Saturday, January 25, 2020

More on 'Other People's Imaginations'

I've just been re-reading my previous posting, and the comments that followed. Some remarks by Neil Patterson reminded me of a half-forgotten still-born project from 45 years ago. To this day, I think about it from time to time with a certain wistfulness. Like one of Neil's concepts, this was set in the Balkans - or at least, a Balkanish sort of region. But the period setting was Late Mediaeval/ Early Renaissance.
Battle of Jazzynitza Lug - as recalled - between the City State
of Dubius and Monteblanco.  The original battle used
Airfix 'Sheriff of Nottingham' and 'Robin Hood' figures.

Somewhere upon the Eastern Adriatic littoral...

Being 'Balkanish', the region - its name lost to antiquity - was split up into several rival States, of varying size and military strength. Each state had its own specialist troop type - one large state of rolling grass plains was famed for its horses, hence for its cavalry; another, a heavily forested alpine province, favoured the pike; the City State (somewhere upon the Adriatic(?) coast) was renowned for its arquebusiers. I think knights, archers and crossbow men also were to feature. Probably everyone might field ordinary humble spearmen.

The whole thing was envisaged as a multi-player game. As a result of the military specialisation among the States, it could be imagined that a certain amount of arms dealing was intended to occur, to supply deficiencies in each other's armed forces.  So this called for a certain amount of cooperation among the States.  Of course, having acquired a consignment of pikes from 'Pikeland', didn't prevent one from using them against 'Pikeland' subsequently - unless you 'bought' the men that went with them. I don't recall whether the campaign involved mercenaries - or how.

I have a feeling this market in arms was predominantly to take the form of trade - of barter - rather than monetary deals. Don't recall exactly. Economic factors were generally pretty fudged out of consideration, but there must have been production and financial constraints upon the manner in which States could develop their military.

For each State, the objective was to become the hegemon overall - very like the Diplomacy board game in that regard. It was impossible, however, for even for the most powerful State to 'go it alone', so alliances and non-aggression deals were de rigueur for even mere survival. In such situations, there was always the possibility of States 'ganging up' against a single State, or perhaps unfair trade sanctions being imposed. To keep the 'States' honest the Game Director had what I called the 'Umpire's Sanction'. 

It was called the Nordic Horde. 

Now, the figures in use for this whole project were Airfix: 'Sheriff of Nottingham' and 'Robin Hood' figures. Quite a lot of the Nottingham spearmen lost their spears and received in return sturdy wire pikes - at least 72 such figures, as I recall from one of the 'test' battles fought. I don't recall where the arquebusiers came from - some adaptation of the plastics, I'm sure. 

So, whence came the Nordic Horde?  Airfix Ancient Britons. Hordes of 'em. That is why this Horde was Nordic rather than Asiatic, I suspect. When the Nordic Horde was feeling restless (at the 'Umpire's' discretion), the 'Balkan States' pretty much had to drop everything and fend them off.  So powerful was 'The Horde', that if just two States stood aloof from the threat, the likelihood was that the whole region would be overrun, and sink into a Nordic Dark Age. End of Game. 

Battle play test.  The City State
horse (right) broke their opponents,
win the battle.
I recall that Philip - the inventor of this 'project' - and I played a couple of small games to test his very simple game rules (derived from Young and Lawford's Charge!). In one of these he had a force of perhaps 12 or 20 cavalry, and 4 12-figure pike blocks each arranged in 4 ranks of 3 figures. I had as many horse, 2 pike blocks and a 12-figure unit of arquebusiers. Having fewer than 60 or 70 figures a side, the thing was fought on a desk top. As the infantry fight gradually developed in Philip's favour, the even cavalry fight went, by sheer luck, quickly and decisively my way. 
The next battlefield featured a lot of hedged enclosures, with one gateway, which sole defile might be negotiated by cavalry in single file.  That pretty much neutralised my cavalry out of the action. A canny operator, was Philip!  But it rather defeated the purpose of the play test, methinks.

It was a pity that time, marching on as it usually does in step with 'real life events' (one of which was my leaving Auckland to take up work in Wellington), didn't lead to the project getting any further off the ground.  I've always thought it a promising concept - provided, of course, you got together at least a half dozen like-minded war gamers ready to give it a serious go.  I have occasionally toyed with reviving it, but have been forced to conclude that the practical difficulties would be beyond my capacity to overcome them.

Unless I played it solo.


That brings me to a project behind which lies the motivating force of my war games buddy, Paul, a.k.a. 'Jacko' of the occasional blog spot, paintinglittlesoldiers.  I would like to see more happening with that blog, but there also happens to be another that has seen no action for several years: The Empire of Jaxonia.  This one, though, I hope will see something happening, and this blogspot revivified.  

Think: East Africa, c.1880, not so far from the offshore island of Madasahatta, with ambitious colonial powers, Arab raiders, Turkish traffickers in ivory, gold and persons, and the  fearsome indigenous tribes wishing everyone else would go away, and leave them in peace to fight among themselves.   

I believe the framework is similar in overall concept to Space 1888, which might be played as a war game, or as a role-playing game.  The RPG aspect offers local sub-plots within a much broader narrative.  The inspiration for this comes from Ubonga: A Solo Campaign from Darkest Africa.  Having some 100 'spare' Zulu Wars British figures, I have offered to create a company-sized force garrisoning some up-river fortified outpost, though I admit that the logistical backup would probably be wanting.  I have suggested that one of the main rivers be called the 'great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, which is as deep as the sea, and bordered with fever trees', just because I like saying 'the great grey-green... etc'.

Schematic of HMS Thunderer that will form the basis
of the construction of HMS Blunderer

On the strength of it, though, I have begun building a coastal battleship based on the old HMS Thunderer (to be called, I think, HMS Blunderer), forming a small flotilla together with a Fly Class gunboat, and an assortment of paddlesteamers and tenders. Other nations might get some ex-American Civil War riverine craft, sold them by a canny US government with an eye for a buck.

All this so far is pretty vague, very much in its early stages.  But 'Jacko' has done quite a lot of work on developing the factions and forces. Not only that, but he's got hold of the map for the S&T Magazine game: Sideshow - German East Africa, 1914-18. Possibly my own Ruberians, Azurians and Turkowazians will have a role to play in what is, in certain respects, really quite a vast undertaking. I hope to have more to write on this topic later on.  

HMS Blunderer, early construction.  The faucet washers will
be the turret 'guides' rather than the gun turrets themselves.
The overall scale length has been shortened slightly
to fit 2 hex-grid widths.  Hence the shortened distance
between the funnels.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Other People's Imagi-Nations

I received such great responses to my previous posting on Imagi-Nations, that I just had to share them, and my own responses, in this posting.  I will add a few comments as they occur to me.

Neil Patterson:
It's interesting that your Imagi-Nations span different time periods and continents; too many people jumped on the "Old School" bandwagon fad of a good few years ago and created C18th states only. Sadly these were often derivative, lacking imagination and simply historic armies with silly names, formed into impractical sized units and never finished.

For me the key component has to be some sort of internal consistency; whether that's through names or colours as you have done or by basing the project on novels, Tin-Tin comics or other such backgrounds.
This is just the start however; the thing is you can then develop this further or just keep the bare bones or you can develop one aspect, such as designing uniforms or army lists. Where a lot of people fell down was starting here, but without the background consistency, stalled. The internet is littered with such attempts.
Myself, I have been developing Imagination-Nations for more years than I care to mention. A long running project has been to bring to life the Nation states of GDW's "Soldier King" boardgame which gives a ready made campaign system, map and geography. More than 20 years ago I opted for 30mm Spencer Smith plastics for the armies and they have been evolving since then as GDW "Volley & Bayonet" units (I know you don't like these rules!).
I also developed modern Latin American countries to fight out various internal conflicts; Costa Guano (with San Angeles and El Bravado as neighbours). In collaboration with my sadly deceased friend, Danny O'Hara, we had a brief existence on the internet as part of "el Mundo Mythico" for like minded states and players.
For "moderns" I also created the "Central Eurasian Republic" a former SSR of the USSR coping with the breakup in the 1990s; in truth, it was simply an excuse to utilise the 1/87 Soviet models I had accumulated, without having to stick to historical organizations, as in many cases I lacked the correct models or had an unusual mix, such as JS III with T-54s and T-72s. Using the brief hints emerging from the various conflicts, this odd mix was perfectly feasible.
The latter two projects had no map and only vague geography and scanty place names. Attempts at development actually hindered creativity as in attempting to anchor them to real places brought problems of consistency by way of real countries and locations. Costa Guano is vaguely Central American and the Central Eurasian Republic encompasses Caucasian flavours (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia etc.) with the steppes of Tajikistan and similar.
I have also toyed with the idea of developing different historical periods for these Imagi-Nations, such as 1920-30s Latin American or Comic Opera versions of the Soldier King countries based on Czech, Hungarian or Romanian armies of that period. More latterly this has become more generic in the form of "Ruritania v Graustark". (and don't forget Hope Hopkins's Kravonia, or R.L. Stevenson's Gerolstein!)
For me the greatest appeal in Imagi-Nations has to be in CREATING history not following it; as much as I enjoy historical research, there is also something deeply satisfying in being able to simply indulge in your own desires or delusions. No longer do you need to find a formation that used your favourite tank or search for a particular uniform colour combination, as if you so wish it, just create it without fear on censure. Likewise, if a historical battle captures you, but you lack the correct units or even armies, you have a set of proxies that can step in which will allow any result, not just the historic one.
I was captivated by the Wargame by Charles Grant, especially the creativity of the VFS and have spent much of my wargaming life in convincing myself to indulge, rather than follow the crowd of convention. I just wish I'd done it earlier!

My Reply:
Neil -
Thank you for your delightful response! I like the sound of your imagi-nations already!

One I didn't mention in this article was 'Harad', and invention of a friend, who having (after several years of trying) persuaded me to join in, moved up north to greener pastures. It was a kind of Persian Empire that stretched as far as the Mesogesean (Mediterranean Sea), the non-Iranian bit being known collectively as Khand (at about this point I realised it was J.R.R. Tolkien's world transplanted to the Middle East). The time set was c.1980, with the Empire showing signs of fraying at the edges.

I've used the idea for back history stretching back a century to encompass my 'Chromatic Wars' - the colonial aspects. Ruberia (RED) has a distant sub-continental empire, Rajistan. This has been the setting for my recent 'Long Live the Revolution', and 'the earlier' Mesofluvian campaign.

Having got this far with my response, methinks there is another article in the making!


Now that I think about it, I too 'jumped upon the 18th century bandwagon'.  That is where Archduke Piccolo came from, the rival realms: the Wholly Romantic Empire, centred upon the Archduchies of Trockenbeeren and Auslese (Trockenbeerenauslese
 a German language wine term for a medium to full body dessert wine); and the Electorate (later Kingdom) of Altmark-Uberheim.  Later were added the Grand Duchy of M'yasma; the Principality of Ursaminor (for my daughter Ursula); the Landgravate of Jotun-Erbsten (for a friend's daughter, the name being an anagram, including the hyphen, of their surname); and later including the late Barry Taylor's Herzogtum von Rechburg.  That last Duchy featured, not altogether peripherally, in the affair of the Ulrichstein Revolt, 1738....
Action at Zaltpig, during the Ulrichstein Revolt.  It was
a disguised scenario based on the Battle of Paltzig, 1759.
Incidentally, as their figures were Napoleonic rather than 18th Century, and as as they were still in my possession, the Armies of Jotun-Erbsten and Ursaminor became the 'Patriot' and 'Loyalist' sides in the Gatonegro War of Independence that featured in a couple of articles, starting with Something Revolutionary. The name, Gatonegro, suggested itself from the heraldic black cat on the 'Patriot' battle flags.

Gowan James Ditchburn: 
Well you know my position of Imagi-Nations. Before Oronegro there were others in the works, more fantasy really. However, I decided upon Oronegro after that trip to Argentina in 2012. I distinctly remember hammering out the story of a covert meeting of world powers to discuss the little nation on the flight home. Such was Oronegro born.

Since then it has become more than just a fictional nation for me, rather it is a prism to explore various things. A world in parallel where the rules are somewhat different. I can explore fantastical ideas with my D&D friends and more grounded ones with other wargamers.

Part of the fun is of course building up this long history for a single nation. However, that does impose limitations. Although as they say limiting factors can actually be a boon when it comes to creativity. It is quite fun trying to string all these different threads together into one, mostly cohesive (ambiguity is left deliberately, some things in history are contentious, so should that of the imagi-nation) whole.My Reply:
I think you are right that what constrains creativity can actually encourage it. I have to admit I don't usually go in very much for 'back history', but have done so with Harad (specifically, the Nawabate of Tchagai) in order to do something with the concept!

I don't generally 'do' fantasy (although in a very real way our imagi-nations ARE fantasy). However, I do recall now that about 20-odd years ago I DID come up with a high fantasy world that I was considering as a Club Project. It was called 'The Lost Kingdom of ...' I forget what I was going to call it. This kingdom had been separated for over a century from the Empire of which it had once been a part. The hundreds of miles of territory between the still existing Empire and this kingdom had long ago become desert.

The Kingdom was bordered to the east by a vast ocean, to the northeast by a sea-going warrior people (Vikingish types), north by frigid wastes, to the northwest by more frozen wastes cut through by a great ravine, to the west by mountains, southwest by forest and to the south by desert.

The precipitous Iron Coast of the desert was abruptly interrupted as the coastline turned westward into a great bay (The Dragon's Bight) that stretched almost to the Western mountains and forests, and which divided the Kingdom into the main realm on the north coast of the bay, and the settled fringe along the south coast.

The Kingdom was under pressure from all sides: Desert raiders, Iron Coast pirates, corsairs from the Eastern archipelago, uneasy relationships with the 'Viking-like' people, Orcish types (etc) to the north, Dwarfs from the western mountains, and Elves from the forests. Assorted other creatures peopled the realm and its environs.

I did consider that somewhere beyond the Great Ravine, an obscure but apparently charismatic leader had emerged that threatened to bring together the disparate enemies and rivals of the Kingdom. He caused to be a built a mighty fortress as the basis for his ambition. I did consider that somehow he had been 'transported' from our own world by some magical means of summoning. His name: Napoleon Bonaparte...

I even drew a map (I don't know if I still have it) but that is about as far as I got with it. I did toy with it as an idea for a children's fantasy novel, the central character a boy also 'summoned' (by mistake) in a sudden storm from a Christchurch yacht race. He'd barely survive, and be picked up by a Kingdom's dromon off the Iron Coast, just before it gets attacked by three corsair vessels.

That was about as far as I got with it. I haven't thought about that idea in well over a decade.Cheers,Ion

Ross Mac 
I somehow missed this post, (Don't know what that says about the new year). I like the idea of fictional worlds but I'm afraid that a nearly pathological difficulty with languages and names (inc place names) other than English and French (a bit of Gaelic) as well as trouble with spatial relations makes it quite difficult at times to follow the story lines or remember who is who and which side they are on. Rather sad really and is one reasons why in my own settings I often end up borrowing names of both people and places from my own history when making up my own fictional storylines and maps.

My Reply:
I have a lot of fun with names, but by and large, the names I choose are, one way or another, English, even when they aren't English. With a side order of Greek and Latin, maybe, and simple words from other languages, but usually disguised English.

To name the Mesogesean Sea and the Medifluvian regions, I just swapped the etymologies of Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. (see map above)

I have an anti-Napoleonic memory for names - especially personal names. I have trouble recalling names of people I even know well, which is highly embarrassing. But the word games I play with my imagi-Nations I find help a great deal, though by now, I have such a volume of them that they are also becoming hard to recall.

One idea I have had - I think Tony Bath might have suggested this in his 'Hyboria' book - is to write up a list of names for characters and places not yet identified or 'in use'. My RED (Ruberian) characters are all given 'red' names: Redmayne, Redford, Scarlett, Carmine. I have also a whole bunch of place names base on three consecutive notes of the musical scale: Dohremi, Remiso and Misofah have already been the scenes of 'Army Men' battles.
An early Jono's World action: the Battle of Dohremi.


In ascending order, they have a Middle Eastern or African look (though to begin with, they were used for an entirely different world: Jono's World). One can reverse into a descending scale: Miredoh, Somire, Fahsomi; or letter order: Imerhod, Osimer, Hafosim. The reversed letter order suggests (to me) an etymology different from the others, so they would be placed in a distinctly separate region.... 

All this does not stop me nicking names from other people, places, histories. About 45 years ago a law student war games buddy took names from from the legal cases he was studying. I still remember the unhappy fate of Brig-Gen Scoones (CSA) whose isolated brigade was swept up by the rapid advance of a whole Union army. And sometimes a real name from history (e.g. George Maniaces) just begs to be included among one's Dramatis Personae...


Jono's World, by the way, was the brain child of one 'Jono' (the only name by which I knew this young guy) who turned up at the club one day with folders under arm and some 2-3-inch Army Men figures.  I was the only club member in slightest bit interested, but, in the event I might have been too interested - taking the thing where Jono wasn't that interested in going.  He disappeared, but the ideas didn't, so it remains a project in being.  Here's Jono's map of Kiivar and Omez...

...and my adaptation.