Monday, June 8, 2020

Maps, Part IX

So, in the category of catching up on items long-neglected - I used to post my alternate history map work pretty frequently, but the last time I did so was in... 2013? I'm not as involved with this as I used to be, but I still have a few tucked away from over the past seven years. As a reminder, these are all works of fiction!

Mansa Abubakari II of Mali (known as Manden in this world) manages to put his nautical interests to better use by sending expeditions up the coast of Africa instead of sailing off the edge of the world and never coming back. Under his successors, Manden merchants establish further trade links with North Africa, both by sea and across the Sahara. This strengthens the Genoese trading empire relative to OTL, as they happen to be the next link in that chain, but an analogue to the War of Chioggia leaves Genoa as the lesser partner in a Manden-Genoese alliance against the Ottomans and the Castilians. Meanwhile, Manden consolidates its hold over the western Sahel and the small states to its south. As the year 1500 dawns, a certain Genoese explorer has arrived in Niani to petition the Mansa for funds for an expedition to the west, hoping to find a new route to the Orient beyond Ottoman control...

"Between the Bay and the Lakes: The Rise of the Susquehannock Confederacy"
From North American Military History Gazette, vol. 32, December 2008

"The rise of the Susquehannocks as a regional power was linked to their acquisition of European firearms, first from the Swedes in their short-lived colony in present-day New Jersey, and later from the Dutch. By taking advantage of this new technology, they were able to subdue their Delaware neighbors and fend off the colonial powers—when Maryland declared war on the Susquehannocks in the 1640’s, they were defeated by the natives and their Swedish allies…

"As the century progressed, the Susquehannocks were pushed into conflict with the Five Nations Confederacy, then the preeminent native power. The Five Nations were likewise equipped with European firearms, acquired through the fur trade. These had allowed them to subdue many of the neighboring tribes and thus expand their hunting grounds—the furs from which could then be traded to fuel further conquests. But crashing beaver populations forced them to venture ever further afield, and brought the Five Nations into conflict with tribes as far away as the Ohio Valley. In 1660, they turned their attention to the Susquehannock.

"The colony of Maryland had watched the Five Nations expansion with alarm, and in 1661 they made an alliance with their former foes the Susquehannocks, hoping that they would provide a buffer against the fierce northern tribes. This policy was a success—a northern invasion was beaten off in 1663, and two of the Five Nations, the Seneca and the Cayuga, were dealt major defeats in 1666. The war dragged on for several years more, as artillery supplied by their Maryland gave the Susquehannocks and edge over the Five Nations. By 1674, the tide had turned, and the Five Nations were clearly on the defensive. Some among the Maryland government suggested negotiating a peace, but others were in favor of continuing the war and ending the Five Nations threat permanently.*

"In the end, after negotiation with the Susquehannock chiefs, the war faction won out—in exchange for exclusive trading rights, the Marylanders would continue their support. In 1680, a peace was finally signed, stripping the Five Nations of their conquests over the previous decades. Indeed, they would be five nations no more—the remnants of the Seneca, Cayuga, and many of the Onondaga would be incorporated into a new Susquehannock Confederacy. The remaining nations would become clients of the French, who called them the Iroquois…

"Many of of the Five Nations’ former tributaries transferred their loyalty to the Susquehannocks as well, and so by 1680, the Susquehannock Confederacy stretched from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes…"

*This is the POD: in our timeline, Maryland made peace, and in fact turned on their former allies, massacring their leadership…


Three and a half billion years in the future, a matrioshka brain is running a simulation of the rise of one of its creator species, when a minor error causes a hyperspherical cross-section of the simulated world to be temporally transposed by 2^10 cycles...

2017. At first they thought it was a summer thunderstorm. The first thing everyone noticed was a great booming sound, like a clap of thunder but larger, as two masses of air at different temperatures and pressures were suddenly brought in contact with each other. Those who were outdoors could see a strange roiling in the sky, as clouds formed, joined, or dissipated. One or two people near the boundaries of the sphere saw features seem to vanish in an instant - trees, roads, telephone wires. Later, they were able to trace the boundaries of "The Zone" by finding objects which had been bisected by the transposition. Staff and campers at Box Canyon Ranch noticed as the power went out. But it was several days before anyone grasped the truth - that their little circle of northern New Mexico had been thrown back in time.

Once this hypothesis had been reached, a party from Box Canyon Ranch set out within a few days, following the Chama River down to the Rio Grande, then heading up into the hills where Santa Fe should be, to determine if it might be possible to make contact with American or even Spanish colonial authorities. They found nothing. A second party set out a few days later, headed west...

993. The strangers had come down from the high country to the east, Qoyanomtiwa's scouts had reported, though they did not dress like easterners. They were oddly pale, and most curious of all, some were being carried by elk without horns. No one seemed to have guided them, but somehow they had found their way to the Great House. Qoyanomtiwa pondered this, and at last he shrugged. "Let us go and meet these strangers," he said. "Maybe they are Pahana, maybe not. We shall put them to the test, and if they fail, we shall treat with them as with any other men or women."

2017. "It's not much like how I remember it," Rick said. "It's bigger, but smaller at the same time." It didn't even look much like the reconstruction in the National Geographic they'd found in the library--most of Chaco Canyon didn't seem to have been built yet. But there was Pueblo Bonito, sure enough, and not just the ruins Rick had visited last fall - the stone walls stood several stories high, and right now they seemed to be bustling with people.

"Look," said Carla. "Someone's coming out." Indeed, a group of several people was emerging from a doorway, though only one seemed to be carrying a weapon.

"Alright, let's not get any closer. Wait here for them."

993. Qoyanomtiwa surveyed the strangers. There were five of them, but the scouts were correct - each of them seemed to be seated on an elk of some sort. As he watched, the strangers climbed down off these elk, and stood. They did not seem to be carrying spears or other weapons that he could see, though who knew what powers they might have if they could command these beasts?

"Lomankwa, tell them to come no closer," he said to the shaman.

2017. Rick watched as one of the delegation drew out a small pouch of white powder, and sprinkled it in a line on the ground. "Let's leave the gifts here and back off a bit," he said, watching the shaman's gestures. Carla nodded, deposited the "gift package" they'd assembled at the Ranch, and stepped back a few paces.

993. "I think they might be offering a trade," said Macatoiniwa. "Remember the men from the south, five years ago, who brought the green birds and the shells?"

"Yes, I remember," Qoyanomtiwa replied. "In that case, let's see what they have to offer." They advanced to where the strangers had laid their bundle. A square of fine red cloth, wide as his arm, lay on the ground. On it were knives that glinted like the sun on water, plates and dishes with strange intricate designs, several garments of white cloth, jewelry of silver and turquoise, and a pile of shining disks the size of his hand. "These seem like fine goods," he said to Macatoiniwa. "Let's see if we can come to an arrangement..."

By the time the error was noticed, milliseconds later, several dozen processing cycles had passed. A new hybrid culture was blossoming across the affected area, as the ancestral Puebloans adopted and assimilated these strange newcomers. The area had already been headed for an era of rapid growth and development due to favorable climate conditions, but the new crops and livestock seemed likely to extend it further and faster. Already, trade networks were forming, east to the Mississippi Valley and south into Mexico.

A quorum was called to determine whether to end the counterfactual scenario or to let it continue...


Snipped from a copy of The Economist in a nearby timeline:


Paratemporal Institute Report

Despite Dr. Saunders' initial reaction, we do not believe that Artifact QM-176002a indicates an alternate geography on timeline Aleph-8644. Further evidence suggests that this timeline featured an Anglo-Saxon kingdom or state surviving into the 17th century or beyond, and taking part in an equivalent to the Age of Exploration. It is probable that the cartographer attempted to collate reports from multiple expeditions, suggested by the variety of dates given at points around the map. The inaccuracies most likely result from imperfect or incomplete information.




The Ann Arbor Anomaly is best described a portal leading to central North America during the early Cenomanian Age of the Cretaceous, approximately 100 million years ago. The portal is perfectly circular, usually around four feet in diameter, and is only visible and accessible from one side. The size of the portal fluctuates; when first observed it was only a few inches across, then expanded to approximately its present size over the course of three days. Since then it has varied between three and six feet in diameter, with no discernable pattern to the changes.


As the name suggests, the Anomaly is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it seems to have appeared in a park on the night of November 12, 2019. It was discovered the next morning by Aidan McKinney, who was walking his dog in the park when he noticed a plume of vapor condensing out of what seemed to be a small hole in the air. Mr. McKinney notified some friends of his, who briefly ventured through to the other side. There they found a humid jungle environment with unfamiliar fauna, including some unmistakable dinosaurs. The group attempted to notify the authorities, but were initially disregarded until photographic and video evidence was provided and independent confirmation from other sources was received. A variety of experts from the nearby University of Michigan then took over the scene until federal authorities arrived to secure the anomaly.


In the two years since the appearance of the Anomaly, a number of expeditions have gone through to the far side, and a substantial facility has grown up on both sides of the portal. The main bottleneck has been the limited size of the portal, making it difficult to transport large equipment. Outside the facility on the far side, there are four zones:

Zone 1 is the immediate area around the anomaly, which has been thoroughly explored and mapped. Most of this zone is a humid rainforest, part of the drainage basin of the Cope River, which runs west to the Mowry Sea.

Zone 2 stretches about as far as the shores of the Atlantic and the Mowry. Most of this has been mapped by solar-powered drones, so major land features are known. Some manned expeditions have taken place, mostly cataloging the flora and fauna.

Zone 3 has been cursorily explored by the newest long-range drones, mostly mapping the shorelines as part of the effort to date the far side by comparing landmasses to geologic data.

Zone 4 is anything not yet surveyed; landforms in this region are based on geological conjecture only.


The cause of the anomaly is unknown. A popular theory is that the anomaly was somehow caused by the GLC particle accelerator in Japan, which had gone into operation only a few days previously. However, so far there is no evidence to support this, and activity at the GLC does not seem to correlate with observable behavior of the portal. The portal emits a unique radiation signature when contracting or expanding; based on this signature, physicists have detected two other possible anomalies (one in New Mexico and one in California), but both have been microscopic in scale and lasted only a few seconds.

There is also an ongoing debate over whether the far side is our direct past, or some type of alternate timeline. Efforts to plant an object on the far side that could be retrieved in the present have so far been unsuccessful.

The exact date on the far side is still being narrowed down based on astronomical and geological data. The current estimate, based on some new bathymetric survey data from the Mowry Sea, is 99.7 ± 0.3 million years before present.


In the late sixth century, invading Angles had carved out two kingdoms along the coast of northern Britain - Bernicia in the north and Deira in the south. Around 593, a man named Æthelfrith became king of Bernicia, and began pushing inland more vigorously, particularly against the Brythonic kingdoms of Rheged and Gododdin. In 599, he married a daughter of king Ælla of Deira, sealing an alliance between the two Anglian kingdoms. In response, Mynyddog of Gododdin began building an alliance among the fractious Brythonic kingdoms, gathering warriors from among them and eventually launching a preemptive strike against Æthelfrith at Catraeth in 600. In our world, this effort failed, and Æthelfrith would go on to smash the Britons and take direct control of Deira. The combined kingdom would eventually come to be known as Northumbria.

In this world, things go a little differently - Æthelfrith is killed at Catraeth, and the Anglian alliance falls apart. There is infighting among the Bernicians, and the Britons are able to regain much of the lost territory, while Deira takes over some of the south. The prestige of the victory allows Gododdin to become the paramount kingdom among the northern Britons under Mynyddog and his successors. Now, twenty years after Æthelfrith's death, the Britons face two threats - Edwin of Deira, who has ties to the southern kingdom of Mercia, and wily old Áedán mac Gabráin, of the Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada, who has lately made common cause with the Pictish tribes of the north.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hypothetical Hordes: Uprooted

This past weekend, I finished reading Naomi Novik's Uprooted, about a girl who is taken from her village by the wizard who rules her valley. A large part of the story is the ongoing conflict between the protagonists' homeland and a mysterious and insidious magical forest known as the Wood, which the wizard is guarding against. As I got to the end of the book, I found myself pondering the mix of forces on both sides. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to revive an occasional feature of this blog, where I take a look at building Hordes of the Things armies based on a particular book or other work of fiction.

The main setting of the story, Polnya seems to control a fair amount of territory besides the valley that contains The Wood. It has a significant border with its rival Rosya, which also borders on The Wood. (In fact, as the story goes on, it becomes apparent that the Wood is stoking the rivalry between the two nations for its own purposes.) The two countries have a bit more of an Eastern European flair than your typical fairy-tale fantasy countries. As the name suggests, Polnya seems based on Poland - it even has an monarch that seems to be elected (or at least acclaimed) by the 'Magnati' nobility, where as Rosya is presumably Russian. Cannons make an appearance, but I don't recall any references to personal firearms, so a 15th or 16th-century level of technology seems appropriate. A Polnyan army could include:

  • A Hero General (Prince Marek) or a Knight General (if led by his more sensible brother Prince Sigmund)
  • A Magician (one or more of the court wizards like the Dragon or the Falcon.)
  • A Cleric (Either a priest with holy relics, or Agnieszka, whose magic seems to be notably different from that of the court wizards.)
  • Artillery (Early cannon, but firing enchanted cannonballs.)
  • Knights and/or Riders (Heavy or light Polish-style cavalry, though there's no mention of anything like the famous winged hussars.)
  • Spears (Infantry armed with pikes.)
  • Blades (Infantry armed with axes for venturing into the Wood.)
  • Hordes (Peasants with torches and agricultural implements.)
The stronghold could either be the Dragon's mysterious tower on the edge of the Wood (remnant of an earlier Lost Age) or a Eastern European city wall and gate. A Rosyan army would probably be quite similar, though we learn very little about the personalities on the other side of the border.

The Wood had lain dormant in its valley for a very long time, ever since it destroyed a previous civilization, of which the Dragon's tower seems to be the last remnant. At some point, the ancestors of the Polnyans and Rosyans moved into the valley, and the Wood awoke again, its hatred for humanity as strong as ever. Fire and salt can hold it at bay, and powerful magic can drive it back for a little while, but the Wood is always growing, always encroaching on the settled lands. Weird creatures and strange, twisted animals live in the Wood, but the greatest threat is corruption - contact with any part of the Wood, even the drifting clouds of pollen, can turn a person into its tool. Forces of the Wood might include:
  • A Magician General (The Wood-queen - a humanoid figure covered in bark and leaves.)
  • Behemoths (Large magical creatures like chimeras or hydras.)
  • Beasts (Corrupted animals such as wolves or cattle.)
  • Warbands (Stick-like Walkers, who snatch the unwary and carry them into the Wood.)
  • Knights or Blades (Giant silvery mantises that guard the heart-trees.)
  • Hordes (Humans in an early stage of corruption.)
  • Lurkers (Grasping tree branches, brambles, pit traps, sudden betrayals by fellow soldiers who have let their guard down - the Wood is full of dangers.)
  • Any of the Polnyan elements, being used as pawns of the Wood.
The stronghold could be a heart-tree with silver bark and sickeningly sweet golden fruit, either deep in the Wood or planted in an abandoned village.

If you wanted to make the game more of a challenge for the Polnyans, you could also develop some scenario-specific rules. If the Wood is the defender, much of the table should be bad going - it is a forest, after all, and those Lurkers need somewhere to deploy. It might also be appropriate for the Wood not to have a General - the Wood-queen doesn't really show up in physical form until near the end of the story. And finally, it might be interesting to have the Wood take control of elements that are attacking it - either by letting it deploy Polnyan elements that were destroyed in combat, or perhaps (more insidiously) ones that merely came in contact with elements of the Wood's.

All in all, these armies would be much more feasible than some of my previous Hypothetical Hordes musings. There are plenty of historical figures who could be used for the Polnyans, and various animals and plant-creatures are available for the Wood. I'm almost tempted to see what I could podge together from what I have on hand already...

Monday, May 11, 2020

A fantastical interlude

As mentioned in my last post, after a couple months of pushing hard on the Bronze Age I was ready for a change of pace. Most of my (unchronicled) miniatures work in the past couple of years has been on Reaper Bones 28mm fantasy figures - some for a couple of Ghost Archipelago campaigns that were going on in our club, but also with the longterm goal of building up a pool of figures for D&D or other skirmish or roleplaying games. I still had several sitting around primed and ready to go, so I switched over to that for a while.

First up were some orcs - I've been doing these in a medium gray, as I wanted to avoid human flesh tones and also distinguish them from my 20mm orcs, who are green. I had three already, and I added three more this go-round - one with a spear, one with two swords, and one axe-wielding orc who appears to be left-handed.

Next up was Alahazra, Iconic Oracle, who could be either a D&D character or a Wave or Wind Warden for a future Ghost Archipelago campaign.

After that, I finally took care of a Cave Bear that had been languishing on my desk for a while. This ended up being pretty quick once I finally buckled down to paint it - almost all dry-brushing.

Finally, I painted up a Bones version of Aletheia Edair, Duelist, which I guess must have come from the most recent Kickstarter. It looked to me like she was wearing a slashed doublet under her armor, so I decided to go with a colorful, vaguely Renaissance theme.

Having had a nice break, it'll be back to my fourth Bronze Age DBA army - the infamous and enigmatic Sea Peoples...

Monday, April 20, 2020

More Bronze Age DBA

As mentioned in my previous post, I've been working on some DBA-compliant armies for the late Bronze Age, one of my favorite historical periods. Last month it was the Egyptians; this month I've been working on a mutual opponent for them and the Hittites: "I/20b Syro-Canaanites." This list lumps together pretty much everyone who was living in present-day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel - light chariots backed up by kind of mediocre infantry. Honestly, they are probably the least exciting of the four armies I have planned, but a necessary piece of the historical puzzle.

Like the Hittites, I had some of these painted already; in fact, the chariots are ones I have had for years, rebased onto 60x80mm bases. Readers with sharp eyes may recognize them from previous battle reports. However, I added some chariot runners (converted from trusty old Airfix Robin Hood figures) to help fill out the bases. The shields on these guys were probably the most fun part of this army - the multicolored checker patterns are based on some depictions from a chest found among King Tut's grave goods (where naturally they are shown being trampled under his chariot).

The army arrayed for battle

From the commander's perspective

The general in his light chariot

Three more light chariots (Caesar Mariyannu Chariots with converted Robin Hood chariot runner)

The "royal guard" - DBA gives the option of a "fast" Blade (3Bd) or "solid" Bow (4Bw) unit - I did both with spares from the Mariyannu chariots.

Some light infantry (3Ax) - these guys are from Caesar's Early Arabs/Bedouin set.

More infantry - DBA gives the option of deploying these as 3Ax or a massed Horde (7Hd). The hordes I had already; the light infantry are new. These are mostly more Airfix Robin Hood conversions, though a couple of Caesar Hebrews were also enlisted.

Skirmishers with bows (Ps)

And skirmishers with javelins (Ps)

The current scope of this project calls for one more army - the Sea Peoples (I/28). I have the figures for them all set aside now, but I may take a break from the Bronze Age for a little while to clear some other items from my painting queue.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Back to the Bronze Age with DBA

Turning the clock back to December for a moment, my dad gave me a copy of the DBA 3.0 rules for Christmas this past year. There's something deeply enthralling about all those army lists in the back, offering such a wide range of possible options for match-ups across history. Well, the one I kept coming back to was the late Bronze Age. I/22b New Kingdom Egyptians vs. I/24b Later Hittite Empire vs. I/20 Syro-Canaanites vs. I/28 Sea Peoples makes for a nice set of armies that are all historical opponents for each other. And I already have some of the figures, right?

Well... yes and no. I do have quite a lot of Hittites already painted, but my existing troops didn't exactly line up with the DBA unit types. And besides, I painted them some years ago, and my painting skills have improved in the meantime. And it would be nice to have some chariot runners to help fill out the larger DBA-standard chariot bases. And, you know, I still have plenty of spare figures left over...

So to make a long story short, I spent January and into February painting an entire new army of Hittites!

The whole army arrayed

Hittite general in heavy chariot

A second heavy chariot (HCh)

Two light chariots (LCh)

Four Hittite infantry (3Pk)

Two light infantry (3Ax)

Two skirmishers (Ps)

After that, I started on some Egyptians of my own, so that I wouldn't have to be reliant on borrowing my dad's troops. After getting a few supply chain issues sorted out, these are now finished as well!

Egyptian army: front view

Egyptian army: rear view

Egyptian general in light chariot

Three more light chariots (LCh)

Three Egyptian infantry (4Bd)

Two Egyptian archers (4Bw)

Sherden guards (3/4Bd)

Libyan warriors (3Wb)

Nubian skirmishers (Ps)

Alas, while other people may have more time for painting while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing, my painting desk has been converted into a temporary home office. So the next stage (infantry for the Syro-Canaanites and rebasing their chariots onto DBA-standard bases) may take a little longer than anticipated...