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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.

rowing-boatcareenleeboards

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

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:

dubrovnik-old-town-from-the-fort-3-pics-658-659-662-crop-sh-s-m-c-ss-m-black-watermark-30

(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.

CruiseDubrovnikMapGroupToursCroatia-67431247677044_800_600-1

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.

Fort_Lovrijenac,Dubrovnik,Croatia

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.

Rixos_Libertas_Dubrovnik-1

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.

DubrovnikPalaceHotel-exterior

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.

dubrovnik11

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.

Dubrovnik-(Croatia)

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)

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.

The Grand Prizes from Carcosa Wacky Races

August 8, 2012 5 comments

…are still partly secret, but they have now been (mostly) collected. The race is over, the angel has died and collapsed into the crater it made in the ground, Chixi’lu got melted into glass, and out of the 15 vehicles that set out, there remain:

Eribotes’ steam machine, now shucked out of its turtle shell and reduced to a trike, suitable for 2 persons;
Haakon’s shellcasing, now willingly powered by Lord Chancellor the Pelgrane (at least until he can get properly healed up, they you all better watch out – Pelgranes harbour grudges for a long time);
Hon’dar-soo’s two sea bulls;
and Poison and Keek’s flying baby altar, now augmented with a big gas-burning propeller on top.

Joan’s sharkbowl just isn’t the same without Earl’s soulburner providing motive power. That said, it’s still as dangerous as ever, due to the presence of Count Charodon, the vampire hemoshark, who even now is tenderly trying a fin on the ground, to see if he can walk.

That’s it. Everything else is dead and/or broken.

Until Oogah the caveman, who ever since his tussle with a Hound of Tindalos has been riding this race on borrowed vehicles and with one hit point, surfaces in the river, at the helm of a spaceship-sub-possible-angel-escape-pod.

…why is space navigated using submarines in Tartary? How would surface dwellers like you know that?

Art credit goes to Robert Simons, whose Nautilus I totally stole. I hope he doesn’t mind. Check out his portfolio site – lots of awesome stuff I would be ripping off wholesale if I were to do a Moby Dick/stop the pigeon sequel…

although if you look askance at it just right it looks either like this:

deck plans:

or like this:

Jim Lad and Tin Knocker: Classes for a Romantic Cornwall campaign

July 30, 2012 2 comments

so +Stuart Robertson (of Strange Magic) piped up on the old “how to refigure demi-humans for a humanocentric game” concertina again, and I loves me a rollicking sea tune.

Here’s your basic 7 classes for a Treasure Island/Jamaica Inn/Smuggler’s Cove game. Adjust seasoning to taste for Pirates of the Caribbean, Hardy, Melville etc:

Dwarf = Miner: functionally the same as ever but no immunity to arsenic poisoning. Bluff exterior probably covers up an abused and abusive interior with moments of secret, solitary poetry.
Thief = Smuggler: actually a respected profession among the lower/adventuring orders, though with “fisherman” as inevitable legit cover.
MU = Engineer: for a Stevenson’s Rocket type steampunk feel. Real world examples include Humphry Davey and Isambard Brunel. My first thought was “parson” because of the bookish, useless-in-a-fight angle, but they have no magic in this setting.
Cleric = Fishwife: handy with a (blunt) rolling pin, a bandage and a hearty scolding.
Halfling = Preventive Man: These are the King’s Men who try to stop the smugglers. They’re not all hapless redcoats; some are sneaky spies and/or gamekeepers – Johnny Law in general, and they’re no shorter than anyone else.
Fighter = Haybaler: a big, burly farmhand with drinking capacity to match his fists. Alternatively Navvy, Gunner’s Mate, Dock Worker
Elf = Whippersnapper (whether ‘prentice boy or cabin boy or plucky orphan or maid is pure window dressing). The Jim lad class, knows more than he should, listens in while the parsons and engineers are jawing in the pub, but still yearns to grow up into a “proper” profession.

I like the purity of the basic 4 or 7, but if you wanted to expand this:
Bard = Parson of the fulminating fire’n’brimstone persuasion, or Agitator/rabble rouser, to borrow a leaf from the Hill Cantons. John Wesley was arguably both;
Assassin = Pirate and Ranger = Highwayman, or vice versa – maybe you never quite know what you’re up against there;
Paladin = Musketeer (I thought we were in Cornwall? Yup, all paladins are foreigners on a mission of some kind);
Druid = Moonshiner. Eh? What’s Dust doing over here? Well, I’m using it for “crazy old coot who lives off in the woods doing something the law wouldn’t like.” And although there’s plenty of those in Cornwall, there’s no professional archetype, so I’m reaching for a spiritual cousin. Actually in Cornwall this would probably be “gypsy,” but there’s the old racism card.

This would be better if the classes really mapped onto ways of dealing with problems in the world, but they don’t in DnD either, really, once you get into the demi-humans.

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).