Think Tank: Going Boom!

In an armoured room deep in the heart of the Dark Harvest’s secret bunker, a lone ginger Igor sits and scratches away with pen and parchment; creating ideas and information for his master.

These are his musings.

This week, I’m continuing to follow up on the fortified churches story with a quick look at explosives, and how a GM can support your desire to Blow Something Up.

Some science and games mechanics follow, along with a couple of maniacal giggles!

Continue reading

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Think Tank: The Combat Engineer

In an armoured room deep in the heart of the Dark Harvest’s secret bunker, a lone ginger Igor sits and scratches away with pen and parchment; creating ideas and information for his master.

These are his musings.

Welcome to the Think Tank! Iain’s piece on fortified churches got me thinking like a PMF general – how would the Promethean Military Force have organised their ability to handle a siege? What would they have done to develop the capability to take out the church at Denndorf, for example? This is the first of two short articles – the first gives an insight into the specialists of the PMF Engineering Corps; the second will look at explosives and their use against buildings in a bit more detail. Here we go… Continue reading

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Saxon Fortified Churches of Promethea

In the 13th Century, the kings of Hungary encouraged settlers, mainly farmers and merchants from the Rhineland, to settle in what we know as Transylvania. These Saxon settlers were given special social and economic status, a treatment they guarded jealously through the centuries that followed and the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Note the high windows from which defenders could fire, and the arches above the buttresses, behind which were openings allowing things to be dropped or poured onto attackers.

Note the high windows from which defenders could fire, and the arches above the buttresses, behind which were openings allowing things to be dropped or poured onto attackers.

The areas they settled were remarkably abundant, and the towns and villages they founded were very often quite rich – able to bear the occasionally huge taxes imposed on them first by their Hungarian and then Imperial rulers, who treated their Transylvanian territories as a bank account to be dipped into in times of trouble with scant regard for the effect on their subjects. In the founding of Promethea, that history was played on to great effect by Frankenstein and his allies. The chance to throw off the onerous weight of ‘absent landlords’ and to truly forge their own destiny appealed greatly to the Saxon spirit.

The settlers had other concerns beyond their Hungarian rulers. As a border country, they were in the firing line. They suffered sporadic invasions from Tatars in the 16th to 17th Centuries, and from the Ottoman Empire, who had eyes on the holdings of the Austro-Hungarians. As a result, the most successful Saxon settlements were the most fortified. This also applied to their churches.

In the mid-1860’s, English writer Charles Boner stayed with the Protestant clergyman responsible for the fortified church at Mediasch – modern day Medias in the county of Sibiu.

A drawing of Medias from around the time of Charles Boner's visit.

A drawing of Medias from around the time of Charles Boner’s visit.

“The church is surrounded by three high walls, flanked with towers, and a low, pointed, arched portal leads from one to the other. In almost every Saxon village there are similar evidences of the danger in which men lived in earlier times. They went to rest at night in perfect peace, and at morning perhaps, when the streaks of dawn were just appearing above the hill-top, there, too, would be seen wild and barbarous hordes, waiting in the twilight to descend upon their prey. Many an every-day arrangement, even, tells us of the fear which regulated their acts. There was a time, for example, when the early service was postponed till a later hour, – it not being thought safe to open the gates of the stronghold in which the church stood in the dim light of daybreak, lest the enemy, taking them by surprise, might force his way in. In some churches I have seen the large round stones still standing on the parapet of the tower, as they were placed centuries back to hurl down upon the besiegers, when the outer walls were taken, and, all being lost, the inhabitants were attacked in this last place of defence.”

Stones were not the only thing Boner found on standing, a little breathless, on the high walls of these bastions:

“Besides these still remaining from old perilous times, I have seen rusty halberds and clumsy fire-arms, fitted only to fire from behind the wall.”

Boner mentions that his research reading spoke of warrior pastors, whose effects could include cup, cassock, and suit of armour.

This is a nice shot of (what I sincerely hope is) the fortified church Boner stayed close to in Medias.

This is a nice shot of (what I sincerely hope is) the fortified church Boner stayed close to in Medias.

The Saxon fortified churches were built not on the orders of some local landed dignitary or princeling lord. These were structures built by the burghers for their own protection. There was no standard plan, with local conditions and available resources defining the look of the church. In general terms, though, these buildings were stocky, solid, and largely unadorned:

“The view to defence also was a reason why solidity was preferred to ornament; and why, in these Saxon fortified churches, we find all broad, strong, firm, and wholly destitute of that decoration which in other lands church architecture always presents.”

Note the very easily defendable main entrance.

Note the very easily defendable main entrance.

The lack of useable sandstone was another reason for the scarcity of fancy flourishes. What there was was needed for the main construction and the walls. So scarce was quality building material that nearby Roman ruins were enthusiastically plundered, adding Roman columns and other ‘ornamentation’ to buildings that otherwise had none. Only the bell tower and font, as Boner points out, might be given a little more careful attention, and both because of their importance. The former in particular was especially vital – in event of the alarm needing to be raised, and help called from neighbouring settlements, it was the church bell that needed to be used.

Sometimes, all you need is a wall. A really big wall.

Sometimes, all you need is a wall. A really big wall.

The churches were fortified by surrounding walls, towers, bastions, and even moats and bridges. Storehouses were abundant. Even when Boner visited, many villages had never lost the habit of storing their produce in the structures in and around their church sanctuaries. The churches themselves were internally first and foremost designed for defence, despite also being places of worship. Buttresses were stout and heavy, arched at the top, and defenders within could drop stones, throw and fire weapons, and even pour flaming pitch down on any attackers at the walls. It was not unheard of that the most exposed walls had no windows or doors at all.

For the military of Promethea, these churches were both an opportunity and a threat. Each was a ready-made fortress, and no few were used as such, forming the administrative centres for military bases and the like. The unoccupied ones presented an issue. Too central, too obvious to be used as resistance bases, they nonetheless were a security risk. As a place for a last stand, they must have been tempting to say the least.

Far less defensible, the wooden churches of Wallachia were certainly not impregnable fortresses.

Far less defensible, the wooden churches of Wallachia were certainly not impregnable fortresses.











Many of these unique structures remain today, and a number have been given due recognition as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The link includes a lovely video showing some of the defences.

Boner, 187 to 197 and elsewhere.

Tatars in Transylvania:

Some beautiful pictures of Transylvania, including the fortified church at Biertan, one of the UNESCO churches:

A modern picture by Jacek Brejnak of the fortified church at Saschiz (Boner knew it as Kaisd, see above), another of those selected by UNESCO, now standing beside a tower built in the 1830’s that Boner chose to ignore:




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The Cigány, and the distractions afforded by town fountains

One of the issues for adventurers in Promethea are the travel restrictions – in general, one must have a certified reason to go for longer trips, while some troubled regions require extensive documentation to travel even to the next village. A tradition beginning in Hungary in the 18th Century, the Czárdás represents an option for adventurers with musical abilities.

In Promethea, it becomes the Cigány – the Romani equivalent. By the mid-19th Century, there was a strong tradition of travelling Romani musicians in Transylvania and into Wallachia. Folk bands, led by a Kappelmeister, spent the winters playing locally at various balls. In the summer, the best of them travelled far and wide, including to Bucharest, and were well paid by the standards of the time and well respected. Even the stiff-upper-lipped English traveller Charles Boner was deeply impressed by the musicianship of the Roma players, though insisted on using the Hungarian name for the music and not the Roma one. Indeed, he waxes lyrical with an intense enthusiasm that speaks of many enjoyable evenings that he didn’t detail in his book:

Painting by German artist Richard Lipps (1857 - 1926) end of 19th Century

Painting by German artist Richard Lipps (1857 – 1926), created at the end of 19th Century

“For the dance no music can be better than that of a gipsy band: there is a life and animation to it which carries you away. If you have danced to it yourself, especially in a Czárdás, then to hear the stirring tones, without involuntarily springing up, is, I assert, an absolute impossibility. There is a thrill in the wild dissonances, a life and impetuosity in the movement, an animation and vivacity in the varying rhythm, which is quite enthralling. And the dancers feel the thrill: see how they glide majestically along as the prelude is slow and sonorous; and as the music quickens, and there is a rush of tones, and the fantastic melody hastens on at a headlong pace, how all are seized by the potency of the spell; their movements quicken too, their feet beat time to the music; and suddenly clasping their willing partner round the waist, they whirl round, carried away by, and bourne, as it were, upon that gushing flood of strangely intermingling tones.

“There must be something in that dance which is irresistible; for long as a Czárdás may last, – and its duration may be of any length, – directly the musicians stop there is on all sides a clapping of hands, and loud shouts for them to begin again. A single dance never satisfies; it only arouses and makes you long for more.”

Boner was very impressed by the abilities of the Romani musicians, particularly considering the tools they had at their disposal:

“These men are born musicians. They learn of themselves, and as by instinct. The instruments of some of the poorer are of the worst description, – such as the most miserable street-player in England would think too bad for use. Yet even from these they force effective music; or, rather, it is as though they imparted to the patched-up violin its extraordinary tones from some store of melody within themselves.”

The writer was full of praise for the fact that these men were also composers, able to lend individuality to their compositions while maintaining “…a certain family likeness…” to the Czárdás music canon. It certainly saw the musicians rewarded:

“It (the music) seems to appeal irresistibly to Hungarian nature,- to be, indeed, that nature with its fire, and ardour, liveliness, and impetuosity, put into tones; for often, when it is played, the listener will reward the performer in an exaggerated manner; and calling for the air again and again, will heap recompense on recompense, till, in passionate delight, the last remaining ducat has been given; watch and rings, and horse, -till, in short, everything that may be parted with is bestowed.”

If one wished to be cynical, one might guess at another reason why Boner found such wild and carefree dances so intoxicating. Here is presented a description of sights seen in the streets of Hermannstadt – modern Sibiu:

“The fountains are everywhere the place where the servant-girls meet to chat together. I often walked past to look at and admire the groups of laughing lasses enjoying their freedom, and dawdling with their pitchers, long since filled and running over. What lenient mistresses they must have had, to have dared thus to dally on their way! And how they talked, all at once, so that the splashing of the falling water was quite drowned by the hubbub of their voices! There were the dark Wallack girls, with their snowy shifts and red kratinsas; every movement of the supple body free and natural, as it only can be when the limbs are unconfined. What attitudes they took, as they stood and waited! How the arms were crossed over the bosom, the shoulders thrown back, the head archly flung to one side, the body, to the hips, describing a concave curve, and one foot put forward in the sauciest manner, and you saw the full round form in all its youthful perfection. Such attitudes are never seen in our civilised West, where stays and crinoline have mastery over the human body.”


Boner, 136-139

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The Health Spa – OF DEATH!!!

Last week, I talked about bold explorer Charles Boner and his dreadful journey to Büdös. What, you might ask, possessed him to make such a terrible and uncomfortable trip through wolf-haunted forests? Well, it was to visit the CAVE OF DEATH!!!

For his health.

The area around Büdös Mountain (916m), near Turai in Covasna County, is replete with sulphurous vents. Indeed, in Hungarian ‘Büdös’ means ‘stinking’. Many gas vents bubble up through waters, and these sulphur baths were very popular as a curative in the Victorian age and before. In other places, and with little sign, these gasses leak through the ground. Sulphur mining was prevalent, if primitive – many of the mines were abandoned, some at a very early stage, when the gasses built to lethal levels. More on that in a moment.

At the time Boner visited in the 1860’s, as was typical of the time, there were few permanent facilities constructed to take advantage of these natural resources.

“In summer-time there are always people here who seek relief for their ailing. But as the place is in the middle of a forest, with no habitation near, those who come must build their own dwelling, as well as bring with them wherewithal to supply their necessities. I saw the remains of such abodes. Fragile as they are, however, the winter storms soon sweep away every vestige of them. They are mere huts, built of fir-branches, cunningly entwined. The Wallacks are extremely skilful in constructing them. When out shooting, I have been surprised at the quickness with which they are built. Hardly had we arrived at the place of our encampment, when the hatchets resounded in the wood, and one tall young fir after another was seen toppling over to the ground. On returning, some hours after, a large hut was erected for me; on one side, a bed of dry leaves, covered with green fragrant twigs, and in the middle a large fire of resinous pine logs blazed cheerfully.”

Wealthier people did not have to endure such privations when visiting the springs. Some of them, such as the Austrian general and his family of whom Boner was told, could afford to have small houses made of boards or even stone, but even these were left to succumb to rot and ruin. Regardless of the wealth of the visitor, supplies could be brought up from the nearby villages of Büksad or Torja (Turia). Charles also found a gravestone, marking the burial of someone whose quest for better health went badly wrong. This brings us to the other ‘attraction’ the area around Mt. Büdös offered.

Boner was taken to two already well known caves in the rock:

“The phenomena which make it (the mountain) remarkable are two cave-like clefts in the whitish-grey calcined trachyte rock, whence, by innumerable fissures, sulphuretted hydrogen gas streams forth, mixed with carbonic acid. The walls are covered with sublimate of sulphur, formed by the gases coming in contact with the colder air.

The 'Stinking Cave' as it is now. (Picture from

The ‘Stinking Cave’ as it is now. (Picture from

“The one cavern – though it hardly deserves the name – recedes about twenty steps. In order to enter it with safety, care must be taken not to draw breath while in the fatal place. A long respiration is made before rushing in, the nostrils are closed, and then, with hasty steps, the further extremity is reached. A prickling feeling in the eyes is caused by the warm atmosphere. From the feet upwards, the whole body has the agreeable sensation of gentle heat playing around every limb. But your stock of breath is exhausted, and you run back again to the open air, where to breathe does not bring death. The day before I was there a man had committed suicide by entering a step or two. He dropped at once; and when a shepherd that was tending his flocks on the opposite hillside, and who saw him enter, came across to look for him he was dead. The vapours of this cave are highly valued, as a cure for gout, and for diseases of the eye.”

It was not necessary for a visitor to enter the ‘Cave of Death’ to feel the unfortunate effects of the vapours.

“Not far from this cleft is a second, called Gyilkos – the Murderer. In flying past the opening, birds drop dead upon the ground. Close to the entrance I found a jay that had thus met death.”

'The Murderer' as it is now. (Picture from

‘The Murderer’ as it is now. (Picture from

In the 1830’s, the same area was visited by John Paget. In his book “Hungary and Transylvania; with remarks on their condition, social, political, and economical” (1839), he remarked that the ‘Gyilkoslyuk’ or ‘Murder-hole’ was still in use, mainly by the local peasants (though there were annual deaths, leading to the name). It had been larger a couple of years before his visit, but an earthquake had brought some of it down. The locals had a cunning, if clearly rather unreliable, method of ascertaining how far it was safe to go into the cave “…by striking their flints, and stopping when they no longer give sparks.” Visitors could walk in until the heavy gas reached their chins, then spend an hour enjoying the prickling sensations. Clearly, between Paget’s visit and Boner’s, some 30 years later, the cave – in fact an ancient sulphur mine – filled entirely with gas to the point that where it wafted out from the cave mouth it was still concentrated enough to kill.

The deadly 'Bird Cemetery'. (Picture from

The deadly ‘Bird Cemetery’. (Picture from

This is not the only place that is fatal for wildlife. The ‘Bird’s Cemetary’ is a 3m deep, 15m wide depression in the nearby woods. Filled to the brim with instantly lethal gas it shows no visible signs of this, save perhaps for the bones of any creature that ventures through.

Still, at least they won’t have gout anymore.



Hungary and Transylvania; with remarks on their condition, social, political, and economical Volume 2 (Paget, 1839), pages 422 onwards

Transylvania; It’s Products and its People (Boner, 1865), pages 307 onwards

The Puturosu Mountain, article on Büdö

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Biting Cold

One of the things that cannot be overlooked when exploring Promethea is the impact on people’s lives of ordinary nature. Specifically wildlife. Not all threats have been created by the application of Frankenstein’s gifts.

In the mid-19th Century, travel writer Charles Boner travelled through Transylvania, writing about his journey in the book Transylvania; Its Products and its People, published in 1865. It’s been a cracking resource of late, leaving me wishing there was a similar volume covering Wallachia. Do please let me know if you know of such a book!

Boner encountered the reality of living with wolves in the woods. He was travelling from the village of Torja (now Turia) to Büdös. The road was appalling:

“One wheel is now three feet higher than the other, or we go over blocks of stone which fill the bed of a stream, or into ditches and up banks, with such jolting and rattling, that it is quite incomprehensible that the whole wagon does not fall to pieces.”

Typical at the time of most links from one place to another in recklessly following naturally occurring avenues such as streams, the road passed through extensive beech woods. That the author described them as beautiful despite his genuine discomfort speaks volumes of the astonishing beauty of the Romanian countryside. However, this was (and still is in many places) a wild place:

“As we moved slowly on, my gipsy guide asked me if I could discern a certain tree which he pointed to. “Yes.” – “Well, just there, close to that tree, my mother was eaten by three wolves.” – “When and how?” I asked. “She was out in the forest in winter, getting wood; my father was out too, but he was a good way off, and could not help her. By the time some one came, a great part of the body was eaten. There are sometimes many wolves here. Yesterday, I was coming along this way from Büdös, and I saw one among the trees.”

(Presented as in the book, punctuation and all.)

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Kicking Off

If you follow our Facebook page, you will have noticed a recent post from Paco, or Art Director on the 2nd Edition. This post, in fact:

“Today I have been sending emails around to people. They are emails about Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein and the Kickstarter that we’re organising to fund the second edition of the game.

We have some *seriously amazing* plans to make an incredible game. Watch this space!

One of the things that I have to do as line developer and art director is to choose both writers and artists who will be able to work on the game and create, not just superbly written content, but also understand the atmosphere of the whole world and create material that will set the bar for products to come.

I can’t start to tell you how exciting that is and how damn lucky I am to be able to contact people I admire and trust as creatives to work with them. Or hope to work, since a lot of the work we do will depend on the amount of money we get.

The downside? There are *a lot* of people I think would be fantastic at writing adventures for the game, but since we have no idea how far we’ll get, I don’t want to say anything to everyone.

So please start saving money. I kid you not when I say we plan to make this game one you will have every reason to be as proud of as we do.”

There you have it. There will indeed be a Kickstarter for the 2nd Edition of DH:LoF that will be launching in the not-to-distant future. Paco, Angus, and myself have been planning away merrily. The rewards that will be on offer are the kinds of things that gamers love and, as DH:LoF has always tried to appeal to folks just looking for a good bit of gothic darkness, there are a bunch that have universal appeal.

Expect more news soon, m’dears. It’s all developing faster than a digital photo.

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All The News, All At Once!

Whole bunch of stuff to cover today, which is just how we like it. 🙂

Barring natural disasters of an unprecedented scale, I’m delighted to confirm that Frankenstein’s Bodies passed its Kick Starter target with 43 hours to go. We’ll be sharing more information on the progress of this amazing game as it happens. Meanwhile, maximum respect to Andrew and Jenny Harman for guiding this project thus far. Next stop Essen!!

Team announcements have been being made over on the Facebook page. Steve Ironside is back on rules duties for the 2nd Edition of DH:LoF, and Paco Jaen of GMS Magazine fame is taking the role of Art Director. Fantastic to be working with them both, and with the yet-to-be-announced team members.

Research continues apace. The baseline setting text is complete, and is now being expanded upon. Part of that has been digging out really old books, and sourcing really old maps. Things like the one below – a map of the Balkans after the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Looking forward to packing in a bunch more info to make the setting even more detailed before its release in 2015.


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2nd Time Around

With things stepping up a gear, with the team coming together and solid work already being done on the system for the 2nd edition, I’ve been picking up some new reference texts. Took a trip today to Barter Books in Alnwick, and picked up three new titles. One from the 1960’s, one from the 1920’s, and a last from 1865. All three add delicious new details, and the two older books give us some gorgeous illustrations that capture Romania’s people and places perfectly. I’m looking forward to sharing them.image

I know the things things I want to see added to in the 2nd edition, and that goes for the rest of the tea too, but all of us also want to know what our Prometheans would like to see. We’ve opened the chat on the Facebook group, so you can add your thoughts there or put them in the comments here. Looking forward to hearing from you. 🙂

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DH:LoF card game Frankenstein’s Bodies launches on Kickstarter!

AT Conpulsion 2014 in Edinburgh this past weekend, the DH:LoF-related tabletop card game Frankenstein’s Bodies launched its Kickstarter campaign.

More lighthearted than the RPG, Frankenstein’s Bodies sees players become Promethean surgeons and compete to build two perfect creatures in an effort to impress no less than Frankenstein himself. It’s a fast-moving, regularly boisterous game that will have you stealing or infecting body parts, nicking surgeons, and yelling at your friends when they do the same to you just as you’re about to win.


A digest of the reviews the game has already had.

The game has already been playtested to within an inch of its life hundreds of times, including by luminaries such as Ian Livingstone, and can even be downloaded in rough print-and-play PDF form now. It has had excellent reviews in its preview stage, and is currently ‘on tour’ with designer Andrew Harman to a number of events during the Kickstarter campaign, culminating in the glorious insanity of the Birmingham UK Games Expo.

At time of writing, the game is already 1/6th funded after only a very short time. The game will ship worldwide once the campaign is successful, and already has backers from as far afield as Rio, various places around the US, Europe, and New Zealand.

I hope you’ll take the time to give it your support. 🙂


The Frankenstein’s Bodies website and Facebook page.

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