Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Friday, February 11, 2022

Five Point Friday - February 11th, 2022


Welcome to this week's Five Point Friday. This one will be a quick stroll through to current events to memory lane. 

Point 1 - This week, the kids and I have really dug into Todd Leback's Hexcrawl books. We've got a couple of purposes in this. I personally want to run a hexcrawl. My son wants to run a campaign as a DM. My daughter wants to play with tokens and slay creatures. And if you are using Into the Wild or The Basilisk Hills Ultimate, you can do all of these things. 

I'll circle back to this at the end. 

Point 2: I am reminded of all of the wonderful coffee table books of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. To see unicorns through Robert Vavra's eye. Or take a flight with F-Stop Fitzgerald, in airplanes, or on the back a gargoyle. These books sparked so many creative flights of fancy in my youth, I love them. I spent hours looking at them. And I couldn't help it, I had one. My parents-aunts-uncle-grandma and neighbor had one. These photo books offered something for everyone.  

They often show up at thrift stores and garage sales because tons of people had them for decades. You can also take a look for them over on AbeBooks. 

Robert Vavra on
F-stop Fitzgerald on

Point 3 - I'm still in fantasy mode. Back in my youth, I recall spending hours looking over the Columbia House flyer for tapes, CDs, and records. I could have six for a penny. Or if I could find just two more for $2.99 each, I could have 8! If only all I had demanded vinyl back then. 

And back then, I would struggle to find just 6 or 8 items to select, month after month. Sometimes, I would team up with friends and family to make these never-to-be redeemed selections. 

It happened a lot. 

Now we have Pandora, Amazon, and Youtube music on top of Netflix, Disney+, Discovery+... Plus... Plus... Plus. I can hardly pick what I want to watch or listen to for all the great choices. 

It's often too much. I have to force myself to remember how happy some things make me (Van Halen or Def Leppard) or how good Led Zepplin is. 

What is missing from all of these choices is the not choice. The magic of having a friend play Peter Gabriel to me. Or Ella Fitzgerald. Or my dad rocking out to Chuck Berry. Music, and to some extent TV and movies have become a sadder, more personalized activity. 

Point 4: Facebook is dying, so I will no stay on that platform. More importantly, 38% of my visitors come to my site via a bookmark or manually typing the address. 

Well. Thank you 38%. That is amazing. Apparently I am doing something right and providing content that people desire. I guess that means that I can forget Twitter because it doesn't even appear. Best of all, I can actually kickback on Mewe and Dice.Camp and simply enjoy the content that they provide to me. 

Point 5: Eric Tenknar has this excellent piece on The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide on Youtube. This was not a good direction for e1 in some respects. And excellent in others. In B/X and Holmes, the thief was the gamebreaker. He had individual skills no one else could have. The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide kicked it up a notch or ten. 

I love the idea of a character having some sort of professional, non-combat related skills. Hell, I wrote a book on it. The difficultly is, AD&D e1 has a very hard time with ordering events in normal gameplay like combat. Like when and how to roll initiative is badly handled. Adding more die rolls for other points and times in play is going to be bad under e1. 

I didn't have this book wayback then or even now. I wasn't a huge fan of most of the stuff from UA and the Survivial Guide was worse. I took what I needed and ditched the rest. You can see this in my Character Sheet on DriveThruRPG. . 

I honestly think that people are writing materials along the lines of the Survival Guide. We just call it hexcrawling. B/X is a good place to land unified rolling mechanics for events and activities, so long as those rolls are very simular to other well established die rolls. A save, a to hit roll, an ability check or a plain-old 100% die. This is the strength of B/X. No new mechanics, just one of the old mechanics reused. 

Well, that is it for Friday. Have a great weekend. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Five Point Friday - January 28th, 2022

Today's Five Point Friday is history-themed. 

Point 1: I picked up copy of Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials. I love this version of B/X. It was offered as a Kickstarter a long time a go. I happily picked up a copy at a local store, but really want the whole set. 

Well, now it will be available via Kickstarter near the end of Feburary. I can't wait to get my hands on the whole deal. I had thought it would happen some day in 2019 or 2020. 2021 was too challenging to me. But now in 2022, I will get my hard copy.  

Point 2: OSE features dozens of charcter classes including gnomes, elves, duergar, and svirfnevlin. 

Did you know that in Iceland, these types of creatures are called the Huldufolk, the hidden people? Nearly 50% of the population currently believe that the Huldufolk might exist. 

It isn't just a hokey belief, they actually redirected road construction to avoid a Huldufolk settlement. There is something dangerous about the Huldufolk. That danger apparently doubles when you introduce machinery into the mix. Dynomite is apparently right out. 

Here is an interesting article from the BBC on the Huldufolk. If you want something more polished, check out the Lore podcast episode 5, "Under Construction." Researched, written, and produced by Aaron Mahnke, it details the same events of the BBC article.

A imagined likeness of Lars
Posena from 1500 AD
Point 3: Lars Porsena, King of Clusium. As an Etruscan king, most of Lars Porsena's history comes to us via the Romans. We know that King Porsena lived in what would become the modern city of Chiusi, he minted coins with his likeness and we might know where his tomb is. So, he was a real person. 

But the Romans played him out like an evil villain most of the time. 

The Roman were excellent narrators of history, however they are not without their flaws. Rome was sacked by the Gauls on July 18th, 390 BC. It was a Thursday. This sacking destroyed the historial records of the Romans and allowed future historians to rewrite their own history as they saw fit. They modified their humble beginings to mirror the Greeks and not surprisingly, these "historical" stories make the Romans the first of all people to do anything of note. 

Since Lars Porsena was around about 200 years before the first sack of Rome, he has become "unhitched" in time. We don't know when Porsena really ruled, but the Romans tell us it about 508 BC. Maybe on a Friday. But probably not. 

This is an Ertuscia coin. Note the Janus like head.
It's called a dupondius and the Romans used it, too. 

One of the funny things about history and Lars Porsena is how little people change over time. Lars appears on Rome's doorstep in support of the deposed Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. The Romans had shifted to a republic due to the Tarquinian king's poor conduct. The Romans seriously hated all kings after him, King Lars Porsena included. 

There is the epic story of Gaius Mucius Scaevola, a Roman citizen hell bent on breaking Lars Porsena's seige of Rome. Gaius was an assassin, a would be King-Slayer. 

Here is where it gets funny. Gaius arrived in the seige camp ready for murder. However, being about 500 BC, he didn't have a picture of the king. He had no idea who he was after. Since this was payday, King Lars dispatched his paymaster to distribute cash and prizes. And as per normal, this paymaster was dressed as King Lars. 

Wait? What? 

The King forced a follower to dress like him and watched that person distribute paychecks, to make sure that his minions were suitably appreacative of the pay they had worked so hard to earn. Only to be rewarded with the scene of his imposter-king paymaster getting knifed to death by someone in the crowd. 

Has anyone seen The Office? This is exactly something Michael would do. My PCs would totally do this. D&D, Star Frontiers, doesn't matter. My players would wack the wrong guy for fun. 

This is why I love history so much. The story is supposed to be about the evil of kings, the heroism and determination of the Romans, the love of the Eternal City, yada-yada-yada. 

Instead, if you turn the story a tiny bit, you get comedy and humor. Which was probably not lost on the Romans themselves. 

Point 4: I resevered Point 4 for Sci-fi. So, I would be remiss if I didn't mention episode 5 of the Book of Boba Fett. This is hands down the best episode of the series. Because it is missing all of the main characters. I couldn't like it more for that. You can skip every episode up to the Fifth Episode and be fine with it. 

Point 5: Something about nothing at all... hmm. I've rambled enough I think. At some point, you just need to end a good yarn. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Alesmiter - Blog with an Eye on History

I just found the Alesmiter blog and added it to the list. So far, my favorite post is about Wolf Island Castle in England. Rod Thompson has an excellent photo series on this historical site and a series of inspirational posts in addition to gaming information.

Rod also posts on C&S other great games, both new(ish) and old. I love the old school vibe of his site and the images he uses.

I can't wait to read it all. And the way things are going, I will probably have the time.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A clock that swings with no tick tock

No, the Romans didn't have 8 hour days, but their time
measurement was chaotic. 
As mentioned in the last post, I will be talking about time. The Romans had a 24 hour day like we do, but it differed significantly due to the technology they had available to them. The Romans used sundials in daylight and water clocks at night. But how they used them is odd.

They divided day and night into 12 hours, there was exactly 12 hours of each. But what about seasonal adjustments? Forget it. They simply made each hour longer or shorter. An hour could vary between 45 minutes and 75 minutes in length.

Oh, that is a headache.

Also, the typical Roman wasn't much of a breakfast eater. They would shovel in whatever they had left over and be on their way. They only had between 540 and 700 minutes of daylight in their 12 hour day. At night, watches were divided into 3 hour shifts for a total of 4.

Remember the rules about vehicles in Rome? With very few exceptions, no one rode by day. So walking was the only means of transport.

So did the Romans have traffic cops?

Yes, they did. Two types in the Empire. The first was the Vigiles, a fire brigade. Since the city of Roman was sacked and urban planning went out the window, Rome had 7,000 Vigiles to monitor the city for fire and address traffic issues at night. These men were former slaves or freedmen and they would gain their citizenship after a number of years of service, usually 6. You'd think that they would have loyalty issues, but this had been done in Greece, Alexandria, etc. with no problem. It was an age old solution to the issue of fire.

The Vigiles not only handled traffic infractions, but the recapture of runaway slaves and the arrest of law breakers. During daylight hours, the Urban Cohorts took over these duties. They number about 3,000.

Prior to this, in the Republic, the Three Men of the Night would do these duties. They were called a triumviri and were responsible for administrative functions. This would have been the leadership of the groups of men that would have performed these functions, they numbered more than 3. When the Urban Cohorts and Vigiles took over, the Three Men became prison wardens. The triumviri give their name to the First and Second Triumvirate, the most powerful people in the government.

The main difference between the Republic's triumviri and the Urban Cohorts and Vigiles is, the triumviri were also judges and executioner which explains their shift to prison duty.

And the Sun Went Down on Rome

Sunset is a natural break in activity. Dinner is done, the fire is lit and it's time to settle down around the campfire.

Unless you stirred up a mess of orcs at noon. Then they are coming to get you. Or you have to hike through a particularly bad neighborhood to get to the Inn.

Ancient Rome, after Julius Caesar had a special hell. If you have ever seen a Roman city, you'd expect that everything was all orderly and right angled. That is true for everywhere except Rome itself. In the 390s or 380s BC, Rome was sacked and burned by the Gauls. Most people would have given up at that point and the sun would have set on their civilization. But not the Romans. Orders were given to rebuild the city as quickly as possible and that threw the normally orderly Romans into a tizzy of building. There was exactly zero planning.

By the time of Julius Caesar, Romans had private chariots and coaches, in addition to equines and all the wagons and carts needed for industry. The streets of Rome were packed with vehicles and animals that take far more strength to operate than a modern vehicle. Being an Absolute Ruler is wonderful. Julius ordered an end to carts and wagons during daylight hours. All carriages and chariots were limited to the last two hours of daylight.

And with one law, the streets of Rome were safer. In daylight, that is. At night, in the dark, all of those carts, wagons, horses, mules, chariots and carriages were unrestricted, making the city a death trap for pedestrians. Anyone without some sort of conveyance would dash home before dark, before the streets became dangerous.

Crime was probably pretty low at night. What right minded villain would risk their own life out on the streets with all that vehicle traffic?

There were excepts for specific classes of traffic during daylight hours: Priests, Vestal Virgins, and Triumphing generals could ride during the day. The Romans were all about holy days or holidays, so festivals processions were exempted, too. At various times, construction contractors had the right to travel in daylight to make city improvements.

Some roads were so narrow, that they were closed to vehicles day and night. This was done with stone pillars, rather than signs. Other roads were so narrow that only one vehicle could pass. The Romans didn't have one way streets, they sent runners ahead to block travel. As you can imagine, this would cause some conflict.

In my next post, we'll talk about time, city services and police in ancient Rome. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

City of Nace Update

I have been doing some updates to my City of Nace map. The software I am using is called Worldographer by Inkwell ideas.

When I first started with the software, I just started throwing stuff on a map all willy-nilly. If it looked vaguely correct, I went with it. Since this is a Roman themed campaign, I realized that I need Roman themed buildings. Worldographer comes with a solid icon set, which features hundreds of icons. This is overwhelming at first.

In the first iteration of the map you can see medieval structures blended with Romanesque structures. I thought it was cool, but then I learned to hate it .

I have been slowly updating and over writing medieval structures with Roman-like ones. In the image below, can see the difference. These two blocks are a mixture of villas and apartments. To get a sense of scale as to how large this city is, the villas have a footprint of 160 feet across by 80 feet. Each black grid box is 80x80 and each city block is about 800 by 800 feet to the middle of the road. I plan on having about 62 of these insulas or city blocks on the map, perhaps more. 

There are a couple of different villas, some with large stone block structures and others that are more plain. I did some sketches of villas based on some of the ideas I had for this city. Currently, I am working on inking some of the apartment like structures.

With the sense of scale, you should have a sense of density. The smaller, rectangular structures are apartments, which could hold 20-24 families. The Romans sort of had a nuclear family, but they also had a high mortality rate. Sometimes, families would include adopted family members, adult children (adopted or not), servants, in-laws, parents and slaves. A family of 4 plus, one parent, one in-law, a servant and a slave would be 8 people packed into a tiny space. Add in some cousins and such and the density swells. Each one of these structures would hold about 175-200 people in a 40 by 80 foot space.

Since this city is new and Romanesque, the town will have massive green spaces and broad roads because of the expected density. To be Roman was to be civilized and that meant your city was your home. Your apartment was merely were you slept.

Nace has two independent, but side-by-side agricultural industries going on. The first is the official state run gardens of magical herbs. The other is the hoppers and brewers black market. Due to happenstances of history, the city first had a minor environmental disaster that made some parts of the city undesirable for dwellings rapidly followed by two acts of war which made rehabing these areas impractical. The brewers moved in and started planting trees, flowers and herbs in the empty spaces of the city. Such activities in the city are illegal, but the Hopper's Guild is too strong to be confronted, mainly for the reason of beer. The other issue is that almost no one wants to live in these areas, so bringing the practice to heel is not practicable.

The villas with the stone block structures are silos for black market goods, mill houses or fake silos. Some people pretend to have access to black market sources to inflate their social standing and build these fake structures into their homes. Mill houses are animal and human powered grinding stations within the city walls. Both tend to hide the houses of  illicit business. Some of these mill houses are simply stone sitting areas where children and women sit with family and neighbors to gossip while using small hand mills. It could take hours to produce enough flour feed a family for a day, so these are social hot spots in the town.

The second type of villa house has a central courtyard, sometimes with a fountain or pool, memorial stones or other outside artwork. I have rendered all exterior features as "stone thingies". They could be standing stones, benches, flagstones, etc.

These villas are slightly more modern than a Roman villa, while maintaining many of the features. The roof covers only the sections around the walls with an open courtyard. The exterior walls are brick covered with stucco or perhaps marble depending on the owner's wealth. Some of the walls are not entirely closed. The most modern area is a smallish gable like structure on the south wall. Its is two stories tall and has two 15' by 10' wings which are independent of the main two story structure. The main space is about 20' by 30'. The front doors are vaguely like the large wooden doors on a stave church. This central structure serves many purposes, from storage to upscale apartments.

The two L shaped, roofed but unenclosed areas are work areas. In winter, the ends of the L's would be closed off by light wooden walls with doors. This area doesn't often receive snow. The southern two corners are bedrooms, while the center wings are offices and living spaces. In the open areas under the roof would be many tables and such to support the production work in the L shaped areas, whatever that might be.

Moving away from the housing areas, there are two large areas for infrastructure. First is the termination point for the aqueduct, which comes over the walls of Nace. From here water, is directed around the city underground. There are three large pool in this area: the main reservoir (center south), the public fountains (center north) and the fountain of Neptune (northeast). The main reservoir is 8 feet above ground and rough stairs lead up to the water's edge. The public fountains are large attached to a 3 foot retaining wall. Neptune's fountain is a massive pool with a backing wall 10 feet high. All three are connected by tunnels under the insula.

Midtown is the Colosseum, just east of the northern gate. It is a massive 4 insula or city blocks. Around the southern edge of this image are the tavern houses. These are illegal business and are frequently burned to the ground by arsonists. These pyromaniacs have yet to be arrested. Sometimes people go to bed looking at the large green spaces around the structure, only to awaken to new, illegal bars and taverns in the morning.

The grounds of the Colosseum are public spaces and no buildings can be built there, except the 4 gladiator quarters. The city guard plans on not investigating their 3 planned arsons that will demolish the row of taverns on the southeastern side of the Colosseum. The citizens don't mind because of the cheap beer and the fact that the guard calls the fire brigade before it commits these unsolvable crimes. It's a game of flaming cat and mouse. 

Much of this history is based on David Macaulay's excellent book, City.

As an added bonus, David Macaulay partnered with PBS to create the film Roman City, which uses animation and live action show how his fictional city of Verbonia came to be. I have yet to find DVDs, but it is available on Youtube.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Crazy History Facts: The Difference Engine

After the French Revolution, the French figured they needed to adopt the metric system because life wasn't hard enough. The French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet said the metric system was, "for all people for all time". He was correct, and  America is the exception that proves the rule. 

One of the bad things about metric conversion is, someone has to convert whatever it was you were using to the appropriate metric units and values. In a period without computers, the French came up with a very odd solution. The top hair dressers of the time had a noticeable lack of nobility to pamper, so they were enlisted to do these calculations. Hair dressers are notoriously bad at math and there were so many mistakes, Charles Babbage decided to make a machine to do the math.

The Difference Engine was so fabulously complex, it had 25,000 parts and weighed 15 tons. It was started in 1847 and finished in 1991. It took 9 more years to construct a printer for output. Just in time for the year 2000.

3rd Session Preview Part 2 - Tyranny's End.

This week's update can be blamed on a mistimed cold and an unfortunate swimming adventure. School started back up this week on Tuesday which meant I needed to catch a summer cold on Monday, so I would be completely ready for school. By this morning, I was having trouble breathing regularly, so off to the doctors. I am taking a course of steroids plus some other stuff to fend off the pneumonia and help with laryngitis. In retrospect, swimming with my class on Thursday was not a good idea.

My next gaming session has been delayed until I can speak again. 

So, let me tell you more about the city of Nace. In the previous post, I detailed the Forum and the two insula due south of the center of the city. Today's post is about the first section of the city built, the only two insula surrounded by walls. 

The Empire has herbal products which are not only unique to it, but are the basis of their competitive exports. Verbena is a magic herb that will stanch all wounds, restoring 1d4 hit points. Emperor's Valerian is a deep purple flower that will cure blindness and head injuries, including lost eyes. Flaming Yarrow is the third herb produced solely by the Empire. It restores damaged and decayed teeth, reduces fever and if prepared correctly, can induce sleep. 

These magical plants require a magical ecology to grow. When the town moved from the port to this location, the first insula to be constructed were the magical gardens. Each garden area is protected by a low, 4 foot wall and four arches as entry points. Since these are the only insula in the town with walls of any kind, they are called Palisade North and Palisade South. Collectively, they are called Tyranny's End.  

The North Palisades
The North Palisades contains 3 manor houses or villas for the families who cultivate herb crops in the two gardens, in addition to a small grove of trees to support the growth of mistletoe. The gardens have tiny non-functional houses or follies, to represent a small farm. They are maintained as if they were real as this is a part of the magic of this place.
The South Palisades 
The South Palisades is much the same, except there are 3 houses and one shrine. The Shrine is a memorial to the Defender of the Port Gardens, the druid responsible for maintaining the weather inside the original gardens. Her entire line perished protecting the gardens when they were located in The Fortezza Port di Nace. Without their sacrifice, the largest gardens for these sacred planets would have been destroyed. The new Druid lives in a stone structure at the southeast corner of the South Palisades. 

This druid and her kin employ magics beyond what spellcasters can imagine. To support the gardens, everything except the weather must free within the boundaries of the Palisades. This is the origin of the name "Tyranny's End". 

The walls are not a defense for the gardens, but a warning. The weather is always controlled to the needs of the plants. This would be danger enough inside the confines of the town, but the druid's authority over the weather requires a sacrifice of all other worldly control within the walls. Any agreement wrought by man can be ended here. Emperors have come to the garden to abdicate. Any slave that enters the walls are immediately freed. If horses or other beasts enter, they are no longer the property of anyone. Arranged marriages can be nullified here, but never marriages of the heart or conscience. 

There are interesting cases where animals enter and then return to owners of their own free will. Some of the most epic tales of the Empire revolve around couples attempting to end an arranged marriage here only to find one, the other, or both really loves their partner. If these couples stay together, blessed by the gardens with fame and fortune. 

There is a legal issue for slave owners entering the walls. The magic will instantly set all of their slaves free. Sometimes the owner and slave will receive the same blessing as the couples mentioned above. Technically, it is illegal for a slave owner to set all of his slaves free all at once, but if he or she receives no apparent benefit to it, a blind eye is turned. However, many Usurpers has attempted to reroll fate by setting vast numbers of slaves free. If that becomes apparent, the punishment is always death. 

For slaves entering the gardens, the circumstances are different. If they were ordered to do it by their master, that slave becomes a free client of the former master, a nearly familial relationship where favors are traded back and forth. If the slave enters the garden to escape a cruel master, the authorities will view all that that former slave's statements as absolute fact and WILL legally pursue the master, usually to the most extreme limits of the law. This fact causes the slaveholders of Nace to act on their best behavior. 

There are very few cases where a slave would accidentally enters the gardens. In those rare instances, if the former slave asks forgiveness and it is accepted, they become an adopted family member to the master and both receive a title and small stipend from the Emperor. If the master does not accept the apology then the former slave may, at his or her choice, enter the household of the Emperor as a paid servant or enter the military. This is where the Empire gains many of their trusted messengers. The alternative choice of military service grants a low officer rank. If the slave refuses to ask for forgiveness, he or she is still free but exiled from Nace. The masters of the gardens may provision this person as they see fit, but they cannot accept anything from anyone else in the city. 

The six houses that care for these lands are made up of both hereditary post holders and those who have enter the gardens in an effort to end some sort of loss. Many a widow, orphan and widower have entered the gardens seeking to end the heartache of loss and find salvation in service to these houses. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

3rd Session Preview - A History of a Town

Welcome back for a preview of my campaign's third session. We are using pre-generated characters for this campaign and the assumption is that they have been up and down the coast, so none of this is secret DM information. 

The Fortezza Port di Nace started off as a town, but one hurricane too many sent the townspeople fleeing northward to a more protected location. Their intention was to rebuild the whole town of Nace. That did and did not happen. The town of Nace is set somewhat back from the sea, and as a consequence is not a port town. 

The Fortezza Port di Nace was supported by the Empire, even through massive population shifts and has grown even bigger than the town that once supported it. The Fortress has become a more industrialized site while Nace proper has become a fiera or Fair town boasting traders from all over the empire. This homely setting is more conducive to civilian life than the militarized fortress port. 

I have begun sketching out the main area of the town, starting with the Forum.

Directly to the south of the Forum is the Thermae, or public baths. The Thermae's insula also has one very expensive villa house. Being the oldest part of the city, the remaining apartments, houses and shops are are merely the first in the area, not the best.

Scattered through out Insula 2 are various stationaries. A stationary is a shop with a fixed location, specializing in books, scrolls and parchments. The close proximity to the forum allows these shopowners access to priests, mages and other who can work magic, which is necessary for creating spellbooks. Many artists and illuminators reside in this insula. There is no other place like this in the city.

Much of this post draws upon the excellent book City by David Macaulay and is fused with Kevin Stroud's History of English Podcast, episode 106. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.

A couple of months ago, I signed up for Audible. My first order was Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It's 126 hours long. I'd be lying if I said I finished it.

The audio is high quality and Charlton Griffin's narration is excellent. It's hard to believe this book is 200 years old. If you merely want to read this book, it is also available on Gutenberg. This version is also excellent.

One thing that you miss from the Audible version is the maps. Gibbon meanders through history and of course he assumed you'd be holding the book with the maps as you read. I am surprised that Audible provided a PDF for the record, but didn't include the non-copyrighted maps. It is an odd omission. I have pulled the maps from the Gutenberg copy and loaded them here. Perhaps some day I will make a PDF of just the maps for easy printing.

West East
North West of Western Empire

North West of Eastern Empire

North East of Western Empire

North East of Eastern Empire

South West of Western Empire

South West of Eastern Empire

South East of Western Empire

South East of Eastern Empire

The list price attached to the ad is for an purchase outside of your Audible account credit. An Audible account is $14.95 a month, which entitles you to one credit or book per month. Well worth the cost.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Battleship Potemkin Movie Review

Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 production of Battleship Potemkin dramatizes the events of the 1905 Russian Revolution through the eyes of both the valiant crew of the aforementioned ship and the intended Soviet public. This film was a study in art technique while delivering a message and story that was uniquely geared to communism. 

One of the difficulties in reviewing a film of this age was the images and ideas that were cutting edge in 1925 have been used by other directors to the point of rendering them ineffective and cliché. Clichés are poor storytelling because they embody a valid idea in a framework of shorthand, either through poor writing skills or a poorly executed desire for brevity. To review this film requires a suspension of one’s experiences with modern storytelling while looking at this work as a singular project of film artistry. Eisenstein’s purpose was to retell a topical, well-known story using innovative techniques that were artistically pleasing, thought provoking and even a little shocking. While the movie was clearly in the model of the five part play, Eisenstein sets aside any preconceived notions that the production was a film of a standard play. From the opening scene, he used imagery to set the tone of this film and complex angles of real life to frame this retelling of the 1905 Russian Revolution. 

Battleship Potemkin’s plot was delivered in 5 parts. The first act introduces the characters; the fine and mighty Officers and the lowly, commoner crew, which immediately sets in motion the conflict of the story. The second act exposed the possibility that the fine Officers of the ship are not so fine which was immediately obvious to the common class crew. While the crew acts as a unit, they are spurred on by a brave man named Vakulinchuk. In this second act, the Officers too have a spiritual leader in the form a Russian Orthodox priest. The character completely lacks the rebel Vakulinchuk’s heroism and quality of character. Act three places Vakulinchuk in repose. His death was not the end, as the crew was unified and their purpose was not at an end. Historic Odessa was the scene of the final conflict, although Eisenstein skillfully prolongs the resolution of the action to the final act, where the Potemkin meets its fate at the hands of the loyal and powerful Russian navy. Unity was the message and the resolution to the film as the Potemkin was joined in revolt by the crews of the other ships and not obliterated by the massive fleet.

A classic review or historical work generally relies on the author or reviewer to evaluate accuracy, sources and quality of information in the piece. For Battleship Potemkin, this was simply not possible. The film inaccurately portrays historical events because it was a retelling a story with an ending that was known to the Soviet audience. The film’s goal was not to inform but to resonate. Eisenstein took the limitations of the day, the lack of voice, the lack of color and the possibility of an uneven soundtrack to create an emotive story. As much as other reviewers highlight Eisenstein’s gift for editing, montage, and the delivery of masterful propaganda, the director created a work that resonates with the viewer. Eisenstein was working in the uncertain European and Soviet film industry of the 1920s. He could count on nothing that modern filmgoers would expect, no marketing, no commercials, certainly no critical reviews, plus it was possible that the insecure venue system in the nascent Soviet Union was a limiting factor in presentation to the masses. While he was telling the ultimate story of the rise of the 1905 Revolution, the 1920s were a period of great social and economic upheaval in the Union. Collectivization of the masses in the Soviet Union could have created a backlash against even pro-Soviet messages by an artistic, avant-garde director. Non-conformity would have been an dangerous attribute to possess. 

Imperfection of execution and delivery was amplification of the message. This could have been the part of the rationale of the editing and montage sequences. Acts would have been placed on different reels, which was a natural pause in the story. Outside of our dreams, the real time, analog nature of our being prevents the direction of our point of view to be rendered as disjointed series images and themes. Battleship Potemkin turns this experience on its head. It was the display of nonlinear ideas and the limiting the viewers information builds to evoke a feeling. While Eisenstein was profoundly good at this method of storytelling, the effect was not done for the sake of using an certain technique. Eisenstein was an effective communicator and use of effects were held to a minimum to keep the message intact. 
The message itself was a rejection of traditional Russian mores and their replacement with new, worker-centric planning. Eisenstein does not dodge the ugliness of the situation. On the steps of Odessa, a woman was gunned down within a crowd. The pram with her baby crashed down the stairs while an onlooker had their eyes put out with a sword. Defiance of tradition is often brutal. Eisenstein does not place the totality of criminality on the military, he shows sailors on one side of the issue and infantry on the other. While the Potemkin destroys the source of the infantry and the focus of control, the story does not entirely suggest that these men are irredeemable. The story hinted that there was a right way to be and a wrong way. The second act briefly touches on the idea of change, with the infantry refusing to fire on the crew of the battleship, but the film was not an exploration of introspection and adjustment. 

The mother with her child was an embodiment of the message. When struck by gunfire, the camera lingers on the mother’s belt buckle, a beautiful swan covered in blood. Her child took a terrifying spill down the stairs. The swan was clearly the Soviet people, as was the baby in the carriage. The swan was covered with something unclean and horrifying, yet was still beautiful underneath. The baby in the pram was also the people as they travel into an uncertain future, perhaps one that was not as the audience would wish. 

Battleship Potemkin is an unusual exercise in propaganda. It has left a lasting impression on viewers for almost a century. While the techniques of film did not hold up over the passage of time, it is a film of “first”. Quality “firsts”. Every student should take the time to explore this film as it delivers so much creativity, expression of ideals and wonderful storytelling with relatively limited resources. The story and lessons of Battleship Potemkin have stood the test of time. 

Battleship Potemkin. USSR: N.l., 1925. Accessed January 19, 2017.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review of Lakota Noon by Gregory F. Michno

     Lakota Noon is the second book review in a series for Professor Carson's Class at the University of Buffalo. Typically, I edit these documents down into a suitable review for my website. In doing so, I remove much of my original paper's intent so as not to provide a vehicle for student plagiarism. However, I was so fascinated by this book and Dr. Carson's class, I felt that I should leave the entire document as a whole. The conversations that this reading sparked was amazing. I hope to revisit this class and take more courses with Dr. Carson.

      If you have the chance take one of Dr. Carson's classes, do it. I've taken at least 3 of them. Each one was better than the last. 

Lakota Noon

     This book covers old ground in the retelling of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The previous review, Month of the Freezing Moon by Duane Schultz was also about conflict with natives as settlers moved westward. Michno is cut from a completely different cloth than Schultz. The two men use data to interpret historical events. Where Schultz attempted to insert the thoughts of the natives into his work by vignettes (Schultz), Michno takes a different tact. Michno uses the standard historical narrative and inserts information gathered from the survivors, meaning only the Lakota, to clarify. Michno laments that previous authors on this subject discounted native testimony as they were an “alien race” (Michno, p. ix-xiv). He quotes William A. Graham as saying the native witnesses, “contradicted each other so much to an extent that I found them irreconcilable” (Michno, p. x). Michno rejects that attitude, writing “we must use both white and Indian sources; further, we must realize that the Indian sources are more important and should take precedence whenever any apparent conflict arises between the two.” (Michno, p. ix-xiv). Theoretically, pragmatic, because the voices of the winners and those who held the field at the end was the only primary source besides forensic details.
     Michno statement of intent was that he was not interested in the study of warfare, morality, or cause. He wrote from a discontent of the framework and structure of descriptions of the Battle of Little Bighorn by others. He wished to build his own study of the Battle and from there, reassess his own thoughts and preconceptions. Michno desired an educational outcome, one that he found satisfying. Michno found the prior work on this topic short on details about the native defenders. In case studies from their perspective, their testimony to events watered down with secondary sources not of native hands. To address this concern in his work, he breaks the battle down into 10 minute segments to present the historical account of the soldiers, plus the discounted statements by Indians and follows both with a detailed analysis of events to correlate or highlight discrepancy between accounts. In this way he shapes an excellent description of the chain of events in the battle. Time studies and motion studies have long been a practice when reviewing this segment of history as these were the only source of information not derived from the Indians. While many of these works are spectacularly clear and clean cut, there is a certain amount of fear when history loses it’s fog of time. Michno takes advantage of both the fog of the past and the rational tradition of time studies to reframe the events of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
     “A Word to the Wise” was the introductory chapter from William A. Graham’s book and is quoted by Michno. It is useful regarding this title, also. Michno and artist Jennifer Hamelman, have created a curious, almost avant-garde book to recount Custer’s last days. The word “book” instead of “title” is used purposefully here. Physically, the book is like no other. The table of contents are broken down by timestamp and page, 13 figures a presented on a table followed by 25 “time-segment” maps. The author wrote a one paragraph acknowledgements page before a two page centerfold map, with key features superimposed on the current site of modern day I-90 for reference. The next page holds a legend labeled “Individual and Tribal Symbol Key”. Cheyenne, Oglala, Minneconjou, Hunkpapa, Brulé, Arapaho and Two Kettle tribes appear on the key, each with their own characteristic shape. Divided by tribe, 58 names of Indians appear, each individual shares the symbol of his tribe but also has a unique two letter identifier. What these symbols are for is not explained until page xiii. Each entry of the narrative has a timestamp, a name and an sequence indicator. For example: “5:50-6:00, White Bull [last 5:40, next 6:10]”. The author explains that this indicates the reader has reached 5:50 to 6:00 in time, in the narrative of White Bull, his prior entry was at 5:40 and the next is at 6. Ingenious, but Michno takes this approach a step further. On page 315 begins a tribe by tribe breakdown of historical personages and at what time they appear in the narrative. Because the author has assigned a symbol to each tribe and person, it is possible to flip through the book and read a single tribe or person’s role in the book sequentially. While this style of reading is always possible using an index, Michno includes none and the endeavour is a visual experience as opposed to a test of hand-eye dexterity. This level of creativity in presentation may be off-putting, but the structure works very well.
     In Michno’s first chapter, he addresses two historical conundrums: the vast array of tipis (or teepees) reconnoitered by Reno and Custer’s desire to attack such a large force. The author abandons historical arguments as illogical. Custer was an able commander and very aware his enemy, if confronted by a vast superior force as the history maintains, any logical person would withdraw. What Michno did was a spacial analysis of how the tipis could have filled the valley in a tight arrangement (Michno, p.3-20). Using Wooden Leg’s description of the camp, it hugged the river and was entirely east of the I-90 (Michno, p.17). Comparing that statement to Captain Moylan’s description of only being 200-300 yards wide, 1,900 lodges would have fit within the space of a quarter square mile (Michno, p.18). This 1,900 lodge number was on the high side of estimates. Some are as low as 1000 lodges, which require far less space or a more sparse arrangement. What this meant for Custer was he was not using Reno’s force as an anvil to his hammer, his movements were meant to draw Indians away from Reno’s force, reducing the threat, not riding headlong into it (Michno, p.19). Strangely, adding the Indian side of the story established Custer as well reasoned as opposed to someone suffering from either myopia or delusions. The first chapter is a solid work of puzzling and reasoning which was of great importance to the following chapters.
     There is the idea that Custer walked into an ambush, a terrible end for a well regarded tactician. From the details of the various defenders, it was Custer who was ambushing them. Ill prepared for combat, forces drew out for battle with Custer’s men on the north side of the village (Michno, p.33). In one hour, by 4 in the afternoon, the Battle was not going well for Major Reno’s men (Michno, p.87). They had taken refuge in a wood and in an attempt to withdraw, suffered horrible casualties. One Bull, having seen the men retreat, ordered his men to let them go to tell the tale (Michno, p.84). Citation is designed for order and comprehension, Michno’s work does a fair bit to disorder this as Reno’s part appears after One Bull’s in the narrative. However, the effect of this style was very effective.
In the last three chapters, Michno returns the tradition of style of discussion and analysis. His analysis pushes away the idea of a single last stand. While Custer’s forces held the hill, some men fled into the gully. Michno notes dryly that “dead men don’t run”. Historical accounts must give way to reason. Beard, a Minneconjou, recounts that he desired to capture Custer but ultimately found him dead, still holding the reins of his horse. The battle was over.
     Why had it ended with Custer dead and his enemies victorious? Custer had done the unthinkable by dividing his forces. Well, yes. But there is one set of rules for strategy and one for tactics. Strategy dictates one should never divide one’s strength. However, as a purely practical matter, tactics are dictated by the environment. Separation was a requirement of the engagement (Michno, p. 294). Custer lead a cavalry regiment, not a phalanx.
     Michno’s account of the battle ranges from mathematical to bone chilling in its details. This title was an offbeat, yet wonderfully readable recount of the battle with a strong focus on all of the voices from the various tribes and companies. This book was designed for study, reading and rereading. The wonderful documentation in the form of footnotes, the photographs, charts, maps and symbols make this title an excellent addition for any history bookshelf.


Gregory F. Michno. Lakota Noon. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing. 1997. Print.

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New

York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Review List

I am compiling a list of book reviews I plan to launch this summer. I am starting with a classic by Ritcher. Right now, I am editing the first review for publication on Friday. Check back for more updates.

Book Reviews
  1. Review of Daniel K. Richter’s Ordeal of the Longhouse
  2. Review of Lakota Moon by Gregory F. Michno
  3. Review of Duane Schultz’s Month of the Freezing Moon
  4. Review of Howard H. Peckham’s The Colonial Wars, 1689-1762
  5. Review of Leo Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat.
  6. Review of Richard M. Ketchum’s Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War,
  7. Review of Martin Bruegel’s Farm, Shop, Landing: The Rise of a Market Society in the Hudson Valley, 1780–1860
  8. Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad Paul Gwynne
  9. The Storm Before the Storm Mike Duncan
  10. The Delikon H.M. Hoover
  11. Workers Go Shopping in Argentina,
  12. Age of Youth in Argentina
  13. Children of Facundo
  14. SPQR Mary Beard
  15. The Legacy of Conquest
  16. Buying into the Regime
  17. The Country of Football
  18. Creating a Common Table
Movie reviews:

  1. Blessed by Blood.
  2. Battleship Potemkin

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Gracchi, Sulla and Mike

Mike Duncan is a popular podcaster turned author. His first offering is The Storm Before the Storm, The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic and it is amazing. You can hear Mike read the first chapter, "The Beasts of Italy" on his Revolutions podcast.

I read through 50 pages at a theme park, it is more engrossing than some roller coasters. And what a ride it is. I can't wait to finish it and give it a proper review.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Writing History - Wilhelm Albrecht Oeltzen - The Lost Astronomer

Wilhelm Albrecht Oeltzen was German astronomer and author of several books. He is known for the processing of a part of Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander's Zones from 1849-1852 in Bonn Germany. Often these are labeled "A. Oe." or "AOe" in catalogs. This was a two step process, I am uncertain if the abbreviations differentiate the two projects. In 1875, he disappeared. I have been unable to find any reference to what he was doing at that time.

Since the 1870s are an interesting time period, it would be no surprise that the man simply passed away of natural causes, far from home.

Notes compiled:

  • Born on Oct 2nd, 1824.
  • Studied at University of Göttingen in 1846.
  • First Assistant at Vienna Observatory 1849-1859, before moving to The Paris Observatory.
  • The Oeltzen's catalogue of Argelander's Southern Zones. 1857-58.
  • The Oeltzen's catalogue of Argelander's Northern Zones. 1851-52.
  • Schwerd's Beobachtungen von Circumpolarsternen in mittleren Positionen published in 1856, with Friedrich Magnus Schwerd.
  • Disappeared in 1875.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Inspiration for Writing: History of Rome by Mike Duncan

Oh, how I miss classes. This summer, I have been inspired by Mike Duncan's History of Rome podcast. The original show ran from 2007 to 2012. How did I miss that?

In any event, Mr. Duncan's excellent show has been very inspirational for me. I've been listening to two shows a day, once while writing and once before bed. I can't wait to catch up and start listening to his new podcast, Revolutions.

You can also check out Mr. Duncan's great book, The Storm before the Storm at your favorite book store.

Add your inspirational podcasts down in the comments. Lord knows, I don't want to miss any more great shows.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Research for Pio

Pio is a novel set in Italy before Mussolini's rise to power. It has sat on the back burner for a while and there it will remain until I do some more research.

To that end, I am reading How Fascism Ruled Women. While it is set at some point after this novel's timeline, the effects of fascism were already becoming a powerful force on society. Reading the end point is kind of backwards, but helpful.

I order a physical copy from Amazon, which was a little pricey but worth it.

What I have found is that I need to back up in time to really capture what and why things were happening in Italy between the World Wars.

I love research!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Panama Rocks!

Located in Panama NY, this private park is a wonder of New York. The rock formations are millions of years old.

416 million years old to be precise. At that time, America was a part of the Euramerica supercontinent and was rotated 90 degrees so that the north of Canada was facing east and Mexico was in the west. Euramerica was located on the equator and a vast sea covered the continent from Utah in the west to deep into what would become Southern Canada in the east. The formation called Panama Rocks was a shoreline of a rocky island in the southern reaches of this inland sea.
Plants (and fish) dominated the Earth in this era, to the point where plants completely changed the CO2 and O2 levels, resulting in an Ice Age. Euramerica drifted north and westward and the sea dried up. Drifting east over millions of years, great upheavals and earthquakes lifted the shoreline to its current height of 1500+ feet over current sea levels. By the time of dinosaurs, Euramerica was no more. It had broken in two and formed the continents of Europe and North America, with Greenland in the middle.
Within the last 20,000 years, the last ice age ended leaving New York and Panama Rocks in their current state. What a wonder!
In modern times, the park has been in the ownership of several private groups. Approximately 100 years ago, the park was a Honeymoon getaway spot. After a period of inactivity in WWII, the park buildings and environs were renovated and improved by a series of owners. The most recent improvements occurred in 2011.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Topophilia... Sounds strange, feels about right.

I'm hitting the books this weekend, so no documents or sketches tonight. One quote from a book:

"Tuan coined the term topophilia, which is the love of the land and the title of one of geography’s best-selling books." Urban Geography, Kaplan, p. 12

All of my little doodles and plans shows that I have "topophilia". It's interesting to learn new terms and words for things you have already experienced but didn't have a name for. Cool.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Research Game - Stave Churches

In my prior post, I began work on a building I could not identify. It turns out that this structure is a stave church from 11-1200 A.D.

I wasn't able to identify it specifically, nor was I able to place it the category of stave church. For some reason, I picture stave churches as having gracefully sloping walls and roofs, like so:

So, I am off to do some research. I have to say my dad, Philip J. Viverito, instilled a quest for knowledge in me. Using the internet, I was able to found some remarkable resources for this project in rather short order. I cannot image how my dad did it back in the 1970's and 80's with only books to work from.

One of the more impressive items I found was a short video filmed in 2000 at Uvdal Stave Church, Nore and Uvdal, Norway.

Not only is the church beautiful, the video itself is excellent. The film was put together by Erik Meyn, and the music was composed and performed by Ulf Meyn. The original publisher was Numedalsnett AS.

Although there is no speaking, this is a wonderful educational resource.