Showing posts with label a touch of history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label a touch of history. Show all posts

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Hobos Have Them...

There is that classic image of hobo walking with a bag on a stick over the shoulder. 
Believe it or not, that stick has a name: a bindle. It might derive from the German word for packet. While I hate hobos as in murder hobos, we can actually steal a good idea from them, their baggage.  

The Sarcina
The Sarcina

The Romans had a version of the bundle on a stick. It was called sarcina. Because they used a forked stick or stick with an arm, it was called a furca or a fork. It's function was largely the same as the hobo's bindle, to redistribute a load to the shoulder and to allow one hand free. 

The legionary's sarcina was wildly better than an adventure's backpack. The furca carried a loculus (satchel), a cloak bag, a cooking pot, a patera (mess kit), spikes (also called wolves) and a net bag for food. On the top there was a rolled object, perhaps a bedroll which also contained several tools, an axe, a turf cutter, hammer or mattock, saw and sickle. It's unclear if each soldier carried each and every tool or if they were carrying just one of many. 

In any event, the items were tied to the furca in such away that allowed them to swing front to back but not side to side. This aids marching and prevents a staggering gate. Additionally, the swinging allow for an important secondary function a bindle doesn't have. If you dropped the sarcina, the weight forced the furca's end to point upwards. This helped with recovery, but also put a vaguely pointy stick between the carrier and an opponent. 

While one person doing this seems like a very haphazard barrier, a legion's worth of men doing it as a group made an instant wall. 

In camp, the unloaded furca would be used to mark a soldiers spot and to hold his armor and helmet off the ground. In an effort to avoid a baggage train, the Roman soldiers marched in full armor and didn't remove it until they were making camp. Their shields were carried across the back in a bag with straps, like a backpack. Which probably explains why they didn't use backpacks. 

Removing the armor at the end of the march felt good and let the soldier get to work digging a trench and creating a berm to keep people and creatures out. 

The netted bag carried 3 days of food. Romans avoided carrying more because they general moved by road, so from one home base to another destination where food was available. It also seems they carried hardtack which didn't count as food until everything else was gone. The Romans would use their sickle to harvest foods in the field before resorting to the hardtack. It was really disliked. 

You'll also notice they didn't carry shovels. Instead, they would use their pickaxe or turf cutter to remove earth and put it in a basket. When you work as a team, this is better for moving large amounts of earth. You can form a chain to quickly make berms or create ditches. 

As a DM, if a character with a backpack told me they had a pickaxe, a turf cutter, a sledgehammer, a cloak bag, iron rations, in addition to rope, armor, weapons and rations, I would call B.S. immediately. Because that isn't how backpacks don't work. If you ask a modern soldier how overloaded he or she is, you'd be shocked and not bit surprised at how fast they take chances and dump that crap to get other things done. Soldiers, time immemorial, are savvy and sneaky.  

However, a sacrina does actually allow troops to move and fight. 

The Romans made this work because they managed expectations. No shovels because they don't make sense. No ropes because they have 800+ guys who could turn net bags into rope over night. No torches because they almost never fought at night and didn't want to expose guards and scouts with flaming objects. They carried 3 days of food because they journeyed by road from one destination with supplies to another. 

Players will like it because the loculus or satchel is backpack sized container which is full of a person belongings and treasures. Everything is simply organized so as to stop the carrier from fumbling through a whole backpack deep pile of stuff to get one thing. Everything is a one container reach. It's super handy. 

DM should like it because it removes hard tracking of a crazy number of things like axes and food. Eating a meal in town reduces food consumption on the road. Assuming a party is marching as soldiers means no one asks the slow guy to run him or herself to exhaustion. Knowing that there are only 3 days of rations means the party must have a destination within 5 days to make it. 

The D&D Rules Cyclopedia equipment list gives a price of less than 40 gps for everything needed to create a sacrina. It reminds me of a cheaper version of the Standard Equipment pack from Star Frontiers Basic. It's a good option, why not let your players give it a try?

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

Never Surrender?

Surrender or not, that is often the end of combat in D&D for the party or their enemies.

But what does surrender mean? Death? Imprisonment?

In history, there are many cases of surrender that end in neither death nor imprisonment. At the Battle of the Caudine Forks, 324 BC, the Romans walked into a trap. The Samnites, lead by Gaius Pontius trapped the Roman Legion in the passes with barricades. The Romans quickly realized their mistake and erected a camp. However, no attack was forthcoming. Gaius Pontius meant to wait until the food and water was gone, then accept terms.

However,  Gaius Pontius was too pleasantly surprised by this victory and sent a message to his father, Herennius, asking what he should do with the Romans. He hadn't expected this outcome. Herennius replied that Gaius should let them go. Herennius was a general in his own right, and this message didn't sound right to his son. The next message was much clearer: "Kill 'em all!" But Gaius was convinced that his father was going senile and sent for him.

Herennius arrived and explained that freeing the Legion and sending them on their way would position the Samnites and Roman for eternal peace through practical magnanimity. The other option, killing them all, would result in peace for a generation as Rome rebuilt it's legion to attack the Samnities.

Gaius Pontius decided on a third path, the yoke. Each Roman would be disarmed and forced to stoop under a spear lashed across the path home. Being wildly driven by honor, the Romans did this but marched home burning with anger. Either the Senate refused the treaty terms or merely waited until an excuse for war in 316 BC is unclear.

In either case, this appears to be a retelling of a tale from either the Punic Wars or a contemporaneous account of something Alexander the Great pulled off in his many campaigns. Truth or no, it establishes many cases where one side will let the other side to walk off relatively intact. Battles to the death in ancient times had a tendency of wiping out citizen farmers, which could result in massive disruptions of the economy or society of both combatants.

So, Herennius message is valid for gamers and generals alike. In the context of lawful or good characters, an honor bound solution is within the realm of possibilities.

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.


I do receive remuneration for Amazon Ads, and if you purchase the Kindle version, I receive more. However, I strongly suggest you pick up the cheaper, paper copy because it is just better experience.

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.