Saturday, August 27, 2016

Locations of Interest in Craftsmans Reach: Effningas

Size: 1,200 dwarves
Ruler: Prince Alred Effning

South of the Wood of Broken Pillars and the Tailimisiä Princedoms (in elvish, Daleädau) there stands a great lake that divides the Untamed Lands from the more well-settled Kjellan region of Craftsman's Reach known as the Aelfwater. On the northern shores of this lake, beyond the Icewater River, stands the dwarven fortress of Effningas.

It was settled during the Bleeding Plague of the IXth Age when the control of Tailimisiä withdrew and a general chaos ruled in the Greatwood. Green dwarves, besieged along the shores of the Untamed Lands by elf reavers, pirates, trolls, and all other manner of ills, fled southward under the leadership of the adventurer Jarri Effnirson.

Serving as mercenaries in various elvish wars, the Great Green Company of Jarri Effnirson eventually settled atop a hill overlooking the Aelfwater lake. There, they began the task of founding a new colony-fortress, and took on the name of their founder.

Clan Effning has been at Effningas for 700 years, several generations of dwarves, and seen five princes in their time. They are loosely allied with the Kjellans of Craftsman's Reach though their relationship with the Greatwood has diminished precipitously since the time of the Bleeding Plague and the Great Green Company.

Jarri's Hill is crowned by the modern Effning fortress, a redoubt of considerable size cut from the local granite and built with Tailimisiän wood. It's highest ramparts are cut in the shape of the ancestral Effning founders, each peering out from the crenels. When it is time to revere new ancestors, new towers are raised, thus causing the fortress to expand. The Effning fortress also sits atop the vast clan-tomb of the Effnings.

Surrounding Jarri's Hill is the Effning town, all hemmed in by a pikewall, complete with a stone gate. The outtown, comprising the Effning farms and holdings, is patrolled by the militia under the command of Burghaeff Thora, an ancient dwarven woman who has fought in several major battles. The banners of the Great Green Company still adorn the pikewalls and the fortress, displaying the golden setting sun against the green field.

Effningas has three major temples: one to Eiri the Earthfather, which stands before Jarri's Keep, one to Helga the Stonemother, located amongst the stone houses of the clan warriors, and one dedicated to Soeri and Skaldi, built into the stone walls of the Effning gatehouse.

Strangers and foreigners are oft welcome here, and the Effning Clan still works as a company-for-hire in the local wars and battles of the Untamed Lands. It's major import is iron, and its major exports include weaponcraft (Effning weapons are well-thought-of throughout the Reach and the Untamed Lands) and timberwork.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fantasy Alley

There was a time, and it was not long ago, that fantasy and science fiction were not well-accepted genres. The world of the literary elite derided them both, for different reasons. This led to a term that I learned when I was growing up: Science Fiction Alley. Science Fiction Alley is a place in bookstores and libraries where all of the books have a little rocket or a unicorn sticker on their spines. For me, sci-fi alley was a little ghetto of the Hamden Miller Library. You had to walk down a wide and shallow flight of stairs, hook left, and follow the brick wall of the building all the way to the place where it ended. There, in the lowest and remotest part of the building, were three towering shelves all stacked with books of random provenance. Science Fiction was cheek-to-jowl with fantasy, Endymion right up against Pern. Many series' were not present in their entirety. Middle books littered the way. It was from this shelf that I first picked up Guards! Guards! and Pyramids, and from it too that I read Ender's Game.

Most other kids didn't read fantasy. Almost everyone I knew hated the Lord of the Rings because it was "too boring." I understood why they said that. It has a contemplative pace. But they were wrong. The Lord of the Rings wasn't boring. The Silmarillion wasn't awful (it's dull like the Bible, people told me). But liking fantasy made me stand out, because there were few who did. I wasn't shy or nervous or anxious as a kid, but I was beat up on occasion. Rare occasion, perhaps, and soon thereafter I became the bully, the asshole, to feel some power in my life. But there was something about me that was different. Unlike every other bully, I had this badge of honor earned from reading fantasy.

And it was a badge other people put there. It was meant to distinguish me, to name me strange and outcast. Oh, there's the guy who likes reading weird books. Fuck those people, I took the name. I took the badge. I displayed it proudly as a mark of achievement. It made me different, but different can be special. I played Dungeons and Dragons. I fought for my weirdness. I relished it. Fine, let me stand out.

That's not the way it is anymore. Years ago, I railed against the ghettoization of science fiction and fantasy. Were we not as good as any other literature? Yes, in fact. Escapism was a dirty word. Can we not learn about ourselves by seeing human nature in any setting? Some fantasy books are truer than non-fiction.

But yesterday I went to the Wallingford Public Library. I've been back in my home state these last few years, after fourteen years away. I lived in Boston, in China, in New Jersey, but now I'm a stone's throw from my old haunts in the Hamden Miller Library. And what did I discover at Wallingford's library? There is no science fiction alley. There is no fantasy alley. The books are simply intermingled with all the others of "literary merit."

And you know what? I missed it. I missed my lonely fortress, away from everyone else. I missed laying on the ground in a place that no one else would tread, with a panoply of books, just the kind of books I was looking for, spread out in fantastical array above me. Fantasy is now lauded. It's not niche anymore. Thanks to things like Harry Potter and the Song of Ice and Fire television translation, people don't think of fantasy as a dirty word. A whole generation is going to grow up without the stigma of the fantastic. And I suppose that's a good thing.

But I fought for my fantasy, and so did everyone else who liked it way back when. I fought for my fantasy when the kind of people who are going to end up liking it in this new climate were mocking me for it back then. So as Fantasy Alley disappears, so too does a safe place that was made safe by necessity. So, I suppose, we must say farewell to Fantasy Alley, and to the mindset that those of us who lived there are a select and privileged few. This is the dawn of a new age, when fantasy is accessible and widely read; an age of cons, and shows on HBO, Showtime, Stars, and more. But let's not mistake this for what it isn't. This isn't the old caretakers of fantasy coming into power. More than ever, it's those assholes who treated people who loved fantasy like shit extending their control over yet another field.

Case in point: the laziness of the Game of Thrones show. So don't rejoice just yet. It's unclear whether we have finally won a long war with mainstream literature, or whether we have been colonized.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Complicating 7th Sea: Expanding Ussurans

The Ussuran Orthodox Church traditionally fills the role of both the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church in 7th Sea. But, thanks to its devotion to only the first of the Four Prophets, I have taken the liberty of expanding the Ussuran faith to cover an analog of Judaism within the other nations of Theah. This requires a little balancing, and of course some trust in the players that this isn't intended to be an anti-Semitic slur, but rather to bring some extra life and complexity to the setting. As I've expressed before, 7th Sea is great... but its too simple a world when compared with the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries its supposed to represent.

Communities of Ussurans
As written, Ussurans rarely leave Ussura because they believe Matushka, a religious figure and also a folk-spirit or magician, protects them there. But in order for Ussurans to mimic Jews in Theah, they must have communities scattered throughout the Théan countryside. There are, therefore, two types of Ussuran Orthodox communities in Théah: native and transplanted communities.

Native communities sprang into being with the coming of the Second Prophet. They rejected the Second Prophet as false, wherever they were. These were Théans of other ethnic descent than Ussuran. However, as time went on these small sects were herded together and denounced by the Vaticine Church. They found comfort in the Ussuran Patriarch, who took them in and pronounced all the Rejectionist Sects to be under the guidance and influence of Matushka and the Ussuran Orthodox Church. Centuries of persecution were ended as a formal church claimed these disparate sects. Priests were dispatched from Ussura. Old Teodoran was taught in these communities and they are now more or less indistinguishable from the transplanted communities.

The transplanted truly came from Ussura. Whether at the whim of an ancient Gaius, or because there was a time of strife or famine, these Ussurans left the Mother Country. Some where ordered to, so that they might build trade posts at the terminus of Ussuran rivers. As the Renaissance progressed, more moved into Vodacce to head trading companies connected with the amber, jet, and fur trade of their homeland.

Both types of communities are bi-lingual, with transplanted communities tending to be tri-lingual: Ussuran, the native tongue in the land of their exile, and Teodoran being the three languages spoken. In most Théan countries, Ussurans are required to live in particularly marked out quarters or districts. Avalon expelled its Ussurans, and so did, at one point in the Middle Ages, the country that would become Montaigne. Ussurans abroad tend to be legalistic, paternalistic, and highly socially stratified. They sing dirges of longing for the homeland, which is holy, but know that they may not return until the Matushka calls all of the True Faith back. Rather, many make pilgrimages to Ussura to step upon the sacred earth.

They are often permitted certain liberties by the Théan monarchs: they may practice their religion in peace, even where Objectionism or Vaticineism is hated. They may wear their hats indoors and in courthouses, and are not subject to the traditional "hat honour" of Théah. They are permitted to give loans and mortgages, and to charge interest on both. But they are also required to wear clothing which identifies them as ethnically Ussuran, and marriage between a Ussuran Orthodox and a local comes at a hefty tax to the lord.

Still, they thrive as many communities might, and the Ussuran Orthodox banks of Vodacce are known as some of the best and most secure, because you can take a loan from a Ussuran on the banks of the Arnot and claim it in cash in the Ussuran Quarter of Kirk several months later.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

7th Sea Cities: The Sirine Republic

Population: 190,000
Ruler: The Sirine Curia (under Principe Marco Vestini)
Guards: The Curial Regiment, the Vestini Family Arms

The city of Sirine is divided into several major quarters. These are the Canal Quarter, the Ussuran Quarter, the Palace Quarter, the Curial Quarter, the Numan Quarter, the Banking Quarter, the Forge Quarter, and the University Quarter. It occupies a prime position along the coast of Vaticine Bay, protected by storms and possessing a huge deepwater harbor that is warded by arms of headland. Its anchorage was expanded by the digging of the Canal Quarter near the shore, allowing ships to reach deep into Sirine's heart. It is the seat of Vestini power, and boasts some of the finest craftsmen and tradesmen of Theah.

The Canal Quarter.
Networks of canals, all surrounding the Grand Canal artery, make their way inland, shadowing the banks of the River Arnot. The Sirine Bridge, a massive unadorned brick structure, overlooks the Grand Canal. Merchants gather there to bid on trade goods sailing into the city each day. On the south bank of the Grand Canal, the houses are stone and marble. On the north bank, they are brick and clay. Beyond the canal and the river Arnot, stands the Forge District. Touching it on all sides is the great Banking Quarter.

The Ussuran Quarter.
Surrounded by a brick wall with several gates (which must be shut at sundown), the Ussuran Quarter is the largest congregation of Ussuran Orthodox outside of the mother country. Originally founded by Ussurans coming to trade with the wider world, they have remained a germ of banking and merchanting since the early middle ages. The quarter is frequented by footpads because of its narrow and confusing streets.

The Palace Quarter.
The finest quarter of the city, this is that which surrounds the Palazzo Principe. Only nobility may hold townhouses here, and there is an opera house and theater which are both frequented by the Vestini well-to-do.

The Curial Quarter.
Surrounding the curial palace, which is singled out by its massive brick tower and astrological clock which faces four sides of that tower, the curial quarter is the heart of Sirine government. Most merchantile families have their holdings here.

The Numan Quarter.
Between the Palazzo Principe and the wall, there stands a stretch of abandoned Numan ruins that was once a bath house and fortress. These swarm with members of the Black Market, thieves guilds, and brigands.

The Banking Quarter.
The great Vestini banks, while they do not rival those of the other Vodacce princes, are all gathered here. The Banking Quarter is centered on a high hill that stands apart from the rest of the city. The Vodacce banks are all built with marble, stained glass, and vaulting.

The Forge Quarter.
Brick houses and craftsmen's shops make up the entire Forge Quarter, where there are cheap taverns and lodgings. The finest crafts in Theah come from this place, made of material from the Crescent Empire or Cathay.

The University Quarter.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Conquests of Essad

In the year 505 of the Tenth Age, Essad was wracked by slave uprisings, rebellions, and war. By early 506, Soloth had declared war and the Agricon was flooded with slave-armies from either side. It seemed clear that Hyrek Thur's loose coalition of High Masters would collapse and plunge Essad back into the lawless nightmare from which it had emerged. However, throughout the course of that year the Rex Exactor relied heavily on the rise of a new generation of adventurers in the Slaver-Kingdom. With great acuity, he funded no less than twelve groups of murderers, some of whom wound up killing each other. With the aid of the Dogs in the capital, the Cowled Hunters in the north, the Slavekillers in the littoral, and a number of other lesser-known groups, he managed to retain control of the kingdom.

The rebellion was badly hurt when one of its leaders, a slave named Ajax, was captured and executed on the fighting sand by none other than the Exactor's most famous Dog, Oloz. However, nearing the end of 506, Oloz and the Dogs of the Exactor turned on their master and caused a disaster in Thurayn: destroying the House of Ashad, and bringing the wrath of Vodei upon the entire city. It was flooded with black rain. The Dogs all but vanished, fleeing to Portomagno, Dorlan, to escape the consequences of their treachery.

But the Exactor did not rely on merely those untrustworthy mercenaries. In the time that the adventurers were helping secure political stability in Essad by, for example, rooting out such traitors as Sabius Omm and the Seftere Masters, the Rex Exactor also secured a lasting relationship with the Fire Giants of Pernag.

When the giants came to the field, the slaves could not resist them. The rebellion was ended in a bloody purge, annihilating the old High House of Seftere and securing the undivided loyalty of the other High Masters. In place of the Seftere, the Exactor offered a position of High Mastership to the Solothan wizard Drozon the Red, who had taken up residence in Essad's capital city. Though he was also a member of the ruling council of Kallatha, City of the Wyrm-King, Drozon accepted and used his magical might to back the Essadi armies on the Agricon.

The Solothans crumbled and, through a series of clever maneuvers, the Exactor's agents triumphed on the field. Soloth was quickly humiliated and Kallatha was forced to sign a treaty granting Essad mastership over all former territories of that city. Within months, Solothans were being put in chains to serve Essad. Many former Solothan overlords and overseers joined the Iron Guard out of fear.

After the failed Solothan invasion, Essad lay dormant for several years. In early 509, swollen with new slaves and wizards, the Rex Exactor launched a series of attacks on Teral and Dorlan. The Dorlish Invasion has conquered most of northern Llun, and Teral capitulated prince by prince. Now, Essad controls much of the north in a grand new Slaver-Empire. The Rex Exactor has appointed governors over all of Teral, and Dorlan now suffers an attack on two fronts: from the Teralian March and the mountains of Llun. Essad is poised to conquer most of the Cloud Sea Coast.