Friday, October 13, 2017

The City of Countless Names- Getting Around the City

The war in the Crimea and the business interests of foreign firms bring scores of Europeans to Constantinople every day. While modern conveniences such as train travel and steam ships simplify such excursions, most travelers from England follow one of four routes.

Because of the perilous countryside surrounding the city, all of these routes approach Constantinople by water. Only a few miles from Constantinople, the villages and farms spread far apart. Bandits and Bashi-Bazouks (Ottoman mercenaries) patrol the roads ready to rob and kill undefended travelers, and caravans. Wild dogs and other predators, far from the abundant scavenging brought by city life, hunt whatever food comes their way. Only fools leave Constantinople unarmed or unguarded.

The Danube Route (10 Days by Train and Ship)
Cross the English Channel to the Belgian port of Ostend. Travel by train from Ostend to Cologne in Prussia. Take another train across the German Confederation to Dresden, and from Dresden to Prague, and from Prague to Vienna.  Barring accidents and incidents, this leg of the journey can be undertaken (with proper planning) in 3 days.
From Vienna take passage on a steamer down the Danube to the Black Sea. Leave the Black Sea, into the Bosporus Strait to reach Constantinople from the North. Due to the Crimean War, most steamers do not take this route anymore.

The Trieste Route (12 Days by Train and Ship)
Travel from England to Vienna by Ostend, Cologne, Dresden, and Prague, as described in the Danube Route (3 days barring accidents or incidents). Take a train from Vienna to the Italian seaport of Trieste. From Trieste, book passage on a steamer passing through the Mediterranean. Most cruises stop at the Greek islands Corfu, and Syra, the Turkish port in Smyrna, along with the Dardanelles before reaching Constantinople from the South.

The Gibraltar Route (15 Days by Ship)
Leave on a steamer from the English port of Southampton to the strategic British territory of Gibraltar at the mouth of the Mediterranean. From Gibraltar, sail the Mediterranean sea to Constantinople. This route is the most expensive and time-consuming, however, the best way to ship heavy equipment or large amounts of cargo is by sea.

The Marseilles Route (10 Days by Train and Ship)
Cross the English Channel to Dover. Take the train to Paris and from Paris to the great port of Marseilles in southern France. Tramp steamers regularly depart Marseilles every few weeks traveling through the Mediterranean Sea directly to Constantinople.

Most European steamships dock in Tophane, in the European quarter. Kolji (Ottoman custom officials) oversee the unloading of cargo and inspect the luggage of most travelers. Anyone wishing to expedite their tiresome inspection can charitably give the Kolji 3 piastres to be on their way. Hamals (local porters) gather at the piers ready to bear the luggage. The Hamal’s stooping stance, permanently leaning over from carrying heavy burdens on his back, identifies their profession. A Hamal carrying a trunk from Tophane to Pera charges 5 piastres for his labor and his guidance to the traveler’s quarters.

Constantinople confronts travelers with more struggles than the average unfamiliar city due to its cosmopolitan history. Beyond the plethora of languages spoken by its inhabitants, finding a specific location is further complicated by its disorganized streets. The deeper into the city, the narrower, and more crowded the street. Small alleys may open on gigantic thoroughfares or important squares, but the most vital arteries of traffic are the cramped back streets. 

Outside the European quarter, few streets bear official names, and no houses have addresses. Locals describe their neighborhood’s geography based on the nearest fountains, coffeehouses, or mosques. Directions to further destinations in the city refer to monuments, ruins, or palaces, which is also how most quarters and neighborhoods get their names. For example, the Cemberlitas district gets its name from the Column of Constantine. After an earthquake damaged the column, the Sultan had the column strengthened with metal rings and Cemberlitas means “hooped stone”.

While almost all the traffic on the cramped twisting streets consists of pedestrians, a few riders mounted on horseback and the occasional carriage temporarily breaks up the crowds. Livery stables in Pera, Galata, and Tophane, hire out horses and rigs, mostly to visiting Europeans planning day trips to popular sites in the countryside.  A comfortable carriage costs 40 piastres a day, or simple jostling hack 25 piastres a day. Driving a carriage through Constantinople requires tremendous vigilance to avoid the constant flow of crowds, camels bearing heavily packed burdens, packs of feral dogs, vendor’s carts, and of course other equally dangerous carriages. The streets outside the bazaars and near the shore bear the most populous foot traffic. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

City of Countless Names- Wish Magic of the Jinn

In the Celestial Order, mankind sits below the Archons, above the animals, and next to the Jinn.  As mankind came from dust and to dust return, so the Jinn are spirits of smokeless fire, partly natural and physical, partly aetheric and magical. Like men, the Jinn have their own hierarchies, governments, and societies, but unlike men, the Jinn freely wield tremendous magical forces with ease.  Considering the incredible power at a Jinni’s fingertips, it seems impossible the will of lowly men can command such mighty entities to grant their wishes.

Mastering a Jinn
To master a Jinni, first, you must find a Jinni. Ever elusive, Jinn seek out isolated places such as far in the inhospitable desert, deep in the sea, behind thick storm clouds, or in dark places under mountains. Less adventurous would-be masters make the Jinn come to them. Old scrolls and secret grimoires hold invocations summoning certain Jinn by name. Both methods hold equal peril, for both lead to an angry Jinni.

Mastering a Jinni requires an opposed test of Presence or Resolve based skills between the would-be Master and the Jinni. This roll could be modified by any number of circumstances such as:

-The Jinni has been summoned to a holy site: +3 black dice to the Jinni’s roll

-The Jinni is in its home: +3 black dice to the master’s roll

-The master offers something the Jinni desires in exchange for service: +3 black dice to the Jinni’s roll

-The Jinn is currently trapped in a magical prison: +9 black dice to the Jinni’s roll

-The master owns powerful magical artifacts or guardians: +3 black dice to the Jinni’s roll

-More than one Jinni is present: +6 black dice to the master’s roll

Obviously, the master must also survive to the fury of the Jinni in order to command it. It’s possible a master could gain a Jinni’s loyalty through acts of kindness and friendship. Few understand how a lowly man’s will forces the mighty Jinn into servitude, but Nithamiyeen holy men say the evil command Jin in their pride and ignorance, the devout in their holiness and purity.

A mastered Jinni gives its master a pool of wishes for their master to spend as they desire. A master receives wishes equal to the Jinn’s Quintessence Pool + the number of the master’s successes over the Jinni’s roll to resist their mastery.  The master spends these wishes as they desire. If the master does not have enough wishes to cover the cost of his desire, he cannot wish for it.
Spent wishes are gone forever, but once a Jinni is in their service, a master can call up a Jinni again to master it starting the process over again.

-A master can command the Jinni to perform an action on their behalf. Every wish a spent by a character before rolling dice negates 1 black die of a single test. If they spent enough wishes to negate the test’s entire black dice pool, the character may spend 1 more wish to gain 2 automatic successes. In effect, the character automatically succeeds the test without rolling.
If they do not spend the extra wish for an automatic success they must roll the skill check with the reduced or negated black dice. In this case, the master only commanded the Jinn to assist them.

-Wishes can also be spent to negate the skill dice of an opposed roll (for example in combat). Before any dice are rolled, each wish negates one skill dice. Again, once all the opponents’ skill dice are negated, the Jinni’s master may spend one more wish to gain two automatic successes. Also, if the master does not pay the extra wish for the automatic success they must roll their skill as normal against the reduced or negated skill dice of their opponent.

-Wishes may also be used to task a Jinni with simple errands not requiring a skill test, such as delivering a message, or retrieving an object needed from their master’s house, These simple tasks cost one wish each. The cost in wishes of more complicated errands (such a following a suspect, answering questions on ancient history, or outright killing someone) is up to the Gamemaster. Jinn do not like to be treated like simple minions. After an errand, the Gamemaster may roll two dice for Treachery if appropriate, and keep 1 or both results.

-A Jinni’s master may also wish for riches, valuables, or other desired objects. If the master wishes for money, the master gets £5 for every wish spent.

-Similarly, masters can command Jinn to spontaneously create an item desired by its master. After calculating the cost of the desired item, the master spends enough wishes to overcome the cost, with each wish worth £5. Note that this is not the value of the objects raw materials, but how much the finished object costs. A stack of bank notes or an invitation to an embassy ball may be pieces of paper covered in ink, but their value is much greater than that.

-Jinn are capable of tremendous magical feats. If a master desires a spell's effect, they must spend wishes equal to the spell’s Cost + Difficulty +1 for the Jinni to automatically and instantaneously cast the spell. Spellcasting commanded by their master does not cost the Jinn Quintessence.

If resentful to the commands of their master (as most Jinn are), the Jinni causes his master’s downfall, death, or humiliation by giving their wishes unforeseen consequences. After each wish commanded, the Gamemaster rolls a die for Treachery. If the result is a 1, the Gamemaster can change the result of one test rolled by the Jinn’s master to an automatic Foul Failure. This Foul Failure can occur in the same session or be spent at a later date to embarrass or do deadly harm to the master.

New Talent: Jinn Mastery 3 points
You command a minor Jinni and have a small pool of 10 wishes from its servitude. If you select this talent more than once, you’ve mastered another Jinni with an additional pool of 10 wishes. Once their master uses up their wishes these Jinn must be summoned and forced, cajoled, or pleased into further servitude to gain more wishes.

Friday, September 29, 2017

City of Countless Names- Magic in Constantinople

The Ottoman  religious hierarchy governs the teaching of magic, the freedoms of its citizens to perform magic, and the judgment of those practicing dark magic. While uninterrupted control by religious authorities kept ancient traditions and rites alive, few magicians exist able to perform such fantastic feats using the impotent magic of the modern age. Ottoman magic reached its full blossom in the 1500s and advanced little further. 
The current generation of magicians serving the Sultan stands firmly in the past. Few alive are able to perform the simplest hermetic operations from the 10th-century grimoire Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm, yet the unchanged original text remains a core in their studies. Fewer still dare to alter the ancient operations with modern techniques  to allow for quicker, safer performances. 

Aware of their magicians' degrading abilities, past Sultans tried to introduce new methods and innovations, but the religious and military structures did not tolerate blasphemies and correction. In1853, the Russian navy destroyed a squadron of Ottoman ships in the disastrous Battle of Sinop. Reports of Ottoman ships ablaze with strange magical fire, and of the Russian magicians biding the fire to burn and destroy, gave Abdulmejid paved the way his administration’s reforms.

The Grand Mufti approved new statutes allowing all citizens of the Ottoman Empire to study Thaumaturgy, for secular universities to teach Thaumaturgy, and that the practices may be taught by secular teachers and not just clergy.  The Sultan invited highly respected members of the Guild to consult on a modern curriculum and to teach the next generation of Ottoman magicians. Only time will tell if they make a difference in the Crimea, or even be ready in time to serve before the war ends.

Magnetistic abilities in the Ottoman Empire can be a blessing or a curse. Spared the classifications used by the Guild, the Turks consider all abilities as “miracles”. Magnetism is the most revered magical practice of the Nithamiyeen. They consider magnetists to be blessed by the Heavenly Host for their purity and devotion.
They also consider magnetists of other faiths to be full of infernal power leading those around them to damnation.  While no magnetists suffered government sentenced punishments in the last fifty years, the stigma of dark magic spreads out from any “infidels” performing miracles. These rumors often lead to mob violence and vigilante “justice”.

Most Turkish magnetists join the dervish orders (Nithamiyeen mystics devoted to acetic holiness) housed in the monasteries of Constantinople. There, under the strict discipline of their order, they learn to use their miracles for the glory of the Heavenly Host, and the destruction of any magician practicing Sihr (dark magic).

Traditional Ottoman magic truly shines in the scribing of Sigils. Every Nithamiyeen considers writing down any portion of their holy scriptures as blasphemy, so adherents dutifully memorized its entirety. Over time scribes and the clergy developed a system using Arabic letters representing essential passages. Calligraphers created beautiful works of art consisting solely of painstakingly intricate letters perfectly suggesting and representing their holy meanings. Turkish Sigil Scribes use these letters to create powerful talismans, amulets, and seals, often in stone and silver.

Constantinople is the center for Sigil Scribing in Eastern Asia and Western Europe. Sigils are everywhere, carved into walls, etched onto containers, even woven into clothing. Unlike most magical practices, the Ottoman government does not restrict the selling and creation of Sigils. The Jewish and the  Aluminat communities of Constantinople add their skill and will to the craft, free from restrictions, although sigils representing religious figures shared by the three faiths cause a great deal of argument. 

Scribes sell their services on every market and street, but travelers should take care to find an authentic scribe.  Just as many fake Sigils with no magical properties and faulty Sigils with dangerously lax craftsmanship sell in the market as real.

Petty Conjuring
As in Europe, the practitioners of Petty Conjuring get little respect, but at least they can’t be publicly beheaded anymore. Very few Turks perform enchantments, even fewer worship the Turkic deities replaced by the Nithamiyeen faith. Most conjurors descend from the Greek, Eastern European, North African, and Romani communities of the Ottoman Empire, mostly taught by their elders, as they were taught by their elders.

Shortly after taking the throne Sultan Abdulmejid legalized Petty Conjuring, however, the stigma of witchcraft and sorcery stick with the Turkish populations. In the ethnic quarters, conjurors open shops and openly display ready-made foci ready to be used. In the purely Turkish neighborhoods of Constantinople, conjurors furtively watch their step, lest a traditionalist take the law into his hands.

Despite the taboo, Old superstitions still draw people of all backgrounds to purchase the strange red and blue beads (called Nazars) from  conjurors. Horses, dogs, and people wear the charms around their necks believeing the beads protect from the “Evil Eye”, a curse causing bad luck.

Sihr (the Maleficium)
The Severn Pillars of the Nithamiyeen, strictly forbid the practice of Sihr, dark magic. While any magic could be perverted to evil uses (even the miracles of magnetism), Sihr currently describes the inherently corrupting practices of Necromancy and Demonology, but the name previously extended over other forms of magic. Petty Conjuration, and the crafting of Sigils outside the Nithamiyeen alphabet or Sigils of two letters or longer were legally considered Sihr about 100 years ago.

Although the libraries of clergy and mosques often hold books detailing the intricacies of dark magic, the Ottoman clergy consider the study of Sihr too corrupting a force to allow a select few magicians practice in the hope of combating its evils. The Ottoman Empire does not allow licensed demonologists or theoretical necromantic studies. Any citizen of the Ottoman Empire caught practicing a form of Sihr magic receives the death penalty. The authorities turn any foreign citizen caught to their country's consul, provided they are captured alive.  

The Guild in Constantinople
All European Embassies and Consulates keep a Guild magician on their staff, to handle magical crises far from home. These magicians often casually meet to discuss magical theory and share a quiet meal. Dubbing themselves the Macarius Society, they welcome visiting academics, and other magically minded travelers to gather together in fellowship. As the only Guild presence in Constantinople, the members of the Macarius Society are also known to help fellow Europeans in supernatural distress. They have no authority, aside from their diplomatic status, and any strings they can get their Consuls to pull.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The City of Countless Names- The Currency of Constantinople

Despite, Constantinople’s place as the key trading center between Asia and Europe, the Ottoman economy is in decline. Mismanaged funds, lost wars, ambitious modernization, and corruption bring its finances closer to ruin every day. The Sultan may wear silk, but the soldiers of his army have been waiting months for their wages.  In one sad case, when a general complained on behalf of his men, the Sultan’s accountants discovered the soldier’s wages had been sent, but someone intercepted the money and forged the general’s signature on the receipt!

The recent reforms, trade with foreign countries, and industrialization breath new life into the Empire’s economy. The most prestigious firms of Europe opened up branches in Constantinople, and their representatives scour the city for new ways to increase their profits. Similarly, England is more than just an ally against Russia to the Ottoman Empire, it’s an investor. In 1852 alone, the Ottomans brought 8.5 million pounds of British exports, and England reciprocated, importing raisins, wheat, silk, olive oil, coffee, wool etc. In this same spirit of financial partnership, the British Empire funds the Ottoman war effort through massive loans.
At the outbreak of the war, England and France loaned £3,000,000 to the Ottoman Empire. Now, the Loan Commission, representing the French and English governments, prepares for another, bigger loan of £5,000,000. While the commission works to coordinate the distribution and spending of the loan, its commissioners worry the Pashas are just going to embezzle it all. Rumors spread of Ottoman officials already spending into debt in anticipation of getting their share of the war loan. 

In 1844, Sultan Abdulmejid reorganized the empire’s currency. Influenced by the monetary system of France, he introduced the Turkish Lira, and a system of silver of silver and gold coins, making older coins officially obsolete. Unofficially, because the old currency and the new currency both use the same smaller denominations and everyone still has the old coins, merchants happily accept all coins.  The most common coin is the Para, followed by the Piastre. Each Piastre is worth 40 Paras. Para coins are made of copper, Piastre and Beshliks are made of silver, and the Ghazi, Turkish Lira, and Kiseh are gold.

Currency of Constantinople

Paras                     Piastre                  Higher Monetary Forms                British Conversion (Rounded)

1 Para                     -                               -                                                               -
5 Paras                   -                               -                                                               ¼ d
10 Paras                ¼ Piastre               -                                                               ½ d
20 Paras                ½ Piastre              -                                                               1d          
40 Paras                1 Piastre                -                                                               2d
-                               2 Piastres              -                                                               4d
100 Paras              2 ½ Piastres         -                                                               5d
-                               3 Piastres              -                                                               6d
-                               5 Piastres              1 Beshlik                                               1s 
-                               10 Piastres            -                                                               2s 
-                               25 Piastres            1 Ghazi (5 Beshlik)                             4s 4d
-                               100 Piastres         1 Turkish Lira (5 Ghazi)                    18s
-                               500 Piastres         1 Kiseh (5 Turkish Lira)                    £4 5s

British Currency              Equivalent in Turkish Currency (Rounded)
£1                                           109 Piastres
1s                                            5 Piastres
1d                                           20 paras

While most businesses in Pera or Galata accept the French franc, travelers should exchange their money for the local currency if they go anywhere in Constantinople. Sarafs (or money changers) can be found anywhere in the city, usually working from a tobacco shop. They charge 1d to 5d out of every pound they exchange. Sarafs are often Greeks, Armenians, or Jews, but never Turks due to their religious convictions.
Merchants in Constantinople take gold coins from any European country as payment without trouble. The most common gold coins exchanged are the English Sovereign (worth 110 piastres), the French 10 franc (worth 48 piastres) and 20 franc (worth 96 piastres) coins, and the Austrian Ducat (worth 54 piastres).

Because this week’s post is short and simple, I want to take a moment and explain some of my plans for this series of posts. When I’m done, I want to put all of them together, edited and expanded, into one PDF. This PDF covers all the nuts and bolts of Constantinople for players. Then I’ll write another series of posts about the three distinct cities of Constantinople, their districts, and suburbs. This again will be edited and expanded into a PDF for Gamemasters. After that, I will be putting together one last PDF of all the adventure ideas, conspiracies, and monsters I’ve been saving up during the series.
My intention is to make a City book for anyone who wants to run Victoriana in Constantinople, much like the terrific supplement for London, “The Smoke”.
It’s going to take a while, but I’ve got most of the research done at their point (enough to know the structure of the PDFs anyway) and it should be a  pretty great addition to the Resources page.