Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Returned from my Wilderness Adventure

Sorry for the silence the past week, but I just returned from a lovely vacation in Merry Old England, and on returning the climate of New England has been like a punch to the gut.  Ugh, what happened here while I was gone?  Who said it was time to be winter?

Anyway, you can see some lovely holiday snaps via Google Photos here if you like of my trip to London and Oxford.  All the museum trips and exploration of 600+ year old architecture naturally sparks one kind of thought in particular for me though: how can I apply this to my gaming?  Here are a couple ideas that came to me while looking at the artifacts:

1. Narrow Stairs

I climbed the tower at Oxford Castle and at Christ Church in Oxford, both originally medieval military defensive structures, and they had one feature very much in common: super steep and narrow stairways.  Here’s a shot, notice how much my feet hang off the incredibly narrow step:

IMG_20151014_113001At the more crowded Oxford Castle when I went up and down such stairs as part of a large tour, we fit one person wide, and I could maybe see two people above and below me at most.  The stairs are also all curved in this same direction, so that defenders coming down them can easily swing swords with their right hands, while attackers coming up have the awkward choice between trying to swing around the central column, or switching to their left hand.

This strikes me as a great setup for a really interesting fight.  Everyone in single file.  You can only see two people in front and behind you.  It’s a huge crowd.  Fight!

 

 

2.  More Clever Locks
IMG_20151010_142525 IMG_20151010_142544Here is a chest I saw in the British Museum in London.  The little placard tells of how it contains three separate locks each with a unique key.  And note the weird hinges that would be entirely confined to the inside of the box when closed.  No breaking off the hinges to get into this sucker.  Add in super thick wood and lots of metal, and this is sure to drive any party mad.  Depending on how diabolical a DM you want to be, the interior could contain amazing treasure, or just another trap.  Similarly, I saw a mummy enclosed in no less than three nested coffins.  Makes that needle trap and orc guard seem like a pretty poor method of securing your valuables, doesn’t it?

3.  Prison

OK, this one I don’t have a picture of, but apparently the Oxford Castle was used as a prison for a pretty long time, and as such is a good record of Medieval methods for dealing with criminals.  The most interesting fact the tour guide gave us that made me think was that the prison itself was not meant as a punishment.  No, punishments were far more severe – prison is just where you went until they got around to dealing with you.  And conditions being so dreadful, probably you died just waiting for someone to pass judgement on you.  But if you survived perhaps you would get off lightly and they’d lock in you in the pillory in the town square for a couple days, with your ears nailed to the boards, to have rotten food and rocks and who knows what else pelted at you by the public.  And if you survived that, and you were very lucky, maybe when they opened the lock they’d give you a dull knife so you could cut off your own ears and go home.  If not, well, give ’em a good yank and I’m sure they’ll tear free.

So there you have it.  Use these to torment your players as you see fit.

Oxford

Our last day in England was spent in Oxford.  I think this was Jenn’s favorite, and though I do feel like we only scratched the surface of this town, I can’t say it’s on the top of my list of places to revisit.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous, and I’d love to go back, but it just felt a bit too much of a college town for me.  Jenn of course absolutely loved it, so I’m sure our next trip to England will include at least some time in Oxford again.

One thing I really did like about the town was the huge quantity of gargoyles.  You’ll see a lot of pictures of them.  One of my coworkers loaned us a book about them, which I naturally forgot at home.  Oh well, still they were lots of fun to look at.

Skipton Castle

Only two batches of photos left, I really have to finish these off!  This group of photos is from our trip to Skipton Castle.  Skipton Castle is the single best preserved medieval castle in England.  Sadly, the extra touristy feel did rob a bit from the experience, such that I still feel like the walls of York were the coolest historic spot we visited.  Still, it was fun, and you can bet I’ll be adapting a map of the place for gaming purposes.

Here are the photos:

City of York

This is probably the largest collection of pictures taken on our vacation, and not surprisingly my favorite part, our trip to the city of York.  I was just overwhelmed by the awesome mix of medieval architecture and modern city atmosphere.  You could really tell this city has been there for hundreds of years. I only wish we had had enough time to spend another day in York, there was lots to see.

Besides lots of cool architecture and ruins, of which you’ll see the photos below, we also really enjoyed the open air market in the center of town.  We bought some stinking bishop which thankfully tastes much better than it smells.  I also discovered two gaming stores, one sort of standard little gaming shop, and the other a GW shop.  I bought a d20 from the former, which I keep referring to as “the English die”.  I haven’t used it much yet, I like to reserve it for important rolls or when my dice are rolling terribly.

Anyway, here are the pictures for your enjoyment:

Cawood Castle

I’ve been doing a really miserable job at getting these England pictures posted.  Sorry!

Here’s the pictures of Cawood Castle, where we stayed for several nights thanks to the Landmark Trust.  It was really awesome staying at such a historic location.  You’ll see a lot of pictures of the crazy narrow spiral stairs, and plenty taken from the roof from which you could see the entire village of Cawood.  Plus, a few shots of Jenn enjoying a book (and a nap) by the fireside.  It was kind of weird staying at a place with no internet, no TV, and no phone, but actually it really was kind of nice leaving that all behind and just enjoying a good book for a while.  I think I read more there than I had the previous two months combined.

Anyway, here are the pictures:

Tower of London

On our last day in London we visited the Tower of London.  The night before we saw on the news that the American government was considering issuing a warning to American travelers in Europe to stay away from public places due to a possible Al-Qaeda attack.  We briefly debated how seriously to take this, but then went anyway.  Later I heard on the news that the warning may have been a cover to detract attention from an attack staged  somewhere in Iraq.  Thankfully either way nothing came of it.

The tower was awesome, I think the pictures speak for themselves.  You’ll see a lot of pictures of the armor display in there, with its weird nightclub -like lighting.  I think, however, that my favorite part was the first tower we entered (I don’t recall which one it was) that was dressed to look like the royal bed chambers as they were in the medieval period.

Anyway, here are the pictures:

Harrod’s

Here are the photos from Harrod’s.  Harrod’s is truly the strangest store I’ve ever been to.  It was at least five stories tall, and sold pretty much everything you could possibly imagine.  Except gaming stuff.  Yes, I looked.

English Churches

dsc_0046I’ve really fallen behind posting pictures from my trip to England.  Jenn has already posted all of hers, and I’m barely on day three.  I blame the annoying cold we seem to have brought home with us.  Better to be sick right after vacation than during I suppose.

Anyway, on our second full day in London we decided to see the churches: Wesminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  If there was time, we’d check out Shakespeare’s Globe Theater as well.  (Or perhaps it was St. Paul’s that was the optional one.)  Anyway, we started with Westminster Abbey and both really enjoyed it, much more than I think either of us expected.  Or at least more than I expected.  Unfortunately they don’t allow photography inside, so all you get is a couple pictures of the outside my description.

The interior was awesome — totally packed with tombs and memorials to the royalty of England, as well as some other famous personages.  Each marker was beautiful in its own right, and they were really packed in.  There was barely enough room to walk the tourist path through the place.  But more than just beautiful sculpture, there was a very cool sense of a mixture of history and utility.  This wasn’t just a tourist site, this was a working church.  What really hit this home for me was when we got to poet’s corner, and encountered the Tennyson Society performing a little memorial due to its being the anniversary of his death.  I stayed for the whole thing, and really enjoyed just standing there in Westminster listening to a woman recite some of his poetry.  It was really awesome.

After that, we headed on over to St. Paul’s, but after poking our heads inside decided it was not worth the cost of entry just to see the view from the top.  We wanted to move on, so we crossed the millennium bridge and walked over to Shakespeare’s Globe theater, which sadly was closed.  Finally, we decided to just cut our losses and go check out Harrod’s before returning to the hotel for the evening.  I’ll save the Harrod’s pictures for another post.  For now, enjoy Westminster, St. Paul’s, and a few other sites along the way:

British Museum

dsc_0045It’s hard to think of the day we visited the British Museum as the second day of our trip, I keep thinking it was the first.  Probably because the day we left pretty much ran right into our first day there, like one long 40+ hour day.  Anyway, it was kind of rainy on our first real day in London and we decided to visit the British Museum.  I found it much like any other museum really.  I gravitated towards the Medieval Europe section, both because that’s always my favorite part, but also I hoped this being London there would be an especially large collection to be seen.

While that wasn’t actually so, I did find one thing that really interested me: hoards.  There were several displays of “hoards” found buried in some farmer’s field, usually by a local guy with a metal detector, consisting of a lot of coins and often pieces of jewelry.  Of course, this strikes me as right out of a D&D treasure table, but I also found myself wondering why on earth someone would bury a large collection of money like this, and then forget all about it.  The only thing I could think of was that perhaps it was done during a time of conflict.  I could imagine some rich merchant on seeing his town attacked by invaders (I imagined Vikings) burying his money in some remote location in hopes they wouldn’t find it, and then getting himself killed trying to flee the area.  Then it sits there for hundreds of years until some 20th century fellow with his metal detector digs it up.  Of course, this immediately draws my imagination to how to incorporate these ideas into D&D.  I think I could feel much more justified hiding random caches of treasure in my game if I can come up with back-stories like this.

Another interesting fact I discovered: ancient coins are much smaller than I always imagine them.  This is probably because of D&D encumbrance rules always telling me that 10 coins weight 1 pound.  A coin that weighs 1/10 of a pound must be pretty heavy indeed!  In fact, on this trip I discovered an interesting fact: originally 240 silver pennies weighed one pound, which is why the English currency is in fact called a “pound”.  In the old system there were 12 pennies to the schilling, and 20 schillings to the pound, thus 240 pennies to the pound.  Anyway, this has got me thinking that I should probably change this rule in my home campaign.  Perhaps I’ll make it 100 coins to the pound, just to keep the math easy.

The last bit of gaming inspiration I found was a pair of gates from ancient Assyria.  They’re enormous and really cool looking, and also there was a convenient map of the place they were found.  A map that just begs to be numbered and stocked.  I’m sure I’ll transcribe that to graph paper eventually.

Speaking of ancient Assyria and gaming, the last thing that really caught my eye was a huge set of stone gates.  It wasn’t the gates themselves though, I didn’t even take a picture of that, it was what was scratched onto one of the two foot high edges — a board game.  Apparently it’s a Royal Game of Ur board probably scratched by some bored palace guards assigned to watch the gate.  It’s just too bad that the rules of the game are lost to time, I’d live to try and play it.

Anyway, that was our trip to the British Museum.  And somehow, I’ve managed to make most of this post all about gaming.  Anyway, here are the photos.  Enjoy.

And We’re Back

Well, it turns out only once during our trip to England did I have both the internet access and enough free time to post.  Still, that’s better than none, right?  Now I’m fishing through over 500 photos I took, doing laundry, buying groceries, and taking care of all the other things involved with settling back in after an extended international trip.  Oh yeah, it was awesome.

I’ll be posting a lot of those photos in the future.  This will probably bring the focus of this blog away from gaming for a little while, though you can certainly bet there will be a few places I found in England that were pretty inspiration for my game.  I’m already contemplating how best to convert my map of Skipton Castle into something that works on graph paper.

100_0110Anyway, all the pictures previously posted were from a bus tour of London we took immediately after arriving.  With only 2 hours of sleep (we had super tail wind that shortened the flight to just 5 hours) and being there far to early to check into our hotel, sitting on a bus as it cruised through the city was about all the energy we could muster.  I don’t have much to say about those photos, they’re pretty self explanatory.  The one picture of the house with the dog shaped shrubbery is apparently where J.K. Rowling lives.

I noticed these two pictures sneaked into that group of photos when I posted them.  This was the very first shop we discovered after leaving our hotel and going out to explore London.  Apparently you just can’t escape the USA.  It was pretty funny to see what they had on their shelves that was uniquely American.  Apparently we’re all about the PB&J and Fluff sandwiches.  There was another shelf full of sodas apparently that I missed.

100_0111Well, like I said, there will be more exciting photos to come.  Now though, with no groceries in the house, I really have to get out and find some breakfast.  I’m actually really looking forward to a big hearty American breakfast.  This is apparently not something the British are really into, and breakfast for us over there was pretty consistently dry toast, pastry, and coffee.  At least the coffee was easier to find than expected, thank goodness for all the French cafes that have invaded England.

But I’m rambling, and rumbling.  More later.