Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: commentary

Sekigahara

October 22, 2022
Narrator:
That year, at dawn of the twenty-first day of the tenth month—the month without gods—the main armies clashed. It was in the mountains near Sekigahara, astride the North Road. By late afternoon, Toranaga had won the battle and the slaughter began.
Forty thousand heads were taken.

— “Shōgun” (1980)

The year is 1600 C.E.

The book and television mini-series are a fictionalized account of the events leading up to this historical battle which de facto unified Japan.

40,000 heads!

Forced Redemption

September 26, 2022
Lamont Cranston:
You know my real name?
The Tulku:
Yes. I also know that for as long as you can remember, you struggled against your own black heart and always lost. You watched your spirit, your very face, change as the beast claws its way out from within you. You are in great pain, aren’t you?
[Cranston leaps at the Tulku who magically avoids the attack.]
The Tulku:
You know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, for you have seen that evil in your own heart. Every man pays a price for redemption; this is yours.
Lamont Cranston:
I’m not looking for redemption.
The Tulku:
You have no choice. You will be redeemed, because I will teach you to use your black shadow to fight evil.
[Cranston continues to violently resist but only succeeds in exhausting himself.]
Lamont Cranston:
Am I in Hell?
The Tulku:
Not yet.

— “The Shadow” (1994)

An unique and fascinating concept: a holy man forcibly redeeming an evil man—a lost soul, really—through both great compassion and (implied) harsh discipline.

Why Muskets Supplanted Bows

July 4, 2022

…[The Native American] self bow and the seventeenth-century musket had comparable effective ranges (50 yards optimum, 100 to 150 yards at the outside)….

…For Amerindians, because the bow or the musket had to serve in both war and the hunt, something in the technology had to satisfy the needs of both pursuits…. A musket ball was less likely than an arrow to be deflected by vegetation, and it also had a greater kinetic impact on the target. A deer hit with an arrow receives a very deep wound…, which, though eventually lethal, might require the hunter to pursue the bleeding deer for some distance. In contrast, a musket penetrates flesh, shatters bone, and creates a larger wound cavity. It “smacks,” whereas an arrow “slices….” A military musketball at 50 yards hits a target with 706 foot pounds of kinetic energy. An arrow from a typical modern bow hits at 50 yards with 50 to 80 foot pounds of energy. This is more than enough to penetrate flesh and tissue and produce a killing wound, but it is much less likely to drop an animal in its tracks.

The musket has similar advantages against humans. Much of a human target is limbs, especially when walls or trees are used to cover the trunk of the body. An arrow wound to the leg or arm is rarely lethal, although it can be debilitating. But a musketball strike to the arm or leg may shatter the bone and is more likely to carry debris into the wound, lead to infection, sepsis, and death.… In the immediate term, a man with a shattered leg or arm, flung to the ground by the weight of a musket shot, also makes a better target for being taken prisoner…. Unable to flee, he becomes vulnerable and may hold up his fellows trying to carry him away from the field…. More obviously, bullets cannot be dodged, whereas arrows in flight over any distance (especially on an arcing trajectory) can be seen and dodged. Modern film footage of the Dani people’s arrow and javelin battles in New Guinea shows this process clearly, and numerous European witnesses commented on the Amerindians’ ability to dodge arrows.

Empires and Indigenes, pp. 56-58

Emphases mine.

Players of fantasy RPGs should note the quoted effective range for bows. Many games have much longer distances, but those are derived from battlefields where archers are loosing volleys at large enemy formations. Gamers should further note the ease of dodging an arrow at anything beyond short range.

Limitations Become Irrelevant

July 2, 2022
The Ancient One:
Matter is energy which is all around us. Sorcery is simply the art of wielding that energy….
Control the forces around your hands, and limitations become irrelevant.

— “Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme” (2007)

Not eliminated. Just irrelevant.

Luminous Beings Are We

June 22, 2022
Yoda:
Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it; makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you: here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere….

— “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

Emphasis mine. This is the original, understated spirituality of the Star Wars saga.

Battle-Hardened But Still a Squire

April 25, 2022

Jean [de Carrouges]…held the rank of squire. Rather than the “gallant youth” this term often brings to mind, he was a battle-hardened veteran already in his forties, one of those “mature men of a rather heavy type—knights in all but name.

By 1380 [C.E.], Jean…commanded his own troop of squires, numbering from four to as many as nine, in the campaigns to rid Normandy of the English. In war he sought to burnish his name and enrich himself by seizing booty and capturing prisoners to hold for ransom, a lucrative business in the fourteenth century. He may also have sought a knighthood, which would have doubled his pay on campaign…. [A] knight’s daily pay on campaign was one livre, while a squire received half that.

The Last Duel, Chapter 1

Emphases mine.

A squire would not be knighted if he could not afford to maintain that higher station. Thus the drive for booty and ransom.

A Rough, Stark World

October 22, 2021

…The country [of tenth century Castile] is high and bare, though it may have been more thickly wooded in the early Middle Ages than it is today….

…Large tracts of land were still untamed, roamed by wild pigs and cattle, wolves and probably bears…. They were roamed also by voluntary or involuntary drop-outs from human society such as hermits or outlaws….

It was a rough, stark world where status mattered, justice was uncomplicated, and war never far away.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, chapter 5

This sounds like a great setting for a fantasy roleplaying game.

Guerrilla Warfare Is as Old as Mankind

October 16, 2021

Guerrilla warfare is as old as mankind. Conventional warfare is, by contrast, a relatively recent invention…. The first genuine armies—commanded by a strict hierarchy, composed of trained soldiers, disciplined with threats of punishment, divided into different specialties (spearmen, bowmen, charioteers, engineers), deployed in formations, supported by a logistics service—arose after 3100 [B.C.E.] in Egypt and Mesopotamia….

Considering that Homo sapiens has been roaming the earth for at least [150,000] years and his hominid ancestors for millions of years before that, the era of conventional conflict is the blink of an eye in historical terms….

Throughout most of our species’ long and bloody slog, both before the development of urban civilization and since, warfare has been carried out primarily by bands of loosely organized, ill-disciplined, lightly armed volunteers who disdain open battle. They prefer to employ stealth, surprise, and rapid movement to harass, ambush, massacre, and terrorize their enemies while trying to minimize their own casualties through rapid retreat when confronted by equal or stronger forces. These are the primary features both of modern guerrilla warfare and of primitive, prestate warfare whose origins are lost in the mists of prehistoric time…. Guerrillas therefore may be said to engage in the world’s second-oldest profession, behind only hunting, which draws on the same skill set.

Max Boot, Invisible Armies, pp. 9-10

How about hobgoblins and orcs fighting like this?

May Thy Knife Chip and Shatter

October 7, 2021
Jamis:
May thy knife chip and shatter.

— “Dune” (1984)

This is a common Fremen taunt. In a magical world, this could be a proper curse—speaking it to make it happen.

A Khyber Knife

September 29, 2021

Rung ho!” Narayan Singh shouted again. A tremendous overhand cut knocked his opponent back on his heels; the Lancer took the instant to pull a Khyber knife from his girdle and flip it through the air toward King.

“Here, huzoor—for you!”

It flashed through the air; a genuine Pathan chora, a pointed cleaver two feet long with a back as thick as a man’s thumb and an edge fit to shave with….

S.M. Stirling, The Peshawar Lancers, Chapter 4

Such a brief but vivid description.

Being Tough

June 14, 2021

“Winning fistfights means being good at fistfighting,” Susan said. “Being tough means looking at something ugly, and saying ‘That’s ugly; I’ll have to find a way to deal with it.’ And doing so.”

Robert B. Parker, Sixkill

From the last Spenser novel completed before the author’s death. 🙁

The Principles of War

April 29, 2012

Philip [of Macedon], Alexander [the Great]’s father, said that it is better to have an army of deer commanded by a lion than an army of lions commanded by a deer; Alexander himself told his men that their greatest advantage was that their leader was Alexander. Alexander lived and practiced what modern (Western) military theorists teach to their pupils as the principles of war. The principles were developed out of an analysis of Napoleon’s campaigns and today are supposed to guide military officers in the practice of their profession and to guide historians in their analysis of campaigns and leadership. The principles are (in order of importance): the objective, the offensive, surprise, mass and economy of force, security, unity of command, maneuver, and simplicity.

With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, Afterword, p. 273

Emphasis mine.

The number and order of the principles varies across countries and cultures. For a sample, see the Wikipedia entry for the Principles of War.

Control of Attention Is the First Skill of a Magician

September 28, 2011

Attention is selectivity applied to perception. It is an inward decision, usually made unconsciously, about what is worth perceiving and what isn’t. Attention both finds meaning and creates meaning. When we adopt the principle of “separate the subtle from the gross,” we are deciding on purpose where we want our attention to go, temporarily withholding it from what is obvious and bestowing it instead on what is inconspicuous and elusive.

In the world of spirit, attention is the equivalent of physical movement. It carries us toward the knowledge and acquaintances we seek and away from influences that we have determined to be harmful or useless. If you can’t control your attention, you can’t move properly, can’t get where you want to go when you want to go there. To the extent that you allow your attention to be jerked around by whatever happens to be manifesting most insistently, you look to other spiritual beings like a spastic. Control of attention is thus the first skill an aspiring magician must master, and perhaps the most important.

On Becoming an Alchemist, pp. 52-53

Supernatural Tactics of the Mongols

November 16, 2010

The Mongols even resorted to supernatural means to assure their success. They asked Tenggri, or Heaven, for his favor on the battlefield, in the same way that Muslim and Christian armies appealed to their god. But the Mongols also employed other supernatural tactics, of which the most important was weather magic, conducted by a shaman known as the jadaci.

Several accounts mention the use of weather magic. The jadaci used special rocks known as rain stones, thought to be imbued with the power to control weather, in order to summon rainstorms, or even snowstorms in the summer, which caught the enemy ill-prepared. The Mongols, who had lured their opponents away from their base, took shelter during the storm and then attacked while their foes were disoriented. A prime example of this tactic was recorded during the war against the Jin after Chinggis Khan’s death. Bar Hebraeus relates that Ögödei resorted to using rain stones after he saw the size of a Jin field army. After he had lured the Jin away from any support, he called upon his jadaci to summon a storm. The ensuing downpour, in the normally dry month of July, lasted for three day and three nights. The Jin army was caught in the open and drenched while the Mongols donned rain gear and waited the storm out. They then turned around and ambushed the Jin army, annihilating it.

Other sources indicate that Tolui, rather than Ögödei, was the general involved in this episode. Tolui had retreated after encountering a much larger Jin force, and after the Jin had attacked his rearguard he summoned a Turkic rainmaker to perform his magic. Rashid al-Din recorded that ‘this is a kind of sorcery carried out with various stones, the property of which is that when they are taken out, placed in water, and washed, cold, snow, rain and blizzards at once appear even though it’s the middle of summer.’ The rain continued for three days, changing on the final day to snow accompanied by an icy wind. The Jin troops were exposed to this severe weather while the Mongols found shelter. After four days of snow, the Mongols attacked and destroyed the bewildered and weakened Jin troops.

Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War, pp. 81-82

This is the first explicit reference I have found of the use of magic in warfare.

Bronze Age Greek Art of War

February 16, 2010

…As a group [the Greek hero-kings of the Iliad] represent the Bronze Age art of war. Their hands were battle-wise with blood and calloused from stealing cattle. They could trample the enemy like a carpet under their feet or calm the heart of a nervous army under attack. They knew horses like a stable hand and ships like a boatswain, but most of all they knew men and how to lead them. They could be as smooth as the ghee-and-honey paste with which Assyrians cemented rows of mud brick or as rough as the gnarled limbs of an old olive tree. They knew which soldiers to reward with silver rings and which to punish with prison or mutilation. They could inspire the men to follow on foot while they rode in their chariots and to compete for the honor of fighting bravely in their presence.

They could break an enemy’s lance or deceive him with words. They knew how much flour it took to feed an army and how much wood was needed to burn a corpse. They knew how to pitch camp or launch a fleet, how to debrief a spy or send out an informer. They could draw a bow and split a copper ingot like a reed or hurl a spear and pierce the seam in an enemy’s armor. They shrugged off mud and snow, towering waves or buckets of rain. They could appraise lapis lazuli with a jeweler’s eye or break a merchant’s neck with a hangman’s hands. They could court a milkmaid or rape a princess. They relished ambushes after dark and noontime charges. They feared the gods and liked the smell of death.

Barry Strauss, The Trojan War, pp. 34-35

A very vivid description of a hands-on leader in a brutal era.

A Bronze Age Setting

September 28, 2009

I came across this pair of blogposts on Tankards and Broadswords:

  1. Bronze Age Settings (Aside From the Obvious)
  2. The Great Ziggurat of Ur

The first contains a clear imagining of what a Bronze Age setting could be like—would feel like. The second illustrates the cyclopean architecture found in the period.

Xenograg’s homeland is supposed to be Early Iron Age. Bronze armor, weapons, and architecture are still seen in some places, and the magical arms in tombs will likely be of bronze. I even have a house rule that says bronze is better than iron for enchantment.

My compliments, Badelaire.

Proving One’s Ability to Oneself

August 26, 2009

The coaching technique profiled in the New York Times article “Teaching Golf Pros What They Already Know” is just what I strive to impart as Xenograg to his dueling students. He does not impose his style upon a student, but seeks to enlighten her regarding her1 own natural style—and to trust in it (and thus herself).

Here is the key quote:

“I don’t teach; I help these guys learn,” Lynch said. “You can’t tell someone to do XYZ because they won’t do it out there.”

Silk Shirts Lessen Arrow Wounds

June 17, 2009

After the conquest of northern China, the Mongols were issued silk shirts to wear under their clothing. Silk is tough and will generally follow an arrowhead into the wound without breaking. The silk can then be tugged gently from the wound, drawing out the arrowhead without enlarging the injury.

Erik Hildinger, Warriors of the Steppe, Chapter 7, p. 121

Furthermore, as the silk did not break or tear, no foreign matter was left in the wound. This greatly reduced the chance of dying from infection.

Concept of a Manifest Deity

June 3, 2009

People often ask me if I believe in the Goddess. I reply, “Do you believe in rocks?” It is extremely difficult for most Westerners to grasp the concept of a manifest deity. The phrase “believe in” itself implies that we cannot know the Goddess, that She is somehow intangible, incomprehensible. But we do not believe in rocks—we may see them, touch them, dig them out of our gardens, or stop small children from throwing them at each other. We know them; we connect with them….

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, Chapter 5

Manifest deities are not just a staple in role-playing games; they are usually the default cosmology. Characters do not have belief or unbelief in deities, but rather trust or lack trust in them.

More on Hunting as War Training

April 25, 2009

I have previously posted on Hunting as War Training. Both this and that excerpt reference the medieval European experience, but the concept is not exclusive to that period.

Hunting in all its forms was strongly recommended by chivalric writers as the perfect preparation for military life. The typical argument was put forward in the first half of the fourteenth century [C.E.] by [King] Alfonso XI, who found time between ruling his kingdom of Castile and fighting the Moors to write a book about the sport.

For a knight should always engage in anything to do with arms and chivalry, and if he cannot do so in war, he should do so in activities which resemble war. And the chase is most similar to war, for these reasons: war demands expense, met without complaint; one must be well horsed and well armed; one must be vigorous, and do without sleep, suffer lack of good food and drink, rise early, sometimes have a poor bed, undergo cold and heat, and conceal one’s fear.

Different types of hunting required different skills, all relevant to warfare, including knowledge of the quarry’s habits, handling a pack of hounds, complete control of an often-frightened horse and the use of various weapons, including spears and swords to perform the kill.

Agincourt, Chapter 2