Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This Is Bat Country

So a while back James Raggi posted that he had this Count Dracula vs. Elizabeth Bathory sandbox war idea he was working on. I liked this idea so much I immediately threw it onto my game map, over somewhere vaguely to the East.

Now in order to do a sandbox right, you gotta be able to tell your players about landmarks they can see or at least know about from a distance--the vague outlines. Otherwise they're flying blind and not really making interesting choices (left or right? ummm...). So I went ahead and actually looked at the territory involved, here's what came up with...:

(BTW, I asked James about how he was doing his intravampire sandbox and it looks like his thing will be very different than mine, so I'm not really scooping him here.)

-So over on the right there we have the rough sickle-shape of the Carpathian Mountains, which basically forms the eastern parenthesis of Hungary.
(click to see where the vampires are)

-All this territory on the map was generally part of Hungary during the killing-people-with-swords-era, though now, as the map shows, Castle Cachtice (Bathory's castle) is part of Slovakia and Dracula's stomping grounds of Transylvania and Wallachia are now part of Romania.

-Nevertheless, geography suggests that if you want to be lazy and efficient about it, much of the fighting would take place in what is now modern day Hungary.

-In my little griddy Moleskine notebook, this gives me room to sketch a 2-page-spread map 12 squares across, 25 miles per square and fit the whole area in. Assuming the forests are witchily dense with evil treants and people impaled on pikes, and the Carpathians (likely from the same root word as "sharp" and "escarpment") are hard-going you could say that's one day's ride per square.-Now if we imagine the Carpathians as the curving part of a capital letter 'D' and the Danube river as the vertical part, the fastest route from Castle Dracula to Castle Bathory would be straight through the middle of the "D", HOWEVER...There's about a million streams and rivers formed by rainwater hitting the Carpathians and draining west across the "D" toward the Danube.

-This is an awful lot of running water to cross if you're a vampire. Obviously the thing to do is to get your human thrall armies to terrorize the countryside and cities in the middle of the "D" and if you need to personally lay siege to your foe, you'll probably want to walk along the spine of the Carpathians themselves. I like this very much--it seems quite picturesque to me. The Count or Countess making stately progress around the rim of the land while mayhem reigns in the basin below.

-Exactly when Dracula was at which castle is a matter of debate, but the consensus is the castle most likely to be his for the longest time that we can identify is Castle Poenari, which you can see a floorplan of if you go to 3:52 into this charming video.

-Up north, Elizabeth Bathory's castle was called Cachtice, and it's near where Ckutalik used to live, if you want to know what living in the shadow of the Blood Countess was like. The ruins of Castle Cachtice are easy to google pictures of, thought the best way I found to get an actual floorplan is to zoom down there on google satellite and look at the ruins.

-Other than Budapest or the era-equivalent, the cities are fucking small. I've been to what passes for a "major city" in Hungary to visit Mandy's family and drink Jagermeister and even today it feels about the size of one of those cities built entirely around one hotel and a college. Totally walkable downtown. And this place was equally a big deal in the middle ages, when it was much smaller. So you could definitely "hide" a city like that in a 25-mile hex. And map it with a campus map.

-The Carpathians range from 1000 to 5000 feet high, meaning you could see up to 6 (25 mile) hexes away from the highest peaks and 3 hexes from a clear spot on a clear day from most of the range.

-Although exactly what you'd see at that angle is a lot of fucking trees mostly, though if something was on fire you might notice the smoke.

-Factors which you assume are present and that both research and life experience bear out include: gypsies and fear thereof, wild boars, wolves, deer, bats, lizards, creepy statuary, dizzying sheer drops in the Carpathians, superstitions about witches, corpses subjected to elaborate burial procedures.

-White Wolf Transylvania-themed supplements turned out to be in no way useful in this research. Which is weird considering there's like 5 of them. Not one decent map, obscure local legend, or piece of Bathory or Draculore to speak of, though some of the art is nice.

-Castles during the midde ages in this part of Eastern Europe sucked and were small, so these will be improved via the magic of me making things up.


  1. I've got relatives in Hungary and Transylvania, it's a lovely place.

    Transylvania in particular is really beautiful and just "epic" and varied. Back in the days when the East German film industry was churning out lots of Westerns, they'd use Transylvania because it probably has somewhere that looks right for any given scene!

    You definitely need some giant birds of prey circling the mountains. There's an old Hungarian legend about how they were led there by the giant Turul bird, and that deserves something!

    Oh - and have you been to Transylvania? The huge chrome gypsy palaces look more fantastical than anything in LotR ;).

    I dunno if you're looking for ideas for this, but:

    Matthias Corvinus, the Hungarian King who variously allied with and imprisoned Dracula, has all sorts of game inspiration around him. Partly he's just one of those legendary national hero types (the one who will return to save the land from the tyrannical Turks/Vampires etc etc) but also because he was an innovative war leader. The Black Army was this mercenary force of adventurer knights specialising in night attacks and ambushes, dressed in black armour, and for years i've been fantasising about running a WFRP game based around them. Or they could make up Bathory's army - bright armour splattered with ash and black paper under raven standards, weird night magic, all that! They were the most modern army in Europe and could counter-point the weirder and more baroque inventions of Dracula.

    Also, Dracula began his career around the same time as Hussite revolts in the Czech Republic were burning out. That entire period and region is just full of messianic proto-anarchist millenial cults like the Taborites, who would proclaim the coming of end of the world, retreat into a hidden fortress and then send great armies out to steal supplies. It'll be a sad version of the setting without wild cultists torching towns in preparation for the coming of the millennium!

  2. None of the photos on Google do Čachtice any justice mood-wise. The train-line to Bratislava swings through the river-valley bottom below it and in my mind's eye it was always a grey, misty day when we passed those eerie ruins perched high above the tracks.

    Completely loaded (a very common story in my Motherland days) and I hiked up there one evening with a local girl. The sun went down about half an hour to the top and as we stumbled along the steep, rocky path I got to hear the stories about how the Countess would bathe in the blood of her 650+ victims in order to enjoy eternal life--and how she was bricked up inside her bedchamber surviving for a while eating her own flesh. One of the best dates of my life.

  3. That entire period and region is just full of messianic proto-anarchist millenial cults like the Taborites, who would proclaim the coming of end of the world, retreat into a hidden fortress and then send great armies out to steal supplies.

    Have to second this, the Hussite Wars and my recollections of the area were big thematic influence on the Hill Cantons. There's a weird melancholy to the area that lends itself to the fantastical.

  4. I've also got loaded and stumbled up a hill with a girl in "the area" once when I was a teenager, and then discovered when I got back that i'd stumbled into some kind of weird inter-village clan feud and inadvertently insulted a bunch of distant relatives by admitting to liking the girl's family's brand of palinka brandy.

    ...that's the first time i've written that story down and I realise now how weird and stereotypical cod-storybook it sounds...

  5. I'm not surprised you didn't get much from the White Wolf books. Bet you learned a lot about their in-house mythology, though...

  6. -White Wolf Transylvania-themed supplements turned out to be in no way useful in this research. Which is weird considering there's like 5 of them. Not one decent map, obscure local legend, or piece of Bathory or Draculore to speak of, though some of the art is nice.

    The Guide to Transylvania sourcebook for TSR's Masque of the Red Death (Ravenloft on 19th c. gothic Earth) was quite good when it came to local lore, which castle had which legend of which evil lord, etc.

    (Of course, it also had pages and pages of late-period TSR bloat copypasted straight from Britannica: 16 pages of mundane history, 20 pages of customs and practises. "I'm seen Hammer Horror films FFS! I know how Uberwald looks!")

  7. Oh yeah, Hungary, my sweet home! Nice sandbox idea!

    Zak, have you been in Győr?

  8. If you're going the "vampires can cross running water if they're boxed up in their coffins" route, you could have huge bands of armed guards transporting their leaders from camp to camp to be uncrated & deliver orders that evening. Although the slow march along the mountains does sound a lot more dignified.

  9. Such a campaign really needs Queen Barbara (1392-"1451"?), the "Messalina of the Holy Roman Empire" and founder of the Order of the Dragon.

    In some interpretations, the eponym "Dracul" could be an allusion to this Societas Draconistrarum.

  10. Just a little bit of info about this:

    "There's about a million streams and rivers..."

    "during the killing-people-with-swords-era", there were way much more water in the Carpatian Basin than now. Much, much more water. And swamps. Lots of swamps. The peasants were fishing and generally had a good living from these rich waters. But in the name of "progress" the nobles got rid of most of it in the nineteenth century, maybe some vampires had a hand in the process...

  11. @phersv

    I didn't know anything about her.

    Do you know where she lived, exactly, physically? It doesn't say.

    thanks--will check it out

    i did not know that

  12. @phersv
    I mean, I assume if she was Queen of Hungary she was in Castle Buda, but is that it?

  13. @Urban

    Yes, Gyor is where my Hungarian family lives.

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  15. phersv I've read a fair amount about Hungarian history but never heard of Barbora. Her wikipedia page seems pretty weak and I haven't been able to find any sources for this "occult" stuff. Other than that she's totally just some aristocrat who was married to strengthen Sigismund's claim to the throne. And from what I've read it was Sigismund who founded the Order of the Dragons. Got any sources of info on her better than google and wikipedia?
    (edited to correct a typo)

  16. Sorry, I read all this ages ago and so can't provide named sources: but, as I remember it, Barbara married Sigismund while his prestige was in a bit of a slump and she already had a bad reputation at court (lots of smears about her alleged infidelity) and was quite a powerful, independent woman who ruled at home while he was at war. She was also the co-founder of the Order of the Dragon. There were various rumours about her having affairs during that time, but more to the point, when Sigismund died in the middle of the Hussite wars she became queen and basically found herself allying with the Hussites in proxy wars against her Hapsburg rivals, and losing despite valiant efforts and some machiavellian intrigues. They then smeared her reputation with various charges of blood drinking, homosexuality, infidelity etc.

    They were so successful in doing this that I know there's a theory that she was the inspiration for Le Fanu's novel Carmilla, usually described as "that 1872 lesbian vampire novel". That might be where the occult stuff came from.

  17. @Richard

    What about the part where Sigismund had her imprisoned for some scheme having to do with who would rule Poland and then after his death she was released but exiled from Hungary? That wouldn't fit with her being Queen of Hungary after his death would it? I've found a couple other pages other than the Wiki one which retells the Poland plot story as well.

    So there isn't much accurate information about her apparently.

  18. Oh and they said that when she was exiled all her property was confiscated and she lived the rest of her life outside of Hungary.

    When I look up notable women in Hungarian history the ones mentioned, with the exception of Elizabeth Bathory, are much more modern.

  19. And there's no mention of her as ruler of Hungary if you look up the chronological order of Hungarian Kings and/or rulers from the Arpad dynasty onwards, though Sigismund's first wife Mary is in some of the lists, it was Mary's father who named Sigismund his heir to the Hungarian throne. I don't think Barbara was ever anything but Queen Regent and never ruled Hungary after Sigismund died.

    Here Zak--this is the most reliable account of her activities I've seen:
    1412-14, 1416-19 and 1431-33 "Stadholder" Queen Barbara von Cilli in Hungary and Croatia
    1437 "Stadholder" of Bohemia (Czech Republic)
    Her husband, Sigmund of Luxemburg, king of Hungary and King of Germany from 1410, king of Bohemia from 1419 and Holy Roman Emperor since 1433. In Hungary she took over the "regni curia" when he went to Italy, first supported by her brother-in-law the Palatine Garai Miklós and two bishops. 1414-16 she went to Aachen for the coronation and participated in the Council of Konstanz before she returned and took over the government in Hungary. In the 1420's she followed her husband on his journeys during the Empire and he included her in the decision-making. During her second regency in Hungary she managed to maintain peace after a settlement was reached with the Hussites. After her coronation as Queen of Bohemia in 1437 she also acted as regent here for a few moths. After her husband's death the same year she was arrested by his successor, Albrecht II, but was able to flee to Poland. After Albrecht's death in 1439 she returned and settled at her dowry at Menik near Prague for the rest of her life. She was daughter of Herman II, Count von Cilli and Countess Anna von Schaunberg, mother of one daughter, Elisabeth, and lived (1390/95-1451).

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  22. @zak

    No she was just well educated and power hungry and the religious types who wrote about her and her family didn't like that and Albrecht's Hapsburg dynasty didn't like her trying to oppose him as heir to the Hungarian throne after Sigismund so they made up a bunch of rumors about her, one being that she and her daughter (who married Albrecht) profaned holy communion by drinking blood instead of wine and two that she maintained a female harem during her exile. Even the monk or whoever who writes all this hateful stuff about her family says she's "elegant of body".

    As with Elizabeth Bathory, powerful family, well educated and multilingual, supposedly beautiful and more active than was expected or approved of at court or in their own castles. Could go with the Vampire thing. Though there are way less stories about Barabra in the popular culture at the time she was alive and now, she lacks the notoriety of Vlad and Bathory. I'd say Elizabeth beats Barbara on account of the famous and grizzly peasant rebellion during Elizabeth's childhood and the actual trial of Elizabeth and some of the women that served her, presided over by the Hungarian Palatine.

    More interesting is the Dragon Order which supposedly existed before Barbara and Sigismund inaugurated it, and it's inner court "Sarkeny Rend" which only 24 noble families were (and still are according to one seemingly decent source) apart of while the exterior court of the Dragon Order was open to all the nobility. Sigismund had the Pope of officially approve the Order around the time he was made Holy Roman Emperor.

  23. Source "Historica Bohemica" written in 1458 by a "humanist historian" of the era Piccolomini and the "Cilli Chronicles" recorded by a monk.

  24. And here's a bizarre page supposedly about the modern Order of the Dragon

  25. *is busily making notes on the Order of the Dragon stuff, thanks Mandy and Zak, you've been very helpful...*

  26. I guess now everybody knows who the real brains of this operation is.

  27. Zak (& Mandy): Next time you come to Gyor (or Hungary), feel free to jump in :) Also, I think Gabor Melan Lux would also like to meet you

  28. Borbala probably stayed in the castle of Buda or Visegrad (dont forget that before 1873, there was no Budapest, just Buda (castle), Óbuda (settlement in the place of roman Aquincum, and the damaged Pest on the other side of Danube), and later went into

    Also, in the time of Matthias Corvinus there was a rumor that he is actually an illegitime son of Sigismund (Borbalas husband). Fits in, right?

  29. No I heard Barbara spent most of her time at Kelmek, though Queens went and stayed either at (I'm too lazy to find out which specifically right now) Vezperem or Visegrad when pregnant and/or to give birth there.

  30. While we're here, what're people's thoughts on Elizabet's trial being an over-the-top frame job to grab her shit?

  31. Historically it seems to be a frame. But I would prefer the rumors to be true in an RPG setting :)

  32. @Zak
    I've read she was also associated with the city of Hradec Králové in Bohemia (although the city was already called "Castle of the Queen" one century before her).

    No, I don't have reliable sources about the whole "occult"/Vampire aspect. She seems rather to have been a learned lady and may have really dabbled with "Alchemy".

    This website has many (weird occult) sources about the Vampiric legend of Barbara but the whole story may have been about another nameless woman. In the Book of Abramelin, the eponymous character claims he raised an undead woman for the Emperor Sigismund.

  33. Huh, I hadn't realized that Elizabeth Bathory lived so close to Vlad. How interesting....