Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Irish Problem

Those supporting my Patreon know that I haven't done anything in the way of mapmaking for a couple of months (which isn't like me).  The good news is that for six months or so I have been working on England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  I haven't done any actual mapmaking, but I have done most of the research necessary.  I have approximately 400 villages, towns and cities that have been looked at and confirmed as existing at the time of my world, the year 1650.  The research also includes what disasters have happened in these places (as I reduce the population of a town if it has had a plague, been destroyed, abandoned or pillaged) and most importantly, who controls the town?

Now, most places in 1650 are relatively stable.  Borders change and shift between kingdoms and empires, but large parts of the world have usually been under one government for centuries or longer.  Iberia, for example, was easy since everything south of the Pyrenees has been Spanish or Portuguese since the ousting of Islam.  There were a few border places in Estremadura (a region that spreads over both those countries), but nothing complicated.

England and Scotland are about the same.  In 1650 Cromwell had consolidated his control over the main island of Britain, so that at the mid-point of his authority, it is easy to identify every center as either England or Scotland.

But those who know history, who have heard me mention Cromwell, know that Ireland is a ghastly, horrendous mess in 1650.  Cromwell's forces landed in early 1649 and the war that followed was an episode in brutality, atrocity, clumsy military policy and strategies marked by unrestrained activity on both sides.  Effectively, the war was an early experience in guerrilla measures, an attempt to win by attrition, both exacerbated by famine and even an outbreak of bubonic plague.  Estimates describing the drop in Irish population range from 15 to 83 percent, depending on the source quoted, with as many as 50,000 people transported as indentured laborers (which, in the 17th century, translates as slave labor).  And therefore, in my world, who controls Ireland?  A party of players could spend three years running there and never be sure.

One thing, it is a hell of a place for adventuring, if massacres, taking a stand on a piece of land and hiring out as a mercenary is the party's thing.  To hell with a dungeon; just crossing the landscape would be living day and night in a free-for-all combat zone, potentially heightened by creating armed troops consisting of everything from brownies and sprites to banshees, headless horsemen and demon kings.  All the party needs is nerve.

But from a DM's perspective, how do I make the map?  Who runs Ireland?

Off hand, it would be easiest to identify Ireland as part of the British Empire.  The Brits are in control of most of the major ports, Dublin, Galway, Wexford, Cork and such; the bigger inland places, Athlone, Limerick, the Shannon valley, is hold-out Irish.  But there's no central Irish government that can be described as controlling those areas not conquered and garrisoned by the Brits; even local government in the "lawless zone" is run by fiat and the despotism of insurrectionists who are themselves barely organized.  The bigger point to be made, however, is what's most "romantic"?  What best fits a D&D game?

I like this:

For clarification, The Pale was a part of Ireland directly under the control of the English government in the late middle ages.  Gallowglasses were a class of elite mercenary warriors primarily of Norse-Gaelic clans of Scotland.  Other Scot colonists (Ulster-Scots) settled in northern Ireland in the early 17th century, led by James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery.  Vikings settled in Ireland between the 800s until the 12th century, in scattered places, mostly in places that would become abandoned and then later occupied by Irish.  The Normans were, of course, French in origin (and Viking Norse long before that).  All these come together to make Ireland a terrific hodgepodge.

The map is tremendous for making a clear designation for what parts of the island the Brits control (though I am going through a county-by-county historical investigation for better detail); for those parts not Brit, the larger clans can be designated as "controlling" those zones.  It is, however, grittier than what I need; I can be satisfied that the McCarthys and O'Sullivans control the southwest without having to keep track of every O'Hurley, O'Daly and Ferris in the region.  I can plunder the names and make them small groups in the bigger picture for an actual campaign, but the map can just list the major clans.

Sorting this out will take time - and if you have a particular love for a particular name (your own, perhaps), I'm sorry if you're not included.  The map above, though, will tell you what hex your people ought to come from, once I get the map made and posted.

It is reasons like this that I have left England off the world for so long.  I began making my world map in 2005 and here I am, 11 years later, with all of Europe made but without the British Isles (or Iceland, for that matter).  I knew it was going to be a bitch.  I'm going to be glad when it is behind me.


Dani Osterman said...

That's a fabulous map.

Would you be willing to talk a little more about things to consider if a party wanted to adventure against the backdrop of such a war?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Sure, Dani. We'll say you're the party.

You land at dockside in Galway. As you disembark, you're warned by the captain not to stray too far down the wrong lanes. Portside, all is bustle and noise. You're thrust out of the way as handcarts and porters haul goods between warehouses and ships. Shunted to one side, you're approached by a young peddlar with a strong Irish accent. You decide not to buy anything and an Englishman approaches you and warns you about talking to these Irish. "They're all thieves and liars, they'll lure you into an alleyway and cut your throat or sell you to the O'Flahertys. You're a foreigner and you don't know any better." He encourages you to go to have a drink with him, a place called "Jennings House." He introduces you to men who speak nothing but straight racism against Irish, making jokes about killing them and feeding them to the cattle, until you become uncomfortable enough to find an excuse to leave. If you don't leave, they'll try to find you a house to rest in and either do you a misdeed or encourage you to help them do a misdeed to some helpless Irish.

Leaving the men and the place, you notice that there's eyes on you, studying you, noting where you've just had a drink and guessing whether or not you can be trusted. You head off and you notice you're being followed. You try to confront the sneak behind you and suddenly three or four men bar your way, asking you in thick accents where you're from, what your intentions are and whether you're leaving again by the boat.

Pretty soon, you realize that both sides are doing their best to either pull you into their camp (which will involve some nefarious intent) or take umbrage with you because it's assumed you're in THEIR camp. There's no neutral ground. Whatever you do, someone assumes you're working for one side or the other - and worst of all, both sides assume the latter. Things escalate; confrontations fail to prove your good intentions until sooner or later you've made a deal with the devil; and let's be clear, BOTH sides are the devil.

Jonathon said...

This is interesting to me by itself and as a potential model for other parts of the world. What you're showing here would seem to be applicable anywhere else that has both a lack of central government and a non-nomadic culture; family and clan associations would then tend towards greater importance. Or even where there is a central government but it's not the real power in the region - times and places where organized crime families are essentially running things, say.

Is there anywhere else on the edges of your existing maps that you see this kind of layout coming into play?

Vlad Malkav said...

Glorious, just glorious, I'd sign with both hands for a DM starting a game like this !

It's giving depth and meaning fast and hard :)

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Jeez! What fun ... and so much tension!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, there are other places in the world with the lack of a central government and factionalism: Basque Spain, Sicily and Calabria in Italy, Afghanistan, the Shan States in Burma, even the feud-fueled back-country of the American Appalachians a century after (born out of the same Irish/Scots that emigrated to America). But there are distinctions that make Ireland unlike no other place on earth.

To begin with, there is the topography. Unlike most hill-country factionalism, Ireland is lush and green, the mountains low and verdant, the countryside less divisive. Scotland is moor and heath and split by deep, stony valleys, so that even though the mountains are of low elevation the splits between countrysides is more severe. Afghanistan is almost impassable while Burma is thick, deep jungle.

Other areas are very small: Basque Spain is a few thousand square miles, Sicily is a fifth the size of Ireland, the violent parts of Bosnia or the Black Forest are incidental in size.

Ireland is an island, far enough from England to keep it distinctly separate, unlike Sicily that is only two miles off the toe of Italy. Most other areas of factionalism are connected by land, such as Scotland, where the borders were fought over continuously but also served as a focal point for conflict. Because Ireland can't be reached by marching overland, it needs to be supplied by sea, which makes the best ports the points of contention, all around the island, rather than the southern border like the Scot-English wars. As well, Ireland is filled with ports that lead directly to producing parts of the island, unlike Scotland where much of the coastline is of little value (the ports that exist support a war along the land border I've mentioned).

(to be continued)

Dani Osterman said...

Thank you! My brain is spinning with ideas now.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Other factional regions are not as exclusively the back-country of an enormously powerful, heterogeneous state able to carry out a long-term war of attrition with the tribes there, against an entity that did not collapse easily. Spain crushed the Basques and the Catalans several times through history, with easy access overland, so that the violence could never be widespread. The Shan States in Burma and the wilds of Afghanistan were remote and mostly ignored by their neighbors, though of course it was Kabol in Afghanistan that ultimately raised the army that conquered northern India (the Moghuls); still, they conquered India but not Seistran, Aria or the small outlying areas of the Pamirs mountains, who went on feuding with them. Conversely, Ireland sustained itself against total English control for centuries, continuing to be a major pain in England's side right up to the late 20th century (and it could be again, if not treated well). And yet, Ireland was fairly the province of English adventurism; no large scale Spanish or French army landed on its coast after the Normans. This made Ireland and England a PERSONAL war, the way Scotland and England was a personal war; for members of the British Isles only. There are no other comparisons.

While Japan had endless factions prior to the rise of Tokugawa, again there was no Superpower just across the water. China tried to invade Japan; they failed utterly.

Then compare the character of Ireland. It, like factional parts of Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Waziristan or even West Africa (the Fulu cultures), was highly religious. But while Islam is a restrictive religion, Catholicism is a PERMISSIVE religion. It argues that it is up to you to declare that you've done wrong and be forgiven; the priests in Ireland were ready to forgive the murders and brutality of the tribes, while existing as a moral force to bind a community together. Unlike Islam, where the priests punish peoples who do not obey the law, the Catholic religion was prepared to let the clans off the chain. Why that matters is this: in Iran, you could hate the other tribe if they were Sunni or Sufi, but not if they adhered to the same point of view as our peoples - unless they had specifically harmed one of our family and invoked retribution. But the O'Flahertys and O'Malleys could also rush out and kill other Catholics for ANY reason, because they weren't bound by religious laws to respect other members of their own religion. This made it a free for all between all the clans, not just between the clans and the English.

Scotland, as ever very similar to Ireland, embraced Presbyterianism - which is much more like the Islamic model where it came to communities obeying the rules. A Presbyterian priest could ostracize a Ross or a Campbell who didn't respect a minister's words; no such restriction existed among the Irish because Catholic priests did not view their religion as autocratic but as redeeming after the fact. If you're sorry, you can be forgiven. No Presbyterian is ever as forgiving as a Catholic.

Finally, Ireland (very much unlike Scotland) was far more erudite and intellectual in character. It had always embraced a different kind of philosopher/thinker as part of its lexicon and very often such persons were highly respected. Ireland was the most learned place in Europe in the 7th century and that idealism persisted - still persists, as demonstrated by the tremendous presence of Irish promoters, writers, musicians and such that have greatly influenced English, much more - I would argue - that the Scots have (though I grant that some could argue the point). The difference for me is that Scottish philosophers and writers have tended to define the status quo in their presentation; while the Irish have always fought it.

There you have it. I don't think there is another Ireland in the world, anywhere. I do think, however, that any number of fantasy worlds could incorporate a similar circumstance.