Internet meetings have wiped me out. Face-to-face meetings are taxing enough, but browser-to-browser meetings have become astronomically more fatiguing. Intermittent audio problems, faulty echo-cancellation processing, and speakers constantly stepping on each other so that both pause and wait to start anew combine to create an historically unparalleled headache. My fourth straight day of e-meetings and my head pulsates and wobbles like a swollen bag of puss. Lovely image. Listen to me bitch.
But as much as I hate electronic meetings, I love electronic drawing programs and copyright free material. Take Inkscape, for example, and combine that with Wikimedia Commons and voilà, between meetings I’ve created a rough map of the Baltic Campaign.
I’d been looking at maps of the Baltic coast, the starting point of the 13th century Northern Crusade, and thought that I’d focus on that area alone. But reading more of the mystic fellowships of Dark Ages: Mage, I noted that the three pagan factions are all located around the Baltic Sea. Livonia, Lithuania, and Estonia keep practitioners of the Old Faith, Finland has its share of Spirit-Talkers, and the dreaded Valdaermen are found in pagan pockets of an otherwise Christian Kingdom of Sweden. What if I shifted my gaze from the rocky shores of Livonia to the gray waves of the Baltic Sea? Suddenly the campaign isn’t about surviving the imminent Saxon invasion, but interacting with the various cultures, people, and religions that surround the sea.
At the same time, I’ve picked up a copy of The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia (U of Wisconsin P, 1961), which records the yearly events of the Saxon crusade, starting a few years before the beginning of the thirteenth century. If I was running an Ars Magica saga here (I’m not), this would be an invaluable resource, since it ticks off events as the years go by, and lends itself nicely to a saga that passes a year between sessions of actual play. But if I don’t want to focus on the crusade, how is a boot about that very crusade useful? Besides detailing Bishop Albert von Buxhovden’s empire building schemes, Henry tells us about the other players on the field; the Russian princes and their Greek Orthodox priests who didn’t impose Christianity on the pagan natives, the German merchants, forerunners of the Hanseatic League, who strove to keep the trade routes open despite religious differences, and the Danes and the Swedes, who took their personal differences out on each other as both tried to stake a claim for their kingdoms. The potential sources of conflict are endless.
Nor is it black and white, as I’d previously hoped. In one episode, the group of pagan Livonians capture a German priest because his crops are growing better than theirs. They plan to offer him in sacrifice to the gods, providing of course that they want him. Bound naked to a stake, the leader thrusts a lance point first into the ground, while the local shaman leads an unbridled, unsaddled horse forward. If the horse paws the lance with his right foot, it signifies that the gods want blood and the priest is slain. If, however, the horse paws the lance with its left foot, it means the gods do not want the priest’s life and he is freed. The story has a fantastic conclusion, which I might post tomorrow, but think of the opportunities for a story for our newly-created Old Faith character. Does he influence the horse’s decision? Does he argue with another pagan shaman over the proper rites? The villager’s field has been flooded, and it’s no surprise that the priest’s field prospers. Does the character point that out? The priest, who has been living outside the village for longer than the current bishop – the campaign’s obvious bad guy – has a history of helping the villagers. Does the player character save him?