Friday, June 23, 2017

The City of Countless Names- Introduction to Constantinople

The city of Constantinople sits at the juncture of two continents, two seas and countless empires across time. Since the cities’ founding, it’s 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.

The Ottoman capital, Constantinople, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its bright blue waterway reflects hilltops covered in enchanting minarets and domes rising over the city. Brightly painted houses in all colors built to the shore, peak out in the fog of morning and blaze at sunset. The panorama of cypress groves, ancient walls, mosques, palaces, ships, terraces, and lighthouses is overwhelming. 

Waterways separate the sprawl and grandeur of Constantinople into three cities. The Bosporus Strait divides Scutari on the Asian continent from Stambul and Pera-Galatia in Europe, and the Golden Horn estuary further divides Pera-Galatia from Stambul. Each section of Constantinople holds diverse peoples, pleasures, and secrets.
Although not the oldest inhabited part of Constantinople, Stambul’s monuments, and walls show the majesty left over from the cities’ days as ancient Byzantium.  As the center of Turkish culture, Stambul houses the finest mosques, most opulent palaces, the Grand Bazaar, and the Government for the Ottoman Empire.
Few foreigners live in Stambul, and its labyrinthine streets puzzle all outsiders. 

The Crimean war changed Scutari from Asian trading town at the feet of mount Bulgurlu to a mustering site for cavalry, fleets of ships, and casualties back from the front lines. Florence Nightingale and her nurses famously tended to the wounded here. The largest cemetery in Constantinople ominously lies near her hospital.
Pera-Galata houses the Europeans of Constantinople along with all the embassies, hotels, and shops catering to foreigners. Spreading away from most populous centers, the suburbs fan out from Galata-Pera into the cyprus groves and hills of the Turkish countryside. In the east, great harbors and shipyard cut into the northern shore of the Golden Horn where the Ottoman Navy is docked and Admiralty is headquartered. 

The Bosporus flows from the Black Sea into the Sea of Marmara which flows into the Dardanelles, which flow into the Aegean Sea,  which flows into all the way into the Mediterranean connecting central Europe and Easter Asia to the rest of Europe and North Africa for trade and transport. Whoever controls Constantinople controls this vital merchant route. 

Although Turkish Nithamiyeen make up the majority of Constantinople’s population, the cities colorful cosmopolitan history ensures an incredibly ethnic and religious diversity among the minorities.  Turks, Greeks, Kurds, Bosniaks, Jews, North Africans, Armenians, Bulgars, Circassians, and Levantines live and trade in a confusing mélange of languages, customs, and beliefs. Its population of about 800,000 is nowhere near London or Paris, but to anyone in the Great Bazaar or near the shoreline, its crowds will be both shocking and familiar.

Now that we’re past the overview, we can move into the real stuff. After covering the foundational facts, I’ll post information helpful to adventuring in the city, and then a guide to the districts and suburbs of Constantinople. Next week we’ll start our look at Constantinople’s history, starting with its days as Byzantium.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Constantinople- Not Istanbul

The Al Qadim setting for Dungeons and Dragons takes all the best tropes of Arabesque fantasy (ala Sinbad and the Arabian Nights) creating a terrific setting full of genies, flying carpets, and sinister viziers. TSR produced a line of great campaign books full of exciting swashbuckling adventures for Al Qadim. Unfortunately, I don’t blog about, or run 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Fortunately, I blog about and run Victoriana.
The arabesque fantasy flavor of Al Qadim is perfect for Victoriana’s alternate fantasy 1850s, I need just somewhere to put these adventures. So, I picked the most interesting place I could think of in the Ottoman Empire: Constantinople.

For the next…however many weeks, I’ll be looking at the people, places, and most of all names of Constantinople. Seriously, “Istanbul was once Constantinople” is just the start. Every place has a name in Turkish, Greek, or Armenian, let alone the English translation, the Anglicized spelling, the incorrect Anglicized spelling, the Phonetic Spelling, and more. I’m digging through the history, checking period map, reading Victorian letters, memoirs, and travel guides trying to find out what is the right name for everything.

To help us all out, I’ll be making a series of maps which eventually I’ll paired with descriptions of Constantinople’s districts, neighborhoods and suburbs. I’m elbow deep in research right now, so this post is little more than a teaser. To make up for that, here is the current rough unfinished map of Constantinople:

Friday, June 9, 2017

Wilhelm Stieber- Prince of Spies

Victoriana 3rd Edition prominently features the world of espionage as a theme for campaigns. Cool as this is, I haven’t given too much space on this blog to Victorian spies. We’re ending that trend today with the perfect Victoriana Mastermind: Wilhelm Stieber.

Born 1818 in the Prussian Province of Saxony, Wilhelm Johann Carl Eduard Stieber worked as a lawyer in Berlin during the 1840s, specializing in the defense of political radicals in court. He was cheap, sympathetic to their causes, and won many trials. So highly did Berlin revolutionaries respect Stieber, they elected him to the Underground Revolutionary council. Unfortunately, Stieber was a paid informant for the police. He used his law practice to spy on radicals, and won many trials because he knew the prosecution’s case against his clients.

He continued working undercover, playing both sides as he rose in the Berlin Police. During the revolutions tearing through Europe in 1848, he saved King Frederic William IV from a mob. Whether or not he was in the right place at the right time, if he directed the mob towards the king, or even hired his fellow informants to surround the king’s coach is unclear, but in 1853, the king made Stieber Berlin’s Police Commissioner.

As Police Commissioner, Stieber’s ring of informants kept Berlin’s entire underworld at his fingertips. He cultivated prostitutes as spies, particularly women kept by important men, and he organized newspapermen across Europe to keep him informed of anything important that didn’t end up on the front page. He also traveled extensively tracking political radicals, investigating crimes, and personally handling politically sensitive cases.

In 1860, blackmailing scandals and false imprisonment charges led to his arrest and retirement. Three years later, Prussian Minster President Otto Von Bismark made Stieber his “Prince of Spies” and Stieber’s ruthless, corrupt, and efficient secret service served the future chancellor’s ambitions for the next twenty years. Before the Prussian invasion of Austria in 1866, Stieber spent the summer disguised as a merchant traveling the countryside. He recorded routes, terrain, and military supplies, and sold illicit illustrations to talkative Austrian soldiers.  His information helped Prussia win a decisive victory.

Stieber in Victoriana
Because Victoriana moves Otto Von Bismark’s career forward in time, we can certainly move Stieber forward with him. In alternative history, Stieber could be the “Prince of Spies” a decade early, armed with all the resources of the German Confederation.

Stieber makes a great villain because he worked both as the mastermind behind the scenes, and as an agent in the field. During his brief exile from Prussia, Stieber also reorganized the Russian Czar’s secret service (possibly while working for Prussia the whole time) and ran Russian expatriate spy rings across the world. So Stieber fits any espionage situation, doing anything, for anyone as long as it suites him.

Stieber’s greatest powers are his network of informants and his ability to ruthlessly using his knowledge. If the PC’s become an obstacle, he calls someone who knows or can find out all about them. Armed with knowledge, Stieber removes the PC’s from his path using black mail, framing a contact for a crime, public disgrace, or sending them on a whole different adventure.

It might be fun to introduce Stieber a benefactor. He could hire the PC’s to do a little digging, but once they find out they are spying on queen and country what will they do?

Wilhelm Stieber (Hard-Working and Brilliantly Corrupt Spymaster)
Physical: 6           Initiative: 12
Mental: 10           Health: 14
Social: 11             Quintessence: 24
AV: Aetherweave shirt and trousers (4 for 5 rounds after activation)
Damage: Rifle Cane (9) or Sword Cane (6), Derringer (4) or Concealable Knife (4),

Possible Special Traits:
Well Informed+4, Well Connected +4, Master of Disguise +3, Manipulative +4,
Waist Coat with three buttons inscribed with magical sigils: Gebo- +3 Black Dice to all attempts to catch Stieber lying, Eihwaz- +3 Skill Dice to manipulate a character into giving him information, OÞila +3 Skill Dice to run away from a threat,

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Little Filigree and Chintz- Victoriana 3rd Character Sheet

This week, I added a character sheet to the Resources page. As clean and easy to read the Victoriana 3rd Edition character sheet is, this a gaslight role-playing game. I want filigree, chintz, and little boxes of hard to read text. Players can really dig into the detail of their character in Victoriana, and I wanted a sheet able to hold it all. I adapted the design of the more cluttered 2nd edition character sheet and tried to fill it with pertinent character information. The fonts used are Opera-Lyrics- Smooth and Leander.
As with the Their Finest hour, my 3rd Edition character sheet can be found here, or on the Blog’s Resources page. All decorative elements come from the artesian well of deign that is the British Library and Internet Archive Flikr pages. The official Victoriana character sheet by Cubicle7can be found here and here.