3d8 on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
4. practically minded. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d12 on Table A and 1d6 on Table B
5. expert skip-dipper. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d20 on Table A
6. Favoured urbanite with social contacts: roll 6d20 on table A, 2d12 on table B

** a melee weapon or a grease monkey’s spannerwrench or a grapnel/multitool or a primus stove and glassware or whatever.

Table A
1. crowbar
2. dagger
3. shield
4. food, drink and backpack
5. lamp and flasks of oil (3)
6. melee weapon
7. armour: leather or improvised equivalent
8. bow or crossbow with 10 arrows/bolts
9. handcart – doubles as a small raft
10. mirror
11. rope (50′)
12. grappling hook
13. pouch with 20 silver dirhams
14. musical instrument
15. hammer, chisel, pick + 8 iron spikes
16. writing box and seal
17. jezzail or blunderbuss + 10 shots
18. 10 radium shells for a jezzail/blunderbuss.
19. grease monkey’s spanner-wrench
20. 3 detonator charges, with timers

Table B
1 lucky medallion (re-roll 1 failed saving throw)
2 potion of healing (2d6 hp)
3 lockable iron-bound chest
4 guard animal (dog, calot or similar)
5 riding or pack animal (camel, pony, small thoat)
6 yurt or similar packable shelter
7 armor: chain or exotic
8 book – holy text or instruction manual or blueprints
9 map
10 loyal family retainer – a standard grog with a couple of charming quirks.
11 holy symbol or badge of office
12 radio

Also check out these name lists right here.

Sample Character: Armağan the Vagrant is a some time scholar and part-time bandit. Allegedly he has a prestigious apprenticeship waiting for him among the Seers of Otrar, but that’s conditional on him bringing something back from his “fieldwork” to form the focus of his research.
Phy -1, Dex 0, Int +2, Per +1, Wis -2, Cha 0. Scholar/archaeologist 5, smuggler 3, liar 2
Chemistry set and ancient mysterious instruction manual, crowbar (counts as club), lamp and oil. One flask of something he hopes is a potion of healing.

General statements about the setting:
Tartary has “technomagic” – a lot of stuff in Tartary obeys peculiar physical laws, functions unpredictably, is misunderstood and has some kind of superstitious traditions built around it.
Doing technomagic means building and using equipment or stuff in the environment. Nobody starts with magic on hand, it must be found through play – though scholars may recognise it when they see it and know where to learn more about it. There is most of all no equivalent to DnD’s one-spell-a-day magic user or cleric – there are guilds of scholars and mad archmages with plenty of mystique around them, but they mostly fight over physical resources. Even the great choreomancers, who clearly do honest-to-whizbang magic, work with physical tools.

All new characters are generated as “companions:” competent non-magic folk. Also, by default everyone can fight – but just being a fighter is boring, so folks are mostly distinguished by being able to do other things.

Common belief says there is an “overworld,” but that’s where consensus ends. Tartary has a hard time distinguishing between magic and engineering – it certainly does not draw any clear line between magic and religion. In place of clerics there are Those Who Hold The Law. There are various kinds of uncanny spirits, sprites and parasites, but whether they are undead or not is a philosophical matter: anyway nobody can turn them.

Tartary has no “home tech level” (like DnD’s home tech level is roughly 14th century but you might run across stuff that’s anachronistic/out of place), it’s the whole history of Turkestan, ancient to post-Soviet, simultaneously – flattened into a brick – plus “magic” and post-apocalyptic bits and Girl Genius and Arabian Nights shout-outs.
But real high-tech is rare: production quality is generally low – stuff is improvised, home-made. Bows are no more common than guns or slings or atlatls, but the guns are what you could cook up in the desert with simple tools: more like unreliable muskets than modern assault rifles. You use what you can. Technologies that have dependencies (like cars that need fuel and spare parts) are rarer and less reliable than those that don’t (like rocks and hide shelters). Real manufactured goods are the stuff of legend – and are to be found in dangerous, Roadside Picnic type zones.

Tartary also has no widespread cash economy – individual cities and some confederations exist that have common money, and the Armenian and Chinese trade networks have paper letters of credit that work something like cash (but must be certified), but most trade is barter and exchange rates for metals, rare stones, spices and other common cash equivalents are wildly variable.

Language is a mish-mash of Turkic/Uighur/Persian/Arabic/Pashto forming a pidgin “common” tongue – most people also have their “native” language spoken only by a small population in the local area, so kin/neighbours often have a kind of secret code among themselves. This effect is doubled for incoming flailsnailers, who are definitely gringos/farangs in a foreign land, but can communicate well enough to get by, when everyone wants to be understood.

Colour-coded Carcosans dropped in some years ago and have their own communities out in the wastes, but they’re a minority. If you play a Carcosan then you can speak Carcosan and bad common, you’ll be tolerated by most non-Carcosans, and you may be hunted by sorcerers or paint suppliers, but in recompense you get some natural radiation/magic resistance. Prejudice is so universal and works in so many directions that it’s hardly worth mentioning anti-Orange or -Teal* feeling. The exception, of course, is Bone men, who creep out the superstitious (ie most folks but not everyone) and Yellow men, whom the Mongols have decided are their natural enemies. Barsoomian Green Men are another matter altogether – they’re actively feared by many and the Turkmens, in particular, hate them. There are some places where Green Men are welcomed and they have powerful sponsors who use them as mercenaries, but on picaresque adventures they’re going to face general flak.

Tartary is supposed to be a flailsnails setting, but Ars Magica and Tartary don’t have levels. Weird, huh? BUT there is a  Reputation stat (REP) that records your fame and badassery on Tartary, useful in social combat and when asking for favours, recruiting redshirts etc. Tartary gets television from across the flailsnailoverse; when bringing a character from elsewhere, let me know about their greatest career highs and lows to date – there’s a fair chance someone out there has seen them on TV based on their fame.
Rep = your DnD level +/- a modifier based on your glorious pratfalls so far.

For more and confusing information, follow the Baikonur and Carcosa tags.

* changes from Ars Magica: no more “communication” – that’s up to you, player. Also no more Qikness (aka “initiative bonus”), Sta, pairing of stats. Pfeh. I like differentiating Int and Wis so there you are. Also allows me to give you common sense saves vs doing something stupid.

Also Virtues and Flaws are not included here. We may add these later but for session one don’t worry about it UNLESS there is something vital to your character concept.

monster, encounter or treasure? Via the David Collection

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

a while back (like weeks ago) Scrap Princess G+’d a series of MONSTER, MARVEL or MYSTERY posts. In the same spirit, and because I chanced across the remarkable David collection this morning:

The vizier of Walatuf concealed much behind his imposing beard.

of course I’m not out here on my own – you should check out my posse on the next page.

A Sepoy Revolt? What are you blathering about, Smithers?

No no no! Kill the dragon, catch Ho-oh, venerate the Simurgh! Is it really so complicated?

Did you see that? She totally just turned Hakim into a pillow! That’s going to complicate rescuing the Lilliputians and no mistake.

Sorry, we’re all out of Wands of Wonder. But we do have this Wand of Fabulous.

Pseudo-medieval city maps

November 13, 2012 5 comments

Roger of Roles, Rules and Rolls has reminded me to share some cities suitable for medievalish gaming.

See, I love Vornheim but I can never get comfortable generating cities procedurally on the fly the way Zak does because I feel like I need to have a real overview of the whole city in order to be able to run anything in it, because I want to know how far the players will have to run and around how many corners to reach the gate or the sanctuary of the temple when the angry mob comes after them.

And although Merv, Constantinople and Ankh-Morpork are all steaming cities of millions, I also like my in-game cities to be recognizably finite because then you don’t get the condition of anonymity and easy invisibility that adventurers tend to take for granted.

And I love drawing maps but I hardly ever actually do it because (a) time, (b) my maps don’t have that all-important element of the unexpected and irrational – they are designed for my current purpose, while actual places are always designed for a million conflicting purposes and so that’s why people routinely do stuff nobody would ever do like putting the prison and mental hospital next to the armoury.

So instead I use real places. Every time I travel I bring back a map. And there’s a surprising number of immediately usable real places right on Google Maps, which still have the outlines of “medieval” or “early modern” cities. So here’s a few. Be warned, the links below are mostly to HUGE images.

Let’s start with the most obvious candidate:

Venice was a bustling metropolis in its 15th century heyday, big and tangly enough to hide legendary assassins, secret police forces, multinational trading houses, a fearsome navy and a shadowy ruling cabal. And it still has a pretty similar street plan today – good enough for gaming needs, anyhow. Need to know the main sights? Go check out some tourism site, but basically the seat of government and sea trade tax office is right on the main wharf on the south side, by the mouth of the grand canal, and the navy yards are on the east end, and the bit that looks industrial on the west end was added in the 19th century, so lop it off if you don’t like that in your burlap medieval mudhellscape. Google map. Note that square Isola San Michele is the necropolis and that the church on the end of Dorsoduro, Santa Maria Della Salute (south side of the southern entrance of the grand canal) is an architectural charm to ward off the plague, which was still a recurring problem in the 18th century. If you can’t make RPG hay with that I don’t even.

Brielle in south Holland changed from the 16th century to the 17th and then gave up.


It still nestles in its cozy girdle of cannon forts waiting for the French, while next-door Rotterdam (which rather dominates this google map) metastasized out of its enceinte, got bombed to rubble, and re-emerged as a thoroughly 20th century industrial hub. The big white building’s the church (more obvious on this bird’s eye view), the rest was at one point almshouses, linen-processing yards, boatbuilding, stabling, and orchard gardens for the richer folks against the threat of siege. Note that it has exactly one main street where all the reputable taverns are located (that’s Hogsmeade right there), and before cars came along you could close the gatehouses on the moat at night, like at (delicious Victorian confection) Carcassonne, which I include even though it should already be in your library:

I’ll forgive you this time for not knowing about the fortified island at Concarneau [Google Map] [useful tourist map], a sort of Carcassonne-on-the-sea but less footled about:

but you should really already know about Mont St. Michel

and be ready for when the players decide to knock over that dominating abbey.

Although the “medieval” towns of Tuscany are as mucked about by Mussolini as Carcassonne was by Viollet le Duc, as far as gaming goes that really just makes them better. Thus stereotypically hilltop Siena –

(Florence’s competitor, arrested after the 15th century by the plague, for our much later benefit) in 2 maps that are confusingly shown rotated one from the other but together get the idea across, gives you enough courtyards and palaces and back alleys for all your flashing blades skullduggery, plus the ludicrously dangerous horse race around the central “square,” Il Palio, beloved of James Bond location scouts and Travel Channel specials.

Smaller but no less reconstructed San Gimignano has a baffling profusion of towers suitable for spying on the population, hurling heretics off, storing grain or calling the multicretic faithful to prayer in an appalling religious cacophony 16 times a day.

This map doesn’t show you the towers, alas, but oddly google maps steps up with an oblique bird’s eye, with captions. The size of San Gim is a useful reminder that these tiny little villages really were important urban centers 400 years ago. Wee Siena supposedly (unless Mussolini made it up which would be just like him) had/has 17 semi-autonomous districts that competed with each other in business, crime, church decoration and lunatic horse-racing. Which should give you a sense for what “locally famous” might mean. It’s also really easy to get lost in these small spaces: trust me, when everything’s whitewashed, even little Mykonos town can turn you around and around for hours.

Amsterdam was also a pretty small (but globally important) town up to about 1900 and, usefully for us, after that it expanded outward rather than effacing its old street plan in the center, so many of the buildings in the center date from the 1600s.

In 1649 (pictured in the map above) it was in the middle of its golden age: it was Europe’s biggest center for shipbuilding, a major hub for banking, international finance, the gold, silver and diamond trades, and (largely, maybe) controlled Europe’s access to the 4 noble spices, needed for holding the plague at bay and for entertaining in high society. It was also (perhaps) the most tolerant, multi-culti melting pot in Europe, home to deposed nobles and Jews from Spain and Portugal, middle-European economic migrants and refugees from the 30 years war, and a whole mess of troublesome Protestants and other heretics. This fascinating 5 minute video gives you a sense of the slow fits and starts with which it expanded, but to really get the size of the Jewel of the North Sea, I’ll tell you that it’s a 10 minute walk down the long 16th century axis from the harbour mouth to the south end of the Singel (enclosing canal/inner edge of those multiple rings of canals) and that’s adjusting for traffic and walking through the red light district. Note both in the map above and the last link, south is confusingly more or less at the top of the map.

Heading east to my favoured territory alas the Russians did a pretty good job of effacing backward and anti-modern Turkestan and replacing it with post-Soviet and anti-modern Central Asia.

There are hollowed-out museum cities (Khiva here has a weirdly lacey, patchwork quality after the monuments were “cleaned up” by having the houses around them removed) but you have to use your imagination and there’s certainly no obvious easily-stealable urban fabric. Following that last map link though you can see the extent of the old walled city (ie the elite expensive bit) pretty clearly. Mythopoeic Ramblings has already posted this lovely necropolis, which is useful too.

Supposedly the Islamic City is defined by a knotty tangle of semi-private courtyards and alleyways and underporches that makes it hard to map in a top-down way (although mostly when people say “the Islamic City” they mean “Fes“), so Zak’s methods seem tailor-made for this kind of confusion. But Chinese-influenced cities tend to have a brutal (but often subverted) regularity to them. Thus the capital of China’s legendarily cruel and paranoid First Emperor, Chang-an (shown in that link in its 19th century refiguring but there you are), and northern Thai (Lanna) stronghold, Chiangmai:

[google map to compare] which is about as square as Thailand’s “first capital,” Sukhothai:

give you a sense of life and love in the time of autocratic government.

Less geometric and considerably more fun, Ayutthaya in the 17 and 18th centuries had quarters for visiting Arab, Chinese and European tribute-traders, intrigue galore, a Greek con-man grand vizier, massive flammable palaces for state cremations, and Samurai bodyguards for the king. It’s also a demonstration case for the problems of generating maps from textual sources. Amusingly/irritatingly, the most useful map is not this complete image (nor google’s tidy map) but this dodgy partial pic out of a book:

Now it’s a “historic park” with the emphasis on “park” – crumbling temples separated by golf lawn grass, its solid stone Manhattan skyline still gives you some sense of the weirdness of arriving in a place with different gods:

but if you were to sail there in the 17th century in your trading ship, after navigating a hundred miles of jungle river you might start to lose faith in the supremacy of your cannons. You might be unnerved to be greeted by inspectors dressed as monkey demons, and bewildered to arrive finally in a City of Giants or Animate Statues, chillin’ right now, but ready to take offense at your barbarous ways.

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Want some real history? Don’t value your eyesight too much? Have some ship plans

November 9, 2012 1 comment

model of a 1938 liner cabin for all your death on the Nile needs. Click on the picture for pretty much the same size image here on the Dystopian Pokeverse or click on the text link right there in the previous sentence to go to the original database. Then you can click on the picture on the db page to get (sigh) the same size image again. BUT THEN you click “groter” under that image to get (sometimes, somewhat) higher res. I would do all that for you and publish the results, hexed up and cleaned up and high contrast, but I’m busy until at least February, sorry.

Here’s a section through a late 18th century warship of 64 guns for all your American revolution/French and Indian War type stowaway needs. And below, a nice, clear section, deck plan and cabin plan of an 1806 frigate for all your Napoleonic Dutch Aubrey/Maturan-manque needs.







And the same multi-view treatment for a French 24 gun corvette of 1832 for all your Belgian revolt/alt-history “rescue Marx from the time-travelers” needs.

All courtesy of the Rotterdam Maritime Museum, via their amazing treasure trove database of all things maritime, maritiemdigitaal. Which is totally searchable and useful if you play with it for a couple of weeks and also happen to speak Dutch. You might find it more searchable by doing a google image search on it though, using a search term like “ship model” and restricting your search to