Epic Environments – Life on the Water

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s land is limited, and the Earth’s surface is 70% water, so finding a way to live on the sea is a very attractive proposition, but truth be told it is actually very hard to do.

There a few ways to do it – you can island hop, live in a big ship and dock occasionally, or you can build a floating village. This week we’re looking at how floating villages can work, to go with last Thursday’s freebie.

 

Floating Villages

There a few of these around the world, Ha-Long Bay: in Vietnam Lake,  Stilt Village: in Ganvie in Africa, Tonle Sap: in a lake in Cambodia, Floating Islands of Uros: Titicaca Lake in Peru and Sama-Bajau which are found in the sea around the Philippine.

Most of these places are in stationary water, and are built on stilts which support the house. Despite all being called “floating villages” few of them are actually floating on the water unsupported – but although it’s rare it is possible. Two places where this unusual feat has been managed for centuries are the Uros whose homes are made completely from reeds which are found growing in the shallows of the lake and Ha-Long Bay where they live in house made of wood on top of either bamboo rafts or (in more modern times) empty metal or plastic barrels.

People living in these villages will generally eat mostly fish, seaweed and seafood like clams and crap, this mean they get a lot of water from their food means they have to find less clean water to drink. Drinking water can be made by boiling the lake water which will kill of most of the harmful bacteria, but more often it, along with vegetables, flowers and clothing will traded for from the mainland in exchange for the fish.

People that live in such places tend to have long lean bodies, can swim before they can walk and have deeply tanned skin since they are out fishing most days and there no shade from trees that far out in the water.  

Why Do They Live There? Continue reading →

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Third Thursday Freebie – Warrior Priests of the Sea

Warrior Priests of the Sea Cover

This month’s freebie is a small Noggin drawn from the Jigsaw Piece The Floating City – focusing on the priests of their Academic Quarter, who defend the elderly and the young with the gifts of their goddess.

As with all Jigsaw Fantasy products this also includes a series of “Jigsaw Links” giving advice on how to tie the elements into your own setting, using examples drawn from many different fantasy worlds.

Check out Jigsaw Fantasy’s Warrior Priests of the Sea

And if you enjoy that, you’ll love our upcoming kickstarter – so keep your eyes peeled.

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Epic Environments – Wetlands

 

Wetlands in Cape May, New Jersey, USA. View of Fishing Creek Marsh with Miami Beach, New Jersey on the left. from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

Wetlands in Cape May, New Jersey, USA. View of Fishing Creek Marsh with Miami Beach, New Jersey on the left. from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

Wetlands

When we write faraway magical places, cultures, and creatures we are inspired by the real world. Nothing you could make up is half as weird as Mother Nature already has. If you plan to make any environment a part of your storytelling, you could do worse than go watch a couple of nature documentaries. Look what nature does, and then fantasy-fy it a little. All the creatures in the Sivatag Desert or the Floating City are inspired by real creatures, even if those inspirations are taken in unusual and fantastical directions.

That’s what you get for having a biologist on the team, who asks questions like “what are the nesting habits of kraken?” or “what are the evolutionary environmental pressures of sleeping on gold?”

Where the adventure is set matters. How you get there is part of the story.

So today, to get to the Next Place, your party have to travel through a swamp. Apart from getting their boots wet, what kind of effects does this have on your adventure? Why not just avoid describing the landscape?

Because yet another forest is boring. Because investigating a different ecosystem at the very least provides for different monsters to fight. Because just getting from A to B becomes a challenge – a reason to have the Survival skill, a reason to hire a native guide. Because the real world is diverse and beautiful and bizarre, and therefore the fantasy worlds we build really should be even more so.

 

Features Continue reading →

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Epic Environments: Lands of Ice

There are many different types environments in this world – from hot wet swamps, to harsh desert to dry sheets of ice. Each environment brings with it new challenges for the people to live through.

The shape, and movement of our round world means that it can be cold in one place and warm in another and the same for night and day. Due to the tilt of the world’s rotation both the far north and south go through months without light, and even when they do have light the sun never comes much above the horizon, leaving the world with lands of ice.

Photo by Ian Mackenzie from Ottawa, Canada

Photo by Ian Mackenzie from Ottawa, Canada

Lands of Ice

Much of the world can become frozen under sheets of ice throughout the cold times, but some parts never fully thaw; Greenland, the Arctic, Antarctic and Alaska are just a few of these places. These kind of places can experience anything from a month to 6 months without sunlight, temperatures getting as low -90oc, with -50oc being commonplace in some.

When the land is covered in snow and ice there is very little food for people and animals, since not much grows for half the year there are no trees to help slow down the wind, the wind speed can get as high as 50 knots in ice storms.

Inhabitants Continue reading →

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Castle Coverage – Maiden Castle

Aerial photograph by Major George Allen

Aerial photograph by Major George Allen

 

A photograph by Andy Lamb showing the sheer scale of the mounds

A photograph by Andy Lamb showing the sheer scale of the mounds

 

There are well over a thousand known iron age hill forts in the UK, but Maiden Castle is the biggest. It may even be the biggest in Europe. If any of them deserve the title Castle, then it’s Maiden Castle in Dorset.

Hill forts consist of earthen embankments and ditches around a hill top. Maiden Castle has four sets of embankments around the highest hill in the area. When it was built, the ditches cut into the hill embankments would have revealed the chalk under the grass, making them bright white. I like to think they kept them clean to make the hill fort more impressive and obvious. People lived inside the forts and farmed the areas outside.

That’s pretty much everything we know for certain about hill forts.

The people who lived in them didn’t have a written language, and they were going into decline by the time to Romans arrived, so archaeologists have had to reconstruct things from evidence found on these sites, and the occasional written record from outsiders, plus generalising from other sites. You see these places are old!

 

The Unknown and the Ancient

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Castle Coverage – Fort George (No, not that one, the other one…)

There are several places called Fort George across the world, and two in the UK. I’m not writing about the one in Guernsey today, but rather the one in the highlands of Scotland. It’s not technically a castle because it is a military installation, and was never intended as a high-status residence, but it’s interesting enough that I thought I would bend the rules a little.

Photograph by Stephen Branley

Photograph by Stephen Branley

A New Kind of Fortress

When gunpowder weapons were first developed they had many benefits, but they lacked the power of a trebuchet. Sieges therefore remained as they pretty much always had done, only with more smoke and loud bangs – cannons were primarily an anti-infantry weapon, and thus useful in defence but not really in bringing down a castle wall. Castle designs changed somewhat to accommodate gunpowder, and where one once would have seen arrow slits castles were being built with gun loops and cannon ports.

Over time, though, cannons got more powerful, and were able to make big holes in stone walls. The mobility and relative accuracy of cannons made the old castle designs far less useful and so designs changed. Clearly the walls needed to be thicker and better able to absorb impacts, so earthen ramparts were used. The previously popular round towers were problematic for related reasons – a large bomb called a petard could be comparatively safely placed at the base because there was an area which could not be easily seen from anywhere inside (to be hoist on one’s own petard was to be blown up by one’s own bomb – they were also, more dangerously, used to blow open gate houses and portcullises). Because of this bastions were built which were angled and protruded beyond the walls in such a way that they allowed a clear field of fire across the entire area.

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Castle Coverage – Tintagel Castle

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Tintagel is something of an anomaly on many counts. It was never a militarily important location, and rarely was it a royal residence. It is seen as key part of Arthurian myth, but there is little suggestion King Arthur ever set foot there. It has been inhabited since Roman times, but the only fortifications which remain are harking back to something that never happened.

 

The Myth(s)

The great King Arthur was a man, and thus needed to be born and grow up. Before even  that he needed to be conceived, and it is at Tintagel that that night occurred, at least according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father-to-be and King of All Britons fell in love with Ygrayne when he saw her at his coronation. But her husband Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall was not happy about that and left, taking her with him.  Uther used that as an excuse to go to war with Gorlois. There is no suggestion of Ygrayne’s position on the matter – the least worst option here is that she was receptive to Uther’s advances, which is the position Mary Stewart takes.  

Gorlois led his campaign from a castle called Dimilioc, but he sent his wife to Tintagel as its location made it impossible to breach – Uther is told that three armed warriors could defend the castle against the entirety of Britain – why Gorlois didn’t choose to base himself out of Tintagel as well I don’t know! Regardless, Uther believed this claim, and so called for Merlin’s aid. He asked Merlin to magically disguise him as Gorlois so he could slip past the defences. Merlin worked his magic and created a potion to do the job.

Continue reading →

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Castle Coverage – Harlech Castle

By Baynes, James, 1766-1837 Woolnoth, William, fl. 1785-1836 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Baynes, James, 1766-1837 Woolnoth, William, fl. 1785-1836 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Harlech. Now there’s a name to conjure with.  One of the most famous castles in Wales if not the entire United Kingdom. In contrast to Bodiam last week, Harlech was the site of conflict from before it was built up until its partial destruction in the English Civil War. There is even a song about one of the sieges of the place! Despite going to university just up the road in Bangor i am sad to say I never managed to visit Harlech.

The Castle and its Construction

It’s a small castle, and comparatively cheap by the standards of the day – it cost around eight thousand pounds, while Conwy cost fifteen thousand, and Caernarfon was over twenty thousand – all three were built around the same time and all in North Wales. All three of these, and five others others, were built on the orders of Edward I towards the end of the Thirteenth Century to try to prevent another Welsh uprising – a conflict that had been bubbling for at least two hundred years by this point.

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Castle Coverage – Bodiam Castle

Engraving from a book by Nathaniel Buck & Samuel Buck

Engraving from a book by Nathaniel Buck & Samuel Buck

 

I’m planning to write a series of pieces about castles in the British Isles this month – there’s a lot of history here, and much of it would make good inspiration for games and stories. Castles are big, impressive structures built to withstand attack, pacify local dissidents, and protect those loyal to the lord. But they are more than just military structures – they are the homes of nobility, and they are big, imposing buildings which show the righteous power of those in charge.

I thought I would start with Bodiam Castle for two reasons: First it is a great example of what we think a castle looks like, and second I’ve been there several times as it is not far from where i grew up (Maybe that’s why I think it is the most castley castle that ever castled!).

 

The Castle and its History

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