Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Monastery on the Sword: Part Two

The Monastery itself is built on a hill. A fast-flowing stream runs past it from north to east. The monastery is surrounded by a stockade, with two main baileys: one outer, with quarters for guests and lay brethren, as well as a field for vaster crowds of pilgrims to camp on. The inner bailey surrounds the Sword itself, as well as housing quarters for the earthbound monks. The hillside is largely covered in low bushes and scrub. They have not yet been cultivated; some berry bushes and the like may be found.

The Abbot is the official head of the Monastery, but spends much of his time atop the hilt; nurturing in a spiritual sense or overseeing the vault. His duties are fufilled at ground level by the Prior. There is a similar division between those monks atop the hilt and those at the base of the blade. The ground has earthly comforts - but none of the prestige, spiritual power or wonder of dwelling on the hilt.

The lay brethren serve to aid the monks in many aspects of day-to-day work, gaining reflected glories and blessings into the bargain. By virtue of largely being muscular and obtuse, they also quietly serve as watchmen and peacekeepers among the pilgrims; keeping them out of the monk's way when necessary and monitoring any travelling salesmen or peddlers that tag along with these holy travellers.  They are, however, hardly an armed force (even if some have been soldiers).

Orange indicates the contours of the hill the Monastery is based on. Values are height in metres above sea level.
Blue-Green is the line of the stockade about the Monastery.
Black gives the outlines of buildings.
Blue is water - in the form of the stream or the cistern.
Green does double service as fields and other planes - elevated or otherwise.
Red numbers or letters indicate an entry on the below table.

1. The Monk's quarters - at least, for those who are spending time down on earth.  The novices, for instance; and the Prior. This block contains a number of individual cells. Any personal possessions here are unlikely to be of any great value. There is a small kitchen at the right-hand end of the block.
Likely occupants: Monks, Novices, the Prior.

2. The Chapel and Reading Room. Whilst the real spiritual home of the monastery is atop the sword, there is a chapel so that the earth bound may receive spiritual nourishment. In addition to a few side rooms for vestments, candles and the like, there is also a Reading Room; not quite large enough to be a library. It also serves as a classroom. The Chapel has some fine fixtures, but no extravagantly ornate or valuable pieces. There are no notably rare/extremely useful books in the library.
Likely occupants: Monks, Novices, the Prior, visiting Priests (look up/create as appropriate hours of prayer).

3. The Sword itself. This demands it's own post. However, the Abbot and a number of the most devout monks live in cells at the hilt. They can lower a cage to draw up people, or to carry provisions - or night soil. From a gantry, covered in rigging, they can operate great polishing pads to scour the sword of rust.  The monks are assisted in this by a very placid, well trained mule on a treadmill. This mule (and it's predecessors) were specially trained in a Church-owned farm. They are expensive beasts to purchase, but uncommonly sensible and obedient.
Likely occupants: (at the hilt) The Abbot, less than a dozen monks, and Patience the Mule.
This is one area that will be expanded upon. As the centrepiece, it would have to be.

4. About the foot of the Sword are a number of bore holes. These were drilled painstakingly with assistance from the hilt. Into these holes is poured tallow - it is held that this will set the Sword firmly at the base.
Likely occupants: none.

5. This platform serves as a way to mount the cage that can be drawn up to the hilt. It can also serve as a stage for outdoor services to massed crowds of pilgrims.
Likely occupants: none.

6. Two storerooms; one holds tallow for the holes, the other oil for the blade. Both are noxious enough to keep away from the living quarters.
Likely occupants: none.

7. Several flights of steps lead down to a fast-flowing stream. There is a small postern in the stockade to allow this. There is no spring on the hill itself; this is the best source of water for the inhabitants o the monastery. Rain isn't quite reliable enough.
Likely occupants: none, though lay brothers regularly trek up and down the steps to the stream.

8. A complex of buildings provide a number of services to visitors and acts as the home of the lay brethren that serve the Monastery. It is known as the Hall. The current Chief of the Lay Brethren, a former soldier, has taken pains that the lower floor has stout shutters and thick doors - intending that the Hall could provide a Redoubt of sorts if it were ever needed.

a. This is a kitchen, serving the whole complex. A back door leads to a midden.
Likely occupants: cooks and scullions.

b. This long room serves as refectory and common room - and indeed, for many of the poorer visitors, dormitory.
Likely occupants: servents of those in c.

c.  A series of more-or-less private chambers are set here, for important visitors - or those who can pay.
Likely occupants: envoys, merchants, the odd noble.

d. This is little more than a covered passageway and a row of storerooms, both for food and hardware.
Likely occupants: none.

e. The stables. Whilst horses can be let in the paddock, those beasts that should be cared for (or with concerned owners) could be lodged here.
Likely occupants: maybe a groom. Horses for anyone in c.

f. The lay brothers mostly lodge in these rooms. Neatly furnished, but not sumptuous.
Likely occupants: The lay brethren - at least, come the end of the day's work.

g. This acts as an office for the Chief (as much a foreman as anything else, even if his reputation and bearing enhances his official position) of the Lay Brethren and as a sort of Reception for guests at the Hall.
Likely occupants: the Chief of the Lay Brethren

h. There are no gates to the Hall, but a stout bar lays across to bridge the gap between c and g. If necessary, this would provide a framework for a barricade.
Likely occupants: none.

9. A number of smallholdings rest here. There is enough produced by these to meaningfully supplement the Monastery's diet - but not to make it self-sustaining.
Likely occupants: during the day - labouring lay brethren.

10. Two large rock cisterns are set here, in order to provide a closer supply of water.
Likely occupants: none.

11. Two fenced paddocks; one is generally home to livestock; the other, draught animals.
Likely occupants: dependant in the number of visitors.  The monks keep a few milch cows and beasts of burden. 

12. A long, shallow ramp gives access to the Monastery.
Likely occupants: travellers.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Military Machine, the Archeologist, and the Rebel

A viewing of some of the Indiana Jones films prompts this thought: in these films, the military machine is evil, is the enemy and can be turned against itself.

Forget the religious artefact at the centre of the film; think of many of the action scenes. Raiders of the Lost Ark (RotLA) has that business with the twin-rotored aeroplane and the chase scene with the convoy (many separate vehicles, one figurative machine). The Last Crusade (TLC) has a many-turreted tank with restricted vision - with a convoy behind it. In both cases, one man (on a horse) wreaks havoc on it.

[Of course, there are two kinds of machine in these films. The modern military device and the ancient dungeon full of traps. Both are dangerous - might we say that only one is malevolent?]

This is partly because it provides amble opportunity for peril and derring-do. But the repetition of this kind of scene gives (if you will) a little license to unpick this.

I would not think of this as technophobic, or luddite. But our hero does not fight against the villain not as liberty-loving American to Nazi or archaeologist to soldier - but as man (and horse) against machine, the perpetual spanner in the works. Which could be construed as odd. The Indiana Jones films, even if they never portray the Second World War, constantly invoke it. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (KotCS) even confirmed what I imagine everyone already conjectured: that Jones had continued to thwart Nazi occult ambitions in the Second World War - before Pearl Harbour, even.

Though, of course, we can never see this. Indiana Jones cannot take part in D-Day even if he is of the same spirit as D-Day. This would bind him too closely to a vast military machine. But just such machinery helped ensue Allied victory in the Second World War.  Clearly, of course, Jones is not a druid or an ascetic. He buys tickets on aeroplanes, he carries a revolver. There is still a friction, when one begins to think on it. The stonewalling bureaucrats at the end of RotLA hint at this; the McCarthy era G-Men in KotCS confirm it. KotCS also gets to have the cake and eat it, by having a first Act with Soviet baddies dressed as American GIs. To say nothing of the horror of an American nuclear weapons test.

Star Wars - certainly the more recent films - suffers something similar. The Rebel Alliance is talked about in terms like the French Resistance - and it certainly is a resistance movement, against a vaster tyrannical force. But when we see it in Episode Four, it brings to mind the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain: unquestionably on the back foot, but still with the might of a World Power behind it. We see established chains of command, radio operators and ground crew, fighter wings, rank badges, call signs - all quite explicitly military and systematic rather than the ad hoc arrangements of a resistance. To say nothing of that orchestrated, disciplined medal ceremony at the end.
Image result for medal ceremony star wars
Pictured: Rebellion.
[From the 1977 motion picture Star Wars, Dir. George Lucas]

I dare say there's some excellent in-universe explanation for all this. The parts of the puzzle still don't quite fit, or don't fit pleasingly.

(Incidentally, if you cannot guess the comparisons between the concept of a military machine and the Death Star, I have just made it. The arguing boardroom of generals with the Dr Strangelove table is a good touch. Further, Episode 4 ends with the inexperienced pilot in the unspecialised machine with the targeting computer off succeeding where the experienced bomber commander with the computer on fails.)

This doubles in later films. The explicitly distancing of the Resistance in Episodes Seven and Eight from the New Republic is odd; are we meant to understand by the finale of Episode Eight that a credible fighting force can be rebuilt from a platoon of soldiers onboard the Millennium Falcon? Allow me to raise the Battle of Britain comparison once more - the whole matter becomes a little risible, even if that last British platoon has Churchill, Monty, Douglas Bader, Orde Wingate, Dowding, Alan Turing, Barnes Wallis and Popski in its ranks. (The explicit condemnation of arms manufacturers should also be considered.)

[Am I complaining of a lack of realism in this tale of space wizards and funny robots? No, but, the verisimilitude of ground crews and radio operators and flight suits (rather than spandex) and so forth is part of the strength of this realised, lived-in world. I would say the same for troop numbers.]

So what is to come of all this? What are the reasons for the above phenomena? What conclusions can we draw?

It has been observed by critics before the strange distance between soldier and military in modern (frequently American or American influenced). Soldier good and sympathetic; military - especially staff officers - bad and unsympathetic. This is not simply, I should say, a party lines issue. One can imagine the heroic individualistic protagonist defying or breaking with his orders so that he may capture the villain - or summarily execute him. Indiana Jones and Star Wars have fuelled or continue to fuel this horror of organised hierarchical systems as much as Dirty Harry or Rambo, in their way.

What to blame? The Vietnam War would be a favourite candidate, but it cannot accept all the blame.  The face of warfare itself has changed; the mass troop movements, conscription and industrial output of the World Wars are not to be seen. Not that the modern Western military does not face troubles of logistics - think of the Falklands Conflict, fought on the other side of the globe by Britain. But it does not need rifles by the thousand and tanks by the score to face terrorists. The squad comes into focus, not the regiment. This dovetails with the surrogate family narratives that seem to abound in adventure flicks these days - whatever the setting. But a regiment (or something regiment-like), however familial it might be in some respects, sits directly inside larger systems and is just too large. Trying to inject the former inside the latter doesn't sit correctly.

Yet the military machine - or any vast hierarchical system - has its uses. If those bits of the world most influenced by the films and narratives here discussed ever had to fight a war en masse, there would be some very odd dynamics at play within the stories that would then be told. We will not be saved by less than a dozen amiable, snarky 'badasses' with a deep interpersonal bond, but by vast numbers of people from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of personalities who may not even get on terribly well. Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age puts it thusly: It is the hardest thing in the world to make educated Westerners pull together”. The internet may have changed that, but it enables all those pulling together to pull just as much as they wish to and in the precise way they wish to. This may not necessarily be objectionable to you, but it is something to consider. 

Is there an antidote, for those than desire it? Tom Clancy novels, perhaps. But little on the big screen these days. Perhaps someone will make a 'military procedural'. But not yet. We Were Soldiers might be something to contemplate, though I can think of little that would be set in the contemporary. At any rate, I doubt there will be anything of the sort made in speculative fiction, no matter how many Star Wars spinoffs are made.

[If you want the tabletop take on it, go here and mine the archive for the follow-up posts.]

Friday, 18 May 2018

Temple and Church Generator

A series of tables designed to produce buildings that are places of worship, with a number of features - architectural, social and so forth. This is not a 'place of worship generator'; stone circles or sacred groves are out. This also rather places itself in an urban context; a town large enough to have multiple temples. A list of real world inspirations will come at the end.

This all acts as a compliment to my Religious Processions post - though it is less Roman; more London-like. Nonetheless, the two should be able to overlap. Even if you find yourself sacrificing a White Ox in the Methodist Central Hall.

Why write this? Aside from an interest in ecclesiastical architecture, it seems to me that architectural detail sometimes takes a back seat in description. This is not super detailed and doesn't require that you tell your Perpendicular from your Decorated. Nonetheless, buildings should have an impact on players, especially those built to impress (or those that cannot help but do so). Many fantasy worlds bring religion to the fore; this is doubly true if Clerics or Prophets (or Mendicants, or Dervishes, or Disciples or Pietists or what have you) are among the player characters. Further: temples, churches - the seats of so many great occasions, a focus of communal life - these should not be all cast from the same mould. Even if they are of the same faith, from the same region or as an article of faith must be built to a specific plan. Let there be variety!

Likewise, there was an intent to remove them from a 'Lean Times in Lankhmar' style religious quarter and put them in districts; within a wider context. Yes, there are Forums, Acropoli, Kremlins, Cathedral complexes and the like, but I hoped to imitate parishes and wards: teeming urban life. Prayer and holiness being no small aspect of life.

Moreover, the more details you have of a place, the better use that the GM or players can make of it. There is, naturally, a time for detail and a time for broad sketches, but one should be able to 'zoom in' on specific scenes - and will require a form of description by which to do so. Go out; practice your descriptive writing on a building sometime: could you describe well enough to hold the man features of it in someone's mind? I have linked to this interview before, but there is very real benefit in being able to describe something, even in an age when you can just find a picture of it on your magic internet brick.

I suggest there is even an appetite for this. I have no great knowledge of the Assassins's Creed series of video games, but folk certainly seemed to appreciate the possibility to get up close to and exploit Florentine churches. A different medium, doubtless, but not without impact on another. If you want another example, look to Victor Hugo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame  - a book very focussed on buildings. Or indeed, Ackroyd's Hawksmoor. The mysteries of P.D. James also tended to be fairly stuffed with architecture.

Some of the below ideas will have a social impact; others a physical one. A fountain in the square by the Church will be of interest to the hydromancer; the more church officers there are the more people there are to convince to give you the key to the Holy Water Cellar; a copper roof will have an impact for the lightning wizard whereas a lead roof may offer some protection from the magical radiation of a baleful comet.

d10 Building Material
Red brick
Yellow brick
Stone - dressed
Stone - rough
Stone - heavily banded
Decorative tiles
Covered in stucco

d6 Window style
High and Classically proportioned
A riot of stained images
Narrow, swirling patterns
High set, decorative tracery
Low set, small windows
Narrow, set back arrow slits

 At least3d20 Features and scheme

Notable Exterior Feature
Notable Interior Feature
Overall scheme
Clock accompanied by statues
Tall iconostasis
Gothic ‘Dome’
Clock, with clockwork figures
Intricate rood screen
Baroque, decorated dome
Circular colonnade around spire
White and gilt pillars and ceiling
Four towers, one at each corner
Numerous gargoyles
Whispering gallery
Very tall spire with many sides and windows
Flying buttresses
Numerous memorial plaques on the walls
Flat-topped tower
Ornamental balcony
Faded flags hang from the celing
Numerous turret-topped ribs across the roof
External pulpit
Ornate fan vaulting
Thick twin towers at the front
Flat front with rising curiliques
Hammer-beam ceiling
Ridged, pyramidal spire capped with a statue
Protruding turret
Intricate, well kept, wall paintings
Circular, focussing on a central platform
Onion dome
Wide second tier 
Broad triangular pediment and columns
A Sacred stone is set into a wall niche
Transi tombs
Tall, square tower with a cupola
Rounded, barrel-vaulted roof
Simple wooden panelling
Only the tower of this church remains
Squat, round tower 
Ornate wooden panelling
Long and low roofed, with many arches
Ornamental porch with caryatids
Plaques with scripture
Wide, with a large entrance underneath a great arch
Square tower, diamond shaped upper level and three small turrets
Crypt in imitation of pilgrimage destination
Wider than it is long
Long, curved scrollwork on the front
Box pews
A high, narrow arch supports a tapering spire
Copper/Lead roof
Stove among pews
Square, underneath a wide dome
Gilt statues in stone niches
Elaborate altar canopy
No tower. High, thick, buttresses
A series of urns decorate the roof line
Gilt and mosaic decoration
Perfectly round, with a low dome.
A balcony occupies the front
Elaborate lamps and symbols hanging from ceiling
Unassuming, unornamented, at a similar height to buildings around it.

At least 2d20 for infrastructure.

Place in Urban Infrastructure
Place in Religious infrastructure
Island church, right in the middle of the road
A Peculiar, outside the usual hierarchy
Burial place for a noble lineage
Devoted to fallen soldiers
Centre of worship for a specific Guild
The Seat of a Bishop/High Priest
Centre of worship for a society of lawyers
Shares space with another denomination
Attached to an infamous prison
Devoted to a foreign population in the city
Attached to a law court. Those condemned to death have their last service here
Attached/formerly attached to a Monastry/Convent/Nunnary/Abbey (&c.)
Outside the city walls
A synod or prominent committee meet here
Terraced among houses and shops
An Ecclesiastical court meets here
Attached to a barracks.
Attached to a school
In a rough area
Former temple of the unbeliever
In a prosperous area
Contains a holy relic
By the waterfront
Former/Current parish of a radical or controversial clergyman
On a viaduct
Respected for the quality of it’s music and liturgy
The temple is close by a neighbourhood of non-believers
Former/current residence of a militant order
Coins are held in safety here before being inspected to ascertain their quality
Church-run hospital
Large Churchyard
Devoted to an obscure divine figure
Meeting place for intellectuals
An especially devout congregation.
Leper chapel (or set aside for other quarantined persons)
A rather less than devout congregation
Close to a Market 
Well-staffed with priests and lay assistants (possibly including anchorites)
Close to a fountain, conduit or other water supply
Definitely not well staffed with priest and lay assistants

Inspirations include: The Temple Church, Inn of Court; St Dunstans-in-the-West, London; New St Pancras, Greater London; St Clement Danes, London; St Mary Le Strand, London; All Saints Margaret Street, London; St Mary Woolnoft, London; St Georges Bloomsbury; Westminster Abbey; Westminster Cathedral; St Magnus Martyr [inexplicable splendour of white and gold]; St John's Smith Square; St James Garlickhyhte, London; St Olave Old Jewry; St Sepulchre without Newgate ['The bells of Old Bailey']; St Brides, Fleet Street; St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London; St George's Garrison Church, Woolwich; Methodist Central Hall, London; Quaker Friend's House, Euston Street, London; St Alphage, Greenwich; St Chad's, Shewsbury; King's College Chapel, Cambridge; Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge; St Edward's, Cambridge; The Round Church, Cambridge; Ely Cathedral; Cordoba Cathedral; St Mary's, Whitby; St Peter and St Paul's, Pickering; The Pantheon, Rome; The Jerusalemkerk, Bruges; St Anne's, Bruges; St Walburga's, Bruges. 

Go forth and investigate for yourself!

Questions for readers: Do these produce unique, interesting buildings?

Are any categories confusing?

Does this rely too heavily on the listed examples?

Is anything missing? Is anything superfluous?