Friday, August 11, 2017

150th Post: A Celebratory Scenario

I cannot believe we’ve already gone through 150 posts. It’s been great, and I hope you’ve seen improvements in ideas, style, research, and spelling, probably not spelling.  It’s been a learning experience for me each week, and I hope you've learned too. I also hope you enjoy using the resources on this blog in your own games as much I enjoyed creating them.

For this milestone, I’m taking a break from Constantinople this week to add the scenario “Six Stolen Ferns” to the Resources page.  As a player, there is nothing I enjoying more in an RPG than planning a heist. This scenario starts with a theft, and tasks the players to recover the goods by hook or by crook, although more likely crook. I also wanted to keep the stakes low, and the tone light. If you read any P. G. Wodehouse, you’ll know how to run this scenario. If you run or play “Six Stolen Ferns”, I’d love to hear how it went. Play test input is always welcome here.

Thanks to everyone reading my blog, you’re the reason we’re still going 150 posts later. Thanks to the creative team behind Victoriana for your wonderful game that inspires me to write. Finally, Thanks to Henry Mayhew, Lady Hornby, Google Books, and the Internet Archive for cataloguing the Victorian world.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The City of Countless Names- Outsiders in Constantinople

The city of Constantinople sits at the juncture of two continents, two seas and countless empires across time. Since the cities’ founding, its mercantile, political, and religious significance ensured its constant growth and the covetous desire of others. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Christians once possessed this strategic city, and now it is the shining gem in the increasingly tarnished crown of the diminishing Ottoman Empire. In 1853, the Russian Czarina used a squabble over religious sites to threaten the Ottoman Empire with war, pulling the city into greater international import. With more English, French and Italian forces passing through the city each day, and its young Sultan’s new progressive policies, Constantinople faces enemies and allies unused to its exotic ways and ancient dangers.

Because of Constantinople’s importance in world trade, Europeans governments and firms housed representatives and agents in the city, since the Byzantine Empire. The Crimean War caused massive immigrations of Europeans (or “Franks” as they are often called by Constantinople’s inhabitants) to support, protect, and control their nations interests in the war effort. Everyday ships full of French, Italian, and English soldiers leave for the front. Their wives and families set up households in the city to be as close to their loved ones as possible. Sailors, stopping for a day on shore, look for excitement and pleasure. Businessmen and diplomats negotiate purchases and deals with Ottoman pashas to supply new markets and advance their countries agenda. Finally, a new class made of “the waifs and strays of Europe and Asia” look for new opportunities in Constantinople.

Since it’s days as a Genoese settlement, Pera-Galata houses most of Constantinople‘s European community. Expatriates run the hotels, restaurants and boarding houses, giving the streets a very cosmopolitan, but more familiar feel. For the Europeans abroad, life revolves around the embassies and consulates of Europe, located close to each other in Pera. They serve as post offices for letters to and from home, the social center for Balls and State Dinners for the High Class, and a little bit of home. By Ottoman law, consuls are responsible for holding court for any citizen belonging to its country accused of a crime.

A passport is essential for all travelers in Constantinople as a mean of identification (or of cover). In fact, the Turkish Government officially requires all foreigners to own a passport from their home country before entering Turkey. Some officials may let a foreigner through if they pay a small “fine”.
Passports are also necessary to get mail, use banks, apply for a Firman (a pass issued by the Sultan to enter Holy Sites), and ensure you do not fall into the hands of an Ottoman court without your countries representation. Here are the costs of passports issued by the various consulates in Constantinople. Nearly all consulates are open from 10 am to 3 pm.

Austrian Consulate- free
British Consulate- 2 shillings
French Consulate- free
Italian Consulate- free
Prussian Consulate –free
Russian Consulate- 5 shillings
Swedish Consulate- 2 shillings
United States Consulate - $1

An audience of curious locals constantly watches Europeans traveling around the city. When engaging in conversation, those with a smattering of European languages call the English (whether male or female) “Johnny” and the French “Disdone”, usually while selling something. Outsiders quickly get lost in the nameless streets and squares, or wander into places they wish they hadn’t.

Most Europeans would be completely helpless without a dragoman, a local interpreter-guide usually a Greek, Armenian, or Levantine. The name dragoman comes from the Arabic for interpreter, “Tarjaman”, and originally referred to the interpreters attached to embassies and consulates. Travelers shouldn’t hire the dragomans lurking around hotels, but should rather ask the staff of their hotel for a dragoman attached to their establishment or ask the staff of their consulate to recommend one. Good dragomans expedite sightseeing, fluently speak Turkish, Greek, Armenian, English, and French, haggle for the best prices in the bazaar, and keep their charges safe in Constantinople. Reliable dragomans cost about 10 francs (8s) to 7 francs (5s 7d) a day. They also receive a small commission from the merchants to whose shops they take their charges.

Manousis Kontoglou (Greek Orc Dragoman)

Physical: 5            Initiative: 7
Mental: 7               Health: 8
Social:  7                Quintessence: 6
Damage: Concealed Knife (6), Punch (3)
Possible Special Traits:
Polyglot +4 (Speaks fluent Turkish, Greek, Armenian, and Hebrew, with sparse French, English, and Italian)
Knows a Good Deal When He Sees It +2
Friend of Everyone in the Bazaar +2

Manousis’s past clients recommend his expert guidance to all their friends arriving in Constantinople. His carefully pointed mustache and his embroidered scarlet jacket make him easy to find even in the busiest street.

We’re getting the hardest stuff out of the way first. The past two weeks it was race, next week, religion, and the week after that, government. Actually, next week is the 150th post, so we’ll take a break with something special, then it’s religion and government.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The City of Countless Names- The Diverse Peoples of Constantinople

The city of Constantinople sits at the juncture of two continents, two seas and countless empires across time. Since the cities’ founding, its mercantile, political, and religious significance ensured its constant growth and the covetous desire of others. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Christians once possessed this strategic city, and now it is the shining gem in the increasingly tarnished crown of the diminishing Ottoman Empire. In 1853, the Russian Czarina used a squabble over religious sites to threaten the Ottoman Empire with war, pulling the city into greater international import. With more English, French and Italian forces passing through the city each day, and its young Sultan’s new progressive policies, Constantinople faces enemies and allies unused to its exotic ways and ancient dangers.

Constantinople has a uniquely diverse population. Even its historic emperors came from a wide range of races and religions. Each ethnicity and religion in the city has its own quarters, businesses, and cemeteries, along with its own fears and prejudices. To function in Constantinople without a dragoman (a guide), travelers must speak Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, French, Italian, and English to navigate these communities.

The most numerous inhabitants of Constantinople, Ottoman Turks make up half of the city’s population of 800,000. They are Nithamiyeen to man, devotedly following the Six Pillars. The young Sultan Abdulmejid I rules his empire from Constantinople as the ultimate sovereign of his people. While some of their members live in incredible wealth and influence, most live in poverty. Turkish society binds their women to strict rules covering all aspects of life including dress, socializing, and education, however, the recent reforms of Tanzimat, and European influences may bring change to the harem.
The other peoples of Constantinople see the Turks as calm and composed, or even lazy and close-minded. Still others fear their authority and hate their privilege, but no one denies their devotion to their religion, and their hospitality.

The Ottoman Empire organizes the non-Turks of their empire, known as Rayah (or “the flock”), into their own communities with local government ultimately subject to the Sultan’s Authority. In this way, each retains their own traditions, and identity with as little friction and assimilation as possible, but they still do not have all the rights of the Turks. High and middle-class members exist in all communities, but most are as poor as the majority of Ottomans.

Although the Greeks were the original settlers of Constantinople, the Turks outnumber them three to one. In fact many descend from the Greeks forced to immigrate, by past Sultans, to repopulate the city. Although they have built a place in Constantinople’s society, many Greeks hate the Turks and hope the Russians drive them out. Although the Greeks are subjects of the Sultan, the Patriarch of Constantinople Cyril VII leads their faith.
Outsiders believe the Greeks are boisterous, childlike, and unreliable often singing loudly, or dancing for no reason.

The Armenians prospered in ancient Byzantium, and their descendants remain numerous in Constantinople.
The Armenians of Constantinople are further divided by their religions. Most of the Armenians in Constantinople left the ancient Armenian Aluminat Church to join the Roman Aluminat. The Roman Aluminat Armenians quickly adopted modern European fashions and ways with much success. Many Armenians fill the vocational niches shunned by Turks, such as banking and money changing.
Armenians tend to be practical, industrious, and adaptable, but some see them as ignorant, cloying errand boys of Turkish masters.

The Jewish people survive in Constantinople with varying degrees of persecution and tolerance since its days as Byzantine. Finding Ottoman Rule more tolerant than Aluminat Europe, the Jewish population expanded with exiles from Roman Aluminat Spain in the late 1400s.  Those of the Roman Aluminat religion tend to have the least tolerance of the Yehudites.
Although many see the Jews as the most trustworthy people in the city, stereotypes of treacherous schemers or worse followed the Jews into Constantinople.

The smallest and least influential group in Constantinople is the Levantines. The Levantines descend from European émigrés in the city’s past, mostly French, Genoese, and Venetian merchants from before the Ottomans. Most are Roman Aluminat like their ancestors.
Europeans and natives alike often see the Levantines as mongrels and upstarts trying to fit in among their betters.

Also in this uniquely complicated hive of cultures and beliefs are the Tartars (from the Crimea), Circassians, Kurds, Croats, North Africans ( from Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt), Bulgarians, Kurds, Romani, and others of the Ottoman Empire living in their own ways, piled up in Constantinople.

It’s great to get into the more practical side of Constantinople. There are a lot of layers to dive through, and tons of weird adventure inspiring detail to talk about before we start exploring Constantinople.  Next week’s post looks at playing Europeans in Constantinople, and a couple practicalities of their life in the city.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The City of Countless Names- Talismans of Constantinople

According to Evliya Çelebi, Ottoman historian and travel writer, of the 17th century, powerful artifacts guard Constantinople and provide for the cities inhabitants. These talismans come out of the city’s ancient past, most of them housed in Byzantine monuments. Celebi claims the talismans lost their powers when the Prophet, Muhammad, received his message from Allah.  As Victoriana uses analogs of real world religions, these talismans lost their magic when angels gave the Word to the Nithamiyeen.

Near the Basilica Cistern, four columns bore statues of four angels (Gabriel, Michael, Rafael, and Azrael), each facing a cardinal direction. The angels clapped their wings to warn of famine, war, pestilence, and death.
Although the columns remain, the statues fell from their pillars when the Nithyamieen received their Word.

Where the Avret-Bazari (the market of female slaves) used to be, stands a tall pillar called the Column of Arcadius. A statue of Arcadius stands at its zenith. According to Celebi, a statue of a beautiful lady also graces the top of the pillar. Once a year, the statue attracted thousands of birds by making a noise. The birds flew around the statue before falling to the earth in exhaustion, where the Byzantines collected the birds for food.
In 1715, an earthquake severely damaged the column (or as legend claims, when angels gave their message to the Followers of the Word). In fear of its collapse, the Ottomans dismantled the column, but its base remains to this day.

In Blachernae Palace, a brass statue of an Ifrit sits on a plinth made of black stone. Once a year, the statue spat out flames. People captured sparks of this fire, as it did not extinguish until its owner fell ill.
Now, the statue is gone from Blachernae Palace.

The red granite Obelisk of Theodosius remains in the Hippodrome of Constantinople. According to Celebi, the hieroglyphs on this transplanted Egyptian obelisk prophecy the future of the city; however Egyptologists translated the hieroglyphics as declarations of a wartime victory by Pharaoh Thutmose III.

The Column of Constantine stands in Tauk-Bazar (the poultry-market). Because an earthquake weakened the columns integrity, Sultan Mustafa II ordered bronze hoops wrapped along its120 ft height to preserve it. At the top, a statue of Apollo stood symbolizing the victorious Constantine. Supposedly, Constantine placed a talisman shaped like a starling at the top, and once a year the starling clapped its wings, attracting countless birds carrying enough olives to feed Constantinople’s inhabitants.
The column remains, but a great wind blew the statuary from its top in 1106 AD.

Near the Fatih mosque by the saddler’s bazaar, sits the Column of Marcian. Old stories say a white marble chest containing the daughter of Byzantius sat at the top, protecting her body from scavengers. Any young lover due to be wed can hug the column to gain protection from harm until their wedding day.
The column’s remains are tucked away in the garden of an old barrack’s used by the Janissaries, now a private home.

A great column protected Constantinople from plagues, but it was destroyed in the 15th century, to make room for the Beyazit Bathhouse.

The Walled Obelisk in the Hippodrome of Constantinople was once decorated by gems and bronze plaques showing the victories of Emperor Basil I. Supposedly, this column also had a powerful magnet strong enough to protect the city from Earthquakes.
The obelisk still stands, but Crusaders ripped out its glorious decorations in 1204. It’s doubtful the magnet survived.

In the neighborhood of Altimemer six sages of the ancient world built six magical columns.
The pillar made by Philip bears the image of a brass fly, whose humming scares all the flies out of the Constantinople. Similarly, the pillar made by Plato has the figure of a gnat, able to drive out all of the city’s gnats. Another pillar, built by Hippocrates has a stork, and once a year the figure cries out, killing all the storks within the walls of Constantinople, leaving those in the suburbs unharmed. The pillar built by Socrates holds a brass cockerel, which crowed once a day causing the all cockerels to crow, waking the city’s inhabitants in time for morning prayer. Pythagoras’s column bears a bronze wolf so terrifying; it kept wolves in the countryside around the city from attacking sheep. The two young lovers made of brass on the column by Aristotle could solve any marital strife provided one of the partners embraced it. Galen also placed two statues on his pillar, an old decrepit man, and a sour faced hag. If a husband or wife unhappy in marriage embraced this column, they were sure to separate.
These six talismans are now gone.

Long ago an ancient sage built a brass three-headed dragon to scare all venomous animals out of Constantinople. Over time, the statue sunk into the earth near the Hippodrome of Constantinople, but not before the Sultan Selim II smashed the jaw of the head facing west. Scorpions, snakes and other venomous animals appeared in the western half of the city, and now they can be found in every building. If anyone destroys the two remaining heads, insects and reptiles will take over Constantinople.

Adventure Ideas
Basically, this is a list of powerful artifacts from Constantinople’s past villains can weaponize, power hungry cultists seek, and the highest bidder buys. Go have some fun.

In case the past 3 posts did not convince you Constantinople’s past contains plenty of fodder for adventures, this post should take care of that. We’ll revisit most of these sites again in more detail when we look at some of the sites around the city.  Next week, we’ll look at Constantinople’s populations, ethnicities, and communities.