Big time!

I am a real author now. I can tell because my book has been pirated on a notorious scamming site called “Geeker.” (Sorry, no link!) I gather they just get people to “register” to download books and other media, and ask for a credit card which they will drain of funds. Nice.

Rather unamusingly, their contact form for requesting take downs has a phony CAPTCHA so you can’t actually ask them to take it down.

Published in: on May 29, 2017 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wherein I blog about a play I haven’t seen

So my kid is in the drama program at her school and an assignment this week is to see a play or musical this weekend and write a report on it. It would have been awesome if the teacher had suggested some age appropriate plays that are running in the area. Doing our own research, I was a little shocked at how many local theaters are hosting graduation ceremonies rather than having shows, and wondered a little about the teacher’s thought processes, but in the end I found a couple of prospects meeting my requirements that they:

  • not be experimental theater with a lot of adult content
  • not be adaptations of Disney musicals
  • not be during other holiday events we were already committed to
  • be less than $25 a ticket

One is “Incorruptible“, a play about the hijinks at a medieval shrine where the monks make a killing selling fake relics, but run into some difficulty when they need to show a visiting bishop the supposedly incorrupt body of a long-dead saint. That’s kind of up my alley and down my street as it were, since I spent a lot of time researching relics and shrines and miracles for my book Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity. The problem is, “Incorruptible” is playing pretty far away, and maybe I’m pushing that because I would be interested in it moreso than my kid would be.  So we’ll be seeing a more local and slightly more expensive production of “Baskerville,” a comic adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story. But maybe I’ll find a way to make “Incorruptible” next week. If so, I’ll post a review.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 11:29 am  Comments (3)  
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GaryCon

I won’t be at Gary Con, which is starting tomorrow. But I understand that my book Burgs & Bailiffs: Trinity will be there. If you’re there, you’re probably not reading blog posts, but if you are, stop by Black Blade Publishing‘s table where I’m told it will be available in print. And say hi for me.

Published in: on March 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack now on Drivethru RPG!

I don’t mind admitting I’m kind of psyched that my book is now available on DriveThru RPG. The Lost Pages store is the place to get the hard copy, shipped from Scotland (I also hear some copies may be showing up at the better conventions too). But obviously Drive Thru RPG is an important distributor, and I’m glad people might be able to stumble upon my book even if they’ve never heard of it.

What is the Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack? (And here I begin just quoting the blurb:)

An historical supplement on pilgrimages, relics and religion in the European Middle Ages.

The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack is filled with painstakingly researched essays on religious life (and death) in the middle ages. It lets you use relics and pilgrimage as the basis of an alternative conception of clerical magic. Also included are details on travel, burial customs, catacombs, and the business of relic theft. A travelogue of shrines and other pilgrimage sites, detailed rules for relics and reliquaries, and a listing of historical miracles (corresponding to familiar clerical spells) make this 128 page sourcebook a treasure trove of inspiration. Dozens of adventure seeds and tables for generating encounters on the road, graves and grave goods, and randomized catacomb generation and stocking round out the contents. A new class, the Palmer, provides a novel take on religious adventurers. 
But wait! Don’t take my word for it. Here’s something someone said:

An excellent and necessary supplement if you’re wanting your campaign’s religious culture to feel more European Medieval and less the polytheistic/pantheon style used in mainstream D&D

– James Raggi, Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Published in: on February 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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Research mathoms I

Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity comes in at 128 pages. I wrote a fair amount more that did not make it in to the final version, because of space limitations (essays too long to be sidebars or boxed text and too short to be appendices), because they didn’t quite fit in the flow of the work or ramble a bit off topic, and in one case because a table was far too complex to fix in the page layout. Maybe some day an expanded edition will be possible (and I’d probably add some revised bits from Burgs & Bailiffs 1 and 2). But in the meantime I’ll post some research mathoms here on the blog: tidbits too good to leave on the cutting room floor. (The last one I thought made it in, so my apologies if anyone was thrown by the December 6 post. Having looked at the final draft I can confirm that it DOES detail fun stuff like the saint whose miracles include striking down his own family and making a pope crap out his intestines, the “code” used by funeral bells, and more. But here are some mathoms:

Jinn shrines

There are a number of sites in the Moslem world where the jinn are appealed to for intercessions. Illnesses, especially mental illnesses, are often attributed to evil jinn, and supplicants visit sacred places where the jinn congregate. In Baduan, India, for example, the shrines of several sufi mystics are visited for this purpose because the king of the jinn is said to hold court in a nearby banyan tree. Those suffering from mental illness are brought by their relatives, who make offerings to the jinn and hope to elicit their mercy. As unorthodox as this sounds, the jinn are thought to have mostly converted to Islam in Muhammad’s time, so there is nothing heretical about appeal to them.

(See Sadakat Kadri’s Heaven On Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World. Farrar, Strauss, & Giraux, 2013. The introduction describes the author’s visit to such a shrine in Baduan and the place of jinn in shari’a law. Mostly excerpted here)

Animal catacombs

The Egyptians rather famously mummified various animals and placed them in human tombs. However perhaps less well-known are the animal catacombs under certain temples. One temple at Saqqara has a so-called “Sacred Animal Necropolis” with separate catacombs for falcons, cows, ibis, dogs, and baboons. The baboon catacomb has three levels with hundreds of mummies of olive baboons and Barbary macaques. These primates were raised at, and kept in, the temple for their entire lives. Similarly the falcons and cows were kept at cult sites for ritual purposes. The cults eventually abandoned the site some time under Roman occupation. The “Dog catacombs” — sacred to Anubis — include burials of foxes, jackals, cats, and mongooses.

Who stole Santa Claus? 

In the Middle Ages, Saint Nicholas of Bari (now known more popularly in the English-speaking world as Santa Claus or Father Christmas) was revered by sailors in particular because he once calmed a storm at sea while on a voyage to the Holy Land. The 4th century holy man and bishop lived and was buried in Myra, Lycia (which later would become part of Turkey). His tomb became a popular pilgrimage site. In 1087, after the Turkish conquest of Anatolia, Italian sailors and merchants from Bari rescued one half of his skeleton (despite the resistance of Orthodox monks at his shrine), ostensibly because of fears that the Turks would interfere with pilgrims or desecrate the shrine. During the first crusade, a party of Venetians rescued the other half of his skeleton and set up another, competing shrine in Venice. But the relics at Bari continue to excrete myron as they did at Myra, while those in Venice do not. The faithful would attribute this to St. Nicholas’ desire to be in Bari, while skeptics and Venetians might point out that the myron is actually water, exuding from the marble of the tomb which is, in all fairness, below sea level.

Some of St. Nicholas’ bones in Antayla, Turkey (from Wikimedia Commons)

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happy feast day, Saint Nicholas, wherever you are

Readers of my book will know that St. Nicholas has a grave in Myrna, Turkey, a tomb in Kilkenny, Ireland, and shrines in Bari and Venice, Italy — each of the Italian shrines containing half of his skeleton. He also has a sacred cave near Bethlehem and an island named after him with ever-sharp tools. I assume there are suitable festivities going on in all those places right now, December 6th, his feast day. Among his miracles are saving ships from sotrms nad raising three boys who had been mummified or pickled (depending on the story) from the dead.

Image result for st nicholas

 

 

#shamelesscommerce

Published in: on December 6, 2016 at 10:46 am  Comments (2)  
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The poor pilgrim’s almanack

Inline images 1

To no fanfare, my first game book — Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity : The poor pilgrim’s almanack, or The handbook of pilgrimage and relic theft —  has become available via The Lost Pages! So you can get it now in PDF, or pre-order the printed version and get the PDF along with it.

Paolo Greco, proprietor of the Lost Pages, did a bang-up job laying out the text, which was sort of complicated because the original manuscript had dozens of footnotes and sidebars, as well as some really big tables. Not everything could make it into the final product, so once I see the final product myself I’ll post some of that material here. I’m thinking of some of it as “research mathoms” — stuff I found or created that’s too good to throw away entirely but which didn’t fit in well enough to keep, either in terms of flow or formatting, like the giant table of carrying and pulling capacities for animals ranging from rats to elephants (if you need to know how much a goat can carry, how heavy different types of camels are, or how much traction a moose can pull with, it was in there!). So watch this space for research mathoms…

I eventually envisioned this as a sort of source book like the ones Steve Jackson has been producing for GURPS — chapters of informative text that is as well-researched as I could manage with gameable material (rules). I tried to keep it as system-neutral as possible, but really it’s meant for the, ahem, World’s Most Popular Fantasy Roleplaying Game, in the B/X or first Advanced edition. Thus the sidebars, dozens of brief “adventure seeds” like the GURPS sourcebooks, and so on. I’m not an historian by training but I do read a lot, and did my research at one of the largest public research libraries in the US, where I was also working.

I’m not sure what else to say about this, and as I’m on my lunch break now I don’t have time to get long-winded anyway, but for what it’s worth here’s an excerpt from my foreword, which really explains the project:

Although I’ve always been a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, another game has long haunted me: Fantasy Wargaming, by Bruce Galloway (and others). That infamous rule book has haunted me because of its unfulfilled promise — the idea of an historical, logical setting for adventures like those in D&D. In part FW failed to fulfill its promise because it was a haphazardly presented system of rules, and frankly the rules seemed unnecessarily complicated. But the real failure was that the game focused strictly on recreating medieval legends and sagas, which while interesting, were too esoteric for someone used to simple generic fantasy to get a handle on. My forays into running FW were pretty disastrous — I subjected my players to retreads of Viking sagas and Beowulf, which were OK for what they were but did not deliver the exploration and adventure we expected from a fantasy game. What I didn’t know then was that all the elements of dungeoneering could be realized in an historical setting. There really were adventurers who entered subterranean mazes, seeking treasure and braving dangers (real and imagined). They could be rogues, warriors, holy men, or magicians, just like in D&D. They might be seeking gold and gems, but they might just as well be seeking items with supernatural powers: the relics of saints. To find these underground complexes — catacombs — the adventurers would undertake long, perilous journeys: pilgrimages.

While this supplement could be used simply to rationalize dungeoneering in historical or pseudo-historical campaigns, the medieval superstitions and practices detailed here should also inspire new and interesting adventures, over land, at sea, and in town and city. Pilgrimages to shrines and other holy sites, whether for secular or sacred purposes, invite all manner of encounters and obstacles that will create exciting adventures. Lastly, the veneration of shrines and relics suggests a new conception of divine magic and clerics: the pilgrim miracle-worker. Paolo and I are excited by the idea of clerical magic which is grounded in historical beliefs, completely different from the usual wizardry and spell-casting that games use for secular magic-users, and which provides a justification for adventuring holy men and women. We hope that you will find ideas you can adopt in your own games, whether you follow the historical precedents herein or reskin them for your fantasy world.

Published in: on November 30, 2016 at 12:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sumpters and mounts: a little data

My big on-again-off-again project is getting a little closer to being finished, at least in terms of writing, but layout will take a while and is out of my hands. In the meantime I have been filling in some gaps, and pulling at some threads where I thought I was finished.

One area I was bothered about is nailing down some numbers for how much a pack animal (sumpter) can carry and how much a riding animal can carry (the live weight of a rider being somewhat less burdensome than the dead weight of a pack load) and how much a draft animal can pull in a wheeled cart or sled.

I figured there must be a formula, so I enlisted my brother, who is both an engineer and more knowledgeable about the size and strength of animals than probably anyone, for some help with this. He had already looked into horses, and found some great sources, but I thought I’d like to include more exotic animals that people have used for sumpters, draft animals, or mounts.

Das Reitschwein. Image presumably out of copyright. Source: http://onyourownadventures.com/hunttalk/showthread.php?t=264040

Well, maybe not EVERY animal…but certainly more than just the usual horses and mules. He found a study on agricultural uses of animals and the article included a table of the recommended pack-loads for various animals from (water) buffalo to yaks! Apart from wanting to have some details on the usual animals you find in medieval settings, I thought it might be useful to extrapolate the ratio of an animal’s mass to the load it can reasonably carry or pull.

The draft numbers are incredibly complicated because you really ought to figure in the type of conveyance and its weight, the wheels, the road, and so on — apparently teams of animals lose significant efficiency too. I will probably just have to give round numbers for “a wheeled cart, on a packed dirt road,” “a wheeled cart off road,” and a “a sled on snow,” and just fudge something where I assume the conveyance is around ½  of the weight of the load for carts and ¼ for sleds — so to convey 1000 pounds of stuff, you need a cart of 500 pounds or a sled of 250 pounds. Instead of putting that in the charts, I’ll just give estimates of how many animals of a given type is needed to pull a given load, and how many carts, wagons, or sled you need to have to do it, because my aim is just to have some information useful for planning long journeys in a medieval world. “I want to take three tons of goods from Paris to Rome. How many pack mules would I need, or how many oxen and carts?” The relative speed of each mode would also be a factor. But because one player in our group has repeatedly economized on mounts by riding an ox, and other PCs have been unusually large and unlikely to be able to ride a horse, it seemed worthwhile to figure out how heavy a rider each type of animal can bear.

Once I had a bunch of numbers, I started plugging them into a spreadsheet to see what patterns emerge. My brother had warned me that the ratio for horses would not apply across the board — generally speaking, the larger the animal, the lower the ratio of load:mass. But the animal’s build is also a factor, and camels, though bigger than horses in mass, carry a greater load both absolutely and proportionally.

Now my brother might be able to use calculus or some other dark art to come up with an accurate formula to cover how increasing mass lowers the ratio, but that is a convenient place for me to throw up my hands and say, well we have dragons in the game, let’s ignore that reality of physics too.

So, without further ado, I have a very crude ratio that works for various animal types. Bear in mind these are not the absolute maximums the animal can carry; they are the maximum safe loads for travel. For a short time you can certainly overload an animal with no long-term harm, but exceeding these loads on a journey will lame or even kill a sumpter or mount. Much more complete data, including rates of travel for various species and guidelines on average mass for them will be in the book. All loads are expressed as multiples of the animal’s mass. For example a rider load of .25 means the animal can carry a rider & gear of up to .25 x its mass (or ¼ or its mass)

Type of animal working load max load rider load
Horse, buffalo .12 .16 .2
Ox, elephant .16 .2 .25
Flightless bird .18 .25 .3
Canine .2 .4 .5?
Yaks, Yak hybrids .25 .3 .3
Camel, llama, reindeer .3 .4 .5

The reader will notice that horses don’t seem to be very strong, relatively speaking. They aren’t. But they combine the critical advantages of being obedient, large, and fast, making them very good choices for general use as well as mounts for warfare. (Camels are much less tractable; oxen and yaks are slow; canines and ostriches are too small to carry humans any significant distance; etc.) Some animals like oxen and yaks have shorter work-days than horses as well, needing more time to graze and/or ruminate.

Anyway these numbers should get you started. How much can a 1000 kg giant ram carry? I’d compare it to a buffalo, and say a rider of 200 kg, or a load of 160 kg. (In fact I do have some stats for goats and sheep — which are used in some mountainous areas like Nepal — but they are close to horse/buffalo range. My book will have the exact numbers too.)

The rider weight for the canines seems improbable to me, but pack dogs do carry a heck of a lot, relative to their weight. It might be more reasonable use .4 for riders on oversized dogs, wargs, etc., if you like.

*I couldn’t find any data for pigs, but a 250 kg hog is routinely ridden  by an elderly man in China, so I’m guessing a pig type animal can carry a rider of at least .2 its mass.

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 8:56 pm  Comments (4)  
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