Monday, November 29, 2010

Byzantine Armies AD 1118-1461

Written by Ian Heath and illustrated by Angus Mcbride, Byzantine Armies represents the downfall of an empire. While I haven't finished the whole book yet, considering my appreciation for mercenaries, I found the introduction to be somewhat ironic.

Believing that the army's weakness resulted from its heavy dependence on foreign mercenaries, he concentrated the best of the remaining native troops in Constantinople and reduced the pay and privileges of its foreign mercenaires, declaring his intention c 1255 'to build an army not of Turks, Italians or Serbs, but of Greeks.'

Of course right after Theodore II, Michael VIII, the former commander of the army's Latin mercenaries, goes right back to the employemenet of large numbers of foreign troops. This eventually leads to the economic collapse of Byzantine wealth and other associated bad things like the fall of Contantinople in 1453 by the Ottomans.

Here, the mercenaries are a damned if you do, damned if you don't. Pay them and well, the finances just weren't there. The need to spend on military has apparently crushed more than one super power. Don't pay them and well, they'll just find another employer who might use them again you.

Mercenaries... gotta love 'em.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Italian Medieval Armies 1300-1500

While reading over this book, there were a few things, not necessarily direclty related to the title, that struck me.

On page 47, there is a picture of a 15th century fresco. The illustration notes, "in the usual medieval manner it depicts war-gear of the artist's own day."

Think about that. Art, something that may be used down the line, not actually showing what was, but showing what is with the scenario of what was. In such a case, the viewer would have to know several things about the art. They'd have to know when it was actually done, and what era its covering.

This makes inventing history or using history perhaps even more tangled than it already is. The records of the past speaking with the minds of the more recent past?

The next thing was the aftermath of theBattle of Fornovo. Here, the French and Italians both claim victory and both did acheive some of their goals but neither really managed to wipe out the other or get everything they were looking for out of the conflict. Each country probably has history books recording these great victories against insurmountable odds. But where does the actual truth lie?

Again, the reality of history doesnt' lend itself easily to be shuttered up into one quick convienent piece. When designing your own backgrounds, don't forget the multiple view angle and how an event seen by many witnessess may appear different to each witness.

In terms of art, G A Embleton isn't bad. The artwork is similiar to the cover. It feels, to me at least, low grade 'gamish'. It doesn't have the polish of Angus McBride, but isn't bad. His illustrations are of the different army members and would make great illustrations for a group of warriors.

Italian Medeival Armies provides details on the overall militia life and several looks at different campaigns. Well worth a purusal if your interested in how the various city states of the time managed to thrive as long as they did.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Companies

The Great Company

The White Company

Free Company

Company of Siena

The Company of Cerruglio

Cavalieri della Colomba

Company of St. George

Some interesting names pulled from the Men-at-Arms Italian Medieval Armies 1300-1500. I was a little inspired by the old Condottiere...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I work in a factory with a wide diversity of people. One of them is from parts of the 'former U.S.S.R.'.

I asked him, "Hey, what do you guys do in stead of Thanksgiving."

He smiled and explained to me that it is the time to slaughter the pigs and make the sausage and have the festivals. That is it the time for family gatherings and to fry the fat from the slaughter animals. That is is a celebration of all things meaty and tasty and that its done in preperation of the winter.

Sounds like something that would be right at home in a fantasy setting from the old time. Mind you, I can never tell when the guy is messing with me, but he's passionate about his food and his descriptions of the various foodstuffs to be found sounded authentic to me.

So as you celebrate the carving of the Turkey, remember that others are having their own celebrations with their own backgrounds and their own traditions and think; how can I steal that for my game.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

History is Expensive

I've mentioned before that I'm no arm chair historian. I read stuff that catches my fancy; nothing more, nothing less.

But damn, I wish sometimes that I had the funds for all of those high end books that seem to be right up my alley.

Ugh. $147.00... have you people heard of e-ink!


I try to pretend that I'm not into 'things' as material possessions. I've owned numerous computers, books, movies, music, etc... However, I do like owning some thing and their loss would be a blow. One of those things is my old copy of Deities and Demigods that has the Cthulhu Mythos in it.

The shoggoth on page 46 what could be its cousin, but is probably Shub-Niggurath on page 47, both done by Erol Otus, who also did the cover painting, showcase a monstrous entity that oozes along with limbs and eyes and tentacles and teeth coming and going.

But the shaggoth is well, weak. Don't mistake me, it's twenty hit dice, and 30% magic resistance along with some innate immunities, to weakness, paralysis and charm, provide it some benefit. But...  Suffice it to say I like the 3.5/Pathfinder version much better.

In Rolemaster, there are monsters that are tough to kill. They're not powerful monsters. They just have lots of hit points. Things like whales and what not. That method always made sense to me. These big monsters aren't going down with a single sword stroke, but unlike say 3.5 D&D, where monster level automatically grants it X amount of power, those big monsters weren't necessarily capable fighters either.

Anyway, the shoggoth, ancient creatures created by 'Primordial Ones' also have a variant. I remember reading about it in one of the various works of fiction published by Chaosium. The thing is, these shape changers are roughly humanoid and walk among humanity. It wasn't long until I bought one of the Rafm miniatures. Heck, I'm almost done with it. Maybe I'll post pics when it's finished. The one below is from Rafm: Edit; And posted!

Now what brought this to mind is that I just finished reading the graphic novel, Dark Tower: The Fall of Gilead. Like all good sieges and attacks and large scale combats, its tale involves the use of spies and traitors. How much better if you can add something like a proto-shoggoth? There is no innate link there. Merely the reading of one book, seeing a situation that could use something that would've been different, and then the idea.  The use of dopplegangers and other entities that shape change are fairly well known, but not all D&D players are familiar with the Cthulhu mythos.

By changing up the expected monsters and assassins, even though its still a 'gotcha' moment, it might be a different sort of gotcha moment. The Cthulhu Mythos tends to evoke a different type of horror than standard D&D monsters. At worse, perhaps it'll take the players off guard.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Amazon Bargin Buy

While looking over some other goods at Amazon, I ran across this one; The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders (Arkana) [Bargain Price] [Paperback] by Desmond Seward for $6.80. A lot better than the initial $17.00 they wanted for it eh?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Chronicles of Rus (A tale of my D&D character!)

This is just my weekly recap of the game. I'll throw some 'meta' comments in there as well. For those who find it boring, let me know. For those who find it interesting, let me know. I always encourage the players to take notes when I run a game. It makes for some interesting observations seeing how people write things down according to their own perceptions. Unfortunately, while everyone comes up with some great background in the group I play with, I'm the only one whose has a chronicle so to speak.

We play every Friday, or almost every Friday, at Black Sun Games. The game moved from one GM to another. My initial character didn't have background or much to him because the first GM was a more or less 'popcorn' style guy who I knew wouldn't run long and the game probably wouldn't be very serious. In his kuddos though, he did keep a much better Obsidian Portal account then our new GM.

Anyone looking for more background on my character can hit out the messages boards or the game store or go here for my background.

The initial style of the character was based on my appreciation for the dreaded 'two handed sword' aka in 3rd and 4th ed, the greatsword. that probably started with Elric, but characters like Guts from Berserk and various Manga probably didn't hurt either.

Our GM tends to have us fight small groups or solos so most of my abilities tend to focus on dishing out as much damage as possible. He's also not real tight with magic items or wealth, but getting to find a place where one can get magic items or spend the wealth is another subject.

I'm 12th level now. I've been playing him since 4th level.. I've been playing this character in some form or another since 4th ed started. One guy ran a few sessions of Keep on the Shadwofell when 4e first game out, stopped. Another guy started a homebrew, stopped... so I've run the same concept through again. Of course with the various options and abilities out now, it's not like it's exaclty the same character, but it is the same concept; a guy with a big sword who chops things up.

Our group is currently trapped in Ravenloft. I know several GMs who love its atmosphere and other bits. Never been a huge fan of it myself, but I do get the appeal. We were sent on a mission to kill a hag in order to speak the language of the land. We're in Sithicus, the domain of Lord Soth, which is being run by a badger lycanthrope whose already robbed us. This is what happens after we get back to the Vishanti, Ravenloft Gypsy take, after killing the hag...

After hours of celebration, I decide its time to retire. For the first time since we’ve been here, in this strange and dark land, I feel almost at ease. In the morning, I feel the pain of drinking too much. I go outside and try to ease my muscles up in the morning with some quick katas.

As I get used to the sun, which doesn’t shine here as it does even in murky Mulmaster, I decide that it’s time to payback some of the hospitality I’ve enjoyed here. I prepare to offer my services to the camp, cutting firewood or gathering logs or other such activities.

But a scream cuts through the silence.

Grabbing the Great Leveler,I rush towards the sound. In one of the wagons, the hacked and pale remains of the war priest, Torque, the dog brother remain. No blood either. I suspect the vampire blade. It too left no blood for its wounds. On the other hand, as someone who has dealt death and been on the receiving end more than once, these wounds don’t look like that. They look too crude in nature, as if dealt with by a hand axe in some hacking fashion.

The Avenger and remaining dog brother, Tor, does not take the news well. We gather the bits and pieces of Torque and proceed to burn them. There are far too many undead in this land for me to not take this precaution.

The dead war priest was one of the other party members who seems to insist on making a new character every time something catches his eye. His first one was a swordmage, which he thought too weak. His next one was the war priest, who crossed over a little with our current priest. His fourth one was a bard whose skill sets made him an asset, but whose combat ability... and well, then it was back to the war priest. But recently the Hex Blade, in 4e, a 'build' for the warlock came out and well, his Character Attention Deficiancy picked up again and so he allowed his character to die to build suspense and prepare the way for his new character. Out of character the game I even said, "Oh, X must be making a new character." which meet with many guffs.

After this grueling work and enduring the stench of the dog brother’s burning flesh and organs and bones, I decide its time to eat. All of this manual labor has built up an appetite. Tor heads off to seek some answers. I wish him luck on that quest.

That night, the gypsies throw a celebration for Torque. It’s loud and obnoxious and wild. Tor is the center of attention that night. The ladies console him, the men wish him good cheer. The tales are told of the deceased dog brother, some of them so bawdy they would make a bard blush. Even Pela the bard and Brother Johnathon drink to honor him. Tor moves the celebration more into the realm of Tempus with a wrestling matches. I do as well but hold back. I'm not here to break bones or set us against these people.

The gypsies bid us farewell the next day. The paladin still bemoans the lack of magical might. Her old sword was formidable but cursed. Her new one, an oatblade, has a minor enchantment so its better than nothing. Tor seeks a map of the lands and more information but is only given general directions as to where we need to go. Some elf city, one of the few cities and one of the few elf settlements of all.

We hit the road. Once again, almost as soon as we’re out of sight of the gypsy camp, the rain and frost and fog come. Lousy weather seems to be nothing new here. At our lunch break, we are meet by Dorian, the deva evoker, who travels the land in the form of a large raven. He speaks briefly of the elves, a race unlike those from where we come from. He tells us that they reflect the land and that this is a dire land indeed. As if to prove his point, the rain increases its tempo with the storm sending down sheets of water and hail against us.

The paladin leads us uphill. She hopes that the greater elevation will enable us to keep an eye out for any potential problems. I dread having to take a night watch. I’ll have to use the stone. The stone which requires me to kill least it become angered with me. I clench my fists wondering about the eventual consequences of using such an item. It’s not that I mind the murder, it’s that I mind the potential betrayal of the jet black stone.

I clean off the mithril scale armor, and insure that the blade is firm in the scarlet scabbard.

I wake up to Dorian shaking me. “The dog brother is in trouble.” I blink out the sleep and can make out Tor fighting some woman covered in wooden spikes that she’s using to impale him. “How lovely” I mutter under my breath as I reach for the Great Leveler. No time for armor but then again, between my stance and the blade, even the finest armor doesn't tend to do me much good anyway.

We charge forward. She manages to knock out, or possibly dead. She cackles madly and throws a small forest at the priest of the moon and the paladin. They don’t take it well. I charge past that and using the flat of my blade, smash her face, knocking her to the ground. She doesn’t look pleased. The paladin and priest struggle with the forest.

She rises hissing at me. She essentially throws the forest at me and the red haired rogue. I struggle to break free but the woods hold me tight, piercing my flesh. She doesn’t bother to try and finish me off. Rather she moves closer to the paladin and the priest and begins rending them with wooden spikes and razor sharp talons.

Dorian decides to make an appearance and casts flames upon the woods pinning my comrades. The stench of burning hair and flesh is never a pleasant experience but I’m thankful that its not me. Then more surprises. Torque shows up in a haze of grey and green ghostly translucent magnificence and waves at her and she seems in write in pain.

She moves forward to attack the ghost and as she does so, I feel necromantic energies seeping into me. She continues to wreak havoc on the group as they struggle free from the burning branches. Dorian decides to return the favor for me as well and I also burn. The burns also handle the vines.

I move forward and bring down the Great Leveler but miss. I move around her and swing again. The blow is a glancing one, but my first strike set her up for the second and she staggers under the onslaught.

She moves away from us and I slash into her again. She grabs our local red head and leaps into the trees, appearing somewhere else and they both look alike. I charge both and with an overhead strike hit both of them. The hag decides to drop the disguise and punctures red with more vines and prepares to move away. I slash at her again and she’s not expecting it and moves away from me back to the rest of the group.

I reach on down and roll out the bandages. The group is so used to magical healing that I almost forget the basics of banding the wounds. My own blow against red wasn’t too bad, a fairly shallow but long cut. The burning and other wounds she’s suffered though…

I turn back to see the group engaged and notice that somehow the dog brother is in the midst of combat again. I didn’t even realize he was still alive. I suppose that yell of Tempus didn’t come from my lips this time.
I move back into the fray. The blade runes begin to flare and I grind my feet into the ground to get a better grip on my handle and increase the force of my blows. Her necromantic aura clashes against the ruins flaring on the blade and I laugh and laugh and laugh even as I’m bringing the blade down upon her and pinning her to the floor as she writhes underneath it. The others, the ants, the fleas, those with no heart, begin moving around trying to live through the necromantic aura.

We joke at the table that when I use my stance and my daily berserk ability from the sword that I go 'Super Sayian'. With the power attack and other bonuses, I'm probably doing as much damage as a strikerer every round. In addition, because I use a fullblade and I managed to crit her twice, even though it was on opportunity attacks, she wound up taking most of the damage in this fight from me.

This dry tree lady doesn’t appreciate the fleas running from her and raises a hand, exploding more vines laced with dark necromantic energies from Pela. Poor paladin. Ever since she gave up her dark long sword that drank blood, she just hasn’t been the same. But in doing so, she’s opened herself up to attack by not only myself, but by the dog brother and Dorian. Our attacks hack away the withered gray bark surrounding her.

Because our games tend to have only a fight or two in them, I always wind up using my dailies. No point in not doing so. Ditto for the action point. I have an ability called Bone Crusher that provides a vulernability 10 to weapons so I use that and then do an action point and make another attack. Very potent bit there.

Well, there's a taste of my character at the 4e game I'm playing in. I'll leave off with my stats from the old, downloaded Character Builder that I paid for during many years of service and if I start hearing good things about the online one, despite Black Sun not having wi-fi, may have to pick up again. I iz lazy!

====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&D Character Builder ======

Rus Connor Norach, level 12
Human, Fighter, Kensei
Build: Great Weapon Fighter
Fighter: Combat Agility
Fighter Talents: Two-handed Weapon Talent
Kensei Focus: Kensei Focus Fullblade
Human Power Selection: Bonus At-Will Power
Background: Occupation - Military

Str 23, Con 17, Dex 11, Int 11, Wis 12, Cha 9.

Str 18, Con 14, Dex 10, Int 10, Wis 11, Cha 8.

AC: 30 Fort: 28 Reflex: 20 Will: 21

HP: 108 Surges: 12 Surge Value: 27

Endurance +14, Streetwise +10, Intimidate +10, Heal +12

Acrobatics +6, Arcana +6, Bluff +5, Diplomacy +5, Dungeoneering +7, History +6, Insight +7, Nature +7, Perception +7, Religion +6, Stealth +6, Thievery +6, Athletics +14

Human: Toughness
Level 1: Fighter Weapon Specialization
Level 2: Weapon Proficiency (Fullblade)
Level 4: Weapon Focus (Heavy Blade)
Level 6: Power Attack
Level 8: Powerful Charge
Level 10: Weapon Expertise (Heavy Blade)
Level 11: Blood Thirst
Level 12: Marked Scourge

Bonus At-Will Power: Wicked Strike
Fighter at-will 1: Sure Strike
Fighter at-will 1: Knockdown Assault
Fighter encounter 1: Steel Serpent Strike
Fighter daily 1: Savage Advance
Fighter utility 2: Battle Fury Stance
Fighter encounter 3: Dance of Steel
Fighter daily 5: Nimble Bladestorm
Fighter utility 6: Unbreakable
Fighter encounter 7: Reckless Strike
Fighter daily 9: Bone Crusher
Fighter utility 10: Mighty Surge


Adventurer's Kit, Javelin, Climber's Kit, Journeybreads (10), Longbow, Potion of Vitality (paragon tier) (2), Jet Black Ioun Stone, Berserker Fullblade +4, Tattoo of Bloodied Chains (paragon tier), Mithral Scale Armor +4, Belt of Giant Strength (paragon tier), Amulet of Life +3, Sapphire Scabbard (paragon tier)

====== Copy to Clipboard and Press the Import Button on the Summary Tab ======

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bot aka The Ruin Forged or the Frost Forged

In my initial postings, I've mentioned miniatures as a point of inspiration but haven't had a lot of focus on miniatures.

Superfigs are miniatures designed for Supersystem, a miniatures combat game, but are also useful for Mutants and Masterminds as well as the Champions Hero system. Many of them however, also work perfectly well for a fantasy environment. At their relatively low cost, especially low cost to size, I picked up one called Bot.

Bot was to me, an experiement with some MIG products; heavy rust, light rust, and grease and oil. Normally these types of enhancers are used on tanks and other large scale models, but Bot looked to be a good test for anything I might want to try on various Privateer Press figs.

As I painted him Cold Steel and then lathered on the various rust and grease effects, I decided that I wanted to do a snowy base, another of my weaknesses. I glued the figure onto a 'large' base and dabbed on the spakle. When dried I painted it a few shades of white.

One of the things I was thinking as I painted it though, was that it looked like some sort of primitive War Forged and it got the old brain thinking.

What if the current War Forged of the Eberron setting were not originally made in Eberron. What if they were based on actual models found under the snow, buried deep and discovered by explorers? These ancient relics of a bygone age composed of metals that were no longer found in today's modern smiths and crafted with legs that do not look like they should work and a flawless ruby in it's chest.

So old and ancient were these Ruin Forged or Winter Forged, call so for their location and state of disrepair, they often fell apart before they could be examined. Some were functioning all too well though and came alive, attacking with harder than steel fists and agility that belays their strange experience. Their teeth, filled too razor sharp points, were also not for looks but for use!

I initially see them as coming form another world, a vanguard that was never given the signal and simply left to rot and ruin for reasons no one knows why. in a standard D&D campaign, these ancient creatures could be meant for humanity to use in their fight against Mind Flayers and other entities from the Far Realm using technology as the final boost in Mankind's ancient battles to be free of the unknown terrors of that dark and dismall dimension.

I've always been a fan of a little science fiction in my fantasy, especially Space Opera style and I can easily see something like one of these creatures as an enemy when exploring a ruin like the Barrier Peaks or almost as a normal character in something like Battle Chasers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Batman Under The Red Hood

Batman Under The Red Hood is a movie adaption of a comic book event that has its origins in another comic book event from the late eighties I'm thinking called A Death In The Family. The comic event had parts that were handled poorly (Superboy Prime punching time) and parts that worked fairly well.

Below I'll be speaking about what it made me think about and this includes spoilers so if you're not interesting in them, beware!

Keep the medium in mind.

Batman Under The Red Hood works much better as a short one shot movie than it does a comic book. In the comic, it goes on and on and has to rely on decades of continuity among other limitations like a monthly publishing schedule designed to be put into a trade paperback.

In the movie format, it's able to get out a lot of the material, avoiding some of the excess, like Superboy Prime punching time, and keeps things circular enough that even a casual fan of Batman can probably enjoy it.

Now let me point out how the differences in medium work. Here, and in the comic, the Red Hood, Jason Todd, goes on a tangent asking why Batman hasn't killed the Joker. In the comics, that conversation might go something like, "Well Jason, you were an unliked character who callers paid to see die and the Joker is one of my most famous archnemesis and if you think I'm killing him in order to appease your spirit? Your joking!"

So what do I mean when I'm talking about keeping the medium in mind?

One shots at conventions are different than long running campaigns. Super Hero settings have different genre conventions than Dungeons and Dragons. Keep the thing you're running in mind when getting ready to run your campaign. By knowing if your running a one shot, running a long term weekly series, etc..., you'll be able to keep a better grip on how to run the game and where it could go.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Aliens Versus Predator 2: Requiem

One of the things I love about terrible movies, and make no mistake, Aliens Versus Predator Requiem is pretty much a terrible movie, is seeing what is salvagable from it.

From here, I'm reminded that if you want to make the bad guys as bad as possible, crush the social taboos of society. Children escaping alive to tell their mothers and fathers about the monster? Nope. Sorry kid, you don't make it out.

Children getting killed offscreen? Nope. Gruesome death for you right there amigo.

How about preganent women? Nope, that body is mere fodder for the supper alien that spits three or more eggs into its host. And yup, she bursts open!

Ironically, the Predator in this movie, despite being a cold hearted killer, or perhaps because of it, is the perfect player character. He doesn't know how many of these aliens are around. He doesn't know what the end result of his hunt will be. All he knows is that he has a mission. Play to those strengths when the players are going out into the dungeon or going out for battle. Let them have their cool moments because you never know when those opportunities will come again.

The movie ends in a fairly predictible manner, much like the Crazies or other films where the government has to contain things. Imagine the players are fighting a zombie or alien horde that grows expodentially and the high council of wizards decides, "Nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure." In a fantasy game, that may just blast the landscape into another dimension. A popular comic trick.

Try to salavage something from everything would be what I'd say here and it's what one of the few characters with intelligence does when he steals a predator plasma shotgun.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Hussite Wars: Final Thoughts

I've mentioned the importance of individuals both in starting wars and in fighting wars.

I've mentioned naming conventions and how things are named after people. The Orebites, after Zizka's death, labelled themselves 'The Orpahns', because of the loss they had suffered. People have historically had names that might sound odd even at a gaming table. For example, the successors to Jan Zikka, Prokop the Great and Prokop the lesser. The Great and the Lesser? I know which one I'm going after first.

Don't know if I'm mentioned the use of heraldry or how important it could be. The Hussites used a few symbols. These went on their shields, surcoats, and horse barding usually. Symbols include the chalice and a goose. Some illustrations combine the two. I can't imagine a player today using a goose as his herald symbol but there it is in history.

Women: Don't know if I mentioned it before, but women fought in the Hussite armies. Yeah, Women At Work In Medieval Europe points out women doctors on the field of battle and the Hussite armies bring the peasant women with them into the actual field of combat.

Historical importance: The events of the time may leave their mark on the landscape for centuries to come. Jan has several statues dedicated to him. Some of the ideas and issues of the initial Hussite Heresy come to the foreground in the Reformation. In a fantasy game, it would probably go a lot further.

For example, magic items.  The Mace of Zizka could be a high powered Rod of Lordly Might. When he died he supposedly ordered his men make a drum out of his skin and beat it at the front of the Hussite Army. Drum of Zizka? Oh yeah. Anything a hero uses could be said to be of his power and by taking those names and events into the campaign, the GM can turn even a +1 item into something a bit more.

Now mind you this won't work in a magic item heavy campagin because the players will still turn in that Mace of Zizka if it's just a +1 mace and it's easier to get a +2 mace, but if the mace is used to improve moral, build troops, and other non-combat activities, even if it's not as powerful, it has greater appeal.

Artwork: The material by Angus is up to his usual standards.  Several powerful illustrations of the movers and shakers of the time as well as an excellent illustration of a war wagon.

The Hussite Wars showcase how one event can lead to others and to decades of warfare and in doing so, sparks the imagination with wonder and awe at the strength of the principle characters brought to the foreground in its wake.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Hussite Wars: The War Wagons

One of the things I love about history is being surprised by it. One of the tools in the Hussite Army is the war wagon. When the majority of your forces hail from the peasants, who are farmers, they tend to have a lot of wagons used to carry their goods. Their leader managed to turn these wagons into proto-tanks.

They were first used when Jan Zizka used the landscape to control the flow of the enemy against him by using lakes as natural barriers and then arranging existing wagons as another barrier. After that, they become a central part of the Hussite army. One of the interesting things is that historically, it is assumed that these were defensive vehicles, using both crossbow men and gunmen using essentially murder holes to fire at the enemy and pike men to protect the outside. But that defensive nature seems overstated when in the book, two accounts talk about how the war wagons could encircle a part of the enemy army and cut it to ribbons.

Another interesting bit I like about the war wagons, is that despite having gun men, and a limited number at that due to the cost associated with the guns, is that they have stones for when the conflict gets too close. On one hand, using the gunpowder, on the other, man's earliest weapon.

The thing that comes across in the war wagon though, is that it's use was relatively limited to these areas because they required a lot of open area to use. Those in more mountainous or uneven terrain would find them useless. The other important part, according to that linked website, was the nature of the Hussite army. Peasants; infantry. When many armies consider the knight to be the pinnacle of military superiority, you make do with what you have.

When looking at the history of your own setting, remember the vital role that geography will play in the development of weapons; not just small weapons, but huge weapons of war.

Now if only Games Workshop would get around to releasing some War Wagons...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Hussite Wars 1419-36 Part One

I've mentioned before that the art work of Angus McBride has a powerful pull on my imagination. This cover is no exception. In the Warhammer Fantasy Battle Game and the RPG version, clerics of the Empire are mace and hammer wielding fanatics. Seeing the center character here with one eye bandaged and a mace in hand, I was drawn to the book.

And it is another interesting read, well worthy of a look. I had no knowledge, or at least, direction knowledge, of The Hussite Wars before hand, but I am curious to learn more about them now.

One of the things that stands out to me as a reader and a Dungeon Master, is the enormous effect that individuals of character and charisma and skill have had on the world. The Hussite Wars themselves, take their name from Jan Huss. This is something that happens time and time again in the real world history and it's something I often forget about when looking at designing historical battles for any backgrounds I'm working on.

Not all wars can be the War of the Roses with such symbolism crashing through, but named individuals whose actions and fates, can inspire decades of warfare.

In addition to Jan Huss, the man in the centerpiece here, Jan Žižka, is a military genius of his time, revolutionizing the way battles were fought in his home and winning battle after battle despite only having one eye. Even more determination and grit is shown when he losses the other eye years latter and leads his army for another five years. This is something that in a fantasy book, people might laugh at and go, "Yeah right." But here it has apparently happened with no magic involved. Or course history revisionism is another topic...

But another point of interest about Jan Žižka is his death. He doesn't die on the battlefield. Rather, like several great warrior leaders before him, his death doesn't necessarily involve his profession; he dies of the plague in 1424.

The Hussite Wars bring some interesting bits together and showcase historical weight that will continue to roll down in history. When designing your own settings, if things happen at point X, do those actions have further repercussions down the road? Do people look at the leaders of a bygone era and say, "Yes, they were right and we will continue those works."

Lastly, once again, the strength and importance of religion is hammered home. These Hussite Wars are also Crusades with the Hussites being on the receiving end. Mind you they win these battles but the strength of faith is what starts off wars. Thousands of people killed for the methods of worship. This in turn reminds me of the great job Kate Elliot did with her series, Crown of Stars, and how strong the power of belief, without necessarily clerical magic or any magic for that point, can be.

In many fantasy campaigns, these wars of faith can be somewhat difficult. Some settings like the Forgotten Realms and even Greyhawk, are so brimming with deities that the idea of holy war or heresy on a large scale seems completely against the context of those settings. The best one might be able to do with them, is set up rival deities that can have various smaller rivalries and battles.

In these more intimate battles, the actions of single individuals, like the player characters, come more into focus. Do you want to be one man in an army of thousands, or one hero in a handful that knows of the plots of Shar against Sune?

On the other hand, as King of the North proved, althought briefly, the only thing more impressive than a war of faith is a war of gods. One of the fun things about Palladium Books and their Rift setting is that essentially everything is possible. There are gods, there are fake gods, there are ancient elder entities that had the same roles as some of the other gods and all manners of interesting bits and pieces that some how or another make a near whole. But, if you're looking for religious war fare on a grand and cosmic scale, then a war of Pantheons, where entire countries are moved by gods that are real and do take part of the battles, can be the route to go.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Red Light Action

"A Norman-French law dated 1393 delineates the reasons for establishing the sex neighborhood, the isolation of the sex trade to assigned areas, and the penalties for craftswomen who violate the rules. "Whereas many diverse frays, broils, and dissentions have arisen in times past and many men have been slain and murdered by reason of the frequent resort to and consorting with common harlots at taverns, brew houses of hucksters, and other places of ill fame within the city. And more especially through Flemish women who profess to such shameful, dolorous life. We forbid that any such women should move about or lodge in the city or its suburbs, by night or by day. But they are to keep themselves to the assigned places, the Stewes and Cokkeslane." page 105.

Many men have been slain? Think about what that implies here. Think about what it could possibly imply in a fantasy setting where half-orcs and drow may be among the more exotics of the nighthawks that are popular among the client? When fantasy poisons, spells, and all manner of dark and dangerous methods can be used to kill, and more importantly, where fantasy eco-systems are made specifically to clean up such a mess, think of how difficult it might be to even have prove of death.

In such a town, the lords and ladies running the dark houses of ill repute may have gleatinous cubes at the very least to clean up their mess. They may feed the occassional stranger to the ghouls in the sewers in exchange for the assistance of the undead in times of need.

Magic and mayhem can easily be combined when struck with such words as many men have been slain here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Action Is Happening At The Court

As I continue to read about Women At Work In Medieval Europe, the next section I'm on discusses the lady 'bosses' of the time. One of the things it speaks of is the vast size and scope of running a castle and the various duties that accompany it.

On page 54, there is an illustration and the text describing it brings forth a wide variety of individuals; "Elegantly clothed and seated at the high table, the hostess, beneath a richly decorated baldachin canopy, greets the entertainers who regale the guests with music and mummery. sword-carrying musicians play a variety of fifes, flutes, recorders, shawms, drums, and stringed instruments. Bird-masked, armed entertainers mine and act a play. Most mumming preserved ancient fertility rites including beheadings and resurrections, as in Morris Dances. The lead mummer carries a baton or torch, and faces the ermine-collared Surveyor of Ceremonies who directs the feast, alternating courses with entertainments."

A lot of things going on in that picture. But the courts also have wide arrangements and functions. There is a lot of detail on the use and nature of medieval hunting, including the various birds and animals used for sport. There are the good deeds that these people in power are supposed to be committed to, the givings of alms to the needy. The going to the hospitals to look after the sick.

There is the arrangement of the court itself. It doesn't 'just happen' to so speak.

And in some instances, there is war, and that war requires someone to take charge. One of the examples listed in the book is the countess of Buchan defending Burwick Castle against attack by King Edward I.

These activities provide an 'in' if you will, to the life of the courts. Does one of the players have a known skill? He's summoned to the court to show it off. Want to make more of it than a simple skill showing? Have it become a competition.

Want to run it in a dark vein? The players are hired to act as assassins but normaly people aren't allowed weapons in the noble's feasts and courtyard. Only those entertainers have them. Time to do some undercover work.

With the many branches that can interweave themselves in the high life of the court, it makes a tempting local to introduce the characters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Carl Orff - O Fortuna

To me, perhaps from viewing Excaliber as a young man, this song has remained one of the most powerful and compelling pieces of classic music and much like the Conan soundtrack to the original movie, it still gets pulled out on occassion.

Friday, November 5, 2010

women At Work In Medieval Europe

Talk about and now for something completely different right? It may sound strange, but as much as I enjoy watching anime for some of the outrageous fight scenes and enjoy painting certain styles of miniatures of the 'flash', I actualy prefer, when not reading fiction for pleasure, to increase the old brain pan on some of the things that we think were going on back then.

And one of those areas of interest is what were women doing. Not because when I GM I don't allow female paladins or anything like that. Rather, I'm curious as to what the actual socieites were like and what jobs they had.

While I've only just skimmed the book thus far, it's alays proven worth the price. Marie De France is a 12th century poet and one of the examples of her work is showcasing a woman using her mind to outsmart her husband who catches her cheating. She tells him that the man can't trust his eyes. After all, if he looks into a barrel of water and sees his reflection, he's not actually in the barrel. His eyes are lying to him! There's some other clever bits here too.

Ironically, before I got into the book, the preface mentions Dr. Barbara of Wissenkirchen, a battlefield truma surgeon in 14th-century Germany. That right there is a perfect NPC. While the gaming mechanics and whatnot would have to be worked out, the fact of a battlfield trauma suregon is awesome in and of itself.

When looking around at your table, if you have players whose characters roles and abilities you arent' certain would fit into your campaign, don't be afraid to do a little research and challenge your perceptions. Even if such characters are the rareities and exceptions, they can make good examples of 'true grit' so to speak.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Limits of Specifics

As I continue to read through the Baltic Crusades, too much of it focuses on the weapons. On the knowledge side, it's interesting no doubt. I like seeing how one handed axes and pole arms come together to form big old halbreds. I like seeing that cheap and effective, such as the spear and the 'kettle' helmet continue to work their way through the ages.

But as a role playing piece of information? Unless I'm setting out to historically model a part of the campaign after it, useless. Most fantasy games have this weird pseudo era they take place in where you have all of the latest innovations in armor up to plate mail, but on the weapons side? Well, crossbows are about it. Even though in this book, it notes that guns and cannons started coming in much earlier than most people would normally think of when they think of guns and the middle ages. "It was during the 14th century that gunpowder reached Scandinavia and the Baltic, the Teutonic Knights and Danish armies being relatively earlier than Sweden and Norway in the use of this new technology."

I'm one of those weirdo's who likes guns in his fantasy. Star Wars is space opera. Light sabres and guns and all sorts of great stuff. Thundar the Barbarian isn't some post apocalyptic fantasy, it's fantasy. Sure, you can run into some weird bits when you try to model the accuracy, firing speed, and damage potential of all of the technology, but it doesn't stop fantasy game designers from throwing dozens of variants of swords, maces, and axes in there alongside of armor from cloth and leather to plate armor.

If the guns aren't made too extensive and too overwhelming in their use, their impact on the campaign should be minimal.

This is something everyone needs to determine for themselves of course but it's always been a no-brainer for me. Knights and dueling pistols are a long part of games like Warhammer Fantasy, and even Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition toyed with them.

I guess part of it for me, is that it's just part of technological evolution. I have a hard time seeing an elf using some compsoite bow after being alive for ten thousand years. Sure, there is magic and it has a huge place, but unless the setting has suffered one massive dark ages apocalypse after another, something that the elves shouldn't have lived through in the first place, their inability to move past the woods is simply annoying.

It's one of the reasons why when I see Privateer Press and the old Rackham elves using what amounts to high technology and magic methodology, that I clap. Those ancient races should be the baddest of the bad. Even if, like Warhammer 40K they're not making newer technologies, their mastery of the old world material should render them like unto gods.

In 2nd edition, outside of the Forgotten Realms and it's brief flitartion with guns, we had Spelljammer. During the various wars between elf and orc, the pace of weapon mastery should have been staggering. While a few prizes of that nature do show up, it's often indicated in the "yeah, that was once long ago." and never seen again.

Eberron takes an interesting approach in that things seem to almost be at an industrial age level but it has come about through magic instead of technology.

Anyway, I'm rambling. While I like some of the ideas in the earlier part of the book, when it starts talking about the sepcifics, they become less useful to me. That may not be true for everyone, but unless you've got a weapons hunger that needs specifics, there's a big chunk of this book you can pass over.

In terms of art, Angus knocks it out of the ballpark. His use of color doesn't overwhelm the eyes. There is one picture in particular, where a group of soldiers is leading their horses through the swamp and the look upon their faces is great.  The illustration on the next page looks like it was ripped out of one of his Middle Earth books illustrating a Rider of Rohan speaking to fellows at a castle. Suffice it to say if you enjoy the cover, the interior is more of the same.

Inspiration can come from anywhere but be aware that in some instances, the specifics of a thing will render those parts useless for the specifics of what you want inspiration for.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Scandinavian Baltic Crusades 1100-1500

There is so much history out there and the world is so large, that sometimes when you see a word, like Crusade, associate with a different location than you're used to, it perks your interest. Hell, sometimes seeing a favorite artist involved with a project, like Angus McBride, perks your interest.

While I haven't delved very far into the book, a few things struck me as important world building bits from this Northern Crusades material.

One, religion is a huge motivating tool in a society. The author argues that many went on Crusade because it was the 'right' thing to do, not because the royalty and religious powers wanted all of the 'rough' men out of the country during times of peace. There were rewards to be sure, such as having all previous sins, and all those committed on the trail, forgiven, but it was done because it was a 'good' thing.

Two, the use of waterways is so vital that it can help establish not only cultural similarities due to bleed, but is essential in the spread of news. This allows those individuals who are notable and noteworthy to have much greater and more reliable methods of finding out what is going on in the world. In a campaign setting like the Forgotten Realms, news in the Moonsea region, despite the hostility many of those independent city states hold towards one another, probably travels much quicker than it would merely up and down the Sword Coast, which is a huge stretch of coastline.

Three, religious pilgrimage. It's a common enough event for these times but one frought with danger. For example, King eric I 'Ever Good' of Denmark maded an armed pilgrimage to Palestine but did not make it back home.

Four, crusade is often used, at least in the times I've heard it referenced, almost in exclusive contact with the Holy Land. Here, the text makes the distrinction that it's against any religious hersey, even when its against members of the same faith who practice it a different way. Looking at the Forgotten Realms again, the Twilight War by Paul Kemp put this to good use with the sun god unergoing his change at the time and the new face of the faith taking place. The victor of the battles will determine what is the actual heresy. In some fantasy settings, perhaps the followers turn away from their god if the god does physically make new decrees and laws that those of his faith simply do not wish to follow.

Fifth, the environment plays a vital part in any military matters. While it was mentioned in the old mercenary book how one of the commanders used superior tactics involving the surrounding country side through use of scouting and planning, that idea is hammered home again here where the rugged landscape here isn't necessarily one that is suitible for the standard mounted men with the infantry taking a larger and more important role.

When looking at your gaming maps, try to keep in mind what type of armies can realistically funtion there. Now the rough terrain may not be an issue for those who ride griffons or giant eagles. It may not be an issue for those who use flying ships and fortressess. But for those who are using a more earthly campaign or more rooted in standards of reality, when the mountainous terrain and the badlands become too common, the use of horsemen is out.

The Baltic Crusades brings a lot to mind without even getting into the specifics of it. When reading material, try to keep the mind open. Try to think what can be applied to your own campaign. Try to think how you might be able to use the material. Keeping such things in mind as you read may open the campaign  in ways you never initially thought about.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Condottiere: More Thoughts on Mercenaries

While reading over Condottiere, one of the things I found interesting, is that part of the influx of mercenaries comes from soldiers that fought during the Hundred Years War. In your own campaigns, if there have been large battles recently, what happens to the soldiers after the wars are over? Even in today's 'modern' society, there are difficulties making sure that those who served in war time are treated right when they come home. How much harder in a society that has not the modern lifestyel or the modern thinking?

But all things turn. Even as the mercenaries rose from outside sources in Italy, they fall to outside sources that have adopted to war quicker and with more efficiency than those in Italy. The rise of national armies against divided city states proves one method superior to the other.

In terms of mercenary use, when the land is rich with them, different methodologies may crop up. Much like discussions of Democrats and Republicans in American society, these teachings tend to break into different factions and are almost politics in and of themselves. When crafting some of the background of the setting, think about some simple philosophies that different mercenary companies would follow and how they interact with each other.

In terms of Graham Turner's art, he's good. His work lends a solid feeling that isn't fantastical but is stylized.  If you like the cover, which is from the battle of San Romano, 1432, then chances are you'll enjoy the interior art by him as well.

Lastly, I'd like to mention the cover. The commander isn't wielding a sword. Instead, he's wielding a batton, an instrument to denote his rank and his leadership. In a game with magical items, something that augmented command or charisma or allowed a user to influence a large group of soldiers, wither issuing them commands, fortifying them from magical fear, or showcasing the user's own ability, would be desirable and perhaps even common to those with the funds to purchase them.

When I look at different books for ideas and inspiration, I'm also looking for different ways and methods I might use that inspiration in the first place. Of course in a historical material, there would be no magical rods of command, but it's an old school magical item and fits the theme well.

When looking at material, try to think about not only what its teaching or its original use is, but how it may beenfit in different ways than originally intended.

For example, what if the humanoid hordes are finished with their wars and instead of turning on the humans, seek out employeement with them by the thousands? Instant mercenary armies. And if what the book mentions here is true, there would be many parallels. For example, the mercenary armies were often devastating to the surrounding landscape, engaging in acts of pure carnage and rapine of both land and people. At the same time, the employers of the mercenaries were often worse, assassinating the leaders and refusing to honor the contracts that they themselves had drafted.

Now with hobgoblins, orcs, and other races doing these vile acts, the poor treatment of the employees almost seems justified eh? A few tweaks here and there and things like half-orcs and half-hobgoblins become that much easier to explain. A history of hogoblin nobles arising from their mercenary roots becomes more tangible. An integration of these races to the setting, only to have them crushed later by other national armies, becomes part of the background.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Condottiere 1300-1500: Infamous medieval mercenaries

I wish I could say that I'm an armchair scholar. But I'm not. Way too lazy for that sort of research a lot of friends I know who can spout off bits and facts like rapid fire machine guns.

But in the modern era, when I want some information on something, I generally know where to look. For example, if I want a thin book with some, usually, great art in it, about a caste of a certain warrior type, I'm pretty sure Osprey Publishing will have it.

I've long had an interest in mercenaries on the battle field. Part of this is from the old book The White Company, part of it when I discovered Glen Cook's The Black Company, and part of it when I discovered Berserk and Griffin's Band of the Hawk. Each one organized around mercenaries.Other books, like the ones written by Elizabeth Moon, have used mercenaries,

Gaming books, ranging from AEG's own Mercenaries book to various other third party resources, like Born of Blood, have also been around. Although my memory does kick in and say, "Hey dude, the Flaming Fist." Yeah, I remember running many a Forgotten Realms campaign where the Flaming Fist were foes of the party, maily because the party memebers were always after new magic items and the quick way to get such items was to attack any NPC that might have 'em. Ah, the glory days of youth.

I haven't finished the Condotteire yet, but it made me curious enough to see what Wiki had to say on the subject. One thing I found fascinating, is that these mercenary armies, essentially in this book and resource if I'm reading it correctly, crop up to a very unique set of cirumstances. This gets into world building. When plotting out the dominos, make sure you know where things are likely to fall.

In terms of ideas, one of the things I like is the idea of a charter, so that these mercenaries can be identified and are not 'mere' mercenaries, but are condottiere.

Another idea I like is the use of famous mercenaries as statues or cast on gold coins. It doesn't always have to be a local member of the nobility, the religious caste, or some weird monster. Powerful individuals that can take a city get recognized here.

Lastly, I like the idea of collaterali. These individuals werestate official who oversaw the use of payment to the mercenaries. He was the one who oversaw the contracts. He was the one who overwent the 'daily admnistration of the mercenary armies.'  Need to know how many men are in the army? Need to know what type of weapons they have? Need to know what level of training they have? Can't trust the mercenaries to be truthful so you have to have you own man on the inside job there.

And this is true today. In many instances, the stock market is a huge gamble that the goods and services these companies are offering are real. I've read many a 'bust' that happened because the promised goods weren't there. If that is happening know, where we have all of this digital technology about us, imagine how much easier it would be in a place where a famous soldier would be unknown in another country?

To prevent abuse it woudl require mercenaries that fully honored their contracts or collaterali who were so trustworthy that they'd likely be killed. I can easily see a game where a group of players, acting as collaterali, discover that the mercenaries in their lords employee are a sham but have enough strength to take down the players if they're not careful about how they go about reporting it. On the other hand, I've dealt with enough players where I can see them taking the mercenaies side and for a side cut of the gold, selling out the defense of the kingdom by falsifying units, weapons, and training that doesn't exist.

Imagine some lord's horror when the ogres attack and those mercenaries that do show up do so in ratty leather armor with spears instead of on horseback with shinny plate armor and bright lances? The players might have a little explaining to do  at that point.