Posts Tagged ‘spelunking

04
Jul
10

Historical Accuracy Demands A Cave Beneath Your Castle With a Brothel & Caveman Ghosts

Cave below Wawel Castle

I just visited Krakow, Poland, where I had the pleasure of meeting with some local RPG gamers who deserve a post of their own. This one, however, is about a cave they urged me to visit, called the Dragon’s Den. Here are some of the many awesome things about it:

  • It is directly under the early 16th-century Wawel Castle – we entered the cave by descending a very narrow spiral staircase on top of the castle hill.
  • Legend has it that the cave used to contain a dragon,  Smok Wawelski, who defeated many great warriors before being brought low by an adventurer (with the cobbler background skill) named Skuba Dratewka, who fed it a sheep stuffed with sulfur.
  • It used to contain a brothel. The fact that the denizens of the royal palace could nip down the hill to a house of ill repute may have something to do with the fact that at one point 25% of people in Krakow had noble blood (according to these Polish gamers at least).
  • The part we walked through is just one part of a larger complex, which was discovered in 1974:

The left arrow is the cave mouth; the right is the spiral staircase

  • The part of the cave you can’t go into contains an honest-to-God troglobyte, a rare crustacean from the Tertiary
  • The signs in the cave suggest that people were living there in the Stone Age; although the Wiki translation of this page seems to say the oldest traces of man found there date back to the end of the 16th century, people were certainly living on the hill above the cave in the paleolithic era.

I believe this is the side tunnel - certainly I didn't get to go into anything like this.

Moral of this story: more historical accuracy = more dragons kicked out of their caves to make way for whorehouses conveniently located to castles.

06
Dec
09

Expedition to the Upper East Side

don't make fun of this guy's nose

Honda Tadakatsu, 17th C.

Dig it: from now through January 10, 2010 the Metropolitan Museum of Art is running an exhibit on the arms and armor of the samurai from the Heian through the Edo Period–basically, seven centuries of katanas, o-yoroi, kabutos, and all those other crazy things we ogled in the centerfold of Cook’s Oriental Adventures.  If you’re in New York, or planning to visit for the holidays, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

We hit the place this afternoon, but because one of our traveling companions was a bored little kid, we didn’t get to see as much as I might like.  Since the items on display change every week, I’m going to organize a Red Boxer expedition sometime soon.

There is some genuinely cool stuff there, including a video of the forging of the sword-blades.  This included a guy whose family has been sword-polishers for fourteen generations.  The method seems to involve a series of stones, decreasing in size until you’re polishing the thing with grains of dust.  Also, during the forging, the swordsmiths placed types of clay onto the molten steel, creating patterns of discoloration that could only be seen when the sword was perfectly polished: basically, a kind of invisible ink type of deal.  There are zillions of sword blades on display, to the point I got bored looking at them, but they also have naginata (glaive) and yari (spear) blades as well, and several suits of incredibly cool armor which surely was too fantastical to ever be used in battle.

Treasure’s one of those things that everyone loves in Dungeons & Dragons, but frankly all I usually care about is its value in gold: the idea of appreciating this stuff for its own sake, or marveling at it, is completely foreign to me.  “Emeralds?  Uh, okay.  I rush straight into town and find the emerald guy.  What’s he give me for it?”  As Ben “Mr. West Marches” Robbins mentions, players will actually listen to exposition when it’s described through treasure.  But also, players will appreciate fancy descriptions of art, if it’s art that can be used to kill dudes.  Collecting the life’s work of a particular swordsmith could be a pretty neat quest, especially if the stuff is forged so well that it’s practically magical.

does this helmet make me look like a bug is pooping on my head?

Kabuto with mantis crest, 17 C.

As an example of ridiculous art objects which definitely say something about the setting they’re embedded in, here’s a helmet where, for some reason, the guy wanted a gilt praying mantis on his forehead.  In person, it looks freaky as hell and also completely ridiculous.  If you poked him in the forehead he’d fall over and never be able to get back up.  The mantis’s body is made from wood, the wings are papier-mache, and both are coated in a fine layer of gold.

The Met, of course, also has a couple centuries of European arms and armor too, along with just about every single pole-arm Gygax ever fetishized, so you can do a compare-and-contrast.  (Does anyone else think it’s weird that you’re in a museum, looking at Fine Art after Fine Art, and then suddenly there’s this room full of Full Plate?)  And also, recreations of ancient Egyptian temples, as well as zillions of works of art from Medieval Europe.  (There probably ought to be more religious-themed art objects in D&D – it seems like for about a thousand years the only works of art Europeans knew how to produce were pieces of Jesus fan-fic – and in a game like Tavis’s explorations into the Caverns of Thracia, we ought to be tripping over generations of religious iconography, all of which will be mined for expository information and fitted into Maldoor’s database.)  But until then, here’s a sword:

I too would get married if this was my wedding gift

short sword, swordsmith Yoshimochi, 17 C.

11
Oct
09

Announcing the Adventure Cartography Society

Yesterday I visited Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Church in hopes of not getting shot when I came back that evening to flash a laser rangefinder over their property, write things down, and gesture excitedly to my male associates. Before approaching their building & security staff to prepare them for that particular encounter, I realized I needed a better explanation for my motivation other than “my friends and I are Dungeons & Dragons fans, and we want to see for ourselves what it’s like to map and fool around in a 300-foot-high mausoleum and a faux-medieval cathedral!”

Thus, like all great D&D schemes, the Adventure Cartography Society was born of the adventurer’s desire to flim-flam one’s way deeper into the dungeon. Joining is easy! Here are the precepts of the ACS:

Goal: We of the Adventure Cartography Society seek to improve our understanding of time, space, and the range of human and animal performance by measuring and mapping familiar spaces and using them to test our assumptions about what’s possible.

Methodology: In the spirit of international cooperation, all publications of the Adventure Cartography Society should provide measurements in both the metric and Imperial systems. Members are also encouraged to provide data in all other measurement systems that were used in the creation of the map or are useful to its interpretation.

Ethics: All publications of the Amateur Cartography Society belong to its members. When we publish under the aegis of the Society, we agree that anyone may use and share our data. The ACS strongly supports citation of authorship, and will work to ensure that members are properly credited for their work.

What We Do: Members propose experiments and share results!

Tavis’s First Experiment: Make a map of the area between your living space and your front door. Graph or hex paper is recommended, with each square/hex being approximately one or two of your body-lengths. Experiment with what you and other people and animals can do in this space over the durations of one second, six seconds, one minute, and ten minutes.

Results of my own D&D-inspired results from this experiment coming soon!

This post is a publication of the Adventure Cartography Society, and should be credited to Tavis Allison using the URL: http://wp.me/pEkb0-1v




Past Adventures of the Mule

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