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Friday, 22 February 2019

Some thoughts on imagi-nations

So, what makes for a successful imagi-nation? I've been contemplating this recently, and I've come up with the following thoughts.

First and foremost, the imagi-nation must be believable within the historical context it is supposed to exist in. This is probably why the imagi-nations set in eighteenth century (and to a lesser extent, early nineteenth century) Germany seem to be so popular. The numerous duchies, principalities, and kingdoms that existed within the borders of Germany are ideal examples that the creator of an imagi-nation can use as starting points. To a lesser extent, the same can be said of the Balkans, but what is surprising is that pre-unification Italy – which was referred to as being a 'geographical expression' by one eminent international politician – has not proved as popular as pre-1870 Germany.

An imagi-nation must have some form of governance that works. An imagi-nation may well have an autocratic ruler who is supported by a small (and possibly rival) number of noble families ... or it could have a democratic monarch, a dictator, or an elected president. As long as the choice makes sense, the creator of the imagi-nation can choose what best suits their particular biases.

The imagi-nation's geography and economy also need to make sense. There's no point in creating a mountainous imagi-nation that is expected to support a cavalry-heavy army; likewise, it's unlikely that an imagi-nation that has a large, flat alluvial plain that produces abundant quantities of food will have several units of mountain troops or produce large quantities of iron ore or gold.

Naming your imagi-nation – and the places within it – can be problematic if some basic rules are not observed. For example, I came across one Germanic imagi-nation where every city or town was called 'something'-berg. Of course, in German 'berg' refers to mountains ... but none of the places was anywhere near anything much larger than a small hill. The creator should have used 'burg' (which refers to a town or large settlement) and not 'berg'.

Some creators choose humour as the basis of their naming system. (This tends to be my preferred option.) I've seen a French-like imagi-nation where everywhere seemed to be named after a French foodstuff or wine. For example, the town of Camembert gave its name to a geographic area in the imagi-nation, and was surrounded by the smaller towns and villages of Brie, Calvados, Boursin, Livarot, and Neufchâtel.

When naming people and places in my imaginations, I tend to go for excruciating puns, which when read aloud make some sort of sense to me, if not to anyone else! (I lay the 'blame' for this at the door of the late Eric Knowles, whose Madasahatta was redolent with them!) For example, a muddy brown river in an imaginary African colony was called the Tifooti River, and the British Colony of Dammallia was so named because the original European explorer of the area said to his assistant that there was 'd*mn all here!'.

When I set up two Balkan/Adriatic imagi-nations, I 'stole' Laurania from no lesser person the Winston Churchill(!) and 'created' Maldacia by rearranging most of the letters of the name of the coastal area of the northern Adriatic – Dalmatia – so that it sounded a little bit evil. (i.e. 'Mal' as in malevolent.). I even created similar basic Latinate languages for the two imagi-nations so that there was a consistency to the place names I used. This took me a lot of time ... but it was ultimately great fun and very rewarding.

A map of Laurania.
Click on the map to enlarge it.

24 comments:

  1. Hello Bob,
    A very interesting Post. I may be wrong, though I think a few chaps who do Imagi-Nations have devised their Lands only to the extent of "here are two fictional Armies - lets have a battle at this location"...and that is the sum total of the development. I think that- like your thoughts -there is more to it...the Geographic Setting, the Governance, Infrastructure, Populace, Economy etc- all should be some what thought out before introducing the opposing Armies..though not exactly essential-these considerations would certainly make the Battles and Campaigns much more meaningful and enjoyable. I've done about eight A4 pages so far on 'Background' to my VSF 1880s concept...and still writing - my focus is on trying to create a fictional world where it is logical and makes sense with all the 'bits' fitting together. Having fun anyway developing it all. Best Wishes. KEV.

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    1. Kev Robertson (Kev),

      I think that we both have similar outlooks regarding imagi-nations. Whereas it is simple to set two armies from imagi-nations at each other's throats for a one-off battle, fighting a campaign or a war requires a much more fully-rounded understanding of what makes each side tick.

      Your VSF set-up sounds very interesting, and should give you a lot of useful background for you to use in your forthcoming games.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Good Morning (8:28 AM here)Bob
    I never used imagiNations except In playing Old West games where my adventures took place in Burrinass Creek. I do tend to name all my lead characters in any scenario however and have a book of names that I and others have come up with over the years. For instance my e-mail of mgluteus comes from my Roman General Maximus Guluteus. A British naval officer that I use a lost is Commodore Makin Piddle and The sheriff is Richard (two Dicks) Richards. His ne'er do well opponent is Hank Sewage, leader of the Outhouse Gang - they always raise a stink when they come (sneak) into town! I could go on for pages. I think this is great fun and enjoy this part of designing a scenario very much.

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    1. Dick Bryant,

      I love the choice on names used in your Old West games! Likewise your choice of email name and the name of your naval officer.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Bob,
    I agree with what you write about internal consistency; it's all too easy to get carried away devising armies, uniforms and flags and forget the basic underlying structure. You may want a navy but if all your states are landlocked you will be confined to river craft, unless there's a big lake.....
    I think the C18th is popular mostly due to Charles Grant and Peter Young as well as the fact that until recently it wasn't a well known period. Unlike Napoleonics, it was easy to "suspend disbelief" which allowed invented nations to acquire plausibility.
    I note that fictional Latin American or former Soviet states are popular choices for "modern" Imagi-Nations (presumably only from a western European perspective), as well as Africa.
    Ancients is another era where this happens; separation by time and/or geography seems to be the key or anything outside the norm. How many gamers know what equipment an average South American army has?
    I'm not sure why we see German but not Italian imagi-Nations or periods that are less popular. You would have thought the Renaissance through to pike and shot to be a fertile ground. I once toyed with something based on Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (FGU even had a set of rules and army guide) but it never came to anything.
    I did however once play in a TYW period campaign, set in the GDW Soldier King geography which worked very well.
    Neil

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    1. Neil Patterson,

      You have made a very interesting contribution to the discussion.

      I have created and used a couple of nineteenth century South American imagi-nations, but until now I've never thought of using them for twentieth century conflicts ... but it is a possibility that I must seriously consider.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. I always enjoys others' remarks on Imagi-Nations. My own tend to stay pretty close to history are are more like alternative histories rather than inserted ones. My Trockenbeeren-Auslese looks very Austrian, quite deliberately so, all the Imperial units based upon real ones, including their Inhaber. So my Trauttmannsdorf, Birkenfeldt and Anhalt-Zerbst Cuirassiers are based upon and paint as the real ones of the 7YW.

    By and large, I don't like to dilate too much upon the internal societies and structures of my nations, apart from putting together what I hope to be sensible maps. The maps provide a strategic structure to the campaigns.

    I do find a lot of fun with naming places and, especially, characters. My Archduke Piccolo was a sort of steal from Young and Lawford's Archduke Guitar. It didn't take long to arrive at Empress Harmonica (based on Maria Theresa), Emperor Violoncello (her father), Archduchess Viola (a rather wayward younger sister), and generals Baron Glockenspiel, Graf Tympani, Lord Kettledrum (and English volunteer), and Generals Zither and Sax.

    The capital of Trockenbeeren-Auslese is Schnitzel, lying on the southern bank of the Ister River.

    If I want to do a fictitious campaign in a Napoleonic context, e.g. and Allied invasion of mainland Naples in 1809, the world of alcoholic beverages come to my aid. The Anglo-everyone contingent is led by Sir Arthur Whitbread; the Austrian Corps by Graf von Carlsberg, and the French (this was too good NOT to steal from Charles Grant) General Dubonnet (later he becomes a Marshal of France).

    I think I mentioned elsewhere my Ionian Empire, based upon the Byzantine around the turn of the first millenium, presided over by Emperor Dementius, its armies led (if not by the Emperor himself) by George Maniaces (a real character from history), Demetrius Krazius and Michael Psychopathes. I seem to recall a Norman mercenary hight Roussel de Bolluxe, as well.

    My 19th Chromatic Wars feature nations named for colours; Ruberia (RED), Azuria (BLUE) - with a side order of Turkowaz (TURQUOISE) - and possible additions of Grauheim (GREY) and Porphyria (PURPLE).

    My more recent foray into a fictitious South American War of Independence features the attempt of Gatonegro from the Empire of De La Reina. The name of the Bolivarian nation derives from the black cat 'passant guardant' on the flags of the rebel (Patriots). The army used is in fact that of the Landgravate of Jotun-Erbsten...

    Unfortunately I never did get very far with my Latin Wars, between rival South American states. Thsi was really just WW2 in a fictitious setting, with Orotina the 'Germans', Pan-Andean People's Republic the "Russians', and Gran Bolivaria the 'British'. There could be a 'United States of Amazonia, but, not having and American WW2 army, it will remain merely a map location.

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      I think that you really ought to publish your comment on your blog. I'm sure that it will entertain your regular blog readers ... and it would reach a much wider audience.

      I'm particularly taken with your South American Latin Wars, especially as I have been reading a book about the South American pre-First World War naval race. Something more for me to think about.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Worldbuilding is a fun pastime in its own right and I see ImagiNations as a subset or possibly a cousin of that. Some people mistake detail for authenticity, but internal consistency and logic is more important in my opinion. You can have a ton of detail, but if it lacks consistency and/or logic it loses something. By the same token a bare-bones setting can be more effective if it does retain internal consistency and logic. We each have our own interests when it comes to worldbuilding - some may want to be more effort into things like demographics or logistics, or into languages or names, or maps, or whatever else they may find the most interesting or the most key to their enjoyment.

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    1. Fitz-Badger,

      Worldbuilding seems to have been around for a very long time, and you are spot-on when you write that even if not they are not used for wargaming purposes, the mental exercise of creating imagi-nations is great fun.

      You are also right that internal consistency is essential when constructing an imagi-nation.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I have just recalled to mind a friend's proposal for an American Civil War campaign on the Island of Sodor, you know the one - west of the Lake District of England, and just off the coast of South Carolina... Never did get off the ground, though he did have a good map.

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      I have a map of Sodor somewhere. (I loved the THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE stories when I was a child.)

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. Ion,
    Way back in wargames history, I understand there was an ACW campaign which used Ireland as the geographical basis.
    I guess that falls into the category of using historical armies in a fictional or "factional" setting (derived from literature where you use real people or events in different ways as opposed to creating invented characters).
    If you were so inclined, you could analyse and categorize imagi-Nations thus; do you base it on a "faction" with elements of real armies, people and uniforms but in a different setting OR go completely fictional and invent the lot?
    Mapping is an interesting point; some do without or work on a very vague sketchy outline. Once you set it in a real world location I think you are entering "faction" territory (if you forgive the pun) as you may need to create a backstory to explain that country's existence (because a real world one exists in that location).
    Entirely fictional creations have no such constraints and it's a positive advantage to keep the geography vague.
    Conversely, the former has a more inherent link towards grounding the imagi-nation in the real world, while the latter needs to work harder to maintain plausibility.
    All approaches have benefits and problems; however I think if you are going to abandon reality you may as well go the whole hog as this allows you complete freedom in your creativity. For me, using a German army as Graustark would just present me with the intellectual hurdle that I thought of it as a German army, not the army of Graustark. However, it becomes easy where you use equipment that was widely exported. So an army using Vickers tanks in the 1930s or Shermans post war allows suspension of belief more easy.
    But that may be just me.
    Neil

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    1. Neil Patterson,

      There was a famous ACW campaign set in Ireland that was published in instalments in the old MINIATURE WARFARE magazine. I have some of them in storage in my toy/wargame room.

      Over recent years I've tended to use existing maps as the basis of the geography of my imagi-nations ... but distorted them in order to disguise their origin. For example, the map of Zubia (an Egyptian-like country) started off as an outline of part of the coast of Estonia turned right through ninety degrees.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. Perhaps because of the years I spent playing Kriegsspiel with Bill Leeson's group, in which vaguely Prussian Red and Blue armies fought each other, often with no detailed national background or strategic context, I've so far not created any ImagiNations, despite having acquired the armies. I often just name them as Ruritania (Red) and Bosrovia (Blue) - names we used in Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group when fighting imaginary battles or testing rules for a megagame.
    Personally, I'm not too bothered about detailed backgrounds for one-off battles or mini-campaigns, but am happy to create something ad hoc to suit the scenario, sometimes a parody or clone of an historical precedent.
    I can see the appeal of creating imaginary countries, but am possibly just too lazy to put all that effort in for a game of toy soldiers - and HG Wells never provided much explanation why the Red and Blue armies clashed at Hook's Farm...

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    1. Arthur1815 (Arthur),

      I can see where you are coming from, and why creating imagi-nations isn't quite your cup of tea ... although Ruritania (Red) and Bosrovia (Blue) do sound remarkably like imagi-nations to me, even if they don't exist other than as names.

      I could just about recreate the infantry and artillery of H G Wells' Red and Blue armies from my collection Britains figures, but sadly lack any cavalry.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  9. Many interesting points about the light and deep version of ImagiNations.

    Slowly working through the complexities of the Bronte sister and brother juvenilia 1830s fictional ImagiNations of Gondal, Glasstown and Angria. Mainly their ImagiNations are inspired by early Empire / Napoleonic / post Napoleonic. Branwell did one map based on West Africa.
    America does not largely feature in the Bronte fictions feature so I have renamed these continents South Generica, Central and North Generica.
    The Bronte imaginations sections of their ‘paracosm’ that have survived are Most confusing and very patchy but this leaves space for input and creative mapping. Any problems in the complex chronology are ironed out by jumping forwards a few decades to late 19th century or early 20th century, past the complex web of family stories the Brontes created.
    Most of the exotic countries the Brontes created are based on what they knew (Yorkshire) made exotic, so essentialy mainly all their landscapes are Byronic Romantic Gothic ‘Tropical Yorkshire’ which they set somewhere in the North and South Pacific.
    I have hacked about a map of the Four Ridings to become Gondal for future campaigns https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/bronte-imagi-nations-maps/

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    1. MIN ManofTin,

      I must admit that I don't think that I have the persistence to plough through the stuff produced by the Brontes to turn their imaginings into something I could use, and I have great admiration for you doing so.

      I like the idea of the America = Genrica swap, and the Yorkshire = Gondal concept is very clever.

      By creating (or borrowing and modifying) earlier imagi-nations, we are carrying on a great literary tradition ... and long may it remain so!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  10. I see this discussion thread has slowed down a bit, but to me it is very useful since I am just getting started with the concept of Imagi-nations and armies/navies and such. Bob's Portable Colonial Wargame has given me great ideas for armies, battle mechanics/terrain, campaign movement, etc.

    It seems that many (most?) Imagi-nations campaigns I've read about involve 2 nations, with or without reasons to go to war. I was thinking about not only why 2 nations may be at war, but how other nations can or wish to be drawn into the conflict. I'm starting out using the old boardgame RISK. It has the world territories, with geography and history already there. I will modify it a lot, but it's a start. Also, I will have multiple nations scattered about. Initially war is not a given, but as life goes on in these nations, and as some are threatened because some are getting aggressive, war will start somewhere. I just don't know where. And that's the fun of the campaign. Let the dice decide from several possibilities.

    Also, I'll start with existing names for nations since I have so much else to work out, but I know I'll get the itch for the funny names soon enough. I guess you have to be sort of slightly nuts to play it this. Nuts of a feather ... so to speak.

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    1. Dalethewargamer,

      I think that it makes sense to start with two opposing imagi-nations, and to expand your figure collection as and when you can. Trying to do too much too early can easily lead to project fatigue.

      However, if you’ve started with the RISK world map, then you’ve got a good model to work with ... and you can still develop the imagi-nations as and when the opportunity arises.

      Using variants of existing place names is a good place to start. For example, European countries often had Roman names that are worth looking at. Britannia, Gallic, and Iberia are good examples of such Roman country names, some of which are still in use today.

      Good luck with your project,

      Bob

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  11. Imagi-nations is great inspiration, and the details will come later. For now I'm looking for something (I think) like described in Kev Robertson's Feb. 22 post about VSF 1880 project). A "world" of nations where their characteristics may change over time (need for fuel, need for food, aggressiveness of erratic king, sickness in population .. stuff like that) and may result in need to take action which could result in conflicts, possibly war. But I, as overseer of this world, will not know where or when. When it happens though, I put on my "political" hat as ruler of nations involved, and my "general" hat as military leader, and work out the wars, campaigns, battles, etc. Variability and unpredictably are the key. I am started at a high level, sketching out basic outlines, filling in greater detail as I go along.

    Your Portable Colonial Wargame has given me a lot of the building blocks for the war part of this "world".

    I created a blog (dalethewargamer) awhile ago which nobody reads :( and will post progress on this as I go along.

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    1. Dalethewargamer,

      It sounds as if you have a very workable plan, and look forward to seeing how your imagi-world evolves.

      I have added your blog to the list of blogs that I follow using Readly, and look forward to reading your blog posts later today.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  12. Great food for thought article. Thank you for giving me much to consider. I've been think about trying to build an imaginary conflict limited to two nations during an interwar/ww2 period. I've been taking some inspiration from AVBCW, and real world conflicts both historical and contemporary. I'm not very far along and there is no rush. I'm looking at it as a solo and worldbuilding exercise. The "feel" I'm looking for is a Back of Beyond in the West. Two imaginary nations in a, "not Balkans/ Eastern Europe". The idea is that both are unimportant in the grand scheme of the world and managed to avoid much of the horror of the Grand War that swept the continent. As the greater nations have looked inward both minor powers (long time rivals in their tiny corner of the world) drink in the ideas imported from the larger world as it changes and seek to make their own mark; If only on one another. I'm hoping to get a copy of Henry Hyde's Wargaming Campaigns when it's published to help me along and I already have what seems to be a fine reference in The Solo Wargaming Guide but I'm always looking for new ideas and inspirations from "outside" my own tiny sphere. Again, thank you. As much as I like painting Napoleonics in small doses the grand scale doesn't work for me and encompasses so much of the Imagi-Nation world already.

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    1. Horridperson,

      Sorry for not replying sooner, but I have been away from home on a cruise ... and the Wi-Fi is very expensive and very slow!

      The interwar period is a very interesting one in terms of the sort of kit and uniforms being used as well as the political nature of the forces involved.

      May I suggest that your two imagi-nations could easily be based upon the Czecho-Slovak situation, where you have a common-ish language being spoken by both national groups but very different economies and outlooks. The Czechs - who were much more industrialised and westernised - regarded the Slovaks - who were more agrarian - as rather slow and backward whereas the Slovaks thought of themselves as being more religious and truer to their eastern European origins.

      Good luck with your project.

      All the best,

      Bob

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