Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Of Chalices and Choices

You are a Square-Jawed Adventurer. You have been seeking the Sacred Cup

You are in a Mysterious Cavern filled with Goblets, Chalices and Other Vessels. Most are made of gold. One is made of wood. There is a stone bowl full of clear fresh water. There is an Ancient Guardian clad in dusty armour watching you closely.

Your Duplicitous Adversary has drunk from one of the gold goblets and died horribly. 

There is a Loved One outside the Mysterious Cavern who urgently needs the healing properties of the Sacred Cup.

What do you do?

1. The Holy Man who used the cup was a simple man who spurned worldly things. You reach for the wooden cup.

1a. .... wait. This wooden cup is too simple. It flatters your modern Bauhaus-influenced Protestant-inflected norms with its cleanness of line and distinctive lack of ornament. 

1ai. No. There can be only one Sacred Cup, there is only one wooden cup. It is the clear exception among all those present - the only golden cup you have seen used caused your Duplicitous Adversary to die horribly. It's the wooden cup.

1b. ..... wait. The Sacred Cup is a metaphor.  The divine needs no such physical vessels, only conceptual ones, which the enlightened may transcend. You don't need the Sacred Cup, all you need to do is to seek it, If you truly do that, all blessings will be with you and you may bestow all blessings. Thrumming with new found power, you smile politely at the Ancient Guardian and turn to leave.

1bi. But if all blessings are with you, do you even need to leave the Mysterious Cavern? You kneel, and begin to think about your Loved One in perfect health. Surely they will soon be healed. 

The Ancient Guardian is watching you, expressionless. 

1bii. Hang on, your Duplicitous Adversary just drank from a cup and died in a clearly supernatural manner. There is a man in there wearing medieval armour who just addressed you in fluent Old French. Metaphor, my eye. Time to go back in there and pick a bloody cup. 

2. Hang on, you're a scholar. You've....

2a. ...seen reliquaries before. You inspect the gold cups. One is quite bulky; a catch on the side reveals that it is a chalice-shaped tabernacle, inside which rests a simple small clay cup on a velvet lining.

2b. ....seen reliquaries before. You inspect the gold cups.  One of them has a darker band in the middle of it. On inspection, it turns out to be a golden stand and framework supporting an older wooden cup, enhanced with a large gold lip. The cup itself has a small coating of gold leaf on the outside. 

2c. ...read some of the literature on the subject.  Often, the old poems describe the Sacred Cup as having been transformed after it was used by the Holy Man. So before then, it would have been a fairly normal Levantine cup from the beginning of the 1st millennium. You inspect the gold cups, and find one that adheres near-perfectly to the shape of Levantine cups you have seen in the Museum.

3. You examine the chalices on offer. Each has been kept clean and well-polished, even the one your Duplicitous Adversary drank from. But one must have been used more often, if the Ancient Guardian drinks from the Sacred Cup - and how else could he be so Ancient? You lift a chalice to examine it in the light, and see the the subtle wear from hands and lips over the centuries. Comparison with the neighbouring cups makes this plain. You take the chalice over to the stone bowl and fill it. 

4. The ancient texts say.... 

4a. ...that when the Sacred Cup was first blessed, it was shared. You grab a chalice at random, fill it from the stone bowl and turn to the Ancient Guardian. "You first."

4b. ...that when the Sacred Cup was first blessed, the Holy Man was drinking wine. You point this out to the Ancient Guardian. He produces a flask of wine from a cupboard that you hadn't spotted. 

5. Think about the journey you've been on to reach the Mysterious Cavern, and the perils you braved within. This is a test of faith....

5a. ....so you should not think about it overlong, but reach out with hope in your soul and take up a goblet. You grasp one, and trying not to look down at it, take it over to the stone bowl and fill it.

5b. ....that ends the journey you and your Duplicitous Adversary have both been on. But even if your choice of companions differed,  the course of your travel and object of your desire was the same. The main difference was in your motives. Knowing your motives to be good and your faith sound, you should submit yourself to judgement in exactly the same way he did. 

You pick up the golden cup your Duplicitous Adversary drank from.

6. You gather up each of the cups, pour a little bit of water in each, mix it all together and drink. The Ancient Guardian smacks you over the back of the head with a chainmail glove and tells you (in Old French) not to be a smart-arse.


You have chosen ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ly. 

The Rest of All Possible Worlds: Mechanics and Gazette

Having sketched out four states of one continent for The Rest of All Possible Worlds, here is a listing of the places and professions thus far mentioned. However, with these gathered here together, I should mention something about their usage.

None of these are (really) complete pictures of any state involved; likewise, when taken together, they would not provide a complete picture of the continent. There are more cities in the Prizelands than just Datresse, there are certainly more islands in Malmery than those mentioned, and Tsymric may well be divided into more provinces than those described. Certainly, there are more states than the four that have received blog entries. 

The sub-divisions mentioned for each state, incidentally, are not of equal sizes. They are apt units for the state in question and might well differ as much as an English county, a Russian oblast and a Swiss canton differ. However, they discuss units of (approximately) equal significance to each respective state. 

So, if this is not a complete picture of the relations (present, historical, diplomatic, cultural...) of Calliste  what is it? Well, each listed state suggests a broad set of conditions. There is the Concentrated state and the Diffuse. The Sea-based and the Land-based. The Commercial and the Aristocratic. Prosperous/Straitened. Centre/Periphery. Expansive/Compact (land mass, not the state power style of Concentrated/Diffuse). Cool, Hip and Happening/Dull, Square and a Backwater.

(These contrasts, of course, also exist within states - Hentzay is the ageing heartland full of palaces, wunderkammers and schools; Caspianstadt is the boomtown with warehouses, new-style government offices and one half-built theatre.)

Hence Datresse. This city might be more Amsterdam than London or Venice, but it acts as a template for aspects that could be geared towards cities and states of such a sort as these. Likewise Tsymric - which I have been explicit is a mingling of 16th Century Spain and 17th century Russia. Now, I hope that the fictional states and their residents I have laid out are interesting enough to interest you in Calliste.  But there's more than enough room for others - and numerous small Dukedoms and Principalities are quite apt for a roaming picaresque!

The lists of professions given are, clearly geared towards the state in whose entry they first appear, but it's an Early Modern setting: people are crossing continents. If tobacco is ubiquitous in Tsymric, it is popular everywhere else - and thus tobacconists are not uncommon. The appearance of a Qacenoit scout in Datresse is technically fairly rare, but not worth commenting on.


A few notes about Calliste. 

The majority of Calliste was once under the rule of the Horatione Empire, long fallen to internal sclerosis and waves of migration. This reached from the edges of present-day Tompordy to Insular Malmery. Even those lands not once directly under its control have by now adopted Horatione influenced languages, however impenetrable a given dialect may in fact be. The Horatione gold piece set an enduring standard for later currencies - whatever lesser silver or copper coins are issued, and despite various debasements of the coinage, the gold piece maintains a certain semi-idealised value.

Religion is relatively out of focus, but The Majestic Vision has been established as the background religious and intellectual influence for Callistan society, with the School of Malicarn being the best established and most extensive. Malicarn has also set the tone for the arrangements by which the Vision is communicated by individual halls of learning.

The class of those who expound on the Words of Procophon and the Vision are known as Schoolmen. Malicarn's arrangement of Schoolmen is the best known and frequently imitated. To sketch it roughly: a village or portion of a town will have a Reader; a Magister will arrange matters for a province, a High Magister for a region and a Grand Magister for a nation. The School of Malicarn rejoices in the supervision of a First Magister or Primus; this rank is rarely employed by other Schools. 

The First Magister and the scholars and functionaries who make up the Chapter of Malicarn communicate news, provide spiritual direction and settle disputes by envoys known as Overseers and (at a higher rank) Superintendents. (In day-to-day matters, an Overseer trumps a Magister - not that an Overseer will always be present; in an 'ecumenical council' a Magister trumps an Overseer.)

Schoolmen within a given school adhering to a certain interpretation of the Words of Procophon or making use of a certain set of practices may group together in a Society. Many Societies have been in existence for centuries and are sufficiently endowed to run their own halls of learning. 

The most common sign of the Majestic Vision is the stylised three-tongued 'beatific flame'.


BIG SQUIRE ENERGY, direct from the V&A.
Just think, your character could be commemorated like this.

Gazette of Places and Professions


Datravia, vulgarly known as the Prizelands

            Datresse (capital)


            Tompordy    Tompord (capital)


            Mszhinksky    Caspianstadt 




            Transmontane Tsymric


           [Insular Malmery] divided into High Malmery and Low Malmery




            Cerq centre of the Cerquae Isles



            Ile-de-Szouche     Purlitz (capital)

            Celzia                  Loughdainne





Others in Calliste




Beyond Calliste

       Bronzemount Free State

       Mayara Isles

       Buccaneers' Archipelago

       Spondine Gulf


1. Datravia

Coach Guard

Parliamentary Lictor

Dockyards Pugilist

Coffee vendor

Burgher of the Isle




Hot-house botanist 

Ley-line surveyor

2. Tsymric

Royal Dimarchi

Overseer of the Faithful 


Alpine Expeditionary 

River boatman

Transmontane Native Scout 

Hidalgo [a]

Myrchonog Plainsman

Engineering Student

Mage Prospector 

3. Malmery


Returned Mercenary

Tin Miner



Student Advocate

Mage Navigator


Island Shepherd

Wizarding Matross

4. Pavaisse


Imperial Fusilier

Arpadhian Horseman


Artist's illuminator 

Man of letters





Friday, 3 September 2021

The Rest of All Possible Worlds: Palaces of Pavaisse

When people talk about Pavaisse, they aren't talking about Pavaisse. Even when Pavaissians talk about Pavaisse, they aren't talking about Pavaisse. 

They aren't talking about the peaks and mines of Joachimsland, and narrow towns and tall houses of its people. Nor are they talking about the mountain-fenced plains of Arpadhia and the horses it rears for the Imperial cavalry. There are people that write about these places, but few people go to them.

They aren't talking about the long river valleys of Dordonneland, where the vines band the hillsides and the proud back-country folk gather in high-set villages. They aren't talking about Roqueport, the sole Pavaissian harbour for transoceanic ships. All sorts of strange ideas brew there. Not quite Pavaisse at all. 

They aren't talking about Loughdainne, as old a city as any in Pavaisse. Profitably set at the junction of two rivers, it has long been a centre for commerce: it is the grand ornament of Celzia, and well knows it.

Perhaps they are talking of Ile-de-Szouche. But Ile-de-Szouche is so often a funnel for great gold-girdled Purlitz, capital of Pavaisse.  What is in Purlitz? Law courts, Counting-houses, Hostelries, Markets, Drapers, Tailors, Cooks, Vintners, Booksellers, Parks, Riding-schools, Fencing-instructors, Colleges, Poets, Attempted Poets, Salons, Ballrooms, Courtyards, Palaces - in short, all those thing that a man of good taste could want, as well as a few things that probably fall outside the bounds of good taste as well.

One thing that is also generally in or about - or, possibly, above - Purlitz is the presence of the Emperor. Clovis X has been Emperor for most of his life, but did not always have an opportunity to demonstrate the fact. He succeeded his uncle, Boniface II at the age of three. Boniface II was a zealous devotee of the School of Malicarn; accordingly Grand Magister Remigian was named Chancellor and regent alongside Clovis's mother, Beatrice Von Dottore. 

The Honoured Magister has conveyed his spirit to the hereafter, lifted up by the Words of Procophon; his influence over the young Clovis and his schemes in the name of Pavaisse have long ceased. The age of the Imperial Mother has brought with it quietude; she may enjoy her old age in the gardens of Ile-de-Szouche - and it looks like that's exactly what she will be doing.

Clovis X has entered his fourth decade. The Schoolmen of Malicarn no longer enter his privy circles, though they remain frequent at court. A thousand cares and amusements offer themselves to him - the reform of the currency, the disputes of courtiers, the malice of Dukes, the ceremonies that exhibit and enhance Imperial splendour, the balance of trade, proposals for foreign intrigues, designs for new uniforms, the armies of the Sublime Prince in the South and East, masques, dances, portraits, odes, plays in verse, romances, Romances, hunting, cards, dice, discoveries, tales and gifts from far-off lands - and the requests and concerns of all those who would share in these labours and pleasures.

With so much of the world spiralling into gold-girdled Purlitz, perhaps even here you will not find a certain idea that is Pavaisse. 


Wien Graben Pestsäule Ostseite.jpg
There's probably a few of these in Purlitz.

  1. Mask-maker /// Pasteboard, Brow pads, Glass discs, Two masks [Roll 1d6 - 1. Patrician 2. Matron 3. Wild beast 4. Malevolent ghost 5. Martial visor 6. Absolute blank], Perpetual knowing little smile (-1 to CHA unless wearing one of your own creations)
  2. Imperial Fusilier [Grand Magister's Retainer] /// Elegant sword, Colourful tabard: [Blue and gold with Imperial bees] [Red, silver and charcoal with Beatific flame], Wide-brimmed hat, Fusil (curiously underused), Foolish rivalry.
  3. Arpadhian Horseman /// Fur-trimmed Pelisse (protects against cold, elegant), Sabre, Sabretache, Ornate saddle, Horse (instructed in an obscure dialect).
  4. Chairman /// Pole with comfortable grips, Tough shoulder-straps, Overshoes (protects agianst street muck and other under-foot hazards), Ornate uniform with padded shoulders, Silent gnawing grudge against the man who gets to go in front. 
  5. Artist's illuminator /// Folding screen, Book of carefully graded light spells, Translucent coloured panels, Pale sun-reflecting clothing (resists sun), Irregular tan. 
  6. Man of letters /// Portfolio, Five different pamphlets*, Two books, One banned book in plain wrapper, Quire of paper, Quills, Bottle of Ink. 
  7. Gambler /// Two packs of playing cards (unmarked), One pack of playing cards (marked), Three sets of dice, Baize cloth (green), Twelve gaming-tokens (mother-of-pearl), Wide flat reflective snuff-box, Large cuffs.
  8. Topiarist /// Stepladder, Pruning shears, Thorn-resistant jacket, 10' of Garden twine.
  9. Courtier /// Sinecure, Court Dress, Comfortable shoes (for long ceremonies), Wealth of delicately-expressed rumour, Vial of scent, Concealed pillbox with emergency purgatives and restoratives. 
  10. Concierge /// Elegant but unobtrusive suit of clothes, Master key, Corkscrew, Four bottles wine, 1d8 Notes, Calling-cards and Billet-doux (one of them your own).

* (Roll 1d4 for tone; 1 - Comic, 2 - Poetic, 3 - Trenchant, 4 - Bawdy. You may decide on content or genre yourself - IE Bawdy Satire, Comic Romance, Poetic Editorial, Trenchant Travelogue, Bawdy Tragedy**, Trenchant Open Letter, Comic Verse, Trenchant Songs, &c)
** Titus Andronicus, I suppose. Or perhaps a bit like Thackeray's Luck of Barry Lyndon.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Mariners of Malmery - and The Rest of All Possible Worlds

 After vast Tsymric and bustling Datravia - we turn to Malmery.

This is the part of a setting I am now referring to as The Rest of All Possible Worlds, with the tag or strap White-Hot Sparks from the Crucible of the Enlightenment. The principle of interesting, varied equipment lists full of alternatives to leather remains a characteristic, but I intend the spirit of The Rest of All Possible Worlds to be about a continent (or continent-like culture grouping) on the verge of a magical Enlightenment - that is, an Enlightenment in the 18th century vein

Speak then, of Malmery. Of wind-swept isles and rugged sea-rovers - of peaceable glades and quiet inlets. Of merchants who smile at pirates and pirates who smile at merchants. Of rich seams and swift waterways. Of choleric Earls and vigilant elders. 

Malmery is the greatest of a string of islands in the western ocean fringes; there is nothing beyond them until you reach the Buccaneers' Archipelago or Bronzemount Free State in the west.  Malmery gave its name to the island chain as a whole, not that some of those inside Malmery would be swift to recognise the fact. 

Malmery itself is large enough to be divided into High and Low Malmery. The largest ports and widest fields are in Low Malmery, facing the mainland; the highest peaks and the old capital face the ocean. Trade is said to roll downhill. 

Knit together by the traffic of sailors, the other parts of Malmery shuttle in and out of the orbit of the Crown and Capital on an almost seasonal basis. The Malmeric appellate courts close and open almost with the tides. The nearest Earldom may be granite-cliffed Nhalark, north-most trade hub. After that, the lush pastures and neat townships of Glengallow.

Further north than Nhalark would be the low island of Laldiel - which has a reputation as a mere floating moor, anchored by one brief belt of hills. Western-most we meet the limestone flats of rainswept Tyrconoway.  Turning south, you will finally find the sunny, ore-rich Cerq and the long scattered curve of the Cerquae Isles.*

It is as true to say that every Malmeran is a sailor as it is to say that every Prizelander is a merchant. Which is to say, it is a lie, albeit a revealing one. Traditional Malmeric dress contributes to this - a Malmeran sailor would wear a length of rope on their person, even if they had plenty of other rope on their ship. In time it came about that a civilian mariner would wear a loop about the shoulder, from which a marlinspike could dangle; a fighting sailor would wear a longer, baldric like body-rope from which a sword or boarding axe could hang. 

This became known as the 'cordon' to distinguish it from other ropes or lines. Eventually, the practice spread to those who were not sailors, often carrying a flat pouch (sometimes called a musette) or working knife - and it became smart to have a clean, neat rope for 'Sunday' best. A gentleman was assumed to be capable of bearing arms, and thus would wear the long rope even if they had never taken up a military career. Even wealthy modernisers and followers of foreign fashions will have a cordon somewhere.

Thanks, Wikimedia.

Naturally, in scattered Malmery, there were local and familial variations. Rope or cord, which knots, the presence or absence of aglets, material of rope, colour of rope, which shoulder the rope hung on....you may be sure that in the present, a certain form of cordon has come into being with a full set of etiquettes attached to it. Dress beneath the cordon is not so standardised, but generally will have appropriate loops and pads to support and present the cordon.

There is a distinction between Aiguillettes, Forragère and Lanyards, but it is scarcely certain a Malmeran would recognise them. 

This process has been aided by a comparative lack of cattle and tanneries in Malmery - perhaps as a result of the terrain, perhaps as a result of plague. In addition to the cordon, therefore, a Malmeran will stereotypically have poor shoes: hardwearing hobnailed sandals or moccasin-like half-boots. 

To continue on food-ways: fish, as you may expect is widely eaten in Malmeric cuisine. Cider is more readily available than wine, and to the traditionalist, is more prized. Oats and buckwheat grow more readily in Malmery than wheat. Beefeater, incidentally, is not a phrase that would convey a sense of bucolic plenty in Malmery - rather, it might convey silver-spoon privilege.  

Malmery has lately endorsed theory and praxis of the Majestic Vision contrary to the continental schools. This, coupled with a few coinciding wars, has emphasised further the distance between Malmery and the mainland. Commerce raiding and prize-taking was preferred method of Malmeric campaigning, for no towns or forts could be reliably held on the mainland. Further internal disputes and civil wars have furnished a diaspora of Melmerans who supported the fallen Ascendancy serving as mercenaries, military advisors and privateers across the continent. 

Thus, in the popular drama of overseas the Malmeran of low farce is a bearded ruffian in strange clothes, obsessed by shoes and knowing little of food beyond the dish of herring fried in oatmeal. The Malmeran of comedy is a good-hearted swaggering bluff rustic (often the friend or servant of the male lead); the Malmeran of romance is a wild, dashing sea-captain willing to seize what he sets his heart upon; the Malmeran of tragedy is a stern, masterful man, courageous and abstemious though reckless and unsocial. 


  1. Sailmaker /// Thick needles, Reel of heavy waxed thread, Sailmaker's palm, Canvas Offcuts (one fitted to wear as a waterproof cloak).
  2. Returned Mercenary /// Fusil, Powder and Shot, Large well-made well-worn leather boots, Fascine knife, Commemorative medal depicting a recently-defeated Prince. Optional: [Hair cut and dressed in the Continental Style: +1 CHA in right conditions, lasts 1d3 months.]
  3. Tin Miner /// Pick, Auger, Stiff hat with candle-stubs, Thick-crusted pasty, Ease of movement in low-light conditions. 
  4. Fishmonger /// Several filleting knives and sharpening stone, Robust apron, Heavily stained basket, Nosegay (protects against foul air, two uses). 
  5. Privateer /// Basket-hilted cutlass, 1d3+1 flags, Letter of Marque (in robust pouch), Plundered commodity (spices, tea, tobacco, &c).
  6. Student Advocate /// Sober robes (second-hand), Bundle of legal briefs, Nightwatchman who owes you a favour, Tickets to an Oratorio, Ring that looks like a ruby.
  7. Mage Navigator /// Telescope, Enchanted automatic log-line (respools at will, counts with bell-chimes the number of knots), Book of tide-tables (incomplete), Sounding line.
  8. Thane /// Bottle buckwheat eau-de-vie, Outdated large-hilted sword, Brightly coloured bonnet with distinctive hackle, Elaborate clan-colours cordon.
  9. Island Shepherd /// Crook, Long axe-blade (attach to crook to make a lochaber), Warm woollen coat (works even when damp), Shears, Horn box of snuff.
  10. Wizarding Matross /// Witch-fire linstock, Sympathetic bearings in reinforced glass tube (can be used to subtly change motion of projectile), Set of ballistic tables, Windsock. 

*Some sentimental cartographers take this to be in the shape of a wing.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

The Hobbesian Theory of Tabletop War Games

This is me laying claim to and expanding upon an old comment over at Monsters and Manuals. That was on a Clauswitzian look at Warhammer 40,000 (hereafter 40k). 

Anyway, here is the relevant text of the comment:

I have recently come to consider 40k as in some sense fuelling a 'Hobbesian' theory of tabletop wargames in a fictional setting: of a war of all against all.
To be more precise: every faction should have a reason in the background to fight every other faction AND to fight amongst themselves.

(To make it clear: the Imperium's internal struggles are perhaps only matched by their external ones, Chaos is self-explanatory on this point, as are the Orks, the Eldar probably don't want to kill one another on an ideological level but are so arrogant and splintered that they might well end up doing so, the Dark Eldar are backstabbers to a man, the Tau are very much unified - with one important exception that allows for the rule to stand, the Tyranids will feed on each other as much as on others and the Necrons have come out of stasis with all their old grudges intact.) [I believe this also stands for the former Warhammer Fantasy; Age of Sigmar perhaps not.]

Why should this be? Well, it allows for the maximum amount of in-person play, not needing any specific faction to have a game. Granted, it's going to look odd if one company of Ultramarines fight another company, but hardly unprecedented. 

What we do we mean by Hobbesian? Well, Thomas Hobbes (of Malmsbury) was a 17th century English philosopher, best known for Leviathan - an account of political structures and social contract theory with an amazing cover. 

Thank you, Wikipedia.

Hobbes was notorious in his time* - more, I would suggest, for the methods used in his account of political society than his actual conclusions (see here for Ada Palmer's account of this). Of course, he wasn't a libertine or atheist like Rochester (at least, not of the kind of unbelief we would readily recognise). Hobbes doesn't end up by coming out in favour of direct democracy or a workers' cooperative; in as much as Leviathan may be called prescriptive rather than descriptive, it suggests something close to the absolutism of the 17th century, with some caveats. 

The enduring image of Hobbes is in Part One of Leviathan, depicting a vision of mankind without government; this is then used to build up the parts of a Christian Commonwealth. 

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Leviathan, Part One, Ch XIII, 9 

It's a pessimistic view of the 'state of nature' (I believe this term is coined by John Locke. Hobbes refers to 'the natural condition of mankind'), but an enduring one. Hobbesian, therefore, refers to this imagined state of constant struggle, or a state of being much like it. This definition is, certainly, not as partial and derogatory as when we use Machiavellian to refer to sinister conspirators, but is still incomplete.


So, then, to the Tabletop. Let us consider three categories of war game settings.

First, war games set in real-world history, or something very like it. Players refight the Battle of Marathon, or the Corunna Campaign, or the Russo-Japanese War - or even something smaller and less formal, like the Gunfight at the OK Corral or the Siege of Sidney Street (stretching the definition of 'War', I know - but I imagine a war game should include the possibility of portraying insurgencies and non-state actors). We might include counterfactuals on this list as well - IE, a hypothetical Seige of Washington DC after a Confederate victory at Gettysburg. 

Team Yankee, which deals with the Cold War breaking out into open conflict using conventional weapons, like Tom Clancy's novel Red Storm Rising, would count here. It is imagining a third world war fought with the expected weapons and alliances of the 1980s; even if the imagined conflict is driving military innovation, we don't see brand new models of tank on the battlefield, still less NATO laser artillery and Soviet airships

At any rate, this first sort of war game is not really Hobbesian. The Austro-Hungarian Empire won't betray Germany at the drop of a hat in 1916; there are expected alignments and relationships

Second, we may refer to war games set in pre-existing fictional settings. The Middle-Earth Strategy Battle Game (once The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game known to my youth) sorts its factions into Good and Evil very neatly (a game based on The Silmarillion might do differently, given that history of rash oaths, treachery and kin-slaying, but the Strategy Battle Game as given is pretty firmly wedged in the Third Age of Middle-Earth). Star Wars miniature games seem to largely do likewise - it would be a strange Star Wars piece of media that portrayed the Rebel Alliance breaking down into sectarian violence. 

Even if we are were to imagine a war game based on a property without Black Hats and White Hats, the notion that factions and characters stick to their canonical allegiances and motivations shines through. Even A Song of Ice and Fire (adapted for television as A Game of Thrones), in its war game (A Song of Ice and Fire Tabletop Miniatures Game) portrays House Tully and House Tyrell as integral parts of the forces of House Stark and Baratheon, respectively. This despite them both being great houses and nominal equals in their own right - and despite the oft-Hobbesian tone of the battles and intrigues of ASoIaF. In my survey of the above website, I think you could assemble an independent Tully/Mercenary force that adhered to the rules as given- but I don't know how competitive it would be.

Anyway, this second type of war game appears to be rarely Hobbesian. So you'll guess that the Third category (of three) will be the Hobbesian one. And you'd be right.

The Third category is, then, those war games set in an original setting designed for the sake of the game (or, potentially, for a universe conceived from the beginning to work in a variety of media). Again, 'Every faction should have a reason in the background to fight every other faction AND to fight amongst themselves.' I've laid out how 40k meets the conditions above**; Warhammer Fantasy as was meets them as well, more or less.

[Ahem: The Empire and Bretonnia are divided feudal polities very ready to do battle over honour or religion; Chaos Warriors, Daemons, and Beastmen are self explanatory, as are Orks and Goblins; the Skaven's internal competition is rabid; Ogre Kingdoms are like the Skaven but boisterous instead of manic; Dwarfs will go to war over five unpaid farthings; Vampire Counts are haughty, self-absorbed and competitive; the Tomb Kings have risen from the sands with all their pride and grudges intact; Dark Elves are malevolence personified, quite ready to betray one another; Wood Elves have a streak of fey wildness to them that would give rise to conflict - and at least one elf-hating Dryad; High Elves are comparatively harmonious and well-adjusted - but are collectively proud and arrogant, to say nothing of somewhat isolationist; Lizardmen may argue over the ruins of the Great Plan, and there are those beyond Lustria and the guidance of the Slann]

Well, so much for Warhammer, great overwhelming monolith that it is. What of other Third-category war games?

Consider Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings, by Para Bellum (an illustration for which is below).

As found here.
I feel that this style of fantasy illustration - lush, painterly, deeply coloured, detailed without the glossy primped look that characterises some artwork - is something I've seen quite a bit of lately (think Karla Ortiz's cover to Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and some of the art for 28). I wish I had a good name for it. 

As a survey of the setting's lore suggests, they fit the Hobbesian mould pretty well. A shattered empire of A Hundred Kingdoms, the cruel biotech-wielding precursors of the Spires, savage and potent outland raiders, wrath-corrupted delvers - and each with it's own set of sub-factions, providing not only unit variety but also competing forces.

As found here. Another example of the unnamed style.

So much for Conquest. And you might say that this follows too close to Games Workshop to really count - compare Warhammer's Empire with the Hundred Kingdoms, or 40k's (Dark) Eldar with the Spires. Let's pick out a few more examples. 

A Very British Civil War is an alternate history - a counterfactual in the same vein as Team Yankee above. There are some relatively outlandish or eccentric forces, but nobody appears to have taken up a form of technology beyond the 1930s. The background is that the Abdication Crisis of 1936 has resulted in constitutional turmoil and finally civil war. Fascists, Socialists, Edward VIII-loyalists, Anglicans, Scotch nationalists and more compete for rule of Great Britain (games in the Empire are possible, but out of focus; foreign intervention is present in the form of volunteers and aid rather than armies).

Now, obviously, this differs from a fantasy setting, or the far-off 41st millennium. There's also a difference in tone - consider the illustrations, miniatures made or suggested for the game and the presentation and discussion of VBCW. Grimdark it ain't.  If there is a single inspiration for it, it would be the 1995 film adaptation of Richard III*** set in an alternate 1930s - a part of the mannered, artificial (in the sense of 'crafted') text of Shakespeare's history plays carries over. Of course, the tone could be skewed more towards the realities of the (comparable) Spanish Civil War. But the default has the relative lightness suggested above. 

Grimdark or not, it fits: every faction should have a reason in the background to fight every other faction AND to fight amongst themselves. It is a time of civil war - brother is already fighting brother (literally, given Edward and Albert....)  - so further shifting allegiances are to be expected. Further, given how isolated and cut off some of these forces may be, it should not surprise us that one Royalist regiment might find itself attacking another. 

One more. Infinity by Corvus Belli lays out a science fiction setting; colonised star systems, new frontiers, exciting and powerful technologies. The inspiration of Infinity lies in an inter-connected, Information Age world, full of smooth, colourful stylings and with a primarily Asian derived group of interstellar factions (it even has its own manga). The battles depicted are 'secret missions, black ops and covert actions' rather than grinding trench warfare or frenetic melee combat. It is distinct, therefore, from the decay, zealotry, Gothic architecture and gloom of 40k .... despite the power-armoured religious military orders.

None of this makes Infinity a pleasant future to consider, per se. There is an extra-terrestrial threat, rebellion and the sleek outlines of postcyberpunk futures may well conceal pain and suffering. But again it fits the Hobbesian requirements for a world of wetwork and realpolitik. Sub-factions ('sectorials') once again abound - as to be expected in interplanetary polities. Left hand may not know what the right hand is doing (or know and dislike it intensely, or think it knows, or feels it needs to find out just in case....)


Assuming, therefore, that you are with me as far as this division of war games and my conclusions about their Hobbesian nature goes, why does this matter? I would suggest that this is a rule that appears obvious once you know it, informing the structure of war games without it being explicit and that it is a useful tool if one is debating the aesthetics and lore (and their implications) of war games in that third category. There will be a tendency to the Grimdark, at the very least. 

Compare this to the origins of the Horus Heresy. Now a novel series of over fifty books, some of them bestsellers (as well as audio dramas, miniatures, artwork, reams of online discussion &c) - and it all came about because of the cost of making new moulds for miniatures****. The Hobbesian theory lurks in the foundations of war gaming in just the same manner. 

Is any of the above consciously noted by war game designers? I wouldn't like to say. Does it matter? Once a given war game is popular enough that plenty of people play it and the number of factions and sub-factions swell, the need for a Hobbesian world abates. (You might be able to say this for Games Workshop's Age of Sigmar. I'm not sure I care to do so here - I don't know enough.) Besides, this only really counts for impromptu games. Tournaments will presumably try to organise things that the Armageddon Steel Legion player won't have to fight other Armageddon Steel Legion (or other Guard regiments, or the forces of the Imperium). This goes doubly so for grand international event campaigns - which works for in-universe explanations; even the most hot-headed or scheming of Imperial commanders know this really isn't the time.

Yet, a note of the Hobbesian persists - in lore, in rules, in structures. Like evolutionary advantages that make more sense for the Savannah, but still persist despite life in (say) 1986 Vancouver. I assert that an understanding of a war game of the Third category and the materials that develop from it is improved by at least considering the Hobbesian theory.

*And I imagine that any present-day politician that cited Hobbes as an influence or inspiration would catch a fair amount of flak for their trouble.

**I left out sub-factions &c, but even tightly-knit compact factions like the Adeptus Custodes have institutions like the Blood Games. Exodites are sufficiently clannish to clash with one another; Harlequins would do it for the art. Genestealer Cults, as criminal/insurrectionary organisations would certainly jostle with one another - and, quite possibly, their Tyranid puppeteers. 

***Suffering catfish, that trailer - no wonder they changed it for the rerelease!

****(VW Talos, 'Crafting the Imperium's Greatest Heel-Face Turn', 28, Vol. 2, February 2020 pp 96-103)

Thursday, 12 August 2021

The Monastery on the Sword: Part Three

First, a few things to mention:

Apologies for a month or so's absence. Things got away from me - and I had to devote a little time to back up the contents of this blog (it comes to over 150,000 words!).

During this time, there has been a massive spike in views, largely from Sweden. I'm not sure why this should be, but Swedish readers are, naturally, very welcome. 

Also, a recent entry - Tsoldiers of Tsymric, which is part of the ongoing 'Fantastical Enlightenment' material I've been putting together.  Other popular posts are reviews or based on something more famous - so why one of my setting posts should be so attractive is beyond me. Perhaps it is some sort of code?

Readers may also wish to take a look at the recent Kickstarter from Patrick Stewart of False Machine: Demon Bone Sarcophagus. There is also the first instalment of David McGrogan's Fixed World to consider.

Signals boosted; bulletins announced. We return to the usual content.

This is the - much delayed - capstone (figuratively and something like literally) to an older project of mine, set within Terrae Vertebrae. Here are the first two parts: One, Two.

We look now to the top of the Sword, as detailed in entry No. 3 in Part Two. The Abbot and several monks live at the top of the sword, lowering baskets for supplies, waste disposal and the occasional visitor - as well as to accept deposits. Several gantries are laced with rigging, offering a place for the favoured monks to make their devotions and for the storage of some few necessities. The Abbot is given a favoured spot, in the shape of an open pavilion on the very pommel. 

The height of the monastery means that newcomers are at a constant disadvantage from the height and winds. Vertigo will not only through off a swordsman's blow, but also a spellcaster's charms. 

In the map below - 

Black indicates the outline of the sword.

Red the timbers and platforms around it.

Green certain mechanisms.

Blue ropes and rigging.

Orange the hollowed-out vault in the hilt, as well as the Abbot's pavilion. 

  1. Spare coils of rope for the winches at 9 and 13, and for the scouring mechanisms.
  2. The shaft of the sword. Nigh-on impossible to climb.
  3. The storage platform - access to 4 and 1 from here.
  4. Thick, abrasive scouring pads hang here, to be used to clean the shaft of the sword. 
  5. 5 and 8 are sides of the access platform. People and items raised up from the ground are received here, and other utilitarian functions performed. 
  6. The cross-guard of the sword. Ancient, solid wood, pitted with monkish scrimshaw. 
  7. A treadwheel here can used to raise baskets from the ground or drag scouring pads. It is powered by Patience the mule. Patience works harder than you. Patience deals with heights better than you. Patience might fundamentally just be a better person than you are. 
  8. 5 and 8 are sides of the access platform. People and items raised up from the ground are received here, and other utilitarian functions performed. 
  9. A wheel here guides a line dropping down to the ground. It can either be powered by a counterweight at 13, or by the treadwheel at 7.  
  10. 10 and 12 are sides of the widest platform. In so much as the monks assemble with their brethren on the ground, they do it here. 
  11. Two extended beacons are set here, together with flammable materials. These are the most obvious emergency signalling system on the hilt.
  12. 10 and 12 are sides of the widest platform. In so much as the monks assemble with their brethren on the ground, they do it here. 
  13. A wheel here guides a line dropping down to the ground. It can either be powered by a counterweight at 9, or by the treadwheel at 7.  
  14. Prayer platforms extend from either side of the hilt at 14 and 16. At 14, a bore-hole four inches in diameter leads into the vault as a deposit slot (one of the monks has a staff with an appropriate scoop at the top). 
  15. Here lies the main vault, carved into the hilt over generations. The treasures stored here are far from mundane - this is not a bank, being too far from most merchants. It is the rare, the dangerous or certain last-resort stashes that you find in the numerous cubby holes and niches of the vault. 
  16. Prayer platforms extend from either side of the hilt at 14 and 16.
  17. The pommel of the sword. 
  18. The Abbot's Pavilion. The entrance to the vault is here.
Occupants of the Hilt: 1d6+2 monks, the Abbot, Patience the Mule.
The monks and Abbot can be treated as low-level and higher-level clerics/Prophets. They carry no weapons as such, but many long iron-bound poles used to assist with the winches or the business of scouring.
All occupants of the hilt do no suffer from the adverse conditions caused from height, exposure, &c.
The monks spend their time at 5, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16. 3 is not regarded as a place for regular use - like a  cellar. 
The monks consider themselves less a religious community than a 'conglomeration of hermits' - a little like the real-world Carthusians. Individual tasks, prayer and contemplation are more frequent than mass worship.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Fallout, Britain and the 1950s Apocalypse

A friend of mine recently sent me the reveal trailer for the Fallout 4 mod Fallout: London. Now, the notion of a Southern England-set Fallout is something familiar to me. And, even if I haven't played every game in the series, I have enjoyed them - and the shared reference point of Fallout: New Vegas among a number of my friends that gave birth to Fallout: Home Counties in the first place means that I have a certain affection for it. 

What I'm saying is, it feels like I have a stake in this matter.

Now, I'm going to pick at some of the elements of this mod in such a way as may be less than gracious. I will freely admit to a partial knowledge of the mod and that I have nary a fraction of their digital ability. Further, that the team are limited by the constrains of the base game. The team includes a reasonable contingent of British people in it as well - this will not be an outside-looking-in depiction of a culture.

Secret Nuclear Bunker | Like the sign says, they like to kee… | Flickr

That said....

There are a few things I would like to address regarding the mod and its presentation of a post-apoclyptic London. 

Firstly, I think it can hardly be denied that the Fallout universe is one where 'the 1950s never ended'. We largely see this in the US, but, well, Cold War Paranoia, technology, culture, politics - all act out a continuation of the 1950s in some sense. Despite decades passing, this remains the case; no 1960s, no Woodstock, no cultural revolution, no Watergate thus no end to an Imperial Presidency.... 

(I can find no references to the Civil Rights movement, but Jim Crow certainly appears to be over - perhaps brought about by the same kind of top-down government that would turn fifty states into thirteen commonwealths).

To lay things out: the 1950s in Britain, even sketched in broad nigh-on-cliche terms was not the 1950s of the United States. The winding down of Empire is only part of it. National Service would only end in 1957; not only did British forces remain in Germany, but fought in Korea, Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya and the Suez Crisis. Domestically, you have the pinch of Rationing together with the post-war political consensus getting on with the work of rebuilding. You have a country devastated by bombing (apt!) being rebuilt by idealistic (hubristic?) architects and city planners - removing slum housing, producing high-rises and new towns - like Milton Keynes with its numbered streets (the same movement that would produce a barracks like this and the Barbican).

To say nothing of the Festival of Britain and the Skylon.
(Image via those nice chaps on Wikipedia)

Frankly, I can do little better than to recommend the linked series of reviews if you want a quick dive into things. They are reviews/summaries of David Kynsaton's social history of post-war Britain, with useful timelines and the occasional acid comment. The blog's same reviews of period fiction are also helpful.

There is little evidence, however, that Fallout: London has gathered any of this raw material into the mod. If in Fallout America never has Woodstock, Britain never has the Beatles and Carnaby Street. What do we have instead? Barrage balloons (against the A-Bomb?!?), Vera Lynn (excusable, thanks to Kubrick), Tommies, 'Fascist pamphleteers', London street gangs, Peaky Blinders, a 'Feudal Aristocratic hegemony'. This is all the stuff of the 1930s and the Second World War. [I leave aside the invocation of post-1950s subcultures - where are the Teddy Boys?] A post-war Establishment involves more technocrats, middle-class intellectuals and union leaders; a post-war revolution involves more communists. It's like mixing up (for an American setting) the Industrialists and Railway Barons of the Gilded Age with the Cold War Military-Industrial Complex. Not the biggest or strangest of mistakes, but a notable error nonetheless.

The view we get of London is mostly Victorian-red brick ruins and war-scarred landmarks. Closest thing to a modernist monolith is the 'blast-proof' walls of Westminster (shown below) (the Ministry of Truth is still around, however). This bit of concept work seems to have the right idea.

I know all this might be a little too much like looking for historical accuracy in a counterfactual setting. Besides, vanilla Fallout is as often Mad Max as 1950s ruination. But Fallout: London does seem to have strayed a little from the setting notes. There is perhaps something in a Britain that indulges nostalgia about the 1940s in a way that America might indulge nostalgia about the 1950s - but I'm not sure that Fallout: London actually does this.

The Fallout games also use not only the trappings of 1950s history, but also (science) fiction. There seems less of this in Fallout: London. No John Wyndham on display; no Death of Grass, no Quatermass Experiment. Not a hint of Ridley Walker. Triffids seem tailor-made for Fallout! I've covered this sort of thing on the blog before, if in a rather amateurish format. Where are the lonely concrete left-over RAF bases, as in 'The Hour that Never Was'? Where are the Ealing comedies? Where is Molesworth? Looming post-war tyrannies, as in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four or Lewis's That Hideous Strength are perfect for Fallout - perhaps there's some of them in the background. 

The problem may be that the iconography and choices of Fallout: London are all, I suppose, those of the path of least resistance. The equivalent of the Big Ben and Rule, Britannia identifying shot and musical sting in a film (Cf, this). The Guards Division in bearskins and red tunics. Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square. Red buses and pillarboxes. Tommy Atkins, street gangs. King Arthur and Camelot. It reminds one of a tourist shop bulging with ugly postcards, Royal bobbleheads and Union flags. It's (almost) a hair's breadth from Dick Van Dyke dancing on rooftops. [Harsh!]

Of course, again, I don't know enough about this mod.  I couldn't tell you how good it is, where it will end up or how Shandified it is. But I think I can tell you what's not there.

Monday, 31 May 2021

Of Faith and Fences - A Visit to Saxherm

What is this? A few days ago Christmas Knight over at Grand Commodore threw together a 'Maximalist dreampunk weird fiction city-state creator'. I got out the dice, and over the course of a sunny afternoon put together the following. 

The below was originally posted on Grand Commodore in the comments of the original post. I have presented it here in one package, with screenshots of some of the comments for context. It will be of use to read or at least skim the city-state creator first.

A herm is, of course, a sort of statue 
- and saxum, saxi is Latin for rock.
An unsubtle name, but it sounds right.

(2) Name Afterwards: Saxherm


70          69-71 Religious Order

Religious Demography

65      61-75 Majority/Minority                     5%


74         74-76 Exemplar Polytheism (Maj)

95            93-97 Tutelary Deity   (Min)

Sources of Wealth

54     53-55 International Black Marketeer         3. Stolen goods

11         8-11 Beauty                                                            4. Ubiquitous statuary 

Distinctive Cultural Elements

94     93-100 Traditional Costumes  

Prevailing Conditions

53             52-53 Massive Economic Surplus

69         68-69 Predatory Entity                                 4. Destroying their memories


22     22-25 Distributed over several walled hilltops with bridges and/or tunnels

Most Prominent Architectural Feature

84     81-84 Theatre 

The city of Saxherm was founded on a series of hilltops, each with its own guardian spirit. As the burgeoning city spread between the hills, each court - each garden - each road - earned its own tutelary, carved in a distinctive style. Saxherm became known as a city of statues.

In the third century after its founding, flooded with the teachers and sophists of a neighbouring polity, the local faith was transformed. There were not countless gods of the road, there was one god of all roads. Then there was not a god of all roads, but a god of communications and travel - an archetype of trade and wayfaring. 

    The new faith found a home in the wealthy of the city - those who wished to look up-to-date and could afford the tutelage. The informal associations of sacred masons, iconographers and artisans gave way to well-connected sacred fraternities. The old Assembly and district regiments had bowed to the iconographers or been led by them in many matters. Assemblymen, municipal officials and regimental leaders saw a way to escape that influence now. 

    Through the fourth century, low-level conflict between the new faith and the old was the rule, as were ongoing spats between high and low. In time, however, temples to each of the archetypical deities were erected on each of the fortified hills, cementing their place in the hearts of Saxhermenes. The Assembly now largely overlapped the sacred fraternities; rather than blossoming in its own right, it withered once again into a junior partner.

    Each from their hilltop districts, the fraternities extend their rule of the city. Rather than all bowing to a given hierarch, a governing council made up of the heads of each regularly changes their chairman according to the calendar. (This is a complex thing, taking both lunar and solar influences into account, along with certain anniversaries and seasonal observances. Alterations to the calendar are fraught constitutional debates.) For a week it may be the shrewd-eyed grey-locked Matriarch who casts the final vote, then the sinister Grand Psychopomp, then a pale Vestal chosen by lot, then a masked Oracle from the copper domes of the Vatic Quarter.

    However, in the depths of the Plebeian districts, there are those who have never forgotten the Tutelary Deities. They petition for funds to maintain the statues and for a legal protected status, they decorate them with garlands of flowers, they leave coins in outstretched hands, they touch sponges soaked in wine or milk to stone lips. If this is condemned, it is generally as an unfortunate and stubborn superstition rather than as an appalling heresy. This minority is protected by a measure of civic pride in the statues, which are now an inseparable part of the city's character. The wealthy Assemblyman who has spent a lifetime in the Brethren of the Armed Ploughman will happily delve into his coffers to repair the statue of a tutelary deity he has only ever walked past. 

The traditional garb of Saxherm has taken a rather strange turn. A translation of philosophy into costume has taken place, and the custom is (for those who are not in some other uniform or practical garb) to wear an indication of the abiding technological influence on one's life on the person. This can be as simple as a smith wearing a sash decorated with hammers - but the owner of a textile company could as equally wear an embroidered badge showing a loom or a ledger. Foreign scholars have sometimes suggested that this Saxhermene custom could be an evolution of the tutelary concept, although all but the highest of the fraternities and religious societies embrace this form of dress. 

Aside from the numerous statues, Saxherm has been known as a clearing house for stolen goods. The Sodality of the Broken Threshold has long acknowledged the valour of the thief in challenging the wealthy and complacent; to steal, to trick, to count coup - these are sacred and praiseworthy acts. And the Sodality, in benevolent fraternal agreement with its peers, does not encourage too many sacred and praiseworthy acts in Saxherm itself, but will happily protect and assist the faithful of other lands. 

All this has meant that Saxherm is now a very well-to-do place (the Sodality of the Broken Threshold does not consider itself to be at all wealthy or complacent, but acknowledges its recent good fortune). Great wealth may be seen on the corners of the street, or in the new theatres. But someone must have stolen something they should not have. There are those in the Vatic Quarter who scream in the night with premonitions of what lurks among them. Plebeians and Society members alike have been set upon in the night and wake without knowledge of who they are. The lucky ones can still walk and eat. 

The statues have seen something, no doubt. But they aren't saying anything.