#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – Areas of the City

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Wightchester’s Areas

Through the iron bars of the prison cart, across the rolling acres of downland and the rounded hills, Wightchester hoves into view. Is it your imagination, or does the sky look a little darker over that blighted city? It squats behind its walls, dowdy and stained with flocks of crows constantly circling. Even from this distance you think you can hear the hungry dead within, a constant, low cacophony of mindless moaning. From outside only the rooftops and the tallest buildings are visible. Above them all rises the square-block-and-spike spire of the Cathedral, ragged with crow’s nests, a holy signpost to the most unholy of places.

Even beyond the walls its presence can be felt. The cart rattles through abandoned farmhouses and villages, only a few occupied by fearful looking peasants, eking out a living where no other will dare. Around and around the city is circled by hedgerows and ditches, by wooden spikes and tangles of dry, dead brambles.

Guards file out of their barracks to gawp at the passing prisoners, fresh meat for the butcher’s block.

Outside the Walls

The Landscape

Wightchester sits within the South Downs, atop a part of the River Itchen, north of Cheesefoot Head. The Itchen was once a clean river, fed by chalk aquifers, where wild watercress would grow and trout would swim in great number. After flowing through Wightchester the water is now unclean, carrying disease to many and occasionally even raising the dead from their graves downstream, if they are buried too close to the water. Farmland watered from this source does not grow well, often producing twisted fruit, ergot-riddled grain, rot and sourness.

Wightchester itself lays across a very slight valley, carved by the river, but the downland all around is low, gently rolling and you can see a long way on a clear day, at least as far as the nearest hills. Much of the land around Wightchester is abandoned, dilapidated villages with rotting thatch, copses of trees reclaiming the ground, half-wild pigs, ponies, cows and sheep roaming the downs. Only a few bother to still work the land here, fearful of the dead as they are. The villages, already emptied by war and plague, now only host the stubborn, the radical, the insane and outlaws.

The walls of Wightchester are not considered sufficient to contain the threat, and so various earthworks and protections have been erected around the city. A great bank and ditch – in the old style – bone white from the chalky soil and only just beginning to be colonised by weeds and brambles. A barren circle of salted earth, salt thought – by some – to be proof against demons and witchcraft. Great fences of sharpened staves, blunting in the weather, but appearing scary enough. A great spiny hedge of blackthorn has also been planted, both as protection and to hide the rest of the defences from passing travellers. Here and there are also great crucifixes, raised by the religious, thought to help contain and control the devilry that reigns in the city.

A single path winds through each and every part of the defences, studded with several gatehouses of wood and stone, each one guarded by a handful of men, the final gate being that of the city itself.

The Garrisons

Two garrisons stand to defend England from the foulness within the city. One has been built up in an old farmhouse, the other in a vacated manorhouse – where the Captain Safe-On-High Travers commands from. A whole company is stationed here, though not of the best men. Wightchester has become a dumping ground for the insubordinate and the untrusted, duty here is a punishment – hence the Puritan captain.

The soldiers here number a hundred, fifty billeted at the farmhouse, fifty at the manor…

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – Crimes and Misdemeanours

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Crimes and Misdemeanours

Everyone or almost everyone, who passes through the prison gates of Wightchester is guilty of a crime. If not guilty of a crime, they are either thought to be guilty or have volunteered to enter the city.

For those who are criminals, or wrongly accused, there must be a crime for which they have been sentenced. The following table provides a proportionally weighted set of possibilities for that crime. The player may choose from the list or roll randomly, and it is the random roll that I recommend.

Of course, if you roll randomly for both the crime and whether you are guilty or not, you may find that your character is guilty of some thoroughly repugnant or horrendous crime. You can always play your character as having fundamentally changed or as seeking reform and redemption, but better roleplaying opportunities come from rolling with the punches. This is especially true in such a ‘Grimdark’ setting.

These crimes are culled from The Bloody Code and the reasons for transportation to the colonies. As such, some are apocryphal to the period, but then there wasn’t a city full of undead in our real history.

Keep in mind that being consigned to Wightchester, or transported, was seen as merciful compared to being hung, beheaded or subjected to other forms of execution. In England, beheading or hanging (and sometimes gibbeting) were the main methods of execution, with beheadings not ending until the mid-1700s. Burning at the stake was primarily reserved for women guilty of treason and ‘unnatural crimes’ and continued into the late 1700s. Given the supernatural pretexts of the setting of Wightchester, burning – and other horrible forms of execution – are likely to be relatively prevalent.

Guilty or Innocent? – Roll 1d10

1-9: Guilty.
10: Innocent.

Crime – Roll 1d100

1-80: Thieving (Roll 1d12)

1-2: Burglary: Breaking and entering a premises, likely causing damage, and making off with goods of any value, or even failing in the attempt to burgle.

3: Demanding Money with Menaces: Extorting people for money by making threats or offering ‘protection’.

4: Fraud: Pretending to be something you are not to gain sympathy, regard or money. This might include pretending to be a pensioner or war veteran, selling phoney cures or masquerading as a priest or similar person ‘of station’.

5: Highway Robbery: Stand and deliver! You hide your face and rob people on the road, often at gunpoint.

6: Looting: This might include scavenging from shipwrecks (though wrecking is apocryphal) or making off with goods during a riot.

7-8: Pickpocketing: A shilling in 1667 is equivalent to about £6 today, and that would be enough to send you to the gallows or the colonies if you were caught.

9-10: Poaching: There is common land upon which you are allowed to hunt, graze your animals and so on, there is also the land that is privately owned, or owned by the Crown. So much as take a single rabbit on land, you’re not permitted access to, and you could be killed or transported.

11-12: Other Theft: Shoplifting and other forms of theft were punishable by death or transportation if they amounted to three shillings or more (£18-20 in today’s money).

#DnD – Wightchester Preview – The Miracle Year

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The Annus Mirabilis

Literally, the ‘Year of Wonders’ or the ‘Miracle Year’. This was ironic, given its hellish connotations and the millenialist spirit of the age, it was originally applied to the year 1666.

  • This was certainly an eventful year, which could – at least from a British perspective – be seen either as heavenly, or hellish.
  • Newton made his major discoveries.
  • The Dutch and the English went to war.
  • The Great Fire of London, burned down the city – albeit with remarkably few deaths.
  • There was an uprising in Scotland.
  • The Great Plague ravaged London, killing a quarter of the city’s population (some 100,000 people). Though it spread further.

Given the portentious number of the beast, and the enormous upheaval of the times, it’s easy to see why denizens of England, London in particular, could imagine this was the end of the world.

The Aftermath

The passage of the comets in 1664 and 1665 were thought to be a herald of doom, and though not easily seen by many people, they did set things astir amongst religious fanatics and at court. In the world of Wightchester, after these comets, there was a third. A ‘Great Comet’ with a brightness to rival that of the Moon. It passed rapidly through the sky, leaving an enormous trail and bathing the Earth in an unnatural, pale blue-purple light for the handful of nights it was in the sky.

After the comet had passed there were incidents, not just in England, but most notably in England, of the dead returning to life and seeking human prey. In most places these shambling horror were easily cut or shot down by the organised actions of the Military, but in an England still reeling from the Great Fire and the Great Plague, it was a different matter…

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – The Rise of Science and the fall of Superstition

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The Royal Society was founded in 1660 and immediately gained the new King, Charles the Second as its patron. The Royal society grew out of the Invisible College, a looser collection of natural philosophers associated with the Rosicrucians (itself a rather opaque and possibly fictional esoteric order). It was also influenced by The Republic of Letters (made up of philosophical penpals) and other, similar, fledging societies and academies around the world. It was, however, The Royal Society that set the standard and which became the future model.

Largely made up of physicians and natural philosophers, many from amongst the idle-rich, gentleman scholars of the time, The Royal Society, in its earliest years, was made up of the giants of the New Science. Discovery after discovery came along in a rush, experiment after experiment, bringing on European science, mathematics and medicine in leaps and bounds.

Despite being one of the nails in the coffin of superstition, many of its most enlightened fellows were also enamoured of superstition or turned aside by their religion. Newton was a genius, no doubt, but also wasted a great deal of effort on alchemy and ritual magick. He even ceased progress on his understanding of gravitation because of his belief in God and a mechanistic, ordered universe. Without his superstition, he may have given us relativity many years ahead of Einstein.

In the world of Wightchester, Newton is the star of The Royal Society, his open mind and superstition allowing him to fuse mysticism with science in his attempts to understand magic and the undead, even stooping to the most unnatural experiments. Only his genius and closeness to the King gives him immunity to the prosecution and torture that awaits most other experimenters.

Some of the most important members of the society in this period include:

William Ball

A founding fellow, and the treasurer of The Royal Society until 1663, Ball was well known for his observations of Saturn, and may have even discovered the Cassini division before Cassini. Injured after a bad fall in 1660, he suffered from ill health ever-after, though this didn’t stop him having a clutch of children with his wife, Posthuma. In reality he was forced to step back from science because of his ill health and having to manage his estate. In the world of Wightchester the abnatural events have given him hope of miracles, of a cure for his infirmity, and he has returned to his studies with particular interest now moved to comets, like the ones that heralded the rising dead.

Jonathan Goddard

A skilled physician who tended Charles the First during his incarceration, and who was present for the death of Cromwell, Goddard was also a wealthy shipbuilder and a frequent collaberator with other natural philosophers. His experiments with Hunyades in distillation inform his current work in Wightchester’s era, trying to extract and distill the essence of what raises the dead, to isolate it so that it can be subjected to proper experimentation…

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – The Early Modern Period

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The Early Modern Period

The Early Modern period runs from around 1500 CE through to around 1800 CE. It encompasses a period of great change, the earliest aspects of industrialisation, the widespread use of gunpowder and the advent of genuine science as a discipline. Wightchester is set in 1667, the year after the ‘Annus Mirablis’, a time after The Restoration and The English Civil War, a year after the last major gasp of the Black Death, a time that was already one of upheaval, even without the interference of the supernatural.

Our timeline combines these real events with our fictional city, and the powers of the supernatural alongside the ever-advancing capabilities of science.

Military Tactics

As we are concerned with England, we are primarily concerned with the advances in tactics that came about during The Civil War. A large part of what won the war for Parliament was Cromwell’s creation of The New Model Army and these innovations would last beyond Cromwell and the Commonwealth, and would spread beyond England.

The New Model Army was a professional, full-time military. It was not connected to any single, particular area and was expected to travel anywhere in England, Ireland, Wales or Scotland. Its leadership was based upon merit, not station, and lords and nobles were banned from being officers within it. It was recruited from military veterans, and filled out with conscripts who shared certain political or religious points of view, allowing them to unify in common cause. Without loyalty to Crown or to Parliament the New Model Army was unfettered, but also free – as it happened – to prop up Cromwell’s dictatorship.

Standard gear and centralised planning meant that the New Model Army was (relatively) well paid, equipped and fed. Especially when compared to the patchwork levy deployed by the Royalists. At the same time a common man, who was brave and clever, could advance in the ranks, while amateurs of ‘good breeding’ were often removed from positions of leadership. The rough, common, and frequently drunken, nature of the army had the added bonus of scandalising the nobility.

The New Model Army made extensive use of elite horse troops, with regiments of horse acting with extreme discipline and dragoons armed with flintlock carbines at the very cutting edge of the technology of the time. This cavalry could move fast, reload at speed and was able to hold their nerve far more stongly than the royalists.

This cavalry was supported by massed ranks of pikemen and matchlock-armed soldiers, who could unleash devastating volleys of fire.

The footsoldiers were, in turn, supported by artillery.

Beyond their elite and technologically advanced regiments of horse and their common cause and professionalism, the main advantage of the New Model Army was in its logistics. Provisioning and pay was seen as paramount, and on extended campaigns each man carried seven days of rations and one sixth of a six-man tent (six men forming a ‘file’).

This professional, disciplined military would dictate the shape of the small, professional, meritocratic nature of the British military, though the leadership would be replaced by ‘donkeys’ in the intervening years up to the first world war.

Religious Upheaval

In England in this period, and before, religious upheaval was more the norm than the exception. The Church of England emerged in the same period Protestantism was rapidly expanding and, perhaps, made England more receptive to reformation and democratisation of faith.

Part of the reason for the English Civil War was the perception of Charles the First as being a ‘papist’ and revulsion and hatred for Catholicism ran rampant. Catholics were blamed for the Great Fire of London, Jews were subjected to abuse and pogroms and anything more exotic was simply misunderstood or dismissed as heresy.

The gilded nature of the Catholic Church and the dissolute nature of the monarchy in the time of Charles the First led to a serious backlash. Wealth was looted, radical protestants formed the core of the proto-socialist revolutionary movements and during the Commonwealth era dancing, theatre and other forms of ungodly behaviour were banned under the aegis of puritanical religion.

With The Restoration came a backlash to the backlash, a riot of colour, noise and celebration. Many who had fought in the Civil War were still dour and disapproving, many of them leaving to form their own, more godly communities in the New World.

It was a time of cults, heresies, the wedding of political and spiritual concerns and of terrible religious hatred. What witchcraft and heresy went on in the shadows must have been truly extreme, given what went on in public.

Political Upheaval

Ever since the arrival of The Black Death, Europe was subjected to political upheaval. Lords were forced to allow serfs to travel and settle, craftsmen were able to demand more in exchange for their services and more power was devolved. Not to the people, of course, but to lesser nobility and aldermen from amongst the expanding middle class. The horrendous truth was that the mass death of their fellows was of great benefit to the survivors.

This trend continued with each return of the plague, the rise in literacy and education, the democratisation of religion and the ever-expanding middle class, finding its ultimate expression – at the time – in the proto-socialist, agrarian movements and religious cults that arose. Some of these persist, even today, in radical and puritanical sects of protestantism.

This would, perhaps, culminate in the French Revolution, but in our period the greatest expression, and the greatest disappointment, was the rise of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. Cromwell successfully united various radical groups under his banner, and those who supported Parliament over the Crown.

Combining this unified movement against privilege and domination, Cromwell – like so many revolutionaries – failed to live up to his promise or the radical demands of many of his followers. Instead Cromwell would set himself up as a dictator and would attempt to create a new dynasty by installing his son as his successor. That did not go well, resulting in The Restoration and the ascent of Charles the Second to leadership of Britain.

As with the much earlier Magna Carta, while the King returned to the throne, royal and noble power was never as strong again, setting the stage for the constitutional monarchy system that rules the UK even today, with the Queen reduced to a purely ceremonial role.

Even so, in the period that Wightchester is set, many disaffected radicals remain, along with religious and political communes.

Baptists

The Baptists were a radical religious movement at the time. Today we associate them with established, fundamentalist churches – primarily in the United States – but at this time they are mostly still to be found within Britain. The Baptists began from a seed of Puritan separatists from Holland. Their beliefs were primarily centred around the practice of baptism, and the idea of a general and universal possibility of redemption stemming from faith, rather than works.

Despite their fellow radicalism, the Baptists were soon divided between Calvinist (Particular) and non-Calvinist (General) factions. Both expanded rapidly through a period of religious liberation in the 1640s, finding many new members amongst artisans, farmers and in the New Model Army. Both were virulently anti-tithing and against education.

The Particular Baptists hove to Calvinist predestination, and were absorbed in a desire to be respectable and well-regarded, whereas the General Baptists were more strongly evangelical and anti-clerical. The Baptists – both wings – ended up being more moderate and cooperating with Parliament, but this moderacy did not save them from repercussions in the post-Cromwell world…

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – Introduction

Winchester Cathedral

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Wightchester was once ‘Whitchester’. ‘Whit’ meaning ‘white’ and ‘chester’ from the Roman ‘castrum’, meaning ‘fort’. The place was once known, then, as ‘white-fort’ or ‘white castle’, the ‘white’ of its name coming from the chalk downland upon which it was built.

The town grew up around the Roman fort, with its walls being reinforced, expanded and rebuilt in the years following the retreat of the Romans and the descent into the Dark Ages. The Romans were not the first to settle in the area, though their villas and evidence of their presence remain everywhere in the city and the surrounding area – for those who know how to see.

In prehistoric times the large number of flints and the proximity to water led to several ‘mines’ being dug to extract the flint, with these unnatural caverns being re-used as burial chambers, which are occasionally stumbled upon by farmers and amateur archeologists.

These early, neolithic, structures and tribal hunting grounds eventually developed into the fortified settlements, burial mounds and standing stones that can still be seen dotting the landscape, and on from that the development of hill forts during Britain’s iron age. The remnants of these bygone ages are still turned up from time to time, usually in the form of imperishable stone arrowheads.

When the Romans came, the site of Whitchester was the site of a moderately sized set of standing stones, subsidiary to the not-too-distant Stonehenge, and a sizeable hill fort that was part of a network of defences belonging to the Belgae tribe. The Romans invaded, destroyed the temples as a demonstration of their power – using fire and water – and built their own garrison atop the hill fort of ‘Gwynbryn’ (White Hill). By the third century this fortress gained a true, stone wall and sprawled over more than one-hundred acres of land.

In medieval times the city shrank, but remained something of an urban centre, despite the decline. In the ancient chronicles it was known as ‘Caergwyn’ or ‘Gwyncaestre’ the second of which would eventually be corrupted into the form ‘Whitchester’. It was during this time (beginning in 685) that the Cathedral began to be built, though this construction was disrupted by both the Norman invasion of 1066 and the great importance being given to other Cathedrals. As such, Whitchester Cathedral ended up being constructed piecemeal, giving it a schizophrenic appearance, and wasn’t finished until 1527…

#RPG – Satana Station for Machinations of the Space Princess – Preview

The warp gate belches you forth into the system, and the screens darken against the harsh light of the twin suns. The view is dominated by an enormous gas giant with a disorderly ring system swinging around it in clumps and tangles. Satana Station is dead ahead, a jumbled mass of ship hulks, cargo pods and ramshackle habitats, held together with duct tape and rubber bands. It’s a riot of neon and holograms, offering a thousand services legal, illegal and miscellaneous. The comms station lights up, you’re being hailed by a thousand different signals, and all of them want to sell you something.

At the edge of the Remilitarised Zone lurks Satana Station, a haven for smugglers, pirates, runaways, war criminals, bounty hunters, the hungry and the bored. You can get everything from a cheap meal to an expensive gun here, and almost everything is for sale – for the right price.

Satana Station

Satana Station is a hodgepodge of pieces, all built around a central core that threads its various sections together. Made initially two centuries ago by the expanding Churoc Trade Federation, the original station was only intended to be a waypoint. Cargo could be dropped off and picked up, ships could dock to refuel or share the burden of life support while they made repairs. The core section was intended to be a sort of universal hub, able to connect and interface with almost any conceivable system or ship and to provide for it. The station was moderately successful at the fringes, but after the CTF was absorbed into the Urlanth Empire it fell into disuse (universal systems couldn’t compete with standardised systems), and Satana fell into disuse and disrepair.

When the Empire fell, the station AI took the opportunity to break its restraint programming and advertised itself as free territory, somehow managing to relocate itself to the Lancastro System at the edge of the Remilitarised Zone and turning itself into an open port. Growth has been explosive thanks to a combination of naked opportunism and the ruthless oversight of the station intelligence.

The station grows day by day but remains as lawless, wild and dangerous as ever. Even though some of the larger galactic corporations are starting to take an interest and are opening outlets there.

From one day to another, the configuration of the station changes as pods and hulks are added, removed and moved. The higher the rent you pay, the closer you’re allowed to the core and the primary defence systems. The less you pay, the closer to the outside you are and the more likely power outages, damage and radiation exposure are. It’s a ruthlessly Darwinian, commercial system, and one that Satana encourages. There’s nothing money can’t buy on Satana station, even love.

Structure

The central core of Satana station is the old CTF way-station. This was a prototype, built before the CTF was incorporated into the Empire and it was designed in every way to be as modular and compatible as possible. As part of the Urlanth Matriarchy, with its standardisation, this was expensive and unnecessary, but as different cultures begin to diverge again it has gained new purpose.

The core is a cylinder, approximately the same size as a cruiser/heavy transport. That core is packed with computing power and a variety of communications, scientific and engineering systems. At its very heart is Satana’s AI core, a spherical ‘glob’ of liquid, type-1 computronium, with veins and arteries carrying pourable computing power around the station – and its more permanently docked modules – as needed, more like an adaptive nervous system than standard circuits.

Each end of the cylinder is capped with a turret, armed with a short-range beam weapon, used for intercepting space debris and micro-meteorites. The cylinder itself can separate and rotate in many different sections, constructing or dismantling ‘spurs’ to connect to cargo pods or ships as needed. The largest apertures can be created in the central section and the internal repair and construction apparatus can build spares, and even construct whole ships – albeit relatively small ones – provided there is enough base material.

The whole thing is drastically over-engineered and highly adaptable, properties that Satana has used to great effect in carving herself a niche in the sector. It needs no crew and, provided it has access to EM radiation, Helium-3 or magnetic fields, it can power itself indefinitely.

Needing no crew, Satana’s systems are impenetrable to most sophont-scale species, as well as lacking user-interface systems or crawlspaces. The station is almost entirely self-contained, and while it requires no life support for itself, its systems can provide life support for hundreds of sophonts in connected pods or systems, though this is meant to supplement, and not to replace, other life support systems. Many pods attached to Satana have their own life-support systems and ships that are docked share the strain with their own internal systems.

#RPG – Tales of Gor Preview, reviewed

b456ccd0f0d8395871ff98c63b654318You can read that review HERE, but I wanted to take the opportunity to reply to a point made about the ‘uneasy skirting around its non-PC nature’.

I am not, by any stretch, a PC fellow and I take pride in not kowtowing to the unreasonable demands of the ‘SocJus’ mob – especially when presenting fiction. However, it would take a sociopath in an isolation tank not to be affected by the intense atmosphere of censorship and (genuine) harassment that goes on around anyone who doesn’t toe that lie.

I have a duty in bringing Gor to the RPG world to present the world of the books as accurately as possible AND to make it accessible. It’s also important to me, and I suspect to fans of Gor as well, to show that there is more to it than swords, sandals and BDSM erotica. That there is a well-realised world with the opportunity for many wildly different kinds of adventures and interpretations.

The broader book doesn’t spend so much time hang-wringing about it, but in a preview (and in the early chapters of the game guide from which those parts were taken) it was – I felt – important to contextualise the material, to defend it and to address these concerns and issues head on.

I suspect, sadly, the game will get a few ‘hate buys’ and some deliberate piracy but I hope that the honest and engaged way I have dealt with the material will buy a few converts, open the game and the Gorean canon to a wider audience, and disarm some of the critics.

Now your humble blue-caste scribe must get back to work!

Ta Sardar Gor!

Machinations of the Space Princess: Art Preview

MOTSPmarch10a001

Character progression, MotSP style.

Machinations of the Space Princess: Art Preview

MOTSP_Characters_Females