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One Million Mummies

More news from Egypt!

“The remains of a child, laid to rest more than 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, was found in an ancient cemetery that contains more than 1 million mummies, according to a team of archaeologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.”

-Live Science, Dec. 16th, 2014

So first we have the Cosmic Amulet of Tutankhamen, then the colossal statue of Amenhotep III, and now the burial ground for one million mummies.

Those of us who play Lamentations of the Flame Princess know how this story will end.

I should add that the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities is disputing some of the researchers’ claims.

“There is indeed a site that contains many corpses and bodies wrapped in a thick textile,” Khalifa said. “But these number in the tens of thousands, maximum.”

-The Raw Story, Dec. 16th, 2014

Only in the tens of thousands. That’s… only mildly comforting.

Lich

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2014 in Cool Stuff, History, Spooky Stuff

 

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Restoring The Past

Very cool news coming out of Egypt.

“Achaeologists on Sunday unveiled a restored colossal statue of Amenhotep III that was toppled in an earthquake more than 3,000 years ago at Egypt’s famed temple city of Luxor.

The statue showing him in a striding attitude was re-erected at the northern gate of the king’s funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile.”

-The Raw Story, Dec. 12th, 2014

From the standpoint of a history buff, this is very cool. From the standpoint of a gamer, this is adventure waiting to happen.

What caused the earthquake? Was it divine wrath? Or maybe ancient adventurers wrecked the statue to stop an ancient evil. Maybe the statue was a golem with properties similar to those I discussed in this post.

Why did it take 3000 years for the statue to be restored? What will be unleashed now that it has been completed?

Perhaps the restored statue will be the host for a divine being, one that can only be controlled by using the Cosmic Amulet of Tutankhamen!

 

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Gaming, History

 

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What Do You Do With A Dead Monarch?

“Finally, after forty-eight years, Cadwallo, this most noble and most powerful King of the Britons, become (sic) infirm with old age and illness, departed this life on the fifteenth day after the Kalends of December. The Britons embalmed his body with balsam and aromatic herbs and placed it inside a bronze statue which, with extraordinary skill, they had cast to the exact measure of his stature. They mounted this statue, fully armed, on a bronze horse of striking beauty, and erected it on top of the West Gate of London, in memory of the victory of which I have told you and as a source of terror to the Saxons.”

-Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Briton, pg. 280

Great monarchs leave legends that stand through the ages and their people find ways to memorialize them. Sometimes tombs are built to their glory whose architecture elevates them to works of art, sometimes cities or great buildings are named after them. They may be immortalized in song and story, or in portraits painted by the finest artists.

Or sometimes their corpses are entombed in bronze and set up on top of a church to scare the bejesus out of their enemies.

On a side note, I know how I wish to be interred upon my death.

Something I particularly like about this passage is that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s phrasing could mean that the weapons and armor of the statue may not have been part of the statue’s casting, but real armor made for the statue to wear. That idea makes the image of the statue coming to life, leaping off the church, and charging headlong into an army of Saxons even more compelling. Especially if it’s followed by a horde of spectral Welsh warriors following their king into one more battle.

This also provides a heck of an adventure hook for a game. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to steal the magical armor and weapons off the king’s statue as it sits on top of the church in the center of town. You need to do it without being seen by the populace, without alerting the clerics and paladins in the church, and most importantly without waking the king entombed within the statue.

The XP will be fantastic, but I suggest you have a backup character ready.

Cadwallo, more commonly known as Cadwallon ap Cadfan, is one of the last great legendary kings of the Britons discussed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Stories tell of his battles against the Saxons and his reclamation of large parts of Britain. The tale of his final resting place has shades of the “Kings in the Mountain” concept, placing him in the company of Arthur, Barbarossa, and Tecumseh. It’s a trope that I’m quite fond of.

Here are some other adventure hooks for using dead monarchs:

The Sentinel – The statue of the monarch watches constantly for his hated enemies. When the statue sees them it roars with rage, alerting and emboldening his troops while striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. The purpose of the statue’s enchantments is to protect the city, but enterprising adventurers may convince the new king to dismount the statue and carry it before his army while waging war against the dead king’s foes.

Conversely the adventurers may be from the bloodline hated by the dead king and their mission would be to silence the guardian.

Heads of State – The kings and queens of a certain realm are legendary for their wisdom and deep knowledge of history. It is said that the wisdom of the former monarchs never dies, but is passed on to each new sovereign. This is true, but not in the fashion the populace believes. Through ancient rites the heads of each monarch is mummified and their spirits bound by necromancy. The Macabre Court is kept in a secret audience chamber within the royal palace, accessible only to those who bear the royal seal, and through them the kings and queens can seek council from the dead.

Now one of the heads has gone missing, a very old head from the dawn of the kingdom. The head of a ruler whose iron will dominated the land and united or crushed all other rulers under her banner. A head whose voice has become argumentative over the years, who feels the kingdom has lost its courage and become too civilized and too weak.

Blade of Kings – When the king falls in battle it lays a curse upon the knights who failed to protect him. To lift the curse the fallen king’s body is cremated and his ashes mixed with molten steel. Master smiths then forge the steel into a sword which must be wielded in battle by the new monarch, the lord marshal, or the champion of the realm.

Dire times have fallen on the land. Not only was the king slain by raiders but they captured his body and now hold it for ransom. Rumors abound that the realm’s enemies have begun to mobilize while the young queen calls for adventurers willing to track down the brigands and recover her father’s body. Without the royal sword she will be unable to lift the curse and lead her knights in battle.

The Royal Gaze – In days long past the royal house made a pact with a mysterious being that has given the family a strange and powerful ability. When a member of the royal family dies their body is laid out under the full moon. As the moonbeams touch the eyes they are turned into sapphires of the highest quality. The monarchs have the gems set into works of fine jewelry which they give as gifts to other rulers and nobles.

The origin of the jewels is a closely kept secret, as is the fact that whomever wears the royal crown can see through the gems. What even the royal family does not know is that the dark entity who gave them this gift can see through their living eyes. This information is written on a contract kept in a sealed scroll case deep in the royal dungeon. Revealing this document would throw the court into chaos.

*****

Have you used royal bodies or relics in your game? How did you do it and how did it go?

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Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Fantasy, Gaming, History

 

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The History of the Kings of Britain

I’m back!

Last week was family vacation time for me. It was Thanksgiving Week for those of us in the U.S. and when I wasn’t eating tons of food I was catching up on my reading. One of the books that I devoured was The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and what a fun read it was.

To any readers in Britain, my hat is off to you. The legendary history of Britain is far cooler, and bloodier, than I ever realized. It’s an epic full of treachery and mysticism where nearly every page is filled with battles involving thousands of warriors soaking the fields in blood.

Geoffrey of Monmouth was a religious figure who lived in the 1100’s and was most likely Welsh. His two most famous works are The History of the Kings of Britain and The Prophecies of Merlin, which at some point he combined into the former work to act as a bridge between the reign of King Vortigern and the brothers Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, setting the stage for King Arthur’s rise. Geoffrey does not claim authorship of The History, rather he claims to have translated it from, “(a) certain very ancient book written in the British language,” which he received from Archdeacon Walter of Oxford.

One of the first things to be clear on is that the British Geoffrey is talking about are either the Welsh or those who settled in what became Brittany. Everyone else is a foreigner. Normans? They don’t enter into the story. Celts? They’re newcomers that the British gave Ireland because it had been uninhabited since the giants vanished. Picts? They’re barbarians from the continent. Saxons?

Geoffrey of Monmouth had a lot to say about the Saxons. None of it particularly nice. They’re the well-spoken version of Orcs in his history of Britain.

Did I mention that Geoffrey was probably Welsh?

According to legend, British history began with the fall of Troy. The surviving Trojans settled in Greece, where a boy named Brutus was born. Brutus is banished after he accidentally kills his father, so he and his followers set out on an epic journey to find a new homeland. Along the way they end up fighting many battles, finding more Trojan survivors, and eventually coming to a mysterious island whose population has vanished. In the ruins of a city they find a temple to Diana, who gives Brutus a prophecy of where he may found his kingdom. Following Diana’s guidance, Brutus and his followers sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the Atlantic, sailing north along the Gallic coast where they find even more Trojan survivors and hear of a wondrous and fertile island called Albion, which matches the description of Diana’s vision. Brutus leads his people to Albion where they defeat the giants living there and establish the city of Troia Nova, which would later become London. Brutus becomes the first king in this new land and his people take on his name and becoming the Britons.

 The Brutus Stone located in Totnes, England, is said to be where Brutus first set foot on Albion’s soil. Given its distance from the coast Brutus must have had long legs.

From this fantastic beginning Geoffrey spins tales of kings of great power and nobility as well as those who are petty and duplicitous. Giants and dragons lurk in the early tales with visions and prophecy enough to please any fan of the Greek legends. King Leir’s story is here, writ large and bathed in blood. The brothers Belinus and Brennius battled each other for the throne but later united to oppose the might of Rome. The brothers sacked the Eternal City, Belinus returning to the kingship of the Britons while Brennius stayed and ruled Rome with an iron fist. Doomed Vortigern, who discovered the boy Merlin. Vortigern played for power, rising to the kingship through treachery and murder, only to watch his kingdom crumble. In the end his name was cursed by both Briton and Saxon and he was burned to death in his fortress tower. Following him came Aurelius, Uther, and finally the glorious reign of Arthur. King Arthur, who ruled an empire of 30 kingdoms, who destroyed the forces of Lucius Hiberius, Emperor of Rome, and who would have worn the imperial crown had he not been forced to turn back by the betrayal of Mordred and Guinevere.

Geoffrey’s Britain never recaptures the golden era of Arthur. Civil wars, betrayals, invasions, and crimes that turn god against the Britons cause the fall of the once-great kingdom. Finally a plague ravages the land so severely that almost every inhabitant is killed or flees. When the plague subsides it is the Saxons who return first, growing ever more numerous and powerful. A few British kings still rise up to stem the Saxon tide, but the time of true British rulership is at an end.

Fans of Thomas Malory’s romantic Arthurian tales will be surprised at how different these stories are. There is no Camelot, no round table, no Sir Lancelot. Kay is not Arthur’s ill-tempered step-brother, but his trusted seneschal and a leader of great renown. Bedivere is Arthur’s cup-bearer and most famous warrior. Arthur’s nephew Gawain is most recognizable, being as strong, courageous, and hot-tempered as his later portrayals show. King Arthur himself is quite different. There is no Sword in the Stone or Lady of the Lake in his story. He is a less romantic figure, but in many ways a mightier one whose empire is far more vast than it is under Malory’s pen. The biggest difference is Merlin, who plays no role in Arthur’s life but is a major figure in that of his three predecessors.

The History of the Kings of Britain is a delightful read and full of inspiration for any gamer, particularly those of the Old School Renaissance. In upcoming posts I’m going to look at a few aspects that I found particularly inspiring for use at the game table. This is a brutal history of poisoned cups, burned cities, and armies tens of thousands strong.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Books and Comics, Fantasy, Gaming, History

 

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Lovecraft Was Right!

I knew that ancient cephalopods were much larger than their modern decedents, but I had no idea they were this much larger!

Ia! Ia! Indeed!

I wonder if H.P. knew about these monsters? He was certainly well read enough for it to be possible.

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Posted by on November 21, 2014 in Cool Stuff, History

 

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All the Knight Reasons

I’ve been reading a collection of King Arthur stories called The Pendragon Chronicles.

Perhaps no mythology has been as pervasive to the western world than the Arthurian mythos, in no small part thanks to Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and T.H. White’s The Once and Future KingHowever what isn’t as well realized is that Arthur’s tales are a melange of stories drawn from a wide array of people over several centuries, a body of work that continues to expand today. The Pendragon Chronicles gives readers a chance to read some of the less-common stories, from both modern and historical sources, as well as a glimpse at the history surrounding them.

One particularly useful resource is the Dramatis Personae section, which provides not only a description of the characters but also some of the myriad spellings of their names. For example, Arthur’s foster-brother Kay is known for his, “bad humor and sour temperament,” but in earlier stories he was a more heroic knight. He has also been known as Kai, Cai, Cei, and Quex. Everyone knows of Sir Lancelot, but Sir Dinadan, known for his humor and quick wit, appears in far fewer tales. Another less well known is Sir Palomides, a Saracen and Knight of the Round Table.

It’s worth noting that Sir Palomides is a person-of-color, one of Arthur’s greatest knights, and first appeared in the stories in the 13th century. Huzzah for diversity!

There isn’t a story in the book that I haven’t enjoyed, though I do like the older stories more than the modern ones. Contemporary writing conventions humanize the characters, delving into their psyche and exploring their motivations. Normally I’m fine with that, but when it comes to the Arthurian stories I want the old style where the characters are larger-than-life archetypes and superheroes of the medieval world.

My favorite story by far has been the first tale in the book, Chief Dragon of the Island. Written by Joy Chant in 1983 it’s an adaptation of the history of Arthur from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century History of the Kings of Britain. This makes it simultaneously one of the newest and oldest tales in the book.

It’s also one of the most unconventional takes on Arthur that I have read, more mythic than the standard versions. In this tale Igerna (Igraine) is the wife of Duke Gorlis who has imprisoned her in a remote castle with a guard of women warriors. He fears a prophecy saying her son would kill him.

In another change from what we are familiar with, Uther Pendragon is not a man, he is something else. Something ancient and godlike, probably of the Tuatha de Danann. Uther uses his own magic to impersonate Gorlis and deceive Igerna, making her pregnant with Arthur. He also uses his powers to hide her pregnancy so that Gorlis cannot slay her until after Arthur is born. Thus Arthur is portrayed as a demi-god, making this tale a fusion of Christian and Pagan beliefs.

Further evidence of his divine nature is shown in this passage describing how the prophecy was fulfilled:

“The fire where the afterbirth had been cast had burned down, and out of the eggs broke a worm. The worm ate the shell of the egg and the ashes and embers of the fire, and it grew to the size of a lizard, then of a cat, then of a hound, then of a horse; then it spread its wings and rose into the air. The dragon sped down to the beach, and found Gorlas coming up from it. It swooped over him and enveloped him in its fiery poisonous breath, so that he smothered and scorched in it, and so died.”

-The Pendragon Chronicles, pg. 13

Slain by a dragon born of your child’s afterbirth. That’s harsh.

In later years the young Arthur is taken by Merdyn (Merlin) to a magical island. There he meets and falls in love with Morgen, also daughter of Uther and Igerna, and the two become lovers. Arthur does not know they are siblings but indications are that Morgen does. Like her father Morgen has a different view of sexuality that the Christian Arthur.

Arthur proceeds to the hall where he is armed with his father’s sword Caledvolc (Excalibur), “That sword would draw blood from the wind, it would divide the thought from the word.” Uther also provides Arthur with a cloak of invisibility, as well as a horse and hound of unparalleled size and skill.

It is only upon leaving that Arthur learns that Uther is his father and Morgen his sister. He rejects Morgen, considering their love a deep sin. Morgen does not understand his beliefs and curses Arthur for his rejection, saying he will know no peace with women until he returns to her arms.

There are other major differences between Chief Dragon of the Island and the Arthurian tales we know so well, such as Guinevere being the daughter of a giant. In many ways it’s a far more primal and certainly more pagan legend, while at the same time it keeps the chivalric qualities we associate with later Arthurian stories.

There are many stories in The Pendragon Chronicles that make it worth tracking down, but Chief Dragon of the Island alone makes it worth the effort.

KingArthur

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Books and Comics, History

 

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Professional Adventurers – Seeds and Sources

Following up on my post from Monday, here are some ideas for adventuring groups who are in service to a patron.

There are a few historical examples that come to mind that can provide inspiration.

Varangian Guard – Founded in the late 10th Century the Varangian Guard was originally composed of Rus warriors but soon became closely associated with the Norse. The Varangians served as elite troops and the personal guard for the Byzantine Emperors for nearly 400 years. The Varangians have a lot in common with Dungeons & Dragons adventurers; they are free men who travel to far off exotic lands to gain fame and fortune. They do this by taking on dangerous missions for a powerful lord and using their skill at arms to accomplish them. A Varangian would be right at home in Greyhawk.

The Swiss Guard – Historically the Swiss Guards are not a single company but a military tradition. The 15th Century was a tumultuous time for Europe and many young men from Switzerland decided to seek their fortunes by forming companies of sell swords. They created a militant mercenary culture that became renowned for their discipline and skill in arms. For several centuries companies of Swiss Guard could be found on battlefields across Europe. The most famous company of Swiss Guards, and the only one remaining to this day, is the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See who act as the bodyguards to the Pope of the Roman Catholic church.

The Landsknecht – Very similar to the Swiss Guard, the German Landsknecht filled the same military niche throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact the Landsknecht patterned themselves after the Swiss Guards and a rivalry grew between the two groups. Like the Swiss Guard they were known for their flamboyant uniforms as well as their battlefield discipline. The relationship between the Landsknecht and the Swiss Guards is a good historical example of how you can play up rivalries between PC and NPC adventuring groups.

Adventure Seeds:

The Amazing Race – A patron is looking for an adventuring party worth his or her time and has decided to hold a contest, with the PC’s being one of the groups invited to participate. The objective may be to recover an artifact, or slay a dragon, or to see who can recover the most impressive amount of treasure from a dungeon. The patron may make the objective’s location known and begin the competition with a grand ceremony, giving the entire affair a feel similar to The Great Raceor discovering the location may be part of the challenge. If the groups are allowed to fight each other the adventure will quickly turn into The Hunger Games but if they are not allowed to kill each other it will present a more subtle challenge.

Belle of the Ball – When normal adventuring groups return from a successful dungeon delve they usually head to the tavern to celebrate. When they have a powerful patron they have other responsibilities. The patron will want to show off their great adventurers and exhibit the recovered treasures and that means a grand ball. The players will be both guests-of-honor and centerpieces on display as bards tell stories of their exploits while the other guests get the chance to view these exotic creatures known as “adventurers”. The status gained by such events is too important to the patron and the wise adventurers will learn that this is a duty they cannot avoid.

Such events open possibilities for role playing and intrigues. It will also give rivals of the adventurers, or the patron, an opportunity for mayhem on a grand stage.

Dancing Bear – This angle is closely related to the previous seed. Adventurers rarely come from the ranks of nobility. Usually they are low-born sell swords, peasant apprentices in the mystic arts, or later children to minor nobility. They may mingle with the noble castes but they are not of those people. This is something they will be acutely aware of and there will always be members of the aristocracy ready to remind them at every opportunity. The adventurers are possessions, no different than trained animals or the unusual objects they pull out of a dragon’s hoard. Demi-humans in particular may fall under this stigma of being exotic curios in a human-dominated realm.

The adventurers will need to suffer these insults if they wish to retain their patronage. All too many tavern brawls end in fireball spells and battles with the city watch, but giving in to such impulses among the aristocracy will bring down a whole new level of punishment. Those seeking influence over the players will know and use this. Perhaps they will ingratiate themselves by feigning sympathy and friendship, going out of their way not to be like those other nobles. Some may make offers of titles and lands in order to lure the players away from their current patron. Enemies of the patron may send agent provocateurs with the intention of causing the players to lose their temper in the most spectacular ways possible.

Escort Duty – The patron will send someone important on an adventure with the PCs with explicit instructions to bring their new charge back in one piece. Failure to do so will invoke their patron’s wrath and the forfeiture of sufficient valuables to resurrect the deceased. However casting a sleep or charm spell on the hapless target and leaving them in a local inn isn’t an option, the patron is clear that their charge must experience the quest.

The NPC will definitely be a few levels lower than the player characters, providing a soft target that the veterans will need to shield. The old cliche of making their charge be arrogant and boorish works well here, but for a change of pace I’d suggest a different route. Have the NPC be hopelessly in love and out to prove his or her worth through facing dangerous adventures. For a twist, make that the stated goal but have the NPC secretly be in love with one of the PCs.

The NPC may also have a death wish, some secret or destiny that he or she finds so distasteful that they would rather die in the unholy depths rather than live to see it come true. Or perhaps the party is being set up to fail, as the patron or one of their rivals has marked the NPC to be killed in an indirect manner.

Betrayal – Maybe the party has grown too powerful for the comfort of their patron. Maybe their fame has begun to eclipse that of their patron, their exploits no longer bringing him or her the renown it should. Perhaps the patron has to sacrifice the adventurers for some political gain. Or maybe the collecting of adventurers has begun to bore the patron and is falling out of fashion. Engineering their downfall may provide one last great legend to boost the patron’s reputation, not to mention removing their now inconvenient presence from the patron’s household.

For a twist, leave doubt on if the patron really is behind the betrayal. Perhaps the real mastermind is one of their patron’s enemies and by driving a wedge between the two the villain is now free to move against their patron.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – The adventuring company of another patron has become powerful. So powerful that rumors abound that their patron is now their puppet. The adventurers are growing bolder and the nobility is beginning to take offense. Other groups have approached the PCs saying that if something isn’t done soon the aristocracy may withdraw their protection en masse and leave them open to a purge, judging all adventurers too dangerous. The other groups are willing to help but the player characters are the only ones close to the renegades in power.


 

Have any game seeds of your own? Any other historical examples to draw from? I’d love to hear them.

Landsknechte1

 Also the Landsknecht get +1 CHA for snappy dressing.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2014 in Fantasy, Gaming, History

 

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Scary Discovery

Investigators have discovered vials of Smallpox virus dating back to the 1950’s.

“They were found in an unused portion of a storeroom in an FDA laboratory, located on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.”

-The Raw Story, July 8th 2014

Smallpox is a horrible virus, causing terrible sores and was responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths in the 20th century alone. It’s also responsible for wiping out unknown millions of Native Americans who caught it from European explorers and colonists. The development of the Smallpox vaccine and the virus’ eradication in the wild is one of the triumphs of modern medicine. The World Health Organization made the following declaration in 1980:

“Having considered the development and results of the global program on smallpox eradication initiated by WHO in 1958 and intensified since 1967 … Declares solemnly that the world and its peoples have won freedom from smallpox, which was a most devastating disease sweeping in epidemic form through many countries since earliest time, leaving death, blindness and disfigurement in its wake and which only a decade ago was rampant in Africa, Asia and South America.”

—World Health Organization, Resolution WHA33.3

It’s not yet known if these vials contain still active samples of Smallpox. Also of note is this quote from the story:

“If viable smallpox is present, the World Health Organization will be invited to witness the destruction of these smallpox materials, as has been the precedent for other cases where smallpox samples have been found outside of the two official repositories.”

According to international agreements, only two places in the world are authorized to keep samples of smallpox: the CDC in Atlanta and the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Novosibirsk, Russia.”

-The Raw Story, July 8th 2014

“As has been the precedent for other cases,” meaning that this has happened before! Not to mention the two labs which we know still keep samples for study. And while I understand why we should keep samples of the virus around for study, the gamer in me can’t help but think of all the horrible potential this offers.

If all this isn’t scary enough, there is an even darker chapter in the history of Smallpox. In the 1970’s the Soviet Union was putting a huge amount of resources into their biological weapons program, including work to weaponize the Smallpox virus. This lead to an accidental release of the virus from their facility on an island in the Aral Sea. A nearby ship had accidentally sailed into the restricted waters and one crew member was on deck at the time. She was infected and spread the virus to others. Most of the people infected had been vaccinated against Smallpox but suffered symptoms anyway, suggesting that the strain developed in the laboratory was able to overcome the vaccine. At least two unvaccinated children died. The Soviets moved quickly to contain the outbreak and to cover it up, officially reporting it as an outbreak of Anthrax caused by poorly prepared meat. (Details of this can be found in the book The Dead Hand)

The idea of a virulent plague kept in a long-forgotten laboratory is the stuff of nightmares.

Which of course makes it perfect for gaming, particularly of the Espionage or Superhero genres. A game could be based on an archivist discovering an entry about a top secret lab where such samples were kept. When terrorists steal her notes the race is on to rediscover the laboratory and secure its contents.

Oh, one final note. The Soviet Union based their biological weapons facility on Vozrozhdeniya Island, also known as Rebirth or Renaissance Island, to keep it isolated. At the time the Aral Sea was the fourth largest sea in the world. However massive irrigation projects have all but drained the sea in what some have called the worst environmental disaster in the world.

Vozrozhdeniya ceased being an island in 2008. Anyone, or anything, can now walk out to it. Or away from it. Recognizing the threat this posed to the world, the United States and Uzbekistan conducted a cleanup project of the facility back in 2002.

Hopefully they found everything and there isn’t a forgotten part of the lab where vials of weaponized Smallpox are still waiting to be found.

Sleep tight!

The Aral Sea, from 1989 to 2008.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Gaming, History

 

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Quixotic Observation

I’ve been looking at city maps recently, particularly medieval maps, and I noticed something. Or rather, I noticed a lack of something.

Windmills.

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Taken from a 17th Century map of Paris

Several medieval maps depict windmills in and around their cities, but I can’t think of any maps of fantasy cities that include them. For that matter, I can only think of a few fantasy pictures with windmills and none involve cities. That’s an interesting omission considering the importance of mills to a city. Not every city will be situated in a place where windmills are an option, but their absence in fantasy illustration is interesting.

Windmills2From the same map. I like this one because it shows a large mill within the city walls.

Perfect for the court sorcerer.

This provides DM’s with a quick and easy way to add a bit of color to their cities. Windmills are evocative, like wizards towers, and can be tied in equally well with either magic or steampunk style technology.

Windmills1

From a map of 13th Century Rhodes.

A battery of windmills along a coastal wall could have more purpose than grinding meal.

Historically windmills have been connected to such fantastic individuals as Don Quixote and Frankenstein. Who can forget the climactic end to the 1931 classic Frankenstein?

FrankensteinWindmill

Good thing there was a Groupon for torches and pitchforks!

This has me thinking about ways to use windmills in game settings. I’ll save that for another post, more grist for the… well you get the idea.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Fantasy, Gaming, World Design

 

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Grim Anniversary

I’m running a little late, but June 28th, marks a grim anniversary.

100 years ago Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie were assassinated by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip.

This set in motion the events that caused the First World War, an event that changed the world forever. The Great War changed how the world looked at warfare. It marked the end of Old Europe and removed the last of the truly powerful absolute monarchs of the west. Some nations vanished, others were born, and lines on the map were redrawn in ways that we are still facing repercussions for.

Entire generations were depopulated over the course of four years of unprecedented brutality.

At least in the United States, World War I isn’t part of the collective consciousness. It isn’t taught well in our schools and it isn’t understood the way World War II is. I believe part of this is because the world of the 1930’s and 40’s is still recognizable to us as part of the modern world, socially and politically. But the world of 1914 is alien to us, seemingly more in line with the 19th century than the 20th. Yet despite all that, the foundations of many struggles we’re facing today were laid down in that seemingly distant time period.

On July 28th, 30 days after the assassination, the first declaration of war was made and The Great War officially began.

Four years later and with over 16 million people killed, the war ended on November 11th, 1918.

The last known veteran of the First World War was Florence Green, who died only two years ago.

The last people to be killed by the Great War died three months ago, when an unearthed shell exploded.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2014 in History

 

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