Verdan Arcanis: The How and Why of Nations

"The Dogs of War" - a Punch cartoon ...

Quit complaining! If we had stability, there wouldn't be much room for Adventuerers now, would there?

English: Map of south-eastern Europe in 1881 AD.

So there are a few errors... Things change so fast these days!

Verdan Arcanis: The How and Why of Nations

A quick rundown of places the characters might go, and what’s going on in Europe:

The Ottoman Empire isn’t even European in many ways. Coming from a much different cultural background, and with too much diversity for comfort, it has fared poorly in the modern world, and – like the Byzantines before it – is currently teetering on the brink of collapse – and for many of the same reasons: enemies made when the Empire was strong have not forgotten their anger, economic weakness, and numerous angry minorities. Britain has propped up the Empire in the past, but may have more on its mind if a new war starts. In fact, the Empire has reassessed its strategic options, and is coming to think that an alliance with France might be more suitable anyway.

Belgium is small, internally divided, and even less capable of defending itself than Holland. It is well-situated for local trade, making it fairly prosperous. Sadly, that same situation makes it a handy battleground for the surrounding powers – leading to a turbulent history. It’s recent separation from Holland was backed by France, who saw an independent Belgium as a useful buffer state. Any attack against it would surely raise the ire of at least two Great Powers. Thus, Belgium continues to get along, despite a weak and erratic government, cultural division, and economic ties pulling the two halves of the country in two directions. Belgian French-speaking lands host a good agricultural climate and have ties to France. They are, however, falling behind economically as air-based trade rises.

Britain has, historically, had relatively little need for a defense budget – and boasts an excellent agricultural basis. As a result of its ample sustenance and good transportation it has led the world in industrialization and in the development of airship design, although the basic concept was first developed in France. Most English military men believe that air power will dominate warfare, allowing fleets of soldiers access to any part of the targets’ land and supporting them with bombs.

Britain technically refers to the British Isles as whole, but the union is heavily dominated by the English. Wales has little independent influence, although Scottish lords and commoners have a considerable say in government. Ireland keeps to itself, and has a history of feuds with England – mostly culminating in the Cromwellian Raids of the mid-1600’s, when assassination missions against the priests of Manannan Mac Lir allowed a series of sea-based attacks. For good or ill however, the priesthood survived and reorganized swiftly, and the attack was – once again – reduced to a reliance on balloons and eventually collapsed. Still, given that the vast majority of Ireland’s trade and contact with the rest of the world passes through England, the relationship remains close. A limited political union was finally achieved through economics, politics, and bribery some seventy years past.

France is possibly the most powerful nation in the world, taken altogether. Running a close second behind England in industrialization and air power, it can counter those claims with a larger population, more diverse agricultural base, and a far better claim as the epicenter of European culture. French art decorates the world, and French is the diplomatic language at least as far away as Moscow.

France prefers somewhat more traditional weaponry, and keeps a large sea fleet, more convenient to dealing with Mediterranean waters. To match English airpower, they mount heavy automatic guns on their ships. In truth, no one’s entirely certain which would prove more effective in battle: the heavier French ships, or English air power.

English: Map of south-eastern Europe in 1861 AD.

All right, now this is DEFINITELY out of date.

Germany unified only a scant three decades ago, going from a fractious collection of petty states to a powerful federal state (albeit one hosting multiple royal families and numerous nobles).  Germany’s rapid unification and growth has turned every head in Europe, as well as alarming ever nearby state. These fears have tainted perceptions as well, causing a backlash among Germans, who increasingly see other Great Powers (especially England) as arrogant and hostile without cause. Germany has pushed hard to catch up in the race of foreign colonies, as well working to build an air fleet, keep its army at the forefront, and build industrial might.

Berlin is notable as the boomingest metropolis in Europe. From a respectable Prussian capital, it has become the biggest industrial city in the world, as well as its the most cramped. Industrial growth is slowing, but nobody is going to match Berlin in sheer economic heft for years to come. The city still hasn’t quite aught up in international prestige, partly beacuse of a lack of cultural baggage and history. Many Eastern European Jews, fleeing pogroms and war, are settling in Berlin.

Greece managed to throw out the much-hated Turks after years of fighting and struggle, and has a militaristic attitude after so many years of foreign domination. They would love to continue the fight and sweep the Turks off the continent, but don’t believe they can field nearly enough firepower or men. Greece is a small state with a strong culture, but little money or industry. They would very much like to prod Austria-Hungary or Russia into clearing the Turks out for them, but are very much uncertain as to whether that would simply invite even more foreign domination. Of the two, the Greeks are leaning towards shaky Austria-Hungary, since Russia has enough on its plate already, and Austria-Hungary seems weak enough that Greece could evade its grip. Even better, Austria-Hungary is already trying to overcome rising nationalist tensions and doesn’t desire more minority territory.

Holland occupies perhaps the most uncomfortable ground in Europe, along with Belgium. Officially neutral, it often winds up becoming suddenly friends with the enemies of whichever great power looks most aggressively towards it. In the past, it’s been part of the domain of France, Burgundy, The Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and then finally independent. In the past it used its commercial prowess to build a coastal trading network – but was unable to construct a lasting financial empire and lacked the manpower for any expansion. It is quite well-off however, and remains a major crossroads (and battlefield) of northern Europe.

Ireland has almost no foreign relations, save with England – which most of it’s traditionalists keep a wary eye on. Ireland, unlike Britain or most of Europe, never felt the hand of Roman civilization, and created its own culture – almost the last refuge of Celtic civilization. That said, many Irish do speak English and make good use of international commerce and industry. They just have a long history of defending themselves from English attack and trust few nations.

Italy remains broken into small states, but has started the process of unification, and for once it seems it will finally be whole once more – for the first time since around 450 AD! Italian culture remains a huge draw, and the nation has a strong mix of agricultural and industrial zones, but even the most vigorous province can’t easily compete with large, united nations such as France. Now that Italians are again becoming one people, who knows what they might accomplish with their unmatched history and commercial prowess?

Poland deserves note, as it used to be a major power in Europe until it obliterated by Russia and Prussia in the 18th century. It is now the biggest part of the “Disputed Territories” between Germany and Russia. The long-suffering Poles have come to accept that without modern military technology and a lot of aid (which nobody seems eager to give) they’re not going to be able to regain their independence.

Portugal enjoys a quiet existence as one of the least militaristic states in Europe. The combination of a commercial state and an advantageous location make it of little interest to the rest of Europe. And even if it were, having Spain and France at their back makes them a poor target. Consequently, Portugal has a small army and does very little.

Russia is the vast hinterland of Europe and the gateway to Asia. Fittingly, it straddles the line between modern and ancient with both reformist Czars (such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great) and repressive leaders (such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great). Russia lacks much of the economic vitality of Europe, instead concentrating on keeping order amongst its restless people.

In the past, it was friendly to Prussia, and just a generation ago concluded the Three Emperors league with Germany and Austria. However, the nations have all grown too close for comfort. While Russia battles Germany in northern Europe, it competes in the south with Austria-Hungary for influence among the various Slavic peoples. Russia looks to Turkey for targets, to France for culture, and England for friends, believing that the English would prefer to see a weak Germany.

Spain, for almost 400 years, proved every bit as efficient in breaking stalemates and balancing great powers as England. Spain managed to stand up repeatedly to Algiera, Morocco, France, Germany, and Austria. Sadly, time has not been kind. Spain’s agriculture faces challenges in the form of a climate exposed to the Atlantic weather and rocky soil, while the North Sea-Mediterranean trade that once stopped in Spanish ports now often bypasses them from the air. Spain was further hurt by the Napoleonic wars, where it was completely crushed in bloody battles. It is now a dependency of France, and prefers to keep to itself. It has no army.

Of particular note is that the British control Gibraltar as a heavily fortified strategic position for their air fleet. The Spanish don’t particularly care (as long as England and France don’t fight in Spain, they’re not involved), but it, along with the odd French garrison, is a sore spot for the nation which once defeated the grand hosts of France, Austria, and the Holy Roman Empire.

Sweden/Norway has declined from its former place as one of the greatest military powers of Europe, but still represents a strong state with few internal tensions. While afflicted by poor soil and cold weather, it’s a modern commercial state ideally suited for trade in northern Europe, and boasts a small but elite military force. Due to strong and unpredictable winds, Sweden has only a small air fleet.

Switzerland keeps its strict neutrality,  making it perfect for banks, mercenaries, and any other group which prefers to keep to itself. Switzerland doesn’t have a large army, but it has more snipers than any other nation in Europe, plus a nasty reputation for utterly wrecking Great Powers. The use of Swiss mercenaries is still banned.

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Verdan Arcanis – Starting Adventures

English: Rainbow across Himalayas, Auli

Yes, that is a long ways down...

Since the characters have opted to start in England, here we have a selection of adventures – both short and long – for them to undertake.

  • Dr Bennet Cooper, a scientist who was working on a theory of wireless telegraphy, reported considerable progress – greatly interesting Her Majesties Government – but recently broke off the relationship and retreated into his small estate in Scotland (on Spurr Dubh, near Torridon). Dr Cooper is a specialist in electricity and optics and was a regular correspondent with (select any scientific PC). His last few letters hinted vaguely at some remarkable discovery – but there have been no communiques from Dr Cooper in some weeks. Both his friends and the Ministry of War have become increasingly concerned – and either could spur an investigation, or at least provide the characters with an excuse for dropping in to see what’s going on.

This one is throughly small-scale and unofficial; a few train tickets and a coach-ride will get you there, you need not leave the United Kingdom, and you’re investigating a single small estate and household. What could be simpler than that?

  • The Darroch-Kline Expedition – yet another of the recent expeditions assembled in attempts to reach the south pole – is now drastically overdue, even given the rather generous margin for error in their estimated return date. Sadly, given the lack of long-range communications, this pretty much amount to “vanished without a trace” from England’s viewpoint. Since the intended (and most apparently practical) route was down Africa to allow for refueling and resupply, and thus entered the unknown long before reaching the pole. What divinations can be made indicate that at least part of the group is still alive – so presumably they are not currently stranded on a glacier or lost at sea. Ergo, it’s considered likely that the expedition has gone down along the way – most likely in the depths of Southern Africa. Her Majesties Government is directly sponsoring a rescue expedition – although not, it may be noted, an especially big one.

Unless the party has their own air transport, this one isn’t likely to leave the player characters in overall command – but heading off in the track of an expedition that’s already vanished isn’t the most popular of pastimes, so any competent group should be able to get themselves included. That means an airship trip, plenty of military-supplied equipment, exploration – and the perils of unknown Africa and possibly of Antarctica beyond. Secondarily, there really aren’t all THAT many aristocratic families – only about two hundred – so any player-character aristocrat may well have a personal connection with Lord Darroch.

  • Gokale – yet another of the several hundred small kingdoms near the borders of the various British-allied Indian states – wishes to import some modern, rolling-block, rifles. That’s a rather dubious enterprise, but the local Maharaja is willing to pay VERY well – well enough that simply taking out a loan, buying an airship, and sailing off to deliver the goods would be practical for anyone of the proper class to get such a loan in the first place.

This isn’t illegal – but it’s hardly very respectable. Still, if you can find a black sheep from a good family who’s willing to front for the group, and are willing to take what are obviously going to be some pretty horrendous risks, this is a fast route to your own ship, plenty of money (mostly in the form of some of India’s vast gemstone wealth), and – for the truly ambitious – perhaps a chance to seize a small kingdom of their own in the distant east. It’s also a good chance at a grand tour of the east if that’s what strikes your fancy. Characters with underworld or mercenary contacts may be most attracted to this option; they’ll certainly hear about it first. Anyone with a background in munitions or the military might hear about it though.

  • Germany, of course, is still expanding eastwards, into the disputed territories that lie between it and Russia. Her Majesties Government is – as many suspect, but none outside the military can prove – quietly supporting the Russians with occasional instructors, shipments of supplies, and other goods – all “acting on their own initiative” or as “mercenaries” rather than officially of course. For those with the proper connections and a willingness to run unsupported missions into a war zone, there are plenty of chances here for running in supplies, setting up resistance cells, pulling off daring rescues, reinforcing critical points, and otherwise acting as special operatives.

This ones pretty obvious; the characters will be undertaking missions as special operatives in a war zone. Less obviously, Russia is pitting it’s Bogatyrs, Shamans, and other old-style mystics against a modern technological war machine that mostly lacks similar figures – because most of the European-style magic-boosting belief systems are religious, and poorly adapted to war. Active-duty characters, those with military connections, and – of course – spies are the most likely PC-connections here.

  • The Thornton Convoy is a coaster-based trading expedition to the Far East which will be using aerial support and communications since that’s a tremendous advantage to have on call even if a coaster can carry more cargo than a thousand airships. They’ll be doing some trading along the way of course, exploiting the ability to burn wood for power to send small groups of guards and traders deep into the coastlines they’ll be moving along. They’re interested in hiring airmen, magicians, scientists, and guards for them, since the small inland trading groups will be pretty vulnerable. The organizers are offering a fairly modest salary – but they’re also offering some shares in the expedition; it it’s a success those may well be worth rather a lot.

Not surprisingly, this is an entirely public proposition; joining up may require beating out quite a crowd of NPC’s who also want the job. Given the tendency of PC’s to be exceptional and to be masters in their fields, that may not be so hard. This is, however, likely to be a rather long and difficult mission and a lot of the rewards will be shared. On the other hand, it comes with rather a lot of support too.

  • A Cambridge expedition is recruiting to go in search of a fabulous kingdom supposedly hidden in the Himalayas. Unsurprisingly given the source, the current list of members is stuffed full of professors and researchers, and so more active support and piloting staff is definitely a high priority. Of course, the college isn’t paying that well – but offers a great deal of freedom of action with the advantage of not going entirely off the map. Any similarly scholarly adventurers may well be quite pleased with the prospect of research credits and possible publications of their own.

Groups who like to examine and research things, or which lean towards scholarship themselves, may well find the notion of traveling with a crew of college professors quite attractive. When it comes to mysterious natural and supernatural phenomena it’s hard to beat having a bunch of experts on call – and it means that the PC’s are likely to get all the action and chances to collect non-scholarly loot. Of course, Cambridge will ONLY be hiring respectable individuals, and preferably ones who come with EXCELLENT references (the less respectable, the better the references need to be). Dastards, mad scientists, and uneducated louts generally need not apply – unless they have some clever scheme for getting around such a check.

  • Lord Carnarvon – widely regarded as a complete lunatic – is attempting to build a vessel capable of reaching the lunar surface. At the moment, however, he is essentially running on pure theory, and is seeking backers and cash. He’s reportedly ready to work with almost anyone given the general laughter which is currently being directed at him.

OK; Lord Carnarvon probably IS a lunatic – but if he isn’t, this is a chance to make history. If he is, or is simply overenthusiastic and wrong, you never know what he might have come up with that he thinks makes this possible. He’s also open to working with almost anyone; it’s not like he has a lot of choice – ergo, he could serve to gather a group together; all it would take would be for the various characters to all be interested in the idea.

  • A cultish religious group (claiming to be Druids) is currently sponsoring an expedition to a far northern island (it’s existence is disputed, although there have been a few reports – mostly of some rather dangerous vulcanism) which apparently possesses vast reserves of Lux. The Ministry of War is taking a covert interest in that; readily accessible stocks of lux-charged materials and powerful magical talismans could make quite a difference in the strategic situation. The religious bunch are quite closemouthed about the nature of their interests however. Sadly, the only aircraft they can afford is a damaged experimental model from some years back, and the thing is notably mostly because it didn’t maneuver properly when it was new. Once again, while the “Druids” have plenty of magicians, they’re short of combatants and airmen – which makes a perfect opening for player-characters.

OK. Here we have a mysterious magical group, with mysterious motives, making a grab for a great big power source, to be taken from a place where magic runs amuck, with the military looking on with great interest. No, no… there’s obviously nothing that can go wrong with THAT. Of course, if the group is after raw magical power, this is the expedition to join.

  • On the salvage side, a German airship recently went down in the “broad fourteens” in the North Sea with no survivors. The area is dangerous of course, albeit not as unrelentingly hostile as the mid-oceanic regions – but most people don’t think a salvage attempt is worthwhile despite the fact that the vessel lies in a mere seventy feet of water and parts of it’s structure come within fifteen or twenty feet of the surface.

Of course, a group of adventurers without a ship of their own may think otherwise. This is another one that’s fairly public, and will be well known to most airmen – but it will tale a certain amount of special gear to try and salvage the ship. That may or may not be available – and there’s likely to be some German competition as well.

Verdan Arcanis – English Economics I, Currency, Wages, and Status

Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland Übersetzer: An...

Was it trying to do your accounts that did it?

The English Monetary System on Verdan is – of course – a hodgepodge mess of traditional coins minted across the centuries competing with several different “reform” efforts. Sadly, since the system fundamentally relies on silver and gold coinage valued by weight, with banknotes backed by stockpiles of precious metal, older – and exotic – coins cannot effectively be devalued or withdrawn from circulation. Even the denomination symbols can be traced back to the roman empire.

Foreign coins circulate as well, in an equally confused collection of denominations and origins. Fortunately, when value is determined by weight, and a certain amount of haggling is common, minor vagaries of purity and origin are subsumed in the overall confusion…

Coinage:

  • 1 Farthing = The smallest copper coin. The price of a decent snack.
  • 2 Farthings = 1 Halfpenny. The price of a filling meal of bread and vegetables with a little meat for flavor – or a sizeable flagon of beer. These are often combined as a penny meal – although the tuppence meal is a lot better.
  • 2 Halfpence = 1 Penny, originally a small silver coin, weighing 1/15’th of an ounce but often a much larger coin, minted in copper. A good days wages for a street kid running errands or acting as a guide.
  • 2 Pence = 1 Tuppence or Half-Groat. The price of a third-class railway ticket, a good, filling, and very solid meal in a tavern, a gallon of gasoline, a bottle of laudanum, or a half-ton of lignite coal.
  • 3 Pence = 1 Thruppence (a “Threepenny Bit” is a subdivided Shilling, but minted Thruppence are preferred). For some reason the usual price of large cakes, pies, and other fancy pastries.
  • 4 Pence = 1 Fourpence or Groat. A coin that persists in sayings, but is relatively rarely found in actual circulation. The standard price of cab fair from anywhere in London to anywhere in London.
  • 6 Pence = 1 Sixpence (a ‘Tanner’, so called because modern sixpence are usually made of bronze). A weeks pay for a pageboy – although such servants are usually live-in, and so get food, lodging, and uniforms as well. Also a weeks pay for poor children in factories, mines, and other nominally-adult positions – but this presumes that they’re partially supported by their parents. The price of a hatchet, a rat trap, a good thick blanket, a days worth of canned food, a machete, or a lantern.
  • 12 Pence = 1 Shilling (a “Bob”). A weeks pay for a housemaid – although, once again, such servants are usually live-in, and so get food, lodging, and uniforms as well. The price of a canvas tarp, a bear trap, a naphtha lighter, a bottle of nitroglycerin – or a stick of less powerful (but far safer) dynamite.
  • 2 Shillings = 1 Florin ( a ‘Two Bob Bit’). The price of a long ton of top-quality coal, a pocket almanac or encyclopedia, an axe, a backpack, or a hundred feet of good rope.
  • 2 Shillings and 6 Pence = 1 Half Crown. The price of a bottle of decent liquor. As always, the price of the good stuff goes up almost without limit.
  • 5 Shillings = 1 Crown. A weeks pay for an unskilled laborer. The price of a good hunting knife, a hundred rounds of pistol ammo, a lantern, or a sledgehammer.
  • 10 Shillings = 1 Half-Sovereign (a gold coin). A weeks pay for a semi-skilled laborer. Add half again for somewhat more skilled professions such as sailor, enlisted soldier, or farmhand. The price of a barrel of black powder, a (large hand-ground) magnifying lens, a hundred rounds of rifle ammo, a portable camp stove,
  • 20 Shillings = 1 Pound Sterling (a gold Sovereign). A pound is a weeks pay for an adult City Worker, Guard, Policeman, Assistant, Clerk, or Coal Miner. Double that for Skilled Craftsman and Expert Servants – such as a REALLY good cook. Expert Engineers, Foremen, and Master Clerks triple it. A Second Lieutenant makes four pounds per week, a Civil Servant in the Foreign Office makes six – and a Cabinet Minister makes fifty. It buys a large technical book, a set of lockpicks, a sturdy outfit suitable for foul weather or exploration,
  • 21 Shillings = 1 Guinea (an annoyingly-valued gold coin). Guineas are considered more upper-class than Pound Notes or Sovereigns. Most folk – tradesmen, laborers, and common craftsmen – usually both pay and are paid in pounds. Upper-class types, such as artists, gentleman-scientists, and military officers are usually paid in Guineas – getting an extra 5% for being further up the social ladder. Of course, upper-class types are also expected to pay someone who’s done an exceptional job in Guineas instead of Pounds – essentially giving them a tip. A guinea will buy a piece of jewelry, a good-quality violin, or an expertly-tailored jacket.
  • Bank Notes include the Half Pound (Ten Bob Note), the Pound (One Quid), The Five Pound Note (Fiver), Ten Pound Note (Tenner), and an assortment of larger notes which are generally the province of banks, corporations, and the very rich. After all, when a Tenner might represent a good months wages for an engineer, how often will the average person find one in their pocket?

For the purposes of the Baba Yaga game wealth is handled by the Finance skill, just as social class and importance is covered by Status. Sadly, both are considerably less flexible in England than they are in partisan resistance groups, hence buying them up beyond the level suited to your initial writeup is going to require GM approval and in-game justification beyond just spending some experience. In any case, while large purchases will still require rolls, the basic wealth bonus covers a standard lifestyle. Sadly, membership in a social class doesn’t necessarily bring the “appropriate” level of funds – or Status – along with it.

  • -1: You’re destitute, and usually desperate. Your food is poor and scanty, your clothing is the cast-off rags of more successful laborers, your knife is probably stolen, you sleep in whatever shelter you can find, and any money you acquire will go for some basic item you desperately need – or to feed whatever addiction keeps you here. If you need to travel, it’s going to be by foot, by improvised raft, or by stowing away. If you’re at all competent, you can almost certainly easily find a job where your employer will support you at a better lifestyle than this. A few religious fanatics and madmen accept this lifestyle voluntarily, but they’re definitely the exceptions that prove the rule.
  • 0: Un- and Semi-skilled laborers, including farmhands and youthful apprentices, usually fit in here. The food still isn’t very good, but there’s generally enough of it, clothing is cheap and mended, but sturdy enough, your knife belongs to you, your lodgings are tolerably warm, reasonably weathertight, and light on vermin, you can spare an occasional coin for fripperies, and the cheapest forms of travel are open to you if the trip is truly important. Unfortunately, your kids will need to be put to work early to help support themselves. Equally sadly, a large chunk of the population is stuck here – working long hours at dead-end Victorian production jobs for little pay with few or no opportunities for education or advancement and every prospect of crippling industrial injuries (or of dying very young indeed, leaving more doomed children to struggle to support themselves and follow the same path to it’s bitter end).
  • 1: Craftsman, sailors, enlisted military, policemen, and junior clerks tend to wind up at this level. The food is fairly plentiful, clothing is utilitarian but in good shape, a common firearm can be obtained if necessary, lodgings are probably a cottage or a row-house, there’s enough money to go out and have a few beers a couple of times a week, and you can afford the occasional train ticket or short ocean trip. Perhaps most importantly, if you have kids, they won’t have to go to work to help support themselves and so can get some education. With any luck, they’ll be able to move up into the Victorian Middle Class as adults.
  • 2: The Victorian Middle Class; skilled clerks, military officers, engineers, minor agents, and similar characters tend to wind up here. The food is good with occasional luxuries, you may purchase decent arms if you need them, your clothes are formal, well-cared for, and regularly replaced, you can afford to rent a reasonable house or comfortable flat, you may regularly attend lower-end plays and musical performances and take your family to the seaside or other minor attractions, and you can try to move your kids up the social ladder. You travel by train, and occasionally by coach in areas where trains don’t reach. You’ll normally employ a domestic servant or two, a nanny (albeit probably not Mary Poppins) will help look after your kids, and you will live the stereotypical Victorian lifestyle. Special hobbies – such as mechanical tinkering, or magic, or taxidermy – will probably be confined to a desk in your den unless they’re job-related.
  • 3: Successful businessmen, civil servants in the foreign office, and very successful members of the middle class wind up here – as do junior aristocrats living off allowances and credit and severely embarrassing scions being encouraged to drink themselves into oblivion. There will be excellent meals, several servants, and a regular dose of luxuries and entertainment. You’re likely to own a house or to rent a very pleasant set of apartments. Your clothes will be reasonably new and stylish. If you feel a need for weaponry you’ll probably have a pistol or two about, and may well have several other weapons. You’re unlikely to own a personal vehicle, but you can travel comfortably – if not quite in the luxury classes. If you have special hobbies, a small laboratory, or library, or similar area is likely to be devoted to them. A companionable servant is practically standard-issue.
  • 4: Successful industrialists, aristocrats and gentry tend to fall into this category. At this point you’re likely to own a well-staffed house in the city and manor in the country, an assortment of horses and carriages, have a rather excessive wardrobe (all splendidly cared-for) with plenty of accessories, own a dozen hunting weapons, have a decent library, several well-equipped rooms devoted to any special hobby you may have, and luxurious travel arrangements, up to your own airship. Basically, you’re rich.
  • 5: Business moguls, wealthy industrialists, rules of small countries, and the richest aristocrats wind up here. These are the people who can build their own experimental ships, set up major laboratories to support their hobbies, own libraries, and send out agents to get whatever-it-is they happen to want. They own dozens of properties and several major vehicles, command the services of hundreds of employees who work directly for them, and generally have their own security forces. They don’t usually join other people’s expeditions and projects; they just fund their own.
  • 6: Characters at this level can draw on resources that most organizations can only dream of. If they need to fund a small private fleet or army, it’s within their means. They can have the best of anything they want, employ small hordes of people, have enough lawyers to get away with almost anything short of high treason (and sometimes even that), and own more properties than they can remember. In general they don’t join lesser organizations; they just fund one that does what they want.

Naturally enough, in Baba Yaga it becomes easier and easier to attain high wealth levels as the games power level goes up. A Normal Adult character who wanted to possess vast wealth could do so – at the cost of having nothing else. A superhero, on the other hand, can attain a +6 score in Finance quite readily – and could even attain higher levels. Go ahead! Own your own private dimension!

Status governs a character’s general social station in much the same way that Finance governs their lifestyle – but it’s a good deal more flexible; if you’re relatively young, inexperienced, or devoting your time to adventure (or to parties, women, drink, and other disreputable activities), rather than to maintaining your social position your effective (purchased) social status may be a good deal lower your theoretical one. If you’re a youthful, inexperienced, adventuring aristocrat all you need to support that is Status 2…

  • -1: Criminal Class. Yep. Pickpockets, prostitutes, muggers, counterfeiters, and unstylish highwaymen all fall into this category of undesirables. If at all possible, most law enforcement officials will view it as a public service to lock you up if they can come up with any excuse at all.
  • 0: Laborer Class. You’re a nobody – but you’re a useful nobody who does rather a lot of work for very little money. Fortunately, most of the higher classes will pay very little attention to what you might be up to; laborers are everywhere!
  • 1: Working Class. This includes enlisted military men, common servants, crewmen, industrial workers, and all the the other people who usually come in semi-skilled interchangeable groups.
  • 2: Tradesman. This group includes superior servants (butlers, expert cooks, etc), tailors, and other skilled craftsmen. If you’re an expert in a particular field – but still work with your hands in some practical field – you probably fall into this category.
  • 3: Middle Class. The Victorians Par Excellence, the Middle Class are primarily administrators – the people who run the banks, the territories, the factories, and all the bustling businesses and engineering projects of England.
  • 4: Gentry. The lower-level aristocrats – the families of sheriffs, magistrates, country barons, churchmen, and lesser landholders who had once provided the troops and organizational background of mediaeval monarchies – make up the Gentry, a group that may be displaced eventually, but who (for the time being) still sustain the rural backbone of the nation. The gentry are well-respected – perhaps better-respected than the Aristocrats, who are often seen as being impractical and insulated from reality by their wealth – and, in return, adhere to their traditional responsibilities.
  • 5: Aristocrats. The Aristocrats have been living the good life for many centuries now, and have no intention of stopping… They also tend to distrust “progress”, industry, science, trade, and anything else that might change things – a reasonable enough reaction when things are very good the way they are! Born to wealth and rulership, they may be prats – but they know how to shoot, ride, organize the lower classes, sneer at threats, and run things perfectly well.
  • 6: Nobility. Basically this means the few people who still hold major hereditary titles – the wealthiest and most powerful aristocrats, and usually the ones with ties to the actual reigning powers of Europe. They’re the ones who push for treaties, command wars, and otherwise run the House of Lords. (If you want to be actual royalty, you’ll need Status 5, Perception +1, AND a special perk).

Verdan Incognita II – Places of Legend

English: The mighty river featured in this ima...

So where is the treasure buried?

Verdan has a long tradition of semi-mythical lands, from the drifting dream-realms of the Dreaming Thunder across the Ginnungagap to the endless underground chasms of Thule. The actual existence of most of these locations is subject to dispute…

The Dreaming Thunder is popularly located “beyond the vault of heaven”, in a realm where Lux dominates instead of matter, and grand ethereal palaces may be crafted from a handful of drifting motes. There a variety of spirits build, contend, and – occasionally – depart for the still higher and greater realms beyond. While there is a fair amount of testimony as to the existence of the Dreaming Thunder, it’s all from ghosts and other spirits – and they often contradict each other on key points.

Thule is supposedly an underground realm, inhabited by the descendants of a progenitor race – although reports vary as to whether or not it simply occupies a series of underground caverns and passages at considerable depths or as to whether Verdan is hollow. Regardless of the details, the people of Thule supposedly rely on the magic of the depths to grow plants, creating underground ecologies. As the lux-reserves of an area wane, they presumably either tunnel deeper or move on.

Tales of Thule gained some popularity recently with the discovery of the remains of a group that was apparently trapped deep underground by a massive cave-in millenia past, and seemingly survived for at least a generation. Objectors note that the evidence of long-term inhabitation may simply have meant that the group considered the trek down to live in what was then probably a safe and secure higher-magic area well worth it, and that they probably died relatively soon after the collapse.

Mu is primarily known through dream-reports. While those are far more credible on Verdan – where dreamers and prophets are sometimes surprisingly accurate – than Earth, there’s still room for a lot of interpretation and doubt. That’s especially true when the distance is so great and the number of individuals reporting results is so small. In any case, reports of Mu usually involve strangely-dressed individuals, bizarre crystalline devices, and inhabited caverns where they carry out strange rituals in the service of unknown powers. The location is variously described as beneath the sea, in an area of uncharted ocean (the most commonly described location is fairly near to Earth’s New Zealand), and “on the astral plane”.

Lemuria has, in contrast to Mu, been fairly reliably sighted off the eastern coast of southern Africa on several occasions. It appears to be a sizeable island or subcontinent, and what little information is available suggests that it is inhabited by some quite belligerent natives. While no one has ever seen the natives, the one recorded expedition that attempted a landing was greeted by a shower of darts tipped with a variety of curious – and rather lethal – poisons. The landing party was annihilated, and the main expedition only escaped by dumping all possible weight – including the main engines – and using wind-spells to slowly blow themselves back to civilization. (For the geographically-challenged this is probably Madagascar).

Yarlung Tsangpo is, according to tales from the distant east, a sacred realm, one of the gates of the underworld and the realm of ghosts, and is a place guarded by strange and terrible creatures. Unlike most of the “lost realm” tales of Europe however, the Yarlung is concealed only by distance and the Himalayas, rather than by oceanic reaches. Unfortunately, the development of the Zeppelin has done relatively little to render the inward reaches of the Himalayas accessible; the altitude, weather, and local conditions are quite enough to make air travel in the area relatively useless.

Other Worlds are – perhaps – the ultimate places of legend. While only the most optimistic see signs of life on the Moon (despite it’s presumably vast, untouched, Lux reserves), reports of signs of life on Mars are far more hopeful. While current telescopes, even with enhancing spells, are unable to resolve the finer details of the Martian surface, reports of odd flashes of light, seasonal color changes, and oddly-straight dark structures, have raised hopes in scientific circles that Verdan may have inhabited celestial neighbors. Most speculation – inspired by those straight line structures which (if artificial) represent engineering on an unheard-of scale – centers on the “elder civilization” theory, while the (numerous) detractors of such theories tend to focus on why – if Mars is indeed inhabited by an “elder race” – they haven’t come to call. Of course, they will have very little lux to work with; the inflow from the sun will be greatly reduced at that range.

Venus, shining like some fabulous pearl, is one of the brightest and most mysterious of worlds – a world cloaked by impenetrable clouds, and with an albedo so high that many dare to hope that it reflects enough sunlight to render it’s surface inhabitable. While skeptics tend to dash such hopes, it’s undeniable that any creatures that did live on Venus would have a great deal of Lux to work with – and so might well be capable of working wonders quite unknown to Verdan.

Verdan Incognita I

Globe icon centred on the Eurasian continent

Why yes, there are some other places you could go...

On Verdan, the “Civilized World” mostly consists of Eurasia – and not all of that. Much of the southern reaches of Africa, and the North and Eastern reaches of Asia, remain partially unknown.

Much of the vast, frigid reaches of Siberia’s subarctic forests and tundras remain the domain of an assortment of dangerous creatures and of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribesmen – primarily reindeer herders. While the area can hardly be said to be unexplored, vast reaches of trackless wilderness with a few local tribes and fur traders wandering about and a constant risk of being eaten by something about isn’t what most people think of as “civilization”.

China is… strange, mysterious, and utterly foreign. While everyone is aware that ghosts exist, and occasionally hang about, most of the civilized world encourages them to move on; the living rarely appreciate having long-deceased elders occupying the best rooms of the house, kibitzing on their private affairs, and sticking their noses into things. Even more importantly, the modern European notion of “progress” is antithetical to ghosts; a conservative mindset seems to be one of the major factors that encourages a spirit to hang about. China, however, has been encouraging ancestral spirits to hang about for thousands of years – to the point where there might well be more ghosts hanging about than there are living people. The labyrinth of customs, etiquette, and traditions is thick enough to completely baffle most outsiders – and the fact that most ghosts are practicing magicians also complicates matters considerably.

Japan and the isles of Indonesia are places of legend – high in magic, surrounded by monsters, and occupied (where inhabited by humans at all) by most peculiar cultures. While much of the area is close enough to the Eurasian continent for boats to occasionally make the trip, or to jump between islands, the cultures there revolve around relatively primitive social systems and deeply-ingrained magical traditions. Those focus on driving a small number of lux-channels so deeply into the mind that they allow humans to match the raw power of cryptids – giving the local rulers (who can afford to thus train their offspring) an almost unquestioned dominance over the “lower classes”.

Australia and New Guinea (if they exist at all) have not yet been sighted or reported in Europe – although there are plenty of rumors of unknown continents.

The New World is only now being explored – and the process is expensive, and being carried out by small groups. Enormous reaches have only been seen from the air, while even greater areas have never been seen at all. Some areas are, however, reported to have higher magic zones than Eurasia has hosted in eons – and the locals there sometimes resent intrusion.

Antarctica remains unknown as well. One expedition did attempt to reach the south pole by air, but it (and several subsequent attempts) discovered that the continent has a great many volcanoes. The eruptions and updrafts – coupled with the magical disturbances related to the ongoing lux-storm resulting from the magically-charged particles from the solar wind being channeled to the area by the Verdan’s magnetic field – make the antarctic regions virtually inaccessible even by zeppelin. A few reports have been made describing a variety of semi-tropical regions beneath a massive thermal inversion layer and constant cloud cover, but the majority of expeditions to the area have been lost without a trace. That same excessive volcanism has built up the antarctic continent to the point where it depresses the sea floor around it; resulting in towering cliffs at the continental edge and some of the deepest waters on Verdan (and the richest, given the constant geothermally-driven upwelling) surrounding the continent. To earthly eyes that neatly compensates for the water which is not tied up as an icecap, thus maintaining a roughly “normal” sea level throughout the rest of the world.

Iceland / Hyperborea – and the mid-atlantic island of Avalon – are highly volcanic, and are infused with fresh supplies of Lux from the deep mantle – making them some of the most magical places in the world. At least some humans are supposed to live in Hyperborea, and are rumored to have provided powerful magical talismans to the people of Sweden-Norway.

Verdan Arcanis – Technology and Magic II. The Biological Sciences

To continue with the state of the sciences on Verdan…

On the biological side, the structure of the body is reasonably well understood, as are the nature of physically-based diseases (a few seem to be lux-based in nature). Even relatively modest spells can notably improve resistance to particular mundane diseases – making most of them quite survivable. Similarly, a skilled magician-surgeon can fix a great many things, right up to reattaching limbs – although such radical injuries may require weeks or months of exercise and careful healing-guiding spells to fully repair.

It’s even possible to revive corpses, or simply to alchemically pour lux-forces into a body until it wakes up on it’s own – but what you get generally isn’t what you wanted, and rarely seems to have much to do with the original owner of the corpse – or corpses for those going with a build-your-own approach. On Verdan, the various versions of the Frankenstein tale are more cautionary tale than horror-fantasy.

The germ theory of disease is well-established, as are various methods of keeping germs under control – knowledge which has led to a boom in preserved foods, canning, vaccination, better control in the production of cheeses and wines, and many other applications – where simple spells coupled with an understanding of what to do and how to apply them have yielded excellent results. Similarly, few synthetic medicines are known – but small spells allow the easy extraction and purification of a wide variety of natural compounds. A skilled herbalist can provide specific medications for hundreds of different conditions – and moderate their biological activities with more small spells or infusions of lux.

Contraceptive spells and talismans are trivially easy; conception is a delicate process in any case, and often fails all by itself. Thanks to this, and to the fact that most sexually-transmitted diseases can be fairly readily prevented or treated (and often cured) with magic and medicine, and that – unlike a club – magic is just as powerful and dangerous in the hands of a slender young woman as it is in the hands of a hulking brawler, women have a stronger-than-traditional role. A woman with children is expected to spend much of her time taking care of them (and an unwed mother who isn’t well-supported for her trouble is usually regarded as an idiot) – but women without children can go adventuring, take up professions, and even serve in the military (albeit in fewer roles than men) without any great social opposition. There’s even a small tradition of wives accompanying expeditions in search of their missing husbands or offspring.

Attempts to argue that it is a wives prerogative to break her husband out of jail have enjoyed a vogue after a rather lenient judge ruled in favor of Brunhild Einhere, dismissing criminal charges of jailbreak, flight, and smuggling a fugitive out of the country (albeit not the charges of punching out a policeman and destruction of property) resulting from her blowing up a prison wall and knocking out the first guard who came to investigate – thus buying time to get her husband aloft, and on his way out of England, aboard a smuggler’s balloon. Brunhild paid the fine and repair bill for damaging public property and served three months of a six-month sentence for the assault, but was released early on the grounds of being excessively embarrassing to keep around. She emigrated to Germany to join her husband and has since written a book that has been – at least in the eyes of England’s legal system – even more embarrassing.

Evolutionary theory has, however, lagged badly. In part that’s due to an inability to travel and to observe isolated biomes – but to a large part it’s also because Verdan’s flora and fauna is far more diverse than is at all reasonable, includes creatures which are only partially physical, and – on close investigation – shows a number of inexplicable jumps and some new species that seem to appear from nowhere. The fact that supernatural explanations are obviously potentially valid hasn’t helped. The study of inheritance is still bogged down in theories of blended, acquired, transmitted, and manipulated characteristics, complicated by the fact that not a few animals are capable of using small, innate, shapeshifting magics to adapt to changing environments – creating variants and “sub-species” that will vanish with the next generation, modest shift in climate, or migration.

At the moment, the chief challenge to the notion that humans are a special supernatural creation is coming from the common belief that only truly sapient beings can use a wide variety of spells – while recent observations and experiments which have confirmed that several other higher animals also do so – albeit not nearly as many different effects as humans use.

No Smoking Please!

On the agricultural side, the fact that the New World is only now being discovered means that Eurasia has not yet been introduced to Bell and Chili Peppers, Chicle (the basis for chewing gum), Chocolate, Cocaine, Cotton, Maize, Peanuts, Pineapples, Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes, Paprika, Pumpkins, Squash, Sunflowers, Tobacco, Tomatoes, Turkey, Vanilla, and many kinds of Beans – among other things. If a character wants to smoke something, he or she is just going to have to settle for hemp. On the plus side, Syphilis has not yet reached Eurasia.

Verdan Arcanis – Technology and Magic I

Steam Engine 1

Yes, it's this sort of thing...

The presence of magic has had two effects on the development of science and technology.

  • It makes it MUCH easier to test things and to sort out what’s going on on an immediate, local, level. You want to look at something very small? A simple charm will do it. Rough spots in a prototype, minor repairs, and the need for precision craftsmanship can all be easily glossed over with simple spells.
  • It also means that a lot of talent is diverted into magic – and magical talents are both inherently limited and die with their user. An engineer who uses a small spell to get past a small hurdle in his design may produce a device that works beautifully, but which will be almost impossible to duplicate without equal magical talents and a through understanding of how it’s supposed to work. A “mad scientist”, who builds devices to help channel and amplify magic, may well create “technologies” that no one else can duplicate and few can use.

Pulled by those two opposing tendencies, the technological development of Verdan has followed the same general course as Earths – but with rather a lot of minor differences.

Naturally enough, the place to start off a look at technology is almost always with power sources.

While wind, water, and muscle power fulfill their ancient roles, the driving force behind the industrial revolution on Verdan is steam, just as it was on Earth. The Steam Engine is the true technological marvel of Verdan; a well-designed steam engine has few moving parts, will function at high efficiency on fuels ranging from wood and coal to paraffin and oil (or, for that matter, on geothermal heat, nuclear energy, or solar power), and requires no wiring or electricity. Thanks to the steam reservoir of the boiler, it provides near-constant power throughout each cycle, rather than the series of explosive kicks provided by an internal combustion engine. Its internal systems are not subjected to those kicks, to superheating, or to corrosive combustion products – and so tend to require far less maintenance than an internal combustion engine.

This, of course, is why virtually all commercial power plants use steam engines (usually the Steam Turbine variant) even today.

There’s always a price of course. Maintaining clean, efficient, combustion requires a reasonably large firebox – and maintaining pressure requires a sizeable boiler and a sizeable tank of water. A heat-sink and condenser system – to avoid having to keep adding water – bulks things up even more. Unlike an internal combustion engine, it takes time to build pressure and start a steam engine. Also unlike an internal combustion engine, the boiler and piping needs to he able to withstand high pressure as well as the engine block.

Steam Engines are powerful, efficient, and versatile. They are also large, heavy, and slow to start. There are a few experimental steam cars and steam tractors are available for larger farms – but personal transport (barring the tinkerings of mad scientists and magicians) is still mostly limited to horses and carriages. For all the wonders of the industrial age, the burden of supporting civilization continues to rest on the hardworking shoulders of the humble plowbeasts of rural farmers, and likely will for many years to come.

In many cities steam also provides supplies of running water and pressurized air – used to run a wide variety of small-scale mechanical devices, to speed message-tubes from place to place, to feed small high-temperature furnaces, and for many other purposes. Unfortunately while such a system is remarkably safe and convenient in many ways, it’s difficult to scale up and provides fairly limited amounts of power. Still, if you need more power than that, that’s what Steam Engines are for.

Electricity is known and many of it’s basic properties are understood – but it’s primarily the domain of tinkerers, inventors, and mystics who claim that it’s somehow related to Lux. While there are crude generators and electrical motors of various kinds available, at least as many experimenters rely on various types of batteries. The wildest tinkerers rely on “Lightning Bottles” – basically Leyden Jars constructed of Lux-charged alchemical materials and augmented with a few minor spells so as to be quite literally capable of storing lightning bolts – which is, of course, the only way to really get them fully charged; current generators would take weeks to produce that kind of power and are quite incapable of reaching such voltages. Occasional inventors try to combine Lightning Bottles with various forms of electrical propulsion to create personal vehicles – although such attempts to “ride the lightning” are often incredibly dangerous to operate. Most cities ban such things within their limits; when some foolish tinkerer crashes their new electric “motorcycle” with it’s dual-lightning-bottle power supply into a building at a hundred and fifty miles per hour the casualties are rarely limited to the inventor.

For references sake, a fully-charged Lightning Bottle contains about as much energy as two gallons of gasoline or roughly 100 kilograms of TNT – although it can generally be used in a considerably more efficient manner. Lightning Bottles make relatively poor warheads; while they can blow up a laboratory quite effectively, detonating one expends most of their energy as light, melting of their structure, a modest electromagnetic pulse (which will probably pass undetected), and heating of the surrounding area. As far as powering electrical equipment goes, a Lightning Bottle is about equivalent to a full tank of gas in your car.

The most practical use of electricity (unless you count the speculative “cures” offered by the purveyors of electrical shock treatments and “animal magnetism”) so far is the telegraph – which is in fairly widespread use. There is, however, little call for major generators and electrification projects; light spells are one of the simplest and easiest of all magics, and are used in almost every home and business.

Chemical explosives – most often in the form of gunpowder, dynamite, or nitroglycerin – are in widespread use. With applications in mining, construction, demolitions, road-cutting, and war (among many others), the availability of standardized, reliable, explosives have revolutionized a hundred fields, ranging from archeology to warfare. They make it possible to move vast quantities of stone, to clear away rubble, to open routes to hidden locations – and, of course, to either shoot individuals or to blow people up in large groups. In many ways, explosives are steams compliment; like steam, they place enormous concentrations of force and energy in the hands of their users, like steam they allow works to be accomplished in moments that would take months of hard labor otherwise – and, like steam, they can be exceedingly dangerous to work with.

While trains, barges, rivergoing steamships, shallow-draft coasters (designed to run up on the beach at any sign of trouble), balloons, and horse-drawn wagons provide most of the commercial transport, the Zeppelin is now the go-to vehicle for long-range exploration. Top-end Zeppelins are tremendously expensive due to the use of alchemically-crafted structural materials to cut down on weight – but zeppelins can cross the seas with reasonable safety, travel at fair speeds, don’t rely entirely on magic to stay on course, and have an excellent range. Thanks to the use of steam engines, and consequent ability to burn anything from alcohol to wood, when they’re out of fuel they can restock almost anywhere except over water, ice, or barren deserts – in which case there is always magic to fall back on. The cargo capacity may be limited, but that’s a small thing when the alternative is often being unable to reach your destination at all – or in many MANY times the time. With their development, the race to explore – and claim, and exploit – the world beyond

Armored trains, on the other hand, have proven relatively ineffectual in military affairs; it’s just too easy to tear up the tracks. This has led to attempts to provide armored trains with various forms of treads or recirculating tracks – most of which have turned out to be depressingly easy to jam/so heavy that they bog down/nigh-impossible to turn. The success of such efforts has been relatively limited so far, save for one or two unusual engagements along the border of Germany and France.