King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Monday, September 28, 2009

First Despatch from Syldavia!


Welcome to Despatches From Syldavia! Will you join me for a Plate of Szlaszeck and a Glass of Szprädj?

This blog relates the infamous history and dubious future goings-on of my own Imagi-nations wargames campaign involving an un-historical milieu of fictitious mid 18th century nations set in southeastern Europe. I’ll keep the blog updated with reports when I have made progress in my project and when I have something (one hopes) moderately interesting to say. Life is quite busy, however, so I am afraid that my postings will probably come at an irregular pace.

My project represents my return to the wargaming world after several years of inactivity, during which time I finished my PhD, landed a real job, got married and started a family. Now, with all that done (or is it because sleep is in short supply?), the desire to start painting and gaming projects came back to life. I started to build a SYW army and while doing some research on the WWW, I accidentally stumbled upon EvE and a number of other excellent sites and was inspired by the vision, humour, and exuberance of the Imagi-nations projects I found. For someone who has mostly been a solo wargamer, the idea of a community is a refreshing idea. I scrapped my plans for plain old Austrians vs. Prussians to make my own Imagi-nation offering. My hope is that something fresh and fun will come of all this, and that I can humbly add a little to the energy issuing from EvE and its contributors.

This campaign is focussed on Syldavia and its arch-nemesis Borduria, two countries derived from one of Hergé's Tintin stories, “King Ottokar’s Sceptre”. This was a book I read as a child and which fired my imagination for castles and toy soldiers immediately and for years afterwards. It also anticipates the Imagi-nations idea. Tintin’s adventure begins with his stepping, unknowingly, into the midst of a plot to overthrow the monarchy of a small, obscure and conservative country. Ever the boy scout, Tintin foils the plotters who sought to create a crisis of confidence in the King and then annex Syldavia to Borduria, a neighbouring state ruled by a modernist, totalitarian (Fascist? Stalinist?) regime. The story is full of intrigue and twists and has a beguiling and plausible faux-historical and geographical setting, most of which could translate readily to the 18th century. Upon re-reading the story, it seems to me that Hergé was preoccupied with the struggle between modernity and tradition in the 20th century and places this conflict on the stage of WWII Europe. His opinions are obvious; tradition is mostly innocent and authentic while the modern is frequently monstrous and hypocritical. My own reading of history suggests that this dynamic was very much in play in the 18th century and it is something I hope to incorporate into my project as well.

The goal of this project is to imagine the 18th century antecedents of these two countries and to use these to animate a wargames campaign. I’ll have to lift some of the story’s elements and replace them in the 18th century but a large part will have to be invented anew. My Syldavia will be a bit nastier than that of Hergé (inevitably!) and Borduria might be a little more sympathetic.


A Preliminary Sketch of Syldavia

Hergé’s book is tremendously evocative (one does not need to look hard to see references to the story here and there on the WWW), but it is also a very simplistic and economical comic-book story. He really did little more than sketch out Syldavia and Borduria as two-dimensional cartoons of states with geography, culture and dialect so vague they could be placed anywhere and nowhere in the Balkans. Syldavia seems to be largely a dry and mountainous place with some fertile interior alleys and plains; it has pine forests and some coastline. Its history and culture seems to be derived from a mix of European and Turkish influences; the people speak a slavic-germanic language that is written in a Cyrillic script. There is a Christian state religion and Moslem minarets vie with simple peasant houses with plastered walls and red-tile roofs. Military dress is european but common folk wear what I would have to call a stereotype “Albanian” dress complete with brightly coloured vests and fez. It has proved to be a real challenge to put them on a real-world map and to accommodate the boundaries of pre-existing EvE states. Needing an answer, I decided to superimpose Syldavia more or less over the footprint of modern-day Montenegro, which seems to fit the geographical setting I have in my mind’s eye. In EvE terms, this would place Syldavia to the south of Cavenderia and north of Morea. I chose the western coast of the Balkans, in part, to remain closer to the active and crowded Italy-Austria corridor.

For the purposes of this scenario, I am assuming that Syldavia is composed mostly of a Slavic population, with minority Turkish, Albanian, German and Italian groups. The state religion is Roman Catholicism, but there are large Orthodox and Muslim populations as well, along with communities of German protestant farmers, derived from refugees of the Reformation. Long years of domestic peace (if sometimes fragile) were achieved through a tradition of religious tolerance. 18th century Syldavia is a quite conservative (xenophobic?) kingdom ruled by the ancient Almazoutian dynasty and a Parliament. The germanophile regime is allied with the Imperium. The country boasts a university, a rich artistic tradition (it is especially noted for its violinists) and is relatively rich in natural resources (chiefly wood, iron, copper, wheat, and horses). The Syldavian government depends on revenue gained from trade in these products to centres like Venice; this trade is hampered, however, by the presence of coastal highlands that separate the interior valleys from the country’s few ports.

Hergé gives little indication about the location or character of Borduria except that it resembles Syldavia in climate, topography and, to some degree, history. I am placing it along Syldavia’s eastern border, which is marked by a major river, mountains and a large lake, Lake Polishoff. Its population is more uniform than that of Syldavia, and consists of Slavs and Turks. A slavic dialect related to Syldavian is the dominant tongue and there are large Orthodox and Muslim religious communities. I envision Borduria as a larger and more populous country than Syldavia but poorer, with fewer natural resources and much less access to trade. It has no direct access to the Mediterranean and could really use one. Instead, Borduria is closely linked to the Ottoman Empire and its history is largely shaped by its uneven relationship with its more powerful neighbour. Where Syldavia looks at the changing outer world with scepticism, Borduria is a rather isolated backwater and is far too anxious to catch up. In the ancient past, Borduria annexed and ruled Syldavia for nearly 100 years; mutual distrust has reigned between these closely-related nations ever since. I'll post more information about these countries in future posts.


The Campaign to come

I plan to start the campaign with preliminary episodes set in the 1730’s and 1740’s and, once these are completed, the rest of the campaign will be set in the 1750’s. I have planned out armies for both Syldavia and Borduria, including their uniforms, working in so far as possible on information presented in the book. I have begun to paint units and have three regiments and artillery completed at this point. I will put these plans and units on parade for you in future posts. This project will no doubt take some time and I'll need something to talk about! To speed things along, I have purchased the services of a few hireling regiments of Austrian and Russian troops; these will arrive shortly and will be used to fill out armies in the short term. In the long term they could provide useful allies. In order to use my existing gaming resources and to cope with space available to me, I am building armies in 15mm scale. I am at the moment planning on using William Protz’s Batailles de l’Ancien Régime rule set, which I recently received in the mail (Un gros merci à vous, M. Protz!).

Many thanks to Tradgardmastare, Louys of Monte Cristo and others for encouraging me to get this project up and running.

Until next time,

Jim


21 comments:

  1. Jim,

    Welcome to the world of 18th century blogging.

    You seem to have a very fine start to your project . . . and I know that I, for one at least, would like to see some photos of the figures you plan to use for your native units (they sound interesting indeed).


    -- Jeff

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  2. Greetings and felicitations from the Reich Duchy of Beerstein. Reich Duke Wilhelm is pleased to invest your esteemed ruler into the Ancient and Honorable Order of the Tankard. We wish your endeavor well!

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  3. Great to see you starting this wondorous work. I look forward to following it...
    best wishes
    Alan

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  4. The Kingdom of Wittenberg welcomes to the world of 18c Imagi-Nations !

    good luck with your project

    -- Allan

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  5. Congratulations and thanks for 'translating' Syldavia and Borduria into 18th C. Imagi-Nations!
    Clearly you waited to have the 'design' of the countries done in depth before 'stepping from behind the internet curtain': one can feel the work and dedication already put in the project. And of course 'real' Syldavia and Borduria are far less different than their toned-down 'all white / all black' comics rendition: for centuries the Balkans saw the confrontation between Catholics and Orthodoxes, Christians and Musilms. Wars with religious overtones are the most cruel, mentalities there are moulded by centuries of hatred: the old local tradition to collect enemies' eyes by the bucket was still honored a few years after the Sceptre was published (1939)!

    The uniforms you describe in your comment to tradgardmastare's post are 'logical', 'soundly based' and as 'accurate' as possible at all -and extremely promising: I'm looking eagerly forward to discover them in their painted flesh / lead!
    As for the Tower Guards, Late Renaissance Polish infantry (the kind with a halberd of sorts used as a musket-rest) is probably what would require less conversions. Their 2Oth C. century uniform is very traditional, but some minor changes along the centuries are unavoidable and can be used to justify minor differences: for instance the tall plume on the cap is a detail that dates at most from Napoleonic times.

    Best regards and wishes,
    Jean-Louis

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  6. Welcome to the wonderful world of ImagiNations! As Jean-Louis said your countries are off to a flying start in background, geography and history. I always thought the Balkans had potential for our 18th century games and it's nice to see you step up to the mark with such an excellent contribution.

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  7. Hello all, my sincere thanks for your comments.

    Jeff : I will certainly do a photo tour of units from both armies, a bit at a time. The core of my armies will be composed of Eureka 15mm figures, I have searched around for figures from other manufacturers to fill the gaps, in particular for native units. I have been somewhat successful at this and have troops which seem plausible. The relative lack of easily visible detail on a 15mm figure helps me here! However, some conversions have been or will be necessary and naturally I have had to make quite a few comprimises. They at least look like something different!

    Capt Bill : The King of Syldavia is honoured to receive the esteemed Ancient and Honourable Order of the Tankard. I am empowered by him to invest Reich Duke Wilhelm into the Order of the Black Pelican, Syldavia’s most ancient and noble chivalric order.

    Tradardmastare : Your sketchy Syldavian inn is a delightful idea. It opens the possibility to involve a Syldavian emigré community (full of nefarious plotting) as wildcards outside my control in this campaign. I’d send in the vice squad and clear the dive out, myself.

    Tidders : Greetings to Wittenberg and to you, Royal Cousin!

    Jean-Louis : I have had plenty of time to elaborate the project as a thought experiment while feeding the baby… That said, much of the plan I set out here falls quite naturally out of Hergé’s sketch. I have tried to keep the emphasis on verisimilitude throughout. Also I specifically didn’t want to simply re-create the terribly sad religious struggle that has bedeviled the real Balkans for so long. This would defeat the goals of my project (fun and a light heart), and accordingly I have made both antagonists necessarily pluralist societies, where religion is not the primary origin of drama in the plot. This will depend on the secular twirling of mustaches!

    The biggest challenge seems to be to find appropriate figures for the project and in many cases their availability has steered my uniform choices. Late Polish Renaissance figures do indeed seem to me to be the best choice available for the Castle Guard. Some conversion will be necessary for this however, something I am not so fond of doing, especially in 15mm!

    Cheers,

    Jim

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  8. AJ: Many thanks for your visit and comments. I'm hoping that we will all have some fun with this.

    Congratulations to you for the success of your brilliant Hetzenberg story project this past year. What a great idea! It was a source of great pleasure (and ideas) to me this past year.

    News of Hetzenberg's eventful year has reached even as far as the Royal Smoking and Snooker Room at Koprow Castle. The King has ordered me to invest you in the most ancient and noble Order of the Black Pelican as recognition of your achievement and to offer Commander Horngebläse , should he be interested, a command in the small Syldavian navy (no doubt a frigate and a few gunboats); we have a small pirate problem to eradicate...

    Cheers,

    Jim

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  9. Jim
    I had started to raise some freikorps etc in 28mm as part of my "Black Pelican Inn" thread. Are you happy for me to continue you to do this for inclusion in my own tabletop games?
    I do not wish to interfere/diminish you work but wondered how you felt about me developing my emigres sympathetically to and with your Syldavians. I had envisaged them playing off one against the other in the Tradgardland versus the Imperium games I had hoped to run. I had wondered about expanding to form an opposition for the Imperium perhaps. Please let me know your thoughts.
    best wishes
    Alan
    p.s I really enjoyed the well thought-out background material. If I can be nosey what period do you specialise in in your work?

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  10. Alan,

    I rushed getting this site together after reading your Syldavia post, not so much to mark turf as to ensure that the contribution I wished to make didn't become irrelevant before it was made. Now that this is public, please do go ahead with your project as you see fit.

    I have general parameters in mind for this campaign for the 1730s to the 1750's. I had envisioned a series of episodes where I more or less controlled some of the plot but where random factors (variable production, perhaps diplomatic events, etc) impacted the game in a concrete sense (such as the capacity to recruit reserve troops) and the narrative could thereby follow its own organic course. If, as a solo wargamer, you play the two sides by making each follow a "best" course of action in a given situation with given knowledge, unpredictable outcomes needed for a fun game have to come from somewhere. Randomizing dice and event cards only go so far, so it would actually be very useful to my project if some of these unpredictable outcomes came from real rational (or irrational!) people on the outside. I think that it would be fun if the activities of emigré plotters were not controlled by me, so long as this augments and don't stop the narrative. This is something we can work out as I approach actual battles.

    As for what goes on in Tradgardland, I see no problem at all with your plans. What goes on in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, as they say!

    In my professional life, I conduct research in the Canadian arctic (Inuit archaeology mostly) and in the North Atlantic (Vikings and afterwards). Ironically (or is it logically?), the 18th century is a critical period for my work.

    Jim

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  11. Jim
    my class age 9/10 are doing the vikings at present . Do you know of useful websites educational material pertaining to skraling/viking relations and settlement in the New World?
    thanks Alan
    p.s thanks for the positive Slydavia comments...

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  12. Alan,

    Try this web site, which accompanies a recent (and excellent) Smithsonian exhibition:

    http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/start.html

    They published a book (look on the site) which is packed with good and digestible information on all aspects of Norse culture and history. The web site also has a "teachers" section. I currently have a small project going in Iceland. It does not concern contacts but it might be of some interest. Let me know if you need details.

    Jim

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  13. Jim,
    Did a little Googling to refresh my memories (I'm retired, with perhaps too much free time for my own good)...

    Do you know this study of the Sylvanian tongue? Interesting suggestion that most of the 'Germanic' roots of Syldavian are actually Dutch: makes sense, Herge was a francophone Belgian but the Flemish half of Belgium (and Brussels) speaks Dutch and Wallons know it well.
    The few (humorous, given their roots) imports from French come from 'popular' language, e.g. "klebcz" for 'dog' from popular French (arabic, actually but Algeria was French for 130 years) 'klebs'; suggests by similar transposition from Algerian to popular French then to Syldavian something like '"tubibz" for '(medicine) doctor', "bezef" for 'very / much / many / a lot', chuphn" for 'to watch', "chuya" for 'a little (of) / smidgeon', "flucz" for 'money / coins', "kawa" for 'coffee' (in 'French' the drink, not the 'bar' -but then, in Syldavian?)... :)

    Le Sceptre d'Ottokar first appeared in a magazine as 106 B&W plates (1938) collected in a bound 'graphic novel' in 1939 . I read elsewhere that there are not a few differences between the original B&W printing of 1939 -with a few 'colorized' plates- and the 1947 'definitive' edition (62 full-color pages): for instance in the later Tintin escapes Borduria in a (fictitious, they say) Messeschmitt Bf 109, against a Heinkel 118 in the former; more relevant here, it's only in the 1947 that the Guards of the Tower received their 'Balkanic' uniform, their first appearance funnily (sillily?) combined features of Greek 'Evzones' and English 'Beefeaters'! And at first the pelican was against a *blue* field, against the rules of heraldry (and the requirements of visibility).


    Discovered several Youtubes -I'm not sure to understand their 'alignment':
    Syldavian Cultural Exploration Video
    Syldavia Television 29, 03, 2008
    Syldavia Television News - 8 August 2008


    Unfortunately in French, a series of humorous articles about Syldavia (including 'traditional' cooking recipes) in a French pastiche of Wikipedia.



    Given your 'real life' background, could Sylvania have attempted in previous centuries to revive the colony in Greenland -Courland indeed colonized Tobaggo, unlikely as it may seem?

    Cheers,
    Jean-Louis

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  14. A most excellent, entertaining and enlightening entrance to the world of ImagiNations! :)

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  15. Oh, and I love the picture of Koprow Castle! Is that a model? Yours?

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  16. Dear Fitz-Badger,

    Many thanks, I hope that I can follow up with something else of interest. The castle is Olavinlinna Castle in Finland which is reputed to have been the inspiration for Hergé's Koprow Castle. It is indeed a model, I wish it was my own! It is a large model at the Mini-Europe amusement park in Brussels. This is quite the model, take a look at the following two web sites, lots of material for other Imagi-Nations!

    http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1506961060079648395dMNCfw

    http://www.brusselspictures.com/category/theme-park/

    Cheers,

    Jim

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  17. Jean-Louis,

    It is clear that Hergé really struck a chord with this story. There are wierd and wonderful references and echoes everywhere. I was aware of the Flemish linguistic link, I wouldn't have thought of the German-Slav dialect by myself! I had seen the youtube newscasts as well, quite strange. I did not know about your other discoveries.

    As for Greenland, I suspect that the Syldavians would find the place desperately cold and tough. It was to much in the end for the Vikings, after all. Maybe they could wrest the Azores from Portugal...

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  18. Jim, I've posted an excerpt from the Chronicles featuring the arrival of a Syldavian emissary in Hetzenberg. Not being too familiar with Balkan names I've called him Colonel Gavrilio Aliolikos, seeing him as having Greek heritage while being a loyal Syldavian. He'll be heading home accompanied by the new Hetzenberg ambassador. Feel free to use him or not as you wish. I'm not sure what Commander Horngebläse will do when he receives the offer of a secondment, but it is tempting. ;)

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  19. AJ, I will post my response on your website, along with a picture of the Order of the Black Pelican

    Jim

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  20. Ah yes, welcome to the realer world (anybody reading our newspapers should realize that we are in a very poorly plotted and horrid science fiction story in the "real" world).

    A couple of quick suggestions:
    Don't completely abandon the Austrian / Prussian mindset, as a lot of folks paint their figures according to some historical model and call them by their imagination names. I'm not nearly good enough to do that myself, but it's an idea.
    Also, I really hope that you'll take a gander at building a Turkish army too ... they're very, very colorful and could be a very good "opponent" army for you down there!
    :)
    Arthur (the Hurtshog Fhartz v. Frankfurter of Frankszonia)
    :)

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  21. Hi Arthur,

    The original plan is on the back-burner for now. I suspect that a couple of "real" units will get painted here and there. Eventually this will lead to building fuller armies. It is a long term plan! And yes, I have my eye on the Ottomans as well.

    Jim

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