Archive for May, 2017

why have I never read Captain Cook’s journals before?

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

why have I never read Captain Cook’s journals before?
Oh, right, because I always have too much to read.

Here – Captain Cook and some New Zealanders experiment with cannibalism, freak out the Tahitians. But it begins with Cook and the importance of shock, awe and guns…

The best method, in my opinion, to preserve a good understanding with such people, is, first, by shewing them the use of firearms, to convince them of the superiority they give you over them, and then to be always upon your guard. When once they are sensible of these things, a regard for their own safety will deter them from disturbing you, or from being unanimous in forming any plan to attack you; and strict honesty, and gentle treatment on your part, will make it their interest not to do it.

Calm or light airs from the north all day on the 23d, hindered us from putting to sea as intended. In the afternoon, some of the officers went on shore to amuse themselves among the natives, where they saw the head and bowels of a youth, who had lately been killed, lying on the beach; and the heart stuck on a forked stick, which was fixed to the head of one of the largest canoes. One of the gentlemen bought the head, and brought it on board, where a piece of the flesh was broiled and eaten by one of the natives, before all the officers and most of the men. I was on shore at this time, but soon after returning on board, was informed of the above circumstances; and found the quarter-deck crowded with the natives, and the mangled head, or rather part of it, (for the under-jaw and lip were wanting) lying on the tafferal. The skull had been broken on the left side, just above the temples; and the remains of the face had all the appearance of a youth under twenty.

The sight of the head, and the relation of the above circumstances, struck me with horror, and filled my mind with indignation against these cannibals. Curiosity, however, got the better of my indignation, especially when I considered that it would avail but little; and being desirous of becoming an eye-witness of a fact which many doubted, I ordered a piece of the flesh to be broiled and brought to the quarter-deck, where one of these cannibals eat it with surprising avidity. This had such an effect on some of our people as to make them sick. Oedidee (who came on board with me) was so affected with the sight as to become perfectly motionless, and seemed as if metamorphosed into the statue of horror. It is utterly impossible for art to describe that passion with half the force that it appeared in his countenance. When roused from this state by some of us, he burst into tears; continued to weep and scold by turns; told them they were vile men; and that he neither was, nor would be any longer their friend. He even would not suffer them to touch him; he used the same language to one of the gentlemen who cut off the flesh; and refused to accept, or even touch the knife with which it was done. Such was Oedidee’s indignation against the vile custom; and worthy of imitation by every rational being.

I was not able to find out the reason for their undertaking this expedition; all I could understand for certain was, that they went from hence into Admiralty Bay (the next inlet to the west), and there fought with their enemies, many of whom they killed. They counted to me fifty; a number which exceeded probability, as they were not more, if so many, themselves. I think I understood them clearly, that this youth was killed there; and not brought away prisoner, and afterwards killed. Nor could I learn that they had brought away any more than this one; which increased the improbability of their having killed so many. We had also reason to think that they did not come off without loss; for a young woman was seen, more than once, to cut herself, as is the custom when they lose a friend or

That the New Zealanders are cannibals, can now no longer be doubted. The account given of this in my former voyage, being partly founded on circumstances, was, as I afterwards understood, discredited by many persons. Few consider what a savage man is in his natural state, and even after he is, in some degree, civilized. The New Zealanders are certainly in some state of civilization; their behaviour to us was manly and mild, shewing, on all occasions, a readiness to oblige. They have some arts among them which they execute with great judgment and unwearied patience; they are far less addicted to thieving than the other islanders of the South Sea; and I believe those in the same tribe, or such as are at peace one with another, are strictly honest among themselves. This custom of eating their enemies slain in battle (for I firmly believe they eat the flesh of no others) has undoubtedly been handed down to them from the earliest times; and we know it is not an easy matter to wean a nation from their ancient customs, let them be ever so inhuman and savage; especially if that nation has no manner of connexion or commerce with strangers. For it is by this that the greatest part of the human race has been civilized; an advantage which the New Zealanders, from their situation, never had. An intercourse with foreigners would reform their manners, and polish their savage minds. Or, were they more united under a settled form of government, they would have fewer enemies, consequently this custom would be less in use, and might in time be in a manner forgotten. At present, they have but little idea of treating others as themselves would wish to be treated, but treat them as they expect to be treated. If I remember right, one of the arguments they made use of to Tupia, who frequently expostulated with them against this custom, was, that there could be no harm in killing and eating the man who would do the same by them if it was in his power. “For,” said they, “can there be any harm in eating our enemies, whom we have killed in battle? Would not those very enemies have done the same to us?” I have often seen them listen to Tupia with great attention; but I never found his arguments have any weight with them, or that with all his rhetoric, he could persuade any one of them that this custom was wrong. And when Oedidee, and several of our people, shewed their abhorrence of it, they only laughed at them.

one-click medieval city generator

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

hey here’s a one-click medieval city generator I came across on twitter. I can’t imagine this not being useful, so, here you go!

that old blues stomp

May 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Reading Erik Jensen’s thoughts about his campaign design and listening to Tom Waits’s Orphans (which is really like grubbing through Tom Waits’s attic – it’s tracks he recorded but never previously put on records), it occurs to me:

most of us spend a lot of time trawling the same old blues, looking to fish up a bit of weed that catches our attention, that can blossom into something new. And when you’re stomping along that old tune it feels like there will never be anything new in the world but really it’s a kind of meditative exercise. You know something’s there, you’ve got to keep that beat going to get to that fruitful moment.

What attracts me in the music and, I guess, in designs of all kinds is when something is off, deliberately slightly wrong, unexpected. The surprise has a little frisson of its own but more importantly there’s also the hint that a new door might be opening in the old corridor, you (the listener) might be able to chase this frisson down into a whole other world. Tom often starts from a place that’s deliberately as off as he can manage but still ends up with a familiar Puritan hymn. But sometimes it goes somewhere else, and that’s why I keep listening.

My point is, that old blues stomp is important, too. It’s tempting to make everything as original and brilliant as you can but then you lose the recognition of that moment, that off note, which is where the reader glimpses a new vista and can start creating right along with you.

Al-Muqaddasi on the characters of the 4 great Islamic law schools

May 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Tempting, but no:

Geographer and historian Al-Muqaddasi once satirically categorized competing madhahib with contrasting personal qualities:

Hanafites, highly conscious of being hired for official positions, appeared deft, well-informed, devout and prudent;

Malikites, dull and obtuse, confined themselves to observance of prophetic tradition;

Shafi’ites were shrewd, impatient, understanding and quick-tempered;

Zahirites haughty, irritable, loquacious and well-to-do;

Shi’ites, entrenched and intractable in old rancor, enjoyed riches and fame; and

Hanbalites, anxious to practice what they preached, were charitable and inspiring.

Look, I agree with Dale and Thomas of GURPS Goblins fame that stereotypes are useful to harassed DMs for generating memorable NPCs on the fly. But I also note that of all possible example useful stereotypes they offer Swedish sailors, whom they make strong but dim. Because, I suppose, the real stereotype of Swedish sailors is that they don’t mind a bit of lighthearted stereotyping.

Architecture is a communicative art

May 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Architecture is a communicative art
This joint mosque/madrasa/caravanserai is built on the classic 4 iwan plan, its modest pishtaq gates reflecting its minor placement, by the side of the road into town. The traveler can see from a distance that it offers ecumenical instruction in all four major Sunni schools of law, the assymmetry of its facades speaking of different spatial and therefore mental organization in each of its wings. Detached structures include baths, a small hospital and a garden around the founder’s simple headstone.

The “golden age of piracy”

May 12, 2017 Leave a comment

I guess most people watching Black Sails probably follow it for the boobs, blood and scowling. There’s plenty of each – Rackham’s charmingly incompetent, Silver’s charmingly hapless, Flint manages to get progressively less charming – slowly at first, then all at once. As character-driven drama it’s pretty much par for this “golden age of TV” – you can see that by turns it wants to be Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire but it’s just a bit too self-conscious about its basic trashiness.

But I’m sitting there thinking “I can’t take it any more, I need to know what year it is!” And so I finally look it up. And of course it’s 1715 – the obvious choice, to within 5 years either way. The moment we all know pirates from, due largely to Captain Charles Johnson’s popular trawl of the Newgate broadsheets* and, less directly but more fundamentally, to Henry Everie, Aurangzeb and the East India Company. You can read all about it in Robert Ritchie’s Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates, which is very good at tying all the various kinds of extortion together.

It’s the time when most of our favourite characters come together (Blackbeard, Roberts, Low, England, Rackham and his titillating 3-way with Anne Bonney and Mary Read – and we know them all because of Johnson). It’s also the elegiac last gasp for “golden age” piracy, so we can place a reassuring capstone on it. Interesting times.

And I was vaguely disappointed because I was hoping somebody would’ve thought of setting things outside this critical decade – at some point when buccaneers were first abandoning their shoreline barbecues and getting up in Johnny Spaniard’s fries. Because goddammit Flint might want to copy Henry Avery and settle one big score, but his long game is pure Captain Morgan… or more exactly a royalist alternative American Revolution. And I was assisted in this misapprehension by Flint’s ship,
which could easily date from 1660, looking exactly like a warship of the Second Anglo-Dutch War:

(Flint’s Walrus, left, Isings’s war council before the 4 days’ battle, 1666, right.
BTW you can click on the pictures for full size. I finally figured out where wordpress hid that in their new interface).

And this misapprehension is actually quite lovely, because it is entirely plausible to have an elderly trader/warship kicking around the colonial service and getting swiped by some pirate – even 60 years later, as the show’s timeline demands, bravo!

But then it’s been refitted with a wheel instead of a whipstaff, and that’s frankly a bit too up-to-date in 1715. I’ll let it go – wheels are familiar to the audience and the steering gear of wheels even makes an important plot point… fine.

But. The Ranger.

I don’t want to say The Ranger is quite out of period… I’d have to do some more research, but she looks an awful lot like a second-half-of-the-18th-century English East Indiaman or warship. Look how flush that deck is, the low sterncastle, the rounded counter. If she’s not simply anachronistic she must’ve come off the stocks at Deptford 6 months ago and somehow wound up in Charles Vane’s possession. Maybe he posed as a Royal Navy post-captain and heisted her right out of the Medway. That’s a series I’d like to watch (albeit with a different actor for Vane).

What am I looking at? Well, flatness of the deck for one thing (we know that pirates often cut off all the fore and sterncastles to make a big fighting surface, but this is clearly a factory-done job). And restraint in ornamentation. And again, the Walrus is lovely:

Look at the carved woodwork on that transom – pure 17th century flair – and it even looks like someone’s nicked all the gold leaf off it, which is perfect. But the Ranger is just painted beading, like Nelson’s Victory (1765) or the Belvidera (1809):

…of course this is nit-picking, especially since all the ships are wildly over-sized for our pirate brethren, whose historical models preferred small, nimble sloops for which it’s easy to find spare parts.
It’s funny to see businesswoman Eleanor Guthrie talking to the captains seriously about their running costs when they’re all sailing around in ships that strain colonial governments’ budgets – the squadron in Nassau bay could probably give the Royal Navy at Kingston a serious worrying.

Anyway as of episode 8 it’s a lot of tense, swashbuckling fun. Even if it’s weird that the pirates are so bad at sailing in moderately bad weather.


*Funnily enough in 1724, the year of Johnson’s publication, the biggest draw at Tyburn execution grounds was not a pirate but serial escape artist Jack Shepherd, who deserves his own place in your game.

Bonus links: Digital Domain did a bunch of the fx for Black Sails. The way they construct scenes is fascinating.
The inestimable Dirk Puehl retells Long Ben Every’s capture of the Ganj-i-Sawai here.
The Spanish Galleon that later becomes the Revenge is probably based on the Nuestra Senhora de la Concepcion y de las Animas (1690).
Cindy Villar‘s Pirates and Privateers pages are pretty great.

It is characteristic of the show that somebody makes a passing joke about a missing character that he’s probably gone to Port Royal to meet up with Avery – both are missing in 1715, Avery is presumed either to have disappeared into a respectable life god knows where or to have been killed by some murderhobo or to have been bilked out of his fortune by Devomnshire merchants (which would be typical of Devonshire merchants but there’s the problem of where the money would’ve gone from there). Port Royal sank into the sea like Sodom, Atlantis or Irem of the Pillars in the earthquake of 1692. And nobody comments or explains the joke.

Arduin fumbles

May 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Went looking for a specific thing at Jeff’s Gameblog, came away with this instead.
It’s always rewarding going for a stroll through those posts. It’s like a garden of gonzo.
“You amputate your own arm. It writhes for a while before falling still. 2 days later, it reanimates as a zombie arm and relentlessly attempts to strangle you.”

Khairul Hisham’s Dieselpunk Nusantara demands to see your papers

May 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Dieselpunk Nusantara hybrid character design for a commission. 8-12th century Srivijaya warrior merged with WW1 troop complete with a Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun.