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Countercolonial Heistcrawl: some maps

August 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Over the past year or so I’ve concluded that the best way to make progress on CCH is to start a campaign, and for that I need some campaign materials – factions, equipment/units, characters… and maps.
…..for player-facing maps I like period productions a lot, with all their elisions and doubts:

hendrik-hondius

Here’s the whole spice islands region, a couple of thousand miles across.

If you’re playing non-Europeans there are excellent reasons for not using these European charts. Still I think the style gain from using something more culturally appropriate…
1447004582-377_Ramayana-Scene-from-Wat-Phra-Kaeo--a061
is probably exceeded in usefulness by the gain in clarity of using something more recognisably map-like, with some pretensions to uniform scale.

…all that said, charts on a suitable scale for tactical encounters are really a recent development, and CCH’s landscape isn’t supposed to map precisely onto Earth’s (after all, I want players to contribute their own islands without fear of having Indonesians or Malaysians complaining that they’re misrepresenting their people), so I’m moving away from just using Google Maps co-ordinates.

Blah blah blah here’s an area map for the game, lifted and lightly toasted from some geographically-appropriate islandy bits – obviously, ignore text and (most) roads marked on it. Hexes are 6 (nautical) miles across, so this map is about 150 nm wide:
cch_play_area1_rough

The game starts at 2 tiny islands that are rather dimly-outlined on this map – here, zoomed in and highlighted:
glowy_tactical_area
Here’s a tactical-scale map of those islands  – hexes are 100 yards (20 hexes to a nautical mile), per the last post’s ship combat rules:
phiphi_BOTH_HEXGRID_rough

Water depth in this last map is keyed to the draught of different ships – a big East Indiaman can sail safely in the darkest part, the lighter part would be deep enough for a size 3 cargo vessel, the lightest blue is for size 2, 1 and reed galleys only, and white is exposed beach sand.
No prize for identifying the islands I swiped for either of these – in fact, if you research them it’ll probably mislead you.

Dutch ships in the 17th century: a diorama for CCH

December 9, 2013 3 comments

One day soon (goaded by Michael Moscrip) I’ll post an actual thoughtful gaming article full of usable goodness, but from now until Christmas it’s gonna be lazy photoposting.

I’ve talked before at length about the diorama as an art form and a form of knowledge (and if you want more of that go read Steve Quinn‘s delightful book and hunt through the archives at fuckyeahdioramas). This here, though, is (a) pure pleasure; (b) a handy establishing shot of the Borg Invasion Fleet for Counter-colonial Heistcrawl –
the diorama of the Texel roadstead at the Jutters Museum, on Texel in the North Netherlands:

all

Texel is an island just off the coast of north Holland, strategically situated where the unfettered North Sea hits the sheltered and shallow “inner” or South Sea (Zuiderzee). The island has abundant water that stays drinkable for an unusually long time in barrels (due to some mineral inclusion I don’t really understand) and livestock. Through the period of the East India Companies the “roadstead” (shallow narrows between the island and the mainland) was the premier staging point for fleets leaving the Netherlands in all directions.

texel_map

Ships would gather at Texel to wait for a favourable wind and tide to sweep them out into the North Sea and English Channel – sometimes for months at a time. They would be repaired and refitted and emptied of cargo and filled with fresh crew while at anchor in the Roads. If you wanted to gauge Netherlands sea power, your best bet was to hang out at Texel.

The diorama shows it “sometime late in the 17th century” – before the lustre had gone off the Golden Age. And I don’t know how many ships is has, but it’s a lot.

fluit

If you plan to play CCHeistcrawl and you really want to be alarmed about the navies that will grow up out of the first half of the 17th century, check out Willem van de Velde’s pictures of them arrayed against each other, fighting over ownership of the Atlantic:

1280px-De_slag_bij_Terheide_-_The_Battle_of_Schevening_-_August_10_1653_(Willem_van_de_Velde_I,_1657) velde_schoonevelt

The diorama shows merchant ships, whalers, fighting ships. Ships with battle damage from one of the Anglo-Dutch Wars:

battle-damage

Warships whose decorated spiegel sterns bespeak notable captains.

spiegel

Little service vessels bustling around the great hulls like birds on a hippopotamus.

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And everywhere contrasts: between the big ships and the little houses of the people that serve them:

2-frigatesbeach-houses

between those houses and the cannon fort that defends the mouth of the Roads:

fort

and between the costly business of war and the ruthless efficiency of Dutch trade:

battle-damage-2simple_fluit

that last image – the Baltic fluyt – is what the Dutch want to bring to the East Indies. Minimal crew, narrow deck, hull stretched out for cargo like an old shoe. That’s the ship that feeds the kitchens of Amsterdam with grain. Useless for fighting, optimally adapted for bulk extraction of resources. It only operate in places where you’ve already won the wars. In our own timeline it won’t be a practical instrument of colonialism until after the 1760s, and then it’ll be the English who wield that power, and they’ll adopt the faster Blackwall Frigate, and later the even faster clipper:

D9898THE Sea Witch

In the meantime (1600-1800, more or less) the Dutch will rely on their big East Indiamen, difficult to tell apart from warships:

van_strij1790 voc ship and warship detail

(the East Indiaman is on the right), heavily armed and crewed – vehicles for soldiers, sailors (European, Chinese and Malay), guns and pepper. They’ll station old, leaky ones on port defense and shuttle routes around the Java Sea, and use them to provide an artillery backbone for the fleets of native canoes and caracoas that will fight all those obscure internecine wars between local princes that will slowly, but surely, grow their influence and colonies and arrogance.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 2.41.59 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 2.41.30 PM…unless you stop them.

But they won’t be easily dissuaded. See, the Indies trade will supercharge their economy – which they need because they’re already in massive growth of population and a war for independence with Spain. From 1600 t0 1665 Amsterdam, hub of the Indies trade, will grow sharply, from this:

amsterdam1600

to this (click to make much, much bigger):

Amsterdam1662

It’s the realisation of a plan they come up with in 1610 – the year CCH begins – because right then they can see that they’re going to need a lot more city. For more and bigger houses, to accommodate their wealth. And although not all that growth can be credited to the East India trade (and it’s hard anyway to pick apart the influence of one trade among many in forming a commercial hub and economic powerhouse), some specific centres can be identified directly as indispensible parts of the machine:

Amsterdam1662_comments

Reward for getting this far: a bunch of fun dioramas from fuckyeahdioramas, including some delightful Japanese whaling ones especially for Arnold K:

tumblr_lfutbbGcD91qbua3eo1_1280tumblr_lfusjiPq8B1qb7smmtumblr_lfusk3B7gI1qb7smmtumblr_lfusku0GrA1qb7smmtumblr_lfuslq5nry1qb7smm      tumblr_lfusldSBJU1qb7smm tumblr_lijnluUUR91qz6rwyo1_1280  tumblr_l4t6qxuQnL1qzpyz2o1_1280 325494.tifordovician_life-500tumblr_lbw52rhVcA1qa1853 tumblr_m96v87G7ee1qz53p8o1_1280  tumblr_lihd9odGV41qdn731o1_12806329678_500

Our archipelago (Counter-colonial heistcrawl could be the new Sea of Osr)

November 22, 2013 3 comments

Guys, I am astonished and humbled by the response to Counter-colonial Heistcrawl, and it hasn’t even started yet.

I’m running this campaign a bit differently from usual: it’s more of a collaborative creation. I know some parts,* but the players are coming up with others. In particular and right off the bat, they’re creating their home islands, shortly to be contacted and eventually colonized (if the players don’t do anything about it) by Perfidious Dutch and English men. And they are, without exception, exceptional. Like, damn.

First, Patrick Stuart’s Pat-Te-Chack-Ha, the island at the centre of the world.”Remember almost everything in the world is poisonous. The only way to avoid the poisons is to get exactly the right foods and mix them in exactly the right way. If you do this, the poisons cancel each other out. If you go ‘out there’ to the edges of the world and you see anyone mixing foods when they eat, always do exactly the same thing. …You can always cancel out a tabu or a sin with a different tabu or sin. But they have to be exactly right. If you can keep your actions even, you will be ok when you die.”

While James Young’s Kuna Kuna is at the end of the world.
“When your baby is born …you must choose the fate of your child. Carve a secret symbol into the walls of a god’s old chamber, do not tell anyone what you chose. This gives your baby the protection of that god’s children. When you are close to death you may tell your child the secret symbol you carved those years ago. If your child is far away you must tell another, but that person must tell your child as quick as he can or bring calamity on both. This is a spell of oath.”

Jason has sneaked some AmTart under the bamboo fence with his Cooly Islands:”In the end a new leader was appointed. The fairest skinned of our people, Los Blanco. His first act was to take control of the waterways and that was a wise thing. He starved out many traitors and those who clung to the Old Ways. He adopted the ways of a new God and killed those who did not follow.”

All I know about Evan of Gamepieces’ character so far is that he distrusts coins and giant floating stone heads.
“Why would a monarch affix his head to a small metal disc? To spy on his subjects, naturally! And when the disk in question is a precious metal, endowed with that metal’s charms, its medicinal properties, etc. the disk may on these accounts readily find its way into the hands of the innocent. (We must grudgingly acknowledge the awful cleverness of these tactics.)”

Undeniably Arnold of Goblinpunch’s islanders have a thing about whales. But probably only because they have a thing about the Leviathan. Here: “When Toa-Makakang gave birth to the Leviathan, the sky was torn asunder and the stars fell to the earth.  The earth spat venom, to kill the Leviathan, and from the cloud-mansions there issued lightning to strike the creature dead.  Finally, all of the waters of the earth came and piled atop Balalang, to drown the Leviathan.  We all drowned then.

But the Leviathan devoured the poison, and became venomous.  Then it grew its ten-thousand triangular scales that rattle in the light, and the lightning slid off.  Finally it swallowed all of the water of the oceans, and grew larger than any other thing.

“Finally, it devoured the gods.”

His Centerra setting kinda explores the same colonial themes. I have to mine it for What We Know About the Farangs.

So much good here. Go read it all.

And reproduced in full, because AFAIK it’s only on G+ so far, Scott knows his NOI:
LONGER BOATS ARE COMING TO WIN US
RAIN IS HAPPENING

Shit, on my island of  Perseroanterbatastelekomunikasindonesie Terbuka the language we talk is Bahasa Riau Malay and if I wasn’t making a effort to tone it down it would strike you eight parts of nine dead with the bright and vulgar lightning of it. That’s our fucking magic. Where I come from the ocean is endless and dark and cold and there are islands strung across it like singing brass lanterns. We live at the bottom of that sea. Deal with it.

You guys probably don’t have the words for “nieuw” and “oud” yet, you can barely wrap your sarongs around “alt” and “altar.” Cool. So better not say I’m from the island of “new” rice.  Strike you eight-ninths dead. I come from the island of “unfamiliar” rice, “far” rice, for all you know “better” rice. Once you have had this rice, man, you will not go back, fuck no you will not. Even if you might want to.

My island is beyond all your lost horizons. It is here now. We are forty birds on this boat in search of our king. Each and every one of your souls is a bird.

I had a dream of the coming of longer boats bearing a strange gamelan made of string as well as brass. They are harder than the black robes and plumes in Malacca and their gamelan plays too fast even for me. It sounds like this. Once they come the world is guaranteed to be over but the cargo of that voyage, the “transition,” will follow slower behind the lightning like the bright memory behind your eyes, or like thunder. We can tune that thunder into words like flocks of birds you can number in the hundreds.

I will not be here long and will not talk a lot in order to give your fucking sensitive ears a break. We will not be going to my island because it will kill you eleven ninths dead with the sheer light and noise of it. I like to fight and cook the rice.
— Bobby Suharto

* I said I knew some things, right? Here:
a first set of character classes (though we might not use a class system),
Jeff’s 20 questions, from local and interloper perspectives

Also check out the Counter-colonial Heistcrawl tag for a heads up on other hazards. Kraken not included.

Picture bonus for getting this far: all from the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. Which, BTW, also has some better photos of its collection online, if you can navigate the site. Their Papua webspecial is just plain amazing but takes some fiddling to figure out.

Also I just found out about the Virtual Collection of Asian Masterpieces. Wow. I mean, I don’t like the masterpiece agenda much, but still, stuff from 55 museums in one place.

IMG_4778 IMG_4780 IMG_4632 IMG_4642 IMG_4656 IMG_4684 IMG_4688 IMG_4694 IMG_4700 IMG_4718

What I learned today on Google+

February 15, 2013 2 comments

1. fighting the Kraken should be like fighting a pack of wild dogs. A couple of tentacles keep you attention, and then when you’re occupied with them, another one will dart in from the back and pick off a straggler. If you all go back to back and hold fast it’ll step up to an overwhelming 4 tentacles on one person, so at least part of your group has to turn to face the massive threat, and then it’s back to seizing people from behind.

8 attacks a round will piss off even quite patient Old Schoolers. Also the DnD books are insane when it comes to animal combat and this just might be the way in to understanding the deep veins of insanity elsewhere. But it’s still a fun game.

2. to keep Scrap Princess happy, allow longer weapons to get initiative until the opponent gets a successful attack in. Actually I’m thinking of allowing a contested roll system for someone with a polearm or similar to hold of a daggeriste – you both roll, if the polearmer gets the higher result (modded) then they hold the other off, and maybe they get +2 or summat for using the scenery (narrow corridor, sofas, flames, lava).

3. don’t have one player’s failure nobble another. Or, rather, if you’re going to have collective success/failure, let everyone at least try to influence the result. And point out to them that they can do so if they’re being quiet.

4. “don’t put any treasure in you don’t want the party to be able to get.” Roger Giner-Sorolla. This is so true. I accidentally put a bunch of enormous bombs in my players’ path and now they have enormous bombs to use on any obstacle. Well, not quite bombs. Luckily I’m OK with any part of the setting getting blown up. Except for that total Mary Sue pit boss ruling over the Dangerous Gas Mine. D’oh! Bombs and gas mine!

5. How to succeed in my games: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN rather than rushing in – observe what’s going on. TRY TALKING RATHER THAN STARTING WITH VIOLENCE combat is always a good way to get killed: if you must approach with violence, do it from cover, with mines and/or sniping – but if you’re going to talk, starting from cover/a distance isn’t a bad idea because you don’t know if they’re friendly. IMAGINE THE SITUATION IS HAPPENING IN REAL LIFE not in a game. I am imagining that your PC is a fairly ordinary person trying to climb that wall, not a badass leaping climbing machine or a Lost Vikings type game piece with the maneuver climb anything. If the situation seems dangerous, that’s not a signal that we’ve entered the exciting music scene and it’s time to start with the whirling kung fu moves. It’s a signal that you’re in danger and you’ll have to think to minimize your chance of dying.

6. LIFE IMITATES ART: Meteors strike Chelyabinsk, on the Russia/Kazakhstan border. Captured (partly) on video. Ahem: Carcosa Wacky Races opening, April 2012 –
A small figure in baggy robes stands atop it all. He gestures and great sails unfurl, showing the form of a luminescent bird with the figure at its head. He touches his throat and his voice booms out across the desert:

“…erm, yes. Hello. Um, you have been summoned! From… afar! because I – that is, the Seers of Otrar – have seen a Fall! A farishta of the Overworld will fall tonight, probably in the mountains just to the north over there. Your task is to collect its Black Casket. Your reward – the Prize! The Grand Prize! Is the rest of the farishta – its body, its, um, raiment! Never before has such a Prize been offered!”

He looks up at the sky, then at his hand. “And-”
Abruptly the sky is split by a brilliant streak of light and a deafening crack. In eerie silence a bright orange flash blooms on the northern horizon, followed by a dull red mushroom cloud. Then the bone-shaking boom of a shockwave knocks you all flat and hurls the scaffold away across the desert to the south. When the dust settles the little man is standing among the vehicles, jumping up and down, shouting “I was right! I was right!”

“Well what are you all waiting for? Go! Before those bastards up in Ulaanbatur get it!”

…so what’s so special about Chelyabinsk? Well, it’s about the most Tartary location imaginable – secret nuclear research facility, site of the worst nuclear powerplant accident before Chernobyl, on the Kazakh border, decidedly Cold War sounding official response from Russia Times:

Police in the Chelyabinsk region are reportedly on high alert, and have begun ‘Operation Fortress’ in order to protect vital infrastructure…
“Do not panic, this is an ordinary situation we can manage in a couple of days,” the governor said in and address to city residents.
Background radiation levels in Chelyabinsk remain unchanged, the Emergency Ministry reported.

superman arrivalScreen+shot+2012-07-24+at+10.09.40+AM

Reward for getting this far, and via Jez Gordon of Giblet Blizzard: the amazing, varied, mysterious art of Kay Nielsen – an artist whose work I have seen from time to time and I’ve been tormented that I didn’t know who it was and therefore couldn’t find more. Now fixed.
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kay_rapunzel

Kay_nielsen_chernabog

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.

The sorcerer Bakchkan

October 3, 2012 1 comment

Bakchkan stalks Tartary, often in disguise, always causing trouble. He may appear as an Emir or vizier, a visiting merchant loaded with Cathay silks, an angel or a genie or a corner fruit seller (and very, very rarely as a beggar).

Like The Doctor or Gandalf he’s a player of the long game, maneuvering in a dance that began in untold ages past. His actions therefore frequently appear mysterious or nonsensical. Why does he elevate a loser on the street to the royal court? Why does he lift up one prince and cast down another? He is evidently among the very few classical magicians of Tartary, so why does he so rarely use those lightning-throwing powers to get what he wants more directly?

In particular, ask the stage-manager-sorcerers who work the mecharena circuit of Baluchistan, 

why does he insist on making a great show of “dropping the ball” and letting the people see behind the illusory-magical curtain? It’s like he wants to sabotage the trade or something.

For all his inscrutability, Bakchkan has a soft spot for neerdowell adventurers and rarely upsets their schemes – unless there’s some deeper plot afoot (so if he mucks up the PCs’ action it’s a fair bet that something’s going on they don’t know about yet… and watching the sorcerer might be a key to finding out about it). As a patron, he tends to offer the moon at the price of the world. And he’s always gone before the fallout hits.

One thing about Bakchkan, at least, is not a mystery – once an enterprising your engineer snatched brief notoriety by stealing The Big B’s aftershave and demonstrating that it had an uncanny effect on all around him – like a mass charm spell, it caused everyone who smelled it to misrecognize the wearer as a friend, a patron, a master or a king.

It was while the young engineer was exploiting its effects to be seen as a lover that the scent abruptly wore off, leading to the engineer’s execution and a thorough reshuffling of the palace staff in the Qaghanate of Herat.

You Know Me (5th level MU spell, available as a potion)

The caster or imbiber can convince all around them that they are a friend, a lover, a trusted confidant or any other role they choose. All who can see the caster or are within smelling range of the imbiber must save vs spells or misrecognize the caster/imbiber as the persona they have adopted. The caster/imbiber must act out their chosen persona in words, manner and gestures, but may otherwise do whatever they wish. Most often the effect is used to infiltrate palaces or sneak past guard trolls but it is known that Bakchkan once spent an entire month living in the harem of the Sultan of Bishkek as one of the Sultan’s most senior and favoured wives – a role in which he was accepted by the Sultan, the guards and, more surprisingly, the previous senior wife.

The effect does not work on machines or optical devices: a photograph would show the caster clearly, although it would not dispel the illusion that clings to the caster’s person – it would merely show that somebody was around that could not be seen normally.

By the way, if you’ve been wondering what all Jason Kielbasa’s recent dance-off posts have to do with my mecha/carcosa wacky races setting, well (a) you haven’t been paying attention and (b) this.

And if you’d really like that done to death, here.

trade goods by theft rating

September 25, 2012 4 comments

Somehow over the past 2 weeks I’ve missed a great series of posts by Telecanter about procedural/random trading games. Right at the beginning of that series he asked about lists of trade goods and what might make for a short memorable set of actually fun trade items (the first goal being to make trade an interesting part of the game, D&Trav style, and the second goal being to not have the players go “really? 3 weeks as pirates and all we have to show for it is millet?”). His list is a good length and evokes a fairly specific milieu, which is to say generic-DnD (or as I like to call it, 1630 Amsterdam).

But I thought: what makes trade goods fun? How would you rank and classify trade goods by their fun potential?

…how would you go about stealing them?

Small: requires a 2-man con, typically 5-30 minutes:
gold*; precious stones; ambergris, incense, exotic perfumes, nutmeg; foreign collectible ephemera; incriminating coins; letters; passports/permits for extraordinary behaviour; declarations of war, property, inheritance or price hikes; erotic statuary that embarrasses the local bishop-prince; homunculi or genie lamps; poisons, potions, medicines; keys; crystal balls, magic compasses, hypnotic pets; deep secrets of the universe; insignia of office.

Medium: 5-man con with a handcart or dray:
High-grade cognac, laudanum, rare concoctions; worldeconomychanging seedlings; gunpowder; cinnamon; experimental small arms; enriched uranium; invasive species; quarantined pets; silver, amber, furnishings, mirrors, pearl-handled arquebuses, spice-boats, models of revolutionary fortifications/ships/catapults/oubliettes/hydraulics; experts, spies, witnesses; mermaids, circus freaks, incognito princelings; carpets, tapestries, silkworms, finely carved writing desks suspected of containing hidden drawers; clockwork automata, enigma machines; cultural signifiers of authority.

Large: you’ll need a crane:
Cannons; cacao trees; meteorites; rum, wine, champagne; coffee, tea; qat; experimental vehicles, engines, battlesuits; elephants, giraffes, prize bulls; cult statues; shrines containing the Truth of the World; silks; horses, pigs, alpacas, young dragons; devil-summoning pipe organs; durian; glue; masts, spars, anchors, vital ship parts, deck knees; roc eggs; fused-together crew members; Thark lances; disabled fliers, Montgolfier balloons, fighting kites, diving bells, MRI scanners; terracotta golems; sarcophagi.

XL. Just steal the goddamn ship:
Grain, pepper, coriander, sugar or anything else that’s just loaded loose in the hold; quicklime; coal, coke, anthracite, mercury, saltpetre, cinnabar; glazed temple bricks, carved marble capitals from the First Cathedral of Constantinople/Temple Mount/Parthenon, guardian statues; fishtanks, narwhals, hallucinatory groves for transplanting whole into imperial gardens; bitumen, lamp oil, kerosene, nitroglycerine, Greek Fire, Azoth, skrying pools; strategic relief maps; dimensional gates; ships.

Note: stases and totems containing gods and monsters may be found at all these scales.

* Gold may be “small” in historical settings but it’s probably at least “medium” in vanilla DnD and may be “large” in anime-inspired settings. Tartary, being tied to flailsnails, is much richer in gold than I’d like it to be. If anyone has any suggestions on what to do about that I’d love to hear them.