Book Notes: Vienna, 1812

I'm not great on European history between 1700 and 1900. In particular, my knowledge of Napoleon has always been very fuzzy. The story I learned in school took about two paragraphs and ended something like:
"After the collapse of his army in Russia, the Allied nations invaded France and forced Napoleon into exile. He was sent to Elba and Louis XVIII was placed on the throne. Napoleon escaped Elba, returned to France, and raised another army. But then the English got the cane out of the cupboard and gave him a damn good thrashing at Waterloo. The Allies sent him off to St. Helena where he lived out the rest of his days."
So like many things - the order blood is pumped around the heart, where Jakarta, etc. - I filed it under "Things I Vaguely Know But Will Look Up As Needed" and thought no more about it.

But last week on a whim I picked up Vienna, 1814 by David King and it turns out my mental picture of events is entirely wrong. In case this is news to you too, I figured I'd put the most interesting bits in a blog posts. If its not news to you, feel free to marvel at the state of North American education.

What To Do With An Emperor: Napoleon in Elba

Elba is a small island off the coast of Italy. I thought - based on the story I'd been told,  not any actual facts - that Napoleon had been shipped off to a sort of sunny Mediterranean prison. Sure, he could walk on the beach and stare at the far-off coast of France, but he was still a prisoner on a small bit of rock, guarded and blockaded and watched day and night.

Turns out Elba's not that small and, by any definition of the word, Napoleon wasn't a prisoner. It's arguable he wasn't even exiled.

The Treaty of Fontainbleu (1814) set the terms of Napoleon's abdication. Despite the grand-sounding introduction with its long list of titles, the treaty was primarily the creation of Tsar Alexander I. He'd promised Napoleon very generous terms and Napoleon had agreed; the rest of the Grand Alliance would  have to live with it.
  • ART. III. The island of Elba, adopted by his Majesty the Emperor Napoleon, for the place of his residence, shall form, during his life, a separate principality, which shall be possessed by him in all sovereignty and property.
  • ART. XVI. There shall be furnished an armed corvette and the vessels of transport necessary to conduct to the place of his destination his Majesty the Emperor Napoleon, as well as his household. The corvette shall remain the full property of his majesty.
  • ART. XVII. His Majesty the Emperor Napoleon can take with him, and keep for his guard, 400 men, volunteers, officers, subofficers, and soldiers.
Elba wasn't even the Tsar's to give away. A 20-year-old Elban would had already lived under Neapolitan, French Royalist (arguable, but 4,000 armed French royalists living on an island of 12,000 certainly affects the balance of power), English, French, and Hapsburg rule. In 1814 the island belonged to the restored duchy of Tuscany; the Hapsburgs didn't appreciate putting Napoleon, who was sure to be a magnet for trouble, on their undefended southern border.

While Britain refused to sign the treaty, none of the Great Powers were in a position to refuse the Tsar. Napoleon went to Elba and immediately started ruling the place with his characteristic energy. The Elbans seemed to like him; he was naturally charismatic, didn't mind the cobbled-together throne room they'd built, and brought a surprising amount of money to the island.

I get the sense, reading over contemporary accounts, that Napoleon behaved like an energetic dad who'd just retired from leading a huge multinational corporation. Renovations, projects, meddling, and improvements abounded. The treaty had allotted him 400 guards but, soon after arrival, he'd acquired at least 1,000 soldiers. Compared to his invincible Grande Armée it was nothing, but it hardly fits the image of a deserted, exiled Emperor. He had a handful of generals and a proper Navy -  a 16 gun brig, a three-masted corvette, and a tiny 6-ton light boat of some sort.

If Louis XVIII had been more popular, if things hadn't gone the way they did, Napoleon might have remained on Elba forever, turning it into a sort of pocket kingdom with an eccentric but lovable dictator, forever fighting pirates and issuing demands and getting up to hare-brained schemes. He'd already "conquered" the tiny unihnabited islands of Pianosa and Palmaiola. Who knows? Maybe he'd have taken Montecristo from the Hapsburgs.

France had, at least, stripped Elba's meager arsenal and treasury before turning the island over to its new ruler. The new government also refused to pay Napoleon the vast sums specified in the treaty or income from his "personal property" in France and elsewhere.

Ooh, One More Time, I'm Back With A New Rhyme: Napoleon Returns

Nothing in the Treaty of Fontainbleu prevented Napoleon from returning to France. The Inconstant, his brig, needed repairs. Conveniently, these includes strengthening the masts and adding a new coat of paint that, from a distance, made her resemble a British ship. She probably couldn't outrun a proper warship but she probably wouldn't need to; no one was blockading Elba.

Britain, Austria, and France had all expressed alarm at leaving Napoleon so close to Europe and had several times suggested moving him somewhere more remote. Nothing had been done. And now, as pretty much everyone had predicted, he was back.

I'd always imagined Napoleon slinking down to a small ship in the dead of night, assisted by a few loyal soldiers and secret agents, and slipping away before anyone noticed. Instead...

Joseph Beaume
Anyway, the Hundred Days happened, and after a few hundred thousand more casualties, Napoleon abdicated, boarded the HMS Bellerophon, and surrendered. The British shipped him to St. Helena where he was more-or-less properly placed under house arrest. Though he still seemed to have a surprising number of friends, visitors, and servants, he was no longer ruler of anything.

Le Rivage Fatal

St. Helena was, in many ways, the obvious choice. Literally in the middle of nowhere, any further attempts to escape or stir up trouble would be more or less impossible.

But St. Helena wasn't the only option. Shipping Napoleon to Botany Bay was also suggested (though I'm not inclined to dig through the primary source documents to find out by whom).

There's an idea for an alt-history novel. Napoleon and a selection of troublesome generals and appointed kings are shipped to Botany Bay, arriving in 1815. He isn't treated like a typical convict. His English slowly improves. Despite periods of deep depression and lamenting his poor fortune, he throws himself into his work and assists in organizing and improving the penal colony, rapidly becoming indispensable. A route to the interior was only discovered in 1813; most of the region was still unmapped.

If a few die-hard supporters arrived in a ship...

   And Napoleon could gain a reputation among the English colonists (Byron liked him; others might too)...
      And everything went just right...
         Well, he might have thrown the dice again. During his second surrender he'd styled himself as Themistocles; maybe he'd take a turn at playing Spartacus.

No Refunds

I think most people know about the Louisiana Purchase. I didn't know that, in 1814, Spain demanded a refund. They'd ceded Louisiana to France in, oddly enough, another Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762) and France had sold it without letting Spain bid for it first. The Vienna Congress - Britain, in particular - were asked to correct this injustice.

Britain had just ended a war with the United States and had no desire for another one. As part of an agreement to end the slave trade, they offered Spain 400,000 pounds (100,000 pounds over the sale price of Louisiana). Spain accepted. Amusingly, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand was present for the negotiations. He'd pocketed up to one third of the original Louisiana Purchase price.

Plot Seeds from Vienna, 1814

1. A large empire has collapsed and everyone wants their art back. The PCs are hired to transport priceless paintings and statues from one city to another. Will some go "missing" along the way? Will some arrive in an unusual state?

2. A large empire looted the valuable archives of a holy city. The Church wants some books back. Urgently. Really, it's very important that a few books from a very special lead-lined vault are returned immediately.

3. A former tyrant gave one of his hot-headed cavalry commanders a small but strategically placed kingdom. Everyone, including the exiled rules of the kingdom, agree they'd be much happier if the commander went away but he refuses to leave. The PCs are hired to bait him into an ill-advised war or, if that fails, push him off a balcony.

4. The secret service has been opening all diplomatic mail in and out of the city. They accidentally swapped letters and envelopes. The PCs need to break into two embassies and swap the letters before they are opened.

5. The king of a small nation has fallen in love with a flower-stall girl. Something must be done. He keeps missing vital conference meetings.

6. At a masked ball, a PC is seduced by a beautiful woman. Turns out she's a princess (not surprising). But she's also the lover of a very powerful prince from a neighboring kingdom (somewhat worrying). And she's also married to the very powerful prince from this kingdom (alarming). And the PC has left a monogrammed hat/handkerchief in her bedroom.

7. Three thousand silver Imperial teaspoons were stolen from a banquet. The monarch wants them back. There's a bounty on them. The PCs can make some money tracking them down but plenty more money making fake silver spoons from lead and tin.

8. The ambassador insists on driving his carriage from the embassy one or more of the local brothels. More worryingly, he insists on driving it back, usually while blackout drunk and belligerent. The PCs are assigned to keep an eye on him. Hijinks ensue.

9. The crown princes of two neighboring kingdoms have challenged each other to a duel over a botched game of "blindman's bluff". The PCs were present and know that one of the princes really was cheating. Do they reveal this fact (and guarantee a duel and perhaps a war) or lie (and defuse the situation)?

10. A former emperor lives in relative seclusion. Breaking into his castle kidnapping him will be difficult but immensely profitable.

11. The ambassador is not complying with his government's wishes. He will soon be recalled and replaced. The PCs must intercept and destroy any letters from the government to the ambassador.

12. An enormous mansion is on fire. Quick! Help "extinguish the fire" and "rescue valuable treasures". I mean, it's all going to burn anyway, right? One team inside throwing things out the window, one team on the lawn hauling them into the forest.

13. A former emperor needs new furniture. Take this ship and raid the abandoned palaces of a treacherous relative.

14. The PCs are hired to entertain a huge crowd of rulers and their entourages at a semi-formal event. They'd better come up with something impressive. Ghost stories are fashionable right now.

15. There's a new rich young man in town, heir to an enormous fortune. He's got a weakness for cards and the poker face of a comic mime. Can the PCs save him from hordes of ravenous card sharks (and sponge a reward from him) or will they race to fleece him in new and exciting ways?

16. The next ball's theme requires everyone to wear "local peasant costumes" and perform "authentic peasant dances". The PCs are instructed - on pain of death - to round up some local peasants for the local despot to use as models.

17. A powerful ruler is obsessed with a rural prophetess. He reads her letters hundreds of times, dissecting every word and praying well into the night. Her handwriting is... unique, but it might just be possible to forge.

18. Tomorrow evening a gift lottery will be held at the palace. Everyone will bring a suitably valuable gift, then exchange them at random. Someone's slipped a cursed or ill-omened item into the mix. Who, and why?

19. As a joke, the ambassador printed a fake newspaper calling for the "Immediate Assassination" of an underling and promising an enormous reward in the name of a feared tyrant. The underling, always a bit nervous, had a breakdown and fled into the night with a case full of vital documents, the embassy treasury, and six loaded pistols. The PCs need to track  him down.

20. The PCs, survivors of a great battle, are hired by a group of poets to provide a tour of the battlefield. They may need to make up some suitably heroic deeds or reconcile the official accounts with the actual geography.


OSR: Pirates of the Merabaha, Session 3 & 4

I've been very lax on my session writeups. Time to catch up.

Last session, four impromptu pirates managed to escape the Wexlish Navy, beach a stolen frigate, steal a much more sensibly sized ship from a veteran pirate crew. The PCs are:

Beatrix, a Tarraconese carpenter, engineer, and smooth talking hustler. Elected captain... because nobody else wanted the job.

Imran Goldmaker, an experienced merchant and occasional pirate from the Golden Isles. The ship's quartermaster (a job he's qualified for) and navigator (significantly less so).

Nyali Utugelu, a Chultan shopkeeper turned arsonist turned gun captain.

Gunter von Steenberger, a dockworker from the Ranstead League with near-mythical strength. Not much good with letters but he keeps the crew in line.
The slim coastal cutter The Magestic sailed around the south side of the Isla de Caracol, heading for the notorious pirate town of Porta de Caracol. Nominally Wexlish, the town's governor had been driven off years ago.

The town was significantly less impressive than the PCs expected. A few rotting warehouses dotted the long grey beach. Many pirates, vagabonds, and drunks slept in tents or under the open sky. Few wooden buildings exceeded two stories and there were only three stone buildings in town: the former governor's mansion (demolished and burned), a mysterious house on the hill (intact but windowless) and a ruined church (now a brothel).

The PCs sold the location of the wrecked Cimmeria to a local warehouse-keeper, held a sumptuous party to improve crew morale, restocked their supplies, and tried to decide what to do with their lives. Their safety was by no means certain. The Wexlish Navy, irritated by the loss of one of their most powerful ships in the region, could easily track them to the pirate port and burn the place to the ground. Their crew was not terribly loyal; a simple reward or offer of amnesty could ruin them all.

Captain Beatrix managed to arrange a meeting with the mysterious Sarah Soran, owner of the fortress-house, collector of "antiquities", former mistress of the governor, and, if rumour was to be believed, something not of this earth.

The PCs speculated wildly. Madame Soran was never seen outside her house during the day, always wore a large hat, never ate in public (but drank wine), and seemed to hold the pirates of the town in a fear-induced trance. Gunter thought she was "a night-creature, a wampyre". Nyali thought she might be a sea-goddess (not unknown in Chult, apparently). Beatrix thought she might just be one of those wise old ladies nobody fucks with; Imran wasn't convinced.

Whatever she was, Madame Soran mentioned a small fishing village west of the island. The isolated village had "a certain article, a brass sphere on a chain" that she desired. "The superstitious fishermen protect it with their lives," she said, "but I'm sure a small raiding crew could steal it without much danger. Anything else you take is yours, of course."

In exchange for accurate charts and a small reward, the party accepted her offer. The next morning, somewhat hung over, they set sail with the tide.

Note: this next section, between the next two pieces of art, contains spoilers for Michael Prescott's adventure The God Unmoving. You've been warned.

Mark Peckham
The notorious fog of the Wretched Reef descended that evening. The sea monster Beatrix had spotted on their previous journey did not reappear. The four fishermen the crew had picked up on their journey to the Isla de Caracol were not thrilled about their destination; they hailed from the same fishing village the crew was going to raid and refused to participate. Gunter threw all four of them in the ship's "brig" (really just an empty arms locker) and threatened them with keel-hauling, trepanning, and anything else he could come up with. His threats had no effect.

By the light of the full moon, the party eventually found the Bay Unmoving. Gulling the sleepy sentries into letting them pass, the Majestic slipped into the harbour. The village was nothing more than a collection of shacks scattered on a series of bare stone islands. One "edge" of the village was made of a truly gigantic wreck, a broken ship larger than anything the pirate crew had ever seen. Imran speculated it was a treasure-ship from Yoon-Suin, though how it had come to rest here he couldn't say.

The raid was a debacle. Though  Beatrix tried to use the four capture fishermen as hostages, the situation rapidly spiraled out of control as the pirate crew, let loose on a sleeping island, began burning houses, smashing windows, and hauling anything valuable back to the ship. Approaching boats were sunk with cannonfire.

The PCs, with a hand-picked crew of raiders, rapidly rowed over to the colossal hulk to search it for treasures before the entire village could descend upon them. Their exploration did not go well. Although they found some gold and avoided a few traps, Gunter was devoured by hungry predatory fish in the bowels of the wreck. The remaining PCs found the "copper mace" they'd been sent to obtain. The mysterious relic was kept in a transparent bladder. When Beatrix touched the metal, her arm locked in place and green tendrils began to worm their way up her arm. Imran lopped her arm off and carried the half-delirious captain back to their boat, carefully keeping the relic inside its protective case.

According to Imran, Nyali, and several surviving pirates, their rowboat was pursued by a "great glowing sea-monster, a hundred-armed thing with a body made of light". They fended it off with pistol shots and bombs thrown into the water (Nyali exhausting her legendarily prolific supply of gunpowder), raced back to the Majestic, made sail, and tore out of the bay as quickly as they could. Though the Majestic was lightly damaged by their hasty escape and a few tardy pirates were, no doubt, lynched by the enraged villagers, but as the sun rose the crew of the Majestic were richer, if not happier, than they'd been the previous day.

Michael Prescott
Back at the Porta de Caracol, Imran hastily delivered the copper mace to Sarah Soran's fortress-house, then returned to check on Beatrix. She seemed to be dealing with the loss of her arm with remarkable composure, working closely with a carpenter to have a hooked replacement made. The crew was impressed.

Enriched by their labours, if slightly worried about sea monsters and "bad magic", as Nyali put it, the crew let loose with another riotous party. Convalescing in the Majestic, Beatrix came up with a long-term plan.

The Majestic would be renamed the Magnificient, re-dedicated, and repainted. It would be careened, a ludicrously undignified process, to clean and patch the hull. They'd take the ship south, pass through Valois and Tarraconese territory, then head out to sea for the long journey to Chult. That vast continent had barely been explored and Beatrix was sure there were vast profits to be made far from the reach of the Old World powers.

Attempts to recruit a trained navigator were unsuccessful, but Imran did manage to find someone with "sufficient book-learning" to read a chart.

John Wex the Bastard, a disgraced sailor with scraps of an education, was renown in port as an expert on "books of all sorts." With the authority of Bullfighter's Mythology, Fraiser's Golden Sticks, and Salty and Salacious Tales of the Sea Volume IV, John Wex could offer advice on any situation natural, supernatural, historical, or practical. His advice wasn't good but it was cheap.

After two weeks of work (for at least two hours a day), drinking, whoring, and fighting (for up to the remaining twenty-two), the crew of the Magnificient finally set sail. Nyali performed some obscure rituals to placate the wrath of the sea (all of which involved drinking more rum). The sea was calm and the weather was fine.

No ships were spotted for the first two days but on the evening of the third, with the sun fading, the lookout spotted lights on the horizon. The Majestic slowly crept closer in the dark. By the light of dawn the crew realized they'd come up on a slow-moving Tarraconese convoy, spread out by weather and by poor seamanship.

Beatrix picked out a slow-moving eight-gun vessel near the rear of the convoy and, with very favorable winds, approached from dead astern while flying a Tarraconese flag. When they were a few hundred yards apart, the Majestic ran up a red pennant (a traditional pirate flag), fired a warning shot, and hailed the vessel. After briefly attempting to flee, the ship hauled down its flags and closed its gun ports.

The reason for this abrupt surrender became clear when the Imran and company boarded the vessel. Their cargo was gunpowder; the entire hold was full of barrels. A single shot would have destroyed both the vessel and its crew. Beatrix ordered total restraint: the Tarraconese crew was spared, personal property of the sailors was not touched, and only the most choice cuts of meat and barrels of drink were taken, along with a hold full of the finest and driest Tarraconese gunpowder. John Wex, recognizing the value of paper, thoroughly looted the captain's diplomatic and trade documents.

Flush with success, the pirates put up the Valois flag and sailed into Red Sand Port. Combining all their expertise, they forged documents showing that they were legitimate traders in gunpowder; the Tarraconese marks on the barrels were hastily scraped off and replaced with inventive new designs. The tiny port welcomed these "legitimate traders"; pirates or not, they had goods to sell and the town's governor, Captain Henri Blane, was more than willing to buy. He offered Beatrix some advice on piracy and sent them on their way rich and happy.

From Red Sand Port, the Magnificient sailed towards the open sea, then cut south and away from the Merabaha Islands.

Two months later and low on food, the Majestic's lookout spotted the unmistakable grey line of the Mistcliff, the unmapped western coast of Chult. By luck more than skill, the crew had managed to hit the right continent, but they had no idea where precisely they were.

Would the PCs survive in this uncharted land? Would Captain Beatrix continue to avoid death and further dismemberment? Find out next time.


OSR: Mob Rules

One of my favorite Dickens books is Barnaby Rudge. It's not my favorite - I don't think it's anyone's favorite - but it's got some very interesting features.

There's a standard-issue romance-murder-inheritance-mystery plot with the usual array of charming Dickensian characters (you don't have to look far on the internet to find an abundance of Simon Tappertits) but there's also, through the last chapters of the book, a colossal world-shattering riot. Society is upturned. The Mob is a living, breathing character in the novel. I've tried to give it OSR-style stats here. They're still undergoing testing. The final version will be published in Magical Industrial Revolution.

The Mob

HD: Varies. The Mob has HD (Hit Dice, d8s) based on its Cause. I've listed HP values to save  rolling if you're in a hurry.

20 HD (80 HP): Primal Needs (Food, Water, Money, Alcohol, The Good Life)
15 HD (60 HP): Infamous Crisis (as promoted by the Newspapers, see below)
10 HD (40 HP): Political Strife (Gumperts vs. Bogs)
5 HD (20 HP): Local Injustice (Police Brutality, Increasing Rent)
1 HD (4 HP): Obscure Cause (Vegetarianism, Outlawing Gin)

A mob's HP represents both its size and its willingness to keep rioting or protesting. Any attack that deals more than 3 lethal damage kills someone in the Mob and requires a Morale check (see below). Nonlethal damage still does HP damage to a Mob, but represents members being bloodied, knocked out, arrested, or driven off. When a Mob's HP reaches zero it disintegrates. 

Appearance: A shouting, sweating crowd of people, mostly drawn from the Middle and Lower classes. Men, women, children, excitable dogs, and chickens. They may have unifying emblems (blue cockades, red ribbons, leeks, etc.). A Mob takes up part of a street, an entire street, several streets, or a square, depending on its size and ferocity.

Wants: to satisfy its Cause. In the absence of a strong reason not to, to run riot, have a good time, set some things on fire, and generally Show Those Bastards.

Armour: none. Any attack directed against the Mob automatically hits it.

Move: 1/2 normal, but can move in 2 directions at once. Can't race you but can outflank you.

Morale: 8

The Mob must test Morale when:

-It is confronted with a number of armed authority figures (Coppers, soldiers, etc.) equal to its HD
-One of its members dies (it takes 3 or more lethal damage from a single source)
-It kills its first person.

Roll 2d6. If you roll over the Mob's Morale, the Mob disintegrates. Constituent members flee, drop weapons, give up, get arrested, or go into hiding. If you roll equal to or under the Mob's Morale, it becomes Bloodthirsty.

A Bloodthirsty Mob does not need to test Morale. The only way to stop it is to reduce its HP to zero.

A Drunken Mob can reroll Morale tests. It costs [HD]x10gp in cheap gin to get a Mob drunk for 1 hour.

Demagogues, righteous causes, unrighteous causes, military leaders, preparation, illegal drugs, mind-control spells, and other tricks can increase or decrease the Mob's morale at the GM's discretion.

The presence of the Monarch reduces the Mob's Morale to 2 and requires an immediate Morale check.

Damage: The Mob has a number of attacks equal to its HD (or current HP / 4 if damaged). With each attack, it can either

-inflict 20gp worth of property damage to a nearby structure
-set something on fire
-make an attack roll against an adjacent person, dealing 1d6 lethal damage on a hit

-chant, wave flags, and shout

Mobs are not utterly murderous. Even a Bloodthirsty Mob won't kill more than 1 or 2 people a round. Instead, the Mob prefers to loot, smash, burn, bruise, humiliate, and generally run riot. The Mob assumes you're with it unless you make a serious attempt to oppose it, you look rich and worth robbing, or if you're part of the group against its Cause.

Upgrading A Mob: 
 A Mob can grow larger (effectively healing itself fully and gaining extra HD) by changing its Cause and attracting new members. It can only do this if it's had 1 hour of completely unchallenged rioting. Under normal circumstances, a mob has a 1-in-10 chance of upgrading per hour. Proper demagoguery, a city on edge, or free gin may increase this chance. Causes with more HD have wider appeal than causes with fewer HD. What starts as a political rally could easily turn into a riot against foreigners of all kinds, then grow again to a general orgy of violence and looting when unemployed and angry agricultural labourers join.

GMs Notes:

Hopefully these rules adequately represent the Mob as both an asset and a liability. If you want to get something done you can raise a Mob and hopefully point it at your enemies, but there's always a chance it will run out of control and start destroying everything.

Newspapers in Endon

Papers are sold in the streets. Most are daily; some have morning, afternoon, and evening editions. Without subscriptions to support them, many papers mostly depend on lurid and inaccurate stories or ill-gotten scoops to drive daily sales. Everyone who can read does so; everyone who can has someone who can read them interesting or sensational stories. They're sold so cheaply that they're effectively free (unless a player wants to start a bonfire or something ridiculous).

Illustrations (via lithography) are expensive but increasingly common. Magical enhancements such as moving pictures and sound recordings start to appear at [  ][  ] and are ubiquitous by [  ][  ][  ].

1d10 Newspaper Names
6 Daily Connection
7 Universal Express
8 Metropolitan World
9 Inside Mail
10 Truthful Tribune

Every Innovation, Scandal, and Execution is reported with widely varying accuracy. Use the daily papers to drop hints and leads to your players. If they're stuck, if they're lost, if they've missed something vital, if you need to introduce an Innovation, put it in the paper. If they need a hint, say they've "read about it this morning" or "recall an article in the Spectator".

It costs 1d10gp to run an advertisement in a paper and 1d20gp to influence an editorial. To significantly influence discussion in the city Endon requires at least 200gp over 2 weeks period of 3 weeks. Threatening a few editors might also work.

It's possible to start a new paper. See Making Your Mark (not yet written).