#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – Cathedral Park

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Whitchester Cathedral dominates the skyline of the city, like a great grey spike, reaching drunkenly into the sky. Up close it seems cyclopean, dizzying in its height. The area around the cathedral is open ground, grass and mud, punctuated by grave markers and sarcophogi of the great and good. This, in turn is bounded by skeletal trees and the attendant buildings that service the grand church, alleys and gates granting access to the profane, from this domain of the sacred.

The Cathedral was where many sought safety and assistance when the city began to fall, overwhelming the otherwise defensible building and causing its downfall. Religious faith was no protection from the dead. What was once the holiest of places is now amongst the unholiest.

Without upkeep and repair it is slowly crumbling, crumbling and flooding as it sinks into the wet ground beneath it under its own weight, but it is also one of the few more open areas in the city, where you can see the enemy from a safe distance.

Encounters: There should always be some wandering dead, scattered throughout the open area of Cathedral Park. Perhaps 2d6 walking dead.

Whitchester Cathedral

The Cathedral is an enormous slab of a building, built of grey-blue stone, adorned with statuary, crenelations and stained glass. Half of the leaning spire is clad in crumbling scaffold, wood and rope creaking and swaying with each gust of wind. Crows and pigeons perch on the high walls and statues, cooing and croaking as they stare down at you.

The ground here is damp, the floor of the cathedral – and its surrounding paving – a good foot lower than the surrounding soil and covered in puddles of filthy water. Defiant ivy has begun its relentless creep up the walls, with the greenest, brightest shoots beginning to spread across the lower windows and choking the drainage.

The enormous, iron-bound doors of the entrance are partially open, the bar splintered. Saints and bishops stand impasive and powerful, graven in stone while the sound of unearthly moaning echoes out from the nave.

The building is, perhaps, 500 feet long by one-hundred feet wide, with the transepts extending another fifty feet out from the main body of the cathedral. The tower is 150 feet high, with the pointed spire extending another 100 feet into the air above that.

The building is largely constructed of blue-grey limestone, brought from the Southern coast. Much of the exterior wall is filled in with great patchwork constructions of mortar and flint, creating a riot of blues, grey, white and black – when the walls are wet. This provides a great many hand and footholds, though they are shallow, slippery and frequently sharp.

The building is surrounded by paving slabs of the same grey material, creating a walkway around the outside of the entire cathedrals, and between it and the chapter house. Many of these slabs are sinking into the earth and are at wonky angles, the gutters and troughs for draining water are similarly disjointed, creating puddles and soggy earth all year round.

Statuary

The statuary that adorns the cathedral depicts, primarily, gargoyles and angels. It can be hard to tell which is which, as many of the angels are more accurate depictions of how they are described, than merely winged humans. Many have multiple pairs of wings, multiple faces, many eyes or other manifestations that can look monstrous to those without a proper biblical understanding.

The main door is flanked by the statues of two previous bishops, Bishop Beckyngham and Bishop Tyndall, depicted in their robes and with dour, pious expressions. Above them, wings spread over the top of the door, is a more conventional depiction of an angel, with a halo of radiating spikes – like spear-tips.

The Gate

The gate is some twelve feet high, split in half. It is made of thick, English oak and bound and studded with iron. The wooden panels have been painted a dark blue, but are encrusted with bloodstains and dented by some great, external pressure. The wooden bar that secures the gate – from the inside – is splintered, again as though sundered by some great external force. If replaced, the door could be secured against the dead.

The Nave

Sickly, coloured light penetrates the irriguous interior of the cathedral through its stained glass windows that run down either side of the nave. From here you can see almost all the way to the presbytery, past the high altar. A gallery runs around the building, up above the nave and the vertiginous, vaulted roof yawns above you, echoing every sound you make over and over again. Here and there water drips through broken roofing, to echo around the cathedrail. Crows and pigeons flap and sport amongst the arches, blaspheming the house of god with their droppings and raucous cries. Scattered and fallen pews fill the centre of the hall, covered in dried blood and torn shreds of cloth.

The nave is the broad, main hall of the church that runs from the entrance to the transepts and the high altar. Two rows of columns run along either side of the nave, helping to support the upper gallery and its wooden panels. The central area is open to the high arched and vaulted roof above, dizzying in its spiraling patterns and arcs.

There are twenty-two stained glass windows, eleven in the northern wall, eleven in the southern wall, each depicting a scene of martyrdom. Each also has a second, round window above it, admitting more light onto the gallery.

Northern Wall (West to East)

1. The Massacre of the Innocents – Babies and children impaled on spears.

2. John the Baptist – His severed, bloody head, surrounded by a halo.

3. Saint Stephen – Bloodied, with a stone balanced on each shoulder and atop his head.

4. Saint James the Greater – Bloodied, driven through with a sword.

5. Saint James the Just – Bloodied, carrying a club in his hands.

6. Saint Peter – Crucified upside-down.

7. Saint Paul – Decaptitated, holding his own head.

8. Saint Andrew – Crucified on an ‘X’-shaped cross.

9. Saint Matthew – Impaled by spears.

10. Saint Philip – Crucified on a tall cross.

11. Saint Thomas – Bloodied, driven through with a spear.

Southern Wall (West to East)
1. Saint Potninus – Surrounded and torn at by wild beasts.

2. Perpetua and Felicity – A woman and her servant, pierced by swords while a cherub looks on.

3. The Scillitan Martyers – Twelve faces looking up at a bloodied sword.

4. Saint Justin Martyr – Decaptiated, with an axe close by.

5. Saint Polycarp – Burned at the stake.

6. Saint Timothy – Blooded and battered on a pile of stones.

7. Saint Mark – Depicted hanging from a rope.

8. Saint Simon the Zealot – Depicted severed in half at the waist.

9. Saint Barnabas – Being burnt at the stake.

10. Saint Bartholomew – Stripped to the waist and covered in bleeding whip marks.

11. Saint Jude – Bloodied, decapitated, bearing an axe.

Encounters: It is easy for the dead to enter the Cathedral and to mill around inside, but less easy for them to get out – the other entrances and exits being locked and blocked. The dead seem drawn to this place, as though still considering it to be a place of refuge. There should be 2d6 random undead within the area. Note that zombies from other areas of the cathedral will be attracted by noise, and may join in any attack.

Loot:

  • [ ] Beeswax Candles (Long): 1,500 in stores, chests and cupboards, (several hundred in candlesticks and candalabra).
    [ ]Beeswax Candles (Votive): 500 (stored near and set in racks to the north and south sides of the nave).
  • [ ]Tallow Candles (Beef/Mutton): 500 (cheaper candles, set in candlesticks and sconces in the nave, many nibbled on by mice and rats).
  • [ ]Multi-Wick Oil Lamps: 12, hanging from the ceiling, six on each side of the nave.
  • [ ]Kegs of Lamp Oil: 24, in stores and chests.
  • [ ]Brass Candlesticks: 100.
  • [ ]Brass Candalabra: 12, hanging from the ceiling, six on each side of the nave.
  • [ ]The Poor Box: 485 copper pieces, 15 silver pieces, 4 gold pieces.

Choir & Presbytery

The benches for the choir stand two deep on the north and south of the junction between the nave and and transepts. Before them are the pews for the great and good, the gentry from before the city fell, closer to the altar, and to God. It is dark here, shielded from the windows, the candles burnt all the way down into rippling overflows that spill onto the floor. Gilt and brass glitters in the patchy light, reflecting off the geometrically carved choir screens. Before the high altar, and to its side, up a short set of stairs is the pulpit, graven in the shape of a boar and picked out in gold, behind both a stone screen, silver and gold on light grey stone, carved with stars, sun and arches.

The choir stands at the junction of the nave and transcept, in the westernmost part of the crossing. This is the area in which the choir sings, and the wealthy elite of the city would attend services. A once-rich rug of mouldering red, lays across the centre of the area, soggy with damp.

Encounters: 2d10 child zombie choirboys, others may have wandered away. 1 zombie priest and 1d4 other random zombies.

#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).

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – History of Whitchester

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The Ancient Past

The grassy downland and forests made this area of Hampshire prime land for early settlers of Britain. What was good ground for hunting and gathering, with clean water from chalk aquifers, plentiful game and open land, was also good for farming as society developed further. The ground was also full of one of the most important resources that prehistoric man could hope for, flint.

So important was flint that whole flint mines were opened up in prehistory, carved into the bone-white chalk of the hills. This flint was worked into arrowheads, spearheads, knives and even large axe-heads. Flint could be honed to a razor’s edge, almost as sharp as obsidian, and its use persisted even into the bronze age.

To this day old flint mines are uncovered, or fallen into, and the ground is littered with old arrowheads, which are considered to be elf-shot. The ground is full of such mysteries, and older ones, fossilised sea creatures such as sea urchins, which are called ‘fairy loaves’ by the locals. Amongst the more prosaic flint points, the occasional piece of ‘true’ elf-shot is found, silvery like the moonlight, more fragile than glass.

Hill Forts

The remains of ancient hill forts still dot the landscape, though the efforts of farmers and Christians have erased many of the old landmarks and standing stones. Whitchester was the site of one such fort, a great bank and ditch, with a man-made hill at its centre. That hill, or what little remains of it, is underneath the site of the cathedral today, and the old ditch – long used as a spoil-pit – often turns up bones, pottery and other trinkets from that bygone age.

Oppidum

Whitchester developed into a town, around the old fort. A wooden pallisade was raised further out from the old fortifications, creating what the Romans would call an ‘oppidum’. This fortified township was a meeting place for different tribes within the Belgae, and a religious site for the worship of Nantosuelta, a river goddess of the Celtic tribes. While not as important as the other, surrounding towns, Whitchester had its own niche of importance as a secondary marketplace.

Roman Settlement

When the Romans came to England they saw the value in the land around Whitchester as much as anyone else. After their conquest they set about Romanising the populace and built many a villa in and around the same area. Whitchester itself survived as a garrison town with a small fort, safeguarding and supplying Roman settlers and soldiers as they moved about the region and built their roads.

City Walls

Romans raised the first wall about the town, circumscribing the site of the oppidum – and a little more besides – with a stone-reinforced bank and flint-blocked wall of chalk-white, as tall as a mounted man. The town never came under attack in this period, but the large stones of the walls, reinforced with proper Roman bricks and terracotta, were broken apart and reused time and again in the years to come.

After the Withdrawl

After the Romans withdrew a great deal of progress and civilisation was lost. Whitchester survived better than most, retaining many of the things that Roman conquest had brought, not least of all its Roman sewers, insisted upon by some ancient and forgotten magistrate or commander. Like many settlements across the area, this loaned Whitchester a reputation for cleanliness and health that wasn’t necessarily deserved.

The Old Church

Throughout the medieval period, Whitchester continued to be built up. Its walls thickened, grew taller and were expanded. A grand old church was built upon the hill in celebration of burgeoning Christianity. No longer a true fortress, it still held some strategic importance in the petty struggles of kings and lords. Consistently, throughout the period, Whitchester provided food and lodging for soldiers and displaced peasants.

The New Walls

Each new conflict or lordling saw Whitchester’s walls addressed. Different stonemasons and different materials, different styles and choices. The ‘New Walls’ ended up an oddly-shaped patchwork, changing without warning, torn down and built up seemingly on a whim. Old flint was supplemented or replaced with slabs of sandstone and mudstone, statues and crenelations were added – here and there – and the gatehouses were constructed. Much of the walls are still this medieval craftsmanship, worn smooth by the passage of time, but as sturdy as when they were laid.

The Maze of Streets

Given constant raiding by Vikings throughout the years, ranging as far south as Andover or further, radical reconstruction of Whitchester’s streets was undertaken. The passageways through the city were turned into a snarled gnarl of knotted pathways, intended to confuse and slow down any invaders while armed men took to the church. Fortunately, the town was never raided and, over time, the citizens of the city rebuild in a more conventional fashion.

The Normans

In 1066 the Normans invaded England from the North and South. Having overcome English forces on the coast, they rapidly took over the rest of the country and became the new rulers over it. Whitchester became the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle, the first and only proper castle to stand upon the site. In addition to the building of the castle, the Normans undertook the construction of ‘The New Church’, a more impressive replacement for the pre-Norman cathedral that had begun to be built on the site. This church would form the basis for the cathedral-proper in later years, and little of the original remains. The combined weight of the castle and the New Church largely flattened old hill fort, meaning the castle barely rose above the ground or the enclosure.

The Grand Cathedral

The final phase of construction on Whitchester Cathedral began in 1348 and would not be completed for two centuries, interrupted almost immeditely by the arrival of The Black Death. Constant delays and changes of whim turned Whitchester’s Grand Cathedral into a schizophrenic mess of a construction, full of follies, blind corners, cubbies, staircases to nowhere and mismatched windows. Nonetheless, it has a certain gothic charm to it, and was the site of many petty intrigues in the Church, as it provided so many secretive places to meet.

The Burning

In 1360 a great fire swept through Whitchester, burning almost everything on the left bank of the river and within the bounds of the city’s walls. Enormous sacrifices were made to protect the Cathedral, and this came at a huge cost of life and property everywhere else in the settlement. Between the ravages of the plague and the fire, the city was catastrophically depopulated, but soon began to be resettled and the opportunity was grasped to give the place a new layout and new buildings, this time – primarily – of stone and brick, paid for in no small part by the local wool trade, which was about to be impoverished.

The Black Death

From 1348 The Black Death ravaged England and Whitchester seems to have particularly angered God, as it suffered greatly from the disease, as bad – or worse – than London, though no reason for it has ever been discovered.

Significant Instances of Plague:

  • 1348 – 60% of the population killed (3,000 of a population of 5,000).
  • 1361 – 20% of the population killed (600 of a population of 3,000).
  • 1563 – 25% of the population (1,000 of a population of 4,000).
  • 1593 – 20% of the population (800 of a population of 4,000).
  • 1625 – 15% of the population (500 of a population of 3,500).
  • 1665 – 25% of the population (1,250 of a population of 4,500).

The city was consistently and constantly unable to cope with the number of casualties in each instance. The dead were buried en masse in a number of plague-pits around the city, most notably in the excavations for the new Cathedral, this being reckoned a worthy grave, as even commoners were to be interred on the holiest of ground. Later instances were buried beneath the city’s parks and within the old ditches, or deep in the crypts below the Cathedral in mass graves, dug into the clay, chalk and sedimentary stone.

Sheep, Cows and Wool

The Tudor period spanned from 1485 to 1603, a lineage of royalty that most notoriously included Henry the Eighth. It was a transformative period for England in terms of religion, power and a flowering of art and technology referred to as The English Renaissance.

Dissolution of the Monasteries

After Henry the Eighth had separated the Church of England from Rome in 1534, not a great deal changed. This was simply Catholicism with the King at its head instead of the Pope. This was also the King who took on the ‘divine right of kings’ and who ruled with an iron fist, and a lot of executions. From 1534 to 1540 the crown ransacked, demolished and disbanded the overwhelming majority of monasteries and convents throughout England. Winchester was not spared, with its Carmelite convent and Benedictine monastery both being looted and broken down. The cathedral was similarly looted of many of its treasures, but remained relatively unscathed…

#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 – Firearms

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Firearms

The fourteenth century was the time in which gunpowder weapons first saw widespread use in Europe, beginning with cannon and simple explosives. By the seventeenth century things had progressed a considerable way from those early, dangerous weapons.

The matchlock was the oldest form of firearm still in use during this period. Prior to the matchlock weapons were fired by directly applying a match or burning taper to a powder-strewn hole atop a cannon or hand cannon – somewhat awkward and necessiting one-handed aiming of a rather cumbersome weapon. The matchlock held a burning taper or match within a mechanism which, when the trigger was pulled, touched it to a flash-pan of priming powder which would, in turn, ignite the charge. Matchlocks were susceptible to the weather, spilled powder from the flashpan, misfires and other issues but remained in use, in the form of muskets, right through the English Civil War and its aftermath.

The wheellock was a development from the matchlock, using a spring-loaded wheel, scraping against a fragment of pyrite (or similar material) to generate sparks, which would then ignite priming powder, and in turn the main charge of the firearm. The wheellock was rapidly replaced by the snaplock, snaphaunce, doglock, and finally the flintlock, all of which used flint and steel – and sometimes primer powder – to ignite the main charge.

The final evolution of this firing mechanism, and one that would be used for two whole centuries before being discarded, was the true flintlock, first developed in 1610 and used by the elite forces of the New Model Army, typically in the form of carbines and other cavalry use firearms, due to the relative simplicity and reliability of such a gun (many were water resistant and weren’t at risk of spilling their primer powder).

Because of the slowness of reloading weapons, even the more efficient flintlock, a number of innovations were made to compensate. Weapons with multiple barrels were constructed, which could be fired one shot after another, all at once, or even in a rapid volley, one shot after another. Barrels could be clustered together to fire a devastating volley, spread out to shoot in a broad spread or mixed with close-combat weapons such as hammers, axes, swords and knives. Some even had revolving barrels, able to fire multiple shots and even of having their revolving drum swapped in and out – an early version of a magazine. Some gunfighters would wear multiple, holstered pistols, drawing and discarding (or sheathing) the pistols as they were expended and reloading them all before the next battle…

#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…