Posts Tagged ‘maps’

Countercolonial Heistcrawl: some maps

August 2, 2016 2 comments

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:


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…
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:

The game starts at 2 tiny islands that are rather dimly-outlined on this map – here, zoomed in and highlighted:
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:

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.

Counter-colonial Heistcrawl Rules v 0.1

July 28, 2016 2 comments

To people waiting for TikinD part 2, sorry, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.
To people who’ve been waiting for CCH for like a decade, well…. this is very far from complete but it’s the best way I know to share the current state and crowdsource feedback on it. I would like to start running CCH in the fall this year (hahahaha), so this is trying to get that moving. If you’d like to play over hangouts, please comment here or on G+

The basic concept: it’s 1610. You are ordinary inhabitants of a more-or-less historical Southeast Asian archipelago that looks and smells a lot like the Spice Islands.

The Portuguese have been around for a century and everyone hates them, but they’re more or less stalled. Now the Dutch have shown up and they’re like the Portuguese on steroids. They’ve already attacked 2 islands and demanded tribute, so what are you going to do?
The obvious answer is: UNITE THE PEOPLE! GET ALL FLASH GORDON ON IT AND THROW OUT MING. This might be that game. It’s not so easily done, though – there’s already the Portuguese and Spanish (ugh), there are English people sniffing around (smell like Dutch but pretend to be nicer?), there’s Chinese mafias and expansionist Mappilas from India and warring sultans and roving bands of slavers and the Japanese are acting weirdly secretive and expansionist at the same time. And there are even actual Ming loyalists (Chinese Ming, like the porcelain), who say they need to take China back from someone or other. And something’s got the old spirits all riled up.

Oh yeah, spirits.
They’re everywhere but it’s easy to think they don’t exist. The Dutch don’t seem to believe in them, although some people say they’re working for some big dark spirit. Sometimes you can catch them in contracts, or in jars, but that’s dangerous work. Think Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and Yokai and… sure, Pokemon I guess.

Mechanically it’s some sword-waggling, piratical RPGing on a more-or-less DnD mould and some Civilisation-type domain gaming – if Civ were based on actor-network theory and not Toynbee/Gordon Childe technological determinism. When people join together to do actions they do them better, so even on the rowboat where you start, you should be thinking about yourselves as a unit, not a party of individuals.

Wait, what? Combining together

Essentially, you’re like slightly lower-powered Risus characters – you have 3d in your professional skill, 2d in a second skill and 1d in a hobby and you roll off against your opponent and the winner wins the round, and then they erode the enemy’s ability to resist by 1d, demonstrating to them that they have entered a death spiral and should make alternative plans. Fine.

BUT unlike Risus if a friend comes to help you, then together you can add 1d to the skill of whoever is taking the lead. If a total of 5 people band together then they can roll one roll at +2d. 10 people makes +3d, and so it goes, 20, 50, 100, 200 etc etc.
To usefully add to a skill, at least half the people combining must have at least 1d in it or something related. (I thought about going with strict doubling ie powers of 2 but I figured (a) people might be more familiar with the old coinage 1-2-5-10 scheme and (b) if anyone was really fussy about the numbers and power steps that might be a sign that this isn’t the game for them.)

Sure, there are some things this won’t work for (proverbially, making broth. More obviously, sneaking), but for building ships or castles, or for fighting, or for persuading local rulers/godlings of your sincerity, it works great.

And if you can add boats or cannons or pikes or walls to your efforts, then you can get bonus dice from that too (*full, flawless, intuitive system/schema TBD).

So, obviously, splitting apart

…is the key to the whole exercise. Add to your network, weaken the enemy’s. And that’s why it’s a heistcrawl: mostly you’re 2-5 randos out in the weeds trying to make trouble for the world’s greatest and most ruthless exponents of capitalism. So you fetch up outside a coastal fort full of wine-soaked Portuguese dons, bristling with cannons, and…
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 11.48.14
what? Frontal attack? Hardly. The trick might be to sneak in, poison the well (penalty to numbers, fighting ability), plant contradictory orders (dividing officers and forces), kidnap the priest’s girlfriend (sabotaging a morale specialist), wet the powder and spike the guns. Then gather all the drunks and ruffians you can find and charge the fort yelling as hard as you can, watch the Portuguese flail around, get cursed by their magic man, fail to fire anything and eventually run off into the jungle where you can pick them off 1 and 2d at a time.


So it’s not quite Risus. You get 3 skills/tropes – one at 3d, one at 2d, one at 1d. They should be of the breadth of sailing, gunnery, melee, riding, shipbuilding, animalcraft, plantcraft, spirit sense – not as narrow as “sword” nor as broad as “thief.”

Also choose a profession. This is what you appeal to when you say “but I should be able to do this because I’m a _” and it gives you 1D or a default roll off your attributes when successfully invoked. Example professions include: pirate, smuggler, concubine, procurer, medium, monk, bodyguard/mafia hood, magistrate, spirit medium, cunning man, builder, fisherman, whaler, scout, merchant, legal opiner, scholar, “viking” slaver, diver, navigator

Also roll 6 DnD type stats, but only record the bonuses/penalties (+1 for 13-15, +2 for 16-17, +3 for 18). These are straight numeric mods (eg 3d for archer +1 for dex bonus) except if there’s a pure exercise of attribute (eg bend bars/lift gates for str), in which case you can roll it as dice like a skill. Wis is perception of spirits, Cha doubles as magic power.

Default status

is freeman/basic sailor/soldier/merchant’s agent/farmer.
majapahitmarineun8    rasinah

If you’re secretly a ship captain/priest/village judge/longhouse master/princess that’s fine, write your story. But you start the game without the benefit of that higher status because you’re far from home and nobody cares.


Also you don’t get a Risus-type thematically-appropriate comedy backpack of tools. Life is hard and people with a lot of loot tend to get stabbed in the Moluccas.

Level of Destitution (d6)
  1. shipwrecked. You have sodden clothing and personal effects up to earrings, hair ornaments. Also roll 1d6+8 on Table B. Save vs. INT or you’re also suffering from amnesia
    2. where’d you get that? roll 1d6+14 on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
    3. one good friend. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus roll d8 twice on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
    4. practically minded. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus d12 twice on Table A and 1d6 on Table B
    5. expert scavenger. You have a machete plus 3d20 on Table A
    6. Temporarily distressed person of substance: roll 3d20 on table A, 2d12 on table B

** a kris or a marlinspike or a feely map or spirit-wrangling flywhisk or grapnel/multitool or 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. small raft (size 1)
10. mirror
11. rope (50′)
12. grappling hook/anchor
13. pouch with 20 silver dirhams
14. musical instrument
15. hammer, chisel, pick + 8 iron spikes
16. writing box and seal
17. arquebus + 10 shots
18. small barrel of gunpowder.
19. Barrel of arrack
20. 3 caskets grape shot, with powder

Table B

1. lucky medallion (re-roll 1 failed saving throw)
2. potion of healing
3. lockable iron-bound chest
4. guard animal (dog, lynx, monkey or similar)
5. riding or pack animal (camel, pony, goat)
6. size 2 boat
7. armor: scale or exotic
8. loyal family retainer ( a standard grog with a couple of charming quirks).
9. map
10. book – holy text or instruction manual
11. holy symbol or badge of office
12. spirit in a jar
13. slip of paper with a spirit contract – eat and then specify what you need
14. bird in a cage that repeats spirit chatter

Mustering-out Hooks

You may draw once or twice from the Barrel of Many Things

Things in the world that have something to do with you:
  1. a ship
  2. a fort, bay or haven
  3. a contact – smuggler, informant, fence, carpenter, smith, spirit go-between
  4. a weapon – cannon, bomb, spirit, blackmail, poison, disease
  5. a debt – blood, goods, mafia, spirit
  6. a diminished god from a foreign land
  7. a massive cache of gunpowder
  8. several gallons of the interloper’s “holy water”
  9. a sibling rival – kite pilot, long-distance swimmer, pirate, magistrate/king/official
  10. the washed-up corpse of something massive
  11. a spring that bubbles with blood or a cistern filled with teeth
  12. Hungry Grandmother’s bottle of secrets
  13. a funeral barge, surrounded by silence
  14. a Dark Child
  15. a commander of the invaders, disgustingly ill, on a mission
  16. one of the enemy’s ships, on the edge of mutiny
  17. one of the enemy’s Holy Books, foolishly translated into a tongue we understand
  18. the ashen remains of an ancient Obsidian Queen’s funeral pyre
  19. a relic of a foreign saint
  20. one of the teeth of Brother Shark
Your relation to it:
  1. It’s rightfully yours but currently captive
  2. It’s marked on this map
  3. It’s known to be abandoned, there for taking,
  4. It’s lost in a useful way
  5. It’s in danger from something esoteric
  6. It’s been swiped by an enemy
  1. you are blessed/cursed in some way
  2. you are bonded/owed in some way
  3. you have a mysterious ally/enemy
  4. your memories/skills/loyalties/reputation/status/soul have been stolen/augmented/crippled/replaced
  5. your tribe’s priest/captive spirits need you and only you
  6. you are a captive spirit


If you achieve some goal or do something remarkable that really changes the world around you in a session (lay demon to rest, steal large ship, rout fort, corner the market in candles made from Europeans) add 1 skill point. To increase a skill, beat its current value in points (4 points allows you to increase a 3d skill to 4d).

Ship combat

I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to get here.

We play on hex maps because we are geeks an they suit our tastes.

1 hex = 100 yards. 20 hexes = 1 nautical mile

1 round = 1 minute.

You cannot sail into the hexside from which the wind is blowing.

You can row in any direction.

Ship size

Ship size refers to a combination of factors – for sailing ships it maps closely to the crew requirements, which also model the number of dice of skill required to control the ship.

If a ship has double the crew required, all rolls are at +1 (not +1 die, just +1). Once you have twice as many crew as the ship requires, the remainder are simply passengers (or, more likely, a second or third Watch, allowing the ship to operate while some crew members are asleep).

Ships will founder if their cargo capacity is exceeded. 1 crewman or passenger may be carried per ton of cargo capacity left open for them.

If the crew is too small for the ship’s requirements, the ship resists sailing – roll its size in dice against the commander’s skill (with mods). Most ships have their own spirit – if this can be persuaded it may add to the commander’s dice pool or simply allow command.

A ship of Size 1 = 1 crew required; raft, rowboat: carries 1 ton or less of cargo in addition to the crewman.
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.12.28.png
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.01.26.png

Size 2 = 2 crew required. Typically 15-40’ sailing boat. Typically carries 1-10 tons of cargo/passengers. Cutter, workboat, pinnace
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.10.19.png

Size 3 = 5 crew required. Typically carries 10-60 tons. Prahu, large Sampan, small Junk/Jong, Dutch sailing barge, small dhow, small galley
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.10.27.png

Size 4 = 10 crew required of which 1 mate in addition to captain. Typically carries 60-150 tons. Duyfken, fluyt, Chinese ocean-going junk, large dhow, war galley like in the Battle of Lepanto, average war coracora
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.11.03Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.11.56Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.11.32

Size 5 = 20 crew of which 4 are mates/petty officers. Carries 150-500 tons. Golden Hind, large fluyt, large junk, largest booms, flagship coracora
cch_caracoaScreen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.02.52.png
cch_mayflower cutaway size 5.jpegcch_size5.jpeg

Size 6 = 50 crew, at least 9 of which are mates/officers. 500-2000 tons. East Indiaman, largest junks, largest naus/carracks
cch_batavia_sailingcch_batavia_closebig.jpegScreen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.28.44.pngScreen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.10.42

Size 7 = 100+ crew of which 19 officers. 2000-10000 tons or more. Zheng He’s treasure ships, legendary Srivijaya jongs.
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 11.55.39

Light and Heavy Construction

The baseline construction for ships here is Indian wooden planks, sewn together, cross-braced with decks at size 4+.

Ships may be made lighter – from hides stretched over bamboo frames (for size 1 or 2 only) or from reeds (theoretically any size). This gives them -1D for resisting gun fire, but may give +1 hex movement.

They may also be made heavier – from timbers fastened together with wood or metal nails, with heavy internal bracing. All junks/jongs and European vessels of size 4+ are made this way. This gives +1D to resist gun fire but -1 hex/round speed.

Rowed ships

Rowed ships need 1 step more crew than sailed ships for the same size of ship, so while a size 4 sailing ship requires 10 crew, a size 4 rowed ship requires 20.

If the ship is purpose-built for many rowers (making it a galley) then the number of rowers may be increased by 1 step, increasing speed by 1 hex/round. You cannot increase speed by more than 1 hex/round this way.

Rowed ships can charge for 1 round per die the commander has in leadership. Charging increases speed by 50% (round up).


An English galleas is really made for sailing but may be rowed in extremis. It is heavily built, so -1 hex speed. It is not a galley, so cannot be usefully overmanned with rowers. So if it is adequately manned (10 crew for a size 3 galleas) it may do 1 hex every 2 rounds under oars. If charging it can manage 1 hex/round. For performance under sail see below.

A Timawa coracora is a lightly built (reed) galley and the Viking/slaver Timawa commonly double-crew them. Such a double-crewed coracora can do 3 hexes/round. The Spanish were alarmed to find them capable of burst of 15 knots – that is, they can do 5 hexes/round when charging.

Weather and ship size and range

Weather is rated 0-6

If your skill + help from the crew exceeds the weather, you don’t have to roll. If they’re equal/weather is bigger, you roll – its rating is how many dice it rolls. If you lose a roll-off, you take damage to hull strength.

Crew help only counts if it’s from officers – you should have 1 officer per 10 crew. All officers must have at least 3d (professional level) in an applicable skill (sailing or leadership). So if for example you have 3d in captaining and a size 4 ship (10 crew, including 1 officer/first mate) then conveniently you get 4d skill to go with your size 4 ship.

0 = becalmed. Ranges can extend to full, only rowers can move.

1 = breeze suitable for dinghies, no penalties for anyone moving, cannons etc limited to 5 hexes effective range. All sailing craft do 1 hex/round (modified for build, as noted above).

2 = windy. 2 hexes/round.

3 = topgallant breeze/choppy. Size 3+ do 3 hexes/round, size 1 or 2 and galleys do 2 hexes in their desired direction and drift downwind 1 hex

4 = gale. Size 3+ can do 2 and drift 1 downwind. Size 1 or 2 and galleys do 2, drift 2.

5 = storm. All ships do 1, drift 3

6 = hurricane. Drift 5.

So e.g: the Duyfken, a size 4 Dutch jacht, sees a storm on the horizon (weather 5). The captain is professional (3d in captaining) and has 1 mate (out of 10 crew, all as it should be), so they get 4d to roll against the 5d storm. They would be well advised to run for a harbour.

Astute readers will have noticed that large Dutch ships with competent captains and well-ordered crews only have to roll against the worst hurricanes/typhoons. This seems to be historically accurate. Notably, when Dutch ships were lost accounts tended to blame either division in the crew (reducing dice by 1) or a bad officer standing in for the captain or, rarely, pre-existing damage that would’ve given the ship a reduced effective hull size/strength. The latter condition is much more common in English accounts from the 18th century.


If you’re rowing, then turning 1 hex side costs half a hex of movement, rounded up – ie turning 1 or 2 sides costs 1 hex worth of movement. Turning 180 degrees (3 hex sides) costs 2 hexes worth of movement. While turning you do not move forward.

If you’re sailing, it costs half a hex of movement to turn 1 hex side, rounded down. So you can turn 1 hex side for free each round. If you want to turn more than 1 hex side then it costs 1 hex for each 2 sides you turn. Turning 180 degrees (3 sides) costs 1 hex of movement (1.5 rounded down).
Exception:  crossing the wind with the bow (tacking) always costs 1 extra hex of movement for a sailing vessel, so it costs 2 hexes total to tack across the wind – 1 for the 2 hexside turn, 1 extra for crossing the wind. It is therefore equally costly to tack as it is to “wear” ship (turn downwind and then up the other side, crossing the wind while facing away from it or  jibing, to use modern British parlance).


Small arms (arquebuses, bows, spears) only damage ships of size 1.
Swivels only damage ships of size 1 or 2. They might as well always fire grape shot.
Cannons damage everything.


Spear = same hex
Bowshot = 1 hex
Arquebus/snaphance/swivel = 2 hexes
Cannon = 5 hexes
Cannons firing grape shot = 4 hexes
Culverin (long range, small-bore cannon) = 15 hexes

All ranged weapons can shoot at double range for -1d effectiveness. Roll gunner/archer skill of leader, modified by how many weapons are shooting in a volley (2, 5, 10 etc).

Weather limits range of shipboard weapons – becalmed (weather level 0) allows guns to shoot their full range, level 1 limits all weapons’ range to 5 hexes. Every level increase decreases total maximum range by 1 – so at weather 3 cannons have range 3, arquebuses still have range 2, archers still have range 1.


Cannons are carried on 2 even broadsides and optionally a few facing front and back. If there is just one big gun, it faces forward or back.

Damage is by weight of shot and rolled vs hull strength (for round or chain shot) or crew size (for grape shot) – 1lb = 1d, 2lbs = 2d, 5lbs = 3d etc.

The Batavia (size 6) carries 50lbs (6d) of cannons on each side + 10lbs forward and back.

If a ship carries more dice of cannons than its size it is overloaded and at -1d against weather.

Culverins are special long range cannons (15 hexes). They are never larger than 8lbs each. Really truly they shoot half the poundage of balls we count them as, but it doesn’t matter because the guns and powder charges and damage are all doubled so just count them like other guns but long range.

Hazards of cannons

Most cannons are bronze (“brass”). These can fire 1d6+2 times in a battle before they heat up and risk exploding (cannoneer’s skill sets the limit – roll vs 2d difficulty)

Iron cannons are strangely unpopular and poorly controlled, but can potentially be much better than brass (people with money will realize this quite soon).

Any time a crap iron cannon is fired, if it gets all sixes or 4+ sixes on the roll it explodes.

Good iron cannons can shoot indefinitely without risking exploding.

There are also “wood” and “leather” cannons. These might be like crap iron guns or like brass guns or something worse. They definitely don’t sound good and they didn’t catch on once lots of foundries were established, so.

Any cannon can come loose, especially if damaged in combat/storms. A loose cannon goes flying about the deck when fired, forcing its crew to save vs. a messy and sudden death.

by the way… Dubrovnik

September 6, 2013 1 comment

no posts in a long time, and this one’s quick and lazy…

But Dubrovnik’s about as perfect a coastal fantasy fortress town as you could ask to find. And I for one didn’t know about it. Here, have some images and maps (google sat). Just swipe it wholesale; the Croatian tourist authority will probably thank you:


(janettelarobina) The fortifications are intimidatingly huge up close, but overlooked by a cliff, so there’s a catapult challenge.

There’s a straight main street from the harbour to the big gate, suitable for triumphal processions or standoffs between local princes and invading revenants.


The traditional trading circuit takes advantage of currents and also provides a 2-port buffer between the rival principalities. As the old sailor’s saying goes, “Hvar washes away all enmities.”

It dominates an island trading network and maintains an uneasy truce between the Korcula and the Sipangu.


Why do most of those guns face inland?

It keeps a string of vassal forts along the coast and around the islands that would be perfect troublesome gifts for enterprising adventurers.


the amphitheatre and Contesting Pool are useful for public address out of season

It holds annual contests against the King of the Sea, watched by anxious crowds from the surrounding lands, who fear the day that the mer-folk throw off their ancient shackles and destroy the shipping they all depend on.


archaeologists are divided on whether the landship “irrupted” from the soil like a tooth or was blasted out.

It stands guard against the Machines of the Underearth, whose landship thrust out of the ground 1400 years ago and remains, undecayed and indestructible, as a reminder of the contingent nature of human power. The equally undecayed Invasion Bridge has become an indispensable part of the local economy.

And if the PCs arrive as Southern Barbarians, without a Kuna to their name, it offers the infamous Galley-workers’ Barracks for accommodation.


Inmates pay for their food and lodging with labour, and even see a little extra money at the end of the year! It is currently estimated that a galleyman could save enough to buy citizenship after 137 years’ service.

Have two interactive maps and two photo guides for further information/inspiration.


of course, there’s a chain to protect the little harbour’s mouth. The stories of underwater caves leading right beneath the fortress are foolish local legends.

(BTW: on the map kick, check out the change in datasets between google maps’ coverage of post-Yugoslav, kinda-independent Montenegro and weirdo shut-in Albania. One satellite covers the Montenegrin side of the border (with brightly lit river), another has the other side of the river, and a third, older-looking (who knows, really) image takes over from a few miles into the territory. But if you’re short of unfamiliar gaming ground to hexify, just trolling up and down that coast has a bunch of gems for you)

Back to the bad old 6-mile hex

April 8, 2013 4 comments

So the topic of the enormous howling waste of the 6 mile hex has come up again. Here Steamtunnel remarks that all of Bethsoft’s Oblivion fits in a 4 mile square. Commenters note that verisimilitude for computer games is different from what you’d expect in an RPG.

Anyway, it is true: settlements and incident are distributed very unevenly across the land. Monsters and Manuals made this point cogently with some one-mile rectangles around Britain.

Behold Brielle. I know I’ve mentioned it before but that’s because it’s such a great little DnD one-horse town, with room for a blacksmith and a chemist’s and a mill and not much else. We can see from the still-standing 17th century fortifications exactly how big the place was 400 years ago. It’s about a third of a mile long by a fifth of a mile wide. It could probably support itself on… 2 square miles of good farmland? (that would provide 640 people with 2 acres each, which J. P. Sommerville thinks is reasonable and right now I’m too lazy to disagree). So it occupies one small corner of a 6 mile hex.

Leiden’s a more respectable candidate for a “hex of city.” That jagged square of canal-moat gives you an idea (though the boundaries of the city are less certain in fact, since successful towns always break their enceintes). At the time of its great ditch digging, Leiden was a successful linen-weaving town and trade hub, big enough to support some organized crime and intrigue with nearby cities – an ideal place for a major expedition to set off from. It’s about a mile on its long axis by 2/3 of a mile across. Not very different from burgeoning powerhouse Amsterdam in 1600, which would grow to about 4 times that area by virtue of becoming NW Europe’s major entrepot in the first era of global trade.

And between the two, if we were to lay a 6 mile hex grid down, what would we find in the roughly 5 hexes that separate them, during the 17th century (for which we actually have good maps, even if they do show west as up)?

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 11.45.38 AM

On a fairly straight line, representing a reasonable route of travel, 11 noteworthy communities (let’s call them Brielle-sized, more or less) including the regionally important city of Delft. And within convenient reach, two cities of comparable size with Leiden but greater importance: the shipping center of Rotterdam and The Hague, seat of power for the entire Dutch Republic.

My choice of the Dutch Republic is not accidental for this experiment, since it was one of the most densely populated territories in Europe at the time under consideration – it’s a good upper limit for your pseudowhatever.

Now check out the fortified palace district of the Khiva, in Khorasan (Islamdom’s Northeast Frontier province in the 10th century). You can make out the jagged line of the wall fairly clearly there: it’s a more or less N-S rectangle, about the same size as Brielle but with a totally different population profile since it represents the ruling class’s bolthole, surrounded by the unprotected city of the lower classes.

Alas we don’t have any particularly good idea of how big the whole of Khiva was in the 10th century, nor how much (far from good) farmland was required to support it. But check out the density of settlements around it. The much smaller town of Qoshkopir is about 2 hexes away (10 miles), the comparably-large Urgench rejoices in its control of the Oxus river trade route about 3 hexes away. But once you’re out of that oasis and you’ve said farewell to the meagre orchards of Hazorasp, you’re in for a 33 hex journey through friendless desert to Bukhara (more like 36 of you follow the river) or 42 hexes to the Abode of the Mad Archmage at Ashgabad. Or, for that matter, 40 hexes to Merv. Here you have to use your imagination a bit more, since the city is buried under desert scrub. But take my word for it – well over 6 square miles of dense, Ankh-Morporkian/Vornheimian urban life, with a wall around it and a separate fortified ruling quarter within (and another within that), home to (maybe) more than a million people – one of the 12th century’s premier destinations, graced by the astronomer and sometime poet Omar Khayyam, seat of the (latter, diminished) Great Seljuk sultans – it’s truly a hex full of city. On its own oasis, with a whole lot of desert around it in every direction.

What’s my point? Maybe that the 6 mile hex encourages a certain uniformity that’s not very naturalistic – or, rather, that the real world is not always very obliging in providing regular encounters. But also I think the size of hexes isn’t really important in itself: it’s really what that size implies about the world that I find interesting. Hexes tend to represent one unit of interesting stuff, for which it’s worth dropping out of fast-forward travel mode. As such they represent the degree of compression of the narrative (and the overall dangerousness of the region, since hexes also represent repetitive risk of random encounters). In the garden of the Netherlands perhaps a village is hardly worth mentioning – you could trip over a dozen on a day’s hard march. In the open steppe/desert of Khorasan, however, a string of hexes represents a logistical challenge. And one lonely watchtower is worth a playable detour.

I guess I’m saying make your hexes the size you want dramatically. And if you don’t have much to say about a certain tract of country… well, hexes are useful for tracking all sorts of stuff: gun ranges, use of supplies, visibility. I don’t advocate ditching a uniform scale to speed up desert or sea travel. But how about this: when you roll for random encounters, the number you get is the number of hexes until you have to roll again (minus one, so if you roll a 1 it’s an encounter right here). Then the density of encounters can be represented by the size of the die you roll: d4 along the river, d6 across country, d10 across the desert, d20 across the sea.

ETA: oh yeah, some other stuff I wrote about 6 mile hexes: how far you can see across the Greek Islands, and a correction to that post, which shows you can actually see pretty much the whole of the Minoan saltbox from a couple of places.

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some places you can go in Tartary

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 2.38.22 PM

This bit on the pools of water for cooling off old nuclear reactor fuel rods might be directly relevant to my game! (via player Paolo Greco) Especially if my players go to places like these.

But the real point of this post is this here: a google map of some locations in my Tartary game, with captions. As I see it there are 2 great disadvantages to using real-world locations for your game and fantasying them up:
(1) people who can’t tell fantasy from reality might get upset about what you’re saying about their home (especially if you say it’s a great place for radioactive horror);
(2) people who can’t wrap their head around the fact that you’re presenting them with fiction might demand you do more research and get it right. To show respect or some such.

I reckon these quibbles are totally blown out of the water by the fact that now I don’t have to draw a map. And players can point to places in between my Interesting Points and ask me “what’s there and why shouldn’t we use it as our base of operations?”

Also I can update it as the campaign progresses with new data points.

Also, you know these can be collaborative? Like, your players can add disinformation stuff they’ve discovered and map your campaign for with you?

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Ultra simple mecha hack suitable for playing with your kids

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

You will need: Hex map (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), mecha counters showing facing, 1d6. Either paper for each player to record mecha info or, if you want to get fancy, cards to deal out for the Weapons and Specials.

Build your mecha

Draw from a deck of cards or roll dice to select a weapon and a special feature to deck out your giant robot chassis. By default all mecha have 8 HP.

1. Rocket fists: max range 3 hexes, Damage D2 and spin target around 180 degrees
2. Cannon: range 6, damage d2
3. Blunderbuss: range 3, dam. D6, then take a turn to reload
4. Missiles: Minimum range 3, max 6. Damage D6
5. Hatchet: range 1, damage d6
6. Harpoon: range 4, damage d3, drags opponent closer by 1 hex each turn unless opponent breaks the cable by rolling a 6.

Apart from weapons listed above all mecha can punch (range 1, damage 1).

1. stickymines (2 of em): Range 1, autokill in 2 rounds unless the opponent rolls a 6
2. more engine: +1 move point
3. jump jets: move 2 hexes in any direction, end with any facing
4. Armour: +4 HP
5. Can opener: range 1, if you roll a 6 you can steal opponent mecha and your mecha becomes inactive.
6. Super dodge (2 of em): declare before anyone rolls to hit: attack automatically fails.

I say mecha but with a light reskin this could work for Pokemon, Barbie, Lego Friends... you know, with hugs instead of missiles.

I say giant robots but you could reskin this any way you wanted – and who wouldn’t love a version where adorable candystripe ponies blow kisses and give hugs – or maul each other with missiles and hammers?

Turn Order

Roll for initiative to see who moves first. If players have multiple mecha then everyone moves one mecha in initiative order, then everyone’s second mecha etc. After everyone’s moved, everyone gets a chance to turn one hex-side (60°) to react to the new situation.
Then everyone fights: physical attacks first, then shooting. Roll saves/whatever to react to that, take damage.


Mecha can only move straight forward and turn. Each mecha gets 4 movement points every turn to spend on moving forward (1 hex = 1 point) and turning (one hex-side = 1 point).


Range in hexes = your difficulty to hit on 1d6 – so maximum range is 6 hexes. You can shoot/fight into the front 3 hexes only. Physical attacks go first. resolve all damage/death at end of turn.

Ways you can complicate this

All mecha can also Charge (range 1 – into hex directly ahead only, damage = the number of hexes you moved this turn, and the charging mech takes 1 recoil damage)
1 move point to go up or down 1 level (marked on some maps). You cannot cross a boundary of more than 1 level. Roll 3+ to avoid losing 2 move points when entering/crossing water. Roll 4+ to exit a mud/sand hex. To cross a gorge either use jump jets or run 3 hexes in a straight line that turn (to do a running jump).
Each side has multiple mecha, but only one pilot – the rest are remote controlled. Kill the pilot and the whole side goes down.
pilots can run around outside mecha, try to break into mecha: move 1 hex a turn in any direction, roll 5+ to grab onto a mecha and start climbing. Reach cockpit one turn after climbing, roll 6 to get inside. Pilots have 1 HP.


Wampus reskin

Wampus reskin

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Pseudo-medieval city maps

November 13, 2012 6 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

So Chris Kutalik asked for an underworld layer

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

here. And I REALLY REALLY need to be working on something else, but then I figures “better to get it out of my brain and down on paper instead,” so here it is.

Disclaimer: Where I say “Ark” and “Noah” please substitute your own fun – Baldur would be fine, or Dave Bowman or Turkmenbashi or whatever you like. Even Noah, I guess. I kinda like the conceit of the Other Ark, with all the creatures that we don’t see around us.

The ark project – a multi-level “open menagerie” – was either a miserable failure or too successful. Point is, there was never a good moment or method for letting the animals out – things got pretty hairy in there after the second generation of forced evolution. So it was sealed up tight behind a combination lock, the key to which was buried with Noah, and a complicated system was made for controlled release of the animals or for drowning the project altogether… one day.

Millenia passed, the complex fell into ruins, and a few critters have escaped – they roost in the ruined machine halls (blue on the map) around the Ark itself. Now those escaped beasties make the whole place dangerous – especially around the Great Lock in the old entrance hall, which links multiple floors in a big open court. The smarter beasts know what will happen if that door is opened, so they keep a watchful eye on the Lock and try to stop anyone meddling with it.

The machine halls can be flooded individually or the whole complex can be flooded, using the still-working pump houses (green on the map) – to neutralize the threats of beasties in one set of halls or another. Some halls get soak occasionally by malfunctions, though: they contain sea life (giant anemones, nautili and such) that’s dormant unless you flood them back to life. If the whole complex is flooded, folks up on the surface will first notice the level of the river sinking abruptly, then once it’s all flooded, the central Ark piece will break loose and rise up to become a new island in the river.

Treasure can include ancient tech tools and gewgaws (eg “jewels” that are really light-up plastic buttons), knowledge (especially about ancient species/maps of long long ago) and the critters, if they can be captured.

Each of the machine halls is an extensive dungeon complex, as is the Ark itself. Pump houses consist of only a few rooms and are uniformly some stories above the galleries: A is particularly inaccessible: reaching it from any direction involves an arduous climb.

Click for print-size version

real lost continents are the best lost continents: Carcosa wacky races and asylum notes for the Sea of O’sr

April 2, 2012 5 comments

FIRST, the reason I’ve been silent for a while is I’ve been noodling about writing a little Carcosa/Toxic Tartary Wacky Races game for (among other things) Flailsnails on Google+. The bare outline:

– you can bring whatever lunacy you’ve invented because flailsnails, but at minimum the home setting will have Carcosan dinosaur riders, Mad Max desert buggies, Tharks on Thoats and carnival floats. Racers have to balance the competing demands of zooming across an electroradiant hellscape (thanks Jeff!) with sabotaging each other and roping the local mongrelmen into their diabolical dirty tricks – and the more they divide their attention, the more likely it is all to go horribly wrong;

– the race will be over in 6-8 turns and the prize will be Grand Yet Mystifying;

– your character may die, mutate, get incorporated in the landscape and or reified/deified along the way. Think you can survive a John Boorman bad trip?

I hope to get it up and running in 2 weeks. We’ll see.

Toxic Tartary is Carcosa through a post-Soviet Central Asian radioactive Arabian Nights filter. For a fantasy filter placed over that, see HF Calder’s handy guide to Sky Piracy Around The Dune Sea – of course all of this is happening somewhere in Toxic Tartary, but with the time-spine ripped out of the historical narrative so that everything is always happening at once – pyramids rising, pirates despised/resurgent, gods rising/falling, nobody really knowing what’s going on. Just like real life.

SECOND: “Siberia shmiberia,” you say, “show me the really cold and unfriendly places!” Blood of Prokopius’ Alaskan nightmare looks to me like equal parts militantly anticolonial Cthulhiana (paging jason kielbasa!) and His Dark Materials arctic horror-mining, and that sounds pretty neat, but I want to go south for my Sea of O’sr adventure path…

On the allure of remote islands in the shadow of Antarctica.

Lost taught me everything I need to know about the value to be found in a single 5 mile hex and the special kind of claustrophobia you can get from knowing the world is out there but it’s beyond reach. So you’ve found a chart that shows a lost continent of wonders down in the deep south ocean and you’ve braved the Appalling Sea Gyres and hundred foot waves to get there – what do you find?

First of all, that most of your lost continent is under water:

Zealandia, larger than Greenland or India, and almost half the size of Australia… is unusually slender.*
Kerguelen Plateau is an underwater volcanic large igneous province (LIP)** in the southern Indian Ocean. It lies about 3,000 km to the southwest of Australia and is nearly three times the size of Japan. I note, not quite in passing: It is thought that Thule and Cook**** may have been a larger single island in the past, and there is evidence for a submerged crater between the two… Volcanic heat keeps the crater on Thule Island free from ice. Just like Arthur Gordon Pym told us...

I am never resorting to Mu or Lemuria again, these are much cooler – and could be seaweed jungle exotica if they somehow breached into view. Look at this handy Antarctic azymuthal: if we add Rlyeh we get 3 points of…  well, actually not a pentagram but a square. Which in some sense is much creepier and more suggestive: Wells gave his Martians tripods because nothing in Earth biology (that he knew of) has 3 legs, and it’s since become a cliche that odd numbers mean alien. But the square, or quincunx (drawing Antarctica’s Mountains of Madness*** into the loop) implicates human involvement about as clearly as it’s possible to do. Giving us a fourth (or fifth) point over the South Sandwich islands near South Georgia.

And suddenly the Falklands War snaps into focus – Argentina, favourite hidey-hole of Hitler-breeding programs, vs. Britain, Evil Emperor of the previous century, fighting over those desolate bits of rock where the colour out of space touches down or, more likely, where it threatens to erupt into the sky. Because check out Gough Island, where you wash up while escaping the Cyclopean basalt towers shooting up on Montagu island, and trying to get back to St. Helena. Sure, when you first crawl ashore it looks a disappointing shade of grey-brown. Until The Colour descends.***** Full set. Stars. This is a campaign frame of seabed-churning horror. The navels of the world – the anchor points of reality – the IKEA allen-key holes into the hollow earth – are found on four islands around the south pole. Tampering with any one of them threatens to break the globe right open and spill the worms out. Alas, I’m not up on my Antarctic Space Nazis, and perhaps all of this is old news to [info]princeofcairo, but given the mindshare New Zealand has claimed since the LoTR movies, I’m starting to think Lawsian thoughts about the effervescent power of collective representations. In my Cthulhu-reversed game, where the PCs were a bunch of monsters ditched in the Bermuda Triangle with a faulty saucer and an Antarctic projection map, all the real action happened underwater. But in this game the point might be not to raise the lost continent but to submerge the ones still left stranded above the protecting waves (fighting against the ancient Atlantean defenses, such as spring-loaded urban floodproofing! Your players will hate it when the Sorcerers of Continent Evil pop their megacity up out of the sea like a turkey thermometer) – to deactivate the transmitter that calls the Mi-go miners back or to keep the crazy nationalist powers of the world from accidentally raising R’lyeh in their ever-more desperate searches for rare earths and fossil fuels.

Suddenly I have an end-game for my still yet to develop Sea of O’sr campaign. Wakwak and Zabag.

Perhaps you’re worried that sinking four lost continents won’t be enough of a climax? Here, have 10 vile vortices (because who’s supposed to make do with just one Bermuda triangle?). Does looking at that map make you think that if you kept adding regularly-spaced triangles you could turn the earth into something like a D20? Well actually it’d be a D17… the number of Pokemon types.

* wtf? Unusually slender?
** srsly, wtf? I love the use of the word “province” here. Far from the even larger igneous metropole (ELIM), perhaps. Metamorphic provinces are of course the diasporogenic engines of the World System.
*** not the Cliffs of Insanity, with which my son is currently obsessed. Oh you knew it would happen.
**** is that why they ate him and took his thighbones up on the mountain? Because he’d namesaked them to this toxic-god-unforsaken necklace of rocks? What did they see, from faraway Big Island?
+ OK, a rough square. Which makes me wonder (although not enough to waste time on it), if one can’t draw a lovely Fibonacci spiral linking together all those place – Ponape, Easter Island, Hy-Brazil, Oak Island etc etc, that stubbornly refuse to conform to great circle ley lines, so that they show up on neatly spaced lines like eclipse paths. And take advantage of the fact that the alignments are never quite right.
*****Via bldgblog, again. Also the wonderfully-named Friends of the Pleistocene (nothing to do with Julian May, I think).