Browsed by
Author: Sharrukin

Status Report (9 January 2019)

Status Report (9 January 2019)

Just a quick post today. I’ve been home from the office with a bit of intestinal crud for the past couple of days, which has not exactly been conducive to getting any writing done either. Still, I’ve managed to get another two or three kilowords down on Twice-Crowned since the weekend. I’m not at all happy with the text as it stands – I’ve got more loose plot threads lying on the floor than you can shake a stick at – but better to get the story roughed out in full, and then go back and start polishing and trimming. The overall shape of the story is working out fine.

I should call out a source that’s been remarkably useful, and will probably continue to be so: a book titled The Seer in Ancient Greece, by Michael Atiyah Flower, published 2008 by the University of California Press. Although my protagonist is not at all a typical Hellene of her time, it’s very good to have a solid understanding of what other manteis did in the real world, and how they interacted with the society and culture around them. Somewhat specialized, but highly recommended if you have an interest in classical Hellenic religious thought.

Watching this blog for the past few days has been a bit surprising. Today has been the busiest day the blog has seen since I reinstated it back in April, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. For some reason, I’ve suddenly been getting dozens of hits from Facebook, which is odd since I don’t cross-post and don’t even maintain an active account there. Haven’t a clue as to where the hits are coming from, either, and neither Google nor Facebook’s native search engine have been of any help. Not that I’m complaining, to be sure. Still, a small request to any readers who might be coming this way from Facebook: could you leave a comment on this post to indicate where the link is coming from? I’m kind of curious what’s up with that.

Tomorrow, with any luck, I’ll be back on an even keel health-wise and ready to get back to the office. The writing that needs to be done there is piling up too.

Some Greek Translation

Some Greek Translation

The Diana of Versailles, Roman copy of a Greek statue by Leochares

As part of the novel I’m writing, I’ve had occasion to look for a bit of Ancient Greek religious poetry that I could quote in the story. I ended up settling on #27 from the canonical list of the Homeric Hymns, To Artemis. Rather than use an existing translation, I went back to the original Greek text and roughed out my own. Not the easiest job, given how wobbly my Greek is. Still, I’m not too unhappy with the result, and it seems to be within striking distance of the canonical translations I’ve compared it to. Here it is:

I sing of Artemis with the distaff of gold, the terrible one,
Worshipful maiden, huntress of deer, fierce archer,
Own sister to Apollo of the golden sword.

Over the shadowy hills and windy mountain heights
She delights to draw her golden bow
Sending out grievous shafts. The heads of lofty mountains
And the deep-shadowed forests tremble
With the fearful cries of her prey, shaking both the lands
And the seas full of fish: bearing a brave heart
She turns to every side to destroy the family of wild beasts.

Yet when she is satisfied, this archer who pursues the hunt,
Her mind made glad, she sets aside her well-bent bow
And goes to the great hall of her belovéd brother
Phoibos Apollo, in the rich land of Delphi,
To oversee the dance of the beautiful Muses and Graces.

There she hangs up her crescent bow and arrows.
Commanding and setting them in order all around
She leads the dance: with divine voices
They sing of Leto of the lovely ankles, who bore
Immortals supreme in both thought and deed.

Hail to thee, children of Zeus and fair-haired Leto!
I shall remember thee, and now another song as well.

I’ll probably come back to this again when I start polishing up the compete rough draft of the novel, but for now it seems to work well enough.

2019: Looking Forward

2019: Looking Forward

So I’ve long since gotten out of the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. For one thing, life is too unpredictable to nail down that way, and for another, it takes more than a line on the calendar to change habits. Still, the first few days of the year is a good time to at least try and make a few plans.

I’ve got a fairly crowded agenda for my day job, where I have several course-development projects lined up for the coming calendar year. I’ll also be “on the platform” to lecture more than I was last year. So there’s one irony: out of all my writing output for the year, most of it won’t be fictional and isn’t likely to be mentioned here.

Meanwhile, I’m taking steps to improve my health in the coming year. I’m an overweight guy in my fifties, and a controlled diabetic as well, and that means I have to pay a certain amount of attention to personal maintenance. At least, I do if I want to live long enough to enjoy a few years of retirement, subject as always to the whims of our lords and masters downtown.

Recently I resumed my membership at a local gym, and while I’m never going to be slim and athletic again, I hope to build up a bit of strength in my legs and maybe lose a few pounds. Possibly more productive is a suggestion my podiatrist made, not long ago. Apparently there exist compact elliptical machines that are ideal for putting under a desk, so you can be working your legs and burning calories even while you sit at a computer. I’ve got one on order for my home office, and if that works out I may order a second one to take to work.

As far as creative writing goes:

  • First priority is going to be producing the first draft for the current novel-length project, a pseudo-Hellenic alternate-history fantasy with the working title of Twice-Crowned. As of this evening, I’ve got close to 11 kilowords down, which should finish one long chapter. The total length of the story will probably be about 120 kilowords in rough draft, and I’m hoping to have that finished by summer. Whether I’ll get the novel actually self-published this calendar year depends on how much revision it needs.
  • Second priority is going to be getting at least one Aminata Ndoye story out the door, and possibly another short piece as well.
  • Third priority is to get back to Architect of Worlds and push that project forward through another big section. I want to revisit some of the material I’ve already written – the model doesn’t seem to be handling “super-Earths” very well yet – but the main objective will be to write the section that describes individual planets in some detail. If I can get that finished and tested, the main “game mechanics” sections of the book will be done.
  • Fourth priority is to finish a couple of fan-fiction projects. In particular, I’ve got a Silmarillion fan-fiction piece that got started and looked promising, but which has been on hiatus for a while so I can work on those other bullet items. There’s also a Dragon Age story that I abandoned in 2018 but that won’t quite let go of my imagination, so I may go back to that at some point. Of course, all of this is subject to Zeigler’s Iron Law of Prioritization: “Any item that falls to fourth on the priority list will never be completed.” I can hope for an exception.
  • Fifth, any continued blogging I may find to do on worldbuilding, writing, or the state of my muse.

Another thing I’m considering is shutting down the Sharrukin’s Archive part of this site, in favor of just placing any “persistent” items in this WordPress framework as permanent pages. Honestly, the Archive as it’s structured is an enormous pain in the ass to maintain, and I’ve never managed to populate it as densely as I originally planned.

Honestly, that seems like enough to keep me busy for the next few months. Watch this space for progress reports.

2018 in Review

2018 in Review

I remember the night that I very nearly turned my back on writing for good. I abandoned my writing blog, shut down my Facebook and Twitter accounts, put away every project I was working on at the time and didn’t even think about any of them for months. One of my best fan-fiction stories, in particular, got an enormous hiatus. Tuesday, 8 November 2016.

It wasn’t just the election and the results of that, although that certainly did feel like a blow. I’d been getting increasingly frustrated with what I was doing as a writer, too.

Story after story was almost getting into the short-fiction markets, getting immediate attention from lead editors who were sending me non-boilerplate feedback, and yet I couldn’t actually seem to close the deal and sell something. The best opportunity I seemed to have gotten was from a literary “contest” that vanished like a thief in the night, claiming the rights to my story but never actually doing anything with it. Even my fan-fiction was getting less and less of a response, although at least people seemed to still be reading it . . . silently. It was beginning to look as if the height of my creative career would be a handful (as in, less than five) nominating votes for the Campbell Award one year.

In short, I wasn’t in a very good place even before my fellow countrymen chose to elect the most manifestly corrupt and unfit candidate in a century to our highest office. After that, I pretty much lost all interest in creating anything. For months I went silent. I concentrated on my family and my day job, went weeks at a time without writing a word. It didn’t help that the Sharrukin’s Palace domain name lapsed and some domain squatters grabbed it for a year. The thought of starting a writing blog over from scratch just made me tired.

I got better, of course. I eventually finished the fan-fiction story I had abandoned in mid-stream (with an ending I would never have written before, but which I think is actually superior to what I originally had in mind). I started working on other stories again, off and on. I picked up the Architect of Worlds project again and started researching and revising that.

I suppose it helped that, although the world has been going down a lot of dark and very dangerous paths in the past couple of years, the worst has not happened. Come on, I’m a student of history and a speculative-fiction writer. I imagined a lot of things that – well, let’s be honest, they may yet come to pass. But they haven’t yet, and there are signs that a lot of decent people are pissed off and starting to fight back. So I began to feel creative again.

In March of this year, the Sharrukin’s Palace domain escaped the grubby paws of those domain squatters who had grabbed it. I pounced on it and brought it back into my own control. By April, I was ready to start this iteration of my writing blog. I self-published a novelette, and at least started a few other writing projects before I settled on the one I’m currently working. I did a bunch of new work on Architect of Worlds.

In short, I’m back in business. There’s some balance back in my life, between my family, my day job, my health, and the chance to do creative work. Let’s hope that lasts.

So, with respect to this blog, let’s look at the top ten posts for 2018:

  1. Architect of Worlds – Step One: Primary Star Mass
  2. Bios: Genesis – The First Billion Years
  3. Revisiting GURPS Greece: Incomes, Status, and Prices
  4. Bios: An Exercise in Worldbuilding through Gameplay
  5. Bios: Megafauna – Opening Remarks
  6. Designing the Vasota Species
  7. Review: Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  8. Architect of Worlds – Step Eleven: Place Planets
  9. Bios: Genesis – The Second Billion Years
  10. Architect of Worlds – Step Eight: Stellar Orbital Parameters

None of that counts the large plurality of visits to the blog (about 45%), which just hit the home page and scroll down from there.

I can probably explain most of these results by observing that posts which get linked from Reddit seem to do well. So do GURPS-related posts that get linked from Doug Cole’s Gaming Ballistic blog – thanks, Doug! Still, I keep getting perennial visitors to the site looking for the Architect of Worlds project. Also, the biggest worked example of worldbuilding that I did all year also keeps getting hits months later.

Noted and logged – I’ll have to see if I can push Architect forward in 2019, and do some more extended examples. But tomorrow is the big day to look forward and maybe make some resolutions, so I’ll come back then.

In the meantime, I hope the coming year is fruitful and productive for all of us.

Status Report (25 December 2018)

Status Report (25 December 2018)

A good holiday to everyone, whichever holiday you may observe.

Personally, I’ve been enjoying a few days off from work: spending some time with my wife and children, flying starships around in Elite: Dangerous, experimenting with the new tabletop game SpaceCorp (there may be a theme here), and getting some writing done. Also, ignoring the outside world entirely. I think if I paid any real attention to the horde of rough beasts currently slouching their way toward Bethlehem, I would probably go mad.

Work on the new novel proceeds apace. It’s a little slow, especially because I keep having to stop and do some research every few lines. In the past week, I’ve had to read on:

  • The layout of the Piraeus (the main port of Athens) in the late fifth century BCE
  • How foreigners in Athens could register themselves as metics (legal immigrants) and what that would cost
  • A list of people exiled at one time or another from Athens
  • Athenian sanitation (not as bad as I thought it was, but nowhere close to a modern standard either)
  • The bare minimum of houseware that two people living in Athens could get by with, and how much that would cost
  • How Athenian households, especially poor ones, got (more or less) fresh water
  • Also, the very vexing question of whether Athenian women carried their water-jars in their hands or on their heads

As for that last item, I found some very satisfying evidence:

Not to mention that the whole business of going to fetch water in a classical Greek city handed me a perfect little conflict scene. One of the story’s major ongoing themes has to do with how a woman is forced to deal with one of the most profoundly misogynistic cultures in history. The fountain house was apparently a nexus of feminine society in Athens, but it was also a venue where men frequently stalked, harassed, and assaulted women. A good place for Alexandra to decide that she has very much had enough.

Status Report (18 December 2018)

Status Report (18 December 2018)

Just a quick post to report that I have, indeed, started work on a new original novel (working title is Twice-Crowned), set largely in classical Athens, with Alexandra and Memnon as lead characters. A little over two thousand words down so far in first draft. Let’s see if I can get a significant chunk of the story down, before my muse decides to flit away and think about something else.

Revisiting GURPS Greece: Incomes, Status, and Prices

Revisiting GURPS Greece: Incomes, Status, and Prices

Twenty-plus years ago, when I wrote GURPS Greece, a lot of what went into the Characters chapter was educated guesswork. I had a limited set of sources available, and I hadn’t built up very much skill with the sort of analysis that needs to go into any description of money, prices, wealth, and social status in a game setting. I can do better than that now. The scantiness of primary sources is still a problem, but at least I have access to more of them today, so I can perhaps produce a better quality of guesswork.

A small warning here: among other things, I am going to be discussing the mechanics of slavery in classical Hellas. Those of us who idealize the Hellenes would do well to remember that their civilization was thoroughly founded upon the institution of slavery, with all the brutality, callousness, and injustice that implies. Without exception, every large fortune was based on the labor of slaves. Sometimes a lot of slaves.

In any era, it’s easy to become rich when you arrange things so that you can steal the labor of others with impunity. Something always to bear in mind when we consider the accomplishments of Hellenic civilization. Or our own.

Money and Incomes

Okay, let’s start with a well-established data point. The price of wheat in Athens in the late 4th century BCE fluctuated, but usually hovered close to 6 drachmai per medimnos. A medimnos was roughly a “bushel” of grain, enough to feed a family of five (man, woman, and three children) for about 15 days at the subsistence level. Thus, considering food alone, a laborer’s salary needed to be about 12 drachmai per month.

In ancient times, living at a subsistence level meant that about 50% of your expenses went to food. The rest went to cheap housing, shabby clothing, and what few tools and housewares you would need. That suggests the typical unskilled laborer’s salary needed to be about 24 drachmai per month, and that would cover expenses for himself and a family.

Assuming the unskilled laborer made about a drachma per day on the job, that suggests working about 24 out of every 30 days, which makes sense. As it happens, a drachma a day was so typical for unskilled labor that it’s sometimes thought of as “the standard salary” in classical times. That’s a considerable oversimplification, but for fictional purposes it’s not bad.

Fitting this to the GURPS figures, let’s assume that a typical unskilled laborer is Struggling and at Status -1. Then his cost of living is $300 per month (Characters, p. 265). If we assume this covers his family’s needs as well, that equates one drachma to about $12.50 in GURPS terms. Let’s adjust that figure slightly, to make the other denominations work out to whole numbers, and run with it:

  • 1 chalkos = $0.25
  • 1 obolos = $2 (8 chalkoi = 1 obolos)
  • 1 drachma = $12 (6 oboloi = 1 drachma)
  • 1 tetradrachmon = $48 (4 drachmai = 1 tetradrachmon)
  • 1 mina = $1,200 (100 drachmai = 1 mina)
  • 1 talenton = $72,000 (60 minai = 1 talenton)

Notice that this estimate doubles the purchasing power of all these coins and measures, compared to the estimates I published in GURPS Greece. Here’s an example of how the guesswork has improved; back then, I didn’t work from a basic assumption about the price of staples.

As a cross-check, the $675 given as typical monthly pay for TL2 (Campaigns, p. 517) equates to just over 56 drachmai, which would be about two drachmai a day with almost no days off. In fact, two drachmai per working day was a very typical wage for a skilled laborer, someone who in GURPS terms would be at Average wealth and Status 0, with cost of living of $600 per month. So that fits too.

Of course, most Hellenes would not have worked every day for pay, so a more typical monthly wage would probably be a bit lower. Let’s assume that the typical monthly income for someone at Average wealth and Status 0 will be $600, or $7,200 per year.

Social Classes in Athenian Society

Under the constitution of Solon, the Athenian citizenry was divided into four social classes by their annual income. These were defined in terms of how many medimnoi of wheat they could afford in a year, assuming they purchased nothing but the wheat. This makes sense if we consider that the whole system centered on farmers and land-owners. Such men would produce grain or other agricultural products, and trade some away for whatever else they needed.

In the Solonian system, the baseline income was what we’ve defined as the typical income for Average wealth and Status 0: $7,200 in GURPS terms, 600 drachmai, or 100 medimnoiof wheat per year.

The four classes were as follows:

  • Pentakosiomedimnoi or “five-hundred-bushel men” had incomes equivalent to at least 500 medimnoi of grain per year. This is exactly five times the baseline income we just defined, so status as a pentakosiomedimnos very precisely fits the Wealthy advantage.
  • Hippeis or “knights” had incomes equivalent to at least 300 medimnoi per year. This is exactly three times the baseline income, above the minimum for the Comfortable advantage.
  • Zeugitai or “yoked men” had incomes equivalent to at least 200 medimnoi per year, and so exactly twice the baseline income. Zeugitai are at least Comfortable.
  • Thetes or “serfs” were the rest of the citizen population, those with Average wealth or below. These included small-scale yeoman farmers, as well as craftsmen and others who worked for a wage.

So far, the Athenian system doesn’t seem to consider anyone well above the minimum for pentakosiomedimnos status, what GURPS might define as Very Wealthy, Filthy Rich, or even Multimillionaire. Just how wealthy did Athenians get?

The wealthiest Athenians we know of were the ones who leased large numbers of slaves to the silver mines at Laurion. Xenophon reports that the state paid such slave-brokers an obolos per day per slave, amounting to 60 drachmai per year per slave.

The largest such labor force we know of was provided by our friend Nikias, who maintained about a thousand slaves at the mines. This would have provided an annual income of 10 talents,or $720,000 in GURPS terms. That implies that Nikias qualified almost exactly for the Filthy Rich level of Wealth, but not for Multimillionaire.

Let’s look at another case, and see how it fits in. Some Athenians made modest fortunes by operating small-scale manufacturing enterprises. Usually they would purchase slaves skilled in some trade, then profit from the difference between what the slaves subsisted on and the value of the goods they produced.

Assume that a slave can survive on about one obolos per day. That works out to only 10 medimnoi of wheat per year, but the slave almost certainly doesn’t have anyone but himself to feed, and he doesn’t need to buy his own tools and housing. Throw in two more oboloi per day for tools, raw materials, and any other overhead costs. Then a typical manufacturer could probably make about half a drachma a day of profit per slave. Quite a bit more than Nikias was making, but here we’re considering a trade-off of quality for quantity.

Typical sizes for a large enterprise would be on the order of 60-120 slaves, which would imply 30-60 drachmai per day in profit. Not quite on the same level as Nikias and his fellow plutocrats, but factory-owners could reach into the upper strata of society too.

If we compare all these incomes to the Cost of Living table in the (Fourth Edition) Basic Set, and assume income matches cost of living, it appears Nikias fell somewhere between Status 4 and 5, while other wealthy Athenians often reached Status 4. There just wasn’t much room in classical Hellas for anyone to reach Status 5 or higher. Maybe the tyrants of Syracuse would have made the cut, or an Athenian named Kallias who was known as the wealthiest man in mainland Hellas, but I kind of doubt it even for them. I’m beginning to think that the Status table I developed for GURPS Greece wasn’t quite flat enough.

Consider the following as a replacement, with no Hellene coming in any higher than Status 4:

Status Notes Cost of Living
4 Kings or tyrants of major poleis, Filthy Rich citizens $60,000
3 Kings or tyrants of minor poleis, Very Wealthy citizens $12,000
2 Pentakosiomedimnoi, Wealthy citizens $3,000
1 Zeugitai and hippeis, Comfortable citizens $1,200
0 Thetes, Average citizens, skilled craftsmen $600
-1 Thetes, Struggling citizens, unskilled laborers $300
-2 Slaves $100

I may have to adjust some of the GURPS writeups I’ve already done for prominent Athenians, to bring their Wealth and Status in line with what I’ve worked out here.

The Cost of Slaves and Return on Investment

We know something about the prices of slaves from our primary sources.

  • Xenophon gives the typical range of prices for a slave as being between half a mina ($600) and ten minai ($12,000). The lower end of that range would have been typical for older, weaker, or partially crippled slaves, the kind that might be purchased to work as a household servant. The higher end would represent young, healthy, highly skilled slaves.
  • Xenophon mentions a going price for slaves to work in the silver mines, about 180 drachmai or a little over $2,000. This might be considered typical for a strong but unskilled laborer.
  • The most expensive mine-slave Xenophon mentions is an overseer, for whom Nikias paid a full talent ($72,000). This was clearly a strong, loyal, and highly skilled individual.
  • Another primary source is the orator Demosthenes, who began his career by bringing a lawsuit against the guardians of his father’s estate. At one point he mentions that his father owned two small factories. One of them employed slaves as sword-smiths, who were worth about five or six minai each on the average (between $6,000 and $7,200).
  • The other factory manufactured couches and beds. It employed slaves as cabinet-makers, which the elder Demosthenes acquired for about two minai each ($2,400). There’s some indication that these slaves were acquired as payment for a bad debt, so their actual value might have been higher.

Overall, we can probably assume that a slave purchased for household work could cost as little as $600, a typical unskilled laborer would cost around $2,000, and skilled craftsmen would usually cost two or three times that. A few extraordinary slaves might come at very high prices.

If we assume an unskilled laborer at the silver mines usually cost about 180 drachmai and would return about 60 drachmai per year, that implies about a 33% return per annum. Skilled slaves working in a factory would cost two or three times as much. On the other hand, given our assumptions above they would also make two or three times as much profit, so again the return per annum would be about 33%.

Slaves were apparently a very good investment, if one was interested in making a profit. In GURPS Greece I suggested rates of return of about 30% for slave-leasing, and 40% for factory workers, so I wasn’t too far off. Demosthenes suggests somewhat lower rates of return, though, so we probably need to be cautious. Rates of return in the area of 20% to 30% were probably more typical.

I note that the prices I gave for slaves in GURPS Greece are probably too low by about a factor of two. One could acquire relatively inexpensive slaves for household work, though, so at least some Average-wealth households could probably afford one.

A Check on Prices for Adventuring Gear

Let’s work up one more data point. We know that in classical Athens, anyone of zeugitai status or better was expected to serve in the city’s army as a hoplite. As we saw above, that implies someone of at least Comfortable wealth.

The Basic Set implies (p. 27) that the base starting money for an Average character at TL2 is $750, therefore starting money for a Comfortable character would be $1,500. One-fifth of that is usually considered to be all one can spend for adventuring gear; I suppose it makes sense that no one is going to sink more than 20% of their wealth into a set of armor and weapons they won’t use very often. So, the question arises, can we build a bare-bones set of hoplite gear for no more than about $300?

It turns out that we can. The absolute bare minimum for a hoplite would have been the heavy spear (doru) which is priced in Low-Tech at $90, and the Argive shield (aspis or hoplon) which costs $120. That comes to about $210, or about 17-18 drachmai, less than a month’s wages even for an unskilled laborer. Wealthier citizens would have been able to afford more of the full panoply, including Corinthian helmet, bronze cuirass, bronze greaves, and a shortsword (xiphos). There was not a lot of standardization in the hoplite ranks, and many (if not most) of the soldiers would have been going into battle with very little.

So, at this point I’m confident that my analysis holds together, and that the prices in Low-Tech (and in the Basic Set) aren’t going to be too far out of alignment with the actual state of affairs in classical Hellas. Which doesn’t surprise me – the guys who wrote Low-Tech did their homework too, and I’d be willing to bet some of them looked at the same sources.

(Hah! I just glanced at the title page for Low-Tech and realized I got “Additional Material” credit. I’m sure someone at SJG mentioned that to me at the time, but it slipped my memory. Must have been some of the work I did for GURPS Greece, still showing up in the product line fifteen years later . . .)


Demosthenes gave several orations Against Aphobus and Against Otenor, as part of his lawsuit against the trustees of his father’s estate, all of which we still have. The figures used above are from Against Aphobus 1.

Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Ways and Means both serve as primary sources for some of the above discussion. It probably shouldn’t surprise us that one of the most stubbornly practical writers of the ancient world would be one of the few to talk about wages and prices at all.

A superb secondary source is William T. Loomis, Wages, Welfare, and Inflation in Classical Athens (University of Michigan Press, 1999). Loomis has painstakingly gone through every single reference to wages in the primary sources, compiling an authoritative overview of the whole question.



Something of a departure this time. Most of the characters I’ve drawn up so far have been upper-class Athenians, or people who would naturally have associated with them. This fellow is very much from the lower classes, what the Athenians would have called thetes, “serfs” or poor freemen. When Memnon arrives in Athens as Alexandra’s guardian, both of them poor as church-mice, it’s not nearly as far a fall for him.

Memnon of Danassos (200 points)

Age25; Human; 6′ 2″; 170 lbs.; Tall, brawny man, tanned skin, dark hair and eyes, neatly trimmed beard.

ST 14 [40]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 12 [40]; HT 13 [30].

Damage 1d/2d; BL 39 lbs.; HP 14 [0]; Will 14 [10]; Per 12 [0]; FP 13 [0].

Basic Speed 6.5 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0]; Block 8 (DX); Dodge 10; Parry 10 (DX).

Social Background

TL: 2 [0]. CF: Hellenic (Native) [0]. Languages: Dorian Greek (Native) [0].


Combat Reflexes [15].


Code of Honor (Soldier’s) [-10]; Social Stigma (Second-Class Citizen) [-5]; Status (Ordinary craftsman) -1 [-5]; Vow (Always protect Alexandra) (Major) [-10]; Wealth (Poor) [-15].

          Quirks: Dislikes wealthy and arrogant people; Frequently swears “to the crows with it”; Has an unspoken crush on Alexandra; Loves farming and hunting; Proud [-5].


Area Knowledge (Danassos)-12 (IQ+0) [1]; Armoury/TL2 (Melee Weapons)-11 (IQ-1) [1]; Bow-12 (DX-1) [1]; Brawling-15 (DX+2) [4]; Carousing-13 (HT+0) [1]; Climbing-12 (DX-1) [1]; Cooking-11 (IQ-1) [1]; Farming/TL2-13 (IQ+1) [4]; First Aid/TL2 (Human)-12 (IQ+0) [1]; Hiking-13 (HT+0) [2]; Intimidation-14 (Will+0) [2]; Leadership-12 (IQ+0) [2]; Running-12 (HT-1) [1]; Shield (Shield)-14 (DX+1) [2]; Shortsword-12 (DX-1) [1]; Soldier/TL2-13 (IQ+1) [4]; Spear-14 (DX+1) [4]; Strategy (Land)-10 (IQ-2) [1]; Streetwise-12 (IQ+0) [2]; Survival (Plains)-12 (Per+0) [2]; Swimming-13 (HT+0) [1]; Tactics-12 (IQ+0) [4]; Thrown Weapon (Spear)-15 (DX+2) [4]; Tracking-12 (Per+0) [2]; Weather Sense-12 (IQ+0) [2]; Wrestling-14 (DX+1) [4].

Character notes for Memnon:

  • Since Memnon is a fictional character, I have no imagery for him yet. At some point I’ll need to fire up Daz Studio and see what I can build for him.
  • Memnon’s name is indicative – it means, more or less, “steadfast.” He is that – big, strong, tough,  brilliant but far from stupid, and devoted to protecting his royal charge.
  • Memnon comes from a farming background, and he’s most comfortable seeing to his crops, hunting, or otherwise living off the land. Unlike most thetes, he has seen plenty of military service and has some of the requisite skills. He’s a competent if not exceptional leader, and with some experience could serve as a strategos in any of the Hellenic city-states’ amateur armies.
  • Not a lot of character advantages here – Memnon is quick, rarely caught off-guard, but that’s about it.
  • Memnon most closely resembles Alkibiades as far as character design goes, but the two men are poles apart in personality. I suspect Memnon is not going to get along with Alkibiades when the two of them meet, given how he feels about wealthy aristocrats of any kind. Not to mention what’s likely to happen if the Athenian tries to charm Alexandra’s peplos off . . .
Juggling Calendars

Juggling Calendars

In my day job, I develop and teach short courses in cybersecurity. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been overseeing a pilot offering for a new course, which implies nine- and ten-hour days at a minimum. This week in particular I’ve been “on the platform,” lecturing and leading classroom sessions. All of which is to say, I’ve been coming home in the evening and crashing hard rather than getting any writing done. Today was spent mostly just resting.

I did get one interesting task done today, though. Over the past few weeks, I’ve worked out an overall timeline to support the story of Alexandra’s adventures – essentially an alternate history of the Peloponnesian Wars. That’s a little coarse-grained, though, mostly just a bullet list of the most important handful of events to take place each year. Now that I’m getting close to starting to write, I need a more fine-grained timeline on which to hang the plot. Which means I spent today juggling calendars.

Most of the first novel is going to take place in and around Athens, in the years 416 BCE to 414 BCE. Alexandra is going to be involved in the life of the city, its religious festivals, civic observances, and political debates. All of which means I need to deal with the Athenian calendar. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single, consistent, well-designed Athenian calendar.

The Athenians kept track of religious festivals with a lunar calendar, each year starting on the first new moon after the summer solstice, with 12-13 months per year. A fairly rigorous lunar calendar existed in the period I’m writing in, based on the calculations of an Athenian astronomer named Meton. However, the actual festival calendar seems to have been maintained by the city magistrates, who were not astronomers and just based an ad hoc reckoning on whenever someone spotted the new moon every month.

Meanwhile, during the period I’m working on, the Athenians maintained a completely separate solar calendar to keep track of the workings of the polis government. They broke the solar year (365 or 366 days) into ten roughly equal prytania of 36-37 days, with a different set of citizens overseeing the government in each. These divisions, of course, never lined up with the festival calendar in any consistent way.

Meanwhile, I’ve already invented my own calendar for Alexandra’s home country, the Etos Kosmou reckoning I mentioned in this post. Meanwhile, for my own sanity, I need to relate everything back to the Gregorian calendar so I can keep track of things.

It was actually a challenge to figure out the dates of new moons, full moons, and the four points of the solar year that far back in history. I spent an hour or two this afternoon messing with my usual planetarium software (a copy of Starry Night 7 Enthusiast), but that was kind of imprecise. Finally I found a couple of useful links:

Since both of those sources matched the few dates I had already worked out by hand, I felt inclined to put some trust in them. Those sources enabled me to quickly set up a spreadsheet comparing Athenian festival calendar, EK reckoning, and Gregorian reckoning for the roughly two-year period I need:

Part of my spreadsheet of dates

Off to the right, I have columns of the table marking (some) of the prytany beginning dates (important if I need the government to change hands, or for the timing of an ostrakismos). I’ve also worked out some of the most important plot events and placed them on the timeline too. Another useful source: I found an online interactive database that tracks the most likely travel times between most of the important sites in the classical world. Really useful when my characters have to go somewhere and I need to know about how long it will take . . .

Neat exercise, this, and it should lend the story some verisimilitude. I can’t guarantee that this is exactly how the Athenians reckoned those two years in particular, but then their calendars were maintained on the fly. Since this is alternate history, a slightly different set of magistrates might very well have decided to arrange things differently. Hopefully, the result is good enough that any classical experts in the audience (all two of them) will let it pass.

(Whenever I write in this period, I keep having nightmares that involve Harry Turtledove reading the story and shaking his head sadly . . .)



Okay, having worked up some historical figures, and sketched out the details of the Danassos setting’s magic, I think I can finally put together some of my leading characters. Here’s the protagonist of the first story, as she is just after she arrives in Athens. Back at home, she’s a member of the royal family, a goddess-touched priestess, and a magician of uncommon talent. Once she sets foot in the Piraeus, though, she’s just another young foreign woman without an obolos to her name . . .

Alexandra of Danassos (300 points)

Age 16; Human; 5′ 1″; 115 lbs.; Petite young woman, curly black hair, dark eyes, strong eyebrows, well-groomed but wearing shabby clothing.

ST 10 [0]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 14 [80]; HT 12 [20].

Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs.; HP 10 [0]; Will 16 [10]; Per 14 [0]; FP 12 [0].

Basic Speed 6 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0]; Block 7 (DX); Dodge 9; Parry 9 (DX).

Social Background

TL: 2 [0]. CF: Hellenic (Native) [0]. Languages: Dorian Greek (Native) [0]; Punic (Accented) [4].


Ally (Team of aurai, nymphs of the breeze) (100% of starting points) (12 or less; Group Size (6-10)) [60]; Appearance (Attractive) [4]; Blessed [10]; Clerical Investment [5]; Medium [10]; Rank (Religious) 2 [10]; Ritual Magery (Path/Book) 3 [30]; Ritual Magery 0 [5].


Enemy (Melissa, usurper of Danassos) (Equal in power to the PC) (6 or less) [-5]; Honesty (12 or less) [-10]; Social Stigma (Second-Class Citizen) -1 [-5]; Status (Ordinary craftsman) -1 [-5]; Vow (Celibacy until becoming Queen) (Minor) [-5]; Wealth (Poor) [-15].

          Quirks: Broad-Minded; Enjoys intellectual debate; Responsive; Shy around attractive or handsome men [-4].


Area Knowledge (Danassos)-14 (IQ+0) [1]; Current Affairs/TL2 (Greater Hellas)-14 (IQ+0) [1]; Dancing-11 (DX-1) [1]; Diplomacy-14 (IQ+0) [4]; Dreaming-14 (Will-2) [1]; Finance-13 (IQ-1) [2]; First Aid/TL2 (Human)-14 (IQ+0) [1]; Fortune-Telling (Dream Interpretation)-15 (IQ+1) [4]; Hidden Lore (Spirit Lore)-13 (IQ-1) [1]; History (Danassan)-13 (IQ-1) [2]; Knife-14 (DX+2) [4]; Law (Danassan)-14 (IQ+0) [4]; Literature-12 (IQ-2) [1]; Occultism-14 (IQ+0) [2]; Path of Dreams-15 (IQ+1) [2]; Path of Elements-15 (IQ+1) [2]; Path of Health-15 (IQ+1) [2]; Path of Knowledge-15 (IQ+1) [2]; Path of Protection-15 (IQ+1) [2]; Path of Spirit-16 (IQ+2) [4]; Politics-13 (IQ-1) [1]; Public Speaking-14 (IQ+0) [2]; Religious Ritual (Hellenic)-14 (IQ+0) [4]; Ritual Magic (Hellenic)-16 (IQ+2) [4]; Savoir-Faire (High Society)-14 (IQ+0) [1]; Singing-12 (HT+0) [1]; Swimming-12 (HT+0) [1]; Theology (Hellenic)-14 (IQ+0) [4].

Some notes about this writeup:

  • No imagery this time, since Alexandra is an entirely fictional character and I haven’t worked up a model for her yet.
  • Alexandra is escorted by a team of six aurai, minor air-spirits built on a base of 300 points each, as defined in the writeup from my last post.
  • Alexandra has no Patron advantage. She has a close relationship with a goddess, but the goddess doesn’t offer help on demand as such. Instead, she has Blessed (representing divine advice on occasion), Clerical Investment (formally making her a priestess), and Ritual Magery (representing the power investiture that permits her to work magic).
  • Alexandra has two levels of Religious Rank, which is about as high as that advantage will go in a Classical Hellenic setting. That makes her the equivalent of the head priest of a large temple. If and when she ever returns to Danassos as Queen, she’ll probably bump up to a third level of Religious Rank.
  • When Alexandra arrives in Athens, she has effective Status -1 and is Poor. Part of the story is going to involve her finding ways to advance in Status and Wealth even in Athenian society. Of course, once she returns home to Danassos and retakes her throne, she’ll reach as high as Status 6 and some level of Multimillionaire . . .
  • With a high IQ, most of Alexandra’s skills are scholarly or social in nature, along with a solid phalanx of ritual-magic skills. Even as a very young woman, she’s a competent diplomat and jurist. She has no skill in Philosophy yet – the Danassan royal family doesn’t go in for tutoring from sophists – although that may change if she spends much time associating with Sokrates.