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Tag Archives: History

A Tale of Two City Books

Thanks to my public library, I’ve taken a good look at a pair of books with some interesting gaming potential, sharing almost identical titles and filled with information about abandoned and ruined places across the globe. They are, Atlas of Lost Cities by Aude De Tocqueville and The Atlas of Lost Cities by Brenda Rosen.

Published in 2007, the Rosen book is done in a classic history book format and focuses exclusively on ancient sites. It has an excellent selection, with a mix of famous and obscure cities. Plenty of wonderful photographs augment the historical content. The cities are grouped into classifications such as “Cities of the Sea” and “Sacred Cities”, opening each section with a discussion of the characteristics these cities have in common.

The De Tocqueville book was published in 2014 and is done in the style of a travel guide. Cities are grouped by continent and the organization makes the book easier to navigate. The entries are written with a more colloquial voice and it includes evocative, stylized maps that gamers should enjoy. Something I particularly like about the De Tocqueville book is that it doesn’t limit itself to ancient sites. There are plenty of modern cities included, which makes it a great resource for contemporary games looking for an eerie setting. They also provide good inspiration for post-apocalyptic games.

Both books are good reading, but from a gamer’s point of view I prefer the De Tocqueville book. The concise descriptions are easier to use for adventure inspiration and the inclusion of so many modern sites makes it a unique resource. It is notably lacking in photography, an area where the Rosen book excels, but I resolved that problem by keeping my iPad handy.

Both books are available on Amazon and are not particularly expensive. The De Tocqueville book also has a sister tome called Atlas of Cursed Places by Oliver Le Carrer, that is on my reading list.

Image from http://www.pdclipart.org/

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in Books and Comics

 

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A List for Mugs and Molls

Here’s a classic web tool if ever there was one.

Twists, Slugs, and Roscoes: a Glossary of Hardboiled Slang has been on the Internet since 1993. As the name suggests, it’s a glorious collection of terms straight out of the noir pulps and movies, and comes complete with its own bibliography. It’s perfect to spice up any gangster-era game.

So glom that list you ginks, before I make you chew a gat.

MF-spy

 

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Stop the Presses!

One of the perks of living in Southwest Ohio is that I’m not terribly far from the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. It’s a wonderful facility, filled with aircraft and artifacts from every era of flight. Including of course the dawn of flight, appropriate for a museum located not far from the Wright Brothers’ home.

Not long ago we took a family trip to the museum. In the section where they have a Wright Flyer they also have an issue of the Washington Post dated Saturday, July 31st, 1909 that includes the announcement of the Wright Brother’s first flight.

This is a cool thing in itself, but what caught my gamer’s eye were two more articles that also ran on the front page; one is about a new secret weapon rumored to have been developed by the U.S. military and the second regarding a medical breakthrough that would be quite at home in the annals of mad science.

Please excuse the image quality. I had planned to find better shots online, but the Post’s archives are behind a paywall.

WashPost1

The first story is about a death ray that can hurl lighting to, “Make Enemy’s Guns Useless, Slay Men, and Cripple Ships.” The story comes from an anonymous source within a European government, and is used as an explanation for why the U.S. military seemed to have very little interest in the success of the Wright Flyer. The suggestion is that aircraft would be insignificant against an army capable of swatting them out of the sky with lightning bolts.

The second story is unrelated to flight, but no less intriguing:

WashPost2

The topic is a medical procedure being explored in Paris, by which a surgeon could sever a nerve in the brain. Doctor Bonnier believed that removal of this nerve, “relieved greatly persons suffering from melancholia and timidity.” Speculation was that the procedure had, “the possibility of turning a coward into a hero by a surgical operation,” a concept that was of interest in 1909, when everyone knew that another major European war would happen sooner or later.

I couldn’t locate more information on Dr. Bonnier, though I did find reference to the article in a professional journal of Phrenology. However it’s worth noting that the article uses the past tense regarding the doctor’s procedure.

He’d already performed the operation. More than once.

To sum up; we have the front page of a world-renowned newspaper running articles about aircraft, death rays, and medically created supermen.

Happy gaming!

 
 

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Let us Address the Elephant under the Room

The Atlas Obscura recently posted an interesting article regarding the 1962 discovery of an elephant’s bones under the Vatican.

The elephant’s name is Hanno and he was a gift to pope Leo X from the king of Portugal in 1514. The article goes into the pope’s affection for Hanno, the political importance of such exotic gifts, and gives a glimpse of some other fantastic creatures that were kept in royal and papal menageries. It also touches on the excitement of the populace to see creatures from far away lands.

The whims and pleasures of the powerful are always great sources for adventure, in any genre. Far flung science fiction games can send teams to bring back monsters from frontier worlds. Fantasy games may have dungeon masters brushing off the old Dragon Subdual rules, or questing for a book of True Names in order to add a demonic Balor to an emperor’s menagerie of dangerous beasts. Cyberpunk games may send deckers deep into the dark web, braving black ICE in order to retrieve an AI construct devoted to poetic recitation, or a vivid simulation of extinct animals. Money alone doesn’t satisfy the desires of those at the top of society’s food chain, and they need minions to venture out and find new entertainments.

Then there are other uses for an elephant skeleton buried under the Vatican, as an enterprising necromancer may discover in a dark urban fantasy game.

Gaming inspiration aside, the article about Hanno is well written and gives a fun glimpse into history.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Gaming, History

 

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Living on the Edge of the World, and it’s Sinking

Kivalina is a town living on the edge of the world, and that edge is sinking.

“In this town of 403 residents 83 miles above the Arctic Circle, beaches are disappearing, ice is melting, temperatures are rising, and the barrier reef Kivalina calls home gets smaller and smaller with every storm.

There is no space left to build homes for the living. The dead are now flown to the mainland so the ocean won’t encroach upon their graves. Most here agree that the town should be relocated; where, when and who will pay for it are the big questions. The Army Corps of Engineers figures Kivalina will be underwater in the next decade or so.”

LA Times, Aug. 30th, 2015

Climate Change is a real thing and a source of great concern, but the Belfry is about gaming, and this story offers a lot of inspiration.

People are stubborn. We set down roots, build a community, and that parcel of land and the people who live there become bound to our psyche so deeply that we’ll do whatever it takes not to lose them. Come hell or high…

Well, you get the idea.

This is both a strength and a weakness. Sometimes it makes us stand in front of the oncoming storm until its too late, but it’s also the determination that has allowed us to spread across the globe, push back the frontiers, and go into space. You can be sure that if trouble befalls the first Lunar colony, the people there will risk everything to keep the community alive.

Kivalina is hardly a garden spot. Even before the weather began to warm up, the narrow spit of land was battered by storms and limited in resources, but for 110 years people have chosen to live there, carve out a place in the world, and defy the elements to live the way they want to live. It’s the stuff of which adventurers are made.

“When Hawley is asked why her people don’t move — somewhere, anywhere to be safe — she is polite but firm. The land and the water make the Inupiat who they are. If they moved to Kotzebue, they would be visitors.”

-LA Times, Aug. 30th, 2015

That’s the frontier spirit, still alive and well.

From a gamer geek standpoint it’s hard not to look at this story and think about all its parallels in fiction. From the isolated planetary outpost of sci-fi to the classic Keep on the Borderlands, or even the determination of King Hrothgar not to completely abandon his hall to Grendel in the epic Beowulf, legends are born from people who refuse to leave their homes. Reading through the LA Times story gives those of us living in comfortable suburbia a glimpse of how people on the frontier live.

And if you need more inspiration, just look at this image of the town.

Image by Don Bartletti, LA Times Aug. 30th, 2015

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Cool Stuff, History, World Design

 

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Demi-Humans and Dungeons, in the Real World

Recently the fossils of a previously unknown species of ancient human was discovered in a cave in South Africa.

That’s awesome in and of itself, but this video shows how they got to the remains to study them, including showing someone squirming into a tiny tunnel. They had to bring in a group of cavers who were small women who were capable of reaching the farthest chamber, which the map shows as being a vaulted 90’+ high cave.

Fantastic. No way an adventurer in plate armor is going through that tunnel.

I have on occasion designed low corridors in dwarf-built dungeons, but this makes me want to hide treasure beyond passages too small for anything but halflings and wood elves to crawl through.

Has anyone else ever put features like this into your dungeons? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Dungeon Design, History

 

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SpyCast!

I have a new podcast on my list!

SpyCast is the official podcast from the Spy Museum in Washington DC. The host and guests are former members of the intelligence community (including a few from the KGB) and they bring an interesting insider’s view to the topics of trade craft. The archives go back to 2006 and I’m only a few episodes in, but I am hooked. The conversations are casual and the guests are fascinating. The average episode clocks in from 30-60 minutes and if I have one complaint it’s that I want to hear more.

If you’re looking for some insights for your Top Secret game, or just a fan of espionage history, then check this one out.

You can find SpyCast on iTunes, or from their website here.

Spy-vs-spy

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in History, Podcasts

 

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